Question us now from shir and stone;
Too little or too much we know,
And sight is swift and faith is slow :
The power is lost to self-deceive
With shallow forms of make-believe.”
A MODERN dynasty is assuming control in the region of mind. Throughout the civilized world the reign of the Miraculous is gradually losing power and prestige, superseded by the reign of Law.
It would be hazardous to say of any great principle which has had its day, that it has not had its use also. But though the romantic polytheism which makes brilliant the great epic of Homer may have suited well the epoch-in-progress of ancient Greece, yet, in our day, no one but an enthusiastic poet like Schiller will lament that the gods of Greekland have vanished in the dim distance of the past; that their king, with thunderbolt in hand, has been dethroned, to make way for lectures on electricity and kites drawing lightning from the clouds; that Phœbus is ousted from his chariot, his four-yoked steeds useless ever since Copernicus brought the sun to a standstill; that Neptune has lost to the mariner’s compass the sceptre of the sea, and Pluto to penal flames, that are dying out in their turn, the dominion of the Underworld; that in these days of cannon and breechloaders and protocols, Mars no longer leads armies to the field, nor Minerva statesmen to the cabinet; that dryads and nymphs have deserted forest and fountain, as the bear and the buffalo disappear, before the sweep of civilization.
As monotheism, despite poetic regrets, befits a later stage of the world than polytheism, so the persistent uniformity of law is an advance, timely and welcome in our modern day, on that scheme of the arbitrary and the exceptional which is based on miracle-working— welcome to the thoughtful and dispassionate observer, but abhorrent to the mere dogmatic theologian : yet, welcome or unwelcome in certain quarters, a truth that has already made its way to respect, and is sure to prevail.
I use the word miracle, not in its etymological sense, as a something to be wondered at, nor, as Archbishop Tillotson and Bishop Butler have spoken of it,1 as an occurrence which is not “like the known course of tilings,” or which “ exceeds any natural power that we know of to produce it; ” but according to its popular, orthodox meaning, as a suspension, on a special emergency and for the time only, of a law of nature, by the direct intervention of the Deity; we may add (for that is the usual allegation) in attestation of some truth. And as to the miraculous in this sense, we find it rejected to-day as a superstition, not by the secularist or the skeptic alone, but by men of repute and position in the orthodox ranks. One or two examples, out of many, may suffice.
The Rev. Frederick Temple, D. D., in a sermon before the university of Oxford fourteen years ago, said: “ One idea is now emerging into supremacy in science, . . . and that is the idea of law. All analogy points one way, none another. . . . How strikingly altered is our view from that of a few centuries ago is shown in the fact that the miracles recorded in the Bible, which once were looked on as the bulwarks of the faith, are now felt by very many to be difficulties in their way.”2
That so free an expression of opinion did not injure the reputation of the preacher may be judged from the fact that he has since become one of the chief dignitaries of the Anglican church; having been, a few years since, installed as Bishop of Exeter.
The Duke of Argyll is a Scottish Presbyterian. He has written a volume on the changeless rule of law, which has attracted great attention; reaching its fifth edition in fifteen months. The tenor and drift of its argument may be judged from this extract: —
“ The idea of natural law, the universal reign of a fixed order of things, has been casting out the supernatural. This idea is a product of that immense development of physical sciences which is characteristic of our times. We cannot read a periodical nor go into a lectureroom without hearing it expressed.” 3
Another name, eminent alike in physical science and in sacred learning, may he added. The late Baden Powell, in his contribution to Essays and Reviews has this passage: “ The modern turn of reasoning adopts the belief that a revelation is then most credible when it appeals least to violations of natural causes. Thus, if miracles were, in the estimation of a former age, among the chief supports of Christianity, they are at present among the main difficulties and hindrances to its acceptance.” 4
One can hardly overestimate the consequences of this radical change in public opinion. The most marvelous of the discoveries made by Galileo’s telescope, the greatest of the principles enunciated by Newton, does not lead to effects so far-reaching — so intimately connected with man’s well-being, physical, moral, spiritual—as the conviction that if the Deity permits man to acquire knowledge touching the existence and the character of a life to come, it is not after a partial and exceptional fashion, by an obtrusive suspension of his own laws, for the benefit of a few favored children of preference, but under the operation of the universal order of nature, to the common advantage of all his creatures, in silent impartiality and harmony, as he causes the morning sun to rise and the evening dews to fall.
That conviction, when generally diffused. will work a revolution in all the great religions of the world. For these are based on the belief that certain sacred books, authenticated by miracles, come from the source of unerring truth, and are therefore, word by word, infallible.5
This idea upset, it may seem as if men were east adrift on the spiritual ocean, without rudder or compass. But this is a mistake.
It is true that under the new order of things the sacred books of the world become part of its literature, and thus are legitimate objects of criticism. Under that aspect it is right that they should be passed in review by reason, as all important works on the physical sciences are; it is right that conscience should sit in judgment on the sentiments they contain, and sift the dross from the fine gold. And even if this were not right, there is no help for it; on no other condition can the fine gold itself be preserved. But there will come ultimate good, not harm, to religion from such a process, if only reason and conscience are educated up to the task.
