Chapter V. Easter Even.
WE have now reached the last of those appropriate services in which the Church calls us to unite during this solemn Season. When for weeks we had chastened our souls by fasting and prayer, that we might be prepared to contemplate the fearful agonies of the Son of God, we were led by the services of Passion Week to the Hill of Calvary, and there beheld our Lord expiring on the Cross. But to-day a new scene in this fearful Tragedy is unfolded before us. The crucifixion is over--the Son of Man has passed the gates of Death--His body been pierced by the soldier's spear, to render it certain that no life remained--and then the inanimate remains given by Pilate to Joseph of Arimathea, to be buried as he would. They have been deposited in his own new tomb in the garden--the stone sealed--and the Roman guard placed around it, "lest His disciples come by night, and steal Him away." There they are resting, while many are looking anxiously for the things that should come after.
Strange indeed must have been "the searchings of heart," which took place among those who thus awaited in trembling expectation, the further developments of this mystery. With the disciples it was indeed a day of trouble and suspense, when conflicting emotions filled their minds. They scarcely could have known what to think or believe. Confiding in the Messiah-ship of their Lord, as they witnessed His oft repeated miracles, they had "trusted that this Jesus was He who should have redeemed Israel." Yet now their lofty hopes, both for themselves and for their nation, seemed to be interred in His sepulchre. "Slow of heart," they could not yet reconcile the facts of His sufferings and His triumph, or learn that the Redeemer was to pass on to his kingly throne through the furnace of affliction.
And on Mount Moriah, and even within the precincts of the Temple, there must also have been anxious and excited hearts. The rites of that Jewish Sabbath were kept as usual--clouds of incense filled the Sanctuary--the smoke of the morning and evening sacrifice rose in the air above the Holy City--and countless thousands of worshippers as heretofore thronged the courts. Yet among those crowds must there not have been many who thought with fear on the deeds of the previous day, and now shuddered at the remembrance of that terrible prayer their own lips had uttered--"His blood be on us and on our children!" Even the priests and rulers must have trembled at the recollection of their own successful violence. They could not forbear to connect His death with the unusual signs which had convulsed all nature. In the very recesses of the Temple, the veil was rent by no mortal hands, and the sacred mysteries of the Holiest exposed to view--a fearful evidence that the Divinity was forsaking His accustomed abode. Did they behold these things without dismay? Did they minister as usual with untroubled minds? Did the former infatuation continue, and the triumph of having removed a rival who led away the people from them, sustain their courage amidst all these mysterious, occurrences? We can not believe it. "That Sabbath day was an high day," yet it was no time of festive joy with the rulers of the Jewish nation.
And could we have looked into the spiritual world, and beheld those ranks of fallen angels who carry on a ceaseless warfare against Him, whose praises once they sang with harp and anthem, we believe that there also dismay would have been seen. The long years of temptation and conflict with the Messiah were over, and these His mightiest enemies--to work whose will the Priests and Sadducees were but instruments--had apparently triumphed when they silenced His voice for ever. Yet in this, the moment of seeming victory, must not the Arch-Adversary have felt a consciousness of defeat, as the exclamation, "It is finished," proclaimed to him not only that the sufferings of the Son of God were over, but also that his own sceptre was broken, and the fancied sovereignty forever wrested from his grasp? May not the truth have then first dawned upon a waiting universe, that Christ having "died for our sins," was about to be "raised up again for our justification?" We cannot speak of these things with certainty; yet when we remember the intense interest with which all orders of spiritual beings marked the unfolding of this mighty scheme of redemption, we may well believe that its consummation must have fallen with a crushing weight upon those apostate angels who had been striving to defeat it, and at the same time awakened to its loftiest exercise, the joy and adoration of the myriads who still gathered about the throne.
It is this interval of suspense--this time of doubt and fear among men--when the body of our Lord was still in the tomb, and His soul had gone to "the place of departed spirits"--that is known as Easter Even. It is the Saturday, between the day of the crucifixion, and the morning of Easter Sunday. In the early Church it was kept as a solemn fast, being the only Saturday throughout the year which was thus observed, for even in Lent this day was a festival together with the Lord's day which followed. Thus we find it ordered in the Apostolic Constitutions, as being in accordance with the established custom of the Church in that age--"Let as many as are able, fast on the Friday and Sabbath," (that is Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath,) "throughout, eating nothing till the cock-crowing in the morning. But if any can not join both days together in one continued fast, let him however keep the Sabbath a fast, for the Lord speaking of Himself said, 'when the Bridegroom shall be taken away from them, in those days shall they fast.'
The night of this day, (as we learn from the next chapter of the Apostolic Constitutions,) was spent as a solemn Vigil, when they assembled together for the performance of divine service, reading the Scripture, prayer, and preaching. There they continued until midnight, and many even remained until the cock-crowing. "It was a tradition among the Jews "--says St. Jerome--"that Christ would come at midnight, as He did upon the Egyptians at the time of the Passover. Thence, I think, the Apostolical Custom came, not to dismiss the people on the Paschal Vigil before midnight, expecting the coming of Christ; after which time presuming on security, they keep the day a festival." At a later period, when the Church had vanquished the power of ancient Paganism, and begun to put on her robes of power, this Vigil was kept with great pomp. Constantine--as Eusebius tells us, in his life of that emperor--"set up lofty pillars of wax to burn as torches all over the city, and lamps burning in all places, so that the night seemed to outshine the sun at noon-day."
The Church has therefore still continued to command the observance of this day, although the state of society and the forms of life in this age require that the manner in which it is done should be modified. [BINGHAM'S Orig. Socles., lib. xxi., chap. 1, sec. 32. 1 8 The writer has been accustomed for several years, to hold the last Lent service on Easter Even, at 5 P. M., and believes that not one among the week-day services of the Church is better calculated to arrest the attention. That Vesper hour of quiet, when the cares of the busy week are over, in the waning twilight, as the day is softly fading into darkness, seems naturally to harmonize with our feelings of devotion. Then, in solemn meditation we can look back at the services which are gone, and forward to the great Festival of the morrow.] The services which have been provided, are marked by the same wisdom which can be discerned in all the arrangements of our venerable Church. In the beautiful Collect for the day, we offer up our humble petitions, "that as we are baptised into the death of our blessed Saviour Jesus Christ, so by continual mortifying our corrupt affections, we may be buried with him; and that through the grave and gate of death we may pass to our joyful resurrection, for His merits, who died and was buried, and rose again for us, Jesus Christ our Lord." The Epistle, from St. Peter, containing that mysterious passage concerning our Lord's "preaching unto the spirits in prison," seems evidently selected by the Church as referring to the condition of His soul during this period; while the Gospel clearly describes His burial, and the care that was taken to "make the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch."
