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inability to describe these gloriously unspeakable things, as the means of conveying to you exalted ideas of them, and of kindling in your souls more ardent desires after the possession of them. This shall be the subject of the second part of our dis
THE RAPTURE OF ST. PAUL.
2 Cor. xii. 2, 3, 4.
1 knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the
body I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell : God knoweth ;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell : God knoweth ;) how that he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
AVING presented you with some brief elu
cidations of the expressions of the text, namely, 1. respecting the era to which reference is here made; I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago : 2. respecting the manner of his raprure; whether in the body, I cannot tell ; or out of the body, I cannot tell : God knoweth : 3. respecting the place to which St. Paul was caught : Paradise, the third heaven : and 4. respecting what he there saw and heard ; unspeakable words, which it is not lateful for a man to utter : We proceed to,
II. The second general head, namely, to enquire, Whether the silence of scripture, on the subject of a state of future happiness, suggests any thing that has a tendency to cool our ardor in the pursuit of it; or, Whether this very vail, which conceals the paradise of God from our eyes, is not, above all things, calculated to convey the most exalted ideas of it.
We refer the felicity of the blessed in heaven to three general notions. The blessed in heaven possess, 1. Superior illumination : 2. They are prompted by inclinations the most noble and refined : 3. They enjoy the purest sensible pleasures. A de. fect of genius prevents our ability to partake of their illumination : a defect of taste prevents our adopting their inclinations ; a defect of faculty prevents our perception of their pleasures. In these three respects, the celestial felicity is unspeakable : in these three respects, it is not lawful for a man to utter it.
1. The blessed in heaven possess superior illumination: a defect of genius prevents our participation of it.
While we are in this world, we are deficient in many ideas. Properly speaking we have ideas of two kinds only : that of body, and that of spirit. The combination of these two ideas forms all our perceptions, all our speculations, the whole body of our knowledge. And whatever efforts may have been made by certain philosophers to prove that we are acquainted with beings intermediate between mind and matter, they have never been able to persuade others of it, and probably entertained no such persuasion themselves. But if all beings which are within the space of our knowledge be referable to these two ideas, where is the person who is bold enough to affirm that there are in fact,
no others? Where is the man who dares to maintain, that the creation of bodies and that of spirits have exhausted the omnipotence of the Creator? Who shall presume to affirm that this infinite intelligence, to whom the universe is indebted for its existence, could find only two ideas in his treasures?
May it not be possible, that the blessed in heaven have the idea of certain beings which possess no manner of relation to any thing of which we have a conception upon earth? May it not be possible that God impressed this idea on the soul of St. Paul ? May not this be one of the reasons of the impossibility to which he is reduced, of describing what he had seen? For when we speak to other men, we go on the supposition that they have souls similar to our own, endowed with the same faculties, enriched with the same sources of thought. We possess certain signs, certain words, to express our conceptions. We oblige our fellow men to retire within themselves, to follow up their principles, to examine their notions. It is thus we are enabled to communicate our notions to each other. But this is absolutely impracticable with regard to those beings who may be known to the blessed above. There is in this respect no notion in common to us and them. We have no term by which to express them. God himself alone has the power of impressing new ideas on the soul of man. AN that men can do is to render us attentive to those which we already have, and to assist us in unfolding them.
Besides, so long as we are upon the earth, we have but a very imperfect knowledge of the two orders of beings, to which all our knowledge is confined. Our ideas are incomplete. We have only
a very imperfect perception of body, and of spirit. We have,
(1) Very imperfect ideas of body. And without entering, here, into the discussion of the endless metaphysical questions of which the subject admits, and, in order to convey an example of it, brought down to the level of the meanest capacity, the magnitude of bodies, and their smallness, almost equally exceed our comprehension. We begin with forming to ourselves the idea of a portion of matter; we divide it into minute particles; we reduce it to powder, till the particles become entirely imperceptible to our senses. When the senses fail, we have recourse to imagination. We sub-divide, in imagination, that same portion of matter, particle after particle, till it is reduced to such a degree of minuteness, as to escape imagination, as it had eluded the senses. After the senses and the imagination have been stretched to the uttermost, we call in thought to our aid : we consult the idea which we have of matter; we subject it to a new sub-division in thought. Thought transcends imagination and the senses. But after having pursued it to a certain point, we find thought absorbed in its turn, and we feel ourselves equally lost, whether we are disposed to admit an infinite progression in this division, or whether we are disposed to stop at a certain determinate point.
What we have said of the smallness of bodies, holds equally true of their immensity of magnitude. We are able, with the help of the senses, of the imagination, and of thought, to increase a mass of matter, to suppose it still greater, to conceive it still exceeding the former magnitude. But after we have acted, imagined, reflected; and, after we have risen in thought to a certain degree of extension, were we disposed to go on to the concep