The Reverend Thomas Bradshaw, of Pike Street Meetinghouse, was not a descendant from Bradshaw the regicide, but claimed that he belonged to the same family. He was in 1814 about fifty years old, and minister of one of the most important churches in the eastern part of London. He was tall and spare, and showed his height in the pulpit, for he always spoke without a note, and used a small Bible, which he held close to his eyes. He was a good classical scholar, and he understood Hebrew, too, as well as few men in that day understood it. He had a commanding figure, ruled his church like a despot; had a crowded congregation, of which the larger portion was masculine; and believed in predestination and the final perseverance of the saints. He was rather unequal in his discourses, for he had a tendency to moodiness, and, at times, even to hypochondria. When this temper was upon him he was combative or melancholy; and sometimes, to the disgust of many who came from all parts of London to listen to him, he did not preach in the proper sense of the word, but read a chapter, made a comment or two upon it, caused a hymn to be sung, and then dismissed his congregation with the briefest of prayers. Although he took no active part in politics, he was republican through and through, and never hesitated for a moment in those degenerate days to say what he thought about any scandal. In this respect he differed from his fellow-ministers, who, under the pretence of increasing zeal for religion, had daily fewer and fewer points of contact with the world outside. Mr. Bradshaw had been married when he was about thirty; but his wife died in giving birth to a daughter, who also died⁠—and for twenty years he had been a widower, with no thought of changing his condition. He was understood to have peculiar opinions about second marriages, although he kept them very much to himself. One thing, however, was known, that for a twelvemonth after the death of his wife he was away from England, and that he came back an altered man to his people in Bedfordshire, where at that time he was settled. His discourses were remarkably strong, and of a kind seldom, or indeed never, heard now. They taxed the whole mental powers of his audience, and were utterly unlike the simple stuff which became fashionable with the Evangelistic movement. Many of them, taken down by some of his hearers, survive in manuscript to the present day. They will not, as a rule, bear printing, because the assumption on which they rest is not now assumed; but if it be granted, they are unanswerable; and it is curious that even now and then, although they are never for a moment anything else than a strict deduction from what we in the latter half of the century consider unproven or even false, they express themselves in the same terms as the newest philosophy. Occasionally too, more particularly when he sets himself the task of getting into the interior of a Bible character, he is intensely dramatic, and what are shadows to the careless reader become living human beings, with the reddest of blood visible under their skin.

