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OF THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL, AS DISCOVERED BY NATURE AND BY REVELATION.
But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.—2 Tim. i. 10.
HAVING in my three former discourses shewed what arguments natural reason doth furnish us with, for the immortality of our souls; I come now to the second thing I propounded, which is to shew what assurance the world had de facto, of this great principle of religion, the soul’s immortality, before the revelation of the gospel.
Before our Saviour’s coming into the world, there were but two different religions; that of the heathens, and that of the Jews. The religion of the heathens was natural religion, corrupted and degenerated into idolatry: the religion of the Jews was revealed and instituted by God; but did suppose natural religion, and was superadded to it. Therefore I shall consider the heathens and the Jews distinctly. And,2
First, Shew what assurance the heathens had of this principle, of the soul’s immortality.
Secondly, What the Jews had of it.
First, What assurance the heathens had of the soul’s immortality.
1. It is evident that there was a general inclination in mankind, even after its greatest corruption and degeneracy, to the belief of this principle; which appeal’s, in that all people and nations of the world, after they were sunk into the greatest degeneracy, and all (except only the Jews) became idolaters, did universally agree in this apprehension, that their souls did remain after their bodies, and pass into a state of happiness or misery, according as they had demeaned themselves in this life. Not that they did generally reason themselves into this apprehension, by any convincing arguments, but did herein follow the bent and tendency of their natures, which did incline them thus to think. For no other reason can be given of the universal consent, even of the most rude and barbarous nations, in this principle, besides the inclination of human nature to this opinion; that is, either men come into the world with this notion imprinted upon their minds, or else (which comes all to one) the understanding of man is naturally of such a frame and make, that, left to itself, and the free exercise of its own thoughts, it will fall into this apprehension.
2. The unlearned and common people among the heathen, seem to have had the truest and least wavering apprehensions in this matter; the reason of which seems to be plain, because their belief followed the bias and inclination of their nature, and they had not their natural notions embroiled and disordered by obscure and uncertain reasonings 3about it, as the philosophers had, whose under standings were perplexed with infinite niceties and objections, which never troubled the heads of the common people. By which means the vulgar had this advantage, that the natural dictates of their minds had their free course; and as they did not argue themselves into this principle, so neither were their natural hopes and fears checked and controlled by any objections to the contrary.
But then this principle being only a kind of natural instinct in them, which did not awaken their minds by any deep consideration and reasoning about it, it had no great influence upon their lives.
For as they were not much troubled with doubts concerning it, so neither did they deeply attend to the consequences of it: but as they followed the inclination of nature in the entertaining of this notion; so, because it was not entertained upon deep consideration, it had no great effect upon them.
3. The learned among the heathen did not so generally agree in this principle, and those who did consent in it, were many of them more wavering and unsettled than the common people. Epicurus and his followers were peremptory in the denial of it: but, by their own acknowledgment, they did herein offer great violence to their natures, and had much ado to divest themselves of the contrary apprehension and fears. Therefore the poet, in the person of the Epicurean, represents it as a rare piece of happiness, and that which few attained to, to quit themselves of the notions of another state after this life:—4
Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas,
Atque metus omnes et inexorabile fatum
Subjecit pedibus, strepitumque Acherontis avari.
