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In Sir Walter Scott's "Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft," while commenting on the story of the Witch of Endor, he speaks at one time of a departed soul coming from the grave, and at another time from heaven, where the soul of the prophet had been in happiness. At page 165, when mentioning a deceased person, he talks of his enjoying the natural repose of the tomb, and a few pages farther on of another " as a saint in heaven." If the dead body is to be considered as the deceased man, or the soul to be spoken of in that light, one author ought at least to adhere to one mode of expression, in order to be consistent and understood; the question undoubtedly ought to be-what is the condition of the conscious principle or immortal part of man after his mortal life is over? Where it is, there, may be said, he is; what it experiences, such, it may be also said, he does. His body changes and is completely renewed several times during his life, but he is still called the same man, because his soul continues the same from childhood to old age, although its powers vary from different causes. According to certain mysterious changes in the body, the soul which inhabits it, and is most intimately connected with it during its life) may be influenced by these changes, and allowed to develope its powers more at one time than another, but this does not prove that the body itself thinks or wills, which shall in the following chapter be more particularly shown.
In the work last referred to, Sir Walter imagines that it is not improbable the spirits of the dead roam about the earth, acquainted with every thing that passes; so it does not appear that this author has any definite or uniform belief whither souls first go. The passage now alluded to, is as follows:-"The object of this letter is to show, from what attributes of our nature, whether mental or corporeal, arises that predisposition to believe in supernatural occurrences. It is, I think, conclusive, that mankind, from a very early period, have their minds prepared for such events by the con
* Even Christ as a man did not receive his wisdom, while on earth, all at once, but gradually acquired it as he grew in stature. See St. Luke i. 80.-
sciousness of the existence of a spiritual world, inferring in the general proposition the undeniable truth, that each man from the monarch to the beggar, who has once acted his part upon the stage, continues to exist, and may again even in a disembodied state, if such is the pleasure of Heaven, for aught that we know to the contrary, be permitted to mingle amongst those who yet remain in the body," p. 47. It is not our business here to inquire what the God of heaven might be able to bring about, but what is decreed by Him as the fate of the disembodied spirit. What, in short, naturally happens to us immediately after death. It will here be observed, that this great writer, in speaking of deceased men, distinctly alludes to their souls alone, the propriety of which mode of expression and of thinking of our late friends, it is a prominent object with me to impress upon my readers.
In his "Legend of Montrose," Sir Walter puts these words into the mouth of a highland seer-"be my visions from heaven or hell, or from the middle sphere of disembodied spirits."*-Now, although this does not prove the author's own belief on the point, or that there is such a place, yet it shows he was well aware of the doctrine relative to it, and, therefore, that he ought not in other passages to have spoken as if there could be no doubt spirits were either in heaven or hell, or in the grave, and then that it was possible they were still on the earth, and lastly, that there is the middle sphere as a fifth place for them.
In the following verses, the body is at one time spoken of as if it were the Being which had acted a part in this world for a while, and its fate, or state as that of the departed, while the soul at another time is considered also as the Being whom we knew on earth.
"Yes-with the quiet dead,
Baby, thy rest shall be,
Oh! many a weary wight,
Weary of life and light,
Would fain lie down with thee.
"Flee, little tender nursling!
Flee to thy grassy nest;
There the first flowers shall blow,
"I have laid down my darling
His silent nursery,
Once gladsome with his mirth.
"Now (like a dew-drop shrin'd
Thou'rt safe in heaven, my dove!
"And when the hour arrives,
From flesh that sets me free,
Thy spirit may await.
The first at heaven's gate,
To meet and welcome me!"
There seems here an evident inconsistency, Body and soul when united may be called one Being; but the first, even then forming but the clothing of the other, should not when separated be distinguished, the same as the infant who once used it as the dwelling of his soul. To say that the departed go to sleep in the grave, and are also in heaven awake to happiness or woe, at one and the same time, is surely a contradiction in terms; and yet this is plainly the import of such a mode of speaking, and very different from saying that the body lies in the grave insensible, while the soul feels delight in paradise. The body receives and conveys certain sensations to the soul, but it cannot be too often or too strongly
impressed upon us, that it is the latter which is pre-eminently the Being when a disunion has taken place.
I shall conclude this chapter with the consideration of one other example of, and some further remarks on a style of writing which assuredly exhibits the state of death in a mistaken and highly improper point of view; a view, indeed, which, meeting with it so often in the works of many of the most learned and zealous Christians, was the cause which first led me to seriously ponder if death could really be the state they represented. My reason and my feelings revolted from the idea; but yet when the sleep of the soul was so upheld by eminent men,-quoting from the Scriptures, too, as undoubted authority for their theory,—when some physiologists also adopted it on other grounds, and reasoned so strongly from the physical nature of man, insisting that the brain and the soul are in life so intimately connected that they must live and die together, instancing many well-known facts in support of this, what can the moderately learned infer from all such reasonings, but that their departed friends are in a state at present of utter unconsciousness, and that until the resurrection they shall continue thus. That their bodies are so, no man could doubt for a moment, the only uncertainty is with regard to their souls. The complete unconsciousness of the soul after death is by no means an error of those whose studies never led them to inquire into the subject it has been fallen into by some whose duty it is to teach others a true knowledge of the Scriptures. It has, (as I have already observed) been entertained by some of the highest dignitaries of the church as well as many of their less eminent brethren, but also distinguished for their learning and piety. We should therefore investigate this question as deeply as we can, and impartially compare those scriptural passages on which the reasoners of both sides found their respective doctrines.
The following quotation is from the work of a Christian teacher whose style and frequent reference to Dr. Law's
"Theory of Religion" would lead us to infer that he favours the doctrine held by that prelate, of the sleep of the soul:
-" and when the vain questioner, and the devout believer shall have been for ages sleeping together in the dust, He, who is for ever the same, and whose years fail not, shall still in certainty and silence work on. For though to the feeble and short-lived race of man, that which is to be, only after they have long descended into the silence of the grave, may seem to possess but a faint and feeble interest, though we may vainly desire that all the complicated changes of an universe, shall be effected in the space of an ephemeral existence, shut in by yesterday and to-morrow,—though we think with indifference of the day when the Saviour's name shall be owned throughout the universe, and the choral voice of his redeemed shall send forth an hallelujah of joy and thanksgiving,* because the shout of ecstasy cannot pierce through the silence of the tomb, nor sound on the dull cold ear of death." +
It may be thought, and I fear it is, too presumptuous in a Layman to find such fault with a mode of expression so common, so highly sanctioned and used by the Christian Advocate in the University of Cambridge, an accomplished scholar and able theologian,-when even inspired writers seem now to us to have set the example,—but those among them who have done so in the strongest manner, have proved beyond question, that they did not in reality attach the same meaning to such a style of speaking of the deceased, as many of us now do; and the new light which our blessed Lord and his disciples threw on the nature and future prospects of the soul, should render us cautious, how we indulge in using some of the dark expressions of the Old Testament
Alluding to the Millennium, or reign of Christ for a thousand years on earth; but the Jews thought departed saints were to rise and join in its pleasures, and this was their understanding of the resurrection which is alluded to in Scripture, as being a belief current among them before the coming of Christ.
+ Christianity always progressive; being the Christian Advocate's publication for the year 1829, by Hugh J. Rose, B. D. p. 25.