« PreviousContinue »
analyzing our emotions, we find that insensibly we have associated the idea of consciousness with the body turning to corruption. The loneliness of the sepulchre is dreadful, because we fancy that the mind is wakeful. We picture to ourselves the dead man rising up in his grave-clothes, and casting his cold eye around his dark and solitary cell. Therefore, we shudder to be buried, because we cannot divest ourselves of a vague fear of being buried alive! Take away this, and there is nothing more to dread. If life be departed—or dormant-then there is nothing more painful in the prospect that the body of a man should be left in the ground than the root of a tree. Indeed one of our poets, in his Thanatopsis, has made pleasing the idea of thus "mingling with the elements."
Nay, if death be not merely a sleep for ages, but a sleep forEVER, that is not the most dreadful thought which can weigh down the mind. Those who argue for the immortality of man from his desire of life, perhaps exaggerate his dread of annihilation. A celebrated preacher exclaims in a burst of powerful language : “O death! dark hour to hopeless unbelief! hour to which, in that creed of despair, no hour shall succeed ! being's last hour! to which even the shadows of avenging retribution were brightness and relief !”
Such may be the natural instinct. But this love of existence is sadly changed by misery and by guilt. When life can but perpetuate bitter memories, the wretched rush from it,
“Mad from life's history,
And not alone the desolate and broken hearted. But those who have tried every pleasure of life, and exhausted them all, turn to death as a new excitement, and fondly dream of wandering as shades on “the black, Plutonian shore," inhaling "the freshness of the eternal night."
Even though their spirits pass through darkness into naught, they feel little horror of the change. Many a sceptic, and Epicurean, looks forward to a final and utter cessation of existence with no trembling. Nay, it would seem as if he counted upon it as a last triumph to die without pain. He anticipates coolly the sensation of dying, and imagines himself falling into a soft slumber, as after a weary day—the senses gradually closing, and a feeling of repose stealing over him, delicious as the opiumeater's dream,—and thus slowly sinking down into total unconsciousness-a rest, which the hopes and fears of existence shall vex nevermore! Strange that this “utter end,” desired alike by misery and by wearied pleasure, should sometimes be demanded even by ambition.
* Hood's “Bridge of Sighs.”
A daring spirit, that has climbed to the summit of glory, feels a wild excitement in the prospect of bursting into the vacant heavens, leaving men to gaze after it in wonder. Danton--sentenced to the scaffold in the full vigor of life, exulted in this tragical end of his career :-“I shall soon be with annihilation ; but my name will live in the Pantheon of history."
When Mirabeau was dying, the energies of his Herculean frame long struggled with the mortal disease. He had extorted a promise from his physician, that, when the agonies of death became excruciating, he would give him opium. Still the mighty heart beat on. He said that he felt a hundred years of life throbbing in him. At length he ceased to speak. Then his eye sought the physician, and seemed to implore the fatal draught. He took a pencil, and traced one word, dormir. To sleepsleep-sleep-was the last prayer of the dying tribune. He wished to sleep for an eternity!
It is not then the silence and forgetfulness of death that men fear most. To the "aching head” it is a welcome hope,
“To slumber in that dreamless bed
From all its toil.”
But they fear that they shall not slumber.
“ To sleep-perchance to dream.” It is the waking moments that they dreadwhen the tide of life flows back into the soul-when the dreaminess of departing is over, and they find themselves awake, where they can no more sleep, nor die. Then will they know, that if it was a fearful thing once to die—it is infinitely more terrible to live, without a possibility of death.
Even the gloomy expectation of Danton is disappointed. Ambition cannot soar so high as to pass the bounds of existence. To misery God promises no such relief. Nor to the wicked does he grant permission thus to escape forever. No darkness of eternity covers them with its friendly gloom.
Nor are the good man's hopes destined to be lost in the shadow of death. He is not born to die. When his soul departs out of the body, it does not sink into a dark cloud and disappear. It mounts to a higher state.
If therefore we look beyond death, it is still life-life foreverwhich alone is to be hoped or feared. It is not the cessation of being, but its continuance, that appals us. Not that the body will decay—but that there is in man a principle which resists decay. Not that we shall be soon dead and gone. But that in some other region our spirits will live. This necessity of lifethis impossibility of annihilation, awakes deadly fear. And it is this which makes religion so immensely important, because that teaches us how to live. The effect of moral action clings to us with the tenacity of life. It is not the immediate suffering which follows one wrong act which makes its commission so bitter. But one transgression is the forerunner of a thousand. These airy motions of the will soon harden into habits. Evil passions grow too strong to be resisted. Therefore must they be checked in the beginning, and a firm principle of religion be implanted. For a mind that has no sense of religious obligation, and no principle of obedience, has lost the main element of selfcontrol, and must go on to sin and to inflict pain upon itself.
With such elements of misery infixed in the very being, what more terrible prospect can be offered than simple existence ? Will it not be enough that the heart must beat on forever, when every throb is agony?
