Boyce's Abstract of Systematic Theology—Chapter 39
DEATH AND THE SOUL’S IMMORTALITY.
WE proceed next to the consideration of the death of man, and other topics which are intimately connected with it. In the present chapter will be discussed death; the immortality of the soul; and the condition of the latter between the hour of death, and that of reunion with the body.
The term death is most commonly applied to that separation of soul and body which is the most manifest form in which the penalty of sin is seen among men. That there is a death of the soul also, and that it is something far more terrible than the death of the body, has been shown in the chapter on the “Effects of Adam’s sin,” pp. 239-247. But, this death of the soul is spiritual in its nature, and does not forbid the continued existence of the soul; and its dread realities will be more plainly evinced in the unseen hereafter. Consequently the separation of body and soul makes a more profound impression among living men, and to it the term death is almost exclusively appropriated.
It is sometimes called “natural,” or “physical” death, to distinguish it from that which is “spiritual;” the death “of the body,” as opposed to that “of the soul;” and “temporal” death, in contrast with that which is everlasting.
This separation of body and soul is the almost universal destiny of men. The Scriptures, however, teach that Enoch did not die but “God took him,” Gen. 5:24, and that he “was translated that he should not see death,” Heb. 11:5; also that Elijah “went up by a whirlwind into heaven,” 2 Kings 2:11. Some have supposed that, in like manner Moses escaped death, but it is expressly stated that he died, and was buried in the land of Moab. Deut. 34:5, 6. But Paul declared that at the second coming of the Lord, “we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” 1 Thess. 4:17. Even more explicitly he said “we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” 1 Cor. 15:51, 52. This is the fashioning anew of “the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory” foretold in Phil. 3:21.
But, while death comes thus almost universally to all, there is a marked difference between its connection with the righteous, and with the wicked.
The death of the wicked is easily accounted for. It constitutes a part of the penalty of sin, to which, the Scriptures teach, all men are liable (Rom. 5:12, 14; 1 Cor. 15:21, 22, 53-56), but from which, as such, the people of God are exempted because Christ has redeemed then from the curse of the law. The “death of the saint” instead of being accursed, is “precious in the sight of the Lord,” (Ps. 116:15), and this because he has redeemed them. Ps. 72:14. His death is a death “unto the Lord.” Rom. 14:8. Death is his. 1 Cor. 3:22. Its sting has been removed. 1 Cor. 15:56. But no one of these things is true of the wicked. He has neglected, or rejected the offer of salvation through Christ Jesus. There is no other method of escape from the penalty; and it rests upon him in all it fulness.
It is not so easy to account for the death of the righteous. As he is no longer liable to the penalty of sin, there is no legal ground upon which he must endure death, and, because of which, he cannot be released. This is confirmed by the fact that some righteous have not died, and others will only be changed. But, while death may not thus be legally necessary, it may subserve many purposes in the gracious providence of God, and is, ordinarily, the best way for the Christian to attain the “change” for which he is destined. This should be believed even if it could in no respect be explained.
It ought not to be forgotten that this is not the only dealing of God with his people, which evidently arises from some wise purpose which he has not fully revealed. They might have been taken out of the world as soon as they were justified. Yet, that this is graciously and wisely prevented, is evident from Christ’s declining to pray for it. John 17:15. They might have been preserved from affliction, and persecution, and similar inflictions from God or man. That these are blessed to them, is no proof that they would not have been more blessed without them, for they are taught to look forward to greater bliss in their exemption from them in heaven. Our Lord prayed that they might be kept from the Evil One, and they are doubtless protected from his power in answer to this prayer, but they are still left subject to his influences, and temptations, and are very far from escaping the presence and pollution of sin. In all of these things, we see some reasons for the action of God, though our knowledge is imperfect and incomplete. It ought not to be thought strange if, in like manner, we can only account partially for the death of true believers.
