They are nearly all gone to their reward, Abe among them, but in no sense more than this is the Scripture fulfilled, "He being dead yet speaketh."
Abe becomes a Local Preacher.
Several years had passed away from the date of Abe's marriage, and a family of young children had sprung up around him, filling his cottage with life, and keeping him and his active wife constantly employed to supply their daily necessities. Hard times they had during those years, but they held on their honest way, content with what they got, and envying no one that was in better circumstances than themselves.
During all these years Abe continued a devoted follower of Christ; he was always at the means of grace, and his chief aim was to be a true disciple of the cross. At the same time he was slowly acquiring ability to speak in the meetings with more propriety and effect.
Methodist prayer-meetings and class-meetings are excellent training schools for public speakers. Most of the best ministers in Methodism first learnt to talk in these little meetings, where they have had, week by week, opportunities of expressing their thoughts and feelings upon their religious life and experience; and although there are some who have profited but very little by the benefits afforded in this way, there are many others who have made their way from that humble beginning up to the highest ranks of the Christian ministry.
In this training institution Abe slowly and steadily improved his powers, till some of his friends began to think he ought to have his name placed on the Circuit plan as an exhorter. It was accordingly mentioned to him, but for some time met with no very favourable response from Abe. "Come on t' plan," exclaimed he; "nay, not soa, unless you want to mak' a clerk o' me; but I can say Amen, without being planned."
However, circumstances sometimes happen which have more force of argument in them than anything that men can say. It occasionally transpired, that some local preacher who was planned to preach in Salem Chapel did not come to his appointment, and some person in the congregation had to take the vacant place, and conduct the service as well as he might be able without any previous preparation. Now it appears that Abe found himself placed just in this very unenviable position. The congregation were all in the chapel; the hour of service had come, and passed, yet no preacher arrived; the people were whispering and looking at the clock; one brother went to the door to see if there were any sign of the preacher's coming; two or three of the leading brethren were whispering together, and then one of them came over to Abe and said, "I'm afraid there's going to be no preacher, thou'll be like to try and talk a bit this morning."
"Me, noa, I canna praach, mun," said Abe, evidently agitated.
"Aye, but thou can; thou'll have to try, and we'll pray for thee."
Abe turned pale, looked up at the little pulpit, then down on the ground, and then said, "I've now't to talk abaat, noa, I canna tak' it." Then another brother came and united his persuasion to that of the man already with him, and at length Abe arose and went into the singing pew in front of the pulpit, pale and trembling, and announced a hymn. The service began, and grew into a kind of compromise between a prayer meeting and preaching. The preacher took a text, and in his own style did his best to speak from the words,—the probability is he did speak from them, further from them than critical hearers would judge proper, but what of that? He did his best, and there were none in the congregation but knew him and knew his consistent life; and although what he said was very unpreaching-like, it did not matter; the people were well pleased, and Abe was very glad when it was over.
After the first time this occurred again and again in Salem, until Abe began to be looked upon as the general stop-gap, as they called him. But he was not to occupy that post always; it was only the stepping-stone to something else, for by-and-bye some of the local preachers would take him out with them to their appointments, and let him talk to the people as well as he was able. Wherever he went they said he must be sure and come again; he was so quaint, droll, plain, yet withal so fervent, that everyone enjoyed his remarks, and wished to hear him again.
About the year 1833, and during the ministry of the Revs. J. Curtis and G. Bradshaw in the Huddersfield Circuit, an incident took place which will give an idea of the style of Abe's early preaching efforts. It was on one Shrove Tuesday afternoon that he had to preach at Paddock;—the service was at that time conducted in a cottage;—a good deal of talk had been indulged in by the people in anticipation of Abe's visit, and a great amount of curiosity and interest was excited. The place was full. Abe arrived, rubbing his hands, and blessing the Lord, and immediately took his place, and commenced the service. His prayer was like himself, rough and earnest; Divine power came down upon the little company, and tears of joy ran from all eyes. He selected a lesson with which he was familiar, and managed the reading very creditably. Abe then took his text, the subject being Abraham offering up his son Isaac on Mount Moriah. Just at that moment the Rev. J. Curtis came into the service. Now the unexpected appearance of the Superintendent Minister, under circumstances like those, would have unnerved most young preachers, but it had no such effect on Abe; he no sooner set his eyes on him, than he said, "Naa thaa sees I'm at it, we're just baan off to Mount Moriah, and thaa mun goa too," and off he went in a style peculiarly his own.
He drew some very amusing pictures of the patriarch, his son, and the young men preparing for the journey; he had Abraham ordering the servant men to do this, fetch that, undo something else; he had a deal of trouble in saddling the asses, those animals exhibiting the obstinate tendencies for which their descendants are even yet so renowned; all was at length ready, Abraham and his attendants were mounted and setting off, when the door was again opened, and in walked the Rev. G. Bradshaw, the young minister. At sight of him Abe shouted, "Aye, lad, thaa art baan to be too late, we've gotten th' mules saddled and had a'most gone withaat thee, but niver moind, thaa mun catch a mule for theesen, and come on behind." So away they went, Abe taking the lead, and the people mentally following.
He preached them such a sermon as they had never heard in their lives—nor anybody else. Now they laughed at his odd sayings and grotesque pictures, and then with melting feelings they praised God as they listened to some of the simple yet truly beautiful sayings which fell from his lips. As a sermon, there was enough to find fault with, for he knew nothing about the art of sermonizing, and cared as little; but it was so full of homely truth and spiritual feeling, that every one, ministers not excepted, forgave the faults, and said it was a means of grace.
In this way Abe continued for some time, occasionally preaching without being officially recognized, but at length his name was placed on the plan as a local preacher on trial. When the term of his probation was almost expired, Abe was required to preach one week-night in High Street Chapel, Huddersfield.
HIS TRIAL SERMON.
It was a terrible trial for him, which appears strange, considering how easy he felt when the Circuit ministers heard him in the little room at Paddock, yet so it was; and as the time came on, Abe thought he never could show his face in High Street. Had it been anywhere else he would not have cared, but he had a dread of the Circuit Chapel. He had gone to several of the country places during the year, and sometimes did very well; but then, he felt at home among the plain village people; they could understand his broad vernacular, and make allowance for his blunders, which he knew were not a few, but in High Street everything was different. He thought they could not exercise the same forbearance towards him, and so he shrank from the task.
But then he remembered it was not a place of his own seeking; that it was a trial which other plain men had undergone before him, and would do again, and he could not expect more favour than his brethren; so he must go and do his best, trusting in the Lord for help. And that evening Sally brushed him up, and had his clogs polished, and away he went to Huddersfield. There was a good congregation to hear him, and among others several local preachers. Abe was very nervous, and everything around conspired to make him so. He was in High Street Chapel, awful; he had to preach, worse; to preach a trial sermon, worse than ever; before all these grand folks, and in the presence of the Superintendent, it was blinding, sickening, confounding. He started at the sound of his own voice, and when he tried to speak, he somehow said just what he didn't intend, and made more mistakes than he had either time or sense to rectify; then, whenever he moved his feet, his clogs clamped on the floor in such a way as he had never heard them anywhere else; he was in a fever of excitement and fear. However, he had to preach; so having announced his text, he commenced his sermon, but it was evidently hard for him to say anything; he tried and tried, rolled his eyes up and all around, clasped his hands, uttered a few sentences, scratched his head, and exclaimed, "Friends, I'm plogged" (meaning he could not go on), "she weant goa; if this is preaching trial sermon, I'll niver try another; we'll be like to swap texts" (try another text). Now while he was finding another text, the congregation sang a hymn, and by the time this was done, Abe was ready with his text, which he announced and again started to speak, but with no greater success, for it seemed as if all his ideas were gone wool-gathering. He coughed, stammered, and sweat at every pore, but brought forth nothing else; an encouraging word or two from one of the brethren was very welcome at that moment, for looking towards him, Abe said, "She weant goa, but we'll try another."
Twice breaking down in one service would have satisfied any ordinary man in his circumstances, and so daunted many as that they would never have been heard of again; but Abe was no ordinary man, and was not soon killed; he had come there to try to preach, and it was evident to everyone that he was trying; he knew that if he made another attempt he could not do worse than he had done, and he might do better, and if he did break down there would not be anything very unusual in it, seeing it would make the third time, so he found another text and announced it. Everybody was wide awake and ready for another stop, but Abe smiled, brightened up, and went on; "She's baan to goa this time, I do believe," said he, and so it proved, for when he got into his subject he spoke very fluently, sensibly, and naturally, and all present felt that Abe could preach when he got started, and how could he or any one else preach without starting?
A short time after this eventful service Abe had to pass through another trying ordeal. His case had to come before the Circuit quarterly meeting, the tribunal which has made many an innocent man tremble. There he had to be examined as to his acquaintance with and belief in the Methodist doctrines, rules, etc. What may have been the merits of this examination we are unable to state; probably there was a good deal of leniency shown by the meeting towards Abe. If he was deficient on some points, he compensated in others; if he could not define and defend all the articles of our faith, he could believe them as fully as any one else; be that as it may, there was no serious objection taken to him on the ground of his examination, but the affair of the trial sermon was not so soon got over, and a good deal of special pleading had to be done for him by his friends, which is no unusual thing when the merits of a candidate are under discussion. That "swapping of texts" no less than three times was a very extraordinary feature in the case, and called forth some severe censures. A man that did so could not be fit to come on the Circuit plan as an accredited local preacher, so some in the meeting felt and said; but others thought differently; they could not but admit that under the circumstances he had done a good thing even in changing texts the third time, and why impeach the man for doing a good thing? The man who changes horses in crossing a stream may incur great risks; but if the horse he is riding be sinking under him, he must change seats or sink too, and this is just what Abe did, and the outcome showed that he did the best thing, for the third horse carried him over. He at least possessed an amount of perseverance which few men in similar circumstances would have exhibited; then he must not be estimated solely by what he was when under trial in High Street chapel. How had he done in other places? Here the tide began to tell in his favour, as first one and then another spoke in commendation of his labour in other places, and at length Brother Haigh rose and said, "Abe Lockwood was with me on Sunday night at Mills Bridge; I heard him preach, and he did my soul good. After the sermon an old man seventy years of age came out, sought the Lord, and found Him; that old man was impressed under Abe's sermon, which shows that God can do with his preaching. What matter if he does sometimes break down in his sermons? he knows how to break sinners down too, and after all, that is the best sort of preaching." He was at once cordially received into the ranks of the local preachers, and appeared as such in January 1837; and from that time to the end of his life was as earnest, devoted, and popular as any man among that band, as worthy a band of men as ever worked a Methodist circuit.
