SIR ROBERT ANDERSON
Secret Service Theologian
THE INTERMEDIATE STATE
DEATH is an outrage, and all healthy life reaches out
toward what lies beyond it. By the resurrection of Christ the Christian has
been "begotten to a living hope." For not only has Christ triumphed over death,
but He has given the victory to us. By His own resurrection He has become the
firstfruits of all them that sleep. Not that the resurrection itself is the
Christian's hope. The hope is that which the resurrection is to bring, but
which will be realised apart from death and resurrection by those who shall be
living upon earth at the coming of the Lord. But what of the intermediate
state? Life on earth, though full of mystery, lies open to us; and "we know
that when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."
"Yes," some one will plead, "all this we know; but what we want to know is what
lies between? We have seen the passing of loved ones. We have heard their last
words. We have watched them as their last look of recognition ended in the dull
vacant stare of death. But what is death'? They are fallen asleep in
Christ, we read, but what does this mean? Is it the Nirvana of the Buddhist in
a Christian dress? Have these lost ones practically ceased to exist? Is all the
interval between death and resurrection but a blank? What is their condition
If we are prepared to accept what the Bible teaches, and to refuse all besides, we shall find that many popular beliefs upon the subject must be dismissed as sentiment; and, on the other hand, that the real perplexities and griefs which distress so many sorrowing Christians are largely due to ignorance or neglect of Scripture. For to begin with, the dead can have no share in the activities of "the higher service above"; and "harps" and "crowns" and manifested glory must, for them, await the resurrection. But when we are told that their "sleep" can only mean a state of absolute unconsciousness, the question arises whether this may not be the merest theory, a theory, moreover, which may be challenged even on the basis of human philosophy.
But "what saith the Scripture?" In the vision of" the fifth seal," we find "the souls of them that were slain for the Word of God," crying for judgment on those who had shed their blood. This, no doubt, is but a vision. But the visions of the Revelation are given to instruct and not to mislead us, and this vision clearly teaches that the disembodied dead are alive to the events of their sojourn here. Nor need we appeal to the facts of spiritualism - facts which its many frauds do not destroy - to prove that spirit may have intercourse with spirit, apart altogether from the body. Indeed, if we had not agreed to appeal only to the Scriptures, it might be argued that in regard to such intercourse the body may be a hindrance and not a help.
When the Apostle Paul records that he was "caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words," he says expressly, "Whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell." It is absolutely certain therefore that he believed in "the possibility of consciousness and receptivity in a disembodied state."
His words may be connected with his martyrdom at Lystra. Stoning as practised by the Jews was a terrible death. And after the stoning his murderers dragged him out of the city. And though both the Jews and the disciples believed him to be dead, there may have been nothing extraordinary in the fact of his recovery. But what the narrative records is altogether extraordinary. We are told, not that he was carried into the town, and slowly nursed back to life, but that "as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city"; and the very next day he travelled to Derbe. That his recovery was miraculous is clear, and he may well have remained in doubt whether he had not actually passed the gates of death, and been called back to life to fulfil his ministry. But the fact remains that he never knew whether it was as a living man or as a disembodied spirit that he received that amazing revelation of which he speaks.
Let us read this in the light of what he has already said in the fifth chapter. He there enumerates three several conditions of existence - the "burdened" state of life in the body, the "naked" state in which death leaves us, and the "clothed-upon" state which is our proper destiny. The "groan" of the "burdened" state is not a morbid craving for death, but a longing for the realisation of that for which God "hath wrought us," and of which the gift of the Spirit is an earnest. But to be "at home in the body" is to be "absent from the Lord," and to be "absent from the body" is to be "at home with the Lord." And to be at home with the Lord is better than to be "burdened" here. For this, therefore, he expresses a preference.' But as the second verse teaches, it is the "earnest desire" - the longing of the spiritual Christian - " to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven"; that is, with the glorified body that awaits us.
