C. H. Spurgeon
Ought I not to be very timid in speaking upon eccentric preachers when I am somewhat sarcastically requested by an anonymous letter writer to look at home? I do look at home, and I am glad that I have such a happy home to look at. Trembling has not seized upon me upon receiving my nameless friend's advice, for two reasons; first, because I am not horrified by being charged with eccentricity, and secondly, because I do not consider myself to be guilty of that virtue or vice, whichever it may be. Years ago I might have been convicted of a mild degree of the quality, but since so many have copied my style, and so considerable a number have borrowed my discourses, I submit that I am rather the orthodox example than the glaring exception. After having lived for a quarter of a century in this region, I am not now regarded in London as a phenomenon to be stared at, but as an old-fashioned kind of body, who is tolerated as an established part of the ecclesiastical life of this vast city. Having moved in one orbit year after year without coming into serious collision with my neighbors I have reason to believe that my pathway in the religious heavens is not eccentric, but is as regular as that of the other lights which twinkle in the same sky. I have probably done my anonymous correspondent more honor than he deserves in taking so much notice of him; indeed, I only mention the man and his communication that I might bear witness against all anonymous letters. Never write a letter to which you are ashamed to put your name; as a rule, only mean persons are guilty of such an action, though I hope my present correspondent is an exception to the rule. Be so eccentric as to be always able to speak the truth to a man face to face. And now to our subject.
It is not the most profitable business in the world to find fault with our fellows. It is a trade which is generally followed by those who would excuse themselves from self-examination by turning their censures upon others. The beam in their own eye does not appear to be quite so large while they can discover motes in other men's optics, and hence they resort to the amusement of detraction. Ministers are the favorite prey of critics, and on Sundays, when they think it right to talk religion, they keep the rule to the letter, but violate its sense by most irreligiously overhauling the persons, characters, sayings and doings of God's servants. "Dinner is over. Bring the walnuts, and let us crack the reputations of a preacher or two. It is a pious exercise for the Sabbath." Then tongues move with abounding clatter; tales are told without number, and when the truth has been exhausted a few "inventions" are exhibited. One saw a preacher do what was never done, and another heard him say what was never said. Old fictions are brought up and declared to have happened a few days ago, though they never happened at all, and so the good people hallow the Sabbath with pious gossip and sanctimonious slander. There is a very serious side to this when we remember the fate of those who love and make a lie; but just now we will not dwell upon that solemn topic, lest we should be accused of lecturing our audience in more senses than one. So far as I am personally concerned, if the habit we are speaking of were not a sin, I do not know that I should care about it, for after having had more than my fair share of criticism and abuse, I am not one jot the worse for it in any respect; no bones are broken, my position is not injured, and my mind is not soured.
From the earliest period it has been found impossible for the messengers whom God has sent to suit their style of utterance to the tastes of all. In all generations useful preachers of the gospel have been objected to by a portion of the community. Mere chips in the porridge may escape censure and mildly win the tolerance of indifference, but decided worth will be surrounded with warm friends and red-hot foes. He who hopes to preach so as to please everybody must be newlycome into the ministry; and he who aims at such an object would do well speedily to leave its ranks. Men must and will cavil and object: it is their nature to do so. John came neither eating nor drinking; he was at once a Baptist and an abstainer, and nothing could be alleged against his habits, which were far removed from the indulgences of luxury: but this excellence was made his fault, and they said, "He hath a devil." Jesus Christ came eating and drinking, living as a man among men; and this which they pretended to desire in John became an offense in Jesus, and they libeled him as "a drunken man and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners." Neither the herald nor his Master suited the wayward tastes of their contemporaries. Like children playing in the market-place, who would not agree about what the game should be, so were the sons of men in that generation. They rejected the messengers because they loved not the God who sent them, and they only pretended to object to the men because they dared not avow their enmity to their Master. Hence the objections were often inconsistent and contradictory, and always frivolous and vexatious.
Filled with the same spirit of contrariety, the men of this world still depreciate the ministers whom God sends them and profess that they would gladly listen if different preachers could be found. Nothing can please them, their cavils are dealt out with heedless universality. Cephas is too blunt, Apollos is too flowery, Paul is too argumentative, Timothy is too young, James is too severe, John is too gentle. Nevertheless, wisdom is justified of all her Children. At this time, when God raises up a man of original mind who strikes out a course for himself and follows it with success, it is usual to charge him with being eccentric. If his honesty may not be suspected, nor his zeal questioned, nor his power denied, sneer at him and call him eccentric, and it may be the arrow will wound.
Let us now pay our attention to this dreadful word eccentric, and then see by what means it has been fixed upon certain preachers of the gospel, and those not the least in usefulness.
What is it to be eccentric? The short and easy method for determining the meaning of a word is to go to the dictionary. Dr. Samuel Johnson, what say you? The sage replies, "It signifies deviating from the center, or not having the same center as another circle." The gruff lexicographer proves his definition by quoting from an astronomer who charges the sun with eccentricity. "By reason of the sun's eccentricity to the earth and obliquity to the equator, it appears to us to move unequally." Eccentric preachers are evidently in brilliant society. Now I am free to admit that the word has come to mean singular, odd, whimsical, and so forth; but by going a little deeper into its etymology, we discover that it simply means that the circle in which an eccentric man moves is not quite coincident with that which is followed by the majority: he does not tread the regular ring, but deviates more or less as he sees fit. It would be easy to prove that a movement may be eccentric, and yet quite regular and effective. Every man who has to do with machinery knows what it is for one wheel to be eccentric to another, and he knows also that often this may be a needful and useful arrangement for the purpose of the machine. It does not seem so very horrible after all that a man should be eccentric. I suppose the popular meaning is that a man is off the circle, or in more vulgar phrase, "off the square." But the point is, who is to tell us what the square is, and who is to decide which circle a man is bound to follow? True, this second circle is not concentric with the first, but it is not therefore more eccentric than the first, for each one is eccentric to the other. It may be that A. is eccentric to B., but B. is quite as much eccentric to A. A man called me a Dissenter the other day, and I admitted that I dissented from him, but I charged him with being a Dissenter because he dissented from me. He replied that I was a Nonconformist, but I retorted that he also was a Nonconformist, for he did not conform to me. Such terms, if they are to be accurately employed, require a fixed standard; and in the case of the term "eccentricity" we need first to settle a center and a circumference, from which we may depart. This will be no easy task: indeed, those who attempt it will find it to be impossible in matters of taste and deportment, according to the old adage, "de gustibus, etc.," (concerning matters of taste it is idle to dispute), and the well-worn proverb, "every man to his taste."
In morals conscience has fixed the center and struck the ring; and in religion revelation has used the compasses and given us a perfect sphere. God grant that we may not be eccentric towards God, either as to holiness or truth, for that were fatal: but when fashion and custom mark out illproportioned imitations of the circle of perfection, or even dare to impose curves of their own, it may be grandly right to be eccentric, for an eccentric path all the saints have trodden as they have tracked the narrow way in the teeth of the many who pursue the downward road.
From such consecrated eccentricity come martyrs, reformers, and the leaders of the advance guard of freedom and progress. Breaking loose from the shackles of evil customs, such men first stand alone and defy the world; but ere long the great heart of manhood discerns their excellence, and then men are so eager to fall at their feet that the idolatry of heroworship is scarcely escaped. To us the men seem grander in their solitary adherence to the right, and to the true, than when they become the centers of admiration: their brave eccentricity is the brightest gem in their crown. The slavery of custom is as hard and crushing as any other form of human bondage, and blessed is he who for the truth's sake disdains to wear the galling chain, preferring rather to be charged with singularity and held up to ridicule. It is clear, then, that eccentricity may in certain cases be a virtue. When it touches the moral and the spiritual it may be worthy of all honor.
As to preachers and their mode of procedure, what is eccentricity? Who is to fix the center? I say to all those professed critics who tell us that certain preachers are eccentric"Who is to fix the center for them?" Shall this important task devolve upon those gentlemen who buy lithographed sermons and preach them as their own? These men are in no danger of violating propriety in the excess of their zeal, for their discourses are cut and dried for them at wholesale establishments. Do you ask, "Is this true?" I answer, undoubtedly; for the other day, to test the matter, I sent my secretary to a certain bookseller's, and he brought home to me specimens of these precious productions, lithographed or written by hand, at prices descending from a shilling to sixpence each: a choke variety, believe me. Some of these invaluable discourses are carefully marked in places to indicate the degree of emphasis to be used, and spaces or dotted lines are employed to indicate the pauses and their suggested length. No one calls the users of these pretty things eccentric; are we, therefore, to regard them as the model preachers to whom we are to be conformed? Are we all to purchase spiritual food for our flocks, at the liberal rate of half a guinea a quarter for thirteen sermons, to be exchanged at Lady-day, Midsummer, Michaelmas, and Christmas? If these things be so, and this trade is to be continued and increased, I suppose that we who think out our own sermons, and deliver them fresh from our hearts, will be regarded as odd fellows, just as Mr. Wesley was stigmatized as eccentric because he wore his own hair when all the fashionable world rejoiced in wigs. Well, my brethren, if it should ever be the fashion to wear wooden legs I shall be eccentric enough to keep to those which nature gave me, weak as they are, and I trust that the number of eccentric people will be sufficient to keep me in countenance.
Who is to fix the center of the circle? Shall we give the compasses into the hand of the high-flying brethren whose rhetoric towers into the clouds and is shrouded and lost in them? Certainly these do the business very grandly, dealing in the sublime and beautiful quite as freely as Burke himself. No common man understandeth or so much as dareth to attempt understanding these gentlemen of the altitudes and profundities. Their big words are by no means needful on account of the greatness of their matter, but seem to be chosen upon the principle that the less they have to say the more pompous must be their phrases. In their magniloquence they
In the previous lecture we gained some little light upon the true meaning of eccentricity, and we discovered it in certain quarters where it is little suspected, while we saw many to be free from it who have been popularly charged with it. Let it not, however, be supposed that we shall attempt the justification of all eccentrics. We are sorrowfully compelled to concede to critics of the ministry that persons have entered it who have sadly disgraced our high calling. Men in all denominations have earned notoriety by being out of center morally and spiritually: these have deserved to be called eccentric in the worst sense. Now, while we stand up for the apostles, we expressly exclude Judas Iscariot. Find us a man who tries to attract attention by the affectation of oddity, who is a mere mountebank or mimic, and we have not a word to say in his defense, but we give him over as a dead horse to the dogs of criticism. They may rend him in pieces, and devour him if so they desire, for impostors and pretenders deserve the critic's sharpest teeth. Find us a preacher who obtains notoriety for himself by descending to buffoonery, and who goes out of his way to say smart things, and make jokes on sacred subjects, and we decline to be his advocate.
Natural humor may possibly be consecrated and made to wear the yoke of Christ, but he who apes it is no true man. If you find us a man who has any object in this world in what he says but the glory of God, and the winning of souls, he is the man who is out of center, and into his secret may we never come. And furthermore, if you discover a preacher who is indelicate, and causes the cheek of modesty to tingle, let him be cast out of the pulpit, and the door locked against him. We have known men of the Slop-dash order who would have been nothing if they had not been outrageous, and of these it may be said that they were worse than nothing when they followed their own style. There was nothing in their absurdities to excuse them, for they were not carried away by zeal, nor did the excellence of their matter make up for the ridiculousness of their manner. Of such men we will neither be defender nor judge.
