Among the mysteries there is none profounder than the human soul. Everything about it savors of the unknown. The inexplorable and unexplainable meet us at every turn in spite of much that is known, and that is being discovered.
Every night hundreds if not thousands of telescopes are pointed at distant stars and planets in the endeavor to understand better the nature, and to discover new secrets about these far-away ramblers in space. Some things have been learned about them, but much remains to be found out. The vastness of their distance from us is the explanation of our ignorance concerning them.
In like manner the gaze of innumerable eyes and the energies of countless minds are directed in investigation of the human soul. Hour after hour, and minute after minute, the telescopes of thought and study are turned upon it, and while much has been discovered, much remains to be revealed concerning the invisible stranger, that, unlike the stars, is in a few inches or feet of us, and yet in many respects is as profoundly unknown.
Mystery after mystery rolls up before us in the questions, What is spirit, and how can it act independently of matter? And when does the soul begin its existence; and is it generated or created? Does it exist seminally, or is it a direct creation of God in the womb?
Then, where is its location in the body? That it is there we do not doubt, but in what part of the body? Does it fill the physical frame, or is it in the perineal gland, as Wesley thought, or in the brain, or nearer the heart, or where?
Then other puzzling thoughts arise as to the nature of the soul's existence when separated from the body, and whether it has powers which correspond to speech, sight, hearing and other faculties, as well as members of the body. And has it a shape? And does it possess color? etc., etc.
But everywhere we are confronted with closed doors, which are not only shut, but locked, and refuse to open to our knock and call. An unsolvable mystery is near us—yes, in us; and there is no more answer to us from that viewless inhabitant about some things we want to know, than if it was a dweller upon Jupiter or Saturn.
And yet we know something about this invisible tenant of the body. We have sailed along part of the coast lines, explored a few of the bays, and stood upon some of the capes and hilltops. We have made a little chart concerning what has been discovered, with a wavering line showing what we know, and great white spaces marked "unknown," "unexplored," etc., declaring what we do not know. We mention a few things that we know:
First, It is distinct from the body.
We discover that it has longings and desires that are not physical, but spiritual. In the midst of a life of bodily gratification, it is itself perfectly miserable. The body lies down satisfied, while this nature starts up unsatisfied, full of unrest, and plaintive inward cries. This is the soul, which has a hunger as keen as that of the body, which thirsts and wants rest like the physical being, and failing to obtain will surely lead the man to despair and deeds of desperation.
Second, It is a thinking something.
We have a thought nature in us. It commenced running away back yonder at its beginning, and is destined to run forever. We are told that when reason is dethroned and one tramps the cell of a lunatic, yet thought goes on; wild, disordered, disconnected, it is true, but not the less is it thought. The mental machine works on faithfully.
As far as the soul has been traced and followed from the body, it is found to be thinking. It thinks in death, and, according to Christ, thinks after death. The rich man's agony in hell sprang partly from the fact that he remembered his brethren on earth, and the effect of his life upon them.
We can conceive of no greater torture than to be compelled to endure the slow, deliberate, steady, faithful grinding of the mind machine, which reproduces all the scenes and events of a sorrowful, sinful, misspent life, and keeps this up forever.
Third, It is a beautiful something.
As we have said, we neither know its shape or color. The general opinion is that it is white. A confirmation of this thought is that whenever the soul is aroused, there is a flash of light in the face.
But of one thing we feel assured, and that is, that every human spirit is beautiful. Doubtless in this respect the king has no advantage over the beggar, the civilized man over the heathen, nor one race above another. Made in God's image, they are all compelled to be lovely.
As we view the human family, after an external fashion, we see great differences produced in face and form by clothing, old age, disease, poverty and suffering. And so consciously and unconsciously a very great variety of treatment is rendered to people. But the eye of God pierces these externals of accident and misfortune, and sees within every human form a beautiful soul. And those who are filled with God's Spirit have a measure of the same discernment and recognize the loveliness and preciousness of this hidden something within, called a spirit. As Angelo saw an angel in a stone, so they see a beautiful possibility beneath a hard and unattractive exterior. They know that an invaluable gem is in these crumbling walls of clay.
