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§ 1. Protestant Doctrine.
THE Protestant doctrine on the state of the soul after death includes, first of all, the continued conscious existence of the soul after the dissolution of the body. This is opposed, not only to the doctrine that the soul is merely a function of the body and perishes with it, but also to the doctrine of the sleep of the soul during the interval between death and the resurrection.
The former doctrine belongs to the theory of materialism, and stands or falls with it. If there be no substance but matter, and no force but such as is the phenomenon of matter; and if the form in which physical force manifests itself as mind, or mental action, depends on the highly organized matter of the brain, then when the brain is disorganized the mind ceases to exist. But if the soul and body are two distinct substances, then the dissolution of the latter does not necessarily involve the end of the conscious existence of the former.
There is another view on this subject adopted by many who are not materialists, but who still hold that mind cannot act or manifest itself without a material organ. Thus, for example, the late Isaac Taylor says that as extension is an attribute of matter, the soul without a body cannot be extended. But extension is a relation to space; what is not extended is consequently nowhere. “We might as well,” he says, “say of a pure spirit that it is hard, heavy, or red, or that it is a cubic foot in dimensions, as say that it is here or there, or that it has come, and is gone.” “When we talk of absolute immateriality, and wish to withdraw mind altogether from matter, we must no longer allow ourselves to imagine that it is, or that it can be, in any place, or that it has any kind of relationship to the visible and extended universe.” In like manner, he argues that mind is dependent upon its corporeity, or union with matter, for its relationship to time. A pure spirit could not tell the difference between a moment and a century; it could have no perception of the equable 714flow of duration, for that is a knowledge drawn from the external world and its regular motions. To its union with matter, mind is indebted also for its sensibility or sensations, for its power over matter, for its imaginative emotions, and for its “defined, recognizable individuality,” and of course for its personality. The soul after death, therefore, must either cease its activity, at least in reference to all out of itself, or be furnished at once with a new body. The latter assumption is the one commonly adopted. “Have the dead ceased to exist?” he asks, “Have those who are fallen asleep perished? No; — for there is a spiritual body, and another vehicle of human nature, as well as a natural body; and, therefore, the dissolution of this animal structure leaves the life untouched. The animal body is not itself the life, nor is it the cause of life; nor again is the spiritual body the life, nor the cause of it; but the one as well as the other are the instruments of the mind, and the necessary medium of every productive exercise of its faculties.”746746Physical Theory of Another Life. By Isaac Taylor. New York, 1852, p. 23, and the whole of chap. ii.
On this theory of the dependence of mind on matter, “for every productive exercise of its faculties,” for its individuality, and its susceptibilities, it may be remarked, (1.) That the theory is admitted to be untrue in relation to God. He has no body; and He can act and be acted upon, and his activity is productive. If such be the case with God who is a pure spirit, it is altogether arbitrary to deny that it is true with regard to the human soul. Man as a spirit is of the same nature with God. He is like Him in all that is essential to the nature of a spirit. (2.) The theory has no support from Scripture, and, therefore, has no right to intrude itself into the explanation of Scriptural doctrines. The Bible never attributes corporeity to angels; yet it ascribes to them a “ubi”; speaks of their coming and going;. and of their being mighty in power to produce effects in the material and spiritual worlds. It never speaks of man’s having any other body besides his earthly tabernacle, and the body which he is to have at the resurrection. And yet it speaks of the soul as active and conscious when absent from the body and present with the Lord. (3.) If the soul is a substance it has power, power of self-manifestation, and productive power according to its nature. Electricity may be a force in nature manifested to us, in our present state, only under certain conditions. But that does not prove that it is active only under those conditions, or that beings constituted 715differently from what we are, may not be cognizant of its activity. It is enough, however, that the theory in question is extra-scriptural, and therefore has no authority in matters of faith.