We do not care whether he performs in the parish church or hangs out at a little Bethel, the man who shocks decency and plays the fool with solemn truths is unworthy of his office. I have heard that a certain preacher finding himself in North amptonshire, among the shoe. makers, in order to draw a congregation, gave notice in the morning that he would in the evening tell them the quickest way to make a pair of shoes. When they crowded the place, he bade them take a pair of boots and cut the tops off. If this was really done, then I say, let this wit among cobblers live and die at his trade, but let him not again go beyond his last. I had my doubts about this story, for! found it told both of Henley and of Hill, and I was morally certain that at least the second edition of it was an old tale new ramped; but I am sorry that I have met with an advertisement by Orator Henley which proves that he actually did this, not in Northampton, but in London, and headed his announcement with a Latin sentence signifying that the greater includes the less. We shall have more of this Orator Henley directly.
In my youth I remember the eccentric fame of a clergyman who lived near my father's house. He found himself at church one Sunday morning with a political pamphlet in his pocket instead of his sermon, and throwing it down into the churchwarden's pew, he bade him read a bit of it while he went home for his discourse. Many very questionable deeds were done by this parson of the old fox-hunting school, and his general manners fully entitled him to be called eccentric. It would be a pity to revive the stories told in many an Essex village thirty years ago of parsons and clerks of a race which ought to be speedily forgotten. Methodists and Ranters have been the song of the drunkard and the target of many fiery arrows, but never has anything been imputed to the indiscretion of their zeal which has been one-tenth as mischievous as were the evil lives of those who opposed them. I care not to say more; no section of the church can afford to throw stones, for no department has been free from unworthy ministers, adventurers, hypocrites, and downright fools.
Moderation is not the virtue of many. If one man casts a sprinkling of the salt of wit into his sermon straightway some half idiotic brother must set the people grinning all the sermon through. If one, to whom it is natural, is so carried away by his earnestness that his action becomes at times highly dramatic, instantly a certain crew fall to mouthing and posturing as if these things were the great power of God. If one man occasionally spiritualizes, but keeps within the bounds of discretion, they must needs indulge all sorts of fancies till one might say of them as a foreigner said of King James's favorite preacher, "He playeth with his text, patting it to and fro, as a cat doth a mouse." They put the wise man's wig upon their little skulls, and fancy that they have become as great as he. These hangers-on of useful men have not even the virtue of being the genuine article, they are counterfeits in which are exaggerated all the imperfections of the original, while all the excellencies are omitted.
One can hardly tell at this distance of time what to believe, and what to reject, of the character of Orator Henley, who flourished some hundred and thirty years ago in Butcher Row, Newport Market. If the representations of historians are correct he was an eccentric man of the class which disgusts all godly minds. He announced himself as "the restorer of ancient eloquence," and selected for his themes subjects religious, political, and personal. He was frequently prosecuted for libel, and never seemed to bridle his tongue on that account, but with low ribaldry and buffoonery he pursued the golden object which he had set before him. In an unfortunate moment he attacked the poet Pope, who in revenge held him up to scorn in his "Dunciad ":
We have continued talking about eccentric men, but we have not yet decided what it is which makes a man eccentric. Let us now come to the point. Some ministers have been reckoned eccentric simply and only because they have been natural. They have been themselves, and not copies of others: what was in them they have not restrained, but have given full play to all their powers. Take for instance John Berridge. Berridge was quaint by nature. In the former lecture I quoted purposely from his letters rather than from any of his sermons or didactic works, because in a letter you see a man at ease. Berridge could not help being singular, for the form of his mind led him in that direction, and his bachelor life helped to develop his idiosyncrasies. His quaintness was all his own, and you see it in his household arrangements, as, for instance, when he says to a friend: "I am glad to see you write of a visit to Ever-ton; we have always plenty of horse provender at hand; but unless you send me notice beforehand of your coming, you will have a cold and scanty meal; for we roast only twice in the week. Let me have a line, and I will give you the same treat I always gave to Mr. Whitefield, an eighteen-penny barn-door fowl; this will neither burst you nor ruin me; half you shall have at noon with a pudding, and the rest at night. Much grace and sweet peace be with yourself and partner; and the blessing of a new heart be with your children. With many thanks, I remain your affectionate servant, J.B."
Nor is it less manifest in his hymns, even the most sober of them, as for instance in the well-known verse where he speaks of the saints in heaven and cries
"What a motley wretch am I,
Full of inconsistency!
Sure the plague is in my heart,
Else I could not act this part."
Popish historians have not hesitated to describe Latimer as extremely eccentric. Lingard says, "His eloquence was bold and vehement, but poured forth in coarse and sarcastic language, and seasoned with quaint low jests and buffoonery." This accusation is evidently made for the purpose of whitewashing Popery and blackening the Reformation. It is with pleasure that we read it, because it enables us to entail the bishop amongst the noble army of the slandered servants of God. We have no wish to deny that Latimer was exceedingly quaint, and intermingled flashes of pleasantry with his earliest exhortations and serious arguments; but it was always with the view of confounding error and reaching the hearts of his hearers.
Here is an example of his shrewdness. Dr. Buckingham, one of the Black Friars, undertook to confute Latimer, and in his sermon said among other remarkably wise things that the reading of the Scriptures in the vulgar tongue would cause people to leave their vocations, and run into all sorts of extremes. "Thus," said he, "for example, the ploughman, when he heareth this in the gospel, 'no man that layeth his hand on the plough and looketh back is meet for the kingdom of God,' will peradventure upon this cease from his ploughing. Likewise the baker, when he heareth that 'a little leaven corrupteth the whole lump of dough,' may perchance leave our bread unleavened, and so our bodies be unseasoned." Latimer heard this sermon, and engaged to answer the arguments, which he did from the same pulpit in the afternoon, Dr. Buckingham sitting opposite to him with his Black Friars' cowl upon his shoulders. After discoursing upon the figurative phrases of Scripture, Latimer said that such metaphors were commonly used and were well understood in all languages, "as for example," observed he, looking towards the place where the friar sat, "when the painters represent a fox preaching out of a friar's cowl, no one is so weak as to take this for a real fox, but only as a figure of caution to beware of that hypocrisy, craft, and dissimulation which lie hid many times under those cowls."
The general preaching of Latimer before and after he became a bishop was very plain and homely, and exactly suited to the manners and tastes of the people to whom he spoke. His sermons should be read by every lover of racy English. We have only space for one extract, which will show how very plain and colloquial he could be. "A good fellow on a time had another of his friends to a breakfast, and said, If you will come, you shall be welcome; but I tell you aforehand, you shall have but slender fare, one dish, and that is all. What is that? said he. A pudding, and nothing else. Marry (said he), you cannot please me better; of all meats, this is for mine own tooth; you may draw me round about the town with a pudding. These bribing magistrates and judges follow gifts faster than the fellow would follow the pudding." Latimer wanted his words to be remembered so as to work reform, and he did well to put them in such a shape that they would ring over the land. We will warrant that this pudding story of his did more for justice than a dozen refined orations. His was practical preaching, and it dealt with the sins of the great as well as with those of the common people, in tones too honest to be very polite.
The dauntless courage of this noble servant of God was seen in his conduct towards Henry VIII. One new year's day, instead of carrying, according to the custom of that age, a rich gift to the king, he presented him with the New Testament, a leaf of which was turned down at this passage, "Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge." This might have cost him his life; but bluff Hal, instead of being angry, admired the good man's courage. Upon a certain occasion, when preaching before Henry, Hugh, as was his wont, spake his mind very plainly, and the sermon displeased his majesty; he was therefore commanded to preach again on the next Sabbath, and to make an apology for the offense he had given. After reading his text, the bishop thus began his sermon:" Hugh Latimer, dost thou know before whom thou art this day to speak? To the high and mighty monarch, the king's most excellent majesty, who can take away thy life if thou offendest; therefore take heed that thou speakest not a word that may displease! But then consider well, Hugh, dost thou not know from whence thou comest; upon whose message thou art sent? Even by the great and mighty God! who is all present! and who beholdeth all thy ways! and who is able to cast thy soul into hell! Therefore, take care that thou deliverest thy message faithfully." He then proceeded with the same sermon he had preached the preceding Sabbath, but with considerably more energy. The sermon ended, the court were full of expectation to know what would be the fate of this honest and plain-dealing bishop. After dinner, the king called for Latimer, and with a stern countenance asked him how he durst preach in such a manner. He, falling on his knees, replied, his duty to his God and his prince had enforced him thereto, and that he had merely discharged his duty and cleared his conscience by what he had spoken. Upon which the king, rising from his seat, and taking the good man by the hand, embraced him, swing, "Blessed be God, I have so honest a servant."
Under Edward VI. Latimer had great influence, but the return of Mary soon called him to severer conflicts. Dauntless, honest, and simple-hearted, Latimer rejoiced when he was called upon to lay down his bishopric; and when he was summoned to be tried for his life the old man hesitated not to appear and defend our holy faith to the death. His words at the stake were characteristic of the man. Addressing Bishop Ridley, who was to die with him, he said, "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle by God's grace in England as I trust shall never be put out." And by God's grace it never shall be.
The most slandered man of his times was Hugh Peters, who was executed at the Restoration as a ringleader in the so-called Great Rebellion. He is usually set down as a wretched jester, and traduced as a mountebank, whereas there is far more evidence to show that he was a zealous preacher of the gospel. We give him a place here, not because we altogether admire him, but as a matter of justice to one who has been falsely accused.
In his unconverted life he was a daring sinner; but after he was converted he became a powerful preacher of the word. At St. Sepulchre's Church his preaching was very popular, and, better still, it was made useful in the conversion of hundreds. Having in a prayer for the queen uttered words which were taken to imply that she was in need of repentance, as in all probability she was, he was imprisoned by Laud. He ultimately fled the country, and became a pastor, first in Holland, and then in America. His reputation was so great that his brother colonists sent him home as a mediator upon important business. Here he was detained by the breaking out of the civil wars, during which he became an army chaplain, was present at many great battles, and was frequently sent up to the parliament to report progress.
Peters was at one time secretary to Oliver Cromwell. Carlyle quotes his description of the taking of Basing House, and speaks of him as "a man concerning whom the reader has heard so many falsehoods." The utmost malice of the Cavaliers was expended in blackening this man's character with the view of excusing his execution by Charles II., which was nothing better than a judicial murder. A respectable biographer says of him, "Peters was not a wise man in all things; he was forward and hasty of speech, but he was a true and sincere man; a man of unblemished reputation in circles where nothing foul or mean was tolerated, and a man who in every respect was immensely the superior of those who traduced him.
It was the common expression of those days that the saints should have the praises of God in their mouths and a two-edged sword in their hands, and this was far too prominently the case with Peters. He was "the fighting parson" of his day; but like the Ironsides among whom he ministered he was a devout soldier, and was made a soldier by his devotion. Our views and sympathies do not run in that direction, but we are too much indebted to the warriors of the Commonwealth to be in a hurry to condemn them. There was an intense earnestness about Hugh Peters, and as his sermons were meant for soldiers, and had relation to stormy politics, they were in all probability rough-hewn, and by no means pleasant in the ears of cavaliers; but the coarse jests which were imputed to him were evidently none of his, since they were current long before he was born. Some studious owner of the little volume in the British Museum which records these vile witticisms has annotated it in such a way as to prove that the larger number of the anecdotes are fabrications. Thus, "Jest 1: This is a Norman tale of the twelfth or thirteenth century. Jest 14: Taken from Taylor, the water poet's works," etc.
Nevertheless, such stories as the following may have some truth in them: "Praying in a village, he espied in the church the king's arms, whereupon he brought in these words, Good Lord, keep us from the yoke of tyranny; and spreading his hands towards the king's arms, saith he, Preserve thy servants from the paw of the lion and the horn of the unicorn.
"Discoursing of the advantage Christians have above heathens, and showing that the heathen are guided by a natural instinct, but we have the word preached to us; and indeed, saith he, the gospel hath a very free passage amongst us, for I am confident it no sooner enters in at one ear, but it is out at the other.
