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Chapter XIX: The Sanctuary of Silence
I had food for reflection. The infinitude which every new experience opened to me, and the rapidity with which each succeeding one overwhelmed me, proved to be such a weight of glory that I almost wished to rest from the liberty and love continually unfolding with ever-increasing wonder. Standing in the presence of this gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, as interpreted by these angel friends, how truly and literally could I endorse Paul’s conclusion, that even under the most favourable conditions on earth men but ‘see through a glass darkly’; yet in all that had been made known to me, the most careful attention was given to show that all the difference lay in the interpretation of the word which had been delivered: in no single case had a revelation been made to me in violation or substitution of that word. Another fact I invariably noticed was that whenever Scripture was quoted, the words and teachings of the Master always had pre-eminence, and were regarded with authority to which the writings of the Apostles only occupied a very secondary importance, a system of precedence entirely at variance to the custom with which I was so long familiar.
This rule was so impressed upon me that upon more than one occasion I mentioned it, but always to hear the same reason advanced for its adoption. Jesus Christ was the Mediator of the new covenant, and so was able to speak with more power and authority as to its scope, methods, and the conditions by which its privileges could be secured. This being so, it was always not only the safest, but the simplest way to ‘hear Him’ rather than to listen to what others had to say about Him. If any doubt or difficulty existed, every child who seeks to know the mind of the Father, as revealed in Christ, could ask of Him and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, by whom the Master promised to reveal to His disciples the inner mysteries of God, and to bring all things to our remembrance.
As I say, I had abundant food for reflection as I walked with Myhanene amid the flowers and trees of those hill-tops, which have never been swept by storm; and he, with that sympathy and intuition which endears him to all who know him, fathomed my mood, and came to my assistance in a communion of silence, which yielded a richer harvest of information than language could have borne. There are conditions of the mind when its yearnings are too heavy for words to raise into utterance, or too ponderous for the tongue to wield; they lie, like the unknown treasures of the sea, in the silent caves of our own deep experience, where the fathom-line of language has not yet had length enough to reach; but they who wish to see and understand the native worth and strength of these soul-longings must dive into the depths of sympathy in which they lie, and by the lamp of kinship read the mystic hieroglyph which pleads for light and truth.
Such silences he had no doubt sounded many times before, my frame of mind was one with which he was by no means unfamiliar, and with a generosity I can never repay, he came to my assistance. Simultaneously, he seemed to throw both arm and soul around me, external objects faded from my sight, while I was drawn into a rapt communion in which I could read his inmost soul. I have never yet been able to satisfy myself with any explanation of that unique experience, neither shall I here attempt such a fruitless task. With regal condescension but childlike liberality he led me into the palace of his experience, where he threw open the doors of rooms furnished with royal luxuriance and tables spread with every viand for which my soul was hungering – bidding me enter in the name of Christ, and eat, and drink, and live.
With shoes from off my feet I accepted his unspoken invitation, passed across that sacred threshold, wandered through those halls of fellowship, and banqueted on truth, while the orchestra of his heart wooed me with angel music, set to that petition from Gethsemane’s prayer – ‘That they all may be one, as Thou Father art in me, and I in Thee, that they may be one in Us’; and so I listened, wondered, and ate; I bowed my head and worshipped, in the realisation of the possibility of how a prayer could find its rich fulfilment.
I have no recollection of any external events of that journey in the shape of either direction, distance, or landmarks by which we passed: since that time I may have grown familiar with its varied scenes, have paused to study the multitude of lessons which its flowery beds could teach, have lingered in other contemplations under the trees I passed with Myhanene, but I do not know it. The surroundings were blotted out in the presence of the reverie, and of that I have been able to keep no other record than one full cup of rapture, while the overflow has gone to bless some other soul.
