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The Truth of Christianity By William Harry Turton Characters: 24050

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

This depends chiefly on man's future destiny.

(A.) The Immortality of Man.

By this is meant the personal immortality of man's spirit, and there are four chief arguments in its favour:

(1.) From his unique position.

(2.) From his unjust treatment.

(3.) From his vast capabilities.

(4.) From his inherent belief.

(5.) Counter-arguments.

(B.) The Probability of a Revelation.

(1.) From God's character; since He would be likely to benefit man.

(2.) From man's character; since he desires it, and his unique position makes him not altogether unworthy of it.

(3.) Two difficulties: a revelation is said to be unjust, if only given to certain men; and anyhow incredible unless quite convincing. But neither of these can be maintained.

We decided in the last two chapters that man is a free and responsible being, and that God takes an interest in his welfare. We now come to the subject of a Revelation, by which is meant any superhuman knowledge directly imparted by God to man. And by superhuman knowledge is meant any knowledge which man could not obtain for himself; such as God's object in creating him, His wishes in regard to his conduct, or any past or future events of which he would otherwise be ignorant. And that God could, if He chose, impart such knowledge, either by visions, or dreams, or in some other way, can scarcely be disputed. Nor will anyone affirm (least of all an Agnostic) that we know enough about God to be quite sure that He never would choose to do so. Therefore a revelation is certainly possible; but is it at all probable? This is what we have to examine. And as the answer to it will depend to a great extent on man's future destiny, we will first consider the question of his Immortality, and then the probability, or otherwise, of God's making a Revelation to him.

(A.) The Immortality of Man.

By this is meant the immortality of man's spirit. And if we admit (as was admitted in IV.) that man is a compound being, consisting of a free and partly supernatural spirit, his real self, which controls his body and mind; what becomes of this spirit at death? We know what becomes of the body: the various molecules are arranged in other groups, and the natural forces are changed into other natural forces. Nothing is lost or annihilated. But what becomes of the spirit? If this is a free supernatural force, the idea that it should perish altogether, when the accompanying natural forces are re-arranged at death, is most unlikely. Indeed the apparent indestructibility of matter points to a corresponding immortality of spirit.

No doubt God could, if He chose, destroy either, just as He could create either; but without some supernatural interference, the creation or destruction of either seems incredible. Yet if a man's spirit is not destroyed, it must survive; for it does not seem to have any separate parts into which it can be split up like a man's body. Therefore, as it cannot undergo the only kind of death of which we have any knowledge (which is this re-arrangement of separate parts), it may survive for ever. And there are four chief arguments in favour of this personal immortality of man;-those derived from his unique position; his unjust treatment; his vast capabilities; and his inherent belief. We will consider each in turn, and then see what can be said on the other side.

(1.) From his unique position.

The first argument is from man's unique position, more especially when we regard him as the last and noblest result of the vast scheme of evolution, which has been in progress here for so many thousands of years. For such a vast scheme, like everything else, requires not only a cause, but a purpose; and however much evolution can explain, it cannot explain itself. Why should there have been any evolution at all? Why should a universe of dead matter have ever produced life? There must have been some motive in all this, and what adequate motive can be suggested?

We can only look for an answer in man, who is not only the highest creature on this planet, but as far as we know on any planet; so here if anywhere we must find the explanation. Evolution would then have God for its Cause, and man for its purpose-an undoubtedly adequate Cause, but is it an adequate purpose? For the human race cannot exist for ever as it is. Everything points to this earth sooner or later falling into the sun, when all forms of life must cease. Therefore, if man is not immortal, the whole of evolution which has led up to him as its final end will still have had no permanent result. And no result which is not permanent seems altogether worthy of the Eternal God, the Author of this evolution.

But if, on the other hand, man is immortal; and if this earth, with its strange mixture of good and evil, is a suitable place in which to test and form his character; and if perhaps God wishes hereafter to be surrounded by men who have stood the test, and have formed their character in accordance with His Will; then it may lead to a permanent result. And then its creation would not be such a hopeless mystery as on the opposite theory; for the perfecting of immortal beings seems an object worthy even of God.