Doubtless there is danger, as in all great revolutions there ever is ; but there is also a way out of that danger to ultimate safety. The danger is, that in discarding the miraculous, which deforms and misleads, there may be discarded also, along with it, the wisest teachings and the highest spiritual truths. This applies to all great religions; for, if we recur to them in their primitive purity,6 we shall find much worth admiring and saving in them all.
But let us take a single example, and bring the case home to ourselves, who, I think, have the most at stake in this matter.
If natural law be invariable, then either the wonderful works ascribed by the evangelists to Jesus and his disciples were not performed, or else they were not miracles.
If they were not performed, then Jesus, assuming to perform them, lent himself, as Renan and others have alleged, to deception. This theory disparages his person and discredits his teachings.
But if they were performed, under natural law enduring from generation to generation, then, inasmuch as the same laws under which these marvelous occurrences took place have ever existed, and still exist, we may look for phenomena of similar character throughout past history, and may expect their appearance at the present day.
If none such appear among us, then cultivated minds will settle down to the belief that they never appeared at all. For the time is past when historical proof is held, by thoughtful and unprejudiced people, to be sufficient evidence for the existence, in ancient times, of the miraculous; even of the marvelous, when it is wholly unprecedented. If the electric telegraph had been invented and employed for a brief period two thousand years ago, and if telegraphy had then become one of the lost arts, the old records stating that men, thousands of miles distant from each other, once carried on daily conversation would be generally regarded as a mere fabulous legend.
In point of fact such is the judgment passed to-day upon the gospel biographies, when miraculously interpreted, by millions of skeptics in our own country, and by millions more in England 7 and in other European nations; the number of such unbelievers being constantly and rapidly on the increase.
This happens because the majority of the civilized world does not yet believe that spiritual phenomena similar to those which are reported to have occurred in the first century, being naturally possible, actually occur now, in the nineteenth.
But the main result from my eighteen years of spiritual study is an assured conviction that spiritual gifts, similar to those which the evangelists ascribe to Christ, and which Paul enumerates as enjoyed by certain Christians after the crucifixion, appear, and may be witnessed in their effects, at this very day among us. Having myself thus witnessed them in a hundred cases, and having found sufficient evidence of testimony in hundreds more, I can no longer withhold assent to the substantial truth of that portion of the gospel biography which narrates what its authors call the “ signs and wonders ” of their time. Making due allowance for incidental errors, I firmly believe that Jesus acted, in the main, as there represented, and that he claimed no powers which he did not actually possess. I believe in what orthodoxy regards as the crowning miracle of all, the bodily appearance of Christ, after death and on divers occasions, to his disciples. I believe that they saw him as naturally as one man sees another in daily life; that they touched him, heard him speak, and spoke to him in reply. I believe this, because I myself have day after day, for weeks, seen and touched and conversed with a materialized spirit; and, on one or two occasions, with several others. When I read that, " the doors being shut,” Jesus suddenly appeared among his affrighted followers, or that, after talking with the two disciples at Emmaus, he “vanished out of their sight,” I see no more reason for disbelieving this than for rejecting a thousand other historical incidents of as ancient date; seeing that, in a lighted room and with the doors so securely closed that entrance or exit was impossible, I have seen a materialized form, that had spoken to me a few minutes before, disappear under my very eyes, then reappear and walk about as before; and this, at a distance from me of seven or eight feet only, and not once, but on five or six different occasions. In each case I had taken such vigilant precautions beforehand against possible deception, that I had no alternative except to admit that these marvelous phenomena were realities, or else to assume that the senses of sight, hearing, and touch are witnesses utterly unworthy to be trusted. In each case, also, others were present, — sometimes twenty persons or more, — from whom, on comparing notes, I learned that they too had seen and heard just what I myself had.
I cannot doubt that this extraordinary narrative will reach many who, without imputing to me insincerity, will conclude that in some way or other I must have been deceived. Such skepticism is natural, and if I had witnessed no more than they, I might probably have shared it. I remind such doubters, however, that very acute observers, English scientists of note, — to wit, Mr. Crookes and Mr. Varley, both Fellows of the Royal Society, Mr. Alfred Wallace, who shares with Darwin the honor of having first put forth the principle of Natural Selection, and others almost as well known, — have, under the most stringent test conditions, verified this seemingly incredible phenomenon of materialization; have seen and touched, and familiarly talked with, living forms, not of this world; and have risked a scientific reputation that must be dear to them, by testifying to these marvelous facts, as I now do.
Of course they regard them as phenomena occurring under law. The allsufficient proof is that, like chemical results in the laboratory, they appear under certain conditions; and that if these conditions are violated, the phenomena are not obtained. This I have seen verified on a hundred occasions: very strikingly, for example, in Philadelphia a few months since. The condition then violated was one, important under all circumstances, but absolutely essential in a spiritual circle — the maintenance of harmony. Tennyson — are not true poets seers ? — saw and set forth the imperative character of this condition before modern Spiritualism was spoken of: —
With what divine affections bold,
Should be the man whose thought would hold
An hour’s communion with the dead!
The spirits from their golden day,
Except, like them, thou too canst say,
My spirit is at peace with all.
