After several hours conversation with an Arminian upon the subject of salvation and heaven, I fell into a deep musing, my fancy took possession of me and flew away, and ere I was aware I was set down within the golden gates of the “Land of the Blessed.” No sooner did my imagination realize my whereabouts, than I set about to explore the long sought country.
One of the first things that attracted my attention was a great throng of little children playing with the angels along the brink of a beautiful river. I immediately turned toward the happy company, and as I approached them they gathered about me in joyful groups. I asked them from whence they came, and who brought them there. One of them, assuming the role of spokesman for the others, answered: “O, sir, we were all born in a world far below this, where all who are born must one day die. We were fortunate enough to die while we were yet in a state of innocent purity; before we grew up and became contaminated with sin. As soon as we were dead we were carried away by the holy angels to this bright, beautiful world. Here we shall never die, but shall live on and on forever. Do you not think, sir, that we were blessed indeed, to die in infancy, and so escape all the evils of a wicked world, and all the uncertain issues of a sinful life?” When the child had finished his story, I asked: “Is there not one here who is called Jesus, whom all those that enter this place adore, and love, and praise?” “I have heard,” responded the child, “that there is such a person somewhere here, but we have never seen him yet. You know we do not have to praise him, for he did not bring us here. I have heard that those who were sinners love and praise him, but we were not sinners, you know.” These words began to fill me with strange forebodings; a feeling of dissatisfaction entered my heart. I turned and went away. I had not gone far when I saw a great procession in motion; the company was composed of half-grown children and young people. They were all in a great glee, displaying banners, and singing to the clang of several different kinds of instruments, “The Sunday School Army is Marching.” The procession was coming toward me, so I stepped aside to let them pass. I stood and gazed and wondered. At last I beckoned one who seemed to be of more than ordinary rank among them, and began to inquire concerning the passing crowd. “That,” said he, in reply, “is the Sunday school army celebrating the triumphs of the Sunday school on earth. All those in the procession were saved through the Sunday school. They say that if there had never been a Sunday school on earth, they would never have been in heaven. Their teachers there taught them to be good, so when they died God had to let them come here, because they had been good, you see.” When the lad ceased speaking, his eyes still sparkling with enthusiasm over the triumphs of the Sunday school, I asked, “Is there not a person called Jesus, whom men praise for all the blessings of this place?” “O, yes sir,” he answered, “there is such a person here somewhere, but he is not entitled to much praise from us; they say he did die once on earth, but that would never have saved us if we had not been good, and we would not have been good if we had not gone to Sunday school. So look at it as you may, sir, it was the Sunday school that saved us. So we do not praise him, we praise the bridge that carried us over.” The procession had by this time passed far into the distance, the fluttering banners had almost disappeared from view, and the last echo of the words, “The Sunday School Army is Marching,” was dying in the breeze.
The feelings of dissatisfaction which came over me after my interview with the infants had increased continually, until now they were grown into an intolerable burden. I now turned to my right and ascended a little hill. Upon reaching the summit, I discovered hidden away in a secluded place a curious little temple, such as the traveler is likely to come upon in the country districts of India. Within the temple a number of people were kneeling before two shrines, all kindled with the most ardent and self-sacrificing devotion. Upon inquiry I found that one of the shrines contained simply a small American coin, and the other a few leaflets of paper; these constituted the supreme object of the worshipers’ praise. I stood for awhile in sore amazement; my heart wasted away under a deadening thrill of hopes blighted. Idolatry and idolaters in heaven! In my madness of despair I touched one of the company and asked him who they were, where they came from, and the meaning of their strange devotion. All this time the worshipers were kneeling around both shrines, some kissing the coin, others pressing the little leaves of paper to their bosoms, and all muttering vows and chanting their wild, weird hymns of praise. In reply to my inquiry the man said, “We are Hindoos, and have lately arrived from India. Some of us worship at the ‘shrine of the coin,’ because we are sure that if it had not been for American money we would never had been here. We have preserved here in this shrine the first coin ever contributed toward saving men from torment; the very identical penny, sir. Those whom you saw caressing the little bits of paper at the other altar were cherishing the instruments which brought them here. These bits of paper, held so sacred by them, are called by the English speaking people, tracts. They were furnished by the American Tract Society. Those who taught us in India told us that we would praise God through Christ when we should live here, but then they said that without the money and the bits of paper we never would have heard of this place, and consequently we never could have come here. Our motto in the world from whence we came, sir, was: ‘Honor to whom honor is due,’ and we have had no cause to change it since coming here, so we built a temple upon this hill, as it was our custom in India, and yield ourselves to the undivided honor and praise of the power that saved us.”
