Stacks Image 905


The Doctrine of Heaven and Hell.

1.— It is a fact worthy of consideration because it involves principles that have a permanent foundation, that all religions have their heaven and hell. The Absolute Religion which, though really first in time, comes latest in the historical succession of religions, and which tries to expound those that have gone before it and to adjust them to each other, teaches that heaven and hell are facts of mental experience, in other words are
states of the mind, rather than localities. It is true that the Absolute Religion, in taking this important position, does not necessarily deny locality as something which is predicable of such facts of experience. And it does not do this, for the simple and sufficient reason, that locality is a necessary incident of finiteness; and that it is impossible to have an idea of finite beings, without having an idea of the place which they occupy. But the Absolute doctrine though it does not by any means exclude the consideration of locality or place, is understood to deal primarily and chiefly with the intrinsic or essential nature, rather than with the forms and incidents of things.

2.— It is not easy to give definitions which will be satisfactory to all. But perhaps it will be sufficient to say, that Heaven in its essential nature, is that state of inward experience which excludes doubt and sorrow, and which is the subject of all that happiness, which results from a harmony with the immutable law of right, including as the necessary result of such harmony, the approbation of God, and full and happy communion with him.

It is not necessary to assert, however, that this is the best statement which is possible to be made of the absolute or essential heaven. It is sufficient to know, that the statement embracing essentially these ideas cannot vary greatly from these terms.

3.— And now we proceed to say, that the doctrine under consideration results necessarily from the fact, that the subjects or inhabitants of the state called Heaven, are spiritual or mental beings. It is very true, and it is one of the results of the additional fact that they are finite beings, that they are clothed in bodily or material forms; but there is a great difference between the clothing or forms of things, and the substance or essence of things. It cannot be said that men in their intrinsic nature are material, nor can it be said that the laws which govern them are material, but the facts, laws and experiences pertaining to the essential man, in a word anything and everything which goes to constitute the interior man in distinction from the outward man, is wholly of a spiritual nature. For instance, man in his physical or material nature has an outward form and outward organs; and in the possession and exercise of such organs, he does, and suffers, and enjoys those things, which are appropriate to such an organization; but it is hardly necessary to say, that in his mental or spiritual nature it is very different. His internal action, in distinction from his outward or physical action, is the activity of a spiritual nature; and he does, and suffers, and enjoys those things, which are appropriate to spirit.

4.— We cannot delay in order to go into particulars to any great extent. One or two illustrations will answer. Man for instance has a conscience. By means of conscience, using the term in the more general sense as indicating the whole moral nature, he discriminates between right and wrong. And when he acts in accordance with the right, he is happy; and when he does wrong he suffers. Man also has affectional susceptibilities, including the great and controlling power in his spiritual nature which enables him to love; and in the exercise of this benevolent principle, which always operates in the direction of good to others, he finds an ample and rich reward in his own nature. His failure to exercise it, on the contrary, and the indulgence without adequate cause of hostile feelings, is attended, according to a wise law of being, with a correspondent unhappiness to himself. So that happiness resulting from conformity with spiritual laws, constitutes heaven; and unhappiness resulting from a violation of these laws constitutes hell. The same general principles which apply to the one apply to the other.

5.— And this is not all. It can be said also and in such a way that contradiction cannot easily have a place, that there is a fixed and necessary discrimination between them; a gulf of separation, excavated by differences of nature which can never be filled up; so that in their interior and distinctive nature heaven can never become hell, and hell can never become heaven. Philosophers tell us that there is an immutable distinction between right and wrong; right in its essential nature can never become wrong, and wrong can never become right. But in studying the relations of ultimate ideas and facts, we shall find that right and wrong are in a very important sense the foundations of heaven and hell; that they are the essential basis upon which heaven and hell are erected; and that the affirmation of an immutable distinction and separation between them, is virtually an affirmation of a like distinction and separation of that which grows out of them.

And if it should be affirmed at this point, that these statements have reference rather to identity than to duration, and that the existence and the distinctive difference of both may be conceded, without involving the fact of their unchangeable permanency, then it remains to be added further, that, inasmuch as it is impossible to conceive of a moral universe where right and wrong are not, so it is impossible to conceive of such an universe where heaven and hell are not. So that on philosophical principles, heaven and hell are not more immutable and distinctive in their nature, than they are unchangeable and eternal in their duration. And accordingly it is not enough to affirm the naked fact of the existence of heaven and hell; but the truth in its absolute form requires us to affirm also, that there is an eternal heaven and an eternal hell.

