|Home -> Other California History Books -> California Sketches - Second Series -> Winter-Blossomed|
I think I saw him the first Sunday I preached in San Jose, in 1856. He was a notable-looking man. I felt attracted toward him by that indefinable sympathy that draws together two souls born to be friends. I believe in friendship at first sight. Who that ever had a real friend does not? Love at first sight is a different thing - it may be divine and eternal, or it may be a whim or a passing fancy. Passion blurs and blinds in the region of sexual love: friendship is revealed in its own white light.
I was introduced after the service to the stranger who had attracted my attention, and who had given the youthful preacher such a kind and courteous hearing.
"This is Major McCoy."
He was a full head higher than anybody else as he stood in the aisle. He bowed with courtly grace as he took my hand, and his face lighted with a smile that had in it something more than a conventional civility. I felt that there was a soul beneath that dignified and courtly exterior. His head displayed great elevation of the cranium, and unusual breadth of forehead. It was what is called an intellectual head; and the lines around the eyes showed the traces of thought, and, as it seemed to me, a tinge of that sadness that nearly always lends its charm to the best faces.
"I have met a man that I know I shall like," was my gratified exclamation to the mistress of the parsonage, as I entered.
And so it turned out. He became one of the select circle to whom I applied the word friend in the sacredest. sense. This inner circle can never be large. If you unduly enlarge it you dilute the quality of this wine of life. We are limited. There is only One Heart large enough to hold all humanity in its inmost depths.
My new friend lived out among the sycamores on the New Almaden Road, a mile from the city, and the cottage in which he lived with his cultured and loving household was one of the social paradises of that beautiful valley in which the breezes are always cool, and the flowers never fade.
My friend interested me more and more. He had been a soldier, and in the Mexican war won distinction by his skill and valor. He was with Joe Lane and his gallant Indianians at Juamantla, and his name was specially mentioned among those whose fiery onsets had broken the lines of the swarthy foe, and won against such heavy odds the bloody field. He was seldom absent from church on Sunday morning, and now and then his inquiring, thoughtful face would be seen in my smaller audience at night. One unwelcome fact about him pained me, while it deepened my interest in him.
He was a skeptic. Bred to the profession of medicine and surgery, he became bogged in the depths of materialistic doubt. The microscope drew his thoughts downward until he could not see beyond second causes. The soul, the seat of which the scalpel could not find, he feared did not exist. The action of the brain, like that of the heart and lungs, seemed to him to be functional; and when the organ perished did not its function cease forever? He doubted the fact of immortality, but did not deny it. This doubt clouded his life. He wanted to believe. His heart rebelled against the negations of materialism, but his intellect was entangled in its meshes. The Great Question was ever in his thought, and the shadow was ever on his path. He read much on both sides, and was always ready to talk with any from whom he had reason to hope for new light or a helpful suggestion. Did he also pray? We took many long rides and had many long talks together. Pausing under the shade of a tree on the highway, the hours would slip away while we talked of life and death, and weighed the pros and cons of the mighty hope that we might live again, until the sun would be sinking into the sea behind the Santa Cruz Mountains, whose shadows were creeping over the valley. He believed in a First Cause. The marks of design in Nature left in his mind no room to doubt that there was a Designer.
"The structure and adaptations of the horse harnessed to the buggy in which we sit, exhibit the infinite skill of a Creator."
On this basis I reasoned with him in behalf of all that is precious to Christian faith and hope, trying to show (what I earnestly believe) that, admitting the existence of God, it is illogical to stop short of a belief in revelation and immortality.
The rudest workman would not fling
The fragments of his work away,
If every useless bit of clay
He trod on were a sentient thing.
And does the Wisest Worker take
Quick human hearts, instead of stone,
And hew and carve them one by one,
Nor heed the pangs with which they break?
And more: if but creation's waste,
Would he have given us sense to yearn
For the perfection none can earn,
And hope the fuller life to taste?
I think, if we most cease to be,
It is cruelty refined
To make the instincts of our mind
Stretch out toward eternity.
Wherefore I welcome Nature's cry,
As earnest of a life again,
Where thought shall never be in vain,
And doubt before the light shall fly.
