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REMINISCENCES OF A COUNTRY CONGREGATION.
The Old White Meeting-House and the Church- ? yard have already been drawn in these sketches, and I come now to the Minister. I would have begin with him, but that it seemed more easy for the picture, to draw the church first, then the pastor, and then the people.
“ OUR MINISTER." “ We never shall see him more," I know very well; too well; and it is a matter of great doubt with me whether we shall ever see the like of him again. Yet there were no eccentricities of character, natural or artificial, by which he was made to differ from the men of his own times or the men of our times, and which are now to be recorded for the amusement, and not the instruction, of others. There have been such men, and when we are reailing their oddities, it is very easy to believe that if you take away the oddities of the man, there would be little or nothing left. The usefulness of such men is often looked at as proof that their eccentricities were real virtues, and not blemishes, upon their characters; but I am inclined to the opinion that they were usually useful in spite of their peculiarities, and would have been far more so, if they had been as other men, and without those « bonds."
Our minister, the excellent Mr. Rogers, had no one singularity of which I can now think, and if the reader jumps to the conclusion that he was therefore a moderate, every-day sort of a man, not worth knowing about, he must even skip the description, and go on to something more to his taste.
That I always looked up to Mr. Rogers with such a reverential awe as the present degenerate age knows very little of, is very likely ; and it may be that if he had lived in this day, when all ministers are so good or all children so much more advanced than they were thirty years ago, perhaps he would not stand out before the world with so bold a prominence as he did in my eyes, when he walked slowly, but modestly, up the aisle, and climbed the lof. ty pulpit. I thought he was the holiest man in the world; he seemed awful holy! I have never had the least reason to suppose that I was mistaken in those notions about him, yet
much allowance may doubtless be made for a } child's reverence for his pastor, in days now Ś gone, to come back never, I sally fear.
He was thirty-five or forty years of age when I was five or six, and consequently he was always an old man in my eyes; and I have no other recollections of him than those associated with the deepest reverence. That he ever sinned, I never supposed; and if any one had mentioned anything 10 his disadvantage in my hearing, it would have shocked me very much, as it would now to hear of a peccadillo in an angel. This is no place, and I have no time to go into the reasons of the change in the sentiinent of children respecting their minister, but from the bottom of my heart, I wish that the good old times of Ellwards would come back again, or if that is wishing too much, the times when I was a boy! Those were good times compared with these, though I have no hope 10 convince the young of it.
He had an extraordinary voice, that is a fact. Perhaps this ought to be written down as a singularity. It rings this moment in my ears just as it did thirty years ago, and not with the most pleasant music, for it was harsh and strong, and when he was roused by the great theme of pulpit discourse, the gospel would come down in such torrents of overwhelming sound, that it sometimes seemed to me the people must be carried by storm. Yet was he far from being a violent preacher. He had too much of the milk of human kindness in bis soul to say hard things, in a hard way, but the power of which I speak was the voice of a mighty man on the mightiest theme that ever employed the lips of man, and how could he be otherwise than overpowering? At times his voice was terrible! That is 10 say, when he suddenly raised it in a tone of command, be would start every dull soul in that assembly as if a thunder-bolt had hit the old white meetinghouse in the middle of sermon. I remember one Sabbath, when the congregation was unusually silent and solemn, a half-crazy man, but more mischievous than mad, rose in the gallery and commenced making various gesticulations to amuse the young people, who sat in that part of the house. The congregation below, did not know that anything was going on, but the minister saw it in a moment, and to try gentle means at first, he made a sign to the man to sit down and be still. Wilson kept his fun in operation till the forbearance of good Mr. Rogers was quite spent, and looking sternly at him, he thundered out “ Mr. Wilson, sit doun, Sir.” The man fell back in his seat as though a bludgeon had smote him, and never raised his head during the service. He called the next day on Mr. Rogers and made an apology, and sealed it by sending him a load of wood. But it was the effect of his voice upon the congregation of which I was speaking. If the roof had fallen in, the people would scarcely have been more startled than by this pastoral explosion. Every heart trembled, and it was some time before the children could get their breath Yet there was no sign of impatience or any other unholy passion in the sudden blow of his voice, by which the worthy minister had lain low his disorderly auditor ; but there was majesty and power in those tremendous tones which carried conviction to every conscience that Mr. Rogers was not a man to be trified with, and that standing in God's name and house, he would teach every man to keep in Eis place.
