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But the conscience is, as it were, the nervous system of the soul. If it is not its vital faculty, — the very life of the moral and spiritual being, -it is at least the regulative faculty. When it is dead, the feelings and will may get a little remaining control from obvious convenience, or from conventional usage, or from the force of old habit; but there is nothing else to save one from ruin and death. And these mechanical forces can not renew the spiritual life. That can come only from God; and by the supposition the holiness, the purity, the self-sacrificing love of God as exampled in Christ, have been declined.
and truth which gave man a conscience is not bound to reinstate and renew it when man has dethroned and stifled it. That may be a sin unto death. And the natural penalty of the soul's death may be equally merciful and just.
Here, if I have named the true doctrine of natural punishment, I may suggest a view of artificial, or special and enacted penalty, for consideration. Is it not anticipative, - a hastening of painful results of transgression, to bring them into clearer view ? a make-weight to get the warning of nature felt and heard? When the reformation of the individual is hopeless, the punishment is justified as protecting the society, and its measure to be determined by the wise discretion of the society. The natural law of punishment still remains, as a divine law; the final execution of which may be the “ vengeance" ascribed to God (Rom. xii. 19).
§ 4. Is the Immortality of a Class unkind to Man? Here I must meet a very common objection' based on the parental feeling, and will close with one or two direct arguments.
1. It is not a hardship that one should fail to be a parent of immortality. Many persons, as deserving and as affectionate as the average, are never parents at all, and never will be unless there is marriage in the heavenly state. George Washington was the father of a country, but never of a child. It is not essential, then, to the blessedness of the saved, that they
should be able to claim certain ones as their offspring. You may say that childless saints will be strangers to certain feelings of celestial joy; perhaps they will; yet in the resources of the celestial kingdom they shall lack no supply for any noble and holy capacity of their being; the Lord is their Shepherd, they shall not want.
But to be childless, says one, is not so hard as bereavement, and loss of children. And here I encounter the whole force of the Universalist sentiment: A parent would not let a child suffer or die, if he could prevent it. If the heavenly Father, who loves us better than we love our children, allows suffering and death, it must be because he has something better in store to prove his love.
Such is the argument, offered to show that each human family must find all its members in the heavenly mansions. It seems to me inadequate, for the following reasons :
(1.) Parental affection is commonly a modification of selflove. The child is a second self. That is why one cares more for his own child than for his neighbor's. But one's desire for a child's immortality should be of as high a moral type as the desire for personal immortality. The promise is no less rigid to the child than to the parent; “To those who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory, honor, and immortality.” If, then, the parental feeling, and I may add, the feelings that lead to parentage, - which, like other qualities, may be inherited, if these are subordinate io the sentiment of piety, I do not know but one may have high hopes of reunion with the child. Something like this may be implied in 1 Cor. vii. 14. At least there is a “ christian nurture” which may devote and train the child for the higher life from its earliest infancy.
But if the parental regard is worldly, and the child is from the first devoted to and trained for the world, one can not complain if it avails no further. And even if the parent shall rise to nobler aims, and shall deplore the fruits of past ungodliness, He who is “able of the stones to raise up children to Abraham ” may grant other consolation than an unbroken family circle in the kingdom of eterna, life. To be at all a
parent of immortality is exalted honor. Is there unkindness if one is not more?
(2.) Although God is not bound, against the perversion of free will, to make each man's existence on the whole a blessing, still as matter of fact those who finally perish may have much to be thankful for. Most human beings seem to enjoy more than they suffer. And this may be true even if existence is finally lost.
may be almost a law of life that the pains of its decay should not outweigh the joys it brings. It may still be true that the failure of immortal life shall make it morally better that one had never been born. And they who perish may feel this on the same principle that disappointed lovers so often think life a curse — only with a million-fold more
I have used the phrase "parent of immortality,” but only for argument's sake. The Scriptures, I think, teach a higher parentage than human, for the immortal life. They who have
power to become the sons of God,” are “ born not of flesh, nor of blood, nor of the will of man, but of God.” God is the “ Father of spirits,” and the distinction between soul and spirit may apply in this argument.
