But the essence of the problem lies in the question, Why does one of these simple cells become a cabbage, another a rat, another a whale, another a man? Within the limits of known observation during historic time, every organism yields seed or bears progeny after its own kind. Between all neighboring species there are impassable, discrete chasms. The direct reason, therefore, why one cell stops in completion at any given vegetable stage, another at a certain animal stage, is that its producing parent was that vegetable or that animal. Now, going back to the first individual of each kind, which had no determining parent like itself, the theory of the gradually ameliorating development of one species out of the next below it is one mode of solving the problem. Another mode more satisfactory at least to theologians and their allies is to conclude that God, the Divine Force, by whom the life of the universe is given, made the world after an ideal plan, including a systematic arrangement of all the possible modifications. This plan was in his thought, in the unity of all its parts, from the beginning; and the animate creation is the execution of its diagrams in organic life. Instead of the lineal extraction of the complicated scheme out of one cell, there has been, from epoch to epoch, the simultaneous production of all included in one of its sections. The Creator, at his chosen times, calling into existence a multitude of cells, gave each one the amount and type of organic force which would carry it to the destined grade and form. In this manner may have originated, at the same time, the first sparrow, the first horse, the first man, in short, a whole circle of congeners.
"The grassy clods now calved; now half appear'd The tawny lion, pawing to get free His hinder parts, then springs as broke from bonds, And rampant shakes his brinded mane."
12 The most forcible defence of this hypothesis is that made by Herbert Spencer. See, in his volume of Essays, No. 2 of the Haythorne Papers. Also see Oken, Entstehung des ersten Menechen, Isis, 1819, ss. 1117-1123.
Each creature, therefore, would be distinct from others from the first. "Man, though rising from not man, came forth sharply defined." The races thus originated in their initiative representatives by the creative power of God, thenceforth possess in themselves the power, each one, in the generative act, to put its typical dynamic stamp upon the primordial cells of its immediate descendants. Adam, then, was a wild man, cast in favoring conditions of climate, endowed with the same faculties as now, only not in so high a degree. For, by his peculiar power of forming habits, accumulating experience, transmitting acquirements and tendencies, he has slowly risen to his present state with all its wealth of wisdom, arts, and comforts.
By either of these theories, that of Darwin, or that of Agassiz, man, the head of the great organic family of the earth, and it matters not at all whether there were only one Adam and Eve, or whether each separate race had its own Adams and Eves,13 not merely a solitary pair, but simultaneous hundreds, man, physically considered, is indistinguishably included in the creative plan under the same laws and forces, and visibly subject to the same destination, as the lower animals. He starts with a cell as they do, grows to maturity by assimilative organization and endowing transformation of foreign nutriment as they do, his life is a continuous process of waste and repair of tissues as theirs is, and there is, from the scientific point of view, no conceivable reason why he should not be subject to physical death as they are. They have always been subject to death, which, therefore, is an aboriginal constituent of the Creative plan. It has been estimated, upon data furnished by scientific observation, that since the appearance of organic life on earth, millions of years ago, animals enough have died to cover all the lands of the globe with their bones to the height of three miles. Consequently, the historic commencement of death is not to be found in the sin of man. We shall discover it as a necessity in the first organic cell that was ever formed.
The spherule of force which is the primitive basis of a cell spends itself in the discharge of its work. In other words, "the amount of vital action which can be performed by each living cell has a definite limit." When that limit is reached, the exhausted cell is dead. To state the fact differently: no function can be performed without "the disintegration of a certain amount of tissue, whose components are then removed as effete by the excretory processes." This final expenditure on the part of a cell of its modification of force is the act of molecular death, the germinal essence of all decay. That this organic law should rule in every living structure is a necessity inherent in the actual conditions of the creation. And wherever we look in the realm of physical man, even "from the red outline of beginning Adam" to the amorphous adipocere of the last corpse when fate's black curtain falls on our race, we shall discern death. For death is the other side of life. Life and death are the two hands with which the organic power works.
The threescore simple elements known to chemists die, that is, surrender their peculiar powers and properties, and enter into new combinations to produce and support higher forms of life. Otherwise these inorganic elemental wastes would be all that the material universe could show.
13 The Diversity of Origin of the Human Races, by Louis Agassiz, Christian Examiner, July, 1850.
The simple plant consists of single cells, which, in its development, give up their independent life for the production of a more exalted vegetable form. The formation of a perfectly organized plant is made possible only through the continuous dying and replacement of its cells. Similarly, in the development of an animal, the constituent cells die for the good of the whole creature; and the more perfect the animal the greater the subordination of the parts. The cells of the human body are incessantly dying, being borne off and replaced. The epidermis or scarf skin is made of millions of insensible scales, consisting of former cells which have died in order with their dead bodies to build this guardian wall around the tender inner parts. Thus, death, operating within the individual, seen in the light of natural science, is a necessity, is purely a form of self surrendering beneficence, is, indeed, but a hidden and indirect process and completion of life.14
And is not the death of the total organism just as needful, just as benignant, as the death of the component atoms? Is it not the same law, still expressing the same meaning? The chemicalelements wherein individuality is wanting, as Wagner says, die that vegetable bodies may live. Individual vegetable bodies die that new individuals of the species may live, and that they may supply the conditions for animals to live. The individual beast dies that other individuals of his species may live, and also for the good of man. The plant lives by the elements and by other plants: the animal lives by the elements, by the plants, and by other animals: man lives and reigns by the service of the elements, of the plants, and of the animals. The individual man dies if we may trust the law of analogy for the good of his species, and that he may furnish the conditions for the development of a higher life elsewhere. It is quite obvious that, if individuals did not die, new individuals could not live, because there would not be room. It is also equally evident that, if individuals did not die, they could never have any other life than the present. The foregoing considerations, fathomed and appreciated, transform the institution of death from caprice and punishment into necessity and benignity. In the timid sentimentalist's view, death is horrible. Nature unrolls the chart of organic existence, a convulsed and lurid list of murderers, from the spider in the window to the tiger in the jungle, from the shark at the bottom of the sea to the eagle against the floor of the sky. As the perfumed fop, in an interval of reflection, gazes at the spectacle through his dainty eyeglass, the prospect swims in blood and glares with the ghastly phosphorus of corruption, and he shudders with sickness. In the philosophical naturalist's view, the dying panorama is wholly different. Carnivorous violence prevents more pain than it inflicts; the wedded laws of life and death wear the solemn beauty and wield the merciful functions of God; all is balanced and ameliorating; above the slaughterous struggle safely soar the dove and the rainbow; out of the charnel blooms the rose to which the nightingale sings love; nor is there poison which helps not health, nor destruction which supplies not creation with nutriment for greater good and joy.
By painting such pictures as that of a woman with "Sin" written on her forehead in great glaring letters, giving to Death a globe entwined by a serpent, or that of Death as a
14 Hermann Wagner, Der Tod, beleuchtet vom Standpunkte der Naturwissenschaften.
skeleton, waving a black banner over the world and sounding through a trumpet, "Woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth!" by interpreting the great event as punishment instead of fulfilment, extermination instead of transition, men have elaborated, in the faith of their imaginations, a melodramatic death which nature never made. Truly, to the capable observer, death bears the double aspect of necessity and benignity: necessity, because it is an ultimate fact, as the material world is made, that, since organic action implies expenditure of force, the modicum of force given to any physical organization must finally be spent; benignity, because a bodily immortality on earth would both prevent all the happiness of perpetually rising millions and be an unspeakable curse upon its possessors.
The benevolence of death appears from this fact, that it boundlessly multiplies the numbers who can enjoy the prerogatives of life. It calls up ever fresh generations, with wondering eyes and eager appetites, to the perennial banquet of existence. Had Adam not sinned and been expelled from Paradise, some of the Christian Fathers thought, the fixed number of saints foreseen by God would have been reached and then no more would have been born.15
Such would have been the necessity, there being no death. But, by the removal of one company as they grow tired and sated, room is made for a new company to approach and enjoy the ever renewing spectacle and feast of the world. Thus all the delightful boons life has, instead of being cooped within a little stale circle, are ceaselessly diffused and increased. Vivacious claimants advance, see what is to be seen, partake of what is furnished, are satisfied, and retire; and their places are immediately taken by hungry successors. Thus the torch of life is passed briskly, with picturesque and stimulating effect, along the manifold race of running ages, instead of smouldering stagnantly forever in the moveless grasp of one. The amount of enjoyment, the quantity of conscious experience, gained from any given exhibition by a million persons to each of whom it is successively shown for one hour, is, beyond all question, immensely greater and keener than one person could have from it in a million hours. The generations of men seem like fire flies glittering down the dark lane of History; but each swarm had its happy turn, fulfilled its hour, and rightfully gave way to its followers. The disinterested beneficence of the Creator ordains that the same plants, insects, men, shall not unsurrenderingly monopolize and stop the bliss of breath. Death is the echo of the voice of love reverberated from the limit of life.
The cumulative fund of human experience, the sensitive affiliating line of history, like a cerebral cord of personal identity traversing the centuries, renders a continual succession of generations equivalent to the endless existence of one generation; but with this mighty difference, that it preserves all the edge and spice of novelty. For consider what would be the result if death were abolished and men endowed with an earthly immortality. At first they might rejoice, and think their last, dreadest enemy destroyed. But what a mistake! In the first place, since none are to be removed from the earth, of course none must come into it. The space and material are all wanted by those now in possession. All are soon mature men and women, not another infant ever to hang upon a mother's breast or be lifted in a father's arms.
