[From Thomas Howard Gill, 1895]
HIS FIRST CURACY.
"Yea, let my whole life be One Anthem unto Thee !
And let the praise of lip and life Outring all sin and strife."-Havergal.
IT was an ideal home-coming to the pretty cottage in the grounds of Rushen Abbey, which loving hands and hearts had prepared for the bride, quite near to her old school with all its pleasant memories. Twelve pounds a-year ! where, in our day, would such a cottage be found at such a small rent ? old-fashioned and roomy, with its pretty flower garden, the river running in front shaded ,by the old elms, and behind, an orchard filled with ancient trees, now, in the autumn of the year, well-laden and ruddy with fruit. Here, the young couple began their common life, numbering together just two score years. He unusually tall, over six feet four and broad in proportion, she small and slight, outwardly a perfect contrast, as is so often the case between husband and wife.
The Sunday after their return the young curate preached his first sermon in the presence of his father, his bride, and friends, besides a large congregation, all of whom had known him from his childhood upwards. His dear mother chanced to be absent, not willingly we may be sure, and so that same Sunday evening the happy father wrote her his impressions of their son's first sermon.
"My BELOVED ANN,-The people are gone to bed, and I now stop a moment to give you an account of another pleasant Sunday which we have had. The day has been wet just at service-time both ends, yet we have had nice congregations. We had delightful singing and playing, and Tom gave us his first sermon, 'Redeeming the time.' It was quite to my mind. The people were riveted in most earnest atten tion, and obviously pleased. It was quiet and simple, and spoke by its intrinsic force, not by any external vehemence. It was short, twenty minutes, and left the people hungering for more. The compliment which the clerk paid to Tom's sermon was, 'He is going to be one of the champions,' and Mrs. F. told me she had never heard a sermon with which she was more delighted."
I think it will not be amiss here to give a few extracts from this first sermon, which will in some sort show the mind of the man, and prove the key-note to much of his after life.
Ephesians v. 16, "Redeeming the time."-"Time is givën to man for a twofold purpose, to fulfil the duties of -this life, and to prepare for the life to come-not that these. two purposes are distinct, but are rather one continuous whole. The text reminds us of time wasted in idleness, in feasting, in vain company, in vain thoughts; it tells us to redeem that time, to buy it, win it back hour by hour, and inch by inch, from such consumers of it.
" It puts us in mind of a large tract of land by the water side, which has for years been covered by an arm of the sea, and though when tides are low much of the land is un-covered, and a little verdure grows on it, yet, at the rising of the tide again, the sea destroys all this, and the ground is not only useless, but, still worse, becomes miry and noxious.
But the owner of that land resolves that it shall lie waste no longer-he builds bulwarks against the waters; drains the land; manures it; sows his seed; and the land becomes good and fruitful. He plants it too with trees and shrubs and flowers, so that it not only yields him much fruit, but is pleasant and beautiful to the sight. Even so is the time of most men overspread and covered by a sea of care, a flood of amusements and pleasures, which, though they sometimes leave for a little, and make a show of repentance and good works and turning unto the Lord, yet, because we have not set about the work in earnest; because we have not set up the bulwark of prayer; because we have not drained our land in faith, the waters return, our resolutions and inten-tions are swept away, and our time is not only turned to no good account, but it becomes hurtful. O foolish husbandman ! God says to you, ` I have placed you in My vine-yard but for a time; I have given you work to do, a great deal of work, and a short time in which to do it. Are you wasting your day as if you had no work?"'
And then, in forcible words, he spoke of the shortness of time, and how the season for beginning to live to God, and for God, is in youth, and he wound up with a touching reference to his own presence amongst them. " My brethren, the text has a special application to myself. By the mercy and goodness of God I have been kept from my youth up until this day, and this day I have been permitted to stand before you, in the name of the Lord, to declare unto you the Gospel of peace. Of my own utter weakness to declare this Gospel unto you I am thoroughly conscious, but I pray that the strength of God may be perfected in my weakness, and that He who has begun the good work in me will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ; that He will enable me to redeem my time from all vain trifling about holy things, and to devote it wholly to the service of my Master, that He may help me to walk worthy of the voca-tion whereunto I am called, that reaching forth to those things which are before, I may press towards the mark of our high calling. I ask your prayers that God may bless me in my ministrations, that I may be made the means of turning many from sin unto righteousness. Finally, brethren, let us begin this day to redeem the time."
