Page images

But what if time and space are, as the idealist declares, only the forms in which we pour the molten substance of our thought, as that thought is conditioned now and here? Or, even if they persist, who cannot easily imagine that we may live a life so full of thought and love that to us, as to the Eternal, a thousand years shall be as one day? What do we know of time or space here in this present life, when we are at the top of our condition? Are there not hours of thought and love that are not so long as minutes of mere drudgery or vacancy? May we not dare to hope that some such principle as this, when charactered in heavenly form, will make the burden of our immortality as little burdensome as are an eagle's wings,—

"Where he will, swooping downward;
Where he will, soaring onward"?

The hope of immortality would indeed be a daring hope if, its appeal to a concrete sensuous appearance (the resurrection of Jesus) proving utterly vain, and the phenomena of the Spiritualist not being available for one reason or another, or not satisfactory, the case against immortality from the standpoint of science were as complete and damaging as it has been represented by the traditional theologians and apologists of recent times. But you will notice that their representation has been like that of men with lawn-mowers and bicycles or daily newspapers to sell, they depreciate the rival article. The supernaturalist has done his best to depreciate all rational arguments for immortality, if haply so men might be obliged to come to him for it and pay his price. It was only yesterday that our Unitarian fathers were as deep in the mud of this business as were the other churches in the mire. One of our most distinguished preachers, whose father was a preacher before him, tells me that, in looking over his father's sermons, he was astonished to find him continually minimizing reason and science in order to maximize revelation. I do not see why he should have been astonished. That motley was pretty

[ocr errors]

much the only wear some fifty years ago; and there are still suits of it in good repair, or tatters, which are worn by theologians of great local reputation, here and there. Their argument is an argumentum ad terrorem: You've got to take the belief in immortality upon our terms, because you can't have it upon any other.

It is not at all strange that science has as yet done little to confirm men's hope of an immortal life. So long as the traditional ideas held their own, the fifth wheel to a coach was not more superfluous than any scientific argument. Why add a farthing candle's sputtering gleam to the ineffable splendor of the sun? With an infallible revelation of immortality in the New Testament, why spend a moment in endeavoring to work out some rational argument? This was the line taken by the dogmatists, while as yet their dogma remained unimpeached. But, when men began to impeach it, then the scientific temper was depreciated, in order to make the supernatural dogma seem impressive in comparison with the scantiness of the scientific argument. When we consider these things, and how short the time since any serious scientific interest in immortality began, the wonder is to me, not that the scientific argument is so incomplete, but that it possesses so many elements of enduring strength already, and has so much of glorious promise in its eyes.

Consider with me some of those particulars in which the development of science tends to make the hope of immortality less daring than it was, more reasonable; but first a few considerations of a more general character. One of these, and not the least important, is the vast accession we have had to our persuasion of the unspeakable wonder of the universe. Telescope and microscope have maintained a generous rivalry in this regard. Innumerable experiments and observations have brought their glory and honor into the grand result. Hence a universe vastly more wonderful than that formerly conceived. But what has this to do with immortality? Much every way. To hope for it is to

"fetch our eyes up to God's style and manners of the sky." The wonderfulness of immortality suits the wonderfulness of the great whole. And this makes many things seem possible which could not seem so formerly. The more wonderful immortality, now, the more likely its reality, responding to our hope and need.

But in the wonder of science there inheres one awful prophecy. It is that ultimately this whole earth of ours will be as lifeless and forlorn as those strange regions of the farthest north into which the Norwegian "Fram" pushed her adventurous prow. There will come a time, we read, when the moon that makes our nights so beautiful will come ricochetting across the surface of the earth, ploughing it fathoms deep. Like the old lady who was told that Universalism had abolished hell, "I hope for better things." But the consensus of the competent tends to anticipate some such catastrophe, and I submit that we have here a negative suggestion of immortality of first-rate importance. Given an earth forever swinging joyously upon her way and the idea of a social immortality, the idea of George Eliot's “Choir Invisible," might be sufficient for our aspiration and our hope. But this idea is negatived by the prophecy of the cessation of human life upon the earth. And hence it seems that, if our human thought has any slightest correspondence with the eternal verities, there must be an immortal individuality to conserve the long result of time. I would not say that the whole human course is worse than wasted if there be no immortal conservation of its energy. But, if I would not play the fool in order that I may justify the ways of God, I must say that a depopulated earth without soul-immortality would be an anticlimax of immense irrationality, "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying "what?

