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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThere & Back - Chapter 35. The Parson's Counsel
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There & Back - Chapter 35. The Parson's Counsel Post by :Merry_V Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1818

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There & Back - Chapter 35. The Parson's Counsel

CHAPTER XXXV. THE PARSON'S COUNSEL

It was a happy thing for both Richard and Barbara, that Barbara was now under another influence besides Richard's. The more she saw of Mr. and Mrs. Wingfold, the more she felt that she had come into a region of reality and life. Both of them understood what a rare creature she was, and spoke as freely before her as if she had been a sister of their own age and standing. Barbara on her side knew no restraint with them, but spoke in like freedom, both of her past life, and the present state of things at home--which was indeed no secret, being manifest to the servants, and therefore known to all the county, in forms more or less correct, as it had been to all the colony before they left it. She talked almost as freely of Richard, and of the great desire she had to get him to believe in God.

"It was a dangerous relation between two such young people!" some of my readers will remark.--Yes, I answer--dangerous, as every true thing is dangerous to him or her who is not true; as every good thing is dangerous to him or her who is not good. Nothing is so dangerous as religious sentiment without truth in the inward parts. Certain attempts at what is called conversion, are but writhings of the passion of self-recommendation; gapings of the greed of power over others; swellings of the ambition to propagate one's own creed, and proselytize victoriously; hungerings to see self reflected in another convinced. In such efforts lie dangers as vulgar as the minds that make them, and love the excitement of them. But genuine love is far beyond such grovelling delights; and the peril of such a relation is in inverse proportion to the reality of those concerned.

Barbara was one who, so far as human eyes could see, had never required conversion. She had but to go on, recognize, and do. She turned to the light by a holy will as well as holy instinct. She needed much instruction, and might yet have fierce battles to fight, but to convert such as Barbara must be to turn them the wrong way; for the whole energy of her being was in the direction of what is right--that is, righteousness. She needed but to be told a good thing--I do not say _told that a thing was good_--and at once she received it--that is, obeyed it, the _only way of receiving a truth. She did the thing immediately demanded upon every reception of light, every expansion of true knowledge. She was essentially _of the truth; and therefore, when she came into relation with a soul such as Wingfold, a soul so much more developed than herself, so much farther advanced in the knowledge of realities as having come through difficulties unknown and indeed at present unknowable to Barbara, she met one of her own house, and her life was fed from his, and began to grow faster. For he taught her to know the eternal man who bore witness to his father in the face of his perverse children, to know that his heart was the heart of a child in truth and love, and the heart of a God in courage and patience; and Barbara became his slave for very love, his blessed child, the inheritor of his universe. Happily her life had not been loaded to the ground with the degrading doctrines of those that cower before a God whose justice may well be satisfied with the blood of the innocent, seeing it consists but in the punishing of the guilty. She had indeed heard nothing of that brood of lies until the unbelieving Richard--ah, not far from believing he who but rejected such a God!--gave her to know that such things were believed. From the whole swarm she was protected--shame that it should have to be said!--by pure lack of what is generally regarded as _a religious education_, such being the mother of more tears and madness in humble souls, and more presumption in the proud and selfish, than perhaps any other influence out of whose darkness God brings light. Neither ascetic nor mystic nor doctrinist of any sort, caring nothing for church or chapel, of observance of any kind as observance, she believed in God, and was now ready to die for Jesus Christ, in the eternal gladness that there was such a person as God and such a person as Jesus Christ. Their being was to her the full and only pledge of every bliss, every childlike delight. She believed in the God of the whole earth, not in a puritanical God. She never imagined it could be wrong to dance: merry almost in her very nature, she now held it a duty to be glad. Fond of sweets, she would have thought it wrong to refuse what God meant her to like; but she had far more pleasure in giving than in receiving them. She got into a little habit of thanking God for Miss Brown every time she felt herself on her back. She saw, the moment she heard it, that whatever was not of faith was sin: "The idea," she said, "of taking a thing from God without thinking love back to him for it!" She shuddered at the thought of unnecessarily hurting, yet would punish sharply. She would whip her dog when he deserved it, but sat up all night with him once when he was ill. She understood something of the ways of God with men.

