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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 28



August 3.

The summer is sliding quietly away,—my desolate summer which I dreaded; with the dreams gone from its wild flowers, the crown from its sunsets, the thrill from its winds and its singing. But I have found out a thing. One can live without dreams and crowns and thrills. I have not lost them. They lie under the ivied cross with Roy for a little while. They will come back to me with him. "Nothing is lost," she teaches me. And until they come back, I see—for she shows me—fields groaning under their white harvest, with labourers very few. Ruth followed the sturdy reapers, gleaning a little. I, perhaps, can do as much. The ways in which I must work seem so small and insignificant, so pitifully trivial sometimes, that I do not even like to write them down here. In fact, they are so small that, six months ago, I did not see them at all. Only to be pleasant to old PhŒbe, and charitable to Meta Tripp, and faithful to my not very interesting little scholars, and a bit watchful of worn-out Mrs. Bland, and——But dear me, I won't! They are so little! But one's self becomes of less importance, which seems to be the point.

It seems very strange to me sometimes, looking back to those desperate winter days, what a change has come over my thoughts of Roy. Not that he is any less—O, never any less to me. But it is almost as if she had raised him from the grave. Why seek ye the living among the dead? Her soft, compassionate eyes shine with the question every hour. And every hour he is helping me,—ah, Roy, we understand one another now. How he must love Aunt Winifred! How pleasant the days will be when we can talk her over, and thank her together!

"To be happy because Roy is happy." I remember how those first words of hers struck me. It does not seem to me impossible, now.

Aunt Winifred and I laugh at each other for talking so much about heaven. I see that the green book is filled with my questions and her answers. The fact is, not that we do not talk as much about mundane affairs as other people, but that this one thing interests us more. If, instead, it had been flounces, or babies, or German philo- page 77 sophy, the green book would have filled itself just as unconsciously with flounces, or babies, or German philosophy. This interest in heaven is of course no sign of especial piety in me, nor could people with young, warm, uncrushed hopes throbbing through their days be expected to feel the same. It is only the old principle of, where the treasure is—the heart.

"How spiritual-minded Mary has grown!" Mrs. Bland observes, regarding me respectfully. I try in vain to laugh her out of the conviction. If Roy had not gone before, I should think no more, probably, about the coming life, than does the minister's wife herself. But now—I cannot help it—that is the reality, this the dream; that the substance, this the shadow.

The other day Aunt Winifred and I had a talk which has been of more value to me than all the rest. Faith was in bed; it was a cold, rainy evening; we were secure from callers; we lighted a few kindlers in the parlour grate; she rolled up the easy-chair, and I took my cricket at her feet.

"Paul at the feet of Gamaliel! This is what I call comfort. Now, Auntie, let us go to heaven awhile."

"Very well. What do you want there now?"

I paused a moment, sobered by a thought that has been growing steadily upon me of late. "Something more, Aunt Winifred. All these other things are beautiful and dear; but I believe I want—God. You have not said much about Him. The Bible says a great deal about Him. You have given me the filling-up of heaven in all its pleasant promise, but—I don't know—there seems to be an outline wanting."

She drew my hand up into hers, smiling. "I have not done my painting by artistic methods, I know; but it was not exactly accidental. Tell me, honestly,—is God more to you or less, a more distinct Being or a more vague one, than He was six months ago? Is He, or is He not, dearer to you now than then?"

I thought about it a minute, and then turned my face up to her.

"Mary, what a light in your eyes! How is it?"

It came over me slowly, but it came with such a passion of gratitude and unworthiness, that I scarcely knew how to tell her—that He never has been to me, in all my life, what He is now at the end of these six months. He was once an abstract Grandeur which I struggled more in fear than love to please. He has become a living Presence, dear and real.

'No dead fact stranded on the shore
Of the oblivious years;
But warm, sweet, tender, even yet
A present help."

