The Agnostic. (116 – “Gospel Messenger” Series) (24pp)
by X (Mrs Wolston)
"YOU seem to be very fond of reading."
"Yes, very, provided I can get good books; I do not care for trash."
"What do you call good books?"
"The works of the best authors. On my well days, I like books that need a good deal of thinking out, but on my weary days, I want a good novel; it is a great rest to forget myself in a thoroughly well-written novel."
"Do you find rest in that?”
''Well, rest is perhaps too strong a word to use; rest means so much. There is no real rest, but books mean temporary oblivion, forgetting for the moment all one's circumstances and surroundings. I do not know what I should do here without books."
The last speaker was a lady of middle age, with dark, keen, deeply set eyes which had almost a hard look in them. She had had an eventful life, and now, through a fall, while walking rapidly across a London street, had become partially paralyzed, and through reverse of circumstances, could not have the care and attention she needed in a private house and thus had become an inmate of a home for such cases.
She was lying in a bed in the corner of a ward in which there were ten other patients, and yet she seemed altogether alone. She lived apart with her books, neither giving nor seeking sympathy, but holding aloof from all.
She had been only ten days in the ward when the conversation referred to took place, but her visitor had heard something of her history from other sources and felt it would be no easy matter to gain her confidence, or penetrate the proud reserve which, like a barbican, guarded the entrance to the citadel of her inner being.
The novel in her hand proclaiming that it was one of her "weary days," and the half sigh with which she said there was no real rest, opened a loophole for kindly sympathy, and interest in the case of her sufferings, while anything that might seem to her like mere impertinent curiosity was carefully avoided.
Her new friend told her she could in measure sympathize, as she herself had known what it was to be confined to bed or couch for a lengthened period, and thus knew something of what weary days and restless nights meant. "But," she added, "I had always the comfort of knowing that the One who loved me best had all power in His hands, and would do the very best thing for me, and He only asked me to trust Him, even Jesus the Son of God."
No response came. There was no need to ask, "Do you know that One?" The cold silence, the hard stony look that came over her face, made such a question superfluous.
After a brief pause, during which her friend had been arranging something for her on her little table, she suddenly said:
"I would not let any one I loved suffer if I had the power to prevent it."
"But, in your experience as a nurse, have you never had to carry out treatment that was painful at the time, for your patient's good, even if that patient were some one you loved?"
"Yes, that is true, but I could explain the necessity of the treatment, and the good that would follow."
"If your patient were a young child, could you explain?"
"No, of course not; but I could show love and tenderness to any child I nursed. But what can you know of love, or power, or of anything you cannot see?"
''This book," holding up a Bible, "reveals to me the love of the heart of God and the power of His hand. I believe it to be a direct communication from God Himself."
"But I do not believe the Bible; some parts of it are beautiful as poetry, and good, but how can any one with a mind, really believe all that is contained in the Bible? I do not believe anything I cannot reason out. We cannot know anything beyond what our understandings can grasp. I have for years been an Agnostic."
"Oh! I am so sorry for you; it must be such a dreary thing not to know anything certainly."
"Are you any better off, do you know anything certainly?"
"Yes, indeed I do. I know that God loves me. I know that Christ died for me. I know that when He appears, I shall be like Him; and meantime, I know whom I have believed, and that He is able to keep me till that day. Even for time, to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, is rest and peace and joy."
"But how do you know?"
"God has spoken, and I believe Him. You see, I believe this book to be inspired from cover to cover."
"And I believe the Buddhist Scriptures to be as much inspired, and the writings of Confucius; indeed, every writer worth reading, I believe is inspired."
"God gave man his powers of intellect certainly, and he is accountable to Him for the use he makes of them; but the Holy Scriptures are not the work of men's minds. God used human instruments to record what He would make known; 'Holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,' the apostle Peter says; and the apostle Paul says, 'All Scripture is given by inspiration of God,' and by that I understand not only that He gave the power to write, but also the words to say, and God has preserved this book through all the efforts of Satan to get rid of it. You believe there is a God, do you not?"
''Yes, an eternal existence there must be."
"Then, if there be a God, would He not take some means to make His will known—make Himself known? I believe we see His power in creation, the works of His hands, and this book reveals what His heart is. It has taught me what I am, and what He is. I do not need any external proofs as to its being His communication. God has spoken to me through it by His Spirit. You speak of Buddhism and Confucianism; we women are poorly off in the countries in which these doctrines prevail. Having already existed as a man, to live again as woman is, as you know, almost as degrading as to become one of the lower animals. Alternatively, a woman has no soul at all. Do you think the Buddhist's Nirvana, or ceasing to exist— which is his highest hope in the future—can compare with the Christian's joyful prospect of being with Christ and like Him for ever—with Christ, the Son of God—about whom I can say now, 'Who loved me, and gave Himself for me'? Do you never feel dissatisfied with your agnosticism—never want something, some One to cling to? Does it never enter your mind that your thoughts may be wrong thoughts; that the Bible may be true, and the soul's hereafter, of which it speaks, absolutely real?"