1. Some have thought that, for the attainment of perfect sanctification, it is necessary that the soul and body be separated, and the body reduced to its original elements. That this is not necessary is manifest from the examples of exemption from death already stated. But it may be admitted to be the ordinary method which God has ordained for such sanctification. For the desired perfection, there must be removal of the passions and appetites of the flesh by which man is tempted not only from himself, but through himself. The “change” at the last day accomplishes this in an extraordinary manner. The more ordinary method of God seems to be through death, in which, by its separation from the sinful body, the soul is freed from these temptations, and enabled to live perfectly the life of holiness for which it longs.
2. Another opinion which has been expressed, is, that death is natural to man, and that it, from its nature, becomes the means of his passing from a lower to a higher condition; in which through a more advanced organism the soul may live a more exalted life.
This opinion may be held either about the original, or the fallen condition of man. If about the original condition, it involves the position that the body of man was created mortal, and that its death, as a penalty, was not something superadded when man sinned; but is simply the natural condition of man’s life used by God as penalty, and so made known to man.
If held, however, only as to man’s present natural condition, it would not necessarily involve an original mortality.
As to this opinion, in either form, as well as to the former, it is necessary that it recognize death simply as the ordinary method of man’s passing into another life; for in respect to each of them the exemption of some shows that the end may be by other means accomplished. It derives some support from the analogy of the necessity of death in the seed for its change to a higher form presented in 1 Cor. 15:36-38.
3. Death is supposed by some to be necessary for a life of faith, rather than of sight, in the Christian. It is thought, that, on this account, it would be injurious to make so marked a distinction between the righteous, and the wicked, as would exist in the death of the latter and the change of the former in some other way. But the reason for this opinion is not apparent. It might be true, were the Christian personally changed in body as soon as he believes. But it would not be, if the change should occur only at the time when, otherwise, his death would take place. Doubtless the translation of Enoch was one fitted to produce a profound impression on his contemporaries. It certainly had had no evil influence on his own life. So, if the Christian should have no other certainty of exemption from death, than he now has of salvation, he could derive no motives from that exemption which would militate against his life of faith. It is much more probably because God does not choose to continue the miraculous testimony to the truth of Christianity throughout all time. But had he done this, the lives of Christians in the later ages would have been no less lives of faith than were those of Apostolic times.
4. It has been more generally stated that death is a means of chastisement. It has been shown that, while suffering is common to both, it is inflicted in punishment, by an angry God, in the way of penalty and in chastisement, but by a loving Father, only for correction and discipline; and thus, that the same event, death, may be a curse to the wicked, and a blessing to the righteous. It has been argued that this is the reason why even a Christian man must die. This is true so far as the death of a Christian is a cause of suffering and pain, either in death itself, or in his contemplation of it. It is undoubtedly often a cause of this kind. Even to the Christian it assumes not always an aspect altogether pleasant. He naturally shrinks from its loathsome embrace. It is an enemy, even if it is “the last enemy,” and one over which he is “more than conqueror.” But death is not always regarded with dread. The Christian’s thoughts sometimes leap forward to it with exultant joy. Especially is it true, that seldom, if ever, in the hour of death is the true Christian filled with apprehension and gloom. His own death becomes no chastisement in the event itself. God in that hour gives such sustaining grace that each of his servants is hopeful, peaceful, joyful, even sometimes triumphant.
5. Whether able or not definitely to state on what grounds the Christian is subjected to death, we know that it is a blessing to him. The inquiry into its cause and the various reasons suggested proceed apparently on the supposition that it is an evil which it would be desirable had he been spared. But the Scriptures speak of death as among the “all things” which belong to the Christian. 1 Cor. 3:22. This does not deny its possibly painful character, but asserts that, however painful, it is made his possession, and therefore is used for his benefit. This is in accordance with the universal law of blessing to him which the apostle announces in Rom. 8:28: “We know that to them that love God all things work together for good, to them that are called according to his purpose.” The principle of this law, however, admits either blessing or suffering. The suffering in connection with death was pointed out under the previous division. It will suffice briefly to indicate here some of the blessings also associated with it.
