After the message, Lord Lipton reminded Mr. Riley that it was time for their promised discussion about parish matters. Keeping his mood even, Lord Lipton did not convey the complicated feelings he had as a result of the message, and resolved not to make a direct attack but rather to determine what the rector’s intentions had been, and to ascertain whether the rector was a political man or simply one who followed the implications of scripture wherever it went, which was a trait he happened to admire, even where it led into dangerous territory as it did here.
The walk to the rector’s house from the parish church was not a long one, and it being a pleasant day, the Viscount and his party decided to sit outside of the house in the small garden that the rector tended to provide himself with herbs and vegetables. It pleased Lord Lipton to see that the garden was well-tended and in order, and the conversation began with a discussion of the garden and the state of the glebe lands that the rector took care of to provide a substantial portion of his income. The rector thanked Lord Lipton for the generosity that had been provided by his grandfather and asked whether there was any need to change or review the terms provided.
“As long as the terms are acceptable to you, that is fine. I have no need to change your own living here. It is a good living and I am glad that you have done so well in what must be your first living after having graduated and been taken into orders.” The rector replied that was the case.
“Do you have any scruples about your service to the flock here in this village as an Anglican minister?”
“I do not know why I would have any such scruples.”
“You appear to be someone of great sensitivity to the Bible and to the obligation it places on people to be honest about matters of truth.”
“I would suppose so.”
“Is it such a sensitive moral nature that led you to become an Anglican priest in the first place? Surely a man of your eloquence had options as to how it is to make a living in this world.”
“My father wanted me to be a lawyer, that is true, but I felt the call to speak about God’s word, and fortunately a place of honor has been found where I can do so.”
“I am glad of that,” Lord Viscount replied evenly. “I am also glad that there are no doctrinal scruples that you have that would prevent you from serving here.”
“What scruples did you have in mind?”
“You do know, of course, that it is the obligation of all preachers to serve as a bulwark against the spirit of anarchy and rebellion that has spread all about our world in these evil times. It would not serve our nation well to have ministers set out at the head of mobs to terrorize aristocrats or to burn down palaces or force constitutions onto monarchs.”
”I have no such intention. Did my message give that indication?”
“I am sure that it could be taken by someone who heard such an audience that anyone in authority who did not take righteous rebuke well was a tyrannical and ungodly ruler, in contrast to David.”
“I have to admit that I wished to encourage authorities, like yourself it must be conceded, to have the restraint of David in dealing with rebuke.”
“Did you have something specifically to rebuke me of or were you speaking in general?”
“I meant it only as a general warning, to set it as a matter of principle, without any specific rebukes to give to you personally.”
“And do you think it will be taken so by the good folk of the village?”
“I expect them to have the good sense as to avoid rebuking you without a cause. It is not hard for us to determine, when we view the behavior of others, whether or not someone is amenable to receiving reproof and correction, and who is stubborn in folly and hostile to being brought to awareness of sins and shortcomings.”
“I do not disagree. It is a very delicate matter to deal with questions of reproof and correction. All too often it does not serve the purpose of leading people to repent and change.”
“That is regrettably so. Yet the scripture says that all scripture is for the purposes of doctrine, reproof, and correction.”
“Indeed it does.”
There was a slight pause as the two of them thought about where this conversation was going. Clarissa looked upon the conversation with open-mouthed amazement, and Miss Wood was scarcely less interested to see how it was that these two men were talking to each other. After a little bit, Lord Lipton broke the silence with a query.
“Did you write your sermon yourself or did you copy it from another?”
“It is my usual practice to write my own messages through the course of the week, to study the Bible, to go over the readings of the church, and to deliver the message.”
“I highly approve of that practice.”
“Very much so. I think the practice of reading the Bible for oneself, and then to form one’s own thoughts under the guidance of the Spirit, and to write about them and speak them aloud to others is a good practice. It is all too easy for us to pick up volumes of sermons and to be impressed with their eloquence and to pass off their words as our own, without having done the work to read and understand and preach a sermon from personal conviction as well as deep research.”
“I was unaware that you had such strong opinions about homeletical matters.”
“I have strong opinions about many things, I suppose, whether in or out of my own field.
“I will take that under advisement.”
“I am glad to hear of it. I am also glad that you felt free and secure enough to speak the truth to us all today.”