I slowly descended the hill on the opposite side from where I had ascended. I at length found myself in the midst of a most charming, luxuriant valley. The place was filled with the music of flowing waters, the smell of ripening fruits, and the fragrance of blooming flowers. My feelings were soothed and quieted by the sweetness of the place. I unconsciously dropped into a reverie, which was soon broken by coming suddenly upon a small, select group of men and women. They carried an air of culture and refinement, and seemed to be keeping aloof from the general throng of inhabitants. Their swell appearance and aristocratic behavior awakened within me a curiosity to hear their story. I approached them very respectfully, and after a polite apology for my intrusion I made bold to ask them who they were, and how they gained admission there. One of their company volunteered to unfold the following short but suggestive account of their good fortune: “Before we came here,” said he, “we lived in the world. There we belonged to the ‘elite’ to the ‘upper four hundred.’ We are about the first of our station in life that ever came here. For a long time all the preachers on earth were base, ignorant, illiterate men. Their clothes were course, their manners uncultured and rude, and their language awkward and unpolished, and indeed, sir, they were altogether such as were repulsive to well bred ladies and gentlemen. They could obtain no entrance into refined society; they could have no influence with the rich and noble and the wise. In consequence of this fatal deficiency in the ministry, very few people, if any at all, were saved from among the upper class. But by and by, some good men set about to remedy this lamentable defect, to remove this deplorable impediment, to roll away this disastrous stumbling-stone. They raised money and endowed colleges and theological seminaries, wherein men might obtain a polite ministerial education, and thus be qualified to stand before cultured society. Through this means ministers soon gained abundant entrance into the most refined circles, and began at once to wield an influence over the highest walks of life. In this way the door of good works was opened to us, so you plainly see that it was through the enterprise of these good, farseeing men, that we were started on the way to this place.” When he finished speaking I said, “But what about the man Christ Jesus? Pray tell me something about him. He is the object of my search here, but he appears to be but little known, or altogether a stranger.” “O yes, sir,” he answered, “we heard of him before we came here, but we have not seen him since our arrival; indeed we have had no particular desire to see him, for he is of very little concern to us. We would much rather see some of the good men through whose instrumentality we were brought here, that we might express our sincere thanks and lasting obligations to them; for we are certain that to them belongs the honor of our salvation. The man Christ Jesus of whom you speak made nothing certain. He finished nothing. He went away and left the whole matter in the hands of a few ignorant, base, despised people. His whole scheme would have proven a failure if others had not taken it up and made something of it.” Here he closed his speech, and I, feeling no affinity for such company, wandered onward.
I next came upon a great company composed of people of all nations. They were full of zeal and enthusiasm. I at once recognized that it was the missionary harvest from the foreign fields. Foremost in the throngs were the Burmese, displaying banners with Judson’s name emblazoned in flaming colors. After these came Hawaiians, Hindoos, Fijians, Persians, Japanese, with now and then a straggling Chinaman; none of the last named however had died in America. High over all floated a prodigious flag bearing the inscription, written in all languages, “Long live the American Board of Foreign Missions.” Upon inquiry I found that this company embraced all who had ever reached heaven from heathen lands, except the small number worshipping in the little temple on top of the hill, before referred to. I also found out from an old resident that their arrival there is of quite recent date, not a single arrival dating further back than the beginning of mission work. Before this human machinery was put in operation, the countless number of men and women dying in heathen lands, all sank down into irretrievable destruction. There was no remedy for them. No preacher, consequently no salvation; no priest, consequently no Christ. I once more inquired concerning Jesus the Saviour of sinners. They only laughed, and said he was entitled to no praise from them, for he had done no more for them than he had for their ancestors and brethren who were now perishing in the perdition of the ungodly. They protested that they owed their salvation alone to the mission work, in carrying salvation within their reach, and their own good judgment in appropriating it to their own advantage; they said that Christ alone had benefited them nothing.