The "beliefs" of such an one as the Apostle Paul no one may lightly dismiss; but here we are not dealing merely with his beliefs, but with his teaching by Divine inspiration. And this much is clear and certain, that at death the redeemed sinner passes into the presence of the Lord, not in some vague Pantheistic sense, but in a sense which implies the conscious enjoyment of His presence.
This is confirmed again by the Apostle's words to the Philippians: "To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." There is immense significance here in the change of tense, a change which may be medicated by the somewhat un-English rendering " To live is Christ; to have died is gain." To hold that death is gain is the cowardly and evil creed of suicides. Such a thought is foreign, not only to Christian teaching, but to the character of Paul. Can any one imagine that such a man would have deemed it "gain" to escape, even from a Roman prison, by a plunge into "a sea of stagnant idleness"! Far different was his thought as he balanced the benefits of "departing," or of "abiding in the flesh." "To depart"' was "to be with Christ"; and this, he declared, was "far better." Such words would savour of the merest sentiment if "the intermediate state" were not one of conscious enjoyment of the Lord's presence.
Lastly, we have the teaching of the Lord Himself. And His teaching is clear and conclusive. From the parable of the rich man and Lazarus we learn that, immediately after death, the lost are in suffering, and the redeemed are "comforted." But, we are told, the parable is based upon Rabbinical beliefs. Its framework may possibly be thus explained, but this affords no warrant or excuse for rejecting or evading the truth that it was given specially to teach. Nor will it avail to plead that the "flame," and "Abraham's bosom," are figurative expressions. Figures must be either true or false, and the test of truth is whether they represent realities. One who lives for this world passes at death to a state of suffering; and one who has chosen God is "comforted." There is no question here of the award of the Day of Judgment. In the one case as in the other the after death condition is the sequel of the great life-choice. The parable was the Lord's answer to the ridicule which the Pharisees cast upon His solemn words, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon": can we tolerate the thought that He was merely scoring a point against them by appealing to their own superstitions and false beliefs?'
The question at issue resolves itself into this, whether God is really the God of the departed, or whether, for the time, they have practically ceased to be. And here again the Lord's teaching is definite and full. "God is not the God of the dead but of the living," He declared; and in proof of it He cited the words spoken to Moses at the bush, "I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." The force of this is lost if we take it as merely an assertion that God was the Patriarchs' God when they lived on earth, and that He will be again their God at the resurrection. The Lord's use of these words was to teach that, in the sense in which the Sadducees understood death, the Patriarchs were not dead but living. "For," He adds, "He is lot a God of dead men, but of living men ; for all live unto him." But where are they? some one perhaps will querulously demand. To faith the question is already answered by the assurance that they are "with Christ." When the Lord comes, we are told, God will bring them "with Him." For He died for us "that whether we wake or sleep we should live together with Him." "Thou shalt be with Me in paradise" was His promise to the dying thief.
But does the "where" refer to locality in space? "Thou fool" is the answer given to the question "How are the dead raised up, and with what body do they come?" And no better answer can be given here. Heaven is popularly supposed to be somewhere beyond the stars. But the Lord went up to heaven in a cloud. And when the martyr Stephen's eyes were opened, he "looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God." At the Lord's call Lazarus came from the tomb as instantly as if the living man had been imprisoned there. And Jairus' daughter "rose up immediately," just as though He had awakened her from sleep.
If we refuse to believe that the spirits with whom spiritualists traffic are the departed dead, it is not because there is anything essentially impossible in their being close at hand, but because Scripture does not warrant the belief that they are permitted to appear to us, and the facts of spiritualistic seances point to the conclusion that demons personate them. And it is the appeal to Scripture which leads us to reject the Nirvana theory that the dead are sunk in an unconscious sleep. We should long to believe that such is the condition of the impenitent; and as for the redeemed, there is nothing in the thought to distress the most sensitive mind or the most loving heart.
Here then is the answer which Holy Scripture gives to the fears and longings of those who mourn the loss of loved ones gone from earth. They are "with Christ, which is far better"; they are "comforted" by Him who is "the God of all comfort"; and though dead to earth, they are "living unto Him."
