Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Evolution and Immortality
By Henry Ward Beecher (18131887)
[Lecture on Evolution and Religion.A Summer in England with H. W. B. Edited by James B. Pond. 1887.]
THEN there is beyond that an element in Evolution which endears it to me and to every man; I think it throws bright gleams on the question of immortality. I see that the unfolding series in this world are all the time from lower to higher, that the ideal is not reached at any point, that the leaf works toward the bud, and the bud toward the blossom, and the blossom toward the tree, and that in the whole experience of human nature, and in the whole economy of the providence of God in regard to the physical world, everything is on the march upward and onward. And one thing is very certain, that neither in the individual nor in the collective mass has the intimation of God in the human consciousness verified and fulfilled itself. The imperfection shows that we are not much further than the bud; somewhere we have a right to a prescience of the blossom, and the last we can see of men and of the horizon is when their faces are turned as if they were bound for the New Jerusalem, upward and onward. I think there is no other point of doctrine that is so vital to the heart of mankind as thiswe shall live again; we shall live a better and a higher and a nobler life. Paul says: If in this life only we have hope, we are, of all men, most miserable; and ten thousand weary spirits in every community are saying: Oh, this life has been a stormy one to me; full of disappointments, full of pains and sorrows and shames and poverty and suffering, and now comes this vagabond philosophy, and dashes out of my hand the consolation of believing that I am to live again. And it is the cry of the soul: Lord, let me live again. The accumulated experience of this life ought to have a sphere in which it can develop itself and prove itself. Now, I have this feelingI thank God that the belief in a future and in an immortal state is in the world; I thank God that it is the interest of every man to keep it in the world; I thank God that there is no power of proof in science that we shall not live. Science may say: You cannot demonstrate it; but I believe it; then it is my joy. Can you go to the body of the companion of your love, the lamp of your life, and bid it farewell at the grave? One of the most extraordinary passages in the Gospels is that where the disciples John and Peter ran to the grave of Jesus and saw the angels sitting, and they said to them: I know whom ye seek; He is not here; He is risen. But what a woe if one bore mother or father, wife or child, to the open grave, and there was no angel in it; if you said farewell forever as the body was let down to its kindred earth. It is the hope of a joyful meeting by-and-by that sustains grief and bereavement in these bitter losses in life. Science cannot destroy belief such as this of immortality after resurrection; it cannot take it away; it cannot destroy it, and it is the most precious boon we have in lifethe faith that, through Jesus Christ, we shall live again, and live forever.