Sentiment of immortality.
By striving to become again God's images, we obtain the inestimable advantage, not only of putting an end to our privation and degradation, but of advancing towards what men, greedy for glory, call immortality, and actually enjoying it; for, the vague desire which men of the stream have, of living in the minds of others, is the weakest and most false of all the arguments commonly advanced in favour of the dignity of the human soul. In fact, although Man is spirit, and, in all his, actions, orderly or otherwise, he always has a spiritual motive of some kind; and although, in whatever emanates from him, he can work only by and for spirit; yet the desire of this kind of immortality is only an impulse of self-love, a sentiment of present superiority over others, and a foretaste of their admiration which he promises to himself, and which warms him; and when he does not see his way to realise this picture, his zeal cools, and the works which depended on
it are affected accordingly.
And we may affirm that this inclination comes rather of a wish for immortality, than of any real conviction about it; and the proof is, that those who indulge in it, are those who, to realize it, have nothing but temporal works to offer, showing that the ground they go upon is within the limit of time: for the tree is known by its fruit. If they were really convinced of this immortality, they would prove their conviction by trying to work in and for the true God, forgetting themselves; and their hopes of immortal life would not be disappointed, because they would sow their seed in a field where they would be sure to find it again; whereas, by working only in time, and sowing only in men's minds, to be soon forgotten by some, and never heard of by others, is to go to work most awkwardly and disadvantageously, in building for immortality.
If we would reject a little, we should find, close at hand, decisive proofs of our immortality. Only consider the habitual, constant dearth in which man leaves his spirit, - and his spirit is not extinguished. He excites himself, he goes wrong, he gives himself up to error, he becomes wicked, he turns mad, - he does evil when he would do good; but, properly speaking he does not die. If we treated our bodies with the same carelessness and neglect, if we left them fasting and starved in a similar way, they would do neither good nor evil, they would simply die. Another indication of our immortality may be noticed in the fact, that, in all respects,
man, here below walks all day long by the side of his grave, and that it can be only from some kind of feeling of immortality that he, all the time, tries to show himself superior to this danger.
This may be said of soldiers, who may receive their death at any time. It may be said of the corporeal man, who may be taken out of this world at any time; the only difference being that the soldier is not necessarily victim to the danger that threatens him, whilst natural men must all fall, without a possibility of escape.
But, in both, we perceive the same tranquillity, not to say carelessness, which makesthe warrior and the man of nature live as if no danger existed for them; their
carelessness being itself an indication that they are full of the idea of their immortality, though they both walk by the edge of their graves. In his spiritual concerns, man's danger is still greater, and his carelessness more extraordinary still: not only does the Spirit-Man continually walk by the side of his grave, always nearly being swallowed up in the immortal source of all lies, but, may we not ask, are there many amongst us who do not walk in their graves? And man is so blind
that he makes no effort to get out, and inquires not whether he ever shall.
When he is fortunate enough to perceive, if only for a moment, that he is walking in this grave, then he has an irresistible spiritual proof of his immortality, since he has that of his frightful mortality, and even of what we figuratively call his death. Now, how could he feel a horror of this spiritual mortality, if he had not, at the same time, a strong sentiment of his immortality?
It is only in this contrast that he finds that he is punished; just as physical pain is felt, by the opposition of disorder to health. But this kind of proof can be got only by experience, and it is one of the first-fruits of regeneration; for, if we do not feel our spiritual death, how can we think of calling for life?