The Purifying Fire

W. John Murray
The Astor Lectures
Divine Science Publishing Assoc.
New York, 1917, 8th ed.

Their mantel dark, their grisly shadows spread,
Stained with spots of deepest sanguine hue,
Warm drops of blood, on earth’s black visage shed,
Supplied the place of pure and precious dew,
The moon and stars for fear and sprites were fled.
The shrieking goblins, each where howling flew,
The furies roar, the ghosts and fairies yell,
The earth was filled with devils, and empty hell.
. . . . .
O shadows vain! O fools, of shades afraid!

— Torquato Tasso.

“Sweet are the uses of adversity which like the toad, ugly and venomous,
yet hides a precious jewel in its head.”

[177] The seeing, feeling, immaterial life principle which controls the body is called the soul. Intellect is that attribute of the soul which adjusts the relation existing between the soul’s perceptions and ambitions; it is never satisfied until its adjustment bears the seal of Truth’s approbation. During the interval in which the intellect is seeking this approbation the soul suffers through its separation from that which is necessary [178] to its completion. Sorrow, therefore, is soul-sickness. Souls differ more than bodies, and “as the thing more perfect is, the more it feels of pleasure and of pain.” In the travail of sensitive souls inspiration is born. Sorrow is the woof [threads] in the texture which makes the swaddling clothes of genius, the name given by the ancients to the influences of Divinity.

Galileo was made blind, and Milton became blind in the midst of their unselfish ministry for the welfare of science and art. Beethoven was deaf at thirty-seven. Demosthenes, the greatest orator of antiquity, was a victim of stuttering, as was Aristotle. Schumann, Donizetti and Lenau were victims of mental illness. The immortal Tasso was a sufferer from insanity and spent the best years of his gifted life under absolute restraint in an asylum. The inspired Leopardi was a pitiful invalid, and the spiritually minded Pascal endured a life of implacable torture. All of the greatest minds which have contributed to the intelligence of the universe, have been children of “sorrow and acquainted with grief” with one exception. Shakespeare’s name does not appear on the martyr’s list. Because of the incontrovertible association of inspiration with suffering, it is interesting to trace the influence of sorrow upon superior minds, and for that reason we will compare the lives of two great men–undoubtedly equals in intellectual capacity–Dante, a martyr to suffering, and Shakespeare, the man of pleasure.

[179] Both of these men were universal. “Like Descartes’ universe, Shakespeare had his center everywhere and his circumference nowhere.” Dante, unlike Shakespeare, had his center and his circumference in God. To both, their convictions constituted their religion. The English genius was early converted to the gospel of pleasure, and his life was colored by its creed. Dante believed himself to be only an individual spoke in the great wheel of the universe; he consecrated his life to the cause of universal equity, and he died for his convictions. The brains of both these men were workshops within which they clothed with shape the children of their thoughts.

Shakespeare spoke through the medium of character and his revelations are remarkably true to the vices and weaknesses of human nature. Dante likewise clothed the children of his fancy in the garbs best fitted to their several roles, but the figure about whom his greatest interest centers wears a celestial robe. Shakespeare’s great genius lay in his alchemic power to quicken the puppets of his imagination into life, while the essence of the Latin’s genius was in his ability to “join earth to heaven.” At this point these great artists cease to be analogous in the manifestation of their extraordinary genius. Shakespeare confined his pen to earthly phenomena. Dante recognized God as the only reality, and the Divine Law as the only law; therefore to him, men’s codes were infinitesimal [180] links fashioned, for the most part, to protect the personal ownership of universal benefits. As compared with Shakespeare’s work, Dante’s is as metaphysically superior as a torch is superior to a candle. This does not belittle the eternal value of the productions of the greatest intellect that the English-speaking world has produced. Instead it does justice to Dante Alighieri. For the Englishman, love was a pastime. For the Latin, it was a sublime ideal characterized by the chastest purity. He transmuted grief into spiritual verse, as his struggling soul wended its way Godward in the intellectual search for Truth’s benediction. During his wanderings and in banishment he still glorified the Love which is almighty.

“The glory of Him who moveth everything
Doth penetrate the universe and shine
In one part more and in another less”

sang Dante as he unlocked the door between earth and Heaven. Occasionally Shakespeare’s intellectual humor strikes on the flint of Truth, causing a heavenly spark of wisdom to fly upward, but every page of Dante’s scintillates with innumerable showers of divine fire. Unlike Shakespeare, there is no sparkle of humor in Dante’s verses, but the melody of his “dulcet symphony of Paradise” may be likened to a cascade of pearls descending in a silver urn. [181]

“O Power divine, lend’st thou thyself to me
So that the shadow of the blessed realm
Stamped in my brain I can make manifest
. . . . .
The Truth, in which all intellect finds rest.”

This was the prayer of the divinest of the poets. His prayer has been abundantly answered, for Dante Alighieri’s intellect found its repose in Truth. Shakespeare’s intellect rarely rested upon Truth or Christ, but by its magic it has made entertaining pleasantry out

“Of every malice that wins hate in Heaven,
Hypocrisy, flattery…
Falsification, theft, and simony,
Panders, and barrators, and like filth.”

Shakespeare’s mighty intellect rested on earth, while Dante’s, through suffering found its way to Truth and won Her benediction.

Sorrow, therefore, is the shadow that accompanies the soul in its search for knowledge at which it [of necessity] must arrive in order to identify itself with its own reality as an idea in Mind. Affliction is often the way to God.

“The Man who, without sin, was born and lived” was a Man of sorrow; and for that reason alone sorrow cannot be considered a complement of sin. David said: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivereth them out of them all…It is good for [182] me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes.” And he frankly confesses that his progression towards Truth was fraught with suffering, whereas before the intellect turned heavenward, he knew naught of sorrow.

