S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
But among these and other excellent arguments for the immortality of the soul, there is one drawn from the perpetual progress of the soul to its perfection without a possibility of ever arriving at it; which is a hint that I do not remember to have seen opened and improved by others who have written on this subject, though it seems to me to carry a great weight with it. How can it enter into the thoughts of man, that the soul, which is capable of such immense perfections, and of receiving new improvements to all eternity, shall fall away into nothing almost as soon as it is created? Are such abilities made for no purpose?
What man can think of himself as called out and separated from nothing, of his being made a conscious, a reasonable, and a happy creature, in short, of being taken in as a sharer of existence, and a kind of partner in eternity, without being swallowed up in wonder, in praise, in adoration! It is indeed a thought too big for the mind of man, and rather to be entertained in the secrecy of devotion, and in the silence of the soul, than to be expressed by words. The Supreme Being has not given us powers or faculties sufficient to extol and magnify such unutterable goodness.
What is made to be immortal, nature cannot, nor will the voice of God, destroy. Those bodies that we behold to perish were in their created natures immortal, and liable unto death only accidentally, and upon forfeit; and therefore they owe not that natural homage unto death as other bodies do, but may be restored to immortality with a lesser miracle, and, by a bare and easy revocation of course, return immortal.
There is nothing strictly immortal but immortality. Whatever hath no beginning may be confident of no end, which is the peculiar of that necessary essence that cannot destroy itself, and the highest strain of omnipotency to be so powerfully constituted as not to suffer even from the power of itself: all others have a dependent being, and within the reach of destruction. But the sufficiency of Christian immortality frustrates all earthly glory, and the quality of either state after death makes a folly of posthumous memory. God, who can only destroy our souls, and hath assumed our resurrection, either of our bodies or names hath directly promised no duration; wherein there is so much of chance that the boldest expectants have found unhappy frustration, and to hold long subsistence seems but a scape in oblivion. But man is a noble animal, splendid in ashes, and pompous in the grave, solemnizing nativities and deaths with equal lustre, nor omitting ceremonies of bravery in the infamy of his nature.
When I consider the wonderful activity of the mind, so great a memory of what is past, and such a capacity of penetrating into the future; when I behold such a number of arts and sciences, and such a multitude of discoveries thence arising; I believe and am firmly persuaded that a nature which contains so many things within itself cannot be mortal.
But if I err in believing that the souls of men are immortal, I willingly err; nor while I live would I wish to have this delightful error extorted from me; and if after death I shall feel nothing, as some minute philosophers think, I am not afraid lest dead philosophers should laugh at me for the error.
Cicero: De Senect., cap. ult., ed. Verburgii, x. 375, 8vo.
The caterpillar, on being converted into an inert scaly mass, does not appear to be fitting itself for an inhabitant of the air, and can have no consciousness of the brilliancy of its future being. We are masters of the earth, but perhaps we are the slaves of some great and unknown being. The fly that we crush with our finger or feed with our viands has no knowledge of man, and no consciousness of his superiority. We suppose that we are acquainted with matter and all its elements; yet we cannot even guess at the cause of electricity, or explain the laws of the formation of the stones that fall from meteors. There may be beings, thinking beings, near or surrounding us, which we do not perceive, which we cannot imagine. We know very little; but, in my opinion, we know enough to hope for the immortality, the individual immortality, of the better part of man.
Even in a moral point of view, I think the analogies derived from the transformation of insects admit of some beautiful applications, which have not been neglected by pious entomologists. The three statesof the caterpillar, larva, and butterflyhave, since the time of the Greek poets, been applied to typify the human being,its terrestrial form, apparent death and ultimate celestial destination; and it seems more extraordinary that a sordid and crawling worm should become a beautiful and active flythat an inhabitant of the dark and fetid dunghill should in an instant entirely change its form, rise into the blue air, and enjoy the sunbeamsthan that a being whose pursuits here have been after an undying name, and whose purest happiness has been derived from the acquisition of intellectual power and finite knowledge, should rise hereafter into a state of being where immortality is no longer a name, and ascend to the source of Unbounded Power and Infinite Wisdom.
