Project Canterbury

The Story of W. J. E. Bennett
Founder of S. Barnabas', Pimlico and Vicar of Froome-Selwood
And of His Part in the Oxford Church Movement of the Nineteenth Century.

By F. Bennett, M.A.
Formerly Rector of Farleigh, Surrey.

New York, London, Bombay and Calcutta: Longmans, 1909.

Chapter VII. The Riots at S. Barnabas'

THE Bishop's charge was delivered at S. Paul's Cathedral on November 2. On the next day, the Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity, Mr. Bennett preached at S. Paul's, Knightsbridge, "on the appointment of bishops of the Roman Communion in England." He called his sermon "The Contests of Schism." Having spoken of the strong feeling in the early Church about the necessity of unity within itself, and of the indifference of the present time on the subject, he turned to "The Papal Aggression." He pointed out the tendency of all the modern legislation to free all sorts of believers from any civil disabilities, and to the coming admission of Jews to Parliament, the utter inconsistency of the present outcry with the latitudinarianism of the day, and with the cases of Hampden and Gorham, and the fault in ourselves in not having appointed more bishops of our own communion. Therefore, while he spoke with sadness of the fact that now for the first time there was a rival Episcopate in England, he advised his hearers to have nothing to do with the agitation. He ended by laying bare the real truth about the outcry, seeing only too clearly to the bottom of it.

"No, brethren, it is very clear that there are other motives and reasons at work in the instigators of the clamor about papal aggression and foreign bishops. It cannot be that we are thus violently stirred up for the love of religion or the anxiety we have of a sudden kindled within us for the spiritual welfare of our souls. There is a deeper policy at work than this."

Then he ventured a remarkable prophecy, only too surely fulfilled--

"Let me say it to you again and again, it is no question of religion, none whatever. The people who make this cry, and specially those who lead it, are not thinking of the good of men's souls. They use that word 'religion' for a cloak. It is their own interests and their politics that they are caring for. Oh, be not deceived to join the ranks of the miserable and deluded crowd which will presently rise up under this excitement and violate the spirit of Christ. Do not mix yourselves with the pestilent movers of every evil passion of men blowing the trumpet of religion to cover doing the most uncharitable act that this country will ever witness. Keep aloof, I beseech you, from all subscribing of papers and all meetings and speeches of the movers of this odious conspiracy against the Church; believe me that under the guise of Rome it is the Church, generally, as a Church, whose downfall these men are seeking. It is not Rome and her religion, as peculiar to her, that has made the 'Aggression'; it is the Church of Christ. And it is not against the liberties of England that this 'Aggression' is made, but it is against the tyranny of the world and the wickedness of Mammon. Just as you were before, in the case of Baptismal Regeneration, asleep to its vital doctrine and careless of its grace, and suddenly a heresy awoke you, and now you seem committed to it for ever by your own apathy, so you have been asleep for three centuries in the Erastian slumber of a State Establishment, and, suddenly awakening, find to your cost that probably, ere long, great portions of the poor of your people will be won over to another division of the fold of Christ because you persisted in not giving them pastors and bishops of their own.

"Politicians will make this great event a cause of political agitation, it will furnish them with a ready handle to work some occult mischief under the excitement of popular prejudice.

"Puritans and State Protestants will make it a convenient subject of outcry against that little portion of the Church which ignores the State and works solely for its Divine and Spiritual Head, which is Christ Jesus our Lord."

It is not recorded whether the Prime Minister was present and heard the words of the first paragraph of the prophecy, but the very next day he fulfilled them to the letter, and the very next Sunday, November 10, the mob fulfilled the prophecy of the second paragraph.

For on November 4 was dated Lord John Russell's "Durham Letter." It was addressed to Maltby, Bishop of Durham, and though issued without consultation with his colleagues, was intended to save the Ministry, which was in some danger, and, in fact, the letter did for some time postpone its fate; although "it weakened the attachment of the Peelites and alienated his Irish supporters," it was a very astute move, and saved the Government from a defeat in the House. [W. P. Courtney, in "Encycl. Brit."] This is Mr. Bennett's description of it--

"Our Prime Minister published, as you know, a theological letter of the worst description to the Bishop of Durham, describing a certain party of the Church of England in terms so bitter, so malignant, so clever, that it was pretty sure (other events combined together) to point public attention to our Church of S. Barnabas."

