Man saw the beetle emerge from his filthy bed of corruption—and in his temples he hung up the golden scarabaeus as the symbol of life to come. He saw the butterfly come out in radiant glory from her dark bed—and on his tomb he carved the butterfly as a symbol of the resurrection. When the ice and the snow began to melt, and the south winds began to blow softly, and spring blew her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, man saw the dead branches bud and put forth new leaves— and in the great change of the springtime he saw the sure token of the revirescence of man after death.
In a hundred different forms man has liked to repeat the myth of the phoenix—how that fabled bird, after subsisting for five hundred years, loads his wings with spices and, flying to the temple, is burned to ashes upon the altar; and out of the ashes there emerges the new bird, which salutes the priest and flies away. Therefore, in his temples man set up the phoenix as the symbol of life everlasting.
These analogies, of course, prove nothing; for the beetle, the butterfly, and the tree only seem to be dead; yet the appeal of man to these processes in nature show how deep is his instinct for immortality.
In certain respects the great article of the Apostles' Creed is the last: "I believe in . . . the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting." Without that article, the other great affirmations have no meaning. Suppose one were to say, "I believe in God the Father," but not in life everlasting; or, "I believe in . . . Jesus Christ his only Son," but not in the life everlasting; or, "I believe in the Holy Ghost," but not in the life everlasting; or, "I believe in . . . the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints," but not in the life everlasting. All those affirmations would be meaningless without the great chord that is struck in the final sentence of the Creed :"I believe in . . . the life everlasting." Without that affirmation, the Creed would be like a great cathedral wrapped in gloom and the darkness of night. But with that affirmation the Creed is like a great cathedral illuminated by the sun and showing all the glory of architect, sculptor, and painter.
One day, realizing that he was not long for this world, Moody said to a friend, "Someday you will read in the papers that D. L. Moody of Northfield is dead. Don't you believe a word of it. At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now. I shall have gone up higher, that is all—out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal, a body that sin cannot touch, that sin cannot taint, a body fashioned like unto His glorious body. I was born of the flesh in 1837; I was born of the Spirit in 1856. That which is born of the flesh may die; that which is born of the Spirit will live forever."
After giving many reasons why death is not to be dreaded by a good man, Cicero concludes with this justly celebrated passage: "From this life I depart as from a temporary lodging, not as from a home. For nature has assigned it to us as an inn to sojourn in, not a place of habitation. Oh, glorious day! when I shall depart to that divine company and assemblage of spirits, and quit this troubled and polluted scene! For I shall go to my friend Cato, than whom never was better man born, nor more distinguished for pious affection; whose body was burned by me, whereas, on the contrary, it was fitting that mine should be burned by him. But his soul, not deserting me, but oft looking back, no doubt departed to those regions whither I saw that I myself was destined to come: Which though a distress to me, I seemed patiendy to endure: not that I bore it with indifference, but I comforted myself with the recollection that the separation and distance between us would not continue long: For these reasons, O Scipio, old age is tolerable to me, and not only not irksome, but even delightful. And if I am wrong in this, that I believe the souls of men to be immortal, I willingly delude myself: nor do I desire that this mistake, in which I take pleasure, should be wrested from me as long as I live: but if I, when dead, shall have no consciousness, as some narrow-minded philosophers imagine, I do not fear lest dead philosophers should ridicule this my delusion."
It does not follow that the breaking up of the form of life destroys life itself. When you burn a bit of coal you apparently destroy it. To the eye, only ashes remain. Yet we know that these particles of fossilized wood were not destroyed, but that they merely entered into the atmosphere in gaseous form. You might take a hammer and shatter the Venus of Milo into a thousand pieces, and then grind the pieces into the most impalpable dust; but not a single particle of the marble image upon which the hungry generations have gazed with awe and wonder has been lost. The crystal drop which flashes with beauty on the rose leaf when the sun first dawns has vanished long before the sun has reached the middle station; neither touch nor taste nor eye can detect it. Yet it has not been destroyed; it has but changed its form, and persists as vapor. If these atoms and particles—dust, iron, and lime—are indestructible, are we to think that annihilation comes only to that which we associate with spirit and with soul?
The idea of living on, forever and forever, the kind of life that we now live in the flesh is indeed very dreadful. In his famous satire Jonathan Swift brings Gulliver to the island of Luggnagg, where he has an interview with the Struldbrugs, a race of men born immortal, but not endowed with immortal youth. Gulliver is very anxious to see them and talk with them, but is sadly disappointed when they tell him of their misery. "When they came to fourscore years, which is reckoned the extremity of living in this country, they had not only all the follies and infirmities of other old men, but many more which arose from the dreadful prospect of never dying."
The same terrible idea of immortality appears in the Grecian myth of Tithonus. Tithonus, the son of the king of Troy, was beloved by Aurora, who persuaded Jupiter to confer upon him the gift of immortal life; but she forgot to have youth joined in the gift, and soon perceived that Tithonus was growing old, yet could never die. When his hair was white she left him alone in the palace, and finally she turned him into a grasshopper.
The ancient thought and hope for life to come is supposed to have reached its high-water mark in that beautiful passage of the Phaedo where Plato, after rehearsing the arguments and intimitions for immortality, makes Socrates say that from all these reasons and arguments you must select that which you think is the best, until there comes some sure word of prophecy or revelation upon which, as upon a ship, you can take your journey across the angry seas.
But when this same great man, Christ-like before Christ, came to die, he said to his friends: "And now we go our different ways, you to life and I to death. Which is better God only knows." With this farewell to life and salutation of life to come compare the words of the Christian philosopher, who declared that life and immortality had been brought to light, their secret told and revealed in the gospel. He, too, is standing where the Athenian philosopher stood, near to the gates of death. What does he say? What does he think? Does he answer, "I have a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is very far better"? Far better! And there we leave our dead. They shall walk with him in white. "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." (Rev. 7:16-17.) Far better!