I had just arrived at this conclusion when Mr. Gear entered. A tall, thin, nervous man, with a high forehead, piercing black eyes, and a restless uneasiness that forbids him from ever being for a moment still. Now he runs his hand through his hair pushing it still further back from his dome of a head, now he drums the table with his uneasy fingers, now he crosses and uncrosses his long legs, and once, as our conversation grows animated, he rises from his seat in the vehemence of his earnestness, and leans against the mantel piece. A clear-eyed, frank faced, fine looking man, who would compel your heed if you met him anywhere, unknown, by chance, on the public street. "An infidel you may be," I say to myself, "but not a bad man; on the contrary a man with much that is true and noble, or I am no physiognomist or phrenologist either." And I rather pride myself on being both.
We lawyers learn to study the faces of our witnesses, to form quick judgments, and to act upon them. If I did not mistake my man the directest method was the best, and I employed it.
"Mr. Gear," said I, "I have come to ask you to join my Bible class."
"Me!" said Mr. Gear unmistakeably surprised. "I don't believe in the Bible."
"So I have heard," I said quietly. "And that's the reason I came to you first. In fact I do not want you to join my Bible class. I have not got any Bible class as yet, I want you to join me in getting one up."
Mr. Gear smiled incredulously. "You had better get Deacon Goodsole," said he,—"or," and the smile changed from a goodnatured to a sarcastic one, "or Mr. Hardcap."
"I have no doubt they would either of them join me," said I. "But they believe substantially as I have been taught to believe about the Bible. They have learned to look at it through creeds, and catechisms, and orthodox preaching. I want to get a fresh look at it. I want to come to it as I would come to any other book, and to find out what it means, not what it seems to mean to a man who has been bred to believe that it is only the flesh and blood of which the dry bones are the Westminster Assembly's Catechism."
"Mr. Laicus," said Mr. Gear, "I thank you for the honor you do me. But I don't believe in the Bible. I don't believe it's the word of God any more than Homer or Tacitus. I don't believe those old Hebrews knew any more than we do—nor half so much. It says the world was made in six days. I think it more likely it was six millions of years in making."
"So do I," said I.
"It says God rested on the Sabbath day. I believe He always works, day and night, summer and winter, in every blazing fire, in every gathering storm, in every rushing river, in every growing flower, in every falling leaf."
He rose as he spoke and stood, now leaning against the mantel piece, now standing erect, his dark eyes flashing, his great forehead seeming to expand with great thoughts, his soul all enkindled with his own eloquence: for eloquent he really was, and all unconscious of it.
"Your Bible," said he "shuts God up in a Temple, and in an ark in that, and hides him behind curtains where the High priest can find him but once a year. My God is every where. There is no church that can hold him. The heavens are his home; the earth is his footstool. All this bright and beautiful world is his temple. He is in every mountain, in every cloud, in every winter wind and every summer breeze."
He looked so handsome in his earnest eloquence that I had no heart to interrupt him. And yet I waited and watched for any opening he might give me, and thought of Jennie, and her prayers at home, and declared to myself by God's help I would not let this man go till I had caught him and brought him to know the love that now he knew not.
"Your Bible, Mr. Laicus," said he, "sets apart one day for the Lord and gives all the rest to the world, the flesh, and the devil. I believe all days are divine, all days are the Lord's, all hours are sacred hours and all ground is holy ground."
I wanted to tell him that my Bible did no such thing. But I had fully considered what I would do before I had sought this interview. I had resolved that nothing should tempt me into a contradiction or an argument. I had studied Jennie's method, and I reserved my fire.
"Your Bible tells me," said he, "that God wrote his laws with his finger on two tables of stone; that he tried to preserve them from destruction by bidding them be kept in a sacred ark; and that despite his care they were broken in pieces before Moses got down from the mountain top. I believe he writes them impartially in nature and in our hearts, that science interprets them, and that no Moses astonished out of his presence of mind can harm them or break the tablets on which they are engraven."
So true, yet oh so false. Oh God! help me to teach him what my Bible really is and what its glorious teachings are.
"I don't believe the Bible is the Word of God. I can't believe it. I don't believe the laws of Moses are any more inspired than the laws of Solon, or the books of Samuel and Kings than the history of Tacitus, or the Psalms of David than the Paradise Lost of Milton, or—you'll think me bold indeed to say so Mr. Laicus," (he was cooler now and spoke more slowly), "the words of Jesus, than the precepts of Confucius or the dialogues of Plato."
In that sentence he gave to me my clue. I seized it instantly, and never lost it from that moment. Never case in court so thrilled me with excitement as I too arose and leaned against the mantel-piece. And never was I, in tone and manner, calmer.
"As much so?" I asked carelessly.
"Yes....." said he, hesitatingly, "yes..... as much so I suppose."
"The ten commandments have been before the world for over three thousand years," said I. "The number that have learned them and accepted them as a guide, and found in them a practical help is to be counted by millions. There is hardly a child in Wheathedge that does not know something of them, and has not been made better for them; and hardly a man who knows Solon even by name. We can hardly doubt that the one is as well worth studying as the other, Mr. Gear."
"No," said Mr. Gear. "I don't deny that they are worth studying. But I do deny that they are inspired."
"The Psalms of David have supplied the Christian church with its best psalmody for nearly three thousand years," continued I. "They constitute the reservoir from which Luther, and Watts, and Wesley, and Doddridge, and a host of other singers have drawn their inspiration, and in which myriads untold have found the expression of their highest and holiest experiences, myriads who never heard of Homer. They are surely as well worth studying as his noble epics."
"I don't deny, they are worth studying," said Mr. Gear. "I only assert that they ought to be studied as any other books of noble thoughts, intermingled with grossest errors, should be studied."
"The words of Jesus," I continued more slowly than before "have changed the life and character of more than half the world, that half which alone possesses modern civilization, that half with which you and I, Mr. Gear, are most concerned. There was wonderful power in the doctrines of Buddha. But Buddhism has relapsed everywhere into the grossest of idolatries. There is a wonderful wealth of moral truth in the ethics of Confucius. But the ethics of Confucius have not saved the Chinese nation from stagnation and death. There is wonderful life-awaking power in the writings of Plato. But they are hid from the common people in a dead language, and when a Prof. Jowett gives them glorious resurrection in our vernacular, they are still hid from the common people by their subtlety. Every philosopher ought to study Plato. Every scholar may profitably study Buddha and Confucius. But every intelligent American ought to study the life and words of Jesus of Nazareth."
"I do," said Mr. Gear. "I do not disesteem Jesus of Nazareth. I honor him as first among men. I revere his noble life, his sublime death, and his incomparable teachings. I have read his life in the Gospels; I have read it as Strauss gives it; and as Renan gives it; and now I am devoting my Sunday afternoons to reading it as Pressense gives it. You see I am an impartial student. I read all sides."
"You think Christ's life and teaching worth your study then?" I said inquiringly.
"Worth my study? Of course I do," said he. "I am an infidel, Mr. Laicus; at least people commonly call me so, and think it very dreadful. But I do not mean to be ignorant of the Bible or of Christianity as Jesus Christ gave it to us. It needs winnowing. We have grown wiser and know better about many things since then. But it is well worth the studying and will be for many years to come."
"All I ask of you," said I, "is to let me to study it with you."
He made no answer; but looked me steadily in the eye as if to try and fathom some occult design.
"No," said I, "that is not all. As I came by Joe Poole's I saw half a dozen of the men from your shop lounging about the door. They could spend the afternoon to better purpose, Mr. Gear, in studying the life and words of Jesus."
"I know they could," he said. "No man can say that any word or influence of mine helped carry them to Joe Poole's bar."
"Will you lend your word and influence with mine to summon them away?" said I.
He made no answer.
"I saw a dozen others engaged at a game of ball upon the green as I passed by."
"A harmless sport, Mr. Laicus, and as well done on Sunday as on any other holiday."
"Perhaps," said I. "But an hour and a half from their Sunday in studying the life and words of Jesus would do them no harm, and detract nothing from their holiday. They do not study so hard throughout the week that the brain labor would be injurious."
Mr. Gear smiled.
"There is not a man in your shop, Mr. Gear, that would not be made a better workman, husband, father, citizen, for studying that life and those teachings one hour a week."
"It is true," said he.
"You organized a Shakspeare club last winter to keep them from Joe Poole's," said I. "Was it a good thing?"
"Worked capitally," said Mr. Gear.
"Won't you join me in organizing a Bible club for Sunday afternoons this winter for the same purpose?"
"There is so little in common between us," said he; and he looked me through and through with his sharp black eyes. What a lawyer he would have made; what a cross examination he could conduct.
"You believe in the literal inspiration of the New Testament Scripture. I believe it is a book half legend half history. You believe in the miracles. I believe they are mythical addition of a later date. You believe that Jesus Christ was conceived of the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary. I believe his birth was as natural as his death was cruel and untimely. You believe that—he was divine. I believe he was a man of like passions as we ourselves are,—a Son of God only as every noble spirit is a spark struck off from the heavenly Original. You believe that he bears our sins upon a tree. I believe that every soul must bear its own burdens. What is there in common between us? What good could it do to you or to me to take Sunday afternoon for a weekly tournament, with the young men from the shop for arbitrators?"
"None," said I calmly.
"What would you have then?" said he.
