« PreviousContinue »
bounds to his omnipotence? I, and my friends generally, will admit that persons are sometimes mistaken in supposing they have passed through this change, and that the evidence of its reality must be found, humanly speaking, in the subsequent affections and conduct. Now apply this test. Are there not amongst your orthodox friends, those who will tell you the hour in which they met with this change, and the circumstances which accompanied it, and who give strong evidence that this change was real, fruitful in good and effectual to salvation?
PHEDON. I have known such persons, and I believe there are many such; nor do I think it a sufficient explanation of those instances, which certainly occur, to say that all persons who have by some public and explicit declaration, borne testimony to their own change of character, are ever afterwards induced, by a variety of powerful motives, to shew that they were neither deceived nor deceiving; that is, to make their conduct conform to their professions. But I understand such instances as falling within a general law, of great importance, and but little understood, and the nature and operation of which I should find it difficult to explain thoroughly in a few words. Perhaps, however, I may give you some idea of my meaning. As the grain of wheat, when ripe, bursts open and casts aside the husk that enwrapt and concealed it, and as the wheat and tares in the parable were suffered to grow together until the time of reaping and gathering had come, so is it with all individuals in their spiritual growth; and when such a time of development has come, and the internal at once puts away the external and manifests itself, it is said in the Word to be, and we use the phrase in a similar manner,- —a day or time of judgment. The last judgment to each individual is when, after natural death, the spirit is resuscitated and begins to live in a spiritual body. Then, the Lord judges no one, but every man judges himself. He is made distinctly to see himself. His inmost, ruling principle of affection, becomes his only principle of action, being no longer restrained, modified or disguised by any external motives whatever. In fact, the internal, being matured and determined by and in the life on earth, now bursts forth from and forever casts aside the external, which had grown up with it, and more or less concealed it from observation. This is the judgment, the awful judgment, which discloses the true nature, the genuine and sovereign dispositions of the man, and declares the eternal destiny in declaring the fixed character. Judgments like this in kind, though not in degree, that is, operations of the same law, take place not unfrequently in this life. I have supposed myself to know instances of persons who, after gradually becoming more and more sensible of their own evils, of the necessity of reformation, of the impossibility of finding in them
selves the strength to reform, and of the need of seeking and the certainty of receiving help from the Lord, discern these truths upon the occasion of some peculiar excitement which may be often recognised, with peculiar suddenness and force, and feel fully the joy proper to them; the conflict, for the time, is over, and they rest. I would thus explain many of what you call sudden conversions. Of course I believe them to be sincere, coming from good and leading to good.
NICENUS. These views are new to me, nor can I say that I fully understand them. I have always thought the parable to which you have alluded, one of the difficult passages of Scrip
PHEDON. It certainly is so, as it is commonly understood; but we think it full of instruction. Hereafter we may converse again upon this subject, and it may become to you more distinct and intelligible. This parable is not dark to us, for it does not seem to us difficult to discern the reason and operation of this law, and to see clearly the love and the wisdom which it manifests, if we are careful to remember, that the divine providence perpetually preserves and respects the freedom of man; that only through his freedom can man be saved; that the Lord does not act upon, but in and with man; and that the sole and eternal end of his love, is to save man, by the free co-operation of man with him in doing the work of salvation. Let me add one thing more. You ask me if I would set bounds to omnipotence? I would not; but in the Lord, love and wisdom make one; his love acts in and by wisdom, and thence all the doings of divine omnipotence are in accordance with the eternal laws of divine order.
For the New Jerusalem Magazine.
THOUGHTS ON THE STATE OF INFANTS IN HEAVEN.
AMONG those errors which increasing light from the spiritual world served most effectually to dissipate, is that which relates to the state and condition of infants in the other life. Systematic theology had long retained the theory that from this class of incipient existence, as well as from those who were mature, selections were made for the inhabitants of heaven, and that the rest were passed over to "vindictive justice." We will not distress our readers or ourselves by proving that such notions were once entertained by a large body of professing christians. The fact will not, probably, be disputed. We would rather rejoice in the belief that these errors have been exploded from the church, to return no more. Still less would we reproach the present gen
eration with the "bloody tenets" of their fathers. Let us rather hope that the eternal misery of those, "who could not discern their right hand from their left," was always regarded rather as a necessary, than a desirable consequence of the doctrine of predestination.
While, however, we rejoice in the reception of that degree of light which has driven this error from the church, we may remark that much yet remains to be known of the state of infants, and their mode of existence in heaven. The general disinclination to consider the life of spirits and angels as in the least degree analogous to that of men, has thrown a cloud over the whole subject of our future existence, and has excluded much light from the human mind, which a less incredulous state would have admitted. That we shall know more, incomparably more, than we now do, "when this earthly house of our tabernacle shall be dissolved," is indeed true, but there will be no such immediate and transcendent illumination as is commonly supposed. A dying infant in this world, is a living infant in the other. The laws of the Divine Providence which relate to the gradual expansion of our intellectual faculties, are not superseded by the change in our mode of existence. They apply to all the states and stages of our future life, and are as living and operative in the world of mind as in the world of nature.
