Tuesday 27 February 2018

Next excerpt from "The Poor Preachers". Continuing Chapter 3 "The Making of a Shepherd."

Master William Smith never forgot William and invited him along to his own prayer gathering. Here William encountered the power of the Holy Spirit in a powerful way. 
The first glow of joy had begun to fade in William’s experience, since his encounter with the Great Shepherd. The enemy of his soul began to ‘remind’ him of his past sins and lowly beginnings, playing on his natural sense of inadequacy. 

He was able to pour out his troubles to Master Smith, who was a gifted prophetic counsellor. After prayer and laying on of hands, William felt the presence of God come upon him in waves of joy and power, and he received what Master Smith called ‘his language of heaven’. This totally transformed his times of devotion and was, in the days ahead, of tremendous help to him in his remarkable calling.

A day came when Hereford approached him at the gate of University College, in the company of a tall, gaunt, slightly frail figure William knew well.
‘I bid you good den, William!’ cried Nicolas cheerfully. ‘Here is one who is desirous of thine acquaintance. Should I so introduce?’

‘Doctor Wycliffe!’ exclaimed William, a little overcome as he took hold of the thin hand stretched toward him. ‘This is an honour indeed.

‘Well, well,” replied the great man genially, ‘the honour of the honourable is honour indeed, so quoth Master Okham, my mentor.’

His voice, oddly at variance to his frailty, had the resonance of one who was accustomed to lecturing to great crowds.
For a moment, he studied William with his hawk-like, sunken eyes.
Hereford speaketh highly of thee, my son. Thou’st excelled in thy studies, thou’st a heart for the common folk and….” his voice dropped a little, “...thou didst behold the face of the Lord Himself in vision.’

‘He hath revealed Himself as the Great Shepherd, Doctor,’ responded William, with a slight tremor in his voice.
Even after all this time, he felt his visitation as deeply as though it was but yesterday. ‘By His abundant grace, He hath called me from my flock to shepherd the flock of God.’

‘And by God, there is an abundant need for it!’ exclaimed Wycliffe, looking beyond them both, even beyond the walls of the university town to see the poor, wandering flock throughout the land.
‘In our generation, there is despair in the land, like to which we have never seen afortime. War, famine, pestilence, gross injustice and worse: gross darkness on the hearts of the people. God have mercy upon England!’

He gripped Hereford’s shoulder to steady himself, as if overwhelmed by the grief he felt.
Bringing his gaze back to the two men with him, he invited them both to dine with him at his quarters.

Once alone, he didn’t waste time in getting to the point he wanted to make.
‘My calling is to sound the trumpet in the land, but the great ones will not hearken to it, but for a few. I cannot shelter behind the shield of Gaunt of Lancaster forever, though he stood with me before Courtenay, Bishop of London.’

He gave a loud crack of derisive laughter as he remembered the fiasco in St. Paul’s cathedral.
‘John of Gaunt is but a reed, for he is moved by politic expediency alone, and that worketh for our cause for the nonce.  Yea. But for the nonce. For how long I wist not. We must use the door that God hath opened unto us whilst we can.
‘I have surrendered my post at Balliol that I may be free so to finish this work. We have proclaimed the Word of God in the churches in London and many a town in the heart of England, but we must go beyond and into the highways, byways and villages. The poor peasant folk and townsfolk hath as much right to hear the Word preached unto them as we.’
His face hardened as he continued grimly, ‘But many of these fat begging friars hath poisoned the minds of many against us, keeping the people in bondage unto fear and superstition in the guise of piety. Piety? Pish!’

He looked challengingly at William.
‘My dream is to raise up preachers from among the poorest -- them that will go among the poor, as poor preachers, but not to beg. If the people will accept them, and reject the papelardy* of these begging friars and their heresies, we can foil the works of the Devil. But whom can we send?’

‘It seemeth that Master Shephard hath already gone forth amongst them, Doctor,’ interpolated Hereford.‘Throughout Leicestershire, Gloucestershire and Berkshire have we laboured together, I in the pulpit, but Master William outside the door thereof. He hath begun many a disciple gathering from them that have hearkened unto the Word. Many a time hath he gone into the local villages to work with his own hands that he may come alongside the most wretched of the poor. In this way hath he shared the gospel and gathered many unto the fold.’

William coloured and bowed his head.
‘To gather the sheep is my calling, Doctor. I cannot stand aside and see them wander away again.’

‘Good! Very good!’ said Wycliffe, with strong approval. ‘O, that we had more of thy spirit, Master William Shephard! God send us more shepherds and evangels.’

In a little while that prayer would be answered.

Before they parted, the great man fixed his gaze on William with a strange, curious gleam. His voice lost its customary touch of oratory.
‘Of what like was the Great Shepherd of thy vision, my son? Of what manner of raiment did he wear? His blessed face -- what likeness was He?’

William took his time answering, to keep mastery of his own emotions. Wycliffe nodded at each point of description, as if it confirmed his own convictions.

After William had gone, Hereford exclaimed, ‘Is it not thine own meeting in dreams of the night, Doctor John!’

‘The very same, my friend,’ Wycliffe agreed. He sat back in his chair by the fire and closed his eyes in reminiscence. ‘Whether in wisdom or in folly, I wore the same russet habit, as His disciple, for many a day thereafter.’

