« PreviousContinue »
religious duties to which it was previously averse? Who is competent to inform us, how devout men are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation? These, brethren, these are the things into which the angels themselves desire to look. Of course, we can know comparatively little about them in our present state. "Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness."
Upon the whole, the Deity, in whatever light we contemplate him, whether we look at his being, his perfections, his works, the dispensations of his providence, or the economy of his grace, is incomprehensible. The truth of our text is established beyond dispute. We cannot by searching find out God; we cannot find out the Almighty unto perfection.
Brethren, from the subject on which we have now been meditating, we may learn, in the first place, the importance of revelation. We have seen that this is the source to which we owe all the sure and satisfactory knowledge that we possess concerning the divine Being. It is doubtful, whether, without the sacred scriptures, we should have discovered even the fact of bis existence, while it is certain, that, but for them, we should have remained entirely ignorant of his character and perfections. We should have known nothing of his willingness and his intention to pardon sin and save sinners. That there is forgiveness for malefactors doomed to die—that man, though guilty of numberless and aggravated offences against his Maker, may yet obtain reconciliation through the friendly offices of a Mediator,—is a truth of which not a glimmering of evidence can be discerned on the works of nature. The phenomena of the universe throw no light upon the
subject: It is neither written by the sunbeam, nor wafted on the breeze." In a word, it can be gathered only from the Bible.
Our subject, dear hearers, further teaches us humility. If we are unable, even with the advantages of an express and a particular revelation, to comprehend God, it surely becomes us to contemplate with the most profound self-abasement, his perfections, his works, and his word. Let us be fully sensible of the weakness of our capacities. Let us beware of imagining that we are competent to explore the purposes of Jehovah, to fathom his proceedings, or to determine what it is proper for him to do in the government of his own universe. Instead of aspiring to be wise above what is written, let us take the holy volume as our certain and unerring rule of belief and conduct, in relation to the Great Supreme. Let us bow with implicit reverence to the authority of scripture, employing our own reason as an interpreter of its principles and its precepts, and not as an arbiter to decide on the truth of its contents. Let us acquiesce meekly and devoutly in all the various allotments of divine providence, however dark and inscrutable they may seem. Let us rest on the persuasion that our destiny is in the hands of one who is infinitely wise, and powerful, and good; and that if we only serve him aright in this world, the period is coming when much that is now incomprehensible in his character and doings, shall be cleared upa period when we shall know him better, and love him more, than we can possibly do at present. Let us wait for this period, and, until its arrival, live by faith.
ECCLESIASTES XII. 7. (Last Clause.)
—“And the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.”
THAT man is a being compounded of matter and spirit, is an opinion of such high antiquity, that the annals of philosophy afford few data for enabling us to determine the time and place of its origin. It formed a part of the system of Pythagoras, who flourished as much as two centuries before Socrates, and was certainly one of the most extraordinary of the Grecian sages. His notions on this subject were probably acquired during his residence in Egypt, to which, as the great mart of learning and science, he repaired in his youth, for study and improvement. Where the Egyptians obtained their knowledge, cannot be positively affirmed, though it may be fairly presumed, that they derived from the posterity of Abraham, while the latter inhabited their country, valuable traditionary information respecting the Deity, the creation of the world, and the nature and destination of man. It is admitted, that the priests of Egypt were far in advance of the Jews with regard to arithmetic, geometry, and general literature. But they must have been greatly inferior to the people whom they had enslaved, in the knowledge of authenticated history and true religion.
The opinion, that two distinct substances-if we may so speak-matter and spirit-enter into the com
position of human nature, was obviously in the mind of Solomon, when he penned the verse of which our text is a part. "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it." He here distinguishes, with as much accuracy as language would seem to allow, between the two constituent principles of man. He does not, to be sure, seat himself in the metaphysician's chair, and undertake to point out, in what respect the one of these principles essentially differs from the other. He simply asserts the important fact, that their destiny at death is dissimilar, and even opposite.
The passage before us reminds us of the creation of man as narrated in the inspired record of Moses. We there read, that the almighty Architect fashioned the human being out of the dust of the ground, and then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. The amount of this statement would seem to be, that the material frame of Adam was endued with an immaterial soul. Some, indeed, have supposed, that by "the breath of life," may be meant nothing more than the principle of animation, whatever it is, which belongs to man in common with other living creatures. But the peculiar style in which the formation of our first parent is related, must, we think, be understood as marking some decided superiority, in respect both to nature and destination, over the other inhabitants of this world. Besides, the Hebrew term rendered by our translators life, is in the plural number— the breath of lives. Now, this circumstance, though it may not be thought sufficiently important, to be made the basis of a very serious argument, deserves at least a degree of consideration. It would appear to warrant the idea, that there was communicated from the Deity to man,
a principle of existence in addition to, and distinct from, the general principle of animal being.
We conceive, then, that the term spirit is applied by Solomon, in the text, to the human soul, for the purpose of denoting its entire dissimilarity from the body. We have no doubt, that such phraseology was employed by him, in accommodation to the prevailing sentiments of the country and age in which he lived. But we are not less certain, that it is phraseology, the accuracy of which has been perceived and admitted by correct thinkers in all nations and periods of the world.
It is not our intention this morning to enter into a very elaborate discussion relative to the nature of the human mind. The subject, you are aware, is one respecting which there has not been a uniformity of opinion among philosophers. While the majority of inquirers have concurred in viewing the mind as an immaterial substance, there have been those who have maintained, either that it is nothing more than a highly sublimated species of matter, or else that it is simply the result of material organization. Of the writers who have espoused the latter doctrine, there is only one whom we could have wished to see on the other side of the question. And yet it is, perhaps, doing injustice to the great and good Locke, to rank him as a decided disbeliever in the spirituality of the soul, when he has merely gone so far as to say, that we are not entitled to pronounce matter essentially incapable of thought. Whatever may have been the opinion which he really held, or to which he inclined, his whole speculation on this point is replete with his characteristic modesty and caution, and forms a striking contrast to the positiveness, if not dogmatism, betrayed by the Hartleys, the Darwins, and the Priestleys-men of whose writings