The Results of Spiritualism

A Discourse Delivered at Dodworth's Hall, Sunday, March 6, 1859

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SUNDAY, MARCH 6, 1859.





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I wish to speak this evening of the results of Spiritualism. In the extraordinary narrative by Plato of the last days of Socrates, his friend Crito is represented as asking him the question, repeated since so many million times, 'how and where shall we bury you ' Socrates rebukes the phrase instantly : ' Bury me,' he answers, ' in any way you please, if you can catch me to bury ;' and at the same time smiling and looking gently round upon us, says his biographer, he said : 'I cannot persuade Crito, my friends, that I am this Socrates who is now conversing with you and arranging each part of this discourse, but he obstinately thinks I am that which he shall shortly behold dead, and he wants to know how he shall bury me. But that which I have been arguing to you so long, that when I have drunk this poison I shall be with you no longer, but shall de-part straitway to some happy state of the blest, I seem to have argued in vain, and I cannot convince him.'

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' Say rather, Crito,' he urges pleadingly once more, ' say, if you love me, where shall you bury my body, and I will answer you—Bury it in any manner and in any place you please.'

Thirty centuries have passed since then ; sects and sages, faiths and governments, have come and gone ; the world is taken captive by a religion unknown to Socrates, veiled in a superstition and mythology different from his, but equally a superstition and mythology though claiming a wisdom and source beyond his ; but still through Christendom the words of the great ancient philosopher survive, and with them the words of his faithless questioner linger also ; and for one who speaks like Socrates to-day, a thousand, even in Christendom, speak like Crito.—Still the words of faithlessness are repeated again and again and again, and how seldom are they rebuked as Socrates rebuked them. A consistent believer in the soul's immortality finds himself almost as much alone in the churches of New York as in the temples of Athens, and the world has never seen an inconsistency greater than that between Christian doctrines and Christian words, in connection with death.

It used to be thought that the magnet lost its power if carried near a place of burial. Our moral magnets have the same property. The faith of most Christians, so far as I have been able to see,

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belongs to sunshine and to common life ;—when there is no danger they have no fear ; when there is no shadow they have no sadness—but bring the shadow, the sadness comes ; bring the danger, and you bring the fear. The great motive power in all superstitions, from the earliest Brahminism to the latest Mormonism, is the same, the fulcrum is always the same—the fear of death and the effort to remove that fear. Romanist and Protestant, heterodox and orthodox, all claim that their hopes for time and eternity, rest upon a certain scheme, a certain doctrine ; the difficulty is, that when the scheme is all settled and the doctrine all built, the hope has disappeared. The habitual forms and words of Christendom show this practical faithlessness to the spiritual life it claims to monopolize. How do we treat death? With mourning chiefly, with lamentation mainly, not for ourselves alone but for those who have gone forward to a new existence. That which we call death the angels call birth, as that we call sunset is but a radiant sunrise to those farther on beneath the golden west. But how rarely is this admitted in daily life ? We drape our houses and our persons in gloomy black, and leave white to the 'pagan' Chinese, and purple and golden hues to the 'heathen' Greeks and Romans. We refuse to name the name of the departed ; or we men-

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tion him as our 'poor' friend, he who is now rich in that higher state in which we profess to believe.

Until within half a century in New England a private invitation was sent around to bid the friends to the funeral, and a skull and cross bones were the emblems which prefaced the ghastly invitation. It is centuries since St. Charles Borromeo strove to substitute for the skeleton and the scythe, the golden key of Paradise, but the skeleton is still the symbol of death and the scythe is still the terror.

