Chapter VI: The Bondage of Sin
Two of my correspondents fear that I have underrated the power, and influence of sin in Through the Mists. I would suggest their re-reading the story of The Harvest of Jealousy, when I feel confident this impression will be removed. I will admit that I refrained from making the volume black and forbidding by the narration of gruesome experiences consequent upon sin, but I was more anxious to fairly represent the after-life as I have found it-and as you, my reader will find it-than colour it in accordance with earth or creedal conceptions. Following the example of Christ, I would rather charm the ear with the story of infinite love than dwell with persistent croaking on the penalties incurred by rebellious children.
With the master-hand of truly divine genius Christ reduced the whole field of action in the world’s redemption and brought it within the scope of His parable of the Prodigal Son. Cause, effect, method, and atonement are there all set forth with due regard to the law of spiritual perspective, and the story is left as a working model for all who came after Him to copy. If I read that lesson aright, it is not so much the suffering brought on by the prodigality of the lad Christ would have me dwell upon – He had perforce to touch it to measure the depth of the prodigal’s fall – but He seems to me to hurry away from the sad effects as quickly as possible by bringing the outcast to his right mind, where he remembers the home life and all that has been lost. “Son, remember,” appears to me not only as the exquisite touch of agony Christ infuses into the torment of hell, but He also makes it to be the divine incentive to “arise and go to my Father.”
Ah! The scourging, arousing power of the recognition of what has been lost! The contrast of what-might-have-been with what-is! Then – engulfed in that fiercest of all punishments, the hell of selfrecrimination – to recall the comparison of a prodigal’s disgusting ostracism and the position of the menials who serve at home! Such a picture needs no detail touches: the torture of it is equal to the occasion without enlargement. What blackness could deepen its gloom? What horrors add to its torture? But Christ makes the light of another memory to break through – the Father’s love! “The same yesterday, today, and for ever”; “without variableness or shadow of turning”; like a vesper bell ever calling “Come!” and melodious with the promise “Him that cometh . . . I will in no wise cast out!” Under the influence of such recollections hope revives, delirium vanishes, a right mind is restored, the lad arises and the Father meets him with ring and robe and shoes, while there is joy in the presence of the angels of God.
In whatever experiences it may be my privilege to relate, I do not wish to pose as a pioneer pushing my way through a hitherto untrodden country, but rather as a follower of One who knew the way and traversed it, treading the thorns and hindrances underfoot that He might leave a clear pathway from the degrading swine-trough and husks direct to the homeland and restoration. He is the Leader – I but follow after. He knows – it is mine only to obey for the present, then I shall know, even as I am known. He understood the full enormity of sin – its strength, its effect, its cure. If, therefore, I deal with it as He directs, if I speak of it as He shall give me utterance, if I declare what He reveals and measure it with the reed which He supplies, surely I shall set it where He would have it stand, and the perspective shall be in harmony with God’s eternal truth and purpose.
Following, then, implicitly in the footprints of the Master, and where the trace may be faint always consenting to be guided by the fulfilment of the law, rather than the arbitrary interpretation of men, I am perfectly prepared to examine the question of sin and its results in its relationship both to the present and future.
Let us now make sure we quite understand what it is of which we are about to speak. Sin. What is it? Is it possible there can be any doubt about this? That is the very point I am anxious to determine, and whatever our ultimate decision as to its nature may be, of this I am already most fully persuaded, that sin in theory and practice are by no means regarded as one and the same. To be perfectly plain, I assert that the great majority of men hold a theory of sin which allows themselves to do with impunity that which they would loudly censure in another. Any such standard as this cannot be permitted to exist in the light of God, with whom “there is no respect of persons.” In His court, where perfect justice is dispensed, all men stand on an impartial equality, and the rule upon which we shall be judged Christ has laid down in these terms – “With what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” If this is the law it would be well to revise the present standard at once, and learn to show that degree of charity to others we hope to have meted out to ourselves, while at the same time exacting from ourselves a consideration for others we have hitherto demanded selfwards from the rest of men.
This suggests that it is possible for opinion to be divided, in practice at least, as to what sin really is, and if so it is of vital importance for the truth to be known and admitted without delay.
Sin, in its positive aspect, is simply a voluntary and conscious violation of a recognized moral law. “If I had not come and spoken unto them they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin.” But it also possesses a negative aspect, equally culpable, and necessary to be constantly borne in mind by all those who speciously seek to escape from a clear responsibility. There are thousands who seek a cowardly refuge in what they call ‘friendly neutrality’, who pursue a course of ‘masterly inactivity’ for politic reasons, who refuse the support of which a weaker brother stands in worthy need lest they give offence to influence or position. Let all such be wise in time and open their eyes wide to this significant utterance of Christ – “To him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin!”
