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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
Max O'Rell at a Glasgow church and on Scotch religion

THE racy Frenchman who lectures and writes under the nom de plume of Max O’Rell, in his Friend Macdonald, states:

"Religion is still sterner in Scotland than in England. It is arid, like the soil of the country; angular, like the bodies of the inhabitants; thorny, like the national emblem of Scotland.

"One Sunday I went to a church in Glasgow. The preacher chose for his text the passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel, commencing with ‘No man can serve two masters,’ and ending, ‘Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.’

About three thousand worshippers, careworn and devoured by the thirst for lucre, listened unmoved to the diatribes of the worthy pastor, and were preparing, by a day of rest, for the headlong race after wealth that they were going to resume on the morrow.

"What a never-ending theme is the contempt for riches! What sermons in the desert, preached by bishops with princely pay, or poor curates who treat fortune as Master Reynard treated certain grapes that hung out of reach.

"I was never more edified than on that Sunday in Glasgow, especially when the assembly struck up—

"‘O Paradise! O Paradise!
‘Tis weary waiting here;
I long to be where Jesus is,
To feel, to see him near,

"‘O Paradise! O Paradise!
I greatly long to see
The special place my. dearest Lord,
in love prepares for me!’

"‘Ah! my dear Caledonians,’ thought I, seeing them in such a hurry, ‘ it is better to suffer, even in Glasgow, than to die!’

"‘Mieux vaut souffrir que mourir
C’est la devise des hommes.’

"By-the-bye, dear reader, how do you like the expression special place? Do I exaggerate when I tell you the Scotch expect to find places specially reserved for them in Heaven? If the Englishman has knocked down to himself the kingdom of Heaven, which he looks upon as a British possession, the Scotchman has discerned to himself all the best places therein."

With reference to a similar sermon heard by him elsewhere,—the locus is of no particular importance, as it would apply equally well to almost any part of Scotland,—Max O’Rell writes :— "I had been to morning service with a Scotchman, and there again had heard a sermon on the worthlessness of riches. The minister had preached from the text, ‘And again I say unto you: it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of Heaven.’

"In my innocence, or, rather, in my ignorance, I had always seen in these words of our Lord a condemnation of riches—a condemnation without appeal, and looked upon the man who sought to be rich, and did not scatter his wealth, as persons who willingly forfeited all chance of entering Heaven.

"On leaving the church, my companion and I began to talk of the sermon. The Scotch discuss a sermon on their way home from church, as we French people discuss the merits of a new play that we have just seen at the theatre. As we went along, I communicated my views to my friend. He turned on me a glance full of compassion.

It is easy to see, my dear sir,’ he said, ‘that you have been brought up in a religion that does not encourage discussion, The result is that you swallow without resistance theories which would wake our children start with indignation. If Christ’s phrase could be interpreted in your fashion, it would be neither more nor less than an absurdity. He meant to say that it was more difficult for a rich man than a poor one to be saved, but not that it was impossible.’

"‘But,’ I began, ‘it is impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.’

"Here my companion’s smile became more sarcastic. I foresaw that his explanation was going to stagger me, and so it did.

"‘You seem to be in earnest," said he; ‘let me enlighten you. There existed at Jerusalem, in our Saviour’s time, a gateway called the Needle’s Eye. Although one of the principal entrances to the city, this gateway was so narrow that a camel could only get through it with difficulty (particularly if laden). So Christ meant to say—’

"‘Enough, I cried, ‘my ignorance is terrible, I never felt it as much as at this moment.’

"You see,’ he added in a rather bantering tone, ‘in Scotch churches there is no incense—but there is common-sense.’

Nothing mystic in the religion of the Scotch. The Old and New Testaments are submitted to the finest sifting. Every passage is explained. They are served up as an intellectual food. Here people do not see because they believe; they believe because they see. Faith is based upon reason.

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