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- From Jest to Earnest - 40/79 -
unworthily that we could not listen to his most unworthy sermon."
She led him out of his strong self-condemnation into equal perplexity, by saying, "Unlike most of the world, you are so much better than your creed as to be utterly inconsistent."
He came and sat down near her, with such an appealing, helpless look that she laughed outright.
"Please don't laugh at me," he said, with the glimmer of a smile, "because this to me is a more serious matter than you or any one can understand."
"I don't laugh unfeelingly, I assure you," she said earnestly. "I never was more sincere in my life than I was this afternoon, but I am one of those ridiculous mortals who cannot take things coolly, and, as I said at dinner, there are times when I must either laugh or cry. I never passed a more miserable day in my life than yesterday. You, terrible magician, whom I have scarcely known for a week, have awakened in my heart a giant; and yesterday and to-day he has been shaking my soul with his mutterings and threatenings. I could always manage my conscience before, and snub it into quietness when it became unruly. But, as I said, from a whining child it has suddenly grown into a threatening giant, more harsh even than you the other evening. I went to church this morning, hoping to find some comfort, some remedy; but, bad as is the disease, the remedy seems far worse. I came downstairs this afternoon in no amiable mood with you or your theology, but was disarmed by seeing you in as bad a plight as myself. I fear your medicine will kill both doctor and patient. During the past week you have been a strong, genial man, with a human, genuine enjoyment of our every-day life. If you were a little blue and puritanical, it was in a common-sense way that I could understand, and your criticism of myself I think in the main was just. Anyway, you made me wish I was a better girl, and I was thinking how to begin; then came this awful Sunday, and your awful sermon, which made me both fear and hate God, and want to keep away from Him as far and as long as I can."
"Your words perplex and sadden me beyond measure," said Hemstead. "You belong to the very class that I had hoped to benefit,--those who admit that they are without faith, but who are not so averse to the truth but that they may be won by it. And yet you say that the whole force of my sermon is to make you wish that you could be an infidel. I cannot understand it. If I have mistaken my calling I could not make you or any one comprehend the depth of my sorrow, or the bitterness of my disappointment In the calling of the ministry it has ever seemed to me that I could work a century with enthusiasm. But in any other work I should be but a drudge, for my heart would not be in it You know how young men often feel about these things. One has a natural bent for the law, another for medicine, and another for business or science. I had fondly hoped that I was a predestined minister, and this hope has strengthened with years and become inwrought with every fibre of my soul. I was willing to commence in a very humble way, and anywhere that God would set me to work; but if the effect of my preaching is to drive people away from Him, the sooner I give it all up the better."
"How different our tastes and plans for life are!" said Lottie, musingly. "It appears strange that you should have set your heart so strongly on what is so dismal to me. And yet such is the evident depth of your regret that I do feel for you very much."
Hemstead rose and took a few abrupt turns up and down the room. Lottie watched him with increasing interest. He had shown her his weakness, and she perceived that he would also show his strength. After a moment he leaned on the mantel before her, and said in quiet, decisive tones:
"Miss Marsden, I have given you the right to speak to me very plainly. I honestly wish light on this subject, and intend to settle this question at the earliest moment possible. God knows I do not wish to thrust myself unbidden into the sacred office. If I am not worthy of the calling, then the sooner I find it out the better, and so try to content myself with some humbler work. Not only from what you have said, but from the remarks and aspect of others, I am satisfied that my effort this morning was worse than a failure. You have a mind of unusual vigor, and a good faculty in expressing your thought. Won't you give me a keen, truthful analysis of the whole service? It is to the world I am to preach; and I wish to know just how what I say strikes the world. I know that Christian doctrines have ever been unpalatable, but if there is something in my presentation of them that is going to make them tenfold more so, then I will be dumb. I would rather hide in a desert than drive one soul from God, as you intimated. You were brave enough to let me speak to you almost harshly, I fear; now see if I have not equal courage. Say the very worst things that you believe true, and you may help me very much towards coming to the most important decision of my life."
"O dear!" said Lottie. "I'm not fit to counsel a downy chicken. I wish you didn't take this matter so to heart You look as if I might be your executioner."
"You can be my faithful surgeon and do some wholesome cutting."
"Well," said Lottie, dismally. "I'd rather give you ether or laughing-gas first."
"That is more kind than wise," he replied, smiling; "in moral and mental surgery the patient should have all his faculties."
"There!" she exclaimed with animation, "we are illustrating by contrast my chief complaint against your preaching. When you told me my faults you did so gently, and appeared pained in giving me pain; and now I am honestly sorry to say words that I know will hurt you. And I know my words will hurt and discourage you; for if the trouble were in you it might be remedied, but it is in what you teach, and of course you teach what you believe, and won't say smooth things, as I fear other ministers do sometimes. You represented God calm and unchangeable as fate, as unrelenting and unimpassioned. In this spirit you portrayed Him taking up one life after another and putting it into the furnace of affliction, to see what He can make of it. You illustrated His manner of doing this by the sculptor with his cold, unfeeling marble, by the refiner with crude ore, and by the surgeon, and you forgot to say that the last stupefies his patients before cutting. You gave me the impression that as soon as God set about making us better we should find ourselves in trouble, and that, like certain school-masters of the old regime, He had faith in nothing save the rod. You know the natural feeling of children towards such pedagogues. How can we help feeling hi the same way towards God? Then you presented God as full of inflexible purposes, but the oftener you told us that we could not help ourselves, and that there was no use in resisting, the move I felt like resisting. The idea of cutting and carving character out of quivering human hearts as if they were marble! The idea of putting one, like a lump of ore, into a crucible, and then coolly sitting by to see what becomes of it! I'm not a lump of ore, and if I need harsh treatment I want it done sympathetically, feelingly, or I shall become a Tartar instead of a saint. The tears in your eyes the other night, Mr. Hemstead, did me more good than all your wise words."
Hemstead looked as if a light were dawning upon him.
"You spoke of this life," continued Lottie, "as if it were nothing, and as if God didn't care--indeed approved of our having a hard time here, that we might be more sure of a good time hereafter. You spoke of God as jealously watching, lest we should love earthly friends more than Him, and said that He was bound to be first, if He had to snatch away everything that we loved most. Therefore, even the mother must keep chilling her natural love for her child, or else God will make the innocent little thing suffer and die, just to give the mother a lesson. You said that we should hold all earthly possessions in fear and trembling, and that the harsher our experiences were, here, the better, if they only wean us from earth. If this is true, we had better have no possessions and form no ties. The monks and nuns are right. Let us shut ourselves up, and wear hair-cloth instead of merino, and catch our death of cold by moping around bare-foot at all unseasonable hours. All you said may be good religion, but it's mighty poor sense, and very unnatural."
Hemstead shaded his burning face with his hands.
"There, I knew I should hurt you. No doubt I seem very irreverent, but you have no idea how I am restraining myself for your sake. I'm just that provoked and indignant--Well, well, what's the use? As you said, we can't help ourselves, and into the fiery furnace Lottie Marsden will go before long; only there will be nothing left of me but a little cinder. Why couldn't the Being you call all-wise and all-powerful, devise some nicer way, one more in accordance with the nature He has given us? Suppose heaven is a grander place than this world, that is no good reason for hating the world. This earth is our present home, and it looks sensible that we should make the most of it, and enjoy ourselves in it. Suppose my father should say, 'Lottie, I want you to hate and despise your present home, because in five years I'm going to give you a palace; and if you can only fall downstairs once or twice, and have a fit of illness so as to get weaned from it, I shall be glad.'
"How strangely and monstrously unnatural all that kind of talk is when you come to put it into plain English!" proceeded Lottie after a moment, tapping the floor impatiently with her foot. "If you must preach such doctrines as you did this morning, I am sorry for you; and, if they are true, I am sorry for the world, myself included. The trouble is not in you. I am sure you can make almost an orator in time, if you can get a theme that won't give men the shivers, and set their teeth on edge. I never understood religion and never liked it; and now that I do begin to understand it, I like it less than ever."
Hemstead sat down in his chair,--indeed he sank into it, and the face he turned toward her was white and full of pain.
"Miss Marsden," he said slowly, "I fear I have given you, and all who heard me, a very false impression of God and Christianity; and yet I thought I was speaking the truth."
"O, I knew you were honest. There isn't a dishonest fibre in your nature; but I wish you were all wrong. O, how delighted I should be if you were a heretic without knowing it, and we could find out a religion that wouldn't make one's blood run cold to think of it!"
"But my religion does me good, Miss Marsden. It cheers, sustains, and strengthens me."
"Now you see how inconsistent you are. You preach one thing, and feel and act another."
"I begin to see how I was misled in my sermon, and why what I said was so repugnant to you; and yet my mind is confused. It still
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