Causes of Eccentricity
E HAVE CONTINUED TALKING about eccentric men, but we have not yet decided what it is which makes a man eccentric. Let us now come to the point. Some ministers have been reckoned eccentric simply and only because they have been natural. They have been themselves, and not copies of others: what was in them they have not restrained, but have given full play to all their powers. Take for instance John Berridge. Berridge was quaint by nature. In the former lecture I quoted purposely from his letters rather than from any of his sermons or didactic works, because in a letter you see a man at ease. Berridge could not help being singular, for the form of his mind led him in that direction, and his bachelor life helped to develop his idiosyncrasies. His quaintness was all his own, and you see it in his household arrangements, as, for instance, when he says to a friend: "I am glad to see you write of a visit to Everton; we have always plenty of horse provender at hand; but unless you send me notice beforehand of your coming, you will have a cold and scanty meal; for we roast only twice in the week. Let me have a line, and I will give you the same treat I always gave to Mr. Whitefield, an eighteen-penny barn-door fowl; this will neither burst you nor ruin me; half you shall have at noon with a pudding, and the rest at night. Much grace and sweet peace be with yourself and partner; and the blessing of a new heart be with your children. With many thanks, I remain your affectionate servant, J.B."
And sometimes sing and sometimes weep;
But strip me of my house of clay,
And I will sing as loud as they."
We are not likely to censure the good man for his oddities more severely than he does himself, for in another of his pieces he writes
and cold, and sweet and sour,
Sometimes grave at Jesus' school,
Sometimes light and play the fool.
"What a motley wretch am I,
Rowland Hill, again, was odd by nature, and though he put great constraint upon himself his oddity would break out. On one occasion he preached in Dr. Collyer's chapel at Peckham, where everything was of the most stately order. He spoke for twenty-five minutes in a strain of deepest solemnity, but at last the real man broke out, and for the next quarter of an hour quaintness came to the front. In the vestry, at the close, he observed that he had over and over again resolved to utter no expression which could excite a smile, but, said he, "I find it's of no use. Though my very life depended upon it, I could not help myself." He never went out of his way for odd and striking sayings, he even strove to avoid them, but they were natural to him, and he was not himself without them. Do we blame the man for being himself? We blame him not, but commend him. Originality is not to be censured, but encouraged. Sir Joshua Reynolds says of painters, "Few have been taught to any purpose who have not been their own teachers." It was the excellence of Gainsborough that he formed his style for himself in the fields, and not in the studios of an academy. "The methods he used for producing his effects had very much the appearance of an artist who had never learned from others the usual and regular practice belonging to the art; for still, like a man of strong intuitive perception of what was required, he found out a way of his own to accomplish his purpose." We need in the pulpit more Gainsboroughs, for we have quite enough of the academy men of this school and the other.
Cold-hearted professionals follow each other in one line, like those caterpillars which I have seen at Mentone, which make a procession head to tail in a straight line, till you half fancy it is only one single insect; but the man who serves his God with his whole heart is apt to forget his surroundings, and to fling himself so completely into his work that the whole of his nature comes into action, and even his humor, if he be possessed of that faculty, rushes into the battle.
Some men have been dubbed eccentric because they have been more truthful than their fellows. Exact truth-speaking is none too common in our country. Few say that they are busy and cannot see those who call on them, but they are "not at home." Writing to persons whom they hate, many begin with, "My dear sir"; and to persons for whom they have no respect they subscribe themselves, "Your obedient servant." These are only quoted as feeble specimens of genteel falsehood; but like straws they show how the wind blows. Now there are a few men who are called eccentric because they do not believe in etiquettical lying, but speak the truth whether they offend or please. A gentleman not long ago was set down as very eccentric because being asked whether the tea was to his taste, he replied that it was not, for it was very weak and nearly cold. Others had equivocated, or had expressed themselves delighted with the nauseous decoction, and none of these were set down as eccentric. The more's the pity! Where truth is thought to be eccentric, the age itself is out of gear.
