The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 20
On Original Sin, and the Resurrection Possible to Man in this Life
On Original Sin, and the Resurrection Possible to Man in this Life.
The resurrection of the Spirit from the grave of animalism, typified in the parable of Lazarus, contains one of those profound truths of which the uncorrupted portions of the Old and New Testament are full to overflowing. But men looking for signs, and wonders, and portents, and craving for miracles, as is natural to persons in a semi-savage condition, mistake the husk for the kernel, read parables as narratives of actual events, and thus lose themselves in a maze of doubt and mystery. Putting a natural interpretation on things figurative, they bring what they read, or what they imagine they read, into conflict with the laws of nature; and thus while, in one class of minds, a feeling of superstition is engendered, a sentiment of scepticism is begotten in another. For the so-called and self-entitled religious man makes it a merit to believe the improbable and the impossible credulity is the measure of his piety. With him, belief or faith is all in all; faith is something which never happened, faith is something which never can, and therefore never will, happen. And this revelation, misinterpreted and misunderstood, is brought into direct antagonism with reason and science. It is assumed that the operations of the unchangeable and unresting laws of God have been suspended at some time, and that the earth has actually paused in its rapid revolution on its own axis, in order to enable the commauder of a horde of barbarians to finish a sanguinary battle with the enemies of Israel. It is also assumed that the waters of the Red Sea suddenly divided for the purpose of enabling these same barbarians to escape from a land peopled by a superior race to which the fugitives had fulfilled the same functions as the coolies in India and elsewhere discharge towards their European employers.
What wonder, therefore, that devout minds studying our Heavenly Father in His works, and in the allwse laws of which those works are but the expression and the instrument, recoil from a belief in these things, and from the doctrines which are based upon it? What wonder that weak, perverse, conceited, and unreverential minds are driven into blank unbelief and to the utter negation of God in His glorious universe?
Before we condemn any such—and instead of condemning we should commiserate them—let us ask ourselves how far the so-called orthodox religionists are responsible for whatever atheism exists in professedly Christian communities.
Of the many doctrines which shock belief, and which have retarded or prevented man's resurrection on earth, that of original sin may be regarded as the most pernicious. Nakedly stated, it is this:—All mankind sprang—it is alleged—from one couple, originally inhabiting a beautiful garden. They were innocent, and they were simple. The freshness of the dewy morning was in their natures, as it was upon the face of Eden. There was only one restriction on their freedom. They must not eat of the fruit of a particular tree. As a matter of course, they surveyed this fruit with longing eyes. It was to them what the secret chamber was to Bluebeard's wife and her sister in that other Eastern apologue. One day a sort of rival to their Creator, of whoso previous existence these guileless babes had never heard, taking upon himself the form of a serpent, and employing all the beguiling eloquence of a damaged archangel, coaxed the woman into tasting the fruit. She found it very palatable, and persuaded her husband to eat it also. He did so, and then the Creator—a Being of Infinite Love, and Infinite Prescience—who had foreknown through all eternity what Adam and Eve would do, turned them out of Paradise in just such a passion as a human being might experience with a servant who had disobeyed him just such a passion, indeed, as is commonly attributed to the gods of the heathen mythology. By this incident, we are told, sin and death made their entry in to the world, and every child that is born into it bears the taint of Eve's wickedness. I am credibly informed that there are many Christian sects which believe—or very recently believed—that every child, dying unbaptised, is forthwith translated to a physical hell, where it undergoes endless tortures, such as the imagination cannot picture, nor the tongue describe. And all because of that unfortunate apple! It is almost impossible to write, or to speak seriously on such a subject. A belief like this transports us to the very infancy of the human race, when all men were only one remove from the lower animals, and when—as soon as the imaginative faculty began to stir within them—they conceived the most preposterous notions of the Diety, and regarded him as a magnified reflection of themselves.
But this doctrine of original sin has survived the childhood of the human race. It is vital yet. It is believed in by millions of beings who call themselves civilized, and repute themselves Christians. They are evidently reluctant or incapable of relinquishing it. They cannot find any other explanation of the animalism of man's nature. page 18 Their conception of the Almighty Ruler of the Universe—of the Infinite Mind, is as gross, de-grading, and superstitious as anything you will meet with in the religious beliefs of the most ignorant trite of savages, simply because that conception took its rise among a primitive people, and at a barbarous epoch.
The authors or compilers of the Mosaic books were probably ignorant that thousands of years before the age of the patriarchs, and even long before the time at which the wise Egyptians forced upon the servile Hebrews the sanitary laws embodied in the book of Deuteronomy, three great races of people had lived and flourished on the earth, had known, loved, and worshipped the one true God, and, having reached the highest stage of spiritual civilization, had passed away to continue their sage and beneficent existence elsewhere. The Jews knew nothing of the pure monotheism and exalted morality of the Ancients. In their pride and egotism they believed themselves to be the chosen people of God. They either knew not, or craftily suppressed the fact that there had been divinely given revelations in Asia and in Africa; and that, in the latter country more especially, long before the days of Moses, the purest morality was taught and practised. God was worshipped in simplicity and truth, a fatherly form of Government was established—the like of which has never been seen since—art flourished, and the sciences and inventions which we flatter ourselves as being the especial property of our own time were known to the whole population.