15 Augustine, Op. Imp. iii. 198.
All the prattling music, fond cares, yearning love, and gushing joys and hopes associated with the rearing of children, gone! What a stupendous fragment is stricken from the fabric of those enriching satisfactions which give life its truest value and its purest charm! Ages roll on. They see the same everlasting faces, confront the same returning phenomena, engage in the same worn out exercises, or lounge idly in the unchangeable conditions which bear no stimulant which they have not exhausted. Thousands of years pass. They have drunk every attainable spring of knowledge dry. Not a prize stirs a pulse. All pleasures, permutated till ingenuity is baffled, disgust them. No terror startles them. No possible experiment remains untried; nor is there any unsounded fortune left. No dim marvels and boundless hopes beckon them with resistless lures into the future. They have no future. One everlasting now is their all. At last the incessant repetition of identical phenomena, the unmitigated sameness of things, the eternal monotony of affairs, become unutterably burdensome and horrible. Full of loathing and immeasurable fatigue, a weariness like the weight of a universe oppresses them; and what would they not give for a change! any thing to break the nightmare spell of ennui, to fling off the dateless flesh, to die, to pass into some unguessed realm, to lie down and sleep forever: it would be the infinite boon!
Take away from man all that is dependent on, or interlinked with, the appointment of death, and it would make such fundamental alterations of his constitution and relations that he would no longer be man. It would leave us an almost wholly different race. If it is a divine boon that men should be, then death is a good to us; for it enables us to be men. Without it there would neither be husband and wife, nor parent and child, nor family hearth and altar; nor, indeed, would hardly any thing be as it is now. The existent phenomena of nature and the soul would comprise all. And when the jaded individual, having mastered and exhausted this finite sum, looked in vain for any thing new or further, the world would be a hateful dungeon to him, and life an awful doom; and how gladly he would give all that lies beneath the sun's golden round and top of sovereignty to migrate into some untried region and state of being, or even to renounce existence altogether and lie down forever in the attractive slumber of the grave! Without death, mankind would undergo the fate of Sisyphus, no future, and in the present the oppression of an intolerable task with an aching vacuum of motive. The certainty and the mystery of death create the stimulus and the romance of life. Give the human race an earthly immortality, and you exclude them from every thing greater and diviner than the earth affords. Who could consent to that? Take away death, and a brazen wall girds in our narrow life, against which, if we remained men, we should dash and chafe in the climax of our miserable longing, as the caged lion or eagle beats against his bars.
The gift of an earthly immortality conferred on a single person a boon which thoughtless myriads would clasp with frantic triumph would prove, perhaps, a still more fearful curse than if distributed over the whole species.
Retaining his human affections, how excruciating and remediless his grief must be, to be so cut off from all equal community of experience and destiny with mankind, to see all whom he loves, generation after generation, fading away, leaving him alone, to form new ties again to be dissolved, to watch his beloved ones growing old and infirm, while he stands without a change! His love would be left, in agony of melancholy grandeur, "a solitary angel hovering over a universe of tombs" on the tremulous wings of memory and grief, those wings incapacitated, by his madly coveted prerogative of deathlessness, ever to move from above the sad rows of funereal urns. Zanoni, in Bulwer's magnificent conception, says to Viola, "The flower gives perfume to the rock on whose breast it grows. A little while, and the flower is dead; but the rock still endures, the snow at its breast, the sunshine on its summit." A deathless individual in a world of the dying, joined with them by ever bereaved affections, would be the wretchedest creature conceivable. As no man ever yet prayed for any thing he would pray to be released, to embrace dear objects in his arms and float away with them to heaven, or even to lie down with them in the kind embrace of mother earth. And if he had no affections, but lived a stoic existence, exempt from every sympathy, in impassive solitude, he could not be happy, he would not be man: he must be an intellectual marble of thought or a monumental mystery of woe.
Death, therefore, is benignity. When men wish there were no such appointed event, they are deceived, and know not what they wish. Literature furnishes a strange and profound, though wholly unintentional, confirmation of this view. Every form in which literary genius has set forth the conception of an earthly immortality represents it as an evil. This is true even down to Swift's painful account of the Struldbrugs in the island of Laputa. The legend of the Wandering Jew,16 one of the most marvellous products of the human mind in imaginative literature, is terrific with its blazoned revelation of the contents of an endless life on earth. This story has been embodied, with great variety of form and motive, in more than a hundred works. Every one is, without the writer's intention, a disguised sermon of gigantic force on the benignity of death. As in classic fable poor Tithon became immortal in the dawning arms of Eos only to lead a shrivelled, joyless, repulsive existence; and the fair young witch of Cuma had ample cause to regret that ever Apollo granted her request for as many years as she held grains of dust in her hand; and as all tales of successful alchemists or Rosicrucians concur in depicting the result to be utter disappointment and revulsion from the accursed prize; we may take it as evidence of a spontaneous conviction in the depths of human nature a conviction sure to be brought out whenever the attempt is made to describe in life an opposite thought that death is benign for man as he is constituted and related on earth. The voice of human nature speaks truth through the lips of Cicero, saying, at the close of his essay on Old Age, "Quodsi non sumus immortales futuri, tamen exstingui homini suo tempore optabile est."
In a conversation at the house of Sappho, a discussion once arose upon the question whether death was a blessing or an evil. Some maintained, the former alternative; but Sappho victoriously closed the debate by saying, If it were a blessing to die, the immortal gods would experience it. The gods live forever: therefore, death is an evil.17 The reasoning was plausible and brilliant. Yet its sophistry is complete. To men, conditioned as they are in this world, death may be the greatest blessing; while to the gods, conditioned so differently, it may have no similar application.
16 Bibliographical notice of the legend of the wandering Jew, by Paul Lacroix; trans. into English by G.W. Thornbury. Grasse, Der ewige Jude.
17 Fragment X. Quoted in Mare's Hist. Lit. Greece, book iii. chap. v. sect. 18.
Because an earthly eternity in the flesh would be a frightful calamity, is no reason why a heavenly eternity in the spirit would be other than a blissful inheritance.
Thus the remonstrance which may be fallaciously based on some of the foregoing considerations namely, that they would equally make it appear that the immortality of man in any condition would be undesirable is met. A conclusion drawn from the facts of the present scene of things, of course, will not apply to a scene inconceivably different. Those whose only bodies are their minds may be fetterless, happy, leading a wondrous life, beyond our deepest dream and farthest fancy, and eternally free from trouble or satiety.
Death is to us, while we live, what we think it to be. If we confront it with analytic and defiant eye, it is that nothing which ever ceases in beginning to be. If, letting the superstitious senses tyrannize over us and cow our better part of man, we crouch before the imagination of it, it assumes the shape of the skeleton monarch who takes the world for his empire, the electric fluid for his chariot, and time for his sceptre. In the contemplation of death, hitherto, fancy inspired by fear has been by far too much the prominent faculty and impulse. The literature of the subject is usually ghastly, appalling, and absurd, with point of view varying from that of the credulous Hindu, personifying death as a monster with a million mouths devouring all creatures and licking them in his flaming lips as a fire devours the moths or as the sea swallows the torrents,18 to that of the atheistic German dreamer, who converts nature into an immeasurable corpse worked by galvanic forces, and that of the bold French philosopher, Carnot, whose speculations have led to the theory that the sun will finally expend all its heat, and constellated life cease, as the solar system hangs, like a dead orrery, ashy and spectral, the ghost of what it was. So the extravagant author of Festus says,
"God tore the glory from the sun's broad brow And flung the flaming scalp away."
The subject should be viewed by the unclouded intellect, guided by serene faith, in the light of scientific knowledge. Then death is revealed, first, as an organic necessity in the primordial life cell; secondly, as the cessation of a given form of life in its completion; thirdly, as a benignant law, an expression of the Creator's love; fourthly, as the inaugurating condition of another form of life. What we are to refer to sin is all the seeming lawlessness and untimeliness of death. Had not men sinned, all would reach a good age and pass away without suffering. Death is benignant necessity; the irregularity and pain associated with it are an inherited punishment. Finally, it is a condition of improvement in life. Death is the incessant touch with which the artist, Nature, is bringing her works to perfection.
Physical death is experienced by man in common with the brute. Upon grounds of physiology there is no greater evidence for man's Spiritual survival through that overshadowed crisis than there is for the brute's. And on grounds of sentiment man ought not to shrink from sharing his open future with these mute comrades. Des Cartes and Malebranche taught that animals are mere machines, without souls, worked by God's arbitrary power. Swedenborg held that "the souls of brutes are extinguished with their bodies." 19
18 Thomson's trans. of Bhagavad Gita, p. 77.
19 Outlines of the Infinite, chap. ii. sect. iv. 13.
Leibnitz, by his doctrine of eternal monads, sustains the immortality of all creatures.