2. The power of evil habit and of memory may render immortality burdensome. The time has been when death was deemed an emancipation from all earthly habits and minor differences of character. The good, it was thought, would be perfectiy blessed as soon as they were dead, and the bad perfectly wretched. And all the good and all the bad were respectively put on nearly the same level. In accordance with this philosophy, or lack of philosophy, some of the early Universalists regarded death as putting an end to all distinctions of character. Sin came of the body; and to be out of it was to be in holiness and in heaven.
Maturer thought has changed all that. The soul, we now think, has its own laws, as every other real thing must have; and all its changes and improvements must observe those laws. Death is no longer the panacea for all its ills. The other world may be very unlike the present; yet it may bear strong analo
gies. Fatal as its atmosphere may be to those who have rejected its life, its gentle zephyrs may not at once heal all the soul's ills. Though God works miracles at sundry times in his teaching and training of the human race, we may doubt whether there are miracles in the general economy of man's destiny. The result is, we must have some apprehensions, lest the laws of our physical and moral being may, even beyond the tomb, make death better than life.
In bodily sickness death is often preferred to the pains and weariness of slow convalescence. Just so evil habits of thought, feeling, and action, may require so long and weary a purgation on the other side, and may put one so far behind his companions in the heavenly race, that he would prefer not to tax their kindness, or seek their company. One may be so imbruted by habits of unbelief that the capacity for faith in disinterested kindness shall be gone. Cunning philosophers have doubted every such thing here; — who shall say they may not doubt there? Unhappy personal relations may fatally threaten all future happiness. The seducer may prefer never to meet the victim, all whose hopes he has sacrificed for lust. The murderer may decline the courtesies of heaven with one for whom he could find no room on earth. And if, as some have thought, the memory retains all one's past history, how many may be so burdened and stung with poignant recollections that even the freeness and largeness of divine mercy can not give them rest? I believe in God's infinite power. But infinite power can not work contradictions; and it will not disregard the laws of created being, or of man's moral nature. And if God should administer the cup of Lethe to any, and so destroy or change a part of their personal being, out of kindness, he may also, for aught we know, kindly let them die, and may fill his universal domain with those who have earlier and more fully consecrated themselves to goodness.
3. Many persons, not the worst of men, have no desire for immortality. This desire has been called natural and instinctive; and we hear of the inextinguishable love of being. But, granting that this is the rule, and that it proves the actual im
mortality of those who rightly cherish it, there are exceptions so marked as to claim attention, if not to limit the argument. And for examples I will not name those who have doubted immortality because they have never distinctly heard thought of it, but those who have lived in the midst of the sentiment.
If I mistake not, Joseph Barker, well known as having renounced Christianity, eschews all faith in an after life, and, apparently, all desire therefor. I do not think him an immoral man, though he has shared as a “reprobate ” in the honors of a book-dedication. I would not judge him, or say a word against him. I do not devote him to death. But I name him as one who has been an able preacher of the gospel ; was specially likely to fall in love with immortality; and is too acute to be necessarily prejudiced against it by what others say or think about it. He now thinks this life and its comforts are as much as any of us ought to wish or care for. I am very sure if he should die out with the rest of us, he would be the last man to complain. And I verily believe if he should be called to die only with a few followers, he would not wish to be disappointed, but would bear his peculiar fate as proudly as a hero. I may be mistaken in my man ; but are there not such?
A more noted example is David F. Strauss, the author of “The Life of Jesus,” which has made such a stir with its mythical theory. His acquaintance with the doctrine of immortality is even larger than that of Barker; but he rejects it all. In his later work, entitled “Glaubenslehre,” or the Doctrine of Faith, he concludes : “ The idea of a future world is the last enemy which speculative criticism has to oppose, and, if possible, to overcome.”
He, certainly, will not complain of death. I do not say how much such opinions may prove in the question of what will be ; but in the present question we must consult the choice and preference of men as they are — especially if they be able men, who may speak for themselves. And upon their testimony I submit whether the doctrine I hold, which is infinitely better than their wishes, is at all unmerciful.