Although the arguments now adduced in support of the immortality of man were less powerful than they really are, they ought to make a deep impression on the mind of every reflecting person, and determine the line of conduct which he ought to pursue. If they were only probable,if they possessed no greater degree of weight than simply to overbalance the opposite arguments, still, it would be every mans interest to act on the supposition that a future world has a real existence . For if an eternal world has a real existence, we not only embrace an error in rejecting this idea, but, by acting in conformity with our erroneous conceptions, run the risk of exposing ourselves to the most dreadful and appalling consequences. Whereas, if there be no future state, the belief of it, accompanied with a corresponding conduct, can produce no bad effect either upon our own minds or those of others. On the contrary, it would prove a pleasing illusion during our passage through a world of physical and moral evil, and would revive the downcast spirit when overwhelmed with the disappointments and sorrows which are unavoidable in our present condition.
Dr. Thomas Dick: Philos. of a Future State, Part I., Sect. xi.
Upon this short question, Is man immortal, or is he not? depends all that is valuable in science, in morals, and in theology,and all that is most interesting to man as a social being and as a rational and accountable intelligence. If he is destined to an eternal existence, an immense importance must attach to all his present affections, actions, and pursuits; and it must be a matter of infinite moment that they be directed in such a channel as will tend to carry him forward in safety to the felicities of a future world. But if his whole existence be circumscribed within the circle of a few fleeting years, man appears an enigma, an inexplicable phenomenon in the universe, human life a mystery, the world a scene of confusion, virtue a mere phantom, the Creator a capricious being, and his plans and arrangements an inextricable maze.
Dr. Thomas Dick: Philosophy of a Future State, Introd.
When I reflect that God has given to inferior animals no instincts nor faculties that are not immediately subservient to the ends and purposes of their beings, I cannot but conclude that the reason and faculties of man were bestowed upon the same principle, and are connected with his superior nature. When I find him, therefore, endowed with powers to carry as it were the line and rule to the most distant worlds, I consider it as conclusive evidence of a future and more exalted destination, because I cannot believe that the Creator of the universe would depart from all the analogies of the lower creation in the formation of his highest creature, by gifting him with a capacity not only utterly useless, but destructive of his contentment and happiness, if his existence were to terminate in the grave.
The annunciation of life and immortality by the gospel, did it contain no other truth, were sufficient to cast all the discoveries of science into shade, and to reduce the highest improvements of reason to the comparative nothingness which the flight of a moment bears to eternity. By this discovery the prospects of human nature are infinitely widened, the creature of yesterday becomes the child of eternity; and as felicity is not the less valuable in the eye of reason because it is remote, nor the misery which is certain less to be deprecated because it is not immediately felt, the care of our future interests becomes our chief, and, properly speaking, our only, concern. All besides will shortly become nothing; and therefore, whenever it comes into competition with these, it is as the small dust of the balance.
Robert Hall: Funeral Sermon for the Princess Charlotte.
And can we then think that the most natural and most necessary desire of all has nothing to answer it? that nature should teach us above all things to desire immortality, which is not to be had? especially when it is the most noble and generous desire of human nature, that which most of all becomes a reasonable creature to desire, nay, that which is the governing principle of all our actions, and must give laws to all our other passions, desires, and appetites. What a strange creature has God made man, if he deceive him in the most fundamental and most universal principle of action; which makes his whole life nothing else but one continued cheat and imposture!
William Sherlock: Discourse of the Immortality of the Soul, etc.
If the soul be immortal, it requires to be cultivated with attention, not only for what we call the time of life, but for that which is to follow,I mean eternity; and the least neglect in this point may be attended with endless consequences. If death were the final dissolution of being, the wicked would be great gainers by it, by being delivered at once from their bodies, their souls, and their vices; but, as the soul is immortal, it has no other means of being freed from its evils, nor any safety for it, but in becoming very good and very wise; for it carries nothing with it but its bad or good deeds, its virtues and vices, which are commonly the consequences of the education it has received, and the causes of eternal happiness or misery.
It is only our mortal duration that we measure by visible and measurable objects; and there is nothing mournful in the contemplation for one who knows that the Creator made him to be the image of his own eternity, and who feels that in the desire for immortality he has sure proof of his capacity for it.
Cicero, after having mentioned the great heroes of knowledge that recommended this divine doctrine of the immortality of the soul, calls those small pretenders to wisdom, who declared against it, certain minute philosophers, using a diminutive even of the word little, to express the despicable opinion he had of them. The contempt he throws upon them in another passage is yet more remarkable; where, to show the mean thoughts he entertains of them, he declares he would rather be in the wrong with Plato, than in the right with such company.