Page images
PDF
EPUB

BY REV, E. H. CHAPIN.

SPIRITUAL EXISTENCE. ourselves greater than any material thing.

And, if the least principle of matter sur

vives all change, the inner life, the inNo truth is more certain, than that telligence, the moral capacity with which nothing dies. There is no such fact as God has endowed us, does not taste of annihilation. As to the least particle, death. Our essential nature, our person. God is not a God of the dead, but of the ality lives forever, and is connected with living.' He preserves its essential being an order of beings of like immortality with through every transformation. The mu- ourselves. Upon this familiar, yet importations of nature, from the periods of the tant truth, I propose to offer a few conleaf and the flower to the enormous cycles siderations. of geological or astronomical change, are And, first, I would observe that Spiritbut the motions of continual life, the fer- ual Existence is the grandest of facts. mentation and development of an exhaust- Without it, the universe is a riddle, and less energy. Death is not an end, but human life a mystery. We are not able an agent–a transition crisis—the perihel- to detect final causes. It exceeds the ion in the orbit of each thing, or order of ability of man to determine precisely for things, whether of an atom or a planet, of what God has made the universe, and the human body, or of the solar system. established its ordinances. But there are All the forms of decay are but masks of results which the present system of things regeneration, the secret alembics of vitali- unquestionably serves; and, among these, ty. The rotting stubble and the withered there is one end, which, if not designed, a calyx, the shard, the shell, the putrid deep shadow of perplexity is cast over all. lump, are moving with life. The grave The universe around us pre-supposes a is a womb, and every fibre that moulders spiritual nature to which it appeals

, and in its dark silence, is even now thrilling which it educates. The stupendous adapwith the process of transmutation.

tations among which we are placed, and But there is something in the universe the results which issue from them, are beside these material forms. They are enormously disproportionate to any matecontinually moving, but they move by a rial being. Besides a sufficiency for power external to themselves. The sub animal life, beside economical provisions, tile life that penetrates and changes them; there are, in the order of things around the substance upon which they are based, us, lessons for intellectual and moral and of which they are phenomena; sug- beings, revelations and suggestions for gests something greater than they-an thought, incentives to virtue and to worIntelligence, a Will, a Spiritual Principle, ship. And these are, by far, the grandest which they obey, and upon which they adaptations of the universe. God has not depend. And we are conscious of some- made it only for animal existence. It is thing within ourselves which is not the not merely an inn for transient shelter, body; something that is more essential a mechanical adjustment for hearing and than the muscles and organs which it con- seeing, a culinary establishment for appetrols. We are conscious of thought, of tite, a garden for amusement, and a hidaffections, of a creative power that moulds ing-place for the dead ; it is the residence and uses the elements about us, of a de- of deathless spirits; it is the sphere of sire that reaches beyond the limits of this immortal action. If it was not for the world. As to the truth of spiritual exis- sake of unconscious matter that God tence then, of a principle of being involv- created this stupendous array, neither was ed in and acting beyond the forms of it merely to be gazed at by an uncomsense, we cannot reasonably doubt. No prehending wonder, by the stupid eye of one can easily disbelieve it who attentively an animal, that he sprung over chaos yon considers nature, or notices the phenomena arch of awful beauty,' and lighted up its of his own inner being. We are connect- myriad suns, and filled all nature with an ed with a higher order of realities than overflowing life, breaking out in every those which we see around us. We are phase and nook around us, from the line beneath our feet to those great secrets It performs no preliminary work, for there that retreat in shadow, where man grows is no succeeding state. It has no moral giddy with surprise and speculation, and purpose, for morality rests upon spiritual halts, weary, before the infinite and un- sanctions. It is not the theatre of a subconfessing truth. But God has revealed lime discipline, for there is no good himself in all these forms, that they might beyond. What, then, are its use and be reflected in a conscious and kindred its meaning? Why these wonderful adapnature ; that they might excite it to divine tations, this stupendous order, this motion action, and lead it nearer and nearer to of a glorious and awful Power ? Why Himself. If, then, this fact of spiritual the pomp of the heavens, and the changexistence be blotted out, the universe is ing loveliness of the earth ; the riches of inexplicable.

