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It is not that the future life is disbelieved or denied: there is an expectation perhaps not completely extinguished in any mind, that there is something which will survive the shock of death. But for two reasons this expectation does not become controlling in human affairs.
It does not take form, and therefore it does not rise to the dignity and strength of faith. It is a vague hope or fear which is not without its influence, but an influence too feeble to rule the purpose of life and shape its ends. Or if it takes form, it is one so entirely factitious and irrational, that the future existence is completely foreign from the present, and has no genial relations with its concerns; and thus it becomes a portentous and lurid superstition, to haunt our meditations and compel us to prayer, and not an inspiration to quicken our pulses and turn our daily business to hallelujahs.
We believe Divine Revelation to be exceedingly rich and full on the themes of immortality, and that it contains a philosophy vastly comprehensive and exhaustive. Our object in the following pages is to unfold this philosophy and apply
it. Its annunciations on this subject have been neglected or partially heard, but the world will come back to them at last from its wildering superstitions. Our purpose is twofold: first, so to evolve the pneumatology of the Scriptures that their theory of immortality may stand forth distinct and tangible; and, secondly, to show it in such relation to the present life that we may know its hallowing influence now, and see where the heavens meet the earth, and whence they are interfused through all its duties.
Our theme spreads out before us into three departments of inquiry. In Part First, after an examination of partial and artificial theories, we endeavor to unfold and illustrate the laws of the Immortal Life, and show its relation to this outward and transitory condition ; that of the inward and imperishable man, to the cumbering and perishable body; and for this purpose we seek for the principle of interpretation that shall draw the curtains aside and let the light of the spiritual world fall unobstructed upon the natural, so as to illumine especially the solitudes of the tomb. But since the resurrection of Christ, the great exemplar of humanity, constitutes the luminous
centre whence light comes to us on this class of subjects, we devote Part Second to a treatment of this theme, as illustrating still more completely the transit of human nature from mortal to immortal existence. In Part Third we pursue our theme yet further, in our endeavor to bring out in as full relief as possible St. Paul's philosophy of the resurrection and the Future Life, and to show how it accords with and illustrates his entire Christian theology.
It is not much that the wit of man can avail on such high mysteries as these, and therefore we attempt little in the way of our own speculations. That certain doctrines are not true, reason rightly used we think abundantly able to prove. To find what is true, reason must pause reverently before the Divine disclosures, and on heights above the disputings of the sects or the shadows of their traditions and errors. It is, we think, exceedingly to be desired that the truths of Christianity should be held for their own intrinsic worth and grandeur, and as the sole property of the great Head of the Church, and that no clique or association of men should be suffered to label them with their names. And yet such is
the state of Christendom that it is hardly possible to bring out with due prominence any one essential doctrine without seeing it baptized with some party appellation. As we believe the theology exhibited in the following pages belongs to Christ, and not to any division of his followers, and as we are entirely confident that it will win its way among the candid of all denominations as the old dogmas pass into oblivion, we accord to it a title not less comprehensive than that of Christian.
This work is written at the request of the Executive Committee of the American Unitarian Association, but in the wholeness of freedom which they have allowed. We have desired to reproduce solely the catholic doctrines of the Head of the Church, and to leave no denominational mark upon them. That we present them without any mark of our own upon them, we will not say ; but such is our aim, and we commend the argument to the attention of the candid of all parties in the Church, who would see the light of the heavens turned more brightly and warmly into the sunless valleys of the earth, where thousands watch for the morning.
E. H. S.