We have said before, what we now repeat, that it is impossible to write a story of New England life and manners for superficial thought or shallow feeling. They who would fully understand the springs which moved the characters with whom we now associate must go down with us to the very depths.

Never was there a community where the roots of common life shot down so deeply, and were so intensely grappled around things sublime and eternal. The founders of it were a body of confessors and martyrs, who turned their backs on the whole glory of the visible to found in the wilderness a republic of which the God of heaven and earth should be the sovereign power. For the first hundred years grew this community, shut out by a fathomless ocean from the existing world, and divided by an antagonism not less deep from all the reigning ideas of nominal Christendom.

In a community thus unworldly must have arisen a mode of thought, energetic, original, and sublime. The leaders of thought and feeling were the ministry, and we boldly assert that the spectacle of the early ministry of New England was one to which the world gives no parallel. Living an intense, earnest, practical life, mostly tilling the earth with their own hands, they yet carried on the most startling and original religious investigations with a simplicity that might have been deemed audacious, were it not so reverential. All old issues relating to government, religion, ritual, and forms of church organization having for them passed away, they went straight to the heart of things, and boldly confronted the problem of universal being. They had come out from the world as witnesses to the most solemn and sacred of human rights. They had accustomed themselves boldly to challenge and dispute all sham pretensions and idolatries of past ages—to question the right of kings in the State and of prelates in the Church; and now they turned the same bold inquiries towards the Eternal Throne, and threw down their glove in the lists as authorized defenders of every mystery in the Eternal Government. The task they proposed to themselves was that of reconciling the most tremendous facts of sin and evil, present and eternal, with those conceptions of Infinite Power and Benevolence which their own strong and generous natures enabled them so vividly to realize. In the intervals of planting and harvesting they were busy with the toils of adjusting the laws of a universe. Solemnly simple, they made long journeys in their old one-horse chaises to settle with each other some nice point of celestial jurisprudence, and to compare their maps of the Infinite. Their letters to each other form a literature altogether unique. Hopkins sends to Edwards the younger his scheme of the universe, in which he starts with the proposition that God is infinitely above all obligations of any kind to his creatures. Edwards replies with the brusque comment:—‘This is wrong; God has no more right to injure a creature than a creature has to injure God;’ and each probably about that time preached a sermon on his own views, which was discussed by every farmer, in intervals of plough and hoe, by every woman and girl, at loom, spinning-wheel, or wash-tub. New England was one vast sea, surging from depths to heights with thought and discussion on the most insoluble of mysteries. And it is to be added that no man or woman accepted any theory or speculation simply as theory or speculation; all was profoundly real and vital—a foundation on which actual life was based with intensest earnestness.

The views of human existence which resulted from this course of training were gloomy enough to oppress any heart which did not rise above them by triumphant faith, or sink below them by brutish insensibility; for they included every moral problem of natural or revealed religion, divested of all those softening poetries and tender draperies which, forms, ceremonies, and rituals had thrown around them in other parts and ages of Christendom. The human race, without exception, coming into existence ‘under God’s wrath and curse,’ with a nature so fatally disordered, that, although perfect free agents, men were infallibly certain to do nothing to Divine acceptance until regenerated by the supernatural aid of God’s Spirit, this aid being given to a certain decreed number of the human race only; the rest, with enough free agency to make them responsible, but without this indispensable assistance exposed to the malignant assaults of evil spirits versed in every art of temptation, were sure to fall hopelessly into perdition. The standard of what constituted a true regeneration, as presented in such treatises as Edwards on the Affections, and others of the times, made this change to be something so high, disinterested, and superhuman, so removed from all natural and common habits and feelings, that the most earnest and devoted, whose whole life had been a constant travail of endeavour, a tissue of almost unearthly disinterestedness, often lived and died with only a glimmering hope of its attainment.

According to any views then entertained of the evidences of a true regeneration, the number of the whole human race who could be supposed as yet to have received this grace was so small, that, as to any numerical valuation, it must have been expressed by an infinitesimal. Dr. Hopkins, in many places, distinctly recognizes the fact, that the greater part of the human race, up to his time, had been eternally lost; and boldly assumes the ground, that this amount of sin and suffering, being the best and most necessary means of the greatest final amount of happiness, was not merely permitted, but distinctly chosen, decreed, and provided for, as essential in the schemes of Infinite Benevolence. He held that this decree not only permitted each individual act of sin, but also took measures to make it certain, though, by an exercise of infinite skill, it accomplished this result without violating human free agency.

