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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAll's For The Best - Chapter VII. GOOD GROUND.
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All's For The Best - Chapter VII. GOOD GROUND. Post by :Colleen Category :Long Stories Author :T. S. Arthur Date :February 2011 Read :2594

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All's For The Best - Chapter VII. GOOD GROUND.

"_WHAT did you think of the sermon, Mr. Braxton?" said one church
member to another, as the two men passed from the vestibule of St.
Mark's out into the lofty portico.

Mr. Braxton gave a slight shrug, perceived by his companion as a
sign of disapproval. They moved along, side by side, down the broad
steps to the pavement, closely pressed by the retiring audience.

"Strong meat," said the first speaker, as they got free of the crowd
and commenced moving down the street.

"Too strong for my stomach," replied Mr. Braxton. "Something must
have gone wrong with our minister when he sat down to write that
discourse."

"Indigestion, perhaps."

"Or neuralgia," said Mr. Braxton.

"He was in no amiable mood--that much is certain. Why, he set
nine-tenths of us over on the left hand side, among the goats, as
remorselessly as if he were an avenging Nemesis. He actually made me
shudder."

"That kind of literal application of texts to the living men and
women in a congregation is not only in bad taste, but presumptuous
and blasphemous. What right has a clergyman to sit in judgment on
me, for instance? To give forced constructions to parables and vague
generalities in Scripture, about the actual meaning of which divines
in all ages have differed; and, pointing his finger to me or to you,
say--'The case is yours, sir!' I cannot sit patiently under many
more such sermons."

Mr. Braxton evidently spoke from a disturbed state of mind.
Something in the discourse had struck at the foundations of
self-love and self-complacency.

"Into one ear, and out at the other. So it is with me, in cases like
this," answered Mr. Braxton's companion, in a changed and lighter
tone. "If a preacher chooses to be savage; to write from dyspeptic
or neuralgic states; to send his congregation, unshrived, to the
nether regions--why, I shrug my shoulders and let it pass. Most
likely, on the next Sunday, he will be full of consideration for
tender consciences, and grandly shut the gate he threw open so
widely on the last occasion. It would never answer, you know, to
take these things to heart--never in the world. We'd always be
getting into hot water. Clergymen have their moods, like other
people. It doesn't answer to forget this. Good morning, Mr. Braxton.
Our ways part here."

"Good morning," was replied, and the men separated.

But, try as Mr. Braxton would to set his minister's closely applied
doctrine from Scripture to the account of dyspepsia or neuralgia, he
was unable to push from his mind certain convictions wrought therein
by the peculiar manner in which some positions had been argued and
sustained. The subject taken by the minister, was that striking
picture of the judgment given in the twenty-fifth chapter of
Matthew, from the thirty-first verse to the close of the chapter,
beginning: "When the Son of Man shall come in his glory, and all the
holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his
glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall
separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep
from the goats." The passage concludes: "And these shall go away
into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal."

Now, although Mr. Braxton had complained of the literal application
of this text, that term was hardly admissible, for the preacher
waived the idea of a last general judgment, as involved in the
letter of Scripture, and declared his belief in a spiritual
signification as lying beneath the letter, and applicable to the
inner life of every single individual at the period of departure
from this world; adding, in this connection, briefly: "But do not
understand me as in any degree waiving the strictness of judgment to
which every soul will have to submit. It will not be limited by his
acts, but go down to his ends of life--to his motives and his
quality--and the sentence will really be a judgment upon what he
_is_, not upon what he has _done_; although, taking the barest
literal sense, only actions are regarded."

In opening and illustrating his text, he said, farther: "As the word
of God, according to its own declarations, is spirit and
life--treats, in fact, by virtue of divine and Scriptural origin, of
divine and spiritual things, must we not go beneath the merely
obvious and natural meaning, if we would get to its true
significance? Is there not a hunger of the soul as well as of the
body? May we not be spiritually athirst, and strangers?--naked,
sick, and in prison? This being so, can we confidently look for the
invitation, 'Come, ye blessed of my Father, if our regard for the
neighbor have not reached beyond his bodily life? If we have never
considered his spiritual wants and sufferings, and ministered
thereto according to our ability? Just in the degree that the soul
is more precious than the body, is the degree of our responsibility
under this more interior signification of Scripture. The mere
natural acts of feeding the hungry and giving water to the thirsty,
of visiting the sick, and those who lie in prison, of clothing the
naked and entertaining strangers, will not save us in our last day,
if we have neglected the higher duties involved in the divine
admonition. Nor will even the supply of spiritual nourishment to
hungry and thirsty souls be accounted to us for righteousness. We
must find a higher meaning still in the text. Are we not, each one
of us, starving for heavenly food?--spiritually exhausted with
thirst?--naked, sick, in prison? Are we eating, daily, of the bread
of life?--drinking at the wells of God's truth?--putting on the
garments of righteousness?--finding balm for our sick souls in
Gilead?--breaking the bonds of evil?--turning from strange lands, and
coming back to our father's house. If not, I warn you, men and
brethren, that you are not in the right way;--that, taking the
significance of God's word, which is truth itself, there is no
reasonable ground of hope for your salvation."