"Thou wilt not sever us, 0 Lord our God,
In Thy blest mansions. On earth's dreary sod
Our hearts are torn with partings. One by one
The loved and cherish'd leave us. Every stone
The cold, damp cemetery holds, is faced
With lines that find their parallels deep traced
Within our souls. Thus works Thy chisel, Lord,
In strokes severe. Yet be Thy name adored
For all Thy dealings! In Thy purpose deep
A blessing lies, unscann'd by us who weep
Amid these shadows. Night will soon be past -
The cloudy night of time that ends at last.
In heaven's bright morning.
Yet a little while,
And we shall greet that blissful morning's smile
With hallelujahs. Then Thy love's deep thought
Shall be unfolded. All Thy blood has bought
Shall come with Thee; and each we loved and knew,
And mourn'd for here, shall rise upon our view
In brighter, lovelier form - akin to Thine -
Thy work, Lord Jesus ! - perfect, pure, divine ! -
Thus re-united, through eternal days
Our joy shall be Thyself - _our theme Thy praise!"
"DON'T be a fool." Such a phrase may seem strangely
uncouth, and utterly unworthy, as a refrain to the note struck in one of the
earliest pages of this book. And yet it is but a colloquial rendering of an
Apostolic precept addressed to the Ephesian Church. "Be not unwise," our
translators give it; but "fools" is their rendering of the same word elsewhere:
"Be not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is."
The use made of the passage in Ecclesiastes, above referred to, about paying vows, illustrates the need of this Apostolic exhortation. For no man of generous mind would be guilty of the mingled cruelty and meanness which, in this matter, "the Catholic Church" attributes to God. The enforcement of life vows, moreover, is not only abhorrent to the spirit of Christianity, but opposed even to the letter of the Mosaic law.
If the Apostle's words be construed precisely as he wrote them they will read thus: "Take heed then how ye walk strictly, not as unwise but as wise, buying up for yourselves the opportunity, because the days are evil: on this account be not fools, but understand what the will of the Lord is."
There are different types of folly in the Christian life. The man who walks carefully is as really a fool as the man who walks carelessly, if with all his care he is ignorant of the Divine will. And it is this kind of folly that often does the most harm. For while the "inconsistent" Christian, who openly leaves the path, is regarded as an outsider, the earnest religionist who is wanting in intelligence misrepresents God and misleads men. In no sphere, indeed, is the exhortation which heads this chapter more needed. For in all that pertains to religion, men seem ready to take leave not only of the Bible, but of their brains. And yet a book might be written on the appeals which Scripture makes to that uncommon quality called common sense. In addressing the Athenians, for example, the Apostle Paul appealed to it in proof that "God who made the world and all things that are therein" does not live in a house of stone or brick, "neither is served with men's hands as though He needed anything." And in the Epistle to the Corinthians he appeals to it when enjoining that even true spiritual impulses, and the exercise of genuine spiritual gifts, are to be made subordinate to the practical purpose of edifying others. "Let all things be done unto edifying," and "Let all things be done decently and in order" What are these maxims but an appeal to the ordinary intelligence of spiritual men?
And the great principle enunciated in the fifteenth chapter, that the natural takes precedence of the spiritual, has a wide and general application. Natural relationships, for example, have priority over spiritual relationships. Husband, father, master; wife, child, servant; these are not merged in the higher and closer bond of oneness in Christ, - but on the contrary, unless where loyalty to the Lord is involved, they take precedence of it.
Man's ruin by the fall does not destroy the fact that he is God's creature. The word "natural," therefore, has a double meaning. It may stand for what is right and good, as well as for what is evil. But Christians forget this; and as the result they often become unreal through wishing to become spiritual. A "sanctimonious" tone of speech, for example, and a phraseology that savours of cant, are studiously acquired by many as being more in keeping with truth and holiness than plain words spoken in a natural voice. In this matter, as in many another that might be specified, the Christian cannot be too "natural."
