“Even a sinner, by a lifetime of effort, can make spiritual progress” and no matter how far we have strayed from God, if we make a big effort and maintain it throughout our lives we may make great progress on the spiritual Path. God recognises this fact and gladly accepts the fruits of these efforts.
It is in this context that He is described as a “Refiner of Gold”, for just as the gold is heated in the fire in order that the dross may be burned away, so the sinner is subjected to the fires of sorrow and suffering, until the sins which produce such karma are purged from his nature.
We are also told that this applies “the one gaining experience on the upward Path”, and that to such a person God is not just an idea, but a personal friend. The idea that man on earth is “gaining experience” is fundamental to an understanding of the reason for physical existence, but it is also important that he “strives to rid himself of his faults until he is perfect”.
We should never lose sight of the fact that achieving perfection requires effort – that sins do not just go away, they have to be hunted down and eliminated and that it is only when all of them have thus been slain, that the physical man can truly be said to have become perfect.
We are told that “The Physical self is refined by God” and the process by which this is done, is none other than our old acquaintance, the Law of Karma, otherwise known as Divine Justice, the Law of Retribution or “an eye for an eye etc.”. Thus, the Lower Self, the physical is trained, for it has not yet reached the sage when it can progress by the higher “Law of Love”.
However, it is as a result of its purging by the Law of Karma, that it does eventually reach that stage, or, as verse 5 puts it “become a friend of God”. Friendship, however, implies at least some degree of Love, and therefore, the “friend of God” is one who has begun to practice that greatest of All virtues and therefore is “full of fragrance”.
God, we are told, ‘dispenses goodness to the physical self” and this is merely another name for what are often called Divine Blessings, or Divine Grace. But howsoever we name it, the Divine Life Force is readily absorbed by any spirit which has begun to follow the Law of Love and it is the combination of the two “which brings it forth to the heights” of spirituality.
There are at least two meanings in this phrase one general, of which the meaning is obvious and a more specific one, referring to an advanced mystical state.
From this position of vantage, we are told, “it can look down upon the aridities of its past life” a term which may require some explanation.
Its link with an arid place, devoid of the “waters of Life” is clear, but modern mystics, such as St Terese of Avila, frequently make use of the term to describe periods in their lives, when they find it hard to make contact with God, and it is clear that such a meaning is inferred in verse seven.
Whilst the mystic thus remains close to the Almighty, “the Tester is restrained by the Glory of God” – in other words, the closer we can remain to God, the less effect will the snares of the Evil One have upon us.
Thus “the physical man is refined by God and cleansed of the passions that consume him”. Having already considered the meaning of the first phrase, let us now consider the second.
The “passions that consume him” are cleansed by the same refining process, for as anger, hate, jealousy and other negative passions result in sorrow and suffering, so the growth of Love within the spirit, leaves less and less space for them to occupy within us.
“Thus the physical man advances” and gradually the soul become more and more refined, till like the spirit itself it is fitted to dwell in the spiritual realms.
Thus, having descended into matter, and for many lives seeming to have continued to move further and further away from its Source, the incarnate soul eventually “settles down and becomes God’s friend”.
This change clearly marks a major turning point in its journey, for up until now, although its spirit has sought to draw it upwards, its links with the material world have constantly dragged it down, but now, perhaps for the first time, even its physical mind desires to make spiritual progress. Hence, as a result of becoming “God’s friend”, the Divine Spark within is caused “to grow and progress on the Way of Perfection”.
The suggestion that the Divine Spark may grow, perhaps requires some clarification. Being, quite literally a “fragment of God,” the Divine Spark is not possessed of measurable dimensions and in one sense cannot therefore be said to grow.
In another sense, however, it does, for it attracts to itself all that is best in our natures, so that around it and intimately linked with it, there is first formed that which we call the spirit, and it is this spirit form that grows and becomes progressively more radiant as the individual progresses on the “way of Perfection” As the Lower Self increasingly comes to respect God, its other fears are thereby destroyed and as a result it becomes ever more pleasing unto Him.
