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.