13 MAY 1882, Page 9


IT is difficult when reading a paper like the dreamy, and in parts touching, "Pilgrimage," in this month's Macmillan—a vision of a soul just entered upon the Elysian Fields—not to discuss for a moment with oneself whether any- thing can be postulated about the life immediately after death, whether anything can be affirmed which, a future state being granted, must, whether to the reasoning human being or to the Christian, certainly be true. Christian theologians, and espe- cially the more thoughtful of them, have rather avoided the subject, perhaps satisfied that on that side there is no gate for the mind, perhaps unconsciously affected by that tradition of. the Elysian Fields which, of all the imaginings of the older world, has lasted longest in its direct influence, which governed Dante, touched indirectly Bunyan, and today, as auy one who reads Macmillan will see, dominates, the inner thought of the most recent dreamer on the subject. Hundreds of minds have thought out and discussed the probabilities of a future state, for one which has coldly reasoned on the conditions which, the Chris- tian theory being accepted, that future state must involve. Yet the subject is of the last interest to every human being who accepts the theory of continuous life, so interesting, that to many men it seems a'S if the one grand imperfection of the Christian revelation was its failure to lift this veil; and that if that revela- tion were ever supplemented by another, the main Abject of that other must be to give speculation upon this change some definite base. [It would not be so, probably, for one dimly sees, or thinks one sees, that what Man wants most is some new impulsive force, and that the strongest would be some revelation of that infinite Purpose in the puzzle which all feel instinctively to exist, yet all strain in vain to discern. We should all want to help on the Purpose, if we knew it, or be conscious of rebellion in not wanting.] And yet dim as the outlook is, there must exist some postulates which can be accepted, and very nearly proved, if not entirely by reason, at least by what seems evidence to Christians.

For example, a future life must involve continuity with this-. life, for otherwise it is not a future life at all, but only another life. The view which, to my great surprise, I have so fre- quently ascertained to be secretly held, that the spirit cannot perish any more than matter, but that it can and does merge itself in some general reservoir of spirit, to be used again, as matter is used, for new and, so to speak, disconnected purposes—as phosphates may become part of corn, and thence of a human body—may conceivably be true; but if it is true, then the future life, in its theological acceptation,. is not to come. That life, to be a life such as Christians dream of, must be a continuance, in some way, of this life, must allow of unbroken consciousness, and therefore, as the first attribute of such consciousness, of some kind of abiding memory, some sort of sympathy with the former self and its surroundings. The extent of the connection may be indefinable, or even inexpressible, but it must exist, or continuity ceases, and when we speak of a future life, we are only misusing words, as we should be if we said that the future life of a good dog was manhood. The chasm between doghood and manhood, so far at least as we can understand the former, is perfect, and in crossing it, continuity of being would cease at once to be. This postulate, if it is true, and I cannot even conceive how it can be false, is most important, for it involves this corollary, that the great change cannot at first be infinite, or even very great. The popular notion, derived, we suppose, from a misconception of the Transfiguration, that man can at once become " an angel "—a kind of subordinate god, or being all supernatural— is inconsistent with continuity, and with strong sympathy for the thoughts or the persons of the previous life. The difference in powers, in energies, in knowledge, in aspirations, would be too great, as great as if an animal had become a man. For, recollect, the argument in favour of the idea that no time elapses between the one condition and the other, is very strong. There is no evidence of the intermediate " sleep" for which Hawthorne sighed, and for which so many a tired spirit has sighed since, while there are these two elements of evidence against it. Any kind of childhood in the new world, of a slow growth from unconsciousness to con- sciousness akin to that which occurs in this world, involves the inadmissible breach of continuity. There may be indefinite growth or improvement, but the soul must recommence its career conscious of the point at which it left off, or the chasm opens at once between the two states. And, moreover--though this argument is valid only with the Christian—Christ, in one of the extremely few sentences in which he seemed to lift or tear a corner of the veil, distinctly repudiated long delay, and promised to the repentant thief that the great change should occur for him, and indeed be perfected, before the next sun rose. That might be an individual grace, or even an act of sovereignty, like the forgiveness to the paralytic; but it is more probable that it was an indication of the general truth, for the benefit of Man. The balance of evidence, for the Christian at least, is strongly in favour of instantaneousness of change ; and that by itself, the law of continuity being granted, limits the amount of change.

