Project Canterbury Six Sermons to Men Preached in St. Ignatius' Church
New York City
During Lent, 1888. By the Rev. Arthur Ritchie New York: American Bank Note Co., 1888.
SIXTH SERMON. AFTER DEATH WHAT? REVELATION xxi. 7, 8.
"He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death."
There is no more remarkable narration, whether we choose to regard it as a record of facts in the history of certain individual men, known to our Lord, or only as a parable, than the story of the rich man and Lazarus. For in it our Lord draws back the curtain which hangs before the unseen world and reveals at least something of its mystery. He alone could speak with definite certainty concerning the land of the departed. Perhaps Lazarus, that other Lazarus, who was raised from the grave after he had been dead four days could have told strange stories of his experience in the world of spirits, though it seems more suitable to believe that with the return to life he lost memory of those mysterious realms in which his soul had sojourned. Certainly he did reveal nothing so far as we know. Perhaps too those many spirits of the dead which resumed their bodies after our Lord's resurrection, and which went into the holy city and appeared unto many could have told yet greater wonders than Lazarus had they been so minded. Yet it is not recorded that they revealed anything. Therefore we turn to our Lord's narrative with a sense that it is an unique and most reliable description of some of the facts of the unseen world.
We are led to suppose that the rich man lived for himself rather than for God and his neighbours, and therefore attained not to Salvation; whereas Lazarus, excelling in devotion and humility sanctified his soul. When Lazarus, the beggar, died, he was carried by the angels into Abraham's Bosom; but when the rich man died he found himself in hell, Hades if you prefer the Greek. We may note a number of facts in this instructive narrative.
1. There (are evidently two states of the dead; quite separate from one another. Abraham says "Beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence." Neither of these states seems to have any further specific designation than that the state of the righteous is called Abraham's Bosom, because Abraham is the Father of the faithful. It is significant, however, that although the great gulf was fixed between the two states, they were sufficiently near one another for the wicked to behold the reward of the just, and to speak to Abraham.
2. Another point which is made clear by the narrative of the rich man and Lazarus is that the righteous were in comfort and peace in Abraham's bosom. For Abraham is made to say of Lazarus, "Now he is comforted," and the word used is a very strong one in the original, the same in root as that used for the title of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter.
3. Another thing equally clear is that the wicked in Hades were in torment. The rich man's case is very plain upon this point; "In hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment," and again "Send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame." Indeed there can be no doubt that the narrative describes a condition of misery which is quite in accord with the popular conception of hell, even though our Lord only uses of it the term Hades.
4. And these considerations inevitably involve the fact of some sort of judgment, or decision upon the case of each soul, so soon as the moment of death has come. The angels would not have known that Lazarus was to be carried into Abraham's bosom, nor that the rich man was to be consigned to torment except the all-knowing Lord had in some way judged them. And I suppose it has always been the common belief of men that souls passed immediately upon death through some sort of judgment of each one's particular case, whereby its destiny in the future world was determined. The teaching of the Bible concerning the General Judgment at the end of the world presupposes a particular judgment of each soul at the hour of death, for the king at that last judgment shall separate the righteous from the wicked "as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats." Evidently they appear in that day either as sheep or goats, that having already been determined. They must know also, long before the day of final judgment whether they are accepted or not, for Lazarus could not doubt that he was comforted in Abraham's bosom, or Dives that he was being tormented in the fire. We may certainly believe therefore in the particular judgment of each soul at the hour of death, and that this judgment determines its happiness or misery in the other world.
But we must not overlook the fact that our Lord in the narrative of Dives and Lazarus is depicting the condition of the dead before the time of His own death; as things were under the old dispensation. It is not unreasonable for us to suppose that His death made a great change in the condition of the faithful dead, and we have several significant passages in the Bible upon this point.
