The Eleventh Commandment
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851
"Is there a good fire in the little spare room Jane?" said Mr. Wade, a plain country farmer, coming into the kitchen where his good wife was busy preparing for supper.
"Oh, yes, I've made the room as comfortable as can be," replied Mrs. Wade; "but I wish you would take up a good armful of wood now, so that we won't have to disturb Mr. Buck, by going into the room after he gets here."
"If he should come this evening," remarked the husband. "But it is getting late, and I am afraid he won't be here before the morning."
"Oh, I guess he will be along soon. I have felt all day as if he were coming."
"They say he is a good man, and preaches most powerfully. Mr. Jones heard him preach in New York at the last conference, and tells me he never heard such a sermon as he gave them. It cut right and left, and his words went home to every heart like arrows of conviction."
"I hope he will be here this evening," remarked the wife as she put some cakes in the oven.
"And so do I." remarked Mr. Wade, as he turned away, and went out to the wood pile for an armful of wood for the expected minister's room.
It was Saturday afternoon, and nearly sundown. Mr. Buck, who was expected to arrive, and for whose comfort every preparation in their power to make, had been completed by the family at whose house he was to stay, was the new Presiding Minister of Barton District, in the New Jersey Conference. Quarterly meeting was to be held on the next day, which was Sunday, when Mr. Buck was to preach, and administer the ordinances of the church. Being his first visit to that part of the District, the preacher was known to but few, if any, of the members, and they all looked forward to his arrival with interest, and were prepared to welcome him with respect and affection.
The house of Mr. Wade was known as the 'minister's home.' For years, in their movements through the circuit, the preachers, as they came round to this part in the field of their appointed labor, were welcomed by Brother and Sister Wade, and the little spare chamber made comfortable for their reception. It was felt by these honest-hearted people, more a privilege than a duty, thus to share their temporal blessings with the men of God who ministered to them in holy things. They had their weaknesses, as we all have.
One of their weaknesses consisted in a firm belief that they were deeply imbued with the genuine religion, and regarded spiritual things above all worldly considerations. They were kind, good people, certainly, but not as deeply read in the lore of their own hearts, not as familiar with the secret springs of their own actions — as all of us should desire to be. But this was hardly to be wondered at, seeing that their position in the church was rather elevated as compared with those around them, and they were the subjects of little distinguishing remarks flattering to the natural man.
While Mr. Wade was splitting a log at the wood-pile, his thoughts on the new Presiding Minister, and his feelings warm with the anticipated pleasure of meeting and entertaining him, a man of common appearance approached along the road, and when he came to where the farmer was, stood still and looked at him until he had finished cutting the log, and was preparing to lift the cleft pieces in his arms.
"Rather a cold day this," said the man.
"Yes, rather," returned Mr. Wade, a little indifferently, and in a voice meant to repulse the stranger, whose appearance did not impress him very favorably.
"How far is it to the town of Dudley?" inquired the man.
"Three miles," replied Mr. Wade, who having filled his arms with wood, was beginning to move off towards the house.
"So far!" said the man in a tone that was slightly marked with hesitation. "I thought it was but a little way from this." Then with an air of hesitation, and speaking in a respectful voice, he added, "I would feel obliged if you would let me go in and warm myself. I have walked for two miles in the cold, and as Dudley is still three miles off, I shall be chilled through before I get there."
So modest and natural a request as this, Mr. Wade could not refuse, and yet, in the way he said — "Oh, certainly" — there was a manner that clearly betrayed his wish that the man had passed on and preferred his request somewhere else. Whether this was noticed or not, is of no consequence; the wayfarer on this assent to his request, followed Mr. Wade into the house.
"Jane," said the farmer as he entered the house with the stranger, and his voice was not as cordial as it might have been; "let this man warm himself by the kitchen fire. He has to go all the way to Dudley this evening and says he is cold."
There is a kind of magnetic intelligence in the tones of the voice. Mrs. Wade understood perfectly, by the way in which this was said, that the husband did not feel much sympathy for the stranger, and only yielded the favor asked because he could not well refuse to grant it. Her own observation did not correct the impression her husband's manner had produced. The man's dress, though neither dirty nor ragged, was not calculated to impress any one very favorably. His hat was much worn, and the old gray coat in which he was buttoned up to the chin, had seen so much service that it was literally threadbare from collar to skirt, and showed numerous patches, darns, and other evidences of needlework, applied long since to its original manufacture. His cow-hide boots, though whole, had a coarse look; and his long dark beard gave his face not a very prepossessing one at best, a no very attractive aspect.
"You can sit down there," said Mrs. Wade, a little ungraciously, for she felt the presence of the man, just at that particular juncture, as an intrusion — and she pointed to an old chair that stood near the fire-place, in front of which was a large Dutch oven containing some of her best cream short cakes, prepared especially for Mr. Buck, the new Presiding Minister now momentarily expected.
"Thank you, Ma'am," returned the stranger, as he took the chair, and drew close up to the blazing hearth, and removing his thick woolen gloves, spread his hands to receive the genial warmth.
Nothing more was said by either the stranger or Mr. Wade, for the space of three or four minutes. During this time, the good wife passed in and out, once or twice, as busy as could be in looking after supper affairs. The lid of the ample Dutch oven had been raised once or twice, and both the eyes and nose of the traveler greeted with a pleasant token of the good meal soon to be served up in the family. He was no longer cold; but the sight and smell of the cakes and other good things in preparation by the lady, awakened a sense of hunger, and made it keenly felt. But, as the comfort of a little warmth had been bestowed so reluctantly, he could not think of trespassing on the farmer and his wife for a bite of supper, and so commenced drawing on his heavy woolen gloves, and buttoning up his old gray coat. While occupied in doing this, Mr. Wade came into the kitchen, and said —
"I'm afraid Jane, that the minister won't be along this evening. It's after sun-down, and begins to grow duskish."
"He ought to have been here an hour ago," returned Mrs. Wade, in a tone of disappointment.
"It's getting late, my friend, and Dudley is a good distance ahead," remarked the farmer, after standing with his back to the fire, and regarding for some moments the stranger, who had taken off his gloves, and was slowly unbuttoning his coat again.
"It's three miles you say?"
"Yes, good three miles, if not more; and it will be dark in half an hour."
"What direction must I take?" required the stranger.
"You keep along the road until you come to the meeting house on the top of the hill, half a mile beyond this, and then you strike off to the right, and keep straight on."
"What meeting house is it?"
"The Dudley Methodist Meeting House."
"You are expecting the minister, I think you just now said?"
"Yes. Mr. Buck, our new Presiding Minister, is to preach tomorrow, and he was to have been here this afternoon."
"He is to stay with you?"
"Certainly he is. The ministers all stay at my house."
The man got up, and went to the door and looked out.
"Couldn't you give me a little something to eat before I go," he said, returning. "I haven't tasted food since this morning, and feel a little faint."
"Jane, can't you give him some cold meat and bread?" Mr. Wade turned to his wife — and she answered, just a little fretfully, "Oh, yes, I suppose so;" and going to the cupboard, brought out a dish containing a piece of cold fat bacon that had been boiled with cabbage for dinner, and half a loaf of bread, which she placed on the kitchen table and told the man to help himself. The stranger did not wait for another invitation; but set to work in good earnest upon the bread and bacon, while the farmer stood with his hands behind him, and his back to the fire, whistling the air of "Auld Lang Syne" while he mentally repeated the words of the hymn of "When I can read my title clear," and wished that his visitor would make haste and get through with his supper. The latter, after eating for a short time with the air of a man whose appetite was keen, began to discuss the meat and bread with more deliberation, and occasionally to ask a question, or make a remark, the replies to which were not very gracious, although Mr. Wade forced himself to be as polite as he could be.
The homely meal at length concluded, the man buttoned up his old coat and drew on his coarse woolen gloves again, and thanking Mr. and Mrs. Wade for their hospitality, opened the door and looked out. It was quite dark, for there was no moon, and the sky was veiled in clouds. The wind rushed into his face, cold and piercing. For a moment or two, he stood with his hand upon the door, and then closing it he turned back into the house, and said to the farmer,
"You say it is still three miles to Dudley?"
"I do," said Mr. Wade coldly.
