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On the IMMORTALITY of the SOUL, and a FUTURE STATE.
2 CORINTHIANS, v. 1.
For we know, that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
THIS passage presents to us in one view the nature
of our present earthly state, and the future object of the Christian's hope. The style is figurative; but the figures employed are both obvious and expressive. The body is represented as a house inhabited by the soul, or the thinking part of man. But it is an earthly house, a tabernacle erected only for passing accommodation, and to be dissolved; to which is to succeed the future dwelling of the just in a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Here then are three great objects presented to our consideration. First, the nature of our present condition. Secondly, that succeeding state which is the object of good men's hope. Thirdly, the certain foundation of their hope; we know, that if our earthly house be dissolved, we have a building of God.
I. THE text gives a full description of our present embodied state; as an earthly house, an earthly house of this tabernacle, and a tabernacle which is to be dissolved.
We dwell in an earthly house. Within this cottage of earth is lodged that spiritual, immortal substance, into which God breathed the breath of life. So we are elsewhere said in Scripture, to have our foundation in the dust, and to dwell in houses of clay. During its continuance in this humble abode, the soul may be justly considered as confined and imprisoned. It is restrained from the full exertion of its powers by many obstructions. It can perceive and act only by very imperfect organs. It looks abroad as through the windows of the senses; and beholds truth as through a glass darkly. It is beset with a numerous train of temptations to evil, which arise from bodily appetites. It is obliged to sympathise with the body in its wants; and is depressed with infirmities not its own. For it suffers from the frailty of those materials of which its earthly house is compacted. It languishes and droops along with the body; is wounded by its pains; and the slightest discomposure of bodily organs is sufficient to derange some of the highest operations of the soul.
All these circumstances bear the marks of a fallen and degraded state of human nature. The mansion in which the soul is lodged corresponds so little with the powers and capacities of a rational immortal spirit, as gives us reason to think that the souls of good men were not designed to remain always thus confined. Such a state was calculated for answering the ends proposed by our condition of trial and probation in this life, but was not intended to be lasting and final. Accordingly, the Apostle, in his description, calls it the earthly house of this tabernacle; alluding to a wayfaring or sojourning state, where tabernacles or tents are occasionally erected for the
accommodation of passengers. The same metaphor is here made use of, which is employed in several other passages of Scripture, where we are said to be strangers and sojourners on earth before God, as were all our fathers. This earth may be compared to a wide field spread with tents, where troops of pilgrims appear in succession and pass away. They enter for a little into the tents prepared for them; and remain there to undergo their appointed probation. When that is finished, their tents are taken down, and they retire to make way for others who come forward in their allotted order. Thus one generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; and the earthly house is to all no other than the house of their pilgrimage.*
The earthly house of this tabernacle, the Apostle, proceeding in his description, tells us, is to be dissolved. Close as the union between the soul and body now appears to be, it is no more than a temporary union. It subsists only during the continuance of a tabernacle of dust, which, by its nature, is tending towards ruin. The dust must soon return to the dust, and the spirit to God who gave it. The dissolution of the earthly house of this tabernacle, is an event full of dismay to wicked men. Beyond that period they see nothing but a dark unknown, which, as far as they can discern, is peopled with objects full of terror; even to the just, this dissolution is a serious and awful event. Providence has wisely appointed that, burdened as our present state is with various ills and frailties, we should, however, be naturally attached to it. Its final close is always attended with several melancholy ideas. Thou who now flourishest most in health and strength, must
Psalm cxix. 54.
then have thy head laid low. From thy closing eyes the light of the sun shall disappear for ever. light shall continue to shine, the seasons to return, and the earth to flourish; but to thee no more, separated from the dwellings of men, and eut off from all thou wert accustomed to love, as though thou hadst never been.-Such is the fate of man considered merely as mortal; as dwelling in an earthly house which is about to be dissolved. The consolatory corrective of those humbling ideas, the ray that is to dissipate this gloom, we behold in the subsequent part of the text; that when this earthly house is dissolved, there is prepared for the righteous a building of God, an house not made with hands. But before proceeding to this part of the subject, let us pause for a little, and make some reflections on what has been already said.
LET the distinction between the soul and the body, which is so clearly marked in the text, be deeply imprinted on our minds. Few things in religion or morals are entitled to make a stronger impression than this distinction; and yet, with the bulk of men the impression it makes appears to be slight. They seem to think and act as if they consisted of no more than mere flesh and blood, and had no other concerns than what respect their embodied state. If their health be firm, if their senses be gratified, and their appetites indulged, all is well with them. Is not this to forget that the body is no more than an earthly house or tabernacle of the soul? The soul, that thinking part which they feel within them, and which it is impossible for them to confound with their flesh or their bones, is certainly far nobler than the tenement of clay which it inhabits. The soul is the prin
ciple of all life, and knowledge, and action. The body is no more than its instrument or organ; and as much nobler as is the part which belongs to him who employs an instrument, than to the instrument which is employed, so much is the soul of greater dignity than the body. The one is only a frail and perishable machine; the other survives its ruin, and lives for ever.
During the time that the union continues between those two very different parts of our frame, I by no means say that it is incumbent upon us to disregard all that relates to the body. It is not possible, nor though it were possible, would it be requisite or fit, for a man to act as if he were pure immaterial spirit. This is what the condition and laws of our nature permit not.—But must not the greatest sensualist admit, that if the soul be the chief part of man, it must have interests of its own, which require to be carefully attended to? Can he imagine that he truly consults either his interest or his pleasure, if he employs the thinking part of his nature only to serve, and to administer to the bodily part? Must not this infer, not merely a degradation of the superior part, but an entire perversion of that whole constitution of nature which our Maker hath given us? Be assured, my brethren, that the soul hath a health and a sickness, hath pleasures and pains of its own, quite distinct from those of the body, and which have a powerful influence on the happiness or misery of man. He who pays no attention to these, and neglects all care of preserving the health and soundness of his soul, is not only preparing final misery for himself when he shall enter into a disembodied estate, but is laying, even for his present state, the foundation of many a bitter distress. By folly and guilt he is wounding his spirit. Its