Experience shows us that infants are born in a greater degree of ignorance and helplessness than the offspring of the brute creation; and that they attain much more slowly to the use of those faculties which distinguish their peculiar species. Whatever they know, they must be taught; they have not those infallible instincts which guide the lower orders of the creation to their respective uses. But, though this ignorance be universal, it conceals and foretells a capacity no less universal. There are no limits to the improvement of the human mind, but those which are raised by its own perverseness.
The proportion of the human race who die in infancy is estimated at a fourth or fifth part. All are ready to say, "it is well with the child," however acute may be their feelings, when their little ones are removed to their Father's house. In this vague belief the mind commonly rests, with little inquiry into the peculiar lot of infants in heaven. Still, there are parents, who, in that tender and susceptible state of mind which is produced by the death of a beloved child, may gladly receive and readily admit the light which is communicated on this subject in the doctrines of the New Jerusalem.
Infants, we are here taught, enter this spiritual world in the same infantile state in which they leave the natural. They receive from the angels to whose care they are immediately entrusted,
VOL. I.-NO. VIII.
the tenderness and affection of a mother upon earth. These angels are of the female sex, and are such as have been distinguished, while in the world, by their love of little children. This love, so deeply rooted in the female breast, thus finds, in heaven, continual exercise, though no children are born there. By these angels, as mothers, infants are first instructed, by such emblems and symbols as are adapted to their tender capacities; and, subsequently, by a process of spiritual education suited to their opening minds, till they gradually attain the maturity of powers and stature. Here they rest. As "they die no more," neither do they grow old. At once they live in the bloom of youth, and the ripeness of manhood. This is, indeed, the state of all the angels. They advance in knowledge and wisdom and goodness, but the decays and infirmities of age are unknown. In heaven they have no parent but the Lord,-"the Father of light, from whom cometh down every good and every perfect gift."
When our minds descend from contemplations like these, and view the contrast, so strongly marked, between an education in heaven and on earth, we repeat with a fulness of heart we never knew before, "it is well with the child." We should not, indeed, desire that our children should be removed from us, and the Divine Providence has guarded against this, by the depth and intenseness of parental affection; but we may and we ought to "think on these things," when we are inclined to dwell with sadness on our own loss. We might illustrate the happiness of these early removals, by glancing at those influences under which children on earth grow up, but we know not that it is necessary. We might allude to the effects produced on their minds by hostile causes, which parents and teachers, with all their efforts, can but partially resist or counteract. We all know that the direct instruction which is given to children, even when enforced by domestic example, forms but a part of their real education; but this education is a compound of various and often contradictory influences acting on the mind. Their amusements, their occupations, the books they read, the manners of their associates,-as the impressions thus received are modified by the active powers within,-all contribute to the formation of character. That of these influences, in the present state of society, a great portion is most unfavourable, cannot be denied; and, of course, those who grow up under them, are exposed to great danger in their progress through life.
In speaking on this subject let us not be misunderstood. It is in the power of man to resist these influences; to overcome, not only his hereditary tendency to evil, but whatever in the objects around him excites that tendency and whatever temptation he may be exposed to from the powers of darkness. The Lord contin
ually gives him this ability. Consequently, however unfavourable may be the influences which operate upon him, still he may and can resist them; and is capable of attaining to a state of peace and happiness equal to that which those enjoy in heaven who are removed in infancy.
We have spoken of the state of infants in heaven. There is a region of the spiritual world appropriated to their reception and instruction, which is called the heaven of infants. With this heaven, infants on earth are associated, and receive thence the peculiar influx that is adapted to their tender minds. "Their angels do always behold the face of my Father in heaven." That infants are the subjects and the mediums of a celestial influence, which operates through them upon all around, many have felt, though few have known. From these little ones, though so helpless, a sphere of mighty power comes forth, that restrains the hand of violence, and checks the impetuosity of passion, and charins, like the harp of David, the evil spirit away. Who that has ever witnessed their smiles and plays, or has listened to their inarticulate sounds, or has seen them sleeping, or drawing nourishment from the bosom of a mother, who has not, at times, felt that the spirit of the Lord was there, and that the angels of heaven were around.
The influx which descends from heaven, through the medium of infants, is but little in external appearance, but great in effect,like the unseen springs of fertilizing rivers, and the hidden sources of vegetative life. When the visible church had "forsaken the covenant, and thrown down the altars, and slain the prophets" of the Lord,-here was the "kingdom that cometh not with observation,"-here were the "seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal." In this secret place, the Lord was manifested, in the darkest seasons of the world, and from this altar "incense was offered to his name, and a pure offering." The powers of hell could never lay waste this happy region. On this holy ground no profane step could ever intrude. Here was the church sustained and preserved till the "CHILD was born, the Son was given, on whose shoulders is the government, and whose name is called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace."