George Moore.

The Brook Kerith A Syrian story online

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up to Jerusalem, and no sooner had he arrived there than the High Priest
asked for audience and besought him to send for Paul that he might be
judged in Jerusalem; the intention of the High Priest being that I
should be waylaid and killed by a highwayman among the hills. But Festus
thought it was unnecessary to bring me to Jerusalem, for he was about to
return to Cæsarea. Come, he said, with me, and accuse this man, and they
agreed. And it was ten days afterwards that Festus returned to Cæsarea
and commanded me to be brought before his judgment seat. The Jews that
had come with him sat about, and with many voices complained against me
of blasphemy, but their accusations were vain, for I answered: I have
not offended against the law of the Jews nor against Cæsar, and they
answered, so thou sayest, but wilt thou come to Jerusalem to be judged
by us? and Festus, who now only thought to avoid trouble and riot, said
to me, will you go to Jerusalem that I may hear you?

But, Lord Festus, I answered, you can hear me here as well as in
Jerusalem, and these men desire but my death and ask that I shall be
brought to Jerusalem to kill me secretly, therefore I appeal to Cæsar.

Whereupon Festus answered that he had no fault to find with me, but
since I had appealed to Cæsar I must go by the next ship, and as there
would be none for some weeks Festus, who had said to King Agrippa and
Berenice, when they came to pay a visit to the new governor, and, being
Jews, were curious about my gospel, I find no fault with this man and
would have set him at liberty, but he has appealed to Cæsar and by the
next ship he goes to Rome, permitted me my liberty to go whither I
pleased and to preach as I pleased in the city and beyond the city if I
pleased. Whereupon I notified to Festus I would go to Jericho, a two
days' journey from Cæsarea, and he said, go, and in three weeks a ship
will be here to take thee to Rome. But he said: if the Jews should hear
of thee thou'lt lose thy life, and he offered me a guard, which I
refused as useless, knowing well that I should not meet my death at
Jericho. Why cherish a love for them that hate thee? he said, and I
answered: they are my own people, and my heart was filled again with the
memory of the elect race that had given birth to the prophets. Shall
these go down dead into their graves never to rise again, God's chosen
people? I asked myself, and set out with Timothy, my son in the faith,
for Jericho, a city I had never seen nor yet the banks of Jordan down
which Jesus went for John's baptism. But for these things I had little
thought or care, but was as if propelled by some force that I could not
understand nor withstand; and a multitude collected and hearkened to the
story of my conversion on the road to Damascus, but discontent broke out
among them when I said that Jesus had come neither to confirm nor to
abolish the law, that the law was well while we were children but now we
could only enter into eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ our
Lord.

The rest of my story you know: how we fled into the hills for our lives'
sake, and how Timothy in the dark of the evening kept to the left
whereas I came round the shoulder of the hill and was upheld in the path
by God, who has still need of me. His ways are inscrutable, for, wishing
to bring me to you, he sent me to preach in Jordan and urged the Jews to
threaten me and pursue me into the hills, for he wished you holy men who
live upon this ridge of rock in piety, in humility, in content, in peace
one with the other, fearing God always, to hear of Jesus and his
resurrection from the dead and the meaning thereof, which is that Christ
came to redeem us from the bondage of the law and that sense of sin
which the law reveals unceasingly and which terrifies and comes between
us and love of Jesus Christ, who will (at the sound of the last trump)
raise the incorruptible out of the corruptible. Even as the sown grain
is raised out of its rotten grave to nourish and rejoice again at the
light, so will ye nourish again in the fields of heaven, never again to
sink into old age and death if you have faith in Christ, for you have
all else, fear of God, and charity, piety and humility, brotherly love,
peace and content in the work that the day brings to your hands and the
pillow that the night brings to your head for reward for the work done.
God that knows all knew you were waiting on this margin of rock for the
joyful tidings, and he sent me as a shepherd might send his servant out
to call in the flock at the close of day, for in his justice he would
not have it that ten just men should perish. He sent me to you with a
double purpose, methinks, for he may have designed you to come to my
aid, for it would be like him that has had in his heart since all time
my great mission to Italy and Spain, to have conceived this way to
provide me with new feet to carry the joyful tidings to the ends of the
earth; and now I stand amazed, it being clear to me that it was not for
the Jews of Jericho that I was sent out from Cæsarea but for you.