One other general consideration that contributes not a little to our daring hope, or at least clears the ground for it to build upon. It is that, in the region of things dead and done for, materialism is as conspicuous as Lucifer in Mil

ton's hell. Not long ago materialism seemed to have the middle of the road. Now it is pushed against the side, over the edge, and into the abyss of things discredited. Science and philosophy are perfectly agreed that this is so. And why? Because it is so evident that all that we know of matter is some form of our own consciousness. It is only mind of which we know anything by first intention. No one has ever seen an atom. There are two millions of these hypothetic particles of Dalton in the minimum visible of the microscope. If we could isolate one of them, and with a microscope two thousand times more powerful than the most powerful of to-day, see this marvellous little thing, we should be as much as ever in an ideal world. Certain sensations of color and form and hardness would be our utmost goal. Now this evident superiority of mind to matter and resolution of matter into mind, to a very great extent, are certainly calculated to diminish the terrors of matter as a "commensurate antagonist" of the spiritual self. The materialist talked so loudly about matter as the real thing, the thing we know about, that he fairly scared us into taking things at his value. But it turns out that matter is the unreal thing, the thing that eludes us when we try to pin it down; that what we really know about, and all we really know about, is thought, is mind. This we know directly, and matter only as "a kind of a sort of a something" which we infer as the substance causing our sensations.

And yet one other general consideration, one of first-rate importance: the thing that we are surest of and the thing of greatest permanence in the whole range of our experience is that which we express by the capital letter "I." And just here, to make sure that my wish is not fathering my thought, and that I am not taking up with the opinion of any mushy sentimentalist or half-cast theologian, I will quote the words of Fitzjames Stephen, about the hardestheaded man with whom I have any intellectual acquaintance, a great English jurist, and a man profoundly sceptical, attaching no value to the claims of Christian super

naturalism, and scrutinizing those of rational religion of whatever kind with hard severity. The quotation is a long one, but I think that it can justify itself at your tribunal both on account of its intrinsic merit and on account of the peculiar source from which it is derived. It is as follows: "All human language, all human observation, implies that the mind, the 'I,' is a thing in itself; a fixed point in the midst of a world of change, of which world of change its own organs form a part. It is the same yesterday, to-day, and to-morrow. It was what it was when its organs were of a different shape, and consisted of different matter from their present shape and matter. It will be what it is when they have gone through other changes. I do not say that this proves, but surely it suggests, it renders probable, the belief that this ultimate fact, this starting-point of all knowledge, thought, feeling, and language, 'this final inexplicability' (an emphatic though a clumsy phrase), is independent of its organs; that it may have existed before they were collected out of the elements, and may continue to exist after they are dissolved into the elements. The belief thus suggested by the most intimate, the most abiding, the most wide-spread of all experiences, not to say by universal experience, as recorded by nearly every word of every language in the world, is what I mean by a belief in a future state, if indeed it should not rather be called a past, present, and future state all in one,- a state which rises above and transcends time and change. I do not say that this is proved; but I do say that it is strongly suggested by the one item of knowledge which rises above logic, argument, language, sensation, and even direct thought, that one clear instance of direct consciousness in virtue of which we say, 'I am.' This belief is that there is in man, or rather that man is, that which rises above words and above thoughts, which are but unuttered words; that to each one of us, 'I' is the ultimate central fact which renders thought and language possible." Here endeth the quotation, and I do not wish to press it on you for more than it is worth. I do not ask you to accept this

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »