« PreviousContinue »
life, and very different from that life which they had lived here on earth, and perhaps, in some respects, different from the life which they will live after the great work of redemption is closed, the day of decision ended, and all holy and unholy creatures are unalterably fixed in their appropriate places of happiness and misery, and no new events and revolutions are to be expected in any part of the universe. Though we are greatly ignorant of the vast scenes which are now passing in the invisible world, and will pass in the invisible world until the day of judgment, yet we are still more ignorant of the state of all holy and unholy creatures after all the affairs of the whole universe shall be finally adjusted and settled. We know that such a time must come, and we hall be affected by it, whether we are among the happy or miserable. We may be sure that the state of the miserable at that period will be permanent and immutable; but it seems natural to conclude that the state of the happy will be in some respects altered. The apostle says, "Now abideth faith, hope and charity; but the greatest of these is charity." Good men, before they die, exercise faith and hope, and when they arrive in heaven, they may still anticipate future events with faith and hope. But after all things are finally adjusted and settled, there can be but little if any room for the exercise of faith and hope. There will be no great and important new scenes or events to be anticipated, hoped for, or expected. But charity, that is, love, will for ever exist as the source of union and communion among all the heavenly hosts, after faith and hope are diminished, or become extinct. As all things will run on in an even channel from the day of judgment to endless ages, so during that unbounded period, all holy creatures will turn their attention backward, instead of forward, and employ a blessed eternity in reflection upon the past, rather than in anticipation of the future. After all past scenes have been unfolded, and the characters of all holy and unholy beings have been developed and exhibited to view; these scenes and characters will all be subjects of everlasting reflection, and a mirror in which more and more of the power, of the wisdom, of the justice, of the mercy, and of the sovereignty of God, will be perpetually discovered and admired. This source of reflection can never be exhausted, because the intellectual powers of all created beings are limited, and never can take one clear intuitive view of all things past; they will therefore be gradually recollecting, reflecting and reasoning upon objects, scenes and events that are past; and never come to a full and comprehensive knowledge of them, in all their connections with one another, and in all their relations to God, who will for ever remain incomprehensible to the highest, as well as lowest orders of the
intelligent creation. These recollections and reflections will be fruitful and perpetual sources of heavenly happiness. Things seen are temporal, but things not seen are eternal. All true believers stand inseparably related to, and will soon be conversant with all the great and glorious realities which lie beyond the grave. It becomes them now to carry their thoughts into that world to which they are approaching, and for which they are preparing, and to live in the joyful hope of that eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, has promised them.
1. It appears from what has been said concerning the state of departed spirits, that those of the human race are in a wretched and hopeless condition, who are destitute of the gospel. They know they must die, but they know nothing about the consequences of death. Though some of the heathen have a traditional belief of a future state, and of the existence of the soul in a future state, yet they know nothing about its happiness or misery in another world. Though they have some faint idea that some will be rewarded, and some punished, for their conduct in this life, yet they have very false and gross conceptions of future rewards and punishments. Their poets have indeed indulged their imaginations in painting the happiness to be enjoyed, and the misery to be suffered, by the souls of men in a future state; yet all their descriptions are entirely false and visionary. The gospel only hath brought life and immortality to light, and justly unfolded the invisible scenes of the invisible world, and described the happiness of the righteous, and misery of the wicked. Without divine revelation, no person, nor nation, can certainly know whether the soul be mortal or immortal. The heathen philosophers have exerted all their ingenuity and learning upon the subject of death and the immortality of the soul; but they have only plunged themselves in deeper darkness and doubts. Cicero, the greatest and wisest of heathen philosophers and moralists, could not, after all his researches, satisfy himself whether the soul were or were not immortal. He said he hoped it would be immortal, but he could not remove all his doubts upon the subject. In this deplorable state of ignorance and uncertainty respecting the dead, the great majority of mankind are now involved. They have no idea at all of the resurrection of the body, and no certain knowledge whether the soul survives the body. They see nothing but darkness beyond this world. They are without God, without Christ, and without hope in the world. This must render rational creatures, who are capa44
ble of reflection and anticipation, extremely wretched; and in this wretched condition we should have been, if we had not enjoyed the glorious gospel of the blessed God. How thankful should we be for this distinguishing mercy! And how fearful must be our doom, if we misimprove it!