1. There is our Lord's saying on the Cross, to the penitent thief, "To-day shall thou be with me in paradise." We may well ask, What then is this paradise of which He speaks? If we look through our Bibles for other uses of the word paradise, we shall find it twice. In II. Cor. xii. St. Paul tells us how he was caught up into paradise and heard there unspeakable words; but he has already spoken of this paradise two verses before, as "the third heaven." We can hardly doubt that he uses paradise therefore as synonymous with heaven, in the popular sense of that word. Again, in Rev. n. St. John speaks of the "Tree of Life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God." We are sure in this instance that paradise means heaven in the popular sense. The question naturally arises, What relation does this paradise which our Lord promised on the Cross to the penitent thief bear to Abraham's Bosom, and to the paradise of St. Paul and St. John?
2. We shall perhaps get at it better if we call to mind first our Creed, and then another passage of Holy Scripture. The Creed teaches us to say of our Lord after His death, "He descended into hell," or Hades if you prefer it. Then St. Peter tells us that when our Lord had been put to death in the flesh, He was quickened by the Spirit, "By which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison." He descended into hell therefore to preach to spirits in prison. Were they the righteous spirits or the wicked? Evidently the righteous because it would have been useless to preach to the wicked seeing there was already an impassable gulf between them and salvation. Certainly then He preached to the righteous, that is to those in Abraham's Bosom. Why is it called a prison? I think in the answer to that question we unravel a great mass of little-appreciated truths about God, man and sin. There are but two rulers who can command the human will; they are God and Satan; man is either God's willing servant, or he is Satan's slave, sometimes willing, sometimes unwilling. By sin man renounces his allegiance to God, and puts himself under Satan. So it was with the whole race of man before our Lord came; so it is with millions of the human race to-day; so perhaps with you and me; and if not, only because our Lord has given us grace to throw off Satan's yoke. Did death release man from Satan's thraldom? It did, and it did not. From the first God ordained that Satan should not have power to torment any who were loyal to right and conscience, as they knew it, and in that sense the faithful dead, under the old dispensation, were not entirely subjected to the evil one. Yet because all had sinned, and the Redeemer had not yet come to take away sin, Satan had power to keep as prisoners, though not as slaves, even the righteous. They were held as prisoners of war, if you please, until their own great champion should release them from their hated enemy. Abraham's Bosom then, in this sense, was a real prison-house, though Satan could not torment the prisoners whom he held there. ( U When however the king, even our Lord Christ, descended into hell, He went straight to the prison-house, where Father Abraham comforted in his bosom the faithful ones who had waited in patience and hope for their deliverer. Of our Lord in this great work of deliverance the prophet had said, "I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron!" He burst into the prison-house and led forth the captives. By reason of His presence that gloomy place had become Paradise, for where He revealed His glory and His beauty, no imperfection could mar the fullness of bliss for those who beheld Him. Perhaps the dying thief wondered, as he hung upon his cross awaiting the moment of dissolution what the Lord who had already died could have meant by saying "To-day shall thou be with me in paradise," when he knew it was of the Jewish faith that the departed who were faithful went into Abraham's Bosom. He found out very soon, for Abraham's Bosom had become Paradise when the Lord entered there.
So Paradise since that time, as the abode of God's holy ones, means heaven, and Abraham's Bosom, if we like to use the expression, the same blessed place.
And now we may properly go on to ask, What of the condition of the dead under the Christian dispensation? It is necessary for the present to leave out of our consideration those who have never heard of our Lord's religion, who live under heathen systems, or in entire ignorance, not their own fault, of the gospel; also those who have no adequate reason, so that they are not morally responsible, and little children who die before they are old enough to have any probation. None of us come under any of these heads. We know about our Lord's religion, and we are all morally responsible.
1. The Church teaches us that the fate of every soul is positively determined at death, so that at the hour of dissolution every soul passes into an endless and unchangeable state, either of salvation or hopelessness.
2. We must believe therefore that there is some sort of judgment immediately following death which makes the separation between the sheep and the goats for eternity.
