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If a Man Die, shall He Live Again ?
Of all the questions that have ever agitated the human mind, that which we have placed at the head of this article is the most momentous. It touches whatever is dear and precious in life, and whatever is dreary and dark in the thought of utter non-existence. The facts with which we have to deal in the outset, are, simply, there is death in the world, and it has thus far passed upon all men, The generations of the past have lived their little day of labor and rest, of suffering and enjoyment, and the great Reaper has gathered them as sheaves in his harvest. They have looked upon the mystery of death, and every one of them has asked with absorbing interest, “If a man die, shall he live again ?" And so it is with those that now live. We look back upon the valleys of bones that moulder amid the ruins of the past, and upon the graves that are green around us, and to the most giddy worldling of us all the thought will come, “ Man dieth, yea be giveth up the ghost. And where is he ?” Where are the myriads of those that have gone before us? Where are the “ loved and the lost" that have gone down to the land of shadows? Where shall we be, when a few more years shall have passed, and the night of death shall settle down upon the day of our earthly existence? These are the questions upon which we would shed some faint rays of faith and hope in the present article. In approaching the subject thus indicated, there are two obstacles that meet us at the outset.
1. We are reluctant to walk by faith, and apt to demand knowledge; and thus, in an attempt to grasp too much, we lose all.
Let it therefore be distinctly understood, that the question of life beyond the grave is not a question of human science, but purely of faith. The law of our being is, that the inferior cannot grasp the superior. Ten thousand angels may be around us at every moment, but those higher natures commune not with our organs of sense
those “ forms unseen” meet not these material eyes. Our senses were given us for the purpose of placing us in perceptible contact with the material universe, and not with spiritual natures. If spirits would be known to us at all, they must reveal themselves, and the appeal must needs be to faith and not to sight. Hence no man knows, no man can know, of an absolute certainty, that the dead live; much less can any man know that, dying, he shall live. To each one of us the life beyond death, if it be a fact, is future, and of the future, even of to-morrow, we know nothing. All the past, save only the little fragment that has come under our personal experience, is accessible to us only by faith. Of the present, except that which is within the sphere of our observation, we know nothing ; and in reference to the whole boundless future, the Creator has so made us that we must “ walk by faith.” Not one item of positive knowledge has any man of the events of the next hour or the next minute. But men are not willing that it should be so in regard to the question of future life. Here they demand knowledge. Hence we often hear men asserting that they have examined the question, “If a man die, shall he live again ?" and have come to the conclusion that no one knows any thing about it, for it is all a matter of faith, and they pass it by as a fiction. Such persons sometimes give ihemselves airs, as if they had made an important discovery. They went into this work of investigation determined to be satisfied with nothing short of positive knowledge, and they have found out after much study and reflection that it is all a matter of faith? But this is the very point where they should have begun. If they had looked into the New Testament, they might have seen, in the outset, that it never prosesses to give us knowledge in the premises, bot always challenges faith. To one man only has it been given to fathom the mystery and solve the problem of death and come back and testify of the future life. This one was the man of Nazareth ; and as for the rest of us, we must " walk by faith," or be all our life-time “ subject to bondage.” The alternative of skepticism is badly chosen. The man who rejects the idea of life after death, because it is a matter of mere faith, ought to manifest his consistency by rejecting every idea of to-morrow; for he no more knows what will take place on that day, than he knows what may come after the body dies. Whatever relates to the next hour is as truly a matter of faith as that which relates to the ages of the future. For want of this distinction, it often happens that a " little learning is a dangerous thing." The flippant tyro in philosophy is apt to imagine that he has full and free access to the fountains of knowledge in all things, so that he can solve all prob. lems and understand all mysteries. Failing in this, he will not fall back on faith, but claims the right to be skeptical. But the wise and the prudent early learn that the sphere of knowledge is extremely limited and narrow, and they accept the law of their being, and are content to believe where they cannot know.
It is no arbitrary enactment of the Creator which places all that relates to the future life in the region of faith. The field of our investigation must necessarily have its metes and bounds, from the fact that we are limited and conditioned in time and space. Some things we can test and prove by actual demonstration. We can melt gold in a crucible, and thus determine whether it is pure or otherwise. We can submit material things to a chemical analysis, and determine their properties and elements. We can measure distance and quantity by numbers, and prove the correctness of our conclusions by mathematical demonstration. But there is no crucible or analysis or mathematics by which we can thus test the validity of life, present or future. We cannot weigh it in scales, or melt it in a furnace, or dissolve it in a medium; nor can human science go one line beyond the veil ihat intervenes between this world and that which lies beyond the grave. All that region belongs of necessity to the domain of faith, and by faith alone is it accessible.
