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As to the first of these questions, that which respects God's ability, we are utterly at a loss how Mr. Irving could make any question about it; or think it necessary to enter into any explanation or proof of it. It is a thing involved in the very idea of God; so completely so, that omniscience has been uniformly regarded as an essential attribute of Deity, by all those who have acknowledged that there is “one living and true God.” We cannot, therefore, but consider our author's disquisition on this point, as so many words thrown away, or as a mere trifling; but it becomes more than trifling, when he proceeds gravely to move the question, as to whether the Divine Being “can ever forget!!” Passing over, however, his elaborate proof that “God can never forget," we come to his second preliminary question, which he states thus;
“How we ourselves shall be conscious of the justice of the decision, which God hath the knowledge and the wisdom to discern ?"
To this question we should, without hesitation, give the following plain and obvious answer: we should say, that when we enter into that state, where the mists of ignorance shall be cleared away, where interest, prejudice, and passion, shall no longer exert their darkening and perverting influence, where we shall “ see even as we are seen, and know even as we are known,” every thing will appear to us in its naked truth and reality. What we have done, what we have been, what we are, will all at once flash on our minds, with an overwhelming conviction. The excuses, palliations, pleas, and justifications, with which we now impose on each other, and, alas! too often on ourselves, will no longer be thought of, except as constituting a part of our guilt. Such is, we conceive, the rational, as well as scriptural answer to Mr. Irving's second preliminary question. His answer to it is of a very different kind. Before we proceed to examine it, we must apply ourselves to the following extraordinary principle which he lays down, in order to evince the importance of his question:
“It is of the essence of justice, that the various offences of which one is accused, should be brought home to his consciousness and conviction, before he can be fairly condemned."
We should be curious to know, from what “ shrewd jurisconsult,” Mr. Irving learned this notion, about the essence of justice.” Wherever he got it, we suspect its soundness; we doubt that it would work well; and we invite himn to bring it to the test of the following matter of fact. It happened to us to have witnessed the last moments of a highly-talented, * and, in many respects, amiable young man; who, though gifted with various advantages of education, fortune, and station, engaged in treasonable practices, headed an insurrection, in which the murder of a high and venerated judicial character, and many other enormities, were perpetrated; and, in consequence, was arrested, tried, and, on the clearest evidence, convicted, and condemned to die. To the last moment (while he unfeignedly deplored the murder, which he represented as unpremedi
* A word of recent coinage, wbich might do very well for the flippant pages of Lady Morgan, or the fastian declamations of Mr. Phillips. 0.0.
tated, and contingent;) he justified the treason, gloried in his principles and design, and, regarding himself a martyr in the cause of liberty, died with a mild composure and fortitude, which drew tears from many an eye. Now, according to our author's principle, this young man was neither more nor less than murdered; for, that which is of the essence of justice was wanting in his case: bis crime was never brought home to his consciousness and conviction, and therefore he could not be fairly condemned. It matters not that every one else was satisfied of his guilt; that which is “ of the essence of justice,” was wanting in his case. Mr. Irving is possessed of less acuteness than we give him credit for, or, after trying his principle by some such test as the above, he will be disposed to give it back to the shrewd jurisconsult, from whom he learned it.
We come now to our author's direct statements, in answer to this his second preliminary question.
" It is a nice question," he says, “requiring a nice solution;" and he adds, “Into this difficult inquiry I enter, not without hopes of casting light upon a subject hitherto dark and intricate, which will need no small investigation, and will reward it with most impressive results, most necessary to the understanding of the issues after death."
His first position is, that there must pass upon the soul when disembodied, various changes, of which it is not impossible, though difficult, to discern the nature and the effects; for, though none have returned to tell, we all suffer partial deaths, from the effect of which it is possible to reason as to the effect of dissolution itself.
