Preparation for Our Final Home
It was the aim of the last chapter to show that the judgment of everyone takes place after the death of the material body, and their resurrection into the world of spirits, according to the saying of the Apostle, " It is appointed unto people once to die, and after death the judgment." The world of spirits is, therefore, the august judgment-hall, where personís trial is held, and the verdict rendered. The person is not, however, arraigned before any tribunal and acquitted or condemned according to any arbitrary law. He or she is simply placed in the most favorable conditions - conditions which could only be found in the spiritual world - for the evolution of the personís real character. The good person is drawn into the societies of the good by the power of their spiritual affinities. By the same power the wicked person is attracted to those of a nature similar to their own. At the same time, the external and the internal character become united. Everything is cast aside which is not in perfect harmony with the ruling love. Everyone speaks as they think, and acts as they desire and finally becomes the perfect form of their own good or evil. The features of their face, the tone of their voice, the expression of their eye, their gestures, their walk, and their whole form and deportment, are the perfect embodiment and expression of their will. This great change is not effected in an arbitrary manner by omnipotent power, but in perfect accordance with laws which we see in constant operation in this world. Each person condemns or acquits themselves by simply becoming what they really are. The wicked person throws off all disguises; the good person is freed from all the natural evils which they had combated in this life, but from which they could never entirely free themselves. And as the real character becomes known, unlike natures are repelled from each other, and like are attracted to like. In this way the judgment is effected, and the sentence pronounced by each one upon him or herself. The wicked are condemned out of their own mouths by their own form, by their own acts, by their own choice, and of their own accord they go to their own place. All the preparation they need is simply to be stripped of all their disguises. They need no instruction in the evil and false, and they will receive none in what is good and true.
But with the good, and with all who have not confirmed themselves in evil, who have not established a decidedly evil character, it is not so. Being essentially good, or having the capacities for the reception of the Divine life, which have not become destroyed or permanently obstructed by evil, they can receive truth corresponding to the state of their affections. They enter upon a third state, which is a state of instruction and special preparation for heaven. This is the subject of the present chapter. I am to show the necessity for instruction, its nature, and the methods by which it is given.
The necessity for instruction is evident from the nature of heaven, and the state of those who are to be introduced into it. Heaven is not merely escape from the punishment of sin. If the Lord should offer a free pardon to every one, it would not make any person any better. It would not form the kingdom of heaven within them. It would not create a single heavenly affection, or give the understanding a single truth. Heaven is not a negative, but a positive state. When we are weary, we think of heaven as a place of rest; and by rest most persons mean inaction, or at least freedom from the labors, the cares, the anxieties and disappointments of this life. And so it is. But this is only what it is not; the causes of pain which are not there. Permanent inaction is not rest; it is death. It is blindness in the eye, deafness in the ear, darkness in the intellect, and torpor in the heart. The rest of heaven is not inaction, but the harmonious and orderly activity of all the spiritual faculties; an activity which does not exhaust, but rather increases our powers. All delight originates in some faculty of the will or of the understanding. Heaven, then, must depend upon what we love, what we know, and our ability to carry our will into successful effect.
A little reflection upon what constitutes the essential elements of happiness, will make this clear to our minds. We are happy when we attain what we desire or love. There are three things, then, essential to happiness: the will or love, which gives rise to the desire to obtain certain ends, which we call good; the understanding or truth, which shows us how to obtain them; and the actual attainment of the ends we seek. If any of these elements is wanting, we fail of happiness. If there is no will, there is no motive power, and there will be no action, though there may be the greatest amount of knowledge. If there are ardent desires and little wisdom, we must be subject to perpetual failure. If there is a powerful will and extensive knowledge, but some physical or other hindrance which prevents their ultimation in act, the whole soul is filled with pain. The utter inability to obtain the gratification of our desires is the most prolific cause of our unhappiness.
