Chapter VII: The Gate of Hell
Zecartus is largely engaged with such contentious individuals as this companion of my father’s, being possessed of a quick and clear insight, with a remarkable gift for tracing sequences. This man considered himself to be the victim of an injustice, and it was necessary to point out his error, so as to make him understand and acknowledge that his present condition was simply the natural result of his previous career, the penalty for which had to be discharged ‘to the utmost farthing’ before assistance and freedom could be secured.
I would point out – and have it always remembered – how perfectly the immortal life is provided with competent ministers to deal with every possible necessity that can arise. The law framed and the order established by God are fully able to supply every conceivable need, and carry to complete perfection the great paternal design which will have all men to be saved. The full and just penalty for sin must be paid – the last fragment of its harvest must inevitably be gleaned, but after that the heart of every son and daughter will turn homeward, and wherever the first repentant thought is born it must needs find a spiritual nurse waiting to deliver and minister to its well-being.
Well might the Psalmist ask, – Whither shall I flee from Thy presence? . . . If I make my bed in hell, behold Thou art there!”
Thus the rainbow of infinite love sweeps the everlasting span of life – earth, hell, and Heaven – and is everywhere inscribed with the consoling legend, ‘God is good!’
My previous visits to earth in company with Cushna now enabled me to make some interesting observations concerning the relationship of the two sides of life, while Zecartus was engaged with my father’s spiritual counterpart. The most significant fact I ascertained was that though I was standing in my old home it was voided of all interest or attraction for me, and the light of it was scarcely more than a softening of darkness. This latter condition denoted the true spiritual barometric reading of the place: God is light, and nearness to or distance from Him is automatically registered in light or shade. Still, though light failed, I cannot say the same of life, for phantom-like forms moved on every side.
“Who are these who make up this apparently aimless and reckless host?” I inquired as we left.
“Earth-bound souls, each seeking to gratify the particular vicious and evil passion by which it is enslaved,” he replied. “The study of their painful employments would be helpful to you after what we have just seen, if you would care to undertake it.”
“I should indeed, if the opportunity affords.”
“That can easily be arranged,” he replied, “but you must do it under the guidance of someone engaged in the ministry going on here, who will be far better qualified to instruct you than I am.”
As he spoke he dispatched a thought-flash, which was almost instantly answered by the arrival of the leader of one of the bands of workers near at hand.
“My brother, Ladas,” said Zecartus, introducing me. “Aphraar desires to know something of your mission; may I commend him to your discretion?”
“I cannot introduce you to the pleasures of Paradise, but it is possible you may see something of its joy,” he answered. “Our work lies more in the shadow than the light, but it will show you much of the law and love of God.”
“I wish to learn the law; I have already seen something of the pleasure.” I replied.
“Ladas is well able to instruct you as you wish,” said Zecartus; “I will entrust you for the present to his care, and take my leave.”
With this he left us, and in charge of my new cicerone I was at once so placed in harmony with my present environment as to enable me to approach nearer to those with whom circumstances were about to bring me in contact, and the better establish communication with them if needed.
“You will already understand the principle regulating all divisions.” he began – “every man to his own place, and no barrier or restriction but that erected by character?”
“Yes, I am familiar with that.”
“Then you may regard the sphere of our operations as being the earthbound condition, by which I mean the temporary prison-house of those whose vicious passions and depraved natures still hold them in bondage to the earth and lead them to haunt the former resorts of their sin in the false hope of gratifying their evil desires, while every attempt they make recoils with its legitimate degree of punishment.”
“Do you wish me to understand that they are still able to exercise an active influence upon men?”
“I do; and such influence – given favourable conditions for operation – is one of the least understood but most potent agencies for evil men have to encounter.”
“May I ask what these conditions are?”
“They are two, of which the first and essential one is moral weakness or indecision in the individual tempted. In the presence of well-developed and resolute rectitude these spiritual brigands are utterly powerless. Evil in every form must flee from the man who is bold to resist it, since evil and weakness are synonymous, having no real power in themselves, but possessing a fatal ability to use such as they may succeed in borrowing. The first move downwards is always strategic, then, if an outpost be carried, the captured force is at once utilized in further operations, or in other words, its second condition is to inveigle the tempted one into the charmed circle of its deadly influence.”
“I am not quite sure that I understand you.”
