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THE WORLD TO COME;
Discourses on the Joys or Sorrows of departed Souls at Death,
" AND THE
GLORY OR TERROR OF THE RESURRECTION.
AN ESSAY Toward a Proof of a Separate State of Souls between Death
and the Resurrection,
THE COMMENCEMENT OF
THE REWARDS OF VIRTUE AND VICE
IMMEDIATELY AFTER DEATH.
Section 1.-The Introduction, or Proposal of the Question,
with a Distinction of the Persons who oppose it. It is confessed, that the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, at the last day, and the everlasting joys, and the eternal sorrows, that shall succeed it, as they are described in the New Testament, are a very awful sanction to the gospel of Christ, and carry in them such principles of hope and terror, as should effectually discourage vice and irreligion, and becoine a powerful attractive to the practice of faith, andlove, and universal holiness.
But so corrupt and perverse are the inclinations of men, in this fallen and degenerate world, and their passions are so much impressed and moved, by things that are present, or just at hand, that the joys of heaven, and the sorrows of hell, when set far beyond death and the grave, at some vast and unknown distance of time, would have but too little influence on their hearts and Jives. And though these solemn and important events are never so certain in themselves, yet being looked upon as things a great way off, make too feeble an impression on the conscience, and tbeir distance is much abused to give an indulgence to present sensualities. For this we have the testiinony of our blessed Saviour himself ; Mat. xxiv. 48. The evil servant says, my Lord delays his coming ; then he begins to smite his fellow-servants, and io eat and drink with the drunken : And Solomon teaches us the same truth ; Eccles. viii. 11. Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily ; therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. And even the good servants, in this imperfect state, the sons of virtue and piety, may be too much allured to indulge sinful negligence, and yield to temptations too easily, when the terrors of another world are set so far off, and their hope of happiness is delayed so long. It is granted, indeed, that this sort of reasoning is very unjust ; but so foolish are our natures, that we are too ready to take up with it, and to grow more remiss in the cause of religion.
Whereas, if it can be made to appear, from the word of God, that, at the moment of deatlı, the soul enters into an unchangeable state, according to its character and conduct here on earth, and that the recompences of vice and virtue are, in some measure, to begin immediately upon the end of our state of trial ; and if, besides all this, there be a glorious and a dreadful resurrection to be expected, with eternal pain or eternal pleasure, both for soul and body, and that in a more intense degree, when the theatre of this world is shut up, and Christ Jesus appears to pronounce his public judgment on the world, then all those little subterfuges are precluded, which mankind would form to themselves, from the unknown distance of the day of recompence ; Virtue will have a nearer and stronger guard placed about it, and piety will be attended with superior motives, if its initial rewards are near at hand, and shall commence as soon as this life expires ; and the vicious and profane will be more effectually affrighted, if the hour of death must immediately consigo them to a state of perpetual sorrows, and bitter anguish of conscience, without hope, and with a fearful expectation of yet greater sorrows and anguish.
I know what the opposers of the separate state reply here, viz. that the whole time from death, to the resurrection, is but as the sleep of a night, and the dead shall awake out of their graves, utterly ignorant and insensible of the long distance of time that hath past since their death. One year, or one thousand years, will be the same thing to them; and therefore they should be as careful to prepare for the day of judgment, and the rewards that attend it, as they are for their entrance into the separate state at death, if there were any such state to receive them.
I grant, men should be so in reason and justice : But such is the weakness and folly of our natures, that inen will not be so much influenced, nor alarmed by distant prospects, nor so solicitous to prepare for an event, which they suppose to be so very far off, as they would for the same event, if it commences as soon as ever this mortal life expires. The vicious man will indulge bis sensualities, and lie down to sleep in death with this comfort, “I shall take my rest here for a hundred, or a thousand years, and, perhaps, in all that space my offences may be forgotteli, or something may happen that I may escape ; or, let the worst come shat can come, I shall have a long sweet nap before my sorrows begin :" Thus the force of divine terrors are greatly enervated by this delay of punishment.
I will not undertake to determine, when the soul is dismissed from the body, whether there be any explicit divine sentence passed, concerning its eternal state of happiness or misery, according to its works in this life; or whether the pain or pleasure, that belongs to the separate state, be pot chiefly such as arises, by natural consequence, from a life of sin, or a life of holiness, and as being under the power of an approving, or a condemning conscience : But it seems to me more probable, that, since the spirit returns to God that gave it ; Eccles. xii
. 7. to God, the judge of all; with whom the spirits of the just made perfect dwell ; Heb. xii. 24. and since the spirit of a christian when absent from the body, is present with the Lord, that is, Christ;" 2 Cor. v. 8. I am more inclined to think, that there is some sort of judicial determination of this important point, either by God himself, or by Jesus Christ, into whose hands he has committed all judgment ; John v. 22. It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment; Heb. ix. 27. whether immediate or more distant, is not here expressly declared, though the immediate connexion of the words, hardly gives room for seventeen hundred years to intervene. But if the solemn formalities of a judgment be delayed, yet the conscience of a separate spirit, reflecting on a holy, or a sinful life, is sufficient to begin a heaven or a hell, immediately after death.
