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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWeighed And Wanting - Chapter 48. Mr. Christopher
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Weighed And Wanting - Chapter 48. Mr. Christopher Post by :voltaire11 Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1900

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Weighed And Wanting - Chapter 48. Mr. Christopher


On the Sunday evening, the last before she was to leave for Yrndale, Hester had gone to see a poor woman in a house she had not been in before, and was walking up the dismal stair, dark and dirty, when she heard a moaning from a room the door of which was a little open. She peeped in, and saw on a low bed a poor woman, old, yellow, and wrinkled, apparently at the point of death. Her throat was bare, and she saw the muscles of it knotted in the struggle for life.--Is not death the victorious struggle for life?--She was not alone; a man knelt by her bedside, his arm under the pillow to hold her head higher, and his other hand clasping hers.

"The darkness! the darkness!" moaned the woman.

"You feel lonely?" said the voice of the man, low, and broken with sympathy.

"All, all alone," sighed the woman.

"I can do nothing for you. I can only love you."

"Yes, yes," said the woman hopelessly.

"You are slipping away from me, but my master is stronger than me, and can help you yet. He is not far from you though you can't see him. He loves you too, and only wants you to ask him to help you. He can cure death as easy as any other disease."

No reply came for a moment. Then, moulded of all-but dying breath, came the cry,

"O Christ, save me!"

Then Hester was seized with a sudden impulse: she thought afterwards the feeling of it might be like what men and women of old had when the Spirit of God came upon them: it seemed she had not intended song when the sounds issuing from her mouth entered her ears. The words she uttered were those and no more, over and over again, which the poor dying woman had just spoken: "O Christ, save me!" But the song-sounds in which they were lapt and with which they came winged from her lips, seemed the veriest outpouring of her whole soul. They seemed to rise from some eternal deep within her, yet not to be of her making. She was as in the immediate presence of Christ, pleading with him for the consolation and strength which his poor dying creature so sorely needed.

The holy possession lasted but a minute or so, and left her dumb. She turned away, and passed up the stair.

"The angels! the angels! I'm going now!" said the woman feebly.

"The angel was praying to Christ for you," said Christopher. "--Oh living brother, save our dying sister!"

"O Christ, save me!" she murmured again, and they were her last words.

Christopher laid the body gently back on the pillow. A sigh of relief passed from his lips, and he went from the room to give notice of the death. The dead or who would might bury the dead; he must go to the living!

Inflated sentiment all this looks to the man of this world. But when the inevitable Death has him by the throat; when he lies like that poor woman, lonely in the shadow, though his room be crowded with friends, whatever his theories about future or no future, it may be an awful hour in which less than a Christ will hardly comfort him.

Hester's heart was full when she found the woman she went to see, and she was able to speak as she had never spoken before. She never troubled her poor with any of the theories of salvation, which, right or wrong, are _not the things to be presented for men's reception--now any more than in the days of the first teachers who knew nothing of them: they serve but to obscure the vision of the live brother in whom men must believe to be lifted out of their evil and brought into the air of truth and the room for growing deliverance. Hester spoke of Christ, the friend of men, who came to save every one by giving him back to God, as one gives back to a mother the stray child who has run from her to escape obeying her.

The woman at least listened; and then she sang to her. But she could not sing as she had sung a little while before. One cannot have or give the best always--not at least until the soul shall be always in its highest and best moods--a condition which may perhaps be on the way to us, though I am doubtful whether the created will ever stand continuously on the apex of conscious existence. I think part of the joy will be to contemplate the conditions in which we are at our best: I delight to think of twilights in heaven--the brooding on the best. Perhaps we may be full of God always and yet not always full of the ecstasy of good, or always able to make it pass in sweet splendours from heart to heart.

Hester was walking homewards when, passing through a court on her way, she heard the voice of a man, which again she recognized as that of Mr. Christopher. Glancing about her she discovered that it came from a room half under ground. She went to the door. There was a little crowd of dirty children making a noise round it, and she could not well hear what was going on, but what she did hear was enough to let her know it was the voice of one pleading with his fellows not to be miserable and die, but to live and rejoice. Now for all the true liberality of Hester's heart and brain both, she had never entered any place of worship that did not belong to the established church, thinking all the rest only and altogether sectarian, and she would not be a sectary. She had not yet learned that therein she just was a sectary--from Christ the head. But here was something meant only for the poor, she thought, and seeing they would not go to church, a layman like Mr. Christopher might surely give them of the good things he had! So she went in: she would sit near the door, and come out again presently!