"The first thing," he says, “ I perceive in death, is the great change that it will make in enhancing the past and future over the present. I think it will go hard to annihilate the present altogether. In our present condition, things that are past are spoken of as dead or out of existence, and things that are to come are spoken of as unborn, and things present alone as being in real existence.- Present things bit the sense, and our senses carry such a weight in the empire of the mind, being its five great intelligencers with the outward world, that they have deluded her into the no. tion that they are the five elements of her existence. Now that she hath an existence independent of them, is manifested by her accupation in si. lence and solitude, when she will close her senses, and have a glad or gloomy season of active cogitation ; nay, she will grow into such absorption with her inward being, as to lose the consciousness of things passing around; she will sit in bustling places, yet hear no noise : inove along the crowded streets, yet behold no spectacles ; consume her meals, yet taste no savours; and though you surround the body with discomforts, and sting the senses with acutest pain, the soul which hath past heroism or virtue to reflect on, or future triumphıs to anticipate, will smile in the midst of tor. ture, and grow insensible to torment. In all which cases, the life of the past and future, is triumphant over the life of the present.” Now we venture to afárm that much of this is quite new to our read
We question, for instance, wbether any of them have happened to light upon the description of person for which this picture has been drawn;-a gentleman in his “glad or gloomy season of active cogitation;” so lost to the consciousness of things passing around him, that he can sit in bustling places, the Stock Exchange, for example, but hear no noise; or moving along Cheapside, yet bebold m spectacles; or eat
his dinner without tasting the savour of it.-In a word, so absorbed in heroism, virtue, and triumphs, as to continue quite insensible, though you were to give him a good horsewhipping, or duck him in a horse-pond. For our part, it has never been our good fortune to meet any one in such a “gay or glad season of active cogitation,” with the single exception of one gentleman on his way to Bethlem hospital, and therefore we hope to be excused from building much on the theory which this description is adduced to support.
But our author presents us with still more curious matter about past, present, and future.
“ In truth,” he says, " the present, both for its briefness, and the briefness of all its sentiments, is incomparably the least significant part of hu. man existence, and it approximates a man in the lower animals accord. ing as his affections are set therron. With a true man, the present is prizable only as it cometh out of the womb of past anticipation, bringing things boped for to hand, and as it may be wrought up into the issue of our schemes for well developing the future. Seeing therefore, that the present would fall altogether out of sight, were it noe for this constant conversation which the soul is forced by the senses to maintain with outward things, and even by that necessity scarcely keeps its ground in wise and enlightened spirits ; it is manifest that when that necessity ceaseth, as it doth at death, the past and the future will come to all in all to man. In proof of which, behold the existence of one who is immured in a solitary dungeon, and shut in from the invasion of the outward world-his present existence is nothing, his past is all ; he goeth over and over the days of his life, the accidents and actions of which come forth as out of twilight. He remembers, and recalls, and recovers from the wastes of oblivion, until he wonders at the strength of his memory. Set open to him a hope of deliverance, and consuming the gloomy days and weary months between, he already lives with the future yet unborn. And the present is used only to consume his food, which he almost nauseated, and he notches upon his tally or makes upon the wall one solitary mark, its only memorial."
This also is new, and passing strange. We have been taught, and hitherto we have been simple enough to remember the lesson, that the present is, of all other periods, the most important. The past, we have been told, though it is gone for ever, has left behind its errors and its evils, the cure for which the present is to supply; and, as for the future, it is the present which is to give to it a form and a complexion, either of happiness or misery. Accordingly, " Carpe diem,” is the maxim of a shrewd heathen poet, and “ Redeeming the time,” is the exhortation of an inspired apostle. Mr. Irving, on the contrary, tells us that“ the present is incomparably the least significant part of human existence;' so much so, that "it scarcely keeps its ground in wise and enlightened spirits." And he has given us a proof or illustration of this. sented us with a prisoner, immured in a solitary dungeon. Unhappy mortal! some one is ready to exclaim,-In what slow and lingering wretchedness does he count the tedious moments as they pass! In the misery of the present, all that was joyous in the past is forgotten; while the future is overspread with blackness and night! Surely the iron bath entered into his soul! Stop, gentle reader, you are wasting your coinpassion. This solitary prisoner in his dungeon feels nothing of iron or
He has pre
“ The present is nothing to him. The past is all; and he rung over its accidents and actions with wonder at the strength of his memory.". Nay, the past is not all to him: for already he lives with the future yet unborn: and between the joys of the past, and the bright visions of the future, he can scarcely snatch a moment of the present to scratch a mark on his tally or his wall.
“Now,” says our author, with an air of becoming triumph, “Now you are prepared to understand how it will be with man, when he is disembodied. We shall proceed to give the substance of his information on the subject, as nearly as possible in his own words.
