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THE SECOND SERMON.
"For Zion's sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth."
". . . And thou shalt be called by a new name. . . . Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzi-bah, and thy land Beulah: for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married. . . ."
". . . I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night."
". . . The Lord hath sworn by his right hand, and by the arm of his strength, 'Surely I will no more give thy corn to be meat for thine enemies; and the sons of the stranger shall not drink thy wine, for the which thou hast laboured. But they that have gathered it shall eat it, and praise the Lord; and they that have brought it together shall drink it . . . in the courts of my holiness.'"
"Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people."
"Behold, the Lord hath proclaimed unto the end of the world, 'Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh; behold, his reward is with him,' and his work before him. And they shall call them 'The Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord,' and thou shalt be called, 'Sought out, A City Not Forsaken.'"
Mr Hambly closed the great Book upon the cushion and leaned forward, resting his arms over it.
"I want you," said he after a pause, very solemnly and slowly, "to apply those words not only to ourselves, of whom we are accustomed to think, too particularly and too complacently, as a chosen people; but to the whole as the free peoples of Western Europe, with whom to-day we stand in alliance and as one. If you apply them at all particularly, let France and Belgium be first in your minds, with their harvest-fields and vineyards, as you listen to the Lord's promise, 'By the arm of my strength, surely I will no more give thy corn to be meat for thine enemies, and the sons of the stranger shall not drink thy wine for which thou hast laboured.'
"For our own land, England, if we are really to vindicate it out of this struggle as Beulah--that is, 'married,' the bride of the Lord--I wish you to consider how far the God of this noble oath has advanced upon the old bloodthirsty Jehovah of the book of Joshua. He is not yet, in Isaiah, the all-living, all-comprehending God the Father of the Gospel: but if we halt on Him here, we are already a long way advanced from that tribal and half-bestial conception of the Deity which Joshua invoked and (as it seems to me) the German Emperor habitually invokes.
"I see no harm in priding ourselves that we have advanced beyond the German Emperor's schoolboyish conception of Jehovah. As a greater and far more highly bred and educated Emperor--an Emperor of Rome-- once warned us, 'The best part of revenge is not to be like them.'
"Well, that is the point on which I would specially caution you this morning. When an adversary suddenly and brutally assaults us, his ferocity springing from the instinct of a lower civilisation--as when a farm-dog leaps upon us in the road--our first instinct is to fall back and meet him on the ground of his own savagery, to give him an exact tit for his tat. But can you not see that, as we do this, and in proportion as we do it, we allow him to impose himself on us and relinquish our main advantage? It is idle to practise a higher moral code, if we abandon it hurriedly as soon as it is challenged by a lower.
"Bearing this in mind, you will not in the next few minutes say to yourselves, 'Our minister has ill chosen his time--now, with the enemy at our gates--to be preaching to us that we should be confirming what little hold we have on the divine purpose, to advance upon it; to counsel our striving to pierce further into the mind of God; when all the newspapers tell us that, for success in war, we should enter into the minds of our enemies.'
"For, let me tell you, all knowledge is one under God; and the way of theology--which should be the head and crown of the sciences--not different from the way of what we call the 'natural' sciences, such as chemistry, or geology, or medicine. Of wisdom we may say with Ecclesiasticus: The first man knew her not perfectly, neither shall the last man find her out. But that does not matter. What matters for us, in our generation, is that we improve our knowledge and use it to make ourselves comparatively wiser--comparatively, that is, with our old selves as well as with our enemies. 'Knowledge,' they say, 'is power'; which, if it mean anything, must mean that A, by knowing a little more than B, has made himself, to that extent, more powerful than B.
"Now by saying that the way of all the sciences is one, I mean just this: that the true process of each is to refer effects to their real causes, not to false ones, and in the search to separate what is relevant from what is irrelevant and--so far as we can discover-- quite accidental. For example, when a pestilence such as typhoid fever broke out in Polpier five or six hundred years ago, your forefathers attributed it to the wrath of God visiting them for their sins: and to be sure it is good that men, under calamity, should reflect on their sins, but only because it is good for them to reflect on their sins at all times and under any circumstance. Nowadays you would have your well-water analysed and ask what the Sanitary Inspector had been about. Or, again, if a fire were to devastate our little town, we should not smite our breasts in the manner of those same forefathers, and attribute it to what there is amongst us of sloth and self-indulgence, to God's wrath upon our drinking habits or our neglect of Sunday observance: we should trace it to a foul chimney and translate our discovery into a Bye-law, maybe into a local Fire Brigade. That is how men improve their knowledge, and, through their knowledge, their wellbeing--by sifting out what is relevant.