It was a low room, and though not many were present, the air was stifling. The doctor stood at the farther end. Some of his congregation were decently dressed, some but sparingly washed; many wore the same clothes they wore through the week, though probably most of these had a better gown or suit, if that could be called _having which was represented by a pawn-ticket. Hester could hardly say she saw among them much sign of listening. Most of the faces were just as vacant as those to be seen in the most fashionable churches, but there were one or two which seemed to show their owners in some kind of sympathetic relation with the speaker, and that was a far larger proportion than was found in Sodom that was destroyed, or in Nineveh that was spared. That the speaker was in earnest there could be no manner of question. His eyes were glowing, his face was gleaming with a light of its own; his hands were often clenched hard and his motions broken by very earnestness: it was the bearing of one that pleaded with men, saying, "Why will ye die?"

The whole rough appearance of the man was elevated into dignity. Simplicity and self-forgetfulness were manifest in carriage and utterance. He was not self-possessed--but he was God-possessed. He kept saying the simplest things to them. One thing she heard him tell them was, that they were like orphan children, hungry in the street, raking the gutter for what they could get, while behind them stood a grand, beautiful house to which they never so much as lifted up their eyes--and there their father lived! There he sat in a beautiful room, waiting, waiting, waiting for any one of them all who would but turn round, run in, and up the stairs to him.

"But you will say," something as thus he went on,--"Why does he not send out a message to them, to tell them he is waiting there for them? How can they know without being told?--you say. But that is just what he does do. He is constantly sending out messengers to them to tell them to come in. But they mostly laugh and make faces at them. _They won't be at the trouble to go up those stairs! 'It's not likely,' they say, 'a man like that would trouble his head about such as us, even if we were his children!' That makes me wonder how such people treat their own children! But some do listen and hear and go in; and some of them come out again, and say they find it all true. Very few believe them a bit, or mind in the least what they say. They are not miserable enough yet to go back to the father that loves them, and would be as good to them as the bird that covers her young ones all over with her wings, or the mother you see wrapping her shawl round her child in her arms.

"Some of you are thinking with yourselves now, '_We wouldn't do like that! _We should be only too glad to get somebody that would make us comfortable without any trouble on our parts!' Ah, there's the rub! These children that won't go in, they're just like you: they won't take any trouble about it. Why now here I am, sent to you with the very message! and you fancy I am only talking, as you do so often, without meaning anything! I am one of those who have been into the house, and have found my father--oh, so grand! and so good to me! And I am come out again to tell you it is so, and that if you will go in, you will have the same kindness I have had. All the servants of the house even will rejoice over you with music and dancing--so glad that you are come home. Is it possible you will not take the trouble to go! There are certain things required of you when you go: perhaps you are too lazy or too dirty in your habits, to like doing them! I have known some refuse to scrape their shoes, or rub them on the door-mat when they went in, and then complain loudly that they were refused admittance. A fine house would such make to their father, were they allowed to run in and out as they pleased! such a house, in fact, as would very soon drive their father himself out of it! for they would make it unfit for any decent person to live in. A few months and they would have the grand beautiful house as wretched and mean and dirty as the houses they live in now. Such persons are those that keep grumbling that they are not rich. They want to loaf about, and drink, and be a nuisance to everybody, like some of the rich ones. They think it hard they should not be able to do just as they please with everything that takes their fancy, when they would do nothing but break and spoil it, and make it no good to anybody. Their father, who can do whatever he sees fit, is not one to let such disagreeable children work what mischief they like! He is a better father than that would come to! A father who lets them be dirty and rude just as they like, is one of the worst enemies of his children. And the day is coming when, if he can't get them to mind him any other way, he will put them where they will be ten times more miserable than ever they were at the worst time of their lives, and make them mind. Out of the same door whence came the messengers to ask them in, he will send dogs and bears and lions and tigers and wild cats out upon them.

