Chapter II: The Eye of Faith
“My newly found self” significantly expresses my condition and outlook at the time when Vaone left me. In the revelation which Jesus Christ made to John in Patmos, He that sat upon the throne and is heard to declare “Behold: I make all things new” (xxi, 5); and Paul, writing to the Corinthians, assures us that “if any man be in Christ he is of new creature” (2 Cor. v, 17); but the nebulous uncertainty which exists as to when the realization of this condition is to be reached, together with an intimate knowledge of my own imperfections, prevents me venturing to hope that such a culmination had so far been even approximately attained in my own case.
And yet that curious ray of illumination, that darted through my consciousness while Vaone was trying to explain herself, had left me markedly other than it had found me. The genial breath of spring had, as it were, touched the barrenness of winter, and Nature, responsive to the wooing, had leapt forward offering her countless blushing buds in answer to the call of love. Or, dropping all figures of speech, may I not say that the mysterious influences and operations I have been subjected to since crossing the mystical Jordan, have secretly worked in the evolving of new faculties, capacities and powers, which are carrying me forward into such new conditions of being that I am already scarcely able to recognize my old self.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am in the presence of a problem that has never yet been solved, and I wish to deal with it reverently. The most unique production the earth contains is Man—a congeries of apparently insoluble mysteries. A creature formed of clay, but bearing the image of the invisible God. A curious compound of animal and angel, with one foot on either side the line dividing the two dimensions of space, the physical part operating in the third, and the spiritual working in the fourth. In the daytime he is employed in subduing and replenishing the earth, and in the sleep of his nights he is called to study and graduate in the university of heaven.
In this qualification and adaptation to occupy a position of citizenship in two worlds, we can see at once the sublimity and dignity of manhood, as designed and provided for by the matchless wisdom of the Creator. In this great achievement, consciousness, through the agency of the sleeplife communion, bears witness that we are sons of God, and interblends us with heaven, as warp and woof of a fabric are woven together in one. I have already spoken of a revelation I received from the archives of this same channel, when, in company with Cushna, I touched “the point of recollection” (Through the Mists, p. 282.) and stood amazed at the mysteries it then cleared up. The second ray of illumination had carried that revelation a stage forward, unfolding more and more surprises in my past experience, until I have been constrained to say that “I am scarcely able to recognize myself.” But I need not be afraid, the woof of consciousness abides as the guarantor of my identity. In the past I did my dreaming, but now I am awake, and find available all the dream treasures I collected in those transient visits from the other side. It was God’s plan that they should have been available for service in the lower life, and thus prepare us for a better entrance into this. But such assistance would have destroyed any pretence for a priestly cult, and so “the superstition” of the validity of dreams had to go. Such was the reason that led to this corridor of communion being closed “by authority,” and few there be that find it in the present age. It does still exist, however, for “whatsoever the Lord doeth it shall be for ever,” and they who by patient searching find it, discover a treasure of incomparable value. How differently should I have been placed, had I been thus fortunate, and yet it lay nigh to my hand, but in my blindness I missed it, passing by on the other side.
Thus it was that Vaone’s approach had interrupted my meditations and opened the door of opportunity to a most unexpected ministry. It had done more than this. As I quietly reviewed the incident, I began anxiously to examine myself as to the manner in which I had discharged the unexpected duty that had been demanded of me. Had I risen to the occasion, and considerately sown such seed on the prepared soil as would bring forth the needed harvest, or had I been taken at a disadvantage—been found asleep at my post, or away from my watch, and thus failed to do that which I ought to have done? The result of the enquiry was not so reassuring as I could have wished. I had done something, but my more mature reflection showed me how much I might have said that did not occur to me at the time.
How differently I might have replied to her enquiry had I paused to consider before following the impulse of that ray of illumination. Was I acting wisely in taking the course I did? Would it have helped her better had I told her the story of my own experience from the time I woke to find myself lying on the slopes where Helen came to my assistance? Had I done so I should have told that this new life had not only been free from any shade of doubt or regret, but beyond that negative result it had been far beyond all I had ever dared to dream or pictured possible it could ever be, because I had refused to believe in the illogical ideas the Churches propounded.
My refusal to conform to the customary religious observances was not that I lacked any sense of reverence, or did not concern myself with any consideration of a possible hereafter. I was kept at a distance by the too certain absence in practice, within the pale of the elect, of fundamental virtues the Church demanded in precept. That is why I stood aloof and ventured to follow the dictates of my own heart in marking out a law of life. In the result, I discovered that I had not wandered very far astray in my decision. In my heart I had an unconquerable yearning to find a love I had never known, though I felt sure it existed somewhere; I sought, but could not find it. Experience told me that I was not singular in my quest, nor was I alone in the failure to attain my end. Then, feeling that touch of nature that makes all men kin, I attempted to relieve my own sense of loss by stretching out a helping hand to such as I might find who were even more pitiably situated. It was in the search for such a field of ministry that I discovered the little Bethel in Whitechapel, where I found what of heart’s ease the world had to offer me in the practice of the golden rule.
