PROOFS OF IMMORTALITY FROM REASON. REV. R. MOREHEAD, A. M.
II. TIM. 1. 10. " And hath brought life and immortality t& light through the gospel"
ROM these words it is not meant to be inferred, that, independently of the gospel, men have no intimations of a future state, but only that these intimations are dark and obscure, and that our Saviour brought this important truth into full light and certainty. On a point of so much consequence, it is useful to collect proofs
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from every quarter, from natural reason as well as from revelation ; and, indeed, it is only by comparing together those different sources of information, that we can justly appreciate the value of that
knowledge with which Christianity has supplied us.
Let us then begin with the light of nature, and see how far it will lead us to the sublime conclusion, that we are immortal beings ; that this life is but the passage to another ; and that the grave, with all its horrors, is the gate which opens on an eternal world.
Consider, first, the universality of this belief; that, in some shape or other, it is to be found among all nations ; that men have always looked beyond the tomb, and have never been able to reconcile themselves to the notion, that death was the eternal termination of their existence. Whence this belief? How should so pro-
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digious a supposition have fastened itself so closely to the mind of a being who is only of yesterday, and who to-morrow may be laid in the dust ? What is there in this span of life, which could thus lead us to presume on an eternity ? From a scene which promises so little, whence should those mighty expectations arise ?
In vain will it be said, that man is at all times chimerical ; that his imagination is ever stretching beyond the real state of his condition ; that he hopes and fears he knows not what ; and that no regular conclusions can be drawn from the extravagant opinions into which he runs. Man, no doubt, is subject to many illusions of the fancy, and perhaps seldom sees any truth clearly and as it is ; yet it is a maxim of the wise, that no opinion can gain a steady and permanent footing in the human mind, which has not some foundation in reality, with whatever errors it
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may happen to be mixed. Accordingly, the universal belief of men is considered to be a good argument in proof of the existence of God, although, no doubt, the most extravagant and foolish notions have in all ages and countries connected themselves with that belief. The truth is, that all opinions which refer to religion point at something so far above the condition of man in this world, that it is impossible to conceive how his attention should ever have been at all turned to such speculations, unless it were from the voice of nature speaking within him. How should a being who begins in weakness and childhood, who passes his best days in toil and anxiety, and who, at last, decays in old age, how should such a being ever lift his thoughts to the great overruling Intelligence, whose unceasing watchfulness regulates the govern4
ment of worlds ? How should he carry his presumption so far, as to believe that he
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shall participate in that eternal existence which he ascribes to God ? The human imagination is indeed extravagant ; but if this opinion were not founded in nature and truth, it would be such a pitch of extravagance, that it could never have derived the smallest plausibility from the most beautiful colouring of the most fanciful poet. How, then, should there be " no speech nor language where its veicc is not heard ?"
But, secondly, this opinion, that the soul is immortal, does not rest merely on
a vague and unaccountable belief; there are many circumstances which strongly confirm it. Man perceives that he has faculties greatly above his condition here. The great ends of human existence in this world might be answered by the operation of those instincts which belong to the brutes. The lower animals live, continue their species, taste of the enjoyments
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.which life affords, and then sink quietly into the dust from which they were taken. Why should man have the faculty of reason, if this part of his nature is destined to perish ? What are the mighty operations in which that faculty is employed here, that could not, in many instances,
be performed more fully by the instincts of the lower animals ? They all know the methods of acquiring their food, of forming their places of shelter, of defending themselves from their enemies, and every thing besides that is requisite for their well-being. Man knows none of those things from nature; but is gifted with a power by which he acquires that knowledge for himself. Yet he feels that this power is much more important in itself than in its effects, and that none of the uses to which he can now apply it are adequate to its extent and capacity, He feels that he is in possession of a faculty
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to whose operations his fancy can set no bounds, which is adapted for every part of the universe equally with this world in which he exists at present, and which he
cannot conceive doomed to perish, as long as the universe itself is under the guidance of reason.
