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St. John saw in the spirit the future destinies of the Church of Christ; and thus describes, for the consolation of such as should suffer persecution for the sake of their faith, the situation of the blessed martyrs in the mansions of peace. “I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge, and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given to every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow-servants also, and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.” (Rev. vi. 9—11.)
Not presuming to fix upon the particular epocha when this prophecy was accomplished, (though it be generally supposed to refer to the persecution under Diocletian, A. D. 284), I shall content myself with observing that St. John saw the souls of the martyrs whose blood had been shed for the word of God. These separate spirits were “under the altar," as sacrifices newly slain, and offered to God. The allar represents our blessed Redeemer (Heb. xi. 10,) at whose feet these disembodied souls are placed, to intimate to us, that they were accepted through the mediation of Christ; for it is the altar, we read, which sanctifieth the gift. (Matt. xxiii. 19.) These souls were solicitous for the overthrow of the powers of darkness, and the triumph of the kingdom of God; they cried aloud, therefore, to the Lord to avenge their cause, thenceforth expecting till the enemies of Christ should be made his footstool. It is worthy of observation, that " white robes" were given to them as an emblem of their purity, actual and imputed, and that they were placed at the same time in a state of “rest;" (" they should rest yet for a little season ;') and that this scene is exhibited as taking place in the interim between death and the general resurrection, for they speak of persons then “ dwelling on the earth.” At the day of judgment the earth shall depart as a scroll : and these separate spirits could not be said to be clothed with white robes before their dissolution, since those vestures are the reward only of those who have triumphantly waged the fight of faith. “ He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed with white raiment.” (Rev. ii. 5.)
Here, then, we have the souls of departed saints, not reduced to nonentities, not buried in the stupor of insensibility, but exerting the faculties of reason, and holding intercourse with the Father of Spirits, and dignified with a peculiar mark of celestial favour, and comforted by the privilege of rest; of which they had moreover the assurance, that they should continue to enjoy it, till the final purposes of God should be fulfilled with regard to their fellow martyrs, and they should be permitted at last to exchange the anticipations of hope for the certainty of fruition! Still further, we appeal to the testimony of St. John:-“ I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, from henceforth : yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them. (Rev. xiv. 13.) Who will venture to assert, that disembodied spirits are extinct? The infallible wisdom of God
VOL. XI. NO. I.
pronounces them “blessed.” Who will maintain the insensibility of departed souls? The infallible wisdom of God tells us, that “they rest from their labours," and that “ their works,” by way of reward, “ do follow them." Is blessedness predicable of nonentities ? Is insensibility compatible with consciousness of rest, and with the enjoyment of the recompense of previous works? The blessedness here spoken of is the immediate consequence of death : “ blessed are,"—who ? not those, who shall be raised again, -not those, who are yet upon earth ; but “ the dead." And this blessedness is twofold; it comprises exemption from labour and pain, and also the comfort which arises from their previous good deeds : for their works do follow them, to receive the reward which God has promised to " them that obey him.” (Heb. v. 9.) When this bliss is assigned exclusively to such as “ die in the Lord,” that another fate awaits the ungodly is an unavoidable conclusion. It is, indeed, a fearful verity, which the Scriptures impress upon us with singular solemnity. As the works of the righteous follow them, being their ground of comfort, and their basis of hope through Christ, their light, their refreshment, and their joy ; so, alas! the works of the wicked shall pursue them! Their graceless habits, — their evil passions,—their horrible anticipations of wrath, — their conscious forebodings, and their present pangs,-their flat despair, and their mutual criminations, - teach them to antedate the miseries of their final doom in that sorrowful prison, “ where shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. viii. 12.) “The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding, shall remain in the congregation of the dead." (Prov. xxi. 16.) “ In Hebrew it is,- he shall remain with the giants, who more especially provoked God to bring the flood upon the earth. They are also noted as the first inhabitants of hell; therefore from them the place of torments takes its name ; and the damned are said to remain in the place of giants."* Our Redeemer hath told us, that they who are of this world, “die in their sins." (John viii. 24.) Though the act of sin be transient, the guilt of sin is permanent, and “the transgressions of our youth lie down with us in the dust.” (Job xx. 2.) The bodiless spirits of the reprobate are a torment to themselves: they feel what they are; they know what they might have been ; they dread what they shall be! “ If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” (1 John iii. 20.) And if “ the Spirit of God,” even in this life,“ bear witness with our spirit," and testify of our adoption by Him; if conscience now acquit the pious, and condemn the impious ; it is easy to believe that the same spirit may impress its seal upon a reprobate soul, when stript of its fleshly covering ; partly, by a clearer manifestation of God's wrath ; and, partly, by the hostile invasion of evil spirits; for “ as good angels, which minister to holy souls, when in the body, will naturally resort and minister to them, when they are out of it; so is there little reason to doubt, that the evil spirits, which tempted and inflamed wicked souls in this life, will be ready
• See Flavel's Treatise of the Soul of Man, p. 598.
