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the strain of this extraordinary conversation, that the disbelief, on the part of Nicodemus, to which our Saviour refers, was that which arose from the difficulty of comprehending the subject. Therefore our Saviour's words to him may be constructed thus. If what I have just now said concerning the new birth, concerning being born again, concerning being born of the spirit, concerning the agency of the spirit, which are all “ earthly things,” that is, are all things that pass in the hearts of christians in this their present life, and upon this earth: if this information prove so difficult, that you cannot bring yourself to believe it, by reason of the difficulty of apprehending it; “ how shall ye believe ?” how would you be able to conquer the much greater difficulties, which would attend my discourse, “ if I told you of
“ heavenly things;” that is to say, if I speak to you of those things, which are passing, or which will pass in heaven, in a totally different state and stage of existence, amongst natures and beings unlike yours? The truth seems to be, that the human understanding, constituted as it is, though fitted for the purposes for which we want it, that is, though capable of receiving the instruction and knowledge, which are necessary for our conduct and the discharge of our duty, has a natire original incapacity for the reception of any
distinct knowledge of our future condition. The reason is, that all our conceptions and ideas are drawn from experience, (not perhaps all immediately from experience, but experience lies at the bottom of them all,) and no language, no information, no instruction can do more for us, than teach us the relation of the ideas which we have. Therefore, so far as we can judge, no words whatever that could have been used, no account or description that could have been written down, would have been able to convey to us a conception of our future state, constituted as our understandings now are.
I am far from saying, that it was not in the power of God, by immediate inspiration, to have struck light and ideas into our minds, of which naturally we have no conception. I am far from saying, that he could not, by an act of his pow
er, have assumed a human being, or the soul of a human being, into heaven; and have shewn to him or it, the nature and the glories of that kingdom: but it is evident, that, unless the whole order of our present world be changed, such revelations as these must be rare; must be limited to very extraordinary persons and very extraordinary occasions. And even then, with respect to others, it is to be observed, that the ordinary modes of communication by speech or writing are inadequate to the transmitting of any knowledge or information of this sort, and from a cause, which has already been noticed, namely, that language deals only with the ideas which we have; that these ideas are all founded in experience; that probably, most probably indeed, the things of the next world are very remote from any experience which we have in this; the consequence of which is, that, though the inspired person might himself possess this supernatural knowledge, he could not impart it to any other person not in like manner inspired. When, therefore, the nature and constitution of the human under
standing standing is considered, it can excite no surprize, it ought to excite no complaint, it is no fair objection to christianity, “ that it doth not yet appear, what we shall be.” I do not say that the imperfection of our understanding forbids it, (for, in strictness of speech, that is not imperfect, which answers the purpose designed by it,) but the present constitution of our understanding forbids it.
“ It doth not yet appear,” saith the Apostle, “ what we shall be, but this we know, that when he shall appear, we shall be like him.” As if he had said, “ though we be far from understanding the subject either accurately or clearly, or from having conceptions and notions adequate to the truth and reality of the case, yet we know something: this, for instance, we know, that, “ when he shall appear, we shall be like him.” The best commentary upon this last sentence of St. John's text may be drawn from the words of St. Paul. His words state the same proposition more fully, when he tells us (Phil. iii. 21.) " that Christ shall change our vile body, that it may be like his
glorious body.” From the two passages together, we may lay down the following points, first, that we shall have bodies. One Apostle informs us, that we shall be like him, the other, that our vile body shall be like his glorious body: therefore we shall have bodies. Secondly, that these bodies shall be greatly changed from what they are at present. If we had had nothing but St. John's text to have gone upon, this would have been implied. " When he shall appear, we shall be like him.” We are not like him now, we shall be like him; we shall hereafter be like him, namely, when he shall appear. St. John's words plainly regard this similitude, as a future thing, as what we shall acquire, as belonging to what we shall become, in contra-distinction to what we are. Therefore they imply a change, which must take place in our bodily constitution. But what St. John's words imply, St. Paul's declare. “ He shall change our vile bodies.” That point therefore may be considered as placed out of question. K