Chapter V: A Vision and Its Sequel
The subtle distinctions of individuality make a wonderfully interesting study. I have already said that as Omra first approached me I saw in him another Myhanene. I had not to know much of him before I discovered that he was all I anticipated in that respect, with a variation in a direction that was very welcome in the circumstances in which I stood at the moment. Myhanene is a teacher indefatigable in imparting the riches of his treasures; Omra on the other hand, is essentially a student. He sows ideas rather than verbal definitions, then leaves them to unfold as they may, according to the peculiarly fructifying ability of the soul in which the seed has fallen. Hence, having pointed out the fact that there is a certain incomparable treasure hidden in earthen vessels, he satisfies himself by adding one or two mystical sentences as to certain qualities which the treasure may be possessed of, and then is satisfied to allow the searcher to make what discovery he may for himself.
How often had I wished for Omra’s invitation to meditation when Myhanene and others had been speaking to me; how I wished for Myhanene’s lucid explanations now that Omra suggested reflection. Yet each in his time and place was equally desirous of giving me of his best. Wherein, then, lay the difference of treatment? Did it lie in that “subtle distinction of individuality,” or was it to be found as an adaptation to some gradual and therefore unrecognized change that was taking place in myself?
In the dénouement, it proved to be a combination of the two. The experience which was unfolding was to be an illustration of the peculiar care the spiritual life exercises in the adaptation of the minutest detail to the exigencies of the circumstance and occasion, to produce the richest effect in the individual. Nothing could be more carefully arranged to demonstrate the fact of how far the ways of God are separated from the ways of men. Myhanene and Omra each stood in his divinely appointed place, and the guiding hand of Providence brought me into touch of each exactly at the appointed time.
I had scarcely measured myself upon the luxurious couch to which Omra had invited me, before I felt myself sinking into the embrace of – how shall I describe it? It was a kind of semi-somnolence in which every faculty and power I possessed were quickened to a degree of sensitiveness that made me gasp. As in a dream, my whole surroundings were changed, and the vision which I beheld was far more ecstatic than the scenes through which I had recently been passing; but – did I hear or was it only my memory that recalled the voice of Prospero declaring:
These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.
What did it mean? Had I been dreaming, and should I presently awake to find that this glorious after-life in which I had been so transcendantly happy—where I had discovered and been attracted to follow after a love that was above all other loves the mind had heretofore conceived – where I had beheld the reign of a God that was greater and more perfect than the tongue of prophet had ever dared to declare—that the ideal heaven was only the figment of a midnight slumber, and with the morning I had to shoulder my weary cross again to continue the weary round of loneliness—heartache and sorrow?
It was a wonderful spasm of experience, but, fortunately, it was brief as it was sharp, and thus the baseless fabric of the vision faded as a hand reached forth to lead me from this into an inner vision.
I passed into a deeper, more intensely dreamlike scene, a veritable fairyland of ideal beauty—an open-air theatre, the outlines of which were defined by ornate columns of some semi-transparent material around which fragrantly flowering creepers wreathed themselves, then intertwined and interlaced to form walls of indescribable beauty. It was a spacious bower carpeted with a soft, luxuriant emerald sward in which the delicate tracery of infinitesimal flowers produced a novel and charming effect. The auditorium was of limited extent, being provided with but a single seat in which I found myself already located—the solitary occupant of the secluded shrine. A short distance in front of me three steps, running across the entire width of the enclosure, led to a platform occupying at least two-thirds of the available space. There were no furnishings of any description save three low pedestals, standing as if to suggest an arc rather beyond the middle distance of the platform, and behind these stood a fourth of rather larger dimensions, as if built for the reception of a more important figure.
The light was not brighter than that of the vision I had left behind me, but it was potent with a clearness and power of revealing, which struck me with singular force as I entered, and yet, while I looked and wondered at what was about to happen, film after film of invisible veils appeared to be withdrawn, intensifying the clarity of vision until it seemed that the invisible itself had been brought into sight.
But while my vision grew more clear my perplexity deepened. To what mystery was this singular prelude about to introduce me? I looked around; but there was no one to help, no guiding hand to lead, no welcome voice to counsel or explain. I was wrong. There was a voice from some invisible speaker, soft and musical, with kindly encouragement inviting me to:
“Behold and see.”
That voice had the effect of the baton tap of a conductor calling his orchestra to attention. The vision was instantly a scene of animation. Above the larger pedestal a luminous cloud about the size of a human fist appeared, expanded: then the cloud was rent and vanished, leaving an infant, just able to balance himself, standing upon the shaft, and on the plinth at his feet, in letters of light, was inscribed the legend:
SO GOD CREATED MAN IN HIS OWN IMAGE;
IN THE IMAGE OF GOD CREATED HE HIM.
It needed no interpreter to explain to me the meaning and significance of the presentment; it was all too patent, with the irresistible force of a revelation, that I was looking upon the true standard of humanity as it came from the hand of God in the beginning. As I gazed upon it with an adoring admiration, that voice spake again from out of the silence saying:
“In him dwells all the bodily fulness of the Godhead.”
