Chapter V: The Angel of Death
There is order, sequence and purpose to be found in the after-life. This I have tried to emphasize in contrariety to the general idea that the regular employment of the soul in Heaven will be found in singing ‘Holy, holy, holy’ to the accompaniment of golden harps. Do not, however, rush to the other extreme and imagine that I would have you think that life in Heaven means nothing more than work, study and intellectual development. Such an idea would be equally erroneous.
The whole environment of the two conditions is so different that it becomes impossible to conceive what the higher will be while subject to the influences of the lower. if you fail to understand what this difficulty really is, let me ask you to try to form some true conception of a life free from all thought of time, weariness or financial troubles; then go on to abstract the possibility of disappointment, frustrated hope and ruined prospects; and still again freedom from scandal, misrepresentation and jealous intrigue. I might go on further simply with the negative aspects of this life, but these omissions, if you can realize what they mean, will be quite sufficient to indicate a Heaven to be devoutly wished for. But when we consider that beyond these things come the positive features of the rest – the reunions, rewards, enlarged powers and other aspects on which the soul has so long meditated, with the ‘evermore’ multitude of accessories which lie beyond all our anticipations, one has to give up and exclaim: “It is too high, I cannot attain to it!”
These enjoyments and employments, duties and recreations, ministries and pleasures are beautifully balanced and diversified.
Take away every taint of the disagreeable, increase to infinite proportions all that the heart desires, enlarge the noblest, purest love the earth has known so as to include the whole race with the same selfsacrificing devotion hitherto proffered to the individual, and this realization will bring you to the threshold of family life known where the whole family of Heaven and earth are one.
Yes! Drop the book and think, but you cannot understand it The ocean is larger than a tea-cup, and the atmosphere far greater than a toy balloon. So do the widest conceptions of earth fail measure the resources of Paradise.
Still the life is love, joy, peace in all their full and God-like perfection.
This life is mine now – will be yours presently. But I would speak of it for your comfort and encouragement by the way.
Among the many pleasures of that cloudless happy land perhaps one of the sweetest is experienced at the announcement that addition is about to be made to the particular group of which one is a member; and this, in common with all other features of our life, loses none of its piquancy or freshness by repetition.
Let me recall one of my earliest experiences of this kind.
Vaone and I had joined a large company in one of the numerous entrancing retreats to be found in our beautiful valley, where we were recounting the past, and tracing its clear connections with present, with ever and anon one of the old familiar hymns, sung by way of illustration, just as I might choose to describe the occasion by those well-known lines:
There on a green and flowery mount
Our weary souls shall sit,
And with transporting joys recount
The labours of our feet.
That perfect realization of more than I had been able, more than should have dared to anticipate, had I possessed the ability, was a very near ascent to Heaven.
All the toil, the care, the sorrow over, and each soul having recovered from the grinding weariness thereof, it was more than happiness to listen as one and then another travelled the road again, not with complaint and murmuring, but finding in every step the needs-be and divine guidance towards the present goal. It was more than meat and drink to me to hear those testimonies from the lips of men and women who had entered the inheritance from such highways and by-ways of sorrow, and hear the unanimous confession that fell from every lip that ‘in all their afflictions He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bare them and carried them all the days of old.”
Oh, those afterthoughts, those faithful and true lights of Paradise! How the soul thrills under the revelating beams! How the heart grieves for the blindness and ignorance of the days that are past!
As I listened to all this my enraptured soul soared aloft near to what I imagined Heaven itself must really be.
Suddenly it seemed as if the temperature had been raised, and with this came a perceptible thrill of added pleasure. It occurred at a moment of silence, and evoked an exclamation of delight from the whole assembly. I turned to Vaone and asked: “What is it?”
“We are to have an addition to our family,” she replied.
“When and whom?” I inquired.
“That we shall know presently.” Then she went on to explain that the intimation was received so soon as it was known which group the newlycoming soul would be attached to, and was further explaining matters when Arvez arrived with the information that our new member was a boy known to several of our group.
