"Never the spirit was born; the spirit shall cease to be never."
In the whole unknown drama of the soul the episode of bodily
existence must have profound significance. Matter cannot only be obstructive, even usefully
obstructive,- by which is meant the kind of obstruction which stimulates to effort and trains for power, like
the hurdles in an obstacle race,- it must be auxiliary too. Whatever may be the case with external matter, the
body itself is certainly an auxiliary, so long as it is in health and strength; and it gives
opportunity for the development of the soul in new and unexpected ways - ways in which but for earth life its practice
would be deficient. This it is which makes calamity of too short a life.
But let us not be over-despondent about the tragedy of the
present. It may be that the concentrated training and courageous facing of fate which in most cases must have accompanied
voluntary entry into a dangerous war, compensates in intensity what it lacks in duration, and that the benefit of bodily terrestrial
life is not so much lost by violent death of that kind as might at first appear. Yet even with some such assurance, the spectacle of
thousands of youths in full vigour and joy of life having their earthly future violently wrenched from them, amid scenes of grim
horror and nerve-wracking noise and confusion, is one which cannot and ought not to be regarded with equanimity. It is a bad
and unnatural truncation of an important part of each individual career, a part which might have done much to develop faculties
and enlarge experience.
Meanwhile, the very fact that we lament so sincerely this dire
and man-caused fate serves to illustrate the view we inevitably take that the earth-body is not only a means of manifestation but
is a real servant of the soul,- that flesh can in some sense help spirit as spirit can undoubtedly help
flesh,- and that while its very weaknesses are serviceable and stimulating, its strength is
exhilarating and superb. The faculties and powers developed in the animal kingdom during all the millions of years of evolution,
and now inherited for better for worse by man, are not to be despised. Those therefore who are able to think that some of the
essential elements or attributes of the body are carried forward into a higher life-quite irrespective of the manifestly discarded
material particles which never were important to the body, for they were always in perpetual flux as individual molecules--those, I say,
who think that the value derived and acquired through the body survives, and becomes a permanent possession of the soul, may
well feel that they can employ the mediaeval phrase "resurrection of the body" to express their perception. They may feel that it is a
truth which needs emphasising all the more from its lack of obviousness. These old phrases, consecrated by long usage, and
familiar to all the saints, though their early and superficial meaning is evidently superseded, may be found to have an inner and
spiritual significance which when once grasped should be kept in memory, and brought before attention, and sustained against
challenge: in no case should they be lightly or hastily discarded.
It seems not altogether fanciful to trace some similarity or
analogy, between the ideas about inheritance usually associated with the name of Weismann, and the inheritance or conveyance of
bodily attributes, or of powers acquired through the body, into the future life of the soul.
When considering whether anything, or what, is likely to be
permanent, the answer turns upon whether or not the soul has been affected. Mere bodily accidents of course are temporary;
loss of an arm or an eye is no more carried on as a permanent disfigurement than it is transmissible to offspring. But, apart from
accidents which may happen to the body, there are some evil things rendered accessible by and definitely associated with the
body-which assault and hurt the soul. And the effect of these is transmissible, and may become permanent. Habits which write their
mark on the countenance whether the writing be good or bad-are not likely to take effect on the body alone. And in this sense also
future existence may be either glorified or stained, for a time, by persistence of bodily
traits,- by this kind of "resurrection of the body."
Furthermore it is found that although bodily marks, scars and
wounds, are clearly not of soul-compelling and permanent character, yet for purposes of identification, and when re-entering
the physical atmosphere for the purpose of communication with friends, these temporary marks are re-assumed; just as the general
appearance at the remembered age, and details connected with clothes and little unessential tricks of manner, may-in some
unknown sense-be assumed too.
And it is to this category that I would attribute the curious
interest still felt in old personal possessions. They are attended to and recalled, not for what by a shopman is called their 'value,' but
because they furnish useful and welcome evidence of identity; they are like the pieces de conviction brought up at a trial, they
bear silent witness to remembered fact. And in so far as the disposal or treatment of them by survivors is evidence of the
regard in which their late owner was held, it is unlikely that they should have suddenly
become matters of complete indifference. Nothing human, in the sense of affecting the human spirit, can be
considered foreign to a friendly and sympathetic soul, even though his new preoccupations and industries and main activities
are of a different order. It appears as if, for the few moments of renewed earthly intercourse, the newer surroundings shrink for a
time into the background. They are remembered, but not vividly. Indeed it seems difficult to live in both worlds at once, especially
after the life-long practice here of living almost exclusively in one. Those whose existence here was coloured or ennobled by wider
knowledge and higher aims seem likely to have the best chance of conveying instructive information across the boundary; though
their developed powers may be of such still higher value, that only from a sense of duty or in a missionary spirit can they be
expected to absent them from felicity while in order to help the brethren.
Quotation of a passage from Plotinus seems here permissible -
"Souls which once were in men, when they leave the body,
need not cease from benefiting mankind. Some indeed, in addition to other services, give occult messages (oracular replies), thus
proving by their own case that other souls also survive" (Enn. iv.vii. 15).
As a digression of some importance, I venture to say that
claims of thoughtless and pertinacious people upon the charitable and eminent, even here, are often excessive: it is to be hoped that
such claims become less troublesome and less effective hereafter; but it is a hope without much foundation. Remonstrances are
useless, however, for only the more thoughtful and those most deserving of help are likely to attend to
remonstrances. Nevertheless - useless or not - it behoves one to make them. We are
indeed taught that in exceptional cases there may ultimately supervene such an extraordinary elevation of soul that no trouble
is too great, and no appeal is unheard. But still, even in the Loftiest case of all, the episode of having passed through a human
body contributes to the power of sympathising with and aiding ordinary humanity.