by John Flavel
And the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. Gen. 2: 7
Three things (says Athanasius) are unknown to men according to their essence, viz. God, angels, and the souls of men." Of the nature of the divine and high-born soul, we may say, as the learned Whitaker doth of the way of its infection by original sin, "it is easier sought than understood, and better understood than explicated." And for is original, the most sagacious and renowned for wisdom amongst the ancient philosophers understood nothing of it. It is said of Democritus, that "there is nothing in the whole workmanship of nature of which he did not write;" and in a more lofty and swelling hyperbole, they stile their eagle-eyed Aristotle, "the rule, yea, and miracle of nature; learning itself, the very son of knowledge:" yet both these are not only said, but proved by Lactantius to be learned idiots. How have the schools of Epicurus, and Aristotle, the Cartesians, and other sects of philosophers abused and troubled the world with a kind of philosophical enthusiasm, and a great many ridiculous fancies about the original of the soul of man! and when all is done three words of God, by the pen of the inspired Moses, enlightens us more than all the subtle notions of he accidential concretion of atoms, their materia subtilis, and anima mundi, and the rest of their unintelligible fancies could ever do.
The account Moses gives us in this context, of the origin of the world, and of man the epitome of it, is full of sense, reason, congruity, and clearness; and such as renders all the essays of all the Heathen philosophers to be vain, inevident, self-repugnant, and inexplicable theories.
The inspired penman gives us, in this context, a compendious narrative of the world's creation, relating more generally the rude, inform, and undigested chaos; and then more particularly the specificating, and diversifying of the various beautiful beings, thence educed by the notion of the Spirit of God upon the face of the waters.
When the first matter was strictly created out of nothing, "the Spirit (as Moses excellently expresseth it, chap. 1: 2.) hovered, or moved over it as a bird over her eggs, and, as it were, by way of incubation, cherishing and influencing it, did thereby draw forth all the creatures into their several forms, and distinct particular natures, wherein we now, with delight and admiration, behold them.
In this manner and order was the stately fabric of the world produced and erected; but as yet, it remained as a fair and well furnished house without an inhabitant. God had employed infinite wisdom and power about it, and engraven his name upon the meanest creature in it; but there was no creature yet made (except angels, the inhabitants of another city) to read the name and celebrate the praises of the Almighty Creator.
He therefore thought the world imperfect till there was a creature made that could contemplate, praise, and worship the Maker of it; for this very use and purpose was man created, that he might not only see, but consider the things he saw; discourse, and rationally collect out of them the things he saw not; and both praise, and love the Maker for, and in them all.
The palaces of princes are not beautified and adorned, to the intent men should pay their respects and honours to the walls, but to shew the grandeur and magnificence of the king, to whose person their honour is due, as Athenagoras in his excellent apology for the Christians, speaks. The world is a glorious and magnificent pile, raised designedly to exhibit the wisdom and power of its Creator to the reasonable creature man, that from him God might receive the glory of all his other works. Of this creature man, the master-piece of all the visible world, (and therefore crowned king over it the first moment he was made, Psal. 8: S.) Moses in the next place, gives us the account, both of his original, whence he came, and of his dignity, what he is. "The Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Where we find,
The original of the body of man.
The original of the soul of man.
I. The original of the body of man: "Formed out of the dust of the ground." "Dust was its original matter; of dust was it made, and into dust it must be resolved, Gen. 3: 19. The consideration is humbling, and serves to tame the pride of man", who is apt to dote upon his own beauty. Man's body was not made of heavenly matter, as the radiant sun, and sparkling stars: no, nor yet of the most precious and orient earthly matter: God did not melt down the pure and splendid gold and silver, or powder the precious pearls and sparkling diamonds, but he formed it of the vile and despicable dust.
We find that the sprinkling of dust upon new writing prevents many a foul blot: I am sure, the sprinkling of our original dust upon our minds by serious consideration, is the way to prevent many a proud boast.
However, the baseness of the matter, and coarseness of the stuff, serves to set off the admirable skill of the most wise and powerful Architect, who out of such mean, despicable materials, has fashioned so exact and elegant a piece. "The Lord God formed man out of the dust."
"The Lord God.] The name of God is here set down at full, to set forth the dignity of man," the subject matter wrought upon, as some conceive.
Formed.] Fashioned, or curiously moulded, and figured it. The Hebrew verb, primarily signifies "to press, compress, or squeeze together; and by a metalepsis, by pressing or compressing, to mould or fashion, as the potter doth his clay." The Psalmist useth another word to express the artificial elegancy of the body of man, Psal. 139: 15, 16. "rakamti", acupictus sum, I am embroidered, painted, or flourished as with a needle. We render it curiously wrought. Whatsoever beauty and comely proportion God has bestowed by creation upon it, "it is all answerable to that excellent idea, or model before conceived in his mind and purpose." All this care and cost was bestowed upon the body of man, which, when all is done, is but the case in which that inestimable jewel, the soul, was to be lodged. This therefore I must lay aside, and come to the more noble subject,
II. The soul of man: about which we have before us four things to ponder in this text, viz.
(1.) The nature and property of the soul of man.
(2.) The descent, and original of the soul of man.
(3.) The manner of infusion of the soul of man.
(4.) The nexus, or bond that unites the soul of man.
(1.) The nature and property of it, a living soul. The word "nefesh" as also the Chaldee Naphsha; and the Greek "psuche", have one and the same etymology, all signifying to breathe, or respire; not that the breath is the soul, but denoting the manner of its infusion by the breath of God, and the means of its continuation in the body, by the breath of our nostrils. God's breath infused it, and our breath continues it in union with the body. It signifies here the rational soul and the Hebrew "nefesh" has a very near affinity with the word "shayamim", the heavens; and indeed there is a nearer affinity betwixt the things, viz. soul and heaven, than there is betwixt the names.
The epithet "chazah" which we translate living, the Arabic renders a rational soul, and indeed, none but a rational deserves the name of a living soul, for all other forms or souls, which are of an earthly extract, do both depend on, and die with the matter out of which they were educed, but this being of another nature, a spiritual and substantial being, is therefore rightly stiled, a living soul.
The Chaldee renders it, a speaking soul. And indeed, it deserves a remark, that the ability of speech is conferred on no other soul but man's. Other creatures have apt and elegant organs; birds can modulate the air, and form it into sweet delicious notes, and charming sounds; but no creature, except man, whose soul is of an heavenly nature and extraction, can articulate the sound, and form it into words, by which the notions and sentiments of one soul are in a noble, apt, and expeditious manner conveyed to the understanding of another soul. And indeed, what should any other creature do with the faculty or power of speech, without a principle of reason to guide and govern it? It is sufficient to them that they discern each others meaning by dumb signs, much after the manner that we traded at first with the Indians; but speech is proper only to a rational, or living soul, however, we render it a living, a rational, or a speaking soul, it distinguishes the soul of man from all other souls.
(2.) We find here the best account that ever was given of the origin of the soul of man, or whence it came, and from whom it derives its being. O, what a dust and pother have the disputes and contests of philosophers raised about this matter! which is cleared in a few words in this scripture; "God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul:" which plainly speaks it to be the immediate effect of God's creating power. Not a result from matter; no, results flow e sinu materiae, out of the bosom of matter; but this comes ex halitu divino, from the inspiration of God. That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; but this is a spirit descending from the Father of spirits. God formed it, but not out of any pre-existent matter, whether celestial or terrestrial; much less out of himself, as the Stoics speak; but out of nothing. An high born creature it is, but no particle of the Deity. The invisible and immutable essence of God is utterly repugnant to such notions; and therefore they speak not strictly and warily enough, that are bold to call it a ray or emanation from God.
A spirit it is, and flows by way of creation, immediately from the Father of spirits; but yet is a spirit of another inferior rank and order.
(3.) We have also the account of the way and manner of its in fusion into the body, viz. by the same breath of God which gave it its being. It is therefore a rational, scriptural, and justifiable expression of St. Augustine, Creando infunditur, et infundendo creatur; it is infused in creating, and created in infusing; though Dr. Brown too slightingly calls it a mere rhetorical antimetathesis. Some of the fathers, as Justin, Ireneus, and Tertullian, were of opinion, That the Son of God assumed a human shape at this time, in which afterwards he often appeared to the fathers, as a prelude to his true and real incarnation; and took dust or clay in his hands, out of which he formed the body of man, according to the pattern of that body in which he appeared: and that being done, he afterwards, by breathing, infused the soul into it. But I rather think it is an anthropopathia, or usual figure in speech, by which the Spirit of God stoops to the imbecility of our understandings, "He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;" Hebrew, lifes. But this plural word "chayim" rather the twofold life of man, in this world, and in that to come; or, "the several faculties and powers belonging to one and the same soul, viz. the intellective, sensitive, and vegetative offices thereof; than that there are more souls than one, "essentially differing, in one and the same man; for that, (as Aquinas truly says,) is impossible." We cannot trace the way of the Spirit, or tell in what manner it was united with this clod of earth. But it is enough, that he who formed it, did also unite, or marry it to the body. This is clear, not by way of natural resultancy from the body, but by way of inspiration from the Lord; not from the warm bosom of matter, but from the breath of its Maker.
4. Lastly, We have here the nexus, copula, the tie or band by which it is united with the body of man, viz. The breath of his (i.e. of man’s) nostrils. It is a most astonishing mystery to see heaven and earth married together in one person; the dust of the ground, and an immortal spirit clasping each other with such dear embraces and tender love; such a noble and divine guest to take up its residence within the mean walls of flesh and blood. Alas, how little affinity, and yet what dear affection is found betwixt them!
Now, that which so sweetly links these two different natures together, and bolds them in union, is nothing else but the breath of our nostrils, as the text speaks: it came in with the breath; while breath stays with us, it cannot go from us and as soon as the breath departs, it departs also. All the rich elixirs and cordials in the world cannot persuade it to stay one minute after the breath is gone. One puff of breath will carry away the wisest, holiest, and most desirable soul that ever dwelt in flesh and blood. When our breath is corrupt, our days are extinct, Job 17: 1. "Thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust," Psal. 114:19.
Out of the text thus opened, arise two doctrinal propositions, which I shall insist upon, viz.
Doct. 1. That the soul of man is of a divine original, created and inspired immediately by the Lord.
Doct. 2. That the souls and bodies of men are linked, or knit together, by the feeble band of the breath of their nostrils.
In the prosecution of these two propositions, many things will come to our hands, of great use in religion; which I shall labour to lay as clearly and orderly to the reader's understanding, and press as warmly upon his heart as I can. And first,
Doct. 1. That the soul of man is of a divine original, created and inspired immediately by the Lard.
In this first proposition, two things are to be distinctly pondered, viz.
1. The nature of the soul.
The original of the soul.
Or, what it is, and from whence it came.
I. The first thing which arrests our thoughts, and requires their attention and exercise, is the nature of the soul, or what kind of being it is.
Those that are most curiously inquisitive into all other beings, and put nature upon the rack to make her confess her secrets, are in the mean time found shamefully slight and negligent in the study of themselves. Few there are that can prevail with themselves to sit down and think close to such questions as these. What manner of being is this soul of mine? whence came it? why was it infused into this body? and where must it abide, when death has dislodged it out of this frail tabernacle? There is a natural aversation in man to such exercises of thought as these, although in the whole universe of beings in this lower world, a more noble creature is not to be found.
The soul is the most wonderful and astonishing piece of divine workmanship; it is no hyperbole to call it the breath of God, the beauty of men, the wonder of angels, and the envy of devils. One soul is of more value than all the bodies in the world.
The nature of it is so spiritual and sublime, that it cannot be perfectly known by the most acute and penetrating understanding, assisted in the search by all the aid philosophy can contribute.
It is not my design in this discourse to treat of the several faculties and powers of the soul, or to give you the rise, natures, or numbers of its affections and passions: but I shall confine my discourse to its general nature and original. And seeing "none can so well discover the nature of it, as he who is the author of it," as Tertullian speaks, I therefore justly expect the best light from his words, though I will not neglect any other aid he is pleased elsewhere to afford.
The soul is variously denominated from its several powers and offices, as the sea from the several shores it washes. I will not spend time about the several names by which it is known to us in scripture, but give you that description of it, with which my understanding is most satisfied, which take thus:
The soul of man is a vital, spiritual, and immortal substance, endowed with an understanding, will, and various affections; created with an inclination to the body, and infused thereinto by the Lord.
In this description we have the two general parts into which I distributed this discourse: viz. its general nature, and divine original. The nature of the soul is expressed to us in these following terms.
I. It is a substance.
That is to say, not a quality, nor an accident inhering in another being, or subject; as whiteness doth in the snow: but a being by itself. Qualities and accidents have no existence of their own. but require another being, or subject to their existence; but the soul of man is a substantial being of itself, which will evidently appear upon the following grounds.
(1.) Because it is, in a strict and proper sense, created by God, "He formeth, or createth the spirit in man," Zech. 12: 1: To him we are advised to "commit it, as to a faithful Creator," 1 Pet. 4: 19. The substantial nature of the soul is implied in the very notion of its creation; "for whatsoever is created, is a substance, an ens par se. Accidents are not said to be created, but concreated;" the crasis of humours and results of matter are not substances created, but things rising in a natural way from created substances. They flow from, and as to their essence, depend upon pre-existent matter; but the soul was created out of nothing, and infused into the body after it was formed and organised; which evidenceth its substantial nature.
(2.) This evidenceth the soul to be a substance; that it can, and doth exist, and subsist by itself alone, when separated from the body by death, Luke 23: 43. "Today shalt thou, (i. e. thy soul) be with me in paradise," and Mat. 10: 20. "Fear not them that kill the body, but cannot kill the soul." Were the soul but an accident, a quality, or a result, he that kills the body must needs kill the soul too; as he that casts a snowball into the fire, must needs destroy the whiteness with the snow. Accidents fail and perish with their subjects: but seeing it is plain in these and many other scriptures, the soul doth not fail with the body; nothing can be more plain and evident, than that it is of a substantial nature.
When the Spaniards came first among tile poor Indians, they thought the horse and his rider to be one creature; as many ignorant ones think the soul and body of man to be nothing but breath and body: whereas indeed, they are two distinct creatures, as vastly different in their natures as the rider with his horse, or the bird and his cage. While the man is on horseback, he moves according to the motion of the horse; and while the bird is incaged, he eats and drinks, and sleeps, and hops and sings in his cage. But if the horse fail and die under his rider, or the cage be broken, the man can go on his own feet, and the bird enjoy itself as well, yea, better in the open fields and woods, than in the cage; Neither depend, as to being, or action, on the horse or cage.
(3.) Both scripture and philosophy consent in this, that the soul is the chief, most noble, and principal part of man, from which the whole man is, and ought to be denominated. So Gen. 46L 26. "All the souls that came with Jacob into Egypt," i.e. all the persons; as the Latins say, tot capita, so many heads or persons. The apostle, in 2 Cor. 5: 8. seems to exclude the body from the notion of personality, when he says, We are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord: That we, a term of personality is there given to the soul, exclusively of the body, for the body cannot be absent from itself: But we, that is, the souls of believers, may be both absent from it, and present with Christ.
To this we may add, 2 Cor. 4: 16. where the soul is called the man, and the inner man too, the body being but the external face, or shadow of the man. And to this philosophers agree. The best philosophers are so far from thinking that the body is the substantial part of man, and the soul a thing dependent on it, that contrarily they affirm, that the body depends upon the soul, and that it is the soul that conserves and sustains it; and that the body s in the soul, rather then the soul in the body, and that which is seen not the man, but that is the man which is invisible, that the body might be killed and the man not hurt; meaning the soul, which only deserves the name of man. Now if it be the chief part of man, and that which is only worthy the name of man, and from which therefore the whole is and ought to be denominated a man; if it be so far from depending on the body, or being contained within the body, that the body rather depends upon it, and is in it, then surely the soul must be, what we describe it to be, a substantial being.
