The Calling of Dan Matthews by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter XL. The Doctor's Glasses
"'There is no hatred, lad, so bitter as that hatred born of a religious love; no falsehood so vile as the lie spoken in defense of truth; no wrong so harmful as the wrong committed in the name of righteousness; no injustice so terrible as the injustice of those who condemn in the name of the Saviour of the world!'"
When Dan, forced into something of his habitual self-control and calmness by the presence of his old friend, began telling the Doctor of the action of the church the other checked him abruptly with, "I know all about that, lad."
"You know!" ejaculated Dan.
"Certainly I know. Isn't Martha one of the elect? I reckon everybody in the whole town but you knew it before noon of the day after the meeting."
Dan muttered something about being a blind fool and the old Doctor answered, "Humph! The fools are they who see too much, boy. Such blindness as yours is a gift of the gods; for Heaven's sake don't let any quack fit you out with glasses!"
Dan threw himself wearily into a chair and there was a spirit of recklessness in his reply, as though he were letting go of himself again. "How is a blind man to recognize a quack? I would to God I had your glasses!"
"Perhaps," said the Doctor deliberately, "I might lend them to you, just for once, you know."
"Well then," said the other, sitting up suddenly, "let me have them! How do you see this thing? What have I done or not done? For what shall I blame myself? What fatal error have I made that, with the best of motives, with the--," he hesitated, then--"I can say it to you, Doctor, and I will--with the sacrifice of the dearest thing in the world to me, I am cast out in this fashion? If I can find a reason for it, I can bear it."
"It is your blindness, boy. You could not help it; you were born blind. I have always known this would come."
"You have always known this would come?" repeated Dan questioningly.
"Yes, I have always known, because for half a century, boy, I have observed the spirit of this institution. Mind, I do not say the spirit of the people in the institution. Strong people, Dan, sometimes manage to live in mighty sickly climates. The best people in the world are sometimes held by evil circumstances which their own best intentions have created. The people in the church are the salt of the earth. If it were not for their goodness the system would have rotted long ago. The church, for all its talk, doesn't save the people; the people save the church. And let me tell you, Dan, the very ones in the church who have done the things you have seen and felt, at heart respect and believe in you."
Dan broke forth in such a laugh as the Doctor had never heard from his lips. "Then why?"
"Because," said the old man, "it is their religion to worship an institution, not a God; to serve a system, not the race. It is history, my boy. Every reformation begins with the persecution of the reformer and ends with the followers of that reformer persecuting those who would lead them another step toward freedom. Misguided religious people have always crucified their saviors and always will!"
Dan was silent, awed by the revelation of his old friend's mind. Presently the Doctor continued, "There is no hatred, lad, so bitter as that hatred born of a religious love; no falsehood so vile as the lie spoken in defense of truth; no wrong so harmful as the wrong committed in the name of righteousness; no injustice so terrible as the injustice of those who condemn in the name of the Saviour of the world!"
"What then, as you see it--what can I do?" demanded Dan.
The Doctor changed his tone. His reply was more a question than an answer. "There are other churches?"
Dan laughed bitterly. "They have taken care of that, too." He began to tell of the call to Chicago and the Elders' refusal to give him a letter, but again the Doctor interrupted him. "Yes, I know about that, too."
"Well," demanded Dan almost angrily.
"Well," answered the other easily, "there are still other churches."
"I mean that you are not the only preacher who has been talked about by his church, and branded by his official board with the mark of the devil in the name of the Lord. It's easy enough! Go farther, get a little obscure congregation somewhere, stay long enough to get a letter, not long enough to make another name; try another in the same fashion. Lay low, keep quiet, stay away from conventions, watch your chance, and--when the time is ripe--make a hit with the state workers in some other state. You know how! It's all easy enough!"
Dan leaped to his feet. "Good God, Doctor! I have done nothing wrong. Why should I skulk, and hide, and scheme to conceal something I never did, for the privilege of serving a church that doesn't want me? Is this the ministry?"
"It seems to be a large part of it," answered the other deliberately. "My boy, it's the things that preachers have not done that they try hardest to hide. As to why, I must confess that I am a little near-sighted myself sometimes."
"I can't, I can't do it, Doctor!"
"Humph! I didn't suppose you could," came dryly from the old man.
Dan did not heed but went on in a hopeless tone to tell the Doctor how he had written his resignation, and had declined to consider the call to Chicago. "Don't you see that I couldn't take a church if one were offered me now?" he asked. "Don't you understand what this has done for me? It's not the false charges. It's not that! It's--it's the thing, whatever it is, that has made this action of the church possible. I am forced to doubt, not alone the church, but everything--the people, myself, God, Christ, Christianity, life itself; everything! How can I go on with a work, in which I cannot say to myself with truth that I believe?" His voice ended in a groan.
