Chapter 1: The Open Sepulchre
“Behold, there went out a sower to sow.”
The eloquent silences of Christ often speak to the sympathetic disciple with more divine inspiration than His utterances. For instance, when He spake His parables did He not wish us to take cognizance of the fact that He found His analogues for spiritual life in the kingdom of nature, and thereby teach us that the law of the lower is carried upward into the higher? To suggest that this is not so is also to suggest that He is unsafe to follow beyond the limitations of the letter, and since He never wrote a word we cannot be certain as to what He said, therefore the Christ, for us, does not exist.
If anyone wishes to assume such a position I have no right to interfere with his resolves, but it will be necessary for us at once to part company; since my knowledge, experience and purpose all lie in the other direction.
I am not, however, anxious to enter the lists of controversy just now. It may be that my ministry will carry my feet soon enough on to debatable ground in the exposition of the truth as I have found it. My reference to the parable of the sower was suggested rather by its allusion to the certainty of the harvest of futurity than the analogy between nature and grace.
Some time ago I ventured – at the instance of the agony I was all too conscious of – to make an effort to return to earth in the hope of being able to sow some few seeds of consolation in hearts broken and crushed by the universal catastrophe called death. I wished to tell simply and faithfully what I had experienced in that supposed unreachable beyond, confident that the truth would prove to be a solace. I was not altogether unacquainted with the existing ideas, teachings, even prejudices which earth entertains against such a discredited communion, and was quite prepared for the cold incredulity I was certain to arouse on one side as well as an exclamation of pious horror on the other. But I had, in my new condition, discovered something far otherwise than I anticipated; God was so much better than I had been led to imagine, the after-life was so inexpressibly different to my expectations that, as a man, I could not keep silent when I found that silence was not forced upon me, and common sympathy for humanity as well as gratitude to God would not allow me to rest until I had done my best to make known how generously He has provided, infinitely above all we could ever ask, think, or conceive, in the life which lies just beyond the softened twilight of absence from the body. The God before whose judgement-seat I had been expecting to stand, with more of doubt and misgiving than filial anticipation, was found so far to out-father the best of fathers, transcending even him who met the prodigal of whom Christ spake, that woe would have fallen me had I kept silence, and in relation to the agony of earth I should have played the part of a demon rather than a man.
I did not keep silent. So soon as I had found that return was possible, and the natural obstacles were overcome, I answered my heart’s desire and scattered over the world the gospel of my former message,* and it is the almost incredible harvest of thankful acknowledgement from that imperfect effort that fills me with surprise at the moderation with which the Christ estimated His results in the parable.
How I wish I could cull a few expressions of thankfulness from the hundreds of letters lying before me as I take the now familiar seat to redeem my promise, that if my initial effort served its purpose I should be glad to come again and continue the record of my experiences in the life to which you are all hastening on. But such letters have come to me through my Recorder, in confidence – or so I choose to regard them in the absence of permission – and therefore I can do no more than ask you to accept my assurance and read on until that which I have now to say falls like the holier balm of God’s better Gilead into your own wounded heart, and you experience, for yourself, the power of truth, as it is in Jesus, to minister to those who fall crushed beneath the avalanche of the world’s greatest suffering.
Still, though my success has been far beyond my most sanguine expectations, I cannot forget that I have only been able to touch the merest fringe of the garment of sorrow, and, while I rejoice for what has been done, my heart still goes out in sympathy to those who weep disconsolately beneath the cypress trees. “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God, speak ye comfortably” to the children of men. It is like our God to issue such commanding encouragements, for is He not a Father who ever pities His children, not expecting too much from them and always remembering they are but dust? Surely
If all the world my Saviour knew,
Then all the world would love Him too.
This is the hope, aim, desire of all the ministering legions sent forth to minister, for when this is accomplished sin will cease and the effects of sin will shortly come to an end.
