capable of attaining so much knowledge, which, on the supposition that death terminates his career, is manifestly useless to him? For useless certainly is the knowledge of religious and moral truths, of his Maker, and of his duty, if there is no state beyond the grave, in which the consequences of that knowledge will be experienced, and He who is now dimly perceived in his works, shall be clearly seen and fully enjoyed. We observe too, that the powers of man are progressive, while those of the lower animals are stationary. It is not found that, among them, the species is more improved in one age than in another, or that the individual ever advances beyond a certain point. But the faculties of man are gradually unfolded from infancy to manhood, and in some cases continue vigorous and active to extreme old age. Yet we can never say that they have reached perfection, or that man has made the highest possible intellectual effort, and attained all the knowledge of which he is capable. Were the soul to die with the body, the fate of man would be an instance of an abortive work of God, a work made for no intelligible purpose ; and it is therefore more consonant to our ideas of Divne wisdom to believe, that, as it is capable from its nature of perpetual duration, and its powers admit of no limit which we know, it will pass into another state of conscious existence, and advance in an interminable career of improvement.

Whether the argument be considered as conclusive or not, it undoubtedly affords a strong presumption in favour of the immortality of the soul; and as such we find it brought forward by the heathen philosophers. “I am persuaded,” says Cicero, in his treatise de Senectute, “ since such is the activity of the soul, such is the memory of the past and the foresight of the future, such are its arts and sciences, and inventions, that the nature which comprehends these things cannot be mortal.” The third argument for the immortality of the soul, is founded upon

the operations of conscience, the office of which is to judge of right and wrong, as the understanding judges of truth and error; to enjoin the one and forbid the other; to acquit or condemn us according to our conduct; to summon us to the higher tribunal of our Maker; and to anticipate the consequences of his sentence in another state of existence. To evade this argument, conscience has been represented as a factitious faculty, as the effect of education; and hence, it has been said, it is not uniform in its dictates, but commands and prohibits according to the notions of morality which prevail in a particular country. But the only inference which should be deduced from this fact is, that conscience is liable to be perverted as well as the understanding. If it would be absurd to deny that our minds possess the power of distinguishing between truth and falsehood, because we are subject to innumerable errors, and the wildest opinions have been believed, not only by the vulgar, but by philosophers; it would be equally absurd to conclude, that there is no such principle as conscience, because virtue has been sometimes called vice, and vice virtue. The operations of conscience, amidst the manifold errors into which it has been betrayed, are a proof that it is natural to the mind. It may be misled, but it still exists. It is found in all ages, in all nations, and under all religions ; and we must therefore conclude, that it is an essential principle of our nature, It was planted in our bosom by the hand of the Creator, and its clear unbiassed dictates must be regarded as his commands. If it point to a future state, it is He who is reminding us that this is only the first and probationary stage of our being ; that the consequences of our moral actions will not be limited to our present circumstances; and that, when our course is finished, a retribution will take place. In short, the anticipations of conscience, which are common to heathens and to Christians, are an evidence that the soul will pass into another state, where those anticipations will be realized.

In corroboration of this argument, I proceed to mention a fourth, which is



drawn from the unequal distribution of good and evil in the present life. That God is the moral Governor of the world, we may assume as a truth, because it has been already proved, and is denied by none but atheists. We have a witness to it within us, in the operations of conscience, which not only reminds us that he has given us a law for the regulation of our conduct, but acquits and condemns us in his name, and refers us to his future judgment for the ratification and execution of the sentence. But the present state of things, as we all acknowledge, does not accord with our ideas of a perfect moral administration. It is an ancient complaint, that “all things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean ; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath." The promiscuous manner in which men of different characters are treated, seems to confound all moral distinctions. But great as this disorder may be accounted, there still is a greater. “ There is a vanity which is done upon the earth ; that there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked: again, there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous.”† The lot of the righteous is such as that of the wicked should be, and the lot of the wicked as that of the righteous. Exceptions there are in the course of the Divine government; and righteousness is sometimes rewarded, and unrighteousness punished in the present life.

