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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPaul Faber, Surgeon - Chapter 28. Cow-Lane-Chapel
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Paul Faber, Surgeon - Chapter 28. Cow-Lane-Chapel Post by :Sunil_Tanna Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2947

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Paul Faber, Surgeon - Chapter 28. Cow-Lane-Chapel


By degrees Mr. Drake's mind grew quiet, and accommodated itself to the condition of the new atmosphere in which at first it was so hard for him to draw spiritual breath. He found himself again able to pray, and while he bowed his head lower before God, he lifted up his heart higher toward him. His uncle's bequest presenting no appropriative difficulties, he at once set himself to be a faithful and wise steward of the grace of God, to which holy activity the return of his peace was mainly owing. Now and then the fear would return that God had sent him the money in displeasure, that He had handed him over all his principal, and refused to be his banker any more; and the light-winged, haunting dread took from him a little even of the blameless pleasure that naturally belonged to the paying of his debts. Also he now became plainly aware of a sore fact which he had all his life dimly suspected--namely, that there was in his nature a spot of the leprosy of avarice, the desire to accumulate. Hence he grew almost afraid of his money, and his anxiety to spend it freely and right, to keep it flowing lest it should pile up its waves and drown his heart, went on steadily increasing. That he could hoard now if he pleased gave him just the opportunity of burning the very possibility out of his soul. It is those who are unaware of their proclivities, and never pray against them, that must be led into temptation, lest they should forever continue capable of evil. When a man could do a thing, then first can he abstain from doing it. Now, with his experience of both poverty and riches, the minister knew that he must make them both follow like hounds at his heel. If he were not to love money, if, even in the free use of it, he were to regard it with honor, fear its loss, forget that it came from God, and must return to God through holy channels, he must sink into a purely contemptible slave. Where would be the room for any further repentance? He would have had every chance, and failed in every trial the most opposed! He must be lord of his wealth; Mammon must be the slave, not Walter Drake. Mammon must be more than his brownie, more than his Robin Goodfellow; he must be the subject Djin of a holy spell--holier than Solomon's wisdom, more potent than the stamp of his seal. At present he almost feared him as a Caliban to whom he might not be able to play Prospero, an Ufreet half-escaped from his jar, a demon he had raised, for whom he must find work, or be torn by him into fragments. The slave must have drudgery, and the master must take heed that he never send him alone to do love's dear service.

"I am sixty," he said, to himself, "and I have learned to begin to learn." Behind him his public life looked a mere tale that is told; his faith in the things he had taught had been little better than that which hangs about an ancient legend. He had been in a measure truthful; he had endeavored to act upon what he taught; but alas! the accidents of faith had so often been uppermost with him, instead of its eternal fundamental truths! How unlike the affairs of the kingdom did all that church-business look to him now!--the rich men ruling--the poor men grumbling! In the whole assembly including himself, could he honestly say he knew more than one man that sought the kingdom of Heaven _first_? And yet he had been tolerably content, until they began to turn against himself!--What better could they have done than get rid of him? The whole history of their relation appeared now as a mess of untruth shot through with threads of light. Now, now, he would strive to enter in at the strait gate: the question was not of pushing others in. He would mortify the spirit of worldly judgments and ambitions: he would be humble as the servant of Christ.

Dorothy's heart was relieved a little. She could read her father's feelings better than most wives those of their husbands, and she knew he was happier. But she was not herself happier. She would gladly have parted with all the money for a word from any quarter that could have assured her there was a God in Heaven who _loved_. But the teaching of the curate had begun to tell upon her. She had begun to have a faint perception that if the story of Jesus Christ was true, there might be a Father to be loved, and being might be a bliss. The poorest glimmer of His loveliness gives a dawn to our belief in a God; and a small amount indeed of a genuine knowledge of Him will serve to neutralize the most confident declaration that science is against the idea of a God--an utterance absolutely false. Scientific men may be unbelievers, but it is not from the teaching of science. Science teaches that a man must not say he knows what he does not know; not that what a man does not know he may say does not exist. I will grant, however, and willingly, that true science is against Faber's idea of other people's idea of a God. I will grant also that the tendency of one who exclusively studies science is certainly to deny what no one has proved, and he is uninterested in proving; but that is the fault of the man and his lack of science, not of the science he has. If people understood better the arrogance of which they are themselves guilty, they would be less ready to imagine that a strong assertion necessarily implies knowledge. Nothing can be known except what is true. A negative may be _fact_, but can not be _known except by the knowledge of its opposite. I believe also that nothing can be really _believed_, except it be true. But people think they believe many things which they do not and can not in the real sense.