Coleridge defended the same idea. Agassiz, with much power and beauty, advocates the thought that animals as well as men have a future life. 20 The old traditions affirm that at least four beasts have been translated to heaven; namely, the ass that spoke to Balaam, the white foal that Christ rode into Jerusalem, the steed Borak that bore Mohammed on his famous night journey, and the dog that wakened the Seven Sleepers. To recognise, as Goethe did, brothers in the green wood and in the teeming air, to sympathize with all lower forms of life, and hope for them an open range of limitless possibilities in the hospitable home of God, is surely more becoming to a philosopher, a poet, or a Christian, than that careless scorn which commonly excludes them from regard and contemptuously leaves them to annihilation. This subject has been genially treated by Richard Dean in his "Essay on the Future Life of Brutes."
But on moral and psychological grounds the distinction is vast between the dying man and the dying brute. Bretschneider, in a beautiful sermon on this point, specifies four particulars. Man foresees and provides for his death: the brute does not. Man dies with unrecompensed merit and guilt: the brute does not. Man dies with faculties and powers fitted for a more perfect state of existence: the brute does not. Man dies with the expectation of another life: the brute does not. Three contrasts may be added to these. First, man desires to die amidst his fellows: the brute creeps away by himself, to die in solitude. Secondly, man inters his dead with burial rites, rears a memorial over them, cherishes recollections of them which often change his subsequent character: but who ever heard of a deer watching over an expiring comrade, a deer funeral winding along the green glades of the forest? The barrows of Norway, the mounds of Yucatan, the mummy pits of Memphis, the rural cemeteries of our own day, speak the human thoughts of sympathetic reverence and posthumous survival, typical of something superior to dust. Thirdly, man often makes death an active instead of a passive experience, his will as it is his fate, a victory instead of a defeat.21 As Mirabeau sank towards his end, he ordered them to pour perfumes and roses on him, and to bring music; and so, with the air of a haughty conqueror, amidst the volcanic smoke and thunder of reeling France, his giant spirit went forth. The patriot is proud to lay his body a sacrifice on the altar of his country's weal. The philanthropist rejoices to spend himself without pay in a noble cause, to offer up his life in the service of his fellow men. Thousands of generous students have given their lives to science and clasped death amidst their trophied achievements. Who can count the confessors who have thought it bliss and glory to be martyrs for truth and God? Creatures capable of such deeds must inherit eternity. Their transcendent souls step from their rejected mansions through the blue gateway of the air to the lucid palace of the stars. Any meaner allotment would be discordant and unbecoming their rank.
Contemplations like these exorcise the spectre host of the brain and quell the horrid brood of fear. The noble purpose of self sacrifice enables us to smile upon the grave, "as some sweet clarion's breath stirs the soldier's scorn of danger."
20 Contributions to the Natural History of the United States, vol. i. pp. 64-66. Umbreit, fiber das Sterben ais einen Akt menschlich personlicher Selbststandigkeit. Studien und Kritiken, 1837.
Death parts with its false frightfulness, puts on its true beauty, and becomes at once the evening star of memory and the morning star of hope, the Hesper of the sinking flesh, the Phosphor of the rising soul. Let the night come, then: it shall be welcome. And, as we gird our loins to enter the ancient mystery, we will exclaim, with vanishing voice, to those we leave behind,
"Though I stoop Into a dark tremendous sea of cloud, It is but for a time I press God's lamp Close to my breast: its splendor, soon or late, Will pierce the gloom: I shall emerge somewhere."
GROUNDS OF THE BELIEF IN A FUTURE LIFE.
IT is the purpose of the following chapter to describe the originating supports of the common belief in a future life; not to probe the depth and test the value of the various grounds out of which the doctrine grows, but only to give a descriptive sketch of what they are, and a view of the process of growth. The objections urged by unbelievers belong to an open discussion of the question of immortality, not to an illustrative statement of the suggesting grounds on which the popular belief rests. When, after sufficient investigation, we ask ourselves from what causes the almost universal expectation of another life springs, and by what influences it is nourished, we shall not find adequate answer in less than four words: feeling, imagination, faith, and reflection. The doctrine of a future life for man has been created by the combined force of instinctive desire, analogical observation, prescriptive authority, and philosophical speculation. These are the four pillars on which the soul builds the temple of its hopes; or the four glasses through which it looks to see its eternal heritage.
First, it is obvious that man is endowed at once with foreknowledge of death and with a powerful love of life. It is not a love of being here; for he often loathes the scene around him. It is a love of self possessed existence; a love of his own soul in its central consciousness and bounded royalty. This is an inseparable element of his very entity. Crowned with free will, walking on the crest of the world, enfeoffed with individual faculties, served by vassal nature with tributes of various joy, he cannot bear the thought of losing himself, of sliding into the general abyss of matter. His interior consciousness is permeated with a self preserving instinct, and shudders at every glimpse of danger or hint of death. The soul, pervaded with a guardian instinct of life, and seeing death's steady approach to destroy the body, necessitates the conception of an escape into another state of existence. Fancy and reason, thus set at work, speedily construct a thousand theories filled with details. Desire first fathers thought, and then thought woos belief.
Secondly, man, holding his conscious being precious beyond all things, and shrinking with pervasive anxieties from the moment of destined dissolution, looks around through the realms of nature, with thoughtful eye, in search of parallel phenomena further developed, significant sequels in other creatures' fates, whose evolution and fulfilment may haply throw light on his own. With eager vision and heart prompted imagination he scrutinizes whatever appears related to his object. Seeing the snake cast its old slough and glide forth renewed, he conceives, so in death man but sheds his fleshly exuvia, while the spirit emerges, regenerate. He beholds the beetle break from its filthy sepulchre and commence its summer work; and straightway he hangs a golden scarsbaus in his temples as an emblem of a future life. After vegetation's wintry deaths, hailing the returning spring that brings resurrection and life to the graves of the sod, he dreams of some far off spring of Humanity, yet to come, when the frosts of man's untoward doom shall relent, and all the costly seeds sown through ages in the great earth tomb shall shoot up in celestial shapes. On the moaning sea shore, weeping some dear friend, he perceives, now ascending in the dawn, the planet which he lately saw declining in the dusk; and he is cheered by the thought that
"As sinks the day star in the ocean bed, And yet anon repairs his drooping head, And tricks his beams, and with new spangled ore Flames in the forehead of the morning sky, So Lycidas, sunk low, shall mount on high."
Some traveller or poet tells him fabulous tales of a bird which, grown aged, fills its nest with spices, and, spontaneously burning, soars from the aromatic fire, rejuvenescent for a thousand years; and he cannot but take the phoenix for a miraculous type of his own soul springing, free and eternal, from the ashes of his corpse. Having watched the silkworm, as it wove its cocoon and lay down in its oblong grave apparently dead, until at length it struggles forth, glittering with rainbow colors, a winged moth, endowed with new faculties and living a new life in a new sphere, he conceives that so the human soul may, in the fulness of time, disentangle itself from the imprisoning meshes of this world of larva, a thing of spirit beauty, to sail through heavenly airs; and henceforth he engraves a butterfly on the tombstone in vivid prophecy of immortality. Thus a moralizing observation of natural similitudes teaches man to hope for an existence beyond death.
Thirdly, the prevailing belief in a future life is spread and upheld by the influence of authority. The doctrine of the soul's survival and transference to another world, where its experience depends on conditions observed or violated here, conditions somewhat within the control of a select class of men here, such a doctrine is the very hiding place of the power of priest craft, a vast engine of interest and sway which the shrewd insight of priesthoods has often devised and the cunning policy of states subsidized. In most cases of this kind the asserted doctrine is placed on the basis of a divine revelation, and must be implicitly received. God proclaims it through his anointed ministers: therefore, to doubt it or logically criticize it is a crime. History bears witness to such a procedure wherever an organized priesthood has flourished, from primeval pagan India to modern papal Rome. It is traceable from the dark Osirian shrines of Egypt and the initiating temple at Eleusis to the funeral fires of Gaul and the Druidic conclave in the oak groves of Mona; from the reeking altars of Mexico in the time of Montezuma to the masses for souls in Purgatory said this day in half the churches of Christendom. Much of the popular faith in immortality which has prevailed in all ages has been owing to the authority of its promulgators, a deep and honest trust on the part of the people in the authoritative dicta of their religious teachers.
In all the leading nations of the earth, the doctrine of a future life is a tradition handed down from immemorial antiquity, embalmed in sacred books which are regarded as infallible revelations from God. Of course the thoughtless never think of questioning it; the reverent piously embrace it; all are educated to receive it. In addition to the proclamation of a future life by the sacred books and by the priestly hierarchies, it has also been affirmed by countless individual saints, philosophers, and prophets. Most persons readily accept it on trust from them as a demonstrated theory or an inspired knowledge of theirs. It is natural for modest unspeculative minds, busied with worldly cares, to say, These learned sages, these theosophic seers, so much more gifted, educated, and intimate with the divine counsels and plan than we are, with so much deeper experience and purer insight than we have, must know the truth: we cannot in any other way do so well as to follow their guidance and confide in their assertions. Accordingly, multitudes receive the belief in a life to come on the authority of the world's intellectual and religious leaders.
Fourthly, the belief in a future life results from philosophical meditation, and is sustained by rational proofs.1 For the completion of the present outline, it now remains to give a brief exposition of these arguments. For the sake of convenience and clearness, we must arrange these reasonings in five classes; namely, the physiological, the analogical, the psychological, the theological, and the moral.