The letter was nominally about the Papal Aggression, but it went on to attack the High Church Party.

"There is a danger, however, which alarms me much more than any aggression of a foreign sovereign.

"Clergymen of our own Church, who have subscribed the Thirty-nine Articles and acknowledged in explicit terms the Queen's supremacy, have been the most forward in leading their flocks, step by step, to the very verge of the precipice. The honour paid to Saints, the claim of infallibility for the Church, the superstitious use of the sign of the cross, the muttering of the Liturgy, so as to disguise the language in which it is written, the recommendation of auricular confession and the admission of penance and absolution,--all these are things pointed out by clergymen of the Church of England as worthy of adoption, and are openly reprehended by the Bishop of London in his charge to the clergy of his diocese.

"What, then, is the danger to be apprehended from a foreign prince of no great power compared to the danger within the gates from the unworthy sons of the Church of England itself?"

An excellent attempt to "draw a red herring across the trail!" The letter goes on--

"I have little hope that the propounders and framers of these innovations will desist from their insidious course. But I rely on the people of England; and I will not bate a jot of heart or hope so long as the glorious principles and the immortal martyrs of the Reformation shall be held in reverence by the great mass of a nation which looks with contempt on the mummeries of superstition and with scorn at the laborious endeavours which are now making to confine the intellect and enslave the soul."

Magnificent! And all this from one who had been a constant attendant at S. Paul's for seven years, and who, though he had heard all these terrible things preached for a long time, had not been hindered by them, up to the time of this popular outcry, from taking the greatest interest in S. Barnabas' and giving Mr. Bennett his advice about its details! Truly unwise is he who puts his trust in politicians!

The letter, which was published at two shillings and sixpence a hundred, put the torch to the bonfire. "It filled," wrote Mr. Greville, "with stupid and fanatical enthusiasm all the Protestant bigots and stimulated their rage." Even the newspapers of the day attributed the riots which ensued to the Prime Minister.

On the 9th followed the Lord Mayor's Feast. The Civic Fathers, the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor, the Chief Justice, and the rest of the "bigwigs" supped full, not only of venison and turtle, but also of the horrors of Popery. The pillars of Church and State were shaken. The Pope grew large on the horizon. The Inquisition, with rack and thumb-screw, seemed to be expected by the next mail-packet, and to be about to take up its quarters in Pimlico.

The Lord Chancellor talked of "the simplicity of Christian worship which our Saviour adopted and left us an example of," forgetful, as Mr. Bennett pointed out, that He joined in the "gorgeous and minute ceremonial" of the Temple.

The Prime Minister talked the usual nonsense about "maintaining the religious liberties of the people," forgetful that for Roman Catholics to have bishops, if they pleased, was, as clearly as well could be, a part of their religious liberties.

Of such materials are Guildhall and political speeches made up!

But Mr. Bennett was not exactly the person to be attacked with impunity. He could write letters as well as a Prime Minister, and he speedily issued a pamphlet with the ominous title of "A first letter to Lord John Russell on the present persecution of a portion of the English Church." By its powerful invective as to his Lordship's consistency, and by the clever way in which he shows the Prime Minister (though now a follower of Dr. Cumming, a Presbyterian) to have been for years a participator in all the "popery" of S. Paul's and an abettor of S. Barnabas', and to have himself led up to the Papal Aggression by his own political acts of freeing Roman Catholics from disabilities, the letter can scarcely have failed to alienate some of the noble lord's supporters, and to have been one of the nails in the coffin of his Ministry. It largely and quickly circulated, and though published in the end of November, reached its sixth edition before the end of the year, and went through eight or more editions.

"I am desirous of informing your Lordship," he begins, "as one of my chief parishioners, and as one also charged by our Sovereign Lady the Queen to administer the government of this kingdom, and therein to keep order, peace, and harmony among her subjects--I am desirous of informing you in both these capacities that I am in great trouble and distress of mind at the present moment in regulating the affairs of my parish. I am also desirous of forwarding you a copy of my sermon preached at S. Paul's, Knightsbridge, your parish church, on Sunday, the 17th of November. The sermon, should you possibly spare time to read it, refers to the difficulties and embarrassments under which we all are labouring as to the good order and decency of divine service; as to freedom of conscience in worshipping our God without bodily fear; as to a great alarm under which we daily live, lest some sin of sacrilege should be committed by a tumultuous and disorderly mob which is continually molesting us in our holy offices and threatening violence to our church and to our persons.