When, however, Dorothy came to concern herself about the will of God, in trying to help her father to do the best with their money, she began to reap a little genuine comfort, for then she found things begin to explain themselves a little. The more a man occupies himself in doing the works of the Father--the sort of thing the Father does, the easier will he find it to believe that such a Father is at work in the world.

In the curate Mr. Drake had found not only a man he could trust, but one to whom, young as he was, he could look up; and it was a trait in the minister nothing short of noble, that he did look up to the curate--perhaps without knowing it. He had by this time all but lost sight of the fact, once so monstrous, so unchristian in his eyes, that he was the paid agent of a government-church; the sight of the man's own house, built on a rock in which was a well of the water of life, had made him nearly forget it. In his turn he could give the curate much; the latter soon discovered that he knew a great deal more about Old Testament criticism, church-history, and theology--understanding by the last the records of what men had believed and argued about God--than he did. They often disagreed and not seldom disputed; but while each held the will and law of Christ as the very foundation of the world, and obedience to Him as the way to possess it after its idea, how could they fail to know that they were brothers? They were gentle with each other for the love of Him whom in eager obedience they called Lord.

The moment his property was his availably, the minister betook himself to the curate.

"Now," he said--he too had the gift of going pretty straight, though not quite so straight as the curate--"Now, Mr. Wingfold, tell me plainly what you think the first thing I ought to do with this money toward making it a true gift of God. I mean, what can I do with it for somebody else--some person or persons to whom money in my hands, not in theirs, may become a small saviour?"

"You want, in respect of your money," rejoined the curate, "to be in the world as Christ was in the world, setting right what is wrong in ways possible to you, and not counteracting His? You want to do the gospel as well as preach it?"

"That is what I mean--or rather what I wish to mean. You have said it.--What do you count the first thing I should try to set right?"

"I should say _injustice_. My very soul revolts against the talk about kindness to the poor, when such a great part of their misery comes from the injustice and greed of the rich."

"I well understand," returned Mr. Drake, "that a man's first business is to be just to his neighbor, but I do not so clearly see when he is to interfere to make others just. Our Lord would not settle the division of the inheritance between the two brothers."

"No, but he gave them a lesson concerning avarice, and left that to work. I don't suppose any body is unjust for love of injustice. I don't understand the pure devilish very well--though I have glimpses into it. Your way must be different from our Lord's in form, that it may be the same in spirit: you have to work with money; His father had given Him none. In His mission He was not to use all means--only the best. But even He did not attack individuals to _make them do right; and if you employ your money in doing justice to the oppressed and afflicted, to those shorn of the commonest rights of humanity, it will be the most powerful influence of all to wake the sleeping justice in the dull hearts of other men. It is the business of any body who can, to set right what any body has set wrong. I will give you a special instance, which has been in my mind all the time. Last spring--and it was the same the spring before, my first in Glaston--the floods brought misery upon every family in what they call the Pottery here. How some of them get through any wet season I can not think; but Faber will tell you what a multitude of sore throats, cases of croup, scarlet-fever, and diphtheria, he has to attend in those houses every spring and autumn. They are crowded with laborers and their families, who, since the railway came, have no choice but live there, and pay a much heavier rent in proportion to their accommodation than you or I do--in proportion to the value of the property, immensely heavier. Is it not hard? Men are their brothers' keepers indeed--but it is in chains of wretchedness they keep them. Then again--I am told that the owner of these cottages, who draws a large yearly sum from them, and to the entreaties of his tenants for really needful repairs, gives nothing but promises, is one of the most influential attendants of a chapel you know, where, Sunday after Sunday, the gospel is preached. If this be true, here again is a sad wrong: what can those people think of religion so represented?"