ul of the ciousness feel there written i. 1.),
to seize and carry away the helpless wretches, as soon as they step into another."*
Deprive the soul of the power of thought, and the faculty of memory; destroy its consciousness; bury it in sleep; reduce it to nothing; and then it shall cease to feel the guilt of sin, and to read the dark catalogue of its offences, however written with “a pen of iron," or with “ the point of a diamond." (Jer. xvii. 1.) But, as the soul is indestructible by death, and nerer perishes; in its separation from the body it retains the conscious energies of life, and is " translated to that place, and unto that society, which God, of his mercy, or justice, allotted to it." For “ there are two societies of souls after death; one of them, which are happy in the presence of God; the other of those, which are left in their sins, and tormented for them. Thus we conceive the righteous Abel, the first man placed in this happiness, and the souls of them that departed in the same faith, to be gathered to him. Whosoever it was of the sons of Adam, which first died in his sins, was put in a place of torment; and the souls of all those, which departed after with the wrath of God upon them, were gathered into his sad society.”+
Such is the multifold evidence from Scripture to the truth of the hypothesis, which I have unfolded, relative to the state of disembodied spirits. Thus “ shall the dust return to the earth, as it was; and the spirit shall return unto God, who gave it !” For whether we consult the records of the Old Testament, or investigate the pages of the New; whether we read the infallible declarations of heaven, as handed down to us by Moses, or by Job; by the sweet Singer of Israel, or by her inspired prophets ; by the apostles of our Lord, or by Him, who was the embodied Wisdom of God; whether we weigh the accurate and distinct account of the first creation of man, or review the issue of his analysis at the hour of death; whether we search into the simple nature of the incorruptible soul of man, unaffected and unharmed by the dissolution of its associated body, and count the everlasting promises, of which it is made the imperishable subject; or peruse the instructive parables of our Saviour; or seek conviction in his memorable confutation of the Sadducees; or remember the fate of the rich man and Lazarus; or visit Mount Tabor, where our Lord was transfigured; or listen to his conversation with the sister of Lazarus ; or ascend the hill of Calvary, and hear his consolatory promise to the penitent thief; or read how anxiously St. Paul anticipated the happy day of his departure hence, that he might be with Christ; or enter the abode of the spirits of just men made perfect; or descend with our Redeemer into the mansions of the departed; or attend to the earnest prayer of the martyrs, whom St. John saw under the altar ; whether we remember how Elisha caused the spirit of the Shunamite's child to come into him again ; or travel with the disconsolate monarch to the witch of Endor ; or see Lazarus starting from the tomb; or be caught up to the third heaven with the favoured Apostle of the Gentiles; or treasure up in our
# Vide Lucas's Sermons.
minds the form of language, in which our Redeemer, and the first blessed martyr committed their departing spirits into the hands of their heavenly Father; whether we examine the promises made to the righteous in their state of “ deadlihood,” or the menaces made to the souls of the wicked ; whether, in short, we ponder the phraseology, the historical narratives, the prophetical declarations, the parabolical representations, or the argumentative portions of Holy Writ, we arrive at the same conclusion, that the soul, immediately after the death of the body, is not in a state of sleep, or insensibility, but of happiness, or misery, in the mansion awarded by the mercy, or allotted by the justice of God!
The conclusion, at which we have thus arrived, is equally consolatory and instructive. Its moral uses are equally evident, and momentous !