The preaching of those times was animated by an unflinching consistency which never shrank from carrying an idea to its remotest logical verge. The sufferings of the lost were not kept from view, but proclaimed with a terrible power. Dr. Hopkins boldly asserts, that ‘all the use which God will have for them is to suffer; this is all the end they can answer; therefore all their faculties, and their whole capacities, will be employed and used for this end.... The body can by omnipotence be made capable of suffering the greatest imaginable pain without producing dissolution, or abating the least degree of life or sensibility.... One way in which God will show his power in the punishment of the wicked, will be in strengthening and upholding their bodies and souls in torments which otherwise would be intolerable.’

The sermons preached by President Edwards on this subject are so terrific in their refined poetry of torture, that very few persons of quick sensibility could read them through without agony; and it is related that when in those calm and tender tones, which never rose to passionate enunciation, he read these discourses, the house was often filled with shrieks and wailings, and that a brother minister once laid hold of his skirts, exclaiming, in an involuntary agony, ‘Oh! Mr. Edwards! Mr. Edwards! is God not a God of mercy?’

Not that these men were indifferent or insensible to the dread words they spoke; their whole lives and deportment bore thrilling witness to their sincerity. Edwards set apart special days of fasting, in view of the dreadful doom of the lost, in which he was wont to walk the floor, weeping and wringing his hands. Hopkins fasted every Saturday. David Brainerd gave up every refinement of civilized life to weep and pray at the feet of hardened savages, if by any means he might save one. All, by lives of eminent purity and earnestness, gave awful weight and sanction to their words.

If we add to this statement the fact, that it was always proposed to every inquiring soul, as an evidence of regeneration, that it should truly and heartily accept all the ways of God thus declared right and lovely, and from the heart submit to Him as the only just and good, it will be seen what materials of tremendous internal conflict and agitation were all the while working in every bosom. Almost all the histories of religious experience of those times relate paroxysms of opposition to God and fierce rebellion, expressed in language which appals the very soul, followed at length by mysterious elevations of faith and reactions of confiding love, the result of Divine interposition, which carried the soul far above the region of the intellect, into that of direct spiritual intuition.

President Edwards records that he was once in this state of enmity, that the facts of the Divine administration seemed horrible to him, and that this opposition was overcome by no course of reasoning, but by an ‘inward and sweet sense’ which came to him once when walking alone in the fields, and, looking up into the blue sky, he saw the blending of the Divine majesty with a calm, sweet, and almost infinite meekness.

The piety which grew up under such a system was, of necessity, energetic; it was the uprousing of the whole energy of the human soul, pierced and wrenched and probed from her lowest depths to her topmost heights, with every awful life-force possible to existence. He whose faith in God came clear through these terrible tests, would be sure never to know greater ones. He might certainly challenge earth or heaven, things present or things to come, to swerve him from this grand allegiance.

But it is to be conceded that these systems, so admirable in relation to the energy, earnestness, and acuteness of their authors, when received as absolute truth, and as a basis of actual life, had, on minds of a certain class, the effect of a slow poison, producing life-habits of morbid action very different from any which ever followed the simple reading of the Bible. They differ from the New Testament as the living embrace of a friend does from his lifeless body, mapped out under the knife of the anatomical demonstrator; every nerve and muscle is there, but to a sensitive spirit there is the very chill of death in the analysis.

All systems that deal with the infinite are, besides, exposed to danger from small, unsuspected admixtures of human error, which become deadly when carried to such vast results. The smallest speck of earth’s dust, in the focus of an infinite lens, appears magnified among the heavenly orbs as a frightful monster.

