[Page 3] IN the sacred books of the Persians is the account of the journey of the pure soul from this world and its reception by the holy ones in the eternal regions. Before setting out, it holds a vigil for three nights at the head of the body which it has abandoned, during which period it experiences as much bliss as all living creatures enjoy. Upon its arrival at the Bridge of Judgment, it is at once divested of the consciousness and other qualities of mind which it had derived from the material world. Immediately there appears to view the figure of a maiden, beautiful and radiant with celestial light, powerful, perfectly developed in form, noble of mien, vigorous like a youth of fifteen, fair as the fairest ones on the earth. The purified one in transports of joy and wonder salutes her as guardian, declaring with admiration: "Never beheld I one so charming". She replies: " I am thy immortal life, thy pure thought, pure speech and action, the goodness which is the law of thy whole being. Thou art seen by me in my own likeness, great, good and beautiful, as I seem to thee. I had been beloved, and thou hast made me yet more beloved: I was beautiful before and thou hast rendered me yet more beautiful. Thou makest delight more delightful, the fair yet fairer, the desirable yet more desirable; and me who sat on high thou hast exalted yet higher by thy resistance to evil, thy goodness, thy pure thought, speech and action". Then guided by her the soul enters paradise.
This vision of beatitude, this concept of the eternal life is attainable by all who rise above the illusions of sense, which like clouds and exhalations from the ground shut the heavens from our view. The eternal world of abiding reality is not afar off from any one of us. The soul, our Psyché, is able, by the power which the true philosophy has revealed, to strip off her caterpillar-shell and unfold her wings, and thenceforth become the denizen of a higher sphere. In this way, the new and more glorious existence begins. The universe then appears in a transfigured form. It had been contemplated when the clouds hid away the sun; but now our view is from an altitude far above the vapour and mist. Instead of an inert matter filling and choking up space, there is now witnessed an eternal stream of life inflowing everywhere — the original, infinite, Divine life. "Pure and holy", says Fichte, "and as near to the infinite essence as aught to mortal apprehension can be, this life flows forth as a band which binds spirits with [Page 4] spirits in one: as air and ether of the world of Mind, inconceivable and incomprehensible, and yet lying plainly revealed to the spiritual eye. Conducted by this light-stream, thought floats unrestrained and the same from soul to soul, and returns purer and transfigured from the kindred breast. Through this arcane communion the individual finds and understands and loves himself only in another; no isolated thinking, loving and hating, but only a thinking, loving and hating in and through one another. Through this arcane communion, the affinity of spirits in the invisible world streams forth into this corporeal nature and represents itself in two sexes, which, though every spiritual tie should be severed, are still constrained, as natural beings to love each other. It flows forth into the affection of parents and children, of brothers and sisters; as though the souls as well as the bodies were sprung from one blood, and the minds were branches and blossoms of the same stem. And from thence it embraces, in narrower or wider circles, the whole sentient world. Mine eye discerns this eternal life and motion in all the veins of sensible and spiritual nature through what seems to others as a dead mass. It sees this life forever ascend and grow, and transform itself into a more spiritual expression of its own nature. The universe is spiritualised to my contemplation, and bears the peculiar impress of the spirit — continual progress towards perfection in a straight line which stretches into infinity. So I live, and so I am; and so I am unchangeable, firm and complete for all eternity. For this being is not one which I have received from without; it is my own only true being and essence".