With the future history of our Lord's body, we are all well acquainted. We know how on the next morning He burst the bands of death, and came forth from the tomb, and then after mingling with His disciples for forty days ascended up visibly into Heaven. But the question, Where was the human soul of our Master during this period? is one which most of His followers are not so well prepared to answer. We reply therefore, it was in the INTERMEDIATE STATE, and to a discussion of this subject we intend to devote the remainder of these pages. We have selected it, because although one most important to us, there is probably no truth asserted in the Creed, which is so little understood.
The faith of the Church then with respect to the doctrine is briefly this--that while the hour of death decides irreversibly the condition of the spirit, so that "they which are holy will be holy still," and for the wicked there will remain no more sacrifice for sin, neither can it be purged away by offering for ever, yet the just do not at once enter into Heaven, nor do the lost descend immediately to their eternal prison. They go to an intermediate state, where they await the last judgment. There indeed the righteous are in happiness, and the wicked in misery, through all the ages which intervene; yet the one can not have "the fullness of joy," nor the other suffer the extremity of their destined misery, until their souls are once more united to their bodies. This takes place at the second coming of our Lord. At that time, the spiritual and earthly parts of our nature will be again brought into union, and the mighty army of the dead gather before the Great White Throne. Then, the Books will be opened--the final sentence be pronounced--the gates of Heaven, and the dreary prison house of the lost, unclose to receive their appointed occupants--and the spirits of all who have ever lived, commence the travel of Eternity.
In endeavoring to state the proofs on which we rest our belief in this doctrine, we naturally turn first to the inspired word of God. For, as Lord Bacon has well remarked--"A knowledge of the soul must in the end be bounded by religion, or else it will be subject to deceit and delusion: for as the substance of the soul in the creation was not extracted out of the mass of Heaven and earth by the benediction of a 'pro-ducat,' but was immediately inspired by God, so it is not possible that it should be otherwise than by accident, subject to the laws of Heaven and earth, which are the subject of philosophy; and therefore the true knowledge of the nature and state of the soul, must come by the same inspiration that gave the substance." [Advancement of Learning. BACON'S Works, vol. ii., Montague's edit.]
"We learn then most plainly from Scripture, that the souls of the just do not (as some in all ages have vainly imagined,) sleep with their bodies in utter insensibility, until the morning of the resurrection. Every intimation there given us with regard to our spiritual nature, confirms the truth which reason teaches, that "consciousness must be a necessary attribute of a spirit in a disembodied state." Samuel was summoned up from his place of repose, evidently returning reluctantly to the cares of this world, and his inquiry was--"Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up!" Every circumstance of the narrative too shows, that the spirit of Samuel was truly evoked. Saul evidently believed it, and the sacred penman records it, as if stating an actual occurrence. "And Saul"--says he--"perceived that it was Samuel," and "Samuel said," etc. The son of Sirach also, who is thought to have written two centuries before the Christian era, expresses himself on this topic with the same unhesitating confidence. After giving a brief account of Samuel's life and character, he adds--"And after his death he prophesied and showed the King his end, and lift up his voice from the earth in prophecy, to blot out the wickedness of the people." Josephus too in relating the story, does not betray the slightest suspicion that it was not in truth the soul of Samuel conversing with Saul.6 "We are warranted therefore from this circumstance, not only in drawing an inference that the souls of the departed are in a state of consciousness, but also that this was an article in the popular creed of the Jewish nation. In the same way Moses and Elias appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration, and "talked with our Lord," as being spirits evidently endowed with all those powers which reason teaches us must belong to them.
The same truth is taught by the Apostle Paul, when he asserts--"We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present," (or conversant) "with the Lord." And again he declares--"For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better." He thus plainly shows us, that the righteous when "absent from the body," are not in a state of insensibility, but conversant with their Lord--in a situation where they enjoy a degree of communion with Him which they can not have while still in this state of probation. The Apostle did not indeed mean, that at death his spirit should at once pass into that Heaven to which his Lord had ascended, for in another place he speaks of "the crown of righteousness" being "laid up for him," not to be bestowed until that Great Day when his Master should sit as "the righteous Judge," and he should receive it in company with "all them also that love His appearing." "The word endhmhsai should be rendered"--says Dr. Bloomfield--"not to be present with, but (agreeably to the metaphor,) to be at home with, implying communion with Him." Even while St. Paul was alive, he was with Christ, and Christ was with him, but the felicity for which he hoped at death was a nearer access to Him, and a greater communication of His favor. He should behold His glory, though not in that full brightness wherein it shall be seen at the day of His final appearing.
This brings us then to the question we would investigate. If the soul is to be in a state of consciousness when it has left the body, whither does it go? Where is its place of abode? This inquiry is best answered by considering the circumstances connected with our Lord's death, since we are to follow in the same path in which He trod. Whither then did His soul depart? Can we believe (as Calvin asserted,) that He went down to the place of torment, and there endured the pains of a reprobate soul in punishment. ["It was necessary for him to contend with the powers of hell and the horror of eternal death............... Therefore it is no wonder, if he be said to have descended into hell, since he suffered that death which the wrath of God inflicts on transgressors........... The relation of those sufferings of Christ, which were visible to men, is very properly followed by that invisible and incomprehensible vengeance which he suffered from the hand of God; in order to assure us that not only the body of Christ was given as the price of our redemption, but that there was another greater and more excellent ransom, since he suffered in his soul the dreadful torments of a person condemned and irretrievably lost."--Institutes, Book ii, chap, xvi., sec. 10.] The mind shrinks back with horror at the thought, unsupported as the notion is by any intimation in Scripture, and directly refuted by our Lord's own declaration to his penitent companion in suffering. Did His spirit ascend at once to Heaven, and remain there during the three days which intervened before His resurrection? This could not be, for He afterwards said explicitly to Mary Magdalene--"Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father." He remained forty days with His disciples upon the earth, before He departed visibly into Heaven. The necessary conclusion therefore to which we must come, is that He went to some place entirely distinct either from the Heaven of rest, or the prison of final torment. That place was Paradise, as He declared to the penitent thief--"To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise."
What then did the Jews understand by Paradise? We reply--with them it primarily referred to the Garden of Eden, where Adam dwelt in his state of innocence. But as this was a type of all that was pleasant and delightful, they used the same word also symbolically to represent that place of happiness in which the just await their resurrection. "Paradise"--says Parkhurst--"is in the New Testament, applied to the state of faithful souls between death and the resurrection." Hence it was the solemn good wish of the Jews, (as we learn from the Talmudists,) concerning a departed friend, "Let his soul be in the Garden of Eden," or "Let his soul be gathered into the Garden of Eden." And in their prayers for a dying person, they were accustomed to say, "Let him have his portion in Paradise, and also in the world to come." In this form "Paradise" and "the world to come," are plainly referred to, as being two separate places and states of existence. [Bishop BULL'S Works, vol. i., p. 98.] The same distinction is also made by St. Paul, when in speaking of different visions and revelations he had received, he mentions one in "the third Heaven," and another in "Paradise." [2 Cor. xii., 4, 6.] Dr. Doddridge, the celebrated Presbyterian divine, in his Family Expositor, thus paraphrases this passage--"Such an one, I say, I did most intimately know, who was snatched up into the third Heaven, the seat of divine glory and the place where Christ dwelleth at the Father's right hand, having all the celestial principalities and powers in humble subjection to him......And know that having been entertained with these visions of the third Heaven, on which good men we to enter after the resurrection, lest he should be impatient under the delay of his part of the glory there, he was also caught up into Paradise, that garden of God, which is the seat of happy spirits in the intermediate state, and during their separation from the body." To this place then it was that our Lord's spirit went, and there He promised that His suffering companion on the Cross should "be also.
