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richly carved walls, and on one side of it there is a strangely constructed loft of dark oak, from which the monks watched the shrine of the saint below.
At this end of the building the work is the finest. Not to speak of the elegant altar screen, which was erected only about some 400 years ago, and which is a lace-work in stone, there are the most exquisite carvings, not only about the windows, and in the shrines, but in the most out-of-theway places, such as are now used as cellars, but which were no doubt formerly important retreats. Why were they so careful to make the minutest parts in the most out-of-theway places so beautiful? The answer is, because the work was done for the glory of God—at least so we may hope.
There is a story told of certain workmen on a similar building, who were asked why they were taking so much pains with those parts of the building where men could never see them? “ The Gods see,” was their reply. The poet Longfellow, so recently dead, has put this story, or the idea of it, into one of his poems, called “The Builders.'
“ In the elder days of Art,
Builders wrought with greatest care
For the gods are everywhere.'”. It would be well for us always to bear in mind that our God sees, whatever be the work we are doing, and that He knows whether we are doing it well or ill. The Bible teaches us that we should do everything, even common duties and lowly tasks, “as unto the Lord,” that is, because to do them is the work in life which He has given us to do. So should we make every work a religious work, as much so as did the monks their stone carvings. Children at their tasks, servants at their house work, workmen at their “jobs,” let all remember that nothing is too menial to be done well, for though men may not notice it—though probably they will—GOD SEES !
Is it not wonderful all that has come of the martyrdom of St. Alban?
But it is to be hoped that more than even this magnificent building has come of it. For great as this is, there is something greater. One soul is of more worth than all these splendidly carved stones, and this curiously wrought roof, and these rich and curious decorations. And it is to be hoped that all through the ages, as people have looked at the Abbey and thought of the story of St. Alban's faith and sacrifice, they have been moved to think of Him in whom he believed and for whom he suffered. And among these it may be hoped that some have thought deeply, and felt deeply about Jesus Christ and their own life, and that the end has been that they also gave themselves to Him for eternal salvation. These saved souls St. Alban in heaven would think of more highly than of the costly and superb Abbey that was erected to bear his name.
Perhaps some of the boys and girls that read this account of St. Alban may go to see the place that is called after him. Whether they do or not, I hope they will think much of this early Christian's faith, and of his loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ, and that they will be moved by an ambition to be like him, and that they will resolve to “follow him as he followed Christ.” Perhaps one reason why these first believers were permitted to suffer and die for Christ was that they might be examples to others, even to the end of the world, to follow Christ fully. They are thought more of than most people are, their deeds are kept before the world, and “ being dead” they speak, and what they say in the great silent speech of example is, “ Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved !! If you do go to see the great Abbey I hope you will remember St. Alban's noble example of fidelity to Jesus Christ, and how he chose death rather than give up trusting in Him. And as you stand by his shrine may you hear him “speak” amidst the impressive silence, and may you take the words into your hearts, “ Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved !”
There are some quaint Christian inscriptions on old tombs and tablets in this ancient Abbey, showing that there are other good men besides St. Alban sleeping here, and whose life was moved by religious faith of the same kind as that of the martyr. The writer pencilled down one of these on a late visit, and as it is good as it is quaint, he will transcribe it here, with the earnest wish that should any of his young readers live to be as old as “John Maynard, Esq.,” to whose memory it was inscribed as long ago as 1613, it may be, at least in some respects, if not all, as true of them as of him.
" The man that's buried in this toombe
In heavenly Canaan hath a roome-
J. B. FRENCH.
So gently laid
And close above
Her face of love,
I too once lay,
On a far off day,
Now she is gone :
Nor have I known
wo men went up into the temple to pray; the one
a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself,
God, I thank Thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
Grotius, one of the finest scholars in Europe, and withal a Christian, on hearing this parable read as he lay on his death-bed, murmured, “I am that publican!” So have thousands—probably millions—said, or felt. This parable of Jesus has been to them as a mirror which has revealed themselves, and, looking, they have stood confessed—“It is I; I am that publican."
What does a man mean when he thus puts himself in the place of the publican ?
He means, I have nothing to say for myself to God. The Pharisee had a great deal to say for himself—a great deal too much; more than was true, though he no doubt was deluded enough to think it was all true. But the publican who heard what the Pharisee said of himself to God, felt he had nothing to say. He was just the sinner the Pharisee had declared he himself was not. The self-righteous man had spoken of him contemptuously to God as “this publican," and he was not disposed to resent it. Unlike his neighbour, he had nothing to say for himself to God or man. He could only appeal to the great, Infinite Heart, and say, “God be merciful to me, the sinner !”
So feels the penitent sinner when first stricken down under a sense of his sin. If a man feels he has anything to say for himself to God, he is not a true penitent, for he does not feel the enormity of his sin—does not feel he has much to repent of. A man who takes a true view of himself before God, feels himself to be a sinner, and without excuse. “ If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." It is the man who is honest to his own soul and to God, who confesses himself to be a sinner. He may have been as bad as the Pharisee thought the publican to be; or he may have been as good a man, so far as the show of morality is concerned, as the Pharisee himself, or even better. But when the truth concerning his real state and condition of soul flashes upon him, he is speechless before God. His measure of himself is not by “ other men"
1 Luke xviii. 10-13.
—not even by a publican or a criminal—but by the Law of God, a transcript of which he has within his own heart, written on his conscience. As he goes over the “points” of the law, he confesses that most of them he has violated; and, since “he that offendeth in one point is guilty of all,” inasmuch as the law as a whole has been broken by him, so is he "guilty before God.” When he goes to pray, therefore, he can only say, without so much as lifting his eyes to heaven, “God be merciful to me a sinner !”
And not only the conscience-stricken penitent, but the believer far advanced in the Divine life, often feels that this is the prayer for him. It sometimes happens that such a man discovers his own sinfulness more after, than when first he came back to God. He has set up in his heart the Bible ideal of a man-a man in Christ-and he feels how far he comes short of it. He may detect himself “secretly inclining to Adam the first.” He may be conscious of backsliding-in heart, if not in life. Some latent tendency to a particular evil may reveal itself in his heart; or some good thing he has done may, under the burning light of conscience, be seen to have been actuated by unworthy and selfish motives. He may have been beset by a sudden temptation, and yielded to the sin. He may have been surprised into the committal of a sin that formerly was a habit with him. He may have struggled against the inclination to do the evil thing, and been mastered in the strife.