"I am a sinful man," exclaimed the pastor. "That Barwood is one of the deacons. He is the owner of the chapel as well as the cottages. I ought to have spoken to him years ago.--But," he cried, starting to his feet, "the property is for sale! I saw it in the paper this very morning! Thank God!"--He caught up his hat.--"I shall have no choice but buy the chapel too," he added, with a queer, humorous smile; "--it is part of the property.--Come with me, my dear sir. We must see to it directly. You will speak: I would rather not appear in the affair until the property is my own; but I will buy those houses, please God, and make them such as His poor sons and daughters may live in without fear or shame."

The curate was not one to give a cold bath to enthusiasm. They went out together, got all needful information, and within a month the title-deeds were in Mr. Drake's possession.

When the rumor reached the members of his late congregation that he had come in for a large property, many called to congratulate him, and such congratulations are pretty sure to be sincere. But he was both annoyed and amused when--it was in the morning during business hours--Dorothy came and told him, not without some show of disgust, that a deputation from the church in Cow-lane was below.

"We've taken the liberty of calling, in the name of the church, to congratulate you, Mr. Drake," said their leader, rising with the rest as the minister entered the dining-room.

"Thank you," returned the minister quietly.

"I fancy," said the other, who was Barwood himself, with a smile such as heralds the facetious, "you will hardly condescend to receive our little gratuity now?"

"I shall not require it, gentlemen."

"Of course we should never have offered you such a small sum, if we hadn't known you were independent of us."

"Why then did you offer it at all?" asked the minister.

"As a token of our regard."

"The regard could not be very lively that made no inquiry as to our circumstances. My daughter had twenty pounds a year; I had nothing. We were in no small peril of simple starvation."

"Bless my soul! we hadn't an idea of such a thing, sir! Why didn't you tell us?"

Mr. Drake smiled, and made no other reply.

"Well, sir," resumed Barwood, after a very brief pause, for he was a man of magnificent assurance, "as it's all turned out so well, you'll let bygones be bygones, and give us a hand?"

"I am obliged to you for calling," said Mr. Drake, "--especially to you, Mr. Barwood, because it gives me an opportunity of confessing a fault of omission on my part toward you."

Here the pastor was wrong. Not having done his duty when he ought, he should have said nothing now it was needless for the wronged, and likely only to irritate the wrong-doer.

"Don't mention it, pray," said Mr. Barwood. "This is a time to forget every thing."

"I ought to have pointed out to you, Mr. Barwood," pursued the minister, "both for your own sake and that of those poor families, your tenants, that your property in this lower part of the town was quite unfit for the habitation of human beings."

"Don't let your conscience trouble you on the score of that neglect," answered the deacon, his face flushing with anger, while he tried to force a smile: "I shouldn't have paid the least attention to it if you had. My firm opinion has always been that a minister's duty is to preach the gospel, not meddle in the private affairs of the members of his church; and if you knew all, Mr. Drake, you would not have gone out of your way to make the remark. But that's neither here nor there, for it's not the business as we've come upon.--Mr. Drake, it's a clear thing to every one as looks into it, that the cause will never prosper so long as that's the chapel we've got. We did think as perhaps a younger man might do something to counteract church-influences; but there don't seem any sign of betterment yet. In fact, thinks looks worse. No, sir! it's the chapel as is the stumbling-block. What has religion got to do with what's ugly and dirty! A place that any lady or gentleman, let he or she be so much of a Christian, might turn up the nose and refrain the foot from! No! I say; what we want is a new place of worship. Cow-lane is behind the age--and _that musty! uw!"

"With the words of truth left sticking on the walls?" suggested Mr. Drake.

"Ha! ha! ha!--Good that!" exclaimed several.

But the pastor's face looked stern, and the voices dropped into rebuked silence.

"At least you'll allow, sir," persisted Barwood, "that the house of God ought to be as good as the houses of his people. It stands to reason. Depend upon it, He won't give us no success till we give Him a decent house. What! are we to dwell in houses of cedar, and the ark of the Lord in a tent? That's what it comes to, sir!"

The pastor's spiritual gorge rose at this paganism in Jew clothing.

"You think God loves newness and finery better than the old walls where generations have worshiped?" he said.

"I make no doubt of it, sir," answered Barwood. "What's generations to him! He wants the people drawn to His house; and what there is in Cow-lane to draw is more than I know."