As the clouds of Man's ignorance are dissipated with respect to the origin and antiquity of the race to which he belongs, the doctrine of original sin is destined to be replaced by a juster perception of his being and his nature so that the will of our Heavenly Father may be fulfilled on earth as it is on high. For the same law-one and immutable-reigns there and here. It is universal Man cannot vary it—cannot, with safety, rebel against it. If he does so, he suffers. There is nothing in the world of matter or of mind that is exempt from its operation; and when we have ascertained how it acts in the former, we learn how it influences and controls the latter. We discover, also, that there is nothing absolutely evil; and that what we designate as such is more ignorance—is undeveloped nature—is good, in the process of being evolved. This enables us to explain all the moral problems which have been vexing mankind for ages. Men have been puzzled to understand why, in this beautiful world of ours, there should appear to be a power antagonistic to the love and goodness of the Most High, and—as it seemed to their unenlightened judgments—continually engaged in thwarting His most holy will, and in neutralising His benevolent designs. And thus it was, that the notion of a devil arose, and, in some form or other, entered into the religious systems of nearly every branch of the human family in its superstitious infancy. Thus it was that many of the grander phenomena of nature were supposed to be the work of malignant and supernatural beings—gnomes, giants, genii and demons.
Ignorance and superstition naturally governed the minds of semi-savage races of men and women but one remove from the brute, and endowed not with reason, but with just a higher form of instinct. For reason is by no means the gift or essential property of all mankind. It is, in reality, the attribute of a very small number—of those only whoso natures have been spiritually renewed. You may judge of the presence of reason in a human being by his language and actions. If these are guarded and governed by it, the presumption is that he is a rational animal. He leads a rational life. The world and the pleasures of sense are indifferent to him. He fulfils his duty to his family and to himself; but he regards the earth in no other light than as a place of temporary sojourn. He is conscious of the dual nature within him—the animal or bestial, and the spiritual. All his efforts are directed to slay and crucify the former; and to render himself more and more susceptible and receptive of the light and love which descend upon us from above. He is not necessarily an ascetic or a recluse. On the contrary, he practices self-denial without mortification or maceration. He does not sequester himself from his fellow men like the hermits and monks of old, because he knows that his place is among them. When he has provided for the satisfaction of his daily wants and for those of his family—these wants—reduced to their ultimate expression—being few and simple, he applies himself to the grateful task of assisting his fellow creatures. He feels his unity with them, and he recognises the obligation to work for them. And he does so, in a spirit of cheerfulness and with a loving zeal that add immensely to the value of the beneficent actions he performs. This, then, is the human animal upon whom has been bestowed the divine gift of reason.
No doubt, this doctrine of the comparative rarity of reason among ourselves—the higher animals—is calculated to shock and startle us. But have you ever investigated the springs of human conduct and asked yourselves—Was the motive power of this or that action instinct, or was it reason? If you will only do this, and do it without prepossession or prejudice, you will be amazed at the discovery of the enormous part which merely animal instinct plays in the affairs of human life. The fact is, we have been accustomed to accept, as an axiomatic truth, the mere presumption that a broad line of demarcation separates us from the lower animals. There is nothing of the sort. There are no abrupt transitions in nature. Every grade of being shades off into the next below it and the next above it by imperceptible degrees. You cannot tell where the one ends or the other begins, any more than you can define where one line of the rainbow terminates and where another commences. Many of the so-called lower animals are mentally superior to many human beings. There are dogs, horses, and elephants gifted with instincts and even with moral qualities which place them far above some of their masters. The instincts of the former are greatly superior to those of the latter. Which do you suppose is page 19 the higher in the scale of being—being, as distinguished from seeming—the essence as separable from the substance—a brutal, foul-mouthed and drunken wood carter—or the docile, patient, sober, reflective horse he drives, and to whose intelligence he is frequently indebted for the preservation of his own life on many a dark night when the patient and much-enduring quadruped pilots his master safely home during a drunken sleep?
Did you ever see a horse or a dog eat or drink to excess? Did you ever see any of the lower animals slaves to sensuality as so many thousands of human beings are? Can we call any man a rational creature who is the servant of vice, or any woman reasonable who is servile to fashion or folly? No. There is no denying the fact that reason is the gift of a comparatively small number of the human race. It is the precious possession of the spiritually minded. It is their passport to the higher life hereafter; because it is God's gift, and nothing can enter heaven but that which came from thence. To the animal, admission to the abodes of the blessed is absolutely interdicted, just as a fish is forbidden to live in our atmosphere, and just as it would be impossible for us, in our present forms, to breathe the rarer other which surrounds our globe.
It is important to bear these distinctions in mind, between man as a creature of instinct and man as ennobled by reason, because they throw a flood of light upon the origin of our race; and when this has been clearly ascertained and firmly and finally established, the entire fabric of superstition—founded on the basis of the doctrine of original sin—will crumble into dust, in such complete ruin that no amount of theological ingenuity will ever be able to set it up again.
Man was formed of the dust of the earth, we are told in that venerable collection of documents, which contain so many grand and inspired truths, intermingled with so much human error and perversion, and with so many parables and legends, which biblioters have mistaken for the narratives of actual occurrences. Man undoubtedly was made of the dust of the earth. His vital principle commenced its earthly journey in the most rudimentary forms of organic life; and thence, ever advancing and ever expanding, it continued its career through the mineral, the vegetable, and the animal kingdom, until it is incarnated in the human form. And even here it is obedient to the same law of progression. It passes through the savage, the semi-savage, the semi-civilized and through many bodies, until it reaches such a stage of growth and development, that it becomes fitted to forsake an earthly tabernacle and to assume a spiritual form; and, in this glorified shape, is privileged to commence that progression through the realms above, which will be eternal in duration.
