ONCE UPON A TIME
(A remarkable story, by Lachlan MacKenzie)
During the height of his fame as a Highland evangelist, Lachlan MacKenzie was asked to visit Aberdeen, and to preach in the Old Parish Church. At the evening service the church was filled to its utmost capacity, and there was eager anticipation on the part of the worshipers. When Mr. MacKenzie ascended the pulpit, a giggle went through the congregation when they beheld a man wearing a rough homespun suit, with long shaggy hair (so unlike the usual clergy of that time). But the moment he gave out his opening Psalm, a solemn stillness seemed to pervade the audience, and his opening prayer solemnized the people. The "reading" was the third chapter of Revelation, and he chose as his text the 20th verse, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him and sup with him, and he with me."
Standing erect in the pulpit, Mr. MacKenzie commenced his sermon thus:
ONCE UPON A TIME, there lived in our Highlands, a great Duke. He had a large estate, was very rich, and had everything in this world to make a man happy, if that were possible, so far as worldly matters was concerned. He was a widower, had an only child, a beautiful girl, who had a very sweet disposition, was very kind to the poor, and was beloved by all around.
When she was 20 years of age, her father said to her, "My daughter, next year you will become of age, and I intend to invite to our castle, for a week's festivities—all the young nobles of the land. I expect that many of them will be asking your hand in marriage, and I beg of you to see that you make a good choice, for your happiness in your after-life will depend on the choice you make. I might also say that, in case anything should happen to me, I have made my will, and everything I possess in this world at my death—will belong to you."
The time soon came for the celebration of her 21st birthday, and while her Ladyship was dressing in her room with her maid, in preparation for the reception of the guests—a loud knocking was heard at the back door of the court. One of the servants, on going out to see who was making such a noise, found a beggar on crutches. The servant ordered him to go away. "Don't trouble her Ladyship today," he said, "she is very busy, and a great many guests are coming shortly to the castle."
But the beggar answered that he would not go away—until he saw her Ladyship.
Thereupon, the door was slammed in the beggar's face; but he took up one of his crutches and banged on the door, making such a noise that it brought back the servant, who threatened to put the dogs on to him, if he did not go away. To this the beggar only replied that the dogs would not frighten him, and he would not go away until he had seen her Ladyship.
To try and frighten him—the servant went to the kennels, and at once the dogs began such a terrible howling, that the noise reached her Ladyship's ears; and she sent her maid to find out the meaning of it all. The maid returned with the information that it was a poor, lame beggar man, who wanted to see her Ladyship—and he would not go away until he saw her. "Very well," replied her Ladyship, "I will be down in a short while. Tell him to wait until I come."
Shortly afterwards, her Ladyship went down (followed by a retinue of servants, in case any harm might come to her). Seeing the beggar, she asked him kindly, "Well, my good man—what do you want?" He bowed, and then said, "I have come to ask your hand in marriage today." Her Ladyship looked at him steadfastly for a moment, then stepping forward, said "Very well. Here it is."
The beggar approached, bowed low, and taking her hand in his, kissed it, adding "And on what day will you marry me?" To which her Ladyship replied, "On this day—one year hence."
On hearing her reply, the beggar gathered up his crutches and hobbled away, greatly to the relief and delight of the servants standing around, who thought that she had got rid of the beggar very quickly and easily.
During the week of the festivities, many of the young nobles asked her hand in marriage, but all of them got the same reply from her, "I am betrothed already."
Many began asking who the 'lucky fellow' was, but no one could tell. The servants, overhearing the conversations among the guests, began to wonder among themselves, if it were really true—that she had given away her hand in marriage to the beggar.
At last it came to her father's ears—that she had been asked by many, and all had been given the same refusal, and that she had already given her hand in marriage to a beggar, with a promise that it should take place in a year's time. The Duke was heart-broken.
"Is it true, my daughter, that you have given your hand in marriage to a poor beggar man?"
"Yes, father, it is quite true, and it will be alright."
The week of festivities ended rather abruptly, everyone being greatly disappointed at the news of her betrothal to the beggar.
During the year, her father time after time called her to his side, saying "Oh, my daughter! Oh my daughter! Comfort me. Tell me it is all a mistake!" But her answer was always the same, "It is quite true, and it will be alright."
At length the year passed by. No preparation was made for the marriage, and on the day appointed, her father sent for her, and said "You see, my daughter—there is no one coming."
"Oh, but he will come!" she replied.
One o'clock chimed—yet no appearance of anyone coming. About two o'clock in the afternoon, however, a great noise was heard coming over the hill towards the castle. Everyone in the house rushed to the windows, and what they beheld was a wonderful procession of pipers, drummers and horsemen, in large numbers. Up to the front door of the castle came a guard of prancing horsemen, who lined both sides of the avenue. Wheeling around, they drew up, each horse facing the other and forming a guard of honor.
Then, last of all, came a beautiful prancing steed, with a noble rider on its back. On reaching the steps leading to the doorway of the castle, this rider threw himself from the saddle, ran up the steps, and embraced his beloved.
Who was he? The King's son!
That morning, a year before—he had disguised himself as a poor beggar, and came in that way lest he should be too late. Recognizing his eyes, she knew who he was, and kept his secret. So all were glad at the end.
~ ~ ~ ~
Mr. MacKenzie then repeated his text, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hears my voice, and opens the door—I will come in to him and sup with him, and he with me."
Who is standing at your heart's door tonight, my people? Who is standing at your heart's door and knocking tonight, my people? A beggar! One of Whom it was said, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests—but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head." A Man whose face was more marred than that of any man. A beggar knocking at your heart's door tonight, seeking admission. If you will give Him your hand in marriage, He will make you a Queen, for He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
At the close of the sermon the congregation were so moved—that it was said that there were six hundred seeking souls in the church that night!