The soul is lovely. Its Maker, and the likeness in which it was fashioned, proves that. But also, its swift and vanishing appearance in the face puts the matter beyond question. Who has not seen it tremble on the lip, laugh in the eye, and at times stretch out its arms to you?
When the soul is allowed to have continued rulership over the animal life all have observed the cultured, attractive look that appears stamped on the countenance. Then there are moments when under the mighty influence of truth perceived or received, some great deed of moral heroism, some sacrifice to man or God, some great influx of the divine life and glory, the soul appears fairly looking at you out of the face, which is in itself transfigured by its glorious presence. It is noticeable that even the homely become attractive, and the naturally beautiful sweep beyond that into an angelic appearance, when the soul, aroused by the Holy Ghost, stands gazing out into the world through the face, as one stands and looks out from a window.
Fourth, It is a lonely something.
It came into the world alone; it leaves the world alone, and is made to stand alone before the Judgment Seat of Christ. It is fenced off from all other beings in a body which encases it, and looks out of its clay prison upon the world, as a man on an island gazes upon the ocean washing around him.
This fact, in addition to others, produces the indescribably solitary feeling which every soul has felt with bitterest pangs, and at times came near sinking under.
Fifth, It is a friendless something.
We do not mean that a soul does not love, and is not loved. We do not say there are no such things as attachments and warm, true friendships. Such a statement would be absurd and false. And yet we reiterate the fact of the profound friendlessness of the human spirit.
When we recall that a deep religious experience is to place one at once into a place where opposition comes alike from friend and foe; when we remember that our own loved ones, with a mistaken affection, try to bring us into amusements, employments and places which are simply ruin and death to the spiritual life, some idea of the soul's friendlessness begins to dawn on the reader.
Sixth, It is a restless something.
No argument is needed here. A glance within, and the study of human life without, confirm the statement. This invisible spirit wants rest, and is after it. Its actions prove it.
The trails in the forest lead down to springs and brooks. The physical thirst drives animal life to the seeking, finding and frequent return to streams of water. In like manner the soul, impelled, not to say driven, by its own yearnings, is seen going in every direction for satisfaction. It leaves its trail everywhere. Its track is found by the side of every earthly pool and cistern of pleasure. The pity is that it makes such amazing blunders in searching after spiritual rest and gratification. The marvel is that an animal is truer in its instincts than a spirit in its reasonings and judgments.
The only perfect rest for the soul is to be found in God. It was made for Him, is restless without Him, and will be wretched as well as undone forever if it does not find Him. It seems to require years for the soul to discover that the eye and ear are never satisfied with seeing and hearing, that the spirit may be infatuated for a brief while, but never inwardly contented and filled by an earthly object. When the discovery takes place, then the life of the misanthrope, and recluse or the suicide is often the result. Tell the disappointed, soured, embittered man that the cause of his unhappiness, heart emptiness, and life failure is that he has missed God, and likely as not he will laugh the informer to scorn.
Astronomy tells of numerous small bodies flying through space and circling about the sun. They originally came from that great shining orb, and their only hope of rest is to fall back into the place from whence they came.
The parable is plain. We came from God. He saw to it in our creation that enough of His nature was implanted in us to make us restless and unhappy until we returned to Him, fell in His embrace, and found that blessed repose and perfect heart-contentedness only to be realized in God Himself, through Jesus Christ, His Son.
Sixth, It is a dreadfully imperilled something.
There is no danger in the universe, frightful as it may seem, that can be compared for a moment to the peril which threatens the soul. The ruin and destruction of a soul demands, as some one has said, that the heavens be veiled, and the stars hung with crepe.