Thus it happened that while strong spirits walked, palm-crowned, with victorious hymns, along these sublime paths, feebler and more sensitive ones lay along the track, bleeding away in life-long despair. Fearful to them were the shadows that lay over the cradle and the grave. The mother clasped her babe to her bosom, and looked with shuddering to the awful coming trial of free agency, with its terrible responsibilities and risks, and, as she thought of the infinite chances against her beloved, almost wished it might die in infancy. But when the stroke of death came, and some young, thoughtless head was laid suddenly low, who can say what silent anguish of loving hearts sounded the dread depths of eternity with the awful question, Where?

In no other time or place of Christendom have so fearful issues been presented to the mind. Some church interposed its protecting shield; the Christian born and baptized child was supposed in some wise rescued from the curse of the fall, and related to the great redemption, to be a member of Christ’s family, and, if ever so sinful, still infolded in some vague sphere of hope and protection. Augustine solaced the dread anxieties of trembling love by prayers offered for the dead, in times when the Church above and on earth presented itself to the eye of the mourner as a great assembly with one accord lifting interceding hands for the parted soul.

But the clear logic and intense individualism of New England deepened the problems of the Augustinian faith, while they swept away all those softening provisions so earnestly clasped to the throbbing heart of that great poet of theology. No rite, no form, no paternal relation, no faith or prayer of church, earthly or heavenly, interposed the slightest shield between the trembling spirit and Eternal Justice. The individual entered eternity alone, as if he had no interceding relation the universe.

This, then, was the awful dread which was constantly underlying life. This it was which caused the tolling bell in green hollows and lonely dells to be a sound which shook the soul and searched the heart with fearful questions. And this it was that was lying with mountain weight on the soul of the mother, too keenly agonized to feel that doubt in such a case was any less a torture than the most dreadful certainty.

Hers was a nature more reasoning than creative and poetic; and whatever she believed bound her mind in strictest chains to its logical results. She delighted in the regions of mathematical knowledge, and walked them as a native home; but the commerce with abstract certainties fitted her mind still more to be stiffened and enchained by glacial reasonings, in regions where spiritual intuitions are as necessary as wings to birds.

Mary was by nature of the class who never reason abstractly, whose intellections all begin in the heart, which sends them coloured with its warm life-tint to the brain. Her perceptions of the same subjects were as different from Mrs. Marvyn’s as his who revels only in colour from his who is busy with the dry details of mere outline. The one mind was arranged like a map, and the other like a picture. In all the system which had been explained to her, her mind selected points on which it seized with intense sympathy, which it dwelt upon and expanded till all else fell away. The sublimity of disinterested benevolence, the harmony and order of a system tending in its final results to infinite happiness, the goodness of God, the love of a self-sacrificing Redeemer, were all so many glorious pictures, which she revolved in her mind with small care for their logical relations.

Mrs. Marvyn had never, in all the course of their intimacy, opened her mouth to Mary on the subject of religion. It was not an uncommon incident of those times for persons of great elevation and purity of character to be familiarly known and spoken of as living under a cloud of religious gloom; and it was simply regarded as one more mysterious instance of the workings of that infinite decree which denied to them the special illumination of the Spirit.

When Mrs. Marvyn had drawn Mary with her into her room, she seemed like a person almost in frenzy. She shut and bolted the door, drew her to the foot of the bed, and, throwing her arms round her, rested her hot and throbbing forehead on her shoulder. She pressed her thin hand over her eyes, and then, suddenly drawing back, looked her in the face as one resolved to speak something long suppressed. Her soft brown eyes had a flash of despairing wildness in them, like that of a hunted animal turning in its death-struggle on its pursuer.

‘Mary,’ she said, ‘I can’t help it,—don’t mind what I say, but I must speak or die! Mary, I cannot, will not, be resigned!—it is all hard, unjust, cruel!—to all eternity I will say so! To me there is no goodness, no justice, no mercy in anything! Life seems to me the most tremendous doom that can be inflicted on a helpless being! What had we done that it should be sent upon us? Why were we made to love so, to hope so,—our hearts so full of feeling, and all the laws of Nature marching over us,—never stopping for our agony? Why, we can suffer so in this life that we had better never have been born!

