Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

XXVI. HOPES BLIGHTED.

A.D. 1536-1553.

Ah, when did wisdom covet length of days,
Or seek its bliss in pleasure, wealth, or praise?
No,-wisdom views, with an indifferent eye,
All finite joys, all blessings born to die.
The soul on earth is an immortal guest,
Compell'd to starve at an unreal feast;

A spark, which upward tends by nature's force;
A stream, diverted from its parent source;
A drop, dissever'd from the boundless sea;
A moment, parted from eternity;

A pilgrim, panting for the rest to come;
An exile, anxious for his native home.

HANNAH MORE.

You have already heard more than once the name of Sir Thomas More; and as I have a good deal to tell you about him, we will begin this chapter with his history,—that part of it, at least, which will most interest you,—and a mournful story I fear it must be. You remember that Sir Thomas More was very active in opposing the Reformation, and that the death of the martyrs Fryth and Tyndale was, in a great measure, owing to him; and so you are

probably expecting to hear the history of a cruel and hard-hearted man. You will be surprised then when I tell you, that More was a very different character from what you suppose. He was kind and gentle in his disposition; beloved by his family and friends for his amiability, and for his truthfulness and sincerity; and so pleasant and agreeable, that every body who knew him loved him and desired his society. He was a talented and erudite man too; and his acquaintance was courted by many of the learned people of those times, who frequently visited him at his house in Chelsea, in order to enjoy his clever conversation. And yet, notwithstanding all these good and pleasant points of character in Sir Thomas More, he was, as we have seen, a bitter opposer of the Reformation, and a stern persecutor of those who held its doctrines. How can we understand this? How could a man so wise and so good in many things, fail here, and be foolish enough to oppose God's truth, and heartless enough to put to death those who possessed it?

Now I think we cannot doubt that Sir T. More opposed the Reformation conscientiously, -upon principle, and because he thought it right to do so. He was certainly an honest and sincere man, who would not profess what he did not believe, and who would act up to the principles he considered right. We shall

find proofs of this in the course of his history. But here comes in another difficulty. Perhaps you are inclined to ask, Is a person to be blamed, is he really wrong,-when he acts according to his principles, and the dictates of his own conscience? This is an important matter to decide, and one which it will be well to settle at this part of our history, that we may be saved from future difficulty when we come to other characters of a similar kind. Let us consider it then for a moment, before we go on with the story of Sir Thomas More.

You remember I have before remarked, that ignorance is no excuse for doing wrong; because, when there are means and opportunities of knowing better, ignorance is itself a sin. Now it is much the same in regard to conscience. Some people do that which is contrary to the word and will of God, and then try to justify themselves, by saying that they acted according to their consciences. But this does not free them from guilt; because it is their duty to form their principles in accordance with the law which is laid down in the Bible, and then to act accordingly. The conscience, as well as every other faculty of the mind, has felt the effects of the fall; and only when it is enlightened by the Spirit of God, can it become a safe guide for our conduct and actions. The natural conscience of

men has often led them to do what is positively wicked. It led Herod to murder, when he cut off the head of John the Baptist "for his oath's sake;" and it led Saul of Tarsus to be "a persecutor and injurious," when he was thinking that he "did God service" by committing the Christians to prison. So then, you see, it comes to this:-We are in ourselves ignorant, and unable to judge or to act rightly, and our very conscience, being corrupt, is not to be trusted for guidance. But we have ample means of learning the truth, and an unfailing guide in the word of God, which is able to direct us in our perplexities; and the Spirit of God is ready to enlighten our conscience, if we ask Him to give us wisdom, and "a right judgment in all things." And therefore, if we remain ignorant, the fault is our own, because we will not be instructed; and if our conscience leads us astray, the fault is our own too, because we have not sought to have it set right. So that, we must not, we cannot, plead in excuse for our conduct, that we did not know, or that we could not ascertain, what was really the truth, and which was the proper path for us to pursue. And so, to return to Sir Thomas More ;—while we admire and love what there was in him great and amiable, we must pity in him that conscience which was so blind and ignorant;

and lament that he did not seek, as he might and should have done, to have it enlightened and instructed according to the word of God, which he so sadly and violently opposed.

Sir Thomas More was a great favourite with the king. Sometimes Henry would honour him with a visit at Chelsea; and very frequently Sir Thomas was invited to the palace, to entertain the king and his company with his wit and amusing conversation, when he would far rather have stayed at home quietly with his family. All this, however, did not deceive More as to the character of Henry. He well knew how unstable and capricious he was; and one day, when he was congratulated by his son-in-law on the favour he enjoyed with the king, he replied, "I find his grace my very good lord indeed, and I believe he doth as singularly favour me as any subject within the realm. However, son Roper, I may tell thee, I have no cause to be proud thereof; for if my head would win him a castle in France, it should not fail to go."

The time came when the truth of these words was proved. On the fall of Wolsey, More was appointed, as you remember, to succeed him as chancellor; but this honour he did not long retain. More differed from Henry on the grand subject of the divorce; and he felt that he could not remain in a

[blocks in formation]
« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »