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§ I.—SOUL’S REALITY AND GREATNESS.
ON the very threshold of this subject we are arrested by the humiliating necessity of confessing ignorance. That which formed one of the high themes of Christ’s teaching—the soul—is absolutely unknown, so far as respects its distinctive essence and nature. At the same time the ignorance thus confessed is not peculiar to this region of thought, Tor that which we call matter, and which is immediately and constantly before our senses, is as little understood as that which lies beyond the reach of sense, and which we call soul or spirit. Is there then any real distinction between the two? is there in the nature of man an actual element answering to the word spiritual, something distinct from and higher than the material organization? This is the question which has burdened and troubled the ages and up to this day the only reply to it which at all satisfies the reason, and furnishes ground for an enlightened faith, is that which finds in the soul itself its own proper evidence. The spirituality of man we hold to be a primitive truth, an original intuition, which the same mighty hand that formed our nature at the first, planted within it and made an integral part of it. Whether the appeal be made by each individual to his own consciousness, or whether he take the wider range of his personal observation, or whether he search into the history of nations, whether he limit investigation to his own times, or extend it back into the past ages, we hold that the conclusion we have named is the only one which finally commends itself, as legitimate and consistent. One thing is certain, that the reasonings of the past ages, apart from intuition, have not conducted men to a clear, uniform, and decisive result. The region has proved too profound and too dark for feeble and limited beings to explore, and the human intellect has returned from the search after evidence, bewildered and oppressed. At the same time, justice demands the confession that the intuitional proof is by no means in all respects unexceptionable. It is often extremely difficult to reach the true voice of human nature as it is constituted by God, and to read the native, spontaneous verdict of the soul in reference to itself. There are most painful discrepancies and confusions, and the testimony admits of being woefully corrupted and even altogether suppressed.
The fact is not to be denied, that the nations and the ages have not agreed, and do not now perfectly agree, in one energetic response to the question of the soul’s reality, as distinct from the material organization. On the one hand, we can not shut our eyes to reckless skepticism in some, and to sensualism and moral debasement in many more; and on the other hand, there are tokens without number of laborious yet fruitless speculations of deep and unsatisfied longings, of dark conjectures and of torturing fears. The light kindled by God in the soul has had to struggle for its preservation and its purity. The voice of man’s nature has always come up amid the clamor of other and hostile sounds. That voice has not been listened to; sometimes it has been so long unheeded, that at length it has ceased to make itself heard at all. Even where it has been distinctly recognized, men have shrunk back from the difficulties and the mysteries to which it seemed to conduct. The idea of a spirit inhabiting the body is hard to be understood; the origin of the spirit, the nature of its connection with the body, its laws and its destinies—all are mysterious and abstruse. It is much more easy to believe that man is what the senses teach concerning him, and no more; it is even more agreeable, on some accounts, to believe only this, and it becomes even more agreeable as the mental and especially the moral condition deteriorates. Faith in any thing beyond the senses becomes more and more unwelcome and unlikely, and at last is morally impossible
Without consulting the history of remote ages and of distant lands, our own times will supply evidence sufficiently extended on this subject, and our own country will furnish instances the counterpart of which, we need not doubt, can be found in all other regions of the earth. Among ourselves, there are human beings that scarcely know that they have a soul. A faint echo of the divine voice may still linger in these sunken natures, and it may never be absolutely impossible to awaken them and to make them catch the dying sound, but virtually they live on as if that voice had never been uttered, and as if no echo of it lingered within them. These beings, from their birth upward, have put forth no powers but those of their bodies, and have conversed only with the objects of sense. The external world alone—the labors, interests, attractions, duties, and wants which belong to it—has successfully appealed to them. There has been every thing to deaden the sense of a higher nature, little to awaken and stimulate it. The struggle to provide for daily necessities, and still more the indulgence of low sensual appetites and confirmed habits of vice, have rendered every thing connected with a spiritual world uncongenial and alarming. In this way, multitudes among .us are scarcely ever disturbed by the thought, that they have a soul. They think only of the body and of the outward world, and are utter strangers to their rational and responsible nature and to their solemn destiny. They have lost all sense of the dignity, the duties, the power, and the worth which belongs to them. For human beings in this condition, the very first necessity is to know themselves, and the very highest boon which it is possible to bestow on them is a knowledge of themselves.
