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7. God has entrusted us, thirdly, with a portion of Worldly Goods; with food to eat, raiment to put on, and a place where to lay our head; with not only the necessaries but the conveniences of life. Above all, he has committed to our charge, that precious talent, which contains all the rest, money: indeed it is unspeakably precious, if we are wise and faithful stewards of it; if we employ every part of it for such purposes as our blessed Lord has commanded us to do.
8. God has entrusted us, fourthly, with several talents, which do not properly come under any of these heads. Such is bodily strength; such are health, a pleasing person, an agreeable address; such are learning and knowledge in their various degrees, with all the other advantages of education. Such is the influence which we have over others, whether by their love and esteem of us, or by power; power to do them good or hurt, to help or hinder them in the circumstances of life. Add to these, that invaluable talent of time, with which God entrusts us from moment to moment. Add, lastly, that on which all the rest depend, and without which they would all be curses, not blessings; namely, the Grace of God, the power of his Holy Spirit, which alone worketh in us all that is acceptable in his sight.
II. 1. In so many respects are the children of men Stewards of the Lord, the Possessor of heaven and earth: So large a portion of his goods, of various kinds, hath he committed to their charge. But it is not for ever, nor indeed for any considerable time: We have this trust reposed in us, only during the short, uncertain space that we sojourn here below; only so long as we remain on earth, as this fleeting breath is in our nostrils. The hour is swiftly approaching, it is just at hand, when we can be no longer stewards!” The moment the body “returns to the dust as it was, and the spirit to God that gave it,” we bear that character no inore; the time of our stewardship is at an end. Part of those goods wherewith we were before entrusted, are now come to an end; at least, they are so with regard to us; nor are we longer entrusted with them : and that part which remains, can no longer be employed or improved as it was before.
2. Part of what we were entrusted with before, is at an end, at least with regard to us. What have we to do, after this life, with food, and raiment, and houses, and earthly possessions ? The food of the dead is the dust of the earth; they are clothed only with worms and rottenness. They dwell in the house
prepared for all flesh; their lands know them no more. All their worldly goods are delivered into other hands, and they have no more portion under the sun."
3. The case is the same with regard to the body. The moment the spirit returns to God, we are no longer stewards of this machine, which is then sown in corruption and dishonour. All the parts and members of which it was composed, lie mouldering in the clay. The hands have no longer power to move; the feet have forgot their office; the flesh, sinews, and bones, are all hastening to be dissolved into common dust!
4. Here end also the talents of a mixed nature; strength, our health, our beauty, our eloquence, and address; our faculty of pleasing, of persuading, or convincing others. Here end likewise all the honours we once enjoyed, all the power which was lodged in our hands, all the influence which We once bad over others, either by the love or the esteem which they bore us. Our love, our hatred, our desire is perished: mone regard how we were once affected toward them. They look upon the dead as neither able to help nor hurt them; so that " a living dog is better than a dead lion.”
5. Perhaps a doubt may remain concerning some of the other talents wherewith we are now entrusted, whether they will cease to exist when the body returns to dust, or only cease to be improvable. Indeed there is no doubt, but the kind of speech which we now use, by means of these bodily organs, will then be entirely at an end, when those organs are destroyed. It is certain, the tongue will no more occasion any vibrations in the air ; neither will the car convey these tremulous motions to the common sensory. Even the sonus exilis, the low, shrill voice, which the poet supposes to belong to a separate spirit, we cannot allow to have a real being ; it. is a mere flight of imagination. Indeed, it cannot be questioned, but separate spirits have some way to communicate their sentiments to each other; but what inhabitant of flesh and blood can explain tiiat way? What we term speech, they cannot have : So that we can no longer be slewards of this talent, when we are numbered with the dead.
6. It may likewise admit of a doubt, whether our senses will exist, when the organs of sense are destroyed. Is it not probable, that those of the lower kind will cease, – the feeling, the smell, the taste, as they have a more immediate reference to the body, and are chiefly, if uot wholly, intended for the preservation of it? But will not some kind of sight remain, although the eye be closed in death ? And will there not be something in the soul equivalent to the present sense of bearing ? Nay, is it not probable, that these will not only exist in the separate state, but exist in a far greater degree, in a more eminent manner, than now, when the soul, disentangled from its clay, is no longer “a dying spark in a cloudy place;" when it no longer "looks through the windows of the eye and ear;” but rather is all eye, all ear, all sense, in a manner we cannot yet conceive ? And have we not a clear proof of the possibility of this, of seeing without the use of the eye, and hearing without the use of the ear? Yea, and an earnest of it continually ? For does not the soul see, in the clearest manner, when the eye is of no use; namely, in dreams? Does she not then enjoy the faculty of hearing, without any help from the ear? But however this be, certain it is, that neither will our senses, any more than our speech, be entrusted to us in the manner they are now, when the body lies in the silent grave.
