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pressing his concern that he could not enjoy, just now, so much of his conversation as he wished, as he was obliged to visit a sick person at a distance, but hoped to have a little talk with him before he left the village. As they walked along together, Mr. Johnson made such inquiries about the shepherd as served to confirm him in the high opinion he entertained of his piety, good sense, industry, and self-denial. They parted, the clergyman promising to call in at the cottage in his way home.
The shepherd, who took it for granted that Mr. Johnson was gone to the parsonage, walked home with his wife and children, and was beginning, in his usual way, to catechize and instruct his family, when Mr. Johnson came in, and insisted that the shepherd should go on with his instructions, just as if he were not there. This gentleman, who was very desirous of being useful to his own servants and workmen, in the way of religious instruction, was sometimes sorry to find, that, though he took a good deal of pains, they now and then did not quite understand him ; for, though his meaning was very good, his language was not always very plain ; and though the things he said were not hard to be understood, yet the words were, especially to such as were very ignorant. And he now began to find out, that, if people were ever so wise and good, yet if they had not a simple, agreeable, and familiar way of expressing themselves, some of their plain hearers would not be much the better for them. For this reason he was not above listening to the plain, humble way in which this honest man taught his family; for, though he knew that he himself had many advantages over the shepherd, had more learning, and could teach him many things, yet he was not too proud to learn even of so poor a man, in any point where he thought the shepherd might have the advantage of him.
This gentleman was much pleased with the knowledge and piety which he discovered in the answers of the children, and desired the shepherd to tell him how he contrived to keep up a sense of divine things in his own mind, and in that of his family, with so little leisure, and so little reading. “O, as to that, sir,” said the shepherd, “we do not read much, except in one book, to be sure; but with my hearty prayer for God's blessing on the use of that book, what little knowledge is needful seems to come of course, as it were. And my chief study has been to bring the fruits of the Sunday reading into the week's business, and to keep up the same
sense of God in the heart, when the Bible is in the cupboard as when it is in the hand; in short, to apply what I read in the book to what I meet with in the field.”
“I don't quite understand you,” said Mr. Johnson. “Sir," replied the shepherd, “I have but a poor gift at conveying these things to others, though I have much comfort from them in my own mind; but I am sure that the most ignorant and hard-working people, who are in earnest about their salvation, may help to keep up devout thoughts and good affections during the week, though they have hardly any time to look at a book; and it will help them to keep out bad thoughts too, which is no small matter. But then they must know the Bible: they must have read the word of God diligently; that is a kind of stock in trade for a Christian to set up with: and it is this which makes me so careful in teaching it to my children, and even in storing their memories with psalms and chapters. This is a great help to a poor, hard-working man, who will scarcely meet with any thing in them but what he may turn to some account. If one lives in the fear and the love of God, almost every thing one sees abroad will teach one to adore his power and goodness, and bring to mind some texts of Scripture, which shall fill the heart with thankfulness, and the mouth with praise. When I look upwards, the heavens declare the glory of God; and shall I be silent and ungrateful ? If I look round and see the valleys standing thick with corn, how can I help blessing that power who giveth me all things richly to enjoy ? I may learn gratitude from the beasts of the field, for the 'ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib;' and shall a Christian not know, shall a Christian not consider, what great things God has done for him ? I, who am a shepherd, endeavor to fill my soul with a constant remembrance of that good Shepherd, who feedeth me in green pastures, and maketh me to lie down beside the still waters, and whose rod and staff comfort me. A religion, sir, which has its seat in the heart, and its fruits in the life, takes up little time in the study. And yet, in another sense, true religion, which from sound principle brings forth right practice, fills up the whole time, and life too, as one may say."
“You are happy," said Mr. Johnson, “ in this retired life, by which you escape the corruptions of the world.” “Sir," replied the shepherd, “I do not escape the corruptions of my own evil nature. Even there, on that wild, solitary hill, I can find out that my heart is prone to evil thoughts. I suppose, sir, that different states have different temptations.
You great folks that live in the world, perhaps, are exposed to some, of which such a poor man as I am know nothing. But to one who leads a lonely life like me, evil thoughts are a chief besetting sin; and I can no more withstand these without the grace of God, than a rich gentleman can withstand the snares of evil company, without the same grace. And I feel that I stand in need of God's help continually; and if he should give me up to my own evil heart, I should be lost.”
Mr. Johnson approved of the shepherd's sincerity; for he had always observed, that where there was no humility, and no watchfulness against sin, there was no religion; and he said that the man who did not feel himself to be a sinner, in his opinion, could not be a Christian.
Just as they were in this part of their discourse, Mr. Jenkins, the clergyman, came in. After the usual salutations, he said, “Well, shepherd, I wish you joy; I know you will be sorry to gain any advantage by the death of a neighbor ; but old Wilson, my clerk, was so infirm, and I trust so well prepared, that there is no reason to be sorry for his death. I have been to pray by him ; but he died while I staid. I have always intended you should succeed to his place; 'tis no great matter of profit, but every little is something."
