Mary Egerton Scott,

Plain Truth for Plain People, Dialogue II (1807)

Text: Plain Truth for Plain People. | In Three Dialogues, | between | Joseph Chisel, and Thomas Wood. | Second edition. || By the author of | The History of Mrs. Wilkins. || To the Poor the Gospel is preached. Luke vii. 22. | Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you, | a reason of the hope that is in you. I Pet. iii. 15. || London: | Printed by C. and R. Baldwin, New-Bridge-Street; | and sold by L. B. Seeley, Ave-Maria Lane, | J. Hatchard, Piccadilly; and Mathews, | 13, Strand. || Price 4d. or 3s. per dozen, or on Guinea per Hundred. | 1807. At the end of the pamphlet is the following advertisement: ‘By the same author, The Path to Happiness. Third edition, 1s. 6d. And just published, The Advantages of Early Piety, or the History of Sally Thompson and Lydia Green. 2nd edition. 3d. or 2s.6d. per dozen.’

This dialogue by Scott further extends the ministerial persona routinely employed by nonconformist and evangelical women writers in their religious fiction and other prose writings. In this case, Scott does not merely quote from a sermon or create a fictional minister who speaks to a character in his ministerial voice, but rather employs a lay character (one only minimally educated) to recreate the voice of the minister, thus putting a second layer of authorial distance between her voice as a woman writer and that of the minister.

For a biographical summary of Scott's life, click here; for a fully annotated edition of the complete text of Plain Truth for Plain People, see Timothy Whelan, Nonconformist Women Writers, 1720-1840 (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2011), vol. 7, pp. 260-68.

Dialogue II.

Joseph. Well Thomas, how do you find yourself this morning? You don’t look so well, as when I parted with you yesterday. What did you think of the storm we had last night, and the dreadful accident that happened in Farmer Brown’s barn?

Thomas. Think of it, Joseph! Why I never was so terrified with any thing in all my life. I thought of your words many times; and I thought too, Oh, how happy should I be, if I were in Joseph Chisel’s place! Will. Simpson and I, with a few others, were all at the Lion, when the storm first began. I never saw such lightning in all my days – and the thunder too, was so dreadfully loud! It soon silenced our singing and swearing, and made us as quiet as lambs. At last, after I had waited a good while, as I had not very far to go, I thought I would make the best of my way home: but, soon after, the rain came pouring down in such a manner, that, with several others, I ran for shelter into the Farmer’s Barn – and, all in an instant, there came such a ball of fire! I shall never forget it: and presently after, what should we see, but poor Nanny Watkins,* who, but a moment before, had been cursing and swearing about the weather, stretched out upon the ground as black as a coal!

Jos. Poor, wretched creature! I suppose she was quite dead.

Tho. Ay – as dead as a stone! and so scorched and mangled, that I heard say, they could hardly take her clothes off. Oh, thought I to myself, Why was it not I? And then, as Joseph Chisel was saying yesterday morning, if the Bible be true, where would have been my poor soul? Every clap of thunder I heard afterwards went to my very heart. Who can tell, thinks I – it may be my turn next!

Jos. Well, Thomas, but I hope, since God Almighty has mercifully spared you this time, the awful warning will not be in vain.

Tho. I hope so too, Joe: I am sure I have never had it out of my mind since. Those words of your’s, If it should be true! If it should be true! ran in my head, almost all the night long, so that I hardly ever closed my eyes: and I resolved, if I should be spared till morning, that I would get you to talk to me again, about the same things you did yesterday: for I am a poor ignorant creature, Joseph; and some years ago, Sam. Hitchins, with whom I unluckily got very much acquainted, used to encourage me in every thing that was bad, and tell me I must not mind what the Parson said; for, it was all an imposition, and nobody but fools believed such things: so, after that, I soon left off going to Church and reading my Bible, which before, I had been used to do pretty constantly.

Jos. Ah! Thomas, but if the Bible had been a book, that was to teach you how to get money and prosper in the world, and you had seen your neighbours round about you growing rich and thriving well by reading it; you would not have been so easily persuaded that it was false, and so ready to lay it aside.

Tho. No – I believe you are right enough there indeed: but, while I have been doing, what I knew was contrary to some of the ten commandments, I have often secretly wished in my heart that it might be as Sam says; that man has no soul, and that there is no Heaven or Hell hereafter.

