Mr. Broad’s Last Church Meeting⁠—Latimer Chapel

The eventful evening at last arrived. It had been announced from the pulpit on the Sunday before that a special meeting of the church would be held on the following Wednesday to consider certain questions of discipline⁠—nothing more⁠—as it was not thought proper before the general congregation to introduce matters with which the church alone was qualified to deal. Everybody, however, knew what was intended, and when Wednesday night came the vestry was crowded. Mr. Broad sat in a seat slightly elevated at the end of the room, with a desk before him. On his right hand was Brother Bushel, on the left was Brother Scotton, and on the front bench were Brother Wainwright and a few of the more important members, amongst whom was Thomas Broad, who, although it was a weekday, was in full ministerial costume; that is to say, he wore his black⁠—not pepper-and-salt⁠—trousers and a white neckerchief. Mr. Allen and George were at the back of the room. There were no women there, for although women were members as well as men, it was always an understood thing at Tanner’s Lane that they were to take no part in the business of the community. Seven o’clock having struck, Mr. Broad rose and said, “Let us pray.” He prayed for about ten minutes, and besought the Almighty to shed abroad His Holy Spirit upon them for their guidance. As the chosen people had been brought through the wilderness and delivered from the manifold perils therein, so God, he hoped, would lead His flock then assembled, through the dangers which encompassed them. Oh that they might be wise as serpents and harmless as doves! Might they forever cleave to the faith once delivered to the saints! Might they never be led astray to doubt the efficacy of the Blood of the Atonement once offered by the Son of God! Might they, through their Saviour’s merits, secure at last an entrance into those mansions where all the saints of God, those faithful souls whom He had elected as His own, of His own eternal foreknowledge, would abide forever, in full fruition of the joys promised in His Word.

The prayer over, Mr. Broad rose and said that he was there that night to discharge a most painful duty⁠—one which, if he had taken counsel with flesh and blood, he would most gladly have avoided. But he was a humble servant of their common Lord and Master. It behoved him to cease not to warn everyone night and day; to remember that the Holy Ghost had made him an overseer to feed the church of God which He had purchased with His precious blood. He had done nothing in this matter without constant recurrence to the footstool of grace, and he had also consulted with some of his dear brethren in Christ whom he saw near him. They would have observed that Brother Allen and his family had for some time absented themselves from the means of grace. He should have said nothing upon this point if they had joined any other Christian community. If even they had attended the Established Church, he would have been silent, for he was free to confess that in other religious bodies besides their own God had faithful servants who held fast to the fundamental doctrines of His book. But it was notorious, alas! that his dear brother had gone nowhere! In the face of the apostolic command not to forsake the assembling of themselves together, what could they do but suspect that his dear brother’s belief had been undermined⁠—sapped, he would say? But to that point he would return presently. Then, again, they were all familiar with the circumstances attending the late political contest in the county. He knew that many of his dear brethren differed one from another concerning matters relating to this world, although they were all, blessed be God, one in Christ, members of His body. He himself had thought it better to follow as far as he could, the example of his Lord and Master to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. He would not for a moment, however, condemn any who differed from him in carnal policy. But his dear Brother Allen and his son had overstepped the line; and, considering this was a mixed church, he was of opinion that they should have acted⁠—what should he say?⁠—with more Christian consideration. More than this, Mr. George Allen was known to have abetted an unruly mob, a position highly unbecoming, he might say, to one occupying the position of member at Tanner’s Lane. But he might, perhaps, be permitted to dwell for a moment on another point. His dear Brother Allen and his son had⁠—there was no doubt of it⁠—consorted with infidels, one of whom had been convicted by the laws of his country⁠—a convict⁠—and it was through their instrumentality that his brethren had been led to wander from the fold. This was the secret of the calamity which had overtaken the church. Wolves, he would say⁠—yes, wolves, grievous wolves⁠—had entered in, not sparing the flock. Let them consider what an Infidel was! It meant a man who denied his Maker, Revelation, a life beyond the grave, and who made awful jests upon the Holy Scriptures! He had evidence that in this miserable household there was a portrait of that dreadful blasphemer Voltaire, who on his deathbed cried out in vain for that salvation which he had so impiously refused, and amidst shrieks of⁠—despair, which chilled with terror those who stood by him, was carried off by the Enemy of Souls to the lake that burneth with brimstone, where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched.⁠—(Sensation.) (This was a famous paragraph in one of Mr. Broad’s sermons preached on great occasions, and particularly when he supplied a metropolitan pulpit. The story had been contradicted twice in the county paper by a Frenchman, a retired teacher of his native language, who had somehow heard of the insult offered to his great countryman, and a copy of the contradiction had been sent to Mr. Broad. He was content with observing that its author was a Frenchman, and therefore probably an atheist, “with no consciousness of moral obligation.” Voltaire’s diabolic disappearance continued, therefore, to be one of Mr. Broad’s most striking effects.)⁠—This was a subject of great delicacy. They knew how closely related he was to Brother Allen through that dear saint now in glory. He did not⁠—he could not⁠—(Mr. Broad seemed to be affected)⁠—allude in any detail to what had happened; but still it was his duty to point out that Mr. George Allen had been in constant intercourse with a female in an infidel family⁠—yes, before his wife’s death he had been seen with her alone! Alone with an infidel female! He only hoped that the knowledge of this fact did not accelerate the departure of his blessed daughter⁠—daughter in the flesh and daughter in Christ. He could not measure the extent of that intercourse; the Searcher of hearts alone could do that, save the parties concerned; but, of course, as she was an unbeliever, they must fear the worst. For himself, he had felt that this was the root of everything. They would judge for themselves how fervently he must have appealed to the Mercy-seat, considering his position and relationship with his dear brother, before he had seen his way to take the present course; but at last God had revealed Himself to him, and he now committed the case to them. Might God have mercy on them, and His Spirit lead them.