As a recompense, I received the brand of a heretic from the Church; an estrangement from my scrupulously orthodox family; a communion of sympathy and affection with the helpless; and when I had passed beyond the reach of theologies and orthodoxies, I found a welcome awaiting me which was more than a recompense for all I had experienced.
This is an outline of an alternative recital I might have given to Vaone had I not followed the impulse born of that illuminating ray; then I could have finished by the declaration with which I first answered her; “and yet I am not in a position to speak of heaven.”
How is it possible for one to speak with authority of that which he has not seen—how can he tell of that which he does not know? So far, I had only been entertained in the ante-room, where my senses had been so bewildered with its abundance of treasures that I failed to grasp its beauties-how could I possibly describe the audience chamber of the throne room?
I came to the conclusion that I had taken the better course in following the leading of that ray of illumination. It may have been—probably was – that I failed to rise to all that was demanded of me on the occasion; that I came short of doing all that the revelation was intended to accomplish. Still, though I had not scored a victory, I could comfort myself with the thought that I had not closed my eyes to the vision nor resisted the call that had been made upon me. With this I had to be content. How blindly had I been led onward since my arrival, and yet it was turning out all right. My eyes had, to a very great extent, been holden, but I was beginning to see that I had been the gainer by the guidance I had submitted to. Was it not Solomon who said, “Man’s goings are of the Lord; how can a man then understand his own way?” (Prov. xx, 24).
Intellect may resent and rebel against the requirement of the spirit to “walk by faith, not by sight.” But intellect is not supreme in the realm of spirit, any more than the laws of a democracy would be valid in an autocratic empire. When God, breathing into man, made him to be a living soul, the Intellect was subordinated to Morality, and the fidelity of morality is tested by obedience, not by reason. I shall return to this at length later on; in the meantime allow me to assert that, in the direction in which we are moving, faith secures a benediction intellect never could acquire. Reason may outreach its hand, its finger-tips may even be able to touch the silken fringe, it can do no more; but Faith will grasp the spirit robe, and claim the life-giving blessing which is only bestowed upon obedience.
I speak of that I know—of acquirements I have secured in the school of experience.
I had already reached Vaone before the first foreshadow of this great truth began to break upon my true comprehension. Since then the revelation has continued until I am able to discern that the outward appearances are always transient, while those that are hidden—those at present unseen—are the truly substantial and eternal.
Looking back from the light in which I was then standing, I could see that, from the time that Helen discovered me lying in vague uncertainty on the slopes, I had been—while outwardly engaged with Myhanene, Cushna, or some other of their ministering companions—in some mysterious and unrealized sense, communing with an invisible and unknown stranger, as we trod another roadway leading from Jerusalem to Emmaus, with occasional glimpses of His much-loved Galilee, as He made my heart to burn within me.
How completely did He succeed in hiding himself under the semblance of Helen, Arvez, Siamedes, Cushna, Myhanene, or Eilele, until the moment for Him to reveal Himself arrived. My heart had been stirred to its depths with the declaration of Helen, as she exclaimed: “Why, God is love, Fred.” The throb of hope she caused by that inspiring utterance never left me again, but each succeeding conductor or experience fanned, fed, and encouraged it to increase, and yet I continued the communion without suspecting who my real Instructor had been.
I cannot believe that the eternal ages will suffice to dim the vivid details of that kaleidoscopic vision of faith in my memory.
What is faith?
It may help us if we anticipate a little at this point in order to get a clearer idea of this great faculty of the soul. I shall deal with the subject more at length later on, but a suggestion here will assist us in grasping an idea. The soul, as I have already indicated, always works in the fourth dimension—from the physical towards the spiritual, from the visible to the invisible. Faith is what may be called a tele-microscopic faculty the soul discovers in the depth of being, which, pressed into service, penetrates and illuminates the interior darkness, and enables the soul to live in the future as if that future were already present.
If once this inherently penetrating power of the soul can be clearly conceived and grasped there will no longer be the slightest foundation for any doubt that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. xi, 1). The transformation which the relevation of it wrought in me will be the measure of the effect it will produce in you, my reader, then you will begin to understand something of what is meant by a second birth.
Under the inexpressible charm of its restfulness and satisfaction I did not wish to disturb the solitude of the communion it evoked. I felt, as dear old Dr. Watts must have felt, when he sang:
My willing soul would stay
In such a frame as this,
And sit and sing herself away
To everlasting bliss.
And yet that scarcely conveys what I wish to express, for had I not already reached that everlasting bliss? It seemed to me as if the rapture of that heavenly employment had already been attained, and all I further needed was to be left undisturbed to revel in, and feed upon the many hidden unfoldings that were buried beneath the surface of every individual scene and incident I had witnessed since my arrival.
Shall I briefly indicate what I mean?
