“I am afraid I’m going to Hell, Sir,” says the sick woman with a whine. “Oh, Sir, save me, save me, don’t let me go there. I couldn’t stand it, Sir, I should die with fear, the very thought of it drives me into a cold sweat all over.”
“Mrs Thompson,” says Theobald gravely, “you must have faith in the precious blood of your Redeemer; it is He alone who can save you.”
“But are you sure, Sir,” says she, looking wistfully at him, “that He will forgive me—for I’ve not been a very good woman, indeed I haven’t—and if God would only say ‘Yes’ outright with His mouth when I ask whether my sins are forgiven me—”
“But they are forgiven you, Mrs Thompson,” says Theobald with some sternness, for the same ground has been gone over a good many times already, and he has borne the unhappy woman’s misgivings now for a full quarter of an hour. Then he puts a stop to the conversation by repeating prayers taken from the “Visitation of the Sick,” and overawes the poor wretch from expressing further anxiety as to her condition.
“Can’t you tell me, Sir,” she exclaims piteously, as she sees that he is preparing to go away, “can’t you tell me that there is no Day of Judgement, and that there is no such place as Hell? I can do without the Heaven, Sir, but I cannot do with the Hell.” Theobald is much shocked.
“Mrs Thompson,” he rejoins impressively, “let me implore you to suffer no doubt concerning these two cornerstones of our religion to cross your mind at a moment like the present. If there is one thing more certain than another it is that we shall all appear before the Judgement Seat of Christ, and that the wicked will be consumed in a lake of everlasting fire. Doubt this, Mrs Thompson, and you are lost.”
The poor woman buries her fevered head in the coverlet in a paroxysm of fear which at last finds relief in tears.
“Mrs Thompson,” says Theobald, with his hand on the door, “compose yourself, be calm; you must please to take my word for it that at the Day of Judgement your sins will be all washed white in the blood of the Lamb, Mrs Thompson. Yea,” he exclaims frantically, “though they be as scarlet, yet shall they be as white as wool,” and he makes off as fast as he can from the fetid atmosphere of the cottage to the pure air outside. Oh, how thankful he is when the interview is over!
He returns home, conscious that he has done his duty, and administered the comforts of religion to a dying sinner. His admiring wife awaits him at the Rectory, and assures him that never yet was clergyman so devoted to the welfare of his flock. He believes her; he has a natural tendency to believe everything that is told him, and who should know the facts of the case better than his wife? Poor fellow! He has done his best, but what does a fish’s best come to when the fish is out of water? He has left meat and wine—that he can do; he will call again and will leave more meat and wine; day after day he trudges over the same plover-haunted fields, and listens at the end of his walk to the same agony of forebodings, which day after day he silences, but does not remove, till at last a merciful weakness renders the sufferer careless of her future, and Theobald is satisfied that her mind is now peacefully at rest in Jesus.