"Mr. Peters espying a friend of his, deeply cut in the head, through having engaged in a foolish fray, he began to check him for his indiscretion. But, saith he, 'tis too late now to give you counsel; come along with me to a surgeon, and I'll see you drest. Where being come, the surgeon begun to wash away the blood, and search for his brains, to see if they were hurt. At which Mr. Peters cries out,' What a mad man are you to seek for any such thing; if he had possessed any brains he would never have ventured into so foolish a contest.'"
Hugh Peters sinned against the whole party of Church-and-King by his zealous defense of the Parliamentary cause, and at the same time he shocked the Presbyterians by pleading for A TOLERATION OF ALL SECTS, and this was reckoned to be the very worst of crimes. Men who are in advance of their age are abused for principles which in due time become accepted. A man who was secretary to Oliver Cromwell, who had Philip Nye and Goodwin for intimate friends, and Milton for his apologist, was not a bad man: this is morally certain. His peculiarities arose out of his passionate enthusiasm for the cause of liberty, and the remarkable combination in his person of soldier and preacher.
In the works of Hugh Peters there are no indications of his being a jester, but abundant evidence of his genius and fertility of mind. The little book entitled "A Dying Father's Last Legacy to an only Child" was written by his own hand just before his execution, and is rich in holy instruction. Here are extracts:
"He that sets up religion to get anything by it more than the glory of God and the saving his own soul will make a bad bargain of it at the close."
"Make Christ your wisdom. Oh that you were thus wise! Much of wit must be pared off before it will be useful. I have seen the ways of it though I never could pretend to much of it: but this I know, that being unsanctified, wit is a sword in a madman's hand. It spends itself in vanity, foolish jesting, and abuse of those who are weaker than ourselves, yea, it often leads men to play with the blessed word of God."
"If I go shortly where time shall be no more, where neither cock nor clock distinguishes hours, sink not, but lay thy head in his bosom who can keep thee, for he sits upon the waves."
The name of Daniel Burgess is usually associated with jesting, but this is another instance of the way in which worthy men have been held up to ridicule. He was a Dissenter, and a man of great courage and boldness of speech; he was also a quaint and attractive preacher, and so the word went forth from the evil one that he should be denounced as a buffoon. In those days there was no law to protect the Dissenter, or at least no officer who cared to put it in force, and so Mr. Burgess and his congregation were shamefully annoyed by persons of the baser sort; but when he was urged to prosecute these disturbers he only replied, "No, I have freely forgiven them, and shall never meditate revenge." These are not the words of a buffoon.
His hearers procured for him a meeting-house in Brydges Street, Covent Garden, where a large congregation always gathered. "Being situated," says one of his biographers, "in the neighborhood of the theater, and surrounded by many who were fools enough to mock at sin and religion, he frequently had among his hearers those who came only to make themselves merry at the expense of religion, Dissenters, and Daniel Burgess. This his undaunted courage, his pointed wit, and ready elocution turned to great advantage: for he frequently fixed his eye on those scoffers, and addressing them personally in a lively, piercing, and serious manner, was blessed to the conversion of many who came only to mock."
He continued as pastor over this congregation for thirty years, during which a new place of worship was built by them in Carey Street, and when this was utterly wrecked by Sacheverell's mob, it was repaired at the expense of the government; but the expense and trouble to which they were put seriously burdened his people. He died January 1712-13, in the sixty eighth year of his age, and was buried at St. Clement Danes, Strand. A writer says, "It has escaped the notice of his biographers, that the celebrated Lord Bolingroke was once his pupil, and the world has to regret that his lordship did not learn what Daniel Burgess might have taught him; for Daniel, with all his oddities, which made him for so many years the butt of Swift, Steele, and the other wits of the time, was a man of real piety."
One story which is told of him may have possibly been true, but we are not sure. When treating on the robe of righteousness, he said, "If any of you would have a good and cheap suit, you will go to Monmouth Street; if you want a suit for life, you will go to the Court of Chancery; but if you wish for a suit that will last to eternity, you must go to the Lord Jesus Christ, and put on his robe of righteousness." This is probably a garbled quotation. The reader may accept it cum grano salis.
Although it pleased the graceless wit-lings of his day to father silly stories upon Burgess, it is clear to all impartial persons that he was a man of mark, and of deep piety. When the Society for the Reformation of Manners was instituted he was selected to preach the first sermon. This was published under the title of "The Golden Snuffing," aria is a proof of how the good man was vilified; for a critic describes it as "replete with forced puns," and we therefore procured it, but cannot find a pun in it, and scarcely anything quotable for special quaintness,,unless it be the following passage: "Christ's ministers are your souls' physicians. We are not fiddlers to tickle your ears, nor confectioners to please your palates, but physicians to cure your diseases, and if you nauseate our most needful medicines we dare not withhold them, and gratify you with sugared poisons." We are sure that the critic never saw the sermon, but judged it from the title alone. The first choice of the preacher by a society which commanded the ablest ministers would not have fallen on a mere buffoon.
Our best evidence that Daniel Burgess was a good man and true is found in the facts that he was thought worthy by his contemporaries to preach one of the sermons in the famous series of "Morning Exercises," that he was much beloved by the excellent Dr. Bates, and that Matthew Henry preached a funeral sermon for him, wherein his homely speech is admitted and abundantly justified. With an extract from this sermon our brief notice must conclude:
"He often said he chose rather to be profitable than fashionable in his preaching, and that he thought it cost him more pains to study plainness than it did others to study fineness; and he would be willing to go out of the common way to meet with sinners, to persuade them to return to their God. 'That is the best key (said he) that fits the lock, and opens the door, though it be not a silver or a golden one.' Many have acknowledged that they came to hear him at first only to scoff at him, and make a jest of what he said, but went away under such convictions about the concerns of their souls and another world, as, it was hoped, ended in a happy change of their spirits.
"In his preaching he insisted mostly upon the first great principles of religion, which all good Christians are agreed in; and one who was a very competent judge told me, he thought he had as good a faculty in demonstrating them, and making them plain and evident, as most men he ever heard. He much lamented and vigorously opposed the growth of deism and infidelity among us, saying he dreaded a 'Christless Christianity.' He meddled not with party matters, or matters of doubtful disputation, but plainly made it his aim to bring people to-believe in Jesus Christ, and to live in all godliness and honesty. He was particularly careful to explain the two covenants of works and grace, and to guard against the two rocks of presumption and despair. He now and then used some plain similitude's or surprising turns of expression, or little stories, such perhaps as we find Bishop Latimer's sermons full of, which by some were turned to his reproach; but it is certain many particular stories were maliciously fathered on him, that were abominably false, and raised by a lying spirit only to obstruct his usefulness; and in the general he was industriously misrepresented by many, who it is to be feared therein discovered no kindness for serious godliness. A gentleman having once the curiosity to go to hear him, when he had done, could scarce be made to believe that this was Mr. Burgess; for, said he, ' I never heard a better sermon in my life.!'"
John Berridge, the vicar of Everton, was commended by John Wesley as one of the most simple as well as most sensible of all whom it pleased God to employ in reviving primitive Christianity. He was a man of remarkable learning, being as familiar in the learned languages as in his mother tongue, and well instructed in theology, logic, mathematics, and metaphysics: he was not, therefore, eccentric because he was ignorant. He possessed a strength of understanding, quickness of perception, depth of penetration, and brilliancy of fancy beyond most men, while a vein of innocent humor ran through all his public and private discourses. His biographer tells us that this softened what some might call the austerity of religion, and rendered his company pleasant to people of a less serious habit; and yet he adds," It is very singular that it never overcame his own gravity; he remained serious himself while others were convulsed with laughter."
Before he was converted he preached mere morality, but after he was called by the Holy Spirit he was zealous for the doctrines of sovereign grace, and preached the gospel in the clearest possible manner. In his ministry he was diligence itself, journeying through the counties of Cambridge, Bedford, Hertford, and Huntingdon continually, preaching upon an average from ten to twelve sermons a week, and riding from place to place on horseback. He wrote to a friend"I fear my weekly circuits would not suit a London or a Bath divine, nor any tender evangelist that is environed with prunello. Long rides and miry roads in sharp weather.' Cold houses to sit in, with very moderate fuel, and three or four children roaring or rocking about you! Coarse food and meager liquor; lumpy beds to lie on and too short for the feet; and stiff blankets like boards for a covering. Rise at five in the morning to preach; at seven breakfast on tea that smells very sickly; at eight mount a horse, with boots never cleaned, and then ride home, praising God for all mercies."
A complaint was lodged against him, and the bishop sent for him and reproved him for preaching "at all hours and on all days." "My lord," said he, modestly, "I preach only at two seasons." "Which are they, Mr. Berridge?" "In season and out of season, my lord."
The revival which resulted from his efforts was remarkable for depth and continuance, and for the personal persecution which it brought upon the good man. The clergy and gentry made common cause with the lowest mob against him. "The old devil" was the only name by which he was distinguished for between twenty and thirty years,: but none of these things moved him. Crowds waited upon him wherever he journeyed, and his own church was crammed, we had almost said up to the ceiling, for we have heard of men clambering up and sitting upon the cross-beams of the roof, while the windows were filled within and without, and even the outside of the pulpit, to the very top, so that Mr. Berridge seemed almost stifled. There is no wonder that the people thronged him, for his style was so intensely earnest, homely, and simple, that every ploughman was glad to hear the gospel preached in a tongue which he could understand, and with an earnestness which he could not resist.
His discourses were not after a set fashion, and were frequently well nigh impromptu. Mr. Berridge says that sometimes on entering the pulpit he found himself unable to exercise his thoughts on his subject, and felt himself to be "like a barber's block with a wig on"; but his hearers did not think so, for they were excited to a passionate fervor by his words. On one occasion, while mounting the stairs of the pulpit at Tottenham Court Road, his memory seemed to fail him, and he commenced his sermon by saying, "I set out to this place to-night with a sack well filled with well-baked wheaten bread, which I hoped to set before you, but the bottom came out of the sack as I walked up-stairs, and I have nothing left for you but five barley loaves and a few small fishes. You will have those loaves hot from the oven; may they be food convenient for your souls."
His voice was loud, but perfectly under command; ten or fifteen thousand persons frequently composed his congregation in the open air, and he was well heard by all. People came to hear him from a distance of twenty miles, and were at Everton by seven o'clock in the morning, having set out from home soon after midnight. In the early years of his ministry he was the witness of strange scenes, when the revival took the same form as it did a few years ago in certain parts of the north of Ireland, and was accompanied by physical manifestations. The phenomena then presented were very remarkable, but we must confess that we have no faith in their spiritual character, and are sorry to hear of their occurrence. After a while the shoutings and contortions came to an end, and the work proceeded steadily and after the usual fashion. Amid all the excitement Berridge never lost his head or became a fanatic, neither was he exalted above measure, but remained one of the humblest and most genuine of men.
There is no doubt that his style was very remarkable, and entirely his own. In one of his letters he writes:" I have been recruiting for Mr. Venn at Godman-chester, a very populous and wicked town near Huntingdon, and met with a patient hearing from a numerous audience. I hope he also will consecrate a few barns, and preach in them to fill up his fold at Yelling; and sure there is a cause when souls are perishing for lack of knowledge. Must salvation give place to a fanciful decency, and sinners go flocking to hell through our dread of irregularity? While irregularity in its worst shape traverses the kingdom with impunity, should not irregularity in its best shape pass without censure? I told my brother he need not fear being slandered for sheep-stealing while he only whistles the sheep to a better pasture, and meddles neither with the flesh nor the fleece, and I am sure he cannot sink much lower in credit, for he has lost his character right honestly by preaching the gospel without mincing it. The scoffing world makes no other distinction between us than between Satan and Beelzebub; we have both got tufted horns and cloven feet, only I am thought the more impudent devil of the two."
