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It must be allowed, we grant, that truth is not always on the side of the multitude; but a point which few have ever believed, should be thoroughly examined before it is adopted as an article of our creed. There is a strong bias in the minds of some people, to adopt any theory that is new, when exhibited by a popular character; and many others are highly tenacious of doctrines which have antiquity in their favor. These extremes are equally dangerous; and to run into either of them, is an indication of a weak and injudicious mind.
But with regard to the overwhelming number who have always been in the belief of the soul's immortality, it is proper to remark, that they have not been the rabble, the unthinking, the uninformed, nor the vicious. If such people have believed the doctrine, it has been through the influence of the enlightened and virtuous. Yes; those who have given weight and currency to this belief, in general, have been men who have made religion their serious object; men, whose character, candor, learning, natural abilities, patient investigation, and apparent piety, have entitled them to respect; and, therefore, their opinions claim our deference. Not to admit this fact as being an argument in favor of the point in question, is an evidence of a mind wedded to its own notions.
The heathen world, in general, have always had some crude ideas of this doctrine. But being destitute of the Scriptures, they have never had any knowledge of the resurrection; yet they have had some expectations of future rewards and punishments; and that is a manifestation of their belief in the immateriality and incorruptibility of the soul. If the principle is as contrary to Scripture and reason, as Dr. Priestley pretends, how came it to prevail over all the earth, and in all ages?"
The immortality of the soul, and the being of God,
were, undoubtedly, revealed to man at the creation; and some faint impressions of these things have remained on their minds, through all the past generations. When such impressions are once made, they are not very easily removed.
Dr. Priestley considers it as an argument in his favor, that the ancients, in speaking of the soul as being distinct from the body, have, notwithstanding, always spoken of it as being, in some sense, a material substance. This, undoubtedly, arose from their intimate acquaintance with matter, and the necessary obscurity of their ideas, in relation to the nature, or essence of a spirit. In condescention to our senses, God speaks of Himself in the Scriptures, as if He were a material Being. He is said to have hands, eyes, ears, and such properties about Him, as would, in some measure, convey the idea of corporality. But to suppose that He is not a pure and immaterial Essence, would argue the highest degree of mental imbecility.
When Dr. Priestly speaks of spirit, he resolves it into mere matter, and when he treats on matter, it all appears to be resolved into that which is merely ideal. In one word, his whole system seems to be scepticism. It must be allowed, that our knowledge of the real essence, either of matter or spirit, is very obscure; but from their separate properties, we may infer their existence, and widely different natures.
I am willing to admit, however, that all the evidence that has been mentioned in favor of the separate existence of the soul, and its immortality, is wholly insufficient to settle the question. But there is certainly as much of that kind of evidence to which Dr. Priestly resorts, against him, as there is in his favor; and many able reasoners would say, much more. He has, indeed, resorted to the Scriptures, for the defence and illustration of his principles. But it
is a singular appeal, and it is curiously conducted by this philosophic Doctor. He refers to such passages only, as are indefinite in their import ;-and, therefore, being equivocal, he has given them a plausible construction-the appearance of being in his favor. As for those passages which are definite, and manifestly against his scheme, he does not even deign to mention them. He settles them at one bold stroke ;-namely, That the Bible is so interlarded with foreign matter, that no reliance can be placed on it, until it is criticised, and purified by giants, like himself, in Biblical literature. In a word, he seems to consider his own plan as being absolutely settled on philosophical principles; and, of course, those parts of Scripture which hold an opposite language, must have been corrupted. His own philosophy, therefore, is with him the standard, › and the Scriptures must bow to its decisions. But seeing philosophers against philosophers-learned men against learned men-critics against critics, we must resort to the Scriptures as our only safe guide, in the investigation of this subject; believing that they are not corrupted, and that they are fully adequate to settle the momentous question. Therefore,
4. We shall proceed to collect evidence from them, in favor of the proposition which was deduced from the text; namely, that men possess an immaterial spirit, which is immortal, and distinct from the body. It is, we acknowledge, but an obscure idea that we can have of the essence, or substance of a spirit; but we may understand its properties, and perceive their difference from the properties of matter. If man is nothing but a material substance, so modified as to be capable of intellectual operations; it must follow, that the Divine Spirit can effect no change in his moral character, only by the exhibition of motives, or an alteration in the texture, or organization of his frame. The opinion in question
is therefore, at war with the doctrine of regeneration, as it is taught in the Scriptures. If all the passages which teach the Trinity in Unity-the Deity of Christ-his Atonement-the Personality and Deity of the Holy Ghost-the entire depravity of man-the immateriality and immortality of the soul-the doctrine of regeneration, &c. are forgeries, our Bible must be so completely corrupted, that it is now of no real value. But it is sufficient for us, that the Bible teaches all the doctrines that have been mentioned. We are there taught, that the soul and body are distinct in essence, and that they constitute a single complex person. It is nothing less than infidelity, to deviate in the least degree from this view of the subject.
By the immateriality of the soul, we mean, that it is a substance, to us unknown, wholly different from that which is material. It is a substance, in distinction from non-entity; and it is called a spirit in contradistinction from unconscious matter. This difference is clearly marked in our text-namely, "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return to God who gave it." If these words are not spurious-and I know of no such charge against them-they establish the soul's immortality and separate existence. But this doctrine is strongly corroborated by many other sacred passages. Some that are most clear and forcible, will now be selected. Every passage that speaks of the soul as being immortal, and existing in a separate state, proves that it is a substance differing from mere matter, whatever that substance may be, and whether we have or have not a correct conception of that essence or nature. As people have such a strong propensity to evade the force of words, and to give them a construction foreign to their proper import, no texts will be adduced, but such as are perfectly unequivocal.
The passage which is chosen for the foundation of this
subject, is evidently of this kind. In relation to the material part, Solomon says, that man has but little pre-eminence over the brutal creation; as they "all go to one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again." Eccl. 3. 20. But as to the other part of our nature, he tells us, that the difference is vast between us and the brutes they being mortal, and we immortal. He says, "Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of a beast that goeth downward to the earth." Verse 21. His words clearly shew, that the nature of these different spirits is beyond our comprehension; but that the one is immortal and the other not-that the one is accountable to God, the other has no concern in future responsibility. These two passages are sufficient alone, to overset the whole of Dr. Priestley's theory, and every argument on which it is founded.
In reference to this doctrine, Elihu says to Job, “But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding." Job 32. 8. In perfect harmony with this grand sentiment, the prophet Zechariah says, “The Lord stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him." Zech. 12. 1. These passages are incontestible proofs, that the spirit and body of man are distinct things. Say not like Nicodemus, "How can these things be ?" when God hath assured us of their reality. But it is needless to multiply testimonies of this kind, for the Scriptures abound with them. We shall proceed, therefore, to advance some unequivocal passages in support of the soul's immortality, and existence between death and the resurrection. The first that will be mentioned, is that conclusive passage, recorded in Exodus 3. 6, where the Lord saith unto Moses, "I am the God of thy fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob."