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ON THE STATE OF SEPARATE SPIRITS; THE RESURREC
TION OF THE BODY ; JUDGMENT AND ETERNITY.
It is the grand design of revealed religion, to draw off our attention and affections from things present'and temporal, and to fix them on things future and eternal. Yet, such is the constitution of the universe, and such the plan of the gospel, that the regulation of our pursuits and actions, in subordination to the interests of the unseen state, tends to produce by far the greatest measure of happiness to individuals and to society, which can possibly be attained in this present life. Whatever conjectures or discoveries the more rational of the heathen had made in this interesting concern, or whatever intimations God had given about it to the ancient church ; it may with the strictest propriety be said, that “ life and immortality are brought “ to light through the gospel.”! For the revelation made in the New Testament, elucidating and confirming that of the Old, has removed all doubt and uncertainty about a future state of existence, except what arises from want of faith, or of acquaintance with the holy scriptures : it has given every needful instruction on the important subject; and it has sanctioned it with that authority which is suited to render it influential on our whole con
1 2 Tim. i. 10.
duct. This decisive and complete information is of the greatest moment: for all error, obscurity, or. uncertainty in a matter of such vast importance must proportionably enfeeble and unsettle the mind; and deduct from the efficacy of those motives, which excite or animate the soul to vigorous exertion, self-denying obedience, patient sufferings, or courage when called to face dangers, in adhering to the truth and will of God amidst the opposition of this evil world. Our concluding Essay, therefore, will contain some thoughts on the intermediate state of souls when separate from the body; the second coming of Christ; the resurrection of the body; and the process, rule and event of judgment.
The immortality of the soul is fully established by the uniform testimony of scripture; which fully declares, not only that it is created capable of endless existence, but also that it is the unalterable purpose of the Creator that it should exist to eternity. But it is impossible in the nature of things, that this should be proved by any mere reasonings or arguments whatever ; because the intention of God can only be known by express revelation.
The language of holy writ constantly implies, that the soul is capable of exerting its powers and faculties in a state of separation from the body. The apostle could not tell, “ whether” during his vision he was “in the body or out of the body:"! and he spoke of being “ absent from the body,"
present with the Lord." We frequently read of “ the things done in the body;" which cer
? 2 Cor. v. 8.
1 2 Cor. xii. 1-4. VOL. II.
tainly implies that the same agent is capable of doing things out of the body. “Our earthly house “ of this tabernacle must be dissolved, that we may “have a building of God, a house not made with “hands, eternal in the heavens." Then the body “ shall return to the dust, and the spirit to God."? Accordingly we read of“ the spirits of just men “ made perfect,” as well as of “an innumerable
company of angels :"3 and even these brief hints may suffice to shew, that the system of modern materialists cannot be supported, (any more than the other doctrines of the same school,) except by rejecting the word of God, and treating the sacred writers as men who espoused and propagated vulgar errors, whilst they professed to “ speak as “they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
The scriptures likewise teach us that both the righteous and the wicked, immediately on leaving the body, enter on a state of happiness or misery. Lazarus was carried, as soon as he died, “ into “ Abraham's bosom ;” and, when “ the rich man “ died and was buried, in hell he lifted
eyes “ being in torments,” whilst his brethren, in his father's house, were following him to the same state of misery. Should it be urged, that this is a parabolical representation ; we answer, that He who is the Truth itself would never have spoken those things, even in a parable, which have a direct tendency to mislead the reader, and to raise an expectation of a staté which has no existence. But indeed our Lord was pleased to confirm this inference by his address from the cross to the dying
2 Cor. v. 1.
2 Eccl. xii. 7.
* Heb. xii. 22, 23.
thief, “ This day shalt thou be with me in paradise;" which could not have been the case, unless his soul had existed in a state of happiness, while his body lay buried with that of the other malefactor. They therefore who deny this distinction between soul and body must suppose our Lord, as well as his apostles, to have been mistaken. His answer likewise to the Sadducees, who cavilled about the doctrine of the resurrection, is equally decisive against those who deny the intermediate state; for “ as God is not the God of the dead, but of the “ living,” how can he be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, if they had been wholly dead during so many revolving centuries 2
The apostle “had a desire to depart, and to be “ with Christ, as far better" than living on earth: but he would not have been any sooner with Christ for departing hence, if he were to lie entirely under the power of death until the resurrection : nor could " he be present with the Lord” when“ ab“sent from the body," if never made capable of beholding him till his second coming The souls of those to whom Christ by his Spirit in Noah, preached, during the term of God's “long-suffer
ing, while the ark was preparing,” are represented as being “ in prison” at the time when Peter wrote:4 and John was directed to write, “ Blessed
are the dead, which die in the Lord, from henceforth: even so saith the Spirit."5 Yea, he saw an innumerable company before the throne, who were crying for vengeance on their persecutors, 1 Luke xvi. 22-31. xxiii. 43.
2 Matt. xxii. 32. 3 2 Cor. v. 8. Phil. i. 21--23.
1 Pet. iii, 18-20. Ś Rev, xiv. 13.
but were required to wait till the rest of their brethren had finished their testimony; which, however interpreted, must precede the general resurrection 1–And here it may be proper to repeat the observation, that the God of truth and love would not arrange even the circumstances of a vision in such a manner as directly tended, in a most obvious interpretation, to mislead men in so material a point. These are a specimen of the scriptural arguments by which we are induced to expect an immediate entrance into happiness or misery, as soon as we leave this world, by an anticipation of that sentence which will be publicly pronounced at the day of judgment.
Various absurd notions and curious speculations have been formed about this intermediate state, which the use of the word hell, for the place of separate spirits, in our translation of the Bible, in the Creed, and elsewhere, may have in part occasioned. Indeed many learned men have explained the language of the Messiah, saying by the royal prophet, “ Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, “ neither wilt thou suffer thy Holy One to see “ corruption;" as if both expressions meant the grave, and nothing more. But this is an unnatural tautology: and it seems evident, that by hell the place of separate spirits was intended; to which (doubtless among happy spirits,) the human soul of Christ repaired at his death,2 even as his body was laid in the grave: and his soul and body continued thus separated, as really as the body and
i Rev. vi. 9-11.
2 Luke xxiii. 43.