So Abe became a local preacher, and while he always felt and said that the office honoured him, he, on the other hand, did his utmost to honour the position which the Church had called him to occupy. Methodism owes very much to those brave, earnest, and godly men who have, during all her history, through all her struggles, laboured cheerfully on, year after year, often at immense personal sacrifice and suffering, carrying the tidings of salvation to outstanding districts, which would seldom have heard the Gospel but for their disinterested services. Their toils cannot have been for worldly honours, where could they win them? They cannot have been for pecuniary gain, because their labours have ever been gratuitous, and often expensive to themselves;—pelted with hailstones, dripping with rain, torn by storms, blistered with sun-heat, in all parts of the land, over miles of barren hills and wild moor, through dirty lanes and new-ploughed fields, giving ungrudgingly of their strength; Sunday after Sunday leaving the home enjoyments of their family and the sanctuary to carry the Gospel of Christ to those afar off. What will the Master do to those brave labourers of His in the day of award? He will make them great in the Kingdom of Heaven.
We may now consider that Abe had really commenced practice as a local preacher, and before long the numerous demands made upon him professionally showed the estimation in which he was held among the people. But there was one thing which gave him considerable trouble, and that was his preparation for the pulpit. This was a great toil to him, but he counted himself abundantly rewarded when he found that God made his simple, earnest sayings a blessing to the people to whom he preached. Abe had no quiet room in his house into which he could retire for the purpose of meditation. His home was full of children, and each of the little rooms resounded with their merry or troubled outcries from morning till night. His study was elsewhere. There was one spot more sacred to him than any other in the world, and that was at the old tree-root on Almondbury Common, where, years before, he found the blessing of Divine pardon. To that Bethel he often turned his steps, and there would he run through his sermons with no audience but the old tree and the little brook; and although his earnest addresses produced no manifest change either on the stoical old elm, or the unstable stream, the practice of speaking did him good, and helped to make him more effective when he came to address a more appreciative assembly.
His frequent visits to this sacred and secret spot began, by-and-by, to be known among his acquaintances, and some of them determined to go and watch him, and make fun of it. They accordingly went and hid themselves where they could both see and hear all that passed. Abe came and began the service, prayed and preached with great liberty, considering the irresponsive audience before him; but while he was preaching and pointing out the folly and danger of sin, and exhorting to repentance, his words were reaching unknown ears, and searching their way into more hearts than he was aware of. These spies were caught in their own net; they felt the truth of the simple preaching. They knew those words applied more to themselves than anything else. They listened in fear and silence, and when they would gladly have got beyond the sound of his voice, they dared not move lest he should discover them, and make his discourse even more personal. When the preacher had prayed earnestly, and had retired from his rural sanctuary, the hidden and moveable part of his congregation were glad to get away. Some of the callous ones endeavoured afterwards to chaff Abe about the open-air service, but most of them were glad to say nothing on the subject, inwardly determining never again to venture profanely within the sacred precincts of the good man's sanctuary.
Abe gradually grew in the esteem of the people throughout the entire Circuit, so that his coming to preach was quite an event of interest among them. They knew he was in earnest for his Master's glory; and though he sometimes said and did things which some men would shrink from, and some would condemn if done by others, no one was displeased at them in little Abe. He was a favourite, and special privileges were accorded him, so that he could say and do just as he pleased. He knew this quite well, and, though he seldom fell into the error of using it as a license, it had the effect of bringing him out in his own true character.
Sometimes he became very happy in the pulpit, and fairly jumped for joy. He was preaching at Shepley, and, as was his frequent custom, he had a brother local preacher in the pulpit with him, to assist in the preliminary exercises. On this occasion our old friend T. Holden acted as his curate. Abe was blessed with great liberty during the delivery of the sermon: he wept, clapped his hands, stamped his feet, and rattled his clogs together. Brother Holden shuffled about to make room for him as well as he could in the narrow area of the pulpit, but he was not quick enough; down came Abe's foot on the curate's toes, almost capsizing the preacher, without in the least disconcerting him. "Moind thee toas, lad, steam's up, I mun jump a bit." And he did jump, the more freely, too, when his assistant retired from his exalted position, and left him all the pulpit to himself. It is evident from this little event just narrated, and others which might be given, that Abe did, in time, overcome his nervousness in the pulpit; being "plogged," and "breaking down," became things of the past, and he began to feel as much at home in the pulpit as in his own house. So far did he show that "practice makes perfect."
Abe had no sympathy with men who allowed themselves to be called preachers, and yet could treat with indifference the work which was allotted to them on the Circuit plan; men who seldom made their minds up to go to their work, until they saw what kind of weather it was likely to be; men who didn't like going out in the rain for fear of getting damp, nor in the wind because it exhausted them, nor in the sun because it broiled them, nor in the dark for fear they might miss their way. He called them "Butterfly preachers," and often declared he would be ashamed to be counted among them.
Yet he did not lay all the blame of their conduct upon the shoulders of these men, because he thought the people helped in some measure to put "butterfly notions" into their minds. If a good man came to his appointment through the rain and wind, and got somewhat badly used by the weather, someone was almost sure to say something to frighten and dishearten him from ever doing so again. "Oh dear, have you come in all this rain? Well, I hardly thought you would be here; nobody could blame you for staying at home on such a day; you are very wet, you'll be sure to take cold and be laid up," and Abe used to say that kind of talk was enough to give a chill to any man, and tempt him to stay at home next time for fear it might rain.
It did not make any difference to him, however; he went in all weathers, rain or sunshine, winter and summer. There is a little ditty he used to sing—
"Come rain or come blow, A Methodist preacher, I must go."
One Sunday morning he was planned to preach at Shepley, and it was pouring down rain. He, however, set off under his umbrella; but long before he reached his destination he was drenched to the skin. Prior to going into the chapel he called at the house where he was going to dine that day; the good woman was grieved to see him in such a condition. "Dear me," said she, "you are almost drowned; come in, take your wet clothes off, and go to bed." "Nay, nay," replied Abe, "yo' mun't tak' me for a butterfly preacher; I'm noan going to bed i' dayloight, I'm baan to praach." And turning to her husband, who was a big man, he said, "Thaa mun lend me some o' thy claathes." The proposal to adorn himself in his host's clothes seemed so ridiculous, considering that Abe was a little man, that both husband and wife laughed right out. "Aye," said the man, "thou would look a queer butterfly going into th' pulpit in my wings." But Abe wasn't to be put off: "Come," said he, "thaa mun foind me some o' thy claathes." They found him a spare suit, and in a few minutes he came downstairs fully attired, and presenting such a figure that the man and his wife were almost ill with laughing at him. It signified nothing to Abe who laughed or who didn't; off he went to chapel. He was a few minutes late, and most of the congregation were in their places. He was therefore very eager to get to the pulpit; but in going across the chapel for this purpose, one of his borrowed shoes slipped off, which brought him to a sudden standstill, and caused special attention to be drawn to his singular outfit; and the moment the people comprehended the state of things, it was impossible to suppress a laugh in old or young; and yet while they laughed at his odd figure, their hearts warmed towards him as they thought of his zeal in coming so far, on such a day, to preach to them.
That morning Abe had a good time in the pulpit. He was very lively, and knocked about a good deal; but it was noticed that he had frequently to be looking down on the pulpit floor, and shuffling about with his feet. It afterwards came out, that, in his excited moments, he had dropped his shoes off, and in getting them on again, had mixed them, and put his feet into the wrong receptacles. This occasioned him a considerable amount of inconvenience, which ultimately exhausted his patience. He kicked the shoes aside, and said, "I have been trying all th' mornin' to stand in another man's shoes, and I canna' manage it; I'm in borrowed claathes, too, but, thank God, my sermon is my own." This little diversion set him off in another direction, and he turned the incident to such good and practical account, showing that Jesus once stood in our place and bore our stripes, that many have long remembered that service with very great pleasure.
On one occasion, when going to a distant appointment, his zeal was put to the test in such a degree that surely he would have been excusable if he had turned back and gone home again. Abe had a dread of disappointing a congregation. He used to say, "If I slip them once, two to one they'll pay me back; noa, I mun goa."
He had to set out one Sunday morning in a pelting rain for a walk of about six miles. It had been raining more or less for several days; the roads were in a sad condition for a "travelling praacher," as he often styled himself. The streams by the roadside were swollen over, and pouring their abundance out on the highroad, until it was very little better than a bog. Under these circumstances the wet soon found its way through Abe's boots and clothes. "Ne'er moind," he said to himself, "I'll find some dry claathes when I get there." So on he went over the rough bleak hill that wouldn't afford shelter for a rabbit, much less for a man, down the steep slope, through the running gutters of water. "Aye dear," said he, "I'm weshing my feet withaat taking my booits off." At the bottom of the hill, known as Stone's Wood Bottom, he was brought to a standstill. Along this bottom runs the river which takes the course of the valley through Berry Brow, before named; it was here spanned by a good strong bridge, having a wall on either side. The water in the river had risen so high with the rainfall, that it ran right over the bridge at both ends, and threatened to carry it away; all the low ground about the bridge was under water to some depth, and hereby Abe was brought to a halt. His only way was over that bridge, and now that was not available. "Well," thought he, "I'm done this time; haa can I get over?" Further up and down the river was swollen, over its boundaries, and was out into the fields, while at the bridge it rushed along like a torrent. "Naa, Lord," Abe began, "Thaa knows where I'm plann'd to-day, and Thaa knows this is my only rooad to th' place; that's Thy watter, and I'm Thy sarvant; I mun be over somehaa; tak' care o' my body while I try." And into the water he plunged, and made straight for the bridge. On reaching this he tucked his umbrella under one arm, and climbed up on the wall of the bridge, and scrambled across on his hands and knees, while the torrent rushed along underneath at a horse-pace. Had he fallen into the water he would probably have been found drowned on one of the banks down the river, but it was not permitted. "Bless the Lord," he exclaimed, when he was safe on the other side, "I'm over! Ah! but I'll do better nor that when I come to pass the swellings o' Jordan! Hallelujah! I'll go over Jordan withaat wetting a threead on me!"
So thou wilt, Abe. Jordan's waves could not harm a brave, God-fearing, and God-honouring man like thee; they know a true-born saint by the tramp of his foot in the darkest night of death, and on his approach, they fall back into line like Royal Guards when the king goes past.
"Though waves and storms go o'er my head, Though strength, and health, and friends be gone; Though joys be withered all and dead, Though every comfort be withdrawn; On this my steadfast soul relies, Father, Thy mercy never dies."
Various Ways out of Difficulties.
Almost any one can get into trouble, but it is not always so easy for any one to get out again. Abe knew both ways,—the way in and the way out,—and many a time he had to run the gauntlet, and save himself as best he could.
There is an amusing story told of a little passage which the Rev. P. J. Wright once had with him. They met on a Sunday morning at the Honley railway station. Mr. Wright was at that time Superintendent of the Circuit, and was on his way to preach at Woodroyd, whilst Abe was going to Honley on a similar errand. After exchanging the ordinary salutations, the reverend gentleman said, "Well, Abe, what are you going to give them at Honley this morning?" On being informed of Abe's subject, he further inquired how he intended to treat it; whereupon his companion began to give an outline of his sermon. When he had finished, his interrogator rejoined, "Why, you are wrong, altogether, Abe, you must change the order of your divisions, and put the first last, and the last first; you have got the cart before the horse." "Ne'er moind," said Abe, "I'll back her up th' hill. Good-morning, sir." "Cart before the horse" was no insuperable difficulty with Abe; he knew how to manage his own pony, and must drive in his own way; he was not very particular which came first so long as he could "mak' her goa." He took what suited his mind best, and paid very little attention to the rules of sermonizing; he was in this respect a law unto himself, and the favour with which his humble ministrations were received was a sufficient excuse for him.
We have heard a sermon described as a thing having three or more heads; it is said to be sometimes altogether void of body or matter of any sort; at other times it appears as a skeleton, without form or comeliness, having only the barest outline. Perhaps this in some measure explains why some people so seldom attend our places of worship; they fear to come within the reach of a sermon, and therefore stay away,—they have heard of some persons that have been actually struck with a sermon, and of others being fastened to their seats by it; how dreadful! Ah, anything will do for an excuse when people don't want to go to the Lord's house; "a poor excuse is said to be better than none at all," but in this case we doubt the wisdom of that saying.
Abe Lockwood was not very particular about the number of heads in his sermons, or whether they had any heads at all; his care was that the sermon should have some soul in it, wherefrom mainly resulted his power in the pulpit.
There is sometimes very great danger of sermonizing all the force out of a discourse; making it so very proper that it serves more as an ornament than a thing of practical use; it appears more a work of art than a work of heart. Abe didn't profess to understand the rules of sermonizing, nor did he make any particular effort in that direction; as may be supposed, therefore, he was often disconnected and irregular, but he knew nothing about it, and nobody else cared; people liked him as he was. His sentences were not like beautiful stones turned and polished by the hand of a lapidary, but they were rough lumps, in all shapes, broken from the great rock of Gospel truth, having their sharp points and jagged edges on them; the consequence being that when slung from the hand of this humble champion they left a mark wherever they struck. He didn't care for that round, smooth kind of preaching which always rolls off; he liked the word to strike, mark, and abide where it fell. He had no sympathy with high-flown sermons which shut out the Cross of Jesus and those good old Gospel truths associated with that dear emblem of God's love to the world. If such a discourse were delivered in his hearing he was sure to say something about it. "Praacher brought us a lot of butterflies and fancy birds and let 'em fly abaat th' chapel, and while we wore starin' abaat after th' birds, we niver gat a soight o' th' Cross."
A young student from Ranmoor College came to preach at Berry Brow. Abe was in the vestry waiting to see him before he went into the pulpit. He shook him warmly by the hand and blessed him, then added in his own droll but kind way, "Naa, my lad, don't let's hav' ony starry heavens t' day, tak' us t' th' Cross!" Had Abe known this young man he would also have known there was no need to exhort him to "tak' them t' th' Cross." The fact was, Abe didn't want to follow any astronomical preacher all through the heavens, striding from star to star with scales in his hand trying their weight, sizes, and distances! "The Cross" was his watchword and rallying-point; there he loved to begin, and there he would always end. Christ the Redeemer was his star, and in the clear unclouded view of that Divine orb he was happy whoever was the preacher.
"PUCKER IT IN, LADS."
In his pulpit exercises Abe generally enjoyed great self-command, and things which would have disabled many a man in the same position, had little or no effect on him. This was not always the case, as we shall have occasion to show, but usually nothing disturbed the even balance of his mind. We have already seen how if a text "wouldn't goa," he could "swap" for another that would "goa." So if he failed to get hold of a thought which had been in his mind before, he did not trouble himself about the matter; he would just tell the people "he had forgotten th' next idea," and then pass on to something else.
His self-possession stood him in good stead one day, and helped to carry others through a trouble as well. He was in one of the country pulpits, and had just announced the second hymn, which was a long metre. The choir commenced to sing a common metre tune to the hymn, but before they had got through the second line they found out the mistake, and one after another dropped their voices and ceased to sing. One tenacious brother, who did not like to be beaten, held on, and made a jumble of the words for a few moments, and then he stopped; whereupon Abe clapped his hands, and turning around to the choir, he exclaimed, "Ne'er moind, lads, pucker it in! pucker it in! Onybody can mak' a long metre tune goa to a long metre hymn, but yo' mun beat that," and then he joined heartily in the puckering exercise, and helped them through their trouble.
"BREAD OF LIFE FREE."
At another time he had been preaching about the Gospel being the bread of life for the world, and showing up its qualities and worth; especially did he dwell upon its freeness for all, that it could be had "without money and without price;" this was his last point, and he made much of it. Now it so happened that immediately on concluding his sermon he had to announce a collection. On sitting down in the pulpit while it was being made, the thought flashed into his mind that he had contradicted his own teachings by announcing that collection. He knew where the snare had come from, and at once in his own way broke it asunder. Rising again to his feet and bending over the pulpit front, he cast his eyes around the chapel as if trying to find someone. "I know that voice," he began, "it's the devil's." Every eye was on him in a moment. "What does thaa say?" "That I ha' not been spaking th' truth, because I telled them th' bread of life wor free, and naa I'm asking th' people to pay for it. Thaa knaws as weall as I do th' bread is FREE, but we mun pay for th' baking. Mak' th' collection, friends, to pay for th' baking, and ne'er moind him." We need hardly say the people gave willingly to this collection, for they knew very well that though the Gospel was free to the whole world, expenses were incurred in carrying on God's work which they should help to disburse, so Abe got out of that difficulty.
"MY GOD SHALL SUPPLY ALL YOUR NEED."
The Wesleyan Superintendent Minister was planned to preach one week-night near Berry Brow, and on some account he could not attend. A substitute had to be found, and Abe was waited on during the day, to see if he would act in that capacity. "I'll try," he said, and accordingly when the time came he set out for the chapel. Some of the congregation knew who was to preach, others did not. At length the door opened, and in walked Abe, and made straight for the pulpit, clamp, clamp, with his wooden clogs on the floor and up the pulpit stairs. He began the service with the usual smile on his face; then he announced his text, "My God shall supply all your need," and closed the Bible as he always did as soon as the text was read. "Naa," said he, "I knaw some o' yo are disappointed at seeing me here instead of your praacher, but it was oather me or nobody. Naa, if th' travelling praacher had come to-noight, he moight easily ha' praached a much better sermon than I can, but I'll defy him or onybody else to foind a grander text than this; it's a raight un, and it's your own fault if you doan't get some good aat on't: if the Lord had thought you needed it, He would have sent you somebody better than me, for He will supply all your need." The congregation saw at once the condition they would have been in if Abe had not come to their help. They smiled at his remarks, and from that moment forgot their disappointment, nor did they think of it again during all that service. Thus Abe's tact in managing people helped him happily through this difficulty, as it had through many others in his lifetime.
Abe's Titles and Troubles.
It is time we said something on this subject, as we are come to the stage in his life when he began to be known by various dignified ecclesiastical titles. He loved his own plain name, Abe Lockwood, better than any other, and therefore wanted no improvement. That was the name in the roll of the Church, and that was the name written in the Lamb's book of life; he wanted no other. If any one addressed him as Mr. Lockwood he would often break in, "They call me Abe Lockwood!" and this was no pretended humility on his part, but the expression of a sincere preference for the name by which he had always been known among his friends: but the time came when it was impossible for him to resist the universal custom of saluting him by some title, so he had to yield to the inevitable.
A story is told, how that on one occasion a parcel of clothes came to the house for his wife and children. It was wrapped in strong brown paper, and on the address-label was written "Abraham Lockwood, Esq." Soon after this, he was taking part in a public meeting in the place from which the present was supposed to have come, and in his speech he thanked the unknown donor; and having done this, he proceeded to correct a mistake which, he said, had occurred; the person who sent him that parcel had addressed him as Esquire. "Naa," said he, "I doan't stand much upon titles, but if I am to have ony, I think I ought to have what falls to me by my birth. Yo' know, I'm a Prince of th' Royal Family, I'm a King's Son, my Father is th' King of Glory, and no man can say that, unless he is born of God, and I am, Hallelujah!" Although there may not be anything original in this, yet the happy way in which he worked it into his speech, and the use he made of it to show the necessity of the new birth, was exceedingly pleasing.
