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THE WORTH OF THE SOUL.
Matthew xvi. 26.
What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
brethren, before we enforce the truths,
which Jesus Christ included in the words of the text, we will endeavor to fix the meaning of it. This depends on the term soul, which is used in this
passage, and which is one of the most equivocal words in scripture; for it is taken in different, and even in contrary senses, so that sometimes it signifies a dead body, Lev. xxi. 1. We will not divert your attention now by reciting the long list of explications, that may be given to the term : but we will content ourselves with remarking, that it can be taken only in two senses in the text.
Soul may be taken for life ; and in this sense the term is used by St. Matthew, who says, They are dead who sought the young child's soul, chap. ii. 20. Soul may be taken for that spiritual part of us, which we call the soul by excellence; and in this sense it is used by our Lord, who says, fear not them, which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him, which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell, chap. X. 28.
If we take the words in the first sense, for life, we put into the mouth of Jesus Christ a proposition verified by experience; that is, that men consider life as the greatest of all temporal blessings, and that they part with every thing to preserve it. This rule hath its exceptions : but the exceptions confirm the rule. Sometimes, indeed, a disgust with the world, a principle of religion, a point of honor, will incline men to sacrifice their lives; but these particular cases cannot prevent our saying in the general, What shall a man give in exchange for his life?
If we take the word for that part of man, which we call the soul by excellence, Jesus Christ intended to point out to us, not what men usually do; (for alas! it happens too often, that men sacrifice their souls to the meanest and most sordid interest) but what they always ought to do. He meant to teach, that the soul is the noblest part of us, and that nothing is too great to be given for its ransom.
Both these interpretations are probable, and each hath its partisans, and its proofs. But, although we would not condemn the first, we prefer the last, not only because it is the most noble meaning, and opens the most extensive field of meditation; but because it seems to us the most conformable to our Saviour's design in speaking the words.
Judge by what precedes our text. What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Jesus Christ spoke thus to fortify his disciples against the temptations, to which their profession of the gospel was about to expose them. If by the word soul we understand the life, we shall be obliged to go a great way about to give any reasonable sense to the words. On the contrary, if we take the word for the spirit, the meaning of the whole is clear and easy. Now it seems to me beyond a doubt, that Jesus Christ, by
the manner in which he hath connected the text with the preceding verse, used the term soul in the latter sense.
Judge of our comment also by what follows. What shall a man give in exchange for his soul ? For, adds our Lord immediately after, the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father, with his angels ; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. What connexion have these words with our text, if we take the word soul for life? What connexion is there between this proposition, Man hath nothing more valuable than life, and this, For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father, with his angels? Whereas if we adopt our sense of the term, the connexion instantly appears.
We will, then, retain his explication, by the soul we understand here the spirit of man; and, this word being thus explained, the meaning of Jesus Christ in the whole passage is understood in part, and one remark will be sufficient to explain it wholly. We must attend to the true meaning of the phrase, lose his soul, which immediately precedes
the text, and which we shall often use to explain in the text itself. To lose the soul does not signify to
be deprived of this part of one's self; for, however great this punishment might be, it is the chief object of a wicked man's wishes: but to lose the soul is to lose those real blessings, and to sustain those real evils, which a soul is capable of enjoying and of suffering. When, therefore, Jesus Christ says in the words, that precede the text, What is man profited, if he shull gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? and in the text, What shall a man give in exchange for his soul ? he exhibits one truth under different faces, so that our reflections will naturally be turned sometimes to the one, and sometimes to the other of these propositions." He points out, I say, two truths, which being united signify, that as the conquest of the universe would not be an object of value sufficient to engage us to sacrifice our souls, so if we had lost them, no price could be too great to be paid for the recovery of them. Let us here fix our attention; and let us examine what constitutes the dignity of the soul. Let us enquire
I. The excellence of its nature;
III. The price of its redemption: Three articles which will divide this discourse.
1. Nothing can be given in exchange for our souls. We prove this proposition by the excellence of its nature. What is the soul? There have been great absurdities, in the answers given to this question. In former ages of darkness, when most of the studies, that were pursued for the cultivation of the mind, served to render it unfruitful; when, people thought, they had arrived at the highest degree of knowlege, if they had filled their memories with
pompous terms and superb nonsense ; in those times, I say, it was thought, the question might be fully and satisfactorily answered, and clear and complete ideas given of the nature of the soul. But in later times, when philosophy being cleansed from the impurities that infected the schools, equivocal terms were rejected, and only clear and distinct ideas admitted, and thus literary investigations reduced to real and solid use; in these days, I say, philosophers, and philosophers of great name, have been afraid to answer this question, and have affirmed that the narrow limits, which confine our researches, disable us from acquiring any other than
obscure notions of the human soul, and that all, which we can propose to elucidate the nature of it, serve rather to discover what it is not, than what it is. But if the decisions of the former favor of the presumption, does not the timid reservedness of the latter seem a blameable modesty? If we be incapable of giving such sufficient answers to the question as would fully satisfy a genius earnest in enquiring, and eager for demonstration, may we not be able to give clear and high ideas of our souls, and so to verify these sententious words of the Saviour of the world, What shall a man give in exchange for his soul ?
Indeed we do clearly and distinctly know three properties of the soul; and every one of us knows by his own experience, that it is capable of knowing, willing, and feeling. The first of these properties is intelligence, the second volition, the third sensation, or, more properly, the acutest sensibility. I am coming now to the design of my text, and here I hope to prove, at least to the intelligent part of my hearers, by the nature of the soul, that the loss of it is the greatest of all losses, and that nothing is too valuable to be given for its recovery
Intelligence is the first property of the soul, and the first idea, that we ought to form of it, know its nature. The perfection of this property consists in having clear and distinct ideas, extensive and certain knowledge. To lose the soul, in this respect, is to sink into total ignorance. This loss is irreparable, and he, who should have lost his soul in this sense, could give nothing too great for its recovery. Knowledge and happiness are inseparable in intelligent beings, and, it is clear, a soul deprived of intelligence cannot enjoy perfect felicity. Few men, I know, can be persuaded to