« PreviousContinue »
but instances of their not affecting each other afford a presumption of the contrary. Instances of mortal diseases not impairing our present reflecting powers, evidently turn our thoughts even from imagining such diseases to be the destruction of them. Several things, indeed, greatly affect all our living powers, and at length suspend the exercise of them; as, for instance, drowsiness, increasing till it ends in sound sleep: and from hence we might have imagined it would destroy them, till we found by experience the weakness of this way of judging. But, in the diseases now mentioned, there is not so much as this shadow of probability, to lead us to any such conclusion as to the reflecting powers which we have at present; for in those diseases, persons the moment before death appear to be in the highest vigour of life. They discover apprehension, memory, reason, all entire; with the utmost force of affection ; sense of a character, of shame and honour ; and the highest mental enjoyments and sufferings, even to the last gasp: and these surely prove even greater vigour of life than bodily strength does. Now, what pretence is there for thinking, that a progressive disease, when arrived to such a degree, I mean that degree which is mortal, will destroy those powers which were not impaired, which were not affected by it, during its whole progress, quite up to that degree ? And if death, by diseases of this kind, is not the destruction of our present reflecting powers, it will scarce be thought that death by any other means is.
It is obvious that this general observation may be carried on further : And there appears so little connexion between our bodily powers of sensation, and our present powers of reflection, that there is no reason to conclude that death, which destroys the former, does so much as suspend the exercise of the latter, or interrupt our continuing to exist in the like state of reflection which we do now. For, suspension of reason, memory, and the affections which they excite, is no part of the idea of death, nor is implied in our notion of it. And our daily experiencing these powers to be exercised, without any assistance, that we know of, from
those bodies which will be dissolved by death; and our finding often, that the exercise of them is so lively to the last these things afford a sensible apprehension, that death may not perhaps be so much as a discontinuance of the exercise of these powers, nor of the enjoyments and sufferings which it implies *; so that our posthumous life, whatever there may be in it additional to our present, yet may not be entirely beginning anew, but going on. in some sort, and in some respects, answer to our birth, which is not a suspension of the faculties which we had before it, or a total change of the state of life in which we existed when in the womb, but a continuation of both, with such and such great alterations.
Nay, for aught we know of ourselves, of our present life, and of death, death may immediately, in the natural course of things, put us into a higher and more enlarged state of life, as our birth doest; a state in which our capacities and sphere of perception, and of action, may be much greater than at present. For, as our relation to our external organs of sense renders us capable of existing in our present state of sensation, so it may be the only natural hindrance to our existing, immediately and of course, in a higher state of reflection. The truth is, reason does not at all show us in what state death naturally leaves us. But were we sure that it would suspend all our perceptive and active powers, yet the suspension of a power, and the destruction of it, are effects so totally different in kind, as we experience from sleep and a swoon, that we cannot in any wise argue from one to the other; or conclude, even to the lowest degree of probability, that the same kind of force which is sufficient to suspend our faculties, though it be increased ever so much, will be sufficient to destroy them.
* There are three distinct questions, relating to a future life, here considered:- Whether death be the destruction of living agents? if not, whether it be the destruction of their present powers of reflection, as it certainly is the destruction of their present powers of sensation ? and, if not, whether it be the suspension, or discontinuance of the exercise, of these present reflecting powers ? Now, if there be no reason to believe the last, there will be, if that were possible, less for the next, and less still for the first.
+ This, according to Strabo, was the opinion of the Brahmans; yourselv μεν γαρ δη τον μεν ενθαδε βιον, ώς αν ακμην κυομενων ειναι τον δε θανατον, γενεσιν εις τον οντως βιον, και τον ευδαιμονα τους φιλοσοφησασι. Lib. XV. p. 1039. edit. Amst. 1707. To which opinion, perhaps, Antoninus may allude in these words, ως νυν περιμενεις, ποτε εμβρυον εκ της γαστρος της γυναικος σου εξελβη, δυτως εκδεχεσθαι την ώραν εν ητο ψυχαριον σου του ελυτρου τουτου εκπεσειται. . Lib. IX. c. 3.