"I wish to inform you, my Lord, that on Sunday, the 10th of November, while I was performing the duties of divine service in the church of S. Barnabas', a tumultuous crowd assembled in the streets round about the church, and that a band of persons who had congregated together, no doubt for this purpose, within the very church walls, was guilty of a violent outrage against all decency in uttering hisses and exclaiming 'No Popery,' 'No Mummery,' and other similar cries, alarming the decent worshippers who are in the habit of frequenting our church. I wish to inform you that in consequence of this outrage, being literally in fear lest some very grievous act of desecration might be committed, the churchwardens and myself thought it advisable to close the church for the evening service, and so it must continue to be closed until these tumultuous assemblages are stopped; and that consequently our poor parishioners and other respectable persons who are in the habit of attending divine service at S. Barnabas' are now hindered from doing so, and are in a great degree deprived of their spiritual privileges.

"I wish to inform you that since that time it has been thought necessary by the Police Commissioners that our church and residence should be guarded night and day; and that we are at present under the vigilant inspection of police constables who are watching the streets without cessation lest mischief should arise.

"I wish to inform you that on Sunday, November 17, a very large mob of most tumultuous and disorderly persons collected together a second time round the church, and this with a much greater demonstration of force than on the preceding Sunday--that a force of one hundred constables was required to keep the mob from overt acts of violence; that notwithstanding the exertions of the police much violence was committed, and a leader of the rioters taken into custody; that the mob again assembled at the evening service at three o'clock, and were guilty again of violent cries, yells, and other noises, battering at the doors of the church and disturbing the whole congregation--that similar scenes occurred again on Sunday, the 24th of November, when I was interrupted in my sermon by outcries and other signs of disaffection as before; all this tumult, your Lordship will please to remember, arising from persons collected from all parts of London--non-parishioners.

"I wish to inform you that the effect of this has been that the poor, the timid, and particularly women and children, have assured me that they dare not any longer attend divine service; that they are so intimidated, as well in bodily fear, as also shocked by the blasphemous expressions of the multitude to which they are compelled to listen, that they think it advisable to remain at home until these disturbances are put down.

"I wish to inform you that, in consequence of this, we on our part, I mean the clergy, are very seriously crippled and hindered in the various pastoral works of our calling; that the minds of our parishioners are disturbed and kept in an unhealthy stretch of excitement; that the peace and love with which it is our duty to look upon each other, however great our differences of opinion, are gone; that hatred, animosity, and bitterness of spirit are engendered among us all; and that we are, in short, both clergy and people, in a very great state of trouble and distress; that we look forward to the next Sunday, when the greater services of the Church will be performed, under considerable fear that some violent outbreak may take place. [It is evident, and not uninteresting, that (from his saying in the second paragraph "the church must remain closed") this letter must have been partly written between November 10 and 17, and partly after November 24, and that, owing no doubt to pressure of time, he did not wait to alter the earlier written portion.] In short, the whole idea of worshipping our God in the peace and love of Christians is almost destroyed.

"It is time indeed, my Lord, when a congregation of Christian worshippers is obliged to have detective police within the walls of their church to keep order, and a body of one hundred constables without to keep off an unruly mob from bursting in and violating the Lord's sanctuary; when in their attendance at divine service the parishioners come in and go out in actual bodily fear; when the residence of a simple, inoffensive clergyman is obliged to be guarded all day and night by special police constables, as though he were in a state of siege, defending himself against an enemy--it is time, my Lord, then, that we ask ourselves the question, What is the meaning of all this? How has it come to pass? Where is the cause of it? Who has done it?

"I am about to tell you, my Lord, who has done it. I am about, if you will have the patience to listen, to tell you where lies the moving cause of all this outrage and blasphemy. To those who have eyes to see, alas, it is too plain."

He then goes on to attribute the disturbances to the "Durham Letter." He had just been offered a copy of it in the street. And then had come the speeches at the Guildhall.

"What followed? Why, of course, the newspapers echoed your cry. Your Lordship had given the major premiss--the newspapers supplied the minor--the mob drew the conclusion.

