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Chapter II: The Judgement Hall
My reflections ran in something like the following strain:
A land of surprises, is it? Yes! And why did he not say a land of revelation as well ? How long have I been here? An hour – a day – a month? I know not. By my idea of time it seems as if I had but just made that attempt to save the boy; but measured by the revelation, I feel as if I had been here for years.
How strange that I should have no knowledge how I came away! I did not fall – felt no pain – had no indication of reviving from a swoon – how was it? How many people cloud their lives with fear born of the dread they feel of dying; how many teachers delight to dwell upon the terrors of that hour when the soul stands face to face with death? How vastly different has my experience been!
I wonder whether among all the surprises of this life I shall find it possible
“Oh, God! I know not yet where Thou art, or who Thou art; but the revelation which has been given to me is full of love and bright with promise, therefore I feel it has come from Thee, and fills my soul with hope. I know not yet if I am saved or lost; but in Thy mercy hear me, and in Thy pity for the sons of men, permit me, if it be possible by some means which I do not know – by some method Thy love is able to devise – once more to make my voice to reach the mortal state, and help to lift the weight of error lying upon the shoulders of my fellow-men. Thou knowest, O my God, the blindness and ignorance of those who now profess to lead Thy children on. Many have not tasted Thy great love; many have not felt Thy grace; many are groping in the dark, blinded by the traditions of men; many have wandered from the fold. The songs of Zion have been forgotten in the greed for fame, and wealth, and power; and weary pilgrims tramp their homeward way, with sighs, and groans, and tears, beating time to the rhythm of their march. If any joy is here for me, O God, my Father, I am ready now to forfeit it. If the penalty I must pay is agony in hell, I am willing to endure it, if in Thy mercy Thou wilt send me back, with power to tell the truth of Thy unchanging love, and lift the load of doubt from those who, seeking, know Thee not.”
Is it wrong of me to say I know not where or who God is? Perhaps so! But it is honest, and I cannot but think that honesty is right. Everything around me is so contrary to what I expected, I feel afraid to trust to anything I knew; and the torment of yearning for my fellows to know the truth as far as I behold it, force me to breathe that prayer. If some strong hand could, but for an instant, tear the veil aside, and bid the multitudes of earth behold the future as it really is, what a revelation it would be! How it would change their sighs to songs, remove all doubts of God’s eternal love, and proclaim a gospel for which all hearts are crying. It would be to earth what it is to me; I who more than once, or twice, or thrice had been cautioned that the life I led could only meet with condemnation at the bar of God; and yet I found the first words addressed to me were words of hope and encouragement – ‘I need not fear’ – How different a declaration is made on earth, where the love of God is limited to suit the requirements of every sect, while wrath and retribution are left as infinite quantities to drive the sinner to salvation. What can such teachers think when they awake to a knowledge of the truth as I have found it here?
“Here! But where is ‘here’? That is a question that has not yet been satisfactorily answered. Is it heaven? No; surely not! Or if so, how strangely different from the harping, singing, crown-decked throng the Church expects to find. It is not – ! No! All the surroundings are just as incapable of such an interpretation. What then can be the condition of this place? Is it possible that there is an intermediate state after all? Perhaps so! And over the crest of these hills the judgment throne may stand to which I shall be summoned by and by. I had not thought of that; but the suggestion comes without a trace of fear, the words I have heard fill me with hope which I am sure can never be betrayed. Whatever the issue may be I am content to learn it in the usual course of events, in the meantime I will rest.”
It is a popular idea that our entrance to the spirit-world will be greeted by friends and relatives who have preceded us, and in in any cases this is so; but strange to say, even after I had learned the nature of the change which had come over me, the thought of such a meeting never occurred to me, until I felt, rather than heard, someone call my name. I turned, and saw a young woman, clad in the daintiest of pink robes, coming down the hill towards me. I was not sure, but thought her face bore a resemblance to one I had known in the long ago, except that the old furrows of care and want had been transformed into lines and curves of beauty. I had long since forgotten her, but she remembered me, and with eyes brilliant with welcome, and hands extended to clasp my own, she was the first of all I knew to greet me.
“A thousand welcomes” she cried, as she grasped my hands; “I have but just received the news of your coming; am I the first to meet you?”
“Yes, Helen, the first of all I know.”
“I am glad of that; I always hoped it would be so. I have watched, and prayed and waited for it; it is all I can do to thank you.”
“Thank me for what?” I asked in astonishment.
“I need not tell you that,” she answered. “Our Father knows, and He will repay you.”