Jos. What a shocking state of mind! To wish to be like the brutes that perish! My heart has often bled for you, Tom: and that time when you fell from the ladder, and got such a dreadful hurt, many and many a day, have I prayed for you, that God would spare your life and save your soul.

Tho. Ah! Joseph, when I think what a kind good neighbour you have always been to me and mine, and how shamefully I have requited you: that even, the very last evening, just before the storm began, I and my wicked companions were making a jest of you – it goes to my very heart. Indeed I felt this morning as if I were ashamed to look you in the face again.

Jos. Don’t talk of that, Tom: you know our Saviour has said, we must overcome evil with good: and, though I do it in a poor way, my daily prayer and desire, is to obey his commands and to follow his example. But, to return to our subject, pray, had you ever any of these unbelieving thoughts before you got acquainted with Sam?

Tho. Why to speak the truth, I can’t say altogether, but what at times I had. For instance, now and then such thoughts as these used to come into my head. After all people say about this same book the Bible; how can I tell for certain, that it is the word of God, or that such a person as Jesus Christ ever lived upon the earth?

Jos. Well, Tom, perhaps you would hardly believe it; but I can assure you, that I have more than once been troubled with the same thoughts myself.

Tho. Indeed! – but I suppose not since you have been such a constant church-goer, and led such a strict life.

Jos. Yes, Tom, as lately as two or three years ago.—But very far from wishing, as you say you have done, that the Bible might not be true; the fear lest it should not, made me miserable night and day, so that I could not rest; till at last, I took courage, and went to our Minister to talk the matter over with him.

Tho. And did he give you any satisfaction about it?

Jos. Oh yes! He was so kind and affable, and took so much pains to instruct me, I am sure I shall never forget it; he could not have done more if I had been the greatest lord in the land!

Tho. I should like to have heard him: I wonder what he said to you.

Jos. Why, I’ll try to tell you the substance of it, as far as I can remember.

‘As to your doubting, my friend, (said he) whether there ever were such a Person in the world as Jesus Christ, that must arise from your entire ignorance of history, which it certainly is not in my power to remove, except as you will believe what I tell you about it. But besides, that the Jews themselves, who despise and deny Christ, never pretend to say that there was no such person; there are many old books to be met with at this day, which are well known to have been written during Christ’s life, or soon after his death, in which he is expressly mentioned; and some of these books too, were written by people who were great enemies to the followers of Christ. I, who have studied this subject many years, can assure you, that the disbelief of the Bible arises mostly from ignorance; not only in poor unlearned men, but also in great scholars. I mean ignorance of that subject: for the more any one reads and enquires about the truth of the Scriptures, the more he will be satisfied that they are the word of God; and I have always found that those who ridiculed and despised them, had never thoroughly and fairly examined into it.’

Well, but Sir, answered I, since you are so kind as to hear what I have got to say – (I am almost afraid to say it though) – It has sometimes come across my mind in this manner:—Supposing there really was such a Person as Jesus Christ, how can one be sure, that he and his disciples were true men, and did not impose upon people; as I have heard say a man did a great many years ago, whom the Turks still look upon as their Prophet?—I think they call his name Mahomet, and say he wrote a book to teach his followers the way to heaven.

‘That is all very true, Joseph,’ said Mr. Lovetruth.—‘Mahomet (whose followers are now called Mahometans) was a very wicked man and a great warrior, and he wrote a book called the Koran, which is full of the most foolish lies, except some passages which are in a great measure evidently borrowed from our Scriptures.—He promised, that all those who fell in fighting for him should go to heaven – and the heaven he promised them, was just such a place as suits the inclination of carnal wicked men. Now, Joseph, as you constantly study your Bible, I think I can easily make you see the difference between the characters of Jesus Christ, and the Imposter Mahomet; and how impossible it was that so holy and excellent a Person as our Saviour, who had no ambitious or selfish ends to answer, could mean to impose upon mankind. You have read (continued he) and I hope too, notwithstanding your present doubts, often with love and admiration, of the patient holy life, and suffering death of our blessed Redeemer. You know that “he was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows acquainted with grief.” He went about continually doing good, yet he had not even a place where to lay his head. Not only did he endure present hardships and sufferings, which many, like Mahomet, are ready to do, in order to future gain and prosperity, but he himself looked forward to nothing else, and promised nothing else to his disciples.

