« PreviousContinue »
SHEPHERD OF SALISBURY PLAIN.*
MR. JOHNSON, a very worthy, charitable gentleman, was travelling, some time ago, across one of those vast plains, which are well known in Wiltshire. It was a fine summer's evening, and he rode slowly, that he might have leisure to admire God in the works of his creation. For this gentleman was of opinion, that a walk or a ride was as proper a time as any to think about good things; for which reason, on such occasions, he seldom thought so much about his money, or his trade, or public news, as at other times, that he might with more ease and satisfaction enjoy the pious thoughts which the wonderful works of the great Maker of heaven and earth are intended to raise in the mind.
As this serene contemplation of the visible heavens insensibly lifted up his mind from the works of God in nature to the same God as he is seen in revelation, it occurred to him, that this very connection was clearly intimated by the royal prophet in the nineteenth psalm,—that most beautiful description of the greatness and power of God exhibited in the former part, plainly seeming intended to introduce, illustrate, and unfold, the operations of the word and Spirit of God on the heart in the latter. And he began to run a parallel in his own mind, between the effects of that highly poetical and glowing picture of the material sun in searching and warming the earth, in the first six verses, and the spiritual operation attributed to the “ law of God," which fills up the re
* This is not a fictitious character. The extraordinary person, whose edify. ing history is here given, was David Saunders, a poor shepherd, of West Lav. ington. He used to keep his Bible in the thatch of his hut on Salisbury Plain; by reading which, and prayer, he seemed to keep up a constant communion with God. When the late Mr. Stedman, of Shrewsbury, went, in 1771, to set. tle on the curacy at Little Cheverel, the next village to Lavington, the first person he met was this shepherd, who told him, some time after, that, taking the stranger to be the minister expected there, he repeated to himself those words of St. Paul, Rom. x. 15, “How beautiful' upon the mountains are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!”
maining part of the psalm. And he persuaded himself that the divine Spirit which dictated this fine hymn, had left it as a kind of general intimation to what use we were to convert our admiration of created things; namely, that we might be led by a sight of them to raise our views from the kingdom of nature to that of grace, and that the contemplation of God in his works might draw us to contemplate him in his word.
In the midst of these reflections, Mr. Johnson's attention was all of a sudden called off by the barking of a shepherd's dog; and, looking up, he spied one of those little huts, which are here and there to be seen on those great downs; and near it was the shepherd himself, busily employed with his dog in collecting together his vast flock of sheep. As he drew nearer, he perceived him to be a clean, well-looking, poor man, near fifty years of age. His coat, though at first it had probably been of one dark color, had been in a long course of years so often patched with different sorts of cloth, that it was now become hard to say which had been the original color. But this, while it gave a plain proof of the shepherd's poverty, equally proved the exceeding neatness, industry, and good management of his wife. His stockings no less proved her good housewifery, for they were entirely covered with darns of different colored worsted, but had not a hole in them; and his shirt, though nearly as coarse as the sails of a ship, was as white as the drifted snow, and was neatly mended where time had either made a rent or worn it thin. This furnishes a rule of judging, by which one shall seldom be deceived. If I meet with a laborer hedging, ditching, or mending the highways, with his stockings and shirt tight and whole, however mean and bad his other garments are, I have seldom failed, on visiting his cottage, to find that also clean and well ordered ; and his wife notable, and worthy of encouragement. Whereas a poor woman, who will be lying abed, or gossiping with her neighbors, when she ought to be fitting out her husband in a cleanly manner, will seldom be found to be very good in other respects.
This was not the case with our shepherd; and Mr. Johnson was not more struck with the decency of his mean and frugal dress, than with his open, honest countenance, which bore strong marks of health, cheerfulness, and spirit.
Mr. Johnson, who was on a journey, and somewhat fearful, from the appearance of the sky, that rain was at no great distance, accosted the shepherd with asking what sort of weather he thought it would be on the morrow. “It will be such weather as pleases me," answered the shepherd. Though the answer was delivered in the mildest and most civil tone that could be imagined, the gentleman thought the words themselves rather rude and surly, and asked him how that could be. “Because," replied the shepherd, “it will be such weather as shall please God, and whatever pleases him always pleases me.”
Mr. Johnson, who delighted in good men and good things, was very well satisfied with his reply. For he justly thought, that though a hypocrite may easily contrive to appear better than he really is to a stranger; and that no one should be too soon trusted, merely for having a few good words in his mouth; yet, as he knew that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh ;” he always accustomed himself to judge favorably of those who had a serious deportment and solid manner of speaking. “It looks as if it proceeded from a good habit,” said he; “ and though I may now and then be deceived by it, yet it has not often happened to me to be so. Whereas, if a man accosts me with an idle, dissolute, vulgar, indecent, or profane expression, I have never been deceived in him, but have generally, on inquiry, found his character to be as bad as his language gave me room to expect.”