(1.) Death is a blessing to the Christian because, through its contemplation, his sanctification and purification in this life is carried forward. This contemplation of it includes all aspects in which it presents itself, whether painful or otherwise.
(2.) It is a blessing because in it he looks forward to the attainment of final freedom from sin and to perfect sanctification.
(3.) It is a blessing because he recognizes it as the portal to the possession of eternal life.
(4.) Death is a blessing because it gives him an opportunity of giving strong testimony in favor of Christ and his religion.
(5.) It is felt to be a blessing because it opens the doors to immediate conscious personal presence with his Saviour.
These points are obvious and need not be elaborated.
When the immortality of the soul is spoken of, its unending future life is usually meant. This is the immortality which is common to the righteous, and the wicked. The righteous, however, possess, also, that true immortality which the Scriptures teach to be that of the true life of the soul.
1. The unending life of the soul has been argued upon various grounds.
(1.) Reason alone has been supposed by many to furnish adequate arguments in proof of its truth.
(a.) The longing of the soul for immortal existence has been deemed to be an instinct implanted within, which gives assurance of its gratification. But, while, with a few, there may have been aspirations after a nobler and better life than that of earth, it may be questioned whether, in the vast multitude of men, there is more than a shrinking from the loss of such life as is possessed in the present stage of existence. The instinct seems, therefore, to be rather that dread of death which is not unknown to the mere animal, and which is given for the protection of the life that now is, and not as a basis of hope of that which may be hereafter.
(b.) The inequality, which is so manifest in the apportionment of good and evil to the characters and conduct of men on earth, has, almost universally, led to the belief of a future life, in which these will be duly adjusted. But, by these facts, is taught merely a future life, and not one necessarily of an unending duration; but only of sufficient length for such adjustment. It is the Word of God alone that teaches that the bliss or woe, which is the portion of man at death, will continue forever. It must be acknowledged, however, that, as universal as has been the belief in a state of future rewards and punishments, equally so has been the opinion that it shall never end.
(c.) This general belief in an unending life, has also been accounted for on the supposition that it is an intuitive perception of the mind. But it does not appear that such knowledge as reason can give of what the soul is, and of what endless existence means, awakens at once the conviction that the soul must exist forever. The most thoughtful men, who have been guided by nature only, have been afflicted with doubts, and alternate hopes, and fears, without attaining more than earnest, or, at most, confident expectations, much less such knowledge of a continuous future, as would result from the existence of an intuitive conception.
(d.) The capacity of indefinite progress in the mental and moral powers of men, has seemed, to many, to indicate a stage of being in which it may be developed. But no one will assert that there is here more than an indication, which is opposed by the evidence of the great waste in the productions of nature, and which, therefore, needs confirmation from some more decisive source to become other than a mere expectation.
(e.) Some metaphysicians have argued the indestructible nature of the soul from its pure simplicity. They have believed it to be uncompounded, and, therefore, incapable of dissolution, and consequent destruction. This is based upon the belief that it is purely spiritual, and that simplicity is a necessary attribute of spirit. But these facts are difficult to prove. They are by no means undisputed among those who rely on reason alone. It is from the Scriptures that we learn the different origin of body and soul, and that the latter came not from matter. Philosophy has not always regarded that soul as a unit. The terms “soul”, “mind”, and “spirit,” indicate a tendency to recognize, at least, some threefold aspects in the human spirit, in accordance with which, even while asserting the absolute unity of the soul, Mental Philosophy has recognized the threefold division of the will, the understanding, and the affections. It is well known that the most of the Grecian philosophers, following Plato, held to a distinction between [phi][upsilon][nu][kappa] (psuche, the animal life or soul), and [nu][omicron][upsilon][varsigma] (nous) and [pi][nu][epsilon][upsilon]ua (pneuma, the rational spirit). Even some Christian writers of our own day have maintained the same views. In this state of uncertainty, therefore, reason cannot speak convincingly of an ever continuing life of man, on the ground of the simplicity, and consequent indestructibility, of his spiritual nature.
