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If, in this life only, we have hope in Christ, we are, of all men, most miserable.--1 Cor. xv. 19.
WHEN God, in his infinite and eternal wisdom, had decreed to give to man a life of labour, and a body of mortality; a state of contingency, and a composition of fighting elements; and having designed to be glorified by a free obedience, would also permit sin in the world, and suffer evil men to go on in their wickedness, to prevail in their impious machinations, to vex the souls, and grieve the bodies of the righteous, he knew that this would not only be very hard to be suffered by his servants, but also be very difficult to be understood by them who know God to be a 'Lawgiver' as well as a 'Lord;' a 'Judge' as well as a King;' a Father' as well as a 'Ruler;' and that, in order to his own glory, and for the manifestation of his goodness, he had promised to reward his servants, to give good to them that did good: therefore, to take off all prejudices, and evil resentments, and temptations, which might trouble those good men who suffered evil things, -he was pleased to do two great things,which might confirm the faith, and endear the services, and entertain the hopes of them who are indeed his servants, but yet were very ill used in the accidents of this world.
1. The one was, that he sent his Son into the world to take upon him our nature; and him, being the 'Captain of our salvation, he would perfect through sufferings;' that no man might think it much to suffer, when God spared not his own Son; and every man might submit to the necessity, when the Christ of God was not exempt; and yet that no man should
fear the event which was to follow such sad beginnings, when it behoved even Christ to suffer, and so to enter into glory.'
2. The other great thing was, that God did not only by revelation, and the sermons of the prophets to his church, but even to all mankind competently teach, and effectively persuade, that the soul of man does not die; but that although things were ill here, yet they should be well hereafter; that the evils of this life were short and tolerable, and that to the good, who usually feel most of them, they should end in honour and advantages. And, therefore, Cicero had reason on his side to conclude, that there is to be a time and place after this life, wherein the wicked shall be punished, and the virtuous well rewarded, when he considered that Orpheus and Socrates, Palamedes and Thraseas, Lucretia and Papinian, were either slain or oppressed to death by evil men. But to us Christians, εἰ μὴ ἐπαχθές ἐστιν εἰπεῖν, πάνυ ἱκανῶς, ἀποδέdeixa, as Plato's expression is; we have a necessity to declare, and a demonstration to prove it, when we read that Abel died by the hands of Cain, who was so ignorant, that though he had malice and strength, yet he had scarce art enough to kill him; when we read that John the Baptist, Christ himself, and his apostles, and his whole army of martyrs, died under the violence of evil men; when virtue made good men poor, and free speaking of brave truths made the wise to lose their liberty; when an excellent life hastened an opprobrious death, and the obeying God destroyed ourselves; it was but time to look about for another state of things, where justice should rule, and virtue find her own portion where the men that were like to God in mercy and justice, should also partake of his felicity: and, therefore, men cast out every line, and turned every stone, and tried every argument, and sometimes proved it well; and when they did not, yet they believed strongly; and they were sure of the thing, even when they were not sure of the argument.
Thus, therefore, would the old priests of the capitol, and the ministers of Apollo, and the mystic persons at their
a Phæd. c. 37. Fischer. p. 368.
oracles believe, when they made Apotheoses of virtuous and braver persons, ascribing every braver man into the number of their gods: Hercules and Romulus, Castor and Pollux, Liber Pater, him that taught the use of vines, and her that taught them the use of corn. For they knew that it must needs be, that they who like to God do excellent things, must like to God have an excellent portion.
