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Man and the Spiritual World

I. The Answers that are Wholly Incorrect.

(a). That of the Materialist.

The answer he gives is determined by his conception of man; and that is an unworthy and disappointing one. He takes a very low view of himself and his fellows. Appraised at his valuation, man is no more than an ingenious piece of highly-organised and developed matter; a clever result of physical Nature, reached after ages of effort, under a law of Evolution. He declares him to be, in every part of his constitution, a material being, a parcel of animated molecules, and naught besides. He denies that he possesses a spirit and a spirit-body, and gets over the difficulty of mind by accounting it the outcome of certain unknown, cunning combinations or configurations of matter. Consequently, the death of a man's body is regarded as the dispersion and obliteration of the mind, and the complete extinction of the man himself.

Put our question to the Materialist, and he will reply, 'At death, our bodies are resolved into the physical elements of which they are composed, and ourselves will cease to be?

It would not be difficult to assign several strong reasons why this answer is, assuredly, wrong. We take but one of these reasons, which we consider a convincing one. It is this.

The materialistic view of man practically charges God, or Nature (if the existence of God be denied), with acting in a way that is inconsistent and absurd. Consider how the case stands. The Materialist declares that men are wiped out of existence at death, and yet is compelled to admit that the race most strangely, throughout the ages, has tenaciously clung to the conviction that there is a Life beyond the grave.

This conviction has not been confined to any particular section or sections of mankind. 'All sorts and conditions,' civilised and uncivilised, have held it from the dawn of human history, and we cling to it just as eagerly in the present day. But is that not very remarkable from the standpoint of the Materialist?

In spite of appearances suggesting extinction when the body dies, here stands this great human family, so complex in ideas and religions, resolutely refusing to accept the idea, and declining to yield to the evidence of the physical senses. Here it is exhibiting a fundamental oneness; believing in, asking for, and struggling after, a Life to come; forming itself, sometimes wisely and at other times unwisely, into huge religious organisations, for the reason that it thinks religion will equip men for that Life, and that sacrifice and heroic effort are well spent if it can be gained.

Can we account for this if man's aspiration for a future be no more than a fond conceit, a pleasing dream?

How came this aspiration to exist if no satisfying of it is to be vouchsafed?

We consider ourselves very much wiser than insects, fishes and birds. Are we actually so? If the Materialist's answer be right, are we not immeasurably less wise than they? We never heard of fish making strenuous and persistent efforts to plant themselves on Alpine crags, nor of eagles who spent a lifetime in considering how they might explore the bed of the ocean. God has not fashioned them to be so foolish and impractical as to strive after the impossible. And yet the Materialist's theory would commit us to the inconsistency of believing that man has been always doing this.

The fact is, man's craving for a Hereafter is an implanted instinct. Unpoisoned by negative thought, and not drugged by vice, or worldliness, the thoughts of a man turn as naturally to a Hereafter existence as the desire of a bird turns to the air, or that of a wild animal to the woods.

What, we ask, can be seen throughout the realm of Nature with regard to instincts? Is it not this—that no instinct, as far as we know, exists in any creature lower than man for which the correspondence, the satisfying, has not been provided.

No bird would beat its wings against the bars of its cage in its desire to fly were flying an impossibility to its race, nor would fresh-water fish leave their river-haunts and battle their way to the vast, mysterious ocean if that ocean had no existence. God is never untrue nor inconsistent. He does not mock His works. He never endows a creature with an instinct that points to nothing.

Do you then observe the difficulty into which the Materialist has plunged himself, in asserting that man's existence ceases at death, and that his aspiration for a Life Beyond has no correspondence in fact? In that case, God, Who is so true and consistent in regard to all the lower creatures, is heartless and inconsistent in His dealing with Man, the top-stone of His earthly creation. We are asked to believe that He, Who has never mocked a bird, a spider, or a worm, has cruelly mocked us; that He has given us an instinct that is not to be satisfied, and, in other words, has implanted in our mind an ineradicable conviction of a Life to come, while knowing, at the same time, that man would never attain it.