Imaginations calm and fair,
The memory like a cloudless air,
The conscience as a sea at rest:
And doubt beside the portal waits,
They can but listen at the gates
And hear the household jar within.”
The violation of the all - important condition above referred to happened about the 20th of last June. I had previously, at some fifteen circles, witnessed in the most satisfactory manner the various phases of materialization: but on this evening, ere the sitting began, some jealous feeling about preference in seats caused an excited discussion, in which charges of favoritism were somewhat bitterly made and earnestly disclaimed; the audience, numbering more than twenty, taking part, and one person indignantly leaving the room. When quiet was restored, we sat patiently for an hour and a half and obtained absolutely nothing — except a wholesome lesson. This was the only occasion, out of forty séances which I attended during June and July, on which the materialized forms failed to appear.8
The lesson thus taught us is one which has its wide-spread application in daily life. I think there would be far fewer jarrings and heart-burnings in the domestic circle, if men and women but realized that, in admitting these, they shut the door on all helpful aid or guardian care that might otherwise reach them from the next world. It is not that benevolent spirits are unwilling to enter, and influence for good, a household thus distracted by dissensions; it is that, under a natural law, they are excluded, and so are deprived of power to help.
There are physical as well as moral conditions necessary to success in spiritual studies. In a general way I have abstained from attending dark circles; yet I have had conclusive proof that, in certain cases, darkness is essential if we would obtain the most striking results.
In October, 1860, I paid a visit, along with Mrs. Underhill (Leah Fox), her husband, and Kate Fox, to Quaker friends of theirs, Mr. and Mrs. Archer, then living in a large mansion near Dobbs’ Ferry on the Hudson, in former days owned by Peter Livingston, and for a long term of years reputed to be haunted. After getting some remarkable manifestations in a bedroom, we adjourned, at my suggestion, to a spacious apartment, formerly Livingston’s dining-hall, locked the doors, and were bidden, by the raps, to put out the lights. Before doing so I procured from our Quaker hosts a candle and matchbox, with their assent to use them at any moment. In less than two minutes after the lamps were extinguished, such a clatter began that it was heard and commented on by visitors in a room separated by two doors and a long passage from that in which we sat. There was a sound as if heavy metallic bodies, such as ponderous dumb-bells or weights, were rolled over the floor; then some weighty substances — iron rods or the like — seemed to be dragged by a rope back and forth, as much as twenty feet each way; and occasionally there were poundings as if with a large blacksmith’s hammer, causing the floor to vibrate. At times the racket was so overpowering that we could scarcely hear one another speak.
Several times, when the clatter was at its height, I struck a light, and watched the effect. In every case the noise instantly diminished, and in eight or ten seconds everything was perfectly still. The light seemed to extinguish the sounds. An immediate search throughout the room was quite unavailing: not a thing but table and chairs to be seen! The sudden transition, without apparent cause, from such a babel of noises to a profound silence was a passing strange experience; such as few have had in this world.
Besides the necessity of conforming to certain conditions, mental and physical, there are other proofs that the phenomena usually classed as spiritual occur under law. Here is an example.
In the year 1853, a young gentleman, whom I shall call Mr. X.,then salesman in a retail store in Second Street, Philadelphia (not a Spiritualist), dreamed that the next day at twelve o’clock he would sell to a customer a hundred and fifty dollars’ worth of drap d’été (summer cloth).
Going down to the store next morning he related his dream to a fellowclerk. “Nonsense!” was the reply; “the thing is impossible. You know very well we don’t sell so large a lot of drap d’été to a customer once in ten years; and besides, you ’re not at that counter. ”
To this Mr. X. assented. But a little before midday, the salesman who usually attended at the counter where the article was for sale being casually called off, Mr. X., summoned to take his place, did so, he told me, under a feeling of strong nervous excitement. Almost exactly at twelve a customer approached the counter and asked for drap d’été. Mr. X. felt himself turn pale, and had hardly presence of mind enough to hand down the package. It turned out that the article was required for clothing in a public institution: and the bill was a hundred and forty-eight or a hundred and fifty-two dollars, Mr. X. did not recollect which.
The above was related to me, in July, 1859, by Mr. X., then in business for himself in Philadelphia; and I know enough of his character to warrant me in saying that the particulars here given may be confidently relied on, together with the assurance he gave me that there were no antecedent circumstances leading him, in any way, to expect such a sale.
Was it all chance coincidence — the unforeseen absence of the salesman, the exact hour of the sale, the specific article demanded, and the very unusual quantity, so closely approaching the amount actually sold? That is not credible.
Equally incredible is it that the prediction was miraculous. Would the Deity suspend a law of the universe for a purpose so utterly trivial as that! This particular sale was of no consequence to any human being, except only in so far as it indicated a great law; except only as proof that, when Paul enumerated, among the gifts common in the early Christian church, the gift of prophecy, he was speaking of a phenomenon which actually exists and which is not miraculous.