"Did you want them to draw the conclusion? However, so it was--a conclusion inevitable. How was it possible they should avoid it? How was it possible when the uncultivated, ignorant minds of the common people were so skilfully plied with incendiary matter by the Prime Minister of England, backed by an unscrupulous public press, that they should not take fire? When the law in Court of Chancery, and the law in Court of Queen's Bench, represented by grave and solemn men, spoke out from a Guildhall dinner, and egged on the multitude with speeches about 'civil and religious liberty,' and with many suggestions about the Pope; and when Sir Peter Laurie wound up the story by saying, 'Whether Ministers led or followed, one thing was certain: BRITONS never would be slaves '--to what?--' either to Puseyism or to Popery'; how, my Lord, could we wonder any longer at what has taken place? You might as well have laid a train of gunpowder from Chesham Place stretching along the streets to S. Barnabas' Church, and then put into the hands of your friends 'the people' a torch and have said, 'Now you know where the mischief is,' and then have expected that the torch would not have been applied to the train."

No doubt, as Mr. Bennett said, the Durham Letter and the Guildhall speeches were the primary cause of the commencement of the riots on November 10, but the fire thus lighted was fed with fuel from all sorts of sources. "For days and days not a single newspaper but teemed with letters and articles about our poor inoffensive church." Meetings about papal doings were the order of the day, in every town and village in England, and we may be sure there was talk enough everywhere about papists in disguise.

Next, Lord Ashley, afterwards so well known as Lord Shaftesbury, made a speech on December 5, at "The Freemasons' Tavern," in which he gave vent to the sentiment, "I would rather worship with Lydia on the banks of the river than with a hundred surpliced priests in the gorgeous Temple of S. Barnabas'." This was of course cheered to the echo, and repeated everywhere, but, as Mr. Beresford Hope speedily explained, the noble lord had not sufficiently consulted his Greek Testament, for the place where Lydia worshipped was an oratory or chapel near the river, and "might be less but might equally be more gorgeous than S. Barnabas'."

Then, of course, Punch made capital out of all this, and filled its pages ad nauseam with what were supposed to be jokes, all more or less profane. Here is a specimen. Among other complaints against S. Barnabas' was the noise which was made by its bells. A remonstrance was made to the Bishop, saying that the bells annoyed "thousands of the inhabitants." On which subject Punch produced a parody of which this is a verse--

"Hushaby, Bennett, on the Church top,
When your bells cease the outcry will stop,
If you don't stop, when reason shall call, Down will go Bennett, bell-ringing and all."

Another specimen of wit was this--

"Song for Mr. St. Barnabas Bennett: 'I've been Rome-ing, I've been Rome-ing.'" There were also such recondite jokes as to call Dr. Pusey "Poor Pus(s)ey," and to represent the "Puseyites" in various extraordinary costumes, and it was not to be wondered at that the Bishop's accusation of "histrionics" inspired a comic playbill, which may be in part the "caricature" so strongly commented on by Mr. Bennett, as in his mother's bound copy of Punch, this alone is torn out, apparently as being thought too bad for preservation. In fact, during the end of 1850 and the beginning of 1851 the pages of Punch were crowded with gibes at the High Church Party. Sheet after sheet is full of the subject, even double pages and cartoons being wasted on it, since, of course, the only effect was to advertise the work and disgust its opponents.

It is satisfactory to reflect that no comic journal could insert such "jokes" in our days without destroying its circulation among all respectable people; so large a space have we passed over in the last sixty years and so much decency and (at least outward) reverence do we owe to the Oxford Movement and its "pioneers."

But Punch was left in the background by the theological inscriptions which were chalked up in every street--


Naturally "the mob drew the conclusion." The riots began on November 10, and from that day continually increased in violence. Sir Frederick Ouseley, who was a "voluntary curate," had been threatened and insulted in the streets the night before, and he thought that if there had been any sympathizers in the church on the 10th an attack would have been then made.

That evening, S. Barnabas' being closed, Mr. Bennett remained at the college to protect his family should any violence be attempted. Sir F. Ouseley went to preach at S. Paul's. In returning at 8.30, he heard the crowd discussing what they would do next Sunday. Thus forewarned, precautions were taken against an attack, especially as Mr. Bennett had received threatening letters. The mob began again to collect at 10.30. The congregation already occupied the church, and a body of friends was stationed in the front seats to prevent any attack on the chancel. After the sermon, as those who were not remaining for the Communion were leaving, an attempt was made by the roughs to get in, but the friends of the church were too strong, and the hundred policemen outside kept the mob in check and made a way for the congregation to reach their houses. Sir F. Ouseley used to narrate how he told the organist to play the "full organ" during this row. This drowned the cries of the rioters and hindered them from communicating with each other.

