Luther A Fox.

Evidence of a future life : from reason and revelation online

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of the flesh. Hume said that adultery must be
practiced if men would obtain all the advantages
of life ; that if generally practiced it would in time
cease to be scandalous, and if practiced secretly
and frequently it would by degrees come to be
thought no crime at all. Adultery if known is a
trifling thing, and if unknown nothing at all.*

* Home's Introduction.
16



362 EVIDENCE OF A FUTURE LIFE.

These conclusions would become at length uni-
versal, and private virtue and public order would
go down into horrible ruin.

The judgment of philosophers as to the effect of
the loss of faith in future retributions is verified by
experience. Not every individual who abandons
hope of another life carries out his principles to
their ultimate consequences, because character is
largely moulded before these speculations begin ;
but in nearly all cases there is a deterioration.
Sometimes it happens that one, more reckless than
the others, applies his new faith in its fullest extent
to his own life, and exhibits in himself all the stages
down to complete degradation. We are sometimes
shown in one character the various steps through
which society will go on its way to destruction.
We have such a case in Bahrdt, the German ration-
alist. He went, as he himself tells us, to Geissen
as yet very orthodox. His belief in the divinity
of the Scriptures, in the direct mission of Jesus, in
His miraculous history, in the Trinity, in natural
corruption, in the justification of the sinner by lay-
ing hold of the merits of Christ, and especially in
the whole theory of satisfaction, seemed immovable.
He had explained to himself a little better the work
of the Holy Spirit so as not to exclude man's



PRACTICAL RESULTS OF DISBELIEF. 363

activity. He had limited a little the idea of orig-
inal sin, and in the doctrine of atonement he had
endeavored to uphold the value of virtue. In the
doctrine of the Holy Supper he was more Reformed
than Lutheran. But he fell under the influence
of rationalism, and dropped point after point of his
orthodoxy. His moral character soon began to
retrograde. By tricky management he secured his
election to a professor's chair. He used his posi-
tion for the purpose of sneering at the Church and
good men of the past. He criticised the Bible.
He spent his evenings in gambling and in houses
of prostitution. He devoted his brilliant powers
to the purpose only of making money. He lost
his position in Leipsic, and after years of wander-
ings he settled in Halle, where his scandalous con-
duct drew sympathy from the public to his neg-
lected and abused wife. He died from the effects
of his excesses. In Bahrdt we have a lamentable
illustration of the demoralizing and destroying
power of a want of faith in immortalit5\

We see the effects best in successive generations.
In Rome during the earlier centuries, the civic
virtues were marked features of the public char-
acter. Lucretia dies rather than seem an adulteress.
Regulus goes voluntarily back to Carthage to suffer



364 EVIDENCE OF A FUTURE LIFE.

the most refined tortures rather than violate a
promise. Fabricius scorned the offer made by the
physician of Pyrrhus to destroy the great enemy of
Rome. Cato was grave, and by his severe guard-
ianship of the public morals lives in history as the
Censor. There was decline in public character
with the widening conquests and the consequent
introduction of wealth and luxury. The moral
tone of society was lowered, and Epicurean phil-
osophy found an entrance. Lucretius clothed it in
the fascinating dress of elegant poetry. The de-
cline became rapid, and from the time of Augustus
the moral condition of the people was horrible.
The historical students of that period all agree as
to the extreme degradation. The shamelessness
of the prostitutions of the court indicates the public
feeling. The palaces of Caligula, Claudius, Nero,
Vitellus, Domitian, Commodus, Heliogabalus, and
a number of others, were a disgrace to humanity.
Paul has given a picture as it appeared from
common fame to a Christian, and one blushes to
read it. That account is confirmed by satirists.
Juvenal, Lucian and Perseus paint it in as dark
lines as Paul. Christianity introduced a new life,
and retarded the progress of the festering sore in
the heart of the empire, but could not prevent the



PRACTICAL RESULTS OF DISBELIEF. 365

fall. The great statesmen, like Trajan, Aurelius,
Diocletian, Constantine, Julian, Justinian, Theo-
dosius the Great, struggled ineffectually against the
tide. Rome became a prey to the arms of the
barbarians. That the want of faith in future retri-
butions was the sole cause, or the great proximate
cause, no one can maintain; but that a strong sense
of that fact would have wrought a great change, if
not complete reformation, is evident from the
Christians who lived in the midst of the corrupting
influences.