''I will own to you, I do at times get doubts, but I put them from me.
''Is that even wise?"
"But there are so many discrepancies in the Bible."
"That only seems so to our finite minds, and because we only know in part. When I find something I cannot understand, I know the fault is in me."
"I cannot accept what I cannot comprehend."
"If I could comprehend God, He would not be God to me; He would be no greater than I. The Bible says, 'The world by wisdom knew not God.' Will you let me read a chapter from the Bible to you before I go?"
After reading the third of John's Gospel, her visitor said to her, "Would you care to see me again?" "Yes, I should," she answered, "I do not know how it is, but you remind me so of the aunt who brought me up till I was seventeen. You speak just as she spoke. She was certain, and happy too.''
A week passed before her friend saw her again. At first when they met, her manner seemed stiffer than ever, as though she had armed herself to repel anything that might attack her position; but after a time she softened, as she listened attentively to the story of one who had been an infidel like herself, but who had been moved by the lives of some Christians with whom he came in contact, and their evident possession of something to which he was a stranger, and which was enough to fill their hearts with abiding peace, in spite of all adverse circumstances. At first, he got uncomfortable, then anxious, then to realize the fact that he was a sinner, and God, a holy God, who could not look upon sin, till at last he spent a whole night, sleepless, in distress of soul. Then as morning began to dawn, he cried to God to have mercy on him a lost sinner, for Jesus Christ's sake; he just knew two things—that he was a sinner and that the Lord Jesus had died for sinners—and so he pleaded His death to meet his sins; and then and there, he got the sense that he was forgiven, nay, more, loved—because he said this scripture came to him, that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life."
At this point she burst into tears and said, "Once, long ago, when I was seventeen, I spent a night like that; it was after a preaching to which my aunt had taken me."
"Then I went to London to the house of another aunt, who made great professions of Christianity, went to early morning services, and had a great show of religion; but she took me to the theatre and to every place of amusement. When her religious observances were over, she had no thought but for the pleasures of the world, yet she thought herself, and was thought to be a very devout person. I despised the religion that produced such a life, while she lost no opportunity of speaking against the religion of the one whose life had seemed to me so consistent with what she professed, and so different from hers. l was young and the world was attractive. I did not believe in this aunt's religion, but her world was pleasant, and I put her professions from me, as all unreal. Afterwards, I took up nursing, and while nursing a patient, who was an Agnostic, I read his books to him, and imbibed his views."
"But you have found no comfort in them, nor rest?''
"An unknown God, an unknown future, and nothing for the present—that is no comfort for a sick bed."
"But Christians are so unreal."
"You have known one real one at any rate, and you knew her life for seventeen years, and she was happy and restful?"
"Oh yes, her very face showed it. I knew others too, when I was a girl, who believed as my aunt believed, and shared her peace and rest."
"Was your patient a happy man, or a holy man?"
"Neither. I knew he was not a good man, and, while ill, his restlessness made him a difficult patient."
''Then in your own experience, you have known some who knew the Lord and their hearts were satisfied, while those who gave up the God of the Bible found nothing to satisfy them. An old saint said long ago, 'God made us for Himself, and our hearts are never satisfied till they rest in Him.' I may not be quoting quite exactly, but I think it was Augustine said it."
Her answer did not seem quite a propos; she just said, ''You bring back to me almost the very look of my aunt's face."
Evidently the teachings of this godly aunt had not been lost; though choked by her niece's years of skepticism, they could not be eradicated. Satan had done his utmost to drag down her soul, but the Good Shepherd had kept His eye on this wandering sheep all the time.
She listened intently while the fifteenth of Luke was read that day, and at the close, her friend said, “Will you keep this Bible and read it, and I shall pray that the Spirit of God may touch your heart as you read, and open your eyes to see your own need of a Saviour, and God's provision to meet that need?"
"I will read it," she said, and she kept her word.
"The entrance of thy words giveth light," the inspired Psalmist said, and so it was in this case.
Slowly the light dawned upon her soul. The old habit of reasoning and doubting did not disappear in a day. At each visit of her friend, she had some question to raise—Why did God do this, or allow that?