"Where'er thou roam'st, one happy soul, we know,
Seen at thy side in woe,
Waits on Thy triumph--even as all the blest
With him and Thee shall rest.
Each on his cross, by Thee we hang awhile,
Watching Thy patient smile,
Till we have learn'd to say, ' 'T is justly done,
Only in glory, Lord, Thy sinful servant own.'"
[KEBLE'S Easter Eve.]
In the same way, while Paradise denotes that portion of the intermediate state which was allotted to the just, there was also a part in which the condemned awaited in misery the coming of the day of doom. This was known by the name of Tartarus. The general term for both these places was the Hebrew word Sheol, or as it is in. the Greek, Hades, while the word Gehenna was used to signify the place of eternal torments after the resurrection. [As the object of the writer is to give, if possible, a simple and popular view of this subject, which is so little understood, a critical investigation of the meaning of these words would be out of place in these pages. The reader will find this examination carried out in Bishop Hobart's work on the State of the Departed.] By translating Hades therefore by the English word Hell in our Bibles, we often entirely obscure the meaning. ["It is a great pity,"--says Wall, (Hist. Inf. Sap., part ii., chap, viii.,)--"that the English translators of the Creed and of the Bible, did not keep the word Hades in the translation, as they have done some original words which had no English words answering to them. By translating it Hell, and the English having no other word for Gehenna (which is the place prepared for the devil and the damned,) than the same word Hell likewise, it has created a confusion in the understanding of English readers."] Such is the case with that passage in the sixteenth Psalm which refers prophetically to our Lord--"For thou wilt not leave my soul in Hell," (that is in Hades, or the intermediate state,) "neither wilt thou suffer thy Holy One to see corruption." This text indeed shows so plainly, that while our Lord's body was in the grave, His soul was in some place called Hades, "that none but an infidel"--saith St. Augustin--"can deny it." It is in Hades that Isaiah has placed that strange dramatic scene, which is found in the fourteenth chapter of his prophecies. As Homer in the Odyssey (lib. xxiv.) sends the souls of the suitors to Hades, where they meet the spirits of Achilles, Agamemnon, and the other Grecian heroes they had known in life, the Hebrew prophet with the higher inspiration of truth, has given a description which for its inimitable grandeur nothing in the pages of classical antiquity can equal. He shows the proud King of Babylon, after he had been brought to the grave, entering Sheol, while the monarchs of the earth who had preceded him to the land of spirits, are poetically represented as rising from their seats at his approach, greeting him with bitter scorn--
"Hades (Sheol) from beneath is moved because of thee, to meet thee at thy coming:
He roused up for thee the mighty dead, all the great chiefs of the Earth:
He maketh to rise up from their thrones, all the kings of the nations.
All of them shall accost thee, and shall say unto thee:
Art thou, even thou too, become weak as we? Art thou made like unto us?
Is then thy pride brought down to the grave; the sound of thy sprightly instruments?
Is the vermin become thy couch, and the earthworm thy covering?
How art thou fallen from Heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning?
Art cut down to earth, thou that didst subdue the nations?"
[Bishop LOWTH'S translation.]
It is in Tartarus that the fallen angels also await their sentence. St. Peter tells us--"God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to Hell (Tartarus,) and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment." And St. Jude says--"The angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day." In Tartarus too was the rich man, while Lazarus was in Paradise. Dr. Campbell, another learned Presbyterian divine, and formerly Principal of Marischal College, Aberdeen, says--"There is no inconsistency in maintaining that the rich man, though in torment, was not in Gehenna, but in that part of Hades called Tartarus, where we have seen already that spirits reserved for judgment are detained in darkness. ........According to this explication, the rich man and Lazarus were both in Hades, though in very different situations, the latter in the mansions of the happy, and the former in those of the wretched."
The manner in which the general judgment is always mentioned, may well confirm our belief in the doctrine of an intermediate state. When is there to be "rendered to every man according to his works?" When, in other words, is each one to reap his full retribution? Is it the moment he has passed the gates of death and put off this mortal body? This would be by no means in accordance with the declarations of Holy Writ. If we examine its promises, we shall meet with no offer of perfect blessedness which is to be fulfilled before our Lord's second coming. He himself on one occasion declared--"Thou shalt be recompensed"--when? "at the resurrection of the just." The final reward of the righteous is always referred to the last day, at "the glorious appearing of the great God, and our Saviour, Jesus Christ"--"when Christ who is our life shall appear"--"when the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father, with His holy angels." Then it is that He shall recognize His faithful followers before an assembled universe, and receive them to reign with Himself in glory. It is not indeed until the solemn scenes of the judgment are over, that His own chosen Apostles will be admitted to that place, where they shall enjoy in its fullness, the presence of Him in whose footsteps they followed on earth. His declaration was--"I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am there you may be also." But the time of His promised return has not yet arrived. His followers have not yet entered into their final rest, nor will they, until He "comes again to receive them unto Himself."
Still stronger is the inference to be drawn from that declaration of St. Paul--"For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we, which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." [1 Thess. iv., 15, 16, 17.] Here is an explicit account of the order in which each event shall take place at the last judgment. We learn from it then, that none have as yet entered into Heaven. If it were not so, but the just, as each individual soul passed from the earth, had gone at once to that place of glory, what meaning would there be in the Apostle's declaration, that "they which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent," that is, anticipate, or go into Heaven before, "them that are asleep," that is, the dead! This assurance certainly would be useless, if the departed at the hour of death, had each entered into his final rest. But the Lord must first descend from Heaven--then, the dead in Christ shall be raised--then, those who are at that time living on the earth, shall be caught up to meet their Judge--and then the army of the ransomed shall together go in to their reward. "And so," that is, after all these things have taken place, "shall be ever with the Lord." What can be more clear than the order in which these events are here laid down.
