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Chapter 9

CHAPTER IX.

Mr. Bodiham was sitting in his study at the Rectory. The
nineteenth-century Gothic windows, narrow and pointed, admitted
the light grudgingly; in spite of the brilliant July weather, the
room was sombre. Brown varnished bookshelves lined the walls,
filled with row upon row of those thick, heavy theological works
which the second-hand booksellers generally sell by weight. The
mantelpiece, the over-mantel, a towering structure of spindly
pillars and little shelves, were brown and varnished. The
writing-desk was brown and varnished. So were the chairs, so was
the door. A dark red-brown carpet with patterns covered the
floor. Everything was brown in the room, and there was a curious
brownish smell.

In the midst of this brown gloom Mr. Bodiham sat at his desk. He
was the man in the Iron Mask. A grey metallic face with iron
cheek-bones and a narrow iron brow; iron folds, hard and
unchanging, ran perpendicularly down his cheeks; his nose was the
iron beak of some thin, delicate bird of rapine. He had brown
eyes, set in sockets rimmed with iron; round them the skin was
dark, as though it had been charred. Dense wiry hair covered his
skull; it had been black, it was turning grey. His ears were
very small and fine. His jaws, his chin, his upper lip were
dark, iron-dark, where he had shaved. His voice, when he spoke
and especially when he raised it in preaching, was harsh, like
the grating of iron hinges when a seldom-used door is opened.

It was nearly half-past twelve. He had just come back from
church, hoarse and weary with preaching. He preached with fury,
with passion, an iron man beating with a flail upon the souls of
his congregation. But the souls of the faithful at Crome were
made of india-rubber, solid rubber; the flail rebounded. They
were used to Mr. Bodiham at Crome. The flail thumped on india-
rubber, and as often as not the rubber slept.

That morning he had preached, as he had often preached before, on
the nature of God. He had tried to make them understand about
God, what a fearful thing it was to fall into His hands. God--
they thought of something soft and merciful. They blinded
themselves to facts; still more, they blinded themselves to the
Bible. The passengers on the "Titanic" sang "Nearer my God to
Thee" as the ship was going down. Did they realise what they
were asking to be brought nearer to? A white fire of
righteousness, an angry fire...

When Savonarola preached, men sobbed and groaned aloud. Nothing
broke the polite silence with which Crome listened to Mr.
Bodiham--only an occasional cough and sometimes the sound of
heavy breathing. In the front pew sat Henry Wimbush, calm, well-
bred, beautifully dressed. There were times when Mr. Bodiham
wanted to jump down from the pulpit and shake him into life,--
times when he would have liked to beat and kill his whole
congregation.

He sat at his desk dejectedly. Outside the Gothic windows the
earth was warm and marvellously calm. Everything was as it had
always been. And yet, and yet...It was nearly four years now
since he had preached that sermon on Matthew xxiv. 7: "For
nation shall rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom:
and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in
divers places." It was nearly four years. He had had the sermon
printed; it was so terribly, so vitally important that all the
world should know what he had to say. A copy of the little
pamphlet lay on his desk--eight small grey pages, printed by a
fount of type that had grown blunt, like an old dog's teeth, by
the endless champing and champing of the press. He opened it and
began to read it yet once again.

"'For nation shall rise up against nation, and kingdom against
kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and
earthquakes, in divers places.'

"Nineteen centuries have elapsed since Our Lord gave utterance to
those words, and not a single one of them has been without wars,
plagues, famines, and earthquakes. Mighty empires have crashed
in ruin to the ground, diseases have unpeopled half the globe,
there have been vast natural cataclysms in which thousands have
been overwhelmed by flood and fire and whirlwind. Time and
again, in the course of these nineteen centuries, such things
have happened, but they have not brought Christ back to earth.
They were 'signs of the times' inasmuch as they were signs of
God's wrath against the chronic wickedness of mankind, but they
were not signs of the times in connection with the Second Coming.

"If earnest Christians have regarded the present war as a true
sign of the Lord's approaching return, it is not merely because
it happens to be a great war involving the lives of millions of
people, not merely because famine is tightening its grip on every
country in Europe, not merely because disease of every kind, from
syphilis to spotted fever, is rife among the warring nations; no,
it is not for these reasons that we regard this war as a true
Sign of the Times, but because in its origin and its progress it
is marked by certain characteristics which seem to connect it
almost beyond a doubt with the predictions in Christian Prophecy
relating to the Second Coming of the Lord.

"Let me enumerate the features of the present war which most
clearly suggest that it is a Sign foretelling the near approach
of the Second Advent. Our Lord said that 'this Gospel of the
Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all
nations; and then shall the end come.' Although it would be
presumptuous for us to say what degree of evangelisation will be
regarded by God as sufficient, we may at least confidently hope
that a century of unflagging missionary work has brought the
fulfilment of this condition at any rate near. True, the larger
number of the world's inhabitants have remained deaf to the
preaching of the true religion; but that does not vitiate the
fact that the Gospel HAS been preached 'for a witness' to all
unbelievers from the Papist to the Zulu. The responsibility for
the continued prevalence of unbelief lies, not with the
preachers, but with those preached to.