It is no less evident that according to the pantheistic theory, in all its phases, which regards man as only one of the transient forms of God’s existence, there is no room for the doctrine of the conscious existence of the soul after death. The race is immortal, but the individual man is not. Trees and flowers cover the earth from generation to generation; yet the same flower blooms but once. The mass of men whose convictions, on such subjects, are founded on their moral and religious nature, have in all ages believed in the continued existence of the soul after death. And that universality of belief is valid evidence of the truth believed. But men whose opinions are under the control of the speculative understanding, have never arrived at any settled conviction on this subject. To be, or not to be? was a question speculation could not answer. The dying Hume said he was about to take a leap in the dark. The continued existence of the soul after death is a matter of divine revelation. It was part of the faith of the Church before the coming of Christ. The revelation of all the great doctrines which concern the destiny and salvation of men has been indeed progressive. It is not, therefore, a matter of surprise that the doctrine of the future state is much less clearly unfolded in the Old Testament than in the New. Still it is there. When the Apostle Paul (2 Tim. i. 10) speaks of “Our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel,” he is not to be understood as saying that the future life was unknown, as Archbishop Whately argues, before the coming of Christ. This would be inconsistent with the most explicit declarations elsewhere. It is often said that Christ came to preach the Gospel, to make propitiation for sin, and to reveal the way of reconciliation with God. Paul says in Galatians iii. 23, “before faith came we were kept under the law.” Yet he strenuously insists that the Gospel, or plan of salvation which he taught, was taught by the law and prophets (Rom. iii. 21); and that the patriarchs were saved by faith in the same promise on which sinners are now called upon to rely. What was imperfectly revealed under the old economy, is clearly revealed under the new. This is all that those passages which speak of the Gospel bringing new truths to light, are intended to teach. Christ shed a flood of 716light on the darkness beyond the grave. Objects before dimly discerned in that gloom, now stand clearly unveiled; so that it may well be said He brought life and immortality to light, he revealed the nature of this future state, and showed how, for the people of God, that state was one of life. It may be observed in passing, that many Christian writers who speak of the doctrine of a future life being unknown, at least to the patriarchs, and to the writers of the Psalms, mean “the Christian doctrine” on that subject. They do not intend to deny that the people of God from the beginning believed in the conscious existence of the soul after death. This Hengstenberg, for example, distinctly asserts concerning himself.747747Commentar über die Psalmen, von G. W. Hengstenberg.Abhandlung No. 7. Zur Glaubenslehre der Psalmen, edit. Berlin, 1847, vol. iv. part 2. On p. 321, he says, “When we deny the doctrine of immortality to the writers of the Psalms, it is in the Christian sense” of the word.
Doctrine of a Future Life revealed under the Old Testament.
1. The first argument on this subject is an à priori one. That the Hebrews, God’s chosen people, the recipients and custodians of a supernatural revelation, should be the only nation on the face of the earth, in whose religion the doctrine of a future state had no place, would be a solecism. It is absolutely incredible, for it supposes human nature in the case of the Hebrews to be radically different from what it is in other men.
2. Instead of the Hebrews having lower views of man than other nations, they alone were possessed of the truth concerning his origin and nature. They had been taught from the beginning that man was created in the image of God, and, therefore, like God, of the same nature as a spirit, and capable of fellowship with his maker. They had also been taught that man was created immortal, that the death even of the body, was a punishment; that the sentence of death (in the sense of dissolution) concerned only the body. “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” The soul is not dust, and therefore, according to the earliest theology of the Hebrews, was not to return to dust; it was to return to God who gave it.
3. We accordingly find that throughout the Old Testament Scriptures the highest views are presented of the nature and destiny of man. He is the child of God, destined to enjoy his fellowship and favour; the possessions and enjoyments of earth are always represented as temporary and insignificant, not adapted to meet the soul’s necessities; they were taught not to envy the 717wicked in their prosperity, but to look to God as their portion they were led to say, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee;” and “I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” In the Old Testament, the righteous are always represented as strangers and pilgrims upon the earth, whose home and whose reward are not in this world; that their portion is in another world, and, therefore, that it is better to be the humblest and most afflicted of God’s people than to be the most prosperous of the wicked. The judgments of God are represented as falling on the wicked in a future state, and thus effectually vindicating the justice of God in his dealings with men. The Psalmist said, he was envious at the foolish, when he saw the prosperity of the wicked, until he went into the sanctuary of God and understood their end. In contrasting his own state and prospects with theirs, he said, “I am continually with thee. . . . . Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.” (Ps. lxxiii. 23, 24.) Such is the drift and spirit of the Old Testament Scriptures. Their whole tendency was to raise the thoughts of the people from the present and turn them towards the future; to make men look not at the things seen, but at the things unseen and eternal.
