THE GOOD DEACON.
IF late years we have heard a great deal against deacons, and have read discussions as to their office, evidently suggested by no idolatrous reverence for their persons. Many of our ministering brethren bitterly rate them, others tremble at the mention of their very name, and a few put on their armor and prepare to do battle with them wherever they go, as if they were the dragons of ministerial life. We ourselves are charged with having said that “a deacon is worse than a devil, for if you resist the devil he will flee from you, but if you resist a deacon he will fly at you.” This is no saying of ours, we never had any cause to speak so severely, and although in some oases it is undoubtedly true, we have never had any experimental proof of it. Not one in a hundred of all the sayings fathered upon us are ours at all, and as to this one it was in vogue before we were born. Our observation of deacons leads us to observe that, as a rule, they are quite as good men as the pastors, and the bad and good in the ministry and the deaconate are to be found in very much the same proportions. If there are lordly deacons, are their not lordly pastors? If there be ignorant, crotchety men among deacons, are their not their rivals in our pulpits? The church owes an immeasurable debt of gratitude to those thousands of godly men who study her interests day and night, contribute largely of their substance, care for her poor, cheer her ministers, and in timers of trouble as well as prosperity, remain faithfully at their posts. Whatever there may be here and there of mistake, infirmity, and even wrong, we are assured from wide and close observation, that the greater number of our deacons are an honor to our faith, and we may style them as the apostle did his brethren, the “glory of Christ’s,’“ Heaviest censure is occasionally deserved, but affectionate esteem is usually clue. Deprive the church of her deacons, and she would be bereaved of her most valiant sons; their loss would be the shaking of the pillars of our spiritual house, and would cause a desolation on every side.
Thanks be to God such a ca1amity is not likely to befall us, for the great, Head of the church in mercy to her, will always raise up a succession of faithful men, who will use the office well, and earn unto themselves a good degree and much boldness in the faith. Much ought to be taken into consideration in estimating the character of men sustaining office in the church, for many difficulties may be incidental to the position, and this may mitigate the severity with which we ought to judge the men. Our brethren in the deacon’s work are not so migratory as our ministers; they are frequently born to Christ in the churches in which they live and die; they cannot readily remove when evil days becloud the church, but remain chained to the our to bear the odium of discontent and the sorrow of decay. No frequent removal secures for them a renewal of popularity elsewhere; their whole career for bad or good is remembered by one and the same constituency, and hence false steps are with great difficulty retrieved, and awkward disagreements are painfully remembered. With new ministers come new ways, and men in office, especially elderly men, cannot so easily learn and unlearn as young and fresh comers might desire; perhaps cherished methods are crossed, and hallowed ideas overthrown, and this is not the smallest trial of a good man’s life. We almost think it needs a better man to make a good deacon than a good minister. We who preach the word go first, and this pleases human nature; grace is needed to make older, wealthier, and often wiser men go second and keep their place without envyings and bickering’s: thousands do this, and are to be honored for it.
We did not, however, take up our pen to eulogize deacons as a class, but simply to record our own happy experience, believing that one fact is better than a thousand theories. The deacons of our first village ministry were in our esteem the excellent of the earth, in whom we took great delight.
Hard-working men on the week-day, they spared no toil for their Lord on the Sabbath; we loved them sincerely, and do love them still, though another minister speaks of them with a severity never exceeded. In our idea they were as nearly the perfection of deacons of a country church as the kingdom could afford, and we wonder that the present occupant of the pulpit could have found out faults and vices of which we never saw a trace.
Since our sojourn in London we have seen the burial of the fag-end of a race of deacons of whom only one survives, beloved and revered by us all.
A fine gentlemanly race, rather stiff and unmanageable, not quite to our mind, but honorable, respectable, prudent grandees of dissent the last generation of deacons were; men to be spoken of with reverence in all places where holy memories are cherished. Our own growth of brethren are peculiarly lovable, active, energetic, warm-hearted generous men; but as we may have to live with them for another quarter of a century, we will only say of them that we could not exaggerate in speaking of our love to them as our generous-hearted fellow soldiers and true yoke-fellows. Of the one beloved father of the older school, who shares in all its excellencies and none of its grandiose stiffness, we give the best portrait that the best wood engraver in London could produce. Converted in early youth, Thomas Olney joined the church at Carter-lane in his youth, and for fiftyeight years has remained in membership with the same people. For thirty years he has been a deacon. A dear lover of his departed pastor, Dr. Rippen, he mourned his decease very deeply, and thought that the glory was departed. He served the church under depressing changes of the pastorate, and then gave his heart to us without reserve, with very much of the juvenile ardor of a young man. He never acted as a drag to the wheels, or a dead weight to the chariot. His purse was ready, and his heart and energy forced him with it to the front of the battle. In our great works of building the Tabernacle, the College, Orphanage, Almhouses, he never lagged or so much as thought of holding back. Ten thousand blessings be upon him, and others of the same household, for the Lord’s sake, and for the sake of the church of God. Flattery be far from us, but truth we must speak; we wish that every church had several such honorable men. The poor among us call him blessed, and all of us hold him in our highest esteem. We speak thus of men generally when they are dead; but it is a miserable policy which robs the living servant of Jesus of the little loveword which might have cheered declining years — it is more, it is an unworthy dishonest)’ which withholds the well-earned need of praise. Paul was not afraid to commend the living, nor need we be; and Paul never saw a warmer lover of the church of God than we see in our friend. May his last days be bright with the dawn of heaven, and as his children and his children’s children already walk in the truth, may he when gathered to his fathers amid their tears, be rejoiced over as a shock of corn fully ripe gathered into the garner. Meanwhile may he enjoy in his own heart an overflowing anticipation of the “Well done, good and faithful servant,” which grace reserves for him.