Let the reader think for a moment of what a world we are living in. It is a vision of the weak flying from the strong, every form of life trying to escape some kind of danger and death. The insect is avoiding the bird, the dove is flying from the hawk, the fish is rushing from the angler, the smaller animals running from the larger, the larger from the hunter, and destruction and death is on every breeze. The trap, dead fall, baited hook, net, spear, sword, musket and cannon are seen everywhere, and blood is trickling in every field and wood, and life is being gasped out everywhere.
Dreadful as is the spectacle, yet the heart-chilling thought at once comes up, that none of these dangers and deaths can be likened to the peril and ruin that threaten the soul. A doom and destruction is on the track, and in full pursuit of the human spirit, which transcends in horror all the others beyond words to describe.
A world of devils are unified to accomplish this destruction. Sin in every conceivable form is at work to get control of and damn the spirit made in God's image. Temptation is lurking on every side to spring upon and drag it down. Traps, pitfalls, baited hooks, painted decoys, every imaginable device of hell, is set to deceive, bewilder, overcome and undo forever the soul made in the image of God. The wonder is how any one can escape. And none would be saved but for the grace of God.
Seventh, It is a boundless something.
We mean that the invisible Spirit within seems to be endowed with inexhaustible capacities. As long as we observe its life it is learning. Its possibilities seem to have no end. In a strange sense it has bottomless depths and topless heights.
Men but faintly realize the value of the soul. If they did, better care would be taken of it. Christ knows its worth, and declares that a man would be the eternal loser, if he exchanged it for the whole world. According to the Bible, the soul is more precious than the entire earth, with its continents and seas, its forests and harvests, its gold and silver mines, and stores of precious gems.
The way that the soul can receive knowledge of all kinds; the systematizing and classifying; the ticketing, labelling and putting away in mental drawers for future use; the constant addition of facts with no sense of plethora, but ardent desires for more and boundless room for more, constitutes one of the amazing things about the human spirit.
It is evident that the soul from its very nature can make the choice of having a bottomless abyss experience within, and an eternally sinking in itself; or it can have the topless height, and be forever rising in all that is pure, true, holy and divine.
If a life of sin is chosen, the man will find, sooner or later, that he has a soundless pit within him; and the steady fall from day to day, the constant sinking from mean, meaner to meanest, from vile, viler to vilest, with yawning depths far beneath the present evil doing, and to which he feels he is going—all this will serve in a measure to show the boundless capacities of the soul.
We have a river in the South, whose broad powerful current slices off hundreds and thousands of acres of land, sometimes whole plantations at a time, sucks them up in its swirl, and sweeps them far off into the distant ocean. Then we have a stream in the mountains which suddenly disappears and carries with it whatever is floating on its bosom, never to be seen any more. Besides, we have read of a hole in a large natural cavern that seems to be bottomless: you may drop a stone and listen for the fall, but you will listen in vain. Again, we all know that if a rock could be cast from the earth, and laws of gravitation suspended, that rock would fall forever. Into the dead, black, empty, infinite space which underlies the universe, it would enter, and sink, sink, sink, forever and forever.
It requires all these figures and illustrations to show what is meant by a fallen and falling soul. We have all seen sin, like a Mississippi River, cutting away the spiritual acres of a man's life. Truth was washed away; honor, honesty and purity were swallowed up; reputation departed; and character disappeared.
We have also seen iniquity like a sinking hole in the spiritual life. Everything said to and done for the transgressor went immediately out of sight. Sermons, prayers, conversations, entreaties, warnings, rebukes, tears, all alike fell into the cavernous character, and were heard of no more. We were calling into and trying to fill up a bottomless pit. There seemed nothing within to catch and hold up a Gospel message or personal appeal.
Then we have seen the sinner falling like the stone descended through infinite space.
There is no doubt that when Christ spoke of hell being a bottomless pit, He was thinking not so much of locality as a spiritual state or condition. His mind was upon the everlasting sinking into darker moral depths of a lost soul.
