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THE GENERAL RESURRECTION,
Having hope towards God, (which they themselves also allow,) that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.
THE most wise Creator of the universe has so formed one world, that it is not to be governed without the help of another; nor the actions of the life here, to be kept in order, without the hopes and fears of one hereafter. The truth is, next to God himself, hopes and fears govern all things. They act by a kind of royal deputation under him, and are so without control, that they carry all before them, by an absolute, unlimited sway. For so long as God governs the world, (which will be as long as there is a world to govern,) law must govern under him, and the sanction of rewards and punishments must be that which enables the law itself to govern: human nature of itself being by no means so well disposed, as to make its duty the sole motive or measure of its obedience.
For as in other cases, so here, it is not so much the hand which binds, as the bond or chain with which it binds, which must make good its hold, upon the thing or person so bound by it. Every 158man, in all that concerns him, stands influenced by his hopes and fears, and those by rewards and punishments, the proper and respective objects thereof; and the divine law is the grand adamantine ligament, tying both of them fast together; by assuring rewards to our hopes, and punishments to our fears; so that man being thus bound by the peremptory, irreversible decree of Heaven, must, by virtue thereof, indispensably obey or suffer; the sentence of the law being universal and perpetual, either of a work to be done, or a penalty to be endured.
But whether it be from the nature or fate of man kind, it is no small matter of wonder, that man, of all creatures, should have such an averseness to obey, and such a proneness to disobey his Maker, that no thing under an eternity of happiness or misery (the first of them unspeakable, and the other of them in tolerable) should be the means appointed to engage him to the one, or deter him from the other. And it is yet a greater wonder, that not only such a method of dealing with men should be thought necessary, but that in such innumerable instances it should be found not sufficient; at least not effectual to the end it is intended for; as the event of things too fatally demonstrates it not to be.
Nevertheless, since Almighty God has pitched upon this method of governing the world by rewards and punishments, a resurrection of the persons so to be rewarded or punished must needs be granted absolutely and unavoidably necessary: nothing in this life giving us a satisfactory account, that either the good or the bad have been yet dealt with according to the strict and utmost merit of their works: which yet, the justice of an infinitely wise judge and governor 159having so positively declared his will in the case, cannot but insist upon. For albeit God, as creator of the world, acted therein by an absolute, sovereign power, always under the conduct of infinite wisdom and goodness; yet, as governor of it, his justice is the prime attribute which he proceeds by, and the laws the grand instruments whereby justice acts, as rewards and punishments are the things which give life, force, and efficacy to justice itself. Upon which grounds, the apostle gives us a full account of the whole matter, in that excellent place, in 2 Cor. v. 10. We must all, says he, appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Thus says the apostle. But the dead, we know, as such, can receive no such things; nor are subjects capable of rewards or punishments: so that the sum of the apostle’s whole argument amounts to this: that as certainly as God governs the world wisely, and will one day judge it righteously, so certain is it, that there must be a general retribution, and, by consequence, a general resurrection.
In my discourse upon which, I shall cast the whole prosecution of the subject here to be treated of by us, under these three propositions, viz.
I. That a belief of a resurrection from the dead, is a thing exceeding difficult, strange, and harsh to the discourses of natural reason.
II. That notwithstanding this great difficulty, there is yet sufficient reason and solid ground for the belief of it. And,
III. and lastly, That supposing a sufficiency of reason for this belief, all difficulties, and seeming repugnancies 160allegeable against it, do exceedingly advance the worth, value, and excellency of it.
Now under these three propositions shall be taken in all that we shall or can say concerning the general resurrection at the last day. And accordingly, as to the first of the three propositions, importing the great difficulty, strangeness, and repugnancy of the article of the resurrection to the belief of natural reason, we find, moreover, in the text here pitched upon by us, that the main objection insisted upon by the principal of St. Paul’s opposers, the Sadducees, against the doctrine preached by him, was drawn from this controverted point of the resurrection, and of the incredibility of the same, founded upon the supposed impossibility thereof; which, as it was a point of incomparably the greatest moment in the practice of religion, and consequently with the firmest steadiness to be assented to, and with equal zeal to be contended for, by our apostle; so was it with no less heat and fierceness opposed and exploded by those his forementioned antagonists. In treating of which, I shall endeavour these two things.
1. To shew that there is such an extraordinary averseness in natural reason to the belief of a resurrection, as in the said proposition we have affirmed that there is.
2. To assign the causes from which this averseness proceeds.
And first, for the first of these. The surest and readiest way, I should think, to learn the verdict of reason in this matter, would be to proceed by the rule and standard of their judgment, who were the most acknowledged and renowned masters of reason 161and learning in the several ages of the world, the philosophers; persons who discoursed upon the bare principles of natural reason, and upon no higher; who pretended not to revelation, but acquiesced in such discoveries, as nature, assisted with industry, and improved with hard study, could furnish them with. And this certainly was the best and likeliest way to state the ne plus ultra of reason, and to shew how far it could and could not go, by shewing how far it had actually gone already. And the world has had experience in more sorts of learning than one, how much those, who have gone before, have surpassed in perfection, as well as time, those who have come after them.
Now, in the first rank of these great and celebrated persons, Pythagoras (the earliest whom history reports to us to have been dignified with the title of philosopher) asserted and taught a metempsychosis, or transmigration of the same soul into several bodies; which is utterly inconsistent with a resurrection; the number of bodies, upon these terms, in so great a proportion exceeding the number of souls; one soul wearing out many bodies, as one body does many garments. So that the Pythagoric principle can admit of no resurrection, unless there could be as many souls as bodies to rejoin one another; which, upon this hypothesis, cannot be.
