The Rebels; or, Boston before the Revolution/Chapter VII

Published in 1825.

His peculiar manner and power arose from an energy of soul, which
nature could give, but which no human being could justly copy.

On the ensuing Sabbath, Somerville joined the young ladies on their way to Hollis-street. The crowd presented a strange contrast to the congregations of the present day. Here and there a taper-waisted damsel, glittering in embroidered brocade, with flowers even larger than life, while close by her side walked the dandy of that period, with bright red waistcoat, leather small-clothes, and enormous buckles sparkling in the sun. Then followed a humble dame, with rustle gown and checked apron, leading a reluctant urchin, stumbling along with his little three-corned scraper; the tears still trickling down his cheeks, forced from him by the painful operation of being shoved and shaken into his tight breeches for the first time. In the rear came an older boy, alternately casting an envious eye on the trim little fellow before him, and a despairing glance at his own clothes, which, drenched by repeated rains, hung in slovenly folds about his ancles.

Among this motley group was one individual, who entirely arrested Lucretia's attention. She walked before them with a most masculine stride, and ever and anon cast back an anxious, earnest look, as she muttered, "Aye, as good as the proudest; thanks to a poor old woman she never dreams of."

"Some insane creature, I imagine," observed Somerville.

Lucretia thought so too; but the expression of her face haunted her imagination; and she was unable to dispel the charm, until she had vainly searched around the church for the singular apparition.

Eager and respectful attention characterized the whole audience.

There was nothing in the appearance of this extraordinary man which would lead you to suppose that a Felix would tremble before him. He was something above the middle stature, well proportioned, and remarkable for a native gracefulness of manner. His complexion was very fair, his features regular and his dark blue eyes small and lively: in recovering from the measles, he had contracted a squint with one of them; but this peculiarity rather rendered the expression of his countenance more rememberable, than in any degree lessened the effect of its uncommon sweetness. His voice excelled both in melody and compass; and its fine modulations were happily accompanied by that grace of action which he possessed in an eminent degree, and which has been said to be the chief requisite of an orator. To have seen him when he first commenced, one would have thought him any thing but enthusiastic and glowing; but as he proceeded, his heart warmed with his subject, and his manner became impetuous and animated, till, forgetful of every thing around him, he seemed to kneel at the throne of Jehovah, and to beseech in agony for his fellow beings.

After he had finished his prayer, he knelt for a long time in profound silence; and so powerfully had it affected the most heartless of his audience, that a stillness like that of the tomb pervaded the whole house.

Before he commenced his sermon, long, darkening columns crowded the bright sunny sky of the morning, and swept their dull shadows over the building, in fearful augury of the storm.

His text was, "Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for many, I say unto you, shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able."

"See that emblem of human life," said he, as he pointed to a shadow that was flitting across the floor. "It passed for a moment, and concealed the brightness of heaven from our view---but it is gone. And where will ye be my hearers, when your lives have passed away like that dark cloud? Oh, my dear friends, I see thousands sitting attentive, with their eyes fixed on the poor, unworthy preacher. In a few days, we shall all meet at the judgment-seat of Christ. We shall form a part of that vast assembly which will gather before his throne; and every eye will behold the Judge. With a voice whose call you must abide and answer, he will inquire whether on earth ye strove to enter in at the strait gate---whether you were supremely devoted to God---whether your hearts were absorbed in him. My blood runs cold when I think how many of you will then seek to enter in, and shall not be able. Oh, what plea can you make before the Judge of the whole earth? Can you say it has been your whole endeavour to mortify the flesh with its affections and lusts? that your life has been one long effort to do the will of God? No! you must answer, I made myself easy in the world, by flattering myself that all would end well; but I have deceived my own soul, and am lost.

"You, O false and hollow christian, of what avail will it be that you have done many things---that you have read much in the sacred word---that you have made long prayers---that you have attended religious duties, and appeared holy in the eyes of men? What will all this be, if instead of loving Him supremely, you have been supposing you should exalt yourself in heaven, by acts really polluted and unholy?

"And you, rich man, wherefore do you hoard your silver? Wherefore count the price you have received for him whom you every day crucify, in your love of gain? Why, that when you are too poor to buy a drop of cold water, your beloved son may be rolled to hell in his chariot pillowed and cushioned about him."

His eye gradually lighted up, as he proceeded, till towards the close, it seemed to sparkle with celestial fire.

"Oh, sinners!" he exclaimed, "by all your hopes of happiness, I beseech you to repent. Let not the wrath of God be awakened. Let not the fires of eternity be kindled against you. See there!" said he, pointing to the lightning, which played on the corner of the pulpit---"'Tis a glance from the angry eye of Jehovah! Hark!" continued he, raising his finger in a listening attitude, as the distant thunder grew louder and louder, and broke in one tremendous crash over the building. "It was the voice of the Almighty, as he passed by in his anger!"

