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sible soul, seems a contradiction in terms. After what manner, and in what way the soul perceives, when out of the body, we cannot tell, no more than we can explain how it perceives, while it is in the body. But that the soul, in that state of separation, hath a perception of things, and by that perception is either happy or miserable, and so not asleep, is ascertained to us by divine revelation.
This extravagant opinion of the sleep of the soul, was no doubt founded upon the frequent resemblance that is made in Scripture of Death to sleep: but this metaphor in the holy writings is only applied to the body's resting in the grave, in order to be awakened as out of sleep, at the resurrection; as may appear by consulting Dan. xii. 2. Matt. xxvii. 52. I Cor. xv. 20. and some other places, in which it is used with express reference to the body. But sleep, applied to the soul, is utterly inconsistent with several passages of Scripture, which plainly supposes the contrary.
Thus our Saviour himself, who knew all things, and therefore most certainly knew the true state of departed souls, and whether they were then happy or miserable, has given us a lively description of both those states, in the parable of the rich man and the beggar, St. Luke xvi. 22, &c. This some may be apt to say, is but a parable; and therefore nothing can be positively concluded from it. But granting it to be but a parable, and that all things in a parable are not argumentative, yet all divines agree that the main scope and intendment of it is so; and allow it as a thing certain, that it was our Saviour's design in this parable, to shew what becomes of the souls of good and bad men after Death. The one he represents as very happy, and the other as very miserable, in the intermediate state between Death and the Resurrection; and thereby plainly intimates, that the souls of both of them were not asleep and insensible during that state.
And again, his promise to the penitent thief that was crucified with him, while he was hanging on the cross, "This day shalt thou be with me in paradise," could have no other meaning than this, that he should presently after his death, enter with him into that place of ease and joy, which the souls of the righteous inhabit, St. Luke xxiii. 42, 43. But now, why should our Saviour have made him this promise, if his soul had been incapable of the joys and felicities of a place that deserves to be called paradise, and he had been to fall into a deep sleep, as soon as he came thither; and so lose the sense or faculty of perceiving and enjoying the pleasures of it?
Moreover, as St. Paul himself was caught up, not only into heaven, but into paradise likewise, he must for certain be able to give us an account of the state and conditions of the souls dwelling there; now he tells us, "It was so far from being a place of darkness and obscurity, silence and oblivion, where its inhabitants are all in a profound sleep; that, on the contrary, it is a most glorious place of life and glory," and that he himself there heard "unspeakable words," which it is not lawful or possible for
a man to utter." 2 Cor. xii. 4. From his own knowledge, therefore, and experience of the place, he also tells the Philippians, "That he was in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which was far better; though to abide in the flesh was more needful for them." Phil. i. 23, 24. But how could he think it to be so much better to depart from the body, than to remain in it, if upon his departure he was to be deprived of all sense, and sink into a lethargy, or go into a “land where all things are forgotten!"
And, therefore, we may, safely conclude, from all these places, that the souls of men do not only subsist after they are separated from their bodies, but also that they are sensible of pleasure or pain, of
joy or sorrow, in that separate state. The wicked being tormented at present with a piercing remorse of conscience, and expecting a far more dreadful vengeance to befal them hereafter; and the good, on the other hand, being refreshed with the peace of a good conscience, with divine consolations, and moreover joyfully waiting for a greater happiness at the resurrection.
And again, the same apostle says in another place, "While we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord, and we are confident, therefore, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord," 2 Cor. v. 6. 8. which he could not have said, if he had thought that the souls of the faithful, during the interval between Death and the Resurrection, were in a profound sleep, and void of all sense and perception.
Moreover, from these and many more passages of the Holy Scriptures; as, where it is said, that our Saviour, at the point of death, committed his human soul to God, saying, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit," St. Luke xxiii. 46; and St. Stephen, when he was expiring, committed, in like manner, his soul to Christ himself, now exalted to "the right hand of the Majesty on high;" saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," Acts vii. 59. And when the author of the epistle to the Hebrews tells us, that by virtue of the Catholic communion, Christians are not only joined "to an innumerable company of angels," but to the society likewise" of the spirits of just men made perfect ;" when, I say, we meet with these, and many such passages as these in the New Testament, we cannot but conclude, that the doctrine of the immortality of man's soul, and its independence on the body, and subsistence after its separation from it, and its capacity, during that separation, of happiness or misery, is the doctrine of Christ and his apostles.
And accordingly, we may observe, that the
saints of old lived and died in full assurance of the truth of this doctrine. Hence it was that the apostolical bishop and martyr, St. Polycarp, when brought to the stake to be burned, begins his prayer thus: "O thou God of the whole race of righteous men, who live before thee:" and then mentioning several martyrs in particular, presently adds, "Among these may I be received before thee this day!'"
And moreover, this doctrine was universally maintained by the Church of Christ afterwards. In most of her ancient Liturgies, she makes public profession of it; and in these very Liturgies, the place and receptacle of the spirits of just men deceased, is usually styled, "The region of the living; the region of the godly; and the bosom of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and of all those that have pleased God, and obeyed his will, from the beginning of the world."'
And as the souls of good men, while separated from their bodies, were believed to be capable of happiness; so were the souls of evil men, immediately upon their separation, believed to be capable of misery. Though neither the happiness of the one, nor the misery of the other, was imagined to be then so great, as it shall be after the resurrection, when the souls and bodies of all men are to be united together again.
The vast Alteration which shall be produced upon the Separation.
SECONDLY, Since when we die we must part with our bodies, which are one part of our present composition; and by the help of which (while they continue united with our souls) we see and converse with men like ourselves, and with the things of this world; we ought to consider, that as soon as they
are separated the one from the other, this must needs produce a vast alteration of us from what we were before. We enter then upon a new state of being, which, what it will be, as to the particulars of it, as I said before, we can now form no notion at all. When we depart hence into the world of spirits, which we immediately do, upon the removal of this gross covering of flesh; the scene of things, which will then open to us, will all be new and exceedingly surprising. But yet as new as it will then appear to us, this one thing we know, and are assured of beforehand, that if we will but take care to lead a holy and religious life in this world, in obedience to those righteous commands, which God and our Saviour have given to us to be the rule of our conduct here, so as to die in the Lord, we shall have no reason to be grieved and sorry at the change which we shall find in our new state; but on the contrary, the greatest reason to be glad, and to thank God for our deliverance from this gloomy, troublesome, and dangerous scene of things, into one bright and glorious, and safe, without all manner of fear or molestation, where we shall not only "rest from our labours," but from that time begin to "rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory," 1 Peter i. 8. being fully satisfied with that happiness we shall there experience in our new habitation, and shall never once wish to eturn into this life again.
The great Happiness which good Men shall experience upon the Separation.
WE shall then indeed be separated from all the enjoyments of this life, in which we once took so much pleasure; and from all our dear relations and friends, whom we loved as our own souls, and could not, without the greatest uneasiness, and a sorrow