The title of "Bishop," or "Bishop of Berry Brow," was one of those by which he became familiarly known. This arose out of the position he held in the society there, almost like that of father among the members, and also from the amount of preaching he did all over the Circuit. Although this very reverend title brought him no increase to his stipend, nor any change in his social standing, it helped to show the general feeling with which he was everywhere regarded.
But the designation by which he was most familiarly known was "LITTLE ABE." This came into every-day use, and was unconsciously adopted by almost every person either in speaking to him, or speaking of him. Even the little children in the streets and in the Sunday Schools, hearing it from their elders, insensibly fell into the habit of styling him "Little Abe."
As this title is somewhat expressive of size, it may be well to convey some idea of
ABE'S PERSONAL APPEARANCE
He was below the average height and of slender build, yet withal a tough little man, and capable of performing as much work, and enduring as great fatigue, as men who are much bigger and stouter made. Abe used playfully to say, "Good stuff is mostly wrapped in small parcels." "A penny is a great deal bigger than a sovereign, but yo' all know which to tak' when yo' have your choice." "I'm nobbut a little un, but bless God, I'm big enough for th' Holy Ghost to dwell in." "I doan't tak' up much room in th' world, but I'm as happy as if I were as big as Berry Braa Church." "I'm a little un mysen, but my Father is greater than all."
His face was one of the happiest it was ever our good fortune to meet with. A smooth, round, ruddy, comfortable face, over which the razor had almost unlimited sway; his mouth was always in shape for a smile; his eyes were of a light blue colour, and twinkled with life and vivacity; his hair was always brushed back behind his ears, terminating behind in a pretty little natural curl and whether it had the black gloss of his younger days, or the snowy white of old age, it was always neat and orderly. In early life he was very proud of his hair, and bestowed a great deal of care in its cultivation and arrangement. When he became converted, Abe's hair underwent a marvellous change. The beautiful locks which had been so much admired and preserved with such care, were roughly taken off by the family scissors and thrown into the fire, and while they frizzled into smoke, Abe felt he had done the right thing in casting down every idol and putting away every mark of pride. Many and many a time in after years would he say to his wife, "Naa then, lass, where's th' shears? Thaa mun clip my locks agean. Samson gat clipt by his wife, and he were worth nought after, but thy shears mak's me strong." Then Sally would gently snip the ends of the curling fringe all around, while Abe, by way of encouraging her, would put in, "We mun shun th' appearance of evil, thaa knows; cut a bit more, lass;" and then she would very reluctantly sever another lock or two, until he could be persuaded enough was taken off.
Abe was in the latter part of his life particularly neat in his attire, wearing an orthodox suit of black cloth, and cut in the Methodist preacher style. He wasn't at all sparing in white neckcloth, for he wore one that travelled around and around his neck in such profusion, that it might have been intended as an extra security against the loss of his head. Altogether he was quite the type of an old-fashioned Methodist preacher. In the pulpit his appearance was exceedingly prepossessing; he always had a smile on his face while talking, as if he thoroughly enjoyed the good news he was telling to others. In beginning to speak, or when about to say something which he thought particularly good, he had a way of holding his head a little over on one side, and clapping his hands together. These movements, accompanied with an occasional shrug of his shoulders, were among the general signs that the "Little Bishop" was having a good time, and when Abe was happy in his work, everyone that heard him had a liberal share of enjoyment and profit as well. But of course, like other men, he sometimes felt the misery of preaching in what he quaintly and appropriately called
"THE TIGHT JACKET."
Taking into account the want of education from which he suffered, the disadvantages he was at in preparing for his public duties, as well as other occasional depressing circumstances, we cannot wonder that he should sometimes have been the subject of the most painful restraints, likened by him to a "tight jacket." There was a wonderful difference in his preaching when he had one of these "hard times," and when he enjoyed liberty. If in the latter mood, as was generally the case, his tongue was like the pen of a ready writer, and streams of beautiful truth, sparkling with pious humour and accompanied with striking original illustrations, would pour from his lips; but if he had the "tight jacket" on, he could scarcely say anything, and it was a pain to listen to him.
Poor Abe had one of these "pulpit fevers" in Salem Chapel one day, and Sally, his wife, was there; she sat all the time in a nervous torment, and as soon as he had finished, she rushed off out of the place ashamed of him. Dear woman, her homely criticisms were sometimes very severe upon him, partly because she was jealous for his reputation, and partly because she so loved him, and that was her way of showing the ardour of her affection; she used a liberty which by some universal law falls to the right of all affectionate wives whose husbands are preachers, and she occasionally said some very terrible things to him about his sermons. On this particular day, therefore, Abe knew pretty well that when he got home he would get something besides his dinner. He winced as he thought about it, and made the walk home as long as he could, in the hope that something might cool down a bit; however, he had to go in, so, shrinking into the smallest possible dimensions, he glided silently into the house, hung up his hat, and sat down. Sally was in a flutter, she was full, it must come:—"What hast ta been trying to do this mornin'?" she began, looking hard at him.
"Why, I couldn't mak' her goa a bit somehaa," meekly replied her good man.
"Goa! No, haa does th' think she could goa, thaa niver gat her on her feet."
Abe made no response, but sat mute in his misery, and poor Sally felt a reaction setting in, which made her feel as if she had allowed her ardent affection for him to carry her too far. Meanwhile, she was bustling about preparing the dinner, and when all was ready, she went over to him, and kissed his forehead, adding, "Naa, lad, come and get th' dinner, and don't moind what folk say; thaa'll do better next toime, th' Lord help the'." Abe was healed by a touch.
Ah, but he didn't like those dry, hard times, when he couldn't find a handful of green-meat to give to the Lord's dear sheep, and it would trouble him deeply to think that he had led the flock to expect green pasture, whereas he had only brought them to feed among rocks and stones. Then the old enemy would beset him, and say what an old fool he was to think he could preach; that the people only laughed at him and made sport of his sayings, and that he had better give up preaching, and try no more. But Abe would say, "Why, devil, thaa 'rt vary much troubled abaat my praaching; if I'm such an old fool as thaa mak's aat, I canna do the' so much harm." But all the banter and strife he had with the devil did not conquer that arch-enemy; talking to him is mostly waste time and ill-spent breath; there is another way which a good man has of finding relief; he can go to God in prayer. This was Abe's sure refuge; here he vented his trouble, here he got comfort, here he gained fresh strength, and when he came warm from the closet struggle to the pulpit work he was another man. After passing through one of these temptations, he was almost sure to tell the people, the next time he preached, how the devil had harassed him, and wanted him to give up preaching, but how the Lord had bidden him to go on, and on he would go and did; his restraints were broken, his tongue loosed, and his soul fired, it was a joy to hear him then.
He was one day rejoicing in his regained liberty, when he said, "Aye, bless yo', I wor as fast as a thief in a man-trap; I couldn't get away till th' Lord came and let me aat." And then turning upon the unsaved part of his congregation, he used a simile, which, on his behalf, I claim to be original if not elegant. Said he, "Yo' may think I was fast enough, but let me tell yo', not hoalf as fast as some of yo' sinners. Yo' are like a flee" (fly) "in a treacle-pot; the more he kicks the faster he sticks." And there was truth in the saying, and although the figure might amuse, the moral would remain in many a mind for after-thought.
THE BLACK CLOTH SUIT.
When Abe had been some time preaching, and was making a good name for himself in the Circuit, a desire began to be felt by many of the friends to hear him in High Street Chapel, Huddersfield. This was before the present splendid sanctuary was erected. Accordingly when the next plan came out, he was appointed to take a Sunday morning service. Many a time did he tell of the consternation both he and Sally felt on making this discovery. He was sitting at the end of the table one evening with the plan in his hand marking off his work, and his wife was busy about something in the room, when, all at once, Abe exclaimed, "Eh, lass, what dost ta think they've done?"
Sally looked rather startled and said, "Who? what?"
"Why, they've plann'd me in High Street on a Sunday mornin'."
"Niver!" gasped Sally, coming to look at the plan herself; "where is it?"
He placed his finger on the number which indicated his work, and she saw it was a fact.
"Well," she said, "thaa canna goa; thaa has no claathes fit to wear amang them grand foak."
Now Abe would never have given his clothes a thought if she had not brought the matter before his mind in the way she did; now, however, he remembered his coloured suit and his thick boots, and felt they were scarcely befitting the place he was called to occupy, however well they might do among plain people in the country places. At length he said, "But if I'm plann'd, I mun goa, and if they don't loike my claathes, I canna help 't." Meanwhile the date of the High Street event drew near, and the following Sunday would find "Little Abe" at his post of duty. He was far more anxious about his work than his appearance, so that all the care on this matter fell upon his wife. She was bothered sadly about his clothes. Saturday came, and, poor thing, she was bestowing especial attention upon his old coat, mending button-holes, cleaning spots out, brushing, shaking, and scrutinizing the old garments as she had never done before. That evening they were sitting together, just before Abe went out to the Band Meeting in the Chapel; a loud knock came to the door. In a moment Sally opened it, and a man handed her a large parcel, simply saying, "That's for Mr. Lockwood," and immediately went away.
"What's this?" exclaimed Sally, feeling and patting the parcel.
"Nay, lass, don't ask me; thaa mun open 't, and then I'll tell the'."
A table-knife soon severed the string by which it was tied, and the good woman proceeded with nervous fingers to unfold the wrapping, and out came a black cloth suit for her husband. Neither of them could speak for a moment or two; she lifted her apron to wipe her eyes; Abe's lip quivered, and his eyes brimmed over; he couldn't help it, big round tears fell on his clasped hands as they rested on the table; both of them looked at the parcel. "Does the' see that?" at length said Sally; "thaa'll look loike a travelling praacher naa, lad."
