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A Handful of Stars: 10: Rodney Steele's Text

By Frank W. Boreham


      I

      'As soon,' Dr. Chalmers used to say, 'as soon as a man comes to understand that GOD IS LOVE, he is infallibly converted.' Mrs. Florence L. Barclay wrote a book to show how Rodney Steele made that momentous and transfiguring discovery. Rodney Steele--the hero of The Wall of Partition--was a great traveler and a brilliant author. He had wandered through India, Africa, Australia, Egypt, China and Japan, and had written a novel colored with the local tints of each of the countries he had visited. He was tall, strong, handsome, bronzed by many suns, and--largely as a result of his literary successes--immensely rich. But he was soured. Years ago he loved a beautiful girl. But an unscrupulous and designing woman had gained his sweetheart's confidence and had poisoned her heart by pouring into her ear the most abominable scandals concerning him. She had returned his letters; and he, in the vain hope of being able to forget, had abandoned himself to travel and to literature. But, on whatever seas he sailed, and on whatever shores he wandered, he nursed in his heart a dreadful hate--a hate of the woman who had so cruelly intervened. And, cherishing that hate, his heart became hard and bitter and sour. He lost faith in love, in womanhood, in God, in everything. And his books reflected the cynicism of his soul. This is Rodney Steele as the story opens. The boat-train moves into Charing Cross, and, after an absence of ten years, he finds himself once more in London.

      II

      Many years ago, when our grandmothers were girls, they devoted their spare moments to the making of bookmarkers; and on the marker, in colored silk, they embroidered the letters GOD IS LOVE. Dr. Handley Moule, Bishop of Durham, made effective use of such a bookmarker when he visited West Stanley immediately after the terrible colliery disaster there. He motored up to the scene of the catastrophe and addressed the crowd at the pit's mouth. Many of those present were the relatives of the entombed miners. 'It is very difficult,' he said, 'for us to understand why God should let such an awful disaster happen, but we know Him, and trust Him, and all will be right. I have at home,' the Bishop continued, 'an old bookmarker given me by my mother. It is worked in silk, and, when I examine the wrong side of it, I see nothing but a tangle of threads crossed and recrossed. It looks like a big mistake. One would think that someone had done it who did not know what she was doing. But, when I turn it over and look at the right side, I see there, beautifully embroidered, the letters GOD IS LOVE. We are looking at all this to-day,' he concluded, 'from the wrong side. Some day we shall see it from another standpoint, and shall understand.' This all happened many years ago; but quite recently some who were present declared that they never forgot the story of the bookmarker and the comfort that it brought.

      It was a bookmarker of exactly the same kind, and bearing precisely the same inscription, that brought the fragrance of roses into the dusty heart of Rodney Steele. Sitting alone in his Harley Street flat, he found himself turning over the pages of a Bible that belonged to Mrs. Jake, his housekeeper. Among those pages he found Mrs. Jake's marriage 'lines,' a photograph of her husband in military uniform, some pressed flowers and--a perforated bookmarker! And on the bookmarker, in pink silk, were embroidered the words: GOD IS LOVE. It reminded him of those far-off days in which, as a little boy, he had delighted in the possession of his first box of paints. He had begged his mother to give him something to color, and she had pricked out those very words on a card and asked him to paint them for her.

      God! Love!

      Love! God!

      God is Love!

      So said the bookmarker; but, he reflected sadly, love had failed him long ago, and of God he had no knowledge at all.

      III

      When those three tremendous words next confronted Rodney Steele, they were worked, not in silk, but in stone! In a lower flat, in the same building in Harley Street, there dwelt a Bishop's widow. Rodney got to know her, to like her, and, at last, to confide in her. One afternoon they were discussing the novel that all London was reading, The Great Divide. It was from his own pen, but he did not tell her so. Mrs. Bellamy--the widow--confessed that, in spite of its brilliance, she did not like it. It betrayed bitterness, a loss of ideals, a disbelief in love; it was not uplifting.

      'It is life,' Rodney replied. 'Life tends to make a man lose faith in love.'

      But Mrs. Bellamy would not hear of it.

      'May I tell you,' she asked, 'the Bishop's way of meeting all difficulties, sorrows and perplexities?'

      'Do tell me,' said Rodney.

      'He met them with three little words, each of one syllable. Yet that sentence holds the truth of greatest import to our poor world; and its right understanding readjusts our entire outlook upon life, and should affect all our dealings with our fellow men: GOD IS LOVE. In our first home--a country parish in Surrey--three precious children were born to us--Griselda, Irene and little Launcelot. Scarlet fever and diphtheria broke out in the village, a terrible epidemic, causing grief and anxiety in many homes. We were almost worn out with helping our poor people--nursing, consoling, encouraging. Then, just as the epidemic appeared to be abating, it reached our own home. Our darlings were stricken suddenly. Mr. Steele, we lost all three in a fortnight! My little Lancy was the last to go. When he died in my arms I felt I could bear no more.