Then in verse 12 we are given a vital piece of information; “the Heavenly response is to immerse the Physical Man in the Divine Life Force and thus make him spiritual”. Being thus “immersed” in the Divine Life Force, suggests that one is totally surrounded by it and removed from worldly things, and refers to a mystic having reached what St Terese of Avila calls the Seventh Mansion.
This is the state in which one is constantly aware of the presence of God, even though one is also simultaneously able to function in the physical world. The alternative rendition using the term “Baptism” derives from the similarity of the phraseology with later Jewish and Christian rituals of Baptism, which often use “immersion”. Certainly it is at least possible that the earliest forms of Baptism can be seen as a ritualistic representation of this spiritual state
The second half of this chapter (verses 13 to 21) could perhaps have been given a chapter of its own, for it forms a summing up of the whole process of the perfecting of the Lower Self and the imagery in the section is quite remarkable but perhaps requires a more detailed explanation.
The key to much of the section lies in the Hebrew word “Korah”, here rendered “imposes penance” (Verse 14) which derives from a root, meaning to depilate, or make bald by pulling out one’s hair. In ancient times this was a sign of mourning and penitence, hence the use of that word to translate it here, but it also can be rendered as “ice”, the usage deriving from the smoothness of ice.
This rendition provides a remarkable link with the unusual phrase “Melting fears”, (Mizzah, verse 17) and possibly also suggests that the physical man may be seeking to ascend to the top of a mountain after the ice which barred his progress has been melted away.
There are a number of key requirements if the Physical man to achieve the goal, of which the most important is a genuine desire to do so. This in turn will enable him to make the effort that is required, to rise above his passions – this does not mean that he loses all passion – quite the contrary, but he learns to control and direct them.
One who is without passion will rarely do much for God, for he will always be luke-warm, in every thing he does and one person that God cannot use is someone who is “luke-warm”. (Revelation 3; 16)
We are told that once having done this, he “can speedily reach perfection”, and we are even told how he is to gain ascendancy over his passions.
It is through penitence – and if we are sincere in our desire to achieve the goal we will be sorry for whatever we may have done or been that may have delayed us in the past
Thus it is that the Lower Self is refined by the God of Gold a process that continues “till it has the good fortune to reach the summit” of perfection.
From there, the perfected human soul can look down upon its younger brethren and see how the Tester afflicts both the earth itself and those who dwell “in this earthly vale”
Clearly most of those who still remain on earth are” war-like” – the lovers of peace have been advanced beyond the physical state, or are well on the way to that point, and it is not they who are penalized, but the warlike ones.
God is pleased at the progress of the Physical Man that He has refined.
Because He loves all His children it is a great source of Pleasure to Him that that one more of them has thus been advanced a little nearer to the Ultimate Goal.
Although often seen as the enemy of the spiritual, the Lower Self (the Physical Man) can become “God’s friend”. This is something that many philosophers have not realised. They have seen the search for perfection as being a struggle between the spirit and the flesh in which they could only triumph by defeating the Flesh as if it was the Enemy. Yet, this is not so. Certainly we should learn to control the body so that it becomes our slave and not our master, but once this happens, once man in the flesh “settles down and begins to “see the light” he becomes God’s friend.”
This may surprise him, and when suddenly he finds himself in the presence of God and/or among his other friends, he may well be terrified. Many mystics have referred to the abject terror that has gripped them, when they have suddenly realised that they are indeed in the Presence of the Most High. However, most have also told how their terror has rapidly melted away once they have begun to appreciate the great Love He had for them, and it is this, more than anything else that makes it possible for Physical Man to reach across the gap that separates him from God.