‘Is this, Joseph, like the behaviour of an impostor? No – in order to succeed in the world, and to be like and admired, the best way is to flatter people, and encourage them in their evil ways; but instead of this, our Saviour and his apostles, did and said those very things, which they well knew would bring upon them the wrath and scorn of their hearers. The apostles saw and bare witness to Christ’s miracles, death, resurrection and ascension; and at last, as we are well assured from history, laid down their lives for his sake. Surely, we cannot doubt the sincerity of such people as these! It is very surprising also, that these few poor ignorant men, unarmed, and unassisted by any human power, should have been the means of spreading christianity through most of the world.—They lived among Jews and Romans, both of whom were the bitterest enemies to the christian religion, and did all they could to destroy it. Several of the great emperors of Rome (as great and powerful as Bonaparte is in our day) some years after Christ, put to death many hundred and thousands of christians in the most cruel and inhuman manner. Yet, for all this, the word of God still grew and prevailed; and that same Gospel which was first preached at Jerusalem nearly eighteen hundred years ago, is now believed in England at a distance of many thousand miles! So truly is that Scripture fulfilled, “that the gates of hell should not prevail against the Church of Christ!” Matt. xvi. 18.

‘In reading your Bible, too, Joseph, (said Mr. Lovetruth) have you never been struck with the remarkable manner, in which the writers of the Scripture agree with each other; and the exact fulfilment of the things which they foretold should come to pass? Some of them were kings and great scholars; others were poor and unlearned men; some were shepherds, and some fishermen: many of them wrote at a great distance of time from one another; yet they all agree together in declaring the same important truths, and in giving the same views both of God and man! While the New Testament bears witness to the truth of the Old Testament; for there is hardly a Book in the latter, which Jesus Christ or the apostles, have not mentioned. St. Peter tells us that “Holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost:” and St. Paul says that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” As for the prophecies, you are not indeed capable of understanding much about them, because here again, some knowledge of history is necessary. But you know very well, that the Jews, who are indeed themselves a kind of standing miracle to this day, hold the old Testament to be true: and if so, what shall we say to the words they contain, which were written some hundred years before the birth of Christ, and yet so clearly foretell the circumstances of his life and death? That passage in Psalms xxii, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” and indeed several others in the same Psalm. Some other very remarkable verses, in Ps.lxix, and the whole of liii. Isaiah. The destruction of Jerusalem too, and the wretched state of the Jews, so clearly predicted both in the old and new Testament. – Deut. xxviii. Hosea ix. 17. Luke xxi. 6.20-24.

‘A few years after the death of Christ, Titus, the son of the Roman Emperor, came against Jerusalem, and besieged it; during which time, the Jews suffered such distresses as were never known before or since. I’ll read to you, Joseph, (said he, taking up a great book,) a little of what Josephus, one of their own writers, says about it. “Women snatched food out of the very mouths of their husbands, and sons of their fathers; and (what is most miserable) mothers of their infants. In every house, if there appeared any semblance of food, a battle ensued; and the dearest friends and relations fought with one another, snatching away the miserable provisions of life. A woman, distinguished by birth and wealth, after she had been plundered by the tyrants (or soldiers) of all her other possessions – boiling her own sucking child, ate half of him, and, concealing the other half, reserved it for another time!”

‘At length, (continued Mr. Lovetruth,) after great numbers of the Jews had been killed, Jerusalem was taken by the Romans, and the City and Temple were destroyed; so that, just as our Saviour had said, Luke xxi. 6, not one stone was left upon another: and to this very day the Temple has never been rebuilt, though many endeavours have been made, in vain, to do it, by some wicked men out of mere opposition to God’s word. The Jews who were left alive, were many of them made slaves, and the rest scattered about as vagabonds and wanderers, as they still continue to be; a distinct and peculiar race of people, different from all the rest of mankind, and still keeping in some measure to their old religion: but, as was exactly foretold by the Prophet Hosea, iii. 4, “Without a king, without a prince, and without a sacrifice, without an image, without an ephod and teraphim;” that is, without idolatry.

