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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
B. H. D., Southampton
From the Baptist Magazine, 1826
In a congregation with which I am acquainted, there is a poor man and his wife, who used to journey every Sabbath morning about six miles to worship; and yet they were always in time; and, whatever the weather might be, it was a rare thing for them to be absent.
One evening I went to preach at the village where this excellent couple lived. As I was a little too early, I took a walk with my friend John in his garden; and something like the following conversation took place.
"I am much pleased to see, that you and your good wife are always in time to worship, though you live at such a distance. Many persons who five in town, and within five or ten minutes’ walk of the meeting house, are always late. How do you manage to be always early?"
"O Sir, I think it is very easy to be early; it only wants a little management."
"But what is your plan? I want to know — for I will tell our people in town all about it."
"Why, Sir, we have no plain; I hope, that we love God's holy day — that is all."
"I should be sorry, John, to think, that some who are late at worship, do not love God's holy day."
"True, Sir; but I fear that they do not love it as they ought; or else they would act differently. We think the Lord's day such a blessing, Sir, that we are loathe to lose any part of it."
"So, I suppose, you rise early."
"Yes, Sir. We think it a shame not to rise as soon to serve God, as we do to serve our worldly interest. Sunday is our own day; our holiday; and its services refresh, but do not weary us. Then, again, Sir, I love the early hours of the morning — they are so still. I can think of a text, and pray with more pleasure in the morning, than at any time. I love, when the sun is rising, and all his fine beams are first poured over creation, to gaze on him, and ask for the brighter light of God's countenance. I often think that the Sabbath sun seems to shine brighter than that of any other day."
"I like to rise early every morning — and of course I do so on the Lord's day."
"That again, is what I think, Sir. The ministers of Christ are up meditating on his holy Word; and 'tis a shame that we cannot rise, and pray God to aid them in their great work. How can we expect a blessing, if we do not do so?"
"That, indeed, is the way to obtain it."
"Then I often think again of the Psalmist, —‘EARLY,'—he says, will I seek thee!' And of the dear Saviour, who rose up a great while before it was day, and went out into a solitary place, and there prayed. Our churches would prosper more, if there was more waiting on God, and more wrestling with him. This is the way in which God has appointed to bless us. Ah! Sir, what would our good forefathers have given, to have been able to have gone, unmolested, as we do, to worship God, and to sit under our own vine and fig trees, none daring to make us afraid. They could not go to their public assemblies at half past ten in the Lord's day morning. Their vine and fig-trees were rooted up by the hand of the persecutor. I warrant them, that they would have been glad to have arisen early if they had been in our circumstances. Don’t you think so, Sir?"
"I do, John, from the spirit which pervades their writings, and from the whole of their admirable conduct. They were a noble race of Christians."
"Then, Sir, I think, on the Lord's day morning, how many there are in affliction, who would rejoice to go to the sanctuary, but who cannot; I don’t know, Sir, how soon it may be my case. It would be very sad not to improve our Sabbaths when we are well."
"You judge rightly sickness, and death, and judgment, are approaching to us all; and we are sure, that then we shall all wish to have thought, and spoken, and acted, in a manner becoming our high and holy calling. But you are as hearty at worship in the winter, as in the summer; how is that?"
"When good habits are once gained, Sir, 'tis as easy to practise them in the winter as the summer. I do not say, though, that it is so pleasant to get up early in the cold weather. But then I have time to read the Scriptures, and to think of God, and to pray to him —and do you think, Sir, that these do not repay one for a few moments' unpleasantness in getting away from the warm pillow!"
"Well, I do. Do you think that all our congregation might be in time, if they would rise a little earlier?"
"Yes, Sir, I am sure they might."
"You have no little children, John. This makes a great deal of difference."
"Some, certainly, Sir. But if the parents get up, the children will do so, too. When ours were very young, Mary or myself occasionally stayed at home. Yet we were always in time, if we could go at all. People can go out to markets, and fairs, and for their own pleasure, and be in time too, though they have children, and even large families. It is as my Mary says, ‘Where there's a will, there's a way.’ We only want a heart to love God more, and all then, Sir, would be easy, though it now seems difficult and impossible."
"That is very true. How earnestly should we implore the blessing for ourselves, and for our brethren! — But you are in time in bad weather too, John, how is that?"
"Why, we don't think much of the weather. You know, Sir, if we can get any worldly good, we don't mind going through a few showers — nor do we care though it may be cold. And 'tis a hard case, if a little rain, or snow, or cold, should make us give up the service of God.
"I spoke to one of our friends the other day about coming earlier to worship, and about bringing his whole household, but he said, one stayed at home to get dinner. I told him how they managed at brother Harris's. They dress their Sunday's dinner on Saturday evening; and then put it by the tire, when they all go out to worship. So they have a hot dinner almost every Sabbath, and ready too as soon as they come home."
"Some, they find, are late through mere carelessness. When I speak to them, they say, they thought they should be time enough — or, they really did not know what time it was — or, when they came, that they bad but just sung the first hymn, —or, the whole of the chapter was not read —or, the minister had not done praying — or, they did hear the text, and the sermon, which they thought the principal things."
"Why, Sir, such persons seem to think the house of God a prison, and they will not spend more time than they can help in it. David thought it a palace. I feel uncomfortable, if I am not in my seat some little time before the service begins, that I may collect my thoughts, and ask for a blessing.”
"I wish all thought so. The first hymn in many congregations is almost useless, but few join in it: those who do are constantly disturbed by the opening and shutting of doors, and sometimes by the clanking of pattens. I fear that it is but of little more use in some cases, than the tolling of the parish bell, which summons people to worship."
"I am pained to observe, that often, whilst you are reading the chapter, you are obliged to pause, or raise your voice, and even then some parts of the verses are not heard."
"It would be very pleasant to see the whole congregation in their places, and uniting in the first psalm."
"It would, but this can scarcely be expected in reference to occasional hearers, yet we might hope, that members of Christian societies, and regular attendants, would seriously consider the subject, and be in the house of God, when common sense, and common decency, not to say religion, requires. If persons have no regard to the feelings of a minister, and imagine, that because he is only an individual, therefore he may bear anything; they should recollect that they disturb many devout worshippers, in their offerings of praise and adoration. In this point of view, it absolutely amounts to a species of profanity."
"I do not say, that it is possible at all times, to be exact to a minute, in our attendance. We may be detained in the chamber of the afflicted, or of the dying; or the best laid plans may, now and then, be disarranged. But the grand point is, how can we correct this evil?"
"You have spoken many times about it — and very kindly too — and sometimes a little sharply, yet it cannot be said that the evil is cured. I almost despair."
"Don't let us despair, John. We should never despair of doing good, by God's help."
"Why, Sir, if everyone would reform one, the work would be done, and this seems a very easy thing."
"Well, John, I'll tell you what I will do. I will send our conversation to the Magazine. Some who offend may do us the honour to read it, and they may mention it to others. And, who can tell? They may try and alter their conduct, and their example may be followed; and so some part of the evil may be done away. ‘Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!'" (James 3:5)