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Chapter XVI: Come Up Higher
If an angel had visited me on earth – and when I say angel, I do not mean one of those inestimable saints of whom we are accustomed to speak as angels in disguise, but a real, live, orthodox angel with shining raiment and snowy wings – and told me that I possessed so many friends in the whole realm of creation, I could scarcely have believed him. But by this time I was beginning to know how next to impossible it is for man to understand much of his real self on earth. Let him for once get but a momentary insight into the true condition of things and he will be humbled to the dust, and the prayer of faith – not in a lifeless creed, but in the living God who is immanent, real, tangible to the soul – would be ‘lead Thou me on.’ At the flood of its revelation, coming like a tidal wave – as the returning memory of my sleep-life had just overwhelmed me – it would carry away all tyranny, oppression and selfishness. It would need but one glimpse, one baptism, one blow; the victory would be won and the real brotherhood of man forever an established fact.
Hitherto I had not been able, consciously, to call any man my friend in the truest sense of that word; not because I had no desire to do so, for God can witness to the agony with which I mourned my loneliness, but circumstances would not permit it. Those, who by virtue of position might have filled such a place, looked upon me as a crank, with scarcely the right to be at large, without a single interest in the legitimate pursuits of life, and the victim of a morbid craze which led me to spend my leisure among the vulgar poor. With my hatred for conventional hypocrisy, how could I hope to find congenial friendship with these? I could have purchased a hundred associates from the enormous class who sell their companionship for cash considerations, but cant and flattery is not food for hungry souls, nor is the slavery less degrading because its fetters are of gold. I might have found many true and congenial hearts down the courts and alleys I so frequently visited – and secretly, more than once, did I realise something of what it might have been – but the insuperable barrier of society, which forbids the brotherhood of man, stepped in.
Not that I feared very much for myself, but the open recognition of such acquaintanceships would, added to my many other ‘eccentricities’, have established the desired missing link of evidence and the walls of some private ‘house of retirenient’ would have put an end to the little sunshine I was able to carry to such miserable places. I was friendless in life, there was no doubt about it. It was my cross, a sad and heavy one, but I tried to bear it, and I found it grew lighter when I became the friend of others much less fortunate than even I myself. That lonely longing, was it not the earth vibration of the friendships I enjoyed nightly in this other life? How the compensation of the one struggles to heal the wound it finds within the other! Here I had so many friends, dwellers on both sides of life, that all attempts to formulate a plan by which I could speedily visit them ended in failure, so at length I determined to let the matter arrange itself.
There was one building in the city that possessed a peculiar interest for me, and thither I turned my first attention. It was the rendezvous of those street arabs who, in large cities, earn a precarious living by selling papers and matches, and to it they attached the designation of ‘The College.’ Many were the nights I had spent in this place watching the delight with which the visitors appreciated the provision here made to counterbalance the hardships of their other life, and listening to the multitide of experiences which everyone had to recite. Here, too, it was very seldom but one or more of the bright spirits of still higher regions came to minister to these little hungry and ragged wanderers. At such times the difficulties of their fate were always the theme of discussion, and the angel-teacher would patiently and lovingly show and illustrate how ‘these light afflictions, which are but for a moment, work out a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory’; working in season and out of season to ground his audience in those acts of reciprocative kindness which so uniformly mark the dealings of this class with each other.
Men wonder where these children, gutter-bred, learn these acts of humanity and consideration, which for purity of motive put so-called Christian philanthropy to the blush; where they are taught to help to bear each other’s burdens – where they are first instructed in the practical application of the golden rule? I can answer the enquiry. They are instructed in the elementary schools of heaven, to which they are summoned while their bodies be asleep in dark corners and doorways, under barrels or carts, or in the outhouses of your Christian city. Angels, who have learned the deeper secrets of the love of God, meet with these despised and outcast children there, teach them the geography of home, and show them the surest way to reach that rest which still remaineth. How could their bare and chilblained feet scale the sharp and icy points of your cold theology while the howling winds of fierce damnation raged around with threatening force. They would slip, fall, and their little souls lie in mangled masses at the foot of some precipice of sectarian contention they could never enter heaven by such a path. But do not fear, the angels know the road, and in the lessons of their dreams these little pilgrims are travelling homewards through the green meadows of forbearing love, led along by the once outcast Jesus. You need have no anxiety about their welfare because they fall short of your sectarian standard, when you shall enter you will find many such whom you once knew waiting to sing your ‘Welcome Home.’
A hundred happy voices hailed me as I passed through the tapestries hanging across the entrance, and in a moment I was surrounded by a group of friends who were anxious to embrace me. No need for circumspection here; I could lift the joyous urchins in my big, clumsy arms and kiss and pet them as I chose, for were we not brothers and sisters all?
It seemed almost impossible to realise that those laughter-making children were the same that but one or two short hours ago, with hungry stomachs and shivering bodies, were struggling in the hurrying crowds of busy cities, pleading piteously for the unsympathetic passer-by to buy a paper or box of matches in the hope that the transaction would secure a meal. Yet so it was. And I wondered what the consequence would have been if the veil could have been lifted before the eyes of one of those who impatiently pushed the child aside; if he had been made to understand that in one short hour that unwashed, uncared-for gutter-snipe would be in the company of some of the angels of God, in the land of compensation? If the simple truth of the night advantages of these day-frustrated ones could only be known, how different their lot would be! What a messenger service would be established across the mists! But would not the removal of the hardships necessitate the cessation of the compensation? If so, the mitigation of the evils of the body would be purchased at the sacrifice of the welfare of the soul, and that would be a price too high to entertain. No, it must not be! God knows best; but heaven forbid that this idea of their compensation should restrain the hand outstretched to rescue or to save. God’s ministry is to counterbalance man’s neglect, but the harvest of such omission the man will be compelled to reap by and by.
