A Reply to Dr. Vaughan’s “Letter on the Late Post-Office Agitation” by Pears

A REPLY
TO
DR. VAUGHAN’S
“LETTER ON THE LATE POST-OFFICE
AGITATION.”

BY
JAMES ROBERT PEARS, M.A.,

MASTER OF THE BATH GRAMMAR SCHOOL, AND LATE FELLOW OF
MAGDALEN COLLEGE, OXFORD.

LONDON:
JAMES NISBET AND CO.
BATH: BINNS AND GOODWIN.

Price Sixpence.

p. 2BATH: PRINTED BY BINNS AND GOODWIN.

p. 3A REPLY, &c.
Rev. Sir,

Three years ago the Hon. Grantley F. Berkeley published a letter to the Postmaster-General in opposition “to the attempt (as he wrote) which was making in Bath and its vicinity to prevent the delivery of letters on a Sunday.” And we were taught by this publication that there were men, and perhaps many men, among our legislators, who were uninformed as to the origin, nature, and moral effects of that precious ordinance of a day of rest. Such men needed to be instructed with kindness, and patience, and compassion.

We must, indeed, be fearfully devoid of the best gift of God to man, if we do not feel compassion for men who, in a land of open bibles, and professed obedience to the Gospel, have been deprived, by a vicious education, a life of excitement, and the cold indifference of p. 4those about them, of the vast enjoyment realized by the spirit of man when it rests in communion with the Almighty.

But when I undertook the easy and pleasant task of replying to that opponent, I certainly thought that the sentiments of that gentleman were confined to men whose education had been so unhappily restricted.

It would have been to me utterly incredible, if I had been told that his views would find sympathy and support in a man educated in the most liberal course, and trained to the full exercise of intellectual energy, accepted as a popular instructor of the rising Aristocracy, and even accounted an able preacher of the Gospel of Him, who gave the day of rest and blessed it. And here you must accept the assurance of my unfeigned regret if the following remarks necessarily assume somewhat of a personal character. My own feelings would lead me to limit myself entirely to the discussion of facts, principles, causes, and results: but that period in the discussion is past. The nature, obligation, privilege, and blessing of the Lord’s day has been the subject of deep interest and enquiry to every temper of mind, with an infinite variety of views, among all classes of men from the palace to the workshop.

Nothing remains for us but to apply to individuals principles already admitted, and arguments no longer disputed. Nor is any exception to be made in favour of a disputant, who has contrived to escape from all perception of the various stages of the enquiry, and with feminine pertinacity repeats at the end the question which opened the discussion.

The debate has come to a close, and the question is p. 5now put to the vote. The multitude catch at every leading voice which authorizes their self-indulgence, and neglect of duty, and our only effort is to make such leaders retract their vote with honest repentance, or to make the many ashamed to follow them in palpable error.

Your name and reputation make it indeed imperative on us to notice, in the fulness of courtesy, the points you have brought forward; but I cannot conceal from myself that the only conceivable importance to be attached to the publication before me arises from your personal position and personal character: it begins and ends with yourself.

The letter itself would be a harmless echo of the minute of Mr. Rowland Hill but for the Preacher’s name on the title-page, and the advertisements of sermons, by the same Author, on the cover. To that sacred document, “the minute,” you are willing to be indebted for facts, principles, and arguments;—an implicit submission to the written word of authority, which in the sermons would be the wisdom of faith, but in the present instance savours more of the simplicity of credulity. “You could wish that that minute had been more generally studied by those who pronounced a judgment upon the question.”

A wish in which I heartily concur, under the fullest conviction, that every honest and intelligent mind would pronounce it to be as contemptible a piece of official mystification as ever proceeded from a public office.

We have in one paper a desultory reference to every part of the Post-office duties; facts the most unconnected in their nature united together; and conclusions arrived at by a process peculiar to those who know the p. 6credulity of the many; while the only thing which we learn with any degree of certainty, we ascertain from its ostentatious repetition, that to compensate for the contempt of the command of Jehovah, and the ruin of men’s souls, we shall have a saving of £148 per annum by the discontinuance of the Newport-Pagnell Mail-cart.