Jesus came to the world with this boon in his hand, at a time when the soul was awfully unknown. An age of marvelous intellectual activity, of high cultivation, and of abundant produce, of its kind, scarcely believed in the soul. A few of the more privileged and gifted minds, a few wise and earnest men, longed for inward light, and they found it in measure; but to the world generally the soul was almost unknown. Even in Judea, gross materialism had darkened and enervated religion. It seemed to be imagined that the service of God needed no intellect, no conscience, no heart, no spiritual nature, but only eyes, hands, lips, features of the countenance, movements of the body.’ To Jews and Gentiles, the soul in its real greatness, in its noble attributes, in its vast capacities, and in its high destinies, was practically unknown. There was needed, if not a revealer of what was new, a restorer of what had long been all but lost, a quickener of what lay dead and buried.
Who shall stand forth to tell to man that he has a soul? Who shall redeem the birthright so vilely cast away, and lift up in the sight of all nations the forgotten, forsaken, dishonored mind? Who shall read aloud the handwriting of God on the nature of man, restore the text once so fairly inscribed, clear it from all false glosses, all various readings, all mistakes and blots? Who shall give back to the world the Divine original, after the interpolations and corruptions of a thousand ages? Jesus of Nazareth has done nothing less than this. In his teaching may be found the reality (and not less the greatness, the accountability, and the endless life) of the soul, revealed with a luminousness and a fullness, for which we look in vain elsewhere.
There is no formal exposition in the recorded sayings of Christ of the doctrine of the soul, its origin, its nature, its union with the body, its powers, its laws, and its fate. None of these form the subject of elaborate argumentation, or of brilliant discussion. There is no array of evidences on the one hand, and no enumeration and refutation of errors on the other hand. Nothing like proof is ever attempted. Jesus spoke to men, as if he knew that they did not need proof, and that they already had within them the highest proof, of which the subject admitted. He spoke of the soul, as of a truth already ascertained and indisputable, which, however, men had wickedly excluded from their minds. He spoke like one whose office was to announce that of which they ought not to have been ignorant, and to remind them of that which they never ought to have forgotten. His method was direct appeal to the nature of man—clear solemn appeal, in a matter of which he left themselves to be the judges. His ministry was a proclamation of all places, circumstances, and connections, of the doctrine of the soul. Underneath all his teachings this doctrine lies; closely interwoven with them, directly suggested by them, often conspicuously standing out from them. He would have the world know and believe that there is a spiritual nature in man, an invisible, precious part of his being, and that the forgotten soul is a profound, a universal reality. All times, all nations, all conditions, rich and poor, bond and free, alike are distinguished in this respect; it is the birthright of all, the common inheritance of man. The reality of the soul was involved in His doctrine of a reign of God; in that of sin and that of pardon: in that of religion, since its place and its essence alike are spiritual; in that of prayer and that of worship; in that of piety toward God, and in that of human virtue. His entire teaching rests on the basis of man’s spiritual nature, and without this would be utterly unmeaning. His ministry was a voice to the world, on behalf of the soul, familiarizing the lost idea, and pleading for its restoration.
The mechanism of the body is curious and mysterious, the earth around and the skies above are full of wonders, the present life has its interests, attractions, and noble uses but there is that within man to which, not in the frame of the body, nor in the structure of the visible creation, nor in the machinery of the present life, any resemblance can be found. Christ’s voice proclaimed the soul and amid the degradation, the profound torpor, and the guilty self-abandonment of the world, the sound was renewed and prolonged, The soul! the soul! And that whose being was thus heralded, was in itself truly great. Its origin exalts it marvelously. The offspring of God, and bearing on it the image of the Father, the soul is great. Its attributes, incomparably higher than any which reside in matter, make it great. Its vast capacities, also, and, most of all, its immortal destiny, make it great. In the Gospels, the soul is often contrasted with earthly things, and lifted up above them all. The words of Jesus are framed to convey to the bosom of a man a solemn assurance, and to create a deep conviction of his unutterable worth. As a matter of fact, they have done this in the most unpromising circumstances, and have effected what all other agency fails to effect. The ignorant, the uncultivated, and the vicious, have been taught by them to reverence themselves, and to recognize the sacredness of their own being. In the teaching of Christ, the soul is the man, and determines his position in the scale of existence; not the body, not outward possessions, not social rank, not any thing visible, not any thing connected only with the present world; but the spiritual nature, its powers, principles, and moral condition. The soul is the man; in it are all his real distinctions, all his worth, his dignity, and his happiness; there lies his character in the universe, there his whole being for good or for evil—there and nowhere else. The Gospels do not assist us in defining and comprehending the essence of spirit, or in solving the hard questions of metaphysics respecting the connection between matter and mind, how the latter acts upon and through the former, and is in turn constantly affected by it. But they have filled the world with a most blessed sound; there is a soul in man, and the soul is, beyond expression, great and precious.
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