I remember, however, a question which passed across my mind during the ecstasy of that communion, to which I received no reply either then, or since; yet still I keep and treasure it, for I am well assured it will be answered and I shall realise all the glory which the answer will reveal. The voice came as an accompaniment to the music of that prayer, rising within myself as if it were the tongue of some inward prophet, directing my gaze to a glory too bright for me to look upon, and I asked myself: “If this communion with a servant be so sweet, what shall I feel when the Master is my host? If when on the way to Emmaus, the heart of the disciples burned within them, in spite of their fearful, crushed and wounded souls – even when they knew him not – what will be the fervent heat when I shall see and know the Lord?” I remember how I pondered over the thought – how I wished for the knowledge, even while I feared, and then I hoped – yes, while I hungered – that many stages might yet intervene before I was permitted to clasp His sacred feet, and give my soul sufficient time to purge itself and grow strong enough to bear and comprehend the weight of such wondrous bliss.
“This is the place?”
“No! No! not yet,” I cried, as the announcement of my companion roused me from the sweet reverie by which I had been so completely engrossed, and in the startling confusion of the moment, I was conscious of the presence of a fear-tinged hope that He whom I so longed to see was near, while I was equally swayed by a regret that even such a denouement should end the pleasure which had so entranced me.
Myhanene smiled at my discomfiture, and I thought I could detect something in his look which told me how perfectly he understood all that had been passing through my mind, but he very quietly said:
“My experience in this life has taught me that it is always best to reach the mountain’s peak before attempting to understand the view, or satisfy myself as to the effect the scene will produce upon me when I get there.”
The double entente of his remark was not lost upon me, but the spell having been once broken, the door of my reverie closed, and I found we were standing upon the crest of a hill in the presence of a scene which demanded all my admiration and attention.
Before and beneath us lay a plain of such exquisite beauty as I can find no words to describe, and of such extent I cannot trust myself to estimate, but I distinctly remember wondering as I gazed upon it whether it might not have been permitted to the immortal Homer, during the pilgrimage of his sleep, to stand where I was standing and drink in the revelation which created his picture of that Elysium where:
Joys ever young, unmixed with pain or fear
Fill the wide circle of the eternal year;
where all the heroes, passing without the pain of death – lest even the memory of it should bring a shadow upon their joy:
For ever rest upon the never-withering banks of flowers.
It may have been so, who can tell, for if it is part of God’s immutable law that He reveals Himself to prophets in dreams and visions of the night (note Numb. xii. 6) who shall deny the possibility that the prophetic door in heaven has not always stood, and still stands, open to the songster as to the preacher-seer?
The harvest of the poet’s vision,
With all its subtle web of music metaphor
and perfumed-imagery, is not the climax
of any earth-sown seed; neither evolves
from ‘modes of thought’ evolved by helpless molecules.
The poet has a soul. So when the warder, Night,
Opens the door, called Mortal, of his prison-house,
and bids the seer rest, within the cell of sleep,
This soul takes wing, and through the fields
of his Elysium-Heaven-or what you will,
He roams, entranced, by angel-tutors led,
Gathering fresh vision seeds of embryonic truths
With which to enrich the hope-aureoled gospel
He prophesies in song, that he may help the oppressed
To toil and wait the dawn of better days
of which his eyes have caught the breaking rays.
It must be so. Did not David and Paul carry back to earth the knowledge of such visits, and was not the theory, which had been explained to me, of sleep in perfect harmony with such an hypothesis? More than this, how often had I in my old life wrestled with my memory, striving to tear from out its mystic chamber some coveted experience of the night that only lingered in some ill-defined vibration in my mind? Were these experiences unique to myself? I who had no poetic element in my composition? No! No! As I gazed upon the scene before me, now admiring its indescribable beauties, and again questioning myself with the multitude of thoughts which spontaneously presented themselves, I became more than ever impressed with the fact of how completely the two conditions inter-sphere each other for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, and my understanding opened to the appreciation of the declaration, ‘Ye must be born again,’ before one is able to participate in the revelation of the world of spirit, as the natural man becomes absorbed in the world of matter.
Save for the two brief remarks I have recorded, my companion made no attempt to disturb my contemplation, but left me to drink in all the knowledge I could appropriate without assistance, a pleasant method of tuition universally adopted here, leaving the mind in the first place to adapt and assimilate that to which it naturally opens, to which is added emphasis and strength by replies and explanations to the queries the revelations call forth.
