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Image Map : Christian Books : CHAPTER LX. A LESSON ABOUT DEATH.

Donal Grant by George MacDonald


WHATEVER lady Arctura might decide concerning the restoration of the chapel to the light of day, Donal thought it would not be amiss to find, without troubling her, what he could of its relation to the rest of the house: and it favoured his wish that Arctura was prevailed upon by the housekeeper to remain in bed the next day. Her strong will, good courage, and trusting heart, had made severe demands upon an organization as delicate as responsive. It was now Saturday: he resolved to go alone in the afternoon to explore -- and first of all would try the door beside the little gallery.

As soon as he was free, he got the tools he judged necessary, and went down.

The door was of strong sound oak, with ornate iron hinges right across it. He was on the better side for opening it, that is, the inside, but though the ends of the hinges were exposed, the door was so well within the frame that it was useless to think of heaving them off the bearing-pins. The huge lock and its bolt were likewise before him, but the key was in the lock from the other side, so that it could not be picked; while the nails that fastened it to the door were probably riveted through a plate. But there was the socket into which the bolt shot! that was merely an iron staple! he might either force it out with a lever, or file it through! Having removed the roughest of the rust with which it was caked, and so reduced its thickness considerably, he set himself to the task of filing it through, first at the top then at the bottom. It was a slow but a sure process, and would make no great noise.

Although it was broad daylight outside, so like midnight was it here and the season that belongs to the dead, that he was haunted with the idea of a presence behind him. But not once did he turn his head to see, for he knew that if he yielded to the inclination, it would but return the stronger. Old experience had taught him that the way to meet the horrors of the fancy is to refuse them a single hair's-breadth of obedience. And as he worked the conviction grew that the only protection against the terrors of alien presence is the consciousness of the home presence of the eternal: if a man felt that presence, how could he fear any other? But for those who are not one with the source of being, every manifestation of that being in a life other than their own, must be more or less a terror to them; it is alien, antipathous, other, -- it may be unappeasable, implacable. The time must even come when to such their own being will be a horror of repugnant consciousness; for God not self is ours -- his being, not our own, is our home; he is our kind.

The work was slow -- the impression on the hard iron of the worn file so weak that he was often on the point of giving up the attempt. Fatigue at length began to invade him, and therewith the sense of his situation grew more keen: great weariness overcomes terror; the beginnings of weariness enhance it. Every now and then he would stop, thinking he heard the cry of a child, only to recognize it as the noise of his file. He resolved at last to stop for the night, and after tea go to the town to buy a new and fitter file.

The next day was Sunday, and in the afternoon Donal and Davie were walking in the old avenue together. They had been to church, and had heard a dull sermon on the most stirring fact next to the resurrection of the Lord himself -- his raising of Lazarus. The whole aspect of the thing, as presented by the preaching man, was so dull and unreal, that not a word on the subject had passed between them on the way home.

|Mr. Grant, how could anybody make a dead man live again?| said Davie suddenly.

|I don't know, Davie,| answered Donal. |If I could know how, I should probably be able to do it myself.|

|It is very hard to believe.|

|Yes, very hard -- that is, if you do not know anything about the person said to have done it, to account for his being able to do it though another could not. But just think of this: if one had never seen or heard about death, it would be as hard, perhaps harder, to believe that anything could bring about that change. The one seems to us easy to understand, because we are familiar with it; if we had seen the other take place a few times, we should see in it nothing too strange, nothing indeed but what was to be expected in certain circumstances.|

|But that is not enough to prove it ever did take place.|

|Assuredly not. It cannot even make it look in the least probable.|

|Tell me, please, anything that would make it look probable.|

|I will not answer your question directly, but I will answer it. Listen, Davie.

|In all ages men have longed to see God -- some men in a grand way. At last, according to the story of the gospel, the time came when it was fit that the Father of men should show himself to them in his son, the one perfect man, who was his very image. So Jesus came to them. But many would not believe he was the son of God, for they knew God so little that they did not see how like he was to his Father. Others, who were more like God themselves, and so knew God better, did think him the son of God, though they were not pleased that he did not make more show. His object was, not to rule over them, but to make them know, and trust, and obey his Father, who was everything to him. Now when anyone died, his friends were so miserable over him that they hardly thought about God, and took no comfort from him. They said the dead man would rise again at the last day, but that was so far off, the dead was gone to such a distance, that they did not care for that. Jesus wanted to make them know and feel that the dead were alive all the time, and could not be far away, seeing they were all with God in whom we live; that they had not lost them though they could not see them, for they were quite within his reach -- as much so as ever; that they were just as safe with, and as well looked after by his father and their father, as they had ever been in all their lives. It was no doubt a dreadful-looking thing to have them put in a hole, and waste away to dust, but they were not therefore gone out -- they were only gone in! To teach them all this he did not say much, but just called one or two of them back for a while. Of course Lazarus was going to die again, but can you think his two sisters either loved him less, or wept as much over him the next time he died?|