There is far more cause for hope than despair in the world if men would only quietly consider it. How often have we heard the aphorism that even ‘the Devil is not as black as he is painted.’ If therefore the night is not hopelessly black, and we are standing with our faces toward the daybreak, why not dry our tears and look hopefully for the coming glory?
Let me ask you, my unknown but sorrowing friend, to sit with me for a while beside the tomb – not the one at Macpelah, nor that in the valley over against Bethpoer, nor yet again that over which the disconsolate Psalmist declares ‘the dead know not anything’ – all these are buried too deep under the debris of ignorance and prejudice – but I will invite you to commune for a while beside that most sacred of all tombs to be found in Joseph’s garden. Most sacred because most normal, fulfilling all but never exceeding the slightest duty for which the tomb was called into existence; the one tomb at which we may sit and learn all that the office was designed to teach – hope, joy, victory and a horizon-less beyond!
Thrice sacred are the scenes of decisive victories, but when the battle was the all-important one in the history of a universe, then the spot becomes a thousand times more sacred. This is such a place. Here He, who is our life, lay. (Sad for us if He does not hold this position, for we are poor indeed.) Here He did single-handed combat with the king of terrors, and broke the tyrant’s power; here He closed with the world’s despair and tore His bands asunder; here love captured hope from the grasp of ignorance; truth triumphed over error, righteousness defeated sin; and life cast death into the bottomless pit! See, the stone is still rolled away! The sepulchre did not open its door to be closed again with a spring! The victory of Easter morning was not a demonstration for the moment only! It was a conquest by the Lord of Hosts; and whatsoever the Lord doeth it shall be for ever. The Lord is risen! and in His rising He hath set before us an open door, which none can shut again. He carried away with Him through the everlasting doors the keys of death and hell, and holds them still in His hands before the throne, while the angel of the resurrection keeps guard before the open tomb and sits upon the stone that once for all has been rolled away.
Do we understand what all this means? If only earth would listen to the full chorus of the evangel of the risen Lord! Dry your tears, lift your eyes
There is no death! What seems so is transition;
This life of mortal breath
Is but a suburb of the life Elysian,
Whose portal we call death.
Do you wonder I ask you to sit with me here – you whose life has been embittered by the failure to recognize the unmeasured fullness of the gospel, and I who also have drunk the cup of bitterness to its dregs? Listen! Jesus came back – is ever coming back. He wishes to make the pilgrimage of life a journey to Emmaus, if we will; but He does not come alone; they that are His also come with Him. With Him – in Him – we ‘come to Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels; to the general assembly and church of the first-born . . . and to the spirits of just men made perfect.’
All the loved ones you have lost for the time are present with the Master. They follow Him wheresoever He goeth. If He come again to redeem the promise, ‘Lo! I am with thee,’ shall not they too come with Him? Would they not gladly come? Do you think their love, their interest and concern for your welfare has perished? Strong as you have believed death to be, do you think it is strong enough to crush their old affection? I speak to you as men and women.
Is the hope I would inspire too large – too good to be true? Thomas once thought so till the risen living Jesus stood before him. Are you not as precious in the eyes of the Father – who is no respecter of persons – as Thomas was? Is He not still able to answer the same incredulous hope, the staggering commonsense love, as ever? If death has once for all been swallowed up in life, is it not time the truth was known, and the balm of its divine gospel freely poured out for the healing of the brokenhearted? Mighty minds wield mighty forces: is not our Christ travelling in the greatness of His strength – the mighty to save? What if the hour has come ‘in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth’? Nothing is impossible with God, who sent Samuel, Moses and Elias back again even before the victory of Christ, and my own return bears witness that He is still the same unchanging God.
Come, let us commune together, and I will speak of Him and the visions my eyes have seen beyond the veil.
I know whereof I speak – know also the weakness as well as the yearning of the flesh to know that the things I intimate are true. In the blackness of a mourner’s despair I groped ‘for the touch of a vanished hand,’ in the silence of death I strained my ears for ‘the sound of the voice that was still.’ My mother was lost before I knew her, and I was compelled to tread life’s pilgrimage the victim of a hunger earth had no power to satisfy. Nor father, sister, friend, art, literature nor employment could fill the void I knew, and the ordinary pleasures of others served to further isolate me from my fellows.