The stoics were very inclinable to the belief of a future state; but yet they almost every where speak very doubtfully of it. Seneca and Antoninus often speak to this purpose—that if the soul remain after this life, there is no doubt but that good men shall be happy, and bad men miserable: but whether the soul outlive the body or not, that they could not positively determine. Aristotle hath some express passages for the soul’s immortality; but it seems he was not constant to himself in this matter, or else they have done him a great deal of wrong, who have wrote so many books on both sides concerning his opinion in this point. Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato, and many others of the most eminent philosophers, as Tully tells us, were full, not of assurance, but of very good hopes of the soul’s immortality and a future state. Socrates, who was one of the best and wisest of all the heathens, does, in his discourses before his death, (as Plato relates them) support and bear up himself against the terrors of death, only with this consideration—that he was full of hopes, that when he left this world, he should pass into a far happier and more perfect state; that he should go to God, and live with him, and keep company with the spirits of good men: and that he is not positive and peremptory in it, is no argument that he doubted of this more than any thing else; for that was his fashion in all his discourses, to speak modestly, and with some show of doubting, even concerning those things whereof he had the greatest assurance: but this is plain, that he was so well assured of it, as to die cheerfully, 5and to leave the world without any kind of disturbance, upon the hopes that he had conceived of another life; and surely they must be pretty confident hopes, that will bear up a man’s spirit to such a height when he comes to die. In short, he told his friends the morning before he died, that he had as good assurance of the soul’s immortality as human reason could give, and that nothing but a Divine revelation could give him greater satisfaction. And to mention no more, Tully, the chief philosopher among the Romans, expresseth himself with a good degree of confidence in this matter. He argues excellently for it in several parts of his works; but particularly in his book De Senectute, he declares his own opinion of it, where, speaking to Scipio and Lælius, he says, “I do not see why I may not adventure to declare freely to you, what my thoughts are concerning death; and perhaps I may discern better than others what it is, because I am now by reason of my age not far from it. I believe (says he) that the fathers, those eminent persons, and my particular friends, are still alive, and that they live the life which only deserves the name of life.” And afterward, Nec me solum ratio ac disputatio impulit ut ita crederem, sed nobilitas etiam summorum philosophorum et auctoritas; “Nor has reason only and disputation brought me to this belief, but the famous judgment and authority of the chief philosophers.” And having mentioned Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato, he breaks out into this rapture, Oh præclarum diem quum in illud animorum concilium cetumque proficiscar, et cum hac turba et colluvione discedam! “Oh glorious day, when I shall go unto the great council and assembly of spirits, when I shall go out of this tumult and confusion, and quit the sink of 6this world, when I shall be gathered to all those brave spirits who have left this world, and meet with Cato, the greatest and best of mankind!” What could a Christian almost say with more extacy? And he concludes, Quod si in hoc erro, quod animos hominum immortales esse credam, libenter erro, nec mihi hunc errorem quo delector, dum vivo, extorqueri volo; sin mortuus, ut quidam minuti philosophi censent, nihil sentiam, non vereor ne hunc errorem meum mortui philosophi irrideant. “But if, after all, I am mistaken herein, I am pleased with my error, which I would not willingly part with whilst I live: and if after my death (as some little philosophers sup pose) I shall be deprived of all sense, I have no fear of being exposed and laughed at by them, for this my mistake, in the other world.”
Thus you see what assurance the heathens had of this principle, and that there was a general inclination and propension in them to the belief of it: and as it was not firmly and upon good grounds believed among the common people; so neither was it doubted of or called in question among them. Among the philosophers it was a matter of great uncertainty, being stiffly denied by some, doubted of by others; and those who were most inclinable to the entertainment of it, do rather express their desires and hopes of it, than their full assurance concerning it. I come therefore,
Secondly, To the other inquiry, what assurance the Jews had of the soul’s immortality and a future state. And of this, I shall give you an account in these following particulars:
1. They had all the assurance which natural light, and the common reason of mankind, does ordinarily afford men concerning this matter; they had common 7to them with the, heathens, all the advantage that nature gives men to come to the knowledge of this truth. But that which I chiefly design to inquire into, is, what singular advantage they had above the heathens, by means of those special revelations which were made to them from God. Therefore,
2. They had by Divine revelation a fuller assurance of those truths which have a nearer connexion with this principle, and which do very much tend to facilitate the belief of it; as, namely, concerning the providence of God, and his interesting himself particularly in the affairs of the world. In the history of Moses they had a satisfactory account of the original of the world; that God made it, and that he had eminently interposed in the government of it; and had given several eminent testimonies of his providence, in the general deluge which was brought upon the world, and in the dreadful particular judgment from heaven upon Sodom and Gomorrah, and the neighbouring cities; in his special providence towards Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob; in that series of miracles whereby their deliverance was wrought out of Egypt, and they were carried through the wilderness to the promised land; and in those two standing miracles of the fruitfulness of every sixth year, because the land was to rest the seventh; and preserving the land from the invasion of enemies, when they came up to Jerusalem three times a year; by which God did testify a very particular and immediate providence toward them. Now, whatever gives assurance of God’s providence, does very much facilitate the belief of a future state. Epicurus was well aware of the connexion of these principles, and therefore, in order to the freeing of the minds of men from the 8fears of a future state, he makes way for it by removing the providence of God, and denying that he either made the world, or concerned himself in the government of it.