"You will, I daresay, some of you, say, 'Ah, we know what you mean; but you see that's not the sort of thing we care for, so you needn't go on about it.' I know it is not the sort of thing you care for, else you might have been in a very different condition by this time. And I know the kind of thing you do care for--low, dirty things: you are like a child, if such there could be, that preferred mud and the gutter to all the beautiful toys in the shop at the corner of Middle Row. But though these things are not the things you want, they are the things you need; and the time is coming when you will say, 'Ah me! what a fool I was not to look at the precious things, and see how precious they were, and put out my hand for them when they were offered me!'"

It was something in this simple way, but more earnestly yet, and occasionally with an energy that rose to eloquence, that the man freed his soul of the things he had to give. After about twenty minutes, he ceased, saying, "We will now sing a hymn." Then he read a short hymn, repeating each verse before they sang it, for there was no other hymn-book than his own. It was the simplest hymn, Hester thought, she had ever heard. He began the singing himself to a well-known tune, but when he heard the voice of Hester take it up, he left the leading to her, and betaking himself to the bass, did his part there. When they heard her voice the people all turned to look, and some began to whisper, but presently resumed the hymn. When it was ended, he prayed for two or three minutes, not more, and sent them away. Hester being near the door went out with the first of them, and walked home full of pleasure in the thought of such preaching: if only her friends could hear such! The great difficulty was to wake in them any vaguest recognition of a Nature from whom they came. She had been driven to conclude that the faculty for things _epouranian was awake in them not an atom more than in the South-African Bushman, in whom most travellers have failed to discover even the notion of a power above him. But to wake the faculty in them what could be so powerful as the story and the message of Jesus?--and Mr. Christopher had not spoken of him! She did not know that every Sunday he taught them there, and that this sermon, if such it could be called, was but one wave in the flow of a river. The true teacher brings from his treasure things old and things new; at one time tells, at another explains; and ever and anon lets his own well of water flow to everlasting life.

But as she thought, Hester, like the true soul she was, turned from ways and means to the questioning of herself: what of the faculty was awake in her? Had she been obedient only to that she had been taught, or obedient to the very God? This questioning again she left for better labour: she turned her whole soul towards God in prayer unutterable. Of one thing she could be sure--that she had but the faintest knowledge of him whom to know is life eternal.

She was near the turning that led to the square when she heard a quick footstep behind her, and was presently overtaken by Mr. Christopher.

"I was so glad to see you come in!" he said. "I was able to speak the better, for I was sure then of some sympathy in the spiritual air. It is not easy to go on when you feel all the time a doubt whether to one present your words are more than mere words; or, if they have some meaning to any, whether that meaning be not something very different from your meaning."

"I do not see," said Hester, "how any one could misunderstand, or indeed help understanding what I heard you say."

"Ah!" he returned, "the one incomprehensible thing is ignorance! To understand why another does not understand seems to me beyond the power of humanity. As God only can understand evil, while we only can be evil, so God only can understand ignorance, while we only can be ignorant. I have been trying now for a good many months to teach those people, and I am not sure that a single thought has passed from my mind into one of theirs. I sometimes think I am but beating the air. But I must tell you how your singing comforted the poor woman at whose door you stopped this afternoon! I saw it in her face. She thought it was the angels. And it was one angel, for did not God send you? I trust your fellow-servants were waiting for her: she died a minute or two after."

They walked some distance before either spoke again.

"I was surprised," said Hester at length, "to find you taking the clergyman's part as well as the doctor's."

"By no means," returned Christopher; "I took no clergyman's part. I took but the part of a human being, bound to share with his fellow. What could make you think so? Did I preach like one?"

"Not very," she answered.

"I am glad of that," he returned, "for such a likeness would by no means favour my usefulness with such as those. If you see any reason why a layman, as was our Lord, should not speak to his fellows, I fear it is one I should be unable to comprehend. I do whatever seems to me a desirable action, so long as I see no reason for not doing it. As to the customs of society, my experience of them has resulted in mere and simple contempt--in so far at least as they would hamper my freedom. I have another master; and they who obey higher rules need not regard lower judgment. If Shakspere liked my acting, should I care if Marlowe did not?"

