George MacDonald.

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In the evening we met in Connie's room, as usual, to have our talk. And
this is what came out of it.

The window was open. The sun was in the west. We sat a little aside out
of the course of his radiance, and let him look full into the room.
Only Wynnie sat back in a dark corner, as if she would get out of his
way. Below him the sea lay bluer than you could believe even when you
saw it - blue with a delicate yet deep silky blue, the exquisiteness of
which was thrown up by the brilliant white lines of its lapping on the
high coast, to the northward. We had just sat down, when Dora broke out
with -

"I saw Niceboots at church. He did stare at you, papa, as if he had
never heard a sermon before."

"I daresay he never heard such a sermon before!" said Connie, with the
perfect confidence of inexperience and partiality - not to say
ignorance, seeing she had not heard the sermon herself.

Here Wynnie spoke from her dark corner, apparently forcing herself to
speak, and thereby giving what seemed an unpleasant tone to what she

"Well, papa, I don't know what to think. You are always telling us to
trust in Him; but how can we, if we are not good?"

"The first good thing you can do is to look up to him. That is the
beginning of trust in him, and the most sensible thing that it is
possible for us to do. That is faith."

"But it's no use sometimes."

"How do you know that?"

"Because you - I mean I - can't feel good, or care about it at all."

"But is that any ground for saying that it is no use - that he does not
heed you? that he disregards the look cast up to him? that, till the
heart goes with the will, he who made himself strong to be the helper
of the weak, who pities most those who are most destitute - and who so
destitute as those who do not love what they want to love - except,
indeed, those who don't want to love? - that, till you are well on
towards all right by earnestly seeking it, he won't help you? You are
to judge him from yourself, are you? - forgetting that all the misery in
you is just because you have not got his grand presence with you?"

I spoke so earnestly as to be somewhat incoherent in words. But my
reader will understand. Wynnie was silent. Connie, as if partly to help
her sister, followed on the same side.

"I don't know exactly how to say what I mean, papa, but I wish I could
get this lovely afternoon, all full of sunshine and blue, into unity
with all that you teach us about Jesus Christ. I wish this beautiful
day came in with my thought of him, like the frame - gold and red and
blue - that you have to that picture of him at home. Why doesn't it?"

"Just because you have not enough of faith in him, my dear. You do not
know him well enough yet. You do not yet believe that he means you all
gladness, heartily, honestly, thoroughly."

"And no suffering, papa?"

"I did not say that, my dear. There you are on your couch and can't
move. But he does mean you such gladness, such a full sunny air and
blue sea of blessedness that this suffering shall count for little in
it; nay more, shall be taken in for part, and, like the rocks that
interfere with the roll of the sea, flash out the white that glorifies
and intensifies the whole - to pass away by and by, I trust, none the
less. What a chance you have, my Connie, of believing in him, of
offering upon his altar!"

"But," said my wife, "are not these feelings in a great measure
dependent upon the state of one's health? I find it so different when
the sunshine is inside me as well as outside me."

"Not a doubt of it, my dear. But that is only the more reason for
rising above all that. From the way some people speak of physical
difficulties - I don't mean you, wife - you would think that they were
not merely the inevitable which they are, but the insurmountable which
they are not. That they are physical and not spiritual is not only a
great consolation, but a strong argument for overcoming them. For all
that is physical is put, or is in the process of being put, under the
feet of the spiritual. Do not mistake me. I do not say you can make
yourself feel merry or happy when you are in a physical condition which
is contrary to such mental condition. But you can withdraw from it - not
all at once; but by practice and effort you can learn to withdraw from
it, refusing to allow your judgments and actions to be ruled by it. You
can climb up out of the fogs, and sit quiet in the sunlight on the
hillside of faith. You cannot be merry down below in the fog, for there
is the fog; but you can every now and then fly with the dove-wings of
the soul up into the clear, to remind yourself that all this passes
away, is but an accident, and that the sun shines always, although it
may not at any given moment be shining on you. 'What does that matter?'
you will learn to say. 'It is enough for me to know that the sun does
shine, and that this is only a weary fog that is round about me for the
moment. I shall come out into the light beyond presently.' This is
faith - faith in God, who is the light, and is all in all. I believe
that the most glorious instances of calmness in suffering are thus
achieved; that the sufferers really do not suffer what one of us would
if thrown into their physical condition without the refuge of their
spiritual condition as well; for they have taken refuge in the inner
chamber. Out of the spring of their life a power goes forth that
quenches the flames of the furnace of their suffering, so far at least
that it does not touch the deep life, cannot make them miserable, does
not drive them from the possession of their soul in patience, which is
the divine citadel of the suffering. Do you understand me, Connie?"