These words of Fichte are abundantly corroborated in our own experience. "It was found", says Professor Tyndall, "that the mind of man is capable of penetrating far beyond the boundary of his free senses; that the things which are seen in the material world depend for their action upon things unseen; — in short, that besides the phenomena which address the senses, there are laws and principles and processes which do not address the senses at all, but which need be and can be spiritually discerned". In this way, accordingly, we become cognisant of our spiritual nature. In more immature periods of life when the corporeal structure seemed to include everything about us, this was not so plain. But as the years accumulate and the interior faculties become more acute, the body, with all its curious organism, seems to be in some respects a thing detached from us and a little interval away. We contemplate it like any other object. It has been necessary all the while to us, and is yet able to make us keenly sensible to the discomforts of cold, pain and fatigue. We need not imagine, however, because of these susceptibilities, that our life is purely, or even chiefly, a thing of the body, or a mere corporeal existence. The psychic nature is distinct from the bodily environment, and in due [Page 5] time will ripen and become individualised apart from it. We witness the analogy to this in the vegetable kingdom. When the grain of wheat is sown in the ground and springs up, the grassy blade and stalk are vitally important, as also the ear with its growth of chaff. In due time the blossom appears and the kernel forms. All, so far, has taken place for the sake of this result. The office of stalk, leaves and chaffy receptacle comes now to an end. They do not belong any more to the grain, now that it is perfected, and are discarded as rubbish. In a corresponding manner the human soul is sown in the corruptible body and rises from it in an incorruptible form. We perceive this in ourselves as our spiritual faculties extricate themselves from the physical envelope, and so we become clothed upon with immortality. "I am immortal" says Fichte "so soon as I form the purpose to obey the law of the spirit; I do not become so".
The faith in immortality is our noblest possession. It is rooted in our being, and can never be taken entirely away from us. It is necessary in order to afford us a criterion by which to judge and determine what is right. I would shudder at the wreck which that individual would be, mentally and morally, who should really suppose that from the moment of bodily dissolution, he would totally cease to live and be. A human being, in case that such utter extinction was his destiny, would not differ essentially from a brute, or have other ethics than the wild beasts of the forest. They know no restraint upon rapacious desire, except that of bodily inability; and there would be no adequate reason apparent why he should not do like them. Mankind would thus be left without moral incentive or the wisdom which exalts the nature above the dead level of selfishness and bestiality. I have no confidence or belief in any sentiment of justice which is solely the out-growth and result of human experience. We lose sight entirely of our true selfhood when we can perceive no higher motive than selfishness, and so occupy the imagination with sensuous ideas. When Death is thus made the only reality, existence is very certain to become a burden. No matter what treasures of mind and rich jewels of character may be possessed, they cannot be enjoyed, because there is no just conception of their value. The proprietor is really as poor as the beggar at this door. There is no room for love and the other virtues in a man or a world, except there is faith in immortality. Love creates and prepares the place in human hearts for the virtues to fill.
If we would attain to the higher wisdom, it will be necessary for us to discard the limitations of superficial and empirical knowledge. The narrow understanding can comprehend no perception that exceeds its own dimensions. Some such reason as this seems to have induced many to presume that life is purely or chiefly corporeal, and limited by bodily sensibilities. This habit of reasoning, doubtless, instigated the conjecture that there can [Page 6] be no soul or intellection, except as the brain and corporeal organism exist for its development and maintenance. We may not concede to them this magnified importance. They exist solely from the life and energy which pervade them. Even the protoplasm or initial organism which we hear so much about, is such by virtue of its inherent vital principle, and even then it is not of uniform character. There is a protoplasm for every kind of vegetable production and for every species of animal. Even though it should be demonstrated, therefore, that all protoplasms had like chemical and organic constituents, and that we perceive no form of life till we have first obtained the protoplasm, nevertheless, this diversification of kingdom, race and species, disposes of the whole matter. We may relegate the entire series of phenomena to the background. The principle, the inherent energy, must transcend manifestations.