One principle, however, shows itself in something like a definite form, which you have yourself adopted—the principle of compensation in the matter of obedience to the word of God;—of striking a balance with Jehovah. It runs through the minute, it constitutes the only approach to an argument in your letter. Is it possible, Sir, that your mind was not startled by the train of thought which you permitted to pass through it? A man, whose whole energies have been unhappily devoted to secular business; whose affections are wrapped up in questions of profit and loss; who forgets the eternity which is to come in the contemplation of the saving of the Newport-Pagnell Mail-cart: such a man may, perhaps, think that “the Lord is even such an one as himself.” But you know that the Spirit of our Creator, and our Judge, has asked, “What is a man profited if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

You cannot go into your closet, and meet the God of your salvation there, with an offer of a lesser sin instead of a greater. You shudder at the thought, or smile at the absurdity, as your temper may be; but this is merely the specious profession of Mr. Hill’s minute, as adopted by yourself, stripped under the light of Divine truth.

You have yourself spoken with approbation of those p. 7in whom is “a trembling anxiety to be right for eternity, which forbids them to rest in that dim unrealized twilight which satisfies the eye less intently fixed on the future and the spiritual.” [7a] And if these words are anything beyond an elegant close to a period, you will agree with me, that it is a fearful calamity for a teacher of God’s truth to have vague and indefinite notions of duty towards God; and an awful offence in such a man to consent to and to authorize the prevalence of such uncertainty.

Man, when once brought to a sense of responsibility, is too ready to escape from it under the cloudy varieties of opinion. The poor country labourer defends his carelessness by asserting that “we must do the best that we can;” and his educated fellow-man tells us that “the question is whether, on the whole, the aggregate of gain or loss will preponderate.” [7b] No, Sir, that may be the question for Mr. Rowland Hill; but it is not the question for you or me. I earnestly entreat you to consider this matter again. The elegant poet of a heathen court declared of the virtuous man, which his imagination delighted in, “Si fractus illabatur orbis, impavidum ferient ruinæ.” We have repeated, as before God, thousands of times, “Thy will be done.” And what did we mean? Less than Horace? I trust not. “Thy will be done;”—though all the conveniences of society are sacrificed,—all the communications of friends cut off,—all the prosperity of nations overthrown:—“Thy will be done.”

“If twenty-five additional servants are required in the p. 8London Office on the Sunday, and twice twenty-five can be relieved on that day in the Provincial Offices, the change, so far as it extends, is salutary. Now if this obvious principle be granted, the question is decided at once,” [8] is your own statement of the matter; and though I utterly deny that such a relief can be realized, or was expected, I am willing to take it as a mere moral thesis of your own, that I may remind you that very obvious principles in the matters of this world are not very obvious principles in our dealing with God.

You dare not go into the presence of God with this obvious principle in the face of His express and unqualified command. You tell me that “it is necessary to take a national view of such a question.” I answer, that for us, Ministers of the Gospel, it is necessary to take a scriptural and spiritual view of this and every question. And you must not suppose that I am assuming anything here as to the obligation of the Lord’s-day. You admit that the increase of work in the London Post Office is an evil, and you look upon the relief from such work in the country offices as a counterbalancing good. As a minister of Christ, you must mean good and evil in reference to the will of the God of the Bible; you must therefore understand positive, eternal, unchangeable good and evil. You incur a vast and fearful responsibility if you teach man that man’s obedience, in regard to Divine declarations of good and evil, is left undefined, and dependent upon circumstances, or man’s judgment. You must not teach them to seek a good of their own by a balance of disobedience p. 9and obedience, and such an approximation to the Divine will as they find convenient.

