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Donal Grant by George MacDonald

CHAPTER XLV. A LAST ENCOUNTER.

NOW for a while, Donal seldom saw lady Arctura, and when he did, received from her no encouragement to address her. The troubled look had reappeared on her face. In her smile, as they passed in hall or corridor, glimmered an expression almost pathetic -- something like an appeal, as if she stood in sore need of his help, but dared not ask for it. She was again much in the company of Miss Carmichael, and Donal had good cause to fear that the pharisaism of her would-be directress was coming down upon her spirit, not like rain on the mown grass, but like frost on the spring flowers. The impossibility of piercing the Christian pharisee holding the traditions of the elders, in any vital part -- so pachydermatous is he to any spiritual argument -- is a sore trial to the old Adam still unslain in lovers of the truth. At the same time nothing gives patience better opportunity for her perfect work. And it is well they cannot be reached by argument and so persuaded; they would but enter the circles of the faithful to work fresh schisms and breed fresh imposthumes.

But Donal had begun to think that he had been too forbearing towards the hideous doctrines advocated by Miss Carmichael. It is one thing where evil doctrines are quietly held, and the truth associated with them assimilated by good people doing their best with what has been taught them, and quite another thing where they are forced upon some shrinking nature, weak to resist through the very reverence which is its excellence. The finer nature, from inability to think another of less pure intent than itself, is often at a great disadvantage in the hands of the coarser. He made up his mind that, risk as it was to enter into disputations with a worshipper of the letter, inasmuch as for argument the letter is immeasurably more available than the spirit -- for while the spirit lies in the letter unperceived, it has no force, and the letter-worshipper is incapable of seeing that God could not possibly mean what he makes of it -- notwithstanding the risk, he resolved to hold himself ready, and if anything was given him, to cry it out and not spare. Nor had he long resolved ere the opportunity came.

It had come to be known that Donal frequented the old avenue, and it was with intent, in the pride of her acquaintance with scripture, and her power to use it, that Miss Carmichael one afternoon led her unwilling, rather recusant, and very unhappy disciple thither: she sought an encounter with him: his insolence towards the old-established faith must be confounded, his obnoxious influence on Arctura frustrated! It was a bright autumnal day. The trees were sorely bereaved, but some foliage yet hung in thin yellow clouds upon their patient boughs. There was plenty of what Davie called scushlin, that is the noise of walking with scarce lifted feet amongst the thick-lying withered leaves. But less foliage means more sunlight.

Donal was sauntering along, his book in his hand, now and then reading a little, now and then looking up to the half-bared branches, now and then, like Davie, sweeping a cloud of the fallen multitude before him. He was in this childish act when, looking up, he saw the two ladies approaching; he did not see the peculiar glance Miss Carmichael threw her companion: |Behold your prophet!| it said. He would have passed with lifted bonnet, but Miss Carmichael stopped, smiling: her smile was bright because it showed her good teeth, but was not pleasant because it showed nothing else.

|Glorying over the fallen, Mr. Grant?| she said.

Donal in his turn smiled.

|That is not Mr. Grant's way,| said Arctura, | -- so far at least as I have known him!|

|How careless the trees are of their poor children!| said Miss Carmichael, affecting sympathy for the leaves.

|Pardon me,| said Donal, |if I grudge them your pity: there is nothing more of children in those leaves than there is in the hair that falls on the barber's floor.|

|It is not very gracious to pull a lady up so sharply!| returned Miss Carmichael, still smiling: |I spoke poetically.|

|There is no poetry in what is not true,| rejoined Donal. |Those are not the children of the tree.|

|Of course,| said Miss Carmichael, a little surprised to find their foils crossed already, |a tree has no children! but -- |

|A tree no children!| exclaimed Donal. |What then are all those beech-nuts under the leaves? Are they not the children of the tree?|

|Yes; and lost like the leaves!| sighed Miss Carmichael.

