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At Large by Arthur Christopher Benson

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in us such lively satisfaction. If it is our duty to acquire
knowledge and to impart it, we must acquire it; but it is the
faithfulness with which we toil, not the accumulations we gain that
are blessed to us--"knowledge comes but wisdom lingers," says the
poet--and it is the heavenly wisdom of which we ought to be in
search; for what remains to us of our equipment, when we part from
the world and migrate elsewhere, is not the actual stuff that we
have collected, whether it be knowledge or money, but the patience,
the diligence, the care which we have exercised in gaining these
things, the character, as affected by the work we have done; but
our mistake is to feel that we are idle and futile, unless we have
tangible results to show; when perhaps the hours in which we sat
idle, out of misery or mere feebleness, are the most fruitful hours
of all for the growth of the soul.

The great savant dies. What is lost? Not a single fact or a single
truth, but only his apprehension, his collection of certain truths;
not a single law of nature perishes or is altered thereby. We
measure worth by prominence and fame; but the destiny of the
simplest and vilest of the human race is as august, as momentous as
the destiny of the mightiest king or conqueror; it is not our
admiration of each other that weighs with God, but our nearness to,
our dependence on Him. Yet, even so, we must not deceive ourselves
in the matter. We must be sure that it is the peace of God that we
indeed desire, and not merely a refined kind of leisure; that we
are in search of simplicity, and not merely afraid of work. We must
not glorify a mild spectatorial pleasure by the name of philosophy,
or excuse our indolence under the name of contemplation. We must
abstain deliberately, not tamely hang back; we must desire the
Kingdom of Heaven for itself, and not for the sake of the things
that are added if we seek it. If the Scribes and Pharisees have
their reward for ambition and self-seeking, the craven soul has its
reward too, and that reward is a sick emptiness of spirit. And then
if we have erred thus, if we have striven to pretend to ourselves
that we were careless of the prize, when in reality we only feared
the battle, what can we do? How can we repair our mistake? There is
but one way; we can own the pitiful fault, and not attempt to
glorify it; we can face the experience, take our petty and shameful
wages and cast ourselves afresh, in our humiliation and weakness,
upon God, rejoicing that we can at least feel the shame, and
enduring the chastisement with patient hopefulness; for that very
suffering is a sign that God has not left us to ourselves, but is
giving us perforce the purification which we could not take to
ourselves.

And even thus, life is not all an agony, a battle, an endurance;
there are sweet hours of refreshment and tranquillity between the
twilight and the dawn; hours when we can rest a little in the
shadow, and see the brimming stream of life flowing quietly but
surely to its appointed end. I watched to-day an old shepherd, on
a wide field, moving his wattled hurdles, one by one, in the slow,
golden afternoon; and a whole burden of anxious thoughts fell off
me for a while, leaving me full of a quiet hope for an end which
was not yet, but that certainly awaited me; of a day when I too
might perhaps move as unreflectingly, as calmly, in harmony with
the everlasting Will, as the old man moved about his familiar task.
Why that harmony should be so blurred and broken, why we should
leave undone the things that we desire to do, and do the things
that we do not desire, that is still a deep and sad mystery; yet
even in the hour of our utmost wilfulness, we can never wander
beyond the range of the Will that has made us, and bidden us to be
what we are. And thus as I sit in this low-lit hour, there steals
upon the heart the message of hope and healing; the scent of the
great syringa bush leaning out into the twilight, the sound of the
fitful breeze laying here and there a caressing hand upon the
leaves, the soft radiance of the evening star hung in the green
spaces of the western sky, each and all blending into
incommunicable dreams.

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