There are various considerations to account for this one is, that the writers on Christian doctrines have almost always used their utmost efforts to annihilate all the actual faith in immortality in order to substitute their own mythology in its place ; and another is that their mildest views of the future deny all relation between the other world and this, and substitute a gloomy sleep of ages and an incredible resurrection to end it. And then the severer form of belief, the horrible doctrine of final torture, makes the whole fact of future existence a constant agony to every feeling heart, except to those moral lunatics who still delight to preach in pulpits and prayer-meetings that the joys of the blessed are only enhanced by the miseries of the damned. It was the corruption infused by these doctrines into the pure idea of immortality which produced the chief hostility to the early Christian Church in Greek communities. Even Neander

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among Christian historians states that the complaint of the Greeks was, not that the Christian theory was too spiritual for them, but that it was not spiritual enough. Those pure Platonists of early times, who held the natural immortality of the soul, what had they in common with a creed which held that the soul was naturally mortal and could be restored to life only by restoring to life the body which, they thought, encumbered it. How could the worshippers of a mild, benignant Deity entrust themselves with ' a terrible God in whom no consolation is found, but pure anger and. disfavor ;' I quote the words of Luther.

In the progress of religious thought we forget that precisely those points which are now abandoned or softened down were once made foremost in Christianity ; they were the very citadel of its faith. There is not a shadow of reason to doubt that Socrates' belief in immortality, was as absolute as that of Paul, as unfaltering as that of Jesus. The instincts never doubt immortality. Among simple races, as the American Indians, we never find a trace of distrust. The doubt comes with speculative thought and goes with higher thought. But that higher thought Christendom has not yet attained, and therefore there is not a Christian Church which does not exhibit among its members some of the agonies of doubt, and it would be strange if it were not so.

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Christianity has signally felt that if its object was to remove the fear of death from among its votaries, it was a failure, for the fear is not removed. So frightful is the suffering which I have seen from this cause, so constant in our daily life is its implied denial, so inconsistent the whole phraseology of common conversation with belief in immortality, that for one, if there be a path in the universe which leads to that faith, by traversing which men can gain it, I would fain guide them upon that pathway, though like the Mohammedan bridge which leads to Paradise, it were finer than a hair and sharper than a cimetar ; I would urge men to walk on it if by so doing they can obtain that faith in immortality which Christian Churches have failed to give.

And this effect as the first result of Spiritualism is a momentous fact. I said the instincts did not distrust immortality. In China among that heathen population there is so little fear of death among all classes and such a readiness to embrace it, that if a man commits a crime he is sentenced not to hanging, but to suicide ; there is so little fear of death that men from mere bravado commit crimes and hide their utmost agonies in the torture ; there is so little fear of death that the Christian missionaries can only explain it by saying that ' there is such an entire absence of religion among the Chinese that they do not fear death.' The end and climax of Christianity is therefore to

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preach religion in the world as the source of the fear of death, and the only men that do not fear it are supposed to escape that fear by irreligion !

Now it is a type of religion like this which Spiritualism comes to save men from. To show the depth of the fear thus inculcated, the history of the Christian church must be written, the records of Christian churches referring to the funeral of the saints and the obsequies of the body must be consulted. So terrible is the gloom that has fallen on men, that those occasions which are gladdest and sweetest to the angels are the sternest to the disciples of a false and superficial religion. I have never read any description of any Pagan festival which seemed to me so gloomy as the narrative given, for instance, by Whit-field of the personal services conducted under his superintendence, of one of the noblest of his friends and supporters, Lord Buchan. ' All bath been awful and more than awful.' . . On Saturday evening . . . a word of exhortation and a hymn sung in the room where the corpse lay. . . At ten the corpse was removed to good Lady Huntingdon's chapel, where it was deposited within a space, covered with black baize and the usual funeral concomitants . . . On Sunday morning all attended in mourning . . . [a hymn was then sung, pledging the mourners to God, ' though men and devils roar. '] At eleven, public services began. . . Ever since there has been public

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services and preaching twice a day . . . For five days together we have been attending to the house of mourning. Many I trust are obliged to say ' How dreadful is this place.' Such a scene I never expect to see opened again, this side of eternity.' I should think one such was enough for a life time. But what must a life time be which is spent in the expectation of an eternity which is to be an endless series of gloom like this. And is this so ancient a thing, so foreign to our present habits of thought ? It is but a little while since I read in a Boston newspaper the description of another funeral of a minister of the most advanced and liberal of Christian denominations, a man pure of heart, and this was the end of it:—

' The funeral solemnities over the remains of the late Rev. Dr. Peabody were held yesterday, in King's Chapel. The church was filled with relatives and friends of the deceased, and the services were deeply solemn and impressive.