“I know it, but I require your most careful attention, and secure it by first stating my proposition vaguely. Now that you are doubly eager to follow me I will make my meaning plain. The association of certain places with particular vocations is too well and universally recognized to need more than mention. The student will work with greater ease and effect in his study, seated in a given chair, occupying an accustomed position. Why? Because the room has become saturated with the spirit of his labours, and that chair occupies the centre of the radiation of past researches. From that point everything around him has been saturated with his mental creations, and in his accustomed place the spirit of the past mingles with present effort and produces inspiration. A place set apart soon begins to breathe the atmosphere of its association, and the strength increases by use until it is easy to understand, for instance, how complacently one
‘may smile at Satan’s rage
And face a frowning world’
when standing in a place which hallowed associations proclaim to be a house of God – a very gate of Heaven. There angels gather round and
‘In the secret of His presence, there is rest-sweet rest.’
Now if this principle of sympathetic saturation be applied all the way round, it may be readily conceived how temptations to sin derive peculiar force through the agency of the place in which they are presented.”
“This is a new doctrine indeed,” I replied.
“It should and would not be if men would consider the plain teaching of the Christ with the same interest they give to commercial matters.”
“Because Christ taught this great and important truth as clearly as any other single point in His ministry, when He spoke of the unclean spirit driven out of a man wandering in search of rest but finding none. You remember how he returned to find his old abode swept and garnished, but secured the assistance of seven more wicked than himself to carry the position, and all dwelt there, making the last end of the man worse than the first.”
“How strange that I have never associated that before!”
“It is iniquitous that men should continue to be so wilfully blind, until they come here and the awful truth is practically forced upon them. Then they wonder that no provision is made for their escape from the consequences of their own neglect, and rave at the injustice of sins of omission being treated as equal to those of commission.”
“Oh, the terrible responsibility of life!” I rather reflected than expressed, but the effect was the same, for Ladas heard it distinctly.
“The failure to recognize and act upon the spiritual importance of it is perhaps one of the most remarkable and indefensible follies of the human race,” he replied. “As a commercial asset, life in its physical phase is one of supreme value; even its adjuncts, accessories, and parts are matters for which armies and navies are brought into existence to defend; in its spiritual aspect the value is practically nil; yet the former is evanescent, the latter abiding; the one vanishing even as we dreamed it away, the other eternal as God Himself. And the men who thus frolic with the shadow, while they neglect the substance, call themselves wise. We will visit some of them, that you may see what they are after the shadow is lost, and the plea of ignorance has received its just consideration.
“Is the earth-bound condition, then, another name for hell?” I inquired.
“No! It is in a double sense only the gate – the vestibule of hell. In the earthbound conditions are received actively vicious and openly rebellious souls who, having deceived themselves and being bound to earth by reason of their slavery to sin, thirst for and determine to have revenge upon their fellows; hence their cup of iniquity is not yet full, and in the violence of their passion they elect to continue their evil course in seeking to effect the downfall of others.”
“And are they allowed to do so?”
“Yes, every individual is free to do as he wills in that respect. We have no barriers of restraint, though all are continually and faithfully reminded of the consequences of their action, and a ceaseless watch is kept for the first sign of weariness in their futile course. Then, when the measure of their sin is known, they pass from hence to the real punishment of hell.”
“Then they do not actually endure suffering here?”
“Most mercifully they do, or vague indeed would be the hope of their reclamation! Every soul as it drops the flesh finds itself possessed of a spiritual body which is the true essence of the life producing it, and is only adapted to existence in similar conditions to that which called it into being. As in the physical state fish prefer water and birds the air, so here every soul gravitates to its own place by virtue of adaptation. Here, however, lies the one awful fact we must ever keep in mind or we shall misunderstand everything: each individual soul on entering this life is strung to the same exquisite delicacy of sensation; the brightest saint and the vilest sinner are thus equally sensitive to the pleasure or torment of the position they have deliberately qualified for. In this provision is manifest the perfect justice of God. So long as these rebellious souls remain here and unrepentant, every act of sin brings about its own immediate punishment, until the futility of their course works towards repentance through despair, at the first sign of which we intervene and the prodigal is carried away to commence the discharge of the debt it has incurred in the remedial punishment of hell.”
“Then the actual penalty of hell does not begin here?” I gasped in amazement.
