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The natural argument seems to me against the supposition. In the year 1800 I was not, to the best of my knowledge. Since that time my consciousness has been evoked and my experiences have been accumulated. I do not see that I have any natural ground for claiming the future any more than the past,-other than my conviction that it is or ought to be so—a conviction which is sometimes strong and at other times weak, as in the experience of many others.
I have seen many human consciousnesses put together, like my own. They were at one time represented by the unconscious life of ova. By and by they got sense, intellect, will, conscience, experience.
But I have seen many consciousnesses taken to pieces also; they lost the senses to a great extent; the intellect and of course the conscience, with the will, were enfeebled, almost lost, and the experiences of life so erased that the wife forgot her husband, the mother her children.
The natural conclusion would be that this gradual decay ends in extinction. The question might well be asked, whether the individuality, so nearly lost in this world, is likely to be restored by the destruction of the organism. I hope and trust that my feelings are right, which tell me that this world demands a complement.
One thing is certain : it is impossible to disprove the reality of a future life, and we have all the right to cherish the hope that we may live again under more favourable circumstances, and be able to account for these preliminary arrangements, which, as a finality, are certainly unsatisfactory.1,
1 From letter to John Lindley, 1867.
Life is never monotonous, absolutely, to me. a series of surprises to myself in the changes that years and repining, and it may be a still further process which I need not name, bring about. The movement onward is like changing place in a picture gallery—the light fades from this picture and falls on that, so that you wonder where the first has gone to and see all at once the meaning of the other. Not that I am so different from other people—there may be a dozen of me, minus my accidents, for aught I know-say rather ten thousand. But what a strange thing life is when you have waded in up to your neck and remember the shelving sands you have trodden !1
I, like you, am an optimist-not quite so confident, perhaps, but still living in the habitual trust that this life is a school, the seemingly harsh discipline of which will be explained when we get into one of the higher classes. I dare not say that we are sure of this, but it is the only belief which makes life worth living. Some,
say that they are as sure of a future life as of this—but many good people speak more modestly and hesitatingly. They hope; they trust; they encourage the belief; live in it and die in it. . . . As to the terrible disadvantages — bad blood—neglected education, evil example, etc., to which so large a fraction of mankind are submitted, all that is a reason to demand, as well as expect, a future state, if the world has a moral Governor.2
My creed, as I said in my book of ten years ago, is
1 From letter to J. R. Lowell, 1877.
to be found in the first two words of the Pater Noster. I know that there is a great deal to shake it in the natural order of things, but my faith is strong enough to stand against all the untowardness of the blind elements amidst which we are placed here, and out of which our earthly tabernacles are shaped.
I see no corner of the Universe which the Father has wholly deserted. The forces of Nature bruise and wound our bodies, but an artery no sooner bleeds than the Divine hand is placed upon it to stay the flow. A wound is no sooner made than the healing process is set on foot. Pain reaches a certain point, and insensibility comes on —for fainting is the natural anodyne of incurable griefs, as death is the remedy of those which are intolerable. ... I have got just as far in my creed as I had ten years ago; namely, as far as those first two words of the Pater Noster. There are difficulties, I know; but it appears to me on the whole :
1. That the Deity must be as good as the best conscious being he makes.
2. That it is more consonant with our ideas of what is best to suppose that suffering, which is often obviously disciplinary and benevolent in its aim, is to be temporary rather than eternal.
3. That if the Deity expects the genuine love and respect of independent, thinking creatures, he must in the long-run treat them as a good father would treat them.
4. That to suppose this world a mere trap, baited with temptations of sense, which only Divine ingenuity could have imagined, with the certainty that the larger part of the race would fall into it, and that to the tortures of a very helpless, ignorant, ill-educated being
is to be added the cruellest sting of all, that he brought it on himself, does not seem a probable course of action on the part of “Our Father.”
5. When I, as an erring mortal, am confronted with Infinite purity, it appears to me an absurdity to talk of judging me by that standard.
God made the sun too strong for my eyes, but he took care to give me eyelids. He let the burning alldevouring oxygen into my system, but He took care to dilute it with four-fifths of nitrogen. And a fellowcreature tells me that after this world, where all these provisions are made, where all accidents are repaired, or attempted, at least, to be repaired, there is to be another, where there are eyes without lids, flame to breathe instead of air, wounds that never heal, and an army of experts in torture in the place of that everpresent God whom I used to call “My Father." I only say it does not seem probable to me.
DR. JOHN BROWN (1810–1882) ) IN N these days nearness to God is getting rarer and and unless we are near,
we are in God, we are without Him, we are far from Him,away in darkness and cold, feeling less and less the attraction of His infinite Godhead.
Go on expressing yourself regarding the mystery of evil and misery, evolving the mystery of goodness, and happiness,--of God in Christ reconciling a whole world to Himself, and therefore to itself. I have been thinking
1 From letter to Harriet Beecher Stowe.
much lately of Jacob's wrestling with the angel till the dawning of the day, and being blessed and gaining the unutterable Name only when touched in the hollow of the thigh and made to feel his own nothingness : “when I am weak, then am I strong.” 1
All true morality merges in and runs up into religion ; all true religion blossoms and breathes out into morality, and practical and immediate goodness and love. What is the whole duty of man but his entire special morality; and what is man's whole duty ?-love to God and love to man, not excluding himself as being a man.2
THACKERAY.. (1811-1863) I
WAS thinking about Joseph Bullar's doctrine after
I went to bed, founded on what I cannot but think a blasphemous asceticism, which has obtained in the world ever so long, and which is disposed to curse, hate, and undervalue the world altogether. Why should we? What we see here of this world is but an expression of God's will, so to speak—a beautiful earth and sky and sea, beautiful affections and sorrows, wonderful changes and developments of creation, suns rising, stars shining, birds singing, clouds and shadows changing and fading, people loving each other, smiling and crying, the multiplied phenomena of Nature, multiplied in fact and fancy, in Art and Science, in every way that a man's intellect, or education, or imagination can
1 From letter to a friend, May 6, 1864.
2 From letter to Principal Shairp.