And then, besides this, the Jews had assurance of the existence of spirits by the more immediate ministry of angels among them. And this does directly make way for the belief of an immaterial principle, and consequently of the soul’s immortality. And this the Sadducees, who were a kind of Epicureans among the Jews, were sensible of; and, therefore, as they said that there was no resurrection, and no future state after this life, so they denied that there was either angel or spirit, as the apostle tells us. (Acts xxiii. 7.) From whence by the way we may take notice of the great mistake of those, who, from the opinion of the Sadducees, argue that eternal life was not at all believed under the Old Testament; because, if it had been so, it is not credible that it would have been disowned by those who acknowledged the authority of those books; whereas we see that they denied, to serve their hypo thesis, other things which were most expressly revealed in the Old Testament—as, the doctrine of angels and spirits.
.3. There were some remarkable instances of the Old Testament, which did tend very much to persuade men to this truth: I mean the instances of Enoch and Elias, who did not die like other men, but were translated, and taken up into heaven in an extraordinary manner. From which instances it was obvious to considerate men, to reason, that God did intend by these examples to encourage good men with the hopes of another state after this life. And accordingly the apostle to the Hebrews 9makes the belief of future rewards, a necessary consequence from this instance of Enoch’s translation. (Heb. xi. 5, 6.) “By faith Enoch was translated, that he should not see death, and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God, must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”
4. This was typified and shadowed forth to them by the legal administrations. The whole economy of their worship and temple, of their rites and ceremonies, and sabbaths, did shadow out some farther thing to them, though in a very obscure manner: the land of Canaan, and their coming to the possession of it, after so many years travail in the wilderness, did represent that heavenly inheritance which good men should be possessed of after the troubles of this life. And these were intended by God to signify those greater and better things to them, and so understood by those who were more devout and knowing among them; else the apostle, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, had gone upon a very ill ground, when he all along takes it for granted, that the dispensation of the law, and all the ceremonies of it, were of a farther signification: (Heb. x. 1.) “The law having a shadow of good things to come.”
5. This was in general, and by good consequence, though not obvious to all, yet sufficiently to prudent and discerning men, revealed in the book of the law taken precisely: I mean the five books of Moses. It is said of Abel, that God was pleased with his sacrifice, though with Cain’s he was not well-pleased. (Gen. iv.) Upon this Cain was angry at his brother, 10and slew him. Now if the immortality of the soul and a future state, be not supposed and taken for granted in this story, this very passage is enough to cut the sinews, and pluck up the roots, of all religion. For if there were no rewards after this life, it were obvious for every man to argue from this story, that it was a dangerous thing to please God; if this were all that Abel got by it, to be knocked on the head by his brother, who offended God.
But I shall chiefly insist on the general promises which we find in these books of Moses, of God’s blessing good men, and declaring that he was their God, even after their death. Now I shall shew that these promises did involve the happiness of another life, and were intended by God to signify thus much, and were so understood by good men under that dispensation. That these general promises did contain this sense under them, and were intended by God to signify thus much, is evident from our Saviour’s citation of that text, to confute the Sadducees, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob;” from whence he reasons thus, “Now God is not the God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him:” the force of which argument was directly and immediately levelled against the main error of the Sadducees, which was the denial of a future state. This our Saviour immediately proves from this text, and by consequence the resurrection, which the Sadducees did not deny upon any other account, but because they did not11 See Sermon XXIII. Vol. ii. p. 312. believe a future state.