Supposing these essentials to be secured; then the degree of our happiness will be measured by the purity and largeness of the will, and the extent of the understanding. For example: Here is a man of feeble will and little knowledge. He has but few wants, and those are easily satisfied. He is contented with little. He is happy according to the degree of his desires, and the extent of his knowledge. Another man has a powerful will, and a corresponding understanding. He has a wide range of affinities and tastes. He enjoys art, delights in music, has a keen perception of natural beauty, an ardent love for science, enters with real zest into a wide interaction with the wise and good, is a warm friend, and his whole soul is attuned to the refined and delicate joys of domestic life, and all his faculties are alive to everything beautiful, true, and good in nature and man. A person with such endowments may enjoy more in one day than the other in a year.
Our happiness in this or the spiritual world, then, must depend upon the breadth and depth and purity of our affections, a corresponding extent of knowledge, and the ability to attain the ends our affections desire. When the will, the understanding, and the ultimate effect correspond, and act in perfect harmony, our happiness will be in proportion to their extent. The larger our affections, the wider the range, and the more various our affinities, the more numerous and exquisite must be our joys.
Human beingsí spiritual nature consists essentially of the will and the understanding. The will is the receptacle of good, and the understanding of truth. The happiness and peace of heaven consist in the perfect union of the will and the understanding. As they expand they must keep equal pace with each other, or the balance of force is lost, and the harmony and peace are destroyed. As the affections expand by exercise, knowledge must correspondingly increase. We must be learners, then, for ever. The moment we cease to be capable of gaining more truth, we reach the limits of our happiness, and either remain stationary or, if our desires increase, as they must, we begin to be tormented with disappointments.
Now, if we revert to the actual condition of persons who have passed into the world of spirits, and who have not confirmed themselves in evils, we shall see the absolute necessity for instruction.
A very large part are infants and children, who have no knowledge of spiritual things, and no character confirmed in opposition to good. Great numbers also are children in knowledge and spiritual life, though adult in natural age. They have never sinned against light. They never had any rational knowledge of their spiritual natures, and their accountability to God, nor any means of obtaining it. This, we know, must be the condition of by far the greatest number of persons, when they leave this world. They have lived according to the knowledge they had; perhaps have lived more fully in accordance with it than those who have had much greater light. To say the least, they have not formed any character in determined opposition to the truth, for they have had no means of doing it. They are, therefore, substantially in the same state as children. Many Christians have lived good lives, but have believed in some false doctrine. They have been honest and sincere in their opinions; they have believed what they were taught in childhood; what they have learned from men, whom they regarded as thoroughly informed upon all spiritual subjects. But they are mistaken.
We know that this is so. We know that our own views of the same doctrines change. We call the doctrine by the same name, perhaps, but it is not the same doctrine to us that it was once. No one but the most narrow bigot can deny that there are good people in all religious denominations; and no rational mind can admit that the belief of every good man and woman is true in every particular, because they are exactly opposite in some points. It necessarily follows that they will need instruction.
But even the most intelligent minds are in doubt upon many subjects concerning spiritual things. There are very few persons who, by their own confession, have any distinct, and much less any rational idea of the nature of the spiritual world, of heaven and hell, and of what they themselves will be after death. Now, if it is true, as I have endeavored to show, that the spiritual world is a real world, and that we are real human beings, having gained no knowledge and lost none by death, the conclusion is inevitable that there would be very few, if any, who would not need instruction. They would have the same belief on first entering the spiritual world, that they had when they left this. They cannot enter heaven with any falsity for, by the very nature of heaven, every thought and affection must be in perfect harmony. Knowledge is not gained by mere entrance into the spiritual world. They would adhere to their belief with more or less tenacity, according to the degree in which they had confirmed it. And it might require much instruction and much positive evidence of its falsity before they would give it up. We all know by our own experience how slow we are to reject opinions which have become thoroughly established in our minds. It is like taking away our very life to part with them.