Little cared Berridge if the wicked world treated him as it did his Master, he only longed to save those who loved to revile him. His works are published in an accessible form, and all that we know of his life will be found in the memoir which precedes them; there is therefore no reason for us further to enlarge.
It is not our design to write a life of Rowland Hill, but merely to sketch an outline portrait from the "eccentric" point of view. As a preacher Mr. Hill was the child of John Berridge, whose church he attended while he was a student at Cambridge, riding over to Everton every Sabbath to hear him. From that veteran he no doubt learned that freedom and simplicity of language which always distinguished him. He also associated much with John Stittle, one of Berridge's converts, and a man of very marked individuality, who preached in Green Street, Cambridge for many years. Their intimacy may be gathered from the incident recorded by William Jones:"On one occasion, when Mr. Hill was on his way to Duxford, to preach for the Missionary Society, he suddenly exclaimed, ' I must go to Cambridge, and see the widow of an old clergyman, who lives there, for I have a message to leave with her.' He was urged not to go, but he was firm to his purpose. He spent a short time with the venerable widow, and reached Duxford just before evening service. On entering his friend Mr. Payne's house he said,' Dear me, I quite forgot to leave the message with the widow,' and seemed almost determined to return to Cambridge. He, however, remained during the service, and on being asked whether the message he had forgotten was important he replied, 'Yes, sir, I wanted the old lady, who will soon be in heaven, to give my love to Johnny Stittle, and tell him I shall soon see him again.'"
Mr. Hill's first preachings were of an itinerant character. He was glad of a church, and equally delighted with a meeting-house; but the village green, a barn, an assembly room, or a hovel were all used as they were offered. He was not reared in the lap of luxury as a preacher, nor was he surrounded by the society of unmingled aristocracy, so as to be guarded from every whiff of the air of common life. He mingled so thoroughly with the people that he became the people's man, and for ever remained so. With all the highmindedness which ought to go with nobility he mingled an unaffected simplicity and benevolence of spirit, which made him dear to persons of all ranks. He was thoroughly a man, thinking and acting for himself with all the freedom of a great emancipated mind, which bowed only at the feet of Jesus; but he was essentially a child-man, a Nathanael in whom was no guileartless, natural, transparent, in all things unaffected, and true. He once said of a man who knew the gospel but seemed afraid to preach it, "He preaches the truth as a donkey munches a thistlevery cautiously:" this was exactly the opposite of his own way of doing it.
His fixed places of ministry were Surrey Chapel, and Wotton-under-Edge. He facetiously styled himself "Rector of Surrey Chapel, Vicar of Wotton, and Curate of all the fields and lanes throughout England and Wales." Surrey Chapel was called by many "The Round-house," and it was reported that its form was chosen by Mr. Hill that the devil might not have a corner to hide in. The locality is described by Berridge "as one of the worst spots in London, the very paradise of devils." It was hard by the assembling ground of Lord George.Gordon's Protestant rowdies, and was m many respects an unsavory spot, and therefore so much the more in need of the gospel The spacious structure was the center of philanthropic, educational, and religious work of all kinds, and it would be difficult to find a building from which more beneficial influences have emanated.
At Wotton, Mr. Hill lived in what he called "a paradisiacal spot," having his house near the chapel, and lovely scenery all around. He says of the village, "This place, when I first knew Gloucestershire, was filled with brutal persecutors; since they have been favored with the gospel they have been wonderfully softened." We visited the place with great interest, and were taken to the spot where dear old Rowland would sit with his telescope and watch the people coming down the neighboring hills to the meeting, and would afterwards astonish them by mentioning what he had seen. Both in London and in the country he was the universal benefactor, and mixed with all sorts of people. In London he might be teen in the streets with his hands behind him, gazing into the shop windows, and in the country the cottages and the cornfields were his study. A friend told me an anecdote which I have not met with in print. When at Wotton he heard of a woman who was noted for her sausages, and therefore called in upon her, and bought a supply. "Now, my good woman," said he, "how is it that you make such good sausages?" "Why, sir," said she, "I think it is a gift from the Almighty." Mr. Hill shook his head at this, and began to repent of his bargain, as well he might, for the articles turned out to be stale. He told the story afterwards as an instance of how people try to pass off their bad goods by canting talk, and as a proof of the fact that fanaticism is often in alliance with knavery, "A gift from the Almighty!" said he, "and yet the produce of this precious gift is good for nothing." We give this as an instance of the manner in which he turned every little incident to good account.
Our friend Mr. Charlesworth, of the Stockwell Orphanage, has written a life of Rowland Hill, which in our judgment surpasses its predecessors in giving a full length portrait of the good man, and as this is readily to be had, we refer our readers to it. We remember reading an article in one of the reviews of the day in which Mr. Hill is abused after the manner of "the Saturday." It did us great good to see how those who were before us endured the tongue of malice and survived its venom. It is clear from many remarks made by contemporary writers, and especially from the way in which one of his biographers has tried to take the very soul out of him by toning down his wit, that he was regarded by many serious people as a good brother whose infirmity was to be endured, but to be quietly censured. Now, we are not at all of this mind. Mr. Hill may have allowed his humor too much liberty, perhaps he did, but this was better than smothering it and all his other faculties, as many do, beneath a huge feather-bed of stupid formalism. When we hear our long-visaged brethren condemning all mirth, we remember the story of holy Dr. Durham, the Scotch divine, who wrote a commentary upon Solomon's Song, and another upon the Revelation. His biographers say of him that he was so grave at all times that he very seldom smiled, much less laughed, at anything. We wonder if he had any children? What kind of father must he have been? But here is the story in the old-fashioned language in which we find it. The Rev. Mr. William Guthrie, minister at Finwick, met with Mr. Durham at a gentleman's house near Glasgow, some time before his last sickness, and observing him somewhat dull, endeavored to force him to smile and laugh, by his facetious and pleasant conversation. Mr. Durham was somewhat disgusted at this innocent freedom of Mr. Guthrie, and displeased with himself that he was so merry. When Mr. Guthrie, according to the laudable custom of that family, and at their desire, prayed, he showed the greatest seriousness, composure, and devout liveliness. When he rose from prayer, Mr. Durham tenderly embraced his friend, and said to him, "0 William, you are a happy man; if I had been so merry as you were before you went to pray, I should not have been serious, or m a frame for prayer, or any other religious exercises for two days." This occurrence led Mr. Durham to judge more leniently of his lively brethren, and our trust is that it may have the like effect upon any sour person who may chance to read this little book.
Mr. Hill's name is very sweet in South London, and if you chance to meet with one of his old hearers, it will do your heart goo(t to see how his eyes will sparkle at the bare mention of his name. He made religion a delight and the worship of God a pleasure; yea, he made the very memory of it to be a joy for ever to the hearts of the aged as they recall the days of their youth when Rowland Hilldear old Rowland Hill as they like to call him was in his glory.
What Rowland Hill was on one side of the Thames Matthew Wilks was upon the other. He came to London in 1775, and John Berridge took part in his ordination over the Tabernacle churches which had been gathered by Whitefield. He was a person of commanding appearance, of great shrewdness, and special singularity, and, like other worthy men, he has been much belied because a vein of humor was manifest in him. This matters little, since the good man led multitudes to Jesus, and was a faithful pastor to the flock which he gathered. He was one of the fathers of the London Missionary Society, the Evangelical Magazine, the Irish Evangelical Society, the Bible Society, and the Religious Tract Society in fact, from his great practical wisdom, he was called upon to be a leader in all kinds of Christian work.
Many an odd thing has fallen from his lips; as for instance when he wished to explain the text, "See that ye walk circumspectly," he pictured a cat walking upon the top of a high wall covered with bits of glass bottles. We have heard this illustration quoted with ridicule, but we fail to see any objection to it. Let anyone watch a cat in such circumstances, and then find a better instance of circumspect walking if he can. We do not believe the tradition that he rebuked the head-dresses of the day by preaching upon "top (k)not come down," which is a cutting from the text, "Let him that is upon the house top not come down": but we have met a gentleman who said that he saw him hold up a small pair of scales when preaching from "Thou art weighed in the balances." We do not wish to doubt our informant, but we think it probable that no actual scales were present, but that Wilks so imitated the holding up of balances and the act of weighing that in after years the memory became a little aided by the imagination, and actual scales and weights were supplied in the narrator's mind.
Mr. Wilks' anniversary sermon for the London Missionary Society was a very striking one. Certainly the text was remarkable enough. "The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger:" Jeremiah 7:18. "When the text was announced, in the midst of a crowded assembly, every eye seemed to express astonishment at the preacher's choice. He had not proceeded far, however, in his undertaking, when the feeling of astonishment gave place to pure delight, when all seemed convinced that though the text was uncommon, it was by no means inappropriate. Having glanced at the idolatrous worship of the queen of heaven, the ardor of the worshippers, and the persons employed in it; he then said, 'I will contrast your objects, compare your ardor, and muster your agents.' The appeal was admirably directed, and energetically sustained, and from the hearing and perusal of that part of it which referred to the agents, viz., the men, women, and children, arose the system of auxiliary institutions which now pervades the whole country, and combines in its support young and old, rich and poor; such an extraordinary effect has seldom, perhaps, sprung from the preaching of a single discourse. Irrespective, however, of its impression as delivered from the pulpit, it possesses considerable merit, as an argument and as a composition."
Beyond a wretched little memoir and a few mere outlines of sermons, nothing remains of all the great and good things which were spoken by Mr. Wilks, and the stories told of him relate to him rather as a man than as a preacher. My venerable friend Mr. George Rogers has given me the following note:
"Matthew Wilks was very comic in his appearance, in his voice, and in his language. Like Mr. Hill, he was sound in is gospel views, was very useful, and deservedly popular. He has called upon me, and frequently engaged me to preach for him at 'both Tabs.,' as he called them. He had a stern aspect, but a tender heart. Two incidents I may mention, which I received from a mutual friend of myself and Mr. Wilks, and which I believe to be authentic. When John Williams was recommended to the London Missionary Society, and nearly all the directors were opposed to him, he found a determined supporter in Mr. Wilks, who even went so far in pressing the point as to be charged with being overbearing. When the debate was over, Mr. Wilks went into the room where Mr. Williams was waiting for the decision of the committee and said, 'Well, young man, you have been accepted, but if it, had not been for my overbearing disposition you never would have got in.' This was Williams the martyr at Erromanga.
"A minister from the West of England having called upon Mr. Wilks, and informed him that he was in great distress of mind on account of debt; Mr. Wilks said, 'You are a great fool; you ought not to get in debt.' ' Oh,' he replied, 'it gradually accumulated, and I could not help it. My wife was ill, and some of my children died, and my income is very small.' ' How much do you owe?' ' About £70? 'Then you are a great fool. I want you to preach at Greenwich next Sunday.' 'Oh, I am too much dejected.' ' But I say you must go, and I will send a note to the gentleman with whom you must dine.' Returning to Mr. Wilks on Monday morning, he told him the gentleman with whom he dined gave him £10. 'Well,' said Mr. Wilks, 'but you are a fool for getting into debt for all that.' He then produced another £10, and said he had obtained that from another gentleman for him. Observing him to be much affected by this, Mr. Wilks added,' Still you are a great fool.' He then produced another £10, called him a fool more vehemently than before, and thus continued to put £10 before him again and again and to scold him until the whole £70 was produced; and then he said, 'Now go home, and don't be such a fool as to get into debt again.' This showed a great knowledge of human nature, for he thus kept the good man from being overwhelmed by the great and unexpected relief."