In the Apocalyptic Vision, St. John represents the ancient martyrs as resting in the Paradise of God, awaiting their reward until their brethren from the earth have joined them, that together they may enter the celestial city. "I saw under the altar, the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled." Their happiness was incomplete. They are "under the altar"--not in the full presence of God, but in a safe and holy place. Their portion is not yet that of. perfect bliss, but only of tranquility and peace. They are not serving God actively, as do the angels, but are at rest, awaiting their call to judgment and to Heaven. Anxiously do they look forward to the day which is to introduce them into the joy of their Lord, and therefore their inquiry is, "How long, O Lord, holy and true?" But they are told, that they must "rest yet for a little season," until the circle of the martyrs is completed, and the number of the elect gathered in; that thus, in the harvest time of the earth, all who had suffered in the great cause of man's redemption--the sowers and the reapers in the world's wide field--might all rejoice together. Yet in the meanwhile, to comfort them in this state of expectation, and as some little earnest of the promise, "white robes were given unto every one of them." [See NEWMAN'S Sermon on this passage, vol. iii., p. 399.]
It is singular, that exactly the same idea is given in the Apocryphal Book of Esdras, where after the writer had made inquiry of the angel with regard to the mysteries of the world to come, he receives this reply--"Did not the souls also of the righteous ask question of these things in their chambers, saying, How long shall I hope on this fashion? When cometh the fruit of the floor of our reward? And unto these things Uriel the archangel gave them answer, and said, Even when the number of seeds is filled in you"'--that is, when the number of the elect is accomplished. [Esdras, iv., 35, 36. Dr. Macknight, another celebrated Presbyterian divine, supports the same views. For instance, in his commentary on Hob. xi., 39, 40, he says--"The Apostle's doctrine, that believers are all to be rewarded together and at the same time, is agreeable to Christ's declaration, who told His disciples that they were not to come to the place He was going away to prepare for them, till He returned from Heaven to carry them to it (John xiv., 3.) Further, that the righteous are not to be rewarded till the end of the world, is evident from Christ's words (Matt, xiii., 40, 43.) In like manner St. Peter hath told us, that the righteous are to be made glad with their reward at the revelation of Christ (I Pet. iv., 13.) John also tells ns, that when He shall appear, we. shall be made like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John iii., 2.) This determination, not to reward the ancients without us, is highly proper, because the power and veracity of God will be more illustriously displayed in the view of angels and men, by raising the whole of Abraham's seed from the dead at once, and by introducing them into the heavenly country in a body, after the public acquittal at the judgment; than if each were made perfect separately at their death."]
Another strong proof from Scripture is found in that mysterious declaration of St. Peter, with regard to our Lord--"Being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit; by which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison, which sometime were disobedient, when once the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah." Many attempts have been made to explain away this text, yet when carefully analyzed, its natural rendering seems to present a full confirmation of the doctrine of an intermediate state. The most masterly discussion of it is given by Bishop Horsley, where he proves conclusively, that in its interpretation by the ancient Church, it was always referred to the descent of our Lord into the place of departed spirits. Let us then as briefly as possible follow his train of reasoning in the explanation of this verse. [HORSLEY'S Sermons, vol. ii., p. 86, Serm. xx.]
The meaning of the whole passage turns upon the interpretation we give to the words "spirits in prison." "The invisible mansion of departed spirits"--says Bishop Horsley--"though certainly not a place of penal confinement to the good, is nevertheless in some respects a prison.
It is a place of seclusion from the external world, a place of unfinished happiness, consisting in rest, security, and hope, rather than enjoyment. It is a place which the souls of men never would have entered, had not sin introduced death, and from which there is no exit by any natural means for those who have once entered. The deliverance of the saints from it is to be effected by our Lord's power. As a place of confinement, therefore, though not of punishment, it may well be called a prison. The original word however in this text imports not of necessity so much as this but merely a place of safe keeping: for so this passage might be rendered with great exactness. He went and preached to the spirits in safe keeping. And the invisible mansion of departed spirits is to the righteous a place of safe keeping, where they are preserved under the shadow of God's right hand, as their condition sometimes is described in Scripture, till the season shall arrive for their advancement to future glory; as the souls of the wicked, on the other hand, are reserved in the other division of the same place, unto the judgment of the great day. Now if Christ went and preached to souls of men thus in prison, or in safe keeping, surely He went to the prison of those souls, or to the place of their custody; and what place that should "be but the Hell of the Apostles' Creed, to which our Lord descended, I have not met with the critic that could explain. The souls in custody, or in prison, to whom our Saviour went in His disembodied soul and preached, were those which formerly were disobedient. The expression formerly were, or one while had been disobedient, implies, that they were recovered from that disobedience, and, before their death, had been brought to repentance and faith in the Redeemer to come. To such souls He went and preached."
The meaning of the sentence, "being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit," must also claim our attention. The word "Spirit," is here used in antithesis to the one translated "flesh." If therefore the latter refers, as it necessarily does, to that part of our Lord's nature on which alone death could take effect, that is, his body; the former must refer to that part over which the Destroyer had no power, that is, his soul. And as the word "quickened" is often used to signify, not merely a restoration of life which has been extinguished, but the preservation of life which then subsists, the Apostle's words may be well rendered--"Being put to death in the flesh, but quick in the Spirit," that is, surviving in His soul the stroke of death which His body had sustained, "by which," or rather "in which," that is, in which surviving soul, "he went and preached to the souls of men in safe keeping." Such is the rendering given by Mr. Polwhele in his Essay on the State of the Soul after Death. "The original words"--he says--"are very strong and decisive. Literally signifying, 'dead in His body'--'lighted up with new life in His soul.' Escaped from the burden of His mortal body, His soul was animated with a more ardent vivacity--was rendered capable of more powerful energies, and with a life thus kindled into a brighter flame, He went and preached to the spirits whose bodies had perished in the deluge."
Another point with reference to this text remains to be inquired into--why are the antediluvians especially mentioned as being those to whom this preaching was addressed? Were not the souls of all who since their day had died in penitence, equally interested in our Lord's message? "To this I can only answer"--says Bishop Horsley--"that I think I have observed, in some parts of Scripture, an anxiety, if the expression may be allowed, of the sacred writers to convey distinct intimations that the antediluvian race is not uninterested in the redemption and the final retribution...........It may be conceived, that the souls of those who died in the dreadful visitation of the deluge might from that circumstance have peculiar apprehensions of themselves, as the marked victims of divine vengeance, and might peculiarly need the consolation which the preaching of our Lord in the subterranean regions afforded to these prisoners of hope."
Did He then publish those lofty doctrines of the Gospel, which now form the themes of His earthly ministers--the obligation of repentance and faith, by which the children of this world are summoned to their Lord? "We answer, no--for He was not offering a new period of probation to the generation which died "in the days of Noah." Their condition for Eternity was settled, when the rushing flood overwhelmed them, and they perished amid the ruins of the Elder world. Yet might Pie not have proclaimed to those, who having died in penitence, had been thus waiting and watching for ages, that at length the mighty sacrifice was offered up--that He had finished the work of redemption--and was now going to plead as their Intercessor before His Father's throne? Might He not thus give assurance to the hope, to which for so long a time they had been cleaving? We see nothing improbable in the idea.