The instruction given would evidently be in those principles which constitute the Lord's kingdom. Spirits preparing for heaven would be taught the existence of one God. How large a part of the human race do not know that simple and fundamental truth! They would be taught the true nature of His essential attributes. How little is known, even among professing Christians, concerning them! How diverse, and even opposite, are the conceptions of good people who have the Bible, and who are really desirous of living according to His commandments! Some regard Jesus Christ as God; others believe Him to be a mere man. Some regard Him as one person in a trinity of Beings whom they call God; and while they say one God with their lips, they have three distinct persons in their minds. If there is this difference among Christians, how great must be the diversity of opinion among others; there is the same diversity of belief concerning His character. He is all mercy to one, and all anger to another. To one He is a tender and loving Father; to another a stern and inflexible judge. He cannot be all that people conceive Him to be, and they cannot come into harmonious relations to Him until they have a true knowledge of His character.
They would be taught what is really good and true in life. Many persons are honestly in doubt upon a multitude of subjects which relate to practical life. But they cannot take these doubts to heaven. That is no place for trial; for the rectification of opinions. The grand themes of instruction, therefore, would be the real nature of man as a spiritual being, and of the Lord as a Divine Being, and the relations which exist between all beings. We learn something upon these subjects here, but how little How imperfect that little! How much it is blended with fallacies and positive errors! How various and contradictory are the opinions honestly entertained concerning the nature of heaven and heavenly joys! It is a very common doctrine, that the happiness of heaven will consist mainly in perpetual adoration and praise. If the doctrine is not true, how greatly disappointed those will be who have firmly believed it! If it is true, how many more will fail to find their true idea of happiness! Truth is infinite; there is no danger that there will be any lack of subjects upon which most persons will need instruction. Especially since in this world we see as through a glass darkly, and our clearest knowledge concerning spiritual and Divine things is mingled with so many fallacies and appearances.
There is every reason to believe, therefore, that we shall become learners for ever. But there will be many circumstances which will greatly facilitate our acquisition of a knowledge of spiritual truth.
1. We shall be freed from the encumbrance and limitations of the material body. Our senses and all our mental faculties will be much more acute. Being in a world where all things are spiritual, there will not be that contrariety and antagonism which we find between our thoughts and affections and dead inert matter. We shall not be continually deceived by the illusions of appearances, and bound by the strong bonds of hereditary opinions. All the faculties being in clearer light, we can see through, and clearly understand many subjects at a glance, which we could not comprehend by years of study in this life. We all know something of the influence the body has upon the mind. When it is weary, enfeebled by disease, and filled with pain, we find it difficult and often impossible to think upon any subject, in a connected and rational manner. In old age, people sometimes seem to lose all their knowledge and mental power. How great the change from the elastic and vigorous action of the mind when the body was in its prime, and acted in perfect harmony with it! But the difference is not so great as it will be between the highest attainments of the mind, when clothed with the material body, and when entirely. emancipated from it. All comparisons between the most extreme states of the soul when in the body must fall far short of the reality. It will be vigorous, elastic, keen, comprehensive, untiring, perceptive; so great will be the change that people will seem to awake as from a dream; to have passed from darkness into light.
2. Angels will be our teachers. We all know how much a wise teacher can help us. And by a wise teacher I mean one who not only understands the subject he or she teaches, but the mind being instructed. In the spiritual world people do not wear masks. The whole outward form is the embodiment of the inward life. The angels can understand at a glance the specific spiritual state of those committed to their care. They can put themselves in other peoplesí states, as it were, and see truths from those other standpoints. They know, therefore, exactly what they need. And they know equally well how to supply it. The angels know in what order, and by what processes, to lead our minds from step to step, out of any error, to the recognition of any truth. What an amazing help this must be! While here in the material body, using the clumsy methods of an artificial language, we often fail to make our exact difficulties known. The wisest teachers must often give their instructions at random, and even if they meet the case, we may not understand them; and so we grope our way along, the blind often attempting to lead the blind, and both falling into the ditch. But in the spiritual world, minds will come into perfect rapport with each other; and each will give and receive to the extent of its power. Such being the state of those who learn, and the wisdom of those who teach, they could hardly fail to make the most rapid progress.
