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OF THE STATE AFTER DEATH.
1 John, iii. 2.
Beloved, now are we the sons of God; and it doth
not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him ; for we shall see him as he is.
One of the most natural solicitudes of the human mind is to know what will become of us after death, what is already become of those friends who are gone. I do not so much mean the great question, whether we and they shall be happy or miserable, as I mean the question, what is the nature and condition of that state which we are so soon to try. This solicitude, which is both natural and strong, is sometimes, however, carried too far : and this is the case when it renders us uneasy, or dissatisfied, or impatient, under the obscurity in which the subject is placed ; and placed, not only in regard to us, or in regard to common men, but in regard even to the apostles themselves of our Lord, who were taught from his mouth, as well as immediately instructed by his Spirit. Saint John, the author of the text which I have read to you, was one of these ; not only an apostle, but of all the apostles, perhaps, the most closely connected with his Master, and admitted to the most intimate familiarity with him. What it was allowed, therefore, for man to know, Saint John knew. Yet this
Yet this very Saint John acknowledges “ that it doth not yet appear what we shall be ;" the exact nature and condition and circumstances of our future state are yet hidden from us.
I think it credible that this may, in a very great degree, arise from the nature of the human understanding itself. Our Saviour said to Nicodemus, “ If I have told you earthly things, and ye
believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?” It is evident, from the strain of this extraordinary conversation, that the disbelief on the part of Nicodemus, to which our Saviour refers, was that which arose from the difficulty of comprehending the subject. Therefore our Saviour's words to him may be construed thus: If what I have just now said concerning the new birth, concerning being born again, concerning being born of the Spirit, concerning the agency of the Spirit, which are all “earthly things,” that is, are all things
6 that pass in the hearts of Christians in this their
present life, and upon this earth: if this information prove so difficult that you connot bring yourself to believe it, by reason of the difficulty of apprehending it; “how shall ye believe ?” how would ye be able to conquer the much greater difficulties which would attend my discourse, “ if I told you of heavenly things ?” that is to say, if I speak to you of those things which are passing, or which will pass, in heaven, in a totally different state and stage of existence, amongst natures and beings unlike yours? The truth seems to be, that the human understanding, constituted as it is, though fitted for the purposes for which we want it, that is, though capable of receiving the instruction and knowledge which are necessary for our conduct and the discharge of our duty, has a native, original, incapacity for the reception of any distinct knowledge of our future condition. The reason is, that all our conceptions and ideas are drawn from experience (not, perhaps, all immediately from experience, but experience lies
at the bottom of them all), and no language, no information, no instruction, can do more for us than teach us the relation of the ideas which we have. Therefore, so far as we can judge, no words whatever that could have been used, no account or description that could have been written down, would have been able to convey to us a conception of our future state, constituted as our understandings now are. I am far from saying that it was not in the power of God, by immediate inspiration, to have struck light and ideas into our minds, of which naturally we have no conception. I am far from saying that he could not, by an act of his power, have assumed a human being, or the soul of a human being, into heaven; and have shown to him or it the nature and the glories of that kingdom: but it is evident that, unless the whole order of our present world be changed, such revelations as these must be rare : must be limited to very extraordinary persons, and very extraordinary occasions. And even then, with respect to others, it is to be observed, that the ordinary modes of communication by speech or writing are inadequate to the transmitting of any knowledge or information of this sort: and from a cause, which has already been noticed, namely, that language deals only with the ideas which we have; that these ideas are all founded in experience ; that probably, most probably indeed, the things of the next world are very remote from any experience which we have in this; the consequence of which is, that, though the inspired person might himself possess this supernatural knowledge, he could not impart it to any other person not in like manner inspired. When, therefore, the nature and constitution of the human understanding is considered, it can excite no surprise, it ought to excite no complaint; it is no fair objection to Christianity " that it doth not yet appear what we shall be." I do not say that the imperfection of our understanding forbids it (for, in strictness of speech, that is not imperfect which answers the purpose designed by it), but the present constitution of our understanding forbids it.
“ It doth not yet appear,” saith the apostle, “what we shall be, but this we know, that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him.” As if he had said, Though we be far from understanding the subject either accurately or clearly, or from having conceptions and notions adequate to the truth and reality of the case, yet we know something: this, for instance, we know, that “when he shall appear, we shall be like him.” The best commentary upon this last sentence
” of Saint John's text may be drawn from the words of Saint Paul. His words state the same proposition more fully, when he tells us (Phil. iii. 21.) “ that Christ shall change our vile body, that it may be like his glorious body.” From the two passages together, we may lay down the following points: First, that we shall have bodies. One apostle informs us that we shall be like him; the other, that our vile body shall be like his glorious body: therefore we shall have bodies. Secondly, that these bodies shall be greatly changed from what they are at present. If we had had nothing but Saint John's text to have gone upon, this would have been implied.
" When he shall appear, we shall be like him.” We are not like him now, we shall be like him ; we shall hereafter be like him, namely, when he shall appear. Saint John's words plainly regard this similitude as a future thing, as what we shall acquire, as belonging to what we shall become, in contradistinction to what we are. Therefore they imply a change which must take place in our bodily constitution. But what Saint John's words imply, Saint Paul's declare. “He shall change
our vile bodies.” That point, therefore, may be considered as placed out of question.
That such a change is necessary, that such a change is to be expected, is agreeable even to the established order of nature. Throughout the universe this rule holds, viz. that the body of every animal is suited to its state. Nay, more; when an animal changes its state it changes its body. When animals which lived under water, afterward live in air, their bodies are changed almost entirely, so as hardly to be known by any one mark of resemblance to their former figure; as, for example, from worms and caterpillars to flies and moths. These are common transformations; and the like happens when an animal changes its element from the water to the earth, or an insect from living under ground to flying abroad in the air. And these changes take place in consequence of that unalterable rule, that the body be fitted to the state; which rule obtains throughout every region of nature with which we are acquainted. Now our present bodies are by no means fitted for heaven. So saith Saint Paul expressly, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; corruption doth not inherit incorruption.” Between our bodies as they are now constituted, and the state into which we shall come then, there is a physical, necessary, and invincible incongruity. Therefore they must undergo a change, and that change will, first, be universal, at least as to those who shall be saved ; secondly, it will be sudden; thirdly, it will be very great. First, it will be universal. Saint Paul's words, in the fifteenth chapter of his First Epistle to the Corinthians,' are, “We shall all be changed.” I do, however, admit that this whole
” chapter of Saint Paul's relates only to those who shall be saved ; of no others did he intend to speak. This, I think, has been satisfactorily made out; but the