Written by Deborah Alcock and originally published in 1897
“Thy Father hears the mighty cry of anguish,
And gives His answering messages to thee.”
Brief sleep, if any, had John Grayson that Sunday morning. As so often heretofore he could not sleep for pain or sorrow, now he could not sleep for rest. The sense of the peace that was all around him was too new, too wonderful. He soon arose from that fair, snow-white English bed, with its pure linen smelling of lavender, to wander out over the dewy lawn, where the morning sun touched everything with glory. The birds sang aloud to welcome the new day—the long, long day—every hour of it to be filled with their innocent joy. One sweet-voiced blackbird lighted on a rose-bush close to him, and sang. They seemed to have no fear. In this happy land fear did not reign. No doubt it was there—often—for England, after all, was earth and not heaven; but it was a shadow lurking in dark places, not an eclipse blotting out the sun, a presence darkening all the joy of life.
But this blessed peace only stamped deeper upon Jack’s heart the memory of that far land of agony and blood. “If I forget thee, O Armenia,” he said aloud, “let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I prefer not thee above my chief joy. My chief joy,” he thought again, “lies buried there, and can never live for me upon this earth. But, by that grave, by that dead love, or rather by that love that can never die, I am pledged not to rest in happy England, but to work for sad Armenia, and to wait for my Sabbath keeping until we keep it all together in the Home above.”
He did not know how long it was before his cousin came out to summon him to their early Sunday breakfast. Fred’s voice had lost the joyful ring it had at their first meeting. He looked like a strong man who had just heard of a great bereavement. Lucy, waiting to receive him in her fresh Sunday dress, with her look of peace and purity, felt vaguely that there was sadness in the air, but her mind was too full of her Sunday-school class to dwell upon that subject.
“Will you come with us to church?” Fred asked his cousin.
Jack looked surprised at the question. “Certainly,” he said. “Why not?”
“Because I have to say that which will give you pain—yet I cannot forbear. You have given me my sermon for to-day.”
Nevertheless John Grayson joined the stream of church-goers: fathers, and mothers, and little children, old men and old women coming in together, while the rosy-cheeked Sunday scholars took their appointed places. He looked round with strangely mingled feelings on the old country church, which was without elaborate ornament, although seemly and reverent in all its appointments, as befitted a house of God. But what most arrested him was the “fair white cloth” on the Holy Table, showing that the Feast of the Lord was spread that day. He had never yet partaken of it in the Church of his fathers; but he no more doubted his right to come than the child doubts his right to sit down at his father’s table, because it is spread in a strange room. It was a joy to look forward to that; it was a joy meanwhile to join once more, though with trembling lips, in the dear, familiar prayers-those prayers “that sound like church bells in the ears of the English child.”
And now his cousin stood in the pulpit. In his aspect and bearing there was a deep solemnity, which, young though he was, made him look in truth “as one that pleaded with men.” He read his text, “A name which is above every name,” and began with an exposition of the context, lucid, thoughtful, and evincing careful study.
Jack’s thoughts wandered from the words to the speaker, and from the speaker to the surroundings, once so familiar, now so unwonted and strange to him. Presently however a word arrested him.
“My brethren,” said the preacher, leaning over the pulpit in his earnestness, “have you ever thought what a wonderful thing is the love of Christ?”
“Surely,” Jack said to himself, “if we have ever thought of Him at all, we have thought of that.”
“I do not mean now,” the preacher went on, “the love of Christ for us. I use ‘love of Christ’ as I use ‘love of country,’ ‘love of friends,’ to mean—not theirs for us, but ours for them. And I say, that the love of Humanity for Christ is a mystery only less than the grand, supreme mystery of all—the love of Christ for man. And the greater mystery is proved and illustrated by the less. As we may look, in its reflection, on some object too bright to gaze upon directly,—as we may measure a mountain by its shadow, so may we gain some faint conception of how ‘He first loved us,’ by the wondering contemplation of how men in all ages have loved Him.
“Consider. The Man called Christ Jesus lived, for three and thirty years, or less, in a little corner of the world, which He never left. Of those years thirty were spent in silence and obscurity; only for two or three did He flash into sudden fame, soon cut short by a violent death. He did not write, He did not organize, He did not rule; He only taught, and lived, and loved. Yet what has His name been in the world ever since? What is it in the world to-day?
“You will say, ‘It is the Name of the Founder of our religion, through Whom we approach the Divine Majesty, and as such we hold it in reverence.’ It is that; but to thousands upon thousands it is something infinitely more. It is the name of their dearest, most beloved, and most trusted personal Friend—the Name of Him whom it is their deepest joy in life to serve, their sweetest hope in death to see. It was the poet gift of voicing the deepest longings of humanity that inspired the dying song we know so well,—
“’I hope to see my Pilot face to face,
When I have crossed the bar.’