There is a group of considerations drawn from the phenomena of our bodily organization, life and death, which compose the physiological argument for the separate existence of the soul. In the first place, it is contended that the human organization, so wondrously vitalized, developed, and ruled, could not have grown up out of mere matter, but implies a pre existent mental entity, a spiritual force or idea, which constituted the primeval impulse, grouped around itself the organic conditions of our existence, and constrained the material elements to the subsequent processes and results, according to a prearranged plan.2 This dynamic agent, this ontological cause, may naturally survive when the fleshly organization which it has built around itself dissolves. Its independence before the body began involves its independence after the body is ended. Stahl has especially illustrated in physiology this idea of an independent soul monad.
Secondly, as some potential being must have preceded our birth, to assimilate and construct the physical system, so the great phenomena attending our conscious life necessitate, both to our instinctive apprehension and in our philosophical conviction, the distinctive division of man into body and soul, tabernacle and tenant. The illustrious Boerhaave wrote a valuable dissertation on the distinction of the mind from the body, which is to be found among his works. Every man knows that he dwells in the flesh but is not flesh. He is a free, personal mind, occupying and using a material body, but not identified with it. Ideas and passions of purely immaterial origin pervade every nerve with terrific intensity, and shake his encasing corporeity like an earthquake. A thought, a sentiment, a fancy, may prostrate him as effectually as a blow on his brain from a hammer. He wills to move a palsied limb: the soul is unaffected by the paralysis, but the muscles refuse to obey his volition: the distinction between the person willing and the instrument to be wielded is unavoidable.
Thirdly, the fact of death itself irresistibly suggests the duality of flesh and spirit. It is the removal of the energizing mind that leaves the frame so empty and meaningless. Think of the undreaming sleep of a corpse which dissolution is winding in its chemical embrace. A moment ago that hand was uplifted to clasp yours, intelligent accents were vocal on those
1 Wohlfarth, Triumph des Glaubens an Unsterblichkeit und Wiedersehen uber jeden Zweifel. Oporinus, Historia Critica Doctrina de Immortalitate Mortalium.
2 Muller, Elements of Physiology, book vi. sect. i. ch. 1.
lips, the light of love beamed in that eye. One shuddering sigh, and how cold, vacant, forceless, dead, lies the heap of clay! It is impossible to prevent the conviction that an invisible power has been liberated; that the flight of an animating principle has produced this awful change. Why may not that untraceable something which has gone still exist? Its vanishing from our sensible cognizance is no proof of its perishing. Not a shadow of genuine evidence has ever been afforded that the real life powers of any creature are destroyed.3 In the absence of that proof, a multitude of considerations urge us to infer the contrary. Surely there is room enough for the contrary to be true; for, as Jacobi profoundly observes, "life is not a form of body; but body is one form of life." Therefore the soul which now exists in this form, not appearing to be destroyed on its departure hence, must be supposed to live hereafter in some other form.4
A second series of observations and reflections, gathered from partial similarities elsewhere in the world, are combined to make the analogical argument for a future life. For many centuries, in the literature of many nations, a standard illustration of the thought that the soul survives the decay of its earthy investiture has been drawn from the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into the butterfly.5 This world is the scene of our grub state. The body is but a chrysalis of soul. When the preliminary experience and stages are finished and the transformation is complete, the spirit emerges from its cast off cocoon and broken cell into the more ethereal air and sunnier light of a higher world's eternal day. The emblematic correspondence is striking, and the inference is obvious and beautiful. Nor is the change, the gain in endowments and privileges, greater in the supposed case of man than it is from the slow and loathsome worm on the leaf to the swift and glittering insect in the air.
Secondly, in the material world, so far as we can judge, nothing is ever absolutely destroyed. There is no such thing as annihilation. Things are changed, transformations abound; but essences do not cease to be. Take a given quantity of any kind of matter; divide and subdivide it in ten thousand ways, by mechanical violence, by chemical solvents. Still it exists, as the same quantity of matter, with unchanged qualities as to its essence, and will exist when Nature has manipulated it in all her laboratories for a billion ages. Now, as a solitary exception to this, are minds absolutely destroyed? are will, conscience, thought, and love annihilated? Personal intelligence, affection, identity, are inseparable components of the idea of a soul. And what method is there of crushing or evaporating these out of being? What force is there to compel them into nothing? Death is not a substantive cause working effects. It is itself merely an effect. It is simply a change in the mode of existence. That this change puts an end to existence is an assertion against analogy, and wholly unsupported.
Thirdly, following the analogy of science and the visible order of being, we are led to the conception of an ascending series of existences rising in regular gradation from coarse to fine, from brutal to mental, from earthly composite to simply spiritual, and thus pointing up the rounds of life's ladder, through all nature, to the angelic ranks of heaven. Then, feeling his kinship and common vocation with supernal beings, man is assured of a loftier condition of
3 Sir Humphry Davy, Proteus or Immortality.
4 Bakewell, Natural Evidence of a Future State.
5 Butler, Analogy, part i. ch. 1.
of existence reserved for him. There are no such immense, vacantly yawning chasms, as that would be, between our fleshly estate and the Godhead. Nature takes no such enormous jumps. Her scaling advance is by staid and normal steps.
"There's lifeless matter. Add the power of shaping, And you've the crystal: add again the organs Wherewith to subdue sustenance to the form And manner of one's self, and you've the plant: Add power of motion, senses, and so forth, And you've all kinds of beasts: suppose a pig. To pig add reason, foresight, and such stuff, Then you have man. What shall, we add to man To bring him higher?"
Freedom from the load of clay, emancipation of the spirit into the full range and masterdom of a spirit's powers!
Fourthly, many strong similarities between our entrance into this world and our departure out of it would make us believe that death is but another and higher birth.6 Any one acquainted with the state of an unborn infant deriving its sole nutriment, its very existence, from its vascular connection with its mother could hardly imagine that its separation from its mother would introduce it to a new and independent life. He would rather conclude that it would perish, like a twig wrenched from its parent limb. So it may be in the separation of the soul from the body. Further, as our latent or dimly groping senses were useless while we were developing in embryo, and then implied this life, so we now have, in rudimentary condition, certain powers of reason, imagination, and heart, which prophesy heaven and eternity; and mysterious intimations ever and anon reach us from a diviner sphere,
"Like hints and echoes of the world To spirits folded in the womb."
The Persian poet, Buzurgi, says on this theme,
"What is the soul? The seminal principle from the loins of destiny. This world is the womb: the body, its enveloping membrane: The bitterness of dissolution, dame Fortune's pangs of childbirth. What is death? To be born again, an angel of eternity."
Fifthly, many cultivated thinkers have firmly believed that the soul is not so young as is usually thought, but is an old stager on this globe, having lived through many a previous existence, here or elsewhere.7 They sustain this conclusion by various considerations, either drawn from premises presupposing the necessary eternity of spirits, or resting on dusky reminiscences, "shadowy recollections," of visions and events vanished long ago. Now, if the idea of foregone conscious lives, personal careers oft repeated with unlost being, be admitted, as it frequently has been by such men as Plato and Wordsworth, all the
6 Bretschneider, Predigten uber Tod, Unsterblichkeit, und Anferstehung.
7 James Parker, Account of the Divine Goodness concerning the Pre existence of Souls.
connected analogies of the case carry us to the belief that immortality awaits us. We shall live through the next transition, as we have lived through the past ones.
Sixthly, rejecting the hypothesis of an anterior life, and entertaining the supposition that there is no creating and overruling God, but that all things have arisen by spontaneous development or by chance, still, we are not consistently obliged to expect annihilation as the fate of the soul. Fairly reasoning from the analogy of the past, across the facts of the present, to the impending contingencies of the future, we may say that the next stage in the unfolding processes of nature is not the destruction of our consciousness, but issues in a purer life, elevates us to a spiritual rank. It is just to argue that if mindless law or boundless fortuity made this world and brought us here, it may as well make, or have made, another world, and bear us there. Law or chance excluding God from the question may as easily make us immortal as mortal. Reasoning by analogy, we may affirm that, as life has been given us, so it will be given us again and forever.
Seventhly, faith in immortality is fed by another analogy, not based on reflection, but instinctively felt. Every change of material in our organism, every change of consciousness, is a kind of death. We partially die as often as we leave behind forgotten experiences and lost states of being. We die successively to infancy, childhood, youth, manhood. The past is the dead: but our course is still on, forever on. Having survived so many deaths, we expect to survive all others and to be ourselves eternally.
