Stepping Heavenward

Author: Elizabeth Prentiss


JANUARY 1, 1842

I MEAN to resume my journal, and be more faithful to it this year. How many precious things, said by dear Mrs. Campbell and others, are lost forever, because I did not record them at the time!

I have seen her to-day. At Ernest’s suggestion I have let Susan Green provide her with a comfortable chair which enables her to sit up during a part of each day. I found her in it, full of gratitude, her sweet, tranquil face shining, as it always is, with a light reflected from heaven itself. She looks like one who has had her struggle with life and conquered it. During last year I visited her often and gradually learned much of her past history, though she does not love to talk of herself. She has outlived her husband, a houseful of girls and her ill-health is chiefly the result of years of watching by their sick-beds, and grief at their loss.

For she does not pretend not to grieve, but always says, "It is repining that dishonors God, not grief."

I said to her to-day:

"Doesn’t it seem hard when you think of the many happy homes there are in the world, that you should be singled out for such bereavement and loneliness?"

She replied, with a smile:

"I am not singled out, dear. There are thousands of God’s own dear children, scattered over the world, suffering far more than I do. And I do not think there are many persons in it who are happier than I am. I was bound to my God and Saviour before I knew a sorrow, it is true. But it was by a chain of many links; and every link that dropped away, brought me to Him, till at last, having nothing left, I was shut up to Him, and learned fully, what I had only learned partially, how soul-satisfying He is."

"You think, then," I said, while my heart died within me, "that husband and children are obstacles in our way, and hinder our getting near to Christ."

"Oh, no!" she cried. "God never gives us hindrances. On the contrary, He means, in making us wives and mothers, to put us into the very conditions of holy living. But if we abuse His gifts by letting them take His place in our hearts, it is an act of love on His part to take them away, or to destroy our pleasure in them. It is delightful," she added, after a pause, "to know that there are some generous souls on earth, who love their dear ones with all their hearts, yet give those hearts unreservedly to Christ. Mine was not one of them."

I had some little service to render her which interrupted our conversation. The offices I have had to have rendered me in my own long days of sickness have taught me to be less fastidious about waiting upon others. I am thankful that God has at last made me willing to do anything in a sickroom that must be done. She thanked me, as she always does, and then I said:

"I have a great many little trials, but they don’t do me a bit of good. Or, at least, I don’t see that they do."

"No, we never see plants growing," she said.

"And do you really think then, that perhaps I am growing, though unconsciously ?"

"I know you are, dear child. There can’t be life without growth."

This comforted me. I came home, praying all the way, and striving to commit myself entirely to Him in whose school I sit as learner. Oh, that I were a better scholar But I do not half learn my lessons, I am heedless and inattentive, and I forget what is taught. Perhaps this is the reason that weighty truths float before my mind’s eye at times, but do not fix themselves there.

MARCH 20.-I have been much impressed by Dr. Cabot’s sermons to-day. while I am listening to his voice and hear him speak of the beauty and desirableness of the Christian life, I feel as he feels, that I am waiting to count all things but dross that I may win Christ. But when I come home to my worldly cares, I get completely absorbed in them, it is only by a painful wrench that I force my soul back to God. Sometimes I almost envy Lucy her calm nature, which gives her so little trouble. Why need I throw my whole soul into whatever I do? Why can’t I make so much as an apron for little Ernest without the ardor and eagerness of a soldier marching to battle? I wonder if people of my temperament ever get toned down, and learn to take life coolly?

JUNE 10.-My dear little Una has had a long and very severe illness. It seems wonderful that she could survive such sufferings. And it is almost as wonderful that I could look upon them, week after week, without losing my senses.

At first Ernest paid little attention to my repeated entreaties that he would prescribe for her, and some precious time was thus lost. But the moment he was fully aroused to see her danger, there was something beautiful in his devotion. He often walked the room with her by the hour together, and it was touching to see her lying like a pale; crushed lily in his strong arms. One morning she seemed almost gone, and we knelt around her with bursting hearts, to commend her parting soul to Him in whose arms we were about to place her. But it seemed as if all He asked of us was to come to that point, for then He gave her back to us, and she is still ours, only seven-fold dearer. I was so thankful to see dear Ernest’s faith triumphing over his heart, and making him so ready to give up even this little lamb without a word. Yes, we will give our children to Him if he asks for them. He shall never have to snatch them from us by force.

OCT. 4.-We have had a quiet summer in the country, that is, I have with my darling little ones. This is the fourth birthday of our son and heir, and he has been full of health and vivacity, enjoying everything with all his heart. How he lights up our sombre household ! Father has been fasting to-day, and is so worn out and so nervous in consequence, that he could not bear the sound of the children’s voices. I wish, if he must fast, he would do it moderately, and do it all the time. Now he goes without food until he is ready to sink, and now he eats quantities of improper food. If Martha could only see how mischievous all this is for him. After the children had been hustled out of the way, and I~ had got them both off to bed, he said in his most doleful manner, "I hope, my daughter, that you are faithful to your son. He has now reached the age of four years, and is a remarkably intelligent child. I hope you teach him that he is a sinner, and that he is in a state of condemnation."

