Chapter IX: Who Rules in Hell?
“Can you see what the end of this will be?” I asked Ladas.
“No! That would require the peculiar gift of Zecartus, which I do not possess, since it would rather hinder than assist my work. There are two courses open to the man which I may point out to you, but cannot offer any opinion as to which he will pursue. The better way would be to admit his error at once, and ascertaining the real cause of his weakness set himself to correct and retrieve his position, carefully watching against another slip. But the doubtful part about such a proceeding is occasioned by the fact that it requires constant effort, whereas his habit of life has been negligent indifference to the moral weakness contributing so largely to his fall. It was a far easier matter to avoid than it will now be to remedy the effects of his collapse. On the other hand, if he does not exert himself to supply this greater moral demand every future temptation will lead to another and deeper degradation, because vicious habits combine to destroy.”
“Could you not tell him so, and caution him?”
“No. He has made his choice and cut himself adrift from such assistance. Had his religion been more than an empty profession, when the tempter commenced the struggle you saw he would have cried for help, of which there was more than sufficient at hand to save him. But temptation blew the flimsy cloak of profession aside, and exposed the real man ready to take a personal advantage and gratification at the expense of another – the exact affinity of the malevolent fiend who enveloped and readily subdued him. With careless indifference he had prepared his soul to fall into such an unsuspected trap, and he has to meet with his reward. No! We cannot help him at present. He must first come to himself and discover how he has sinned, then he will find a thousand hands outstretched to lift him up. I have now given you two illustrations of how these spiritual affinities act; I would further point out an instance of the present punishment these unrepentant souls have to bear.”
He led me far from the madding crowd of both sides of life, to a little place beside the sea. One of those delightful oases of life, of which Heber sang, where
every prospect pleases
And only man is vile.
A few fishing-boats lay at rest in a miniature harbour. Nature had arranged for the little colony of fishers, who could not afford to build their own protection against the sometimes angry waves; and all around a hundred gems of beauty had been provided in vale, on hill, or pastoral retreat. The homes of the fishermen nestled close to the water’s side like constant lovers to the maidens of their choice, but those men who by reason of success had forsaken their first estate climbed the hill-side overlooking the bay, and erected more pretentious residences in an anxious desire to obliterate all traces of their extraction.
Ladas conducted me to the largest and most assertive of these houses, built by a man of cunning genius who had climbed from the water side; one who, as a child, was the pride and amusement of the little colony for his artfulness above the lads of his own age, as in after-life he became its anxiety and sorrow by the exercise of the same proclivity. As a youth he learned how to make more money by wits than work – found that the man who could buy fish was better off than he who caught them, and consequently left the boat. Success was assured from the first. It was not a difficult matter for him to climb over the honest simplicity of the men he had left, and he speedily became an influential unit in the community as well as in the church, where he was occasionally to be found in the pulpit. He then began to lend money when times were bad, upon a rate of usury and terms which presently caused half the boats in the harbour to pass from fisherhands into his own account of arrears of loans or interest, and with the transfer of the boat, the boat’s share of every catch also went to increase his fortune and impoverish the village. His loan department demanded a clerk, and he engaged a girl against whose dead father the English Shylock had been prevented from discharging a debt of revenge. After a period of semi-starvation due to his paltry wage, he planned and carried out her ruin, driving her from church, Sunday school and home, to suicide. The village held its breath, but dared not speak, and the church was blinded by a paltry donation. Then came the stone-laying of the long-expected ‘mansion’, in the presence of the President of the Conference and other religious magnates who delighted to do honour to the man whom God had so highly exalted among his fellows. Few men in that country-side had been able to discover what a saint their Shylock was until the President unfurled the banner of his envied success and waved it for the emulation of his hearers, as the reward of large-hearted righteousness; but while strangers from a distance applauded, the men and women of the village groaned inwardly.
It was a glorious, a cloudless day, that of the stone-laying. Perhaps a little too bright – too warm, and just a trifle blatant in its flattery, one or two suggested under their breath; and events proved the opinion to be somewhat well founded, for the roof was not on before the village circuit-steward was peremptorily requested to make up his life’s account so far.
“Thou fool! This night shalt thy soul be required of thee; then – !!!”