Wingfold never sought to moderate her ardour for the good of her workman-friend; he only sought to strengthen her in the truth.

One day, when they were all three sitting together in the twilight before the lamp was lit--for Helen Wingfold was one of those happy women able to let their hands lie in their laps--he said to his pupil,

"Now, pray, Miss Wylder, don't try by argument to convince the young man of anything. That were no good, even if you succeeded. Opinion is all that can result from argument, and his opinion concerning God, even if you got it set right, would not be knowledge of God, and would be worth nothing; while, if a man knows God, his opinion is either right, or on the nearest way to be right. The notion in Richard's brain of the God he denies, is but another form of the Moloch of the Ammonites. There never was, and never could be such a God. He in whom I believe is the God that says, 'This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.' It is as if he said--'Look at that man: I am just such! No other likeness of me is a true likeness. Heed my son: heed nobody else. Know him and you know me, and then we are one for ever.' Talk to Richard of the God you love, the beautiful, the strong, the true, the patient, the forgiving, the loving; the one childlike, eternal power and Godhead, who would die himself and kill you rather than have you false and mean and selfish. Let him feel God through your enthusiasm for him. You can't prove to him that there is any God. A God that could be proved, would not be worth proving. Make his thoughts dwell on such a God as he must feel would be worth having. Wake the notion of a God such as will draw him to wish there were such a God. There are many religious people who will tell you there is no such God as I mean; but God will love you for believing that he is as good and true as you can think. Throw the notions of any who tell you otherwise to the winds of hell, 'God is just!' said a carping theologian to me the other day. 'Yes,' I answered, 'and he cannot be pleased that you should call that justice which is injustice, and attribute it to him!' There are many who must die in ignorance of their Father in heaven, because they will not of their own selves judge what is right. Such never get beyond the weak and beggarly elements. Set in Richard's eye a God worth believing in, a God like the son of God, and he will go and look if haply such a God may be found; he will call upon him, and the God who is will hear and answer him. What good would it be, what could it bring but the more condemnation, that a man should be sure there was a God, if he did not cry to him? But although a man may never doubt and never cry, I cannot imagine any man sure there is a God without his first having cried to him. God is God to us not that we may say _he is_, but _that we may know him_; and when we know him, then we are with him, at home, at the heart of the universe, the heirs of all things. All this is foolishness, I know, to the dull soul that cares only for the things that admit of being proved. The unprovable mystery out of which come the things provable, has for them no interest, they say, because it is unprovable: they take for granted that therefore it is unknowable. Would they be content it should be unknowable if things were all as they should be within them? When the eyes of those who have made themselves at home in the world of the senses and care for no other are opened, I imagine them saying--'Yes, He was after all; but none the less were you fools to believe in him, for you had no proof!' Then I seem to hear the children laugh and say, 'We had himself, and did not want it.' That the unprovable is necessarily the unknowable, a thousand beliefs deny. 'You cannot prove to me that you have a father!' says the blind sage, reasoning with the little child. 'Why should I prove it?' answers the child. 'I am sitting on his knee! If I could prove it, that would not make you see him; that would not make you happy like me! You do not care about my father, or you would not stand there disputing; you would feel about until you found him!' If a thing be true in itself, it is not capable of proof; and that man is in the higher condition who is able to believe it. In proportion as a man is a fool he is unable to believe what in itself is true. If intellect be the highest power, then the men of proof are the wisest; if there be something deeper than intellect, causing and including it, if there be a creative power of which our intellect is but a faint reflex, then the child of that power, the one who acknowledges and loves and obeys that power, will be the one to understand it. If a man say, 'I cannot believe; I was not made to believe what I could not prove;' I reply, Do you really say, 'It is not true,' because you have no proof? Ask yourself whether you do not turn from the idea because you prefer it should not be true. You accept a thousand things without proof, and a thousand things may be perfectly true, and have no proof. But if you cannot be sure, why therefore do you turn away? Is the thing assuredly false? Then you ought of course to turn away. Can you prove it false? You cannot. Again, why do you turn away? That a thing is not assuredly true, cannot be reason for turning from it, else farewell to all theory and all scientific research! Is the thing less good, less desirable, less worth believing, in itself, that you cannot thus satisfy yourself concerning it? The very chance that _such a thing may be true, the very fact that it cannot be disproved, is large reason for an honest, and continuous, and unending search. Do you hold any door in your nature open for the possibility of a God having a claim on you? The truth is, as I hinted before, that you are not drawn to the idea, do not like it; and it is therefore you turn away, and not because you have no proof.--If the man then shifted his ground and said, 'He seemed to me not a good being, and I said therefore, he _cannot exist;' I should reply, There you were right. But a thing that cannot be, cannot render impossible a thing that can be--a thing against whose existence there are no such arguments as have rightly shown that the other cannot be. In right logical balance you must admit that a creative being who is good _may exist. But the final question is always this: Have you acted, or rather, are you acting according to the conscience which is the one guide to truth, to all that is!"

