Project Canterbury

The Velvet Cushion

By John Cunningham

London: Printed for T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1814.

Chapter X.

When the good Vicar next resumed his task, he read as follows.

'As the death of the poor girl was altogether charged upon religion, and as I was considered both as a cause and memorial of her fate, neither religion nor I were likely to be in good repute in the house. Her father and mother, indeed, seemed to view me, passive as I was in the business, with a sort of horror, and she in particular, I remember, having one day opened the door and discovered me on the table, seemed to shudder-hastily shut the door again, and hurried away. In these circumstances, it was long doubtful what would become of me; whether the cat or the lap-dog should permanently lay their head on the Cushion of vicars and prelates. At last, an old housekeeper who had always [110/111] discovered much pity for the young lady, much horror of heruunt,and who, though tremendously cross, never failed to hobble off three times in the week to a large meeting in the neighbourhood, deeming her own pretensions at least equal to those of her four-footed competitors, carried me up to her own little room. I do not know that I should have thought it-worth while to dwell on this part of my history, but for two reasons--that my present proprietor was so singular a contrast to my last--and that the faults of both served to convince me of a truth which many wise folks never learn at all--that the widest extreme to wrong is not always right.'

"Always!" said the Vicar--"the truth seems to be that it is never right. The opposite to profuseness, is avarice--to tyranny, is anarchy--to bigotry, is enthusiasm. Almost all reformers in Church, except, indeed, those of my own dear Church and country, appear to me to [111/112] split on this very rock. It was the moral, I doubt not, taught by the old story of Scylla and Charybdis. We tell the story--and forget the moral. Good old England has, through God's blessing, remembered both; and accordingly, we have a Protestant Church, and a free State, with which a wise Papist or a sober tyrant find it almost impossible to quarrel. For my part, though I abhor Popery, I honor the little harmless relics of it, which I see in our Church, as so many monuments of the moderation of my forefathers.--But, let us go on.'--I dare say, our friend here meant the same thing."

"I dare say it did," said the old Lady.

Thus firmly agreed, as they were sure to be in all charitable conjectures, they proceeded.

'The old housekeeper, though she called herself a Calvinist, was in fact an Antinomian. Independent of tier opinions about Predestination, and the rest of the [112/113] five points, she really believed that the law of God had little or no force for an advanced Christian. Consequently her rule was to live as she pleased, and to believe as the minister of the chapel taught her. I ought to say, that this minister was in general disowned by his brother dissenters, who, whether Calvinists or Arminians, concurred to condemn Antinomianism. I learned this fact from frequent conferences held in my presence, between the members of the society on the persecution of what they called the Church.--But you shall hear some particulars of the old Lady's creed and practice.

'Her religious errors seemed to me chiefly to spring from two causes--one without, and one within--one, the cold and unamiable religion of her mistress, which drove her to an opposite extreme--and the other, a mind of strong feelings, and no industry. Her history is, I believe, by no means peculiar. She had [113/114] always been remarked as a woman of acute sensibility, and wretched temper-repairing, by the embraces of one moment, the petulance of another--perpetually changing her friends and her pursuits. At length, some sermon alarmed her conscience. At once, and almost without an effort, she shifted from the side of the world to that of religion. Those wondered at the change who did not remember that many change their party without changing their tempers; and indeed quit their present sphere only to seek in another, a more unrestrained indulgence of these very tempers. Thus was it with the old lady. In her new-character she contrived to lend many of her most offensive qualities a new grace; and to baptize them with a new name. Her petulance gained the very honourable title of zeal--her restlessness, of activity--her changeableness, of independence. Nor did she, as it were, at a single plunge sink into the depths in [114/115] which I found her. Her descent, however, was rapid--because she was, in fact, following nature, when she thought she was following God. The benefit which might have been expected from some honest preachers whom she had occasionally heard, was entirely forfeited by one practice--namely, that of leaving every preacher the instant he condemned any cherished indulgence. Thus she had gone through the whole circle of popular ministers; and, finally, had come to a conclusion, that her present minister was nearly the last prophet, and she herself, nearly the only Christian in the country. Her self-delusion was indeed almost incredible. She would start up furiously from the 14th chapter of St. John, to thunder at a housemaid; and wash down a sermon with a copious draught of brandy.'

"Worse and worse," said the Vicar as he finished the tale--"was ever Cushion so unfortunate? I suppose it might [115/116] have passed through nine-tenths of the congregations in the country, and not have found ten such cases."

"Are you sure of that?" asked his Lady.

"I am sure, my love, of nothing," replied he, "but I cannot understand how any ten people should go mad precisely on the same point; and I can call her state nothing short of insanity."

"But," said she, "I have heard Calvinism charged with necessarily leading to enormities of this kind."