Paul waited for one of the Essenes to answer, and his eyes falling on
Mathias' face he read in it a web of argument preparing wherein to catch
him, and he prayed that God might inspire his answers. At last Mathias,
in clear, silvery voice, broke the silence that had fallen so suddenly,
and all were intent to hear the silken periods with which the Egyptian
thanked Paul for the adventurous story he had related to them, who, he
said, lived on a narrow margin of rock, knowing nothing of the world,
and unknown to it, content to live, as it were, immersed in God. Paul's
narrative was full of interesting things, and he regretted that Paul was
leaving them, for he would have liked to have given longer time to the
examination of the several points, but his story contained one thing of
such great moment that he passed over many points of great interest, and
would ask Paul to tell them why the resurrection of Jesus Christ should
bring with it the abrogation of the law of Moses. If the law was true
once, it was true always, for the law was the mind and spirit and
essence of God. That is, he continued, the law spiritually understood;
for there are those among us Essenes who have gone beyond the letter. I,
too, know something of that spiritual interpretation, Paul cried out,
but I understand it of God's providence in relation to man during a
certain period; that which is truth for the heir is not truth to the
lord. Mathias acquiesced with lofty dignity, and continued his
interrogation in measured phrases: that if he understood Paul rightly,
and he thought he did, his teaching was that the law only served to
create sin, by multiplying the number of possible transgressions. Thy
meaning would seem to be that Jews as well as Gentiles sin by acquiring
consciousness of sin, but by faith in Jesus Christ we get peace with God
and access unto his grace. Upon grace, Paul, we see thee standing as on
a pedestal crying out, sin abounds but grace abounds, fear not sin. The
words of my enemies, Paul cried, interrupting; sin so that grace may
abound, God forbid. Those that are baptized in Christ are dead to sin,
buried with him to rise with him again and to live a new life. The old
man (that which we were before Christ died for us) was crucified with
Christ so that we might serve sin no longer. Freed from the bondage of
the law and concupiscence by grace we are saved through faith in our
Lord Jesus Christ from damnation. It is of this grace that we would hear
thee speak. Do we enter into faith through grace? Mathias asked, and,
having obtained a sign of assent from Paul, he asked if grace were other
than a free gift from God, and he waited again for a sign of assent.
Paul nodded, and reminded him that God had said to Moses, I will have
mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I
will have compassion. Then, Mathias said, the law of Moses is not
abrogated, thou leanest upon it when it suiteth thy purpose to lean, and
pushest it aside when it pleases thee to reprove us as laggards in
tradition and among the beginnings of things. It was lest some mood of
injustice might be imputed to God in neglecting us that we were invited
to become thy disciples, and to carry the joyful tidings into Italy and
Spain. But we no longer find those rudiments in the law. We read it with
the eyes of the mind, and we receive not from thy lips that God is like
a man - a parcel of moods, and obedient to them. It is true that God
justifies whom he glorifies, Paul answered, but for that he is not an
unjust God. If he did not spare his son, but delivered him to death that
we might be saved, will he not give us all things? Who shall accuse
God's elect? He that chose them? Who will condemn them? Christ that will
sit on the right hand of his Father, that intercedes for us? Neither
death nor life nor angels can separate me from the love of our Lord
Jesus Christ, and if I came hither it is for the sake of my brothers, my
kinsmen that might be saved. God has not broken his promise to his
chosen people. A man may be born an Israelite and not be one; we are
true Israelites, not by birth but by election. God calls whom he
pleases, and without injustice. But, brethren, Mathias would ask of me:
why does God yet find a fault though none may resist his will? We dare
not reason with God or ask him to explain his preferences. Does the vase
ask the potter: why hast thou made me thus? Had not the potter power
over the clay to make from the same lump two vases, one for noble and
the other for ignoble use. Not in discourse of reason is the Kingdom of
God, but in its own power to be and to grow, and that power is
manifested in my gospel.