There is a third cluster of reasonings, deduced from the distinctive nature of spirit, constituting the psychological argument for the existence of the soul independent of the body. In the outset, obviously, if the soul be an immaterial entity, its natural immortality follows; because death and decay can only be supposed to take effect in dissoluble combinations. Several ingenious reasons have been advanced in proof of the soul's immateriality, reasons cogent enough to have convinced a large class of philosophers.8 It is sufficient here to notice the following one. All motion implies a dynamic mover. Matter is dormant. Power is a reality entirely distinct from matter in its nature. But man is essentially an active power, a free will. Consequently there is in him an immaterial principle, since all power is immaterial. That principle is immortal, because subsisting in a sphere of being whose categories exclude the possibility of dissolution.9
Secondly, should we admit the human soul to be material, yet if it be an ultimate monad, an indivisible atom of mind, it is immortal still, defying all the forces of destruction. And that it actually is an uncompounded unit may be thus proved. Consciousness is simple, not collective. Hence the power of consciousness, the central soul, is an absolute integer. For a living perceptive whole cannot be made of dead imperceptive parts. If the soul were composite, each component part would be an individual, a distinguishable consciousness. Such not being the fact, the conclusion results that the soul is one, a simple substance.10
8 Astrue, Dissertation sur l'Immaterialite et l'Immortalite de l'Ame. Broughton, Defence of the Doctrine of the Human Soul as an Immaterial and Naturally Immortal Principle. Marstaller, Von der Unsterblichkeit der Menschlichen Seele.
9 Andrew Baxter, Inquiry into the Nature of the Soul.
10 Herbart, Lehrbuch zur Psychologie, sect. 150.
Of course it is not liable to death, but is naturally eternal.
Thirdly, the indestructibleness of the soul is a direct inference from its ontological characteristics. Reason, contemplating the elements of the soul, cannot but embrace the conviction of its perpetuity and its essential independence of the fleshly organization. Our life in its innermost substantive essence is best defined as a conscious force. Our present existence is the organic correlation of that personal force with the physical materials of the body, and with other forces. The cessation of that correlation at death by no means involves, so far as we can see, the destruction or the disindividualization of the primal personal force. It is a fact of striking significance, often noticed by psychologists, that we are unable to conceive ourselves as dead. The negation of itself is impossible to consciousness. The reason we have such a dread of death is that we conceive ourselves as still alive, only in the grave, or wandering through horrors and shut out from wonted pleasures. It belongs to material growths to ripen, loosen, decay; but what is there in sensation, reflection, memory, volition, to crumble in pieces and rot away? Why should the power of hope, and joy, and faith, change into inanity and oblivion? What crucible shall burn up the ultimate of force? What material processes shall ever disintegrate the simplicity of spirit? Earth and plant, muscle, nerve, and brain, belong to one sphere, and are subject to the temporal fates that rule there; but reason, imagination, love, will, belong to another, and, immortally fortressed there, laugh to scorn the fretful sieges of decay.
Fourthly, the surviving superiority of the soul, inferred from its contrast of qualities to those of its earthy environment, is further shown by another fact, the mind's dream power, and the ideal realm it freely soars or walks at large in when it pleases.11 This view has often been enlarged upon, especially by Bonnet and Sir Henry Wotton. The unhappy Achilles, exhausted with weeping for his friend, lay, heavily moaning, on the shore of the far sounding sea, in a clear spot where the waves washed in upon the beach, when sleep took possession of him. The ghost of miserable Patroclus calve to him and said, "Sleepest thou and art forgetful of me, O Achilles?" And the son of Peleus cried, "Come nearer: let us embrace each other, though but for a little while." Then he stretched out his friendly hands, but caught him not; for the spirit, shrieking, vanished beneath the earth like smoke.
Astounded, Achilles started up, clasped his hands, and said, dolefully, "Alas! there is then indeed in the subterranean abodes a spirit and image, but there is no body in it."12 The realm of dreams is a world of mystic realities, intangible, yet existent, and all prophetic, through which the soul nightly floats while the gross body slumbers. It is everlasting, because there is nothing in it for corruption to take hold of. The appearances and sounds of that soft inner sphere, veiled so remote from sense, are reflections and echoes from the spirit world. Or are they a direct vision and audience of it? The soul really is native resident in a world of truth, goodness, and beauty, fellow citizen with divine ideas and affections. Through the senses it has knowledge and communion with the hard outer world of matter. When the senses fall away, it is left, imperishable denizen of its own appropriate world of idealities.
11 Schubert, Die Symbolik des Traumes.
12 Iliad, lib. xxiii. ll. 60 106.
Another assemblage of views, based on the character of God, form the theological argument for the future existence of man.13 Starting with the idea of a God of infinite perfections, the immortality of his children is an immediate deduction from the eternity of his purposes. For whatever purpose God originally gave man being, for the disinterested distribution of happiness, for the increase of his own glory, or whatever else, will he not for that same purpose continue him in being forever? In the absence of any reason to the contrary, we must so conclude. In view of the unlimited perfections of God, the fact of conscious responsible creatures being created is sufficient warrant of their perpetuity. Otherwise God would be fickle. Or, as one has said, he would be a mere drapery painter, nothing within the dress.
Secondly, leaving out of sight this illustration of an eternal purpose in eternal fulfilment, and confining our attention to the analogy of the divine works and the dignity of the divine Worker, we shall be freshly led to the same conclusion. Has God moulded the dead clay of the material universe into gleaming globes and ordered them to fly through the halls of space forever, and has he created, out of his own omnipotence, mental personalities reflecting his own attributes, and doomed them to go out in endless night after basking, poor ephemera, in the sunshine of a momentary life? It is not to be imagined that God ever works in vain. Yet if a single consciousness be extinguished in everlasting nonentity, so far as the production of that consciousness is concerned he has wrought for nothing. His action was in vain, because all is now, to that being, exactly the same as if it had never been. God does nothing in sport or unmeaningly: least of all would he create filial spirits, dignified with the solemn endowments of humanity, without a high and serious end.14 To make men, gifted with such a transcendent largess of powers, wholly mortal, to rot forever in the grave after life's swift day, were work far more unworthy of God than the task was to Michael Angelo set him in mockery by Pietro, the tyrant who succeeded Lorenzo the Magnificent in the dukedom of Florence, that he should scoop up the snow in the Via Larga, and with his highest art mould a statue from it, to dissolve ere night in the glow of the Italian sun.
Thirdly, it is an attribute of Infinite Wisdom to proportion powers to results, to adapt instruments to ends with exact fitness. But if we are utterly to die with the ceasing breath, then there is an amazing want of symmetry between our endowments and our opportunity; our attainments are most superfluously superior to our destiny. Can it be that an earth house of six feet is to imprison forever the intellect of a La Place, whose telescopic eye, piercing the unfenced fields of immensity, systematized more worlds than there are grains of dust in this globe? the heart of a Borromeo, whose seraphic love expanded to the limits of sympathetic being? the soul of a Wycliffe, whose undaunted will, in faithful consecration to duty, faced the fires of martyrdom and never blenched? the genius of a Shakspeare, whose imagination exhausted worlds and then invented new? There is vast incongruity between our faculties and the scope given them here. On all it sees below the soul reads "Inadequate," and rises
13 Aebli, Unsterblichkeit der menschlichen Seele, sechster Brief.
14 Ulrici, Unsterblichkeit der menschlichen Seele aus dem Wesen Gottes erwiesen.
dissatisfied from every feast, craving, with divine hunger and thirst, the ambrosia and nectar of a fetterless and immortal world. Were we fated to perish at the goal of threescore, God would have harmonized our powers with our lot. He would never have set such magnificent conceptions over against such poor possibilities, nor have kindled so insatiable an ambition for so trivial a prize of dust to dust.
Fourthly, one of the weightiest supports of the belief in a future life is that yielded by the benevolence of God. Annihilation is totally irreconcilable with this. That He whose love for his creatures is infinite will absolutely destroy them after their little span of life, when they have just tasted the sweets of existence and begun to know the noble delights of spiritual progress, and while illimitable heights of glory and blessedness are beckoning them, is incredible. We are unable to believe that while his children turn to him with yearning faith and gratitude, with fervent prayer and expectation, he will spurn them into unmitigated night, blotting out those capacities of happiness which he gave them with a virtual promise of endless increase. Will the affectionate God permit humanity, ensconced in the field of being, like a nest of ground sparrows, to be trodden in by the hoof of annihilation? Love watches to preserve life. It were Moloch, not the universal Father, that could crush into death these multitudes of loving souls supplicating him for life, dash into silent fragments these miraculous personal harps of a thousand strings, each capable of vibrating a celestial melody of praise and bliss.
Fifthly, the apparent claims of justice afford presumptive proof, hard to be resisted, of a future state wherein there are compensations for the unmerited ills, a complement for the fragmentary experiences, and rectification for the wrongs, of the present life.15 God is just; but he works without impulse or caprice, by laws whose progressive evolution requires time to show their perfect results. Through the brief space of this existence, where the encountering of millions of free intelligences within the fixed conditions of nature causes a seeming medley of good and evil, of discord and harmony, wickedness often triumphs, villany often outreaches and tramples ingenuous nobility and helpless innocence. Some saintly spirits, victims of disease and penury, drag out their years in agony, neglect, and tears. Some bold minions of selfishness, with seared consciences and nerves of iron, pluck the coveted fruits of pleasure, wear the diadems of society, and sweep through the world in pomp. The virtuous suffer undeservedly from the guilty. The idle thrive on the industrious. All these things sometimes happen. In spite of the compensating tendencies which ride on all spiritual laws, in spite of the mysterious Nemesis which is throned in every bosom and saturates the moral atmosphere with influence, the world is full of wrongs, sufferings, and unfinished justice.16 There must be another world, where the remunerating processes interiorly begun here shall be openly consummated. Can it be that Christ and Herod, Paul and Nero, Timour and Fenelon, drop through the blind trap of death into precisely the same condition of unwaking sleep? Not if there be a God!
