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Chapter XV: The City of Compensation
During our conversation we had been walking in a beautiful valley lying between the mists and the slopes upon which I found myself on my arrival. As I did so, listening to the revelations my companion was unfolding for my benefit, many and varied were the thoughts that flashed through my mind. One of these made a deep impression upon me, and deserves a place in this record on account of the influence it exerted. It ran something in this way:
On earth, when a felon is torn by the law from home and friends to pay the penalty demanded by his crime, man – with all his faults and unjust ideas – has made a provision for the convict to be visited at stated intervals by his friends, in addition to the correspondence which is allowed. I know the visits are not frequent, and that the correspondence is restricted, but the provision is made; and is it possible that frail, fallible man can be more merciful than God? Can God by any means inspire an act of humanity He Himself would be unwilling to perform? Can the creature, under any circumstances, manifest a greater degree of charity than the Creator? The thought quivered in my mind but for an instant – to have given it lodgment would have dishonoured the Infinite Love; but it lingered long enough to accomplish its mission, for as it left it carried away the last shadow of doubt. From that moment I was satisfied that sleep is the trysting-place where severed souls may meet again.
Some distance to our right lay a beautifully wooded district towards which the great majority of our sleep visitors wended their way. Turning our steps in the same direction, I soon discovered that behind that natural screen lay a more populous centre than I had yet met with in my new life. There was also something, too, so half-familiar about the surroundings as to cause me more than once to look around and assure myself where I was in reality.
I knew I had never visited the place before, and yet nothing was strange or unexpected to me, a fact the very opposite of every other experience I had hitherto enjoyed. I stood occasionally to admire lovely nooks and rustic spots with which I seemed to be thoroughly acquainted, or addressed and returned congratulations to passers-by with the readiness of a life-long intimacy, yet it was impossible to recall when or where we had met before. Presently, however, I solved the difficulty to my own satisfaction.
The whole confusion of mind was due to the multitude of scenes through which I had so hurriedly passed, and the varied subjects which had been crowded through my mind without any possibility of quietly digesting them. This, no doubt, was the cause of the confusion so inextricably jumbling the two lives together yet leaving both equally familiar.
Several times I turned to my companion, with a hope that he would help me ouf of my dilemma, but seeing he was buried in one of his brown studies I refrained from disturbing him, and walked on in silence.
Just before we reached the trees, we turned by mutual impulse away from the more frequented parts into a secluded haunt which somehow, I knew, would lead us to the most picturesque view of the city lying before us. I led the way, there was now no need for a guide, since every step grew more mysteriously familiar to me. Down into the lovely little glen, across the rose-clad bridge which spanned the rivulet, where I must stand a moment to listen to the flute-like music of the silvern cascade; then up the flower-dressed bank again towards the moss-covered boulder which stood directly in my line of vision. Never mind, it was soon rounded, and –
There was no need for question then; standing beside that rock I touched the point of recollection which Cushna had before referred to; all along that walk the preparation had been going on, and in one flash the clear memory of my sleep-life had been restored to me. Around me lay scenes dear to me from infancy. Oh, what an explanation that one moment made of half the mysteries of my life! How often had I wakened from my sleep with a dull sense of forgetting something, for the loss of which my heart felt heavy, but my memory was powerless to recall it; I had sighed to renew some sweet companionship I had formed in the ‘vagaries of a dream’; I felt confident that someone, somewhere, understood my wishes and fostered my ‘foolish whims,’ but where and who was it? Some unknown influence was always working upon me to ‘do this’ or ‘go there.’ My friends looked pitifully upon me, regarding me as the victim of strange fancies from which I had not power to break away.
Frequently, when I was visiting the poor, I would come across the face of some sufferer which was quite familiar to me, yet I knew I had not seen it on earth before. Life had abounded in such mysteries, which in my solitude I had tried, in vain, to probe, I knew that in some far-away court a man lay ill and starving, but how I was aware of it I could never tell. I was conscious that if I walked along a certain street at a given time I should meet such and such an one, of whose existence I was ignorant apart from my ‘strange fancies,’ but I would go and meet them; there was no need to tell their stories – I knew them. I simply performed my mission and passed on.
A thousand impulses, strange as these, had been the ruin of my life in the estimation of my friends, while their development and indulgence had considerably aroused the pious fears of my family, exercised the professional acumen of several physicians, and been the subject of serious conversations and many prayers of devout clergymen; but all of no avail, the combined effect being to increase rather than diminish the malady. I was accused of lack of natural affection, was not amenable to reason, despised the common-sense things of life, and in the anxiety of my friends to protect me from myself it was always a mystery how I escaped the doom of an asylum. Was I happy? No! Two ever-present difficulties prevented that. The unnecessary suffering and starvation of my fellows, and an insatiable longing for something or someone which I could never define – a craving of the soul I did not know how to gratify – a hungering for some unknown sympathy for which I knew not where to seek.
