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CONCERNING THE MIDDLE STATE OF HAPPINESS OR MISERY,
ALLOTTED BY GOD TO EVERY MAN PRESENTLY AFTER DEATH, ACCORDING AS HE HAS BEEN GOOD OR BAD IN HIS PAST LIFE, INCONSISTENT WITH THE POPISH DOCTRINE OF PURGATORY.
Acts i. 25.
In my former discourse on this text, having gathered two propositions from it, I fully despatched the first of them, concerning the subsistence and permanence of man's soul after the death of his body. I am now to proceed (with God's assistance) to the other proposition or observation, which was this:
Observ. 2. The soul of every man presently after death, hath its proper place and state allotted by God, either of happiness or misery, according as the man hath been good or bad in his past life.
For the text tells us, that the soul of Judas, immediately after his death, had not only a place to be in, but also TÒY TÓTTOV Tòv idcov, "his own proper place," a place fit for so horrid a betrayer of his most gracious Lord and Master. And I have shewn you, that the Apostolic writers were wont to express the different place and state of good and bad men presently after death, by this and the like phrases, that they went to their “own proper, due,” or “appointed places:” that is, to places agreeable to their respective qualities, the good to a place of happiness, the wicked to a place and state of misery. If there were one common receptacle for all departed souls, good and bad, (as some have imagined,) Judas could not be said presently after death to “go to his own proper place," nor Peter to his; but the same place would contain them both: but Judas hath his proper place, and Peter his. And here what avails the difference of place, unless we allow also a difference of state and condition? If the joys of paradise were in hell, hell would be paradise; and if the torments of hell were in paradise, paradise would be hell: Judas, therefore, is in misery, and Peter in happiness. And what happiness or misery can be there, where there is no sense of either? If presently after death, one common gulf of insensibility and oblivion swallowed up the souls of good and bad alike, the state of Judas and Peter would be the same. The result of all which, is manifestly this, that the souls of men do not only subsist and remain after the death of their bodies, but also live and are sensible of pain or pleasure in that separate state ; the wicked being tormented at present with a piercing remorse of conscience, (that sleepy lion being now fully awakened,) and expecting a far more dreadful vengeance yet to fall on them; and, on the other side, the good being refreshed with the peace of a good conscience, (now immutably settled,) and with unspeakable comforts of God, and yet joyfully waiting for a greater happiness at the resurrection. And to prove this more fully will be my business at this time. Indeed I have been constrained occasionally to intermix somewhat of this argument in my former discourse on this text; but it is a subject worthy of a distinct and more copious handling.
There are some who grant, that the soul of man is a distinct substance from his body, and doth subsist after the death thereof; but yet they dream, that the soul in the state of separation, is as it were in a sleep, a lethargy, a state of insensibility, having no perception at all, either of joy or sorrow, happiness or misery. An odd opinion, which seems altogether inconsistent with itself. For how can the soul subsist and remain a soul, without sense and perception? For, as Tertullian somewhere truly saith, Vita animæ est sensus, " The life of the soul is perception." Wherefore, to say an insensible soul, seems a contradiction in terms. It is true, whilst our souls are confined to these bodies, they can have no distinct perception of things without the help of fancy and those corporeal ideas, and, as it were, images of things impressed on it, which, being seated in the body, must necessarily die and perish with it. But yet even now we find, that the soul being first helped by imagination, may at length arrive to a perception of some most certain conclusions, which are beyond the reach of imagination. We may understand more than we can imagine; that is, we may by reason certainly collect, that there are some things really existing, whereof we can frame no idea or phantasm in our imaginations. Thus, I am most certain, that there is a Being eternal, that hath no beginning of existence; though I can never be able to imagine a thing, without attributing some beginning of existence to it. A phantasm of eternity I can never have; but that there is something eternal, I say, I can thus by reasoning demonstrate. Either there is something eternal, that had no beginning, or else it will necessarily follow, that there was a time or space (let it be never so many millions of ages ago, it matters not) when nothing existed. If every being whatsoever had a beginning, before which it was not, then there was a space or time (I may have leave to call it so for want of a fitter word) when no being at all was. He is a man of a desperately lost understanding, that doth not clearly perceive the evidence of this consequence. Now if ever there was a time when nothing at all was, then nothing ever could have been; for by nothing, nothing could be produced. But we are sure that we ourselves exist, and many other beings; therefore, there is an eternal Being, that had no beginning of existence, and by which all other beings that are not eternal, do exist. After the same manner, we can demonstrate divers other propositions, which are beyond the comprehension of our imagination. We have therefore a faculty or power within us superior to imagination; and of this we affirm, that it shall still remain, act, and operate, even when this grosser imagination of ours ceaseth, and is extinguished.