|Why do you say they are lost? They must fulfil the end for which they were made, and if so, they cannot be lost.|

|For what end were they made?|

|I do not know. If they all grew up, they would be a good deal in the way.|

|Then you say there are more seeds than are required?|

|How could I, when I do not know what they are required for? How can I tell that it is not necessary for the life of the tree that it should produce them all, and necessary too for the ground to receive so much life-rent from the tree!|

|But you must admit that some things are lost!|

|Yes, surely!| answered Donal. |Why else should he come and look till he find?|

No such answer had the theologian expected; she was not immediate with her rejoinder.

|But some of them are lost after all!| she said.

|Doubtless; there are sheep that will keep running away. But he goes after them again.|

|He will not do that for ever!|

|He will.|

|I do not believe it.|

|Then you do not believe that God is infinite!|

|I do.|

|How can you? Is he not the Lord God merciful and gracious?|

|I am glad you know that.|

|But if his mercy and his graciousness are not infinite, then he is not infinite!|

|There are other attributes in which he is infinite.|

|But he is not infinite in all his attributes? He is partly infinite, and partly finite! -- infinite in knowledge and power, but in love, in forgiveness, in all those things which are the most beautiful, the most divine, the most Christ-like, he is finite, measurable, bounded, small!|

|I care nothing for such finite reasoning. I take the word of inspiration, and go by that!|

|Let me hear then,| said Donal, with an uplifting of his heart in prayer; for it seemed no light thing for Arctura which of them should show the better reason.

Now it had so fallen that the ladies were talking about the doctrine called Adoption when first they saw Donal; whence this doctrine was the first to occur to the champion of orthodoxy as a weapon wherewith to foil the enemy.

|The most precious doctrine, if one may say so, in the whole Bible, is that of Adoption. God by the mouth of his apostle Paul tells us that God adopts some for his children, and leaves the rest. If because of this you say he is not infinite in mercy, when the Bible says he is, you are guilty of blasphemy.|

In a tone calm to solemnity, Donal answered --

|God's mercy is infinite; and the doctrine of Adoption is one of the falsest of false doctrines. In bitter lack of the spirit whereby we cry Abba, Father, the so-called Church invented it; and it remains, a hideous mask wherewith false and ignorant teachers scare God's children from their Father's arms.|

|I hate sentiment -- most of all in religion!| said Miss Carmichael with contempt.

|You shall have none,| returned Donal. |Tell me what is meant by Adoption.|

|The taking of children,| answered Miss Carmichael, already spying a rock ahead, |and treating them as your own.|

|Whose children?| asked Donal.

|Anyone's.|

|Whose,| insisted Donal, |are the children whom God adopts?|

She was on the rock, and a little staggered. But she pulled up courage and said --

|The children of Satan.|

|Then how are they to be blamed for doing the deeds of their father?|

|You know very well what I mean! Satan did not make them. God made them, but they sinned and fell.|

|Then did God repudiate them?|

|Yes.|

|And they became the children of another?|

|Yes, of Satan.|

|Then God disowns his children, and when they are the children of another, adopts them? Miss Carmichael, it is too foolish! Would that be like a father? Because his children do not please him, he repudiates them altogether; and then he wants them again -- not as his own, but as the children of a stranger, whom he will adopt! The original relationship is no longer of any force -- has no weight even with their very own father! What ground could such a parent have to complain of his children?|

|You dare not say the wicked are the children of God the same as the good.|

|That be far from me! Those who do the will of God are infinitely more his children than those who do not; they are born of the innermost heart of God; they are then of the nature of Jesus Christ, whose glory is obedience. But if they were not in the first place, and in the most profound fact, the children of God, they could never become his children in that higher, that highest sense, by any fiction of adoption. Do you think if the devil could create, his children could ever become the children of God? But you and I, and every pharisee, publican, and sinner in the world, are equally the children of God to begin with. That is the root of all the misery and all the hope. Because we are his children, we must become his children in heart and soul, or be for ever wretched. If we ceased to be his, if the relation between us were destroyed, which is impossible, no redemption would be possible, there would be nothing left to redeem.|

|You may talk as you see fit, Mr. Grant, but while Paul teaches the doctrine, I will hold it; he may perhaps know a little better than you.|