"I do, papa. I think perfectly."

"Still less, then, is the fact that the difficulty is physical to be
used as an excuse for giving way to ill-temper, and, in fact, leaving
ourselves to be tossed and shaken by every tremble of our nerves. That
is as if a man should give himself into the hands and will and caprice
of an organ-grinder, to work upon him, not with the music of the
spheres, but with the wretched growling of the streets."

"But," said Wynnie, "I have heard you yourself, papa, make excuse for
people's ill-temper on this very ground, that they were out of health.
Indeed," she went on, half-crying, "I have heard you do so for myself,
when you did not know that I was within hearing."

"Yes, my dear, most assuredly. It is no fiction, but a real difference
that lies between excusing ourselves and excusing other people. No
doubt the same excuse is just for ourselves that is just for other
people. But we can do something to put ourselves right upon a higher
principle, and therefore we should not waste our time in excusing, or
even in condemning ourselves, but make haste up the hill. Where we
cannot work - that is, in the life of another - we have time to make all
the excuse we can. Nay more; it is only justice there. We are not bound
to insist on our own rights, even of excuse; the wisest thing often is
to forego them. But we are bound by heaven, earth, and hell to give
them to other people. And, besides, what a comfort to ourselves to be
able to say, 'It is true So-and-so was cross to-day. But it wasn't in
the least that he wasn't friendly, or didn't like me; it was only that
he had eaten something that hadn't agreed with him. I could see it in
his eye. He had one of his headaches.' Thus, you see, justice to our
neighbour, and comfort to ourselves, is one and the same thing. But it
would be a sad thing to have to think that when we found ourselves in
the same ungracious condition, from whatever cause, we had only to
submit to it, saying, 'It is a law of nature,' as even those who talk
most about laws will not do, when those laws come between them and
their own comfort. They are ready enough then to call in the aid of
higher laws, which, so far from being contradictory, overrule the lower
to get things into something like habitable, endurable condition. It
may be a law of nature; but what has the Law of the Spirit of Life to
_propound anent_ it? as the Scotch lawyers would say."

A little pause followed, during which I hope some of us were thinking.
That Wynnie, at least, was, her next question made evident.

"What you say about a law of nature and a law of the Spirit makes me
think again how that walking on the water has always been a puzzle to

"It could hardly be other, seeing that we cannot possibly understand
it," I answered.

"But I find it so hard to believe. Can't you say something, papa, to
help me to believe it?"

"I think if you admit what goes before, you will find there is nothing
against reason in the story."

"Tell me, please, what you mean."

"If all things were made by Jesus, the Word of God, would it be
reasonable that the water that he had created should be able to drown

"It might drown his body."