6.— The Absolute Religion affirms also, although it may be conceded that it is not a matter which is equal in importance, the locality of heaven and hell. Heaven and hell in their essential nature exist in beings; and in beings of whom it can be said that they have perceptions, emotions and conscience; in beings, who are not simply existences but personalities. But it is a primary conception or thought of the human mind, that such beings and indeed any beings, of whom it can be said that they are finite and not infinite, have and must have limitations, boundaries, outlines, form, which in fact constitute one of the essential differences between the finite and the Infinite, and which necessarily carry with them the idea of locality or place. Affirm of any being or thing, that it has outline and form, and you necessarily imply and affirm of it, that it must be and is in one place rather than another; in other words, that it has place; and that place or locality can no more be separated from it than outline or form can be separated from it.

Furthermore it is well known that philosophical thinkers often speak of
the fitness of things. And in such a sense that they not only accept of it as a speculative truth, but fully believe in it and reason from it as an available and important basis of argument, in ascertaining and adjusting the position of one thing considered in relation to another. And the Absolute Religion, in harmony with this view, utters as one of its truths, that it is not agreeable to the fitness of things, in other words that it is not an appropriate, well adjusted, and fitting thing, that heaven and hell should be thought to be without law, and should move their locality at random, and should be here and there and anywhere and everywhere, without regard to the relative situation, and the rights and claims, and progress, and histories of other beings and other localities; and thus disturb, if it were a possible thing, the unchangeable harmonies of the universe. And therefore it can be said for this and for other reasons, especially in view of the great law of attraction, which compels the association and permanent neighborhood of those who have likeness of character, that heaven and hell have not only a locality but a fixed and ascertainable locality, so that no one in the future life will have any difficulty in knowing his own place.

7.— And still further, the Absolute Religion affirms, in accordance with the expressions that are found in the revealed or written religions, that heaven and hell have their walls and gates, their trees of life, their golden harps, and their flaming fires; with the liberty however, of substituting in a proper manner the inward meaning for the outward letter, and the great substance for the metaphorical shadow. The walls and gates, divested of their metaphorical import, are the ideas, truths, or laws, of life, which attach to finite existences in every situation, and which indicate the boundaries or limits which they cannot pass. Not walls or gates in the material sense, not something visible and tangible which has been fashioned and set up by human hands or any other finite agency; but they are not the less real on that account; and may be said to possess even greater strength and permanency. They cannot be broken through as material walls can, or undermined, or over-leaped, or worn out; but they stand forever. And in like manner the tree of life, and the waters of life, and the golden harps, and the flaming fires, if they do not express like walls and gates, the limitations of position and action, will be found on a proper interpretation, to imply and to express certain forms of inward experience both good and evil. There are joys and griefs of the spirit as well as physical joys and griefs; joys and griefs which do not depend upon positive and arbitrary enactments, but which necessarily result from the practical relation of our lives to the laws of right and wrong, and without which heaven and hell could have no existence.

8.— And lastly the Absolute Religion, speaking alike in all lands and all languages and all intellects, not only announces the existence of heaven and hell, and with the seal of eternity upon them, but proclaims with equal distinctness to the doer of good and evil, that there is no possible escape from them. They are not only facts but inheritances; not only existences but are capable of being peopled and dwelt in. Such is the nature and fixed relation of things, that it can be said in terms which admit of no uncertainty, that the sinner is necessarily a sufferer; and that the doer of good is necessarily happy, and that neither the one nor the other, neither the good man nor the sinner, can fly from the heaven or hell that is appropriate to him any more than he can fly from himself. The man who is excluded from the kingdom of love, and has his home and kingdom in himself, who in making self his centre is cast out of the
All and is shut up in the one, who is sunk from the liberty of God into the slavery of the creature, is in the truth and essence of Hell, whatever may be said of his locality. Hell therefore is a state of mind. And accordingly the Absolute Religion has no controversy with the doctrine of Hell, whether found in the Christian Scriptures or anywhere else, because Hell when properly explained, is perceived to be, not a material Tophet or Gehenna, but a fact of the universal consciousness; and what is more, it is an accepted problem of the primary or universal philosophy. Nor has it any controversy with the doctrine of the locality of Hell; because locality, when ideas are subjected to a suitable analysis, is a necessary incident to all finite beings; and the locality which constitutes the place of Hell’s subjects, necessarily constitutes the locality of Hell itself.

The Absolute Religion accepts Hell just as it accepts Heaven, and it accepts both of them, not only because they are matters of observation and consciousness, but because the unchangeable affirmation of philosophy proclaim the necessity of their being. And it accepts the locality of Heaven (a locality but not necessarily a fixed locality,) for the same reason that it accepts the locality of Hell.