"Now, father, don’t," I said. "You are all tired out, and do not know what you are saying. I would not have little Ernest hear you for the world."

Poor father! He fairly groaned.

"You are responsible for that child’s soul;" he said; "you have more influence over him than all the world beside."

"I know it," I said, "and sometimes I feel ready to sink when I think of the great work God has intrusted to me. But my poor child will learn that he is a sinner only too soon, and before that dreadful day arrives I want to fortify his soul with the only antidote against the misery that knowledge will give him. I want him to see his Redeemer in all His love, and all His beauty, and to love Him with all his heart and soul, and mind and strength. Dear father, pray for him, and pray for me, too."

"I do, I will," he said, solemnly. And then followed the inevitable long fit of silent musing, when I often wonder what is passing in that suffering soul. For a sufferer he certainly is who sees a great and good and terrible God who cannot look upon iniquity, and does not see His risen Son, who has paid the debt we owe, and lives to intercede for us before the throne of the Father.

JAN. I, 1842.-James came to me yesterday with a letter he had been writing to mother.

"I want you to read this before it goes," he said, "for you ought to know my plans as soon as mother does."

I did not get time to read it till after tea. Then I came up here to my room, and sat down curious to know what. was coming.

Well, I thought I loved him as much as one human being could love another, already, but now my heart embraced him with a fervor and delight that made me so happy that I could not speak a word when I knelt down to tell my Saviour all about it.

He said that he had been led, within a few months,. to make a new consecration of himself to Christ and to Christ’s cause on earth, and that this had resulted in his choosing the life of a missionary, instead of settling down, as he had intended to do, as a city physician. Such expressions of personal love to Christ, and delight in the thought of serving Him, I never read. I could only marvel at what God had wrought in his soul. For me to live to Christ seems natural enough, for I have been driven to Him not only by sorrow but by sin. Every outbreak of my hasty temper sends me weeping and penitent to the foot of the cross, and I love much because I have been forgiven much. But James, as far as I know, has never had a sorrow, except my father’s death, and that had no apparent religious effect And his natural character is perfectly beautiful. He is as warm-hearted and loving and simple and guileless as a child, and has nothing of my intemperance, hastiness and quick temper. I have often thought that she would be a rare woman who could win and wear such a heart as his. Life has done little but smile upon him; he is handsome and talented and attractive; everybody is fascinated by him, everybody caresses him; and yet he has turned his back on the world that has dealt so kindly with him, and given himself, as Edwards says, "clean away to Christ!" Oh, how thankful I am! And yet to let him go! My only brother-mother’s Son! But I know what she will say; she will him God-speed!

Ernest came upstairs, looking tired and jaded. I read the letter to him. It impressed him strangely: but he only said;

"This is what we m might expect, who knew James, dear fellow!"

But when we knelt down to pray together, I saw how he was touched, and how his soul kindled within him in harmony with that consecrated, devoted. spirit. Dear James! it must be mother’s prayers that have done for him this wondrous work that is usually the slow growth of years; and this is the mother who prays for you, Katy! So take courage!

JAN. 2.~James means to study theology as well as medicine, it seems. That will keep him with us for some years. Oh, is it selfish to take this view of it? Alas, the spirit is willing to have him go, but the flesh is weak, and cries out.

OCT. 22.-Amelia came to see me to-day. She has been traveling, for her health, and certainly looks much improved.

"Charley and I are quite good friends again," she began. "We have jaunted about everywhere, and have a delightful time. What a snug little box of a house you have!"

It is inconveniently small," I said, "for our family is large and the doctor needs more office room."

"Does he receive patients here? How horrid! Don’t you hate to have people with all sorts of ills and aches in the house? It must depress your spirits."

"I dare say it would if I saw them; but I never do."

"I should like to see your children. Your husband says you are perfectly devoted to them."

"As I suppose all mothers are," I replied, laughing.

"As to that," she returned, "people differ."

The children were brought down. She admired little Ernest, as everybody does, but only glanced at the baby.

"What a sickly-looking little thing!" she said. "But this boy is a splendid fellow! Ah, if mine had lived he would have been just such a child! But some people have all the trouble and others all the comfort. I am, sure I don’t know what I have done that I should have to lose my only boy, and have nothing left but girls. To be sure, I can afford to dress them elegantly, and as soon as they get old enough I mean to have them taught all sorts of accomplishments. You can’t imagine what a relief it is to have plenty of money!"