These observations together may be sufficient to show, how little presumption there is that death is the destruction of human creatures. However, there is the shadow of an analogy, which may lead us to imagine it is—the supposed likeness which is observed between the decay of vegetables and of living creatures. And this likeness is indeed sufficient to afford the poets very apt allusions to the flowers of the field, in their pictures of the frailty of our present life. But, in reason, the analogy is so far from holding, that there appears no ground even for the comparison, as to the present question ; because one of the two subjects compared is wholly void of that, which is the principal and chief thing in the other, the power of perception and of action; and which is the only thing we are inquiring about the continuance of. So that the destruction of a vegetable is an event not similar, or analogous, to the destruction of a living agent.
But if, as was above intimated, leaving off the delusive custom of substituting imagination in the room of experience, we would confine ourselves to what we do know and understand; if we would argue only from that, and from that form our expectations—it would appear, at first sight, that as no probability of living beings ever ceasing to be so, can be concluded from the reason of the thing ; so none can be collected from the analogy of nature ; because we cannot trace any living beings beyond death. But as we are conscious that we are endued with capacities of perception and of action, and are living persons, what we are to go upon is, that we shall continue so till we foresee some accident, or event, which will endanger those capacities, or be likely to destroy us ; which death does in no wise appear to be.
And thus, when we go out of this world, we may pass into new scenes, and a new state of life and action, just as naturally as we came into the present. And this new state may naturally be a social one; and the advantages of it, advantages of every kind, may naturally be bestowed, according to some fixed general laws of wisdom, upon every one in proportion to the degrees of his virtue. And though the advantages of that future natural state should not be bestowed, as those of the present in some measure are, by the will of the society, but entirely by his more immediate action upon whom the whole frame of nature depends, yet this distribution may be just as natural, as their being distributed here by the instrumentality of men. And, indeed, though one were to allow any confused undetermined sense, which people please to put upon the word natural, it would be a shortness of thought scarce credible to imagine, that no system or course of things can be so, but only what we see at present;* especially whilst the probability of a future life, or the natural immortality of the soul, is admitted upon the evidence of reason ; because this is really both admitting and denying at once, a state of being different from the present to be natural. But the only distinct meaning of that word is stated, fixed, or settled ; since what is natural as much requires and presupposes an intelligent agent to render it, so, i. e. to effect it continually, or at stated times, as what is supernatural or miraculous does to effect it for once. And from hence it must follow, that persons' notions of what is natural will be enlarged, in proportion to their greater knowledge of the works of God, and the dispensations of his Providence. Nor is there any absurdity in supposing, that there may be beings in the universe, whose capacities, and knowledge, and views, may be so extensive, as that the whole Christian dispensation may to them appear natural, i. e. analogous or conformable to God's dealings with other parts of his creation ; as natural as the visible known course of things appears to us. For there seems scarce any
other * See Part ii. chap. 2, and Part ii. chap. 3.
possible sense to be put upon the word, but that only in which it is here used-similar, stated, or uniform,
This credibility of a future life, which has been here insisted upon, how little soever it may satisfy our curiosity, seems to answer all the purposes of religion, in like manner as a demonstrative proof would. Indeed a proof, even a demonstrative one, of a future life, would not be a proof of religion. For, that we are to live hereafter, is just as reconcileable with the scheme of atheism, and as well to be accounted for by it, as that we are now alive is ; and therefore nothing can be more absurd than to argue, from that scheme, that there can be no future state. But as religion implies a future state, any presumption against such a state is a presumption against religion. And the foregoing observations remove all presumptions of that sort, and prove, to a very considerable degree of probability, one fundamental doctrine of religion ; which, if believed, would greatly open and dispose the mind seriously to attend to the general evidence of the whole.
Of the Government of God by Rewards and Punishments ;
and particularly of the latter. That which makes the question concerning a future life to be of so great importance to us, is our capacity of happiness and misery. And that which makes the consideration of it to be of so great importance to us, is the supposition of our happiness and misery hereafter, depending upon our actions here. Without this indeed, curiosity could not but sometimes bring a subject, in which we may be so highly interested, to our thoughts ; especially upon the mortality of others, or the near prospect of our own.
But reasonable men would not take any farther thought about hereafter, than what should happen thus occasionally to rise in