REMINISCENCES OF A COUNTRY CONGREGATION. 293
And here it is in order to speak of the author. ity which Mr. Rogers wielded in that congregation. It was the beauty of power. It was right that he should rule in the Church, according to the laws of the Church and the Word of God ; but his rule was that of love, so kindly, yet firmly dispensed, that no man thought of quarrelling with it, who did not also war against divine authority. The pastor was the pastor. As shepherd of the flock, it was his office to watch over them and keep them, as far as in him lay, from wandering into dangerous ways, and from the covert or open assaults of enemies who go about, like their master, the devil, seeking whom they may devour. And when any one, or any dozen of the sheep took it into their heads that they knew more about the proper mode of managing the flock than the shepherd whom the Lord had sent to tend them, they soon found that they had mistaken their calling, and would consult their happiness and usefulness by quietly minding their own business. Now you would not do Mr. Rogers exact justice, if the inference should be drawn from this fact that he was regardless of the wishes of his people, or kept them at a distance, when they wished to take counsel with him on the interests of the Church. Far otherwise was his temper and practice. They were taught, and they learned to come with all freedom and lay their hearts before him, and the patience and sympathy with which he listened to their individual, and all but endless stories, is a matter of wonder to me, now that I call to
mind how much of it he was compelled to endure. I used to be often, when a child, at his house, playing with his boys, and had the most frequent and favorable opportunities of observing that of which I am now speaking. And while he was ready always to enter with kindness and freedom into the varied wants of those who came to him with "something on their minds," he knew his own duties too well, and his high responsibility to God, to suffer them for a moment to dictate to him as to the mode in which he should manage the flock of which he had been made the overseer Even in those days, the people would sometimes have “itching ears” to hear a new-light preacher of great renown, who was turning the world upside down with his eloquence, and they would take some round-about way to hint to Mr. Rogers that it would be a good plan to send for him to come and give them a few rousing sermons. But they were not long in finding that Mr. Rogers held the keys of the pulpit in his own hand, and asked whom he pleased and none others, to feed his flock. If this uniform course of conduct now and then chased the necks of some of the less judicious of the congregation, the pastor had two rich and all sufficient sources of comfort—the support of all the better sort of his people, and the approbation of a good conscience.
Mr. Rogers' intercourse with his people did not confine itself to their visits at his study or house. He sought them at their own homes, and around their firesides and tables he mingled with them, in such easy and cheerful conversation, that they felt him to be their friend, while they never forgot that he was their teacher and guide to heaven. We children never felt altogether at home when the minister was there. We were not quite so free to come into the room, and we hung down our heads, and perhaps kept one thumb in our mouths as if we were very much ashamed of ourselves when we were summoned into his presence “ to say the catechism," and receive such good and wholesome advice, as he never failed to administer in tones that sunk deep into our young hearts. Those were often very solemn seasons, and if the practice is passing away froin the churches of our land, I would that it might be restored again. In these good days of Sunday schools, and other excellent but modern modes of training up children in the way in which they should go, the old-fashioned plan of pastoral catechising has been laid aside in very many parts of our land. I speak not of the
catechism of any particular creed. All those who call themselves Christian, have a duty to perform to their children, and if the pastor and parents would imitate the example of our minister, they would bless their children and the country. In these pastoral visits, and in the instruction which the young received in preparation for it, were laid the principles of that attachment to the doctrines of the gospel, of the order of the church, and of submission to law of God and of man, obedience to parents, respect to those who are older, wiser, and better, that ever marked the youth who were trained under the ministry of this man of God; and I am inclined to think, that if you follow the whole generation that passed their childhood in that congregation at that time, you will find very few who have not become, and remained till death, sober, quiet, substantial citizens, and useful, honest men. But this is not getting on with the story.