15 M. Jules Simon, La Religion Naturelle, liv. iii.: l'Immortalite.
16 Dr. Chalmers, Bridgewater Treatise, chap. 10.
There is a final assemblage of thoughts pertaining to the likelihood of another life, which, arranged together, may be styled the moral argument in behalf of that belief.17 These considerations are drawn from the seeming fitness of things, claims of parts beseeching completion, vaticinations of experience. They form a cumulative array of probabilities whose guiding forefingers all indicate one truth, whose consonant voices swell into a powerful strain of promise. First, consider the shrinking from annihilation naturally felt in every breast. If man be not destined for perennial life, why is this dread of non existence woven into the soul's inmost fibres? Attractions are co ordinate with destinies, and every normal desire foretells its own fulfilment. Man fades unwillingly from his natal haunts, still longing for a life of eternal remembrance and love, and confiding in it. All over the world grows this pathetic race of forget me nots. Shall not Heaven pluck and wear them on her bosom? Secondly, an emphatic presumption in favor of a second life arises from the premature mortality prevalent to such a fearful extent in the human family. Nearly one half of our race perish before reaching the age of ten years. In that period they cannot have fulfilled the total purposes of their creation. It is but a part we see, and not the whole. The destinies here seen segmentary will appear full circle beyond the grave.
The argument is hardly met by asserting that this untimely mortality is the punishment for non observance of law; for, denying any further life, would a scheme of existence have been admitted establishing so awful a proportion of violations and penalties? If there be no balancing sphere beyond, then all should pass through the experience of a ripe and rounded life. But there is the most perplexing inequality. At one fell swoop, infant, sage, hero, reveller, martyr, are snatched into the invisible state. There is, as a noble thinker has said, an apparent "caprice in the dispensation of death strongly indicative of a hidden sequel." Immortality unravels the otherwise inscrutable mystery.
Thirdly, the function of conscience furnishes another attestation to the continued existence of man. This vicegerent of God in the breast, arrayed in splendors and terrors, which shakes and illumines the whole circumference of our being with its thunders and lightnings, gives the good man, amidst oppressions and woes, a serene confidence in a future justifying reward, and transfixes the bad man, through all his retinue of guards and panoplied defences, with icy pangs of fear and with a horrid looking for judgment to come. The sublime grandeur of moral freedom, the imperilling dignities of probation, the tremendous responsibilities and hazards of man's felt power and position, are all inconsistent with the supposition that he is merely to cross this petty stage of earth and then wholly expire. Such momentous endowments and exposures imply a corresponding arena and career. After the trial comes the sentence; and that would be as if a palace were built, a prince born, trained, crowned, solely that he might occupy the throne five minutes! The consecrating, royalizing idea of duty cannot be less than the core of eternal life. Conscience is the sensitive corridor along which the mutual whispers of a divine communion pass and repass. A moral law and a free will
17 Crombie, Natural Theology, Essay IV.: The Arguments for Immortality. Bretschneider, Die Religiose Glaubenslehre, sect. 20-21.
are the root by which we grow out of God, and the stem by which we are grafted into him.
Fourthly, all probable surmisings in favor of a future life, or any other moral doctrine, are based on that primal postulate which, by virtue of our rational and ethical constitution, we are authorized and bound to accept as a commencing axiom, namely, that the scheme of creation is as a whole the best possible one, impelled and controlled by wisdom and benignity. Whatever, then, is an inherent part of the plan of nature cannot be erroneous nor malignant, a mistake nor a curse. Essentially and in the finality, every fundamental portion and element of it must be good and perfect. So far as science and philosophy have penetrated, they confirm by facts this a priori principle, telling us that there is no pure and uncompensated evil in the universe. Now, death is a regular ingredient in the mingled world, an ordered step in the plan of life. If death be absolute, is it not an evil? What can the everlasting deprivation of all good be called but an immense evil to its subject? Such a doom would be without possible solace, standing alone in steep contradiction to the whole parallel moral universe. Then might man utter the most moving and melancholy paradox ever expressed in human speech:
"What good came to my mind I did deplore, Because it perish must, and not live evermore."
Fifthly, the soul, if not outwardly arrested by some hostile agent, seems capable of endless progress without ever exhausting either its own capacity or the perfections of infinitude.18 There are before it unlimited truth, beauty, power, nobleness, to be contemplated, mastered, acquired. With indefatigable alacrity, insatiable faculty and desire, it responds to the infinite call. The obvious inference is that its destiny is unending advancement. Annihilation would be a sequel absurdly incongruous with the facts. True, the body decays, and all manifested energy fails; but that is the fault of the mechanism, not of the spirit. Were we to live many thousands of years, as Martineau suggests, no one supposes new souls, but only new organizations, would be needed. And what period can we imagine to terminate the unimpeded spirit's abilities to learn, to enjoy, to expand? Kant's famous demonstration of man's eternal life on the grounds of practical reason is similar. The related ideas of absolute virtue and a moral being necessarily imply the infinite progress of the latter towards the former. That progress is impossible except on condition of the continued existence of the same being. Therefore the soul is immortal.19
Sixthly, our whole life here is a steady series of growing preparations for a continued and ascending life hereafter. All the spiritual powers we develop are so much athletic training, all the ideal treasures we accumulate are so many preliminary attainments, for a future life. They have this appearance and superscription. Man alone foreknows his own death and expects a succeeding existence; and that foresight is given to prepare him. There are wondrous impulses in us, constitutional convictions prescient of futurity, like those prevising instincts in birds leading them to take preparatory flights before their actual migration.
18 Addison, Spectator, Nos. 3 and 210.
19 Jacob, Beweis fur die Unsterblichkeit der Seele aus dem Begriffe der Pflicht.
Eternity is the stuff of which our love, flying forward, builds its nest in the eaves of the universe. If we saw wings growing out upon a young creature, we should be forced to conclude that he was intended some time to fly. It is so with man. By exploring thoughts, disciplinary sacrifices, supernal prayers, holy toils of disinterestedness, he fledges his soul's pinions, lays up treasures in heaven, and at last migrates to the attracting clime.
"Here sits he, shaping wings to fly: His heart forebodes a mystery; He names the name eternity."
Seventhly, in the degree these preparations are made in obedience to obscure instincts and the developing laws of experience, they are accompanied by significant premonitions, lucid signals of the future state looked to, assuring witnesses of its reality. The more one lives for immortality, the more immortal things he assimilates into his spiritual substance, the more confirming tokens of a deathless inheritance his faith finds. He becomes conscious of his own eternity.20 When hallowed imagination weighs anchor and spreads sail to coast the dim shores of the other world, it hears cheerful voices of welcome from the headlands and discerns beacons burning in the port. When in earnest communion with our inmost selves, solemn meditations of God, mysterious influences shed from unseen spheres, fall on our souls, and many a "strange thought, transcending our wonted themes, into glory peeps." A vague, constraining sense of invisible beings, by whom we are engirt, fills us. We blindly feel that our rank and destination are with them. Lift but one thin veil, we think, and the occult Universe of Spirit would break to vision with cloudy crowds of angels. Thousand "hints chance dropped from nature's sphere," pregnant with friendly tidings, reassure us. "Strange," said a gifted metaphysician once, "that the barrel organ, man, should terminate every tune with the strain of immortality!" Not strange, but divinely natural. It is the tentative prelude to the thrilling music of our eternal bliss written in the score of destiny. When at night we gaze far out into immensity, along the shining vistas of God's abode, and are almost crushed by the overwhelming prospects that sweep upon our vision, do not some pre monitions of our own unfathomed greatness also stir within us? Yes: "the sense of Existence, the ideas of Right and Duty, awful intuitions of God and immortality, these, the grand facts and substance of the spirit, are independent and indestructible. The bases of the Moral Law, they shall stand in every tittle, although the stars should pass away. For their relations and root are in that which upholds the stars, even with worlds unseen from the finite, whose majestic and everlasting arrangements shall burst upon us as the heavens do through the night when the light of this garish life gives place to the solemn splendors of eternity."
Eighthly, the belief in a life beyond death has virtually prevailed everywhere and always. And the argument from universal consent, as it is termed, has ever been esteemed one of the foremost testimonies, if not indeed the most convincing testimony, to the truth of the doctrine. Unless the belief can be shown to be artificial or sinful, it must seem conclusive. Its innocence is self evident, and its naturalness is evidenced by its universality.
20 Theodore Parker, Sermon of Immortal Life.
The rudest and the most polished, the simplest and the most learned, unite in the expectation, and cling to it through every thing. It is like the ruling presentiment implanted in those insects that are to undergo metamorphosis. This believing instinct, so deeply seated in our consciousness, natural, innocent, universal, whence came it, and why was it given? There is but one fair answer. God and nature deceive not.