(4.) It is past all controversy, that the soul is a substance, because it is the subject of properties, affections and habits; which is the very strict and formal notion of a substance. All the affections and passions of hope, desire, love, delight, fear, sorrow, and the rest, are all rooted in it, and springing out of it; and for habits, arts and sciences, it is the soul in which they are lodged and seated. Having once gotten a promptitude to act, either by some strong, or by some frequently repeated acting, they abide in the soul, even when the acts are intromitted, as in sleep, a navigator, scribe, or musician, are really artists, when they are neither sailing, or writing, or playing; because the habits still remain in their minds, as is evident in this, that when they awake, they can perform their several works, without learning the rules of their art anew.
II. The soul is a vital substance, i.e.
A substance which has an essential principle of life in itself; a living, active being. A living soul, says Moses in the text; and hereby it is distinguished from, and opposed to matter or body. The soul moves itself and the body too; it has a self-moving virtue or power in itself; whereas the matter, or body is wholly passive, and is moved and acted, not by itself, but by this vital spirit, James 2: 26. "The body without the spirit is dead.- It acts not at all, but as it is acted by this invisible spirit. This is so plain, that it admits of sensible proof and demonstration. Take mere matter, and compound or divide it, alter it, and change it how you will, you can never make it see, feel, hear, or act vitally without a quickening and actuating soul. Yet we must still remember, that this active principle, the soul, though it has this vital power in itself, it has it not from itself, but in a constant receptive dependence upon God, the first cause, both of its being and power.
It is a spiritual substance.
All substances are not gross, material, visible and palpable substances; but there are spiritual and immaterial, as well as corporeal substances, discernible by sight or touch. To deny this were to turn a downright Sadducee, and to deny the existence of angels and spirits, Acts 23: 8. The word substance, as it is applied to the soul of man, puzzles and confounds the dark understandings of some, that know not what to make of an immaterial substance, whereas in this place it is no more than substare accidentibus, i.e. to be a subject in which properties, affections, and habits are seated and subjected. This is a spiritual substance, and is frequently in scripture called a spirit; "Into thy hands I commit my spirit," Luke 23: 46. "Lord Jesus receive my spirit," Acts 7: 59. and so frequently all over the scriptures. And the spirituality of its nature appears, (1.) By its descent, in a peculiar way, from the Father of spirits. (2.) In that it rejoiceth in the essential properties of a spirit. (3.) That at death it returns to that great Spirit who was its efficient and former.
(1.) It descends, in a peculiar way, from the Father of spirits, as has been shown in the opening of this text. God stiles himself its Father, Heb. 12: 9. its former, Zech. 12: 1. It is true, he gives to all living things "dzoen kai pneuma", life and breath, Acts 17: 25. Other souls are from him, as well as the rational soul; but in a far different way and manner. They flow not immediately from him by creation, as this does. It is said, Gen. 1: 2l, 27. "Let the earth bring forth the living creature after its kind;" but "God created man in his own image." Which seems plainly to make a specified difference betwixt the reasonable and all other souls.
(2.) It rejoiceth in the essential properties of a spirit: For it is an incorporeal substance, as spirits are. It has not partes extra partes, extension of parts; nor is it divisible, as the body is. It has no dimensions and figures as matter has; but is a most pure, invisible, and (as the acute Dr. Moore expresseth it) indiscernible substance. It has the principle of life and motion in itself, or rather, it is such a principle itself, and is not moved as dull and sluggish matter is, per aliud, by another. Its efficacy is great, though it be unseen, and not liable to the test of our touch, as no spiritual substances are. "A spirit (says Christ) has not flesh and bones," Luke 24: 89. We both grant and feel, that the soul has a love and inclination to the body, (which indeed is no more than it is necessary it should have) yet can we no more infer its corporiety from that love to the body, than we can infer the corporiety of angels from their affection and benevolent love to men. It is a spirit of a nature vastly different from the body in which it is immersed. There is (says a learned author) no greater mystery in nature, than the union betwixt soul and body: That a mind and spirit should be so tied and linked to a clod' of clay, that while that remains in a due temper, it cannot by any art or power free itself! What so much a-kin are a mind and a piece of earth, a clod and a thought, that they shall be thus affixed to one another?
Certainly, the heavenly pure bodies do not differ so much from a dunghill, as the soul and body differ. They differ but as more pure and less pure matter; but these, as material, and immaterial. If we consider wherein consists the being of a body, and wherein that of a soul, and then compare them, the matter will be clear.
We cannot come to an apprehension of their beings, but by considering their primary passions and properties, whereby they make discovery of themselves. The first and primary affection of a body (as is rightly observed) is that extension of parts whereof it is compounded, and a capacity of division, upon which, as upon the fundamental mode, the particular dimensions (that is, the figures) and the local motion do depend.
Again, for the being of our souls, if we reflect upon ourselves, we shall find that all our knowledge of them resolves into this, that we are beings conscious to ourselves of several kinds of cogitations; that by our outward senses we apprehend bodily things present; and by our imagination we apprehend things absent; and that we oft recover into our apprehension things past and gone, and, upon our perception of things, we find ourselves variously affected.
Let these two properties of a soul and body be compared, and upon the first view of a considering mind it will appear, that divisibility is not apprehension, or judgement, or desire, or discourse: That to cut a body into several parts, or put it into several shapes, or bring it to several motions, or mix it after several ways, will never bring it to apprehend, or desire. No man can think the combining of fire, and air, and water, and earth, should make the lump of it to know and comprehend, what is done to it, or by it. We see manifestly, that upon the division of the body, the soul remains entire and undivided. It is not the loss of a leg or arm, or eye, that can maim the understanding or the will, or cut off the affections.
Nay, it pervades the body it dwells in, and is whole in the whole, and in every part, which it could never do if it were material. yea, it comprehends, in its understanding, the body or matter in which it is lodged; and more than that, it can, and does form conceptions of pure spiritual and immaterial beings, which have no dimensions or figures; all which shew it to be no corporeal, but spiritual and immaterial substance.
(3.) As it derives its being from the Father of spirits, in a peculiar way, and rejoiceth, in its spiritual properties: So at death it returns to that great Spirit from whence it came. It is not annihilated, or resolved into soft air, or sucked up again by the element of fire, or catched back again into the soul of the world, as some have dreamed; but it returns to God who gave it, to give an account of itself to him, and receive its judgement from him. "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return to God who gave it" Eccl. 12: 7. Each part of man to its like, dust to dust, and spirit to spirit. Not that the soul is resolved into God, as the body is into earth: but as God created it a rational spirit, conscious to itself of moral good and evil, so when it has finished its time in the body, it must appear before the God of the spirits of all flesh, its Arbiter and final Judge.
By all which we see, that as it is elevated too high on the one hand, when it is made a particle of God himself; not only the creature, but a part of God, as Plutarch and Philo Judeus, and others have termed it, (spirit it is, but of another and inferior kind:) So it is degraded too low, when it is affirmed to be matter, though the purest, finest, and most subtle in nature; when approacheth nearest to the nature of spirit. A spirit it is, as much as an angel is a spirit, though it be a spirit of another species. This is the name it is known by throughout the scriptures. In a word, it is void of mixture and composition; there are no jarring qualities, compound elements, or divisible parts in the soul, as there are in bodies; but it is a pure, simple, invisible, and indivisible substance, which proves its spirituality, and brings us to the fourth particular, viz.
IV. It is an immortal substance.
The simplicity and spirituality of its nature, of which I spake before, plainly shews us, that it is in its very nature designed for immortality; for such a being or substance as this has none of the seeds of corruption and death in its nature, as all material and compounded beings have. It has nothing within it tending to dissolution: No jarring elements, no contrary qualities are found in spirits as there are in other creatures of a mixed nature. Physicians and Philosophers have disputed and contended eagerly about the true causes of natural death; "and while they have been contending about the way, they have come to the end." The ingress of the soul is obscure, and its egress not clear. But this seems to be the thing in which they generally centre, that the expense and destruction of the natural moisture, or radical balsam, as others call it, which is the oil that maintains natural light, or the bridle that restrains that flame of life from departing, as others express it: this is the cause of natural death: Others assign the unequal reparation of the parts of the body as the cause of death. But be it one or another, it is evident the soul, which consists neither of contrary qualities, nor of dissimilar parts, must be above the reach and stroke of death. For if the soul die, it must be either from some seeds, and principles of death and corruption within itself, or by some destructive power without itself. In itself you see there is no seed or principle of death; and if it be destroyed by a power without itself, it must be either by the stroke of some creature, or from the hand of God that first formed and created it: But the hand and power of no creature can destroy it; the creature's power reaches no farther than the body, Mat. 10: 28. "They cannot kill the soul." And though the Almighty power of God, that created it out of nothing, can as easily reduce it to nothing; yet he will never do so. For besides the designation for eternity, which is discernible in its very nature, (as before was observed) and which speaks the intention of God to perpetuate the threatenings of eternal wrath, and promises of everlasting life, respectively made to the souls of men, as they shall be found in Christ, or out of Christ, puts it beyond all doubt that they shall never die; as will be more fully evidenced in the following discourse.
Well then, I hope so far our way is clear, in the search of the nature of the soul, that it is a substance, a spiritual substance, and being so, it is also an immortal substance. No doubt remains with me as to either of these. Let us then proceed to the consideration of its faculties and powers by which it may be yet more fully known, and we shall find that,
It is a spiritual, and immortal substance, endued with an understanding.
This is the noble leading faculty of the soul: We are not distinguished from brutes by our senses, but by our understanding. As grace sets one man above another, so understanding sets the meanest man above the best of brutes. Strange and wonderful things are performed by the natural instinct and sagacity of beasts; but yet what is said of one, is true of them all, "God has not imparted understanding to them," Job 39: 17. This is a jewel which adorns none but rational creatures, men and angels.
The understanding is a faculty of the reasonable soul by which a man apprehends and judges all intelligible things.
The object of it is every being, so far as it is true in itself, and apprehensible by man. It has a twofold use in the life of man, viz.
(1.) To distinguish truth from error and falsehood. By this candle of the Lord, lighted up in the soul of man, he may discern betwixt duty and sin, good and evil: It is the eye of the soul, by which it sees the way in which we should go, and the dangerous precipices that are on either side. It is the soul's taster, and discerns wholesome food from baneful poison, Job 12: 11. "Does not the ear (i. e. the understanding by the ear) try words, as the mouth tasteth meat?" It brings all things as it were in the lump before it, and then sorts them, and orderly ranks them into their proper classes of lawful and unlawful, necessary and indifferent, expedient and inexpedient, that the soul may not be damnified by mistaking one for another. And this judgement of discretion every man must be allowed for himself. No man is obliged to shut the eyes of his own understanding, and follow another and blind fold.
(2.) To direct and guide us in our practice. This faculty is by philosophers rightly called "to hegemonikon", the leading faculty; because the will follows its practical dictates. It sits at the helm, and guides the course of the soul; not impelling, or rigorously enforcing its dictates upon the will; for the will cannot be so imposed upon; but by giving it a directive light, or pointing, as it were, with its finger, what it ought to choose, and what to refuse.
To this faculty belong two other excellent and wonderful powers of the soul, viz.
1. The power or ability of cogitation; "Thoughts are properly the actings and agitations of the mind, or any actual operation of the understanding." They are the musings of the mind, which are acted in the speculative part of the understanding. It is observable that the Hebrew word "suach", which is used for meditation, or thinking, signifies both to think and to speak in the mind. When the understanding, or mind resolves, and meditates the things that come into it, that very meditation is an inward speaking, or hidden word in the heart, Deut. 15: 9. "Beware, lest there be a thought in thy wicked heart," as some render it: In the Hebrew it is "davar im levavech", a word in thy heart. So Mat. 9: 3, 4. "eipon ei autois", "they spake within themselves," i.e. "they thought in their hearts." The objects presented to the mind are the companions with whom our hearts talk and converse.
Thoughts are the figments and creatures of the mind: they are formed within it, in multitudes innumerable. The power of cogitation is in the mind, yea, in the spirit of the mind.
"The fancy indeed, while the soul is embodied, ordinarily, and for the most part presents the appearances and likenesses of things to the mind;" but yet it can form thoughts of things which the fancy can present no image of, as when the soul thinks of God, or of itself. This power of cogitation goes with the soul, and is rooted in it when it is separated from the body; and by it we speak to God, and converse with angels, and other spirits in the unbodied state, as will be more fully opened in the process of this discourse.
2. The conscience belongs also to this faculty; for it being the judgement of a man upon himself, with respect or relation to the judgement of God, it must needs belong to the understanding part or faculty. "Thoughts are formed in the speculative, but conscience belongs to the practical understanding." It is a very high and awful power; it is solo Deo mi nor, and rides (as Joseph did) in the second chariot; the next and immediate officer under God. He says of conscience with respect to every man, as he once said of Moses with respect to Pharaoh. "See I have made thee a god to Pharaoh," Exod. 7: 1. The voice of conscience is the voice of God; for it is his vicegerent and representative. What it binds on earth, is bound in heaven: and what it looseth on earth is loosed in heaven. It observes records, and bears witness of all our actions; and acquits and condemns, as in the name of God, for them. Its consolations are most sweet, and its condemnations most terrible: so terrible, that some have chosen death, which is the king of terrors, rather than to endure the scorching heat of their own consciences. The greatest deference and obedience is due to its command, and a man had better endure any rack or torture in the world, than incur the torments of it. It accompanies us as our shadow wherever we go: and when all others forsake us, (as at death they will) conscience is then with us, and is then never more active and vigorous than at that time. Nor does it forsake us after death; but where the soul goes, it goes, and will be its companion in the other world for ever. How glad would the damned be if they might but have left their consciences behind them, when they went hence! But as Bernard rightly says, "It is both witness, judge, tormentor, and prison;" it accuseth, judgeth, punisheth, and condemneth.
And thus briefly of the understanding, which has many offices, and as many names from those offices.
It is sometimes called wit, reason, understanding, opinion, wisdom, judgement. And why we bestow so many names upon one and the same faculty, the learned author of that small, but excellent tract "de anima", gives this true and ingenious account.
The wit, the pupil of the soul’s clear eye,
And in man's world the only shining star,
Looks in the mirror of the fantasy,
Where all the gatherings of the senses are;
And after by discoursing to and fro,
Anticipating and comparing things,
She doth all universal natures know,
And all effects into their causes brings.
When she rates things, and moves from ground to ground,
The name of reason she obtains by this:
But when by reason she the truth hath found,
And standeth fix'd, she understanding is.
When her assent she lightly doth incline
To either part, she is opinion light:
But when she does by principles define
A certain truth, she has true judgement's sight.
And as from senses, reason's work doth spring:
So many reasons understanding gain;
And many understandings knowledge bring,
And by much knowledge wisdom we obtain.
VI. God has endued the soul of man not only with an understanding to discern, and direct, but also a will to govern, moderate, and over-rule the actions of life.
The will is a faculty of the rational soul, whereby a man either chuseth or refuseth the things which the understanding discerns and knows.
This is a very high and noble power of the soul. The understanding seems to bear the same relation to the will, as a grave counsellor does to a great prince. It glories in two excellencies, viz.
1. It has a freedom and liberty; it cannot be compelled and forced: Coaction is repugnant to its very nature. In this it differs from the understanding, that the understanding is wrought upon necessarily, but the will acts spontaneously. This liberty of the will respects the choice, or refusal of the means for attaining those ends it prosecutes, according as it finds them more or less conducible thereunto. The liberty of the will must be understood to be in things natural, which are within its own proper sphere, not in things supernatural. It can move, or not move the body, as it pleases, but it cannot move towards Christ, in the way of faith, as it pleaseth; it can open or shut the hand or eye at its pleasure, but not the heart. True, indeed, it is not compelled, or forced to turn to God by supernatural grace, but in a way suitable to its nature, it is determined and drawn to Christ, Psal. 110: 3. It is drawn by a mighty power, and yet runs freely; Cant. 1: 4. "Draw me, and I will run after thee."
Efficacious grace, and victorious delight, is a thing very different from compulsive force. "Pelagius (as a late author speaks) at first gave all to nature, acknowledged no necessity of divine grace; but when this proud doctrine found little countenance, he called nature by the name of grace; and when that deceit was discovered, he acknowledged no other grace but outward instruction, or the benefit of external revelation, to discourse, and put men in mind of their duty. Being yet driven farther, he acknowledged the grace of pardon; and before a man could do any thing acceptably, there was a necessity of the remission of sin, and then he might obey God perfectly. But that not sufficing, he acknowledged another grace, viz. the example of Christ, which does both secure our rule and encourage our practice. And last of all, his followers owned some kind of internal grace, but they made that to consist in some illumination of the understanding, or moral persuasion, by probable arguments, to excite the will, and this not absolutely necessary, but only for facilitation, as a horse to a journey, which otherwise a man might go on foot. Others grant the secret influences of God's grace, but make the will of man a co-ordinate cause with God, namely, that God doth propound the object, hold forth inducing considerations; give some remote power and assistance; but still there is an indifferency in the will of man, to accept or refuse, as liketh him best." Thus have they been forced to quit and change their ground; but still the pride of nature will not let men see the necessity of divine efficacious influences upon the will, and the consistency thereof with natural liberty.
(2.) Its dignity in its dominion, as well as in its liberty. The will has an empire, and sceptre belonging to it; yea, a double empire, for it rules,
1. Imperium Despoticum, Over the body, imperio despotico, by way of absolute command.
2. Imperium Politicum, Over the other powers and passions of the soul, imperio politico, by way of suasion.
(1.) The will, like an absolute sovereign, reigns over the body, i.e. its external members by way of absolute command. It says, as the centurion did, I am in authority, and God has put the many members of the body in subjection to me; I say to one, move, and it moves; to another, stop, and it stops; and to a third, do this, and it doth it. The obsequious members of the body, like so many servants, have their eyes waiting on the imperial commands of the will, and it is admirable to behold with what dispatch and speed they execute its commands, as if their obedient motions were rather concomitant than subsequent acts to the will's mandates. Let it but command to have the windows of the body, open or shut, and it is done in a moment, in the twink of an eye; and so for the rest of the external senses and members, they pay it most ready obedience. Yet when I say, the will has a despotical, and absolute sovereignty over the members, it must be understood with a double limitation. First, They are only at its beck for use and service; it can use them while well and rightly disposed; but it cannot perpetuate them, or restore them when indisposed. If the soul will the health and life of the body never so intensely and vehemently, it cannot keep off death one moment the longer from it. And, Secondly, Its sovereignty no way intrenches upon, nor interferes with the dominion of providence over the members of the body, and the various motions of them. God has reserved a sovereign, negative voice to himself, whatever decrees the will passes. Jeroboam stretches out his hand against the man of God to smite him; but God puts a remora in the very instant to the loco-motive faculty, that though he would never so fain, he could not pull in his hand again to him, 1 Kings 13: 4. The will commands the service of the tongue, and charges it to deliver faithfully such or such words, in which, it may be, the ruin of good men may be imported; and when it comes to do its office, the tongue faulters; and contrary to the command of the will, drops some word that discovers and defeats the design of the will, according to that in Job 12: 20. "He removeth away the speech of the trusty." This is its despotical and sovereign power over the external members of the body.
(2.) It has a political power over the faculties and passions of the soul, not by way of absolute command, but by way of suasion and insinuation. Thus it can ofttimes persuade the understanding and thoughts to lay by this or that subject, and apply themselves to the study of another. It can bridle and restrain the affections and passions, but yet it has no absolute command over the inner, as it has over the outward man. Its weakness and inability to govern the inner man appears in two things, more especially remarkable, viz. 1. It cannot, with all its power and skill command and fetch off the thoughts from some subjects, which are set on, at some times, with extraordinary weight upon the soul. However, the thoughts may obsequiously follow its beck at some times, yea, for the most part; yet there are cases and seasons, in which its authority and persuasions cannot disengage one thought.
As (1.) When God has to do with the soul, in the work of conversion, when he convinceth of sin and danger, and sets a man's evils in order before his eyes: These are terrible representations, and fain would the carnal will disengage the thoughts from such sad subjects, and strives by all manner of persuasions and diversions so to do, but all to no purpose, Psal. 2: 3. "My sin is ever before me." The thoughts are fixed, and there is no removing of them. It may give them a little interruption, but they return with the more impetuous violence. And instead of gaining them off, they at last, or rather God by them gains over the will also.
(2.) When Satan has to do with the soul, in the way of temptation and hellish suggestion: Look, as the carnal will opposes itself to the thoughts in the former case to no purpose; so that the sanctified will opposes itself to them in this case, oft times with as little effect or success, as he that opposeth his weak breath to the strong current of a mighty river. Well were it, if the sanctified will were now the master of the fantasy, and could control the thoughts of the heart; but, like a mad horse, the fancy takes the bit in its teeth, and runs whither it pleaseth; the will cannot govern it. Think quite another way says the will, turn thy thoughts to other things; but notwithstanding, the soul turneth a deaf ear to its counsels. 2. It cannot quiet and compose a raging conscience, and reduce it at its pleasure to rest and peace. This is the peculiar work of God. He only that stills the stormy seas, can quiet the distressed and tempestuous soul. The impotence of the will, in this case, is known to all that have been in those deeps of trouble. And this is the misery of the devil and the damned, that though they would never so lain, yet they cannot get rid of those tormenting impressions made upon them by their own trembling and condemning consciences. There would not be so many pale, sweating, affrighted consciences on earth, and in hell, if the will had any command or power over them.
Tam frigida mens est.
Criminibus; tacita sudant praecordia culpa.
It is an horrible sight to see such a trembling upon all the members, such a cold sweat upon the panting bosom of a self-condemned, and wrath presaging soul, in which it can, by no means relieve or help itself. These things are exempt from the liberty and dominion of the will of man; but notwithstanding these exemptions, it is a noble faculty, and has a vastly extended empire in the soul of man; it is the door of the soul; at which the Spirit of God knocks for entrance. When this is won, the soul is won to Christ; and if this stand out in rebellion against him, he is barred out of the soul, and can have no saving union with it. The truth of grace is to be judged and discerned by its compliance with his call, and the measure of grace to be estimated by the degree of its subjection to his will.
VII. The soul of man is not only endued with all understanding and will, but also with various affections and passions, which are of great use and service to it, and speak the excellency of its nature. They are originally designed and appointed for the happiness of man, in the promoting and securing its chiefest good, to which purpose they have a natural aptitude: for the true happiness and rest of the soul not being in itself, nor in any other creature, but in God, the soul must necessarily move out of itself, and beyond all other created beings, to find and enjoy its true felicity in him. The soul considered at a distance from God, its true rest and happiness, is furnished and provided with desire and hope to carry it on and quicken its motion towards him. These are the arms it is to stretch out towards him, in a state of absence from him. And seeing it is to meet with many obstacles, enemies, and difficulties, in its course, which hinder its motion, and hazard its fruition of him, God hath planted in it, fear, grief, indignation, jealousy, anger, &c. to grapple with, and break through those intercurrent difficulties and hazards. By these weapons in the hands of grace, it conflicts with that which opposes its passages to God, as the apostle expresseth that holy fret and passion of the Corinthians, and what a fume their souls were in by the gracious motion of the irascible appetite; 2 Cor. 7: 11. "For behold this self same thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort; what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge?" Much like the raging and struggling of waters, which are interrupted in their course by some dam or obstacle which they strive to bear down, and sweep away before them.
But the soul considered in full union with and fruition of God, its supreme happiness, is accordingly furnished with affections of love, delight, and joy, whereby it rests in him and enjoys its proper blessedness in his presence for ever. Yea, even in this life, these affections are in an imperfect degree exercised upon God, according to the prelibations and enjoyments it has of him by faith, in its way to heaven. In a word,
The true uses, and most excellent ends for which these affections and passions are bestowed upon the soul of man, are to qualify it, and make it a fit subject to be wrought upon in a moral way of persuasions and allurements, in order to its union with Christ, (for by the affections, as Mr. Fenner rightly observes, the soul becomes marriageable, or capable of being espoused to him) and being so, then to assist it in the prosecution of its full enjoyment in heaven, as we heard but now.
But, alas, how are they corrupted and inverted by sin! The concupiscible appetite greedily fastens upon the creature, not upon God; and the irascible appetite is turned against holiness, not sin. But I must insist no farther on this subject here, it deserves an entire treatise by itself.
VIII. The soul of man has, in the very frame and nature of it, an inclination to the body. There is in it a certain pondus, or inclination which naturally bends or sways it towards matter, or a body. There are three different natures found in living creatures, viz.
1. The brutal.
2. The angelical.
3. The human.
(1.) The soul of a brute is wholly confined to, and dependent on the matter or body with which it is united. It is dependent on it, both in esse et in operari, in its being and working; it is but a material form, which arises from, and perisheth with the body. "The soul of a brute, (says a great person) is no other than a fluid bodily substance, the more lively and refined part of the blood (called spirit) quick in motion, and from the arteries by the branches of the carotides carried to the brain; and from thence conveyed to the nerves and muscles, move the whole frame and mass of the body; and receiving only certain weak impressions from the senses, and of short continuance, hindered and obstructed of its work and motion, vanishes into the soft air.
(2.) An angel is a spirit free from a body, and created without an appetite or inclination to be embodied. The Stoics call the angels "ousias psuchikas", souly substances; and the Peripatetics, formas abstractas, abstract forms. They are spirits free from the fetters and clogs of the body.
"An angel is a perfect soul, and an human soul is an imperfect angel." Yet angels have no such rooted disaffection to, and abhorrence of a body, but they have assumed, and can, in a ready obedience to their Lord's commands, and delight to serve him, assume bodies, for a time, to converse with men in them, i.e. aerial bodies in the figure and shape of human bodies. So we read, Gen. 18: 2: three men, i.e. angels in human shape and appearance, stood by Abraham, and talked with him; and at Christ's sepulchre, Luke 24: "There appeared two men in shining garments." But they abide in these bodies, as we do in an inn, for a night, or short season; they dwell not in them as our souls in those houses of flesh, which we cannot put on and off at pleasure as they do, but as we walk in our garments, which we can put of without pain.
(3.) The human soul is neither wholly tied to the body, as the brutal soul is; nor created without inclination to a body, as angels are; but loves and inclines to it, though it can both live and act without it, when it is parted from it at death. The proof of this assertion, and the reasons why God created it with such an inclination, will, in their proper place, be more fully spoken to, in the following discourse. All that I shall add is, that in this, as well as in some other respects, our souls are made a little lower than the angels; but when they are unclothed of the body, and have received it again, in a new edition, a spiritual body, then they shall be "isangeloi", equal unto angels, in the way and manner of life and action.
Thus I have, as briefly as I could, dispatched the first thing propounded, viz. the nature of the soul, in the explication of these seven particulars: it is a substance, a vital, spiritual, and immortal substance, a substance endued with understanding, will, affections, and an inclination to the body. And now we are come to the
II. Branch, viz. Its original and infusion.
I. As to its original, I have described it to be immediately from God, in the way of creation: an honour done to no other living creature except angels. The world has been troubled with a great many extravagant and wild notions about the original of the soul of man; a certain mark and argument of its apostasy from God. "Solinus writes of one, who by a wound in the hinder part of his head, fell into such a degree of ignorance and oblivion, that he forgot his own name, and could not tell whether he had any name at all." But oh! what a stunning blow did man receive by the fall, that he should forget the very Author of his being, and rather claim alliance, and derive the being of his soul from any thing than God; though it bears the very marks and characters of its divine Author and Father upon it! The principal errors about the origin of the soul (for that wild notion of Epicurus has been laid so flat by the pens of many learned men, that it is a vanity to strike one blow more at it) may be reduced to these three heads.
(1.) Some affirm it to be by way of traduction, or natural generation from the parents to the child. This opinion is very ancient; Tertullian, and divers of the Western Fathers, closed with it, as judging it the best expedient to solve the difficulties of the soul's taint and defilement with original sin. But antiquity is no passport for errors. The grey hairs of opinion, as one well notes, are then honourable, when they are found in the way of truth. Doctor Brown tells us, "He should rather incline to the creation, than the traduction of the soul, though either opinion (says he) will consist well enough with religion, did not one objection haunt him, and this is a conclusion from the equivocal and monstrous productions by unnatural copulation, as of a man and beast: for, if the soul of man, says he, be not transmitted and transfused in the seed, why are not these productions merely beasts, but have also an impression and tincture of reason in as high a measure as it can evidence itself in those improper organs?
Which way the doctor's judgement had inclined in this controversy, had been of no great consideration to the determination of it; though it is a pity we should lose his consent and company, for the sake of such a beastly objection as this, which haunts his mind: for if there be any such creatures that seem to have a tincture of reason, it is but a tincture, and a seeming, not a real tincture neither, which many other brutes have.
The doctor is too well acquainted with philosophy, and a man of too much reason to allow himself to think that such a production as he speaks of has two natures and essential forms in one body, as of a man and a horse. He knows that every entity has but one special essence, and can have no more, except he will place one and the same thing under divers species in the predicament of substance. And as there cannot be two distinct forms, so neither can there be a mixture of them in the Centaur or monstrous birth: for, ex duobus entibus perse, non fit unum ens per se. But he confesseth this objection was bred among the weeds and tares of his own brain, (a rank soil no doubt) and I am pretty confident he had weeded it out in his latter years; for I find this notion of the Centaurs, (that is, half horse, half man), put into its proper place among his vulgar errors, B. 1. chap. 4. And so I suppose that rub being out of the way, he returned again to us.
(2.) A second opinion was, That they were procreated by angels: and that which gave the ground, such as it is, to this opinion or fancy, is the similitude or resemblance which is found betwixt angels and the souls of men. But this fancy needs not any industry to overthrow it; for though it be certain there is a similitude and resemblance betwixt angels and souls, both being immaterial and spiritual substances, yet angels neither propagate by generation, nor is it in their power to create the least fly or worm in the world, much less the soul of man, the highest and noblest and most excellent being. Great power they have, but no creating power, that is God's incommunicable property; and procreate our souls they did not, for though they are spirits, yet spirits of another species.
(3.) A third sort there are, who deny that souls are created substances, and proceeded from God; but affirm withal, that he created them simul, et semel, together and at once, as the angels were, and not one by one, as men are born into the world. "Of this opinion was Plato, who thought all human souls to be created together before their bodies, and placed in some glorious and suitable mansions, as the stars, till, at last, growing weary of heavenly, and falling in love with earthly things, for a punishment of that crime, they were cast into bodies, as into so many prisons." Origen sucked in this notion of the pre-existence of souls: and upon this supposition it was that Porphyry tells us, in the life of Plotinus, he blushed as often as he thought of his being in a body, as a man that lived in reputation and honour, blushes when he is lodged in a prison. The ground on which the Stoics bottomed their opinion was, the great dignity and excellency of the soul, which inclined them to think they had never been degraded and abased, as they are by dwelling in such vile bodes, but for their faults; and that it was for some former sins of theirs, that they slid down into gross matter, and were caught into a vital union with it; whereas, had they not sinned, they had lived in celestial and splendid habitations, more suitable to their dignity.
But this is a pure creature of fancy; for, (1.) No soul in the world is conscious to itself, of such a pre-existence, nor can remember when it was owner of any other habitation than that it now dwells in. (2.) Nor does the scripture give us the least hint of any such thing. Some indeed would catch hold of that expression, Gen. 2: 2. "God rested the seventh day from all the works which he had made;" and it is true, he did so, the work of creation was finished and sealed up, as to any new species or kinds of creatures to be created; no other sort of souls will be created, than that which was at first: but yet God still creates individual souls, (My Father worketh hitherto and I work) of the same kind and nature with Adam's soul. And, (3.) For their detrusion into these bodies as a punishment of their sins in the former state; if we speak of sin in individuals, or particular persons, the scripture mentions none, either original or actual, defiling any soul in any other way but by its union with the body. Pre-existence therefore is but a dream.