It was the after of this “then” I beheld when the process had been in operation for a number of years without cessation, moderation or relief. The house, formerly the coveted goal of the man’s ambition, was finished, and had become the prison-house of his earth-bound soul. I have intimated how every furnishing of the immortal home is the spiritual expression of some act, word or deed of the previous life: it was even so here! Every detail of the place assumed the embodiment of some usurious and unscrupulous exaction, an open robbery of one who could not defend himself, the memorial of a woman’s degradation, the food of underfed children, the curse of a ruined family, a lie, an evasion, a theft clothed in words of hypocritical regret, a pitiless revenge, a cool determination to crush success. His life had been a busy one – “A man has to work if he would get on,” was his motto – and the harvest of it was also a busy one. A thousand gibbering ghosts kept him well employed with accounts he was compelled to debit himself with. There was no escape. His unrepentant soul would not admit its sin; but though the chances were against him for the present, he would conquer them, and then the world should see what he would do.
Such was his rebellious determination when I saw him. His mask was off, and the rays of his religion had long been lost. He knew he was fighting against God, but would fight till he won.
It was the most fearful scene of retribution I had so far beheld, harrowing in its hopeless struggle to escape, while at the same time raging with stubborn incontrition. But the keenest pang he suffered was the conviction that his punishment was seen and known alike to all the dead and living who passed by.
Ladas did not speak in explanation, but left me to read the story for myself and draw my own conclusions.
“Are you satisfied?” he asked presently. “If so we will go, that I may show you how we assist such souls when they repentantly seek for help.”
We returned to the scene of his general labours, where we found several of his fellow-servants intently watching a wretched woman who had been overthrown in some ignoble conflict. She had fallen, struggling and moaning in her agony, her hands convulsively dragging at her hair and ears, as if she would tear them off in an effort to secure relief if only by a change in the nature of the anguish from which it was impossible to escape. Suddenly she leapt to her feet as if to dash into the fray again, but staggered back as though the vision of another retribution confronted her. She gripped her head between her hands, wavered, and then with a passionate cry burst into tears.
“My God! my God! will this torment never cease?”
I had scarcely caught an indication of the exclamation before she was surrounded and uplifted by the angels who had been in waiting, among whom there were such tokens of joy as almost to obscure the anguish of the supplicant. In that action I saw and understood the anticipating promptitude which promises ‘before they call I will answer’; I saw for myself how the everlasting arms are continually underneath, needing but a repentant thought to make them spring up and carry the fallen into a citadel of salvation.
“It is ended, my sister; this useless part of your suffering is over now, if you will come away,” replied one of the ministering host. “God is always more merciful to us than we are to ourselves. He has already heard your cry, and we were sent in answer to it even before it escaped you. Come, lean on us, and rest for a little while, then we will guide you were no more useless pain can reach you.”
“I cannot rest here!” she cried. “Oh, if you have any pity, take me away from this unutterable agony!”
“Come, then, and we will place you in the way that leads to rest. How gladly would we carry you thither if that were possible, but it is only in holiness that perfect rest is found, and the sins of your past have so stained your life that you must needs be cleansed before you can bear the presence of the purity for which you ask. But God in His unutterable love for you has made a way by which you may reach it, and with His own hand He will lead you therein. Be not afraid. The worst is over now. Whatever pain may be your future lot will be in purification and preparation for the rest you seek. God is not angry with you – He pities, loves, and desires to bring you to Himself. Even the punishment you have borne was designed to turn you back from your course of sin to shelter in His love, and what has yet to come will only be necessary to rectify the past. You remember the story Christ told of the Prodigal Son – you will find that God is just the same in His action to yourself, He will meet you presently with a Father’s welcome and a kiss, and will never allow you to go away from home again.”
“Go on talking.” she pleaded. “I will come anywhere with you if you will speak to me like that. You are kind! You do not hate me! I can trust myself with you. You would make me want to be good – that is, if I could be good! Go on talking, please. Yes, you may talk of God if you like; but do go on. If others had spoken to me as you can speak, I should have listened – should have learned to love God long ago!”
She spoke hysterically with long pauses, due to exhaustion, between her jerky sentences; but the storm that had so ruthlessly torn her was rapidly dying away, as the rescuing band carried her further and further from the scene of her bondage. It was not only the sympathetic words of the sister-spirit who spoke that contributed to this desirable effect, but the atmosphere of love and confidence by which the band surrounded her acted with continually increasing comfort, as they bore her into the more hopeful condition of her own hell.