So man becomes a living soul:—Called out of the infinite past to put on an individual form, and to live thenceforward in the infinite future—a being recognisable by other beings—never, in all the changes of form, losing the unity and identity of essence—one in himself, and one also with God, so soon as he has undergone that spiritual regeneration, upon which theologians have bestowed the epithet of being "born again." In such a genealogy, there is much to humble man's pride—to abase it, indeed, to the very dust from which he sprang; but with such a future there is everything that should ennoble his aims, purify his life, exalt his actions, and inspire his hopes. And consider, for a moment, what a magnificent conception it gives us of Almighty Power and of Almighty Love. Contrast this account of man's origin with the poetical allegory contained in the earlier chapters of Genesis, and you will at once perceive how consonant the former is with men's highest reason—with God's boundless beneficence and how the latter resembles a fairy tale invented to satisfy the inquiries and beguile the attention of the Hebrews in the infancy of their civilization.
On the one hand we have the story—evidently borrowed from the older literature of India—of one pair of human beings planted in a beautiful garden, by a deity who came down to recreate himself like an ordinary mortal in the shady groves of that garden in the cool of the evening. His power was so feeble and his foresight so weak that he could not exclude from thence a rival deity of greater intellect and capacity than himself. So the latter came, saw, and overcame the simple earth-man and his credulous wife; and because these two yielded to a temptation, which they were obviously unfitted to resist, they were driven out of Eden into the bleak and dreary wilderness, which was cursed with sterility on their account: and thus, as I have said, sin and death are traditionally reported to have made their appearance in the world. Reflect upon this parable or allegory for a moment—divest it of the superstitious veneration which has grown up around it, and how will it present itself to your minds? As the childish fancy of man in the very infancy of his intellect—man incapable of conceiving of a Supremo Being as anything better than an exaggerated and distorted reflection of himself—capricious, irritable, jealous, and vindictive.
Now, look at the other version of man's origin—that which represents him as susceptible of infinite progression—that which reveals him to us as an eternal principle, emanating from God in the first instance, undergoing infinite changes of form, and yet immutable in essence, each change being an improvement and an advance upon its predecessor, and each conducting him by slow and gradual stages to a higher life, endowed with larger powers and finer faculties, until—eventually divorced from matter and from all forms of planetary life—that immortal principle, clothed in a spiritual body, forsakes this "dim diurnal sphere," and commences its magnetic and ascending march through eternity, accompanied by those it has known and truly loved on earth.
In such a scheme of creation and evolution, there is no room for that monstrous invention of the theologians called "original sin." It could find no place in it. Would they blaspheme the Almighty by imputing to Him that He, the page 20 Sinless, the All-wise, the All-good, the All-loving, is capable of creating sin? Have they ever thought of this? Have they ever perceived the absolute impossibility of the thing? There could be no original sin in this world of ours unless by the divine fiat and the divine permission. It would be irreconcilable with His attributes, inconsistent with His nature, incompatible with His purpose. What we mortals call "sin" is only another name for ignorance—ignorance of His laws; ignorance of His holy will. That ignorance has to be worked out of us; and as the scheme of creation and evolution necessitates, on the part of each of us, many reappearances on the earth, repeated opportunities are thus afforded to us of gradually divesting ourselves of the trammels of ignorance, gradually subjugating and slaying the beast within us, and of thus eventually ascending to a spiritual altitude, even on this globe, by the attainment of which we bring ourselves very near the angelic beings who await our advent in the life to come.
If mankind would only study the laws of their being; would only perceive how gracious our loving Maker is to each of us how large is the liberty he accords us, how repeated the opportunities he affords us of "rising on the stepping-stones of our dead selves to higher things," it would completely change the whole tenor of human conduct—the whole course of human affairs. Consider how exquisite the tenderness displayed by our Infinite Father in drawing the veil of oblivion over the previous existences of each of us. Now and then we catch dim glimpses of them. We visit strange places which are curiously familiar to us; we hear voices and melodies in which there are tones that vibrate mysteriously in our memories; and we have a vague consciousness—and oftentimes a startling conviction—of repeating actions and words performed or spoken in some far off and incomprehensible epoch. But beyond this, all is cloud and thick darkness. And mercifully so. Otherwise, what remorse, what regrets, what repinings would overwhelm each of us! The mendicant who may have been a monarch in his former incarnation would experience a feeling of inconsolable wretchedness in contrasting his bygone state and splendour with his present abasement and misery. The poor household drudge who may have been, in her former state, a reigning beauty, the petted and pampered idol of a court or capitol, would be tempted to escape from her degradation by suicide, unknowing that her new life was necessary for her probation and spiritual advancement, and that, out of its trials and hardships would grow that humility and resignation, that sympathy for others and forget fulness of herself, which may qualify her, when she has again undergone the change called death, to put on the garments of immortality in a world where sorrow and sighing shall pass away, and tears shall be wiped from all eyes.
These doctrines are not new to mankind. They have been known to numbers in all ages. They have been familiar to three, at least, of the most advanced races that ever lived; and if you study the Old Testament by the light which they will flash upon its pages, you will be amazed at the enigmas which will be solved, and at the mysteries which will be cleared up; for, as it is written in the Book of Ecclesiastes, "men and beasts have all one spirit, so that a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast," until the latter is crucified within him, and there has been a resurrection of the spirit out of the grave of animalism.
If you will investigate the majestic scheme of God's Providence with the aid of this simple and sufficient clue, you will discover in it a harmony, a grandeur, a beauty, an absolute justice and a faultless perfection, which have not otherwise manifested themselves so vividly and completely. But people shrink from whatsoever tends to undermine and destroy their venerable and dearly cherished superstitions. They refuse to put away childish things. They cling to the doctrine of Original Sin, as if it were something precious, something holy, something unspeakably comforting. You know that a great theologian has said that there are infants in hell a span long. These blameless little creatures owe their endless torments to original sin. They experience the fire which is never quenched, and the worm which never dieth, because a fabulous woman, in a fabulous garden, at the instigation of a fabulous serpent, ate a fabulous apple, tens of thousands of years subsequent to the appearance of humanity upon the earth.
