Page images




MATT. xvi. 26.—For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

Of all the subjects that can possibly engage the attention of an immortal being, the nature and worth of the soul is the most vitally interesting. What will it avail us to possess an intimate acquaintance with letters, with science, with arts, with manufactures, with trade, with the state of society around us, if we are, after all, ignorant of our own mental constitution, and utter strangers to the worth of the undying spirit? Were a visitor from some other planet to alight upon this great city, and were he to inspect our circles of commerce, our crowded manufactories, our haunts of amusement and dissipation, would he carry back to his native region an impression of the awful destiny of the busy actors—a conviction that they felt themselves to be candidates for an endless state of existence? I fear, my friends, that his impression would be a very different one, and that he would be driven to the sad conclusion, that the people at large are more deeply agitated about all other concerns, than about the nature and worth of the soul.

And could we, with a good conscience, pronounce his verdict to be incorrect? Could we say that he had mistaken our real character?-that we are, after all, a very religious people?—that our workshops, our warehouses, our counters, our exchanges, our wharfs, are scenes of devoutness to God, and of exemplary piety? Alas! my friends, do not your own experience and observation teach you that the awful solemnities of another world are lamentably forgotten, and that the cry, "What shall I eat, what shall I drink, and

wherewithal shall I be clothed?" is everywhere supplanting the more momentous inquiry, "What must I do to be saved?"

You who mingle with the operative tradesmen of this vast metropolis can bear me testimony that I am speaking the words of truth and soberness. If you have any good thing in you toward the Lord God of Israel, you know how your "righteous spirit is often vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked” around you. And if you are yet "running with a multitude to do evil," I trust you are not so far lost to truth and honour, as to maintain that irreligion, profaneness, and debauchery, are as much for your interest in the present, and as much for your safety and happiness in the future life, as true piety, the fear of the Lord, and "a conscience void of offence both toward God and toward men." I am bound to believe that your appearance in the sanctuary is, at least, a proof that a spirit of inquiry has been excited. I avail myself of this assumption: it is enough for my present purpose. Only admit the real importance of the subject introduced in the text, and bend your attention to it, as one in which you are deeply concerned; and I ask no more. To that Master, whom it is the interest of every one of us to serve, I would look up for a blessing, that his word may be rendered "quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword."

From a review of the text we shall be led, by a direct course, to an examination both of the nature and worth of the soul.


We cannot, surely, read of that which is of more real value to us than a world, without asking ourselves what it is? what properties belong to it? wherein does it differ from those inferior objects by which we are surrounded? We are all accustomed to speak of the soul but what definite ideas do we attach to it? Our bodily organs we are, in some measure, conversant with: but has it ever awakened intense emotion when we have been reminded of the better part? I fear we often speak and hear of the soul without any corresponding emotions of interest and solemnity. It is, indeed, difficult to speak clearly of the nature of the soul; so little do we know accurately of what is invisible and impalpable. But to the Holy Scriptures we are indebted for much useful information on this subject;-the only satisfactory information to be obtained upon the nature of the human spirit. Consulting the Bible, we learn that the soul is the seat of thought, the subject of moral government, and the heir of immortality.

1. The soul is the seat of thought.

This must have been observed by every one of my auditoryeven the youngest. You are quite conscious that there is within each of you a thinking principle, which gives birth to all your actions, and which is distinct from all your bodily organs and sensations. You can think of an arm, a limb, an eye, a tooth, and feel thoroughly satisfied that the substance which thus thinks is perfectly distinct from the objects of its contemplation ;- -as much so as your hands are distinct from the piece of mechanism which they have framed. You can, even at this moment, think of the brain, with all its nerves and sensations, which shews that the soul is something altogether exterior to that organ; that it is, in fact, a thinking, immaterial, uncompounded substance, capable of existing in a state of separation from all bodily organization, whenever it shall please the Almighty to break the link of connexion between it and the perishable body.

If, my dear hearers, you should ever be brought to think, that the soul is but a piece of highly organized matter—a machine constructed of various atoms for the purpose of producing thought, affection, and action, you will then be prepared for drinking in, by slower or more rapid degrees, the blasphemy of the age. Degrade the soul to a mere level with the clods of the valley or the beasts of the field, and the whole scheme of revelation will every day become less palatable to the vitiated taste; while the goddess of reason will gradually usurp the place of the living and infallible oracles.

