Monday, 21 April 2008

Stoughton's Heroes 03

At length the feast of St. Bartholomew arrived. It was with an aching heart that many a one rose that morning. With what deep feeling must the pastor have prayed in his closet - the father in his family! That day dawned on them in plenty; it would close on them in pauperism. We are told of the immense congregations that assembled to hear the farewell discourses, and of the numbers who were melted into tears. The ejected ministers had to preach funeral sermons over their own ministry. Their official character now ceased. Henceforth their lips in public must be sealed, as with the touch of death. This gave unwonted force and pathos to their ministrations, and no one can wonder that the listening multitudes were melted into tears. Some of the sermons are preserved, and they are remarkable for the singleness of purpose which they display. The preacher evidently aims alone at the edification of his people on this last opportunity of addressing them. There is a striking absence in their discourses of everything like party feeling, of invectives against their enemies, of attempts to excite pity for themselves. Their personal allusions are few, simple, manly, and dignified. "I know," said the eminent Dr Bates in his farewell sermon, "I know you expect I should say something as to my Nonconformity: I shall only say thus much, - it is neither fancy, faction, nor humour that makes me not to comply, but merely for fear of offending God. And if after the best means used for my illumination, as prayer to God, discourse, or study, I am not able to be satisfied concerning the lawfulness of what is required, - if it be my unhappiness to be in error, surely men will have no reason to be angry with me in this world, and I hope God will pardon me in the next."
"Brethren," exclaims Mr Lye, " I could do very much for the love I bear to you, but I dare not sin. I know they will tell you this is pride and peevishness in us, that we are tender of our reputation, and would fain all be Bishops, and forty things more; but the Lord be witness between them and us in this. Beloved, I prefer my wife and children before a blast of air or people's talk. I am very sensible of what it is to be reduced to a morsel of bread. Let the God of heaven and earth do what He will with me, if I could have subscribed with a good conscience I would: I would do anything to keep myself in the work of God; but to sin against God, I dare not do it." In meeting the charge of disaffection to the Government, Mr Atkin observes, "Let him never be accounted a sound Christian that doth not fear God and honour the King. I beg that you will not interpret our Nonconformity to be an act of unpeaceableness and disloyalty. We will do anything for his Majesty but sin. We will hazard anything for him bnt our souls. We hope we could die for him, only we dare not be damned for him. We make no question, however we may be accounted of here, we shall be found loyal and obedient subjects at our appearance before God's tribunal."
Men who could thus talk and act, must have felt, as the feast of Bartholomew closed upon them, a conscious integrity, and a self-respect which compensated for their temporal losses. Some ministers, who had conformed, once met Mr Christopher Jackson, of Crossby on the Hill, in Westmoreland, an ejected brother, and taunted him with his threadbare coat. "If it be bare," he rejoined, "it has never been turned." And truly a man whose soul is clothed with an untorn conscience, though his attire be that of a beggar, may walk through the world with a more portly bearing and princely step than he whose ragged conscience is covered with the costliest robes! Some of the parishioners of these ministers wondered at their scruples."Ah! Mr. Heywood," said a countryman, addressing the Vicar of Ormskirk, "we would gladly have you preach still in the church." "Yes," said he, "I would as gladly preach as you can desire it, if I could do it with a safe conscience." "Oh, Sir," replied the man, "many now-a-days make a great gash in their consciences: cannot you make a little nick in yours?" And some of the very individuals who were in the first instance the loudest in condemning conformity, and in leading their brethren to the edge of the Rubicon, and persuading them to make the decisive plunge, when it came to the point to do the thing themselves, shrank back from the danger, and blamed the men whom they had before cheered on. "Never conform! never conform!" said the Rector of Burnham to Mr Clopton, who had the living of Reckondon, "Never conform, Sir!" - but when St Bartholomew's day came, this zealous adviser could not find it in his heart to sacrifice his tithes and his glebe. He then wrote to Mr Clopton, and told him to remember that Reckondon was a good living; but the minister, who had been at first less excited about the matter than his neighbour, wrote back word that "he hoped he should keep a good conscience." The men who, with integrity and uprightness, sacrificed their livings, secured for themselves a much better inheritance than the men who, on the principles of expediency, conformed and retained their benefices.

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