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DEATH AND THE INTERMEDIATE STATE.
Ecclesiastes xii. 7.
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was : and the
spirit shall return to God who gave it. In the beginning of this chapter, Solomon enforces upon the young the importance of an early remembrance of their Creator, by a consideration of the evils incident to old age. The gloom, feebleness, and despondency of this period of life, are arrayed before the mind in a series of images, of remarkable elegance and expressiveness. In old age, the relish for the pleasures of life, is lost; and men grow indifferent even to those objects, which once occasioned the most agreeable sensations. Hence, the sun with its pleasant light, the fair moon and radiant stars, are as it were, obscured to them: or the imagination, memory, and judgement, the lights of the mind, are so impaired, that they seem darkened. One affliction or pain, succeeds another, as clouds return after showers in a rainy season.
The hands and arms, with which a man defends himself from assaults and accidents, as watchmen keep the house, grow feeble, tremble, and falter when their help is requisite. The legs and thighs which as strong men support the body, seem in old age, to bend under its weight. The teeth which used to grind the food, are most of them gone;
and the few that remain, become useless. The eyes, by which the soul looked as it were, out at the windows, grow dim. In such a melancholy state, men have no inclination to eat; as they cannot grind or chew their food without pain and difficulty: And they keep at home, retired, having their doors shut towards the street. Their rest is so easily disturbed, that they awake and rise up uneasy and alarmed at the least noise, even at the singing of a bird. The voice and the ear, those daughters of musick, are no longer capable of performing their functions; or the spirits are too languid to attend with satisfaction. Every ascent in the way terrifies them, on account of the labour of climbing; and they shun every high place, through fear of falling. Their heads covered with silver locks, seem to blossom like the almond tree: And every little inconvenience, though but the weight or chirping of a grass-hopper, is a burden to them. They are bowed down, and draw nigh to the end of their journey, and to the house appointed for all the living
When these things take place, then the silver córd will be loosed, which may mean the inexplicable bord of union between the soul and body; or the spinal marrow, which continues sensation by the nerves, from the brain to every part of the body. Or the whole verse may be a description of the functions of life, taken from a well, where is a cord to the bowl or bucket, with which the water is drawn; a wheel, by which it is the more easily raised; a cistern, into which it may be poured; and a pitcher, or vessel, with which it is carried away : but now all are broken, or loosened and become useless. Thus at death, the lungs no more play; the heart ceases to beat, and the blood to circulate. Every vessel becomes useless : The whole surprising machinery for forming and communicating the blood, which is the life, from the fountain of the heart to every extremity of the body, is now entirely deranged. The silver cord is loosed; the golden bowl broken; the pitcher and the wheel are marred at once.
Thus, when animal life shall cease, and the mystevious union of soul and body shall be dissolved, then shall the dust, or the material frame, return unto the
earth as it was, and mingle with its original dust. How great and affecting the change! What was once animate, now becomes inanimate: What was once life and activity, becomes lifeless and inactive : What was once a regular organized body, becomes irregular, disarranged particles of dust: And what was once the beauty and delight of the eye, becomes deformity and a loathsome mass of corruption. The decree went forth against our first parents, Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. They were the subjects of its execution, and innumerable of their descendants have followed them. Abrabam viewed himself as constantly liable to be turned to clay, for he says, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes. Job, who was once dear and lovely to his friends, became loathsome and offensive to them, even while life remained. His proclamation is, My flesh is clothed with worms and clods of dust; my skin is broken, and become loathsome. What a melancholy description! Our souls sicken at the disgusting recol. lection. Hear his interrogation concerning the human
Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his Maker? Behold, he put no. trust in his servants,' and his angels he charged with folly : How much less in them, that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, which are crushed before the moth.
The declaration of Jehovah, is, All flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again to the dust. The united voice of the inspired writers, every age and nation attest, It is appointed unto man once to die.
Two things are worthy of notice in relation to the human body. The first is its vast superiority over all the animal creation, in regard to the erectness of its form, the nobleness of its frame, the admirable texture, and wonderful arrangement of its animated particles. None of the creatures upon earth will
bear a comparison to its agreeable symmetry, its interesting aspect, and dignified structure. The second is its most loathsome situation, when turned to corruption. No animal, when in its highest state of putrefaction, is so loathsome and disgusting as the human body. Perhaps it becomes as much more putrid and nauseous, as it was once the more beautiful and lovely.
Doctor Dwight has the two following particulars, in regard to the things which immediately after death, respect the body.
1st. That the body is changed into a corpse.
Death is the termination of all the animal functions of our nature. So long as these continue, life the result of them, diffuses warmth, activity, and beauty throughout our frame. In this state, the body is a useful as well as pleasing habitation for the soul; and a necessary, as well as convenient instrument for accomplishing the purposes to which it is destined in the present.world. But, when these functions cease, life also ceases. The body then becomes cold, motionless, deformed, and useless. The form which once gave pleasure to all around it, now creates only pain and sorrow. The limbs are stiffened; the face clouded with paleness; the eyes closed in darkness; the ears deaf; the voice dumb; and the whole appearance ghastly and dreadful. In the mean time, the spirit deserts it ruined habitation and wings its way into the unknown vast of being.
2d. The body is conveyed to the grave.
Necessity compels the living to remove this decayed frame from their sight. Different nations have pursued different modes of accomplishing this purpose. By some nations, the body has been consumed with fire. By others, it has been embalmed. By some it has been lodged in tombs, properly so called. By others it has been consigned to vaults and caverns; and by most has been buried in the grave. All nations, in whatever manner they have disposed of
the remains of their departed friends, have, with one consent, wished like Abraham, to remove their dead out of their sight. In this situation, the body becomes the prey of
. corruption and the feast of worms. How humiliating an allotment is this to the pride of man! When the conquerour, returned from the slaughter of millions, enters his capitol in triumph; when the trumpet of fame proclaims his approach, and the shouts of mil- , lions announce his victories; surrounded by the spoils of subjugated nations, and followed by trains of vanquished kings and heroes; how must his haughty spirit be lowered to the dust by the remembrance that within a few days, himself would become the food of a worm, reigning over him with a more absolute controul than he ever exercised over his slave. Yet this will be the real end of all his achievements. To this humble level must descend the tenant of the throne, as well as of the cottage. Here wisdom and folly, learning and ignorance, refinement and vulgarity will lie down together. Hither moves with an unconscious, but regular step, the beauty that illumines the gay assembly’s gayest room; that subdues the heart even of the conquerour himself; and says, I sit as queen and shall see no sorrow. All these may say, and ultimately must say to corruption, Thou art our father; and to the worm, Thou art our mother and our sister. But weare not yet at the end of the progress. The next stage in our humiliation, is to be changed into dust. This was our origin: this is our end. The very clods on which we tread, were once, not improbably, parts to a greater or less extent, of living beings like ourselves. Not a small part of the surface of this world has, in all probability, been animated and inhabited by human minds: And the remains of man, are daily, perhaps as well as insensibly, turned up by the plough and the spade.
2d. Let us attend to some reflections concerning the spirit or soul of man after death.