6. Toward the expiration of the legal dispensation, there was yet a clearer revelation of a future 11state. The text in Daniel seems to be much plainer than any in the Old Testament: (Dan. xii. 2.) “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” And to this text the seven brethren, who were cruelly put to death under the persecution of Antiochus, seem to refer when they comfort themselves with the hopes of another life: (2 Mac. vii. 9.) where one of them, ready to die, says thus to Antiochus, “Thou like a fury takest us out of this present life, but the King of the world shall raise us up, who have died for his laws, unto everlasting life.” To the same purpose, another of them, (ver. 14.) when he was tormented, expresseth his confidence thus: “It is good, being put to death by men, to look for hope from God, to be raised up again by him; but as for thee (speaking of Antiochus) thou shalt have no resurrection to life.” Where he seems to allude to the twofold resurrection mentioned by Daniel. And though this history of the Maccabees be not canonical, yet the apostle hath warranted the truth of it to us, at least in this particular, for he plainly refers to this story: (Heb. xi. 35.) “Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.”
7. Notwithstanding this, I say, that the immortality of the soul, and a future state, was not expressly and clearly revealed in the Old Testament, at least not in Moses’s law. The special and particular promises of that dispensation, were of temporal good things; and the great blessing of eternal life, was but somewhat obscurely involved and signified in the types and general promises: for considering that the particular promises were plainly 12of temporal things, it was very obvious to those who were not so prudent and discerning, to interpret the general promises so as to comprehend only that kind of blessings which were expressed in the special and particular promises, and so likewise to under stand the general threatenings. And upon this account, the apostle to the Hebrews principally advanceth the new covenant of the gospel above the old dispensation: because the gospel had clear, and express, and special promises of eternal life, which the law had not: (Heb. viii. 6.) “But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.” For the same reason Christ is said here in the text, “by his appearance to have abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” And so I proceed to the
Second thing I propounded, which is to shew, what farther evidence and assurance the gospel gives us of it, than the world had before: what clearer discoveries we have by Christ’s coming, than the heathens or Jews had before.
That the gospel hath brought to us a clearer discovery of this than they had, is here expressly said; that God’s gracious purpose concerning our salvation, which was before the world began decreed to be accomplished in Christ, is now made manifest by his corning into the world; (ver. 9.) “Who hath saved and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Jesus Christ before the world began, but is now made manifest/ &c. Which is emphatically spoken, now, and not till now, importing that, before the appearing of our 13Saviour, it was, in great measure, hid from the world, and that men had very dark and obscure apprehensions of it, till it was “brought to light by the gospel.” And this is not only affirmed in this place, but very frequently all over the New Testament. I will mention some of the most express places to this purpose. (John vi. 6, 8.) When many of Christ’s followers left him, he asks the twelve, “Will ye also go away?” To whom Peter answers, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.” As if he had said, What master should we choose to follow rather than thee, who bringest to the world the glad tidings of eternal life? What discipline or institution is there in the world, that gives such encouragement to its followers? Others may promise great things in this world; but in the declarations and promises of another life, we cannot rely upon any one but him that comes from God, as we are fully persuaded thou dost: for it follows in the next verse, “And we believe, and are sure, that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
