Life, and its Majesty…

I felt that something was not right with me, that something was required of me which I was not rendering. I could not, however, have told you what it was. Possibly the feeling had been for some time growing; but that day, so far as I can tell, I was first aware of it; and I presume it was the dim cause of my turning at the sound of a few singing voices, and entering that chapel.

I found about a dozen people present. Something in the air of the place, meagre and waste as it looked, yet induced me to remain. An address followed from a pale-faced, weak-looking man of middle age, who had no gift of person, voice, or utterance, to recommend what he said. But there dwelt a more powerful enforcement in him than any of those,–that of earnestness.

I went again, and again; and slowly, I cannot well explain how, the sense of life and its majesty grew upon me. Mr. Walton will, I trust, understand me when I say, that to one hungering for bread, it is of little consequence in what sort of platter it is handed him. This was a dissenting chapel,–of what order, it was long before I knew,–and my predilection was for the Church-services, those to which my father had accustomed me; but any comparison of the two to the prejudice of either, I should still–although a communicant of the Church of England–regard with absolute indifference. “It will be sufficient for my present purpose to allude to the one practical thought which was the main fruit I gathered from this good man,–the fruit by which I know that he was good.

[Footnote: Something like this is the interpretation of the word: “By their fruits ye shall know them” given by Mr. Maurice,–an interpretation which opens much.–G.M.D.]

It was this,–that if all the labor of God, as my teacher said, was to bring sons into glory, lifting them out of the abyss of evil bondage up to the rock of his pure freedom, the only worthy end of life must be to work in the same direction,–to be a fellow-worker with God. Might I not, then, do something such, in my small way, and lose no jot of my labor? I thought. The urging, the hope, grew in me. But I was not left to feel blindly after some new and unknown method of labor.

My teacher taught me that the way for me to help others was not to tell them their duty, but myself to learn of Him who bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. As I learned of him, I should be able to help them. I have never had any theory but just to be their friend,–to do for them the best I can. When I feel I may, I tell them what has done me good, but I never urge any belief of mine upon their acceptance.

George MacDonald

The Vicar’s Daughter, Chapter Nineteen



The Secret of All Wisdom

He was not a man of much education, in the vulgar use of the word; but he was a good way on in that education, for the sake of which, and for no other without it, we are here in our consciousness—the education which, once begun, will, soon or slow, lead knowledge captive, and teaches nothing that has to be unlearned again, because every flower of it scatters the seed of one better than itself.

The main secret of his progress, the secret of all wisdom, was, that with him action was the beginning and end of thought.

He was not one of that cloud of false witnesses, who, calling themselves Christians, take no trouble for the end for which Christ was born, namely, their salvation from unrighteousness—a class that may be divided into the insipid and the offensive, both regardless of obedience, the former indifferent to, the latter contentious for doctrine.

– George MacDonald, Mary Marston, XI

More Help

My God, it troubles me I am not better.

More help, I pray, still more. Thy perfect debtor

I shall be when thy perfect child I am grown.

My Father, help me—am I not thine own?

Lo, other lords have had dominion o’er me,

But now thy will alone I set before me:

Thy own heart’s life—Lord, thou wilt not abhor me! — George MacDonald

In honour of Hal Owen

Mary Marston, Notes:

But the tormentor was no demon; she was only doing what all of us have often done, and ought to be heartily ashamed of: she was only emptying her fountain of bitter water. Oppressed with the dregs of her headache, wretched because of her son’s absence, who had not been a night from home for years, annoyed that she had spent time and money in preparation for nothing, she had allowed the said cistern to fill to overflowing, and upon Letty it overflowed like a small deluge. Like some of the rest of us, she never reflected how balefully her evil mood might operate; and that all things work for good in the end, will not cover those by whom come the offenses. Another night’s rest, it is true, sent the evil mood to sleep again for a time, but did not exorcise it; for there are demons that go not out without prayer, and a bad temper is one of them—a demon as contemptible, mean-spirited, and unjust, as any in the peerage of hell—much petted, nevertheless, and excused, by us poor lunatics who are possessed by him.Mrs. Wardour was a lady, as the ladies of this world go, but a poor lady for the kingdom of heaven: I should wonder much if she ranked as more than a very common woman there.

– Chapter VIII

Then first, and from that moment, Letty’s troubles began. Up to this point neither she herself nor another could array troublous accusation or uneasy thought against her; and now she began to feel like a very target, which exists but to receive the piercing of arrows. At first sight, and if we do not look a long way ahead of what people stupidly regard as the end when it is only an horizon, it seems hard that so much we call evil, and so much that is evil, should result from that unavoidable, blameless, foreordained, preconstituted, and essential attraction which is the law of nature, that is the will of God, between man and woman. Even if Letty had fallen in love with Tom at first sight, who dares have the assurance to blame her? who will dare to say that Tom was blameworthy in seeking the society and friendship, even the love, of a woman whom in all sincerity he admired, or for using his wits to get into her presence, and detain her a little in his company? Reasons there are, infinitely deeper than any philosopher has yet fathomed, or is likely to fathom, why a youth such as he—foolish, indeed, but not foolish in this—and a sweet and blameless girl such as Letty, should exchange regards of admiration and wonder. That which thus moves them, and goes on to draw them closer and closer, comes with them from the very source of their being, and is as reverend as it is lovely, rooted in all the gentle potencies and sweet glories of creation, and not unworthily watered with all the tears of agony and ecstasy shed by lovers since the creation of the world. What it is, I can not tell; I only know it is not that which the young fool calls it, still less that which the old sinner thinks it. As to Letty’s disobedience of her aunt’s extravagant orders concerning Tom, I must leave that to the judgment of the just, reminding them that she was taken by surprise, and that, besides, it was next to impossible to obey them.

– Chapter IX

But, supposing it remained Letty’s duty to acquaint her aunt with what had taken place, and not forgetting that, as one of the old people, I have to render account of the young that come after me, and must be careful over their lovely dignities and fair duties, I yet make haste to assert that the old people, who make it hard for the young people to do right, may be twice as much to blame as those whom they arraign for a concealment whose very heart is the dread of their known selfishness, fierceness, and injustice. If children have to obey their parents or guardians, those parents and guardians are over them in the name of God, and they must look to it: If children have to obey their parents or guardians, those parents and guardians are over them in the name of God, and they must look to it: if in the name of God they act the devil, that will not prove a light thing for their answer. The causing of the little ones to offend hangs a fearful woe about the neck of the causer. It were a hard, as well as a needless task, seeing there is One who judges, to set forth how far the child is to blame as toward the parent, where the parent first of all is utterly wrong, yea out of true relation, toward the child. Not, therefore, is the child free; obligation remains—modified, it may be, but how difficult, alas, to fulfill!

– Chapter IX

There can hardly be a plainer proof of the lowness of our nature, until we have laid hold of the higher nature that belongs to us by birthright, than this, that even a just anger tends to make us unjust and unkind.

– Chapter X

The clouds were gathering over Mary, too—deep and dark, but of altogether another kind from those that enveloped Letty: no troubles are for one moment to be compared with those that come of the wrongness, even if it be not wickedness, that is our own. Some clouds rise from stagnant bogs and fens; others from the wide, clean, large ocean. But either kind, thank God, will serve the angels to come down by. In the old stories of celestial visitants the clouds do much; and it is oftenest of all down the misty slope of griefs and pains and fears, that the most powerful joy slides into the hearts of men and women and children. Beautiful are the feet of the men of science on the dust-heaps of the world, but the patient heart will yield a myriad times greater thanks for the clouds that give foothold to the shining angels.

– Chapter XI

The main secret of his progress, the secret of all wisdom, was, that with him action was the beginning and end of thought.

– Chapter XI

…He would have left her in possession of her own peace and the confidence of her friends, which will always prove enough for those who confess themselves to be strangers and pilgrims on the earth—those who regard it as a grand staircase they have to climb, not a plain on which to build their houses and plant their vineyards.

– Chapter XI

The Lowness of Our Nature

“There can hardly be a plainer proof of the lowness of our nature, until we have laid hold of the higher nature that belongs to us by birthright, than this, that even a just anger tends to make us unjust and unkind:”

Excerpt From

Mary Marston

George MacDonald

The Ideal

“Purely ideal or not, one thing is certain: it will never be reached by one who is so indifferent to it as to believe it impossible. Whether it may be reached in this world or not, that is a question of NO consequence; whether a man has begun to REACH AFTER it, is of the utmost awfulness of import. And should it be ideal, which I doubt, what else than the ideal have the followers of the ideal man to do with?”

–George MacDonald, Thomas Wingfold, Curate

“And we ought always to act upon the ideal; it is the only safe ground of action. When that which contradicts and resists, and would ruin our ideal, opposes us, then we must take measures; but not till then can we take measures, or know what measures it may be necessary to take. But the ideal itself is the only thing worth striving after. Remember what our Lord himself said: ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.'”

–George MacDonald, Seaboard Parish

Human Weaknesses

“What I think I ought to do, my lord, I do without bargaining. I am not sorry I threw you from your horse, and to say so would be to lie.”

“Of course everybody thinks himself in the right!” said his lordship with a small sneer.

“It does not follow that no one is ever in the right!” returned Donal. “Does your lordship think you were in the right—either towards me or the poor animal who could not obey you because he was in torture?”

“I don’t say I do.”

“Then everybody does not think himself in the right! I take your lordship’s admission as an apology.”

“By no means: when I make an apology, I will do it; I will not sneak out of it.”

He was evidently at strife with himself: he knew he was wrong, but could not yet bring himself to say so. It is one of the poorest of human weaknesses that a man should be ashamed of saying he has done wrong, instead of so ashamed of having done wrong that he cannot rest till he has said so; for the shame cleaves fast until the confession removes it.

Excerpt From

Donal Grant, by George MacDonald

George MacDonald

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