Ninthly, the conscious, practical faith of civilized nations, to day, in a future life, unquestionably, in a majority of individuals, rests directly on the basis of authority, trust in a foreign announcement. There are two forms of this authority. The authority of revelation is most prominent and extensive. God has revealed the truth from heaven. It has been exemplified by a miraculous resurrection. It is written in an infallible book, and sealed with authenticating credentials of super natural purport. It is therefore to be accepted with implicit trust. Secondly, with some, the authority of great minds, renowned for scientific knowledge and speculative acumen, goes far. Thousands of such men, ranking among the highest names of history, have positively affirmed the immortality of the soul as a reliable truth. For instance, Goethe says, on occasion of the death of Wieland, "The destruction of such high powers is something which can never, and under no circumstances, even come into question." Such a dogmatic expression of conviction resting on bare philosophical grounds, from a mind so equipped, so acute, and so free, has great weight, and must influence a modest student who hesitates in confessed incompetence.21 The argument is justly powerful when but humanly considered, and when divinely derived, of course, it absolutely forecloses all doubts.
Tenthly, there is another life, because a belief in it is necessary to order this world, necessary as a comfort and an inspiration to man now. A good old author writes, "the very nerves and sinews of religion is hope of immortality." The conviction that there is a retributive life hereafter is the moral cement of the social fabric. Take away this truth, and one great motive of patriots, martyrs, thinkers, saints, is gone. Take it away, and to all low minded men selfishness becomes the law, earthly enjoyment the only good, suffering and death the only evil. Life then is to be supremely coveted and never put in risk for any stake. Self indulgence is to be secured at any hazard, little matter by what means. Abandon all hope of a life to come, and "from that instant there is nothing serious in mortality." In order that the world should be governable, ethical, happy, virtuous, magnanimous, is it possible that it should be necessary for the world to believe in an untruth?
"So, thou hast immortality in mind? Hast grounds that will not let thee doubt it? The strongest ground herein I find: That we could never do without it!"
Finally, the climax of these argumentations is capped by that grand closing consideration which we may entitle the force of congruity, the convincing results of a confluence of harmonious reasons. The hypothesis of immortality accords with the cardinal facts of observation, meets all points of the case, and satisfactorily answers every requirement.
21 Lewis, Influence of Authority in Matters of Opinion.
It is the solution of the problem, as the fact of Neptune explained the perturbations of the adjacent planets. Nothing ever gravitates towards nothing; and it must be an unseen orb that so draws our yearning souls. If it be not so, then what terrible contradictions stagger us, and what a chilling doom awaits us! Oh, what mocking irony then runs through the loftiest promises and hopes of the world! Just as the wise and good have learned to live, they disappear amidst the unfeeling waves of oblivion, like snow flakes in the ocean. "The super earthly desires of man are then created in him only, like swallowed diamonds, to cut slowly through his material shell" and destroy him.
The denial of a future life introduces discord, grief, and despair in every direction, and, by making each step of advanced culture the ascent to a wider survey of tantalizing glory and experienced sorrow, as well as the preparation for a greater fall and a sadder loss, turns faithful affection and heroic thought into "blind furies slinging flame." Unless immortality be true, man appears a dark riddle, not made for that of which he is made capable and desirous: every thing is begun, nothing ended; the facts of the present scene are unintelligible; the plainest analogies are violated; the delicately rising scale of existence is broken off abrupt; our best reasonings concerning the character and designs of God, also concerning the implications of our own being and experience, are futile; and the soul's proud faculties tell glorious lies as thick as stars. Such, at least, is the usual way of thinking.
However formidable a front may be presented by the spectral array of doubts and difficulties, seeming impediments to faith in immortality, the faithful servant of God, equipped with philosophical culture and a saintly life, will fearlessly advance upon them, scatter them right and left, and win victorious access to the prize. So the mariner sometimes, off Sicilian shores, sees a wondrous island ahead, apparently stopping his way with its cypress and cedar groves, glittering towers, vine wreathed balconies, and marble stairs sloping to the water's edge. He sails straight forward, and, severing the pillared porticos and green gardens of Fata Morgana, glides far on over a glassy sea smiling in the undeceptive sun.
THEORIES OF THE SOUL'S DESTINATION.
BEFORE examining, in their multifarious detail, the special thoughts and fancies respecting a future life prevalent in different nations and times, it may be well to take a sort of bird's eye view of those general theories of the destination of the soul under which all the individual varieties of opinion may be classified. Vast and incongruous as is the heterogeneous mass of notions brought forth by the history of this province of the world's belief, the whole may be systematized, discriminated, and reduced to a few comprehensive heads. Such an architectural grouping or outlining of the chief schemes of thought on this subject will yield several advantages.
Showing how the different views arose from natural speculations on the correlated phenomena of the outward world and facts of human experience, it affords an indispensable help towards a philosophical analysis and explanation of the popular faith as to the destiny of man after death, in all the immense diversity of its contents. An orderly arrangement and exposition of these cardinal theories also form an epitome holding a bewildering multitude of particulars in its lucid and separating grasp, changing the fruits of learned investigation from a cumbersome burden on the memory to a small number of connected formularies in the reason. These theories serve as a row of mirrors hung in a line of historic perspective, reflecting every relevant shape and hue of meditation and faith humanity has known, from the ideal visions of the Athenian sage to the instinctive superstitions of the Fejee savage. When we have adequately defined these theories, of which there are seven, traced their origin, comprehended their significance and bearings, and dissected their supporting pretensions, then the whole field of our theme lies in light before us; and, however grotesque or mysterious, simple or subtle, may be the modes of thinking and feeling in relation to the life beyond death revealed in our subsequent researches, we shall know at once where to refer them and how to explain them. The precise object, therefore, of the present chapter is to set forth the comprehensive theories devised to solve the problem, What becomes of man when he dies?
But a little while man flourishes here in the bosom of visible nature. Soon he disappears from our scrutiny, missed in all the places that knew him. Whither has he gone? What fate has befallen him? It is an awful question. In comparison with its concentrated interest, all other affairs are childish and momentary. Whenever that solemn question is asked, earth, time, and the heart, natural transformations, stars, fancy, and the brooding intellect, are full of vague oracles. Let us see what intelligible answers can be constructed from their responses.
The first theory which we shall consider propounds itself in one terrible word, annihilation. Logically this is the earliest, historically the latest, view. The healthy consciousness, the eager fancy, the controlling sentiment, the crude thought, all the uncurbed instinctive conclusions of primitive human nature, point forcibly to a continued existence for the soul, in some way, when the body shall have perished. And so history shows us in all the savage nations a vivid belief in a future life. But to the philosophical observer, who has by dint of speculation freed himself from the constraining tendencies of desire, faith, imagination, and authority, the thought that man totally ceases with the destruction of his visible organism must occur as the first and simplest settlement of the question.1 The totality of manifested life has absolutely disappeared: why not conclude that the totality of real life has actually lost its existence and is no more? That is the natural inference, unless by some means the contrary can be proved. Accordingly, among all civilized people, every age has had its skeptics, metaphysical disputants who have mournfully or scoffingly denied the separate survival of the soul. This is a necessity in the inevitable sequences of observation and theory; because, when the skeptic, suppressing or escaping his biassed wishes, the trammels of traditional opinion, and the spontaneous convictions prophetic of his own uninterrupted being, first looks over the wide scene of human life and death, and reflectingly asks, What is the sequel of this strange, eventful history? obviously the conclusion suggested by the immediate phenomena is that of entire dissolution and blank oblivion. This result is avoided by calling in the aid of deeper philosophical considerations and of inspiring moral truths. But some will not call in that aid; and the whole superficial appearance of the case regarding that alone, as they then will is fatal to our imperial hopes. The primordial clay claims its own from the disanimated frame; and the vanished life, like the flame of an outburnt taper, has ceased to be. Men are like bubbles or foam flakes on the world's streaming surface: glittering in a momentary ray, they break and are gone, and only the dark flood remains still flowing forward. They are like tones of music, commencing and ending with the unpurposed breath that makes them. Nature is a vast congeries of mechanical substances pervaded by mindless forces of vitality. Consciousness is a production which results from the fermentation and elaboration of unconscious materials; and after a time it deceases, its conditions crumbling into their inorganic grounds again.
From the abyss of silence and dust intelligent creatures break forth, shine, and sink back, like meteor flashes in a cloud. The generations of sentient being, like the annual growths of vegetation, by spontaneity of dynamic development, spring from dead matter, flourish through their destined cycle, and relapse into dead matter. The bosom of nature is, therefore, at once the wondrous womb and the magnificent mausoleum of man. Fate, like an iron skeleton seated at the summit of the world on a throne of fresh growing grass and mouldering skulls, presides over all, and annihilation is the universal doom of individual life. Such is the atheistic naturalist's creed. However indefensible or shocking it is, it repeatedly appears in the annals of speculation; and any synopsis of the possible conclusions in which the inquiry into man's destiny may rest that should omit this, would be grossly imperfect.
