William Ellery Channing.

The complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction online

. (page 65 of 169)
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higher life, the doctrine both of reason and
revelation, be brought to bear more power-
fully on the mind, to become more real and
effectual? Various methods might be given.
I shall confine myself to one. This method
is, to sedc some clearer, more definite con-
ception of the future state. That world seems
less real, for want of some distinctness in its
features. We should all believe it more firmly
if we conceived of it more vividly. It seems
unsubstantial, from its vagueness and dim-
ness. I think it right, then, to use the aids
of Scripture and Reason in forming to our-
selves something like a sketch of the life to
come. The Scriptures, indeed, give not many
materials for such a delineation, but the few
they furnish are invaluable, especially when
we add to these the lights thrown over futu-
rity by the knowledge of our own spiritual
nature. Every new law of the mind which we
discover helps us to comprehend its destiny ;
for its future life must correspond to its great
laws and essential powers.

These aids we should employ to give dis-
tinctness to the spiritual state ; and it is par-
ticulariy useful so to do when excellent
beings, whom we have known and loved, pass
from earth into that world. Nature prompts
us to follow them to their new abode, to in-
quire into their new life, to represent to our-
selves their new happiness ; and perhaps the
spiritual world never becomes so near and
real to us as when we follow into it dear
friends, and sympathize with them in the im-
pro\'ements and enjoyments of that blessed
life. Do not say that there is danger here
of substituting imagination for Truth. There
is DO danger if we confine ourselves to the
spiritual views of Heaven given us in the
New Testament, and interpret these by the
principles and powers of our own souls. To
me, the subject is too dear and sacred to
allow me to indulge myself in dreams. I
want reality ; I want truth ; and this I find
in God's word and in the human soul.

When our virtuous friends leave the world,
we know not the place where they go. We
can Xmhx our eyes to no spot in the universe
and say they are there. Nor is our ignorance



here of any moment. It is unimportant what
region of space contains them. Whilst we
know not to what place they go, we know
what is infinitely more interestmg, to what
beings they go. We know not where Heaven
is, but we know Whom it contains, and this
knowledge opens to us an infinite field for
contemplation and delight.

I. Our virtuous friends, at death, go to
Jesus Christ. This is taught in the text.
•' God raised hhn from the dead, and exalted
him to Heaven." The New Testament always
speaks of Jesus as existing now in the spiritual
worid ; and Paul tells us that it is the happi-
ness of the holy, when absent from the body,
to be present with the Lord. Here is one
great fact in regard to futurity. The good, on
leaving us here, meet their Saviour; and this
view alone assures us of their unutterable
happiness. In this world they had cherished
acquaintance with Jesus through the records
of the Evangelists. They had followed him
through his eventful life with veneration and
love, had treasured in their memories his
words, works, and life-giving promises, and,
by receiving his spirit, had learned something
of the virtues and happiness of a higher
world. Now they meet him, they see him.
He is no longer a faint object to their mind,
obscured by distance and by the mists of sense
and the world. He is present to them, and
more intimately present than we are to each
other. Of this we are sure ; for whilst the
precise mode of our future existence is un-
known, we do know that spiritual beings in
that higher state must approach and commune
with each other more and more intimately in
proportion to their progress. Those who are
newly bom into Heaven meet Jesus, and meet
from him the kindest welcome. The happi-
ness of the Saviour, in receiving to a higher
life a human being who has been redeemed,
purified, inspired with immortal goodness by
his influence, we can but imperfectly compre-
hend. You can conceive what would be your
feelings, on welcoming to shore your best
friend, who had been tossed on a perilous sea;
but the raptures of earthly reunion are faint
compared with the happiness of Jesus in re-
ceiving the spirit for which he diea, and which
under his guidance has passed with an im-
proving virtue through a world of sore temp-
tation. We on earth meet, after our long
separations, to suffer as well as enjoy, and
soon to part again. Jesus meets those who
ascend from earth to Heaven with the con-
sciousness that their trial is past, their race is
run, that death is conquered. With his far-
reaching, prophetic eve he sees them entering
a career of joy and glory never to end. And
his benevolent welcome is expressed with a
power which belongs only to the utterance of
Heaven, and which communicates to them



