Page images

Psalms, in which an expectation of a future state is so distinctly avowed'?

The first of them declares, that in death and in the invisible state of intermediate existence no such service is performed to God, as man performs upon earth during his allotted time of probation.

The second of them speaks much the same language for it equally intimates, that the work of man is to be performed, only while he continues here.

And, as for the third of them, I see not what it declares beyond what both Job and the woman of Tekoah equally declare; that we are to expect no resurrection of the dead to their ancient callings and occupations on this terrestrial globe: a fond notion, held indeed by the pagans who believed that in each successive world the same human characters would reappear and act over again the very same parts, yet unknown and disclaimed by those who enjoyed the benefit of revelation. But are we on this account to fancy, that the Psalmist wholly disbelieved the doctrine of a future state, and that the spirit of God speaking through his organs announced to the Church of Israel that it was no better than an idle dream? Yet to this conclusion are we brought, if we adopt Bishop Warburton's view of the passage.

'See above book ii. chap. 3. sect. 2. § I. 2. (3.)

(4.) The writer however of the book of Ecclesiastes is cited by the bishop as being still more


For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten'.

With respect to this text, would we determine its true import, we must ascertain the sense in which the author speaks of the dead as no more having a reward. Here the only real question is, whether, by the term reward, we must understand a reward in a future state of existence or a reward in this present life. In order to answer this question, let us observe the context of the passage. Now, in the immediately following verse, the inspired writer goes on to say: Also their love and their hatred and their envy is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is under the sun. How then are we to understand the entire passage? The bishop himself acknowledges, that the term reward in the first clause is explained by the phrase a portion in any thing that is under the sun in the second clause. Hence it is manifest, that the reward, which the dead possess no longer, is a reward in this world.

We might now well imagine the question to be settled but this his lordship will not allow.

[blocks in formation]

Instead of drawing from such an explanation its obvious and natural inference, he rather chooses to draw one exactly contrary: namely, that the sacred writer, from the consideration of the dead not returning to life to enjoy their reward, concluded; that, when once death had seized them, they could have no reward at all.

In what manner an assertion, that the dead have no more a reward HERE, can be made equivalent to an assertion, that they have no reward AT ALL either HERE or HEREAFTER; I confess myself unable to comprehend.

But this is not the only part of the context, which we ought to notice. The reason, which the author gives why the dead have no more a reward, is because the memory of them is forgotten. Now this reason determines the reward spoken of to be a reward EXCLUSIVELY in the present world. For, though oblivion of the dead be cause enough why they have no more reward HERE, not even the reward of posthumous celebrity; it is most certainly no cause at all, why they should not have a reward HEREAFTER. Add to these remarks the bishop's own concession, that the doctrine of a future state was known after the time of David and therefore in the time of Solomon; and then crown the whole by an adduction of that remarkable passage from this very book of Ecclesiastes, wherein the writer declares his full belief, that after death the

dust shall return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it1: after having done this, we may form some estimate of the probability, that Solomon, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, sought diligently to inculcate the Sadducèan tenet of the soul's annihilation.

What then at length is the true import of the passage? Evidently this: the souls of the dead in Hades know not what is passing in this world; they have no more a reward or a portion in any thing that is under the sun, because even the very memory of them is often forgotten; their love and their hatred and their envy, which agitated them while in this life, are now alike perished; all sublunary things appear to them lighter than dust in the balance; their minds are wholly occupied with the thought of their eternally fixed destination either to happiness or to unhappiness3.

Eccles. xii. 7.

2 Much after the same manner speaks Creon in one of the dramas of Sophocles: whence, according to the bishop's mode of arguing, we might distinctly prove, that the ancient Greeks were wholly ignorant of the doctrine of a future state.

θυμω γαρ εδεν γηρας εστιν αλλο πλην
θανειν· θανοντων δ' εδεν αλγος απτεται.

Anger knows not old age, save in death alone: but no sorrow touches the dead. Edip. Colon. ver. 1007, 1008. Yet what would be thought of such an argument, built upon such a passage? The passage however is in substance the very same as Eccles. ix. 5, 6; which, in the hands of the bishop,

(5.) Just in the same manner we must obviously understand the language of Hezekiah, which constitutes the next passage cited by the bishop.

Hades shall not praise thee: death shall not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit, shall not hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day'.

Can we believe, that the pious Hezekiah, who flourished during a period when (by the bishop's own confession) the doctrine of a future state was opened by the prophets even to the very people, strenuously advocated nevertheless the tenet of the soul's annihilation? Would Isaiah have recorded such strange conduct on the part of the king, without branding it with the slightest mark of vituperation? The supposition is surely too monstrous to be tolerated for a single


(6.) Barely noticing the text from Jeremiah, Our fathers have sinned and are not, and we have borne their iniquities; a text, which furnishes the bishop with another proof that those identical prophets, by whom the dawning of a future state was gradually opened to the people, were themselves most unaccountably ignorant of the doc

demonstrates the utter ignorance of the Israelites respecting a future state of existence.

'Isaiah xxxviii. 18, 19.

2 Div. Leg. book vi. sect. 5. p. 1.

3 Jerem. v. 7.

« PreviousContinue »