And there are theologians in our own day—let it be mentioned with sincere sorrow—who affect to fear the overthrow of Christianity if the doctrine of Original Sin be eliminated from the popular belief. As if anything in the world, or out of the world, were capable of overthrowing what is essential and vital in Christianity; as if the two great commandments—upon which hang all the law and prophets, were not indestructible, were not divinely inspired—were not known and practiced thousands of years before the Christian era, and will not be known and practiced by all the children of God upon this earth, so long as the world endures.
Ah! men and brethren, when we look around us and sec what are the predominating superstitions and what is the prevailing darkness, it is almost enough to make us feel and believe, either that mankind is in its infancy still, or has passed into mental decrepitude and second childhood. If we would only turn from human theologies and priestly inventions, to the book of revelations ever open before us in the works of nature, and to that other book of revelation which the Almighty has bestowed upon us in our own minds, we should see how completely belied all theologies and invented dogmas are by God's works. We should read in the latter—stamped in broad, legible, and ineffaceable characters—that he is a God of love; that there is no place for such a thing as original sin in the whole universe; that it is repugnant to His nature, and irreconcilable with His supreme wisdom and unerring justice; that it is an evil imagination of human ignorance, like a physical devil and a physical hell, and that the time will come page 21 when men will wonder at and compassionate their forefathers for having clung, for so many centuries, to these miserable and debasing relics of paganism.
Out of darkness, however, cometh light. From the shadows of the past emerges the luminous star which will guide us through the future. We cast off what is old, and put on that which is new. Man, rising higher and higher in the scale of animated beings, even upon earth, as he will continue to do in the world to come, ascends above the mists and fogs of superstition in which he was enveloped while he was a dweller in the vallies; and—breathing the rarer and purer air of the mountain tops—his clearer vision qualifies him to perceive the darkness which he has left behind him, and to discern the brightness which lies before him. Although related to the worm, he feels that he is also kindred with the angels. Although, as a lower animal, his perceptions and conceptions may have been hitherto congenial with that condition, he relinquishes them as he advances. He comprehends God, by means of his expanding intelligence, and the greater the growth of that intelligence, the more exalted is the notion he forms of the attributes of the Infinite Mind. It must be so; because he draws nearer to the fountain of all intelligence—to the source of all knowledge—to the author of all wisdom, supreme, beneficent, and all-loving. And this nobler and truer apprehension of the nature of our Almighty Father entirely banishes the venerable and child-like superstitions that God has created sin or sinners, that he is capable of being propitiated by sacrifices or burnt-offerings, that he is liable to the infirmities of a human parent, and that He sanctioned and permitted the decent upon earth of an only Son—co-equal in all respects with himself, as the theologians say—but superior to the Father in affection and commiseration—to suffer an ignominious death upon the Cross as an atonement for the sins of an insignificant fragment of the human race: those sins deriving their origin, as has been said, from the simple fault of an unsuspicious woman tempted by one of the grandest of the archangels—that archangel having been expelled from Heaven, which is love itself—for rebellion against the Omnipotent.
Are not these inventions of men—men living in the dark ages—men seeing in the Supreme Being only a distorted and magnified reflection of their own feeble, variable, and ignorant natures—shocking and repulsive in the extreme? They will not abide the test of reason. We have only to reflect upon them to perceive how grossly they dishonour and defame the Most High. Mankind may well have gone astray under such delusive teaching as this. People might well take refuge in barren atheism as an escape from such a frightful creed as this. Christendom may well be divided into innumerable sects, each quarrelling with, hating, and persecuting the other, when such fictions are presented to it as truths. The human mind recoils appalled from the picture of the Almighty which has been pourtrayed for its admiration—say, rather, for its terror, by theologians. He is not presented as a Got! of love—not even as an affectionate Father in the human sense of the term. No; he is shown to us as actually incapable of foresight, and restricted in power—full of childish caprice, rancorous vindictiveness, and cruel animosity towards the beings he has created. He is described as imposing conditions upon the first man and woman which experience demonstrated it was impossible to obey, and then—after the lapse of a few centuries—as having destroyed the whole of mankind—one family alone excepted, by an universal flood. Then, when that family had multiplied, and it had branched off into many nations, God is represented as sanctioning and directing exterminating wars between the descendants of Noah; and as petting and fostering one branch of the family, and dealing ruthlessly with the rest. Finally, we are told that He sent down His only Son to redeem these pampered Hebrews, by whom, however, that Son—in spite of his immortal and imperishable Godhead—is put to death like a common malefactor, and is rejected, scorned, despised, denied, and derided by the very people he came to save.
Think upon these things. Ponder well upon the merely human and thoroughly debasing image, in which they present the Supremo Ruler of the universe, and then tell me who are the sceptics and the infidels, those who assert that this monstrous conception of the human mind in its infancy and barbarism, is really and truly God, or those who, winnowing away the human error from the grains of divine truth and inspiration, which are to be found in the writings of the Old and New Testaments recognize, worship, love, and adore the one God—the Infinite Mind—a Being of boundless power, boundless wisdom, and boundless affection, whose all-seeing and all-embracing Providence includes everything, every atom of matter, every created being within its stupendous grasp, who was, and is, and is to be—who, from all Eternity, has been the same benignant, beneficent, and blessed God, whom to know, though in ever so faint a degree, and with ever such finite limitations, is happiness—who to love, is one of the laws of our nature—whom to approach, is the impulse and the motive power of all progression, and towards whom to aspire is our highest privilege, our noblest duty, our most exquisite delight, our endless employment, and our supreme reward.