It appears, therefore, that, from reason alone, all that can be attained, even as to a merely future state, is expectation; or at most belief upon uncertain grounds. It is true that, if it could be established, that the soul dies with the body, certain hopes, and fears would remain unaccounted for, and certain problems of divine government would be unexplained; but these could, at most, only produce conviction of some future state; and would prove nothing as to its unending or even indefinite duration.
(2.) The Scriptures, however, teach plainly the continued existence of all men after death.
(a.) It is everywhere assumed as a fact, neither to be doubted, nor proved; but that will be at once received without question.
(b.) The cases of Enoch and Elijah gave signal proof of another world than this into which even men might enter. But they furnished no evidence that any other than these two would go thither. They simply showed that the possible existence of men, otherwise than on this earth, has been actually realized in these servants of God. But, so far from thus furnishing conclusive proof of the future life of other men, the fact that these were not removed through death, but by extraordinary means, naturally suggested the possibility that exemption from death is necessary to that life, and that all those who go down to the grave perish together. It was only to those otherwise taught of the continued existence of the soul, that their removal gave confirmatory proof of such immortality. In like manner, we are taught the same truths by the presence of Moses, and Elijah, at the scene of the Transfiguration. The appearance at various times of angels to men furnishes additional proof of another world. The resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ confirm most conclusively the doctrine of a future life.
(c.) The Scriptures teach, in the account of the creation of man, that his soul did not originate from the dust; but was a direct spiritual creation of God. Gen. 2:7. They make further statements about the difference between soul, and body, confirmatory of the distinction made in their creation. Gen. 25:8; 35:29; Ecc. 12:7; Matt. 10:28; Acts 7:59.
(d.) They make express reference to the existence of the soul after death. 2 Sam. 12:23; Job 19:25-27. [Conant translates this passage. “But I, I know my Redeemer lives, and in aftertime will stand upon the earth; and after this my skin is destroyed, and without my flesh, I shall see God. Whom I, for myself, shall see, and my eyes behold, and not another, when my reins are consumed within me”]. Matt. 22:32; 25:46; Luke 16:19-31; John 11:25; 2 Cor. 5:1-4.
(e.) They make known that this future life is the lot of the wicked, as well as of the righteous; teaching that it is one of happiness to the latter, and of condemnation and misery to the former. Matt. 25:46; John 6:47; 12:25; 1 Cor. 15:17-20.
(f.) They declare the continuance of this, at least until the day of the Resurrection and Final Judgement. Job 21:30; Ecc. 3:17; Luke 14:14; John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15; Rom. 14:10; 1 Cor. 15:51, 52; 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Thess. 4:13-17.
(g.) They represent the decisions of the judgement day as fixing the destinies of men, for an unending existence. The evidence of this teaching will be given in the discussion of “The Judgement Day.”
The Scriptures are thus seen to teach conclusively the doctrine of an unending future life of all men. This, as has been stated, is what is commonly referred to as the immortality of the soul.
Before passing from this part of the discussion, special attention is called to the following statements of what is included in this kind of immortality.
1. Unending existence essentially belongs to spiritual natures. When, therefore, the Scriptures have taught that the soul is a spirit, the way is prepared for the metaphysical argument based upon the simplicity of the soul, and its consequent indestructibility. It is common, therefore, to speak of the natural immortality of the soul. By this is meant, that, because of its nature, it has an unending life. It has no elements of dissolution in it. Life belongs to it, because it is spirit. Just as God has made extension, and divisibility, properties of matter, so, has he made unending life a natural property of the spirit.
2. But this essential property of spirit must ever be recognized as one conferred upon it. It is because God has so made spirit, that it has unending life. It is not a property that belongs to it from any necessity in God, or out of God. It is the result of his purpose, or will, and of his power. He has made spirit to be thus, Because he has so willed. Doubtless, had he otherwise chosen, the result would have been different. To believe otherwise is to put an unjustifiable limit upon his power, and upon his absolute freedom of will, as to all outward matters. It thus appears that they speak falsely, even blasphemously, who say that God could not destroy, or annihilate spirit, if he should choose. That which prevents annihilation, is that he has not so chosen, and will not so choose.
