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Universality of the Belief in the Immortality of the Soul.

(Continued from issue #7)

In casting a retrospective glance over the pages of history, we find that amongst those nations that were supposed to be unacquainted with revelation, they only who were simple in their manners and habits entertained ideas of the immortality of the soul at all consonant with reason. It is not to be supposed, however, that their unassisted minds could lead them to the pure founts of truth; but they gazed at it, as it were, with organs so shaded by surrounding circumstances, that they coloured and blended their ideas of the future with those of the present. Thus, the eager longing of the aborigines of the western hemisphere to join their olden warriors in the beautiful hunting-grounds beyond the setting sun, whose ideal forests rose in sublime majesty before the dim vision of the future, to chase the mighty elk with untiring footsteps—to listen to the “still, small voice” of the Great Spirit as it came breathing through the ancient woods with such a sweetness in its silent power, that it filled their souls with ecstasy at its very contemplation—to people the future with all that was (to them) bright and glorious in the present:—tends clearly to show that an ignorant people, with nothing but nature for a guide, may entertain loftier conceptions of the nature of their being, than those who bow before the splendid fabrics created by man’s conceptive genius. Even the Britons, at the time they first cowered before the ascendancy and star of Cæsar, though but barbarians in comparison with the Romans in all that related to the refinements of this life, far surpassed them in their conceptions as to what related to a spiritual one; and even at that early period gave a lesson by which modern priestcraft has profited. Of such sacred character were the Druids in the eyes of the people, that not alone what they taught concerning futurity was implicitly believed by their votaries, but they even gave up their wealth to them on their promise to refund it in the next world.*

* “Druidæ pecuniam mutuo accipiebant in posteriore vita reddituram.”—Patricius.

It has often been remarked, that the greatest proof which the human mind could have of its own immortality was the dissatisfaction attending even the realization of the most distant and brilliant hopes,—hopes in themselves seemingly beyond the reach of human attainment, yet when reached giving but a transient gleam of satisfaction to the mind, and then urging it on! still on! in the search of bliss, the ignis fatuus gleam of which is lost in the shadow of the grave, there to perish with unsatisfied desires, did not hope, scorning to share the grave of mortality, still whisper—“there are brighter fields beyond!”

If such, then, is the uncertainty of happiness here,—if our speculations of happiness to be enjoyed in a world to come are but the breathings of an unsatisfied spirit, which will only acknowledge this world as a place of sojourn,—if the universal belief of others in a future state is not sufficient to still the doubts in our minds,—if we will not adopt the belief of our fathers without a stern analysis:—let us turn once more to the pages of inspiration, and see if we find not enough there to satisfy the desires of our longing souls.

We must suppose that Adam, when placed ’mid the glories of nature in her first bloom, was gifted with all knowledge relating to his well being, and the government of the world over which he was to rule. In converse with his Creator, he must have been convinced of his own immortality. The prescience of his Maker had freed his mind from doubts of any matter that it could take cognizance of; his conceptions of the Deity, with whom his pure spirit could converse as with a father, were not darkened by the blight of sin, as are our own; he therefore must have comprehended what the penalty of disobedience (death) was, and no doubt knew that its concomitants were pain and remorse. Eve, whose mind was of a softer and more yielding nature, might have forgotten for the moment the purposes of her being in surrounding joys; and when the tempter presented her the forbidden fruit, her curiosity no doubt was as strongly excited to know how she could still live, though death was the penalty of disobedience, as it was impulsive in urging her on to that state, when “ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Her frequent converse with the Creator gave her the knowledge that He was a Spirit unencumbered with outward form: the serpent held up the dazzling lure, she might be as a god; her ambition should be gratified. She ate, and “knew the evil” of gratifying unhallowed wishes; the “good” she had forfeited, in sacrificing the gratitude due to the One who had showered unending bliss on her being, at the altar of vain desire.

If, after the act of disobedience had been fully consummated,—if, after the ejection of the first pair from Eden, they had had no knowledge of the undying nature of their Souls,—how could they have lived on through the sad reverse? Could their frail nature have endured the agony which their crime had cast over their spirits, if the beacon of hope had not cheered them on in their thorny path with the promise that a submissive spirit, endeavouring to recover and keep a steadfast hold of the line of duty, might regain that happiness which its perverseness had forfeited? Thus our ancient sages paint (in the beautiful imagery of the last) Adam as one whose head reached unto the heavens, whilst his feet rested on the earth, indicating the idea that repentance had enabled him to ascend to heaven for the bliss that his own act had deprived him of here. But the pages of prophecy are so full of the life of the soul as to convince all who search for the truth of its immortality. It may shock our sense of propriety that the soul of the pious Samuel should reanimate the clay, at the unhallowed call of the witch of Endor; still it proves to us that his soul died not with the body in which it had once dwelt; and even if the call had been unanswered, the restoration of life, at the prayer of Elisha, of the son of the Shunamite, had it been the only record, would have been sufficient evidence of this glorious truth. The minstrel king drew inspiration from the longings of his spirit; for he tells in prophetic words: “But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave; for he shall receive me.” (Psalm 49:15.) “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13.)* “For thou hast delivered my soul from death: wilt not thou deliver my feet from falling, that might walk before God in the light of the living?” (Psalm 46:13.)