Plato indeed speaks much of the immortality of the soul; but by not so much as mentioning the rising of the body again after its dissolution, (when yet he treated of so cognate a subject,) we may rationally presume, that he knew nothing of it; and that amongst all his ideas, (as I may so express it,) he had none of such a resurrection.162
Aristotle held an eternity of the world, viz. as to the heavens and the earth, the principal parts of it. But as to things mutable, he placed that eternity in the endless succession of individuals; which clearly shews, that he meant not, that those individuals should revive, and return to an endless duration. For since he asserted this succession only to immortalize the kind or species, the immortality of particulars would have rendered that succession wholly needless.
As for the Stoics and Epicureans, who, I am sure, were reputed the subtilest and most acute of all the sects of philosophers, we have them in Acts xvii. 32. scoffing at the very mention of rising from the dead. They thought it ridiculous for animated dust once dead to revive, or for man to be made or raised out of it, any more than once. For if that might be, they reckoned that men could not properly be said to die, but rather only to hold their breath for some time, than totally to lose it; and that death might be called a sleep without a metaphor, if we might so soon shake it off, and rise from it again. In short, if Zeno or Chrysippus were alive, they would explode, and if Epicurus himself should rise from the dead, he would scarce believe a resurrection.
But to pass from heathens to those who had their reason further improved by revelation, we have in the Jewish church a great, a learned, and considerable sect, called the Sadducees, wholly discarding this article from their creed; as St. Matthew tells us, in Matth. xxii. 23, and St. Luke, in Acts xxiii. 8, that the Sadducees say, there is no resurrection, &c. as, no doubt, it was their interest 163(as well as belief) that there should be none.
And lastly, even for some of those who professed Christianity itself, and that in the famous city of Corinth, where most of the gallantry, the wit, and learned arts of Greece flourished, we find some Christians themselves denying it, as appears from that elaborate confutation which St. Paul bestowed upon them in the 15th chapter of his first Epistle to the Corinthians.
Which instances, amongst several others assign able to the same purpose, may suffice to shew, how hardly this article finds credit with those who are led by principles of mere natural reason; and indeed so strange and incredible does it appear to such, (and some others also, though professing higher principles,) that the same power which God exerted in raising Christ from the dead, seems necessary to raise such sons of infidelity to a firm and thorough belief of it. And so I come to the
Second thing proposed, viz. to assign the causes, why natural reason thus starts from the belief of a resurrection: and these may be reckoned of two sorts.
1. Such as are taken from the manifold improbabilities, rendering the matter so exceeding unlikely to the judgment of human reason, that it cannot frame itself to a belief, that there is really any such thing. And,
. Such as are drawn from the downright impossibility charged upon it. Both which are to be considered. And
1st. Those many great improbabilities and unlikelihoods alleged against the resurrection of the same numerical body, are apt to give a mighty check to 164the mind of man in yielding its belief to it. For who would imagine, or could conceive, that when a body, by continual fraction and dissipation, is crumbled into millions of little atoms, some portions of it rarified into air, others sublimated into fire, and the rest changed into earth and water, the elements should after all this surrender back their spoils, and the several parts, after such a dispersion, should travel from all the four quarters of the world to meet together, and come to a mutual interview of one another, in one and the same individual body again? That God should summon a part out of this fish, that fowl, that beast, that tree, and remand it to its former place, to unite into a new combination for the rebuilding of a fallen edifice, and restoring an old, broken, demolished carcass to itself once more? So that, by such a continual circulation of life and death following upon one another, the grave should become, not so much a conclusion, as the interruption; not the period, but the parenthesis of our lives; a short interval between the present and the future, and only a passage to convey us from one life to another. These things, we must confess, are both difficult in the notion, and hard to our belief. For though, indeed, the word of truth has declared, that all flesh is grass, and man but as the flower of the field; yet the apprehensions of sense will hardly be brought to acknowledge, that he therefore grows upon his own grave, or springs afresh out of the ground. For can the jaws of death relent? or the grave, of all things, make restitution? Can filth and rottenness be the preparatives to glory? and dust and ashes the seedplots of immortality? Is the sepulchre a place to dress ourselves in for heaven, the attiring room for corruption to put on 165incorruption, and to fit us for the beatific vision? These are paradoxes which nature cannot well digest; mysteries which it cannot fathom; being all of them such, as the common, universal observation of the world is wholly a stranger to.
And thus much for the first cause, which generally keeps men from a belief of the resurrection; namely, the great improbabilities and unlikelihoods attending it; but this is not all; there being yet another and a greater argument alleged against it, and that is, in the
Second and next place, the downright impossibilities charged upon it. And this from the seemingly unanswerable contradictions and absurdities implied in it; and, as some think, unavoidably consequent upon it. Of which, the chief, and most hardly reconcileable to the discourses of human reason, is founded in and derivable from the continual transmutation of one thing into another. For how extravagant so ever the forementioned Pythagorean hypothesis, of the transmigration or metempsychosis of one soul into several bodies, may be justly accounted to be, yet the transmutation of one body into another ought not to be accounted so. For the parts of a body, we know, are in a continual flux, and the decays of nature are repaired by the daily substitution of new matter derived from our nutriment; and when, at length, this body comes to be dissolved by death, it soon after returns to earth; and that earth is animated into grass, and that grass turned into the substance of the beast which eats it, and that beast becomes food to man, and so, by a long percolation, is converted into his flesh and substance. So that such matter or substance, which was once an integral part of this man’s body, perhaps twenty 166years after his death, by this round or circle of perpetual transmutation, comes to be an integral part of another man’s. Now if there be a resurrection, and every man shall be restored with his own numerical body, perfect and complete, we may propose our doubt in those words of the Sadducees to our Saviour in Matth. xxii. 28, concerning the woman who had been married to several husbands successively: To which of them shall she belong at the last day? for all of them had her. So may it be said of such a portion of matter or substance, which, by continual change, has been an integral part of several bodies: To which of these bodies shall it be restored at the resurrection? For having successively belonged to each of them, either our bodies must not rise entire, or the same portion of substance and matter must be a part of several distinct bodies, and consequently be in several distinct places at the same time, which is manifestly impossible.