"It would if he had not the power over it still, to prevent it from
laying hold of him. But just think for a moment. God is a Spirit.
Spirit is greater than matter. Spirit makes matter. Think what it was
for a human body to have such a divine creative power dwelling in it as
that which dwelt in the human form of Jesus! What power, and influence,
and utter rule that spirit must have over the body in which it dwells!
We cannot imagine how much; but if we have so much power over our
bodies, how much more must the pure, divine Jesus, have had over his! I
suspect this miracle was wrought, not through anything done to the
water, but through the power of the spirit over the body of Jesus,
which was all obedient thereto. I am not explaining the miracle, for
that I cannot do. One day I think it will be plain common sense to us.
But now I am only showing you what seems to me to bring us a step
nearer to the essential region of the miracle, and so far make it
easier to believe. If we look at the history of our Lord, we shall find
that, true real human body as his was, it was yet used by his spirit
after a fashion in which we cannot yet use our bodies. And this is only
reasonable. Let me give you an instance. You remember how, on the Mount
of Transfiguration, that body shone so that the light of it illuminated
all his garments. You do not surely suppose that this shine was
external - physical light, as we say, _merely?_ No doubt it was physical
light, for how else would their eyes have seen it? But where did it
come from? What was its source? I think it was a natural outburst of
glory from the mind of Jesus, filled with the perfect life of communion
with his Father - the light of his divine blessedness taking form in
physical radiance that permeated and glorified all that surrounded him.
As the body is the expression of the soul, as the face of Jesus himself
was the expression of the being, the thought, the love of Jesus in like
manner this radiance was the natural expression of his gladness, even
in the face of that of which they had been talking - Moses, Elias, and
he - namely, the decease that he should accomplish at Jerusalem. Again,
after his resurrection, he convinced the hands, as well as eyes, of
doubting Thomas, that he was indeed there in the body; and yet that
body could appear and disappear as the Lord willed. All this is full of
marvel, I grant you; but probably far more intelligible to us in a
further state of existence than some of the most simple facts with
regard to our own bodies are to us now, only that we are so used to
them that we never think how unintelligible they really are."

"But then about Peter, papa? What you have been saying will not apply
to Peter's body, you know."

"I confess there is more difficulty there. But if you can suppose that
such power were indwelling in Jesus, you cannot limit the sphere of its
action. As he is the head of the body, his church, in all spiritual
things, so I firmly believe, however little we can understand about it,
is he in all natural things as well. Peter's faith in him brought even
Peter's body within the sphere of the outgoing power of the Master. Do
you suppose that because Peter ceased to be brave and trusting,
therefore Jesus withdrew from him some sustaining power, and allowed
him to sink? I do not believe it. I believe Peter's sinking followed
naturally upon his loss of confidence. Thus he fell away from the life
of the Master; was no longer, in that way I mean, connected with the
Head, was instantly under the dominion of the natural law of
gravitation, as we call it, and began to sink. Therefore the Lord must
take other means to save him. He must draw nigh to him in a bodily
manner. The pride of Peter had withdrawn him from the immediate
spiritual influence of Christ, conquering his matter; and therefore the
Lord must come over the stormy space between, come nearer to him in the
body, and from his own height of safety above the sphere of the natural
law, stretch out to him the arm of physical aid, lift him up, lead him
to the boat. The whole salvation of the human race is figured in this
story. It is all Christ, my love. - Does this help you to believe at

"I think it does, papa. But it wants thinking over a good deal. I
always find as I think, that lighter bits shine out here and there in a
thing I have no hope of understanding altogether. That always helps me
to believe that the rest might be understood too, if I were only clever

"Simple enough, not clever enough, my dear."

"But there's one thing," said my wife, "that is more interesting to me
than what you have been talking about. It is the other instances in the
life of St. Peter in which you said he failed in a similar manner from
pride or self-satisfaction."

"One, at least, seems to me very clear. You have often remarked to me,
Ethel, how little praise servants can stand; how almost invariably
after you have commended the diligence or skill of any of your
household, as you felt bound to do, one of the first visible results
was either a falling away in the performance by which she had gained
the praise, or a more or less violent access, according to the nature
of the individual, of self-conceit, soon breaking out in bad temper or
impertinence. Now you will see precisely the same kind of thing in

