Sermon 2

At Free St. John's Church, Edinburgh

"When he beheld the city, he wept over it." - Luke, xix. 41.

There is a remarkable phenomenon. to be seen on certain parts of our coast. Strange to say, it proves, notwithstanding such expressions as "the stable and solid land," that it is not the land but the sea which is the stable element. On some summer day, when there is not a wave to rock her, nor breath of wind to fill her sail or fan a cheek, you launch your boat upon the waters, and, pulling out beyond lowest tidemark, you idly lie upon her bows to catch the silvery glance of a passing fish, or watch the movements of the many curious creatures that travel the sea's sandy bed, or, creeping out of their rocky homes, wander its tangled mazes. If the traveller is surprised to find a deep-sea shell embedded in the marbles of a mountain peak, how great is your surprise to see beneath you a vegetation foreign to the deep! Below your boat, submerged many feet beneath the surface of the lowest tide, away - down in these green crystal depths, you see no rusting anchor, no mouldering remains of some shipwrecked one, but, in the standing stumps of trees, the mouldering vestiges of a forest, where once tho wild cat prowled, and the birds of heaven, singing their loves, had nestled and nursed their young. In counterpart to those portions of our coast where sea-hollowed caves, with sides the waves have polished, and floors still strewed with shells and sand, now stand high above the level of strongest stream-tides, there stand these dead, decaying trees - entombed in the deep. A strange phenomenon, which admits of no other explanation than this, that there the coast- line has sunk bcneath its ancient level.
Many of our cities present a phenomenon as melancholy to the eye of a philanthropist, as the other is interesting to a philosopher or geologist. In their economical, educational, moral, and religious aspects, certain parts of this city bear palpable evidence of a corresponding subsidence. Not a single house, nor a block of houses, but whole streets, once from end to end the homes of decency, and industry, and wealth, and rank, and piety, have been engulfed. A flood of ignorance, and misery, and sin, now breaks and roars above the top of their highest tenements. Nor do the old stumps of a forest, still standing up erect beneath the sea-wave, indicate a greater change, a deeper subsidence, than the relics of ancient grandeur and the touching memorials of piety which yet linger about these wretched dwellings, like evening twilight on the hills - like some traces of beauty on a corpse. The unfurnished floor, -the begrimed and naked walls, the stifling, sickening atmosphere, the patched and dusty window - through which a sunbeam, like hope, is faintly stealing - the ragged, hunger-bitten, and sad-faced children, the ruffian man, the heap of straw where some wretched mother, in muttering dreams, sleeps off last night's debauch, or lies unshrouded and unconfined in the ghastliness of a hopeless death, are sad scenes. We have often looked on them.
And they appear all the sadder for the restless play of fancy. Excited by some vestiges of a fresco-painting that still looks out from the foul and broken plaster, the massive marble rising over the cold and cracked hearth-stone, an elaborately carved cornice too high for shivering cold to pull it down for fuel, some stucco flowers or fruit yet pendant on the crumbling ceiling - fancy, kindled by these, calls up the gay scenes and actors of other days, when beauty, elegance, and fashion graced these lonely halls, and plenty smoked on groaning tables, and where these few cinders, gathered from the city dust- heap, are feebly smouldering, hospitable fires roared up the chimney. But there is that in and about these houses which bears witness of a deeper subsidence, a yet sadder change. Bent on some mission of mercy, you stand at the foot of a dark and filthy stair. It conducts you to the crowded rooms of a tenement, where - with the exception of some old decent widow who has seen better days, and when her family are all dead, and her friends all gone, still clings to God and her faith in the dark hour of adversity and amid the wreck of fortune - from the cellar-dens below to the cold garrets beneath the roof-tree,. you shall find none either reading their Bible, or even with a Bible to read. Alas! of prayer, of morning or evening psalms - of earthly or heavenly peace, it may be said the place that once knew them, knows them no more. But before you enter the doorway, raise your eyes to the lintel-stone. Dumb, it yet speaks of other and better times. Carved in Greek or Latin, or our own mother tongue, you decipher such texts as these : - " Peace be to this house; "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it;" "We have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens;" "Fear God ;" or this, "Love your neighbour." Like the mouldering remnants of a forest that once resounded with the melody of birds, but hears nought now save the angry dash or melancholy moan of breaking waves, these vestiges of piety furnish a gauge which enables us to measure how low in these dark localities the whole stratum of society has sunk.
