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A Victorian Scrapbook

A Scrapbook of Newspaper Articles Compiled by George Burgess (1829-1905)

Victorian Religion

A Trial of Conscience

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Transcript from original newspaper article: -

We take the following interesting incident from the recently published life of the Rev. James Sherman. It occurred in the earlier part of his life, while he was minister of the Reading Independent chapel: - “Now came such a test to the obedience to the will of God as I did not expect. Two sisters had come to Reading, possessed of considerable private fortune, who for some years has shown me and my family great attentions, and had administered largely to our comforts. One of them died; but the elder survived, and resided in the house next to mine. A private entrance permitted both families to meet at morning and evening prayer. For this service she presented me with £100 per annum, to me a very valuable addition to my income. She had somehow conceived the idea that I had promised that as long as she lived I would not leave Reading. No protestation of mine availed to shake that conviction. Nor would she for a moment listen to any plans for a joint residence in the suburbs of London, where she had formerly resided. No arguments about the superior claims of so large a congregation as that at Surrey Chapel; and the probability under the circumstances of the congregation at Reading becoming less numerous, and, by the absence of leading men, less influential, would she receive to try to comprehend. She shewed me her will, in which she had bequeathed £1,500 to each of my three children, and £2,000 to myself, besides making me residuary legatee; which would have put into my possession much more than that sum. She had passed her 82nd year, and was afflicted with a disease which rendered it impossible that her life could be long protracted. Every plea and argument that I could urge was met by her simply taking this will, which she carried in her pocket, holding it up to me, and saying, ‘You know how you are interested in this document; the moment that you decide to leave Reading, I will cancel this will.’ Relative and friends whom I consulted urged upon me the interests of my children, and that, as it was probable that her life would be short, I had better remain where I was; especially as I was so useful there, and Surrey was untried ground. I confess that for a short time the struggle was great; but when I considered that the inducement was merely an increase of wealth, and that, so far as I could judge, the voice of God called me to Surrey, I dared not hesitate. Moreover, I considered that the bequest was founded upon a misapprehension, and that after all she might alter her mind, and dispose of her property in another way. On the one hand, I conscientiously thought that by removing I should be obeying the will of God; while on the other, whatever I might gain by pleasing my old friend, I should possess it with a sting and a curse. After commending the whole case to God, therefore, I went to her, to shew her the grounds upon which I had arrived at the decision to leave Reading. She heard me for a little while, and then said, ‘Then I am to understand that you have made up your mind to go to Surrey? Here is my will; I have no further use for it;’ and putting it in the fire, she added, ‘There, now, I do not want to see your face any more until the day of judgement.’ Nor will she; for although I offered her my hand at parting, which she would not take, and made two efforts to bid her farewell, she steadfastly refused to see me, and about sixteen months afterwards she died at Bath, unhappy and unsubdued in her resentment.”