"I understand you wish to sell the chapel," said Mr. Drake. "Is it not rather imprudent to bring down the value of your property before you have got rid of it?"

Barwood smiled a superior smile. He considered the bargain safe, and thought the purchaser a man who was certain to pull the chapel down.

"I know who the intending purchaser is," said Mr. Drake, "and----"

Barwood's countenance changed: he bethought himself that the conveyance was not completed, and half started from his chair.

"You would never go to do such an unneighborly act," he cried, "as----"

"--As conspire to bring down the value of a property the moment it had passed out of my hands?--I would not, Mr. Barwood; and this very day the intending purchaser shall know of your project."

Barwood locked his teeth together, and grinned with rage. He jumped from his seat, knocked it over in getting his hat from under it, and rushed out of the house. Mr. Drake smiled, and looking calmly round on the rest of the deacons, held his peace. It was a very awkward moment for them. At length one of them, a small tradesman, ventured to speak. He dared make no allusion to the catastrophe that had occurred. It would take much reflection to get hold of the true weight and bearing of what they had just heard and seen, for Barwood was a mighty man among them.

"What we were thinking, sir," he said, "--and you will please to remember, Mr. Drake, that I was always on your side, and it's better to come to the point; there's a strong party of us in the church, sir, that would like to have you back, and we was thinking if you would condescend to help us, now as you're so well able to, sir, toward a new chapel, now as you have the means, as well as the will, to do God service, sir, what with the chapel-building society, and every man-jack of us setting our shoulder to the wheel, and we should all do our very best, we should get a nice, new, I won't say showy, but attractive--that's the word, attractive place--not gaudy, you know, I never would give in to that, but ornamental too--and in a word, attractive--that's it--a place to which the people would be drawn by the look of it outside, and kep' by the look of it inside--a place as would make the people of Glaston say, 'Come, and let us go up to the house of the Lord,'--if, with your help, sir, we had such a place, then perhaps you would condescend to take the reins again, sir, and we should then pay Mr. Rudd as your assistant, leaving the whole management in your hands--to preach when you pleased, and leave it alone when you didn't.--There, sir! I think that's much the whole thing in a nut-shell."

"And now will you tell me what result you would look for under such an arrangement?"

"We should look for the blessing of a little success; it's a many years since we was favored with any."

"And by success you mean----?"

"A large attendance of regular hearers in the morning--not a seat to let!--and the people of Glaston crowding to hear the word in the evening, and going away because they can't get a foot inside the place! That's the success _I should like to see."

"What! would you have all Glaston such as yourselves!" exclaimed the pastor indignantly. "Gentlemen, this is the crowning humiliation of my life! Yet I am glad of it, because I deserve it, and it will help to make and keep me humble. I see in you the wood and hay and stubble with which, alas! I have been building all these years! I have been preaching dissent instead of Christ, and there you are!--dissenters indeed--but can I--can I call you Christians? Assuredly do I believe the form of your church that ordained by the apostles, but woe is me for the material whereof it is built! Were I to aid your plans with a single penny in the hope of withdrawing one inhabitant of Glaston from the preaching of Mr. Wingfold, a man who speaks the truth and fears nobody, as I, alas! have feared you, because of your dullness of heart and slowness of understanding, I should be doing the body of Christ a grievous wrong. I have been as one beating the air in talking to you against episcopacy when I ought to have been preaching against dishonesty; eulogizing congregationalism, when I ought to have been training you in the three abiding graces, and chiefly in the greatest of them, charity. I have taken to pieces and put together for you the plan of salvation, when I ought to have spoken only of Him who is the way and the life. I have been losing my life, and helping you to lose yours. But go to the abbey church, and there a man will stir you up to lay hold upon God, will teach you to know Christ, each man for himself and not for another. Shut up your chapel, put off your scheme for a new one, go to the abbey church, and be filled with the finest of the wheat. Then should this man depart, and one of the common episcopal train, whose God is the church, and whose neighbor is the order of the priesthood, come to take his place, and preach against dissent as I have so foolishly preached against the church--then, and not until then, will the time be to gather together your savings and build yourselves a house to pray in. Then, if I am alive, as I hope I shall not be, come, and I will aid your purpose liberally. Do not mistake me; I believe as strongly as ever I did that the constitution of the Church of England is all wrong; that the arrogance and assumption of her priesthood is essentially opposed to the very idea of the kingdom of Heaven; that the Athanasian creed is unintelligible, and where intelligible, cruel; but where I find my Lord preached as only one who understands Him can preach Him, and as I never could preach Him, and never heard Him preached before, even faults great as those shall be to me as merest accidents. Gentlemen, every thing is pure loss--chapels and creeds and churches--all is loss that comes between us and Christ--individually, masterfully. And of unchristian things one of the most unchristian is to dispute and separate in the name of Him whose one object was, and whose one victory will be unity.--Gentlemen, if you should ever ask me to preach to you, I will do so with pleasure."

