storm-tossed soul had anchored was a little wiser and stronger - only a
little, for there was not a great difference between them, after all.
"I take in all that you say, sir; but you see I can't help feeling sure
that it's true that God is living with us as much and as true when we're
in the worst sort of sin, and the greater sin that it brings - for the
punishment of sin is more and more sin - and being sure, I know that
everything else that is true will come to fit in with it, though I may
not be able rightly to put it in now, and what won't come to fit in with
it can't be true."
The preacher perceived that the evil which he had set himself to slay
was giantlike in strength. He chose him smooth stones for his sling.
His heart was growing heavy with fear of failure, his spirit within him
still raised its face heavenward in unceasing prayer. He began to tell
the history of God's ways with man from the first. He spoke of Abraham.
He urged that the great strength had always come to men who had trusted
God's word against reason and against sight. And he saw then that for
the first time Toyner raised up his head and seemed stirred with a
The preacher paused, hoping to hear some encouraging word in
correspondence to the gesture, but none came.
Then he spoke of Moses and of Joshua, for he was following the tale of
God's rejection of sinful nations.
Toyner answered now. His eye was clearer, his hand steadier. "I have
read there's many that say that God could not have told His people to
slay whole nations, men, women, and children. I think it's the
shallowest thing that was ever said. I don't know about His _telling
people_ to do it - that may be a poem; but that He gave it to them to do,
that He gives it to winds and floods and fires and plagues to do, time
and time and again, is as certain as that if there's a God He must have
things His way or He isn't God. But I don't believe that in this world,
or in the next, He ever left man, woman, or child, but lived with each
one all through the sin and the destruction. And, sir, I take it that
men couldn't see that until at last there came One who looked into God's
heart and saw the truth, and He wanted to tell it, but there were no
words, so though He had power in Him to be King over the whole earth, He
chose instead to be the companion of sinners, and to go down into all
the depths of pain and shame and death and hell. And He said His Father
had been doing it always, and He did it to show forth the Father. That
is what it means. I am sure that is what it means."
The preacher was surprised to see the transformation that was going on
in the man before him. That wonderful law which gives to some centre of
energy in the brain the control of bodily strength, if but the right
relationship between mind and body can be established, was again
working, although in a lesser degree than formerly, to restore this man
before his eyes. Bart, who had appeared shrunken, trembling, and
watery-eyed, was pulling himself together with some strength that he had
got from somewhere, and was standing up again ready to play a man's
part. The preacher did not understand why. There seemed to him to have
been nothing but failure in the interview. He made one more effort; he
put the last stone in his sling. Toyner had just spoken of the
sacrifice of Calvary, and to the preacher it seemed that he set it at
naught, because he was claiming salvation for those who mocked as well
as for those who believe.
"Think of it," he said; "you make wrong but an inferior kind of right.
You take away the reason for the one great Sacrifice, and in this you
are slighting Him who suffered for you."
Then he made, with all the force and eloquence he could, the personal
appeal of the Christ whom he felt to be slighted.
"You have spoken of the sufferings of lost and wretched men," he went
on; "think of His sufferings! You have spoken of your loneliness; think
of His loneliness!"
Then suddenly Bart Toyner made a gesture as a slave might who casts off
the chains of bondage. The appeal to which he was listening was not for
him, but for some man whom the preacher's imagination had drawn in his
place, who did not appropriate the great Sacrifice and seek to live in
its power. He did not now seek to explain again that the death of Christ
was to him as an altar, the point in human thought where always the fire
of the divine life descends upon the soul self-offered in like
sacrifice. He had tried to explain this; now he tried no more, but he
held out his hands with a sign of joy and recovered strength.
"You came to help me; you have prayed for me; you have helped me; you
have been given something to say. Listen: you have told me of Abraham;
he was called to go out alone, quite alone. Now you have spoken to me of
Another who was alone." Toyner was incoherent. "That was why _He_ bore
it, that we might know that it was possible to have faith all alone
because He had it. It is easy to believe in God holding us up when
others do, but awfully hard all alone. He knew that, He warned them to
keep together; but all the same He lived out His prayers alone."
Toyner looked at the preacher, love and reverence in his eyes. "You
saved me once," he said; "you have saved me again."