That broke the spell. Up jumped Abe and began to leap about the house, clapping, rubbing his hands, and blessing the Lord. All the children joined the chorus, laughing, jumping, and shouting "Daddy's got some new claathes! Daddy's got some new claathes!" and poor Sally, full of smiles, holding up one garment after another, kept interjecting, "Well I niver!" "Law me!" "Eh, dear!" Abe's heart was full, and he must needs empty it before Him who had inclined some unknown friend to send this handsome and appropriate present just at the right time. From an inner room the voice of the good man was heard going up to God in grateful acknowledgment of His kindness; and the children were hushed into quietness hushed,—hushed while Daddy was praying. The next day Abe appeared in his new clerical attire, and from that time was never without the requisite black cloth suit in which to go about his beloved Master's work. Oh, how much we may learn from a little incident like this—how much of humble trust in God under all the circumstances of life, how much assurance that "your heavenly Father knoweth ye have need of these things," and that "My God will supply all your need!"
A Basket of Fragments.
The fame of "Little Abe" was not confined to his own Circuit, it spread among the villages and towns for many miles around, so that he was greatly sought after to preach anniversary and other sermons, and wherever he went the people felt he was "a man sent from God." There are some who well remember his first visit to Elland, and the delightful day they had with him in the Lord's house. His text was, "My God shall supply all your need." He read these words, and then clapped his hands together, while his face beamed with smiles. "Well," said he, "do you want me to praach ony after that? what can onybody say after Paul spakes? He says everything with once opening his maath; with one scratch of his wonderful pen, he writes more than I could spake in a lifetoime, if I were left to mysen, 'My God shall supply all your need.' Friends, there's nowt left, yo've gotton all in that, ivery thing yo' need, and I reckon you'r weel off."
From this simple and easy beginning, he gradually got away into his subject, explaining, illustrating, and applying his text in a way that warmed every heart. He was condemning the want of faith which characterized some professors: "Bless yo'," he said, "sooiner than aar God would see His faithful children want, He would mak' apple-dumplins grow on ash-trees." And then he exclaimed, "Don't yo' believe these words? Ah, 'tis nowt unless yo' believe; you might be eating th' dumplins and smackin' your lips on th' apples, but if you doan't believe, yo'll say it's a dream. Wake up, and believe naa, and you'll foind your maath is full of good things."
I have said that some of Abe's similes were not very elegant, and when the following is related, my readers will agree with me; but they were well understood by the people among whom they were uttered. Speaking one day of the pardoning mercy of God, and showing that He does not grudgingly forgive the penitent sinner, Abe said, "Yo' womenfolk know haa to wesh a pie-dish, I reckon? Yo'll tak' th' dish and put it into th' hot waiter, and then tak' dish-cloth and rub it raand and raand, insoide and aatsoide, till it's clean, and then yo'll wipe it wi' a clean towel, and mak' it look just loike a bron new dish; and that's haa th' Lord does wi' a poor sinner: He gies him a plunge into th' Gospel fountain, weshes all his sins away, and brings him aat a bron new man." An old woman sitting there caught the figure in a moment, and responded energetically, "Maa th' Lord tak' th' dishcloth and wipe some aat here t'-noight!" "Amen," exclaimed "the Bishop."
"TASTE AND TRY."
Abe's remarks on Psalm xxxiv. 8, "O taste and see that the Lord is good," etc., were very characteristic. "David was nooan a bad man to deal with; he didn't try to deceive onybody and mak' them believe a lie, like th' devil does; he says, yo' may 'taste and see.' Naa, that ought to satisfy yo' particular talk; yo' loike to taste th' butter and cheese afore you buy, and if it's gooid, you say, 'I'll tak' a pund o' that;' naa, then, come and try if th' Lord is gooid. Aye, bless yo', He is gooid! He's as fresh as th' morning dew, and sweet as new cream," and then with a quaint look he would add, "and there's a deal more on Him than you often foind on your milk."
He used to say that religion could be tested in two ways;—you can taste it yoursen, and you can see it in others. See what it has done for your neighbours—how it has changed th' lion into a lamb, th' raving sot into a sober and happy man; weshed th' tongue and purified th' heart o' th' blasphemer, and filled th' maath of the dumb with songs of thanksgiving, see!—"See that the Lord is good!" Then raising his voice and reaching out his arm he would exclaim, "There's noan so bloind as those that weant see! but remember, yo' weant always be able to play th' bloind man, God will crack a thunderbolt close to your ear some day, and yo'll open your eyes to see th' judgment before yo', and then what will yo' say?"
His only aim in what he said was to reach the people's hearts and bring them to decision for Christ; that was the reward he coveted, nothing more, nothing less; only let him see sinners coming to Jesus, and he was happy. He would stay all night by a penitent, and never leave until he knew the poor soul was safe in the kingdom of God. Time was nothing to him; the long, dark journey home brought no misgivings to his mind. When his work was done, and another soul safe in the arms of Jesus, the humble village preacher would take his stick, or, as he sometimes called it, his pony, and set off home, where many a time he arrived faint and tired in the dead of the night, but with his soul full of that peace which only a man feels who has ungrudgingly laid his last remnant of energy at the feet of his Divine Master.
"WHO'S BEEN HERE?"
"Little Abe" used everything that came to hand in order to make the Gospel plain, and enforce its teachings upon his hearers. Zeal for the work, and a devout bias to his mind, enabled him to find religious teaching in many things, wherein perhaps others would never have discovered any.
He was in one of his sermons exhorting the people to watch against the devil, lest he should gain an entrance to their hearts and spoil the work of God. "Naa," said he, "I'll tell yo' some'at. Aar lads" (his own sons) "took a fancy for a bit of garden; we had a little patch of graand by aar haase; well, they set to wark, mended th' fence all raand, dug up th' soil, threw aat th' stones and rubbish, raked it over and marked it aat into beds, and planted flaars, and you may depend t' lads wor praad o' their wark; for mony a week they kept doin a bit noights and mornin's to keep it raight. By-and-bye, flaars came into bloom, pinks, panseys, and other things came aat all over th' garden; weren't they praad naa, and so wor I. One mornin', just afore we were going t' th' mill, th' big lad went aat to look at th' garden a minute, and th' first words he said wor, 'Who's been here? Who's been here?' Aat I went, and I wor raight grieved to see all th' garden spoilt, flaars broken off, little beds trampled aat o' shape, and th' wark of months all undone. I saw in a minute haa it wor: an owd ass had gotten in during th' noight and done all th' mischief. 'Haa could he get in,' said th' lad, 'th' fence was all roight and safe?' But I said, 'Did ta fasten th' gate last noight?' He looked at th' gate and said, 'I don't knaw, father.' Ah, that wor it, there wor his foot-tracks through th' gateway. Ah, friends, the devil is like an owd ass, goin' skulking and shuffling abaat in th' dark when other folks are in bed sleeping, and he is always trying to get into th' Lord's garden and spoil th' flaars; yo' may mend th' fence as much as yo loike, but if you don't fasten th' gate, he'll be in and undo all th' good wark in your hearts. Shut th' gate, and fasten it; nail it up, raather than let th' owd cuddy get in; he hates everything that is good in nature and grace; he'll spoil th' best wark of God in a single noight; th' track of his owd hoof means mischief, and one of his kicks would lame onybody; keep th' devil aat o' th' heart, fence it raand with prayer; watch against th' enemy, and you'll be roight noight and day."
"When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace" (Luke xi. 21).
"ELLOW! WHO'S THERE."
Abe had a very quaint and original way of rendering the parable of our Lord on the importunate neighbour (Luke xi. 5).
"There was a good man who said one noight to his wife, 'Naa, lass, we mun be getting to bed, I ha' to be up i' th' mornin' i' good toime.' 'Aye,' she said, 'thaa has?' So she put supper things away, and then she and th' childer sat daan while th' good man read a chapter i' God's Book; then they all knelt together at the family altar, and committed their souls to the keeping of Him who never slumbers nor sleeps. In a little while after that they were all in bed and th' candle blown aat; they were just settling daan into sleep, when there came a loud knocking at th' front door, ran, tan, tan, tan. 'Ellow! who's there?' exclaimed th' good man of th' haase as he raised himself up in bed.
"'It's me!' answered a voice from th' aatside.
"'Me, who's me?'
"'I'm th' neighbour, thaa knaws.'
"'Aye, and a bonny neighbour thaa is to be comin' here knocking up sich a row at this toime o' th' noight.'
"'Why, I'm vary sorry,' chimes in th' voice aatsoide, 'vary sorry to trouble you, but a friend o' mine that's on a journey, has just come to aar haase, and wants his supper and a noight's lodgings, and we ha'nt a morsel o' bread to set before him, and I want to knaw if thaa'll lend us a loaf till my wife bakes.'
"'Get away hoam wi' the',' replied the man of th' haase. 'I'm i' bed, and canna be bothered; candle's aat, and we ha' no matches upstairs; go home and come agean in th' mornin', and I'll lend the' some. Remember me to the' friend, good-noight:' whereupon he shuffles daan into bed agean, and tries to compose himsen to sleep.
"But th' man aatsoide has been and fetched a big thick stick, and with this he starts to hammer th' door laader than ever, till he startles all th' sleepers in th' haase.
"'Naa then, what's th' matter?' shaats th' man from insoide, 'I thought thaa war gone hoam.'
"'Will thaa lend me a loaf till my wife bakes?' This was said in such a deliberate, determined voice, that the good man knows in a moment he won't be put off.
"'What thinks ta, lass? Mun I get up and gie him one? I don't believe he'll goa away; he'll bray t' door daan afore dayloight.'
"While th' wife is rubbing her eyes and hesitating a bit, th' man aatside rings sich a clash of bells on th' front door, as brought th' good man aat on th' floor in a twinkling.
