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Mollie Higginson: How to Get to Heaven (1915)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 19, 2013

One day *Real Soon Now* I’m going to get around to writing a post about Mollie Higginson, who she was and why I, for one, care. This morning, though, I’m too far behind in everything to write something about anything, so I’m posting this random piece by the woman I think of as Mormondom’s first blogger:

How to Get to Heaven.

Way back in England a girl and I were one day deep in a religious argument, and at last I turned to her and said: “Since you deny the necessity for baptism which is the way to heaven? Without a moment’s hesitation she answered, “The way to heaven is true and plain, believe, repent, be born again.” Here, for once was a straight answer, clear and to the point, the whole doctrine lying as it were in a nutshell, for is not that what the “Mormons” teach that the way to heaven lies through faith, repentance and baptism? Having complied with these demands is not a person”saved”? Is he not on the high road to heaven? The high road, yes, but heaven and the high road leading there to are two very different places. the high road has bypaths and pitfalls. Christ gathered around Him when on earth twelve valiant souls who dared the scoffs and sneers of the religious world around them, who braved public opinion and the private opinion of friends. They believed, they repented, they were baptized. Did they enter heaven? We have every reason to believe that eleven of them did but what of the twelfth, what of Judas? He fell by the way, fell to rise no more. Unable to stand against the lash of his conscience as he realized the enormity of his conduct he took the coward’s way out, forgetting that death is not the end but only the beginning of a fuller life. Here, he would have had the opportunity to atone for his sin, dyed in scarlet though it was, but when to his sin of betrayal he added that of self-destruction, his own hand closed the gates of heaven against him.

Now, my brothers and sisters, you and I hope one day to enter the pearly Gates of Heaven. How many of us sense what that means? Is heaven a place or is it a condition? Christ said “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” Our religious life lacks one thing: just a little common sense, practical application. This great egotistical “I,” is a mighty fine fellow in most people’s estimation. “I” do this and “I” would do that, were “I” in another man’s shoes – which by the way might be too small to be comfortable. “I” would act so much differently, so much more wisely. There is no doubt about it – “I” am somebody worth considering, but when it comes to the question of entering or staying outside heaven’s gates that mighty “I”dwindles down to a speck so small it is hardly discernible. Oh, no, I have nothing to do with that, of course I hope to reach heaven eventually but that is as God wills. That is just where the mistake is made. “I” shall enter heaven’s pearly gates if I will. That may sound a bold statement, but let us reason it out.

Man has two creators – God and himself. That is a self evident axiom. God furnishes man with a spirit, paves the way for him to become possessed of a tabernacle to hold that spirit – his body – places him here upon the earth, gives him laws by which that body is to be governed, points out the right way, shows also the wrong, then, vesting him with free agency leaves him to his second creator – himself. He can now do with himself what he will, he can become either king or slave; he has free choice and none will say him nay. Spirit can control body when he will be a “king,” or body can control spirit when he will be a “slave”; that is for him to decide. There are two roads to traverse and he can please himself which he takes. One is broad and pleasant to look upon, beautiful flowers (of the poppy specie) and shady trees border it, gay companions throng its smooth surface, their hearts’ desire their only law, self their only thought and God. Everything looks beauteous and joyous. No briars, no thorns appear, and of the end they never think. That is kept from their sight, hidden from view. Death’s dark angel alone will reveal that. This road seems to have no by-paths, it runs straight as a die from start to finish. No graceful curves hide and at the same time reveal hidden beauties. All that its patrons are to receive, barring the remorse that will inevitably follow, is visible on the surface.

The other road is narrow, and, at first glance, not so pleasing to the eye, for one notices a preponderance of thorns and stony places. Dark shadows loom in the distance, at its entrance stands public opinion – jeering, scornful. Sarcasm, in the guise of friends is encountered a little further along, and still further stands the pit of indecision on the edge of which all who pass this way stand tottering and wavering. This is where many hear the drum sounding the retreat and retrace their footsteps to pursue the other road whose end is hidden from view. The next obstacle to be encountered is a sheet of clear, sparkling water, dark on this bank, radiantly beautiful on the opposite. He who dares, and takes the plunge emerges enervated, strengthened, like one who bathes in a medical spring. His eyes see with clearer vision, his intellect broadens, and his whole soul expands. Now he finds he has for his companions hope, joy and love, and eagerly he steps forth to the fray. Bright flowers spring up around him from seeds he scatters by the way, the flowers of kindness, consideration, hope and love. The pathway narrows, darkens, hiding what lies before. From out the darkness appear two contending spirits. “Choose!” a voice is heard commanding, and the “Thou shalt not” of the spirit contends with the “I will” of the body. Should “Thou shalt not”conquer, the darkness immediately melts away and one finds one’s self in a pathway overgrown with flowers – the flowers of self-conquest – but, should the “I will” for a time be victorious then weeds of doubt and despair choke up the way, and precious moments are lost and golden opportunities missed while they are being trampled underfoot. Many and fierce are the conflicts to be encountered upon this road, but each passage of arms makes the conqueror stronger, his kingship more assured and gives him clearer vision, until the part of the road is reached when he looks and sees clearly and knows that his pathway is in a direct line with the throne of heaven whose pearly gate she has almost reached.

