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Christ's own apostles had not correct ideas, at that time, of the nature of the kingdom he came to establish; for, only the night previous, they had contended among themselves as to which should be the greatest under his reign; which proves that their notions on this subject were Jewish, and it is irrational to suppose that the thief had more correct notions about it than they who had listened to Christ's instruction for years! But again. When was Messiah to come in his kingdom? Not surely at the close of time; for then it is that he is to "deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father." Christ came in his kingdom spiritually (and in no other sense was he to come) when, at the close of the Jewish dispensation, he established his church in the world. It will hence be seen, that the thief could not have had the evangelical faith in Christ which the popular application of the subject supposes. Moreover, the Savior went at death to the separate state, or hades, and not to heaven. See how Peter speaks to this point. "Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ sit on his throne; he, seeing this before, spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption." (Acts ii. 29-31.)
Another passage which seems to favor the idea of immediate happiness after death, is that which describes Christ's transfiguration. "And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias; who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem." (Luke ix. 30, 31.) If Moses and Elias were translated to immediate felicity, it may be argued that such may be the case with all righteous persons at their decease. There is a real difficulty in this case, which I by no means feel disposed to overleap, (as others have done,) by assuming, that the whole affair was a mere vision. I would rather suppose that, as the transfiguration of Christ was but of temporary duration, and evidently miraculous in its nature, so the appearance and felicitous existence of Moses and Elias may also have been out of the ordinary course of things, and for only the time being. Who, for instance, would
argue from the following fact, which took place at the Savior's last groan, that the same kind of a resurrection is constantly going on? "And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many." (Matt. xxvii. 52, 53.) Here was a rising from the graves, but whether the risen remained alive, or returned almost immediately to their quiescent state, we are not informed; but I suppose the latter, as nothing is subsequently said of them.
Again, Paul intimates that to be absent from the body, is to be "present with the Lord;" it is, (he says,) to "be with Christ, which is far better:" and hence he conceived, that "to die, is gain." Stephen, also, commended his parting spirit to the Lord Jesus-as Jesus himself did his into the hands of his Father.These, on the face of them, seem decidedly to favor the notion of felicity immediately subsequent to death. I have no wish to force upon them a different signification; nor to do anything with them which would abstract from their natural weight in this discussion. Let them stand, then, as we find them.
The following passage is also supposed to convey an argument favoring the same side of the question. "Now, that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living; for all live unto him." (Luke xx. 37, 38.) The argument couched in this passage is, that as "God is not the God of the dead," and yet terms himself" the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob," who at the time had no existence on the earth, it therefore follows that they must have had a sentient existence somewhere; and if they, then the rest of the dead also, "for all live unto God." The usual reply to this is, (at least I suppose it is, for I have seen but little on the subject,) that since all are destined to be raised in God's own time, and all duration, with all its events and existences, is present to his mind, persons may be said to live unto him, who either have not yet come on to the stage of actual being, or have passed off of it: for Jehovah "speaks of things that be not, as though they were."
I, however, take a different view from the preceding; I believe that man is in possession of an undying essence, usually called
his soul, or his spirit, (I am not over particular as to its name,) which came from God, and is destined to return to him.— "There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding." (Job xxxii. 8.) God is called the "Father of spirits." (Heb. xii. 9.) And Paul speaks of "the spirits of just men, made perfect." (Ibid. 23.) Angels are said to be "ministering spirits." (Ibid. i. 14.) And Christ says of little children, "their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven." (Matt. xviii. 10.) From which I can make out nothing intelligible, except it be, that we have a heavenly essence within us which is not confinable within the narrow limits prescribed to mortal nature, but is privileged to hold communion with God and heavenly things. And who is there that has not felt, with a force which no language can convey, that this is the case? When Christ arose, and appeared to his disciples, they supposed the appearance before them to be a spirit; and Christ informed them concerning a spirit, negatively. “A spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have." (Luke xxiv. 37-39.) And it is worthy of remark, that, even after the apostles had been more fully instructed in gospel truth, when Peter (after being miraculously delivered out of prison) appeared at the house of Mary, where many were convened in prayer, they could not at first credit the damsel's report, that Peter was at the door; but, thinking him to have been put to death, they supposed that it was his angel that the woman had seen. (Acts xii. 15.) In short, I have no fellowship in the doctrine that man is a mere animalmerely distinguished from other animals by a superior organization, and whose entire existence after death depends on a renovation of his physical nature, or, in other words, on a resurrection of his body. Neither, at the same time, do I believe that disembodied spirits enter at once into a condition of positive enjoyment-and the following are among my reasons for not so believing.
The widow of Nain's son, Jarus's daughter, and Lazarus, (the brother of Mary and Martha,) were raised to life by the Savior previous to his own death and resurrection. These (on the hypothe
I am opposing) had gone to heaven or to hell, (supposing the existence of a post-mortem hell.) If to the latter, there is then a redemption from hell. If to the former, was there mercy in calling them from a state of positive bliss, to one of perpetual liability
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to suffering? Besides, Christ is called "the first fruits of them that slept"-"the first born from the dead"-and "our forerunner" into the holy place. How could he be with propriety so termed, if others had passed through death to the happiness of heaven before him? Moreover, Peter, when preaching to the Jews on the day of Pentecost, positively asserts, "for David is not ascended into the heavens." (Acts ii. 34.) And if David had not, it is presumable that others had not also.
It must be remarked, that the declaration concerning David was made subsequent to Christ's resurrection. I notice this, because there are those who think, that although previous to that event the dead were kept in a negative state as to enjoyment, yet, when "Christ our forerunner" had "entered into the holy place," the whole congregation of the dead were admitted also. In further opposition to this notion, it must be remarked, that dead persons were also recalled to life by the apostles after Christ's ascension, and therefore, (as remarked concerning those raised by the Savior) they were recalled from a world of bliss to a world of tears—an act, methinks, which neither Christ nor his apostles would have consented to perform. I am at a loss, too, on this hypothesis, to account for the following language: "For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now: and not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first-fruits of the spirit; even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” (Rom. viii. 22, 23.) The sense on the face of this text seems most clearly to be, that the final redemption of the entire body of humanity, must first take place, before any of the members thereof could enjoy the happiness in reversion for them-a sentiment (as I have elsewhere observed) fraught with beauty and benevolence. And in the following passage, which refers to the ancient worthies who had suffered persecution and death for the cause of truth, the same idea seems to be conveyed. "And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect." (Heb. xi. 39, 40.)
It may farther be urged against the doctrine of immediate happiness after death, that if it be true, the necessity of a resurrection is entirely superseded, except (as many think, the society of
Friends included) that the resurrection succeeds instantly to the dissolution of the body; and in that case death (as the Swedenborgians say) is nothing more than a change in the mode of being; if which be true, the sacred writers have employed language on the subject most strangely at variance with the idea they meant to convey. Paul assuredly speaks of a rising again of the same body which is laid in the grave. "So also is the resurrection of the dead it is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body." (1 Cor. xv. 42-44.) He also speaks of the resurrection of the body under the figure of grain springing up from seed sown into the ground; in which case it is not wholly the identical seed that springs up, but the germ of it merely, between which and a certain portion of the earth and other elements, there are chymical affinities, from which result those new combinations, which in form and substance resemble the original seed.
To me, then, three things seem to be clearly taught in the scriptures: first, that the spirit of man has some sort of an existence separate from the body: second, that it is not one of positive bliss and third, that there is to be a resurrection, in which all shall be morally subjected to God, and consequently happy.
To assume, as many do, that, because now we are mainly (if not altogether, which is doubtful,) dependant on our bodily organs for our mental operations, we therefore must necessarily lose all consciousness when we are separated from the body, is, in my judgement, to assume very far beyond the warrant of reason. "God is a spirit." Is he also dependant on bodily functions for his consciousness? If not, the assumption is as well against fact as reason, (allowing the divine existence to be a matter of fact.) It is against reason, because, from what is possible to us in our present mode of being, it is unreasonable and presumptuous to infer with confidence, as to what is or is not possible to every conceivable mode of being. It were full as sensible, and as modest, to assume, that because the mathematical problems in Euclid are utterly beyond the comprehension of the child, they will therefore be equally unintelligible to the man. I am sick of that hypercritical scepticism which is ever directing its vulture