“There is one test of love, usually accounted supreme. ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ Freely and joyfully has Humanity poured forth her best blood for the Name of Christ. Those who have given Him this supreme proof of love we call His martyrs, or His witnesses. Other names, other religions, other causes, have had their martyrs too. Indeed, I think the word is true that all great causes have their martyrs. And I dare to think too that the wine of self-sacrificing love, though we may count it vainly spilled, cannot sink into the earth beyond His power to gather up who takes care of lost things. But I think also—nay, I know—that the martyrs of Christ stand apart from all the rest, in their immense multitude, in the joy and peace they had in suffering and in death, and in the sustaining, animating power of their love to Him for whom they died.
“I have spoken to you, sometimes, of the martyrs of past days. I could not help it; their memory is very dear to me, and the records of their faith and their patience have touched and thrilled my own heart since childhood. But I never dreamed or guessed that even while I spoke,—now, in the end of this nineteenth century, this age of science and enlightenment, this age of pity and compassion, a new legion was marching on, through blood and fire, to join the noble army of martyrs before the throne of God.”
Here the grey head, which had rested bowed and motionless in that seat below the pulpit, was raised up suddenly, and the eyes that had witnessed so much agony sent a look into the preacher’s face that almost stopped his words. But, after a scarcely perceptible pause, he went on,—
“It has been, to some of us, a pain all the greater because of our utter helplessness to read even the meagre accounts that have come to us of the massacres in Armenia. Now that I have heard from the lips of an eye-witness, who is here present amongst you this day, the details of one such massacre, I am bound to tell you solemnly that the pain should have been greater still. The most awful, the most lurid accounts we have had, fall short of the terrible reality. The half has not been told us.”
Then he gave briefly, and as calmly as he could, the story of the massacre of Urfa, and of the burning of the cathedral, as John Grayson had told it to him.
“I refrain,” he continued, “from recounting horrors which would needlessly wring your hearts. I speak of death; I do not speak of torture. I tell you a little of what men, our brothers, have suffered. But oh, my brothers,—oh, my sisters, and theirs!—I have no words to tell the worse agonies of your helpless sisters. I dare not tell—I dare not even hint at the things I know—and which they have had to suffer! Only, thank God on your knees to-night that He has made you Englishwomen!
“And, remember, I have told of Urfa, but Urfa is only one town of many in Armenia. Like things have been done in Sassoun, in Marash, in Diarbekir, in Melatia, in Kharpoot, in Van, in Erzeroum,—in hundreds of towns and villages with strange names we have never heard. The land, which for fertility and for beauty might be a very Garden of Eden, is fast becoming a desolate wilderness.
“But, you will say, all this agony does not make martyrs. For that is needed, not suffering only, but witness-bearing. True; though in a loose, general fashion all those who lose their lives in any way on account of their religion are often called martyrs. But even the most stringent application of this name of honour must include all those who have, voluntarily, so laid down their lives. He who has been offered life on the condition of apostasy, and has refused it, has won his crown, and no man may take it from him. Armenians without number have stood the test, and made the grand refusal. In some places the utterance of the Moslem symbol of faith, in others the lifting up of one finger, was all that was required, yet men and women, and children even, have endured death and torture rather than say those words or make that sign. Shall I give you instances? Shall I tell you of the venerable archbishop of the ancient Armenian Church, who had first his hands, and then his arms hewn off, but no agony could separate him from his Saviour, and at last he died repeating the creed? Shall I tell you of the student of theology, who answered his tempters with a steadfast ‘No, for I have come to this hour in God’s will and appointment, and I will not change,’ and was slowly cut in pieces? Shall I tell you of the little girl, the child of twelve, who said to the Moslem, ‘I believe in Jesus Christ. He is my Saviour. I love Him. I cannot do as you wish even if you kill me’? Shall I tell you of another girl and her young brother who, when the murderers came, embraced one another, their faces radiant with joy? ‘We are going to Christ!’ they said. ‘We shall see Him just now.’ Time would fail me indeed to tell of these, and of the many like them in faith and patience. But one thing is as true of those who suffer for the Name of Christ to-day as of those who suffered for that Name in the first century, or the sixteenth, or any century between—there walks with them in the furnace One like unto the Son of God.”
There was a pause, and then the preacher resumed. “But there are two questions our hearts are asking, in the face of all this suffering: ‘What is Christ doing?’ and ‘What shall we do?’ There is no use in saying that the first of these questions is one which we ought not to ask at all. There are times when there is little use even in telling our passionate, aching human hearts that we ought to be satisfied with what we know and believe of His spiritual presence with His faithful people. Thank God, He did not forbid the questionings of His tried servant the prophet, who flung himself at His feet with the half-despairing cry, ‘Righteous art Thou, O Lord, when I plead with Thee: yet let me talk with Thee of Thy judgments.’ Nor of that other who pleaded, ‘Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest Thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest Thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?’ Indeed, I dare to think that, if we do throw ourselves at His feet—the feet pierced for us—there is no question we may not ask Him there.
“What then is Christ doing? He sits in His glory at the right hand of the Father; He sees all this agony, and He lets it still go on. He sustains the sufferers; He strengthens and comforts them often; but—He lets it still go on. ‘How can He bear it?’ our hearts cry out sometimes. I think the answer is, that He is bearing it. He suffered for the sufferers; that is not all—He suffers with them. That is yet not all; He suffers in them. They are not His people only, but His members; of His flesh and of His bones. For reasons inscrutable to us, His agony must go on still in them—still He cries to the oppressor, ‘Why persecutest thou Me?’ But one day He and they, and we also, shall see the end. Then shall we know the secret of the Lord; then shall the mystery of God be finished.