4. The dead in the Old Testament are always spoken of as going to their fathers, as descending into “Sheol,” i.e., into the invisible state, which the Greeks called Hades. Sheol is represeated as the general receptacle or abode of departed spirits, who were there in a state of consciousness; some in a state of misery, others in a state of happiness. In all these points the pagan idea of Hades corresponds to the Scriptural idea of Sheol. All souls went into Hades, some dwelling in Tartarus, others in Elysium. That the Hebrews regarded the souls of the dead as retaining their consciousness and activity is obvious from the practice of necromancy, and is confirmed by the fact of the appearance of Samuel to Saul, as recorded in 1 Samuel xxviii. The represennation given in Isaiah xiv. of the descent of the King of Babylon, when all the dead rose to meet and to reproach him, takes for granted and authenticates the popular belief in the continued conscious existence of departed spirits.
5. In several passages of the Old Testament, the doctrine of a future life is clearly asserted. We know upon the authority of the New Testament that the Sixteenth Psalm is to be understood of the resurrection of Christ, with which, the Apostle teaches us 718that of his people is inseparably connected. His soul was not to be left in Sheol; nor was his body to see corruption. In Psalm xvii. 15, after having described the cruelty and prosperity of the wicked, the Psalmist says, in regard to himself: “I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.” Isaiah xxvi. 19, says: “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust, for my dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.” (Dan. xii. 2.) “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise, shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars forever and ever.” These prophetic declarations are indeed often explained as referring to the restoration of the nation from a state of depression to one of prosperity and glory. But the language employed, the context in which there is clear reference to the Messianic period, and the sanction given by Christ and his Apostles to the doctrine taught by the literal sense of the words here used, are considerations decisive in favour of the ordinary interpretation, which is adopted by Delitzsch,748748Commentar über den Psalter, Leipzig, 1860, vol. ii. p. 420. Hengstenberg,749749Commentar über die Psalmen, Abhandlung No. 7. Berlin, 1847, vol. iv. part 2, p. 273 ff. Oehler,750750Veteris Testamenti Sententia de Rebus post Mortem Futuris. G. A. Oehler, Stuggart, 1846, p. 50. and many others of the modern interpreters. Even Mr. Alger, in his elaborate work on the doctrine of a future life, concedes the point so far as the passage in Daniel is concerned. “No one,” he says, “can deny that a judgment, in which reward and punishment shall be distributed according to merit, is here clearly foretold.”751751A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life, with a Complete Bibliography of the Subject. By William Rounseville Alger. Philadelphia, 1846, p. 149. The Appendix is an instructive volume, being “A Catalogue of Works relating to the Nature, Origin, and Destiny of the Soul. The Titles classified and arranged chronologically, with Notes and indices of Authors and Subjects. By Ezra Abbot,” is a marvel of ability and learning. Those German writers whose views of inspiration are so low as to enable them to interpret each book of the Bible as the production of an individual mind, and to represent the several writers as teaching different doctrines, in many cases take the ground that in the early books of the Scriptures, the simple fact of a future life is taken for granted, but not taught, and that nothing was made known as to the nature of that life. Thus Schultz says, “That all the books of 719the Old Testament assume that men are in some way or other to live after death. Even in the Pentateuch this is taken for granted. It is not taught, but assumed as a self-evident truth, immanent in the consciousness of the people.”752752Die Voraussetzungen der christlichen Lehre von der Unsterblichkeit dargestellt, von Hermann Schultz, Dr. der Philosophie, Licent. der Theologie, etc. Göttingen, 1861, p. 207.