This learning they also had from Pherecydes the Syrian, from Pythagoras of Samos, and from Zamolxis the Gete, from the neighbours of Euphrates, and the inhabitants by Ister, who were called a9avatíÇOVTES, ' Immortalists;' because, in the midst of all their dark notices of things, they saw this clearly, ὅτι ἀγαθὰ ποιοῦντες οὐκ ἀποθανοῦνται, ἀλλὰ ἥξουσι ἐς χῶρον τοῦτον, ἵνα ἔχωσι τὰ πάντα ἀγαθά; “that virtuous and good mer do not die, but their souls do go into blessed regions, where they shall enjoy all good things:" and it was never known that ever any good man was of another opinion. Hercules and Themistocles, Epaminondas and Cicero, Socrates and Cimon, Ennius and Phidias, all the flower of mankind have preached this truth. Κυρίοτερα τὰ τῶν θείων ἀνδρῶν μαντεύματα, ἢ τὰ τῶν μὴ· οἱ δὲ ἐπιεικέστατοι πάντα ποιουσιν, ὁπῶς ἂν ἐς τὸν ἔπειθα χρόνον εὖ ἀκούωσιν. "The discoursings and prophesyings of divine men are much more proper and excellent than of others, because they do equal and good things, until the time comes that they shall hear well for them: τεκμήριον δὲ ποιοῦμαι, ὅτι ἐστί τις αἴσθησις τεθνεῶσι τῶν ἐνθάδε· αἱ δὲ βέλτισται ψυχαὶ μαντεύονται ταῦτα οὕτως ἔχειν· αἱ δὲ μοχθηρόταται οὐ φασίν. "And this is the sign, that when we die we have life and discerning; because though the wicked care not for believing it, yet all the prophets and the poets, the wise and the brave heroes say so;" they are the words of Plato. For though that which is compounded of elements, returns to its material and corruptible principles, yet the soul, which is a particle of the Divine breath, returns to its own Divine original, where there is no death or dissolution: and because the understanding is neither hot nor cold, it hath no moisture in it, and no dryness, it follows that it hath nothing of those substances, concerning which alone we know that they are corruptible. There is nothing corruptible that we know of, but the four
b Hor. Ep. ii. 1,5.
elements, and their sons and daughters: nothing dies that can discourse, that can reflect in perfect circles upon their own imperfect actions; nothing can die that can see God, and converse with spirits, that can govern by laws and wise propositions. For fire and water can be tyrannical, but not govern; they can bear every thing down that stands before them, and-rush like the people; but not rule like judges, and therefore they perish as tumults are dissolved. Aimera de τὸν νοῦν μόνον θύραθεν ἐπεισιέναι, καὶ θεῖον εἶναι μόνον· οὐδὲ γὰρ αὐτοῦ τῇ εὐεργείᾳ κοινωνεῖ σωματικὴ ἐνέργεια" says Aristotle*: “ But the soul only comes from abroad, from a Divine principle (for so saith the Scripture,-" God breathed into Adam the spirit of life") and that which in operation does not communicate with the body," shall have no part in its corruption.
Thus far they were right; but when they descended to particulars, they fell into error. That the rewards of virtue were to be hereafter, that they were sure of; that the soul was to survive the calamities of this world, and the death of the body, that they were sure of; and upon this account they did bravely and virtuously: and yet they that thought best amongst them, believed that the souls departed should be reinvested with other bodies, according to the dispositions and capacities of this life.
Thus Orpheus, who sang well, should transmigrate into a swan; and the soul of Thamyris, who had as good a voice as he, should wander till it were confined to the body of a nightingale; Ajax to a lion, Agamemnon to an eagle, tyrant princes into wolves and hawks, the lascivious into asses and goats, the drunkards into swine, the crafty statesmen into bees and pismires, and Thersites to an ape. This fancy of theirs prevailed much amongst the common people, and the uninstructed amongst the Jews; for when Christ appeared so glorious in miracle, Herod presently fancied him to be the soul of John the Baptist in another body; and the common people said he was Elias, or Jeremias, or one of the old prophets. And true it is, that although God was pleased, in all times, to communicate to mankind notices of the other world, sufficient to encourage virtues, and to contest against the rencounters of the world,-yet he was ever sparing in
* De gen. an. lib. 2.