summer; the grandeur of mountains and So, too, is human life inexplicable with oceans; the splendors of sunset and moonout this fact. Every phase of this life, rise; this universal, impalpable spirit of shows that it is disciplinary. But for beauty which creates an ideal, and prowhat is its discipline ? For a mortal pur- vokes a thirst, greater than sense can pose ? For the grave, and annihilation ? satisfy? And why these revelations of Is this the explanation of temptation and truth, concentric circles, ever opening outsin, the meaning of love and sorrow, the ward and deeper, tempting the mind onuse of education, the worth of social affec- ward for an unending search, yet mocking tions, the end of virtue? Surely, then, its proudest acquisitions? It is all & if spiritual existence is a falsehood, life is gorgeous enigma, a magnificent toy, proa mystery. If death and sense compre- ducing and destroying, yet working on, hend all being, strange is the spectacle of in blind, unknowning chance; and we are man struggling with sin, shunning the but flakes of being, projected by a restless specious evil and seeking the latent good, necessity out of darkness swift into annioften faint, yet bravely pursuing an ideal hilation ! And human life, with its greater than anything within or around strange mutations and experiences, its him. Strange, too, is that faith which melancholy and extatic realities, its shame whispers of higher realities, and which has and its glory, its broken resolutions and wrought such heroism and repose ; which its undying hopes, its close clinging to the is expressed in maternal resignation and things of earth, and its gravitation to an filial trust ; which assumes such majesty unseen sphere, its mysteries of birth and in the midst of poverty, disease, and pain, dissolution ; what is it, to the materialist, and which speaks in lines of kindling but a satire and a deceit? For him, it promise from the records of the dead. has no permanent glory, no solemn depth, The most intense evils that mingle with no lofty victory. But it is a procession life, come from the beating of an immortal of phantoms vanishing into nothing-a nature against its sensuous limits. It is dance of death,' since death has the the penumbra of the infinite reality to triumph, and at the end of all is a skelewhich it is related, that casts upon the ton ! soul its deepest shadow.

I remark, again, that the fact of SpiritI repeat, then, that Spiritual Excis- ual Existence gives us the truest view of ience is the grandest of facts; the highest our fellow man. It shows us our best explanation we can receive, and, for us, relations to him, and the conviction of it is an essential explanation of the universe necessary to correct the delusions of every and of human life. The materialist has day life. We meet him in the market, not only committed an intellectual mistake the street, the church; we come in con-he robs and impairs his whole nature. tact with him in the sordid collisions of This world, to him, is comparatively bar- traffic; we pass him by in our absorbing ren, and he has no sympathy with any selfishness; we are isolated from him by other. He denies the essential existence many conventionalisms; we consider him of God and man. Thus the universe is only as related to some sensual or selfish without a cause, and without an object. end. But the great bond which connects us to him is spiritual. The peeled and their mortal relics, as though it contained trampled slave shall tread the stars' as them. Can we suppose that the thought unrestrained as we. The foe whom we which communed with us, the affections dash in pieces in battle, shares with us an that clung to us, the spirit that knew us, endless heritage. The drunkard, steeped sleeps there? Let us, then, consider in loathsomeness and wrecked in soul, has them as actually in being, as alive, somestill in him a spark of immortal life. All where, in the unseen but immortal realm. earthly distinctions vanish before those of If we habitually cherish this considerathe soul. The barriers of caste, the tion, it will yield many good influences insignia of rank, dwindle to nothing in for us. It will relieve the sense of bethe spiritual estimate of man. No in- reavement. After all, the dead have not equality can destroy the relationship, the left that void in existence which we are so essential likeness between us. Thus, too, apt to feel. They are still linked to us we discover the great evil of sin—the by living tics. The power by which they worst effect of which is within, and is really communed with us while they were manifest not in poverty, and pain, and upon the earth, which touched us closer bodily defacement; but in the discrowned than any bodily peculiarity, survives and faculties, the unworthy love, the low ideal, is active still. Thus the feeling of lonelithe brutalized and enslaved spirit. If ness is abated, and the awe of the spiritthere is any living spring in reforms then, ual world is mingled with a loving confiif there is any force in their appeal, if dence. And the thought which will there is any prospect of a better society, sometimes suggest itself; the thought that and a sweeter communion here between the departed are nearer to us, and more man and man, it rests upon thi fact of aware of us than we know, may not be a spiritual existence.

