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disorders of the human body are incurable and mortal ; and therefore it follows analogically, that it is at least possible, for any thing that reason can find to the con. trary, that some of our mental diseases have no anti. dote, and may prove destructive. If reason cannot assure us that God will show
mercy to the transgressors of his law, it must be impossible for us, without a declaration of his will, to ascertain on what terms he will forgive and save us. The terms of his
will not be such as a criminal would suggest or choose. The wickedness of such a one is proof that he has but mean ideas of the Divine perfections, and that he has not a proper sense of the honour which is due to the Most High. The offended, and not the offender, must fix on the terms of reconciliation. Here, therefore, reason will again be at a loss. Repentance and reformation may appear to the eye of reason to be necessary to this end; but it cannot, without unreasonable partiality, be assumed that they will certainly be accepted. In a thousand cases repentance does not repair the damage which has been done by sin. When a man has ruined his fortune and his constitution by his profligacy, can he repair them by mere repentance and reformation? When a man has hurt the reputation, the property, the body, or the mind of his neighbour, what atonement can he make by repentance and reformation ? In like manner, when a man has, by his transgressions, robbed, dishonoured, and grieved the Almighty, what re. compense does he render to his ker by a discontinuance of his former practices? Is it beyond contradiction clear that God is honoured by our amendment, as much as he was dishonoured by our sin ? that reformation restores to him the benefits which we have abused ? that repentance is pleasing to him in the full proportion in which wickedness is displeasing? Can a penitent sinner do more than give to God all his heart, and devote to him all the residue of his life? and would not thus much have been due from him, if he had never revolted ? Repent. ance and reformation, then, can, by no form of argu. mentation, be proved to be all that is demanded in order to our being forgiven and restored. 6 The word of recon. ciliation” alone can inform us how God can “be just and the justifier” of a penitent sinner. “ His thoughts
are not our thoughts, neither are his ways our ways : for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are his ways higher than our ways, and his thoughts than our thoughts," Isa. lv, 8, 9. The “ way of the Lord” can only be un. derstood from Divine revelation, in which he “ has made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he had purposed in himself,” Eph.
4. There is still another subject connected with the present controversy, on which reason is utterly silent : the duration of future punishment.
Reason cannot assure us of a future state of existence. It cannot ascertain the immortality of the soul. The great reasoners of heathen antiquity thought the immortality of man only probable. Socrates stands the foremost as its advocate. But was he able to convince his friends of the truth of it? Nay, was he himself thoroughly convinced ? We appeal to the famous conclusion of his speech to his judges : -“ But now it is true, we should all retire to our respective offices; you to live, and I to die. But whether you or I are going upon the better expedition, is known to none but God.” An attentive reader of Plato's Dialogues may discover in them a great deal of inconclusive reasoning on this subject. “I have," says Cicero, “pe. rused Plato with the greatest diligence and exactness, over and over again : but know not how it is, while I read him, I am convinced; when I lay the book aside, and begin to consider by myself of the soul's immortality, all the con. viction instantly ceases.” (Tusc. 2, lib. i, n. 11.) .“ If, after all, I am mistaken in my belief of the soul's immortality, I am pleased with my error." (De Senect.) Such was the uncertainty in which, on this important subject, the strongest minds were held !
Human reason, when the question is agitated, may sug. gest many arguments which render it probable that this is not our final state; but certainty from that source is im. possible. That which had a beginning may possibly have an end. “Had the soul a natural immortality the origin of life in itself, it could never cease to be; it would be God." But, like all created beings, it is dependent on its Creator, “ in whom it lives, and moves, and has its be.
It is therefore dependent on the sovereign will of
Him who sees the possibility “that the spirit should fail before him, and the souls which he has made," Isaiah lvii, 16.