Thus a main result of my spiritual studies has been that they have disclosed to me certain phenomena, which, if they prove genuine, will ultimately be accepted by men of science and other skeptics as occurrences under law, and will disabuse their minds of a mischievous prejudice; mischievous in that it causes them to reject the histories of religions in general, and the biographies of Jesus in particular, as utterly incredible narrations. If these phenomena stand the test of inquiry, scientific materialists will gradually discover that, as part of the cosmieal plan, there are intermundane, as well as mundane, phenomena; and thus, in the end, their sphere of experiment and observation will be immensely enlarged.
These broad views of the subject did not come to me distinctly at first. More than a decade had been spent in this branch of study ere I clearly perceived that phenomenal evidence touching a life to come is the one special want of the present time; the want for lack of which civilization halts and scruples. It may be that two thousand years ago the reign of Law was one of those premature ideas of which Jesus said to his followers: “ Ye cannot bear them now.” But our age is ripe for its reception. We no longer need belief in the Infallible. We have outgrown it.
If, as one of old said, “ To everything there is a season,” there may have been a time, in the past, when such a belief was in place. Obedience is fitting in childhood. We cannot always give a young child the reasons for our bidding; he must learn to obey, to a certain extent, without reasons: and the fiction of parental infallibility comes in, appropriately enough, to our aid. So it may have been in the childhood of the world. But when we become men we put away childish things.
Thus, to influence the superstitious ignorance of the first century, and to compel its attention to the teachings of a system the innate beauty and moral grandeur of which were insufficient then to recommend it, it may have needed works which that ignorance should imagine to be miraculous; but to act upon the spiritual apathy of our more scientific day, it needs phenomena, acknowledged to be genuine, yet of an intermundane character.
This need is not timely only, but urgent. It is far short of the truth to say that the material progress of the world in the last hundred years has exceeded that obtained in any ten previous centuries. But the advance in morality has not kept pace with that in all physical arts and sciences. Especially in this new country of ours, liable to the excesses and shortcomings of youth, improvement in human conduct and affections, as compared with improvement in mechanical agencies, lags lamentably behind. Public morality is at a lower ebb than it was twenty or thirty years ago; our legislative bodies are less pure, our public service generally more stained with venality. But public morality reacts on private morals. The vice diseases which originate in polities cannot, by any sanitary cordon, be confined to politics: they are sure to infect, first our business marts, then the home circle itself. Never has there been a time when a great reformatory agency was more pressingly needed among us than now.
But, aside from modern Spiritualism, what great reformatory influences have we, that are fitted to arrest this widespreading growth of selfish and mercenary vices? On the one hand Orthodoxy, Protestant and Catholic, based on infallibility and backed by wealth and powerful organizations. On the other, Secularism, based on the assumption that we ought to restrict all our thoughts and cares to this world; seeing that we know, and can know, nothing of any other; and this assumption is backed by the daily increasing influence of science.
Is there any reasonable hope that either of the above agencies will so foster and advance the moral and the intellectual in man, as to bring these humanizing influences of our nature abreast with the material and the intellectual, that have so far outstripped them ?
What has Orthodoxy, Catholic or Protestant, done — say in the last three hundred years —to justify the faith that she is the civilizing agent we need? Both of her branches have increased enormously in riches and in number of churches and ecclesiastical foundations. Thus strengthened, the two have been carrying on an intestine war of creeds; and in the main, probably, the advantage has, so far, rested with the Catholic.9 But has either branch, with all its vast resources and far-reaching appliances, stemmed the current of selfishness and venality, public or private? If this current has set in for the last quarter of a century in spite of all that a wealthy and popular Orthodoxy has done, what warrant have we for reasonable belief that the evil current of the past will be arrested and turned back by the same Orthodoxy, in the future ?
Or shall we look to Secularism, subverter of religious faith, for relief and reform? She has not, during the last twenty-five years, been in the ascendant, and therefore cannot be charged, as justly as Orthodoxy, with inability to arrest the modern decadence of morality among us. But shall we elevate and ennoble man by ignoring the spiritual element within him? Will human beings be less venal, less selfish, — less disposed to eat, drink, and be merry, regardless of higher aims, — if we tell them, and if they believe, that this is the only world we shall ever know; and that we may enjoy ourselves here free of all thought or care for others, without regard to consequences in any world to come?
It is further to be taken into account that, if the reign of Law prevail, the days of Orthodoxy (in the usual sense of the term) are numbered; her foundation fails. With the discarding of the Miraculous dies out also faith in infallibility, whether of man or book. But infallibility is the basis of all Orthodoxy’s dogmatic beliefs; and, that undermined, the whole superstructure of dogmatism falls. What survives will survive in the shape of reason-acknowledged truth, not of imposed dogma.
The acceptance of universal law as ruling principle tends to sustain, not to imperil, Secularism. And if, under law, no trustworthy evidence of the spiritual be found, then, under the reign of law, Secularism will flourish: and the peril will be to religion itself; including, among others, the ethical system of Christ, intimately allied, as in the secularist’s view it is, with exploded fables.
But I see no fair prospect in the future of any harmonious progress in true civilization without the aid of religion, and — more specifically stated — of the ethical and spiritual system put forth by Jesus; I speak here, however, of Christianity in its primitive aspect, divested of alien scholasticisms which its author never taught.