What an unrealized declaration! It marks the stupendous—almost incredible height on which the newly-created feet of man first rested. Think of it -”in the image of God created He him.”
Are your eyes able to bear and your mind to realize the dignity, the glory, the sublimity of the situation? If not, study it patiently. Wait! You will not be losing anything, but saving time, labour, and the agony of remorse, by refusing to move another step upon life’s pilgrimage before your eyes are opened to behold, and your mind intelligently to realize, the actual spot on which God placed the feet of man at his creation.
Then, having learned this solemn fact—beseeching Him to hold your hand—draw near and search the depths of the dark abyss in which humanity is wallowing to-day, in the mad revelry of the flesh, rioting in masks, subterfuges, deceits and hypocrisies; then you may measure and try to estimate how great has been the fall; something of the nature of the effort needed to restore the race to its original estate. Consider this. Linger over it in patient, sober contemplation until the revelation of its verity permeates to the marrow of your moral consciousness, then—and not till then—will you begin to comprehend the significance of what is meant by redemption through Jesus Christ.
I am not anxious to assume the role of a preacher. I have no theological axe to grind. Churches and systems, creeds and dogmas. forms and ceremonies, theologies and philosophies, and the thousand other factions and contentions which destroy the peace of brotherhood, are things of the past with me—left behind as contraband in the customshouse on the frontier.
But since I have been called to the ministry of intercourse across the boundary, I have a fellow-feeling with you who are left behind, and would faithfully transmit my findings to you in the light of the principles of the golden rule. In doing this I shall not go wrong if I follow in the footsteps of the Master; and just here I recall, how, in the parable of Dives and Lazarus, the erstwhile rich man, being in torment, and having failed to secure for himself the relief he sought, bethought him of those who were still in the flesh and cried:
“I pray thee, father, that thou wouldest send (Lazarus) to my father’s home, for I have five brethren: that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.”
If in the agony of purgation such a thought could cross a tortured soul, is it to be wondered at that one, who finds himself more happily circumstanced, should be moved by an equal consideration and wish to reach down a helping hand to guide you upward?
Just one other moment. Someone will be wanting to ask me what I mean by “redemption through Jesus Christ?” I cannot do better, or be more brief in my reply, than by considering the Master’s answer to one who asked Him the same question (Luke x, 25-28)—“Thou shalt love God and thy neighbour as thyself. This do and thou shalt live.” For love is the fulfilling—is the satisfaction of the law if it is observed in practice. To believe it only will not avail. “The devils believe and tremble.”
I was conscious, however, that there was something—perhaps much more in the vision than I had thus far discovered. The idea was suggested as my eye fell upon the three vacant pedestals. That they were no more than accessories suggesting an arc was out of the question. But how was I to solve the problem? Oh, for the presence of Omra or Rael to enlighten me! And for the moment the sense of my loneliness and helplessness weighed heavily upon me. The pressure of the silence, the vague uncertainty which enveloped me, the indefinable sense of invisible presences crowding around filled me with a trembling reverence, wondering what next would be revealed. How long would the tension last? My eyes travelled enquiringly, yearningly, prayerfully, from pedestal to pedestal, round and round again seeking a solution, until a softly sympathetic voice whispered in my ear:
“Rest in the Lord; wait patiently for Him.”
That voice did more than break the tension. It immediately gave me the assurance that the period of waiting had been a necessary part of the proceeding—the trying interlude was not an accident, but had been carefully designed. I was still within the Court of the Voices, and no doubt being prepared for clear and definite instruction from out the depths of that mysterious profound at greater length than hitherto permitted to hear. No isolated sentence could convey to me the explanation I sought, and which I now felt was awaiting me when I was in a condition to receive it. For I was now convinced that all the reason for my waiting was to be found in myself alone. I had no reason, however, to fear; since I had come so far, I felt assured that that which had gone so far would now be carried to completion. It only needed my yearning aspiration to reach the necessary height of intense desire, then the response would come, and I should be satisfied.
So it proved to be.
God never fails to answer the truly earnest and patiently waiting soul. That is one of the things God is not able to do. It may take a long time to bring the soul into such delicate tune with the Divine that it may be able to catch the sweet modulations of the sacred Voice, but it is certain to be heard, when the attuning is completed. Get away from the tumultuous discord without; find the way into the silent shrine of your own soul; wait – listen for Him in the sacred hush, and you will presently hear Him, as He spake to me.
The Voice came soft and soothing as a murmuring zephyr, sweeter than a love song, clear and musical as the chiming of a silver bell. I may never know from whence it came—it seemed to be within, without, around; filling everything to a measureless overflowing. It was like the anthem of the ages rendered in music that needs setting in all the accessories of heaven to be understood and appreciated. I cannot recall its poetry. It would be vain to attempt it, and yet it is essential that I set down, as best my memory serves me something of the intimation it gave for my direction:
“In reaching the position in which you now find yourself, you have already passed two stages in the pilgrimage of life—an eternal course, and hence a goalless journey, of which the final stage the mind can comprehend is God. Here we encounter the inscrutable and—pause, until some stronger, clearer vision shall enable you to scan some further stage. Let it suffice you for the present, that you have secured your release from the physical; said farewell to sleep and other psychic means for restoration from weariness, and now you stand at the end of your third stage where you must part with doubt and uncertainty.
