In reply to the question," How can you prove to me that there is within me any principle distinct from matter
My Dear Sir,
In demonstrating to you the important certainty, that, in the constitution of your nature, there exists a principle perfectly distinct from matter, I might be content to require of you to hold up your arm, and then tell me whence you derive the power of thus elevating a large and weighty mass of combined flesh, blood, sinews, and bones; or by what new law it comes to pass, that a lump of mere matter, whilst itself remains at rest, can raise a part of itself above all the other parts, contrary to the known laws of gravitation ? If you say that animate and organized matter has the power of elevating itself, and thus of overcoming the natural force of gravity, and that by this power it is distinguished from inanimate and unorganized matter; I would then ask, "What is it you mean by animate and organized matter, or how do you discriminate between it and inanimate and unorganized matter? You will tell me, perhaps, that animate and organized matter differs from inanimate and unorganized matter, by virtue of its possessing a principle of life. It is evident, then, from your own definition, that there is something in you besides ordinary matter, which something you call a principle of life; and that, by means of this principle, matter possesses qualities and faculties which, in itself, separate from that principle, it does not possess. By your own confession, then, there is in you a principle distinct from matter; unless you will have the extravagance to assert that life and matter are homogeneous, and thus mean the same thing. But allow me to ask, Have you ever considered with due attention what life is, and especially what that principle of life is, which you say distinguishes animate and organized matter from inanimate and unorganized ? Have you considered, I say, that this principle is various, according to the subjects in which it exists; consequently, that it is not precisely the same in a vegetable as in an animal; nor the same in animals as in man ? Have you further considered, therefore, that in man it implies thought and volition ; and this, not only a thought and volition confined to the narrow circle of worldly and sublunary objects, but a thought and volition extending beyond the boundaries of time, and reaching to the grand certainties and realities of the eternal world; yea, even to the grand fountain of all life, volition, and thought, the Divine Creator? But is it conceivable that matter, of itself is capable of such thought and volition ? As well might we suppose that a stone is capable of exploring and apprehending the attributes of God, and of thus attaching itself to His perfections, of adoring His magnificence, of delighting in His mercy, and of drawing daily nearer and nearer to Him, by faith and love, as the Source of all its happiness!
In the single act, then, of lifting up your arm, if you will attend to it, you have a sufficiently convincing proof, that in the mechanism of your corporeal frame there is a living principle operative, not only distinct from matter, but superior to it. It is so superior, that it has the power to guide and control it, and capable of exciting it to motion, and by composing it to rest.
There is a sufficiently convincing proof, too, that this living being is endowed with thought and volition, since it is impossible for you to lift up your arm, unless you first think and will to do so. Yet, what is thus true respecting the act of lifting up your arm, is equally true of every other bodily act and motion, inasmuch as every gesture, whether manifested in the ordinary operations of the hands and feet, or in the wonderful translation of the whole body from one place to another, carries along with it the force of demonstrative evidence that in matter there is mind; and that, separate from mind, it would be as impossible for matter to put itself in motion, and to continue its motion for a given length of time, and to a given distance, as for a stone to move out of its place, and by virtue of its own activity, to continue its progress in a direction determined merely by its own fancy and choice.
Do you, then, occasionally change the situation of your body, by transferring it from one place to another, and is this change determined by your own free choice and inclination ? Do you sometimes go to the house of God, sometimes to the houses of men, sometimes extending your movements to distant countries, sometimes confining them to the different apartments of your own house; and is the weight of your body, in all these cases, impelled and overcome by a single act of thought and volition ? What further proof can be wanting of the existence of an active power in yourself, which can thus counteract the general law of the gravitation of matter ? What further proof, therefore, can be wanting of your possessing something in yourself distinct from matter; and a something, too, endowed with the most astonishing and almost incredible qualities; since it is capable, by virtue of the single energy of will, of putting matter in motion, and propelling a large bulk of it, such as is that of the human body, in any direction, and to any distance which it deems convenient ?
