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Image Map : Christian Books : CHAPTER XL. A RELIGION-LESSON.

Donal Grant by George MacDonald


IN the morning Donal learned from Simmons that his master was very ill -- could not raise his head.

|The way he do moan and cry!| said Simmons. |You would think sure he was either out of his mind, or had something heavy upon it! All the years I known him, he been like that every now an' then, and back to his old self again, little the worse! Only the fits do come oftener.|

Towards the close of school, as Donal was beginning to give his lesson in religion, lady Arctura entered, and sat down beside Davie.

|What would you think of me, Davie,| Donal was saying, |if I were angry with you because you did not know something I had never taught you?|

Davie only laughed. It was to him a grotesque, an impossible supposition.

|If,| Donal resumed, |I were to show you a proposition of Euclid which you had never seen before, and say to you, 'Now, Davie, this is one of the most beautiful of all Euclid's propositions, and you must immediately admire it, and admire Euclid for constructing it!' -- what would you say?|

Davie thought, and looked puzzled.

|But you wouldn't do it, sir!| he said. | -- I know you wouldn't do it!| he added, after a moment.

|Why should I not?|

|It isn't your way, sir.|

|But suppose I were to take that way?|

|You would not then be like yourself, sir!|

|Tell me how I should be unlike myself. Think.|

|You would not be reasonable.|

|What would you say to me?|

|I should say, 'Please, sir, let me learn the proposition first, and then I shall be able to admire it. I don't know it yet!'|

|Very good! -- Now again, suppose, when you tried to learn it, you were not able to do so, and therefore could see no beauty in it -- should I blame you?|

|No, sir; I am sure you would not -- because I should not be to blame, and it would not be fair; and you never do what is not fair!|

|I am glad you think so: I try to be fair. -- That looks as if you believed in me, Davie!|

|Of course I do, sir!|


|Just because you are fair.|

|Suppose, Davie, I said to you, 'Here is a very beautiful thing I should like you to learn,' and you, after you had partly learned it, were to say 'I don't see anything beautiful in this: I am afraid I never shall!' -- would that be to believe in me?|

|No, surely, sir! for you know best what I am able for.|

|Suppose you said, 'I daresay it is all as good as you say, but I don't care to take so much trouble about it,' -- what would that be?|

|Not to believe in you, sir. You would not want me to learn a thing that was not worth my trouble, or a thing I should not be glad of knowing when I did know it.|

|Suppose you said, 'Sir, I don't doubt what you say, but I am so tired, I don't mean to do anything more you tell me,' -- would you then be believing in me?|

|No. That might be to believe your word, but it would not be to trust you. It would be to think my thinks better than your thinks, and that would be no faith at all.|

Davie had at times an oddly childish way of putting things.

|Suppose you were to say nothing, but go away and do nothing of what I told you -- what would that be?|

|Worse and worse; it would be sneaking.|

|One question more: what is faith -- the big faith I mean -- not the little faith between equals -- the big faith we put in one above us?|

|It is to go at once and do the thing he tells us to do.|

|If we don't, then we haven't faith in him?|

|No; certainly not.|

|But might not that be his fault?|

|Yes -- if he was not good -- and so I could not trust him. If he said I was to do one kind of thing, and he did another kind of thing himself, then of course I could not have faith in him.|

|And yet you might feel you must do what he told you!|


|Would that be faith in him?|


|Would you always do what he told you?|

|Not if he told me to do what it would be wrong to do.|

|Now tell me, Davie, what is the biggest faith of all -- the faith to put in the one only altogether good person.|

|You mean God, Mr. Grant?|

|Whom else could I mean?|

|You might mean Jesus.|

|They are one; they mean always the same thing, do always the same thing, always agree. There is only one thing they don't do the same in -- they do not love the same person.|

|What do you mean, Mr. Grant?| interrupted Arctura.

She had been listening intently: was the cloven foot of Mr. Grant's heresy now at last about to appear plainly?

|I mean this,| answered Donal, with a smile that seemed to Arctura such a light as she had never seen on human face, | -- that God loves Jesus, not God; and Jesus loves God, not Jesus. We love one another, not ourselves -- don't we, Davie?|

|You do, Mr. Grant,| answered Davie modestly.

|Now tell me, Davie, what is the great big faith of all -- that which we have to put in the Father of us, who is as good not only as thought can think, but as good as heart can wish -- infinitely better than anybody but Jesus Christ can think -- what is the faith to put in him?|

|Oh, it is everything!| answered Davie.

|But what first?| asked Donal.

|First, it is to do what he tells us.|

|Yes, Davie: it is to learn his problems by going and doing his will; not trying to understand things first, but trying first to do things. We must spread out our arms to him as a child does to his mother when he wants her to take him; then when he sets us down, saying, 'Go and do this or that,' we must make all the haste in us to go and do it. And when we get hungry to see him, we must look at his picture.|

|Where is that, sir?|

|Ah, Davie, Davie! don't you know that yet? Don't you know that, besides being himself, and just because he is himself, Jesus is the living picture of God?|

|I know, sir! We have to go and read about him in the book.|

|May I ask you a question, Mr. Grant?| said Arctura.

