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The Identity of the human Body more immediately
HAVING, in the preceding section, considered the human body in general, as a mass of matter in a state of perpetual change; and having noticed that the amputation of many parts may actually take place, without affecting the permanent principle of its identity ; it is a question which now naturally rises before us : In what does the identity of the human body more immediately consist ?
That this identity cannot consist in all the numerical particles, which have occasionally been incorporated in the system, I have already hinted; and that it cannot consist either in all those which shall be attached to the body in the moment of its interment, or in the majority of them, I shall hereafter attempt to prove. And that the identity of the body should consist in any mere modification, which all the parts might at any time, either in life or death assume, it would be the height of folly to suppose.
From these circumstances, therefore, equally supported by reason and fact, as well as from the nature and constitution of the human body, we are urged to adopt this opinion, That there must be somewhere lodged within it, some portion of immoveable matter, from which its general identity is denominated, in all the variations, through which the body passes, in the devious mutations of human life.
The reasons, which have led to the adoption of this opinion will be adduced in a subsequent part of this discussion ; at present we shall only urge it as an hypothetical possibility, while we trace its coincidence with the analogy of nature, and the various branches of phenomena, which are, in the different stages of human existence, presented to our observation. The insuperable difficulties, which are attendant upon every other supposition, and in many cases the evident contradictions which would be involved in it, scarcely leave the mind at liberty to adopt any other hypothesis ; while even these absurdities, co-operating with the probabilities that appear in favour of the sentiment which we have adopted, become negative arguments to prove that some portions of matter must remain immoveable in the body of man.
In these portions of immoveable matter, which must be equally removed from the influence of the atmosphere, from fluctuation, and from internal tendencies to decay, it is therefore highly probable that God has placed the identity of the human body; and therefore to these portions we must look for that immoveable seat of bodily personality, which must necessarily continue inseparable from man. It is this principle, which must constitute the sameness of our bodies, under every change through which they may pass, and to which they may be exposed in all the different stages of human life; and it is to those portions of immoveable matter, in all probability, that the immaterial spirit is united in the mysterious compact which subsists between these distant natures in the present life. * Nor, perhaps, is the mysterious union the only object, which, on the present occasion, excites our notice. An indivisible spiritual substance, and a portion of corruptible matter, the parts of which have been rendered indissoluble by the power of the Almighty, may bear some resemblance to each other in the manner of their existence, how distant soever they may be in point of essence and incommunicable properties. In essence and properties they must be necessarily distinct; while in modes of existence there may exist a greater affinity between them, than we might be induced to imagine from a popular view of such remote extremes. And, in all probability, this portion of permanent matter, which through the original constitution of its nature, is placed beyond the influence of corruption and decay; affords us a striking emblem of that incorruption to which our bodies shall be raised, when the echo of the last trumpet shall awaken man to perpetual life.
In that peaceful region no destructive atmosphere shall assail the body, and here we behold this portion of matter, secured from its innovations. There no death can approach our bodies and here'this portionis placed beyond its influence and power. There all the parts of our bodies shall adhere for ever, and here this
portion is inaccessible to dissolution and decay. There all will be permanent, and here this portion is unchangeable. In fine, beyond the grave all the parts of our future bodies shall enjoy that exemption from calamities, which seems here afforded only to a part; and be possessed for ever, in ways and modes which are at present totally unknown.
To this portion of imınoveable matter, in which I have presumed the identity of the body to be placed, and which is now lodged within its confines ; those accessory atoms which we acquire through the medium of nutrition, in all probability, adhere; and it is more than probable, that this present seat of personality will become a germ of future life, and be that principle which shall either unfold its latent involutions, and expand wholly into that body which shall be, or collect those wandering atoms which will be necessary to give completion to the corporeal frame, when the voice of the archangel shall awaken the dead to life. Of the modifications, which matter is capable of undergoing, we know but a diminutive part ; nor can our knowledge on this subject be complete until we are acquainted with its essence. And, from this circumstance of our comparative ig. norance, resulting from the limitation of our facul, ties, it may not be irrational to suppose, that this indissoluble portion of matter which now constitutes the identity of the body, may even contain at present within it, the constituent parts of that body which shall put on incorruption, when mortality shall be swallowed
To know the dimensions, the texture, the confia guration, and the place of residence, of this portion of immoveable matter, might perhaps be highly gratifying to the curiosity of man; but that such knowledge would be of any real use to us, may well admit of considerable doubt. Perhaps the acuteness of those organs, which would enable us to become intimately acquainted with the internal constitution of its nature, together with those adhesive powers by which its various parts are connected, would deprive us of their utility in practical life ; our ignorance therefore of these points is probably a necessary consequence of our present mode of being. It is therefore wisdom and not defect in the economy of heaven, to reveal unto us such knowledge only as is necessary to our present condition, and to conceal the rest in impenetrable darkness.
From our established modes of associating our ideas we have obtained a general conclusion, that in all portions of matter solidity is necessary to duration; and hence we annex the idea of durability to all material objects, in proportion to the solidity of their contents. But, whether this established association be according to truth, may well deserve our consideration; for, certain it is that solidity and durability are distinct ideas, which perhaps have no other real connection than that which subsists in our own minds.
If God were to create two portions of matter, of equal dimensions, but of different degrees of solidity, so different that no assignable proportion could be