The approval of the brethren whitened Mathias' cheek with anger, and he
answered Paul that his denial of the law did not help him to rise to any
higher conception of the deity than to compare him to a potter, and he
warned Paul that to arrive at any idea of God we must forget potters,
rejecting the idea of a maker setting out from a certain moment of time
to shape things according to a pattern out of pre-existing matter. And I
would tell thee before thou startest for the end of the earth that the
Jesus Christ which has obsessed thee is but the Logos, the principle
that mediates between the supreme God and the world formed out of
matter, which has no being of its own, for being is not in that mere
potency of all things alike, which thou callest Power, but in Divine
Reason.

I have heard men speak like thee in Athens, Paul answered slowly and
sadly, and I said then that the wisdom of man is but foolishness in
God's sight. But thy stay there was not long, and thou hast not spoken
of my country, Egypt, Mathias answered, and rising from his seat he left
the table and passed out on to the balcony like one offended, and,
leaning his arms on the rail, he stood looking into the abyss.

A Jew of Alexandria, Manahem whispered in Paul's ear, but he holds fast
by the law in his own sense, and in telling of this Christ thou - - We
would hear of Peter, Saddoc interrupted, the fisherman thou foundest
eating unclean meat with the Gentiles. Have I not said, Paul answered,
that what is eaten and what is drunk finds neither favour nor disfavour
in God's eyes - that it is not by observance we are saved, but by faith
in our Lord Jesus Christ that died to redeem us from the law, and was
raised from the dead by his Father, and who appeared to the twelve and
to five hundred others, some of whom are dead, but many are still alive?
But this Christ, who was he when he lived upon this earth? Manahem
inquired. Son of the living God, Paul answered, that took on the
beggarly raiment of human flesh at Nazareth, was baptized by John in
Jordan, and preached in Galilee, went up to Jerusalem and was crucified
by Pilate between two thieves; the third day he rose from the dead, that
our sins - - Didst say he was born in Nazareth? Hazael asked, the word
Nazareth having roused him from his reveries, and was baptized by John
in Jordan, preached afterwards in Galilee, and suffered under Pilate?
Was crucified, Paul interjected; then you have heard, he said, of the
resurrection? Not of the resurrection; but we know that our Brother
Jesus was born in Nazareth, was baptized in Jordan by John, preached in
Galilee and suffered under Pilate. Pilate condemned many men, Paul
answered, a cruel man even among the Romans. But born in Nazareth and
was baptized by John didst say? I said it, Hazael answered. Which among
you, Paul asked, looking into every face, is he? Jesus is not here,
Hazael replied, he is out with the flock. He slept by thy side on this
balcony last night. We've listened to thy story with interest, Paul; we
give thee thanks for telling it, and by thy leave we will return to our
daily duties and to our consciences.




CHAP. XXXVII.


One of the Essenes had left some quires of his Scriptures upon the
table; Paul picked them up, but, unable to fix his attention, he walked
out on to the balcony, and when the murmur of the brook began to
exasperate him he returned to the domed gallery and walked through it
with some vague intention of following the rubble path that led out on
to the mountains, but remembering the Thracian dogs chained under the
rocks, he came back and stood by the well, and in its moist atmosphere
fell into argument with himself as to the cause of his disquiet, denying
to himself that it was related in any way to the story he had heard from
the Essenes - that there was one amongst them, a shepherd from Nazareth,
who had received baptism from John and suffered under Pilate, the very
one whom he had heard talking that morning to Jacob about ewes and rams.
At last he attributed his disquiet to his anxiety for the safety of
Timothy.

All the same, he said, it was strange that Pilate should have put one
from the cenoby on the cross, another Jesus of Nazareth.... It might be
that this Essene shepherd and his story were but a trap laid for him by
the Jews! But no - -

Paul remembered he had written a long epistle to the Galatians reproving
them for lack of faith, and now he found himself caught in one of those
moments to which all flesh seems prone. But no; the cause of his
disquiet was Timothy; Jesus had promised him news of Timothy, else he
would not have delayed so long among these clefts. He might start at
once; but he would not be able to find the way through these hills
without a guide, and he could not leave till he heard from this Essene
why Pilate had ordered him to be scourged. What crime was he guilty of?
A follower he was, no doubt, of Judas the Gaulonite, else Pilate would
not have ordered him to be crucified. But the reason for his having left
the wilderness? There must be one, and he sought the reason through the
long afternoon without finding one that seemed plausible for more than a
few minutes.