Father Taylor presided at a prayer meeting among his sailor converts, and a great man from the City came in to honor the poor people with his presence and to patronize their missionary. He made a speech, in which he extolled the kindness of the wealthy Christian people of Boston in helping to build Mr. Taylor's chapel, and assisting in his support. He praised these superior people for their great consideration of poor degraded sailors; and he gave the audience a sufficient allowance of condescension to last them for the next six months at the least. As soon as the great man had finished, Mr. Taylor quiet]y asked, "Is there any other old sinner from up town who would like to say a word before we go on with the meeting?" The eccentricity of that expression lay in the truthfulness which thus rebuked the impertinence of the speaker.
Good Mr. Grimshaw of Haworth once displayed his eccentricity when Mr. Whitefield was preaching in his church. Whitefield in his sermon having spoken severely of those professors of the gospel who, by their loose and evil conduct, caused the ways of truth to be evil spoken of, intimated his hope that it was not necessary to enlarge much upon that topic to the congregation before him, who had long been privileged to listen to the earnest addresses of such an able and faithful preacher. Up gets Mr. Grimshaw and says in a loud voice, "Oh! sir, for God's sake, don't speak so; I pray you do not flatter them. I fear the greater part of them are going to hell with their eyes open." Very different this from the smooth-spoken flatterer who did not desire the visit of an evangelist, because such people were only fit to preach to the wicked, and he was not aware that there was one such person in his parish.
Mr. Hill once rebuked an Antinomian who was in the habit of drinking. The man replied with a knowing look, "Now, do you think, Mr. Hill, a glass of spirits will drive grace out of my heart? "No," said the faithful old gentleman, "for there is none in it." This was putting the truth pretty clearly, and for that very reason it is spoken of as eccentric.
Matthew Wilks was remarkable for hatred of the flattering terms which certain unctuous brethren would every now and then lavish upon him. "There," said he, "I have been much pleased with my people's prayers tonight. No stuff, no flattery, no speaking of me as a dear, venerable saint, until I almost go into hysterics. Saint, indeed! A poor worm! I can scarcely refrain from speaking aloud, when such language frets my ears." To a wealthy man who had headed a subscription list for an excellent institution with a very small sum, he said, "I will have nothing to do with it since you do so little for it. You have strangled the child in its birth, when you should have nourished and cherished it until you had set it upon its feet."
Now, in these cases the eccentricity lay in plain speaking, and this is an order of eccentricity of which we cannot very well have too much, if it be accompanied by sincere affection and tempered with gentleness. But of this I feel quite sure, that if any man will make up his mind that he will only say what he believes to be strictly true, he will be thought odd and eccentric before the sun goes down.
Certain preachers have been very eccentric because they have been manly, too manly to be hampered by the customs and manners of the period. They have broken through one and another of the rules which have been constructed for the propping up of mannikins, and have behaved themselves as men. Mr. Binney was often thought eccentric for nothing else but his boldness and freedom from pulpit affectations. Why, sirs, there are places where it would be eccentric to speak so as to startle the drowsy; eccentric to illustrate your words by suitable action; eccentric to use a simple illustration: in fact, eccentric to utter anything more striking than the polished nullities of Blair. True-hearted men are not readily held in by the cramping-irons of childish fashion, but they are of the mind of Matthew Wilks who said, "Flesh will cry out, 'What will men say?' but a sanctified conscience will cry, 'What will God say?'" Egyptian art was reduced to an unvarying ugliness by laws which fixed the form of every feature and limb of its statues: the artist who should have anticipated the graceful life of Grecian sculpture would have been condemned by his nation as grievously eccentric, and yet unbiased ages would have exonerated the innovator from any fault; the case is the same with preachers who break through artificial rules, and boldly refuse to be mere copyists of the regulation patterns. In some places the style has been fixed by some venerated pastor who has gone to his rest; his threadbare mantle, which was excellent wear for him, is supposed to be the exact garment for his successor, and the old women of both sexes cry out against any who choose to wear their own clothes.