But while ordinary intelligence might save us from many of the follies of what passes as "religion," there are errors of another kind, more subtle and more evil, in respect of which we are entirely dependent on "the word of the Lord" to teach us "the will of the Lord." Hence the importance of making Holy Scripture the test and touchstone in everything, whether of conduct or of creed. A great Englishman of our own generation said a very great thing when he declared, in effect, that our care should always be to fall into line with the Divine purpose. And if a man of the world can grasp this principle, it ought surely to be the Christian's most earnest aim to "understand what the will of the Lord is." But Christians generally seem strangely ignorant even of God's supreme purpose in redemption, and therefore wholly blind to the significance and solemnity of the times we live in.
The materialism which, a generation ago, accepted a plausible theory of the origin of living matter as an adequate solution of all the mysteries of life, has given way under the proofs which Spiritualism affords of the existence of beings to whose origin evolution can supply no clue. And movements like Spiritualism and Christian Science, which in our own time have made more converts than Christianity, ought surely to have a voice for the spiritual Christian. But while even men of science have come to recognise the existence of a spirit world, the attitude of most Christians toward that world is one of scepticism or indifference. In a vague way, indeed, they believe in a devil - the bogey of the religion of Christendom - but of the Satan of Scripture they know absolutely nothing.
"Ye are of your father the Devil," was the Lord's scathing reply to the Jews when, in rejecting His teaching, they fell back upon that figment of apostates, the fatherhood of God: "Ye are of your father the Devil, and the desires of your father it is your will to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has not stood in the truth because truth is not in him. When he speaketh the lie, he speaketh of his own, for he is a liar and the father of it."' "A murderer from the beginning." The beginning of what? Not of his own existence; for he was created in perfectness and beauty. Nor of the existence of man; for, before the Eden fall, he had already dragged down others in his ruin. His being a murderer connects itself immediately with the truth which he refused, and the lie of which he is the father. These words of our Divine Lord give us a glimpse into a past eternity, when, to the heavenly intelligences, the great mystery of God was first made known - the purpose of the ages, that a Firstborn was to be revealed, and that "in all things He might have the pre-eminence."
The greatest of those heavenly beings, whom we now know as Satan, claimed that place, and, rebelling against the Divine counsels, he set himself from that hour to thwart them. Therefore it was that he compassed the ruin of our race. But it is in the temptation of Christ that he and his lie are fully manifested. He claimed to meet the Lord on more than equal terms. Not one Christian in a thousand realises the significance of the narrative. Having "led Him up," and given Him that mysterious vision of the kingdoms of the world, the Devil said unto Him, "To thee will I give all this power and the glory of them; for it hath been delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me it shall be thine."
This was not the raving of profanity or madness. It was the bold assertion of a disputed right. Satan claims to be the Firstborn, the rightful heir of creation, the true Messiah; and as such he claims the homage of mankind. Men dream of a Devil with horns and hoofs, an obscene monster who tempts the depraved to acts of atrocity or shame; but the Satan of Holy Writ "fashions himself into an angel of light," and "his ministers fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness." Do angels of light and ministers of righteousness corrupt men's morals, or incite them to commit acts of vice or crime? peril to the Christian by tending to draw him away from Christ. For there is nothing more plainly revealed in Scripture than that "the latter days" are to be marked by a development of evil of unparalleled subtlety - an apostasy of such a kind that, but for Divine grace, it would "deceive the very Elect."
If people would use their brains they would see that "the Elect" could only be deceived by evil in the guise of good; not by an apostasy characterised by transparent error or open violence. Thus it was with the mother of our race. For Eve was "thoroughly deceived " by the Devil's craftiness in persuading her that wrong was right. The mythical devil of Christendom is an extraordinary creature who, though omnipresent - for he is always at the side of every man and woman and child of all the fifteen hundred millions of mankind - devotes his powers to making children naughty and grown-up people vicious. But the Satan with whom we have to do is "the old Serpent" of Eden, and "the Power of Darkness" of the betrayal and crucifixion of the Son of God; that awful being of whom Holy Scripture speaks as "the prince of this world" and "the god of this world," who controls the religion of the world. He appears in the very dawn of Revelation; and in its closing pages he fills a still larger place. For while he has seemed to be the victor in many a skirmish, the voice of Divine prophecy is full and clear that the great battle is yet to come, when he will enter the lists in a final effort to thwart the supreme purpose of God in creation and redemption.
