S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
Indeed, were we able to view a man in the whole circle of his existence, we should have the satisfaction of seeing it close with happiness or misery, according to his proper merit; but though our view of him is interrupted by death before the finishing of his adventures, if I may so speak, we may be sure that the conclusion and catastrophe is altogether suitable to his behaviour.
I must confess, I take a particular delight in these prospects of futurity, whether grounded upon the probable suggestions of a fine imagination, or the more severe conclusions of philosophy; as a man loves to hear all the discoveries or conjectures relating to a foreign country which he is at some time to inhabit. Prospects of this nature lighten the burden of any present evil, and refresh us under the worst and lowest circumstances of mortality. They extinguish in us both the fear and envy of human grandeur. Insolence shrinks its head, power disappears; pain, poverty, and death fly before them. In short, the mind that is habituated to the lively sense of an Hereafter can hope for what is the most terrifying to the generality of mankind, and rejoice in what is the most afflicting.
The prospect of a future state is the secret comfort and refreshment of my soul; it is that which makes nature look gay about me; it doubles all my pleasures, and supports me under all my afflictions. I can look at disappointments and misfortunes, pain and sickness, death itself, and, what is worse than death, the loss of those who are dearest to me, with indifference, so long as I keep in view the pleasures of eternity, and the state of being in which there will be no fears nor apprehensions, pains nor sorrows, sickness nor separation. Why will any man be so impertinently officious as to tell me all this is fancy and delusion? Is there any merit in being the messenger of ill news? If it is a dream, let me enjoy it, since it makes me both the happier and better man.
The cast of mind which is natural to a discreet man makes him look forward into futurity, and consider what will he his condition millions of ages hence, as well as what it is at present. He knows that the misery or happiness which are reserved for him in another world lose nothing of their reality by being at so great distance from him. The objects do not appear little to him because they are remote. He considers that those pleasures and pains which lie hid in eternity approach nearer to him every moment, and will be present with him in their full weight and measure, as much as those pains and pleasures which he feels at this very instant. For this reason he is careful to secure to himself that which is the proper happiness of his nature and the ultimate design of his being. He carries his thoughts to the end of every action, and considers the most distant as well as the most immediate effects of it. He supersedes every little prospect of gain and advantage which offers itself here, if he does not find it consistent with his views of an hereafter. In a word, his hopes are full of immortality, his schemes are large and glorious, and his conduct suitable to one who knows his true interest, and how to pursue it by proper methods.
It is very reasonable to believe that part of the pleasure which happy minds shall enjoy in a future state will arise from an enlarged contemplation of the Divine Wisdom in the government of the world, and a discovering of the secret and amazing steps of Providence, from the beginning to the end of time. Nothing seems to be an entertainment more adapted to the nature of man, if we consider that curiosity is one of the strongest and most lasting appetites implanted in us, and that admiration is one of our most pleasing passions; and what a perpetual succession of enjoyments will be afforded to both these, in a scene so large and various as shall then be laid open to our view in the society of superior spirits, who perhaps will join with us in so delightful a prospect!
It is a strong argument for a state of retribution hereafter, that in this world virtuous persons are very often unfortunate, and vicious persons prosperous; which is wholly repugnant to the nature of a Being who appears infinitely wise and good in all his works, unless we may suppose that such a promiscuous and undistinguishing distribution of good and evil, which was necessary for carrying on the designs of Providence in this life, will be rectified, and made amends for, in another.
These considerations, though they may have no influence on the multitude, ought to sink into the minds of those who are their abettors, and who, if they escape punishment here, must know that these several mischiefs will be one day laid to their charge.
It is equally necessary that there should be a future state to vindicate the justice of God, and solve the present irregularities of Providence, whether the best men be oftentimes only, or always, the most miserable.
We carry the image of God in us,a rational and immortal soul, and though we be now miserable and feeble, yet we aspire after eternal happiness, and finally expect a great exaltation of all our natural powers.
The soul of man can never divest itself wholly of anxiety about its fate hereafter: there are hours when, even to the prosperous, in the midst of their pleasures, eternity is an awful thought; but how much more when those pleasures, one after another, begin to withdraw; when life alters its forms, and becomes dark and cheerlesswhen its changes warn the most inconsiderate that what is so mutable will soon pass entirely away. Then with pungent earnestness comes home that question to the heart, Into what world are we next to go? How miserable the man who, under the distractions of calamity, hangs doubtful about an event which so nearly concerns him; who, in the midst of doubts and anxieties, approaching to that awful boundary which separates this world from the next, shudders at the dark prospect before him, wishing to exist after death, and yet afraid of that existence; catching at every feeble hope which superstition can afford him, and trembling in the same moment from reflection upon his crimes!
