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Foolish Dick: An Example for Men of One Talent

by C. H. Spurgeon
From the August 1873 Sword and Trowel


IN OUR LORD'S PARABLE, it is the man of one talent who is represented as hiding his Lord's money in the earth. This does not teach us that persons of larger ability are always free from this sin, but we may safely infer from it that those of lowest degree in gift are peculiarly in danger of it. The temptation to think themselves too unimportant to be responsible has great influence over some minds; they cannot shine as stars, and therefore they excuse themselves from shining at all; they cannot hope to achieve a giant's marvels, and therefore they will not; contribute an ounce of power. Under the convenient mask of modesty, idleness often conceals itself. They wound not be too forward, they say, and therefore they avoid all service. If they were to try their hands at any Christian work, they fear they should blunder in it, and so they think it wise to save their own reputations, and spare themselves by doing nothing; thus providing for two evil propensities at one time, pandering both to pride, and sloth. This kind of talk is wicked, very wicked, and is an aggravation of the sins which it tries to cover. The man of slender gift is as much bound to serve his Master as his neighbor with ten talents; his responsibility may not be so great, but it is just as real; the burial of the one talent in the earth mined the slothful servant quite as effectually and as deservedly as if he had 'buried five. None of us will be called to account for abilities which we did not possess, but we shall surely have to answer for all we have.
    In the important business of publishing abroad the gospel, the ignorant. the poor, and the obscure often think themselves excused. They cannot see that anything is in their power or can be required of them; and yet, if they judged aright, and were full of zeal for God's glory, they would soon find something to do, and would by-and-by achieve great things for the Lord's cause. Nobody knows what he can do till he has tried. Dormant faculties are in most men, and only an earnest attempt to do good will ever awaken their whole nature. As in the village churchyard there lie in the neglected graves—

"Hands which the rod of empire might have swayed,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre,"