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an immediate, confiding, overflowing joy.
You know that on earth we sometimes meet
himian beings whose countenances, at the
first view, scatter all distrust, and win from
us something like the reliance of a long-tried
friendship. One smile is enough to let us
into their hearts, to reveal to us a goodness
on which we may repose. That smile with
which Jesus will meet the new-born inhabitant
of Heaven, that joyful greeting, tliat beaming
of love from him who bled for us, that tone
of welcome, — all these I can faintly conceive,
but no language can utter them. The joys
of centuries will be crowded into that meeting.
This is not fiction. It is truth founded on the
essential laws of the mind.

Our friends, when they enter Heaven, meet
Jesus Christ, and their intercourse with him
will be of the most affectionate and ennobling
character. There will be nothing of distance
in it. Jesus is, indeed, sometimes spoken of
as reigning in the future world, and some-
times Imagination places him on a real and
elevated throne. Strange that such concep-
tions can enter the minds of Christians,
lesus will indeed reign in Heaven, and so
ne reigned on earth. He reigned in the
fishing-boat, from which he taught; in the
humble dwelling, where he gathered round
him listening and confiding disciples. His
reign is not the vulgar dominion of this
world. It is the empire of a great, godlike,
disinterested being over minds capable of
comprehending and loving him. In Heaven,
nothing like what we call government on
earth can exist, for government here is
founded in human weakness and guilt. The
voice of command is never heard among the
spirits of the just. Even on earth, the most
perfect government is that of a femily where
parents employ no tone but that of affec-
tionate counsel, where filial affection reads its
duty in the mild look, and finds its law and
motive in its own pure impulse. Christ will
not be raised on a throne above his followers.
On earth he sat at the same table with the
publican and sinner. Will he recede from
the excellent whom he has fitted for celestial
mansions? How minds will communicate
with one another in that world, we know not ;
but we know that our closest embraces are but
types of the spiritual nearness which will then
be enjoyed ; and to this intimacy with lesus the
new-bom inhabitant of Heaven is admitted.

But we have not yet exhausted this source
of future happiness. The excellent go from
earth not only to receive a joyful welcome
and assurances of eternal love from the Lord.
There is a still higher view. They are brought
by this new intercourse to a new comprehen-
sion of his mind, and to a new reception of
his spirit. It is, indeed, a happiness to know
that we are objects of interest and love to an



illustrious being; but it is a greater happiness
to know deeply the subhme and beautiful
character of this being, to sympathize with
him, to enter into his vast thoughts and pure
designs, and to become associated with him
in the great ends for which he lives. Even
here, in our infant and dim stale of being, we
learn enough of Jesus, of his di\ine philan-
thropy triumphant over injuries and agonies,
to thrill us with affectionate admiration. But
those in Heaven look into that vast, godlike
soul as we have never done. They approach
it as we cannot approach the soul of the
most confiding friend; and this nearness to
the mind of Jesus awakens in themselves a
power of love and virtue which they little
suspected during their earthly being. I trust
I speak to those who. if they have ever been
brought into coimection with a noble human
being, have felt, as it were, a new spirit, and
almost new capacities of thoxight and life,
expanded within them. We all know how
a man of mighty genius and of heroic feeling
can impart himself to other minds, and raise
them for a time to something like his own
energy; and in this we have a faint delinea-
tion of the power to be exerted on the minds
of those who approach Jesus after death.
As nature at this season springs to a new
life xmder the beams of the sun, so will
the human soul be warmed and expanded
under the influence of Jesus Christ. It will
then become truly conscious of the immoml
power treasured up in itself. His greatness
will not overwhelm it, but will awaken a cor-
responding grandeur.

