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to receive it, and to dispose it into a condition of rest and blessedness. So speaks the apostle, 'I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded, that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him, against that day.'
Herein, as in all other graces, is our Lord Jesus Christ our great example. He resigned his departing spirit into the hands of his Father, to be owned and preserved by him, in its state of separation. 'Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit,' Luke xxiii. 46. as did the psalmist, his type, in an alike condition; Psal. xxxi. 5. But the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ herein, the object and exercise of it, what he believed and trusted unto, in this resignation of his spirit into the hand of God, is at large expressed in the sixteenth Psalm. I have,' said he, 'set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth; my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life; in thy presence is fulness of joy, at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.' He left his soul in the hand of God, in full assurance that it should suffer no evil in its state of separation, but should be brought again with his body into a blessed resurrection, and eternal glory. So Stephen resigned his soul, departing under violence, into the hands of Christ himself. When he died, he said, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.'
This is the last victorious act of faith, wherein its conquest over its last enemy death itself doth consist. Herein the soul says, in and unto itself, Thou art now taking leave of time unto eternity; all things about thee are departing as shades, and will immediately disappear. The things which thou art entering into are
yet invisible; such as 'eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor will they enter into the heart of man fully to conceive.' Now, therefore, with quietness and confidence give up thyself unto the sovereign power, grace, truth, and faithfulness of God, and thou shalt find assured rest and peace.
But Jesus Christ it is, who doth immediately receive the souls of them who believe in him. So we see in the instance of Stephen. And what can be a greater encouragement to resign them into his hands, than a daily contemplation of his glory in his person, his power, his exaltation, his office, and grace? Who that believes in him, that belongs unto him, can fear to commit his departing spirit unto his love, power, and care? Even we also shall hereby in our dying moments see, by faith, heaven opened, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, ready to receive us. This added unto the love which all believers have unto the Lord Jesus, which is enflamed by contemplation of his glory, and their desires to be with him where he is, it will strengthen and confirm our minds in the resignation of our departing souls into his hand.
Secondly, It is required in us unto the same end, that we be ready and willing to part with the flesh, wherewith we are clothed, with all things that are useful and desirable thereunto. The alliance, the relation, the friendship, the union, that are between the soul and the body, are the greatest, the nearest, the firmest, that are or can be among mere created beings. There is nothing like it, nothing equal unto it. The union of three persons in the one single divine nature, and the union of two natures in one person of Christ, are infinite, ineffable, and exempted from all comparison. But among created beings, the union of these two essential parts of the same nature in one person, is most excellent. Nor is any thing equal to it, or like it, found in
any other creatures. Those who among them have most of life, have either no bodies, as angels; or no souls, but what perish with them, as all brute creatures below.
Angels being pure immaterial spirits, have nothing in them, nothing belonging unto their essence, that can die. Beasts have nothing in them that can live when their bodies die. The soul of a beast cannot be preserved in a separate condition, no not by an act of Almighty power; for it is not; and that which is not, cannot live. It is nothing but the body itself in an act of its material powers.
Only the nature of man in all the works of God is capable of this convulsion. The essential parts of it are separable by death, the one continuing to exist and act its especial powers in a separate state or condition. The powers of the whole entire nature acting in soul and body in conjunction, are all scattered and lost by death. But the powers of one essential part of the same nature, that is of the soul, are preserved after death in a more perfect acting and exercise than before. This is peculiar unto human nature, as a mean partaking of heaven and earth, of the perfection of angels above, and of the imperfection of the beasts below. Only there is this difference in these things: our participation of the heavenly spiritual perfections of the angelical nature, is for eternity; our participation of the imperfections of the animate creatures here below, is but for a season. For God hath designed our bodies unto such a glorious refinement at the resurrection, as that they shall have no more alliance unto that brutish nature, which perisheth for ever. For we shall be sayyedo, like unto angels, or equal to them. Our bodies shall no more be capable of those acts and operations which are now common to us with other living creatures here below.
This is the pre-eminence of the nature of man, as the wise man declares. For unto that objection of atheistical epicureans, 'As the one dieth, so dieth the other; they have all one breath, so that a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast, and all go into one place, all are of the dust, and all turn to the dust again:' he granteth, that as unto their bodies it is for a season, in them we have a present participation of their nature; but, saith he, here lieth the difference, 'Who knoweth the spirit of a man that goeth upward, and the spirit of a beast that goeth downward unto the earth?' Unless we know this, unless we consider the different state of the spirit of men and beasts, we cannot be delivered from this atheism; but the thoughts hereof will set us at liberty from it. They die in like manner, and their bodies go equally to the dust for a season; but the beast hath no spirit, no soul, but what dies with the body and goes to the dust. If they had, their bodies also must be raised again unto a conjunction with them; otherwise, death would produce a new race of creatures unto eternity. But man hath an immortal soul, saith he, a heavenly spirit, which when the body goes into the dust for a season, ascends to heaven (where the guilt of sin, and the curse of the law, interpose not), from whence it is there to exist and to act all its native powers in a state of blessedness.
But as I said, by reason of this peculiar intimate union and relation between the soul and body, there is in the whole nature a fixed aversation from a dissolution. The soul and body are naturally and necessarily unwilling to fall into a state of separation, wherein the one shall cease to be what it was, and the other knows not clearly how it shall subsist. The body claspeth about the soul, and the soul receiveth strange impressions from its embraces; the entire
nature existing in the union of them both, being unalterably averse unto a dissolution.
Wherefore, unless we can overcome this inclination, we can never die comfortably or cheerfully. We would indeed rather choose to be 'clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life,' that the clothing of glory might come on our whole nature, soul and body, without dissolution. But if this may not be, yet then do believers so conquer this inclination by faith and views of the glory of Christ, as to attain a desire of this dissolution. So the apostle testifies of himself, 'I have a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better' than to abide here; Phil. i. 23. saith he, iπilvμíav xw. Not an ordinary desire, not that which worketh in me now and then; but a constant, habitual inclination working in vehement acts and desires. And what doth he so desire? It is avaλvoa, ' to depart,' say we, out of this body, from this tabernacle, to leave it for a season. But it is such a departure as consists in the dissolution of the present state of his being, that it should not be what it is. But how is it possible that a man should attain such an inclination unto, such a'readiness for, such a vehement desire of, a dissolution? It is from a view by faith of Christ and his glory, whence the soul is satisfied, that to be with him is incomparably better than in its present state and condition.
He therefore that would die comfortably, must be able to say within himself and to himself; Die, then, thou frail and sinful flesh; 'dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.' I yield thee up unto the righteous doom of the Holy
One. Yet therein
also I give thee into the hand of the great refiner, who will hide thee in thy grave, and by thy consump