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Thoughts of the Spiritual



"When they saw Him, they worshiped Him: but some doubted." Matt. 28: I7.

Some doubted!

This candid admission of the Evangelist is calculated to startle and set one thinking—is it not?

Eleven men stood face to face with the Risen Saviour as He manifested Himself from the plane of spirit-life; they recognized Him, they heard Him speak, and spoke to Him, and yet some of them doubted.

Within a circle of perfectly sincere ones who were earnest seekers after truth, and who had had an experience that was common and identical in regard to something that had lately happened, under circumstances excluding all possibility of imposture or delusion, were some who were absolutely convinced that they were confronted with a great reality; whilst others doubted.

It shows how differently constituted are human minds; how hard it is for some to grasp the facts of spiritual existence; how difficult—how exceedingly difficult—to break away from preconceived notions, and to so mentally adjust themselves as to be able to receive new light on the mystery of human life and destiny. Jesus, in the enhanced power of risen life, stood before eleven Apostles: but some doubted.

We shall the better estimate the significance of St. Matthew's statement, perhaps, if we try to picture the incident to which he refers.

About three weeks have passed away since that day on which the religious world of Jerusalem had been startled and disturbed by the rumour that a crucified Man had been seen alive after death.

The eleven companions and friends of the Christ have left their hiding-place—that upper room in one of the least important quarters of the sacred city—and have very quietly and unobservedly made their way northward to Galilee. The risen Jesus has bidden them meet Him again there, on a certain mountain—a quiet out-of-the-way spot. There, they will be away from the distraction of city life, and outside the circle of minds whose influence is inimical to a realization of the Spiritual.

They have reached Mount Hermon; so ruggedly grand and majestic, as it towers above the surrounding landscape, capped by its turban of snow. It is the place of all others for a manifestation from the World of Spirit. Three of the men have been there with the Master before His crucifixion. It is the scene of the Transfiguration. Often, of late, have those three—Peter, James and John, spoken of what they saw on that occasion: of that mysterious change that came over the physical body of Jesus, and of that extraordinary appearance, as living men, of departed Moses and Elijah.

"This is the spot where He said He would meet us," says Peter. ''Here it was that James and John and I saw Him a few weeks ago, just as He appeared when He met me and talked to me on the day He rose from the dead. I wonder whether He will come to us now in that form, or as He showed Himself to us in that upper room, when Thomas and we saw the wound-prints slowly develop themselves on His extended hands and uncovered side. Perhaps He will appear stranger-like, as He did to our two friends, and also to us on yonder lakeshore in the early morning. How strange it seems that He can alter the appearance of Himself at will! What a tremendous mystery there is about His being since He died on that cross!

"What became of that body which we saw—a poor, dead and disfigured thing—placed in Joseph's tomb? I am sure I do not know. But there are two things I do know. I know this—the Master Himself is alive; and that body which He has now is not the body He had when He lived and went about with us. It is altogether different from these bodies of ours. We cannot suddenly come into a room whose door is locked and barred. We cannot in a moment vanish from sight. We cannot present ourselves in a particular form at one time, and in another form directly afterward. We cannot write our thoughts on our body, as He is able to do. You remember what our friends of Emmaus told us? You remember what happened to those hands of the Master to convince Thomas? I tell you," continues the earnest Peter, looking expectantly around, "I tell you, it is all very wonderful. I sometimes think the Master must have dissolved that dead body which we saw laid in Joseph's sepulchre. We all noticed the way in which those grave-clothes were lying. They had not been disarranged, as they would have been, had the body beneath them come to life and stood upright. No, they were just as they had been placed. They had only collapsed to the ground, as if the underlying body had been dissolved. But one thing—at all events—is quite certain—whatever may have happened to the Master's dead body, the Master Himself is not dead; and Moses is not dead, and we shall not be dead, when we get rid of these flesh-and-blood tabernacles of ours."