I will now pass on to speak of that resurrection from the body which is possible to many of us, even while we continue to be dwellers on the earth. For the spark of divinity within us, the eternal principle which, in the hereafter, will become the Me to each living being, lies buried in the grave of animalism, and must ascend from thence before we ourselves can rise. "Flesh and blood," we are told, "cannot inherit the kingdom Heaven." The animal cannot enter there; and by the animal is meant not merely what is coarse and sensual, but what we often suppose to be pure and uncensurable, the animal is a very Proteus in form. His varieties page 22 are as great as those of the substances through which our immortal spirits have passed. He may be brutish and repulsive, but he may also possess the beauty of the tiger, the grace of the antelope, the craft of the fox, the subtlety of the serpent, or the sleekness of the dove. His disguises are infinite. He imposes on the very best of us. I may look down with culpable disdain upon the bestiality of the drunkard, the glutton, and the voluptuary, but am I altogether certain that I am not also under the dominion of the animal? To me, perhaps, he takes another shape, less coarse and more seductive. He impels me to surround myself with elegancies and luxuries; to find a selfish gratification in the exclusive possession of books and pictures, and statues, and to thrust far from mo everything that could offend the eye or do violence to a cultivated taste, by its want of beauty, harmony, and propriety. But am I the less under the dominion of animalism? In no wise. It merely takes the form which is best adapted to captivate my senses, to ensnare my reason, and to render me less susceptible to spiritual impressions.
Or, perhaps, I am a just and upright man, rigorously correct in my daily conduct, and severe upon the moral aberrations, and the mental weaknesses of my fellow men. Unconsciously to myself, I am a vainglorious Pharisee. It is my pride and ambition to stand well in the estimation of the world, to be pointed at as a good citizen, a model member of society, an exemplary man. Am I therefore exempt from the dominion of animalism? In no wise.
Or, perchance, I have the ambition to shine in the world of letters, to see my name on the title page of books, to hear it mentioned with approbation by readers and reviewers; and, dying so, to leave an enduring reputation behind me? Is not this also animalism? Undoubtedly. There is no limit to the variety of forms under which it presents itself, no possibility of determining under what aspect it may not beguile and betray us.
This is that "body of"—so-called—"sin," from which the apostle prayed to be delivered; and the resurrection from which ought to be the object of our earnest supplications, as well as of our incessant efforts. Nor let it be concluded that our advancing civilization—or that rotten thing which we ennoble by that name—is favourable to such a resurrection. On the contrary, it heaps up mounds—nay, mountains—over the crave in which the spiritual principle lies buried. None of the earlier civilizations—I refer to those which existed before our globe assumed its present aspect—were at all comparable with our modern civilization in its baseness, its dangers, and degradations. On the contrary, they were essentially spiritual civilizations, and the races which flourished under them were correspondingly superior to our own.
A spiritual civilization is something, indeed, almost inconceivable in these times when our mental perceptions and intellectual judgments have been clouded and perverted, warped and distorted, by centuries of error, ignorance, and materialism. We find it hard to imagine a state of society in which the acquisition of wealth would have been regarded as an evil or as a proof of insanity—in which there were no class distinctions—in which the soil of the country was held in common—in which art was consecrated to the decoration of cities and the enjoyment of the whole people—in which men, after providing by moderate toil for the satisfaction of their daily wants, concentrated their energies upon the acquisition of a true knowledge—a knowledge of themselves and of God their Father, and upon the development of the spiritual element in their natures. We find it difficult to conceive of a whole nation living as one family, under the rule of an entirely fatherly governor or chief; and with no statute books, or judges, or juries, or lawyers, or policemen, but obedient only to the law of love. And yet thrice within the history of man—thrice during a period of 27 or 28,000 years—has this Utopia been realised. But among these peoples—before they were gathered in and taken from the earth—there had been a general resurrection of the spiritual man out of the animal man; and to this resurrection are we, in like manner, graciously united by our Heavenly Father.
Coming from the animal we bring with us, compacted in our earthly frame, the passions and desires of that animal. But the spark of divinity within us, implanted there at the very dawn of our existence, grows and expands, and must eventually burn and destroy all that is earthly—all that is bestial in our nature. Yet the conflict is a strenuous and protracted one between the two principles—the divine and the animal. That which is material, being also visible and tangible to us, is very precious in our eyes. That which is immaterial and immortal, being invisible, intangible, and imponderable, is in many instances almost, if not altogether, disbelieved in. We worship ourselves when we ought to worship the Creator and Father of us all. We seek our own honour and glory when we should seek to honour and glorify Him, by living in obedience to His holy laws, by aspiring towards His excellence, and by directing all our thoughts to the cultivation and development of the eternal principle within us.
Take the life of the very best of us, and analyse it by the light of divinely illuminated reason, and what is it? How is it spent? This stage in our existence—"this bank and shoal of time"—is a mere point—a scarcely perceptible and vanishing point in the endless record of our eternal duration; but how is it consumed? Study each man's employment of this brief parenthesis called Time, and can anything be more irrational—might we not venture to say insane—than his occupation of his waking hours? Do we not live as if we emerged from nothing when we entered upon life, and as if we should finally cease to be when our bodies go down into the dust? All our concern is to gather riches, or to acquire position, or to achieve renown, or to indulge and pamper our animal appetites. Everything is done for, by, and through the body, or the animalised brain. There is apparently no vital conviction of the higher nature within or of the higher life beyond us. Life is page 23 devoted to the pursuit of the smallest object; and those who imagine that it is becoming to satisfy the requirements of conscience, and to defer so far to the popular beliefs as to acknowledge that there is a hereafter—suppose that it is capable of being purchased by setting apart a portion of one day in every seven to the repetition of certain words, and to listening to certain discourses—by not transgressing in any open or scandalous way the Ten Commandments in the ordinary affairs of life, and by doling out a few guineas to various institutions which undertake to perform a vicarious benevolence for their contributors.