Thus defined the responsibility and criminality of sin becomes an automatic and equitable adjustment of every individual in the human family. There can be no classification in nationalities or even families. Like every other of God’s laws, it is particular and individual in its action – “That servant which knew his lord’s will and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; but he that knew not and did commit things worthy of stripes shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required; and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.” This principle Christ does not content Himself with merely laying down, but repeats it again and again with a truly remarkable significance. He whom God has entrusted with ten talents will be held responsible for the use of ten talents; he with five for five; he with one for one, and he who sins without the law will be judged not by the law, but in equity.
When this terribly just responsibility for sin is brought home clearly to our understanding, and one realizes the absolutely personal character of the judgement to be given, he starts with fear and trembling to hear Christ “upbraid the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgement, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shall be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgement, than for thee.” The declamation would lose none of its force, and it would be quite legitimate to substitute the names of cities of modern civilization for those of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum.
It is well the heathen world should know the power of the gospel of Christ unto salvation; but if we possessed the eyes of God and the knowledge of God, one wonders where the most heathen land would be found!
“Judge not, that ye be not judged!”
We must not forget this very timely and necessary caution. Where every man becomes, in a sense, a law to himself, by the selfsame rule he becomes disqualified from acting as the judge of another. We only know in part; justice demands a clear understanding of the whole case. Still, while we may not usurp the judicial seat, we are commanded to watch and use our intellectual faculties in determining the character of a tree by the fruit it bears. “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree produce good fruit.” The insidiousness of sin cannot effectually be hidden. The character of a life is determined by its deliberately chosen environment, as the quality of fruit is governed by the nourishment given to the tree. Like produces like, secret thoughts, habits and motives find natural development in external acts, and even God is morally powerless to change the result. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” The only difference between the two operations will be in quantity, not in kind. The harvest may not be gathered until “this mortal hath put on immortality,” but escape is impossible. At the quarantine port of Death, the soul, subjected to the searching influence of the light of God, will develop the legitimate effect of every precedent cause and the harvest must inevitably be garnered. “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Know ye not that, to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death or of obedience unto righteousness?” If you have not previously discovered or admitted this, you will be compelled to do so at the quarantine of Death, and find how true was Paul’s declaration that there is no escape for those who wilfully neglect so great salvation.
But the bondage of sin begins to work hand in hand with its practice, and I will illustrate my personal experiences of its effect with a case in point.
I had been visiting the sleep state in company with Zecartus, who was executing a commission for Myhanene. The duty being discharged, we were leisurely returning and speaking of certain interesting features of our visit, when I was seized with a curious desire to remain. There was no decisive reason for this, so far as, I could understand, and in the uncertainty I referred the matter to my friend.
He paused for an instant and listened as one who caught faint sounds from a distance. Then having satisfied himself, replied:
“Someone is trying to find you, but his sympathy is so feeble he is unable to reach you of himself.”
“Who is it?” I inquired.
“I cannot say for the instant, but the connection is being established by which I shall be able to find out. Yes. It is your father.”
“My father!” I exclaimed. “You are right, Zecartus, there, is such slight sympathy between us that I almost wonder he should remember me.”
“It is not a matter of great importance upon which he wishes to see you, or, apart from his estrangement, his wish would have, reached you in more definite form. Will you answer it?”
“Certainly I will. Where is he? How shall we reach him?”
“His call and desire are very half-hearted. It is one of those cases frequently to be met with, where the higher nature recognizes an offence which will penalize the soul, and presses on the lower nature the advisability of submission. The man is at war with, himself, the earth-side being strong in resentment, but the spiritual struggles for the victory. Here cautious action on our part is necessary, that the higher nature may be encouraged and supported without the lower finding any occasion for vaunting itself.”
“I scarcely understand you.”
“Perhaps not; your experience of this sleep-state conflict between the two natures is not yet a very large one. It is a condition in which a man is truly divided against himself, and the issue has to be left almost entirely to his own free will. We may extend some slight assistance where the will is definitely in favour of improvement, and the weight of character too heavy for the better resolution. Sin, however, is both crafty and cunning, and though it may lose in a present struggle, will find occasion, if possible, to retaliate, and by taunting insinuations afterwards accomplish more than had been lost. it is for this reason that caution is necessary, and until we understand your father better, I should advise that we simply ascertain the locality he visits, then allow him to find us rather than that we go straight to him.”
