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not to mourn nor to lament, but rather, in accordance with the Lord's promise, in accordance with his faith in the truth, to rejoice in this, his departure and translation.
'So also in the Psalms, the soul that is devoted to its God in spiritual faith hastens to the Lord, saying, “How amiable are Thy dwellings, O God of Hosts! My soul longeth and hasteth unto the courts of God.”
'It is for him to wish to remain long in the world whom the world delights, whom this life, flattering and deceiving, invites by the enticements of earthly pleasure. Again, since the world hates the Christian, wherefore love that which hates thee, and wherefore not rather follow Christ out of the world, who both redeemed and loves thee? Herein let us manifest that we live as we believe : on the one hand, by not lamenting the departure of them we love, and, on the other, on the day when our own summons comes, by going without delay and with a ready mind unto the Lord, who calls us.'
What a disillusion these brave, devout, and yet tranquil, words of the blessed martyr of Carthage must be to many, who ignorantly and fondly suppose that ancient use and primitive Church-life bore any resemblance to the worldly spirit and sensuous attractions of modern religion, which, for all its false claim to antiquity, is only a revival of the worst elements and corruptions of mediævalism in a nineteenth-century dress, although, even thus, altogether unchastened and unsubdued by the severe, ascetical spirit of the Middle Ages.
Previous to any particular inquiry into the state of the Blessed Dead, as partially unveiled in the Apostolic words, let us for a moment remark upon a strange fact, which must bring a look of something like a pathetic wonder and sorrow into the tearless eyes of the great mysterious power, which has been personified as ‘God's Angel of Death.' We live in a world where that terrible angel, the messenger of death, clad in mourning raiment (known and named by the postCaptivity Jews as Sammael,* whose sword drops gall and pestilence), walks ever upon his dread mission. Yet we remain profoundly unconscious of, and indifferent to, that veiled and unseen Presence. Sometimes we meet him face to face in the death of others, and we are startled for the moment, as a sleeper awakened by a sudden sound in the house at midnight. Then the terror passes, and we gradually fall asleep again in our stupid unconcern. And yet, as it has been truly and touchingly said: 'If we lay our ear to the ground and listen, we may unceasingly hear the heavy tread of the feet of those who are carrying out the dead to the burial.' The solemn poet has sung:
* All that have growth and breath,
Have one large language, Death.'+ Every hour the long shadowy procession of the dying is going its silent way to the gate of destiny; every moment the sods are being turned afresh over some pale sleeper. But this fact is not, by an infinite degree, the chief misery. In a world upon which the dark cloud of sin has been thrown, over which the black pall of spiritual death has been cast, pain and death are, or would be, rifts of sunshine, gates and openings of glory through which angel-ministries of blessing and mercy descend to call the hearts that suffer to the peace in God. A sinful and unchastened immortality I would be the most infinite curse, for every soul has need enough in its mad impulses of rebellion, in its silly pursuit
* Cf. the Targum of Palestine on Gen. iii. 2, and for a good account of the angelology of the later Jews and the influence of the Magian religion upon the rabbinical system, Milman, 'Hist. of Christianity,' i., chap. ii.
+ Vaughan, Poems, i., p. 92.
I Cf. Methodius, 'Banquet of the Ten Virgins,' ix. 2; and also the interesting note in the 'Speaker's Commentary’upon Gen. iii. 22, with the patristic allusions.