Everything that exists has its origin from a cause above and anterior to it. Its material basis is not altogether as certain and unequivocal as may be imagined. There is a great probability that the carbon, the iron, silica and potassium which are found in plants, were formed by them from elements derived from the atmosphere; and that lime and flint are animal productions, created by transforming other substance. Beds of flint exist underground at Berlin in Prussia and Petersburg in Virginia, which were the secretions of infusoria. All our lime, chalk and marble are the creation of minute animals. The corallina will deposit more lime in a single season upon their reefs than ever existed in the broadest or deepest seas. There are aerial plants which contain potassium, and there is good reason for believing that the carbon which composes our peat and coal as well as vegetable fibre, was not merely absorbed from the air, but was also derived from certain principles which scientific exploration has not yet been able to detect. I am ready to learn that gold itself is solidified sunshine which had been attracted and enwombed in a matrix of quartz. Eminent savants have assured us that all matter, in its last analysis, would be resolved into points of dynamic force. All the interminable series of material existence are then so many products of force under the direction of an omnific will. Force, being absolutely without dimension, can be nothing else than spiritual substance; and what are termed Properties of Matter are really so many manifestations of spirit. Accordingly when the elements of our corporeal structure shall have been dissolved, which once performed the office of tissue and brain, thus serving as the vehicle of mind and understanding, it does not follow that our psychic nature must perish with them. In fact, this very process of disintegration is constantly going on. The particles which aforetime made up our bodies and brains, were afterward eliminated, and their places taken by others; the vital principle which had attracted and made use of them, surviving their departure. While they [Page 7] change and pass away, this abides and never loses its identity. It thus manifests itself the greater as well as older; and we have good reason therefore to believe that it will continue when all the corporeal elements have parted from it. As the kernel of wheat does not perish when its chaffy envelope bursts, and it abandons its receptacle upon the stalk, so its counterpart, — the soul and personality — does not cease to be, when it has withdrawn from the body.
In one of the Upanishads it is related that a father, whose son was frivolous and sceptical, commanded him to bring a fruit of the sacred fig-tree. "Break it", said the father; "what do you see?" " Some very small seeds", replied the son. "Break one of them: what do you see in it ? " the father asked again. "Nothing", answered the son. "My child", said the father, "where you see nothing, there dwells a mighty banyan-tree ! "
A reply like this may be made to those who profess to doubt the truth of immortality. Perhaps it will be difficult to prove it by logic and mathematical demonstration, so that the reasoning shall appear conclusive. We are unable to cast a measuring-line over the infinite. The creations of the understanding must of necessity fall short of compassing the faculty of the understanding itself. The fact of such inability, however, does not warrant disbelief. The Australian savage has no developed capacity for mathematical science, yet this does not disprove the existence of mathematics. The child in embryo has lungs, but does not breathe, and unweaned infants cannot rear their kind; yet in both are the rudiments of the powers and functions of adult life. We, too, can enlarge the scope of our mental vision, and may yet develop faculties which we do not now suspect to exist. We are not excluded, therefore, from the hope of a more perfect knowing, nor from a hearty faith in the Infinite and Eternal, and in our own immortality as participants in the Divine nature.
Goëthe has aptly remarked that one who thinks can never quite believe himself likely to become non-existent — that he will ever cease to think and live. Thus spontaneously does every human being cherish the sentiment of an unending life. We are conscious, during the later periods of our earthly existence, that our higher ideals are yet unrealised. The conviction, the prophecy, the moral consciousness hang over the mind that there will yet be a field and opportunity in which to accomplish them. That was a true as well as beautiful saying of Charles Fourier, that every desire which God has implanted in a human soul, is his promise of its fruition. We may rest content, therefore, in the persuasion that the scope of our understanding embraces only ideas which we can yet realise.
The highest evidence of immortality, nevertheless, is of a nature too exalted and arcane to be uttered in any form of words. It is a knowledge [Page 8] which each may possess for himself, but it may not be imparted. That which is personal and subjective can hardly be rendered obvious to the perception of another individual. Thus I am unable to show to another that I am suffering pain. He must admit the fact from my own testimony solely, as interpreted by his own cognisance of like sensations. In fact, there must be a joint participation of spiritual life in order to be certain of anything beyond the evidence of one's own senses. I may know thus that my conjugal companion loves me, but I am not able to prove this to another by any kind of testimony or reasoning. Yet I am warranted in staking all my earthly future upon the fact.
It has been sagaciously affirmed that one must love before he can know that the object is lovely. By a kindred analogy, it may be declared, that in order to perceive our immortality, we must possess it first. Our own interior consciousness or supra consciousness is thus an abundant and sufficient assurance of the fact. This illustration, however, may not necessarily be extended to the individual who doubts or denies. He may not have become sufficiently matured in his interior perception to enable such cognition, or from some other cause his spiritual faculties may be dormant. It is not my province to judge him for this. He stands or falls at another tribunal; while my works as well as his, must undergo the test of fire.