“I will take your counsel. Please act for me as you deem best.”
With his greater knowledge and wider resources my friend quickly grasped the situation, and we were soon as near to my father as Zecartus deemed advisable.
“You may now send an answering thought to his wish to see you,” said my counsellor; “it will readily reach him, and by his quick or tardy response we shall be able to ascertain how the struggle goes.
I did as desired, and as the thought envelope sped towards its destination I found in what direction I might look for my visitor’s approach.
Someone will wish to ask with what feelings I anticipated the meeting in the light of what has been said concerning the change of relationship. I reply that my use of the paternal appellation is solely for the sake of convenience; and would again call to remembrance that the kinship of souls is one of sympathy – blood is nonexistent in Paradise – and the closeness of the bond is determined by the strength and purity of the affection. In the present instance the wish for an interview came to me in such marked and blurred indecision that had it not been for the assistance of Zecartus I should have failed to read it. Under these circumstances I was unable to look forward to our meeting with any great amount of pleasure. I would it had been otherwise, and my response to the request for an interview was largely in the hope that something might result to his spiritual benefit and uplifting.
“He does not run to meet you,” my companion remarked as the reply to my intimation tarried.
“That is one of the last things I should expect,” I answered.
“But you must not estimate any man’s sleep condition by what you know of his earth life. Experience teaches me that most unexpected combinations are rather the rule than otherwise here. In the body the full force of the lower passions may have unrestricted control, but in this temporary discarnate state unsuspected spiritual qualities may rise into operation, and with the assistance of some little outside influence gain so great an ascendency as to gradually overcome the despotism of the flesh. I always hope to find these latent signs upon which to work, and if I may be so successful in this instance our visit may possibly be rewarded with most welcome results.”
“God grant it may be so,” I replied fervently, “and that even beyond your own generous anticipation. But that will soon be known now, for yonder he comes.”
My companion had already established a recognition, for I noticed his closely-knit brow, indicative of the exercise of his marvellous power of analysing and dissecting character, the result of which I should have to wait for, he being singularly uncommunicative at such times. For myself, I was assured, by familiar indications, that my father was not in his easiest and most affable mood, but that might be due to the presence of two companions who appeared doubtfully welcome, but pressing in their attentions. I moved to meet them, hoping a cheery greeting would dispel the cloud, but Zecartus restrained me.
“Wisdom counsels your patience,” he said. “If you would help him you must not speak first.”
I did not understand why this should be so, but as there was no time for explanations, I yielded to his wish.
The three were passing by this time, my father walking between the two, who were intent on keeping his attention. I had perceived no indication of his consciousness of my presence, and concluded that he would pass without speaking, when politely laying one hand apologetically upon the arm of each friend, he coolly stepped back and towards me.
“Frederic,” he said with his usual punctilious formality and composure, as if we had parted company only half an hour previously, “I am not sorry to meet you again, since I sometimes think you and I did not altogether understand each other. I may, perhaps, have been a trifle too exacting – mark me, I don’t say I was, but I may, have been – and you were always so unpardonably obdurate. Still, I am willing to try and forget your conduct, as you are dead, and would like to think that you have accepted my apologies if you imagine that any are due.”
“Whatever has been doubtful or undesirable between us, sir, think will be far better mutually forgotten and forgiven, than recalled and explained. That is what I desire, and if you will consent I shall be more than satisfied.”
“Certainly – certainly! Then we will consider everything in the past as amicably settled. But, mind me, I make no admission of culpability on my part; I simply wish to show my generosity, towards your stubborn and intolerable defiance of my wishes. I only apologize as an evidence of that generosity, should your highty-tightyness carry your conscience so far as to consider I have committed any offence.”
“I have made no such accusation, sir, nor have any desire to do so.”
“But you insinuate that you could do so.”
“Indeed! I have no wish to insinuate anything. I express no opinion whatever as to whether there is anything to be forgiven between us or not, but if you think there may possibly be such, I am as freely willing to forget and forgive as I hope to be forgiven.”
“Very well. Let that suffice. I am also willing to forgive all your many shortcomings and offences.” Then he added with a very genuine touch of regret, “But it troubles me to think I shall forget all this when I wake up.”
