The Doctor sat at his study-table. It was evening, and the slant beams of the setting sun shot their golden arrows through the healthy purple clusters of lilacs that veiled the windows. There had been a shower that filled them with drops of rain, which every now and then tattooed with a slender rat-tat on the window-sill, as a breeze would shake the leaves and bear in perfume on its wings. Sweet, fragrance-laden airs tripped stirringly to and fro about the study-table, making gentle confusions, fluttering papers on moral ability, agitating treatises on the great end of creation, mixing up subtile distinctions between amiable instincts and true holiness, and, in short, conducting themselves like very unappreciative and unphilosophical little breezes.

A Doubt about the “Evidences.”

The Doctor patiently smoothed back and rearranged, while opposite to him sat Mary, bending over some copying she was doing for him. One stray sunbeam fell on her light-brown hair, tinging it to gold; her long, drooping lashes lay over the wax-like pink of her cheeks, as she wrote on.

‘Mary,’ said the Doctor, pushing the papers from him.

‘Sir,’ she answered, looking up, the blood just perceptibly rising in her cheeks.

‘Do you ever have any periods in which your evidences seem not altogether clear?’

Nothing could show more forcibly the grave, earnest character of thought in New England at this time than the fact that this use of the term ‘evidences’ had become universally significant and understood as relating to one’s right of citizenship in a celestial, invisible commonwealth.

So Mary understood it, and it was with a deepened flush she answered gently, ‘No, sir.’

‘What! never any doubts?’ said the Doctor.

‘I am sorry,’ said Mary, apologetically; ‘but I do not see how I can have; I never could.’

‘Ah!’ said the Doctor, musingly, ‘would I could say so! There are times, indeed, when I hope I have an interest in the precious Redeemer, and behold an infinite loveliness and beauty in Him, apart from anything I expect or hope. But even then how deceitful is the human heart! how insensibly might a mere selfish love take the place of that disinterested complacency which regards Him for what He is in Himself, apart from what He is to us! Say, my dear friend, does not this thought sometimes make you tremble?’

Poor Mary was truth itself, and this question distressed her; she must answer the truth. The fact was, that it had never come into her blessed little heart to tremble, for she was one of those children of the bride-chamber who cannot mourn, because the bridegroom is ever with them; but then, when she saw the man for whom her reverence was almost like that for her God thus distrustful, thus lowly, she could not but feel that her too calm repose might, after all, be the shallow, treacherous calm of an ignorant, ill-grounded spirit, and therefore, with a deep blush and a faltering voice, she said,—

‘Indeed, I am afraid something must be wrong with me. I cannot have any fears,—I never could; I try sometimes, but the thought of God’s goodness comes all around me, and I am so happy before I think of it!’

‘Such exercises, my dear friend, I have also had,’ said the Doctor; ‘but before I rest on them as evidences, I feel constrained to make the following inquiries:—Is this gratitude that swells my bosom the result of a mere natural sensibility? Does it arise in a particular manner because God has done me good? or do I love God for what He is, as well as for what He has done? and for what He has done for others, as well as for what He has done for me? Love to God, which is built on nothing but good received, is not incompatible with a disposition so horrid as even to curse God to His face. If God is not to be loved except when He does good, then in affliction we are free. If doing us good is all that renders God lovely to us, then not doing us good divests Him of His glory, and dispenses us from obligation to love Him. But there must be, undoubtedly, some permanent reason why God is to be loved by all: and if not doing us good divests Him of His glory so as to free us from our obligation to love, it equally frees the universe; so that, in fact, the universe of happiness if ours be not included, reflects no glory on its Author.’

The Doctor had practised his subtile mental analysis till his instruments were so fine-pointed and keen-edged that he scarce ever allowed a flower of sacred emotion to spring in his soul without picking it to pieces to see if its genera and species were correct. Love, gratitude, reverence, benevolence,—which all moved in mighty tides in his soul—were all compelled to pause midway while he rubbed up his optical instruments to see whether they were rising in right order. Mary, on the contrary, had the blessed gift of womanhood,—that vivid life in the soul and sentiment which resists the chills of analysis, as a healthful human heart resists cold; yet still, all humbly, she thought this perhaps was a defect in herself, and therefore, having confessed, in a depreciating tone, her habits of unanalysed faith and love, she added,—

‘But, my dear sir, you are my best friend. I trust you will be faithful to me. If I am deceiving myself, undeceive me; you cannot be too severe with me.’

‘Alas!’ said the Doctor, ‘I fear that I may be only a blind leader of the blind. What, after all, if I be only a miserable self-deceiver? What if some thought of self has come in to poison all my prayers and strivings? It is true, I think,—yes, I think,’ said the Doctor, speaking very slowly and with intense earnestness,—‘I think, that, if I knew at this moment that my name never would be written among those of the elect, I could still see God to be infinitely amiable and glorious, and could feel sure that He could not do me wrong, and that it was infinitely becoming and right that He should dispose of me according to His sovereign pleasure. I think so;—but still my deceitful heart!—after all, I might find it rising in rebellion. Say, my dear friend, are you sure, that, should you discover yourself to be for ever condemned by His justice, you would not find your heart rising up against Him?’