Men seem to have quite decided that “in the great beyond “all things will be made right by some miraculous process. How the idea has originated unless the wish be father to the thought, it would be hard to say, for God has always worked by natural laws, still the idea has planted itself firmly in the minds of men that we shall live this life, die, and awaken changed beings, that all our imperfections and weakness will fall from us like a cloak when we shake hands with the angel of death, that a sulky, dismal, wet blanket disposition will assume an angelic sweetness angels might envy merely by passing death’s dark portals. My friends, you make a serious mistake, one likely to endanger your soul’s exaltation. What do you suppose God sent you to school for? He sent you here to conquer self. If you have neglected your studies, does passing through the final examination make you competent? You think me mad for asking such a question! but, since nothing but diligent study will put you through a final college examination why should we expect to neglect our opportunities in the school of life and then come off with flying colors when death claims us? It can’t be done. The truth of the matter is, death is like sleep. We lie down at night and go to sleep. In the morning we awaken with the same crabby, ill-tempered, out-of-sorts, get out of my way disposition we laid down with. Whoever wakens up sweet and smiling come and let me love you is the one who felt that way when he lay down, and so with death. We just go to sleep here to awaken in another sphere of action, but don’t you make any mistake about it, you find the self you yourself have created on the other side, and you will not be one single step nearer heaven then than you were in this life, but you will find you have to set to work real hard and learn the lessons you refused to learn here.

The way to heaven lies through the pathway of self-control, that is the paramount essential to exaltation. Conquer self and you will enter heaven’s gate, though your body still walks this earth. Christ left the world to gain strength to live in the world before he began His earthly ministry. Again at its close he sought the solitude of the garden to fight the final battle between spirit and body. Weak, human body writhes in agony at the thought of the suffering it must endure and cried aloud “I cannot do it, let this cup pass from me.” But the spirit that for thirty-three years He had taught to control that body now dominated it, and, seizing the struggling writing flesh in a grip of iron, unflinchingly, unfalteringly exclaimed “You can do it and you shall” and as Christ did so must we. Failure! wrote the world over that ignoble, inglorious death, but his destroyers, knowing not what they did, truly wrote “King.”

When you and I, my brothers and sisters come to lie in our last long resting place, as we lie in state surrounded with the flowers loved ones will place about us, as those loved ones gaze upon our face for the last time on this side of the flood will they gaze upon a “slave” or a “king”?

Are we treading the pathway bright with flowers, the broad path whose end is so terrible it is hidden from view, or are we taking our courage in our own hands, trusting to the One who has said “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee,” and walking the pathway filled with obstacles, each one of which, surmounted, is a rung in the ladder taking us nearer the gates of heaven? Self-control, self-conquest is the way to heaven. Its entrance gate is the water of baptism, but baptism minus self-control is as powerless to save a soul as an engine minus fuel is to run a train.

You will enter heaven’s gate the moment you have fitted yourself to dwell there. You must make of yourself just what you will. God has left you free so to do, and He is not responsible if you die a “slave” instead of a “king.”Golden opportunities are before you, seize them as they come. Teach the spirit to control the body and heaven is yours. If death changed our natures then God would be unjust, for it would give the man who had drifted with the current the same reward as he who had battled against it, and even our finite minds would cry out to that “Say, that’s not fair!”



5 Comments »

  1. Wow. With that last paragraph she captures what members here nearly 100 years later still wrestle with… heaven is not about a checklist, but a change.

    Thanks.

    Comment by Coffinberry — April 19, 2013 @ 12:18 pm

  2. Very interesting piece of practical theology here, almost like you might hear at General Conference. You’ve got me intrigued, though, about Mollie Higginson. Nothing in the CHL catalog for her, and nothing definitive on Google that I can find. You haven’t pulled a Steve Peck on us, and found Gilda Trillim’s long lost cousin from Rupert, Idaho (suburb of booming Burley)?

    Comment by kevinf — April 19, 2013 @ 12:43 pm

  3. Thanks for spotting that, Coffinberry, and especially for taking time to read through what could be somewhat dry for a Friday.

    kevinf, I promise she’s as real as either of us! :) Some of her pieces are autobiographical — they’re probably the most interesting. Others are more doctrinal, like this one. She wrote and published so much that she probably didn’t dream that she would be so utterly forgotten (no descendants to care, either). So I’ll write about her. I’ve even found one picture of her, a small head in a group photo, from one of the church magazines back in the day.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 19, 2013 @ 12:54 pm

  4. I have had this marked to read since you posted it. Yeah, not all that timely, moi. But I wanted to give her the attention she deserves. This issue of agency is perhaps my favorite part of this gospel, and Coffinberry said it very succinctly. I look forward to reading what you write about her when that time comes.

    Comment by Ellen — July 17, 2013 @ 8:30 pm

  5. Thanks, Ellen.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 17, 2013 @ 9:12 pm

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