"Well, well, I am sure I know not what to make of it all," answers one of the others in the group. "It is very upsetting in regard to what I have been taught to believe. I had always supposed that death blots us out of existence until a future resurrection day, when we shall be called into being again. That is what our Rabbis teach. But our Master Jesus has upset all my old ideas on this subject. According to what one of the women said, when He was dying He promised one of the men crucified with Him, that he should be with Him the same day in Paradise; and, three days after we saw Him dead, it seems as if He were still alive." "Seems as if He were alive!" half-angrily interposes Peter. "What do you mean? Did you not, yourself, see Him twice in that upper room at Jerusalem? You were standing by, on the lakeshore, when He asked me three times if I loved Him. How can you say it seems as if He were alive? Do you doubt the evidence of your senses? Think you that you and all of us were dreaming?" "It may be so, friend Peter," rejoins the other. "We all may have been dreaming, or rather imagining. The mind is a very curious thing; it can imagine almost anything. Disordered nerves and indigestion produce strange fancies. We may have been under a strong mental impression only. Our overwrought feelings may have led us to suppose that we have seen our dear Master since He died, while all the time there may have been no more than a picture conjured up by our disordered brains. I bethink me of what the Psalmist has said about the oblivion of death, and of what our learned Rabbi said not long ago in the synagogue—'The grave is the bourne from which no traveller returns.' That is not true, and David must have been in error, if the Master since death has really been seen by us, and Peter saw Moses on this mountain, as he says." "What does it matter what the Rabbi may have said, or what all the ecclesiastics in Jewry may say?" responds the impetuous Peter. "Facts are facts; and if they do not agree with men's theories, then so much the worse for the theories. Here are the facts. Eleven of us—healthy, strong, level-headed men, have all seen the Master since He died, and that not once, nor twice, but several times. We have all heard Him speak, and some of us have spoken to Him. Were we all mentally deranged in such a way as that each of us had precisely the same hallucination? And are the women and Mary and our two friends also the victims of this hallucination? Why it appears to me that your explanation of this fact is far more difficult of belief than the fact itself."

"Listen to me," says Thomas to his companions. "Peter is right. You well know I am not a credulous individual. I showed you what a doubter I was. I could not bring myself to believe that the Master had really been seen after death. It upset all my old ideas of things. But He convinced me of that fact when He appeared in that room, and I touched Him. Now, I would as soon deny that I am alive, as that He is alive." . . .

A start! A sudden silence! A thrill of mingled awe and pleasure! And then a circle of kneeling men around a living Christ. He speaks, does that risen Spirit-Son of God, as if He were reading every difficulty in the minds of those doubting ones—"All power has been given to Me in heaven and upon earth."

"And when they saw Him, they worshiped Him: but some doubted," as so many Christians are doubting now the phenomena—the facts and possibilities of spiritual existence.

Now this incident recorded by St. Matthew is not without a very suggestive interest to us who are living in this twentieth century of advancing thought and knowledge.

I. The world to-day is confronted with facts of such a character as to cause millions to recast their ideas of themselves and the experience that awaits us after death. For the past thirty or forty years, the attention of mankind has been specially directed to the existence of phenomena for which it is impossible to account on any hypothesis of physical causes.

These phenomena are so persistent, and so extraordinary, and have been so universally attested, that at last the thoughtful minds among us have arrived at the conclusion that they are facts that cannot be ignored; but must be faced and investigated. Accordingly, an immense amount of careful study has been bestowed upon the subject, and the important truth has been established that these phenomena are the outcome of psychic power, and point to tremendous possibilities in regard to spirit. The testimony that is forthcoming from all quarters of the globe in regard to these psychic phenomena may be summarized as follows—(a) The human spirit is an entity—a personality, that can at times function and express itself, even in this earth-life, apart from the mediumship of a physical body. (b) The same spirit, after leaving the earthly body, is possessed of enhanced powers; is capable in a variety of ways of communicating with persons still remaining on the earth-plane; and can under certain conditions manifest itself, even to the extent of temporarily materialising for that purpose.

The evidence in support of these spiritual possibilities is simply overwhelming, and is continually accruing. Ten thousand times more proof of present-day appearances of persons after death is available than was the proof available that Jesus was seen after death.

The light of scientific research has been turned upon the phenomenon of post-mortem appearances, and numbers of men renowned in the world of science have been convinced that a human being survives the incident of physical dissolution, and possesses the power at times of manifesting himself to those whom he has left behind in earth-life.

To those who may not have followed the present day trend of science in regard to this matter, we commend the late Professor F. W. H. Myers' work, "Human Personality, and its Survival of Bodily Death." Here, then, we have a striking similarity between what took place in the time of St. Matthew, and what is taking place to-day. A crucified Master was seen after death by His friends, in all the mysterious reality of risen and enhanced spiritual life and power. In a body which could act independently of the laws that govern the physical. He could pass through a closed and barred door, change the appearance of His person, and vanish suddenly from sight. At other times, as occasion arose. He could appear in so materialized a form that His body possessed all the characteristics of ordinary physical substantiality.