of vanity, in its selfish unconcern for all but its own pleasure, of supernatural voices to recall it to thoughts of the hereafter and of God. The misery of the world is this, that, although the 'Angel of Death' is ever haunting the ways of life, he is unheeded by mortals, and forgotten by the dying. * Yes; even with ourselves, those whom we love are taken from us, and we carry them away, one by one, upon the bier. But almost as soon as the blinds are drawn up, the dead are forgotten, and everything goes on with us as before. The distant glow upon the hills of Immortality, that then penetrated into and faintly illumined our common life, fades away, so soon and so insensibly, in the return of every-day existence. Oh, it is an agony to think that by what is called 'the elasticity of life,' our life can so soon relapse into its usual channels, and that new cares and affections so soon possess us that, if the dead returned, we should scarcely know where to place them,' who yet once seemed as necessary to us as our very being. The stream of our life falls after the sudden check into its former courses, and becomes as commonplace and as unsanctified. The high poetry of the ideal-life with God, to which our thoughts and hopes have been invited to aspire by the entrance of a loved one within its embrace, fails before the prosaic power of that which is, and the dull pressure of the present. It is, indeed, for the while, become a pain that the customary and needful burdens of existence must be borne patiently in the daily round of world-life, though they seem so miserably trivial, and are, in the great reality of our sorrow, so unsuited to the new conditions of the soul, upon which the Supernatural has dawned with a newer, nearer light. At the first moment of parting we were too stunned to realize anything but the insistence of a present, intolerable sorrow, of a heart-breaking loss, cruelly renewed as, morning by morning, we awoke with a fearful start after the short, and—with such a wakingscarcely merciful oblivion of sleep. For what mourner would not choose to keep perpetual vigil rather than to suffer the torture of the reaction of grief, to which the daylight thrusts us back? It is well if, as time went by, the first paroxysms of an ungoverned sorrow were by grace gently and gradually subdued and softened, although the sorrow itself was not lessened, until the sorrow itself became more supernaturalised and transfigured by the few rays of glory which escaped beneath the veil of separation. Then a tranquil peace can possess the soul, not crippling, but refining its passions and impulses. Yes ; after all, blessed is such a sorrow, though it was a misery to be rudely forced back to earth with its complimentary visits of condolence, which chill, by the too apparent relief with which our consolers turn away, wearied and covertly irritated by our inability to appreciate any but one theme, which is all (we miserably feel, and more than ever) our own; and yet it is half a consolation when, by that turning aside of all others, it is at least so proved to be incontestably all, ---yes, all our own!
* Cf. the sadly true expression of this thought, given with his usual exquisite mode of expression in Pascal's 'Thoughts on the Misery of Man.'
'A poor heart in its grief resembles a wounded man stretched along the road, a prey to the charity of all passers. All wish him well; all do him ill. This turns him over, that raises him up; he moans, it matters not; we know better than he what he wants.
'Into an afflicted soul the crowd thinks it has a right to enter ; it is like a conquered city. The new-comers overturn everything--carry off, bring in, derange, arrange; protestations are of no avail ; besides, they are so feeble (mere sighs of pain) that they are scarcely heard.
* Each one is for shaping anew this poor soul, and casting it in its own mould. Light-hearted people speak of Time,
and how it sweeps and effaces, with the folds of its robe, every mournful image. Kinder spirits speak of the virtues of the deceased, and pronounce him happy. Peace-loving men, whom long regrets fatigue, remark that he was well nursed, has been decorously mourned, that every propriety has been observed, and that now the living must be thought of. Prosaic, narrow-minded men, finding this soul prostrate on the earth, would rivet it there for ever—would tear off its wings for fear it should escape from them. After having lost what he loved, the sufferer—last misery !—loses himself. He loses his liberty, his individuality; he no longer knows himself.
‘Of all distressful consolations, the worst are those which, coming truly from man, pretend to be derived from heaven.
"The heart is open to receive these pious counsels; the sob is stifled, grief itself is silent; they speak, and they leave you more distracted, not less miserable.
'For you had counted on God, on His sympathy, on His help, on some miracle of love He might still hold in reserve; and is it not the love of God that alone sheds a light on the mysteries of this world? And, behold! they bring you a god of petty jealousies, or a god who demands joy of a heart transpierced, or a calculating god, who enjoins you to love none but him, because he alone dies not! Oh how often have I heard-dinned into the ears of some poor dejected creature, whose head is buried in his hands, who is incapable of resisting the aggressions of their falsehood—such words as these: “The Eternal commands that we love Him only; He must reign alone; He breaks all idols !" "The
poor soul would answer that his father, that his child, was not an idol ; that his love ascended in grateful prayers to Him who gave them ; but he cannot speak. A fear has fallen upon him. Already his God turns on him a menacing aspect; his heart sinks within him.