You are not, however, to suppose, my dear Sir, that because your reason, when properly consulted, can thus discover to you the existence in yourself of a principle distinct from matter, the same reason can also inform you what that principle is, by defining precisely its particular qualities, characters, powers, and modes of operation. For reason, howsoever competent it may be to decide on points within its own sphere of intuition and observation, is yet utterly incapable of extending its views beyond that sphere; and, consequently, it cannot enter into the sanctuary of the human mind or spirit, so as to inform us what is passing there; what that principle is which we call life, what is its origin, what is the first form adapted to its reception, what are the properties of that form, and what its destination. To acquire, then, this interesting knowledge, we must have recourse to a source of information superior to that of reason; which source is no other than what we call Revelation, or the discovery which the Great Creator hath been pleased to make to us respecting Himself; respecting His eternal kingdom, and the peculiar constitution of our own being; together with the near relationship in which we thus stand to Himself, and the great realities of an invisible and eternal world.
If I am not mistaken, I have heard you declare your decided and unfeigned assent to the sublime truths of the above Revelation ; and therefore, it will not be necessary for me to encroach on your time by attempting to confirm your faith on a point of such momentous concern. But, although you entertain no doubts concerning either the authority or importance of that manifestation with which the Almighty, in His adorable mercy, has graciously vouchsafed to favour us, in relation both to Himself and our dearest interests, as connected with Himself; yet, possibly, you have never heretofore been led to pay any minute attention to what is developed in it respecting the immateriality of the human soul or spirit; also respecting its nature, dignity, relationship, and eternal destination.
Allow me, then, to suggest to you a few considerations on each of these interesting points, as I find them presented to our notice in the Divine pages of the eternal truth.
I shall begin with the immateriality of the human soul or spirit; in other words, with its perfect distinction from matter.
On this point it will be sufficient to refer you to the words of the Great Saviour, (Matt. x. 28.) where he says, " Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. For how manifest is it from these words, that the Divine Speaker, in His Divine idea, distinguished between the body and the soul; and not only distinguished between them, but also adverted to a property of the soul which cannot possibly be predicated of any material organization whatsoever, viz., its indestructibility by man! Of the body, therefore, He says, that men may kill it; but of the soul, that they are not able to kill it. And what is this but a positive and peremptory declaration that the soul is something distinct from the body; and that it is, moreover, endued with an indestructible life, which the body, of itself, does not possess? If you believe, then, the words of Jesus Christ, you must of consequence believe also, that you yourself are a compound, consisting of two perfectly distinct principles, the one called soul, and the other body; and that the former of these principles is immaterial and imperishable, whilst the latter, as being formed out of the elements of the world of nature, is merely material and perishable; and thus subject to all that decay and destruction of its organization which is a necessary result of its elementary texture and composition.
In the parable, again, of the rich man and Lazarus, we learn from the same Divine Speaker, that when the latter died, he was carried by the Angels into Abraham's bosom; and that when the former died, he was buried, and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, How evident is it, from this description, that both the rich man and Lazarus were in possession of something in themselves distinct from matter, and that this something was not affected by the death or destruction of the body ? For of Lazarus it is said, that after death, (or the dissolution of the body) he was carried by the Angels into Abraham's bosom ; and of the rich man it is said, that when he died, he was buried, and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, &c. But, is it conceivable that the material body of Lazarus was carried by the Angels into Abraham's bosom ? or rather, are not we compelled, both by reason and truth, to conclude, that the material body was at death left behind to rot in a grave, or on the ground ; and that what was carried by the Angels into Abraham's bosom was the immaterial and immortal soul which had once animated the material and perishable body, but was now set at liberty from its prison, to enjoy itself in a world better suited to the spirituality and immateriality of its nature ? In the case, too, of the rich man, is it to be supposed that mere matter in hell lifted up its eyes, being in torments, when yet it is expressly said of that matter or bodily covering, that it was buried,by which expression must of course be meant, that it was left behind in a tomb; and that, consequently, what lifted up its eyes in hell, being in torments, was the immaterial and spiritual substance, disengaged from its material husk, and now exposed to all that torment which impenitence, unbelief, and worldly-mindedness never fail to entail, sooner or later, on their miserable subjects ?
