« הקודםהמשך »
expression are figurative? And why should we not construe them in the same manner when applied to what Christ has done for our deliverance from sin and its effects ?
Thus it appears to me that, if we do not run away with mere sounds, but compare spiritual things with spiritual, when we read of Christ's buying us, we shall not conclude that he give an equivalent, or satisfaction to God for us.
If this letter be thought worthy of a place in your Miscellany, I intend to continue the subject in another on the doctrine of Atonement and Reconciliation.
I remain, dear Sir,
LETTERS FROM THE WORLD OF SPIRITS.
TO MR. W. STEVENS.
DEAR SIR, W HEN I sent the Letters from the World of Spirits for insertion in
" the Universalist's Miscellany, I little thought that any one of my sentiments, however fanciful, would have been deemed of suficient importance, or so repugnant to the letter of Scripture, as to become the subject of critical animadversion. Had I been aware of the probability that I might thereby have drawn upon myself the censures of any reader of this excellent publication, I should, perhaps, after having exposed my folly to a few friends, who had no more discernment than to bestow the tribute of applause upon iny fanciful performance, I should, perhaps, after this small shew of vanity, have contented myself with throwing the obnoxious letters into some corner of my desk, there to have awaited the resurrection of futurity, when some severe examiner, like yourself, might pass judgment of condemnation, and execute the sentence of burning upon the heterodox papers. But alas ! I was not so fortunate as to consult the doctrine of consequences! I couried publicity, and have thereby drawn iyself into a controversy, for which I have little time, and less inclination.
However, Sir, as you have been pleased to give me a formal challenge, although I may enter the lists with some kind of reluctance, I shall not altogether decline the combat. But with what hopes of success can I expect, to engage an antagonist who claims the victory before his opponent has notice of the commencement of hostilities, and is consequently unprepared for defence ?
You say in the concluding part of your letter, p. 375. “ Thus, Sir, I trust I have proved it is you that make the mistake, and that we (meaning disembodied spirits) may noi take charge of, surround, and prote& our friends in the body." . You, undoubtedly, may believe, Sir, that you have proved the absurdity of some of my sentiments respecting the state of the dead, and the justness and propriety of your own observations thereon; but it is possible that some other folks may require more substantial evidence of the fact, before they believe that you have done so.
You deciare that the sentiment you are about to controvert pervades both my letters, and is as follows: “ That mankind, when they depart this life, are perinitted to grovel in our aimosphere, to take cogoizance of the conduct of the inhabitants of this earth.” It is most true, that my letters contain sentiments somewhat similar to that you describe ; they certainly profess the belief that disembodied spirits do sometimes visit our atmosphere, and are not altogether unmindful of their friends in the body; but the idea of their being permitted to grovel either in this, or in the atmosphere of any other planet, originates entirely with yourself, and should not be charged to the account of the writer of those letters which gave birth to your animadversions.
The grovelling state is more applicable to your hypothesis than to mine, since you believe heaven to be some circumscribed place, where departed souls reside, and pass away their time in unserviceable quiescence, like groups of unintelligent and saber-sided Mussulmen in a hot climate -But my belief, as you well know, is very different — And indeed, when I contemplate the wonderful ability and activity of mind, when I reflect on the nature of that immortal principle, that “ divinity that stirs within me," how can I suppose, after disencuinbered of the clogs and fetters of mortality, but what it will attain higher perfection in its true nature, and act with increased energy and redoubled activity ? Even now, counteracted and impeded as it is by its earthly companion, my mind travels through the immensity of space with the rapidity of lightning. Sometimes it accompanies the curious and intrepid traveller--it examines the curiosities which crowd the shores of the Nilem-navigates the Arabian Gulph-crosses trackless deserts visits Abyssinia with Bruce the kingdom of Dar-Fur with Brown and beholds, with Mungo Park, the wide stream of the majestic Niger pursue its eastern course to meet the chariot of the rising sun-it outstrips the embassies of Macartney and Symes, and, unretarded by the tediousness of Chinese travelling, or by stemming the torrent of the great Irrawaddy, visits the famed city of Pekin, and the more modern, though not less splendid structures of Ummerapooramit sometimes, with the hardy and indefatigable mariner, skims over the surface of the great waters,
“ From regions where Peruvian billows roar
To where the Isthmus, lav'd by adverte tides,
- Sometimes, beyond this diurnal sphere,
" It wings its way to distant worlds of light,
Retreating to remote ages of antiquity, it presents past transactions to the view-it dives into the teeming womb of futurity, sees the happy fulfilinent of promises yet unaccomplished, discovers a new order of things arise out of the present seeming chaotic confusion, views the entire subjection and complete restoration of all lapsed intelligences, when Christ shall deliver up the kingdom to the Father, when he shall reign, whose right it is, and when God shall be all in all.
And sħall one particular spot in the universe confine this aflive principle, this mind, this spirit, this soul, this image of Almighty God, after it regains its liberty ? Impossible! But all this, you may exclaim, is fanciful sentiment, and the vagaries of a wild and bewildered imagination. Be it so. I will now venture with you on sacred ground; I will now come to the law and to the testiinony.