"I said so to you when you first stopped, and you ought to have pushed on like a prudent man. You could have reached there before it was quite dark."
"But I was cold and hungry, and might have fainted by the way."
The manner of saying this touched the farmer's feelings a little, and caused him to look more narrowly into the stranger's face than he had yet done. But he saw nothing more than he had already seen.
"You have warmed and fed me, for which I am thankful. Will you not bestow another act of kindness upon one who is in a strange place, and if he goes out in the darkness may lose himself and perish in the cold?"
The peculiar form in which this request was made, and the tone in which it was uttered, put it almost out of the power of the farmer to say no.
"Go in there and sit down," he answered, pointing to the kitchen, "and I will see my wife, and hear what she has to say."
And Mr. Wade went into the parlor where the supper table stood, covered with a snow-white cloth, and displaying his wife's set of blue-sprigged china, which was only brought out on special occasions. Two tall mold candles were burning thereon, and on the hearth blazed a cheerful hickory fire.
"Hasn't that old fellow gone yet?" asked Mrs. Wade. She had heard his voice as he returned from the door.
"No. And what do you suppose? He wants us to let him stay all night!"
"Indeed, and we'll do no such thing! We can't have the likes of him in the house, no how. Where could he sleep?"
"Not in the best room, even if Mr. Buck shouldn't come."
"But I really don't see, Jane how we can turn him out of doors. He doesn't look like a very strong man, and it's dark and cold, and full three miles to Dudley."
"It's too much! He ought to have gone on while he had daylight, and not lingered here as he did until it got dark!"
"We can't turn him out of doors, Jane; and it's no use to think of it. He'll have to stay now."
"But what can we do with him?"
"He seems like a decent man, at least; and doesn't look as if he had anything bad about him. We might make him a bed on the floor somewhere."
"I wish he gone somewhere else before he came here," said Mrs. Wade, fretfully. The disappointment, the conviction that Mr. Buck would not arrive, and the intrusion of so unwelcome a visitor as the stranger, completely unhinged her mind.
"Oh, well, Jane," replied her husband in a soothing voice, "never mind. We must make the best of it. Poor man! He came to us tired and hungry, and we have warmed him and fed him. He now asks shelter for the night, and we must not refuse him, nor grant his request in a complaining reluctant spirit. You know what the Bible says about entertaining angels unawares."
"Angels! Did you ever see an angel look like him?"
"Having never seen an angel," said the husband smiling, "I am unable to speak as to their appearance."
This had the effect to call an answering smile to the face of Mrs. Wade, and a better feeling to her heart. And it was finally agreed between them, that the man, as he seemed like a decent kind of a person, should be permitted to occupy the minister's room, if that individual did not arrive, an event to which they both now looked with but small expectancy. If he did come, why the man would have put up with poorer accommodations.
When Mr. Wade returned to the kitchen where the stranger had seated himself before the fire, he informed him, that they had decided to let him stay all night. The man expressed in a few words his grateful sense of their kindness, and then became silent and thoughtful. Soon after, the farmer's wife, giving up all hopes of Mr. Buck's arrival, made supper, which consisted of coffee, warm cream short cakes, and sweet cakes, broiled ham, and broiled chicken. After all was on the table, a short conference was held, as to whether it would do not to invite the stranger to take supper. It was true, they had given him as much bread and bacon as he could eat; but then, as long as he was going to stay all night, it looked too inhospitable to sit down to the table and not ask him to join them. So, making a virtue of necessity, he was kindly asked to come in to supper, an invitation which he did not decline. Grace was said over the meal by Mr. Wade, and then the coffee was poured out, the bread helped, and the meat served.
There was a fine little boy of some five or six years old at the table, who had been brightened up, and dressed in his best, in order to grace the minister's reception. Charley was full of talk, and the parents felt a natural pride in showing him off, even before their humble guest, who noticed him particularly, although he had not much to say.
"Come, Charley," said Mr. Wade, after the meal was over, and he sat leaning back in his chair, "can't you repeat the pretty hymn mamma taught you last Sunday?"
Charley started off, without further invitation, and repeated, very accurately, two or three verses of a new camp-meeting hymn, that was just then very popular.
