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Arr. I.— NATURAL INTIMATIONS OF A FUTURE LIFE.
Punishment of the Wicked in the Next World; containing
in Fleet street. MDCCIV. The Works of the Right Rev. Father in God, Joseph Butler,
D.D., late Lord Bishop of Durham, etc. New-York : Robert Carter, 58 Canal street. 1844. The True Intellectual System of the Universe, wherein all the
Reason and Philosophy of Atheism is confuted, and its Impossibility demonstrated, etc., etc. By Ralph CUDWORTH, D.D. Andover : published by Gould & Lincoln, New
York. 1837. A Discourse concerning the Being and Attributes of God, the Obligations of Natural Religion, etc., etc. By SAMUEL CLARKE, D.D., late Rector of St. James', Westminster. London : printed by Mr. Botham, for John and Paul Knap
ton, at the Crown in Ludgate street. MDCCXXXVIII. First Volume of Plato Translated. Bohn's edition. 1854.
“If a man die shall he live again ?” The great problem which meets us in this form, in the oldest record of human, ex
perience and human speculation, can never lose its interest to those who are most deeply concerned in its practical solution. To ask this question, as perhaps did the Patriarch fearfully, in a moment of weakness, or in forgetfulness of strong previous convictions, is no proof, either of unbelief or ignorance, as to the fact of the soul's future existence. The very interest of such question is properly suggestive of doubt until all reasonable doubt is allayed. Even when the moral demonstration has come to the mind as perfect, and the conclusion has seemed irresistible, there may be after-moments of infirmity, when some of the links are momentarily lost, and the mind trembles for its own previous convictions. “I know not how it is, when I read the argument of Plato I am convinced. But when I lay the book aside, and begin to think over in my own mind concerning the immutability of the soul, all this conviction has escaped me.” If Cicero, in this language of his disciple, did not describe his own experience, he has that of many others; and this, too, in reference to arguments much more satisfactory than that to which he was alluding.
But even supposing such moments of infirmity not to be experienced, the intrinsic interest of the subject commends every argument seriously offered in favor of a future life to our profound consideration. Even in our best seasons, those of calm, untroubled reflection, when every link of this affirmative argument is seen to be bright, and fully formed, and interlocked with its antecedent and consequent, there is deep interest in running along the whole chain, as it is, or in finding out new material, for a stronger reconstruction. For any one man who has read with deep interest other portions of the Old and New Testament, there have doubtless been scores who have pondered with solicitude the fourteenth of Job and the fifteenth of First Corinthians. Nor is this remark less applicable to the Phædon, the De Contemnenda Morte, or the first chapter of the Analogy, as compared with other and equally able writings of these same authors, upon subjects of a different nature.
Now this is as it should be. Reason, in its best and purest moments, approves of it, and conscience regards it with satisfaction. The only regret connected with such feelings, is that which arises from the fact that they are so often confined to
the region of speculative reverie, and not carried out into practical action. The problem with which these feelings are concerned, is one of the most deeply interesting, one of the most awfully momentous, that can occupy the mind and heart of an intelligent being. The mere statement of that problem takes 13, at once, out of the sphere of sense and of sight-opens before our anxious gaze the illimitable expanse of the unknown and boundless future, the possible employments, aims, ends, sorrows and joys, which may lie beyond our present state. In the consciousness that the mind is thus capable of looking forward to immortality, there springs up, with some, it may be a hope, with others, a fear, that this thing contemplated as a possibility, may exist as a reality; that this reality may admit of proof-of verification. In other words, that as this capability of looking beyond the present life, has evidently been bestowed by the Author of nature, for some good purpose, so we may not irrationally anticipate the accomplishment of this purpose in the real experience of that to which in speculative capability we look forward. And the slightest possibility that such may be the case, constitutes a sufficient reason for the careful investigation of every argument and particle of evidence, by which it may either be sustained or seriously called in question.
