The Face and the Life
By Timothy Shay Arthur, 1868
"What did he look like?" I asked.
"I saw his face only for a moment. It did not impress me favorably. But faces in repose do not always give a right index of character."
"I am not sure of that," said I. "The face in repose is, I think, the true face. We all have two lives, the external for the world, the internal for ourselves. And we are with ourselves, living our own internal lives, more than we are with the world living our external lives. Our external is a constrained and superficial thing, to be put on and off as selfish-interest, pleasure, or love of reputation may dictate. But our internal is made up of our real ends and purposes — is our very self, and silently, but surely, day by day, and year by year, is it writing on our faces, a true record of our characters. This is why the countenances of the good grow beautiful as they grow old; and why the countenances of the selfish and evil, grow more and more repulsive with age."
"I think there must be exceptions to this," remarked my friend.
"There may be apparent exceptions, but no real ones, for there is an eternal relation between cause and effect."
"Look at Dr. Mayfield," said he.
"You cite a strong case," I answered.
"Did you ever know a better man?"
"I think him one of the best of men," said I.
"And yet, his face in repose is as hard as iron."
"It is very hard, and very homely," I admitted.
"Yet all this fades when it lights up in conversation, and you wonder if it can be the same face you looked upon a little while before."
"If you study that face when the glow of external thought and feeling has died away," said I, "you will not find among its hard angles and deep lines, any lurking signs of cruelty."
"No, it is not a cruel face."
"Nor do we find covetousness there."
"It could not be there," my friend answered, promptly; "for of all vices, Doctor Mayfield is freest of this."
"Nor envy, discontent, or fretfulness."
"Hard and homely as his face is, it does not repel you."
"No," replied my friend, "there is nothing about Doctor Mayfield to repel. Everybody is attracted by him."
"If internally he were cruel, selfish, envious and discontented, these repulsive qualities would radiate from his countenance when in repose, and no one could mistake the signs. And so, in looking more narrowly at this 'strong case,' I find that it does not invalidate the theory. In the instance of Doctor Mayfield, it seems that a spirit of more than ordinary purity had become enshrined in a body of less than ordinary beauty, and of such an unyielding substance, that scarcely perceptible impressions were made, even in the lapse of years. But the soul is at work, and that hard face shall yet put on lineaments that to some eyes will only thinly veil the beautiful."
"And so you think the face in repose, is a right index to character?"
"I do, and for the reason given."
"There is the face of Mrs. Lawson," said my friend. "The thought of her has just come into my mind. No one questions her goodness. Yet her face when in repose, is anything but pleasing to contemplate. Her mouth has a troubled expression, singularly in contrast with its sweetness when she smiles."
"Mrs. Lawson has known trouble," I remarked. "She has passed through many fires of affliction."
"Yes, the cup of life placed to her lips was bitter indeed, and she drank to the dregs."
"Through many years, she drank."
"Yes — through many years."
"Do you wonder that her face grew in all these painful years into an expression of her inner life? That the perpetual trouble in her heart should have left its unattractive signs upon her countenance? Was it possible for her to pass long seasons of terrible suspense and fear? — to watch, day by day, the light of life grow fainter and fainter in a beloved face, until it went out forever in this world? — to see a destructive vice gaining by slow yet sure accumulations of strength, power over a son, and finally bearing him down, and binding him in fetters that were never broken? Was all this possible to be borne, without a disfiguring line of pain? I think not."
"No, it were impossible," said my friend. "Impossible," he repeated, in a half absent way, his eyes fixed, as if some image in his thought had made itself outwardly visible.
"But she has reached her tranquil days, thank God!" I remarked. "The long years of suspense are over — the worst, as they say, has come to the worst — death has made still, the hearts whose every throb of pain ran chilling down the wires of sympathy which bound them to her own. Like a brave, true Christian woman, she walked steadily onward in the ways of duty, and by duty and suffering, she has been purified. But the marks of fire are still upon her. She was but human. The old lines of trouble are not yet chiseled away; may never be wholly obliterated."
"And so," persisted my friend, "the countenance in repose does not always give the index of character."
"As instance, Mrs. Lawson?"
"I say, yes, and instance Mrs. Lawson." I was persistent in my view of the case. "The face of Mrs. Lawson, when not lighted up by thought and feeling, is brooding and troubled, and gives the character of her inner life and consciousness, through a long, long series of years, during which time the denser fibers that move in expression, hardened in one direction; and they retain that direction still. Facile they are, of course, to predominant emotions; but, when released from tension, draw back to their old position."
"Then," said my friend, "I must still question the proposition that the face in repose, is the true face. You argue against yourself. Mrs. Lawson's inner life is now serene; but her countenance indicates trouble and sadness."
"Memory is not lost, nor old states entirely obliterated," I answered. "As to her inner life being serene, I am not sure that such a condition is yet possible to her. It is, no doubt, in comparison to what it has been. But, after such storms as have agitated her soul, the deep ground-swell must long continue. And, moreover, the best of people have often the most painful discipline to endure."
"I have heard that before," said my friend doubtfully.
"And, if I draw a correct inference from your tone of voice — you do not credit the proposition," I remarked.
"I have not said that I question the truth of your remark."
"It is only not agreeable?"
"If your position is true, it is very far from being an agreeable one," he answered.
"The Bible says that the Lord loves whom he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives."
"I know; but, not to speak irreverently, I do not imagine that to be a way of showing affection."
"The love," said I, letting my voice fall into a low tone, "that consents to the infliction of pain, must be of the truest and deepest kind. Divine love has for its end, the salvation of the person. But the Lord can only save us in the degree that he can lead us out of our hereditary and actual evils, and bestow upon us good affections. All whom He leads, whether it be through light troubles or fiery trials — He draws heavenward. In the beginning of this heavenward journey, the walk is in the path of external obedience to Divine precepts. Truth shines into the mind, and shows us the way of life. It seems for awhile, an easy thing to move onward. But after a time, our heavenly Father, who is really seeking to work a change in the quality of our affections, so that we shall not merely do right in obedience to a law, but right because we love what is good — so disposes the things of our natural lives, that we come into sorrow, trouble, or misfortune. By this means, he seeks to produce a separation in the mind between worldly things, and the things of heaven — between what is of time, and what is of eternity. If there should be in the mind, stored up in infancy, childhood, and youth, by means of parents, teachers, and preachers — good affections, as well as holy truths from the holy Book, the Lord can by means of these, lift the striving soul out of the darkness of natural life, into the light of spiritual perception. With this state is given a foretaste of celestial blessedness, in the temporary fruition of which all earthly delights sink into baseness.
"The renewal of a human soul, fallen into the low deeps of selfishness, is no light task. It cannot be accomplished in a day, nor in an hour. It is the achievement of years. Weak, human hands must do the work — though not unassisted. If divine aid were not given, the case would be hopeless. But this help comes only in the degree that effort can be inspired in man. He must work as of himself; yet with the consciousness and acknowledgment that power to act, is from God. Is it not plain, that in the beginning of the effort to resist and overcome the natural inclinations, which are all selfish — he would soon grow weary? That after struggle and conquest on the first field of battle, the exhausted spirit would shrink from a renewal of strife? And now it is, that we see the operation of that divine love, which consents to the infliction of pain in order to save the objects of its love. There must be another, another, and another battle; and the weary soldier must be goaded to the contest.
"And thus it will be through the whole of this spiritual battle prolonged for years. God loves his children too well, to spare the chastening of natural life, whenever it is needed, in order that true spiritual life may fostered. But after every battle, there is given a season of rest and peace; after the pains of birth, delicious tranquility, and joy for the offspring — and these are so far above natural rest and joy, that no degree of comparison exists between them.
"And this is why the best of people have often the most painful discipline to endure; such discipline as would destroy those in whom is no spiritual strength — as baser metals are consumed in the fires by which gold is made pure."
I had grown unusually earnest in this effort to demonstrate the proposition at which my friend had seemed to demur.
"You may be right," was answered — "no doubt are right; but you do not make the way to Heaven attractive."
"But Heaven is attractive; and there is only one way to get there — as there is only one way for the distant mariner to reach his home which lies far across a stormy ocean."
"Through toil and suffering?"
"Through a denial of selfish and worldly affections; and just in the degree that this denial involves suffering, must pain come. It is because we are evil, that we suffer. Evil must die in us, before good can be born; and there is pain in both conditions — death-pains and birth-pains — but after the new birth, tranquil peace, and joy that passes understanding."