And from whence can reason infer how long it is the will of God to prolong the existence of the human soul ? That he has designed it for an eternal, or even for a future state of existence, cannot be inferred from its nature, the growth of its faculties, its abhorrence of annihilation, or its desire of existence. By the nature of the soul, I mean its immateriality. But reason does not uniformly perceive that it is immaterial. Who can argue with greater precision than the Socinians? Yet many of them are thos roughly convinced that their souls are no other than mere matter. These cannot argue that, because the human soul is immaterial, it is immortal. All their hope is the resurrection of the body. But suppose the soul to be spirit, and that some philosophers are aware that a spirit is immaterial; can it be fairly and confidently affirmed that it is therefore immortal ? Its immateriality renders it impos. sible that it should be destroyed by a dissolution of its parts ; for that which is immaterial has no parts. But how does it appear that there is no method of annihilation, but dissolution ? Because the soul cannot perish by the same means by which the body dies, does it follow that it is 'immortal ? The immortality of the soul cannot be inferred from the growth of its faculties. We see human bodies in a state of progressive improvement till they arrive at a certain point, beyond which they speedily decline, and sooner or later perish. And how shall we ascertain that there is not a fixed point, beyond which the human mind is incapable of improvement; a zenith which it passes, and then makes haste to set in darkness ? Its abhorrence of annihilation, and its desire of perpetual exist. ence, cannot prove to us its endless duration. In truth, the abhorrence of annihilation, and the desire of immor. tality, are neither so universal, nor so uniform, as those who triumph in the argument adduced from them assume. But if they were universal and uniform, they, in this case, prove nothing. How many evils which we abhor, befall us! and how few of our desires are gratified! Who would infer that he should never want, because he shrinks at the thought of poverty? or that he shall one day be a king, because his head itches for a diadem? This argument would just as well convince us of the immortality of the body, as of that of the soul.
Again : reason cannot assure us of the future resur. rection of the body. The heathens did not place this hope of the Christian even among probabilities; nay, some of them thought it impossible. "God," says Pliny, “ cannot do all things, neither recall the dead, nor make mortal creatures immortal.” Hence, when St. Paul preached to the Stoics and Epicureans at Athens, they treated him as “a setter-forth of new gods, because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection;" and would hear no more from one who could be guilty of mentioning such an absurdity. And who can wonder at the error of those who knew not the Scriptures, neither the power of God ?” Which of us has seen a dead body revive ? What is there left in a rotten carcass, the dust of which is scattered before the winds of heaven, to lead us to look for a resuscitation ? “ Can these dry bones live? Lord, thou knowest.” And who beside knows, unless the Lord of life have been pleased to give some intimation of his purpose? We can indeed reason on this subject from analogy. We see that day uniformly follows night ; and therefore argue that the night of death may be followed by the morning of a resurrection ? Very true; it may; but is it evident from hence that it shall ? Might not one, with equal propriety, attempt in this way to prove an end. less succession of sleeping and waking, of dying and re. viving? Again : every spring produces a resurrection in the vegetable world, from whence some men of great name infer that there will at length be a resurrection in the ani. mal world; and the apostle’s allusion to a grain of wheat, which is not quickened except it die,” is thought to give countenance to the argument, and to prove its validity. Now, not to say that it is but a lame argument which wants a proof to support it, is it not plain that St. Paul makes use of that allusion, not to demonstrate, but to illustrate a future resurrection ? If it be an argument, the fol. lowing is well adapted to destroy it. “ There is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease: though the root thereof was old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in
the ground; yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant. But man dieth, and wasteth away ; yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?”
Now if it is impossible for human reason to decide on a future state of existence, or to point out the term of that exis ce, it cannot determine the duration of the future punishment of the wicked. To say nothing of the partiality of a man in his own cause, or of the unwillingness of a criminal to sign his own death warrant, it is not possible for him, however he may be disposed, to assign the nature and duration of the punishment which he has deserved. To do this, he must “ know the Almighty to perfection.” He must be able to discern, as well as willing to acknowledge, what is due from the intelligent and accountable creatures of God, to the Divine majesty, purity, justice, and goodness. Unless he can comprehend thus much, he has no data on which to ground his decision of this important question, and must therefore refer it to that Gospel in which “ the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.
Should that knowledge of Divine things which, after all, the wiser heathens confessedly possessed, render it doubtful whether reason be so inadequate to the attain. ment of it as has been represented, it will be necessary to add that they enjoyed the partial and imperfect light of a remote revelation. The patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had frequent Divine communications; and Joseph, who indubitably learned much from his progenitors, was no stranger to them. While the latter reigned in Egypt, much valuable light would be diffused among the inhabitants of that country. The Egyptians would make considerable improvement in Divine knowledge during the captivity of Israel, and not a little by the mi. raculous deliverance. The Greeks studied wisdom in Egypt, and afterward imparted it to the Romans. As the Israelites were appointed the “ witnesses” of Jehovah, some small measure of Divine knowledge emanated from them, and was shed on the nations more immediately surrounding them. Thus it was that the sages of anti. quity obtained, not from reason, but from revelation, their best maxims and their most valuable knowledge.