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towards him who is preparing to crush it; but neither are they those of a son to a Father, into whose home on high he is assured ere long of a welcome. He mourns his departed friends not altogether with despair, but with very little of the confident “ hope of a joyful resurrection” which his clergyman officially expresses while he commits their bodies to the ground. He awaits his own demise with regret or resignation nearly always measured by his happiness or misery in the world he quits, rather than by his expectations of one or the other in that which he is about to enter; but he rarely contemplates the possibility of final loss of consciousness, or fails to project himself eagerly into interests with which, in such contingency, he can have no concern whatever. In a word, he lives and dies so as to secure for himself pretty nearly the maximum of care and sorrow, and the minimum of peace and hope.
It is in a certain degree inevitable that some such indecision should pertain to our feelings regarding the Life after Death. Our belief that such a life awaits us is derived (as I hope presently to shew), not from any definite demonstration such as is furnished to us by the logical understanding, but from the testimony of our moral and spiritual faculties, which varies in force with the more or less perfect working condition of those faculties at all times. Yet there can be few thoughtful men or women amongst us who do not desire some more equable tenure of the priceless “Hope full of Immortality.” If, during the years of multifold youthful enthusiasms or of world-engrossed middle age, the threat of death seemed dream-like-so full was our life and the further Hope beyond, a dream within a dream too faint and filmy for thought to seize upon it, such capacity for indifference inevitably passes away with the shock of a bereavement, an illness, or the symptoms of failing strength, and we marvel how it has been possible for us to forget that interests so near and so stupendous yet hang for us all undetermined in the balance. Or if in the vivid ecstasy of early religion it happened to us to think that the joy of once beholding the face of God was enough, and that we were content to die for ever the next hour, even this experience after a time makes annihilation seem doubly impossible, and prompts the question, which has but one answer, “ Can a finite thing, created in the bounds of time and space, Can it live, and grow, and love Thee, catch the glory of Thy face, Fade and die, be gone
ever, know no being, have no place ?"* And as the wrong and injustice of the world by degrees force themselves on our awakening consciousness, we learn to appeal with confidence to God, if not on our own behalf, yet for all the miserable and the vice-abandoned, that He should open to them the door of a happier and holier world than they have known below.
And for mankind at large, the solution of the problem of Immortality which will be generally received in the future reconstruction of opinion must prove of incalcu
* Verses, by E. B. Henry King and Co., London.
lable importance. Should the belief in a life after death still remain an article of popular faith after the fall of supernaturalism, then (freed, as it must be, of its deadweight of the dread of Hell) the religion of succeeding generations will possess more than all the influence of the creeds of old, for it will meet human nature on all its noblest sides at once, and insult it on none. On the other hand, if the present well-nigh exclusive devotion to physico-scientific thought end in throwing the spiritual faculties of our nature so far into disuse and discredit as to leave the faith in Immortality permanently under a cloud,* then it is inevitable that religion will lose half the power it has wielded over human hearts. The God with whom our relations are so insignificant that He has condemned them to terminate at the end of a few short years,—the God whose world contains so many cruel wrongs destined to remain unrectified for ever,—the God who cares so little for man's devotion that He will “suffer his Holy One to see corruption,”—that God may receive our distant homage as the Arbiter of the universe, but it is quite impossible that He should obtain our love. Nor will the results of the general retention, or loss, of the faith in a future life on the Morals of mankind, be less significant than those affecting their Religion. They will not, I believe, be of the kind vulgarly apprehended. The fear of Hell has been vastly over-estimated as an engine of police; for the natures which are capable of receiving a practical check to strong passion from anticipations only to be realized in a distant world, are (by the hypothesis) constituted with singularly blended elements of imagination and prudence, the furthest possible from the criminal temperament. And the hope of Heaven has been probably even less valuable as a moral agent, having spoiled the pure disinterestedness of virtue for thousands by degrading Duty into that “ Other-worldliness” which is only harder and more selfish than worldliness pure and simple. But though the loss of the bribes and threats of the life to come would tend little to lower the standard of human virtue, it would be quite otherwise as regards the final closing of all out-look beyond this world, and the shutting up of morality within the narrow sphere of mortal life. We need an infinite horizon to enable us to form any conception of the grandeur and sanctity of moral distinctions; nor is it possible we should continue to attach to Virtue and Vice the same profound significance, could we believe their scope to reach no further than our brief span. Theoretically, Right and Wrong would come to be regarded as of comparatively small importance. Practically, the virtue which must shortly come to an end for ever would seem to the tempted soul scarcely deserving of effort; and the vice which must lie down harmless in the sinner's grave,
* See the remarks on this subject in “ Christ in Modern Life,” by the Rev. Stopford Brooke, p. 194.
meridian, would become in our eyes more and more like an autumn garden, wherein it would be vain to plant seeds of good which could never bloom before the frosts of death; and useless to eradicate weeds which must needs be killed ere long without our labour. Needless to say that of that dismal spot it might surely soon be said,
“ Between the time of the wind and the snow
All loathsome things began to grow;" and that when winter came at last, none would regret the white shroud it threw over corruption and decay.
Nor ought we to hide from ourselves that, under such loss of hope in Immortality, the highest forms of human heroism must needs disappear and cease to glorify the world. The old martyrs of the stake and the rack, and modern martyrs of many a wreck and battle-field and hospital, have not braved torture and death for the sake of the rewards of Paradise, but they have at least believed that their supreme act of virtue and piety did not involve the renunciation on their part of all further moral progress and of all communion with God throughout eternity. It is not easy to see how any virtue is to help a man to renounce virtue, nor even how the love of God is to make him ready to renounce the joy of His love for ever. Deprived, then, of its boundless scope, human morality must necessarily be dwarfed more and more in each successive generation, till in comparison of the mere animal life (which would inevitably come to the front) the nobler part in us would dwindle to a vanishing point, and the man return to the ape.