« PreviousContinue »
REGENT's Park on a Sunday afternoon is certainly not very inviting at this season of the year, and is therefore not much frequented; but in summer, if the weather be fine, it is like an ant-hill, covered with busy, moving beings, who all seem bent on enjoying the trees and grass and fresh air. Some are promenading up and down the broad walk; others are sitting on the numerous seats in twos and threes, or in family groups, chatting away the quiet hours; others are lying on the green sward, basking in the warmth of the sun. All are perfectly at leisure, and therefore receive with great thankfulness and read with avidity any attractive-looking little book or tract that may be placed in their hands. Where such crowds are gathered together, and are quite disengaged, there is manifestly a grand field for evangelization; and the Christian churches in the metropolis ought prayerfully and thoughtfully to ask how they can occupy this field to the greatest advantage. The liberty to preach was during the past summer used very extensively; and perhaps some may be curious to know what kind of preachers stood forward, what audiences they got, what reception they met with ; and not only curious on these points, but anxious to judge by them whether this mode of evangelization is desirable or not. Because clearly there are two other methods which are suggested by the circumstances of the Sunday crowd, and these are altogether unexceptionable. The one has already been hinted at, viz., the organization of a band of Christian men or women who should be furnished with interesting, forcibly written books or tracts, to give to every person who seems to be wanting something to while away the time; and the other is the sending out of a second band, whose object it should be to join the little groups occupying the various seats, get into conversation with them, and gradually lead their minds to the one great subject of all-Salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. This
latter method, I am aware, needs great tact and discrimination, but with tact and discrimination it might be made the means of incalculable good.
And now as to the preaching. A friend of mine and myself determined to pay a visit to the Park one Sunday afternoon, that we might hear for ourselves the several preachers, and decide whether we could with advantage add our voices to the many that were already lifted up. On subsequent occasions I went with other friends, and preached to large and attentive congregations. I cannot, therefore, pretend to keep the incidents of a single Sunday distinct from what occurred on some others; I simply give a faithful sketch of the kind of scenes that might be witnessed.
Almost all the preachers took their stand beneath the trees which line the sides of the broad walk; partly for the sake of the shade, and partly because this is the most crowded part of the park ; so along this broad walk we strolled, stopping at each separate station to listen to what was going on. First we saw an elderly man of not ungentlemanly appearance, who had placed himself beneath a tree, and was talking away in a loud voice, in the hope of increasing his audience, which at this time only amounted to two, and even over these his hold was evidently of the feeblest. What was the subject of his discourse I cannot say, as we did not feel inclined at once to double the number of his hearers. Passing on a few yards, we mingled with a large and attentive congregation, who were listening with manifest interest to their preacher. He was not a person of any wide range of thought or power of expression, but he was so simply telling of the love and grace of Christ, that we could not but hope and believe that a blessing would attend his labours. From his general tone, and method of presenting the truth, we judged that he belonged to the Brethren. On the opposite side of the way was another good and earnest man, addressing a still larger number; a man of strong common sense, great self-possession, hard, rasping voice, and direct, decided manner, bent on forcing the truth into the minds of his hearers, if they would not open their hearts to receive it gladly. Not far off from him was a clergyman or ex-clergyman, who was trying to convince his audience that he took immense interest in the working-classes, and was teiling them of his doings and sayings in connexion with the poor-laws, flourishing as his voucher an old Times newspaper, in which his achievements were duly chronicled. Still further on was the refreslıment booth, before the entrance to which a teetotaller was haranguing a crowd of six or seven hundred, who seemed from their merriment to be greatly enjoying the waggery of blocking the way to the enemy's palace. Beyond were two separate groups addressed by young men, very deficient in education, but evidently desirous to do good; who sometimes grossly violated good taste, and at others gave sketches of the dangers to which the young are exposed, and the ruin into which they fall, which were not altogether ineffective. Opposite to these was a youth, hardly more than a boy, who would have been much better employed in attending a class, under some wise and judicious teacher, than in torturing the truth which he had only partially learned himself. On the whole it was a strange mixture—wisdom and folly, strength and weakness, in about equal measures. But there was certainly one sermon, which, by its great excellence, did much to counterbalance the weakness and folly which abounded in many other quarters. It was delivered by a working man--a fine, tall fellow, with honest, manly face, and perfectly natural and unaffected manner. He had nearly finished when we came up, so that all I can do is to report his closing remarks as nearly as possible in his own words. Looking earnestly at the group of working people who stood before him, be said, “And now, if any of you, my friends, really feel the burden of your sins, and wish to get rid of it, look to Jesus; simply trust in Him, and you will not only find pardon, but power to overcome your old habits, and do better for the time to come. When people come and recommend anything to us working men, we generally ask, "Have you tried it ? and if you have, does it answer ?' Now, my friends, I have tried religion for the last fourteen years, and it answers admirably. It has not made me a worse husband or a worse father, or a worse workman, or a worse companion; on the contrary, it has made me a far better husband, a better father, a better workman, a better companion, and, what is more, a thoroughly happy man. I am happy at home and happy in my work; bappy now and happy in the prospect of a hereafter; so I can speak from experience ; and from my heart can recommend it to all. Many years ago, when I was discharged from my regiment, I received a certificate from my officer, and on it was written, “Very good.' 'Oh, that's capital,' I said to myself, ' to leave with such a good character.' But one of my comrades was discharged the same day, and on his certificate there was
Very, very good.' 'Oh,' thought I, he has gone beyond me.' Well now, my friends, some of you may perhaps be saying, 'I'm quite satisfied with the world and the pleasures it brings me; it appears to me to be very good.' Well, I won't stop to dispute this point with you just now, though I have my own opinion about it; but this I know, that if you find the world very good, you would find religion very, very good. It goes far beyond the world. It has the promise of the life that now is, and of the life that is to come. There is nothing like religion for making you truly happy. The other day I was passing by an infidel place, and must needs go in; so when I got in I heard a man giving an account of a visit which he had paid to one of their number who was just dead, and he said that he could assure them on the word of a gentleman that he had died very happy. Well, I thought to myself, “That's very strange;' 80 when he sat down, I rose and said, ' May I be permitted to speak a