And the old man, who knew the lad so well felt as though he were gazing upon the big, naked soul. Then, indeed, the Doctor knew that the hour had come.
There are those who, capable of giving but little to life, demand of life much in return. To such weak natures doubt means not much. But souls like this one, capable of giving themselves to the last atom of their strength, demand no small returns in convictions as to the worthiness of the cause to which they contribute. To such, doubt is destruction. It was because Dan had believed so strongly, so wholly in the ministry of the church that he had failed. Had he not accepted so unreservedly, and given himself so completely to the ministry as it was presented to him in theory, had he in some degree doubted, he would have been able to adjust himself to the actual conditions. He would have succeeded.
For while, theoretically, the strength of the church is in its fidelity to the things in which it professes to believe; practically and actually the strength of the church of today is in its tacit acceptance of its unbeliefs. Strange things would befall us if we should ever get the habit of insisting that our practice square with our preaching; if churches should make this the test of fellowship--that men must live their doctrines, rather than teach them--that they must live their beliefs rather than confess them--that they must live their faiths, rather than profess them.
Dan's was not a nature that could preach things in which he only half believed to a people whose belief he knew to be no stronger than his own. It was with these things in mind that the Doctor had waited for this moment in Dan's life, for the old man realized, as the young man could not, what such moments mean.
Rising and going to the window overlooking the garden the Doctor called to Dan, "Come here, boy!"
Together they stood looking down on the little plot of ground with its growing vegetables, where Denny, with his helpless, swinging arm, and twisted, dragging foot, was digging away, his cheery whistle floating up to them. The physician spoke with a depth of feeling he had never betrayed before, while Dan, troubled as he was, listened in wonder to his friend, who had always been so reticent in matters such as this.
"Dan," he said, "you wished for my glasses. 'Tis always a mighty dangerous thing to try to see through another man's eyes, but here are mine." He pointed below.
"Down there I see religion--Christianity--what you will, but religion; living, growing, ever-changing, through the season-ages; lying dormant sometimes, it may be, but always there; yielding to each season the things that belong to that season; depending for its strength and power upon the Great Source of all strength and power; depending as truly upon man's efforts, upon his cultivation and care. There is variety, harmony, law, freedom. There is God! Something for all--potatoes, peas, turnips, cabbage. If you do not care for lettuce, perhaps radishes will satisfy. And there, boy, in the midst of his church, ministering to the needs of his congregation, and thus ministering to men--is my minister: crippled, patient Denny, who gives his frail strength to keep the garden growing.
"And look you, boy, at the great rock in the very center of the field! How often Denny has wished it out of his way! I caught the poor lad digging, one time, to find, if he could, how deep it is in the earth, and how big. For three days I watched him. Then he gave it up. It is beyond his strength and he wisely turned to devote his energies to the productive soil around it.
"There is a rock in every garden, Dan. Religion grows always about the unknowable. But Denny's ministry has naught to do with the rock, it has to do with the growing things about it. So religion is in the knowable things not in the unknowable; there such men as you, lad, must find it. And the rock, boy, was not put in the garden by men. It belongs to the earth itself."
While the Doctor was speaking his eyes had been fixed on the crippled boy in the garden. He turned now, for the first time, to face the young man by his side. Dan's eyes had that wide, questioning look. The old physician moved to the other window.
"Now come, see what men have done." He pointed to the cast-iron monument. "These people will tell you that was erected to commemorate the life of my friend. His was a warm, tender, loving spirit--a great, ever-growing soul. What can that hard, cold, immovable mass tell of him? How can that thing--perpetuating an issue that belongs to a past age, that has nothing to do with the life of today--how can that thing speak of the great heart that loved and gave itself always to men?
"Through my glasses that is the church! How can an institution, or a system of theological beliefs--with cast-iron prejudices, cast-iron fidelity to issues long past and forgotten, cast-iron unconcern of vital issues of the life of today and cast-iron want of sympathy with the living who toil and fight and die on every side--how can such speak the great loving, sympathetic, helpful spirit of Him whose name only it bears, as that bears only the name of my friend?
"But would the people of this town, out of love for my dead friend, tear down that monument if Denny should leave his garden to argue with them about it? Why, they would tell him that it is because of their love for the statesman that they keep it there and they believe it--and it is true. Well, then, let them keep their monument and let Denny work in his garden! And don't you see, Dan, that the very ones who fight for the cast-iron monument must depend at last for their lives and strength upon the things that Denny grows in his garden. Now boy, that's the first and only time I ever preached."