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ECCLESIASTES XII. 7.
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was : and the
spirit shall return to God who gave it.
The words that are now selected as the theme, express, with great clearness, a doctrine of vast importance; namely, that man is composed of two constituent parts-body and spirit. It is surprising that men, who profess to renounce the Scriptures, should have the temerity to deny the fact. It is, however, the case ; and it is our lot in divine providence, to live among
them. I should be greatly wanting in my duty to you, my hearers, in not exposing such an error; or in not vindicating the opposite doctrine.
I have been recently perusing a production, from the pen of the celebrated Dr. Priestley, on the subject of matter and spirit, which has led my mind to an investigation of the point. Dr. Hartley's theory of the human mind, new modelled by Priestley, has likewise fallen under my review. The grand object of that acute writer, in these fruits of his pen, appears to be, the denial of the possibility of the existence of spirits. He labors hard to prove that all mental operations, result from the peculiar modification of mere matter.
THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL SUPPORTED, &c. 269 In reflecting on the writings which have been mentioned, my mind is impressed with these apostolical expressions, “ Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” Rom. 1. 22. “ The world by wisdom knew not God.". 1 Cor. 1. 21. “ Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” Gal. 2. 8. But, in relation to this interesting subject, “ We have a more sure word of prophecy, to which we do well to take heed, as to a light that shineth in a dark place.” 2 Pet. 1. 19.
The text, that is our theme, leads directly to the point in question--the constituent parts of which we are composed. The dust, which returns to the earth, is the body, and the Spirit, that returns to God, is the accountable and never-dying soul, It is unequivocally asserted in the text, that we are mortal in the one part of our nature, and immortal in the other. As to the material and mortal part of man, there is very little dispute ; and therefore, we need not waste the time in attending to it.
It will be the definite object in the sequel, to prove,
THAT MEN POSSESS AN IMMATERIAL AND IMMORTAL SOUL, DISTINCT FROM THE BODY.
In proving and illustrating this proposition, we may observe,
1. That the thing is certainly a possibility. But Dr. Priestley thinks that he has established the reverse on philosophical principles. The chief thing that he has done, however, is, boldly asserting that there is no common property between matter and spirit, whereby they can subsist toge-, ther, and reciprocally affect each other. But this is endeavoring to prove a point that is far above the reach of human intellect. It is but little that we can know of God
or His works, independently of Divine Revelation. As there are mysteries in the visible world which transcend our comprehension, we are not prepared to pronounce, with any degree of certainty, what is possible or impossible, in relation to the existence and operations of spirit. Men of science know many things to be true, which children consider as impossibilities ; and the capacities of such men are less in comparison with higher intelligences, than children's minds are to theirs. If matter and spirit cannot be combined in a single being, it is a thing only known to God; and, therefore, we have no right to assume the opinion of its being an absurdity, unless it is said so to be by Him who knoweth all things. To think of deciding on a point of this nature by our feeble reason, is surely more than wild. It is like an attempt to span the heavens, or to comprehend the ocean in the hollow of our hand! The specious reasoning of the philosophic Priestley, on this subject, is of no more value than the opinion of the weakest man on earth. If we had nothing to guide us in this case, but the mere light of nature, his arguments might de-. serve some attention. With all the plausibility of such arguments, that philosophy is denied by many, on the ground of abstract reasoning. But no one can prove the impossibility of a thing which is made absolutely certain. That this is the case in relation to the immateriality of the soul, will be made, we hope, to appear.
2. The theory of man's materiality, is discarded by men whose science is not inferior to that of Dr. Joseph Priestley, Many distinguished philosophers, ancient and modern, have vindicated, on the ground of reason, the separate existence and immortality of the soul. When the Doctor thought that he had established the position, that matter may be so modified as to perform all the operations of mind, he draws the conclusion, that the addition of an immaterial spirit would be an unnecessary appendage; that sound philosophy forbids the assigning of more causes than are necessary to produce an effect. But his grand position, that matter may be so modified as to perform the operations of mind, is denied ; and he has no right to take a thing for granted, that requires proof. Unless the premises are established, the conclusions arising from them have no weight. The entire materiality of man, would be a proof of his complete mortality, and evince the impossibility of his having any consciousness after death. But if the soul is immaterial and distinct from the body, then he may, in that part of his nature, exist in a separate state. Believers in the immortality of the soul, universally consider it as a thing wholly distinct from matter.
In fact, if mental operations are nothing but the result of material organization, it will go far in proving that no spirits exist in the universe. On that principle, God Himself must be a material Being; and that would establish at once the Atheistical doctrine, that God is every thing, and every thing is God. This ground, therefore, must be taken in the argument, that matter, in whatever
it may be modified, cannot perform the operations of an intelligent being. No; reason is a power too vast and sublime, to have no other essence but corporality! Mere earth, however curiously modified it might be, could never soar above its own nature and origin; but the soul of man thirsts after immortality. Some of the learned heathen have reasoned admirably on the point in question ; and have defended, with consummate ability, the immortality of the human mind. This was the case of the learned and penetrating Plato. When the celebrated Cato was just about to commit the detestable act of suicide, the historic page says, that be held Plato's philosophy in the one hand, and the fatal sword in the other. Looking at the
sword, he says, “ This will put an end to my life ;” but viewing the book, he cries, “ That assures me that I shall never die!" He then pronounced, with emphasis, “ It must be so, Plato, thou reasonest well; else, why this pleasing hope, this fond desire, this longing after immortality ?” Many scholars, more acute, more deeply versed in science, than Dr. Priestley, have opposed the theory of the soul's materiality; and have defended the opposite hypothesis, with arguments more numerous and powerful than he has adduced in favor of his philosophy. From these considerations we may conclude, that the thing is not only possible, but highly probable, on the mere ground of reason. Even on philosophical principles, we may entertain more elevated views of man, than that of being only a material and mortal creature. If that were really true, we might, with great propriety, hesitate concerning his existing any more after death. The doctrine of materialism is such a near approximation to Atheism, that it cannot be viewed without the deepest horror. Tne Anti-Trinitarians say, indeed, that there will be a resurrection; but another sect may soon arise in that school, informing the world, that the passages
support that doctrine are all interpolations and corrupt readings, and form no part of the original Scriptures. In doing so, they will not be more heretical in respect to them, than they themselves are now in relation
3. The general opinion of mankind has always been in opposition to the materiality and consequent mortality of man. Selecting that part of men who have enjoyed the Scriptures, the principle in question has not been believed by one of a hundred. There was a small sect among the Jews, who said, “There is no resurrection, neither angels nor spirits ;" and in the Christian church, there have, in various ages, been a few of such an infidel turn of thinking.