My talks with him were helpful to me if not to him. In trying to remove his doubts my own faith was confirmed, and my range of thought enlarged. His reverent spirit left its impress upon mine.
"McCoy is a more religious man than either you or I, Doctor," said Tod Robinson to me one day in reply to a remark in which I had given expression to my solicitude for my doubting friend.
Yes, strange as it may seem, this man who wrestled with doubts that wrung his soul with intense agony, and walked in darkness under the veil of unbelief; had a healthful influence upon me because the attitude of his soul was that of a reverent inquirer, not that of a scoffer.
The admirable little treatise of Bishop McIlvaine, on the "Evidences of Christianity," cleared away some of his difficulties. A sermon of Bishop Kavanaugh, preached at his request, was a help to him. (That wonderful discourse is spoken of elsewhere in this volume.)
A friend of his lay dying at Redwood City. This friend, like himself; was a skeptic, and his doubts darkened his way as he neared the border of the undiscovered country. McCoy went to see him. The sick man, in the freedom of long friendship, opened his mind to him. The arguments of the good Bishop were yet fresh in McCoy's mind, and the echoes of his mighty appeals were still sounding in his heart. Seated by the dying man, he forgot his own misgivings, and with intense earnestness pointed the struggling soul to the Saviour of sinners.
"I did not intend it, but I was impelled by a feeling I could not resist. I was surprised and strangely thrilled at my own words as I unfolded to my friend the proofs of the truth of Christianity, culminating in the incarnation, death, and resurrection, of Jesus Christ. He seemed to have grasped the truths as presented, a great calm came over him, and he died a believer. No incident of my life has given me a purer pleasure than this; but it was a strange thing! Nobody could have had access to him as I had - I, a doubter and a stumbler all my life; it looks like the hand of God!"
His voice was low, and his eyes were wet as he finished the narration.
Yes, the hand of God was in it - it is in every good thing that takes place on earth. By the bedside of a dying friend, the undercurrent of faith in his warily and noble heart swept away for the time the obstructions that were in his thought, and bore him to the feet of the blessed, pitying Christ, who never breaks a bruised reed. I think he had more light, and felt stronger ever after.
Death twice entered his home-circle - once to convey a budding flower from the earth-home to the skies, and again like a lightning-stroke laying young manhood low in a moment. The instinct within him, stronger than doubt, turned his thought in those dark hours toward God. The ashes of the earthly hopes that had perished in the fire of fierce calamity, and the tears of a grief unspeakable, fertilized and watered the seed of faith which was surely in his heart. The hot furnace-fire did not harden this finely-tempered soul. But still he walked in darkness, doubting, doubting, doubting all he most wished to believe. It was the infirmity of his constitution, and the result of his surroundings. He went into large business enterprises with mingled success and disappointment. He went into politics, and though he bore himself nobly and gallantly, it need not be said that that vortex does not usually draw those who are within its whirl heavenward. He won some of the prizes that were fought for in that arena where the noblest are in danger of being soiled, and where the baser metal sinks surely to the bottom by the inevitable force of moral gravitation.
From time to time we were thrown together, and I was glad to know that the Great Question was still in his thought, and the hunger for truth was still in his heart. Ill health sometimes made him irritable and morbid, but the drift of his inner nature was unchanged. His mind was enveloped in mists, and sometimes tempests of despair raged within him; but his heart still thirsted for the water of life.
A painful and almost fatal railway accident befell him. He was taken to his ranch among the quiet hills of Shasta County. This was the final crisis in his life. Shut out from the world, and shut in with his own thoughts and with God, he reviewed his life and the argument that had so long been going on in his mind. He was now quiet enough to hear distinctly the Still Small Voice whose tones he could only half discern amid the clamors of the world when he was a busy actor on its stage. Nature spoke to him among the hills, and her voice is God's. The great primal instincts of the soul, repressed in the crowd or driven into the background by the mob of petty cares and wants, now had free play in the nature of this man whose soul had so long cried out of the depths for the living God. He prayed the simple prayer of trust at which the gate flies open for the believing soul to enter into the peace of God. He was born into the new life. The flower that had put forth its abortive buds for so many seasons, burst into full bloom at last. With the mighty joy in his heart, and the light of the immortal hope beaming upon him, he passed into the World of Certainties.