His oratory mode returned, and he opened his eyes with, ‘But it is not my destiny to wear it. Rather, it is for the new order of friar brethren that we must -- nay -- whom we shall send forth. Disciples of the Great Shepherd Himself, and William Shephard shall be the eldermost, I deem.

William finally completed his Bachelor Degree, and with it came a new sense of confidence. He had made many friends at University College, and they all came and cheered him at his graduation and then his ordination as a priest of Holy Church. 
But now it was decision time. He was in the position to choose from a number of comfortable livings, for highly qualified priests were scarce and in high demand. He could also further his studies, if he wished.

After the ordination ceremony, Master John Parker clapped him on the shoulder and genially said, ‘Well, well, Father William Shephard. Thy fame hath gone forth throughout the faculty, and many agree that thou’rt ready and indeed able to undertake a Master’s Degree in Theology. Thou’rt a good scholar, Father William. Indeed, if thou will do so, my friend Doctor Ashton is desirous to take thee as intern, so saith he yestereve. What sayest thou?’

William still could not get used to all the honour and kindness heaped upon him by the great men of Oxford. It sat uncomfortably upon his shoulders. He had visualised the dizzy heights to which he could go if he was ambitious, but decided it was not for him. He felt far more comfortable working amongst the poor folk, especially the folk of the villages. 
Even in his studies, he had avoided many of the purely academic doctrinal debates that many of his fellow students loved to become involved in. Instead, he looked more for principles of living, helpful scriptures to strengthen his faith and comforting words of hope that could be shared with those that had lost hope.
Therefore he smiled back at his well-wisher and said, ‘I thank thee for thy kindness, thy continued kindness, Master Parker. Had I not this calling to shepherd the poor folk upon mine heart, sickerly would I walk through this door that thou openest for me. Pray, think me not ungrateful.’

Master Parker did not seem too surprised, but looked approvingly upon him.
“Well, it seemed that thou wert the logical man to fill the post, for thou hast a great mind. But I also perceive that thou hast a great heart withal. I have observed thy progress and that thou art free of selfish ambition, neither dost thou desire fame nor fortune. God speed thee whithersoever thy destiny lieth. But forget not the principles of logic, my son. If the premise be strong, as the Word of God be, logic shall fail thee not.”

Doctor Hereford was relieved to hear that William would remain with him for the present, and laughed over Parker’s parting admonition.

Master Richard Waystract, another of Wycliffe’s party, also befriended William. Master Richard was a brilliant organiser and had conceived the idea of the disciple gatherings. He instructed theology students in the principles and practice of pastoring a local gathering, and in helping to get people’s lives in order.

Master James Crompe, yet another Wycliffeite, was strong in the area of counselling, especially for the broken. He could sense a kindred spirit in William and took him aside to give him special tuition.

Even Master Philip Repton, ‘the roiler’ as his colleagues jovially called him, returned from his wanderings to coach William in all the considerations of itinerant preaching.
Of all Wycliffe’s henchmen, Repton travelled the furthest and preached most frequently in his preaching rounds, bringing back news and local information that William would, one day, find very useful. He poured over Repton’s hand-made map of southern England, studying the southwest in particular.

So William grew strong through all he had learned, and a desire to go out and share these new truths grew in him. He would fall into conversation with strangers in the streets of Oxford, sharing his findings in ways they could understand. As a result, new disciple gatherings were formed.

One day, as he was walking back toward Hereford’s quarters, William heard his name called.
It was the same young student who had befriended William on his first day in Oxford. Because of William’s graciousness toward him before the three great men in the tavern, he had become a disciple.

Although graduating in his Degree in Natural History a year before William, he now wanted to complete a Theology Degree. He had become fast friends with William and looked up to him. This day he had a stranger with him -- a powerfully built young man with intensely blue eyes and a face that resembled a friendly lion. 
‘Benjamin Abyngdon!’ William cried gladly as they approached. ‘Well met and God save thee, my friend. Whither away? To the tavern again, thou wine-bibber?’

Eheu, Padre, peccavi!**’ answered Abyngdon, in mock contrition. ‘Thither have I been. Wist thou that young Holloway hath indeed withered away. Remember thou when he called thee Master Ragamuffin. He is expelled, alas and alack! But I bring thee one who hath asked of thee by name.

William turned his attention to the stranger, ready to welcome any friend of his friend.
He noticed that this young man had long sandy-golden hair which combined with his beard to form a lion-like mane. He had a prominent jaw and a smile that outshone the sun. Everything about him proclaimed a successful young farmer, positively bursting with life, strength, health and joy. 

But what chiefly struck William was the look of eternity in his eyes, which William had noticed in many of Wycliffe’s followers.
And God spoke to William’s heart concerning the stranger.

Holding out his hand and warmly welcoming the young man, it was gripped firmly by a huge paw that seemed to seal a permanent friendship. It was as though a spark of kinship recognition flashed between them; a bond strengthened with the joining of their hands.
‘I thank thee for thy welcome, Father William,’ he said with a strong tenor’s voice. ‘Thomas Plowman be my name.’

*Papelardy - a derogatory name given by dissidents to the papal system and practices.

** "
Eheu, Padre, peccavi!" - "Alas, father, for I have sinned!"

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