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here on earth we did not hear weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth? Is there not misery here as well as there?
We will not cross the boundary of this world in search of terrors. Before our eyes is suffering enough to affright us from evil. There is no end to the misery of man. All round the earth comes the wail of millions-lamenting, cursing, and despairing. Yea, in our own breasts has been felt that mortal agony which makes the place of future punishment so fearful. We have already tasted the bitterness of death. Whoever has felt remorse-he knows what hell is. REMORSE-that word of which a dying statesman said, men knew not the meaning--who has not felt its sting? When in a moment of passion we have given way to a burst of fury, venting our rage in a torrent of bitter words, or doing some cruel, but irrevocable act-then comes a reaction. Then arise shame and self-reproach. Then drop the bitter, burning tears. I suppose that every man of sensibility has at times suffered a mental anguish, which, were it perpetual, would lead him to say, It is better for me to die than to live. All that anguish religion would have prevented. And if we have it now, it will avert such agonies a thousand times hereafter. It is not therefore merely to save your souls in a distant futurity-but to save them now-to deliver them from innumerable woes--that we fly to this great source of strength and of peace.
Why should I defer this great necessity of my being? Nonot to-morrow, but to-day. I am not willing to suffer one hour of wretchedness which religion would prevent.
Nor would I lose the present happiness it confers. For it is not in heaven alone that it blesses the soul. It has promise of the life that now is as well as of that which is to come. It makes happy beings here as well as there. Religion deepens joy, causing every current of gladness to rush through the heart in a fuller stream. It takes away the feverishness of ordinary pleasure, and breathes over the spirit a holy calm. There is a peculiar countenance which I have never seen but in religious It is full of sensibility and benevolence. But its chief expression is Peace. No one can look into such a face, and not be fascinated by it. There is a clearness and depth in the eye, as of a lake with no dark and troubled currents beneath. And what meaning in its smile! That gentle radiation of the features passes over the placid countenance like a breath of air, rippling still and tranquil waters. This is the very spirit of the skies, and it bears light and joy wherever it is wafted over the earth.
If this train of thought be just, then the manner in which Death is often presented as an argument for religion, has no force in it. A prominence is given to that event, as if it were not merely a change of existence, but life's final and overwhelming
catastrophe. And indeed it is to be feared, that, though not avowed, such an apprehension creeps into the thoughts, and that good men reason for religion with infidel arguments.
But what is death? Is it a pause of life-a rest of the soul until the resurrection-until the ages of human history shall be complete? Then it is not to be feared. For it suffers nothing. It is still and voiceless. It utters no sound. It feels no pain. How much more fearful is this trembling, throbbing life which now has hold of us. That quivers like a reed shaken by the wind. Not a breath blows upon it but makes it tremble with joy or grief. The chambers of death are silent. All is tranquillity and peace. But the halls of life ring with shouts of conflict -with bursts of passion and of tears. The dead weep no more. The only tears that water the grave, are shed by the living as they stand over the silent dust. Indeed, if death were but a long sleep, we might welcome him as an aged friend, who comes to take us to rest in his arms.
In that slumber and repose there is nothing to be afraid of. The mere departing from the world has in it no terror, except as whatever is enveloped with mystery excites a vague dread. In such cases we fear though we know not what we fear. But mere dissolution has neither joy nor pain. It furnishes no argument for religion. Indeed it proves nothing one way or the other.
But some think to make us start back by describing death as attended with circumstances of physical horror. Certain minds delight to awaken terror, and they labor to collect around death. every gloomy image. They love to harrow the feelings of those who hear them by speaking in sepulchral tones of the corpse, and the winding-sheet, and the clod falling on the coffin.
There is a connection in which these images of man's mortality may teach a useful lesson. For example, when we speak of the insignificance of human glory-of the nothingness of earthly grandeur-it is most instructive to point the proud spirit to the hour, when all its greatness will be brought down to darkness and the worm. Then do we find a solemn monitor in graves and tombs. Let not man dream of immortality-he, whose end is destruction-who will soon be given back to the earth-" ashes to ashes, dust to dust."
But when the object is to excite a shudder by presenting to the mind loathsome images of decay-by telling us that our bodies shall be food for worms-it is a vulgar artifice, which can affect only the nervous and the timid. In death, thus viewed, there is nothing truly terrible.
Here is a confusion of ideas, which need to be separated. Men speak of the "cold grave." But what is cold or heat, where there is no sensation? What means "the dark and narrow tomb," if no eye is opened to discern the absence of light? Truly, it is no more dark, than if the dead were laid, as they are, among some tribes of Indians-in the tops of trees. By thus
analyzing our emotions, we find that insensibly we have associated the idea of consciousness with the body turning to corrup tion. The loneliness of the sepulchre is dreadful, because we fancy that the mind is wakeful. We picture to ourselves the dead man rising up in his grave-clothes, and casting his cold eye around his dark and solitary cell. Therefore, we shudder to be buried, because we cannot divest ourselves of a vague fear of being buried alive! Take away this, and there is nothing more to dread. If life be departed-or dormant-then there is nothing more painful in the prospect that the body of a man should be left in the ground than the root of a tree. Indeed one of our poets, in his Thanatopsis, has made pleasing the idea of thus "mingling with the elements."
Nay, if death be not merely a sleep for ages, but a sleep FOREVER, that is not the most dreadful thought which can weigh down the mind. Those who argue for the immortality of man from his desire of life, perhaps exaggerate his dread of annihilation. A celebrated preacher exclaims in a burst of powerful language: "O death! dark hour to hopeless unbelief! hour to which, in that creed of despair, no hour shall succeed! being's last hour! to which even the shadows of avenging retribution were brightness and relief!"