Amongst those who delay the season of recompence till the resurrection, there are some, who suppose the soul to exist still, as a distinct being from the body, but to pass the whole interval of time, in a state of stupor, or sleep, being altogether unconscious and inactive. Others again imagine, that the soul itself has not a sufficient distinction from the body, to give it any proper existence when the body dies ; but that its existence shall be renewed at the resurrection of the body, and then be made the subject of joy or pain, according to its behaviour in this mortal state. I think there might be an effectual argument against each of these opinions, raised from the principles of philosophy: I shall just give a hint of thein, and then proceed to search what scripture has revealed in this matter, which is of much greater importance to us, and will have a more powerful influence on the minds of christians.
I. Some imagine the soul of man to be his blood, or his breath, or a sort of vital flame, or refined air or vapour, or the composition and motion of the fluids and solids in the animal body. This they suppose to be the spring and principle of his intellectual life, and of all his thoughts and consciousness, as well as of bis animal life. And though this soul of man dies together with the body, and has no manner of separate existence or consciousness, yet, when his body is raised from the grave, they suppose this principle of consciousness is renewed again, and intellectual life is given him at the resurrection, as well as a new corporeal life.
But it should be considered, that this conscious or thinking principle having lost its existence for a season, it will be quite a new thing, or another creature at the resurrection; and the man will be properly another person, another “self,” another I or “ he ;" *And such a new conscious principle, or person, cannot properly be rewarded, or punished, for personal virtues or vices, of which itself cannot be conscious by any power of memory or reflection, and which were transacted in this mortal state by another distinct. principle of consciousness. For if the conscious principle itself, or the thioking being, has ceased to exist, it is impossible that it should retain ang memory of former actions, since itself began to be but in the moment of the resurrection. The doctrine of rewarding or punishing the same soul or intelligent nature, which did good or evil in this life, necessarily requires that the same soul, or intelligent nature, should have a continued and uninterrupted existence, that so the same conscious being, which did good or evil, may be rewarded or punished.
II. Those who suppose the soul of man to have a real distinct existence when the body dies, but only to fall into a state of slumber, without consciousness or activity, must, I think, suppose this soul to be material; that is, an extended and solid substance.
If they suppose it to be inextended, or to have no parts or quantity, I confess I have no manner of idea of the existence, or possibility of such an inextended being, without consciousness or active power, nor do they pretend to bave any such idea, as I ever heard, and therefore they generally grant it to be extended. But if they imagine the soul to be extended, it must either have something more of solidity or density than mere empty space, or it must be quite as unsolid and thin as space itself: Let us consider both these. If it be as thin and subtle as mere empty space, yet while it is active and conscious, I own it must have a proper existence; but if it once begin to sleep, and drop all cousciousvess and activity, I have no other idea of it, but the saine which I have of empty space; and that I conceive to be mere nothing, though it impose upon us with the appearance of some sort of properties.
If they allow the soul to have any, the least, degree of devsity above what belongs to empty space, this is solidity in the philosophic sense of the word, and then it is solid extension, which I call matter; and a material being may indeed be laid asleep; that is, it may cease to have any motion in its parts; but motion is not consciousness : And how either solid or unsolid extension, either space or matter, can have any consciousness or thought belonging to any part of it, or spread through the whole of it, I know not; or what any sort of extension can do toward thought or consciousness, I confess I understand not ; nor can I frame any more an idea of it, than I can of a blue motion, or a sweet-smelling sound, or of fire, air, or water reasoning or rejoicing; and I do not affect to speak of things, or words, when I can forın no correspondent ideas of what is spoken.
So far as I can judge, the soul of man, in its own nature, is nothing else but a conscious and active principle, subsisting by itself, made after the image of God, who is all conscious activity ; and it is still the same being, whether it be united to an animal body, or separated from it. If the body die, the soul still exists an active and conscious power or principle, or being; and if it ceases to be conscious and active, I think it ceases to be ; for I have no conception of what remains. Now if the conscious principle continue conscious after death, it will not be in a mere conscious indolence : The good man, and the wicked, will not have the saine indolent existence. Virtue or vice, in the very temper of this being, when absent from matter or body, will become a pleasure or a pain to the conscience of a separate spirit.
I am well aware, that this is a subject, which has employed the thoughts of many philosophers, and I do but just intimate my own sentiments, without presuming to judge for others. But the defence or refutation of arguments, on this subject, would draw me into a field of philosophical discourse, which is very foreign to my present purpose : 'And, whether this reasoning stand or fall, it will have but very little influence on this controversy with the generality of christians, because it is a thing rather to be determined by the revelation of the word of God. I therefore drop this arguinent at once, and apply myself immediately to consider the proofs, that may be drawn from scripture, for the soul's existence in a separate state after death, and before the resurrection.
Sect. II.---Probable Arguments for the Separate State.
There are several places of Scripture, in the Old Testa. ment, as well as in the New, which may be most vaturally and properly construed to signify the existence of the soul in a separate state, after the body is dead; but since they do not carry with them such plain evidence, or forcible proof, and may possibly be interpreted to another sense, I shall not long insist upon them; however, it may not be amiss just to mention a few of them, and pass away.