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This essay is not the place, even were I possessed of the needful ability, to determine the true “Grammar of Assent" as regards such Faith as is now in question. I must limit myself to addressing those readers who are prepared to concede that spiritual things are “spiritually discerned,” and moral things morally; and that the human moral sense and religious sentiment are something more than untrustworthy delusions. To those who doubt all this, who believe in food and houses and railways and stocks and gravitation and electricity, but not in self-sacrificing Love or Justice or God, I can say nothing. The argument has been shewn to have no standpoint on any grounds they will admit. That they should disbelieve in immortality, is the perfectly logical outcome of their other disbeliefs. It would be entirely inconsequent and irrational for them to believe in it.
Assuming, then, that I address men and women who believe in God and Justice and Love, I proceed to endeavour to shew how—even should they stand appalled by the difficulties of belief in Immortality--they may yet oppose to those difficulties moral arguments so numerous and irrefragable, that the scale may well turn on the side of belief. I hope to shew that, by many different but converging lines, Faith uniformly points to a Life after Death, and that if we follow her guidance in any one direction implicitly, we are invariably led to the same conclusion. Nay, more : I think it may be demonstrated that we cannot stop short of this culmination and afterwards retain intact our faith in anything beyond matters of sense and experience. Every idea we can form of Justice, Love, Duty, is truncated and imperfect if we deny them the extension of eternity; and as for our conception of God, I see not how any one who has realized the "riddle of the painful earth,” can thenceforth call Him "good,” unless he believe that the solution is yet to be given to that dark problem hereafter.
The following are some of the channels in which Faith flows towards Immortality.
I. There is one unendurable thought. It is, that Justice may fail to be done in time or in eternity. This thought makes the human soul writhe like a trampled worm. Other ideas are sad, even agonizing, but this one cannot be borne. No courage, no virtue, no unselfishness, will help us to bear it. The better we are, the more insufferable it is. To receive it into the soul is madness. On the other hand, every threat besides, however sorrowful or terrible, if it be but overshadowed by the sense, “It will be just,” becomes endurable--nay, is followed by a sort of awful calm. Could we even feel certain that our guilt merited eternal perdition, then the doom of Hell would bring to us only dumb despair. Something greater than ourselves within us would say to the wailings of our self-pity, “Peace! be still.” But let us only doubt that there is any Justice here or hereafter, let us think that Wrong and Tyranny may be finally triumphant, and Goodness and Heroism ultimately defeated, punished and derided, and lo! there surges up from the very depths of our souls a high and stern Remonstrance, an appeal which should make the hollow heavens resound with our indignation and our rebellion.
The religions of the world, well nigh in the proportion in which they deserved to be called religions and not mere dreams of awe and wonder, are the expressions of the universal human aspiration after Justice. Even the Buddhist creed (whose acceptance by the myriads of Eastern Asia for two millenniums gives the lie to so many
of our theories, and seems to shew human nature different under another sky)—even this abnormal creed insists that Righteousness rules everywhere and for ever, even when it teaches there is no righteous Ruler on high; or “peradventure he sleepeth” in the eternal slumber of Nirvana. The doctrine of “Karma,”—that every good and every evil action inexorably brings forth fruit of reward or fruit of punishment in this life or some other life to come,—is the confession of three hundred million souls that, if they can endure to live without God, they yet cannot live without Justice. Nay, it is more. It is evidence that human Reason can accept such a blank absurdity as the idea that the unintelligent elements may bring about moral order, sooner than the human Spirit can rest satisfied that such moral order is nowhere to be found. Gravitation and electricity may weigh selfsacrifice and purity in their balances, and the winds and waves may measure out the punishment of cruelty and falsehood; but Virtue cannot be without reward, nor can the crimes which human tribunals fail to reach, escape retribution for ever.
The shapes which this desire of Justice assumes in the earlier stages of human thought are, of course, rude and materialistic in the extreme. Men cannot expect from Nemesis, or Karma, or Jehovah, higher justice than they have begun to apprehend as the law of their own dealings. But everywhere throughout mythology, history and poetry, we may trace the parallel lines of the moral growth of each nation, and the corresponding development of its belief that over and above human justice there is a Justice-working Power, personal or impersonal, controlling all events, and making war and plague and famine, the earthquake and the storm, the punishments of crime; and health and victory, length of days, abundant wealth and numerous progeny, the rewards of virtue.
The obvious failure of the exhibition of any such overruling Justice in multitudes of instances, has commonly driven the bewildered observers to devise explanations more or less ingenious of each particular case, but rarely, if ever, to the much more logical course of abandoning the expectation of such Justice. Half the myths of the elder nations are nothing more than hypotheses invented to justify Providence and explain consistently with equity some striking inequality in the distribution of prosperity and adversity. As Negroes and Canaanites underwent more cruel oppressions than other races, their supposed progenitor Ham must have incurred some special curse. As women endured peculiar sufferings, and are, in early times, altogether enslaved by men, so Eve must have merited the punishment of bringing forth children in sorrow, and being “ruled over” by her husband. As the cities of the Plain were overwhelmed by a terrific convulsion, so it was certain Sodom and Gomorrah were more wicked than Memphis or Thebes. In Grecian fable, the calamities which befel the house of Edipus presupposed
“The ill-advised transgression of old Laius;" and even such trivial matters as the blackness of the crow and the chatter of the magpie might be traced to the punishment of a human offender transformed into the bird whose whole race thenceforward, like that of Adam, was destined to bear the penalty of“ original sin.”
Nor do the monuments of the graver thoughts of mankind bear less emphatic testimony than mythology to the universal desire to “see Justice done.” Beginning with the Vedas and Genesis, Homer and Herodotus, we may trace the straining effort of every writer to “point a moral” of reward and punishment, even when the facts to be dealt with lent but faint colour to the lesson that perfidious chiefs will always be defeated, and good kings crowned with victory and prosperity. The story of ruined cities is always told in the same spirit:
“They rose while all the depths of guilt their vain creators
sounded ; They fell because on fraud and force their corner-stones were
In every age and nation, epics, dramas and popular