THE LIFE EVERLASTING
Let us now consider the life which we can look forward to with certainty after death, and the moral government of the world here on earth.
If we could hear the leaves complaining to one another that they must die, and commiserating the hardness of their lot in having ever been induced to bud forth, we should, I imagine, despise them for their peevishness more than we should pity them. We should tell them that though we could not see reason for thinking that they would ever hang again upon the same-or any at all similar-bough as the same individual leaves, after they had once faded and fallen off, yet that as they had been changing personalities without feeling it during the whole of their leafhood, so they would on death continue to do this selfsame thing by entering into new phases of life. True, death will deprive them of conscious memory concerning their now current life; but, though they die as leaves, they live in the tree whom they have helped to vivify, and whose growth and continued well- being is due solely to this life and death of its component personalities.
We consider the cells which are born and die within us yearly to have been sufficiently honoured [sic] in having contributed their quotum to our life; why should we have such difficulty in seeing that a healthy enjoyment and employment of our life will give us a sufficient reward in that growth of God wherein we may live more truly and effectually after death than we have lived when we were conscious of existence? Is Handel dead when he influences and sets in motion more human beings in three months now than during the whole, probably, of the years in which he thought that he was alive? What is being alive if the power to draw men for many miles in order that they may put themselves en rapport with him is not being so? True, Handel no longer knows the power which he has over us, but this is a small matter; he no longer animates six feet of flesh and blood, but he lives in us as the dead leaf lives in the tree. He is with God, and God knows him though he knows himself no more.
This should suffice, and I observe in practice does suffice, for all reasonable persons. It may be said that one day the tree itself must die, and the leaves no longer live therein; and so, also, that the very God or Life of the World will one day perish, as all that is born must surely in the end die. But they who fret upon such grounds as this must be in so much want of a grievance that it were a cruelty to rob them of one: if a man who is fond of music tortures himself on the ground that one day all possible combinations and permutations of sounds will have been exhausted so that there can be no more new tunes, the only thing we can do with him is to pity him and leave him; nor is there any better course than this to take with those idle people who worry them selves and others on the score that they will one day be unable to remember the small balance of their lives that they have not already forgotten as unimportant to them-that they will one day die to the balance of what they have not already died to. I never knew a well-bred or amiable person who complained seriously of the fact that he would have to die. Granted we must all some times find ourselves feeling sorry that we cannot remain for ever at our present age, and that we may die so much sooner than we like; but these regrets are passing with well-disposed people, and are a sine qua non for the existence of life at all. For if people could live for ever so as to suffer from no such regret, there would be no growth nor development in life; if, on the other hand, there were no unwillingness to die, people would commit suicide upon the smallest contradiction, and the race would end in a twelvemonth.
We then offer immortality, but we do not offer resurrection from the dead; we say that those who die live in the Lord whether they be just or unjust, and that the present growth of God is the outcome of all past lives; but we believe that as they live in God-in the effect they have produced upon the universal life-when once their individual life is ended, so it is God who knows of their life thenceforward and not themselves; and we urge that this immortality, this entrance into the joy of the Lord, this being ever with God, is true, and can be apprehended by all men, and that the perception of it should and will tend to make them lead happier, healthier lives; whereas the commonly received opinion is true with a stage truth only, and has little permanent effect upon those who are best worth considering. Nevertheless the expressions in common use among the orthodox fit in so perfectly with facts, which we must all acknowledge, that it is impossible not to regard the expressions as founded upon a prophetic perception of the facts.
Two things stand out with sufficient clearness. The first is the rarity of suicide even among those who rail at life most bitterly. The other is the little eagerness with which those who cry out most loudly for a resurrection desire to begin their new life. When comforting a husband upon the loss of his wife we do not tell him we hope he will soon join her; but we should certainly do this if we could even pretend we thought the husband would like it. I can never remember having felt or witnessed any pain, bodily or mental, which would have made me or anyone else receive a suggestion that we had better commit suicide without indignantly asking how our adviser would like to commit suicide himself. Yet there are so many and such easy ways of dying that indignation at being advised to commit suicide arises more from enjoyment of life than from fear of the mere physical pain of dying. Granted that there is much deplorable pain in the world from ill-health, loss of money, loss of reputation, misconduct of those nearest to us, or what not, and granted that in some cases these causes do drive men to actual self-destruction, yet suffering such as this happens to a comparatively small number, and occupies comparatively a small space in the lives of those to whom it does happen.
What, however, have we to say to those cases in which suffering and injustice are inflicted upon defenceless [sic] people for years and years, so that the iron enters into their souls, and they have no avenger. Can we give any comfort to such sufferers? and, if not, is our religion any better than a mockery-a filling the rich with good things and sending the hungry empty away? Can we tell them, when they are oppressed with burdens, yet that their cry will come up to God and be heard? The question suggests its own answer, for assuredly our God knows our innermost secrets: there is not a word in our hearts but He knoweth it altogether; He knoweth our down-sitting and our uprising, He is about our path and about our bed, and spieth out all our ways; He has fashioned us behind and before, and "we cannot attain such knowledge," for, like all knowledge when it has become perfect, "it is too excellent for us."
"Whither then," says David, "shall I go from thy Spirit, or whither shall I go, then, from thy presence? If I climb up into heaven thou art there; if I go down into hell thou art there also. If I take the wings of the morning and remain in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there also shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say peradventure the darkness shall cover me, then shall my night be turned into day: the darkness and light to thee are both alike. For my reins are thine; thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. My bones are not hid from thee: though I be made secretly and fashioned beneath in the earth, thine eyes did see my substance yet being unperfect; and in thy book were all my members written, which day by day were fashioned when as yet there was none of them. Do I not hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? and am I not grieved with them that rise up against thee? Yea, I hate them right sore, as though they were mine enemies." (Psalm CXXXIX.) There is not a word of this which we cannot endorse with more significance, as well as with greater heartiness than those can who look upon God as He is commonly represented to them; whatever comfort, therefore, those in distress have been in the habit of receiving from these and kindred passages, we intensify rather than not. We cannot, alas! make pain cease to be pain, nor injustice easy to bear; but we can show that no pain is bootless, and that there is a tendency in all injustice to right itself; suffering is not inflicted wilfully, [sic] as it were by a magician who could have averted it ; nor is it vain in its results, but unless we are cut off from God by having dwelt in some place where none of our kind can know of what has happened to us, it will move God's heart to redress our grievance, and will tend to the happiness of those who come after us, even if not to our own.
The moral government of God over the world is exercised through us, who are his ministers and persons, and a government of this description is the only one which can be observed as practically influencing men's conduct. God helps those who help themselves, because in helping themselves they are helping Him. Again, Vox Populi vox Dei. The current feeling of our peers is what we instinctively turn to when we would know whether such and such a course of conduct is right or wrong; and so Paul clenches his list of things that the Philippians were to hold fast with the words, "whatsoever things are of good fame"-that is to say, he falls back upon an appeal to the educated conscience of his age. Certainly the wicked do sometimes appear to escape punishment, but it must be remembered there are punishments from within which do not meet the eye. If these fall on a man, he is sufficiently punished; if they do not fall on him, it is probable we have been over hasty in assuming that he is wicked.