The flock is scattered, but the fold is one.
The Bicknell shepherds have a busy work to gather them in, but their reward is sure.
RESPONSE BY REV. GEO. W. BICKNELL, LOWELL, MASS.
MR. PRESIDENT AND MEMBERS OF THE BICKNELL FAMILY ASSOCIATION:
I should act false to my own feelings did I not emphasize in the very outset of my remarks, the sentiment which, above all others, sways me at this time, and which has been uttered so often to-day. I am glad, very glad, to be here upon this occasion. In common, no doubt, with you all, I have looked forward to this gathering with very many pleasant anticipations. The reality has eclipsed even the brightest. Every thing has conspired to make this day, as our honored President has expressed it, "A red-letter day of our calendar." Nature smiles as we love to see her, when we want a real good time. It is neither too warm nor too cooljust right. The Bicknell heads are clear as has been made evident in the eloquent addresses of the day, and the perfect arrangements of the committee who have had this gathering in charge, who have surprised and more than pleased us, ministering unto our tastes, expectations and appetites in a manner which must be acceptable to every one. I am satisfied doubly so with every thing I have seen, heard and tasted, except the part which I am now expected to take in this glorious reunion. It is no effort nay, but a pleasure, to which I cannot give expression, to take you, whom I have known, and also you whom I have never seen before, by the hand, ask all manner of questions about your families, and never be thought impertinent, and tell you all I know about others good things I mean; and I do not believe there are many evil things associated with the Bicknell name; but this making a speech after one of the best efforts of a day (eating such a hearty dinner) is almost too much. But I will try and be short, I mean in my speech.
I am asked to respond to the toast, "Our Clergy." I only wish I knew more about them. The only one with whom I have any acquaintance, and possibly not so much as I ought to have even with him, when we endeavor to fulfil literally the command of a writer, "Know thyself "is your humble speaker. I do not think it best to say much about him. With all my failings, I am modest. To-day I do not want to occupy any position, where I shall be regarded as out of place, as "one of the boys at home." And as I stand on this spot to-day, and through the eye of retrospection, see the long line of Bicknells reaching from the right resting on 1635, to the left resting on 1880, and remember that my great big double big grandfather here lived and died, and did what many of his grandsons probably hate to do, cut, or sawed his own wood, and tilled the soil round about us, I do almost feel at home, though never before have I set foot on this groundhallowed by so many associations, and, to many of you, pleasant remembrances. But the Bicknell line has had in the past (and there are several of the same class in the present), a number who have spent their lives in preaching, and it is to be hoped, also in practising. I do not know, for I have no authority for the statement, but I will venture to guess, that each generation has had its appointed share of men, who can be properly classed under the subject our honored toast-master has given me. I have often thought (and now with Bicknell caution, I propose to make a perfectly safe statement) that the life of the older clergyman years ago before the remembrance, it may be, of any of these young men under seventy before me, must have been a very pleasant, or a very unpleasant one. There cannot have been any half way about the matter. There was an awe surrounding the profession, a made up and put on sanctity the work of many years which must have been pleasing, or displeasing to the occupant. It would have been terrible galling to me any way. The minister was way up in the pulpit higher up than the modern pulpit puts a man, unless he is very, very tall. He never laughed (he must have been an odd one of our race however), but he was austere, stern, and in some senses, unapproachable. In a great degree he was the oracle of the community in which he resided his say frequently law. Pastoral calls, if I am to believe all that I have been told, struck terror to the young, and filled the mature with agitation. I should like to have seen a Bicknell in the old time regimen. I wonder if children did actually run to woodhouses and barns, or seek refuge in the folds of mothers dresses when they saw him coming. I am confident that it didnt require matrons so long to get ready to receive the minister as in the present day of, you know the routine of preparation. Yet there was, generally speaking, a roundness of life, a purity of character, a solidity in the clergy of olden time, which made even their human personalities, models of excellence; and which it will be well for us all never to forget, but after which we might, in some measure, well pattern.
We have at the present time, several clergymen bearing our name, who are reported to be earnest workers in the Kingdom of Christ. But it is a matter of pleasure to note, that the clergyman of to-day is of, and in the masses. By this I mean, that he lives and moves more among and with the people. He makes religion, by his walk, teaching, and example, less of a bugbear than as once it was regarded. Not that he has lost the true dignity of manhood, but he has lost (and I am glad of it) some of the powers of freezing, of repelling, of ecclesiastical importance, which formerly characterized the ministry. If he is a true man, he goes out with a heart to meet hearts a soul to meet souls to minister unto the spiritual wants of the day, more than to impress people with his individual importance and sanctity, even if he possessed them. People are not so much afraid of the clergyman as in the days gone by; and upon the other hand, one of the main things to be desired now is, that he shall be so strong in his convictions of truth and rightthat in no sense shall he be afraid of the people. The man who is afraid to speak his honest convictions upon questions of vital importance where he honestly believes them truth, to secure advancement, is a poor sort of a man and a mean minister. While I believe that the people have as much respect for the ministerial office as ever, yet it is pleasant to see awe melting away, and warmness glowing from it. There is to-day, so far as my observation extends more mutual sympathy between pastors and people more readiness to bear one another's burdens more mingling of brotherly love and interest a more delightful association a warmer heart beating than must have characterized the association of years ago. And the influence must be equally as good, if not better. I may stand in awe of a man (I say I may but I dont); but awe never inspired that feeling for which humanity yearns to-daylove. To love him, I want to feel that he has an interest in, or a brotherly feeling toward me. I do not care how kindly a man may feel, if he is exteriorly cold, repellant toward me, he can, like the old priest of Scripture record, run over to the other side just as quick as he wants to. He can hurt my feelings most by coming close to me. The clergy are fast recognizing the truth, that it is vastly better to have the affections of the people, than their mere respect, or obsequiousness. While as a consequence, I say again, the ministerial office is not surrounded in the frigidity of the past, it is enveloped with a desire for human good, which the people see and understand, and thanking heaven for lives consecrated to the uplifting of humanity, their own affections are quickened and inspired, and they bring to the labor their own hearts, and crown the work, to which the minister only lends his aid, with the glorious fruitage of their own purified lives and souls.