You first quote Solomon, Eccles. ix. 5. as militating against my hypothesis. But give me leave to say, Sir, that his account of the State of the dead, is a very gloomy and melancholy one indeed, and since “ life and imınortality hath been brought to light through the gospel," such as no Christian ought to subscribe to. It favours the comfortless doctrine of annih lation more than that of any other system. In chap. iii. 18- 21. inan is compared to a beast; and the only distinguishable difference between them is, that the soul of the one goeih upward, and that of the other goeth downwards; and from all that is written on the subject of departed souls in this celebrated book of Ecclesiastes, it may not be unfair to conclude, that this royal proprietor of three hundred wives and seven hundred concubines had much more knowledge of Aesk than of spirit. I therefore take the liberty to reject his evidence altogether.
You next introduce the consolatory proinise of our Saviour to the dying thief. I reverence that testimony, and most chearfully acknowlege. that “ a greater than Soloinon is here;" but whilst I admit that the belief of a state of happiness and misery may be deducible therefrom, I do not allow with you that the passage militates against my hypothesis, and that the departed souls of the righteous shall go into a place of confinement and slumberous inactivity.
I cannot altogether withhold my assent from the propriety of your remarks on Heb. i. 14. respecting the mission of the angels, and the justness of your reasoning on Mark, xii. 25. and on Luke, xx. 35, 36. for it is possible that our Saviour, in the two last mentioned passages,
principally intended to force upon the minds of the Sadducees not only the belief of a future state, but the spiritual nature of it. However, I cannot conclude that the subject will not admit of more extensive latitude, or that our Saviour's observations thereon warrant you in pronouncing the sentiment I hold respecting the state of departed souls “ to be a fanciful notion, and by no means warranted by the authority of revelation."
I shall now take some notice of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, which you represent as militating against the subject of your animadversions; and indeed, to a superficial observer, and one who places much reliance on human expositions and the comments of fallible men, the passage of Scripture I allude to might appear to rise in forinidable hostility against the sentiment I avow: however, it inust first be determined whether this parable should be understood in a literal or in a figurative sense. If it be supposed to have a literal meaning, it certainly favours not only the locality of both heaven and hell, but the eternity of suffering. If you admit of its bearing a literal constructioa, through what mazes of difficulty will you have to penetrate, and what mountains of absurdity will you have either to cut through or to climb over? How could Father Abraham have heard the petition of his supplicant so far off? And what a keen and penetrating eye must the wretched sufferer have been provided with, to have seen Lazarus in the mansions of the blessed ? For, according to the absurd notions of the Jews, who placed hell in the centre of the earih, and believed it to have been situated under waters and mountains, and who acknowledged three heavens; first, the aerial heavens, where the birds fly, winds blow, and the showers are formed; secondly, the heaven or firmament, which they supposed to have been a solid and extended vault, where the stars are disposed; and thirdly, the third heaven, or heaven of heavens, the place of God's residence, the dwelling of angels and blessed spiri's--I say, according to these absurd notions, which should ever accompany the literal meaning of the parable, how was it possible for the poor condemned spirit, thus shut up in the prison of hell, to have witnessed the happiness, and beheld the occupiers of heaven?
But let us reject the literal meaning altogether, and consider the parable in a figurative point of view, all difficulties immediately vanish, and no absurdities can possibly obstruct that instruciion which our Saviour meant to convey–HE, divine instructor! did not come to improve men in the wisdom of this world-he did not come to give people juster notions of the universe, or to teach them astronomy or the use of the globes-he came, all coinpassionate as he was, to seek and to save such as were lost he came to instruct the ignorant, to relieve the miserable, and to heal the diseased he came to reprove the wicked and the proud, to commiserate the unfortunate, to publish the glad tidings of his ever blessed gospel to the poor, and to those who were ready to perish-he came, like his own good Samaritan, to administer relief to the weary and wounded traveller of this world, while the overbearing and regular clergy of that day, deaf to the calls
of humanity, and regardless of their proper duty, passed by on the other side. He did not enter into nice speculations he did not controvert false systems and preconceived notions, however absurd they might have been, except when such systems and such notions happened to clash with that pure morality which he taught and practised, and those pure and simple ideas of the way of salvation, and of the nature of Deity which he inculcated, or unless they proved inimical to the spirituality of that worship which Jesus recominended, and which God requires. And in the parable under consideration, we find him, in compassion to their limited understandings, give way to the confined ideas which the Jews had of the invisible world, and thereby pointing out to them the certainty of a future state of rewards and punishments; and that the merciless rich man, who shutteth up his bowels of compassion, and does not evince his love to God by loving his neighbour, and relieving the necessities, and administering to the wants of his indigent brethren in this life, shall, in the next, most assuredly meet with that just proportion of punishinent due to crimes of such magnitude: whilst, on the other hand, the virtuous and suffering poor man, who in vain solicited assistance froin the proud and cruel of this world, shall, in the next; be as much exalted as the other is debased; or, in the language of the parable, “ one shall be comforted while the other is tormented.”
Thus, Sir, I have endeavoured to prove that the passages of Scripture you have quoted do neither establish your system nor discountenance my hypothesis; and more than that I am not solicitous to prove; how far I have succeeded let others determine.
I have now to apologize to our friend the Editor of this valuable miscellany for the prolixiiy of my letter, and to assure you, that, notwithstanding our apparent hostility of sentiment, I remain, in the bonds of peace, and in the love of the truth,
ALSO, AN ANSWER
SIR, THE want of health, with a variety of other circumstances, have
hitherto prevented my attention to your fourth and following letters