Everyone looked at him and started.
“Why are you glad?” the rector replied, taken aback.
“What you spoke today is biblical truth. You are correct that it is not always popular to speak truths to those in power. Do not forget that I have only recently become a Viscount and thus been a person of great power and authority within this realm. For most of my life I was a plain young Mr. Hartley, subject to the authority of many people, starting with my own parents, and including a great many others. I was a person of no great wealth or property, and often the business I was involved in required that my identity and loyalties were not made plain and obvious, and so I was taken to be an obscure peddler or vagrant, not viewed with much honor and respect, though I was the only son of the second son of a Viscount. Often I have had to deal with people who threw their weight around their local areas, and sometimes larger ones, and viewed me as a man of no importance when I would have to speak some truth to them about what was going on.”
“I was unaware you had such experiences. Your life and record are little known here.”
“That is by design as well as by circumstance. I spent thirty years in the Southern Colonies and in the West Indies. During that time England was involved in hostilities against France, against its own rebellious colonies, against Spain, against the Netherlands, and against the local tribes of the area over the course of nearly all that period. As a loyal servant of His Majesty in such dangerous times it was necessary at times for me to keep my own counsel and not lay all my cards on the table, for to do so would be to risk my life. You spoke of the boldness of the prophet Nathan in speaking to David, and he was bold, but I would like to think that Nathan was a man of sense as well and knew that David was a godly enough man that he was safe in speaking so boldly. God does not wish us to be rash and ignorant and to throw away our lives by speaking the truth to fools and tyrants who will merely punish us for our troubles in having brought before their eyes what they did not want to see.”
“I did not take you for either a fool or a tyrant, my Lord.”
“You were right to think so. But do not think that your words will only come before my own ears.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that your words may fly to other people who may not view them with the same restraint that I do, who may view the comparison between their prickly sense of honor and the godly restraint of King David as being an unjust criticism of themselves. They may have deep and dark sins that they do not wish to be reproved or corrected of, and they may respond to words like your own with great anger and vehemence.”
“Did you have anyone particular in mind?”
“Not at this time, but there cannot be many great houses where people sit without being concerned of being condemned and judged by others.”
“Including your own?”
“Including my own.”
“I will keep that in mind.”
“I am glad that you do. There is another matter I would like to discuss with you, though.”
“Yes. I read over the terms of your becoming the rector of this village and I noticed there was one other option that could be added for your livings. I saw that there was the possibility that you would wish to be the chaplain of Orient House yourself or that you could pay someone else to be a curate in such a role, for the purpose of providing morning services for the household.”
“Did you wish to provide morning services for yourself and the rest of your household? That has not been the practice in Orient House for a while, from what I have hard.”
“I would like that to be provided. I think that all of our household, myself included, could stand to be reminded and taught about the Word of God as it applies in our lives.”
“When would you like such a practice to begin?”
“As soon as you are able to provide it, if you wish to do so yourself.”
“I would be so willing. I will have to look to see what the terms provide for such a duty.”
“There is no need for you to do so. I have brought it myself.” He took out the contract for the two of them to read. “It says here that the pay of the rector of this village shall be five hundred pounds a year in addition to the tithes of the village and the fee use of sixty acres of glebe land as well as the free use of the rector house and all of its attendant gardens. This I see you are doing well. It says as well that the position of the chaplain of Orient Hall will be, in addition to this, another three hundred pounds for morning services.”
“Three hundred pounds?”
“Yes, that is right.”
“Such a bounty would allow me to seek a wife, I would think.”
“You would have my blessing to do so, assuming you could find a willing lady.”
“You would be so generous to one who invited people to rebuke you?”
“I would like to think I am a just man. I wanted to see what sort of person you are, and I can see that you are a sincere and honorable man, and that you would wish to keep the scriptures and their lessons before me as a reminder for me not to let my titles and power change my nature and overcome the long example of humility that I have had. I believe that I can use all such help as I can get, to keep my power and wealth from going to my head and making me think that I am a greater or a better man than I was before.”
“I thank you with all of my heart.”
“I know you do. I hope to see you soon at morning services.”
“You shall see me on the morrow.”
“I am glad of it.” And with that, the party left the shaken rector, and took to their carriage to return to Orient House for the remainder of a restful day.