Chapter IX: Faith’s Supreme Test
My eyes followed Walloo-Malie longingly, almost enviously, as he went on his way; and yet why did I wish that he had remained? Had he not fed me bountifully; had he not given me food for thought and meditation, like the overpowering effect of the scene of which he formed a part, and constrained me to appeal to Omra as to its reality, because of its overflowing fulness? Had he remained striking other chords on the harp of memory, entrusting me with other commissions in the Master’s service, would he not have overloaded me, with the result that something would be lost? How thoughtful of him; how superlatively kind thus to consider my capacity.
He had shown me a single instance of divine intervention on my own behalf, working through the medium of his personal ministry, with a suggestion of the result thereof which I should presently behold. For his illustrations he had taken hold of the darkest disaster of my life, then rending the mysterious veil which had enshrouded it, had made it clear that the Divine hand had so overruled the catastrophe as to make it to be the progenitor of life’s crowning blessing. He had taken the insignificant mustard seed of an apparently chance meeting and demonstrated how, in God’s providence it had blossomed into an ark of salvation which had borne my own soul to the heavenly heights of the Ararat on which he had found me. Then—oh, most faithful and loving disciple of Him, who was “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” with matchless skill and Godlike force he pointed out the application, “Go thou and do likewise!”
So far, the miracle of grace was only half-complete. Were there not two souls involved in the wreck from which he had rescued me? The other – whose perfidy had been the occasion of the disaster was still battling with the fury of the storm—helpless, bruised, despairing! Was her soul not of equal value to the God who gave it as my own? To leave her to her fate would be to make myself a partaker of her sin. She had done wrong to me, but God had intervened for my salvation; ought I not now to offer myself as the agent of God’s saving grace to her, and in the forgiving outreach of my hand perform my part in the completion of the miracle as a manifestation of the love that never faileth?
So did I muse as I watched Walloo-Malie and Cresvone passing leisurely into the distance. With the recognition of their going, I could almost hear the indefatigable angel as he cast the life-giving seed of some appropriate germ into that other soil, and I thought how like a God is the method and fascination of his teaching. Then I recalled a favourite passage from Shakespeare over which I had often pondered, beautiful in its sentiment, while irritating to me in its theological interpretation, but in the light of what I had just heard it came back to me in a better and far more accepting aspect:
Why, all the souls that were were forfeit once;
And He that might the vantage best have took
Found out the remedy. How would you be,
If He, which is the top of judgment, should
But judge you as you are? O, think on that;
And mercy then will breathe within your lips,
Like man new made.
It is not among the least of the advantages of this larger life that, when one desires to retire within himself for such meditation as I had now been enjoying, the mood is always noted and never disturbed. In Omra’s superior station, of course, my wish would be more clearly known than to myself, so that he allowed my thoughts to run their course, and only when it was evident that they had taken a turn did he venture to speak.
“Well, and have you been able to decide the question for yourself?” he enquired pleasantly.
“What was the question?” I asked, not quite certain as to what he referred.
“Whether Walloo-Mailie is approachable,” he answered, leaving the enquiry significantly incomplete.
“You must forgive me,” I replied apologetically, “I might—I ought to have known from the experience I have already gathered, that no one who is unapproachable could be found in these latitudes.”
“There is nothing to forgive, my dear Aphraar. Everyone you see around you; everyone you will meet with as you pass onward has travelled by the self-same way that you have come; has learned as you are learning; has asked as you are asking. The impress of our own ignorance is clearly made upon the memory of each of us, and the recollection of it helps to make us considerate of those we are permitted to assist.”
“‘Permitted to assist’. There again is breathed that spirit of unlimited generosity which I find in almost prodigal profusion at every step I take. I have seen it, watched it, and been perplexed by it from the first conscious instant of my arrival; and the question I have asked myself again and again is whether it is not possible to carry this practice of generosity beyond all reasonable limits? I am speaking purely in the light of reciprocal obligations. Take my own case, for instance. Look at all the attention, advantages, and consideration I have received, not only since my arrival on this side, but Walloo-Malie has begun to carry the account back into the days of the flesh; and while I am wondering to what extent it will be continued, I almost tremble as I ask myself how my obligation is going to be discharged. Do you understand what I mean?”
