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“ But in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil !”
The vision of the betrayed and murdered Saviour so haunted the brain of the betrayer, that it drove him to madness. “ Judas went and hanged himself.” The victim of the cross was the last image which faded from before his starting eyeball, as it glared in its last agony here.
<< The Lamb as it had been slain,” was the first form that affronted him, as his eye opened there on the visions of eternity. “It had been better for that man that he had never been born.”
But it is not from the world's chief criminals or traitors that we draw our illustrations of the burden of existence. There are true and faithful men and women by myriads, who have felt the heart ache so keenly, as those dearer than their own being have passed through the veil and vanished from their touch and sight, that every dear bond has become a pain because of its inevitable rupture ; they have to school themselves to accept thankfully the dearest gifts of Heaven, because of the sorrow which they will bring with the joy to overstrained and lacerated hearts. And, sounding the deeper mysteries of existence, he was one of the world's best and greatest, who once cried in intolerable anguish, “O miserable man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” There was
once, too, a grand old Eastern patriarch and father of
“ And Job spake, and said, Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived. Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it. Let darkness and the shadow of death stain it ; let a cloud dwell upon it ; let the blackness of the day terrify it. As for that night, let darkness seize upon it ; let it not be joined unto the days of the year, let it not come into the number of the months. let that night be solitary, let no joyful voice come therein. Why died I not from the womb ? Why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly? Why did the knees prevent me, or why the breasts
that I should suck? For now should I have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept : then had I been at rest.” (Job iii. 2—7;11–13.) Thenoblest men, aiming at their noblest, are perhaps most conscious of the pressure. The confessions of David, of St. Augustine, of Alfred the Great, are full of a cry which not seldom deepened into the moan, “ The burden is greater than I can bear.” These are the men who mourn most bitterly over the sin which taints the holiest purpose, the infirmity which cripples the manliest effort, the weariness which palsies the combatant even when battling for the noblest prize. They see the shadow of self haunting even the most sublime self-sacrifice; doubts of the reality of things unseen sickly o'er the most heroic faith. Passion, self-will, ambition, worldliness, and lust, are still insurgent, and against them they have to stand ever full armed on guard. Life becomes to the noblest a ceaseless, weary war against self, a self from which they never can, in their own strength, get free. The noblest, too, are the loneliest here. The world ill fits them, and they ill fit the world. Life becomes a great longing; and if the future but prolongs the present,
if they can but see before them an eternity under the same conditions, the burden does become greater than they can bear. Paganism adds its witness. Not its worst children, but its best and wisest, are
pressed most hardly by the burden of life. I quote two passages which appear to me to utter with singular simplicity and intensity the cry of the Pagan heart under the pressure.
The one is from the hot East, the other from the cold, hardy North. The atmosphere of homely but bleak Northumbria breathes in the one, the glow of tropical India in the other.
“ Led by illusion on a difficult road, the caravan of souls wanders in the forest of existence, thirsting for happiness, but unable to find it. Five brigands (the senses) pillage it. Assailed in a forest, entangled with bind-weed, grass, and bushes, the traveller Alies, carried on by his desires; tormented by the cries of innumerable crickets, which torture his ears, and the voice of the screech-owl that agitates his heart, he stops exhausted by hunger near poisonous trees, or rushes toward water which proves a mirage. Now wishing to ascend a mountain, he slips through thorns and stones, and stops at last worn out. Here he is seized by reptiles. Now seeking honey, is stung by bees that produce it. Disputing with his companions, losing the goods they take from him, he falls down on the road overwhelmed with grief. Leaving behind those who fall, the caravan marches on, dragging in its course all those who are born. Not one ever goes back on his steps. Now the traveller clings to the branches of the bind-weed, attracted by the songs of the birds hidden within. He carries his chain without hope of breaking it. No one knows the term of his voyage.”—Bhagavata Purana, translated by Bournouf, quoted by E. de Pressensé.
Another of the king's (Edwin of Northumbria, A.D. 627) chief men, approving of the words and exhortation of Paulinus (the Christian missionary), said,—“ The present life of man, o king, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper, in winter, with your commanders and ministers, and a good fire in the midst, whilst the storms of hail and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry storm; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant. If therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.”- Bede, Hist. Eccl., b. ii., c. 13.
They were wise, brave, and good men, according to the measure of Pagan goodness, who wrote these words. But they felt a horror of great darkness upon them when they looked into this mystery of existence; they saw no light; death were welcome as a bride, if death could end it all. Annihilation is the prayer of the Hindu heart. Brethren, it is not the brutality and violence, but the intellect and spirit of the world, which have fainted under the burden. The end of all man's speculations about the nature of existence and the mystery of its burden, has been reached in the
which was wrung from one of the great ones of old, a model of uprightness, perfectness, and endurance, “ The burden is too heavy; loose me, and let me go into the world where consciousness is lost for ever, where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.”