But to me it is clear that the soul receives not its beginning by traduction or generation; for that which is generable, is also corruptible; but the spiritual, immortal soul (as it has been proved to be) is not subject to corruption. Nor is it imaginable how a soul should be produced out of matter, which is not endued with reason: or, how a bodily substance can impart that to another, which it has not in itself. If it be said, the soul of the child proceeds from the souls of the parents, that cannot be; for spiritual substances are impartible, and nothing can be discinded from them. "And it is absurd to think the soul of Adam should spring from one original, and the souls of his offspring from another, while both his and theirs are of one and the same nature and species." To all which let me add, That as the assertion of their creation is most reasonable, so it is most scriptural. It is reasonable to think and say, "That no active power can act beyond, or above the proper sphere of its activity and ability". But if the soul be elicited out of the power of matter, here would be an effect produced abundantly more noble and excellent than its cause. And as it is most reasonable, so it is most scriptural. To this purpose diverse testimonies of scripture are cited and produced by our divines, among which we may single out these four, which are of special remark and use; Heb. 12: 9. "Furthermore, we had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence; shall we not much rather be in subjection to [the Father of spirits] and live?" Here God is called the Father of spirits, or of souls, and that in an emphatical antithesis, or contradistinction to our natural fathers, who are called the fathers of our flesh, or bodies only. The true scope and sense of this text, is, with great judgement and clearness, given us by that learned and judicious divine, Mr. Pemble, in these words; "[Nothing is more plain and emphatical than this antithesis; We receive our flesh and body from our parents, but our souls from God: if then we patiently bear the chastisements of our parents, who are the authors of the vilest part, and have the least right or power over us; with how much more equal a mind should we bear his chastisements, who has the supreme might to us, as he is the Father and only giver of that which is most excellent in us, viz. our souls or spirits?"] Here it appears evident, that our souls flow not to us in the material channel of fleshly generation or descent, as our bodies do, but immediately from God, their proper Father, in the way of creation. Yet he begets them not out of his own essence or substance, as Christ, his natural Son, is begotten, but, "ek me onton", out of nothing, that had been before, as Theodoret well expresseth it. Agreeable hereunto is that place also in Zech. 12: 1. "The Lord which stretches forth the heavens, and layeth the foundations of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him:" "Were the forming of the spirit, or soul of man, is associated with these two other glorious effects of God's creating power, namely, the expansion of the heavens, and laying the foundations of the earth:" all three are here equally assumed by the Lord, as his remarkable and glorious works of creation. He that created the one, did as much create the other.
Now the two former we find frequently instanced in scripture, as the effects of his creating power, or works implying the Almighty power of God; and therefore are presented as strong props to our faith, when it is weak and staggering for want of visible matter of encouragement, Isa 40: 22. and 42: 5. Jer. 10: 12. Job 9: 8. Psal. 104: 2. q. d. Are my people in captivity, and their faith nonplussed and at a loss, because there is nothing in sight that has a tendency to their deliverance, no prepared matter for their salvation? Why, let them consider who it was that created the heavens and the earth, yea, and their souls also, which are so perplexed with thoughts, out of nothing; the same God that did this, can also create deliverance for his people, though there be no pre-existent matter to work it out of.
Add to this that excellent place of Solomon, in Eccl. 12: 7. "Then shall the dust return to the earth, as it was; and the spirit to God who gave it." There he shews us what becomes of man, and how each part, of which he consists, is bestowed, and disposed of after his dissolution by death, and thus he states it: The two constitutive parts of man are a soul and a body: these two parts have two distinct originals: the body, as to its material cause, is dust; the soul, in its nature, is a spirit, and as to its origin, it proceed from the Father of spirits; it is his own creature, in an immediate way. He gave it: he gave it the being, it has by creation, and gave it to us, i.e. to our bodies by inspiration. Now qualis Genesis, talis Analysis. When death dissolves the union which is betwixt them, each part returns to that from whence it came, dust to dust, and the spirit to God that gave it. The body is expressed by its material cause, dust; the soul only by its efficient cause, as the gift of God; because it had no material cause at all, nor was made out Of ally pre-existent matter, as the body was. And therefore Solomon here speaks of God, as if he had only to do with the soul, leaving the body to its material and instrumental causes, with which he concurs by a general influence. It is God, not man alone, or God by man, that has given us these bodies; But it is not man, but God alone, who has given us these souls. He therefore passes by the body, and speaks of the soul as the gift of God; because that part of man, and that only, flows immediately from God, and at death, returns to him that gave it. All these expressions, The Father of spirits, the former of the spirit of man, the giver of the spirit: how agreeable are they to each other, and all of them to the point under hand, that the soul flows from God by immediate creation? You see it has no principle out of which, according to the order of nature, it did arise, as the body had, and therefore it has no principle into which, according to the order of nature, it can be returned, as the body has; but returns to God, its efficient cause: if reconciled, to a Father, not only by creation, but adoption; if unreconciled, as a creature guilty of unnatural rebellion against the God that formed it, to be judged.
II. God created and infused it into the body, with an inherent inclination and affection to it. The nature of the soul and body is vastly different, there is no affinity or similitude betwixt them; but it is in this case as in that of marriage. Two persons of vastly different educations, constitutions, and inclinations, coming under God's ordinance, into the nearest relation to each other, find their affections knit and endeared by their relation to a degree beyond that which results from the union of blood: So it is here. Whence this affection arises, in what acts it is discovered, and for what reason implanted, will be at large discovered in a distinct branch of the following discourse, to which it is assigned. Mean while, I find my self concerned to vindicate what has been here asserted from the arguments which are urged against the immediate creation and infusion of the soul, and in the defence of the opinion of its traduction from the parents. To conceal, or dissemble these arguments and objections, would be but a betraying of the truth I have here asserted, and give occasion for some jealousy, that they are unanswerable. To come then to an issue; and first,
Objec. 1. It is urged, that it is manifest in itself, and generally yielded, that the souls of all other creatures come by generation, and therefore it is probable the human souls flow in the same channel also.
Solut. There is a specific difference betwixt rational souls, and the souls of all other creatures, and therefore no force at all in the consequence. A material form may rise out of matter, but a spiritual, rational being (as the soul of man is) cannot so rise, being much more noble and excellent than matter is.
What animal is there in the world, out of whose soul the acts of reason spring and flow, as they do out of human souls? Are they capable of inventing, (or which is much less) of learning the arts and sciences? Can they correct their senses, and demonstrate a star to be far greater than the whole earth, which to the eye seems no bigger than the rowel of a spur? Do they foreknow the positions and combination of the planets, and the eclipses of the sun and moon many years before they suffer them? And if they cannot perform these acts of reason, as it is sure they cannot, how much less can they know, fear, love, or delight in God, and long for the enjoyments of him! These things do plainly evince human souls to be of another species, and therefore of a higher original shall the souls of brutes. If all have one common nature and original, why are they not all capable of performing the same rational and religious acts?
Obj. 2. But though it should be granted, that the soul of the first man was by immediate creation and inspiration of God; yet it follows not, that the souls of all his posterity, must be so too. God might create him with a power of begetting other souls after his own image. The first tree was created with its seed in itself to propagate its kind, and so might the first man.
Sol. 1. Trees, animals, and such like, were not created immediately out of nothing, as the soul of man was; but the earth was the pre-existent matter out of which they were produced by the word of Gods blessing and power; but man's soul was immediately breathed into him by God, and had no pre-existent matter at all: And besides, all human souls being of one species, have therefore one and the same original: The soul of the poorest child is of equal dignity with the soul of Adam. And if we consult Job 33: 4. we shall find Elihu giving us there the same account, and almost in the same words, of the original of his soul that Moses in my text gives us of the original of Adam's soul: "The Spirit of God has formed me, and the breath of the Almighty has given me life."
Sol. 2. But it is evident, souls spring not from the parent, as one plant, or an animal does from another; for they have their seed in themselves, apt and proper to produce their kind; but the seed of souls is not to be found in man: It is not to be found in his body; for then (as was said before) a spiritual and nobler essence must be produced out of a material and baser matter, (i. e.) the matter must give to the soul that which it has not in itself; nor is it to be found in his soul; for the soul being a pure, simple, and invisible being, can suffer nothing to be descinded from it, towards the production of another soul. A spirit, as the soul is, is substantia, simplex et impartibilis; an uncompounded, and indiscernible, or impartible being. Nor can it spring partly from the body, and partly from the soul, as from con-causes; for then it should be partly corporeal, and partly incorporeal, as its causes are. "So that there is no matter, seed, or principles of souls found in man; and to be sure (as Baronius strongly argues) he cannot produce soul without pre-existent matter; for that were to make him omnipotent, and assign a creating power to a creature." Besides, that which is generable, is also corruptible, as we see trees animals, &c. which are produced that way, to be; but the soul is not corruptible, as has in part been already proved, and more fully, in the following discourse. So that Adam's soul, and the souls of his posterity spring not from each other, but all from God by creation.
Obj. 3. If the soul be created and infused immediately by God, either it comes out of his hands pure, or impure; if pure, how comes it to be defiled and tainted with sin? If impure, how do we free God from being the author of sin?
Sol. If the question be, whether souls be pure or impure, as soon as they are united with their bodies? The answer is, they are impure, and tainted as soon as united: For the union constitutes a child of Adam, and consequently a sinful impure creature. But if it respect the condition and state in which God created them, I answer with Baronius. "They are created neither morally pure, nor impure; they receive neither purity nor impurity from him, but only their naked essence, and the natural powers and properties flowing there from." He inspires not any impurity in them; for he cannot be the author of sin, who is the revenger of it. Nor does he create them in their original purity end rectitude; for the sin of Adam lost that, and God justly withholds it from his posterity. Who wonders (says one) to see the children, the palaces and gardens of a traitor to droop and decay, and the arms of his house, and the badge of his nobility, to be defaced and reversed? That which is abused by men to the dishonour of God, may justly be destroyed (I add in this case, or with-held) by God to the detriment of man. Adam voluntarily and actually deprived himself, and meritoriously deprived all his posterity of that original righteousness and purity in which he was created. As an holy God, he cannot inspire ally impurity, and as a just and righteous God, he may, and does withhold, or create them void and destitute of that holiness, and righteousness which was once their yea, of happiness and glory.
Obj. 4. But how come they then to be defiled and tainted with original sin? It is confessed God did not make them impure, an the body cannot; for being matter, it cannot act upon a spirit; itself it is a dead lump, and cannot act at all.
Sol. What if this be one of those mysteries reserved for the world to come, about which we cannot in this state solve every difficulty that may be moved? Must we therefore deny its divine original? What if I cannot understand some mysteries, or answer some questions about the hypostatical union of the two natures, in the wonderful person of our Emmanuel, Must I therefore question whether he be "Theantropos", God-man? We must remain ignorant of some things about our souls, till we come into the condition of the spirits of just men made perfect. Mean time, I think it much more our concernment to study how we may get sin out of our souls, than to puzzle our brains to find how it came into them.
But that the objector may not take this for an handsome slide, or go-by to this great objection, I return to it, in a few particulars.
(1.) What I think not original sin follows either part singly; it comes in neither by the soul alone, nor by the body alone, apart from the soul; but upon the union and conjunction of both in one person. It is the union of these two which constitutes a child of Adam, and as such only we are capable of being infected with his sin.
(2.) And whereas it is so confidently asserted in the objection, that sin cannot come into the soul by, or from the body, because it being matter, cannot act upon a spirit; I say, this is gratis dictum, easily spoken, but difficultly proved. Cannot the body act upon, or influence the soul? Pray then, how comes it to pass that so many souls become foolish, forgetful, injudicious, &c. by their union with ill disposed bodies? Nothing is more sensible, plain, and evident, than that there is a reciprocal communication betwixt the soul and body. The body doth as really (though we know not how) affect the soul with its dispositions, as the soul influences it with life and motion. The more excellent any form is, the more intimate is its union and conjunction with the matter. This soul of man has therefore a more intimate and perfect union with the body, than light has with the air, which is made, by some, to be the emblem and similitude to shadow forth this union. But the union betwixt them is too intimate to be conceived by the help of any such similitudes. That this infection is by way of physical agency, as a rusty scabbard infects and defiles a bright sword when sheathed therein, I will not confidently affirm as some do. It may be by way of natural concomitancy, as Estius will have it; or to speak, as Dr. Reynolds (modestly, and as becomes men that are conscious of darkness and weakness) by way of ineffable resultancy and emanation.
(3.) Upon the whole, original sin consists in two things, viz.
1. In the privation of that original rectitude which ought to be in us.
2. In that habitual concupiscence which carrieth nature to inordinate motions.
This privation and inordinate inclination, made up that original corruption, the rise whereof we are searching for: And to bring us as near as we can come, without a daring intrusion into unrevealed secrets, our solid divines proceed by these steps, in answering this objection.
(1.) If it be demanded how it comes to pass that an infant becomes guilty of Adam's sin; The answer is, because he is a child of Adam by natural generation.
(2.) But why is he deprived of that original rectitude in which Adam was created? They answer, because Adam lost it by his sin, and therefore could not transmit what he had lost to his posterity.
(3.) But how comes he to be inclined to that which is evil? Their answer is, because he wants that original rectitude: For whosoever wants original rectitude, naturally inclines to that which is evil. And so the propension of nature to that which is evil, seems to be by way of concomitancy with the defect or want of original righteousness.
And thus I have given some account of the nature and original of the soul of man, though alas! my dim eyes see but little of its excellency and glory. Yet, by what has been said, it appears the master-piece of all God's work of creation, in this lower world.
But because I suspect the description I have given of it will be obscure and cloudy to vulgar readers, of a plain and low capacity, by reason of divers philosophical terms which have been forced to make use of; and reckoning myself a debtor to the weak and unlearned, as well as others, I will endeavour to strip this description of the soul, for their sakes, out of those artificial terms which darken it to them, and present it once more in the most plain and intelligible epitome I am capable to give it in; that so the weaker understanding may be able to form a true notion of the nature and original of the soul, in this manner.
The soul of mine is a true and real being; not a fancy, conceit, very nothing. It has a proper and true being in itself, whether I conceit it or not. Nor indeed can I conceive of it, but by it. It is not such a thing as whiteness is in snow, a mere accident, which depends upon the snow in which it is for the being it has, and must perish as soon as the snow is dissolved: My soul doth not so much depend upon my body, or any other fellow-creature for its being; but is as truly a substance as my body is, though not of so gross and material a kind and nature. My soul can, and will subsist and remain what it is, when my body is separated from it; but my body cannot subsist and remain what it now is, when my soul is separated from it: So that I find my soul to be the most substantial and noble part of me; it is not my body, but my soul which makes me a man. And if this depart, all the rest of me is but a dead log, a lump of inanimate clay, a heap of vile dust and corruption. From this independent substance it has in itself, and the dependence its properties and affections have upon it, I truly apprehend and call it a substance.
But yet, when I call it a substance, I must not conceive of it as a gross material, palpable substance, such as my body is, which I can see and feel: No, there are spiritual substances, as well as gross, visible, material substances. An angel is a spiritual substance, a real creature, and yet imperceptible by my sight or touch, such a substance is my soul. Spiritual substances are as real, and much more excellent than bodily substances are. I can neither see, hear, nor feel it, but I both see, hear, and feel by it.
My soul is also a vital substance. It is a principle of life to my body: It has a life in itself, and quickens my body therewith. My soul is the spring of all the actions and motions of life which I perform. It has been an error taken in from my childhood, that sense is performed in the outward organ, or members of my body; as touching in the hand, seeing in the eye, hearing in the ear, &c. in them, I say, and not only by them, as if nothing were required to make sense, but an object and an organ. No, no, it is not my eye that seeth, nor my ear that heareth, nor my hand that toucheth, but my soul, in and by them, performs all this. Let but an apoplex hinder the operations of my soul in the brain, and of how little use are my eyes, ears, hands, or feet to me? My life is originally in my soul, and secondarily by way of communication in my body. So that I find my soul to be a vital, as well as a spiritual substance.