“God’s friend is the Physical Man who makes his Lower Self fragrant for Heaven”. This is the key. If we, whilst still in the flesh can make ourselves ready for Heaven then indeed we shall be God’s friend. Realising this, even whilst it is still rough and sinful, the earnest seeker seeks to unite itself with the highest aspects of its Nature (the Higher Self).
Thus equipped it does its utmost to ascend to the heights of the spirit. Many advanced souls do not become either mystics or martyrs, but all must learn to rid themselves of everything that prevents them achieving perfection.
The transformation of sins and the purification of virtues are the only essential pre-requisites for perfection, and thus “Heaven testifies about the sinful Lower Self.
To sum up; the Lower Self of Physical Man is not the spiritually worthless entity that many scholars and theologians have claimed. It is something of potential value, but it must be transformed in order to realise its potential. Christ Himself took upon Him our mortal flesh and became incarnate on earth to demonstrate that the Physical Man can become a really useful servant of God if only he will make the effort.
That is the purpose of life on earth; that is the task to which we are all called and that is the task which eventually we will all accomplish, for such is the Divine Plan. It only remains for us to decide when and how we will make the necessary effort to transform “the Lower Self of Physical Man”.
Although the ratio obviously varies, in general most spirits spend five to ten times as long on the Spirit Plane as they do on the Physical.
This is the reason that the Doctrine of Reincarnation is not taught in all religions, for sometimes a spirit may be spurred on to achieve the goal if it believes that it must triumph in this life or perish eternally. In other cases, of course, such a belief system may cause the spirit to turn away from God completely.
Even when in the physical state, it is sometimes possible for the mystic to be so strongly linked with God and the things of the spirit that worldly trials and tribulations are viewed as being of little real consequence. Such a state, however, rarely lasts long, but even afterwards, the memory thereof can help the seeker to see them in their true perspective.
In this context the Tester is seen as a hunter (Kenaz) setting snares to catch game.
Of course it may not be for the first time, for often a soul makes this step and then falls back again, for clearly the Tester will not readily accept defeat and full often, after a life or two in which it seems to make rapid progress, such a soul may fail a major test and so be cast back on the path.
“Zibeon” is the key word here. In the Sayings it is translated as “immerse”, but it literally refers to the dying of cloth by dipping it, and often means variegated, in other words it refers to a dying that is imperfect. Physical man is imperfect – he is variegated, partly spiritual, partly worldly, and this word acknowledges that, even after being immersed in the River of Life, he will remain variegated – until at last he finally achieves perfection. The word “Zibeon” may also be a reference to being “dipped” in the River of Life. By being dipped in the spiritual Life-Force, the Physical Man is dyed a different “colour” – in other words rendered more spiritual. What is even more interesting, however, is the fact that the Hebrew word “Zibeon” is almost an exact equivalent of the Greek word “Bapto”, from which we derive our word “baptism”. “Bapto” also signifies both “to dip or immerse” and “to dye”. Translating from Hebrew to Greek, one would most accurately render “Zibeon” as “Bapto” and the use of this word in the Sayings of Melchizedek, clearly prefigures both Jewish and Christian baptism. If we ignore the purely ceremonial role that many modern so-called Christians give to the ritual of Baptism and instead, see it as an outward symbol of the soul being immersed in the Divine Life-Force, then the word “Baptise” is a valid translation of “Zibeon”. Hence the alternative translation of this Saying
This may sound like an unusual title for God, but it refers to His role as a Refiner of souls, bringing forth the Gold and burning away the dross from within them as previously discussed
The simile of “fragrance” is often used to define something that is pleasing unto God. Incense is a good example, in the physical sense, but many of those who have been present at the death of a saint have referred to sweet scents, as perhaps of flowers from Paradise.
The unusual phrase, “Assembles itself and hastens to ascend” in verse 19 seems to be a reference to the drawing of the Lower Self into a spiritual union with the Higher, or perhaps even to the eventual union of soul-mates as an “assembling” of the “angelic self” that they are to become.