My Days and My Ways
CHAPTER TEN: Dietetics!
The stilted sentimental dialogue, a portion of which has been reproduced, after sleeping forgotten for thirty-two years, was intended “to be continued,” but it soon took its place among the thousand broken purposes that strew the path of human life. It dropped out of sight and memory, and was swept away in the onrush of the tide of other events. We proposed much ideal occupation for ourselves, as all newly-married people do. While the main and substantial ideal has been realised – the service of God and conjugal felicity – the ornamental parts were quickly taken out of our hands. On quiet evenings, we were going to read our love letters over again. The quiet evenings never came: there was always something on hand to be done: and the love letters remain in their tied bundles unopened to the present day, and will doubtless, in due time, disappear in the last devouring abyss that finally receives the last shreds and remnants of all human ways, generation after generation. We shall very likely give them a helping toss with our own hands one of these days: for what is the use of these raw privacies of a mere fledgling life, which often mistakes the elementary motions of common instinct for the stirrings of a sublime originality? “Forgetting the things that are behind,” is an excellent maxim in many things. People burden themselves with old letters and old memories that are dead – to no profit and worse; such things obstruct the present. We need all our energy for the earnest purpose of every day. There is wisdom in the poet’s advice to “Let the dead past bury its dead.” Make short shrift of the trivial mementos. Some people live in the past. Their life is a dream. They seem to carry round a collection of stuffed favourites – mangy, dusty, and melancholy. We want the apparatus of real life. Clear out the lumber; turn your face to the rising sun; “press forward!”
Marrying in spring, we had summer before us for a start, which was a nice arrangement. We enjoyed our Sunday morning walks to the breaking of bread with the brethren at Halifax, seven miles distant. The meeting was at half-past ten, so we had to start early and walk briskly through the bracing morning air – up hill and down dale, through a picturesque hilly and wooded country. The road went through Elland, a manufacturing village, which has since grown to considerable importance. It was generally about half-past nine when we passed along its central thoroughfare. We did not dawdle on the way, and the loitering roughs seemed to think our pace phenomenal, and made way for us with mock deference, and remarks not respectful, which we put up with easily enough, regarding the place as a sort of profession of it. How many will be found suitable for Divine use in the summing up of things, only the Judge of the living and dead can decide. There are general principles by which each man can diagnose his own case. They are such as must lead every earnest man to make a strong effort at conformity, judging himself rather than his neighbour; recollecting that in the final issue, God’s view of matters will decide, not man’s at all; and knowing, on Christ’s authority, that “many” in that day will expect His recognition, on the score of human wonders performed, who are destined to find themselves sadly out of the calculation.
The threatening dishealth which had brought on our marriage sooner than it would otherwise have taken place, began, after a while, to show aggravated symptoms. I had been living on rice and bread for eighteen months, under mistaken ideas that abstemious habits would help intellectual development. I abstained from tea, butcher’s meat, and other ordinary comforts of human life, “which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth” (I Tim. 4:3). The consequence was, my condition ran down. I began to have difficulty of breathing, and a breaking out all over head and face from impoverishment of blood. By and by, erysipelas began to show itself, and finally I was confined to bed. My poor distressed companion began to fear the worst. One of two round about us thought my end was at hand. I could not myself quite feel like that. Still, I thought it might be so, and we talked and arranged accordingly, mingling our tears with our counsels. The worst night coincided with the terrible storm in
October that wrecked the Royal Charter on the coast of Wales, and laid the little garden-plot in front of our cot a bleached desolation in one night. The howling of the wind was terrible; the situation was a desolate one for us. It made a deep impression which was not without its after effects. It did not change the current of my life, for that had been strongly running for years previously in a spiritual direction. But it greatly strengthened that current.
I was made to feel what I had only intellectually recognised – that human life is but a flower: that heaven and earth have no permanence for man unless he is permanent in God; that, consequently, our relation to God is the really important concern of human life; and Hi purposed goodness, as declared in the Gospels, the only substantial interest for man upon earth. I saw all this with a clearness and intensity that made me resolve more than ever to give my life to the truth, if I should recover. One idea stood out with star-like brilliancy in connection with this resolution – and that is, that work in the truth could not be successful. I was fervently persuaded that the coming of Christ was near, and Christ’s words rang in my ears: “As it was in the day of Noah, so shall it be when the Son of Man cometh: they were eating and drinking, building and planting, marrying and giving in marriage, and knew not till the flood came and took them all away.”
The conclusion to my mind was this: only a few can be saved out of this generation, and as it only lacked some eight years, or so, to the running out of the appointed period of Papal Supremacy, there did not seem time for anything beyond what Dr. Thomas had accomplished in the calling of a saving attention to the truth. The idea, therefore, that anything really important could be done in the way of spreading the truth seemed out of the question. This might have acted as a deterrent of all attempts. It did not act on my mind in this way at all. I realised that Noah’s efforts, as a preacher of righteousness, though unsuccessful as regards others, were continuous and faithful to the end, and secured for him, as Paul says, “this testimony, that he pleased God.” Along with that certainty of failure, therefore, came the resolution to undertake the effort, as a matter of duty to God, without any reference to consequence at all.
At the end of six weeks, I was sufficiently recovered to resume my reporting duties – which were very distasteful to me, but to which I cheerfully devoted myself, “as to the Lord and not unto men”, as Paul recommends servants in all positions to do. My illness effected a decided change in my habits. During its progress, and just after the turning point, I experienced a craving for animal food. The medical man in attendance gave orders that my desires in the matter should be complied with. Tea, also, twice a day, came in for use. From that day to this, I have had nothing to do with ultra-dietetic theories. The idea of meat-eating being inconsistent with intellectual vigor, or tea-drinking with physical health, I have found to be contrary to fact in my case. Of course, no man’s experience can be an exact guide for another in such matters. But human beings are like one another in the main points; and my experience of vegetarianism is that it is a fad – a very respectable fad, for it shows some aspiration after high and noble things: but a fad that may be carried to a hurtful point. Where a man has nothing else to do than to take care of himself, it may be made to work out interesting and agreeable results. But where there is stress of much and earnest work to be done, the machinery must have the fuel of life supplied in an early combustible and readily available form – in these northern latitudes at all events. And as for tea, taken in moderation and of the right sort, it is a pure God’s blessing: not only inflicting no physical harm, but conferring an actual help and benefit on mortal life, which, at the best, has to say “In this we groan.” But, of course, if another man finds another way better, he would be a fool that would despise him or his ways. God’s methods are infinitely varied, and the more a man knows, the less disposed he becomes to flout anything out of the beaten track. There is such a thing as evil and wickedness. This fine tolerant breadth can have no reference to these. “Abhor that which is evil,” is one of the watchwords of righteous action.
In execution of the purpose above referred to, we began to consider whether it was possible to do anything in Huddersfield. It was pleasant to come and go between Huddersfield and Halifax on Sundays – sometimes by train, but more often via Elland on foot; but the exercise did not seem to fill the full measure of the desire to be witnesses for the truth in our own neighbourhood. Slowly our ideas took shape. There was a meeting of the Campbellites in Huddersfield – a sort of far-off spiritual cousinship, which might ripen more readily to the relation of brotherhood than the quite uncircumcised frequenters of church and chapel. So we paid a visit to their meeting one Sunday, and I think once or twice afterwards. But nothing came of it. The members were at first very attentive to us – particularly one Caleb Wallis, a leading man among them and a tradesman in a good position in the town, who invited us to his house and made much of us. But there was a wonderful cooling off when our sympathy with the truth (which they called Thomasism) became known. We soon found there was no hearing to be had for the truth among them. Indeed, there did not seem to be any great affection for Scriptural things, according to even their own understanding of them.
There was a strong flavour of mere partizanship among them, rather than a grave and earnest humble faith towards God. They were expert in harping on one or two strings, but had no general knowledge of the Scriptures, such as necessarily characterises a true disciple. They were most anxious to proselytise us, but their zeal had a cold, self-magnifying whiff about it, which we have found to characterise the body everywhere since. There was none of the rich warmth of the spirit of the Scriptures. There was an oppressive sense of the present in all their ways. Man was much with them – God little: the present a clearly-defined landscape with substantial interests: the future, a haze of uncertainty. The recognition of them as a sect, all-important; but the holding of any particular principles, immaterial. We came to the conclusion if anything was to be done in Huddersfield, it would have to be done on virgin ground,.
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