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Rev Clifford

Immediately after my acceptance of the pastorate of the church to which
I still minister, I arranged to continue and broaden my training by
attending Science Classes at University College, London. It was in the
year 1858. The day of science was in its brilliant and arresting dawn.
Professor Huxley had been lecturing on biology at the Royal School of
Mines for nearly four years, and his bold and masterly descriptions of
"Man's Place in Nature," given to working men, had stirred many minds.
Darwin's "Origin of Species" appeared in the following year. The young
scientific spirit was daring and aggressive; and scientific methods,
though feared in most quarters, were demanding and winning confidence. I
was sure science was one of the formative forces of the future, and
therefore it seemed to me the teachers of Christianity of the next
half-century would do well to make themselves practically acquainted
with the methods pursued by scientific men, as well as conversant with
the results of scientific work.

One of Huxley's maxims was "The man of science has learnt to believe in
justification by verification." Certainly! and why not? The Christian is
bidden by the teacher who ranks next to Jesus Christ, our one and only
Master, to "prove all things, and hold fast that which is good." Human
experience is always verifying truth and exposing falsehood. New forces
are set to work in the lives of men, and offer us their effects for
examination. New acts repeated lead to new habits, and new habits make a
new character. If the gardener inserts a "bud" in the branch of a
growing brier, and after a while beholds the beauty and inhales the
fragrance of the "Gloire de Dijon" rose; if the surgeon "operates" one
day, and a little while afterwards sees that the forces he has freed
from the disabilities of disease are moving forward on their healing
mission; so the Christian pastor may suggest a truth, inspire a new
habit, direct to a new attitude of spirit, secure an uplift of soul, and
afterwards trace the effect of these acts on the growth and development
of character, and on the quantity and quality of the service given to
the kingdom of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.
"Experiments" in the field of human nature yield as really verifiable
results as those that are given in the nursery of the gardener or the
laboratory of the chemist.

But contact with scientific methods not only suggested that the
pastorate would afford abundant opportunities for verifying the features
and characteristics of the spirit of life in Jesus Christ, by a direct
appeal to facts in the manifold experiences of Christian men; it also
changed the point of view, so that, instead of giving the first place
amongst "answers to prayer" to detached and easily reported incidents,
that rank was assigned to experiences showing that prayer is one of the
chief of the unseen forces in character-building, in deepening humility,
in broadening sympathy, in preserving the heart tender and sensitive to
human suffering, in quickening aspiration, and giving the note of soul
to a man's work and influence.

The materials sustaining that conclusion were abundant in the early
years of my ministry; notably in one case I can never forget. On the
first Sabbath evening of my ministry I was preaching on the words "Be ye
reconciled to God." Amongst the listeners was one who had entered the
house of prayer without any sense of alienation from God or hunger for
His revelation, and, as she afterwards confessed, merely to please her
sister. But "the Lord opened her heart to give heed to the things that
were spoken," so that she forthwith sought and found peace with God
through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Nor did she only obtain peace. With Wordsworth she could say:

"I bent before Thy gracious throne
And asked for peace with suppliant knee,
And peace was given, nor peace alone,
But faith and hope and ecstasy."

Faith and hope, ecstasy and prayer, were the outstanding features of her
new life. She had little time for special acts of Christian service, and
scant means wherewith to enrich the Church; but, according to the
witness of those who had known her longest, her character was clad in
entirely new charms, and her spirit was fired and filled with new
energies. She grew in experience of the grace and love of God, and
became at home with God in the deepest sense, and seemed rarely, if
ever, absent from her chosen dwelling-place. Her strongest feeling was
for God, all investing, all encircling; and with reverent freedom and
sweet security she lived and moved and had her being in communion with
the eternal Father. Prayer was not a task for specific occasions; it was
the breath of her life. It was not a wrestle or a struggle; it was an
uplifting of her being into a fellowship with God. It did not shrivel
into a litany of petitions; it was sustained aspiration; and aspiration
is a large part of achievement; it was deepest satisfaction with God,
and His will and His work: and such satisfaction is itself a source of
patient strength and a preparation for victory.

