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The Ascent of the Soul By Amory H. Bradford Characters: 23659

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

As the soul moves along its upward pathway it gradually becomes conscious of many inspiring truths. Among the most delightful and helpful of these is the fact that it is never alone, but is one of a great company all pressing toward the same goal and all passing through substantially the same experiences. In the midst of these companionships, which are variable, and of these experiences which can seldom be predicted, it slowly becomes aware that there is one companionship which is constant, beneficent, and singularly illuminating. The realization of this fellowship is intensely individual. Of it others may speak, but concerning it they can give little information. The full consciousness is always a personal one. Having once enjoyed communion with the Over-soul it is difficult to imagine that any are ever without this supreme spiritual privilege. Sometimes the sense of spiritual co?peration is so vivid and continuous, so compassionate and helpful, as to be almost startling-in those moments when it seems to beset us behind and before. The process by which a soul becomes conscious that it is forever attended by a companion, whose one object seems to be to help it toward the spiritual heights, will repay the most careful examination. To that delightful and difficult study we will now turn.

Before it has advanced far on its pathway the soul becomes painfully aware of the dangers by which it is surrounded and of the obstacles which it must overcome. The road before it seems to be infested with enemies. Its defeats are frequent and humiliating. It learns much by experience; but the more it learns the clearer it seems to discern the difficulties which it must meet. In the midst of the confusion and failure it slowly becomes aware that warning voices are speaking, and that they are loudest when moral peril is near. This is one of those simple facts which may be verified by every thoughtful man, but which no thoughtful man would ever dream of trying to explain. So simple and elemental is this truth that it may best be enforced by commonplace illustrations, and by something like a personal appeal.

A very distinguished man was one day walking with a friend along a street in Edinburgh, when they came to one of the numerous wynds which lead from the main thoroughfare into the midst of huge and gloomy buildings. There the man stopped and asked to be excused while he entered the wynd. Returning, after a moment, he explained his act by saying that, in his young manhood, he had been tempted to do something which would have wrecked his life. Just as he came to the place that he had visited there sounded in his ears such a vivid warning as made it morally impossible for him to proceed on his course of wrong-doing. He felt sure that that voice was from above, for his whole nature, until that instant, seemed to have been set on what would have led to moral ruin.

Another person testified that he was once on the verge of doing what would have brought him undying disgrace when, as if she had been drawn out of the air, his mother stood before him, looking reproachfully at him. Thus the fascination of temptation was broken by what he always believed to have been a veritable spiritual presence.

Another experience is perfectly attested. A man in a distinguished position did wrong, and was in peril of still greater wrong when something, he could not have explained what, not only warned him but kept warning him and following him so that he could not escape. If he closed his eyes his danger became more vivid; if he stopped his ears voices of reproach found their way in. He loved his wrong and would move toward it, but then invisible hands seemed to hold him back until the time of danger was past, and he was confirmed in right ways. Such experiences are too numerous and varied to be doubted. No facts are better attested. It may be said that they are only the usual warnings of conscience. Be it so. Then what is conscience? The factors in the problem are not materially changed, for the phenomena of conscience are as remarkable, constant, and verifiable as light and heat. Most men who have recorded their experiences, and who have observed with care the workings of their own faculties, have been conscious of being attended by some invisible presence warning them against evil. The explanation of this phenomenon may be left for later consideration.

Closely allied to warnings against moral danger, which are so vivid as sometimes to be almost audible, are the evidences of what may be called spiritual protection. The idea of guardian angels and tutelary deities arose naturally and inevitably. Many who have been astonishingly delivered from spiritual peril have been able to find no other explanation of their escape. Those who receive the confidences of their fellow-men have little difficulty in believing such a story as was once confided to me. An able and prominent man who had, resolutely as he thought, turned from a course of conduct which threatened disaster, found himself drawn toward the evil from which he supposed that he had been forever delivered. The attraction seemed to be resistless. Again and again he was on the verge of falling when the fall would have been ruin. Then something made it morally impossible for him to enter upon the path which he had determined to follow. The means used to dissuade him were various. Sometimes a friend would call, then a duty would intervene, then some obligation would press until, to use his own way of phrasing it,-"it seemed as if some unseen person who could read my thoughts and desires was walking by my side and, as fast as I was in danger of yielding to evil, ordering events so as to prevent me from doing what I wanted to do."