‘There was a very wicked man a few years ago,’ said Mr. Lovetruth, ‘one Thomas Paine (I don’t know whether you ever heard of him) who wrote a book that did a great deal of mischief; in which he tried to prove that the Bible was all a forgery. Among the rest, he said, there never could be any such things as miracles; and represented all that is said in Scripture about them as nonsense and lies. Now, surely no man in his senses can doubt, that the same Almighty God who created the world, could, if he pleased, give sight to the blind, or call back the dead to life! And, that the miracles related both in the old and new Testament were really wrought before a vast number of witnesses, we have every reason to believe. The wonderful things which were done by Moses in the land of Egypt and in the wilderness, were of such a nature, that they could not be counterfeited. Millions both of friends and enemies were called to witness them: and if they had not been really wrought by Moses, who wrote the very books in which the history of these things is contained; when, and how, could it have been possible to persuade the whole nation of Israel, that both they and their forefathers had always believed them? For many hundred years too, the Jews kept various feasts and ordinances in remembrance of these things, some of which they observe even to this day. The eating of the Passover, for instance, every year, was first commanded in Exod. xii. to remind them of that wonderful miracle which God wrought, in destroying in one night all the first-born in the land of Egypt; while he passed over the houses of the Israelites, on whose doors the blood of the Paschal Lamb was sprinkled. Now, is it likely that this feast would have been observed for so many hundreds of years, if no such things as what it was kept in remembrance of, had ever h append? Why, one might as well say, that though we, here in England, every year keep the fifth of November, there was never any such thing in this land as the Gunpowder Plot!

‘But, I am afraid you will be quite tired, Joseph, said he, with the long discourse I have been giving you; only, as the subject we are upon, is of the greatest importance, I wish to make it out as clearly as I can to you.

‘I must therefore say a few words about our Saviour’s resurrection. His death, and the glory that should follow, are, as I said before, very plainly foretold in the Old Testament. Now, his enemies knew very well, that he had said, he should rise again on the third day; and they took their measures accordingly, and did all they possibly could, to hinder any one from taking away his body. On the third day, however, after all they had done, sure enough the body was gone; and though they had set a guard of soldiers at the burying place, nobody could tell any thing about it, except the apostles; who declared that they had seen him, as also a vision of angels, and that he was indeed risen again from the dead! They had examined his hands, his feet and his side, and had talked with him again and again; so that they were quite sure it was he himself: and at length, after he had remained forty days upon earth, they saw him go up into heaven. We should consider, that the persons who said all this were men of good character and sound understanding; such as any court of justice would allow to be quite proper witnesses. That they persisted in affirming these things till their death, which indeed many of them suffered for the sake of their religion; and that in all respects, they were holy excellent persons: and had they been guilty of an imposture, according to the very doctrine they themselves preached, it must have ensured their own damnation.

‘Besides all this, authentick history informs us, that the apostles themselves wrought many great and wonderful miracles; and by laying on of their hands enabled others to do the same. Indeed in their epistles to the different churches, they speak of these miraculous powers, as things well known, without any rear of being disproved. Thus, the number of witnesses continually increased; and “God himself (as St. Paul says Heb. ii. 4.) bare them witness both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will.”

‘Well, now Joseph,’ said Mr. Lovetruth, ‘and what do you think of all this? Is your mind pretty well satisfied with what I have been telling you?’ – Satisfied Sir, said I, why, I am quite in admiration! I had no notion whatever, that so much could have been said in proof of the Scripture.—O, Sir, what a good thing it is to be a scholar, and to be able to read so many fine books!

‘Why yes, Joseph,’ said he, ‘it is a happiness to have a good education, if we do but make a right use of it: but, you know, the Bible says, that “The wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err therein:” – and again, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.” In such an unbelieving age as this, it is very needful indeed to be acquainted with these proofs of the truth of our religion; so that, as St. Peter says, we “may be able to give a reason of the hope that is in us;” and I have lately been led to think, that I and many of my brethren are somewhat to blame, for not setting these things more plainly and fully before the ignorant part of our congregation: yet the Holy Scriptures certainly do contain within themselves, such a proof of their being inspired by God himself, that if men’s hearts were not by nature corrupt, and they did not love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil, they would not be so ready to doubt that the Bible is the word of God.’