Of all the forms in which the perverseness of man’s nature is exhibited, none is so painful to contemplate as the incapacity of an acute intellect and cultivated mind for comprehending the nature and power of the communication between the Creator and the spirits of His creatures. We read the clearest statements of the one truth that “the world by wisdom knew not God,” and we submit to them rather as a salutary warning against possible error, than as declaratory of a sure result. But when we see the truth exemplified in an individual; when we look upon faculties and qualities which we are led to envy, to admire, and to love, and find the man even in one point closed against the communication of God; our spirit endures the most bitter disappointment of which it is susceptible. We see strength which defies our efforts, and a moral and intellectual position above our reach, and yet feel that such strength is the intensity of weakness, and such a position the most slippery of those “slippery places,” of which the Psalmist was instructed in the sanctuary of God.

Few years have passed since we rejoiced in the emancipation of minds from the thraldom of the traditionary ideas of the past; men began, after a long interval, to think for themselves. We have already lived to see many of the finest minds lost through their liberty. It is better to be limited to the well defined truths borrowed from other minds, than to wander in a wilderness of free thought, where truth and error, good and evil, are undistinguished but by the casual intuitive perception of the wanderer.

p. 10It is a matter of vast national importance that one of the first instructors of youth should subdue his own mind to well defined conceptions of duty.

Surely there must have been something which materially interfered with the calmness of your judgment when you stated conspicuously that the alteration in the transmission of letters would cause a great diminution of the former amount of letters written and read in the country on Sunday! And when you intimated that the opponents of the measure, who will not consent to the doing of evil that good may come, are chargeable with the same folly. You ask, “Are you not, in resisting the proposed relief of the country offices, on the plea of regard for that of London, doing, in fact, a great evil—not that a small good may come; but that a small evil may not come?” [10]

Whence did you learn, Sir, that we resist the proposed relief of the Country Offices, for which we have contended for years? Who told you that we dared impiously to resist any act of obedience to the Lord? Nothing could be further from my mind. Many of us, as I can venture to assert, whether right or wrong in our judgment, have a clear, defined, invariable rule of obedience to the will of God, by which we desire to be guided, and desire others also to be ruled, as the best wish we can express for them.

It is impossible from your letter to conjecture what may be your view of the ordinance of the Lord’s-day. You have indeed told us in another place, in sufficiently general terms, that “without that ordinance, indeed, p. 11without that weekly memento, visible in all things around us, of realities unseen but eternal, no other memorial of God’s love could, in a world like ours, find room and scope for its operations.” [11] But this does not supply the want. I cannot conjecture whether you look upon the observance of that day as enforced by command, or instituted as a privilege, or appointed as a type, or a mere human institution. I reject the latter supposition as impossible, for I cannot suspect a minister of our church of the base hypocrisy of using her services while he holds the Lord’s-day to be merely of man. You therefore think that, in one way or other, it has a Divine sanction, and is a part of the Divine purpose. The Word of the Spirit appears to give great latitude upon the subject, when we read, “One man esteemeth one day above another, another esteemeth every day alike.” But we must read on, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” Yes, Sir, we have surely a right to expect from a teacher of Divine Truth a clear expression of the full persuasion of his own mind, when he publicly treats on such a subject.

There is nothing which irritates an earnest, intelligent mind more than a weak exhibition of moral duties upon untenable grounds, or by unsound arguments. It is possible that a vague outcry upon the subject of the Post Office desecration of the Lord’s-day may have provoked you to make and print the inconsiderate reply, which is now before me. And all who esteem your reputation will regret that any outcry, however vague and unreasonable, should have drawn from an p. 12instructed mind a reply without one single definite statement of truth, or of duty. You must pardon me, therefore, if I state for you a few positions, which you certainly do hold in common with myself.

You will not hesitate to assert,

I. That no combination of circumstances can possibly make it right to do that which is evil in the sight of God.

The contrary supposition necessarily asserts imperfection in His mind, or His government.

II. That our obedience to His will is no obedience, unless it be in spirit and in truth, without even a desire for evasion.

III. That each human being shall exist to eternity, in the blessedness of the kingdom of Christ, or in the misery of the damned.

IV. That they shall perish eternally who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

V. That God has mysteriously connected deliverance from eternal death with the hearing of the Gospel.

VI. That He has likewise connected obedience to His will, and His own glory in His people, with the knowledge of His word.

VII. That it is of infinite importance that every man should hear the Gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation to them that believe.

VIII. That the Lord’s-day is especially set apart, under Divine sanction, for the hearing of the word, and for the turning the mind of men from the things of the world to God.

p. 13IX. That it is better for “sixty thousand letters” to be burned, unopened, than for one Post Office Clerk to perish in hell for ever.

I can venture, Sir, to tell the world that your mind is quite made up on all these points. And the world will wonder that you should hitherto have failed to use all your faculties and influence for the deliverance of those poor men, whom the requirements of a godless or thoughtless multitude have shut up in the Post Office from the sound of the Gospel.

You have told us most truly of the effects of six days’ worldly excitement. “Who has not found himself, at the end of the week of hard work, or of abounding excitements, left cold and almost lifeless towards God? Who has not found himself, at such a time, so tied and bound with the chain of this world, that, without some change, some voice coming and speaking to him, whether he will hear or no, he could not shake off the yoke with which he is fettered?” [13]

And what must be the effects of months and years uninterrupted by one real Sabbath from such excitement and fatigue? Practical men know the effect,—they have seen one after another demoralized, degraded, brutalized, in this life. And what can they hope is to follow in the next? A liberally-minded man is disgusted at the idea of wearing out the life of his horse, using him up—as men say. What do you think of wilfully employing fellow men in a work, which wears out physical energy and moral sense,—which uses up p. 14body, mind, and soul,—and consigns the poor exhausted wretch to destruction? But I am met by these words, “that attendance, you will observe, is voluntary.” [14] And I read them with feelings of the most hearty sorrow, that such words could have fallen from the pen of a brother in the ministry of the blessed Gospel of Love—from his pen—for I am sure that your heart never conceived them—your head never weighed them—and yet what was a mere specious afterthought of Mr. Hill’s, is put prominently forward by yourself—their attendance voluntary—their ignorance voluntary too?—their ungodliness voluntary too?—their eternal ruin voluntary too? One moment’s thought would have made you tremble at the consequences of this defence. Multitudes of the young prefer a course of idleness and folly which will inevitably lead to ruin. Let them alone! You observe that it is purely voluntary. Multitudes of our hearers prefer to live according to the lusts of the flesh—let them alone! . . . their destruction is entirely voluntary. The hardened reprobate, who seduces the simple country girl by gratifying her taste for finery and idleness, may attempt to throw off the guilt by the cruel retort that she was willing to sin; but he only calls forth a double portion of indignation and contempt from every honest man by the cold-blooded, false-hearted insult. And yet he is guiltless in comparison with a man, who could deliberately see his fellow man destroying his hopes for eternity, and sacrifice his soul for a trifling stipend; could make use of the poor wretch’s suicidal labor for his own little p. 15convenience, and satisfy his conscience with the thought that the man was willing.

No, Sir, no man who has ever heard your name will suspect for a moment that you ever weighed the expression you were borrowing; and what I have written, I have written not for yourself, but for many who need to be warned of the guilt of their ordinary habits; who need to be taught that man can indeed form no calculation of the innumerable minute causes which combine to produce the destruction of a soul; but that the infinitely wise God sees every part of the load which presses downward the poor sinner, and attributes with unerring accuracy every particle, however imperceptible to us, to the hand which cast it upon the perishing wretch. But I must submit to you that the inadvertent advocacy of this measure lays you under an obligation to make an honest effort to remove moral evils, which you now see that you have unintentionally encouraged.

If any one thing is essentially our business above all others, it is to resist, by the Word of the Lord, the will of the man who chooses his own destruction. And surely we may be content, if any men, to submit to the vulgar retort, and mind our own business; for what can be a more glorious office, than that of a messenger who comes from God, to entreat the rebels, over whose head the sword of vengeance hangs, “be ye reconciled to God.” Are we not called upon to use every means to turn the sinner from the error of his ways? In season out of season; by argument and example; by reproof and entreaty; by patience and by love, to endeavour to deliver our fellow sinners “from p. 16darkness into light, from the power of Satan unto God?” And if God has indeed put us in trust with the Gospel, we can testify that we also once were such, willing to serve divers lusts and pleasures, walking according to the flesh, never turned willingly to God, but converted by the sovereign efficacy of His grace.

