Asenath Nicholson
Chapter IX (3) | Start of Chapter

The minister, too—shall his sacred name and calling be on the tongue and pen of every wayfaring traveler who may chance to pass through his parish, and tarry but for a night—who may hear but a passing sermon, and that a good one, too, and hasten away and denounce him as a hireling or unfaithful? Let candor, courtesy and Christianity forbid it!

The watchmen on Ireland's wall have had a stormy, bleak night to guard the city, and amid the roar of tumultuous tempests have scarcely known how to guide or to warn the lost traveler into a safe shelter—they may have seen danger through a false glare—they may have warned when no danger was nigh, and they may have wrapped their robes about them, and hid from an enemy when they were the only leaders that could have led to victory. Some have split on the fatal rock—love of gain; others are insnared by the deceitful, flattering word, "respectability." This above all others seems to be the hobby; nor is it confined to the Established Church: they as a body are so well paid and honored, that they have less need to keep up a struggle respecting the name, as most of them (the curates excepted) can and do hang out the indisputable sign—a carriage, and its accompaniments; and if the character of such an one be inquired after, however he may live, and how far removed from the vital principles of the gospel he may be, if not among the vilest, "Oh! he is very respectable; if you should see his gardens, and grounds, and carriage, and then his glebe-house, and his wife and daughters—they're the ladies." The dissenting classes, who profess by their very dissenting, that they believe more fully that the regenerating spirit of the gospel calls for newness of life, and nonconformity to the world; yet to induce the world to follow them, to become members of their body, they must throw out the bait of "respectability," to keep up an influence which conformity to the world alone can do; that part of the legacy which Christ left, they acknowledge is a good one when applied to real martyrdom. When the disciples were told that if they hated me, they will hate you also, and that they must "rejoice and be exceeding glad," when all manner of evil should be said of them, for his sake; but for disciples in the nineteenth century the constitution of things is changed, and as a "good name," the wise man tells us, "is better than precious ointment," this "good name" must be obtained, even though a few circumstantials in the Christian creed should be modestly suspended. This "good name" is the last thing that the professed Christian will leave in the hands of Christ; he will intrust him often with his property, his indefatigable labors, and even life itself; but his reputation, ah! his reputation is too sacred to go out of his hands; and mark! this reputation is one acquired according to the customs of the world. Here is the fatal split, here it is, where he who purchases this article, purchases at the expense of that vitality, and indwelling principle of holiness, which, if nurtured and kept alive, by walking in the liberty of Christ, will go on from one degree of grace and glory, till the perfect man in Christ is attained.

The dissenting Christians of Ireland, many of them, are wealthy enough to be respectable; and though they are not in general as high as their "Established" brethren; yet those who have a regium donum can figure somewhat genteelly, and if they do not attain to the highest notch they do what they can; if they cannot keep a coach and four, they would not be inclined to ride meek and lowly, as their Master did through the streets of Jerusalem, and will get the best carriage their means will allow.

Now respectability is not to be despised; but seeking it at the expense of that humility, that condescending to men of low estate, that not only giving to the poor, but doing for the poor, and doing too at the expense of our own ease, and in face and eyes of the customs of a God-hating world, is reprehensible, and wholly and entirely aside from the precepts and examples of Christ and his followers; and though to the blameworthy this may appear severe, because true, yet I cannot be a faithful recorder of what I saw and experienced in Ireland, without leaving this testimony, which I expect to meet at the judgment, that a proud, worldly, respectable Christianity is the first great deep evil that keeps that country in a virtual bondage, from which she never will escape, till the evil be removed. The awful gulf which is placed between the higher and the "lower orders" there, is as great between professed Christians and the world, as between the estated gentleman or titled lord, who makes no pretensions, and in many cases much greater. There are lords, sirs, and esquires in Ireland, who would sooner admit a bare-foot into their back-door and hear his tale of woe, than would many of the dissenting classes, of so-called followers of the meek and lowly Jesus. Why is it so? Simply this, not because these lords and gentlemen were Christians, but because they were not in danger of losing a standing which a worldly government had given them, by so doing, while the dissenter, a step lower in worldly honor, without sufficient vital piety to fall back upon, must keep the respectable standing that he had, or he was lost forever. And before closing these pages, duty requires to correct statements which have been made by many of the misjudging class of Irish who read the first volume, and have said that I had no opportunity to give a true account of the character of the people there, because I mingled with none but the lower classes—I give the following illustrations:—This is a mistake wholly and entirely. I did not make long visits with the higher orders except in few cases, not because I was not treated with all the courtesy and attention that vanity would require by some of these, but because my message was to the poor; and the attentions of the great were not recorded for many reasons, among which, some of the most prominent are, that many such persons do not wish to read their names on the random pages of an unpretending tourist, or a vain smattering one; and if their vanity could be fed the greater caution should be used to withhold flattery, for they are in no need of compliments; and beside, they have only done what they could easily do without sacrifice, and are required by the common claims of civility to strangers, as well as by the higher requirements of the gospel, to do. And, again, what traveler who has whirled through that island on a coach, and who, in his own country was scarcely known, beyond his humble seat in the church or chapel where he was wont to sit, but has carefully wrapped a complimentary card, given by a titled gentleman, to a dinner, to show to his family to the third, and probably fourth generation, of the great honor bestowed on him. And in conclusion, on this part of the subject, let it be said, that access was gained to every class of people in Ireland, some by "hook and by crook," and others by an "abundant entrance," and by a greater part of them was I treated with more courtesy than by those a notch or two below, in worldly standing.

The old hackneyed story of popery in Ireland has been so turned and twisted that every side has been seen—nothing new can be said about it. There it stands, its principles are well known, its superstitions and persecuting character, its idolatries, and all its trimming and trappings, are the same in essence, as when Queen Elizabeth put her anathemas forth against its creeds and practice; and with all her errors she maintains a few principles and practices which it would be well for her more Bible neighbors to imitate. Her great ones are more accessible; the poor of their own class, or of any other, are not kept at such an awful distance; the stranger is seldom frowned coolly from their door; to them there appears to be a sacredness in the very word with which they would not trifle; the question is not, is he or she "respectable," but a stranger; if so, then hospitality must be used without grudging. In the mountains, and sea-coast parts, it has ever been the custom to set the cabin door open at night, and keep up a fire on the hearth, that the way-faring man, and the lone stranger, should he be benighted, could see by the light that there is welcome for him, and if they have but one bed, the family get up and give it to the stranger, sitting up, and having the fire kept bright through the night. This has been done for me, without knowing or asking whether I was Turk or Christian; and were I again to walk over that country, and be out at nightfall in storm or peril, as has been my lot, and come in sight of two castle-towers, one a Roman and the other a Protestant owner; and were the former a mile beyond, my difficult way would be made to that, knowing that when the porter should tell the master a stranger was at the gate, he would say, "Welcome the stranger in for the night, or from the storm." The Protestant might do the same, but there would be a doubt. His answer would probably be, "A stranger! How comes a stranger here at this late hour? tell him we do not admit persons into our house unless we know them." Christian reader, this is one strong reason why you should admit them, because you do not know them. The Catholics are much more humble in their demeanor, and certainly much more hospitable and obliging in all respects, as a people. They are more self-denying, will sacrifice their own comforts for the afflicted, more readily will they attend their places of worship, clothed or unclothed, and beggars take as high a place often in the chapel, as the rich man; the "gold ring and costly apparel," is not honored here, as in the Protestant and dissenting churches; and it is remarked that when any turn to the Protestant faith, they never lose that condescension, nor put on those pretences of worldly respectability, as their Protestant brethren do.