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§ II.—THE SOUL’S ACCOUNTABILITY AND IMMORTALITY.
Accountability belongs only to the rational and moral nature, and it belongs to this, of necessity. A river flows on in its course; but whether rapidly or slowly, in a wide or narrow stream, and with clear or troubled waters, it flows unconsciously 113and without meriting either praise or blame. The tree strikes its roots and spreads its branches; but we attribute to it no virtue; and when it withers and perishes, we charge it with no crime. The animal frame is sound and healthy, or it is attacked by disease, or is struck down by sudden accident, or seems to sink of itself; but no judgment is passed upon it, as if it deserved either commendation or condemnation. The irrational creature walks, flies, creeps, or swims; it seeks its food in the herb of the field, or it preys upon some other form of life in order to sustain its own; but neither good nor evil is asserted of it on these accounts. The river, the tree, the bodily frame, do not act, but are acted upon. Consciousness, intelligence, volition, are wanting to them. They are only what they are made, and as they are affected by circumstances, over which they can exert no control. Even the living creature, though a voluntary agent in certain respects, is under the irresistible law of instinct, and has no sense of God and of right and wrong to govern its choice.
The spiritual nature of man belongs to quite another order of existence. It is not passive merely, but active; and its activity is not instinctive merely, but intelligent and voluntary. Here is Reason, here Conscience, here Will, the royal power in the soul, the presiding judge in the inward tribunal, who hears what the understanding, 114the affections, the inclinations, and appetites, and„ above all, the conscience, have to say, and thereafter chooses and resolves. Here is the soul’s power of self-determination. It is not compelled, not placed under irresistible laws like those of instinct; it is constituted to choose and refuse for itself. The entire doctrine of responsibility is involved in this fact. If the acts of the soul were at any time involuntary, or compulsory, and not the effect of its determination and free choice, it would be thus far blameless and meritless; but they can not be so. What the soul is, and does, it chooses to be, and do; and it is, therefore, and to this extent, responsible. The waters of the river, the leaves and fruit of the tree, the condition of the human body, and the movements of the irrational creature, have in them neither moral goodness nor moral evil; but the thoughts, affections, tastes, principles, purpose; and choices of the soul originate with itself; spring out of its will, and render it the proper object of commendation, or of reprehension.
Oftener, perhaps, than under any other aspect, Jesus represents the human soul as exposed to that Eye which unerringly perceives all its evil and its good, and he teaches that therefore there is unutterable solemnity in every act of the spiritual nature, and that what a man thinks, feels, resolves, or does, is the gravest of all questions. The lesson 115is forever true; we need to feel that we can never for a moment escape the immutable law, “Sin is death; holiness is salvation.” The God of the spiritual universe is forever looking upon us, and his sentence is pronounced for us, or against us. The doctrine of the last judgment is one of the many forms of the doctrine of responsibility. The parable of the ten virgins, of the laborers in the vineyard, of the steward, of the talents, of the husbandmen, of the wheat and the tares, of the barren fig-tree, are so many varied representations of this overwhelming truth. The scrutiny of God is likened to the process of fanning and sifting wheat, or to that of dissolving and testing metals. The perfect rectitude of the Judge, and his perfect knowledge of the innumerable peculiarities of each case are declared. The universality and the minuteness of the reckoning which will be taken, are foreshown. Every secret thought, it is affirmed, and every idle word will be brought into judgment. This spiritual nature of man makes even his short residence on earth awfully solemn, and invests every moment with everlasting interest. Self-inspection, watchfulness, and prayer, become the first duty of beings constituted as we are, endowed with conscience, reason, and will—beings, besides, who are destined to an existence, of which the present earthly life is only the commencement and the promise.
It is often assumed that immateriality involves .immortality. It does involve indivisibility—the immaterial is the indivisible but whether indivisibility and immortality are synonymous may admit of some doubt. Matter is made up of parts it is capable from its nature of being decompounded and dissolved. But are we quite sure that decomposition and dissolution are destruction—are we not rather sure that they are not? Does not all the evidence on this subject which we possess sustain the conclusion that matter is not destroyed—that, though its parts are separated and its form changed, it is not destroyed, not annihilated? If, then, we can not argue destructibility from divisibility in the case of matter, it is palpably fallacious to rest the proof of indestructibility in the case of mind, on indivisibility, that is immateriality. The soul is imperishable, but the certainty of this must not be grounded on the fact that it is immaterial and indivisible. The self-action and self-government of mind exalt it immeasurably above unconscious matter, and above all animal instincts and faculties. Its intellectual, and especially its moral powers, its unlimited capacities, and its lofty aspirations, create a strong presumption that it is formed for a higher destiny than they. But a strong presumption is not positive proof.
