The discipline of our children upon earth and in heaven equally favorable to their spiritual growth and happiness
The doctrines of the New Church give us the most comforting assurance of the happiness of our children in heaven. They teach us that they are kindly and .tenderly received by the angels, and that all their infantile wants are fully provided for. Their lot seems fortunate, both in what they escape and in what they gain. They are released from the encumbrances and hindrances of a material body; they are free from all want - from hunger, and cold, and disease, and pain, and the limitations of time and space, and privation in every form. They are introduced into beautiful homes, where they find everything which can in any way contribute to their comfort and culture and happiness. They have teachers who know how to touch the secret springs of their natures; to anticipate their wants; to repress in the gentlest manner, and to direct the unfolding of all their affections and intellectual faculties in order and harmony
When we see this, and furthermore when we find that these doctrines concerning the condition of our children who have passed into the other life, are based upon the Word of God and the immutable laws of Divine order, as we do when we examine them fully; and when we compare their condition with even the most favored children in this life, but more especially with the vast multitude of children who are born into the sphere of every evil influence, and who must necessarily grow up in ignorance, our first thought is, how fortunate it would be for all children to be taken from earth to heaven!
But this conclusion is drawn from only a partial view of the subject. . Removal from the labors and trials and temptations and sufferings of earth in infancy and childhood is attended with loss as well as gain. The hard conditions and sore trials of earth have their compensations, as well as the peace and blissful activities of heaven. A little examination of the nature of the human mind, and of the relations of this life to the life after death, will enable us to see that it is so.
We cannot doubt that the Lord has arranged the order and methods and proportions of our life in a manner which is best adapted to the full and harmonious development of all our faculties, in time and in eternity. Every step in life is ordered with reference to the one which succeeds it. It has its beginning, its culmination, and its end. One step grows out of another and is based upon it. There is "first the blade, then the ear, and then the full corn in the ear." In the production of fruit the leaf is an instrument in forming the blossom, and the blossom in its turn is an instrument in forming the fruit. So it is with all spiritual growth.
Our life in the material body is one step in existence. In a true order of life it would have its beginning, its culmination, and its end. It must necessarily have some relation to our life after we leave the body: We are in our material bodies as the bird is in the egg. In a true order of creation the bird must attain a certain degree of development before it is born into this world. While it is true that its condition after it is hatched is vastly superior when considered in itself to its state of imprisonment in the shell, yet it is essential to its perfection as a bird that it should continue in the shell until it has fully completed that stage of its existence. To anticipate it by any violence would be in some respects an injury to its perfection. It would never attain the strength or fullness of development. The eagle could never soar so high, or be so keen of sight and swift of wing. Some beauty of color and richness of song would be wanting to every one prematurely forced into a new state of life.
The same law applies to human beings. They are in a shell in this life. As to their spirit, which constitutes their identity and personality as a human being, they are in embryo, in the womb of the material body. Their spiritual organization is effected in it; and without doubt it is in the best possible conditions to have that work well done, for these conditions are provided and determined by Infinite Wisdom, and by that Omniscience which sees the end from the beginning. Our life in this world is the basis for the superstructure of our whole being. It must of necessity follow that it is best to have that basis well laid, and that this cannot be done without following out and completing the order of the Divine providence with reference to our work.
While, therefore, it is true that the spiritual world is ineffably superior to this in substance, in form, in beauty in variety, and in adaptation to spiritual beings; while it is true that there infants almost immediately begin to walk and speak, and their development in, every respect is much more rapid than it can be here, yet it does not follow that, when all things are considered, it is a positive gain over what they would have attained by the slower and more difficult processes of earth. There is a kind of work which can be done better in this world than in the spiritual world. There is a work, which is essential to the complete development of all our faculties, and full attainment of our highest good, which can be done only in this world: To gain complete control over humanity, to become the last as well as the first. It was necessary that our Lord should assume a human nature, and be born into natural conditions. So human beings lay the foundation of their life here. They do a work which cannot be done in the other life. They work in many respects in darkness and silence; they work blindly and under rough conditions. But these conditions are essential to the kind of work. The most skilful artist cannot make delicate and beautiful work out of metals full of dross. They must be put into the furnace. Nor can we look for delicate handling and brilliant polish in the forge. But in those fires, and under the force of tremendous blows, the dross is separated from the pure metal, and it is brought into a state to receive the highest polish, and be wrought into the most beautiful and useful forms. So it is with our life.
