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PRESUMPTIONS FROM NATURAL APPEARANCES AGAINST THE DOCTRINE OF A FUTURE LIFE.
JOB, xiv. 10.
.... Man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?
That man is mortal is a fact which the experience of all ages has concurred to prove: nor is any individual so infatuated as to expect exemption from the general doom. And to mortal man, reflecting, as he sometimes must upon human frailty, looking forward, which he cannot always avoid, to the dark and dreaded hour of dissolution, what question is more natural or more interesting than that of the text ? “ Man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?” What inquiry has ever been pursued with greater solicitude than this ? And what subject has ever been agitated with greater
anxiety by men of the most enlarged and enlightened minds.
This momentous question may be contemplated in two different views: it may be treated as it stands upon the ground of natural phenomena only; and it may be considered in the light of divine revelation : and very different indeed will be the satisfaction which the upright and inquiring mind will derive from these different sources of information.
Happily, favoured as we are with the knowledge of divine truth, and accustomed, as I trust we have ever been, to believe with confidence and joy the glorious doctrine of a future life, it is very difficult for us in theory to form a just conception of the obscurity in which this question is involved, where nature and reason are the only guides. What we ourselves believe with unhesitating confidence, we are prone to think that others must believe with equal assurance. Living constantly in the light of day, we overlook the desolation of those extensive regions which are doomed to en
dure the horror of a long, a comfortless, and an uninterrupted night. And such, indeed, is the error of many modern Christians, that they contemptuously brand with the epithet of mere natural religion; a doctrine which is the peculiar glory, and distinguishing excellence of the Christian revelation.
In order to judge correctly of the progress which reason,
reason, unassisted by revelation, might possibly make towards the discovery of a future life, we ought, in imagination, to place ourselves precisely in the circumstances of those who, having been totally destitute of the advantages which we enjoy, were at the same time possessed of the best means of collecting all the information which the light of Nature could supply, and who devoted the most extraordinary abilities, and the most persevering application, to these important inquiries. That man must have a very high conceit of his own abilities and capacity for investigation, who presumes that his own researches would have been conducted with greater
skill, and would have terminated more successfully than those of all the enlightened sages of Greece and Rome.
In order to form a correct estimate of the evidence of the doctrine of a future life, independently of divine revelation, it would be necessary, FIRST, to consider the appearances which the death of a human being presents to the observer's notice: and SECONDLY, the conclusions which these appearances would naturally and inevitably suggest to the reflecting mind.
In the FIRST place, the human being who is now destitute of life, was lately animated, active, and intelligent; possessed of thought, of sense, of memory, of active power, of moral principle, of social affections, of religious feelings, and of various capacities of action and enjoyment. He performed the offices, he supported the burdens, and maintained the intercourses of life, with the same spirit, vigour, and fortitude as those who are now alive and in health. He was as constant as others in the usual places of resort;, in his family,
in his professional engagements, and in the house of God. He entered with equal alacrity into the amusements of life; he felt like other men for the joys and sorrows of his neighbours; and was moved by the same passions of hope and fear, of love and hatred, of desire and aversion. His mind was equally susceptible of the public affections. He felt, like others, for the
prosperity of his country, and for the virtue and happiness of mankind. His heart was gladdened at the diffusion of knowledge, liberty, peace, and virtue: and he mourned when injustice and oppression triumphed, and when ignorance, and vice, and misery prevailed. In a word, he thought, and felt, and acted like other human beings; and, perhaps, suspected as little as any who are now most healthy, vigorous, and
that he should have been so soon withdrawn from the busy and eventful scene.
But the chilling blast of death has swept over him, and he is gone. He hath given up the ghost, and where is he? The man of superior talent, of active energy, of ap