Nor is this topic yet exhausted. The good,
on approaching Jesus, uill not only sympa-
thize with his spirit, but will become joint
workers, active, efficient ministers in accom-
plishing his great work of spreading virtue
and happiness. We must never tliink of
Heaven as a state of inactive contemplation
or of unproductive feeling. Even here on
earth the influence of Christ's character is
seen in awakening an active, self-sacrificing
goodness. It sends the true disciples to the
abodes of the suffering. It binds them by
new ties to their race. It gives them a new
consciousness of being created for a ministry
of beneficence; and can they, when ^atj
approach more nearly this divine Phlbo-
thropist, and learn, by a new alliance with
him, the fulness of his love, can they ftSl
to consecrate themselves to his work and to
kindred labours with an energy of will un-
known on earth? In truth, our sympatbf
with Christ could not be perfect did we HOC
act with him. Nothing so unites beingi «&
co-operation in the same glorious cause* «ftd
to this union with Christ the excellent tbove
are received.

There is another very interesting vieir of



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the future state, which seems to me to be a
necessary consequence of the connection to
be formed there with Jesus Christ. Those
who go there from among us must retain the
(lf«pesl interest in this world. Their ties to
those they have left are not dissolved, but
only refined. On this point, indeed, I want
not the evidence of revelation ; I want no
other evidence than the essential principles,
and laws of the soul. If the future state is
to be an improvement on the present, if in-
tellect is to be invigorated and love expanded
there, then memory, the fundamental power
of the intellect, must act with new energy on
the past, and all the benevolent affections
which have been cherished here must be
quickened into a higher life. To suppose
the present state blotted out hereafter from
the mind, 'would be to destroy its use, would
cut off all connection between the two
worlds, and would subvert responsibility ;
for how can retribution be awarded for a
forgotten existence? No; we must cany
the present with us, whether we enter the
world of happiness or woe. The good will
indeed form new, holier, stronger ties above ;
but, under the expanding influence of that
better world, the human heart will be capa*
cious enough to retain the old whilst it re-
ceives the new, to remember its birth-place
with tenderness whilst enjoying a maturer
and happier being. Did I think of those
who are gone as dying to those they left, I
should honour and love them less. The man
who forgets his home when he quits it, seems
to want the best sensibiUties of our nature;
and if the good were to forget their brethren
on earth in their new abode, were to cease to
intercede for them in their nearer approach
to their common Father, could we think of
them as improved by the change?

All this I am compelled to infer from the
nature of the human mind. But when I add
to this that the new-bom heirs of heaven go
to Jesus Christ, the great lover of the human
family, who dwelt here, suffered here, w^o
moistened our earth with his tears and blood,
who has gone not to break off but to continue
and perfect his beneficent labours for man-
kind, whose mind never for a moment turns
from our race, whose interest in the progress
of his truth and the salvation of the tempted
soul has been growing more and more intense
ever since he left our world, and who has thus
bound up our race with his very being, —
when I think of all this. I am sure that they
cannot forget our world. Could we hear
them, I believe they would tell us that they
never truly loved the race before ; never
before knew what it is to sympathize with
human sorrow, to rejoice in human virtue, to
mourn for human guilt. A new foimtain of
love to man is opened within them. Tbey



now see what before dimly gleamed on them,
the capacities, the mysteries of a human soul.
The significance of that word Immortality is
now apprehended, and every being destined
to it rises into unutterable importance. They
love human nature as never before, and
human friends are prized as above all price.

Perhaps it may be asked, whether those
born into Heaven not only remember with
interest, but have a present immediate know-
ledge of those whom they left on, earth ? On
this point neither Scripture nor the principles
of human nature give us hght, and we are of
course left to uncertainty. I will only say
that I know nothing to prevent such know-
ledge. We are indeed accustomed to think
of Heaven as distant ; but of this we have no
proof. Heaven is the union, the society of
spiritual, higher beings. May not these fill
the universe, so as to make Heaven every-
where? are such beings probably circiun-
scribed, as we are, by matenal limits ? Milton
has said, —

** MUBons of spiritual beini!s walk the earth
Both when we wake and when we sleep."

It is possible that the distance of Heaven
lies wholly in the veil of flesh, which we now
want power to penetrate. A new sense, a
new eye, might show the spiritual world com-
passing us on every side.