"When you organized that Shakspeare club last winter," said I, "did you occupy your time in discussions of the text? Did you compare manuscripts? Did you investigate the canonicity of Shakspeare's various plays? Did you ransack the past to know the value of the latest theory that there never was a Will. Shakspeare save as a nom de plume for Lord Bacon? Did you inquire into the origin of his several plots, and study to know how much of his work was really his own and how much was borrowed from foreign sources. Or did you leave that all to the critics, and take the Shakspeare of today, and gather what instruction you might therefrom?"
Mr. Gear nodded his head slowly, and thoughtfully, as if he partially perceived the meaning of my answer. But he made no other response.
"There is much in common between us, Mr. Gear," I continued earnestly, "though much, very much that is not. We can find plenty of subject for fruitless debate no doubt. Can we find none for agreement and mutual helpfulness? Jesus of Nazareth you honor as first among men. You revere His noble life, His sublime death, His incomparable teachings. So do I. That noble life we can read together, Mr. Gear, and together we may emulate His example without a fruitless debate whether it be divine or no. Those incomparable teachings we can study together, that together we may catch the spirit that dictated them, without a theological controversy as to their authority. And even that sublime death I should hope we might contemplate together, without contention, though in the suffering Christ you see only a martyr, and I behold my Saviour and my God."
He made no answer, still stood silent. But he no longer looked at me with his sharp eyes. They had retired beneath his shaggy eyebrows as though he would search his own soul through and through, and read its verdict. He told me afterwards the story of his battle; I guessed it even then.
"We may not agree on the Gospel of John, Mr. Gear," said I, "but we shall not quarrel about the Golden Rule and the Sermon on the Mount."
"Mr. Laicus," said Mr. Gear at length, very slowly. "I thank you for coming to me, I thank you for speaking plainly and frankly as you have; I thank you for the respect which you have shown to my convictions. They are honest, and were not arrived at without a struggle and some self sacrifice. You are the first Christian," he added bitterly "that ever paid them the regard of a respectful hearing. I will join you in that Bible Class for this winter, and I will prove to you, infidel that I am, that I as well as a Christian, can respect convictions widely different from my own. If we quarrel it shall not be my fault."
"I believe you, Mr. Gear," said I. "God helping me it shall not be mine, and there's my hand upon it."
He grasped it warmly.
"When shall we begin?" said I.
"Where?" said I.
"As you please?" said he.
"Here, or in my house, or at the church parlors, or wherever we can gather the young men," said I.
"The mill school-house is better than either," said he. "The boys will come there. They are used to it."
"The mill school-house be it," said I. "Next Sunday afternoon at 3 o'clock. I will bring the Bibles; you will bring the boys."
"As many as I can," said he.
"Jennie," said I that evening. "Mr. Gear and I are going to take the Bible Class together."
Tears stood in her eyes as she looked up at me with that smile I love so much. But she only said. "I knew you would succeed John."
The Deacon's Second Service.
IT has been made the subject of some comment lately that Deacon Goodsole habitually absents himself from our Sabbath evening service. The pastor called the other day to confer with me on the subject; for he has somehow come to regard me as a convenient adviser, perhaps because I hold no office and take no very active part in the management of the Church, and so am quite free from what may be called its politics. He said he thought it quite unfortunate; not that the Deacon needed the second service himself, but that, by absenting himself from the house of God, he set a very bad example to the young people of the flock. "We cannot expect," said he, somewhat mournfully, "that the young people will come to Church, when the elders themselves stay away." At the same time he said he felt some delicacy about talking with the Deacon himself on the subject. "Of course," said he, "if he does not derive profit from my discourses I do not want to dragoon him into hearing them."
I readily promised to seek an occasion to talk with the Deacon, the more so because I really feel for our pastor. When I first came to Wheathedge he was full of enthusiasm. He has various plans for adding attractiveness and interest to our Sabbath-evening service, which has always flagged. He tried a course of sermons to young men. He announced sermons on special topics. Occasionally a political discourse would draw a pretty full house, but generally it was quite evident that the second sermon was almost as much of a burden to the congregation as it was to the minister. Latterly he seems to have given up these attempts, and to follow the example of his brethren hereabout. He exchanges pretty often. Quite frequently we get an agent. Occasionally I fancy, the more from the pastor's manner than from my recollection, that he is preaching an old sermon. At other times we get a sort of expository lecture, the substance of which I find in my copy of Lange when I get home. Under this treatment the congregation, never very large, has dwindled away to quite diminutive proportions; and our poor pastor is quite discouraged. Until about six weeks ago Deacon Goodsole was always in his pew. I think his falling off was the last straw.
Last Sabbath evening, on my way to church, I stopped, according to promise, to see the Deacon. As I went up the steps I heard the sound of music, and waited a moment lest I should disturb the family's evening devotions. But as the music continued, and presently the tune changed, I concluded to knock. Nettie, the Deacon's youngest daughter, who by the way is a great favorite with me, answered the knock almost instantly. The open hymn-book was in her hand, and before I could get time to ask for the Deacon, she had, in her charmingly impulsive way, dragged me in, snatched my hat from my hand, deposited it on the table, and pushed me into the parlor. In fact, before I well knew what I was about, I found myself in the big arm-chair with Nettie in my lap, taking part in the Deacon's second service.
His family were all about him, including the stable boy, whose hair looked as sleek as the Deacon's horse. For the Deacon has some queer notions about the duties of employers to their servants, and, though the very kindest of men, is generally thought by the neighbors to be "a queer stick." The Deacon's wife, who has a very sweet soprano voice, which, however, she never could be persuaded to use in our choir, was presiding at the piano. The children all had their hymn and tune-books, and they were "singing round"—each member of the family selecting a hymn in turn. As they were limited to two verses each—except where two clubbed together to secure an entire hymn—the exercise was not prolonged, and certainly did not become tedious. After the singing, the Deacon asked the children if they were ready with their verses. They all raised their hands. The Deacon then repeated a short piece of poetry, his wife followed, and then all the children one after another, even down to Bob—a little three-year-old, who just managed to lisp out, with a charming mixture of pride and bashfulness,
Jesus, tender Seperd, Has' thou died faw me, Make me vewy fwankful In my heart to thee.
Then the Deacon took down the family bible and opened it to the story of Joseph. He asked the children how far he had got. They answered him very sagely, and their responses to a few questions which he put to them showed that they understood what had gone before. Then he read part of one chapter, that which describes the beginning of the famine, and, asking Joe to bring him the full volume of Stanley's Jewish Church, he read the admirable description of an Egyptian famine which it contains. By this time Bob was fast asleep in his mother's arms. But all the rest of us kneeled down and repeated the Lord's prayer with the Deacon—another of his queer notions. The neighbors think he is inclined to be an Episcopalian, because he wants it introduced into the church service, but he says he does not really think that the Lord was an Episcopalian, and if he was it would not be any good reason for not using his prayer. Then the children kissed good-night, all round, and went to bed. Mrs. Goodsole took Bob off to his crib, and the Deacon and I were left alone. It was long past time for church service to begin, so I abandoned all idea of going to church, and opened to the Deacon at once the object of my errand. I told him very frankly that we not only missed him from the church, but that the pastor felt that his example was an unfortunate one, and that the church generally were afraid he was growing luke-warm in the Master's service, and I gently reminded him of the apostle's direction not to forget the assembling of ourselves together.
"Well," said he—though in trying to give his answer in his own language, I am obliged to condense the conversation of half-an-hour into a single paragraph—"Well, I will tell you how it is. You know I used to be pretty regular in attendance on church, and in fact a pretty busy man on Sundays. We had breakfast early. Right after breakfast I sat down to look over my Sunday-school lesson for the last time. At nine o'clock I went to Sunday-school, where I had a Bible-class. At half-past ten came church. After service I had barely time to get a lunch, and then had to hurry away to our Mission. We almost always had some sort of a teachers' meeting after the regular session, so that it was generally tea-time before I got home. After tea I was off to church again. I almost always woke up Monday morning tired, and a little cross. My children are pretty good ones, I think, but they had a queer distaste for Sunday, which I put down to total depravity. And, strangest of all, my wife, who only went to church Sunday morning, and would not even sing in the choir, seemed to be as tired Monday morning as I was, only as it was washing-day she could not sleep as late. About two months ago I was laid up with a boil, and could not go to church. Of course I did not have my Sunday-school lesson to learn, and I was surprised to notice, for the first time, how hard my wife had to work to get the children off to Sunday-school. They stayed at church—as they always do—and for an hour after dinner they got along very well, reading their library books, but then began the labors of the day. First I heard Joe out in the yard frolicking with the dog, and rousing all the neighborhood with his racket. Of course I called him in. Next I heard my wife calling Lucy and Nettie to come down out of the swing. The next thing Bob was playing horse with the chairs in the parlor. So it went all the afternoon. The children had nothing to do. They could not read Sunday-school books all day. I am heterodox enough to wonder how they can read them at all—and of course they got into all sorts of mischief. And when at last poor Bobby came to me in utter despair, and lisped out, "Papa, what did God make Sunday for?" I broke down. I gathered the children about me, and proposed to them this evening service. I told them that if they would learn a hymn every Sunday I would stay at home in the evening with them. They caught at the idea enthusiastically. There is no law about it. They need not learn if they do not want to. But even Bobby has caught the enthusiasm, and gets a book and goes to his mamma every Sunday afternoon to teach him a verse. I have given up my class in the Mission, and made one of my Sunday-school Bible-class take it. I lie down and take a little nap after dinner. Then I learn my own hymn, and make my preparation for our evening service. About an hour before tea the children gather about me in the arbor and I read to them. I have just got Dr. Newton's "Bible Wonders," and am reading it chapter by chapter. My wife takes that opportunity to rest. The consequence is that we both really get refreshed, instead of jaded out by our Sunday, and I think the children really look forward with anticipations of delight to its coming. "My Bible," continued the Deacon good naturedly, "says something about resting on Sunday. I wish our pastor would tell us what that means sometime."
I told the Deacon I thought he ought to tell his brethren, at some prayer-meeting, the reason why he stayed away from church; that it was due both to himself and to them. He agreed to do so. As for myself I am somewhat puzzled. I do not want our pastor left to preach to empty pews. But I am greatly enamored of the Deacon's second service.
Our Pastor Resigns.
ALL Wheathedge is in a fever of excitement. "Blessings brighten as they take their flight." We have just learned that we have enjoyed for these several years the ministry of one of the most energetic, faithful, assiduous, eloquent, and devoted "sons of thunder," in the State. We never appreciated our dominie aright till now. But now no one can praise him too highly. The cause of this his sudden rise in public estimation is a very simple one. He has been called to a New York City parish. And he has accepted the call.
This is a curious world, and the most curious part of it is the Church. While he stayed we grumbled at him. Now he leaves we grumble because he is going.
I first heard of this matter a couple of weeks ago. No. Some rumors of what was threatened were in the air last summer. One Sabbath, in our congregation, were three gentlemen, in one of whom I recognised my friend, Mr. Eccles, of the—street Presbyterian Church of New York City. He was there again the second Sabbath. It was rumored then that he was on a tour of inspection. But I paid little attention to the rumor. In October, our pastor takes his vacation. I thought it a little strange that he should spend half of it in New York, and seek rest from preaching in his own pulpit by repeating his sermons in a metropolitan church. But I knew the state of his purse. I therefore gave very little heed to the gossip which my wife repeated to me, and which she had picked up in the open market. For Sunday is market day, and the church is the market for village gossip in Wheathedge. And Jennie, who is constitutionally averse to change, was afraid we were going to lose our pastor, and said as much. But I laughed at her fears.
However, the result proved that the gossips were, for once, right. About two weeks ago, Mr. and Mrs. Work came into my house in a high state of subdued excitement. Mr. Work handed me a letter. It was a call to the—street Presbyterian Church in New York—salary $4000 a year. It was accompanied by a glowing portraiture of the present and prospective usefulness which this field opened. The church was situated in a part of the city where there were few or no churches. The ward had a population of over fifty thousand, a large majority of whom attended no church. More than half were Protestants. There was a grand field for Sabbath-school labor. The church was thoroughly united. Its financial condition was satisfactory, and its prospects encouraging. And the hearts of the people had been led to unite as one man upon Mr. Work.
"I cannot but think," said Mr. Work, "that it is Providential. The position is entirely unsought. Yet I do not really feel equal to a place of such importance. I am sensible how much wider is the sphere of usefulness. But am I able to fill it? That is the question."
"Well, for my part," said Mrs. Work, "I confess that I am mercenary. There is a great deal of difference between $1,200 and $4,000 a year. It will put us at our ease at once. And just think what advantages for the children."
They wanted my advice. At least they said so. It is my private opinion that they wanted me to advise them to go. I told them I would think about it and tell them the result the next week. They agreed meanwhile to wait.
There were two considerations which operated on their minds, one usefulness, the other salary. I undertook to measure those two considerations.
The very next day gave me an opportunity to investigate the former. I met my friend Mr. Eccles at Delmonico's. We talked over the affairs of his church at the table.
"You are trying to get our minister away from us," said I.
"Yes," said he. "And I think we shall get him. He is a sound man—just the man to build us up."
"And how are you prospering?" said I.
"Capitally," said he. And then he proceeded, in answer to a cross-examination, to interpret his reply. The Church had almost a monopoly of the ward. Its debt was but $10,000, which was in a mortgage on the property. There was also a small floating debt which would be easily provided for. It paid its former pastor $4,000, just what it offered Mr. Work. Its pew rents were about $3,500. The deficiency was considerable, and had to be made up every year by subscription. "But our minister," said M. Eccles, confidentially, "was a dull preacher. I liked him—my wife liked him. All the church folks liked him. But he did not draw. And it is not enough in New York city, Mr. Laicus, for a minister to be a good man, or even a good preacher. He must draw. That's it; he must draw. I expect the first year, that we shall have a deficit to make up, but if next spring we don't let all our pews, why I am mistaken in my man, that's all. Besides they say he is a capital man to get money out of people, and we must pay off our debt or we will never succeed, and that's a fact."
I got some figures from Mr. Eccles, and put them down. They give the following result:
Income. 200 pews at present average-$30 a pew $6,000
Expenses. Salary $4,000 Interest 700 Music 1,200 Sexton, fuel, light, &c. 1,200 Total $7,100
When I showed the footing to Mr. Eccles he shrugged his shoulders. "We shall have to raise our pew rents," said he. "They are unconscionably low, and we must pay off our debt. Then we are all right. And if we get the right man, one that can draw, he will put our heads above water."
With that we separated.
Not, however, till I got some further information from him. He remarked casually that he had a notion of moving out of town, and asked me about prices at Wheathedge. "It costs a fortune to live here," said he. "My wife has an allowance of $300 a month for household and personal expenses. My clothing and extras cost me another $500. And the "sundries" are awful. You can't go out of your house for less than a dollar. I have no doubt my incidentals are another $500. It is awful—awful."
I advised him to move up to Wheathedge, the more cordially because I have a lot I would like to sell him for about a thousand dollars. I really believe he is thinking seriously of it.
The next day I went into the office of my friend Mr. Rental, the broker. I told him I was looking for a house for a friend, and asked the prices. He showed me a list-rents $2,000, $2,500, $3,000. They were too high. Would property in Brooklyn or Jersey City do? No. It must be in New York. It must be in the — ward. It must be a good, comfortable, plain house, without any show or pretension.
"There are none such to let in the city," said Mr. Rental. "Land costs too much. The few plain houses are all occupied by their owners." The very best he could do was one house, half a mile from the church, for $1,800. He had one other for $1,500, but it was opposite an immense stable, and had neither cellar nor furnace, and croton only on the first floor. I thanked him and said I would look in again if either of them suited.
Last week, according to appointment, our pastor and his wife came in for a second consultation.
"There are," said I, "two considerations which might lead you to accept this call-increased usefulness and increased salary. I do not deny the importance of a New York city parish, nor fail to recognize the good work the city ministers are doing. But you must not fail to recognize the difficulties of the situation. New York is sensation-mad. The competition in churches is as great as in business. There are perhaps half a dozen men of genius who fill their churches with ease, or whose churches are filled because they are the resort of "good society." The rest of the ministers are compelled to devote three-quarters of their energies to keeping a congregation together, the other quarter to doing them good. They accomplish the first, sometimes by patient, persistent, assiduous, unwearying pastoral labor, sometimes by achieving a public reputation, sometimes by the doubtful expedient of sensational advertisements of paradoxical topics. But in whatever way they do it the hardest part of their work, a part, country parsons know next to nothing of, is to get and keep a congregation. What you are wanted for at the—street Presbyterian Church is to 'build it up.' The one quality for which you are commended is the capacity to 'draw.' Doubtless there are devout praying men and women who will measure your work by its spiritual results, by the conversion of sinners and the growth in grace of Christians. But what the financial managers want is one who will fill up their empty pews, enable them to add fifty per cent. to the rentals, and in some way pay off their debt. That will be their measure of your usefulness."
It was quite evident that my good pastor and his wife thought me uncharitable. Was I?
"As to salary," said I, "you country clergymen are greatly mistaken in supposing that city salaries are prizes to be coveted. Six thousand dollars is only a moderately fair support for a New York clergyman, and there are comparatively few who get it. You must pay at least $1,800 rent. You must dress as well as the average of your best families. You must neither be ashamed for yourselves nor for your children in the best society. You must keep open house. You must set a good table. You must be "given to hospitality." You must take a lead in organizing the missionary and charitable movements of your Church, which you cannot do without some money. You must be ready to co-operate in great public, church, and philanthropic movements. You must take a vacation of six weeks every summer, which of itself, at the lowest estimate, will cost you $150 or $200 a year. I have made some inquiries of three or four economical friends in New York. Here is the result of my inquiries. You may reduce the figures a little. But it will require quite as much economy to live in New York on $4,000 a year as in Wheathedge on $1,200."
With that I showed them the following memorandum:
Rent $1,800 Household expenses (a low estimate) 1,800 Dress for Mrs. Work and the two children 600 Dress and personal expenses of Mr. Work 500 Summer vacation 150 Incidentals 500
Mr. and Mrs. Work thanked me for my advice, and took my memorandum home with them. But it was quite evident that Mrs. Work was not satisfied that $4,000 was not a great advance on $1,200. And I was not at all surprised when Mr. Work read his resignation from the pulpit last Sabbath. Next Sabbath he preaches his farewell sermon.
I hope I may prove a false prophet. But I think Mrs. Work will find her arithmetical powers taxed in New York as they never were in Wheathedge, and I shall be more pleased than I can tell if in five years Mr. Work does not retire from his post a disappointed man, or find that he has purchased success at the price of his health, if not his life.