“We will not follow them,” said Ladas; “her case would scarcely furnish you at present with a very clear idea of what the regime of hell really is.”
Had the choice been left with me I might have followed, to learn more of the woman who had so aroused my interest and sympathy; but my guide was evidently pursuing a definite plan for my instruction, and reminding myself how impossible it is to follow anything to finalities where issues stretch into eternities, I accepted his suggestion and crossed the boundary between the two states in an opposite direction to that taken by the escort of the newly-liberated woman.
Our new route led us into a land of comparative darkness, dangers and pitfalls, noisome and full of fears, in which men and women wandered like frightened shadows anxious to be avoided even while they cried for help and pity.
We had scarcely effected the crossing before I heard a cry which sent a shiver of horror through me.
“Help! Help! I’m blind.”
For answer I heard an echo of laughter.
“What is that?” I inquired.
Ladas called my attention to a woman at a little distance.
“She desires to reach some place where she can feel safe, but that is impossible because she has no confidence even in herself.”
Ladas studied her carefully for an instant before replying.
“She is an example of the hell of moral cowardice. On earth she possessed wealth which was lavishly misused in the vain imagination that she was atoning thereby for neglect of womanly duties. She dreaded anything unpleasant, and having gold, thought she was warranted thereby in escaping from everything having the slightest approach to the disagreeable. For the sake of her donations she was humoured in her harmless ideas, and assured that it was not necessary for her sensitive feelings to be tormented. God would accept of her service by deputy. Now you see her when the privilege of gold has been lost, in a region where pitfalls of class distinction and noble birth abound on every hand, and moral cowardice has developed into total blindness when the keenest of sight is required to escape a thousand real tortures born of her former ignoble and unworthy fears. We cannot help her. She deliberately designed her own hell, and must now occupy it until, having discharged the last farthing of the debt its erection incurred, she will receive her discharge in the restoration of sight and be able to find her way to the safety she desires.”
After this I beheld an agony I shall make no useless effort to describe. It was the reward meted out to one whose ‘inhumanity to man’ marks, probably, the low water-line of sin’s depravity: Nero, the voluptuous and petulant matricide of Rome. Those who would attempt to gain an insight into this vision must not forget that in hell an inflexible and inexorable justice for every crime committed has to be separately met and discharged; also that the soul of the foulest criminal in the discarnating process is rendered as sensitive to suffering as that of the brightest saint is attuned to the harmony of joy. There is but one standard of feeling in the after life, and every soul is strung to its accurate concert pitch. Now try to estimate the offences to be atoned for in this particular case, and if you can justly do so, make the calculation as to the balance that yet remains after what has hitherto been endured, and the present condition of the soul upon whom the lash of justice is yet falling.
Such, if ascertained, will give a faint idea of hell.
I had no wish to prolong my stay in the presence of such torture, every touch and exaction of which was but the just repayment of what its recipient had inflicted in cool blood and sarcastic ridicule. Nor did I care to push my inquiries further into the adaptation of hell to the variety of penalties it has to claim as the steward of Divine justice. I had seen enough. If only earth could see the vision before me it would form a plea for righteousness of life and conduct such as mortal ears have never listened to.
“It seems almost incredible,” I remarked to Ladas, “that a man can earn such a punishment in the few short years of one life.”
“It is a striking declaration of the powers of a man for good or evil,” he replied. “It is no part of my mission to disturb or intrude upon this wretched man, or I might have called your attention to the chart always hanging before his eyes whereon he may check and locate every individual pang he endures. He can see what he has already discharged as well as that he has yet to pay. There can be no dispute as to overcharge or injustice in any instance. His memory and conscience sit as assessors in the case, and they can accept no bribe, nor depart from righteousness in any award they may have to make.”
“The helplessness of the condition seems to increase the horror of it. but it is some relief to see that he is neither bound nor shut in with prison doors.”
“There is no need for these things,” replied Ladas. “He is his own guarantee against escape.”
“Do they never attempt it?”