Now the foundation of this argument, taken from the vicissitude and mutual change of things into one another, is clear, from obvious and universally uncontested experience; and being so, the restitution of every soul to its own respective body, and to every integral part of it, is a thing to which all principles of natural reason seem a contradiction; and by consequence, if so, not within the power of omnipotence to effect. I say, it seems so; and I will not presume to say more.
The consideration of which drove the Socinians, those known enemies to natural as well as revealed religion, (whatsoever they pretend in contradiction to what they assert in behalf of both,) together with some others, peremptorily to deny that men shall be 167raised with the same numerical bodies which they had in this world, but with another, which, for its ethereal, refined substance, they say, is by St. Paul termed a spiritual body, 1 Cor. xv. 44. And being here pressed with the very literal signification of the word resurrection, which implies a repeated existence of the same thing, they will have it here used only by a kind of metaphor, viz. that because in death a man seems to the perception and view of sense utterly to perish and cease to be, therefore his restitution seems to be a sort of resurrection. And as for those Greek words ἀναστῆναι and ἐγείρειν, they endeavour to shew, by other like places of scripture, that they signify no more than the bare suscitation, raising, or giving being to a thing, without its having fallen or perished before. As for instance, in Matth. xxii. 24, ἀναστήσει σπέρμα τῷ ἀδελφῷ, he shall raise up seed to his brother. And in Rom. ix. 17, God says of Pharaoh, διὰ τοῦτο ἐξήγειρά σε· for this cause have I raised thee up. Whereas neither of these can be supposed to have perished before that raising. From whence, and some other such like places, they conclude, that these words, applied to the present case, import at most the bare restoration of the man; and that not necessarily by restoring his soul to its old body, but by joining it to a new; accounted indeed the same to all real intents and purposes of use, though not by formal identity; they still affirming, nevertheless, the man thus raised, and with his new body, to be the same person; forasmuch as, they say, it is the soul or spirit which makes the man, and is the proper principle which gives the individuation. This was their opinion.
And thus I have done with the first of the three 168propositions drawn from the words, viz. the exceeding great difficulty of men’s believing a resurrection. And that, both by proving that actually it is so, from the most authentic examples allegeable in the case, and by assigning withal the reasons and causes why it comes to be so: I proceed now to the second proposition, viz. To shew that, notwithstanding this difficulty, there is yet sufficient reason and solid ground for the belief of it.
And this I shall endeavour to do, both by answering the foregoing objections brought against the resurrection; and withal offering something by way of argument, for the positive proof of it.
Now for the first of these. I shew that the resurrection was argued against upon two distinct heads, viz. The improbabilities attending it, and the impossibilities charged upon it. And,
1. Briefly, as to the objection from the improbabilities said to attend it, and to keep men off from the belief of it; besides that the said objection runs in a very loose and popular, rather than in a close and argumentative way, and looks more like harangue than reasoning, (though yet the best that the thing will bear,) we are to observe yet further, that not every strange and unusual event ought always, and under all circumstances, to be accounted improbable. For where a sufficient cause of any thing or event may be assigned, though above and beyond the common course of natural causes, I cannot reckon that event or thing properly and strictly improbable. Forasmuch as it is no ways improbable, that the supreme agent and governor of all things should, for some great end or purpose, sometimes step out of the ordinary road of his providence, (as 169undoubtedly he often does,) and of which there are several instances upon record, both in sacred and profane story, relating what strange things have happened in the world, which could not rationally be ascribed to any other, but the supernatural workings of a divine power. Nevertheless, admitting, but not granting the fore-alleged improbabilities of a resurrection, yet this does not at all affect the point now in dispute before us, which turns not properly upon the probability, but the possibility of the thing here discoursed of. And where there is a possibility on the one side, answered by an omnipotence on the other, there can be no ground to question an effect commensurate to both. For a resurrection being allowed possible, though never so improbable, still it is in the number of those things which an infinite power can do; and upon this account we find, that there is a much higher pitch of infidelity, which stops not here, but goes so far on, as to deny the very possibility of it too: and this brings me to the examination of the
Second objection produced against this article of the resurrection, from the utter impossibility thereof, (as the objectors pretend) and that impossibility (as we have shewn) founded upon the continual transmutation of one body into another. This, I say, was the argument; and it seems to me to press the hardest upon the resurrection of the same numerical body, and to be the most difficult to be solved and answered of any other whatsoever. For as for those commonly drawn from the seeming impossibility of bringing together such an innumerable multitude of minute particles, as from a body once dissolved must needs be scattered all the world over into the several 170elements of fire, air, water, and earth, and reuniting them all together at the last day; I cannot, I say, find any thing in all this either hard or puzzling, and much less contrary to natural reason to believe, if we do but acknowledge an omniscience in the agent, who is to do this great thing, joined with an omni potence in the same. For, by the first of these two perfections, he cannot but know where all and every one of the said particles of the body are lodged and disposed of; and by the latter, he must be no less able to bring them from all parts and places of the universe, though never so vastly distant from one another, and join them again together in the restitution of the said body. Nothing being difficult, either for omniscience to know, or for omnipotence to do; but when the thing to be done is, in the nature of it, impossible; as the fore-alleged argument would infer the resurrection to be.
To which therefore I answer, that the proposition or assertion, upon which the said argument is grounded, is neither evident nor certain; and that we have no assurance, that the transmutation of an human body into other animated bodies, after its dissolution, is total, and extends to all the parts thereof; but that there may be a considerable portion of matter in every man’s body (for of such only we now dispute) which never passes by transmutation into any other animated body, but sinks into and rests in the common mass of matter, contained in the four elements, (according to the respective nature of each particular element wherein it is lodged,) and there continues unchanged by any new animation, till the last day. But what these particular parts are, which admit of no such further change, 171and what quantity of corporeal substance or matter they make or amount to, I suppose, is known only to God himself, the great disposer and governor, as well as maker and governor of the world.