This falling, while going on in life, is unquestionably retarded by the restraining grace of God, and by many extraneous things, like music, literature, public opinion and church influence. But the hour comes when the soul, leaving the body and entering eternity, will find itself stripped of all these things, and is left to follow its own bent, which is a perpetual inclination to sink. There is no doubt that when the spirit of a man has broken beyond the law of spiritual gravitation and commenced falling, it will continue to fall eternally. The centripetal power of God's grace has been cast off; the centrifugal force of self-will set on fire by sin alone operates, and means that the man gets farther from God every minute, hour, day, year, century, cycle and age, and through eternity itself. He is falling, falling, falling; lower and lower; deeper and deeper; sinking on himself; sinking in himself; and finding to his horror that he himself is a bottomless abyss.
On the other hand, if the soul chooses God and good, then we begin to see what is meant by topless heights in the spirit life.
All of us have marked the improvement, development and steady advancement of a soul after its conversion and sanctification. The progress in some instances was remarkable and in others wonderful. When filled with the Spirit "we walk in the light steadily and faithfully with God, there is a constant growth and rise in the spiritual life all the while. People see it, and the soul feels it. It stands thrilled with the consciousness of its unfolding powers; while the months and years are accentuated and marked by the realization of greater wisdom, deeper love, increased gentleness and tenderness, with a commensurate firmness and power in the things of God.
A few years ago, at a college commencement, we saw a schoolgirl who had come to the place of learning from a back country neighborhood. Both face and manner showed the mental and social lack. Grace, knowledge and instruction had separate works to do in her behalf. About that time her soul was converted and sanctified, and then followed the training of mind and heart and enrichment of both. Some months ago we met the same girl, but had to be introduced to her. The crude schoolgirl had disappeared, and in her place stood an elegant young woman with refined manners, cultured mind, deeply spiritual face, and noble Christian life. And yet this marvellous change is but the beginning. Eternity lies before this young maiden, with its everlasting progress and development, and as one of the daughters of the King, she will actually add grace to His palace, and with an increasing glory and honor forever. In one of our largest cities a burglar, who was imprisoned for theft, was converted to God in a cell while reading one of Moody's sermons in a newspaper. After his release, he was sanctified and joined the M. E. Church, South. His life became irreproachable, and his face familiar at a number of holiness camp-meetings. He had been such a bold criminal, and such a terror to the police, that for months and even years after his change, the officers of the law kept watchful eyes upon him. But all at last marked the change in his life, and above all the wonderful transformation in his face. We have seen two photographs taken of him, one while he was in the depths of sin, and the other after he was sanctified and a devoted member of the church. The contrast was simply amazing, and constituted a powerful sermon in itself. The one face was so dark, lowering, vicious, animal-like, and even devil-like, that it was hard to believe that the other photograph, showing a noble, open countenance, full of gracious light and love, could be the same man. And yet it was, and thousands who have seen the pictures and know the man as did the writer, can vouch for it.
And yet this improvement is but the beginning. Other heights of grace still tower above this redeemed man, and remain for all redeemed men. There are peaks of knowledge, dizzy elevations of glory, and mountain tops of grace and goodness and love and holiness, that shall be seen ascending one above another through the never-ending ages of eternity. And we are to ascend them forever. Topless heights in Heaven over against bottomless depths in Hell. An eternal ascension of the soul in holiness and happiness above, as well as the everlasting sinking of the spirit in wickedness and wretchedness below.
It fairly dazes the mind to think what God's redeemed ones will be and look like in Heaven, a thousand or ten thousand or a million years from now. It does not yet appear what we shall be; we only are told we shall be like Him. But what will He, the King of Glory, be like? So the mystery is not cleared up. The Glory has not yet been described.
A hint comes to us in Revelation, when John falls down to worship a transcendently glorious being, whom he sees and mistakes for a divine personage. The rebuking words to him were, "See thou do it not; for I am thy fellow-servant, one of thy brethren, the prophets."
May God help the reader to guard and preserve a soul which has such a wonderful appearance, and is to enter upon such a glorious destiny above the stars.