I must not, however, close this letter without a few words on “the minute,” in which you appear to place such entire confidence.

You ask, “May we not be permitted to learn the object of a measure from its author? Are we justified in imputing to any man, I do not say motives which he disavows, but motives of which he professes the very opposite, and against which his own previous and subsequent acts obviously militate?” and I conclude, that you would imply your own belief that the purpose of Mr. Rowland Hill was to relieve as many persons as he could from labor on the Lord’s-day.

I wish from my heart that I could believe that the object of that gentleman was the glory of our God and Saviour in the promotion of His worship, and the saving work of the Gospel.

But it requires a mind above or below humanity to believe, that a man truly desires and seeks the glory of God, who consents to occupy such a post in the one department of our Government, which is most conspicuous for its desecration of the Lord’s-day, and its contempt of the claims of the Gospel.

You seem, however, to limit your attention to the one document before you. But, for my part, if I could detach my mind from previous events, and take up this single paper for judgment, I confess that I should be p. 17totally unable to comprehend the connexion between the measures contemplated and the care for the observance of the Lord’s-day, which is put so prominently forward; and I should necessarily suspect, either that the writer had in his mind a very strange jumble of heterogeneous subjects, or that there was some underhand motive for his curious preface to the document.

I cannot, however, forget that this minute comes out at the close of a long series of earnest appeals to the Government for the removal or diminution of Sunday labor in the Post Office; that the duty of such reform has been urged by numbers, which could not be neglected, and by individuals, whose rank and station made some satisfactory effort, if not some concession, imperative upon the authorities. Promises have long been held out of such changes as, it was hoped (so they told us) would meet the wishes of the Christian remonstrants. And this minute is not the spontaneous act of piety which you suppose, but the evasive reply to the urgent and often repeated remonstrances of tens of thousands of thoughtful Christian men, and men deeply interested in the prosperity of the country. Instead of boasting of the “total suspension of all money orders on the Sabbath,” it would be wiser and more becoming to endeavour to forget that disgraceful matter for ever.

It was not only an outrage of the Divine law, it was an insult on a Christian community, that when every bank and office was closed, and a respectable tradesman would have been ashamed to look for gain on the Lord’s-day, the one place open in every town for petty traffic should be the Government office of the British Empire.

p. 18The offence was totally unnecessary, and every respectable man was ashamed of it. And one cannot but smile at the pretty simplicity with which Mr. Rowland Hill informs us that “it is very satisfactory to remark that neither the announcement of the change, nor the experience of it thus far, has brought on the department a single complaint from the public.” [18]

It is not necessary to go through the details of “the minute,” nor to notice the fallacies, which have exposed themselves already in the experiment. The writer of that paper could not have been so ignorant of Post Office work as to suppose that twenty-five persons would accomplish all that was contemplated in London; nor had he any ground for promising any relief in the provinces worthy of the name. It rather seems that in his haste to attain to his ultimate object, he was peculiarly incautious as to the statement of minor details.

What that object really is may easily be conjectured from a review of the past. “This is,” as you remark, “a part of a more general scheme.”

For years past a strong body of serious men have combated the Post Office desecration of the Lord’s-day, and their efforts have been firmly resisted by those in authority, with a few honourable exceptions.

In that contest the strong argument of the advocates for a cessation of Post Office work has been the closed office in London; and those who have defended the profanation of that day have never been able to get over that great and unanswerable argument. The office in London has been considered as uniformly at rest, and p. 19always spoken of as such by both parties, the slight exceptions being not of a nature to be cited honestly against that position.