Few men who are trying to live on spiritual levels would hesitate to acknowledge that they have been the subjects of similar protection. The peculiar feature about it all is that the agents used are so often entirely unconscious of the influence which they are exerting. An unseen hand seems to be guiding our moves on the chess-board of life, so as to check us every time that we are inclined to play falsely. I do not mean that all are persuaded toward virtue, but I do mean that enough are protected from moral evil and spiritual peril to justify the belief that such ministries are around all; and that those who choose to do wrong do so in the face of spiritual appeals which, if they would but give them heed, would make resistance of evil easy and successful. If any one who reads these words doubts my conclusions, let him study his own life, with a little care, and learn for himself whether there are not many hours in which he is almost persuaded to accept the ancient doctrine of guardian angels.

This phase of the spiritual experience is rendered still more vivid when we remember that the souls of men are perpetually dissatisfied with present attainments, and ever eager in their efforts to explore the unseen. The history of human thought, if it could be written, would show that the mind has never been satisfied with what it has possessed, and that each new glimpse of truth has stimulated still more ardent inquiry. The more it is pondered the more impressive this fact becomes. The soul seems to have had just before it, in all the stages of its development, a spiritual forerunner opening a way into larger and fairer realms. This consciousness is not akin to a passion for wealth. A man with enormous riches often ceases to acquire, and devotes himself to the enjoyment of what he possesses; but who ever heard of a thoughtful man who felt that he might cease investigating and devote himself to the pleasures of knowledge? Such instances there may have been, but they are not numerous and have never been recorded.

Of course there are many, who in no true sense can be called seekers after truth, who do not trouble themselves with questions about the Unseen. They chew the cud of custom with all the placidity of good-natured oxen. They do not live,-they simply exist. It is possible for any man to shut his eyes to the light, but that does not banish the light. It envelops him, and pours its splendors around him, regardless of his wilful blindness. Millions are so engrossed with selfishness, or animalism, that they catch the accents of no spiritual message, but those appeals are never hushed. The deafness of the multitudes who will not hear does not prove that no voices are calling.

In some way men have been kept dissatisfied with their ignorance and persistent in their search for truth. I make no distinction between sacred and secular here because all truth is sacred. Scientist and theologian alike have to do with reality. Whether we examine the tracks of an extinct animal on ancient rocks, or bow our heads in prayer, we are facing a real world which is steadily enlarging. For centuries men have sought the causes of things; they have been made to feel that they ought to do right, and then have been inspired with a passion to discover the right. This is very wonderful. The being who has almost limitless powers of physical enjoyment, whose senses are exquisitely fitted for pleasure, is not satisfied with pleasure, but, in obedience to unseen attractions, ever seeks for higher things. Whence does this eagerness come? Is it from man himself? Then our problem is great indeed, for, at one and the same time, something within himself impels him upward, and another something drags him downward. But the point for special consideration now is that the soul is never satisfied with anything but truth, that the history of thought is the record of the search for truth, that every new discovery has acted as a stimulus to still more ardent exploration, and that the search is always for elemental realities, the causes of phenomena, for "things as they are." The promise of Jesus was fulfilled long before it was spoken. Some one, in all the ages, has been leading into truth and showing things to come; and the process was never more evident than after all these years of intellectual and spiritual progress. I say some one has led. By that I mean a personal spirit, unseen, but ever present; for how could he whose home is in the mire be supposed, steadily and unwaveringly, to reach toward the skies unless there was some attraction in the skies? The only attraction for one spirit is another spirit. This age-long, unwavering passion for truth and progress, the wisest of men have believed to have been inspired by Providence or God or by guardian angels-which after all are only other ways of stating the doctrine of Jesus concerning the Holy Spirit.

Another phase of this subject is the power, which has seemed to come from outside the soul, to sustain and help those who have been called to endure bitter and long-continued sorrow and pain. Those who feel themselves to be weak as water under the stress of severe trial, almost without previous suggestion, assume the proportions of heroes. They endure and suffer with patience what would crush those who are only physically brave and strong. A woman who seemed to have few resources in herself, suddenly lost four children. In speaking of it, she very simply but forcefully, said: "I could never have endured it myself." She believed that her fragility had been reinforced by one stronger than herself. Exceptional physical courage will account for deeds of amazing heroism like that displayed at the sinking of the Merrimac in the harbor of Santiago. Some persons are thus gifted by nature, as others have a poetic temperament. But exhibitions of physical valor, stimulated by the consciousness of world-wide applause, are very different from the patience with which weak persons accept heavy burdens without a murmur, and carry them apparently without assista

nce, sustained only by the consciousness of being right.