"But if anybody and everybody be at liberty to preach, how are we to have any assurance what kind of doctrine will be preached?"

"We must go without it.--But it is too late to object, for here are a few of us laymen preaching, and no one to hinder us. There are many uneducated preachers who move the classes the clergy cannot touch. Their preaching has a far more evident effect, I know, than mine."

"Why do you not then preach like them?"

"I would not if I could, and could not if I would: I do not believe one half of the things they say."

"How can they do more good if what they say is not true?"

"I did not say they did more good--about that I cannot tell; that may need centuries to determine. I said they moved their people more. And the fundamental element of what they say is most true, only the forms they express it in contain much that is false."

"Will you then defend a man in speaking things that are not true?"

"If he believes them, what is he to do but speak them?" Let him speak them in God's name. I cannot speak them because I do not believe them. If I did believe them they would take from me the heart to preach."

"Can it be," said Hester, "that falsehood is more powerful than truth--and for truth too?"

"By no means. A falsehood has in itself no power but for evil. It is the spiritual truth clothed in the partially false form that is powerful. Clearer truth will follow in the wake of it, and cast the false forms out: they serve but to make a place of seeming understanding in ignorant minds, wherein the truths themselves may lie and work with their own might. But if what I teach be nearer the truth, let it be harder to get in, it will in the end work more truth. In the meantime I say God-speed to every man who honestly teaches what he honestly believes. Paul was grand when he said he would rejoice that Christ was preached, from whatever motive he might be preached. If you say those people, though contentious, may have preached good doctrine, I answer--Possibly; for they could not have preached much of what is called doctrine now-a-days. If they preached theories of their own, they were teachers of lies, for they were not true men, and the theories of an untrue man cannot be true. But they told something about Christ, and of that Paul was glad."

Some may wonder that Hester, having got so far as she had, should need to be told such things; but she had never had occasion to think about them before, though the truth wrought out in her life had rendered her capable of seeing them the moment they were put before her.

"You interest me much," she said. "--Would you mind telling me how you, whose profession has to do with the bodies of men, have come to do more for their souls?"

"I know nothing about less or more," answered Christopher. "--You would find it, I fear, a long story if I were to attempt telling it in full. I studied medicine from guile, not therefore the less carefully, that I might have a good ostensible reason for going about among the poor. I count myself bound to do all I can for their bodies; and pity itself would, I think, when I came to go among them, have driven me to the study, had I been ignorant. No one who has not been among them knows their sufferings--borne by some of them without complaint--for the sad reason that it is of no use. To be to such if only one to whom they can speak, is in some sort to mediate between them and a possible world of relief. But it was not primarily from the desire to alleviate their sufferings that I learned what I could of medicine, but in the hope to start them on the way towards victory over all evil. I saw that the man who brought them physical help had a chance with them such as no clergyman had--an advantage quite as needful with them as with the heathen--to whom we are not so _immediately debtors. It would have been a sad thing for the world if the Lord of it had not sought first the lost sheep of the house of Israel. One awful consequence of our making haste to pull out the mote out of our heathen brother's eye, while yet the beam is in our own, is that wherever our missionaries go, they are followed by a foul wave of our vices.

"With all my guile I have not done much. But now after nearly two thousand years, such is the amount of faith I find in myself towards my Lord and his Father, that sometimes I ask myself whether in very truth I believe that that man did live and die as the story says: if it has taken all this time for such a poor result, I say to myself, perhaps I may have done something, for it must be too small to be seen; so I will try on, helping God as the children help the father.--You know that grand picture, on the ceiling of the pope's chapel, of the making of Adam?"

"Michael Angelo's?--Yes."

"You must have noticed then how the Father is accompanied by a crowd of young ones--come to help him to make Adam, I always think. The poet has there, consciously or not, hit upon a great truth: it is the majesty of God's great-heartedness, and the majesty of man's destiny, that every man must be a fellow-worker with God, nor can ever in less attain his end, and the conscious satisfaction of being. I want to help God with my poor brothers."