If this general statement — the result of special inquiries, earnestly prosecuted through two decades —be accepted as correctly indicating the present state of the religious world, then, though it does not prove the truth of modern Spiritualism, seeing that a belief may be timely and desirable, yet unsustained by evidence, it does enable us to reach a just conception of the position to which this new phase of faith will, if it stand the test, be entitled, in its connection with civilization and soul-progress.
It will be conceded that if Spiritualism’s phenomena prove real, these will establish, past possible denial or doubt, the fact that this is not the end-all of our being; and thus it will cut up Secularism, root and branch, by adducing what must win the credence of mankind at last, the evidence of our senses.
1 This is the evidence by which Jesus won the belief of his disciples. His appearance after death to a number of witnesses was, to the early Christians, the rockfoundation of their faith; failing which, they admitted that the entire structure must fall. “ If the dead rise not,” was their argument, " then is not Christ raised: and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain.10 Thus primitive Christianity and modern Spiritualism rest, for evidence, on the same basis.
But the question will remain, how far the teachings of this modern faith tend to ethical and spiritual culture. The inquiry will suggest itself also whether these conform to, or diverge from, the moral and spiritual precepts of Christianity. The answer mainly depends on the manner of defining an important word.
It is to be conceded that long-continued and exclusive devotion to (alleged) messages from the next world has often given birth, in Spiritualism as in Theology, to a vague and heavy literature, in which common-sense has small part. Nevertheless, slurs against the current effusions of Spiritualism come with a bad grace from those, standing afar off, who have never lifted a finger to sift profitable from worthless, or done aught, in any way, to elevate or correct what they condemn.
Of the hundreds of volumes, English, French, and German, filled with such effusions, I deemed it a duty to look through what seemed the most promising; a task tedious and bootless in one sense, but very satisfactory in another; tedious and of small result in so far as they contained thousands of non-essential details and ill-considered speculations, varying as widely from each other as do the sentiments expressed by mundane authors; but satisfactory and instructive in this, that, with exceptions too rare to invalidate the rule, they persistently agree in asserting, or assenting to, certain all-essential statements and great vital principles; and also — this is no less important — they agree in discarding, or ignoring, certain orthodox dogmas, including the common popular conceptions in regard to the life to come. And this concurrence of ideas happens no matter who, or where, the mediums or psychics or sensitives (call them what we will) may be; it happens alike whether these are persons cultivated or uncultivated, inhabitants of Europe or America, of India or Australia or New Zealand; it happens whether, in their normal condition, they are, or were, Catholics or Protestants or Jews, Presbyterians or Universalists, Methodists or Deists, believers or unbelievers in another world.
This happens, also, no matter what may have been the former creed of the (alleged) communicating spirits. No Catholic ever sends back word that he has seen purgatorial flames, or met the patron saint of his earthly idolatry. No Protestant has anything to report about angels round the throne, whose sole end and aim — whose one source of bliss — is to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.” No Calvinist who has reached the other world ever alludes to that hell where he once believed that all his fellow-creatures, save only an elect few, were to be eternally tormented. None of Milton’s angels, loyal or rebellious, are to be heard of; their only representatives being certain spirits of the departed, — now messengers of peace, — who return to earth to cheer mourning friends, to speak of a better world, to aid those who are weary and heavyladen, and to exercise guardian care over the orphan and the desolate.
Spiritualism, in every country to which its influences extend, has worked a thorough revolution in the popular opinions touching the conditions and pursuits of the next life. The dreams of the past flit away. There opens up to us a world (to use Swedenborg’s phrase) of uses; a world with occupations and duties and enjoyments as numerous and varied as we find them here; a world, however, — so uniformly runs the record, — better, higher, far nobler in aim and purpose, than ours; yet, in effect, a world wherein the life which now is is supplemented by that which is to come.
Is this an unworthy conception of heaven ? Is it a conception less salutary, less elevating, than that which speaks to us of joining the angelic hosts and sharing their changeless avocation? Nay, truly, it is far more worthy both of God and man. What is Christ’s idea of the service to be rendered by the creature to the Creator? Adulation, long prayers? (What prayer so short as his?) According to him, God’s judgment touching service is: “Inasmuch as ye did it unto the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me.”
How numerous and distinct are the virtuous emotions that now move the heart of man! The promptings to acts of benevolence and deeds of mercy, the stirrings of magnanimity, the efforts of self-denial; fortitude, courage, energy, perseverance, resignation; the devotion of love and the yearnings of compassion, — what a varied list is here! And in that man who confesses the practical shortcomings of his life, who feels how far better has been his nature than its manifestations, who knows how often in this world noble impulse has been repressed, how many generous aspirings have here scarcely been called into action, — in the heart of such a man must not the hope be strong that the present life may have a sequel and a complement in another? He who has labored long and patiently to control and discipline a wayward nature, may he not properly desire, and rationally expect, that he will be allowed to prosecute the task, here so imperfectly commenced, there, where there is no flesh to be weak if the spirit be willing? Shall the philanthropist, whose life has been one long series of benefactions to his race, be blamed if he cannot surrender at death, without regret, the godlike impulse that bids him succor the afflicted and heal the broken heart ? Even he whose days have been spent in exploring the secrets of nature, can he be expected, unmoved, to relinquish, with his earthly body, the study of that science to which his heart was wedded? And, far more, shall a loving and compassionate nature anticipate with complacency the period when the soul, all consecrated to worship or filled with its own supreme felicity, shall no longer select, among its fellow-creatures, its objects either of pity or of love ?