But the methods of our spiritual teachers will be as wise as their knowledge is perfect. By the operation of spiritual affinities, to whose action there are no obstacles in the spiritual world, those who are in similar states of affection and thought would be drawn together, and a complete classification would be effected. Those whose spiritual wants are the same, and those who are the most competent to supply them, would be drawn into close relationships. This would only be carrying out, under perfect conditions, principles which are universally operative in this life, and the accomplishment of results which we are always in the effort to attain. As society advances in civilization and intelligence it becomes more distinctly classified and arranged. This process goes on in business, in education, in social and civil life, in everything. The results, however, are very imperfect, because we are compelled to judge by external and artificial means. Whereas, in the spiritual world, state alone will determine our place, and our associates, even to the most minute particular.
It would necessarily follow that those whose spiritual wants were the same would be drawn into the same society. Thus, infants, children, youth, and all of every age and state would be arranged into societies or schools where they could receive instruction exactly adapted to their wants. All of the same age, even in infancy, would not be together. But those of a similar hereditary character; those who needed similar processes of instruction to repress every evil tendency and to develop the true principles of a heavenly life, would be in the same schools.
It must be a most consoling thought to every parent who has children in the spiritual world that they are not to remain in the ignorance and feebleness of infancy; that the Lord has made provision for their instruction and for the development of all their faculties, into angelic perfection. They are free from all contagion of evil example, from the temptations of wicked companions, and the imperfect methods and the false principles of the schools of earth. They will never be taught anything that is untrue; they will never have any lesson to unlearn. Their delicate natures will not be subject to the rude and blind treatment that children receive in this life. The angels will love them with a tenderness greater than a mother's; they will know how to touch the secret springs of their innocent natures; and all their faculties will develop in beautiful harmony and order, as the bud unfolds into the blossom, and develops into the fruit. No shadows will fall upon their hearts; no tears will ever dim their eyes; they will have no hard and repulsive tasks to perform; they will never go astray. The innocence of infancy will never receive a stain; and the elastic, bounding joys of childhood will never be repressed. They will grow up into the manly strength and feminine grace of adult age; they will attain the wisdom, the culture, the comeliness, and the ineffable beauty and blessedness of the angels, by processes of order, harmony, and ever-increasing delight.
But not only are all shades of character nicely discriminated, and all specific wants perfectly met; the methods of instruction are also as superior to those which are practiced in the schools of this life as that world is superior to this. This perfection does not consist in their being entirely different or opposite to the methods of instruction in this life. They could not be, unless we are entirely different beings from what we are here. This shows the coherency and logical consistency of the doctrines of the New Church; for while they teach many things concerning the spiritual world and the nature of spiritual life, which many persons regard as the mere fancies of a diseased mind, they will be found, upon careful examination, to be logical and inevitable deductions from the nature of the human mind, and perfectly consistent with all we know of the Divine methods. What better evidence of their truth could a rational mind demand?
As illustrations and proof of this assertion, take what these doctrines teach us concerning the methods of instruction in the world of spirits. " Truth is taught principally by representatives." Instead of describing a subject by words only, it is represented to the life. This can be done in the spiritual world, because thoughts assume form and become visible there.
Suppose, for example, a number of novitiate spirits had an imperfect or false idea of what really constitutes the neighbor, or of who is our neighbor, as all children and most adult persons have. Instead of a parable of words, the actual scene could be presented. To teach this truth, our Lord has given us the Parable of the Good Samaritan. If the persons He desired to teach were in the spiritual world, the scene described by words in the parable could be made to appear in reality before the eyes of the persons who needed the instruction, with innumerable particulars, and in such fullness that a whole library could not contain a verbal description of them.
