Faith and Patience
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1869
"I have no faith in anything!" said a poor doubter, who had trusted in human prudence, and been disappointed; who had endeavored to walk by the light of self-derived intelligence, instead of by the light of divine truth — and so lost his way in the world. He was fifty years old! What a sad confession for a man thus far on the journey of life. "No faith in anything."
"You have faith in God, Mr. Fanshaw," replied the gentleman to whom the remark was made.
"In God? I don't know him." And Mr. Fanshaw shook his head, in a bewildered sort of way. There was no levity in his manner. "People talk a great deal about God, and their knowledge of him," he added, but not irreverently. "I think there is often more of pious cant in all this, than of living experience. You speak about faith in God. What is the ground of your faith?"
"We have internal sight, as well as external sight."
There was no response to this in Mr. Fanshaw's face.
"We can see with the mind, as well as with the eyes."
"An architect sees the building, in all its fine proportions, with the eyes of his mind, before it exists in space visible to his bodily eyes."
"Oh! that is your meaning, friend Wilkins," said Mr. Fanshaw, his countenance brightening a little.
"In part," was replied. "That he can see the building in his mind, establishes the fact of internal sight."
"Admitted, and what then?"
"Admitted, and we pass into a new world — the world of spirit."
Mr. Fanshaw shook his head, and closed his lips tightly.
"I don't believe in spirits," he answered.
"You believe in your own spirit."
"I don't know that I have any spirit."
"You think and feel in a region distinct from the body," said Mr. Wilkins.
"I can't say as to that."
"You can think of justice, of equity, of liberty?"
"As abstract rights; as things essential, and out of the region of simple matter. The body doesn't think; it is the soul."
"Very well. For argument's sake, let all this be granted. I don't wish to cavil. I am in no mood for that. And now, as to the ground of your faith in God."
"Convictions," answered Mr. Wilkins, "are real things to a man. Impressions are one thing; convictions another. The first are like images on a mirror; the others like figures in a textile fabric. The first are made in an instant of time, and often pass as quickly; the latter are slowly wrought in the loom of life, through daily experience and careful thought. Herein lies the ground of my faith in God — it is an inwrought conviction. First I had the child's sweet faith transfused into my soul with a mother's love, and unshadowed by a single doubt. Then, on growing older, as I read the Bible, which I believe to be God's Word, I saw that its precepts were divine, and so the child's faith was followed by rational sight. Afterwards, as I floated off into the world, and met with storms that wrecked my fondest hopes; with baffling winds and adverse currents; with perils and disappointments — faith wavered sometimes; and sometimes, when the skies were dark and threatening, my mind gave way to doubts. But, always after the storm passed, and the sun came out again, have I found my vessel unharmed, with a freight ready for shipment of value far beyond what I had lost. I have thrown over, in stress of tempestuous weather, to save myself from being engulfed, things that I had held to be very precious — thrown them over, weeping. But, after awhile, things more precious took their place — goodly pearls, found in a farther voyage, which, but for my loss, would not have been ventured.
"Always am I seeing the hand of Providence — always proving the divine announcement, 'The very hairs of your head are numbered.' Is there not ground for faith here? If the Word of God stands in agreement with reason and experience — shall I not have faith? If my convictions are clear, to disbelieve is impossible."
"We started differently," replied Mr. Fanshaw, almost mournfully. "That sweet faith of childhood, to which you have referred, was never mine."
"The faith of manhood is stronger, because it rests on reason and experience," said Mr. Wilkins.
"With me, reason and experience give no faith in God, and no hope in the future. All before me is dark."
"Simply, because you do not use your reason aright, nor read your experiences correctly. If you were to do this, light would fall upon your way. You said, a little while ago, that you had no faith in anything. You spoke without due reflection."
"No, I meant just what I said. Is there stability in anything? In what can I trust tomorrow? simply in nothing. My house may be in ruins — burnt to the ground, at daylight. The friend to whom I loaned my money today, to help him in his need — may fail me tomorrow, in my need. The bank in which I hold stock may break — the ship in which I have my goods, may go down at sea. But why enumerate? I am sure of nothing."
"Not even of the love of your child?"
A warm flush came into the face of Mr. Fanshaw. He had one daughter twelve years old.
"Dear Alice!" he murmured, in a softer voice. "Yes, I am sure of that. There is no room for doubt. She loves me."
"One thing in which to have faith," said Mr. Wilkins. "Not in a house which cannot be made wholly safe from fire; nor in a bank, which may fail; nor in a friend's promise; nor in a ship at sea — but in love! Are you afraid to have that love tried? If you were sick or in misfortune, would it grow dim, or perish? Nay, would it not be intensified?
"I think, Mr. Fanshaw," continued his friend, "that you have not tested your faith by higher and better things — by things real and substantial."
"What is more real than a house, or a ship, or a bill of exchange?" asked Mr. Fanshaw.
"Imperishable love — incorruptible integrity — unflinching honor," was replied.
"Do these exist?" Mr. Fanshaw looked incredulous.
"We know that they exist. You know that they exist. History, observation, experience, reason, all come to the proof. We doubt, but in the face of conviction. Are these not higher and nobler things than wealth, or worldly honors — than place or power? And is he not serenest and happiest, whose life rests on these as a house upon its foundations? You cannot shake such a man. You cannot throw him down. Wealth may go, and friends drop away like withering autumn leaves, but he stands fast, with the light of Heaven upon his brow. He has faith in virtue — he has trust in God — he knows that all will come out right in the end, and that he will be a wiser and better man for the trial which tested his principles — for the storms which toughened, but did not break the fibers of his soul."
