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The image of this man of many moods and brilliant genius that rises most distinctly to my mind is that connected with a little prayer-meeting in the Minna-street Church, San Francisco, one Thursday night. His thin silver locks, his dark flashing eye, his graceful pose, and his musical voice, are before me. His words I have not forgotten, but their electric effect must forever be lost to all except the few who heard them.
"I have been taunted with the reproach that it was only after I was a broken and disappointed man in my worldly hopes and aspirations that I turned to religion. The taunt is just" - here he bowed his head, and paused with deep emotion "the taunt is just. I bow my head in shame, and take the blow. My earthly hopes have faded and fallen one after another. The prizes that dazzled my imagination have eluded my grasp. I am a broken, gray-haired man, and I bring to my God only the remnant of a life. But, brethren, it is this very thought that fills me with joy and gratitude at this moment - the thought that when all else fails God takes us up. Just when we need him most, and most feel our need of him, he lifts us up out of the depths where we had groveled, and presses us to his Fatherly heart. This is the glory of Christianity. The world turns from us when we fail and fall; then it is that the Lord draws higher. Such a religion must be from God, for its principles are God-like. It does not require much skill or power to steer a ship into port when her timbers are sound, her masts all rigged, and her crew at their posts; but the pilot that can take an old hulk, rocking on the stormy waves, with its masts torn away, its rigging gone, its planks loose and leaking, and bring it safe to harbor, that is the pilot for me. Brethren, I am that hulk; and Jesus is that Pilot!"
"Glory be to Jesus!" exclaimed Father Newman; as the speaker, with swimming eyes, radiant face, and heaving chest, sunk into his seat. I never heard any thing finer from mortal lips, but it seems cold to me as I read it here. Oratory cannot be put on paper.
He was present once at a camp-meeting, at the famous Toll-gate Camp-ground, in Santa Clara Valley, near the city of San Jose. It was Sabbath morning, just such a one as seldom dawns on this earth. The brethren and sisters were gathered around "the stand" under the live-oaks for a speaking-meeting. The morning glory was on the summits of the Santa Cruz Mountains that sloped down to the sacred spot, the lovely valley smiled under a sapphire sky, the birds hopped from twig to twig of the overhanging branches that scarcely quivered in the still air, and seemed to peer inquiringly into the faces of the assembled worshipers. The bugle-voice of Bailey led in a holy song, and Simmons led in prayer that touched the eternal throne. One after another, gray-haired men and saintly women told when and how they began the new life far away on the old hills they would never see again, and how they had been led and comforted in their pilgrimage. Young disciples, in the flush of their first love, and the rapture of newborn hope, were borne out on a tide of resistless feeling into that ocean whose waters encircle the universe. The radiance from the heavenly hills was reflected from the consecrated encampment, and the angels of God hovered over the spot. Judge Robinson rose to his feet, and stepped into the altar, the sunlight at that moment falling upon his face. Every voice was hushed, as, with the orator's indefinable magnetism, he drew every eye upon him. The pause was thrilling. At length he spoke:
"This is a mount of transfiguration. The transfiguration is on hill and valley, on tree and shrub, on grass and flower, on earth and sky. It is on your faces that shine like the face of Moses when he came down from the awful mount where be met Jehovah face to face. The same light is on your faces, for here is God's shekinah. This is the gate of heaven. I see its shining hosts, I hear the melody of its songs. The angels of God encamped with us last night, and they linger with us this morning. Tarry with us, ye sinless ones, for this is heaven on earth!"
He paused, with extended arm, gazing upward entranced. The scene that, followed beggars description. By a simultaneous impulse all rose to their feet and pressed toward the speaker with awestruck faces, and when Grandmother Bucker, the matriarch of the valley, with luminous face and uplifted eyes, broke into a shout, it swelled into a melodious hurricane that shook the very hills. He ought to have been a preacher. So he said to me once:
"I felt the impulse and heard the call in my early manhood. I conferred with flesh and blood, and was disobedient to the heavenly vision. I have had some little success at the bar, on the hustings, and in legislative halls, but how paltry has it been in comparison with the true life and high career that might have been mine!"
He was from the hill-country of North Carolina, and its flavor clung to him to the last. He had his gloomy moods, but his heart was fresh as a Blue Ridge breeze in May, and his wit bubbled forth like a mountain-spring. There was no bitterness in his satire. The very victim of his thrust enjoyed the keenness of the stroke, for there was no poison in the weapon. At times he seemed inspired, and you thrilled, melted, and soared, under the touches of this Western Coleridge. He came to my room at the Golden Eagle, in Sacramento City, one night, and left at two o'clock in the morning. He walked the floor and talked, and it was the grandest monologue I ever listened to. One part of it I could not forget. It was with reference to preachers who turn aside from their holy calling to engage in secular pursuits, or in politics.
