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"THAT SERMON WAS A BOMBSHELL"
The following Sabbath morning smiled so brightly that one might be tempted to believe that there was no sin and misery in the world, and that such a church as Mrs. Arnot condemned was an eminently proper organization. As the congregation left their elegant homes, and in elegant toilets wended their way to their elegant church, they saw nothing in the blue sky and sunshine to remind them of the heavy shadows brooding over the earth. What more was needed than that they should give an hour to their aesthetic worship, as they had done in the past when the weather permitted, and then return to dinner and a nap and all the ordinary routine of life? There were no "beasts at Ephesus" to fight now. The times had changed, and to live in this age like an ancient Christian would be like going to Boston on foot when one might take a palace car. Hundreds of fully grown, perfectly sane people filed into the church, who complacently felt that in attending service once or twice a week, if so inclined, they were very good Christians. And yet, strange to say, there was a conspicuous cross on the spire, and they had named their church "St. Paul's."
St. Paul! Had they read his life? If so, how came they to satirize themselves so severely? A dwarf is the more to be pitied if named after a giant.
It was very queer that this church should name itself after the tent-maker, who became all things to all men, and who said, "I made myself servant unto all that I might gain the more."
It was very unfortunate for them to have chosen this saint, and yet the name, Saint Paul, had a very aristocratic sound in Hillaton, and thus far had seemed peculiarly fitted to the costly edifice on which it was carved.
And never had the church seemed more stately than on this brilliant Sabbath morning, never had its elegance and that of the worshippers seemed more in harmony.
But the stony repose and calm of their Gothic temple was not reflected in the faces of the people. There was a general air of perturbation and expectancy. The peculiar and complacent expression of those who are conscious of being especially well dressed and respectable was conspicuously absent. Annoyed, vexed, anxious faces passed into the vestibule. Knots of twos, threes, and half-dozens lingered and talked eagerly, with emphatic gestures and much shaking of heads. Many who disliked rough weather from any cause avoided their fellow-members, and glided hastily in, looking worried and uncomfortable. Between the managing officers, who had felicitated themselves on having secured a congregation containing the creme de la creme of the city, on one hand, and the disquieted Mr. Blakeman, who found the church growing uncomfortably cold, on the other, Mrs. Arnot's words and acts and the minister's implied pledge to bring the matter squarely to an issue, had become generally known, and a foreboding as of some great catastrophe oppressed the people. If the truth were known, there were very general misgivings; and, now that the people had been led to think, there were some uncomfortable aspects to the question. Even that august dignitary the sexton was in a painful dilemma as to whether it would be best to assume an air of offended dignity, or veer with these eddying and varying currents until sure from what quarter the wind would finally blow. He had learned that it was Mrs. Arnot whom he had twice carelessly motioned with his thumb into a back seat, and he could not help remarking to several of the more conservative members, that "it was very unjust and also unkind in Mrs. Arnot to palm herself off on him as an ordinary pusson, when for a long time it had been the plainly understood policy of the church not to encourage ordinary pussons."
But the rumor that something unusual was about to take place at St. Paul's brought thither on this particular Sabbath all kinds and descriptions of people; and the dignified functionary whose duty it was to seat them grew so hot and flustered with his unwonted tasks, and made such strange blunders, that both he and others felt that they were on the verge of chaos. But the most extraordinary appearing personage was no other than Mr. Jeremiah Growther; and, as with his gnarled cane he hobbled along at Haldane's side, he looked for all the world as if some grotesque and antique carving had come to life and was out for an airing. Not only the sexton, but many others, looked askance at the tall, broad-shouldered youth of such evil fame, and his weird-appearing companion, as they walked quite far up the aisle before they could find a seat.
Many rubbed their eyes to be sure it was not a dream. What had come over the decorous and elegant St. Paul's? When before had its dim, religious light revealed such scenes? Whence this irruption of strange, uncouth creatures--a jail-bird in a laborer's garb, and the profane old hermit, whom the boys had nicknamed "Jerry Growler," and who had not been seen in church for years.
Mrs. Arnot, followed by many eyes, passed quietly up to her pew, and bowed her head in prayer.
Prayer! Ah! in their perturbation some had forgotten that this was the place of prayer, and hastily bowed their heads also.
Mr. Arnot had been engaged in his business to the very steps, and much too absorbed during the week to hear or heed any rumors; but as he walked up the aisle he stared around in evident surprise, and gave several furtive glances over his shoulder after being seated. As his wife raised her head, he leaned toward her and whispered:
"What's the matter with Jeems? for, if I mistake not, there are a good many second-class saints here to-day." But not a muscle changed in Mrs. Arnot's pale face. Indeed, she scarcely heard him. Her soul was and had been for several days in the upper sanctuary, in the presence of God, pleading with him that he would return to this earthly temple which the spirit of the world had seemingly usurped.
When Dr. Barstow arose to commence the service, a profound hush fell upon the people. Even his face and bearing impressed and awed them, and it was evident that he, too, had climbed some spiritual mountain, and had been face to face with God.
