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THE HOPE OF REUNION IN ANOTHER WORLD ACCORDANT
WITH THE GENERAL APPREHENSION OP MEN.
The opinions of the heathen, both ancient and modern, on most religious subjects, are blended with much fancy and fable. They resemble mines, where the precious metal lies in scattered particles and is found to bear but a small proportion to the dross in which it is buried. The pagan mythology however may be studied with peculiar advantage. While it illustrates the close connection between sacred and profane literature, and thus contributes largely to that mass of evidences by which the authenticity and divine origin of the sacred records are established, it furnishes a strong testimony in many instances to the reasonableness of those grand principles, which enter into the very basis of christian hope, and the main-spring of virtuous conduct. To the doctrine which forms the topic of our present inquiry it brings a presumptive attestation, which has too much weight to be entirely overlooked by any thinking person. The hope of renewed intercourse in another world with departed friends, is indeed peculiar to no age or nation of the world. It has been maintained almost as universally as the doctrine of a future state, and appears to have been received without hesitation as one of its correlative and most welcome truths. If the philosophers of old were inclined to be
sceptical on this point, their doubts are to be traced rather to the weakness of their faith as it respects the certainty of a life to come than to any other assignable cause. They never seem to have considered the expectation in question to be an irrational one, assuming the immortality of the soul as an established article of religious belief. They hailed it in this case as matter of course, to the consolatory hope, when death compelled them to bid adieu to earthly scenes, or to shed the tear of friendship over the ashes of departed worth. In perusing the writings of the heathen poets and philosophers, we meet with many irrational opinions concerning the state of the soul after death; and are reminded of the superior advantages which we enjoy in the possession of that holy volume, which has brought life and immortality to light. But their notions favoured most decidedly the hope of the perpetuation of virtuous friendship. It was supposed by many
and clung that departed men underwent some astonishing change in consequence, chiefly, of their escape from the shackles of a gross and mortal body, which was conceived to be the chief cause of their unhappy and disordered condition in the present world. Delivered from the influence of sensual appetites and impressions, and transformed into etherial and animated vehicles, they were believed to find their native element in some common place of residence, where they mingled together and were alive to high degrees of pleasure or pain, according to their respective characters in the prior stage of their existence. They were represented to be advanced in intellectual power and knowledge, to be governed by the impulse of human sympathies, to retain a distinct consciousness of their identity, and to remember the chief scenes and events with which they were familiar on earth, and the persons with whom they were wont to associate. Nay, the moral habits contracted by the soul, during her embodied state, were supposed to survive the event of dissolution, and, acquiring augmented energy, to constitute the chief source of her torment or bliss in the regions of the dead.*
Much of the worship which obtained amongst the Greeks and Romans originated in these
Xenoph. Memorabilia, Plat. Phæd. Cicero. Tusc. Quæst. Iliad & Odyss.
views of a future state, and might he adverted to, in illustration of the subject before us. The pagan superstition had indeed its chief foundation in the corruption of human nature; which sought a subterfuge by deifying vice, and by merging the moral claims and spiritualities of religion in external and ostentatious forms. But it acquired no small share of its fascinating influence over the people, by blending itself with many interesting associations which appealed in a powerful manner to the patriotic and social feelings. For the polytheism of the ancients was, to a great extent, founded upon the supposed existence of a connection between the living and the dead. When distinguished heroes, statesmen, and heads of families, were removed from the world, they were conceived to be raised to degrees of rank and power, corresponding with their original characters; and since it is usual for affection to overrate the merits of its object, it is not strange that surviving friends should in many instances have imagined them to be placed on a level with the deities, or demigods, of the elysian regions ; and to occupy important and influential stations in the government of nature, and in the administration of human affairs. Thus gratitude, affection, and pride, concurred to multiply the number of the heathen gods. Patriots and warriors lived in the grateful recollections of those who had listened to their eloquence, witnessed their valour, and enjoyed their friendship; and the memory of them was both extolled and perpetuated by means of images, altars, and sacred rites. The child deified the parent—the parent the child; and the sorrow of the bereaved heart found a proud and specious alleviation in these acts of idolatry towards its lamented object. But that which more particularly deserves our notice, in connection with the present subject, is, that the souls of these departed beings were supposed to retain the passions and predilections which belonged to their human condition. How elevated soever the rank assigned to them, it was at least the popular belief, that they did not disdain to look down with peculiar and benevolent interest upon the communities, families, and individuals to which they were related on earth ; and that they were wont to visit in forms impalpable, though sometimes visible to the human eye, the chief scenes and abodes which they were known to frequent in the days of their mortal life. To this belief may be placed much of the idolatry which prevailed amongst the most refined and enlightened inhabitants of the heathen world, and of the hold which it had on their feelings; binding them to it by a potent and fatal spell, which nothing was able to dissolve but the power of the cross. Hence nations, provinces and cities, had their tutelar deities, and families their household gods, the