So that “the conscience of the Christian community has not left these practices unchallenged and unnoticed until now,” [19a] as you think; but as far as the cognizance of the Christian community goes, this is the first attempt at the sin in London, and is resisted as such. And we think that this is the proper time for meeting the evils, and act therefore on your own advice. [19b]

“Principiis obsta; sero medicina paratur,
Cùm mala per longas convaluere moras,”

is not the less valuable advice because often repeated; and no man should know the truth of it better than yourself.

I need scarcely mention the voluntary labors (which was a mere palliative afterthought): for he must be a very prejudiced man who calls the poor clerk a voluntary agent in the matter, when he is enticed by a bribe, which his small salary makes an irresistible temptation, or compelled by the fear of the loss of his only means of subsistence.

And here I may leave the minute; for you now know how honest men value it, and why they resist it. It is one move in the contest for the mastery, wherein the question is, whether the will of the Lord or the petty gains of the Government shall rule in the Post Office on the Lord’s-day.

It is scarcely possible that the writer of that minute could have abstained from laughing when he read the first two paragraphs of his own paper, and saw with what p. 20ingenious affectation he was entrapping his religious adversaries. But the craft is too transparent; and he has neither evaded their vigilance by the mystery of his statements, nor disarmed their opposition by his specious profession.

Neither the minute, nor your own letter, enters upon the question of works of necessity, and of mercy; and I am, therefore, not called upon to meet those hackneyed and misapplied expressions. I must, however, be permitted to lay down one or two points, as necessary elements in the discussion whenever these terms are used.

Nothing can be necessary which is not in accordance with the will of the Omnipotent Ruler of all things.

Nothing can be an act of mercy which does not emanate from the God of all grace.

When men find necessity, or mercy, militate against duty, it must be from their own ignorance.

Men persist in deceiving themselves by mixing together things essentially distinct.

You may show me ten thousand acts of mercy which seem to you connected with the maintenance of Sunday labor in the Post Office; but you can never show that it is an act of necessity, or mercy, to shut up one clerk where he shall be kept away from the sound of the Gospel,—the one sound which can call him from eternal misery to eternal peace.

And here, Sir, I must close this hastily-written letter; hastily written from the pressure of necessary duties: but containing opinions most maturely weighed, and principles on which I have long endeavoured to act.

p. 21If I appear to treat your letter with severity, I beg to assure you that I do it with extreme regret. But, however anxious I may be to show all possible respect for the writer, I cannot forget that errors, in themselves trivial, receive importance from the character of him who propagates them.

The greater his merited reputation may be, the more needful it is that his errors be unsparingly dealt with.

Where I cannot comprehend a good motive, and cannot suspect a bad one, I do not venture to assign any; and, in fact, I should rather conjecture that some works are so hastily undertaken, that their author himself could scarcely assign his own motives.

It is, indeed, an unhappy coincidence when the favor of this world is, by any accident, associated with the maintenance of Divine truth. The most single-hearted men are unable to engage in that holy duty without incurring a suspicion of sordid motives. But when men of unblemished reputation, by an unhappy eccentricity of mind, are led to uphold the questionable theories of those who dispense worldly wealth and honor;—when they exhibit in their support an unusual dulness of perception of Divine truth;—we can only (as the kindest alternative) attribute their conduct to some unaccountable infatuation, or intemperate haste.

The judgment of charity is best expressed by speaking the TRUTH in LOVE.

Many Christian men have looked, with sanguine expectation, for a blessing upon the country from your labors at your important post. Those hopes have been for a moment disappointed, but will not easily be abandoned.

p. 22There is no hope for the country but from men of master minds, and powerful talents, submitting their powers to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and devoting their energies to the services of their God and Saviour. That this may be your high and happy calling, is the prayer of many, as it is my own. I hope, and believe, that you will yet know the power and enjoyment of that Sabbath which the children of the kingdom enjoy in the finished work of Jesus, even here on earth. And will be enabled to look with confidence to an abundant entrance into that rest which remaineth for the people of God.

Yours, in Christian fidelity,

JAMES ROBERT PEARS.

BATH: PRINTED BY BINNS AND GOODWIN.