But shall man be blamed if he look with coldness on a prospective state that shuts him out from almost all the qualities he has been wont to admire, and all the sympathies that have hitherto bound him to his kind? Is it strange that an upright and energetic being finds little attraction in a future where one virtue, one duty, is instantly to supersede, in his character and career, the thousand virtues, the thousand duties which, here below, his Creator has required at his hands?
It is true that the messages of Spiritualism, so far, have presented to us only outlines of our future home, without any distinct filling up of the picture. We see as through a glass, darkly. Perhaps it is best so. Perhaps some law of intermundane communion forbids more. Too vivid an introvision might render us impatient of earthly sufferings, even of earthly duties. And that might be dangerous; for earthly life and its tasks are an indispensable preparation for our next phase of being. Each world, like each age of man, has its own sphere with its appropriate avocations; to be worked out with reference the one to the other, but not to be interchanged.
Yet enough has been disclosed to cheer the darkest days of our pilgrimage here, by the assurance that not an aspiration after good that fades, nor a dream of the beautiful that vanishes, but will find noble field and fair realization by and by, in a better land.
Meanwhile, what motive to exertion in self-culture more powerful than the assurance that not an effort to train our hearts or store our minds made here, but has its result and its reward in the hereafter? We are the architects of our destiny; inflicting our own punishments, selecting our own rewards. Our righteousness is a meed to be patiently earned, not miraculously bestowed nor mysteriously imputed. When Death comes, he neither deprives us of the virtues nor relieves us of the vices of which he finds us possessed. Our moral, social, and intellectual qualities pass with us to the next world; there constituting our identity and determining our state. So also the evil. That dark vestment of sin with which, in a vicious life, a man may have become endued, clings to him, close as the tunic of Nessus, through the death-change. He retains his evil identity; he decides his degraded rank. Is there, in the prospect of a hell begirt with flames, stronger influence to deter from vice than in the looming up of a fate like that? 11
In proportion as the public mind is trained to be dispassionate and logical, will it reach the conviction that such a conception of the next world, if it once obtain firm hold on society, will work a revolution in morals and in soul-culture which it is hopeless to expect either of Orthodoxy or of Secularism.
As regards another all-important ethical question, I have never, in any spiritual communication of authentic stamp, found variance from the opinion that monogamy, in this world as in the next, is the only fitting and happy social condition; and that polygamy, whether openly carried out, as by the Turks and Mormons, or secretly practiced, as the great sin of great cities, brings individual infirmity, moral and spiritual, and ultimately national decadence, in its train. I can afford space here for but a very few brief specimens of communications obtained by me on the above subjects. March 8, 1857, I had this: — Question (mental). — What are the chief occupations in heaven? Answer (purporting to come from Violet). — Seconding God’s great designs. April 18, 1857, came these replies: — Question (mental). — Are you allowed to answer inquiries regarding the world in which you are ? Answer (by Violet). — Every good person may satisfy himself regarding heaven. Question. — Can you tell us anything about it? Answer. — According as one behaves, own heaven or hell. And on June 6, 1857: — Question (mental). — Can you inform us as to what is usually called hell? Answer (by Violet). — A state of mind produced by the groveling nature of man. And, on another occasion, in reply to a similar question: — “ If enmity to living being had led God, he would have included his castaway in close fetters.” 12 On February 19, 1857, I had these remarkable answers: — Question (mental). — Is there, in the spirit world, anything corresponding to marriage ? Answer (by Violet). — A corresponding feeling, but different. Question (mental). — Wherein different?
Answer (after a pause). — Greatly firmer, for being cemented by more cogent, deep, and pure emotion. Question (mental). — Is it eternal? Answer (again after a pause). — Can give holy love no limit. Question (mental). — Are all spirits connected by such ties? Answer (promptly). — Yes.13 Spiritualism disavows (or, more usually, ignores) all such dogmas as the following: — Evangelists and St. Paul, St. Peter, St. James, and St. Jude), were endowed by God with the gift of plenary inspiration so long as they were writing the biographies of Christ, the Epistles, and the book of Revelation. Therefore, that every verse and word therein contained is infallibly true.
1. That all men and women are originally depraved, therefore objects of God’s anger, and that they can be justified before him only by the blood of one of the Persons of the Godhead, to wit, Jesus Christ; who was made to bear and doomed to suffer for the sins of the human race.
2. That God has elected a certain number of his creatures to enjoy eternal happiness in heaven, not on account of their merits or works, but because of righteousness imputed to them in virtue of their faith in the vicarious atonement and of their belief in their own election: 14 and that he has condemned all the rest of mankind to everlasting torment in hell.
3. That God permits a personal devil to roam the earth, seeking whom he may deceive and bring to ruin, body and soul.
4. That God, more than eighteen centuries since, miraculously suspended his laws, in proof of the divinity of Christ, and in attestation of certain great moral and spiritual truths.