mere fancy. The sentiment which has And this leads me to speak of other consecrated night as a peculiarly spiritual relations into which we are brought by season, may not be all a delusion. In this fact. We are associated with beings that still time, the flood of human passion who are not of this earth. Our real is at rest, and the grosser forms of being kindred is not with the seen and the tem- are obscured. A dull and drossy weight poral, but with the unseen and the is lifted from the soul, and we rise more eternal. We are denizens of the great easily to communion with higher realities. region of spiritual life, even as in the Our sympathy with nature, and with Infinite Spirit we live, move, and have things beyond nature, is more quick and our being. And without following other refined. 'We have the view of other trains of thought which grow out of this worlds, too, rolling in calm splendor fact, I remark that there is a soothing and through the noon of night; the trackless consolatory influence in contemplating it. infinitude of the firmament excites our awe I allude to the connection which thus we at the vastness in which we stand ; and have with the departed—with those whom we think of the peopled spaces that lie all we love, but who have vanished from our around us. These peculiarities of the sight. We should cherish the idea of hour, make more slight the barrier between their actual existence, and speak of them us and the spiritual world. And who not as dead but living. It is well to shall say that then the departed may not retain the recollection of their mortal visit us, unseen by our mortal vision, yet forms; to put away with tender reverence mingling as realities with our dreams; or, the bodies in which they were enshrined, unknown though not unfelt by us, touchand upon which their expression was ing, as they pass, our wakeful and thoughtstamped. But let us not confound them ful souls ! Surely, these suggestions are with the tenement from which they have full of consolation, and of purifying infludeparted, with the garment which they ence. have dropped, with the veil which they At all events, I say again, let us con have thrown aside forever. Let us not sider the departed as in active being. If linger around the place which contains Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob~the worthies of old,-cluster on the heavenly hills; if secrets, shall pass and live beyond them. Moses wears a glory more celestial than Feel the beatings of your heart! It that which he bore from the awful mount; counts off the moments of its own mechanif Elijah is clothed with a radiance bright- ism, for they are numbered ; bnt the er than the wheels of his fiery chariot ; if throbbings of your thought shall never Stephen's face still shines like an angel's, cease. Observe the seal which time but is mingled now with no hue of death; stamps upon your brow! He claims all if all these are existent yet, because God this mortal temple for his own; but the is not a God of the dead, but of the soul that inhabits it is not mortgaged to living,' let us feel that even the least find time. Your eyes, perhaps, are growing a home somewhere in the hospitable dim with age. They are organs of sense, universe, and in the sustaining Omnipres- and with the senses must perish : but ence of the Father.

that which now looks through them shall Finally, this fact of Spiritual Existence gaze upon immortal years. Familiar as is furnishes the highest motive of conduct, this fact of spiritual existence, do we live and suggests the great purpose of our indi- in the realization of it? vidual being. If we are really spirits, . But, by what I have said, I would not bound to this destiny, linked to this lofty countenance the humors of a sick fancy, relationship, how should we live? Surely, or justify the visions of a strained idealism. not as creatures of mere sense—as those this world is no unreality. It is real ; to whom this earth is all, or who are to for here spirit acts, and is acted upon. dwell among earthly associations forever. Human life is not a phantom-show, a But we should set up some higher aim mere cataract of being descending from than pleasure of the senses, or worldly unseen heights and disappearing into unaggrandizement. Instead of wasting our fathomable depths; but it is an intense opportunities in frivolous thoughts, or fact, a real scene ; for Christ has descendsordid uses, we should live worthy our ed into it, and passed through its experihigh vocation, training ourselves for our ence; and by it is wrought out the sacred permanent sphere of action, employing discipline of our nature. We should not this world for an end beyond itself. consider this life as worthless, and make

How great, then, is this fact of Spirit- the next the sole object of our anxiety. ual Existence! What a solemn grandeur No; the great fact is this—that we are it imparts to life! What significance to spiritual beings here—that there is no its discipline ! And what an interest it sharp separation between this state and gives to the swift passage of our mortal the other. To live well and truly, to live being! Every day these shores of time according to our highest ideal here, to change before our eyes. Every day we follow now the great Example, constitutes are drifting into more unearthly latitudes, that divine action, that living unto God, and feel the breathings of immortal air. which is the true glory of immortality. And our existence, then, is ceaseless ! In such manner, then, let us live; so, Through the dusky gates of the grave, when called hence, we shall feel that we out into the invisible realm, through the are passing into no inhospitable and passages of eternity, this being of ours gloomy region, but that wherever we may flows on forever! It is a familiar, yet it dwell, we shall still live unto God, supis a startling truth, that we are denizens ported by Omnipotencc, cared for by Inof the immortal world, and frail as is this finite Wisdom and solicitude, furnished our crumbling tabernacle, humble as is from the stores of inexhaustible Love. our station here, enthralled as we are by the flesh, we shall never die! The stars