It is easy enough among Dissenters to find regulations as rigid as could be invented by any bench of bishops; you may not vary the length of the hymn or the order of the service by a hair's breadth, or you will sin against your own reputation and the feelings of the conservative portion of the congregation. There are few of such places now, but quite enough and, where the evil rules, the good folks are as tenacious of their established nonsense as ever the Church of England can be of her printed prayers and rubrics; and the preacher must submit to all the regular fudge as if it were Scripture itself, or be pronounced eccentric and wanting in decorum. A man that is a man will yield for peace sake as far as his soul is unhampered, but beyond that he will ask, "Who makes these regulations, and to what end are they made?" Finding them to be worthless and injurious, he will put his foot through them, and there will be an end of the rubbish. Some congregations are dying of dignity, and must be aroused by real life. People said that Mr. Hill rode on the back of order and decorum, and therefore he called his two horses by those names, so that if he could not ride on the back of them he might make the saying nearly true by being dragged behind them. Order and decorum, in some of our churches, have manifested themselves to be deadly sins; dead and burying the dead. Some congregations are so very orderly that they are like a vault in which the corpses lie, each one in due place, and none dares to move or lift a voice loud enough to be called a chirp. This will not do. Bring the trumpet! Sound a blast and wake the sleepers! Eccentric! Yes, eccentricity, if you like to call life by that name. Heaven knows it is sadly wanted.
After all, the eccentricities of manly life never equal those of the wretched dance (death, or sleep of death, which is so dear to mere routine. Think of such an event as the following happening among your orderly readers of other men's discourses, for the like has happened and must have happened many times. A certain preacher delivered a discourse in which occurred such a passage as this: "On account of your sins, and your neglect of the house of God, your wantonness and your gluttony, the anger of the Most High is provoked, and therefore is this great plague come upon you, and death is raging in every street." When the sermon was finished the officials of the township came to know where this plague was, and what deaths had happened; indeed, all the congregation were anxious to know where this dreadful disease was raging. "Oh," said this orderly reader of sermons, "I do not know where it is, but it was in my sermon, and so I was obliged to read it to you." It would be easy enough to on. large upon the accidents which must occur where borrowed, or rather stolen, sermons are preached; but this is not my point, I merely mention this as one instance of the way in which prosy routine becomes itself ludicrous. To me it seems always ludicrous if looked at through the glass of truth. Primness, fashionableness, and dignity are but little separated from the ridiculous; at their very best there is but one step between them, and that step is often taken with grave obliviousness that it is so.
I make bold to say that some men have been styled eccentric because they are really in earnest, and earnestness defies rules. I do not believe that it is possible for a man in downright earnest to be always "proper." I suppose there is a proper way of getting a lady out of her bedchamber when her house is on fire, but doubtless our firemen often violate the proprieties when they have such a thing to do. They have to rush in anyhow to save life, and they cannot stay to make apologies. The flames are urgent, and so must the rescuer be, or life will be lost. I suppose there is a proper way of pulling persons out of the water when they are drowning, but I have known brave fellows drag them out by the hair of their heads: this was rough and rude, but it answered the purpose. Did any one ever blame the doer of the deed for his roughness? Is not the soul more precious than the body, and who would suffer it to be lost for the sake of etiquette? A man may go into the pulpit as prim as you please, and he may even wear tight-fitting lavender gloves, such as I have heard of; but let him feel an inward anguish for the souls of men and he will forget his dignity and burst his gloves, and in all probability never buy a second pair. A man may be stiffly proper, and even elegant and delicate till he comes to real grips with men's consciences, and then, like the soldier at Waterloo who wished to be in his shirt-sleeves, he will feel hampered by his buckram and his starch, and speak like a man to men, and then some booby or other will hold up his hands and cry, "Dear me, how dreadfully eccentric!"