6. It is to be remembered that we have in the New Testament an inspired, and, therefore, an infallible commentary on the Old Testament Scriptures. From that commentary we learn that the Old Testament contains much which otherwise we should never have discovered. Not only is the compass of the truths revealed to the fathers shown to be far greater than the simple words would suggest, but truths are declared to be therein taught, which, without divine assistance, we could not have discovered. There is another thing concerning the faith of the Old Testament saints to be taken into consideration. They may have understood, and probably did understand their Scriptures far better than we are disposed to think possible. They had the advantage of the constant presence of inspired men to lead them in their interpretation of the written word, and they enjoyed the inward teaching of the Holy Spirit. What that spiritual illumination availed in their case, we cannot tell; but we know that now the humble Christian who submits himself to the teachings of the Spirit, understands the Bible far better than any mere verbal critic.
We have then in the New Testament the most explicit declarations, not only that the doctrine of a future state was revealed in the Old Testament, but that from the beginning it was part of the faith of the people of God. Our Lord in refuting the Sadducees, who denied not only the resurrection of the body, but also the conscious existence of man after death, and the existence of any merely spiritual beings, appeals to the fact that in the Pentateuch, the authority of which the Sadducees admitted, God is familiarly called the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; but as He is the God not of the dead but of the living, the designation referred to proves that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are now living, and living too in the fellowship and enjoyment of God. “Christ,” says Mr. Alger, whom we quote the rather because he belongs to the class of men who call themselves liberal Christians,753753On page 438, he says: “The essence of rationalism is the affirmation that neither the fathers, nor the Church, nor the Scriptures, nor all of them together, can rightfully establish any proposition opposed to the logic of sound philosophy, the principles of reason, and the evident truth of nature. Around this thesis the battle has been fought and the victory won; and it will stand with spreading favour as long as there are enslaved and cultivated minds in the world. This position is, in logical necessity, and as a general thing in fact, that of the large though loosely-cohering body of believers known as ‘Liberal Christians;’ and it is tacitly held by still larger and evergrowing numbers nominally connected with sects that officially eschew it with horror.” Mr. Alger doubtless considered this as simply a declaration of independence of human authority in matters of religion. To other, and perhaps to wiser men, it sounds like a declaration of independence of God, the Infinite Reason; as an assertion that the Infinite God can teach him nothing; or, at least, the He cannot so authenticate his teachings as to render them authoritative. The men are to be pitied who have no better knowledge of the mysteries of the present and the future than is to be found in themselves. “Christ once reasoned with the Sadducees ‘as touching 720the dead, that they rise;’ in other words, that the souls of men upon the decease of the body pass into another and an unending state of existence: — ‘Neither can they die any more; for they are equal with the angels, and are the children of God, being children of the resurrection.’ His argument was, that God is the God of the living, not of the dead; that is, the spiritual nature of man involves such a relationship with God as pledges his attributes to its perpetuity. The thought which supports this reasoning penetrates far into the soul and grasps the moral relations between man and God. It is most interesting, viewed as the unqualified affirmation by Jesus, of the doctrine of a future life which shall be deathless.”754754Alger, ut supra, p. 340. The reasoning of Christ, however, is not only an affirmation of the truth of the doctrine of a future deathless life, but an affirmation also that that doctrine is taught in the Old Testament. The words which He quotes are contained in the book of Exodus; and those words, as explained by Him, teach the doctrine of the blessed and unending life of the righteous.
That the Jews when Christ came, universally, with the exception of the sect of the Sadducees, believed in a future life, is beyond dispute. The Jews at this period were divided into three sects: the Sadducees, who were materialistic skeptics, believing neither in the resurrection, nor in angels, nor in spirits; the Essenes, who were a philosophical and ascetic sect, believing that the souls of the just being freed at death from the prison of the body, rejoice and are borne aloft where a happy life forever is decreed to the virtuous; but the wicked are assigned to eternal punishment in a dark cold place;755755Josephus, De Bello Judaico, II. viii. 11; Works, edit. Leipzig, 1827, vol. v. pp. 215, 216, [165.] and the Pharisees, who, as we know from the New Testament, believed in the resurrection of the body in the sense in which Paul believed that doctrine (Acts xxvi. 6), for he claimed in his controversy with the Sadducees, 721that the Pharisees were on his side. They believed that the soul was in its nature immortal; that the righteous only are happy after death, and that the wicked are eternally miserable. That the Jews derived their doctrine from their own Scriptures is plain, (1.) Because they admitted no other source of religious knowledge. The Scriptures were their rule of faith, as those Scriptures had been understood and explained by their fathers. (2.) There is no other known source from which the doctrine of a future state as held by the Jews in the time of Christ, could have been obtained. The doctrines, whether religious or philosophical, of their heathen neighbours were antagonistic to their own. This is true even of the doctrines of Zoroaster, which in some points had most affinity with those of the Jews. (3.) The inspired writers of the New Testament teach the same doctrines. and affirm that their knowledge was derived not from men, but from the revelation of God as contained in the Old Testament, and as made by Christ.