But a great part – perhaps all – of the mystery had at length been solved, the key had been found, and henceforth the enigma of life would be easily read. Was it a tear of gratitude which dimmed my eye as the realisation burst upon me? Perhaps it was, for there is one joy at least which can only find an adequate expression in the language of tears.
“Cushna, my friend,” I cried in my ecstasy, “I know it all now; but none of the revelations you have made to me can compare with this.”
“Why! do you mean to say you know this place?”
“Know it! Why, I am truly at home now. My earth life was not real; that was sleep – sleep in which I restlessly dreamed of this – now I am awake. Yes! I do know it! Henceforth I have to enjoy fulness of life in a condition where solution follows mystery as naturally as fruit comes after flower.”
“Now you can understand all we have been speaking of respecting the dual life.”
“I can,” I replied, “but how was it I did not remember it even after my death?”
“Because you have been carefully prevented from touching the point of recollection until the most opportune moment.”
“The place seemed to grow strangely familiar to me as we were coming along,” I said. “I was about to ask you the cause of it several times, only you were thinking.”
“Yes! I did not wish to make any explanations. It was much better for you to learn it as you have done; and now you feel yourself at home, you will be able to dispense with my services.”
“I do not at all like the idea of losing you,” I replied.
“You will not do that; I shall see you by and by. In the meantime you have many friends here you will wish to see, and any of them will be able to make what explanations you desire.”
He was gone – but I was not alone. How could I be in the midst of scenes every one of which called forth a multitude of experiences that had lain buried unconsciously in my mind until now.
Who is able to understand the mind? What undreamt-of histories, revelations, and possibilities lie stored away in its vast abyss, into which the intellect can find no light to help it penetrate. Consider but the corridors of memory, and who can estimate what priceless tablets of the past are waiting our discovery? Are there records of being, of æons, of epochs, reaching back and back until at length every individual soul may read its genealogy and trace each step in its adventurous pilgrimage from God? Who can tell? But who can doubt but that the mind holds secrets which the fickle flesh could never keep – secrets which are too infinite to whisper into the ear of mortality; their weighty import, quivering on the sensorium, would shatter it, and leave it deaf to every other sound. Earth understand the mind of man! Why, in comparison, it has scarcely yet been able to grasp the idea of its conception. But in the calm hours of sleep, that subtle embryon steals away to Paradise, where its generation is continued within the womb of love, until the fulness of its time arrives; then the soul is called away and in the birth of death inherits the possessions of a larger self – the memory of another life, the knowledge of unexpected powers. How can the full beauty of the plant and flower be seen when the seed has only just been discovered? How can we know the oratorio when the overture has but just commenced? How can we paint the summer when we have only felt the frost? Neither can we. who have only watched the flutterings of the wings of mind against the cage of earth, describe the majesty of its soarings in the congenial atmosphere of heaven.
My meditations were brought to an abrupt ending by the sound of a well-known voice close behind me: “Hello, Mass’r Fred!’ So yo’s here at last.”
“Yes, Jemmy, here at last.”
“I got’n idea you warn’t com’n roun’ dis road for a bit. Ain’t it beau’ful ? Has you been up de mount’ns?”
“I scarcely know where I have been, Jemmy, I have seen so much.”
“Did you see an’body you know yet?”
“Not here; but I have only just discovered that I know the place. Cushna never told me; he let me find it out for myself.”
“Dat’s jus’ like ‘m; he keeps on s’prisin’ you all de time.”
“That’s been my experience,” I answered, “ever since I arrived.”
“N’ber min’, Mass’r Fred, you s’ll soon see someb’dy now. We’ll soon fin’ you when I fetch ’m.”
Away that dear old friend went to convey the news of my arrival, and left me to recall the pleasant memories of that companionship. I cannot attempt to recount the multitude of incidents which crowded around me in connection with him, but ‘I will mention one lesson he taught me, which, I think, must have exercised an unconscious influence upon me in the lower life. It arose from my expressing surprise that negroes retained their colour in this life. The dear, good fellow replied, that it was all of the goodness of the Lord, that every colour, as well as every clime and kindred, should be found in heaven; and then he went on: There were many people who hated niggers and thought they ought not to be treated the same as white folks, they won’t go to school or church with them, won’t eat with them, or mix with them in any way, but when they got to heaven they would find that niggers were as good in the eyes of the Lord as white folks, and they will have to mix with them then.
I shall never forget his glee when he wondered what the white folks will do if they object to climb the golden staircase beside the niggers, for there’s a mighty long procession of ‘darkies,’ and they are going up all the time. Then again, he continued, looking more serious, it would have been mighty hard on the nigger if the Lord had changed his colour, for everybody would have laughed at him and said, “I told you so,” and that would have made him feel awful sick. But the Lord would not have it so, therefore He left everybody in their natural colour until love reigned, and no one thought anything about the tint of another’s skin.
I thought there was a volume of truth in his simple philosophy, which wiser men would do well to consider.
