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Tuning From The Bass
by [?]

‘”I should like to know,” His Honour observed, “what you have been taught to believe. What will become of you, my little boy, when you die, if you are so wicked as to tell a lie?”‘

‘”Hell-fire!” answered the boy with great promptitude.

‘”But do you mean to say,” the judge went on, “that you would go to hell-fire for telling any lie?”

‘”Hell-fire, sir!” the boy replied again.

‘To several similar questions the boy made the same terrible response.

‘”He does not seem to be competent,” said the counsel.

‘”I beg your pardon,” returned the judge. “This boy thinks that for every wilful fault he will go to hell-fire; and he is very likely while he believes that doctrine to be most strict in his observance of truth. If you and I believed that such would be the penalty for every act of misconduct we committed, we should be better men than we are. Let the boy be sworn!”‘

Sir Henry Hawkins tells the story with evident approval, so that we have here the valuable testimony of two distinguished judges to the moral value of fear from a purely judicial point of view. Of course, the value is not stable or permanent. The goodness that arises from fear is like the tameness of a terrified tiger, or the willingness of a wolf to leave the deer unharmed when both are flying from before a prairie-fire. When the fear passes, the blood-lust will return. But that is not the point. Nobody said that fear was wisdom. What the wise man said was that fear is the beginning of wisdom. And as the beginning of wisdom it has a certain initial and preparatory value. The sooner that the beginning is developed and brought to a climax, the better of course it will be. But meanwhile a beginning is something. It is a step in the right direction. It is the learning of the alphabet. It is the earnest and promise of much that is to come.

Now if the Church refuses to employ this potent weapon, she is very stupid. A beginning is only a beginning, but it is a beginning. If we ignore the element of terror, we are deliberately renouncing a force which, in the wilds and in the world, is of really first-class value and importance. I am not now saying that the ministry would be untrue to its high calling if it failed to warn men with gravity and with tears. That is a matter of such sacredness and solemnity that I hesitate to touch it here; although it is obvious that, under any conceivable method of interpretation, there is a terrible note of urgency in the New Testament that no pulpit can decline, without grave responsibility, to echo. But I am content to point out here that, from a purely tactical point of view, the Church would be very foolish to scout this valuable weapon. The element of fear is one of the great primal passions, and to all those deep basic human elements the gospel makes its peculiar appeal. And the fears of men must be excited. The music cannot be all bass; but the bass note must not be absent, or the music will be ruined.

There are still those who, far from being cowards, may, like Noah, be ‘moved with fear’ to the saving of their houses. Cardinal Manning tells in his Journal how, as a boy at Tetteridge, he read again and again of the lake that burneth with fire. ‘These words,’ he says, ‘became fixed in my mind, and kept me as boy and youth and man in the midst of all evil. I owe to them more than will ever be known to the last day.’ And Archbishop Benson used to tell of a working man who was seen looking at a placard announcing a series of addresses on ‘The Four Last Things.’ After he had read the advertisement he turned to a companion and asked, ‘Where would you and I have been without hell?’ And the Archbishop used to inquire whether, if we abandoned the legitimate appeal to human fear, we should not need some other motive in our preaching to fill the vacant place.