They expected worse things for the next Sunday, and were prepared for a siege.

The mob which thus desired to attack the beautiful little church was "headed by a nobleman and a flunkey." The flunkey led the mob in person, the nobleman kept out of danger's way. [He is said to have been the butler of the banker, Henry Drummond, the Irvingite leader. If so, master and flunkey can hardly have been agreed--for the Irvingites are "extreme ritualists." But perhaps he thought Mr. Bennett was "poaching on his master's preserves."] As for the mob itself, its sturdy Protestantism was mostly of the type that is not unmindful of the "main chance "of picking pockets and of sacking a building the value of whose furniture was well known. As for the rest, like the mob at Ephesus, "the more part knew not wherefore they were come together."

On the other hand, there was a firm body of supporters of S. Barnabas' and of Mr. Bennett who did their best to protect the church and the clergy. Special constables were sworn in. Tradition says that some of the officers from Knightsbridge barracks, who "did not understand theology, but knew that Mr. Bennett was a gentleman," were among those who protected the church; and yet another tradition says that W. H. Bennett, Mr. Bennett's son, then a Queen's Scholar of Westminster, collected a band of his comrades there and was prepared to do battle with fists on behalf of his father and the church. This could scarcely have been except during the Christmas holidays at the school.

But a mob of roughs, of the type that were collected at S. Barnabas', is no easy thing to deal with, and there is no doubt that there was considerable danger of the church being wrecked and even of lives being lost during the continuance of the riots.

On November 24, the Twenty-sixth Sunday after Trinity, "being in the midst of the disturbances at S. Barnabas' Church," Mr. Bennett preached on "The Triumph of Charity." The whole of the sermon was "addressed principally to the strangers and intruders." In this he attempted to explain the customs at S. Barnabas', but the mention of the altar lights produced cries of "No Popery," and the like.

"After a while," says Mr. Bennett, "peace was restored, the better part of the congregation, consisting of the parishioners, subduing and putting to shame the intruders."

But the disturbance broke out again.

"The crowd outside the church was battering the doors and threatening to break in, the police resisting, and much violent language on all sides pouring forth."

Mr. Bennett tried to calm the mob by words which he afterwards "recorded as faithfully from memory as he could."

"What a sight is this! What sounds within of murmuring and breaches threatening of that which I have been putting before you as God's gift of love! And what tumultuous thronging at the doors without! What fearful exclamations of man's wrath in the midst of this holy place which was meant to be the house of mercy and of peace! How shall we regulate ourselves now and control our passions so that we be kept from any great sin in this conflict of evil? How shall we be saved from some grievous transgression against each other in thought or word or deed?

"I beseech you, brethren, now while there is time; before you may be led on in the hastiness of anger to use any violent expressions or indulge in any provocations or burst forth into any of those party cries which we hear without, that you reflect for a short moment where you are--in whose House and for what purpose. Suppose the case of a number of our congregation--I mean our particular parish, who have been taught and trained to love (and do so dearly love) all these ceremonial usages which you on your part so violently denounce--suppose they were to rush violently into some Dissenter's chapel, and in their enthusiasm seize! upon the seats appropriated to the regular congregation of the place, make violent outcries against the minister, deride and scoff at the method of their worship, and end by some gross act of destruction of their property--what would be said of such a demonstration of liberty of conscience?

"And for this building, this holy building reared up at such cost for the glory of God, no man surely could desire to injure or deface it; no man surely would lay his finger on it to mutilate a single ornament or to desecrate a single stone when he has but to reflect that it has been built solely for the poor man's use without regard of persons, without reward of hire, free and open for his worship for ever. But, brethren, should any one in the burning zeal of his ideas of right make such an attempt; should any one be stimulated in the fury of the moment to pull down with axes and hammers this fair place; should you attempt to destroy, as you have threatened, that holy symbol of our faith, the Cross of our Great Redeemer; should you attempt to pass through those gates which are the passage-way to the holy Altar of our God--know then that our duty would be passively to lay down our dead bodies in the gate, for over these alone should you find a path to desecrate the symbols of your God.

