One of the first of these preliminaries has regard to the state of mind in which such subject should be investigated. Man can resist any amount of evidence, upon a given point, provided there be involved a strong existing prejudice, or a personal interest at stake. Peculiarly is this the case in religious questions, where such decided issues are always raised between our present inclinations and future interests — between our sinful pleasures and our holy duties. If, for instance, a good man, under the ennobling influence of a pure conscience, should give this doctrine of a future life his attention, he would in all probability end with a stronger conviction of his own immortality. His logic may, in such cases, be occasionally at fault. But the logic of a pure heart supplies all defects, connects by moral conviction the links which a more powerful intellect would have united by principles of reason. On the other hand, a bad man, with an unquiet conscience, with that murmur of remorse which is itself a prophecy of future wo, if left to himself, will be no less apt to arrive at that conclusion which, to him, is most agreeable—to end in doubt or disbelief as to the soul's future existence. As in the former of these supposed cases conscience supplies the defect of intellect, so in the latter its perversion or imperfect operation induces the most powerful intellect to vitiate, miss, or pervert the force of the clearest demonstration. We fully believe, with Cudworth, that if scientific or mathematical truths as much involved questions of personal interest and inclinations as do those of a religions nature, there would be quite as much diffi culty about their universal reception. If there was a keen and heated conflict of a personally interested nature over their axioms and definitions, there would be an end to all the calmness and all the certainty now connected with such investigations.

But if such be the case, it is sometimes replied there is then no reliance upon our rational processes ; and in humbling reason, we destroy its accountability and run into the extreme of skepticism. Not necessarily. When it is asserted that a mind full of prejudice and falsehood, has an affinity for falsehood, and that a truthful mind has an affinity for truth, and more easily perceives it, it does not at all involve the fact that truth is not attainable, or that we "I haurther test 2018 the truth

can not know when it is attained ; and even supposing us to be in doubt as to what is the truth in any particular case, there is a still further test by which we may come to a safe conclusion. “I have no doubt," was the remark of a clergyman to a young man of a skeptical but serious turn of mind, “I have no doubt if you seriously examine the claims of Christianity, but that your examination will end in your acceptance of its claims." * Very likely," was the reply; "a man can believe what he wishes, and his wishes, after all, may be his whole staple of conviction.” “True," was the clergyman's rejoinder; “but he must go blindly to work in the first instance to reach many conclusions. And when his wishes do thus land him in error and falsehood, the effect of such falsehood can never be to purify his heart, to ennoble his intellect, and to beautify his social nature, as is always the effect of a hearty reception oï Christianity. The objection is not founded upon the real state of the case, namely, that a pure mind can easily see truth, and that to an untruthful one falsehood is easy. It rather rests upon the misconception that these classes, respectively, can be warped with the same ease and readiness in both directions."

This naturally introduces us to another of these preliminaries, bearing upon the final conclusion : the establishment of the doctrine of a future life is desirable on many accounts, prior to any examination of arguments on either side. It is not felt to be desirable by a very large class. And yet even upon this class, and with their slight and unwilling convictions or fears that it may be true, this idea of a future life exerts a wholsesome influence. This is sometimes seen in individual cases. But it is more clearly exhibited in communities. Whatever may be the counteractive agencies by which individual skepticism may be kept in abeyance as to its destructive tendencies, there can be no question as to the nature of these tendencies when they are allowed free scope, and are multiplied and intensified in the belief and action of whole communities. Any such community accepting as indisputable the assertion that “death is an eternal sleep," and acting as if it were true, is in a dreadful state, so far merely as this life and the temporal interests of this life are concerned. It is this idea of an hereafter which helps “ to chain the tiger" with

one class, which fosters all that is lovely, and pure, and elevating in another. However much any one may fear the retri. bution which this doctrine brings upon himself, yet if he will seriously look about him and back upon the records of human experience, he will be forced to confess that it is one of great importance, that its merits and good effects upon the assumption of its truth constitute a weighty reason for careful examination of every thing by which it may be established. “Supposing," says Clarke, when entering upon his celebrated deinonstration of the divine existence, “supposing it can not be proved to be true, yet at least 'tis a thing very desirable, and which any wise man would wish to be true for the great benefit and happiness of man.” The same may be said of the doctrine of a future life. “ Will the idea,” said Robespierre, " of man's annihilation inspire purer and more exalted sentiments than that of his immortality? Will it inspire him with more respect for his fellow-creatures and for himself, more devotedness to his country, more courage to defy tyranny, more contempt of death and of sensual pleasure ?" The polluted source of these interrogations only makes their substance the more remarkable.

