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SERMON VII.

BY VEILLODTER.

ON BELIEF IN IMMORTALITY.

126127

SERMON VII.

ON BELIEF IN IMMORTALITY.

To all who depart hence as good men, the morning of a better state of being, of light, and of freedom, dawns on the other side of the grave. If we shall have faithfully finished our course, then it will be well for us in the evening of our pilgrimage! The good man wearied expires calmly, while he believes that he shall awake with new strength for immortality. Good is it for us, when once our eyes are closed from the charms of this earth; then we behold the greater wonders of eternal love in a fairer region. Good for us, when we have gone through the conflict of the hours of trial; the tears of sorrow flow not in the abodes of peace. Happy we, when we escape from the Blooms of this life, there brightness awaits us, there we find what we so earnestly longed for here below, truth and freedom, freedom from the infirmities which here oppressed us. Yes, there we shall be nearer thee, O exalted Being, to whom we here uplift ourselves with holy 128desire. We adore thee with thanksgiving, O Father, who hest given us the bliss of this faith, hast planted it in our souls never to be extirpated, and confirmed it to us through Jesus Christ. We supplicate thee with peaceful confidence; ah, strengthen us, that we may pursue the way to heaven, that our path of life may end serenely, that soft repose may overshadow us, when once the sun of our life sinks, that we may breathe our last with joy in the faith of immortality! Amen.

1 Cor. xv. 19, 20.

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.

WHOEVER solemnises, with cordial participation and religious sentiments the two important festivals of the termination of the life of Jesus and his reanimation, experiences a gentle transition from sad melancholy feelings to bright, animating, and joyful sensations. Transported from the field of death, he now sees himself on the theatre of life, where sublime hopes, and prospects of infinity; fill his heart with joy, and he embraces the doctrines of religion with holy thanksgiving. The moment of thy parting from the earth is a regeneration to life, an awaking in a clear morning, an arrival in a lovelier 129country, a passing into bliss. Pain and joy, common in thy life-time, affect tine for the last time in death; the last convulsion of thy corporeal covering shakes them off, and opens the way to the spirit for a free upward, flight. A few days since we were assembled for the serious and mournful celebration of death; to-day it is the festival of immortality which we here celebrate with songs of praise. Then we saw virtue glorified by the sufferings of that noble Being, who was true to virtue in a state of trial; now we think of the faithful perseverance rewarded, the spirit liberated. from its oppressive confinement, his holy desire satisfied in a better world, his faith crowned, his hope confirmed. “Christ is become the first-fruits of them that slept.” As he awoke again to dwell for a short time in earthly existence, so do we awake to a heavenly life, when once our eye is finally closed; so does this life, full of toil and conflict, end in triumph; so does the last moment appease the longing of the weary for liberty; so does he pass from the circle of his weeping friends into the circle of them that receive him with hymns of joy. O, if we had not this high belief, how dark would human life be! what an enigma the destiny of man! How devoid of developement, satisfaction, and achievement, the knowledge of mortals, their search after truth, their aspiration for improvement! how hopeless the condition of many a sufferer, how fearful the evening 130of life, how terrible in its approach the night of death! Did religion, says the Apostle, open to is no prospect into a more perfect and blessed state, how wretched should we be! Yes, the belief in immortality is a great, universal, and deeply felt, a real, not to be suppressed exigency of the human heart! It rests, not to be eradicated, in our inward breast; it maintains itself against all attacks of doubt. He too, who led astray, to his misfortune, has allowed this belief to be shaken, feels yet a longing for a firmer hope, painfully feels how much serenity, moral strength, comfort, and peace he loses by his doubts. Let us in this sacred hour contemplate the belief in immortality with this view; let us unfold our feelings, our perhaps yet gloomy feelings; let us thus worthily celebrate the feast of him that is risen again, that we may confirm our faith in one of his most valued doctrines. Belief in immortality is necessary for the human heart! Let this be the truth which shall employ us in this sacred hour. Let me prove it, and then draw some conclusions from it.

Every thing is really necessary to us, which we absolutely cannot dispense with, without perceiving our condition actually impaired, and our reasonable wishes disappointed of fulfilment. Thus, for instance, rest is needful to the weary, the esteem and love of good men to the noble-minded, and sympathizing consolation to the sorrowing. But above all things, 131faith in immortality is a real exigency to every thinking, aspiring man: for we cannot do without it, without being rendered unhappy, and seeing our purest and most holy desire unsatisfied; we cannot do without it, without losing what is most precious in existence; a satisfactory explication of the great end of our life, and therefore an answer to the great question, For what purpose am I made? it is, further, the raising of our moral strength, and a powerful support of it in trial, redounding to its honour, a refreshing solace in a state of suffering, and lastly a peaceful passage through the evening hours of our short earthly being. Sufficient reason surely, if this is the case, to call belief in immortality a real necessity for the human heart. Why do I exist on the earth? For what purpose has that holy Being created me, whose wisdom and goodness I find so abundantly conspicuous in nature? Every thing in the world is so ordered as to answer its purpose; and the goodness of the Father of all must have also fixed a certain object for me,—the noblest of the dwellers on earth,—which I am destined to attain. Every thing is matured for the developement of its powers; I also am richly furnished with precious endowments, faculties, and abilities. To cultivate and fully display these, to cultivate them for the acquirement of the highest imaginable good, of wisdom and virtue, for the continual increase of improvement, and for the final attainment of pure happiness; by the right use of 132all my powers to raise myself more and more to likeness with God, and to the exalted peace of a holy mind—can I conceive a more sublime end of my existence? And does not every thing, reason, religion, and the view of my own nature, point to the same end? But in what contradictions are my thoughts involved, if I may not look for the accomplishment of the scheme of God, in my duration beyond the grave, since I can by no means attain this object of my existence, if in death I cease to be! For then I might fairly ask, to what end are those manifold powers, those rich endowments imparted to my nature, which millions of my brethren, prevented by outward circumstances and the pressure of their condition, never disclose; and which I never see fully developed and matured even in the most favourable condition, and in the longest life? Wherefore are they given with such profusion to millions, who die in the flower of their years, or in the age of childhood? To what purpose the faculty of imagining the future, and the irresistible desire to continue to live always? To what purpose the increase of knowledge, improvement, and experience, if I am hurried away exactly when my career is brightest, at the very period when I begin to rejoice in the hardly won possession of these advantages? To what purpose the constant striving after a happiness, which I do not find here below, so as my heart longs for it? Even the purest virtue of the most excellent man, how 133deficient, how imperfect it remains Even the high satisfaction attending it, how often is it disturbed by weaknesses, which here can never be entirely cast off! We see every thing around us unfold itself, every thing ascend from one perfection to another; the caterpillar is converted into a butterfly: and shall the noblest inhabitant of earth alone make no progress, and after advancing a few steps, again quit the career so nobly commenced?

These doubts, an answer to which is so urgently requisite, are removed only by belief in immortality. The infinitely wise Creator cannot have wasted such noble powers upon us; every thing which. I observe and feel, leads me to a superior aim of my existence, which I can only reach by everlasting duration, and shall as certainly reach, as I confidently believe in the wisdom, justice, and goodness of the Eternal. For if man had received the finest faculties to so little purpose, how would that be consistent with the wisdom of the Eternal? If he had planted in us this warm aspiration for immortality, without satisfying it; if he annihilated us, when we first became susceptible of purer happiness; how should we be able to believe in his omnipotence and goodness? Do we not revere him as the All-holy and the All-just? And yet shall vice often triumph here below, and innocence be oppressed? Shall there never be a state of righteous retribution and glorification of virtue? Shall we 134 be impeded by the most holy Being in our advances to perfection? How wretched, indeed, should we then be! how could we enjoy the pure generous pleasure of gratifying thought, if the great belief in immortality were wanting? Viewed then on this side, how pressing an exigency is it for the human heart! And without it how much should we lose in moral power, in strength under severe temptations, in persevering courage under the obstacles to our growing perfect! Now, since the hope of an everlasting progressiveness and a future easy victory; since the prospect, that a blessed result will one day crown our often laborious exertions, elevates our minds; now we press cheerfully forward; now the view of the wide field which is opened to our best activity, invigorates our spirits; now we sink not in trial, since the hope strengthens us that it will one day terminate, and we shall reap the blessed effects of our fidelity; in the mournful feeling of our infirmities we now rely on the consolatory belief, that the hour will come when we shall be delivered from them; and this trouble will vanish. But, my beloved, if this short earthly life alone were granted us for the developement of our virtuous energies; if at this beginning of good we should be forced to stop; if we should after much exertion acquire in vain a certain strength, which would be destroyed with our spirit in the grave, should we not faint in these efforts? What would 135the little progress profit us, which we could here make in virtue? We should then resemble travellers, who should enter on a road to a lovely country, from which, after advancing a short way, they are called off again. Yes, it is highly needful for our heart and our virtuous zeal, to be firmly persuaded, that. the good we have sown will once ripen; that, destined to perpetual advancement, we labour for an endless futurity and for the fuller accomplishment of the designs of the Eternal; when we subdue ourselves; when we perform his sacred will with faithfulness; when the doing good costs us great sacrifices, and that every progressive step is an approach to the grand object, to the attainment of which God has called us. And is it then, my beloved, is it always so easy in human life, to act nobly and uprightly? Ah! when weak man, yet ever longing after happiness, is assaulted on all sides, in perplexing situations and in the hours of adversity; when he can prove, his regard for virtue only by making severe sacrifices; when he stands alone in conflict, and on one side brilliant advantages, on the other heavy sorrows are offered to his choice, when on his resolving nobly every cheerful prospect vanishes, when, perhaps, virtue demands the surrender of his life; then he stands in need of a supporting, comforting thought, of an encouragement which may determine him to honour what is right; then it is so natural that a man should desire the prospect of a life, where 136the weary may rest from trial, and the hope, that spiritual blessings may flow from his devoted fidelity.

