You can't be too careful, by H. G. Wells

Chapter 9

Out of the Deeps, Oh Lord!

“IF the Lord had not been on my side,” said Mr Myame, “when men rose up against me, they had swallowed me up quick when their wrath was kindled against me. Then the waters had overwhelmed me, the stream had gone over my soul.

“Yes, but thou spared him, Lord. His weeping was turned to joy. Blessed be the Lord who hath not given us a prey to their teeth. Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken and we are escaped. Blessed words. Oh blessed words! So thou dealtest with thy servant David! So thou dealest with all sinners that repent. And now — do I cry in vain? Are not these blessed words for me? Are not these words for me? Out of the darkness I cry. Let my cry come unto thee.”

It was late at night and he was in his study in sore tribulation Wrestling with the Spirit. For some months he had been living in a state of great spiritual contentment. Now suddenly a terrible darkness had closed in upon him. His sense of Divine Guidance had departed from him. He delivered these long treasured words with profound emphasis and paused. But there came no answer to him in the stillness without or within.

“Hide not thy face from me,” he resumed, “in the day when I am in trouble; incline thine ear unto me: In the day when I call, answer me speedily. For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burnt as an hearth. My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread. By reason of the voice of my groaning my bones cleave to my skin. I am like a pelican of die wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert. I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the house top. Mine enemies reproach me all the day; and they that are mad against me are sworn against me. For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping, because of thine indignation and thy wrath: for thou hast lifted me up, and cast me down.

No comfort came to him.

On the table in front of him was the One Good Book, and in his distress and search for guidance Mr Myame had resorted to an old-fashioned expedient, opening the precious volume with his eyes shut, running his finger down the page, and then taking the verse on which it rested as his message. But his first verse had been Genesis x, 23, and the words were: “And the children of Aram; Uz and Hul, and Gether, and Mash.”

He had pondered, but there was no light in that, none whatever. He had tried again and got First Chronicles xii, 27. It was just as opaque. “And Jehoiada was the leader of the Aaronites, and with him were three thousand and seven hundred.”

“Three thousand and seven hundred,” he reflected. “No. It’s nothing like that. It isn’t anything like that. Anyhow.”

Then he had resorted to his well stored memory for consolation and found no consolation, neither wind, nor thunder, nor a still small voice. He stood, at the end of his tether, bowed down, helpless, God-forsaken.

Penitence and prayer. He knelt before his fireside chair and prayed. Prayed for light, prayed that at least he might know why the Spirit had gone out of him. And at last, still on his knees, he confessed. “I have sinned, Oh Heavenly Father. I am no more worthy to be called thy Son.”

A vast load upon his shoulders seemed to lighten. “I have sinned. I have been presumptuous. I have taken upon myself —” He weighed his words carefully. “More than I should. . . .

“Not my will but thy will be done. . . .

“I presumed and thou has chastened me. But thou who readest the heart, thou knowest that in my pride it seemed to me that thou hadst delivered this task into my hands, to take this poor evil-hearted treacherous child and lead him into the light, to mould his heart and mind, and make him one of thy Holy Saints, to take him as my partner and at last my successor in this thy-school — for to Thee alone be the praise. To make this School a school of souls, a real Preparatory School for thy service, a centre of light in this dark world. . . . ”

The Divine Spirit made no audible reply, but it seemed now to Mr Myame that he or it was listening. The good man searched further into the situation.

“But that was not Thy way, Oh Lord. That was not Thy Will and thou hast chastened me. Thou hast raised up a serpent in my bosom. . . . ”

For some moments Mr Myame was at a loss for words.

“He hath sharpened his tongue like a serpent. Adder’s poison is under his lips. Adder’s poison. The proud have laid a snare for me and cords; they have spread a net by the wayside; they have set gins for me,. . . . Heap burning coals upon him. . . . ”

He paused lest there should be any mistake about this. Then he resumed, addressing himself more particularly to Edward Albert.

“What shall be given unto thee or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue? Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of jumper. Yea indeed. Coals of juniper. Woe is me that I dwell in the tents of Kedar! My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace. . . . But that, Oh Lord, is all over now. I cast him forth, according to thy will. Verily I cast him forth to have his part with the wicked. Forgive him, Lord, for he is young and foolish. Remember his transgression that at last he may find grace. Chasten me, yes, because I did not prove a better shepherd for him, but chasten him also! Chasten him too, Oh Lord. Chasten him and bring him back in thine own good time to thy salvation.”

He paused and sighed heavily. He felt he was being very generous and that the Holy Spirit would appreciate this. Bunyan’s burthen was palpably lighter on his shoulders, but still it was there.

He rose slowly to his feet and stood and gloomed. He mingled a certain element of soliloquy with his next address to the eternal.