“How can it possibly do so?” he replied. “The liabilities incurred cannot be ascertained until the arms of rebellion are laid down; and God exacts strict justice, nothing more. Let me assist you by pointing out the difference between the punishment endured here and that of hell, then you will the better understand what it is I mean. It is possible that the punishment of the present may be equal to that the soul will there experience, but this is simply an effect immediately resulting from an act at the instant of its performance, that cause and effect may be clearly traced, and the mad career stopped. In the true hell a man is brought face to face with the full account which stands against him, and he is called upon for payment of both principal and interest. Whatsoever he has sown he has there to reap, and the identical sin he is in process of discharging remains visible before his eyes until it is blotted out in his payment of it. That is the difference between this condition and hell.”
“But what of all those who come over neither good nor wholly bad, and those who repent in death?”
“They all go to their own place. Let me suggest a crude illustration which will help you to understand this – the legend of Mahomet’s coffin. If you will increase the number of coffins indefinitely and consider Heaven and Hell to be the two magnets acting with greater or less force upon each coffin – some for the moment drawn down, others lifted up, according to varying degrees of sympathy, you may conceive what I mean by a man’s own place. But you will need to introduce a new feature if the analogy is to hold throughout.”
“What is that?”
“Whatever may be the first attractive effects, they cannot remain static, since the law of spiritual evolution demands that the lower force must ever grow less and the higher increase, until all that are in suspense are drawn into abiding rest around the one Eternal Magnet. But come and see what this condition has to show you.”
Thereupon I started upon a tour of revelation horrible, indescribable, and of such exquisite torture that language has neither strength nor colour to depict it – a veritable chaos of sin seething in a cosmos of overruling law.
Every scene and group I beheld was one of wild, lawless, fiendish passion, a foaming cauldron of iniquity, in which the foulest souls appeared to be tossed uppermost, and maddened vampires fought with frantic energy to reach and drag others into their awful, yet not destroying, agony.
I trembled even for my own safety as I watched the scene, but Ladas assured me of this by pointing out how the influence of every group was circumscribed to the spot which held it spellbound. Beyond these limits outside the struggling, fighting fringe of those who in the riot had been pitched from the centre to the circumference and clamoured to get back – all was order and quiet, where a host of waiting messengers stood ready to answer any genuine cry for assistance.
Nor were my observations limited to where I stood, but through the porch of death I saw the other side as well; saw victim after victim enticed within the fascinating circle over which the different groups exerted unseen and unsuspected, but all the more deadly, influence. Some wavered in doubtful uncertainty before they timorously yielded; some came curiously forward, careless and already half-inclined to try their luck in the speculative uncertainty; others seemed ashamed and anxious not to be seen and recognized; while still more were boldly confident they were able to take the plunge and come back enriched, unharmed. I heard the shout which from our side greeted each newcomer, a shout his ears were too heavy to hear, though he felt the force of the tempting influence which went forth with it, also the sting of conscience which smote him as the howl of success told of the punishment of his tempters.
Passion on earth makes men insensible to pain. Not so with us, it makes the agony more acute; but such was the fury of the sin I saw that it grew defiant even as the soul quivered in its supreme suffering, and fought to reach even more daring exploits. Hungry, wolfish eyes glared with determination to destroy; greedy, trembling, twitching hands reached riotously out, impatient to drag down the irresolute, though every soul well knew the greater scourge would fall upon himself should he succeed.
No, no! This is no poetic rhapsody, but a true, if imperfect and incoherent, memory of an awful experience which God in His mercy granted to me that I may speak of it and shout its warning to the sons of men. The fire of a Dante’s fervid imagination would be as an iceberg compared with what my eyes beheld in living exposition of the truths Ladas had previously expounded, and in confirmation of the neglected assurance that ‘the way of transgressors is hard.’
“Is there no possible way by which amelioration can be brought to such overwrought agony?” I inquired as my conductor led me away from the scene of such excruciating torture.
“None! If any assistance could be of service I could summon a thousand helpers for every suffering soul in want of it. But what could such ministers do? See the number who are already waiting to fulfil the office – hundreds waiting where only units are required, and always at hand before the call for aid goes forth. All that can be provided is as eagerly quivering to rescue as those we wait to assist are impatient to destroy. Fortunately such punishment is too fierce to be protracted except in very rare cases. Pain, like toil, naturally conduces to weariness, and when the fever of revenge and passion has run its course these spiritual prodigals come to their right minds, learn what has happened to them, accept the inevitable, and cease their useless warfare.”
