The Reverend Thomas Broad’s Exposition of Romans 8:7

Such was the Coleman household when Mr. Thomas Broad called one fine Monday afternoon about three months after he had been at college. He had preached his first sermon on the Sunday before, in a village about twelve miles from London in a northeasterly direction, somewhere in the flat regions of Essex. Mr. Thomas was in unusually good humour, for he had not broken down, and thought he had crowned himself with glory. The trial, to be sure, was not very severe. The so-called chapel was the downstairs living-room of a cottage holding at a squeeze about five-and-twenty people. Nevertheless, there was a desk at one corner, with two candles on either side, and Mr. Thomas was actually, for the first time, elevated above an audience. It consisted of the wheelwright and his wife, both very old, half a dozen labourers, with their wives, and two or three children. The old wheelwright, as he was in business, was called the “principal support of the cause.” The “cause,” however, was not particularly prosperous, nor its supporters enthusiastic. It was “supplied” always by a succession of first-year’s students, who made their experiments on the corpus vile here. Spiritual teaching, spiritual guidance, these poor peasants had none, and when the Monday came they went to their work in the marshes and elsewhere, and lived their blind lives under grey skies, with nothing left in them of the Sunday, save the recollection of a certain routine performed which might one day save them from some disaster with which flames and brimstone had something to do. It was not, however, a reality to them. Neither the future nor the past was real to them; no spiritual existence was real; nothing, in fact, save the most stimulant sensation. Once upon a time, a man, looking towards the celestial city, saw “The reflection of the sun upon the city (for the city was of pure gold), so exceeding glorious that he could not as yet with open face behold it, save through an instrument made for that purpose;” but Mr. Thomas Broad and his hearers needed no smoked glass now to prevent injury to their eyes. Mr. Thomas had put on a white neckerchief, had mounted the desk, and had spoken for three-quarters of an hour from the text, “The carnal mind is at enmity with God.” He had received during the last three weeks his first lectures on the “Scheme of Salvation,” and his discourse was a reproduction of his notes thereon. The wheelwright and his wife, and the six labourers with their wives, listened as oxen might listen, wandered home along the lanes heavy-footed like oxen, with heads towards the ground, and went heavily to bed. The elder student who had accompanied Mr. Thomas informed him that, on the whole, he had acquitted himself very well, but that it would be better, perhaps, in future to be a little simpler, and avoid what “may be called the metaphysics of Redemption.”

“No doubt,” said he, “they are very attractive, and of enormous importance. There is no objection to expound them before a cultivated congregation in London; but in the villages we cannot be too plain⁠—that, at least, is my experience. Simply tell them we are all sinners, and deserve damnation. God sent His Son into the world. If we believe in Him we shall be saved; if not, we shall be lost. There is no mystery in that; everybody can understand it; and people are never weary of hearing the old old gospel.”

Mr. Thomas was well contented with himself, as we have said, when he knocked at Zachariah’s door. It was opened by Pauline. He took off his hat and smiled.

“My name is Broad. I come from Cowfold, and know the Allens very well. I am now living in London, and having heard of you so often, I thought I should like to call.”

“Pray come in,” she said; “I am very glad to see you. I wish my father were here.”

He was shown into the little front room, and after some inquiries about his relations Pauline asked him where was his abode in London.

“At the Independent College. I am studying for the ministry.”

Pauline was not quite sure what “the ministry” meant; but as Mr. Thomas had yesterday’s white tie round his neck⁠—he always “dirtied out” the Sunday’s neckerchief on Monday, and wore a black one on the other weekdays⁠—she guessed his occupation.

“Dear me! you must be tired with walking so far.”

“Oh no, not tired with walking; but the fact is I am a little Mondayish.”

“A little what?”

Mr. Thomas giggled a little. “Ah, you young ladies, of course, don’t know what that means. I had to conduct a service in the country yesterday, and am rather fatigued. I am generally so on Mondays, and I always relax on that day.” This, it is to be remembered, was his first Monday.

Pauline regretted very much that she had no wine in the house; neither had they any beer. They were not total abstainers, but nothing of the kind was kept in their small store-closet.

“Oh, thank you; never mind.” He took a bottle of smelling-salts from the mantelpiece and smelt it. The conversation flagged a little. Pauline sat at the window, and Mr. Thomas at the table. At last he observed.

“Are you alone all day?”

“Generally, except on Sunday. Father does not get home till late.”

“Dear me! And you are not dull nor afraid?”

“Dull or afraid! Why?”

“Oh, well,” he sniggered, “dull⁠—why, young ladies, you know, usually like society. At least,” and he laughed a little greasy laugh at his wit, “we like theirs. And then⁠—afraid⁠—well, if my sister were so attractive”⁠—he looked to see if this pretty compliment was effective⁠—“I should not like her to be without anybody in the house.”

Pauline became impatient. She rose. “When you come again,” she said, “I hope my father will be here.”

Mr. Thomas rose too. He had begun to feel awkward. For want of something better to say, he asked whose was the portrait over the mantelpiece.