As soon as Mr. Rogers arrived at any house in his scattered and extended parish, all the ordinary cares of the family were suspended, and the whole time of every member given to him. On his first induction to this people, it was the custom of the good woman of the house, to begin to fly about when the minister came to fix up the best parlor, and get ready some warm biscuit for tea, or a pair of chickens for dinner, if he came before noon, and thus all her time was spent, like that of Martha, in much serving. Mr. Rogers soon put an end to that mode of entertainment, by informing his people from the pulpit, that when he came to see them at their houses, it was not to be feasted, but to feed their souls and the souls of their children ; and, therefore, if they wished to please him, they would do as Mary did, sit still and listen. This hint, after sundry repetitions, had the desired effect, and he was able to enjoy the whole time of his visit in those great duties which he felt to be of unspeakable importance to the spiritual welfare of the family. The heads of the household were first conversed with freely on the progress which they were making in personal religion; if they had doubts, and fears, or any other difficulties about which they needed direction, they were encouraged to make them known, and from the stores of his well-furnished mind, and the richer treasures of a deeply spiritual experience and great famili. arity with the Word of God, he was able to impart just that counsel which their trials seemed to require. If they were backward in their performance of any of the acknowledged duties
of Christian life, if the worship of God in the family was not faithfully attended to, if they were at variance with any of their neighbors, or slack in the discharge of their obligations to their fellow men, he would in all kindness, but with skilful decision, as their soul's physician, give them those prescriptions without which it was impossible for their souls to thrive. Such fidelity and freedom on his part, so far from alienating their affections, did but endear him to them the more, as they saw his affectionate interest in their souls' concerns, and felt the power and truth of the admonitions which be gave. And then these admonitions were often blessed of God to the great comfort and edification of the people, who thus found in their own happy experience, the ineffable value of a faithful pastor, whom they loved even when he came to wound.
The children were then called in, and were examined, as I have hinted, in the catechism, in which they were regularly instructed by their parents. The doctrines therein contained were then familiarly explained, and the young were most earnestly persuaded to give their hearts to the Saviour, while yet in the morning of their days. As the congregation was widely extended, it was common for Mr. Rogers to give notice on the Sabbath, that during the week on a certain day, he would visit in such a neighborhood, and at three o'clock in the afternoon he wished the families in that vicinity to assemble at a house named, for religious conversation and prayer. And those were good meetings, you may be sure ; the farmer's house in which it was held, would be filled with parents and children, the halls and the stair-case crowded; a little stand, with a Bible and Psalm-book, would be set for the minister at some point from which his voice could easily be heard over all the house, and such prayers and such appeals would be then and there made, as the Spirit of God delights to attend and bless. How many tears did the children shed in those meet. ings; not alarmed by terrible words of coming wiath, but melted with the pathos of gospel love, and moved by the strong appeals of that holy man. Impressions, I know, were made at those meetings, that eternity will only brighten and deepen, as the memory of those solemn, yet happy hours, mingles with the joy of immortal bliss. I mention those scenes, although I can hardly expect that others will take any interest in the record, hoping that some will gather hints from these to go and do likewise, and because I love to linger among recollections
that are the sweetest and strongest of life's early hours.