1. If this be the probable destiny of our disembodied spirits, the king on his pale horse, to whom all our life-time we have been in bondage, is stript of his frightful mask, and disrobed of his terrors ! However dark the passage from this world to the next, we may pass undaunted through its valley, and “ fear no evil." Losing no portion of our intellectual life, we shall change, indeed, the place and the manner of our existence; but our liberated souls, like a bird escaped from the snare of the fowler, shall seek their native skies, and forthwith enter upon a new scene, and traverse unexplored regions, stript of the earthy matter which “pressed them down,” and blest with enlarged capacities of joy! In this glorious prospect, let us not weep as those who have no hope! The cold grave, and the damp vault, – the mournful shroud, and the rigid corpse,- affect indeed the hearts of surviving friends; but the dead feel them not: and the nobler part of humanity, though worms destroy the body, to which it was sometime attached, is imperishable, and secure in the custody of the mighty Being, “ who hath the keys of hell and of death." (Rev, i. 18.)
2. If our spirits be destined to survive our bodies, we know which is our better part, and where, consequently, we should bestow our chief attention. If in Hades we be fated to live without these fleshly tabernacles, let us, as far as we can, live without them now. Let us begin to be here what we must expect to be hereafter! Let us be spiritually minded, and set our affections on things above! Let us break loose from the magic circle in which we lie enchanted, and dash from our lips the Circèan cup, which would make us regardless equally of our present dignity, and our future hopes! Let us accustom our meditations to a life of separation from the body : and when in the conflict, to which we are summoned against the allurements of the world, and the lusts of the flesh, our hopes deferred make our hearts sick, and our patience becomes wearied by looking for the Son of God, who delayeth his coming ; let us consider that our life is hid with God in Christ, and that our reward is at no greater distance from us than our death, which will release us from the troubles of our warfare, and place us in the bosom of Abraham for ever!
3. If this be the destiny of our souls, how excellent and dignified is their nature ! “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul ?" The consideration of the topic, to which the reader has been invited, shows us the little distance between our race and our reward. So soon as the one shall cease, the other shall begin! It is death that crowns the righteous with a wreath of victory! Death itself doth open the door to everlasting life : and though his visage be pale, and his hands be cold, and his voice be sepulchral; when he bids us sit down with Abraham at the feast which God hath prepared for the guests of heaven, the sure hope of everlasting bliss gives a colour to the first, a warmth to the second, and a melody to the third, not their own! We welcome with pious ecstacy his friendly embrace, and cry out, in the exultant language of the Apostle, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Cor. xv. 55.)
4. If the consideration of the state of disembodied spirits be thus competent to animate the righteous, let us ask, what effect it ought to have upon the wicked? They too shall live imperishably! their works also shall follow them! In the abode of the dead, what shall be their state? Where then shall be their revelry, and their luxuries; their hoarded money, or their vain pomp ; their sensual debaucheries, and their carnal abominations! The body, for which they lived, can no longer minister to their appetites ; and though they cry to the rocks to hide them, their immortality will not suffer them to perish. The poor comfort of insensibility, and the wretched hope of annihilation forsake them ; they still live, “ reserved in everlasting chains under darkness, against the judgment of the great day.”
When death terminates our existence here, he terminates our opportunity of working too : so that if we die in sin, we go to inevitable and instant ruin! O! then, how important is it to die in the Lord ! If the graces, and the habits, with which our souls are clothed, shall abide with them through eternity, constituting, in some measure, perhaps their everlasting renard, or their never-dying punishment, in the invisible state, where the dead are gathered together, some in mansions of felicity, and others in dungeons of torture,-can we be too anxious to perfect righteousness in the fear of God? When a man is once convinced that death will consign his soul, so soon as it quits the body, to a habitation of remediless wretchedness, or unspeakable bliss ; this conviction must have an auspicious influence on his life, give a new direction to his thoughts and affections, and check the sallies of his wildest career! If the truth, for which we have contended, be established on any foundation even of probability, let us pursue it to its remotest consequences. Let us beg of Him, " with whom the souls of the faithful, after they are delivered from the burden of the flesh, are in joy and felicity," to bless these considerations to the comfort of the righteous, to the conviction of the careless, and to the instruction of the ignorant! And let us not quarrel with the scanty evidence, which it has pleased God to afford us in this interesting investigation, like the obstinate traveller, who closed his eyes against the light of the moon, because the sun refused to guide him in his nocturnal peregrinations !