We ask, do you think that this is likely? Can you conceive of God as being so petty and so cruel? Is not the idea an outrage to common sense, a denial of the principles of true science, and a slander upon the Being ' Whose understanding is infinite'?

And yet to this conclusion we must come if the grave be affixed as the boundary of human existence.

On this ground, therefore, apart from other weighty considerations, we reject the answer of the Materialist as being wholly incorrect.

(b). The answer of the Agnostic.

The term 'Agnostic' is a comparatively modern one, and not all of my readers may exactly know the meaning of it. A few words of explanation will, therefore, not be out of place.

The word 'Agnostic' is applied to those who, in rejecting the Christian and other systems of revealed Religion, consider that no sufficient evidence has been adduced to warrant their believing in a Spiritual World and a future life for mankind. The term itself has been derived from a Greek word agnostic(agnōsia), denoting a condition of not knowing, or ignorance.

Correctly speaking, therefore, an Agnostic is a person who does not know. It is wrong and unfair to class him either with the Atheist who denies the existence of God, or with the Materialist who does not acknowledge the existence of spirit. The Agnostic, if he be consistent with his name, denies neither.

He recognises the necessity for a First-cause, whether as a Person or a Force, but declares it to be 'unknowable.' In regard to spirit and a life to come, he concedes that both may exist, but at the same time declares that he knows nothing concerning them.

So far, the Agnostic is logical as regards his theory. Were he to go no further than this, we should not class him among those who give, what we deem, .in incorrect answer to the important question we are considering. When we put a question to a person, and he candidly admits that he possesses no know ledge whatsoever of the subject, the matter is at an end as far as he is concerned. Having confessed his inability to give any answer whatsoever, his opinion can be of little or no weight. We drop him quietly out of the reckoning, feeling sorry that indifference, or a predisposition to negative thought, has stranded him in a state of ignorance.

But, unfortunately, the Agnostic will not suffer us to dismiss him in this way. He does not stop at the simple and, no doubt, honest assertion that he himself does not know. He goes very much further, he oversteps the boundaries defined by his system. He gets out of his legitimate sphere of not knowing into one of knowing. Practically, he forgets that he has to be agnostic, and becomes gnostic (a knower). He confidently affirms not only that he has no knowledge of a Spiritual Universe, but also that he knows that no one else can possibly possess any such knowledge.

The following quotations are the statements of men eminent in the ranks of Agnosticism. 'No knowledge of a Spiritual World does, or can, exist for mankind.' 'Our own and all other being is a mystery for ever beyond our comprehension.'

Here, then, we have the answer of the Agnostic. We submit that it is incorrect for two reasons.

First, how is it possible for any one or any body of thinkers to define what knowledge can, or can not, be possessed by future generations? Has the veil of the Hereafter been lifted for them, so that they are able to perceive what will or will not be? We venture to think that man's attainments of knowledge in the past make it very presumptuous to affix limits as to what he will know in the time to come. Moreover, how is it that the Agnostic, who professes to know so little, can be so confident that the mystery of our being will be 'for ever beyond our comprehension'? Either he must be gifted with extraordinary foresight, or he is indulging in speculation.

Secondly, it is not a fact that 'no knowledge of a Spiritual World does or can exist for mankind.' We assert, just as positively as the Agnostic denies, that an overwhelming mass of evidence has been, and is still being, collected, that proves both the existence of a universe of spirit, and man's intimate relationship to it. We shall treat of this later. But it may be urged in respect to this evidence, how, then, is it that it is not of sufficient weight with the Agnostic to lead him to a conclusion opposite to that he gives? He is sincere and intelligent, is he not? Unquestionably so as regards many who lay claim to this name. Then why does he reject a mass of evidence concerning spiritual facts that is accepted by others?

The reply is simple. It is because of the benumbing and injurious effects of the Agnostic system of thought upon the mind and spiritual faculties of the man.

