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Next to the direct worship of God, there is nothing which arises more immediately from religious feeling than reverence for the Departed. Perhaps the amount of national religion in any country in ancient or in modern times, might be tested by this development of it alone; for a state of existence after death, is one of the first articles in the creed of Nature. If to believe that God is and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him,” be the first truth to be learned, then to believe that there is a “where” He does reward His worshippers, is the second. On the other hand, to profess ignorance as to the state of the departed, is always the note of infidelity. Men are loth to contemplate a time in their being when things will assume their true hues and value, and when the objects of sense having returned to their original nothingness, spiritual things will appear in their real light and importance.
A witness in support of this view is found in the prevalence amongst all nations, in the most ancient times, of the rites of burial. There is the same sort of evidence that the universal custom of primitive times was to
bury their dead out of their sight,” that there is of the original worship of one God. And this custom is as undoubted a note of belief in the resurrection of the flesh, burning the body or yet worse departures from primitive practice of infidelity, or some heretical depravation of the truth, as Abel's
acceptable sacrifice of the firstlings of his flock, and all the patriarchal sacrifices of living animals, is of faith in the Lamb of God slain before the foundation of the world.
Now it is obvious to expect, as God vouchsafes clearer views of His intentions with regard to mankind, the further development also of particular truths known but in their germs in earlier Dispensations. Hence we should be prepared beforehand to find under the later ages of the Jewish polity, and much more in the Christian Church, a progressive knowledge of the state of the departed, and their relations to us who are yet in the flesh, if, as I think indisputable, there was a revelation respecting them, however scanty, in patriarchal times, and during the first era of the Mosaic Covenant.
Solemn burial, then, which was common throughout the world, being some evidence of faith in the resurrection of the body, Job's words may be taken to denote the superiority of the degree of light on the subject which the Patriarchs had over the Heathen world at large. “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth : and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God : whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold and not another ; though my reins be consumed within me:"1 where, on this hypothesis, the special excellence in Job's knowledge is his faith in a Redeemer, and his connecting that with the resurrection of the flesh—for the last truth he held only in common with others.
But what has been said, it will be thought, perhaps, goes only to establish the fact that the Patriarchs and others believed a resurrection of the body would one day take place, without at all shewing them to have had any belief in a separate and continuous existence of the soul, to let alone its state in that existence. However, so great a step being gained as an expectation of the re-quickening of the body, which so evidently appears to die, and, as far as the nature of things admits, to be annihilated after death ; the far easier belief in the intermediate state of the soul, which never seems to come to an end, may without difficulty be traced—though, at the same time, it may not be possible to prove it incontrovertibly to the satisfaction of all minds. Just as the belief in any future state of existence may be, and has been denied of the Patriarchs, so their belief in the intermediate existence of the soul may be controverted even by those who admit that they expected the resurrection of the flesh. In either case there are traces of their belief-phenomena, so to speak, which cannot be so easily explained on any other hypothesis than it; and yet in both one case and the other absolute demonstration there is not.
| Job, xix. 25.
The Sadducees saw no reason for believing in angel or spirit,” nor yet “ in the resurrection,” though they professed to receive the five books of Moses as inspired.
As, then, against those who say the old Fathers looked only for temporary promises, we are accustomed to urge the general belief of all nations in a future state ; so against those who say they did not believe in the separate existence of the soul, the universal prevalence of a belief in ghostly appearances may be pressed. The very general (if not quite universal reception) of both these articles of faith is sufficient reason to account for their not being mentioned more expressly than they are in the Sacred History; and when we find them indirectly alluded to, it is as much as we ought to expect. They were already received articles of the creed of Nature, and did not require therefore to be enforced by fresh revelations. On the contrary, had the prevailing belief been false, we might surely have anticipated its refutation. The whole Pentateuch is a denial and reproof of the growing tendency to Polytheism and idolatrous worship.1
“ What reconciliation,” it is asked, “ could men have found of the fact of righteous A bel's premature death with the justice of Almighty God, if they expected no future state of being in which men were to be rewarded according to their deeds ?” And what ground, we may ask, had they for doubting that that retribution began immediately after death, which was the common opinion of the Gentiles ?
Again :-“ Enoch walked with God, and he was not ; for God took him.”2 On which words, St. Paul thus comments :-“ Enoch was translated that he should not see death ; and was not found, because God had translated him ; for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.”3 Is it conceivable, that with this example before their eyes, the Patriarchs doubted either a future existence, or a continuance of the soul's existence after death ? Enoch's exemption from the common death of mankind, was indeed the special reward of his faith ; but his living after death is mentioned as nothing peculiar. It was the general confession of the Patriarchs, we are told by the Apostle, that “they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth ;” and that in such words they plainly declared that they were seeking not an earthly but a heavenly country—for which
? Just as we argue that the Jews could not have corrupted the canon of the Old Testament, because, had they done so, Christ would surely have reproved them for it ;—so may we feel certain that the belief concerning the departed prevailing in his times was true, because Moses, so far from confuting, has taken it for granted. 2 2 Gen. v. 24.
3 Heb. xi, 5.