To-day, we are confronted with psychical phenomena which answer point by point to those appearances of the risen Jesus.

Numbers of persons who have departed this life have been seen afterward in the reality of spirit-life and powers. They, too, have come in bodies which are not conditioned by the ordinary laws of matter. They are able to appear and vanish suddenly. They possess the power of entering a room under conditions which no physical body could overcome. Again, there are times when these departed ones can so materialize themselves, for the purpose of recognition, as to make themselves bodily the exact counterpart of what they were in earth-life. Those who have investigated psychic phenomena are familiar with all these possibilities of spiritual existence. After making full allowance for all fraud and imposture that may have been practiced in regard to this matter, as it has been practiced in regard to all matters affecting man's religious experience, there remains a mass of incontrovertible evidence in attestation of the facts we have instanced, so great as must bring conviction to all who consider and investigate it.

Here, then, is the first point which we, as wise men and women, do well to recognize. We of to-day are faced with psychic facts which in character are similar to the great fact that startled mankind when Jesus appeared after death. Not all, then, saw Him in His risen life; not all believed the testimony of those who did see Him. And so it is at this present time. Not all see those who are permitted to manifest themselves from the spirit-world; and not all credit the testimony of those who have had that experience; but the facts themselves remain, as the fact of the risen Jesus remained—a great factor in the unity of spiritual truth, which men must take into account before they can rightly estimate that truth itself.

II. The attitude of mankind toward the incident of our Lord's manifestation of Himself after death, and the present-day attitude of men and women toward psychic phenomena are similar. Christ's appearance after death came to the world as an absolutely unrealized fact in connection with things spiritual. It upset preconceived ideas, and, as an unfamiliar and novel phenomenon, it had to bear down all the opposition that comes from that tendency on the part of persons—especially religious persons—to settle themselves in traditional beliefs, and to imagine that no further light on spiritual matters can possibly be forthcoming—at least in this world. It is precisely so in regard to the psychic phenomena that are happening to-day. They upset preconceived ideas. They are unfamiliar and novel to many; and so for this reason they are a priori regarded as false.

There are two classes of doubters in regard to psychical phenomena to whom we wish to refer. First, there are those persons who refuse to make any inquiry or to receive any information on the subject, on the grounds that as the alleged phenomena cannot possibly be true, all testimony concerning them must of necessity be either deliberate falsehood or the outcome of hallucination. Thousands of Christians take this line. Apparently unconscious of the illogical position they assume, they will assure one that they accept without a shadow of doubt all the statements of the Bible as to appearances after death and other spiritual phenomena, and in the next breath will label an ever-accumulating mass of testimony in regard to similar present-day phenomena as fraud or delusion.

No doubt, these good people would be terribly shocked by the suggestion that had they been living when Jesus manifested Himself after death, they would, in all probability, no more have believed the fact than did the ecclesiastical authorities who put Him to death. As far as testimony is concerned, the fact of the post-mortem appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ is not so well nor so universally attested as are the spiritual phenomena of the present day. The Christian folk who profess to believe the one and scout as absurd the other, do well to remember this. Let them be consistent. If present psychic phenomena are, as they say, no more than mental impressions, and have no objective reality, then why should we not account for the after-death manifestations of Jesus in the same way? Now, in regard to this particular class—those good people who will not believe in spiritual phenomena, unless those phenomena have taken place thousands of years ago, and are mentioned in the Bible—their present chance of obtaining fuller knowledge of the spiritual is a very remote one. Others will learn great facts: they will not. When one persistently refuses to take notice of, and to investigate realities that are capable of verification; when he rejects as worthless the testimony of honest men who have verified those realities, and, in the spirit of self-complacent ignorance, pronounces their testimony incredible, because it does not accord with his own experience, then he establishes himself in a condition of unenlightenment, in which, in all human probability, he will remain.

Among the great host of earnest truth-seekers scaling the heights of extended knowledge, he will hold no place. They will go on to know what he can never learn in this world. He will be left behind. He will have handicapped himself. The revealments that will come to him when he shall have gone from earth-life, will considerably startle and humble him. He might have known so much; but, thanks to himself, he will have learned so little.

