Page images

which we are learning each day to regard with more distrust; in fact, to treat as insoluble problems. In this direction also, then, it is not too much to conclude, we cannot hope to find a satisfactory answer to our inquiry.

When we have dismissed the expectation of obtaining the desired solution either from a supernatural revelation or from physics or metaphysics, where do we stand ? We are left to face, on one hand, a number of very heavy presumptions against the survival of consciousness after death; and, on the other hand, the sole class of considerations which remain to be opposed to them.

The presumptions against survival are so plain and numerous, that none of us can fail to be impressed with their force. There is, first, the obvious fact that everything we have seen of a man perishes, to our certain knowledge, in his grave, and passes into other organic and inorganic forms. The assumption is physiologically baseless that something—and that something his conscious self-lives elsewhere. And starting from this baseless assumption, we find no foothold for even a conjecture of how he is transferred to his new abode, where in the astronomical universe that abode can be, and what can be the conditions of existence and consciousness without a brain or a single one of our organs of the

The fact that injuries to the brain in this life are capable of clouding a man's mind and distorting his will in frenzy or idiotcy, presses severely against the assumption that the entire dissolution of that brain will leave intellect and volition perfect and free. Nor do even these enormous difficulties exhaust the obstacles in the way. If man be immortal, he must have become an immortal being at some point in his development after the first beginning of physical life. But to name even a plausible date for so stupendous a change in his destiny is utterly impossible; and the new theory of Evolution saddles us yet with another analogous difficulty, namely, to designate the links in the chain of generations between the Ascidian and the Sage, when the mortal creature gave birth to an heir of immortality. It is almost impossible to overstate the weight of these and other presumptions of a similar kind against the belief in a Life after Death. Let it be granted that they are as heavy as they could be without absolutely disproving the point in question and making the belief logically absurd. They render at all events the fact of immortality so improbable, that to restore the balance and make it probable an immense equiponderant consideration becomes indispensable.


Where is that counterweight to be found? What can we cast into the scale which shall outweigh these presumptions ? Certainly nothing in the way of direct answers to them, nor of plausible hypotheses to explain how the conditions of future being may possibly be carried on. Confronted by the challenge to produce such hypotheses, we can but say, with one of the greatest men of science of the age, that “the further we advance in the path of science, the more the infinite possibilities of Nature are revealed to us;" and among those possibilities there must needs be the possibility of another life for man. Beyond this, we cannot proffer a word; and it must be some consideration altogether of another character which can afford anything like a positive reason for believing in immortality in opposition to the terrible array of presumptions on the other side. That consideration, so sorely needed, is, I believe, to be found—nay, is found already by the great mass of mankind-in FAITH-faith in its true sense of TRUST in Goodness and Justice and Fidelity and Love, and in all these things impersonated in the Lord of Life and Death. Not the Supernatural argument, nor yet the Physical, nor the Metaphysical, but the Moral, is the real counterpoise to all the difficulties in the way of belief in a life beyond the grave.

That this is the true ground of whatever confidence we can rationally entertain on the subject, is, I think, clear on very short reflection. It has been but partially recognized, indeed, that such is the case; and the teachers who have undertaken to demonstrate immortality on natural grounds, have very commonly presented their moral arguments as if they were purely inductive, and belonged to the same class of logical proofs as we have sought for in vain in physics and metaphysics. But their syllogisms, when carefully examined, will invariably be found to involve a major term which is not a fact of knowledge, but only a dogma of faith. They conduct us half-way across the gulf by means of stepping-stones of facts and inductions, and then invite us to complete our transit by swimming. They open our cause in the court of the Intellect, and then move it for decision to the equity-chamber of the Heart. A few pages hence I shall hope to give this assertion full illustration. For the present it will be sufficient to remind the reader that the arguments usually drawn from the general consciousness of mankind, from the many injustices of the world, from the incompleteness of moral progress in this life, &c. &c., all involve, at the crucial point, the assumption that we possess some guarantee that mankind will not be deceived, that justice will triumph eventually, and that human progress is the concern of a Power whose purposes cannot fail. Were the faith which supplies such warrants to prove irresponsive to the call, the whole elaborate argument which preceded the appeal would be seen at once to fall to the ground. If, then, the strength of a chain must be measured by that of its most fragile link, it is clear that the value in sum-total of all such arguments, however multiplied or ingeniously stated, is neither more nor less than that which we may be disposed to assign to simple Faith. It is a value precisely tantamount to that of our moral and religious intuitions—to the value (as I hope presently to shew) of all such intuitions culminating in one point together. But beyond this, it is nothing.

This conclusion, however distasteful it may be to us, is one which eminently harmonizes with all we can learn respecting the method of the Divine tuition of souls. There is one kind of knowledge which the Creator has appointed shall be acquired by the busy Intellect, and which, when so acquired, is held in inalienable possession. There is another kind of knowledge which He gives to faithful and obedient hearts, and which even the truest of them hold on the precarious tenure of sustained faith and unrelaxing obedience. The future world assuredly belongs to this latter class of knowledge. It is, as one of the greatest of living teachers has said, “a part of our religion, not a branch of our geography." Why it is so, and why our passionate longings for more sense-satisfying information cannot be indulged, we can even partially see; for we may perceive that it would instantaneously destroy the perspective of this life, and nullify the whole present system of moral tuition by earthly joys and chastisements. The mental chaos into which those persons obviously fall who in our day imagine that they have obtained tangible, audible and visible proofs of another life, supplies evidence of the ruinous results which would follow were any such corporeal access to the other world actually opened to mankind.

Let us then courageously face the conclusion which we seem to have reached. The key which must open the door of Hope beyond the grave will never be found by fumbling among the heterogeneous stores of the logical understanding. Like the one with which the Pilgrim unlocked the dungeon of Giant Despair's Castle, it is hidden in our own breasts-given to us long ago by the Lord of the Way.

« PreviousContinue »