Nor was the effect limited. Her nature received a refinement, an
elevation, a beauty that triumphed over the physical features, and shone
out with a glory that is not seen on sea or shore. The expression of her
face seemed to be from God. A transfiguring radiance came from within as
she thought on the wonders and delighted in the treasures of the gospel
of God. Hers was a noble life. Like Martha, she was engaged in "much
serving;" but yet was never cumbered and worn with it, because, like
Mary, she sat daily at the Master's feet, and listened to His words,
and received His sustaining strength. She was as sweetly unselfish as
the flowers, and gave herself and her "all" to Christ, like the widow of
the gospels. Meekness and humility clothed her with their loveliest
robes. I never knew a purer spirit. She always breathed the softness and
gentleness of the Saviour, and yet I have seen her weak body quiver and
throb with its anguish of desire for the salvation of the lost. Faithful
unto death, she realised the support and joy of the Christian's hope,
and gently as leaves are shed by the flower that has finished its
course, she fell into the arms of Jesus; and as Deborah, Rebekah's
nurse, was buried under the "oak of weeping" amid affectionate regrets
and sweet memories, so this Christian servant was laid in the grave with
tears of real sorrow from those whom she had served so faithfully and
long, as well as from friends who had been gladdened and fortified in
the faith of Christ by her sweet, earnest, and beautiful Christian life.
That day is now far off, but the influence of her prayer-filled life
still feeds faith in God as the Hearer and the Answerer of Prayer.

About the same time and in the same spiritual laboratory I was called to
observe the following processes. A woman, the wife of a blacksmith, was
led by the gospel of Christ into the joy of salvation. Her experience of
the grace of God in Christ was vivid and full. She knew little of doubt
concerning herself, but she was full of solicitude for her husband and
children; for she had a very heavy burden to carry, and her heart was
sore stricken. Her husband was a drunkard. When sober he was true,
devoted, and loving; but when he fell into intemperance he became hard,
harsh, and even violent. But never did the brave and trustful wife cease
to hope or cease to pray. In the darkest hours she begged for the
conversion of her husband, and felt sure that God would respond to her
supplications. That was her habitual mood, her supreme desire, her
living prayer; and I could see that this very disposition developed her
saintliness, deepened her affection for her husband, and gave increased
beauty to her family life, as well as added to her usefulness in the

One day, in the course of my pastoral visits, I called at the
blacksmith's home. Scarcely was the threshold crossed when the husband
rushed in, wild, angry, and violent, the prey of intoxicants. But before
he had proceeded far the wife approached him, flung her arms around him,
called him by name, and said: "Ah, God will give you to me yet." Saint
Ambrose told Monica, when she went to him, sad and desponding about her
son, "God would not forget the prayers of such a mother," and Augustine
came, though late in his young manhood, into the kingdom and patience of
Jesus Christ. So I felt the earnest pleadings of this true wife and
mother would not be forgotten of God, but that, according to her own
beautiful saying, God would "give her husband to her;" for she did not
think he was completely hers whilst he was under the dominion of
intoxicants,--give him to her freed from that depraving and desolating
slavery. And it was so. For he, too, became a Christian, and they
together effectively served their generation according to the will of
God, "turning men from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan
unto God."

There recurs to me the image of a visitor who called one Sunday evening
in 1862, and who wished to know what he was to do in order to control
and suppress an ungovernable temper. For years it had tortured him past
all bearing, and, what was worse, for years it had been a source of pain
and discomfort in his home. When his anger was kindled he was by his own
confession a terror to wife and children, and, seeing that he had
recently become a Christian, he felt acutely the stain such actions
fixed on garments that should have been unspotted by the world. "What
must I do? I can't go on in this way, and yet though I feel it is wrong
I can't help myself."

The first suggestion I ventured was based on the regard he had expressed
for his pastor. "What would be the effect," said I, "on you, if I were
to appear at the moment the storm was about to burst? Think!"

He thought, and then said, "It wouldn't burst I should stop it."

"Well, then, try this plan. Force yourself at the moment of peril into
the conscious presence of God, and say, as you feel the uprising
passion, 'O God, make me master of myself.' Pray that prayer; and pray,
morning by morning, that you may so pray in your time of need; and in
due season you will obtain the perfect mastery of yourself you seek." He
promised. I watched. He prayed. He conquered; once, twice, thrice, and
then failed; but he renewed the attempt, and triumphed again, and years
afterwards I knew him as one of the most serene of men; and when he
died, no phase of his character stood out more distinctively than his
perfect self-control, and no fact in his life was remembered with deeper
gratitude by his bereaved wife than that memorable victory won by prayer
in the early days of his discipleship to the Lord Jesus.

From the beginning of my ministry I have made it my business to offer
advice and aid to young men and maidens assailed with doubts and fears
concerning the revelation of God in Christ, hindered at the outset by
misconceptions of the "way of salvation," and perplexed by confused and
contradictory teaching. Hundreds of young men (and within the last ten
years especially, many young women) have described to me their
difficulties as they have reached the stage described by Roscoe in the
words, "There are times when faith is weak and the heart yearns for

Here is a "case" chosen from a large number of similar facts. A young
man came to tell me the somewhat familiar story, that the first fervours
of his religious life had cooled down, his early raptures were gone, and
the sense of peace and bounding freedom, and of all-sufficing strength
in God, had departed with them. The certainties of the opening months or
years of the Christian pilgrimage had given place to torturing
questions, such as, "Am I not deceived? After all, is Christianity true?
What are its real contents? What is inspiration? Did miracles happen?"
etc., etc. Week after week we reasoned and argued, and months passed in
a struggle whose usefulness no one could register, and whose issue no
one could forecast.