The interior of the chapel was very heavily draped with mourning ; the altar was shrouded with crape, the fronts of the galleries and the windows hung in heavy folds of black, while the soft, subdued and partial light admitted, the awful stillness, the deep grief depicted on the countenance of the whole congregation, very many of whom were attired in the habiliments of mourning, impressed the spectator with the awful solemnity of the occasion which had thus assembled so many sorrowing and sympathizing friends.'

Then comes the description of the funeral procession and the names of the pall-bearers.

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' The minister then read the usual services of the burial of the dead from the common Book of Prayer, in a distinct but subdued voice ; and the half-suppressed sobs of the entire congregation, the ill-concealed emotion of the minister himself, attested the deep emotions of the heart which were so powerfully stirred.'

The minister then read further selections from the service:—

' Man who is born of woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up and is cut down like a flower ; he flitteth as it were a shadow and never continueth in one stay. In the midst of life we are in death. Of whom may we seek for succor but of Thee, O Lord, who for our sins are justly displeased.'

After the reading of the concluding service, Prayers were read, and the choir sung the hymn commencing—

' Hear what the voice from heaven proclaims
For all the pious dead ;
Sweet is the savor of their names,
And soft their sleeping bed.'

And that was the end of it, and the soul of their beloved friend with the body was committed in those words at last to a sleeping bed in the grave. It is the universal impression stamped on theology, on literature, on art—the oldest poetry and the newest alike. When Gray paints his departed friends in his Elegy,

' Each in his narrow bed forever laid,'

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what has heathenism worse than that ? When Dryden says :

' Vain man ! how vanishing a bliss we crave,
Now warm in love, now withering in the grave,
Never, ah, never more to see the sun !
Still damp in a damp vault, and still alone,'

what is there in the beautiful traditions of the untaught Indian, what is there in the Oriental Scriptures, what is there in the literature of the world out-side of Christendom so gloomy as that ? And yet only the other day, in a new and beautiful hymn which I saw, composed for a sacred purpose, there was no higher aspiration reached than this :

A memory and a tear for those
Who lie in dreamless death's repose.'

It is the habit of our minds ; it is the voice, not of the sinners but of the saints ; it is the traditional phraseology, not of the careless world, not of Wall street and Broadway, but of the churches of Christendom.

Spiritualism, to tens of thousands, is the only influence which has brought them out of this gloom. With this, answer me, in your hearts, those of you who have tried its power ; when death has come into your houses., has your magnet lost its power ? It has not. I know from seeing it in multitudes, that it has not. I know

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that, so far as it has been my privilege to draw near to God's greatest lesson of death, to draw near it free from the bondage of sects and the gloom of superstition, it has made life sublimer, not sadder—more rich and vast and beautiful. I do not believe that it is the personal contact with death that ever saddens men. The natural and normal tendency of the physical influence of the last words, the last look, the last remains, is not to destroy men's faith, but to raise it ; not to make them unbelievers but believers. I tell you that in the worst man's heart, when he stands alone with the mortal remains of his beloved, there rises the thought that those remains are but the bird's nest forsaken, from which the bird has flown. Let us not yield to the dread of that immediate contact. Face it as it is, touch that quiet hand, it will not hurt you. Smooth that soft hair : God did not mean us to shrink from it. If we could only have the experience simple ; if we could only have it pure, free from gloom, it would give us hope ; only let there be light and air, brightness and flowers, freshness and peace. When our hearses are painted white I shall think that men believe in immortality, and the popular religion means something ; I see that it does not now. When we talk of the gloom of death, we mean something of man's creation, not something natural, nor of God's ordaining. We talk of the Valley of Death, and hear men say :

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When in the path of death I tread,
With gloomy horrors overspread.'
It is false ; it is a hill of light ; if we once believe, as we profess to believe, that man is immortal. Man spreads his terrors half-way up ; that is all that he can do. As the moment of relief approaches, and the trembling soul flickers in its mortal habitation, then the hands of God come down around the departing, and say to human weakness and despair,—Begone !—this hour is mine.