|Paul teaches no such doctrine. He teaches just what I have been saying. The word translated adoption, he uses for the raising of one who is a son to the true position of a son.|

|The presumption in you to say what the apostle did or did not mean!|

|Why, Miss Carmichael, do you think the gospel comes to us as a set of fools? Is there any way of truly or worthily receiving a message without understanding it? A message is sent for the very sake of being in some measure at least understood. Without that it would be no message at all. I am bound by the will and express command of the master to understand the things he says to me. He commands me to see their rectitude, because they being true, I ought to be able to see them true. In the hope of seeing as he would have me see, I read my Greek Testament every day. But it is not necessary to know Greek to see what Paul means by the so-translated adoption. You have only to consider his words with intent to find out his meaning, and without intent to find in them the teaching of this or that doctor of divinity. In the epistle to the Galatians, whose child does he speak of as adopted? It is the father's own child, his heir, who differs nothing from a slave until he enters upon his true relation to his father -- the full status of a son. So also, in another passage, by the same word he means the redemption of the body -- its passing into the higher condition of outward things, into a condition in itself, and a home around it, fit for the sons and daughters of God -- that we be no more like strangers, but like what we are, the children of the house. To use any word of Paul's to make human being feel as if he were not by birth, making, origin, or whatever word of closer import can be found, the child of God, or as if anything he had done or could do could annul that relationship, is of the devil, the father of evil, not either of Paul or of Christ. -- Why, my lady,| continued Donal, turning to Arctura, |all the evil lies in this -- that he is our father and we are not his children. To fulfil the poorest necessities of our being, we must be his children in brain and heart, in body and soul and spirit, in obedience and hope and gladness and love -- his out and out, beyond all that tongue can say, mind think, or heart desire. Then only is our creation finished -- then only are we what we were made to be. This is that for the sake of which we are troubled on all sides.|

He ceased. Miss Carmichael was intellectually cowed, but her heart was nowise touched. She had never had that longing after closest relation with God which sends us feeling after the father. But now, taking courage under the overshadowing wing of the divine, Arctura spoke.

|I do hope what you say is true, Mr. Grant!| she said with a longing sigh.

|Oh yes, hope! we all hope! But it is the word we have to do with!| said Miss Carmichael.

|I have given you the truth of this word!| said Donal.

But as if she heard neither of them, Arctura went on,

|If it were but true!| she moaned. |It would set right everything on the face of the earth!|

|You mean far more than that, my lady!| said Donal. |You mean everything in the human heart, which will to all eternity keep moaning and crying out for the Father of it, until it is one with its one relation!|

He lifted his bonnet, and would have passed on.

|One word, Mr. Grant,| said Miss Carmichael. | -- No man holding such doctrines could with honesty become a clergyman of the church of Scotland.|

|Very likely,| replied Donal, |Good afternoon.|

|Thank you, Mr. Grant!| said Arctura. |I hope you are right.|

When he was gone, the ladies resumed their walk in silence. At length Miss Carmichael spoke.

|Well, I must say, of all the conceited young men I have had the misfortune to meet, your Mr. Grant bears the palm! Such self-assurance! such presumption! such forwardness!|

|Are you certain, Sophia,| rejoined Arctura, |that it is self-assurance, and not conviction that gives him his courage?|

|He is a teacher of lies! He goes dead against all that good men say and believe! The thing is as clear as daylight: he is altogether wrong!|

|What if God be sending fresh light into the minds of his people?|

|The old light is good enough for me!|

|But it may not be good enough for God! What if Mr. Grant should be his messenger to you and me!|

|A likely thing! A raw student from the hills of Daurside!|

|I cherish a profound hope that he may be in the right. Much good, you know, did come out of Galilee! Every place and every person is despised by somebody!|

|Arctura! He has infected you with his frightful irreverence!|

|If he be a messenger of Jesus Christ,| said Arctura, quietly, |he has had from you the reception he would expect, for the disciple must be as his master.|

Miss Carmichael stood still abruptly. Her face was in a flame, but her words came cold and hard.

|I am sorry,| she said, |our friendship should come to so harsh a conclusion, lady Arctura; but it is time it should end when you speak so to one who has been doing her best for so long to enlighten you! If this be the first result of your new gospel -- well! Remember who said, 'If an angel from heaven preach any other gospel to you than I have preached, let him be accursed!|

She turned back.

|Oh, Sophia, do not leave me so!| cried Arctura.

