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all of whom, like the rest of mankind, appear to have believed a future existence, came, in the end, generally to disbelieve it.
The whole real influence of philosophy seems to have been, therefore, to weaken, not to establish, this doctrine. Hence,
6. The reception of the doctrine, so far as it extended, was, in all probability, derived from Tradition, and not from Philosophy.
Among the common people, a future existence, and that immortal, has been very generally admitted throughout the world ; and apparently without a single doubt. It will not be believed, that men of this description derived their opinions from philosophy. Besides, this doctrine has been received in innumerable countries, which philosophy never reached; and in ages, long before the existence of the most ancient sect of Philosophers. We have also seen, that wherever philosophy prevailed, its decisions had a very unfavourable influence on the belief of a future state, and, to a great extent, exterminated it in China, Greece, and Rome. The philosophy of most sects induced them to deny it: that of others led them to receive it, only with uncertainty and doubt.
Pherecydes, the master of Pythagoras, the first among the Greeks, who wrote of nature and the gods, is expressly said, by Suidas, to have exercised himself in the hidden books of the Phænicians, and to have derived from thein his wisdom and Theology.
It is to be remembered, that both Xenophon and Herodotus called the Jews Syrians, and Phænicians.
Jamblicus, in his life of Pythagoras, informs us, that that philosopher made a voyage to Sidon, where he conferred with the prophets, who were successors of Muschus, i. e. Moses, the physiologist.
Porphyry declares, that Pythagoras went to the Arabians, Hebrews, and Chaldeans. Jamblicus
that he was in Judea, and dwelt in Mount Carmel. Strabo declares the same thing; and says, that a priest showed him the walks of this philosopher.
Diogenes Laertius also testifies, that he visited the Hebrews.
Clemens Alexandrinus asserts, that he suffered himself to be circumcised, that he might receive instructions, which he could not otherwise obtain.
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Finally, both Clemens Alexandrinus and Porphyry testify, that he derived the most excellent parts of his philosophy from Barbarians; j. e. from nations, who were not Greeks.
Socrates, as I have already observed, declared, just before his death, that he had good hope of something remaining for those that are dead; nd that, as it had been suid of old, the good would fare much better than the bad. Again, in his Apology to his Judges he says, “ There is much ground to hope, that death is profitable, and that it is only a migration of the soul to another place, according to what we are told." And again, “ If the things, that are told us, are true, that death is a migration to another place, this is a much greater good.” And again, “ Those who live there are happier than we, and are immortal, if the things, which are told us, are true.” From these declarations it is, I think, certain, that Socrates, notwithstanding his arguments, relied ultimately on tradition, and not on Philosophy, to support his doce trine of the soul's immortality.
Plato says, in his Philebus, “ The tradition, which I have had concerning the unity of God, his essence, perfections, and decrees, was from the ancients, who were better than the Greeks." This Philosopher, according to the testimony of Diogenes Laertius, and Quinctilian, went into Egypt. Cicero says the same. Strabo says, he continued there thirteen years. Cicero says, that the purpose of his journey to Egypt was, to acquaint himself with the celestial speculations of the Barbarians ; and St. Ambrose, " to inform himself concerning the things done, and written, by Moses, the oracles of the law, and the sayings of the prophets." Justin Martyr declares, that “ he drew many things from the Hebrew rivulets; and that whatsoever he said devoutly of God, or his worship, he stole out of the Hebrew philosophy.” Clemens Alexandrinus calls him a Philosopher of the Hebrews; and Numenius, a Pythagorean philosopher, asks, " What is Plato, but Moses speaking Greek?' Finally, St. Augustine says, that he learned the Hebrew language while he was in Egypt.
According to Pausanias, he derived his doctrine of the immortality of the soul from the wise men of Sais.
He himself says, “ The surest way to prove the immortality of the soul is by some divine word.”
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From all these facts it is, if I mistake not, unanswerably evident, that these Philosophers were entirely indebted to traditionary information for all the knowledge, which they possessed, concerning the immortality of the soul. Accordingly, this doctrine was embraced generally by such among them, as endeavoured to collect the traditions of the countries around them: while it was uniformly, or almost uniformly denied by those, who derived their opinions from their own reason.
7. The immortality, which was actually believed, was in most respects merely fanciful, and incapable of being received in the erercise of sober thought.
The general doctrine, concerning a future existence, was this: That it was a life much resembling the present, where similar pursuits were to be followed, and the same enjoyments repeated. Thus, the Aborigines of this country expected, in their future happy world, to inhabit a pleasant region, where game abounded, and might be easily taken ; where they were to be safe from enemies, to find food plentifully supplied, and to spend their time in ease and sports.
The Greeks, and Romans, had generally the same views; communicated, indeed, with more skill and elegance, but formed, substantially, of the same materials. Their future existence was also to be passed in eating and drinking, wrestling, horse and chariot races, singing, playing upon the harp, and other pursuits of a similar kind. In all this, it will be readily admitted, there is nothing, worthy of the proper dignity of a rational being; nothing, which can excite a single momentary wish in the mind of a wise and good man, that his being may be protracted after death. It must, however, be acknowledged, that both Socrates and Plato formed conceptions on this subject, of a nature plainly superior to these. Socrates speaks of the soul, which gives itself up to wisdom and philosophy, “as going, at death, to that, which is like itself; wise, divine, and immortal; where it shall be happy; de. livered from error, ignorance, fear, wild desires, and other erils incident to man; and live, during the remainder of its existence, with the gods." He also says, that "those who are virtuous, and are purged by philosophy, ascend to beautiful habitations, in a purer region above the earth.” Plato also says, that “the enjoy.
ments, which reward good men in this life, are nothing, either in
Should this reasonable supposition be questioned; it must be
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8. At the present time, such a state, independently of Revelation, is felt to be uncertain.
Revelation not only asserts the future existence of immortal life, but explains also its nature, propriety, and importance, in a manner remarkably clear, and wonderfully sublime. Enlightened by these communications, the Reason of man comprehends this subject with views, in many respects totally new, and far more satisfactory than those, which could be formed by a heathen. The very fact, that we have learned from Revelation the nature of virtue; its worth in the sight of God; the capacity of the soul for endless improvement; the existence of means, by which it may thus improve; and the nature of those rewards, to which it is destined : furnishes us with incomparably more just and expanded apprehensions concerning a future state of being, its propriety and probability, than we could otherwise acquire. What is still more to the purpose, we have learned also from Revelation the true character of God; and perceive, that his power, wisdom, and goodness, are unlimited. We perceive, that he has formed the Universe to be an immense kingdom of virtue and happiness; and are convinced, that, in the prosecution of this design, nothing
is too great or too good for him to do. With these views of the character and designs of God, we much more readily admit the existence of such a state, than any heathen can be supposed to have done. Such gods as his were, contained in their character, no decisive principles, on which he could build any assurance of a revival beyond the grave; or any such circumstances of that existence, as might render it plainly desirable. Of virtue, also, his conceptions were indefinite and lame. Still more imperfect must have been his apprehensions concerning the manner in which such virtue, as was within his knowledge, must be regarded by his gods; and of the nature and extent of those rewards, with which it would be retributed hereafter.
In the mean time, the modern astronomy has expanded and ennobled all human conceptions of the Universe itself. With our apprehensions concerning its extent, and greatness, and importance, our conceptions concerning the dignity, and destiny, of its inhabitants have become more rational and exalted ; and we are prepared much more readily to admit, that they may be designed for immortal existence.
I will only add, that the question concerning this interesting subject has been so often discussed, that the arguments are all arranged, and in a sense learned by heart, by every student of metaphy. sical science. Little pains, therefore, are necessary to summon them all up to view; and to see and feel their whole import.
But with all these advantages, the doctrine of a future being, as soon as we forsake the dictates of Revelation, is even now questioned, doubted, and denied. Almost every Infidel questions it; by a great proportion of them it is doubted; by many of them it is denied. It is incredible, that this should be the fact, if any arguments furnished by Reason, clearly established the point in debate. Infidels certainly would very readily admit, both the point, and the arguments: For then they would be able to meet, much more successfully, those reasons, which have hitherto unanswerably proved the necessity of Revelation.
The arguments, suggested by reason on this subject, are derived from the general state of providence, the nature of man, and the attributes of God. All these, I apprehend, are doubtful sources of proof on this subject.