And what is that purpose? "The salvation of sinners" is the reply which a certain type of orthodoxy will offer. "The elevation of the race" will be the testimony of the most modern and popular school of theology; for with that school man is the spoiled child of the universe, and all heaven is dancing attendance on him! But the answer which every spiritual Christian will give to the question is, "the exaltation of Christ." Man is but "a pawn upon the board." Our confidence and peace depend upon the fact that our salvation is linked with that great purpose. "Kept by the power of God" is inscribed upon the life record of every sinner who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. He knows his own worthlessness and weakness, but he knows also that "HE is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by Him." Just as a drop of water from the shallowest pool upon the shore is the ocean in miniature, so the spiritual life-struggle of the humblest of the redeemed is a miniature of the great spiritual conflict of the ages. This it is that gives such solemnity, and lends such dignity, to the life of each one of us; for the true aim of the Christian life is to be ever in harmony with the Divine purpose of exalting Christ.
And now we can appreciate the Apostle's words in their application to the times in which we live. The days are evil: "on this account be not unwise." No Christian need hesitate to own that both materially and morally "the world is getting better." But he will not confound the moral with the spiritual sphere, nor fail to see that, with increasing prosperity and intelligence, there is a marked decline, even in outward reverence for God.
But all this is beside the question. For what concerns us is not the state of the world as such, but the condition of the professing Church. Students of prophecy used to be perplexed by the seeming incompatibility of predictions of a revival of the historic apostasy, side by side with a new departure from the faith, marked by spiritual power and a high moral standard, and yet by a turning away from Christ and Scripture - " a form of godliness but denying the power thereof." But here in England today this enigma is being solved before our eyes. The National Church is lapsing back to the errors and superstitions of pre-Reformation times And the only powerful check upon this "Catholic revival" is essentially rationalistic. As for the "Free Churches," a feeble evangelicalism, bent on compromise, is with most of them the only hindrance to the supremacy of the new apostasy. For the increasing clericalism which characterises them is due to the fact that in giving up what is Divine, men are apt to cling more closely to the human element in religion. From the standpoint of our national interests, Rome is our greatest danger; for the influence of the Church as a political power has been always evil. But the Christian may be pardoned if he hesitates between an apostasy which embodies, even in the most corrupt form, the vital truths of Christianity, and an apostasy which rejects the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, and discredits the Scriptures which speak of Him.
Such a statement may seem startling. But let us cast aside prejudice, and test it by characteristic manifcstoes of the two systems - the Decrees of the Council of Trent, and Hastings' "Dictionary of the Bible." In the one we shall find, beneath a mass of superstition and error, a - clear acknowledgment of the deity of Christ, and of the truth and Divine authority of Holy Scripture. The prevailing tendency of the other may be judged by the following typical extract from the "Dictionary." It is from the article on "Satan," and therefore strictly germane to the subject of this present chapter.
"From the preceding exposition of the biblical conceptions respecting Satan we clearly see that early Christianity shared in the prevailing Jewish beliefs in demons and Satan. . . . "Our argument by no means implies that Jesus shared in all the current conceptions respecting demons. The problem - is a complex one. We have to give due place to two considerations : (1) that Christ's sayings and deeds are necessarily coloured by the representative human media through which they are conveyed to us; (2) that the demonology of Christ's belief is scarcely visible in the Fourth Gospel, though His belief in a personal Satan is clearly apparent. There can, however, be no scientific Christology which does not recognise that Christ's humanity was so genuine and complete that He shared in the cosmic presuppositions of His time.