These re-unions have another and, in some respects, perhaps, an even more pleasant side than the one I have dwelt upon. The former comrades and companions of these children regularly meet with them again, and are made to minister to their less fortunate friends. Very touching it is to listen to their recital of the pleasures into which they have entered, and the contrast of their present life with the one with which the listener is alone acquainted. Hope is inspired in the gloomy soul, and a thousand speculations made as to the why and wherefore of some apparently untoward event, until the young immortal cries: “But it will be all right; it must be all right; and when you come here (and that won’t be long now) then we’ll remember to look and see how it come all right.” By such means are they comforted, and consolation is distilled into their lives, which strengthens them to bear their otherwise intolerable burden.
I had not finished my salutations before the curtains were again drawn aside, and another visitor entered, whose appearance caused even more excitement than my own. I did not know at first, but I afterwards recognised that it was he – Arvez – who had carried my little charge from my arms when I lay upon the slopes. I also recalled several previous visits which he had paid to ‘The College,” and then I became conscious of the object of his present mission. The coming dissolution of the body is in every case known on this side of life in advance, whether by accident or lingering disease. At this time the harvest of life can be ascertained, the condition of the soul on entering immortality be known, and its first dwelling-place assigned. From henceforth the soul about to be born is conducted, during its hours of sleep, into its new surroundings, and so made familiar with its coming home. This was the mission of Arvez, there was not one in all that assemblage but knew it; every eye was fixed upon him, every child crowded to get near him; upon every face was written the hopeful query: “Is it I?”
Was it a shade of disappointment that passed over those faces when the messenger found and designated the lad he sought? If so, can you wonder at it? They knew the sufferings, the privations, and the hardships of the fortunate one would soon be over; for themselves, no one could tell how long the struggle would last, or how fierce it yet might be. Nevertheless they showed heroic courage in the general assent they gave to the cry of joy which broke from the lips of a companion who knew the fortunate lad well.
“It’s Limpy jack; but I’m most as glad as if it wor me.”
There was no appearance of accident or deformity to justify the sobriquet by which his friend described him, but that occasioned no astonishment in my mind, for the reason I have already explained, that the deformities of the body are not perpetuated in the soul.
Immediately the decision was known, the group opened that the lad might go to Arvez, who lifted him in his arms, congratulated, and kissed him, at which another cheer broke forth, making the place to ring. That kiss was the seal of death upon his brow, an evidence of which would be conveyed to the body, so that the sign could be known and read on earth that he would soon be called to heaven.
The boy who announced his name followed him as he came forward, and when the cheer died away, looked up at Arvez and asked:
“Is he acomin’ soon?”
“Presently; as soon as we can bring him away,” was the kindly response.
“Jack, you won’t go and forget us when yer come, will you?”
“In cours’ I won’t! Why, won’t I come here reg’lar, like I does now? In cours’ I will.”
“All right jack; I’ll trust yer; an’ when I wake I’ll try and remember yer acomin’, an’ I’ll look arter yer till yer do.”
“God bless you,” said Arvez, as he kindly patted that faithful little head. Then he turned away to carry the lad to see his new home. I was anxious, if possible, to know their destination, so turned towards the door where Arvez was waiting for a moment.
“Where do you take him?” I asked.
“To the house of a sister who is not altogether unknown to you; will you go with us?”
“I shall be delighted,” I replied; “but will he live with her?”
“For the present. He needs instruction and guidance, and she will undertake that duty.”
We travelled what must have been a long distance, but the process of aerial locomotion is by no means wearisome, and the time was pleasantly occupied in listening to the multitude of questions propounded by the lad, and patiently answered by Arvez. There was no necessity for me to speak, for the answers so kindly given to the boy were full of information to myself, while I was more than once amazed at the care and patience which were expended upon replies to questions that on earth would have sorely taxed the equanimity of the most forbearing.
We passed by several cities of considerable size, whose many beauties were a never-failing source of admiration, not only for jack, but for myself as well. Every object was but another evidence of the pleasures yet in store for me, when the opportunity should be afforded for leisurely visiting each scene and sipping the sweets of knowledge which abounded. There were cities I then imagined, and have since confirmed, that were the originals to which Rome, and Athens, and Carthage, Babylon, Thebes and Nineveh aspired in the days when their beauty touched its zenith.
Toil on, oh, pious soul; what though on earth thy pilgrim feet may never stand within the sacred shrine of thy heart’s desire; what if thy tear-dimmed eyes shall never look upon the land thy kindred call by the sweetest name of home! Thy every aspiration awaits thy coming in far more beauteous guise where the eternal noon abides for ever more. The Jew whose wandering feet have never stood upon the Mount of Olives, the Mohammedan whose eye was never fired at the sight of the mosques of Mecca, the Catholic who had vainly hoped and longed to gaze upon the Vatican, the Christian who falsely dreamed that he would one day stand within the walls of Bethlehem or climb the hill of Calvary, and every earnest soul who had some holy sanctuary, where, with unshod feet, his spirit would fall in worshipful adoration; take courage, when love has wrought its work of purification on your heart, when your hands have grown tender under the touch of kindness, when in your eyes are lighted the beacon fires of affection, and your souls are clothed in the robes of charity and forgiveness, when the Christ of God is born again in you, and you through tribulation have been baptised into Him, you will find the better goal than that for which you sigh, and the realisation shall be far beyond your anticipation in that home where the soul in every respect ‘shall be satisfied when it awakes in His likeness.’