The drone of the brook increased his agitation and the day was well-nigh
spent when the doors of the cells opened and the brethren began to
appear in their white garments; and when they had found seats about the
table Paul related that he was waiting for Jesus to return from the
hills.

At last he heard one say: here is Jesus, and at the sound of the
familiar name Paul started up to meet him, and speaking the first words
that came to his lips he asked him if it were true that he was from
Nazareth and had received baptism from John and suffered under Pilate. I
was born in Nazareth, but what of that? Why dost thou look into my face
so steadfastly? Because this noon, Paul answered, while thou wast with
thy flock, I was moved to tell the brethren of Jesus of Nazareth, who
died on the cross to redeem us, for I would that all you here should
join with us and carry the joyful tidings to Italy and Spain. The doors
are open - -

Hazael coming from his cell at that moment stayed the words that had
risen up in Paul's mind, and he looked at the president as if he
expected him to speak, but Hazael sank into his chair and soon after
into his own thoughts. So thy name is Jesus and thou'rt from Nazareth?
Paul said, turning to the shepherd, and Jesus answered: I was born in
Nazareth and my life has been lived among these hills. Our guest, Saddoc
said, interrupting, has told us the story of his life, and he hopes to
persuade us to leave this gorge and go with him to Italy and on to
Spain. To Spain? Jesus asked. To carry the joyful tidings that the doors
of salvation are now open to all, Saddoc answered. He has told us that
he was once a great persecutor of Christians. Of Christians? Jesus
repeated. And who are they? The Christians are they that believe the
Messiah promised to the Jews was raised by God from the dead, Saddoc
replied, and our guest would have us go with him to Spain, for on the
road to Damascus he had a vision, and nearly lost his sight in it. And
ever since he has been preaching that the doors are open to all. He is
the greatest traveller the world has ever known. Christ is a Greek word,
Manahem said, for it seemed to him that Saddoc was speaking too much,
and that he could give Jesus a better account of Paul's journeyings, his
conversions of the Gentiles and the persecutions that followed these
conversions: for the Jews, Manahem said, have been on his track always,
and his last quarrel with them was yester even by the Jordan, where he
was preaching with Timothy. They lost each other in the hills. Of
Timothy I have news, Jesus answered. He met a shepherd in the valley who
pointed out the way to Cæsarea to him, and it may be that he is not far
from that city now. Then I will go to Cæsarea at once, Paul cried. I
have promised to put thee on the direct road, Jesus said, but it is for
thee to choose another guide, he added, for Paul's face told him the
thoughts that were passing in Paul's mind: that he would sooner that any
other of the brethren should guide him out of the wilderness. After
looking at Paul for some time he said: I've heard from Manahem and
Saddoc that thou wast a persecutor of Christians, but without
understanding, so hurried was the story. And they tell me, Paul said,
that thou'rt from Nazareth and suffered under Pilate. More than that
they do not seem to know; but from what they tell me thy story resembles
that of our Lord Jesus Christ who was betrayed in a garden and was
raised from the dead. At the words, who was betrayed in a garden, a
light seemed to break in Jesus' face and he said: some two years of my
life are unknown to anybody here, even Hazael does not know them, and
last night I was about to tell them to him on the balcony.

You all remember how he was carried out of the lecture-room on to this
balcony by Saddoc and Manahem, who left him with me. I had just returned
from the mountain, having left my flock with Jacob, our new shepherd,
and Hazael, who recovered his senses quickly in the evening air, begged
me to tell him of Jacob's knowledge of the flock, and I spoke to him
highly of Jacob.... Hazael, have I thy permission to tell the brethren
here assembled the story I began to tell thee last night, but which was
interrupted? The old man raised his head and said: Jesus, I hearken, go
on with thy story.