There are two classes of Agnostics; one of which we should pity and the other blame. There are the earnest-minded men who think deeply, and those who are not in earnest, and only think superficially. Many a thoughtful Agnostic would like to be able to believe in the Spiritual, and many of us cherish the hope that, because he is a sincere seeker after truth, one day, in this life or the next, the perception of the truth will come to him. But, meanwhile, he has handicapped himself. After an unsuccessful effort, or, perhaps, several unsuccessful efforts, to acquire a knowledge of the Spiritual, he came to the conclusion that no knowledge of it was possible either to himself or to others. In that conviction he settled himself. Thenceforth, the system of thought he has adopted requires him to view every scrap of evidence relating to a Super-physical World as no more than imagination, superstition, or trickery. In the face of his conviction that naught can be ever known on the subject, how is it possible for him to regard such evidence otherwise than as being unworthy of serious consideration?

Such is the mental attitude of many, and it is a barrier to all ordinary chances of enlightenment. As long as it be maintained, the wonders of the Spiritual will be veiled. The men thus intellectually constituted have as little chance of knowing anything about a Spiritual Universe as an Englishman would have of possessing a knowledge of China, were he to antecedently convince himself that no such country exists, or that a knowledge of it is impossible to a European.

Look, for a moment, at the other class of Agnostics,—those who only think superficially, and are not really in earnest about the future. They reject all evidence relating to a Spiritual World for quite another reason than that to which we have just referred. They have no inclination towards a subject which is difficult, sobering, and even disturbing. To properly consider it entails a tax upon mind and time, and it does not harmonise with the life of business or excitement they are leading. Agnosticism exactly meets their case. At times they are not quite comfortable in turning their back upon serious thought. The words spoken by a dying parent, perhaps, are remembered now and again, and, like an obstacle in a stream, rather disturb the current of their irreligious life.

Agnosticism supplies the means whereby they may justify themselves. It salves their conscience, and gives a pretext for indifference. Assuring them that nothing can be known of the Hereafter, what more sensible than that they should not worry themselves about the matter! Were not the words and prayers of that dear old father or mother very touching, but no more than the outcome of a kind heart and a pious delusion?

Then, again, is there not a certain advantage in openly proclaiming their disbelief in the Spiritual? Their Agnosticism puts them outside the herd of commonplace men and women who go to church or chapel, and believe in religion. In standing apart from these they become conspicuous. Their adoption of negative views renders them more interesting to friends and acquaintances than they could ever hope to become as ordinary believers in the Gospel of Christ. They experience an undercurrent of self-satisfaction in supposing themselves identified with clever men outside the camp of Christianity. It is a pleasant conceit to many of this class that Agnosticism stamps them with a sort of hall-mark of intellectual superiority.

In this way does the system of Agnosticism injure spiritually, mentally and morally, many of its supporters. It encourages indifference and fosters pride.

(c). The answer of the Christian-Materialist.

Among the incorrect answers given to this question is yet another. It comes from a quarter in which we should not look for it. It is that of a section of Christians whom we may describe (and who, indeed, describe themselves) as Christian-Materialists.

They do not constitute a very large body, but are sufficient in number to form a distinct school of thought as regards this subject. A few of them belong to the Church of England, but most are to be found in the ranks of Nonconformity. Their teaching is as follows. They accept, in common with other Christians, the great underlying truths of the Religion of Christ, but with one very important exception. They wholly dissent from the main body of believers in their view of man's nature, and what befalls him at death. They regard his physical body, not merely as an encasement in which for a while he dwells, but as the man himself. It is the all of him. Apart from the body, they believe he has no soul, spirit or mind capable under any circumstances of existence. The three terms just mentioned, they consider, are no more than names denoting characteristics pertaining to matter. Thus the soul is said to be the animating principle that constitutes the difference between a living and a dead body, the spirit they account the breath, while the mind is the intelligence which is lost when the body expires, in the same way as the flame goes out when the oil in a lamp is expended.

