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Him who sees the possibility “that the spirit should fail before him, and the souls which he has made," Isaiah lvii, 16.
And from whence can reason infer how long it is the will of God to prolong the existence of the human soul ? That he has designed it for an eternal, or even for a future state of existence, cannot be inferred from its nature, the growth of its faculties, its abhorrence of annihilation, or its desire of existence. By the nature of the soul, I mean its immateriality. But reason does not uniformly perceive that it is immaterial. Who can argue with greater precision than the Socinians? Yet many of them are thos roughly convinced that their souls are no other than mere matter. These cannot argue that, because the human soul is immaterial, it is immortal. All their hope is the resurrection of the body. But suppose the soul to be spirit, and that some philosophers are aware that a spirit is immaterial; can it be fairly and confidently affirmed that it is therefore immortal ? Its immateriality renders it impos. sible that it should be destroyed by a dissolution of its parts ; for that which is immaterial has no parts. But how does it appear that there is no method of annihilation, but dissolution ? Because the soul cannot perish by the same means by which the body dies, does it follow that it is 'immortal ? The immortality of the soul cannot be inferred from the growth of its faculties. We see human bodies in a state of progressive improvement till they arrive at a certain point, beyond which they speedily decline, and sooner or later perish. And how shall we ascertain that there is not a fixed point, beyond which the human mind is incapable of improvement; a zenith which it passes, and then makes haste to set in darkness ? Its abhorrence of annihilation, and its desire of perpetual exist. ence, cannot prove to us its endless duration. In truth, the abhorrence of annihilation, and the desire of immor. tality, are neither so universal, nor so uniform, as those who triumph in the argument adduced from them assume. But if they were universal and uniform, they, in this case, prove nothing. How many evils which we abhor, befall us! and how few of our desires are gratified! Who would infer that he should never want, because he shrinks at the thought of poverty? or that he shall one day be a king,
because his head itches for a diadem ? This argument would just as well convince us of the immortality of the body, as of that of the soul.
Again : reason cannot assure us of the future resur. rection of the body. The heathens did not place this hope of the Christian even among probabilities; nay, some of them thought it impossible. “God," says Pliny, s cannot do all things, neither recall the dead, nor make mortal creatures immortal.” Hence, when St. Paul preached to the Stoics and Epicureans at Athens, they treated him as “a setter-forth of new gods, because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection ;” and would hear no more from one who could be guilty of mentioning such an absurdity. And who can wonder at the error of those who “knew not the Scriptures, neither the power of God?” Which of us has seen a dead body revive ? What is there left in a rotten carcass, the dust of which is scattered before the winds of heaven, to lead us to look for a resuscitation ? “ Can these dry bones live? Lord, thou knowest.” And who beside knows, unless the Lord of life have been pleased to give some intimation of his purpose ? We can indeed reason on this subject from analogy. We see that day uniformly follows night; and therefore argue that the night of death may be followed by the morning of a resurrection ? Very true; it may; but is it evident from hence that it shall ? Might not one, with equal propriety, attempt in this way to prove an end. less succession of sleeping and waking, of dying and re. viving? Again : every spring produces a resurrection in the vegetable world, from whence some men of great name infer that there will at length be a resurrection in the ani. mal world; and the apostle's allusion to a grain of wheat, which " is not quickened except it die,” is thought to give countenance to the argument, and to prove its validity. Now, not to say that it is but a lame argument which wants a proof to support it, is it not plain that St. Paul makes use of that allusion, not to demonstrate, but to illustrate a future resurrection ? If it be an argument, the fol. lowing is well adapted to destroy it. “There is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease: though the root thereof was old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in
the ground; yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant. But man dieth, and wasteth away ; yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?”
Now if it is impossible for human reason to decide on a future state of existence, or to point out the term of that exis ce, it cannot determine the duration of the future punishment of the wicked. To say nothing of the partiality of a man in his own cause, or of the unwillingness of a criminal to sign his own death warrant, it is not possible for him, however he may be disposed, to assign the nature and duration of the punishment which he has deserved. To do this, he must “ know the Almighty to perfection.” He must be able to discern, as well as willing to acknowledge, what is due from the intelligent and accountable creatures of God, to the Divine majesty, purity, justice, and goodness. Unless he can comprehend thus much, he has no data on which to ground his decision of this important question, and must therefore refer it to that Gospel in which “ the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.”
