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which the apostle says, "faith cometh ;" to keep the mind filled and occupied with worldly cares and pleasures; to form the habit of cavilling on the subject of religious doctrines and duties; to let the imagination revel in scenes of impurity, seems to us by every deduction of sober reason, and by the uniform testimony of the Bible, to be a policy whose only tendency is to ruin the soul. The education thus obtained will certainly unfit us for the employments of heaven.
True, many attend church and hear the voice of prayer and the offers of Christianity, whose hearts the Lord does not openwhose minds fail to receive the impress of the Gospel. But is there not a cause--a cause, too, in themselves? May it not be, because they permit the god of this world to blind their minds, so that the light of the Gospel is hid? Yet it is also true that only those are converted who are led in some way to know themselves their guilt and self-ruin--and the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. The Spirit of God goes with his word. To put asunder what He has joined together is the mark of desperate depravity. He has joined his Spirit in the work of regeneration to one whose outward ear is open to the truth. In his purpose he joins the means and the end-the cause and the effect. He decreed that Hezekiah's life should be prolonged fifteen years; but if Hezekiah had trusted merely to the decree, and refused to take any food, it is certain that he would not have lived a month; nor would the divine purpose have been frustrated, for that embraced the means as well as the end.
So any one of you, my hearers, can join yourselves to, or separate yourselves from the word of God. You can, if you choose, be thoughtful-you can incline your ear to the Gospel. You can compare yourselves with the divine law--you can let your thoughts run in this direction till your heart shall be greatly disquieted on its bed of self-indulgence, and till you shall cry out,
God be merciful to me a sinner." This is the course of sober common sense. It is the course which God prescribes. But there is another and a widely different course which you can take, and be equally voluntary. You can be thoughtless. You can drown the voice of conscience--you can avoid the place of prayer. You can fill your mind with the slang of scepticism; you can refuse to read the Bible and to pray. You can be the companion of fools. You can quench the Spirit--you can put asunder what God has joined together. Then, as surely as Hezekiah would have died if he had taken no food, so surely will you perish utterly in your corruptions.
I, therefore, call heaven and earth to record, that I have this day set before you life and death; a blessing and a curse--a blessing that your soul pines to enjoy, a curse that never causeless comes!
BY REV. THOMAS L. SHIPMAN,
JEWETT CITY, CT.
NO COMMUNICATIONS FROM THE DEAD TO THE LIVING.
"It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ about fourteen years ago (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth); such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth); how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter."2 COR. xii. 1-4.
I HAVE not read this paragraph of Scripture for the purpose of descanting upon the remarkable scene which it presents before us. We may not pry, with a vain curiosity, into things which the apostle declares it was not lawful for him to utter. But why it was unlawful for him to communicate his "visions and revelations," may be both a proper and a profitable inquiry. We may find in the sequel, that much practical truth stands connected with the solution of the inquiry.
We have an account of others, besides Paul, returning from the world of spirits. Lazarus was recalled from the dead. Many bodies of the saints which slept, arose and came out of their graves, after the resurrection of Christ, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Dorcas was restored from the eternal world to earth. But there is no intimation that any of them made the slightest communication of what they had seen or heard in the world of spirits. Why this common and unbroken silence? Men are, if possible, more eager to tell than to hear some new thing. The saints who arose after the resurrection of Christ had doubtless been deceased for some time, though probably not long, as they seem to have been recognized by those to whom they appeared. They had opportunity to communicate intelligence; for they appeared unto many. Why did they not avail themselves of it? Some have supposed that Lazarus and Dorcas, particularly, had nothing to communicate-that their spirits were not, during their brief separation from the body, in a sentient state, or, at least, that there is no reason to think that they had visions and revelations of heaven. This supposition is perfectly gratuitous, and in the case of the saints who arose after the resurrection of Christ, seems very improbable; for they must have been deceased for a considerable time, and it comports with all our ideas of a future state, that the believer, "absent from the
body, is present with the Lord." "To-day," said Christ to the penitent thief," shalt thou be with me in paradise." Others have suggested, that whatever knowledge they obtained of the eternal world, vanished from recollection upon return to the body. This supposition is not less gratuitous than the former.
But, admitting that all these persons told nothing because they had nothing to tell, the inquiry comes back, why Paul, whose spirit was in a sentient state, and who might have communicated "visions and revelations of the Lord," if it had been lawful, was not permitted to utter any thing which he saw and heard in paradise. The same reasons which made it unlawful for Paul to reveal what he had learned of the eternal world, will explain the silence of the others to whom allusion has been made. Why, then, was it not lawful for Paul to utter the things which he saw and heard in paradise? I propose to state several probable rea
I. It is the express will of God, that we should derive our knowledge of the eternal world from the Bible.
He has given us His word to be our guide to eternal life. It is a safe guide. It is a sufficient guide. All that we need to know-all it seems best to our Heavenly Father that we should at present know of a future state-is here revealed. More we might not be able to bear. More might gratify an idle curiosity at the expense of turning our minds away from those practical truths in which we have so deep a present personal interest. We may press a thousand queries.