And whereas it is said in the objection, that such a continual transmutation, as is here supposed, is evident from a general, constant, uncontestable experience; I deny, that the just measures, bounds, and compass of this transmutation can be exactly known by or evident to common experience; forasmuch as it falls not under the cognizance of the out ward senses; and yet it is only that, and the repeated observations made thereby, which experience is or can be founded upon. For who can assure himself, or any one else, upon his own personal sight, hearing, or the report of any other of his senses, that the whole matter of a dissolved body passes successively into other living bodies? (though a great portion of it may, and without question does;) and if, on the other side, he cannot, upon his own personal observation, give a full and exact account of this, can he pretend to tell how and where the providence of God has disposed of the remaining part of the said dissolved body, which has not under gone any such change? This, I say, is not to be known by us, either by any observation of sense, or discourse of reason founded thereupon, and I know of no revelation to adjust the matter. So that, although it should be supposed true, (which we do by no means grant to be so,) that in the dissolution of every human body the whole mass, and every part of the said body, underwent such an entire transmutation as we have been speaking of; yet, since this cannot certainly be known, it cannot come into argumentation, 172as a proof of that which it is alleged for; unless we would prove an ignotum per ceque ignotum; which being grossly illogical, and a mere petitio principii, can conclude nothing, nor at all affect the subject in dispute, one way or other: forasmuch as in every demonstration of the highest sort, the principles thereof ought to be evident, as well as certain.
The sum of all therefore is this; that every human body, upon its dissolution, sinks by degrees into the elementary mass of matter; whereof a great part passes by several animations into other bodies; and a great part likewise remains in the same elementary mass, without undergoing any further change. To which reserved portion, at the last day, the soul, as the prime, individuating principle, and the said reserved portion of matter, as an essential and radical part of the individuation, together with a sufficient supply of more matter (if requisite) from the general mass, shall, by the almighty power of God joining all those together, make up and restore the same individual person: and this cuts off all necessity of holding, that what was once an integral part of one body, should, at the same time, become an integral part of another, which, it is confessed, for the reason before given, would make the restitution of the same numerical portion of matter to both bodies utterly impossible.
But if it be here replied, that our assertion of a reserved portion of matter never passing into other animated bodies by any further transmutation, (albeit a considerable portion of the same dissolved body be allowed so to do) is a thing merely gratis dictum, and that we have not yet positively proved the same; 173my answer is, that in the present case, there is no necessity of proving that it is actually so; but it is sufficient to our purpose, that the contrary cannot be proved, and that nothing hinders but that it may be so; the thing being in itself possible: and if that be granted, then the argument, founded upon the supposed impossibility of it, comes to nothing. Forasmuch as being possible, it falls within the compass of God’s omnipotence, which is the great attribute to be employed in this case. And this effectually over throws the whole force of the objection.
But if it be further argued, that the great addition of matter to be made at the last day, out of the common mass, to those remainders of matter, which (having belonged to the same man’s body formerly) are then to be completed into a perfect body again, seems inconsistent with the numerical identity of the body which was before, and that which shall be after wards at the resurrection; I answer, that this is no more inconsistent with the numerical identity thereof, than the addition of so great a quantity of new matter, as comes to be made to a man’s body, by a continual augmentation of all the parts of it, from his birth to his full stature, makes his body numerically another at his grown age, from that which the same person had while he was yet an infant. In both which ages, nevertheless, the body is still reckoned but one and the same in number, though in disparity of bulk and substance, twenty to one greater in the latter than in the former. Accordingly, suppose we further, that only so much matter as has still continued in our bodies, from our coming into the world to our going out of it, shall be reunited to our soul at the resurrection, even that may and will 174be sufficient to constitute our glorified body in a real, numerical identity with that body which the soul was in before, so as upon all accounts to be still the same body, though in those so very different states and conditions.
And therefore, the opinion of the Socinians, viz. That the soul, at the resurrection, shall be clothed with another and quite different body, from what it had in this life, (whether of ether or some such like sublimated matter,) moved thereto by the forementioned objections, and the like, ought not to be admitted: it being contrary to reason and all sound philosophy, that the soul successively united to two entirely distinct bodies, should make but one and the same numerical person: since though the soul be indeed the prime and chief principle of the individuation of the person, yet it is not the sole and adequate principle thereof; but the soul, joined with the body, makes the adequate, individuating principle of the person. Nor will any true philosophy allow, that the body was ever intended for the mere garment of the soul, but for an essential, constituent part of the man, as really as the soul itself: and the difference of an essential half in any composition will be sure to make an essential difference in the whole compound. Nor is this Socinian assertion more contrary to the principles of philosophy, than to the express words of scripture; which are not more positive in affirming a resurrection, than in declaring a resurrection of the same numerical person. And whereas, they say, that they grant, that the same numerical person shall rise again, though not the same body, (the soul, as they contend, still individuating any body which it shall be clothed with,) we 175have already shewn, on the contrary, that the person cannot be numerically the same, when the body is not so too; since the soul is not the sole principle of personal individuation, though the chief; besides that it seems very odd, and no ways agreeable to the common sentiments of reason, to say, that any thing rises again, which had never perished nor fallen before, as it is certain that the body, which these men suppose shall be united to the soul at the last day, never did. But to elude the force of this argument, the Socinians pretend, that the words whereby we would infer a resurrection of the same body, to wit, ἀναστῆναι, ἐγείρειν, and ἐγείρεσθαι, &c. infer no such thing in the several texts from whence they are alleged; but only import a bare suscitation, or raising up of a thing, without any necessity of supposing it to have perished before, as being often applied to things entirely produced de novo. But the answer to this is not difficult, viz. that the point now before us is not wholly deter min able from the bare grammatical use of these words; (according to which we deny not, but that they sometimes import a mere suscitation or production of a thing, without supposing any precedent destruction of the same;) but the sense of these words must be sometimes also determined by the particular state and circumstance of the objects to which they are applied; as when they are applied to and used about things bereaved of their former existence, (as persons dead, and departed this life, manifestly are;) and in such a case, whensoever the words ἀναστῆναι, ἐγείρειν, and ἐγείρεσθαι come to be so applied, I affirm, that they can, with no tolerable accord to common sense and reason, be allowed to signify any thing else, but the repetition 176or restitution of lost existence, or, in other words, the resuscitation of that which had perished before.