Such then is the analysis and rendering of this passage, in which the most celebrated divines agree. If they have interpreted it aright, it proves most conclusively the fact of the descent into Hades. And through many ages of the Church, this text was relied upon as a principal foundation of this Catholic doctrine. St. Austin is stated to have been the first writer who ventured to doubt that this was the literal sense of St. Peter's declaration. In the Articles of Religion adopted at the Convention held in 1552, the sixth year of Edward VI., and published by the King's authority in the following year, the third article is in these words--"As Christ died and was buried for us, so also it is to be believed that He went down into Hell; for the body lay in the sepulchre until the resurrection, but His ghost departing from Him, was with the ghosts that were in prison, or in Hell, as the place of St. Peter doth testify." When however, ten years later, in the fifth year of Queen Elizabeth, the Thirty-nine Articles were adopted in their present form, while Christ's descent into Hell was still asserted, the proof of it from this text of St. Peter was omitted. [Bishop HORSELEY, vol. ii., p. 99] We think however, that the Church by setting forth this passage in the Epistle for Easter Even, seems to imply that it should be rendered as referring to our Lord's soul, particularly as it is followed by the Gospel, which describes so clearly the condition of the other part of His nature.
We will present one more passage from Scripture. In Rev. xx., 13, 14, we find this description given of the conclusion of all things earthly--the final triumph of the human race over death--and the abandonment forever of the intermediate state. "And Death and Hell (Hades) delivered up the dead which were in them; and they were judged every man according to their works.
And Death and Hell (Hades) were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death." By this sublime personification it is clearly stated, that Death shall deliver up the bodies, and Hades the spirits which were subject to their dominion, and that then the latter shall be destroyed. Dr. Thos. Scott in his Commentary, thus paraphrased this passage--"The grave, and separate state, will give up the bodies and souls contained in them, so that the whole multitude, which shall have lived upon earth......shall experience a reunion of their souls with their bodies. Then Death and Hell, the grave and the separate state (represented as two persons,) will 'be cast into the lake of fire;' that is, they shall subsist no longer, to receive the bodies and souls of men; there shall be no death in Heaven; and all the wicked will be cast into the place of torment, in which death and the separate state will be swallowed up: for 'this is the second death,' the final separation of sinners from God, without hopes of being restored to His favor, or delivered from His wrath." Dr. Campbell (the same Presbyterian divine from whom we have already quoted,) thus renders it--"The death which consists in the separation of the soul from the body, and the state of souls intervening between death and judgment shall be no more. To the wicked, these shall be succeeded by a more terrible death, the second death, the damnation of Gehenna, Hell properly so called. Indeed, in this sacred book, the commencement, as well as the destruction of this intermediate state, are so clearly marked, as to render it impossible to mistake them. In chap, vi., 8, we learn that Hadeg follows close at the heels of death. 'And I looked, and behold, a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell (Hades) followed with him.' From this passage, in chap, xx., we learn also, that both are involved in one common ruin at the universal judgment."
Such is a brief statement of the Scripture argument for this doctrine. We now pass on to the consideration, that it has always, even from Primitive Times, been an Article of Faith in the Catholic Church. The learned Bingham explicitly declares it to have been the belief of the early Church, that "the soul is but in an imperfect state of happiness till the Resurrection, when the whole man shall obtain a complete victory over death, and by the last judgment be established in an endless state of consummate happiness and glory."
St. Clement, of whom the Apostle Paul speaks as his "fellow laborer, whose name is in the Book of Life," thus writes in his Epistle to the Corinthians--"All the generations from Adam to this day are past and gone, but they that have finished their course in charity, according to the grace of Christ, possess the region of the godly, who shall be manifested in the visitation of the kingdom of Christ. For it is written, 'Enter into thy chambers, for a very little while, till my wrath and fury be passed over, and I will remember the good day, and will raise you again out of your graves.'"
Justin Martyr, who lived about the middle of the second century, in his dialogue with Trypho, among the Catholic doctrines taught him when he first became a Christian, delivers this for one--"That the souls of the godly, (after death till the resurrection,) remain in a certain better region, and unrighteous and wicked souls in an evil one." And in the very same book he condemns as an error in the Gnostics, their holding the belief--"That as soon as they die, their souls are received up into Heaven." [Bishop BULL, vol. i., p. 110.]
Similar to this is the testimony of Irenaeus, who lived also in the second century. x In arguing against some ancient heretics, who held, that when they died their souls went at once to Heaven, he urges against them the example of our Saviour, "who," says he, "observed in Himself the law of dead persons, and did not presently after His death go to Heaven, but stayed three days in the place of the dead...........
Whereas then our Lord went into the midst of the shadow/of death, where the souls of deceased persons abode, and then afterwards rose again in the body, and was after his resurrection taken up to Heaven, it is plain that the souls of His disciples, for whose sake the Lord did these things, shall go likewise to that invisible place appointed to them by God, and there abide till the resurrection, waiting for the time thereof; and afterward receiving their bodies, and rising again perfectly, i. e. in their bodies as our Lord did, shall so come to the sight of God." Again, in his fifth Book, he expressly distinguishes Paradise from the Kingdom of Heaven, and reckons it a lower degree of happiness "to enjoy the delights of Paradise," than "to be counted worthy to dwell in Heaven." But yet he acknowledges that the Saviour shall be seen in "both, "according as they shall be worthy or meet who see Him." And he concludes the chapter with the declaration, "that those that are saved shall proceed by degrees to their perfect beatitude." That is, that they shall, as St. Ambrose says, "through the refreshments of Paradise, arrive at the fall glories of the Heavenly kingdom." [Bishop BULL, pp. 111, 112.]
Tertullian, who lived at the close of the second century, calls Paradise, "a place of divine pleasantness, appointed to receive the spirits of the saints." He says also, "Heaven is not yet open to any, the earth, or Hell, being yet shut, but that at the end of the world, the Kingdom of Heaven shall be unlocked." Again--"All souls are in Hell (Hades) that there are both punishments and rewards, that both Dives and Lazarus are there, that the soul is both punished and comforted in Hell (Hades?) in expectation of the future judgment." And even after he had fallen into the heresy of the Montanists, he was obliged to admit this to be a Catholic doctrine, "that the good souls in that subterranean region, do enjoy a happiness not to be despised, that they do in the bosom of Abraham receive the comfort of the Resurrection to come, that is, that they are at present in a state of rest and happiness, and live in a sure and certain hope of a greater happiness at the resurrection." [Bishop Bull, p. 113.]
In the same way, the author of Questions and Answers to the Orthodox, (who is supposed to have lived in the fourth century,) in his reply to the seventy-fifth question, having said that in this life there is no difference as to worldly concerns, between the righteous and the wicked, immediately adds--"But after death, presently the righteous are separated from the unrighteous. For they are carried by angels into their meet ' places. And the souls of the righteous are conveyed into Paradise, where they enjoy the conversation and sight of Angels and Archangels, and of our Saviour Christ also by way of vision: according to what is said, when we are absent from the body, we are present with the Lord. But the souls of the unrighteous are carried to the infernal regions, &c. And they, (that is, both sorts of souls,) are kept in their meet places till the day of the Resurrection and recompense." [Bishop BULL, p. 123.]
