Proceeding four or five miles, they breakfasted; and afterwards, going on a mile or two further, they came to a church where a number of people were convened, to hear the decision of an ecclesiastical consistory, met there on an affair which came before them. It was this; Two men appeared, the one of a grave aspect, with a black coat: the other without the same clerical colour of garb, but with papers in his pocket which announced his authority to preach, and officiate as a clergyman. The man with the black coat, averred, that coming over together, in a vessel from Ireland, they had been mess-mates; and while he was asleep one night, being drowsy after prayers, the other had stolen his credentials from his pocket. The man in possession of the papers, averred they were his own, and that the other had taken his coat, and by advantage of the cloth, thought to pass for what he was not.
The consistory found it difficult, without the aid of inspiration, to decide; and that faculty having now ceased, there were no other means, that they could discover, to bring the truth to light.
The Captain being informed of this perplexity, could not avoid stepping up, and addressing them as follows: Gentlemen, said he, there is a text in your own scripture, which I think might enable you to decide: It is this, by their fruits ye shall know them. Let the two men preach; and the best sermon take the purse; or laying aside the figure, let him that expounds the scripture best, be adjudged the clergyman.
The proposition seemed reasonable, and was adopted; the competitors being desired to withdraw a little, and con over their notes, that they might be ready to deliver a discourse respectively.
The Captain, observing the countenance of him in possession of the papers, was sensible, from his paleness and dejection of aspect, that he was the imposter. Going out therefore shortly after, and falling in with him as he walked in a melancholy mood, at a little distance from the church, he said to him, I perceive how it is, that the other is the preacher; nevertheless I would wish to assist you, and as I have been the means of bringing you into this predicament, I should be disposed to bring you out.--Let me know how the case really stands.
The other candidly acknowledged that having been a yarn merchant in Ireland, his capital had failed, and he had thought proper to embark for this country; and coming over with this clergyman, he had purloined his papers, and would have taken his coat, had it not been too little for him; a thing which never struck the ecclesiastical tribunal. But the matter being now reduced to an actual experiment of talents, he was at a loss; for he had never preached a sermon in his life. It was true, he had heard sermons and lectures in abundance; and had he been suffered to go on and to preach at his leisure amongst the country people first, he might have done well enough; but to make his first essay in the presence of a learned body of the clergy, would hazard a detection; but now he saw his oversight in not having taken the notes of the other, at the same time he took the vouchers of his mission.
The Captain encouraged him by observing, that there were few bodies, ecclesiastical or civil, in which there were more than one or two men of sense; that the majority of this consistory, might be as easily imposed upon as the lay people; that a good deal would depend on the text that he took: some were easily preached upon, others more difficult. An historical passage about Nimrod, or Nebuchadnezzar, or Sihon, king of the Amorites, or Ogg, king of Bashan; out of Genesis, or Deuteronomy, or the book of judges, or kings, would do very well; but that he should avoid carefully the book of Job, the Psalms of David, and the Proverbs of Solomon; these requiring a considerable theological knowledge, or at least moral discussion and reflection. Keep a good heart, said he, and attempt the matter. The issue may be better than you apprehend.
With this, taking him a little further to the one side where his horse was tied, he took out a bottle from his saddle-bags, with a little whiskey in it, which Teague had put there, and gave him a dram. This had a good effect, and raised his spirits, and he seemed now ready to enter the lists with his antagonist.
The other, in the mean time, had gone in, and was ready, when called upon to hold forth. The man with the papers returning with the Captain not far behind took his seat. The board signified that one or the other might ascend the pulpit. The credential man, wishing to gain time to think farther what he was about to say, but affecting politeness, yielded precedence to the other, and desired him to preach first. Accordingly stepping up, he took his text and began.
Prov. viii. 33. Hear instruction and be wise, and refuse it not.
Insisting on these words, I shall enquire-- 1st. Whence it is that men are averse to instruction.-- 2nd. The misfortune of this disposition. Lastly, Conclude with inferences from the subject.
1. Whence it is that men are averse to instruction. The first principle is indolence. The mind loves ease, and does not wish to be at the trouble of thinking. It is hard to collect ideas, and still harder to compose them; it is like rowing a boat: whereas acting without thought, it is like sailing before the wind, and the tide in our favour.
The second principle is pride. It wounds the self-love of men to suppose that they need instruction. We resent more the being called fools than knaves. No man will own himself weak and uninformed. In fact, he has not humility to think he is; or, if he should be conscious of a want of knowledge, he is unwilling that others should have the same opinion; and he will not submit to be instructed, as that would imply that he is not already so.
The third principle is passion. When we are disposed to satisfy the desires of the constitution, or the affections of the mind, which are unlawful, we do not wish to hear dissuasions from the indulgence. The lecture comes to torment before the time, when the consequence must afflict.