Compare the commonly received ideal of human life with the higher ideal set before us by the inspired men of old, and observe how utterly dissimilar the two are. By the latter we find it declared that the body is a mere gross, bulky encumbrance of the spirit, requiring nothing more at our hands than to be maintained in health by a pure and simple diet, by cleanliness, by sufficient and unpretending clothing, and by moderate exercise and necessary labour. We are assured that it is perishable, and we know that so long as we inhabit it our spiritual being cannot ascend to the abode for which it has, or ought to have been preparing itself on earth, and towards which its purest aspirations should be directed. We are admonished that a like perishableness is the attribute of everything we touch and taste, see and smell. Decay is written upon all around us. Change is the law of matter. All that men labour for—all that they wear out their strength in procuring—all that they rack their faculties and ruin their health of mind and body in accomplishing, perishes. Fame is evanescent. Power falls from the grasp of the mightiest; wealth disappears; social position is transitory. Spiritualised mind alone is immortal. Poets and philosophers, sages and statesmen have moralised for centuries on the instability of human grandeur, human opulence, and human reputation. The proofs of that instability meet us at every stop—confront us every hour of our lives—startle us at every death or disaster that comes within the range of our personal experience. And thus the lessons of life serve to reinforce the maxims of wisdom. Observation confirms the theorems of philosophy. Therefore we are convinced, or ought to be so, that the higher, the spiritual ideal of human life is the only true one; but do we carry the conviction into operation? We have only to look around us, and to watch each man's conduct, not forgetting our own, in order to receive an emphatic assurance that the opposite—the animal—theory of existence is a degrading, a mistaken, and a disappointing one. Must we not pray, and ought we not to strive in the strength which will be given to us from above, if we only ask for it, for the resurrection of the spirit out of the grave of animalism?
And of this animalism, as has been said, there are as many forms as there are varieties of animal life; and it is almost needful that we should be conversant with these, in order to comprehend and to be upon our guard against those; for, as the immortal principle within us has passed through so many husks or shells of matter, ever enlarging, expanding, and growing more refined in its progress, and as the human frame is the final dwelling plaice of the soul or spirit upon earth, there reside within it passions and feelings derivative from inferior and precedent bodies, and powerful in proportion to the greater power and higher development of the human body. If you look around you, you will perceive, stamped upon the face of every human being, the visible signs and tokens of his animal ancestry. They are, of course, grosser, more obvious, and more legible, in proportion to the nearness of the human being to the bird, beast, or fish through which his eternal principle has passed in its perpetual ascension. You meet with the lineaments of the wolf, the cat, the dog, the tiger, the placid ox, the ponderous elephant, the soft-eyed deer, and the fascinating snake, in the countenances of the men and women you encounter in your daily intercourse with your fellow creatures. Even their figures and their gait betray their origin. There is a suppleness and vivacity in some, a slowness and heaviness in others—a nervous mobility here, and a disposition to inactivity and sloth there—which are distinctively indicative of origin. So, too, with the amazing varieties of walk, and the equally wonderful diversities of voice, among human beings. No two are alike, and each bears the indelible impress of its animal ancestry. As we get farther and farther, by successive incarnations, from our bestial fore-runner's, these characteristics are softened down. The animal becomes finer and finer; but we can never wholly obliterate the heraldry of our family.
I know not whether, in those barbaric devices of the old fighting times, when men crested their helmets with the carved head of some animal, there may not have been an instinctive recognition of the relationship between the head beneath and the head above the visor; but certain it is, that among the purely savage tribes in many parts of the earth, there prevails a worship of certain Of the lower animals, founded upon an acknowledged sense of some mysterious kinship between the worshipping savage and the "totem" he adores.
And if each of us preserves ineffaceably in our material forms some of the physical character-istics of the animals through which we have ascended in the scale of creation, is it not reasonable to conclude—is it not a fact demonstrable by observation and experience-that we bring with us into the human life the instincts and propensities of our former states of existence? Study the character, and what is called the natural bias, of each individual, and if you possess sufficient powers of discernment and discrimination to determine the nature of the animal through which his spirit passed, immediately before he began—as a brutish earth-man—to climb the ladder of humanity, you will be startled by the correspondency which presents itself between his merely animal propensities and instincts, and those of his remote ancestor. These may be modified by civilization, but they are fundamentally identical. The ravenous ani- page 24 mal will be ravenous still, no matter in what grade of life he may be placed. The creature which was his prey formerly will be so still. The spider may spin his web in the office of an usurious money lender, and the flies may be transformed into necessitous borrowers; but their mutual relationship remains unchanged. The bird of prey may build his nest in the gilded saloons of a gambling-house, and the pigeons, or chickens, or leverets, may now appear to us as simple-minded and featherless bipeds, fluttering around the roulette table; but the old predatory instinct is as strong as ever with the obscene Vulture, swooping down upon his victims, with a hooked nose and glittering eyes, and long claw-like fingers.
So, too, with many of the occupations of life—some of them so repulsive that we cannot imagine any persons deliberately adopting them? Are not these defined for them by antecedent habits and tendencies—the mole to the mine, and the sea-bird to the career of a sailor? May not the scavenger birds of eastern cities, after the vital principle which animated them has passed into a human frame, still fulfil the same Useful purposes to mankind, in their more advanced stages of existence, which they discharged formerly? Are we not all familiar with jewelled peacocks exhibiting their iridescent necks to admiring or to envious beholders, on civic footpaths or in public gardens? have we not seen self-adoring lyre birds, in ballrooms and elsewhere, dancing round in deep admiration of their voluminous tails or skirts? Are we not all acquainted with parrots and magpies, ever repeating the same commonplaces, the same un-meaning and—lifeless formulae in pulpits and on platforms? And are there not, on the other and, admirable descendants—or to speak more correctly—ascendants from the patient sheep, the faithful dog, the docile and magnanimous elephant, and the noble and serviceable horse?