“Major Cartwright.”

“Major Cartwright! Dear me, is that Major Cartwright?” He had never heard of him before, but he did not like to profess ignorance of a Major.

“And this likeness of this young gentleman?” he inquired, looking at Pauline sideways, with an odious simper on his lips. “Nobody I know, I suppose?”

“My father when he was one-and-twenty.” She moved towards the door. Mr. Thomas closed his fat eyes till they became almost slits, simpered still more effectively, as he thought, trusted he might have the pleasure of calling again, and departed.

Pauline returned, opened the window and door for ten minutes, and went upstairs. When she saw her father she told him briefly that she had entertained a visitor, and expressed her utter loathing of him in terms so strong that he was obliged to check her. He did not want a quarrel with any of Isaac’s friends.

Mr. Thomas, having returned to the college, did not delay to communicate by mysterious hints to his colleagues that he was on visiting terms with a most delightfully charming person, and sunned himself deliciously in their bantering congratulations. About three weeks afterwards he thought he might safely repeat his visit; but he was in a difficulty. He was not quite so stupid as not to see that, the next time he went, it ought to be when her father was present, and yet he preferred his absence. At last he determined he would go about teatime. He was quite sure that Mr. Coleman would not have returned then; but he could assume that he had, and would propose to wait for him. He therefore duly presented himself at half-past five.

“Good evening, Miss Coleman. Is your father at home?”

“No, not yet,” replied Pauline, holding the door doubtingly.

“Oh, I am so sorry;” and, to Pauline’s surprise, he entered without any further ceremony. She hardly knew what to do; but she followed him as he walked into the room, where she had just laid the tea-things and put the bread and butter on the table.

“Oh, tea!” he cried. “Dear me, it would be very rude of me to ask myself to tea, and yet, do you know, Miss Coleman, I can hardly help it.”

“I am afraid my father will not be here till eight.” He sat down.

“That is very unfortunate. You will tell him I came on purpose to see him.”

Pauline hesitated whether she should or should not inform Mr. Thomas that his presence was disagreeable, but her father’s caution recurred to her, and she poured out a cup for her visitor.

It was one of his peculiarities that tea, of which he took enormous quantities, made him garrulous, and he expatiated much upon his college. By degrees, however, he became silent, and as he was sitting with his face to the window, he shifted his chair to the opposite side, under the pretence that the light dazzled his eyes. Pauline shifted too, apparently to make room for him, but really to get farther from him.

“Do people generally say that you take after your mother?” he said.

“I believe I am like my mother in many things.”

Another pause. He became fidgety; the half smile, half grin which he almost perpetually wore passed altogether from his face, and he looked uncomfortable and dangerous. Pauline felt him to be so, and resolved that, come what might, he should never set foot in the house again.

“You have such black hair,” he observed.

She rose to take away the tea-things.

“I am afraid,” said she, “that I must go out; I have one or two commissions to execute.”

He remained seated, and observed that surely she would not go alone.

“Why not?” and having collected the tea-things, she was on the point of leaving. He then rose, and she bade him goodbye. He held out his hand, and she took it in hers, but he did not let it go, and having pulled it upwards with much force, kissed it. He still held it, and before the astonished Pauline knew what he was doing his arm was round her waist. At that moment the little front gate swung back. Nobody was there; but the Reverend Thomas was alarmed, and in an instant she had freed herself, and had placed the table between them.

“What do you mean, you Gadarene pig, you scoundrel, by insulting a stranger in this way?” she cried. “Away! My father will know what to do with you.”

“Oh, if you please, Miss Coleman, pray say nothing about it, pray do not mention it to your father; I do not know what the consequences will be; I really meant nothing; I really did not”⁠—which was entirely true.

“You who propose to teach religion to people! I ought to stop you; but no, I will not be dragged into the mud.”

A sudden thought struck her. He was shaky, and was holding on by the table. “I will be silent,” she cried⁠—what a relief it was to him to hear her say that! “but I will mark you,” and before he could comprehend what she was doing she had seized a little pair of scissors which lay near her, had caught his wrist, and had scored a deep cross on the back of the hand. The blood burst out and she threw him a handkerchief.

“Take that and be gone!”

He was so amazed and terrified, not only at the sight of the blood, but at her extraordinary behaviour, that he turned ghastly white. The pain, however, recalled him to his senses; he rolled the handkerchief over the wound, twisted his own round it too, for the red stain came through Pauline’s cambric, and departed. The account current in the college was, that he had torn himself against a nail in a fence. The accident was a little inconvenient on the following Sunday, when he had to preach at Hogsbridge Corner; but as he reproduced the sermon on the carnal mind, which he knew pretty well by heart, he was not nervous. He had made it much simpler, in accordance with the advice given on a former occasion. He had struck out the metaphysics and had put in a new head⁠—“Neither indeed can be.” “The apostle did not merely state a fact that the carnal mind was not subject to the law of God; he said, ‘Neither indeed can be.’ Mark, my brethren, the force of the neither can.”