Some tell us that men are punished as they go along, and therefore that they cannot be punished in a future world. I admit the premise, but deny totally the conclusion. True, men do suffer bitterly for their evil deeds in this life. But so far from that being an evidence that they will not suffer still hereafter, it is the strongest presumption of future misery. For sin against God, and duty, and conscience, is not like a civil offence, which is punished by imprisonment, and which can claim no more when the term of the penalty expires. It is rather a poisoning of man's whole nature-a deadly venom, working in the blood and brain-and which must cause suffering as long as it remains in the system-even if that be forever! Because I see that every wrong act causes man either bodily or mental suffering, I am certain that, when habits of wickedness have been confirmed by seventy years of sinful life, they must produce complete and uninterrupted misery.
Others, in despair, have sought refuge under the very threatenings of the Bible, and hoped that by eternal death God intended annihilation—that the wicked should be eternally dead. But no, life remains, whether the great hope of eternity be lost
The Scriptures assure us that a time will come when death shall be destroyed, and forevermore unknown. But to the irreclaimably bad and lost, life will be no boon. They will long to die, and their supreme misery will be that they cannot expire.
Here then I rest my argument for religion. It is not because you are to die, but because you live, and must live, and religion alone can save you from infinite misery here and hereafter.
I say not, you must be religious because life is short, and death is near. Alas ! life may be very long-too long for your happiness. Death may be far distant. And before you reach that bourne, you may have to traverse years of suffering that shall seem like so many slow moving centuries. Therefore, do you need religion-not for a dying hour—but here—and now. Take to your bosom that celestial Comforter. It will mitigate every human sorrow. It will break the force of those inevitable calami. ties, which must fall even upon prosperous life, so that they shall
not crush you.
It will revive your courage and hope. It will keep you from being your own worst enemy, and destroying yourself by madness and by crime. It will save you from endless folly and wretchedness. It will avert from you hours of weeping and of remorse._It will prepare you both to live and to die.
Yes—to die! For I mean not that your minds should be barred against all thought of death. Only that it be not clothed with false and unreal terrors; and thus made an object of unmanly fear. Bodily dissolution is a matter neither of hope or dread. What is it but to cease to breathe, and to turn to dust?
I look into the caverns of Death, and find nothing there half so wonderful or terrible as I meet in the broad light of day. Men speak of the awful mystery and solemnity of death. Would that they might ponder the more awful mystery of Life. This fact of a vital existence is the great wonder of creation. The highest act of God was not the moulding of external forms, but the inspiration of an independent life. We can imagine how the cold clay should be fashioned into the grace of a statue. But how life should enter into dead bodies—this is Nature's miracle. "God breathed into man the breath of life, and he became a living soul."
To live! What is it? It is to think, to feel, to suffer, to enjoy. Whatever of good or ill man can experience, is concentrated in that one word—Life. This is the most intense word in human language. So that when the Scriptures describe the completion of glory and blessedness, they speak of the heavenly state, not as everlasting happiness, but as everlasting life. Life then is the chief interest of man, and death itself becomes important only as introducing another life which is endless.
This is the true light in which to look upon death not as the enemy of life, and its destroyer—but as its new creator—as a further development of the vital power, by which the soul, casting off it cumbrous clay, is born into immortality. As such, we would not relinquish the hope of death. It is a transformation too great—too magnificent-not to be welcomed as our supreme felicity. Life is no longer weighed down by a dark and dreadful fear. The heart is not oppressed and stified by a dreary feeling of decay.
To the last moment the pulse beats firm and high. As death approaches it throbs quicker with expectation. Life rides exulting and triumphant over every obstacle. It spans the arch of death, and urges its way upward forever.
Glorious Death! Thou art not the end of life, but its fresh beginning. Eagerly we look for the moment when God's silent angel shall open the doors of eternity! We love to meditate that coming day, and—while we rejoice in all the good of this passing lifeshall often turn aside to
"Walk thoughtful on the solemn, silent shore
BY REV. ELBERT S. PORTER,
PASTOR OF THE REF. PROT. DUTCH CHURCH WILLIAMSBURGH, L. 1.
“ AND THE BOOKS WERE OPENED."
“And the books were opened ; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the book, according to their works." —Rev. xx. 12.
The present bears a most intimate relation to the future. And whether we believe it or not, there is a record of all our past which will hereafter be opened before us, and according to its registrations our eternal destiny will be fixed. The thought of to-day will meet us again ; and the deed which was done in presence of few if any witnesses, will be read out before the audience of an assembled universe. So revelation teaches ; so we believe. But there are many who think the threatened judgment a priestly device or ghostly bugbear, and in no wise to be feared. Scoffers ridicule the idea, and men of mere worldly views, if they think at all concerning the matter, are quite too ready to indulge the hope, that either the judgment tribunal will not be set, or if set, will not possess those tremendous adjuncts of justice and holiness, which the Sacred Oracles ascribe to it. And even within the pale of the church, there is an appalling amount of mere speculation respecting the great day of the Lord. And being little if any thing more than speculation, the doctrine of eternal judgment does not exert that practical control over the life, which a doctrine of so intrinsic an importance ought most surely to exert upon us all. To revivify our decaying impressions quicken our faith, and deeply impress us with a con. viction of the certainty of the coming scene in which we shall all share a glad or sorrowful part, will be the object of the present discourse. We proceed to inquire what are the books which will be opened.
I. The book of the Material Universe will be opened.
The connection between mind and matter is most intimateand the most meagre attainments in the merest elements and rudiments of science familiarize us with the fact, that mind is the controlling and plastic power which rules over and impresses