And thus much in answer to the objection brought to prove the impossibility of a resurrection of the same numerical body founded upon the continual transmutation of one body into another. The sum of all amounting to this, viz. that if the transmutation of human bodies after death, into other animate bodies successively, be total, the objection, founded upon such a transmutation, is not easy to be avoided; and if, on the other side, it be not total, I cannot see how it proves, that the restitution of the same numerical body carries in it any contradiction, nor, consequently, any impossibility at all. For the point now before us depending chiefly upon the due stating of the object of an infinite power, if the thing in dispute be but possible, it is sufficient to overthrow any argument that would pretend to prove, that an omnipotence cannot effect it. Which consideration having been thus offered by us, for the clearing of the forecited objection, we shall now proceed in the
Second place, to produce something, as we promised, by way of positive proof for the evincing of a resurrection, notwithstanding all the difficulties and repugnancies which seem to attend it. And here, since this is a point of religion, knowable only by revelation, it cannot be positively proved, or made out to us any other way than by revelation, that is to say, by what God has declared in his written word concerning it: for natural reason and philosophy will afford us but little assistance in a case so extremely above both. Accordingly, since revelation is our only competent guide in this matter, 177the natural method, I conceive, for us to proceed by in our discourses thereupon, must be this, viz. that whereas the objection is, that the resurrection of the same numerical body implies in it a contradiction, and therefore cannot possibly be, even by the divine power itself; the proper answer to this ought to be by an inversion of the same terms after this manner, viz. that God has declared that he will, and therefore can raise the same numerical body at the last day. So that the sum of the whole matter turns upon this point; to wit, whether that which we judge to be or not to be a contradiction, ought to measure the extent of the divine power; or, on the other side, the divine power to determine what is or is not to be accounted by us a contradiction. And the difficulty on either side seems not inconsiderable. For if we take the first of these methods, this in convenience will attend it; that the measure we make use of is always short of the thing we apply it to; as a finite must needs be short of an infinite: and sometimes also false, and thereby not only short of it, but moreover disagreeable to it; it being very possible, (because indeed very frequent,) that the mind of man, even with its utmost sagacity, may be mistaken, and judge that to imply a contradiction which really does not so. But, on the other hand, if we make the divine power the measure, whereby we ought to judge what is or what is not a contradiction, we make that a measure which we do not throughly understand or comprehend; and that is contrary to the very nature and notion of a measure; forasmuch as that by which we would understand another thing, ought to be first understood itself. But how shall we be able to understand the extent 178of an infinite power, so as to know certainly how far it can go, and where it must stop, and can go no further? As if we should argue thus: This or that implies in it no contradiction, because God, by his divine power, can effect it; I think the inference very good: but for all that, it may be replied, How do you know what an infinite or divine power can or cannot do? Certain it is, that it cannot destroy itself, or put an end to its own being; and possibly there may be some other things, unknown to us, which are likewise under an incapacity of being done by it. And how then shall we govern our speculations in this arduous and perplexing point? For my own part, I should think it not only the safest, but in all respects the most rational way, in any doubtful case, where the power of almighty God is concerned, to ascribe as much to him as his divine nature and attributes suffer us to do: that is to say, that we rather prescribe to our reason from his power, than to his power from any rule or maxim taken up by our reason. And since there is a necessity of some rule or other to proceed by, in forming a judgment of God’s power, no less than of his other perfections; let God’s word or revelation, (in the name of all that pretends to be sensible or rational,) founded upon his infallible knowledge of whatsoever he says or reveals, (and confirmed by his essential veracity inseparably attending it,) be that great rule for us to judge by: for a better, I am sure, can never be assigned, nor a safer relied upon. And accordingly, when our Saviour was to answer the Sadducees, disputing upon this very subject, the resurrection, he argues not from any topic of common reason or natural philosophy, but wholly from 179the power of God, as declared by the word of God. Do ye not therefore err, says he, Mark xii. 24, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God? or, in other words, the power of God, as declared in scripture. Our Saviour went no further with them, as knowing this to have been home to the point, and sufficient for their conviction. And upon the same account, those remarkable pas sages in the evangelists cannot but be of mighty weight in the present case: as that particularly in Matt. xix. 26, and in Mark x. 27. In both which it is plainly and positively affirmed, that with God all things are possible; and yet more particularly in Luke xviii. 27, where Christ, speaking of some things accounted with men impossible, tells us, that the things impossible with men were possible with God. The antithesis, we see here, is clear and full enough; and yet even with men nothing uses to be accounted impossible, but what is judged by them one way or other to imply in it a contradiction; and if so, it is evident, that the divine power may extend to some things, which, in the judgments of men, pass for contradictions; and consequently, that what, according to their judgments, implies in it a contradiction, cannot be always a just measure of what is impossible for God to do. Nevertheless, in order to the better understanding of this matter, I conceive it may not be amiss to distinguish here of two sorts of contradictions.