This view of the soul enters so vitally into the whole question before us, that every step will be utter confusion if it is not readily admitted. It is the greatest absurdity imaginable to conceive of matter, in any of its forms, as capable of thought, imagination, or affection. Yet such is the absurdity of the material and infidel school. I should like to know upon what discovered principle of matter this preposterous theory is founded. How can any number of atoms, in any relative position to each other, by any chemical change or refinement, be rendered capable of that principle of thought which can soar to the highest heavens, and wing its flight to the utmost limits of the universe? Amongst the known properties of matter there is nothing answering to this; and as to its unknown properties, we have no means of pronouncing upon them.

But when we open our Bible, this mystery is solved. We there learn that the body was made of the dust of the ground, while the soul emanated, or was breathed, more immediately from God. The body was framed of the humblest material; but the soul was made after

[blocks in formation]

the image of God. Upon this twofold view of the nature of man, all the allusions of Scripture are distinctly founded. We read of the body at death returning to the dust,—that dust from which it was originally formed; and the spirit, to God who gave it,-that God who at first called it into being. "There is," says Job," a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding." "A spirit hath not flesh and bones," saith the Saviour, as you see me have." My second thought is,


2. That the soul is the subject of moral government.

Many of the inferior animals are capable of a high degree of refinement, and many of their instincts approach to the very verge of reason. But upon which of them has there ever been impressed the thought of a supreme intelligence? the feeling of a moral government? the sentiments of devotion and religion? the desire after communion with their Maker? or the expectation of a state of existence beyond the present? Such attainments, in mere animal nature, are utterly unknown. And the reason is, that the highest orders of the brute tribes are not so constituted as to be capable of religion, devotion, and accountableness. Cultivate them ever so highly, confer on them the greatest facilities for moral improvement; and you will never reach one step in elevating their nature to God, or in imparting to them an idea either of sin or holiness.

It is otherwise with man, who was made in the Divine image, fitted to hold converse with the Deity, and destined to enjoy Him for ever. Though the temple which Jehovah reared in Paradise has been thrown down and desecrated, yet amidst its very ruins we can trace the marks of its original magnificence, and can distinctly perceive that it was erected for God to dwell in. Observe the remains of conscience in all men ;*-the fearful forebodings of futurity which agitate the guilty mind in prospect of a departure out of this world, the susceptibility to the influence of moral motives which more or less attaches to every rational mind, and the secret sting of remorse for crimes which none but the All-seeing eye has ever gazed upon and you will then learn, that one distinguishing property of the soul consists in its being the subject of moral government.

And though men are everywhere children of apostasy, yet have the ministers of religion this advantage in addressing them ;that they have still an intellectual, a moral, and an accountable nature; and that God can at any given instant awaken the sensi

*Rom. iii. 14.

bilities of conscience, though it were seared as with a hot iron. I observe,

3. That the soul is the heir of immortality.

There can be no reasonable doubt that body and soul were originally destined for immortality. By transgression, the grosser part was doomed to corruption and worms: but the soul, in all its moral prostration, was left in full possession of its immortality; as if to shew that man's greatest dignity may become his heaviest curse, and that it is not a simple immortality which constitutes his felicity, but an immortality under the smile of Him whose favour is life.

The immortality of the soul, whether belonging to the necessary constitution of mind, or simply depending on an act of the Divine will, is a glorious theme. For my own part, I rather lean to the theory that it is an essential property of the soul, a sort of sine qua non in the existence of spirits, originally indeed arising out of the will of the Creator, but necessary to the nature of spirits. But who can deny that there is in man a longing after immortality? Have not many of the heathens been under the powerful expectation of futurity? Is not the thought of annihilation unwelcome to every one who is not surcharged with guilty recollections? Can the Deist himself, in general, extricate himself from the anticipation of what will succeed the dissolution of the corruptible body?

But how base the effort, to attempt to blot out the largest portion of man's existence without offering compensation for the tremendous loss! And yet bewildered and unhappy sceptics are constantly talking of the dignity of human nature, and of the sublime elevations of reason. How utterly incongruous the union of such sentiments! I appeal to the common sense of mankind! Strip man of his immortality, and you contemplate him as the child of sorrow, the sport of innumerable evils, the forlorn and helpless pilgrim, the unfortunate wretch, whose momentary elevation only serves to render his downfal the more affectingly conspicuous.

Infidelity! thou accursed thing! what hast thou done to dash the cup of true happiness, and to fill to its very brim the cup of human misery! Thou hast robbed man of all that is most dear to him, and then, fiend-like, thou exultest over his ruin! Thou hast talked to him of wisdom, but, alas! it was but folly of reason, but it was madness ;—of virtue, but it was pollution ;-of dignity, but it was unutterable debasement;-of benevolence too, but it was cruelty more ruthless than that of the midnight assassin;—of liberty, but it was bondage the most galling and inveterate. Thou hast spoken in smooth accents, as became thy unworthy purpose ;-thou hast

« PreviousContinue »