It may seem desirable to have information upon many subjects on which the Bible maintains a profound silence. We would know where heaven is-the number of its inhabitants-the nature of their employments and the mode of their intercourse, far more definitely than we at present do; by what means the soul, when it leaves the body, will reach the place of its abode; whether heaven will at once burst upon the departing saint-whether he will recognize those whom he has known on earth-whether those who have been mutually dear on earth will rejoice in each other as such in heaven. We would know why sin entered the world, and what is to be the extent of its dark domain. We would know the nature of Christ's glorified body, and thus with what body His followers shall rise. These and many like questions curiosity puts and puts in vain.
How far Paul was qualified by his visions and revelations to answer them, we know not; but, doubtless, many things of a deeply interesting nature he might, if it had been lawful, have communicated. That he and others have not been permitted to bring information from the world of spirits, is proof that the Bible reveals all pertaining to that world which it is best for us at present to know.
Our Saviour, in his reply to the question, "Are there few that be saved?" intimates that all questions of mere curiosity respecting a future state-turning away our thoughts from our own present duties, on which our own future and eternal well-being depends, are impertinent. While the written revelation was yet imperfect, God communicated his will through visions and revelations. Thus he communicated with the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with Samuel and the prophets, and with the apostles, and other early Christians; but since the canon has been closed with the seer of the visions of Patmos, and guarded against the least alteration by a woe upon him who should add to or take from its contents, all such communications from heaven have ceased. I say such communications. We may have intercourse with heaven when we will. "Truly our fellowship is, is, not shall be, with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." Aid to understand the present revelation, we may expect, but new revelations we are not to expect. Even the Holy Spirit, whose office is to communicate truth, is restricted to taking of the things of Christ. "He shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you." There is a lesson in the silence which has reigned for more than eighteen hundred years. Its testimony is, that the Bible reveals all that we need to know-all that it is best we should at present know, pertaining to the spiritual world.
II. Were such communications to be made, they would divert our minds from the Bible, our guide to eternal life.
Had Paul been permitted to utter his visions and revelations, the men of his time would have been looking for other similar communications, and their attention have been turned quite away from that counsel of Christ-" Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me." Men are ever prone to look for other opportunities, and other means of religious impression, than those which they at present enjoy. It was so in Christ's day. The Jews were constantly seeking "a sign from heaven." "Except ye see signs and wonders," said Christ, "ye will not believe." He was working before them the works of God,-by his word making the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, and even the dead to live; and yet, they were clamoring for a sign from heaven, some miraculous appearance in the air, more startling than any thing which was transpiring on the earth. But this desire he would not gratify. "An evil and adulterous generation," says he, "seeketh after a sign and there shall no sign be given it but the sign of the prophet Jonas; for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
He here directs them to his Resurrection as the miracle, which, above every other, should prove his divine legation.
In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus he recognizes, and by the mouth of his servant Abraham, rebukes this infidel spirit. "I pray thee, therefore, father, that thou wouldst send him to my father's house, for I have five brethren, that he may testify unto them; lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, they have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them. And he said unto him, Nay, father Abraham, but if one went unto them from the dead they will repent; and he said unto him, if they hear not Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead." Men, at this day, are prone to quiet themselves in their present unbelief by the fancy that some sudden startling influence will hereafter rouse their sensibilities, and sway their conduct; and, it is noticeable, how God in his providence disappoints the expectation. Never were there fewer conversions to Christ than during the progress of the Asiatic cholera in its first circuit of death. At no period of life does repentence, so far as we can judge, so unfrequently occur, as in the awful hour of death. It is often an hour of the wildest delirium; more often a season of profound lethargy, so deep as to be scarcely distinguished from the "sleep that hath no waking." God so orders things in his providence as to disappoint expectation from future opportunities, and future means of religious impression, as if on purpose to throw us back upon the Bible, and upon the improvement of this His chosen means of salvation.
III. Had Paul been permitted to utter his visions and revelations, it might have encouraged others to expect such communications, and dreams and phantasms of the imagination been taken for heavenly visions.
We know what power the imagination has-what reality it gives to things unreal-to "airy nothings." And sad would it be, if by any means we should be suffered to take its hallucinations for "visions and revelations of the Lord." Numerous facts might be stated to show the power of an excited imagination to fill the mind with strange, and apparently supernatural visions. Most of the facts, however, are too wild and ludicrous in their incoherence to be with propriety introduced in this place; many occurring in the times upon which we have fallen are too silly to be entertained in any place.
Survivors often think that they hear music in the air just after the death of their friends, particularly those who in their lifetime were eminently holy. Now this may be easily explained from the power of imagination. There is usually much singing by the bed-side of dying christians. The mind retains a very vivid conception of the music, and easily mistakes the vivid con