A few divines have seemed to be eccentric because of the wealth of poetry which dwelt in their speech. Men of the prosaic school are quite startled by expressions which to poetical minds are natural enough, and by no means singular. It needs genius in the hearer to enjoy genius in the preacher. One of my personal friends, whose sermons are essentially poems, laughed the other day right heartily at the expression of an admiring hearer, who did not at one time appreciate him. "Ah," said the good man, "I am very sorry that I was so foolish as to leave your ministry for a time; but then, you see, I used to hear you with a jaundiced eye!" It is this jaundiced eye of cold matter-of-fact which is unable to perceive the beauty of sparkling metaphors and images, and therefore sees instead mere eccentricity. In my earlier days I have heard rustic prayers which thrilled me, not only with their spirituality, but with their poetry, and yet I heard others exclaiming against the extravagance of the language. One whom many regarded as eccentric in his preaching was a great favorite with me, and I remember now his striking sayings, his choice aphorisms, and his rare imagery, while other sermons have faded from my memory, because they never touched my heart. I could have said of him what John Bradford said of Latimer, "I have an ear for other divines, but I have a heart for you." Doubtless there are many others who are condemned for their eccentricity by the simpletons around them, because they have wealthy creative minds, and scatter pearls with both their hands.
Eccentricity has also been charged on men of shrewd common sense. They have baffled those who sought to entrap them, and, in revenge, their adversaries have dubbed them eccentric. They were not quite so easily gulled as their contemporaries, but leveled a little mother-wit at cants, and hypocrites, and deriders, and so they must be libeled as odd fellows. As this is a point which I do not intend to dwell upon at any length, I will only illustrate it by the story of the eccentric shepherd, and remark that similar shrewdness on the part of ministers is of the utmost value, but is pretty sure to incur the charge of eccentricity. Here is the story. "An exceedingly proud clergyman, riding over a common, saw a shepherd tending his flock, and wearing a new coat. The parson asked in a haughty tone who gave him that coat. 'The same people (said the shepherd)that clothe youthe parish.' The clergyman, nettled a little, rode on murmuring a considerable way, and at length sent his man back to ask the shepherd if he would come and live with him, for he thought of keeping a fool. The man went to the shepherd accordingly and delivered his master's message, imagining that his master really wanted a fool. 'Are you going away then?' said the shepherd. 'No,' answered the other. 'Then you may tell your master (replied the shepherd) that his living won't maintain three of us.'" Such crushing replies Rowland Hill and others were quite capable of giving to hypocrites and mockers, and they did well thus to silence them, but it earned them the title of eccentric.
Some men have been eccentric on account of the vast amount of dramatic energy with which they have been endowed, Certain persons when they talk suit the action to the word from the force of nature and habit. It is in their way to be dramatic. Look at a Frenchman, how he speaks with his hands, his shoulders, his eyebrows, his feet, and his whole body. Very few Englishmen are thus dramatic, but here and there we meet with persons who are as energetic in that direction as the liveliest of our Gallic neighbors. And why not? The famous William, or as the public delighted to say, "Billy," Dawson, was nothing if not dramatic. I have heard a wellknown minister tell that Dawson was once preaching about Noah's ark, and finding himself boxed up in the pulpit he said, "This won't do." He opened the pulpit door and he came down the stairs to the bottom of the pulpit, and there he began to fell trees and cut and saw them, and then he seemed to be hammering away to make the ark, which was represented by the pulpit. This ark was made before them all, the people being worked up to an extreme excitement while Dawson continued to cry, "There is a flood coming, I am making this ark for the saving of my house; there is no hope for anybody but those who come into the ark." Then he seemed to be boiling a great cauldron of pitch, until he took his long brush and pitched the ark within and without, and when all was done there was his ship on the dry land, and like Noah he turned round and asked the people once again whether they would come into it and be saved. They would not come in, and so he declared he would go in alone. He went up into the pulpit and shut the door with the words, "And the Lord shut him