I had divined the meaning of the exclamation which had so startled me at first, and knew that, for the present, we had reached the end of our journey. I had been invited to a festival, but of its nature and purport I had not the faintest idea, and the conversation and communion we had had by the way left me no inclination, even had the opportunity occurred, to make any further enquiry in relation to the matter. From the appearance of the place I was of the opinion that it was something of a floral fête we were about to witness, for the location chosen was a veritable enchanted home of floriculture.
Every tree, shrub, and plant bore flowers of size, colour, perfume, and beauty of which many were unknown to me, and far exceeded anything I had yet beheld. Trees of the palm-like species raised trunks of transparent amber and pink, while from the extremities of their branches fell large variegated waxen bells, like canopies, above the heads of those who sat beneath. No tree in all the plain but had its bloom, and no flower but retained its distinctive odour, which could be ascertained and enjoyed at will. I gazed with wonder, too, upon a novel use this vast display of flowers was put to. Clusters, and beds, and terraces were formed into seats of soft repose or galleries and orchestras, from which strains of celestial music were already floating upon the air, while the vast concourse of people – gathered from I knew not where, since within the whole range of vision no building could be seen – patiently waited for the advent of some comptroller of proceedings.
“Since there is nothing without a purpose here,” I asked my companion at length, “may I know what is the special object of this gathering?”
“Certainly. It is a time of examination – graduation – if you like it better. Some, perhaps many, of the friends here assembled have become entitled to promotion, and this gathering is for the purpose of testing them; if you prefer the idea; it is a judgment day.”
“Why do you speak indefinitely of the number of the fortunate ones; do you not know them?”
“No! We do not know them until the test is applied; when all who reach the standard will be easily distinguished by a result against which there can be no appeal; but the great majority of the assemblage have come to witness the translation and join the thanksgiving. You have already beheld the awakening which ensued in the case of some new arrivals, so I thought it would be equally interesting for you to see this next change.”
“I am intensely interested,” I replied, “but now I understand the gathering better I am more impressed with the idea of watching a wedding festivity than a parting ceremony.”
“That is due to the correct appreciation in the minds of everyone of the change about to take place. Here you see a repetition of the scene you witnessed at the home of the boys, where every child wished and hoped to be promoted to the higher life. Such would be the result on earth also if the birth of death was correctly understood. Each change produces a further development of power in the man, of which there can be no cessation, and at the same time separates him from all influences which would be a hindrance in the future, while he is introduced to the companionship of others who are able to stimulate him to greater spiritual attainments. Those who will leave their friends here presently will not be severed from them; the love existing between them will still continue, for those who ascend will be like mountain guides, who carry with them a cord by which they can assist their friends behind to make an easier ascent.”
At this moment a soft sound, like the vibration of a silver bell, reached us; as far as I was concerned it had no meaning, and would have passed unnoticed, but to those in the plain below it was full of import – a signal for the commencement of the festival It was like a bugle sounding the ‘fall in.’ Every orchestra became tenanted, and at various points large companies of singers gathered together in marching order in such arrangement as to indicate that the central point of the display would be near where we were standing. The assembling gave me an opportunity of forming an estimate of the vastness of the multitude which had been brought together.
Never before had my eyes rested on such a concourse swayed by one common impulse, animated by the self-same joy, free from a single shade of jealousy. A second chime sounded from the invisible bell, in answer to which a thousand instruments, as soft and sweet of tone as most of them were strange of kind, breathed forth the overture of that service. Now the voices of the choristers blended with the music, and each of the companies moved forward with a rhythmic motion that was neither march nor dance, but rather a gliding complement emphasising the measure of the theme. Then all the great congregation surrounding us took up the chorus, and for the first time in my new life I listened to the song of the redeemed, which surged around me like the sound of many waters, which was poured forth to ‘Him who hath redeemed us and washed us from our sins, making us kings and priests unto God and to His Father for ever and ever.’ Whether this music was sweeter than that of the magnetisms I had heard first in the Home of Rest I am not even now able to determine; they were both perfect of their kind, so far as I could form an opinion, and only differed from each other as the beauty of the flower varies from the grandeur of the sunset’s glory.