To love good for its own sake, to perform it merely from a sacred regard to duty, and without having the smallest respect to the painful or the gratifying consequences which may accrue to us, that is certainly great; that is the pure virtue after which we should be zealous aspirants. But we shall scarcely attain it here below; we cannot in our state of weakness entirely dispense with the supports of our virtue; and precisely in this feeling of our infirmities, from which we wish to be freed, lies a principal reason why we so fervently, so heartily, long for immortality. This faith then, viewed in this light also, is a real and urgent necessity of our hearts. Even Jesus Christ, the man of superior moral greatness, was strengthened by this faith in contending for truth and virtue. When with sorrow he spake to his disciples of his death, then his view was always directed to the future beyond the grave; then he saw in his death his departure to the Father, and rejoiced in the glory with which God would crown him, when his hard conflict should be finished. And, lastly, how deeply felt an exigency is this heart-cheering belief in the dark days of trial, in the nights of hopeless sorrows, and in the evening of life

Strength of mind in suffering, bestowed by God on those who love him—fulness of comfort lies in 137the words, Better days shall come! This consideration imparts happiness, and raises the spirits in the midst of tears; thou also who, of the same nature and destiny with thy brethren rejoicing around thee, canst not join in their cheerful tone; thou, who with equal desire of prosperity hast: found trouble and heaviness, and regrettest what the earth cannot restore to thee, thou too shalt find in a better world what thou longest and mayest long after, rest, joy, and peace. After the storms of life thou shalt land in a milder and more friendly region; shalt there be justified, if here the world mistook thy generous nature; shalt there find the love which here the unkindness of man robbed thee of; shalt there in the company of the perfected, perhaps in the embraces of those thou hast loved, be recompensed for the loss which nothing on this earth replaces; shalt there lay aside the covering, under the pains of which thou hast here long groaned; shalt be relieved from the weight of cares which thou hast borne with resolution and submission; shalt there discover the sacred truth which thou hast earnestly sought when contending with frequent doubts, and shalt see every pure, heavenly desire, which here was cherished and nothing could suppress, fully satisfied. Better days will come and last for ever: take this belief from the noble and patient sufferer, and he is overcome in struggling with his hard fate! There are many human sorrows 138which are borne in secret; the prosperous man neither knows nor conceives them. There are sorrows of the soul, which only death removes. But who would carry them with him to the grave, did not a ray of comfort from this very quarter shine upon the weary soul, did annihilation only destroy the sufferer’s pain? For all those grounds of consolation, which belief in the directing hand of God presents, would lose their force, if the perfection and perpetual advancement, at which we aim, and to which God leads us through trials, were snatched away; if we did not in expectation of a state, where the holiness and justice of God will be vindicated to us, and we shall acknowledge with adoration the wisdom and goodness of his dispensations. We must eradicate the ardent longing for prosperity and felicity, which the Eternal himself planted in our souls, if in days of adversity we would not languish for the hope, that better times may come; if we, afflicted by our weaknesses, depressed by bodily sufferings, grieving for painful wounds of the heart, were not desirous of deliverance and a state of more perfect enjoyment. And when the evening of life approaches, when every thing, which was dear to the heart, is torn away, when all things have disappeared as a dream, when much that we once coveted affects us no more; when the mind now thirsts for new enjoyment, and but one desire warmly glows within it; ah, then it 139turns its view to heaven, and seeks there what the earth has no power to give it: The life of man would terminate dreadfully, if the grave. were his home; the evening of his present state would be dismal, if destruction followed it; despair must seize him, whom joy caressed in former years, were no prospect beyond the grave opened to the departing.

