THE ADVENTURES OF A BIBLE
A True Story
By the Rev. J. H. Townsend, D.D.
On a dull January’ afternoon some years ago Â— the date of this occurrence is written down in an old notebook of mine Â— a young widow was sitting in her drawing-room looking out of the window.
It was a fine house in a fashionable Dublin square, the room was handsomely furnished; everything indicated comfort, and even wealth, but the possessor looked unhappy.
Mrs. Blake was a Roman Catholic, fervent and conscientious in the practice of her creed, but of late her mind had been burdened with the thought of her sins. Religious practices, penance, and even prayers, brought her no relief; the burden could not be removed.
She had told her sorrows to her confessor, and at his bidding had taken up works of charity; but, although these things were an interest and for a while occupied her mind, the sense of her own sins lay heavy on her soul. Her confessor, a kindly and attractive young priest, gave her full absolution, but his words brought no comfort.
As she sat musing, there was a knock at the hall door, and before she had time to collect her thoughts a visitor was in the room.
`What shall I do to rouse you and get that sad look from your face?’ `Ah, Father John, you are kind and you have done your best, but the burden of which I have told you lies heavy on my heart’
`Listen to me,’ said he; ‘I have made up my mind what you are to do. There’s a man coming to the Rotunda tomorrow who will make your sides ache with laughing, and you shall go to hear him.’
`Oh, Father John Â—’
`No Â— not a word! I won’t have any excuse Â— I enjoin it; go you will, and go you must.’
The young priest explained that a society entertainer well known at that period, was to appear before a fashionable audience, and that in his opinion this would be the best thing for her. No protest was of the slightest use, she could not disobey her spiritual adviser, who had even brought her a ticket for the performance, so the following afternoon saw Mrs. Blake at the appointed place, where large placards announced the entertainment which she had been ordered to attend.
The Rotunda, as every Dublin person knows, has more than one public room under its roof; there is the great Round Room, the Pillar Room, and one or two more; there are, moreover, different entrances. Now, as it happened, Mrs. Blake had made a mistake as to the hour of the performance, and instead of the crowd which she would have seen had she come at the right time, she noticed a little string of persons entering the building; following them she found herself in one of the smaller halls and sat down.
It seemed odd that no one had asked for her ticket, but she concluded that this would be rectified later on. There was no time for much thought, as almost immediately a gentleman came upon the platform and gave out a hymn. Then it flashed on her that she had made some dreadful mistake Â— she must be in the wrong room, and, worst of all, this must be some Protestant meeting into which she had unfortunately found her way. Mrs. Blake was shy and sensitive; to go out of the place in the sight of all assembled was to her an impossibility. What should she do? She determined to slip out at the close of the hymn, for by so doing her action would be less likely to attract notice.
This she tried to do, but in her anxiety to be quick she knocked down her umbrella violently, and the noise which it made was so great that many turned round to see the cause. Poor Mrs. Blake, terrified at what she had done, sank into a chair and almost wished that she could fall through the floor.
Now there was a deep silence, and then one voice, that of the man on the platform, was heard in prayer. She could not help listening, as she had never heard anything like this before; it was so unlike the ‘Hail Marys’ and other prayers in her books of devotion. The man was so reverent, but he seemed so happy as he prayed! This struck her as most extraordinary.
The prayer ended and the speaker announced that he would read a passage of Scripture on the ‘Forgiveness of Sin.’ The very subject of all others in the world that she longed to hear about! Come what may Â— let Father John say what he liked or do what he chose Â— she must listen to this.
The first eighteen verses of the tenth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews was read, and the speaker in a simple way expounded the teaching until it became as clear as daylight. The One Sacrifice once offered; the free and full forgiveness granted to those who ask for it in His name; this, illustrated by several other passages in the New Testament, formed the subject of the discourse.
As the thirsty ground drinks in the summer rain, so did this poor soul receive these wonderful truths. She had never heard them before, but now they flowed into her inmost being and she longed to hear more.
The speaker ceased, and after another prayer the meeting broke up.
Mrs. Blake felt that this was the opportunity of her life, so, summoning her courage, she went to the edge of the platform and asked the gentleman whose words he had been reading.
Surprised at such a question he came down, and was at once plied with so many enquiries that he offered to write down references for her to study at home. When, however, he learned that the lady had never
possessed a Bible, his interest was keenly aroused. ‘I will lend you mine,’ he said; `read the marked passages in the pages I have turned down, but let me have it back in a few days; it is the most precious thing that I have.’
Mrs. Blake thanked him warmly, and hastened home with joy in her heart and a new light in her eye; how different a being from the disconsolate creature who a couple of hours previously had found her way to the Rotunda!
For the next few days everything was forgotten but her new treasure; she read and re-read the marked passages and many others too. The light shone into her understanding; the burden long weighing upon her conscience rolled away into the open grave, and the peace of God filled her heart and mind.
Now the time had come for the Bible to be returned. Once more she was deep in her new study and so engrossed in thought as not to notice a ring at the hall door. Someone entered her sitting room and her confessor stood before her. He noticed two things: an embarrassment in her manner, and at the same time a restful calm in her eyes, to which he was a stranger.
`What has happened to you?’ said her visitor, ‘I haven’t heard how you liked the entertainment, and as I didn’t see you at Mass last Sunday I thought you might be ill.’