‘Against Him?’ said Mary, with a tremulous, sorrowful expression on her face,—‘against my Heavenly Father?’

Her face flushed and faded; her eyes kindled eagerly, as if she had something to say, and then grew misty with tears. At last she said,—

‘Thank you, my dear, faithful friend! I will think about this; perhaps I may have been deceived. How very difficult it must be to know one’s self perfectly!’

Mary went into her own little room, and sat leaning for a long time with her elbow on the window-seat, watching the pale shells of the apple-blossoms as they sailed and fluttered downward into the grass, and listened to a chippering conversation in which the birds in the nest above were settling up their small housekeeping accounts for the day.

After a while, she took her pen and wrote the following, which the Doctor found the next morning lying on his study-table:—

‘My dear, honoured friend,—How can I sufficiently thank you for your faithfulness with me? All you say to me seems true and excellent; and yet, my dear sir, permit me to try to express to you some of the many thoughts to which our conversation this evening has given rise. To love God because He is good to me you seem to think is not a right kind of love; and yet every moment of my life I have experienced His goodness. When recollection brings back the past, where can I look that I see not His goodness? What moment of my life presents not instances of merciful kindness to me, as well as to every creature, more and greater than I can express, than my mind is able to take in? How, then, can I help loving God because He is good to me? Were I not an object of God’s mercy and goodness, I cannot have any conception what would be my feeling. Imagination never yet placed me in a situation not to experience the goodness of God in some way or other; and if I do love Him, how can it be but because He is good, and to me good? Do not God’s children love Him because He first loved them?

‘If I called nothing goodness which did not happen to suit my inclination, and could not believe the Deity to be gracious and merciful except when the course of events was so ordered as to agree with my humour, so far from imagining that I had any love to God, I must conclude myself wholly destitute of anything good. A love founded on nothing but good received is not, you say, incompatible with a disposition so horrid as even to curse God. I am not sensible that I ever in my life imagined anything but good could come from the hand of God. From a Being infinite in goodness everything must be good, though we do not always comprehend how it is so. Are not afflictions good? Does He not even in judgment remember mercy? Sensible that “afflictions are but blessings in disguise,” I would bless the hand that, with infinite kindness, wounds only to heal, and love and adore the goodness of God equally in suffering as in rejoicing.

‘The disinterested love to God, which you think is alone the genuine love, I see not how we can be certain we possess, when our love of happiness and our love of God are so inseparably connected. The joys arising from a consciousness that God is a benefactor to me and my friends (and when I think of God every creature is my friend), if arising from a selfish motive, it does not seem to me possible could be changed into hate, even supposing God my enemy, whilst I regarded Him as a Being infinitely just as well as good. If God is my enemy, it must be because I deserve He should be such; and it does not seem to me possible that I should hate Him, even if I knew He would always be so.

‘In what you say of willingness to suffer eternal punishment, I don’t know that I understand what the feeling is. Is it wickedness in me that I do not feel a willingness to be left to eternal sin? Can any one joyfully acquiesce in being thus left? When I pray for a new heart and a right spirit, must I be willing to be denied, and rejoice that my prayer is not heard? Could any real Christian rejoice in this? But he fears it not,—he knows it will never be,—he therefore can cheerfully leave it with God; and so can I.

‘Such, my dear friend, are my thoughts, poor and unworthy; yet they seem to me as certain as my life, or as anything I see. Am I unduly confident? I ask your prayers that I may be guided aright.

‘Your affectionate friend,

There are in this world two kinds of natures,—those that have wings, and those that have feet,—the winged and the walking spirits. The walking are the logicians; the winged are the instinctive and poetic. Natures that must always walk find many a bog, many a thicket, many a tangled brake, which God’s happy little winged birds flit over by one noiseless flight. Nay, when a man has toiled till his feet weigh too heavily with the mud of earth to enable him to walk another step, these little birds will often cleave the air in a right line towards the bosom of God, and show the way where he could never have found it.

The Doctor paused in his ponderous and heavy reasonings to read this real woman’s letter; and being a loving man, he felt as if he could have kissed the hem of her garment who wrote it. He recorded it in his journal, and after it this significant passage from the Canticles:—

‘I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up nor awake this lovely one till she please.’

Mrs. Scudder’s motherly eye noticed, with satisfaction, these quiet communings. ‘Let it alone,’ she said to herself; ‘before she knows it, she will find herself wholly under his influence.’ Mrs. Scudder was a wise woman.

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