An infant will always remain an infant, in some respects, in the other life. It will grow up into womanhood or manhood. It will gain knowledge and strength and wisdom, but it will retain something of the tenderness and the necessity for the help of others which attend the first stages of life. It will retain an infantile character. It can never be as self-reliant, in the good meaning of the term. It can never act so fully from itself. It would never be likely to perform what for the sake of distinction we may call the higher offices of humanity. It would not be able to teach others, to lead and direct and perform the more public functions. Those who go into the other life in infancy will never be pioneers in the investigation of truth, in exploring new realms of thought, and in attaining new varieties of good. They will like the privacy and sweet peace of home, and be content with a comparatively narrow routine of life. I do not think the angels who strengthened our Lord and helped His human nature to sustain His agony in Gethsemane, or those who rolled away the great stone from the sepulcher, or opened the prison doors for Peter, were infants. Like Moses and Elias, these angels had been trained in the school of trial and suffering, and like the multitude whom John saw, "they had come out of great tribulation, and had made their robes white in the blood of the Lamb." Those only who have been tempted know how to succor the tempted. Those who have suffered know how to sympathize with the suffering.
Those who pass into the other life in infancy and childhood will always have a delicate organization. It will be beautiful. They will be the embodiments of loveliness. They will be sensitive to the most interior and gentle influences, and will yield to the slightest motions of the Divine love. They will be forms of innocence, and will constitute one of the most important elements of influence and interior delight in heaven. But they will never stand alone. They will occupy, relatively, about the same position in the families and societies of heaven that they do in the families and societies of earth. They may be to the whole body of heaven what the nervous fluid or the more delicate membranes are to the material body, absolutely necessary to its perfection, but dependent upon others to support and guide.
Indeed, I think I see good grounds in the nature of things for the belief that it is in accordance with the purpose of the Lord from the beginning that human beings should pass into the other life in all ages and all states of development. There are children, who impress every one with the idea that they do not belong to this world, and that they will not remain long here. The impression may be true or it may not. But such is the fact. The saying,
"Whom the gods love, die young,"
has been handed down from generation to generation. There is an apparent truth in it, if we judge of the Lord's affection for us by the fact that we seem better fitted for the peace and bliss of heaven than the rough work and sore trials of earth, though in reality He loves those whom He takes early to His fold no more than those who remain late. He loves the oak as well as the mushroom.
There are natures which cannot stand opposition, as there are some constitutions which cannot stand exposure and hardship. They wither under it, and are killed by it, as tender plants are killed by frost, There are others that need opposition to bring out their natural force. They need frost and fire to subdue their hardness and roughness, and give tenderness and sweetness to their natures. They grow and ripen under influences which destroy others. It may, therefore, be according to the order of the Divine providence that some should ripen early, and some late, that there may be every variety of character in heaven.
But if we can forget for a moment the pressure of time and space and material conditions, and regard ourselves as spiritual beings; if we look at character, at mental and spiritual state, and the laws of mental development, we can see, even in this world, how the hard labors and the sore conflicts of life are more favorable, are necessary, indeed, to the development of the highest and noblest qualities of human character. It is a universal law of the Divine order that all growth and all attainment should be gained by action. The development of our spiritual faculties is at first impeded by the opposition of the natural degree in us. But in the end we may be gainers by it. The new person born from above has every imaginable hindrance to remove, and innumerable enemies to overcome. It is born in the midst of enemies. It is nurtured like a lamb among wolves. Its promised land is pre-occupied by powerful combinations of evils, protected by fortified cities of false principles, and entrenched in habits. Its way lies through the wilderness, where it must endure hunger and cold, and meet wily enemies, and the most formidable dangers. But under the guidance of the Divine providence, these very labors and privations and trials will be instrumental in consolidating and giving vital power to the spiritual person. This plane of the mind gains vigor by every combat. The necessity of learning truth, and applying it in the various exigencies-of our daily labor and combats against the evil and false, gives breadth and nerve to the understanding. The affections, which are the fountain of courage - of heart-power - get their development by this exercise; gain vital energy. They may not expand so much as they would if they met with no opposition, but they become more firmly knit, and more intimately united with the understanding. The spiritual fiber becomes firmer, and more compact, like the fiber of those woods which grow upon open hillsides, where they are rocked by every storm, and get the full blaze of every sun. They are like the muscles of the well-trained athlete, clean and compact and elastic, and capable of any strain.
With all this strength, there is a tenderness which is not weakness, a gentleness which is the product of power penetrated by love. Such natures are large, not by dilution and diffusion, but by concentration. They are equal to emergencies. They have opinions. They cannot only affirm, but they can give reasons. They not only have faith, but knowledge. They can stand alone, and walk alone. You can build upon them as upon a rock.
To whom would you go for sympathy in some great sorrow? To one who had never suffered? No. Rather to those who had passed through the hottest fires in the furnace of affliction, and had come out tender and strong and pure from it. To whom would you go for advice in any great exigency? To one who had met with no difficulties? who had sailed only in calm weather with fair winds? No. You would seek those who have had experience, who had been in the same perils, and knew the danger and the way to avoid or to overcome it.
We get this spiritual discipline in this life. Our being gets root, and the more it is rocked and buffeted by storms the deeper it takes root. It sends them down into the earth of the natural mind, and pushes them out in every direction.
A human being who has not labored and grown weary, who has not suffered and despaired, is not half a person. Their faculties are only in the gristle. They have no temper. They will not hold an edge. There are great compensations for the labors and trials of this short life. We think them hard to bear, and they are grievous. But when they grow out of the conflict between good and evil in the mind, they are rich in their rewards. They give a tone and, temper to the soul which can be acquired in no other way. They lay the foundation for a superstructure of life which will remain firmer than the hills, and which will rise above the level of those who have known no labor, no conflict, and no sorrow. The Lord's mercy is in human labor, in the darkness of our darkest night, and in the hottest fires of our afflictions. When we have enjoyed the blessedness of heaven for millions of years, if we could see the bearing of our sorest conflicts and heaviest burdens upon our future good, we would come back, if it was possible, and we could see it to be necessary to the attainment of the good which grows out of them; we would lay aside our glory and put down the cup of our joys, and take upon ourselves the burden, and the yoke, and the fear, and go through the wilderness once more, and suffer its hunger and its thirst and its defeats.
No. When we think of the happiness of our little ones in heaven, how safe they are, how free from the sore trials of earth, how rapidly they are advancing from joy to joy; when we compare their lot with that of our children who remain upon the earth, we need not envy them; we need not pity those whose path for many years must be steep and difficult, whose tender feet must bleed, and whose hearts must be pierced with many sorrows.
If we do our duty by them, they will yet outstrip those who have gone before. They will find the most ample compensation or every good deed done, for every battle fought and victory won.
But there is another good gained by a long and useful life in this world, which grows out of the changed relations of spiritual beings to the world without them. In the spiritual world all the scenery and all the objects of every kind which surround a person or a society, which the man or woman can see or hear or perceive by any sense, is a representative of the thoughts and affections within. The outward world answers to the inward world. The outward world is the effect of the thoughts and forms of the angels.
This life is the seed-time of principles. What we make our own here become the germs of all that will be our own through eternity. The typal forms of all that will become objective to us are stored up in the mind. The soul gets its color here, and the Divine light which streams through it in the other life will receive its hue from the peculiar quality of the soul.
The spiritual law according to which this takes place is the same as the one with which we are all familiar in this life. Every one has his own mental scenery. Every one lives in a world more or less different from the world which surrounds them. He or she has a more beautiful house in mind than the material house in which they dwell . They do nobler or baser deeds in thought than in act. Their mental world is determined by their knowledge and character, by the images in their mind, and the love of good or evil in their heart. Anyone who will reflect a moment upon the workings of his or her own mind will see that it is so. This law is not annulled or changed when we go into the other world. It is carried into fuller effect. Here we may be in a better or worse condition externally than we are mentally. John Bunyan in his cell was a pilgrim on his way to the Heavenly City, meeting adventures, and fighting battles, and passing through scenes more various than any knight-errant of old, or pilgrim to the Holy Land. On the other hand, those who dwell in palaces, and are surrounded with all the beauty and splendor which wealth and art can produce, may live in a mental and moral world foul with vile lusts, and terrible with infernal purposes. But in the other life the outward world will correspond to the inward. It will be no better and no worse. An angel could not wear a torn, filthy, and unbecoming garment. A devil could not live in the pure, shining robes of the angels. It would be a torment.
An infant has not stored up any images or states of mind; it has not formed any character in this world, and this must have some effect upon its condition there. The minds of children must be in some degree transparent and negative. They will be supplied with everything that can in any way contribute to their happiness. But it will not be so fully their own. It will be the creation of others around them. Like fluids, they will assume the forms of other vessels, rather than give form to them.
They can never rise so high because they have not so deep a root. They can never extend their influence so widely. Their affections cannot assume such variety of form, their sympathies cannot be so wide and deep. Their natures cannot be so large and capacious for the reception of the Divine life. If they are saved from much labor and suffering, and many dangers, they also lose the good which is gained by them. If they enter early into the joys of the heavenly state, they miss that fullness of preparation which is essential to the largest and most complete development of our spiritual nature.
While, therefore, we have so much to comfort us in the removal of our children to the other life, we have equal cause to rejoice in the possession of those who remain, and the most powerful motives to do all in our power to protect them from evil, to instruct them in the truth, and to initiate them into the practice of a heavenly life, that when they throw aside their earthly garments, they may be in a state to join those who have gone before.