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Now that is an ill-natured trick! Just as the boys there, coming from school with their satchels of books, came to the turn of the lane, the great idle boy in the straw hat met them, and after squirting water over them, pulled their satchels out of their hands and emptied them in the very middle of the road. The poor boys are picking up their books, and the looby is running away, but he will soon be in some other mischief. “ Train up a child in the way he should
go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” That great looby has had no training except in mischief. You hardly seem to know him; why, that is Swarthy Bill.
It is not very often that you see a finer orchard of russets and golden pippins than this. How the trees are laden! No wonder that the branches should be propped up with poles. Look! look! there are two young fellows up in one of the trees robbing the orchard, and here comes the farmer with his shaggy dog. Down come the apple-stealers from the tree ! There they go at the top of their speed. The farmer cannot catch them, but his dog can. Towzer has already torn away the tails of one of their jackets. The thieves have burst through the thorn hedge, and Towzer has brought the jackettails to his master. 6. Thou shalt not steal,” says the commandment, but these orchard-robbers have disregarded it. Who the other rogue was I cannot say, but the one with the torn jacket was Swarthy Bill.
Hark! what a confusion; dogs whining and howling, and men and boys shouting and swearing. It is a dog-fight, and a ring is made, and in the midst of it a brown mastiff and a large white pointer are grappling and tearing one another with all their might. Do you see who it is with the black hair, that is handling the mastiff and urging him on to fight? It is Swarthy Bill.
The church bells are chiming, the congregation are assembling ; there
go the old women from the almshouse, and the children from the Sunday-school, with the country people. Here come a group of sabbath-breakers, their wretched dirty clothes, and their uncombed hair, tell a sad tale of raking and untidiness, and their dogs and sticks show that they are bent on riot, mischief, and violence. Has not the word gone forth, “ Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord ?” Alas! the sabbath-breaker despises the word of the Most High, and sins to his own sorrow. There they go hooting and brawling! Their leader with the black hair, flourishing his knotted stick, is Swarthy Bill.
The pot-house revel is ended, and the drunken riot is brought to a close. The tap room of the Malt Shovel is in disorder, the tables have been overturned, the liquor spilled, and cards and dice, and broken pipes, and pewter pots lie among the saw-dust on the floor. A crowd is assembled in front of the pot-house, late as it is; for the fight which has taken place has drawn together a thoughtless rabble. These midnight brawls are dearly paid for. No wonder that the drunkard and the glutton come to poverty. One of the fighters has been carried into the house, fearfully injured, and the other is being dragged off by the village constable with two or three others to help him. He is well known as a worthless vagabond. It is not the first time he has been in. the hands of the constable. Every body knows Swarthy Bill.
The moon is rising high, and the glittering stars are keeping watch in the firmament of heaven. The night air is cool, after the sunny day; this is a time for quiet musing, and solemn meditation, for silence reigns around. Hark! that is the squeal of a hare, caught in a gin, and the crash in the dry hedge, and the shrill whistle, and trampling of hasty feet tell, too plainly, that the game-keepers are pursuing poachers in the wood or the coppice. The noise increases ; the parties must be grappling one with another. There ! a gun has been fired, a game-keeper cries out that he is wounded, and three men are making their escape through the gap by the old yew
“I know who fired the gun,” cries out the wounded game-keeper ; " it was Swarthy Bill.”
What a dark night! and how wildly the gusty wind raves round the homestead! I hardly like the barking of that dog. What does it mean? It is not the slamming of a door, nor the creaking of a hay-loft window-shutter that makes Jowler bark so violently. There is mischief lurking abroad ; the burglar is at work with his skeleton keys and crow-bar. Up, farmer Bracebridge! up! But the farmer is already up with two of his serving men.
The housebreaker is his own enemy. “ Whoso is partner with a thief, hateth his own soul.” 66 The robbery of the wicked shall destroy them.” Hark! A scuffle ! Bludgeons are at work; a servant man is felled to the ground.
A dark lantern is crushed under foot. Three desperate burglars are trying to escape, but Jowler has caught one of them by the throat. The thief is overcome by the farmer and his men. A light is procured.
you at last," cries out the farmer, “ for I know you in spite of your blackened face. No more burglaries shall be committed by Swarthy Bill.
It is morning, and the sun is in the sky; but even sunshine cannot make cheerful the thick, gloomy walls of the county jail. In his solitary cell, on the eastern side of the prison, the burglar is sitting, looking up wishfully at the barred window, through which the ruddy
light is streaming. He thinks hopelessly of escape and liberty. Escape ! his dungeon walls are too strong for that, and his manacles too heavy. Liberty ! there is no liberty for him, and hardly will he escape with his life, for the servant man that was felled to the ground, at farmer Bracebridge's, now lies dead of his wound, and it is said that the burglar struck the blow. The assizes are coming on, and then we shall see whether transportation, or a disgraceful death, will close the guilty career of Swarthy Bill.
