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REMINISCENCES OF A COUNTRY
successors to tread in their footsteps, we will never cease to pray.
The firmness of principle which marked some of these men, seems now incredible when I observe the general degeneracy of the times on which we have fallen. You might as soon turn the sun from its course, as to seduce from the path of virtue the Roman Fabricius, or elder Joseph Butler, of our congregation. In business he was true to the right, as the needle to the pole; and when questions of doubtful propriety were dividing the opinions of men, when you had found where truth and righteousness meet, there was Joseph, as calm, but firm as a rock, or the angel Abdiel, “ faithful among the faithless.”
He would do his duty, come whal might. Here he had learned much of Mr. Rogers, but more of his Bible. When the enemy came in, like a flood, or in the still small current of seductive vice, Joseph Butler was at his pastor's side, true as steel, holding up his hands like Aaron or Hur, and there he would have stood in the face of all the Amalekites of the uni. verse. Such elders are rare now. One Sunday, there was a family in church from the far city of New York. They had come up there to visit some country relations, and two or three of them gay city girls burst out laughing in the midst of the sermon. The cause was this. The old aunt, whom they had come to visit, had stopped in at one of the neighbors on the way to church, and had borrowed some little yellow cakes, called turnpikes, and used I believe for some purpose or other in baking bread. She had thrust them into her workbag, which she carried on her arm, and during sermon having occasion to use her handkerchief, she drew it forth suddenly, and out flew the turnpikes, rolling and scampering over the floor. The city girls tittered at this, as if it were very funny. Their seat was on the side of the pulpit, so that the pastor did not see them, or he would have brought them to order by a look, or a blow on the desk, which would have sent the blood out of their cheeks, though their cheeks would have been red after that. But Joseph Butler saw them, and rising in his seat, struck with his psalm-book on the top of the pew-the preacher paused—the congregation sat dumb—the good elder spoke, calmly but with energy, “ those young women will stop that laughing in the house of God;" they did stop; the pastor proceeded ; Joseph sat down, and the city girls gave no occasion for the exercise of sum:nıy church discipline, during the
remainder of their summer visit. The old aunt was at first disposed to resent the rebuke as an insult, and did complain to Mr. Rogers, but she soon saw that the offence deserved the punishment, and she submitted.
I am a little fearful that the reader will think these incidents were so common that they were characteristic of our Sabbath services. Not so. They were “ sew and far between,” years rolling away unbroken by a single circumstance to disturb the profound solemnity, the almost mo. notony of sacred worship, in those venerable walls. The people always the same, the services always the same, the preaching, the singing almost always the same in style, there was little variety; and, consequently, these incidents occurring in the lapse of years, have made the deeper impression on my mind, and now start up with freshness and life when I sit down to chronicle the past. Thus another comes, and I must tell it, whether or not in its proper place in the chronicles of this country congregation.
There was among the people always at church, an old man by the name of Riding. He was not a pious man, and withal was very hard of hearing, so that having neither interest in the truth, nor the power to hear it with ease, he went to meeting from force of habit, took his seat with his back to the minister, and quietly sinking into slumber, slept - steadily to the close of service. This was his constant practice. There was also a woman, Mrs. Burtis, whose mind was slightly sprung, and whose nervous temperament was specially excitable by scenes of suffering, whether real or imaginary, meeting her eye or her ear. Thus the sight of a fellow-being in circumstances of sudden and dreadful distress, would throw the old lady into fits, when she would scream so terrifically that it would have been nothing strange if all around her had gone into fits to keep her company. She sat in the same pew with old Mr. Riding, and directly in front of him, looking up to the minister. Mr. Rogers was describing the destruction of Jerusalem as a wonderful example of the fulfilment of prophecy. He came to speak of the awful fact that delicate women took their own children, and killed them, and cooked them, and ate them, so fearful was the power of ghastly famine over all the strongest and holiest impulses even of the mother's heart. He had wrought up the description with great skill and effect, and being excited with the theme, he portrayed with great pathos and power the scene where the Roman soldiers burst into a house, attracted by the smell of meat, and demanded it of the hands of the trembling woman within. She goes to the closet and brings forth upon a dish the fragments of her half eaten child, and places it before the horror-stricken soldiers. Mrs. Burtis had been listening with riveted ears to the dreadful tale; the fire in her brain had been gathering fierceness as the preacher proceeded, but when the dish with the baked babe came out of the closet, she could stand it no longer; reason let go the reins; and springing from her seat, Mrs. Burtis pounced upon old Mr. Riding, who was sleeping in front of her, and with both hands seizing his grey locks, she screamed at the very top of her shrill voice, “Where's the woman that killed my child ?" The old man waked in amazement, but so utterly confounded, that although his hair did not stand on end, for the very good reason that Mrs. Burtis held it down with her eagle talons, yet his “ voice clung to his jaws.” Not a word did he utter, but with meekness worthy of the martyrs, he held his peace until Joseph Butler and another elder ruse, and disentangling her fingers from the hair, conducted her quietly from the house, and the preacher went on with his narrative.
This was the most exciting scene I ever knew to transpire in that or any other church in the ordinary course of things. Some years afterwards, I was travelling in the State of Massachusetts; and spending the Sabbath in a country town, I attended church, where an incident of not a little novelty occurred. A farmer, who, I was afterwards informed, had a great fancy for driving spirited horses, got asleep in the middle of the sermon, and probably dreaming of his favorite pursuit, and thinking that the horses were getting away from him, started to his feet, and in a stentorian voice cried “Whoa.” The effect was to bring the preacher to a dead halt, but the effect upon the startled people is not to be described.