"Do you suppose that irrelevances account for this war any more than they account for a fire or a pestilence; or that they will any more help us to grapple with it? Truly it would seem so," sighed Mr Hambly. "A great deal of fervid stuff was uttered in England last Sunday by archbishops, bishops, presidents of this and that Free Church; and the 'religious newspapers' have been full of these utterances. God forgive my presumption that, as I walk the streets of Polpier, I seem to hear all these popular men preaching with acceptance about nothing in particular!
"They all start by denouncing or deploring Germany's obvious sins: her exaltation of Might against Right, her lust of world-dominion, the ruthlessness of her foreign policy, the vainglorious boastings of her professors. No great harm in this!--for all these have contributed to bring this war about, and are therefore relevant. But when the preacher turns to the examination--for us so much more profitable--of our own sins, what has the preacher to say? Why, always in effect that, though it passeth comprehension why Germany should be chosen to punish us (being so much worse than ourselves), we deserve punishment somehow for our drinking, swearing, and gambling habits, for the state of the poor in our cities, for our worship of wealth, for having a Liberal Government. . . .
"Absurd as it may seem, that last gets nearest to sense; for wars are made, or at any rate accepted by, governments; and in a democratic country the government of the day represents the nation, or the nation is to blame. But believe me, my friends, God does not punish in this haphazard way. He punishes scientifically; or rather he allows men to punish themselves, by reaping the evil from the cause they have planted or neglected to remove: and the harvest comes true to the seed.
"The War as yet is scarcely a week old. It came upon us like a thief in the night, and as yet none of us can tell how far we are blameworthy. We have not the evidence.
"There will be time enough, when we have it, to search out the true reasons for national penitence. I do not believe in being penitent at haphazard: I have too much respect for that spiritual exercise. Still less do I believe in running up to God's mercy-seat with a lapful of unassorted sins and the plea, 'Dear Lord, we are doubtless guilty of all these. Being in affliction, we are probably right in believing that one or more of them has provoked Thy displeasure, and are ready to do penance for any if it will please Thee to specify. Meanwhile, may we suggest horse-racing or profane language?' We may be sure, then, that the sin suggested, as a conjurer forces a card, is not a relevant one. We may be fairly sure also that it is one with which some neighbour is more chargeable than are we ourselves. The priests of Baal were foolish to cut themselves with knives, but it is to be set to their credit that they used real ones.
"You will observe that Isaiah constantly, in his words of highest promise to her, speaks of Zion as to be redeemed, and her glory as something to be restored: which implies that her bliss will lie, not in acquiring some new possession, but in regaining a something she has lost or forfeited. Have we of England in our day built such a Jerusalem that merely to have it again is our dearest hope for the end of this War?
"I come back to my main proposition, and will conclude with one word of immediate practical advice--the best I can offer, as a plain man, in these days when the minds of all are confused.
"My main proposition is that, all knowledge being one in its process, our best chance of reading God's mind lies in thinking just as practically, rationally, relevantly about divine things as scientific men take care to do about scientific things, and as you or I should take care to do about the ordinary things of life. If we only thought of God as important enough, we should do that as a matter of course. If we then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to our children . . . We in England to-day are as yet a long way off the philosophy of Jesus Christ. That is too hard for us altogether, it seems. But we ought to be abreast with Isaiah, which is a long way ahead of Joshua and the German Emperor.
"For my word of practical advice--I counsel you, as a people, not to waste time in flurried undiscriminating repentance; not to fuss, in short, until, having learnt where and how you ought to repent, you can repent effectually. That knowledge may come soon: more likely it will come late. Meanwhile the danger is instant. Every man in this church," concluded Mr Hambly, "has a strong sense--a conviction, which I share--that the cause of England is right, that she is threatened and calls to him as he has never heard her call in his lifetime: and the call is to fight for her, but as men not straying to learn a new gospel of hate, remembering rather what at the best our Country has been, and proud to vindicate that."
"Silly old rigmarole," commented Miss Oliver on the way home. "If you can tell me what it was all about!"
"If 'twas no worse than silly there'd be no harm done. When it comes to hinting that the Almighty hasn't a purpose of His own for typhoid fever, in my opinion it's time some one made a public protest."
