It was the old cry: “Repent, believe; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The doctrine that was set forth had not only the vital growth of ages in it, but it had accreted the misunderstanding of the ages also; yet this doctrine did not hide, it only limited, the saving power of God. “Believe,” cried the preacher, “in a just God and a Saviour.” So he preached Christ unto them, just as he supposed St. Paul to have done, wotting nothing of the fact that every word and every symbol stand for a different thought in the minds of men with every revolution of that glass by which Time marks centuries.
It mattered nothing to Bart just now all this about the centuries and the doctrines; the heart of the preaching was the eternal truth that has been growing brighter and brighter since the world began—God, a living Power, the Power of Salvation. The salvation was conditioned, truly; but what did conditions matter to Bart! He would have cast himself into sea or fire to obtain the strength that he coveted. He eagerly cast aside the unbelief he had imbibed from books. He accepted all that he was told to accept, with the eager swallowing of a man who is dying for the strength of a drug that is given to him in dilution.
At the end of the sermon there was a great call made upon all who desired to give up their sins and to walk in God’s strength and righteousness, to go forward and kneel in token of their penitence and pray for the grace which they would assuredly receive.
This public penance was a very little thing, like the dipping in Jordan. It did not seem little to Toyner. He was thoroughly awake now, roused for the hour to the power of seeking God with all his mind, all his thought, all his soul. The high tide of life in him made the ordeal terrible; he tottered forward and knelt where, in front of the rostrum, sweet hay had been strewn upon the ground. A hundred penitents were kneeling upon this carpet.
There was now no more loud talking or singing. Silence was allowed to spread her wings within the woodland temple. Toyner, kneeling, felt the influence of other human spirits deeply vivified in the intensity of prayer. He heard whispered cries and the sound of tears, the prayer of the publican, the tears of the Magdalene, and now and then there came a glad thanksgiving of overflowing joy. Toyner tried to repeat what he heard, hoping thereby to give some expression to the need within him; but all that he could think of was the craving for strong drink that he knew would return and that he knew he could not resist.
He heard light footsteps, and felt a strong arm embracing his own trembling frame. The preacher had come to kneel where he knelt, and to pray, not for him, but with him.
“I cannot,” said Bart Toyner, “I can’t, I can’t.”
“Why not?” whispered the preacher.
“Because I know I shall take to drink again.”
“Which do you love best, God or the drink?” asked the preacher. “If you love the drink best, you ought not to be here; if you love God best, you need have no fear.”