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church. It has not yet adopted Mrs. Stowe's suggestion of providing billiard-rooms, bowling-alleys, and gymnastic apparatus for the development of Christian muscle, though these may come in time. The building at present contains eleven apartments, among which are two large parlours, wherein, twice a month, there is a social gathering of the church and congregation, for conversation with the pastor and with one another. Perhaps, by-and-by, these will be always open, so as to furnish club conveniences to young men who have no home. Doubtless this fine social organization is destined to development in many directions not yet contemplated.
Among the ancient customs of New England and its colonies (of which Brooklyn is one) is the Friday-evening prayer-meeting. Some of our readers, perhaps, have dismal recollections of their early-compelled attendance on those occasions, when, with their hands firmly held in the maternal grasp, lest at the last moment they should bolt under cover of the darkness, they glided round into the back parts of the church, lighted by one smoky lantern hung over the door of the lecture-room, itself dimly lighted, and as silent as the adjacent chambers of the dead. Female figures, demure in dress and eyes cast down, flitted noiselessly in, and the awful stillness was only broken by the heavy boots of the few elders and deacons who constituted the male portion of the exceedingly slender audience. With difficulty, and sometimes only after two or three failures, a hymn was raised, which, when in fullest tide, was only a dreary wail,-how unmelodious to the ears of unreverential youth, gifted with a sense of the ludicrous! How long, how sad, how pointless the prayers! How easy to believe, down in that dreary cellar, that this world was but a wilderness, and man "a feeble piece!” Deacon Jones could speak up briskly enough when he was selling two yards of shilling calico to a farmer's wife sharp at a bargain; but in that apartment, contiguous to the tombs, it seemed natural that he should utter dismal views of life in bad grammar through his nose. Mrs. Jones was cheerful when she gave her little teaparty the evening before; but now she appeared to assent, without surprise, to the statement that she was a pilgrim travelling through a vale of tears. Veritable pilgrims, who do actually meet in an oasis of the desert, have a merry time of it, travellers tell us. It was not so with these good souls, inhabitants of a pleasant place, and anticipating an eternal abode in an inconceivably delightful paradise. But then there was the awful chance of missing it! And the reluctant youth, dragged to this melancholy scene, who avenged themselves by giving select imitations of deaconian eloquence for the amusement of young friends,—what was to become of them? It was such thoughts,
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doubtless, that gave to those excellent people their gloomy habit of mind; and if their creed expressed the literal truth respecting man's destiny, character and duty, terror alone was rational, and laughter was hideous and defiant mockery. What room in a benevolent heart for joy, when a point of time, a moment's space, removed us to that heavenly place, or shut us up in hell?
From the time when we were accustomed to attend such meetings, long ago, we never saw a Friday-evening meeting till the other night, when we found ourselves in the lecture-room of Plymouth Church.
The room is large, very lofty, brilliantly lighted by reflectors affixed to the ceiling, and, except the scarlet cushions on the settees, void of upholstery. It was filled full with a cheerful company, not one of whom seemed to have on more or richer clothes than she had the moral strength to wear. Content and pleasant expectation sat on every countenance, as when people have come to a festival, and await the summons to the banquet. No pulpit, or anything like a pulpit, cast a shadow over the scene; but in its stead there was a rather large platform, raised two steps, covered with dark green canvas, and having upon it a very small table and one chair. The red-cushioned settees were so arranged as to enclose the green platform all about, except on one side; so that he who should sit upon it would appear to be in the midst of the people, raised above them that all might see him, yet still among them and one of them. At one side of the platform, but on the floor of the room, among the settees, there was a piano open. Mr. Beecher sat near by, reading what appeared to be a letter of three or four sheets. The whole scene was so little like what we commonly understand by the word “meeting," the people there were so little in a “meeting” state of mind, and the subsequent proceedings were so informal, unstudied, and social, that, in attempting to give this account of them, we almost feel as if we were reporting for print the conversation of a private evening party. Anything more unlike an old-fashioned prayer-meeting it is not possible to conceive:
Mr. Beecher took his seat upon the platform, and, after a short pause, began the exercises by saying, in a low tone, these words: "Six twenty-two."
A rustling of the leaves of hymn-books interpreted the meaning of this mystical utterance, which otherwise might have been taken as announcing a discourse upon the prophetic numbers. The piano confirmed the interpretation; and then the company burst into one of those joyous and unanimous singings which are so enchanting a feature of the services of this church. Loud rose the beautiful harmony of voices, constraining every one to join in the song, even those most unused to sing. When it was ended, the pastor, in the same low tone, pronounced a name; upon which one of the brethren rose to his feet, and the rest of the assembly slightly inclined their heads. It would not, as we have remarked, be becoming in us to say anything upon this portion of the proceedings, except to note that the prayers were all brief, perfectly quiet and simple, and free from the routine or regulation expressions. There were but two or three of them, alternating with singing; and when that part of the exercises was concluded, Mr. Beecher had scarcely spoken. The meeting ran alone, in the most spontaneous and pleasant manner; and, with all its heartiness and simplicity, there was a certain refined decorum pervading all that was done and said. There was a pause after the last hymn died away, and then Mr. Beecher, still seated, began, in the tone of conversation, to speak, somewhat after this manner.