Interesting as has been the past history of our race, engrossing as must ever be the present, the future, more exciting still, mingles itself with every thought and sentiment, and casts its beams of hope, or its shadows of fear, over the stage both of active and contemplative life. In youth we scarcely descry it in the distance. To the stripling and the man it appears and disappears like a variable star, showing in painful succession its spots of light and of shade. In age it looms gigantic to the eye, full of chastened hope and glorious anticipation; and at the great transition, when the outward eye is dim, the image of the future is the last picture which is effaced from the retina of the mind.
Futurity is the great concern of mankind. Whilst the wise and learned look back upon experience and history, and reason from things past about events to come, it is natural for the rude and ignorant, who have the same desires without the same reasonable means of satisfaction, to inquire into the secrets of futurity, and to govern their conduct by omens, dreams, and prodigies. The Druids, as well as the Etruscans and Roman priesthood, attended with diligence the flight of birds, the pecking of chickens, and the entrails of their animal sacrifices.
There is, I know not how, in the minds of men, a certain presage, as it were, of a future existence; and this takes the deepest root and is most discoverable in the greatest geniuses and most exalted souls.
To treat a subject so interesting and momentous with levity or indifferenceto exert all the energies of the soul in the pursuit of objects which a few years at most will snatch forever from their embrace,and never to spend one serious hour in reflecting on what may possibly succeed the present scene of existence, or in endeavouring to find some light to clear up the doubts that may hang over this important inquiry, and to treat with derision and scorn those who would direct them in this serious investigationis not only foolish and preposterous, but the height of infatuation and of madness. It is contrary to every principle on which reasonable men act in relation to the affairs of the present world.
Dr. Thomas Dick: Philosophy of a Future State, Introd.
If it be one end of future punishment to make wicked men sensible of their folly and ingratitude and of the mercy and favours they have abused, it is probable that, in that future world or region to which they shall be confined, everything will be so arranged as to bring to their recollection the comforts they had abused and the Divine goodness they had despised, and to make them feel sensations opposite to those which were produced by the benevolent arrangements which exist in the present state.
Dr. Thomas Dick: Philosophy of a Future State, Part III.
There is one question which combines with the interest of speculation and curiosity an interest incomparably greater, nearer, more affecting, more solemn. It is the simple questionWHAT SHALL WE BE? How soon it is spoken! but who shall reply? Think how profoundly this question, this mystery, concerns usand in comparison with this, what are to us all questions of all sciences? What to us all researches into the constitution and laws of material nature? Whatall investigations into the history of past ages? What to usthe future career of events in the progress of states and empires? What to uswhat shall become of this globe itself, or all the mundane system? What WE shall be, we ourselves, is the matter of surpassing interest.
John Foster: Life and Thoughts, by W. W. Everts, 208.
This quality of looking forward into futurity seems the unavoidable condition of a being whose emotions are gradual, and whose life is progressive; as his powers are limited, he must use the means for the attainment of his ends, and intend first what he performs last; as by continual advances from his first stage of existence he is perpetually varying the horizon of his prospects, he must always discover new motives of action, new excitements of fear, and allurements of desire.
Objects near our view are apt to be thought greater than those of a larger size that are more remote; and so it is with pleasure and pain: the present is apt to carry it, and those at a distance have the disadvantage in the comparison.
At the upshot, after a life of perpetual application, to reflect that you have been doing nothing for yourself, and that the same or less industry might have gained you a friendship that can never deceive or end,a glory which, though not to be had till after death, yet shall be felt and enjoyed to eternity.
The greatest loss of time is delay and expectation, which depends upon the future. We let go the present, which we have in our power, and look forward to that which depends upon chance,and so quit a certainty for an uncertainty.
We are led to the belief of a future state, not only by the weaknesses, by the hopes and fears of human nature, but by the noblest and best principles which belong to it, by the love of virtue, and by the abhorrence of vice and injustice.
The voice of God himself speaks in the heart of men, whether they understand it or no; and by secret intimations gives the sinner a foretaste of that direful cup which he is like to drink more deeply of hereafter.
The doctrine of the gospel proposes to men such glorious rewards and such terrible punishments as no religion ever did, and gives us far greater assurance of their reality and certainty than ever the world had.
It is not much that the good man ventures: after this life, if there be no God, he is as well as the bad; but if there be a God, is infinitely better; even as much as unspeakable and eternal happiness is better than extreme and endless misery.
In the other world there is no consideration that will sting our consciences more cruelly than this, that we did wickedly when we knew to have done better; and chose to make ourselves miserable, when we understood the way to have been happy.
Planters of trees ought to encourage themselves by considering all future time as present; indeed, such consideration would be a useful principle to all men in their conduct of life, as it respects both this world and the next.