It was not with Mr. Braxton as with his friend. He could not let
considerations like these enter one ear and go out at the other.
From earliest childhood he had received careful instruction.
Parents, teachers and preachers, had all shared in the work of
storing his mind with the precepts of religion, and now, in manhood,
his conscience rested on these and upon the states wrought therefrom
in the impressible substance of his mind. Try as he would, he found
the effort to push aside early convictions and early impressions a
simple impossibility; and, notwithstanding these had been laid on
the foundation of a far more literal interpretation of Scripture
than the one to which he had just been listening, his maturer reason
accepted the preacher's clear application of the law; and
conscience, like an angel, went down into his heart, and troubled
the waters which had been at peace.

Mr. Braxton was a man of thrift. He had started in life with a
purpose, and that purpose he was steadily attaining. To the god of
this world he offered daily sacrifice; and in his heart really
desired no higher good than seemed attainable through outward
things. Wealth, position, honor, among men--these bounded his real
aspirations. But prior things in his mind were continually reaching
down and affecting his present states. He could not forget that life
was short, and earthly possessions and honors but the things of a
day. That as he brought nothing into this world, so he could take
nothing out. That, without a religious life, he must not hope for
heaven. In order to get free from the disturbing influence of these
prior things, and to lay the foundations of a future hope, Mr.
Braxton became a church member, and, so far as all Sabbath
observances were concerned, a devout worshiper. Thus he made a truce
with conscience, and conscience having gained so much, accepted for
a period the truce, and left Mr. Braxton in good odor with himself.

A man who goes regularly to church, and reads his Bible, cannot fail
to have questions and controversies about truths, duties, and the
requirements of religion. The barest literal interpretation of
Scripture will, in most cases, oppose the action of self-love; and
he will not fail to see in the law of spiritual life a requirement
wholly in opposition to the law of natural life. In the very breadth
of this literal requirement, however, he finds a way of escape from
literal observance. To give to all who ask; to lend to all who would
borrow; to yield the cloak when the coat is taken forcibly; to turn
the left cheek when the right is smitten--all this is to him so
evidently but a figure of speech, that he does not find it very hard
to satisfy conscience. Setting these passages aside, as not to be
taken in the sense of the letter, he does not find it very difficult
to dispose of others that come nearer to the obvious duties of man
to man--such, for instance, as that in the illustration of which, by
the preacher, Mr. Braxton's self-complacency had been so much
disturbed. He had never done much in the way of feeding the hungry,
giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, or visiting the
sick and in prison--never done anything of set purpose, in fact. If
people were hungry, it was mostly their own fault, and to feed them
would be to encourage idleness and vice. All the other items in the
catalogue were as easily disposed of; and so the literal duties
involved might have been set forth in the most impassioned
eloquence, Sabbath after Sabbath, without much disturbing the fine
equipose of Mr. Braxton. Alas for his peace of mind!--the preacher
of truth had gone past the dead letter, and revealed its spirit and
its life. Suddenly he felt himself removed, as it were, to an almost
impossible distance from the heaven into which, as he had
complacently flattered himself, he should enter by the door of mere
ritual observances, when the sad hour came for giving up the
delightful things of this pleasant world. No wonder that Mr. Braxton
was disturbed--no wonder that, in his first convictions touching
those more interior truths, which made visible the sandy foundations
whereon he was building his eternal hopes, he should regard the
application of doctrine as personal and even literal.

It was not so easy a thing to set aside the duty of ministering to
the hungry, sick, and naked human souls around him, thousands of
whom, for lack of spiritual nourishment, medicine and clothing, were
in danger of perishing eternally. And the preacher in dwelling upon
this great duty of all Christian men and women, had used emphatic
language.

