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There are potent reasons to induce man to cling tena. ciously to the belief in the immortality of the soul.
The instinctive clinging to life is essential to organic life; it is especially pronounced in man, exhibiting itself in intense repugnance to death. Death fills him with craven fear: it is to him the worst of ills, the most appalling catastrophe that can take place; and if some make a display of indifference at its approach, it is not that they are insensible to dread, but that they desire to exhibit tlie highest courage by facing unflinchingly that for which they feel the extremest terror.
Any idea which can alleviate this dread, and lighten, though with the feeblest glimmer, the awful blackness of uncertainty beyond the tomb, has been seized on with eagerness and clung to with desperation. The definiteness of Christian teaching on this point conduced greatly to its acceptance. When the missionaries of the Cross preached before King Edwin, an old chief rose and said: “O king, as we sit by night round the fire in the hall, and make good cheer, it often happens that a little bird flies for a moment into the light and heat; it comes out of the cold and darkness, and then it goes out into the cold and darkness; but none knew whence it comes, and none can tell whither it goes. And so is our own life. We come, and our wise men cannot tell us whence; we go, and they cannot tell us whither. Therefore, if there be any who can give us certainty about a future state, in God's name let us hear
A second reason for the adoption of a belief in the immortality of the soul is that such a doctrine can alone reconcile the anomalies of life. This is not a reason to
i Bede : Eccl. Hist. ii. 13.
influence a savage, but it is a powerful one in the breast of a man of thought and feeling. He sees the lots of men unequally balanced; misery, wrong, oppression, blot the history of the past, and smear that of the present. Patriots groan in dungeons. Civilization enriches one, and pauperizes a score. Juggernaut's car rolls over the necks of thousands. “Abel's blood cries out of the ground," writes Theodore Parker, “but there is no ear of justice to hear it; and Cain, red with slaughter, goes off welcomed to the arms of the daughters of Nod; the victims of nobleness rot in their blood; booty and beauty are both for him. The world festers with the wounds of the hero; but there is no cure for them: the hero is a fool-his wounds prove it. Saint Catherine has her wheel, Saint Andrew his sword, Saint Sebastian his arrow, Saint Lawrence his fire of green wood; Paul has his fastings, his watchings, his scourge, and his jail, his perils of waters, of robbers, of the city and the wilderness, his perils among false brethren, and Jesus His thorny crown, His malefactor's death; Kossuth gets his hard fate, and Francis the Stupid sits on the Hungarian throne ;-Austrian, Hungarian, German, French, Italian dungeons are crowded with the noblest men of the age, who do perpetual penance for their self-denial, their wisdom, their justice, their affection for mankind, and their fidelity to God. These die as the fool dieth. There is no hope for any one of them in a body without a soul in an earth without a heaven, in a world without a God.”
The belief, the hope, that there is a future in which the wrongs of suffering humanity will be righted, has been ploughed into the conscience of mankind by the oppression of centuries. But that men held a doctrine of future retribution for wrong-doing they would have sunk into
1 Works, vol. xi. p. 15 ; London, 1867.
despair. Theodosius ordered the slaughter of the population of a city because his statues had been defaced. Adonibezek cut off the thumbs and great toes of threescore and ten kings, and made them gather crumbs under his table; Justinian blinded the saviour of his throne. The King of Dahomey sips sugar and water whilst a hundred human beings are being massacred before his eyes, and their blood is being puddled with the blood of tigers. History paints oppression whirling its bloody lash after man, and man in the madness of his despair, flying like Orestes to the temple of God, and there sitting as a suppliant, sullen and resolute :
“Here will I keep my station and await the event of judgment.”ı
Without a belief in God, the avenger of all such as call upon Him, and a future life, in which the wicked should cease from troubling and be troubled himself in turn, man, the most down-trodden of all creatures, would wrap his mantle about his face, creep like a wounded hare into a corner, and sob to death.
The belief in a just God, and in a future state in which wrongs will be redressed, has been forced into prominence to restrain despotism. Even with such a belief the earth is full of violence, but without it she would brim over. Take
away the idea of responsibility, and the fear of future retribution, and the veriest King Log will become a King Stork.
A belief in a future of rewards and punishments has thus been a natural escape for man groaning under despotism. Under the most stinging wrongs, he will and must hope, and hoping believe, that somewhere there is One above the wrong-doer, and that at some time He will
1 Æsch.: Furies, 240.
recompense the wrong done.
done. When oppression is most intolerable the conviction of a future of retributive justice is mostly lively, but when prosperity smiles it is almost forgotten. When absolute monarchy or feudal despotism racked men wantonly, men trusted that hereafter the king and the noble would writhe in the agonies they inflicted on their subjects. When the power of the crown and of the coronet is assumed by Justice, men hope that there is no future of suffering, or believe that it is easily evaded. Thus in the times when Roman despotism had reached its acme, men burst away from the slavery popularly called citizenship, and realizing with an awful intensity the justice of God, which they imprecated on the tyrants, they fasted and tortured their bodies in dens and caves of the earth, that they might satisfy during life that Divine justice which they believed would as surely exact satisfaction for their offences, as it would wreak vengeance on the oppressor for his crimes. If we turn to later ages, when political wrongdoing is less in amount, or affects individuals less perceptibly, we find that the sense of Divine justice and the belief in future retribution fade from the religious horizon, and that faith is taught to justify and ensure a heaven, even without repentance.
The doctrine of the immortality of the soul has taken shape in different forms. Of these the prominent are—I. degeneration ; II. continuous life, unruled ; III. metempsychosis; IV. cyclical life; V. development. These systems are not, however, clearly defined; they are found to interpenetrate one another. This, indeed, is rendered necessary by the fact that each man forms his own idea of immortality, even with a revelation to give some shape to his idea ; and that the religious belief of a tribe or nation
is the fusion of a multitude of individual beliefs, out of which all the exceptional theories drop, and in which all the general ideas gather consistency.
I. The doctrine of degeneration is that, as the bodily and mental faculties decay with old age, so is the future life one of gradual loss of power, terminating in extinction. Such a theory lies at the root of those terrible customs of murdering the sick, and those who approach old age, and also of those schemes of future life of later development in which there is a Valhalla for those who die able-bodied, and a hell for those who die on the bed of sickness. The Vitians of Fiji argue that the condition after death is identical in every way with that in which man dies, during a long period, and that death arrests age and decay for a while, but that after a period they reassert their power, and drag the disembodied soul into a spiritual death. On this theory the Fiji islanders destroy their relatives and friends, and even themselves, long before the natural close of existence, in the hope of thus escaping the dishonour of entering the world of spirits in a condition of decrepitude. So rife, indeed, has grown the practice of strangulation or of burying men alive from a real wish to benefit the person immolated, that only a single instance of natural death came under the observation of Europeans during a protracted stay in one of these islands.
II. The idea of the future life being precisely like that of the present is far more common. Throughout the world at this day, and among civilized races in past ages, the notion has been prevalent that the dead live on disembodied, with all the passions, caprices, and contradictions of mortality, with no future open to them save that of continued being, with capabilities of wreaking vengeance on those who incur their wrath, and dependent on the living for the means