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It must not be thought amiss, nor awaken surprise, if we confess that we know not in what the essence of soul or spirit consists. We readily acknowledged our ignorance of
essence, the subject-being of matter. We make the same confession and under the same limitations—concerning the soul. But though we were unable to tell what matter is, yet we found ourselves able to describe or define it by the sensible properties it possesses and the laws by which it is governed. So it is with the soul. Though we are unable to throw aside the vail and gaze upon its essence, yet we may discover its existence, and something of its nature and qualities, from our consciousness of its operations and our knowledge of its effects. Every one is conscious of a principle within him superior to the frame it inhabits. There is something that warms into life and excites to motion the machinery of our bodies, which is beyond the artist's skill or the chemist's power. There is a beauty lit up in the expressions of the human countenance which the painter's skill can never reach, for it is not an attribute of matter. It is the high and indisputable proof of the divinity that dwells within us. “It is a flame from heaven purer than Promethean fire that vivifies and energizes the breathing form. It is an immaterial essence, a being that quickens matter and imparts life, sensation, motion to the intricate frame-work of our bodies, which wills when we act, attends when we perceive, looks into the past when we reflect, and, not content with the present, shoots with all its aims and with all its hopes into the futurity that is forever dawning upon it."
The properties of mind are manifested in perception, thought, feeling, volition, reason, the passions, and the moral judgments. That every one intuitively recognizes a something in his breast which puts forth the distinct operations or experiences the distinct feelings indicated by these
words the universal testimony of man abundantly proves. They are not the acts, the operations of matter; they can not be predicated concerning the body. Thought is intangible; you can not see it as you can see light; you can not cause it to travel the magnetic wires as you may cause electricity to travel. But just as the magnetic telegraph is only the vehicle of thought, of ideas, which it neither originates nor constitutes, so are our physical organs only the media for the transmission, the outward expression of ideas which they have no power to originate. It becomes, then, one of the clearest dictates of reason that, if there is that wide difference between the properties, the characteristics of matter and spirit, these two principles must be essentially different in their nature. No one can prove infidel to what he feels; and he who marks the swellings of human thought, passion, and desire, expanding and enlarging to the grasp of infinity and eternity, can not fail to discern within him the elements of a spiritual and eternal existence:
“Who reads his bosom reads immortal life;
Thus are we led to the indubitable conviction that there is a spirit in man distinct from the body it inhabits, and therefore he has become a living soul.
III. PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS.
With the mention of a few of the practical suggestions growing out of the subject, we close this discussion:
1. The possession of a physical nature is not necessarily an evil. What is said, by inspiration, of the vegetable body is also true of the animal creation, that “God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him.” The ancient philosophers were often accustomed to regard the body as an incumbrance to the soul—a sort of jail in which the spirit was imprisoned, and from which it longed for deliverance. Such also seems to be a too prevalent notion among many religious persons of the present day, especially those whose minds are of a mystical cast.
But the fact that God gave us these bodies, and that they, in our resurrection state, are to be the inheritance of the children of God, sufficiently demonstrates that the human body is not an evil in itself. God intended man to be, not a seraph, but a human being; and therefore endowed him with a body as well as a spirit.
2. This union of soul and body, though mysterious, is by no means incredible. The combination of material substances, the impenetration of the one by the other, are scarcely less mysterious; and yet they are facts observable every day. How the electricity of thought can find expression in the movement of the tongue or of the hand is no more wondrous than that the electricity of nature, conducted by the metallic wire, shall give expression to its message thousands of miles distant in an instant of time. As with a thousand other things, our inability to comprehend the mode is no argument against the fact. The en. dowment or connection of animal life with a material body is of the same sort of mystery, and yet the fact of such connection is too palpable for denial.
3. This union of soul and body is essential to the objects of our humanity. A physical organization was necessary to adapt man to the physical world designed to be the theater of his action and the scene of his embryo growth and development. But, without the spiritual element, the higher link that united him to his God, and made him in fact the representative of the image and likeness of the Divine Being in this lower state, would be wanting. Nor is the material body without its uses.
It is the inlet of numerous
enjoyments to the soul. It is a source of infinitely-varied knowledge. It brings the soul into visible and tangible connection with the material world, and gives it a wonderful control over the elements of nature. Then, too, our humanity will not reach its ultimate perfection till a reunion of these elements is consummated by the resurrection of the body. Hence, like the apostle, all we “who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves, groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to-wit, the redemption of our body." (Rom. viii, 23.)
4. In the creation of so august a being as man there must be ends or objects commensurate with his character and endowments. He was to occupy a preëminent position in the animal creation. In this subdivision of the kingdom of God he was to be the ruler and governor. The sublime mysteries of creation were to be explored by his intellect; the rough limnings of nature were to be molded to forms of beauty by his hand. He was to be at once the representative and the friend of God. The very contemplation of such a being awakens within us the loftiest expectations with regard to his destiny! The poorest and the darkest specimen of humanity upon the face of the earth has yet some glimmering indications of what humanity is capable in its present or future state.
“How poor, how rich, how abject, how august,
“Spirit, and soul, and body.” 1 Thess. .v, 23.
“God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.” 1 Cor. 38.
We have already seen that man possesses a double nature—the one organized from the dust of the ground, the other imparted directly from the living God. These two natures were necessary, in order to constitute him the connecting link between the spiritual and the material worlds.
Without the former his present relation to the earth and the inferior animal and vegetable creations would have been impossible; without the latter his present relation to the spiritual universe could not have existed, and he would have become one with the brute creation. Without the combination of these two natures, then, there could not have been such a thing as humanity.
On the one hand man has organism and life in common with the animal and vegetable creation; but on the other hand he has a soul or spirit in common with angelic or heavenly natures. This question, then, of organism and life is essential to the full understanding of the nature and destination of man. It becomes especially necessary in order to determine his relation to animated beings and his rank among them.