Toward the end of the thirteenth century Edward the First, the English Justinian, brought a select colony of artists from Italy to England and gave them a commission to execute their best coinage for the English Mint. Deft and skilful as those artists were, the work they turned out was but rude and clumsy compared with some of the gold and silver and copper coins of our day. The Florentine artists took a sheet of gold or of silver and divided the sheet up with great scissors, and then they hammered the cut-out pieces as only a Florentine hammerman could hammer them. But, working with such tools, and working on such methods, those goldsmiths and silversmiths, with all their art, found it impossible to give an absolutely equal weight and worth to every piece of money that they turned out. For one thing, their cut and hammered coins had no carved rims round their edges as all our gold and silver and even copper coinage now has. And, accordingly, the clever rogues of that day soon discovered that it was far easier for them to take up a pair of shears and to clip a sliver of silver off the rough rim of a shilling, or a shaving of gold off a sovereign, than it was to take of their coats and work a hard day's work. Till to clip the coin of the realm soon became one of the easiest and most profitable kinds of crime. In the time of Elizabeth a great improvement was made in the way of coining the public money; but it was soon found that this had only made matters worse. For now, side by side with a pure and unimpaired and full-valued currency, and mingled up everywhere with it, there was the old, clipped, debased, and far too light gold and silver money; till troubles arose in connection with the coinage and circulation of the country that can only be told by Macaulay's extraordinarily graphic pen. 'It may well be doubted,' Macaulay says, in the twenty-first chapter of his History of England, 'whether all the misery which has been inflicted on the English nation in a quarter of a century by bad Kings, bad Ministers, bad Parliaments, and bad Judges was equal to the misery caused in a single year by bad crowns and bad shillings. Whether Whigs or Tories, Protestants or Papists were uppermost, the grazier drove his beasts to market, the grocer weighed out his currants, the draper measured out his broadcloth, the hum of buyers and sellers was as loud as ever in the towns; the cream overflowed the pails of Cheshire; the apple juice foamed in the presses of Herefordshire; the piles of crockery glowed in the furnaces of the Trent, and the barrows of coal rolled fast along the timber railways of the Tyne. But when the great instrument of exchange became thoroughly deranged all trade and all industry were smitten as with a palsy. Nothing could be purchased without a dispute. Over every counter there was wrangling from morning to night. The employer and his workmen had a quarrel as regularly as Saturday night came round. On a fair day or a market day the clamours, the disputes, the reproaches, the taunts, the curses, were incessant. No merchant would contract to deliver goods without making some stipulation about the quality of the coin in which he was to be paid. The price of the necessaries of life, of shoes, of ale, of oatmeal, rose fast. The bit of metal called a shilling the labourer found would not go so far as sixpence. One day Tonson sends forty brass shillings to Dryden, to say nothing of clipped money. The great poet sends them all back and demands in their place good guineas. "I expect," he says, "good silver, not such as I had formerly." Meanwhile, at every session of the Old Bailey the most terrible example of coiners and clippers was made. Hurdles, with four, five, six wretches convicted of counterfeiting or mutilating the money of the realm, were dragged month after month up Holborn Hill.' But I cannot copy the whole chapter, wonderful as the writing is. Suffice it to say that before the clippers could be rooted out, and confidence restored between buyer and seller, the greatest statesmen, the greatest financiers, and the greatest philosophers were all at their wits' end. Kings' speeches, cabinet councils, bills of Parliament, and showers of pamphlets were all full in those days of the clipper and the coiner. All John Locke's great intellect came short of grappling successfully with the terrible crisis the clipper of the coin had brought upon England. Carry all that, then, over into the life of personal religion, after the manner of our Lord's parables, and after the manner of the Pilgrim's Progress and the Holy War, and you will see what an able and impressive use John Bunyan will make of the shears of the coin-clippers of his day. Macaulay has but made us ready to open and understand Bunyan. 'After this, my Lord apprehended Clip-Promise. Now, because he was a notorious villain, for by his doings much of the king's coin was abused, therefore he was made a public example. He was arraigned and judged to be set first in the pillory, then to be whipped by all the children and servants in Mansoul, and then to be hanged till he was dead. Some may wonder at the severity of this man's punishment, but those that are honest traders in Mansoul they are sensible of the great abuse that one clipper of promises in little time may do in the town of Mansoul; and, truly, my judgment is that all those of his name and life should be served out even as he.'