I was never conscious of one single unclouded pleasure, hence I can deeply sympathize with the souls with whom death has claimed an enforced kinship. The nearest approach to happiness I am able to recall was of a negative character – momentary cessation of misery. I had stolen away from the family and friends who were uncongenial to me by reason of their enjoyment, and in my solitude was mechanically turning over the pages of a magazine lying upon the library table when my eye caught the headline of three verses which instantly aroused my attention. Then I read –
I shall rest when the earth life is over,
And to-morrow itself shall be dead;
When dread shall no more be prophetic,
Of agony waiting ahead.
How calmly the ocean is sleeping to-night!
But the morning may break with the storm at its height.
I shall sing when my heart ceases aching,
And my head is not weary with pain.
My smiles only mask the fierce anguish
My heart cannot bury again.
The face of the ocean is smiling with rest,
But the break on the shore heaves the moans from its breast.
How I pray while my heart-strings are breaking,
How I count all the days as they come!
I watch in my sleep for my mother,
In my dreams I sigh for her home;
Two words, oh, how sweet! Earth, earth! let me go!
In their music is heaven – all the heaven I can know!
The name of the author was not given, but the fact that someone lived who could so sympathetically voice my own sorrow touched and soothed my grief for the moment. The verses breathed a faint hope into the region of my despair that somewhere, some day I might be satisfied. Then the gloom closed over me again, and I sighed more deeply to atone for the throb I had stifled. In my gratitude, however, I cut the verses out, and for days they became my meat and drink, until their every word was burned into my hungry soul, and the paper they were printed on fell to pieces. Even then I reverently gathered the fragments together and treasured them with a lock of hair I wore above my heart.
I shall discover and meet the author sometime and tell him how his cry of sorrow ministered to my own, in which acknowledgement he will find the harvest of the seed he sowed in tears.
So Heaven gathers up all fragments that nothing is lost.
Through such a school of mourning the Father saw it was best to bring me, therefore I am able to sympathize with whosoever sit in darkness and in the valley of the shadow of death.
For those whose acquaintance I am newly making, let me now say that my sympathy is not based upon speculative philosophies concerning the hereafter. We meet at the open door of the sepulchre, but I return from within; you, for the present, are from without. My feet have already forded the Jordan, from beyond which I have come back to speak with you of the things I have seen and heard. I have already stood upon the mountain side, where the light of God is falling, have seen in the shadowless land the pathway Christ Himself once trod, and am able to offer the ministry of guidance by which His divine footprints may be safely followed. Let me ask you to listen before, in your incredulity, you draw back and treat my statement as the blasphemy of a deceiver. Equally pious souls with yourself have made serious mistakes in the past in that direction. From before the time of Christ the heretics who were martyred yesterday have become the recognized saints of the morrow, chief of whom is Christ Himself. I know the gospel I proclaim is an impossible one from your point of view, but is your position one to warrant a reliable judgement? Have you a full and perfect knowledge of the ways and purposes of God? If nothing is impossible with Him, can you imagine anything more God-like than the ordination of such a dispensation as the crowning demonstration of the work of Jesus Christ? I trow not. Therefore for the sake of yourselves and the comfort my message is empowered to confer, I counsel you to hear, then judge me by the fruit our communion bears.
To those who know me through my former message I have no need to do more than extend my greeting, since I am here by their earnest wish to redeem a promise I will proceed to ratify.
Pardon me for a moment in gathering up the thread of my experiences, if I ask you to turn your mind backward in review, not that I wish to summarize what has been already said, but I am anxious to make it clear that on throwing aside the body every soul receives personal treatment and is dealt with individually as it enters Paradise. Everyone goes to his own place. Dissolution works no transforming miracle, but as the man leaves earth he enters upon – or rather continues – his spiritual condition. There are no magical formulas or processes by which, however repentant the soul may be, the evil-doer becomes a saint in the interval of transition. ‘God will render to every man according to his deeds.’ ‘Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.’ The faith that produces works is the only witness available for testimony in that assize,’ and the work is estimated by the quality of its fruitfulness.