How shall we explain the singular devotion of Monica to Augustine? By mother-love? But mother-love might have been content with the greatness of her son, and his regard for her. She bore on her heart "the salvation of his soul," and would not cease in her quest for his spiritual welfare. A profligate father, the degraded ideals which justified vice, distances which seemed to be almost world-wide, did not daunt her. Without haste and without rest she sought to bring her gifted son to his Saviour. He had fame, and at least all the wealth that he needed, but Monica never faltered in her prayers, or in her service, until her son bowed before the cross, albeit for years she carried a heavy heart.

The age of martyrdom has passed but not the age in which men of vision and strength have to serve their fellow-men with neither pecuniary compensation nor expressed approval. And yet the number is steadily increasing who quietly undertake herculean tasks for their fellow-men, knowing that they will be neither appreciated nor understood, but, instead, will have to suffer social ostracism, which is sometimes quite as hard to endure as physical martyrdom. When a strong and earnest man undertakes a service in which he must be misunderstood, and seldom if ever applauded, when he chooses suffering with joy in order that he may serve others, when he is willing to accept discomfort, social hunger, physical pain, and without complaint continue in such a path, although opportunities of worldly emolument and honor make their appeals to him, it is difficult to explain the phenomena by simply saying that he is finding strength in some hitherto unknown chamber of his own personality. It would be easy to make a list of illustrations, long and pathetic, of those who have patiently endured tribulation, who have accepted heavy burdens and carried them without flinching that others might be relieved, who have had physical deformity, depression of mind, and pain of body, and yet who have never faltered as to their duty even when the way was dark. The world's noblest heroes are to be found among those who suffer but still endure and aspire in the night and silence, clinging to duty when no one understands, and much less approves. Such heroisms need explanation, and they have it in the inspiration and the regeneration which are mediated by the Inseparable Spiritual Companion.

Phenomena like those of which I have thus far been speaking have been observed in every age and every land. Some like Socrates have felt themselves warned against evil courses; others like Augustine have been protected from moral and spiritual death; others like Sakya-Muni have been led to give up wealth and power for truth and service; others, who could draw upon no hidden source of strength, have been sustained in the midst of trials which have seemed heavy enough to crush; and, most wonderful of all, in spite of all vices and crimes, all darkness and ignorance, all bondage to ignoble ideals and slavery to commercialism and pleasure, the race of man has never been content with things as they have been. As the moon draws the tides by unseen attractions, so by unseen attractions the souls of men have been made dissatisfied, and drawn toward truth and beauty, love and holiness; and this desire for some better country has never been absent. The passage from Egypt to the promised land is the eternal parable of humanity, which is always getting out of some Egypt, with its slavery and tyranny, and pressing toward some intellectual and spiritual Canaan. This is one of the most marvelous facts in the history of our race-its discontent with things as they are, its faith in something better, and the perfect confidence with which it embarks on unknown seas in its search for ampler and fairer worlds.

The history of the past is the record of the weak receiving strength, of the wicked being made uncomfortable in their wickedness, of limited and provincial creatures reaching out to broad and high horizons, of weakness, suffering, agony, willingly endured in the confidence that relief and blessing will come at last, though far off, to all.

Moreover, there is no indication of any cessation of such phenomena. In these days, when we say that no man should be asked to affirm anything which he cannot verify, voices of warning and entreaty are vivid, the consciousness of protection is distinct, support in trial is frequent, and the evidence that some force, or some person, is steadily leading humanity toward truth and righteousness is as convincing and constant as ever.

What shall be said of these facts which are so numerous and so evident as to make an effort at classification and explanation imperative?

Four answers to this inquiry are possible. Is the old doctrine of Guardian Angels true? Possibly we may be, individually, under the care of spiritual beings who are appointed for that service. That conviction often prevails, although so far as I have observed, not usually in association with perfect sanity. A man of noble bearing and grave and solemn manner who was talking about using the telephone for trans-Atlantic communication, once declared that all men living now are under the leadership of those who have gone, and that the great of other times are continuing their work through those now on earth. He added: "I am confident of my success for I am the representative in these days of Sir Isaac Newton." Subsequent events proved that Sir Isaac Newton must have lost most of his common sense since his departure from the earth, or he would have chosen a more rational representative.

This theory in no way solves the problem before us, but rather complicates it, because it does not explain how the relation of souls is adjusted. That there may be some truth in this speculation may be freely granted. One text at least appears to give it a little confirmation: "Are not their angels ministering spirits sent forth to minister to such as shall be the heirs of salvation." That seems to teach that some who have never dwelt in earthly bodies are the appointed ministers of those who live on the earth.