A few of the passages in which the Apostles teach that the doctrine of a future life was known to the patriarchs before the coming of Christ, are the following: Paul was arraigned before the council in Jerusalem, and “when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.” (Acts xxiii. 6.) He here declares that in the dispute between these two parties, on the question whether the doctrine of a future life and of the resurrection of the dead was taught in the Scriptures which both parties acknowledged, he sided with the Pharisees. Again in his speech before Agrippa, be said: “I stand, and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: unto which promise our twelve tribes instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” (Acts xxvi. 6-8.) The promise to which he refers is the promise of redemption through the Messiah, which redemption includes the deliverance of his people from the power of death and other evil consequences of sin. This was the promise to which the twelve tribes hoped to come. The belief, therefore, in a future life is thus declared to have been a part of the religion of the whole Hebrew nation.
In Galatians iii. 8, the Apostle says, God “preached before 722the gospel unto Abraham.” The Gospel, however, in the Apostle’s sense of the term, is the glad tidings of salvation; and salvation is deliverance from the penalty of the law and restoration to the image and favour of God. This of necessity involves the idea of a future life; of a future state of misery from which the soul is delivered, and of a future state of glory and blessedness into which it is introduced. In teaching, therefore, that men before the coming of Christ needed and desired salvation, in the Christian sense of the word, the Apostle assumed that they had a knowledge of the evils which awaited unpardoned sinners in the world to come. The evidence, however, that the New Testament affords of the fact that the Hebrews believed in a future state, is not found exclusively in direct assertions of that fact, but in the whole nature of the plan of salvation therein unfolded. The New Testament takes for granted that all men, since the apostasy of Adam, are in a state of sin and condemnation; that from that state no man can be delivered except though the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only Saviour of men. It is, therefore, taught that the knowledge of this Redeemer was communicated to our race from the beginning, and in express terms in the promise made to Abraham; that the condition of salvation was then, as it is now, faith in Christ; that the blessings secured for believers were enjoyed before the advent of the Son of God in the flesh, as well as since. The heaven of believers is called the bosom of Abraham. All this of course assumes that the truths made known in the New Testament are in their germs revealed in the Old; just as all the doctrines unfolded in the Epistles are contained in the words of Christ as recorded in the Gospels.
The Epistle to the Hebrews is specially devoted to the object of unfolding the relation between the Old Dispensation and the New. The former was the shadow, or image, of the latter. What in the New is taught in words, in the Old, was taught through types. That men are sinners, and as such under condemnation; that sin can only be cleansed by blood, or that the expiation of guilt by a vicarious sacrifice is necessary in order to forgiveness; that men therefore are saved by a priest appointed to draw near to God in their behalf and to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin; and that the effect of this priestly intervention is eternal salvation, are said to be the truths which underlie the religion of the Old Testament, as they constitute the life of the religion of the New. Faith was to the saints of old as it is to us, 723“the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” They walked by faith, and not by sight. They lived with their eyes fixed on the unseen and eternal. It was the future that filled their vision and elevated them above the present. They “died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned; but now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly; wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” (Heb. xi. 13-16.) Moses by faith chose rather “to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” It was through faith, the belief and hope of a better life hereafter, that the saints of old “subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheep-skins and goat-skins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented (of whom the world was not worthy); they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” Nothing more than this can be said of Christian confessors and martyrs. The faith of the Old Testament saints in the unseen and eternal was, therefore, as strong as that of any set of men since the creation. It has been said that the opinion of the New Testament writers is of no weight in a matter of criticism, and, therefore, it is of no consequence what they thought about the teachings of the Old Testament. This is true, if those writers were ordinary men; but if they spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, then what they said, God said. We have, therefore, the sure word of inspiration that the people of God from the beginning of the world have believed in a state of conscious existence beyond the grave. That such is the doctrine of the New Testament is not disputed, and therefore need not be argued.724
The Intermediate State.