At that moment I found that heaven is quite as much a condition of the soul as a locality, and true friendship is a great factor in completing that condition. Only a short time before Helen’s advent I had almost satisfactorily assured myself that I was not yet in heaven, but her appearance had reversed the decision. It had brought me such an overwhelming sense of joy. I was so satisfied, I had no conception there could be more happiness to follow; and this resulted from the presence of one to whom I had been but imperfectly known on earth.
Her story, so far as I knew it, was not a long one. Her mother had died of sheer starvation in her endeavour to maintain three children and a sick husband by her labours as a charwoman, supplemented by Helen’s scanty wages in a match factory. The girl was but fifteen years of age when the whole burden of that home fell upon her shoulders in its heavier form of greatly diminished means. Bravely she struggled on, toiling far beyond her strength to keep the wolf of hunger at bay, and save the home from its threatened destruction. But the wages for matchmaking are more easily counted in coppers than gold, and the little extra she could earn in other ways was but a drop in the ocean of their requirements, so she fell in the heat of the battle, crushed and broken-hearted.
I learned her story just before her death, and called to see her in the hospital where she was lying. On several days I sat for half an hour or so trying to comfort her with the assurance that the children would be cared for when she was taken away, for I found the uncertainty as to their welfare was the sharpest thorn in her dying pillow. She was deaf to the missionary’s entreaties to prepare her soul for death. – She had no fear for that. – Did not care about herself. She wanted to know the children would be safe, and when I gave her a solemn promise she grew calm and closed her eyes in peace.
Her personal connection with those children I had long forgotten, since our acquaintance was of such brief duration; but in the first moments of that re-union I felt I had discovered one of those consolations for which I had long been seeking – a sister’s love.
“Are you surprised that I should be the first to meet you?” she asked.
“I can scarcely say; surprises double on each other so rapidly that I begin to think they are natural here.”
“If not surprised, are you glad that you have met me once again?”
“Yes, Helen! More than glad,” I answered, “for your sake quite as much as for my own. You have been happier here than you expected, have you not?”
“Yes! Much happier; and it has always seemed to be increased by your assurances that it would be so. Once I almost feared you were wrong; but when I found that you were right, for your sake I was increasingly glad.”
“It always appeared to me,” I responded, “ that whatever was done for love’s sake could not be wrong. I did not profess to know much about God, and now I am conscious of knowing even less than I thought, still I have not changed my idea.”
“Why, ‘God is love,’ Fred; that is all we know about Him. ‘That which is born of love is also born of God.’ Come home with me and let me tell you what I have learned about Him since I came here.”
“Not yet,” I answered. “You must not forget that I have just arrived, and do not know where I have to go at present.”
“You will learn all about that as you proceed,” she said, as she turned to go; “come with me now.”
“But have I no one to see? Is there no – ”
She saw the perplexity and uncertainty which must have been so plainly visible upon my face, at which she smiled and asked:
“Is it the judgment seat you are looking for?”
“Yes! For at present I know nothing of my position, nor where I must go.”
“Fred, get the earth ideas out of your head as soon as possible. You have already passed the judgment hall, and carry its verdict in the dress you wear.”
“Passed it? Where? I have no knowledge!”
“Perhaps not; but it lies there in those mists from which you see so many coming into the plain,” and as she spoke she pointed in the direction to which my attention had been previously called.
“Is that the way I came?” I asked.
“Yes; that is the only way of entrance into this life!”
“I knew nothing of it – was not conscious of anything until I found myself lying here where we are now standing.”
“That is quite possible, since yours was one of those sudden passages which hurry you so quickly into this state as to leave no consciousness of the event. I often think it is a great blessing to come in such a way.”
“Why? But do I weary you with my questions?”
“No. It will be a pleasure to tell you as much as possible though, as I have not been here so very long, you will have many questions to ask that I cannot answer, and will have to submit them to others who know more than me.”
“I feel that you are just the teacher that I require at present, since all is so different from what I expected. I am like a child with everything to learn.”
“I shall be glad to tell you what I can; but you must not talk of being tired, for no one wearing our colour can grow weary.”
“Wearing our colour” I repeated, not knowing what she meant.
“Yes. You will presently understand that the colour of the dress is an indication of the condition of the wearer; but you cannot grasp this until you have seen it for yourself.”
“But tell me why you think it best to enter this life in the manner in which I came?”
“If you will regard the entrance of a soul into this life as birth, rather than death, and the sickness preceding it as a more or less prolonged labour, with a corresponding prostration to follow, you will understand me better. See,” she continued, pointing towards the mists, “how many have to be assisted – some even carried – into life; how some pause to gain strength to come forward, and tell me, do you not think it preferable to come as you have done?”