"Indeed I can’t!" I said; "it is quite beyond the reach of my imagination."

"My uncle—that is to say Charley’s uncle-has just given me a carriage and horses for my own use. In fact, he heaps everything upon me. Where do you go to church?"

I told her, reminding her that Dr. Cabot was its pastor.

"Oh, I forgot! Poor Dr. Cabot! Is he as old-fashioned as ever?"

"I don’t know what you mean," I cried. "He is as good as ever, if not better. His health is very delicate, and that one thing seems to be a blessing to him."

"A blessing! Why, Kate Mortimer! Kate Elliott, I mean. It is a blessing I, for one, am very willing to dispense with. But you always did say queer things. Well, I dare say Dr. Cabot is very good and all that, but his church is not a fashionable one, and Charley and I go to Dr. Bellamy’s. That is, I go once a day, pretty regularly, and Charley goes when he feels like it. Good-by. I must go now; I have all my fall shopping to do. Have you done yours? Suppose you jump into the carriage and go with me? You can’t imagine how it passes away the morning to drive from shop to shop looking over the new goods."

"There seem to be a number of things I can’t imagine," I replied, dryly. "You must excuse me this morning."

She took her leave.. I looked at her rich dress as she gathered it about her and swept away, and recalled all her empty, frivolous talk with contempt.

She and Ch---, her husband, I mean, are well matched. They need their money, and their palaces and their fine clothes and handsome equipages, for they have nothing else. How thankful I am that I am as unlike them as ex---

OCTOBER 30.-I’m sure I don’t know what I was going to say when I was interrupted just then. Something in the way of self-glorification, most likely. I remember the contempt with which I looked after Amelia as she left our house, and the pinnacle on which I sat perched for some days, when I compared my life with hers. Alas, it was my view of life of which I was lost in admiration, for I am. sure that if I ever come under the complete dominion of Christ’s gospel I shall not know the Sentiment of disdain. I feel truly ashamed and sorry that I am still so far from being penetrated with that spirit.

My pride has had a terrible fall. As I sat on my throne, looking down on all the Amelias in the world, I felt a profound pity at their delight in petty trifles, their love of position, of mere worldly show and passing vanities.

"They are all alike," I said to myself. "They are incapable of understanding a character like mine, or the exalted, ennobling principles that govern me. They crave the applause of this world, they are satisfied with fine clothes, fine houses, fine equipages. They think and talk of nothing else; I have not one idea in common with them. I see the emptiness and hollowness of these things. I am absolutely unworldly; my ambition is to attain whatever they, in their blind folly and ignorance, absolutely despise."

Thus communing with myself, I was not a little pleased to hear Dr. Cabot and his wife announced. I hastened to meet them and to display to them the virtues I so admired in myself. They had hardly a chance to utter a word. I spoke eloquently of my contempt for worldly vanities, and of my enthusiastic longings for a higher life. I even went into particulars about the foibles of some of my acquaintances, though faint misgivings as to the propriety of. such remarks on the absent made me half repent the words I still kept uttering. When they took leave I rushed to my room with my heart beating, my cheeks all in a glow, and caught up and caressed the children in a way that seemed to astonish them. Then I took my work and sat down to sew. What a horrible reaction now took place! I saw my refined, subtle, disgusting pride, just as I suppose Dr. and Mrs. Cabot saw it! I sat covered with confusion, shocked at myself, shocked at the weakness of human nature. Oh, to get back the good opinion of my friends! To recover my own self-respect! But this was impossible. I threw down my work and walked about my room. There was a terrible struggle in my soul. I saw that instead of brooding over the display I had made of myself to Dr. Cabot I ought to be thinking solely of my appearance in the sight of God, who could see far more plainly than any earthly eye could all my miserable pride and self-conceit. But I could not do that, and chafed about till I was worn out, body and soul. At last I sent the children away, and knelt down and told the whole story to Him who knew what I was when He had compassion on me, called me by my name, and made me His own child. And here, I found a certain peace. Christian, on his way to the celestial city, met and fought his Apollyons and his giants, too; but he got there at last!

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Chicago: Elizabeth Prentiss, Stepping Heavenward, ed. White, John S. (John Stuart), 1847-1922 in Stepping Heavenward (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1908, 1917), Original Sources, accessed March 5, 2021,

MLA: Prentiss, Elizabeth. Stepping Heavenward, edited by White, John S. (John Stuart), 1847-1922, in Stepping Heavenward, Vol. 22, New York, D. Appleton and Company, 1908, 1917, Original Sources. 5 Mar. 2021.

Harvard: Prentiss, E, Stepping Heavenward, ed. . cited in 1908, 1917, Stepping Heavenward, D. Appleton and Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 5 March 2021, from