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2 TIMOTHY I. 10.
-who hath abolished death, and brought life
and immortality to light through the gospel. THESE words form part of an Epistle written by the great apostle of the Gentiles at a time when he stood in need of all the consolations to be derived from the doctrine which they convey; when he was suffering from imprisonment and persecution, and he perceived that the hour of his martyrdom was approaching. Rejoicing in the hopes which they inspired, he declared that he was afflicted, and yet was not ashamed; and looking forward to his reward, he exclaims in a subsequent part of the Epistle, I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith : henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me. Language so full of confidence in his reward and in the grounds of it, so full of trust in the righteous Judge who was to confer it, as plainly to prove that the power of death
was indeed abolished, and that life and immortality were brought to light.
Yet these expressions of my text, putio avτες ζωής και αφθαρσίαν, however strong they may appear, are not to be considered as implying that the expectation of a future life had never been heard of till the coming of the Messiah. In its literal acceptation the word pwriter signifies rather to make clear what is obscure, than to bring to light what is entirely unknown: thus pwri(Elv ármbesav, to make the truth manifest, and not to shew forth a truth of which no glimmering had previously been perceived. The heathen looked forward to a future state, though he had no certain evidence for his belief, neither comprehending clearly the immortality of the soul, nor having any notion of the resurrection of the body a. And the Jew was instructed by revelation, that the life forfeited by the transgression of Adam was to be restored through the mediation of some future deliverer, though all the circumstances connected with the
a The word &pedpolav, incorruption, probably conveys this meaning. Macknight and Benson.
mystery of redemption were not to be fully revealed, till our Saviour's appearance and ministry upon earth dispelled every doubt and difficulty in which the doctrine was involved, enlightening what was before obscure, and completing what was before imperfect.
It will be my object in the present discourse, to compare the knowledge both of the Gentiles and the Jewish people, respecting a future life, with the clearer revelations which Christians enjoy on this momentous subject.
That the idea of another state of exist. ence after the termination of the present universally prevailed among mankind, the records of history unequivocally prove : there is no nation, whether savage or civilized, amongst whom some traces of it
may not be found. It made a part of the popular belief in the early stages of society, before mythology was formed into a system; it was strongly, impressed upon the mind before political codes gave a particular direction to it by ceremonies and modes of worship, and before philosophy exhibited alike the power and the weakness of human reason, by the subtlety of its speculations on a subject of such overpowering interest. This conviction cannot be ascribed to the policy of the legislator, which was itself the foundation on which his religious enactments were erected, nor yet to the wisdom of the philosopher, which prevailed for ages before philosophy took its rise among mankind. It was probably a remnant of that early revelation given to our first parents, and which, amid all the changes and distractions of civil society, and all the emigrations of tribes and nations, had never been utterly obscured. But in process of time, when civilization had advanced, men’s ideas respecting both the nature of the Deity and the doctrine of a future state had been corrupted; gods were multiplied without number, the li
b The notion of a future existence must be either a deduction of reason, or be derived from revelation, or an impression of instinctive consciousness.
c The treatise, Ilepi xóovou, ascribed to Aristotle, speaks of the Deity as one, and derives the different names of God from the different parts of nature which he regulates. Aristot. Tepi xóo you, cap. 7.
centious passions of the most licentious men were ascribed to them, and the belief of a future existence was intermingled with the wildest creations of the fancy. All these notions were at length combined into order by the poet, and sanctioned by the legislatord; vices of the most atrocious kind were countenanced by the example of the divinities, and the authority of the laws, and the obligations of mistaken piety and public duty, lent in some cases additional stimulus to the depraved appetites of our nature. Yet notwithstanding this perni
Hesiod and Homer reduced to system the mythology of the Grecian gods. Vid. Herod. lib. i. c. 53. Brucker, Hist. Crit. Phil. pars ii. lib. i. cap. 1. sect. 26. 31. pp. 407. 423. In process of time, not only all the operations of
external nature were explored for deities, but the most trifling acts of man himself were each under the superintendance of a particular god. Vide a singular chapter, Augustin. Civ. Dei, lib. iv. c. 11. ..d It is because the weakness and licentiousness of Jove and the other deities, as described by Homer, furnished a bad example to mankind, that Plato wished to banish poets from his republic. Plato de Repub. lib. iii. Bekker, pars iïi. vol. i. p. 107–117.
e The worship of Mylitta, the Babylonian goddess, is frequently cited as a preeminent instance of pagan im