A Journey in Other Worlds by J. J. Astor - HTML preview

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The Priest's Sermon


 It being the first day of the week, the morning air was filled with chimes from many steeples.

 "Divine service always comforted in life," thought Ayrault, "perchance it may do so now, when I have reached the state for which it tried to prepare me."

Accordingly, he moved on with the throng, and soon was ascending the heights of Morningside Park, after which, he entered the cathedral. The priest whose voice had so often thrilled him stood at his post in his surplice, and the choir had finished the processional hymn. During the responses in the litany, and between the commandments, while the congregation and the choir sang, he heard their natural voices as of old ascending to the vaulted roof and arrested there. He now also heard their spiritual voices resulting from the earnestness of their prayers. These were rung through the vaster vault of space, arousing a spiritual echo beyond the constellations and the nebulae. The service, which was that of the Protestant Episcopal Church, touched him as deeply as usual, after which the rector ascended the steps to the pulpit.

"The text, this morning," he began, "is from the eighth chapter of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, at the eighteenth verse: 'For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us.' Let us suppose that you or I, brethren, should become a free and disembodied spirit. A minute vein in the brain bursts, or a clot forms in the heart. It may be a mere trifle, some unexpected thing, yet the career in the flesh is ended, the eternal life of the liberated spirit begun. The soul slips from earth's grasp, as air from our fingers, and finds itself in the frigid, boundless void of space. Yet, through some longing this soul might rejoin us, and, though invisible, might hear the church-bells ring, and long to recall some one of the many bright Sunday mornings spent here on earth. Has a direful misfortune befallen this brother, or has a slave been set free? Let us suppose for a moment that the first has occurred. 'Vanity of vanities,' said the old preacher. 'Calamity of calamities,' says the new. That soul's probationary period is ended; his record, on which he must go, is forever made. He has been in the flesh, let us say, one, two, three or four score years; before him are the countless aeons of eternity. He may have had a reasonably satisfactory life, from his point of view, and been fairly successful in stilling conscience. That still, small voice doubtless spoke pretty sharply at first, but after a while it rarely troubled him, and in the end it spoke not at all. He may, in a way, have enjoyed life and the beauties of nature. He has seen the fresh leaves come and go, but he forgot the moral, that be himself was but a leaf, and that, as they all dropped to earth to make more soil, his ashes must also return to the ground. But his soul, friends and brethren, what becomes of that? Ah! it is the study of this question that moistens our eyes with tears. No evil man is really happy here, and what must be his suffering in the cold, cold land of spirits? No slumber or forgetfulness can ease his lot in hades, and after his condemnation at the last judgment he must forever face the unsoftened realities of eternity. No evil thing or thought can find lodgment in heaven. If it could, heaven would not be a happy place; neither can any man improve in the abyss of hell. As the horizon gradually darkens, and this soul recedes from God, the time spent in the flesh must come to seem the most infinitesimal moment, more evanescent than the tick of a clock. It seems dreadful that for such short misdoings a soul should suffer so long, but no man can be saved in spite of himself. He had the opportunities--and the knowledge of this must give a soul the most acute pang.

"In Revelation, xx, 6, we find these words, 'Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power.' I have often asked myself, May not this mean that those with a bad record in the general resurrection after a time cease to exist, since all suffer one death at the close of their period here?

"This is somewhat suggested by Proverbs, xii, 28,. 'In the way of righteousness is life, and in the pathway thereof there is no death.' This might limit the everlasting damnation, so often repeated elsewhere, to the lives of the condemned, since to them, in a sense, it would be everlasting.

"Let us now turn to the bright picture--the soul that has weathered the storms of life and has reached the haven of rest. The struggles, temptations, and trials overcome, have done their work of refining with a rapidity that could not have been equalled in any other way, and though, perhaps, very imperfect still, the journey is ever on. The reward is tenfold, yet in proportion to what this soul has done, for we know that the servant who best used his ten talents was made ruler over ten cities, while he that increased his five talents by five received five; and the Saviour in whom he trusted, by whose aid he made his fight, stands ready to receive him, saying, 'Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.'

"As the dark, earthly background recedes, the clouds break and the glorious light appears, the contrast heightening the ever-unfolding and increasing delights, which are as great as the recipients have power to enjoy, since these righteous souls receive their rewards in proportion to the weight of the crosses that they have borne in the right spirit. These souls are a joy to their Creator, and are the heirs of Him in heaven. The ceaseless, sleepless activity that must obtain in both paradise and hades, and that must make the hearts of the godless grow faint at the contemplation, is also a boundless promise to those who have Him who is all in all.

"Where is now thy Saviour? where is now thy God? the unjust man has asked in his heart when he saw his just neighbour struggling and unsuccessful. Both the righteous and the unrighteous man are dead. The one has found his Saviour, the other is yearly losing God. What is the suffering of the present momentary time, eased as it is by God's mercy and presence, compared with the glories that await us? What would it be if our lives here were filled with nothing else, as ye know that your labour is not vain in the Lord? Time and eternity--the finite and the infinite. Death was, indeed, a deliverer, and the sunset of the body is the sunrise of the soul."

The priest held himself erect as a soldier while delivering this sermon, making the great cathedral ring with his earnest and solemn voice, while Ayrault, as a spirit, saw how absolutely he meant and believed every word that he said.

 Nearly all the members of the congregation were moved--some more, some less than they appeared. After the benediction they rapidly dispersed, carrying in their hearts the germs he had sown; but whether these would bear fruit or wither, time alone could show.

 Ayrault had noticed Sylvia's father and mother in church, but Sylvia herself was not there, and he was distressed to think she might be ill.

"Why," pondered Ayrault, "am I so unhappy? I was baptized, confirmed, and have taken the sacrament. I have always had an unshaken faith, and, though often unsuccessful, have striven to obey my conscience. The spirits also on Saturn kept saying I should be happy. Now, did this mean it was incumbent upon me to rejoice, because of some blessing I already had, and did not appreciate, or did their prescience show them some prospective happiness I was to enjoy? The visions also of Violet, the angel, and the lily, which I believed, and still believe, were no mere empty fancies, should have given me the most unspeakable joy. It may be a mistake to apply earthly logic to heavenly things, but the fundamental laws of science cannot change.

"Why am I so unhappy?" he continued, returning to his original question. "The visions gave promise of special grace, perhaps some special favour. True, my prayer to see Sylvia was heard, but, considering the sacrifice, this has been no blessing. The request cannot have been wrong in itself, and as for the manner, there was no arrogance in my heart. I asked as a mortal, as a man of but finite understanding, for what concerned me most. Why, oh why, so wretched?"