Indeed, Sir, answered I, if I ben’t mistaken, I think I understand something of your meaning in this. For, many a time when I have been sitting of an evening in our little arbour, reading the Bible, I have thought within myself, what a precious book it was; and that surely no one but God Almighty himself could have set before us such beautiful examples, and given us such wise and excellent commandments, so suited to do us good and to make us happy! Methought, Sir, (said I) if people were but such folks as the Bible would have them to be, why, this poor miserable world would soon be almost like a heaven upon earth. Indeed one may see the truth of this, in those few who do live according to the Scriptures.—I am sure there be some in our village, who are so changed for the better since you came, that one should hardly know them to be same men and women.

Besides, Sir, said I again, I have often thought that the Scriptures must surely be the word of God, because I find every thing in myself and in the world about me, answer so exactly to what they say. The Bible says “man’s heart is evil, yea, desperately wicked, and deceitful above all things;” and (though formerly I used to think I had a very good heart) so indeed I found mine to be, when I came carefully to examine it, and compare it with God’s holy law. Indeed my poor children might enough convince me of that; for though both my wife and I try our utmost to keep them from doing wrong, and to teach them what is good; and notwithstanding all the pains that you and Madam take in catechizing and talking to them, I see so many wrong tempers and evil things in them, that I’m sure, without the grace of God changes their hearts, and makes them new creatures, they can never be fit to go to a holy heaven. But above all, Sir, I have felt the most persuaded of the truth of the Bible, when, in my better moments, I have had such a love for the things I was reading, that my heart, as it were, has overflowed with gratitude and praise.—I have been struck with admiration sometimes, to think of the holy majesty of God, and yet of his mercy and loving kindness to us poor sinners, in giving his Son to die upon the cross for us.—When I’ve read his kind invitations and gracious promises to poor sinful creatures, and at the same time thought over all the providential dealings of God with me, since I have been taught to love his word; the peace and comfort I have often tasted in his service, and the surprising manner in which my poor prayers have been often answered, beyond all likelihood and expectation, my eyes have run over with tears. They were sweet tears though – the sweetest I ever shed in all my life.—But, Sir, said I, I am ashamed to think how I have been going on.—I hope you’ll excuse my freedom.

‘Most willingly, Joseph,’ answered Mr. Lovetruth.—‘It gives me pleasure to hear you talk – and I perceive clearly, that you very well understand my meaning. This, I conceive, is in a good measure, what St. John means when he says (I John v. 10) “He that believeth, hath the witness in himself, – and, without some feeling and experience of this kind, the strongest persuasion of the truth of Christianity, would only leave a man just where it found him. To be a christian, my friend, said he, we must not only believe the Bible to be the word of God, but our hearts must be taught by divine grace, to love it and delight in it, and to practise the holy precepts and duties it commands.

Here our discourse ended.—I returned Mr. Lovetruth a thousand thanks for the trouble he had kindly taken with me; and went home with my heart as light as a feather.

Thomas. Well, Joe, I must say, as you did, that I had no notion so many things could have been said to prove the truth of the Bible. For my part, Mr. Lovetruth’s discourse seems so convincing, that methinks, as long as I live, I shall never dare to say another word against the scriptures. But what a memory you must have, to repeat all this talk so pat over again, such a long while after!

Joseph. Why, as for that, you know I am pretty ready with my pen; and so, as soon as I got home, I put it all down directly, for substance, in black and white. And now, I often find it does me so much good to read it over, that I believe I have almost got it by rote.

Tho. What a blessing it is to a parish to have such a Minister as Mr. Lovetruth! Among the rest of my sins, Joseph, I don’t count it the least of them, that after all the opportunities I have had, and all the kindness he has done to my family, I have so often turned a deaf ear to him, and despised all he had to say.

Jos. Well, Thomas, you know it is never too late to mend; and as you seem at present convinced how wrong you have been; I hope from henceforth, you will leave off your bad ways, and pray God to enable you to lead a righteous, sober, and godly life.

Tho. I hope indeed to profit by your good advice, Joe; and that, by the help of God, I shall lead another sort of life than what I have done. But, though I could like to stay longer, I must bid you good by for the present, and perhaps for several days; for, I’ve got a job at the Squire’s, which will take me up almost a week to finish.

*An event like this, actually happened last summer in the month of July near Bushy, in Hertfordshire; and what was very remarkable, the woman had an infant in her arms, who did not receive the least injury.