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the weight of mortality. If then there be warrant of Scripture for this hope, it is no waste of time to vindicate it.”*
“So corrupt,” says Dr. Watts, “are the inclinations of men, and their passions so much impressed and moved by things present or just at hand, that future joys and sorrows when set far beyond death and the grave, at some vast and unknown distance of time, have but little influence on their hearts and lives."
I have been assured by a Reverend friend, that he had frequently found criminals under sentence of death, who were but little afraid of punishment in a future state, either in spirit or in body, and this in consequence of believing, in the first place, that their souls could not exist in consciousness in a separate state, or until again united to a body, which they knew was not to happen till the last day, and therefore, that if they were subjected to any retribution, it must be after the resurrection and judgment (which it is undeniable, may be at a very great distance :) until which time they would be in no state capable of feeling remorse or contrition of any kind for their crimes; all men, in their ideas, being to remain perfectly insensible after death till then, when there would be an end of the present order of all sublunary things as described in Scripture. In this opinion they are joined even by some learned and pious Christian divines and others, as already said, while there are very many who admit that they are quite at a loss what to think upon the subject of the insensible sleep of the soul, which death is believed by some to bring upon it. An indefinite number of years is much the same as eternity in the opinion of many, particularly of the lower orders, since the time is too long for them to look beyond ; though they themselves would not in such a state of insensibility be aware of its lapse, yet they know that the hours, days, and years
of time must pass till the end of it, and take as long to do so
Considerations on the condition of the soul in the intermediate state between death and the resurrection, by the Rev. F. Ricketts. 1831.
must feel consciousness, retaining memory; else as a separate soul, it must be said to be dead, whether it were afterwards to revive again or not.
The above lines might be quoted to show that whatever hopes the author might have of eternal life to begin at a future time, he plainly believed in the intermediate nothingness of the soul; but, like many others, he writes at another time on an opposite supposition. Quite a different doctrine will be found in a letter quoted in another place of this work, and in his ode of “The dying Christian to his soul,”
“ Vital spark of heavenly flame
Cease, fond nature, cease thy strise,
Sister spirit, come away.”—
“ The world recedes; it disappears !
With sounds seraphic ring!
O death where is thy sting?”
I may remark here that the victory or power of the grave must continue until the resurrection of the body from it. Neither the grave nor death can properly be said to claim power over the soul at any time, yet not only does the body experience the power of death as long as it lies in the tomb, but the soul also may be said to be affected by the tyrant while in a separate state, because death has deprived it of its body. In the same way, a strong man who could violently take away a weak man's house without being permitted to touch the owner, might nevertheless be said to affect the weak man himself as long as he retains his house.
A nearly similar instance of inconsistency with the preceding is to be found in an Eastern elegy among the poems of the Rev. T. Maurice.
“Hinda, once fairest of the virgin train,
Who haunt the forest, or who range the plain,
The opposers of the intermediate state generally affirm, that the whole time from death to the resurrection is but as the sleep of a night ; and that the dead shall awake out of their graves utterly ignorant and insensible of the long distance of time that hath passed since their death, therefore we should be as careful to prepare for the day of judgment, as we would for our entrance into the separate state at death, if there were any such state ready to receive us. Men should be so in reason and justice, but such is too generally the folly of our natures, that we are not influenced by distant prospects, as if the event commenced as soon as ever this mortal life expires.*
Principal Campbell's opinion on the mode noticed of reconciling what some think is to be, with what is said in Holy Writ, is plain and just.—“If any thing could add to the native evidence of the expressions” (which are used in Scripture, seemingly to show that the soul neither sleeps nor becomes unconscious at death) “it would be the unnatural meanings that are put upon them in order to disguise that evidence. What shall we say of the metaphysical distinction introduced by some for this purpose, between absolute and relative time? The Apostle Paul speaks of the saints as admitted to enjoyment, in the presence of God,t imme
These reasonings on the importance of the present inquiry are mostly from Dr. Watts' Essay towards the Proof of a Separate State.
+ The title of God, it should be recollected, is sometimes given to our Saviour who is to be the judge of the world. “Them that sleep in Jesus shall God bring with him ;' and the Apostle, speaking of this glorious appearance and coming of Christ to judgment, calls him the great God, Tit. ii. 13. The diately after death. Now, to palliate the direct contradiction there is in this to their doctrine, that the vital principle, which is all they mean by the soul, remains extinguished between death and the resurrection, they remind us of the difference there is between absolute or real, and relative or apparent time. They admit that, if the Apostle be understood as speaking of real time, what is said, flatly contradicts their system ; but, say they, his words must be interpreted as spoken, only of apparent time. He talks indeed of entering on a state of enjoyment, immediately after death, though there may be many thousand years between the one and the other; for, he means only that when that state shall commence, however distant in reality the time may be, the person entering on it will not be sensible of that distance, and consequently there will be to him an apparent coincidence with the moment of his death. But does the Apostle any where hint that this is his meaning ? or is it what any man would naturally discover from his words? That it is exceedingly remote from the common use of language, I believe, hardly any of those who favour this scheme will deny. Did the sacred penman then mean to put a cheat upon the world, and, by the help of an equivocal expression, to flatter men with the hope of entering, the instant they
phrase in our translations is—the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ,' but which, according to Archbishop Tillotson, cannot allude to two persons
- the Father and the Son; which interpretation, the original will not bear, and which ought rather to be rendered— Jesus Christ the great God and our Saviour. (See this Prelate's eleventh Sermon “On the certainty of the resurrection.") St. John also mentions that St. Thomas addressed his mastermy Lord and my God.—XX. 28.
I have added this note to show that although our souls in a middle state may see Christ by way of vision or otherwise, it may not be meant that we shall behold God the Father unless as represented by the Son. But God the Father being omnipresent, if we saw him there, and had personal converse with him in our separate state, it would not prove the place or region to be that heaven where we are to be admitted after the judgment, to reside in eternally, more than that the earthly paradise was heaven, where God, in the person of Christ, was often plcased to make himself known to Adam and Eve.
expire, on a state of felicity; when in fact, they knew that it would be many ages before it would take place?
“ Even the curious equivocation, (or, perhaps, more properly, mental reservation, that has been devised for them, will not, in every case, save the credit of Apostolical veracity. The words of Paul to the Corinthians are,—“knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:”—again, “We are.... willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” * Could such expressions have been used by him, if he had held it impossible to be with the Lord, or indeed where without the body ; and that, whatever the change was, which was made by death, he could not be in the presence of the Lord till he returned to the body? Things are combined here as coincident, which, on the hypothesis of those who think the soul continues unconscious from death till it rejoins the body on its resurrection, are incompatible. If recourse be had to the original, the expressions in Greek are if possible stronger.—In the passage to the Philippians also, the commencement of his presence with the Lord, is represented as coincident, not with his return to the body, but with his leaving it, with the dissolution, not with the restoration, of the union."
As an actual illustration of such reasonings as those alluded to by Dr. Campbell, being employed by those who are disposed to advocate the sleep of the soul, I shall here quote a few passages from A Country Pastor's work already referred to, that the arguments on both sides may be heard:
“The long and dreary interval, then, between death and the day of judgment (supposing the intermediate state to be a profound sleep) does not exist at all, except in the imagination : 1 to the party concerned there is no interval what
2 Cor. v. 6.8. + From Dr. Campbell's 6th dissertation preceding his translation of the gospels.
The very reverse of this would be the case ; for the long dreary interval would in reality exist, and only the imagination of the sleepers deceived, perhaps, in regard to it. But even during sleep here in the body, we are generally sensible in the morning that we have passed a space of time.