He was an inexorable Mystery who took Roy from me to lose him in the glare of a more inexorable heaven. He is a Father who knew better than we that we should be parted for a while; but He only means it to be a little while. He is keeping him for me to find in the flush of seme summer morning, on which I shall open my eyes no page 78 less naturally than I open them on June sunrises now. I always have that fancy of going in the morning.

She understood what I could not tell her, and said, "I thought it would be so."

"You, His interpreter, have done it," I answered her. "His heaven shows what He is,—don't you see?—like a friend's letter. I could no more go back to my old groping relations to Him, than I could make of you the dim and somewhat apocryphal Western Auntie that you were before I saw you."

"Which was precisely why I have dealt with this subject as I have," she said. "You had all your life been directed to an indefinite heaven, where the glory of God was to crowd out all individuality and all human joy from His most individual and human creatures, till the 'Glory of God' had become nothing but a name and a dread to you. So I let those three words slide by, and tried to bring you to them, as Christ brought the Twelve to believe in him, 'for the works' sake.' Yes, my child; clinging human loves, stifled longings, cries for rest, forgotten hopes, shall have their answer. Whatever the bewilderment of beauties folded away for us in heavenly nature and art, they shall strive with each other to make us glad. These things have their pleasant place. But, through eternity, there will be always something beyond and dearer than the dearest of them. God himself will be first,—naturally and of necessity, without strain or struggle,—first."

When I sat here last winter with my dead in my house, those words would have roused in me an agony of wild questionings. I should have beaten about them and beaten against them, and cried in my honest heart that they were false. I knew that I loved Roy more than I loved such a Being as God seemed to me then to be. Now, they strike me as simply and pleasantly true. The more I love Roy, the more I love Him. He loves us both.

"You see it could not be otherwise," she went on, speaking low. "Where would you be or I, or they who seem to us so much dearer and better than ourselves, if it were not for Jesus Christ? What can heaven be to us, but a song of the love that is the same to us yesterday, to-day, and forever,—that, in the mystery of an intensity which we shall perhaps never understand, could choose death and be glad in the choosing, and, what is more than that, could live life for us, for three-and-thirty years? I cannot strain my faith—or rather my common sense—to the rapsodies with which many people fill heaven. But it seems to me like this,—A friend goes away from us, and it may be seas or worlds that he between us, and we love him. He leaves behind him his little keepsakes; a lock of hair to curl about our fingers; a picture that has caught the trick of his eyes or smile; a book, a flower, a letter. What we do with the curling hair, what we say to the picture, what we dream over the flower and the letter, nobody knows but ourselves. People have risked life for such mementoes. Yet who loves the senseless gift more than the giver,—the curl more than the young forehead on which it fell,—the letter page 79 more than the hand which traced it? So it seems to me that we shall learn to see in God the centre of all possibilities of joy. The greatest of these lesser delights is but the greater measure of His friendship. They will not mean less of pleasure, but more of Him. They will not 'pale,' as Dr. Bland would say. Human dearness will wax, not wane, in heaven; but human friends will be loved for love of Him."

"I see; that helps me, like a torch in a dark room. But there will be shadows in the corners. Do you suppose that we shall ever fully feel it in the body?"

"In the body, probably not. We see through a glass so darkly that the temptation to idolatry is always our greatest. Golden images did not die with Paganism. At times I fancy that, somewhere between this world and another, a revelation will come upon us like a flash, of what sin really is,—such a revelation, lighting up the lurid background of our past in such colours, that the consciousness of what Christ has done for us will be for a time as much as heart can bear. After that, the mystery will be, not how to love Him most, but that we ever could have loved any creature or thing as much."

"We serve God quite as much by active work as by special prayer here," I said after some thought; "how will it be there?"

