Difference and Agreement

by Dr. John Aiken and Mrs. Anna Letitia Barbauld

OR, SUNDAY MORNING

It was Sunday morning. All the bells were ringing for church, and the streets were filled with people moving in all directions. Here, numbers of well-dressed persons and a long train of charity children were thronging in at the wide doors of a large, handsome church. There, a smaller number, almost equally gay in dress, were entering an elegant meeting-house. Up one alley, a Roman Catholic congregation was turning into their retired chapel, every one crossing himself with a finger dipped in holy water, as he went in. The opposite side of the street was covered with a train of Quakers, distinguished by their plain and neat attire and sedate aspect, who walked without ceremony into a room as plain as themselves, and took their seats, the men on one side, and the women on the other, in silence. A spacious building was filled with an overflowing crowd of Methodists, most of them meanly habited, but decent and serious in demeanor; while a small society of Baptists in the neighborhood quietly occupied their humble place of assembly.

Presently the different services began. The churches resounded with the solemn organ, and with the indistinct murmurs of a large body of people following the minister in responsive prayers. From the meeting were heard the slow psalm, and the single voice of the leader of their devotions. The Roman Catholic chapel was enlivened by strains of music, the tinkling of a small bell, and a perpetual change of service and ceremonial. A profound silence and unvarying look and posture announced the self-recollection and mental devotion of the Quakers.

Mr. Ambrose led his son Edwin round all these different assemblies as a spectator. Edwin viewed everything with great attention, and was often impatient to inquire of his father the meaning of what he saw; but Mr. Ambrose would not suffer him to disturb any of the congregations even by a whisper. When they had gone through the whole, Edwin found a great number of questions to put to his father, who explained everything to him in the best manner he could. At length says Edwin:

"But why cannot all these people agree to go to the same place, and worship God the same way?"

"And why should they agree?" replied his father. "Do not you see that people differ in a hundred other things? Do they all dress alike, and eat and drink alike, and keep the same hours, and use the same diversions?"

"Ay—but those are things in which they have a right to do as they please."

"And they have a right, too, to worship God as they please. It is their own business, and concerns none but themselves."

"But has not God ordered particular ways of worshiping him?"

"He has directed the mind and spirit with which he is to be worshiped, but not the particular form and manner. That is left for every one to choose, according as suits his temper and opinions. All these people like their own way best, and why should they leave it for the choice of another? Religion is one of the things in which mankind were made to differ."

The several congregations now began to be dismissed, and the street was again overspread with persons of all the different sects, going promiscuously to their respective homes. It chanced that a poor man fell down in the street in a fit of apoplexy, and lay for dead. His wife and children stood round him crying and lamenting in the bitterest distress. The beholders immediately flocked round, and, with looks and expressions of the warmest compassion, gave their help. A Churchman raised the man from the ground by lifting him under the arms, while a Dissenter held his head and wiped his face with his handkerchief. A Roman Catholic lady took out her smelling-bottle, and assiduously applied it to his nose. A Methodist ran for a doctor. A Quaker supported and comforted the woman; and a Baptist took care of the children.

Edwin and his father were among the spectators. "Here," said
Mr. Ambrose, "is a thing in which mankind were made to agree."