Brethren, yester evening I returned from the hills after having left our
flock in charge of Jacob. You know, brethren, why I confided the flock
to him. After fifty (I am fifty-five) our steps are no longer as alert
as they were: an old man cannot sleep in a cavern like a young man nor
defend himself against robbers like a young man, and yesternight was the
first night I spent under a roof for many a year, and under that roof I
am to live henceforth with you here, tending on our president, who needs
attention now in his great age. These things were in his mind and in
mine while we sat on the balcony last night taking the air. Hazael had
spoken his fear that the change from the hills to this dwelling would
prove irksome to me at first, and our talk turned upon the life I have
led since boyhood. Our president seemed to think that the better life is
to live under the sky and the sure way to happiness is in solitude: he
had fallen to admiration of my life spent among the hills, and had
spoken to me of the long journeys he used to undertake in his youth over
Palestine, seeking for young men in whom he foresaw the making of good
Essenes; many of you here are his discoveries, myself certainly. We
indulged in recollection, and listening to him my thoughts were back in
Nazareth, and I waited for him to tell me how one night he met my
father, Joseph the carpenter, returning home after his day's work, and
seeing in him a native of the district, he addressed himself to him and
begged my father to point out the road to Nazareth. My father answered:
I am going thither, thou canst not do better than follow me. So the two
fared on together, talking of a lodging for the night, my father fearing
that no house would be open to a stranger, which was the truth. They
knocked at many, but received only threats that the dogs would be turned
upon them if they did not hasten away. My father said: never shall it be
rumoured in Nazareth that a stranger was turned away and had to sleep in
the streets. Thou shalt have my son's bed, and taking Hazael by the hand
my father urged him and forced him into our house. Thou shalt sleep in
my house, my father said, and shook me out of my sleep, saying, Jesus,
thy bed is wanted for a stranger, and to this day I remember standing in
my smock before Hazael, my eyes dazed with sleep.

Next day Hazael was teaching me; and it pleasing him to see in me the
making of a good Essene, and my father being willing that I should go (a
good carpenter he did not see in me), he took me away with him through
Samaria into Jerusalem, and we struck across the desert, descending the
hills into the plain of Jericho, and crossed the Jordan.

After a year's probationship I was admitted into the order of the
Essenes and was given choice of a trade, and it was put forth that I
should follow the trade of my father or work amid the fig-trees along
our terraces, but my imagination being stirred by the sight of the
shepherds among the hills, I said, let me be one. And for fifteen years
I led my flock, content to see it prosper under my care, until one day,
spying two wolves scratching where I knew there was a cave, an empty one
I thought, the hermit having been taken by wolves not long before, I
couched my spear and went forward; at sight of me and my dogs the wolves
fled, as I expected they would, and the hermit that had come to the cave
overnight came out, and after thanking me for driving off the wolves
asked me if I could guide him to a spring of pure water. Thou'rt not far
from one, I said, for the cave he had come to live in was situated in
the valley of the leopard's den, which is but half-a-mile from our
brook. I will go thither with thee this evening, but first drink from my
water-bottle, I said, for I could see he needed water, and I spoke to
him of the number of hermits we had lost lately from wild animals, but
he did not heed me, and as soon as he had soothed his parched tongue
with my water-bottle he began to tell me that he had come from the
shores of the Dead Sea and was about to begin to preach the baptism of
repentance for the remission of sins, and that we must not indulge in
hope of salvation because we have Abraham for our father.

His words seemed to be true words, and I pondered on them, and along the
Jordan everybody was asking whether he was the promised Christ. I walked
miles to hear him, leaving my flock in another's charge, or waited for
him to return to his cave, and often spent the night watching over him
lest a wild beast should break in upon him while he slept. I had known
none but my brethren, nor any city, and John had travelled through all
Judea, and it was from him I learnt that the world was nearing its end,
and that if man did not repent at once God would raise another race out
of the stones by the wayside, so needful was the love of man to God; and
though it had always seemed to me God was gentler than he seemed to be
in John's prophesying, yet his teaching suddenly seemed to be right to
me. I got baptism from him in Jordan and went into the wilderness to
read the Book of Daniel, in which he said all had been foretold, and,
having read, at his advice I bade farewell to the brethren. Manahem,
Saddoc, Mathias, Caleb and Eleazar remember my departure; you regretted
it and tried to dissuade me, but I answered you, saying that God had
called me to preach in my own country, Galilee, that whosoever has two



Online LibraryGeorge MooreThe Brook Kerith A Syrian story → online text (page 34 of 37)