As all Christians believe in the resurrection of the body and a future judgment, they all believe in an intermediate state. That is, they believe that there is a state of existence which intervenes between death and the resurrection; and that the condition of the departed during that interval is, in some respects, different from that which it is to be subsequent to that event. It is not, therefore, as to the fact of an intermediate state, but as to its nature, that diversity of opinion exists among Christians.
The common Protestant doctrine on this subject is that “the souls of believers are at their death, made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.” According to this view the intermediate state, so far as believers are concerned, is one of perfect freedom from sin and suffering, and of great exaltation and blessedness. This is perfectly consistent with the belief that after the second coming of Christ, and the resurrection of the dead, the state of the soul will be still more exalted and blessed.
In support of the Protestant doctrine as thus stated, it may be remarked,
1. That it is simply a question of fact. What do the Scriptures teach as to the state of the soul of a believer immediately after death? It is not legitimate to decide this question on psychological grounds; to argue that such is the nature of the soul that it cannot retain its individuality, or personality, when separated from the body; or, that it is a mere function of the brain; or, that it cannot act or be acted upon — can neither perceive nor be perceived except through and by means of the senses; or, that as vegetable and animal life are only manifest and active in connection with some form of matter, in other words, as there must be a physical basis of life, so the soul necessarily requires a material basis for its manifestation and activity. All these speculations, or theories, are, for the Christian, of no account, if the Bible teaches the fact of the continued, personal, individual existence of the soul after the death and dissolution of the body. The Bible does not formally teach anthropology in either of the branches of physiology or psychology, as a department of human science, but it assumes a great deal that falls under these several heads. It assumes that soul and body in man are two distinct substances united in a vital union so as to constitute the man, in 725the present state of existence, one individual person. It assumes that the seat of this personality is the soul. The soul is the self, the Ego, of which the body is the organ. It assumes that the soul continues its conscious existence, and its power of acting and of being acted upon after its separation from the body. This we have seen to be the doctrine of the whole Bible. The dead, according to the Scriptures, do not cease to be; they do not cease to be conscious and active.
There is, therefore, nothing in the psychology of the Scriptures, which is that of the vast majority of men, learned or unlearned, inconsistent with the doctrine that the souls of believers do, at death, immediately pass into glory.
2. According to the Scriptures and the faith of the Church, the probation of man ends at death. As the tree falls, so it lies. He that is unjust let him be unjust still, and he that is righteous let him be righteous still. When the bridegroom comes, they that are ready enter in, and the door is shut. According to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, there is no passing after death from one state to another; there is a great gulf between the righteous and the wicked from that time for evermore. It is appointed unto all men once to die, and after that the judgment The destiny of the soul is decided at death.
3. There is no satisfaction to be rendered in the future life for the sins done in the body. The Romish doctrine of satisfactions renders necessary the assumption of a purgatorial state after death for those who have not in this life made full expiation for their sins. But if the one offering of Christ forever perfects them that believe; if his sacrifice be a perfect satisfaction for our sins, then there is no reason why believers should be kept out of blessedness until they have expiated their sins by their own sufferings.