“Perfectly, and I should like to answer you by quoting one of the analogies used by the Master to illustrate the case; but at present I have not been able to explain the use, purpose and extent to which analogies are to be carried, therefore I will meet your enquiry by a more personal illustration furnished by Walloo-Malie. In the extremity of your own need, Walloo-Malie received a commission to assume a mortal resurrection body in order to save you from the result of the aberration of despair. He succeeded. What has resulted? I will confine myself to the one case which you are already familiar with—that of Helen. Your ministry to her saved her from a far worse fate than a death by drowning, when you come to remember the value the dear Master attaches to the soul—‘What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?’ Bear in mind, I am not taking into consideration any other work you may have done after the rescue I have spoken of—that work has not yet been made manifest to you—but when Helen’s case is placed to the contra account of your own indebtedness, how much have you yet to pay to discharge the balance?”
“That goes a long way towards clearing my difficulty, but at the same time it suggests another I should like to hear you explain.”
“And that is . . .?” he enquired.
“Would not such an interpretation on earth foster the idea that every man is his own Saviour?”
Omra looked at me with a most indulgent smile.
“What a triumph it would be for truth if the world could get through the dust and debris of theological invention and reach the native bed-rock of revealed truth,” he answered more in a meditative tone than as if desirious to destroy a fallacy. “It stands sadly in need of being led back to the original rock from which we were hewn—and that rock was Christ’. He is ‘the way, the truth, and the life’; the way all must walk, the truth all must follow, the life all must live, the great Example all must imitate and copy. It is not enough to believe—‘the devils believe and tremble’—but they who are saved ‘work out (their) own salvation with fear and trembling’.
“When the flesh fails them at the time of the great unclothing, they make the discovery that only ‘their works do follow them’; then ‘whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap, he that soweth to the flesh, shall, of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the spirit, shall, of the spirit reap life everlasting.’ Work, toil, sorrow, anxiety, doubt—almost despair sometimes, contending against the un-numbered forces and enemies peculiar to the agricultural life. Work, work, work – ploughing and sowing in the spring; watching and expectantly tending through the summer; reaping the harvest in the autumn, some thirty, some sixty, and some a hundredfold’. But what of the man who followed the self elected teachers, simply believed? You will find him outside with the cautious miser who hid his talent in the field, bemoaning his fate.
“So it was that the beloved John saw it—‘And I saw the, dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened . . . and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works’ (Rev. xx, 12).” Then, rousing himself to a recognition of my presence, as it were, he concluded—“That being so let us take heed to ourselves, as ‘workers together with God’, that we may allow no opportunity to slip by; no open door to close; no hungry soul to turn away until we have faithfully discharged the obligation which has been laid upon us. That is the one great lesson you have to learn here at the gate.”
“Here at the gate?” I re-echoed, almost forgetting the value of his exposition, in the now familiar mysticism by which he closed one subject and opened the door of enquiry into another.
“Yes,” he replied, still wearing his indulgent smile, which appeared to be almost a resident feature of his placid, olive-coloured face, “I have to be more insistent than I would, because there is so much that might be said, so much that one in your position wishes to know in relation to everything we meet with, while there is also so much that is absolutely essential for you to accomplish in order to pass the gate, that I must pass the non-essentials with but a cursory notice in order that the necessary ones must have the attention they demand. It is for this reason alone, I thus remind you that we must pass along.”
“And I am afraid that I am a very laggard companion, when I am tempted by such a plethora of treasures.”
“But even then I must hold myself responsible for counselling you,” he insisted.
“Will you then explain to me the significance and importance you attach to the gate?” I asked.
“I have already mentioned how it marks a line of demarcation beyond which nothing unworthy is permitted to pass. This provision is rigorously carried out by a system of defence which, although undiscovered by yourself as yet, lies between ourselves and the gate, over which it is absolutely impossible for an ineligible to pass.”
“That seems almost incredible,” I answered as I critically searched every foot of ground I could see between us and the gate.
“You will see it presently, and when you do come to it you will understand how incomparably God protects the boundaries of His domain from the invasion of the unready. In connection with the safeguarding of the spiritual domain, the precincts of the gate are made available for the guidance and assistance of all who would legitimately enter, and equally a safeguard against all who have no right, being void of the necessary qualifications for passing.”
“Will you pardon me?” I appealed to my companion as, in the intensity of my desire to know, I came to a stand and laid my hand upon his arm. “This surging of revelation—sometimes visible to my understanding, but often far beyond my comprehension—is growing too overpowering for me to sustain. I feel so entirely insufficient for it, that I want to shrink away into some retreat, where I may try to recover myself before it carries me away into a vortex of confusion from which I feel there will be no escape.”
Again Omra met my perturbation with his calm, complaisant smile.
“There is no need for you to fear any untoward result arising from the experiences you are bound to encounter just here, nor need you give way to doubt because you do not fully understand any preliminaries to which your attention may be first directed. The ordeal you are approaching is the test of your faith. or confidence, which exists in you towards the inviolable perfection of God. I would ask you to recall Paul’s definition of faith, then, by a clear, calm acceptance of the standard raised, straighten yourself and touch the height victoriously—‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ God’s ways are not altogether as man’s ways, but if you will only recall the vision of the Court, you will see that mysteries are afterwards revealed.
“Walloo-Malie has also, given you an instance of the same certainty, nor will you be asked to wait very long before you will be put in possession of the solution of this present mystery, as to how the unworthy find it an impossibility to pass that apparently undefended gate. I can understand, and I do most ardently sympathize with, the feeling of perturbation of which you speak. But for the brief space you are called upon to endure it, you may take whatever consolation may be derived from the knowledge that it is not peculiar to yourself, but is rather the common experience of every soul that passes this way. It is not natural, or intended that it should be so; it is due entirely to the false credentials, instructions, and advices which are carried hither from unauthorized agents by too-confiding travellers. Every passport has to be presented, examined and vised before the bearer crosses this frontier; the why, the wherefore, and the eligibility of every person seeking admission has to be carefully ascertained; the manners, customs, and the laws governing the kingdom have to be declared and subscribed to; the freedom from taint and contagion, or disease, has to be satisfactorily established in each and every case before anyone is allowed to pass.
“This circumstantial examination is ignored, even denied, by the purveyors of denominational certificates on earth, who assure their patrons that membership in their fraternity avoids any further trouble and provides an immediate and abundant entrance into the kingdom. And though, in your own case, you could not conscientiously accept such assurances, you had largely imbibed the spirit of the idea, and even now the taint of it lingers over you, creating the confusion of which you speak. So potently abiding and deep seatedly ingrained are unsuspected inherited ideas found to be in the revealing powers of the light of the borderland, that not even the influences of the probation you have passed since you threw off the physical has been sufficient to eradicate the final stain. without which it is still impossible for you to reach the gate.”
“I understood you to say that the decision of the vision’s analysis indicated that I might.”
“And you understood me correctly. You have the right to enter as soon as you have lost the taint of doubt which at present would prevent you from carrying the right into effect. So very sensitively is the entrance to our inheritance balanced.”
“I can scarcely comprehend the distinction you make. It almost seems to be drawn out to the attenuation of a quibble,” I replied.
“But I can assure you that it is a very solid and stern reality. Let us go forward and put it to the test.”
We quickened our pace and turned directly towards the gate. I have said that the ground had a slight undulating surface, and our course had an almost imperceptible rise. It was as we were reaching the top of this undulation that I began to understand the fullness of the force of Omra’s statement.
Between ourselves and the gate there lay a yawning gulf, its depth lost in profound darkness, and its clear-cut sides as sheer as a wall. Its width might be something like a hundred yards—which I suggest simply to convey some idea of its dimensions—and at no place could I discern any bridge or means of crossing. I staggered with consternation at the first sight of it, and it was only after an interval, in which Omra went boldly ‘forward and stood upon its brink, that I was able to accept his invitation, and the firm support of his hand, to go forward and look into the dismal void.
I looked with speechless awe and bewilderment upon the appalling chasm, then turned a questioning glance upon my guide. His face, now, had lost its usual smile. In the presence of that awful bulwark of protection against invasion, his magnanimous soul was too sensitive to the occasion to dream of the crushing victory he had achieved. In such a place, under such circumstances, any thought of elation would have been a profanity. It was a contrary thought that held his mind—the sense of the catastrophe that would crush any attempt at invasion. And, as I scanned his face, I could read an index of the depths in which his generous sympathy was moving.
Still, he had brought me to the spot to show me the reality of the distinction he had drawn, and he was too faithful to his duty to leave it undischarged. He accomplished his purpose with wonderfully inoffensive tact. He gave me a liberal allowance of time to investigate every feature before he ventured to address a word to me respecting what I thought, and when at last he did hazard a remark, it was to give me a most surprising bit of information.
“We are standing here upon the confines of one world, and looking across the chasm that divides us from another. They are related to each other as planet to planet, but they are just as separated as the planets are. Now, if you were required to pass from one to the other, how would you propose to accomplish it?”
It was in propounding this problem that he approached the explanation I myself was seeking.
“Has it to be crossed?” I enquired, at a loss to make any suggestion.
“It is the only way of reaching the gate,” he replied.
“The only way that suggests itself to me would be to get someone to carry me over, as Myhanene once conveyed me to his home.”
“That would not be allowed,” he answered. “Whoever passes through yonder gate, must reach it by crossing the gulf on foot.”
“But where is the convenience for so doing?” I enquired.
Then the familiar smile took possession of his face again.
“It is there now—a bridge across the chasm linking the two worlds together, but at present your eyes are holden that you may not see it. That is where your unreadiness exists of which I spoke. You have the right to pass over and enter, but you await the sight by which you will be able to cross. Let me try if I cannot help you to make out something of the connection between the two sides.”
With this he placed his hands over my eyes for a few seconds, and when he withdrew them I was able to distinguish a shadowy outline of a bridge as though it were constructed of the gossamer fibres of a wintry hoarfrost, and it appeared to be as dangerously unstable.
“Now can you see your way?” he asked.
“Would you venture yourself on that?”
“Certainly, I have crossed it frequently. See, there are several friends about to come towards us from the other side! They show no sign of fear or trepidation. The sacred joy they find in their communion is not disturbed as they set their feet on what you imagine to be an unsubstantial structure. Their roadway might be across the solid shoulder of a granite mountain. See, they even venture to pause midway, lost in the sweet enjoyment of the theme which they discuss! They have no more consciousness of the yawning gulf beneath them than you had when Walloo-Malie held you spellbound by his speech. Now they move forward again, but not with haste as if to escape; ‘tis rather the reluctant step of lovers who are not anxious to reach the end of their journey.”
I watched the coming of that sauntering group of unalloyed happiness with a feeling dangerously near to envy. It was so clearly evident that they were moving under the indolent impulse of a blissful happiness that refused to be disturbed. In their wide and bright horizon there was not so much as a fleck of doubt, suspicion, care or risk to cause even a ripple on the bosom of their complacency; nor had need the semblance of authority to control their action.
“Tell me, my best of friends,” I pleaded, in my intense yearning to acquire that which divided me from the enviable advantages these glorious immortals possessed, “what is it that holds me back and keeps me out of the inheritance they enjoy?”
“Confidence—faith that is securely set in love,” Omra quietly responded. “The passage of this gulf is faith’s supreme test. As I have already told you—and the chasm confirms my words—in proceeding beyond this point, you break away from the very last thread of influence the flesh and the earth have upon you. So far the mental, moral, and even the physical habits of the earth have been able to follow and influence you, as for instance, the doubt of your ability to cross by this bridge. This must be removed here and faith will take its place. Here you have to learn how rigorously absolute the dictum of Job is carried out ‘Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return’ (i, 21). The last contention we have to combat here. is one you will not put forward, because you have never learnt your sanction to any of the various orthodox religious sects. But every formal adherent to these institutions makes a firm stand to carry their tenets forward until we remind them that, ‘whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease. whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away’ (1 Cor. xiii, 8), ‘for by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God’ (Eph. ii, 8). It is for this gift that you are waiting. Your feet stand here before you are truly ready to receive it, and that because there is something more for you to learn before the call to cross the bridge can be heard.