Read human nature by the light which is shed upon it from a knowledge of our origin, and you will find all mysteries made plain, all doubts and difficulties swept away; ana all darkness dissipated. Nor is it necessary that we should be versed in the intricacies of science for this purpose. Upon the whole, it may be doubted whether literature and science, unless inspirationally given—as to the Newtons, the Keplers, the Bacons, and Shakespeares of mankind-have not been a greater restraint upon the real intellectual progress and spiritual advancement of the human race, than a help to it; for the simple reason that books prevent and repress original thought in each of us. God has bestowed upon every human being a mind capable of arriving at all earthly knowledge by its own independent processes, if the possessor will only ask for light from above to quicken and expand its latent capacities. Of course the quality of that mind will be largely affected by the progress which the individual has made in the scale of being, but the germs of intellectual development are to be found in every human brain; and it is a notable fact in the history of our race, that the greatest and most beneficent inventions in this—the fourth of the seven epochs of humanity—have been communicated to us through men of a reflective turn of mind—men who thought their own thoughts, instead of copying or appropriating those of other people.
Common to all men as is the change called death, the resurrection in this life is unhappily restricted to a few, though possible to many. It ought to be one of the grandest objects of human aspiration, nevertheless it is one that is almost universally neglected. We live for the body—for the animal within us—and we suffer the eternal principle—the God-like emanation from above—the over-living spirit—the light that should burn so brightly, that should be as a pillar of fire guiding us through the human wilderness, to flicker faintly and almost to die down in the pestilential atmosphere which gathers round it in our progress through the world. Here "we have no abiding place;" yet we think and speak and act as if this were indeed the tabernacle of our everlasting rest. What is perishable we cherish, adorn, and love. What is imperishable we starve, neglect, and endeavour to destroy. The animal is all in all. The spiritual is nothing in our estimation. The former undergoes a sort of earthly apotheosis; while the latter is deposed, despised, and misused. A man has only to retire within himself and reflect—has only to sequester himself for a few days from his fellow creatures, and live among God's works in nature—has only to listen to their teachings, to study the wisdom, the harmony, and the beauty of the laws which govern their existence and development, in order to be conscious of the miserable mistake we all make in continuing to be in the grave of animalism, when we ought to pray to our Heavenly Father to instruct His holy angels to roll away the stone from the sepulchre, and thus permit the enfranchisement of our immortal spirit.
If the pampering of our animalism were conducive to our happiness in this life, there would be something intelligible in our servile devotion to all the lower instincts of our nature. But let any man who has been signally successful in the attainment of the objects upon which he has most set his heart—be they wealth, titular rank, social distinction, military, naval, literary, or scientific fame—the adulation of the classes beneath him or the envy of those around him—place himself in the confessional before God, and then answer truly to the question, Are you happy? And what would be his response? Can anyone walk through the streets of a populous city, like London or Paris, without being painfully struck by the care-worn, languid, haggard, and even animal expression of the countenances he meets with. Now and then he sees a bright and happy face—but it is that of a child or of a young girl, not yet subjected to the tyranny of fashion and convention. Otherwise all is dark, if not repulsive. Where is "the mind, the music breathing from the face?" Where the heavenly light that should play upon the human countenance divine? Nearly every face you see bears the impress of anxiety and care, passion or pain. Upon each is written a history—generally sad, page 25 often tragical. Listen to the conversation in our streets and public places of resort, and what is the burden of it? Money, money, money.
Only imagine a herd of swine in some old English forest, confabulating in this way:—"I have accumulated," exclaims an astute boar, "a bushel of acorns, and I expect to monopolise ten bushels by the time my turn comes to be converted into brawn. These acorns I shall bequeath to my piglings, with strict injunctions to add to the store, so that I may found a distinguished family of hogs, and be pointed at, for many generations to come, as the rich pig progenitor of a long line of obese and affluent swine."
Very absurd, doubtless, but not a whit more so than the conduct of us human beings, who waste the best years of our life in the endeavour to accumulate what is our equivalent to acorns; and who appear to imagine that it is our duty to exempt our children from the wise and beautiful necessity of labouring for their own subsistence. The lower animals—as we superciliously call them are wiser than we are. They have an instinctive trust in God's providence. As a general rule—with a few such well-known exceptions as the ant, the bee, and the squirrel—they take no heed of the morrow. They are simply submissive to natural laws, and are perfectly happy, in consequence. They know, by a species of intuition, that as the sun rose this morning and the green leaf and tender blade of grass continued their growth, and the dew fell, and the blessed sunshine descended upon them, and all the sweet and gracious influences of nature combined to make the earth fruitful and to replenish in the living hour whatsoever supplies of food were consumed on the previous day, so, on the morrow, the same all-seeing, all-providing, all-loving God and Father of us all, will care for their wants and for those of their young. Man is literally and absolutely the only animal on the face of this beautiful earth which practically denies and ignores the existence and activity of a paternal Providence. He acts as if there were no such thing in the world, and he obstinately refuses to be enlightened by experience. He is perpetually being admonished that this over-ruling Providence is all-powerful and all-pervading; he sees—daily and hourly—the dissipation of wealth hoarded up by men who fondly believed it would endure for ever—the passage into oblivion of names and reputations which, it was conjeetured, would be immortal on the earth—and the futility and worthlessness of all kinds of human schemes of ambition and aggrandizement; nevertheless he blindly and foolishly perseveres in fighting against reason, against revelation, and against God; and, as a matter of course, he is ultimately worsted and destroyed in the insane and disastrous conflict.
