“What Shall It
Why, Archie Allen, you are not ready for church; we shall surely be late,” said the young wife as she entered the elegant library where her husband sat reading a choice volume of poetry. It was Clara’s first Sabbath in her new home. She had but lately left the sheltering roof of a kind great uncle, who had taken her to his home when a lonely orphan, and reared her very tenderly, surrounding her with every comfort and many of the elegancies of life. A gentleman some years her senior had won her heart’s affection, and now she was installed as mistress of his beautiful city home, Six months before she had publicly professed her love for the Savior, but she was yet in the morning of her religious life. She needed the fostering care of an experienced, devoted Christian. Would she meet with such aid from him who was to be her future companion and protector? “Marry only in the Lord,” was the advice of an aged friend to the young girl.
“Archie is not a professor of religion,” she reasoned with herself; but he respect religion, I know, and who can tell what influence I may exert over him?”
“You are not really going to church today, Clara, dear, cold as it is?” said the young man dropping his book and looking up with a smile.
“Why, who ever heard of one staying home from church unless one was ill!”
“I think I am not very well, Clara. Won’t you stay at home and take care of me? Read me some poetry and sing a few of your sweet songs.”
Clara looked at him a moment a little incredulously and then replied, “You are quite well, I know by your laughing. I think it is very wrong to stay at home from church; indeed I do, Archie. Won’t you go with me?”
“But where shall we go, my good wife?”
“Wherever you are accustomed to.”
“I am accustomed to attend that cozy little brick church down by your uncle’s, and I thought I had done duty so well there I should be considered religious enough for the rest of my days. But don’t look so sad, Clara. I will go anywhere to please you. I know of a splendid marble church on the Avenue. We will drive there if you like, though I have no idea what persuasion it is. I will order the carriage,” and be ready in a few minutes,” and he left the room gaily humming the fragment of an opera air.
It was an elegant, stately church. The brilliant light which flowed through the stained windows almost dazzled the sight of the young girl, accustomed only to the plain green shades of the humble village church. The voice of the deep-toned organ rolled through the marble hall and then burst forth into a light, gay air, which, to her unaccustomed ears, sounded strangely in a house of worship. God seemed nearer in the little church at home, which, nestled down among the grassy mounds and moss-grown headstones, seemed always pointing to a life beyond.
When the minister arose she marked well his graceful air. The polished words and sentences which flowed so smoothly from his lips as he read them from the pages before him. But, alas!
“So coldly sweet, so deadly fair,
We start, for soul is wanting there.”
Clara felt that her soul had not been fed, as the carriage rolled away from the marble church; but there was much around her to attract her gaze of one who had never before spent a Sabbath in the city. Her husband was glad to be released from the sound of “the prosy old doctor’s essay.” And was in quite good humor with himself for his act of self-denial in going to church. So the drive home was quite a pleasant one, though considerably longer than the one to church.
When they reached home a note was brought in containing an invitation from a fashionable friend of Mr. Allen’s to take a drive out to the new park grounds that afternoon. The carriage would call at three o’clock.
Clara was greatly shocked at such a disregard of the sanctity of God’s holy day, and her husband employed a great deal of skilful rhetoric and much more subtle sophistry before she could be brought even to entertain such a project.
“You know I went to church to please you this morning. I am sure you will be kind enough to oblige me by accepting my friend’s invitation. I know he would be seriously offended if we did not.”
Alas for youth, when the counselors it relies on ”counsel to do wickedly”! Clara yielded, though with sad misgivings, and dressed herself for the ride.
The lady beside her was very courteous and attentive, and the gay conversation turned on various frivolous worldly subjects, till in the pleasant excitement of the drive Clara almost forgot the day. When they turned back again Mrs. Harvey insisted that they should dine with her, and the carriage stopped at their residence. A gay evening was spent, Clara being prevailed upon to play some of her choicest music and join her new acquaintance in singing some popular songs, which she did with most exquisite grace and expression. Her dark eye grew brighter and her fair cheeks flushed softly, as she felt the proud admiring glance of her husband bent upon her. But underneath all her pleasure was a dull sense of pain and a consciousness of wrong-doing, which was a very serpent trail among her fragrant flowers. When she reached her home again a flood of regretful sorrow overwhelmed her heart, and she wept bitterly. Her husband sought most tenderly to soothe her grief, and secretly resolved to undermine the “superstition which caused the dear girl so much unhappiness.”
“You have done nothing wrong, dear Clara, that you should reproach yourself so bitterly. You have only spent a pleasant afternoon and evening with a friend. We must have dined somewhere, and what difference whether at their house or our own! What is life given us for except to make it just as full of happiness as we can, and so make others around us happy! Just think of how much pleasure your sweet singing gave my friends and me. Harvey said it was better than the finest opera he ever heard. Religion ought to make people happy. I am afraid yours has not today, Clara, so I cannot think it is just the right sort. Now, really, did not the drive to and from church do you more good that the sermon? I am quite sure it did; so I always intent to take a good long road to church in the future,”
It was some consolation to know that her husband intended to go to church with her in the future; so Clara dried her eyes and listened to a little gem of poetry he had selected to read to her that morning.