"But," said Barbara, "perhaps the man would say that we see such suffering in the world, that the being who made it, if there be one, cannot possibly be both strong and good, otherwise he would not allow it."

"Say then, that he might be both strong and good, and have some reason for allowing, or even causing it, which those who suffer will themselves one day justify, ready for the sake of it to go through all the suffering again. Less than that would not satisfy me. If he say, 'What reason could justify the infliction of such suffering?' then tell him what I am now going to tell you.

"A year ago," continued Wingfold, "my little boy displeased me horribly. I will not tell you what he did: when the boy grows up, he will find it as impossible to understand how he could have done the thing, as I find it now. People say, 'Children will be children!' but I see little consolation in that. Children must be children, and ought to be good children. They are made to be good children, just as much as men are made to be good men. All I will say is, that he did a mean thing. You see his mother can hardly keep from crying now at the thought of it. Thank God, she was of one mind with me. I took him, and, bent on making him feel, if not how horrid the thing was in itself--for what imperfect being can ever know the full horror of evil!--at least how horrid I thought it, broke out in strong language. I told him I must whip him; that I could not bear doing it, but rather than he should be a damned, mean, contemptible little rascal, I would kill him and be hanged for it. I dare say it sounds very improper, but--"

"Not in the least!" cried Barbara. "_I like a man to curse what is bad, and go down on his knees to what is good."

"Well, what do you think the little fellow said?--'Don't kill me, papa,' he cried. 'I will be good. Don't, please, be hanged for my naughtiness! Whip me, and that will make me good.'"

"And then you couldn't do it?" asked Barbara anxiously.

"I cried," said Wingfold, and almost cried again as he said it. "I'm not much in the habit of crying--I don't look like it, do I?--but I couldn't help it. The child took out his little pocket-handkerchief and dried my eyes, and then prepared himself for the whipping. And I whipped him as I never did before, and I hope in God shall never have to do again. The moment it was over, while my heart was like to burst, he flung his arms round my neck and began kissing me. 'I will never make you cry again, papa!' he said.--He has kept his word, and since then I have never wondered at the suffering in the world. I have puzzled my metaphysical brains to the last gasp about the origin of evil--I don't do that now, for I seem to understand it--but, since then, I have never troubled myself about the origin of suffering. I don't like pain a whit better than another, and I don't bear it nearly so well as Helen, but I vex neither my brain nor my heart as to God's sending it. I knew after whipping my boy, that the tears the Lord wept over Jerusalem were not wept by him only, but by the Father as well. Whoever says God cannot suffer, I say he does not understand. God _can weep, and weeps more painful tears than ours; for he is God, and we are his little ones. That boy's trouble was over with the punishment, but my heart is sore yet.