I am led to make this necessary reminder just here, because in several of the letters lying before me there is some expression of, regret and even surprise that in my last I said so little about the Master. In view of the law I have just referred to, this may easily be understood of the time covered by the experiences recounted in Through the Mists. In leaving the earth I carried with me no great love, but rather an aversion for all forms of orthodox religion. I had not been a church-goer, and had no warm admiration for the method of salvation or the Christ I could never satisfactorily understand. I had some little sympathy and human feeling for the multitudes of unfortunates, herding like animals in the purlieus of London, some few of whom I did, occasionally, a little to help, but the one desire and wish of life was, if possible, to find my mother. She was far more to me than God or religion; hence, when the change came, it was my mother I first desired to see – the one heaven I wished to reach – and my aspiration was granted. I had my reward; and that explains why I was so silent in reference to the Master.
Others of my correspondents hope that in resuming my experiences I shall be able to refer to the reunion. Why not? Like every other feature of my new life it abounds with lessons and corrections of vain anticipations, therefore I will commence my present message at that point and deal with those things which are of general interest concerning our meeting.
I concluded with the arrival at my first spirit home, over which Myhanene conducted me, pointing out its chief features and the relationship everything bore to the life I had lived. How patiently he lingered while I traced the connection of its appointments with a hundred incidents I had wholly or in part forgotten! After this he led me to the roof-garden from which I was able to study its delightful surroundings, then back again to that closely-curtained doorway, hiding that face – how well I knew it; what need to tell me – which, unseen and all unknown, had been the load-star of my life, and at that moment was more than all in earth or Heaven to me!
I understood his generous and silent intimation, as he passed on and left me all alone, conscious that the gates of Heaven were about to open and let me in. From the time of my arrival until that instant the old earth-hunger had been restrained – held in check by the engrossing series of surprises which had been afforded me; but now it came back with a vigour and force for which I had been prepared by the ministry of the friends who had so divinely led me, by a way I had not known, towards the heavenly consummation. I thanked God that the meeting had not come sooner! How my soul ached to clasp her, and yet I dared not thrust the curtain aside.
In the old days it had been a favourite employment of less melancholy moments to plan what I would do – if there was really an after-life – when I met my mother. How many times did I reconstruct and revise the plans, which unfolded and enlarged with the years, until they became a whole series of programmes with only the mother-thread to hold them together. It may be that the oft-recurring effort served to turn me into a soothing by-path wherein I escaped a lurking stab of pain, and if so they served a truly beneficent purpose, but that was all. To plan on earth what we will do in Paradise is a thousand times more futile than for a child to boast of the valour of his manhood. The new life is so crowded with overwhelming surprises, so fruitful of charming distractions, so beautifully bewildering with unimagined pleasures, so tender in its diverting sympathies, that even earth’s purest conceptions are certain to be shattered and carried away, and the perfect God-design leads us gently forward into the fullness of our unanticipated joy.
You are impatient, my reader, and wonder why I do not dash that curtain aside and fall into the arms of my mother. Ah! why indeed? These perplexingly welcome pauses which intervened and temporarily postponed action at such crises as those I have mentioned were beyond my comprehension at the time, but I understand them better now. Where the mind of Father and Child are working together to do His will, God is never late, but rather before the moment, for which we needs must wait. In that slight pause the fullness of the meted measure of bliss is reached. When God throws the portal open we find ourselves in Heaven; man forces it, and lo! he stands in hell!
The waiting is never long. It was a simultaneous action to draw the curtain. We met upon the threshold and fell upon each other’s necks. There was not much to say:
“My mother? – my son.” That was all. Then we were silent.
* “Through the Mists, or Leaves from the Autobiography of a Soul in Paradise” London: W. Rider & Son. Ltd.