Little by little the rock of her faith was worn away, and she was fast learning to look on happiness as the true end of existence instead of holiness, “without which no man shall see the Lord.” And, alas! many whose associations are far less worldly make this mistake, and look mainly for a great deal of joy and exalted happiness in their religious life. Because they do not attain it they go mourning all their days, looking with weeping eyes on those whom they regard as more favored of God, because the light of gladness shines upon their pathway. Desponding heart! There is no true happiness in religion where that alone is the end you seek. Holiness must be the end and the aim of your whole course, or your joy will be like the “hope of the hypocrite, but for a moment.” Be ye holy, for I am holy,” is the divine command.
How strange that a truly loving heart could enter upon such a task as that which Mr. Allen now commenced—the work of loosing a trusting nature from its only safe moorings, leaving it to drift without compass or a guiding star upon a sea abounding with fearful rocks, and angry breakers. But such is the hatred of the natural heart to the humbling doctrine of the cross and salvation alone through Him who was crucified upon it.
Clara was fond of reading, and her husband took care to place in her way certain fascinating writers, then quite popular, whose frequent merry flashes and sarcastic allusions to the orthodoxy tended more surely than serious reasoning would have done to make her think lightly of the faith in which she had been trained. The old-fashioned Bible was skillfully tortured out of its plainest meaning by those so-called reformers or utterly ignored where it could not be distorted to suit their views. What their opinion of its inspiration were could never be clearly seen by others, if, indeed, they had ever given such a trifling matter any consideration whatever. Instead of the sure foundation which has Jesus Christ for its corner-stone, and a religion which teaches faith, humility, self-denial, earnest labor for souls, and all lowly virtues, they profess to throw wide open the doors of a “broad church.” Which should gather in all mankind as brothers, which should teach them the dignity and excellence of humanity, and give every one a free pass at last on the swift train over the celestial railway. In their great harvest field they claimed the tares to be as valuable as the wheat, and never gave thought of the “harvest day.” But, alas! Calling the tares wheat will not avail when “the Lord of the harvest.” Comes and the command is given, “Bind them in bundles to burn them.”
But the form in which the fatal error was clothed was fair and pleasing, especially so when her husband would “Lend to the charm of the poet The music of his voice.”
There was one favorite writer who seemed to posses a magic power in painting every shady nook and mossy wayside spring of the human heart. No old, gray rock or fathomless shadow of feeling seemed to escape that observing eye. And there were clear, bold strokes sometimes which showed a strength not often given to a woman’s hand. Through all her writings ran a thread of light reflected from God’s word, though bent out of its own right line by the prism through which it flowed. Much was said of the love and tender mercy of God, but the fact that he is also a just God, and will in no wise clear the guilty, was set aside as hard doctrine. The gay scoffer, the one who despises Christ’s tender offers of love and pardon, provided he is amiable and pleasant among his friends and associates, must not be given over to a just retribution. God is too loving a Father to see such a lovely scorner perish. It is so congruous,” to think of the one with whom we have had such pleasant converse here being forever lost. The sophistry gradually wrought its work; the more readily, as poor Clara, in the whirl of fashion and gaiety, failed to bring it to the test of “the law and the testimony.”
Time rolled on, and Clara was becoming more thoughtful and studious. Various philosophical works which her husband admired, and which he often read and discussed with her, were becoming favorite volumes. There was something grand in the old philosopher’s views of life and its little ills and joys. There was something wonderful in their curious speculations respecting the mysteries of the world beyond. Her husband delighted in leading her mind through all their fantastic windings as they groped for the truth so clearly revealed to us. He praised his wife for her appreciation of such intellectual food, and rejoiced that he had been so successful in winning the affection of a truly intellectual woman. Her self-love was gratified, and her diligence in diving deeper into his favorite works daily increased.
In her own home circle her heart had room to expand its choicest tendrils. A noble boy three summers old was prattling at her feet, and all the demands of fashion could not make her forget a mother’s duties. Still they were only the duties that pertained to his temporal welfare, for the flame of devotion had smothered to ashes on the hearthstone of her heart.
The rain was dashing against the closed shutters one November night as an anxious group gathered in Mrs. Allen’s chamber. They were standing on either side of a beautiful rosewood crib, whose hangings of azure gauze were closely drawn aside. There lay a little form tossing and restless, his little face and throat seemed scarlet as they rested on the snowy pillow, and his little hand moved restlessly to and fro, as if vainly striving to cool the burning heat. It was the mother’s hand that tirelessly bathed the scarlet brow and burning limbs. Servants were constantly in waiting, but no hand but her husband’s was allowed to take her place.