in." Then came the flood, and our informant said that he felt as if the floor of the chapel burst up and the water began bubbling from below, while great water-floods poured from above in mighty torrents; and there was Dawson, another Noah, all alive and safe, crying out that it was now too late, for the door was shut. All were awed and filled with breathless attention while he bade them remember that such would soon be the case, and preached unto them Jesus as the only salvation. None of us would attempt this, but I would not have laid a finger on Dawson. Why should he not depict the scene in his own way? If God gave him the histrionic faculty, why should he not use it to impress his hearers? Perhaps he knew that those who were around him could not be impressed in any other way. This was he who on another occasion described David and Goliath. He represented David coming forth with his sling, and the giant boasting that he would give his flesh to the fowls of the air and to the beasts of the field, and so on; but David replies, "Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield; but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts." He laid his stone carefully in the sling, whirled the sling in the air, and you could hear the stone whizzing towards the giant's brow. Just then Sammy Hick, the village blacksmith, who was sitting near the preacher, rose up under tremendous excitement and cried, "Now then, Billy, off with his head.!"
For my part, I like this dramatizing kept within check and thoroughly well done. You have, probably, seen Mr. Gough do that sort of thing admirably in his orations. Have I not seen him walk what seemed to me miles while he was delivering one of his addresses, rushing over the plains and through the rivers, and at last up the sides of Vesuvius after a bubble? I think I see him now, with his feet sinking in the hot ashes, struggling in vain and perishing before our eyes. It was grandly done, and no one had a right to object to it. Gough has caught Garrick's idea, and speaks of truths as truths, making them visible before our eyes. I know the criticisms which are so easy to make about histrionic displays, theatrical action, miracle plays, and so forth, and I know also the real dangers which surround the practice; but I would far rather incur all the supposable perils than altogether banish such an awakening force from the pulpit.
Sometimes men have been regarded as eccentric because they have been practical. The occasion has demanded what in other circumstances would have been unjustifiable, and others not knowing the peculiar conditions have set their words and actions in another light, and made them seem objectionable. They meant to save men's souls somehow, by the blessing of God, and therefore they resolved to do anything and everything by which they could get at the stolid, ignorant, and indifferent; and hence the things which they did have been outré and striking, but not more so than the need required. Such singular words or acts have been divorced from the circumstances out of which they grew, and put aside from the connection; the design of the preacher has been forgotten, and then the thing which has been done has seemed to be eccentric at least, if not censurable; though, mark you, had you yourself been there, and had you possessed the preacher's ready wit and intense earnestness, you could scarcely have done better. Let me give you one or two instances, and the first is from Mr. Grant's sketch of Rowland Hill in "The Metropolitan Pulpit "; it is told in a somewhat wordy style, but the change from my more abrupt manner may be a relief:"A pious woman, a member of Surrey Chapel, was married to a husband who, though kind to her, had no sense of religion, but delighted in spending the hours in swilling beer which she spent in attendance on the preaching of the gospel. It so happened that the couple, through some disappointment in business, had been unable to pay their rent on a particular quarter day. The consequence was that a distraint on their furniture was put into their house, and a party was employed, as the technical phrase has it, 'to take possession.' After turning over every scheme in their minds which could suggest itself for extricating themselves from the difficulties in which they were involved, they were about to despair, when the idea occurred to the wife of submitting the circumstances of the case to Mr. Hill. She accordingly proceeded to his house, at once got access to him, and with no small degree of tremor made a short and simple representation of the state of matters.
"'How much would you require to save.your furniture and get rid of the person in possession?' enquired. Mr. Hill.
"'Eighteen pounds, sir, would be quite sufficient for the purpose,' answered the poor woman, with a palpitating heart.
