KANSAS COLLECTION BOOKS
SOME OF THE RHYMES OF IRONQUILL.




An Open Letter to Ironquill.


     DEAR SIR: I have read again and again, with indescribable pleasure and sadness, your "Washerwoman's Song" - pleasure, because it is really beautiful, and voices correctly the joy of Christ's poor ones; sadness, because you say you are shut out from a hope which, though not always so bright and cheerful, is worth more than all else this world affords. You will pardon me for addressing you in this public manner, for I know that many men of intellect and culture occupy positions not dissimilar to your own, and I hope in this way to make some suggestions which will reach both you and them, and not be inappropriate to the subject, whether they shall prove valuable or useless. Reading between the lines, I think I can see a thorough interest, a sort of inquiry, a desire to possess a hope like, or at least equal to, that of the heroine of your song. If this were not so, I could scarcely interest myself sufficiently to write you, for I confess I have but little patience with that class of criticism that flippantly brushes aside the mysteries of God, Christ and immortality as fit only for the contemplation of "women and children." To me these, mysteries are the profoundest depths. I have no plummet heavy enough,' nor line long enough, to reach the bottom. I may push them aside for, a time, while other things engross me, but they come unbidden again and again across my path. It is so with you.

     What is God ? It may be sufficient for some to answer, "God is a spirit, infinite," etc.; but this answer gives but very little light to me. And yet I know that I am amenable to laws definite and certain, with penalties positive and fixed, which I never made or agreed to have made, and which I can never change, even in the most minute particular. Whence these laws? Is nature, with its exactitude, a chance? Who believes that ? I have doubted whether there is a God, but I never disbelieved it. Bringing all my reason to bear upon it, I find that the best I can do is to dismiss the doubt as far as I can, and accept the fact.

     Still but little is gained practically. The laws are known, and the consequences of disobedience are also known. What matters it whence the laws come? I have never seen God; I shall not see him with these eyes. I do not understand the methods of his government. They seem to be harsh and severe as often as they are kind and merciful. Death takes, all too soon, the gentle mother from her untrained child, as well as the worthless vagabond of whom the world is well rid. You do not understand it any better than I, but the fact remains. To know, then, that there is a God, is nothing to us, unless it be a foundation upon which we can build something more.

     Who then was Christ of whom the washerwoman sung day after day?

     That such a man existed is not doubted. Think over all the best men you ever knew, and then select the very best, and tell me if be does not fall too far short for comparison. There are as good men living now as ever lived -- men fully equal to Daniel, Isaiah, or John, and far better than Moses, David, or Peter. Among the best, Christ stands alone; and yet he was the boldest impostor that ever appeared on the earth, if he was not divine. Christ was and is a fact. He comes across our way, and must be disposed of. He was either the exemplification of God to men, or a most transparent fraud and hypocrite. I have doubted whether he was "God manifest in the flesh," but I never disbelieved it. If he was divine, then --

"The stories that are told
Of the miracles of old"

are easy of belief.

     As to the proofs of immortality, you have doubtless pondered them well. They rest partly on God and Christ, and partly on the unsatisfying' nature of this life. It is said that the average human life is thirty-four years. Who can say that it is worth living if this is all? Pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, light and darkness, are about as equally distributed as day and night. Who that has lived it would ask to live it again in just the same way, and without any benefit from the experience already passed? Infancy prattles into childhood, childhood glides into youth, youth leaps into manhood, and manhood goes grudgingly into old age; and in each succession the dreamer anticipates that the next will bring something more substantial and satisfactory, but the anticipation is never realized, and the substantial and satisfactory never come. Do you not find it so? I have doubted my immortality, but I never disbelieved it.

     If you ask me why the truth as to these momentous matters is not more clearly revealed, or why we were not given reason and judgment to fathom and understand them, I answer, I do not know. But that does not dispose of them. If I were to ask you why you have not reason and Judgment to decide at once, and wisely, the ten thousand questions of every-day life, your answer would be, "I do not know." But nevertheless you go on reasoning, doubting, deciding, and doubting after you decide, fortunate indeed if you are generally right, and certain indeed to be often wrong.

     I have written thus far so as to be able to say that when you write "I scarce believe a thing," your true position is, that you doubt whether the woman has a real foundation upon which to build her song. And if I am right in this, then further to suggest that there is nothing unusual or unreasonable in such a doubt. Nay, more: when reason, judgment, and all other faculties and means for arriving at truth are imperfect, it seems to me that a perfect faith is unattainable, and doubt becomes a necessity. To questions like these, and many others, there is no absolute demonstration here and now.

     Did it ever occur to you that the woman did not always have that serene faith which you ascribe to her? Do you not know that she often wondered, and wondering, doubted, not, perhaps, whether there is a God, but whether He is merciful, or even just? Do you not know that to her it is an unsolved problem why she was left alone to support four children at one dollar a day, when you could make twenty dollars a day at work less burdensome and exhaustive? If she had called on you, when passing her door, to explain this problem to her poor understanding, what could you have said? She probably knew it was as inexplicable to you as to her, and therefore did not ask. There is an answer, but neither you nor I occupy a plane sufficiently exalted to comprehend and speak it -- "Even so, Father, for so it seemeth good in thy sight."

     There are two classes of persons who never have doubts: the one, who see through these mysteries at a glance, or think they do; and the other, "who never had a dozen thoughts in all their lives."

     The washerwoman sung away most of hers in her beautiful song; and shall we, who cannot sing, linger about Doubting Castle until old Giant Despair entices us into his gloomy prison-house? No; for while we see that there is doubt in reason, we will hold that there must be reason in doubt, and it must itself be dragged into the light, subjected to the severest scrutiny, and made our help rather than our ruin.

     Galileo called doubt the "father of invention."

     "Who never doubted never half believed -- where doubt, there truth is. It is its shadow."

     One not given much to doubt, and never to despair, has said: "Now we see through a glass darkly." But there is a light -- that light is Christ as revealed in the Scriptures. Blot it out, and the darkness is to me impenetrable.

     I have said nothing of the unseen help that comes to the weak of faith. Though mysterious, I believe in it. Your heroine knew of it. The heathen seem to grasp it as if by instinct, and have crystallized it into the maxim, "The gods help them that help themselves." Faith will grow if cultivated by good works, and the unseen help will be a friend that will keep us to the end.

Very truly yours,
N. C. MCFARLAND.

Washington, D. C.


Divider line of thick olive-green leaves


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