S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
The following question is started by one of the schoolmen:Supposing the whole body of the earth were a great ball or mass of the finest sand, and that a single grain or particle of this sand should be annihilated every thousand years: Supposing then that you had it in your choice to be happy all the while this prodigious mass of sand was consuming by this slow method until there was not a grain of it left, on condition you were to be miserable forever after? Or, supposing that you might be happy forever after, on condition that you would be miserable until the whole mass of sand were thus annihilated at the rate of one sand in a thousand years: which of these two cases would you make your choice? Reason therefore tells us, without any manner of hesitation, which would be the better part in this choice . But when the choice we actually have before us is this, whether we will choose to be happy for the space of only threescore and ten, nay, perhaps of only twenty or ten years, I might say of only a day or an hour, and miserable to all eternity, or, on the contrary, miserable for this short term of years, and happy for a whole eternity: what words are sufficient to express that folly and want of consideration which in such a case makes a wrong choice?
I here put the case even at the worst, by supposing, what seldom happens, that a course of virtue makes us miserable in this life; but if we suppose, as it generally happens, that virtue would make us more happy even in this life than a contrary course of vice, how can we sufficiently admire the stupidity or madness of those persons who are capable of making so absurd a choice?
Upon laying a weight in one of the scales, inscribed eternity, though I threw in that of time, prosperity, affliction, wealth, and poverty, which seemed very ponderous, they were not able to stir the opposite balance.
Upon a curricle in this world depends a long course of the next, and upon a narrow scene here an endless expansion hereafter. In vain some think to have an end of their beings with their lives. Things cannot get out of their natures, or be, or not be, in despite of their constitutions. Rational existences in heaven perish not at all, and but partially on earth: that which is thus once will in some way be always: the first human soul is still alive, and all Adam hath found no period.
In my solitary and retired imagination, I remember I am not alone, and therefore forget not to contemplate him and his attributes, especially those two mighty ones, his wisdom and eternity: with the one I recreate, with the other I confound, my understanding: for who can speak of eternity without a solecism, or think thereof without an ecstasy?
He that will often put eternity and the world before him, and who will dare to look steadfastly at both of them, will find that the more often he contemplates them, the former will grow greater, and the latter less.
Eternity, it is surely not necessary to remind you, invests every state, whether of bliss or of suffering, with a mysterious and awful importance entirely its own, and is the only property in the creation which gives that weight and moment to whatever it attaches compared to which all sublunary joys and sorrows, all interests which know a period, fade into the most contemptible insignificance.
Robert Hall: Funeral Sermon for the Princess Charlotte.
Were any other event of far superior moment ascertained by evidence which made but a distant approach to that which attests the certainty of a life to come,had we equal assurance that after a very limited though uncertain period we should be called to migrate into a distant land whence we were never to return,the intelligence would fill every breast with solicitude; it would become the theme of every tongue; and we should avail ourselves with the utmost eagerness of all the means of information respecting the prospects which awaited us in that unknown country. Much of our attention would be occupied in preparing for our departure; we should cease to regard the place we now inhabit as our home, and nothing would be considered of moment but as it bore upon our future destination. How strange is it then that, with the certainty we all possess of shortly entering into another world, we avert our eyes as much as possible from the prospect; that we seldom permit it to penetrate us; and that the moment the recollection recurs we hasten to dismiss it as an unwelcome intrusion! Is it not surprising that the volume we profess to recognize as the record of immortality, and the sole depository of whatever information it is possible to obtain respecting the portion which awaits us, should be consigned to neglect, and rarely if ever consulted with the serious intention of ascertaining our future condition?
Robert Hall: Funeral Sermon for the Princess Charlotte of Wales.
By repeating any idea of any length of time, as of a minute, a year, or an age, as often as we will in our own thoughts, and adding them to one another, without ever coming to the end of such addition, we come by the idea of eternity.
If there remains an eternity to us after the short revolution of time we so swiftly run over here, tis clear that all the happiness that can be imagined in this fleeting state is not valuable in respect of the future.
When infinite happiness is put in one scale against infinite misery in the other; if the worst that comes to the pious man if he mistakes be the best that the wicked can attain to if he be in the right, who can, without madness, run the venture?
Certainly the highest and dearest concerns of a temporal life are infinitely less valuable than those of an eternal; and consequently ought, without any demur at all, to be sacrificed to them, whensoever they come in competition with them.
To those who are thoroughly convinced of the inconsiderableness of this short dying life in comparison of that eternal state which remains for us in another life, the consideration of a future happiness is the most powerful motive.