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A TALE FOR THE TIMES.
“ Though not a grace appears on strictest search,
But that she fasts, and, item, goes to church."-COWPER.
EARLY on the Sabbath morning the little party set out on their way to Mr. Sidney's church. It consisted only of Mr. Graham and his two daughters, Mary Spencer and Emma Clifford. A few villagers followed their example, and with these they occasionally interchanged such converse as suited the sacred season.
It was a time for boly communion a'nd meditation ; a meet preparation for the worship of the sanctuary, in which they were going to join. The subjects of their conversation were such as raise the mind above earth, and shed peace and light through it; and they forgot Puseyism and every other distracting ism until they met a party of villagers belonging to the parish to which they were going, walking hastily towards Fernely, with excited looks, “ Well, my good friend,” said Mr. Grabam, “ Where are you going with all this speed? Something of great importance must surely induce you to turn your backs upon your own church.”
“ Ob, (replied some of the men laughing,) we are going to see the images, and the candles, and the holy water which you have got in Fernely church now."
“Images, and candles, and holy water!” repeated Mr. Graham, No, no, we have not got them yet. Nor are we likely to have them, until idle curiosity, such as yours, shall have led people to listen to doctrine that may prepare the way for such trumpery. And when you are ready to look at them with reverence, then perhaps Mr. Norman, or some one who thinks as he does, may treat you to a sight of the images, and candles, and holy water.”
“ No fear of that time ever coming, sir,” answered one of the men, we are all good protestants; but it is certain that something new is going to be done in Fernely church to-day, and we want see what it is. You know we can guard better against a danger, after we have seen it for ourselves, than if we only take it upon hearsay.”
“. To guard against a danger, by running headlong into it, is a new method of defence, my friends, and I think a mockery of Him to whom you pray, • Lead us not into temptation.' Be persuaded by me and return to your own church, where you may hear to-day, what will make you wiser and happier all your life. Remember the admonition of holy writ, “Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err.''
" Oh, but Sir," said the man, “if the images are really there, we mean to get up and come out of the churcb, the moment he shows bis head in the pulpit, so we shall not hear any bad instruction.”
“If Fernely church were the only place of worJULY, 1844,
ship within your reach, I should say you were right to try, if even a part of God's worship could be joined in, without your becoming a partaker in other men's sins. But as it is, you are only breaking the Sabbath, and endangering your own souls, by persisting in your intention. You leave the blessings of the gospel behind you, for the sole purpose of showing contempt to the minister of another church. There is no zeal for God in all this, my friends, and I can assure you, there will be nothing visibly new in Fernely church to-day.”
Two or three of the men listened to Mr. Graham's advice, and turned back ; the rest went on, saying carelessly, “Oh never fear, we are too sound Protestants to be easily caught by Popish trash and nonsense.”
Just at that moment, Mrs. Chambers' carriage drove rapidly past. She bowed low to Mary Spencer and Emma, while the latter exclaimed, I
suppose Mrs. Chambers is going to see the images too." But Emma was wrong in this conjecture. Mrs. Chambers had heard nothing of images, but she had heard a little of Mr. Norman's doctrine from Marcella, and she thought there was something very comfortable and easy in bis religion ; very preferable to the terrible sentence that Mr. Sidney was always ringing in her ears, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” She would more readily bear the long life of painful penitence, (or as Mrs. Chambers read it, penance,) that Marcella spoke of, than submit to a religion which required her to renounce every long cherished sin, and to restrain and deny every wandering wish. She bad never, even for fashion's sake, (as it is to be feared too many have done,) frequented the yearly meeting, or gone out of her way to hear a popular preacher. Dancing, and cards, even private theatricals, which had been the amusement of her youth, had never been discontinued in her house; and in her seventieth year she was as devoted a slave to the world, a's when she began her gay career in her seventeenth. But grey hairs, and failing strength, reminded her that some religion would be necessary, as she approached the brink of the grave, and having conceived a favourable impression of Mr. Norman's talents, she came to try if his preaching were equally pleasing to the ear, and if it proved to be so, she determined to become a constant attendant at Fernely church. Our party met with no farther interruption to their tranquillity, and the ordinances of the sanctuary gave strength for the other duties of the day, and of the week.
At seven o'clock the next morning, Mary Spencer and Emma, (the latter balf reluctantly,) accompanied Lady Sophia to church, and Mary joined, with her accustomed devotion, in England's beautiful liturgy. Nothing new was introduced, and any peculiarity in Mr. Norman's manner she did not observe. The congregation was very small. Few among the pious country people could attend, without infringing on the time they had long devoted to private prayer, or family worship; others indeed there were, whose general distaste to all religious services, helped them to a ready excuse from the farm, and the merchandize. Some of these Mr. Norman persuaded by the merit of the act. A religion that holds out a heavenly inheritance, as the reward of an exact attendance upon outward forms, and observances, seems so pleasant, and easy, that even the ungodly are often willing to give so low a price for eternal glory.
The Grahams were not there, at which Mary felt some surprise, for she knew their early and active habits, and thought that no slight reason, no mere objection to the minister, would keep them from worshipping in the house of God, whenever its doors were opened for that purpose.
Mrs. Chambers was there; this also was matter of surprise to Mary Spencer, and she bailed it as the beginning of future good to the poor old lady, who could thus retrench the hours of sloth, and selfindulgence, and drive so far every morning to church. But while Mrs. Chambers' carriage stood at Fernely church-door, morning after morning, the gaieties of the evening did not decrease; balls and card-parties quickly succeeded each other in her house, and even when her acquaintances whispered, that she had added to her other observances, the austerity of a Friday's fast, they remarked also, that these things had put no restraint upon the bitter spirit and the censorious tongue.
Nothing more occurred during this week to alter the usual course of things, except the Church Missionary meeting, which took place towards the end of it; and Mr. Norman was present at it. Emma wondered, and Mary rejoiced; for the hope, that “ something good towards the Lord his God” might yet be found in the minister of Fernely, had not yet left her heart. But when the meeting was over, and they were walking home, Emma observed, “ This was the coldest-most uninteresting meeting at which I ever was present; the deputation seemed