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A House Not Made With Hands: (4) Damnable Barngoers

How the story began

 ...continued

 

 

 

That spring, on his weekly expeditions to market, William fell in with a lively crowd from Frisby-on-the-Wreake and they began discussing the Methodist travelling preachers who had recently visited the village.

"They're naught but rabble, those tub-thumpers," sneered one fellow. "They've no place in church and no place out of it."

"Nay, lad," replied the shepherd among them, "there are them as go to the meetings to make trouble and them as go to listen."

"Damnable barngoers, the vicar calls 'em," piped up the goatherd. "He's no time for 'em, that's for sure."

"Old Wragge's no time for anyone who can't invite him to table," grumbled the burly stockman, "unless you've an itch to be matched in a hurry without licence or banns. He does a fine trade in that!"

 



"Tis my belief," owned the shepherd boldly, "there's summat in what them gospellers say. Sam Letts is a changed man since he heard the Call. He don't rustle sheep and turkeys nowadays and he gives a tithe to the poor."

"That's more on account of his stint in jail," said the first speaker of the errant rat-catcher. "Swore blind to the judge he thought they was rats!"

"Look at Josh Bell, he's the same. Stopped beating his missus and never touches strong liquor."

"And we all know how filled with the spirit he was afore he heard the Good News!" quipped the stockman.

At this, the whole company roared with laughter and the sceptic condemned himself if he knew what the world was coming to when a man couldn't reach for the broomstale to keep his own house in order.

 



Just then, a pretty lass who had earlier caught William's attention fell into step beside him. She had twinkling eyes the colour of flax flowers and a blaze of copper-gold hair rippling from a filigree-trimmed cap which was one of three dozen she had made to hawk at market.

"I do know one thing," she offered shyly, "Mother's been able to make ends meet since she trusted the Lord. She don't need to lean on the Parish any more."

"And has she turned a Methodist?" William was intrigued.

"We all have," the girl told him. "Mother took us along to the Green, my three sisters and me - we didn't want to go, what with the stone-picking and thistle-cropping to do and the potatoes to plant for Mr Bowley - but we went and the preacher had us spellbound. Most particularly, I mind him sayin' that the Kingdom of Heaven was within every mortal person and that if we looked to that first, we'd not want for anything else again."

The young man's heart was strangely warmed by this artless testimony which his mother would eagerly have endorsed. Whilst he had the greatest respect for the Good Book and had tried to live by its precepts, was honest, hardworking and considerate of his fellows, he knew that he lacked the true spark of witness. His companion glowed with an inner assurance he did not possess.

 

  A House Not Made With Hands

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A House Not Made With Hands: (2) Where The Spirit Leads

...continued 




"Ah, Leicestershire," sighed John Wesley as his mount kicked over a stony track, "where I always feel such liberty and see but little fruit!"


He had just taken his leave of the brethren at Markfield, the foothold of his ministry in the Charnwood Forest, when a flushed and breathless rider came galloping alongside. At once he recognised John Coltman, a hosier from Leicester with whom he had dined on several occasions. Not long ago the poor fellow had been gravely depressed and had tried all manner of remedies until the little preacher had laid hands on him and called down the blessing of the Heavenly Physician.

"Mr Wesley, sir, I heard tell you were abroad in these parts. Won't you come and speak to the good folk of the town?"

Wesley reached out and put a lightly consoling hand beneath his companion's elbow. "I don't wilfully neglect them, my friend. I must go where I'm most needed and the Spirit leads elsewhere. There's a deal of trouble brewing in the Border Country since Charles Edward Stuart landed on these shores."

"Ay, he'll do away wi' King George and turn us all into Papists!"





"He's a long way to go before that, thank God. But we must not underestimate the strength of Jacobite feeling. Tis an odd irony that we Methodists, as Dissenters from the Established Church, are oftentimes mistaken for Catholics. Our sect is everywhere spoken against."

"Then they suffer much in the North?"

"Praise God, they do!" beamed the wiry clergyman. "There's nothing to make the gospel thrive so much as persecution. The best Christians are to be found among the strongholds of the devil. Go and tell them in the town to pray for a happy outcome of these affairs and I engage to visit you on my return."

The comrades parted, the hosier to broadcast this heartening exchange, the man of God to reflect on the phlegmatic nature of these Midlanders. Many was the time he had passed through the county and expounded the faith in its villages, but the area did not beckon strongly enough and the town scarcely at all. They were peaceable folk, he knew, spinners and weavers whose grinding toil had brought a fair degree of economic stability to the region. Sometimes they would rise in the small hours, walking miles out of their way to hear his message before work began, but though they listened with interest, they were slow to respond. Materialism was their god and guide and they thought nothing of plundering every wagon that entered the town gates to sell its goods at inflated prices.

If only they could raise their heads above their wheels and treadles and glimpse eternity.

 
 



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