“The third stage.” Here the Voice seemed to take a reflective tone as if speaking in an aside. “This raises the problem of the circle, and the whole mystical interpretation of numbers.” There ensued an interval of silence. Then, as if under the influence of another inspiration, the Voice assumed its original tone. “Here we come face to face with another-one of a score of problems which converge on this centre. Problems you are not yet prepared to grapple with, but they will be separately and clearly explained to you before you will be able to pass the gate. In so far as this number three involves the re-interpretation of your idea of the Trinity, we must waive its consideration for the present. It is enough for now that it is forced upon your attention by the three pictorial reproductions of the child standing before you as an illustrative model, in the analysis of yourself you are about to witness. Let us explain:
“God created man in His own image’—a trinity of body, soul and spirit. Above, you see the child in its physical form—a trinity interblended into one. Below, on the three lower pedestals, you see the same child presented in segregation that, in its passing for judgment every influence in life, whether for good or evil, may be carefully traced to its true source, and be rewarded or penalized as justice demands. On the left, everything pertaining to the physical will be recorded and developed, commencing with an exact register of every disqualification or impediment with which the child is born. For all such defects, due compensation will be made in the award.
“On the right will be registered the record of the soul—the mental, moral and temperamental qualities with which the child begins and evolves. Here you will observe the analysis as to responsibility will be ruthlessly exact, in balancing between the weight of outside influence and resisting force, that justice may be done. On the centre canvas the spirit will stand before you stripped as a gladiator for the arena, an athlete ready for the contest, a wrestler for the struggle. There you will see and get to know your real self—not the robed and accoutred manikin that may have strutted as yourself—at any and every step of your journey. Your wish, your motive, your aim, your aspiration and your purpose will be laid bare to your inspection in the full light of God.
“But you will look in vain to see achievement represented there. You may recognize failure, but do not allow such discovery to dishearten you. Things are not always what they seem to be. He that endures to the end will prove to be the victor—many start who fall and are lost sight of by the way. Neither account the loneliness, obstacles, hardships and tortuous windings of the path as disqualifications or evidences of defeat. The most brilliant Victor who carried off the prize was so proclaimed after tearing through the briars of Gethsemane, toiling o’er the brow of Calvary, then dying of a broken heart as He exclaimed, ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’ So watch diligently, and in patience await the declaration in hope to hear the award—‘Well done!’”
That strangely recondite voice, and that equally strange vision, were but the Preface and the Prologue to the mystic volume I had yet to study. Most appositely does it bear the title of “The Judgment Seat.” It is not a record. It cannot be transcribed, nor reduced to linguistic form. It is an actual experience every soul has to encounter, as certainly as birth or death.
The introductory scene and discourse enabled me to understand the vision clearly from the beginning. Man, in God’s image, was created with body, soul and spirit perfected, balanced, adjusted to work harmoniously each in its own sphere, character and stewardship through obedience into the consummation of sonship. But the idea of service was irksome to the flesh. The brain conceived and planned a coup that failed, and the tragedy of sin resulted.
For the opening of the pageant the setting of the scene remained, with this exception—I saw myself, a child of tender years, standing on the larger pedestal, but oh! the appalling change I saw in the representation on the lesser. I knew at once how it was that I had been called a misanthrope. I understood. as neither Myhanene’s explanation nor my own experience had made me comprehend, the matchless providence that had arranged for the ministrations of The Magnetic Chorale.
I watched sin in its conception, sowing, cultivation and its harvesting, working through all its hideous subtleties, evasions, deceits and hypocrisies, as it wrestled to achieve its mastery. But the analysis was inviolate. By a law as ruthless as death, not only every seed, but every fraction of the harvest it produced was laid at the feet, to be garnered by whoever had sown it.
As I beheld, I sighed and asked myself, “Who then can be saved?” and instantly a whisper came out of the tense silence:
“Justice carries the key of the door of salvation.”
It must be so, because it so proved to be at the end; but again I have to say, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me.” I watched that record of my life unrolled, analysed, dissected, criticized and laid bare, with all the eager anxiety of a criminal standing at the bar. From the first scene my conscience and memory had seemed to rise in evidence against me, quoting one and another warning, saying, “there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be made known” (Matt. x, 26); or yet again, “Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness” (Matt. xxii, 13). But in response to these were other voices whispering in far more hopeful tones, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isa. Iv, 8).
So the examination proceeded. How long it occupied I cannot say, for day and night have passed away in those latitudes.
At length we reached the scene where I rushed to the rescue of the little child in Whitechapel. I reached him—lifted him—A vapour passed over the scene. It lifted. All was changed! I was lying on the slopes, and in my arms I held—the child that had occupied the higher pedestal.