|With perfect freedom,| answered Donal. |I only hope I may be able to answer it.|

|When we read about Jesus, we have to draw for ourselves his likeness from words, and you know what kind of a likeness the best artist would make that way, who had never seen with his own eyes the person whose portrait he had to paint!|

|I understand you quite,| returned Donal. |Some go to other men to draw it for them; and some go to others to hear from them what they must draw -- thus getting all their blunders in addition to those they must make for themselves. But the nearest likeness you can see of him, is the one drawn by yourself while doing what he tells you. He has promised to come into those who keep his word. He will then be much nearer to them than in bodily presence; and such may well be able to draw for themselves the likeness of God. -- But first of all, and before everything else, mind, Davie, OBEDIENCE!|

|Yes, Mr. Grant; I know,| said Davie.

|Then off with you! Only think sometimes it is God who gave you your game.|

|I'm going to fly my kite, Mr. Grant.|

|Do. God likes to see you fly your kite, and it is all in his March wind it flies. It could not go up a foot but for that.|

Davie went.

|You have heard that my uncle is very ill to-day!| said Arctura.

|I have. Poor man!| replied Donal.

|He must be in a very peculiar condition.|

|Of body and mind both. He greatly perplexes me.|

|You would be quite as much perplexed if you had known him as long as I have! Never since my father's death, which seems a century ago, have I felt safe; never in my uncle's presence at ease. I get no nearer to him. It seems to me, Mr. Grant, that the cause of discomfort and strife is never that we are too near others, but that we are not near enough.|

This was a remark after Donal's own heart.

|I understand you,| he said, |and entirely agree with you.|

|I never feel that my uncle cares for me except as one of the family, and the holder of its chief property. He would have liked me better, perhaps, if I had been dependent on him.|

|How long will he be your guardian?| asked Donal.

|He is no longer my guardian legally. The time set by my father's will ended last year. I am three and twenty, and my own mistress. But of course it is much better to have the head of the house with me. I wish he were a little more like other people! -- But tell me about the ghost-music: we had not time to talk of it last night!|

|I got pretty near the place it came from. But the wind blew so, and it was so dark, that I could do nothing more then.|

|You will try again?|

|I shall indeed.|

|I am afraid, if you find a natural cause for it, I shall be a little sorry.|

|How can there be any other than a natural cause, my lady? God and Nature are one. God is the causing Nature. -- Tell me, is not the music heard only in stormy nights, or at least nights with a good deal of wind?|

|I have heard it in the daytime!|

|On a still day?|

|I think not. I think too I never heard it on a still summer night.|

|Do you think it comes in all storms?|

|I think not.|

|Then perhaps it has something to do not merely with the wind, but with the direction of the wind!|

|Perhaps. I cannot say.|

|That might account for the uncertainty of its visits! The instrument may be accessible, yet its converse with the operating power so rare that it has not yet been discovered. It is a case in which experiment is not permitted us: we cannot make a wind blow, neither can we vary the direction of the wind blowing; observation alone is left us, and that can be only at such times when the sound is heard.|

|Then you can do nothing till the music comes again?|

|I think I can do something now; for, last night I seemed so near the place whence the sounds were coming, that the eye may now be able to supplement the ear, and find the music-bird silent on her nest. If the wind fall, as I think it will in the afternoon, I shall go again and see whether I can find anything. I noticed last night that simultaneously with the sound came a change in the wind -- towards the south, I think. -- What a night it was after I left you!|

|I think,| said Arctura, |the wind has something to do with my uncle's fits. Was there anything very strange about it last night? When the wind blows so angrily, I always think of that passage about the prince of the power of the air being the spirit that works in the children of disobedience. Tell me what it means.|

|I do not know what it means,| answered Donal; |but I suppose the epithet involves a symbol of the difference between the wind of God that inspires the spiritual true self of man, and the wind of the world that works by thousands of impulses and influences in the lower, the selfish self of children that will not obey. I will look at the passage and see what I can make out of it. Only the spiritual and the natural blend so that we may one day be astonished! -- Would you like to join the music-hunt, my lady?|

|Do you mean, go on the roof? Should I be able?|

|I would not have you go in the night, and the wind blowing,| said Donal with a laugh; |but you can come and see, and judge for yourself. The bartizan is the only anxious place, but as I mean to take Davie with me, you may think I do not count it very dangerous!|

|Will it be safe for Davie?|

|I can venture more with Davie than with another: he obeys in a moment.|

|I will obey too if you will take me,| said Arctura.

|Then, please, come to the schoolroom at four o'clock. But we shall not go except the wind be fallen.|

When Davie heard what his tutor proposed, he was filled with the restlessness of anticipation. Often while helping Donal with his fuel, he had gazed up at him on the roof with longing eyes, but Donal had never let him go upon it.

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