(Tit. ii. 11. &c.) “The grace of God which brings salvation hath appeared to all men,” &c. Where the revelation of the gospel is called “the grace of God which brings salvation,” that is, which disco vers to the world that eternal happiness, which was in a great measure hid from it before, and encourageth men by the hopes of that blessing to live a holy life. The apostle to the Hebrews doth all along in his Epistle use this as an argument to the Jews, to take them oft from the Mosaical institution, and to persuade them to entertain the doctrine of the gospel, as making clearer discoveries, and giving greater assurance of eternal life and salvation, than the law did. (Heb. ii. 2-5.) “For if the word spoken by 14angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will? For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak.” That is, if the promises and threatenings of the law, which was delivered but by the ministry of angels, were made good, and the offenders under that dispensation were severely punished, what shall become of us, if we neglect the dispensation of the gospel, which reveals to us greater things, even eternal life and salvation, and which receiveth so great a confirmation, both from Christ himself, by whom it was first delivered, and also from his apostles, who published it to the world, and gave testimony to it by so many miracles? And it follows, (ver. 5.) “For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we now speak.” The meaning of which is this: the promises and threatenings of the law, which was delivered by angels, were temporal, and such as respected this world; but now God has sent his Son, he hath in him made promises of a greater salvation, he hath put into his hands the great things of another world, and hath given him power to promise eternal life, and to give it to as many as he pleases. So the danger of contemning the gospel, must needs be much greater than that of the law, because the happiness which the gospel promises is so much greater: for unto the angels Mho delivered the law, God gave no power and 15commission to make clear and express promises of the rewards of another world. “Unto the angels did he not put in subjection the world to come;” but so hath he done to his Son. “He hath committed all judgment to him, and hath given him power to raise up those who have done good, unto the resurrection of life, and those that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation;” as our Saviour himself speaks, (John v. 22.) And thus “he hath put the world to come in subjection unto his Son,” having empowered him to encourage and argue men to the obedience of his laws, by the rewards and punishments of another world: whereas the law delivered by angels, had only the sanction of temporal threatenings and promises. (Heb. vii. 16.) The gospel is called “the power of an eternal life,” in opposition to the law, which is called “a carnal commandment;” not only because the precepts of it respected the body, but because the promises of it were of temporal good things which belong to this life; and at the 19th verse, the gospel, in opposition to the Mosaical dispensation, is called “the bringing in of a better hope:”—“the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did;” ἐπεισαγωηὴ, the superinduction of a better hope; by which the apostle plainly signifies, that this was the imperfection of the Mosaical dispensation, that it did not give men firm hopes and assurance of eternal life; but the gospel hath superinduced this hope, and thereby supplied the great defect of the former administration. To the same purpose he tells us, (chap. viii. 6.) that Christ “hath now obtained a more excellent ministry, forasmuch as he is the mediator of a better covenant, established upon better promises.” How better promises? Why, instead of the promises 16of a temporal Canaan and earthly blessings, Christ hath given us promises of eternal life and happiness. Therefore, in the next chapter, he is called “a high-priest of good things to come;” and, (ver. 15.) “For this cause” he is said to be “the mediator of the new testament, that they which are called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” Once more the apostle, (chap. x. ver. 1.) makes this the great imperfection of the law, in opposition to the gospel, that it “had only a shadow of good things to come, but not the very image of the things;” that is, it did but darkly typify and shadow forth the things of another life, not give us so express an image, and lively representation of the rewards of another world, as the gospel does. Therefore St. John makes eternal life to be the great promise of the gospel, the great blessing which Christ hath revealed to the world: (1 John ii. 25.) “This is the promise which he hath promised, even eternal life.” So that you see, that the full and clear discovery of eternal life, is every where in the New Testament attributed to Christ, and to the revelation which by him was made to the world.
It remains now, that I shew more particularly wherein the gospel hath given the world greater evidence and assurance of a future state, than they had before.
1. The rewards of another life are most clearly revealed in the gospel. That God hath made a revelation of this by Christ, is an advantage which the heathen wanted, who were destitute of Divine revelation. There are many truths which men may be well inclined to believe, and for the proof of which, the wiser and more knowing sort of men may be able to offer very fair and plausible arguments; 17and yet for all this they may have no confident assurance of them, or at least may be very far from a well-grounded certainty, such as will give rest and satisfaction to the mind of a considerate and inquisitive man. All men are not capable of the force of a reason; nay, there are very few who can truly judge of the weakness or strength of an argument. There are many things which admit of very plausible arguments on both sides; and the generality of men are very apt to be imposed upon by very slight arguments, to be moved any way with some little show and appearance of reason. So that, when this principle of the soul’s immortality came to be disputed in the world, and the sects of the philosophers, the learned men of those times, came to be divided in opinion about it, some disputing directly against it, others doubting very much of it, and scarce any pretending to any great assurance of it, it was no wonder, if by this means many came to be in suspense about it; but now Divine revelation, when that comes, it takes away all doubting, and gives men assurance of that, concerning which they were uncertain before. For every man that believes a God, does firmly believe this principle—that whatever is revealed by him is true: but especially if the revelation be clear and express, then it gives full satisfaction to the mind of man, and removes all jealousy and suspicions of the contrary. And this is a great advantage which the gospel gives us in this matter, above what the Jews had. They had some kind of revelation and discovery of this under the dispensation of the law; but very darkly, in types and shadows: but the gospel gives us a most express revelation of it, is full of special promises to this purpose, made in clear words, free from all 18ambiguity, or liableness to be interpreted to another sense. So that, if we compare the law and the gospel together, we shall see a vast difference as to this matter. Under the law, the promise of eternal life was only comprehended in some general words, from which a man, that had true notions of God and religion, might be able to infer, that God intended some reward for good men, and punishment for wicked, men beyond this life: but the promises of temporal good things were special and express, and their law was full of them. Contrariwise in the New Testament, the most special and express promise is that of eternal life, and this the books of the New Testament are full of; as for temporal blessings, they are but sparingly and obscurely promised, in comparison of the other.
2. The rewards of another life, as they are clearly and expressly revealed by the gospel, so that they may have the greater power and influence upon us, and we may have the greater assurance of them, they are revealed with very particular circumstances. And herein the gospel gives us a great advantage, both above the heathens and Jews. For though a man was satisfied in general of a state after this life, that men’s souls should survive their bodies, and pass into another world, where it shall be well with them that have done well in this world, and ill to those that have done ill; yet no man, without a revelation, could conjecture the particular circumstances of that state. What wild descriptions do the heathen poets, who were their most ancient divines, make of heaven and hell, of the Elysian fields and the infernal regions! But now the gospel, for our greater assurance and satisfaction, hath revealed many particular circumstances of the future 19state to us; as, that all men at the end of the world shall be summoned to make a solemn appearance before the Lord Jesus Christ, whom God hath made judge of the world as a reward of his patience and sufferings; that the bodies of men shall, in order to that appearance, be raised up by the mighty power of God, and united to their souls, that as they have been instruments of the soul in acts of holiness and sin, so they may take part likewise in the happiness and torments of it. There are several other circumstances the gospel hath revealed to us concerning our future state, which, had they not been revealed, we could never have known, hardly have conjectured; in all which, besides the assurance that they are revealed, it is a great satisfaction to us, that there is nothing in them that is unworthy of God, or that savours of the weakness and vanity of human imagination.
3. The gospel gives us yet farther assurance of these things, by such an argument as is like to be the most convincing and satisfactory to common capacities; and that is, by a lively instance of the thing to be proved, in raising Christ from the dead, (Acts xvii. 30, 31.)
It is true, indeed, under the Old Testament, there were two instances somewhat of this nature; Enoch and Elias were immediately translated, and taken up alive into heaven; but these two instances do in many respects fall short of the other. For after Christ was raised from the dead, he conversed forty days with his disciples, and satisfied them that he was risen; after which he was in their sight visibly taken up into heaven: and as an evidence that he was possessed of his glorious kingdom, he sent flown, according to his promise, his Holy Spirit in 20miraculous gifts, to assure them by those testimonies of his royalty, that he was in heaven, and to qualify them by those miraculous powers to convince the world of the truth of their doctrine.