For an example in modern times we turn to the
French Revolution, where the principles of mate-
rialistic philosophy found an opportunity for full
play. That Revolution on its political side was
the result of the Bourbon despotism, but it was
aggravated and maddened by atheism. The change
was inevitable, but it might have taken place as
quietly as it did in England, but for the ideas scat-
tered by the encylopedists. Materialism is respon-
sible for the Reign of Terror. The movement com-
menced as purely political, but soon manifested an
extravagance in passion which revealed a false spirit
animating it. As the movement advanced, the
hidden cause of excesses became more and more
open, until at length it boldly announced itself in



366 KVIDENCE OF A FUTURE LIFE.

the atheistic festival held at Notre Dame. The
leaders were atheists, and they inspired the multi-
tude to deeds of madness by the cry, *' Death is an
eternal sleep." The foundations of society were
torn up. Women vied with men in coarseness and
brutality. Suspicion was a sufficient reason for
imprisonment. Summary trials, mocking justice,
were followed by immediate execution. Plighted
faith was empty, and the most sacred ties were
ruthlessly broken. Life was cheap. Marat called
for five hundred heads, then forty thousand, then
two hundred and fifty thousand. Crowds escorted
the victims to execution with insults and demoni-
acal shouts. The wheels of the guillotine were
never still, and the secret dagger was constantly
busy. No age nor sex was safe. Old men, women,
maidens and babes, were butchered. The river
was thick with bodies, and the air was foul from
the unburied dead. Suicide and madness were
common, and fear hung over all. The story of
that day sickens us.

The triumph of materialism would not bring
ordinarily such wholesale destruction, but it would
feed the passions, and expose us to commotions,
and induce maddened ferocity in every extraordi-
nary excitement. Reigns of Terror would be com-
mon.



PRACTICAL RESULTS OF DISBELIKF. 367

The loss of faith in another life diminishes the
sum of happiness. Without this faith every life,
except of a few vicious persons who dread eternal
sufferings, must be made poorer, and most lives
would be miserable.

That it diminishes happiness follows from the
fact that it diminishes morality. Happiness is not
the end of morality, but is so closely connected
with it that a large school of philosophers, known
as utilitarians, have thought of the two- as one.
They believe that right is good because it is useful.
In the order of nature they are so generally associ-
ated that Utilitarianism has many strong facts to
support it. Vice may have momentary enjoyment,
but not happiness. Immorality must bear its
penalty, and it always leaves the heart not only
unfilled, but dissatisfied. If the want of faith in a
life beyond death undermines moral character, it
must to the same extent darken the present life.

It degrades love. If we are to be annihilated at
death, we are only animal. We may be somewhat
higher than the brutes, but after all our dignity is
fictitious. Human nature as it appears in the in-
dividual has very little worth. The feelings of
either pleasure or pain in a being whose existence
is so short, is unimportant to any one but himself.



368 EVIDENCE OF A FUTURE I.IFE.

Any one may regard every other person as valuable
so far as lie is necessary to his own pleasure, but
there is nothing in himself that should make him
an object of concern. Personality is without
sacredness. Humane feelings are fanaticism. "I
may enslave my fellow if I need him. I may leave
the fallen in his degradation. I am under no
obligation to pity the miserable. I must get
through my brief day as comfortably as I can, and
if prudence demands I may respect laws; but if I
am strong enough to defy all order, I am free to do
so. Nature whispers that is all wrong and false,
but as she disappoints my instincts in regard to a
future life, why should I pay attention to this?'^
Selfishness is enthroned. Ivove is only animal
passion and a mask. Society is a herd. In the
tomb of love lies happiness also; and love must go
when man ceases to appear worthy of rational re-
gard.

Faith in a future life, even when it is not strong
enough to curb all the vicious passions and save
from the sufferings of immoderate and sinful in-
dulgences, may still be strong enough to add some-
thing to the light of life. An immoral man, or an
immoral age, may not be as wretched as they
would be without this hope. Rousseau gave a



PRACTICAI. RESULTS OF DISBEI.IEF. 369

shameful picture of himself, but he was borne up
from utter despair, as he himself testified, by his
belief in a future life. So with Byron. In his
darkest pictures there is detected behind them a sus-
taining hope. The court of Charles II. of England,
led on by the king himself, was gay and dissolute.
Reaction from the unnatural restraints of Cromwell
brought loose reins to indulgence. Cheerfulness
was the law, and when not felt must be assumed.
But moral restraint though widened was not utterly
abandoned. It was not an infidel circle. In their
frivolity they did not seriously consider the full
claims of that hope upon moral conduct, yet the
hope gave buoyancy to their life. They accepted
the view of life formed upon the belief in immor-
tality, and it lingered with them as a light for
hours of darkness. If the king and his court could
have been stripped of that faith, a paralyzing gloom
would have settled upon them, or they would have
sought to drown all sober thought in a wilder
indulgence. The imperious Louis XIV. did not
care to make his licentiousness respectable by ban-
ishing religion and its hopes from his palace.