He entered into conversation with the shepherd in the following manner :-"Yours is a troublesome life, honest friend,” said he. “To be sure, sir," replied the shepherd, “o'tis not a very lazy life; but 'tis not near so toilsome as that which my GREAT MASTER led for my sake; and he had every state and condition of life at his choice, and chose a hard one; while I only submit to the lot that is appointed me.” “You are exposed to great cold and heat," said the gentleman. “True, sir," said the shepherd; “but then I am not exposed to great temptations; and so, throwing one thing against another, God is pleased to contrive to make things more equal than we poor, ignorant, short-sighted creatures are apt to think. David was happier when he kept his father's sheep on such a plain as this, and employed in singing some of his own psalms perhaps, than ever he was when he became king of Israel and Judah. And I dare say, we should never have had some of the most beautiful texts in all those fine psalms, if he had not been a shepherd, which enabled him to make so many fine comparisons and similitudes, as one may say, from country life, flocks of sheep, hills, and valleys, fields of corn, and fountains of water.”
“ You think then,” said the gentleman," that, a laborious
life is a happy one.” “I do, sir, and more so, especially, as it exposes a man to fewer sins. If king Saul had continued a poor, laborious man to the end of his days, he might have lived happy and honest, and died a natural death in his bed at last; which, you know, sir, was more than he did. But I speak with reverence, for it was Divine Providence overruled all that, you know, sir, and I do not presume to make comparisons. Besides, sir, my employment has been particularly honored: Moses was a shepherd in the plains of Midian. It was to 'shepherds keeping their flocks by night,' that the angels appeared in Bethlehem, to tell the best news, the gladdest tidings, that ever were revealed to poor sinful men: often and often has the thought warmed my poor heart in the coldest night, and filled me with more joy and thankful, ness than the best supper could have done."
Here the shepherd stopped, for he began to feel that he had made too free, and had talked too long. But Mr. Johnson was so well pleased with what he said, and with the cheerful, contented manner in which he said it, that he desired him to go on freely, for that it was a pleasure to him to meet with a plain man, who, without any kind of learning but what he had got from the Bible, was able to talk so well on a subject in which all men, high and low, rich and poor, are equally concerned.
"Indeed, I am afraid I make too bold, sir, for it better becomes me to listen to such a gentleman as you seem to be, than to talk in my poor way; but, as I was saying, sir, I wonder all working men do not derive as great joy and delight as I do from thinking how God has honored poverty! 0, sir, what great, or rich, or mighty men have had such honor put on them, or their condition, as shepherds, tent-makers, fishermen, and carpenters, have had? Besides, it seems as if God honored industry also. The way of duty is not only the way of safety, but it is remarkable how many, in the exercise of the common duties of their calling, humbly and rightly performed, as we may suppose, have found honors, preferment, and blessing; while it does not occur to me, that the whole sacred volume presents a single instance of a like blessing conferred on idleness. Rebekah, Rachel, and Jethro's daughters, were diligently employed in the lowest occupations of a country life, when Providence, by means of those very occupations, raised them up husbands so famous in history as Isaac, Jacob, and the prophet Moses. The shepherds were neither playing nor sleeping, but watching their flocks, when they received the news of a Savior's birth;
and the woman of Samaria, by the laborious office of drawing water, was brought to the knowledge of Him who gave her to drink of living water.'”
“My honest friend," said the gentleman, “I perceive you are well acquainted with Scripture.” “ Yes, sir, pretty well, blessed be God! Through his mercy I learnt to read when I was a little boy; though reading was not so common when I was a child, as I am told, through the goodness of Providence and the generosity of the rich, it is likely to become now-adays. I believe there is no day, for the last thirty years, that I have not peeped at my Bible. If we can't find time to read a chapter, I defy any man to say he can't find time to read a verse; and a single text, sir, well followed and put in practice every day, would make no bad figure at the year's end : three hundred and sixty-five texts, without the loss of a moment's time, would make a pretty stock, a little golden treasury, as one may say, from new-year's day to new-year's day; and if children were brought up to it, they would come to look for their text as naturally as they do for their breakfast. No laboring man, 'tis true, has so much leisure as a shepherd; for, while the flock is feeding, I am obliged to be still; and at such times I can now and then tap a shoe for my children or myself, which is a great saving to us; and while I am doing that, I repeat a chapter or a psalm, which makes the time pass pleasantly in this wild, solitary place. I can say the best part of the New Testament by heart. I believe I should not say the best part, for every part is good, but I mean the greatest part. I have led but a lonely life, and have often had but little to eat; but my Bible has been meat, drink, and company to me, as I may say; and when want and trouble have come upon me, I don't know what I should have done, indeed, sir, if I had not had the promises of this book for my stay and support."
“You have had great difficulties then?” said Mr. Johnson. “Why, as to that, sir, not more than neighbors' fare; I have but little cause to complain, and much to be thankful; but I have had some little struggles, as I will leave you to judge. I have a wife and eight children, whom I bred up in that little cottage which you see under the hill, about half a mile off.” “What, that with the smoke coming out of the chimney?" said the gentleman. “O no, sir," replied the shepherd, smiling; “we have seldom smoke in the evening, for we have little to cook, and firing is very dear in these parts. ''Tis that cottage which you see on the left hand of the church, near that little tuft of hawthorns.” “What,