Now demonology was a necessary part of the intellectual apparatus of that period."
This extract is thoroughly characteristic of the book from which it is quoted, and of the school by which the book is accredited. The Buddha of this system was the dupe of "the current Jewish notions" of an ignorant age. 1 Therefore it was that (to quote Dr. Harnack) He believed in "stories of demons" and such like "absurdities"; therefore it was that He accepted and accredited the Hebrew Scriptures, and especially the Pentateuch, now known by "all people of culture" to be a priestly forgery; and the Books of Jonah and of Daniel, now rejected as an allegory and a romance!
(Footnote - Here is another specimen. As above quoted (p. 147), the Apostle Paul records a revelation accorded him about demons, prefaced by the words, "the Spirit ~aith expreeriy." "St. Paul shared the conceptions of his contemporaries respecting demons," is the answer of Hastings' "Dictionary" as to this (article "Demons"). Men who write thus deserve to be branded as - ; ~vell, they are not entitled to the least respect or consideration. )
And not only was His teaching destitute of any Divine sanction, but the writings which record it are unreliable. Neither the doctrine nor the records, therefore, afford any sure basis for faith. Is it not clear as light that the critic and the Christian have neither the same Bible, nor yet the same Christ? The Kenosis theory by which these men seek to justify their repudiation of the teaching of our Divine Lord is entirely inadequate and irrelevant. For what has to be accounted for is not that in the ministry of His humiliation He was ignorant and deceived, though this might well offend the reverent and perplex the thoughtful; but what claims explanation is, that with extreme solemnity He demanded acceptance of His false teaching as Divine truth; that after His resurrection He endorsed it with the utmost definiteness, and sent out His Apostles to promulgate it; that the Holy Spirit, given to lead His disciples into all truth, confirmed them in the error; and that for eighteen centuries His people were left thus deluded and deceived, till a set of foreign rationalists exposed the fraud. All this must be accounted for before we can accept "the assured results of modern criticism."
Still more irrelevant is it to plead that the English exponents of the so-called Higher Criticism are men of earnest piety and devotion to truth. For what concerns us is the character, not of the men, but of the system. "He that hateth his brother is a murderer," is one of many statements which seem to savour of exaggeration if we forget the underlying principle, that an influence is to be judged by its legitimate tendencies; a road, by where it leads. We must not judge of the Higher Criticism, therefore, by the men who now father it in England, for they were trained in a different school, and still feel the power of the truths which they undermine. But what about those who shall come after them? Already there are quasi-Christian pulpits occupied by "ministers of righteousness" whose theology knows no Eden Fall, no redemption by blood, no atonement, no new birth by the Holy Spirit, no inspired Scriptures, no eternal judgment, no hell for the im penitent; no Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, but in his place a "Jesus" who is "the ideal of almost perfect manhood."
And not only are the Hebrew Scriptures discredited, but the Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament are brought down practically to the level of mere human writings. No fair man, therefore, whose mind is unclouded by the superstitions of religion, will deny that these "ministers of righteousness" hold the only position logically tenable if the Higher Criticism is to prevail. And the next generation cannot fail to recognise this. The lists are thus preparing for the great predicted struggle of the latter days, between the cult of rationalistic man-worship and the ancient apostasy of Christendom. If the reader fails to appreciate the origin and significance of this movement, this closing chapter will have been written in vain.
But in the midst of this "deepening gloom" let the Christian recall the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, which remind us that the gathering darkness bears the promise of coming dawn: "When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption is drawing nigh." And as the teaching of this system is so persistently dinned into our ears, we do well to have our minds steeped in the thoughts and words of Holy Scripture about Him whom we worship as Lord and Saviour - words, for instance, such as these, expressly given to save us from the "vain deceit" of "scientific Christologies"' "Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature;
"For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by Him and for Him;
"And He is before all things, and by Him all things consist.
"And He is the head of the body, the Church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead;
that IN ALL THINGS HE MIGHT HAVE THE PRE-EMINENCE."
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