The musical part of the service was not of long duration, or, in the multitude of influences it wrought upon me, I was lost to every other sense than the magic of this new-found charm, so that its termination came all too soon; but as its final echoes were dying away, and the congregation stood with bowed heads, as if waiting for a benediction, Myhanene touched me, and, turning, called my attention to an orb of light that was falling like a meteor towards us from over the mountains which towered peak over peak in the far away. I turned to ask my companion for an explanation, and found that he had been transformed in his appearance, and stood beside me arrayed in all the glory with which I had first beheld him. Neither of us spoke, but as the orb alighted on the hill-top near us, mantling the whole with a radiance with which I was almost afraid to be enveloped, he motioned me to stand and watch while he went to greet the one who led the shining host who stood around us.
I was alone among the heavenly beings, the most lowly of which were of equal rank with him who had just left me; this I could well ascertain by their colour and brightness, for I was becoming so conversant with it as to determine easily. But who and what was the station of their chief? That he was greater and mightier than anyone I had yet met I needed not to be told; the homage paid to him by my friend would have revealed that; but it was also proclaimed by the diadem of glory he wore as a distinctive badge, in addition to his individual brightness, which outshone all else. In his hand he carried a large crystal globe that reminded me of the bright, but tiny, jewel I had seen carried by the dove in the Magnetic Chorale. As I looked upon it, even from the distance at which I stood, it seemed to blush and palpitate with a power I could not define – if life were visible I should call it life, – perhaps holiness, perhaps love, it might be all three combined, but it so impregnated the atmosphere as to render it difficult for me to retain my position.
I have no words to describe that angel chief, and it is better not attempted; but I, even amidst the awe with which his presence inspired me, fell a victim to the habit I have contracted of asking the how and why of everything, and found myself trying to solve the problem that, given the fact that eternal progression of the soul was the law, and every angel in heaven had once been a man, how long would it require for one in my position to reach the point at which he stood? I gave it up, however, and recalled myself to watch the more immediate proceedings.
He took up his position on a kind of natural platform just below me on the hill-side, while his attendants gathered around and behind him, like a court in the presence of a monarch. I vainly anticipated he was about to address the congregation, and at once wondered what a lecture, speech, or sermon in heaven would be like; but not a word was spoken; the experience was rather the reverse, for as he stood, his eyes slowly passing over the great assemblage, I felt the unutterable joy of listening to that great revelation, ‘silence in heaven,’ which forms one chapter in that ‘mystery of godliness’ that cannot be translated into language. In the temple of holiness not built with hands, which is eternal in the heavens, there is a sanctuary of silence, into which, no matter how many may enter, they can bring no vibration of a sound – the eternal hush ever remains unbroken.
Here the soul bows itself in worship, and in answer to its prayer of perfected faith, listens to the voice of the Eternal Father, who reveals Himself without a cloud between. It is here the eyes are opened, and, for the first time, ‘the pure in heart see God.’ It was in such a worship this congregation bowed, and I among their number. Were they all within that sanctuary of silence? Not by any means. I did not understand it then; from the threshold the great majority of us stood and listened to the unbroken and profound peace that dwelt therein, but we heard not the voice of the Father speaking; this was the test, the standard by which to measure the souls to be promoted, the declaration of whose adoption would be visibly pronounced by and by.
The silence ended with a spontaneous and universal deep drawn breath of gratitude, like a fervent Amen which could not be confined within the soul, and I felt – all felt – that in that quiet some great mysterious charge had taken place; that some had passed again, not from death, but from life into life more abundantly; but how or who had thus been changed from glory unto glory no one but they who had heard the voice could tell.
We were not kept long in suspense. Scarcely had the sound of that Amen died away, when the angel chief stepped forward to the edge of the platform, and floated his crystal globe upon the air. Over the centre of the multitude it expanded, and, stretching itself like a cloud of light, gently descended towards the worshippers. So thin did the mysterious film become, that presently it was entirely lost to sight, but still the sense of smell could trace its odoriferous perfume, sweeter by far than all the flowers, and I knew that, though unseen, it had a mission which I watched to see made known. It reached its goal-fell like a dew of benediction on all, but some – many – were changed by its influence until we, as well as they, could read in no unmistakable language their title clear to advance.
At this moment another company of immortals descended from the hills on my right to the plain, chanting a song of welcome to the friends they were to accompany to their new home; this song was answered by a jubilate from the assembly, during which the chosen ones arose, were joined by the choir above, and the festival was over.