Chapter XXIV: The Mission of Pain
When all arrangements were concluded, and Bully Peg finally assured of far better protection than Dandy could possibly have anticipated, the unbounded delight of him whose prayer had wrought the miracle was very touching to witness. He was in a wonderland of bewildering amazement, uncertain whether to show his gratitude by laughter or tears—doubtful whether he was awake or dreaming. His eyes started and blazed with the feverish excitement that shook him; his lips trembled with speechless eloquence and his hands worked with restless incertitude, while he looked from Myhanene to Bully and back again.
“I doan know what ter do, or ’ow ter do it, Jack,” he cried in despairing tones presently. “Why doan yer ’elp me?”
“How can I help you?” replied the equally uncertain Jack. “It’s quite as bad for me as it is for you. It’s more than anything I ever knew before.”
“But I must do summat or I shall bust. Why doan somebody tell me what I can do?” and the little fellow literally danced with grateful excitement.
“What would you do?” queried Myhanene with that quiet sympathetic persuasiveness he so effectively employed in soothing paroxysms of emotion.
“I want ter…” But with a jerk of his arms and stamp of his foot Dandy had to leave his desire otherwise unexpressed.
“Well, what is it you do want?” Myhanene knew that the real relief of the lad’s feelings lay in some form of expression, and he encouraged him to find the best available.
“I want—I must say summat! An’ it ain’t ‘thank yer!’—that ain’t ’alf enough—it ain’t a bit o’ what I mean! An’ I can’t say nuthin’!”
“Then suppose you wait awhile. I know, and God also knows and understands better than you can tell Him.”
“Yes, much better.”
“But I wish I could see ’Im; I should like to tell ’Im both for me an’ Bully, an’ yer can’t say nuthin’ if yer can’t see ’Im.”
“Oh yes, you may, and He will hear you. He heard when you wanted Bully to have some breakfast, and sent us to do all that has been done.”
“Did He? Oh, yes! I forgot that, an’ all the while I wanted ter say ‘thank yer’ for it! Well then, ’E knows ’ow glad I am.”
“Yes; He knows far better than you can tell Him. Now we will go.”
“Yer sure Bully’ll be all right?”
“Quite sure; but you can see him at the ‘College’.”
“O’ course! Why, I am forgettin’ everything. Come on, I’m ready; and if Bully’s all right I shall niver want ter come back ’ere agen.”
So this mission to earth ended—a mission comparatively trivial in itself, but laden with suggestion and illustration capable of being applied to some of the deeper problems of life, and carrying many more lessons than are found floating upon its surface.
I found it to be so in my own case, and trust others may find it to be equally serviceable upon reflection.
Let me mention one of the revelations it afforded me; perhaps the record may contain a suggestion for you, my reader.
As we were leisurely returning, Myhanene and I found ourselves somewhat apart from the rest, and presently throwing his arm around my shoulder he said,
“Now that our pleasant duty is at an end, permit me to compliment you upon its very complete success.”
“Compliment me!” I exclaimed, as I started from his embrace and scanned his face, expecting to discover the trace of a delicate sarcasm he knows so well how to use upon occasion.
“Yes, my brother, I have to offer you my sincere and hearty congratulations. You have done well; so continue, and your mission to earth will result in a most glorious harvest.”
“But what have I done? I have played a less part in this business than Jack, by far.”
“Have you?” he inquired, lifting his eyebrows with one of the nervous twitches he employs to express a feigned astonishment. “How strange that I should commit such an error!”
“What do you mean, Myhariene?” I asked persuasively as I caught the smile lighting up his face.
“I mean all I have said, and more,” he replied. “The incident we have just so happily concluded has been pressed into service for a double purpose, the one lying upon the surface and now so happily ended being by far the least important of the two.”
“And the other was—May I know it?”
“Yes! Now it is over you may do so, and as I have already said I most sincerely congratulate you upon it.”