"It comes to this, that the suffering you see around you, hurts God more than it hurts you, or the man upon whom it falls; but he hates things that most men think little of, and will send any suffering upon them rather than have them continue indifferent to them. Men may say, 'We don't want suffering! we don't want to be good!' but God says, 'I know my own obligations! and you shall not be contemptible wretches, if there be any resource in the Godhead.' I know well that almost all the mothers in my congregation would, hearing what I have just told you, call me a cruel father. They would rather have me a weak one, loving my child less. They would rather their child should be foul in the soul than be made clean through suffering! I know they would! But I know also that they do not see how ugly is evil. And that again is because they are not clean enough themselves to value rightness above rubies! Tell the tale your own way to your workman-friend, and may God help him to understand it! The God who strikes, is the God whose son wept over Jerusalem."

"I am so glad you whipt the darling!" said Barbara, scarcely able to speak. "I shall love him more than ever."

"You should see how he loves his father!" said Helen. "His father is all his talk when we are alone together. He sees more of me than of him now, but by and by his father will take him about with him."

"And then," said Barbara, "all his talk will be of you!"

"Yes; it is the way of the child!"

"And of the whole family in heaven and earth," rejoined the parson.

Barbara rose.

"You'll be on the watch," said Wingfold, "for any chance for me of serving your mother?"

"I will," replied Barbara.

The next morning she got on Miss Brown, and rode to the forge, where Simon made her always welcome. It was sunshine to his heart to see her, he said. She knew that Richard was to be there. They left Miss Brown in the smithy, and went for a walk together, during which Barbara was careful to follow the parson's advice. Their talk was mostly about her life in New Zealand. Now that she knew God more, and believed more in him, she was more able to set forth her history. Feelings long vague had begun to put on shapes definite and communicable. She understood herself better, and was better able to make Richard understand her. And in Richard, by degrees, through the sympathy of affection, was growing the notion of a God in whom it would not be hard to believe. He ought not to believe, and he had not believed in the supposed being hitherto presented to him as God; now he saw the shape of a God in whom, if he existed, he ought to believe. But he had not yet come to long that he should exist, to desire him, or to cry out in the hope that he would hear him. His hour was not yet come. But when the day of darkness arrived, when he knew himself helpless, there would be in his mind a picture of the God to whom he must cry in his trouble--a God whose existence would then be his only need, the one desire of his soul. To wake the sense of this eternal need, present though unrecognized under every joy, was the final cause of every sorrow and pain against which Richard rebelled--most naturally rebelled, knowing neither the plague of a heart that would but could not be lord over itself, nor of a nature hatefully imperfect and spotted, yea capable of what itself could not but detest.

Naturally, his manners were growing more refined from his intercourse with the gracious, brave, sympathetic, unconventional creature, so strong yet so gentle, so capable of indignation, so full of love. He was gradually developing the pure humanity that lay beneath the rough artisan. He was, in a word, becoming what in the kingdom of heaven every man must be--a gentleman, because more than a gentleman.

All this time Barbara was pulled two ways: for Richard's sake she would have him heir to the baronetcy; for her own she would be rid of the shadow of having sought the baronet in the bookbinder. But more and more the asseveration of lady Ann gained force with her--that Richard was not the heir. She had greatly doubted her, but now she said to herself: "She could hardly be mistaken, and she _cannot have lied." The consequence was that she grew yet more free, more at home with Richard. She listened to all he had to tell her, learning of him with an _abandon of willingness that put him upon his honour to learn of her again. And he did learn, as I have said, a good deal--went farther than he knew in the way of true learning.

They strolled together in the field behind the smithy, within sight of the cottage, for an hour or so; then hearing from the smithy the impatient stamping of Miss Brown, and fearing she might give the old man trouble, hastened back. Richard brought out the mare. Barbara sprang on a big stone by the door, and mounted without his help. She went straight for Wylder Hall.

As they were walking up and down the field, Arthur Lestrange passed on foot, saw them, and went home indignant.

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