But a few examples of this nature can only be set in opposition to innumerable. examples of a different character, in order to show that notwithstanding the latter, there is such a principle in the Divine nature as justice, and consequently, that there is ground to expect its full development under another dispensation. It may be objected, that, although virtue and vice are not visibly recompensed, yet there is a secret retribution in the satisfaction which flows from virtue, and the uneasiness which is the consequence of vice. But, besides that the want of visibility in this retribution does not answer the ends of God's moral government, by vindicating his character and upholding the authority of his law; it may be remarked that, if a future state were left out of the question, both the pleasure and the pain would be greatly diminished, if not annihilated. Many a wicked man would feel no uneasiness, if he were freed from the forebodings of conscience; and in many cases at least, the pleasure arising from virtuous dispositions and actions would not counterbalance the evils with which they are accompanied. The state of the case then, is this, that God has given a law to the human race, and announced his intention to reward obedience, and punish disobedience; yet we find that there is no regular distribution of rewards and punishments; that there is no regular plan according to which affiairs are conducted; that sometimes the righteous and the wicked are placed in the same circumstances, both enduring the evils of life, or both enjoying its good things ; and that at other times, their condition exhibits an unexpected contrast, while those who should have been happy are involved in affliction, and those who should have been miserable are surrounded with earthly blessings. If we believe that there is a God, and that he is just and good, we must conclude that this life is not the whole of man ; we must believe that it is only a state of discipline and trial, and that his treatment according to his desert, is with manifest propriety deferred till he have finished his course. We must believe that after death is the judgment, when he shall receive according to the deeds done in the body, whether they have been good or evil. Reason assents to the doctrine of revelation, and has led men in every age and nation to expect a future state of happiness or misery. But this belief implies the immortality of the soul. It implies that it will survive the death of the body; and, in the language of an inspired writer, that when • Eccles. ix, 2.

f Ib. viï. 14.


[ocr errors]

“ the dust returns to the earth as it was, the spirit will return to God who gave it."*

The last argument is derived from the universal belief of the immortality of the soul. Another argument has, indeed, been founded upon the desire of immortality which prevails among mankind; but it is questionable whether it possesses much solidity. The desire has been considered as instinctive, and consequently, as an indication by our Creator himself of our continued existence ; but it does not appear to be different from the love of life, which is common to us and the inferior animals. It is simply a desire that we may not be deprived of the precious blessing of life; and we may say the same desire is virtually felt by every living creature. But because God has implanted in us a strong love of life, it does not follow, in our case more than in theirs, that our life will not come to an end.—The belief of the immortality of the soul can be traced in the history of all civilized nations, and even among savage tribes. It prevailed among the Greeks and Romans, the Egyptians, the Chaldeans, the Persians, the Indians, and the Gauls; and wherever modern travellers have gone, and have had an opportunity to inquire into the opinions of the nations, it has been found that an idea was entertained, more or less distinct, of a state beyond the grave. " The immortality of the soul,” as Cicero said long ago, “is established by the consent of all nations." The argument founded upon it is this :-Either this consent results from the uniform suggestions of reason, in every country and in every age, and ought therefore to be considered as the voice of God himself giving notice of our destiny ; or, it is the consequence of a tradition descending from the first parents of mankind, who were laught by their Creator that their souls should never die. I acknowledge that the universality of an opinion is not, of itself, a proof of its truth, because there are some notions of religion in which men have agreed, and when without supernatural instruction, still agree, but which we know to be erroneous. But when an opinion is neither contradicted by reason nor revelation, its prevalence among nations separated by time and place, and between whom there was no communication, necessarily leads us to the hypothesis of a common origin, and demonstrates, that as it is congenial to the wishes, so it is consonant to the natural dictates of the mind. And although the maxim, Vox populi est vor Dei, is so far from being uniformly true that it is very frequently false, yet in the present case it may be admitted; and there seems reason to think that it was the Creator himself who taught man to believe that he is made for immortality.


[ocr errors][merged small]


The Doctrine of the Immortality of the soul, founded on the testimony of Christ.-Completion

of Sanctification at Death.—Doctrine of an Intermediate State : of the sleep of the Soul: of Purgatory.—Arguments against Purgatory.— The best argument for it.

The arguments for the immortality of the soul which were stated in the preceding lecture, have been considered as conclusive ; and, although they do not all possess the same strength, yet their united evidence has been deemed sufficient to be the ground of a rational conviction. But I must remind you again,

• Eccles. xii. 7.

that, although they were known in substance to the wise men of the Heathen world, they failed to give satisfaction. Let us not be surprised at this fact, and wonder that they did not clearly perceive, and confidently embrace, a truth of which the proof seems to us to be complete. Not to say that it is more fully and luminously exhibited by Christian Divines than by Heathen philosophers, I would remark, that the connection between the premises and the conclusion appears more certain to us, because we know the conclusion beforehand, and are persuaded of it on other grounds. The demonstrations of reason are brought forward in favour of a point of which we entertain no doubt, and the arguments come home to us with full force, because we are prepared to acquiesce in them. They accord with our previous sentiments, carry us forward in a train in which we have been accustomed to move, and terminate in a point which has long been the resting-place of our thoughts. But it would be folly to suppose, that the reasoning would impart the same conviction to a man who had long sought in vain for satisfaction, and, having viewed the subject on all sides, and been tossed up and down between hope and fear, had finally abandoned the expectation of arriving at certainty.