Here I opened my New Testament, and read fragmentarily, "'But whom say
ye that I am?... Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God....
Blessed art thou, Simon.... My Father hath revealed that unto thee. I
will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.... I must suffer
many things, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.... Be it
far from thee, Lord. This shall not be unto thee.... Get thee behind
me, Satan. Thou art an offence unto me.' Just contemplate the change
here in the words of our Lord. 'Blessed art thou.' 'Thou art an offence
unto me.' Think what change has passed on Peter's mood before the
second of these words could be addressed to him to whom the first had
just been spoken. The Lord had praised him. Peter grew self-sufficient,
even to the rebuking of him whose praise had so uplifted him. But it is
ever so. A man will gain a great moral victory: glad first, then
uplifted, he will fall before a paltry temptation. I have sometimes
wondered, too, whether his denial of our Lord had anything to do with
his satisfaction with himself for making that onslaught upon the high
priest's servant. It was a brave thing and a faithful to draw a single
sword against a multitude. In his fiery eagerness and inexperience, the
blow, well meant to cleave Malchus's head, missed, and only cut off his
ear; but Peter had herein justified his confident saying that he would
not deny him. He was not one to deny his Lord who had been the first to
confess him! Yet ere the cock had crowed, ere the morning had dawned,
the vulgar grandeur of the palace of the high priest (for let it be art
itself, it was vulgar grandeur beside that grandeur which it caused
Peter to deny), and the accusing tone of a maid-servant, were enough to
make him quail whom the crowd with lanterns, and torches, and weapons,
had only roused to fight. True, he was excited then, and now he was
cold in the middle of the night, with Jesus gone from his sight a
prisoner, and for the faces of friends that had there surrounded him
and strengthened him with their sympathy, now only the faces of those
who were, or whom at least Peter thought to be on the other side,
looking at him curiously, as a strange intruder into their domains.
Alas, that the courage which led him to follow the Lord should have
thus led him, not to deny him, but into the denial of him! Yet why
should I say _alas?_ If the denial of our Lord lay in his heart a
possible thing, only prevented by his being kept in favourable
circumstances for confessing him, it was a thousand times better that
he should deny him, and thus know what a poor weak thing that heart of
his was, trust it no more, and give it up to the Master to make it
strong, and pure, and grand. For such an end the Lord was willing to
bear all the pain of Peter's denial. O, the love of that Son of Man,
who in the midst of all the wretched weaknesses of those who surrounded
him, loved the best in them, and looked forward to his own victory for
them that they might become all that they were meant to be - like him;
that the lovely glimmerings of truth and love that were in them
now - the breakings forth of the light that lighteneth every man - might
grow into the perfect human day; loving them even the more that they
were so helpless, so oppressed, so far from that ideal which was their
life, and which all their dim desires were reaching after!"

Here I ceased, and a little overcome with the great picture in my soul
to which I had been able only to give the poorest expression, rose, and
retired to my own room. There I could only fall on my knees and pray
that the Lord Christ, who had died for me, might have his own way with
me - that it might be worth his while to have done what he did and what
he was doing now for me. To my Elder Brother, my Lord, and my God, I
gave myself yet again, confidently, because he cared to have me, and my
very breath was his. I _would_ be what he wanted, who knew all about
it, and had done everything that I might be a son of God - a living
glory of gladness.



The next morning the captain of the lost vessel called upon me early to
thank me for himself and his men. He was a fine honest-looking burly
fellow, dressed in blue from head to heel. He might have sat for a
portrait of Chaucer's shipman, as far as his hue and the first look of
him went. It was clear that "in many a tempest had his beard be shake,"
and certainly "the hote somer had made his hew all broun;" but farther
the likeness would hardly go, for the "good fellow" which Chaucer
applies with such irony to the shipman of his time, who would filch
wine, and drown all the captives he made in a sea-fight, was clearly
applicable in good earnest to this shipman. Still, I thought I had
something to bring against him, and therefore before we parted I said
to him -

"They tell me, captain, that your vessel was not seaworthy, and that
you could not but have known that."

"She was my own craft, sir, and I judged her fit for several voyages
more. If she had been A 1 she couldn't have been mine; and a man must
do what he can for his family."