Meanwhile we are beginning already to look about for his successor.
The Committee on Supply hold an informal Meeting.
MR. Work has preached his last sermon. A committee has been appointed to supply the pulpit, and secure a candidate for the pastorate. I believe this sort of business is generally left to the session; but on Deacon Goodsole's motion a special committee was appointed partly out of respect to the congregational element which is considerable in this church, and partly, I suspect, as a compliment to Mr. Wheaton. It consists of Mr. Wheaton and Mr. Gear, on behalf of the society, and Deacon Goodsole, Mr. Hardcap and myself on behalf of the church. I forgot to mention that since our Bible-class was commenced, Mr. Gear has begun to attend church, though not very regularly. Mr. Goodsole nominated Mr. Gear on the committee, and of course he was elected. I was rather sorry for I would have preferred that he did not know about the internal workings of this church. I do not think it will enhance his respect for religious institutions. Still I could make no objection. I did make objections to taking a place on the committee myself, but Jennie persuaded me to relinquish them. She has often heard me arguing that politics is a duty, that citizens are bound to take and administer public office for the benefit of the State. By a neat little turn she set all these arguments against me, and as I could not answer them I was obliged to yield. Our wives' memories are sometimes dreadfully inconvenient.
Our committee held a sort of informal meeting last night, at the Post-Office, where we all met by chance, the usual way. In the Post-Office is the news exchange of Wheathedge, where we are very apt to meet about the time of the arrival of the evening mail. Deacon Goodsole had been delegated to get a supply for the next two Sabbaths till we could discuss the merits of candidates. He reported that he had engaged the Rev. Mr. Elder, of Wheatensville. "He has the merest pittance of a salary," said the Deacon, "and I knew the twenty dollars would be acceptable to him. Besides which he is not only an excellent man but a sound preacher."
"Why wouldn't he be the man for us?" said I.
Mr. Wheaton exclaimed against me, "Too old," said he.
"Besides he's got five children," said Mr. Hardcap.
"What's that got to do with it?" said I. "So has Deacon Goodsole; but he's none the worse for that."
"We can't afford to support a man with a large family," said Mr. Hardcap. "We must get a young man. We can't possibly afford to pay over $1,200 a year, and we ought not to pay over $1,000."
"Oh!" said I; "do we grade the ministers' salaries by the number of the minister's children?"
"Well we have to consider that, of course," said Mr. Hardcap.
"Solomon wasn't so wise as he is generally thought to be," said Mr. Gear sarcastically, "or he never would have written that sentence about blessed is he whose quiver is full of them!"
"Well," said Mr. Hardcap, "all I've got to say is, if you get a man here with five children you can pay his salary, that's all."
"When you take a job Mr. Hardcap," said I, "do you expect to be paid according to the value of the work or according to the size of your family?"
"Oh! that's a very different thing," said Mr. Hardcap, "very different."
"Any way," said Mr. Wheaton, "Mr. Elder is entirely out of the question—entirely so. Mr. Laicus can hardly have proposed him seriously."
"Why out of the question, gentlemen?" said I. "He is a good preacher. Our congregation know him. He is a faithful, devoted pastor. We shall do Wheatensville no injustice, for it cannot give him a support. As to age, he is certainly not infirm. I do not believe he is a year over forty-five."
"No! no!" said Mr. Wheaton, decidedly. "It is utterly out of the question. We must have a young man, one who is fresh, up with the spirit of the age; one who can draw in the young men. The Methodists are getting them all."
"And the young girls too," said Mr. Gear dryly.
I wish Mr. Gear were not on this committee. The Deacon meant well. But he made a blunder.
"Very well, then, gentlemen," said I; "if we want a fresh man let us go right to the theological seminary and get the best man we can find there."
"The seminary!" said Mr. Wheaton. He received this suggestion even more disdainfully than the previous one. "We must have a man of experience, Mr. Laicus. A theological student would never do."
"Experience without age!" said I; "that's a hard problem to solve. For the life of me I do not see how we are going to do it."
"Well you must consider, Mr. Laicus," said Mr. Wheaton, adding force to his words by a gentle and impressive gesture with his forefinger, "that this is a very important and a very peculiar field-a very peculiar field indeed, Mr. Laicus. And it requires a man of very peculiar qualifications. It is really a city field," he continued. "To all intents and purposes Wheathedge is a suburb of New York City. In the summer our congregation is very largely composed of city people. They are used to good preaching. They won't come to hear a commonplace preacher. And at the same time we have a very peculiar native population. And then, apart from our own people, there is the Mill village which really belongs to our parish, and which our pastor ought to cultivate. All these various elements combine to make up a diverse and conflicting population. And it will require a man of great energy, and great prudence, and no little knowledge of human nature, and practical skill in managing men, to get along here at all. I know more about Wheathedge than you do, Mr. Laicus, and I assure you that it is a very peculiar field."
I believe that in the estimation of supply committees all fields are very peculiar fields. But I did not say anything.
"And we need a very peculiar man?" said Mr. Gear inquiringly.
"Yes," said Mr. Wheaton, decidedly; "a man of peculiar abilities and qualifications."
"Well then," said Mr. Gear, "I hope you are prepared to pay a peculiar salary. I don't know much about church matters gentlemen. I don't know what you put me on the committee for. But in my shop if I want a peculiar man I have to pay a peculiar salary."
There was a little laugh at this sally, but Mr. Gear evidently meant no joke, and as evidently Mr. Wheaton did not take any.
"Well," said I, "so far as salary goes I am prepared to vote for an increase to $1,500 and a parsonage. I don't live on less than twice that."
Mr. Hardcap struck his hands down resolutely into his pockets and groaned audibly.
"I am afraid we can't get it, Mr. Laicus," said Mr. Wheaton. "I believe a minister ought to have it, but I don't see where its coming from. We musn't burden the parish."
"And I believe," I retorted, "that the laborer is worthy of his hire; and we must not burden the pastor."
"For my part," said Mr. Hardcap, "I won't give my consent to a dollar over $1,200 a year. I ain't goin' to encourage ministerial luxury nohow."
"Well, for my part," said Mr. Wheaton, "I don't care so much about that. But we must have a first rate man. He has to preach here in the summer time to city congregations. They are critical sir, critical. And we have got to have just as good a man as the Broadway Tabernacle. But as to paying a city salary, that you know is absurd, Mr. Laicus. We can't be expected to do that."
"Bricks without straw," murmured Mr. Gear.
Just then the Post-Office window opened, and we made a rush for our mail. But before we separated we agreed to hold a formal meeting at my house a week from the following Thursday evening for a further canvass of the whole matter.
Meanwhile I am perplexed by the double problem that our informal meeting has suggested. I have been sitting for half an hour pondering it. The children have long since gone to bed. I have finished my evening paper, and written my evening letters. The fire has burned low, and been replenished. Jennie sits by my side engaged in that modern imitation of Penelope's task, the darning of stockings. And for half an hour, only the ticking of the clock and the sighing of the wind outside have disturbed the silence of the room.
"Jennie," said I, at length, "when I told you to-night of our talk at the Post-Office you said you hoped we would get a young man. Why?"
"Why?" said Jennie.
"Yes," said I. "I can understand why Mr. Hardcap wants a young man. It is for the same reason that he employs half taught apprentices in his shop. They are cheap. Of course our good friend Maurice Mapleson, with neither wife nor children, can more easily lay up money on $1,000 a year than Mr. Elder, with his five children can on $1,500 or $2,000. But I don't think you and I, Jennie, want to economize on our minister."
"I am sure we don't John," said Jennie.
"And I can understand why Mr. Wheaton wants a young minister. Young ministers do draw better, at least at first. There is a certain freshness and attractiveness in youth. Curiosity is set agog in watching the young minister, and still more in watching his young bride. A ministerial honey-moon is a godsend to a parish. Whether we ought to hire our pastors to set curiosity agog and serve the parish as a nine-day's wonder may be a question. But I suspect that we very often do. But, Jennie, I hope you and I don't want a minister to serve us as food for gossip."
"I am sure not, John,' said Jennie earnestly.
"Why is it then, Jennie," said I, "that you and I want youth in our minister? Young lawyers and young doctors are not in requisition. Age generally brings confidence even when it does not endow with wisdom. I believe that Judge Ball's principal qualification for his office was his bald head and grey beard. When you discovered a couple of grey hairs on my head a little while ago, I was delighted. I should like to multiply them. Every grey hair is worth a dollar. Dr. Curall has hard work to get on in his profession because he is so young and looks still younger than he is. If there was such a thing as grey dye it would pay him to employ it. Lawyers and doctors must be old-ministers must be young. Why, Jennie?"
"Perhaps," said Jennie, "we want in our ministers enthusiasm more than wisdom."
"Enthusiasm," said I. "That might do for the Methodists. But it does not apply to the Congregationalists, and the Episcopalians, and the staid and sober Presbyterians."
"I don't know about that," said Jennie. "What we want of our preachers is not so much instruction as inspiration. We want some body not to think for us but to set us to thinking. Our souls get sluggish, and they want to be stirred up. I do not want some one to prove the authority of the ten commandments, John, but some one to make me more earnest to obey them. I do not care much about Dr. Argure's learned expositions of the doctrine of atonement. But I do want some one who shall make me realize more and more that Jesus died for me."
"And what has that to do with youth, Jennie?" said I.
