Talking of sects till late one eve,
Of the various doctrines the saints believe,
That night I stood, in a troubled dream,
By the side of a darkly flowing stream.
And a “Churchman” down to the river came;
When I heard a strange voice call his name:
“Good father, stop; when you cross this tide,
You must leave your robes on the other side.”
But the aged father did not mind,
And his long gown floated out behind,
As down to the stream his way he took,
His pale hands clasping a gilt-edged book.
“I’m bound for heaven; and when I’m there,
Shall want my Book of Common Prayer;
And, though I put on a starry crown,
I should feel quite lost without my gown.”
Then he fixed his eyes on the shining track,
But his gown was heavy and held him back;
And the poor old father tried in vain
A single step in the flood to gain.
I saw him again on the other side,
But his silk gown floated on the tide;
And no one asked, in that blissful spot,
Whether he belonged to the “church” or not.
Then down to the river a Quaker strayed;
His dress of a sober hue was made:
“My coat and hat must all be gray--
I cannot go any other way.”
Then he buttoned his coat straight up to his chin,
And staidly, solemnly waded in,
And his broad-brimmed hat he pulled down tight,
Over his forehead so cold and white.
But a strong wind carried away his hat,
A moment he silently sighed over that;
And then, as he gazed to the farther shore,
The coat slipped off, and was seen no more.
As he entered heaven his suit of gray
Went quietly sailing, away, away;
And none of the angels questioned him
About the width of his beaver’s brim.
Next came Dr. Watts, with a bundle of psalms
Tied nicely up in his aged arms,
And hymns as many, a very wise thing,
That the people in heaven "all round" might sing.
But I thought that he heaved an anxious sigh,
As he saw that river ran broad and high;
And looked rather surprised as one by one
The psalms and hymns in the wave went down.
And after him, with his MSS.,
Came another, the pattern of godliness;
But he cried, “Dear me! What shall I do?
The water has soaked them through and through.”
And there on the river far and wide,
Away they went down the swollen tide;
And the saint, astonished, passed through alone
Without his manuscripts, up to the throne.
Then, gravely walking, two saints by name
Down to the stream together came;
But as they stopped at the river’s brink,
I saw one saint from the other shrink.
“Sprinkled or plunged? May I ask you friend,
How you attained to life’s great end?”
“Thus, with a few drops on my brow,”
“But I have been dipped as you see me now.”
“And I really think it will hardly do,
As I’m ‘close communion,’ to cross with you.
You’re bound, I know, to the realms of bliss,
But you must go that way, and I’ll go this.”
Then straightway plunging with all his might,
Away to the left--his friend to the right,
Apart they went from this world of sin,
But at last together they entered in.
And now, when the river was rolling on,
A Presbyterian church went down;
Of women there seemed an innumerable throng,
But the men I could count as they passed along.
And concerning the road they never could agree
The old or the new way, which could it could be,
Nor never a moment stopped to think
That both would lead to the river’s brink.
And a sound of murmuring, long and loud,
Came ever up from he moving crowd;
“You’re in the old way, and I’m in the new;
That is false, and this is the true”--
Or “I’m in the old way, and you’re in the new;
That is the false, and this is the true.”
But the brethren only seemed to speak:
Modest the sisters walked and meek,
And if ever one of them chanced to say
What trouble she met on the way,
How she longed to pass to the other side,
Nor feared to cross over the swelling tide,
A voice arose from the brethren then,
“Let no one speak but the holy men;
For have ye not heard the words of Paul,
‘Oh, let the women keep silence all?’”
I watched them long in my curious dream,
Till they stood by the borders of the stream;
Then, just as I thought, the two ways met;
But all the brethren were talking yet,
And would talk on till the heaving tide
Carried them over side by side--
Side by side, for the way was one;
The toilsome journey of life was done;
And all who in Christ the Savior died,
Came out alike on the other side.
No forms, or crosses, or books had they,
No gowns of silk or suits of gray;
No creeds to guide them, or MSS.;
For all had put on Christ’s righteousness.
-- E. H. J. Cleveland