7. How far the knowledge or learning which we have gained by education will then remain, we cannot tell. Solomon indeed says, “ There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave whither thou goest.” But it is evident, these words cannot be understood in an absolute
For it is so far from being true, that there is no knowledge after we have quitted the body, that the doubt lies on the other side, whether there be any such thing as real knowledge till then ? Whether it be not a plain, sober truth, not a mere poctical fiction, that
“ All these shadows, which for things we take,
Are but the empty dreams, which in death's sleep we make?"Only excepting those things which God himself has been pleased to reveal to man. I will spcak for one : After having sought for truth, with some diligence, for half a century, I am, at this day, hardly sure of any thing, but what I learn from the Bible. Nay, I positively affirm, I know nothing else so certainly, that I would dare to stake my salvation upon it.
So much, however, we may learn from Solomon's words, - that there is no "such“ knowledge or wisdom in the grave,' as will be of any use to an unhappy spirit; there “is no device" there, whereby he can now improve those talents, with wbich lie was oncc cntrusted. For time is no more; the time VOL. I. No, 14.
of our trial for everlasting happiness or misery is past. Our day, the day of man, is over; the day of salvation is ended! Nothing now remains but “the day of the Lord,” ushering in wide, unchangeable cternity!
8. But still, our souls, being incorruptible and immortal, of a nature “ little lower than the angels," (even if we are to understand that phrase of our original nature, which may well admit of a doubt,) when our bodies are mouldered into earth, will remain with all their faculties. Our memory, our understanding, will be so far from being destroyed, yca, or impaired, by the dissolution of the body, that, on the contrary, we have reason to believe, they will be inconceivably strengthened. Have we not the clearest reason to believe, that they will then be wholly freed from those defects, which now naturally result from the union of the soul with the corruptible body? It is highly probable, that, from the time these are disunited, our memory will let nothing slip; yea, that it will faithfully exhibit everything to our view, which was crer committed to it. It is true, that the invisible world is, in Scripture, termed “the laud of forgetfulness ;” or, as it is still more strongly expressed in the old translation, “the land where all things are forgotten.” They are forgotten; but by whom? Not by the inhabitants of that land, but by the inhabitants of the earth. It is with regard to them that the uuscen world is “the land of forgetfumess." All things therciu are too frequently forgotten by these'; but not by disenibodied spirits. From the time they have put off the earthly tabernacle, we can hardly think tliey forget any thing.
9. In like manner, the nderstanding will, doubtless, be freed from the defects that are now inseparable from it. For many ages it has been an unghestioned maxim, Humanum est crrure et nescire;-ignorance and mistake are inseparable from human nature. But the whole of this assertion is only true with regard to living men; and holds no longer, than while “the corrnptible body presses down the soul.” Ignorance, indece, belongs to every time wderstanding ; (seeing there is none beside God that knowcih all things ;) but not mistake: When the body is laid aside, this also is laid aside for ever.
10. What then can we say of an ingenious man, irho has lutely made a discovery, that disembodied spirits have not only po scuses, (not creu sight or hearing,) but no memory, Ox understanding; no thought, or percepion; not so much as a consciousness of their own existence! That they are in a dead sleep from death to the resurrection ! Consanguineus lethi sopor indeed! Such a sleep we may call a near kinsman of death, if it be not the same thing. What can we say, but that ingenious men have strange dreams; and these they sometimes mistake for realities!
11. But to return. As the soul will retain its understanding and memory, notwithstanding the dissolution of the body, so undoubtedly the will, including all the affections, will remain in its full vigour. If our love or anger, our hope or desire, perish, it is only with regard to those whom we leave behind. To them it matters vot, whether they were the objects of our love or bate, of our desire or aversion. But in separate spirits themselves, we have no reason to believe that any of these are extinguished. It is more probable, that they work with far greater force, than while the soul was clogged with flesh and blood.
12. But although all these, although both our knowledge aud senses, our memory and understanding, together with our will, our love, hate, and all our aflections, remain after the body is dropped off; yet, in this respect, they are as though they were not,-we are no longer stewards of them. The things continue, but our stewardship does not: we no more act in that capacity. Even the Grace which was formerly entrusted with us, in order to enable us to be faithful and wise stewards, is now no longer entrusted for that purpusc, The days of our stewardship are ended.
III. 1. It now remains, that being no longer stewards, we give an Account of our Stewardship. Some have imagined, this is to be done immediately after death, as soon as we enter into the world of spirits. Nay, the Church of Rome docs absolutely assert this; yea, makes it an article of faith. And thus much we may allow, the moment a soul drops the body, and stands naked before God, it cannot but know what its portion will be to all eternity. It will have full in its view, either everlasting joy, or everlasting torment; as it is no longer possible for us to be deceived in the judgment which we pass upon ourselves, But the Scripture gives us no reason to believe, that God will then sit in judgment upon us. There is no passage in all the Oracles of God, which affirms any such thing. That which has been frequently alleged for this purposc, seems rather to prove the contrary; namely, (Heb. ix. 27,) • It is appointed for men onće to die, and after this the