Mr. Allen and George had scarcely restrained themselves, and George, notwithstanding his father’s injunction, leapt up before the concluding sentences were out of Mr. Broad’s mouth. Mr. Scotton, however, rose, and Mr. Allen pulled George down. Mr. Scotton wished to say just one word. They could not, he was sure, overestimate the gravity of the situation. They were called together upon a most solemn occasion. Their worthy pastor had spoken as a minister of the gospel. He, Mr. Scotton, as a layman, wished just to remind them that they were exercising judicial functions⁠—(Brother Bushel fidgeted and got very red)⁠—and that it was necessary they should proceed in proper order. With regard to two of the charges, the evidence was fully before them; that is to say, absence from public worship and what might perhaps be thought want of consideration for the peace of the church.⁠—(“Praps,” grunted Bushel⁠—“praps indeed.”)⁠—But with regard to the third charge, the evidence was not before them, and as this was the most important of the three he would suggest before going any farther that they should hear what Mr. Broad could produce.

Brother Bushel objected. It was very seldom indeed that he offered any remarks in public; but this time he could not refrain, and introduced himself as follows:

“Brother Scotton says ‘praps.’ I don’t say ‘praps,’ when people go settin’ class agin class. Praps nobody’s windows was broke! Evidence! Hasn’t our minister told us George Allen has been to London? He wouldn’t tell us an untruth. Due respec’, Brother Scotton⁠—no lawyering⁠—none of that⁠—of them functions⁠—’specially when it’s infidels and ricks may be afire⁠—aught I know.”

Mr. Broad interposed. He quite understood Brother Bushel’s ardour for the truth, but he was prepared to produce some simple corroboration of what he had affirmed, which would, he thought, satisfy Brother Scotton and the brethren generally. “Thomas,” quoth Mr. Broad, “will you please step forward and say what you know?”

Mr. Thomas thereupon advanced to the table, and said it would ill become him to expatiate on the present occasion. He would confine himself to obeying the mandate of his father. He then reported that he had been led to visit the Colemans at first as friends of the Allens, and not knowing their devilish tendencies. God had, however, he hoped, mercifully protected him. If it had not been for God’s grace, where might he not have been that day? It was true that they were disciples of the French sceptic; his likeness was on the walls; his books were on the bookshelves! Mr. George Allen had been in the habit of associating not only with Mr. Coleman, but with the daughter, and with the daughter alone! as has already been stated. She was also an infidel⁠—more so, perhaps, than her father; and Satan had a way, as they all knew, of instilling the deadly poison so seductively that unwary souls were often lost, lost, lost beyond recall, before they could truly be said to be aware of it. He wished, therefore, that evening to confess again, as, indeed, he had just confessed before, that by grace he had been saved. It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy. He trembled to think how near he himself had been to the pit of destruction, lured by the devices of the great Enemy of Souls; but praise be to God he had been saved, not through own merits, but through the merits of his Redeemer.

Mr. Broad purred with pleasure during this oration, and looked round on the audience for their approval. Mr. Allen was now completely quieted. The speech had acted like a charm. He rose immediately.

Mr. Broad,” he said deliberately, but with much emphasis⁠—you might have heard a pin drop⁠—“the value of the testimony just given depends upon character of the witness. May I ask him to explain how he came by that scar on the back of his hand?”

Mr. Allen remained standing. There was no sign of an answer. He sat down for a moment but still there was no movement. He rose again.

Mr. Broad, as there is no reply, will you permit me to give the explanation?”