In speaking of Mr. Rogers' voice; I touched incidentally upon his power as a preacher. He was eminently an instructive preacher. It was his aim to produce an intelligent conviction in the minds of his hearers of the truth of the great doctrines of the gospel, to elucidate them with so much distinctness that they should readily admit their force, and thus he would lay the foundation for those overwhelming appeals to duty that so marked his pulpit ministrations. He was great on the doctrines. I make this remark in this blunt way, that the fact may stand out the more distinctly. He thought the religious system of the Bible was a system of great truths, having an intimate relation to one another, and an inseparable connection with the character, and consequently the destiny of men. Instead, therefore, of spending his time and strength in exhibiting himself, or in amusing his people with theories and speculations of his own, instead of merely practical exhortations which constitute so great a part of the preaching of many excellent and devoted men, he labored to bring home to the minds and the hearts of his people, those cardinal doctrines of the gospel which lie at the root of all true faith and holy living, and by a course of regular and lucid expositions of the sacred oracles, he led them to behold these doctrines shining with lustre and majestic beauty on every page of revelation. And when these strong truths were thus unfolded, he would stand upon them as on a mount of glory, and thence urge the claims of God and the gospel with words of fervid heat and strength, that melted the hearts on which they fell, and mingled their saving power in the mass thus dissolved in the breasts of the assembly. The effects of this ministry were, as might be expected, immediate and perma. nent. The word of the Lord had free course and was glorified. The young grew up to manhood with strong attachments to the faith of their fathers, the members of the church were steadfast in their adherence to the truth as they had received it, and it was rare to see a man in the community who was not a professor of religion. The institutions of the gospel commanded the respect and reverence of the whole people. Impiety was scarcely known in the town, so deep-settied and wide-spread was this regard for the truths of God's Word and the ordinances of his house.
Here I was on the point of speaking of the great revivals of religion which followed such
a ministry, but they will demand more space than I have now left. In a future number, these may come before us with some of that tender interest that now clusters in the region of my heart, as memory runs back to scenes when the Holy Spirit displayed his omnipotent grace, subduing sinners and winning them to the feet of Jesus. Precious revivals! Come back and dwell with the church for ever.
Yet I have not half drawn this portrait of Mr. Rogers, nor told one of a thousand incidents that ought to be thrown in to convey even a faint idea of the man, to those who know nothing of him except what they gather from these sketches. If there were any traits of his symmetrical character that ought to be brought out in bolder relief on this page than the rest, they were his firedness of purpose in right, and his unterrified moral courage. These features blend in fine proportions in the life of every right man, but they are worthy of distinct recognition. It was our minister's great study to learn what God would have him to do; in one word, what was right ; for as he was always doing something, he merely wished to ascertain what was right, and he went on to achieve it, as easily and naturally as he would eat to appease his hunger, or rest when he was weary. It was no objection to any line of policy or the attempt of any enterprise that the people would not like it, or that the world would oppose it, nor even that it would probably fail for the want of support; enough for him that it was a duty to which he was called, and like Luther on the way to Worms, or his Master on the way to crucifixion, he marched steadily onward, and if he did not succeed, he nevertheless had his reward. Let a new sect seek to propagate some pestilent heresy within the bounds of his parish; let a reformer, with zeal and without knowledge come and attempt to sow the seeds of revolution among the people; and then see with what calm and holy boldness he would rouse to the defence of the truth, and how error, affrighted, would fee away before his stern and manly rebukes. Let vice, under some insidious garb, begin to gain a foothold in the congregation, among the young in their follies, or the old in their pursuits of gain, and the "Old White Meeting-House” was sure to ring with the righteous denunciations and the threatened judgments of an alienated God, before the people knew that the mischief had reached the pastor's ear.
And when the storm of opposition burst upon him, as it did at last, and as we shall see here
after, he was calm and unshaken like the rock at whose base the waves have broken for centuries. True, he was finally overthrown, but he fell as I have seen a great oak which the river overflowing its banks has dashed against without harm, but anon the waters have subsided, and working their way under the roots, have at last worn away the soil, and the tree that an overflowing deluge could not move, has fallen headlong by the silent and unseen influence of an under-ground foe.
But I will not dwell longer on my old pastor. I know I have not begun to give him to
you as he was, and as he still is in my soul's recollections of years now gone.
But if I should prolong the sketch interminably, I should probably get no nearer the perfection of the portrait. You have now an outline only, and as we mingle with the congregation, and bring under review the various sorts of men and women that made it, and recount the many and wonderful scenes through which they passed, you will catch more of the tact and talent of
our minister” than I can convey by piling ever so many words upon those already wntten. Next month we will try again.