"How well I understand you!" said Hester. "But would you mind telling me what made you think of the thing first? I began because I saw how miserable so many people were, and longed to do something to make life a better thing for them."

"That was not quite the way with me," replied Christopher. "I see I must tell you something of my external, in order to explain my internal history."

"No, no, pray!" returned Hester, fearing she had presumed. "I did not mean to be inquisitive. I ought not to have asked such a question; for these things have to do with the most sacred regions of our nature."

"I was only going to cast the less in with the greater--the outer fact to explain the inner truth," said Christopher. "I should like to tell you about it.--And first,--you may suppose I could not have followed my wishes had I not had some money!"

"A good thing you had, then!"

"I don't know exactly," replied the doctor in a dubious tone. "You shall judge for yourself from my story.--I had money then--a good deal too--left me by my grandfather. My father died when I was a child. I am glad to say."

"Glad to say!" repeated Hester bewildered.

"Yes: if he had lived, how do I know he might not have done just like my grandfather. But my mother lived, thank God.--Not that my grandfather was what is counted a bad man; on the contrary he stood high in the world's opinion--was considered indeed the prince of----well, I will not say what, for my business is not to expose him. The world had nothing against him.

"When he died and left me his money--I was then at school, preparing for Oxford--it was necessary that I should look into the affairs of the business, for it was my mother's wish that I should follow the same. In the course of my investigation, I came across things not a few in the books, all fair and square in the judgment of the trade itself, which made me doubtful, and which at last, unblinded by custom, I was confident were unfair, that is dishonest. Thereupon I began to argue with myself: 'What is here?' I said. 'Am I to use the wages of iniquity as if they were a clean God-gift? If there has been wrong done there must be atonement, reparation. I cannot look on this money as mine, for part of it at least, I cannot say how much, ought not to be mine.' The truth flashed upon me; I saw that my business in life must be to send the money out again into the channels of right. I could claim a workman's wages for doing that. The history of the business went so far back that it was impossible to make return of more than a small proportion of the sums rightly due; therefore something else, and that a large something, must be done as well.

"To be honest, however, in explaining how I came to choose the life I am now leading, I must here confess the fact that about this time I had a disappointment of a certain kind which set me thinking, for it gave me such a shock that for some months I could not imagine anything to make life worth living. Some day, if you like, I will give you a detailed account of how I came to the truth of the question--came to see what alone does make the value of life. A flash came first, then a darkness, then a long dawn; by and in which it grew clearer and ever clearer, that there could be no real good, in the very nature of things and of good, but oneness with the will of God; that man's good lay in becoming what the inventor of him meant in the inventing of him--to speak after the fashion of man's making. Going on thinking about it all, and reading my New Testament, I came to see that, if the story of Christ was true, the God that made me was just inconceivably lovely, and that the perfection, the very flower of existence, must be to live the heir of all things, at home with the Father. Next, mingled inextricably with my resolve about the money, came the perception that my fellow-beings, my brothers and sisters of the same father, must be, next to the father himself, the very atmosphere of life; and that perfect misery must be to care only for one's self. With that there woke in me such a love and pity for my people, my own race, my human beings, my brothers and sisters, whoever could hear the word of the father of men, that I felt the only thing worth giving the energy of a life to, was the work that Christ gave himself to--the delivery of men out of their lonely and mean devotion to themselves, into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, whose joy and rejoicing is the rest of the family. Then I saw that here the claim upon my honesty, and the highest calling of man met. I saw that were I as free to do with my grandfather's money as it was possible for man to be, I could in no other way use it altogether worthily than in aiding to give outcome, shape and operation to the sonship and brotherhood in me. I have not yet found how best to use it all; and I will do nothing in haste, which is the very opposite of divine, and sure to lead astray; but I keep thinking in order to find out, and it will one day be revealed to me. God who has laid the burden on me will enable me to bear it until he shows me how to unpack and disperse it.

"First, I spent a portion in further study, and especially the study of medicine. I could not work miracles; I had not the faith necessary to that, if such is now to be had; but God might be pleased I should heal a little by the doctor's art. So doing I should do yet better, and learn how, to spend the money upon humanity itself, repaying to the race what had been wrongfully taken from its individuals to whom it was impossible to restore it; and should while so doing at the same time fill up what was left behind for me of the labours of the Master.

"That is my story. I am now trying to do as I have seen, working steadily, without haste, with much discouragement, and now and then with a great gladness and auroral hope. I have this very day got a new idea that may have in it a true germ!"

"Will you not tell me what it is?" said Hester.

"I don't like talking about things before at least they are begun," answered Christopher. "And I have not much hope from money. If it were not that I have it and cannot help it, and am bound to spend it, I would not trouble myself about any scheme to which it was necessary. I sometimes feel as if it was a devil, restrained a little by being spell-bound in mental discs. I know the feeling is wrong and faithless; for money is God's as certainly as the earth in which the crops grow, though he does not care so much about it."

"I know what I would do if I had money!" said Hester.

"You have given me the right to ask what--the right to ask--not the right to have an answer."

"I would have a house of refuge to which any one might run for covert or rest or warmth or food or medicine or whatever he needed. It should have no society or subscriptions or committee, but should be my own as my hands and my voice are mine--to use as God enabled me. I would have it like the porch--not of Bethesda, but of heaven itself. It should come into use by the growth of my friendships. It should be a refuge for the needy, from the artisan out of work to the child with a cut finger, or cold bitten feet. I would take in the weary-brained prophet, the worn curate, or the shadowy needle-woman. I would not take in drunkards or ruined speculators--not at least before they were very miserable indeed. The suffering of such is the only desirable consequence of their doing, and to save from it would be to take from them their last chance."

"It is a lovely idea," said Christopher. "One of my hopes is to build a small hospital for children in some lovely place, near some sad ugly one. But perhaps I cannot do it till I am old, for when I do, I must live among them and have them and their nurses within a moment's reach."

"Is it not delightful to know that you can start anything when you please?"

"Anybody with leisure can do that who is willing to begin where everything ought to be begun--that is, at the beginning. Nothing worth calling good can or ever will be started full grown. The essential of any good is life, and the very body of created life, and essential to it, being its self operant, is growth. The larger start you make, the less room you leave for life to extend itself. You fill with the dead matter of your construction the places where assimilation ought to have its perfect work, building by a life-process, self-extending, and subserving the whole. Small beginnings with slow growings have time to root themselves thoroughly--I do not mean in place nor yet in social regard, but in wisdom. Such even prosper by failures, for their failures are not too great to be rectified without injury to the original idea. God's beginnings are imperceptible, whether in the region of soul or of matter. Besides, I believe in no good done save in person--by personal operative presence of soul, body and spirit. God is the one only person, and it is our personality alone, so far as we have any, that can work with God's perfect personality. God can use us as tools, but to be a tool of, is not to be a fellow-worker with. How the devil would have laughed at the idea of a society for saving the world! But when he saw _one take it in hand, one who was in no haste even to do that, one who would only do the will of God with all his heart and soul, and cared for nothing else, then indeed he might tremble for his kingdom! It is the individual Christians forming the church by their obedient individuality, that have done all the good done since men for the love of Christ began to gather together. It is individual ardour alone that can combine into larger flame. There is no true power but that which has individual roots. Neither custom nor habit nor law nor foundation is a root. The real roots are individual conscience that hates evil, individual faith that loves and obeys God, individual heart with its kiss of charity."

"I think I understand you; I am sure I do in part, at least," said Hester.

They had, almost unconsciously, walked, twice round the square, and had now the third time reached the house. He went in with her and saw his patient, then took his leave to go home to his Greek Testament--for the remainder of the evening if he might. Except when some particular case required attention, he never went on-trying to teach with his soul weary. He would carry material aid or social comfort, but would not teach. His soul must be shining--with faith or hope or love or repentance or compassion, when he unveiled it. "No man," he would say, "will be lost because I do not this or that; but if I do the unfitting thing, I may block his way for him, and retard his redemption." He would not presume beyond what was given him--as if God were letting things go wrong, and he must come in to prevent them! He would not set blunted or ill tempered tools to the finest work of the universe!

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