There is an instinctive love of existence which
materialistic philosophy antagonizes, and, there-
fore, creates unhappiness. Mere death is regarded
16*



370 EVIDENCE OF A FUTURE LIKE.

as a great evil. While it seems to be distant we
are indiflferent; but when sickness comes, or our
circle is invaded, we cannot drive away the dark
shadow which it throws around us. As age creeps
on, the certainty of approaching death increases.
Only a very few can think of dying without shud-
dering. We all most profoundly pity the con-
demned who looks to an early day when he must
die. But if death were known to be annihilation,
its terrors would be immeasurably increased.
Bereft of the hope of awaking beyond death in
another world, the miseries of the sick, the aged
and the endangered would be inexpressible.
Apathy more than stoic would be necessary to
meet it with composure.

We cannot get rid of sympathies altogether, no
matter how low our philosophical view of our
fellow men, and these sympathies must make us
sometimes think upon the condition of the world.
But if we suppose that this life is all, the evils that
everywhere thrust themselves before us must make
us miserable. The words put by Mrs. Browning
.upon the lips of Romney are not too strong;

** I was heavy then
And stupid and distracted with the cries
Of tortured prisoners in the polished brass



PRACTICAI. RESULTS OF DISBKUEF. 37 1

Of that Phalarian bull, society,

Which seems to bellow bravely like ten bulls,

But if you listen, moans and cries instead

Despairingly, like victims tossed and gored

And trampled by their hoofs. I heard the cries

Too close : I could not hear the angels lift

A fold of rustling air, nor what they said

To help my pity. I beheld the world

As one great famishing, carnivorous mouth, —

A huge, deserted, callow, blind bird-thing

With piteous open beak, that burst my heart

Till down upon the filthy ground I dropped

And tore the violets up to get the worms.

* Worms — worms, ' was all my cry ; an open mouth,

A gross want, bread to fill it to the lips.

No more. That poor men narrowed their demands

To such an end was virtue, I supposed.

Adjudicating that to see it so

Was reason. Oh, I did not push the case

Up higher, and ponder how it answers when

The rich take up the same cry for themselves,

Professing equally, — 'An open mouth,

A gross need, food to fill us, and no more.'

Why, that's so far from virtue, only vice

Can find excuse for it ! that makes libertines

And slurs our cruel streets from end to end

With eighty thousand women in one smile,

Who only smile at night beneath the gas." *

Such thoughts must press themselves upon us
* Aurora Leigh.



372 EVIDENCE OF A FUTURE LIFE.

and bligHt the "violets" which grow along life's
pathway, and mingle gall with every cup. With
Schopenhauer we must regard the world as the
worst possible, and sympathize with the hermit
who fled as far as possible from it.

Voltaire's uncertainty as to a future life made
him often turn to the evils of the world. He said,
*' Strike out a few sages, and the crowd of human
beings are nothing but an assemblage of unfortu-
nate animals, and the globe contains nothing but
corpses. I tremble to have to contemplate once
more the Being of beings in casting an attentive
eye over this terrible picture. / wish I had never
been born^ The thought of man as only mortal
was too painful for him, and he cherished hope.
* ' The box of Pandora is the most beautiful picture
of antiquity. Hope was at the bottom." Pliny,
the elder, was thoroughly imbued with the skepti-
cal opinions of his age, and the expression of his
feelings for man became deeply pathetic. ''All
religion is the offspring of necessity, weakness and
fear. What God is — if indeed he be anything dis-
tinct from the world — it is beyond the compass of
man's understanding to know. But it is a foolish
delusion which has sprung from human weakness
and human pride to imagine that such an infinite



PRACTICAL RESUI.TS OF DISBKUEF. 373

spirit would concern Himself with the petty affairs
of men. It is difficult to say whether it might not
be better for men to be wholly without religion
than to have one of this kind, which is a reproach
to its object. The vanity of man and his insatiable
longing after existence have led him also to dream
of life after death. A being full of contradictions,
he is the most wretched of creatures, since the
other creatures have no wants transcending the
bounds of their nature. Man is full of desires and
wants that reach to infinity and can never be satis-
fied. His nature is a lie, uniting the greatest pov-
erty with the greatest pride. Among these ^ so great
evils^ the best thing God has bestowed 07t man is the
power to take his own life. ' ^ It is not much won-
der that men have declared a preference for super-
stition rather than such enlightenment. ''I would
rather," says Richter, "dwell in the dim fog of
superstition than in the air rarified to nothing by
the air-pump of unbelief, in which the panting
breast expires, vainly and convulsively gasping for
breath."

Bereavements take rank among the most pain-
ful experiences of life. They come to all hearts.
Every death brings sorrow to some circle, and
every grave is bedewed with tears. Christianity,



374 EVIDENCE OF A FUTURE LIFE.

b}^ inspiring hopes of another life and a resurrec-
tion of the body, has soothed these sorrows and
proved herself the great benefactress of mankind.
Materialism, by robbing of this hope, intensifies
the pain and immeasurably augments the sum of
human suflfering. We may see what the loss
would be by taking some historic examples of
Christian patience, and then picture to ourselves
what the grief must have been without that faith.
We will take strong men, whose literary and social
resources and wide-extended labors would have
enabled them to divert their attention and avoid
the blow.