1. Such as appear immediately and self-evidently so, from the very terms of the proposition wherein they are expressed: the predicate implying in it a direct negation of the subject, and the subject mutually of the predicate; so that, upon the bare understanding 180of the signification of the terms or parts of the proposition, we cannot but apprehend and see the contradiction couched under them, and the utter inconsistency of the idea of one with the idea of the other: as if, for instance, we should say, that light is darkness, or that darkness is light; or that a piece of bread of about an inch in breadth, and of an inch in length, is a man’s body of about a yard and an half in length, and of a proportionable size in breadth; each of these propositions or assertions would import a direct and evident negation of the other, upon the very first sight or hearing, without any further examination of them at all. But then,
2. There is another sort of contradictions, which may not improperly be termed consequential. That is to say, such as shew themselves, not by the immediate self-evidence of the terms, but by consequences and deductions drawn from some known principle by human ratiocination or discourse, and the judgment which men use to pass upon things in the strength and light thereof. In all which, since men may be deceived, (nothing being more incident to common humanity than mistake,) such contradictions cannot be so far relied upon, as to be taken for a perfect and sure measure of what the divine power can or cannot do. As for instance, if we should say, “That for a body having been once destroyed, and transmuted into other human bodies, or some parts thereof successively, to be restored again, with all the parts of it complete, and numerically the same, is a contradiction;” it is certain, however, that the contradiction here charged does not manifestly appear such from any evidence of the terms, but is only gathered by such consequences 181and inferences, as men form to themselves in their discourses upon this subject; and therefore, though possibly a truth, yet can be no clear proof, that it is impossible for an infinite power to do that which is here supposed and said to be a contradiction. But, on the other side, touching the first sort of contradictions mentioned by us, and shewing themselves by the immediate self-evidence of the terms; these, no doubt, ought to be looked upon by us out of the sphere or compass of omnipotence itself to effect: or otherwise, that old and universally received rule, viz. that the divine power extends to the doing of every thing, not implying in it a contradiction, must be exploded, and laid aside by us, as utterly useless and fallacious.
But now, with reference to the foregoing distinction of prime and consequential contradictions, if it should be here asked, whether a contradiction of the latter sort be not as really and as much a contradiction as one of the former; I grant that it is, (there being no magis and minus in contradictions;) but nevertheless, not so manifestly nor so evidently such, nor consequently of so much force in argumentation, nor equally capable of having a conclusion or inference drawn from it, as the other is. For we are to observe, that, in the case now before us, a contradiction is not so much considered for what it is barely in itself, as for its being a medium to prove something else by it; and for that reason, we allow not the same conclusive force (though the same reality, could it be proved) to a consequential contradiction, which we allow to a prime and self-evident one, and such as shews itself to the very first 182view, in and by the bare terms of the proposition wherein it is contained.
Upon the whole matter therefore, if by true and sound reasoning I stand assured, that God has affirmed or declared a thing, all objections against the same, though never so strong, (even reason itself, upon the strictest principles of it, being judge,) must of necessity fall to the ground. Forasmuch as reason itself cannot but acknowledge, that men of the best wit, learning, and judgment, may sometimes take that for a contradiction, which really is not so; but still, on the other side, must own it utterly impossible for a being infinitely perfect, holy, and true, either to deceive or be deceived in any thing affirmed or attested by it. And moreover, to carry this point yet something further: if a proposition be once settled upon a solid bottom, and sufficiently proved, it will and must continue to be so, notwithstanding any after-arguments or objections brought against it, whether we can answer and clear off the said objections, or no; I say, it lessens not our obligation to believe such a proposition one jot. And if the whole body of Christians, throughout all places and ages, should with one voice declare, that they could not solve the foregoing objection urged against the resurrection, and taken from the continual transmutation of bodies into one another, or any other such like arguments, it would not abate one degree of duty lying upon them, to acknowledge and embrace the said article, as an indispensable part of their Christian faith; nor would they be at all the worse Christians, for not being able to give a philosophical account or solution thereof; so long as, with 183a non obstante to all such difficulties, they stedfastly adhered to and acquiesced in the article itself. For, so far as I can see, this whole controversy depends upon, and ought to be determined by the scriptures, as wholly turning upon these two points, viz. 1st, Whether a future general resurrection be affirmed and revealed in the scriptures, or no? And 2dly, Whether the said scriptures be the word of God? And if the matter stands thus, I am sure that none can justly pretend to the name of a Christian, who in the least doubts of the affirmative in either of these two points. And consequently, if this article stands thus proved, all arguments formed against it, upon the stock of reason or philosophy, come too late to shake it; for they find the thing already fixed and proved; and being so, it cannot, by after-allegations, be disproved. Since it being also a proposition wholly founded upon revelation, and the authority of the revelation upon the authority of the revealer, all arguments from any thing else are wholly foreign to the subject in dispute; and accordingly ought by no means to be admitted, either as necessary proofs of it, or so much as competent objections against it. For whatsoever is contrary to the word or affirmation of a being infinitely knowing and essentially infallible, let it carry with it never so much shew of truth; yet it certainly is and can be nothing else but fallacy and imposture. And upon this one ground I firmly do and ought to believe a general resurrection, though ten thousand arguments from the principles of natural philosophy could be opposed to it. But may it not then, you will say, upon the same terms, be here argued, that Jesus Christ (who is God blessed for ever) having 184expressly said of the bread in the holy sacrament, This is my body, we ought to believe the said piece of bread to be really and substantially his body, how much soever we may apprehend it to contradict the principles of sense, reason, and philosophy? To this I answer; That the words here alleged, as pronounced by our Saviour, are confessedly in the holy scripture. But that every thing affirmed by God in scripture, is there affirmed and intended by him, literally, properly, and not figuratively, this I utterly deny. And since it is agreed to by all, (and even by those whom in this matter we contend with,) that many expressions in scripture cannot be understood but by a figure; and since, moreover, I grant and assert, that every thing affirmed by God in holy scripture ought to be believed in that sense only in which it is so affirmed; I will venture to allow the persons, who are for the literal sense of those particular words against the figurative, till doomsday, to prove that the literal sense only ought to take place here, and the figurative to be exploded and set aside; and if they can but prove this, I shall not fail, as I said before, to believe and assent to the thing so proved, whatsoever that, which the world calls common reason and philosophy, shall or can suggest and offer to the contrary.
And this, I hope, may suffice to have been spoken upon the second proposition assigned for the prosecution of this subject, namely, That notwithstanding all the difficulties and objections alleged against the article of a general resurrection, there is yet sufficient reason and solid ground for the belief of it. From whence we should now proceed to treat of the third and last proposition; to wit, That a sufficiency 185of reason being thus given for the belief of the said article, all the difficulties, and seeming repugnancies to reason, which it is charged with, do exceedingly enhance the worth, value, and excellency of that belief.
