第66章 Part 5(12)
As it brought the people into public company,so it was surprising how it brought them to crowd into the churches.They inquired no more into whom they sat near to or far from,what offensive smells they met with,or what condition the people seemed to be in;but,looking upon themselves all as so many dead corpses,they came to the churches without the least caution,and crowded together as if their lives were of no consequence compared to the work which they came about there.Indeed,the zeal which they showed in coming,and the earnestness and affection they showed in their attention to what they heard,made it manifest what a value people would all put upon the worship of God if they thought every day they attended at the church that it would be their last.
Nor was it without other strange effects,for it took away,all manner of prejudice at or scruple about the person whom they found in the pulpit when they came to the churches.It cannot be doubted but that many of the ministers of the parish churches were cut off,among others,in so common and dreadful a calamity;and others had not courage enough to stand it,but removed into the country as they found means for escape.As then some parish churches were quite vacant and forsaken,the people made no scruple of desiring such Dissenters as had been a few years before deprived of their livings by virtue of the Act of Parliament called the Act of Uniformity to preach in the churches;nor did the church ministers in that case make any difficulty of accepting their assistance;so that many of those whom they called silenced ministers had their mouths opened on this occasion and preached publicly to the people.
Here we may observe and I hope it will not be amiss to take notice of it that a near view of death would soon reconcile men of good principles one to another,and that it is chiefly owing to our easy situation in life and our putting these things far from us that our breaches are fomented,ill blood continued,prejudices,breach of charity and of Christian union,so much kept and so far carried on among us as it is.Another plague year would reconcile all these differences;a dose conversing with death,or with diseases that threaten death,would scum off the gall from our tempers,remove the animosities among us,and bring us to see with differing eyes than those which we looked on things with before.As the people who had been used to join with the Church were reconciled at this time with the admitting the Dissenters to preach to them,so the Dissenters,who with an uncommon prejudice had broken off from the communion of the Church of England,were now content to come to their parish churches and to conform to the worship which they did not approve of before;but as the terror of the infection abated,those things all returned again to their less desirable channel and to the course they were in before.
I mention this but historically.I have no mind to enter into arguments to move either or both sides to a more charitable compliance one with another.I do not see that it is probable such a discourse would be either suitable or successful;the breaches seem rather to widen,and tend to a widening further,than to closing,and who am I that I should think myself able to influence either one side or other?But this I may repeat again,that 'tis evident death will reconcile us all;on the other side the grave we shall be all brethren again.In heaven,whither I hope we may come from all parties and persuasions,we shall find neither prejudice or scruple;there we shall be of one principle and of one opinion.Why we cannot be content to go hand in hand to the Place where we shall join heart and hand without the least hesitation,and with the most complete harmony and affection -I say,why we cannot do so here I can say nothing to,neither shall I say anything more of it but that it remains to be lamented.
I could dwell a great while upon the calamities of this dreadful time,and go on to describe the objects that appeared among us every day,the dreadful extravagancies which the distraction of sick people drove them into;how the streets began now to be fuller of frightful objects,and families to be made even a terror to themselves.But after I have told you,as I have above,that one man,being tied in his bed,and finding no other way to deliver himself,set the bed on fire with his candle,which unhappily stood within his reach,and burnt himself in his bed;and how another,by the insufferable torment he bore,danced and sung naked in the streets,not knowing one ecstasy from another;Isay,after I have mentioned these things,what can be added more?
What can be said to represent the misery of these times more lively to the reader,or to give him a more perfect idea of a complicated distress?