This scheme of disbelief is met by insuperable objections. It excludes some essential elements of the case, confines itself to a wholly empirical view; and consequently the relentless solution it announces applies only to a mutilated problem. To assert the cessation of the soul because its physical manifestations through the body have ceased, is certainly to affirm without just warrant. It would appear impossible for volition and intelligence to
1 Lalande, Dictionnaire des Athees Anciens et Modernes.
originate save from a free parent mind. Numerous cogent evidences of design seem to prove the existence of a God by whose will all things are ordered according to a plan. Many powerful impressions and arguments, instinctive, critical, or moral, combine to teach that in the wreck of matter the spirit emerges, deathless, from the closing waves of decay. The confirmation of that truth becomes irresistible when we see how reason and conscience, with delighted avidity, seize upon its adaptedness alike to the brightest features and the darkest defects of the present life, whose imperfect symmetries and segments are harmoniously filled out by the adjusting complement of a future state.2
The next representation of the fate of the soul disposes of it by re absorption into the essence from which it emanated. There is an eternal fountain of unmade life, from which all individual, transient lives flow, and into which they return. This conception arose in the outset from a superficial analogy which must have obtruded itself upon primitive notice and speculation; for man is led to his first metaphysical inquiries by a feeling contemplation of outward phenomena. Now, in the material world, when individual forms perish, each sensible component relapses into its original element and becomes an undistinguishable portion of it. Our exhaled breath goes into the general air and is united with it: the dust of our decaying frames becomes part of the ground and vegetation. So, it is strongly suggested, the lives of things, the souls of men, when they disappear from us, are remerged in the native spirit whence they came. The essential longing of every part for union with its whole is revealed and vocal throughout all nature. Water is sullen in stillness, murmurs in motion, and never ceases its gloom or its complaining until it sleeps in the sea. Like spray on the rock, the stranding generations strike the sepulchre and are dissipated into universal vapor. As lightnings slink back into the charged bosom of the thunder cloud, as eager waves, spent, subside in the deep, as furious gusts die away in the great atmosphere, so the gleaming ranks of genius, the struggling masses of toil, the pompous hosts of war, fade and dissolve away into the peaceful bosom of the all engulfing SOUL. This simplest, earliest philosophy of mankind has had most extensive and permanent prevalence.3 For immemorial centuries it has possessed the mind of the countless millions of India. Baur thinks the Egyptian identification of each deceased person with Osiris and the burial of him under that name, were meant to denote the reception of the individual human life into the universal nature life. The doctrine has been implicitly held wherever pantheism has found a votary, from Anaximander, to whom finite creatures were "disintegrations or decompositions from the Infinite," to Alexander Pope, affirming that
"All are but parts of one stupendous whole, Whose body nature is, and God the soul."
The first reasoners, who gave such an ineradicable direction and tinge to the thinking of after ages, were furthermore driven to the supposition of a final absorption, from the
2 Drossbach, Die Harmonie der Ergebnisse der Naturforschung mit den Forderungen des Menschlichen Gemuthes.
3 Blount, Anima Mundi; or, The Opinions of the Ancients concerning Man's Soul after this Life.
impossibility, in that initiatory stage of thought, of grasping any other theory which would apparently meet the case so well or be more satisfactory. They, of course, had not yet arrived at the idea that God is a personal Spirit whose nature is revealed in the constitutive characteristics of the human soul, and who carries on his works from eternity to eternity without monotonous repetition or wearisome stagnancy, but with perpetual variety in never ceasingmotion. Whatever commences must also terminate, they said, forgetting that number begins with one but has no end. They did not conceive of the universe of being as an eternal line, making immortality desirable for its endless novelty, but imaged it to themselves as a circle, making an everlasting individual consciousness dreadful for its intolerable sameness, an immense round of existence, phenomena, and experience, going forth and returning into itself, over and over, forever and ever. To escape so repulsive a contemplation, they made death break the fencing integument of consciousness and empty all weary personalities into the absolute abyss of being.
Again: the extreme difficulty of apprehending the truth of a Creator literally infinite, and of a limitless creation, would lead to the same result in another way. Without doubt, it seemed to the naive thinkers of antiquity, that if hosts of new beings were continually coming into life and increasing the number of the inhabitants of the future state, the fountain from which they proceeded would some time be exhausted, or the universe grow plethoric with population. There would be no more substance below or no more room above. The easiest method of surmounting this problem would be by the hypothesis that all spirits come out of a great World Spirit, and, having run their mortal careers, are absorbed into it again. Many especially the deepest Oriental dreamers have also been brought to solace themselves with this conclusion by a course of reasoning based on the exposures, and assumed inevitable sufferings, of all finite being. They argue that every existence below the absolute God, because it is set around with limitations, is necessarily obnoxious to all sorts of miseries. Its pleasures are only "honey drops scarce tasted in a sea of gall." This conviction, with its accompanying sentiment, runs through the sacred books of the East, is the root and heart of their theology, the dogma that makes the cruelest penances pleasant if a renewed existence may thus be avoided. The sentiment is not alien to human longing and surmise, as witnesses the night thought of the English poet who, world sated, and sadly yearning, cries through the starry gloom to God,
"When shall my soul her incarnation quit, And, readopted to thy blest embrace, Obtain her apotheosis in thee?"
Having stated and traced the doctrine of absorption, it remains to investigate the justice of its grounds. The doctrine starts from a premise partly true and ends in a conclusion partly false. We emanate from the creative power of God, and are sustained by the in flowing presence of his life, but are not discerptions from his own being, any more than beams of light are distinct substances shot out and shorn off from the sun to be afterwards drawn back and assimilated into the parent orb. We are destined to a harmonious life in his unifying love, but not to be fused and lost as insentient parts of his total consciousness. We are products of
God's will, not component atoms of his soul. Souls are to be in God as stars are in the firmament, not as lumps of salt are in a solvent. This view is confirmed by various arguments.
In the first place, it is supported by the philosophical distinction between emanation and creation. The conception of creation gives us a personal God who wills to certain ends; that of emanation reduces the Supreme Being to a ghastly array of laws, revolving abysses, galvanic forces, nebular star dust, dead ideas, and vital fluids. According to the latter supposition, finite existences flow from the Infinite as consequences from a principle, or streams from a fountain; according to the former, they proceed as effects from a cause, or thoughts from a mind. That is pantheistic, fatal, and involves absorption by a logical necessity; this is creative, free, and does not presuppose any circling return. Material things are thoughts which God transiently contemplates and dismisses; spiritual creatures are thoughts which he permanently expresses in concrete immortality. The soul is a thought; the body is the word in which it is clothed.
Secondly, the analogy which first leads to belief in absorption is falsely interpreted. Taken on its own ground, rightly appreciated, it legitimates a different conclusion.
A grain of sand thrown into the bosom of Sahara does not lose its individual existence. Distinct drops are not annihilated as to their simple atoms of water, though sunk in the midst of the sea. The final particles or monads of air or granite are not dissolvingly blended into continuity of unindividualized atmosphere or rock when united with their elemental masses, but are thrust unapproachably apart by molecular repulsion. Now, a mind, being, as we conceive, no composite, but an ultimate unity, cannot be crushed or melted from its integral persistence of personality. Though plunged into the centre of a surrounding wilderness or ocean of minds, it must still retain itself unlost in the multitude. Therefore, if we admit the existence of an inclusive mundane Soul, it by no means follows that lesser souls received into it are deprived of their individuality. It is "one not otherwise than as the sea is one, by a similarity and contiguity of parts, being composed of an innumerable host of distinct spirits, as that is of aqueous particles; and as the rivers continually discharge into the sea, so the vehicular people, upon the disruption of their vehicles, discharge and incorporate into that ocean of spirits making the mundane Soul."4
Thirdly, every consideration furnished by the doctrine of final causes as applied to existing creatures makes us ask, What use is there in calling forth souls merely that they may be taken back again? To justify their creation, the fulfilment of some educative aim, and then the lasting fruition of it, appear necessary. Why else should a soul be drawn from out the unformed vastness, and have its being struck into bounds, and be forced to pass through such appalling ordeals of good and evil, pleasure and agony? An individual of any kind is as important as its race; for it contains in possibility all that its type does. And the purposes of things, so far as we can discern them, the nature of our spiritual constitution, the meaning of our circumstances and probation, the resulting tendencies of our experience, all seem to prophesy, not the destruction, but the perfection and perpetuation, of individual being.
4 Tucker, Light of Nature, Part II. chap. xxii.
Fourthly, the same inference is yielded by applying a similar consideration to the Creator. Allowing him consciousness and intentions, as we must, what object could he have either in exerting his creative power or in sending out portions of himself in new individuals, save the production of so many immortal personalities of will, knowledge, and love, to advance towards the perfection of holiness, wisdom, and blessedness, filling his mansions with his children? By thus multiplying his own image he adds to the number of happy creatures who are to be bound together in bands of glory, mutually receiving and returning his affection, and swells the tide of conscious bliss which fills and rolls forever through his eternal universe.
Nor, finally, is it necessary to expect personal oblivion in God in order to escape from evil and win exuberant happiness. Those ends are as well secured by the fruition of God's love in us as by the drowning of our consciousness in his plenitude of delight. Precisely herein consists the fundamental distinction of the Christian from the Brahmanic doctrine of human destiny. The Christian hopes to dwell in blissful union with God's will, not to be annihilatingly sunk in his essence. To borrow an illustration from Scotus Erigena,5 as the air when thoroughly illumined by sunshine still keeps its aerial nature and does not become sunshine, or as iron all red in the flame still keeps its metallic substance and does not turn to fire itself, so a soul fully possessed and moved by God does not in consequence lose its own sentient and intelligent being. It is still a bounded entity, though recipient of boundless divinity. Thus evil ceases, each personality is preserved and intensely glorified, and, at the same time, God is all in all. The totality of perfected, enraptured, immortalized humanity in heaven may be described in this manner, adopting the masterly expression of Coleridge: