In 1859, Charles Dickens’ opened his classic historic novel A Tale of Two Cities with these classic lines:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way….”
I must confess I wish I could write with such powerful imagery and insight. Much like Victor Hugo of Paris, Dickens demonstrated an amazing knack for being about to weave powerful spiritual and moral themes into his literary masterpieces. Unlike much of the popular literature of today which has the consistency and sustenance of “cotton candy”, Dickens’ writing drew his readers into deep contemplation of the moral and ethical themes of life using his realistic yet bigger than life characters.
Two such characters were Sydney Carton and Charles Darney who played key roles in the development of the plot of the Tale of Two Cities which explored the social changes created by the French Revolution in both Paris and London. Darney found himself born into a powerful French family. Under most circumstances being born an aristocrat would have been a blessing except in Paris during revolution where the peasant mobs craved to take out their revenge for decades of neglect on the “blue bloods” of the elite.
Although they were practically lookalikes, Darney and Carton lived two very contrasting lives, except for a deep abiding love that both men had for Lucie. Darney won her heart and married her while Carton could only gaze on with regret.
One of the dramatic twists in the story came in the closing chapters when Darney finds himself captured by the revolutionaries and sentenced to die for the crimes of his family. While he awaited his execution on death row, he welcomed a very unlikely visitor when Carton came to see him. Little did Darney know that his rival came on a mission of incredible mercy.
Carton drugged Darney and exchanged clothes and papers with him. He called for the guards who whisked away the unconscious Carton who in reality was Darney. They loaded his limp body into a carriage that would eventually deliver him into the arms of the love of his life.
Meanwhile Carton prepared himself for sure death by the sharp blade of the guillotine. On his journey through the valley of the shadow death along with fifty-one others, Carton bumped into a seamstress who had worked for Darney. At first she recognized him as Darney but upon a closer examination realized he was an imposer, but why? Why would anyone be an imposer for someone sentenced to death? Within a matter of moments she would witness the ultimate sacrifice of lover.
Dickens’ in vivid dark hues of love painted the picture evoked by the words of Jesus who said: “Greater love has no man than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends…” (John 15:13 NIV)
Jesus fleshed out these words for you and me when He died for us. Why? Jesus loves you. Enough said.