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Human Knowledge and Belief.
"The seeing eye disturbs not the unseen; the hearing ear lists not the song of songs; the heart's conceptions are beggared by simple truth; and man, athwart all revelations, must wait upon his God."-GARTH WILKINSON.
What are we human beings, is the first question that presents itself to us in thinking. What shall we become, if becoming there be, which some doubt, in the sense of the continuance of our distinct personalities? And whence, indeed, do we come? For if we arise out of no antecedent personal consciousness, it is at least possible that we may go back into the unconscious limbo of the unknown whence we came. Is Death something, or is it nothing to us? Does dissolution extinguish personal consciousness? If so, it is nothing to us. Or does it, on the other hand, set us free to an entrance into another and a higher life of personal being? Then does Death become the divine angel. Happy for us if we can so consider it.
There are indubitable perceptions in our minds of beings brighter and better than man. In the night season, in quiet reflection, these images visit us when we are unbesieged by the objects of sense. Whence can such images come? There is no place for them in the world, where is incessant mutation-one thing encroaching upon and impelling the other. They can only come from that spiritual world in which we ourselves obscurely have a share.
Whence come the ideas of Right and Wrong? Twist them about as you will, and tell me by which of the five senses the first elements of these notions come into the mind. Do you truly believe the assumption of our modern philosophers, that these ideas, now a priori in the man, are a posteriori in the race; from small rudimentary beginnings evolved in the course of the ages? If, indeed, they come from slow experience and reflection, from observing that one course of conduct produces painful effects, and another pleasing ones, then right and wrong do really become other terms for what are useful or injurious; virtue is another name for utility, justice for convenience, and conscience a balancing of advantage and disadvantage: a grave conclusion surely, and one that affects the foundation of our practical life.
If the history of the origin of these ideas be uncertain, there is no question of their existence as two fundamental notions, absolute in their nature, and imperative in their obligation. They are, moreover, accompanied with a moral emotion, which, in the exercise of the highest disinterestedness, gives the profoundest delight that human creatures can experience. These lofty moral feelings find their completest development in the sphere of religion, and point out to us the region of a class of duties extending prospectively beyond the sphere of our present life to a destiny into the immeasurable futurity.
The benefit that we owe to these feelings is that they recall our attention again and again to the spontaneous working of our highest faculties; that they make known to us the treasury of emotions to which this working often gives rise; that they withdraw us from absorbing our whole attention in logical forms and processes, and point out to us the real and veritable existence of a spiritual world with which we are closely connected, to whose laws we are all subjected, and without which our highest reason, our instinctive faith, and our fondest aspirations would be a mockery and a delusion.
There is in man a source of power-a secret spring of action, of which every one is conscious, and upon the consciousness of which every one acts, that we call Self. In whatever light we view our nature we find such an invisible energy, not to be accounted for on any mechanical principles, playing the most important part in the whole of our conscious existence.
The most purely abstract idea, perhaps, which we can take of man is, that he is a force-a power sent into the universe to act its part on the stage of being. The Materialist views him as a mechanical force, created by chance, seeking mainly the preservation of its own organism, and accomplishing the destiny of a nature, which, strange to say, never had an intelligent or conscious designer. Philosophy, more enlarged, views him as an intellectual and a moral being, formed by the Power who is the centre and source of all intelligence, and endowed for the present with an organisation adapted to the material world around him. The great aim of his being, in this view of it, is to develope more and more the intellectual and moral energy of which his real and essential nature consists; to defend and succour the body indeed, as the organ of its present manifestation, but as that dies away, to prepare for a higher manifestation of intelligence and virtue to which his aspirations had ever been tending, and where his highest desires will be ultimately fulfilled.
It is true that there are differences-immense differences-in the single order of mankind. But in the greatest men we are able to celebrate, not especially dæmonic beings in whose presence we feel ourselves dependent and ashamed, but splendid flowers and
fruits of a tree of which we ourselves, too, are part. The bond which links the lowest and highest intelligence is only the nearest link of an infinite chain embracing all creatures. "From the rude Mongol to the starry Greek, who the fine link between the mortal made and Heaven's last Seraph ?"
Were man, indeed, constituted as the lower animals, differing from them only in degree, not in kind, such a view but brings them nearer to him, not him to them. Of even the animal instincts of the brute, and of the lower forms of animal life, it cannot be affirmed, even less of them than of man, that they are acquired by experience, as that they are rooted in the organisation.
Consider the world of brute animals, to what startling reflections does it give rise! That we should have a race of beings round and about us, and know so little as we do of their state, their interests, and their destiny! They have passions, habits, and a certain accountableness; but whether they have any moral nature, whether they are under some punishment, or whether they are to live after this life, we do not know. We inflict great sufferings upon a portion of them; occasionally they retaliate. We use their labour; we eat their flesh. Is it not plain to our senses that we live in company with this world of inferior beings, without understanding what they are? We think that men are lords of them and of this earth. It is not so sure. This earth may have other lords than ourselves, with dominion even over us; nay, perhaps, it is the scene of a vaster conflict than we at present are capable of comprehending.
Traditions of such a conflict, reported from the most ancient histories, sacred and profane, and the theme of later fable and song-come down to us, singularly enough, side by side with the succeeding antagonistic doctrine of absorption in the universal spirit, accompanied by annihilation of personal being. But it is now known to us that the earliest writings of the Eastern peoples present Death as an immediate and happy re-union with those who had gone before.
Of the Origin of Religion, history tells us nothing. Except in the Mosaic narrative, there is no clear attempt at a theory of the origin of man. The origin of particular religions, however, lies within the domain of historic account. And it is remarkable that the testimony this affords is always to the same effect. It invariably shows a process of degradation. In religion, of all other things, the processes of evolution seem to work in that direction. Of no religion is this more true than of that which was associated with the oldest civilisation known to us-the civilisation of Egypt. The researches of the latest Egyptologists show that the earliest known forms of religion in that mystic land are the purest. So strange is the declension and subsequent combination here of simple and grand conceptions with grotesque symbols and with