Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

cause.

“This : Do you think that there is a God ?"

The doctor raised his head, and made a sudden movement, which sent his chair some inches backwards.

“What an idea !” said he, at last.

“Come, come, lay aside your medical precautions. I know that I shall soon die. I think, therefore, that my question is as seasonable as it is to know what sort of physic I shall drink. So answer me frankly and promptly, if you please.

“Be it so, to the extent of my ability. Yes, I am of opinion that there is a God. I will go further; I do not think, like many, that this God is the material universe. No, I am far from being a pantheist: I have sense enough to trace effect to

To say that the universe makes itself, is as wise as to say that the clock in your dining-room made itself, and that it winds itself up every eight days. I reason differently, and I say; It is evidently not man, a limited being, who has created life, for he cannot comprehend what it is; nor is it the universe, for this is inert matter. There must therefore be, beyond man and matter, a primary and powerful cause. Again, I find in myself and in the world, traces of intelligence, affection, and justice. The great First Cause must, therefore, be intelligent, loving, and just. There you have the idea of a God.”

“Doctor, you forget one thing. The pantheist says that the world has always existed, and that therefore eternal matter need not be created nor organized.”

“I will examine that supposition. If matter is eternal, its mode of action is necessary or fixed. Thus, the universe has always been what it is, and always will be. If, therefore, the universe is immutable, we ourselves, as a part of it, are pure machines, and the words which I now pronounce are involuntary, and as necessary as the existence of the sun. You must either admit these and similar absurdities, or renounce the principle

of the eternity of matter.” “Dear doctor, I will not dispute; but enlighten me. You believe in a God, spiritual, intelligent, good, just, who rewards virtue, and punishes vice ?”

“Certainly."

“Well, then, let me tell you that I would rather believe in nonentity!"

“Why so ?" said the physician, with a gesture of horror.

“Because, if God is just, he ought to punish me. I have deeply sinned against him."

"O! but God is good. He will not be severe with you.” “Does he love lying ?” 66 No.”

[ocr errors]

“But I have deceived ! Does he love intemperance ?" 6 No."

“ But I have been intemperate! I cannot tell you all that I have done to offend him!”

Why, you are not a murderer or a thief ?" “ What! needs it that to satisfy your God? I may forget him all my life; swear, lie, deceive, hate, be ungrateful, avaricious, wicked ; and all this is nothing in his sight, because I have not put my hand in my neighbour's purse, or my dagger in his heart ? Oh, no, no! the conscience of a dying man speaks in another language. It tells me that a lie is an abominable thing; and that you, for instance, when you told me as you came in that my malady was nothing, fell into a serious error.”

But that was to compose you." “ Yes, it was a pious fraud; but it was an untruth: and since your God extends his indulgence so far as to tolerate falsehood, intemperance, avarice, vanity, all things but theft and murder, I tell you that I cannot in conscience believe in this God, and that I prefer none to him."

Our doctor, accused of falsehood by the dying man, who dared to tell the truth, asked him nothing more, but speedily took his leave.

The sick man resumed his solitary walk, and his soliloquy again broke the deep silence,-“ A God! That word alone has charms for me. Yes; there is a God: I believe it. But where is he? What would he have me to do? Who will tell me any more ?"

“What is that ?" said the young man, interrupting himself, and applying his ear to the wall on that side of the apartment whence a voice seemed to proceed.

In sæcula sæculorum”-softly pronounced the voice of an ecclesiastic.

“Ah! doubtless it is a priest,” murmured the invalid, “administering extreme unction to my poor neighbour, nearer death, possibly, than myself. But now I think of it, I will consult him.”

“ Charles," cried he.
“Sir;” said Charles, opening the door.

“ The Cure of the parish is next door: I hear him. Watch for him, when he leaves, and request him to step in here. I have something to say to him.”

Charles went out, fulfilled his commission, and Monsieur le Curé was soon seated in the chair recently occupied by the physician.

“ Monsieur le Curé," said the invalid, “permit me to come to the point without preamble; a dying man has no time to lose. I do not ask you whether you believe in the existence of a God; but I ask, what reasons you have for

your

belief?” 66 The church has said so.

“It is something besides the church; it is the opinion of a certain number of men : but that is not enough.”

“No; but it is good authority. Besides, if you want other evidence, accept the unanimous consent of all nations. In all ages of the world mankind have recognised a Creator. Men differ in their estimate of the nature of the Supreme, but all acknowledge that there is a God.”

“ Thank you, Monsieur le Curé. I am not disposed to contest the existence of a God: it is here that I want your enlightenment. What must I expect from God? What ought I to do, ere I appear before him ? It is with fear that I propose this question ; for I feel that he cannot be satisfied with my

past life.”