Reader, thou mayest not have been brought up in ignorance and cruelty. Thou art neither a brawler, a drunkard, nor a robber, and, doubtless, thy hand is guiltless of blood ; but dost thou know that " the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked ?” Jer. xvii. 9; that “ whoso hateth his brother is a murderer ?" 1 John iii. 15; and that “ all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God ?” Rom. iii. 23. Art thou fleeing from the wrath to come; seeking pardon for thy sins through Him who died to save sinners, and following hard after eternal life? Point not thy finger at the felon, but ponder on his guilty course and commune with thine own heart, so shalt thou reap the harvest of instruction, and profit even from this narrative of Swarthy Bill.
I AM NO HYPOCRITE. This is the inconsiderate declaration of many a person, imply. ing at once self-praise and a reflection upon professors of religion. But they who openly declare themselves to be on the Lord's side are not the only persons who make professions. Those who stand aloof from the Lord's people, and refuse to be considered as belonging to Christians and being of their numbers, profess, if not in words, yet in actions, that they are not Christians. And when they charge professors of religion with hypocrisy, and maintain that they themselves are sincere, they plainly acknowledge that they could not make a profession of religion without hypocrisy; that is, they profess not to be Christians.
When the Lord's table is spread, and those who come to it make a profession of repentance, faith in Christ, love to God, and obedience to the Divine precepts; those who come not to that table seem by their actions to declare that they do not repent, believe, love, or obey. And some, when they are asked, “ Are you followers of Christ ?" answer thoughtlessly, “No, but we are no hypocrites.” Such persons differ from true Christians both in profession and in reality ; but they differ from hypocrites only in profession. With this single exception they are alike. Both are destitute of true religion. If false professors are to be detested for their hypocrisy, ought those who profess to have no religion to congratulate themselves for their sincerity ?
It is possible for a man to be sincere in embracing error and practising iniquity, as well as in embracing the truth and obeying it; and then, the greater the sincerity, the worse the condition. If what is sincere were always right, then sincere hatred to our neighbour would be right; and the murderer would do right in killing his neighbour, provided he only hated him sincerely, and was in good earnest in killing him. But let us pass to the consideration of some of those cases in which men profess to be sincere.
Perhaps, reader, you profess to be an atheist; an unbeliever in the existence of a Supreme Being, who created and governs the universe. Now, some have doubted whether a sincere atheist ever lived; but your sincerity will not for the present be called in question. But have you ever seriously thought of the absurdities embraced in your belief? Do you then believe that a watch makes, winds up, and regulates itself? or rather, that it exists and measures time, without ever having been made and regulated? This would be quite rational, compared with the belief of him who maintains that the universe, with all its grand, and varied, and complicated machinery, exists without a Maker. Men often profess atheism because they “ do not like to retain God in their knowledge,” Rom. i. 28. Whether this is the case with yourself or not, perhaps you think it best that the universe should be rushing on to its catastrophe, (whatever that may be,) without the superintendence and control of an almighty, allwise, and good God. And would it be best that rail-road trains and boats, laden with the rich treasures of human life and human industry, should be driven about, in every direction, by the mighty power of steam, without careful engineers to regulate and guide them ? Are you indeed sincere ?
Perhaps, however, you admit that a God exists, but deny that the Bible contains a revelation from him. The brief limits of these pages will not admit of considering, or rather suggesting for your consideration, all the astonishing results of your sincerity ; for it is now assumed that you are sincere. Have you read Leslie, Jenyns, Paley, Doddridge, Bogue, Keith, Gregory, or Faber? Have you even read the Bible itself with care and candour? Be not offended at this question. It is well known that many are sincerely prejudiced against the Bible, without knowing much about its contents. Why do you reject the Bible ? Because it is a bad book ? Is that a bad book which commands us to love God supremely, and our neighbour as ourselves? Mark xii. 29–31.
If Christianity be not true, the apostles were either impostors or self-deceived. Would impostors incur poverty, and persecution, and death in its most horrible forms, by maintaining that which they knew to be false ? If the apostles were self-deceived, can we any longer believe our own senses? What confidence can be placed in eyes and ears, if the apostles saw not Jesus perform miracles, and heard not the gracious words which he spoke? How could they be deceived in the resurrection of Lazarus, for instance ? John xi. But you are a sinner, as are all other men.
Of course, you need pardon. How do you expect to obtain it? By repentance, you say? Does the light of nature teach that, or the very Bible which you reject? The light of nature proclaims law and penalty, but announces no pardon. Why persist, then, in closing the door of hope which the Bible opens
for every trembling penitent-for yourself, through faith in a crucified Redeemer? Why prefer the rush-light of natural religion to the sun of the gospel ? Are you indeed sincere in choosing darkness rather then light?
Remarks might here be made upon the sincerity of those who profess to receive the Scriptures, and yet adopt opinions at variance with some of their plainest declarations, as Universalists and Unitarians. They might be reminded that many who profess to hold their opinions, renounce them when convinced of sin, or upon a dying bed; but this might seem like a reflection upon their sincerity. Therefore let it only