"Then your reporters, my dear," said he, "were not to be trusted. You know, that I am no Calvinist--that I agree with Calvin perhaps in scarcely a single point in which he disagrees with Arminius. My testimony, therefore, in vindication of Calvinism may be heard. To say then, that it 'necessarily,' or even, generally leads to Antinomianism, is as unjust as to charge the Church with all the robberies and murders of those who profess [116/117] her communion. Hooker, Usher, Hall, Leighton, and many, if not most of the fathers of the Reformation, were Calvinists, and yet, who ever thought of charging them with Antinomianism? But that very high Calvinism easily admits of, and not unfrequently suffers such a perversion--appears to me true, and in my mind constitutes a no small objection to that system."

"I have often thought of asking, my love, what you thought of the conversation of Cromwell with his chaplain, when on his dying bed."

"Cromwell," said the Vicar, "asked, if I remember right, "whether a man who had been once in a state of grace, could fall away?" And upon his chaplain answering "No--" "Then," said he, "I am safe, for I am sure that I once was in a state of grace." Now, to say nothing of this "no," of the chaplain," continued the Vicar, "for which I might have felt disposed to substitute another [117/118] monosyllable--if this was the whole of the conversation, I may venture to add, that every wise Calvinist will allow the chaplain to be criminal, and the Protector deluded. Even, in assuming the truth of the doctrine, Cromwell was plainly deluded in his judgment of his own state, and the chaplain as plainly criminal in suffering him to die in that delusion."

"A pious and moderate Calvinist," said the old Lady, who had been reading a chapter in Archbishop Leighton (the most formidable of all controversialists, because every devout reader must be afraid to disagree with him), "that very morning finds much both in Scripture and in reason to say for his system."

"He does, indeed," said the charitable old man; "he finds so much that I am never astonished or angry with those who come to a precisely opposite conclusion on these points to my own. As to Scripture, however, be it remembered, that [118/119] if some single passages seem to favour that system, the general spirit of the Bible appears to be against it. The delineations of God as an universal Father--the universal promises, invitations, exhortations to all, to awake, to arise, to turn, to pray, seem to me to belong to' a more comprehensive scheme. Can the gracious God of the Scriptures mean all this for only a small portion of his creatures?

"The doctrine of election has, I think, one merit," said the old lady; "it teaches those who believe it to love and honour God."

"Am I, then," answered the Vicar, "likely to love and honour God less because I believe that he makes to all the offers which others believe he makes only to a few?"

"But surely," she continued, "there is much comfort in their other tenet of final perseverance--in feeling that "God will never forsake his true servants."

[120] "There is, indeed," said the Vicar; "but, thank God, I, who am no Calvinist, believe as firmly as they can do, that 'God never forsakes his true servants.' The Calvinist cannot be more sure than another that he is a true Christian; and if not sure, his creed is no peculiar comfort to him. If sure even of our sincerity, who has reason, upon any system, to fear that he shall be forsaken? Why should that sun of mercy now forsake us which, amidst all the storms, and crimes, and follies of life, has never yet gone down. My love, I have been young, and now am old; and, from infancy to that verge of second infancy on which I stand, such has been the wholly unmerited compassion of my God, so often has he stretched out to me the golden sceptre of his mercy--so often, when guilty, pardoned--when infirm, strengthened--and when miserable, shed around me the sun-shine of his presence, that I am sure 'he would not I should perish.' [120/121] "I know in whom I have believed, and I am persuaded," that as long as I endeavour, by his help, to stretch out this "withered arm" for mercy, (and as he spoke, lie stretched out an arm indeed withered in the service of the sanctuary)--as long as I endeavour, in complete distrust of itself, to take hold even of the hem of his garment, I shall find 'virtue go out of him' to heal all my infirmities, and cleanse all my sins. This is my confidence, and if others have more, I thank God for their happiness, but am content with my own."

Now, such was the humility of the good old man, that he had never been heard to speak as triumphantly of his own hopes before. And, even now, be seemed to blush for an avowal which not self-complacency, but love and gratitude to God had forced from him. After a short pause, he added,--"I wish, my love, in general, to speak neither of myself, nor of the disputable points in [121/122] religion. As to myself, I am sure of but one thing--that I am a most unworthy servant of a God, to whose mercy, from beginning to end, I must owe my salvation. And, as to Calvinists and Arminians--as there are only five points on which they differ, and at least five hundred on which, if real Christians, they agree, I desire to embrace all the articles of our common faith, and leave the rest to be settled in heaven."

"Perhaps you think," said she, "that they will never be settled on earth."

"I do," answered the Vicar. "Under various shapes, they have perplexed the philosophers and divines of all ages. My own creed is this--if a Calvinist so hold his opinion as to lead a holy life, and an Arminian so hold his as to preserve a humble spirit, I believe the principles of neither will exclude them from heaven."

After this, the Vicar, who knew that no position was so safe for a man of his [122/123] own sentiments as prostration before God, knelt down; and, like the giant, refreshing himself by touching on his mother earth, recruited, I doubt not, all his hopes, and views, and joys, by intercourse and communion with his God.

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