The grace of God is like a bullion mass of purest gold, and then Jesus Christ is the great ingot of that gold, and then Moses, and David, and Isaiah, and Hosea, and Paul, and Peter, and John are the inspired artists who have commission to take both bullion and ingot, and out of them to cut, and beat, and smelt, and shape, and stamp, and superscribe the promises, and then to issue the promises to pass current in the market of salvation like so many shekels, and pounds, and pence, and farthings, and mites, as the case may be. And it was just these royal coins, imaged and superscribed so richly and so beautifully, that Clip-Promise so mutilated, abused, and debased, till for doing so he was hanged by the neck till he was dead.
1. The very house of Israel herself, the very Mint-house, Tower Hill, and Lombard Street of Israel herself, was full of false coiners and clippers of the promises; as full as ever England was at her very worst. Israel clipped her Messianic promises and lived upon the clippings instead of upon the coin. Her coming Christ, and His salvation already begun, were the true spiritual currency of Old Testament times; while round that central Image of her great promise there ran an outside rim of lesser promises that all took their true and their only value from Him whose image and superscription stood within. But those besotted and infatuated men of Israel, instead of entering into and living by the great spiritual promises given to them in their Messiah, made lands, and houses, and meat, and drink, all the Messiah they cared for. Matthew Henry says that when we go to the merchant to buy goods, he gives us the paper and the pack-thread to the bargain. Well, those children and fools in Israel actually threw away the goods and hoarded and boasted over the paper and the pack-thread. Our old Scottish lawyers have made us familiar with the distinction in the church between spiritualia and temporalia. Well, the Jews let the spiritualia go to those who cared to take such things, while they held fast to the temporalia. And all that went on till His disciples had the effrontery to clip and coin under our Lord's very eyes, and even to ask Him to hold the coin while they sharpened their shears. 'O faithless and perverse generation! How long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you? Have I been so long with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip? O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! And beginning at Moses and all the prophets He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.'
2. But those who live in glass houses must take care not to throw stones. And thus the greatest fool in Israel is safe from you and me. For, like them, and just as if we had never read one word about them, we bend our hearts and our children's hearts to things seen and temporal, and then, after things seen and temporal have all cast us off, we begin to ask if there is any solace or sweetness for a cast-off heart in things unseen and eternal. There are great gaps clipt out of our Bibles that not God Himself can ever print or paste in again. Look and see if half the Book of Proverbs, for instance, with all its noble promises to a godly youth, is not clipt clean out of your dismembered Bible. That fine leaf also, 'My son, give Me thine heart,' is clean gone out of the twenty-third chapter of the Proverbs years and years ago. As is the best part of the noble Book of Daniel, and almost the whole of Second Timothy. 'Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and meat and drink, and wife and child shall be added unto you.' Your suicidal shears have cut that golden promise for ever out of your Sermon on the Mount. So much so that if any or all of these temporal mercies ever come to you, they will come of pure and undeserved mercy, for the time has long passed when you could plead any promise for them. Still, there are two most excellent uses left to which you can even yet put your mangled and dismembered Bible. You can make a splendid use of its gaps and of its gashes, and of those waste places where great promises at one time stood. You can make a grand use even of those gaps if you will descend into them and draw out of them humiliation and repentance, compunction, contrition, and resignation. And this use also: When you are moved to take some man who is still young into your confidence, ask him to let you see his Bible and then let him see yours, and point out to him the rents and wounds and wilderness places in yours. And thus, by these two uses of a clipped-up and half-empty Bible, you may make gains that shall yet set you above those whose Bibles of promises are still as fresh as when they came from God's own hand. And Samson said, I will now put forth a riddle unto you: Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.
3. 'Go out,' said the Lord of Mansoul, 'and apprehend Clip-Promise and bring him before me.' And they did so. 'Go down to Edinburgh to-night, and go to the door of such and such a church, and, as he comes out arrest Clip-the-Commandments, for he has heard My word all this day again but will not do it.' Where would you be by midnight if God rose up in anger and swore at this moment that your disobedient time should be no longer? You would be speechless before such a charge, for the shears are in your pocket at this moment with which you have clipped to pieces this Sabbath-day: shears red with the blood of the Fourth Commandment. For, when did you rise off your bed this resurrection morning? And what did you do when you did rise? What has your reading and your conversation been this whole Lord's day? How full your heart would have been of faith and love and holiness by this time of night had you not despised the Lord of the Sabbath, and cast all His commandments and opportunities to you behind your back? What private exercise have you had all day with your Father who sees in secret? How often have you been on your knees, and where, and how long, and for what, and for whom? What work of mercy have you done to-day, or determined to do to-morrow? And so with all the divine commandments: Mosaic and Christian, legal and evangelical. Such as: A tenth of all I have given to thee; a covenant with a wandering eye; a mouth once speaking evil, is it now well watched? not one vessel only, but all the vessels of thy body sanctified till every thought and imagination is well under the obedience of Christ. Lest His anger for all that begin to burn to-night, make your bed with Eli and Samuel in His sanctuary to-night, lest the avenger of the blood of the commandments leap out on you in your sleep!