And being both a vital and spiritual substance, I must needs conclude it to be an immortal substance. For in such a pure, spiritual nature as my soul is, there can be found no seeds or principles of death. Where there is no composition, there will he no dissolution. My body indeed having so many jarring humours, mixed elements, and contrary qualities in it, must needs fall and die at last: but my soul was formed for immortality, by the simplicity and spirituality of its nature. No sword can pierce it from without, nor opposition can destroy it from within; man cannot, and God will not.
And being an immortal spirit, fitted and framed to live for ever, I find that God has, answerably, endued and furnished it with an understanding, will, and affections, whereby it is capable of being wrought upon by the Spirit in the way of grace and sanctification in this world in order to the enjoyment of God, its chief happiness in the world to come.
By this its understanding, I am distinguished from, and advanced above all other creatures in this world. I can apprehend, distinguish, and judge of all other intelligible beings. By my understanding I discern truth from falsehood, good from evil; it shews me what is fit for me to choose, and what to refuse.
To this faculty or power of understanding, my thoughts and conscience do belong; the former to my speculative, the latter to my practical understanding. My thoughts are all formed in my mind or understanding in innumerable multitudes and variety. By it I can think of things present, or absent; visible, or invisible; of God, or myself; of this world, or the world to come.
To my understanding also belongs by conscience, a noble, divine, and awful power: By which I summon and judge myself, as at a solemn tribunal; bind and lose, condemn and acquit myself and actions, but still with an eye and respect to the judgement of God. Hence are my best comforts, and worst terrors.
This understanding of mine is the director and guide of my will, as the counsellor; and my will is as the prince: It freely chuseth and refuseth, as my understanding directs and suggests to it. The members of my body, and the passions of my soul, are under its dominion: The former are under its absolute command, the latter under its suasions and insinuations, though not absolutely, yet always with effect and success.
And both my understanding and will I find to have great influence upon my affections.
These passions and affections of my soul are of great use and dignity. I find them as manifold as there are considerations of good and evil. They are the strong and sensible motions of my soul, according to my apprehensions of good and evil. By them by soul is capable of union with the highest good. By love and delight I am capable of enjoying God, and resting in him as the centre of my soul. This noble understanding, thoughts, conscience, will, passions, and affections, are the principal faculties, acts, and powers of this my high and heaven-born soul. And being thus richly endowed and furnished,
I find it could never rise out of matter, or come into my body by way of generation; the souls of brutes, that rise that way, are destitute of understanding, reason, conscience, and such other excellent faculties and powers as I find in my own soul. They cannot know, or love, or delight in God, or set their affections on things spiritual, invisible, and eternal as my soul is capable to do; it was therefore created and infused immediately into this body of mine by the Father of spirits, and that with a strong inclination, and tender affection to my flesh, without which it would be remiss and careless in performing its several duties and offices to it, during the time of its abode therein.
Fearfully and wonderfully, therefore, am I made, and designed for nobler ends and uses, than for a few days to eat, and drink, and sleep, and talk, and die. My soul is of more value than ten thousand worlds. What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
From the several parts and branches of this description of the soul, we may gather the choice fruits which naturally grow upon them, in the following inferences and deduction of truth and duty. For we may say of them all what the historian doth of Palestine, that there is nihil infructuosum, nihil sterile, no branch or shrub is barren, or unfruitful. Let us then search it branch by branch: and,
Inf. 1. From the substantial nature of the soul, which we have proved to be a being distinct from the body, and subsisting by itself, we are informed, That great is the difference betwixt the death of a man, and the death of all other creatures in the world. Their souls depend on, and perish with their bodies; but ours neither result from them, nor perish with them. My body is not a body, when my soul has forsaken it; but my soul will remain a soul when this body is crumbled into dust. Men may live like beasts, a mere sensual life; yea, in some sense, they may die like beasts, a stupid death; but in this there will be found a vast difference: Death kills both parts of the beasts, destroys the matter and form; it toucheth only one part of man; it destroyeth the body, and only dislodgeth the soul, but cannot destroy it.
In some things Solomon shews the agreement betwixt our death and theirs, Eccl. 3: 19, 20, 21. "That which befalleth the sons of men, befalleth the beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; all go to one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again." We breathe the same common air they breathe; we feel the same puns of death they feel, our bodies are resolved into the same earth theirs are. Oh! but in this is the difference, The spirit of man goeth upward, and the spirit of a beast goeth downward to the earth. Their spirits go two ways at their dissolution; the one to the earth, and the other to God that gave it; as he speaks, chap. 12: 7. Though our dissolution and expiration have some agreement, yet great is the odds in the consequences of death to the one and the other. They have no pleasures nor pains besides those they enjoy or feel now; but so have we, and those eternal, or unspeakable too. The soul of man, like the bird in the shell, is still growing or ripening in sin or grace, till at last the shell breaks by death, and the soul flies away to the piece it is prepared for, and where it must abide for ever. The body, which is but its shell, perisheth; but the soul lives when it is fallen away.
How doth this consideration expose and aggravate the folly and madness of this sensual world, who herd themselves with beasts though they have souls so near akin to angels! The princes and nobles of the world abhor to associate themselves with mechanics in their shops, or take a place among the sottish rabble upon an ale-bench; they know and keep their distance and decorum, as still carrying with them a sense of honour, and abhorring to act beneath it: But we equalise our high and noble souls in the manner of life with the beasts that perish. Our tables differ little from the crib At which they feed; or our houses from the stalls and stable, in which they lie down to rest, in respect of any divine worship or heavenly communication that is to be heard there. Happy had it been for such men (if so they live and die) that their souls had been of no higher extraction, or larger capacity, or longer duration than that of a beast: for then, as their comforts, so also their miseries had ended at death. And such they will one day wish they had been.
A separate soul immediately capable of blessedness.
Inf. 2. The soul of man being substance, and not depending in its being on the body or any other fellow-creature, There can be no reason, on the souls account, why its blessedness should be delayed: till the resurrection of the body.
It is a great mistake (and it is well it is so) that the soul is capable only of social glory, or a blessedness in partnership with the body: and that it can neither exert its own powers, nor enjoy its own happiness in the absence of the body. The opinion of a sleeping interval took its rise from this error (as it is usual for one mistake to beget another;) they conceived the soul to be so dependent on the body, at least in all its operations, that when death rends it from the body, it must needs be left in a swoon or sleep, unable to exert its proper powers, or enjoy that felicity which we ascribe to it in its state of separation.
But certainly its substantial nature being considered, it will be found, that what perfection soever the body receives from the soul, and how necessary soever its dependence upon it is, the soul receives not its perfection from the body, nor doth it necessarily depend on it, in its principal operations; but it can live and act out of a body as well as in it. Yea, I doubt not but it enjoys itself in a much more sweet and perfect liberty than ever it did, or could, while it was clogged and fettered with a body of flesh. "Doubtless, (says Tertullian) when it is separated, and as it were strained by death, it comes out of darkness into its own pure, perfect light, and quickly finds itself a substantial being, able to act freely in that light." Before the eyes of the dead body are closed, I doubt not, but the believing soul, with open eyes, beholdeth the face of Jesus Christ, Luke 23: 43. Phil. 1: 23. But this will also be further spoken to hereafter.
Inf. 3. The souls of men being created immediately out of no thing, and not seminally traduced; it follows, That all souls by nature are of equal value and dignity; one soul is not more excellent, honourable, or precious than another: but all by nature equally precious.
The soul of the poorest beggar that cries at the door for a crust, is, in its own nature, of equal dignity and value with the soul of the most glorious monarch that sits upon the throne. And this appears to be so,
1. Because all souls flow out of one and the same fountain, viz. the creating power of God. They were not made of better or worse, finer or coarser matter, but "ek me onton", out of nothing at all. The same Almighty Power was put forth to the forming of one, as of another. All souls are mine, says he that created them, Ezek. 18: 4. the soul of the child as well as of the father, the soul of the beggar as well as of the king; those that had no pre-existent matter, but received their beings from the same efficient cause, must needs be equal in their original nature and value. The bodies of men, which are formed out of matter, do greatly differ from one another; some are moulded (as we say) e meliori luto, out of better and finer clay; some are more exact, elegant, vigorous, and beautiful than others; but souls, having no matter of which they consist, are not so differenced.
2. All souls are created with a capacity of enjoying the infinite and blessed God. They need no other powers, faculties, or capacities than they are by nature endued with (if these be sanctified and devoted to God) to make them equally happy and blessed with them that are now before the throne of God in heaven, and with unspeakable delight and joy behold his blessed face. We pass through the fields, and take up an egg which lies under a clod, and see nothing in it but a little squalid matter; yea, but in that egg is seminally and potentially contained such a melodious lark as, it may be, at the same time we see mounting heavenward, and singing delicious notes above. So it is here, these poor despised souls, that are now lodged in crazy, despicable bodies on the earth, have, in their natures, a capacity for the same employments and enjoyments with those in heaven. They have no higher original than these have, and these have the same capacity and ability with them. They are beings improveable by grace, to the highest perfections attainable by any creature. If thou be never so mean, base, and despicable a creature in other respects, yet thou hast a soul, which has the same alliance to the Father of spirits, the same capacity to enjoy him in glory, that the most excellent and renowned saints ever had.
3. All souls are rated and valued in God's book, and account, at one and the same price; and therefore by nature are of equal worth and dignity. Under the law, the rich and the poor were to give the same ransom, Exod. 30: 15. "The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel." The redemption of souls, by the blood of Christ, costs one and the same price. The poorest and the most despised soul that believes in Jesus, is as much indebted to him for the ransom of his soul, as the greatest and most illustrious person in the world. Moses, Abraham, Paul, &c. did not cost Christ any thing more than poor Lazarus, or the meanest among all the saints did. "The righteousness of Christ is unto all, and upon all that believe, for there is no difference," Rom. 3: 22.
But yet we must not understand this parity of human souls universally, or in all respects. Though being of one species or common nature, they are all equal, and those of them that are purchased by the blood of Christ are all purchased at one rate; yet there are divers other respects and considerations, wherein there are remarkable differences betwixt soul and soul. As, (1.) Some souls are much better lodged and accommodated in their bodies than others are, though none dwell at perfect rest and ease. God has lodged some souls in strong, vigorous, comely bodies; others in feeble, crazy, deformed, and uncomfortable ones. The historian says of Galba, Anima Galae male habitat; the soul of Galba dwelt in an ill body. And a much better man than Galba was as ill accommodated. John wishes in behalf of his beloved Gaius, that his body might but prosper as his soul did, Epistle iii. ver. 2. Timothy had his often infirmities. Indeed the world is full of instances and examples of this kind. If some souls had the advantages of such bodies as others have, who make little or very bad use of them; oh, what service would they do for God! (2.) There is a remarkable difference also betwixt soul, and soul, in respect of natural gifts and abilities of mind. Some have great advantages above others in this respect. The natural spirits and organs of the body being more brisk and apt, the soul is more vegete, vigorous, and able to exert itself in its functions and operations. How clear, nimble, and firm, are the apprehensions, fancies, and memories of some souls beyond others! What a prodigy of memory, fancy, end judgement, was father Paul the Venetian! and Suarez, of whom Strada says, "Such was the strength of his parts, that he had all St. Augustine's works (the most copious and various of all the fathers) as it were by heart, so that I have seen him, says he, readily pointing with the finger to any place or page he disputed of." Our Dr. Reynolds excelled this way, to the astonishment of all that knew him, so that he was a living library, a third university. But above all, the character given by Vives of Budaeus is amazing, That there was nothing written in Greek or Latin, which he had not turned over and examined; that both languages were alike to him, speaking either with more facility than he did the French, his mother tongue; and all by the penetrating force of his own natural parts, without a tutor; so that the France never brought forth a man of sharper wit, more piercing judgement, exact diligence, and greater learning, nor, in his time, Italy itself. Foelix et foecundum ingenium, quiod in se uo invenit, et doctorem, et discipulum! A happy and fruitful life, which in itself found both a master and a scholar! And yet Pasquier relates what is much more admirable of a young man, who came to Paris, in the 20th year of his age, and in the year 1445, shewed himself so excellent and exact in all the arts, sciences, and languages, that if a man of an ordinary good wit, and sound constitution, should live an hundred years, and during that time study incessantly, without eating, drinking, sleeping, or any recreation, he could hardly attain to that perfection. (3.) And yet a far greater difference is made between one soul and another, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit of God. This makes yet a greater disparity; for it alters and new-moulds the frame and temper of the soul, and restores the lost image of God to it; by reason whereof the righteous is truly said to be "more excellent than his neighbour," Prov. 12: 26. This ennobles the soul, and stamps the highest dignity and glory upon it, that it is capable of in this world. It is true, it has naturally all excellency and perpetuity in it above other beings; as cedar has not only a beauty and fragrancy, but a soundness and durability far beyond other trees of the wood: but when it comes under the sanctification of the Spirit, then it is as cedar over-laid with gold. (4.) Lastly, a wonderful difference will be made betwixt one soul and another, by the judgement of God in the great day. Some will be blessed, and others cursed souls, Mat. 25: 46. some received into glory, others shut out into everlasting misery; Mat. 8: 11, 15. "Many shall come from the East, and West, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of Heaven; but the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." And that which will be the sting and aggravation of the difference which will then be made, will be this parity and equality in the nature and capacity of every soul; by reason whereof they that perish will find they were as naturally capable of blessedness, as those that enjoy it; and that it was their own inexcusable negligence and obstinacy that were there their ruin.
Inf. 4. If God be the immediate Creator, and former of the soul of man, Then sin must needs involve the most unnatural evil in it, as it is an horrid violation of the very law Of nature. No title can be so full, so absolute, as that which creation gives. How clear is this in the light of reason? If God created my soul, then my soul had once no being at all: that it had still remained nothing, had not the pleasure of its Creator chosen and called it into the being it has, out of the millions of mere possible beings: for as there are millions of possible beings, which yet are nothing; so there are millions of possible beings, which never shall be at all. So that since the pleasure and power of God were the only fountain of my being, he must needs be the rightful owner of it. What can be more his own, than that whose very being flowed merely from him, and which had never been at all, had he not called it out of nothing?
And seeing the same pleasure of God, which gave it a being, gave it also a reasonable being, capable of and fitted for moral government, by laws which other inferior natures are incapable of; it must needs follow that he is the supreme Governor, as well as the rightful owner of this soul.
Moreover, it is plain that he who gave my soul its being, and such a being, gave it also all the good it ever had, has, or shall have: and that it neither is, nor has any thing but what is purely from him: and therefore he must needs be my most bountiful benefactor, as well as absolute Owner, and supreme Governor. There is not a soul which he has created but stands bound to him, in all these ties and titles. Now for such a creature to turn rebelliously upon its absolute Owner, whose only, and wholly it is; upon its supreme Governor, to whom it owes entire and absolute obedience; upon its bountiful Benefactor, from whom it has received all, and every mercy it ever had, or has; to violate his laws, slight his sovereignty, despise his goodness, contemn his threatenings, pierce his very heart with grief, darken the glory of all his attributes, confederate with Satan his malicious enemy; and strike, as far as a creature can strike, at his very being (for in a sense, Omne peccatum est Deicidium, every sin strikes at the life and very existence of God): Blush, O heavens, at this, and be ye horribly afraid! O cursed sin, the evil of all evils, which no epithet can match; no name worse than its own can be invented, sinful sin. This is as if some venomous branch should drop poison upon the root that bears it. Love and gratitude to benefactors, is an indelible principle engraven by nature upon the hearts of all men. It teacheth children to love and honour their parents, who yet are but mere instruments of their being. O how just must their perdition be, who casting off the very bonds of nature, turn again with enmity against that God, in whom they both live, and move, and have their being! O think, and think again, on what a holy man once said; What a sad charge will this be against many a man at the great day, when God shall say, Hadst thou been made a dog, I never had had so much dishonour as I have had? It is pity God should not have honour from the meanest creature that ever he made, from every pile of grass in the field, or stone in the street; much more that he should not have glory from a soul more precious and excellent than all the other works of his hands. Surely it is better for us, our souls had still remained only in the number of possible beings, and had never had an actual existence in the second rank of beings, but a very little lower than the angels; than that we should be still dishonouring God by them. O that he should be put to levy his glory from us passively; that it should be with us as it was with Nebuchadnezzar, from whom God had more glory when he was driven out amongst the beasts of the field, than when he sat on the throne. In like manner, his glory will rise passively from us, when driven out among devils, and not actively and voluntarily, as from the saints.