“And not altogether a stranger to yourself,” he said to me by way of conclusion.
“Who may it be?” I asked.
“You remember the little fellow I took from the College?”
“Limpy Jack. Yes.”
“Do you also remember his friend, who promised to look after him until his transition?”
“It is he. I am now going to the College to bring him here. Will you join me?”
“I shall be delighted.”
There was no necessity for further announcement to the community. The general process of such events is thoroughly understood, and as we set out upon our errand the assembly proceeded to make the necessary preparation for the boy’s welcome.
“Well, and have you reached the end of your surprises?” asked Arvez as we went on our way.
“I think that is one of the few impossibilities of this life,” I replied.
“You will do well to school yourself to the idea that surprises are part of the natural phenomena of this condition,” he answered. “God is necessarily so far beyond all our conception that we must ever be filled with wonder and awe at His continually unfolding manifestations. He is a long way past our finding out, my brother, and therefore must ever be surprising us.
“Ah, Aphraar! Not only me, but I doubt not the angel who stands nearest to Him is also equally surprised with ourselves. I think Myhanene is not far wrong when he says ‘God is evermore past finding out’.”
“Then how can we know Him?”
“By growing like Him; and the nearer we draw the more we shall know.”
“But if the greater knowledge only reveals how unknowable He is, what then?”
“We shall still be more like Him, and that will have to suffice.”
Unable to pursue this inquiry further, I turned to the object of my companion’s mission.
“Is the boy you seek coming over at once?” I asked.
“No. I am bringing him on his preparatory visit.”
“Is he ill?”
“I think not; but our instructions are never detailed. I shall learn more from the lad himself.”
“Is he aware of your coming?”
“No. These visits are never foreknown.”
“Do you remember how disappointed he was when you took, little Jack away?”
“Yes; and I have seen it repeated on several occasions since then. Poor little fellow, his life has been a singularly sad one, I believe.”
“I wish we could bring them all away,” I answered as I thought of the coming disappointment of many and the happiness of but one.
“And so do I, if by so doing that particular phase of life could be eliminated; but as the world is constituted at present, the whole colony at ‘The College’ could be removed and not be missed.”
“Does not that thought sometimes dishearten you in your work?”
“No. Why should it? So long as the wrong creating such suffering exists, it is above all things necessary that we should be constant in our ministry to the sufferers. If we were to fail, where would be their hope?”
As we talked we crossed the boundary between the spiritual and sleep states, and for the first time I became aware of the demarcation; the light toned away into twilight, and in the lower region there was a feeling of rawness in the air not altogether pleasant.
Here we met a fellow-servant of Arvez’s acting as guide to a lady who evidently yielded but a reluctant obedience to the command laid upon her. My friend saw this in a moment, and with true brotherly sympathy stopped to speak to them.
“Life’s harvest ripens early for my sister,” he remarked cheerily in his greeting.
“Too early – too early by far,” she responded tearfully. “For love’s sake hear me on behalf of my child! I cannot leave him at his birth. Spare me for his sake; or if not, let him come with me.”
“The love of God is greater and more tender even than that of a mother,” replied Arvez. “Whatever is best He will certainly, ordain. Fear not, He is with thee, and all must be well.”
“But God is so far away. Did He not give me my darling? Why, then, should He wish to take me away?”
“Because He sees and understands where we are blind and ignorant. He makes no mistakes, and whatever happens must be well for both of you.”
“It will not be well if I am compelled to leave my child. No, no! I cannot come! Please do not ask me!”
“I make no request, my sister,” replied her escort, “but they who watch as the eyes of the Lord have foreseen the weakness of the flesh and know that you will be thrust away. It is the body that will discard you; I have been sent to lead you to a place of rest, where you may presently gain strength to return and be even more to your child than if you had remained. You do not know God or you would trust Him; but I will lead you to one who will show you what He is, and ere you part from your child you will be content to leave him as God determines.”
“I was left as you fear your little one will be left,” I said, if perhaps my words might comfort her.