“What do you mean by learning what has happened to them?”
“Ah, that is an explanation I must make before you can truly understand what you have seen. It might have been well had I made it earlier, but it comes quite naturally now, and will make an aftergleam of useful service. What I mean is that most of these unfortunates wake up here without any idea of what has happened.”
“Without a consciousness of death?” I queried incredulously.
“Yes! Without the shadow of a suspicion of it.”
“Is that possible?”
“Not only possible, but under the circumstances it almost becomes natural that it should be so.”
“Will you explain how?”
“Recall the nebulous confusion and ignorance existing on the other side concerning death: the idea that it is possible for a man to step redhanded from the gallows close to the throne, by accepting a belief; that the moment after death a newly-born child becomes perfected in all knowledge; that a death-bed conversion transforms the vilest soul into a spotless saint; the doubt as to whether the soul will or will not sleep till the day of judgement, when it will reenter its physical body and be caught up into the air to be for ever with the Lord. Concerning the wicked equally contradictory and irreconcilable opinions are held; they are at once consigned to the custody of the devil and his angels, who torture them in the fires of hell, from which there is no hope of escape; while, at the final judgement, they are to be brought before the Christ to be judged as to whether they are really guilty or not. Now, when these ideas are accepted, and have the sanction of constituted authority before death, why should it be thought incredible, when, having made the transition, the souls find nothing even remotely associated with any one of the expectations, it fails to understand what has actually occurred?”
“Still one can scarcely believe it possible.”
“Why? It is an experience often met with even beyond the earth conditions. Did you at once understand what had happened?”
“No, I did not,” I had to confess, for I had fallen into the common error pointed out by Zecartus of judging others by a different rule to the one I used for myself. “But my passage was so sudden – so unexpected, there may be some excuse for the confusion.”
“The confusion of the transit is not so dependent upon its suddenness as upon the erroneous ideas as to what it will reveal. Ignorance produces ignorance. Those who prefer to travel in darkness cannot profit by the revelations light affords. The man who takes his journey by night from England into Wales and sleeps upon the trip, will wake uncertain as to whether the Severn Tunnel has been passed or not, and naturally inquires, ‘Where are we?’”
“But I scarcely think the analogy holds.”
“In throwing off the body so many changes have necessarily taken place.”
“Had they not also occurred in your own case?”
“Yes, certainly,” I was again constrained to admit, to my confusion.
“These changes were all related to externals.” he went on. “You were, so far as your own judgement went, exactly the same as before, and what had taken place was not so at variance with the past as it differed from what you had anticipated death would reveal. Hence it was much easier for you to conclude that, in the period of unconsciousness between the present and the past, you had rather been the victim of a practical joke than that you had died.”
“I must confess that you are right.”
“That arises because this continuity of life grows so naturally out of that which has gone before. Changes do, of necessity, take place, but they are only such as doffing a physical garment and assuming a spiritual, which is so much better adapted to the new surroundings; and even this is not new, as in the sleep state every soul has been accustomed to the daily change.”
“But that is not remembered on the other side.”
“It might and ought to be so remembered; but to do this would disturb established authority, and the man who advocated the cultivation of such a channel of revelation and inspiration would find himself driven to ascend a social if not a physical Calvary. Nature, however, does not adapt her actions to the convenience of ignorance: all her laws are supposed to be intelligently understood. Let us push our inquiry just a little further. The sleep state, then, makes every being conversant with the truth whether it is remembered in the waking state or not. The only point we have now to settle is, what is the actual difference between sleep and death – and that is absolutely none. The man who falls asleep dies so far as the process is concerned. All the difference lies in the return or non-return of the soul to the body, not in its liberation. This being so, you need no longer wonder that many of these unfortunates have not yet learned what has happened.”
“I thank you for your lucid and patient explanation,” I returned. “May I now ask for information as to first impulses on recovering consciousness?”
“Yes. Would you prefer to watch such a case for yourself, or shall I tell you of one I have just attended?”
“I am not anxious to see more for the present than you have already shown me,” I answered.