If it be inquired, in what way the soul perceives, when out of the body, whether by the help of some new subtiler organs and instruments fitted to its present state, which either by its own native power given in its creation it forms to itself, or by a special act of the Divine power it is supplied with, or whether without them; I must answer with St. Paul in a like case, “ I cannot tell; God knoweth 6." And if any man shall laugh at . 1 Cor. xii. 2.
b Oůk olda d Oeds, oldev.
this ingenuous confession of our ignorance, his laughter will but betray his own ignorance and folly. For even now we can scarce explain how we see or hear, how we think or understand, how we remember least of all; though we have continual experience of all these operations in ourselves. And must it be thought strange, that we cannot tell how our souls shall understand and operate, when out of our bodies, that being a state of which we never yet had any experience? Indeed, whilst our souls are wrapped in this flesh, we can no more imagine how they shall act when divested of it, than a child in the womb (even though we should suppose it to have the actual understanding of an adult person) can conceive, what kind of life or world that is, into which it is afterward to be born. Or (to use another similitude) we can now no more conceive the manner of the soul's operation, when absent from the body, than a man born blind, that never saw the light, can understand a discourse of colours, or comprehend all the wonders and mysteries of the optic science. But the thing itself, that the soul in the state of separation hath a perception of things, and by that perception is either happy or miserable, is ascertained to us by divine Revelation, of which we have all reasonable evidence, that it is indeed divine, and without the guidance of which, all our best philosophy in this matter is precarious and uncertain.
It was an assertion of the great Verulam”, that all inquiries about the nature of the reasonable soul “must be bound over at last unto religion, there to be determined and defined; for otherwise, they still lie open to many errors and illusions of sense. For seeing that the substance of the soul was not deduced and extracted in her creation from the mass of heaven and earth, but immediately inspired from God; and seeing the laws of heaven and earth are the proper subjects of philosophy; how can the knowledge of the substance of the reasonable soul be derived or fetched from philosophy? But it must be drawn from the same inspiration from whence the substance thereof first flowed." Let us therefore hear what the divinely-inspired writers, especially of the New Testament, and the Doctors of the primitive Church, by tradition from them, have taught us in this matter. And here most of those texts, which we have alleged for the proof of the former proposition, will also serve for the confirmation of this second. We have heard our Saviour Himself; but lest we should be thought to have misunderstood Him, let us next hear His Apostles in this question.
c Advanc. of Learn. 1. iv. c. 3.
St. Paul, who had been caught up into the third heaven, and also into paradise, which the Scriptures tell us is the receptacle of the spirits of good men, separated from their bodies, and therefore was best able to give us an account of the state of souls dwelling there: he assures us, that those souls live and operate, and have a perception of excellent things. Nay, in the very same text where he speaks of that rapture of his a, he plainly enough confirms this hypothesis. For first, when he there declares himself uncertain, whether he received those admirable visions he speaks of, in or out of the body, he manifestly supposeth it possible for the soul, when out of the body, not only to subsist, but also to perceive and know, and even things beyond the natural apprehension of mortal men. And then when he tells us, that he received in paradise visions and revelations, and heard there åponta onuata, “unspeakable words, not lawful (or rather not possible) for man to uttere;" he directly teacheth, that paradise is so far from being a place of darkness and obscurity, silence and oblivion, where the good spirits, its proper inhabitants, are all in a profound sleep, like bats in their dark winter quarters; (as some have vainly imagined;) that, on the contrary, it is a most glorious place, full of light and ravishing vision, a place where mysteries may be heard and learnt far surpassing the reach of frail mortals. Lastly, the glories of the third heaven, and of paradise too, seem to be by an extraordinary revelation opened and discovered to St. Paul, not only for his own support under the heavy pressure of his afflictions, but also that he might be able to speak of them with greater assurance to others. And the order is observable : First, he had represented to him the most perfect joys of the third, or highest heaven, of which we hope to be partakers after the resurrection; and then, lest so long an expectation should discourage us, he saw also the intermediate joys of paradise, wherewith the souls of the faithful are refreshed
d viz. 2 Cor. xii. 2-4.
de Princip. ii. 7. §. 4. non licet pro non . (So says Origen, (or rather Rufinus,) potest.)