« PreviousContinue »
be that the human understanding, constituted as it is, though fitted for the purposes for which we want it, that is, though capable of receiving the instruction and knowledge, which are necessary for our conduct and the discharge of our duty, has a native original incapacity for the reception of any distinct knowledge of our future condition. The reason is, that all our conceptions and ideas are drawn from experience (not, perhaps, all immediately from experience, but experience lies at the bottom of them all,) and no language, no information, no instruction, can do more for us, than teach us the relation of the ideas which we have. Therefore, so far as we can judge, no words, whatever that, could have been used, no account or description that could have been written down, would have been able to convey to, us a conception of our future state, constituted as our understandings now are. I am far from saying, that it was not in the power of God, by immediate inspiration, to have struck light and ideas into our minds, of which naturally we have no conception. I am far from saying, that he
could not, by an act of his power, have assumed a human being, or the soul of a human being, into heaven; and have shown to him, or it, the nature and the glories of that kingdom: but it is evident, that, unless the whole order of our present world be changed, such revelations as these must be rare; must be limited to very extraordinary persons, and very extraordinary occasions. And even then, with respect to others, it is to be observed, that the ordinary modes of communication by speech or writing are inadequate to the transmitting of any knowledge or information of this sort and from a cause, which has already been noticed, namely, that language deals only with the ideas which we have; that these ideas are all founded in experience; that probably, most probably indeed, the things of the next world are very remote from any experience which we have in this; the consequence of which is, that, though the inspired person might himself possess this supernatural knowledge, he could not impart it to any other person not in like manner inspired. When, therefore, the nature and constitution of the
human understanding is considered, it can excite no surprise, it ought to excite no complaint, it is no fair objection to Chris-. tianity," that it doth not yet appear what we shall be." I do not say, that the imperfection of our understanding forbids it (for, in strictness of speech, that is not imperfect, which answers the purpose designed by it,) but the present constitution of our understanding forbids it.
"It doth not yet appear," saith the apostle, "what we shall be, but this we know, that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him." As if he had said, Though we be far from understanding the subject either accurately or clearly, or from having conceptions and notions adequate to the truth and reality of the case, yet we know something: this, for instance, we know, that, "when he shall appear, we shall be like him." The best commentary upon this last sentence of Saint John's text may be drawn from the words of Saint Paul. His words state the same proposition more fully, when he tells us (Phil. iii. 21.) "that Christ shall change our vile body, that it
may be like his glorious body." From the two passages together, we may lay down the following points. First, that we shall have bodies. One apostle informs us, that we shall be like him; the other, that our vile body shall be like his glorious body: therefore, we shall have bodies. Secondly,, that these bodies shall be greatly changed from what they are at present. If we had had nothing but Saint John's text to have gone upon, this would have been implied. "When he shall appear, we shall be like him." We are not like him now, we shall be like him; we shall hereafter be like
him, namely, when he shall appear. Saint John's words plainly regard this similitude as a future thing, as what we shall, acquire, as belonging to what we shall become, in contradistinction to what we are. Therefore, they imply a change which must take place in our bodily constitution. But what Saint John's words imply, Saint Paul's declare." He shall change our vile bodies." That point, therefore, may be considered, as placed out of ques tion.
That such a change is necessary, that such a change is to be expected, is agreeable even to the established order of nature. Throughout the universe this rule holds, viz. that the body of every animal is suited to its state. Nay more; when an animal changes its state, it changes its body. When animals, which lived under water, afterwards live in air, their bodies are changed almost entirely, so as hardly to be known by any one mark of resemblance to their former figure; as, for example, from worms and caterpillars to flies and moths. These are common transformations; and the like happens, when an animal changes its element from the water to the earth, or an insect from living under ground to flying abroad in the air. And these changes take place in consequence of that unalterable rule, that the body be fitted to the state; which rule obtains throughout every region of nature with which we are acquainted. Now our present bodies are by no means fitted for heaven. So saith Saint Paul expressly, "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God: corruption doth not inherit