What, then, let us ask, is Life ? The accepted explanation represents it as a principle that coordinates forces. The problem, however, is not unfolded, except we go further. All force is evolved from Being, and only that which subsists from itself can employ any form of coordination. Life is correspondent to light, which in its absolute purity is both invisible and incomprehensible and can only be perceived after a manner by our corporeal senses, when it has become tempered by intermingling with material substance. The inherent principle of life is Love, and the tenacity to live is correlative with its energy and intensity. The human soul is a mixture of qualities and affections. What we usually denominate sentiments are so many elements of our being. Our affections, thoughts, wishes and impulses are not accidents of our nature, but are indeed our very selves. We do not possess souls, but are ourselves souls in very actuality. Goodness, virtue and all the nobler incentives, are not mere idealities, void of essential vitality, but are essential fact and substance. Life is no mere problem of mental and physical endowment, but includes within its volume all our qualities of heart and soul. The moral nature constitutes the very substance and marrow of our being. We live by the will to live; our desire and sentiment of a continuous existence are ardent or cold, as accords with our hope, our love, our confidence in ourselves and each other. "It is to that sense of immortality with which the affections inspire us", says Henry Thomas Buckle, "that I would appeal for the best proof of a future life".
So we live, so we are, such we have always been and shall always continue to be. Immortality has its origin and foundation in the soul itself. It is no boon extended to the inhabitants of this earth, but by its inherent nature, is beyond the sphere of the transitional universe. It pertains to our essential being in the eternal region, rather than to our phenomenal existence in Time. We do not receive it, because it was always an essential of our spiritual nature. By the knowing of this we perceive and are cognisant of the infinite Verity. We apprehend our true relations as having our citizenship in the heavenly world. By this knowledge we are made pure and holy; we are enlightened and led to live and act as immortal beings.
Thus I may understand why I am to love my neighbour. We are of a common origin, alike in nature and destiny. He is as my own self, my individuality extended to another. Whatever pertains generically to me belongs likewise to him, and the Divinity which arranges my conditions also superintends his allotment. Nor do we part company at the grave, for our relationship and affinities of spirit continue as they were from before Time. Thus my faith and cognisance of immortality endow me with a right understanding of what is due to others. " It is an indispensable condition of a morality that is efficient", says Jacobi, "to believe in a higher order of things, of which the common and visible is an heterogeneous part that must assimilate itself to the higher".
Our individuality, as we exist in this sublunary world, does not constitute the whole of our being. Much that pertains to us essentially has never been developed in this life. Hence we are differentiated rather than integral, a grouping of qualities and characteristics rather than a complete essence. We are influenced by others and imbued more or less by their peculiar nature and disposition; while on the other hand, those with whom we company and whom we love and esteem, take somewhat from us in their turn. The traits which are peculiar to us are chiefly accidents of our individual mode of existence, and very often are the heirlooms of races and families to which we belong. Indeed, we have, all of us, become more or less the continuation and bodying anew of ancestors. The umbilical cord is not really divided, so long as we exist here; and we are nourished from the life and permeated with the thought of a thousand generations. We are shoots and branches of the great World-Tree, and derive sap, all of us in common, from its root.