"I give you," he said, "God's judgment of the case--not my own.
'Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of the least of these, ye did it
not unto me. And these shall go away;' where? 'To everlasting
punishment!' Who shall go thus, in the last day, from this
congregation?"

As Mr. Braxton sat alone on the evening of that Sabbath, troubled by
the new thoughts which came flowing into his mind, the full
impression of this scene in church came back upon him. There was an
almost breathless pause. Men leaned forward in their pews; the low,
almost whispered, tones of the minister were heard with thrilling
distinctness in even the remotest parts of the house.

"Who?" he repeated, and the stillness grew more profound. Then,
slowly, impressively, almost sadly, he said:

"I cannot hide the truth. As God's ambassador, I must give the
message; and it is this: If you, my brother, are not ministering to
the wants of the hungry and thirsty, the stranger, the sick and in
prison, you are of those who will have to go away."

And the minister shut the Book, and sat down. If, as we have
intimated, the preacher had limited Christian duty to bodily needs,
Mr. Braxton would not have been much exercised in mind.

He had found an easy way to dispose of these merely literal
interpretations of Scripture. Now, his life was brought to the
judgment of a more interior law, as expounded that day. It was in
vain that he endeavored to reject the law; for the more he tried to
do this, the clearer it was seen in the light of perceptive truth.

"God help me, if this be so!" he exclaimed, in a moment of more
perfect realization of what was meant in the Divine Word. "Who shall
stand in the judgment?"

For awhile he endeavored to turn himself away from convictions that
were grounding themselves deeper and deeper every moment,--to shut
his eyes in wilful blindness, and refuse to see in the purer light
which had fallen around him. But this effort only brought his mind
into severer conflict, and consciously removed him to an almost
fatal distance from the paths leading upward to the mountains of
peace.

"This is the way, walk ye in it." A clear voice rose above the noise
of strife in his soul, and his soul grew calm and listened. He no
longer wrought at the fruitless task of rejecting the higher truths
which were illustrating his mind, but let them flow in, and by
virtue thereof examined the state of his inner life. Now it was that
his eyes were in a degree opened, so that he could apprehend the
profounder meanings of Scripture. The parables were flooded with new
light. He understood, as he had never understood before, why the
guest, unclothed with a wedding garment, was cast out from the
feast; and why the door was shut upon the virgins who had no oil in
their lamps. He had always regarded these parables as involving a
hidden meaning--as intended to convey spiritual instruction under
literal forms--but, now, they spoke in a language that applied
itself to his inward state, and warned him that without a marriage
garment, woven in the loom of interior life, where motives rule, he
could never be the King's guest; warned him that without the light
of divine truth in his understanding, and the oil of love to God and
the neighbor in his heart, the door of the kingdom would be shut
against him. Ritual observances were, to these, but outward forms,
dry husks, except when truly representative of that worship in the
soul which subordinates natural affections to what is spiritual and
divine.

At last the seed fell into good ground. Mr. Braxton had been a
"way-side" hearer; but, ere the good seed had time to germinate,
fowls came and devoured it. He had been a "stony-ground" hearer,
receiving the truth with gladness, but having no root in himself. He
had been as the ground choked with thorns, suffering the cares of
this world and the deceitfulness of riches to choke and hinder the
growth of heavenly life. Now, into good ground the seed had at last
fallen; and though the evil one tried to snatch it away, its hidden
life, moving to the earth's quick invitation, was already giving
prophetic signs of thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold, in the harvest
time.

Why was there good ground in the mind of Mr. Braxton? Good ground,
even though he was wedded to external life; a self-seeker; a lover
of the world? In the answer to this question lies a most important
truth for all to whom God has committed the care of children. Unless
good ground is formed, as it was in his case, by early instruction;
by storing up in the memory truths from the Bible, and states of
good affection; by weaving into the web and woof of the forming mind
precepts of religion--there is small hope for the future. If these
are not made a part of the forming life, things opposite will be
received, and determine spiritual capabilities. Influx of life into
the soul must be through prior things; as the twig is bent, the tree
is inclined; as the child's memory and consciousness is stored, so
will the man develop and progress. Take heart, then, doubting
parent; if you have in all faithfulness, woven precious truths, and
tender, pious, unselfish states into the texture of your child's
mind--though the fruit is not yet seen, depend on it, that the
treasured remains of good and true things are there, and will not be
lost.

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