Mr. Thomas Broad then slowly erected himself near the table at which his father was sitting. He held on by it hard, and gulped down half a glass of water which was there. His tallowy face looked more tallowy than ever, and his voice shook most unpleasantly as he was just heard to say that he did not know with what object the question was put⁠—that it⁠—that it⁠—seemed⁠—seemed irrel⁠—irrelev⁠—and these were the last syllables ever heard from the lips of Mr. Thomas in Tanner’s Lane, for he dropped into his seat and apparently fainted. There was great confusion while his recovery was attempted. He was conveyed into the chapel, more water was given him, smelling-salts applied, and in due time he regained his senses; but his father, on his return to the vestry, announced that after what had happened the meeting had perhaps better be adjourned. He felt it impossible to go any further just then. Tanner’s Lane Church, therefore, departed, much musing, and was never again summoned on that business. Mr. Allen had some thoughts of demanding another meeting and a formal acquittal, but the pastor was suddenly struck with paralysis, and although he lingered for nearly two years, he preached no more. So it came to pass that George and his father are on the church books till this day. There was, of course, endless gossip as to the meaning of Mr. Allen’s appeal. Whether George ever knew what it was is more than I can say, but it is certain that Cowfold never knew. Mr. Allen always resolutely repelled all questions, saying that it would be time enough to go further when he was next attacked. The Broads, mother and daughter, asserted that no doubt Thomas had a mark upon the back of his hand, but that it had been caused by a nail in a fence, and that he had fainted through indisposition. This theory, however, was obviously ridiculous, for Mr. Allen’s reference had no meaning if Thomas had met with a simple accident. Mrs. Broad saw that her son’s explanation, greatly as she trusted him, was weak, and at last Thomas, with Christian compunction, admitted that the fence was the palings of the College garden, over which he had once clambered when he was too late for admittance at the College gates. This was true. Mr. Thomas on the very evening of his interview with Pauline, had obtained admission over the palings, had been detected, and there had been an inquiry by the authorities; but the scar, as we know, had another origin. Mrs. Broad was compelled to circulate this story, and accompanied it with many apologies and much regret. It was the sorrow of her life, she said; but, at the same time, she must add that her son was delayed by no fault of his. The President had investigated the matter, and had contented himself with a reprimand. Her friends would understand that Thomas would prefer, under the circumstances, not to visit Cowfold again, and considering her dear husband’s sickness, she could not advise that prosecution of the Allens should be pressed.

Cowfold, however, was not satisfied. Mr. Allen would not, as a man of the world, have thought so much of such an indiscretion. Why was Mr. Thomas late? Cowfold could not endure simple suspense of judgment. Any theory, however wild, is more tolerable than a confession that the facts are not sufficient for a decision, and the common opinion, corroborated, it was declared, by surest testimony, was that Mr. Thomas had been to the theatre. There was not a tittle of evidence to support this story, but everybody was certain it was true. Everybody repeated it, and constant repetition will harden the loosest hearsay into a creed far more unshakable than faith in the law of gravity.

Just before Mr. Broad’s last illness, the secession of the Allens was imitated by about twenty of the younger members of the congregation, who met together on Sunday, under Mr. Allen’s guidance, and worshipped by themselves, each of them in turn making some attempt at an exposition of the Bible and a short address. By the time Mr. Broad died Tanner’s Lane had sunk very low; but when his successor was chosen the seceders exercised their rights, and were strong enough to elect a student fresh from college, who had taken an M.A. degree at the University of London. He preached his first sermon from the text, “I am crucified with Christ,” and told his hearers, with fluent self-confidence, that salvation meant perfect sympathy with Christ⁠—“Not I, but Christ liveth in me;” that the office of Christ was not to reconcile God to man, but man to God; and this is effected in proportion as Christ dwells in us, bringing us more and more into harmony with the Divine. The Atonement is indeed the central doctrine, the pivot of Christianity, but it is an atonement, a making of one mind. To which Tanner’s Lane listened with much wonderment and not without uncomfortable mental disturbance, the elder members complaining particularly that this was not the simple gospel, and that the trumpet gave an uncertain sound. But opposition gradually died out; the meetinghouse was rebuilt, and called Latimer Chapel. The afternoon service was dropped and turned into a service for the Sunday-school children; an organ was bought and a choir trained; the minister gave weekday lectures on secular subjects, and became a trustee of the Cowfold charity schools, recently enlarged under a new scheme. He brought home a wife one day who could read German; joined the County Archaeological Society, and wrote a paper on the discoveries made when the railway station was built on what was supposed to be an ancient British encampment. For Cowfold was to become an important junction on the new line to the north, and Mr. Bushel’s death had been accelerated by vexation through seeing a survey carried across his own fields.

As for Mrs. Broad and Tryphosa, they left Cowfold and went into Lancashire, to be near uncle Flavel. George, notwithstanding the new doctrine in Latimer Chapel and the improvement in the Cowfold atmosphere, was restless, and before the revolution just described was completed, had been entirely overcome with a desire to emigrate with his child. His father and mother not only did not oppose, but decided to accompany. Mr. Allen had saved money, and though he and his wife were getting on in years, there was nothing in either of them of that subsidence into indifferent sloth which is the great mistake of advancing age. Both were keen in their desire to know the last new thing, eager to recognise the last new truth, forgetful of the past, dwelling in the present, and, consequently, they remained young. They were younger, at any rate, just now than George; and it was his, not exactly melancholy, but lack of zest for life, which mainly induced them so readily to assent to his plans. One bright June morning, therefore, saw them, with their children, on the deck of the Liverpool vessel which was to take them to America. Oh day of days, when after years of limitation, monotony, and embarrassment, we see it all behind us, and face a new future with an illimitable prospect! George once more felt his bosom’s lord sit lightly on his throne; once more felt that the sunlight and blue sky were able to cheer him. So they went away to the West, and we take leave of them.

What became of Zachariah and Pauline? At present I do not know.