The impossibility is not in the lack of power, but in the unchangeableness of his will. This is no imperfection of inability, but the highest perfection of immutability
The immortality, which has been thus far discussed, is that which is common to both the righteous and the wicked. In the beginning of this part of this chapter, it was stated that the righteous possess also that immortality which is the true life of the soul. The death of the soul, and its life, are set forth in the Word of God as something distinct, not only from that of the body, but even from the unending natural life of the soul. The spiritual death of the soul has been described in the chapter on the Effects of Adam’s Sin, pp. 239-247, as something different from natural death, and as constituting the most fearful of the penalties inflicted because of sin. It was there shown that the Scriptures describe it in the various aspects of alienation from God, loss of God’s favour, and corruption of the moral nature. The true immortality of the Christian consists in the removal of all these evils, and the bestowment upon him of their corresponding blessings. That this is done, and that this is the condition into which he is thus brought will abundantly appear from the following passages of Scripture. Matt. 10 :39; 16:25 (cf. Mark 8:35); 18:9; (parallel passages, Mark 9:45; Luke 9:24; 17:33; John 12:25); 19:17; John 3:36; 5:24, 40; 6:33, 35, 50-58, 63; 20:31; Rom. 6:4; 8:6, 13; 2 Cor. 3:6; Eph. 4:18; 1 John 3:14; 5:12.
The contrast in immortality, between the righteous and the wicked, is very marked. “The wicked is thrust down in his evil doing: but the righteous hath hope in his death.” Prov. 14:32. “When a wicked man dieth, his expectation shall perish.” Prov. 11:7. But “blessed are the dead which die in the Lord;”…. “for their works follow with them.” Rev. 14:13.
The happiness of this immortality of the Christian is the greater because it is a state in which he is confirmed forever. The law of this condition, both of the righteous, and the wicked, is laid down in Rev. 22:11. “He that is unrighteous, let him do unrighteousness still:and he that is filthy, let him be made filthy still:and he that is righteous, let him do righteousness still:and he that is holy, let him be made holy still.” As the wicked shall not change his state, so shall not the righteous, his. The day of his trial and probation is over, and he stands secure of the bliss of heaven, confirmed by the unfailing promises of God. The scenes, through which he has passed on earth, fill him with no apprehensions that his weakness and insufficiency, will disable him from performing the perfect service of heaven. The recollection of Adam’s trial will suggest to him no possibility that he will be subjected to a test which will dissolve forever the bonds which unite him to God. Even the sin of the angels will not alarm him. For he is now assured of that “eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before times eternal.” Tit. 1:2. This is immortality indeed. This, and not mere continued life, is the life and immortality which he confers, “who abolished death, and brought life and incorruption to light through the gospel.” 2 Tim. 1:10.
III. THE INTERMEDIATE STATE.
The Scriptures teach that the soul and body that have been separated in death, will be reunited at the Judgement Day. Meantime, the body crumbles into dust, and appears to be totally destroyed. The spirit has returned unto God who gave it. Ecc. 12:7. Hence, at his martyrdom, we hear the first dying Christian “calling upon the Lord, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Acts 7:59.
It is not in accordance with the methods of God in his revelations to man to answer the many inquiries which curiosity might suggest as to this intermediate state of the soul. But much more is taught about it than would at first be imagined. Such facts as are given are valuable to confirm and strengthen faith, and to give consolation. Those may first be mentioned which are common to the righteous and the wicked, and these may be followed by separate statements of the things wherein they differ.
1. As to those respects in which the condition of the righteous and the wicked is the same.
(1.) The soul exists without a body. Unquestionably it has not the body which it had on earth. But some have thought that it has some kind of a body, some spiritual body, which merely corresponds to, and is only thus identified with that of this life. But Paul’s discussion of the resurrection shows, that the “spiritual” body is one that is to be raised out of the grave in which the natural body was buried, and that it is “at the last trump” that “the dead shall be raised,” 1 Cor. 15:44, 52-54.