Novatian, in the third century, says--"Those places which lie under the earth, are not empty of distinguished and ordered powers; for that is the place whither the souls both of the godly and ungodly are led, receiving the forejudgment of their future doom." Lactantius, of the same century, says--"None should think, that souls were immediately judged after death; for they are all detained in one common custody, till the time shall come when the greatest Judge shall examine their respective merits." Hilary, in the middle of the fourth century, says--"It is the necessary law of nature, that bodies should be buried, and that souls should descend into hell, where they are reserved for an entrance into the Heavenly kingdom by the custody of the Lord,' to wit, in the bosom of Abraham, unto which a great gulf hinders the wicked from approaching." Such indeed is the uniform testimony of the Fathers of the early Church. They believed not that the departed had already entered into the perfect bliss of Heaven, but, (in the words of St. Chrysostom,) "that they will not be crowned before us, God having appointed one time of coronation for all."
On this doctrine also were founded those Commendatory Prayers for the dead, which were used in the ancient Liturgies. These, known by the names of St. Peter's, St. James's, St. Mark's, (or St. Cyril's,) and St. John's Liturgy, were used in the Oriental Churches, and, as has been shown by Mr. Palmer, in his Antiquities of the English Ritual, are undoubtedly the four original forms from which all the Liturgies in the world have been taken. "They resemble one another too much to have grown up independently, and too little to have been copied from one another."
One point of correspondence is, that each of them has a prayer in the Communion Service, "for the peace of all those who have departed this life in God's faith and fear," concluding with a petition for communion with them. A portion of this prayer was in these words--""We commend unto Thy mercy, O Lord, all other Thy servants, which are departed hence from us with the sign of faith, and now do rest in the sleep of peace: grant unto them, we beseech Thee, Thy mercy and everlasting peace; and that at the day of the general resurrection, we, and all they which be of the mystical body of Thy Son, may altogether be set at His right hand, and hear that His most joyful voice,' Come unto me, O ye that be blessed of My Father, and possess the kingdom which is prepared for you from the beginning of the world.' Grant this, O Father, for Jesus Christ's sake, our only Mediator and Advocate." This prayer was retained in the Liturgy in "Edward VI.'s 1st Book," but altered in the 2d, at the instigations of Bucer and Calvin. This was probably done, as Mr. Palmer conjectures, because these prayers were so connected in the minds of the common people with the idea of purgatory, that their continuance would have involved the risk of propagating this pernicious error. As remodeled, the prayer in our service now stands thus--"And we also bless Thy holy name for all Thy servants departed this life in Thy faith and fear, beseeching Thee to give us grace to follow their good examples, that with them we may be partakers of Thy heavenly kingdom." We do not pretend to discuss the propriety of these prayers; we only mention their existence in the ancient Liturgies, as furnishing a proof of the belief of the Church in the state of Paradise after death. "This custom"--said the learned Bishop Collier--"seems to have gone on the principle that supreme happiness is not to be expected till the resurrection; and that the interval between death and the end of the world, is a state of imperfect bliss." [Eccles. Hist. of Great Britain, Part II., Book IV., p 257.]
Thus it is then that the Church has inherited this truth, and so she has retained it. Her third Article is--"As Christ died for us, and was buried, so also it is to be believed, that He went down into Hell;" while in her creed she teaches her children ever to confess--"He descended into Hell;" inserting in the margin by way of explanation, "He went into the place of departed spirits." In the same way she recognizes the doctrine of the intermediate state in all her public offices. She never speaks of the fullness of joy1 as something to be attained by the Christian immediately after death, but looks forward to it with hope, as a consummation to follow the second coming of our Lord, the resurrection of the dead, and the judgment of the last day. Thus in the collect for the first Sunday in Advent, we pray, that "when Christ shall come again in His glorious majesty to judge both the quick and dead, we may rise to the life immortal."
In the Burial Service, as we might naturally expect, we find a plain distinction made between the rest we are to inherit at death, and that which is to be our portion at the last day. For instance, in one of the concluding prayers, we entreat the Father, "that when we shall depart this life, we may rest in Him; and that at the general resurrection in the last day, we may be found acceptable in His sight, and receive that blessing which His well beloved Son shall then pronounce to those who love and fear Him, saying, Come, ye blessed children of my Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the "beginning of the world." Here, two separate times and two distinct rewards are mentioned. In the same way, in one of the other prayers, after speaking of "those who have finished their course in faith," as "now resting from their labors," we are taught to look forward to a still higher stage of felicity to which they may reach, and therefore pray--"And we beseech Thee, that we, with all those who are departed in the true faith of Thy holy name, may have our perfect consummation and bliss, both in body and soul, in Thy eternal and everlasting glory." [This prayer in the service of the Church of England is even more explicit, where the petition is offered to God, "of His gracious goodness shortly to accomplish the number of His elect, and to hasten His kingdom: that we, with all those that are departed in. the true faith of His holy name, may have our perfect consummation and bliss both in body and soul."]
Again--another argument in support of this doctrine is derived from its ~being so evidently in accordance with reason. A belief indeed in the immediate entrance of the soul into its full reward or punishment is one which necessarily leads us into inextricable difficulties.
Each individual passes through his probation here, a compound being, the earthly and the spiritual united by a chain, the links of which we can not discover, though we daily and hourly feel the influence of one part of our nature upon the other. The material and the immaterial sin and suffer together. Tempting and being tempted, they go through life--the spirit by its imaginings urging on its sluggish partner to action, while the body by the outward sense trammels down the soul, to become "of the earth, earthly." Participating in the same acts, and deserving of the same recompense, should they not be united before they fully enter on. that state of bliss or woe which is to be unchanged through eternity? Can we indeed conceive of any retribution which will fitly reward man for all his doings here, if it does not act upon both parts of his nature? Can he fully rejoice or suffer, while existing as a purely spiritual being, in this state of separation? Can we believe therefore that he will receive his final sentence--or that there will be any use in pronouncing it--until he stands before the throne, the same he was in every respect, while living a probationer here? Why then should he enter into his final state before that hour arrives?
