Page images
PDF
EPUB

when its conclusions are reduced to logical coherency, points to the perfection of the moral attributes of the Supreme Being. Such a Being either has, or has not, a moral nature. If He have one, then He cannot be partially good or partially just-half God, half devilwith a fickle or a chequered character. So much as this is involved in the hypothesis of a Creator transcending all the wants, pains, weaknesses, ignorances and passions of the creature. If any preponderance of evidence in Nature, then, appears to shew that God has moral purposes, and that those purposes are, in the majority of cases, benevolent, we are compelled, for mere coherency sake, to arrive per saltum at the conclusion that, if He be good so far, He must be good altogether. On these grounds, then, even such a small residuum of the sublime idea of God as is left us by the rigid application of the Experimental philosophy to theology, may be made to harmonize with and corroborate the faith derived from a higher source of knowledge, and the Atheistic and Kakotheistic creeds stand condemned even in the court of Nature.

But I repeat that such arguments have in my eyes but little worth save as intellectual satisfactions, and I would as lief, for my own part, forego all such conclusions of my understanding regarding the Great Power who dwells behind the veil of Nature, if I could not find in my heart the Lord of Life and Love, our all-holy, all-merciful Father and God.

A few words must be added, in conclusion, respecting Mr. Mill's remarks on the doctrine with which this little book is directly concerned—that of the Immortality of the Soul. After having described the reasons which he conceives have acted as powerful causes of the belief, not as rational grounds for it, and then stated the arguments deduced from the Goodness of God, he observes:

“These might be arguments in a world the constitution of which made it possible, without contradiction, to hold it for the work of a Being at once omnipotent and benevolent. But they are not arguments in a world like that in which we live. ... . With regard to the supposed improbability of his having given the wish without its gratification, the same answer may be made. The scheme which either limitation of power or conflict of purposes compelled him to adopt may have required that we should have the wish, although it were not destined to be gratified. .... There is, therefore, no assurance whatever of a life after death on grounds of natural religion. But to any one who feels it conducive, either to his satisfaction or his usefulness, to hope for a future state as a possibility, there is no hindrance to his indulging that hope. Appearances point to the existence of a Being who has great power over us—all the power implied in the creation of the Kosmos, or of its organized being, at least—and of whose goodness we have evidence, though not of its being his predominant attribute ; and as we do not know the limits of either his power or his goodness, there is room to hope that both the one and the other may extend to granting us this gift, provided that it would be really beneficial to us.

[ocr errors]

* Essays on Religion, pp. 209, 210.

After having held before us this even balance of probabilities that we shall, or shall not, live again after death, Mr. Mill further discusses how far the indulgence of hope in a region of mere imagination ought to be encouraged, or discouraged as a "departure from the rational principle of regulating our feelings as well as opinions strictly by evidence,” and gives his verdict in favour of “making the most of any even small probabilities on this subject which furnish imagination with any footing to support itself upon.”* This observation, again, is followed up by many pertinent remarks on the benefits derivable from looking habitually to the brighter and nobler side of things; and with regard to the prospect of immortality, he adds that the benefit of the doctrine “consists less in any specific hope than in the enlargement of the general scale of the feelings,”+ and that it is “ legitimate and philosophically defensible while we recognize as a clear truth that we have no ground for more than a hope."

Now to those amongst us who do not believe that great benefits are ever derived from crediting delusions, and who do not feel in themselves the inclination to cultivate and water a Hope which they know to be a flower stuck rootless by a child in the ground, this kind of exhortation is as strange as that which follows it on the “infinitely precious familiarity of the imagination with the conception of a morally perfect Being;” the

+ P. 250.

* Essays on Religion, p. 245.

E

same idealization of our standard of excellence in a Person "being quite possible, even when that Person is conceived as merely imaginary.”* Meditating upon imaginary gods, and cherishing hopes which are known to depend on an even balance of probabilities, seems to most of us very like the mournful preservation of a casket when the jewel is stolen, of a cage when the bird is flown; for ever reminding us of an irreparable loss. Far better, to our apprehensions, would it be to gather courage from our despair, and face as best we may the facts (if facts they be) that we have either no Father above, or that He is weak and unwise, and that our hopes beyond the grave hang on a straw, than mock these solemn trusts of the human soul in God and Immortality by "making believe,” like children, that we possess them when they are ours no more. Si Dieu n'existait pas il faudrait l'inventer," is an epigram which has now been paralleled : “If we are not immortal, we had better think ourselves so." Yet there seems some contradiction in Mr. Mill's view of the advantages of the Hope altogether. In the preceding essay on the Utility of Religion, he makes very light of it.

[ocr errors]

He says:

“ When mankind cease to need a future life as a consolation for the sufferings of the present, it will have lost its chief value to them for themselves. I am now speaking of the unselfish. Those who are so wrapped up in self that they are unable to identify their feelings with anything which will survive them, require the notion of another selfish life beyond the grave to keep up any interest in existence."*

* Essays on Religion, p. 250.

Here, again, surely we meet the singular train of misapprehensions which seem to crowd upon the writer from his incapacity to understand the religious sentiments of other men. It is precisely the selfish man who has had a comfortable life here below, who may inscribe on his tombstone that he

“From Nature's temperate feast rose satisfied,

Thanked Heaven that he had lived and that he died;" and made no demand for further existence for himself or anybody else. But the unselfish man who has looked abroad with aching heart upon a sinful and a suffering world, cannot thus be content to rise with a sanctimonious grace from the feast of life (so richly spread for him), and to leave Lazarus starving at his doors. That his own life on earth should have been so happy, so replete with the joys of the senses, the intellect and the affections,—that he should have been kept from sinking into the slough of vice, and permitted to taste some of the unutterable joys of a loving and religious life,—all this makes it only the more inexplicable and the more agonizing to him to behold his brothers and sisters-no worse, he is well assured, and often far better, than himself—dragging out lives of misery and privation of all higher joy, and dying perhaps at last, so

* P. 119.

« PreviousContinue »