Who was he that in this awful situation seriously and calmly made such a declaration, and as if he actually gave it full credit ? It is an idea, which on the brink of departure, scarce ever enters but into the wild ravings of delirium, and it is only in the hey-day of life and spirits, with death at an imagined distance, and hardly soberly thought of, that such an extravagant and improbable doctrine can have strength to maintain a belief or to prompt the infidel's song :

“ Death is but dreamless, endless sleep;
Those who are wept, and those who weep,
From the cold grave to which they go,
Rise never more to joy or woe."*

Mr. Dick, in the introduction to his “Philosophy of a future state,remarks that—“To treat a subject so interesting and momentous, with levity or indifference—to exert all the energies of the soul in the pursuit of objects, which a few years at most will snatch for ever from their embrace—and never to spend one serious hour in reflecting on what may possibly succeed the present scene of existence, or in endeavouring to find some light to clear up the doubts that may hang over this important inquiry, and to treat with derision and scorn, those who would direct them in this serious investigation-is not only foolish and preposterous, but the height of infatuation and madness.”

The life of man, on an average, is little more than thirty years, and as there are (according to the latest estimate) one thousand millions of human beings on the face of the earth, it will be found, by a very simple calculation, that at the rate of ninety-one thousand three hundred and twenty-four of our race die every day! Every hour that passes over our heads, about three thousand eight hundred immortal souls go out of this world, and a greater number come into it, to inhabit mortal bodies in their room, as the population of the earth is on the increase. A consideration which should show the ne

* De Rancè, a Poem, by the Rev. J. W. Cunningham.

censity of preparation for yielding our places to others, and for joining the invisible flight of spirits which are continually leaving the earth; for no one can tell, but that the next moment, his soul may be called on to become one of the number. Yet few apply the warnings which daily pass before them, to their own case ; forgetting that when the rich fool said—“Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” “God said unto him—Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee”! There have been instances of circumstances apparently trivial in themselves, and nowise unknown before, that have caused the mind to consider with a new and deep attention the truths of death, and have in consequence led to a change of life in preparation for it. Guerricus, a celebrated divine, hearing the fifth chapter of Genesis read, wherein are recounted the sons and descendants of Adam, in these terms : “The whole life of Adam was nine hundred and thirty years, and he died; the life of his son Seth was nine hundred and twelve years, and he died ;” and so on of the rest ; began to think with himself, that if such, and so great men, after so long a time, ended in death, it was not safe to lose more time in this world, but imperative on him to prepare for a future state to which he must soon inevitably remove.

Life flies away like a morning rapour,

When it rises before the beams of day;
Life burns out like an evening taper,

That sinks and expires with the night away.

“With me,” said Bonaparte, “immortality is the recollection left in the memory of men. That idea prompts to great actions.

It would be better for a man never to have lived than not to leave behind him traces of his existence.” Which declaration is as much as to say, that in as far as the person himself is concerned, death closes all consciousness for ever; the soul, if there be one, perishes and dissolves, perhaps into air, as the body visibly does into dust; or, that the matter of which the body is composed has a sentient or

thinking faculty impressed upon it, and acts in some incomprehensible way of itself.

“In returning from the field of Marengo to Paris, Bonaparte said exultingly to Bourrienne, Well! a few more events like this campaign, and I may go down to posterity.' 'I think,' replied the latter, ‘that you have done enough already to secure great and lasting fame.'-'Yes,' answered he, 'I have done enough, it is true. In less than two years I have won Cairo, Paris, and Milan; but for all that, were I to die-to-morrow, I should not at the end of ten centuries occupy half a page of general history. He was right. Many ages pass before the eye in the course of half an hour's reading; and the duration of a reign, or of a life, is but the affair of a moment. In an historical summary, a page suffices to describe all the conquests of Alexander and Cæsar, and all the devastations of Timur and Gengis Khan.”* How ineffably more sublime are the prospects which may be cherished of immortality, and in which we ourselves may act a part, than those of such fame as that contemplated by Bonaparte, in which we have no farther connexion beyond a remembrance at times by those upon earth, whom (after a few years elapse) we never knew, and who were not even in existence in our days. What are the most splendid actions, the greatest conquests, or works of earthly magnificence to the glory we might look forward to share in a future life! Well might Lord Byron say of a conqueror's fame arising from his victories :

“ What is the end of fame? 'tis but to fill

A certain portion of uncertain paper."

Although all should feel a wish to leave a good name behind them, yet it should principally be in reference to their own immortal welfare and happiness.

“I am of opinion,” says Addison, “that so useful and elevated a contemplation as that of the soul's immortality, cannot be resumed too often. There is not a more improving


* Bourrienne's Memoirs of Napoleon.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

A simt ar aer23 ut fier1 2 Tika Comfy Pair," Lu-Larm in het mire sfocus CORETIRE 11 -3 min." be says, “that icterest *** sz s is and frequentisasi ez eseme i roze and indistinct toeges RSS zind of most Christians, ret teeze 2-4 TEST INT VIN atas concerning a future state ise tambias, but even inconsistent with the ta derree, as to give proof that they can never bare pary speciaz reflected or inquired on the scan. I am not spending of such as (for reasons easy to be presses & DA HI to think about the next life; but of those who profess to derive comfort from the thought, and yet whose ideas are so confused and contradictory, that it is plain how little they can have suffered their minds to dwell on it.”_“ And many persons again are perplexed as to the interpretation of certain passages of Scripture, or with the conclusions which science

petator, No. 210.

+ Lecture I. p. 28. London, 1830

has established : when all the while, those notions are in fact no part of the Scripture doctrine of a future state, but have been founded merely on the bold assertions of uninspired men.”

Although the generality of mankind seldom or ever endeavour to know the immediate state which death is to open to their souls, yet there are many others who have directed their studies to this inquiry, as the references in this work will amply prove; but, differing as they do, it is far from an easy task, particularly for a layman, to ascertain what is best founded, yet I seek on this account no leniency in theological criticism, in excuse for error, and I will show none while endeavouring farther to establish what many pious men conceive to be the truth revealed relative to this point. Were I bringing forward only my own opinions or interpretations of Holy Writ, I might well hesitate and feel diffident of their reception, but I have little new to offer on any of the great questions discussed, and all the merit I can claim is that of impartial research, and giving a fair consideration to the arguments on both sides ; testing every important doctrine involved in the subject, by its power of confuting all others opposed to it. Several of the works quoted are scarce and little known, while few but clerical readers are much acquainted with many of those mentioned in these pages. I refer to no writings as conclusive authority, save to those which Christians acknowledge to have been divinely inspired, but it is also necessary to inquire into and illustrate popular opinions, and those by men whose sentiments are justly valued, which can only, in many cases, be learned by having recourse to very miscellaneous literature. I have adopted no opinion without the most mature consideration of the arguments urged in support of all the views which have been taken on any point considered : I should therefore hope, these opinions will not be treated lightly at first by those who have previously thought little on the subject, although they may appear at variance with preconceived ideas. It has been well remarked, that Solomon has expressed, in a very striking manner, the leading features of the man who

« VorigeDoorgaan »