Why should this thought trouble him if there was no consciousness of culpability? In the reply to this question lies the weighty lesson of my illustration. I record it as read by the trained eyes of Zecartus the natural first-fruits of my father’s sin.
His life commenced with a fair heritage of natural gifts. To make his way in the world he had a resolute will, clear foresight, an intuitive sense of an advantage, with energy and promptitude to secure it. Such was his equipment, together with the responsibility for its right or wrong employment.
He rapidly established a reputation for being a cool, shrewd, clearheaded and reliable man of business, with a discreet reserve and a faculty for probing and exploiting others, without allowing himself or his business to be known.
It is only when he became the head of a household that we are able to form any definite idea of the way his character unfolded from the evidence of results produced. At that time he laid it down as an inflexible rule that the obligations of wife and children were comprised in absolute and immediate obedience; and the duties of husband and father were to govern, protect, educate with a firm hand. His attitude towards the rest of humanity was somewhat similar, tempered, of course, as necessity compelled.
The germ of this was not far to seek. At the outset he fell into the error I have already mentioned – of condoning in self that which he would reprobate in others. It is the one weakness to which the flesh is more prone, perhaps, than any other – so natural in its inception, but fearfully fatal in its result. It is a trait of character far too frequently admired in the social and commercial world, and not looked upon with the disfavour it merits among professors of religion. If a man is successful, strong, and able to conform to certain elastic requisitions, society and religion are quite willing not to be too inquisitive into details.
But behind all this; when character alone is the accepted standard, and the soul finds its place by the law of spiritual attraction! Here the process of selection is entirely reversed. Superficial appearances are valueless. Inherent qualities now take rank, and fair exteriors are stripped off that the heart of the life may be inspected. It is a searching ordeal, automatic and mechanical. There is no bribery, no favouritism, no mistake, no inadvertence, no possible escape! True character is brought into legitimate and natural prominence, and working back from the result, the whole course of development is laid open until the source from which it springs is plainly visible.
This source in my father’s case was but a trivial matter – first wrongs are seldom great – but it placed a preferential and deliberate division between Self and others. The trend of relationship between the two was henceforth oblique rather than vertical, and the estrangement widened as growth went on.
With the first deflection from rectitude the soul also loses its true sense of uprightness, and the future estimate of morality will be always along the line of its own procedure. Having eyes to see, it fails to see or understand, because the divine standard has been supplanted. It has deliberately chosen the evil and forsaken the good; it is therefore left alone to the consequences.
Am I making too much of a trifling error? How strange, when I was suspected of treating sin too leniently!
The estimate of the soul’s value according to Christ is greater than that of the whole world. If this is so, will not the balances of its exchange be made to turn upon a diamond point? The mustard-tree is potential in the mustard-seed, so also is hell potential in the expansion of a single act deliberately performed.
This is what Zecartus saw written legibly upon the soul of my father, and in the expressed regret that the memory of my forgiveness would be lost in his waking, my friend found an opportunity to intervene and perhaps open a way of escape.
“If you will permit me,” he volunteered, “I think it possible I might help you to remember.”
“And who, sir, may you be, that I should place myself under your unknown control?”
“Zecartus is able to do all he offers, I am convinced,” I replied, “and if you are honest in your wish to remember what has passed between us -”
“Honest! What do you mean, sir? It is late in the day, and things are reaching a pretty pass when my own son doubts my honesty.”
“I did not doubt you, and regret using the word. I should have said if you desire to remember.”
“That is better; but for you to doubt my honesty would be a liberty I could never pardon. Now, sir,” turning to Zecartus, “on my son’s guarantee I am willing to accept your assistance. How shall we proceed?”
“We will return with you when you awake.”
“That will not be for the present,” he replied. “I have other matters to attend to first. Where shall I see you?”
“You will find us on the way when you return.”
With that understanding he left us, and Zecartus made me acquainted with the facts I have referred to above.
We had left the sleep state behind, and were close to my old home before my father rejoined us.
“Don’t you find it somewhat chilly?” he inquired, with more affability than he had yet displayed, and as he spoke he added a sympathetic shiver to the query.
“The earth temperature always strikes me as being so,” replied my companion. “I do not notice it to be more so than usual.”
“I do – and much more so than usual.”
“l am glad to hear you say so. It indicates a degree of spiritual sensitiveness for which I am most sincerely thankful.”
“Now no preaching, young man; no preaching if you are to go with me. I hate preaching and canting talk as I hate the Devil.”
“Your wish shall be respected. I will confine my endeavours to helping you to remember that whatever may have passed between yourself and son has been fully and freely forgiven on both sides.”
“That is, if my son considers there is anything on his part to forgive, which – mind you – I don’t admit.”
“So I understand; though it would be a thousand times better for you if you did admit it. But, here we are. Now, as you retake possession of your body make a firm resolve to remember all that has passed, and I will do my best to assist you.”
By this time the spiritual was gradually being absorbed into the natural body in the process of waking, and Zecartus surrounded both with a sympathetic atmosphere in the effort he had promised. The body turned, stretched, and then my father started up exclaiming:
“Eh! What? Remember what?”
It was easy to see the experiment had failed. He had simply awakened from a troubled dream, the purport of which had been lost. Too closely associated with earth and its material interests, he could not, at will, retain spiritual memories, even with the help at his disposal.
There was also another disturbing and contributing influence to failure present in the person of a hard-featured, malevolent-looking man, seated beside the bed, as if exercising a kind of guardianship over the body.
“Why are you here?” asked Zecartus.
“Because I can’t get away,” was the nonchalant reply.
“Who are you?”
“Who am I?” he returned, with a malicious sneer. “Are you blind, or don’t you want to see that I am bound to this whited sepulchre?”
“But the bond is one of mutual attraction for which both are equally responsible.”
“Oh, it’s easy to preach; but if you were in my place you would find it quite another thing to do it. It is easier for him to break the bond if he wants to, because he has not lost the power as I have.”
“Do you remember how you refused to break away when you were as he is now, and held another as he holds you?”
“Don’t preach at a fellow when he’s down, but if you have any pity lend me a hand to get away.”
“Do you want to get away? Where would you go if I could help to set you free?”
“God knows! But I would find someone to be with who was not always showing me myself – someone who is not such a horrible monster as this saintly hypocrite! This is unbearable. Why did I not know of it before – when I had time to avoid it?”
“You might have known, but you wilfully shut your eyes and ears, as he is doing now. What he is you have been, and the punishment of your bondage to him is but a repetition of that you have inflicted on another. He is sowing, but will not hear, just as you have sown and now must reap the penalty.”
“But why did I not know?”
“Because you would not. You scoffed, laughed, and would not hear reproof. Sin was sweet to you as he finds it to himself, now You have to pay its bill.”
“Then you won’t give me a hand to get away. Is that what you mean?”
“I would gladly help you to gain your freedom if you honestly desired it, and your repentance made it possible for me to do so.”
“Don’t get preaching any tommy-rot about repentance to me. If I can get no help to get away, just wait till this pious hypocrite has finished his prayers” – for by this time my father was engaged in his punctilious devotions – “and I’ll warrant me I will have some fun.”
“And what will come afterwards?” asked Zecartus warningly.
“Oh, damn that!”
“In God’s name I beseech you to stop your recklessness, and think of the consequences. Have you no fear, no dread? Has not the past supplied enough of torment that you would risk its increase? Have you not pity for yourself even while you complain that I can offer you nothing more?”
The unutterable anguish of the man as he fixed his torture-brimming eyes on Zecartus while he spoke, will never be forgotten by me.
“What am I to do?” he asked, reaching out his hands in a distracted appeal for the help we could not render because he sought freedom from pain only, and not from sin. “Can I endure this in silence? Can I suffer and rejoice in it, even though, as I sometimes hear, it may be necessary for my own good?” Then in a frenzy of sudden rage, he started and added – “No! By God, I won’t endure it quietly. If this saintly cesspool makes my life, intolerable by his mimicry and damnable reminders of what I was and how I brought this on, I will retaliate and drive him such excesses as shall make him a thousand-fold worse than I am.”
“Do you love yourself so little as that, even when you ask to assist in your escape?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I want revenge, and I will have it hell shall know the reason why.”
Zecartus drew me away. To try and persuade a man in that condition was worse than useless, and yet he was the twin-soul with my father, with this slight difference: one was on earth, in the body, able to make reparation if he would; the other had passed the rubicon, and entered upon his reward for deeds done in the flesh.
Even so. Such is our first inquiry into sin: its nature and results. In spite of all the appearances of earth – of men’s transgression and seeming escape from penalty – may we not here write:
“Be not deceived, God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. He that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption, but he that soweth to the spirit shall of the spirit reap life everlasting.”
Having, however, embarked upon this inquiry into the nature and consequences of sin, let us still further continue our quest till I remove the last trace of doubt from your mind as to my real attitude towards it.