Read THE AGE OF FAITH : CHAPTER IV of The Seeker, free online book, by Harry Leon Wilson, on ReadCentral.com.

THE WINNING OF BROWETT

A thoughtful Pagan once reported dignity to consist not in possessing honours, but in the consciousness that we deserve them.  It is a theory fit to console multitudes.  Edom’s young rector was not only consoled by it, he was stimulated.  To his ardent nature, the consciousness of deserving honour was the first vital step toward gaining it.  Those things that he believed himself to deserve he forthwith subjected to the magnetic rays of his desire:  Knowing with the inborn certainty of the successful, that they must finally yield to such silent, coercing influence and soon or late gravitate toward him in obedience to the same law that draws the apple to the earth’s lap.  In this manner had the young man won his prizes for oratory; so had he won his wife; so had he won his first pastorate; so now would he win that prize he was conscious of meriting next ­a city parish ­a rectorate in the chief seat of his church in America, where was all wealth and power as well as the great among men, to be swayed by his eloquence and brought at last to the Master’s feet.  And here, again, would his future enlarge to prospects now but mistily surmised ­prospects to be moved upon anon with triumphant tread.  Infinite aspiration opening ever beyond itself ­this was his.  Meantime, step by step, with zealous care for the accuracy of each, with eyes always ahead, leaving nothing undone ­he was forever fashioning the moulds into which the Spirit should materialise his benefits.

The first step was the winning of Browett ­old Cyrus Browett, whose villa, in the fashion of an English manor-house, was a feature of remark even to the Edom summer dwellers ­a villa whose wide grounds were so swept, garnished, trimly flowered, hedge-bordered and shrub-upholstered that, to old Edom, they were like stately parlours built foolishly out of doors.

Months had the rector of tiny St. Anne’s waited for Browett to come to him, knowing that Browett must come in the end.  One less instinctively wise would have made the mistake of going to Browett.  Not this one, whose good spirit warned him that his puissance lay rather with groups of men than with individuals.  From back of the chancel railing he could sway the crowd and make it all his own; whereas, taking that same crowd singly, and beyond his sacerdotal functions, he might be at the mercy of each man composing it.  He knew, in short, that Cyrus Browett as one of his congregation on a Sabbath morning would be a mere atom in the plastic cosmos below him; whereas Browett by himself, with the granite hardness of his crag-like face, his cool little green eyes ­unemotional as two algebraic x’s ­would be a matter fearfully different.  Even his white moustache, close-clipped as his own hedges, and guarding a stiff, chilled mouth, was a thing grimly repressed, telling that the man was quite invulnerable to his own vanity.  A human Browett would have permitted that moustache to mitigate its surroundings with some flowing grace.  He was, indeed, no adversary to meet alone in the open field ­for one who could make him in a crowd a mere string of many to his harp.

The morning so long awaited came on a second Sunday after Trinity.  Cyrus Browett, in whose keeping was the very ark of the money covenant, alighted from his coupe under the porte-cochère of candied Gothic and humbly took seat in his pew like a mere worshipper of God.

As such ­a man among men ­the young rector looked calmly down upon him, letting him sink into the crowd-entity which always became subject to him.

His rare, vibrant tones ­tones that somehow carried the subdued light and warmth of stained glass ­rolled out in moving volume: 

“The Lord is in his holy temple:  let all the earth keep silence before him.”

Then, still as a mere worshipper of God, that Prince of the power of Mammon down in front knelt humbly to say after the young rector above him that he had erred and strayed like a lost sheep, followed too much the devices of his own heart, leaving undone those things he ought to have done, and doing those things which he ought not to have done; that there was no health in him; yet praying that he might, thereafter, lead a godly, righteous and sober life to the glory of God’s holy name.  Even to Allan there was something affecting in this ­a sort of sardonic absurdity in Browett’s actually speaking thus.

The kneeling financier was indeed a gracious and lovely spectacle to the young clergyman, and in his next words, above the still-bended congregation, his tones grew warmly moist with an unction that thrilled his hearers as never before.  Movingly, indeed, upon the authority that God hath given to his ministers, did he declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the absolution and remission of their sins.  Wonderful, in truth, had it been if his hearers did not thrill, for the minister himself was thrilled as never before.  He, Allan Delcher Linford, was absolving and remitting the sins of a man whose millions were counted by the hundred, a god of money and of power ­who yet cringed before him out there like one who feared and worshipped.

Nor did he here make the mistake that many another would have made.  Instead of preaching to Cyrus Browett alone ­preaching at him ­he preached as usual to his congregation.  If his glance fell, now and then, upon the face of Browett, he saw it only through the haze of his own fervour ­a patch of granite-gray holding two pricking points of light.  Not once was Browett permitted to feel himself more than one of a crowd; not once was he permitted to rise above his mere atomship, nor feel that he received more attention than the humblest worshipper in arrears for pew-rent.  Yet, though the young rector regarded Browett as but one of many, he knew infallibly the instant that invisible wire was strung between them, and felt, thereafter, every tug of opposition or signal of agreement that flashed from Browett’s mind, knowing in the end, without a look, that he had won Browett’s approval and even excited his interest.