Such an one is a doubter; but he must not be catalogued with those apostolic men who doubted the spiritual fact of the Risen Christ. They, deeply conscious of the limitations of human knowledge, and anxious for fuller enlightenment on a subject of vital importance, adjusted their minds and their actions in such a way as to make it possible for their doubts to be dissipated. He, on the other hand, is so disposing himself that the removal of doubt is impossible. It is not in respect to this particular class that the statement of St. Matthew affords hope and encouragement. The men and women who doubt spiritual realities, because they have fortified themselves against conviction by the immovable idea that psychic phenomena are impossibilities, and therefore delusions, are certainly not the persons who would have gone on the chance of enlightenment to that Galilean mountain of Manifestation. They must be classed among those Jews of old who did not want to know, and did not mean to know, the truth about that Easter fact. But there is another class of doubters in regard to the Spiritual. It stands quite apart from that class to which we have just referred. It comprises an ever-increasing number of thoughtful men and women, who are earnest and conscientious seekers after truth; who feel that the great basal fact of all religion—man's possession of a spirit and its conscious survival of physical dissolution—has been but vaguely and unsatisfactorily proclaimed in much of the teaching of the past; who count it likely that, in an age so marked by the advance of scientific knowledge, more light on the mystery of human being may be forthcoming, and who resolutely set themselves to seek that light. This is the class that embraces many who are distinguished in the world of science and letters; men and women whose estimate of the importance of spiritual phenomena in their bearing upon thought and life, is to be found in the fact that they are members of the Psychical Research Society.

The attitude of these persons toward existing psychic phenomena is a right and sensible one. Attested facts, however opposite to ordinary experience, cannot and must not be placed outside the radius of practical enquiry and classification. Such an enormous mass of testimony and direct evidence in respect to spiritual phenomena has been gathered from all quarters of the world, and this of so persistent and emphatic a character, and so closely touching the question of man's spiritual being and his powers, that they feel, and rightly feel, in spite of the frowns and contempt of the other class, that no efforts can be too great to get at the truth of a matter so transcendently important.

There are doubters, of course, in this class of which we are speaking; but they are wholly different from the doubters of the other class. Unlike these latter, they may be rightly grouped with those earnest, though as yet unconvinced ones, who doubted the fact of the Risen Christ. They do not close the mind against the inlettings of fresh knowledge, because certain facts adduced are not coincident with their own experience. They are quite prepared to humbly think that there may be "more things in heaven and earth" than they had imagined. They are quite ready to consider the testimony of others, although it attests facts strange and improbable to them, and are willing to surrender themselves to those conditions under which investigation and confirmation of the alleged facts are possible. In a word, the attitude of these doubters, as was the attitude of the doubting Apostles in regard to the Risen Jesus, is favorable to the acquirement of extended knowledge. Like those honest sceptics of old, they go forth with an open and humble mind and a teachable spirit in quest of brighter light. Those unconvinced disciples of Jesus went to that mountain of Galilee with no fixed conviction that their Master was a living reality. The supposition did not commend itself to them; it upset all preconceived ideas; judged from the standpoint of their then possessed knowledge, it appeared incredible; but still it might be true, and it might be possible they would see Him there. And so to that mountain they went to put themselves in the track of enlightenment.

The honest doubters of to-day resemble those men. They, too, have put themselves in the track of enlightenment. Not as yet have they reached that point of experience at which fixed conviction of the reality of a spiritual environment has been inborne upon their mind; but they are prepared to admit that these realities may be existing in our midst, and may be capable of verification. They have adjusted themselves to receive the unfoldments of the Spiritual.

It is easy to predict what the result will be in regard to them. Their growing knowledge and patient study of psychic phenomena will bring them to the realization of great and marvellous truths; not at once, perhaps, nor at the outset of their investigations. The doubting Apostles were not brought to the realization of the Living Christ by one or even by several post-mortem manifestations of Himself. The verities of the Spiritual Universe are not easily grasped by human minds while functioning under the fettering conditions of the Physical. The obscuring influence of indefinite teaching, of prejudice and of materialistic thought, has to be swept away, before the mind—even the Christian mind—can rise to a worthy conception regarding the facts and possibilities of spirit. We have been so schooled to accept the teaching of the past as embodying the all that can be known about things spiritual, and that teaching has been so hazy and ungraspable, that it is not an easy matter to import at once into our consciousness new and definite ideas. The existing psychic realities that so often carry conviction to minds uninfluenced by traditional notions, are less potent to effect that end in the case of those who can only think within the groove of prescribed teaching. That is why so many religious people are the most backward in accepting the facts and results of psychical research. "Those facts and the logical deductions therefrom cannot possibly be true," say they; "they neither accord with the teaching we have received, nor with the views we hold."