But suppose Heaven to be remote. Still
we on earth may be visible to its inhabitants ;
still in an important sense they may be pre-
sent ; for what do we mean by presence ? Am
I not present to tliose of you who are beyond
tlie reach of my arm, but whom I distinctly
see ? And is it at all inconsistent with our
knowledge of nature to suppose that those in
Heaven, whatever be their abode, may have
spiritual senses, organs, by which they may
discem the remote as clearly as we do the
near? This little ball of sight can see the
planets at the distance of millions of miles,
and by the aids of science can distmguish the
inequahties of their surfaces. And it is easy
for us to conceive of an organ of vision so
sensitive and piercing, that from our earth
the inhabitants of those far-rolling worlds
might be discerned. Why, then, may not
they who have entered a higher state, and
are clothed with spiritual frames, survey our
earth as distinctly as when it was their abode?

This may be the truth ; but if we receive it
as such, let us not abuse it. It is liable to
abuse. Let us not think of the departed as
looking on us with earthly, partial affections.
They love us more than ever, but with a
refined and spiritual love. Thev have now
but one wish for us, which is, that we may
fit ourselves to join them in their mansions
of benevolence and piety. Their spiritual
vision penetrates to our souls. Could we



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THE FUTURE LIFE.



hear their voice, it would not be an utterance
of personal attachment so much as a quicken-
ing call to greater effort, to more resolute
self-denial, to a wider charity, to a meeker
endurance, a more filial obedience of the
will of God. Nor must we think of them as
appropriated to ourselves. They are breath-
ing now an atmosphere of divine benevolence.
They are charged with a higher mission than
when they trod the earth. And this thought
of the enlargement of their love should en-
large otu3, and carry us beyond selfish regards
to a benevolence akin to that with which
they are inspired.

It is objected, I know, to the view I have
given of the connection of the inhabitants of
Heaven with this world, that it is inconsistent
with their happiness. It is said that, if they
retain their knowledge of this state, they
must suffer from the recollection or sight m
our sins and woes ; that to enjoy Heaven
they must wean themselves from the earth.
This objection is worse than superficial. It
is a reproach to Heaven and the good. It
supposes that the happiness of that world is
founded in ignorance, that it is the happiness
of the blind man, who, were he to open his
eye on what exists around him, would be
filled with horror. It makes Heaven an
Elysium, whose inhabitants perpetuate their
ioy by shutting themsdves up in narrow
boimds, and hiding themselves from the
pains of their fellow-creatures. But the good,
from their very nature, cannot thus be con-
fined. Heaven would be a prison did it cut
them off from sympathy with the suffering.
Their benevolence is too pure, too divine, to
shrink from the sight of evil. Let me add
that the objection before us casts reproach on
God. It supposes that there are regions of
his universe which must be kept out of
sight, which, if seen, would blight the happi-
ness of the virtuous. But this cannot be true.
There are no such regions, no secret places
of woe which these pure spirits must not
penetrate. There is impiety in the thought.
In such a universe there could be no Heaven.

Do you tell me tliat according to these
views suffering must exist in that blessed
state? I reply, I do and must regard Heaven
as a world of sympathy. Nothing, 1 believe,
has greater power to attract the regards of its
benevolent inhabitants than the misery into
which anyof their fellow-creatures may have
fallen. The suffering which belongs to a
virtuous sympathy I cannot, then, separate
from Heaven. But that sympathy, though it
has sorrow, is far from being misery. Even
in this world, a disinterested compassion,
when joined with power to minister to suffer-
ing, and with wisdom to comprehend its
gracious purposes, is a spirit of peace, and
often issues in the purest delight. Unalloyed



as it will be in another worid by oar present
infirmities, and enlightened by comprehen-
sive views of God's perfect government, it
will give a charm and loveliness to the sub-
limer virtues of the blessed, and, like alT other
forms of excellence, will at length enhance
their felicity.

