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FIRST PREACHED, JANUARY, 1794.
1 THESS. Chap. IV. Ver. 13-18.
But I would not have you ignorant, Brethren, concerning them
which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no Hope.-For if we believe that JESUS died and rose again; even so, them also, which sleep in Jesus, will God bring with him, &c.
Separation of the Soul from the Body at Death, the commitment of the Body to the Grave, and the certainty of its being raised again from the Dead, and of their being re-united at the last daythe State and Employment of the Soul, or Spiritual Part, during the intermediate space of Time, between its Separation froni, and Re-union with, the Body; the Guesses, Conjectures and Divinations of many of the greatest Pagan Writers and Philosophers on this subject, with the doctrines of the different Sects of Christians concerning the same;—the Dissolution of this World and a Judgment to come—these have been the interesting topics of sundry of my last foregoing Sermons. Virgil and Cicero have been my chief Guides among the Pagan Writers; and the illustrious St. Paul has illuminated and directed my Way, among the mazy and thorny Paths of the Christian Expositors and Theologists. .
We left St. Paul, in the last Sermon, proving and i defending the great truths of the Christian Revelation,
concerning a Resurrection and Judgment to come, before Felix, a Roman Governor, trembling at the novelty of the doctrine, and, especially, at the amazing grandeur of his description of some of the circumstances of the last Judgment. Great indeed is the subject, and difficult for Man to do it any justice. “ For certainly (says the sublime Burnet) there is nothing in the whole course of Nature, or of Human Affairs, so great and extraordinary, as the two last scenes of them; the Coming of our Saviour, and the Burning of the World! If we could draw a true Picture of them in our Minds, we should scarce be able to divert them from our Imagination, or attend to any Thing else; for what can more affect us than the greatest Glory that was ever visible upon Earth, and at the same time the greatest Terror-a God descending at the Head of an Army of Angels, and a Burning World, under his Feet?”
“ These things are so remote from the ordinary Thoughts and Conceptions of Man, that he has no Language to express them in, no ideas that can reach them, and no comparisons by which he can illustrate them”-Earthquakes, Volcanos and fiery Eruptions can lend but feeble Aid, even when described by the ablest human pen, with all their circumstances of terror, and foreboding signs in the Earth and in the Air and in the Sca, which are their Forerunners! We may take, as a Specimen, that great eruption of Ve. suvius, in the time of Titus Vespasian, recorded
fully and faithfully by Dion Cassius, B. 66;* one of the best Roman Historians. But although these
* “ As a prelude to this awful Phenomenon, there were strange sights in the air, and after that followed an extraordinary drought. Then the earth began to tremble and quake; and the concussions were so great, that the ground seemed to rise and boil up in some places; and, in others, the tops of the Mountains sunk in, or tumbled down; at the same Time, great Noises and Sounds were heard; some subterraneous, like thunder witbin the Bowels of the Earth, others above Ground, like Groans, or Bellowings, Mugitibus similes ;-[Mugiti signifies literally, the Lowings or Bellowings of cattle, or of the Monoceros or Sea-Calf]. The vast Ocean or Sea roared; the whole Heavens were convulsed and made a fearful Noise, succeeded by a sudden and mighty Crack, as if the Frame of Na. ture had broke, or all the Mountains of the Earth had fallen down at once.
“ At last Vesuvius burst, and threw out of its Vomb, first huge Stones, reaching to its highest Top; then an immense Quantity of Fire and Smoke, darkening the Air, and hiding the Sun as if in a total eclipse. Day was turned into Night, and Light into Darkness; and the frightened People, supposed the Giants were again assailing, or preparing for war, against Heaven; many superstitiously fancying that they saw the shapes and images of Giants in the Smoke, and heard the Sound of their Trumpets: while others imagined that the world was either returning to its primi. tive Chaos, or about to be wholly consumed with fire. Amidst this uni. versal confusion and consternation, men (not knowing where to be safe ) run, some Out of their Houses, into the High-ways and Fields; and some, from the fields, back again Into their houses. In like Manner, some of those who were on the Waters, or at Sea, hastened to the dry Land, and others who were on the dry Land endeavoured to get out to Sea ; each one thinking that any place was safer than that where lie was.