“When you consider it in that light of course it is; but you know we have been taught to look upon it from the other side.”
“That is a great error, which has to be corrected here. Man practically regards the earth life as the chief, rather than the subordinate condition of existence. As a spiritual being, he should be educated to look upon everything from a spiritual standpoint, in the same way as a schoolboy is encouraged to regard his studies in the light of what they will afterwards enable him to accomplish. Earth is not all, neither is it a finality of development, but rather the elementary stage, upon which this is the next advance, while the errors of the lower state have to be uprooted here before we can assume the positions we should be fitted to enter upon on our arrival; this, however will be more forcibly illustrated for you presently.”
“I am anxious to hear something about that judgment hall. If I came through it unconsciously, as I must have done, how can a righteous sentence be passed upon a man in such a condition?”
“The idea of the judgment hall is another misapprehension owing to the literal interpretation of what was only intended as a parabolic metaphor.”
“Do you mean that I have no knowledge of it, for the simple reason that no such place exists?” I asked.
“So far as there being a regular trial and sentence by a personal judge, it is a fiction; the verdict of the bar of God is more just and unerring than that could be, and asks no evidence other than the defendant offers. The text which hung above my bed in the hospital is the law upon which that judgment is given, and from which no appeal is asked or granted – ‘Be not deceived; God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.’ Justice cannot miscarry, since no man is called to give evidence against his fellow. As the soul comes into contact with those mists, it separates from the flesh, and is stripped of any false and seeming character, which may have been assumed, no matter under what circumstances or for what purpose. The function of the mists is to dissolve everything but the spiritual. There all the seals of life are broken, everything which has been hidden is revealed, the books are opened wide, whether to acquit or to condemn. It would be just as rational to expect a builder to say, as he put the final touches to a cottage, ‘that ought to have been a cathedral, and I believe it is’; or for a farmer to say to his men, ‘that field of turnips should have been wheat, and I believe it is; go and reap it,’ and find their belief honoured in the transformation, as for a man, when he feels the chill of dissolution upon him, to think that by the acceptance of any creed or system of belief, he can, in that moment of fear, eradicate the evils of a life-time, and receive an abundant entrance into everlasting joy. No, Fred! As the mortal drops awav there is evolved from the spirit a natural covering in accordance with its life and character, the colour being determined by the acts and motives of the past – not by the creeds it has held or the professions it has made – and that colour is the righteous sentence which the soul has passed upon itself by virtue of the invariable law of God.”
“Then you subordinate faith to works?”
“Works are to faith precisely what the spirit is to the body – the life. ‘Faith without works is dead,’ therefore faith can only be manifested by works. The teaching of Jesus is ‘Inasmuch as ye did it,’ not believed it, and nothing but love and noble deeds are able to enter this life in company with the soul; all forms of belief are lost in yonder mists.”
“Who then can be saved?”
“We hope that every individual child will be, ultimately, and I think if one shall be excepted it will be his own fault entirely.”
“Because that judgment is not final, it only determines what position the soul must assume on entering this life, it has still the power to elevate itself as well as the assistance of others who are always working to raise those in the conditions beneath them. Thus the sentence is not for eternity and vindictive; it is probationary and remedial.”
“Why, Helen, do you mean to say there is no hell?”
“Not by any means; we have hells of torment far worse than your imagination can picture, but they are only purifying conditions and have been provided in the fullness of our Father’s love, as you will presently be made to understand.”
“I have been fortunate in finding such a teacher to correct my ignorance,” I said. “Before I saw you I felt like a child at school whose education had been sadly neglected; but now, it seems that all I know is wrong, and has to be uprooted.”
“You will find that full provision has been made for all corrections as you proceed,” she answered. “And knowledge is easily acquired by those who wish to learn. It is an active life upon which you enter; every person capable of work has some appointed mission, so that we are all ‘workers together with God.’ My place for the present is here, to meet those who have just arrived, so I have been especially instructed in such matters as are first enquired into.”
“If the verdict is given upon works alone, who are they who receive the abundant entrance promised so liberally to believers?” I asked.
“In that judgment,” she answered, “every act, motive, and attendant circumstance in the life of a man has its legitimate consideration, and is appraised at its sterling value, and the balance struck accordingly. Acts of charity originating in expediency are gauged by the attainment of the object desired, and leave no balance to the life’s account; munificent philanthropy bestowed for political or selfish purposes is recompensed by the approbation it received; the building and endowment of a hospital or church by wealth amassed in the drink or such like traffic, is counterbalanced by the shattered lives and ruined homes of its many victims. Self-sacrificing love, to relieve pain, distress and want, not done to be seen of men, but from sympathy with the weak and unfortunate brother; the motive which prompts a man to give what he himself may need, to lessen the sufferings of another; the patient endurance of wrong until the Father determines to avenge; the charity which rises to the defence of the weak against the strong, at the expense of obloquy and shame; the heart which refuses to condemn when appearances are black because the whole circumstances are not known; the man who, when injured, steps in to break the blow of justice because he too would wish to be forgiven;- these are they who, in that judgment, lift up their heads and hear ‘well-done.’ This makes all men equal in their advantages and adds commensurate responsibility where wealth or power has been entrusted.”
“Would you teach men to repudiate wealth?” I asked.
“Certainly not; but we would teach them that every gift is only held in stewardship, and that they will be called upon to render an account in the mists. Our Father has placed upon earth enough to supply the needs and give some comforts to every one of his children; but the strong have taken away the portion of the weak, until luxury and starvation abounds. Is this right? No! And at the judgment, the plea that the wealth so held was honourably acquired will not avail, since God designs that it must also be, lovingly dispensed. Take one such man, who, having made division of his wealth among his children, saw the elder taking the portion of the younger son away; think you that father would be willing to complacently allow the wrong? Shall God be less just than we demand a man should be? Of course not! The bond of brotherhood is more powerful than legal right in the sight of God, and the verdict of His court is given in accordance with family responsibility, not mercantile law.”
“Suppose one was anxious to carry out a good work but pressure of circumstances prevented. How would that be regarded?”
“That will be more ably explained to you by others presently, but in the meantime I can partially answer it by telling you of one of the first receptions I attended after my arrival.”
“Do you hold receptions then in heaven?”
“Yes. Though they are somewhat different to yours. When any friends go across the boundary to bring a pilgrim home, we call it a reception. That I refer to was one of those abundant entrances you speak of, and Omra went to welcome the brother.”
“Who is Omra?”
“The governor of this state, and the highest spirit I have seen except Jesus.”
“Have you seen Him, Helen?”
“Yes, once; but He was at a distance from me, so I did not speak to Him. But to tell you of this reception. The man we went to meet was an inmate of a workhouse, but there were thousands of spirits present to receive him.”
“From a workhouse?”
“Yes! I shall never forget the scene. When Omra drew near to the bed, the closing eyes caught a sight of him, and the coming saint cried to his friend, who was asleep on a chair beside him: ‘John! John! I am going now; someone has come for me! John! Don’t you see how light the room is? See, the angels! And – and- No! Not Jesus! Not for me! Then the poor feeble frame, which had half risen in his excitement, fell back; and the watcher found it cold when he awoke, for the spirit had dropped its veil of flesh.
“As the soul came away, Omra threw his arm around him, and bade him welcome. Then, with a bewildered, almost frightened look, the man gazed upon the host that crowded round him, and, turning to Omra, stammered:
“This – is – not – for me! It is – a mistake! You – did not – come for me?”
“Yes, we did, my brother,” replied Omra; “we do not make mistakes; they are all behind you now.”
“But – but – it cannot be for me. I – I have not – been a good man! My Lord – it must be a mistake! What have I done?”
“Fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and ministered to the sick,” Omra replied.
“Ah! Now I know you are wrong. I have been almost all my life in the work ‘us. I never had any money to do it at all. I know’d it warn’t for me.”
“You once gave your dinner to a hungry lad.” said Omra. “You gave a pair of boots, you could badly spare, to a wandering tramp; you gave your glasses to a poor old woman who could not see to read, and left yourself in the same condition; you sat beside an old comrade when he was ill, and nursed him back to health; you have been patient in your enforced poverty, and encouraged others to hope for the best and be contented. – Have you not?”
“Well, yes I did sit beside old Bill, a bit; but he’d ’a’ done the same for me, if I’d ’a’ wanted it. I don’t know much about the rest.”
“But we do; such deeds are never forgotten with us, and there are many things you wished to do if you had but had the power. Such honest will is always accepted by God as if the deed had been successfully performed, and so, you see, we are not wrong.”
“By this time he had been carried some distance from his body, and had assumed his new robes, in which he was triumphantly escorted to one of the many mansions prepared for such as he.”
“What a surprise for him,” I remarked, as she concluded; why, it must have been as great as my own. But where are these homes you speak of? I have not seen anything in the shape of a building yet.”
“They are over the crest of the hill; have you not been to the top?”
“Come then, let us go; that will enable you to turn your back on the mists, and I will show you the country in another direction.”