Thus if we deny the immortality of man, the whole of evolution becomes meaningless, and nature is a riddle without a solution. But if we admit it, there is at least the possibility of a satisfactory answer. For then, as just said, nature is seen to be only a means to an end-a temporary (though perhaps necessary) means to a permanent end-the end being to produce man (a free being), and then to provide a suitable place for his moral training. And this will enable him, if he wishes, from being a free man, to become also a righteous man, that is, a man who acts right, though he might act wrong, and thus to some extent worthy to share in his Maker's immortality. And we must remember, man could not have been created righteous, using the word in its strict sense. He might have been created perfect (like a machine), or innocent (like a child), but to be righteous requires, as just said, his own co-operation-his continually choosing to act right, though he might act wrong. And this of necessity is a slow process, with some failures. But the end aimed at is a permanent, and therefore perhaps an adequate, end; and the present world seems exactly suited to attain this end, as it affords a man boundless opportunities (every day, if he likes to use them) of acting right, though he might act wrong.

We thus seem forced to the conclusion-however strange it may appear-that the gradual training and perfecting of man is the only adequate explanation of the world, the real object of its long evolution. Yet, if he is not immortal, this object can never be attained, for no one reaches moral perfection here; while even if they did, it would only last for a short time. And we may ask, is it likely that such a vast scheme should end in failure, or at most in only a temporary success? Is it not rather probable that if man is the end of evolution, then God, the Author of evolution, must value him; and if God values him, He is not likely to let him perish for ever. In short (as it has been well put), such vast progress from such small beginnings points to an end proportionately great, and this involves the immortality of man. On the whole, then, we may say in the words of Romanes, one of the great champions of evolution, that 'only by means of this theory of probation is it possible to give any meaning to the world, i.e., any raison d'être of human existence.'[8]

[8] Thoughts on Religion, 1895, p. 142.

(2.) From his unjust treatment.

The second argument is from man's unjust treatment in this world. For as we saw in the last chapter, God is a Moral Being, able to distinguish right from wrong; and, as far as we can judge, He is One Who will always act right Himself. Yet His treatment of men in this world seems most unjust. Wicked men are allowed to prosper by their wickedness, good men suffer unjustly, while some men's lives seem to be nothing but suffering; and how is this to be accounted for?

There is here again one, and only one, satisfactory explanation, which is that this life is not the whole of man's existence, but only a preparation for a future life-a short trial for a long hereafter. And, looked at from this point of view, the most apparently miserable lives may afford as valuable training, perhaps more so, than the outwardly happy ones. The temptation to dishonesty, for example, can be as well resisted by a poor man who is only tempted to steal sixpence, as by a rich man who is tempted to embezzle a thousand pounds.

And if resisting such a temptation helps to form a man's character, as it certainly does, and hence, perhaps, to fit him for a better life hereafter, this can be as well done in the one case as in the other. And the same principle applies universally; even a child has his temptations, which are very real to the child, though they may seem ridiculous to us. So if this life is intended as a time of probation in which to form a man's character, we cannot imagine a better system or one more admirably adapted to the end in view. And we must remember a man's character is the thing most worth forming, since (as far as we can judge) it is his only permanent possession. All else will be surrendered at death, but his character will last as long as the man himself, and hence perhaps for ever.

Nor is this all, for these trials and sufferings themselves may be the very means of adding to man's future happiness. The joy of having resisted temptation, for instance, would be impossible if men were never tempted; and the joy of rescuing others from suffering and sin, and thus perhaps making everlasting friendships, would be impossible if there were no suffering, and no sin. And the same applies in other cases. So man's probation in this life, with its incessant battle against evil, may (for all we know) increase his future happiness in a way which nothing else could possibly do, and to an extent of which we can form no conception. No pain or suffering, then, can be looked upon as useless, and no position in this world as one to be despised; in short, to anyone who believes in a future state, life is always worth living. And we may be sure that in a future state every injustice will be made good, and all wrongs will be righted.

(3.) From his vast capabilities.

The third argument is from man's vast capabilities. For he does not seem adapted to this life only, but has aspirations and longings far beyond it. His powers seem capable of continual and almost endless development. Nearly all men wish for immortality. This life does not seem to satisfy them entirely. For instance, men, especially scientific men, have a longing after knowledge which can never be fully realised in this world. A man's capacities are thus out of all proportion to his destiny, if this life is all; and to many it seems improbable that the Creator should have endowed men with such needless and useless capacities.

And this is strongly confirmed by the analogy of nature. For example, a bird in an egg shows rudimentary organs which cannot be used as long as it remains in the egg; and this of itself is a proof that it is intended some day to leave the egg. On the other hand, a full-grown bird seems to be entirely adapted to its present state, and not to have any longing after, or capacity for, any higher state; therefore we may infer that no higher state is intended for it. And by the same reasoning we may infer that some higher state is intended for man, as his mental and spiritual nature is not entirely satisfied by his present life. In short, all animals seem made for this world alone, and man is the only unsatisfied being in the universe.