How great and invincible a necessity is belief in immortality! How every thing is centred in this belief, a heaven full of bliss and tranquillity This great hope dries up all tears, reconciles the sufferer to the world, exalts him, who has nearly run his course, above this earth, cradles him in peaceful repose, makes bright images float around him, and gently leads the sun. of his life to its setting. Yes, my beloved, the belief in immortality is no imaginary want of the heart: it is not a visionary happiness which we so ardently desire; not a truth in which only our love of knowledge is interested; not an affair, which at the most adds only to our well-being upon earth. No, this belief is extremely important and essential to our rational and composing reflection, to our strength in virtue and our cheerful perseverance in good, to our consolation in anxious hours, and our only hope in death. Without it we should be really wretched, and an inexplicable riddle to ourselves; we must then envy the irrational creatures, which would fulfil the purpose of their existence better than ourselves, which 140have no apprehension of futurity, and suffer death without fear. We can do without much in the world, and yet live contented and serene; we need not much knowledge in order to be happy; but we cannot miss this comfort, this faith, without being deprived of every possible interpretation respecting the object of our existence, and consequently of the foundation of every pure joy; every true satisfaction, every delightful hope. Deep in our souls rests the desire for immortality; we are unable to extirpate it. And therefore is it also, if we believe in the existence of an eternal Being, full of wisdom and goodness, a strong proof of the reality of our eternal duration. O not in vain, not to disappoint us, has he who created us, planted such a holy impulse in our souls! We must cease to believe in any higher destiny, we must abandon the sublimest aim of human existence, perpetual advancement in wisdom and virtue, if we should doubt of the immortality of our spirit. No; as certainly as this pure and lively desire for deliverance from earthly infirmities, for superior wisdom and refined virtue, for constant pressing on to perfection, exists in my soul, so surely do I know, that I shall not perish, when my body falls into dust. I bear the pledge of my immortality within me; the reason which God gave me compels me to believe in its everlasting duration. This state of infancy here below will not constitute the whole of my existence. These abundant 141powers in me will not remain undeveloped, this longing after a better condition will not be destroyed in death. We are immortal, my friends! As sure as God gave us a. warm desire to know more of his wonders than the earth displays with all the charms of the fresh and thousand-coloured spring, so surely this short life is not the last purpose for which God created us. And the more virtuous you are, the more acquainted you become with these noblest cravings of your heart, so much the more will the belief in immortality take root in your souls. The more sacred the purpose of human life appears to you, the more certain will you be that you are formed to attain it by perpetual advancement. The more ardent your thirst after truth, so much the more heavenly the hope, that it will one day be allayed in the regions of light. The more you feel your confinement, whilst full of desire for greater perfection, so much the more delightful will this truth be to you, the hour of deliverance is at hand! Thus your virtue cherishes the holiest hope, and this elevates your heart and gives it strength unto victory.

Nothing then, my beloved, shall rob us of this precious faith; we compassionate with brotherly love him who cannot subdue the unhappy doubts, into which he has strayed; we despise him who ridicules what is sacred. We are immortal! May this heavenly confidence be our light in the way of 142life, our comfort in the gloominess of sorrow, and may it infuse into us a foretaste of heaven at our dying hour! We adore God for the unutterable blessing of this faith; we sing praises to him for it with holy joy on the festival of immortality. Amen.

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