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The Scotch-Irish in America
Chapter 8


The preaching was always closely scriptural and often exceedingly searching and solemn. Of course, I never heard the first generation of preachers, nor even the second; they were all dead before I was born; but many of them must have been men of extraordinary power in the pulpit. There were no newspapers to tell of their eloquence, but the traditions and the enduring effects produced by their preaching testify to its power. The preachers of my boyhood were really the third generation, but they were of the old type. I have heard many of those accounted the greatest preachers in the world in my time, but I deliberately say, that for the purposes of Christian preaching, much that I used to hear from my old pastor, Dr. Eagleson, and from his nearest neighbor, Dr. Stockton, was not far below the best I ever heard. Many a time have 1 been melted to tears by the pathos, and many a time been made to tremble in my bones by the pungent and powerful appeals, of these men of God. Undoubtedly they were great in the sight of the Lord. Mothers brought their young children to the services, else they could not have come themselves, as they had no servants to leave them with, and as they did not believe in race suicide, the children were many. These little people often made a great deal of noise in the services by their crowing and crying. It was not at all uncommon to hear half a dozen of them in full outcry at the same time. This would break up a modern congregation, and drive the modern city preacher mad, but on the old pastor of my childhood it had no more apparent effect than if it had been the twittering of birds in the adjoining grove, or the honking of wild-geese a thousand feet overhead. If a youngster became too obstreperous, and was old enough to know better, his mother would snatch him up with a sudden jerk, and despite his struggles and screams, drag him down the aisle to the door, and out of it, her face meanwhile flushed and bearing the aspect of great determination, a sure prophecy of what was coming to that youngster, whence she would swiftly bear him to a bench that always stood conveniently placed under a big tree near the open windows of the church, and forthwith you might hear the rapid and stinging patter of a motherly hand descending on the broadest part of helpless and shrieking childhood, mingled with the most piercing outcries and half articulate promises of better behavior in the future. After a time she would re-enter the church with the calm and composed air of one who had done and well done, a disagreeable duty, the little one meekly toddling by her side completely subdued for the time. There are men whom I have met in high places in Church and State, whom I have seen on former days pass through this discipline, no doubt to their passing pain, but probably to their lasting profit.

During prayers, however long, everybody except the very aged and infirm was expected to stand. There was usually a good deal of squirming, and twisting, and lounging about on the part of many persons. Not a few men had the habit of facing round, placing one foot on the bench, elbow on knee, chin in hand, and gazing steadily and contentedly into the faces of those behind. I used to be fearfully bored in this way by a certain pair of very bright and twinkling old eyes long since closed in death.

In due time came the "intermission," which was a recess of half an hour or so before the afternoon service. Nearly all the people would retire from the church and scatter about through the grove, some going to the nearby pump, while others strolled off to a further spring, meanwhile "eating their piece," as they called taking their luncheon. Elders and other sedate men would stand apart alone, or in little groups, silently meditating, or gravely conversing on pious subjects. The lads and lasses would be apt to wander off under the shade of stately trees, sidling up to one another in shy and awkward coquetry, thus furtively keeping company a little, and probably laying the foundation for closer relations later. Some of the older women would remain devoutly in the church, quietly, munching crackers, cookies and bits of cheese, meanwhile piously meditating. These were for the most part mothers, more often grandmothers in Israel, but not a few of them were aged virgins who had never been wedded to any one but Jesus Christ. Among these last were found some of the most excellent of the earth, women who had worn out their lives for others good. Dear, old, simple-minded, life-worn saints! How clearly their calm, meek, patient faces, bleached and wrinkled by the toil and exposure of many years, rise before me now after all this lapse of time! Long ago their aged bodies were turned to dust in the churchyard adjoining, and their humble, pious and chastened souls ascended into the Eternal Presence, where they are forever before the throne of that Gracious Lord, Whom, through all their heavy-laden lives, they so deeply loved and so reverently and faithfully served. Peace to their ashes. Honor to their memories. The half hour soon passed, all too soon for some of the young people who were getting into closer companionship, and the congregation assembled for the afternoon service. In the warm summer weather this was apt to be a rather drowsy time. Hard working farmers simply could not keep awake, try they never so hard. Sometimes a bronzed and sturdy farmer in his shirt-sleeves would stand bolt upright in the midst of the congregation for fifteen minutes, in order to shake off his oncoming languor. Looking over the assembly after the service had got well under way, one might see many here and there, in more or less sound slumber, and in many varying attitudes. Some sunk down in a sort of heap, as limp as a bag of clothes ready for the laundry; some crouched in the pew with head forward and chin on bosom; some bent forward with chin on staff; others with head lolling far over on shoulder. Here, for instance, is a venerable elder sitting bolt upright for a time, gazing steadily at the preacher and meaning in his heart to be an example to the flock by keeping awake. But, by and by, the subtle influence stealthily creeps over him, he begins to stare languidly into vacancy, his eyelids droop and finally close, his head slowly falls back, his nose points to the zenith, his mouth opens wide, and his breathing becomes a soft and solemn snore. He is dead to the world and the world is dead to him. Presently something, it may be a busy and bewildered fly, or a fleck of saliva, or possibly a little quid of tobacco drops into his throttle, when there is a sudden and violent start, probably a loud snort; his spectacles fall from his forehead, his Bible from his hand, his staff from between his knees, while five hundred pairs of eyes are focused upon him. Forthwith he shakes himself together and goes on to make divers other motions and noises, as if it ought to be plain that he was only shifting his position, shuffling his feet, coughing, blowing his nose, or some such allowable thing. But nobody is fooled by that at all. Everybody knows what is the matter with him.