"'I'll let you have the loan of twenty, and you can repay me at your convenience. Send your husband to me on your return home, and I will have two ten pound notes ready by the time he arrives. I wish to give the notes to him rather than to you.'
"Mrs. Dquitted Mr. Hill's house and hurried home with light foot, but with a still lighter heart. Having communicated to her husband what had passed between herself and her minister, it is unnecessary to say that he lost no time in proceeding to the house of Mr. Hill. The latter received him with much kindness of manner.
"'And so,' said he, 'you are so unfortunate as to have a person in possession.'
"'We unfortunately have, sir.'
"'And twenty pounds will be sufficient to get rid of him and restore your furniture to you?'
"'It will, sir.'
"'Well, then,' said Mr. Hill, pointing to the table, 'there are two ten pound notes for you, which you can repay when you are able. Take them.'
"The other advanced to the table, took the notes, and was in the act of folding them up, at the same time warmly thanking Mr. Hill for the act of friendship he had done him, and expressing a hope that he would soon be able to pay the amount back again, when the reverend gentleman suddenly exclaimed, 'Stop a little! Just lay the notes down again until I ask a blessing on them.'
"The other did as he was desired, on which Mr. Hill, extending both his arms, uttered a short prayer to this effect:' O Lord, who art the Author of all mercy and the Giver of every good and perfect gift, do thou be graciously pleased to bless the sum of money which is given to him who is now before thee, that it may conduce to his present and eternal welfare. For Jesus Christ's sake."
"'Now sir,' said Rowland Hill, as he finished his brief supplication, 'now, sir, you may take the money.'
"The party a second time took up the two ten pound notes, and was in the act as before of folding them up, when Mr. Hill interposed, by reminding him that he had forgotten one thing. It may be easily supposed that by this time he was a good deal confused. His confusion was increased a hundredfold when Mr. Hill remarked, 'But, my friend, you have not yourself asked for a blessing on the money. You had better do it now.'
"'Sir,' faltered out the other, scarcely able to support himself, 'sir, I cannot pray. I never prayed in all my life.'
"'You have the more need to begin now,' observed the reverend gentleman, in his own cool yet rebuking manner.
"'I cannot, sir; I do not know what to say.'
"'Try, try and thank God and ask his blessing, however short your prayer may be.'
"'I cannot, sir;! cannot say a single sentence.'
"'Then you can't have the money. I will not lend twenty pounds to a prayer-less man.'
"The other hesitated for a moment, and then with dosed eyes, and uplifted hands, he said with great earnestness, 'O Lord, what shall I say to thee and to Mr. Hill on this occasion?' He was about to begin another sentence, when the reverend gentleman interrupted him by observing,' That will do for a beginning. It is a very excellent first prayer, for it is from the heart. Take the money, and may God's blessing be given along with it.' As he spoke, Mr. Hill took up the two ten pound notes, and transferring them to the half-bewildered man, cordially shook him by the hand, and wished him good morning.
"It only remains for me to mention, that not only did the husband and wife become prosperous in secular matters, but the incident made so deep an impression on the husband's mind as to end in his conversion to God."
It was strange thus as it were to drive a man to pray, but who shall say it was wrong? My second incident is more wild, and I give it as I recollect it; if I err in accuracy I shall be sorry, but I will tell it as nearly as I remember it. A Methodist preacher went to a certain town in the north, but found hardly anyone to hear him, and he preached a while with no stir appearing among the dry bones. One Sunday morning he said, "I tell you what it is, friends. This town is responsible to God for the possession of the means of grace, which it does not use. I cannot get the people to hear, but I can remove some of their responsibility by destroying the pulpit which they despise, and the place of worship which they will not enter. Here is a beginning; we will break the desk to pieces at once, and then if no one comes we will clear out the pews and everything else, and leave the chapel a wreck. The people shall not perish with the gospel so close to them. The candlestick shall be taken away since they refuse the light." He commenced by laying his axe at the pulpit, and in part demolishing it, before the eyes of the few who were present. "Now," said he, "tell your friends that there is part of the responsibility gone, and the rest will follow." The astonished folks went home and spread the amazing news, and in a very short time the place was thronged. You say, "This was an eccentric man." Well, I do not justify his proceedings, but I judge that he knew his own way about better than I could have shown it to him. After all, he was only sacrificing a few boards; and at that small cost he broke through that indifference which more costly methods might have failed to touch. Within a little time Methodism lifted up its head in the town, and the forlorn meeting-house rang with songs of praise. Why, dear me, if the Tabernacle were empty, and we could not fill the house without doing or saying something striking, I think we might, if it were for the first time in our life, run the risk of being thought eccentric.
Everything looks ridiculous or not according to its surroundings. Wisdom and wit may become folly and even falsehood, if they are severed from the occasion which called them forth. Listen to an ancient tale of a traveler who reported that he had seen a cabbage so large that a whole regiment of soldiers took shelter under it from a shower of rain. To him another, who was no traveler, asked if they would believe him if he told them that on the very day in which this cabbage was seen he had himself passed by a place where four hundred braziers were making a cauldrontwo hundred of them hammering outside, and two hundred inside fastening the rivets! The traveler eagerly inquired of what use such a cauldron could be, and received the following answer. "Sir, it was to boil your cabbage.":Now, if this second person's story was repeated away from its connection, and its form slightly altered, a richly deserved rebuke would be made to look like an attempt to exceed in lying. Many a word spoken or the principle of answering a fool according to his folly has been quoted against a wise man, and the folly has been laid at the wrong door.
There is an extraordinary story of Father Andre, a French preacher of great repute, for what was called eccentricity. He was preaching one afternoon to a congregation or persons who disregarded re-Jigion both as to themselves and their families, and he wished both to convict them and to upbraid them for the bad way in which they were bringing up their little ones. He first asked the children questions from the Catechism, and obtained no replies; and he then shook his sleeve, and out there flew a pack of cards. The people were shocked with him, of course, but he quietly looked down and said to one of the children, "Boy, bring me a card. You boy, bring me another. You girl, another, and come here with them!" They gathered around the pulpit, and he asked of one, "What is this card, my child?" The boy answered at once. The next, a girl, came up, and she also knew her card. He continued his questions till he had gone far into the pack, and received correct answers all round. "Ah," he says, "I see how you are training your children. You teach them to know all the cards, but you do not instruct them in the faith. Are you not ashamed of yourselves?" Here I pronounce no verdict, I could not have done it myself, nor should I like to hear of any friend of mine doing the like; but I cannot tell what was good for Catholics in France so long ago.
Lassenius, a Dutch court preacher, in the end of the seventeenth century, had been greatly vexed by seeing a considerable part of his congregation going to sleep. One day he suddenly stopped, and pulling out a battledore and shuttlecock, began playing with them. Of course, the sleepers all awoke directly; the wakeful ones jogging their neighbors to share in their astonishment. Then Lassenius turned upon them with a severe rebuke. "When I announce to you serious and important truths, you are not ashamed to go to sleep; but when I play the fool you are all eye and ear." Sharp medicine this for a desperate disease, and the physician who administered it was in grievous danger of injuring himself. I do not think that I can justify this procedure, but I do not know the Dutch people so well as Lassenius did, and my own people never go to sleep, and so I do not pretend to form an opinion one way or the other. Certainly it must, be very provoking to see people sleeping, and yet it is not so very wonderful that they should do so when we consider the drowsy sounds to which they are doomed to listen. "I feel very tired with preaching," said a young bombastic preacher. "O man," said a shrewd old hearer, "did you say you were tired? If you are only half as tired of it as I am, I pity you." I am afraid that this side of the question is too often forgotten.
The following story is worth recording. I do not hesitate to say that I should have done the same, and should have felt justified in thus practically rebuking a miserable people for leaving their place of worship in such a shameful condition.