After hearing this I stood for some time sick at heart. I was here a lonely wanderer. O how I longed to return to earth again. There I had the fellowship and communion of saints; here I was a wretched outcast; no fellow, no companions, none to join with me in ascribing praise to God; even the Saviour himself could not be found there. Dante’s inferno, even to the seventh circle, would have been more desirable to me. I once more endeavored to press forward, whither I knew not, and cared not, for I was now an aimless wanderer, a tramp in heaven; but I was soon confronted by another procession. The participants this time wore blue ribbons in their button-holes and temperance badges upon the lapels of their coats. A tall man headed the procession carrying a large flag inscribed to the W.C.T.U. of America. I soon discovered that it was the ransomed of the temperance societies holding high carnival to their great benefactors. Temperance lecturers, total abstinence societies, and prohibitionist workers of every description were there with samples of their work, in the persons of reformed drunkards whom they had saved from destruction. I watched my opportunity, and seeking out one of their chief men, I asked, “Is Jesus of Nazareth in your procession?” The answer came prompt and decisive, “He is not here.” I ventured a little further and asked again, “What think ye of him, if peradventure you know him?” The man responded, “He is not much respected by our societies. When he was in the world he was considered by our ancient brethren as a wine-bibber and a glutton. He even went so far as to attend a wedding among the lower class of people, and when the wine was exhausted and the guests all drunk he made them a new supply of the vile stuff, right in the face of all respectable people who were laboring to suppress the manufacture, sale and use of the dreadful poison; and one of his chief apostles recommended the use of wine. So you see there is not much agreement between us and him, either in heaven or on earth, consequently we are found very seldom, if ever, in each other’s company. Many whom you see here were saved by temperance workers from drunkards’ graves and drunkards’ hell which would have been their certain doom, had not the temperance cause superseded the work and teaching of him you inquire for.”
I had now seen enough of the place to desire no more of it, and was ready to sink in utter despair. In my endeavor to escape one thing another would confront me; finally I came into an open court of the most elaborate and gorgeous fashion. This was called the “Court of Honor,” or “Place of Degrees.” Here men were ranked according to the amount of good done by them, or the character which they had built. Some were on high seats, and some were on low ones, and some had no seat of honor at all. Some wore crowns gemmed with stars, some wore crowns without stars, and some had no crowns at all. Those on the highest seats had the most, the largest and the brightest stars in their crowns, and wore long, rich robes, of which they were exceedingly proud. Those on high seats looked with scorn upon all those below them, and those less preferred looked in envy upon those above them. I forgot my own discontent for a short time to muse upon the discontent manifested in the scene before me. I wondered if contentment, such as heaven should bring, was even an occasional guest in their hearts. Everything appeared to be exactly after the fashion of the earth, only upon a much more elaborate scale. The same love of glory and distinction, the same boasting over inferiors, the same envy against superiors, the same principle of self-aggrandizement; in fact, everything that goes to make up the distinctions, strife and dissensions among men on earth, every principle that begets and nourishes religious fraud, dissembling and knavery, was ripe and luxuriant there. All the imperfections and base deceptions of earth had ripened in the skies. The whole place was as completely given to idolatry as Athens of old, which stirred the spirit within the holy apostle. Then came the dreadful thought of spending eternity there. It was more than I could bear; my agony of heart and last struggles of despair aroused me, and I once more rejoice that it was only a dream, a dreadful illusion, but a true picture of the heaven that the religionists of this world are making.
H. M. Curry.