Project Canterbury

My Curates


By A Rector.

London: Skeffington, 1890.


"These souls, so firmly welded on to the everyday, commonplace, conventional relations of things, cannot understand souls which place themselves in antagonism to these relations." Richter.

"And when religious sects ran mad,
He held, in spite of all his learning,
That if a man's belief is bad,
It will not be improved by burning."
"The VicarPraed.

THIS chapter will be a sad one; it is the short story of a short life. If, in some of the previous chapters, I have allowed myself to be guilty of facetiousness, this one will be utterly exempt from such.

It is with some compunction that I attempt to write it; not alone because it will stir within me tender recollections which are wet with tears, but also because it must be a confession of my own short-sightedness and want of discernment.

Perhaps some of the saddest moments of our lives are not when we reflect on the evils we have done, but when we recall opportunities of kindness and usefulness thrown away.

We Rectors may become conscious of these sins of omission in our later days. We have special opportunities of helping our younger brethren in the Ministry; yet how prone we are to ignore them!

The world of thought is advancing; we elders do not fully understand the generation which succeeds ours. It is under the influence of a Zeit-geist or time-spirit, unfamiliar to us and with which we have no sympathy; and so, when we are called to be a father and a friend to a younger brother, we fail.

We think we know how to deal with souls in a mass; and then, in order to humble us, some one individual soul is given to our care, and we make miserable blunders.

Perhaps I should never have learned this lesson of self-depreciation, had it not been for my association with Ernest Verity.

His was a strange history; strange in its very simpleness. The son of a tradesman, he had, by the beauty of his voice, gained the position of chorister in one of our Midland Cathedrals. Nor was his voice his only talent. His unusual ability and application to books brought him under the notice of the master spring up a closer union of feeling between us. Here I was disappointed. A certain respectful reserve on his part, a want of penetration on mine, kept us apart. I also became more anxious about his views. He put questions to me which to my thinking connoted a still greater deviation from the beaten track of orthodoxy. Some of these questions were too deep for me to answer, and when I eluded them by resorting to a truism he appeared to be disappointed, and driven still farther back upon himself and his books.

Thinking that it would be well for him to mix more in the society of our neighbouring clergy, I induced him to join the clerical meetings of our Rural Deanery, which were held once a month. At these meetings papers were read—generally by the younger members—and discussions followed.

Hitherto the discussions had been of the most amicable description; the disputants had only imaginary opponents; the remarks never entered into doubtful ground.

At this time, however, a subject presented itself—one which had begun to occupy men's thoughts: namely, What is the meaning of Inspiration as it bears on the Holy Scriptures? As Mr. Verity had clearly expressed himself on some question of debate, he was asked to write a paper on the subject referred to. He assented with some diffidence.

I can give but a very succinct resume of the paper, which was evidently the result of deep research, and carefully prepared:—

In maintaining the Divine element of Scripture, men had come to deny the human element. The inevitable consequence was that keen scrutiny brought to light again the undeniable humanity, and exaggerated it to the point of questioning the Divinity. He entered a protest against the rigid theories of Inspiration, which, vainly attempting to ward off criticism, only provoked it the more. He pointed out the danger of confusing merely literary questions with the Christian Faith, till fearless enquiry was almost of necessity regarded as hostile attack. He showed how severe some of the attacks of the more recent criticism really were, and how by their industry the critics put us to shame. He was inclined to admit many of their positions, and pleaded for patient study.

A painful silence followed the reading of the paper. This was at length broken by Mr. Langsyne, our Rural Dean. He commenced in language which denoted suppressed anger: he went on in cutting tones, he finished in righteous indignation. Had we not had sufficient warning in the case of Bishop Colenso? Dare we tamper with the outworks of our Faith? If they were surrendered, what would become of the shrine itself? If mistakes were admitted in the chronology of the Old Testament, where then were type and shadow and prophecy? If these, again, were annihilated, what guarantee could we have of the great Truth to which they pointed?

Others followed in a similar strain; almost unanimously, the paper was condemned as adverse to orthodoxy, and—I blush to say it—the writer was attacked for making statements unworthy of a clergyman.

Ernest Verity rose to reply. He quivered as if in pain. Slowly at first, but gaining energy as he went on, he replied to the attacks. He asked wherein he had been erroneous? Surely they would not prejudge the case by attributing dishonesty to him. Did they suppose the honour of God could be served by concealment or evasion? It was his desire, far from shattering the bulwarks—as had been insinuated— to discover where they had been weakened through ignorance or neglect, then to gain a clear view of them and to strengthen them.

It was of no use. Most of us were entirely ignorant of the controversy; we did not care to lay aside our rusty weapons of defence when we had not the new ones to replace them.

This unfortunate clerical meeting had a most depressing effect upon my young Curate : he never got over it. He was driven back, more than ever, on himself and his studies. Dependent now upon. his profession, he was led into the most painful self-scrutiny as to his motives. He began to imagine that he was untrue to the principles of the Church-As he was still in Deacons' Orders, he might change his profession.

He expressed these feelings to me in subsequent conversations, and finally sent in his resignation. Why did I accept it? Why did I let him go? Why did I not obey the impulse which rushed over me, and take him to my heart? Alas! how many Whys there are in this world !

I do not attempt to exonerate myself, but I believe that Mr. Langsyne influenced me. He said it was my duty to uphold the Truth; that it was right for the young man to resign a profession upon the limits of which he encroached; and that, owing to his ability, he would doubtless distinguish himself in some other calling.

And so Ernest Verity departed, and I lost a Curate who, I discovered too late, was true, fearless,, and loving—whose greatest fault was a painful sensitiveness, partially, no doubt, resulting from his knowledge of his humble origin. Humility and pride are sometimes strangely blended, and sensitiveness is the feeble barrier of both.

Two years ago I received a parcel containing a few relics which were to be distributed among the poor of my parish. On enquiries I found out how he had laid down his life. Without means, without friends, without prospects, he had made his way to London. There, earning a bare existence by his pen, he had devoted the whole of his spare time to teaching the Arabs of a low slum in our great city. Amid unhealthy surroundings he had worked for the Love of God, in the power of the Faith of Christ, till he was called home.

Few of his books were left. Most of them had been sacrificed to buy little luxuries for the poor. But his little manuscript book of devotions was there—in it the names of those who had been in trouble, and of some who had been bitter in their attacks upon him. Against my name was a note, gratefully recalling my kindness to him.

I grew some years older on the day I learned these things. When I managed to break it all to my wife, she left the room, unable to speak. When I told Langsyne about it, he turned away to hide his tears.

But why dwell on these sad memories! As I write, a multitude of complex thoughts are stirred within, my soul.

How heedful should we be in dealing with minds of finely moulded texture: how careful lest an over-confident zeal should shrivel into the bitterness of bigotry!

And as to Biblical criticism.—Upon what did Christ found His Church? Not on prophecy, not on inspiration, but "upon this Rock"—the confession of His Divinity.

If our faith rests firmly on that Rock, does it matter whether the world was made in six days or in six aeons? Whether Deuteronomy was written by Moses or Jeremiah; or the Chronicles years after the marginal date? Does it matter whether Paul, or Apollos, or Barnabas, or Ignatius wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews?

Biblical criticism has strengthened the Church's position; it has called out warriors on the ramparts of Zion; so its very opposition has helped to confirm the Gospel narrative. It has brushed away mists; it has exhibited in clearer light all that we hold dearest, all that we need to know—it has brought us to rest our hopes, not on doubtful dates, but on the unchanging Truth.

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