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A Fruitless Deputation
by [?]

It was in New Zealand, and I was attending my first Conference. I had only a month or two earlier entered the Christian ministry. I dreaded the Assembly of my grave and reverend seniors. With becoming modesty, I stole quietly into the hall and occupied a back seat. From this welcome seclusion, however, I was rudely summoned to receive the right hand of fellowship from the President. Then I once more plunged into the outer darkness of oblivion and obscurity. Here I remained until once again I was electrified at the sound of my own name. It seemed that the sorrows of dissension had overtaken a tiny church in a remote bush district. One of the oldest and most revered members, the father of a very large family and the leader of the little brotherhood, had intimated his intention of withdrawing from fellowship and of joining another denomination. This formidable secession had thrown the little congregation into helpless confusion, and an appeal was made to the courts of the denomination. The letter was read; and the secretary stated briefly and succinctly the facts of the situation. And then, to my amazement, he closed by moving that Mr. William Forbury and myself be appointed a deputation to visit the district, to advise the church, and to report to Conference. Mr. Forbury, he explained, was a father in Israel. His grey hairs commanded reverence; whilst his ripe experience and sound judgement would be invaluable to the small and troubled community. So far, so good. His reasoning seemed irresistible. But he went on to say that he had included my name because I was an absolute stranger. I knew nothing of the internal disputes that had rent the church. My very freshness would give me a position of impartiality that older men could not claim. Moreover, he argued, the visit to a bush congregation, and the insight into its peculiar difficulties, would be a useful experience for me. I felt that I could not decently decline; but I confidently expected that the proposal would be challenged and probably rejected. To my astonishment, however, it was seconded and carried. And nothing remained but to arrange with Mr. Forbury the date of our delegation.

The day came, and we set out. It took the train just four hours to convey us to the lonely station from which we emerged upon a wilderness of green bush and a maze of muddy tracks. Mr. Forbury had visited the district frequently, and knew it well. We called upon several settlers in the course of the afternoon, taking dinner with one, and afternoon tea with another. And then we proceeded to the home of the seceder. The place seemed alive with young people. The house swarmed with children.

‘How are you, John?’ inquired my companion.

‘Ah, William, glad to see you; how are you?’

They made an interesting study, these two old men. Their forms were bent with long years of hard and honourable toil. Their faces were rugged and weatherbeaten, wrinkled with age, and furrowed with care. They had come out together from the Homeland years and years ago. They had borne each other’s burdens, and shared each other’s confidences, through all the days of their pilgrimage. Their thoughts of each other were mingled with all the memories of their courtships, their weddings, and their earlier struggles. A thousand tender and sacred associations were interwoven, in the mind of each, with the name of the other. When fortune had smiled, they had delighted in each other’s prosperity. In times of shadow, each had hastened to the other’s side. They had walked together, talked together, laughed together, wept together, and–very, very often–prayed together. They had been as David and Jonathan, and the soul of the one was knit to the soul of the other. Hundreds of times, before the one had come to settle in this new district, they had walked to the house of God in company. And now a matter of doctrine had intervened. And, with such men, a matter of doctrine is a matter of conscience. And a matter of conscience is the most stubborn of all obstacles to overcome. I looked into their stern, expressive faces, and I saw that they were no triflers. A fad had no charm for either of them. They looked into each other’s faces, and each read the truth. The breach was irreparable.