Obrázky na stránke

ed, in this state of things, vital piety prevails to a very limited extent. Here and there, where an evangelical and truly pious minister labors, there is what may be called a spiritual garden, of greater or less extent. But the number of such preachers in all those countries, bears but a small proportion to those of a latitudinarian character. Blessed be God, however, the prospect is gradually growing brighter. The distribution of the Scriptures and religious Tracts, the progress of Temperance (respecting which I have just received very cheering news from Norway), and other causes, are concurring to bring about a better state of things. Among these causes we may justly reckon the efforts to revive true religion by means of meetings for reading the Scriptures and prayer, No man in modern times has done more in Norway to institute such meetings than the late Hans Houga, who possessed no ordinary mind. Having be come a devoted Christian himself, he began to feel deeply for the low state of religion in his native land. He established meetings among the peasants or country people of the neighborhood, for reading of the Scriptures, singing, prayer and exhortation. Finding that these meetings were useful, he travelled into various parts of the kingdom, and instituted similar ones. In some places he was received well by the parochial clergy; but much oftener he was opposed by them, as well as by the civil authorities. Still he went on, encountering not a little opposition, and even persecution. He continued to labor steadfastly until the day of his death. He was a man of some property, and had the leisure requisite for his pious enter prise. The Lord smiled greatly upon his attempts to revive pure religion in Norway. Though his home was within a short distance of Christiana, where he owned a beautiful farm, yet he often extended his missionary journey's into the middle and northern portions of the kingdom, as well as into the southern. He was not a minister of the Gospel; he was only a plain farmer, whose education had not been extraordinary, but his mind was well enlightened by the divine pages of the Word of God, and his heart was filled with the love of his Saviour and of the souls of men.

Since his death, the good work has gone on, not, perhaps, with the same energy as when it had his supervision and guidance. Nevertheless there are many of these little meetings held every week in Norway; and the Spirit of the Lord, I doubt not, still continues to render them a blessing to the souls of those who attend

them. They are an admirable means of keeping alive the spirit of true piety in communities where the preaching is little more than an exhibition of a cold and heartless morality.

These meetings in Norway for reading the Scriptures are not held during the hours of the public services in the churches. Hans Houga founded no sect. His "people," as they are called, have not attempted to separate from the parish churches, and no schism has taken place. In this they have probably acted wisely. Indeed, the laws of the country would hardly permit them to form separate societies or churches, for they do not tolerate dissent. The only object of this good man and his followers has been to increase true piety among the people and the churches, by the use of such means as lay in their power, and such as the Scriptures justify.

When I was last in Christiana, in the summer of 1840, I had the pleasure of spending an evening with a sister of this excellent man, who lives about two miles north of that city, in a delightful valley, through which a small stream makes its way down to the gulf, at the head of which the capital of Norway stands. And never, whilst memory lasts, can I forget the very sweet spirit of piety which was manifested in the remarks of this lovely woman. She was far advanced in life; and yet, having good health, and unimpaired faculties of mind, she was enabled not only to take a lively interest in the cause of the Saviour, but also to labor, in her way, to promote it, She delighted to converse about the progress of missions among the heathen, and not less respecting the gradual revival of religion which is going forward in almost all Protestant countries. Like every other truly pious person whom I have met with on the Continent, I found her very desirous to know more of those wonderful manifestations of the Spirit which our American churches have so often seen in the revivals of religion, which God in his mercy has vouchsafed to them.

But the meetings of the "Readers,” as they are called, have not been less useful to the cause of true religion in Sweden than in Norway. I know not who was their founder, nor when they commenced. It is probable that such meetings have been held in Sweden, with more or less frequency and continuousness, as in other Protestant countries, from the days of the Reformation. However that may be, it is certain that they have been a powerful means of keeping alive the spirit of piety in some districts, and of reviving it when decayed in others. Of



this I had frequent proofs when I last visited that country. On that occasion, I made a long tour up into the northern part of the kingdom, in company with the Rev. Mr. Scott (then a missionary at Stockholm, and whose face has since been beheld with delight by many in this country), and the Rev. Mr. Wieselgren, a most eloquent and devoted pastor and dean from the south part of Sweden. The object of this tour was to hold a series of Temperance meetings at Upsala, Danemora, Geffle, Süderala, Norrala, etc., and especially to attend a great missionary, Bible and temperance meeting, which was to be held at Hudiksvall, on the Gulf of Bothnia, which was to be the apogee of our journey.

