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The Silent Isle - Chapter 9 Post by :eggibiz Category :Essays Author :Arthur C. Benson Date :May 2012 Read :1074

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The Silent Isle - Chapter 9


It is Good Friday to-day. This morning I wandered through a clean, rain-washed world; among budding hedges, making for the great Cathedral towers that loom across the flat. It was noon when I passed through the little streets. Entering the great western portals, I found the huge Cathedral all lit by shafts of golden sunshine. There was a little company of worshippers under the central lantern; and a grave and dignified priest, with a tender sympathy of mien, solemnly vested, was leading the little throng through the scenes of the Passion. I sate for a long time among the congregation; and what can I say of the message there delivered? It was subtle and serious enough, full of refinement and sweetness, but it seemed to me to have little or nothing to do with life. I will not here go into the whole of the teaching that I heard--but it was for me all vitiated by one thought. The preacher seemed to desire us to feel that the sad and wasted form of the Redeemer, hanging in his last agony on the cross among the mocking crowd, was conscious at once of his humanity and his Divinity. But the thought is meaningless and inconceivable to me. If he was conscious then of his august origin and destiny, if he knew that, to use a material metaphor enough, he would shortly pass through lines of kneeling angels amid triumphant pealing music to the very Throne and Heart of God, the sufferings of his Passion can have been as nothing. There is no touch of example or help for me in the scene. Even the despairing cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" becomes a piece of unworthy drama; and yet if one presses the words of Jesus, and remembers that he had said but a few short hours before that he had but to speak the word, and legions of angels were at hand to succour him, it is impossible to resist the feeling that he knew who he was and whither he was bound. I do not say that the thesis is untrue; I only say that if he knew the truth, then there is no medicine in his sufferings for human despair.

The preacher seemed to feel the difficulty dimly, for he fell back upon the thought that the agony was caused by Christ's bearing the load of the world's sin. But here again I felt that, after all, sin must have been in a sense permitted by God. If God is omnipotent and all-embracing, no amount of freewill in man could enable him to choose what was not there already in the Mind of God.

And then, too, the lesson of science is that man is slowly struggling upwards out of his bestial inheritance into purity and light; and thus if a man can inherit evil from evil progenitors by the law of God, he is not a free agent in the matter; and it thus becomes a piece of sad impiety, or worse, to say that it was inconceivable agony to God to bear the sins which his own awful law perpetuated.

And to go deeper, what did the sacrifice effect? It effected no instant change in the disposition of man; it appears to me to be a dark profanity to believe that the human death of Christ effected any change in the purpose and Love of God to the world. That God should come himself on earth to die, in order that he might thereafter regard the human race more mercifully, seems to me, if it were true, to be a helpless piece of metaphysical jugglery. If that were true of God, there is nothing that I could not believe of him.

And so the words of the preacher, a man, as I knew, of faithful energy and unbroken prosperity of virtue, brought me no more hint of the truth than did the voice of a hidden dove which cooed contentedly in the stillness in some sun-warmed window of the clerestory. Dove and preacher alike had lived secure and contented lives under the shadow of the great Church, and equally, no doubt, if unconsciously, approved of the system which made such tranquil lives possible.

Once, it seemed to me, the human accent broke urgently through, when the preacher spoke of dark hours of spiritual dryness, when the soul seemed shut out from God--"When we know," he said in heart-felt tones, "that the Love of God is all about us, but we cannot enter into it; it seems to be outside of us." Had he indeed suffered thus, this courteous, kindly priest? I felt that he had, and that he was one of the sorrowful fellowship.

One word he said that dwells with me, that "Faith overleaps all visible horizons." That was a golden thought; so that as I walked back in the cool of the afternoon, and saw the prodigious plain stretch on all hands, and thought how strangely my own tiny life was limited and bound, I felt that the message of Christ was a mysterious trust, an undefined hope; not a mechanical process of forgiveness and atonement, but an assurance that there is something in the world which calls lovingly to the soul, and that while we stretch out yearning hands and desirous hearts to that, we are indeed very near to the unknown Mind of God.

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