"The Rev. Zabeliel Adams at one time exchanged with a neighboring ministera mild, inoffensive manwho knowing the peculiar bluntness of his character, said to him,' You will find some panes of glass broken in/he pulpit window, and possibly you may suffer from the cold. The cushion, too, is in a bad condition; but I beg of you not to say anything to my people on the subject; they are poor, and sensitive!' 'O no! O no!' said Mr. Adams, 'You may trust me to be very quiet about such things.' But ere he left home he filled a bag with rags and took it with him. When he had been in the pulpit a short time, feeling somewhat in-commoded by the free circulation of the air, he deliberately took from the bag a handful of rags, and stuffed them into the windows. Towards the close of his discourse, which was more or less upon the duties of a people towards their minister, he became very animated, and purposely brought down both fists upon the pulpit cushion with tremendous force. The feathers flew in all directions, and the cushion was nearly emptied. He checked the current of his thoughts, and simply exclaimed, 'Why, how these feathers fly!' and then proceeded. He had fulfilled his promise of not addressing the people on the subject, but had taught them a lesson not to be misunderstood. On the next Sabbath the window anti cushion were found in excellent repair."
I have talked to you thus cheerfully about eccentric preachers, but I would not have you forget the serious side of the matter. If I were addressing a congregation I would say to them,If you knew how we desire to lay hold of your minds for Christ, and how willingly we would be as solemn as death itself if we thought that this would win your hearts, you would not so much blame our occasional sallies. If you knew how little we desire notoriety, and how much we desire to save your souls, you would commend our object and excuse our style. We ramble because you ramble. O that we could seize the wandering sheep, and bring them home to the true fold. I say, if you knew the desire we have to bring men to Christ, you would not be so ready to catch at every little thing which violates the canons of taste. Besides, we are not bound to abide by your judgments. May it not be possible that we know what we are at as well as you do? Will you take our work and do it better? If so, we are ready to learn by your example. Judge the preacher if you like, but do remember that there is something better to be done than that, namely, to get all the good you can out of him, and pray his Master to put more good into him. What if the man be odd and strange, yet, as men take pearls out of oyster shells, so may you be willing to accept from God whatever of precious truth he sends you. Despise not the heavenly treasure because of the earthen vessel. Lose not an opportunity of being enriched because the gold lies in connection with common earth.
And, oh, dear brothers, who are engaged in winning souls, let me say to you, by the memories of all these good men who have gone before you, and who were counted eccentric, fear no man's frown, and court no man's smile, but say the right thing and the true, and say it as best you can, and ask God's help that you may say it so that you may make men feel it, even though you sting them into anger; for blessed shall that man be who has discharged his conscience before the living God. Do not sacrifice your hearers' souls to your own reputations. Be fools for Christ's sake, if need be, that you may gain the careless ones. The curse of the age is the unearthly ministry which mocks it. I say "unearthly," but I do not mean heavenly, I mean unpractical, unhuman,a thing which does not come home to men, or arouse the slightest interest in their minds. Do you believe that our working men would, as a rule, shun the churches of' London if they were there regaled with hearty, homely discourses such as they could understand, and such as would touch their every-day life? I, for one, have reason to speak to the contrary, and that without a shadow of a doubt. Do you think that England would be so ready to be enticed back to Rome if all her ministers were preaching the gospel as they ought to be? With such a company of preachers discoursing twice every Sunday, besides the weekday exercises, ought not our island to be illuminated, as by the sun at noon, so that it would be impossible for the Roman darkness to return. Things would have been very different if there had been more love, more earnestness, more passion for souls in the pulpit; but then I greatly fear that there would also have been more eccentric men. Do you dread the evil? I share not your fear, but say, God send it, so that is be an outgrowth of true life.
Collection administered by Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Hosted by WPEngine. For help and support, please email email@example.com