The condition of a rigid limitation in the amount of change must, we conceive, be granted, with the endless deductions which might be drawn from it,—such as that effort, the one attribute belonging to man which cannot pertain to God, cannot reasonably be supposed to cease, without such a change of character as would make continuity a phrase ; and there are other limitations yet. There is an assumption, tacit or avowed, in all discussions on this subject, that time will cease in the future state,—that, in fact, time is a mere attribute of this planet ; but what does that mean, if it does not mean a confusion between time and the method of recording its pro- gress ? The author of the "Pilgrimage" makes a soul in the spirit world say there " is no yesterday here," but what mean- ing is implied in that P If the meaning is only that the measure- ment of time usual on Earth has ended, it is simple enough ; but if it is that time has ended, it is wholly without justifica- tion. There must, for created beings, be a past, and therefore a present and a future, and in those words are contained the whole of the radical conception of Time. Its measurement matters nothing. The absence of limitation in that respect would imply self-existence, and so would its absence in respect of form and locality. The spirit, however endowed, must have shape, or it would be infinite, and place, or it would be omnipresent, and duty, or obedience would be impossible, in a degree inconsistent with any con- ception we can form of the relation of the created to the Creator. We cannot work out here in a newspaper article the inevitable deductions from those limitations ; but any one who can see their necessity can see also the degree in which they modify the popular and most vague conception. It is a life, not a mere condition of being, to which we are born again ; an embodied, though not a fleshly, existence ; with duty pressing, and all that this implies ; and effort to make, and all that that implies ; and affections in full force, and all that arises from these also,—the idea, for example, of society, with its endless ramifications. That the embodiment may be glorified is true, but only so far as to leave existence continuous ; that happiness may be increased is true, but only so far as to leave duty and effort intact; that know- ledge may be enlarged, is true, but only so far as to leave the mind still a wind, and not a new, uncomprehended force. The most pious upon this last point use the most confusing

language. They say we shall " know God," and then, in the same breath, pronounce Him infinite. Are we to be infinite, too, do they think P—because, if not, the difference between the finite and the infinite will, however the finite may advance in knowledge, remain as great as ever. It is an absolute sequence of the law of continuity, if once accepted, that advance should be slow, in any world whatever, and made stage by stage end- lessly, it being a self-evident truism that the finite cannot catch up the Infinite,—a thesis worked out by the old Hindoo theologians through the most extraordinary anthropomorphic illustrations. That knowledge will be increased—increased perhaps suddenly and enormously, as it might be even in this world, by new discoveries of essential material laws, like gravi- tation, or by a new and accepted revelation from above,—may be admitted ; but the limitations on such increase are definite and sharp. Beyond an indefinable point, they would destroy con- tinuity.

But then I shall be told even this limited being is to be capable of perfect happiness. Where is the proof of that, or how is that consistent either with continuity, or recollection, or the continuance of duty and effort, both of which imply pressure P Happiness may be increased, more especially as the momentary flash of existence which men now call "life " fades away ia the dis- tance, and even an enormous increase is intelligible. Without sin, without fear, without doubt, and with a highly increased percep- tion of the purpose of finite life, increased, at least, till the pur- pose is intelligible, and obedience therefore enthusiastic, even this world would be no place of pain ; and in that, some other con- ditions may be altered for the better ; but perfection in happi-

ness is no more for the finite than perfection in love or power. It would imply absence of impelling motive ; and why should

motive be absent in that world, any more than in this P The motive may be loftier, more impelling, more constant ; but it must exist, and, existing, cannot be consistent with that perfec- tion of content which is the popular conception of true happi- ness. The early Christians may have dreamed dreams in the conceptions of "angels," over which they lingered so lovingly that the personality of their embodied dreams has remained real through ages, but there was teaching in the instinct which induced• them to describe the highest created beings of which they could conceive as only the " messengers " of God. The liberated soul will not, men may be sore, reach angelic bliss for a while, if only, as the " Pilgrim " hints, because it has known

sorrow and sin ; and even in that bliss, the old conditions, finite- ness, duty, effort, with all their inevitable consequences, must, perforce, enter. The worried American Senator who hoped for a world in which " there should be no editors, and less friction,"

may find his first aspiration realised, perhaps ; but the second implies that volition shall alOays be executive, which can no more be granted to the loftiest spirit than to man, else God

would cease to rule. The volition of a finite being must be limited, and limitation by itself implies disappointment, even if we make, as I should not, the nnphilosophical concession that one who is created can be incapable of error.

It is a dreamy subject, rather, perhaps, beyond discussion, even in these columns ; but it is getting discussed everywhere, in more or less imaginative forms, and I want to point out that, if ever the discussion is to be useful, or, so to speak, scientific, the presence of limitations of a kind recognisable by earthly minds must be assumed. Otherwise, speculation, however Christian, must either be wearisomely vague, or tend to that ideal of useless content which has pervaded the world so long, and which, we may be sure, if abstract reasoning is of any value at all, is the conception of futurity furthest from the truth. Anything may be true or false, if no data are conceded; but if any are, and more especially the Christian data, men may rely on it the Penitent Thief is doing something, and not existing in a state made up of the Greek idea of the Elysian Fields and the Buddhist idea of Nirvan.