But the principal argument which has at all times led men to the belief of a future state, has been founded on the observation of the imperfect distribution of rewards and punishments in this life ; of the misfortunes to which the good are subjected, and the frequent prosperity of the wicked. No one who believes in the existence of a supreme Governor of the universe, can entertain a doubt that virtue is agreeable, and that vice is hateful to him ; that he loves those who persevere in the ways of ri ghteousness ; and that he looks with abhorrence on the workers of iniquity. It is therefore reasonable to expect, that he
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reward the one, and punish the other; that the righteous will be exalted to honour, and that the wicked will be brought lo \vand debased. There are, in the present course of God's providence, many intimations that such is the plan of his proceedings: The good are certainly even now happier than the wicked, and are also, for the most part, more certainly and substantially prosperous ; but still there are very great exceptions to this general rule ; and one thing is evident, that there is never an exact proportion observed between a man's merits and his fortune. Nothing, indeed, can be clearer, than that the present life can, in no way, be reckoned a state of retribution. A state of trial it is, and frequently the virtue of good men is tried with great severity ; but if there is no future state of retribution, the trial would be in vain. This observation naturally suggests the belief, that in this
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world we see nothing more than the beginningof the divine government; that the evils permitted to fall on the good are designed to try their faith, and to strengthen their virtuous hahits ; while the advantages enjoyed by the wicked are merely delusive, and will not at all exempt them from meeting at last with the punishment which is their due.
Suppose the present life to be our all, and certainly the higher exertions of virtue have no adequate motive, It would be sufficient to live with that decency and attention to character which are necessary for our peace and security among men. A man who would give up any pleasure, or worldly good, for the sake of virtue, would be a loser by the exchange. Or, granting that virtue is always in a great measure its own reward, yet why should
a good man suffer any thing? Why should not a marked distinction be made between
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him and the wicked ? Why should the good ever have grounds for complaining, with David, " that they have cleansed their heart in vain, and washed their hands in innocency ; for all day long have they been plagued, and chastened every morning f" Why should they have occasion to be " envious at the foolish, when they see the prosperity of the wicked" that " they are not in trouble as other men, neither are they plagued like other ??icn ; therefore, pride compasseth them about as a chain, violence cover eth them as a garment ?" And what other explanation can be given to this strange appearance in the administration of God, except that which the Psalmist declares that he found ? " When I thought to know this, (he
says,) it was too painful for me; until I went into the sanctuary of God : then understood I their end. Surely thou didst set them in slippery places ; thou calledst them down into destruction ! How arc they brought into deso-
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lation as in a moment ! They are utterly consumed with terrors. Nevertheless, I am continually with thee, thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory."
In confirmation of this argument, the fears of bad men and the hopes of the good are circumstances of no inconsiderahle weight. In the midst of the greatest worldly prosperity, and while there are no grounds of apprehension from men, why should it so frequently happen that
a bad man has no peace of mind ? Why should he fear where no fear is ? Why should conscience take the alarm when every thing conspires to lull him into security ? A great crime may be committed so secretly, that the perpetrator shall have no sort of reason for apprehending detection. W^hy, then, may he not live put his life in quietness ; and when death
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at last comes to release him from the world, why should he not sink into the bosom of the earth without apprehension or dismay ? Why, but because he feels that his guilt has not been hid from every eye ; that One has seen it, from whom alone it was of importance that it should be concealed ; and that the stroke of death will not terminate his existence, but will send him trembling into the presence of
his Judge ? This apprehension alone can account for the intolerable agonies which accompany remorse. When a bad man is seized with this apprehension, he then feels, like Cain, that " his punishment is greater than he can bear" Hence it is, that examples have been found of men who, pursued by the terrors of conscience, have openly declared to the world crimes which would otherwise never have been discovered ; and have submitted to punishment in this world, with the
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secret hope that their guilt would thus, in some measure, be expiated in the sight of heaven.
The hopes of good men, under the greatest depression of outward misfortunes, point likewise at this great truth.
When a good man is forsaken by the world, and is subjected to the miseries of poverty and the loss of friends, he still finds something within which brings him consolation. It is not merely a good conscience, but it is Hope founded on a good conscience. He has an internal assurance, that however melancholy his present condition may be, there yet is something good in store for him. This hope enables him to bear up, and carries him in triumph through the storms of the world. Whence is this hope ? is it a delusion, or is it an assurance from one who cannot lie ?
Such, my brethren, seem to be the ob-
serrations which, in all ages of the world, have led men to conclude, that their ex15
istence does not close with the present scene of things. To some these observa-
tions may appear quite satisfactory, and that the subject did not require any farther light to be thrown on it ; but to others they may appear to be merely presumptions, and, after all, not very strong. If they do not strike the mind in a peculiar manner, their force, may not be perceived. There was, therefore, still room left for a revelation on this important point ; and such a revelation has been made through the gospel. The evidence for the truth of our resurrection, founded on the gospel, is extremely simple. It rests on the assurances of our Saviour, confirmed by his own resurrection from the dead. To these points I
will beg leave, on a future occasion, to call your attention.
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