4. The Old Serpent took with him the great shears of hell, and clipped 'Thou shalt surely die' out of the second chapter of Genesis. And the same enemy of mankind will clip all the terror of the Lord out of your heart to-night again, if he can. And he will do it in this way, if he can. He will have some one at the church door ready and waiting for you. As soon as the blessing is pronounced, some one will take you by the arm and will entertain you with the talk you love, or that you once loved, till you will be ashamed to confess that there is any terror or turning to God in your heart. No! Thou shalt not surely die, says the serpent still. Why, hast thou not trampled Sabbaths and sermons past counting under thy feet? What commandment, laid on body or soul, hast thou not broken, and thou art still adding drunkenness to thirst, and God doth not know! 'The woman said unto the serpent, We may not eat of it, neither may we touch it, lest we die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die.'
5. You must all have heard of Clito, who used to say that he desired no more time for rising and dressing and saying his prayers than about a quarter of an hour. Well, that was clipping the thing pretty close, wasn't it? At the same time it must be admitted that a good deal of prayer may be got through in a quarter of an hour if you do not lose any moment of it. Especially in the first quarter of the day, if you are expeditious enough to begin to pray before you even begin to dress. And prayer is really a very strange experience. There are things about prayer that no man has yet fully found out or told to any. For one thing, once well began it grows upon a man in a most extraordinary and unheard-of way. This same Clito for instance, some time after we find him at his prayers before his eyes are open; and then he keeps all morning making his bath, his soap, his towels, his brushes, and his clothes all one long artifice of prayer. And that till there is not a single piece of his dressing-room furniture that is not ready to swear at the last day that its master long before he died had become a man full of secret prayer. There is a fountain filled with blood! he exclaims, as he throws himself into his bath; and Jeremiah second and twenty-second he uses regularly to repeat to himself half a dozen times a day as he washes the smoke and dust of the city off his hands and face. And then Revelation third and eighteenth till his toilet is completed. Nay, this same Clito has come to be such a devotee to that he had at one time been so expeditious with, that I have seen him forget himself on the street and think that his door was shut. But there is really no use telling you all that about Clito. For, till you try closet-prayer for yourself, all that God or man can say to you on that subject will be water spilt on the ground. All we can say is, Try it. Begin it. Some desperate day try it. Stop when you are on the way to the pond and try it. Stop when you are fastening up the rope and try it. When the poison is moving in the cup, stop, shut your door first. Try God first. See if He is still waiting. And, always after, when the steel shears of a too early, too crowded, and far too exacting day are clipping you out of all time for prayer, then what should you do? What do you do when you simply cannot get your proper fresh air and exercise everyday? Do you not fall back on the plasticity and pliability of nature and take your air and exercise in large parcels? You take a ride into the country two or three times a week. Or, two afternoons a week you have ten miles alone if you cannot get a godly friend. And then two or three times a year, if you can afford it, you climb an Alp or a Grampian every day for a week or a month; and, so gracious and so adaptable is human nature, that, what others get daily, you get weekly, or monthly, or quarterly, or yearly. And, though a soul is not to be too much presumed upon, Clito came to tell his friends that his soul could on occasion take in prayer and praise enough for a week in a single morning or afternoon, and, almost, for a whole year in a good holiday. As Christ Himself did when He said: Come away apart into a desert place and rest a while; for there are so many people coming and going here that we have no time so much as to eat.
6. But I see I must clip off my last point with you, which was to tell you what you already know only too well, and that is, what terrible shears a bad conscience is armed with, and what havoc she makes at all ages of a poor sinner's Bible. But you can spare that head. You can preach on that text to yourselves far better than all your ministers. Only, take home with you these two lines I have clipped out of Fraser of Brea for you. Nothing in man, he says to us, is to be a ground of despair, since the whole ground of all our hope is in Christ alone. Christ's relation is always to men as they are sinners and not as they are righteous. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. 'Tis with sinners, then, Christ has to do. Nothing damns but unbelief; and unbelief is just holding back from pressing God with this promise, that Christ came to save sinners. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, and it is still to be found standing in the most clipped-up Bible, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
* LECTURE DELIVERED IN ST. GEORGE'S FREE CHURCH EDINBURGH