But Mr. Wilks could be fearfully severe, and when he had doubts about the ability or character of a candidate for the ministry he showed no mercy. On one occasion he had badgered and brow-beaten a young man to such a degree that he was scarcely able to answer a single question. "Man," said Mr. Wilks, "you'll never be fit for the ministry: you seem to know nothing at all: can you tell the difference between me and Moses?" "Hoot, toot, Mr. Wilks," interposed good Dr. Waugh, anxious to release the young victim, "you should na' put such a question as that to the lad; but if you like I'll tell you the difference between Moses and you: Moses was the meekest of men."
More genial was his mode of finding a wife for a brother minister. He sent him to the lady's house with this laconic note:
"My dear madam,Allow me to introduce to you my worthy friend, the Rev. Mr. A
Mr. William Dawson, the Yorkshire farmer and Methodist preacher, should be mentioned among the eccentrics, but not on account of any great use of wit in his preaching. Gross falsehoods were forged concerning him, and he was made to appear as a mere comic actor by the ribald world, but there was nothing about his preaching to deserve it. He was apt at repartee, and there was a slight mixture of drollery in his sermons, but he was mainly distinguished for his wonderful dramatic power, by which he made everything stand out before the people's eyes, and thus created the deepest impressions. In a note from Dr. Osborn to us, that gentleman says: "Wit was not Dawson's specialty, it was the intense activity and fervor of his imagination, with a basis of sound doctrine and sound character, which was the source of his power, and a mighty power it was." In a brief sketch of Mr. Dawson, by Mr. R. A. West, we read the following description of his outer man, which lets us see the farmer and the preacher combined:
"I first heard Mr. Dawson from the pulpit in the year 1828. His apparel and demeanor struck me as unclerical. True, he wore a black coat and vest, and a white neck-cloth, but his lower extremities were encased in a pair of drab breeches, and he wore what are technically called 'top boots,' such as are, and were at the time, universally worn in England by substantial farmers as a part of their Sunday or market-day attire. He crossed the floor of the chapel on his way to the pulpit with a rolling gait, as though he were .traversing a ploughed field, with a hand m each pocket of his drabs, half whistling, half humming the air of a good old Methodist tune. Of this he was apparently unconscious, for his eyes were turned downward in a reverie, and he seemed shut in from all surrounding objects. In all my subsequent knowledge of him I never saw a repetition of the mood."
He was always natural and farmer-like; the smell as of a field that the Lord had blessed was upon him, and the multitude delighted to hear him. His power in setting an illustration before his hearers will be seen from the following: "Preaching on the returning prodigal, Mr. Dawson paused, looked at the door, and shouted out, after he had depicted him in his wretchedness,' Yonder he comes, slipshod! Make waymake way make way, there.' Such was the approach to reality, that a considerable part of the congregation turned to the door, some rising on their feet, under the momentary impression that some one was entering the chapel in the state described. In the same sermon, paraphrasing the father's replying to the son that was angry, and would not go in, he said: ' Be not offended; surely a calf may do for a prodigal, shoes for a prodigal, a ring and a robe for a prodigal, but ALL I have is THINE,.' As to the more striking effect, when pointing to the door, similar results were produced when referring to the Witch of Endor. His picturing took such hold on the imagination, that on exclaiming,' Stand bystand by! There she is!' some of the poor people inadvertently directed their eyes downward, where his own eye was fixed, and the spot to which he was pointing, as if she were about to rise from beneath their feet, and become visible to the congregation."
The next extract is part of a peroration of a sermon from Revelation 6:7, 8, "And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see," etc. "'Come and see,' then, the awful condition of an unsaved sinner. Open your eyes, sinner, and see it yourself. There he is in the broad road of ruin; every step he takes is deeper in sin; every breath he draws feeds his corruption; every moment takes him farther from heaven and nearer hell. Onward, onward he is goingdeath and hell are after him quickly, untiringly they pursue himwith swift but noiseless hoof the pale horse and his pale rider are tracking the godless wretch. See! see! they are getting nearer, they are overtaking him." At this moment the stillness of the congregation was so complete that the ticking of the clock could be distinctly heard in every part of the chapel. Upon this, with a facility peculiarly his own, he promptly seized, and without seeming interruption. Leaning over the pulpit in the attitude of attention, and fixing his keen eye upon those who sat immediately before him, he continued in an almost supernatural whisper, "Hark! hark! that swift rider is coming, and judgment is following him. That is his untiring footstep! Hark!" and then imitating for a moment or two the beat of the pendulum, he exclaimed in the highest pitch of his voice, "Lord, save the sinner! save him! Death is upon him, and hell follows! See, the long arm is raised! The final dart is poised! 0 my God, save himsave himfor if the rider overtakes that poor sinner, unpardoned and unsaved, and strikes his blow, down he falls, and backward he dropshell behind him, and as he falls backward, he looks upward, and shrieks'Lost! lost! lost! Time lost; Sabbaths lost; means lost; soul lost; heaven lost! ALL LOST, and lost for ever!' Backward he drops; all his sins seem to hang round his neck like so many millstones as he plunges into the burning abyss. 'Come and see.' Lord, save him! O my God, save him! 'Come and see.' Blessed be God! The rider has not overtaken him yet; there is time and space yet for that poor sinner: he may be saved yethe has not dropped into hell. 'Come and see.' The horse and the rider have not overtaken you yet; there is, therefore, an ' accepted time,' there is a' day of salvation'! 'Come and see.' There is God the Father inviting you; God the Father commanding you; God the Father swearing he has no pleasure in your death, but m your life. There is Jesus Christ come to seek you. He has Cravelied thirty years to save you. He is dying on the cross. With his outstretched arms he says, 'Come unto me, and I will give you rest.' 'He that believeth in me shall never die!'" The effect was so overwhelming that two of the congregation fainted, and it required all the preacher's tact and self-command to ride through the storm, which his own vivid imagination had aroused.
Those must have been stirring services in which his hearers audibly responded to his appeals. On one occasion when he exhorted his hearers to give their hearts to the Lord, he added, with his hand on his breast and his eyes towards heaven, "Here's mine." A voice from the gallery called out, "Here's mine, too, Billy!"
Preaching at Ancoats, Manchester, on Judges 8:4," Faint, yet pursuing," every eye seemed at one time suffused with tears; and when people and preacher were craned up to the highest pitch of feeling, a momentary pause ensued, during which the clock struck twelve, and broke the stillness that reigned, like the hammer on the bell at a watch night, on the departure of the old year. In an instant he darted his eyes to the front of the gallery, and personifying the timepiece, said"You may speak, clock, but I am not done yet." Though no apparent expectation existed on the part of the auditory that he would close his discourse with the hour, yet it had all the effect of reviving disappointed hope, and threw a gleam of sunshine into every countenance.
William Dawson was a man by himself. When nature formed him she broke the mould, but we could have wished that she had given us at least another after his manner and order. Of his power in witty answers we will only give one specimen, and then close our notice. The following dialogue was held between Dawson and a fault-finding gentleman.
Gentleman. "I had the pleasure of hearing you yesterday."
Mr. Dawson. "I hope you not only heard but profited."
Gent. "Yes, I did; but I don't like those prayer-meetings at the close. They destroy all the good previously received."
Mr. D. "You should have united with the people in them."
Gent. "I went into the gallery, where I hung over the front, and saw the whole, but I could get no good; I lost, indeed, all the benefit I had received during the sermon."
Mr. D. "It is easy to account for that,"
Gent. "How so?"
Mr. D. "You mounted the top of the house; and on looking down your neighbor's chimney to see what kind of a fire he kept, you got your eyes filled with smoke. Had you entered by the door, and gone into the room, and mingled with the family around the household hearth, you would have enjoyed the benefit of the fire as well as they. Sir, you have got the smoke in your eyes."
When the population of the United States was sparse and widely scattered, the public services of religion could not have been maintained at all if the Lord had not raised up a race of zealous itinerants, who passed rapidly from one hamlet or homestead to another, and by their intense earnestness kept alive the sacred fire. We allude to a period ranging from one hundred years back to within half-a-century of the present date. The men of that time were necessarily strong physically, or they could not have borne the hardships of their wandering mission, and they were also sturdy mentally, and needed to be so, for they met with people who required vigorous handling. Of course they were rough and unrefinedwhat could they have effected had they been other-wine? Of what use would a razor be in clearing a forest? Very frequently they were wildly humorous as well as vehemently zealous; but probably this play of their spirits was needful to keep them from sinking down under the burdens of their uncomfortable and trying circumstances. At any rate, they did the work which God gave them to do, and left America a Christian instead of a heathen country, which last it might readily have become had it not been for their efforts. We do not commend all that they did, much less hold them up for imitation; but we think it profitable to see how others did their work, and therefore we would describe Jacob Gruber, of whom his contemporaries said, "He is a character, and copies no man." We shall do little more than give extracts from a biography written by W. P. Strickland, which has not been published in this country. We shall make a long chapter of this, because we shall regard Gruber as a sort of spacimen American evangelist of the backwoods' order.
"At the beginning of the present century there appeared at the seat of the Philadelphia Conference a young man who was impressed with the conviction that it was his duty to preach. His parents were of German descent, and had been brought up in the faith of the great leader of the Reformation. The German Reformed Church for many years had the exclusive control of the religious interests of the neighborhood. The time, however, came when this quiet was broken. Two itinerant Methodist preachers had divided up the country into circuits, and, claiming to be successors of the apostles, thought it no robbery to imitate them in traversing the country, and preaching the gospel wherever they found an open door. The strangeness of their manner, and the wonderful earnestness of their preaching, attracted the attention of the people, particularly the younger portion, and the cabins and barns where they held forth were crowded.
"Young Gruber listened to these circuit preachers with amazement; and though they were denounced by the staid and sober Reformers as wild and fanatical, he nevertheless felt strangely drawn to their meetings. There was such a fervor in their prayers, such a zeal and earnestness in their preaching, and such a power in their songs, that he was entirely fascinated, and soon became convinced of the need of conversion. His prayers for a change of heart were soon answered, and with gladness he went with his parents to the place of meeting, and with them joined the Methodist church.
"That the reader may have a correct description of the religious condition of this particular neighborhood, we give an account prepared by Gruber himself. He says: 'The Methodist preachers came into the neighborhood, and held several meetings. As the result of their labors a revival commenced, and quite a number of persons were converted, and professed a knowledge of sins forgiven.' Some of the members of the German minister's church went to the old gentleman, expressing a desire to know something about this new doctrine. In reply to their inquiries about the knowledge of forgiveness, he said: ' I have been a preacher more than twenty years, and I do not know my sins forgiven, and indeed it is impossible that anyone should know it.' It was not considered very wonderful by some that this preacher should be in darkness on that subject, as he frequently became intoxicated. An aged woman, a member of the German church, at one of the revival meetings where some were praising God for having pardoned their sins, stood thoughtfully shaking her head and said, ' It could not be, for if they had to answer a hundred and sixty questions, as she had before she got religion, they would learn that it could not be obtained in such quick time.'
"Among the early itinerants who visited Pennsylvania about this time was the eccentric Valentine Cook. He was fresh from the halls of Cokesbury College, and perhaps the first native college-bred preacher that had appeared in the American Methodist church. When Cook made his appearance, and it was rumored that he was a graduate of a college, he attracted general attention. The German Reformed, like several other churches we could name, entertained the idea that no man could possibly be qualified to preach who had not received a classical education; and hence vastly more respect was paid to Cook than to any of his colleagues in the ministry. His learning, however, did not always avail to insure him respect, as the following incident will show:After travelling a whole day without refreshment in a region where he was not known, he halted in the evening at the house of a German, and asked if he could obtain feed for his horse and something for himself to eat. Being a tall, rough-looking specimen of humanity, the good woman, who was engaged in spinning, took him to be an Irishman. She was not at all favorably impressed with his appearance, but at her husband's request she procured a lunch for him and returned to her wheel, saying to her husband somewhat petulantly in German, she hoped the Irishman would choke in eating. After Cook had finished his repast he asked the privilege to pray, which being granted he knelt down and offered up a fervent petition in German. In his prayer he besought the Lord to bless the kind woman at the wheel and give her a new heart, that she might be better disposed towards strangers. Such a personal reflection was more than the good woman could stand, and she left her wheel and ran from the house overwhelmed with chagrin at her wicked wish.