“The course you took. When Dandy saw his friend’s extremity and determined to do something to help him, a splendid opportunity was foreseen to test what course you would take if called upon to render assistance under the circumstances. Would you, with your imperfect knowledge, attempt to satisfy and overrule the lad’s anxiety, or have the presence of mind to call someone to your help, as I had previously counselled you to do in all such cases? You did admirably, and now you see the result.”
“But suppose I had not called you?” I asked, startled at the thought of the responsibility I had so unknowingly escaped.
“Then other means would have been utilized to answer Dandy’s prayer and you would have missed its reward.”
“But I might have lost it so easily.”
“Most of life’s opportunities are so lost! Unless we are always on the watch-tower they slip by, and we only see them when too late. It is this yielding to the wooing of slothfulness—this coquetting with the plausible excuses of indifference—that suffocates the spiritual life of earth, and sends such multitudes hither empty-handed from the harvest-fields. The accounts which have to be balanced here are as numerous and heinous in omissions as in commissions and men are astonished to find the reward of both is an equal one, until reminded that Christ had so asserted the law in His parable of the last judgement.”
“I can only think of my own providential escape,” I answered. “It was far more of the mercy of God than my own deliberate choice.”
“That I am always willing to admit,” he said. “But you must not forget that the exercise of the mercy of God is not an arbitrary act. Every soul consecrated to the will of God becomes so sympathetic with the Divine mind as to respond intuitively to its desire even before our consciousness has understood the command. Full and complete consecration keeps us in constant nearness to the Father, who is so clearly reflected in ourselves that His will forms the motive power of every action. We are encircled by His guardianship, guided by His eye, so easily moved by the impulse of His love that by the time we come to understand the nature of His will we also find that we have been already constrained to perform the duty.”
“I cannot understand such a relationship,” I replied; “I can only fear and tremble at the thought of occupying the position, and almost wish I could escape.”
“Do so, Aphraar! Do so by all means.”
“How can I escape?”
“There is one way—but only one.”
“Draw nearer still. There is no safety but with God—no place of rest but the eternal peace His bosom affords. In that nearness you will ascertain the fullness of His strength and love while you will also lose the sense of the awful majesty with which He is girded. If a microbe living in the blood or tissue could form any adequate conception of what a man really is by comparison, it, too, might reasonably fear and tremble, and yet where would be the need so long as the interests of the two remain identical?”
“I like that thought,” I replied.
“Of the microbe?”
“Yes! It is so full of pregnant suggestion, and at once appeals to me as containing revelations beyond the power of words to convey. With your clear insight into the working of Divine love, you cannot understand how cheeringly welcome such significant illustrations are to me in my confused bewilderment. I am very much like poor little Dandy—overpowered and utterly helpless.”
“I can understand what you mean,” he replied with a wooing tenderness that strangely soothed me.
“Can you? Then you know me better than I know myself.”
“Even that would not surprise me,” he answered with one of his significant smiles. “But then I have been here so much longer that I ought to be more acclimatized to the natural wonders of this transcendent life than you who have so recently arrived.”
“I have been here some time now,” I responded.
“Not long enough to remove all your earth ideas and conceptions; though I am not sorry they keep surging up and making their influence felt. The experience will be valuable to you in your ministry, and help you in many cases you would otherwise be unfitted to deal with. The unseen God leads us forward with unerring wisdom.”
“You well say unseen. Gross blindness is perhaps the best definition I could give of my condition, and yet all around me seems so light, so beautiful and full of hope. I cannot understand myself.”
“Let me advise you not to attach too much importance to your condition of uncertainty for the moment. God frequently interposes such a veil while He is passing by, and it may be that He is granting you such a favoured experience just now. Come nearer to me and let me lead you until the shadow of your indecision has passed, then we shall be able to rejoice together, and you will find while travelling again in a way you know not you have been drawing nearer to God.”
“Direct me as you see to be best, Myhanene; I can trust you, but in myself I have no confidence at all. I feel exhausted, confused and altogether incapable of helping myself.”