The most experienced physicians I have ever conversed with—and I have put the question to more than one—have told me that never in their remembrance have they seen death feared by the dying as the last moment came on. It is the survivors who fear death. When we come near to it, God prepares us for it, his eternal laws soften the transition. But to spread that joy over multitudes is a thing which at this moment Spiritualism and Spiritualists alone have done. To say that this is a substantial triumph is little, is nothing ; it is a triumph so vast and stupendous, so far as it goes, that the history of the world has nothing to offer greater or more momentous. Let one personal contact come, let any human being be once convinced that he has ever conversed with a departed friend, and he has what Socrates, what Plato, what Jesus, what the rarest and highest of the human race seem to have had

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for themselves, and what they prayed might be imparted to others, joy and peace in believing.

All may not need it. There are some to whom is given by nature a faith in immortality and a desirable immortality, so strong that nothing can surmount it, not the traditions of men, not the teachings of the churches, not the gloom of theology can overcome it. I know that this is possible, for I have felt it all my life myself. But seeing what I have seen of the sufferings of others, knowing what I know of the results of Spiritualism, I thank God as one possessing a human heart and common sympathies that I have lived to see its day begin.

Then another result of this belief in immortality thus vivid and strong, is that one's plan of life grows larger, nobler, grander. It makes a great difference whether we are built to last sixty years or an eternity, as great a difference whether we know ourselves to be built for sixty years or eternity. What is folly in one case becomes wisdom in the other. If we have but a day to work, existence is one thing ; before a man believes in immortality he must do a thing now or never. If he is taken away in the midst of life, he seems to be cut off prematurely, and it is not strange that they place a broken column before his tomb. The thought that one may be thus taken away is depressing until one believes in immortality ; if there is

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but one thing in the universe that we can do, we wish to stay until we have done it.

But we learn deeper wisdom as we learn immortality. That which we have been sent into the universe to do will be done somewhere, God is the best economist in the universe, if it is not profanation to say so,—is the only economist. You are very important no doubt, and the more important you are, the surer he will be not to waste you or me or any of the atoms of his being. We are not sent into the world to do a certain work, but to lead a noble life. Doing that, God will keep us in work. I never feared annihilation or hell. But like many of you I have sometimes trembled at the thought of the theological heaven, that devotion of one's entire existence to vocal music only. Music is divine ; but it is not all that man was designed for to sing the sublimest psalms that ever took the souls of a congregation up to heaven upon their wings. God means us for more, and if our work be cut off here, no matter ; it is not ours. Do you think God has got all that he wants out of that great soul of Kane, living for one daring act of life and dying from its consequences ? I tell you he was created for loftier purposes. There are other perils to encounter, other North West passages to be discovered, other heroic deeds to be done yet before his career reaches its zenith, even in the eternities.

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There is no fear. Our duty is not to begin a certain work and finish that or nothing. One person may have a new line of business before him, another a new reform, another a new system of ventilation, another a mode of cutting out coats or shoes, another the re-formation of a man. No matter, great or small they are all little in an eternity, and it is the purpose that makes them great or small. No matter what the sailor at sea is doing, when the captain calls he has to let it go ' Ay, Ay Sir.' He is called to something more important. All men acknowledge this, but how many act upon it ? Life is not a probation, it is a progression; it does not end here, it begins here ; and as our work is not ended here, so our delusions, our follies, our sins, are not ended here. We may be overtaken in our work, not by the slight evil of death, but by insanity, by paralysis, by softening of the brain, by worse than that—a man may become a Roman Catholic or a Mormon; worse than that, a man may become a drunkard, a slaveholder; there is no telling what may become of a man, until he may wreck all the hopes his soul ever cherished. But God who grants the aloe time to bloom once in a hundred years, and grants to the uncouth Dragon the place in the universe for its career of centuries, will not overlook such human atoms as you and me.