“No great matter, sir!” cried the shepherd; “indeed, it is a great thing to me: it will more than pay my rent. Blessed be God for all his goodness!”—Mary said nothing, but lifted up her eyes, full of tears, in silent gratitude.
“I am glad of this little circumstance," said Mr. Jenkins, “not only for your sake, but for the sake of the office itself. I so heartily reverence every religious institution, that I would never have even the Amen added to the excellent prayers of our church by vain or profane lips; and if it depended on me, there should be no such thing in the land as an idle, drunken, or irreligious parish clerk. Sorry I am to say that this matter is not always sufficiently attended to, and that I know some of a very indifferent character."
Mr. Johnson now inquired of the clergyman whether there were many children in the parish, “More than you would expect,” replied he, “ from the seeming smallness of it; but there are some little hamlets which you do not see.” “I think,” returned Mr. Johnson, “I recollect, that, in the conversation I had with the shepherd on the hill yonder, he told me you had no Sunday school.” “I am sorry to say we have none," said the minister; “I do what I can to remedy this misfortune by public catechizing ; but having two or three churches to serve, I cannot give so much time as I wish to private instruction; and having a large family of my own, and no assistance from others, I have never been able to establish a school.”
“There is an excellent institution in London," said Mr. Johnson, “ called the Sunday School Society, which kindly gives books, and other helps, on the application of such pious clergymen as stand in need of their aid, and which I am sure would have assisted you; but I think we shall be able to do something ourselves. Shepherd,” continued he, “if I were a king, and had it in my power to make you a rich and great man with a word speaking, I would not do it. Those who are raised, by some sudden stroke, much above the station in which Divine Providence had placed them, seldom turn out very good or very happy. I have never had any great things in my power; but as far as I have been able, I have been always glad to assist the worthy. I have, however, never attempted or desired to set any poor man much above his natural condition, but it is a pleasure to me to lend him such assistance as may make that condition more easy to himself, and put him in a way which shall call him to the performance of more duties than perhaps he could have performed without my help, and of performing them in a better manner to others, and with more comfort to himself. What rent do you pay for this cottage ? ”
“ Fifty shillings a year, sir.”
“It is in a sad, tattered condition. Is there not a better to be had in the village ?”.
« That in which the poor clerk lived," said the clergyman, “ is not only more tight and whole, but has two decent chambers, and a very large, light kitchen.” “That will be very convenient,” replied Mr. Johnson: "pray what is the rent ?' “I think," said the shepherd, “poor neighbor Wilson gave somewhat about four pounds a year; or it might be guineas.” “ Very well,” said Mr. Johnson, “and what will the clerk's place be worth, think you ?” “ About three pounds," was the answer.
“Now," continued Mr. Johnson, “my plan is, that the shepherd should take that house immediately; for, as the poor man is dead, there will be no need of waiting till quarter-day, if I make up the difference.” “ True, sir," said Mr. Jenkins; "and I am sure my wife's father, whom I expect tomorrow, will willingly assist a little towards buying some of the clerk's old goods. And the sooner they remove the bet. ter; for poor Mary caught that bad rheumatism by sleeping under a leaky thatch.” The shepherd was too much moved to speak, and Mary could hardly sob out,“O, sir! you are too good; indeed, this house will do very well.” “It may do very well for you and your children, Mary,” said Mr. Johnson, gravely, “but it will not do for a school : the kitchen is neither large nor light enough. Shepherd,” continued he, “with your good minister's leave and kind assistance, I propose to set up in this parish a Sunday school, and to make you the master. It will not at all interfere with your weekly calling; and it is the only lawful way in which you could turn the Sabbath into a day of some little profit to your family, by doing, as I hope, a great deal of good to the souls of others. The rest of the week you will work as usual. The difference of rent between this house and the clerk's I shall pay myself; for to put you into a better house at your own expense would be no great act of kindness. As for honest Mary, who is not fit for hard labor, or any out-of-door work, I propose to endow a small weekly school, of which she shall be the mistress, and employ her notable turn to good account, by teaching ten or a dozen girls to knit, sew, spin, card, or any other useful way of getting their bread: for all this I shall only pay her the usual price; for I am not going to make you rich, but
“Not rich, sir?” cried the shepherd; “ how can I ever be thankful enough for such blessings ? And will my poor Mary have a dry thatch over her head ? And shall I be able to send for the doctor when I am like to lose her ? Indeed, my cup runs over with blessings. I hope God will give me humility.” Here he and Mary looked at each other, and burst into tears. The gentlemen saw their distress, and kindly walked out upon the little green before the door, that these honest people might give vent to their feelings. As soon as they were alone, they crept into one corner of the room, where they thought they could not be seen, and fell on their knees, devoutly blessing and praising God for his mercies. Never were more hearty prayers presented than this grateful couple offered up for their benefactors. The warmth of their gratitude could only be equalled by the earnestness with which they besought the blessing of God on the work in which they were going to engage.
The two gentlemen now left this happy family, and walked to the parsonage, where the evening was spent in a manner very edifying to Mr. Johnson, who, the next day, took all proper measures for putting the shepherd in immediate possession of his now comfortable habitation. Mr. Jenkins's