Many other persons dismiss this subject by saying that all souls, like all objects in nature and events in history, are parts of an everlasting and universal process, and that speculation is useless and a weariness to the flesh. That is the easiest way out of the difficulty, but it can be taken only by ignoring the facts. Are all ideas concerning spiritual ministry delusions? Then how shall we account for the imagination which is capable of giving birth to such magnificent dreams? And we may venture to ask also-Who started this movement in which we are all involved? How comes it that in this cosmic loom such a wondrous fabric is being woven, if there is no pattern, and no weaver, and will be no one to enjoy the work when it is finished?

Possibly no one is warned against sin, impelled toward virtue, supported in sorrow, led into larger visions of truth; and, possibly, truth and right are also dreams, and the mind itself a delusion; and, possibly, there is nothing but delusion. Then all study and struggle are useless; let us go to sleep. But, some one else says, perhaps the phenomena of which you speak are, in one sense, realities but caused by reactions of the soul on itself. First it imagines that some spiritual leadership is desirable, and then it concludes that that leadership is discernible. In other words, sorrow, sin, relief, joy, truth, right, are only imaginations born of other imaginations. If any are satisfied with such reasoning the task of enlightening them is hopeless.

There is another explanation of the sublime, ancient, and world-wide facts which are before us. It is the answer of Jesus, which is simple, profound, rational, and satisfying. He told His disciples, when they were grieving that they should see Him no more, that they would always have with them the Spirit of Truth who would convict of sin, show things to come, and lead into all truth. That Spirit in the Scriptures is called by one of the sweetest and dearest names in the languages of men-the Comforter. Some have wrongly imagined that the New Testament teaches that the presence of the Comforter is a new event in human history. Not so. The Spirit of Truth inspired and sustained the Apostles and Martyrs as He had sustained the Patriarchs and Prophets and the same Spirit which is represented as descending upon Jesus at His baptism brooded upon the face of the waters when the earth was without form and void.

Jesus teaches that God, as a Spirit, has never been absent from His creation and never out of touch with the spirits of men. In the beginning He created; later He inspired, supported, taught, comforted; and always and everywhere He is present to sustain, to lead, to comfort, to help, to save, and to bless. How simple, rational, and satisfying is this interpretation of the phenomena of human history!

We study our own spiritual experiences and discover that when we have been in danger of being contented with moral failure we have been made ashamed and disgusted by it; that when we have been on the verge of yielding to temptation we have been strangely and almost preternaturally protected; that when sorrows have come which would have crushed our unaided strength we have experienced strange peace and have had undreamed-of strength; and that never for a moment have we found rest or peace except as they have come to us in hand with truth and right. A wider study shows us that our experiences are in harmony with the common human experience. All forces and all events, in all ages, have been working for the welfare of individuals, society, the whole world. A steady, unfailing, universal attraction has been drawing the human race away from animalism, error, sorrow, war, separation and division, toward righteousness, truth, love, brotherhood, the life of the Spirit, and the unity and happiness of the children of God.

That attraction is interpreted by Jesus in a simple and beautiful way. He has taught us that the same Being who created the universe, and who has revealed and is revealing Himself in creation, in history, and in the earthly ministry of the Christ, is now, always has been, and always will be in the most intimate, personal, and loving relations with men. He warns them against evil, protects them in danger, comforts them in sorrow, lifts their thoughts and desires toward the true, the beautiful, and the good; and what He is doing for individuals He is also doing for humanity and the universe. This is the culmination of the Christian Revelation. This is to be the consummation and splendor of the Kingdom of God. All the disciples of Jesus are followers of the Spirit of Truth. The Spirit of Truth is the inspiration of all that is vital and enduring in literature, art, government, society; and each individual, and "the whole cosmic process" are being led by Him toward the beatitude of the Children of God.

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O happy house! whose little ones are given

Early to Thee, in faith and prayer,-

To Thee, their Friend, who from the heights of heaven

Guards them with more than mother's care.

O happy house! where little voices

Their glad hosannas love to raise,

And childhood's lisping tongue rejoices

To bring new songs of love and praise.

O happy house! and happy servitude!

Where all alike one Master own;

Where daily duty, in Thy strength pursued,

Is never hard nor toilsome known;

Where each one serves Thee, meek and lowly,

Whatever thine appointments be,

Till common tasks seem great and holy,

When they are done as unto Thee.

-O Happy House. Karl J.P. Spitta.

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