The unexplained operations of the mind, nevertheless, may by no means be all imputed to heredity. The Rabbis tell us that several souls, human spirits, may adjoin themselves to an individual, and at certain times help, strengthen and inspire him, dwelling with and in him. They generally leave him when their work has been accomplished; but in some [Page 10] instances, an individual receives this aid all the days of his life. Oliver Wendell Holmes remarks in one of his works, that there are times when our friends do not act like themselves, but apparently in obedience to some other law than that of their own proper nature; and that we all do things both awake and asleep which surprise us. "Perhaps", he adds, "we have co-tenants in this house we live in". John Bunyan also has represented his Pilgrim as being on one occasion infested by a malignant spirit that whisperingly suggested many grievous blasphemies to him, which he verily thought had proceeded from his own mind. We witness something like this in the mesmeric phenomena, and in the contagious enthusiasm of popular assemblages. It is but a step further to acknowledge unqualifiedly the presence and agency of invisible beings. Milton assures us that millions of these are constantly walking the earth. We may not reasonably doubt, when the physical world abounds with innumerable races and genera of living beings, that the invisible region is less densely peopled; nor that we are all surrounded by spiritual entities, bodied and unbodied, that are capable of transfusing their thoughts, impulses and appetences into us. We observe something like this in our mental operations. What we denominate reasoning is the conscious endeavour of the understanding to trace out facts, their relations and correspondences. Beyond this region of the soul there is that of the intuitive intellect, more occult and apart from this world. It is not limited, like the other, to matters of experience, but is manifestly in communication with beings and intelligences that are outside of the acknowledged realm of physical existence. Such intercourse is of the eternal world, of which this material universe is but a colony. "Not when I am divorced from the connection of the earthly world", says Fichte, "do I first gain admission into that which is above the earth. I am and live in it already, far more truly than in the earthly. That which they denominate Heaven lies not beyond the grave. It is already here, diffused around our nature, and its light rises in every pure heart".
I am convinced that what is commonly recognised as insight, intuition and inspiration, is this faculty of supra conscious intelligence. It is a remembering, the reproducing and bringing into consciousness of what we knew and possessed before we became sojourners in the region of limit and change. It belongs to that sphere of being to which we are now in a manner oblivious and alien. There can be no mental activity without its aid, any more than there can be muscular action without the exercise of the will. This declaration is by no means absurd or irrational. The soul and mind, as indeed the brain itself and the entire nervous system, are antecedent to sensation; and in perfect analogy to this, the faculty of Intellection is not by any necessity a matter of consciousness. It has little to do with the brain-material, and does not oxidise or wear away its tissues. [Page 11] The individual is not wearied, but actually refreshed and invigorated by its exercise. There is an ocean of mind about us, quick and electric with life, which brings and keeps all souls in communication with each other, like the innumerable drops of water in the ocean of our sublunary world; and its currents make individual understanding, when under peculiar conditions of exercitation, receptive of ideas and thoughts which are not, in any common way, original to it. The attempt has been made to set forth that this is a physical operation performed unconsciously by the cerebral organism; but it should be cognised instead as the cerebration of the Great Universal Brain, which the writers of New Testament characterise as the Holy Spirit. "Take no thought what you shall speak", said Jesus; "for it shall be given you in that same hour by the spirit within you".
True spirituality consists in being like God, pure and holy through righteousness, and not in wonderful and extraordinary communication with denizens of the invisible region, or even with the angels of the highest heaven. Nor is it well to boast or to be elated with such experiences. To see is better than to be seen. Indeed, it is very questionable whether they may with propriety be spoken about at all. The true spouse rejoices in the possession and society of the conjugal mate, rather than in the boons and endearments that are bestowed, but speaks of none of them to any other person. Greater modesty than this is becoming in regard to these interior associations with the superior world. They should be kept close and sacred from those who have no heart to appreciate them. They are subjective and interior, supra conscious facts of the supersensuous world, which are known only as we know God, and hence may not be converted into images for others to gaze upon with empty curiosity. We are cautioned against such profanation by the assurance that swine will trample stupidly upon our pearls, and dogs will turn upon and rend us, after we have given them the holy bread that might not be thus desecrated. "The psychic man", who cognises matters of sense, Paul declares, "doth not receive the things of the spirit, for to him they are foolishness; besides, he cannot know them, because they are discerned spiritually".
For this reason we may not attempt, nor can we properly delineate the eternal world. We may cognise and be pre-conscious of it; but we are not able to comprehend it fully. It is above and beyond us, and yet is present with us; like the heaven which transcends and at the same time, nevertheless, contains the earth within it. It is spiritual and divine; but to give its altitude, its profoundness and extent is beyond our ken. We may not, however, for such reasons, circumscribe our thoughts and imagination within the limits of daily observation and experience. To withhold our eyes from the vision of the immutable and everlasting would be a suffocating of our higher nature. Nor would it be innocent or blameless [Page 12] to be willing thus to remain "of the earth earthy", when our nobler selfhood is from heaven.