"Now let us hear you say the Commandments, Charley," spoke up the mother, well pleased at her child's performance. And Charley repeated them with only the aid of a little prompting.
"How many commandments are there?" asked the father.
The child hesitated, and then looking up at the stranger, near whom he sat, said, innocently —
"How many are there?"
The man thought for some moments, and said, as if in doubt —
"Eleven, are there not?"
"Eleven!" ejaculated Mrs. Wade, looking towards the man in sincere surprise.
"Eleven!" said her husband, with more of rebuke than astonishment in his voice. "Is it possible, sir, that you do not know how many Commandments there are? How many are there, Charley? Come! Tell me — you know, of course."
"Ten!" said the child.
"Right, my son," returned Mr. Wade, with a smile of approval.
"Right. Why, there isn't a child of his age within ten miles who can't tell you that there are ten Commandments. "Did you never read the Bible, sir?" addressing the stranger.
"When I was a little boy, I used to read in it sometimes. But I'm sure I thought there were eleven Commandments. Are you not mistaken about there being only ten?"
Sister Wade lifted her hands in sincere astonishment, and exclaimed —
"Could anyone believe it? Such ignorance of the Bible!"
Mr. Wade did not reply, but he arose, and going to one corner of the room, where the Good Book lay upon a small mahogany stand, brought it to the table, and pushing away his plate, cup and saucer, laid the volume before him, and opened that portion in which the Commandments are recorded.
"There!" he said, placing his finger upon a proof of the man's error. "There! Look for yourself!"
The man came round from his side of the table, and looked over the farmer's shoulder.
"There! Ten — Did you see!"
"Yes, it does say ten," replied the man. "And yet it seems to me that there are eleven. I'm sure I have always thought so."
"Doesn't it say ten, here?" inquired Mr. Wade, with marked impatience in his voice.
"It does certainly."
"Well, what more do you want? Can't you believe the Bible?"
"Oh, yes I believe in the Bible, and yet, somehow, it strikes me that there must be eleven Commandments. Hasn't one been added somewhere else?"
Now this was too much for Brother and Sister Wade to bear. Such ignorance on sacred matters, they felt to be unpardonable. A long lecture followed, in which the man was scolded, admonished and threatened with Divine indignation. At its close, he modestly asked if he might have the Bible to read for an hour or two, before retiring to rest. This request was granted with more pleasure than any of the preceding ones. Shortly after supper the man was conducted to the little spare room accompanied by the Bible. Before leaving him alone, Mr. Wade felt it his duty to exhort him on spiritual things, and he did so most earnestly for ten or fifteen minutes. But he could not see that his words made much impression, and he finally left his guest, lamenting his ignorance and obduracy.
In the morning, the man came down, and meeting Mr. Wade, asked him if he would be so kind as to lend him a razor, that he might remove his beard, which did not give his face a very attractive aspect. His request was complied with.
"We will have family prayer in about ten minutes," said Mr. Wade, as he handed him a razor and a shaving-box.
In ten minutes the man appeared and behaved himself with due propriety at family worship. After breakfast he thanked the farmer and his wife for their hospitality, and departing, went on his journey.
Ten o'clock came, and Mr. Buck had not yet arrived. So Mr. and Mrs. Wade started off for the meeting house, not doubting that they would find him there. But they were disappointed. A goodly number of people were inside the meeting house, and a goodly number outside, but the minister had not yet arrived.
"Where is Mr. Buck?" inquired a dozen voices, as a little crowd gathered around the farmer.
"He hasn't come yet. Something has detained him. But I still look for him — indeed, I fully expected to find him here."
The day was cold, and Mr. Wade, after becoming thoroughly chilled, concluded to go in, and keep a look-out for the minister from the window near which he usually sat. Others, from the same cause, followed his example, and the little meeting house was soon filled, and still one after another came dropping in. The farmer, who turned towards the door each time it opened, was a little surprised to see his guest of the previous night enter, and come slowly along the aisle, looking from side to side as if in search of a vacant seat, very few of which were now left. Still advancing, he finally passed within the little enclosed pulpit, and ascending to the pulpit, took off his old gray overcoat and sat down.
By this time Mr. Wade was by his side, and with his hand upon his arm.
"You mustn't sit here. Come down, and I'll show you a seat," he said in an excited tone.
"Thank you," returned the man, in a composed tone. "It is very comfortable here."
"But you are in the pulpit! You are in the pulpit, sir!"
"Oh, never mind. It is very comfortable here." And the man remained immovable.
Mr. Wade, feeling much embarrassed, turned away, and went down, intending to get a brother deacon in the church to assist him in making a forcible ejection of the man from the place he was desecrating. Immediately upon his doing so, however, the man arose, and standing up at the desk, opened the hymn book. His voice thrilled to the very finger ends of Brother Wade, as, in a distinct and impressive manner, he gave out the hymn beginning —
"Help us to help each other, Lord,
Each other's cross to bear;
Let each his friendly aid afford,
And feel a brother's care."
The congregation arose after the stranger had read the entire hymn, and he then repeated the two first lines for them to sing. Brother Wade usually started the tune. He tried it this time, but went off on a long metre tune. Discovering his mistake at the second word, he balked, and tried it again, but now he stumbled on short metre. A musical brother here came to his aid, and let off with an air that suited the measure in which the hymn was written. After the singing, the congregation kneeled, and the minister, for no one now doubted his real character, addressed the Throne of Grace with much fervor and eloquence. The reading of a chapter from the Bible followed these exercises. Then there was a deep pause throughout the room in anticipation of the text, which the preacher prepared to announce.
Brother Wade looked pale, and his hands and knees trembled — Sister Wade's face was like crimson, and her heart was beating so loud that she wondered whether the sound was not heard by the sister who sat beside her. There was a breathless silence. The dropping of a pin might almost have been heard. Then the fine, emphatic tones of the preacher filled the crowded room.
"A new commandment I give unto you — that you love one another." John 13:34
Brother Wade had bent to listen, but he now sank back in his seat.
This was the ELEVENTH COMMANDMENT!
The sermon was deeply searching, yet affectionate and impressive. The preacher uttered nothing which could in the least wound the brother and sister of whose hospitality he had partaken, but he said much that smote upon their hearts, and made them painfully conscious that they had not shown as much kindness to the stranger as he had been entitled to receive on the broad principles of humanity. But they suffered most from mortification of feeling. To think that they should have treated the Presiding Minister of the District after such a fashion, was deeply humiliating; and the idea of the whole affair getting abroad, interfered sadly with their devotional feelings throughout the whole period of the service.
At last the sermon was over, the Lord's Table administered, and the benediction pronounced. Brother Wade did not know what it was best for him now to do. He never was more at a loss in his life. Mr. Buck descended from the pulpit, but he did not step forward to meet him. How could he do that? Others gathered around and shook hands with him, but he still lingered and held back.
"Where is Brother Wade?" he at length heard asked. It was in the voice of the minister.
"Here he is," said two or three, opening the way to where the farmer stood.
The preacher advanced, and extending his hand, said —
"How do you do, Brother Wade? I am glad to see you. And where is Sister Wade?"
Sister Wade was brought forward, and the preacher shook hands with them heartily, while his face was lit up with smiles.
"I believe I am to find my home with you?" he said, as if that were a matter understood and settled.
Before the still embarrassed brother and sister could reply, someone asked —
"How were you detained so late? You were expected last night. And where is Brother Raleigh?"
"Brother Raleigh is sick," replied Mr. Buck, "and so I had to come alone. Five miles from here, my horse gave out, and I had to come the rest of the way on foot. But I became so cold and weary that I found it necessary to ask a farmer not far away from here to give me a night's lodging, which he was kind enough to do. I thought I was still three miles off, but it happened that I was much nearer my journey's end than I had supposed."
This explanation was satisfactory to all parties, and in due time the congregation dispersed; and the Presiding Minister went home with Brother and Sister Wade. How the matter was settled between them, we do not know. One thing is certain, however — the story which we have related did not get out for some years after the worthy brother and sister had rested from their labors, and it was then related by Mr. Buck himself, who was rather eccentric in his character, and, like numbers of his ministerial brethren, fond of a good joke, and given to relating good stories.