4. There is nothing contrary to Scripture, or to analogy, in the assumption of a sudden and immediate change from imperfect to perfect holiness. The Protestant doctrine is that the souls of believers are at death made perfect in holiness. But it is asked, what sanctifying power is there in death? Progress in moral excellence is gradual; as no one becomes thoroughly evil by one act, or in a moment, so, it is said, it is unreasonable to suppose that a sudden change from imperfect to perfect moral excellence takes place at the moment of death. This objection supposes that the salvation of men is a natural process; if it be a supernatural work, the objection has no force. Curing a man of leprosy was a slow process; but when Christ said to the leper “I will 726be thou clean.” he was healed in a moment. The change which takes place in a believer at death, can hardly be much greater than that instantaneously produced in Paul on his journey to Damascus. Paul, in Galatians i. 16, attributes that change to the revelation of the Son of God to him. If the momentary vision of the divine glory of Christ produced such an effect upon the Apostle, is it strange that the Scriptures should teach that the souls of believers, when separated from the world and the flesh, and redeemed from the power of the devil, and bathed in the full brightness of the glory of the blessed Redeemer, should in a moment be purified from all sin?
If, therefore, there be nothing in the nature of the soul inconsistent with its separate existence; if the body be not a necessary condition of its consciousness or activity; if its probation terminates at death; if the perfection of Christ’s work precludes all necessity of future satisfaction for sin; and if the immediate change from imperfect to perfect holiness be consistent with the analogy of faith, then there is no à prioriobjection to the doctrine that the souls of believers at death do immediately pass into glory.
5. That such is the doctrine of Scripture may be argued from the general drift of the sacred volume, so far as this subject is concerned. The Bible constantly speaks of the present life as a state of conflict, of labour, and of suffering; and of death as the entrance into rest. There remains a rest for the people of God. That rest follows the state of labour and trial. Believers then cease from their works. The rest on which they enter is not merely a rest from conflict and sin, but a rest which arises from the attainment of the end of their being, from their restoration to their proper relation to God, and all their capacities being satisfied and filled.
6. Besides these general considerations the doctrine in question is taught in many passages of Scripture with more or less distinctness. Thus, in Revelation xiv. 13, the Apostle says, “I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.” The simple meaning of this passage is that those who die in the Lord are, from that moment onward, in a state of blessednesss; because they cease from their labours, and enter on the reward of the righteous. Death is for them emancipation from evil, and the introduction into a state of happiness.727
Our Lord constantly teaches concerning those who believe in Him, (1.) That they are not condemned. They are no longer under the sentence of the law. (2.) That they have eternal life. That the effect of the union between Himself and them, consummated by faith, is that they partake of his life in a sense analogous to that in which the branch partakes of the life of the vine. As He lives always, those who partake of his life can never perish. And as He lives unto God, so the life of his people is a holy and divine life. That life, from its nature, is an unfailing source of blessedness. It purifies, exalts, and glorifies. It is impossible that the souls in which Christ thus lives should remain is a state of misery and degradation, or in that dreamy state of existence in “the under-world” which so many of the fathers imagined to be the abode of the departed spirits of believers, awaiting the second coming of Christ. (3.) Our Lord promised that He would raise his people from the dead on the last day. It would seem, therefore, to be involved in the nature of the redemption of Christ, and of the union between Him and his people, that when absent from the body they are present with the Lord. It is inconceivable that with the Spirit of God dwelling in them, which is the Spirit of holiness and of glory, they should sink at death into a lower state of existence than that which they enjoyed in this world. We accordingly find that in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Christ says: “The beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom.” (Luke xvi. 22.) The implication is undeniable that in his case the transition was immediate from earth to heaven. Still more explicit is the declaration of our Lord to the penitent thief, “To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke xxiii. 43.) The word paradise occurs in two other places in the New Testament. In 2 Corinthians xii. 4, Paul says he was caught up into paradise, which he explains by saying that he was caught up into the third heaven. And in Revelation ii. 7, Christ says: “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches: To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” There can, therefore, be no doubt that paradise is heaven, and consequently when Christ promised the dying thief that he should that day be in paradise, he promised that he should be in heaven. It would, therefore, seem impossible that any who do not rest their faith on the fathers rather than on the Bible, should deny that the souls of believers do at death immediately pass into heaven. The fathers made a distinction between paradise and 728heaven which is not found in the Scriptures. Some of them regarded the former as one division of Hades, corresponding to the Elysium of the pagans; others located it somewhere on the earth, while others regarded it as a locality high up above the earth, but below the dwelling-place of God. These are mere fancies. The word heaven is indeed a term of wide application in the Bible as it is in common life. We speak of the fowls of heaven; of the stars of heaven; of our Father who is in heaven; and of believers being the citizens of heaven. In each of these cases the word has a different sense. Whether paradise and heaven are the same is a mere dispute about words. If the word heaven be taken in one of its legitimate senses, they are the same; if it be taken in another of its senses, they are not the same. It would not be in accordance with Scriptural usage to say that believers are now in, paradise; but the Apostle does say they are now ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις (Eph. ii. 6), i.e., in heaven. Paradise, as the word is used by Christ and his Apostles, is the place where Christ now is, and where He manifests his presence and glory. Whether it is the place where He will finally establish his kingdom; and whether all the redeemed, clothed in their resurrection bodies, shall there be gathered together, is a matter of which we have no knowledge, and in which we need take no interest. All we need know is that it is where Christ is; that it is a place and state in which there is neither sin nor sorrow, and where the saints are as exalted and happy as, in the existing circumstances of their being, it is possible for them to be. Whether any, in obedience to patristic usage, choose to call this paradise a department of Hades, is a matter of no concern. All that the dying believer need know is that he goes to be with Christ. That to him is heaven.
