Page images
PDF
EPUB

116

MATERIAL INFLUENCES.

How can we reconcile all these contradictions? Can any reasonable person maintain that all these classes of men originally received in their minds the same eternal principles of right and wrong? Why should we adopt any such notion, contradicted as it is by every fact that bears on the subject, when we can so easily trace the actions of these men to the varied circumstances of their youth, and their general and religious educations ?

Will any one attempt to deny that the mind grows with the body, and that the healthy growth of the human intellect always depends upon the healthy state of the material organs ? Experienced teachers are always gladdened with the appearance of well grown, healthy children, as a promise that their labours will be less difficult, more successful, and more lasting. Undoubtedly there are exceptional cases in which a powerful and healthy intellect exists in a fragile and diseased body: but these instances rather serve to strengthen our argument, for the brain, the organ of intellect, will in all these instances be found in the best condition, and unaffected by the weakness or disease of the remainder of the body. How easily can we trace through every age,

in

every occurrence and accident of life, the influence that the body exercises and maintains over the intellect and the desires. During disease we see the cheerful, sensible man become peevish, passionate, ridiculously fretful; he cannot apply his reasoning faculties, and at last be perhaps becomes delirious, his tongue babbles some incoherent nonsense, he recognises none of his most familiar friends, and all his gestures betray a total want of reason. Where is the immortal, immaterial spirit of the maniac or the idiot from birth? Can the juice of the grape, when received into the stomach, banish from the man the immaterial intellect, or change his immaterial reason and judgment into folly and brutish forgetfulness?

But what is the simple matter of fact in all these cases, abandoning all conjecture ? In madness, in idiocy and drunkenness, the organs of intellect are diseased ; in most cases of mental derangement the skilful anatomist can point out the exact morbid spot in the brain-and frequently his experience will enable him, before dissection, to indicate to what extent and in what direc

[blocks in formation]

tion the disorganisation of the brain has proceeded. No one can explain, or can make a reasonable attempt to explain, how the defects of the bodily organs can affect an immortal, immaterial spirit, which is supposed to be capable of a separate and independent existence.

When the period of vigurous manhood begins to glide away, and the season of old age approaches, the senses become dulled, the step falters, and man's whole deportment portends inevitable decay. In a few years the piercing sight, the quick ear, the deep-toned voice, have gradually become weaker or lost; the boiling blood and hot passion of youth have given way to a stagnant and tideless circulation, and the active mind, the ready counsel, the wise reflection have passed away, for judgment and memory have failed. The last years of existence, though not devoid of tranquil enjoyment, are in most cases passed in a state of bodily and mental infirmity.

Many striking phenomena can be adduced on the other side to prove the dependence of the body on the mind-in other words the ruling influence that the organs of intellect have over the remainder of the body. During life we know that the body grows and changes without entirely losing its distinctive form and peculiarities, and we know that step by step with it the mind grows and changes without losing its character or identity; but mind has no perceivable or demonstrable existence independent of matter.

But, says a Christian, are you prepared then to say that dull, inert matter, can think? Dull, inert matter ! Do you know what matter is? Is the electro-magnetic fluid matter? Is it inert and powerless ? Is it a spirit? Is it a God ? Dead, inert matter! Have theologians no eyes, no ears? Do not rivers run unceasingly ? Do supernatural hands supply their sources, or compel their progress to the sea, or is it not rather the material properties of water that cause these vigorous actions? Do not the winds blow, and by natural and known causes ? Air and water, then, are neither immaterial nor inactive, dead or inert. Are no changes in progress on the surface of the earth ? does the sea not alter the coast, and time and weather change the aspect

a

118

LIFE AND INTELLECT.

and structure of the mountains ? Are earthquakes the work of devils or gods, or some other members of the supernatural mena. gerie? or do they also furnish proofs that matter is not inert or inactive ? Ascending to the grander phenomena of nature, where or what is the supernatural motive power of the solar sys. tem? Is gravity a god? Gravity is a force existing throughout the universe; we can observe and catalogue its undeviating laws, but we cannot explain it, or imagine an origin for it. It is. In the words of an eminent living Christian philosopher, “ What can be said of this force, gravity ? Is not this all--that it is an ultimate fact- :-an ultimate energy of matter, not to be explained by any other ? Look at that remote Neptune, bending with lifelike obedience towards our orb; and read there this truth, that in our Sun's essence there is an energy to draw the planets towards him, primal and ever active. With what other form of expression is the phenomenon compatible ? Must we conceive of this force as something external, because of what is termed the inertness of matter? Where or what is this inertness ? Look at that rotting leaf, and reckon, if you can, the energies playing within it, with a vigour that might weave universes. Behold it working for itself another existence, part of its components pressing to cling to new organisations, and to evolve their fates, and another to take wing and rise aloft, and roll in the air one knows not whither.”*