"I don't know," said Jennie, thoughtfully; "unless it is that the truth seems somehow new and fresh to the young minister. Besides it is not youth, John, altogether. It is freshness, and warmth, and enthusiasm, and spiritual life. Mr. Beecher is not young nor is Spurgeon, nor Dr. Hall, nor Dr. Tyng, nor John B. Gough. But they are all popular. Father Hyatt isn't young, John, but I had rather hear him than Dr. Argure any day."
I rather think Jennie is right. It is not youth we want at Wheathedge, but spiritual life and earnestness. At least it is to be thought of.
But as to salary-how we are to get a first class man at a third class salary puzzles me. I shall have to refer that to Mr. Wheaton. He is the financier of our church I believe.
Maurice Mapleson declines to submit to a competitive examination.
"I have a letter from Maurice Mapleson," said I to Jennie.
"What does he say? Will he come?" said she eagerly.
"No!" said I. "He won't come."
"I am sorry," said she. "It's too bad of him."
"You won't think so, my dear," said I, "when you hear his letter. You'll be more sorry; but you'll think better of him than you did before."
We were at the tea-table. It is the rule of our meal hour to have the conversation one in which the children can engage-in which at all events they can take an interest. So the topic was suffered to drop till they were in bed, and we were alone in the library.
Maurice Mapleson was a young minister that I thought a good deal of. So when two Sundays before, Mr. Wheaton suggested him to me as a successor to our retiring pastor, I welcomed the suggestion.
"You know that young Mapleson, don't you Mr. Laicus," said he, "who preached for us two Sundays last summer. I think he stopped at your house."
"I wish you would write him, quite informally you know, to come down and preach for us a Sunday or two. The folks at our house were quite taken with him, and I think the people were generally. I shouldn't wonder if he were the 'coming man,' Mr. Laicus."
So that evening I stayed at home from church and wrote to him. I remembered what Mr. Wheaton had said about this being a peculiar parish, and our people a peculiar people, and I waxed eloquent as I wrote. I reminded Mr. Mapleson of our glorious scenery. I told him we were but a suburb of New York and he would have a city congregation, and I did not tell him that he would have to pay very nearly city prices for everything, and would not have anything that would approximate a city salary. I told him of the Mill village and the opportunities of Christian labor it opened before him. I assured him that he would find the people remembering him kindly, and ready to welcome him warmly. In short I considered myself retained as advocate In re the Calvary Presbyterian Church, and I rather laid myself out to produce an impression.
And I rather flatter myself that I did produce an impression. But I did not get a verdict. Here is his answer as I read it to Jennie that evening. KONIWASSET CORNERS, Tuesday. JOHN LAICUS, ESQ.,
Dear Sir,—I thank you very warmly for your kind letter of the 6th instant. Kind it certainly is, and though I must decline the invitation it presents so cordially to me, I am none the less grateful for it, notwithstanding the fact that it has been a strong and not easily resisted temptation to violate my settled convictions of duty.
If I were writing formally to the committee it would be enough to decline your invitation without entering into any explanation. But the remembrance of the pleasant week I spent at your house last summer, and the tone of your letter, makes me feel as though I were writing to a personal friend. This is my excuse (if one is needed) for giving you more fully than I otherwise should, my reasons for declining. Those reasons are not in any way connected with the parish at Wheathedge. I am not insensible to the attractions which the place possesses as a residence, nor to that which the parish possesses as a field of labor. But I resolved when I first entered the ministry that I would never preach as a candidate. I never have, and I never will. I began my work in a mission school in New York City, while I was yet in the Seminary. When I left the Seminary, Mr. Marcus who is one of the trustees of the mission asked me to come up to this church. It is a sort of mission among the miners, being half supported by Mr. Marcus who is one of the directors of the Koniwasset Coal Co. I came for six months. The congregation asked me to remain, and I remained. And here I purpose to remain till God shall call me to another field. Another field I will not seek, though I should live and die here. I pretend to believe that Christ is my Bishop; and I shall not move without orders from him.
So long as I am pastor here I cannot preach with honor as a candidate in other parishes. I know other ministers do it-and I do not judge them. But I cannot. Suppose my people were to take advantage of my absence for a week to try a candidate. I wonder what I should say to that. And I cannot see that settled ministers have any more right to try other parishes with reference to a change of place, than parishes with settled ministers have to try other ministers with reference to a change of pastors. In a word I do not believe in free-love as applied to churches.
But apart from that I cannot preach as a candidate. The minister is ordained to preach to convert impenitent sinners and to build up and strengthen Christians. Do you suppose I should do either if I came to Wheathedge on your invitation to preach as a candidate? Not at all. The people would come to criticise, and I should go to be criticised. They would be judges and would expect to put me through my ministerial faces to try me. Come, the congregation says in effect to me in such an invitation, let us see how you can preach, exhibit your proficiency in the doctrines, try your skill in arousing sinners, see what you can do in interesting the saints, read us a hymn or two, as a test of your elocution, and display to us your "gifts in prayer;" and then when the service is over, spend a week and take tea with two or three of our principal families and show us what your social qualifications are, and give our children an opportunity to quiz you. That it is in effect Mr. Laicus, though it may seem somewhat presumptuous in me to say it. And to such a quizzing I am not at all inclined to submit. I never preached but one trial sermon-that was when I was licensed and I never mean to preach another.
Imagine Paul preaching as a candidate to the people of Athens or Corinth, and submitting his claims as an apostle to the popular verdict!
Or imagine, Mr. Laicus, a client coming to you and saying I have an important case to be tried sir, and I think of placing it in your hands. Will you oblige me by making a neat little speech for me. I want to see what kind of a speech you can make.
Since I wrote that last sentence I have read this letter over, and have been on the point, two or three times, of tearing it up and sending in its place a simple declination. But I feel as though I were writing to a friend, and it shall go. I am sorry it must be so. I should like to go to Wheathedge. That it is a beautiful place, and has pleasant people, and is a far more important field of labor than this I recognize fully; and then, what possibly influences me quite as much, Helen, whom your wife knows very well, is waiting patiently for me, and I am waiting impatiently for her, and I never can marry on the little pittance I receive here. But she is of one mind with me in this matter, I know, for we have often talked it over together, and she holds me nobly to my resolution. She, I am sure, would not have me write other than I do.
My kind regards to Mrs. Laicus and my sincere thanks to yourself. A kiss to Harry too, if you please, if he is not too old to take one. The baby I have never seen. Yours sincerely, MAURICE MAPLESON.
"Well," said Jennie after I had finished reading the letter, "I believe he is right; but I am sorry John; sorrier than I was before."
"Sorry that he won't come, Jennie?"
"Sorry that he is right," said Jennie. "That is, if he is right."
"Do you doubt it, Jennie?" said I.
"Well I don't know, John. I go with him. I like him better for his letter. I cannot gainsay it. And yet it seems to me that it puts the ministers in a rather hard position."
"Yes?" said I interrogatively.
"Yes," said Jennie. "You know perfectly well John that our church here wouldn't call a man that isn't settled somewhere. The very fact that he was out of a parish,, would be almost conclusive against him. And they won't call a man without trying him. Must Maurice Mapleson live and die in that little out of the way corner? And if he is ever going to get out of it, how is it to come about? How does a minister have any chance for a change if he takes such a ground as that? It's high and noble John, and I honor him for it; but I am afraid it isn't practicable."
"Little woman," said I, "whatever is truly high and noble is practicable, and you would be the first to tell me so another time. Don't let our wanting Maurice Mapleson here blind us to that."
Jennie smiled her assent. "Well John," said she, "what you are going to do about it?"
"Do?" said I. "Nothing. There is nothing to be done, except to read Mr. Mapleson's letter to the committee, to-morrow night at our first meeting. And I am curious to see what they'll say to it."
The Supply Committee hold their first formal Meeting.
PLACE: James Wheaton's library.—Hour: seven and a half o'clock in the evening.—Present: James Wheaton, Thomas Gear, James Goodsole, Solomon Hardcap, and John Laicus.—John Laicus in the chair.
—Gentlemen the first business in order is to appoint a secretary.
—Oh, you can keep the minutes. We don't want much of a record.
—Very good, if that is agreed to. My minutes will be very simple.
—That's all right. What do you hear from Mr. Mapleson? Anything?
—Yes I have his letter in my pocket.
—When will he come?
—He declines to come.
James Wheaton,: [(astonished).]
—Declines to come. Why a church mouse would starve on the pittance they pay him at Koniwasset Corners. What's his reason?
—His letter is a rather singular and striking one, gentlemen. Perhaps I had better read it.
Which he thereupon proceeds to do, slowly and distinctly, till he reaches the closing paragraphs, which he omits as being of a purely personal character.
—That fellow's got stuff in him and no mistake. By Jove I believe if I was running this church I would take him on trust.
—I think it a very presumptuous letter. The idea. What does he expect? Does he think we're goin' to take a preacher without ever havin' heard him preach?
—We have heard him preach, Mr. Hardcap. He preached here two Sundays last summer. Don't you recollect?
—Yes. I remember. But I didn't take no notice of his sermons; he wan't preachin' as a candidate.
—Gentlemen I am not very much acquainted with church affairs and I don't think I understand this business very well. What do you mean by preaching as a candidate? I thought a candidate was a man who applied for an office. Am I to understand that whenever a pulpit is vacant the church expects different ministers to apply for it, and puts them on trial, and picks out the one it likes the best?
—That's it exactly.