"We must be busily at work certainly; but I think there must naturally be more communion with Him then. Now, this phrase 'communion with God' has been worn, and not always well worn. Prayer means to us, in this life, more often penitent confession than happy interchange of thought with Him. It is associated, too, with aching limbs and sleepy eyes, and nights when the lamp goes out. Obstacles, moral and physical, stand in the way of our knowing exactly what it may mean in the ideal of it. My best conception of it lies in the friendship of the man Christ Jesus. I suppose he will bear with him, eternally, the humanity which he took up with him from the Judean hills. I imagine that we shall see him in visible form like ourselves, among us, yet not of us; that he, himself, is 'Gott mit ihnen;' that we shall talk with him as a man talketh with his friend. Perhaps, bowed and hushed at his dear feet, we shall hear from his own lips the story of Nazareth, of Bethany, of Golgotha, of the chilly mountains where he used to pray all night long for us; of the desert places where he hungered; of his cry for help—think, Mary—His!—when there was not one in all the world to hear it, and there was silence in heaven, while angels strengthened him and man forsook him. Perhaps his voice—the very voice which has sounded whispering through our troubled life—'Could ye not watch one hour?'—shall unfold its perplexed meanings; shall make its rough places plain; shall show us step by step the merciful way by which he led us to that hour; shall point out to us, joy by joy, the surprises that he has been planning for us, just as the old father in the story planned to surprise his wayward boy come home. And such a 'communion,'—which is not too much, nor yet enough, to dare page 80 to expect of a God who was the 'friend' of Abraham, who 'walked with Enoch, who did not call fishermen his servants,—such will be that 'presence of God,' that 'adoration,' on which we have looked from afar off with despairing eyes that wept, they were so dazzled, and turned themselves away as from the thing they greatly feared."

I think we neither of us cared to talk for a while after this. Something made me forget even that I was going to see Roy in heaven "Three-and-thirty years. Three-and-thirty years." The words rang themselves over.

"It is on the humanity of Christ," she said after some musing, "that all my other reasons for hoping for such a heaven as I hope for, rest for foundation. He knows exactly what we are, for he has been one of us; exactly what we hope and fear and crave, for he has hoped and feared and craved, not the less humanly, but only more intensely.

"'If it were not so,'—do you take in the thoughtful tenderness of that? A mother, stilling her frightened child in the dark, might speak just so,—'If it were not so, I would have told you.' That brooding love makes room for all that we can want. He has sounded every deep of a troubled and tempted life. Who so sure as he to understand how to prepare a place where troubled and tempted lives may grow serene? Further than this; since he stands as our great Type, no less in death and after than before it, he answers for us many of these lesser questions on the event of which so much of our happiness depends.

"Shall we lose our personality in a vague ocean of ether,—you one puff of gas, I another?—He, with his own wounded body, rose and ate, and walked and talked. Is all memory of this life to be swept away?—He, arisen, has forgotten nothing. He waits to meet his disciples at the old, familiar places; as naturally as if he had never been parted from them, he falls in with the current of their thoughts. Has any one troubled us with fears that in the glorified crowds of heaven we may miss a face dearer than all the world to us?—He made himself known to his friends; Mary, and the two at Emmaus, and the bewildered group praying and perplexed in their bolted room Do we weary ourselves with speculations whether human loves can outlive the shock of death?—Mary knew how He loved her, when, turning, she heard him call her by her name. They knew, whose hearts' burned within them while he talked with them by the way, and when he tarried with them, the day being far spent.'"

"And for the rest?"

"For the rest, about which He was silent, we can trust him, and if, trusting, we please ourselves with fancies, he would be the last to think it blame to us. There is one promise which grows upon me the more I study it, 'He that spared not his own Son, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things?' Sometimes I wonder if that does not infold a beautiful double entendre, a hint of much that you and I have conjectured,—as one throws down a hint of a surprise to a child. Then there is that pledge to those who seek first His king- page 81 dom: 'All these things shall he added unto you.' 'These things,' were food and clothing, were varieties of material delight, and the words were spoken to men who lived hungry, beggared, and died the death of outcasts. If this passage could be taken literally, it would be very significant in its bearing on the future life; for Christ must keep his promise to the letter, in one world or another. It may be wrenching the verse, not as a verse, but from the grain of the argument, to insist on the literal interpretation,—though I am not sure."