But she was already yards away, her skirt making a small whirlwind that went after her through the withered leaves. Arctura burst into tears, and sat down at the foot of one of the great beeches. Miss Carmichael never looked behind her. She met Donal again, for he too had turned: he uncovered, but she took no heed. She had done with him! Her poor Arctura.

Donal was walking gently on, thinking, with closed book, when the wind bore to his ear a low sob from Arctura. He looked up, and saw her: she sat weeping like one rejected. He could not pass or turn and leave her thus! She heard his steps in the withered leaves, glanced up, dropped her head for a moment, then rose with a feeble attempt at a smile. Donal understood the smile: she would not have him troubled because of what had taken place!

|Mr. Grant,| she said, coming towards him, |St. Paul laid a curse upon even an angel from heaven if he preached any other gospel than his! It is terrible!|

|It is terrible, and I say amen to it with all my heart,| returned Donal. |But the gospel you have received is not the gospel of Paul; it is one substituted for it -- and that by no angel from heaven, but by men with hide-bound souls, who, in order to get them into their own intellectual pockets, melted down the ingots of the kingdom, and re-cast them in moulds of wretched legalism, borrowed of the Romans who crucified their master. Grand, childlike, heavenly things they must explain, forsooth, after vulgar worldly notions of law and right! But they meant well, seeking to justify the ways of God to men, therefore the curse of the apostle does not fall, I think, upon them. They sought a way out of their difficulties, and thought they had found one, when in reality it was their faith in God himself that alone got them out of the prison of their theories. But gladly would I see discomfited such as, receiving those inventions at the hundredth hand, and moved by none of the fervour with which they were first promulgated, lay, as the word and will of God, lumps of iron and heaps of dust upon live, beating, longing hearts that cry out after their God!|

|Oh, I do hope what you say is true!| panted Arctura. |I think I shall die if I find it is not!|

|If you find what I tell you untrue, it will only be that it is not grand and free and bounteous enough. To think anything too good to be true, is to deny God -- to say the untrue may be better than the true -- that there might be a greater God than he. Remember, Christ is in the world still, and within our call.|

|I will think of what you tell me,| said Arctura, holding out her hand.

|If anything in particular troubles you,| said Donal, |I shall be most glad to help you if I can; but it is better there should not be much talking. The thing lies between you and your Father.|

With these words he left her. Arctura followed slowly to the house, and went straight to her room, her mind filling as she went with slow-reviving strength and a great hope. No doubt some of her relief came from the departure of her incubus friend; but that must soon have vanished in fresh sorrow, save for the hope and strength to which this departure yielded the room. She trusted that by the time she saw her again she would be more firmly grounded concerning many things, and able to set them forth aright. She was not yet free of the notion that you must be able to defend your convictions; she scarce felt at liberty to say she believed a thing, so long as she knew an argument against it which she could not show to be false. Alas for our beliefs if they go no farther than the poor horizon of our experience or our logic, or any possible wording of the beliefs themselves! Alas for ourselves if our beliefs are not what we shape our lives, our actions, our aspirations, our hopes, our repentances by!

Donal was glad indeed to hope that now at length an open door stood before the poor girl. He had been growing much interested in her, as one on whom life lay heavy, one who seemed ripe for the kingdom of heaven, yet in whose way stood one who would neither enter herself, nor allow her to enter that would. She was indeed fit for nothing but the kingdom of heaven, so much was she already the child of him whom, longing after him, she had not yet dared to call her father. His regard for her was that of the gentle strong towards the weak he would help; and now that she seemed fairly started on the path of life, the path, namely, to the knowledge of him who is the life, his care over her grew the more tender. It is the part of the strong to serve the weak, to minister that whereby they too may grow strong. But he rather than otherwise avoided meeting her, and for a good many days they did not so much as see each other.

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