"There is one comfort. We have spoken to you of Charity, we have plied you with the topics of love, we have urged you with the arguments of justice, but all may fail even yet. Well, if it should fail, if still violence should be your determination, there is this one comfort--we will passively suffer, but at the same time we shall passively conquer. Even in your victory over us we shall have the victory over you. You may get the advantage over us in the fury of your misplaced zeal, but we shall have the real advantage over you; for we shall, God helping us, manifest to you, in the midst of suffering, the victory of Charity; and so the words of the Apostle shall still be true, we shall know it comes of GOD, and CHARITY NEVER FAILETH."

This was, indeed, a very safe prophecy, and the teaching of all history. The riots at S. Barnabas', just as afterwards those at S. George's-in-the-East, only advertised, set forth and spread the doctrines and practices they were intended to destroy; but the argument was not likely to be appreciated by a mob "composed principally of thieves," and the riots still increased in violence on December i and December 8, on which day they reached their climax.

On December 1, the First Sunday in Advent, Mr. Bennett preached, presumably in the morning, at S. Paul's, "while the riots were still continued at S. Barnabas'"--so says the heading of the printed sermon. "Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near," was his text. Of the other events of that Sunday there is no record.

But on the morning of December 8 there was great danger of a fearful catastrophe. Although there were special constables and other friends filling the seats and lining the screen, and the police, as usual, to keep order as far as possible, yet the mob, which, cursing and blaspheming, now filled the church, was so powerful that it threatened every moment to overwhelm the defenders. It resulted in a scene never to be forgotten. Mr. Bennett, conducted to the pulpit between two rows of friends, cast aside the manuscript sermon which he had brought, and wisely trusted to God's guidance for what he ought to speak. It was given him in that hour. He spoke--and it was strangely enough the natural and usual subject for that day (the Second Sunday in Advent)--on the Day of Judgment. On the testimony of Sir Frederick Ouseley, who preserved the utmost coolness through the whole of these riots, and who often described this scene to the writer, that sermon alone saved the church from destruction and preserved the lives of some at least among the clergy and choir. Manning is said to have been present, "sitting by the organ," and to have pronounced it the finest sermon he had heard, and we may well believe that it was never before and never again within his experience to hear a sermon preached under such circumstances and producing such a result.

The sermon is reported, with slight variations, by the writer of the little book, "Consecration and Desecration," evidently an eye-witness, and in the volume of "Last Sermons at S. Paul's and S. Barnabas','' from Mr. Bennett's own recollection or some report of it.

He reminds them of the time when they must all meet again, if not here; an awful time, a fearful time, when the eternity of glory or of condemnation shall be given to each of us.

He asks, have they thought of the end here and of that Day of Judgment?

He points out that we all naturally anticipate a judgment, from conscience, as well as learn it from Scripture.

He describes that awful scene. He goes on to remind them that the judgment will extend to every thought, word, and act. It will be universal; it will be sudden; it will be final; it will be without possibility of error.

The effect of all this had been to compel the crowd to listen, and to hold them back.

His concluding words completed what the former ones had begun--

"And now, brethren in the Lord, what shall we say to each other concerning this great thing? First, shall we judge each other? Shall we impute motives, imagine wrong, suspect evil of each other? Had we not better wait and let God judge concerning us? Oh! how fearfully will HE judge those who, having a beam in their own eye (as probably most of you have), come here to judge their brethren, bidding them to cast out their motes! How fearfully will HE have to say in His justice, 'How came you in here not having on a wedding garment? You came to My Feast, you pressed in, you came out of the highways and thronged in a great multitude My Sanctuary--coming with a severe, scrutinizing, watching, suspicious mind; you came without the wedding garment of love, and no man coming into My Feast without that wedding garment can have a place in My kingdom. Cast him into outer darkness, where shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' "Secondly, shall we look on each other in hatred, malice, revenge? Shall we, when we think each other guilty of some wrong, take the punishing of that wrong into our own hands, without any authority given us of God or man? Had we not better wait and let God punish the wrong-doer? 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.' Oh! how fearfully will the all-searching scrutiny of the Son of God ask us concerning what we do, 'Why did you act thus? Why did wrath fill your heart towards this man or towards that so as to cause you to burst forth in bitterness of speech or clamor or violence? Who made you a judge over your brother and an avenger to execute wrath?' Do you not think, brethren, that we had better each one of us look within and prepare for such questions as these, rather than be occupied with questions about each other?"