Martin I^uther, in 1642, was called to experience
the loss of a dearly loved daughter, who died in
the bloom of her youth. While she was sick, he
said: "I love her dearly; but, O God, if it is Thy
will to take her hence, I shall be content to have
her with Thee." ^'Ivcnchen, my daughter," ad-
dressing the sick girl, ''you would like to remain
with your father here, and still you would like to
depart to the Father beyond." She answered,
"Yes, my dear father, as God wills." While she
was dying he wept bitterly and prayed for her sal-
vation. He looked at her as she lay in her coffin,
and said, "O, dearest lycnchen, you will arise



PRACTICAL RESULTS OF DISBELIEF. 375

again and shine like a star — yes, like the sun. In
my spirit I am joyful, but according to the flesh I
am full of grief: the flesh will not be content; the
separation pains me exceedingly. It is strange
that although she certainly is at rest, we are yet
so sorrowful." Turning to those who mourned
with him, he said: " I have sent a saint to heaven;
O that we could have such a death ! I would wel-
come it this very hour." In a letter to a dear
friend he expressed himself grateful, amid his
tears, for her happy escape from the temptation of
life.

Semler, whose influence over the rise of the Ra-
tionalistic movement was so great as almost to en-
title him to be called the father of it, like lyuther,
was bereft of a daughter. It was the more afilict-
ive because it followed so soon after the death of
his dear wife. He describes it with his own pen.
*' About nine o'clock I again pronounced the bene-
diction upon my dear daughter. With a breaking
heart I lay down to sleep a little. She sent for
me, and thus addressed me, ' Pardon me, my dear
father, I am so needy, and do help me to die with
that faith and determination which your Christian
daughter should possess. ' My heart took courage,
and I spoke to her of the glories of the heavenly



376 EVIDENCE OF A FUTURE UFE.

world which would soon break upon her. She
sang snatches of sweet songs. When I addressed
her, * My dear daughter, you will soon rejoin your
noble mother,' she answered, 'Oh, yes! and what
rapture will I enjoy!' I fell down at her bedside,
and again committed her soul to the enduring and
almighty care of God. I left her, thinking she
might last considerably longer, but was suddenly
called from my lecture, when I committed her
grand spirit to God, who gave it, and closed her
eyes myself. My bitter grief now subsided into a
calm affliction and a sweet acquiescence with the
wise will of God. Now I know the real joy of hav-
ing seen a child die so calmly, and of feeling I had
some share in the training that could end so tri-
umphantly."

Millions have wept and rejoiced as Luther and
Semler did, feeling a real joy that the loved ones
had gone to await their coming. After the words
**Dust to dust," the language of the service, re-
peating the assurances of another life, has fallen
upon the ear of the mourning world as the sweet-
est music. Blot them out, and who can measure
the loss to humanity?

Not many cases of bereavement without the
hope of another life have been recorded. They



PRACTICAL RESULTS OF DISBELIEF. 377

are so unnatural, so cold and rigid, seemingly so
destitute of feeling, or they are so full of despair
and anguish, the pen hesitates to describe them.
Not many cases occur. Materialistic faith breaks
down before the face of a dying friend. It was
at his mother's death Hume said he believed
like other people. A brilliant lecturer in our own
day, who professes atheism and denies a future
life, could, at the grave of his father-in-law, talk
beautifully but heartlessly of the noble life, gone
as the fragrance of a withered flower or as the
song of a dying bird, but as he stood by the coffin
of a tenderly-loved brother he spoke of the de-
parted life as a river with which his own would
one day be reunited, and then they would flow on
serenely and sweetly together forever. Not until
we are animalized and love crushed will the heart
cease its instinctive testimony at the side of the
grave.

When we apply the test of practical results, the
evidence is not doubtful. Even though we were
not able to detect the errors in the logic of mate-
rialism, yet we know that a doctrine must be false
which belies the dignity of man, turns virtue into
sagacious prudence, undermines the social order,
petrifies the heart, and exhibits the Creator as the



378 EVIDENCE OF A FUTURE LIFE.

creature of caprice and injustice. But a faith that
inspires the highest aspirations after worthiness of
character, secures the deepest happiness, harmo-
nizes man with the order of the world, is conso-
nant with the instinctive utterances of his own
nature, and gives greatest glory to Him who
formed the world, must be trug. This life cannot
be all. We are not flashes between two nights of
nothingness. The body dies, but we live forever.



THE END.



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Online LibraryLuther A FoxEvidence of a future life : from reason and revelation → online text (page 19 of 19)