"I don't see what good that would do. On his own showing it 'd lie between the Lord an' Scantlebury, the Sanitary Inspector. He'd no business to speak so pointed: an' I always hate personalities for my part. But I daresay Scantlebury won't mind, if it comes to his ears even--"
"Scantlebury!" exclaimed Mrs Polsue with a sniff. "He only got the job through his son's being a local preacher and him a freemason. Do you think Scantlebury could make typhoid fever, if he tried?"
"Well, no; if you put it in that way. A Board School was as high as ever his parents could afford to send him: and then he went into the greengrocery, and at one time was said to be going to fail for over three hundred, when this place was found for him. A fair-spoken little man, but scientific in no sense o' the word."
There was a pause.
"The silly man collected himself towards the end," said Mrs Polsue. "There was sense enough in what he said about every man's duty just now--that it was to fight, not to argue; though, after his manner, he didn't pitch it half strong enough. . . . I've been thinking that very thing over, Charity Oliver, ever since the Vicarage meetin', and it seems to me that if we're to be an Emergency Committee in anything better than name, our first business should be to stir up the young men to enlist. The way these tall fellows be hangin' back, and their country callin' out for them! There's young Seth Minards, for instance; an able-bodied young man if ever there was one. But I don't mind telling you I'm taking some steps to stir up their consciences."
"I did hear," said her friend sweetly, "that you had been stirring up the women. In fact it reached me, dear, that Mrs Penhaligon had already chased you to the door with a besom--and she the mildest woman, which no doubt you reckoned on for a beginning. But if you mean to tackle the young men as well--though I can't call to mind that the Vicarage meetin' set it down as any part of your duties--"
"I don't take my orders from any Vicarage meeting," snapped Mrs Polsue; "not at any time, and least of all in an emergency like this, when country and conscience call me together to a plain duty. As for Mrs Penhaligon, you were misinformed, and I advise you to be more careful how you listen to gossip. The woman was insolent, but she did not chase me--as you vulgarly put it, no doubt repeating your informant's words--she did not chase me out of doors with a besom. On the contrary, she gave me full opportunity to say what I thought of her."
"Yes; so I understood, dear: and it was after that, and in consequence (as I was told) that she--"
"If you are proposing, Charity Oliver, to retail this story to others, you may drag in a besom if you will. But as a fact Mrs Penhaligon resorted to nothing but bad language, in which she was backed up by her co-habitant, or whatever you prefer to call him, the man Nanjivell."
"Yes, I heard that he took a hand in it." "There you are right. He took a hand in it to the extent of informing me that Mrs Penhaligon was under his charge, if you ever heard anything so brazen. . . . I have often wondered," added Mrs Polsue, darkly musing, "why Polpier has not, before this, become as one of the Cities of the Plain."
"Have you?" asked Miss Oliver. "If I let such a thought trouble my head, I'd scarce close an eye when I went to bed."
"But what puzzles me," went on Mrs Polsue, "is how that Nanjivell found the pluck. Every one knows him for next door to a pauper: and yet he spoke up, as if he had pounds an' to spare."
"Perhaps you irritated him," suggested Miss Oliver. "Everybody knows that, poor as folks may be, if you try to set them right beyond a certain point--"
The two ladies, in this amiable converse, had drawn near to the bridge-end. They were suddenly aware of a party of six soldiers in khaki, headed by a corporal, advancing over the bridge in file. Each pair of soldiers carried between them a heavy sack, swinging it slowly as they marched.
The ladies drew aside, curious. The soldiers halted in front of the Old Doctor's House. The corporal--a stout man--walked into the porch-way and knocked.
Mrs Penhaligon answered the knock, and after a short colloquy was heard to call back into the passage summoning Mr Nanjivell.
In half a minute Nicky-Nan hobbled out. Meanwhile, their passage over the bridge being clear ahead, our two ladies had no good excuse for lingering. Yet they lingered. When all was said and done, no such sight as that of seven soldiers in khaki had been witnessed in Polpier within living memory. The child population of Polpier was indoors, expectant of dinner; and the squad missed the compliment of attention that would certainly have been paid it ten minutes earlier or an hour later.
"Here are your spuds," announced Corporal Sandercock, "with the Commandin' Officer's compliments." He paused, seemingly in wrestle with an inward reluctance. He plunged his right hand into his breeches pocket. "And here," said he, "be two sovereigns picked up in addition to the one you dropped this mornin'. It softens my surprise a bit," Corporal Sandercock added, "now that I see the house you occupy, and," with a glance at Mrs Penhaligon--"the style you maintain. But for a man o' seemin'ly close habits, you're terribly flippant with your loose gold."
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