“Meanwhile, with the martyrs it is well. ‘Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple, and He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.’ But all are not yet there, beyond the agony. For the thousands upon thousands of sufferers, bereaved, tortured, famine-stricken, dying slowly in Turkish prisons, or, deepest horror of all, in Turkish harems, what shall we say? Is the burden laid on our hearts for them too heavy to be borne? Remember, Christ bears it with us, as, in a deeper sense than we can fathom, Christ bears it in them.
“I think this answers our second question, What shall we do?
‘It is MY SAVIOUR struggling there in those poor limbs I see.’
Friends, if He is there indeed, in His members, what sacrifice would we not make, what treasure would we not pour out with joy, to come to His help?
“But perhaps you say, ‘What can we do?’ I am not speaking to those who can influence the councils of our rulers, except by prayer, and by the formation and expression of that intelligent opinion which does, in the end, make its power felt. Therefore it is beside the question to ask what they should have done, or what they should do now. We have to find out what we should do, each one of us.
“There are thousands of little children, fatherless and motherless because their fathers and mothers have gone to God, often through the gate of martyrdom. They are wandering in the streets, homeless and destitute. They die, or haply they are taken by Moslems, and taught to hate the faith their parents died for. We can rescue these.
“There are thousands of widows, desolate in heart and home, each with her tale of anguish, longing, it may be, to lay down her weary head and join her loved ones in the grave, yet forced to struggle on for the daily bread of those still dependent on her. We can succour these.
“There are thousands of ruined men, who have lost home, occupation, health, and whose hearts are well-nigh desperate with the things they have seen and suffered. We can give back hope to these.
“One word more, brethren. We have spoken of the power of the name of Christ. That Name, which we teach our little ones to lisp,—that Name, which sanctifies our daily prayers,—that Name, which our beloved ones whispered to us with failing breath as their feet drew near the dark valley, that Name, which yet—oh, strange mystery!—is dearer to our hearts than even theirs—that Name was on the lips of each one of the slaughtered multitude whose blood is crying to heaven—that Name is still on the lips of the suffering remnant that are left. It is in that Name that they ask our sympathy, our help.
“I have spoken of our dead, our dear dead who lie out yonder, where God’s blessed sun is shining on the graves in which we laid them to their rest. We turned sadly away; we thought our hearts were breaking because we had to lay them there. What of our brothers and our sisters, to whom it is joy past telling, the only joy they can look for now, to know their beloved ones are dead—and safe? In that land of sorrow they weep not for the dead, neither bemoan them; it is for the living that they weep. Nor are there graves to weep over, even if they fain would do it. The dead—and, remember, they are the Christian dead,—lie unburied in the open fields, or are heaped together in trenches which the earth can scarcely cover.
“Known unto God the Father, known unto Christ the Redeemer, is each atom of this undistinguished dust. Into His keeping He has taken the dead, but to us He leaves the remnants that survive, and that it is possible still to save. Will you take them to your hearts, for His NAME’S sake?”
The preacher gave the usual benediction, descended from the pulpit, and began in due course to read the beautiful prayer “for the whole state of Christ’s Church militant here in earth.” Very solemnly, in a voice of suppressed emotion, he read on, till he came to the words, “And we most humbly beseech Thee of Thy goodness, O Lord, to comfort and succour all them who in this transitory life are in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity.” Here his voice faltered, but he went resolutely on, “And we also bless Thy holy name for all Thy servants departed this life in Thy faith and fear.” Then the rush of feeling overwhelmed him, and he did that fatal thing to do in an assembly charged with emotion—he stopped. A sob broke from one, then from another, and yet another still, until a wave of weeping passed over the whole, like the wind over a field of corn.
It was but a few moments; the reader recovered himself, and continued the Service. Nearly all the congregation remained, and gathered round the Table of their Lord that day; and it may be they felt, as they had never done before, the bond of communion with the scattered and suffering members of the Lord Christ.
That evening John Grayson said to his cousin, “Of course you know that I am going back again,—with only a change of name.”
“I am going with you,” Frederick Pangbourne answered quietly.
“You!” Jack’s heart gave a sudden leap.
“Why not? There are plenty to work here, and I have often thought of the mission field. Is there any field more urgent than this?”
Jack was silent, grave with a solemn joy. What might not they two accomplish, shoulder to shoulder, the fortune he had already resolved to share with Fred all consecrated to the work!
Fred continued, “Do you remember that cry that rose from ten thousand hearts, when Peter the Hermit called upon all Christendom to rescue the sepulchre of Christ from the hands of the Moslem—’Dieu le veut?’—’God wills it’? Is it not as much a war of the Cross to rescue from them, not His empty sepulchre, but even a few of His living, suffering members? We can say—you and I to-day—’God wills it.’”