Now, what argument more proper to convince them of another life after this, than to see a man raised from the dead, and restored to a new life? What titter to satisfy a man concerning heaven, and the happy estate of those there, than to see one visibly taken up into heaven? And what more fit to assure us, that the promises of the gospel are real, and shall be made good to us, than to see him who made these promises to us raise himself from the dead, and go up into heaven, and from thence to dispense miraculous gifts and powers abroad in the world, as evidences of the power and authority which he was invested withal? All the philosophical arguments that a man can bring for the soul’s immortality and another life, will have no force upon vulgar apprehensions, in comparison of these sensible demonstrations, which give an experiment of the thing, and furnish us with an instance of something of the same kind, and of equal difficulty with that which is propounded to our belief,
4. And lastly, The effects which the clear disco very of this truth had upon the world, are such, as the world never saw before, and are a farther inducement to persuade us of the truth and reality of it. After the gospel was entertained in the world, to shew that those who embraced it did fully believe this principle, and were abundantly satisfied concerning the rewards and happiness of another life; they did, for the sake of their religion, despise this life and all the enjoyments of it, from a thorough persuasion of a far greater happiness than this world 21could afford remaining in the next life. With what cheerfulness did they suffer persecutions, with what joy and triumph did they welcome torments, and embrace death, “knowing in themselves that they had in heaven a better and more enduring substance!” Thus, when “life and immortality was brought to light by the gospel, death was as it were quite abolished;” those of the weakest age and sex, women and children, did familiarly encounter it with as great a bravery, and bore up against the terrors of it with as much courage, as any of the greatest spirits among the Romans ever did: and this not in few instances, but in vast numbers. No emperor in the world ever had so numerous an army of persons resolved to light for him, as this Captain of our salvation, this Prince of life and glory had of persons courageously resolved, and cheer fully contented to die for him.
Now this wonderful effect, the like of which the world never saw before, was very suitable to the nature of this doctrine. Suppose that God from heaven should have given men assurance of another life after this, in which good men should be unspeakably happy: what more reasonable to imagine, than that persons so assured should despise this life, and all the enjoyments of it, in comparison of the eternal and unconceivable happiness, which they were persuaded they should be made partakers of in another world? So that, whatever assurance an express and clear revelation from God of the soul’s immortality and another life, together with the particular circumstances of that state; whatever assurance a lively instance and example of the thing, in the person of him who brings this doctrine to the world; whatever consequent miracles, 21and suitable effects upon the minds of men to such a principle; I say, whatever assurance and satisfaction these can give of this principle, all this the gospel hath given us, beyond whatever the heathen or Jews had before.
The inference I shall make from this discourse, shall be only this: that if there be such a state after this life, then how does it concern every man to provide for it? Every action that we do in this life will have a good or bad influence upon our everlasting condition, and the consequences of it will extend themselves to eternity. Did men seriously consider this, that they carry about them immortal souls that shall live for ever, they would not trifle away the opportunities of this life, bend all their thoughts, and employ their designs, in the present gratification of their senses, and the satisfaction of their fleshly part, which shall shortly die and moulder into dust: but they would make provision for the state which is beyond the grave, and lay designs for eternity, which is infinitely the most considerable duration; they would not, like children, take care for the present, without any prospect to the future, and lay out all they have to please themselves for a day, without any regard to the remaining part of their lives. Nothing can be more unbecoming Christians, whose whole religion pretends to be built upon the firm belief of another world, than to be intent upon the things of this present life, to the neglect of their souls and all eternity.
Seeing then we pretend to be assured of immortal life, and to have clear discoveries of everlasting happiness and glory, as we hope to be made partakers of this portion, let us live as it becomes the 23candidates of heaven, those that are heirs of another world, and “the children of the resurrection,” that this grace of God, which hath brought salvation, may “teach us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present life, looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ.”24
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