But this, as I reckon, having been, in effect, done by us already; and the whole matter set in a full view, partly by clearing off the objections pretended to be brought against it, from natural reason, in the two foregoing propositions; and partly by establishing the proof thereof, upon the sure basis of those three great attributes of God, his omniscience, his omnipotence, and his essential veracity, all of them employed to warrant and engage our assent to it; we shall now at length come to consider the same more particularly in some of the consequences deducible from it. Such as are these two that follow. As,
1. We collect from hence the utter insufficiency of bare natural religion to answer the proper ends and purposes which God intended religion for. And,
2. We infer from hence also, the diabolical impiety of the Socinian opinions; and particularly of those relating to the resurrection. And here,
1. For the first of these, the insufficiency of natural religion to answer the proper ends which religion was designed for. This is most certain, that natural religion exceeds not the compass of natural reason; it neither looks higher nor reaches further, but both of them are commensurate to one another; and it is every whit as certain, that the soul of man, being the proper seat and subject of religion, must needs be allowed to be immortal; and being withal both endued with and acted by the affections of hope and fear, that it must be supplied with objects proper 186and adequate to both, which yet nothing under an eternal happiness with respect to the one, and an eternal misery with reference to the other, together with a general resurrection from the dead, to render men capable of either, can possibly be. So that it is manifest, from the very nature and essentials of religion, supposing it perfect, that the particulars now alleged by us necessarily do and must come up to the utmost of what they stand alleged for. But then, on the other hand, can mere natural reason of itself, by full evidence and strength of argument, convince us of any of the aforesaid particulars? As, for instance, can it demonstrate that the soul is immortal? Or can it certainly prove, that there is a future and eternal state of happiness or of misery in another life? And that, in order to it, there shall be a resurrection of their mortal bodies, after an utter dissolution of them into dust and ashes? No, there is nothing in bare reason that can so much as pretend to evince demonstratively any of these doctrines or assertions. And what then can natural religion do or say in the case? For where the former is at a stand, the latter can go no further; so that there is an absolute necessity, if we would have any more certain knowledge of these matters, to fetch it from revelation: forasmuch as the great apostle himself assures us, in 1 Cor. ii. 9, that eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man to conceive, what things God has prepared for those that love him; nor consequently, (by a parity of reason,) what miseries he has prepared for those that hate him. And if both of them are a perfect nonplus and baffle to all human understanding, is it possible for natural reason to comprehend 187what the heart of man cannot conceive? Nothing certainly can be a grosser contradiction, and that in the very terms of it, than such an assertion. But some perhaps may here say, that though natural reason, by its own strength and light, cannot give us a clear and particular account what these things are; yet it may, however, be able to discover to us, that really there are such things. But, in answer to this also, the same apostle tells us, in 2 Tim. i. 10, that it was our Saviour Christ who brought life and immortality to light through the gospel; that is to say, cleared off all doubts about the immortal state and being of the soul, the everlasting felicities of the righteous, and the never-dying worm and torments of the wicked in another world. Touching all which, I affirm, that nothing but divine revelation could give any solid satisfaction to the minds of men, either as to the quid sit or the quod sit of these things; that is to say, either by declaring the nature of them, what they are; or by proving the existence and being of them, that they are; besides, that the very expression of bringing a thing to light, must needs import its being hidden or undiscovered (at least to any considerable purpose) before. But some possibly may here further object, that the heathens could not but, long before the times of our Saviour, have had a competent knowledge of these matters. For did they not, by what they discoursed of the Elysian fields, intend thereby to express the future blessedness of pious and virtuous persons? And by what they taught of Styx, Acheron, and Cocytus, and the torments of Prometheus, Ixion, and other famous criminals, design likewise to set forth to us the future miseries of the wicked and 188flagitious? No doubt, they meant so: but still all this was built upon such weak and fabulous grounds, that the wiser sort of them did but despise and laugh at all these things. So that Juvenal, speaking of these matters, tells us in plain terms, vix pueri credunt, that children scarce believed them; though surely, if any thing could dispose the mind of men to an extravagant credulity, one would think that the age and state of childhood should. And then, as for the immortality of the soul, whatsoever Plato and other philosophers might argue in behalf thereof, yet I am abundantly satisfied, that neither Plato, nor all of them together, have been able to argue more close and home to this subject, than those wits, who have lived in the ages after them, have done. And yet, upon the result of all, I do not find, that any thing hitherto has been so clearly and irrefragably proved for the immortality of it, but that the most that can be done upon this argument is, that the soul cannot be proved by any principle of natural reason to be mortal. And that (though it does not prove so much as it should do) is yet, I think, no inconsiderable point or step gained: but, after all, admitting the proof hereof to be as full and convincing as we could wish, then what can natural reason say to a general resurrection from the dead, that main article which we are now insisting upon? Why, truly, nothing at all: and if this be the utmost which is to be had from natural reason upon this point, I am sure there is no more to be had from natural religion; which (to make the very best and most of it) is nothing but reason, not assisted by revelation. But,
