Timothy Shay Arthur, 1858
"The gates of Heaven have swung open, and another soul has entered its shining courts!" said the preacher, as he stood, with uncovered head, by the coffin of one whose mortal history was closed.
As we left the grave-yard, an old man, of mild aspect, walked by our side.
"Did you know Mr. Barnum?" he asked, referring to the deceased.
"As a neighbor, but not intimately," was my reply.
"I knew him very well," said one who walked with us.
"The preacher spoke of him as having entered Heaven," the old man quietly remarked.
"He died calmly and in Christian hope, putting his trust in his Redeemer," said the other. "I was with him in his last moments, and his end was peace. If he has not gone to Heaven, there are not many of us who can look forward with confidence."
"We must enter Heaven while living upon the earth," said the old man, in answer to this, speaking gravely, "or the doors will be forever shut against us."
"How can we be in Heaven and upon earth at the same time?" queried the one who had spoken of my neighbor's peaceful end; "for one is spiritual and the other natural."
"To be spiritual-minded is to be in Heaven; and this we may be, while, as to the natural body, we are still upon the earth. Was our friend spiritual-minded?"
The old man turned to our companion, and awaited his answer.
"He did not talk much of religion, as a general thing; but he was a regular church-goer."
"That signifies little," was replied.
"He was as good as other men; better in many things, I would think — though not in any way distinguished for piety. He was not one of your talking professors. But those who knew him best, valued him most. His peaceful end assures me that he is safe."
"The life, not the death, gives genuine assurance," said the old man. "With rare exceptions, all men die peacefully — the evil and the good. As the time of departure draws near, the soul sinks into tranquil states, and thoughts of life, not death, hold it away from depressing influences. There is a wise as well as a merciful providence in this. But, you say, that those who knew him best, valued him most."
"Valued him for what?"
"For his kindness of heart, his benevolence, his truth and honesty. Why, sir, that man would have allowed his right arm to be taken, rather than swerve from his integrity."
"Was he proud of his honest fame? Did he boast of it, and compare himself with other men?"
"No, sir. He was not one who thought much of himself, or took merit for a good deed. I think the poor will miss him, and weak ones sigh for the sustaining hand that is now cold in death. Ah? sir, he was a good man. But I don't think he could be called spiritual-minded."
"A good man, and a true man, and yet not spiritual-minded!" There was a look of surprise in the old man's face. "Are not goodness and truth spiritual in their nature? And does not their reception into any mind determine its quality?"
"You may be right in your conclusions," said the other. "I have not been in the habit of viewing things just in your way. But I am very sure that our friend has gone to Heaven."
"He has gone among those who are like him, and with whom he was in conjunction as to his spirit, while he yet lived in the world," the old man answered. "If he was a lover of truth; if he was kind, benevolent, thoughtful of others, and faithful in all his acts, he has passed upwards into the heavenly companionship of the good; but if he was selfish, cruel, exacting, and faithless in his life, no tranquil death-hour has made him a fit companion for angels, and he will go unto his own. Scriptural Revelation affirms this, and reason assents to no other conclusion. It is a doctrine which sweeps away fallacious hopes, and leaves to none the dangerous, if not always fatal, experiment of a death-bed repentance."
We paused, for our ways diverged.
"If all were of your doctrine," said I, "men would take more heed to their ways. There are few who do not hope to reach Heaven at last. They trust to some good deed that will not involve any hard denial of self, or to some cheap act of faith, to crowd them through the gate, thinking that if they once get in, they will be all right for eternity. But this idea of a heavenly quality being formed in the soul before anyone can enter Heaven, is rather a hard saying for most men. It is an extinguisher of hope for the evil-minded."
"There is no other way," was answered. "We must enter through the strait gate of self-denial — and it will be found very strait to most people. If we fail to do this, and seek to climb up some other way, the consequences of our folly will be with us forever."
And as the old man said this, we turned from him, pondering his words in our hearts.