“The body, which contained the senses, lies mouldering in the grave. The link is broken or wasted away, which joined the soul to the enjoyments or troubles of the present world. No new material investments are given to her, whereby to move again amidst these material things. Till the resurrection she shall be disunited ; and then, being rejoined by her former companion, they shall be submitted to material scenes, again to suffer or enjoy. What is there now to occupy the soul? There are no sensations nor pursuits to take her off from self knowledge and self-examination. Now seeing it is the fact, that when the soul is delivered from surl'ounding and disturbing objects, and occupying sensations, she recovereth with wonderful rapidity the lost impressions of the past, and ascertaineth · with much judgment her present condition, it is not to be doubted, that when she hath suffered her great separation, she will be busily occupied with recovering from the past all her experience, and observing all her condition. Indeed I can see no other occupation to which she can devote herself in her purely spiritual existence, save of this of revoking from oblivion all the past, and calling up from the future all things dreaded or hoped for. Therefore she will doat and dream over her condition, live all the past over again, and float away into the future. One thing is cer. tain, that whatever she doth recover will stand out before her in a light altogether new, and that she will pass upon herself other judgments than those with which she is at present content. Witness when you are laid on a bed of sickness, how you ruminate, and reflect, and turn the eye inward, upon the state of your soul; how offended conscience raiseth up her voice, and fuiure fears come trooping up, like spirits from the realms of night. What then shall be the nature of our reflections, when we are disembodied in very truth, and the world is escaped into the land of visions? Then I rruly ween there will be a scrutiny and a self-arraignment more severe than hath ever passed in monkish cell or hermit's cave. The soul will unfold the leaves of her experience, which since they were engraven, had never before been turned out to her inspection. The glorious colours which illumine them are gone; the pomp, the vanity, the applause the sensual joy, aod there is nothing left but the blank and bare engraving upon the tablet; and conscience is its severe interpreter, not worldly inteterest, ambition, or folly; and there is no companionship of fellows or masters in wickedness to keep us in heart; and there is no hope of amendment to chase self-accusation, no voice of consolation, no preaching of re. covery, no sound of salvation ; ali is blank solitude, spiritual nakedness, stark necessity, and changeless fate. The soul must have an irksome time of it, if so be that it hath lent no ear to the admonitions of its better part, and to the counsels of God which sustaineth these. It affrights me while I write to think of it. Such is the light upon this difficult subject of the wicked soul's condition, till judgment, which I can derive from the simple consideration of her being separated from her former companion, and driven upon her spiritual resources of reflection and hope, But as this is
an inquiry which concerns an important portion of human desting, and decides the question of the soul's preparation for and acquiescence in the judgment, I count it worth the while to push this inquiry ioto the change brought about by death, as far as our faculties can go with clear discernment.” (Pp. 292, 293, 294, &c.)
It would have been well for our Author's character and usefulness as a religious teacher, had he checked his inquiries at the point where « clear discernment" failed him. Unhappily he has pushed them far beyond the utmost stretch of the human faculties;” and thus has brought discredit on bimself, and, which is worse, on that cause which we really believe it is his main object to advance. We shall not follow him in his reveries; but that our readers may have some idea of what he is aiming at, in this long disquisition, we subjoin the conclusion of it in his own words.
" In short (for we wander withont bounds in this sea of discourse) from all these considerations which have been mentioned, and many more, it seemeth to me that death hath no sooner planted his pale signet upon the cold brow of our body, than a first initiatory judgment hath us in its hold; a first paradise, or a first hell instantly ensueth. All the past comes floating down, and all the future comes bearing up ; they near us, they possess us, and the soul is engirdled, as it were, in a ring of events touching her on every side, and communicatiog each one a stound of pain or a relish of joy" (P. 310)
Again, “During the long intervals, therefore, from the stroke of death, till the trump of God shall ring in death's astonished ear, the soul is, as it were, by the necessity of her existence, forced to engage herself with the work of self-examination and self-trial, according to the best standard which during life she knew. If she was enlightened upon the divine constitution, then, according to the rule thereof, she will examine herself, and soon ascertain whether she held it in reverence, and took the appointed measures to obey it, or whether she cast it behind her back or trod it under foot. If, again, she had no revelation of God, but had to depend on the light of nature alone, then she will try herself according to that light, and discover whether she made virtue or vice her delight, good or evil her God."
In fine, as far as we can discover our Author's meaning in this chapter, amidst the heap of words and figures with which it is overspread, it is this, that the soul at death is cast into some solitary place, where it dwells alone, and is set hard at work to discover whether it has been good or wicked, while united with the body, and thus to prepare itself for the sentence which the judge will pronounce upon it at the resurrection; during which process, it seems, it will work itself into intolerable torture, or unspeakable delight, according as its state may have been while in the body. Nay, this is not all, for from a hint thrown out, that in this state, “some perception of a Saviour may possibly be revealed to the virtuous of other communions,” (i, e. we presume, to the heathen to whom a Saviour had not in this life been unfolded) a very important and arduous piece of work is reserved for the soul to engage in immediately after death, which will afford it abundant occupation till the judgment, if, even then, it shall be completed.
JANI'ARY, 1824.-10. 261.