But it "happened," as these conversations were going on, that he was
"drawn" into what I may call a "prayer circle," privately carried on by
a small group of young men who were not unacquainted with such conflicts
as those which then engaged his powers. He joined it, and by-and-by felt
its influence. He was lifted into another atmosphere, and breathed a
clearer, sunnier air. His misgivings were slowly displaced by missionary
enthusiasm, and his fears by a stronger faith; and yet he had not solved
the problems suggested by the person of Christ, or found the secret of
the Incarnation, or explained the mystery of the Atonement. But he had
been led to set the full force of his nature on communion with God; and
prayer had quickened the sense for spiritual realities, for the
recognition of the infinite value of the human soul, and for the wonder
and splendour of God's salvation. In that realm of prayer, character was
altered, the aim of life was altered, the will had a new goal, and so
the questions of the intellect fell into their true place in reference
to the whole of the questions of life. Emerson writes, "When all is said
and done, the rapt saint is found the only logician." It is he who
thinks the most sanely and dwells nearest the central truths of life and
being. It is he who becomes serenely acquiescent in the agnosticism of
the Bible, and realises that revelation must contain many things past
finding out, whilst the Spirit, who is the revealer, gives us the best
assurances of the certitude and clearness of what it is most important
for us to know.

So often have I seen this rest-giving effect on the intellect, of the
lifting of the life into communion with God, that I cannot hesitate to
regard it as a law of the life of man, and yet I must add that I do not
think it wise to meet those who ask our aid in the treatment of their
mental perplexities merely, or at first, with the counsel to pray.
Most likely they will misunderstand it, and it will become to them a
stone of stumbling and a rock of offence. We had better, if we are able,
meet them first on their own ground, that of the intellect, and meet
them with frankness and sympathy, with knowledge and tact; and yet seek
by the spirit we breathe, and the associations into which we introduce
them, to raise them where the Saviour's beatitude shall become an
experience: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

Prayer has often proved itself an infallible recipe for dejection. A man
of culture and wealth was for a long time pursued by what seemed to him
an intolerable and invariable melancholy. He sought relief near and far,
and sought in vain. He became a source of anxiety to his friends. He
went away to Bellagio, goaded by the same restlessness, but its lovely
surroundings did not heal, its soft airs did not soothe. No! All was
dark and repellent. Even prayer seemed of no use. God had forgotten
him. He was cast off as reprobate. His soul was disquieted within him.
The burden of his misery was more than he could carry. He threatened to
take away his life. But in his despair he still clung to his God; and at
last, as in this desperate, and yet not altogether hopeless or
prayerless mood, he read a sermon on "Elijah as a brave prophet tired of
life;" hope was reborn and joy restored, and as Bunyan's pilgrim lost
his burden at the cross, so this Elijah escaped from his tormentors, and
came forth and dwelt in the light of God's countenance. It was the
prayer of a weak and struggling faith; but God did not turn it away, nor
reject the voice of his supplication.

What abundant witness that

"More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of"

could be supplied by pastors and elders who have visited the widow and
the fatherless, the sick and suffering in their afflictions. One picture
comes to me from the crowded past, of a strong and victorious, though
much enduring saint. Crippled by disease, she did not rise from her bed
unaided for more than seven years. She was always in pain, sometimes
heavy and dull, but not infrequently keen and sharp. Yet through all
these years, she not only did not complain, but she had such an overflow
of quiet cheerfulness and of deep interest in life that she distributed
her gladness to others and made them partakers of her serenity. You
could not detain her in talk about herself, her ailments, her broken
plans, her manifold disappointments. No! she would compel you to talk of
the Church, its schools, its missions, its various activities; of
societies and movements for getting rid of social evils, such as
intemperance and impurity. Sometimes the theme was last Sunday's
sermons, or those in preparation for the next; but rarely herself. There
she lay with a patience that was never ruffled, a serenity rarely if
ever disturbed, a forgetfulness of self bright and fresh, a solicitude
for others deep and full, and a fellowship with God not only unbroken,
but so inspiring as to make the sick-room a sanctuary radiant with His
presence. Prayer led her to the fountains of divine joy, daily she drank
and was refreshed.

So I set down a few tested, verified facts from the early part of a
ministry of over thirty-eight years; facts chosen from amongst many, and
in substance repeated again and again during recent, but not yet
reportable years.

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