II. You see how much of Heaven is taught
us in the single truth, that they who enter it
meet and are united to Jesus Christ. There
are other interesting views at which I can
only glance. The departed go not to Jesus
onl^. Thev go to the great and blessed
society whicn is gathered round him. to the
redeemed from all regions of earth, " to the
city of the living G<xi, to an innumerable
company of angels, to the church of the first-
born, to the spirits of the just made perfect"
Into what a glorious community do they enter !
And how thev are received you can easily un-
dei?;tand. We are told there is joy in heaven
over the sinner who repenteth ; ana will not his
ascension to the abode of perfect virtue com-
municate more fervent happiness ? Our friends
who leave us for that world do not find them-
selves cast among strangers. No desolate
feeling springs up of having exchanged their
home for a foreign country. The tenderest
accents of human friendship never approachol
in affectionateness the voice of congratula-
tion which bids them welcome to their new
and everlastfaig abode. In that world, where
minds have surer means of revealing them-
selves than here, the newly arrived imroediateh'
see and feel themselves encompassed wifh
virtue and goodness ; and through this in-
sight into the congenial spirits which surround
them, intimacies stronger than years can ce-
ment on earth may be created in a moment.

It seems to me accordant with all the jhth-
ciples of human nature, to suppose that the
departed meet peculiar congratulation from
friends who had gone before them to that
better world ; and especially from all who
had In any way given aids to their virtue;
from parents who had instilled into them the
first lessons of love to God and man ; from
associates whose example bad won them to
goodness, whose faithful counsels deterred
them from sin. The ties created by such
benefits must be eternal. The grateful soul
must bind itself with peculiar affection to sudi
as guided it to immortality.

In regard to the happiness of the inter-
course of the future stale, all of )rou, I trust,
can form some apprehensions of it. If we
have ever known the enjoyments of friendship,
of entire confidence, of co-operation in honour-
able and successful labours with those we tovc,
we can comprehend something of the feficity
of a world where souls, refined from sdifiid)^
ness, open as the day, thirsting for new tm^
and virtue, endued with now power of cs)^



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ing the beauty and grandeur of the universe,
allied in the noblest works of benevolence,
and continually discovering new mysteries of
the Creator's power and goodness, communi-
cate themselves to one another with the free-
dom of perfect love. The closest attachments
of this life are cold, distant, stranger-like,
compared with theirs. How they communi-
cate themselves, by what language or organs,
we know not. But this we know, that in the
pogress of the mind its power of imparting
itscU must improve. The eloquence, the
thrilling, inspiring tones in which the good
and noble sometimes speak to us on earth,
may help us to conceive the expressiveness,
harmony, energy of the language in which
superior bein^ reveal themselves above. Of
what they converse we can better judge.
They who enter that world meet beings whose
recollections extend through ages, who have
met together perhaps from various worlds,
who have been educated amidst infinite
varieties of condition, each of whom has
passed through his own discipline and reached
his own peculiar form of perfection, and each
of whom is a peculiar testimony to the pro-
vidence erf the Universal Father. What trea-
sures of memory, observation, experience,
iraagciy, illustration, roust enrich tne inter-
course of Heaven I One angel's history mav
be a volume of more various truth than all
the records of our race. After all, how little
can our present experience help us to under-
stand the intercourse of Heaven, a communion
marred bv no passion, chilled by no reserve,
depresseci by no consciousness of sin, trustful as
childhood, and overflowing with innocent joy,
a communion in which the noblest feelings
flow fresh from the heart, in which pure beings
give familiar utterance to their divinest inspira-
tions, to the wonder which perpetually springs
up amidst this ever-unfolding and ever-mys-
terious universe, to the raptures of adoration
and pious gratitude, and to the swellings of a
sjrmpaihy which cannot be confined.

But it would be wrong to imagine that the
inhabitants of Heaven only converse. They
who reach that world enter on a state of action,
life, effort. We are apt to think of the future
worki as so happy that none n^cd the aid of
others, that eflort ceases, that the good have
nothing to do but to enjoy. The truth is that
all action on earth, even the intensest, is but
the sport of childhood compared with the
energy and activity of that higher life. It
mo^ be so. For what principles are so active
as intellect, benevolence, the love of truth,
the thirst for perfection, sympathy with the
suffering, and devotion to God's purposes?
and these are the ever-expanding principles of
the future Hfe. It is true, the labours which
are now laid on us for food, niiraent, outward
interests, cease at the grave. But far deeper



wants than those of the body are developed
in Heaven. There it is that the spirit first
becomes truly conscious of its capacities;
that truth opens before us in its infinity ; that



Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 65 of 169)