It may almost seem that throughout his whole after-life he kept these words ever before him. He was soon in the very thick of his clerical work, throwing into it from the first much of that energy for which, later, he was so remark able. " A genial, happy man," was even a stranger's appreciation of the curate, and if his present sphere of action was comparatively small, he made the most of it. With his great capacity for work, he must have felt like a giant at play; even the Sundays, which most men would have thought pretty hard, never troubled him. Early in the morning he was off to hold Sunday-school, in a village two miles away; by half-past ten he was holding a service in a little mountain chapel, three miles farther on; then back again to early dinner at the vicarage. Afternoon, service at three; evening, service at seven ; and the day closed in the peaceful old vicarage with prayer and praise, and then the young curate and his wife walked home in the moonlight, silent maybe in their great happiness, so aptly expressed by the French as Silence d deux.
Hemmed in as he was, still his great powers of organisation must needs have an outlet. He started a penny bank in the village, which he managed himself, and which proved a grand success. His influence over the men and boys increased daily. At this time Canon Ellison first organised the "Church of England Temperance Society," and immediately the Rev. Thomas Howard Gill became secretary in the Isle of Man, starting a branch in his own village, which was most successful.
Then he bethought himself, as he always did, of the young, and initiated weekly meetings for working boys. In those days of non-compulsory education, especially in out-of-the-way places, the ignorance was very great ; and with nothing better to do to wile away their idle time, men and lads found their way to inns and taverns-places of so-called recreation are alas! never lacking. To prevent this, in a small way, Mr. Gill hired a room in the village, and invited the lads to come and spend an evening with him once a-week, and then he set himself to make ready for them. He had always been particularly clever with manual dexterity, at carpentering or any mechanical work; if anything wanted patching up, from a clock to some trifling kitchen utensil, it was always, "Fetch Tom." His mother used to call him " Jack-of-all-trades." Now he set to work with a will. All his spare time was spent in manufacturing chess boards, draught boards, and all manner of games. "I mean to make them jolly, and so keep them together," he said, as he sawed and nailed and stained the boards. He was so happy him-self, entering so thoroughly into the spirit of the thing, making the boys at once welcome, and putting them at their ease. lie would begin the evening by reading something amusing, which would call forth shouts of laughter, then hë told stories, and encouraged others to do the same. Many were the games of draughts he played, and when the evening was drawing to a close he would stand up, towering over most of those present, and, giving out a few verses, would expound them in language suitable to his hearers. A well-known hymn and a short prayer followed, and then they would all troop out together to their respective homes. From the first, he never conceived the possibility of carrying on temperance work disassociated from religion.
On the 6th of January, 1861, being Twelfth Night, the feast of the Epiphany, there was deep joy and earnest thankfulness at the cottage for the birth of a little daughter.
"Is she all right, mother?" asked the anxious young father, when his own mother announced the glad tidings to him, and being assured that it was a perfect baby in all respects, and that the mother was doing well, he exclaimed "Thank God, and now the poor must share our joy," and forthwith he went out and ordered ten pounds of cheese, many loaves of bread and packets of tea; and throughout that week every poor person who came to the cottage was told about the baby, and given a packet of tea, cheese, and bread, with the words " The little one is all right; you will pray that she may live to be a good woman." This was his daughter Ella. The following year a second daughter was born and welcomed; she was named Ann, after his beloved mother. The young couple were obliged to leave their pretty cottage. A year of unusual rain had caused floods, and the river over-flowing the banks, the water came into the house, and the wife's frequent attacks of neuralgia being the result, her husband determined to remove to Castletown, and took a house near the sea, where the next two years were spent, and their eldest son was born, called, after his father, Thomas Howard.