This tour brought us into the districts most celebrated for the existence and the happy influence of the "Readers." One of these is the parish of Norrala. This parish may justly be termed the Swedish garden of Eden. In no other in that whole kingdom is there so happy and so wide-spread a religious influence. Two thirds of all the population above sixteen years of age, it is said on excellent authority, give good evidence of piety. The very appearance of the country I could almost imagine, and certainly that of the people, indicated that this district was a "garden of the Lord." Not only was there proof of this in the neat and proper dress of the people, and the courteousness of their manners, but even in the very looks which their countenances habitually wore. That sweet serenity which the peace of God, peace of conscience, and true benevolence, alone can give, beamed forth from every face. There was an amazing contrast between the aspect of the people in this parish, and that adjoining on the north. Nor is it difficult to assign the true cause. In Norrala, pure religion has long been maintained by the faithful preaching of the pastors whom the Head of the Church has from time to time placed there, and the meetings of the Bible readers," or " Readers" as they are more commonly called in that country; whilst the other has been one of the most irreligious spots in Sweden; drunkenness, Sabbath-breaking, and all other vices seemed to have taken up their abode there. For there, alas, the true Gospel had not been preached; and there, no meetings of the "Readers" had been tolerated, by the "blind leaders" who undertook to "lead the blind." And there, the dress, the manners, and the very countenances of the people indicated that that blessed religion which inculcates "whatsoever is pure," "whatsoever is lovely," "whatsoever is of good report," exerts none of


its hallowed influences, because it is there unknown.

The meetings which were held at Norrala, were in some respects the most interesting of all that took place during our tour. The first was held in the morning, when we were going up; the second was held in the evening, upon our return. The former was attended by a considerable number of people, who came together at a few moments' notice, and were delighted to hear, during an hour and a half, some account of the Revivals, Sunday Schools, Home Missions, etc., of America. The latter was a Temperance meeting, and was held on the sloping side of a green hill, near the village. The sun was just descending to the horizon when the meeting commenced, and had long disappeared before it broke up. There, from the very rock on which Gustavus Vasa stood, in the year 1521, and addressed the peasants of this parish, did those who spoke on this occasion call upon the people to rise against a greater enemy than the terrible Christian II., and his mighty Danes. Around stood some fifteen hundred persons, listening with breathless attention to the powerful speeches of Mr. Wieselgren and Mr. Scott. In front were the Norrala peasant women, each with her head covered with a white handkerchief, fashioned into the shape of a plain bonnet. Everything in their appearance indicated the greatest propriety. Higher up, on the hillside, and immediately in the rear of the speakers, as well as on each side of them, to the distance of several rods, stood peasant men in their best, though plain clothes; whilst a number who could get no better position, were seated on the roof of a low building which bounded the left portion of the assembly. Throughout all ranks, a profound stillness reigned. Towards the close, the venerable and very aged chief pastor of the parish arose, and addressed the people with great animation. They were much affected by the sound of, his well-known and thrilling voice, which, on account of his manifold infirmities, they had not been permitted to hear for a few years past. Prayers were offered up, and several sweet hymns were sung. The Swedes are lovers of music, and they sing well; and never did music more deeply affect me than on this occasion. Whilst the sweet tones of the tenor arose from the compact mass of the women who stood below us, and who, in singing, made a gentle waving motion, the bass rolled along the hillside above us, from one extremity of the living mass to the other, like the sound of the waves

of the ocean, as they strike on the winding shore. And it was not until the last lingering rays of the departing sun were almost wholly gone from the western horizon, that the exercises could be brought to a close. We then hastened to the post-house, took a little refreshment, and bidding adieu to the friends who attended us thither, set out for Söderrala, a parish lying to the south and adjacent to that of Norrala. But what was our surprise, when passing the rock of Gustavus Vasa, as our road led us to do, we found a large company of men and women waiting there, who immediately surrounded the carriage, commenced singing one of their sweet hymns, and thus walked along by its side, until we approached the descent of a considerable hill! Here we stopped until they had finished; and then, amid their mingled "tacks" (thanks) and "farväl” (farewells) we bade adieu, for the last time, as we supposed, to these interesting and pious people.

I had a fine opportunity of seeing a goodly company of these "Readers" in another parish, considerably to the north of Norrala. Upon our arrival at Njutanger, it was concluded that I should stay there two or three days, and then rejoin our friends, Messrs. Scott and Wieselgren, at Hudiksvall, distant some ten or twelve miles from that place.