They rose as one man, bade him an embarrassed good morning, and walked from the room, some with their heads thrown back, other hanging them forward in worshipful shame. The former spread the rumor that the old minister had gone crazy, the latter began to go now and then to church.

I may here mention, as I shall have no other opportunity, that a new chapel was not built; that the young pastor soon left the old one; that the deacons declared themselves unable to pay the rent; that Mr. Drake took the place into his own hands, and preached there every Sunday evening, but went always in the morning to hear Mr. Wingfold. There was kindly human work of many sorts done by them in concert, and each felt the other a true support. When the pastor and the parson chanced to meet in some lowly cottage, it was never with embarrassment or apology, as if they served two masters, but always with hearty and glad greeting, and they always went away together. I doubt if wickedness does half as much harm as sectarianism, whether it be the sectarianism of the church or of dissent, the sectarianism whose virtue is condescension, or the sectarianism whose vice is pride. Division has done more to hide Christ from the view of men, than all the infidelity that has ever been spoken. It is the half-Christian clergy of every denomination that are the main cause of the so-called failure of the Church of Christ. Thank God, it has not failed so miserably as to succeed in the estimation or to the satisfaction of any party in it.

But it was not merely in relation to forms of church government that the heart of the pastor now in his old age began to widen. It is foolish to say that after a certain age a man can not alter. That some men can not--or will not, (God only can draw the line between those two _nots_) I allow; but the cause is not age, and it is not universal. The man who does not care and ceases to grow, becomes torpid, stiffens, is in a sense dead; but he who has been growing all the time need never stop; and where growth is, there is always capability of change: growth itself is a succession of slow, melodious, ascending changes.

The very next Sunday after the visit of their deputation to him, the church in Cow-lane asked their old minister to preach to them. Dorothy, as a matter of course, went with her father, although, dearly as she loved him, she would have much preferred hearing what the curate had to say. The pastor's text was, _Ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law--judgment, mercy, and faith_. In his sermon he enforced certain of the dogmas of a theology which once expressed more truth "than falsehood, but now at least _conveys more falsehood than truth, because of the changed conditions of those who teach and those who hear it; for, even where his faith had been vital enough to burst the verbally rigid, formal, and indeed spiritually vulgar theology he had been taught, his intellect had not been strong enough to cast off the husks. His expressions, assertions, and arguments, tying up a bundle of mighty truth with cords taken from the lumber-room and the ash-pit, grazed severely the tenderer nature of his daughter. When they reached the house, and she found herself alone with her father in his study, she broke suddenly into passionate complaint--not that he should so represent God, seeing, for what she knew, He might indeed be such, but that, so representing God, he should expect men to love Him. It was not often that her sea, however troubled in its depths, rose into such visible storm. She threw herself upon the floor with a loud cry, and lay sobbing and weeping. Her father was terribly startled, and stood for a moment as if stunned; then a faint slow light began to break in upon him, and he stood silent, sad, and thoughtful. He knew that he loved God, yet in what he said concerning Him, in the impression he gave of Him, there was that which prevented the best daughter in the world from loving her Father in Heaven! He began to see that he had never really thought about these things; he had been taught them but had never turned them over in the light, never perceived the fact, that, however much truth might be there, there also was what at least looked like a fearful lie against God. For a moment he gazed with keen compassion on his daughter as she lay, actually writhing in her agony, then kneeled beside her, and laying his hand upon her, said gently:

"Well, my dear, if those things are not true, my saying them will not make them so."

She sprung to her feet, threw her arms about his neck, kissed him, and left the room. The minister remained upon his knees.

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