2. The other thing, which we shall infer from the 189foregoing particulars, is, the horrible impiety of the Socinian opinions; and particularly of those relating to the resurrection, and the state of men’s souls after death. The Socinians, who have done their utmost to overthrow the credenda of Christianity, are not for stopping there, but for giving as great a blow to the agenda of it too, by subverting (if possible) those principles which are to support the practice of it. Amongst which I reckon one of the chief to be, the belief of those eternal torments awarded by God to persons dying in a state of sin and impenitence, one of the most powerful checks to sin, doubtless, of any that religion affords: forasmuch as where there is one withheld from sin by the hopes of those eternal joys promised in the scripture, I dare affirm, that there are an hundred at least, if not more, kept from it by the fears of eternal torments. And the reason of this is, because those things by which the joys of heaven are represented to us, do by no means make so quick and lively an impression upon men’s minds, as those by which the torments of hell, as they are described to us, are found to do. I am far, I confess, from affirming, that this ought to be so; but as the state of mankind now generally is, there are but too many and too manifest proofs, that actually it is so. And I do not in the least question, but that there are millions who would readily part with all their hopes of the future felicities which the scripture promises them, upon condition that they might be secured from the eternal torments which it threatens.88 They deny the torments of hell, and give this reason for it. “Quod absurdum sit, Deum irasci in aeternum, et peccata creaturarum finita poenis infinitis mulctare, praesertim cum nulla hinc ipsius gloria illustretur.” Compendiolum Doctrinae Ecclesiarum in Polonia. Likewise Ernestus Sonnerus, a noted Socinian, has wrote a just treatise, with this title prefixed to it, Demonstratio Theologica et Philosophica, Quod aeterna impiorum supplicia non arguant Dei justitiam, sed injustitiam. And if they be unjust, we may be sure, (as Dr. Tillotson, in his sermon on Matthew xxv. 46, learnedly observes,) that there shall be no such thing. And to shew further how industrious these factors for the devil are to rid men’s minds of the grand restraint of sin, the belief of eternal torments, he sets down at the end of his Demonstration, (as he calls it,) several places of scripture, where the words eternal and for ever signify not an infinite or everlasting, but only a finite, though indefinite duration. Likewise Diodorus Camphuysen, one of the same tribe, with a frontless impudence, in a certain epistle of his, requires such as should read it, “negare et ridere damnatorum poenas, et cruciatus aeternos;” that is, not only to deny, but also to laugh at the eternal torments and punishments of the damned. And to make yet surer work, (if possible,) Socinus denies the soul even a capacity of being tormented after a man’s death. “Tantum id mihi videtur statui posse, post hanc vitam, animam, sive animum hominis non ita per se subsistere, ut praemia ulla poenasve sentiat, vel etiam ista sentiendi sit capax, quae mea firma opinio,” &c. Socinus in quinta Epistola ad Volkelium. And elsewhere; “Homo, sive anima humana nihil cum immortalitate habet commune.” In short, I am so far from accounting the authors or owners of such horrid assertions to be really Christians, that I account them really the worst of men, if profaneness, blasphemy, and the letting loose all sorts of wickedness upon the world, can make them so. For, according to these grand agents and apostles of Satan, wicked men, no less than the very brutes themselves, (whose spirits also they affirm to return to God, as well as those of the other,) being once dead, shall rise no more. And if they can but persuade men, that they shall die like beasts, there is no question to be made, but that most of them will be quickly brought to live like beasts too. And therefore, what a mighty encouragement 190must the denial of eternal punishments needs be to all sorts of wickedness in the lives of men! And what shall be able to restrain the progress and rage of it, in the course of the world, when sinners shall be told, that, after all the villainies committed by them here, nothing is to be expected or feared by them, when they have quitted this life, 191but a total annihilation or extinction of their persons, together with an endless continuance under the said estate? And is not this, think we, a sort of eternal punishment according to the sinner’s own heart’s desire? For since it so utterly bereaves him of all sense, that he can feel nothing hereafter, let him alone to fear as little here. And as for the resurrection from the dead, the same men generally deny, that the wicked shall have any at all; it being, as they affirm, intended by God for a peculiar favour and privilege to the godly, who alone are to be the sons of the resurrection. But then, if these men find themselves pinched by such scriptures as that of the 25th of St. Matthew, and this of my text, so expressly declaring a resurrection, both of the just and the unjust; in this case, some of them have another assertion to fly to; namely, that the wicked shall indeed be raised again at the last day; but immediately after such a resuscitation, shall be annihilated and destroyed for ever: an assertion so intolerably absurd, and so manifestly a scoff upon religion, that none but an atheist or Socinian (another word for the same thing) could have been so profane as even to think of it, or so impudent as to own or declare it. In fine, such is the diabolical impiety and the mischievous influence of the foregoing opinions upon the practices of mankind, and consequently upon the peace and welfare of societies and governments, (all depending upon the said practices,) that all sober and pious minds do even groan under the very thoughts of such foul invasions upon religion; and cannot but wonder, even to amazement, that the maintainers of such tenets were not long since delivered over into the hands of civil justice, 192to receive condign punishment by the sentence of the judge; as likewise, that those who deny the divinity and satisfaction of our Saviour, explode original sin, and revive several of the old condemned blasphemies, have not long before this been brought under the censures of the church in convocation. But if, on the contrary, the sheltering of some such rotten churchmen, as well as several others, from the dint of ecclesiastical authority, was one great cause of that so long and unaccountable omission of those sacred and most useful assemblies, for many years together, since the restoration, (as many wise and good men shrewdly suspect it was,) is it not just with God, and may it not, for ought we know, actually provoke him to deprive us even of the Christian religion itself? For assuredly, that lewd, scandalous, and ungrateful usage, which it has (of late years especially) found from some of the highest pretenders to it amongst us, has not only deserved, but, upon too great grounds of reason, seems also to prognosticate and forebode, and even cry out for no less a judgment upon the nation. But howsoever God, whose ways are unsearchable, shall think fit to dispose of and deal with us, let us not vainly flatter ourselves; but as we have been hitherto proving the certainty of a general resurrection, so let us still remember, that the day of the resurrection will be as certainly a day of retribution too; a day, in which the proudest and most exalted hypocrite shall be brought low enough, and even the lowest hypocrites much lower than they desire to be; a day, in which the meanest and most abject (if sincere) member of our excellent (how much soever struck at and maligned) church, shall be raised to a most happy and 193glorious condition: though, whether or no the church itself (God bless it) be, in the mean time, in so flourishing an estate, (as some would persuade us it is,) I shall not, I must not presume to determine.
Now to God, the great Judge and Rewarder of men, according to the vileness of their principles, as well as the wickedness of their practices, be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.194
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