|No; it would have been foolish.|

|Well, if you think about it, you will see that no one who believes that story, and weeps as they did the first time, can escape reproof. Where Jesus called Lazarus from, there are his friends, and there are they waiting for him! Now, I ask you, Davie, was it worth while for Jesus to do this for us? Is not the great misery of our life, that those dear to us die? Was it, I say, a thing worth doing, to let us see that they are alive with God all the time, and can be produced any moment he pleases?|

|Surely it was, sir! It ought to take away all the misery!|

|Then it was a natural thing to do; and it is a reasonable thing to think that it was done. It was natural that God should want to let his children see him; and natural he should let them know that he still saw and cared for those they had lost sight of. The whole thing seems to me reasonable; I can believe it. It implies indeed a world of things of which we know nothing; but that is for, not against it, seeing such a world we need; and if anyone insists on believing nothing but what he has seen something like, I leave him to his misery and the mercy of God.|

If the world had been so made that men could easily believe in the maker of it, it would not have been a world worth any man's living in, neither would the God that made such a world, and so revealed himself to such people, be worth believing in. God alone knows what life is enough for us to live -- what life is worth his and our while; we may be sure he is labouring to make it ours. He would have it as full, as lovely, as grand, as the sparing of nothing, not even his own son, can render it. If we would only let him have his own way with us! If we do not trust him, will not work with him, are always thwarting his endeavours to make us alive, then we must be miserable; there is no help for it. As to death, we know next to nothing about it. |Do we not!| say the faithless. |Do we not know the darkness, the emptiness, the tears, the sinkings of heart, the desolation!| Yes, you know those; but those are your things, not death's. About death you know nothing. God has told us only that the dead are alive to him, and that one day they will be alive again to us. The world beyond the gates of death is, I suspect, a far more homelike place to those that enter it, than this world is to us.

|I don't like death,| said Davie, after a silence.

|I don't want you to like, what you call death, for that is not the thing itself -- it is only your fancy about it. You need not think about it at all. The way to get ready for it is to live, that is, to do what you have to do.|

|But I do not want to get ready for it. I don't want to go to it; and to prepare for it is like going straight into it!|

|You have to go to it whether you prepare for it or not. You cannot help going to it. But it must be like this world, seeing the only way to prepare for it is to do the thing God gives us to do.|

|Aren't you afraid of death, Mr. Grant?|

|No, I am not. Why should I fear the best thing that, in its time, can come to me? Neither will you be afraid when it comes. It is not the dreadful thing it looks.|

|Why should it look dreadful if it is not dreadful?|

|That is a very proper question. It looks dreadful, and must look dreadful, to everyone who cannot see in it that which alone makes life not dreadful. If you saw a great dark cloak coming along the road as if it were round somebody, but nobody inside it, you would be frightened -- would you not?|

|Indeed I should. It would be awful!|

|It would. But if you spied inside the cloak, and making it come towards you, the most beautiful loving face you ever saw -- of a man carrying in his arms a little child -- and saw the child clinging to him, and looking in his face with a blessed smile, would you be frightened at the black cloak?|

|No; that would be silly.|

|You have your answer! The thing that makes death look so fearful is that we do not see inside it. Those who see only the black cloak, and think it is moving along of itself, may well be frightened; but those who see the face inside the cloak, would be fools indeed to be frightened! Before Jesus came, people lived in great misery about death; but after he rose again, those who believed in him always talked of dying as falling asleep; and I daresay the story of Lazarus, though it was not such a great thing after the rising of the Lord himself, had a large share in enabling them to think that way about it.|

When they went home, Davie, running up to lady Arctura's room, recounted to her as well as he could the conversation he had just had with Mr. Grant.

|Oh, Arkie!| he said, |to hear him talk, you would think Death hadn't a leg to stand upon!|

Arctura smiled; but it was a smile through a cloud of unshed tears. Lovely as death might be, she would like to get the good of this world before going to the next! -- As if God would deny us any good! -- At one time she had been willing to go, she thought, but she was not now! -- The world had of late grown very beautiful to her!

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