Chapter X: The Living Temple
Omra’s hand was almost imperceptibly withdrawn from my arm, to creep round my waist in a gentle insinuation that we should move away, but every impulse of my soul was urging me to find some means to reach that other shore. Never before had I felt such an all-consuming desire as I had to reach that gate which stood so near and yet so far away.
Again the gentle pressure of Omra’s intimation suggested our departure, but still my obedience was paralysed by the force of that irresistible attraction.
My companion waited for me with more than patience. He did not speak. The only argument he employed to induce me to yield to his suggestion was the silent pressure of his compassionate sympathy. He himself had passed that way heretofore and he knew—he remembered—and being touched with the feeling of the same infirmity in the presence of a like occasion, his soul clave to mine in its reluctance to leave, even though he knew the better way to reach the goal.
We stood for a considerable time watching many passing to and fro over the now invisible bridge—for the power which Omra had loaned to me had now been withdrawn—but I was rooted to the spot as though I was part of the native rock which walled the gulf.
Presently Omra spoke to me, not with the voice of one glorying in the demonstration of an argumentative victory, but as a sympathetic teacher congratulating a pupil on the solution of a somewhat abstruse problem.
“Now you will be able to understand something of the impregnable nature of the bulwarks of the kingdom,” he said.
“I understand,” I replied laconically. There was much more I should like to have added, but something whispered that it would be inadvisable to do so just then. Instantly memory flew back to that striking scene which so interested me when I was standing on the Mount in the company of Eusemos, and again I watched the unsuccessful attempts of that resolute woman to travel one of those invisibly inaccessible roads, until at length I lost her in one of those dismal caves she had been so anxious to avoid. Again I listened to the explanation of Eusemos as to the constraining cause of her failure—she must needs go to her own.
In the light of what I had seen and heard since that incident occurred, I now understood his meaning in a newer, clearer, more forceful sense than I could then appreciate. There were points of likeness as well as difference in the comparison of her case with my present position; but the advantage seemed to be to myself, and especially when I remembered, in all who passed her by as she made her vain endeavour, ‘there was not one who volunteered to give her a word of advice or direction, while I was favoured, not only by the advice and direction of a greater than Eusemos, but by his companionship to guide me in the way that I must go.
How could I go wrong or make a mistake? Why should I demur to follow where he proposed to lead? I answered him, “I understand”; but how much more did I understand the next step my feet must take, than she comprehended at every turn she was self-compelled to take?
Omra again came, to my relief with all the tender consideration of an elder brother, and in doing so I received another incidental reminder of the precise knowledge he had of whatever was passing through my mind.
“In attempting to institute an analogy,” he said, as if we had already been discussing the subject, “you must be very careful not to try and carry the illustration beyond the particularly obvious point of resemblance. I will speak more fully of this directly, because the failure to observe this necessary rule is one of the great sources of ignorance and error you will have to combat in your mission to our brethren in the flesh. For the moment, I wish to make a personal application of the rule. In the comparison you are making between the woman you are thinking of, and yourself, there are certain points of resemblance, but they are very superficial and cannot be reasoned upon.
“For instance, both of you are unable to pass by a chosen route to a goal you desire to reach. So far the two cases are parallel; but directly you ask ‘why you are each unable to proceed?’ you find that you are divided as far as night and day. She, because of misdeeds for which she must first atone; you, because being found worthy you have taken your stand in readiness, but your eager soul has been called upon to perform a preliminary duty before crossing, in learning that ‘they too serve who only stand and wait!’ Prompt response, obedience to the word of command, is the first sign of fidelity, whether that command be to go ‘Forward’ or ‘Stand still,’ and blessed are they who stand in such sympathetic relationship through love, that command and response work in automatic union, leaving the ‘why?’ for the future to reveal. Even the angel who stands in the very presence of God only knows in part, as he is commanded to ‘Go!’ When he reaches his destination he may find further instructions awaiting him, but only after his return can he hope to know what the harvest of his commission has yielded.
“As for yourself, I counsel you to rest in the assurance of the ‘Well done’ you have already received, and try to wait with contented patience whatever commission may next be entrusted to you. Be it enough for you to know that The Great Architect of the universe has called you into existence, and brought you thus far to fill one spot in His superb design which cannot be occupied by any other soul in all His vast creation.