Again--supposing that he does pass at once into Heaven or Hell, judgment in that case must be pronounced upon him as soon as his spirit leaves the body. Must not then the process of finally acquitting or condemning the disembodied souls which each hour are winging their flight to the eternal world, be ceaselessly going on? This would indeed entirely set aside the general judgment of the last day, unless we can suppose the absurdity, that now the spirit is judged, but then the body alone will stand up for retribution. For what could it be but an empty show, to recall from Heaven the countless tribes of the just after they have been glorified there for ages, and then once more to return them to that abode, with the sentence, "Enter ye into the joy of your Lord!" Bishop Sherlock, in his "Practical Discourse concerning a Future Judgment," sums up this argument in a single sentence--"And the truth is, if all men have a final sentence passed on them as soon as they go into the other world, it is very unaccountable, why Christ at the last day shall come with such a terrible pomp and solemnity to judge and condemn those, who are judged, and condemned, and executed already as much as they can ever be." But the plain teaching of Scripture is, that there should be a day at the end of the world, when not only the unnumbered multitudes of the human race, but also the apostate angels who are "reserved in chains" against that solemn hour, shall together receive the sentence which all eternity can not reverse. Our Lord is now represented, standing as Mediator before the throne of His Father, and not until the mighty drama of this world is entirely concluded, will He ascend the tribunal of judgment.
Neither, on the other hand, can it be argued, that this admission to a state of rest merely and imperfect bliss, would in any way forestall the judgment of the last day, or that the solemnities of Christ's tribunal would be rendered vain by that previous knowledge of our destiny, which must be gained from our intermediate state. "The condition of one who dies in his sins, and awakes to a sense of the retribution that awaits him, may, not inaptly, be compared to that of a criminal who is committed to a gaol for trial, without the slightest hope of escaping conviction. It could hardly be said of such a person, that his fear and anguish there would forestall the solemnities of justice, and render nugatory the subsequent administration and execution of the law. The forms and proceedings of earthly justice do not indeed, provide a precisely similar illustration to the case of those who have persevered in well doing; but nevertheless, we are unable to comprehend, why the analogy should not likewise be extended to them. What is there unreasonable in the surmise, that a righteous man may awaken from death to that full assurance of acquittal and acceptance which some have affirmed to be attainable even in the present life? Why may he not be placed in a state of which the enjoyment shall consist in the knowledge that his trials and agitations are at an end, that the forgiveness of his sins is finally sealed, and that a reward will at some period be assigned him, proportioned to his faithfulness, by the infallible wisdom and goodness of his Judge?" [British Critic, No. IV.]
How natural then seems the order of events, when we adopt the belief of an intermediate state! New light is thus poured upon many a passage of Scripture, while every difficulty which was suggested by the reason, at once passes away. There we behold the departed, resting in their separate mansions, through all the ages which intervene between the hour of death and the final consummation of all things. In peace the just repose, for the cares and sorrows of this lower world have passed away for ever, and in the full assurance of hope they look forward to that hour, when their "Lord shall be revealed from Heaven," and they be admitted to the fullness of joy, in the "place which he hath prepared for them." There also, yet separated by "a gulf which they can not pass," are the wicked. The record of a wasted life is ever before them, for already conscience has commenced her work, and they feel the gnawings of that worm which dieth not for ever. In trembling and fear therefore, they await the revolution of that cycle of ages, and the coming of that day of decision, when they shall be forced to descend to a deeper, more awful state of torment. Thus it is, that the general judgment becomes, as Scripture represents it, the winding up of this world's history. There, the descendants of Adam, of "every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation," meet for the last time--they are "judged for their works "--the final separation is made--and they pass away, to begin their endless retribution. [It will be at once perceived, that this doctrine is widely different from the belief of the Romanists in Purgatory. Their doctrine is, (as given in their own words)--"Some there are, though I fear but few, that have before their death so fully cleared all accounts with the Divine Majesty, and washed away all their stains in the blood of the Lamb, as to go straight to Heaven after death; and such as those stand not in need of our prayers. Others there are, and their numbers are very great, who die in the guilt of deadly sin, and such as these go straight to Hell, like the rich glutton in the Gospel, St. Luke, xvi., and therefore cannot be bettered by our prayers. But besides these two kinds, there are many Christians, who, when they die, are neither so perfectly pure and clean, as to exempt them from the least spot or stain, nor yet so unhappy as to die under the guilt of unrepented deadly sin. Now such as these the Church believes to be, for a time, in a middle state, which we call Purgatory; and these are they who are capable of receiving benefit by our prayers."--The Catholic Christian Instructed. By the Most Rev. Dr. CHALLONER.]
A single question more remains to be answered.
It is the inquiry, What was the object of our Lord's descant into the place of departed Spirits?
One end answered by it was, that in this respect also He conformed Himself to the lot of those whose nature He had assumed. When He left "the glory which He had with the Father before the world was," it seems to have been His purpose to become "like unto us in all things, sin only excepted." He passed through every trial to which frail humanity is subjected. His were the feebleness and pains of wailing infancy--the cares which gather around the years of manhood--the shrinking of nature at the sight of death--and the last convulsive struggle which bursts the prison-house of clay. And even when He entered the gates of the grave, He continued to tread the same path in which each one of us--His brethren after the flesh--must one day walk. His body was committed to the tomb, after a time to be awakened again as an incorruptible and spiritual body, freed from all human infirmities, and then to pass into the Heavens. And for the same reason must His soul also abide in the resting place of those He came to redeem, until the hour in which it was to be once more united with His body. Thus it was, that the humiliation of the Son of God was not confined to this world. It did not end with the agonies of the Crucifixion. It continued even after he had passed the veil which separates the living from the dead. As a disembodied spirit, He found that He must still acknowledge brotherhood with mortals from the earth.
Again--our Lord thus proved to us the certainty of our victory over Hades. We point to the resurrection, and say, "Thus it is that we know we also shall triumph over the grave. He hath burst the band of death asunder, and with the like power shall His people also be gifted." This it is, which sheds a glory around the tomb, and lights up its gloomy caverns with a celestial radiance.
But would not the work have been incomplete, if no pledge had been given us of the Spirit's victory in the invisible world--if our Master had neglected to point out the path it also was to tread, in the interval between "death and the resurrection?" But "He hath done all things well." Nothing was left unaccomplished. His grace was displayed even in the mansions of the departed, and to us therefore they are divested of all terror. "His soul was not left in Hades," neither shall His children be forever detained there. He now "has the keys of Hell (Hades) and of Death," and shall release them when the appointed hour comes, that they too may ascend as He did, to the "fullness of joy."