He who can walk from this neighbouring castle to yonder palace, nor groan in spirit, must have a heart about as hard as the pavement that he walks on.. The degradation of humanity, the ragged poverty, the squalid misery, the suffering childhood, the pining, dying infancy - oh, how do these obliterate all the romance of the scene, and make the most picturesque street in Christendom one of the most painful to travel! They call the street in Jerusalem, along which tradition says that a bleeding Saviour bore his cross, the Via Dolorosa; and I have thought that our own street was baptized in the sorrow of as mournful a name. With so many countntenance that have misery stamped on them as plain as if it were burned in with a redhot iron - hunger staring at us out of these hollow eyes - drink-palsied men, drink-blotchcd and bloated women - sad and sallow infants who pine away into slow death, with their weary heads lying so pitifully on the shoulders of some half de-humanised women - this poor little child, who never smiles, without shoe or stocking on his ulcered feet, shivering, creeeping, limping along with the bottle in his emaciated hand, to buy a parent drink with the few pence that, poor hungry creature, he would fain spend on a loaf of bread, but dare not - the whole scene is like the roll of the prophet, "written within and without,- larnentations, mourning, and woe." How has it wrung our heart to see a ragged, famished boy looking greedily in at a window on the food he has no one to give him, and dare not touch, - to watch him, as he alternately lifted his naked feet, lest they should freeze to the icy pavement, He starves in the midst of abundance. Neglected among a people who would take more pity on an ill-used horse or a dying dog, he is a castaway upon the land. Of the throngs that pass heedlessly by him to homes of comfort, intent on business or on pleasure, there is no one cares for him. Poor wretch! oh, if he knew a Bible which none has taught him, how might he plant himself before us, and bar our way to church or prayer-meeting, saying, as he fixed on us an imploring eye, "Pure religion and undefiled before God" is to feed me - is to clothe these naked limbs - is to fill up these hollow cheeks - is to pour the light of knowledge into this darkened soul - is to save me - is not to go to house of God or place of prayer, but first coming with me to our miserable home, "to visit the widow and fatherless in their affliction, and keep thy garments un-spotted from the world!" .
There needs no other evidence of the fact that irreligion does exist among religious professors, than the cold, callous, and heartless indifference with which many bear of the sins and look upon the sorrows of their fellow-creatures. They could not do so if they were baptized into the nature as well as the name of Jesus Christ. In some cases the loss of a cattle-beast will affect the farmer, the loss of a few pounds on some speculation will distress the merchant, the loss of her raven locks, and the rose upon her cheek, and the fading charms that won admiration, will grieve the woman, more than the loss of immortal souls. Alas! the best of us have cause to pray for a deeper baptism in the spirit of Him, who, beholding the city, wept over it! Blessed Jesus! blessed Saviour, and blessed pattern! how didst thou leave the delights of heaven and thy Father's bosom, on a mission of most generous mercy! Thy love grudged no labour! Thine eye refused no pity! Thine ear was never shut against the story of distress! Thy hand was always ready to relieve the sufferer! From thy cradle to the grave, thy whole life was passed in daily acts of loftiest self-denial, and with the blood trickling down thy brows, and the heavy cross on thy lacerated back, upon thy way to Calvary, to save the vilest wretches and the chief of sinners, how dost thou turn round on us to say, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake, shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? or, what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father, with his angels, and then he shall reward every man according to his works." . .
Jerusalem was sealed to ruin - doomed beyond redemption. Our brethren, our cities are not so. We have not to mourn as those who have no hope. As on a summer day I have seen the sky at once so shine and shower, that every rain-drop was changed by sunbeams into a falling diamond, so hopes mingle here with fears, and the promises of the gospel shed sunlight on pious sorrows. Weep, we may; weep, we should, - weep and work, weep and pray. But ever let our tears be such as were shed by Jesus beside the tomb of Lazarus, when, while groaning, weeping, He bade the bystanders roll away the stone - anticipating the moment when the grave at His command would give up its dead, and Lazarus be folded, a living brother, in the arms that, four days ago, had swathed his corpse.. Be such our tears. Sustained by such anticipations, we shall work all the better; and all the sooner shall our heavenly Father receive to His embraces the most wretched of these wretched outcasts. Faith may be cast down, but faith cannot be destroyed. There is no reason, because we are "perplexed," ever to "despair." For dark as the cloud looks, it presents one aspect to the world, and another to the Christian. I stand on the side of it that lies next the sun. There, with the sun shining at my back and the black cloud in my eye,I see a radiant bow which spans its darkness, and reveals in heavenly colour. Mercy to a fallen world. "It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners."


