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In the first place, we have the doctrine of an ethereal state, which may or may not be eternal;
Secondly, we have the doctrine of a bodily existence, which may or may not be cternal; and,
In the third place, we have the doctrine that a future state is inconceivable or impossible.
27. The first of these beliefs was probably held by a portion of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, and by most of the Jews. It was likewise held by many amongst the eastern nations. It formed indeed one of the two ways of imagining a future state, but it was of a very vague and dreary nature; and from the passage of Homer already quoted (Art. 14), we realise the longing supposed to be felt by the inhabitants of such a place to escape into a more substantial region. Unquestionably it was not a place in which practical men like the Jews, for instance, would wish to dwell, and yet no doubt it had great attraction for minds of a visionary and ecstatic nature, who held matter to be the source of evil.
The return of the soul to its divine original, an Egyptian doctrine, the entrance into Nirvâna, proclaimed by Buddha, and the absorption into Buddha himself, proclaimed by some of his followers, are all proofs that a doctrine of this nature has peculiar fascinations for a dreamy order of minds. Nor must we analyse too rigidly the exact meaning and tendency of such doctrines, inasmuch as we cannot easily enter into the real feelings of those who propounded them, and who probably entertained conceptions which cannot adequately be expressed in words.
28. Coming now to the belief in a bodily future existence, it is remarkable that the doctrine of a trans
migration of souls was extensively prevalent among all the nations we have named, if we except the Jews. It was believed in, as we have seen, by a large class of the Egyptians; it was introduced into Greece by Pythagoras and his followers; it is considered to have been from time immemorial a common property of the various religions of the extreme East; and it is recorded by Cæsar that the Druids believed in the same doctrine, although they confined the transmigration to human bodies.
It will perhaps surprise many of our readers to learn the extensive prevalence of such a doctrine, wondering as they must how it is possible to attach certainty to an existence which passes through the body of various men and animals-something perhaps like a draught of Lethe being administered at the moment of passage. But the antients, being unable to rise to a higher conception of a bodily future, were compelled to admit either this doctrine or one yet more absurd, namely, that the very same body which was laid in the tomb will once more be animated by the spirit which formerly possessed it. It does not therefore surprise us that the antients, with the exception probably of a portion of the inhabitants of Egypt, and some of the Jews, should have preferred the doctrine of transmigration; but we are exceedingly surprised that the alternative doctrine, of manifestly Egyptian parentage, should have come to be accepted by the modern nations of Europe under the garb of Christianity. We shall return again to this subject, but meanwhile let us observe that, when men first began to ask the How of a future state, the reply was something extremely vague and unsatisfy
ing. No wonder, then, that a class of men who had not unlimited confidence in God, and who could not believe in either of the doctrines of a future state, should have lapsed into philosophical infidelity and denied altogether the possibility of a future state.
29. We have thus arrived at a stage of development in which we may imagine the next step to be one which will throw some light upon this question of How-that is, which will give, or at any rate profess to give, some information regarding the conditions of a future life. The intellect of man had attempted to obtain such knowledge for itself, but the result was a conspicuous failure; the sword was not sharp enough, nor the arm which wielded it powerful enough, to hew down the thick and seemingly impenetrable barrier which closes the avenue to the world of spirits.
'We cannot go to them,' was the unanimous wail of the antient philosophers; till some of the more hopeful of them suggested as an alternative that they might come to us. For clearly, if A and B are separated from each other by a barrier, and there yet remains good-will between them, two courses are possible, and only two, if they are to be made acquainted with each other. One or other must surmount the barrier. If A be so weak as to be unable to do so, and if at the same time it would be a matter of importance to him to become better acquainted with B, then B may be expected to surmount the barrier if it be surmountable, and exhibit himself to A.
30. As a matter of history, it appears that about the time of the birth of Christ there was an expecta
tion, however vague, that something of this nature was about to take place. And when Christ made His appearance, and gathered round Him a little band of disciples, there can be no doubt that He claimed to be the bearer of intelligence from the world of spirits. All who accept the gospel narratives, however much they may differ from one another as to the light in which they regard His person and doctrine, will yet, we think, agree in this. The claim made by His disciples for His gospel was that it ‘had brought life and immortality to light' (2 Tim. i. 10), and that Christ had by his resurrection 'abolished death.' The grounds of the claim were built upon the belief that He showed Himself after His resurrection to a body of men who had not previously believed that the Messiah Himself was to die and rise again.
His disciples in short took His resurrection for a proof that life is possible after death. Christ was believed to be the first-fruits of a system which was destined ultimately to enfold in the same glorious immortality all those of His disciples who were united to their Master by a sincere and living faith. Evidently Paul attached the utmost importance to the fact of Christ's resurrection, for he says (I Cor. xv. 14), 'If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God: because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ; whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
31. Let us now try to ascertain what sort of future state was taught by Christ. In the first place, it was a bodily state—a state which could even adapt itself with some modification to the views of the Pharisees who believed in the resurrection of the body. But the modification introduced is sufficiently important. The occasion of its announcement was a disputation with the Sadducees, who attempted to perplex Christ by stating to Him the case of a woman who had been married in this life to seven brethren in succession, and then asking Him whose wife she should be in the resurrection. We are told (Matthew xxii. 29) that in reply to this question, 'Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.' We may gather by implication from this narrative, that the question would have puzzled the Pharisees, who had certainly not arrived at this idea of the resurrection state.
They must evidently have thought that the resurrection body was to be similar to the present one, and although they believed in the existence of angels, and their occasional appearance to human beings, they cannot have risen to the idea that it was possible for man to reach a similar state after death.
32. It may perhaps be said that many of Christ's sayings would seem to lead towards the doctrine of a resurrection of the very same material particles which are laid in the grave. To this, however, it may be replied that Christ undoubtedly wished to impress upon His hearers, who were for the most part unlearned and ignorant men, the substantial and bodily