"Again, it has been generally recognised that 'the drying up of
the waters of the great river Euphrates,' mentioned in the
sixteenth chapter of Revelation, refers to the decay and
extinction of Turkish power, and is a sign of the near
approaching end of the world as we know it. The capture of
Jerusalem and the successes in Mesopotamia are great strides
forward in the destruction of the Ottoman Empire; though it must
be admitted that the Gallipoli episode proved that the Turk still
possesses a 'notable horn' of strength. Historically speaking,
this drying up of Ottoman power has been going on for the past
century; the last two years have witnessed a great acceleration
of the process, and there can be no doubt that complete
desiccation is within sight.

"Closely following on the words concerning the drying up of
Euphrates comes the prophecy of Armageddon, that world war with
which the Second Coming is to be so closely associated. Once
begun, the world war can end only with the return of Christ, and
His coming will be sudden and unexpected, like that of a thief in
the night.

"Let us examine the facts. In history, exactly as in St. John's
Gospel, the world war is immediately preceded by the drying up of
Euphrates, or the decay of Turkish power. This fact alone would
be enough to connect the present conflict with the Armageddon of
Revelation and therefore to point to the near approach of the
Second Advent. But further evidence of an even more solid and
convincing nature can be adduced.

"Armageddon is brought about by the activities of three unclean
spirits, as it were toads, which come out of the mouths of the
Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet. If we can identify
these three powers of evil much light will clearly be thrown on
the whole question.

"The Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet can all be
identified in history. Satan, who can only work through human
agency, has used these three powers in the long war against
Christ which has filled the last nineteen centuries with
religious strife. The Dragon, it has been sufficiently
established, is pagan Rome, and the spirit issuing from its mouth
is the spirit of Infidelity. The Beast, alternatively symbolised
as a Woman, is undoubtedly the Papal power, and Popery is the
spirit which it spews forth. There is only one power which
answers to the description of the False Prophet, the wolf in
sheep's clothing, the agent of the devil working in the guise of
the Lamb, and that power is the so-called 'Society of Jesus.'
The spirit that issues from the mouth of the False Prophet is the
spirit of False Morality.

"We may assume, then, that the three evil spirits are Infidelity,
Popery, and False Morality. Have these three influences been the
real cause of the present conflict? The answer is clear.

"The spirit of Infidelity is the very spirit of German criticism.
The Higher Criticism, as it is mockingly called, denies the
possibility of miracles, prediction, and real inspiration, and
attempts to account for the Bible as a natural development.
Slowly but surely, during the last eighty years, the spirit of
Infidelity has been robbing the Germans of their Bible and their
faith, so that Germany is to-day a nation of unbelievers. Higher
Criticism has thus made the war possible; for it would be
absolutely impossible for any Christian nation to wage war as
Germany is waging it.

"We come next to the spirit of Popery, whose influence in causing
the war was quite as great as that of Infidelity, though not,
perhaps, so immediately obvious. Since the Franco-Prussian War
the Papal power has steadily declined in France, while in Germany
it has steadily increased. To-day France is an anti-papal state,
while Germany possesses a powerful Roman Catholic minority. Two
papally controlled states, Germany and Austria, are at war with
six anti-papal states--England, France, Italy, Russia, Serbia,
and Portugal. Belgium is, of course, a thoroughly papal state,
and there can be little doubt that the presence on the Allies'
side of an element so essentially hostile has done much to hamper
the righteous cause and is responsible for our comparative ill-
success. That the spirit of Popery is behind the war is thus
seen clearly enough in the grouping of the opposed powers, while
the rebellion in the Roman Catholic parts of Ireland has merely
confirmed a conclusion already obvious to any unbiased mind.

"The spirit of False Morality has played as great a part in this
war as the two other evil spirits. The Scrap of Paper incident
is the nearest and most obvious example of Germany's adherence to
this essentially unchristian or Jesuitical morality. The end is
German world-power, and in the attainment of this end, any means
are justifiable. It is the true principle of Jesuitry applied to
international politics.

"The identification is now complete. As was predicted in
Revelation, the three evil spirits have gone forth just as the
decay of the Ottoman power was nearing completion, and have
joined together to make the world war. The warning, 'Behold, I
come as a thief,' is therefore meant for the present period--for
you and me and all the world. This war will lead on inevitably
to the war of Armageddon, and will only be brought to an end by
the Lord's personal return.