In Ecclesiastes we read that in “much wisdom is much grief,” and that he who “increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” The soul is in a position similar to that of a person who, having lost his identity, comes to consciousness within strange walls. The soul is a captive of sense, imprisoned by ignorance. The past is a blank, the door of the future closed, and yet the soul divines by intuition that it is not what it seems, nor is it where it belongs. Nature taking her course from “Divine Intellect,” impels the soul to begin the search to prove its identity. The first faculty that the soul uses is reason, but reason’s wings barely suffice to bear the captive to Intellect. Here reason leaves it, and Intellect, the soul’s advocate, commences the search for Truth which alone can establish the soul’s identity with divinity. But while this search is going on the royal captive of sense suffers an agony of suspense. Intellect is ever trying to bear it on towards Truth, while the senses hold it back by fixing its attention on the past. There are moments when the soul is quickened by mental flashes that illumine its dungeon with their effulgence of hope, but because these flashes have come from the fire-flies of sense they are fleeting and lead nowhere, and again the soul is cast [183] down. Ever vacillating between ephemeral hope and constant despair, shadows become realities to the soul until the earth seems filled with weeping, and hell reigns everywhere.

The soul is pregnant with Spirit, but until it reposes in Truth it is not delivered. When the hour for deliverance comes, however, and the inspiration is brought forth in the form of the soul’s own divinity, it sees even as it is seen and its work is complete. As the acorn contains the seed of the oak, so the soul has within itself the stamp of the potential Life principle which is identified with Spirit, but like the fruit of the oak, the soul must discard its mask in order to assume the form of its potential self, of which it is only conscious by inspiration.

It is the quickening or vitalizing of the real that causes the death of the unreal, and the soul, situated between constructive force and destructive energy, is acted upon by both vibrations. The body receives the reflex action of its dominating principle, which is the soul, and suffers or enjoys according to the soul’s dictates. Jesus has likened the soul’s travail to that of a mother, saying: “A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come, but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish for joy; and ye now therefore have sorrow, but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.”

It has been said that man is a sentient being [184] forming a link that connects the hell of ignorance with the heaven of intelligence and that he has three phases of life–that of existence, or the plane of sensation, of human, or the plane of reason, and that of the divine, or the plane of Intelligence–on any one of which he may reside. Travail commences with the soul’s departure from the sense plane in search of its divine entity of Intelligence, and it continues until the captive, liberated from sense, reposes in Spirit. Sorrow, then, must be redeemed from its association with sin and be recognized as an ambassador of Intelligence, pleading for the soul’s liberation from the world of sense.

Among the women whose sacred sorrow has blessed the earth, two figures stand forth upon a dark background of pain,–Mary the woman chosen because of her chastity to be the mother of Jesus, and Joan of Arc, whose purity was transmuted into Power in the flames ignited by “envy, arrogance, and avarice” which afflict “the world, trampling the good and lifting the depraved.” When tempted to belittle the office of sorrow, it would be well to remember these women who came unto their own through much tribulation. Sorrow is not always the consequence of sin; it is the crucible in which the precious metals of character are tested before they are poured into the mold of Spirit. To realize this is to transmute sorrow into joy.

Death is perhaps the greatest cause of grief. But why should it be so, when “that which thou [185] sowest is not quickened except it die”? To die is not to abandon Life. For the so-called dead to return to this plane of consciousness is as impossible,as a general rule, as it would be for you to re-enter the dream, in which you perhaps last night were the principal actor. By death, planes of consciousness are transcended. To transcend a state of being through death is to close that chapter of existence never to be reopened. Jesus transcended materiality by the divinity of his life and not by his death. For this reason he was able to return to the same state of consciousness that he entertained before death, for it was always the spiritual state.

To die is to awaken from the dream of life in matter. When we awaken from the dreams within the dream we are not sad to be awake, for we realize that the loved characters that we parted from are more really ours in our waking moments, even though oceans roll between us. When death awakens us we do not pine for the wraiths of mere existence; for with the awakening from mere existence is born the realization of Life, and the knowledge of the unreality of the characters our loved ones played on that plane of existence which we have just transcended by death. Hence the knowledge of the spiritual reality of the lives of those we love is full compensation for their loss as actors in the drama of dreams. To be awakened from the dream of sense is to become conscious of life as a reality and to possess all that which in the earth dream possesses our imagination. [186] To die in the Lord is to awaken to the realization that we have left the shadow of things in order to attain unto the substance of things and the divine individualities of Being.

Existence is a dream in which the personalities we knew and loved or hated are but the shadows of the divine individualities that have their eternal habitation in the life which is God. Today, fleets of ship-like clouds sail on an azure sky, but the shadows they cast envelop the hoary heads of the giant Alps in veils of somber black. It is thus that celestial beauty appears somber in contact with the earth, and minds that shine in heaven “on earth do smoke.” To remember that mortality is put off to don immortality is cause for rejoicing. To weep for the dead is to dishonor the living. We profane sorrow when we neglect the living to mourn for the dying. To die is to leave the chrysalis of seeming and ascend into the reality of being. God has united existence to life in such a way that they can never be put asunder. Travailing pains proclaim the coming of joy; sorrow makes transparent the things of Spirit, and transplendent the jewels of character, “as a fine ruby smitten by the sun.”

Paul asks: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril of sword?”

And he answers his own question: “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors [187] through him that loved us. I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Finally, my brethren, rejoice–Rejoice always–Rejoice evermore–and again I say rejoice:– And–“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s suffering; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”

Next: Regeneration and Reincarnation

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