Should that knowledge of Divine things which, after all, the wiser heathens confessedly possessed, render it doubtful whether reason be so inadequate to the attain. ment of it as has been represented, it will be necessary to add that they enjoyed the partial and imperfect light of a remote revelation. The patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had frequent Divine communications; and Joseph, who indubitably learned much from his progenitors, was no stranger to them. While the latter reigned in Egypt, much valuable light would be diffused among the inhabitants of that country. The Egyptians would make considerable improvement in Divine knowledge during the captivity of Israel, and not a little by the mi. raculous deliverance. The Greeks studied wisdom in Egypt, and afterward imparted it to the Romans. As the Israelites were appointed the “ witnesses” of Jehovah, some small measure of Divine knowledge emanated from them, and was shed on the nations more immediately surrounding them. Thus it was that the sages of anti. quity obtained, not from reason, but from revelation, their best maxims and their most valuable knowledge.
And thus “ every good and perfect gift” may be traced up to “ the Father of lights.”
It will very probably be objected that the Scriptures refer us to the works of God, and that from those works we may learn the knowledge of God, and be led by the creatures to the Creator.
When God has declared himself to men, he justly appeals to his works as vouchers for the character which he has given of himself, and of the wisdom, power, and good. ness, in which he would teach them to trust. But unless the idea of a God lead mankind to consider the creatures as the works of his hands, his works would never lead them to him. is not by reason, but “ by faith, we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God," Heb. xi, 3. To make appeals to the works of God, as independent proofs of his existence, among those to whom a verbal revelation was addressed, were un. necessary. That the Old Testament is full of appeals to the works of God, is too obvious to be called in ques. tion. But on close examination, the true reason for those appeals will be found to be this : the nations who surrounded the Israelites were, without exception, worshippers of idols; and the God of Israel wished to be distin. guished from all the objects of their worship as “ Jehovah, who made the heavens, and the earth, and all things therein.” · On this account, the Jews were taught to sing, “ The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handy work.”
It may be worth while, however, to spend a moment in the consideration of one part of the New Testament, in which it is generally supposed that St. Paul appeals to the works of God as proofs of the being of God. The passage alluded to, which we will examine as we proceed, is the following :-" That which may be known of God is manifest in (or among) them (the Gentiles ;) for God hath showed it unto them.” Here we see that God hath given to them some knowledge of himself. He had not left them to the instructions of unassisted reason. 6 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world (i. e., from the beginning) are clearly seen, being understood (not demonstrated by the things that are made, even (not his existence, but) his eternal power and godhead, so that
they are without excuse. Because that (instead of find. ing out God when they knew him not) when they knew God they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools ; and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.” And thus the things that are made, and from which the eternal power and godhead of Him who had showed him. self to them might have been reflected, were by these professors of wisdom made the objects of their worship. Instead of leading them to him, they had led them wholly
away from him.
CHAPTER II. On the Impropriety of making Human Reason the Test of
the Doctrines of Divine Revelation, HAVING removed the rotten foundation of Socinianism, we may now, at our leisure, pile up and burn the “wood, hay, and stubble,” which have been built upon it. The unreasonable pretensions which are erected on Mr. Go's first position, are as follows :
“ To what end was reason given ? Precisely, that it might be the rule of life; the helm by which we must steer our course across the tempestuous billows of mor. tality; the touchstone of every doctrine ; the supreme umpire in every difficulty and doubt. •Try the spirits, says the Apostle John, try their doctrines, whether they be of God.' By what are they to be tried, unless reason in
every instance is to be the judge ?” (Sermon on Chris. tianity an Intellectual and Individual Religion, p. 10.)
When Mr. G. says that reason is the helm by which we are to steer, the supreme umpire in every difficulty and doubt, and the judge in every trial, he has hit the truth more “precisely” than he perhaps intended. But this grave judge wants a touchstone ; this supreme umpire wants a rule by which infallibly to decide. A helm is certainly a necessary thing for steering a ship, whether “ across the tempestuous billows," or before