Moreover, the period of preparation in a man's life seems out of all proportion to the time prepared for, if death ends all. The development in a man's moral character often

continues till nearly the close of his life. His character has then reached maturity. But for what is it matured? Surely not for immediate destruction. Must not the wise Creator, Who designed everything else with such marvellous skill, have intended something better for His noblest creatures than mere boundless capabilities, unsatisfied longings, and a lifelong preparation all for nothing?

(4.) From his inherent belief.

The fourth argument is from man's belief in immortality. For such a belief has existed among men in nearly every age and country, learned and ignorant, civilised and uncivilised. It was implied by the pre-historic men who buried food and weapons with their dead, and it was maintained by such philosophers as Socrates and Plato, and how are we to account for it? It cannot have arisen from experience; and the attempts to explain it as due to the desire which men have for immortality, or to someone occasionally dreaming that he sees a departed friend, are quite inadequate. Desire is not conviction, and dreams are notoriously untrustworthy. They might account for an individual here and there entertaining this belief, but not for mankind always and everywhere doing so; especially in face of the apparent contradiction afforded by every grave.

The belief, then, seems intuitive, and an inherent part of human nature; and we may ask, is it likely that God should have implanted such a strange belief in man if it were erroneous?

These, then, are the four great arguments in favour of man's immortality-those derived from his unique position; his unjust treatment; his vast capabilities; and his inherent belief. And with the doubtful exception of the second, not one of them applies to animals; so the common objection, that if man is immortal, animals must be so too, is quite untenable.

(5.) Counter-arguments.

On the other hand, the great and only important argument against man's immortality is that his spirit seems to be inseparably connected with his body. As far as we can judge, it is born with the body; it often inherits the moral character of its parents, just as the body inherits bodily diseases; it certainly develops and matures with the body; and in most cases it seems to gradually decay with the body; therefore it is inferred the two perish together.

But this does not follow; since, as said in Chapter IV., it is not the same body (in the sense of the same material particles) with which the spirit is united, even in this life. It is united to a continually changing body, yet it always survives. So it is not unlikely that it may survive the still greater change at death. Moreover, it is united to the body as its master, not its servant. It is, as already shown, a free spirit; and it decides to a great extent what the body shall say, and what it shall do. It thus uses the body as a means, or instrument, by which to act in the outer world; and therefore, of course, when the instrument gets out of order, its actions will become confused, but without implying that the spirit itself is so. In the same way, if we shut up a clerk in a telegraph office, as soon as his instruments get out of order, the messages he sends, which are his only means of communicating with the outer world, will become confused, and finally cease, but without implying that there is anything wrong with the clerk himself.

And this is confirmed by the fact that instances are known in which a man's intellect and will have remained quite vigorous all through a mortal sickness, and up to the very moment of death; so the gradual decay of the body does not necessarily involve that of the mind and spirit. While in states which somewhat resemble death, when, for instance, the body is fast asleep, or rendered unconscious by an accident, the mind and spirit are often peculiarly active, as in dreams. Therefore, when the body is really dead, the spirit may (for all we know) not only survive, but be endowed with still greater powers.

On the whole, then, this is not an insuperable difficulty; while the previous arguments render the idea of a future life distinctly probable. And this has, of course, a most important bearing on our next question; indeed, it is scarcely too much to say that the probability of a revelation depends on that of a future life. For if death ends all, man's existence is so short that a revelation can scarcely be thought probable; but if he is to live for ever, the case is very different.

(B.) The Probability of a Revelation.

Now (assuming man to be immortal) a revelation, from whichever side we regard it, appears to be somewhat probable. For God is a Being, Who seems likely to make a revelation; and man is a being exactly fitted to receive one; so we will consider these points first, and then the chief difficulties.

(1.) From God's character.

Now we have already shown that God takes an interest in man's welfare, being not only beneficent, but righteous; and that He apparently wishes to train and develop man's character, so that he may be righteous also. And from this we may infer that if a revelation would benefit man, and thus help him to be righteous also, it would not be improbable for God to make one. And that the knowledge given by a revelation might influence him in this way cannot be denied; for, as a matter of fact, such knowledge, either real or pretended, has had precisely this effect on millions of men.

We may also infer from God's methods in nature, which are those of slow development, that if He made a revelation at all it would be done gradually. At first it would be very simple, and such as could be transmitted orally. Then when man acquired the art of writing, and could thus hand it on accurately, a more definite revelation might be given. And this again might become more and more perfect, as man himself became more perfect. We obviously do not know enough to speak with confidence, but still God's character, so far as we can judge of it, seems to be in favour of His making some revelation-and that a progressive revelation-to man.

