My Days and My Ways
CHAPTER ELEVEN: Introducing the Truth (Huddersfield).
The question was, what should be the shape of our special effort to call attention to the truth in Huddersfield? Privately, we had done a good deal from the very beginning. The editor of the Examiner and his lady – excellent people as this world goes – had been the object of many attentions. We loved them, and felt earnestly desirous that they should share the benefit that we ourselves had received in such an acquaintance with the Scriptures as enabled us to entertain a fervent faith and hope towards God, while discarding the stumbling superstitions and sentimental excesses of mere “religion” as expounded in church and chapel. But we found them inaccessible to our arguments. They were dearly attached to the traditions of nonconformity, both in politics and religion. They were enthusiastic admirers of English literature, and not sufficiently in loving touch with the Scriptures to feel the force of Scriptural things, and the merely human character and origin of the traditions they worshipped. They were noble people in all things appertaining to man, but in things pertaining to God, as revealed in Moses and the prophets and the apostolic writings, insubordination is the only term that accurately defined their attitude. Our divergence was fundamental, with every sentiment of mutual personal esteem.
Friendship thins off infallibly when fundamental principles are not mutually shared, especially when the element of duty to God comes in on one side or the other. They resented the suggestion that submission to the hope of Israel had anything to do with personal hopes, and were angry at the doctrine that, apart from this hope, men are aliens and strangers “having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). They would not consent to intercourse on the basis of being tolerated as “respectable heathens.” They demanded silence on that topic, to which we could not consent. We were all to be pitied. We, who presented these things to them, had not invented the truth, and they did not know it, and could not see it; and so we were caught in one of the million twists which distort human life everywhere in the present evil time. There will be a straightening out of matters when the Lord shows His arm again, in the reappearing of Christ.
I had a try at another interesting man, who figured as an occasional contributor to the paper in serio-comic letters on local affairs over a nom de plume, and also took a leading part in local politics. He was a good specimen of vigorous, natural manhood – tall, well-formed, healthy, of fresh complexion, large but well-shaped mouth, beautiful teeth, and a round, open, jovial countenance. There was no affectation of any kind about him. He was out-spoken, rough and honest as a blustering day. He had a rare gift of the pen, but was a poor talker, at least in company: he was voluble and emphatic enough in private. He had an ample and vigorous understanding. It seemed as if he ought to fall in love with so beautiful and rational a thing as the truth. Alas! He was perfectly content with the present life. He enjoyed it thoroughly, and did not want to live again: at least, so he said. He had a good business, a nice little wife, a quiet home, an occasional day with guns and dogs, and scope for his best energies in politics and satirical writing. Religion he regarded as a fable of the priests, and as for any new version I might have to present, he did not feel it could be worth his notice.
Another of the Examiner editor’s friends, to whom I introduced the truth, I had more hope of, but with as little real cause, as time showed. He was a contributor to the paper in a special department. He was a young man of a different type to P.P., of medium height, stoutish person, manly, open countenance, and in character he was genial, kind, and mirthful to a phenomenal degree. He was called a moral young man – took part in chapel affairs, interested himself in working men in the way of getting up lectures and entertainments in the village in the outskirts where he lived, and from
which he came in regularly to business. He once issued an earnest pointed appeal to the workpeople of his village on behalf of the earnestness of life. He seemed altogether a likely subject for scriptural enlightenment; but the fact did not turn out in harmony with the appearance. He listened and read: he was too friendly and good-humoured a man not to do that; but there it ended. He was too merry and too prosperous for the earnest attention which the truth requires. He praised me for my faithfulness to what I considered the teaching of the Bible, but could not follow my arguments. He pitied me for my enthusiasm, but could not be unfriendly.
Ten years after I had left Huddersfield, I was on a lecturing visit to a dismal Yorkshire town, and staying in a gloomy temperance hotel. The friend in question walked, in his jovial style, into the room where I was sitting. He said he had seen my name on the walls, and he made sure I would be in a temperance hotel, and he had come to see me. I had been writing and was wearied, and must have appeared very dismal to him, especially as he did not supply any ideas I could kindle up about. The tableau was illustrative of the nature of the times: a jovial, buxom, flourishing, portly Gentile, making good-humoured sport with a drooping son of Israel’s Hope, whose steadfastness of purpose in the matter was set down to harmless craze.
Others I can think of, connected with the Examiner clique, to whom I presented the truth in vain: a florid, solid, prudent, reticent man of small stature, with some ability and considerable grit of character; a tall, slender, dark, contemplative, religious gentleman of prudence and ability; a burly, self-assertive, strong-built Yorkshire tradesman, who pushed a thriving business with much of Barnum’s energy and originality; and lastly, a grey-headed manufacturer of great local weight and standing, who was distressed with Colenso’s criticisms, which had just recently seen the light.
These were all, more or less, superior men, as was to be expected in those who were in co-operative intimacy with the editor of a political paper. That the word in its divine simplicity should have no charms for them might also have been anticipated, from the mental state engendered by association in such a connection. Politics call into action personal ambitions, party emulations, and love of agitation and debate. There is a mild ingredient of philanthropy in the mixture, but the principle attraction lies in the zest of public conflict. Therefore the cultivation of politics is inconsistent with the tastes that find pleasure in the will of God and His purpose with men as revealed. The saying of Christ remains true: “Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.”
There was a similar circle in a neighbouring townlet, romantically situated in a glen among the hills, about eight miles off – a coterie of the same class, sympathising with the same political principles and sharing the same literary and social tastes, staunchly supporting the editor of the Examiner. Most of them are now in their graves. They were very interesting – as interesting as a colony of ancient Greek, but the Bible was not to their taste, and where are now their pleasantnesses and their friendships? Perished like the flowers of a season. Not so the hopes and friendships of those who are in harmony with God as revealed in the Scriptures. For these, the present mortal state is but the disciplinary and proving preliminary to everlasting life and love.
Outside the newspaper circle, we tried to influence several others of a more likely kind. There was the square-shouldered, military-looking honest man, a town official, whom a child might draw, but a regiment could not drive. He was full of reverence for the Bible, but full also of a want of understanding, which made him and his wife confound the workings of their own electrical brains with the motions of the Spirit of God. They could not be argued out of the conviction that the Spirit was with them as with the apostles. Where this conviction exists feeling is mistaken for proof, and progress is impossible. Our request for some token of the Spirit’s presence, which men not having the Sprit could not furnish, only irritated them. It is dangerous when people imagine they have light within if the light should happen to be darkness; which it assuredly is when the teaching of the supposed light cannot be harmonised with the Scriptures. Then there was the lean-looking tailor (poor fellow! He could not help it), who had such a powerful conceit of superior illumination, that the strongest Bible declarations we could quote could make no impression upon him. He was ahead of ordinary church and chapel goers, but sunk in sectarian darkness where, so far as I know, he remained till the sun of his little day went down. A religious postman, who seemed a likely subject, proved a very dancing Dervish of spiritual inebriation – shouting and reeling drunk with the Babylonian wine.
Thus, all private effort recoiled upon ourselves, and we resolved, in a spirit of despairing resignation, to make a public attempt as a matter of duty, not only leaving results with God, but scarcely daring to think it possible His purpose admitted of any.
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