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ditions of the dead. And it is remarkable, that they commonly speak with the greater degree of confidence concerning the state of separate spirits, which is really an obscure point, and respecting which but little is revealed; whilst in regard to that other state, which is declared to be “life and immortality brought to light,” and concerning which we have abundant revelation, they are inclined to discourage inquiry, as though it were altogether hopeless.
I trust I write not these things in a spirit of arrogancy; for I am deeply sensible that I have myself been precisely in this state, at a time when I was nevertheless desirous to ascertain and to communicate the truth: but I think it due to those holy doctrines which I advocate, to avow that it was only in proportion as their glorious light broke in upon my understanding that I was enabled to apprehend these other truths with any clearness.
As these Essays are chiefly intended to set forth the future condition of believers, I might have been justified in passing over the mention of the intermediate state: but as I consider it important, when advancing opinions opposed to the notions of many pious christians, not to let it be supposed that I entertain sentiments which I entirely reject, I shall preface my inquiry into the resurrection state, by a notice of the state of separate spirits—i. e. of the state of souls after death.
I shall therefore endeavour to prove, 1st, that the dead in Christ are in a state of consciousness, in the fullest sense of the term; and 2ndly, that they are in a state of holy enjoyment, superior to any experienced upon earth.*
I. That the spirit is in a state of unconsciousness is argued by some from the circumstance, that death is described in Scripture as a sleep, and that the dead are said to awake and arise from it. I doubt whether more be meant by such expressions than a figure, seeing that the very same phrases are applied by the Psalmist to God:"Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord? arise,
The same writers scout, as "idle," the notion of such Scriptures having respect only to the body; nevertheless all these Scriptures are ambiguous in regard to their applicability
a Ps. xliv. 23; and see also lsxiii. 20; lxxviii. 65. • See Morning Watch, Vol. II. p. 382.
* I do not think it needsul to dwell formally upon an opinion, held by Socinians, that at death the soul is annihilated. We may refute them with this text (if they will receive it)—"Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him, which is able to destroy both body and soul in hell.” For were the soul annihilated at death, its destruction would be placed within the power of man; so that he who killed the body would as ceriainly annihilate the soul: when therefore it is stated, that men are not able to kill the soul, even though they kill the body, it is clear that bodily death does not annihilate the soul.
to the spirit; whilst Psalm xvi. 9 (My flesh shall rest in hope,") appears quite unequivocal as respects the body: and therefore I feel justified, when the context does not determine the point, in limiting all doubtful instances to the body likewise.
I apprehend Romans viii. 10, 11, to be referable to this subject: “And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the spirit is life because of righteousness; but if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you,
he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal body by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” Here observe that the body is condemned to death, whilst the spirit is redeemed from it; and yet it is said, that the body shall hereafter be likewise quickened: but where in the meanwhile is the eminent distinction between the body being dead and the spirit life, unless it be that in the intermediate state the body sleeps, whilst the spirit enjoys a living consciousness?
It is objected by some, that in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus the latter is represented as lying in Abraham's bosom; and that as he is not made to speak, he must be in a state of repose, and consequently of unconsciousness. This objection, however, arises from not understanding what is meant, in the Eastern style, by lying in the bosom of any; which was with them the place of favour and distinction. Thus the apostle John is described as lying in the Saviour's bosom; and thus the Jews, before the time of Christ, said of the righteous dead that they were gone to the bosom of Adam, and the bosum of Abraham; and, after Christ, believers were said to lie in the bosom of Christ. Besides, the rich man is evidently conscious and does converse; it must therefore be his body only that slept; and shall we say that the damned enjoy a consciousness which the righteous do not?
II. This point, the consciousness of the spirit in the intermediate state, will be more fully established when we consider secondly, that the dead are in a state of holy enjoyment, superior to what they experienced when on earth: for that which proves the latter point, does more eminently confirm the former.
St. Paul declares, "that for him to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” I have carefully attended to the arguments which would explain this text otherwise;-viz. that the Apostle here overleaps the intermediate state, as of no account, and refers his gain by death to the resurrection; but I cannot at all concur with this view. Surely death would, in the meanwhile, be a loss to the man, who could say, when living, “To me to live is Christ;" unless that conscious union with Christ were still continued to him: for in regard to any merely natural circumstances we may say, "a living dog is better than a dead lion." And this continued enjoyment of Christ-yea, and this increased enjoyment of him—is fully borne out by the 33d verse, where the Apostle says, "that he has a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far belter” than remaining in the flesh. There is a text even still more explicit; for it proves,
c Phil. i. 21.
that what the Apostle means by being with Christ is, the enjoyment of his visible presence.—“Therefore we are always confident, knowing that whilst we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord; (for we walk by faith, not by sight:) we are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body and present with the Lord. Pre
These two Scriptures are very embarrassing to Dr. Burnet and those writers who follow him in this particular; and they struggle greatly to get rid of their force. I cannot pretend to follow them through all their arguments: I shall select one or two which appear to me to be the strongest. An anonymous writer has translated the fourth chapter of Burnet “De statu Mortuorum, &c." adding copious notes; and as he does full justice to the original, and handles the subject ably, I shall quote from his translation.