"'Hold on! hold on, mon, I'm coming!' and he was off daanstairs to the cupboard like a shot, aat with a loaf, unlocked th' front door, handed forth th' bread to the man, who was just getting ready for another knock. 'I see,' said he, 'thaa weant be put off; tak' this, and go hoam wi' the'.'"
This story, told in the vernacular of the district, of which this is a very imperfect rendering, and accompanied with Abe's expressive gestures, was exceedingly effective, and not easily forgotten. Nor did he omit the beautiful moral of the parable, showing the necessity of prayer, importunate prayer, prayer at all times. "Keep knocking!" Abe would say, "God is only trying you a bit in not answering first knock; it's His way of proving whether you really mean it or not. Knock laader, pray on and on, He hears, He is coming, bless Him! He never said to th' seed of Jacob, 'Seek ye my face in vain.'"
"PUT UM ON THEESEN."
The Prodigal Son was a favourite subject with the "Little Bishop," and many are the quaint sayings which fell from his lips while dwelling on this interesting parable. The singular pictures which he drew of this young man in his degradation brought many a smile on the faces of the congregation. But his chief aim always was to get the youth back to his father's house again; here his emotions often overpowered him, and his joy was so great that he hardly knew what he was saying. Many of the friends still remember him on one occasion at Outlane. He had brought the poor prodigal to the top of a lane leading down to his father's house; there he stood, covered in rags and dirt, his head bare and his shoes gone; he is just timidly stopping at the corner of the lane debating whether he shall go on or turn back, when at that moment out comes the old man to look up and down the road; he sees that bit of human misery at the lane end, and in an instant recognizes him as his son, "'Mother! mother!' exclaims th' owd man, 'quick! quick! here's aar Jack standing at top o' th' loin. Oh, run! run my owd legs, tak' me to him! Here, Jack, my lad, come to me, the' father wants thee—come, come!' And in another moment the old man is hurrying with tottering steps and open arms towards his son, and folding him, rags and all, to his bursting heart." It was so real to Abe, and he was so carried away with the picture which was before his vivid imagination, that when he got the lad into the house, he exclaimed, "Put shoes on his hands, and rings on his feet,"—whereupon a brother in the chapel called out, "Nay, nay, Abe lad, thaa mun't put shoes on th' lad's hands, and th' rings on his feet; put um on roight, man." But Abe responded at the top of his voice, while tears came rolling over his face, "Put um on theesen and let me aloan! 'This, my son, was dead, and is alive again, he was lost and is faand!'" By that genuine burst of feeling, he reached a climax of eloquence that has seldom been surpassed in the history of preaching.
"I am a Wonder unto Many."
Such were the words of David in olden times, and with propriety did "Little Abe" frequently adopt them in his day. Considering his condition prior to his conversion,—a wild, thoughtless, and wicked young man, having neither fear of God nor man before his eyes, and then contrasting it with what he had become by the grace of God; remembering his want of education, that he never could write, and by that means commit his thoughts to paper, and yet that his preaching was acceptable and profitable to the people, that he drew large congregations wherever he went, some people coming to hear him who seldom attended the places at any other time; that he was used by God in bringing many sinners into the fold of Christ, who are now useful members in the Church on earth, or enrolled among those who serve God in His temple in heaven, "Little Abe" really was "a wonder unto many."
A woman once said to him, "Aye, Abe, I like' to hear the' preach."
"Bless th' Lord for that," responded Abe.
"But," continued she, "I many a toime wonders where thaa gets all th' sense from, and haa thaa foinds t' words to say, for thaa's niver been to college, nor ony place loike that."
"Who says I wor niver at college?" he replied. "I have been to a college where they mak' a roight job on um, woman."
"Why, what college hast ta been to? Not Ranmoor, I'll be baan?"
"Noa, not Ranmoor; it would puzzle th' Doctor to mak' onything o' me; I've been to th' fisherman's college, where Peter and th' rest on um went. I've learnt a bit at th' feet o' Jesus, bless Him!"
Yes, he had learnt to devote what little talent he possessed to the highest and happiest service in the universe, and his success as a labourer for Jesus shows that the great Master can make good use of any feeble instrumentality for the spread of truth and the salvation of mankind. "We have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of us," was a saying of apostolic days, but as true now as when uttered by St. Paul. When great scholars and brilliant orators or men of extraordinary natural and acquired parts become successful as the advocates of our Christian faith, there are always some more ready to pay a tribute to the powers of these men, than to the Gospel which they teach, ascribing their success not to the inherent power of truth, but to the extraordinary talent of its advocates. But when men like our friend "Little Abe" are raised up for the Lord's work, and the Gospel preached by them becomes mighty in changing the hearts and lives of others, these opponents of our blessed religion are at a loss to find some human arm to which they can ascribe the glory, and while they vainly seek such arm, others can plainly see "that the excellency of the power is of God, and not of us."
A great deal of the favour which "Little Abe" met with was due to his sincerity. He was very droll in his sayings; he was very original in his manner of dealing out truth; his illustrations were mostly drawn from things in everyday life which everybody understood; his language was the plain home-spun provincialism of the locality where his hearers were born and brought up; but however much may be due to these things, those who knew him best would say, that his almost universal acceptance was due to his undoubted sincerity. This made everything he said in the pulpit quite proper. What would appear out of place in any other man, was becoming in him; all his odd sayings and gestures were kindly received, and never an unpleasant feeling was excited in the breast of any who really knew the man.
Oh, it is a grand thing when a man has so lived and proved himself among those around him, that they all feel his religion to be sincere! What good may not such a man be capable of doing? He may be unschooled and unread, he may be poor, and hold but a humble position in the ranks of life, and yet withal, he may exert a power which neither rank nor learning can acquire, nor wealth purchase. He rules hearts; learning may rule heads, and wealth may influence manners, but sincere goodness enshrines itself on the throne of the heart.
Men among whom "Little Abe" lived and worked, with whom he met from day to day,—men who professed to have no regard for religion as such, respected Abe's presence more than they would that of their own fathers, and stopped their unclean conversation at his approach, or by some other unmistakable means indicated their deep respect for him. They all knew what grace had done for him, and they honoured the genuine work, thereby entitling Abe to say, "I'm a wonder unto many."
One man says, "If there were no other evidence that religion is a good thing, there was proof enough in Little Abe. I have had ample opportunities of watching his daily life for many years, having worked in the same mill with him, and I know what the other mill hands thought of him as well; everybody believed in the 'Little Bishop,' and there wasn't a man to be found that would utter a disrespectful word of him. He was often employed in what is called 'cuttling,' that is, drawing cloth from the machine. To do this he had to kneel on the ground; it was easy work, and required very little thought. Many a time have I seen him, while in this position, praying and drawing off the cloth, and I have thought that Abe couldn't help praying if he got on his knees, whether it was in the mill or anywhere else.
"Sometimes on a Saturday the young people in the mill would say, 'Well, Bishop, where are you going to preach to-morrow?' and then, with the brightest, kindest smile, he would tell them where his work for the next day lay, and perhaps he would ask them to go with him; but on their refusing, he would add, 'Ah, my lads, yo' want your hearts changing by th' grace of God, and then yo' would be glad to run onywhere in His Name.' As years grew on him and he became infirm, I have seen him come into the mill on a Monday morning looking very tired, and I have said I thought he was working too hard on Sundays. 'Canna do that,' he would reply; 'I would do a thausand toimes maar for Jesus if I could;" and then brightening up, he would add, "I'd raather wear aat loike gooid steel, than rust aat loike owd iron;' and he was true to his word; he did wear out."
Many such testimonies might be added if it were necessary, all showing that religion in "Little Abe" was the all-engrossing thing, but let this suffice. It is delightful to see how a good man may live in the midst of the ungodly, and keep his garments unspotted, and his name unsullied by the adverse influences around him. What a rebuke such a life is to many who excuse their looseness and irregularities because they are thrown among the irreligious; and how stimulative it becomes to others that are similarly situated, and trying to live consistently in the midst of all their evil surroundings!
Abe as a Class Leader
The Class-meeting is one of the best institutions in Methodism. It has done as much as anything else, if not more, to keep up the spiritual life of the churches; it has been a refuge for tens of thousands of tempted ones; it has been a seasonable corrector to many who were just beginning to fall into the paths of sin, and has brought them back to Christ again; it has supplied the social need of our Christian faith, and gathered friends together for spiritual communion; it has been a safeguard against the devices of the devil by affording opportunities for the disciples of our Lord to compare their experiences, tell their temptations, and impart mutual encouragement to each other in the Divine life; it is a natural, seemly, and modest vent for the spiritual fire which glows and flashes in every heart that loves the Lord with sincerity. It was almost self-appointed; it came to be, or grew out of a class of circumstances which would at any other time have produced essentially the same thing; it is the outgrowth of the fervent piety which marked the lives of our fathers in the churches, and it has met the tendencies of glowing Christianity among us ever since. It is an encumbrance only where this kind of Christianity is not maintained; as godly zeal declines, so sinks the estimation for class-meetings; just as the appetite for food forsakes a sickly person, so the desire for experience meetings declines in a sickly church. Persons who never did attend class-meetings cannot be judged by them; their piety may deepen or diminish, but other tests must be found for them. The class-meeting is a Methodist gauge, and only here can it apply.
"Little Abe" was a class leader for many years, and there was no work more heartily enjoyed by him than this. The members of his class who survive him often talk of the grand times they had with the little man in this way; it was often like heaven on earth. He was a very successful leader, and always kept his members well together. If any of them absented themselves he was soon on their track, hunting them up and bringing them back to the fold.
"MY FATHER'S GOT PLENTY O' TIMBER."