And may we not add also, that another object of His descent was, that He might there proclaim the news of His redemption to the spirits which were in safe keeping? We have already alluded to this, when discussing that difficult passage in St. Peter, and stated what must have been the manner of His preaching. There, the righteous had rested for ages, in anticipation of that future atonement which was to be wrought out by the Son of God. Is there any thing strange then in the idea, that when that ransom had been paid, which secured their salvation, and the power of their great Enemy was forever broken, He should descend and unfold these glorious tidings to the countless myriads of the redeemed? While on earth, they had looked forward with the anticipation of hope, and "rejoiced to see that day" even through the mist of intervening centuries; but now, these visions were realized and the Messiah Himself proclaims, that "it is finished." "The passage in St. Peter, which speaks of Christ as having 'preached to the spirits,' gives, we think"--says an eloquent living writer--"something of foundation to the opinion, that whilst His body was in the sepulchre, Christ preached to spirits in the separate state, opening up to them, probably, those mysteries of redemption into which even angels, before-time, had vainly striven to look. The kings, and the prophets, and the righteous men, who had desired to see the things which apostles saw, and had not seen them, and hear the things which they heard, and had not heard them--unto these, it may be, Christ brought a glorious roll of intelligence; and we can imagine Him standing in the midst of a multitude which no man can number, who had all gone down to the chambers of death with but indistinct and far-off glimpses of the promised Messiah, and explained to the eager assembly the beauty, and the stability of that deliverance which He had just wrought out through obedience and blood-shedding. And, oh, there must then have gone forth a tide of the very loftiest gladness through the listening crowds of the separate state; and then, perhaps, for the first time, admiration and extacy summoning out the music, was heard that anthem, whose rich peal rolls down the coming eternity, 'Worthy, worthy, worthy is the Lamb.' Then, it may be, for the first time, did Adam embrace all the magnificence of the promise, that 'the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head;' and Abraham understand how the well-being of the human population depended on one that should spring from his own loins; and David ascertain all the meaning of mysterious strains, which, as prefiguring Messiah, he had swept from the harp-strings. Then too, the long train of Aaron's line, who had stood at the altar, and slain the victims, and burnt the incense, almost weighed down by a ritual, the import of whose ceremonies was but indistinctly made known--then, it may be, they were suddenly and sublimely taught the power of every figure, and the expression of every rite; whilst the noble company of prophets, holy men who ' spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,' but who, rapt into the future, uttered much which only the future could develop--these, as though starting from the sleep of ages, sprang into the centre of that gorgeous panorama of truth which they had been commissioned to outline, but over whose spreadings there had rested the cloud and the mist; and Isaiah thrilled at the glories of his own saying, ' unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given;' and Hosea grasped all the mightiness of the declaration, which he had poured forth whilst denouncing the apostacies of Samaria, ' O Death, I will be thy plagues; O Grave, I will be thy destruction.'
"We know not why it may not thus be considered that the day of Christ's entrance into the separate state was, like the Pentecostal day to the Church upon earth, a day of the rolling off of obscurity from the plan of redemption, and of showing how ' glory, honor and immortality,' were made accessible to the remotest of the world's families; a day on which a thousand types gave place to realities and a thousand predictions leaped into fulfillment; a day therefore, on which there circulated through the enormous gatherings of Adam and his elect posterity, already ushered into rest, a gladness which had never yet been reached in all the depth of their beatifical repose.
And neither, then, can we discover cause why Christ may not be thought to have filled the office of preacher to the buried tribes of the righteous, and thus to have assumed that character which he has never since laid aside, that of 'a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched, and not man.'"
This then is the doctrine of the Intermediate state. Comfortable indeed to man in his feebleness is the thought, that even in this respect his Lord hath prepared the way for him! The path which connects this world of toil and sorrow with one of songs and gladness, has been clearly pointed out. It is still radiant with his Master's footsteps, and His followers may tread it without fear. And if, when all things are bright before him, he realizes this but feebly, yet to him also there must come "a time to suffer and be silent," when spiritual promises alone will be able to satisfy the intense longings of his soul. As man journeys onward through an evil world, the glory of this lower life fades away--its hues of beauty disappear--and are lost at last as the clouds gather around his setting sun. Beautifully indeed does one of England's Christian poets portray this change which passes over all things, thus weaning the Spirit away from, this earth, and disposing it to look to Heaven.
"Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel still, is Nature's Priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day."
[WORDSWORTH'S Ode--"Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood."]
Such is truly the sorrowful process of man's life. One by one the objects in which he had garnered up his affections pass away, until often in the gray twilight of his days lie is left alone and desolate. Then indeed if he look around for sympathy, from the busy, earnest world about him there comes forth no response. Orestes-like he seeks for peace with a deeper yearning than that suppliant in the ancient Grecian Drama, yet he seeks in vain. The flowers of his earthly Paradise are faded, and its cisterns broken. Memory lifts up her voice within him, like the archangel's trump, summoning from their forgotten graves, thoughts and scenes which long since had passed away. Their images rise up mournfully, as it were to mock him, for he knows that the reality can never return. For him is reserved only the lonely night, which stealing insensibly on, is ever deepening its shadows about his path. When therefore this world thus vanishes away and life by its own vicissitudes has taught him the lesson of his vanity--when nothing but evils seem to "choke Time's groaning tide"--how cheering is the thought, that the future yet remains to be his certain heritage! He raises his eyes above the gathering darkness and the clouds which surround him, and beholds beyond them, that land which is always radiant with a celestial glory. The past, with its sorrowful memories, is forgotten, and he lives only in the anticipations of the future. He is not driven forward to the coming world without "knowing the things that shall befall him there." He is sustained by the "hope which maketh not ashamed." And thus he passes along through the remaining days of his pilgrimage, sharing in that spirit which the old artists attempted to embody in their delineations of Faith when they represented her treading a rugged and thorny road, yet clasping the Cross to her heart, and her eyes intently fixed upon the calm, clear Heavens above. He feels that Death shall only come like the Angel to the Apostles, bursting the bars of his prison-house, and leading him forth to the light and to the day. His spirit pines within him for the sweet waters of the River of Life. The voices of the dead too, who have gone before, come solemnly to his ears, as they urge him to press onward to the promised land. There, his wanderings shall end, and the pilgrim staff be forever cast aside. There he shall be at peace in the mansions of rest, with the mighty army of patriarchs and apostles, and confessors and martyrs, who have already slept in the faith. Cheered by a brighter manifestation of his Master's presence than can be his lot in this world, he shall await his full reward, and the crown which shall be given him at the last day. With what unwavering confidence may he then look up and
"Soon wilt Thou take us to Thy tranquil bower
To rest one little hour,
Till Thine elect are number'd, and the grave
Call Thee to come and save:
Then on thy bosom borne shall we descend,
Again with earth to blend,
Earth all refin'd with bright supernal fires,
Tinctur'd with holy blood, and wing'd with pure desires.
Meanwhile, with every son and saint of Thine
Along the glorious line
Sitting by turns beneath Thy sacred feet
We'll hold communion sweet,
Know them by look and voice, and thank them all
For helping ns in thrall,
For words of hope, and bright examples given
To show through moonless skies that there is light in Heaven."
[KEBLE'S Easter Eve.]
Thus ages shall glide by, until the history of this world is completed, and the number of the elect made up. Then our long expected Lord shall descend with a shout--the dust of each one of the saints be collected from the four winds, united again to its former partner, as the spirit comes forth from its resting-place, and all shall gather around the throne of Him whom they followed while on earth, ready to receive the sentence--"Well done, good and faithful servants, enter ye into the joy of your Lord." This shall be the GREAT EASTER OF THE EARTH.