HONEYWOOD PARK; OR, A STORY OF MY GRANDFATHER.
BY C. H. SPURGEON.
THE recurrence of the name of a village, a house, or a spot in one’s family annals, interwoven with its most important events, is curious to observe.
The superstitious imagine that a strange influence upon human destiny may be connected with peculiar places; we reject their theory, but all the more wonder at the facts upon which it is based. There is a spot in Essex, the name of which is as much associated with the life of my grandfather, now in heaven, as if providence had rooted him to it, and constrained him to live and die within its bounds. What I am about to write is as nearly as my recollection served me the story as I had it from himself. I had been preaching within twenty miles of Stambourne, where the good old man proclaimed the gospel for about sixty years; and I received a pressing letter from him, saying, that as he was now eighty-eight years of age, if I did not drive across country to see him, we might never meet again in this world.
Little did the grandson need urging to so pleasant a duty. Starting early I arrived the village at eight in the morning, and found the venerable man on the look-out for his boy. He was remarkably cheerful and communicative, talking of his tutor at Hackney College, of his early life, his trials and his deliverances, the good men who had gone before him, and the occasions upon which he had met them. He then touched on what was evidently a favorite topic, and remarked that there was formerly a wood in what I think he called Honeywood Park, which was a very memorable place to him. In theft wood he had groaned and wept before the Lord while under the burden of sin, and under a tree, an oak, then only a sapling, he had received the grace of faith, and entered upon the enjoyment of peace with God. It was a lonely spot, but henceforth it was to him no other than the house of God, and the very gate of heaven. Often he resorted thither and praised the name of the Lord.
Some time after this happy event, having to go from Coggeshall to Halstead, his route was over the hallowed spot. On the night previous he dreamed very vividly that the devil appeared to him, and threatened to tear him in pieces if he dared to go along that footpath and pray under the oak as he had been wont to do. The evil one reminded him that there was another way through the farm yard, and that if he took the farmyard path all would go well with him. When my grandfather awoke, the impression on his mind was overpowering, and he reasoned thus with himself:
Whether it be a dream or really a temptation from Satan I cannot tell, but anyhow I will not yield to it, but will show the devil that I will not do his bidding in anything, but will defy him to his face. This was the good man all over. Like Luther he had a vivid impression of the reality and personality of the great enemy, and was accustomed to make short work with his suggestions. One day when in the pulpit it came into his head that the place where the sand was kept for sanding the brick floor of his manse ought to. be boarded in. His next thought was what business had the devil to make me think about the sand closet on a Sunday and in the pulpit too, it shall not be hoarded in at all. I will let him see that he shall not hove his way with me. But to return to the story, my grandfather, then a young man, went on cheerily enough till he came to the stile where the two path diverged, then a horrible fear came upon him, and he felt his heart beat fast.
Suppose he really should meet the archfiend, and should find him too strong for him, what then? Better take the farmyard path. No, that would be yielding to Satan, and he would not do that for ten thousand worlds. He plucked up courage and tremblingly pressed on. The stile was leaped, the narrow tract through the wood was trodden with resolution mingled with forebodings. The oak was in sight, the sweat was on his face, the pace was quickened, a dash was made, and the tree was grasped, but there was no Satan there. Taking breath a moment, the young man uttered aloud the exclamation, “Ah, cowardly devil, you threatened to tear me in pieces, and now you do not dare show your face.” Then followed a fervent prayer and a song of praise, and the young man was about to go on his way, when his eye was caught by something shining on the ground. It was a ring, a very large ring, he told me nearly as large as a curtain ring, and it was solid gold; how it came there it would be hard to guess. Inquiries were made, but no claimant ever appeared, and my grandfather had it made into my grandmother’s wedding ring, in memory of the spot so dear to him. Year by year he continued to visit the oak tree on the day of his conversion to pour out his soul. before the Lord. The sapling had spread abroad its branches, and the man had become the parent of a numerous family, but the song of gratitude was not forgotten, nor the prayer that he and his offspring might for ever be the Lord’s; the angels of God, we doubt not, watched those consecrated seasons with delightful interest.
To add to the solemnity of the secluded wood, his father, while passing by the spot, was touched by the hand of God, and suddenly fell dead. He could then feel even more deeply how awful — in this place! This made the annual visitations to the tree more deeply impressive, and we believe beneficial. They would have been continued till my grand father’s last year, were it not that the hand of modern improvement ruthlessly swept away tree and wood, and every relic of the past. His last prayer upon the dear spot was most ludicrously interrupted — as the wood was almost all felled, he judged by the pathway as nearly as possible where the long-remembered oak had stood; the place was covered with growing wheat, but he kneeled down in it and began to bless the name of the Lord, when suddenly he heard a rough voice from over the hedge crying out, “Master, there be a creazy man a saying his prayers down in the wheat over thay’re.” This startled the suppliant and made him beat a hasty retreat. Jacob must wrestle somewhere else; the man of God looked at the spot and went his way, but in spirit he still raised an altar in that Bethel, and praised the God of his salvation. He has gone to his rest after having fought a good fight, but the prayers of Honeywood Park are blessing his children and his children’s children, to the third generation at this very hour. To them and all the world his testimony is,” Resist the devil, and he will flee from you,” and equally does he instruct us to “Bless the Lord and forget not all his benefits.” It were well if all of us were as decided to overcome temptation, let it come as it may. To indulge in that which may even seem to be sin is evil — to strive against its very appearance is safety. Forgive, gentle reader, the egotism which made me think this odd story might have an interest beyond my own family-circle; it is no small pleasure to remember such a grandsire, and to recall an incident in his life is pardonable.