Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

was not a grain of it left, on condition you were to be miserable for ever after; or supposing that you might be happy for ever after, on condition you would be miserable till the whole mass of sand were thus annihilated at the rate of one sand in a thousand years : which of those two cases would you

make

your choice ?

9. It must be confessed in this case, so many thousands of years are to the imagination as a kind of eternity, though in reality they do not bear so great a proportion to that duration which is to follow them, as an unit does to the greatest number which you can put together in figures, or as one of those sands to the supposed heap. Reason therefore tells-us without any man. ner of hesitation, which would be the better part in his choice.

10. However, as I have before intimated, our reason might in such a case be so overset by the imagination, as to dispose some person to sink under the consideration of the great length of the first part of this duration, and of the great distance of that second duration, which is to succeed it. The mind, I say, might give itself up to that happiness which is at hand, considering that it is so very near, and that it would last so very long.

11. But when the choice we actually have before us, is this, whether we will choose to be happy for the space of only threescore and ten, nay, perhaps of only twenty or ten years; I might say of only a day or an hour, and miserable to all eternity; or, on the contrary, miserable for this short term of years, and happy for a whole eternity; what words are sufficient to express that folly and want of consideration which in such a case makes & wrong choice?

12. I here put the case even at the worst, by supposing (what seldom happens) that a course of virtue makes us miserable in this life; but if we suppose (as it generally happens) that virtue would make more happy even in this life than a contrary course of vice; how can we sufficiently admire the stupidity or madness of those persons who are capable of making so absurd a choice ?

13. Every wise man, therefore, will consider this life only as it may conduce to the happiness of the other, and cheerfully sacrifice the pleasures of a few years to those of an eternity. Of the Immortality of the Soul.

SPECTATOR, No. 111. 1. WAS yesterday walking alone in one of my friends woods,

and lost myself in it very agreeably, as I was ranning over in my mind the several arguments that establish this great point, which is the basis of mortality, and the source of all the pleasing hopes and secret joys that can arise in the heart of a reasonable 'creature.

[ocr errors]

2. I considered those several proofs drawn, first, from the nature of the soul itself, and particularly its immateriality; which, though not absolutely necessary to the eternity of its duration, has, I think, been evidenced to almost a demonstration.

2. Secondly, from its passions and sentiments, as particularly from its love of existence, its horror of annihilation, and its hopes of immortality, with that secret satisfaction which it finds in the practice of virtue, and that uneasiness which follows in it upon the commission of vice.

3. Thirdly, from the nature of the Supreme Being, whose justice, goodness, wisdom and veracity, are all concerned in this great point. But

among these and other excellent arguments for the immortality of the soul, there is one drawn from the perpetual progress of the soul to its perfection, without a possibility of ever arriving at it: which is a hint that I do not remember to have seen opened and improved by others who have written on this subject, though it seems to me to carry a very great weight with it.

4. How can it enter into the thoughts of man, that the soul which is capable of such immense perfections, and of receiving new improvements to all eternity, shall fall away into nothing almost as soon as it is created? Are such abilities made for no purpose? A brute arrives at a point of perfection that he can never pass : in a few years he has all the endowments he is capable of; and were he to live ten thousand more, would be the same thing he is at present.

5. Were a human soul thus at a stand in her accomplishments, were her faculties to be full blown, and incapable of farther enlargements, I could imagine it might fall away insensibly, and drop at once into a state of annihilation.

6. But can we believe a thinking being that is in a perpetual progress of improvements, and travelling on from perfection to perfection, after having just looked abroad into the works of its Creator, and made a few discoveries of his infinite goodness, wisdom and power, must perish at her first setting out, and in the beginning of her inquiries ?

A man considered in his present state seems only sent into the world to propagate his kind. He provides himself with a successor, and immediately quits his post to make room for him.

-Hares.
Hæredem alterius velut unda supervenit undam.

Hor. Ep. 2. 1. 2. v. 175.
-Heir crowds heir, as in a rolling flood
Wave

CREECH. urges wave. 7. He does not seem born to enjoy life, but to deliver it down to others. This ts not surprising to consider in animals, which are formed for our use, and can finish their business in a short life. The silk-worm, after having spun her task, lays her eggs and dies. But a man can never have taken in bis full measure of knowledge, has not time to subdue his passions, establish his soul in virtue, and come up to the perfection of his nature, be. fore he is hurried off the stage.

8. Would an infinitely wise Being make such glorious creatures for so mean a purpose ? Can he delight in the production of such abortive intelligences, such short-lived reasonable beings ? Would he give us talents that are not to be exerted ? Capacities that are never to be gratified ? How can we find that wisdom which shines through all his works, in the formation of man, without looking on this world as only a nursery for the next, and believing that the several generations of rational creatures, which rise up and disappear in such quick successions, are only to receive the first rudiments of existence here, and afterwards to be transplanted into a more friendly climate, where they may spread and flourish to all eternity.