Quite true; but they do accord in a very striking manner with the statements of a Book they profess to believe and reverence. Why believe the testimony of men who lived long ago, and refuse to believe the testimony of men, equally as truth-loving, who are living now? Well, some of the Apostles had their doubts in regard to the Risen Saviour; and they were very grave doubts; and had they surrendered themselves to that spirit of Agnosticism that neither knows nor takes the trouble to know, they would never have become the pioneers in teaching the world a great spiritual truth. But, unlike a number of modern Christians, they were men of another mould. The truth must be ascertained at any cost to preconceived ideas and authorized doctrines. Fresh evidence of a tremendous reality might, perchance, be forthcoming. They must keep themselves within the circle of possible knowledge. Women had told them that a spiritual being, seen at the sepulchre, had said that the Risen Jesus had declared that in Galilee they should behold Him. It might be so, in spite of all improbability. And so those doubters journeyed with the non-doubters to that mountain of Manifestation. But—it may be urged—that renewed Manifestation of the Christ on that appointed spot did not convince them. It did not; for St. Matthew has recorded that "some doubted." That particular experience of the Spiritual did not there and then dissipate their doubt; but it weakened it, and paved the way for its ultimate removal. Subsequent experiences of the Spiritual brought those doubters to an unshakable conviction in regard to a sublime fact. Within a few weeks, those same men were proclaiming at Jerusalem—the centre of a religious conservatism that denied and ridiculed the statement—the fact of the grandest Manifestation from the Spiritual World that ever startled men and set them thinking. The significance of this Easter incident, in its bearing upon the spiritual experiences of this twentieth century, is apparent.

The world was confronted then with a series of psychic phenomena which presented themselves to mankind as strange and incredible. At that Easter time spiritual beings conveyed messages from a departed Jesus to persons on this earth; saints whose bodies were reposing in the grave were seen by many in the city of Jerusalem; and the Christ Himself, whom men had beheld crucified and dead, was seen afterwards in all the potency and mystery of risen life.

The world of to-day is confronted with phenomena kindred in character. Proofs are obtainable of communications between beings in the spiritual world and beings in this world, and of the appearance, instinct with life and enhanced power, of persons whose physical bodies have been committed to the dust.

The influence of these facts on the religious thought of both epochs was, and is, enormous.

When it was realized by men that the Jesus who had died, was after death a living, marvelous Spirit, endowed with higher powers, and moving on a more exalted plane of being, it revolutionized their ideas of human life and its possibilities.

When men and women of this age shall have realized that they, in the essential part of their being, are spirit; that, in spite of a physical environment they are linked to a great universe of spirit, and that it is possible for the seen and the unseen, the temporal and the eternal, to be in vital touch and communion—then, and not until then, will the shadows and uncertainties in men's minds roll away, and the haunting dread of death disappear. Then, Religion will mean more to them than the mere endorsement of a theological code; and the glorious Gospel of Jesus will come as a confirming voice from heaven, stamping with the imprimatur of God their expectations of life beyond the grave and immortality.

Thus, we regard these present-day manifestations of spirit-life and power as an ordering of God. They are doing their work, as the greater Manifestation on the first Easterday did its work. They are turning that great tide of Agnostic and Materialistic thought that threatened, on the enunciation of the doctrine of Evolution, to obliterate man's perception of the Spiritual. They are bringing millions of our race to realize the truth which the Bible has declared, but which we have but so imperfectly realized—that "God is a Spirit," and we are spirits; that at death there is no cessation of our being; that our removal from earthly existence does but usher us into a sphere of more abundant life and fuller experience.

And the doubters of these spiritual realities? Well, those in the one class will do as the hierarchs and the ecclesiastics and others did in the Jerusalem of old. They will close their eyes to a God-given revelation. Those in the other class will do as the doubting Apostles did. They will open the mind to conviction, and set themselves in the track of enlightenment. The latter will come to know the truth; the former will not. They, the prejudiced and unconvincible ones, must miss the inspiration and comfort of realizing, at the present time, things spiritual, and must wait for the higher revealments, which others gain, until the light of Another World shall have dawned upon them, and the mistakes of Time shall be rectified in Eternity.

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Other Books by Rev. Chambers:

"Man and the Spiritual World" (1903 UK Edition)
"Problems of the Spiritual" (1907 UK Edition)

Rev. Arthur Chambers Returns From "Death" To Speak Through The Zodiac Circle

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