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look down upon that degree of perfection, as much as she now falls short of it. It is true, the higher nature still advances, she by that means preserves his distance and superiority in the scale of being; but he knows, how high soever the station is , of which he stands possessed at present, the inferior nature will at length mount up to it, and shine forth in the same degree of glory.
With what astonishment and veneration may we look into our own souls, where there are such hidden stores of virtue and knowledge , such inexhausted sources of perfection! We know not yet what we shall be, nor will it ever enter into the heart of man to conceive the glory that will be always in reserve for him. The soul considered with its Creator, is like one of those mathematical lines that may draw nearer to an other for all eternity, without a possibility of touching it: And can there be a thought so transporting, as to consider ourselves in these perpetual approaches to him, who is not only the standard of perfection, but of happiness!
I am fully persuaded, that one of the best springs of generous and worthy actions, is the having generous and worthy thoughts of ourselves. Whoever has a mean opinion of the dignity of his nature, will act in no higher a rank than he has allotted himself in his own estimation. If he considers his being as circumscribed by the uncertain term of a few years, his designs will be contracted into the same harrow span he imagines is to bound his existence. How can he exalt his
thoughts to any thing great and noble, who only believes, that, after a short turn on the stage of this world, he is to sink into oblivion, and to lose his consciousness for ever?
For this reason I am of opinion, that so useful and elevated a contemplation as that of the foul's immortality cannot be resumed too often. There is not a more improving exercise to the human mind, than to be frequently reviving its own great privileges and endowments; nor a more effectual means to awaken in us an ambition raised above low objects and little pursuits, than to value ourselves as heirs of eternity.
It is a vey great satisfaction to consider the best and wisest of mankind, in all nations and ages, asserting, as with one voice, this their birth-right, and to find it ratified by an express revelation. At the same time, if we turn our thoughts inward upon ourselves , we may meet with a kind ofsecret sense concurring with the proofs of our own immortality.
You have, in my opinion, raised a good presumptive argument from the increasing appetite the mind has to knowledge, and to the extending its own faculties , which cannot be accomplished , as the more restrained perfection of lower creatures may, in the limits of a short life, I think another probable conjecture may be raised from our appetite to duration itself, and from a reflection on our progress through the several stages of it: we are complaining, as you observe in a former speculation, of the shortness of life, and yet are perpetually
hurrying over the parts of it to arrive at certain little settlements, or imaginary points of rest, which are dispersed up and down in it.
Now let us consider what happens to us, when we arrive at these imaginary points of rest: Do we stop our motion, and sit down satisfied in the settlement we have gained? or are we not removing the boundary, and marking out new points of rest, to which we press forward with the like eagerness , and which cease to be such as fast as we attain them? Our cafe is like that of a traveller upon the Alps, who should fancy that the top of the next hill must end his journey, because it terminates his prospect; but he no sooner arrives at it, than he fees new ground and other hills beyond it, and continues to travel on as before.
This is so plainly every man's condition in life, that there is no one who has observed any thing, but may observe, that as fast as his time wears away, his appetite to something future remains. The use, therefore I would make of it, is this; That, since nature ( as some love to express it) does nothing in vain, or to speak properly, since the Author of our being has planted no wandering passion in it, no desire which has not its object, futurity is the proper object of the passion so constantly exercised about it; and this restlessness in the present , this assigning ourselves over to farther stages of duration, this succeflive grasping at somewhat still to 'come; appears to me ( whatever it may to others ) as a kind of instinct or natural symptom which the mind of man has of its own immortality.
I take it at the same time for granted, that the immortality of the soul is sufficiently established by other arguments: and if so, this appetite r which otherwise would be very unaccountable and absurd , seems very reasonable, and adds strength to the conclusion. But I am amazed, when I consider there are creatures capable of thought, who, in spite of every argument, can form to themselves a sullen satisfaction in thinking otherwise. There is something so pitifully mean in the inverted ambition, of that man who can hope for annihilation , and please himself to think, that his whole fabric Gall one day crumble into dust, and mix with the mass of inanimate beings, that it equally deserves our admiration and pity. The mystery of such mene's unbelief is not hard to be penetrated ; and indeed amounts to nothing more than a sordid hope that they shall not be immortal, because they dare not be so.
This brings me back to my first observation, and gives me occasion to say further, that as worthy actions spring from worthy thoughts, so worthy thoughts are likewise the consequence of worthy actions: But the wretch who has degraded himself below the character of immortality is very willing to resign his pretensions to it, and to substitute, in its room, a dark negative happiness in the extinction of his being.
The admirable Shakspeare has given us a very strong image of the unsupported condition of such a person in his last minutes , in the second part of Xing Henry VI. where Cardinal Beaufort, whe had been concerned in the murder of the good Duke Humphrey, is represented on his death bed. After some short confused speeches which show an imagination disturbed with guilt, just as he is expiring, King Henry standing by him, full of compassion, says,
Lord cardinal ! if thou thinkest on heaven's blistt
The despair which is here shown, without a word or action on the part of the dyingperfon, is beyond what could be painted by the most forcible expressions whatever.
I shall not pursue this thought further, but only add, that as annihilation is not to be had with a wish , so it is the most abject thing in the world to wish it. What are honor, fame, wealth, orpower, when compared with the generous expectation of a being without end, and a happiness adequate to that being?
The time present seldom affords sufficient employment to the mind of man. Objects of pain or pleasure, love or admiration, do not lie thick enough together in life to keep the soul in constant action, and supply an immediate exercise to its faculties. In order therefore, to remedy this defect, that the mind may not want business, but always have materials for thinking, she is endued with certain powers, that can recal what is passed, and anticipate what is to come.