For the sermon had been strangely, wonderfully suited to Browett’s peculiar tastes.  Hardly could a sermon have been better planned to win him.  The choice of the text itself:  “And thou shalt take no gift:  for the gift blindeth the wise and perverteth the words of the righteous,” was perfect art.

The plea was for intellectual honesty, for academic freedom, for fearless independence, which were said to be the crowning glories in the diadem of man’s attributes.  Fearlessly, then, did the speaker depreciate both the dogmatism of religion and the dogmatism of science.  “Much of what we call religion,” he said, “is only the superstition of the past; much of what we call science is but the superstition of the present.”  He pleaded that religion might be an ever-living growth in the human heart, not a dead formulary of dogmatic origin.  True, organisation was necessary, but in the realm of spiritual essentials a creed drawn up in the fourth century should not be treated as if it were the final expression of the religious consciousness in sécula seculorum.  One should, indeed, be prepared for the perpetual restatement of religious truth, fearlessly submitting the most cherished convictions to the light of each succeeding age.

Yet, especially, should it not be forgotten in an age of ultra-physicism, of social and economic hétérodoxies, that there must ever be in human society, according to the blessed ordinance of God, princes and subjects, masters and proletariat, rich and poor, learned and ignorant, nobles and plebeians ­yet all united in the bonds of love to help one another attain their moral welfare on earth and their last end in heaven; ­all united in the bonds of fraternal good-will, independent yet acknowledging the sovereignty of Omnipotence.

He closed with these words of Voltaire:  “We must love our country whatever injustice we suffer in it, as we must love and serve the Supreme Being, notwithstanding the superstitions and fanaticism which so often dishonour His worship.”

The sermon was no marked achievement in coherence, but neither was Browett a coherent personality.  It was, however, a swift, vivid sermon ­a short and a busy one, with a reason for each of its parts, incoherent though the parts were.  For Browett was a cynic doubter of his own faith; at once an admirer of Voltaire and a believer in the Established Order of Things; despising a radical and a conservative equally, but, hating more than either, a clumsy compromiser.  He must be preached to as one not yet brought into that flock purchased by God with the blood of His Son; and at the same time, as one who had always been of that flock and was now inalienable from it.  In a word, Browett’s doubt and his belief had both to be fed from the same spoon, a fact that all young preachers of God’s word would not have fathomed.

Thus our young rector proved his power.  His future rolled visibly toward him.  During the rest of that service there sounded in his ears an undertone from out the golden centre of that future:  “Reverend Father in God, we present unto you this godly and well-learned man to be ordained and consecrated Bishop ­

Rewarded, indeed, was he for the trouble he had taken long months before to build that particular sermon to fit Browett, after specifications confided to him by an obliging parishioner ­keeping it ready to use at a second’s notice, on the first morning that Browett should appear.

How diminished would be that envious railing at Success could we but know the hidden pains by which alone its victories of seeming ease are won!

The young minister could now meet Browett as man to man, having established a prestige.

It had been said by those who would fain have branded him with the stigma of disrepute that Browett’s ethics were inferior to those of the prairie wolf; meaning, perhaps, that he might kill more sheep than he could possibly devour.

Browett had views of his own in this matter.  As a tentative evolutionist he looked upon his survival as unimpeachable evidence of his fitness, ­as the eagle is fitter than the lamb it may fasten upon.  Again, as a believer in Revealed Religion, he accepted human society according to the ordinance of God, deeming himself as Master to be but the rightful, divinely-instituted complement of his humblest servant ­the two of them necessary poles in the world spiritual.

One of the few fads of Browett being the memorial window, it was also said by enviers that if he would begin to erect a window to every small competitor his Trust had squeezed to death there would be an unprecedented flurry in stained glass.  But Browett knew, as an evolutionist, that the eagle has a divine right to the lamb if it can come safely off with it; as a Christian, that one carries out the will of God as indubitably in preserving the established order of prince and subject, of noble and plebeian, as in giving of his abundance to relieve the necessitous ­or in endowing universities which should teach the perpetual sacredness of the established order of things in Church and State.

In short, he derived comfort from both poles of his belief ­one the God of Moses, a somewhat emotional god, not entirely uncarnal ­the other the god of Spencer, an unemotional and unimaginative god of Law.

It followed that he was much taken with a preacher who could answer so appositely to the needs of his soul as did this impressive young man in a chance sermon of unstudied eloquence.

There were social meetings in which Browett dispassionately confirmed these early impressions gained under the spell of a matchless oratory, and in due time there followed an invitation to the young rector of St. Anne’s of Edom to preach at the Church of St. Antipas, which was Browett’s city church.