- You must confess."
66 And then"
“ I will give you
absolution from

your

sins.” " And then” “ You must perform some good works and

penances.” 66 What next?” - You shall receive extreme unction." “ And then—what then ?” “ You will go to purgatory.” “ To purgatory ! to suffer for thousands of

years

?“ To abridge the duration of your sufferings, you must cause masses to be said.”

“I would rather go straight to paradise.”

Impossible !-unless you were a saint; or, indeed, unless numberless masses"

“ No, Monsieur le Curé. No! All this will not content me. A saint I am not; and I fear there are few upon earth. Confession to man, pardon from man, penances imposed by man, masses said by man, all are vain. God cannot be satisfied with a confession which does not change me; with penances which only cost me hours of fatigue; and with masses, which may be said for the veriest wretch, at five francs apiece.”

• But the church has received her power from God himself; and I can prove it to you."

“ Never! Your proofs must be stronger and more numerous ere they can disturb the conclusions at which I have arrived concerning God; and I feel that when you have con

THE ENGLISH MONTHLY TRACT SOCIETY, 27, RED LION SQUARE, LONDON.

66

fessed and absolved me, even when a million of masses have been said for me, I shall be no better off.”

“Lead a holy life, and God will take it into the account.”

“ Lead a holy life, do you say? Time fails me: I am dying !"

“ But, during the hours which remain to you, perform some good works to atone for the past.'

“Ah! how can the good works of to-morrow atone for the faults of yesterday? All that I can do will scarcely suffice for the future: the past is irredeemable !”

Repentance will blot out your sins before God.” “In that case the vilest malefactors are safe ; for they are sorry for what they have done when they come to the foot of the scaffold."

“But Jesus Christ died for you. He is the victim who eso piates our sins.”

“Is that true ?” said the sick man, as if struck by this idea.

“ Certainly,” replied the priest, pleased to have discovered at last the way to his heart. “ Believe in Jesus Christ, and you will be saved."

“What! will it suffice for me only to believe ?”

“No, that will not suffice. Good works and the sacraments are also necessary.”

“ But do you not see, sir, that it is mockery to talk to me of these? I repeat, that I have no time for good works; and if I had time, I have not courage. I am convinced that there is no hope for me. In spite of my penances, in spite of your masses, I shall go to everlasting torments.”

“ But, sir"
6 No! I tell

you.

All
you say

is
repugnant to

my spirit, and revolting to my heart. It leaves my conscience in misery. Farewell: I would rather believe in nothing, than hope in your God, whose greatest favour would be to suffer me to burn in purgatory !"

At this moment, a light tap was heard at the door, and immediately a person of plain appearance and composed countenance presented himself. The Curé seized this opportunity for retiring; and the moment he departed, the invalid, so weak and depressed the instant before, exclaimed, as he threw himself into the stranger's arms,

“ What, is it you, Edward ? And where are you come from? It is an age since I have seen you.”

“I am just come from America. But answer me. What is that priest doing here?” “ My dear friend, my face ought to tell you !”

[ocr errors]

" You do indeed look

very

ill.” “Yes, but I shall not long look thus.” “ You expect, then—" 6 To die !”

“Well, my friend, I would not rob you of one salutary thought. It was then of death you were speaking with the

priest ?"

« Yes !"
“ And what did he

say
to
you

?
“Nothing to satisfy me."
“ What is needed to satisfy you ?”
“Impossibility."
“Explain yourself."

“ Listen!. I believe there is a God; for all nature speaks of him. All men believe in him; even the atheist, who professes to deny him, and the wretch who breaks his laws. But this God what is he? I know not. To tell

you

the truth, I never thought about it until now. But, in the approach of death, my spirit is possessed by the idea. I cannot get rid of it. I cannot understand it. All that is said to me leaves my soul in darkness, my heart in trouble; and conscience tells me it is not the truth.” “My dear friend! I know not what has been told

you:

I do not wish to know. But, if you will permit me, I will tell you my own experience; and perhaps—but listen."

“ I will."

“Some years since, I was in the state of mind in which i find you now,—seeking truth, and seeking it in vain. One day, having called upon a person of rank, who was not yet to be seen, I was obliged, against my will, to wait in the ante-chamber. To pass away the time, I looked around me for some object of amusement. Upon a small table I perceived an open Bible. I seated myself before it. The words which first caught my attention were those pronounced by Jesus when expiring on the cross : “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do!' A new and sudden light broke in upon me. The sight of one torn by nails, pierced by a lance, deafened by the mocking cries of the populace, laden with insults by the great of the earth,—this Being, hopeless even of being heard by his enemies, praying the Father to forgive his murderers ! This scene appeared to me too sublime to have been invented by mere humanity, and its hero too noble to have been an impostor. He must have told the truth in declaring himself to be the Son of God. This half-confidence which I gave to Jesus caused me to turn my attention to another page, on which

« ForrigeFortsæt »