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That the souls of believers shall live while separate from their bodies. I shall show,
I. That the soul and body are distinct.
II. That the souls of believers shall live, while separate from their bodies. And,
III. What life they shall live in that separate state.
I. We are to consider the distinction between the soul and the body. This distinction is disbelieved and denied by some, though it is one of the most plain and sensible distinctions in nature. The body is material, but the soul is spiritual. The body has properties which are not to be found in spirit; and the spirit has properties which are not to be found in body. The essential properties of matter are extension, solidity and gravitation; but the essential properties of spirit are sensibility, perception, understanding and volition. These essential properties of matter and mind are so entirely different and distinct, that they cannot be transferred from the one to the other, or transformed into one another. Matter cannot be made to perceive, understand and will; nor can the properties of extension, solidity and gravitation be transformed into intellectual faculties. We cannot conceive that even omnipotence can destroy the essential distinction between matter and mind, body and soul. God cannot give extension, solidity and gravitation to the soul, nor perception, thought and volition to the body. All we know about body are its properties; and all we know about mind are its properties; and, by knowing these, we know that matter and mind are essentially different, and so long as they exist they must be distinct existences. This we find is the general representation of scripture. In the first account we have of man, his body and soul are represented as distinct and separate. "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul." As the body and soul of man were at first formed separately and distinctly, so they are visibly separated at death. "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return to God who gave it." Upon the ground of this distinction, Christ tells his followers, "Fear not them who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul." The apostle James employs this distinction to illustrate another subject. "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." The apostle Peter speaks of his own body as distinct from his soul. 66 Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up, by putting you in remembrance, knowing that shortly I must put off this tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus hath showed me." By this tabernacle he means his
body, and by putting it off he means dying, as he explains it in the next words. "Moreover, I will endeavor that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance." The apostle Paul, in the fifth chapter of his second epistle to the Corinthians, uses the same figurative language that Peter does, to mark the distinction between the soul and the body. "For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven.-Therefore we are always confident, and willing to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord." Paul also tells us of his spirit's being caught up to heaven, while his body remained on earth. “I knew a man in Christ about fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell;) such an one caught up to the third heaven." Would Paul have such doubts about being in or out of the body, if he knew there was no essential distinction between the soul and the body? Or would such a distinction have been so often mentioned in scripture, if the inspired writers knew that no such distinction existed? But not to insist any longer upon so plain a point, as the distinction between the soul and the body, I pass,
II. To show that the souls of believers live while separate from their bodies. It appears from the distinction we have just illustrated, that the soul may live, while the body dies; that the soul may act, while the body has lost all its power of action; and that the soul may return to God, while the body lies mouldering in the dust. And since this is possible, we have ground to think that the souls of believers will live through all the intermediate state from death to the resurrection of the body. For,
1. This will prevent the loss of much happiness. The period from the beginning to the end of time will be a very long period. Nearly six thousand years have rolled away since the creation of the world, and we know not how many more years may roll away before it comes to an end. In this long tract of time, many millions of believers have lived and died, and will live and die. All these, if allowed to live and be present with the Lord, while absent from the body, will enjoy immense measures of happiness. But if they all have been, and will be, cast into a state of torpidity and insensibility at death, then they will suffer an irreparable loss of happiness. But can we admit the thought, that the pure spirits of the patriarchs, of the prophets, of the apostles, and of the primitive christians, are
sleeping with their bodies, devoid of all perception, sensibility and enjoyment? Is it not far more reasonable to suppose that God never has suffered, and never will suffer, the souls of believers to lie dormant in the grave, and lose all the good they might enjoy in the intermediate state from death to the resurrection? This will appear still more reasonable if we consider,
2. That the glory of God requires him to preserve the souls of believers in a state of life and activity, after they leave their bodies. In their separate state, they will be freed from their natural and moral imperfections, and prepared to serve and glorify God unspeakably better than they ever did while they remained in the body. They will be capable of serving God day and night in his temple, without cessation or weariness. He delights in their service here, and why will he not delight in it hereafter? They really advance his glory here, and why will they not advance it hereafter? and why will he not raise a vast revenue of glory from the souls of believers, through the long period of their separate state? If he seeks his own glory in all his conduct towards believers here on earth, why will he not seek his own glory in his conduct towards them after they leave the world? And if he does design to promote his own glory by them after death, we have good ground to think. that he will preserve their separate souls in a state of knowledge, activity and enjoyment, and reap a large revenue of glory from their holy and grateful services. These, however, are only presumptive arguments in favor of the life and happiness of departed believers. I proceed therefore to observe,
3. That the scripture represents the souls of believers as. alive, active and happy, after they have left their bodies in the grave. Our Saviour, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, represents the souls of both after death, as in a state of the highest sensibility. He represents Lazarus as carried by angels into Abraham's bosom, and the rich man as lifting up his eyes in torment. We cannot suppose that Christ would have given such a representation of departed spirits, if there were no intermediate state of happiness and misery between death and the resurrection. Christ in his dispute with the Pharisees clearly conveys the idea, that the souls of believers are alive and happy after they have left the world. He quoted a passage of scripture, in which he calls himself the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and in which it is said that he is not the God of the dead but of the living. It is true, he quoted these words to prove the doctrine of the resurrection, which was the point then in question. But it must be considered that the Sadducees, with whom he was disputing, denied not only the resurrection of the body, but the existence of
angels and spirits. By proving that the souls of the patriarchs were alive after death, he completely refuted their false and unscriptural doctrine. Paul expressly declares that he expected to be with Christ in heaven immediately after he left the world. "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better." This declaration affords conclusive evidence that the souls of believers are alive and happy between death and the resurrection. And to put this matter beyond all doubt, I will observe once more,
4. That the scripture assures us that the departed spirits of believers are now actually alive and made perfect in heaven. Enoch, Moses and Elias, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, are now inheriting the promises. The penitent malefactor is now in paradise. There is also a general assembly of the first-born in heaven, composed of just men made perfect. And the apostle John declares that he saw in vision the souls of those that were slain for the word of God and testimony of Jesus, and many others, who had come out of great tribulation, and had washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, surrounding his throne, and serving him day and night in his temple. Thus it appears that the whole current of scripture abundantly confirms our Saviour's declaration in the text, that believers die and commit their bodies to the dust, yet their souls live and are happy through the long period between death and the resurrection. We may suppose as Abraham did, that those who hold to the sleepy, insensible state of the soul from the dissolution to the resurrection of the body, would not be persuaded to renounce their error, though one rose from the dead. It only remains to show,
III. What life believers shall live, after they commit their bodies to the dust from whence they were taken, and their spirits ascend to God who gave them. And here we may observe in general,
That they will live a heavenly life. They will go directly to heaven. When the believing malefactor expired on the cross, he directly went into paradise. When Lazarus died, he was directly carried by angels into Abraham's bosom in the world of glory. There is no doubt but that the Lord Jesus Christ heard and answered the dying request of Stephen, and received his spirit into heaven. When Paul 'died, he was, as he desired to be, immediately with the Lord. The souls of all believers do, at their death, immediately pass into glory, where Christ is, and God is, and the spirits of all just men are, and where they are made perfectly holy and blessed in the full enjoyment of God. Whilst they were in the body, they saw
God and divine objects through a glass, darkly; but when they arrive in heaven, all clouds and darkness shall be banished from their minds, and all their intellectual powers shall be brightened and strengthened, to behold the face of God in righteousness, and to see all the beauty and excellence of the heavenly inhabitants. Such a heavenly life will fill their hearts with transporting joy and admiration. Though they had read, and heard, and thought much about heaven, and ardently desired to be there, yet every thing will appear new, and great, and glorious beyond all their former hopes, expectations and conceptions; which cannot fail to fill their minds with peculiar emotions of joy, gratitude and astonishment. They will rejoice that they have found rest from their labors, their fears, their sins, their sorrows, and freedom from all their natural and moral imperfections. They will rejoice to meet and unite with their christian friends, who had happily arrived before them at the mansions of the blessed. They will rejoice in their new employments and enjoyments, and in the contemplation of ten thousand new and glorious scenes and objects. The new Jerusalem will appear indeed like a new world, and a world of wonders. They will behold their blessed and divine Redeemer enthroned in glory, whom they never beheld before. They will behold the beauty and splendor of the holy angels, whom they never beheld before. They will behold myriads and myriads of pure spirits, whom they never beheld before. They will see the general assembly and church of the first-born, which has been continually increasing for thousands of years, by new arrivals from the church militant. These new and glorious objects will deeply impress their minds, continually awaken their attention, and fill their hearts with the purest pleasure and holy delight.
Nor will their joy and admiration be momentary; for the glories and wonders of heaven will constantly increase, and excite new hopes and expectations. They will hope and expect to see their pious friends whom they left behind; their fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and their nearest and dearest connections in life. They will hope and expect, that millions and millions of the redeemed among men will be added to their numbers, and united with them in their blessed services and enjoyments. And they will joyfully wait for the general resurrection and general judgment, when they shall be made more perfect in body and mind, and know a vast deal more about God, about angels, about the whole human race, and all the dark dispensations of divine providence.
Such a life of joy, admiration and hope will the departed spirits live from death to the last great day. This will be a new