Page images

and when men began to philosophize by hypothesis and system, it was eagerly inquired upon what foundation in nature the belief of the soul's immortality could rest; and this inquiry gave rise to the various disquisitions concerning the substance of the soul, which have continued to exercise the ingenuity of the learned to the present day. It was clearly perceived, that if consciousness, thought, and volition, be the result of any particular modification of matter and motion, the living and thinking agent must perish with the dissolution of the system. And it was not less evident, that if the being which perceives, thinks, and wills, be not material, the mind of man may subsist, after the resolution of the body into its component particles.

The former of these notions has been embraced and maintained by our modern materialists, with a pertinacity worthy of a better cause; while the latter opinion, which we believe to be unquestionably the true one, has been as firmly upheld by their opponents, and with more powerful arguments. The ceaseless energies and contemplations of the mind, sufficiently indicate the existence of an immaterial essence ; while its peculiar pleasures and pains, in which the body, though it sympathizes, never par. ticipates, prove its perfect independence on the corporeal frame. That such a soul, therefore, may perceive and think, and act; and that its powers of intellection may have a wider range, than when they were circumscribed by a corporeal system, which permitted their action upon external objects only through five organs of sense, is certainly possible. And the argument by which the materialists pretend to prove it not possible, is one of the most contemptible sophisms that ever disgraced the page of philosophy. To affirm, that because our intellectual powers in their embodied state, seem to decay with the system to which they are united, the mind, when set free, must therefore have no such powers at all, is equally absurd as to say, that because a man, shut


in a room which has but one window, sees objects less and less distinctly, as the glass becomes more and more dimmed, he must in the

open air be deprived of the power of vision. Yet of such a nature are the arguments to which those are obliged to resort, who believe the mind of man 10 result from, and be dependent upon, an organized system of matter. It is not our design in this place to enter upon those arguments, by which the incorporeal and distinct nature of our vital principle is supported. This will form matter for some discussion in our subsequent pages. Let it suffice to observe now, that if the usual natural and moral arguments are insufficient of themselves to demonstrate the immortality of the soul, they give, at least, such a high degree of probability to the doctrine, that insensible indeed must that man be who slights their intimations, and lives without any reference to a future state, into which, we know, upon the highest authority, he can only carry the essential elements of his being, and where “every work will be brought into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” · Our plan in this essay will be, I. To state more particularly the source of the opinion concerning the future existence of the soul. II. To investigate

the evidences in favour of this point which arise from the deductions of reason. And III. To examine the proofs for this doctrine, which are contained in the Old and New Testaments

I. The source of the opinion concerning the future

existence of the soul. .

We have already stated that the immortality of the soul was the general belief of all nations, both savage and civilized. The few exceptions to this, upon record, are hardly worth noticing, especially when we find it remarked,* that some of them to whom these exceptions refer, were in so low a degree of savage barbarity, as not to be acquainted with the use of the bow and the sling, and as not know. ing how to wield a club, or to throw a stone, as a Weapon of defence. * To explain the phenomenon of this universal impression, is, perhaps, not very difficult, since it was unquestionably a notion derived by tradition from primeval revelation. That the progenitors of the human race must have been inspired by their Creator with the knowledge of their immortality, and of every thing necessary to their everlasting welfare, cannot, we should think, be questioned by any who believe that the world had a beginning, and that it is under the government of justice and goodness. The progress from sense to science is so slow, that, however capable we may suppose the earliest inhabitants of this earth to have been of making philosophical dis

See Robertson's History of American

coveries, we cannot believe that the Father of mercies left his helpless creature to discover for himself his future existence. Death, when first presented to him, must have been a ghastly object; and had he been left without any hope of redemption from it, he would undoubtedly have sunk into listless despondency.

But a prospect of immortality is so pleasing to the human mind, that if it was communicated to the first man, it would, of course, be cherished by his posterity; and there is no difficulty in conceiving how it might be handed down by tradition, to very remote ages, amongst such of his descendants as were not scattered over the face of the earth, in small and savage tribes.

In the course of its progress, it would frequently be new modelled, by the ever active imagination, and, at last, many absurd and fantastic circumstances would, doubtless, be combined with the original truth, that death puts not an end to human existence,

Others are inclined to believe, that, independently of any tradition, mankind might be led by certain phenomena, as dreams and ghosts, to form some conjectures of a future state. They observe that although a few individuals, perhaps, may be, yet it seldom happens that the whole individuals of any nation are exempt from dreaming. They observe, too, and this observation is founded on experience, that the images of the dead are, from the remaining impressions of memory, frequently summoned up in the fancy; and that it appears from all the languages of rude nations who pay the greatest attention to their dreams, and who speak of seeing the dead in their

visions, that these images have always been taken by them for realities. Nay some, and even the learned and celebrated Baxter is of the number, are disposed to doubt whether these appearances be not something more than mere illusions of the brain. But whether they really be so or not, one thing is certain, that all nations in all countries, in the darkest ages and the remotest periods, are accustomed to dream; and whether sleeping or waking, in the stillness of the night, in the gloom of solitude, in the fondness of friendship, in the rovings of love, the delirium of fever, and the anguish of remorse, to see and converse with the shades of the departed.

From these phenomena, which have been so common in all countries, and in all ages, what would mankind naturally infer? Would they not infer, that there is something in the nature of man that survives death, and that there is a future state of existence beyond the grave ? Are not still many specimens of this reasoning preserved in the ancient poets? And is it not thus that Achilles reasons, after imagining that he saw the ghost of his friend Patroclus ?

'Tis true, 'tis certain : man, though dead, retains
Part of himself; th' immortal mind remains :
The form subsists without the body's aid,
Aerial semblance, and an empty shade!
This night my friend, so late in battle lost,
Stood at my side, a pensive, plaintive ghost;
Ev'n now familiar, as in life he came,-
Alas! how different! yet how like the same.

Homer's Iliad, Pope's translation.

Book 23, line 121.,

II. Having now seen the source of the opinion concerning the future existence of the soul, and

« PreviousContinue »