Infer. 5. If God create and inspire the reasonable soul immediately, this should instruct and incite all Christian parents to pray earnestly for their children, not only when they are born into the world, but when they are at first conceived in the womb.
It is of great concernment both to us and our children, not only to receive them from the womb, with bodies perfectly and comely fashioned; but also with such souls inspired into them, whereby they may glorify God to all eternity. It is natural to parents to desire to have their children full and perfect in all their bodily members; and it would be a grievous affliction to see them come into the world defective, monstrous, and misshapen births; should a leg, an arm, an eye be wanting, such a defect would make their lives miserable, and the parents uncomfortable. But how few are concerned with what soul they are born into the world? "Good God, (says Musculus,) how few shall we find, who are equally solicitous to have such children as may live piously and honestly, as they are to leave them inheritances upon which they may live splendidly and bravely?" It pleaseth us to see our own image stamped upon their bodies; but, O! how few pray, even while they are in the womb, that their souls may, in due time, bear the image of the heavenly, and not animate and use the members of their bodies, as weapons of unrighteousness against the God that formed them?
Certainly, except they be quickened with such souls, as may in this world be united with Christ, better had it been for them that they had perished in the womb, while they were pure embryo's and had never come into the number and account of men and women; for such embryo’s go for nothing in the world, having only rudiments and rough draughts of bodies, never animated and informed by a reasonable soul, Job 3: 11, 12. But as soon as such a soul enters into them, though for never so little a time, it entails eternity upon them. We also know that as soon as ever God breathes, or infuses their souls into them, sin presently enters, and death by sin, and that by us, as the instruments of conveying it to them: which should have the efficacy of a mighty argument with us to lay our prayers and tears for mercy in the very foundation of that union.
Think on this particularly, you that are mothers of children, when you find the fruit of the womb quickened within you, that you then bear a creature within you of more value than all this visible world; a creature, upon whom, from that very moment, an eternity of happiness or misery is entailed; and therefore it concerns you to travail as in pain for their souls, before you feel the sorrows and pangs of travail for their bodies. O what a pity is it, that a part of yourselves should eternally perish! that so rare and excellent a creature as that you bear, should be cast away for ever, for want of a new creation super added to that it has already! O let your cries and prayers for them anticipate your kisses and embraces of them. If you be faithful and successful herein, then happy is the womb that bears them; if not, happy had it been for them, that the knees had prevented them, and the breasts they have sucked. O! ye cannot begin your suits for mercy too early for them, nor continue them too long, though your prayers measure all the time betwixt their conception and their death.
Inf. 6. Moreover, if God has created our souls vital substances to animate and act those bodies, How indispensably necessary is it that such a principle of spiritual life do quicken and govern that soul which quickens and governs our bodies and all the members of them? Otherwise, though in a natural sense, we have living souls, yet they are dead while they live.
The apostle, in 1 Cor. 15: 45, 46. compares the animal life we live, by the union of our souls and bodies, with the spiritual life we live, by the union of our souls with Jesus Christ. And so it is written, (viz. in my text "The first man Adam was made a living soul, the last Adam was made a quickening Spirit." He opposes the animal to the spiritual life, and the two Adams, from whom they come; and shews, in both respects, the excellency of the spiritual above the animal life, not in point of priority, for that which is natural is before that which is spiritual, (and it must be so, because the natural soul is the recipient subject of the Spirit's quickening and sanctifying operations;) but in point of dignity and real excellency. To how little purpose, or rather to what a dismal and miserable purpose are we made living souls, except the Lord from heaven by His quickening power, make us spiritual and holy souls? The natural soul rules and uses the body as an artificer doth his tools: and except the Lord renew it by grace, Satan will rule that which rules thee, and so all thy members will be instruments of iniquity to fight against God. "The actions performed by our bodies, are justly reputed and reckoned by God to the soul," because the soul is the spring of all its motions, the fountain of its life and operations. What it cloth by the body, its instrument, is as if it were done immediately by itself; for without the soul it can do nothing.
Inf. 7. Moreover, from the immaterial and spiritual nature of the soul, we are informed, That communion with God, and the enjoyment of him, are the true and proper intentions and purposes for which the soul of man as created.
Such a nature as this is not fitted to live upon gross, material, and perishing things as the body doth. The food of every creature is agreeable to its nature; one cannot subsist upon that which another doth: as we see among the several sorts of animals, what is food to one, is none to another. In the same plant is found a root which is food for swine, a stalk which is food for sheep, a flower which feeds the bee, a seed on which the bird lives: the sheep cannot live upon the root, as the swine do; nor the bird upon the flower as the bee doth: but every one feeds upon the different parts of the plant which are agreeable to its nature. So it is here, our bodies being of an earthly, material nature, can live upon things earthly and material, as most agreeable to them; they can relish and suck out the sweetness of these things; but the soul can find nothing in them suitable to its nature and appetite; it must have spiritual food, or perish. It were therefore too brutish and unworthy of a man that understood the nature of his own soul to cheer it up with the stores of earthly provision made for it, as he did, Luke 22: 20. "I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry." Alas! the soul can no more eat, drink, and be merry with carnal things, than the body can with spiritual and immaterial things: it cannot feed upon bread that perisheth, it can relish no more the best and daintiest fair of an earthly growth, than the white of an egg: but bring it to a reconciled God in Christ, to the covenant of grace, and the sweet promises of the gospel: set before it the joys, comforts, and earnests of the Spirit; and if it be a sanctified renewed soul, it can make a rich feast upon these. These make it a feast of fat things, full of marrow, as it is expressed, Isa. 25: 6. Spiritual things are proper food for spiritual and immaterial souls.
Inf. 8. The spiritual nature of the soul farther informs us, That no acceptable service can be performed to God, except the soul be employed and engaged therein.
The body has its part and share in God's worship as well as the soul; but its part is inconsiderable, in comparison, Prov. 23: 26. "My son give me thy heart;" i.e. thy soul, thy spirit. The holy and religious acts of the soul are suitable to the nature of the object of worship: John 4: 24. "God is a Spirit, and they that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth. Spirits only can have communion with that great Spirit. They were made spirits for that very end, that they might be capable of converse with the Father of spirits, "They that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth;" that is, with inward love, fear, delight, and desires of soul, that is, to worship him in our spirits; and in truth, i.e. according to the rule of his word which prescribes our duty. Spirit respects the inward power; truth the outward form. The former strikes at hypocrisy, the latter at superstition and idolatry: the one opposes the inventions of our heads; the other the looseness and formality of our hearts.
No doubt but the service of the body is due to God, and expected by him: for both the souls and bodies of his people are bought with a price, and therefore he expects we glorify him with our souls and bodies which are his: but the service of the body is not accepted of him otherwise than it is animated and enlivened by an obedient soul, and both sprinkled with the blood of Christ. Separate from these, bodily exercise profits nothing, 1 Tim. 4: 8. What pleasure can God take in the fruits and evidences of men's hypocrisy? Ezek. 33: 31.
Holy Paul appeals to God in this matter; Rom. 1: 9. "God is my witness (says he) whom I serve with my spirit;- q. d. I serve God in my spirit, and he knows that I do so. I dare appeal to him who searches my heart, that it is not idle and unconcerned in his service. The Lord humble us, the best of us, for our careless, dead, gadding, and vain spirits, even when we are engaged in his solemn services. O that we were once so spiritual, to follow every excursion from his service with a groan, and retract every wandering thought with a deep sigh! Alas, a cold and wandering spirit in duty is the disease of most men, and the very temper and constitution of unsanctified ones. It is a weighty and excellent expression of the Jews, in their Euchologium or prayer-book, "Where withal shall I come before his face, unless it be with my spirit? For man has nothing more precious to present to God than his soul." Indeed it is the best man has: thy heart is thy totum posse: it is all that thou art able to present to him. If thou cast thy soul into thy duty, thou dost as the poor widow did, cast in all that thou hast: and in such an offering the great God takes more pleasure than in all the external, costly, pompous ceremonies, adorned temples, and external devotions in the world. It is a remarkable and astonishing expression of his own in this case, Isa. 66: 1, 2. "Thus says the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: Where is the house that ye built me? and where is the place of my rest? For all these things have mine hands made, and all these things have been, says the Lord; but unto this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word;" q. d. Think not to please me with magnificent temples, and adorned altars; if I had pleasure in such things, heaven is a more glorious throne than any you can build me; and yet I have more delight in a poor contrite spirit, that trembles with an holy awe and reverence at my word, than I have in heaven or earth, or all the works of my hands in either. Oh! if there had been more trembling at his word, there had not been such trembling as now there is, under fears of the loss and removal of it. Some can superstitiously reverence and kiss the sacred dust of the sanctuary, as they call it, and express a great deal of zeal for the externals of religion, but little consider how small the interest of these things is in religion, and how little God looks at, or regards them.
Inf. 9. How much are the spirits of men sunk by sin, below the dignity and excellency of their nature?
Our souls are spirits by nature, yet have they naturally no delight in things spiritual: they decline that which is homogeneal and suitable to spirits, and relish nothing but what is carnal and unsuitable to them. How are its affections inverted and misplaced by sin! That noble, spiritual, heaven-born creature the soul, whose element and centre God alone should be, is now fallen into a deep oblivion both of God and itself, and wholly spends its strength in the pursuit of sensual and earthly enjoyments, and becomes a mere drudge and slave to the body. Carnal things now measure out and govern its delights and hopes, its fears and sorrows. O! how unseemly is it to behold such a high-born spirit lacqueying up and down the world in the service of the perishing flesh. "Their heart (says the prophet) goeth after their covetousness, Ezek. 33: 31. as a servant at the beck or nod of his master.
O how many are there to be found in every place who melt down the precious affections and strength of their souls, in sensitive brutish pleasures and delights? Jam. 5: 6. "Ye have lived in pleasures upon earth," as the fish in the waters, or rather as the eel in the mud; never once lifting up a thought or desire to the spiritual and eternal pleasures that are at God’s right hand.
Our creation did not set us so low; we are made capable of better and higher things.
God did not inspire such a noble, excellent, spiritual soul unto us, merely to salt our bodies, or carry them up and down this world for a few years, to gaze at the vanities of it. It was a great saying of an Heathen, I am greater, and born to greater things, "than that I should be a slave to my body." We have a spirit about us, that might better understand its original, and know it is not so base a being, as its daily employments speak it to be. The Lord raise our apprehensions to a due value of the dignity of our own souls, that we may turn from these sordid employments with a generous disdain, and set our affections on what is agreeable to, and worthy of an high born spirit.
Inf. 10. Is the soul of man a vital, spiritual, and immortal substance? Then it is no wonder, that we find the resentments and impressions of the world to come, naturally engraven upon the souls of men all the world over. These impressions and sentiments of another life after this, do as naturally and necessarily spring out of an immortal nature, as branches spring out of the body of a tree, or feathers out of the body of a bird. So fairly and firmly are the characters and impressions of the life to come sealed upon the immortal spirits of all men, that no man can offer violence to this truth, but he must also do violence to his own soul, and unman himself by the denial of it. Who feels not a cheeriness to spring from his absolving, and an horror from his accusing conscience? neither of which could arise from any other principle than this. We are beings conscious to ourselves of a future state, and that our souls do not vanish when our breath doth: that we cease not to be when we cease to breathe.
And this is common to the most barbarous and savage Heathens: "They shew (says the apostle) the work of the law written in their hearts, their consciences also bearing them witness, and their thoughts in the meantime accusing, or else excusing one another." By the work of the law, understand the sum and substance of the ten commandments, comprising the duties to be done, and the sins to be avoided. This work of the law is said to be written upon the hearts of the Gentiles, who had no external written law; upon their hearts it was written, though many of them gave themselves over to all uncleanness; and they shewed or gave evidence and proof, that there was such a law written upon their hearts. They shewed it two ways: (1.) Some of them shewed it in their temperance, righteousness, and moral honesty, wherein they excelled many of us, who have far greater advantages and obligations. (2.) In the efficacy of their consciences; which, as it cleared and comforted them for things well done: so it witnessed against them, yea, judged and condemned them for things ill done. And these evidences of a law written on the heart are to be found, wherever men are to be found. Their ignorance and barbarity cannot stifle these sentiments and impressions of a future state, and a just tribunal to which all must come. And the universality of it plainly evinces, that it springs not out of education, but the very nature of an immortal soul.
Let none say that these universal impressions are but the effects of an universal tradition, which have been, time out of mind, spread among the nations of the world: for as no such universal tradition can be proved; so if it could, the very propension that is found in the minds of all men living, to embrace and close with the proposals of a life to come, will evince the agreeableness of them to the nature of an immortal soul. Yea, the natural closing of the soul with these proposals, will amount to an evidence of the reality and existence of those invisible things. For as the natural senses and their organs prove that there are colours, sounds, savours, and juices; as well as, or rather because there are eyes, ears, &c. naturally fitted to close with; and receive them; so it is here, if the soul naturally looks beyond the line of time, to things eternal, and cannot bound and confine its thoughts and expectations within the too narrow limits of present things, surely there is such a future state, as well as souls made apprehensive of it, and propense to close with the discoveries thereof. So natural are the notions of future state to the souls of men, that those who have set themselves designedly to banish them, and struggled hard to suppress them, as things irksome and grievous to them, giving interruption to their sensual lusts and pleasures; yet still these apprehensions have returned upon them, and gotten a just victory over all their objections and prejudices; they follow them wheresoever they go; they can no more flee from them than from themselves; whereby they evidence themselves to be natural and indelible things.
Inf. 11. Has God endued the soul of man with understanding, will, and affections, whereby it is made capable of knowing, loving, and enjoying God? It is then no wonder to find the malice and envy of Satan engaged against man more than any other creature, and against the soul of man, rather than any thing else in man.
It grates that Spirit of envy to see the soul of man adorning and preparing, by sanctification, to fill that place in glory from which he fell irrecoverably. It cut Haman to the very heart, to see the honour that was done to Mordecai; much more doth it grate and gall Satan, to see what Jesus Christ has purchased and designed for the souls of men. Other creatures being naturally incapable of this happiness, do therefore escape his fury; but men shall be sure to feel it as far as he can reach them; 1 Pet. 5: 8. "Your adversary the devil goeth about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." He walks to and fro; that speaks his diligence; seeking whom he may devour; that speaks his design; his restlessness in doing mischief is all the rest and relief he has in his own torments. It is a mark of pure and perfect malice to endeavour to destroy, though he knows he shall never be successful in his attempts. We read of many bodies possessed by him; but he never takes up his quarters in the body of any but with design to do mischief to the soul. No room but the best in the house will satisfy him; no blood so sweet to him as soul-blood. If he raise prosecution against the bodies of men, it is to destroy their souls: holiness is what he hates, and happiness is the object of his envy: the soul being the subject of both, is therefore pursued by him as his prey.
Inf. 12. Upon the consideration both of its excellent nature and divine original, it follows, That the corruption and defacing of such an excellent creature by sin deserves to be lamented and greatly bewailed; and the recovery of it by sanctification to he studied and diligently prosecuted, as the great concern of all men.