* The expression “Lord of the living,” may seem to some as only referring to this life; but what little acquaintance I have with the style of the Hebrew writers, has convinced me that they never dignified this transitory state by such appellation; regarding it merely as a path commencing at existence, and leading through the gates of death to life eternal. This hypothesis, I think, will be borne out by the fact, that they termed a burial-ground (and we still call it by the same name) “בית החיים” (house of the living,) thus indicating that to attain life we must pass through the dark and silent tomb.

And what plainer language could we have than the words of Isaiah? “For thus saith the Lord unto the childless ones, that keep my Sabbaths and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; even to them will I give a place in my house, and within my walls, a place and a name better than that of sons and of daughters; I will give unto them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 46:4,5.) “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” (Ibid. 47: l5.) “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces.” (Ibid. 25:8.) “For behold, the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth shall also disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain.” (Ibid. 26:24.) “But Israel shall be saved in the Lord, with an everlasting salvation: ye shall not be ashamed or confounded, world without end.” (Ibid. 45:17.) Nor was he who was skilled in all other knowledge, a tithe of whose works, had they been handed down to posterity, would no doubt have enlightened the most scientific of the present and future ages, deficient in a knowledge at which all other is but of minor importance; for he tells us, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:7.) That this truth was acknowledged in the time of Job, we may infer from the words of Elihu; for in speaking of the Almighty he says: “He looketh upon man,and if any say I have sinned and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not; he will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light.” (Job 33:27.) Nor is the knowledge of a place of punishment withheld from us, for David assures us that “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all nations that forget God.” (Psalm 9:17.) “Let death seize upon them, and let them go quick into hell, for wickedness is in their dwellings, and among them.” (Ibid. 55:15.) To select all the passages that relate to a future state would be an endless task; but who can read the vision of Ezekiel, (37th chapter,) remembering at the same time “that the heavens and earth may pass away, but the word of God never,” Without rejoicing that he at least is one of the chosen?—that, though he may pass away, and be numbered with the things that were, still he is one of the exceeding great army of Israel; and though their “bones are dried,” and “their hope is lost,” according to the belief of the nations, their hopes will bud anew from the promise of their Redeemer? For “Thus saith the Lord God; behold, O my people! I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, and shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall we know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord.”

May we not then infer from the evidence adduced—first, that the knowledge of the immortality of the soul was revealed to mankind, whilst they were yet one family, from the fact that the ideas concerning it of three of the oldest nations of antiquity, (the Hebrew, the Persian, and the Chinese,)* with whose history we are acquainted, are very similar in their nature, if we divest the two latter of the garb of superstition? And the researches of the great Champollion, and of those who followed in his steps, would almost lead us to assert that the ideas the Egyptian people held in ages far antecedent to Moses, of the living nature of the soul, differed not very materially from our own.

* This view does not, I think, contradict the assumption in the former part of this article that these nations owed their ideas of the soul’s immortality to the Jews; for it is both possible for a thing revealed to be forgotten for a time, or so distorted as to be scarcely discernible, and then reviving in all its pristine beauty, thus asserting its undying nature. For proof of which see the 2d book of Kings, 22:13, and preceding verses.

Secondly: from the fact that those who dwell amid the magnificence of nature in her pristine state, “having such a ceaseless consciousness of immortality, that their departed friends are considered as merely absent for a time, and permitted to relieve the hours of separation by occasional intercourse with the objects of their earliest affections,”* may we not conclude that nature teaches this belief to all that inquire it of her?

* Notes to Mrs. Brunton’s Works.

Thirdly. Does not the power of thought convince us that we are more than material? To matter we may prescribe a limit, and say unto it, “Thus far shalt thou go;” but who can restrain the imagination, and say, “Thou shalt go no farther?” Laughing the lightning to scorn in its resistless speed, in an instant it has bounded past the most distant constellation, peopling the voidless space, in its onward course, with beings more bright than an infant’s dream; and ere the roar of the thunder is heard, returning with unwearied wing to solace its earthy prison-house with the sweet communions of the spirits of other spheres.

S. Solis.