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If any thing looks like a recompence of calamitous virtue on this side the grave, it is either an assurance that thereby we obtain the favor and protection of Heaven , and shall, whatever befals us in this, in another life meet with a just return; or else that applause and reputation, which is thought to attend virtuous actions. The former of these, our Free-thinkers, out of their singular wisdom and benevolence to mankind, endeavour to erase from the minds of men. The latter can never be justly distributed in this life, where so many ill actions are reputable, and so many good actions difesteemed or misinterpreted; where subtle hypocrisy is placed in the most engaging light, and modest virtue lies concealed; where the heart and the soul are hid from the eyes of men, and the eyes of men are dimmed and vitiated. Plato's sensein relation to this point is contained in his Gorgias, where he introduces Socrates speaking after this manner.
"It was in the reign of Saturn provided by a law, which the gods have since continued down to this time, That they who have lived virtuously and piously upon earth, should after death enjoy a life full of happiness, in certain islands appointed for the habitation of the blessed: but that such as had lived wickedly should go into the receptacle of damned souls, named Tartarus, there to suffer the punishments they defended. But in all the reign of Saturn, and in the beginning of the reign of love, living judges were appointed, by whom each person was judged in his lifetime, in the fame day on which he was tjrdie.. . The consequence of which was, that they often passed wrong judgements. Pluto, therefore, who presided in Tar-; tarus, and the guardians of the blessed islands, finding that, on the other side, many unfit persons were sent to their respective dominions, complained to Jove, who promised to redress the evil. He added, the reason of these unjust proceedings is that men are judged in the body. Hence may conceal the blemishes and imperfections of their minds by beauty, birth and riches: not to mention , that at the time of trial, there are crowds of witnesses to attest their having lived well. These things mislead the judges, who being themselves also of the number of the living are surrounded each with his body, as with a veil thrown over his mind. For the future, therefore, it is my intention that men do not come on their trial till after death, when they shall appear before the judge, disrobed of all their corporeal ornaments. The judge himself too shall be a pure unveiled spirit, beholding the very soul, the naked soul, of the party before him. With this view, I have already constituted my sons, Minos and Rhadamanthus, judges who are natives of Asia; and Æacus, a native of Europe. These after death , shall hold their court in a certain meadow , from which there are two roads, leading the one to Tartarus, the other to the iflands of the blessed."
From this, as from numberless other passages of his writings, may be seen Plato's opinion of a future state. A thing therefore in regard to us so comfortable, in itself so just and excellent, a thing
so agreeable to the analogy of nature, and so universally credited by all orders and ranks of men , of all nations and ages, what is it that should move a few men to reject? Surely there must be some thing of prejudice in the case. I appeal to the secret thoughts of a Freethinker, if he does not argue within himself after this manner: The senses and faculties I enjoy at present are visibly designed to repair, or preserve the body from the injuries it is liable to in its present circumstances. But in an eternal state, where no decays are to be repaired, no outward injuries to be fenced against, where there are no flesh and bones, nerves or bloodvessels, there will certainly be none of the fenses. And that there should be a state of life without the senses is inconceivable.
But as this manner of reasoning proceeds from a poverty of imagination, and narrowness of foul in those who use it, I shall endeavour to remedy those defects, and open their views, by laying before them a cafe which, being naturally possible, may perhaps reconcile them to the belief of what is supernaturally revealed.
Let us suppose a man blind and deaf from his birth, who being grown to man's estate, is by the dead palsy, or by some other case, deprived of .his feeling, tasting, and smelling; and at the same time has the impediment of his hearing removed , and the film taken away from his eyes: what the five fenses are to us, that the touch, taste, and smell were to him. And any other ways of perception of a more refined and extensive nature were ttf him as inconceivable, as to ns those are, which will one day be adapted to perceive those things which ** eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive." And it would be just as reasonable in him to' conclude, that the lose of those three lenses could not possibly be succeeded by any new inlets of perception; as in a modern Free-thinker to imagine there can be no state of Use and perception without the fenses he enjoys at present. Let us further suppose the same person's eyes, at their first opening, to be struck with a great variety of the most gay and pleasing objects, and his ears with a melodious concert of vocal and instrumental music: behold him amazed, ravished, transported; and you have some distant representation , some faint and glimmering idea of the ecstatic state of the soul in that article in which she emerges from this sepulchre of flesh into life and immortality.
There are no speculations which please me mori thanthbse upon infinitude and eternity. I have already considered that part of eternity which is past, and wish to give my thoughts upon that which is to come.
This view of eternity will afford infinitely greater pleasure than the former, since we have every one of us a concern in that which is to come: whereas a speculation on that which is past is rather curious than useful.
Besides, we can easily conceive itpoflible for successive duration never to have an end: though I have observed, that eternity which never had a beginning is altogether incomprehensible; that is, we can conceive an eternal duration which may be, though we cannot an eternal duration which hath been; or, if I may use the philosophical terms, we may apprehend a potential though not an actual eternity.
This notion of a future eternity, which is natural to the mind of man , is an unanswerable argument that he is a being designed for it: especially if we'consider that he is capable of being virtuous or vicious here; that he hath faculties improvable to all eternity; and by a proper or wrong employment ofthem, may be happy or miserable throughout that infinite duration. Our idea indeed of this eternity is not of an adequate or fixed nature, that is perpetually growing and enlarging itself toward the object, which is too big for human comprehension. As we are not in the beginning of existence, so shall we always appear to ourselves as if we were for ever entering upon it. After a million or two of centuries, some considerable things already past, may flip out of our memory: which, if it be not strengthened in a wonderful manner, may possibly forget that ever there was a fun or planets. And yet notwithstanding the long race that we shall then have run, we shall still imagine ourselves just starting from the goal, and find no proportion between that space which we know had a beginning, and what we are sure will never have an end.
Here follows a translation of the speech of CatQ on this occasion, which for conciseness, purity, and elegance ofphrase cannot be sufficiently admired."