‘But, Mary, think what a moment life is! think of those awful ages of eternity! and then think of all God’s power and knowledge used on the lost to make them suffer! think that all but the merest fragment of mankind have gone into this, are in it now! The number of the elect is so small we can scarce count them for anything! Think what noble minds, what warm, generous hearts, what splendid natures are wrecked and thrown away by thousands and tens of thousands! How we love each other! how our hearts weave into each other! how more than glad we should be to die for each other! And all this ends—O God, how must it end? Mary! it isn’t my sorrow only! What right have I to mourn? Is my son any better than any other mother’s son? Thousands of thousands, whose mothers loved them as I loved mine, are gone there! Oh, my wedding-day! Why did they rejoice? Brides should wear mourning, the bells should toll for every wedding; every new family is built over this awful pit of despair, and only one in a thousand escapes!’

Pale, aghast, horror-stricken, Mary stood dumb, as one who in the dark and storm sees by the sudden glare of lightning a chasm yawning under foot. It was amazement and dimness of anguish; the dreadful words struck on the very centre where her soul rested. She felt as if the point of a wedge were being driven between her life and her life’s life, between her and her God. She clasped her hands instinctively on her bosom, as if to hold there some cherished image, and said in a piercing voice of supplication, ‘My God! my God! oh, where art Thou?’

Mrs. Marvyn walked up and down the room with a vivid spot of red in each cheek and a baleful fire in her eyes, talking in rapid soliloquy, scarcely regarding her listener, absorbed in her own enkindled thoughts.

‘Dr. Hopkins says that this is all best, better than it would have been in any other possible way; that God chose it because it was for a greater final good; that He not only chose it, but took means to make it certain, that He ordains every sin, and does all that is necessary to make it certain; that He creates the vessels of wrath and fits them for destruction; and that He has an infinite knowledge by which He can do it without violating their free agency. So much the worse! What a use of infinite knowledge! What if men should do so? What if a father should take means to make it certain that his poor little child should be an abandoned wretch, without violating his free agency? So much the worse, I say! They say He does this so that He may show to all eternity, by their example, the evil nature of sin and its consequences! This is all that the greater part of the human race have been used for yet; and it is all right, because an overplus of infinite happiness is yet to be wrought out by it! It is not right! No possible amount of good to ever so many can make it right to deprave ever so few; happiness and misery cannot be measured so! I never can think it right, never! Yet they say our salvation depends on our loving God, loving Him better than ourselves, loving Him better than our dearest friends. It is impossible! it is contrary to the laws of my nature! I can never love God! I can never praise Him! I am lost! lost! lost! And what is worse, I cannot redeem my friends! Oh, I could suffer for ever, how willingly! if I could save him! But oh, eternity, eternity! Frightful, unspeakable woe! No end! no bottom! no shore! no hope! O God! O God!’

The Comforter.

Mrs. Marvyn’s eyes grew wilder,—she walked the floor, wringing her hands,—and her words, mingled with shrieks and moans, became whirling and confused, as when in autumn a storm drives the leaves in dizzy mazes.

Mary was alarmed,—the ecstasy of despair was just verging on insanity. She rushed out and called Mr. Marvyn.

‘Oh! come in! do! quick!—I’m afraid her mind is going!’ she said.

‘It is what I feared,’ he said, rising from where he sat reading his great Bible, with an air of heartbroken dejection. ‘Since she heard this news, she has not slept nor shed a tear. The Lord hath covered us with a cloud in the day of His fierce anger.’

He came into the room, and tried to take his wife to his arms. She pushed him violently back, her eyes glistening with a fierce light. ‘Leave me alone!’ she said,—‘I am a lost spirit!’

These words were uttered in a shriek that went through Mary’s heart like an arrow.

At this moment, Candace, who had been anxiously listening at the door for an hour past, suddenly burst into the room.

‘Lor’ bress ye, Squire Marvyn, we won’t hab her goin’ on dis yer way,’ she said. ‘Do talk gospel to her, can’t ye—ef you can’t, I will.’