ONE grand purpose for which this church has been erected, is to try the parochial economy in a large city; and so far as I know, it stands this day alone as a parish church within the burghs of Scotland; and amid all the glory and loveliness of this romantic city, it is not, in my opinion, the meanest jewel in her crown, that here she boasts a church where the gospel will flow as free to the parishioners. as the water of their parish well. The founders of our church contemplated a very different state of things from what now exists in many parishes, from what is to be found, for example, in a parish within a stone cast almost of ,this house; and where, as if in mockery of the able and worthy men on whose back this mountain lies, two ministers have, as parish ministers, the charge of fifty thousand people. In our ancestors wisdom was justified of her children; and they considered a charge of a thousand people ample enough for any man to manage. Nor did they leave the minister alone to manage it. No more than the captain of a ship of war is the only officer on her deck, was the minister to be the only man in his parish clothed with ecclesiastical authority; he was to be aided, supported, and surrounded by a staff of officers, a band of efficient elders and deacons ; and as our ancestors thought that a minister had charge enough who had in his parish a thousand people, they thought an elder had charge enough who had in his district some ten or twenty families. They never dreamt of such a state of things as we have in our days in Scotland now. I can point to districts with the population of a parish, and parishes with the population of a county. Nor in the good and olden time did the elder fill a merely honorary or secular office; he did something else, and. something better than stand by the plate, and vote in Presbytery or General Assembly. He visited the sick, his post was often at "the bed of death," he counselled the erring, he went forth into the wilderness and brought the wanderer back to the fold, and was at once a father and a friend, a counsellor and a comfort to the families of his charge; he was known to all of them, and all of them were known to him; his name was a household word, and he could tell the name of every man, woman, and child within his bounds; and, frequently discharging offices, both of temporal and spiritual kindness, he thus acquired within his small and manageable locality, a moral influence that was omnipotent for good.
Our present undertaking is intended to remedy these evils. We wish from its ruins to rebuild the ancient economy, and to restore what is not to be found nowadays in any burgh in all broad Scotland, a manageable parish, split up into districts, each containing ten or twenty families, with a free gospel in its parish church, with a school where the children of the poorest may receive at least a Bible education, and with its minister, its elders, and its deacons, each in the active discharge of the duties of his own department. Such is the machinery that, before many weeks are gone, we trust to see in beautiful and blessed operation in the parish of St. John's. And what good, it may be asked, do we expect to follow? No good at all, unless God give the blessing. Besides the machinery we must have the moving power; but if He smile upon our labours we enter the field confident of victory.
What this system has done in former days it can do again - and we have no fear though the eyes of enemies should look on, for we are trying no novel,, never-before-tried experiment - our fathers tried it, and they triumphed in the trial - and with the same seed, the same sun, and the same soil, should not the same cultivation produce a harvest as abundant? . One great advantage of a parochial church with its full complement of machinery, will be found to lie in its drawing together the different classes of society, and narrowing, if not annihilating, the gulf which now yawns wide and deep and dangerously between them. This total separation of the higher from the lower, of the more decent from the less decent, of the wealthier from the poorer classes of society, has originated much of the irreligion, the crime, and misery that deform the face of our city. It is very easy to blame the poor, but we must say that they have been grievously sinned against, at the least as much sinned against as sinning. On all aides beset, surrounded, besieged by temptation, they have been left to themselves, and have had too much cause to say, "No man cared for my soul." Visited by none whose good opinion they had to gain, and, having gained, to keep, they have never felt one of the strongest human motives to the virtues and decencies of life.
Let a man of Christian character and kindness visit their too long neglected homes; let him prove himself their friend and counsellor; let him show that he has their own best welfare and that of their children at his heart; that he rejoices in their well- doing, and is grieved with their sins; and, with all the certainty of a law of nature, there will spring up in their breasts a desire to gain and to keep the regard of this kind and Christian friend. It were difficult to tell how many families in this city might have been saved from ruin by the timely counsels, and help, and kindness of such a visitor, especially in those periods of temporary distress to which the working classes are exposed, - for example, such a season as visited Edinburgh two winters ago (1887 - 38) when for some six or eight weeks there was no work for many, and of course no wages. The hand of Providence visits a family with sickness, or by some accident the head of the house is thrown out of employment, and, whatever be the cause, the family are brought to the very verge of want; the children cry for bread, and their mothers have none to give them. What is to be done? A man won't sit down and see his children pine away with hunger before his eyes. Their credit with the shopkeeper is exhausted; they are either ashamed to ask assistance of their neighbours, or their neighbours are unable to afford it. They have too much principle as yet to steal, and too much pride to beg: in these circumstances of great distress, the eye that looks round for help falls on the sign and shop of the pawnbroker, its open door invites them in, and when they have once crossed the fatal threshold, in nine cases out of ten, their ruin is sealed.
As the readiest means of meeting a present and pressing evil, one article of furniture after another is carried to the pawn; and though I have known them bear much before parting with their Bible and Sabbath attire, the fatal Saturday night at length arrives when the key of the pawnbroker is turned upon these; and now, the house of God is deserted, the seat that once knew them knows them no more, and from step to step, dragging their children along with them, down they sink into the lowest misery, till the once well-spent Sabbath is passed by the children in play upon the streets, and passed by the degraded parents in drunkenness and dissipation. "They drink to forget their poverty and remember their misery no more."
I believe, I know this to be the sad history of many families in this city; awl all this evil might have been averted had they known one into whose arms, instead of a pawnbroker's, they could have cast themselves, in whose sympathising ear they could have told their tale of suffering, and to whose kind, and wise, and Christian efforts to relieve them, they could have trusted in the hour of trial. In the elders and deacons with whom we propose to stock this parish, such guides and guardians will be found, and we have no doubt at all that their labours will demonstrate that the parochial economy fairly, freely, and vigorously wrought, offers the best remedy to those evils which assessments, and police, and prisons, and gibbets, may in some measure restrain, hut never can eradicate.

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