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GENERAL BAPTIST MAGAZINE.
The General Baptist Magazine.
OUR EIGHTIETH YEAR!
Is not that a grand old age for a periodical! What natural vitality it must have had at the start, and how well it must have been nourished, to have survived the numberless vicissitudes of periodical literature, and to be able to step forth, after seventy-nine years of labour, hale, hearty, and joyous, wishing all its readers "the happiest of new years!" By general admission the Old "Mag." has not lost any of its youthful freshness, and is as energetic, buoyant, and aggressive, as though this were the hey-day of its youth, and good old Dan Taylor-the indefatigable, the courageous, the variously gifted Dan-had hold of my pen. Fourscore years, and no signs of softened brain, or paralyzed muscle, or crippled will, and only a pardonable degree of that garrulousness which is the natural fruit of a long and chequered experience! Let us be grateful.
As I look up at the long rows of volumes on my shelves, I hear a voice singing,
Softly, oh, softly, the years have swept by thee,
Touching thee lightly with tenderest care;
Yet they have left thee but beauty to wear.
Past all the winds that were adverse and chill-
Past all the islands that lured thee to rest,
Far from the port and the land of the blest.
Never a feeling of envy or sorrow
Never a year from their youth wouldst thou
Thou dost remember what lieth between.
Rich in experience that angels might covet,
Hearts at the sound of thy coming are light-
Ready and willing thy hand to relieve;
With such a bright and joyful experience it would be ungrateful to enter upon our eightieth year without a thankful heart and a large hope. We are sure of your welcome to "the old arm chair" in the chimney corner. We know you will still muse with us on a Sunday afternoon; and our hearts shall burn within us as we talk together of the Pilgrim's Unfailing Friend, and his Everlasting Home. We can trust you to introduce us to the teachers of the young, and we are willing to hope that "the bright faces of the children" will be brighter for listening to our words. Let us all pray for God's blessing on the dear old "Mag" in its
JANUARY, 1879.-VOL. LXXX.-N. S. No. 97.
Man after Death.
An old man has been recently interred in the graveyard at Denholme, Yorkshire and his son has created not a little consternation by erecting over his grave a large stone bearing the following inscription:
"What went before and what will follow me I regard as two black impenetrable curtains which hang down at the two extremities of human life and which no living man has yet put aside. Many hundreds of generations have already stood before them with their torches, guessing anxiously what lies behind. On the curtain of futurity many see their own shadows, the poems of their passions enlarged and put in motion. They shrink in terror at this image of themselves. Poets, philosophers, and founders of States have painted this curtain with their dreams more smiling or more dark, as the sky above them was cheerful or cloudy, and their pictures deceive the eye. When viewed at a distance many jugglers too make a profit at this universal curiosity. By their strange mummeries they have set the outstretched fancy in amazement. A deep silence reigns behind this curtain. No one once within will answer to those he has left. Without, all you can hear is a hollow echo of your questions as if you shouted into a chasm."
That epitaph is a ghastly index, pointing as with the bony finger of Death to the saddest fears and deadliest despairs of human hearts and lives. On that Yorkshire stone is engraven with a cool and unenviable daring the dark doubt that afflicts the closing years of this nineteenth century a doubt that eagerly pushes itself to the front and makes its ominous voice heard on platforms and in Reviews, and now amid the awe-inspiring silences of the graveyard; as though, forsooth, it were the gladdest of all gospels for much-suffering men, whereas it is as terribly hurtful as the most deadly poison. Read that inscription again. It is cold as death, gloomy as the grave, and hard as the stone it is cut on. No tender feeling of mournful regret quivers along those frigid words, no surging sorrow, no acute grief: but there is a calm, persistent march of the graving tool along the hard rock, as though doubt were the divinest revelation, and the darkness of despair the best benison of God. Only one sign of unconquered humanness betrays itself in these lurid lines; but there is one; the doubt is not wholly without misgiving; the inner voice, after all, is able to make itself faintly heard in favour of personal immortality; for the departed father IS-yes-IS AFTER DEATH -notwithstanding he is "behind the dark curtain" where "the deep silence reigns;" the paternal lips ARE there, though unable to articulate any message to the son he has left behind. Man cannot utterly suppress his faith; not even when he blazons his glaring doubt before the world. He not only sees the "dark impenetrable curtain" of the future, but feels that his dead ARE on the other side of it.
The disciples of the higher "culture" so-called deny this, and say, let that curtain alone. It is down. Leave it down. Do not attempt to lift it. Why should you? There is nothing and no one on the other side. The individual is mortal-it is only the race that lives for ever.
MAN AFTER DEATH.
Father and son, wife and daughter, perish-humanity only abides. The stomach secretes the gastric juice, and we live; and the brain secretes thought, and we think and feel, pray and fear, wonder and love. That is the whole mystery of life. Man is not a soul; has not a soul; he is merely a cleverly-constructed, self-feeding steam-engine, depending for his speed and direction of movement partly upon his "environment, and partly upon the quality of the coals with which the fires of his being are fed. Jean Paul's words are realised at last-" This world is a machine, the ether is a gas, God is a force, and the second world is a coffin," with nothing in it. Let us therefore What? "Eat and drink, for to-morrow we die ?" No. "Culture" has another and a higher precept, if it has not another practice, and says, "Let us take the utmost care to do our present work well, with a self-forgetfulness and passion born of the worship of Humanity (humanity, mark it, reader, written with a capital H), labouring with all our might, remembering that there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, whither we are going."" Solicitude about " man after death" is a folly and a waste; a vain repetition of the useless toil of Sisyphus. This life is all, absolutely all, and it is more than we can attend to well; let us then fling aside all anxieties about our future and play our part like men in the ever-living present.
Only a few persons of superfine quality can reach the serene heights of this imperious demand, and steel their hearts against all anxiety about the future possibilities of men. Not one son in ten thousand, even in this generation, could have engraven that Denholme tombstone and set it up over the remains of his father. Men yearn restlessly to untwist the threads of that "dark impenetrable curtain" and see what is on the other side, and by their zest prove their kinship with "the hundreds of generations who have stood before it with their torches, guessing anxiously what lies behind." They cannot let it alone. They gaze on it, pull at it, lie down near it, and listen if perchance they may catch some whispers of the talk on the other side. They feel that this life is but a broken fragment of the vestibule of being, not its full expansion, its perfected and completed whole; and they cannot suppress the inquiries, "Does man exist after death? If so, where? If so, how ?" The awful Sphinx meets men in every highway of life, threatens to devour them if they do not hasten their answer.
And to many, alas! that threat is being carried out. Life for them has lost its comfort because the other life has lost its reality. The stars of promise are shut out from view by the recently-reared tents of physical science, and God's Revelation and Christ's Resurrection are displaced by experiments on cats and rabbits. Tyndall has dimmed. with the smoke of his materialism the one light that shone so brightly on "life and immortality;" and although Professors Tait, Balfour Stewart, Draper, and other physicists and physiologists of authority, have driven off the pestilential clouds from the light itself, yet that smoke has so pained and weakened the eyes of many that they fail to see as clearly and as joyously as they saw before. They doubt, and their doubt is a painful and oppressive burden-a burden they cannot shift day or night; and as the weary welcome sleep from sheer exhaustion, so not a few troubled souls in our day are looking eagerly for
death as the only release from the ceaseless torment of the life that now is.
But to as many as are willing to rejoice in the light of Christ is the grace given of a well-assured hope of their blessedness and growing perfectness after death; for the voice of the King of Death is heard speaking from the chasm of the future, "Because I live, ye shall live also." "In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you." And we know well whom we have believed, and what He has done for us, and therefore are "persuaded that He is able to keep that which we have committed to Him against that day." That, however, is not enough. We need and must have more. Exultation in our own safety does not suppress our anxiety about the fate of the rest of God's multitudinous family, who have not known His beloved Son, and rejoiced in His eternal redemption. We cannot forget them: yea, we should be grossly selfish and utterly unworthy of the large-hearted, pitiful, and world-embracing gospel, if we could so harden our hearts about the destiny of the millions of our fellow-men.
Thank God, such selfishness is impossible to most of us. Our lives here are not solitary, and we can with difficulty separate ourselves from the future of those dear to us. The son whose life was a prodigal riot, who hated God and would not retain a knowledge of Him, who resisted our tearful entreaties and spurned our most self-sacrificing efforts, and at last buried himself in a grave of sensualism-where, oh where is he after death? What is he? Will the fires of his raging lusts, that burnt up all conscience and affection and hope, burn on and still on with never-ending flame; or will they burn him out utterly and for ever; or will they be put out, and he himself be saved? Dying in violent and indignant opposition to God, will he after death have a place for repentance assigned him? If he has such a place, will he ever use it? Refusing God's peace to the last here on this side of the dark. curtain, will he have another chance, and yet another, of acquainting himself with God and enjoying His peace in the next state? If he has such a chance, will he seize it? Will that chance be given him at once, or must he suffer much first? and if so, is it certain the suffering will "" renew him again to repentance?" These and similar burning questions come, and come again, to some of us, till the brain whirls, and the soul fiercely writhes in its agony and clutches with greedy and despairing hands any word of hope whispered from the Unseen.
That grip is the more despairing just now, because chaos seems to have taken possession of that department of theology which specially relates to man's future. Those who speak with the authority of learning, acuteness, genius, and sympathy, are far apart from one another, and seem to be moving further and further afield. Suddenly roused to investigate these problems, theologians found that a Dantean and Miltonic "hell" had been placed by the popular vote within the boundaries of the traditional creed, if not within the embrace of the teachings of Christ. This, in a non-Miltonic age, in an age of quick and quivering sympathies and acutest sensibilities, and by consequence of shrinking from all suffering as though it were the worst of "hells," was simply intolerable; and some forthwith, in utter revulsion from such a fiery doom, welcomed the "larger hope," "hoping" to find it as true