North and South (Chapter 4, page 3 of 7)


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Chapter 4

'No! not doubts as to religion; not the slightest injury to
that.' He paused. Margaret sighed, as if standing on the verge of
some new horror. He began again, speaking rapidly, as if to get
over a set task: 'You could not understand it all, if I told you--my anxiety, for
years past, to know whether I had any right to hold my living--my
efforts to quench my smouldering doubts by the authority of the
Church. Oh! Margaret, how I love the holy Church from which I am
to be shut out!' He could not go on for a moment or two. Margaret
could not tell what to say; it seemed to her as terribly
mysterious as if her father were about to turn Mahometan.

'I have been reading to-day of the two thousand who were ejected
from their churches,'--continued Mr. Hale, smiling
faintly,--'trying to steal some of their bravery; but it is of no
use--no use--I cannot help feeling it acutely.' 'But, papa, have you well considered? Oh! it seems so terrible,
so shocking,' said Margaret, suddenly bursting into tears. The
one staid foundation of her home, of her idea of her beloved
father, seemed reeling and rocking. What could she say? What was
to be done? The sight of her distress made Mr. Hale nerve
himself, in order to try and comfort her. He swallowed down the
dry choking sobs which had been heaving up from his heart
hitherto, and going to his bookcase he took down a volume, which
he had often been reading lately, and from which he thought he
had derived strength to enter upon the course in which he was now
embarked.

'Listen, dear Margaret,' said he, putting one arm round her
waist. She took his hand in hers and grasped it tight, but she
could not lift up her head; nor indeed could she attend to what
he read, so great was her internal agitation.

'This is the soliloquy of one who was once a clergyman in a
country parish, like me; it was written by a Mr. Oldfield,
minister of Carsington, in Derbyshire, a hundred and sixty years
ago, or more. His trials are over. He fought the good fight.'
These last two sentences he spoke low, as if to himself. Then he
read aloud,-'When thou canst no longer continue in thy work without dishonour
to God, discredit to religion, foregoing thy integrity, wounding
conscience, spoiling thy peace, and hazarding the loss of thy
salvation; in a word, when the conditions upon which thou must
continue (if thou wilt continue) in thy employments are sinful,
and unwarranted by the word of God, thou mayest, yea, thou must
believe that God will turn thy very silence, suspension,
deprivation, and laying aside, to His glory, and the advancement
of the Gospel's interest. When God will not use thee in one kind,
yet He will in another. A soul that desires to serve and honour
Him shall never want opportunity to do it; nor must thou so limit
the Holy One of Israel as to think He hath but one way in which
He can glorify Himself by thee. He can do it by thy silence as
well as by thy preaching; thy laying aside as well as thy
continuance in thy work. It is not pretence of doing God the
greatest service, or performing the weightiest duty, that will
excuse the least sin, though that sin capacitated or gave us the
opportunity for doing that duty. Thou wilt have little thanks, O
my soul! if, when thou art charged with corrupting God's worship,
falsifying thy vows, thou pretendest a necessity for it in order
to a continuance in the ministry. As he read this, and glanced at
much more which he did not read, he gained resolution for
himself, and felt as if he too could be brave and firm in doing
what he believed to be right; but as he ceased he heard
Margaret's low convulsive sob; and his courage sank down under
the keen sense of suffering.

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