And what can be said of this human intellect, this mighty force, so far above all other intelligences with which we are acquainted, so grandly distinct from all others, but that it does exist? We know not what are the causes of organic life ; what is the essential difference between organised and inorganic matter; whether plants have sensations. Who will dare to rule that they have not ? The snowdrop closes its petals when a shower is impending, while its sister, snugly sheltered beneath a thick bush or by a bank, still keeps them expanded. Go, man, observe nature more closely-wherever there is life there is intellect. But in vain do we seek for the destiny of the individual mind. Man's

* Dr. Nichol's Planetary System,

[blocks in formation]

observation does not, and probably never will, penetrate the portal of death. Beyond is the Infinite Invisible, the region of the sublimest and truest poetry.

During this life the brain is the instrument or medium of intellect, the mind grows, suffers, and decays with the intellectual organs, and manifests the closest sympathy with the whole body; but who can decide that it does not survive, and fly to other scenes and another state of existence after death? And who can decide that it does ? This alone is certain, that whatever changes matter may undergo, a substratum must exist throughout which is not only indestructible but indivisible. And there is no reason to think that corporeal death destroys the Being, all that is certain is a change and a departure. Nature says to every definite form and shape in the universe, “ Thou shalt for ever change, thou sbalt not all die :” but no one can interpret the application of those laws to the intellectual and moral powers of a being like

man.

Metaphysicians have been led into the most preposterous absurdities, even into denying the existence of matter, into resolving the entire external world into their own consciousness, into Ego; and they will ever be led into more intricate mazes of doubt and darkness, until men learn to have faith and patiencefaith, not in supernatural hypotheses, but faith in the inevitable and obvious facts of infinity and eternal change—and patience to wait and to work in the confidence of rectitude, without vainly and peevishly attempting to cut impracticable knots, which perhaps never can be unravelled in this state of existence.

With silent scorn we hear the animated tirades and bursts of indignant eloquence against the base and grovelling minds of those who thus attempt to rob mankind of the glorious promises of the gospel. We have shown the incapacity of your Jewish writers to teach us; we have proved their errors and their frauds; we have proved that they fancied they knew, and pretended to know, what no man knows to this day: in this nineteenth century their words are but a solemn gabble. What is the use of your beautiful, enchanting promises, as you call them, if they are not true ? How much worse than useless are they if, by a long train of

120

THE PRESENT MAKES THE FUTURE.

a

[ocr errors]

:

artificial feelings, motives, and terrors, they lead to false practice and neglect of true human interests. Let man study this world and this life, and not speculate on Houris and lakes of brimstone,

Rationalism is silent where nothing is known, and where error and presumption lead to fear, folly, and sluggishness. It teaches that this life is no state of probation, but a real existence, to be passed boldly, honestly, and wisely, without reference to a problematical future after death. It may safely be said, without abandoning prudence and foresight, that, every moment of our existence, if we walk straightforward, and act well the immediate present, the future will take care of itself. What we are to-day will decide what we shall be to-morrow, here or elsewhere. This is certain, Let us try to improve this life, and not to prove a life after death. Do not fear the consequences of a true thing -do not let any preconceived notions make you gaze with doubt and terror along the dark path of future practice to which an untried principle is tending. You are no prophet, none of us are prophets : but let us be well assured that no bad consequence will arise from truth, or from any approximation to truth, and no good will arise from submission to falsehood. Try a doctrine whether it be true or not, but when you have found it to appear true, do not draw back from the investigation from alarm as to where it will lead you. There is no danger in truth-there is no safety in falsehood, not even for women and children.

But atheism is cold and benumbing; it kills man's lofty aspirations, and drags him down to earth! Man's physical strength is limited and may be exhausted ; the mental powers of any man may be temporarily overworked and rendered useless by intense exertion; every man has only a certain amount of passionate, sympathetic, or affectionate energy, and these feelings and affections may, by superstition or other false systems of culture, be diverted into artificial, unnatural, and worthless channels. If a man habitually expends his sympathetic energy in weeping over a crucifix, kissing saints' relics, yearning after the love of Jesus, bemoaning his hardness of heart, praying for grace and holiness, and the like, instead of expending it in the animation of earnest and true labours of love and progress, of course in time all earthly

« PreviousContinue »