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Chapter 49
ON his return to Cambridge in the May term of 1858, Ernest and a few other friends who were also intended for orders came to the conclusion that they must now take a more serious view of their position. They therefore attended chapel more regularly than hitherto, and held evening meetings of a somewhat furtive character, at which they would study the New Testament. They even began to commit the Epistles of St. Paul to memory in the original Greek. They got up Beveridge on the Thirty-nine Articles, and Pearson on the Creed; in their hours of recreation they read More’s “Mystery of Godliness,” which Ernest thought was charming, and Taylor’s “Holy Living and Dying,” which also impressed him deeply, through what he thought was the splendour of its language. They handed themselves over to the guidance of Dean Alford’s notes on the Greek Testament, which made Ernest better understand what was meant by “difficulties,” but also made him feel how shallow and impotent were the conclusions arrived at by German neologians, with whose works, being innocent of German, he was not otherwise acquainted. Some of the friends who joined him in these pursuits were Johnians, and the meetings were often held within the walls of St. John’s.

I do not know how tidings of these furtive gatherings had reached the Simeonites, but they must have come round to them in some way, for they had not been continued many weeks before a circular was sent to each of the young men who attended them, informing them that the Rev. Gideon Hawke, a well-known London Evangelical preacher, whose sermons were then much talked of, was about to visit his young friend Badcock of St. John’s, and would be glad to say a few words to any who might wish to hear them, in Badcock’s rooms on a certain evening in May.

Badcock was one of the most notorious of all the Simeonites. Not only was he ugly, dirty, ill-dressed, bumptious, and in every way objectionable, but he was deformed and waddled when he walked so that he had won a nickname which I can only reproduce by calling it “Here’s my back, and there’s my back,” because the lower parts of his back emphasised themselves demonstratively as though about to fly off in different directions like the two extreme notes in the chord of the augmented sixth, with every step he took. It may be guessed, therefore, that the receipt of the circular had for a moment an almost paralysing effect on those to whom it was addressed, owing to the astonishment which it occasioned them. It certainly was a daring surprise, but like so many deformed people, Badcock was forward and hard to check; he was a pushing fellow to whom the present was just the opportunity he wanted for carrying war into the enemy’s quarters.

Ernest and his friends consulted. Moved by the feeling that as they were now preparing to be clergymen they ought not to stand so stiffly on social dignity as heretofore, and also perhaps by the desire to have a good private view of a preacher who was then much upon the lips of men, they decided to accept the invitation. When the appointed time came they went with some confusion and self-abasement to the rooms of this man, on whom they had looked down hitherto as from an immeasurable height, and with whom nothing would have made them believe a few weeks earlier that they could ever come to be on speaking terms.

Mr. Hawke was a very different-looking person from Badcock. He was remarkably handsome, or rather would have been but for the thinness of his lips, and a look of too great firmness and inflexibility. His features were a good deal like those of Leonardo da Vinci; moreover, he was kempt, looked in vigorous health, and was of a ruddy countenance. He was extremely courteous in his manner, and paid a good deal of attention to Badcock, of whom he seemed to think highly. Altogether our young friends were taken aback, and inclined to think smaller beer of themselves and larger of Badcock than was agreeable to the old Adam who was still alive within them. A few well-known “Sims” from St. John’s and other colleges were present, but not enough to swamp the Ernest set, as, for the sake of brevity, I will call them.

After a preliminary conversation in which there was nothing to offend, the business of the evening began by Mr. Hawke’s standing up at one end of the table, and saying, “Let us pray.” The Ernest set did not like this, but they could not help themselves, so they knelt down and repeated the Lord’s Prayer and a few others after Mr. Hawke, who delivered them remarkably well. Then, when all had sat down, Mr. Hawke addressed them, speaking without notes and taking for his text the words “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” Whether owing to Mr. Hawke’s manner, which was impressive, or to his well-known reputation for ability, or whether from the fact that each one of the Ernest set knew that he had been more or less a persecutor of the “Sims” and yet felt instinctively that the “Sims” were after all much more like the early Christians than he was himself — at any rate the text, familiar though it was, went home to the consciences of Ernest and his friends as it had never yet done. If Mr. Hawke had stopped here he would have almost said enough; as he scanned the faces turned towards him, and saw the impression he had made, he was perhaps minded to bring his sermon to an end before beginning it, but if so, he reconsidered himself and proceeded as follows. I give the sermon in full, for it is a typical one, and will explain a state of mind which in another generation or two will seem to stand sadly in need of explanation.

“My young friends,” said Mr. Hawke, “I am persuaded there is not one of you here who doubts the existence of a Personal God. If there were, it is to him assuredly that I should first address myself. Should I be mistaken in my belief that all here assembled accept the existence of a God who is present amongst us though we see him not, and whose eye is upon our most secret thoughts, let me implore the doubter to confer with me in private before we part; I will then put before him considerations through which God has been mercifully pleased to reveal himself to me, so far as man can understand him, and which I have found bring peace to the minds of others who have doubted.

“I assume also that there is none who doubts but that this God, after whose likeness we have been made, did in the course of time have pity upon man’s blindness, and assume our nature, taking flesh and coming down and dwelling among us as a man indistinguishable physically from ourselves. He who made the sun, moon, and stars, the world and all that therein is, came down from Heaven in the person of his Son, with the express purpose of leading a scorned life, and dying the most cruel, shameful death which fiendish ingenuity has invented.

“While on earth he worked many miracles. He gave sight to the blind, raised the dead to life, fed thousands with a few loaves and fishes, and was seen to walk upon the waves, but at the end of his appointed time he died, as was foredetermined, upon the cross, and was buried by a few faithful friends. Those, however, who had put him to death set a jealous watch over his tomb.

“There is no one, I feel sure, in this room who doubts any part of the foregoing, but if there is, let me again pray him to confer with me in private, and I doubt not that by the blessing of God his doubts will cease.

“The next day but one after our Lord was buried, the tomb being still jealously guarded by enemies, an angel was seen descending from Heaven with glittering raiment and a countenance that shone like fire. This glorious being rolled away the stone from the grave, and our Lord himself came forth, risen from the dead.

“My young friends, this is no fanciful story like those of the ancient deities, but a matter of plain history as certain as that you and I are now here together. If there is one fact better vouched for than another in the whole range of certainties it is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ; nor is it less well assured that a few weeks after he had risen from the dea............
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