His class was conducted in a neat little cottage near the chapel belonging to one of the members, who week by week opened his doors for the accommodation of Abe and his flock. Their meeting was held in a comfortable room which served the family as kitchen and parlour; here every Monday night the quaint old shepherd came to meet his sheep. The big family table was pushed back against the window, the elbow-chair was placed at the end for the leader, all the chairs and seats in the house were brought into this room and ranged around as conveniently as possible to accommodate the weekly visitors, and sometimes when this was done there were more people than seats, and the big table had to be drawn out again, and made use of as a resting-place for the homely people who gathered there; or a long board would be brought down from upstairs and its ends placed on two chairs, and thus an additional seat was extemporized.
This very board had the misfortune to snap in two one night while a brother was engaged in praying. He was a powerful man in prayer; his soul was inspired with zeal, and his body animated with strength, which on this occasion he vented in a succession of heavy blows on this devoted piece of timber, until suddenly it gave way with a loud crack and fell in two pieces on the floor, to the great discomfiture of those whose weight added to the strain. For some moments there was considerable confusion in the room, as may be supposed, and the praying was brought to a sudden halt, when Abe's voice was heard above all, "Ne'er moind, lad, go at it! My Father's got plenty o' timber, and He'll send thee a new seat," whereon the meeting went on, as lively as before. Abe wouldn't allow any such trifles to interfere with the happy flow of feeling in his meetings; indeed, such incidents served rather to stimulate than abate the exuberance of his spirits. He knew that all things belonged to the Lord, and that He would make good all that was lost in His service, and therefore "he took joyfully the spoiling of his goods," and other folk's too. It is needless to say that the old seat was replaced by a new one.
"MY FATHER 'LL GIE THE' THIS HAASE" (House).
When Abe had been conducting his class for some years in the cottage before named, an event transpired which greatly disturbed his mind, and led him to fear he might have to remove his meeting to some other place. Now this was a sore trouble ta him and to every one of his members; they had got accustomed to going there, and some of them had never met anywhere else, so that they could not bear the thought of being obliged to leave, yet there was some ground for the fear.
The person who owned the cottage was mother-in-law to the man by whom it was occupied; she died and left her property, which consisted chiefly of cottages, to be divided equally among her children. Soon after the funeral the family met in this very house to arrange the division of the estate. The plan adopted was to draw lots for houses, and as they were nearly of the same value, this seemed equitable. So the lots were all prepared and placed together, and each person was to draw one, and take the house named on the lot; the drawing was to commence with the eldest, and go down to the youngest. Now the wife of the man in whose house the class met was the youngest member of the family, and therefore must take what all the others left. When everything was ready for the drawing to begin, the proceedings were interrupted by a knock at the door. The man of the house opened it, and found, to his surprise, "Little Abe" there. "Come aat a minute," said he, "I want to spaike to the'." On getting outside Abe resumed, "I knaw what ye are baan to do in there."
"Haa dost ta knaw?" said the man.
"Ne'r moind, I knaw;" and going close up to his ear and placing his hand on the man's arm, he said, "My Father 'll gie the' this haase, He telled me soa; I've been to Him abaat it, and I have His word on 't; but afore thaa gets it, I want the' to promise me that while I live I shall have my meetin' here."
"Yo' shall," was the ready response; "as long as thaa and me lives this haase shall be oppen to the' if we get it."
"Bless the Lord," said Abe, rubbing his hands, "I could loike to shaat" (shout) "but they'd hear me insoide. Ne'er moind, I knaw tha'll get it;—gooid-noight!"
His friend then returned into the house, and immediately the drawing began. Each drew one lot; then they all read them together, and as Abe predicted, the house in which they were assembled fell to the share of the man who lived in it. But this is not the end of the story: it appears that one of the sons was not satisfied with his portion, and began to complain. The fact is he wanted this house, and if he had got it Abe and his class would have been turned out. So, rather than have any unpleasantness in the family, they all agreed to cast lots again and abide by the issue. This was done, and to the astonishment of all, this house fell a second time to the same man, and though it was considered the best lot, everyone felt it was fairly his, and he has it to this day.
It may suit some people to say this was a mere accident; yes, just the same as the world is an accident and a thing of chance. Perhaps it was an accident, too, that "Little Abe" was able to foretell the issue of that lottery with such confidence, and was so eager to make his bargain for the use of the room before the lots were known. The chance that can show such intelligence, foreknowledge, and power, that can communicate its intentions beforehand, and afterwards verify them in this manner, has the attributes of God, and must be Divine; a chance that can hear and answer prayer, that can work out its own designs and baffle those of others, that can reveal secrets to His favourites and honourably keep covenants, deserves the faith and worship of all men: this was Abe Lockwood's God, and He shall be ours for ever and ever. There are some who say, "What is the Almighty that we should serve Him? and what profit shall we have if we pray unto Him?" These scientific theorists and unbelievers are intensely anxious to prove that prayer is only wasted energy, that nothing can possibly come as direct answering to prayer, that if things do follow which seem to be in response to earnest and devout petition, they result from some other causes, which have no connection, except coincidental, with prayer.
Men who talk so don't pray, never did. They don't know what prayer is; they are wrong in their first principles, and therefore all their deductions are awry; it is impossible for anyone who discredits prayer to know what he is talking about. Prayer is a something going on within the soul, it is something which must be experienced to be understood; and yet those who have no experience presume to philosophize on the subject as if they had spent all their life in the exercise and study of prayer. Just as well might "Little Abe" try to talk scientifically, as those scientists speak on the merits or worth of prayer, it is out of their sphere, they are out of their depth, and therefore it was a sad want of discretion which first tempted them to venture so far.
"Little Abe" was a much better judge of the value of prayer than these theorists; he was much further learnt in this direction than any of them, and therefore his testimony was more reliable than theirs; what to them was a mystery and impossibility was to him a simple daily enjoyment. They that would test the value of prayer must really pray themselves, and believe while they pray, otherwise they will be no wiser. Prayer is not disproved by the failure of improper petitions, but it is proved by the success attending supplications presented in the right spirit. If men expect nothing, they get what they expect, the Bible says so; "But without faith it is impossible to please Him; for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him" (Heb. xi. 6).
Prayer was an exercise in which Abe was a proficient and spent much time; at his work he prayed, and in his chamber, long and earnestly, until he prevailed. Sometimes in the meetings, as Abe would say, "they gat agaat o' wrestling," and then he often became so importunate in his intercessions that his whole body prayed as well as his soul, and quite unconsciously he beat the bench at which he knelt, struck the floor with his clogs, sweat at every pore, and really wrestled with God in mighty prayer, and then the glory was sure to come down and fill the place. Certainly at those times Abe and those who were with him were very noisy, and some who had no sympathy with anything of the sort, would make some disparaging remarks. There were some of old who would have silenced the loud cries of poor blind Bartimeus, but they could not, nor can they stop the voice of vehement prayer. Pray on, brethren, get hold of God, and then make what noise you like.
We want more of this praying spirit among the Lord's people, and less of the cold calculations of the unbeliever. Here lies the strength of the Christian Church, and not in its immense wealth, its high culture, its refined pulpit, or luxurious pew; it is that praying power which brings the Divine unction down. May God give us the praying power.
The time came when "Little Abe" was much sought after to speak at week-night meetings, such as tea-meetings, missionary meetings, and the like. It was considered a great point to have him as one of the speakers; they were sure to have a lively time if Abe came—for what with his own original speech, his running comments and responses while others were talking (a liberty which every one allowed him), he kept the whole meeting alive throughout.
This was what he called "working overtime." All his Sundays were given, as a matter of course, to the Lord's work, and the week-days to his daily calling; consequently what he did, in this way had to be done at nights, after his day's work was finished. Now as this kind of work grew upon Abe, there were some who would tell him he was doing too much, that he would injure himself; but he would remind them that when he had to work at the mill night after night, week after week, no one ever thought of telling him he was doing too much. "No," would be the response, "because you were paid for that." Then Abe's soul was roused. "Well, and does the' think my Father doesn't pay me? Bless Him, He owes me nowt, He's paid me double wages for every minute I have warked for Him." And so he went on serving the Church and honouring God to the utmost of his ability.
LITTLE ABE AND THE MULE.
He had a singular experience one dark rainy night when going to a missionary meeting at Shelley. He was late in arriving, so that the meeting was somewhat advanced when he put in an appearance. As he entered the chapel he was greeted by a burst of clapping, and in a moment every face brightened at the sight of him, though, to tell the truth, he was rather unsightly, for he was bedabbled with mud from his feet to his head, and his big umbrella looked as if it had been on the spree and rolled in the gutter; altogether he appeared in unusual style for a public meeting. It was no matter to him, however. He just shook himself like a dog out of the water, placed his bundle of whalebones and gingham in a quiet corner, rubbed his numbed hands together, and went smiling on to the platform. Nothing would satisfy the people but that he should speak at once, so he rose to his feet amid the hearty clapping of the whole audience, and said, "I niver knew so mich of th' trials of missionary wark in my loife as I do naa. I've been in trainin' for this meetin'. I've had to endure storms, rain, tempest, and dangers seen and unseen, for it wor that dark on th' road I could hardly see mysen, so, loike a returned missionary, I think I ought to let yo' knaw some'at abaat my trials." (Hear, hear.) "Well, yo' knaw, when I promised to come to this meetin', I meant being here somehaa, but I 'av had a job. I thowt as I wor comin' I would mak' it as easy as I could for mysen, so I borrowed aar neighbour's mule. I didn't knaw mich abaat riding, so he telled me I wor to keep tight hold o' th' bridle, as th' owd mule had a way o' tumblin' fore'ards. Well, I gat on th' back wi' my umbrella oppen, for it wor pouring daan rain, and we set off, all three on us, umbrella, th' mule, and me. We gat on alroight most o' th' way. I had to scold th' owd animal sometimes, and tell him to get on or we'd be too late for th' meeting, so we kept gaining a bit o' graand by degrees, but troubles wor ahead. What wi' thinking abaat my speech and holding th' umbrella roight, I forgat to keep a toight hold o' th' bridle, and all at once th' mule tript, and th' umbrella and me went roight over his head into th' dike. I really wor astonished at mysen, and didn't know which to blame—th' mule or me. I think I ne'r gat off a cuddy so quick in my loife afore; and th' owd mule would hardly understand me I daresay, for he stopt in a moment and look'd over at me as if he wor wondering if I always gat off in that fashion. However, I soon scrambled aat o' th' dike, and after a good bit o' trying I maanted agean and set off on th' road; but I hadn't gone far before I faan some'at wor wrang wi' th' bridle. I couldn't guide th' beast roight somehaa, so I felt abaat to try if I could foind aat what it wor, and behold I had gotten th' bridle all on one soide. Well, I dar'n't get off to set it roight, so I wor fain to let th' owd beast goa his own gait till we gat to Shelley."
