I think I have seen from afar something of the final prison of all, and I will endeavor to convey what I think it may be. It is the ghastly dark beyond the gates of the city of which God is the light—where the evil dogs go ranging, silent as the dark, for there is no sound any more than sight. The man wakes from the final struggle of death in absolute loneliness. Not a hint, not a shadow of anything outside his consciousness reaches him. All is dark and dumb; no motion—not the breath of a wind, nothing to suggest being or thing besides the man himself, no sign of God anywhere. In the midst of the live world he cared for nothing but himself; now in the dead world he is in God’s prison, his own separated self. He would not believe in God because he never saw God; now he doubts if there be such a thing as the face of a man. Next after doubt comes reasoning on the doubt: “The only one must be God! I know no one but myself: I must myself be God!” Soon, misery will beget on imagination a thousand shapes of woe, which he will not be able to rule—a whole world of miserable contradictions and cold-fever dreams. In such evil case, I believe the man would be glad to come in contact with the worst-loathed insect; his enemy, could he but be aware of him, he would be ready to worship. For the misery would be not merely the absence of all other beings, but the fearful, endless, unavoidable presence of his own self. It is the lovely creatures God has made all around us, in them giving us himself, that, until we know him, save us from the frenzy of aloneness. The man who minds only himself must at last go mad if God did not interfere.
May 26 Can there be any way out of the misery of such a hell? Will the soul that could not believe in God, with all his lovely world around testifying of him, believe when shut in the prison of its own, lonely self? It would for a time try to believe that it was indeed nothing, a mere glow of the setting sun on a cloud of dust, a paltry dream that dreamed itself—then, ah, if only the dream might dream it was no more! Self-loathing, and that for no sin, from no repentance, would begin and grow and grow; and if a being be capable of self-disgust, is there not some room for hope—as much as a pinch of earth in the cleft of a rock might yield for the growth of a pine? All his years in the world he had received the endless gifts of sun and air, earth and sea and human face divine; now the poorest thinning of the darkness he would hail as men of old the glow of a descending angel; it would be as a messenger from God. Not that he would think of God! It takes long to think of God; but hope, not yet seeming hope, would begin to dawn in his bosom, and the thinner darkness would be as a cave of light, a refuge from the horrid self of which he used to be so proud. And the light would grow and grow across the awful gulf between the soul and its haven—its repentance—for repentance is the first pressure of the bosom of God; and in the twilight, struggling and faint, the man would feel another thought beside his, another thinking Something nigh his dreary self—perhaps the man he had most wronged, most hated—and would be glad that someone was near him: the man he had most injured and was most ashamed to meet, would be a refuge from himself—oh, how welcome!
May 27 : So might I imagine a thousand steps up from the darkness, each a little less dark, a little nearer the light—but, ah, the weary way! He cannot come out until he will have paid the uttermost farthing! Repentance once begun, however, may grow more and more rapid! If God once gets a willing hold, if with but one finger he touches the man’s self, swift as possibility will he draw him from the darkness into the light. For that for which the forlorn, self-ruined wretch was made, was to be a child of God, a partaker of the divine nature, an heir of God and joint heir with Christ. Out of the abyss into which he cast himself, refusing to be the heir of God, he must rise and be raised. To the heart of God, the one and only goal of the human race—the refuge and home of all and each, he must set out and go, or that last glimmer of humanity will die from him. Whoever will live must cease to be a slave and become a child of God. There is no half-way house of rest, where ungodliness may be dallied with, nor prove quite fatal. Be they few or many cast into such a prison as I have endeavored to imagine, there can be no deliverance for the human soul, whether in that prison or out of it, but in paying the last farthing, in becoming lowly, penitent, self-refusing—so receiving the sonship and learning to cry, Father!