“When," said he, “I first began to walk as a Christian, in my youthful zeal I made many resolutions that were well meant, but indiscreet. Among others, I remember I resolved to pray, at least once, in some way, every hour that I was awake. I tried faithfully to keep this resolution, but never having succeeded a single day, I suffered the pangs of self-reproach, until reflection satisfied me that the only wisdom possible, with regard to such a resolve was to break it. I remember, too, that I made a resolution to speak upon religion to every person with whom I conversed, on steamboats, in the streets, anywhere. In this, also, I failed, as I ought; and I soon learned that, in the sowing of such seed, as in other sowings, times and seasons and methods must be considered and selected, or a man may defeat his own object, and make religion loathsome.”
In language like this he introduced the topic of the evening's conversation, which was, How far, and on what occasions, and in what manner, one person may invade, so to speak, the personality of another, and speak to him upon his moral condition. The pastor expressed his own opinion, always in the conversational tone, in a talk of ten minutes' duration; in the course of which he applauded, not censured, the delicacy which causes most people to shrink from doing it. He said that a man's personality was not a macadamized road for every vehicle to drive upon at will; but rather a sacred enclosure, to be entered, if at all, with the consent of the owner, and with deference to his feelings and tastes. He maintained, however, that there were times and modes in which this might properly be done, and that every one had a duty to perform of this nature. When he had finished his observations, he said the subject was open to the
remarks of others; whereupon a brother instantly rose and made a very honest confession.
He said that he had never attempted to perform the duty in question without having a palpitation of the heart, and a complete "turning over" of his inner man. He had often reflected upon this curious fact, but was not able to account for it. He had not allowed this repugnance to prevent his doing the duty; but he always had to rush at it and perform it by a sort of coup de main; for if he allowed himself to think about the matter, he could not do it at all. He concluded by saying that he should be very much obliged to any one if he could explain this mystery.
The pastor said: “May it not be the natural delicacy we feel, and ought to feel, in approaching the interior consciousness of another person ?"
Another brother rose. There was no hanging back at this meeting; there were no awkward pauses; every one seemed full of matter. The new speaker was not inclined to admit the explanation suggested by the pastor. . “Suppose," said he, "we were to see a man in imminent danger of immediate destruction, and there was one way of escape, and but one, which we saw and he did not, should we feel any delicacy in running up to him and urging him to fly for his life? Is it not a want of faith on our part that causes the reluctance and hesitation we all feel in urging others to avoid a peril so much more momentous ?'
Mr. Beecher said the cases were not parallel. Irreligious persons, he remarked, were not in imminent danger of immediate death; they might die to-morrow; but in all probability they would not, and an ill-timed or injudicious admonition might for ever repel them. We must accept the doctrine of probabilities, and act in accordance with it in this particular, as in all others.
Another brother had a puzzle to present for solution. He said that he too had experienced the repugnance to which allusion had been made; but what surprised him most was, that the more he loved a person, and the nearer he was related to him, the more difficult he found it to converse with him upon his spiritual state. Why is this? “I should like to have this question answered,” said he, “if there is an answer to it.”
Mr. Beecher observed that this was the universal experience, and he was conscious himself of a peculiar reluctance and embarrassment in approaching one of his own household on the subject in question. He thought it was due to the fact that we respect more the personal rights of those near to us than we do those of others, and it was more difficult to break in upon the routine of our ordinary familiarity with them. We are accus
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tomed to a certain tone, which it is highly embarrassing to jar upon.
Captain Duncan related two amusing anecdotes to illustrate the right way and the wrong way of introducing religious conversation. In his office there was sitting one day a sort of lay preacher, who was noted for lugging in his favourite topic in the most forbidding and abrupt manner. A sea-captain came in, who was introduced to this individual.
“Captain Porter,” said he, with awful solemnity, "are you a captain in Israel ?”
The honest sailor was so abashed and confounded at this novel salutation, that he could only stammer out an incoherent reply; and he was evidently much disposed to give the tactless zealot a piece of his mind expressed in the language of the quarter-deck. When the solemn man took his leave, the disgusted captain said, “If ever I should be coming to your office again, and that man should be here, I wish you would send me word, and I'll stay away."
A few days after, another clergyman chanced to be in the office, no other than Mr. Beecher himself, and another captain came in, a roystering, swearing, good-hearted fellow. The conversation fell upon sea-sickness, a malady to which Mr. Beecher is peculiarly liable. This captain also was one of the few sailors who are always sea-sick on going to sea, and gave a moving account of his sufferings from that cause. Mr. Beecher, after listening attentively to his tale, said, “Captain Duncan, if I was a preacher to such sailors as your friend here, I should represent hell as an eternal voyage, with every man on board in the agonies of sea-sickness, the crisis always imminent but
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This ludicrous and most unprofessional picture amused the old salt exceedingly, and won his entire good-will toward the author of it; so that after Mr. Beecher left he said, “That's a good fellow, Captain Duncan. I like him, and I'd like to hear him talk more."
Captain Duncan contended that this free-and-easy way of address was just the thing for such characters. Mr. Beecher had shown him, to his great surprise, that a man could be a decent and comfortable human being, although he was a minister, and had so gained his confidence and good-will that he could say anything to him at their next interview. Captain Duncan finished his remarks by a decided expression of his disapproval of the canting regulation phrases so frequently employed by religious people which are perfectly nauseous to men of the world.
This interesting conversation lasted about three quarters of