      'My husband led me out into the garden. It was a soft, sweet, summer night. He took me in his arms and stood long in silence, looking up to the quiet stars, while I sobbed upon his breast. At last he said, "My wife, there is one rope to which we must cling steadfastly, in order to keep our heads above water amid these overwhelming waves of sorrow. It has three golden strands. It will not fail us. GOD--IS--LOVE."

      'The nursery was empty. There was no more patter of little feet; no children's merry voices shouted about the house. The three little graves in the churchyard bore the names Griselda, Irene and Launcelot; and on each we put the text, spelt out by the initials of our darlings' names: GOD IS LOVE. And in our own heart-life we experienced the great calm and peace of a faith which had come through the deepest depths of sorrow. We were sustained by the certainty of the love of God.'

      Rodney Steele was deeply touched and impressed. Here was one who had known sorrow and had been sweetened by it. In her there was no trace of bitterness.

      'I don't know,' he said to himself, as he came away, 'I don't know as to the truth of the Bishop's text; but, anyway, the Bishop's widow is love. She lives what she believes, and that certainly makes a belief worth having.'

      'God is love!'--he had seen it worked in silk.

      'God is love'--he had seen it inscribed three times in stone.

      'God is love!'--he had seen it translated into actual life.

      'God is love!'--he was almost persuaded to believe it.

      IV

      God is----!

      It is the oldest question in the universe, and the greatest. It has been asked a million million times, and it would not have been altogether strange had we never discovered an answer. In Mr. H. G. Wells' story of the men who invaded the moon, he describes a conversation between the travelers and the Grand Lunar. The Grand Lunar asks them many questions about the earth which they are unable to answer. 'What?' he exclaims, 'knowing so little of the earth, do you attempt to explore the moon?' We men know little enough of ourselves: it would have been no cause for astonishment had we been unable to define God. Men lost themselves for ages in guess-work. They looked round about them; they saw how grandly a million worlds revolve, and they noticed how exquisitely the mighty forces of the earth are governed. Then they made their guess.

      'God is Power,' they said, 'God is Power!'

      Then, peering a little more deeply into the heart of things, they saw that all these terrific forces are not only controlled, but harnessed to high ends. All things are working--they are working together--they are working together for good! And thereupon men made their second guess.

      'God is Wisdom,' they said, 'God is Wisdom!'

      Then, observing things still more closely, men began to see great ethical principles underlying the laws of the universe. In the long run, evil suffers, and, in the long run, right is rewarded.

      'God is Justice,' they said, 'God is Justice!'

      And so men made their guesses, and, as they guessed, they built. They erected temples, now to the God of Power, then to the God of Wisdom, and again to the God of Justice. They had yet to learn that they were worshiping the part and not the whole; they were worshiping the rays and not the Light Itself.

      Then Jesus came, and men understood. By His words and His deeds, by His life and His death, He revealed the whole truth. God is Power and Wisdom and Justice--but He is more. In a European churchyard there stands a monument erected by a poet to his wife. It bears the inscription:

            She was----,
            But words are wanting to say what!
            Think what a wife should be
            And she was that!

         God is----!
         God is--what?

            He is----,
            But words are wanting to say what!
            Think what a God should be
            And He is that!

      Jesus filled in the age-long blank; He filled it in, not in cold language, but in warm life. Many attempts have been made to translate His definition from the terms of life into the terms of language. Only once have those attempts been even approximately successful. The words on the perforated bookmarker represent the best answer that human speech has ever given to the question.

      God is----

      God is--what?

      GOD--IS--LOVE!

      V

      Rodney Steele met again the girl--ripened now into the full glory of womanhood--from whom he had been so cruelly separated. He felt that it was too late to right the earlier wrong; and, in any case, his life was too embittered to offer her now. But he rejoiced in her friendship, and, one day, opened his heart to her.

      'Madge,' he said, 'I am furious with Fate. Life is chaos. Shall I tell you of what it reminds me? When I was last in Florence I was invited to the dress rehearsal of "Figli Di Re." I took my seat in the stalls of the huge empty opera house. The members of the orchestra were all in their places. Pandemonium reigned! Each man was playing little snatches of the score before him, all in the same key, but with no attempt at time, tune or order. The piping of the flute, the sighing of the fiddle, the grunt of the double bass, the clear call of the cornet, the bray of the trombones, all went on together. The confused hubbub of sound was indescribable. Suddenly a slim, alert figure leaped upon the estrade and struck the desk sharply with a baton. It was the maestro! There was instant silence. He looked to the right; looked to the left; raised his baton; and lo! full, rich, sweet, melodious, blending in perfect harmony, sounded the opening chords of the overture!'

      Rodney likened the jangling discords to the confusion of his own life. There was in his soul a disappointed love, an implacable hate, and a medley of other discords.

      'You are waiting for the Maestro, Roddie!' said Madge. 'His baton will reduce chaos to order with a measure of three beats.'

      'Three beats?'

      'Yes; three almighty beats: GOD--IS--LOVE!'

      He shook his head.

      'I left off pricking texts when I was five, and gave up painting when I was nine.'

      'It is not what you do to the texts, Rodney; it is what the texts do to you!'

      He left her, and, soon after, left London.

      VI

      Yes, he left her, and he left London; but he could not leave the text. It confronted him once more. He had taken refuge in a little fishing village on the East Coast. Up on the cliffs, among the corn-fields, flecked with their crimson poppies, he came upon a quaint old church. He stepped inside. In the porch was a painting of an old ruin--ivy-covered, useless and desolate--standing out, jagged and roofless, against a purple sky. The picture bore a striking inscription:

         The ruins of my soul repair
         And make my heart a house of prayer.

      'The ruins of my soul!' Rodney thought of the discord within.

      'Make my heart a house of prayer!' Rodney thought of the maestro.

      He passed out into the little graveyard on the very edge of the cliff. He was amused at the quaint epitaphs. Then one tombstone, lying flat upon the ground, a tombstone which, in large capitals, called upon the reader to 'Prepare to meet thy God,' startled him. Again he thought of the clashing discords of his soul.

      'Then, suddenly,' says Mrs. Barclay, 'the inspired Word did that which It--and It alone--can do. It gripped Rodney and brought him face to face with realities--past, present and future--in his own inner life. At once, the Bishop's motto came into his mind; the three words his gentle mother used to draw that her little boy might paint them stood out clearly as the answer to all vague and restless questionings: GOD IS LOVE!'

      'God is Love!'

      'Prepare to Meet thy God!'

      How could he, with his old hate in his heart, stand in the presence of a God of Love?

      Standing there bareheaded, with one foot on the prone tombstone, Rodney grappled with the passion that he had cherished through the years, and thus took his first step along the path of preparation.

      'I forgive the woman who came between us,' he said aloud. 'My God, I forgive her--as I hope to be forgiven!'

      'As soon as a man comes to understand that GOD IS LOVE,' said Dr. Chalmers, 'he is infallibly converted.' That being so, Rodney Steele was infallibly converted that day, and that day he entered into peace.

      VII

      When Robert Louis Stevenson settled at Samoa, the islands were ablaze with tumult and strife. And, during those years of bitterness, Stevenson did his utmost to bring the painful struggle to an end. He visited the chiefs in prison, lavished his kindnesses upon the islanders, and made himself the friend of all. In the course of time the natives became devotedly attached to the frail and delicate foreigner who looked as though the first gust of wind would blow him away. His health required that he should live away on the hill-top, and they pitied him as he painfully toiled up the stony slope. To show their affection for him, they built a road right up to his house, in order to make the steep ascent more easy. And they called that road Ala Loto Alofa--The Road to the Loving Heart. They felt, as they toiled at their labor of gratitude, that they were not only conferring a boon on the white man, but that they were making a beaten path from their own doors to the heart that loved them all.

      God is Love; and it is the glory of the everlasting Gospel that it points the road by which the Father's wayward sons--in whichever of the far countries they may have wandered--may find a way back to the Father's house, and home to the Loving Heart.

Back to Frank W. Boreham index.

See Also:
   Introduction
   1: William Penn's Text
   2: Robinson Crusoe's Text
   3: James Chalmers' Text
   4: Sydney Carton's Text
   5: Ebenezer Erskine's Text
   6: Doctor Davidson's Text
   7: Henry Martyn's Text
   8: Michael Trevanion's Text
   9: Hudson Taylor's Text
   10: Rodney Steele's Text
   11: Thomas Huxley's Text
   12: Walter Petherick's Text
   13: Doctor Blund's Text
   14: Hedley Vicars' Text
   15: Silas Wright's Text
   16: Michael Faraday's Text
   17: Janet Dempster's Text
   18: Catherine Booth's Text
   19: Uncle Tom's Text
   20: Andrew Bonar's Text
   21: Francis D'assisi's Text
   22: Everybody's Text

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