Page images
PDF
EPUB

special divine origin, but shares in that which the Theist attributes to the world and the whole order of its events. It has presented to the world a system of moral excellence; it has led forth the principles of humanity and benevolence from the recesses of the schools and groves, and compelled them to take an active part in the affairs of life. It has consolidated the moral and religious sentiments into a more definite and influential form than had before existed, and thereby constituted an engine which has worked powerfully towards humanizing and civilizing the world.

Moreover, Christianity has given currency to the sublime doctrines of man's relationship to the Deity, and of a future state. The former was a leading feature of Judaism, and the latter of Platonism. Christianity has invested them with the authority of established principles, and thereby contributed much to the moral elevation of mankind.

It is impossible to disguise the momentous consequence of the rejection of the divine origin of Christianity—that a future state is thereby rendered a matter of speculation, instead of certainty. If Jesus was not seen after he was risen, we no longer see immortality brought to light; the veil which nature has left before this mysterious subject, still remains undrawn; and, like the Jews, and all heathen nations, we are compelled to rest satisfied with the conjectures to which reason alone can attain. With respect to one of the subjects most interesting to man, we return into the position in which the whole race stood for four thousand years, and in which a great part has remained ever since.

The withdrawal of a proof on which we had relied is not, however, equivalent to a disproof. The arguments of natural reason, on behalf of a future state, still remain; and when it is recognized that these are all which the order of things allows of, the mind which feels the want of this doctrine may learn to dwell upon them with increased interest, and to be content with that degree of evidence on this point which has been compatible with the happy existence of many generations of men, and with the tranquillity of many virtuous and reflecting minds in all ages. Christianity has added, at least, so much light to the subject, that it has shewn, on a large scale, the effect which the belief of this doctrine has upon the character; and if it be allowed that this effect is the strengthening and refinement of virtue, there arises an additional and strong presumption of the truth of the doctrine.*

* If the mind be supposed to be distinct from the brain, the dissolution of the latter affords no argument against the continued existence of the former. And even if the mind be considered to be merely a function of the brain, the objection arising hence to a future life of individuals is not of much weight. For, with our present imperfect knowledge of the ultimate composition and structure of the particles of the brain, we cannot tell whether the portions of it supposed to be connected with identity, consciousness, moral and intellectual power, may not contain some provision for transmitting these functions to entirely different forms of matter after death. Since these same principles are continued in or transferred to successive accretions of matter during life, there is no absurdity in supposing that after death the transference may be made to an entirely new recipient. The revival of the mental powers after sleep, or cerebral injuries, shews that these powers may be, for a time, to all appearance gone, and yet be capable of renewal with all those characteristics which give the common notion of identity. Now, we can imagine that the lethargy should continue long enough to allow of the whole, instead of a part, of the particles of the body being replaced by new ones, and yet that the consciousness of identity might return; a case very nearly approaching that of the supposed transference in the case of death.

Hence the objections to a future life of individuals, on physical grounds, seem only to amount to this,--that we are as yet ignorant of the means by which it could be brought about. But ignorance of this kind is so frequent, even with respect to many very palYet if all the efforts of reason should end in demonstrating the mere probability of a future state, what must be our conclusion ? That certainty on this point is not at present necessary, nor even desirable for men; and that the objects of their existence in this world are best answered by their having an obscure rather than a clear view of another. Whilst it was thought that Jesus had

pable facts, that it forms but a slight argument against a well-urged possibility; and incredulity with respect to the doctrine in question must proceed from its improbability, as arising from other than physical considerations.

But it can hardly be denied, that the moral considerations, viz. the desire for immortal life peculiar to man, his curiosity with respect to the cause and end of his own existence, his conceptions of perfection, his tendency to connect himself with the Deity and the invisible world, the strength of human attachments, the sufferings of good men, and the like,—do make out a case deserving of much attention. These facts are of a different kind from those on which scientific conclusions rest, but are not therefore to be regarded as a less sure basis for reasoning. On the contrary, we might naturally expect, that the evidence of a future existence of man would arise out of facts connected with his mental and moral constitution : in which case it is probable, that only with the perfection of this part of his nature will the evidence on this subject appear in the clearness which produces certainty.

That the Divine mind bears some resemblance to the human, is shewn by the contrivances in the creation, of which many are similar in kind, although higher in degree, to the indications of human art and skill. The same correspondence of thought and feeling, if the terms may be used, is seen in the apparent ends and objects of the contrivances. This fact of a resemblance being thus established in respect to qualities which we know to belong to the human mind, we may reason the other way, and infer that the human mind bears a resemblance to the Divine, with respect to the attributes which we know to belong to the latter. The permanence of the creation indicates the immortality of the Deity; hence arises a probability that the human mind, in those parts at least which resemble the Divine, is immortal also.

brought the guarantee of heaven for man's immortality, we persuaded ourselves that this was necessary to men's improvement and happiness. We were mistaken; no such guarantee has been given ; it is wise still to acquiesce, and to conclude that happiness and improvement are best promoted by our present ignorance.

It is undeniable that, to reflecting and religious minds, the removal of the authority of revelation does at first seem to leave a blank on the subjects of the human condition and destiny which no reasoning can fill up. Those who had been accustomed to look to the New Testament as their only light, see nothing but confusion when it is taken away, and are tempted to look at human existence as a waste, of which both the beginning and the end are lost in darkness. It was natural, however, that in their anxiety to appreciate the supposed revelation, men should do injustice to the world and nature. When they are compelled to part with the former, these gradually resume their claims, and remind them that their position here, regarded for itself alone, is replete with interest and enjoyment. The return of first one object of pleasing thought, and then another, forces upon them the conviction of the high privilege of existence, and the withdrawal into obscure remoteness of the future eternal life, may even leave them the more free to appreciate the advantages of their present more limited, but more accessible sphere. The eye which fails to distinguish heaven falls contentedly into the more easy contemplation of the beauties of earth. A thicker veil being thrown before the incomprehensible joys of a future state, the mind returns to count over more earnestly the blessings within its immediate reach, and is surprised at the extent of its almost unheeded riches. It perceives that to live is gain. In accustomed occupations, or favourite pursuits; in its relationships and intercourse with mankind; in the perpetual novelty arising from the vicissitudes of national or individual life; in the free admission either to behold or take part in the great drama of the world ; or in the tranquil cultivation of its powers, or exercise of its affections—it recognizes abundant and ever-varying stores of enjoyment, requiring only its own energy to be immediately worked out. The voice of mankind, as well as of books, still captivates the attention; the hill and the river still delight the eye; solitude soothes, and society interests; and the mind, acquiring a keener perception of happiness from its review, is startled into the admission, that the heaven which it looked forward to in the remote distance is already close at hand.

But this is the language of prosperity. Christianity is pre-eminently the religion of adversity; and what can compensate the afflicted for the loss of the assurance of those mansions where Jesus is preparing a place for them? Even here it may, perhaps, be recognised, that the compensation supplied by nature and the mind's own resources had not been sufficiently estimated. The list of the pleasures arising out of adversity, and of which this alone can awaken the perception, is large enough to induce us to suspend the wish that there should be no gloomy side to the human condition. The consciousness of fortitude developed by emergencies, and of refinement of character produced by reyerses; increased opportunities for the interchange of the kindly sympathies; and the enlargement of views proceeding from an acquaintance with the most diversified aspects of life; -afford pleasures felt to be so substantial, that few men probably, on calm consideration, would consent to have the dark pages of their history replaced by the most brilliant ones.

Yet it must be owned that there are states in which all such reasonings are felt to be insipid, and in which the human mind feels a deeper want,--that of Christianity, or of something equivalent to it. And why may

nan

« PreviousContinue »