SELF-EXAMINATION. that roll in glory far above us, and that have stood out so long upon the firmament My soul, where hast thou gleaned to-day,

At evening to myself I say, like figures on the dial of eternity, shall Thy labors how bestowed ? fade and disappear. But we, who trem- What hast thou rightly said or done? ble at their greatness, and thirst for their What grace attained, or knowledge won,

In following after God ?

BUNSEN'S OPINION OF CHANNING. been theologians, hermits, philosophers,

mystics, religious poets, and preachers, Bunsen, the great German religious reformers, and the continuers of the rewriter and profound critic, not many formation, and among the rest, the two months dead, in his work, Gott in der noble Christians of our own day, SchleirGeschichte,' (God in History,) has some macher and Channing. remarkable, but perhaps not altogether un- The testimonial rendered by Bunsen reasonable opinions concerning the proph- to Channing, has been justly pronounced ets not only of the Bible, but of all times. by a generous French writer

, a most sol For him the prophets are truly inspired, emn eulogy, breathing a profound venera not so much by literal and supernatural tion and ardent emotion - a just tribute means as by a profound faith in God, who to a man whose principles were profoundgoverns the world, and in the ultimate tri- ly pious and largely liberal. We transumph of all good. This faith, profound, late from Bunsen. and in that regard infallible, becomes a Indefatigable, intrepid and popular, sort of clairvoyance in the souls of these Channing sustained his principles among great believers. They are tribunes of his compatriots, by his words and his God, witnesses for him, of the acts of his writings, and they cannot too highly value tory; censor of humanity, authorized or the influence of his personality among gans of Providence, austere representa- Christians of the English language. This tives of duty, and seers of the future. man who looked with suspicion upon the

God who operates in the present, who old Unitarian school of England and the has operated incessantly in the history of United States, whom Calvinists and Meththe world, has he not in all times his odists held in aversion ; whom the partiprophets ? Are there not always elect sans of slavery feared and hated, as much souls who are more than others, conscious for his moderation and his calmness, as for of the action of God? Who at every his accomplished eloquence; who recalled epoch in theology, in art, poetry, politics, the most perfect models. This man is even, have the sentiment of something ne honored to-day in his vast country, so few cessary to bedone for the good of human- years after his death, as a grand Chrisity, and the feeling that that something tian character, as a man of God, as a God requires of them? If this be so, who prophet of the Christian conscience in the are the prophets of our own troubled day future. This man is destined to exercise and country, and where are their utter

a growing influence upon the United ances to be heard ? for surely they are States; they strive to imitate his spiritual sorely needed now. Bunsen gives a bril

manner of interpreting Christianity, liant and glorious list of men whom he as well as his austere and positive manner considers the prophets of all the centuries. of practicing it. The list seems odd and fanciful, but there

* Channing is an antique personage, is at the bottom -some truth in his claims. with the heart of a disciple of Christ; he God speaks at all times, by men of great knew how to be a man like a Greek, a conscientiousness and great faith. Men citizen like a Roman, a Christian like an who speak to crowds in his name, rousing apostle. and moving them by strong and earnest “If such a man whose life and conduct, religious appeals, are his ministers, his according to the testimony of all his felagents ; unfaithful at times they may be, low-citizens, corresponded with the Chrisalways imperfect, yet often inspired by the tian severity of his words, was spent withSpirit which is stirring their own con out reproach, is not a Christian prophet, sciences, and rendered capable of great a witness of the presence of God in huefforts and acts of great devotion. This manity, who ever was one? Theologicalspirit, or rather this conscience, acts in ly, his thought, fundamental and prophetall the Christian churches, but manifests ic, is, that the Christian community has, itself with extraordinary power in certain for its sole foundation, Jesus Christ and individuals. Among these prophets have his gospel, interpreted and felt by the in

« PreviousContinue »