At last the services of the day come to a close, and then what a whinnying of hungry horses, and rattling of vehicles, and chattering of neighbors as the people scatter under the rays of the declining sun, and go streaming along all roads and across all fields to their homes. On arrival there, an ample meal was served as soon as possible, and then came an hour which to lusty youngsters and to unregenerate people generally, was a good deal of a bore, for all about the place must appear before the master of the household, and recite the Shorter Catechism. The evening was quietly and piously spent, and the next morning found the family rested and refreshed for another week of toil. There are many people, and some of them may read this book, who scoff at the simplicity and strictness of our fathers especially as regards the observance of the Sabbath. They mock at what they stigmatize as the narrowness, the bigotry and the gloom of our forefathers. Very well: let them mock and make merry if they will. Truth and reality are always narrow in the estimation of dreamers, fanatics, Saducees, and loose-livers generally. To such, every earnest man, every man who deeply believes that he will be called to a strict account for the way he lives, every man of strong moral conviction and of a downright and strenuous moral purpose, is a bigot. The way that leads to life has evermore been narrow, while that which leads to death has evermore been broad. The one is easy to go in, the other not so easy; he who would find it must gird up his loins and look well to his goings. Men who are bent on living as they please are apt to be prompt and sweeping in denouncing as bigots those who are governed by strict principles in regard to the Sabbath, or anything else. No doubt, the Sabbath of our Puritan and Presbyterian forefathers was a very sober, serious and solemn day. Perhaps those features of it were somewhat overdone.

But it is not bad for a man, nor for society to have one day in seven that is sober, and even solemn. It hurts no man to be brought up with a sharp turn one day in seven, to have an arrest put on his worldly activities, to be compelled by the very situation, to shut off steam and bank down the fires of his secular ambition, and look quietly and squarely on the things which concern his eternal destiny and doom. Besides, it was not usually a day of gloom to any one who had the least insight into its purpose or the least sympathy with the things of the spirit. It was a great boon especially to those whose daily burden was very heavy, and whose daily toil was very hard. It brought one day in the week as a secure interval of sweet rest and blessed quiet in the midst of the wearing toil and sore struggle of life. The commonest drudge, the very slave could say to his master, this day is not yours, it is the Lord's, and is secured to me as a day of rest and worship. The dusty farm-hand, the grimy miner, who washed and dressed himself in plain but clean garb, and walked to church with his family, and spent the rest of the day in fellowship with God and his dear ones, was a better man all the week for it. Most of all, it gave the opportunity and furnished the incentive for reflection on one's ways, meditation on the higher ends of existence, and for the worship of God and communion with Him, and all the saints on earth and in heaven.

Every institution, like every tree, may fairly be judged by its fruits. This was the Master's challenge. What does it do for the individual, the family, the country? Judged by this test, we are willing to set up the Sabbath of our fathers (better say, the Sabbath of the Lord), as against the Sunday picnic, the beer garden, and the place of carousal. Which nourishes the stronger, nobler, more overcoming men and women? Which sends more men to the police court, to jail, to the penitentiary? Which furnishes the greater number of jaded, wasted and ruined lives? Which prepares people better for Monday morning, and for the work of the week? for the duties of life, and for the destinies of eternity? There are many now as there were of old, who spend their money for that which is not bread, and their labor for that which satisfieth not; and it is just as true now as it was then, that they who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.

Lord Macaulay tells us that the Cavaliers of England laughed at the strictness and sanctimoniousness of our Presbyterian forefathers, but he adds, that when they met these men in the halls of debate or on the field of battle, they had little cause to laugh. Even so, smart writers and loose-livers have had no little fun with our Scotch-Irish ancestors, but when they have come to try strength with these people on any real battlefield of life, they have not felt half so funny: in fact, they have not felt funny at all.


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