Some have argued, that body of some kind is necessary to give location to these spirits. But a spirit may have location without occupying space as a body does. Here may be recalled the quotation made by Hodge from Turretine as to the different relations that bodies, created spirits, and God, sustain to space; given on pages 72-73 of this volume.
(2.) The condition is consequently one of an imperfect life. It is the life of the spirit only, and not that of the man. Human nature is composed of both body and spirit; and his body is as truly a part of a man as is his soul. The condition, therefore, in which disembodied spirits exist, is not that of perfect men, but only of human spirits. This, which is an inference which may be drawn from the two-fold nature of man, is supported by the manner in which the Scriptures refer to the persons in this intermediate state. They are not spoken of as “men,” but as “souls,” and “spirits.” Heb. 12:23; Rev. 6:9; 20:4.
Another proof of this want of perfection of this condition is seen in the fact that the saints attain full entrance into their joy, and the wicked full infliction of their woe, only after the resurrection. Matt. 13:40-43, 49, 50; 25:34, 41, 46; 1 Cor. 15:44-54.
(3.) Both righteous and wicked have conscious life. This might have been inferred from the nature of spirit, which must always be in a state of conscious existence. But it is a plain teaching of the Bible. Luke 16:22-31. The word “Hades;” here means the place of departed spirits, and, as the scene occurs after the death of Lazarus, and before the final judgement, so must it be assigned to the intermediate state. In this the rich man is represented as in conscious torment.
The conscious condition of the righteous is taught in 2 Cor. 5:1-8; Phil. 1:21-24; and also in the passages connected with Paradise. Luke 23:42,43; 2 Cor. 12:4; Rev. 2:7; 22:2.
(4.) Neither the righteous nor the wicked are under probation in this intermediate state. Luke 16:22-31; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 22:11. Even if the language in 1 Pet. 3:19, 20 and 4:6 teaches, as some have taught, that our Lord went to the place of departed spirits, and preached to them; so that to those who had died up to the time of his death was given a probation in the gospel preached to them by him; that would be but a single instance of a favour shown to those who had died before his crucifixion; and, so far from proving a probation beyond the grave, would, from its exceptional character, imply the contrary.
2. The aspects of the intermediate state peculiar to the righteous.
(1.) It is a condition of happiness. Paul declared that “to die is gain,” and to depart this life far better than to remain in it. Phil. 1:21-24. He wrote to Timothy, looking forward exultingly to the hour of his death. 2 Tim. 4:6-8. He also referred to his longing for this future, as possessed by him in common with his brethren. 2 Cor. 5:1-8. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the happiness of the latter is described by his being in Abraham’s bosom. Luke 16:23.
(2.) It is a condition in which the believer is present with Christ. This is also taught in all the passages referred to in the previous paragraph, except the last; and constitutes in each of them the ground of the happiness which they declare.
(3.) The believer is also said to be in Paradise. Whatever this may mean, whether only a condition or a place, it is unquestionably true that it is intended to convey the idea of the enjoyment of very great happiness. The passages in which Paradise is mentioned are, Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 12:4; Rev. 2:7. That these teach that it is a place can only be denied on the ground that very highly figurative language is used. Only the first of these, however, refers to the presence of Christ with any one, and this contains only his promise to the thief on the cross, “To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.” But the location of Paradise, as made known by the Apostle Paul, 2 Cor. 12:1-4, taken in connection with this first passage, makes it more than probable that it is the place where the saints are with Christ. The Scriptures teach that “Christ was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.” Mark 16:19; Luke 24:51; Acts 1:11; Acts 2:33, 34; Acts 7:55, 56; Eph. 1:20; Heb. 10:12; 1 Pet. 3:22. We are also taught that he must there remain “until the times of restoration of all things.” Acts 3:21. Now, in the account Paul gives of his ecstatic vision in 2 Cor. 12:1-4, he tells us that he was “Caught up even to the third heaven,” and “caught up into Paradise,” which locates Paradise either in or above the third heaven, or makes the two identical. So also Rev. 2:7, taken in connection with Rev. 22:2 and 21:10-27, states that the tree of life, “which is in the Paradise of God,” is “in the midst of the street” of “that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God,” in which was no temple, “for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are the temple thereof,” and is “on either side of the river,” which is described as “a river of water of life, bright as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God, and of the Lamb.” The place of the abode of the saints is with Christ, who is in the heavens with God. It is to that place that most probably the name Paradise is given in the Scriptures.