Such may be the natural instinct. But this love of existence is sadly changed by misery and by guilt. When life can but perpetuate bitter memories, the wretched rush from it,
"Mad from life's history,
And not alone the desolate and broken hearted. But those who have tried every pleasure of life, and exhausted them all, turn to death as a new excitement, and fondly dream of wandering as shades on "the black, Plutonian shore," inhaling "the freshness of the eternal night."
Even though their spirits pass through darkness into naught, they feel little horror of the change. Many a sceptic, and Epicurean, looks forward to a final and utter cessation of existence with no trembling. Nay, it would seem as if he counted upon it as a last triumph to die without pain. He anticipates coolly the sensation of dying, and imagines himself falling into a soft slumber, as after a weary day-the senses gradually closing, and a feeling of repose stealing over him, delicious as the opiumeater's dream, and thus slowly sinking down into total unconsciousness-a rest, which the hopes and fears of existence shall vex nevermore!
Strange that this "utter end," desired alike by misery and by * Hood's "Bridge of Sighs."
wearied pleasure, should sometimes be demanded even by am
A daring spirit, that has climbed to the summit of glory, feels a wild excitement in the prospect of bursting into the vacant heavens, leaving men to gaze after it in wonder. Danton-sentenced to the scaffold in the full vigor of life, exulted in this tragical end of his career :-" I shall soon be with annihilation; but my name will live in the Pantheon of history."
When Mirabeau was dying, the energies of his Herculean frame long struggled with the mortal disease. He had extorted a promise from his physician, that, when the agonies of death became excruciating, he would give him opium. Still the mighty heart beat on. He said that he felt a hundred years of life throbbing in him. At length he ceased to speak. Then his eye sought the physician, and seemed to implore the fatal draught. He took a pencil, and traced one word, dormir. To sleepsleep-sleep-was the last prayer of the dying tribune. He wished to sleep for an eternity!
It is not then the silence and forgetfulness of death that men fear most. To the " aching head" it is a welcome hope,
"To slumber in that dreamless bed
But they fear that they shall not slumber. "To sleep-perchance to dream." It is the waking moments that they dreadwhen the tide of life flows back into the soul-when the dreaminess of departing is over, and they find themselves awake, where they can no more sleep, nor die. Then will they know, that if it was a fearful thing once to die-it is infinitely more terrible to live, without a possibility of death.
Even the gloomy expectation of Danton is disappointed. Ambition cannot soar so high as to pass the bounds of existence. To misery God promises no such relief. Nor to the wicked does he grant permission thus to escape forever. No darkness of eternity covers them with its friendly gloom.
Nor are the good man's hopes destined to be lost in the shadow of death. He is not born to die. When his soul departs out of the body, it does not sink into a dark cloud and disappear. It mounts to a higher state.
If therefore we look beyond death, it is still life-life forever— which alone is to be hoped or feared. It is not the cessation of being, but its continuance, that appals us. Not that the body will decay-but that there is in man a principle which resists decay. Not that we shall be soon dead and gone. But that in some other region our spirits will live. This necessity of lifethis impossibility of annihilation, awakes deadly fear. And it is this which makes religion so immensely important, because that teaches us How to live. The effect of moral action clings to us
with the tenacity of life. It is not the immediate suffering which follows one wrong act which makes its commission so bitter. But one transgression is the forerunner of a thousand. These airy motions of the will soon harden into habits. Evil passions grow too strong to be resisted. Therefore must they be checked in the beginning, and a firm principle of religion be implanted. For a mind that has no sense of religious obligation, and no principle of obedience, has lost the main element of selfcontrol, and must go on to sin and to inflict pain upon itself.
With such elements of misery infixed in the very being, what more terrible prospect can be offered than simple existence? Will it not be enough that the heart must beat on forever, when every throb is agony?
Some tell us that men are punished as they go along, and therefore that they cannot be punished in a future world. I admit the premise, but deny totally the conclusion. True, men do suffer bitterly for their evil deeds in this life. But so far from that being an evidence that they will not suffer still hereafter, it is the strongest presumption of future misery. For sin against God, and duty, and conscience, is not like a civil offence, which is punished by imprisonment, and which can claim no more when the term of the penalty expires. It is rather a poisoning of man's whole nature-a deadly venom, working in the blood and brain-and which must cause suffering as long as it remains in the system-even if that be forever! Because I see that every wrong act causes man either bodily or mental suffering, I am certain that, when habits of wickedness have been confirmed by seventy years of sinful life, they must produce complete and uninterrupted misery.
Others, in despair, have sought refuge under the very threatenings of the Bible, and hoped that by eternal death God intended annihilation-that the wicked should be eternally dead. But no, life remains, whether the great hope of eternity be lost or won. The Scriptures assure us that a time will come when death shall be destroyed, and forevermore unknown. But to the irreclaimably bad and lost, life will be no boon. They will long to die, and their supreme misery will be that they cannot expire.
Here then I rest my argument for religion. It is not because you are to die, but because you live, and must live, and religion alone can save you from infinite misery here and hereafter.
I say not, you must be religious because life is short, and death is near. Alas! life may be very long-too long for your happiness. Death may be far distant. And before you reach that bourne, you may have to traverse years of suffering that shall seem like so many slow moving centuries. Therefore, do you need religion-not for a dying hour-but here-and now. Take to your bosom that celestial Comforter. It will mitigate every human sorrow. It will break the force of those inevitable calamities, which must fall even upon prosperous life, so that they shall