« PreviousContinue »
writers, who nevertheless seem all to have believed that they would not be gathered to their fathers in the grave, but that the freed soul few to the general mansion of spirits (sheol as they named it) where those of their ancestors were assembled in the custody of God, to wait the time of their liberation—the day of judgment and of redemption.
A writer so eminent as Mr. Rose should consider the influence of his example (unless he really means to inculcate the sleep of the soul) and of the tendency which such views may have on the minds of others. If the grave be a place where all which is now in us, and forms the living man, is to find a long and dreary night in death, out of which the last trumpet only can awaken us, the best Christian who entertains such an idea must shrink from death with shuddering. It is little excuse or explanation to say, that only the body is meant (if Mr. Rose merely does so) for an author's meaning can only be gathered from his words, and his expressions make no such limitations, but speak of the whole man together as in death indifferent to and unconscious of all which is passing on earth, or any where else, (for universe is the word used) and not in a state to enjoy the information that the whole inhabitants of this world had become sincere Christians. Even if the body alone is alluded to, such a style is improper :-unquestionably, the body while in the grave knows nothing, and is indifferent to all which is done under the sun; but even in life, the external senses of the body only received and conveyed to the soul as mere instruments, what was to be seen, or heard, or felt; and the body itself, while alive, neither thought nor perceived. It was the soul which it held, that did this, and it still lives while the body is no longer a body; with probably even superior powers of perception to those which it had while alive, else natural instinct has been implanted in all nations to deceive,-the tradition of every age is founded in error,-many passages in Scripture have been written to lead us into a mistaken belief, or to keep us in ignorance on a material point; yet often referred to, and although the
Church has embodied it in her articles of belief and in her services, yet we should not give credit to it!
Do those who expect to hear nothing when the body is dead, because they cannot do it through “the dull cold ear of death,” or see nothing because they cannot do it through the sightless eye of the grave, think that St. Paul, when he spoke of what his soul was to experience when absent from the body, alluded only to the joys of heaven or after the resurrection, when he shall not be absent from the body, do they believe it impossible for the soul to hear or see but solely by means of the eyes and ears of the body? Can they insist on us to credit that this Apostle, who panted to be in the separate state, and which he plainly thought would prove of such an immediate advantage to him (else his wish was not consistent with common sense) is still insensible and indifferent whether his Master's kingdom shall be acknowledged by all the world ? and although he cannot himself see or hear what is doing upon earth, must we infer, that he therefore knows nothing about it, when thousands of Christian souls are daily leaving this world to be where he is residing ? Immediate intelligence is conveyed, even to where the holy angels abide, of what is doing here ; if a sinner repent and is forgiven, they know it soon after, and rejoice : —now, their place is most probably farther from the earth than Hades, the residence of departed souls ; at any rate, certainly not nearer, and we believe that there is a constant communication between the earth and heaven, by means of angels, or spiritual beings. The Bible records many of their missions,—their goings and returnings. St. Paul also tells us that we are encompassed with a great number of witnesses,* which seems to allude to unseen beings of a superior order to ourselves, who may observe our conduct, and be ready to carry our souls to their appointed place until the day of judgment. As there is an entire belief among some that the soul does actually sleep insensibly after death, distinctness is very necessary, in order to show a contrary opinion, where it is entertained, and we ought not now to be left to suppose a meaning different from what the words most plainly convey
lleb. xii. 1.
From an anxious wish to counteract such feelings regarding the dead under many of the different ways in which these misleading conceptions of death are expressed, and to show unsoundness in them all, I may be held by some to have noticed too many instances; but such remarks as the present are so unusual, and these modes of expression have so strong a tendency to foster desponding ideas, that they cannot be too forcibly exposed in their various guise. One example could not have afforded sufficient scope for establishing another better and more consoling train of thought on this subject.
How much more correct than Mr. Rose's mode of speaking of the dead, is the idea of the departed as conveyed by the language of Dr. Watts, in his Discourse on the death of Sir John Hartopp.—“Doubtless the spirits of the just in heaven * are not utterly unacquainted with the affairs of the kingdom of Christ on earth. He rejoices and will rejoice among his fellow-saints when happy tidings of the militant church, or of the religious interests of Great Britain, are brought to the upper world by ministering angels. He waits for the full accomplishment of all the promises of Christ to his Church.”
* From other passages, it is plain that Dr. Watts must here mean merely a happy or heavenly mansion for disembodied souls, but not the highest heaven, that region in which we are to have our eternal abode.
The nature of Soul and Body considered.
“Those who believe that death does not put an end to their being, but only re
moves them out of this body which rots in the grave, while their souls survive, live, and act, and may be happy in a separate state, should carefully consider this distinction between soul and body, which would teach them a most divine and heavenly wisdom.”
Sherlock's Discourse on Death, Chap. I. sect. 2.
Before proceeding to direct our exclusive attention to the state of our spirits after death, and to the region where they retire to their rest after the cares of life on earth, it will be proper, in the first place, to inquire into the nature of soul and body, their connexion and dependence on each other; and whether, from what we can discover, it appear possible or probable, that the soul can subsist as a conscious Being without its earthly body, or if this is a truth revealed to us by Holy Writ.
We have an instinctive assurance within us, whether we listen to it or not, that our spirits will so continue able to exercise all their mental powers in another region after death; and, generally speaking, all the nations of the earth have always believed in its dictates. Here, if ever, the voice of Nature may be considered as the voice of God. A few individual philosophers, wishing to show themselves wiser on this point than their fellow mortals, have with acknowledged difficulty persuaded themselves, first to doubt and then to
disbelieve in a continued consciousness of the soul after the body falls, because philosophy cannot absolutely prove to demonstration either this or a future immortality; to begin, as some still suppose, only at the last day,-for, if the soul is to be senseless during the dissolution of the body, immortality could not be said to begin until the resurrection. They have been followed by those who are contented to let others inquire into and decide on this most important question, and from living as if they were never to die, or had no hopes of happiness hereafter, but every thing to dread, they believe what they wish to be true, -either in annihilation, or, if they have not been able to bring themselves to this pitch of infidel philosophic wisdom, then they hope for at least a long insensible sleep in the grave.
On the importance of this inquiry, I may quote the words of the Rer. Mr. Huntingford, who is of opinion that "no study can be more proper, none more interesting to an intellectual being than that, of which it is the object to render him as well acquainted as possible with his own nature and ultimate destination. Accordingly we find, as might have been expected, that from very early times, men of the highest attainments have applied to the investigation of this subject all the powers of mind by which they were distinguish
It is the general opinion that there is some distinct power called the soul, which resides in our corporeal frames when alive,—which directs all the motions of the body,our loves, our hatreds,mour speech, &c.—that this power or being, both in ourselves and in others, is invisible to our mortal eyes; not made up of parts in any degree like the body, and therefore not liable to be dissolved or die ; that consciousness is necessary to its existence, and therefore cannot be disunited from it. There is no savage nation so ignorant as not to expect some future life ; on which notion, indeed, is founded
Introduction to "Testimonies in proof of the separate existence of the