The design of this article will be to develop some of those natural facts and intimations which have been regarded as bearing upon this subject, and in favor of the doctrine of a future life. The intelligent reader will, of course, anticipate but little in the way of originality. If credit is not given, in every instance, to the originator of the ideas brought forward, it will not be from any desire to enjoy that credit ourselves. Soinetimes it is difficult to trace these ideas to their proper source. At others, when no such doubt exists, it would break in upon the course of the argument to turn aside with statements to that effect. Where distinct acknowledgment can be made, the reader will find it. And when he misses it, he will bear in mind this general one by which every such special case is included.
And so, also, as to the question of the necessity of a distinct and supernatural revelation of this doctrine. This necessity
both as to the substance and the authoritative source of such revelation, we conceive to be of the most stringent character. In developing any of those natural intimations and foreshadowings which point in the same direction, we would not be understood to affirm that these, in themselves, are sufficient for man, or that, in any respect, they supersede the necessity of revelation. After making full allowance for all the light that may be in man, or in the world around him, adding to this the revealed light of the old dispensation, and it may still be said that Jesus Christ hath brought life and immortality to light in the Gospel. The highest light of nature, and the clearest appreciation of its real character and extent, best enable us to see the necessity of a revealed Gospel upon this point. When this natural light was most clearly seen, as in the case of Socrates and Cicero, it had the effect, not of satisfying them, but to lead them to desire and anticipate the possibility, through a Divine revelation, of more. The disposition sometimes manifested in modern times to exalt the light of nature above or as equal to that of revelation, is in reality dictated not by a love for the light but for the darkness of heathenism-is opposed to the convictions and frank confession of the best of the heathen themselves. “Ye may even give over," says one of them, “all hopes of amending men's manners for the future unless God be pleased to send you some other person to instruct you." " Which of these opinions is true, some God must tell us," is the utterance of another. They were right. With all their errors, and in all their darkness, they were better and wiser men than those who to get rid of revealed duties would bring back heathenism with all its influences upon the world. “The Gospel is not in the Phædon," as has been asserted by one of this class of filthy dreamers. Nor is that Gospel in any mere human Phædon, however exalted the intellect by which it is elaborated. “Some God must tell us.” “There must be a voice from heaven.” These natural intimations of a future life are not sufficient for such a being as man. They are too im. palpable to be kept clearly and constantly even before the highest order of mind. They are not capable of being at all seen, or appreciated by the great majority of the human race. They often vanish and disappear in our season of great
est necessity, when heart and flesh are failing under the rude assaults of the last enemy. A dying man needs something more positive, in passing through the dark valley, than a mere presumption ; would lean upon something more stable than a mere inference or analogical deduction. He naturally stands in need of that which supernaturally has been given. He who knows what is in man, as also what in man is wanting in granting him this revelation, has only provided for his necessities.
And yet it is by no means a profitless or uninteresting task to gather any or all of the scattered rays of light which converge to this great focus, whether in the gray twilight of heathenism which precedes the coming dawn of the Old Testament Dispensation, or in the redder flush of this Dispensation as it begins to gleam with the sun-rising of the Gospel. It is a most interesting spectacle, this of the human mind struggling for the truth and into the light on any subject; to see it, as for instance in the progress of physical science, beating about in the darkness of uncertainty — settling down in conclusions which only have truth enough in them to keep the mind from going backward—in one century coining within a hair-breadth of the most important discoveries, and then turning aside and leaving them to be made by others—the providential junctures by which what would have been only a curious fact to one intellect, suggests a great law or truth to another; these and similar movements, render such progress peculiarly interesting. But certainly none of them contain a tithe of that rational and moral interest which centres, so to speak, about the science of immortality. What have been the fears, what have been the hopes of man in regard to this great subject? Upon what grounds have these different emotions predominated, and how far have they been justified, upon principles of reason? Not to be interested, in such questions, is to be less, not more, than a man. The assumed, or real indifference, of the would-be philosophical, is really an exhibition of stupidity.
Preliminary, however, to this examination, there are one or two general considerations, which properly reflected upon, will be seen to have a bearing upon this conclusion. To some of these for a few moments, therefore, let us give our attention.