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St Matth. xvi, 26. - FOR WHAT IS A MAN PROFITED, IF HE SHALL GAIN THE WHOLE WORLD, AND LOSE HIS OWN SOUL? OR WHAT SHALL A MAN GIVE IN EXCHANGE FOR HIS SOUL?
(Some illustrations due to an English Layman, and an American Divine.]
THE THEME suggested by the inquiry of our Lord in the text, may lead to a short discussion of three very important propositions. First. The natural arguments for the soul's immortality, independent of Revelation. Second. The infinite value of the soul. Third. That if the soul be lost, all the acquisitions of this world will avail nothing.
I. THE NATURAL ARGUMENTS FOR THE SOUL's IMMORTALITY, INDEPENDENT OF REVELATION.
What that principle of intelligence is, that vital spark of heavenly flame, which men call the soul; how it is allied to the body; and in what condition it subsists, when its corporal functions cease, are among those inscrutable mysteries, which confound and awe the inquisitive, but limited human mind. But, notwithstanding the abstruse, and unsatisfactory nature of such discussions, the truth itself of the great doctrine of the immortality of the soul has ever been the popular belief, in all ages, and among all nations. There are many strong arguments, independent of Revelation, that the soul is to be eternal; that it has nothing, as in material things, tending to dissolution; not being, perhaps, independently immortal, but such by omnipotent destination.
1. The soul is argued to be immortal, from the nature of the soul itself, and especially its immateriality; which, though not absolutely indispensable to the everlastingness of its duration, has been proved to a moral certainty.
2. It is argued, from its sentiments and passions; as, particularly, its tenacity of existence, and its horror of annihilation; with that silent approbation, which it receives from the practice of virtue, and that dissatisfaction which ensues in it upon a participation in vice. Who can conclude, that the existence of a being is to be circumscribed by mortality, whose ideas are not? Shall every other affection be rightly planted by nature, and shall that longing after immortality, natural to all mankind, be alone misplanted, or intended to be disappointed? This uneasiness in the present, this disposing of ourselves over to farther periods of duration, this returning appetite after something still to come, is a kind of inborn, instinctive symptom, which the mind has of its own imperishable nature.
3. The soul's eternity is evinced, from the perpetual advancement of it towards perfection, without ever being able to arrive at it; its being capable, even after the body has attained its full vigour, of still surpassing acquisitions, both in knowledge, and in habits of virtue. Can it enter into the imaginations of man, that the soul, with a capacity of such exceeding perfections, and of adopting new unlimited improvements, shall shrink away into non-existence almost as soon as created? That after having but just begun to take an admiring survey of the stupendous, and benevolent system of nature, and of the power, and wisdom, and goodness, of its Creator; the soul must perish, in the very commencement of its researches? The soul hath capacities for a much greater quantity of knowledge, than it can here be master of; and an insatiable curiosity to develop the hid things of nature, and of providence.
4. Reason has judged the soul to be immortal, from man's situation here being apparently so incomplete in itself. Man, when viewed as on a probation for a better existence hereafter, is the most wonderful instance of divine beneficence; but, if we deprive him of all connexion with futurity, he is the most surprising and unac
countable composition in the entire creation. This great point involves the justice, and benevolent nature, of the Supreme Being. Was man made for so mean a purpose, as only to vegetate, and to transmit his species? Can God delight in the production of such immature intelligences?
These reasonings, together with the analogy of all nature dying, and reviving, in every part; the inequality of human allotments in this world; and the apparent discomfiture of virtue, and triumph of vice, oftentimes; with many other arguments of an abstruser, and more metaphysical form; offer, even to the infidel philosopher, a well grounded hope of the soul's immortality. But though Nature can thus partially evince this sublime, and comfortable truth; yet Kevelation alone has rendered it more certain than the hope of any temporal blessing, and impressed it with a full conviction upon our minds, as Reason is now fortified by Faith. No, Christian! Though all the physicians, and all the prayers, in the world, cannot make a soul immortal on earth; yet neither can all the physicians, nor all the prayers, hinder a soul from being immortal in another world. Yes, Christian! Wished-for assurance is now rendered doubly sure. The stars shall fade away, the sun himself grow dim with age, and nature sink in years; but after the final war of elements, the wreck of matter, and the crush of worlds; thy soul shall flourish in immortal youth.
THE INFINITE VALUE OF THE SOUL. 1. The soul is of great absolute value; not only from its indestructible nature, but from its fabric, and its powers.
The astronomical, animal, vegetable, and mineral wonders, are all perfect in their kinds; but what are they but only admirable modifications of senseless matter? while the superior fabric of the soul is of a spiritual, intellectual essence; a more immediate emanation from the Uncreated Spirit. Its
powers also are of the most dignified order. The Creator hath endowed the soul with understanding; a faculty of contemplating things seen and unseen; and of investigating and concluding concerning their attributes.
The soul is able to trace results, dependancies, and alliances, present and ultimate, to their causes; and can thence ascend to the great First Cause, and Last End, of all things. It has the power of calling back what is past, and of anticipating what is to come. It can discern the profitable, and the prejudicial; the secure, and the perilous, in natural affairs; and, what is of higher import, in affairs moral, and spiritual. It possesses a judgment of duty, and a capability of rendering it, both in inclination and in action. It can recognize the impressions of moral eminence; and is able to join with it, and to pay submission to it, with an approbation of heart far transcending any other kind of gratification. Do not such capacities of the human soul bespeak its intrinsic worth; especially when we reflect on those exceeding improvements, of which it is susceptible? The value of the soul may
be estimated further, by the exalted purposes for which it was designed, and which it is fitted to serve. As all things were formed for the glory of God, so were human souls made to behold, and to admire the supreme Creator in all his works, and to render unto Him the praise. But to have an adequate conception of the soul's importance, and of what enlargements it is capable, we must view the spirits of those made perfect in heaven; and there see them engaged in the sublimest offices, and their faculties and affections expanding and rising and glowing, more and more, forever and ever.
Although it is a lamentable truth, and one over which we all have but too deep reason to deplore, that the faculties of the soul may be depressed, and its taste so debased, that it cannot be affected, nor act, as its immortal destination, and its rational nature demand ; and that it may acquire a disrelish for those objects in which its proper felicity is placed ; yet the soul may be restored. Therefore, justice requires us to estimate the soul by its capability of such a restoration.
2. The soul is of great relative value. As each person's soul is of worth to himself; we may calculate its value, in a relative estimate, from the variety, number, importance, and elevation of the pleasures, which the right exercise of its moral and intellectual faculties may produce.
How do the enjoyments suitable for the soul transcend and obscure all sensual gratifications. The virtuous, and cultivated soul can enjoy, among other pleasures, the complacency of Knowledge, wherein our curiosity, and investigating faculties, can indulge in the feast of reason; the complacency of conscious Uprightness, of exercising that temper and equity towards others, which we would desire to have exercised towards ourselves ; the complacency of Industry, wherein every ability is exerted to its most beneficent end ; the complacency of Meditation, whereby the heart and the mind unite in emotions of awe, and of gratitude; and the complacency of estimating Moral Preeminence with suitable veneration, which highly dignifies and refines the mind. Besides these, the soul can enjoy the delights of Adoration and Love, directed towards a worthy object; the delights of Obedience, rendered from a principle of perfect attachment and obligation; the consolation of Hope, whereby the renewed soul believes that it is pardoned of its sins, and has an interest in the Redeemer's unfailing regard; also the joy of Communion, wherein the heart can hold sweet converse with its Maker; and the anticipated fellowship of Spirits, the meeting with dear departed friends, and being introduced to the church of the first-born, in unspeakable cordiality and confidence; in a world, where there shall be no more pain, nor sorrow, nor parting
But to estimate the sum total of blessings in being furnished with a rational soul, we must add together the countless sources of gratification, and the unlimited variety of objects, which are offered to its diverse faculties and affections; and to these elevated enjoyments, of which the soul is capable, we must superadd the stupendous idea of infinite, and eternal.
Finally, if any now doubt concerning the value of the human soul, there remains one more consideration, which, although obvious, and already anticipated by the Christian, ought to overwhelm his best feelings with awe, and humility, and gratitude. It was to redeem this soul from the dominion and doom of sin, that the sacred Son of God, and sympathizing friend of man, condescended to leave a heaven of holiness for an earth of pollution ; to live a life