That familiar phrase of the whilom slave, which seemed to come to his lips as the natural reply to every perplexity – ‘It’s all of the goodness of the Lord’ – led my thoughts away from the individual to the city which lay before me – the city so full of newly-found memories, and which, from my own experience, I had learned to call the City of Compensation, owing to the fact that it possessed more features of that character than any other I could recall. In my old life I had been frequently driven to the verge of atheism, by a fruitless attempt to reconcile the incongruities of life with the idea of a just and merciful God. Why should the man who was born blind be compelled to bear the ignominy of begging his daily bread with the hundred-and-one other hardships which fall to the lot of poverty; while the man who lay in the lap of indolence and luxury should possess all the physical blessings nature could crowd upon him? By what law did genius and want find such attraction for each other, while intellectual incompetency and wealth walked hand in hand? Where was the justice in a life of vicarious pain, which had its origin in another’s sin? Mere was the righteousness which threw its influence on the side of the tyrant and oppressor, while the honest saint was left without sign or answer to his cry?
I was not by any means the only one who had been perplexed by such enquiries, but from my new vantage-ground I could interpret these problems in another and better light. Earth is not the Omega as well as the Alpha of life; in fact, it is not the whole but only part of the first. It is his ignorance and a false estimate of earth which makes man attach an undue value to its condition. Things assumed a very different aspect in the explanations my memory afforded in my newer state. I remember how I had seen the blind man enter that city while his body enjoyed its sleep, and how at a glance I learned that he himself was not blind, the defect lay in the instrument through which he operated. It is only on the mortal, the transitory, side that the gloom exists; on the immortal his vision is unclouded; therefore his hours of darkness only correspond to another’s sleep. His memory may not be strong enough to bring back to earth the consciousness of what has passed, but who shall say the resignation of these children of darkness may not be due to the echoes of their sleep-life, which still reverberate through their waking hours?
In this city the ears of the deaf are unstopped, the tongues of the dumb are loosed, the maimed leap, the idiot understands, the paralysed forget their infirmity, and the bed-ridden feel their strength return; such are some of the kindnesses of the Lord to the unfortunates of earth, during their hours of sleep; do I not rightly call it a city of compensation?
These are memories of gratitude and hope; but there are others of even more weighty import, which for the warnings they convey, I dare not pass by in my message through the mists. I have often been a witness in this city of a mother pleading with her child to keep the yet unfulfilled promise which was sealed in the kiss of death, but since forgotten or ignored; I have seen the mask of friendship torn from the face of hypocrisy; heard the lying tongue convicted by its own utterances; seen the base intriguer exposed before his victim; have heard the yearning counsels of love to wayward children; witnessed the sympathy and affection lavished upon the unfortunate and the prodigal, and listened to the assurances of the presence of loved ones – unseen and unheard – in the hour of trial and temptation. I have seen the continued communion of souls, which the chill of death had no power to break; and the meeting of friends, who, in their despair, had vainly imagined they would never look upon each other’s face again.
Oh, ye of earth, who received from the closing lips of some loved one, the trust or commission they could not linger here to execute, I bid you recall how sacredly you vowed to perform those farewell promises which you have since neglected, as you have forgotten the body which crumbles in yonder grave. That is not your father, mother, friend, which is lying there; they are not dead! They are not away! In the silent corridors of sleep, you are still meeting them night by night. They know your perfidy, and that your word is broken; time after time they have earnestly pleaded with you, while just as often has your promise been repeated, until not one, but a hundred broken oaths are registered against you on the tablets of your soul. Stand still for one moment, and you will feel the weight of these unheeded vows lie upon your conscience until its still small voice cries out in agony, bidding you to keep your word. Why do you not take heed? It is not now a matter which lies alone between yourself and friend; he has been called into the inner sanctuary of God, who will Himself now defend His saint, and exact the retribution of your deceit.
When the hour of morning calls you back to earth, how frequently do the echoes of your last assurance continue to ring within your ears? Quit you like men be strong; arise and keep your compact in spirit and in letter before the weight of your perjury grows too heavy for your soul to bear. And ye who weep, look up! Hush the voice of your mourning, and dry your moistened eyes. The loved ones have not gone away; their kisses are still lingering in freshness upon your lips. Those tender tones, like the departing vibrations of imagination, which steal over you when first you open your eyes, are not all illusions; your dear ones have been with you. You carried to them last night tidings of your home below, and they have told you of theirs above. Can you not feel the pressure of their embraces around you still? and that they expect you will keep your tryst to-night. Oh, no! They are not lost; but Jesus loved them so, he drew them just a little nearer to Himself, where they could rest in peace
‘Beyond the heart-ache and the fever.’
Their exaltation has not ended – it has only changed the hours of your communion from the uncertain seasons of earth’s day, to the calm and peaceful hours of night. Think for one moment: Are you not conscious how much their love for you has strengthened? So, too, has the atmosphere of their present lives worked out a like result in you; and this, nurtured and continued, will lift you up, and drawing you with themselves closer to God, will finally bring you where they are. They are still more yours in this holier communion than ever you knew before; but they have been honoured in their election to that host whom Christ employs as ‘ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation.’