The truth is, that to Christians these arguments are not necessary, except when they are contending with such as deny revelation ; and then they are of use, not to satisfy their own minds, but to prove to their opponents that, in maintaining the immortality of the soul, they are supported by reason, and that none offend against reason but those by whom the doctrine is impugned. Our faith in this fundamental article of religion does not rest upon arguments, but upon authority. The ground on which we are assured of the future existence of the soul, is the testimony of our Saviour,-one sentence from whose lips is of greater weight than all the reasonings of philosophers, whether heathen or Christian. Why should we follow a circuitous and uncertain path, when the highway is before us? or why should we light a torch, when the sun is pouring around us the full splendour of his beams ?

“ Jesus Christ hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel."'* To bring any thing to light, is to draw it from its place of concealment into open day. The words now quoted may be therefore understood to import, that our Saviour was the first who discovered, or made known to the world, the doctrine of immortality; and hence the accuraey of the Apostle's statement may be questioned, because even the heathens were in some degree acquainted with it, and the Jews unquestionably entertained the hope of a life beyond the grave. But the word, potišw, signifies not only to give light, and to make manifest, but to render luminous, by shedding greater lustre upon an object already seen; and in this sense, I apprehend, it is used on this occasion by the Apostle. Jesus Christ has illuminated, or rendered plain and perspicuous, the doctrine of immortality.

He has given the most explicit assurances of the future existence of the soul. He has spoken of it as a subject which is not only probable, but absolutely certain. He has assumed it as a fact about which there could not be any question, and which those whom he addressed were understood to believe. The object which he had in view was not to prove it, but to give such inforination respecting it as should have a practical influence upon the minds of his followers. His aim was not properly to convince them that there is a future state, but to exhibit it as an object of hope, as the state in which his promises of perfect and eternal felicity would be performed. There is only one occasion on which we find him reasoning in support of this doctrine, namely, when he was contending with the infidel sect of the Sadducees, who denied the im inortality of the soul ; and even then he did not appeal to the dictates of reason, but to higher authority, the writings of Moses, which they acknowledged to be

* 2 Tim. i. 10.

[ocr errors]


divine. It would not have become him to have spoken of it in a different manner; to have treated it as a matter of speculation ; to have seemed for a moment to admit that the evidence was not complete ; to have entered into a train of argumentation, as the heathen philosophers had done, and Christian Divines still do, in their treatises on Natural Theology. He was the Son of God, who had descended to the earth for the instruction of mankind; and his words were oracles. All his sayings were to be received on his own authority; and, to those who believed that he came from God, his authority was sufficient. The Lord of the invisible world was acquainted with its secrets, and a hint from him was more satisfactory than the pretended discoveries of all the wise and learned.

Now, Jesus Christ has assured us that man has a soul distinct from the body; that it is not annihilated by the stroke which lays the body in the grave; that after its separation it enters upon a new state of being; and that, as those who die in impenitence shall be plunged into darkness and misery, so his faithful followers shall be admitted into the realms of light, and enjoy there everlasting felicity. “I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.” “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go away, I will come again, and receive you to myself, that where I am, there ye may be also.” “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father."

I have laid before you the evidence which reason can produce for the existence of the soul after death, and have shown you that, whatever force may be assigned to it, it is upon the doctrines and promises of the Gospel that the hope of Christians rests.

When we speak of the immortality of the soul in reference to believers, we mean not only the continuance of its consciousness and activity, but its existence in a state of perfection and felicity. As it is subject to imperfection and infirmity to the last hour of life, as the believer, even when he is standing on the verge of the eternal world, is still sinful as well as mortal, a change must take place immediately after its separation from the body, to qualify it for the new state into which it is introduced. This change our Church expresses by its being “made perfect in holiness ;” and it proceeds upon the authority of Scripture, for the souls in heaven are called the spirits of just men made perfect."|

There are different reasons which render the change necessary. First, Although God is pleased in the present state to hold communion with men, who are not perfect, through the mediation of his Son, yet it is his will that every stain of impurity should be removed from those who are admitted into his immediate presence. The inhabitants of the heavenly paradise must be holy, as Adam was in the garden of Eden. The image of their Maker, which was defaced by sin, must be fully restored, and shine with its original lustre, that he may again look with complacency upon the work of his hands.

Were there any remains of sin in heaven, it might seem that his own purity was not absolutely perfect, and that evil might dwell with him; but the complete redemption of the objects of his love from the slighest moral taint, will demonstrate his holiness as well as his goodness. In the place where he is manifested in the full splendour of his infinite excellencies, there is not a corner which is not illuminated. “There shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination or maketh a lie; but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life."I Secondly, Unless the souls of the saints were perfectly pure, they would be unfit for the society into which they are admitted in the other world. Heaven is the original abode of the angels ; but, in consequence of redemption, it is destined to be the habitation also of men,

• John 1. 28. John xiv. 2. Matth. xiii. 34, 43. | Heb. xii. 23. # Rev. xxi. 27.

« VorigeDoorgaan »