None of these persons, Mr. W. says, told any tales of their separate existence. So I suppose with him. As for the two first: How should they? being only, as Mr. W. says, an insignificant boy and girl, of twelve years of age, or thereabouts. Or if they did, the Evangelists were wiser than to take any notice of their tales. As for Lazarus, I would suppose he was a wiser man than to indulge a vain inclination of amusing people with idle stories of no life. Besides, I presume he had been a follower of Jesus before he died. And when he had been raised from the grave, it is likely he was yet farther confirmed by that wonderful work wrought upon himself in the belief that Jesus was the Messias: And that instead of pretending to be wise above what Jesus taught, he would exhort men, and especially his neighbours, to attend him, and hear him, who had the words of eternal life.
The Evangelists have recorded no tales told by any of these three raised persons. I much admire this objection. I am very glad they have not mention'd any such things. Jesus himself, who was from above, who was in the bosom of the Father, has not deliver'd any profound unintelligible theory of the separate state of existence. The great apostle Paul, who was an apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead, Gal. i.1. who had been caught up into the third heaven, and into paradise; who had abundance of revelations; has not attempted any such thing: but declares that the things he heard were unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter, 2 Cor. xii.2-7. He treats with the utmost contempt every thing that has a shew of wisdom without real advantage: exhorts his dear son Timothy, to refuse profane and old wives fables, and exercise himself rather unto godliness, 1 Tim. iv.7. to shun profane and vain babblings; 2 Tim. ii.16. and requires him to charge men before the Lord, that they strive not about words to no profit, v.14.
Jesus and his apostles have made known the certainty of a resurrection of the just and unjust; a general judgment, wherein men shall be judged in righteousness; when the wicked shall go away into everlasting punishment, and the righteous into life eternal. What they say of the different recompences of good and bad is great and awful, sufficient to affect the minds of all; but they have not entered into a detail of needless particulars, above the capacities of men in the present state.
Religion is the concern of all. That is the most perfect religion, which is suited to all. This is the Christian doctrine, which, as it was preached to the poor, and to every creature under heaven, is wonderfully suited to all capacities.
To the immortal honour then of the Evangelists be it said; that when they wrote the history of the preaching and miracles of Jesus, who knew all things, they have not recorded dreams and visions, or abstruse theories of a separate state, for the amusement of mankind, but important, certain truths, taught by Jesus, for their edification.
Was any person, in this age, to be raised to life, that had been any time dead; the first thing that his friends and acquaintance would enquire of him, would be to know where his soul had been, in what company, &c. p.32. Not impossible: Vulgar minds might shew such weakness even now. And the greatest minds, while in an uncertainty about another life, might have acted in this manner. Thus some of the greatest men of antiquity, justly admired by all the world, have actually told dreams, or accounts of departed men, and doubtless with a good intention. But he who has the sun needs not the light of a candle. The Evangelists, keeping close to their master, are vastly superior to the greatest men that were before them.
Our author is pleased to trifle so much, as to put questions about the place where the souls of these persons had been, between their death and their being raised up again; and particularly the soul of Lazarus. But the thoughts, that any of Jesus's friends should go to hell, will not be born with. -- And if Lazarus's soul had been in paradise, it was hardly a good work in Jesus to recall it, -- to the troubles and miseries of this wicked world, p.34. Suppose Lazarus's soul to have been asleep, or in paradise, or in heaven itself, it might be a very good work in Jesus to recall it into this world for a time. It was much for the spiritual benefit of many, who might be induced by the great miracle of raising him to life, to believe in Jesus, and receive his doctrine, which, when heartily embrac'd is fruitful, of the greatest benefits. Nor could the soul of any good man be unwilling to return for a time to the troubles and miseries of this wicked world, how grievous soever, in order to serve the great design of saving his fellow creatures; for which end Jesus his Saviour descended from the height of glory he had with the Father, took flesh, and underwent the troubles and sorrows of this mortal life. And it might issue in the end to the advantage of Lazarus himself: as no man can doubt, who believes a future judgment, and that Jesus will preside therein, which is the doctrine of the New Testament.