As the sound died away, he covered his face with his hands, and knelt beside his pulpit, apparently lost in inward and intense prayer. The storm passed rapidly by, and the sun, bursting forth in his might, threw across the heavens a magnificent arch of peace. Rising, and pointing to the beautiful object, he exclaimed, "Look upon the rainbow; and praise him that made it. Very beautiful it is in the brightness thereof. It compasseth the heavens about with glory; and the hands of the Most High have bended it."

The effect was astonishing. Even Somerville shaded his eyes when he pointed to the lightning, and knelt as he listened to the approaching thunder;---while the deep sensibility of Grace, and the thoughtless vivacity of Lucretia, yielded to the powerful excitement, in an unrestrained burst of tears.

"Who could resist such eloquence?" said Lucretia, as they mingled with the departing throng.

"I should think no one who had a human heart," answered Somerville. "It is as resistless as it is untutored. I was never before so completely aware of my own nothingness,---never so forcibly reminded, that I was a mere drop in the vast ocean of existence."

"Some doubt Mr. Whitfield's talents as well as his piety," rejoined Lucretia; "but after what I have witnessed this morning, I shall never distrust the sincerity of his enthusiastic devotion. The heart that could dictate such language must have been bathed in the fountains of life. Who that had heard him to-day, could think of him as a lad of fifteen, making mops, washing floors, and taking care of horses at an inn?"

"Yet young as he then was," replied Somerville, "it is said the singular boy found leisure, amid his servile employments, to read Thomas à Kempis, and to write two or three sermons."

"It is but another proof that genius will find its upward way, whatever obstacles may lie in its path," said Lucretia. "You have promised to join us at Mr. Osborne's church this afternoon, you know. You will there hear preaching of a different kind; but I do not think the contrast will prove unfavourable to my friend."

Grace, usually silent and timid, said nothing; but her beautiful eyelashes were still impearled with tears,--- and her sweet face was radiant with pleasure, when she heard the allusion to her father.

Mr. Osborne's eloquence was, as they had anticipated, a perfect contrast to that of Mr. Whitfield. He too seemed to feel the importance of his subject, and often rose to majestic fervour when urging it upon his hearers. He never appeared to them invested in the sublimity of wrathful denunciation,---but he intreated them, with all the earnestness of a father, to kneel at the Saviour's feet, and lay their burthens there.

The Quaker poet has described in one powerful line, the sensations excited by the first view of the stormy ocean, with the boundless canopy of heaven above it, and its frightful barrier of rocks and precipices.

My spirit was mute in the presence of power! Mr. Whitfield's eloquence left a similar impression on the soul; but Mr. Osborne was like a calm, deep river, reflecting the light of heaven with mildness and splendour. The first left the sensitive heart of Grace in a state of painfulness, almost amounting to anguish; from the latter, she returned to kneel at the bed-side with involuntary devotion, as she said, "Father in heaven, let me be guided in all things by thee." Without ever talking of religion, or pretending to more piety than her associates, Grace well understood this delightful state of internal resignation. It was not because she so often heard her father speak on the subject. Young as she was, experience had taught her that nothing else could exalt every feeling into the region of pure, etherial tranquillity, and leave no void in the heart. Lucretia had more quickness of feeling, but less depth; and she possessed a large share of that freedom of thought, that boldness of investigation, which renders exalted talents a peculiarly dangerous gift. Such minds, while they proudly avoid the shoals of superstition, are too apt to be wrecked on the rocks of scepticism. The same faculties which open the hidden causes and effects of nature to our view, will not guide us aright when studying into the state of the soul, and the nature of its future existence. There is a point where "the divinity within" peremptorily says, "Here shall thy proud waves be stayed." Very few have groped about the veil, which separates revealed religion from its internal mysteries, until they have become enveloped in the thick folds of its drapery, without at times wishing for the simple, undoubting faith of the ignorant. Indeed there never was a soul, however cold in its speculations, however wild and irregular in its passions, that has not felt the calm influence of devotion stealing over it, like the delicious breathings of distant music. Such impressions were now vivid in the mind of Lucretia; but it was her fault, that religion was the offspring of excitement, and the sport of impulse. Its power was as transitory as it was entire; and before she retired to rest she had forgotten every thing but Somerville. He had invited the ladies to an evening sail in the harbour, and promised that the plan should be carried into execution before the week had expired. To think of his looks, expressions, the very tones of his voice, furnished ample food for her imagination during the interim; for in a heart that loves as youth and genius are too apt to love, the progress of affection nearly equals the rapidity of light.