5. That eight human beings, living during the first century (to wit, the four
6. That Death, coming into the world by sin, is to be taken as a punishment; being the expression of God’s wrath to man.15
If belief in these tenets is essential to constitute a Christian, then is Spiritualism opposed to Christianity; but I have elsewhere16 given at length my reasons for the conviction that they were never taught by Christ; and that, withal, they are untrue in fact, and grievously demoralizing in tendency. I know of no doctrine more thoroughly vicious in practice than this, that character and conduct in the present world do not determine our state in the next.
Yet Spiritualism does not teach that we earn heaven by our merits or works. She teaches that, in the next world, we gravitate to the position for which, by life on earth, we have fitted ourselves; and that we occupy that position because we are fitted for it.
The notion that, despite vices and crimes, we win heaven by faith in certain dogmas belongs to a rude past age of public wrong and private outrage, in which men, deeply conscious of their sins, sought to avert the consequences of these while continuing to indulge in them. Three thousand years ago sins were treated, among the Hebrews, as if they were tangible and movable objects that could be detached from the sinner by a high priest, and sent away, as cumbrous rubbish might be, on a beast of burden.17 But we cannot scape sins by a shifting of them from ourselves to another living being, mundane or divine; any more than we can evade the fever that consumes us or the plague that threatens life, by transfer of either to friend or foe. God’s immutable law is against it. He has made it impossible to detach effect from cause. A sinful life may be amended. A man, sorrowing over the evil he has done, may learn to do well. Then only, with the cessation of the cause, can cease the effect of sin.
As Spiritualism regards it, there is but one door by which the sinner can enter heaven; and over it is written — REPENTANCE.
Surely it is time that the world should be rid of dogmatic illusions. Assumed as Christian doctrine, they so load down Christianity that her grandest truths come to be doubted, and her most benign influences lose their hold upon mankind.
Condensed into briefest terms, what are the characteristics of Christ’s teachings ?
Hunger and thirst after the right; not for the profit of it, but because it is the right. Truth, at all hazards; not from fear of the consequences that follow a breach of it, but from hatred of falsehood. Beneficence, especially to the fatherless and widows in their affliction. Helping the poor. Ministering to the stranger, the hungry, the naked, the sick, and those in bonds. That which we do unto them we do unto God.
The element of forgiveness, in a degree unknown among us yet, is another marked feature. An erring brother pardoned even to seventy times seven. One who “ was a sinner ” absolved because of her love and her repentance. A frail offender, excommunicated by society, set free, uncondemned, and bidden to sin no more.
There are warnings against the danger of riches, against overmuch thought for the morrow, against eager seeking of place or power. The treasures which moth and rust corrupt, the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in synagogues, are declared to be objects unworthy to engross the heart of man.
All are encouraged to have faith and hope; engaging in secret prayer indeed, yet with the assurance that the Father knows human needs, and will provide, before we ask him; but, above all and beyond all, as stamp and witness of Christian discipleship, as the very fulfillment of God’s behests, we are incited to something greater than faith, greater than hope, uplifting as their influence is, even to the supreme law of all — LOVE.
If these principles, all indorsed and enforced by Spiritualism when its researches are prosecuted in an enlightened manner, are the very essence of Christ’s system of ethics and theology; if they include, also, the best sentiments contained in all the great religions of the world; then is Spiritualism essentially, preëminently, a great religious element; then is Spiritualism a most efficient ally of Christianity.
As to the aspect of the Great Future according to Spiritualism, presenting it, not as a life engrossed either by ceaseless adoration or else by endless penal suffering, but as a life of activity and of progress, if that be not a Christian, neither is it an anti-Christian view of the matter. With the exception of a few words in accordance with Spiritualism’s views, to wit, the passage about “ many mansions,” and the promise to the repentant thief, “ To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise,” Jesus gives us no details: perhaps these are some of the many things which he thought the world of his day unfit to bear. A learned (and certainly not heterodox) authority on the subject tells us: “ Respecting the condition of the dead, whether before or after the resurrection, we know very little indeed. . . . Dogmatism on this topic appears to be peculiarly misplaced.” 18
But, in conclusion, it is in regard to one great subject, interdicted by the worldling, put aside by the money-getter, dreaded as the evil of evils by mankind, that the influence of Spiritualism is triumphant. No wrath of God kindled by Adam’s sin; no King of Terrors, the Avenger; no valley of the shadow of death to darken the close of man’s sojourn here; but an Emancipating Angel kindly summoning erring and suffering creatures to a better world and a higher life — such are its teachings, enforced not by creed-articles but by natural phenomena; not by the dim subtleties of schoolmen, but by the clear, irresistible evidence of sense.
It is true that by a brave and upright man, if he be alone in this world, death may be viewed with passionless equanimity: a few hours or days or weeks of pain, perhaps — soon over — that is all. It is when he strikes at us through others, that Death thrusts home his dart. He is victor, not when he takes us hence, but when he wrests from us the life of our life, and leaves us here exanimate save only in the faculty of suffering.
In that most melodious and most passionate of wails for the dead, from which I have already quoted, well has its author earned the title to be spoken of as one
The deep pulsations of the world.”