Or suppose the nature and delights of innocence was the subject upon which instruction was to be given. The angels could cause a perfect panorama of all living objects which were the perfect embodiments and representatives of innocence, not merely to pass before those who were to be instructed, but to surround them on every side as far as the eye could reach. And this whole scene could be filled with everything which the purified intelligence and exalted perceptions of an angel could conceive. Flowers of the most pure and lovely colors; lambs and doves, and the young of every living thing which represents this affection; and little children, of surpassing loveliness and beauty, would gambol and sport with one another in many various forms, so that the very nature of innocence would be acted out to the life. And not only the abstract nature of innocence could be made to appear in various forms, but the origin of this affection as from its germ; the various methods of its development, and its various results, could all be represented by changes in the scene. There would be nothing wanting to make the beautiful panorama of this soul of virtue and essential quality of heavenly character, perfectly adequate to the states of every one who beheld it.
Those who beheld this representation would also perceive the meaning of every particular form, of every motion, and every change, and its perception would be accompanied with inmost delight.
No one can deny that this would be a most effectual method of instruction, and a little reflection will show that it is in perfect accordance with the wisest and best methods in this life. The novelist and poet seek to accomplish this end in words, the artists with their colors and canvas, and the forms into which they mould the marble. The teacher of science finds the greatest help in diagrams and pictorial representations of the truths he or she seeks to communicate. The most of you have doubtless seen the pictures or the engravings of Cole's Voyage of Life, and know how vividly he has portrayed the willfulness and confidence of youth, the illusions of ambition, and the certainty that the angels we desert in the morning of life are our only hope in death. How much more vivid and powerful the impression such pictures make upon our minds than the most forcible statement in words of the abstract truth. But if we could see the whole history, only a few suggestive images of which can be represented upon the canvas, acted out to the life before us in all the details; if we could see the bright hopes fade, the terrible struggle, the inevitable defeat and final despair, the effect would surpass the picture far more than that does the verbal statement of the truth.
The reason is evident. When we are taught by the instrumentality of words, we are compelled to make the picture for ourselves. And there are but few persons who have much skill in that. In all cases the idea or picture before the mind's eye will depend upon the meaning attached to the words. The picture upon canvas is made for us, and we have only to open our eyes to it. Still, the objects are comparatively few, and we may not understand them. But when they move and act before us in various relations, we can hardly fail to gain their true meaning.
This method is, therefore, perfectly adapted to all the human faculties, and one which we all seek to adopt when we can. It is the Divine method, as we know from experience. The Lord taught by parables, which are pictures of imaginary events, painted in words. The whole Bible is such a panorama. In it, for thousands of years, the Jewish race is made to pass before us in all its phases of victory and defeat, of servitude and dominion, of glory and shame, from its rise to its dispersion. In this history every person can see their own life as in a glass. We can see our relations to the Lord, and to our fellow man; the blessings which follow obedience to the Divine commandments, and the inevitable and terrible consequences which must flow from their violation. What further proof do we need that the same method will be continued in the new and more favorable conditions of the spiritual world, for the perfect use of those who dwell there?
By another method, people are convinced of the falsity of many of the doctrines they may have imbibed. They are permitted to try them until they are convinced of their falsity by actual experiment. This is often the only way that we can be made to see and acknowledge our errors in this life. One person will not take the experience and wisdom of another for his or her own use. Suppose, for example, that we carry with us the idea that the happiness of heaven consists in perpetual worship, as multitudes do; it would be more difficult to convince us by the force of argument of the falsity of this idea in the spiritual world than it is here. A simpler and more effectual method is adopted. We are permitted to test the truth of this doctrine by actual experiment. We are admitted into temples or are gathered by the attractions of a similar thought and affection into great multitudes around a throne, and there they worship until we become so weary and exhausted by the forced and long-continued exaltation of mind that we are perfectly convinced of our mistake, and are ready to be instructed in the true idea of heavenly happiness, which our Lord has taught us consists in doing good to others from love to them and the Lord. Those who use the talents given them are the only ones who enter into the joy of the Lord.