3. The bodies of the wicked lie in the grave, even as the bodies of the righteous, turning to dust, but the souls of the wicked go to hell, their own place, the place prepared for the devil and his angels, and the place of lost souls too because they have chosen the service of Satan rather than that of God. One may call this Hades, if he like that name better than the old English word hell. We may not doubt that our Lord's description of the character of this place in the story of Dives and Lazarus is true, for He knew whereof He spake. It is a place of torment, where souls are consumed with anguish like that which fire causes the body to feel. Moreover it is a place of unending woe. We have no warrant for believing that there is any further probation for souls lost in this life; that there is any hope of their final restitution after they have endured long ages of woe, or that they will at last cease to be by annihilation. That the woe of hell is eternal, that there is no final restitution, and that the souls who have been sentenced to that dismal abobe can never cease to feel its pains, is certain beyond a per-adventure. There was in early times a gifted but erratic teacher of Christian philosophy called Origen, who probably taught three heresies: that the souls of men had an existence previous to that of this life, that the punishment of hell should not be eternal, and that at last all things and persons, even including Satan and the fallen angels, should be restored to righteousness. Whether Origen really held these opinions may be doubted, but they passed current under his name, and they were as false opinions expressly condemned by the Fifth (Ecumenical Council of the Church, so that no one has a right to believe any one of them if he accepts the authority of the universal Church to decide disputed points of faith. If you want Bible authority upon the subject, while there are many texts which might be quoted, and while the whole testimony of the Bible on its face is against any restoration of the lost, there is one passage which to my thinking is the strongest of all, and fairly conclusive upon the matter. It is that which our Lord said concerning Judas, "It had been good for that man if he had not been born." It is impossible that this could be true if Judas had hope of restoration to grace after death, for it were worth while to have been born even had one to spend a million of years in hell, if after that he might enter heaven for eternity.
4. When we come to speak of those who die with what may be called the essentials of salvation, it is plain that there are great differences in different souls. One man has from his youth served God loyally, seldom committing a wilful sin, yet often falling venially. He is accepted because he was loyal, but he hardly is fit as yet to enter heaven. Another has wasted almost the whole of his life in sin, and has only in his last few years turned to God in faith and repentance. Yet a third was the victim of some terrible demon of the flesh, dragged down an hundred times into gross acts of transgression, yet with strong faith to turn after every fall and with contrition seek God's pardon in the Confessional. These souls are not in any sense on the same footing of righteousness albeit all are saved because they were at heart, at the last moment of life, loyal to their Maker. We may distinguish two great works yet to be done in them before we can believe them fit for the Beatific Vision. They need to pay the just penalty not already endured, of their sins; and they need to have eradicated from their souls every inclination toward evil, and every sinful appetite.
5. God is very merciful, but God is not on that account less just. St. Paul reminds us that under the old Law, that of Moses, "every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward." It cannot be different under the new Law, for God changes not, He is always just. The same Apostle tells us in another place "God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap." It is profitable for us to remember that no one can sin with impunity. Confession, if it be honest and penitent, takes away the guilt of sin, and restores us to the favor of God; but it by no means removes from us the liability to the punishment which our sin under the Divine law of justice deserves. This is strikingly illustrated in the Bible in the story of King David. After the monarch had committed his great sin, and had been convicted of it out of his own mouth by means of the parable of the poor man's ewe lamb which the prophet Nathan told to him, it is related that David humbly acknowledged his fault, saying, "I have sinned against the Lord." Then the prophet answered, "The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shall not die. Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die." God put away the guilt of the king's sin, but he had to bear the penalty of it just the same. We act on the same principle in this life. The murderer, or other law breaker who confesses his sin with every mark of penitence, does not on that account escape penalty. Justice must be satisfied or disorder would come into God's universe. He only knows what the just penalty for each transgression is; but it is certain that that penalty must be endured by everyone of us sometime. Many people bear much of the penalty of their sins in this life. God deals very wonderfully with us in this matter of penalty. We may perhaps suffer affliction directly as the fruit of our sins; then by patient submission it becomes the enduring of the penalty we have deserved. Again, we may by our submission to afflictions not sent as the punishment of our misdeeds, turn them into penances which satisfy the claims of justice against us. Or yet again, voluntary self-denials, prayers, fastings, alms-givings, over and above those which we are required to do by the law of the Church, done out of penitence, with zeal for God's glory, certainly help to work out the punishment our sins deserve. We have great opportunity then even in this world of enduring the penalty due for those offences of which confession has put away the guilt and brought us God's pardon. Yet I suppose most souls at the hour of death, by reason of their indifference or sloth or feeble penitence in this life, have many offences yet to endure penalty for.
6. Again, while Baptism, so far as God is concerned, undoes the work of original transgression in us, and restores us to grace and favour with our Maker; yet in all of us concupiscence, or natural inclination to evil remains. If we were wholly faithful to our Christian duty, loyal to our baptismal vows, and scrupulous about using all the means of grace, the hour of death would see us perfectly cured of all that lust of natural appetite. As a matter of fact it is not so. In old age the Christian often finds in himself the same evil motions toward sin which he has felt within him all through life. The work of our sanctification -so well begun by God for us in Baptism, is yet at death sadly incomplete because we have so imperfectly corresponded to Divine grace. Thus it comes to pass that few souls, even of the righteous, are at the time of death fit to enter heaven.
7. Therefore the Church believes in an intermediate state for the righteous, between this earth and heaven, for which the most suitable name seems to be Purgatory, or the place of purification. To many persons the name Purgatory suggests the thought of fire, which is to them repugnant. Yet this thought seems to have Scriptural authority, even as eternal fire is declared in Scripture to be the woe of hell. St. Paul teaches us that for those who build upon the foundation of our Lord Christ, that is the righteous, there shall be a certain fiery trial which shall try every man's work of what sort it is. The good work, signified by "gold, silver and precious stones," shall endure, passing the fire unscathed; but the unworthy work, signified by "wood, hay and stubble," shall be burned. In this way the soul that is accepted, but which at death had many earthly imperfections still cleaving to it, shall be saved indeed, "yet so as by fire."
We may not reasonably doubt that for the majority of the righteous there is after death a certain waiting time in Purgatory, that they may work out all the just penalty of their sins not endured in this life, and that God's fiery trial may burn away all sinful inclinations and habits which have remained in them. Purgatory is a place both of bliss and of misery. Of bliss far greater than anyone can know in this life because salvation is assured, and a certain foretaste of heaven already experienced; and of misery, because the souls therein detained realize as they never did before the shame of sin, and the grief which it causes the God whom now they have learned so devotedly to love; so that their mourning for their sins is more poignant anguish than the greatest pain they ever felt in this world. For the souls in Purgatory the Church has ever prayed, not that they might attain salvation, for that is already certain, but that they may find refreshment in their mourning by means of heavenly consolations, light, shining more and more out of heaven unto the perfect day, at peace in the completion of their penance, and the finishing of their sanctification, hastened, according to God's gracious working, by the intercessions of their fellow Christians here upon earth.
8. When all the penalty of sin has been worked out, and sanctification completed in their souls, the day of Christ dawns for them, according to that which the Apostle says, "He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." This is the day of their entrance into Paradise, where they behold the Beatific Vision. Then they are numbered among those whom St. Paul calls "the spirits of just men made perfect." The Church ordinarily calls them the Saints. We do not pray for the Saints, for being perfect they have no need of our prayers. Rather do we ask their prayers for us; but we pray for the souls in Purgatory because they are not yet made perfect. When the last great Day shall come, all the bodies of the dead shall be restored to them, the lost in hell knowing more poignant woe after they render the flesh; the Saints in Paradise experiencing more abundant bliss in the exercise of the marvellous powers of the resurrection body.
As for those many classes which we passed over in our consideration, one word before I close. It is a pious belief in the Church that there is what one may call natural beatitude for those who never knew Christianity yet were loyal to what they did know. It is certain that no soul will be lost in hell that has not consciously rejected God being disloyal to such light as it had. St. Peter says that we look for a new earth, as well as for new heavens, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Probably he means that God has a happy world hereafter for all those who have not attained to the heavenly life, yet were true to their possibilities. They shall in that new earth have full happiness according to their measure, and God shall be glorified in all His works.