“Is that not fatalism?” I interjected, but instantly added, “Pardon me; I do not desire to controvert your affirmation, but I would be glad to hear how this predestined purpose can be harmonized with the contrary declaration of man’s free will.”
“There is no necessity for any excuse, my dear Aphraar,” Omra replied with characteristic urbanity. “It is quite enough that there seems to be an inconsistency somewhere that needs to be cleared out of your way. To effect this clearance we will recall what I have already stated to be the starting-point of man’s conscious eternal existence; and in doing so I wish to speak as a man, because it will be necessary to present it to you from that point of view. We have the authority of the Christ for speaking of the physical stage of existence as a state of infancy. Let us now add to this the reminder of the fact that God is ‘our Father’; then we may go on to enquire what is the attitude of a parent towards a child who is not yet able to discern between the evil and the good. Is it one of arbitrary discipline, or one of sympathetic tolerance, so long as the child respects the authority of ‘Yes’ and ‘No’? Here you have set before you the sphere of action, the scope, and the limitation of free will.
“We may even carry the figure to a more mature illustration if you will, and say the husbandman in the winter may determine and arrange for the sowing of his land in prospect of the coming harvest, but having once planted the seed he has renounced his free will, and is bound to reap the harvest of what is sown. The child, likewise—infancy gone – enters upon a school career, where the former leniency gives place to discipline, in order that he may be fitted to take his destined place among men. So, when you come to compare the imperfect regime of men with the perfect law of God, the former bears a shadowy resemblance to the latter. There is no conflict—the ascent to success is made through three stages—may, must, and will. In the flesh you have free will, and may do as you will within certain limits.
“When you throw off the flesh, you may enter upon a course of discipline demanded by the use you made of your free will; this discipline will be continued until all the dross, stain and contamination are purged away; all stubborn defiance broken down; until the remorse gives birth to repentance and the soul submits and cries for mercy. Then, purified by affliction, it will submit to the Father’s guidance and presently reach this hallowed spot, and pass forward through the gate.
“If I have made myself understood in this, I think you will see your ogre of Fatalism drop his sombre garb and reveal the Father’s welcome Messenger of Love.”
“Yes. It is so. I always blush at my audacity in venturing to ask such a question as led to this, but in the end I am always more than glad by reason of the difficulties the answers clear away.”
“Then let me advise you not to blush any more: though, let me tell you that the blush is only a sensation of earth not yet relinquished. You cannot blush here,” he said with a humorous glance. “But though you may not blush, continue to ask whenever you need information. When I myself am called into the higher circles, I find that I have more and more questions than it is needful for me to ask.”
“I wish I knew some way in which I could do something to repay your amazing generosity. I am positively bewildered to think why I should receive such attention.”
Omra laughed outright as he witnessed my discomfiture.
“Don’t allow that to disturb you, my dear brother. However great your past obligation may be it is always fully discharged by your asking the next question. You will scarcely be able to understand this at present, because it is one of the rules of the school you are about to enter, where it is provided that every soul shall feed upon the essence of that it furnishes to another. If you will think that over you will see how that ensures that we give you of our best, and also how every enquiry you make affords us the opportunity of attaining to something better.”
“That is beyond me. I will not try to answer it,” I responded, for such an argument was far above my reach.
“Then I may return to that of which I was speaking that roused the idea of fatalism in your mind. I was assuring you that the Great Architect of the universe has called you into being and brought you so far on your way because He has a particular spot in His edifice which you, and only you, can fill. That being so, there is no reason for you to fear as to your being able to reach it. God ‘will have all men to be saved’ (1 Tim. ii, 4), and He, being omnipotent, is able to carry out His will. Rebellion may delay but it cannot frustrate the Almighty’s plan, so, in His own good time, the redemption shall be found to be as universal as the fall, and ‘in Christ shall all be made alive ‘ (1 Cor. xv, 22).
“Now, in this higher home of the soul into which you are waiting to be received, God is raising to Himself a glorious temple of the Church of Christ of which the Master Himself shall be the capstone. Think of it! He whom the teachers, preachers and priests of earth found not to be worthy to live, shall here be acclaimed of God, and ‘mid the plaudits of heaven be set as the pinnacle of the seven-fold holy sanctuary of the Most High. You will understand how such must be ‘a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish’ (Eph. v, 27). Built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles, the whole structure raised of living stones quarried from east and west, and north and south, of ‘every kindred, and tongue, and people and nation.’ Who can anticipate the grandeur of its magnificence?
“Oh, who can picture the beauty and the splendour of that edifice when it shall be completed!—or who, on the other hand, can estimate the endurance of the agony those living stones have passed through in the shaping, dressing, and embellishment necessary to qualify them for the positions they hold! ‘They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins, and goat-skins—being destitute, afflicted, tormented’; others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, of bonds and imprisonments; other have been gathered from inhuman fields of torture: the rack, the fire, the lions, and every other fiendish device a counterfeit Church could invent, through which these heroes of the faith have boldly and triumphantly followed their Lord, and now they are glorified together with Him in the city of the Great King.”
“And will all who follow Him be built into that wondrous temple?” I enquired.
“Not all. No! Only those who are found to be worthy of the supreme honour. But still there will be almost unlimited facilities for the employment of others in the furnishing and garnishing of the temple, and after that for all in the choirs and among the great multitudes who will worship Him therein. Sometimes the thought of that incomparable fabric takes possession of me, and I go away where I may indulge my soul in the contemplation as to what it will be like when the Master has given it its finishing touches, and the glory-light that plays about the throne shall shine upon it. I try to conjure up the vision until I lose it in the blaze of light that is radiated from its purity. I picture its myriad gems—souls of heroes, victors, saints, who have unflinchingly braved all the malicious powers of hell—the struggle over, the victory won, set as an aureole around the Bright and Burning Star, drinking in and reflecting His eternal glory for ever and for aye.
“Round about the walls pulsate with living mosaics of scenes through which He moved sowing the seeds of His kingdom as He sought for the lost and wandering sheep, or hunted for the unfortunate who had fallen into the hands of robbers by the way. Into all such masterpieces of love and forgiveness I could see a mystic interblending of those who had chosen to follow Him in these rugged and briar-strewn paths. I have sat and watched with enraptured wonder how He will reproduce His Gethsemane there.
“It will reflect the darkness and the agony in richer and more suggestive colours, in which the far-off dawn will cast a prophetic tinge of a hope the heart of man has not yet dreamed of. Nor will He be there alone. I can see from out the vague and shadowy background a vast procession marching towards Him to share and help Him to bear His agony. I hear their consecration prayer, like the music of a summer sea breaking upon the shore to the rhythmic throb, throb, throb of the bloody sweat – ‘Father, Thy will be done!’ And so, through all the roll of the ages, the great paean runs—Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jordan, Gethsemane, Calvary of the long ago caught up, linked and interblended with the New Jerusalem where ‘the stone which the builders rejected … is become the head of the corner.’”
“When I hear you speak with such feeling and enthusiasm of that which lies before us,” I said with some hesitation, as Omra finished what seemed to be more of meditation than a reply, yet it admirably answered all I needed ‘I can well understand that only a few—a very few – can ever hope to be included in such a sacred combination. Few indeed can hope to be found worthy, but blessed indeed will be they who are permitted to enter into that city and look upon the glorious vision.”
“I am glad to hear you make that declaration, because it will help you to understand how absolutely impossible it is for the slightest taint or stain of earth to pass over the dividing gulf.”
“That suggests to me another thought I would like to mention.”
“You are wondering whether the gulf would have existed if sin had not been introduced into the world?”
“Yes. The breach does not exist because of sin; it is the natural division that lies between the flesh, matter and spirit. These two are as diverse from each other as light and darkness, and cannot be interblended. They may be connected by means of the bridge as light and darkness are linked together by means of the twilight. Had man not fallen from his first estate, the approach to the bridge would have been by a far more attractive route, which is even yet available but, alas! it is never used.”
“Might it still be used?” I asked.
“Certainly. But existing circumstances make it almost impossible. It may, however, be made available for assistance.”
“Will you tell me of it?”
“Yes. If you will come with me I will point it out and explain it more fully than you have yet been able to understand.”