What a beautiful and blessed creature was the soul of man at first, while it stood in its integrity? His mind was bright, clear, and apprehensive of the law and will of God; his will cheerfully complied therewith; his sensitive appetite and inferior powers stood in an obedient subordination. God made man upright, Eccles. 7: 29. "yashar" straight, and equal, bending to neither extreme. The law of God was fairly engraven upon the table of his heart. Principles of holiness and righteousness were inlaid in the frame of his mind, fitting him for an exact and punctual discharge of his duties both to God and man. This was the soundness of his constitution, the healthful temper of his inner-man, whereby it became the very region of light, peace, purity, and pleasure. For think how serene, lightsome, and placid the state of the soul must be, in which there was no obliquity, not a jar with the Divine will; but joy and peace continually transfused through all its faculties!
But sin has defaced its beauty, razed out the Divine image which was its glory, and stamped the image of Satan upon it; turned all its noble powers and faculties against the author and fountain of its being. Surely if all the posterity of Adam, from the beginning to the end of the world, should do nothing else but weep and sigh for the sin and misery of the fall, it could not be sufficiently deplored: Other sins, like single bullets, kill particular persons, but Adam's sin, like a chain-shot, mowed down all mankind at once. It murdered himself actually, and his posterity virtually, and Christ himself occasionally. Oh! what a black train of doleful consequents attend this sin! It has darkened the bright eye of the soul’s understanding, 1 Cor. 2: 14. made its complying and obedient will stubborn and rebellious, Job 5: 40. rendered his tender heart obdurate and senseless, Ezek. 36: 26. filled its serene and peaceful conscience with guilt and terror, Tit. 1: 15. The considerations of these things is very humbling, and should cause those that glory in their high and illustrious descents, to wrap their silver star in cypress, and cover all their glory with a mourning veil. But this is but one part of their duty.
How should this consideration provoke us to apply ourselves with the most serious diligence to recover our lost beauty and dignity in the way of sanctification! This is the great and most proper use of the fall, as Musculus excellently speaks; — ut gratiam Christi eo subnixiusa ambimus, to inflame our desires the more vehemently after grace.
Sanctification restores the beauty of the soul, which sin defaced, Eph. 4: 25. Col. 3: 10. Yea, it restores it with this advantage, that it shall never be lost again; holiness is the beauty of God impressed upon the soul, and the impression is everlasting. Other beauty is but a fading flower: Time will plough deep furrows upon the fairest faces, but this will be fresh to eternity.
All moral virtues, homilitical qualities, which adorn and beautify nature, and make it attractive and lovely in the eyes of men, are but separable accidents, which death discinds and crops off like a sweet flower from the stalk, Job 4: 21. "Does not their excellency that is in them go away?" But sanctification is inseparable, and will ascend with the soul into heaven. Oh! that God would set the glass of the law before us, that we may see what defiled souls we have by nature, that we might come by faith to Jesus Christ, who cometh to us by water and by blood, 1 John 5: 6.
Inf. 13. To conclude. Upon the consideration of the whole matter before us, if this excellent creature, the soul, receive both its being and excellencies from God; Then he that formed it must needs have the full, and only right to possess and use it, and is therefore most injuriously kept out of the possession of it by unsanctified and disobedient persons.
The soul of man is a building of God; He has laid out the treasures of his wisdom, power, and goodness in this noble structure, he built it for an habitation for himself to dwell in; and indeed such noble rooms as the understanding, will, and affections, are too good for any other to inhabit. But sin has set open the gates of this hallowed temple, and let in the abomination which maketh desolate. All the doors of the soul are barred and chained up against Christ, by ignorance and infidelity; he seeks for admission into the soul which he made, but findeth none. A forcible entry he will not make; but expects when the will shall bring him the keys of the soul, as to its rightful owner. So he expresseth himself to us in Lev. 3: 20. "Behold I stand at the door and knock: If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me." His standing at the door, denotes his earnest desire and patient waiting, in the use of all those means that are introductive of Jesus Christ into the souls of men. His knocking signifies the various essays he makes by his ordinances and providences externally, and the convictions and persuasions of his Spirit, and the consciences of sinners internally: Every call of the word, and every conviction of conscience is a call, a knock from heaven, at the door of the soul, for the admission of Christ into it. By the soul’s hearing his voice, and opening the door, understand its approbation, and consent to the motion and offer of God. By Christ’s coming in, is meant his uniting that soul unto himself that opens to him. And as his coming in denotes union, so his supping with the soul, and the soul with him denotes his sweet communion; imperfect here, complete and full in heaven.
O the admirable condescension of God to poor sinners! The God that formed you with a word, and can as easily ruin you with a frown, yet waits at the gates of your souls for admission into them. There be many souls within the sound of this complaint, that have kept God out of his own right all their days. They have shut out Jesus Christ, and delivered up their souls to Satan: If he but knock by a slight temptation, the door is presently opened; but Jesus Christ may wait in vain upon them from sabbath to sabbath, and from year to year: But the longest day of his patience has an end; and there is a refusal of grace, after which no more tenders of mercy shall ever be made.
What say you, Souls? Will you at last open the door to Jesus Christ, or will you still exclude him? If you will open to him, he will not come empty-handed, he will bring a feast with him, such a feast as you never tasted any thing like it in your lives: But, if you will not open to him, then I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that you have once barred the doors of your soul against him, whose pleasure and power gave them their very beings; against him who is their sovereign Lord, and rightful Owner. And consequently this act of yours must stop your mouths, and deprive you of all pleas and apologies when you shall knock here after at the door of mercy, and God shall ever shut it up against you, according to his just, but dreadful threatenings, Mat. 7: 22. Prov. 1: 24, 25. And thus much of the divine original, and excellent nature of the soul of man.
Having taken a view of this excellent creature, the soul, in opening the former proposition: we come next to the consideration of its union with the body, in this second proposition.
Doct. 2: That the souls and bodies of men are knit together, by the feeble band of the breath in their nostrils.
"There is (says a learned man) no greater mystery in nature, than the union betwixt the soul and body; that a mind and spirit should be so tied and linked with a clod of clay, that while that remains in a due temper, it cannot by any art or power free itself. It can by an act of the will move an hand, or a foot, or the whole body, but cannot move from it one inch. If it move hither, or thither, or by a leap upward do ascend a little, the body still follows it: it cannot shake or throw it off. We cannot take ourselves out; by any allowable means we cannot; nor by any at all (that are at least, within mere human power) as long as the temperament lasts. While that remains, we cannot go; if that fail, we cannot stay; though there be so many open avenues, (could we suppose any material bounds to hem in, or exclude a spirit) we cannot go out or in at pleasure. A wonderful thing! and I wonder we no more wonder at our own make and frames in this respect. - What, so much a-kin are a mind and a piece of earth, a clod and a thought, that they should be thus affixed to one another?"
My design here is to shew by what ligament, tie, or bond, it has pleased the great and wise Creator, to affix and link these so different parts of man together: And this Moses in the text tells us, is no other but the breath of his nostrils.
The breath and soul of man are two distinct things. His breath is not his soul, nor his soul his breath, but the nexus or bond that couples and unites his soul and body in a personal union. The body has no life in itself, but its life results from its union with the soul, James 2: 26. This union is maintained by the breath of our nostrils, which upon that account is here called the breath of life. Breath is an act of life, proceeding from the soul’s union with its body, and ending with the dissolution of it. Life is continued by its respiration, and ended by its expiration. While we live, and while breath is in our bodies, are terms synonymous.
That little quantity of air, which we thus breathe in and out at our nostrils, is more to us, than all the three regions of air, which fill up the vast space between earth and heaven. It is, in a sense, our life.
For this use and office of respiration, the lungs were formed and placed where they are, not without the most wise counsel and direction of God. They are that organ in the body, which, by the help of that artery celled arteria trachea, leading to them as channel, for the passage of air from the mouth and nostrils, the air is transmitted to, and ventilated by them for the refreshment of the heart, and exhaling the fumes thereof.
The heart has continual need of such a vent and refreshment; and therefore the lungs, like a pair of bellows, must be kept continually going. No longer than breath is going, is the heart a dying; that which stops the one, suffocates the other.
And here we may, with admiration, contemplate the wonders by which our lives are continued. These lungs are the most frail and tender part of the body, and kept in continual motion and agitation; yet are made serviceable for seventy or eighty years together, which is the wonder of Providence. Were a piece of brass, or iron or steel kept in continual and incessant use, it would not endure half the time. In a word, the heart, that noble part of the body, is the shop wherein the spirits are laboured and prepared, which therefore is in continual motion and heat; and so needs continual cooling and refreshing. We can live no longer than it labours, it can labour no longer than it is refreshed and cooled by respiration.
God has therefore prepared the lungs for this service; which being of a thin, porous, and spungy substance, can easily be dilated and contracted. By dilating themselves, they attract and suck in the air into themselves; first duly to prepare and temper it, and then communicate it to the heart for its refreshment; which being quickly heated in the heart, is again breathed out by the lungs, by contracting themselves again. This double motion of inspiration and expiration, we call respiration; and this respiration is the bond that holds our souls and bodies together.
And indeed, this is but a feeble bond, a very slender and weak thread, which holds our souls and bodies in union. What more volatile, evanid and uncertain than a puff of breath? The nostrils are the outer door of the body, our breath is continually in our nostrils; and how soon may that depart, which is day and night at the door, as if it were still taking leave of us? Our breath is always going; and what is still going, will be gone at last. How small a difference is there betwixt respiration and expiration, a breathing and a breathless lump of clay? Breath cannot continue long, and life cannot stay a moment behind it, Psal. 104: 29. "Thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dusts. Life is breath given, and death is breath taken away. The breath of man is like a written sentence, in which there are divers commas, or short pauses, after which speedily follows a full stop, and there is an end of it.
Some conceive Solomon points at the continual motion of the lungs, in that figurative and elegant description of the death of man, Eccles. 12: 6. "Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel be broken at the cistern." The double motion of the lungs he seems here to compare to the double motion of the buckets in a well; the turn of the wheel sends one down, and draws the other up. But as we use to say proverbially, The bucket or pitcher that goes so often to the cistern or well, is broken at last: So we must say of these, they will fail at last. One sitting by the bed-side of a dying person, sighed out this compassionate expression, Ah! quid sumus? His sick friend hearing it, replied Pulvis umbra, fumus, dust, a shadow, a puff of wind. The wind without us is fickle and inconstant to a proverb, and so is that within us too. Many grudge at the shortness of life; but considering the feebleness of this bond, we have more cause to wonder at the slowness of death. For let us seriously consider the frailty of our breath, on a double account, viz.
1. In respect of our breathing instruments.
2. Or of breath-stopping accidents.
1. Great is the frailty of our breathing instruments. What is flesh but weakness? even the most solid and substantial; it is as fading grass, Isa. 40: 6 "But our lungs are the most lax, spungy, and tender of all flesh, if that which is so airy, light, and spumous, deserves the name of flesh." And as it is the most frail of all flesh, so it is in continual motion, labouring night and day without rest or intermission; and that which wants alternate rest cannot be durable. We see motion wears out the wheels of the watch, though made of brass; but our strength (as Job speaks) is not the strength of stones; nor our bones (the most solid, much less our lungs the most frail and feeble parts) of brass. Beside,
2. There are a multitude of breath-stopping accidents, which may, and daily do bent the last breath out of men's nostrils, before any decay of nature cause it to expire.
Many mortal diseases are incident to these frail and tender parts. Phtysics, interneations, ulcers, easily bar the passage of our breath there; yea, and slighter accidents, which immediately touch not that part, are sufficient to stop our breath, and dislodge our souls. A fly, a gnat, the stone of a raisin, a crumb of bread, have often done it. There is not a pore in the body but is a door large enough to let in death, nor a creature so despicably small but is strong enough (if God commission it) to serve a writ of ejection upon the soul: The multitudes of diseases are so many lighted candles put to this slender thread of our breath, besides the infinite diversity of external accidents by which multitudes daily perish. So that there are as great and astonishing wonders in our preservation as in our creation.
Inf. 1. How admirable then is the mystery of providence in the daily continuation of the breath of our nostrils?
That our breath is yet in our nostrils, is only from hence, that he who breathed it into them at first is our life, and the length of our days, as it is Deut. 30: 20. It is because our breath is in his hand, Dan. 5: 23. not in our own, nor in our enemies' hands. Till he take it away, none shall be able to do it; Psal. 104: 29. "Thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.
It is neither food nor physic, but God in and by them, that "holdeth our souls in life", Psal. 66: 9. We hang every moment of our life over the grave and the gulph of eternity, by this slender thread of our breath: But it cannot break, how feeble so ever it be, till the time appointed be fully come. If it be not extinguished and suffocated; as others daily are, it is because he puts none of these diseases upon us, as it is Exod. 15: 26. or if he do, yet he is Jehovah Rophe, the Lord that healeth us, as it follows in that text.
We live in the midst of cruel enemies, yea, "among them that breathe out cruelty," as the psalmist complaineth, Psal. 27: 12. Such breath would quickly suffocate ours, did not he, in whose hand ours is, wonderfully prevent it. O what cause have we to employ and spend that breath in his praise, who works so many daily wonders to secure it!
Inf. 2. Is it but a puff of feeble breath which holds our souls and bodies in union? Then every man is deeply concerned to make all haste, to take all possible care and pains to secure a better and, more durable habitation for his soul in heaven, while yet it sojourns in this frail tabernacle of the body.
The time is at hand, when all these comely and active bodies shall be so many breathless carcases, no more capable of any use or service for our souls than the seats you sit on, or the dead bodies that lie under your feet. Your breath is yet in your nostrils, and all the means and seasons of salvation will expire with it; and then it will be as impossible for the best minister in the world to help your souls, as for the ablest Physician to recover your bodies. As physic comes too late for the one, so counsels and persuasions for the other.
Three things are worth thinking on this matter.
1. That you are not without the hopes and possibilities of salvation, while the breath of life is in your nostrils. A mercy, (how lightly soever you value it) that would ravish with joy those miserable souls that have already shot the gulf of eternity, and turn the shrieks and groans of the damned unto joyful shouts and acclamations of praise. Poor wretch, consider what thou readest; that thy soul is not yet in Christ, is thy greatest misery; but that yet it may be in Christ, is an unspeakable mercy; though thy salvation be not yet secured, yet what a mercy is it that it is not desperate?
2. When this uncertain breath is once expired, the last hope of every unregenerate person is gone for ever: It is as impossible to recover hope as it is to recover your departed breath, or recall the day that is past. When the breath is gone, the compositum is dissolved; we cease to be what we now are, and our life is as water spilt on the ground which shall not be gathered up till the resurrection. Our life is carried like a precious liquor in a brittle glass, which death breaks to pieces. The spirit is immediately presented to God, and fixed in its unalterable state, Heb. 9: 27. All means of salvation now cease for ever; no ambassadors of peace are sent to the dead; no more calls or strivings of the spirit: no more space for repentance. O! what an inconceivable weight has God hanged on a puff of breath!
3. And since matters stand thus, it is to be admired what shift men make to quiet themselves in so dangerous a state as most souls live in; quiet and unconcerned, and yet but one puff of breath betwixt them and hell! O the stupefying and besotting nature of sin! O the efficacy and power of spiritual delusions! Are our lives such a throng and hurry of business that we have no time to go alone and think where we are, and where we shortly must be? What shall I say? If bodily concerns be so weighty, and the matters of eternity such trifles; if meat and drink, and trade and children be such great things, and Christ, and the soul, and heaven, hell, and the world to come such little things in your eyes, you will not be long in that opinion I dare assure you.
Inf. 3. Is the tie so weak betwixt our souls and bodies? How close and near then do all our souls confine and border upon eternity?
There is no more than a puff of breath, a blast of wind betwixt this world and that to come. A very short step betwixt time and eternity: There is a breath which will be our last breath: respiration must, and will terminate in expiration: The dead are the inhabitants, and the living are borderers upon the invisible world. This consideration deserves a dwelling place in the hearts of all men whether,
I. Regenerate, or
I. Regenerate souls should ponder this with pleasure. O it is transporting to think how small a matter is betwixt them and their complete salvation. No sooner is your breath gone, but the full desire of your hearts is come; every breath you draw, draws you a degree nearer to your perfect happiness; Rom. 13: 11. "Now is your salvation nearer than when ye believed;" therefore, both your cheerfulness and diligence should be greater than when you were in the infancy of your faith. You have run through a considerable part of your Christian course and race, and are now come nearer the goal and prize of eternal life. O despond not, loiter not now at last, who were so fervent and zealous in the beginning.
It is transporting to think how near you approach the region of light and joy. O that you would distinctly consider,
1. Where you lately were.
2. Where now you are.
3. Where shortly you shall be.
1. You that are now so near salvation, were lately very near unto damnation, there was but a puff of breath betwixt you and hell. How many nights did you sleep securely in the state of nature and unregeneracy? How quietly did you rest upon the brink of hell, not once imagining the danger you were in? Had any of those sicknesses you then suffered, been suffered by God, like a candle, to burn asunder this slender thread of life which was so near them, you had been as miserable, and as hopeless as those that now are roaring in the lowest hell. I have heard of one that rid over a dangerous bridge in the night, who, upon the review of that place, fell into a swoon, when he was sensible of that danger which the darkness of the night hid from him. O reader, shall not an escape from hell affect thee as much as such an escape would do?
2. It is no less marvellous to consider where you now are; you that were afar off are now made nigh, Eph. 2: 13. You that were not beloved, are now beloved, Rom. 9: 25. You were in the state of death and condemnation. You are now passed from death to life by your free justification, 1 John 3: 14. Your union with Christ has set you free from condemnation, Rom. 8: 1. Die you must though Christ be in you, but there is no hazard or hurt in your death. The stopping of your breath can put no stop to your happiness, it will hasten not hinder it: If the pale horse come to you, heaven, not hell, will now follow him; your sins are pardoned, the covenant of your salvation sealed. Death is disarmed of its fatal sting; and what then should hinder you from a like triumph, even upon your death-bed with that, 1 Cor. 15: 55. "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"
3. And yet you have more room for joy, while you consider where you must, and shall shortly be. You are now in Christ, but in a few days you shall be with Christ as well as in him; it is well now, but it will be better ere long. Your sin is now fully pardoned, but not fully purged out of your souls. Your persons are freed from guilt, but your hearts are not either freed from filth or grief: But in a little time you shall be absolutely and eternally freed from both. Your present condition is in heaven, compared with your former, and your future state will be in heaven indeed, compared with your present. "The path of the just is as the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day," Prov. 4: 18.
II. But on the other side, what meditation can be more startling and amazing to all the unregenerate and christless world? Ponder it, thou poor christless and unsanctified soul. Get thee out of the noise and clamour of this world, which make such a continual din in thine ears, and consider how thou hangest over the mouth of hell itself, by the feeble thread which is spun every moment out of thy nostrils; as soon as that gives way, thou art gone for ever. What shift do you make to quiet your fears, and eat, drink, and labour with any pleasure? It is storied of Dionysius the tyrant, that when Damocles would have flattered him into a conceit of the perfection of his happiness, as he was an absolute sovereign prince, and could do what he pleased with others, as his vassals; Dionysius, to confute his fancy, caused him to be placed at a table richly furnished, and attended with the most curious music, but just over his head hanged a sharp and heavy sword by one single hair; which when Damocles saw, no meat would go down with him, but he earnestly begged for a discharge from that place. This is the lively emblem of thy condition, thou unregenerate man.
There are three things in thy state, sadly opposed to the former state last described.
1. The state you were born in, was bad.
2. The state you are now in, is worse.
3. The state you shall shortly be in, if you thus continue, will be unspeakably the worst of all.
I. The state you were born in was a sad state; you were born in sin, Psal. 51: 5. and under wrath, Eph. 2: 3. The womb of nature cast you forth into this world, defiled and condemned creatures.
2. The state you are in now is much worse than that you were born in; for what have you been doing ever since you were born, but treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath? Rom. 2: 5. For every sand of time which runs out of the glass of God's patience towards you, a drop of wrath has been running into the vials of his indignation against you. Oh! what a treasure of sin and wrath then, is laid up in so many years as you have lived in sin! Every sin committed, every mercy abused, every call of God neglected and slighted, adds still more and more to this treasure.
3. It will be much worse shortly than it is now, except preventing, renewing grace step in betwixt you and that wrath, into which you are hastening so fast. It is sad to be under the sentence of condemnation, but unspeakably worse to be under the execution of that sentence. To be a christless man is lamentable, but to be a hopeless man is more lamentable. For though you be now without Christ, yet while the breath of life is in your nostrils, you are not absolutely without hope. But when once that breath is gone, all the world cannot save or help you. Your last breath and your last hope expire together. Though you be under God’s damning sentence, yet that sentence, through the riches of forbearance, is not executed; but as soon as you die, all that wrath which hanged over your heads so many years, in the black clouds of God's threatenings, will pour down in a furious storm upon you, which will never break up while God is God. O! think, and think again, and let your thoughts think close to this sad and solemn subject, there is but a breath betwixt you and hell.
Inf. 4. Doth God maintain your life by breath? Let not that breath destroy your life, which God gave to preserve it.
No man can live without breath; and yet some might live longer than they do, if their breath were better employed. "Some men’s throats have been cut by their own tongues," as the Arabian proverb intimates. Life and death (says Solomon) are in the power of the tongue. Critics observe, that a word and a plague grow upon the same root in the Hebrew tongue. It is certain, that some men's breath has been baneful poison both to themselves and others. It was a word that cut off the life of Adonijah, 1 Kings 2: 23. and thousands since his day have died upon the point of the same weapon. It is therefore wholesome advice that is given us, Psal. 34: 12. "What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good; keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile."
And the more evil the times are, the stricter guard we should keep upon our lips. "It is an evil time, the prudent will keep silence," Amos 5: 18. When wicked men watch to make a man an offender for a word, as it is, Isa 29: 20, 21. it behoves us to be upon our watch, that we offend not with our lips. It is good to keep, what is not safe to trust. David was a deaf and dumb man, when in the company of wicked men, Psal. 38: 13. he thought silence to be his prudence. It is better they should call you fools, than find you so.
Inf. 5. Employ not that breath to the dishonour of God, which was first given, and is still graciously maintained by him for your comfort and good.
It were better you had never breathed at all, than to spend your breath in profane oaths, or foolish and idle chat, whereby at once, you wound the name of God, draw guilt upon your own souls, and help on the ruin of others. That is a startling text, Matt. 12: 36. "But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgement."
To give an account, is here, by a metalepsis of the antecedent for the consequent, put for punishment in hell-fire, without an intervening change of heart, and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus.
And there is more evil in this abuse of our breath, than we can easily discern, especially upon two accounts; (1.) Because it is a sin most frequently committed, and seldom repented of. The intercourse betwixt the heart and tongue is quick, and the sense of the evil as easily and quickly passeth away. (2.) Because the poisonous and malignant influence thereof abides and continues long after: our words may do mischief to others, not only a long time after they are spoken, but a long time after the tongue that spake them is turned to dust. How many years may a foolish or filthy word, a profane scoff, an atheistical expression, stick in the minds of them that heard them, after the speaker's death. A word spoken is physically transient, and passed away with the breath that delivered it; but morally, it is permanent: For as to its moral efficacy, no more is required, but its objective existence in the minds and thoughts of them that once heard it: And, upon that very ground, Suarez argues for a general judgement, after men at death have passed their particular judgement; because (says he) long after that, abundance of good and evil will be done in this world by the dead, in the persons of others that over-live them. For look, as it was said of Abel, that being dead, he yet speaketh; so it may be said of Julian, Porphyry, and multitudes of scoffing Atheists, that being dead, they yet speak. Oh, therefore, get a sanctified heart to season your breath, that it may minister grace to the hearers.
Inf. 6. Let your breath promote the spiritual life of others, as well as maintain the natural life in yourselves.
Though the maintaining of your natural life be one end why God gave you breath, yet it is not the only, or principal end of it. Your breath must be food to others, as well as life to you; Prov. 10: 21. "The lips of the righteous feed many." It will be comfortable to resign that breath to God at death, which has been instrumental to his glory in this life. It was no low encomium Christ gave of the church, when he said, Cant. 4: 11. "Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb, honey and milk are under thy tongue." Sweet, wholesome, and pleasant words drop from her lips. They drop (says Christ) as the honey-comb. Some drops ever and anon fall actually, and others hang, at the same time, prepared and ready to fall. Such a prepared and habitual disposition should every Christian continually have. Your words may stick upon men's hearts to their edification and salvation, when you are in your graves. Your tongues may now sow that precious seed, which may spring up to the praise of God, though you may not live to reap the comfort of it in this world, John 4: 86,:37. It is a rich expense of your breath, to bring but one soul to God, and yet God has used the breath of one, as his instrument, to save, edify, and comfort the souls of thousands, Prov. 11: 30. "The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he that winneth souls is wise." The good Lord make all his people wise in this.
Surely, whether we consider the invaluable worth and preciousness of souls, the benefits you have had from the breath of others yourselves, the innate property of grace, wherever it is, to diffuse and communicate itself, how short a time you have to breathe, and how comfortable it will be, when you breathe your last, to remember how it has been employed for God; all this should open your lips to counsel, reprove, and comfort others, as often as opportunity is ministered.
Did Christ spend his blood for our souls, and shall not we spend our breath for them! Oh! let our lips dispense knowledge. If you will not spend your breath for God, how will you spend your blood for him? If you will not speak for him, I doubt you will not die for him. Away with a sullen reservedness, away with unprofitable chat; all subjects of discourse are not fit for a Christian's lips. It is a grave admonition God once gave his people by the pen of a faithful minister. "You may rue (says he) the opportunities you have lost. Here lay a poor wretch with one foot in hell; would he not have started back, if he had had light to discover his danger? Well, you are now together, something you must say; the same breath would serve for a compassionate admonition, as for a complacent impertinency, which will redound to the advantage of neither. You part, the man dies, and in the midst of hell cries out against you, one word of yours might have saved me; you had me in your reach, you might have told me my danger; you forebore, I hardened; the Lord reward your negligence."
Inf. 7. If breath be the tie betwixt soul and body, How are we concerned to improve, and draw forth the precious breath of ministers and Christians, while it is yet in their nostrils.
The breath of many ministers is judicially stopt already, their breath serves to little other use than to preserve their own lives; it will be stops ere long by death, and then those excellent treasures of gifts and graces, wherewith they are richly furnished, will be gone out of your reach, never to be further useful to your souls. You should do by them therefore (as one aptly speaks) as scholars do by some choice book they have borrowed, and must return in a few days to the owner: They diligently read it night and day, and carefully transcribe the most useful and excellent notes they can find in it, that they may make them their own, when the book is called out of their hands.
But alas! we rather divert, than draw forth these excellencies that are in them. You may yet converse with them, and greatly benefit yourselves by these converses; but (as one speaks) by the stream of your impertinent talk, that season is neglected. Afterwards You see your lack of knowledge, but then the instrument is removed. How must it gall an awakened Jew, to think what discourse he had with Jesus Christ! Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar? Why do not thy disciples fast? Oh! had I nothing else to enquire of the Lord Jesus? Would it not have been here pertinent to have asked, What shall I do to be saved? But he is gone, and I dead in my sins. How many persons have we sent away, that had a word of wisdom in their hearts, having only learnt from them what a clock it is, what weather, or what news; forgetting to ask our own hearts, what is all this to us? and to enquire of them things worthy of their wisdom and experience. "Wherefore is there a price in the hand of a fool, seeing he has no heart to it?" Prov. 17: 16. The expense of one minute's breath in season, may, if God concur with it, be to you the ground of breathing forth praises to God to all eternity.
Inf. 8. Are soul and body tacked together by so frail a thing as a puff of breath? How vain and groundless then are all those pleasures men take in their carnal projects and designs in this world?
We lay the plot and design of our future earthly felicity in our own thoughts; we mould and contrive a design for a long and pleasant life. The model for raising an estate is already formed in our thoughts, and we have not patience to defer our pleasure till the accomplishment of it, but presently draw a train of pleasing consequents from this chimera, and our thoughts can stoop to nothing less than sitting down all the remainder of our days in the very lap of delight and pleasure; forgetting that our breath is all the while in our nostrils, and may expire the next moment: and if it do, the structure of all our expectations and projects comes to nothing in the same moment. "His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his dust: And in that very day his thoughts perish," Psal. 146: 4. The whole frame of his thoughts fall instantly abroad, by drawing out this one pin, his breath. It is good with all our earthly designs to mingle the serious thoughts of the dominion of providence, and our own frailty; James 4: 15. "If the Lord will, and we live."
It is become a common observation, that as soon as men have accomplished their earthly designs, and begin to hug and bless themselves in their own acquisitions, a sudden and unexpected period is put to their lives and pleasures, as you may see Luke 12: 19,20; Dan. 4: 30.
Oh then drive moderately; you will be at the end of all these things sooner than you imagine. We need not victual a ship to cross the channel, as they do that are bound to the Indies. "What is your life? It is even a vapour which appeareth for a little while, and then vanisheth away," James 4: 14. In one moment the projects of many years are overturned for ever.
Inf. 9. Is it but a puff of breath that holds men in life? The build not too much hope and confidence upon any man.
Build not too high upon so feeble a foundation. "Cease ye from man (says the prophet) whose breath is ill his nostrils; for wherein is he to be accounted of?? Isa. 2: 22. There are two things that should deter us from dependence upon any man, viz. his falseness and his frailty. Grace in a great measure may cure the first, but not the last. The best of men must die, as well as the worst, Rom. 8: 10. it is a vanity therefore to rely upon any man. It was the saying of a philosopher when he heard how merchants lost great estates at sea in a moment,— Non amo felicitatem e funibus pendentem; - I love not that happiness (says he) which hangs upon a rope. But all the happiness of many men hangs upon a far weaker thing than a rope, even the perishing breath of a creature.
Let not parents raise their hopes too high, or lean too hard upon their children. Say not of thy child, as Lamech did of Noah, "This son shall comfort us," Gen. 5: 29. The world is full of the lamentings and bitter cries of disappointed parents. Let not the wife depend too much on her husband, as if her earthly comforts were secured in him against all danger. God is often provoked to stop our friend's breath, that thereby he may stop our way to sin, 1 Tim. 5: 5. The trust and dependence of a soul are too weighty to be hanged upon such a weak and rotten pin as the breath of a creature.
Inf. 10. To conclude; if this frail breath be all that differenceth the living from the dead, then fear not man whose breath is in his nostrils. There is as little ground for our fear of man, as there is for our trust in man. As death, in a moment, can make the best man useless, and put him out of a capacity to do us any good; so it can in a moment make the worst man harmless, and put him out of capacity to do us any injury. Indeed, if the breath of our enemies were in their power, and ours at their mercy, there would be just cause to tremble at them; but they are neither masters of their own, nor ours. "Who art thou that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die?" said God to Jacob, Isa 51: 12. The breath of the mightiest is no better secured than of the meanest, nor never in more danger to be stopt than when they breathe out threatenings against the upright.
Julian's breath was soon stopt after he threatened to root out the Galileans. Queen Mary resigned her breath at the very time when she had filled the prisons with many of Christ's sheep, and designed them for the slaughter. Read Isa 17: 12. and see what mush rooms we are afraid of. The best way to continue your relations and friends to your comfort, is to give God and not them your dependence; and the best way to secure yourselves against the rage of enemies, is to give God your fear, and not them. And thus much of the nature of the soul, and its tie with the body.
Pneumatologia: A Treatise of the Soul of Man by John Flavel