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II. The second general head, namely, to enquire, Whether the silence of scripture, on the subject of a state of future happiness, suggests any thing that has a tendency to cool our ardor in the pursuit of it; or, Whether this very vail, which conceals the paradise of God from our eyes, is not, above all things, calculated to convey the most exalted ideas of it.
We refer the felicity of the blessed in heaven to three general notions. The blessed in heaven possess, 1. Superior illumination : 2. They are prompted by inclinations the most noble and refined : 3. They enjoy the purest sensible pleasures. A de. fect of genius prevents our ability to partake of their illumination : a defect of taste prevents our adopting their inclinations ; a defect of faculty prevents our perception of their pleasures. In these three respects, the celestial felicity is unspeakable : in these three respects, it is not lawful for a man to utter it.
1. The blessed in heaven possess superior illumination: a defect of genius prevents our participation of it.
While we are in this world, we are deficient in many ideas. Properly speaking we have ideas of two kinds only : that of body, and that of spirit. The combination of these two ideas forms all our perceptions, all our speculations, the whole body of our knowledge. And whatever efforts may have been made by certain philosophers to prove that we are acquainted with beings intermediate between mind and matter, they have never been able to persuade others of it, and probably entertained no such persuasion themselves. But if all beings which are within the space of our knowledge be referable to these two ideas, where is the person who is bold enough to affirm that there are in fact, no others? Where is the man who dares to maintain, that the creation of bodies and that of spirits have exhausted the omnipotence of the Creator? Who shall presume to affirm that this infinite intelligence, to whom the universe is indebted for its existence, could find only two ideas in his treasures?
May it not be possible, that the blessed in heaven have the idea of certain beings which possess no manner of relation to any thing of which we have a conception upon earth? May it not be possible that God impressed this idea on the soul of St. Paul ? May not this be one of the reasons of the impossibility to which he is reduced, of describing what he had seen? For when we speak to other men, we go on the supposition that they have souls similar to our own, endowed with the same faculties, enriched with the same sources of thought. We possess certain signs, certain words, to express our conceptions. We oblige our fellow men to retire within themselves, to follow up their principles, to examine their notions. It is thus we are enabled to communicate our notions to each other. But this is absolutely impracticable with regard to those beings who may be known to the blessed above. There is in this respect no notion in common to us and them. We have no term by which to express them. God himself alone has the power of impressing new ideas on the soul of man. AN that men can do is to render us attentive to those which we already have, and to assist us in unfolding them.
Besides, so long as we are upon the earth, we have but a very imperfect knowledge of the two orders of beings, to which all our knowledge is confined. Our ideas are incomplete. We have only
a very imperfect perception of body, and of spirit. We have,
(1) Very imperfect ideas of body. And without entering, here, into the discussion of the endless metaphysical questions of which the subject admits, and, in order to convey an example of it, brought down to the level of the meanest capacity, the magnitude of bodies, and their smallness, almost equally exceed our comprehension. We begin with forming to ourselves the idea of a portion of matter; we divide it into minute particles; we reduce it to powder, till the particles become entirely imperceptible to our senses. When the senses fail, we have recourse to imagination. We sub-divide, in imagination, that same portion of matter, particle after particle, till it is reduced to such a degree of minuteness, as to escape imagination, as it had eluded the senses. After the senses and the imagination have been stretched to the uttermost, we call in thought to our aid : we consult the idea which we have of matter; we subject it to a new sub-division in thought. Thought transcends imagination and the senses. But after having pursued it to a certain point, we find thought absorbed in its turn, and we feel ourselves equally lost, whether we are disposed to admit an infinite progression in this division, or whether we are disposed to stop at a certain determinate point.
What we have said of the smallness of bodies, holds equally true of their imniensity of magnitude. We are able, with the help of the senses, of the imagination, and of thought, to increase a mass of matter, to suppose it still greater, to conceive it still exceeding the former magnitude. But after we have acted, imagined, reflected; and, after we have risen in thought to a certain degree of extension, were we disposed to go on to the conception of one still greater, we should at length feel ourselves absorbed in the inconceivable magnitude of matter, as it had eluded our pursuit by its minuteness. So incomplete are our ideas even of matter. And if so, then,
(2) How much more imperfect still is our knowledge of what relates to mind! Who ever presumed to unfold all that a spirit is capable of? Who has ever determined the connection which subsists within us, between the faculty which feels, and that which reflects? Who has ever discovered the manner in which one spirit is enabled to communicate its feelings and reflections to another? Who has formed a conception of the means by which a spirit becomes capable of acting upon a body, and a body upon a spirit? It is to me, then, demonstrably certain, that we know but in an imperfect manner,
very things of which we have any ideas at all.
The blessed in heaven have complete ideas of these; they penetrate into the minutest particles of matter; they discern all the wonders, all the latent springs, all the subtility of the smallest parts of body, which contain worlds in miniature, an epitome of the great universe, and not less calculated to excite admiration of the wisdom of the Creator ; they traverse that immensity of space, those celestial globes, those immeasurable spheres, the existence of which it is impossible for us tu call in question, but whose enormous mass and countless multitude, confound and overwhelm us. The blessed in heaven know the nature of spirits, their faculties, their relations, their intercourse, their laws. But all this is inexplicable. Is any one capable of changing our senses? Is any one capable of giving a more extensive range to our imagination? Is it possible to remove the barriers which limit thought ? While we are on the earth, we discern but
very imperfectly the relations which subsist even between the things which we do know. Contracted, incomplete as our ideas are, we should, nevertheless, make some progress in our researches after truth, had we the power of reflecting, of recollection, of fixing our attention to a certain degree, of comparing beings with each other, and thus advancing from those which we already know, to those with which we are hitherto unacquainted. Men are more or less intelligent, according as they are in the habit of being more or less attentive. A man brought up in the midst of noise, in tumult; a man whom tumult and noise pursue wherever he goes, is incapable of composed recollection, because, carrying always in himself a source of distraction, he becomes incapable of profound reflection upon any one object abstracted from, and unconnected with matter. But a philosopher accustomed to meditate, is able to follow up a principle to a degree totally inaccessible to the other. Nevertheless, whatever a man's attainments may be in the art of attention, it must always be contracted within very narrow limits; because we still consist, in part, of body; because this body is ever exciting sensations in the soul; because the soul is continually distracted by these sensations; because that, in order to meditate, there is occasion for a great concourse of the spirits necessary to the support of the body, so that attention wearied out, exhausted, does violence to that body; to such a degree, that if, by the aid of an extraordinary concourse of spirits, we should be disposed to exert the brain beyond a certain pitch, the effort would prove fatal to us.