It may be said, properly perhaps, that the Bicknell clergy have not been dilatory in recognizing the advancements of the day. So far as I know, the better interpretations of life and duty, as well as of belief, have not been cast aside. The period of scholarship has found devoted students. While, it may be, upon some of the really non-essentials of theology, they may not be all of one mind, yet upon essentials, upon everything which advances the human family, there is probably agreement. We disagree upon matters of which men know the least. If we would all work in directions with which we are acquainted, where, too, men are generally agreed, and which afford labors enough to keep us all busy during this life, and in the discharge of which, we are receiving much of our preparation for the next sphere of being, I think the world would be happier and better than it is. But be that as it may, the clergy, and so far as I know, the family of our name have not turned their backs upon human good. I do not think any Bicknell would sanction the hanging of a criminal, especially if the public good could be protected otherwise, no matter how much he might reverence the laws or customs of antiquity. I do not think any Bicknell would sanction the burning of heretics, or condemnation to prison of any differing in religious faith from himself. We have connections in the Baptist, Methodist, Unitarian, Episcopalian, Universalist, and I do not know how many other denominationsyet all indicating theological advancement over the interpretations of a century or two ago. They are all at work for the upbuilding of Christianity; and this I desire to say here, as I have often said in public before, no matter whether they believe upon some matters as I do or not, working as you are, brother clergymen, for human advancement, for intellectual development among men, to foster spiritual culture, religions growth and to secure a blessed salvation for human souls, I say with my whole heart, God bless you; and though we may be In different corps of the grand army yet the success of your banner, indicating victory over sin and wrong, shall fill me with as great joy as may the triumph of my own. It is not for sectarian success for which we are to fight and labor. Shame on the man whose object is that alone; but the true aim should be to do what we can to aid in securing the triumph of truth over ignorance and error, love over hate, and Christ over every antagonism.
So far as I know, all which has in view the liberation of men from slavery the freedom of the mind from bondage the reign of purity in social life, in the ballot, in government, aye everywhere, has found in our clergy, earnest and warm support.
I have never yet met one who might be termed a bigoted Bicknell. I take it for granted that there are none among the clergy of the family. I hope not. I do not know, however, that there is a Bicknell who has not firm convictions upon important, or to him, interested subjects. Yet firmness may not be bigotry. A man can fully believe that he is in the right in his political or religious views, and yet not be intolerant. For myself I hope never to assume that Pharisaical view of superiority in opinion, which will not enable me to treat with respect, and honor the men who may differ from me; and may never any Bicknell take such a stand. Whatever our special office, service, or thought may be, co-operation in the great work of human advancement is ever essential. One cannot say that there is no need of the other. Yet this I believe, if there was a better understanding pertaining to matters of individual or sectarian belief, there would be infinitely less antagonism among religious bodies than there is in the present.
The clergyman is, by his profession; a preacher; and yet, dear members of the Bicknell Family Association, you are all in reality, preachers. By mans hands you may not have received the rite of ecclesiastical ordination; but by God, each and every human soul is an ordained preacher. The long lines reaching so far down the past, have all been preachers. Their lives have taught the glories and beauties of honor and virtue; and the strength and respectability of our honored family, owe much to their grand life sermons. They may not have swayed multitudes, and you may not move masses; but some have heard, and have been profited. Yes, by life which should he pure and sacredby example which should be bright and glowing, reflecting in a degree, yet as well as mortal may, the radiance of Him who made human existence glorious and resplendent with almost the beauty of the heavenlyby word which should be inspired by the spirit of purity by act which should draw in its life force from Christ himselfby influence which, while exercising its action on earth, shall gain its strength from on highby attainments which may be as stepping stones to the eternal and the realby struggles which have for their goal, the reaching of grander conditions for living than these occupied by manby victories which shall enable the soul to realize its nobler possibilitiesby characters rounded, full, complete, blessing earth, and which may shine in the remembrance of humanity long after the framework in which they are now moulding, shall have passed from human visionyes, by all which goes to make up a nobler manhood and a brighter, purer womanhood, we are all preachers, members of Christs clergy; and if we are faithful as we ought to be, when our earth work is completed, and the bright angel of Gods love shall conduct us through the shaded valley to the bright summerland beyond, to the home where we may learn more of God, of love, of truth, and be blessed with associations for which our souls hope and yearn, the silvery voice will whisper words rich with approval, which may bestow upon us joys worthy of the immortal realm, and which will a thousand fold reward us for every toll, sacrifice, and effort of the present.