He then used the story of "the woman taken in adultery," in a most powerful and striking manner.

"There was a great sinner on one occasion brought into the presence of our Blessed Lord to be judged of Him. The accusers wanted in pretence to make Him judge her; but in reality they had judged her themselves long before. All her enemies collected round about her in a sort of anticipation of the certain verdict which they knew must be pronounced. But they had a mixed feeling, and we can hardly tell which predominated. They had partly an enmity against the woman for being a sinner; yet it would appear they had far greater enmity against our Lord Himself, for they wanted Him in condemning her to condemn Himself by becoming amenable to the law. But what did our Lord? He did not say, as they expected, 'She is guilty of death'; but He said, 'Look within yourselves--examine your hearts; see if all is right there. Let him that is without sin among you first cast a stone at her.' And they all went out.

"Brethren, may not this be something like your case to-day? You desire in bitterness of spirit against this church, and against these clergy, and against myself principally, to bring railing accusations against us; but it may be very questionable whether you are so much moved by the apparent spirit of bringing us before the Righteous Judge as you are by enmity towards the Righteous Judge Himself; apparently desiring to injure us, as representatives of a certain portion of the Church with which you are offended; but secretly desiring to injure the whole cause of religion and the Church of Christ altogether. We, the clergy here, may be guilty of wrong--much wrong--grievous wrong; no doubt we are very guilty in the sight of God for gross deficiencies in our manifold duties. But that is not the question with which God will deal at the Day of Judgment; as far as you are concerned it will be simply this: 'Let him that is without sin first cast a stone at her.' Brethren, [if you realized all this] in all probability you would, each one, go out of this church silenced, abashed, confessing your own unworthiness. [I have added these words, without which the sense seems incomplete.] I pray that you might. I pray that you will. I beseech you leave our Blessed Lord alone with us--He will deal with us. Do you take care of your own hearts."

The state of things in the church had grown worse from Sunday to Sunday, no doubt because more and more of the regular congregation of parishioners were afraid to come. Yet there must have been still some respectable people among the crowd who were capable of listening to words like these, and of being influenced by them. These kept back the rest, it seems. But matters still stood in the balance. The moment was critical. Mr. Bennett went on--

"My brethren, I would ask you most seriously to pause in this career of excitement, into which you have been so ungraciously betrayed. I would ask you to give yourselves a check this day--this very day--on the principle of that greater day, in which your own lives and character will form the subject of the Judgment of GOD. Have you considered well how very important each circumstance of our lives is, each one day of our lives, each one transaction of our lives in which we may be engaged; how very important it is in forming our progress, in shaping our character, in tending either this way or that way, for or against our eternal salvation? It must follow that if every thought, word, and deed is to be the subject of examination at the Day of Judgment, then every thought, word, and deed is tending to our salvation or the reverse. This very day, for instance, in this very multitude thronging round this holy place, there is the subject-matter, for each of us, of eternal glory or of eternal condemnation. What have we come hither for? What was our motive? What have we been doing since we have been here? What have been our thoughts? What have we been saying to each other or to God? What have been our words?

"Is there wrath among any of us towards one another? Is there suspicion? Is there intention of injury?--desecration of things holy?--hard and harsh looks?--violent gestures? Is there any mind to enter into the counsels of the ungodly against the Lord, and against His anointed, and against His sanctuary? Is there any mind to violate the order of His worship by interruptions and outcries and clamor? Very well; for each individual soul so engaged here to-day there stands before him, with a fearful certainty of retribution, the great day, when each particular now passing through his mind, will be matter of salvation to him or the reverse."

There was, it seems, among the crowd, one who made himself conspicuous by his cries and gestures, urging on the others. It was possibly that "flunkey" who has been spoken of. Him Mr. Bennett singled out from the throng and addressed him personally--

"You are about to act, my Christian brother, this morning, perhaps this very next impending moment, in some particular manner; you have come hither so to act; you set out from your dwelling this morning with a mind and purpose so to act. Did you reflect carefully concerning it before you set out? Did you reflect that your action upon that intention is now at this very moment ready to be the subject of record in the Book of Life--that book in which the Angel, with a pen of iron that never blunts, and ink that never fades, and a memory that never is dull, and a watchfulness that never slumbers, writes what you are now doing or going to do, a subject of your judgment at the last day.

