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LIFE AND IMMORTALITY REVEALED IN THE GOSPEL.
2 TIM. I. 10. And hath brought life and immortality to light by the gospel.*
So extensive have been the havoc and devastation which death has made in the world for near six thousand years, ever since it was first introduced by the sin of man, that this earth is now become one vast grave-yard, or burying-place for her sons. The many generations that have followed upon each other, in so quick a succession from Adam to this day, are now in the mansions under ground. And there must we and all the present generation sleep ere long. Some make a sort of journey from the womb to the grave: they rise from nothing at the creative fiat of the Almighty, and take an immediate flight into the world of spirits, without an intermediate state of probation. Like a bird on the wing, they perch on our globe, rest a day, a month, or a year, and then fly off for some other regions. It is evident, these were not formed for the purposes of the present state, where they make so short a stay; and yet we are sure they are not made in vain by an all-wise Creator; and there
This Sermon was preached at the funeral of Mr. William Yuille, and is dated Sept. 1, 1756.
fore we conclude they are young immortals, that immediately ripen in the world of spirits, and there enter upon scenes, for which it was worth their while coming into existence. Others spring up and bloom for a few years; but they fade away like a flower, and are cut down. Others arrive at the prime or meridian of human life; but in all their strength and gaiety, and amid their hurries and schemes, and promising prospects, they are surprised by the arrest of death, and laid stiff, senseless, and ghastly in the grave. A few creep into their beds of dust under the burden of old age and the gradual decays of nature. In short, the grave is the place appointed for all living; the general rendezvous of all the sons of Adam. There the prince and the beggar, the conqueror and the slave, the giant and the infant, the scheming politician and the simple peasant, the wise and the fool, Heathens, Jews, Mahometans, and Christians, all lie equally low, and mingle their dust without distinction. Their beauty in all its charms putrifies into stench and corruption, and feeds the vilest insects. There the sturdy arm of youth lies torpid and benumbed, unable to drive off the worms that crawl through their frame, and riot upon their marrow. There lie our ancestors, our neighbors, our friends, our relatives, with whom we once conversed, and who were united to our hearts by strong and endearing ties; and there lies our friend, and sprightly vigorous youth, whose death is the occasion of this funeral solemnity. This earth is overspread with the ruins of the human frame: it is a huge carnage, a vast charnel-house, undermined and hollowed with the graves, the last mansions of mortals.
And shall these ruins of time and death never be repaired? Is this the final state of human nature? Are all these millions of creatures, that were so curiously formed, that could think, and will, and exercise the superior powers of reason, are they all utterly extinct, absorbed into the yawning gulf of annihilation, and never again to emerge into life and activity? If this be the case, the expostulation of the psalmist upon this supposition, seems unavoidable; Lord, wherefore hast thou made all men in vain? Psalm lxxxix. 47. It was not worth while to come into being, if it must be resigned so soon. The
powers of reason were thrown away upon us, they were given only for low purposes of the present life.
But my text revives us with heavenly light to scatter this tremendous gloom. Jesus hath abolished death, overthrown its empire, and delivered its captives; and he hath brought life and immortality to light by the gospel.
Life and immortality here seem to refer both to the soul and the body, the two constituents of our person. As applied to the body, life and immortality signify, that though our bodies are dissolved at death, and return into their native elements, yet they shall be formed anew with vast improvements, and raised to an immortal existence; so that they shall be as though death never had had any power over them; and thus death shall be abolished, annihilated, and all traces of the ruins it had made for ever disappear, as though they had never been. It is in this sense chiefly that the word Immortality or Incorruptibility,* is made use of in my text. But then the resurrection of the body supposes the perpetual existence of the soul, for whose sake it is raised: therefore life and immortality, as referring to the soul, signify that it is immortal, in a strict and proper sense; that is, that it cannot die at all, or be dissolved like the body; but it lives in the agonies of the dying animal; it lives after the dissolution of the animal frame in a separate state; it lives at the resurrection to re-animate the new formed body; and it lives for ever, like its mortal parent, and shall never be dissolved nor annihilated. În this complex sense we may understand the immortality of which my text speaks.