"We mention these incidents for the propose of giving the reader some idea of the times in which young Gruber commenced his religious career. Being a sprightly lad, he was soon called out to exercise his gifts in public prayer and exhortation. As usual in such cases, a storm of persecution arose, not only from those who were outside the church and the family, but from his own household. Father, mother, brothers, and sisters, as if by one consent, rose up against the young exhorter, and he was obliged to leave home and seek more congenial quarters elsewhere. Some of the more zealous Methodists interpreted this differently from what young Jacob had imagined, and persuaded him that it was a clear indication of Providence that it was his duty to abandon everything for the exclusive work of the ministry. This interpretation of Providence was soon after verified. As he went on his way afoot and alone to the town of Lancaster he met one of the itinerants, who in a short conversation convinced him of the duty of entering upon the ministry, and sent him to an adjoining circuit to fill a vacancy. He accordingly procured a horse and went to the appointment.
"As the conference embraced sickly regions in its territory, he knew not but he might be sent by the intrepid Bishop Asbury to some one of these localities, if for no other propose than to try his mettle. Many a young man has finished his course in one year's service; but it was not to be so with Gruber. He had a powerful constitution, an iron frame capable of enduring an amount of hardship, labor, and fatigue which made him the wonder of all his ministerial companions.
"The second year of our young itinerant's ministry was spent where vast tracts of wilderness interposed between the appointments, and new hardships were to be endured. Nothing daunted, he scaled the mountains, penetrated the woods, and sought the cabins nestling among them, that he might preach the gospel to their inmates. Here he labored with the most unremitting zeal and diligence. Through his fervent appeals many were awakened and converted.
"At a certain place on this circuit there lived a man who had been in great distress of mind, bordering on despair. He wept much and prayed almost constantly, but found no relief. He was visited by Gruber, who conversed with him for a considerable length of time, quoting such passages of the Bible as were applicable to his case. He could not, however, be persuaded that any promise was for him, as he believed his day of mercy and hope was gone for ever. The following colloquy then ensued between Gruber and the despairing man:
"'What will become of you?' ' I shall be lost.' 'Where will you go?' 'To hell.' ' But if you go there you will have it all to yourself.' ' What do you mean?' 'I mean just what I say: if you go to hell weeping and praying, you will scare all the devils away, for I never heard or read of one going to hell weeping and praying.' At this a smile came over his face like sunshine on a cloud; his despair was gone, and hope full and joyous sprang up in his soul.
"At the next conference Gruber was sent to the Winchester circuit, having for a colleague a young man by the name of Richards. This young itinerant in a great measure destroyed his usefulness by getting the crotchet into his head that, to maintain ministerial dignity, he must put on extra airs of reserve and sanctity. A 'sad countenance,' as our old English version has it, in the description of the Pharisees in the days of the Savior, is not a true index of spirituality. One of the old preachers who had outlived his day, and was constantly harping upon one string'Ye are fallen! ye are fallen!' remarked on a certain occasion that he wished some of the old preachers were as solemn as that young man. Bishop Asbury, who was present when this remark was made, smilingly said: 'Do you make any allowance for solids and fluids?' We recollect a reply once made by a lighthearted, joyous, talented young preacher to a pious lady, who reprovingly said to him,' I wish you would be as serious as Brother C.' ' Ah!' said the young brother, laughingly, 'when I get the dyspepsia as bad as he has it, I will, no doubt, be equally serious.'
"He had now been six years in the work of the ministry, and had exhibited such good proof of his fidelity and success that the good Bishop Asbury deemed him qualified for the more responsible post of presiding elder, and accordingly, in the year 1807, he was appointed to the presidency of Greenbrier district. It embraced a wild region of country in Virginia, said to be the roughest in the bounds of the Baltimore Conference. To use his own language, he had 'hard work, rough fare, and bad roads;' but by way of offset to these disadvantages he had 'great meetings.' Towards the close of the year camp-meetings were held on every circuit, and hundreds were converted. Indeed, a camp-meeting in those days without numerous conversions and large accessions to the church would have been a great wonder.
"At that time even a quarterly meeting was considered dull and profitless unless souls were converted and added to the church, and a revival inaugurated for the coming quarter. In describing these camp-meetings, Gruber said: ' Some complained about too much wildfire, and called the preachers the fire company; but we wanted fire that would warm and melt, not tame-fire, fox-fire, and the like." During the three years on this district he experienced many hardships. In describing his labors he says: ' One very cold night in the winter I took a path for a near way to my stopping-place, but got out of my course, wandered about among the hills and mountains, and went to the top of one of them to see clearings, or hear dogs bark, or roosters crow, but all in vain. After midnight the moon arose; I could then see my track. The snow was knee-deep, and I went back till I got into the right course, and reached my lodgings between four and five o'clock in the morning. The family was alarmed, and said I was late, but I called it early. After lying down and sleeping a little I arose, and getting breakfast departed on my day's journey, filling two appointments.'
"At the end of his first year on the district he had a line of appointments reaching to Baltimore. On his route he passed through a wild, mountainous region, traversed by a dim path. Not a single cabin was to be found in a distance of twenty miles. He struck for the path on the mountain about ten o'clock, but, had not proceeded many miles before he found it covered up knee-deep in snow, and not a single track to be seen. He picked his way, however, as best he could, and traveled on. During the day it began to rain, which rendered his journey still more uncomfortable. At length he reached Cheat River, and found it considerably swollen, with ice in the middle. When he reached the ice it was with difficulty he dismounted, and then making his horse leap upon it he again mounted. The ice did not break, and he was enabled to reach the other shore. He traveled on in the woods until night overlook him, when he lost his path and became entangled in the forest. The rain, which had been pouring down, now changed into snow, and the wind blew furiously. Besides all this, it was becoming increasingly cold. What to do he knew not, except to pray. The night was spent sitting on his horse. Above the roar of the storm he could hear the scream of the panther and the howl of the wolf. It was a dreadful night; but morning came, and with it he found the path, and in a short time found himself at the house of a friend. The family were alarmed at seeing him, and expressed their surprise at his undertaking so perilous a journey, as no person had been known to pass through that portion of the wilderness before in winter. Neither himself nor horse had tasted a morsel of food since they started, but riley were both inured to hardships, and suffered but little in consequence. After obtaining some refreshment, he started to his appointment, thankful for his escape from the dangers through which he had passed.
"Gruber gives several incidents that occurred at camp-meetings. 'In one camp,' he says, 'some bold sinners came to fight for their master, the devil; but our captain, Immanuel, made prisoners of them, and then made them "free indeed." One fine, strong, good-looking young man among the mourners was in great distress, and found no relief until he drew a large pistol out of his pocket, with which he intended to defend himself if any one should offer to speak to him on the subject of religion. When he laid it on the bench beside him the Lord blessed him, and gave him a great victory over his foes.'"
Gruber was dreadfully severe upon all worldliness, and especially upon foppishness in dress, which he denounced and ridiculed. A little of his healthy banter might be useful in these dressy days.
"While preaching in a certain place on one occasion an unusually tall lady entered. On seeing her he stopped preaching and said: ' Make room for that lady; one might have thought she was tall enough to be seen without the plumage of that pird in her ponnet.' Some days afterward the lady met Gruber and complained that he had treated her rudely. ' 0 sister,' he replied, ' was that you? Well, I did not know it was you; I thought you had more sense.'
"At a camp-meeting on a certain occasion, where considerable difficulty was experienced in getting the people to observe order, from the number of young persons who were walking about, collecting in groups, and engaged in conversation, the presiding eider, in the most respectful and courteous terms, requested them to be seated. Not seeming to understand, or not caring to comply with the request, the young people paid no attention whatever to what was said, but kept up their walking and talking. Gruber, who was present, felt greatly aggrieved, and rising in the stand he roared out, 'Mr. Presiding Elder, you called those young folks gentlemen and ladies, and they did not know what you meant!' He then added, ' Boys, come right along and take seats here,' pointing to the right; ' and you, gals, come up and take your seats here on the left.' Earnest and peremptory as he was, yet so comical was his manner that their attention was at once arrested, and they came smilingly forward and took their seats."
To us this mode of address would have seemed rude and irritating, and very unlikely to secure the desired end, but Jacob knew the people he had to deal with, and how to handle them. To some persons a polite address sounds like affectation, and, taking it to mean nothing, they let it go in at one ear and out at the other; a plain, blunt, commanding mode of speech they see to be earnestly intended, and yield to it. Very much depends upon the character of the persons to whom we speak, and something also upon our own age and position: it would never do for a young minister fresh from college to address those of his own age as girls and boys, neither would such a style of admonition be acceptable to our educated young people even if the oldest divine so accosted them. The practical lesson is to have the thing done somehow, if it is right, and to use just such a method of speaking as will be best calculated to secure it. The dread of sinning against etiquette is as much to be avoided as the vulgarity which causes needless offense. The case in which Gruber acted so oddly will perhaps never occur to us, and, if it does, we must use our best judgment, and hope to succeed as he did.
"At a camp-meeting near Baltimore, after the trumpet had been blown announcing the time for closing the exercises in the praying circles, one of them, unwilling to stop, kept on singing and praying. Gruber, somewhat impatient, shouted out at the top of his voice, 'That's right, brothers, blow all the fire out.'" Often has the same thought occurred to our mind when we have seen unwise brethren ranting on long after the "spirit of supplication" has been fully exhausted. Long prayers and long addresses blow out the fire which they are intended to increase.
Gruber's later years were more calm and quiet, but they were not quite devoid of stirring incident. The sinners of his day were as eccentric as the preachers who sought to win them. If they were assailed from the pulpit with rough weapons, they knew how to be vigorously offensive in return. Gruber says
"I was sent a second year to Dauphin circuit. Nothing extraordinary took place, only some fellows of the baser sort made an attempt to blow up our meeting-house in Harrisburg. On a Sunday night after preaching they got in at a window, put something under the pulpit with powder in it and a match. It made a report like a cannon,, tore up the pulpit, and broke the glass out of some of the windows. We soon, however, had all repaired, and pursued our course. My colleague this year was a poor thing hunting a fortune. He found out who was rich; but the girls found out that he was lazy, so he had little success in winning souls, and none in getting a wife. Some young men think if they can only get married (the sooner the better) they will be at once in paradise; and some young women have an idea that if they can only get a preacher they will have an angel for certain; but more than one has been disappointed very much.
"While in attendance at conference in Philadelphia, in 1830, he was appointed to preach in his old charge, St. George's. He took for his text Psalm 84:4: 'Blessed are they that dwell in thy house, they will be still praising thee.' Retaining a keen sense of the unkind manner in which he was treated by some of the members of that charge, which resulted in his removal at the end of the first year, he felt disposed to let his hearers know it by witty and cutting allusions. Under the head of "The Character of those who dwell in the House of the Lord," he mentioned three characteristics,
"'1. They were a humble people, willing to occupy a humble place in the church; indeed, any place so that they might be permitted to abide in the church; but there were some people who were so proud and ambitious that, unless they could be like the first king of Israel, from the shoulders up higher than everybody else, they wouldn't come into the house at all, but hang about the doors.