(4.) In that abode the saints are not probably inactive. Some have thought this because their condition is spoken of as one of “rest” and “sleep.” But evidently the former of these terms is used simply to declare the end of the toils and labours of this life, and the enjoyment of exemption from their present spiritual as well as temporal trials. This does not imply that there are not intellectual and spiritual duties and meditations suitable to that abode, such as may give due scope to that activity, which seems essential to personal conscious spirits. The “sleep” more probably refers to the appearance of the body in death, and is beautifully expressive of the calm repose with which the Christian sinks into final dissolution.
(5.) Neither is the intermediate state a place of cleansing from sin. That it is so is held by the Church of Rome. That church teaches that at death all unbaptized adults, and all who have fallen into and continued in mortal sin after Baptism, go immediately to hell. All who have been baptized, and remain in union with that Church, and have attained a life of Christian perfection, go immediately to heaven. Unbaptized infants occupy what is called “the Limbus infantum,” a place in the higher part of hell, which the flames do not reach, and suffer only a “paenam damni” (penalty of loss), and have no share in the “paenam sensus” (penalty of actual suffering), which afflicts adult sinners. But “the great mass of partially sanctified Christians, dying in fellowship with the church, yet still encumbered with imperfections, go to purgatory, where they suffer, more or less intensely, for a longer or shorter period, until their sins are both atoned for and purged out, when they are translated to heaven, during which intermediate period they may be efficiently assisted by the prayers and labours of their friends on earth.”
“They confess that this doctrine is not taught distinctly in Scripture, but maintain, 1st, that it follows necessarily from their general doctrine of the satisfaction for sins; 2d, that Christ and the Apostles taught it incidentally. . . . They refer to Matt. 12:32; 1 Cor. 3:15.” Hodge’s Outlines of Theology, pp. 556, 557.
But the first of these passages is manifestly but a strong way of declaring that the sin referred to shall never be pardoned, without authorizing the inference that there are other sins which will be pardoned in the world to come. The second passage, by the various things which are built upon the true foundation, which, if false or insufficient, shall be burned, refers not to personal character, but to teachings.
This doctrine of purgatory is based upon the very unscriptural theory of salvation through personal works and sufferings, which the Church of Rome holds, in connection with sacramental grace, to be supplementary to the meritorious work of Christ. While it has no support from Scripture, it is opposed to all that the Scriptures teach about the intermediate state of the righteous.
3. The aspects of the intermediate state peculiar to the wicked.
The Scripture teaching here is much more meagre. The four statements already mentioned, in which their condition and that of the righteous are similar, comprise almost all that is said. As peculiar to them, however, may be added.
(1.) That Christ, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, speaks of their condition as (a) one of torment Luke 16:23-25, 28, (b) from which there is no escape to the condition of bliss of the righteous, verse 26, and (c) as endured in a place of torment, vs. 23, 28.
(2.) Those who interpret 1 Pet. 3:19, 20 as referring to a personal preaching by Christ to the dead in Hades, necessarily hold that the wicked are “in prison.” But, otherwise, we have no other proof than seems to be conveyed in the “impassable gulf” mentioned in Luke 16:26.
(3.) It is a place in which they are reserved for punishment in the day of judgement. 2 Pet. 2:9.
(4.) The only place spoken of in connection with the wicked during the intermediate state is Hades, or the place of departed spirits, which is always translated Hell in the King James version, but is transferred in the Canterbury Revision. The passages in which Hades is used are Matt. 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14.