Consequently, the death of a man's body is viewed by them as the death of him. Then he passes into non-existence, and all that remains of him is a dead material form. Not only has there become a gap, a blank, in his consciousness, but the man himself has gone; his mind and his being have evaporated. After the work of physical dissolution has been accomplished, the particles that remain are no more a man than the component parts of a timepiece are a clock, after those parts have been separated, scattered and their co-relation destroyed. Up to this point, the irreligious Materialist and the Christian-Materialist are in agreement; but here they part company. The former asserts that Death is man's destroyer for ever; the latter thinks it is such only for a time.

The Christian-Materialist acknowledges no Intermediate Life, but believes in a future Heaven. According to his theory, man's 'mortal remains,' disintegrated and dispersed by death, will be collected and reorganised on a distant Resurrection-Day, and from them the power of God will construct a new man to live for ever. It is not difficult to show that this answer is, undoubtedly, wrong.

In the first place, how, apart from continuity of being, can a person's conduct on earth complexion his future character and condition? Reward or punishment, if it be just, can only be apportioned to the individual who has merited or incurred the one or the other. We cannot conceive of God rewarding or punishing anyone for the good or evil done by another. But if the mind and consciousness of a man, which constitute his manhood and lie at the root of all action, be annihilated at death, then the man himself will have gone. To reward or punish him will be impossible. Re-creation may summon into existence another man, who may stand as the representative of him who has passed into non-existence; but it will not be the same being. There will be wanting the connecting link—the continuity of being—between the man who was and who perished, and the new creature called into existence. A yawning gulf of oblivion would make the earth-born man and the resurrected man detached and unrelated existences. Thus there would be no reason or principle in either rewarding or punishing the newly-created one.

Secondly, an objection can be urged against the view of the Christian-Materialist, which applies equally against that of the irreligious Materialist.

Neither of them gives any satisfactory explanation of the fact of Mind. If it be true that Mind is but an effluence of Matter and absolutely dependent upon it for its existence, how comes it that, at times, Mind is most clear and vigorous, although a feeble and dying body has placed Matter at its greatest disadvantage? This is not explainable on the supposition that Mind is an outcome of Matter, but it is explainable on the hypothesis that it is not.

Thirdly, we submit that the Christian-Materialist's view is opposed to the statements of Holy Scripture. And be it remembered that he appeals to the Bible as the voice of God on this subject. Suppose we weigh his statements in the scales of his own approving.

What do we find? That he ignores (no doubt, unintentionally), a mass of Biblical testimony that shows—(a) that man continues a conscious existence, in passing through the incident of dying, and (b) that his future acquirement of a resurrection-body will neither necessitate the creation of a new being, nor the reanimation of the dead particles that had constituted his earthly body.

This testimony we shall refer to later; in the meanwhile, two passages from the New Testament will suffice to substantiate the assertions just made.

In Luke xvi. 19-31 v., our Lord tells a parable concerning a rich man and Lazarus. He represents them both, immediately after death, as living and conscious. That, to say the least of it, is awkward for the theory we are combatting.

In 1 Cor. xv. 37 and 50 v., St Paul writes, 'Thou sowest not that body that shall be,' and 'Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.' The Apostle, therefore, in language as forcible as it can be, clearly repudiates the crude notion that the dead matter laid in a grave will constitute either the man in the future, or be the ingredients of his resurrection-body.

What we gather from Scripture is, that man in 'the Life of the World to come,' i.e., in the Life that lies beyond the Intermediate State, will be 'clothed upon,' but not with a vesture compounded of physical particles that serve, after his death, for the bodies of other men, animals and plants.

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Other Books by Rev. Chambers:

"Thoughts of the Spiritual" (1905 American Edition)
"Problems of the Spiritual" (1907 UK Edition)

Rev. Arthur Chambers Returns From "Death" To Speak Through The Zodiac Circle
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