Our existence in the material universe is the result of causes which we are hardly sufficient to comprehend. It may have been for the object of perfecting our individuality, and so constituting an essential means to establish our selfhood in a more complete identity. We may not doubt that it is necessary to us, and has its uses, which we may not safely forego. We should also bear in mind that it is the occupying of a certain sphere of being, rather than the mode of dwelling in it. We are really in it before our birth, or even our conception, and do not leave it by the dissolving of the body. That we seem to forsake it through this event is not enough; the condition which allied us to material nature must also be exceeded. Otherwise, like a weed which has been cut off by the hoe in one place, we will be likely to issue forth again in another.
Eternity is in no essential sense a Foreworld or Future State. It is purely the unconditioned, that which always is, which changes not. The soul is native there; and its manifestation elsewhere is accomplished by shutting itself away, so to speak, from that mode of being, after a manner as we shut ourselves from everyday life in going to sleep. It thus passes into the transitional condition, and from being permanent becomes subject to change, from being integral it is differentiated into qualities and faculties, from being eternal it is thus transformed into a being of Time. In this condition, evil — the privation of good — and the contingencies of phenomenal existence, are incident to it. Thus the corporeal environment and the other consequences which it inherits in the world of Nature, are as death and the grave, and even as hell within them, to the essential principle of life.
This is not, however, an abyss of hopeless destruction. The soul, thus enveloped and enthralled by the pains and affections of the body, is in a crippled and impotent condition, and in a manner alienated from the celestial home. Its interior rational principle is asleep. It does not, however, entirely forget. Our Ego, the nobler essence, that which we are, is beyond this region of sublunary existence, immortal and imperishable. We have a superior consciousness, a spiritual sense which-transcends physical sensibility, that awakens betimes from this dormant state, as if for the purpose of reminding us of the celestial life. Our every conception of the Good and the True is of this character. These memories, for such they are, now and then aroused, have often the vividness of present occurring. We even realise the force of the words of Schelling: "Such as you are you have been somewhere for ages".
It is true even in this world of sense that when we are in communion with a superior mind, we perceive ourselves passing after a manner beyond [Page 13] ordinary limits of thought, and coming into the All. In the longing of the spirit after that state of perfect knowledge, purity and bliss, in which it once abode, there is somewhat of the same experience. We apprehend in a degree where we belong. We attain a deeper perception and consciousness of that which really is. We become more profoundly cognisant of the eternal laws and reasons of things, which are behind as well as mingled with the endless diversity of sensible phenomena. We then find the Highest to be indeed the nearest — to be closer than the air which we breathe or the thoughts which we are thinking.
" Each 'Lord, appear !' thy lips pronounce contains my 'Here am I ! '
A special messenger I send beneath thine every sigh;
Thy love is but a girdle of the love I bear to thee,
And sleeping in thy 'Come, O Lord !' there lies 'Hear, child ! ' from me."
Many there are, however, who seem never to break the chain of illusion. They neither perceive nor understand anything which does not pertain to sensuous existence. It has been somewhat of a study with me whether the immortal principle in such persons does not return to the other world, as the rain-drops merge with the waters of the ocean, not having become fixed in any real identity. It must seem as though a being possessing immortality would cognise the fact, and that by parity of reasoning, whoever does not is not so endowed with an unending life. Nevertheless, it must be supposed that no capabilities or experiences are ever in vain. A dormant faculty may appear to be extinct, and so remain unrecognised by us, till under circumstances which we do not well understand, it shall be roused from its lethargy. No word or outflow of Divinity will return fruitless and abortive.