2. Since it appears from reason and scripture, that the souls of men do survive their bodies, and do immediately after death go into a state of eternal happiness or eternal misery, it must be no small error to disbelieve and deny the existence or sensibility of the soul, in an intermediate state. Dr. Priestly and Dr. Hartly, who were materialists, and held that the soul as well as the body is material, maintained that the souls of men die with their bodies, and cease to exist from death to the general resurrection. Mr. Locke, Bishop Law, and Dr. Chauncy maintained that death does not destroy the existence of the soul, but only throws it into a sleepy, torpid, senseless state, until it is re-united with the body. Both these opinions are equally repugnant to the leading doctrine of this discourse, and to scripture declarations, and facts. We have abundant evidence that the soul neither ceases to exist, nor ceases to think, from death to the resurrection of the body; and therefore it must be a gross error to deny that it does exist or think, through that long period of many thousand years. I know that Bishop Law adduces a multitude of texts, to prove that the soul sleeps from death to the resurrection; but all those texts admit of a construction more agreeable to reason, to other plainer texts, and to the general tenor of scripture, and of course prove nothing to his purpose. He farther undertakes to show, that on supposition that the soul does sleep through the intermediate state, it will be no loss or detriment to believers. For when they awake at the general resurrection, they will be no more sensible of the long time they have lain in their sleepy state, than a man who has slept soundly all night, and awakes in the morning, is sensible how long he has been in sleep. But this is a fallacious mode of reasoning. Whether the mind ever ceases to think in natural sleep, is a question. I believe it does not. But supposing it does cease to think during sound sleep; yet there is a wide difference between its sleeping six hours, and six thousand years. We deem six hours of sleep as an advantage, rather than a disadvantage; as a saving, rather than a losing of time; because it is necessary to promote the health of the body, the vivacity of the mind, and the highest enjoyment of life. But after the soul leaves the body, it will have no occasion to sleep, in order to enjoy the blessedness and perform the services of heaven. There is no night there, nor consequently, any sleep. This being the case, it is easy to see that the sleep of the soul
through the intermediate state would be a very great and serious loss to God and man, which would be eventually known and regretted. God would know that he had lost the homage and service of believers, through the long period of their insensibility; and they would know, after they had awaked, what great and glorious scenes had passed in this world and in heaven, during the long space of time from their death to the resurrection; which they would deem an irreparable loss. But this sleepy doctrine is detrimental to both saints and sinners. It renders death more gloomy to believers. Though they can anticipate the repose of natural sleep with pleasure, yet it must be the king of terrors to anticipate lying in the dark grave many thousands of years, before they shall awake to light and life. On the other hand, this doctrine is dangerous to sinners. It tends to lessen, if not entirely to remove their natural fears of death and eternity. They would be willing to die, if they could believe that death is nothing more than a sound sleep for a long, if not an endless duration. This soothing doctrine had a baneful effect upon the French in the day of their delusion, when they caused an inscription to be set up over their graveyards, "Death is an eternal sleep." But though death be not called an eternal sleep, yet if it be called a sleep during several thousand years, it will scem like an eternal sleep to those who wish to have it so. It sets the tremendous scenes of eternity at such an immense distance of time, as to allay, if not destroy the fears of it in the minds of the careless and stupid, and embolden them to pursue the broad road to destruction.
3. If the souls of believers after death exist in a state of superior happiness, then all real saints have reason to be willing to leave the world whenever God calls for them. He has given them good assurance that their souls shall survive their bodies at death, and be immediately admitted into eternal rest. A lively faith in his great and precious promises is exactly suited to remove from their minds the sting of death and the terrors of the grave. Accordingly we find from scripture, that many good men have met death without dismay, and left the world in peace. All the ancient patriarchs died in faith and hope. Job lived in the hope of death. He says, "All the days of my appointed time will I wait, until my change come." David lived in the joyful prospect of death. He says, "I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth; my flesh also shall rest in hope: for thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine holy one to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life; in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for
ever more." The primitive christians, in the prospect and hope of a happy transition out of time into eternity, reckoned that the sufferings of the present time were not worthy to be compared with the glory and felicity which they expected after death. Peter said to his fellow christians, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation." Those joyful christians had no idea of sleeping in the grave from death to the resurrection, but expected, as Paul did, that as soon as they were absent from the body they should be present with the Lord. It was the doctrine of the immediate happiness of departed believers, that enabled Stephen to die so triumphantly, saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." The same doctrine has often since afforded the same light and consolations to christians in the dying hour. One and another has been enabled to say to God, as David did, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." We here sometimes see the aged and the young die in peace and serenity, with strong hopes of an immediate and blessed immortality beyond the grave. They may have good reason to say, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" Some very pious persons, however, we may have reason to think, die under fears, clouds and darkness. For some good reason or other, God sees fit to withhold from them the light of his countenance, and the joy of his salvation. But it is much to be desired, that all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, should live practically prepared for a peaceful death. By this they will do honor to religion, carry conviction to sinners, afford a source of consolation to their bereaved friends, and happily exchange this for a better world. And in order to do this, they must set their affections on things above, and not on things below. They must have their treasures and conversation in heaven, and live as seeing him who is invisible.
4. If the souls of believers are made perfectly holy and happy between death and the resurrection, then those who have been bereaved of friends and relatives whom they believe are gone to heaven, have a peculiar source of consolation. They cannot mourn as those who have no hope that the soul survives the body, and exists in a future and happy state. When heathens, infidels, and those who deny an intermediate state, lament the death of their kindred and friends, they mourn