Footprints of Providence


Herbert stuck a cautious head around the corner. It would never do to disturb Pastor Gilpin at his prayers, but time grew short. He should be dressing for church. Yes, the good man stood looking out of the great sunny windows on the east end of the room. The book he had been reading lay closed on the dressing table, a sure sign that he had finished his morning prayers.

When Herbert cleared his throat, Pastor Gilpin turned, his face glowing like the morning sunshine. "Good morning, Herbert. What a beautiful day the Lord has given us!"

Smiling a little at the pastor’s enthusiasm, Herbert replied, "Yes, sir. It is truly a beautiful day. And the hours are slipping away. You'll be due soon at the church."

"Ah, yes. Bring me my vestments, Herbert. I was reading the Book of John in the Greek. It was so absorbing. What tremendous depth it has! What a wealth of sermon material!"

The lad laid out each garment carefully. "I shall be looking forward to those sermons, sir. But I do wish you would be more careful what you say in public. These are fearful days. A little bird may carry your words to the queen."

Bernard Gilpin turned and put a hand on his servant's. shoulder, reading the devotion and deep concern in his pale blue eyes. "Herbert, Herbert, you must not worry so. God's hand is over me. I must speak the truth He gives me. The people are so hungry to hear the Word."

"Sir, I pray God He'll protect you. You know Queen Mary's wrath falls on all she suspects of heresy, the high and low alike. She has burned bishops Ridley and Latimer. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury has fallen before her. If you continue to speak these things, only a miracle can save you."

Herbert's eyes searched Pastor Gilpin's face, but he could read no trace of fear. Only joy and peace rested there. When he answered, it was with a smile. "Ah, well, God's will be done. All is for the best."

With a last glance in the mirror on the wall, the pastor ran a hand over his dark hair and started for the stairs. With sadness in his eyes, Herbert watched him go. "He's a saint," he murmured. "God grant he doesn't become a martyr."

Halfway down the great curving staircase two golden-haired lads sat on the banister. Gilpin greeted them with his usual good cheer. "Good morning, Douglas. Good morning, Harvey. How are your studies coming?"

"Very well, Pastor Gilpin," said Douglas, the older boy.

The priest looked intently at Harvey. "Are you still suffering with homesickness, my lad?"

"I'm all right, sir. I can't tell you how much I appreciate being able to live here and go to school. I'll never be able to repay you."

Gilpin laughed. "Oh, yes you will, my lad. Just study well and use all you learn to glorify God and bless your fellowmen. I'll be more than repaid. I consider you an excellent investment."

He continued on his way down the stairs, leaving the boys to their conversation. Harvey's eyes followed him with a puzzled expression. "Say, Douglas, how many boys has Pastor Gilpin given a home and an education?"

Douglas chuckled. "I couldn't begin to count."

True to his word, Bernard Gilpin continued to preach what the people needed with small regard for what the authorities would think. His immediate superior, the Bishop of Durham, loved and protected him. But with "Bloody Mary" on the throne, such protection could not ensure his safety for long.

So early one morning in May a detachment of soldiers rode up the long driveway under the elms to the door of the manor house. A maid caught sight of them through a window and screamed. Servants left their work and the boys their studies. A great pounding echoed through the old house.

Upstairs Herbert stood wringing his hands. "What shall we do, sir? They've come for you. What shall we do?"

"Open the door." Gilpin's voice was calm. "But, sir…"

"Open the door."

The soldiers pressed into the entry hall. Their captain held up a paper. "I have a summons from the Bishop of London for Bernard Gilpin."

Pastor Gilpin stepped forward. "I am Bernard Gilpin. Come in, sir, and have breakfast. I'll be ready to go with you in a few minutes."

The captain's mouth fell open, and he looked about suspiciously but followed the maid to the table. He and his soldiers took to their seats while panic-stricken servants served them a lovely meal.

In a few moments Gilpin appeared, dressed for riding, with a small bag of clothing in his hand. The boys had gathered, awed and silent, and the servants wept. He bade them good-bye with his usual cheery smile. "Do not weep; do not fear. God's will be done. All is for the best."

The balding captain made a sound suspiciously like a snort and herded his prisoner out of the door. The household watched them ride away in stricken silence. There seemed little chance Gilpin would ever return.

Peasants working in the fields saw the little group pass. Through the countryside, people in breathless haste spread the news. Crowds, mourning as they went, accompanied them on the road.
The captain shooed them away, threatening them with his sword. They fell back, but as soon as the march resumed, they followed again, still wailing.

The captain grew more and more irritated, but it was useless. As they progressed, some of the peasants returned' to their homes, but others joined the procession from the villages they passed. Finally in desperation the captain called a beggar to him. "Why," he demanded, "are the people following? Tell them to go to their homes."

The beggar fell on one knee. "Oh, sir, they love the good pastor. He travels through the countryside preaching the gospel to them. He feeds the hungry and buys clothing for the naked. There's scarcely one of these people that he's not befriended. Shouldn't they weep when he's in trouble?"

Pastor Gilpin turned his horse back and addressed the crowd. "I thank you for your devotion, my dear people. But you're annoying the captain. Please go to your homes in peace. Don't be afraid for me. The will of God be done. All is for the best."

His calm voice and cheerful smile reassured them. They turned and made their way back to their homes. The captain led on at a faster pace toward London.

On the second day of their journey the sun sank in the west as they entered the cobblestone street of a small village. Since evening was falling, the captain determined to spend the night at the inn.

Bernard Gilpin, in dismounting, slipped and fell. His foot caught in the stirrup and twisted violently. The horse shied and bolted, dragging him for several feet before the soldiers could catch it.

When they released his foot from the stirrup, he lay white and still on the pavement. The soldiers carried him into the inn and put him in a bed. A doctor pronounced his leg broken and said that he must not travel for a time.

Although bruised and bleeding, his face contorted with pain, Gilpin did not let his patience and cheerfulness desert him. The captain stared down at him, a cynical smirk flickering across his face. "I suppose this is all for the best, too," he commented.

Gilpin smiled. "I have no doubt but that it is," he answered.

Several weeks passed before the man could travel. Although he still couldn't walk without assistance, the captain decided that they had delayed long enough. He told the innkeeper they would leave in the morning.

But that evening a breathless messenger arrived at the inn. The news he carried was startling indeed. Queen Mary was dead. Elizabeth reigned.

Pastor Gilpin addressed the captain with customary good humor. "Now, since the new queen is a Protestant, do you think I'll be convicted of heresy?"

The captain looked disgruntled. "It's scarcely any use taking you in."

"And if I hadn't fallen and broken a leg I would have been in London some time ago, maybe even burned at the stake by now."

The captain nodded.

"So, you see, my dear captain. As I said before, God's will be done. All is for the best."

NOTE: Bernard Gilpin lived and served for many more years. His people called him the Apostle of the North, and his piety, cheerfulness, and generosity have earned him a place in history.