“Then I will take my last case as a very fair one to illustrate what you ask. It is that of a man who commenced life as a clerk in a broker’s office, where he held a contented and confidential position for some years. Then temptation came, and after many refusals, much dallying, and several corrections of propositions, he at length consented, not to betray his employer’s trust – he could never do that: Honour forbade it! But for a substantial commission he answered inquiries so equivocally as to serve the same purpose. The commission so gained was then privately used in accordance with the confidential information entrusted to him, and he began to dream dreams of possible wealth along the lines he had chosen; but his duplicity leaked out, and he was discharged. Now he set himself to realize his dreams in other ways, formed an ideal of amassing a fortune of two millions, to which object he, step by step, sacrificed everything, even life, for he was summoned hence when he needed an eighth to reach the height of his ambition.
“Apoplexy was the cause of his transition, and I was in attendance when he regained consciousness. His first surprise was to find he had awakened in a strange place, and he examined his body with considerable suspicion, but remembering he had swooned in the office, accepted the situation, and was anxious to get back without delay, leaving matters to explain themselves as best they might. You must now bear in mind that to all earth-bound souls the places and people who occupy the scenes of their bondage are almost as solid and substantial as ever, while they are unsubstantial and invisible in themselves. It is this all-important but uncomprehended difference which first bares their backs to punishment.
“He returned to his office to discover that his absence had been longer than he imagined, and that many unauthorized and objectionable changes had taken place in the interval; perhaps the most outrageous being the quiet appropriation of his private office by the manager, who appeared to be conducting business without any reference to himself. He peremptorily demanded an explanation, but his subordinate might have been deaf, dumb and blind in his refusal to notice the inquiry. He stormed, raved and appealed to others with precisely the same effect; then in a fury of rage, better imagined than described, he rushed home. Here he fared far worse than in the city, for to his disgust and consternation he learned that his family considered him to be dead, and he finally came back to us determined to find someone who would come to his assistance by helping him to be revenged.
“You may find this experience more or less perfectly duplicated in half the members of every group you may visit. Nor can we render them the slightest service or assistance until the wildness of their passion produces weariness, and they seek our help.”
“And is the earth enveloped with such a delirious crowd of evil?” I inquired, beginning to see, as I never understood before, the dangers of the weak and unprotected in the presence of such maddened tempters to evil.
“No! If such were the case it would almost be fatal to the ultimate triumph of good over evil. These scenes are the festering pollutions of civilization, and the men and women who comprise them are those who know the right but deliberately choose the wrong in their greed for temporal success – wealth, position and power. They knew their Lord’s will, but they did it not, therefore are they beaten with many stripes. Much has been given to them and much required in return, but having wasted their substance and made themselves moral and spiritual bankrupts, that which they have accumulated has to be taken away, and what you have seen is the first part of the stripping process – the commencement of the fire by which their souls must be purified.”
“With what terrible emphasis everything insists upon retribution here!” I exclaimed.
“That is because you see law working out its justice – law that is always and invariably inexorable. The fatal mistake of the other side is to regard law as being inflexible in its physical aspect only, but in the spiritual sphere – that is if it should exist here, which is exceedingly doubtful – it is both capricious and easily evaded by repentant promises to do better. No man who understands the nature of dynamite will trifle with it carelessly, and yet dynamite is harmless compared with the spiritual laws men ignore. There is always a possible escape from dynamite, but not from law.”
“But your illustration fails if these earth-bound souls are principally the product of civilization, for dynamite will explode equally in the hands of savage or cultured.”
“No. My analogy still holds. The explosive is a product of civilization, and is inaccessible as its properties are unknown to the savage. If, therefore, such an explosion occurred it could only be by the dynamite being imported with some sinister intent, and the responsibility for the disaster would lie with the importer, not the savage. It is precisely the same with these groups of earthbound iniquity; every individual in all that awful host is entering on the legally and perfectly just reward of the deeds done in the body. But in further answer to your inquiry, let me point out how every group is bound to a certain place in their aggregate action: drunkards gather around taverns; gamblers on the race-course or other places ‘devoted to sport’, and so on until you have located every group; but apart from this collective grouping for greater strength each individual has his own particular bond to the scene of his personal transgression. As I pointed out in the case I have described, much of the torture arises from the fact that the fetters his conduct has forged compel him to witness-bound and helpless – the frustration of the project for which he had forfeited everything: to find that the egg for which he eagerly gave his soul hatches nothing but a scorpion to increase his own torment.”