"Are you so very confident that you are right in what you do?--so wholly and together removed from doubt that you are content to rest your eternal salvation on it?"

The leader, on these words, slunk back, it seems, into the crowd, terrified at the thoughts suggested to him. Mr. Bennett, turning his eyes, whose power was always wonderful, upon one and another in the mob before him, went on--

"Some one may presently rise up and speak a word of heedlessness, idleness, contempt, mocking, blasphemy. My brother, if you are about to do so, remember that it will be recorded by the Angel of God, and that you will be judged by the Righteous Judge. What may issue from an idle word--from the idle word of one single man? The stirring up of the passions of this multitude--contention, struggling, bloodshed, maybe murder--murder, if we resist each other, as resist we must--yes, perhaps murder, before His very Altar, and right in His immediate Presence. That may be the issue of one hasty word of yours, now uttered in the anger of a moment."

They had, no doubt, been forgetful of such possibilities; as long as it was only shouting, with the chance of looting a church, it was all very well, but to run the risk of that, for the sake of a cry about which they cared nothing--this was another matter: the whole crowd kept back. The speaker, pressing his advantage, went on--

"Oh! let me beseech you by the mercies of our common Lord, by the entreaties of love, by the voice of the Shepherd who would gather His lambs into the fold in peace, pause!--just pause a little! Reflect! How will it be for you in the accumulation of your sins at the great judgment, if you add one more, so heavy a one as this, to-day? How will it bear for you in the weight this way or that? This one word which you are now going to utter--even this very little idle word--it will cause you to be justified, or cause you to be condemned, for you know thus much of Scripture, 'For every idle word you shall give account in the Day of Judgment!'

"If you sin now, if you sin to-day, what will be your case? Can you say it was accident--that you had not been warned of it--had not been told of its consequence? Can you say you did it ignorantly? The sin is being added to by the very fact of its passing through your thoughts. God will say to you, 'You were not taken by surprise, you did not act with precipitation, you did not act without warning!'

"Oh! Christian brethren, if I could by any word of mine, coming from the Holy Ghost, but save you in this hour of temptation--but save you from the awful issue of your evil passions, which you came here this morning with intent to gratify--if I might save one single soul from any deed to-day which might add to his sins at the great judgment, and so fill up the measure of God's wrath against him, that he perish everlastingly, it would be reward enough to counterbalance all the sufferings and anxieties which it has pleased God to bring upon us.

"Consider what you are--who God is--what you came to do this morning--why you came to do it--towards Whom. Consider this life, in which you are but breathing for a day. Consider the life hereafter, eternal in the heavens, or eternal in hell. What may you be losing by some little petty wilfulness of the moment? What may you be gaining by a prompt repentance, and a humble submission to God?"

Then followed the last words of this wonderful sermon, indicating a terrible crisis--a most amazing scene--

"Now the scales are poised--the scales of the evenhanded Justice of God. It is God who is our Judge. The Son of Man--He is the Righteous Judge. Now, even now, your thoughts, your words, your standing here, or your standing there, the tone of your voice, the compression of your lips, your frown of wrath or your smile of love, your stamp of defiance or your submission of peace, your obstinacy in resisting the Holy Ghost or your gentle yielding to the better mood of His gracious influence,--all this--at this very moment while we stand here (GOD looking on)--all this is pouring now, quick and fast, and sure and full, into ONE of the scales of the Everlasting Judge. Now behold it! It poises even--it is balanced. It inclines. Which way? It weighs down. Whither does the index point? It is your condemnation? Oh, surely not! You have conquered. It is--it is--the salvation of eternal life."

With this picture before their eyes, with these words in their ears, the crowd, terrified and conscience-stricken, went out, as it is said, one by one, like the accusers in the story. From that day the riots diminished; indeed, Mr. Bennett describes the sermon, in his report of it, as "the last sermon during the riots, the mob still threatening the church." But disturbances went on for months afterwards, and all through the spring and summer of 1851, even after Mr. Bennett had resigned, it was necessary to keep on the special constables, and to guard the chancel gates to prevent the mob from invading the sanctuary. At last the troubles ceased, but for much of that year S. Barnabas' and its college were like to a beleaguered city.

Project Canterbury