“No! Hell is not a place of revolt, but resignation to justice, and every soul within its wide dominion has learned from experience that the love of God is as powerfully present here as in the highest Heaven. This recognition occasions, perhaps, one of the sharpest pangs of hell – remorse that one has so basely sinned against such unchanging affection, which still pities where one would look for well-merited revenge. Here sin is brought clearly home to the sinner as a wilful and deliberate act against what is known to be right, or an equally criminal refusal to protect the right, and the purpose and mission of hell is understood to be the best eternal love and wisdom can devise to effect a complete redemption from sin preparatory to the assumption of Divine sonship. The first stage of life has been woefully misunderstood, misdirected, misapplied; men, in their ignorance, have presumed to interpret eternal laws by the light of so-called human justice, which may be trifled with and is largely influenced by speech, caprice or other weaknesses of earth. Because God does not erect a tribunal in every marketplace and bring each offender forward to immediate and public chastisement, it is imagined that sin is only punished in theory, and daring trespassers lift their heads high, and race with breathless speed from sin to sin. In all this men only add to their condemnation. They know and admit that natural laws are not subject to caprice! You cannot bribe a fire not to burn a child, nor hold it responsible for doing so on the ground of the child’s ignorance. It is the nature of the fire to burn – it is also the nature of sin to punish. No man can play with either without paying the inseparable penalty. The inference drawn from delay in regard to the punishment of sin is equally fallacious, and in this again men become the most damaging witnesses against themselves. When a criminal is convicted on earth humanity protests against the infliction of his punishment in public, and mercifully decrees that the same shall be carried out within the precincts of the house of correction. Hell is God’s house of correction, modelled to rescue the perishing and lift up the fallen; and so true is it to model that no soul yet passed its portal but would fully and freely make the admission ‘I have sinned’.”
“Not one?” I queried.
“No. Such a thing would be impossible. Let me call your attention to a forgotten or neglected gleam of light Christ threw upon this point in His parable of Dives in hell. The rich man was so conscious of the presence of love and sympathy as to believe the boon of cooling water would be granted him, and when he found the condition was beyond the pale of justice, his mind turned instantly to the salvation of his brethren.”
“I never saw it in that light before.”
“We have all much to see and understand before we fully know the true choral of the gospel Christ proclaimed,” replied my companion.
“Is the system of isolation general?” I asked, my inquiry being prompted by the two instances I had seen.
“No. The method of treatment varies as widely as the sin to be atoned for.”
“With such a perfect law in undisturbed operation one almost wonders what remains for the Devil to do.”
“What devil do you mean?” he inquired, with the deliberate and musical softness of voice he employed when most seriously emphatic.
“I mean the great arch-enemy of mankind.”
“The archangel who fell from Heaven?” he suggested.
“Yes; Lucifer and all his host.”
“Have you ever given one moment’s thought to what the effect of such a disruption in Heaven would be, if it were true?”
“If it were true!” I gasped. “Why, of course it is true.”
“Why of course?” he asked.
“Because – well – it must be! We know it is.”
“Say rather that you have been taught to believe it is. You cannot know, because it is not true! The story is an invention of priests as part of a justification for the existence of their cult. The whole fabric of priestcraft is built up of error and immortality. God’s messages to earth are always conveyed through inspired lips of prophets, not symbolically represented by types, ceremonials, and ritualistic vestments. The sacrifices He ordains are passions subdued, selfish advantages forgone in favour of another, the tributes of filial love offered to Him through ministry to suffering. His chosen altar is that of pure devotion set up in humble hearts; His temple is a life consecrated to His service in humanity. Christ was a prophet and was crucified by the influence and hatred of the priests, a fact which ought for ever to have sealed the doom of the usurping cult for which He had no words but condemnation of, and towards which He always maintained an attitude of defiant opposition as being the product of hell – the symbolism of which is (as priestcraft rejoices in symbolism) error, misconception, and need of correction.”
“But do you really mean me to understand that there is no Devil?”
“I do. I have never found such a being yet, and if he did exist I should have met him many times in the course of my mission. But let me ask you to consider for a while what the existence of such an individual means, then you will quickly understand what an impossible, absurd and altogether inconceivable condition of things would be necessary to accommodate him.”
“If this is true all other revelations I have received sink into insignificance beside it.”
“Leave that for a time. And going to the very beginning of the fabrication, consider for a moment how such a fall of angels, as he originated in, would destroy the possibility of Heaven.”