“Do you think there is hope, doctor?” was the question she longed to ask, but could not frame it into words. It came at length from her husband’s lips. The answer was only a straw to grasp at.
“He is in very critical state, indeed. If I had been at home when he was first taken ill I think the fever would not have reached such a height. But everything almost depends on the first steps. We must do what we can now to make up for the lost hours.”
But all that the best medical skill could do proved useless. The little sufferer lingered through the long night watch, and when morning dawned seemed once more to know them all. “My mamma,” were the first words which fell from his lips, sending a thrill of joy to all their hearts. It was bliss to see the smile of recognition light once more those sweet blue eyes, and the parents grasped each others hands in silent joy. The old physician alone looked grave and sorrowful. The little light was fast fading out, and this was his dying flicker.
“Mamma, please take Bertie,” said the little one, holding up the dimpled hands. Very tenderly was he lifted up and laid in her arms.
“Good night , papa, it’s most dark now; Bertie is going to sleep.”
His mother’s tearful face bent over him, and as the strange hand of death was laid upon his heart-strings he clasped her closely about the neck, as if she were a refuge from every danger.
They took the little one gently from her arms and laid him on his couch again. Her husband could not even strive to comfort her. He saw the joy and pride of his existence, the heir of his name and fortune, around whom so many fair hopes clustered, “taken away by a stroke,” and his soul seemed crushed within him. He bowed his head upon his hands, and regardless of others eyes, the proud man groaned, and sobbed, and wept as never in his life he had done before. Both were too deeply stricken to utter words of comfort. Clara felt her bleeding heart torn from her bosom. Yet no tears came to her relief. Her brain seemed bursting with the pressure upon it. Where was the sustaining power of boasted philosophy in this hour of darkness?
Ah, when the afflictions of life come home to “the bone and marrow of our own households” they are far different to us from those which concern only our neighbors.
It is an easy thing to look on pleasure philosophically, or even the afflictions of others, but when our turn to suffer comes we shall feel our need of a strong stall to lean upon, a sure support that can keep us in perfect peace, even in the furnace. Clara had sought to pray when the agony of fear was upon her, but God seemed too far away to listen.
“I cannot give him up, my husband!” was the agonized cry of the mother as they stood for the last time by his side before he was to be taken forever from their chamber. “I cannot give him up,” was the despairing language of both their hearts. There can be no true resignation where a loving Father’s hand is not recognized in the affliction; where this poor world is allowed to bound the spirits vision. But at last the precious dust was born away to be seen no more by mortal eye till the resurrection morning.
Time, the great healer, wore away the sharpness of the bereavement, but Clara could never again delight in her former pursuits. How like very dust and ashes seemed the food she had been seeking to nourish her soul upon! A softened melancholy rested upon her heart, and she would wander about her house looking at the relics of her lost one. And day by day the roses faded from her cheek, her step grew lighter on the stair, and she rapidly declined, till at length she was startled at the shadowy form and face revealed to her. Her long-neglected Bible was once more sought for, and she read with all her desperate eagerness of a drowning man, who catches at every chance of safety. It was her mother’s Bible, and along the margin were delicate pencil tracings, pointing to many precious passages. How eagerly she read them over! And when she was too weary herself, she gave the book into her husband’s hand. Still he could give her no advice in her spiritual distress, and looked upon it with compassion as the result of her disease. He gave her the tenderest worldly consolation, but it brought no peace to her anxious soul. Was there no one to offer a word of true counsel? From a very humble source came the advice she so much needed. The kind nurse, Margaret, whom little Bertie had loved next to his parents, was an earnest, humble Christian, It was from her lips he had learned to lisp his morning and evening prayer, and her low gentle voice that told him over and over the sweet story he never tired of hearing—the story of the Babe of Bethlehem.
Plainly and simply she pointed Clara’s mind to the Lamb of God as the only Savior, praying hourly in her heart that God would bring home the truth with power to her.
At length a little light broke upon her mind. “It may be he will receive even such a wandering sheep as I,” she said,” oh, I will cast myself upon His mercy only, for I can do nothing to make myself better!”
The thin hands were folded over the Bible, the eyes closed wearily, a faint motion of the lips told of the silent prayer her heart was offering, as gently she breather her life away.
A few months later Mr. Allen became a wanderer in many lands.
Do you ever sigh and disquiet your heart, Christian pilgrim, because God has not given you wealth and worldly ease? Remember the words of One who never gave a needless caution nor spoke an untruthful word—“How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of heaven!”
It is a dangerous step indeed for a young heart to form a life-long union with one who is a stranger to its hopes of heaven. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers,.” Is a command which may not lightly be broken. Where all of this world, and very probably the world to come, are at stake, the cost should be well counted. “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Even the most devoted affection the world can bestow will be no substitute for God’s loving favor. “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
“Jesus, my all in all thou art
My rest in toil, my ease in pain
The healing of my broken heart
In strife my peace, in loss my gain
My smile beneath the tyrant’s frown
In shame my glory and my crown.