“Left without a mother’s love and care?” she asked.
“Yes. She died as I was born. I never knew her until I met her here, and all my life was a sorrow for my loss. But it was better so.”
“Better to lose her?”
“Yes. Far better. I know it now, and both of us thank God for the loss I mourned for forty years.”
“Can I see your mother?” she inquired.
“Yes,” Arvez replied; “you shall be brought together if you wish it. But where you go you will find a company who have had similar experiences, from whom you will learn how tenderly and wisely God deals with all His children. They will show you how groundless are all your fears of separation, and make known to you the love of God in a hundred ways you little suspect at present.”
“And may I go back to my little one again?”
“Yes. You will return several times. So long as the body will receive you, you will be at liberty to go and come. In the meantime you will get to know the new friends to whom I am about to introduce you,” said her companion, “that when you finally come away it may be without regret or fear.”
“Without regret or fear – are you sure of that?” she queried.
“None but the souls of criminals, anxious to escape from the justice of their sins, either regret or fear to enter upon this life,” he replied; “and of such you are not, or I should not be sent to bring you hither.”
During this ministry of consolation the rebellious sister was quietly carried across the boundary line into the higher state where the native assurances of God’s great and never-failing love were added to the arguments employed to secure her submission to the inevitable. So far it was the most painful case I had yet encountered of the resentment often shown by professing Christians at the intimation that the time of their departure is at hand. That summons is a genuine test of the soul’s true conception of God and Christ, and a very suggestive revelation as to the actual reality of their religion may be gained by watching the effect as the death messenger first declares the purpose of his coming. It is an easy matter under the influence of an emotional discourse on the entrancing glories of the heavenly hope to join tunefully with a thousand voices and sing:
Filled with delight, my raptured soul
Can here no longer stay:
Though Jordan’s waves around me roll
Fearless I’d launch away.
But after the benediction, after the congregation has dispersed, and in the silent watches of the night the soul stands alone in the presence of the messenger of death; when the emotion is over and grim reality has taken the place of poetry; when a compliance with profession is demanded; when the earth begins to quake and slip away – ah! then is the time to see the sustaining power of religion; then the true grip of godliness is tested, and a surface faith gives place to a paralysing dread.
The foolish virgins are far more numerous than the wise when the cry goes forth to meet the Bridegroom.
The incident gave me food for reflection, and when the poignancy of the grief was over, I turned away to continue my journey to ‘The College,’ lest my sympathy and concern might interfere with the ministry of Arvez and his friend.
Just a word here as to how we find our way to the friend we seek in Paradise, or to any otherwise unknown destination. The difficulties and annoyances of such an earth expedition no longer exist with us, but granted that the goal is not beyond our spiritual power to reach or we have a legitimate commission to execute, our wish becomes the vehicle of transit, and either by sudden flight or more leisurely passage we go direct to our destination.
So I passed from the presence of my companions to ‘The College,’ where I knew Arvez would join me presently. As I did so my mind was busy with the thought of the contrast I should there witness with the scene I had just left – the reluctance of a professing Christian to leave the earth compared with the keen, anxious desire of a city arab to do so. There was no speculation in my forecast of this. I had been present several times on similar occasions and was by now familiar with the scene of eager anxiety I should see consequent upon the appearance of Arvez. Some few of the lads present would quietly retire, because all the fair advantages of earth were at their disposal, but by far the larger number would give him welcome, and eagerly press forward in the hope that the choice of Arvez might fall upon themselves. How I wish the whole, earth might witness the joy of those homeless waifs and strays in, the presence of
THE ANGEL OF DEATH.
I stood in the room with the children –
The play-room they use in their sleep,
Where the souls of the fortunate mingle
With less favoured children, who weep;
The sleep-room, the joy-room, the dear Lord has given
Just half-way between this earth and God’s heaven.
The children were children – that only;
While there all were rich – none poor;
The prince and the outcast were equal
Till an angel stood at the door:
The outcast, man’s outcast, cried greeting ‘All Hail!’
But the rich ones shrank back all fearsome and pale.
The lads of the street rushed towards him;
‘Is it I? is it I?’ each cried;
But the favoured of earth were more silent,
Contented were they to abide.
The angel – God’s angel, looked round, sweetly smile –
He wanted an angel – had come for a child.
‘Take me, Mister Angel; please take me;’
‘No no, me! – Ain’t it my turn now?’
They all crowded round – all were eager to go
With him of the iron-crowned brow,
That angel – God’s angel; who is he, I pray?
’Tis the angel of death – the angel of day.
Not a few of the lads knew me, some even connected my presence with Arvez, and asked me eagerly if he were coming; but since it was not for me to make any announcement, I evaded an answer, and looked around for him in whom I felt a particular interest. I soon had my wish, and patting the little fellow on the head inquired whether his friend Jack had faithfully kept the promise I heard him make to visit ‘The College’ and speak to them of his new life.
He looked into my face with a quick resentful glance. He was too loyal to his friend to tolerate even the suspicion of a doubt.
“Why, a cors’ he did,” he answered. “Doan ‘e come ‘ere a’most ev’ry night?” Then, with an unstudied touch of genuine feeling, he added, “I on ‘y wish ‘e ‘adn’t got to come ‘ere agen!”
“Why so? Don’t you like to see him now?”
“Yes, that’s it. I want ter go to ‘im – be wi’ ‘im, live wi’ ‘im, an’ never go back agen. But I doan think as ever that angel-cove means ter come for me.”
“But he must come sometime,” I replied, more than half inclined to satisfy his longing by telling what I knew. “You must try to be brave while you wait. Perhaps he will not be so long as you imagine.”
At that instant the portière was thrown aside, and Arvez entered, to the wild delight of the majority of the lads. The general rush towards him reminded me of nothing so much as the headlong scamper of children at a school-treat to reach the distribution of nuts or prizes.
My little friend took matters more philosophically than usual, and remained quietly by my side. Perhaps the continual disappointment of his hopes was telling upon him, or it may be our conversation had produced the effect. Whatever it was, he watched the others crowd around Arvez as he said:
“I wonder who ‘e’s goin’ to tek now? But there’s no such luck as it’s bein’ me.”
Arvez was gently making his way through the clamouring crowd, patting one on the head, kissing another, and speaking a kindly word to a third. Think of it. He was an angel with the summons, of death, and every lad around him was anxious to accept delivery, for himself. Think of it, I say, ye whose lives are clouded with a sense of dread at the thought of death! The children love him, are disappointed when he passes by them, holding out their hands eagerly in the hope that he comes for them. He who is loved by a child cannot be altogether bad. Then there is something good in death.
“’E is comin’ ter you!” said my companion as Arvez continued to make his way towards us.
The remark called for no reply, nor could I trust myself to speak and keep the secret. So I looked away smiling at the scene.
“Well I’m blowed! Doan ‘e want anybody?” queried my friend, who by this time was not a little excited. Then he added somewhat resignedly – “Oh, I know! ‘E wants somebody what isn’t ‘ ere.”
Arvez had reached us by this time, and we were the centre of the excited children.
“Are you tired of waiting for me, Dandy?” he inquired, gently laying his hand upon the lad’s head.
The little haggard face flushed with the sudden hope that flashed upon him.
“But it ain’t me yer come for, is it, Angel?”
Arvez answered by lifting the little fellow into his arms and kissing him. There needed no other reply.
“I’m so glad!” said the lad, nestling his weary head on the angel’s shoulder. “I only wish yer could take all the others as well.”
Dear loving soul, even the first throb of his own great joy was tempered by regret that his less fortunate companions were not able to share it.
“I shall soon come back for them,” said Arvez. “It is almost time for many, and the last will not be long.”
Then followed the usual congratulations, requests, promises, and assurances I had heard so many times before, after which Arvez folded his charge upon his bosom and we took our leave.