“If his supposed rebellion ever did take place, Heaven would be more free from the presence of sin than earth. Where would be the perfection and assured holiness of it, since sin had once generated in the mind of one standing next to God? Such a fall would banish rest and confidence for evermore, and without these Heaven could not exist.”
“It does seem so.”
“Again,” he resumed, “the supposition of the existence of such a personality is a blasphemy against God.”
“Because had such a fall taken place it was not only foreknown to God but also foreordained by Him, or He is not omniscient and omnipotent; while if He did ordain it and does possess these attributes He would neither be holy nor true. Hence it is impossible for a Devil to exist and God remain. Righteousness forbids it; it is a contradiction in terms and irreconcilable.”
“But the doubt arises whether the moral difficulty may not be solved at depths the mind of man has not power to fathom at present.”
“Some problems are necessarily of such an order, and will require a flight of ages before we can grasp and understand them, but this is not such an one. It is a perfectly safe deduction to make that what is opposed to reason and truth within the limits of human understanding can never be reconciled to them on the outside. For instance, nothing will ever make two lines drawn at right angles run parallel, and this is exactly the figure represented in the coexistence of God and a Devil. As I say, the two are a contradiction in terms and impossible of reconciliation in the region of intelligence either now or hereafter. It is vastly different with an inquiry, for instance, into the nature and substance of God – assuming that He does possess substance – in which case we may confidently hope that the future holds such knowledge the present has no power to reveal. But this question of the existence of a Devil starts philosophically at right angles with every moral quality of God, and the further we pursue the inquiry the more hopelessly does it become involved in contradictions. The only mystery about it is that intelligence can so long look upon the tradition as worthy of consideration.”
“Of course, you are now speaking from the higher knowledge afforded by experience here.”
“Even though I did speak from such a position Christ has demonstrated the fact that our knowledge is available for those on the other side; but honest inquiry is all that is required for any man to explode such a proposition for himself. Priestcraft knows this only too well, and for purposes of self-preservation forbids any inquiry unless accompanied by priestly interpretation. You and I, however, are beyond ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and since I like to root up error beyond all possibility of future trouble, let us look a little further into this question, of which we have as yet scarcely touched the fringe. According to the tradition, the object of Lucifer in stirring up his rebellion in Heaven was to secure more power than he already possessed. Milton says: –
To set himself in glory above his peers,
He trusted to have equalled the Most High,
If He opposed, and with ambitious aim
Against the throne and monarchy of God,
Raised impious war in Heaven, and battle proud
With vain attempt.’
The contradictions of this priestly fable now come fast and furious, and one can scarcely pick the semblance of a logical course through the labyrinth of absurdity. Did Lucifer make a vain attempt? Before his rebellion he was an archangel wanting power equalling that of God. What did he lose in his failure? His place in Heaven, for which he was never fitted by reason of his inward impurity. What did he gain? A throne – if not the one he aspired to, it was still a throne – with one-third of the host of Heaven to obey his mandate; he gained liberty from service and rose to be Prince of the powers of the air, and God of the world, which by his revolt he wrested from the hand of its Creator. To secure the redemption of this world God is supposed to consent to the murder of His own innocent Son by which all the previous follies, inconsistencies, immoralities and difficulties are sought to be rectified and put straight, but in what way this is to be accomplished no one has ever been able to explain. Meanwhile the Devil goes on holding jurisdiction as though no atonement had been made, and by far the larger part of humanity falls to his share, and God is unable to avoid it. Surely I need say no more of such a false and immoral proposition, alike an insult to intelligence and a blasphemy against the love and wisdom of God.”
“Then the whole system of theology has to be thrown aside, for without the Devil it all goes to pieces.”
“It is not the aspiration of seeking to know something of God we disclaim, but the worse than fruitless error of forming enslaving dogmas concerning Him upon speculative philosophies, and teaching these to the world as God’s revelation concerning Himself, using the name of Christ as an authority for so doing. It is for this reason the ministry of earth has failed, and the declaration of the truth has reverted to ourselves. Neither house nor kingdom divided against itself can possibly stand; and God reigns alone in Heaven, in earth, in hell – always and ever the same all-mighty to save. To us and all through the created universe there is but one God, and beside Him there is no other.”