‘Come, ye poor little lamb,’ she said, walking straight up to Mrs. Marvyn, ‘come to ole Candace!’—and with that she gathered the pale form to her bosom, and sat down and began rocking her, as if she had been a babe. ‘Honey, darlin’, ye a’n’t right, dar’s a drefful mistake somewhar,’ she said. ‘Why, de Lord a’n’t like what ye tink,—He loves ye, honey! Why, jes’ feel how I loves ye,—poor ole black Candace,—an’ I a’n’t better’n Him as made me! Who was it wore de crown o’ thorns, lamb?—who was it sweat great drops o’ blood?—who was it said, “Father, forgive dem”? Say, honey!—wasn’t it de Lord dat made ye?—Dar, dar, now ye’r’ cryin’!—cry away, and ease yer poor little heart! He died for Mass’r Jim,—loved him and died for him,—jes’ give up His sweet, precious body and soul for him on de cross! Laws, jes’ leave him in Jesus’ hands! Why, honey, dar’s de very print o’ de nails in his hands now!’

The flood-gates were rent; and healing sobs and tears shook the frail form, as a faded lily shakes under the soft rains of summer. All in the room wept together.

‘Now, honey,’ said Candace, after a pause of some minutes, ‘I knows our Doctor’s a mighty good man, an’ larned,—an’ in fair weather I ha’n’t no ’bjection to yer hearin’ all about dese yer great an’ mighty tings he’s got to say. But, honey, dey won’t do for you now; sick folks mus’n’t hab strong meat; an’ times like dese, dar jest a’n’t but one ting to come to, an’ dat ar’s Jesus. Jes’ come right down to whar poor ole black Candace has to stay allers,—it’s a good place, darlin’! Look right at Jesus. Tell ye, honey, ye can’t live no other way now. Don’t ye ’member how He looked on His mother, when she stood faintin’ an’ tremblin’ under de cross, jes’ like you? He knows all about mothers’ hearts; He won’t break yours. It was jes’ ’cause He know’d we’d come into straits like dis yer, dat He went through all dese tings,—Him, de Lord o’ Glory! Is dis Him you was a-talkin’ about?—Him you can’t love? Look at Him, an’ see ef you can’t. Look an’ see what He is!—don’t ask no questions, and don’t go to no reasonin’s,—jes’ look at Him, hangin’ dar, so sweet and patient, on de cross! All dey could do couldn’t stop his lovin’ ’em; He prayed for ’em wid all de breath He had. Dar’s a God you can love, a’n’t dar? Candace loves Him,—poor, ole, foolish, black, wicked Candace,—and she knows He loves her,’—and here Candace broke down into torrents of weeping.

They laid the mother, faint and weary, on her bed, and beneath the shadow of that suffering cross came down a healing sleep on those weary eyelids.

‘Honey,’ said Candace, mysteriously, after she had drawn Mary out of the room, ‘don’t ye go for to troublin’ yer mind wid dis yer. I’m clar Mass’r James is one o’ de ’lect; and I’m clar dar’s consid’able more o’ de ’lect dan people tink. Why, Jesus didn’t die for nothin’,—all dat love a’n’t gwine to be wasted. De ’lect is more’n you or I knows, honey! Dar’s de Spirit,—He’ll give it to ’em; and ef Mass’r James is called an’ took, depend upon it de Lord has got him ready,—course He has,—so don’t ye go to layin’ on yer poor heart what no mortal creetur can live under; ’cause, as we’s got to live in dis yer world, it’s quite clar de Lord must ha’ fixed it so we can; and ef tings was as some folks suppose, why, we couldn’t live, and dar wouldn’t be no sense in anyting dat goes on.’

The sudden shock of these scenes was followed, in Mrs. Marvyn’s case, by a low, lingering fever. Her room was darkened, and she lay on her bed, a pale, suffering form, with scarcely the ability to raise her hand. The shimmering twilight of the sick-room fell on white napkins, spread over stands, where constantly appeared new vials, big and little, as the physician made his daily visit, and prescribed now this drug and now that, for a wound that had struck through the soul.

Mary remained many days at the white house, because, to the invalid, no step, no voice, no hand was like hers. We see her there now, as she sits in the glimmering by the bed-curtains,—her head a little drooped, as droops a snowdrop over a grave;—one ray of light from a round hole in the closed shutters falls on her smooth-parted hair, her small hands clasped on her knees, her mouth has lines of sad compression, and in her eyes are infinite questionings.

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