—You don't really mean to say that any decent ministers apply for the place on those terms.
Deacon Goodsole,: [(warmly).]
—Indeed they do Mr. Gear. There is never any lack of candidates for a favorable parish. I have got half a dozen letters in my pocket now. One man writes and sends me copies of two or three letters of recommendation. Another gives me a glowing account of the revival that has followed his labors in other fields. Then there's a letter from a daughter that really moved me a good deal. She pleads hard for her father who is poor and is getting old, and needs the salary sadly-poor man.
—Well, all I have got to say, is that when any of those candidates come to preach I hope you'll notify me, and I'll stay away.
—I have no patience with these new fangled notions of these young up-start preachers. I reckon the ways our fathers got their preachers are good enough for us.
—And what do you say as to that point he makes about Paul's preaching as a candidate, Mr. Hardcap?
—Oh! that's different, altogether-very different. The apostle was inspired, Mr. Gear.
I notice that this is a very popular style of argument with Mr. Hardcap. Whenever he is posed in argument his never failing rejoinder is "Oh! that's different, altogether different." And I think I have observed that the Hardcap logic is not confined to Mr. Hardcap, but is in high regard in other quarters, where I should least look for it.
—Well I don't think much of apostolic authority myself. But I supposed the rest of you thought you were bound by any precedents Paul had set.
—It's mighty high seems to me for a young man to be making of himself out as good as the apostle Paul.
—I like that young Mapleson, and I like his letter. I wish we could get him. Is there any chance of persuading him to come, Mr. Laicus? not as a candidate you know, but just to preach, in good faith like any other man.
Mr. Gear shrugs his shoulders.
—No! and I should not want to be the one to try.
—Well then who stands next on our list?
—Excuse me gentlemen, but if he can't come to us why shouldn't we go to him. Why not try him as we would try any other man.
—How do you mean Mr. Gear?
—If I want a workman at my factory I don't invite one to come from my neighbor and try his hand for a day while I stand over and watch him. We try our apprentices that way, but never a good workman. I go to his shop, inquire as to his character, and examine the work that he has done. If he has done good work in another man's shop he will do it well in mine. At least that's the way we reason in our factory.
—That's a very different case Mr. Gear, altogether different.
—Suppose this Mr. Whats-his-name comes, what more will you know about him than you know now?
—We shall hear him preach and can judge for ourselves.
—One good sermon does not make a good preacher.
—No! But you don't need to drive a horse more than five miles to know what are his paces.
—I don't know much about church management but I like the tone of that man's letter, and I should like to know more about him. I believe if we were to appoint a committee to go out to Koniwasset Corners, hear him preach, look in on his Sabbath-school, find out what kind of a pastor he is, and in a word see what sort of work he's doing where he is now, we would get his measure a great deal better than we should get it by having him come here, and give us one of his crack sermons-even if he would do it, I honor him because he won't.
—I am afraid it wouldn't do Mr. Gear-not with our people. I wouldn't mind it myself.
Mr. Wheaton,: [(blandly).]
—You see Mr. Gear you don't understand church matters altogether. It would not be ecclesiastical-not at all.
Mr. Gear,: [(sarcastically and sotto voce).]
—I hope I may never learn.
Laicus,: [(desiring to prevent controversy).]
—Gentlemen, I for one agree with Mr. Gear. But we are evidently in the minority; so there is nothing more to be said about it. We both believe in government by the majority, and shall submit. What next, Deacon? Are there any of your letters you want to read to us?
—Oh no! It isn't worth while to read any of them. Though I am sorry for that poor old man and his pleading daughter.
—The Deacon's list are all too anxious.
—I suppose there is nothing to do but to pursue the usual course. I move that Mr. Laicus and Mr. Wheaton be appointed to open a correspondence with candidates.
You must excuse me gentlemen. I don't believe in candidating, and I can't be accessory to it. I will substitute Deacon Goodsole's name for my own. And as so amended will put the motion.
As so amended the motion was put, and carried, and the committee on supply adjourned to meet at the call of Deacon Goodsole and Mr. Wheaton. But as we walked along toward my home, M. Gear remarked to me that he wished I would let him know when we got a parson so that he could come to church again; for said he, "I have no inclination to serve as a parson tester." And I confess I am quite of mind with him.
Our Christmas at Wheathedge.
IS there any reason why Episcopalians, Lutherans and Roman Catholics should have a monopoly of Christmas? Is its glorious old patron Saint partial? Has the Christ-child no gifts for us as well as for other folk? Have the December heavens no brightness-the angel host no song for "blue Presbyterians?" May we not come to the sacred manger too? Are our Church festivals so many that we need dread to add another? Is our religion so inclined to gayety and money-making that we need curb its joyous tendencies? The very air of Christmas is marvellous. The heavens are never so blue, the sun never shines with a profuser generosity. The very earth clothes itself in the spotless white of the heavenly robe, as if to prepare for the coming of its Lord.
Alas for him who does not believe in Christmas! May the ghost of Scrooge haunt him into a better mind.
This was what I mentally ejaculated to myself last Saturday afternoon after Mr. Hardcap's protest against our Christmas celebration.
The Sabbath morning previous, Miss Moore came to me mysteriously after church. "I want to walk home with you, Mr. Laicus," said she. I have a wife and children, and I felt safe. "I shall be delighted with the honor," I replied. But Miss Moore's honors are never empty ones. I knew that she wanted something; I wondered what. I had not long to wonder; for we had not crossed the road before she opened the subject.
"We are going to trim the Church for Christmas," said she, "and we want you to superintend getting the evergreens."
"What?" said I, aghast.
Confidentially, please not mention it, I have been in the habit for a good many years of taking my wife and my prayer-book to the Episcopal Church on Christmas-day. Dickens converted me to its observance ten years or more ago. But none are so sound as those who are tinged with heresy. And am I not a "blue Presbyterian?" It would not do to lend my countenance too readily to indecorous invasions of the sanctuary with festivals borrowed from the Roman Catholics. Besides, what would the elders say? I asked Miss Moore as much.
"Deacon Goodsole will lend us his pung," was the reply.
"And the trustees?" said I.
But Miss Moore never leaves a point unguarded.
"Young Wheaton is home from school," said she, "and he will go with you to the woods. He will call to-morrow, right after breakfast."
For a difficult piece of generalship give me a woman. Not fitted for politics! Why, they are born to it. Here was Miss Moore bent on trimming the church. And lawyer Laicus was to go in Deacon Goodsole's sleigh with the son of the President of the Board of Trustees to get the "trimmings." He who dares to complain after that enlists two dignitaries and one very respectable layman against him at the outset.
"Very well," said I, "I will go."
"Go!" said Miss Moore, "of course you'll go. Nobody doubted that. But I want to tell you where to go and what to get."
The next morning I was just finishing my second cup of coffee when I heard the jingle of bells, and, looking up, saw Jim Wheaton and the Deacon's sleek horse at my door. So, bidding Harry, who was to go too, "be quick," an exhortation that needed no repeating, we were very soon in the pung, armed I with a hatchet, Harry with a pruning knife.
That ride was one to be remembered. The air was crisp and clear. Just snow enough had fallen in the night to cover every black and noisome thing, as though all nature's sins were washed away by her Sabbath repentance, and she had commenced her life afresh. There was luxury in every inhalation of the pure air. The horse, more impatient than we, could scarcely wait for leave to go, and needed no word thereafter to quicken his flying feet. Down the hill, with merry ringing bells, ever and anon showered with flying snow from the horse's hoof; through the village street with a nod of recognition to Deacon Goodsole, who stood at his door to wave us a cheery recognition; round the corner with a whirl that threatens to deposit us in the soft snow and leave the horse with an empty sleigh; across the bridge, which spans the creek; up, with unabated speed, the little hill on the other side; across the railroad track, with real commiseration for the travelers who are trotting up and down the platform waiting for the train, and must exchange the joyous freedom of this day for the treadmill of the city, this air for that smoke and gas, this clean pure mantle of snow for that fresh accumulation of sooty sloshy filth; pass the school-house, where the gathering scholars stand, snowballs in hand, to see us run merily by, one urchin, more mischievous than the rest, sending a ball whizzing after us; up, up, up the mountain road, for half a mile, past farm-houses whose curling smoke tell of great blazing fires within; past ricks of hay all robed in white, and one ghost of a last summer's scare-crow watching still, though the corn is long since in-gathered and the crows have long since flown to warmer climes; turning off, at last, from the highway into Squire Wheaton's wood road, where, since the last fall of snow, nothing has been before us, save a solitary rabbit whose track our dog Jip follows excitedly, till he is quite out of sight or even call.
Here we are at last. And here the evergeens are about us in a profusion which would make the eyes water of my honest friend the Dutch grocer who supplied me with my family trees so many years in New York. Our smoking nag is over his impatience now, and, being well blanketed, understands what is wanted of him quite as well as if he were tied, and stands as still as if he were Squire Slowgoes' fat and lazy "family horse." With pants tied snugly over our topboots to keep out the intruding snow, we plunge into the woods. The ringing blows of our hatchets on the cedar-trees bring down a mimic shower on our heads and backs. Young Wheaton understands his business, and shows me how the fairest evergreens are hid beneath the snow, and what rare forms of crystalline beauty conceal themselves altogether beneath this white counterpane. So, sometimes cutting from above and sometimes grubbing from below, we work an hour or more, till our pung is filled to its brim. Long before we have finished Jip has returned from his useless search, and the neighing horse indicates his impatience to be off again.