“ Together with those grosser masses of matier which the mountain vomited forth to its very Top, and over all the neighbourhood, there was thrown such a prodigious quantity of ashes, as covered the Land and Sea, and darkened the air round about; and (besides other Damages) the Birds, Beasts, Fishes and Cattle, with Men, Women and Children, were destroyed; and moreover, two entire Cities, Herculaneum and Ponpeios, were overwhelmed, and buried under a deluge of ashes, as the people were sitting in the theatre; nay these ashes were so copious, and cast about in all directions, that they were carried by the winds across the Mediterranean, into Africa, Egypt and Syria; so as to cover the land with a sudden Darkness, and to astonish the people to such a degree, that not
grand natural phenomena may aid the Imagination, and make deep Impressions on the Mind, they can. not (as hath been just hinted) create Expression, or give us Language adequate to the mighty theme. This is above all other Language, except that of the sacred Scriptures and the inspired writers. It hath been observed of the most eloquent Writers, that, however bold and sublime on other subjects, yet when they come to speak of the ways of Providence, and the mysterious and marvellous things of God, they seem to be oppressed and sunk down with Doubts and Difficulties, and to labour for Expres. sion.
But not so the inspired Penmen. Always Ma. jestic and equal to their Subject, they rise with their rising Theme, and reach the very Summit of Loftiness on sacred Subjects, as they require. All that is grand or beautiful in other writers, is scarcely seen or felt or heard, when brought to a Comparison
having heard of the eruption of Vesuvius, they apprehended the Heavens and the Earth were coming together, and the Sun falling down, and the Earth rising up to take its place above.” Thus far the Roman Historian.
But if the eruption of one fiery mountain (continues Burnet, from whom a great part of this note is collected) could occasion such convulsions and disorders in nature, and such alarms and terrors among the people within its reach : suppose all the Volcanos on the whole earth should be prepared and set to a proper Time, (and that Time being come, and the signal given from God;) they should begin to play at once, and all those fiery Mountains burst out together, and discharge themselves in Flames of Fire, throwing up hot burning Stones, and Streams of flowing Metals and i tinerals-and if we add to these Appearances on Earth, the Appeara: ces in the Heavens, the Judge descending, the Trumpet sounding, an! t.e universal Dread of nations-Yet all this would not be a full Descriin; and we must return to the Language and Descriptions of Scripture.
with the mighty Images, the Pomp of Description, and loud Thunder of Eloquence, wherewith the inspired writers usher in the preparations for the last Judgment, describe the Resurrection of the Dead, and the Dissolution of the Things we now see. The Inequality of human Talents to this subject, and our Need of Scripture-aid, are matters confessed by Burnet himself; whose Powers and Strength of Mind, in describing the Great, the Marvellous, and the New in things, was never exceeded by those of any man. “'Tis “our unhappiness, says he, to be so much used to “ trifling things in this life, that when any thing Great “ is represented to us, it appears fantastical, the idea “ of some visionary and contemplative Brain. I will “not venture, therefore, without premising Grounds “ out of Scripture, to write concerning this glorious “ appearance of Christ's coming to Judgment. As “ to the Burning of the world, I think we have already “ laid a foundation sufficient to support the highest o description that can be made of it; but the Coming " of our Saviour, being wholly out of the way of Na“ tural Causes, it is reasonable that we should take “ all Directions we can from Scripture, that we may “ give a more fitting and just account of that sacred “ pomp.”
In the investigation of Scripture for aid in the description of this last coming of Christ, and a future judgment, we shall find that the subjects were not all at once, but gradually opened unto man. The full blaze of such light, poured upon him instantaneously, would have been too much for his weak organs; and the Almighty, in his wise Economy and Dispen