There is a darkness greater than that which we associate with the change called death—a darkness enshrouding all our faculties in a thick pall—a darkness so deep and dense as to appear almost impenetrable. And as it is internally—as the spirit—the immortal principle—the emanation from the Infinite Mind—which is within us, is enfolded by this thick gloom of selfishness and worldliness, so it is with our external aspects. Wherefore should there be such a difference between the divine expression which inspired painters, like Fra Angelico da Piesole, and Michael Angelo, and Raffaelle have stamped upon the virgins, saints, and angels yet living upon and almost breathing from their canvasses, and the haggard, care-worn, dark and grovelling countenances which surround us in the world? Do you not suppose that to all of us—angels in embryo—beings linked with a chain of intelligences stretching up to God himself, would be vouchsafed some of the brightness of the other world, if we habitually set our faces towards it? The light which "was never yet on tree or flower"—would irradiate us—would shine upon us with a softened but growing lustre if, instead of bending our gaze so persistently downward upon the earth and its perishing things, we would lift it up to the source of all light, the fountain of all glory, the inexhaustible reservoir of all splendour. But, in order to do so, there must be a spiritual resurrection within us. We must come forth, like Lazarus, out of the grave of animalism, and leave behind us the cere-clothes of natural interests and the decomposition which springs from our devotion to, and absorption by, what is of the earth earthy, transitory, and perishable.
That immortal principle, that spark of the divinity, I have spoken of, resembles the seed of a flower; and as is the husk of that seed—the rough envelope which encloses it—so are our bodily wants and animal passions. For a time they overlay and conceal the beautiful germ. For a time it is—as it were—buried in the earth. But after a time, under the benignant influences of the sunshine and the dews, and in virtue of that wonderful power of growth and evolution which resides in it, the seed puts forth a tender shoot above the ground and sends down delicate little rootlets below it, and the shoot expands and aspires. It looks up in love and gratitude to the beneficent sun, welcomes the bland breezes and the soft showers of heaven, and so grows from day to day and from hour to hour—ever manifesting new beauties, ever enlarging in bulk, and ever exhibiting such a matchless perfection of form, and such an exquisite wisdom of purpose, that it is almost impossible to study it without exclaiming, Behold a miracle! And yet, as we know, it is no miracle. It is merely the product of an eternal and immutable law prescribed by Infinite Wisdom and Foresight.
And as is the tiny seed buried in the earth, such is the spirit within us. It is capable of receiving its resurrection here. It awaits its emancipation upon earth. It requires to be freed from the trammels of animal passion. The body is as necessary to it here, as the rootlets are necessary to the flower, but they should be kept in strict subordination to it. We should not reverse the beautiful processes of nature. We should not bestow all our attention on the roots and deliberately depress and destroy the beautiful blossom, the bright consummate flower. Yet this is precisely what we do. All page 26 our care, all our forethought, and all our affection are lavished on this perishable vehicle and envelope of the soul—on this machinery of bone, flesh, blood, muscle, and tissue, which will eventually be the prey of the worm and the victim of corruption. We live for it, in it, by it, through it. We believe—or profess to believe—that that which we neglect and despise is immortal; but all our actions belie our belief. There is nothing so dear to us as the objects and pursuits of animalism, nothing so far from us as the vivifying conviction that the spirit within us is eternal—never had a beginning and never can have an ending. Were it not so, should we live as we do? Consider how few and easily satisfied are our natural wants. Consider how—beyond their rational satisfaction—everything is productive of discontent, disappointment, and disease. Read the life or watch the existence of any one man who has lived for this world and for the body only, and upon whom fame and opulence have lavished all they could bestow, and tell me if he was happy. Many of us have probably—in the vicissitudes of our chequered lives—been familiar with comparative opulence and with comparative poverty, and, if so, must we not confess in our heart of hearts, that there were no enjoyments and that there has been no happiness, within the range of our personal experience comparable with those which lay within our reach when life was a hard struggle, and the holiday of to-day had to be purchased by the frugality, the forethought, and the self-denial of many yesterdays? Yes, believe it, there is no true happiness in this world but that which is wholly independent of the animal; and as it is absolutely certain that the happiness of the great hereafter will be incapable of enjoyment except by those out of whose natures the animal has been expelled, before they quitted this life—will be accessible, indeed, to none others—should we not strive, by the help of God and his holy angels, who are ever ready ever waiting and watching for the opportunity to assist us—to bring about the resurrection of the spirit from the grave of animalism, while we are inhabitants of the globe?
For, looking beyond it, what awaits us? Penetrating the thin veil which separates the spiritual from the material, what do we see with the purified vision of faith and love! An endless ascension from sphere to sphere—a perpetual growth in knowledge and affection—a constant acquisition of new faculties—a boundless expansion of the horizon of observation and perception—a glorious and inspiring intercourse with the prophets and seers, the sages and philosophers, the poets and artists of all antiquity—the power to survey the entire field of mundane history from the moment when God, by a divine afflatus, created this little globe of ours, until the hour at which we were permitted to take our departure from it. And through the ages yet to come—which will be to us like those which have rolled away—a perpetual Now, we shall watch with the deepest interest and the tenderest solicitude, the progress of our race upon the earth. We shall be permitted, indeed, to instruct, to comfort, to counsel, and to guide them; and we shall be enabled to comprehend—though still in a finite degree—the eternal truth that God is love, and that as He is a Spirit, so he must be worshipped in spirit and in truth, world without end,
Printed at the "Daily Times" Office, Princes Street, Dunedin.