Now it is to the gospel that we owe the clear discovery of immortality in both these senses. As for the resurrection of the dead, which confers a kind of immortality upon our mortal bodies, it is altogether the discovery of divine revelation. The light of nature could not so much as give a hint of it to the most sagacious philosophers in the heathen world. They did not hope for it as possible, much less believe it as certain. And when, among other important doctrines of pure revelation, it was first preached to them by St. Paul, their pride could not bear the mortification of being taught by a tent
maker what all their studies had not been able to dis cover; and therefore rejected it with scorn, and ridiculed it as a new-fangled notion of the superstitious Jews. This seems to have been an entire secret to all nations, (except the Jews,) till the light of Christianity dawned upon the world. They bade an eternal farewell to their bodies, when they dropped them in the grave. They never expected to meet them again in all the glorious improvements of a happy resurrection. But that divine. revelation from whence we learn our religion, opens to us a brighter prospect; it strengthens our eyes to look forward through the glooms of death, and behold the many that sleep in the dust awaking; "some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt: " Dan. xii. 2. It assures us, "that the hour is coming, when all that are in the grave shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and shall come forth; they that have done good, to the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, to the resurrection of damnation : John v. 28. Therefore, be it known unto thee, O Death, thou king of terrors, that though we cannot now resist thy power nor escape thy arrest, yet we do not surrender ourselves to thee as helpless, irredeemable prisoners. We shall yet burst thy bonds, and obtain the victory over thee. And when we commit the dust of our friends or our own to thee, O grave! know, it is a trust deposited in thy custody, to be faithfully kept till called for by Him who was once a prisoner in thy territories, but regained his liberty, and triumphed over thee, and put that song of victory into the mouths of all his followers, O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 1 Cor. xv. 55.
As for the immortality of the soul, Christian philosophers find it no difficulty to establish it upon the plain principles of reason. Their arguments are such as these, and I think they are conclusive: That the soul is an im material substance, and therefore cannot perish by dissolution, like the body; that the soul is a substance distinct from the body, and therefore the dissolution of the body has no more tendency to destroy the soul, than the breaking of a cage to destroy the bird enclosed in it; that God has implanted in the soul the innate desire of immortality; and that as the tendencies of nature in
other instances and in other creatures, are not in vain, this innate desire is an indication that he intended it for an immortal duration; that, as God is the moral Governor of the rational world, there must be rewards and punishments, and therefore there must be a future state of retribution; for we see mankind are now under a promiscuous providence, and generally are not dealt with according to their works; and if there be a future state of retribution, the soul must live in a future state, otherwise it could not be the subject of rewards and punishments. These and the like topics of argument have been improved by the friends of immortality, to prove that important doctrine beyond all reasonable suspicion. And because these arguments from reason seem suffi cient, some would conclude, that we are not at all obliged to the Christian revelation in this respect. But it should be considered, that those are not the arguments of the populace, the bulk of mankind, but of a few philosophic studious men. But as immortality is the prerogative of all mankind, of the ignorant and illiterate, as well as of the wise and learned, all mankind, of all ranks of understanding, are equally concerned in the doctrine of immor. tality; and therefore a common revelation was neces sary, which would teach the ploughman and mechanic, as well as the philosopher, that he was formed for an immortal existence, and, consequently, that it is his grand concern to fit himself for a happiness beyond the grave, as lasting as his nature. Now, it is the gospel alone that makes this important discovery plain and obvious to all. It must also be considered, that men may be able to demonstrate a truth when the hint is but once given, which they would never have discovered, nor perhaps suspected, without that hint. So when the gospel of Christ has brought immortality to light, our Christian philosophers may support it with arguments from reason; but had they been destitute of this additional light, they would have been lost in perplexity and uncertainty, or at best have been advanced to no farther than plausible or probable conjectures. Persons may be assisted in their searches by the light of revelation; but, being accustomed to it, they may mistake it for the light of their own reason; or they may not be so honest and humble as to acknowledge the assistance they have received.