When we got back to the Church we found it warm with a blazing fire in the great stove, and bright with a bevy of laughing girls, who emptied our sleigh of its contents almost before we were aware what had happened, and were impatiently demanding more. Miss Moore had proposed just to trim the pulpit-oh! but she is a shrewd manager-and we had brought evergreens enough to make two or three. But the plans had grown faster by far than we could work. One young lady had remarked how beautiful the chandelier would look with an evergreen wreath; a second had pointed out that there ought to be large festoons draping the windows; a third, the soprano, had declared that the choir had as good a right to trimming as the pulpit; a fourth, a graduate of Mount Holyoke, had proposed some mottoes, and had agreed to cut the letters, and Mr. Leacock, the store keeper, had been foraged on for pasteboard, and an extemporized table contrived on which to cut and trim them. So off we were driven again, with barely time to thaw out our half-frozen toes; and, in short, my half morning's job lengthened out to a long days hard but joyous work, before the pile of evergreens in the hall was large enough to supply the energies of the Christmas workers.
Of course, we must trim the Sunday school-room as well as the Church, for the children must have their Christmas; and trimmed it was, so luxuriantly that it seemed as though the woods had laid siege to and taken possession of the sanctuary, and that nature was preparing to join on this glad day her voice with that of man in singing praise to Him who brings life to a winter-wrapped earth, and whose fittest symbol, therefore, is the tree whose greenness not even the frosts of the coldest winter have power to diminish.
Of course Christmas itself passed without recognition. I went, as is my wont, with my wife and my prayer-book, to the Episcopal Church. Our Christmas waited till Sunday. A glorious day it was. The sun never shone more brightly. The crisp keenness was gone from the air. The balmy breath of spring was in it. The Church never was so full before and never has been since. The story of its decorations had been spread far and wide, and all Wheathedge flocked to see what the Presbyterians would make of Christmas. The pulpit, the walls, the gallery, the chandelier were festooned with wreaths of living green. A cross-O tempora! O mores!-of cedar and immortelles, stood on the communion table. Over the pulpit were those sublime words of the sublimest of all books, "He shall save His people from their sins." Opposite it, emblazoned on the gallery, was heaven and earth's fitting response to this sublime revelation, "Glory be to God on high." Miss Moore was better than her word. She managed both choir and minister. Both were in the spirit of the occasion. The parson never preached a better sermon than his Christmas meditation. The choir never sung a more joyous song of praise than their Christmas anthem. And before the influence of that morning's service I think the last objection to observing Christmas faded out.
For there had been some objections. I heard of two.
One came from Mr. Wheaton. Monday afternoon, going by the Church, he saw the door open, went in, found it full of busy workers; ceiling, aisles, pulpit, and gallery, strewed with evergreens, and the clatter of merry voices keeping pace with the busy fingers. It was his first intimation of what was going on.
"Heyday!" said he. "What is all this? Who authorized it, I should like to know?"
The chatter of merry voices ceased. The young ladies were in awe. Miss Moore was not there to answer for them. No one dared act as spoksman. Young Jim Wheaton was on a step-ladder rather dangerously resting on the backs of two pews. He was tacking the letter G to the gallery. He noticed the silence and discerned the cause.
"Father," said he, "I wish you would hold this ladder for me a minute. It is rather ticklish."
"Ah, Jim, is that you?" said the old man. Pride in Jim is the father's weak point. The ladder was held. Then his advice was asked about the placing of the mottoes; and it was given, and that was the last of Mr. Wheaton's objection.
The other objection came from Mr. Hardcap, the carpenter. I met him at the door of the church Saturday afternoon, just as the last rubbish had been swept out and we were closing the door.
"Looks beautiful, doesn't it Mr. Hardcap?" said I.
"They'd better have spent their time on their knees than with these fixins," growled Mr. Hardcap; "'twould ha' done the Church more good, a deal sight."
"Did you spend your time on your knees?" I could not refrain from asking.
But Mr. Hardcap did not answer.
Mr. Gear Again.
OUR Bible class at the Mill has prospered greatly. Mr. Gear was better than his word. The first Sabbath he brought in over a dozen of his young men; the half dozen who were already in the Sabbath School joined us of course. Others have followed. Some of the children of the Mill village gathered curiously about the school-house door from Sunday to Sunday. It occurred to me that we might do something with them. I proposed it to Mr. Gear. He assented. So we invited them in, got a few discarded singing books from the Wheathedge Sabbath-school, and used music as an invitation to more. Mrs. Gear has come in to teach them. There are not over a dozen or twenty all told as yet. If the skating or the sliding is good they are reduced to five or six. Still the number is gradually increasing, and there are enough to constitute the germ of a possible Mission-school. I wish we had a Pastor. He might make something out of it.
Mr. Gear adheres to his pledge, and I to mine. We have no theological discussions in the class. Occasionally, indeed pretty frequently, we get on themes on which we are not agreed. But we never debate. Mr. Gear has made several attempts at a theological discussion out of the class, but I have avoided them. I hope he does not think I am afraid of discussion.
I am not. But I am convinced that no mere intellectual opinion is a sin. If Mr. Gear is in darkness it is because he neglects some known if not some recognized duty. My work is not to convince him of the error of his opinions. I probably never could do that. And his opinions are not of much consequence. My work is to find out what known duty he is neglecting, and press it home upon his conscience. And so far I have not discovered what it is. He is one of the most conscientious men I ever knew. Yet something is wanting in Mr. Gear. I believe he half thinks so himself. He is mentally restless and uneasy. He seems to doubt his own doubts, and to want discussion that he may strengthen himself in his own unbelief. But still I make no progress. Since that first night I have got no farther into his heart.
"John," said Jennie, "I wish you would call and see Mr. Gear. He has not been in church for six or eight weeks."
"It is no use," said I, "I have asked him once or twice, and he always says that he is not coming till we get a Pastor. He says he does not care to hear candidates; he does not consider himself a good judge of the article. 'Hardcap,' says he is a ministerial expert, but I am not."
"How is he getting on?" said Jennie.
"To tell the truth, Jennie, I don't know," I replied. "I don't see that he gets on at all. He seems to be just where he was."
Jennie drew a long sigh.
"Patience, Jennie, patience," said I, "time works wonders."
"No, John," said Jennie, "time never works. It eats, and undermines, and rots, and rusts, and destroys. But it never works. It only gives us an opportunity to work."
Perhaps Jennie is right. Perhaps we expect time to work for us, when time is only given us that we may work.
"Besides," said Jennie, "there is that volume of Theodore Parker's sermons which you borrowed of him the other day, you have never returned it."
No! And I had never read it. Our theme in Bible class had touched on prayer. After the class Mr. Gear had tried to get me into a theological discussion about prayer. I had been silent as to my own views, but had asked him for his. And he had handed me this volume in reply. It contained a sermon by Theodore Parker on the subject which Mr. Gear said expressed his own views exactly. Jennie's remark brought this volume to mind, I took it down from the shelf, opened to the sermon, and read it aloud to Jennie.
We both agreed that it was a good sermon, or rather, to speak more accurately, a sermon in which there was good. It is true that in it Mr. Parker inveighed against the orthodox philosophy of prayer; he denied that God could really be influenced or his plans changed. But on the duty of prayer he vehemently insisted. Mere philanthropy and humanity, he said, are not religion. There must also be piety. The soul must live in the divine presence; must inhale the Spirit of God; must utter its contrition, its weaknesses, its wants, and its thanks-givings to its Heavenly Father.
That evening's reading suggested a thought to me. The next evening I started for Mr. Gear's to try if it were time, and to try the practicability of the plan it had developed in my mind. Mr. Gear welcomed me cordially. Mrs. Gear went off almost immediately on pretence of putting the children to bed, and left us two alone together. I opened the conversation by handing her husband the volume of sermons and thanking him for it.
"What do you think of the sermon?" said he.
"I liked a great deal of it very much indeed," said I. "I believe you told me that you liked it."
"Very much," said he. "I think its one of Theodore Parker's ablest sermons."
"And you believe in it?" said I interrogatively.
"With all my heart," said he. "Who can believe that the Great Infinite First Cause can be influenced, and his plans changed by the teasing of every one of his insignificant little creatures?"
"But the rest of the sermon," said I. "Do you believe that?"
Last Sunday Professor Strait preached for us. He preached against what he called humanitarianism. He said it was living without God; that there was very little difference between ignoring God and denying his existence, and that the humanitarians practically ignored him; that they believe only in men.
"It is not true," said Mr. Gear, somewhat bitterly. "You can see for yourself that it is not true. Theodore Parker believes in prayer as much as Professor Strait. I don't believe but that he prayed as much."
"And you agree with him?" said I, with a little affectation of surprise.
"Agree with him, Mr. Laicus!" said he, "of course I do. There can be no true religion without prayer, without piety, without gratitude to God, without faith in Him. Your Church has not the monopoly of faith in God, by any means, that it assumes to have."
"And you really believe in prayer?" said I.
"Believe in prayer? Why, of course I do. Do you take me for a heathen?" replied he, with some irritation.
"And every night," said I, "you kneel down and commend yourself to our Heavenly Father's protection? and every morning you thank him for His watchfulness, and beseech divine strength from Him to meet the temptations of the day; and every day you gather your family about His throne, that you may teach your children to love and reverence the Father you delight to worship?"
