Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Intuitions of Immortality
By Theodore Parker (18101860)
[A Sermon of Immortal Life. Preached in Boston, 20 September, 1846.]
TO my mind this is the great proof of Immortality: the fact that it is written in human nature; written there so plain that the rudest nations have not failed to find it, to know it; written just as much as form is written on the Circle, and extension on Matter in general. It comes to our consciousness as naturally as the notions of Time and Space. We feel it as a desire; we feel it as a fact. What is thus in Man is writ there of God, who writes no lies. To suppose that this universal desire has no corresponding gratification, is to represent him, not as the Father of all, but as only a Deceiver. I feel the longing after Immortality, a desire essential to my nature, deep as the foundation of my Being; I find the same desire in all men. I feel conscious of Immortality; that I am not to dieno; never to die, though often to change. I cannot believe this desire and consciousness are felt only to mislead, to beguile, to deceive me. I know God is my Father and the Father of the Nations. Can the Almighty deceive his children? For my own part, I can conceive of nothing which shall make me more certain of my Immortality. I ask no argument from learned lips. No miracle could make me more sure; no, not if the sheeted dead burst cerement and shroud, and rising forth from their honored tombs stood here before me, the disenchanted dust once more enchanted with that fiery life; no, not if the souls of all my sires since time began came thronging round, and with miraculous speech told me they lived and I should also live. I could only say, I knew all this before; why waste your heavenly speech? I have now indubitable certainty of eternal life. Death removing me to the next state, can give me infallible certainty .
There are a great many things true which no man as yet can prove true; some things so true that nothing can make them plainer, or more plainly true. I think it is so with this doctrine, and therefore, for myself, ask no argument. With my views of Man, of God, of the relation between the two, I want no proof, satisfied with my own consciousness of Immortality .
The Idea of Immortality, like the Idea of God, in a certain sense, is born in us, and fast as we come to consciousness of ourselves we come to consciousness of God, and of ourselves as immortal. The higher we advance in wisdom, goodness, piety, the larger place do God and Immortality hold in our experience and inward life. I think that is the regular and natural process of a mans development. Doubt of either seems to me an exception, an irregularity .
What form our conscious, social, and increased activity shall take we know not. We know of that no more than before our birth we knew of this world, of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch, or the things which they reveal. We are not born into that world, have not its senses yet. This we know, that the same God, all-powerful, all-wise, all-good, rules there and then, as here and now. Who cannot trust him to do right and best for all? For my own part I feel no wish to know how, or where, or what I shall be hereafter. I know it will be right; for my truest welfare; for the good of all. I am satisfied with this trust.
Yet the next life must be a state of Retribution. Thither we carry nothing but ourselves, our naked selves. Our fortune we leave behind us; our honors and rank return to such as gave; even our reputation, the good or ill men thought we were, clings to us no more. We go thither without our staff or scripnothing but the man we are. Yet that man is the result of all lifes daily work; it is the one thing which we have brought to pass. I cannot believe men who have lived mean, little, vulgar, and selfish lives will go out of this and into that, great noble, generous, good, and holy. Can the practical Saint and the practical Hypocrite enter on the same course of being together? I know the sufferings of bad men here, the wrong they do their nature, and what comes of that wrong. I think that suffering is the best part of sin, the medicine to heal it with. What men suffer here from their wrong-doing is its natural consequence; but all that suffering is a mercy, designed to make them better. Everything in this world is adapted to promote the welfare of Gods creatures. Must it not be so in the next? How many men seem wicked from our point of view who are not so from their own; how many become infamous through no fault of theirs; the victims of circumstances, born into crime, of low and corrupt parents, whom former circumstances made corrupt. Such men cannot be sinners before God. Here they suffer from the tyranny of appetites they never were taught to subdue; they have not the joy of a cultivated mind. The children of the wild Indian are capable of the same cultivation as children here; yet they are savages. Is it always to be so; is God to be partial in granting the favors of another life? I cannot believe it. I doubt not that many a soul rises up from the dungeon and the gallows, yes, from dens of infamy amongst men, clean and beautiful before God. Christ assured the penitent thief of sharing Heaven with himand that day. Many seem inferior to me, who in Gods sight must be far before me; men who now seem too low to learn of me here, may be too high to teach me there .
There is small merit in being willing to die; it seems almost sinful in a good man to wish it when the world needs him here so much. It is weak and unmanly to be always looking and sighing voluptuously for that. But it is of great comfort to have in your soul a sure trust in Immortality; of great value here and now to anticipate Time and live to-day the Eternal Life. That we may all do. The Joys of Heaven will begin as soon as we attain the Character of Heaven and do its duties. That may begin to-day. It is Everlasting Life to know Godto have his Spirit dwelling in youyourself at one with him. Try that, and prove its worth. Justice, Usefulness, Wisdom, Religion, Love, are the best things we hope for in Heaven. Try them onthey will fit you here not less becomingly. They are the best things of Earth. Think no outlay of Goodness and Piety too great. You will find your reward begin here. As much Goodness and Piety, so much Heaven. Men will not pay youGod will; pay you now; pay you hereafter and forever.