"But you were risking your life, you know."

"A few chances more or less don't much signify to a sailor, sir. There
ain't nothing to be done without risk. You'll find an old tub go voyage
after voyage, and she beyond bail, and a clipper fresh off the stocks
go down in the harbour. It's all in the luck, sir, I assure you."

"Well, if it were your own life I should have nothing to say, seeing
you have a family to look after; but what about the poor fellows who
made the voyage with you? Did they know what kind of a vessel they were
embarking in?"

"Wherever the captain's ready to go he'll always find men ready to
follow him. Bless you, sir, they never asks no questions. If a sailor
was always to be thinking of the chances, he'd never set his foot off

"Still, I don't think it's right they shouldn't know."

"I daresay they knowed all about the old brig as well as I did myself.
You gets to know all about a craft just as you do about her captain.
She's got a character of her own, and she can't hide it long, any more
than you can hide yours, sir, begging your pardon."

"I daresay that's all correct, but still I shouldn't like anyone to say
to me, 'You ought to have told me, captain.' Therefore, you see, I'm
telling you, captain, and now I'm clear. - Have a glass of wine before
you go," I concluded, ringing the bell.

"Thank you, sir. I'll turn over what you've been saying, and anyhow I
take it kind of you."

So we parted. I have never seen him since, and shall not, most likely,
in this world. But he looked like a man that could understand why and
wherefore I spoke as I did. And I had the advantage of having had a
chance of doing something for him first of all. Let no man who wants to
do anything for the soul of a man lose a chance of doing something for
his body. He ought to be willing, and ready, which is more than
willing, to do that whether or not; but there are those who need this
reminder. Of many a soul Jesus laid hold by healing the suffering the
body brought upon it. No one but himself can tell how much the nucleus
of the church was composed of and by those who had received health from
his hands, loving-kindness from the word of his mouth. My own opinion
is that herein lay the very germ of the kernel of what is now the
ancient, was then the infant church; that from them, next to the
disciples themselves, went forth the chief power of life in love, for
they too had seen the Lord, and in their own humble way could preach
and teach concerning him. What memories of him theirs must have been!

Things went on very quietly, that is, as I mean now, from the
view-point of a historian, without much to record bearing notably upon
after events, for the greater part of the next week. I wandered about
my parish, making acquaintance with different people in an outside sort
of way, only now and then finding an opportunity of seeing into their
souls except by conclusion. But I enjoyed endlessly the aspects of the
country. It was not picturesque except in parts. There was little wood
and there were no hills, only undulations, though many of them were
steep enough even from a pedestrian's point of view. Neither, however,
were there any plains except high moorland tracts. But the impression
of the whole country was large, airy, sunshiny, and it was clasped in
the arms of the infinite, awful, yet how bountiful sea - if one will
look at the ocean in its world-wide, not to say its eternal aspects,
and not out of the fears of a hidebound love of life! The sea and the
sky, I must confess, dwarfed the earth, made it of small account beside
them; but who could complain of such an influence? At least, not I.

My children bathed in this sea every day, and gathered strength and
knowledge from it. It was, as I have indicated, a dangerous coast to
bathe upon. The sweep of the tides varied with the varying sands that
were cast up. There was now in one place, now in another, a strong
_undertow_, as they called it - a reflux, that is, of the inflowing
waters, which was quite sufficient to carry those who could not swim
out into the great deep, and rendered much exertion necessary, even in
those who could, to regain the shore. But there was a fine strong
Cornish woman to take charge of the ladies and the little boys, and
she, watching the ways of the wild monster, knew the when and the
where, and all about it.

Connie got out upon the downs every day. She improved in health
certainly, and we thought a little even in her powers of motion. The
weather continued superb. What rain there was fell at night, just
enough for Nature to wash her face with and so look quite fresh in the
morning. We contrived a dinner on the sands on the other side of the

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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldThe Seaboard Parish Volume 2 → online text (page 1 of 12)