It may seem, however, to be a matter of wonderment to many, that if we have our origin in the eternal world, we appear, nevertheless, to have no distinct or positive memory of that fact. Whether we ever existed among men on earth, we believe rather than know for certainty. This does not prove anything adverse. It has been already remarked that the soul, upon entering the realm of conditioned existence, becomes as though asleep, unconscious of the celestial world, but dreaming, so to speak, of scenes in the material universe. The ancient sages used to teach that souls, before becoming incarnate, drank the water of Oblivion, and forgot the past, and in particular the occurrences in which they had borne a part. Several of these wise men, however, affirmed that they could recall to remembrance scenes and experiences of former life. I am disposed to regard this as possibly true. I have seen an infant that had never had a fall since birth, exhibit the liveliest apprehension of such an accident. Perhaps this terror was suggested by some invisible guardian, like the demon of Sôkratês, or was occasioned by some reminiscence of such an occurrence in an anterior term of life, which had been carried forward by the internal memory. [Page 14]
Unless we may suppose that cerebration takes place before birth, this was not possibly an action in which the brain participated. Meanwhile, the belief in a karma or influence from a former life or series of lives, affecting us for good or ill, has been universal, and had a place in every world-religion. "Who did sin", the disciples asked of Jesus, "this man or his parents, that he should be born blind ? "
The forgetting of the former life and mode of being, whatever may have been the cause, appears to have been a necessary preparation for a new term of existence. Children in like manner forget the scenes and occurrences of the first months of infancy; and even become totally ignorant respecting their parents, if they are taken away from them during this period. It may be, however, that some had attained such purity in the previous lifetime, as to be able to preserve somewhat of the former memory. Pythagoras was without doubt of that character, and I would believe the same thing of the illustrious author of the Phaedrus.
Although, however, the souls which have been prisoned in this world of sense have ceased to know about the higher life, and so are as though dead, yet this exile and death do not constitute a total separation from the heavenly world. They have some recollection of their former state of bliss, and yearn for a higher and nobler form of life. The interior spirit continues to live from above. It is no parentless evolution of physical nature, but a projection or outcome from the eternal region. Corruption is not an heir to incorruption, and that principle of our being which rises in glory, a spiritual essence, was first sown before it could experience any evolution. It was always immortal, without reference to the sensuous nature. Immortality has nothing to do with the accidents of the body. It is in no genuine sense a condition to be attained and enjoyed by reason of the phenomenal occurring of corporeal death. Such an immortality falls short of the eternal life, and is little better than a mirage of the imagination. The spiritual essence, the inward man that delights in the law of God, is the fountain of our life, and confers upon the corporeal structure all its significance. We are therefore immortal, imperishable and eternal, without becoming so. The supersensuous world is not a future state, in any essential sense of the term, but is now present and about every one of us. Our life in that sphere of being is by no means incompatible with living here on the earth. It is not necessary to lay the body aside in order to become free from the contamination of material existence. The soul may again turn toward its celestial source, contemplate it, and be at one with it, and so become spiritual and divine as partaking of Deity. Thus will it be delivered from the illusions of sense and the disturbances of passion which obscure its vision, and be exalted into the region of eternal truth, goodness and beauty. Here all things are perennial; the love of good, [Page 15] the enthusiasm of the right and unselfish motive exceed all the limitations of time and space. Whoever attains these and lives in the exercise of them, possesses life beyond the veil which separates the visible world from the greater universe, and is in very fact a son of God dwelling in eternity.
We may now understand intelligently these sayings of Jesus: "He that heareth my word and believeth in him that sent me hath life eternal; and he cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life". "He that believeth in me, even though he may die, he shall live; and he that is alive and believeth in me shall not die". The living here denoted is that of angels and the various genera of celestial beings in the eternal world. Of that region this universe is but the effigy and shadow; and of the life of that world, this sublunary life is but the apparition and dream.
"The sense by which we lay hold on eternal life", says Fichte, "we acquire only by the renouncing and offering up of sense, and the aims of sense, to the law which claims our will alone and our acts; — by renouncing it with the conviction that to do so is reasonable and alone reasonable. With this renunciation of the earthly, the belief in the eternal first enters our soul, and stands isolated there, as the only stay, by which we can still sustain ourselves when we have relinquished everything else, as the only animating principle that still heaves our bosom and still inspires our life. Well was it said in the metaphors of a sacred doctrine that man must first die to the world and be born again in order to enter into the kingdom of God".