Njutanger is rather a scattered settlement than a village. It lies in a valley of some extent, which stretches from north to south, a fine, fertile and nearly level piece of ground, which is bounded on the south by a bay that puts up from the Gulf of Bothnia, and on the north by a small lake. The house of the hospitable pastor of the parish, at which I took up my temporary abode, stands but a few rods from this lake, and is separated from it mainly by the road which passes from Njutanger to Hudviksvall.

At this interesting and very pleasant spot I passed a Sabbath, amid the repose which was visible in all parts of the little secluded mountain-valley. At ten o'clock the villagers began to assemble for worship. The church stands in the centre of the settlement. It is a relic of the times when the Roman Catholic religion prevailed in that country. It is situated on a little eminence, or hill, and is built of stone and stuccoed. Its walls are well-nigh three feet in thickness. Its roof is high and sharp, like all the old parish churches of Sweden which were built four or five hundred years ago. A stone wall, with high and heavy gateways, surrounds the church; and a belfry, or tower, stands at

a little distance outside the walls of the churchyard. This belfry resembles those which one sees in almost all parts of that country. It consists of four curiously shingled columns of wood; which are not perpendicular, but lean towards each other, and sustain an indescribable round edifice, containing two bells, and surmounted by a pear-shaped cone,-all covered over with very small shingles. The church retains in the vestibule a quantity of wooden images, which adorn one side of it, and which are relics of Roman Catholic times.

The interior of the church recalled days long gone by. It is long and narrow; an aisle runs down the middle; and there is a row of pews on each side of it. At the western end there are two galleries, one above the other, the panels of which are carved and gilded in the heavy manner of the middle ages. In the eastern end is an old altar, covered with gold and silver cloth of a rich and heavy texture. Above it is a cross, with a huge image of the Saviour upon it, remaining just as it was when the Roman Catholics occupied this church three centuries ago. Two wax candles were burning on the altar. The pulpit is on one side. It is small, box-shaped, and richly gilded. The front panel bears a carved and gilded representation of Christ preaching to the people. I ought to add that the pulpit rests on the shoulders of a wooden image, purporting to be that of a human being, after the old Gothic manner. Winged little angels adorn the corners.

The first part of the liturgy (for the Swedish churches use a liturgy, and it is of a highly evangelical character) was read by the preacher from the steps of the altar; and the remaining portion from the pulpit after the sermon, save the concluding part, which was read from the altar. The whole service, including the four psalms which were sung, occupied a little more than two hours. The congregation, which might be some three hundred persons in number, appeared to be very attentive to the discourse of the excellent young man who preached. I was struck with the decorum that prevailed among the peasants, who composed the entire auditory. The men were dressed in coarse but comfortable clothes, about which there was nothing worthy of remark. The women came all with handkerchiefs, mostly white, on their heads, two corners of which were tied under the chin, and the other two were left loose behind. Each one carried a psalm-book, a pocket handkerchief, and a little bouquet of flowers in her hand.



As we approached the church-for I accompanied the excellent pastor and his family—we found a large number of people on the grassy space in front of it, surrounding an open coffin, which contained the body of an infant, neatly dressed, and on whose little forehead flowers and leaves of evergreen trees were strewed-sweet emblem both of the innocence which mankind everywhere attribute to childhood, and of the hopes of eternal life, which can alone console a parent's heart when giving up his tender ones to the stroke of death. After the funeral service was over, all entered the church. The women laid aside the handkerchiefs which they had worn on their heads; and then appeared one of the most remarkable head-dresses which I have ever seen. The back of the head of every one was covered with a nice silk cap, generally black, though some were blue, some red, etc.,-made exactly like the corresponding part of the black silk bonnet of some neat Philadelphia Quakeress. This silk cap or bonnet reached only as far as the middle of the head. A white band of muslin, or linen, and in some cases of lace, one or two inches in width, bordered the front part, and extended to the cheek and the outward corners of the eyes; whilst on the forehead it retired, by a graceful scollop, and exposed the entire middle part of it, and a little of the hair above. I cannot describe the singular appearance which some hundred and fifty women, dressed in this costume, and occupying one half of the church, present to one who has never seen anything of the kind before.

After the service was over, the handkerchief resumed its place on the head, and all dispersed, walking away with a decorum befitting the occasion which had convened them. I was exceedingly struck with the simplicity of the manners and of the appearance of this secluded, and, as I have reason to believe, virtuous community.

Old-fashioned and singular as are most of the country churches in Sweden, they have for me a wonderful attraction. They are almost all built in the same style; long and narrow, of stone, stuccoed and white-washed, and with sharp roofs. The belfry often stands detached from the church, and at fifty or a hundred feet from it. The old wall, too, which bounds the yard or court of the church, following the uneven surface of the ground and varying in elevation with it, with gateways which resemble, in miniature, a porter's lodge, having a sharp-pointed roof wholly disproportioned to the height of the

wall-all this is so very antique that it has a great charm for me; and yet I cannot tell why. I suppose that this sentiment, like many of the agreeable impressions which external objects make upon us, is in fact not susceptible of any analysis, and therefore no account can be given of it, other than a statement of the fact of its existence.

I like to wander in the rural churchyards of Sweden, and read the simple words which affection has engraved on the monuments of the dead, and see the sweet borders of flowers, or of evergreen plants, which the tender hands of childhood bave planted around the grave of a beloved mother, and which it often visits, and waters, and watches over. Sweet emblems these of hopes which death cannot destroy, and of that immortality which shall arise and flourish even from the tomb itself! It is here that death, even now, is made to wear the appearance of life, and the grave to be only the restingplace of the body, whilst it is undergoing the process necessary to its emerging from its chry

salis state.

How sacred is the grave of a Mother! Mother! sweetest word in all our language, whether when first applied to the interesting being who receives her first-born to her arms and presses it to her bosom; or to her at a later period, when she sits amidst a circle of noisy though grateful children, swaying the sceptre of justice and of love among them, and moulding their tender minds by the sweet accents of heavenly wisdom which fall from her lips; or still later, when, venerable in age, and mature in goodness, she receives the profound homage and the affectionate embraces of her grown-up sons and daughters! It is the influence of Christianity alone which can make such a mother, or hearts capable of appreciating her.

There being no service in the church in the afternoon, a number of the villagers assembled, as usual, at the house of the pastor, to hear the Bible, or some other religious book, read and commented on. The weather being remarkably fine, it was proposed to hold the meeting on the top of the high hill which rises in the rear of the pastor's house, and from which there is a fine view over all the valley. Thither we were all conducted, and clambered up the rugged sides of the hill, or mountain rather. The ascent was soon made; and there, on the rocks covered with white moss and the short heather, then bearing its sweet little violet flower, we sat down to listen to the words of wisdom.

The scene was most enchanting. We were

on the very top of the highest hill. On the east, the eye could perceive the dark waves of the Gulf of Bothnia, distant some ten or fifteen miles. On the west lay, at equal distance, a ridge of the blue mountains, behind which the sun was hastening to descend; whilst beneath us lay, in the same direction, the valley from which we had ascended, with its sweet fields, its scattered villages, and its tranquil lake, now covered with the fast lengthening shadows of the distant mountain. The smoke was beginning to curl in sluggish volumes above each house, and the tinkling of bells arose from the flocks of sheep and herds of cattle which were depasturing in the fields which spread over the valley.

In little groups the villagers hastened to join us, until the number reached to seventy or eighty. Then, in an indentation or basin in the rock, they sat down in rows, rising one above another, like the seats in an amphitheatre; whilst the pastor read the Scriptures, and the

first chapter in the Life of Martin Boos, and commented on what he read. Some account of

the state of religion in America succeeded, and was listened to with great interest. A prayer followed, and the singing of hymns, until the sun was fairly gone down. Then, from amidst the grateful salutations, and the universal expressions of Tack! tack! (for what had been told them) of this simple-hearted and excellent people, 1 retired with the pastor and his family, and returned to their hospitable abode. And thus terminated another of the Sabbaths of my life. It was a day of sweet repose, which, though long in that high latitude, passed rapidly away. All nature seemed to sympathize with the peaceful and holy nature of the day. As it closed, not a breath of air was felt, nor a rippling wave appeared on the lake beneath my window, which lay like a mirror reflecting the stars in the blue vault of heaven, and the shadows of the forest on its shores.



SERVANTS of God! whatever name ye bear

Of all who wait at Zion's golden gates,

Be steady to your trust! Though kings may wear
Earth's glittering crowns and gems-though potentates

Be decked in jewelled robes, and wealth expend
Uncounted stores in Folly's vainest mood,
All these corroding things shall have an end,
And naught be left of all their plenitude!
Be steady to your trust! For they who turn

An erring soul from death, a crown shall win
Surpassing every thought, and freed from sin
Shall wear pure robes and heavenly songs shall learn;
And held for ever by an arm divine,

As peerless stars in glory e'er shall shine.

« PredošláPokračovať »