How few men have ever written soulsearching lines like these: —
The use of virtue out of earth :
I know transplanted human worth
Will bloom to profit, other where.
The wrath that garners in my heart;
He put our lives so far apart
We cannot hear each other speak.
With gods in unconjectured bliss,
Oh, from the distance of the abyss
Of ten-fold complicated change,
The wish too strong for words to name ;
That in this blindness of the frame
My Ghost may feel that thine is near.” 19
To such a yearning appeal as that Spiritualism alone has the consoling reply: “ Take comfort, mourning heart! You are permitted to receive messages of love and consolation from the lost ones; you may even see their faces— ere you yourself depart for the beautiful land where they dwell. ”
Robert Dale Owen.
- See Tillotson’s 182d sermon ; and Butler’s Analogy of Religion, part ii. chap. 2.↩
- It is remarkable that St. Augustine, more than fourteen centuries ago, regarded a miracle as a thing occurring not against nature but against what we know of nature: " Portendum ergo fit, non contra naturam, sed contra quam est nota natura.” De Civitate Dei, lib. xxi. cap. 8.↩
- This sermon was preached on Act Sunday, July 1, 1860, during the annual meeting (held that year at Oxford) of the British Association for the Promotion of Science. I was in England a few weeks later, and heard it generally spoken of in high terms of commendation.↩
- The Reign of Law. Strahan & Co., London, 1866: New York reprint, 1869. p. 3.↩
- On the Study of the Evidences of Christianity. See Recent Inquiries in Theology, p. 158.↩
- This is quite as true in regard to the Mahometan and all the Oriental branches of orthodoxy — including the religions of nearly two thirds of mankind — as it is of Christian orthodoxy, Protestant and Catholic.↩
- “ The idea of revelation, and I mean more particularly book-revelation, is not a modern idea, nor is it an idea peculiar to Christianity. . . . We find the literature of India saturated with this idea from beginning to end. . . . According to the orthodox views of Indian theologians, not a single line of the Veda was the work of human authors.”(Max Müller : Chips from a German Workship, vol. i. pp. 17, 18. Amer. Ed.)↩
- That sagacious and deeply-read student of comparative religion, Max Müller, gives us, as one of the most important results of his studies in that branch, this opinion : —↩
- “ If there is one thing which a comparative study of religions places in the clearest light, it is the inevitable decay to which every religion is exposed. . . . No religion can continue to be what it was during the life-time of its founder and its first apostles. . . . Every religion, even the most perfect (nay, the most perfect on account of its very perfection, more even than others), suffers from its contact with the world, as the purest air suffers from the mere fact of its being breathed.”(Chips from a German Workshop, Preface, pp. xxii, xxiii. Amer. Ed.)↩
- For proof of this, drawn from official sources, see Debatable Land between this World and the Next, pp. 216, 217; foot-note.↩
- It will not be suspected that the will of the mediums had anything to do in bringing about this result, when I state that, as they returned the money taken at the door, their loss, by the disappointment, was twenty dollars.↩
- As to this, see Address to the Protestant Clergy, prefixed to The Debatable Land between this World and the Next; §§ 1, 2, and 3.↩
- Archbishop Tillotson, arguing against the real presence, says: " Infidelity were hardly possible to men, if all men had the same evidences for the Christian religion which they have against transubstantiation; that is, the clear and irresistible evidence of sense.”(Sermons, 8th Ed., London. Sermon xxvi.)↩
- 1 Cor. xv. 16, 17. But see also Acts ii. 32, iv. 33, x. 40, 41, xiii 30, 31, etc.↩
- The ideas here very briefly sketched, touching our state and avocations in the next phase of life, will be found set forth at large in Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World (published by me in 1860); book vi. chap. 1, on the Change at Death.↩
- Some of these answers, quaint and terse, are a little obscure. This last evidently means: " We must suppose God to be actuated by enmity toward man, if we imagine that he condemns reprobates to a hopeless hell,”↩
- And in a previous reply we have to supply the words,t! one decides one’s ; ” so that it shall read: v According as one behaves, one decides one’s own heaven or hell.”↩
- As explanation of this occasional obscurity There add an answer which I obtained from Violet, April 24, 1857 : —↩
- Question (mental). — Do we usually get communications from you worded just as you intended to word them ?↩
- Answer. — I seldom succeed in saying clearly what I wish.↩
- I am certain that this was no reflection of my own ideas (and the questions being mental, the minds of the assistants could not influence). I remember well that, as the words " for being ceme— ” aud again " by more cog— ” were coming slowly out, I thought it was spelling nonsense.↩
- From the official declaration of the early Protestant faith I quote: “Men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works ; but ate justified freely, for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that sins are remitted on account of Christ, who, by his death, made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness.” (Augsburg Confession, part i. art. 4.)↩
- “ It were a light and easy thing for a Christian to suffer and overcome death, if he knew not that it were God’s wrath.” (Luther’s Table Talk.)↩
- Debatable Land ; Address to Protestant Clergy, §§ 10 and 11.↩
- Leviticus xvi. 10-21.↩
- Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible ; Art. “Hell.”↩
- In Memoriam, §§ 81, 92.↩