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Such being the nature of the soul, may we not reasonably conclude, that in a future life it will continue to increase in knowledge in infinite progression ? Freed, as it will then be, from its connexion with the body; which, by its cares, its diseases, and its wants, often prevents mental improvement, it will more easily and rapidly ad. vance. And, as many of the objects of knowl. edge are infinite, they never can be fully comprehended by a finite mind; but by their transcendent excellence, will keep the holy soul forever pressing forward, toward a more intimate acquaintance with them. And as he advances, his happiness will increase ; because he will have more clear and comprehensive ideas than ever of the glory of the divine character, the excellency of Christ, the fullness of his redemption, and the wonders of his moral government. These are subjects that are infinitely delightful, and can never be exhausted.
3. The soul is also capable of great attainments in holiness in the present life. For proof of this I refer you to the many instances of remarkably holy men, who have appeared in the world at different periods of time. Such were Abraham, Moses, Elijah, with the apostles and first Chris. tians. And in modern times we see some persons of eminent piety, who shine the brighter, the more they are known. They walk with God as did Enoch. If their breasts were transparent, and you could read what passes there, you would find the most absolute hatred of sin, because contrary to a holy God; the most ardent desires after holiness, as that perfection of Deity in which is comprehended all moral beauty. Hence their
language is, “My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God.” In them you would perceive the various Christian tempers, such as love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, and deep humility. They live on the very threshold of heaven, and often anticipate the happy moment when they shall drop their body of sin, as Elijah did his mantle in his ascension, and enter into the rest that remains for the people of God.
But the pious soul is not always thus happy in the present state. He groans, being burdened with sin within ; and sometimes is ready to conclude he never has known the truth as it is in Jesus. If I am a Christian, why am I thus ? why so much sin, so many wrong tempers ? Permit me to say, that through a long life, I have had opportunities of learning, from Christians of different denominations, that this is their common language at certain seasons. They all feel and speak the same things. But did you complain of a body of sin when you were in unbelief? You did not. This is the exercise of a soul renewed by grace, and brought to long for holiness. Remember it was not Saul the Pharisee, but Paul the Christian, who cried out, “ wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death ?”
4. The soul, in many instances, suffers extreme pain in the present life. We have seen some persons in an agony of distress, on account of uncommon losses in business. What pain of mind do some persons endure in the anticipation of a distressing event! How great their anguish when their Isaac is cut down! With David they cry in bitterness of heart, “ O Absalom, my son, my
son! would God I had died for thee, O Absa. lom, my son, my son !”
What agony of soul do sinners feel, when labouring under a guilty conscience. “While I suffer thy terrors," say they, “ I am distracted.” “A wounded spirit, who can bear?” This is the case especially with despairing sinners. Such was Judas, to whom life became a burden; hence he went and hanged himself.
Such was the awful condition of a young gen. tleman who had forsaken the principles of Chris. tianity, and embraced the cause of infidelity. “ When taken ill he found he had not shook off the expectations of another life. This made him throw himself upon a bed, and break out in these expressions : “Whence this war in my breast? What argument now to assist me against matter of fact? Do I assert there is no hell, while I feel one in my own bosom? Am I certain there is no after-retribution when I feel a present judgment ? Do I affirm my soul to be as mortal as my body, when this languishes, and that is vigorous as ever? O that any one could restore me to my ancient guard of piety and innocence : wretch that I am! whither shall I fly from this breast? what will become of me?"'*
Such extreme anguish does the soul endure, in some instances, in the present life. What then may we suppose the finally impenitent will suffer in the future state, where hope can never come ?
5. Perinit me to observe farther, as a matter of consciousness, that the soul can pass in an instant, in thought or idea, to the most distant
* Ryland's Cause of Infidelity ruined forever.
parts of the globe. The traveller can be present in a moment in any country he hath ever visited, and recollect the buildings, the inhabitants, their dress, their manners, &c. ; yea more, by virtue of this power of the mind, the good man can ascend to heaven in thought and affection, and unite with saints and angels in the delightful service of praise and adoration. Such foretastes of the happiness of heaven, some eminent Christians are favoured with at times, that they feel a strong desire to depart and to be with Christ. “Why,” say they, “are his chariot-wheels so long in coming ?”
6. It follows from the preceding observations, that the soul cannot be confined by walls or bars. You may imprison the body, but the soul will enjoy its liberty : it bids defiance to its enemies, and will roam at large. Paul and Silas were confined in prison, with their feet fast in the stocks, but their holy 'souls ascended to the throne of God in praise and prayer. Place makes no difference with the heaven-born mind.
The mind is its own place ;
7. To sum up this part of the subject concerning the nature of the soul, I have only to add, that it is immortal. It shall survive the body, outlive time ; yea, live forever. What dignity, what unspeakable value does immortality stamp on the soul of man ! and how perfectly agreeable is it to the wishes of all mankind !
I cannot, on this occasion, enter largely on the consideration of this blessed truth; yet beg leave
to suggest, that the unequal distribution of things in this life, renders it necessary that there should be a future state of rewards and punishments. We often observe, that wicked men prosper in the world, have all that heart can wish ; their eyes stand out with fatness, they have no bands in their death, they are not in trouble as other men. On the other hand, we repeatedly see men of great piety oppressed with complicated sorrows. This circumstance perplexed the psalmist extremely : hence he said, “I was envious at the foolish when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. When I thought to know this, it was too pain. ful for me ; until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end. Surely thou didst set them in slippery places ; thou castedst them down into destruction."
If the present were our final state, it would be impossible for us to justify the ways of God to
But the difficulty is removed by the doc. trine of a future life, when he will render to every man according to his works : “ to them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, honour, immortality, eternal life ; but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile ; for there is no respect of persons with God.”
But, my brethren, it is to the sacred volume that we are indebted for the clear discovery of this most important truth. Jesus Christ hath brought life and immortality to light by the gospel. He hath taught us in places too numerous