"'2. They were a contented people. If everything did not exactly suit them, they made the best of it, and tried to get along as well as they could; but there are many who are so uneasy and fidgety that they can't dwell in the church, but are continually running in and out, disturbing themselves and everybody else.
"'3. They were a satisfied people, always finding something good, and thankful for it. Let who would be their preacher they could always get something that would give them instruction and encouragement. But some people are never satisfied, but are always finding fault with their preacher; some preach too loud, and some too long, and some say so many hard and queer things, and some are so prosy and dull that they can't be fed at all and are never satisfied. If the multitude that were fed by the Savior had been like these people they never would have been fed. If one had cried out, "John, you shan't feed me, Peter shall "; and another had said, "Andrew shall feed me, but James shan't "; and another, "I want all bread and no fish "; and others, "I want all fish and no bread," how could they have been fed? Such dissatisfied people cannot dwell in the house of the Lord. If they are not turned out they will soon die out: they can't live.'"
"Though he was sometimes severe in his criticisms on young preachers, he always entertained for them a fatherly affection, and sought only to correct their errors: but we cannot think he was justified in publicly rebuking a foolish stripling who had attacked Methodism, by asking the Lord, 'to make his heart as soft as his head, for then he might do good.'
"A young preacher, desirous of improving his style as a pulpit orator, and having great confidence in Father Gruber, wrote to him for advice. The young man had contracted the habit of prolonging his words, especially when under the influence of great excitement. Deeming this the most important defect in his elocution, Gruber sent him the following laconic reply:
"'Dear Ah! Brother Ah!When-ah you-ah go-ah to-ah preach-ah, takeah care ah you-ah don't-ah say-ah Ah-ah! Yours-ah,
We would now introduce "Father Taylor," the Sailor Preacher of Boston. Not Father Taylor of California, who is a younger man, but Edward Taylor, of the Bethel,the man whom Charles Dickens thus described in his "American Notes ":
"The only preacher I heard in Boston was Mr. Taylor, who addresses himself peculiarly to seamen, and who was once a mariner himself. I found his chapel down among the shipping, in one of the narrow, old, waterside streets, with a gay blue flag waving freely from its roof. The preacher looked a weather-beaten, hard-featured man, of about six or eight and fifty; with deep lines graven as it were into his face, dark hair, and a stern, keen eye. Yet the general character of his countenance was pleasant and agreeable. His text was, ' Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?'
"He handled this text in all kinds of ways, and twisted it into all manner of shapes; but always ingeniously, and with a rude eloquence, well adapted to the comprehension of his hearers. Indeed, if I be not mistaken, he studied their sympathies and understandings much more than the display of his own powers. His imagery was all drawn from the sea, and from the incidents of a seaman's life; and was often remarkably good. He spoke to them of' that glorious man, Lord Nelson,' and of Coilingwood; and drew nothing in, as the saying is, by the head and shoulders, but brought it to bear upon his purpose, naturally, and with a sharp mind to its effect. Sometimes, when much excited with his subject, he had an odd way of taking his great quarto Bible under his arm and pacing up and down the pulpit with it; looking steadily down, meantime, into the midst of the congregation. Thus, when he applied his text to the first assemblage of his hearers, and pictured the wonder of the church at their presumption in forming a congregation among themselves, he stopped short with his Bible under his arm and pursued his discourse after this manner:
"' Who are these, who are they, who are these fellows? where do they come from? Where are they going to? Come from! What's the answer?' leaning out of the pulpit, and pointing downward with his right hand: ' From below!' starting back again, and looking at the sailors before him: ' From below, my brethren, from under the hatches of sin, battened down above you by the evil one. That's where you come from!' a walk up and down the pulpit: ' and where are you going?' stopping abruptly; ' where are you going? Aloft!' very softly, and pointing upward: '.Aloft!' louder: 'Aloft!' louder still: ' That's where you are going, with a fair wind, all taut and trim, steering direct for heaven in its glory, where there are no storms or foul weather, and where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.' Another walk: ' That's where you're going to, my friends. That's it. That's the place. That's the port. That's the haven. It's a blessed harborstill water there, in all changes of the winds and tides; no driving ashore upon the rocks, or slipping your cables and running out to sea, there: Peace, peace, peace, all peace!' Another walk, and putting the Bible under his left arm: ' What! these fellows are coming from the wilderness, are they? Yes. From the dreary, blighted wilderness of iniquity, whose only crop is death. But do they lean upon anythingdo they lean upon nothing, these poor seamen?' Three raps upon the Bible: 'Ah, yes. Yes. They lean upon the arm of their beloved,' three more raps: 'upon the arm of their beloved,'three more, and a walk: ' Pilot, guiding star, and compass all in one, to all handshere it is 'three more:' Here it is. They can do their seaman's duty manfully, and be easy in their minds in the utmost peril and danger, with this'two more: 'They can come, even these poor fellows can come, from the wilderness leaning on the arm of their beloved, and go upupup,' raising his hand higher and higher, at every repetition of the word, so that he stood with it at last stretched above his head, regarding them in a strange rapt manner, and pressing the book triumphantly to his breast, until he gradually subsided into some other portion of his discourse."
We are not so enamoured of Charles Dickens as to consider his verdict upon a preacher to be of any material consequence with reference to the man's real usefulness: but as a judge of vivacity of manner, and power of style, no better critic could be found.
Mr. Taylor's first regular recognized official holding-forth was before a quarterly Methodist Conference, assembled to test his qualifications. It has been reported that upon this occasion he had the coolness to select as his text the words, "By the life of Pharaoh, surely ye are spies;" but his biographer says that although those words might have been worked into the sermon, the real text was a more humble but equally singular one, "I pray thee, let me live." He adds, that the triers saw that his fervor and talents were more than an offset for his defects; and in answer to his prayer, they "let him live." We do not see how they could have done otherwise, for no Conference would have been strong enough to kill him.
After itinerating for some few years, the man and his mission met, and Father Taylor took up his abode in Boston, as a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church, specially set apart to labor among sailors. His chapel, at first, held about five hundred hearers, and was immediately filled to its utmost capacity. He began in 1828 in full revival vigor, frequently preaching four times a day. To him it never occurred to polish his style, and prune away its power: he spoke as his heart prompted him, and worked as the Holy Spirit moved him. He did work enough for two men, and had a double blessing upon it. In a very short time Boston felt his power, and its wealth and its culture were at his feet as well as its poverty and roughness. A noble Bethel was built for him, a house of large dimensions, a fit sphere for his operations, and by his soul-stirring ministry he made "the Bethel" famous in all lands.
It was not at all wonderful that sailors especially, and other classes of the community in proportion, should flock to hear Mr. Taylor, for he was a man of great human sympathies, manly, bold, honest, childlike and outspoken; and, withal, a man on fire with love to Christ and perishing souls. His preaching never could be dull, the intense white heat of his nature prevented that. He was terribly in earnest, and commanded the attention of all around him for that very reason.
No ideas of propriety, or notions of delicacy, hung about him like fetters: he spoke to sailors, not to squeamish pomposity's, and to "the sons of Zebulon" he poured out his great heart in a homely eloquence, which was all on flame. One who heard him in 1835 said of him "His eloquence was marvelous: his control over the audience seemed almost absolute. Tears and smiles chased each other over our faces, like the rain and sunshine of an April day. He had one of the most brilliant imaginations that ever sparkled and burned. His sermon was all poetry, though it came in bursts and jets of flame. It was like the dance of the aurora, changing all the while from silver flame to purple, and back again. But the secret of his magnetic power lay in his overflowing sympathies, that leaped over all barriers, and had no regard for time or place. There was no wall of formality between him and his hearers, any more than if he were talking to each one of us in a private room. He would single out a person in his audience, and talk to him individually, with the same freedom as if he met him in the street. ' Ah! my jolly tar,' turning to a sailor who happened at that moment to catch his eye, ' here you are, in port again; God bless you! See to your helm, and you will reach a fairer port by-and-by. Hark! don't you hear the bells of heaven over the sea?'"
The ludicrous was allowed considerable play in his discourses, and we think rightly so. To the pure mind, none of the powers of our manhood are common or unclean. Humor can be consecrated, and should be. We grant that it is a power difficult to manage; but when it is under proper control, it more than repays for all the labor spent upon it. Children do sad damage with gunpowder; but what a force it is when a wise man directs its energy. Mr. Taylor made men laugh that they might weep. He touched one natural chord, that he might be able to touch another; whereas, some preachers are so unnatural themselves, that the human nature of their hearers refuses to subject itself to their operations. 0 ye who are evermore decorously dull, before ye judge a man whose loving ministry conducted thousands to the skies, think how immeasurably above you all he soared, and remember that with all his violations of your wretched regulations, he was one whom the Lord delighted to honor. Farthing candles rail at the sun for his spots, while they cannot be sure that those spots are not excessive light; and may be quite sure of another thing, that, spots or no spots, ten thousand such glimmers as theirs are not worthy to be compared with the stray beams of the great orb of day.
At the prayer-meetings Father Taylor, like a father in his family, cast off all restraint, and unveiled his inner nature with childlike unguardedness. One of his most remarkable displays of this kind was after an address by a visitor, who related the death of a very wicked man, who was blown up a few days before in a powder mill at Wilmington. He came down crushed and mangled, and gave his heart to God; and now who would not say with the holy man of old, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his"? Father Taylor rose at once. "I don't want any trash brought unto this altar. I hope none of my people calculate on serving the devil all their lives and cheating him with their dying breath. Don't look forward to honoring God by giving him the last snuff of an expiring candle. Perhaps you never will be blown up in a powder-mill." "That holy man," he continued, "that we heard of was Balaam, the meanest scoundrel mentioned in the Old Testament or the New. And now I hope we shall never hear anything more from Balaam, nor from his ass."
His own prayers were more like the utterances of an Oriental, abounding in imagery, than a son of these colder western dimes. Think of his prayer at the dedication of a new church.." If any man attempts to sow heresy in [his pulpit, or to preach aught but Christ and him crucified, Lord drive him out of the house and sweep his tracks off the floor." The Sunday before he was to sail for Europe, he was en-treating the Lord to care well for his church during his absence. All at once he stopped and ejaculated, "What have I done? Distrust the Providence of heaven! A God that gives a whale a ton of herrings for a breakfast, will he not care for my children?" and then went on, closing his prayer in a more confiding strain.
"His work in one peculiar field is not, generally known. Living at the North End, near the lowest haunts of vice, he was often called to attend the death-beds of abandoned women. Protected by his eccentricity and his purity alike from any shadow of suspicion, he always obeyed such a summons. At all hours of the day or night he visited the foulest haunts of crime in this noble service; never with one harsh word for the fallen, never with any apology for their crime. He received many warnings against venturing on such errands. The only notice that he ever took of them was to lay aside his cane, which was elsewhere his constant companion, but which he never took with him when he visited the cellars and garrets of North Street. This was simple courage in the Christian soldier; but it was also the wisest prudence."
It grieves one's heart to relate that after many years of glorious service Father.Taylor faded away by degrees during ten long years, losing slowly all his powers. It was as the Lord would have it; but to drift about as a poor hulk, with the armament removed, and the light in the binnacle extinguished, was very grievous both to the old man and to his friends.
So passed away one whom Emerson called one of the two greatest poets of the United states. He was a Pedobaptist, an Arminian, and a man of a thousand divergences from our line of things, which we believe to be more Scriptural than his; but, for all that, upon the coffin of a good man and true, with no grudging hand we cast a funeral wreath, and say, "Would God there were others to fill his place!"