“If it is thy Will that I abase myself, thy Will be done. But Lord how can I pay it back? Thou knowest how matters stand. If I humble myself. If thou shouldst soften their hearts. If, for instance, part of it could be made into a mortgage, a first mortgage. . . . ”

Men’s judgments of their fellow men are too often crude and rash. Mr Myame was no Chadband after the fashion of Dickens’ cruel portrait. He was a sincere, earnest Believer. He would have been the first to disclaim intellectual power, He pretended to no great learning. It was only the very simplest members of the congregation who imagined that he could read the Scriptures in the original Greek and Hebrew. But like most of that little church he was rich in the Gifts of the Spirit. What are intellectual powers and learning when it comes to the Gifts of the Spirit? Given those, you can teach anybody everything that matters, here and hereafter. That has been the strength of Believers ever since Religion began.

The Gifts of the Spirit are so copious, the inheritance of our common Christianity is so vast and various, that practically anything in the way of belief except Monism and Atheism can be picked out of its limitless treasury of exalting but contradictory statements and traditions. The orthodoxies and heresies alike are all no more than choice selections from that stupendous abundance. All the priestly religions have found it expedient for their own stability to restrain reference to the Holy Scriptures. But the invention of paper and of printing from movable type, let loose an unexpected flood of Bibles upon Christendom, and the Anabaptists, the General Baptists, the Particular Baptists and a great multitude of other non — conformists ensued.

None of this, by the way, is dissertation or generalisation or “ideas” or anything of that sort. There is no breach of our undertaking here. This is a plain and simple exposition of the fundamental processes that were going on in Mr Myame’s poor troubled hairy beetling head. He had been born into the little Camden Town church, and he had obeyed the injunction to search the Scriptures very faithfully. What his group of believers searched them for were scraps and phrases, often incomplete sentences or misapplied interpolations, that fell in with their already firmly established line of thought. They picked these out and let the rest of that unmanageable abundance slide. They were blind to it. The Bible abounds in contradictions of the most varied sort, and though there are millions of Bible Readers, pledged to get through the Word about every year or so, yet their Faith burns so brightly in them that not one of them seems ever to observe an inconsistency.

Mr Myame was a Trinitarian Bible Christian to the bone, and he had no doubt whatever that the Holy Ghost, having wantonly chosen him for salvation out of the general multitude of the hopelessly damned, was now, with the assistance of Almighty Providence engaged in an edifying wrestling match catch as catch can, with him for the good of his soul. The stars, the gulf of time, the intricate wonder of things unknown, were just the highly impressive but relatively insignificant adornment of the garment of this God who was trying out Mr Myame so sorely that night. There was not a scrap of make-believe about this superb wrestling match. He wrestled with his Deity in perfect good faith.

He and the Spirit were still battling darkly when he went upstairs.

His wife coughed and woke up.

“You are very late, Abner,” she said. “Is anything the matter?”

“The hand of the Lord is very heavy upon me,” he said. “He has — I can’t tell you. But a great darkness has come upon my soul.”

He divested himself of his upper garments in silence, assumed his long grey-green flannel nightshirt and then in all modesty removed his shoes and trousers. That, by the way, was as much as she had ever seen of him, and he had seen even less of her.

“I have sinned. I have been presumptuous and God has punished my pride. That boy Tewler. . . . ”

He paused.

“I always thought there was something a little sneakish about him.”

“I pray God that some day I may be able to forgive him,” he said.

Terrible words to say.

And in the night he tossed and worried and talked in his sleep. Sometimes he was praying. He was praying that he might be humble, that God would temper this cup to his lips, that he might be comforted and restored to God’s favour. And sometimes he seemed to be doing sums. And anon he seemed to be addressing himself to Edward Albert in language which, though generally scriptural, was invariably unpleasant. Towards morning he seemed to come to a definite conclusion. He spoke as if he was wide awake. “As the Scotch say, I must ‘dree my weird’,” he said in an exceedingly loud voice, and became quite still.

And presently he fell asleep with his mouth wide open, and snored.

“He giveth his beloved sleep,” whispered his devoted wife. She had followed all these distressful phenomena with sympathetic interest. It seemed he had fought a good fight and won. She stifled a fit of coughing for his sake. Presently she also sank into slumber.

Such was the deep spiritual conflict through which Mr Myame passed, because these two worldlings in their so — called Reform Club made a net for his feet and compassed him about, and, understanding nothing of the matter, called him “Chadband.” Would a Chadband, a deliberate hypocrite, have achieved the stern self-abandonment with which he now set himself to readjust Edward Albert’s affairs? That strains the Chadband theory. And would a mere self — regarding Chadband have displayed the same intensity of indignation at the wickedness as he conceived it, of Edward Albert’s behaviour? His wrath was not after the manner of a Chadband, or a Chadband–Squeers; his wrath and anger were the wrath and anger of David King of Israel — in humbler circumstances, of course.

I do not know precisely what they mean, but the only words that occur to me to round off this description are

“Chadband forsooth!”

So let it rest at that.

Beyond all question Mr Myame was of the stuff that Saints are made of. This is before all things a truthful novel, and that is the truth about him — and about them.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/wells/hg/you-cant-be-too-careful/book2.9.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30