I had just awakened from my—sleep? on the slopes. My little, almost unrecognized protégé, was revelling in the fairy-like transformation which had taken place. In my wonderment I caught the sound of Helen’s voice. Then everything changed: I was lying on the side of another mountain, listening to the music of a Great Teacher, who spake as never man spake before, in the rehearsal of a series of beatitudes which seemed to hold his vast audience spellbound. He struck one chord that woke a harmony from somewhere beyond all the eternities and only seemed to find a feeble echo in the heaven from which he spake, as he said, “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” It was only a brief sentence—one low, sweet chord, but it contained and rang with a melody which introduced a change of scene.
It was the banquet of a Wedding feast, beside the river—and beneath the branches of the tree of life. The whilom Preacher was no longer enunciating the laws of a kingdom He was endeavouring to establish; but in bridal attire He was welcoming His guests to His nuptials in the kingdom to which He had succeeded, where His every promise would be fully redeemed, and concluded with the assurance that “they shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes,” (Rev. vii, 16–17).
The vision fades away, and I am once more listening to the soul-stirring anthem of the Magnetic Chorale, while Siamedes is using the contributed life currents of the multitude to bathe the souls of the oppressed into a restoration to freedom and beauty, anticipatory of Myhanene coming to bestow the kiss of compensation which will arouse the sleepers, into a real newness of life. As I watch the holy ministry, faith carries me away again, and I am standing with the heroic and fearless Elijah as, single-handed, he defies and challenges the whole cult of Baal, to demonstrate which god is God.
One man opposed to eight hundred and fifty and the full patronage of such a king and queen thrown in. One man, alone; and the jury of a prejudiced nation to give the verdict. What a test of faith! What a perfect lens Elijah had discovered! How faultlessly pure; how beautifully he had it focussed! No wonder the chariots and horses of heaven were attendant on him! Oh, the irony of the sarcasm with which he taunts and encourages the priests! But Elijah already knew that he who stands alone with God against a world, stands with the true Majority. So he won his verdict, even as Siamedes secured his victory.
As I watched, waiting for the fire to fall and burn up Elijah’s sacrifice, I lifted my eyes and beheld the sombre robe that clothed, and the lightning strokes that were smiting Sinai, beyond the Wilderness of Sin. “There were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that were in the camp trembled” (Ex. xix, 16). No wonder that “when the people saw it they removed, and stood afar off’’ (xx, 18). I, too, trembled as I beheld the vision, and recalled the warning, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. x, 31). But out of the blackness, above the terror of the thunder, came to me the soft strains, as it were of a harp, and I heard the sweet voice of a singer proclaiming, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy” (Ps. ciii, 8).
In the soothing cadence of that evangel I lost the mount, and was once more in the company of that mountain-side Preacher, who invited me to revisit the region in which Ladas conducts his ministry. A shadow swept across the face of my conductor as he read Dante’s pessimistic legend written over the portal: “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” He knit his brows in disapprobation as he read, but never spake a word. With one sweep of his hand he wiped away such a libel on the everlasting—the unchangeable love:
“Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job xxxviii, 2), he asked sorrowfully. “Is it not written, ‘If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there?’” (Ps. cxxxix, 8). And blazing in letters of living fire, set deep in the bosom of that dark domain, he effaced the dogma and inscribed the song, that even they who wandered into the region of “the uttermost” might catch the echo of the invitation: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow: though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isa. i, 18). Such a gospel in such a place, needed no additional preaching to proclaim the everlasting love of such a God, as alone outlined it. It transfigures the soul as it drinks in its restoring appeal. It arouses the prodigal into consciousness of what he has lost and constrains him to say: “I will arise, and go to my Father.”
The vision lingered – unfolded—carried me away. I was listening to my Guide in other scenes surrounded by publicans, sinners, scribes and Pharisees, as he told that graphic story of the erring lad. Had I not hungered with him for a parent’s love. Was not the yearning sympathy, the tender forbearance, the winsome solicitude, and the redeeming pity of the speaker too irresistible to be refused. No man had given unto me, but his voice, his look, his attitude, his hand offered the one cup for which I thirsted. I ate; I drank; I was refreshed, strengthened, redeemed! Of course the lad came home. Such a story, so told, would empty hell. It was this story, more briefly told, that he had written in a single sentence over that gloomy portal where Ladas ministers. What would its harvest be?
I might go on, and step by step traverse the whole of my experience, as it rose before me, as faith revealed it in my meditation, and as each incident passed by I might have pictured to Vaone its manifest and hidden aspects, as the vision bore me hither and thither, that she might have seen how the requirements of every soul are carefully discerned and ministered to in preparation for its better advancement.
I am content, however, to think I acted wisely in the course I took. Had my experience been better than the illustrations I used, it would have been meted out to her from the beginning. With that I made myself hopeful that my imperfect ministry might be in some measure used to Vaone’s benefit. And in recording the two courses that were open to me, I trust I have said enough to assure my readers that, in dealing with souls in the beyond, there is a surprising consideration shown to individual requirement prescribed by a Father whose attitude to one and all is, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee” (Jer. xxxi. 3).