"And when He returns, what will happen? Those who are in Christ,
St. John tells us, will be called to the Supper of the Lamb.
Those who are found fighting against Him will be called to the
Supper of the Great God--that grim banquet where they shall not
feast, but be feasted on. 'For,' as St. John says, 'I saw an
angel standing in the sun; and he cried in a loud voice, saying
to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather
yourselves together unto the supper of the Great God; that ye may
eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh
of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on
them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small
and great.' All the enemies of Christ will be slain with the
sword of him that sits upon the horse, 'and all the fowls will be
filled with their flesh.' That is the Supper of the Great God.

"It may be soon or it may, as men reckon time, be long; but
sooner or later, inevitably, the Lord will come and deliver the
world from its present troubles. And woe unto them who are
called, not to the Supper of the Lamb, but to the Supper of the
Great God. They will realise then, but too late, that God is a
God of Wrath as well as a God of Forgiveness. The God who sent
bears to devour the mockers of Elisha, the God who smote the
Egyptians for their stubborn wickedness, will assuredly smite
them too, unless they make haste to repent. But perhaps it is
already too late. Who knows but that to-morrow, in a moment
even, Christ may be upon us unawares, like a thief? In a little
while, who knows? The angel standing in the sun may be summoning
the ravens and vultures from their crannies in the rocks to feed
upon the putrefying flesh of the millions of unrighteous whom
God's wrath has destroyed. Be ready, then; the coming of the
Lord is at hand. May it be for all of you an object of hope, not
a moment to look forward to with terror and trembling."

Mr. Bodiham closed the little pamphlet and leaned back in his
chair. The argument was sound, absolutely compelling; and yet--
it was four years since he had preached that sermon; four years,
and England was at peace, the sun shone, the people of Crome were
as wicked and indifferent as ever--more so, indeed, if that were
possible. If only he could understand, if the heavens would but
make a sign! But his questionings remained unanswered. Seated
there in his brown varnished chair under the Ruskinian window, he
could have screamed aloud. He gripped the arms of his chair--
gripping, gripping for control. The knuckles of his hands
whitened; he bit his lip. In a few seconds he was able to relax
the tension; he began to rebuke himself for his rebellious
impatience.

Four years, he reflected; what were four years, after all? It
must inevitably take a long time for Armageddon to ripen to yeast
itself up. The episode of 1914 had been a preliminary skirmish.
And as for the war having come to an end--why, that, of course,
was illusory. It was still going on, smouldering away in
Silesia, in Ireland, in Anatolia; the discontent in Egypt and
India was preparing the way, perhaps, for a great extension of
the slaughter among the heathen peoples. The Chinese boycott of
Japan, and the rivalries of that country and America in the
Pacific, might be breeding a great new war in the East. The
prospect, Mr. Bodiham tried to assure himself, was hopeful; the
real, the genuine Armageddon might soon begin, and then, like a
thief in the night...But, in spite of all his comfortable
reasoning, he remained unhappy, dissatisfied. Four years ago he
had been so confident; God's intention seemed then so plain. And
now? Now, he did well to be angry. And now he suffered too.

Sudden and silent as a phantom Mrs. Bodiham appeared, gliding
noiselessly across the room. Above her black dress her face was
pale with an opaque whiteness, her eyes were pale as water in a
glass, and her strawy hair was almost colourless. She held a
large envelope in her hand.

"This came for you by the post," she said softly.

The envelope was unsealed. Mechanically Mr. Bodiham tore it
open. It contained a pamphlet, larger than his own and more
elegant in appearance. "The House of Sheeny, Clerical
Outfitters, Birmingham." He turned over the pages. The
catalogue was tastefully and ecclesiastically printed in antique
characters with illuminated Gothic initials. Red marginal lines,
crossed at the corners after the manner of an Oxford picture
frame, enclosed each page of type, little red crosses took the
place of full stops. Mr. Bodiham turned the pages.

"Soutane in best black merino. Ready to wear; in all sizes.

Clerical frock coats. From nine guineas. A dressy garment,
tailored by our own experienced ecclesiastical cutters."

Half-tone illustrations represented young curates, some dapper,
some Rugbeian and muscular, some with ascetic faces and large
ecstatic eyes, dressed in jackets, in frock-coats, in surplices,
in clerical evening dress, in black Norfolk suitings.

"A large assortment of chasubles.

Rope girdles.

Sheeny's Special Skirt Cassocks. Tied by a string about the
waist...When worn under a surplice presents an appearance
indistinguishable from that of a complete cassock...Recommended
for summer wear and hot climates."

With a gesture of horror and disgust Mr. Bodiham threw the
catalogue into the waste-paper basket. Mrs. Bodiham looked at
him; her pale, glaucous eyes reflected his action without
comment.

"The village," she said in her quiet voice, "the village grows
worse and worse every day."

"What has happened now?" asked Mr. Bodiham, feeling suddenly very
weary.

"I'll tell you." She pulled up a brown varnished chair and sat
down. In the village of Crome, it seemed, Sodom and Gomorrah had
come to a second birth.

Aldous Huxley

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