Our Wesleyan brethren have lately lost from their ministry an eminently useful preacher, who was the last survivor of a little band of simple-hearted and downright earnest men, who in their day were mighty winners of souls, but had the reputation of' being somewhat eccentric. 'William Dawson and Samuel Hick were worthily perpetuated in Squire Brooke, who entered into rest in January, 1871. We must not be supposed to endorse all his theology, or to hold up to admiration all his modes of procedure; but we have no patience with those who imagine that you cannot admire a man's character unless you agree with him in every doctrinal sentiment. Mr. Brooke was soundly abused in his day, and certain scurrilous papers imputed the most outrageous conduct to him; but, in truth, he was only a homely and somewhat quaint preacher of the old, old gospel, and his Master clothed him with great power.
Squire Brooke came of a substantial Yorkshire family, which possessed a considerable estate among the wild moorlands of the North. His parents belonged to the Established Church while Edward was in his boyhood, but were brought to know the Lord in after years by the preaching of their zealous son. Edward was not sent to Eton or Harrow, as he should have been; but following the bent of his inclination he was allowed to remain upon the farm, to fish, and hunt, and shoot, and to develop a fine constitution and an original mind. Amid the rocks and the heather, the forest trees and the ferns, Edward Brooke, with his dogs and his gun, found both sport and health; or dashing over the country after the hounds, he enjoy, eel exhilaration and trained his courage m the hunt. Up to the age of twenty-two he seems to have been devoid of religious thought; but as we Calvinists are wont to put it, the time appointed of the Lord drew near, and sovereign grace issued its writ of arrest against him, resolving in infinite love to make him a captive to its power.
"Early in the year 1821, Edward Brooke rose one morning, intent on pleasure. Equipped for his favorite sport, with gun in hand and followed by his dogs, he was crossing the Honley Moors, when a lone man met him with a message from God. The man was a Primitive Methodist preacher, named Thomas Holladay, one of those strong-minded, earnest evangelists, the validity of whose orders is disdainfully denied by many, but who, judged by the results of their ministry, hold a commission higher than bishops can bestowa commission signed and sealed by him who is ' head over all things to his church.'
"Intent upon his Master's work, ' in season and out of season,' Holladay was prompt to seize an opportunity of usefulness. Passing the young sportsman, he respectfully saluted him, and said, with pitying earnestness,' Master, you are seeking happiness where you will never find it.' On went the man of God, perhaps little dreaming that the arrow thus shot at a venture had pierced the joints of the armor encasing the young sportsman's heart. Yet so it was.
"Home went the wounded sportsman, the words of Holladay still sounding in his ears, 'Master, you are seeking happiness where you will never find it.' The time was opportune. It was a day of visitation for that neighborhood. The Spirit of God was moving upon the population. A great revival was in progress.
The awakened young gentleman began to attend cottage prayer-meetings and to converse with the godly men of the neighborhood, and thus his anxiety was greatly deepened, and his desire for salvation inflamed.
"It was the day of his sister's wedding. Ill-prepared to join in the festivities of the occasion, because of the sorrow of his heart, Edward Brooke spent the previous night hours in reading his Bible and wrestling with God for salvation.
Many Christians who are prepared to tolerate, and even to admire considerable diversities of character, have yet, unconsciously to themselves, laid down in their own minds very fixed and definite limits within which those diversities shall range. So far they are still looking for a measure of uniformity, and will probably require several more or less violent wrenches of their propriety before they will be able to admit within the circle of their sympathy sundry eccentric and erratic forms of genuine spiritual life, which, nevertheless, have had their uses, and have brought no small glory to God. We are most of us somewhat tolerant of well-educated eccentrics; we almost reverence the oddities of genius, but we are squeamish if we see singularities combined with ignorance, and idiosyncrasies prominent in men who cannot even spell the word. What in a gentleman would be a peculiarity, is reckoned in a poor man to be an absurdity. Such slaves are most men to kid gloves and good balances at the banker's, that they toady to aristocratic whims, and even affect to admire in my Lord Havethecash that which would disgust them in poor Tom Honesty. This partiality of judgment, in a measure, affects even Christians, who, beyond all other men, are bound to judge things by their own intrinsic value, and not according to the false glitter of position and wealth. We claim for uneducated Christian men as wide a range for their originality as would be allowed them if they were the well-instructed sons of the rich; we would not have a shrewd saying decried because it is ungrammatical; nor a fervent, spiritual utterance ridiculed because it is roughly expressed. Consider the man as he is; make allowances for educational disadvantages, for circumstances, and for companionships, and do not turn away with contempt from that which, in the sight of God, may be infinitely more precious than all the refinements and delicacies so dear to pompous imbecility.
With this long-winded preface we now introduce a few notes upon William Bray, of Cornwall, for several years a local preacher among the Bible Christians: we beg his pardon for calling him by a name which he never used, and introduce him a second time, with due accuracy, as Billy Bray. This worthy was once a drunken and lascivious miner, but grace made him an intensely earnest and decided follower of the Lord Jesus. His conversion was very marked, and was attended with those violent struggles of conscience which frequently attend that great change in strong-minded and passionate natures.
His actual obtaining of peace brought the tears into our eyes as we read it, and made us remember a lad who, more than twenty years ago, found the Lord in a somewhat similar style; it also reminded us of George Fox the Quaker, and John Bunyan the Baptist, when undergoing the sacred change. Children of God are born very much Mike; their divergences usually arise as a matter of after years. In their regeneration, as in their prayers, they appear as one. Bray was assailed by the fierce temptation that he would never find mercy; but with the promise, "Seek, and ye shall find," he quenched this fiery dart of the wicked one, and in due time he learned, by blessed experience, that the promise was true. Beautifully simple and touching are his own words:"I said to the Lord, 'Thou hast said, They that ask shall receive, they that seek shall find, and to them that knock the door shall be opened, and I have faith to believe it.' In an instant the Lord made me so happy that I cannot express what I felt. I shouted for joy. I praised God with my whole heart for what he had done for a poor sinner like me: for I could say, the Lord hath pardoned all my sins. I think this was in November, 1823, but what day of the month I do not know. I remember this, that everything looked new to me; the people, the fields, the cattle, the trees. I was like a man in a new world. I spent the greater part of my time in praising the Lord. I could say with David, ' The Lord hath brought me up out of a horrible pit, and out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings, and hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto my God.' I was a new man altogether. I told all I met what the Lord had done for my soul. I have heard some say that they have hard work to get away from their companions, but I had hard work to find them soon enough to tell them what the Lord had done for me. Some said I was mad; and others that they should get me back again next pay-day. But, praise the Lord, it is now more than forty years ago, and they have not got me yet. They said I was a mad-man, but they meant I was a glad man, and, glory be to God! I hare been glad ever since."
No sooner was Billy saved than he began at once looking after others. He prayed for his work-mates, and saw several brought to Jesus in answer to his prayer. His was a simple faith; he believed in the reality of prayer, and meant to be heard, and expected to be answered whenever he supplicated for the souls of his comrades. He was a live man, not a dummy. In his own simple style he did all that he did with rigor, physical vigor being more than sufficiently conspicuous in his shouting and leaping for joy. "He tells us, soon after his conversion, 'I was very happy in my work, and could leap and dance for joy underground as well as on the surface.'
"Bray began publicly to exhort men to repent, and turn to God, about a year after his conversion. Towards the end of 1824 his name was put on the Local Preachers' Plan, and his labors were much blessed in the conversion of souls. He did not commonly select a text, as is the general habit of preachers, but he usually began his addresses by reciting a verse of a hymn, a little of his own experience, or some telling anecdote. But he had the happy art of pleasing and profiting all classes, the rich as much as the poor; and all characters, the worldly as much as the pious, flocked to' hear him. He retained his popularity until the last. Perhaps no preacher in Cornwall ever acquired more extensive or more lasting renown, and the announcement of his name as a speaker at a missionary meeting, or on any special occasion, was a sufficient attraction, whoever else might or might not be present. Sometimes his illustrations and appeals made a powerful impression. I remember once hearing him speak with great effect to a large congregation, principally miners. In that neighborhood there were two mines, one very prosperous, and the other quite the reverse, for the work was hard and the wages low. In his sermon he represented himself as working at that mine all the week, but on the' pay-day' going to the prosperous one for his wages. Had he not been at work at the other mine? the manager inquired. He had, but he liked the wages at the good mine the best. He pleaded very earnestly, but in vain, and was dismissed with the remark, from which there was no appeal, that he must come there to work if he came there for his wages. And then he turned upon the congregation, and the effect was almost irresistible, that they must serve Christ here if they would share his glory hereafter, but if they would serve the devil now, to him they must go for their wages byand- by. A very homely illustration certainly, but one which convinced the understanding and subdued the hearts of his hearers.
"There was excitement in some of his meetings, more than sufficient to shock the prejudices of highly-sensitive or refined persons. Some even who had the fullest confidence and warmest affection for Billy could not enjoy some of the outward manifestations they occasionally witnessed to the extent that he himself did. Billy could not tolerate ' deadness,' as he expressively called it, either in a professing Christian or in a meeting. He had a,leeper sympathy with persons singing, or shouting, or leaping for joy, than he had with
All these eccentric preachers were downright earnest, and because they were so their humor sometimes came to the front. Had their consecration to their work been less complete they would have taken more thought of public opinion, and have been more fearful of incurring reproach; but they were so set upon their one object of sending home the truth to the consciences of their hearers that they forgot their own reputations, and spoke with boldness.
Had these men been triflers with holy things, or jesters upon sacred topics, they would have been worthy of all the censure which has been poured upon them; but they were nothing of the kind. Among the earnest they were the most earnest; no one can doubt that. This, indeed, lay at the bottom of the opposition which they aroused. Had they been mere jesters the world would not have hated them so much as it did, for it loves those who make it sport. Had they cultivated a prim feebleness, or had they been content to discharge their office with the lifelessness of routine, they would have run no risk of standing in the pillory of scorn, for men may be as dull and as powerless as they please in the ministry without fear of being called eccentric.
If all men were right-minded they would be willing to listen to the message of salvation, even if it were couched in the driest terms of technical theology; but men are so careless about all the matters of their souls that we have not only to preach to them, but to induce them to hear us. A great part of our labor lies in seeking out attractive illustrations, parables, and choice sayings, by which we may coax men to attend to their own interests; and even then we fail unless a higher power intervenes. We would be content to preach didactic truth with unvarying solemnity if the multitude would but hear us, but they will not. What then? If the healing medicine is nauseous to the child, we must sweeten the draught or gild the pill. If our words will not run by themselves, we must put them on wheels and so set them in motion. Our object isif by any means we may save some; and since men will not believe without hearing, and will not hear unless we make the word pleasant and attractive to them, we dare not do otherwise than indulge them in this respect, and woo them to instruction as children are enticed to learning by stories and pictures.
This little book is not written to inculcate eccentricity, or even to excuse all its displays; but, if possible, to take the edge from the scalping knife of slanderous misrepresentation and carping censure. Fair and honest criticism is not to be deprecated; it may be useful if honestly and kindly spoken. 1% Christian minister in his right mind wishes to shield himself behind his office, nor does he desire to be regarded as infallible; but what we do request is that our hearers' thoughts should not be diverted from our subject by the little details of our style and manner. These are trifles, but our message is a matter of life and death.
Reader, if you are brought to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ you will find rely little fault with the ministry which has led to so desirable a consummation; and if you are a hearer of the gospel and still reject the Savior, you will not be able to make an excuse for your unbelief out of the singularity of the preacher, for in these days if one man cannot profit you it is easy for you to find another, and there is no law to prevent your going where you are most benefited. Better shift your seat than waste your Sabbaths.
To all wise and candid believers we commend the language of the.apostle, as the Lord gave to every man?" They are not to be pitted one against another, as if they were rivals engaged in fighting for the belt, they are to be loved, helped, and prayed for as fellow-helpers of our faith. "Therefore let no man glory in men, (or despise them either,) for all things are yours, whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's."
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