The absolute certainty of the soul’s eternal existence is distinctly affirmed by Christ; but the ground 117of this certainty is shown to be not so much its immaterial nature as its moral condition. In Christ’s teaching, holiness and holy being are immortal; godliness is immortal; rectitude, purity, truth, love, are immortal and the soul in which these virtues dwell is an heir of eternal life: but that which has surrendered itself to ignorance, impurity, and enmity to good and to God, is an heir of eternal perdition. Even on this earth, incipient spiritual perdition may be awfully evident. There are instances even here of what may literally be called the soul’s death, the death of intellect, heart, and conscience; appalling examples of the effect of moral evil in darkening, enfeebling, imbruting the inward nature, so that it seems bereft of all its rational and moral powers. And it must not be forgotten that on earth there exist causes to draw forth the energies of the guilty soul, which can not operate hereafter. All good beings and all good shall hereafter be forever separated from evil beings. Evil shall hereafter be alone, and alone shall develop its own. rank and deadly nature, and exhibit its unmitigated effects. If this be true, and if evil beings shall be left absolutely alone in the midst only of evil, it is not hard to imagine that, in the progress of ages, they must become a terrible wreck, unutterably worse than any thing which earth has ever witnessed, and shall furnish a tremendous and everlasting vindication of the language “lost souls,” 118“perished minds,” “fires quenched,” “lights gone out forever in the blackness of darkness.”
Jesus Christ teaches that sin is perdition; not that at some future day it shall produce death, but that it is death. From first to last, throughout all its course, at every moment, moral evil is only death. Unless it be extirpated, the soul can only die it may exist in the sense of simply being, but it is really dying rather than living; and forever, its existence is a death, a process of perdition, whose final issue lies behind an impenetrable nail. But life is the destiny of that nature which has been emancipated from moral evil. There is a holier and mightier vitality than that of the animal frame, or even than the physical life of the mind; that is, its power to think, feel, and resolve. There is a life of life to man. God is the spring of pure being. Separated from him by ignorance or false views, by conscious guilt, distrust, and enmity, the soul carries in it the seeds of death, and in order to live, it must be restored to God, and God must be restored to it, to its knowledge, confidence, and love. It is this life of God in man which Christ’s gospel teaches is eternal; which not only shall never be extinguished, but is essentially and necessarily immortal. On earth, in heaven, any where, every where, throughout the universe, this is the eternal life; the only eternal life known to Christianity—union or reunion of the created 119mind with God. It is this which shall survive uninjured the separation of soul and body. That separation shall not harm the nobler being, but the spiritual faculties shall be improved instead of being enfeebled by the crisis through which they have passed; and the life of life within, unscathed, un touched, shall find itself in a new and genial sphere, with eternity for its irreversible inheritance. The soul’s endless being is intelligence, rectitude, purity, love, and all goodness.
This is brought to light by the Gospel, but nowhere else. “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”3636 Romans, vi. 23. God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believed on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”3737 John, iii. 16. “God’s commandment is life everlasting.”3838 Ib. xii. 50. “To whom shall we go,” said the disciples to Jesus, “thou past the words of eternal life?”3939 Ib. vi. 68. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God,” etc.4040 Ib. xvii. 3. “He that receiveth my words hath everlasting life.”4141 Ib. v. 24. The words of Christ are likened to a “well of water springing up to everlasting life.”4242 Ib. iv. 14. “Thy brother shall rise again,” Jesus said to Martha, when her brother Lazarus lay in the tomb. She replied, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection, at the last day. Jesus answered, He that believeth on 120me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and he that liveth and believeth on me shall never die.”4343 John, xi. 25. Thus impressively and majestically did Christ announce the Divine life in the soul of man, a life unhurt by the death of the body, and of immortal duration. If the miracle of the raising of Lazarus be counted for nothing, at least on some occasion of bereavement, words of this import, words of unexampled simplicity, dignity, and strength fell from Christ’s lips. Beside the graves of men, and at their festive boards,. on all occasions Christ proclaimed the Soul! It is real! it is great! it is accountable! it is immortal! The body shall die. The earth and these heavens shall pass away; but the Soul endures forever, in Life or in Perdition!121
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