"It is turning away from angels' food to feed on garbage. Think of spending a whole life in contemplating the grandest things, and working for the most glorious ends, instructing the ignorant, consoling the sorrowing, winning the wayward back to duty and to peace, pointing the dying to Him who is the light and the life of men, animating the living to seek from the highest motives a holy life and a sublime destiny! O it is a life that might draw an angel from the skies! If there is a special hell for fools, it should be kept for the man who turns aside from a life like this, to trade, or dig the earth, or wrangle in a court of law, or scramble for an office."
He looked at me as he spoke, with flashing eyes and curled lip.
"That is all true and very fine, Judge, but it sounds just a little peculiar as coming from you."
"I am the very man to say it, for I am the man who bitterly sees its truth. Do not make the misstep that I did. A man might well be willing to live on bread and water, and walk the world afoot, for the privilege of giving all his thoughts to the grandest themes, and all his service to the highest objects. As a lawyer, my life has been spent in a prolonged quarrel about money, land, houses; cattle, thieving, slandering, murdering, and other villainy. The little episodes of politics that have given variety to my career have only shown me the baseness of human nature, and the pettiness of human ambition. There are men who will fill these places and do this work, and who want and will choose nothing better. Let them have all the good they can get out of such things. But the minister of the gospel who comes down from the height of his high calling to engage in this scramble, does that which makes devils laugh and angels weep."
This was the substance of what he said on this point. I have never forgotten it. I am. glad he came to my room that night. What else he said I cannot write, but the remembrance of it is like to that of a melody that lingers in my soul when the music has ceased.
"I thank you for your sermon today - you never told a single lie."
This was his remark at the close of a service in Minna street one Sunday.
"What is the meaning of that remark?"
That the exaggerations of the pulpit repel thousands from the truth. Moderation of statement is a rare excellence. A deep spiritual insight enables a religious teacher to shade his meanings where it is required. Deep piety is genius for the pulpit. Mediocrity in native endowments, conjoined with spiritual stolidity in the pulpit, does more harm than all the open apostles of infidelity combined. They take the divinity out of religion and kill the faith of those who hear them. None but inspired men should stand in the pulpit. Religion is not in the intellect merely. The world by wisdom cannot know God. The attempt to find out God by the intellect has always been, and always must be, the completest of failures. Religion is the sphere of the supernatural, and stands not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. It has often happened that men of the first order of talent and the highest culture have been converted by the preaching of men of weak intellect and limited education, but who were directly taught of God, and had drunk deep from the fount of living truth in personal experience of the blessed power of Christian faith. It was through the intellect that the devil seduced the first pair. When we rest in the intellect only, we miss God. With the heart only can man believe unto righteousness. The evidence that satisfies is based on consciousness. Consciousness is the satisfying demonstration.
"Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit. They can be revealed in no other way."
Here was the secret he had learned, and that had brought a new joy and glory into his life as it neared the sunset. The great change dated from a dark and rainy night as he walked home in Sacramento City. Not more tangible to Saul of Tarsus was the vision, or more distinctly audible the voice that spoke to him on the way to Damascus, than was the revelation of Jesus Christ to this lawyer of penetrating intellect, large and varied reading, and sharp perception of human folly and weakness. It was a case of conversion in the fullest and divinest sense. He never fell from the wonder-world of grace to which he had been lifted. His youth seemed to be renewed, and his life had rebloomed, and its winter was turned into spring, under the touch of Him who maketh all things new. He was a new man, and he lived in a new world. He never failed to attend the class-meetings, and in his talks there the flashes of his genius set religious truths in new lights, and the little band of Methodists were treated to bursts of fervid eloquence, such as might kindle the listening thousands of metropolitan churches into admiration, or melt them into tears. On such occasions I could not help regretting anew that the world had lost what this man might have wrought had his path in life taken a different direction at the start. He died suddenly, and when in the city of Los Angeles I read the telegram announcing his death, I felt, mingled with the pain at the loss of a friend, exultation that before there was any reaction in his religious life his mighty soul had found a congenial home amid the supernal glories and sublime joys of the world of spirits. The moral of this man's life will be seen by him for whom this imperfect Sketch has been penciled.