I have mentioned the traits of one elder. There was another, Warren Kiriland, a man of faith and prayer, whose life was the best of sermons, and who being dead, yet speaks in the power of his memory, which is cherished with reverence among his posterity. He was not endowed with more than ordinary powers of mind, but he read his Bible much, and prayed much, and conversed much with his minister, and listened with devoui attention to the instructions of the sanctuary, so that he was indeed an intelligent Christian, able to teach by word, as well as by the power of a godly life If, as sometimes was the case, Mr. Rogers was
prevented from being with his people on the Sabbath, it was customary to read a sermon to the people. This was usually done by a worthy lawyer, and then elder Kirtland was called on to pray; and such was the respect which the sincere and humble piety of that good man commanded, that I venture to say the prayers of the minister were never more acceptable to the people, or more efficacious in the ear of heaven.
The greatest funeral which was ever known in that town, was at the burial of another of the elders, named after the father of the faithful, and worthy to bear the name. He was the friend of God; a pillar in the church, and worth a score of the half-dead and half alive sort of Christians which abound in our congregations, -dead weights, some of them, and others curses. At Abraham Van Slate's funeral, there were miles of wagons, filled with people from all parts of the surrounding country, who had come to testify their respect for one of the best of men. He was gathered to his fathers, but he left a son bearing his name who was chosen to bear also his office, and whose wisdom and piety fitted him to sustain the high trust he received with his ascending father's mantle. Good men and true, were those men, and there is a secret reverence around my heart as I thus record their virtues, which shows me how easy it is for poor human nature, under the ignorance and superstition of popery, to be led into the false but natural notion of seeking the prayers of departed saints.
These were leaders in the church. There was as great a variety of character as is usual in a country congregation, but I am not permitted to fill the hook with their history, or the reader should hear more of them. I wanted to tell of “Old Jack,” a blind negro, once a slave, now free, and the Lord's freeman, one of the most remarkable examples of the power of divine grace that the world can show. He was small in stature, old, hump-backed, blind, and black. After such a description, true to the letter, it will hardly be credited that he was a useful member of the church, qualified to lead in prayer and to make a word of exhortation to the edification of others, and that his gifts were often called into exercise in the social meeting. His piety was deep and fervent, and his facul. lies so shrewd and strong, that his remarks were always pointed and pertinent, and often displayed an intimate knowledge of the human heart, and such close conversation with God as few of the most intelligent Christians enjoy.
REMINISCENCES OF A COUNTRY CONGREGATION. 333 CHRIST BLESSING
hearts, though the young and thoughtless doubtless found topics of conversation more congenial to their unsanctified tastes. And then there was a set that always went over to a little red tavern across the green, and where old Mr. and Mrs. Doubleby lived; and what they said and did when they got there, I will not undertake say.
I wish you could see old Mrs. Doubleby standing in the front door with her hands folded under her checked apron, and her spectacles on her forehead, chatting with everybody that passed, or scolding the boys who loved to stone her geese and sheep which she pastured on the green or in the grave-yard. She was a character; but her virtues, if any, and faults, if many, will be alike unknown to future generations, for her only chance of immortality in history is while I am writing this paragraph, and this is done.
And so must this part of this record be brought to a close, even in its very opening. How many of that people would I love to mention, for now they come thickening around me, and I see their faces as if thirty years ago were only yesterday!
Many of his sayings might here be recorded, or his life and conversation might be written out as a Tract, to the glory of Him who thus perfects his own praise out of the mouths of the most humble and unlikely instruments.
I wish you could see old Mrs. Sniffle, the gossip of the congregation, in her rounds of absorption, fastening herself upon every one, to take in, like a sponge, whatever they would impart, that she might have the sweet satisfaction of leaking it to others. Her harvest time was at the close of the morning service, when the most of the people remained in their respective pews to eat their dinner, which those from a distance brought with them. This was the favorable moment for Mrs. Sniffle's expediting, and darting out of her own seat, she would drop in at another, out with her snuff-box, pass it round, and inquire the news. Staying just long enough to extract the essence of all the matters in her line to be met with there, she would make all haste to the pew of some one from another neighborhood, where she would impart the information she had just receivel with her own edifying comments, pick up as many additional fragments of facts as she could find, and pass on to another pew, spend. ing the whole of the interval of Divine worship in this avocation, and the leisure of the week to come, in spreading among her neighbors these items of news, especially such as come under the head of scandal. It is only just to the people, however, to add that Mrs. Sniffle was a black sheep in the flock; there was not another like her, and we may well say, happy is that people which is so well off as to have only one Mrs. Sniffle. Of the good people in our congregation, I have given but examples of a whole class, while such characters as Mrs. Sniffle were single and alone.
Take them in mass, and they were a sober, temperate, orderly, devout people; delighting in the ordinances of God's house, and striving together to promote the glory of the Saviour. If you saw them standing in groups around the door before the service began on the Sabbath day, it was not to trade horses or talk politics, as I have known the practice to be in other places, but more likely it was to speak of the state of religion in their neighborhoods or their
" Oft in the stilly night,
Ere slumber's chain hath bound me, Fond memory brings the light
Of other days around me.”
And now in this still night, the thoughts of those friends of my youth come back with such sweetness, that I fear to drop the pen lest the illusion should cease and the vision vanish.
“ Guides of my life! instructors of my youth!
But I must stop, for the number gains upon me every moment that I write; as the same poet saith whose sweet words we have just recited :
“ Lullid in the countless chambers of the brain,
BLESSING THE CHILDREN.
BY WM. OLAND BOURNE.
O FAVORED scenes where Jesus daily walked !
He looked around, and love divinely beamed
Fond mothers who had heard his glorious name,
They brought them near : the wayward child that roamed
But there were some who murmured at the sight;