“I know all about it,” he replied encouragingly. “It is the natural strain of responsibility connected with the mission you have so happily concluded.”
“But I have played the least important part of anyone—even less than Jack—in what has taken place,” I answered, filled with astonishment at the importance he continued to attach to my call upon him to help me out of a difficulty.
“That may be your interpretation of the matter,” he replied, “but from this life we regard the issue as a duty nobly performed. What the outcome will be rests entirely with God. Events turning apparently upon insignificant trifles sometimes prove to be of mightiest consequence, and the result of your calling for me will only be known when the Master counts up His jewels. For your encouragement and guidance, however, I may say that the exhaustion you feel indicates to me that the harvest of this mission will be one of which we shall all be glad.”
“I sincerely hope it may be so, and there I will try to leave the matter. But the incident generally raises the whole question of prayer in my mind—may we speak of it?”
“With pleasure. What is the particular aspect that presents itself?”
“In this case the answer to Dandy’s request has been so prompt and complete as to be in startling contrast to general experience. Why is this?”
“The reason lies altogether in the prayer, not in any arbitrary action on the part of God. Eternal law decrees that any soul enjoying consecrated union with God may ask what it will, and it shall be done, and this because such union will exert a restraining power from asking what is opposed to the Divine will. In every case the prayer will be a spiritual exercise employed specifically for matters touching the kingdom, and not resorted to until every possible natural effort has been employed and failed. Only a fractional percentage of what earth calls prayer falls within this definition, hence the large amount of wasted time and breath—telling God so much about Himself, asking Him to do what men are either too lazy or too selfish to do for themselves, seeking a Divine blessing upon some act of tyrannous oppression against a weaker people, or supplicating Heaven to arise and crush the natural instincts of the starving masses and shield the ill-gotten gain of sweaters from molestation—fall outside the domain of the law and meet with the legitimate reward of oblivion. In opposition to all this let us carefully look at the nature and circumstances surrounding Dandy’s prayer, then you will at once see why it produced such a different result. Having voluntarily assumed a kind of guardianship over Bully Peg, discarnation stepped in and placed a difficulty in the way of exercising the office. Dandy, however, refused to accept the new condition as absolving him from responsibility, and on learning of his friend’s extremity he at once set himself to find some way of securing the necessary relief. The whole circumstance erects a monumental demonstration of fidelity to trust and faith in an existing power of right. As the connection between the lads, from the first time we met them to the present, is reviewed, it will be seen that every condition required by effectual prayer has been faithfully regarded, so that when the crisis came the petition assumed the God-designed omnipotence of prayer, and worked its own sovereign will with Divine munificence.”
“I see and understand it now,” I answered as the inner light bore witness to his patient exposition. “I shall not trouble you so much with these inquiries when once I grow accustomed to study matters from my new position. But, in the meantime, there is yet another kindred question I should be glad to hear you explain.”
“You refer to the vexed problem of pain and suffering?”
“Yes! I should be very glad to hear how you would meet an inquiry respecting it.”
“I should begin by divorcing the two as being unequally and ignorantly yoked together. Pain, like the Satan of the Book of Job, has to be ranked among the sons and ministers of God, rather than classed with the emissaries of evil. Its appointed office is to guard and protect the welfare of man and instantly to give warning of any departure from the path of health—physical, mental, or spiritual. They who hear its voice and instantly obey are thus saved by the angel of His presence; but those who refuse and rebel must take the consequences of their foolhardiness. Thus Pain, as every other angel of God, speaks first to man in a still small voice of kindly intimation, for ‘the Lord loveth whom He chasteneth,’ and the minister is ever of the same nature as the Father. But for the careless, the negligent, the defiant and the deaf, there remains the alternative of the law: ‘If ye will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord shall be against you’ (i Sam. xii. I5). It is here that Pain hands the sinner over to Suffering. Still, so far as Suffering continues to be the agent of God, its function is remedial and altogether beneficent, as the Christ declared of the man who was born blind. You have just seen an instance of how providences intertwine, and here we may find another illustration of the same law. The man born blind had been deprived of some of the ordinary advantages of life, but in his darkness—not being able to estimate the value of what had been withheld—he enjoyed compensations which others who were normally endowed could neither estimate nor understand. These compensations were withdrawn when the more ordinary faculty was bestowed. But this is only by the way. What I wish you to grasp is the provision of God to endow all joint-heirs with Christ with the power which He possessed to put an end to all suffering of a legitimate nature. You will remember how all manner of suffering fled at His approach, but we too often forget that He intended all who followed after Him to wield the same Divinely merciful power. ‘He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also’ (John xiv. I2). ‘As ye go, preach, saying, The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give’ (Matt. x. 7-8). ‘These signs shall follow them that believe; in My name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover’ (Mark xvi. I7-I8). I need not quote more of the promises to you to show that God gives to children of the Christ, or second birth, power to put an end to all legitimate suffering, making the display to be a testimony to the Christ-life in His true disciples (‘by their fruits ye shall know them’), and also a manifestation of the power and love of God to all who are in need.”
“But all these gifts have long since ceased to exist,” I exclaimed, wondering at his reference to powers which were only intended for the Apostles.
“Let us rather say they have ceased to be employed. God never changes, never corrects, never withdraws. The endowment is still the same. You saw it recently in operation through Cushna in the case of the child with the withered leg, and it is always available for all who are able to use it. Its cessation is something yet to be accounted for by the Church claiming the name of Christ—a dereliction of duty—a sin of omission for which the penalty will fall heavily somewhere.
“But by far the larger part of suffering is illegitimate, and springs directly from unrighteousness of life. I speak now of the starvation, want, misery and wretchedness of every form which characterizes the progress of what is called civilization. This is altogether the product of sin, and is an abomination to the Lord. It need not exist, ought not to be, but for greed, selfishness and inhumanity, for which every man and woman is more or less responsible, and every one of whom will have to reap his just reward according to his definite and active life attitude towards it. The law of Christ—‘whatsoever ye would that a man should do unto you, do ye even so unto him’—would stamp out the condition with the celerity of a revolution if but honestly applied, and the neglected masses of humanity—raised at once to a condition in which the necessaries of life were secure—would be placed more favourably for receiving the moral and spiritual training which they are incompetent to appreciate where they lie. God is able and willing to deal with the problem if Politics and Trade will step aside and leave it in His hands. But the powers of earth must sport themselves while life’s morning vapour is rising. And God is patient, knowing all the compensations He holds in reserve. In the moment between immersion and unconsciousness the drowning man lives a whole life of agony—and so the robbed and outraged sufferer drags out a weary existence. Still it is only a spark flying upward by comparison with what is to be when Lazarus shall be comforted and Dives enter upon the inheritance he has purchased.”
“Do you think it possible that every transgression will ultimately be traced to its particular source?” I inquired.
“Every dove will return to its own window, my brother, and every cockatrice will come back to its own den. God is fully able to carry out His schemes of justice with a perfect balance. Neither you nor I am able to understand how this is possible, but the law of God is perfect and will inexorably ensure that every soul shall bear its own legitimate burden.”
“Who, then, shall escape?”
“God in His love and wisdom has planned a scheme whereby the vilest and most depraved may ultimately find his way to peace. It lies through the purifying fires of hell and the innumerable stages of the plains of Paradise, where ‘him that cometh shall in no wise be cast out.’ But the debt, though great, shall ultimately be paid, the extortion required, the inhumanity atoned for and the sin forgiven. Eternity is long enough to secure all this, and finally the family circle will be complete and God be all-in-all.”
Such a glorious prospect so confidently foreseen and prophesied by Myhanene left nothing more to be said or hoped for, and we finished our course in solemn silence.