On this particular evening Mr. Bradshaw took the story of Jephthah’s daughter:⁠—“The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah.” Here is an abstract of his discourse. “It was the Spirit of the Lord, notwithstanding what happened. I beg you also to note that there is a mistranslation in our version. The Hebrew has it, ‘Then it shall be, that whosoever’⁠—not whatsoever⁠—‘cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer him’⁠—not it⁠—‘up for a burnt-offering.’ Nevertheless I believe my text⁠—it was the Spirit of the Lord. This Hebrew soldier was the son of a harlot. He was driven by his brethren out of his father’s house. Ammon made war upon Israel, and in their distress the elders of Israel went to fetch Jephthah. Mark, my friends, God’s election. The children of the lawful wife are passed by, and the child of the harlot is chosen. Jephthah forgets his grievances and becomes captain of the host. Ammon is over against them. Jephthah’s rash vow⁠—this is sometimes called. I say it is not a rash vow. It may be rash to those who have never been brought to extremity by the children of Ammon⁠—to those who have not cared whether Ammon or Christ wins. Men and women sitting here in comfortable pews”⁠—this was said with a kind of snarl⁠—“may talk of Jephthah’s rash vow. God be with them, what do they know of the struggles of such a soul? It does not say so directly in the Bible, but we are led to infer it, that Jephthah was successful because of his vow. ‘The Lord delivered them into his hands.’ He would not have done it if He had been displeased with the ‘rash vow’ ” (another snarl). “He smote them from Aroer even till thou come to Minnith. Ah, but what follows? The Omnipotent and Omniscient might have ordered it, surely, that a slave might have met Jephthah. Why, in His mercy, did He not do it? Who are we that we should question what He did? But if we may not inquire too closely into His designs, it is permitted us, my friends, when His reason accords with ours, to try and show it. Jephthah had played for a great stake. Ought the Almighty⁠—let us speak it with reverence⁠—to have let him off with an ox, or even with a serf? I say that if we are to conquer Ammon we must pay for it, and we ought to pay for it. Yes, and perhaps God wanted the girl⁠—who can tell? Jephthah comes back in triumph. Let me read the passage to you:⁠—‘Behold his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child: beside her he had neither son nor daughter. And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back.’ Now, you read poetry, I dare say⁠—what you call poetry. I say in all of it⁠—all, at least, I have seen⁠—nothing comes up to that. ‘She was his only child: beside her he had neither son nor daughter.’ ”⁠—(Mr. Bradshaw’s voice broke a little as he went over the words again with great deliberation and infinite pathos.)⁠—“The inspired writer leaves the fact just as it stands, and is content. Inspiration itself can do nothing to make it more touching than it is in its own bare nakedness. There is no thought in Jephthah of recantation, nor in the maiden of revolt, but nevertheless he has his own sorrow. He is brought very low. God does not rebuke him for his grief. He knows well enough, my dear friends, the nature which He took upon Himself⁠—nay, are we not the breath of His nostrils, created in His image? He does not anywhere, therefore, I say, forbid that we should even break our hearts over those we love and lose. She asks for two months by herself upon the mountains before her death. What a time for him! At the end of the two months God held him still to his vow; he did not shrink; she submitted, and was slain. But you will want me to tell you in conclusion where the gospel is in all this. Gospel! I say that the blessed gospel is in the Old Testament as well as in the New. I say that the Word of God is one, and that His message is here this night for you and me, as distinctly as it is at the end of the sacred volume. Observe, as I have told you before, that Jephthah is the son of the harlot. He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy. He calls them His people who are not His people; and He calls her beloved which was not beloved. God at any rate is no stickler for hereditary rights. Moreover, it does not follow because you, my hearers, have God-fearing parents, that God has elected you. He may have chosen, instead of you, instead of me, the wretchedest creature outside, whose rags we will not touch. But to what did God elect Jephthah? To a respectable, easy, decent existence, with money at interest, regular meals, sleep after them, and unbroken rest at night? He elected him to that tremendous oath and that tremendous penalty. He elected him to the agony he endured while she was away upon the hills! That is God’s election; an election to the cross and to the cry, ‘Eli, Eli, lama Sabachthani.’ ‘Yes,’ you will say, ‘but He elected him to the victory over Ammon.’ Doubtless He did; but what cared Jephthah for his victory over Ammon when she came to meet him, or, indeed, for the rest of his life? What is a victory, what are triumphal arches and the praise of all creation to a lonely man? Be sure, if God elects you, He elects you to suffering. Whom He loveth He chasteneth, and His stripes are not play-work. Ammon will not be conquered unless your heart be well nigh broken. I tell you, too, as Christ’s minister, that you are not to direct your course according to your own desires. You are not to say⁠—‘I will give up this and that so that I may be saved.’ Did not St. Paul wish himself accursed from Christ for his brethren? If God should command you to go down to the bottomless pit in fulfilment of His blessed designs, it is your place to go. Out with self⁠—I was about to say this damned self; and if Israel calls, if Christ calls, take not a sheep or ox⁠—that is easy enough⁠—but take your choicest possession, take your own heart, your own blood, your very self, to the altar.”

During the sermon the Major was much excited. Apart altogether from the effect of the actual words spoken, Mr. Bradshaw had a singular and contagious power over men. The three, Mrs. Coleman, the Major, and Zachariah, came out together. Mrs. Zachariah stayed behind in the lobby for some female friend to whom she wished to speak about a Sunday-school tea-meeting which was to take place that week. The other two stood aside, ill at ease, amongst the crowd pressing out into the street. Presently Mrs. Coleman found her friend, whom she at once informed that Major Maitland and her husband were waiting for her, and that therefore she had not a moment to spare. That little triumph accomplished, she had nothing of importance to say about the tea-meeting, and rejoined her party with great good-humour. She walked between the Major and Zachariah, and at once asked the Major how he “enjoyed the service.” The phrase was very unpleasant to Zachariah, but he was silent.

“Well, ma’am,” said the Major, “Mr. Bradshaw is a very remarkable man. It is a long time since any speaker stirred me as he did. He is a born orator, if ever there was one.”

“I could have wished,” said Zachariah, “as you are not often in chapel, that his sermon had been founded on some passage in the New Testament which would have given him the opportunity of more simply expounding the gospel of Christ.”

“He could not have been better, I should think. He went to my heart, though it is rather a difficult passage in the case of a man about town like me; and I tell you what, Coleman, he made me determine I would read the Bible again. What a story that is!”

“Major, I thank God if you will read it; and not for the stories in it, save as all are part of one story⁠—the story of God’s redeeming mercy.”

The Major made no reply, for the word was unwinged.

