True Greatness Of Christianity - Part 4
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Let us keep hold of this same experimental process in dealing with the promise of immortality; although here, if anywhere, Aberglaube, extra-belief, hope, anticipation, may well be permitted to come in. Still, what we need for our foundation is not Aberglaube, but Glaube; not extra-belief in what is beyond the range of possible experience, but belief in what can and should be known to be true.
By what futilities the demonstration of our immortality may be attempted, is to be seen in Plato's Phoedo. Man's natural desire for continuance, however little it may be worth as a scientific proof of our immortality, is at least a proof a thousand times stronger than any such demonstration., The want of solidity in such argument is so palpable, that one scarcely cares to turn a steady regard upon it at all. And even of the common Christian conception of immortality the want of solidity is, perhaps, most conclusively shown, by the impossibility of so framing it as that it will at all support a steady regard turned upon it. In our English popular religion, for instance, the common conception of a future state of bliss is just that of the Vision of Mirza : `Persons dressed in glorious habits with garlands on their heads, passing among the trees, lying down by the fountains, or resting on beds of flowers, amid a confused harmony of. singing birds, falling waters, human voices, and musical instruments.' Or, even, with many, it is that of a kind of perfected middle-class home, with labour ended, the table spread, goodness all around, the lost ones restored, hymnody incessant. `Poor fragments all of this low earth!' Keble might well say. That this conception of immortality cannot possibly be true, we feel, the moment we consider it seriously. And yet who can devise any conception of a future state of bliss, which shall bear close examination better?
Here, again, it is far best to take what is experimentally true, and nothing else, as our foundation, and afterwards to let hope and aspiration grow, if so it may be, out of this. Israel had said : ` In the way of righteousness is life, and in the pathway thereof there is no death.' He had said : ' The righteous hath hope in his death.' He had cried to his Eternal that loveth righteousness : ` Thou wilt not leave my soul in the grave, neither wilt thou suffer thy faithful servant to see corruption ! thou wilt show me the path of life !' And by a kind of short cut to the conclusion thus laid down, the Jews constructed their fairy-tale of an advent, judgment, and resurrection, as we find it in the Book of Daniel. Jesus, again, had said : ' If a man keep my word, he shall never see death.' And by a kind of short cut to the conclusion thus laid down, Christians constructed their fairy-tale of the second advent, the resurrection of the body, the New Jerusalem. But instead of fairy-tales, let us begin, at least, with certainties.
And a certainty is the sense of life, of being truly alive, which accompanies righteousness. If this experimental sense does not rise to be stronger in us, does not rise to the sense of being inextinguishable, that is probably because our experience of righteousness is really so very small. Here, therefore, we may well permit ourselves to trust Jesus, whose practice and intuition both of them went, in these matters, so far deeper than ours. At any rate, we have in our experience this strong, sense of 1¼ from righteousness to start with ; capable of being developed, apparently, by progress in righteousness into something immeasurably stronger. Here is the true basis for all religious aspiration after immortality. And it is an experimental basis; and therefore, as to grandeur, it is again, when compared with the popular Aberglaube, grand with all the superior grandeur, on a subject of the highest seriousness, of reality over fantasy.
At present, the fantasy hides the grandeur of the reality. But when all the Aberglaube of the second advent, with its signs in the sky, sounding trumpets and opening graves, is cleared away, then and not till then will come out the pro-found truth and grandeur of words of Jesus like these : 'The hour is coming, when they that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God ; and they that hear shall live.'