In 2 Corinthians v. 2, the Apostle says: “We know, that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” There are three ways in which these words, in connection with those which follow, are interpreted. (1.) According to one view, the house not made with hands into which the believer is received at death, is heaven. (2.) According to another view the meaning of the Apostle is, that when our present body is dissolved the soul will not be found naked, but will be immediately clothed with another and more spiritual body suited to the altered state of its existence. (3.) That the new house or body intended is the resurrection body. The second of these interpretations is founded on a gratuitous assumption. It assumes 729that the soul is furnished with a body of which the Scriptures make no mention, and of the existence of which we have no evidence. The Bible knows nothing of any human body save that which we now have, and that which we are to have at the resurrection; the one natural, the other spiritual. The third interpretation assumes that the Apostles erred not only in their own convictions, but in their teaching. It assumes that what they taught could be true only on the condition that the second coming of Christ was to occur while the men of that generation were alive. The point, however, in which all these views of this passage agree, is the only one which concerns the question under consideration. They all suppose that the soul is received into a state of blessedness immediately after death. This the Apostle clearly teaches. As soon as our earthly house is destroyed, the soul, instead of being left houseless and homeless, is received in that house which is eternal in the heavens. “We are always confident,” he says, “knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: we are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”
In Philippians i. 23, he expresses the same confidence: “For,” he says, “I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: nevertheless, to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” Two things are here perfectly plain; first, that Paul regards the state of the soul after death as more exalted than its condition while in the flesh. This he distinctly asserts. And, secondly, that this change for the better takes place immediately after death. He was confident that as soon as he departed he would be with Christ. Both these points are conceded, even by those who deny the doctrine which they evidently involve. Some say that Paul, finding that Christ did not come as soon as he expected, changed his opinion, and held that the souls of believers were admitted at death into heaven, instead of awaiting the second advent in the underworld. The fathers said that while the great body of believers at death went into Hades, some few, especially the martyrs, were admitted at once into heaven. Mr. Alger conjectures that “we may assume . . . . that Paul believed there would be vouchsafed to the faithful Christian during his transient abode in the under world a more intimate and blessed spiritual fellowship with his Master than he could experience while in the flesh.”756756Alger, ut surpa, p. 290. All this is 730floundering. The simple fact is that the inspired Apostle confidently anticipated for himself, and evidently for his fellow-believers, immediate admission at death to the presence of Christ. The ancients regarded the “under-world” or Hades, as “a gloomy prison,” as Mr. Alger himself calls it. That Paul should have desired death in order that he should be thrust into a dungeon, no man can believe.
The Scriptures represent Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as being in heaven. The good, at death, are carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom. Moses and Elijah appeared in glory on the mount of transfiguration, conversing with Christ. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, it is said, “Ye are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.” Nothing can be more utterly inconsistent with the nature of the Gospel, than the idea that the fire of divine life as it glows in the hearts of God’s elect, is, at death, to be quenched in the damp darkness of an underground prison, until the time of the resurrection.
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