As he proceeded with the service in tones that were deep and magnetic, the sense of unwonted solemnity increased. Hymns had been selected which the choir could not perform, but must sing; and the relation between the sacred words and the music was apparent. The Scripture lessons were read as if they were a message for that particular congregation and for that special occasion, and, as the simple and authoritative words fell on the ear the general misgiving was increased. They seemed wholly on Mrs. Arnot's side; or, rather, she was on theirs.
When, at last, Dr. Barstow rose, not as a sacred orator and theologian who is about to deliver a sermon, but rather as an earnest man, who had something of vital moment to say, the silence became almost oppressive.
Instead of commencing by formally announcing his text, as was his custom, he looked silently and steadily at his people for a moment, thus heightening their expectancy.
"My friends," he began slowly and quietly, and there was a suggestion of sorrow in his tone rather than of menace or denunciation; "my friends, I wish to ask your calm and unprejudiced attention to what I shall say this morning. I ask you to interpret my words in the light of the word of God and your own consciences; and if I am wrong in any respect I will readily acknowledge it. Upon a certain occasion Christ said to his disciples, 'Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of'; and he at once proved how widely his spirit differed from theirs. They accepted the lesson--they still followed him, and through close companionship eventually acquired his merciful, catholic spirit. But at this time they did not understand him nor themselves. Perhaps we can best understand the spirit we are of by considering his, and by learning to know him better whom we worship, by whose name we are called.
"During the past week I have been brought face to face with the Christ of the Bible, rather than the Christ of theology and philosophy, who has hitherto dwelt in my study; and I have learned with sorrow and shame that my spirit differed widely from his. The Christ that came from heaven thought of the people, and had compassion on the multitude. I was engrossed with my sermons, my systems of truth, and nice interpretations of passages that I may have rendered more obscure. But I have made a vow in his name and strength that henceforth I will no longer come into this pulpit, or go into any other, to deliver sermons of my own. I shall no longer philosophize about Christ, but endeavor to lead you directly to Christ; and thus you will learn by comparison what manner of spirit you are of, and, I trust, become imbued with his Spirit. I shall speak the truth in love, and yet without fear, and with no wordy disguise. Henceforth I do not belong to you but to my Master, and I shall present the Christ who loved all, who died for all, and who said to all, 'Whosoever will, let him come!'
"You will find my text in the Gospel of St. John, the nineteenth chapter and fifth verse:
"'Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the Man!'
"Let us behold him to-day, and learn to know him and to know ourselves better. If we discover any sad and fatal mistake in our religious life, let us correct it before it is too late."
It would be impossible to portray the effect of the sermon that followed, coming, as it did, from a strong soul stirred to its depths by the truth under consideration. The people for the time being were swayed by it and carried away. What was said was seen to be truth, felt to be truth; and as the divine Man stood out before them luminous in his own loving and compassionate deeds, which manifested his character and the principles of the faith he founded, the old, exclusive, self-pleasing life of the church shrivelled up as a farce and a sham.
"In conclusion," said Dr. Barstow, "what was the spirit of this Man when he summoned publicans and fishermen to be his followers? what was his spirit when he laid his hand on the leper? what, when he said to the outcast, 'Neither do I condemn thee; go and sin no more'? what, when to the haughty Pharisees, the most respectable people of that day, he threatened, 'Woe unto you!'
"He looked after the rich and almost perfect young man, by whom he was nevertheless rejected, and loved him; he also said to the penitent thief, 'To-day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.' His heart was as large as humanity. Such was his spirit.'"
After a moment's pause, in which there was a hush of breathless expectancy, Dr. Barstow's deep tones were again heard. "God grant that henceforth yonder doors may be open to all whom Christ received, and with the same welcome that he gave. If this cannot be, the name of St. Paul, the man who 'made himself the servant unto all that he might gain the more,' can no longer remain upon this church save in mockery. If this cannot be, whoever may come to this temple, Christ will not enter it, nor dwell within it.'"
The people looked at each other, and drew a long breath. Even those who were most in love with the old system forgot Dr. Barstow, and felt for the moment that they had a controversy with his Master.
The congregation broke up in a quiet and subdued manner. All were too deeply impressed by what they had heard to be in a mood for talking as yet; and of the majority, it should be said in justice that, conscious of wrong, they were honestly desirous of a change for the better.
During the sermon Mr. Growther's quaint and wrinkled visage had worked most curiously, and there were times when he with difficulty refrained from a hearty though rather profane indorsement.
On his way home he said to Haldane, "I've lived like a heathen on Lord's day and all days; but, by the holy poker, I'll hear that parson hereafter every Sunday, rain or shine, if I have to fight my way into the church with a club."
A peculiar fire burned in the young man's eyes and his lips were very firm, but he made no reply. The Man whose portraiture he had beheld that day was a revelation, and he hoped that this divine yet human Friend might make a man of him.
"Well," remarked Mr. Arnot, sententiously, "that sermon was a perfect bombshell; and, mark my words, it will either blow the doctor out of his pulpit, or some of the first-class saints out of their pews."
But a serene and hopeful light shone from Mrs. Arnot's eyes, and she only said, in a low tone:
"The Lord is in his holy temple."
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