The course of man is to be upward, God has put the power into us, and God is true though every theo-

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logian in the world be a liar. And as on the other hand life is ennobled, death too, is sanctified. Do not suppose that the effect of spiritualism is to make men indifferent to death : to make them regard it as a trifle, whether a man begins his eternal career sooner or later, a little thing whether you will make a end of your enemy to-day by a pistol bullet, or whether you leave grander laws than your hasty passions to settle the time of his transfer. It is not a little thing, and if I may speak personally, if there is any-thing which I owe to spiritualism, it is a more healthy and deep reverence for human life and less indifference to premature death ; I value men's lives more not less for being a spiritualist ; and that for this reason.

This life is the normal condition for us so long as our organization requires it. Death is in itself no evil, for it is universal ; but premature death is comparatively an evil, for it has been repeatedly testified, and it accords with all the thoughts of our highest moments, that those whose existence has ripened most thoroughly here, enter most advantageously upon their new life, while others who are sent out of existence by sudden death are, as it were, stunned and unprepared. They are like a flower whose petals you open prematurely, which blooms indeed, but whose blooming would have been more healthy and more fair, if you had left it to its own sweet time.

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Life is the bud, death the opening ; it is never terrible, but it comes best in its own fullness of time.

I need hardly add, that nothing can produce so great an effect on individuals, without a great effect on society also. This movement is destined to utterly transform religious denominations. You do not see how the snow goes in the Spring, but you know that the sun shines silently above, and that the warm earth is wooing it from below, and some morning the snow is gone,—that is all you know about it. And as the direct influence of human reason is brought openly to bear upon church and state to melt away their superstitions and sins from above, so silently beneath mild and subtle influences are at work every where ; and when the minister of a cold, conservative church, preaches his last closing climax of sermons against spiritualism, he little knows that of the church members who sit patiently beneath him, more than one half are spiritualists already in their hearts. Thus the terrors of theology are dispelled, losing their power, because they lose their fulcrum on the other side of the grave, the theological hell disappears and each carries within his own heaven and his own hell, and each becomes his own priest and his own atonement henceforth.

The special attempts of the spirits to describe their life and their habitation, their sixth sphere and their seventh sphere, seem to me to be of little value as

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yet ; but the single fact that they live and labor, that they can have intercourse, however meagre and scanty, with spirits on earth—that is enough to revolutionize this world of sects, and at last, aiding the other benign tendencies of the age, this world of parties also ; and taking men out of superstition, to take them into practical religion also.

Tell me not that a man can be wholly the same, knowing his career to be infinite, that he is, while he supposes it to be finite,—when he knows that his beloved departed are watching him with purer eyes than they ever beheld him with when on earth. Many a man will shrink from doing, in their presence, what he has no hesitation in doing now, under the vague belief that God sees him. For what is the popular idea of God ? How vague and dim ; how vague is Henry Ward Beecher's idea ; how vaguer still that of the majority. Many a man who can bear very well to go on in his sins with God looking at him, is raised to a higher grade of moral existence, if you make him feel for an instant that his pure child, his sainted mother, his wife, his friend who was dearest on earth, is with clearer eyes watching him from the eternal world.

The time has passed when these superstitions which were the cradles of humanity were needed for their support ; they cannot rock humanity, for humanity has outgrown them. Still in the midst of sin and error, we walk onward to the higher life. I told

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you that the modern Christianity had not made any greater men than Plutarch's men of two thousand years ago. The progress of the world is not shown yet in individuals as much as in the elevation of the mass and in the development of whole races. In ancient days some sins were common, whose very names are now forgotten ; and in their disappearance rather than in the rise of any higher standard of virtue we see the progress of mankind. The tendency of humanity is onward ; it has gone onward even without the vivid and daily consciousness of immortality, even without the presence and intercourse of the beloved departed ; and if without this there has been progress made, what accelerating progress must come with the know-ledge of this ! Multitudes among you have seen and known the unspeakable blessings that, beginning with individuals, are spreading to the world from the new hopes whose grounds and arguments I have, in previous discourses, set before you. I share with you that knowledge, and rejoice to testify it in your presence. I have seen the blessing, and woe be unto me if I shrink from preaching a gospel of such gladness as this.