Under the second head, we shall show the misfortune of this disposition. It is what, in early life, begins to fix the difference, of persons. The hearer of instruction, even with more moderate parts, becomes the more sensible boy. The hearer of instruction has a better chance for life and mature years. Into how many dangers do young persons run-- leaping, climbing, running, playing truant, and neglecting books? Into what affrays, too, evil passions prompt them, when they begin to feel the sinew strong, and the manly nerve braced? They value corporeal strength, which they have in common with the horse, or the ox, and neglect the cultivation of the mind, which is the glory of our nature. What is a man without information? --In form only above a beast. What is a man negligent of moral duty? Worse than a beast; because he is destitute of that by which he might be governed, and of which his nature is capable; and without which, he is more dangerous in proportion as he is more ingenious.
I shall conclude with inferences from the subject.
It may be seen hence, with what attention we ought to hear, and with what observation, see. The five senses are the avenues of knowledge; but the reflection of the mind on ideas presented, is the source of wisdom. Understanding is better than riches; for understanding leads to competency, and to know how to use it. Laying aside, therefore, all indolence, pride, and passion, let us hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not.
This, reverend brethren, is a short sermon. It is one in miniature; like the model of a mechanical invention, which is complete in its parts, and from whence may be seen the powers of the inventor. I did not intend to take up your time with a long discourse; because, ex pede Herculem; you may know what I can do by this essay.
The fact is, I am regularly educated, and licensed; but this my competitor, is no more than a yarn merchant; who, failing in his trade, has adventured to this country: And coming over in the vessel with me, took the opportunity one night, when I was asleep, and picked my fob of these papers, which he now shows.
Thus having spoke, he descended.
The other, in the mean time, had been at his wits-end what to do. The technical difficulty of taking a text, and dividing it under several heads, and splitting each head into branches, and pursuing each with such strictness, that the thoughts should be ranged under each which belonged to it, as exactly as you would the coarser yarn with the coarser, and the finer with the finer; or put balls with balls, and hanks with hanks. At last he had determined to take no text at all; as it was much better to take none, than to take one and not stick to it. Accordingly, he resolved to preach up and down the scripture, wherever he could get a word of seasonable doctrine. Mounting the pulpit, therefore, he began as follows:
The first man that we read of was Adam, and first woman, Eve; she was tempted by the serpent, and eat the forbidden fruit. After this she conceived and bare a son, and called his name Cain; and Cain was a tiller of the ground, and Abel a keeper of sheep; for she conceived and bare a second son, and called his name Abel. And Cain slew Abel. There were several generations unto the flood, when Noah built an ark, and saved himself and his family. After the flood, Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac begat Jacob, and Jacob begat Joseph, and his brethren. Potiphar's wife, in Egypt, took a fancy for Joseph, and cast him in a ward; and Potiphar was a captain of Pharaohs guards; and Joseph interpreted Pharaohs dream of lean cattle; and there were twelve years famine in the land; and Moses passed for the son of Pharaohs daughter, and married Jethros daughter in the land of Midian, and brought the Israelites out of the land of Egypt; and Joshua, the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh; and the walls of Jericho fell down at the sounding of Rams horns; and Sampson slew a thousand with the jawbone of an ass; and Delilah, the harlot; and Gideon, and Barak, and Jephthah, and Abinoam the Giliaditish; and Samuel, and Saul, and the prophets; and Jonathan, and David; and Solomon built him an house; and silver was as plenty as the street stones in Jerusalem; Rehoboam and Jehosophat, and the kings of Israel and Judah; and Daniel was cast into the lions den; and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego; and Isaiah and Jeremiah; and Zachariah, and Zorobabel; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and the Apostles; Mary Magdalene, out of whom were cast seven devils; and the father of Zebedees children; and Pontius Pilate, and the high priest; and Annanias and Sapphira, and the seven trumpets in the Revelation, and the dragon and the woman. Amen. I add no more.
The lay people present were most pleased with the last discourse, and some of the younger of the clergy: But the more aged gave the preference to the first. Thus it seemed difficult to decide.
The Captain rising up, spoke: Gentlemen, said he, the men seem both to have considerable gifts, and I see no harm in letting them both preach. There is work enough for them in this new country; the first appears to me to be more qualified for the city, as a very methodical preacher: but the last is most practical; and each may answer a valuable purpose in their proper place.
The decision seemed judicious, and it was agreed that they should both preach. The man who had been the yarn merchant, thanked their reverences, and gave out that he should preach there that day week, God willing.
The clergy were so pleased with the Captain, that they gave him an invitation to go home with them to an elders house just by; but recollecting the trouble he had with Teague on another occasion, and the danger of being drawn into a like predicament, should he fall into conversation with the clergyman, and take it into his head to preach, he declined the invitation, and proceeded on his journey.