There was a long pause. Mr. Gear was evidently taken by surprise. He made no answer; I pressed my advantage.
"How is it, my friend?" said I.
"Well, n—no!" said he, "I can't honestly say that I do."
"You believe in prayer, and yet never pray," said I, "is that it?"
"It is so much a matter of mere habit, Mr. Laicus," said he, excusingly; "and I never was trained to pray."
"All your lifelong," said I, taking no heed of the excuse, "you have been receiving the goodness of God, and you never have had the courtesy to say so much as 'thank you.' All your lifelong you have been trespassing against Him, and never have begged his pardon, never asked his forgiveness. Is it so?"
There was a moment's pause. Then he turned on me almost fiercely.
"How can I thank him Mr. Laicus," said he "when you say that I do not love him, and cannot love him."
"Did I ever say that you do not love God?" said I gently.
"Well then," said Mr. Gear, "I say it. There is no use in beating about the bush. I say it. I honor him, and revere him, and try to obey him, but I do not particularly love him. I do not know much about him. I do not feel toward him as I want my children to feel toward me. What would you have me do Mr. Laicus? Would you have me play the hypocrite? God has got flatterers enough. I do not care to swell their number."
"I would have you honest with him as you are with me," I replied. "I would have you kneel down, and tell him what you have told me; tell him that you do not know him, and ask him that you may; tell him that you do not love him and ask him that you may."
"You orthodox people," said he, "say that no man can come to God with an unregenerate heart; and mine is an unregenerate heart. At least I suppose so. I have been told so often enough. You tell us that no man can come that has not been convicted and converted. I have never suffered conviction or experienced conversion. I cannot cry out to God, "God be merciful to me a sinner." For I don't believe I am a sinner. I don't pretend to be perfect. I get out of temper now and then. I am hard on my children sometimes, was on Willie to-night, poorly fellow. I even rip out an oath occasionally. I am sorry for that habit and mean to get the better of it yet. But I can't make a great pretence of sorrow that I do not experience."
"You have lived," said I, "for over thirty years the constant recipient of God's mercies and loving kindnesses, and never paid him the poor courtesy of a thank you. You have trespassed on his patience and his love in ways innumerable through all these thirty years, and never said so much as I beg pardon. And now you can look back upon it all and feel no sorrow. I am sorry if it is so, Mr. Gear. But if it is, it need not keep you from your God. You can be at least as frank with him as you have been with me. You can tell him of your indifference if you can not tell him of your penitence or your love."
There was a pause.
"You believe in prayer," I continued. "You are indignant that I suspected you of disbelief; and yet you never pray. Are you not living without God; is it not true of you that 'God is not in all your thoughts?'"
He was silent.
"Will you turn over a new leaf in your lifebook?" said I. "Will you commence this night a life of prayer?"
He shook his head very slightly, almost imperceptibly. "I will make no promises," said he. But still he spoke more to himself than to me.
"Mr. Gear," said I, "is it not evident that it is no use for you and me to discuss theology? It is not a difference of doctrine that separates us. Here is a fundamental duty; you acknowledge it, you assert its importance, but you have never performed it; and now that your attention is called to it you will not even promise to fulfil it in the future."
"Mr. Laicus," said he, "I will think of it. Perhaps you are right. I have always meant to do my duty, if my duty was made clear. Perhaps I have failed, failed possibly in a point of prime importance. I do not know. I am in a maze. I believe there is a knowledge of God that I do not possess, a love of God that I do not experience. I believe in it because I believe in you M. Laicus, and yet more because I believe in my wife. But may be it will come in time. Time works wonders."
My very words to Jennie. And Jennie's answer was mine to him.
"Time never works Mr. Gear. It eats, and undermines, and rots, and rusts, and destroys. But it never works. It only gives us an opportunity to work."
And so I came away.
WE are in a sorry condition here at Wheathedge. The prospects are, that it will be worse before it is better. For weeks now (it seems like a year or two) we have been without the Gospel. I do not mean that literally the preaching of the Gospel has been dispensed with. On the contrary, I have heard more sermons on the text, "I am determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified," than I ever heard before in my life. We are hearing candidates, and every candidate seems to feel it necessary to declare himself, to propound a sort of religious platform. The sermons seem to me to have about as much relation, as a general thing, to the spiritual condition of the hearers as Gov. Hoffman's last message to the real interests of the people of the State. In fact, if the truth were told, it is not a sermon we want, but a platform. We invite the candidate to preach, not that we may profit by the Gospel, but that he may show us his face. It has become a psychological curiosity to see how many different sermons can be evolved from that one text. I wonder sometimes if St. Paul would know himself in his modern attire.
I am very glad that Maurice Mapleson did not accept my invitation to come to Wheathedge, to preach as a candidate. For listening to a candidate and listening to the Gospel are two very different things. The candidate preaches to show us how he can do it. We listen to hear how he can do it. From the moment he enters the pulpit all eyes are fixed upon him. His congregation is all attention. Let him not flatter himself. It is as critics, not as sinners, that we listen. We turn round to see how he walks up the aisle. Is his wife so unfortunate as to accompany him? We analyze her bonnet, her dress, her features, her figure. If not, he monopolizes all attention. In five minutes we can, any of us-there are a few rare exceptions-tell you the cut of his coat, the character of his cravat, the shape of his collar, the way he wears his hair. If he has any peculiar pulpit habit, woe betide him; he is odd. If he has not, woe betide him; he is commonplace and conventional. He rises to invoke the blessing of God. If he goes to the throne of God he goes alone. We go no farther than the pulpit. We tell one another afterwards that he is eloquent in prayer, or that his prayers are very common. If his style is solemn, we condemn him as stilted. If it is conversational, we condemn him as too colloquial and familiar. He reads a hymn. We compare his elocution with that of our own favorites, or with some imaginary ideal, if we have no favorites. He preaches. We can, any of us, tell you how he does it. But what he says, there are not half a dozen who can tell. Does he tell us of our sins? We do not look at our own hearts, but at his picture, to see if it is painted well. Does he hold before us the cross? We do not bow before it. We ask, is it well carved and draped? The Judgment is only a dramatic poem; the Crucifixion only a tableau.
So, though we have preaching, we have no Gospel at Wheathedge.
Perhaps the lack of the parish is quite as painfully felt in other departments as in the pulpit. The Church is without a head. It flounders about like a headless chicken; excuse the homely simile, which has nothing but truth to commend it. When Mrs. Beale died last week, we had to send to Wheatensville to get a minister to attend the funeral. When Sallie D. was married she sent there, too, for a minister. He was out of town, and the ceremony came near being delayed a week for want of him. The prayer-meeting lags. Little coldnesses between church members break out into open quarrels. There is no one to weld the dissevered members. Poor old Mother Lang, who has not left her bed for five years, laments bitterly her loss, and asks me every time I call to see her, "When will you get a pastor?" The Young People's Association begins to droop. Even the Sunday-school shows signs of friction, though Deacon Goodsole succeeds in keeping it in tolerably good running order by his imperturbable good humor. One advantage we have gained by this interregnum-only one. Even Mr. Hardcap is convinced that pastoral labors are not so unimportant as he had imagined.
For myself, I am in despair. I made no very serious objection to being put on the supply committee. I fancied the task a comparatively easy one. I had understood that there was no lack of ministers wanting places. There is none. We have applications three or four deep, of all sorts and kinds, from parishless clergymen. But such a jury as the Wheathedge congregation affords, I never saw and hope never to see again. I only wish there was some law to treat them as other juries are treated: shut them up in the jury-room till they agree on a verdict.
The first minister was too old; he would not suit the young folks. The second, just out of the seminary, was too young; the old folks said he had not experience. The third had experience. He had been in a parish three years. He was still young, with the elastic hopes and strong enthusiasm of youth. But he was a bachelor. The people pretty universally declared that the minister should have a wife and a house. The women all said there must be somebody to organize the sewing circles, and to lead the female prayer-meetings. The fourth was married, but he had three or four children. We could not support him. The fifth was a most learned man, who told us the original Greek or Hebrew of his texts, and, morning or evening, never came nearer to America than Rome under Augustus Csar. He was dull. The sixth afforded us a most brilliant pyrotechnic display. He spluttered, and fizzed, and banged, as though Fourth of July himself had taken orders and gone to preaching. The young people were carried away. But the old folks all said he was sensational.
Then, besides those we have heard, there are several we have talked about. There is the Rev. Mr. C— who has the reputation of being a most excellent pastor. He is indefatigable in visiting the sick, in comforting the afflicted, in dealing with the recreant and the unconverted. But Mr. Wheaton says emphatically he will never do for our people. "He is no preacher, Mr. Laicus," says he; "and our people demand first-rate preaching. We must have a man that can draw."
We talked over Mr. K—. He is a rare preacher, by all accounts. I understand that his health has suffered somewhat by excessive study, and he would like another parish, a quieter one, where he can have more time to his study, and can use his old sermons. He preached once or twice in exchange with our old pastor before he left. But Solomon Hardcap would not hear of him, and even Deacon Goodsole shook his head at his suggestion, "He is not social," said the Deacon. "He does not know half the people in Highkrik, where he has been settled for over five years. He often passes his best friend without noticing him, on the street." "Never would do," says Mr. Hardcap. "He only visits his people once a year. I want to know my minister. We want a man who will run in and out as though he cared for us. Preaching is all very well, but we don't want a minister who is all talk."