"You lift me into a new region of thought," said Mr. Fanshaw, "A dim light is breaking into my mind. I see things in a relation not perceived before."
"Will you call with me on an old friend?" asked Mr. Wilkins.
"A poor man. Once rich."
"He might feel my visit as an intrusion."
"What reduced him to poverty?"
"A friend, in whom he put unlimited faith, deceived and ruined him."
"And he has never been able to recover himself."
"What is his state of mind?"
"You shall judge for yourself."
In poor lodgings they found a man far past the prime of life. He was in feeble health, and for over two months had not been able to go out and attend to business. His wife was dead, and his children absent. Of all this, Mr. Fanshaw had been told on the way. His surprise was real, when he saw, instead of a sad-looking, disappointed and suffering person — a cheerful old man, whose face warmed up on their entrance, as if sunshine were melting over it. Conversation turned in the direction Mr. Wilkins desired it to take, and the question soon came, naturally, from Mr. Fanshaw —
"And pray, sir, how were you sustained amid these losses, and trials, and sorrows?"
"Through faith and patience," was the smiling answer. "Faith in God and the right, and patience to wait."
"But all has gone wrong with you, and kept wrong. The friend who robbed you of an estate holds and enjoys it still; while you are in poverty. He is eating your children's bread."
"Do you envy his enjoyment?" asked the old man.
Mr. Fanshaw shook his head, and answered with an emphasis — "No!"
"I am happier than he is," said the old man. "And as for his eating my children's bread, that is a mistake. His bread is bitter — but theirs is sweet."
He reached for a letter that lay on a table near him, and opening it, said — "This is from my son in the West. He writes: 'Dear Father. All is going well with me. I enclose you fifty dollars. In a month I am to be married, and it is all arranged that dear Alice and I shall go East just to see you, and take you back home with us. How nice and comfortable we will make you! And you shall never leave us!'"
The old man's voice broke down on the last sentence, and his eyes filled with tears. But he soon recovered himself, saying —
"Before I lost my property, this son was an idler, and in such danger that through fear of his being led astray, I was often in great distress of mind. Necessity forced him into useful employment — and you see the result. I lost some money — but saved my son. Am I not richer in such love as he bears me today, than if, without his love, I possessed a million dollars? Am I not happier? I knew it would all come out right. I had faith, and I tried to be patient. It is coming out right."
"But the wrong that has been done," said Mr. Fanshaw. "The injustice that exists. Here is a scoundrel, a robber, in the peaceful enjoyment of your goods, while you are in need."
"We do not envy such peace as his. The robber has no peace. He never dwells in security; but is always armed, and on the watch. As for me, it has so turned out that I have never lacked for food and clothing."
"Still, there is the abstract wrong, the evil triumphing over the good," said Mr. Fanshaw.
"How do you reconcile that with your faith in Providence?"
"What I see clearly, as to myself," was replied, "fully justifies the ways of God to man. Am I the gainer or the loser by misfortune? Clearly the gainer. That point admits of no argument. So, what came to me in the guise of evil — I find to be good. God has not mocked my faith in him. I waited patiently until God revealed himself in tender mercy; until the hand to which I clung in the dark valley, led me up to the sunny hills. No amount of worldly riches could give me the deep satisfaction I now possess. As for the false friend who robbed me, I leave him in the hands of the all-wise Disposer of events. He will not find, in ill-gotten gain, a blessing. It will not make his bed soft; nor his food sweet to the taste. A just and righteous God will trouble his peace, and make another's possessions the burden of his life."
"But that will not benefit you," said Mr. Fanshaw. "His suffering will not make good your loss."
"My loss is made good already. I have no complaint against God's Providence. My compensation is a hundredfold. For dross, I have gold. I and my son needed the discipline of misfortune, and it came through the treachery of a friend. That false friend, selfish and grasping — seeing in money the greatest good — was permitted to consummate his evil design. That his evil will punish him, I am sure; and in the pain of his punishment, he may be led to reformation. If he continues to hide the stolen fox, it will tear his vitals. If he lets it go, he will scarcely venture upon a second theft. In either event, the wrong he was permitted to do will be turned into discipline; and my hardest wish in regard to him is, that the discipline may lead to repentance and a better life."
"Your faith and patience," said Mr. Fanshaw, as he held the old man's hand in parting, "rebuke my restless disbelief. I thank you for having opened to my mind a new region of thought — for having made some things clear that have always been dark. I am sure that our meeting today is not a simple accident. I have been led here, and for a good purpose."
As Mr. Fanshaw and Mr. Wilkins left the poor man's lodgings, the former said —
"I know the false wretch who ruined your friend."
"Yes. And he is a miserable man. The fox is indeed tearing his vitals! I understand his case now. He must make restitution. I know how to approach him. This good, patient, trusting old man shall not suffer wrong to the end."
"Does not all this open a new world of thought to your mind?" asked Mr Wilkins. "Does it not show you that, amid all human wrong and disaster — the hand of Providence moves in wise adjustment, and out of evil educes good; that through loss in some lower degree of life, God brings gain to a higher degree? Consider how, in an unpremeditated way, you are brought into contact with a stranger, and how his life and experience touching yours, give out a spark that lights a candle in your soul to illumine chambers where scarcely a ray had shone before; and this not alone for your benefit. It seems as if you were to be made an instrument of good not only to the wronged, but to the wronger. If you can effect restitution in any degree, the benefit will be mutual."
"I can and I will effect it!" replied Mr. Fanshaw. And he did!