The whole story was so amusing, and the more so as told in Abe's inimitable style, that the people laughed themselves into tears; and yet they could not but admire the zeal of the little man, and their hearts warmed towards him, and to the missionary cause as well, for as soon as Abe resumed his seat, the chairman, who knew how to take the tide at its flood, called for the collection to be made, and there is no doubt it was a good one. Just at that moment Abe shouted out, "Bless the Lord, I've made th' collection speech to-noight."
A QUOTATION FROM SALLY.
At one of the meetings where "Little Abe" was a speaker, he was exhorting the people to give freely to the Lord's cause. "Some folk," he remarked, "say that Methodists are always after money; well, we canna' do very mich withaat it, I wish we could, it's a deal o' bother, and takes sich a lot o' getting; and yet it is a far worse job to be withaat ony." Then throwing his head over a little on one side he went on, "Aar Sally says money is th' rooit of all evil, but I says, 'Aye, lass, I knaw it wad be, if I wor to come home on Saturday withaat ony.'"
A LIST OF THE FAMILY NAMES.
At another meeting in which our little hero was speaking he got into an exceedingly happy mood, and was dwelling on the honour of being a child of God. His face shone with delight, his eyes glistened with joyful tears. "Bless the Lord," said he, "I'm a King's Son, and one of a royal line. Ah, and there are hosts maar in th' family besides me. Let's see," said he, "there's Jonathan Cheetham, King's Son; there's James Crossland, King's Son; there's James Carter, King's Son; Glory! there's Mary Carter, King's Son. Hallelujah!" How far he would have pursued the list of family names we don't know, had not the whole meeting burst into laughter and tears at Abe's unwitting mistake in calling Mary Carter a King's Son; but it was of no consequence to him; a little slip of his happy tongue didn't mar his meaning; the people cheered him, and on he went as blythe as ever.
It was reward enough for Little Abe to know that he had done his Master's work and brought honour to His great name. The exertion which these extra meetings entailed upon him, the long weary marches out and home, were all performed without a murmur or the slightest abatement of zeal. He didn't serve the Lord with a footrule in his hand, measuring and marking off to the eighth of an inch. Abe strode over all narrow and stinted measurements, and served his Master out of the fulness of his warm and generous heart.
That miserable devotion which does as little as possible for God, and magnifies that little into importance, Little Abe knew nothing about, and he is a poor, pompous, pitiable thing that does; the open heart, the willing hand, the ready feet, are among the few things that God Almighty is pleased to see among His people; the penitent that sheds his tears by the dozen, the man that goes just the length of his sixty-feet tape-measure and no more, the champion that quenches his zeal in the first obstacle that comes in his way, and turns back from the fight, is unworthy the name and honour of a Christian; he is unfit to march in the glorious succession of martyrs and confessors who follow a Leader that dedicated His all to the world's welfare and His Father's will. "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich."
Methodism has created new institutions and coined new words to express the object of them. The lovefeast is purely Methodistic: it is a meeting of Christian people belonging to one or more societies, where they relate their religious experience, and bear their testimony to the worth and influence of Divine grace in the soul.
Under the conduct of a minister, or someone duly appointed for the purpose, the meeting is opened with singing and prayer; then, while the people are sitting, bread and water are distributed to all present, to suggest that believers are members of one great family, and partners in the same spiritual provision made by Christ who gave Himself to be the Bread of Life for men. When this is done the offerings of the people are gathered, usually for the poor of the Lord's flock. The formalities ended, the meeting is thrown open for the relation of Christian experience, and any one speaks that is prompted.
In every period of Methodism the lovefeast has been a precious and popular means of grace. These meetings are held all through the country, every little church taking care to have its quarterly or annual lovefeast. And it is remarkable what a hold some of these meetings have upon the people; ten, or even twenty miles, have not been considered too great a distance to be travelled in order to be present at some of them, even though the entire journey has had to be performed on foot. Men and women, some of them stricken in years and bowed down with the toils and cares of a long and hard life, have joyfully walked many a weary mile for the pleasure of attending a lovefeast; old people, leading their grand-children by the hand, and telling them of the stirring times of early Methodism; younger people in groups, singing revival hymns as they plod steadily along the dusty or miry roads under melting sun or pelting rains, making their way to these attractive and soul-stirring meetings, contending against every obstacle and overcoming every hindrance, determined to be there and do honour to the Divine Master, who said, "Ye are my witnesses."
There have been some of the grandest manifestations of Divine power at these gatherings, as seen and felt in the sweet, gentle, and unconscious melting of feelings, until the whole congregation has been broken down to tears and songs of joy and praise; or coming suddenly upon them as a "rushing mighty wind," without sound or sign, save in the bending of heads, the breaking of hearts, the streaming tears, and the adoring responses of the people. Then, believers have caught the spark of sanctifying fire from God Himself, and declared it; then, men have been endued with the gift of tongues, and spoken with apostolic power; then, sinners, drawn into the place by the peculiar attractions of the occasion, have felt their souls shaken by Divine energy, like forest trees in a tempest, and trembling, bending, rending, breaking, have fallen in the storm of Heaven's mercy, and cried for help and found it. Oh, how many there are now in glory or on the way, of whom it may be said, "Convicted in a lovefeast! converted in a lovefeast! sanctified in a lovefeast!" Their name is "legion, for they are many." Hallelujah!
Some things among the usages of the churches we may perhaps afford to dispense with and suffer no loss, but not this glorious means of grace. If in any place they have lost their power, the fault is not in the institution, but in the Church; religious declension is the greatest enemy to this good old custom. If the Lord's people return to their first love, the lovefeast will resume its former glory and power. Oh, Lord, "wilt Thou not revive us again, that Thy people may rejoice in Thee?"
Methodism cannot afford to forsake her old ways for new and untried ones; they are intelligent, proper, and essentially Christian. Lovefeasts are the olive branch which we have received from the revered hands of our fathers and mothers in the faith, not to be cast away, but to be prized and kept as a mark of our love for them, for each other, and for Christ our Saviour; and though the green branch which they left us may be somewhat faded, and its leaves droop in our moistureless hands, though it has lost some of the freshness it had when it first came to our keeping, thank God! thank God! it is not dead, it lives! and can be revived. It wants more moisture; sprinkle tear-drops of penitence upon its shrunken foliage; let the springs of our sympathy once more flow over it; let us ask God to give us the "upper and the nether springs," that His love and ours may flow out in one united stream; let us come to that stream, near, nearer, to the brink, and olive branch in hand, plunge in, refresh ourselves, and revivify the blessed, beautiful, and sacred symbol.
There was no meeting in which Little Abe was more at home than a lovefeast; whether as conductor or in a private capacity,—if such a term can be applied to Abe,—he gloried in a rousing lovefeast. His love for these meetings and his aptitude in conducting them occasioned a great demand for his presence. He had such a way of interspersing enlivening comments between the speakers. He was a good singer, too, and was always ready with some hymn expressive of the feeling of the meeting. Then he had the power to make everyone feel at home, so that he was the very man to lead a lovefeast, although he did sometimes say things that would shock very orderly and circumspect persons.
DEVIL DIDN'T POP THEE.
Little Abe was leading a lovefeast in Berry Brow Chapel; the place was crowded, people had come from far and near; the Holy Spirit was present in great power; there was no lack of witnesses, two or three being often on their feet together waiting for an opportunity to speak. Little Abe, as he said, "was fair swabbing o'er," he wept for joy.
A young man at length rose to relate his Christian experience. He had but lately been converted to Jesus, and before that had been a very wicked, drunken, degraded character. He proceeded to say what the Lord had done for him, how He had found him in his sins and misery, and taken hold of him when hardly any one else would look at him, except a policeman, who felt as if he had a sort of right to him, and often found him board and lodgings for a few weeks. At the time of his conversion he was almost naked, and absolutely destitute; said he, "I had popt" (pawned) "my coat, and popt my shoes, my vest, my shirt, and everything on which I could raise money, and I was almost in hell." This was more than Abe could sit under; he sprang to his feet and exclaimed, "It's a rare job th' devil didn't pop thee and all, my lad! Praise th' Lord!" The young man fell on his seat and vented his gratitude in a fresh burst of tears, and many an eye in that meeting ran over as well.
RELIGION ALL HUMBUG.
Little Abe once got up in a lovefeast. "Friends," said he, "a man asked me what I made so mich noise abaat religion for; he said, 'It's all humbug,' and I said, 'Thaa'rt roight for once, mon; it's th' sweetest humbug that iver I tasted. I have been sucking it for mony a lang year, and it is sweeter than iver.'" (Humbug is the Yorkshire name for sweets and goodies). It was just in Abe's way to turn the tables on his assailant, and certainly in this case the Little Bishop had the best of the encounter, and the joy of the humbug as well.
The Bishop was leading a lovefeast in Shelley Chapel (where it is said that the Rev. John Wesley once preached), and one of the speakers had been a backslider, but had determined to return to the Lord. This man was telling the meeting his bitter sorrow, and how he had drunk of the wormwood and gall of repentance, and as he spoke tears ran chasing each other down his face. "Bless th' Lord," said Little Abe, "I see my Father has been giving the' some penitent physic, and it's made the' 'een" (eyes) "run. Ne'er moind, lad, He'll heal thee heart, and wipe' away all tears from thee 'een.'"