You see, then, my dear Sir, that neither Revelation nor reason will allow you to materialize yourself, by banishing from your constitution the existence of mind or spirit, and thus degrading yourself into the substance of stone, or wood, or some other species of gross elementary matter. On the contrary, both Revelation and reason cry aloud, with an united voice, that a principle superior to matter enters into the composition of every human being. Revelation also teaches concerning this superior principle, that it forms the real man ; that it survives the decay of the material body; and that, according to its quality, it must hereafter, when it enters upon the great eternal realities of future existence, either be carried by Angels into Abraham's bosom; or, in hell lift up its eyes, being in torment!
But what an awful conclusion is that at which we are now arrived! How consolatory, too, to the true believer ! For what reflecting being can endure the idea of annihilation ? And yet, if man be supposed to be a mere mass of matter, how is it possible for him to believe in its immortality when he beholds it assailed by sickness, and deprived of all its life and activities by death ? Let us leave, then, my good friend, the creed of the materialist to be cherished by those unthinking mortals who have no concern about any other world than the present; and who are thus content to feed on the husks of mere worldly and sensual gratifications, without ever attempting to elevate their minds to that better and more enduring world, with its myriads of delights, for the enjoyment of which they were originally created. But let you and I, being warned by their frightful example, and opening our eyes to the bright light, and our ears to the cheerful sound, and our hearts to the blessed consolation both of rational and of revealed discovery, assert the high privileges and prerogatives bestowed upon us by our Merciful Creator ; and, claiming our superiority above matter, indulge in the delightful confidence that we possess immaterial and immortal souls, as well as material and perishable bodies; and that, by virtue of possessing the former, we stand in a sacred relationship with a Heavenly Father, and with the thousand times ten thousand of the heirs of His eternal kingdom! I appeal to your own feelings in confirmation of the truth of this relationship. For, tell me, now, are not you made sensible, at times, of the power of elevating your thoughts and affections above the cares, concerns, and interests of this lower world? Do not you feel a principle within you which finds a delight in the contemplation of God in a view of the wonders of creation, and of the evident traces of Infinite love and Infinite wisdom in every thing around you ? Cannot you think of God as often as you please, and do not you perceive a secret and interior joy in thinking of Him ? Is not the thought, also, of immortality (a thought of which, it is remarkable, none of the inferior animals are capable), both animating and gratifying to your mind? And can you for a moment suppose that a benevolent God would have endowed you with such a faculty of thinking, and of deriving gratification from the thought, unless He had intended, in His adorable mercy, sooner or later, to put you in possession of the grand object of your contemplation and your joy? Away, then, with all your systems of materialism, whether fabricated in the wayward fancies of a Hartley, a Condorcet, a d'Alembert, a Darwin, or a Priestley, or of any other kindred writer. For, what are all such systems but the spider's web, of which it is written, " Their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works"? (Isa. lix. 5, 6.) And do you, my friend, recollecting the conclusions of sound reason, and the declarations of a Divine Revelation, and conscious at the same time of a living principle in yourself which pants for immortality, and aspires to the high honour and happiness of being acquainted with its Maker, labour to confirm yourself in the grand discoveries of the gospel; and thus to cover yourself with that "fine linen, clean and white, which is the righteousness of saints (Rev. xix. 8.) Let the eternal truth thus be exalted in your mind as a polar star, for guidance through the tempestuous sea of this world's troubles, cares, and uncertainties; and do you, like a wise pilot, follow its guidance, until it brings you (as it certainly will, if your own imaginations do not counteract its notices) to the haven where you would be, by leading you to an everlasting conjunction with your Merciful Creator, in love, in wisdom, in innocence, well-doing, and peace!
I should now find a peculiar gratification in pursuing this interesting subject, by endeavouring to impress on your mind a due sense not only of the existence of that immaterial and immortal spirit which animates the whole and every part of your material body, but also of its nature, its dignity, its defilements, its destination; and especially of the methods pointed out in the gospel to cleanse it from all its natural impurities, by renewing it in the lost image and likeness of its Divine Creator, and thus restoring it to the honour and happiness for which it was created ; but the consideration of all these points, important as they are, must be deferred to a future opportunity. In the mean time, believe me to remain
Sincerely yours, &c. &c.