(2.) From man's character.

Passing on now to man's character, we find that he has been given a nature exactly fitted to receive a revelation. For religion of some kind is, and always has been, practically universal; and nearly all important religions have rested on real or pretended revelations from God, and have been accepted in consequence. In other words the nature of man has everywhere led him to seek for, demand, and, if need be, imagine a revelation from God. Nor is this in any way surprising, for a thoughtful man cannot help wishing to know why he is placed in this world; why he is given free will; how he is meant to use his freedom; and what future, if any, is in store for him hereafter: in short, what was God's object in creating him. It seems of all knowledge to be the highest, the noblest, the most worth knowing.

And therefore as this result of man's nature was not only brought about by God, but must have been foreknown, and intended by Him, it is not improbable that He should satisfy it; especially as it cannot be satisfied in any other way, for the knowledge being superhuman, is out of man's own reach. And it may be added, the more we realise this, and feel that God is Unknowable, in the sense that we can gain no satisfactory knowledge about Him by human science and reasoning, so much the more likely does it seem that He should give us such knowledge by revelation.

And all this is strengthened when we consider man's unique position to which we have already alluded. For if we admit that the creation and perfecting of man is the chief object the Creator had in view for so many thousands of years, it does not seem unlikely that He might wish to hold some communication with him. In fact, as the whole of nature shows design or purpose; and as man occupies a special place in nature; we may fairly conclude that God has some special purpose in regard to man, and, for all we know, He may have something special to tell him about it.

We conclude then that man's character, and the unique position he occupies on this earth, is a strong argument in favour of his receiving some revelation from God.

(3.) Two difficulties.

But now for the other side. There are two chief difficulties. The first is on the ground of injustice; since any revelation, it is said, would imply a partiality to the men or nation to whom it was given, and would therefore be unjust to the rest of mankind. But this is quite untenable, for God's other benefits are not bestowed impartially. On the contrary, pleasure and pain, good and evil, are never equally distributed in this world. What seems to be partiality and favouritism is the rule everywhere, and this without any apparent merit on the part of the men concerned. Moreover, the advantages of a revelation may not concern this world only. And all who believe in a future life are convinced of God's justice, and that men will only be judged according to the knowledge of His Will which they possessed, or might have possessed had they chosen, and not according to any higher standard which was out of their reach.

The other and more important difficulty is, that if God gave a revelation at all, it would be absolutely convincing. Everything that God does He does well; and we cannot, it is urged, imagine His making a revelation to man, and yet doing it so imperfectly as to leave men in doubt as to whether He had done it or not. For this would imply that He either could not, or would not, make the evidence sufficient to ensure conviction, neither of which is credible.

Now, though all this seems very probable, a moment's reflection will show that it is not conclusive; for exactly the same may be said in regard to the whole of Natural Religion. Is it likely, for instance, that God should create free and responsible men, and yet give them such insufficient evidence about it, that while many are fully convinced, others deny not only their own freedom and responsibility, but even the existence of the God Who made them? Yet He has done so. Therefore there is nothing improbable in the evidence for a revelation, if one were given, being of a similar character.

Indeed, there is much to be said in favour of its being so, since in most other matters man is left a free choice. He is often able to find out how he ought to think and how he ought to act, but he is not forced to do either. And God may have wished that the same rule should be followed in regard to a revelation, and that man should be left free to believe it or not, just as he is left free to act on it or not, if he does believe it, and just as he is left free to choose right or wrong in other cases. Therefore we cannot say that no revelation can come from God unless the evidence for it is overwhelming. It would doubtless be sufficient to convince a man if he took the trouble to examine it carefully; only it need not be such as to compel conviction. What kind of evidence we may expect will be considered in the next chapter.

Neither of these difficulties, then, is at all serious; and we are forced back to the conclusion that, provided man is immortal, a revelation seems for several reasons to be somewhat probable. To put it shortly, if God is good and really cares for man's welfare, it seems unlikely that He should withhold from him that knowledge which is the highest, the noblest, and the most longed for;-the knowledge of Himself. While, if man is a free and immortal being, occupying a unique position in the world, and intended to live for ever, it seems unlikely that he should be told nothing, and therefore know nothing, as to why he was created, or what is his future destiny. Thus when we consider both God's character and man's character, it seems on the whole to be somewhat probable, that God would make a revelation to man; telling him how he ought to use his freedom in this world, and possibly what future is in store for him hereafter.

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