so in the vaults of timorous lukewarmness and despairing inactivity there may be found mouldering in their shrouds singular capacities and rare originalities, which only need quickening, and they will stir the world.
    Men quite simple in matters of common life have, nevertheless, been made by God wise to win souls; they have been ranked among fools, and yet have been taught of God to bless their fellow men. Doing all that came in their way to do, they have been honored of the great Master, and though last in ability while here, they will at the last day be first in reward, because they' were faithful in their stewardship. Such persons, it must be confessed, labor under great disadvantages at this period; for the church is now far too fine and grand to encourage their labors it they become at all public. Taste is now in the ascendant, grammar is essential, and gentlemanly deportment as needful as grace itself: in fact, there are many professors who will tolerate false theology and unspiritual preaching, but will be altogether savage if the preacher offend against Lindley Murray. If the original fishermen of the Galilean lake should come among us again, they would be hard put to it to find a pulpit which would lower itself by allowing such uncultivated persons to preach in it; they were never at college, and were quite countrified in their dialect: the poor men might be sent out as evangelists among the poor, and they might be useful as city missionaries, but they would never do for the splendid new chapel with its sky-piercing spire, its delightful stained glass, and magnificent organ, In many quarters vulgarity is the sin of sins, and gentility the queen of virtues. Whether souls are lost or saved matters little to some people, so long as the service is attractively conducted, and is suitable for persons of cultivated taste. Hence the idea of employing the rough and uneducated in preaching the gospel may scarcely be mentioned, unless it be with the assurance that they shall not come nearer to our gentility than the East of London, or the slums of our great cities. Great talent is worshipped, and little ability is so despised as to be thrust aside with contempt. In all such cases the sin of burying the one talent is not confined to the individual, but is shared in by those who surround him, and drive him into a corner. The cold contempt which chills a man's soul is as guilty a thing as the weakness which allows itself to be so chilled; perhaps it is far more evil in the sight of God.
    Thoughts like these, and many of like tenor, have passed through our mind while reading a queer little book by Mr. Christophers, entitled "Foolish Dick: an autobiography of Richard Hampton, the Cornish Pilgrim Preacher."* Foolish Dick was certainly well named from the ordinary point of view, for in many matters he was scarcely half-witted. "One of his masters conceived that he might be capable of orderly thought in manual labor, so far, at least, as to distribute manure over the surface of the field. He was put, to work in the morning, and fairly instructed how to wheel out the manure from the heap in the corner of the field, and drop the several barrowfuls in smaller heaps at certain distances, so that when the whole was thus laid out, the manure, might, be scattered from the smaller heaps over the entire space. Dick was left to his work. But, in the evening, the manure was found still in a large heap in the corner, as it had been in the morning.
    "'Why, Dick,' said the master, I you have done nothing ail the day.' 'Iss I have, master,' was the prompt reply, with a look of mingled humour and self-content; 'iss I have; I ded aall you towld me, and feneshed by denner time; but I thoft it wud'n do to taake a whoal day's waages for a haaf-day's work, so, arter denner, I wheeled ut aal back agen!'
    "He had been put to weeding-work in the garden, too, and particularly shown how to distinguish the young leeks, or onions, or radishes, from the weeds. The result was the dismay of the employer, when Dick, with a kind of triumphant light in his squinting eye, pointed to the entirely tenantless beds, emptied alike of weeds and crops, and said, 'Theere now, I've done un butaful, and weeded un clain!'"
    The portrait of Dick, which is placed as a frontispiece to Mr. Christophers' book, leads the observer to put him down among those poor naturals, or half-daft persons, of whom a specimen may generally be found in every village; his dress and form being grotesque to the last degree. Dick's account of his education is quaint enough. "My paarents sent me to a raiding school, keept by a poor owld man caaled Stephen Martin. My schoolin' cost three a'pence a-week. I was keept theere for seven months, and so my edication was wurth no less than three shillin' and sex-pence--theere's for ee! When my edication was feneshed, as they do say, I was took hum, seven months' larnin bein' aal that my poor parents cud affoord for me. But I shall have to bless God to aal eternaty for that edication. At that deear ould man's school I larnt to raid a book they caaled a Psalter; an', havin' larnt so fur, when I got hum I gove myself to raidin, and keept on keepin' on tell I cud raid a chaapter in the Testament or Bible. Aw, my deear! what,a blessin' thes heere larning a' ben to the poor idyat!'"
    Despite his natural deficiencies and want of education, Richard Hampton showed great shrewdness and originality, especially in any matter which concerned religion. His Bible and hymn book were all his library, but these he studied so well, and worked them so thoroughly into his nature, that they were a part of his being, and for him to answer a scoffer with an appropriate and scriptural text was as natural as for a bird to sing. "He was one day waiting in the office of an influential firm, having been sent on a business errand by his friend and employer.
    "'Richard,' said one of the gentlemen, 'they say you know a good deal about the Bible; go home and look, and you will find in the fourth chapter of Habakkuk a passage that will do for a text for you: the words are: '"Rise, Jupiter, and snuff the moon!"'
    "'No, maaster, I don't believe that they words are in the Bible,' he replied, 'and theere es no moare than three chapters in Habakkuk, nuther; but I d'knaw that in the eighteenth verse of the twenty-second chapter of Revelation you will find thaise words: 'If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book!'"
    His mode of quieting a person who wished to pry into his master's business was also as clever as it was effectual. We have it in his own words: "When I cum into the count-house the aagent was setting to brekfast, an' he begun to ax me 'bout a mine that I knawed was poor at that time, and gove but malancholly prospic. I knawed what he wanted to find out, so says I to he, 'I Do'ee knaw what the apostle says?' 'No,' says he; 'what es ut?' 'Why,' says I, 'whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no questions for conscience sake.' That was 'nough for he; he went on faaster than ever swallowing hes brekfast, and ded'n stop to ax me any moore questins 'pon that head."
    Being early converted among the Methodists, Dick was always most devout and enthusiastic, regular at the class meeting, and zealous for all the ordinances of his church. His remarkable gifts in prayer were not allowed to rust, but few thought that he had any degree of adaptation for the pulpit. His call to the ministry is one of the oddest things we ever remember to have read, and we enjoyed a hearty laugh at the Cornish orator pelted into fame, and finding a tongue amid the jests of his persecutors. His own words are more telling than ours can possibly be.