This sacred experience is prefigured by the meeting of the soul with its diviner self at the Bridge of Judgment. The resurrection from the dead to the life eternal is denoted. It is the converse of the apostasy or abandoning of the celestial home. The Ionic philosophers, after the custom of the sages of the farther East, designated it as the metempsychosis, which though usually interpreted as meaning the transplanting of the soul from one body to another, rather denotes the transformation from the sensuous and corporeal to the spiritual life. The Hebrew Psalmist gives the graphic description: "He brought me out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay; he set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings". The soul, having become immersed in the mire of sense, and lost sight of the celestial world, is brought again to the perception of the truth, and stands erect in its native divinity, ransomed and redeemed. It is now transfigured and changed into the image of the heavenly.
The resurrection is not to be understood as a restoration from physical accident. We can afford to disencumber this subject from the gross fancies and interpretations which originate in a sensuous conception. The dead who hear and obey the divine voice are not promised any renewed pulsation of arteries and stimulating of the nervous system, but a birth into [Page 16] spiritual life. The fatal sting of death is taken away and the king of terrors is dethroned when we cease to wander from the right. The victory thus achieved relates to moral and not physical dissolution". "The body is dead through sin", says the great Apostle, "but the spirit lives through righteousness". "Ye are not in the flesh, but in the spirit". "You hath he quickened; ye are risen with him through the operation of faith". "God hath quickened us and both raised us up and made us sit in the heavenly places". These declarations shut us up to the direction: "Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God".
We have no occasion for apprehension or perplexity in regard to a judgment of the last day. The form of speech is Asiatic and highly metaphorical. The event may be regarded by those whose mental purview is bounded by time as relating to some physical crisis like the consummation of terrestrial existence, or perhaps the end of life; but in the world of mind there are no such limitations. The day of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting, always at high noon, without sunrise or sunset; it has always been, it now is, and it will never cease to be. It is a "last day" to those alone whose life and thought are still involved in corporeal nature; it is a day of judgment to those only who love darkness rather than light, and are wrong-doers. But they who have attained the pure life and the true resurrection are living all the while in the divine, eternal day. They are in the heavenly places, in beatific communion with spirits and angels, and are endowed with the perceptions, faculties and energies which pertain to the life of the eternal world. We are vouchsafed the assurance that as we live in family, neighbourhood, and society upon the earth, we may likewise sustain analogous relations with those who dwell in the celestial region. The basis of this assurance exists in our own being, and we confirm it by living in charity and doing the right. "In all moral feeling", says Jacobi, "there is a presentiment of eternity".
The life which we live as inhabitants of the eternal world is in no sense a continuance of the life which we live upon the earth. It is not a form or mode of existence, but a quality of being. It has no part in any action which is not inspired by the consideration of a result. It consists solely of the moral essentials, love, virtue and goodness. It knows no going and coming as in a region of space; there are no words for divisible conditions in the language of the gods. We have no occasion to search for any one in the heavenly world. We are in and with those whom we love, and are permeated by them through all our being. We cognise rather than recognise them. There is no space or limit to the human mind, and hence our personality possesses indefinite extension over the world of spirit. The gladness of thought, the communion of love, the beatitude of service, the ecstasy of worship, the contemplation of the divine, make up the life [Page 17] there; as they are felt and known here to be the highest of our employments.
The whole matter, however, transcends the sphere of common reasoning. It belongs to the universal faith which has been cherished alike by seers and sages. It pertains to the world of ideas, the prior realities which came with the spirit from the eternal home. Let no one, therefore, seek to intermeddle and exercise dominion over the faith and conduct of another in matters of the spiritual life. It may be our province to serve as guides and heralds of the eternal verities; but beyond that point each one must minister to himself. The truth, and not its exponent, will make us free. This liberty of the spirit, however, is no mere breaking of yokes and fetters, but an initiation and induction into the fullness of the divine life. We are not even made subject to the will of the Most High, but render to it a free obedience. Thus we are at one with the Divine Order which inspires and regulates the interior universe, and is supreme in all worlds. In this is the life eternal — being without change, participation of the Absolute Good. The celestial maiden, our pure law and inmost spirit conducts us onward, not only into Paradise, but to the very foot of the Celestial Throne.
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