"Have you ever read in the Book of Job: 'God is greater than man. Why dost thou strive against him? for he giveth not account of any of his matters'? or this in the Epistle to the Romans: 'Who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?' " was the answer. "It is no question for you or me, Why does God do this, or allow that? The great matter for us is that eternity is before us, possibly very near at hand, and you and I have to meet God. How can you, how can I meet the claims of a holy God? The Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ has settled that question for me. 'For he (God) hath made him (Christ) to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.' Christ met the claims of God as to the question of sin, and He bore the judgment of my sins, 'Who his own self, bare our sins in his own body on the tree.' He took my place, the just instead of the unjust, and has brought me to God, and to God as a Father."
It was evident a terrible conflict was going on in her soul. Satan had made a palace of it for many years, and he fought hard to keep possession of his palace, but the stronger than he dispossessed him, and claimed it for Himself.
For several minutes, she did not speak, her whole frame trembled, then with bowed head and eyes filled with tears, she said in a low voice, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief."
From that day everything was totally changed with her, even the very expression of her face.
The infidel books had disappeared from her bed and table from the time she began to read the Scriptures. Now the novels went too. She went through great anguish as to the terrible sin of her past life in its rebellion against God, and the way in which she had hurt other souls by her bold defiance. She was specially troubled about a near relative, who was ensnared, as she had been, by the same device of Satan, and chiefly through her means; but she learned that the death of Christ had put away this, as every other sin from God's sight, and though she could not undo the past, she could look to Him to meet that one as He had met her.
To this relative she spoke of God's deliverance of herself from the bondage of Satan, and earnestly besought her to read the Bible, not as a critic, but as a seeker for light.
She was quite changed in the ward. Instead of keeping proudly aloof from all, she now sought the company of those she knew were Christians, during the short time that she was able to move from her bed, and one of these especially was a real help to her.
Some young Christians had been visiting in the ward, but her face and manner had been so repellent, they had been afraid to speak to her. Now she let it be known that she would love to have visits from them, and she much enjoyed these visits, as she also did the letters of one of them who had left the town, but who had spoken to her in her days of unbelief and retained a prayerful interest in her.
To the friend who had seen her every week for three months, she said one day: "I can thank God now for what seemed so hard. I believe He allowed my accident to take place to bring me here, to rescue my soul from Satan's bondage, and bring me to Himself. I shall praise Him for eternity for what seemed the hardest thing of all my life."
Three weeks after she found "peace in believing," her friend had to leave the town for nearly four months. She had kept her supplied with deep books for "well days," and simple ones for "weary days," that might help her in the study of the Scriptures, and when she went away, she left several with her.
For weeks she read eagerly, then the paralysis increased, and this enjoyment was at an end. When her friend returned, it was to find a great change in her bodily state, but as her "outward man" perished, her “inward man was renewed.
She could no longer even hold a book or turn a page to read for herself, and this was a great privation—reading had been such a delight to her—but she so enjoyed anything she got from others—a few verses of Scripture, a hymn, a little talk about the things of God. "How bright she was!" was the remark of one who ministered to her in this way.
She hailed her friend's return with great warmth of welcome, and the visits became weekly ones again. She asked that they might study the Epistle to the Romans together, but they never got very far on in the epistle. On the occasion of the second visit, she wanted to know more about the Lord's coming to fetch His people, and His appearing with them to reign; about the judgment-seat of Christ, and the marriage supper of the Lamb, and that day they went through many scriptures together. At the end she said, ''We have not had our regular reading, but I have so enjoyed this, and it has given me so much to think over."
The next visit was their last meeting on earth, and she sent a relative away that their reading might be undisturbed.
"It is Romans ii. to-day," she said, "after we have gone through this epistle, I have so many parts of Scripture I want you to go over with me this winter."
She was ill and weak; both knew she would never be well again, or better than she then was, but each alike thought she had the winter before her, to spend down here.
The remarks she made that day, as they read Romans ii. together, or rather as it was read to her, showed how the Spirit of God had been teaching her.
"I missed you so terribly while you were away," she said, as her friend left her, "but I think the Lord must have meant me to depend all the more upon Himself."
"And you have no doubts ever now?"
"None. I should like to blot out those long years of rebellion and blasphemy, but He has blotted them out and forgiven even me."
With a bright smile on her face, she said, "Goodbye"—the last good-bye between them it proved, for thirty-seven hours after, she was "absent from the body, present with the Lord."
There was no time for any last words or messages, or any death-bed testimony; she was gone in a few minutes. She had been rather better that morning and had taken her breakfast as usual. An hour or two afterwards, she felt a choking sensation, and asked to be raised. As this was being done, her face changed, and in a few minutes, she had left the weak suffering body behind, and had gone into the presence of the Saviour, who had sought and found her, and brought her to Himself after all her wanderings, and then had carried her home on His shoulders rejoicing.
Reader, if the call to leave the body and pass into eternity came as suddenly to you, would it mean for you as it did for her, "absent from the body, present with the Lord"? X.
“The Gospel Messenger” 1904