    "Now, the way I was fast drove out is like these heere. My cap'n sent me weth a letter to Redruth posat-offis; the letter had a bill in un with a hunderd poun's. Cap'n towld me to be sure I gove un in aall saafe, an' then to car' a noate to Maaster Joseph Andrew. I ded so, but while I was stannin' at hes door tell I had hes aanswer, a young wumman, as she was washin' the wenders (windows), glazed at me, an' says she, 'That theere young man can look ninety-nine ways at waance.' Says I to she, 'What man having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness and go after that which is lost, until he find it? and when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons that need no repentance.'
    "Some boays stannin' near, got in 'round me, an' at laast a mob gethered, and they foached (pushed) me down the strait. In the por (bustle) I lost my hat, tell gittin cloase to a mait-stannin' (shambles), to saave myself from being stanked (trampled) under fut, I got up and set down 'pon the stannin'; and then, aw, I feelt my sawl all a-fire weth love for everybody theere, and sprengin' to my feet, I begun to ex'ort, and then to pray. Soon as I spoke, they wore aall quiet; norra waun had a word to say, and they looked seeryus, an' at laast teears begun to run: aw, what a plaace et was—'twas 'the house of God' sure 'nough. My sawl was so happy! everybody wad cam forth simmin to shaw how kind they cud be. They got my hat for me agen, and some of 'em wud gev me money ef I wud taake ut, but no, 'twasn' silver or gowld that I looked for. I was happy, and full of love, and in thut staate I went back hum."
    From that day forward Mr. Hampton was continually engaged in lifting up the Savior among sinners, and many were the souls led to the cross by his entreaties and exhortations. He was frequently advertised as "the Cornish fool," and this secured him congregations, but there was a weight and power about his utterances which soon proved to the audience that he was no fool in the things of God. At first his exhortations were confined to small meetings and out-door gatherings, but by degrees the large Methodist chapels were open to him in many circuits of Cornwall and Devon, and even these were not always able to hold the crowds which gathered to hear him. He spoke the people's own tongue, and spake of the Gospel in terms level with their own understandings, and he won many hearts. Zealous ministers in the various districts were glad to use him in stiirring up their people, and if here and there the more dignified repelled him, Dick was always a match for them. Being on one occasion sharply told that he ought not to venture before chapel congregations, Dick's response was ready, and proved to be more complete than his reprover desired. I hope no 'ffence, I'm sure. I ded'n know. I wud do all things ef I cud, decently and in order. You're a great man, you are, maaster, I knaw, an' a wise man, I 'spose. Now, master, don't 'ee fall out weth a fool, for "it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that, believe." You are a larned man, too, I reck'n,' he added, with one of those curious glances of his twisted eye which seemed to screw their way into one; 'Can 'ee taalk Greek, maaster, can 'ee? Will 'ee plaise to say ovver a bit of ut to me?' Dick's squint, and the comical turn of his lip, made the question unmistakable. The official felt that he was unexpectedly brought to a standard of learning which he would rather not be measured by, and so, wisely taking Dick's advice, he let the 'fool' have his way."
    Very comical were Dick's adventures in Devonshire, where he itinerated for several weeks, and was introduced to society of a higher grade than any he had mingled with before. A conversation with Dick about his first visit to Devonshire is given by our author, with details, which will thoroughly amuse the reader, and indeed, the whole of the little volume combines instruction with interest in a very high degree, so that we can heartily commend it to those who wish to while away an hour at the sea-side, or anywhere else.
    Foolish Dick is an extreme case; but we have felt none the less free in using it, since our intelligent readers will readily supply the grain of salt which the example may require. Very far are we from agreeing with the famous Cobbler How in all that he advances in his "Sufficiency of the Spirit's teaching without Human Learning," for he sets himself to shew that human learning is no help to the spiritual understanding of the Word of God, and yet it is clear as the sun at noon-day that the most spiritual man living could not have read the original Scriptures if he had no acquaintance with Hebrew and Greek, and there would have been no translation to help him if the translators had not possessed human learning. We are not, however, fearful that any of our readers will run into the extreme thus indicated. We should be very sorry to see every fool set up for a preacher; perhaps the market in that direction may be regarded as sufficiently stocked; but if there be men of rough natural ability who are muzzled by our present craving for superior elocution, we would say, "In the name of God, loose them and let them go." We desire to see them go forth, not to become antagonists of the regular ministry, not to foam out their own shame by boasting of their ignorance, not to become leaders of factions, but in a Christian spirit to be fellow-helpers with the pastors of the churches, and useful auxiliaries of all other organized labors. We have heard of one minister who gloried in what he elegantly called "choking off" earnest young men who aspired to preach, and perhaps there may be more of his breed; we would, however, rather believe that our brethren will welcome all who, with true hearts, desire to testify to the truth as it is in Jesus, will cheerfully appoint them such service as they are capable of, and assist them in qualifying themselves for greater usefulness. This will be easy work for the pastors if the brethren are all of the same spirit as Richard Hampton. One of the last records of his experience runs thus:—"My expearyance at thes time es, that I have laately found a grawin' in graace, an' have injoyed braave, cumfert ov laate. I have no end in view in going round as I do, from plaace to plaace but the gloary of God, an' the good of sawls. In times past, I cud'n help shaakin' an' trem'lin' when I used to see anybody cum that I thoft was come to shaw a bad sperrit, or to loff an' grizzle, but the Lord have took away the feear of man from me—I doan't knaw nothin' 'bout et now, I've ben a straanger to et ever sence; thank the Lord! I do love every Methody 'pon the faace ov the eaarth weth a partikler love, but saame time I do railly long an' desire that aall mankind shud be saaved. I shud like to be consedered a member ov society in Porthowan class so long as I do live. I doan't waant to laabour in no circuit no further foath than is plaisin' to the praichers in that circuit: an I do wish all'ays to be in subjecshun to they that are ovver the flock, as 'they must account.' God es my wetness, I never look to praich in laarge chaapels nuther: owld baarns, staables, or any plaace like that; an' I b'lieve the Lord will shaw, in the day of account, how hes poor sarvent have tried to maake the best of the taalent that he gove me."
    Foolish Dick went across the Jordan not very long ago, leaving behind him many who remember his name and work with devout thankfulness. He was never married, but he rejoiced greatly in his spiritual sons and daughters, who were on earth his comfort, and will be in heaven his crown. It was grand to hear him singing, as we trust many of us may be able also to sing,

"O the fathomless love that has deign'd to approve,
And prosper the work of my hands!
With my pastoral crook I went over the brook,
And behold I am spread into bands!

"Who, I ask in amaze, hath begotten me these?
And enquire front what quarter they came?
My full heart replies, they are born from the skies,
And gives glory to God and the Lamb."


* Published by Haughton and Co., 10, Paternoster Row.

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