9. There is not, in my opinion, a more pleasing and triumphant consideration in religion than this of the perpetual progress which the soul makes towards the perfection of its nature, without, ever arriving at a period in it. To look upon the soul as going on from strength to strength, to consider that she is to shine for ever with new accessions of glory, and brighten to all eternity; that she will be still adding virtue to virtue, and knowledge to knowledge; carries in it something wonderfully agrecitole to that ambition which is natural to the mind of man. Nay, it must be a prospect pleasing, to God himself, to see his creation for ever beautifying in his eyes, and drawing nearer to him, by greater degrees of resemblance.

10. Methinks this single consideration of the progress of a finite spirit to perfection, will be sufficient to extinguish all envy in inferior natures, and all contempt in superior. That cherubim, which now appears as a God to a human soul, knows very well that the period will come about in eternity, when the human soul shall be as persect as he himself now is : nay when we shall look down upon that degree of perfection as much as she now falls short of it. It is true, the higher nature still advances, and by that means preserves his distance and superiority in the scale of being ; but he knows that, how high soever the station is of which he stands possessed at present, the inferior nature will at length mount up to it, and shine forth in the same degree of glory.

11. With what astonishment and veneration may we look into our souls, where there are such hidden stores of virtue and knowledge, such inexhausted sources of perfection! We know

TH

not yet what we shall be, nor will it ever enter into the heart of man to conceive the glory that will be always in reserve for him. The soul considered with its Creator, is like one of those mathematical lines that may draw nearer to another of all eternity, without a possibility of touching it: and can there be a thought so transporting, as to consider ourselves in these perpetual approaches to him, who is not only the standard of perfection, but of happiness! On the Animal World, and the Scale of Beings.

SPECTATOR, No. 519. 1. HOUGH there is a great deal of pleasure in contempla

ting the material world, by which I mean that system of bodies into which nature has so curiously wrought the mass of dead matter, with the several relations which those bodies bear to one another; there is still, methinks, something more wonderful and surprising in contemplations on the world of life, by which I mean all those animals with which every part of the universe is furnished.

The inaterial world is only the shell of the universe : the world of life are its inhabitants.

2. If we consider those parts of the material world which lie the nearest to us, and are therefore subject to our observations and inquiries, it is amazing to consider the infinity of animals with which it is stocked. Every part of matter is peopled ; every green leaf swarms with inhabitants. There is scarce a single humour of the body of a man, or of any other animal, in which our glasses do not discover myriads of living creatures.

3. The surface of animals, is also covered with other animals, which are in the same manner the basis of other animals, that live upon it ; nay, we find in the most solid bodies, as in marble itself, innumerable cells and cavities that are crowded with such imperceptible inhabitants, as are too little for the naked eye to discover. On the other hand, if, we look into the more bulky parts of nature, we see the seas, lakes, and rivers teeming with numberless kinds of living creatures; we find every mountain and marsh, wilderness and wood plentifully stocked with birds and beasts, and every part of matter affording proper necessaries and conveniences for the livelihood of multitudes which inhabit it.

4. The author of the Plurality of Worlds draws a very good argument from this consideration, for the peopling of every planet : as indeed it seems very probable, from the analogy of reason, that if no part of matter, which we are acquainted with, lies waste and useless, those great bodies, which are at such a distance from us, should not be desert and unpeopled, but rath

er, that they should be furnished with beings adapted to their iespective situation.

5. Existence is a blessing to those beings oply which are endowed with perception, and is in a manner thrown away upon dead matter, any further, than as it is subservient to beings which are conscious of their existence. Accordingly we find, from the bodies which lie under our observation, that matter is only made as the basis and support of animals, and that there is no more of the one, than what is necessary for the existence of the other.

6. Infinite goodness is of so communicative a nature, that it seems to delight in the conferring of existence upon every degree of perceptive being. As this is a speculation, which I have often pursued, with great pleasure to myself, I shall enlarge further upon it, by considering that part of the scale of beings which comes within our knowledge.

7. There are some living creatures which are raised but just above dead matter. To mention only that species of shell-fish, which are formed in the fashion of a cone, that grow to the surface of several rocks, and immediately die upon their being seva ered from the place where they grow: there are many other creatures but one remove from these, which have no other sense besides that of feeling and taste Others have still an additionat one of hearing; others of smell; and others of sight.

8. It is wonderful to observe, by what a gradual progress the world of life advances through a prodigious variety of species, before a creature is formed that is complete in all its senses : and even among these there is such a different degree of perfection in the sense which one animal enjoys beyond what appears in anotha, er, that though the sense in different animals be distinguished by the same common denomination, it seems almost of a different nature.

9. If after this we look into the several inward perfections of cunning and sagacity, or what we generally call instinct, we find them rising after the same manner imperceptibly one above another, and receiving additional improvements, according to the species in which they are implanted. This progress in nature is. so very gradual, that the most perfect of an inferier species come very near to the most-imperfect of that which is immediately aa bove it.

10. The exuberant and overflowing goodness of the Supreme Being, whose mercy extends to'all his works, is plairly seen, as I have before hinted, from his having made so very little matter, at least what falls within our knowledge, that does not swarm with life: nor is his goodness less seen in the diversity, than in the multitude of living creatures, Had he only made one spez

[ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsett »