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51

THE STRONGEST EVIDENCE

openly professed materialism, he says, “I had scarcely published the ‘Physiologie du Système Nerveux,' when additional reflections on a very extraordinary phenomenon, somnambulism, no longer allowed me to doubt of the existence, in us and out of us, of an intelligent principle, differing entirely from any material existence.He adds, “ This declaration will see the light when my sincerity can no longer be doubted nor my intentions suspected.” And he concludes by an earnest request, addressed to those who may be present at the opening of hie will, that they will give to the declaration in question all the publicity possible.

Thus we find an able man, living in a Christian country, where he had access to all the usual evidences of our religion, who remains during the greater part of his life a materialist, and toward its close finds, in a psychological phenomenon, proof sufficient to produce a profound conviction that his life's belief had been ar error, and that the soul of man has an immortal ex. istence.

The Bible had failed to convince him of his error. But ought not every believer in the soul's immortality to rejoice, that the unbelief which scriptural testimony had proved insufficient to conquer yielded before evidence drawn from examination of one of the many wonders, exhibited by what every one but the atheist declares to be the handiwork of God?

And since that wonder belongs to a class of phenomena the reality of which is denied by many and doubted by more, should not every friend of religion bid God-speed the inquirer who pushes his researches into regions that have produced fruits so valuable as these?

Nor is he a true friend to religion or to his race who does not desire that men should obtain the strongest possible evidence which exists of the soul's immortality, and the reality of a future life. But if there actually

IS THAT OF SENSE.

55

be physical evidence, cognizable by the senses, of these great truths, it is, and ever must be, stronger than any which can possibly result from scriptural testimony. Intelligent Christians, even the most orthodox, admit this; Tillotson, for example. It forms, indeed, the staple of his argument against the real presence. Says that learned prelate, “Infidelity were hardly possible to men, if all men had the same evidence for the Christian religion which they have against transubstantiation; that is, the clear and irresistible evidence of

sense."*

Scripture and common sense alike sustain this doctrine; nay, our every-day language assumes its truth. If a friend, even the most trusted, relate to us some incident which he has witnessed, in what terms do we express our conviction that he has told us the truth? Do we say, “I know his testimony”? There is no such expression in the English language. We say, "I believe his testimony.”+ It is true that such evidence, subject, however, to cross-examination, decides, in a court of justice, men's lives and fortunes; but only from the necessity of the case; only because the judges and jury could not themselves be eye or ear witnesses of the facts to be proved : and, with every care to scrutinize such testimony, it has ere now brought innocent men to the scaffold. Nor, save in extraordinary or exceptional cases,

* " The Works of the Most Reverend Dr. John Tillotson, late Lord Archbishop of Canterbury,” 8th ed., London, 1720. Sermon XXVI.

† In the present volume I shall have occasion to testify as to many things which I have heard and seen. Nor do I imagine that men, themselves candid, will suspect in me lack of candor; for when a man of honest motive, seeking only the truth, plainly and impartially narrates his experience, that wbich he says usually bears with it to the upright mind an internal warrant of sincerity. But yet my testimony is, and ever must be, to the reader, evidence of far lower grade and far less force than that he would have obtained if he had himself personally witnessed what I narrate. The difference is inherent in the nature of things.

56

SOME TRUTHS APPEAL

is it under our system ever taken in court at second hand.* And when a witness begins to repeat that which others have seen and related, what is the common phrase employed to recall him to his proper sphere of duty ?

_“Do not tell us what others have said to you: keep to what you can depose of your own knowledge."

So, also, when in Scripture reference is made to persons having faith or lacking it, how are they designated ? As knowers and unknowers? No: but as believers and unbelievers. “He that believeth”-not he that knoweth -“shall be saved." As to things spiritual the Bible (with rare exceptions) speaks of our belief on this side the grave, our knowledge only on the other. “Then shall we know, even as also we are known.”

But to argue at length such a point as this is mere supererogation. There are some truths the evidence for which no argument can strengthen, because they appeal directly to our consciousness and are adopted unchallenged and at once. A pious mother loses her child,-though the very phrase is a falsity: she but parts with him for a season,—but, in the world's language and in her heart's language, she loses her only child by death. If, now, just when her bereavement is felt the most despairingly,—in the bitter moment, perhaps, (the winter's storm raging without, when the thought flashes across her that the cold sleet is beating on her deserted darling's new-made grave; if in that terrible moment there should reach her suddenly, unexpectedly, a token visible to the senses, an appearance in bodily form, or

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* I speak of the principles of evidence recognized by the common law; a system under which personal rights and guards to the liberty of the citizen are probably better assured than under any other; though as to some rights of property the civil law system may claim the superiority.

Evidence at second hand is admissible in the case of a dying man, conscious of the near approach of death, or as to what has been said, uncontradicted, in the presence and within the hearing of a prisoner ; but these are the exceptions establishing the general rule.

DIRECTLY TO OUR CONSCIOUSNESS.

57

an actual message perhaps, which she knew came that instant direct from her child; that appearance or that message testifying that he whom she had just been thinking of as lying, wrested from her loving care, under the storm-beaten turf, was not there, was far happier than even she had ever made him, was far better cared for than even in her arms: in such a moment as that, how poor and worthless are all the arts of logic to prove

that the sunshine of such unlooked-for assurance, breaking through the gloomy tempest of the mother's grief, and lighting up her shrouded hopes, has added nothing to the measure of her belief in immortality, has increased not the force of her convictions touching the Great Future, has raised not from faith to knowledge the degree of credence with which sbe can repeat to her soul the inspiring words, that, though the dust has returned to the earth as it was, the spirit is in the hands of God who

gave

it! Then, if it should happen that the “unknown Dark” may, in a measure, even here become known; if it should be that the Great Dramatist inaptly described the next world, when he called it

The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveler returns;"

if it should prove true that occasions sometimes present themselves when we have the direct evidence of our senses to demonstrate the continued existence and affection of those friends who have passed that bourn; if it should be the will of God that, at this stage of man's constant progress, more clearly distinguishing phenomena which, in modern times at least, have been usually discredited or denied, he should attain a point at which Belief, the highest species of conviction which Scripture or analogy can supply, may rise to the grade of Knowledge;-if all this be, in very deed, a Reality, is it not a

58

A. SEVERE TEST APPLIED

glorious one, earnestly to be desired, gratefully to be welcomed?

And should not those who, with a single eye to the truth, faithfully and patiently question Nature, to discover whether it is Reality or Illusion,-should not such honest and earnest investigators be cheered on their path, be commended for their exertions? If it be a sacred and solemn duty to study the Scriptures in search of religious belief, is it a duty less sacred, less solemn, to study Nature in search of religious knowledge?

In prosecuting that research, if any fear to sin by overpassing the limits of permitted inquiry and trespassing upon unholy and forbidden ground, let him be reminded that God, who protects His own mysteries, has rendered that sin impossible; and let him go, reverently indeed, but freely and undoubtingly, forward. If God has closed the way, man cannot pass thereon. But if He has left open the path, who shall forbid its entrance?

It is good to take with us through life, as companion, a great and encouraging subject; and of this we feel the need the more as we advance in years. As to that which I have selected, eminently true is the happy expression of a modern writer, that “in journeying with it we go toward the sun, and the shadow of our burden falls behind us."*

Some one has suggested that, if we would truly determine whether, at any given time, we are occupying ourselves after a manner worthy of rational and immortal beings, it behooves us to ask our hearts if we are willing death should surprise us in the occupation. There is no severer test. And if we apply it to such researches as these, how clearly stands forth their high

* "Essays written during the Intervals of Business," London, 1853, p. 2.

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