Taken aback by the suddenness of the whole thing, Mrs. Blake lost her self-possession. She had intended to keep the matter a secret for a time at least, but now she was off her guard, and with the simplicity of a child she told the whole story Â— the mistake of the room, the attempt to go, the words spoken, the book lent, and, last of all, the joy and peace that filled her heart.
With downcast eyes she spoke, but when she glanced up, her spirit froze with terror at the look of the man before her. It was black with rage! Never before had she seen such fury depicted on a face.
`Give me that book!’ he said hoarsely.
`It isn’t mine!’ she cried, vainly attempting to stop him.
`Give it to me,’ was the reply, ‘or your soul will be damned eternally; that heretic has nearly got you into hell, and neither he nor you shall ever read the book again.’
Seizing it as he spoke, he thrust it into his pocket and, giving her a fearful look, strode out of the room.
The lady sat as if paralysed Â— she heard the hall door shut, and something in her heart seemed to shut also and to leave her alone in terror. That awful look searched her through and through; only those who have been born and brought up in the Church of Rome know the nameless horror which their idea of the power of the priesthood can inspire. Then too she thought of the gentleman who had lent her the Bible; his address was in it, but she could not remember it and knew not where to write. This was very grievous, but oh! that look Â— it was branded on her memory.
Days passed slowly by, but her visitor, once so welcome, now so dreaded, did not return. Courage began to creep back, and at last, after a fortnight or more had elapsed, Mrs. Blake determined to venture upon a visit to him. She must make one more effort, if not too late, to get the book restored to its rightful owner.
Father John lived some distance from Mrs. Blake’s residence, and his house adjoined a convent to which he was confessor. The door was opened by a nun, who visibly started at the sight of Mrs. Blake and, upon being asked if the priest were at home, her eyes seemed to blaze for a moment, but immediately her face became rigid and her manner cold as she said, ‘Yes, Father John is at home Â— he is in this room; will you come in and see him?’ As she spoke she half led, half pushed, the lady into the room opening off the hall; but as the visitor entered she uttered a piercing shriek, for oh! Â— horror of horrors! Â— there was an open coffin, and in it the lifeless form of her confessor.
Before she could recover from the shock, the nun glided up to her and hissed into her ear these words: `He died cursing you; you gave him a Bible, and he told me to tell you that he cursed you Â— cursed you with his last breath; now go!’ And before she well knew what had happened, Mrs. Blake was in the street with the door shut behind her.
Several weeks elapsed. The breath of spring had passed over the earth, waking leaves and flowers to life and loveliness. One evening Mrs. Blake was sitting alone pondering over the events of the last three or four months. The joy of pardon was in her heart, she had bought a Bible for herself, and had read it daily. The old errors in which she had been brought up had been one by one renounced, but there was a sorrow which could not be effaced. How sad, how ineffably sad, the brief illness and sudden death of that young priest! His last look! His last words! That terrible message!
Why should she have been so blest, brought into the haven of peace, filled with heavenly joy, and he Â— why should not the same words have brought him a like message? It was too awful, and was one of those mysteries which could never be explained. ‘Why,’ she said to herself, `should a God of love do this?’
At that moment the servant ushered into the room a lady who was closely veiled and who stood for a moment irresolute. Before Mrs. Blake could speak, the other said, ‘You do not know me in this dress, but you will soon recognise me.’ With these words she lifted her veil and revealed the face of the nun who had delivered the message of cursing as they stood by the open coffin.
Mrs. Blake started back, not knowing what might happen next, but her visitor calmed her fears, adding, ‘May I sit down and tell you something?’ Having been invited to do so she went on Â— ‘I ,have two
things to tell you, and I must be very brief, for I am in haste. First, please, please forgive me for that awful lie of mine; I have asked God’s forgiveness, but I beg also for yours. Father John died blessing you with all his heart. The day before his death he charged me to tell you that he too had found forgiveness for his sin by that book, and that throughout eternity he would bless you for having brought him to the knowledge of his Saviour. Now, will you forgive me?’
`I will indeed, from the bottom of my heart,’ gasped the astonished lady; ‘but why did you say what you did?’
`Because I hated you. I loved him, and hated you for having sent him to hell as I believed. Now listen. I felt the strongest desire to read what he had read, and after his funeral I could not resist looking into the book for myself; I was fascinated and read more and more, and I too have found pardon and peace in my Saviour. I have been studying the Bible for weeks, and now here it is’ Â— producing it as she spoke. ‘I have escaped from the convent this evening and will cross to England tonight, but I felt that I must come here to return this Bible, and to tell you that all my life I too shall bless you for having through it taught me how to get forgiveness for my sins. Goodbye! God bless you! We shall meet in heaven.’
A brief farewell, and she had passed out of the house and was gone.
Was it, after all, only a dream? A little worn Bible lay on the table before her. It was no dream, but a glorious reality. That little book Â—without a living voice to expound its teaching in two of these cases Â—had brought three precious souls out of darkness into light
Imagine the feelings of the owner when it was restored to him with this wonderful record! And yet what says the One who sent it on its mission?
`My word… shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it’ Reader, what has your Bible done for you?
I believe that upon search it will appear that error hash not been advanced by anything in the world so much as by usurping a power for its suppression. John Owen.
We should as carefully avoid errors as vices; a blind eye is even worse than a lame foot; yea a blind eye may cause a lame foot.