2. We encounter here another difficulty in the general impression, that material, visible and tangible things constitute the realities of the universe, while things spiritual and invisible are shadowy and unsubstantial.
It is obvious at first thought that we are so made, as naturally, and perhaps unavoidably, to imagine that we have mostly to do with things tangible to the senses. Our bodies are made of material substances, and have many wants continually clamoring and imperiously de. manding a supply. They are exposed to the vicissitudes of the elements, and to the laws of their organic structure. Cold and heat, hunger and thirst, are ever busy, and must be guarded against. "Moreover, the senses are the most ready avenues of approach to the soul, and a good share of the ideas that reach our minds comes through the medium of our material organism, and is suggested by the visible and tangible things around us. We move and act, and breathe and live, amid the visible and sen. sible things of the world. The murmur of the breeze and the howling of the storm; the crash of the thunder; the resounding waves of the ocean as they break up on the shore; the roar of the mighty forest when swept by the furious wind; the coming up of the great sun in the east, and his going down in the west ; the moon and the stars that look down upon us through the shadows of the silent night; the movements of the clouds which are spread like curtains over us, or are piled up like huge mountains in the distance, and all the operations of the countless forms of matter,—these are the things that constantly press upon our senses. We hear them, we see them, we feel them, for they are ever with us; and hence we naturally enough come, practically at least, to regard them as the real entities and the substantial realities of the universe ; while all things invisible are deemed shadowy, ethereal and unreal.
If we talk to a man of houses and lands, of wheat and corn, of iron and coal, of gold and silver, of railroads and ships and steamboats, or of goods and merchandise, he listens to us with eager interest ; and he has faith in us, because as he thinks we are talking about the realities of the world, and we give him tangible things that he can grasp and hold fast. But if we talk to him of God and immortality, or call his attention to the spiritual and the invisible world, he does not know about that. He has never seen it; he has never heard it, or handled it. There may be a reality about it, and there may not. It is an ethereal matter altogether. He suspects it is the creation of imagination, and somewhat akin to "the stuff that dreams are made of.” He is afraid it is not real and substantial. Though, perhaps, he may give a nominal assent to the truth of what we say, yet he does not more
than half believe that the things presented are real enti. ties; and as positive existences as a dollar or an eagle.
To this feeling, even philosophy has contributed, and science itself has become skeptical. To this end the cul. tivation of the physical and exact sciences has in a great measure tended. Philosophy has busied itself properly with the material universe ; for, behind that, science can never go. But it has been so busy, and has met with so much of success, that it has become a little vain of its own powers, and in some measure ignored the invisible realities that exist beneath all forms and appearances; and imagined that the forms themselves are the essential reality of things.
Chemistry, for instance, would take the great globe into her laboratory, and melt it in a crucible, and imagine that thus all its properties and powers had been tested, and its essence and validity demonstrated. Hence, for the time being, it becomes skeptical of the reality of any thing that it cannot reach by analysis.
Botany goes out into the grand old forest, or upon the flowery lawn. It marshals the sturdy veterans of the wilderness in groups and companies, and calls them by names, and makes the dress they wear a uniform to determine their rank. It cuts down the stately oak, or plucks the fragile flower, and dissects them both; and when it is has laid bare every fibre and tissue of their organization it imagines that its wisdom is complete, and thinks not of the silent, the invisible, and the mysterious forces which underlie and terminate all forms, and by whose external verity it was, that the oak came forth from the acorn, the flower from the seed.
Geology goes forth with its pick-axe and spade, its auger to bore, and its hammer to smite, and penctrating layer after layer of the crust of our old mother earth brings up in fossil the inhabitants of other ages, and makes the ghastly skeletons of the dead tell their names and rehearse the story of their birth and life. It smites the old gray rock that lies in silence embosomed in dust and encompassed with the rubbish of ages, and finds in its bosom the urn where are deposited the ashes of life, that lived in the far distant epochs, when the earth was new and but half delivered from the womb of chaos.
Wilgery lawnes out into this