But the preacher went home very sorrowful, for he did not believe that
Bart Toyner was saved.
The spiritual strength that proceeds from every holy man had again
flowed in life-giving stream from the preacher to Bart Toyner. The help
was adequate. Toyner never became intoxicated again.
His father died; and for two years or more the mother, who had lived
frugally all her life, still lived frugally, although land and money had
been left to her. The mother would not trust her son, and yet gradually
she began to realise that it was he who was quietly heaping into her lap
all those joys of which she had been so long deprived. At length she
died, the happy mother of a son who had won the respect of other men.
It was after that that Toyner wedded Ann Markham. Then, when he had the
power to live a more individual life of enjoyment and effort, it began
to be known little by little that these two had committed that sin
against society so hard to forgive, the sin of having their own creed
and their own thoughts and their own ways.
Toyner was not a preacher. It was not in him to try to change the ideas
of those who were doing well with what ideas they had. All that he
desired was to live so that it might be known that his God was the God
of the whole wide round of human activity, a God who blessed the just
and the unjust. Toyner desired to be constantly blessing both the bad
and the good with the blessing of love and home which had been given to
him. It was inevitable that to carry out such an idea a man must live
through many mistakes and much failure. The ideal itself was an offence
to society. We have all heard of such offences and how they have been
One great factor in the refining of Ann's life was her lover's long
neglect; for he, in the simple belief that she must know his heart and
purpose and that she would not be much benefited by his companionship,
left her for those years that passed before he married her wholly
ignorant of his constancy. Ann was constant. Had he explained himself
she would have been content and taken him more or less at his own
valuation, as we all take those who talk about themselves. Having no
such explanation to listen to, she watched and pondered all that he did.
Before the day came in which he made his shy and hesitating offer of
marriage, she had grown to be one with him in hope and desire. Together
they made their mistakes and lived down their failure. They had other
troubles too, for the babies lived and died one by one.
There is seen to be a marvellous alchemy in true piety. Mind and sense
subject to its process become refined. Where refinement is not the
result, we may believe that there is a false note in the devotion, that
there is self-seeking in the effort toward God. Toyner's wealth grew
with the spread of the town over the land he owned. He had the good
taste to spend well the money he devoted to pleasure; yet it was not
books or pictures or music, acquired late in life, that gave to him and
to his wife the power to grow in harmony with their surroundings. It was
the high life of prayer and effort that they lived that made it possible
for God - the God of art as truly as the God of prayer - to teach them.
It is not at the best a cultured place, this backwoods town. There was
many a slip in grammar, many a broad uncouth accent, heard daily in
Ann's drawing-room; but what mental life the town had came to centre in
that room. Gradually reflecting neighbours began to learn that there was
a beneficent force other than intellectual at work there.
Young men who needed interest and pleasure, the poor who needed warmth
and food, came together to that room, and met there the drunkard in his
sober intervals, the gamester when he cared to play for mere pastime;
yes, and others, the more evil, were made welcome there. It was not
forgotten that Toyner had been a wicked man and that Ann's father had
been a murderer.
It was a strange effort this, to increase virtue in the virtuous, not by
separation from, but by friendship with, the unrepentant. To Toyner sin
was an abhorred thing. It consisted always, yet only, in failure to
tread in the foot-prints of God, as far as it was given to each man to
see God's way - in obedience to the lower motive in any moment of the
perpetual choice of life. For himself, his life was impassioned with the
belief that it was wicked to live as if God was not the God of the whole
of what we may know.
I, who have seen it, tell you that the atmosphere of that house was
always sweet. There were many young girls who came to it often, and
laughed and danced with men who were not righteous, and the girls lived
more holy lives than before. I would say this: - do not let any one
imitate the method of life which Toyner and his wife practised unless by
prayer he can obtain the power of the unseen holiness to work upon the
flux of circumstance; yet do not let those fear to imitate it who have
learned the secret of prayer. It was a strenuous life of prayer and
self-denial that these two lived until their race in this phase of
things was run.
* * * * *
_It is with this abrupt note of personal observation and reflection that
the schoolmaster's manuscript ends. He had evidently become one of
Toyner's disciples. It is well that we should know what our brothers
think, feel with their hearts for an hour, if it may not be for longer._
* * * * *
Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ltd., London and Aylesbury