Mrs. Zachariah was silent, but when they came to their door both she and her husband pressed him to come in. He refused, however; he would stroll homeward, he said, and have a smoke as he went.

“He touched me, Coleman, he did. I thought, between you and me”⁠—and he spoke softly⁠—“I had not now got such a tender place; I thought it was all healed over long ago. I cannot come in. You’ll excuse me. Yes, I’ll just wander back to Piccadilly. I could not talk.”

They parted, and Zachariah and his wife went upstairs. Their supper was soon ready.

“Jane,” he said slowly, “I did not receive much assistance from you in my endeavours to bring our friends to a knowledge of the truth. I thought that, as you desired the attempt, you would have helped me a little.”

“There is a reason for everything; and, what is more, I do not consider it right to take upon myself what belongs to a minister. It may do more harm than good.”

“Take upon yourself what belongs to a minister! My dear Jane, is nobody but a minister to bear witness for the Master?”

“Of course I did not mean to say that; you know I did not. Why do you catch at my words? Perhaps, if you had not been quite so forward, Mr. Caillaud and his daughter might have gone to chapel.”

After supper, and when he was alone, Zachariah sat for some time without moving. He presently rose and opened the Bible again, which lay on the table⁠—the Bible which belonged to his father⁠—and turned to the flyleaf on which was written the family history. There was the record of his father’s marriage, dated on the day of the event. There was the record of his own birth. There was the record of his mother’s death, still in his father’s writing, but in an altered hand, the letters not so distinct, and the strokes crooked and formed with difficulty. There was the record of Zachariah’s own marriage. A cloud of shapeless, inarticulate sentiment obscured the man’s eyes and brain. He could not define what he felt, but he did feel. He could not bear it, and he shut the book, opening it again at the twenty-second Psalm⁠—the one which the disciples of Jesus called to mind on the night of the crucifixion. It was one which Mr. Bradshaw often read, and Zachariah had noted in it a few corrections made in the translation:⁠—

“My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? Our fathers trusted in Thee; they trusted, and Thou didst deliver them.⁠ ⁠… Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.⁠ ⁠… Be Thou not far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste Thee to help me.⁠ ⁠… Save me from the lion’s mouth: and from the horns of the wild oxen Thou hast answered me.”

“From the horns of the wild oxen”⁠—that correction had often been precious to Zachariah. When at the point of being pinned to the ground⁠—so he understood it⁠—help had arisen; risen up from the earth, and might again arise. It was upon the first part of the text he dwelt now. It came upon him with fearful distinctness that he was alone⁠—that he could never hope for sympathy from his wife as long as he lived. Mr. Bradshaw’s words that evening recurred to him. God’s purpose in choosing to smite Jephthah in that way was partly intelligible, and, after all, Jephthah was elected to redeem his country too. But what could be God’s purpose in electing one of his servants to indifference and absence of affection where he had a right to expect it? Could anybody be better for not being loved? Even Zachariah could not think it possible. But Mr. Bradshaw’s words again recurred. Who was he that he should question God’s designs? It might be part of the Divine design that he, Zachariah Coleman, should not be made better by anything. It might be part of that design, part of a fulfilment of a plan devised by the Infinite One, that he should be broken, nay, perhaps not saved. Mr. Bradshaw’s doctrine that night was nothing new. Zachariah had believed from his childhood, or had thought he believed, that the potter had power over the clay⁠—of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour and another unto dishonour; and that the thing formed unto dishonour could not reply and say to him that formed it: “Why hast thou made me thus?” Nevertheless, to believe it generally was one thing; to believe it as a truth for him was another. Darkness, the darkness as of the crucifixion night, seemed over and around him. Poor wretch! he thought he was struggling with his weakness; but he was in reality struggling against his own strength. Why had God so decreed? Do what he could, that fatal why, the protest of his reason, asserted itself; and yet he cursed himself for permitting it, believing it to be a sin. He walked about his room for some relief. He looked out of the window. It was getting late; the sky was clearing, as it does in London at that hour, and he saw the stars. There was nothing to help him there. They mocked him rather with their imperturbable, obstinate stillness. At last he turned round, fell upon his knees, and poured out himself before his Maker, entreating Him for light. He rose from the ground, looked again out of the window, and the first flush of the morning was just visible. Light was coming to the world in obedience to the Divine command, but not to him. He was exhausted, and crept into his bedroom, undressing without candle, and without a sound. For a few minutes he thought he should never sleep again, save in his grave; but an unseen Hand presently touched him, and he knew nothing till he was awakened by the broad day streaming over him.