And this is suggestive of another idea in connection with this same subject: this is not one of those matters which can be disposed of upon any thing like an equal balance of probabilities. The interests certainly at stake in the present world and possibly so in the next, are so important, that while moral demonstration of the falsehood of such belief may be properly demanded, a much lower degree may establish its truth for all practical purposes. There may be ten reasons or facts which seem to show that man dies and forever in the moment of physical death. But there is one which points another way, which refuses to be harmonized by these others, or by them to be explained. This must be satisfactorily disposed of before the question, as a practical one, can be neglected. One probability of endless existence is a matter of such tremendous import that it overrides any amount of opposing negatives that can be suggested. No wise man with the argument thus standing would hold himself discharged from obligation to examine it more thoroughly. And until this examination were closed he would, under the circumstances, act as if the doctrine were true. We do not, of course, mean by this to say that the argument thus stands. But assuming such to be the case, there is reason enough under the supposition for the most careful investigation, the most decided action, and no other course on principles of reason can be justified. To use with a slight change the language of a writer just quoted : “Nothing is more evident, even upon these suppositions only, than that man ought, in all reason live for eternity; and that to do otherwise, is upon all accounts and under all hiypotheses the most absurd and inexcusable thing in nature.”

But one other of these preliminaries and we pass on to the argument, and that is, the fact that disbelief of Christianity, and as to the fact of all religion, going to the extremne of Atheism, does not necessarily destroy the evidence of a future life, or of our practical interest in it. Such is usually assumed to be the fact. When persons arrive at skeptical conclusions or doubts as to Christianity, or as to the fact of a Supreme Being, it is supposed that all anxiety in view of a future life may be dismissed. But no supposition could be more destitute of rational foundation. The position substantially laid down in the close of Butler's first chapter is impregnable; that only under one supposition can all solicitude as to a future life be laid aside-a positive demonstration of Atheism as to the existence of God, of annihilation as to the future existence of man. Let it be proved beyond the possibility of a doubt that this visible universe, with its wonderful and varied adaptation of means to ends had no designing cause; that the regular and unvarying laws of this universe have no law-maker; that creation sprang spontaneously and by its own energy out of nothing; that dead and shapeless matter gave to itself life, form, and motion, and then the great question of man's rela. tions to God, and to his fellow-man in God, may be safely disregarded. But not yet has he disposed of this other question ; not yet has he disproved or gotten rid of the possibility or probability of his own future existence. “That we are to live hereafter is just as reconcilable with the scheme of Atheism, and as well to be accounted for by it, as the fact that we are now alive is.” In other words, if Atheism be consistent with

the fact of our present existence, which the Atheist asserts, his own argument involves the admission that it is not inconsistent with a life continued beyond this world. These two things-Atheism and annihilation—usually go together by sympathy. In reality there is a suppressed premise by whicli they are logically connected—the denial of all spiritual existence. But that denial does not break the force of Butler's statement. In this he takes the Atheist upon his own ground, that the soul may be material, and thus deprives him of the advantage of his suppressed premise. Upon the Atheist's own principles the human soul is material. When he denies the existence of a purely spiritual being, God, he can not argue back from this to the annihilation of his own material soul. He is fairly en- trapped in his own craftiness. He must establish his annihila

tion upon other grounds if he would be secure. The will being father to the argument, it may be made out perhaps that there is no God; that nature, conscience, and reason upon this subject are giving false testimony. Still he has not shaken off or gotten rid of his own existence, either present or future. It is not enough for him to prove that he is uncaused. He must go further and show that he will not continue to be. Here he is, a living soul, however he came. And for aught that he can show, he may continue for an indefinite period, perhaps forever. By whatever name he may choose to call the power which gave him being, “nature," " nothing," "fate,” or “chance," that power, as now, may operate without cessation; may, as in the present world, through opposite courses of conduct, be productive of happiness or misery. Until this also be shown to be impossible, the subject in question must be investigated in the spirit already mentioned. Simple disregard of the doctrine of immortality upon the bare possibility of its truth, in the absence of demonstration against it, is on the part of a being like man, not only unreasonable but criminal.

What then are some of these natural intimations of a future life? How far are they of interest to those who enjoy the light of inspired revelation? Of course, to use an idea of the profound writer just alluded to, we are not looking for demonstration. We are rather called upon to weigh probabilities, to note those hints and intimations which constitute practical

« ElőzőTovább »