In these and in many other ways, impossible in a material world, all who will receive instruction are prepared for heaven. Infants, children, and the ignorant are taught heavenly truths, and are led to practice them until they have made them their own, until their whole characters are established in heavenly principles. Those who are good at heart, but who have imbibed false doctrines from education or other means, are permitted to see their errors, and when they see them they gladly reject them. Thus everything that is false is eliminated from their minds; the whole nature becomes homogeneous with itself and with the angels.
The progress they make is inconceivably more rapid than it could be in this world, owing to the increased power and freedom of the mind, and the facilities for showing every truth and falsity in its true light and form. Some pass rapidly along, and in a few days are ready for heaven. Others linger and yield up with more or less reluctance the false principles they had imbibed in the world, according to the degree in which they had confirmed them. But sooner or later, all who have not destroyed their spiritual life and become dead in trespasses and sins; all who are really good at heart, though they may not have been entirely free from natural evils and falsities, are prepared for their eternal home.
When the preparation is complete, when everything is removed from their characters which is repellent to the purity and perfect order and harmony of heaven, they are drawn to it by the force of those spiritual affinities which separated them from the wicked, and which now operating more powerfully and specifically, draw them to those of a homogeneous nature, and to their eternal home.
This is effected without any violation of their freedom, without any external and arbitrary power, without any force. Each goes, as of him or herself, though constantly directed by the infinite wisdom and mercy of the Lord. In effecting this end, the same laws operate that we see in full and universal force around us in this world. Everyone preserves their identity and their consciousness of individuality. There is no link broken in the chain of his being. Through all the vicissitudes of life, from the cradle to the grave, from the grave to the open portals of heaven, we have been led in perfect freedom by a way we knew not. We have been protected from innumerable unseen dangers; we have been turned aside from paths which seemed to us flowery and leading only to good, to steep and rugged ways, because the Divine mercy saw that the strait and narrow path was the one that led to heaven; we have cast off the material body when infinite wisdom saw it was the best time for us to do it; we have been raised up into the world of spirits by the ministry of angels; we have been instructed and led by them to renounce every principle in our characters that was not in harmony with heaven. And when this work was fully accomplished, they have led us in opening paths of growing beauty and ever-increasing peace and blessedness to our home; to the home of the heart and the understanding, the home of friends, of those who love us, and by whom we are loved the best of all in the universe; the home of every faculty and every joy.
Now the six days of labor are ended. For us there are to be no more blasted hopes, no corroding cares, no weariness from heavy burdens, no vain regrets, no rending anxieties, no blind gropings for the way, no illusions of the senses, no shadows on the soul, no repulsive labor, no repugnant associations, no pain, no sorrow, no eyes wet with tears, no partings from loved ones, no jar, no discord in the universal harmony. There will be no more death. The former things are passed away. All imperfection lies behind us.
What lies before us? Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive. The highest angels cannot tell. But one thing we may know. With intellects elevated into a light so clear and brilliant that the brightest noon on earth is darkness compared with it; with their power so great, and their compass so extended, that all earthly knowledge is weakness and ignorance; with affections glowing with the intense ardors of the Divine love, and yet perfectly married to truth in the understanding, so that every desire finds full expression; in a world where all without is in perfect harmony with all within; where all the faculties are increased in power beyond conception; in these exalted conditions I know the promise will be fulfilled, "Ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." I know that when we have passed beyond the present capacity of the highest angel, in our varied power to ask and to receive, we shall only be gathering the crumbs which fall from our Father's table. Our ability to ask, and our power to receive, are yet only the infant's knowledge and the infant's power. We have but just begun to live; we are just opening our eyes upon the riches of our Father's bounty. Eternity-eternity is yet before us; and infinite beauty, peace, and blessedness, await our desire to ask and our power to receive.