“Again, in such expressions as we are considering, the object is evidently an antithesis: as indeed may easily be remarked, both in Corinthians and Philippians; the words to be with Christ” being contrasted with our continuance in this world. For, indeed, when we quit this life, we are not extinct, we are not annihilated; and where are we? With God, with Christ: we live unto God. (Luke xx. 38.) We are present to Christ; and he will bring us back, flourishing and of life, with himself also, to the theatre of this world. We therefore shall not wonder to find St. Paul exclaiming, “For me to die is gain.” (Phil. i. 21.) We are rather surprised that he says so little than that he says so much in favour of death, when so many evils, so many troubles, so many perils, so many labours, encompassed him; who had endured both hunger and thirst, with cold, and nakedness, and wounds and stripes, and prisons, and rocks, and shipwrecks, and every sort of affliction, both by sea and land. That death should be esteemed more desirable than such a life, who can wonder? If it be only rest, and a remission of trials, still it is so far "gain.”—Let us, then, learn to think somewhat more moderately concerning our wretched selves and our reward; and no longer promise to ourselves and others the beatific vision of God upon the instant of our eyes being closed;
when we see the Apostle of the Gentiles (who of all men best merited any reward which the christian religion holds forth) presenting no such hope, either to himself or to others."
His Translator and Commentator begins the subject at verse 5 of the above place in Corinthians, and writes thus:
“Now he that hath wrought us for the self-same thing'Who is he? Is it not the Holy Ghost; the whole Godhead Triune?-as the Apostle writes: “Now he that hath wrought us for the self-same thing is God! who hath also given unto us [already] the earnest of the Spirit;" therefore we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in this unredeemed body, (which, like the microscope, is at once the means of boasted investigation, and at the same time the preventive of almost all sight;) whilst we are enveloped with this shroud, the flesh; while all things are distorted by its impurity and nothing seen aright by reason of its refraction; while sin is mingled in our every thought, and the better they are the more literally that is crucified;—'while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord.'” P. 672.
The first thing I notice in these extracts is, that the Doctor, by coupling the two texts together, adroitly diverts our attention from the antithesis in 2 Cor. v. and treats only of that in Phil. i. The second thing I notice is, that his Translator, when giving his own opinion on the former passage, entirely passes over the important parenthesis "For we walk by faith not by sight;” which is nevertheless the key to the right understanding of the whole. For what may the Apostle mean by these words? To me he appears to anticipate the objection which would immediately present itself to a spiritual man, when the Apostle speaks of being absent from the Lord:-How can we be absent from him, when to live is Christ, and
every believer walks with him, and enjoys the sense of his presence? Yes, (answers the Apostle,) we certainly live and walk with him now; but whilst in the body it is by faith, and not by sight: but when we are absent from the body, then we shall walk in the enjoyment of his visible presence-by sight and not by faith. This I consider the real antithesis of the passage.
If I understand the view which Dr. B.'s Translator takes, it is, that the presence to be enjoyed when apart from the body
a spiritual one;- The Holy Ghost having given to us an earnest now, will then give us a greater fulness. I grant that we have here many drawbacks and hindrances, which prove a clog upon our spiritual enjoyment; but in the heart of every believer, Christ does nevertheless dwell by the Spirit;f and his
"John xiv. 18, 21, 23; Rom. viii, 10; 2 Cor. xiii. 5.
body, though vile, is nevertheless the temple of the Holy Ghost.8 It therefore destroys the essential distinction between the righteous and the ungodly, to say, that Christ is not with the believer now, in this present life. And it destroys the antithesis of this passage; which is, not the having less of the Spirit whilst in the body, and out of it the fulness; but the walking in the body with Christ by faith, and when out of it being with Christ by sight.
I must here however observe, that though I feel assured, that the enjoyment of Christ with the saints is a visible one; yet am I equally persuaded, that they have not yet ascended up on high to be present with him in the heavens. The material sun is said to be present with us, and is unquestionably seen and felt by us when it shines in our heavens, though it is separated from us by millions of miles: why may not "the Sun of righteousness” equally gladden the saints in Paradise, by some similar manifestation of himself, and communication of his beams from the highest heavens!--Certainly Stephen had such a manifestation, when he cried,~"Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.”
I shall finally notice, in regard to the separate state, Rev. xiv. 13; “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours and their works do follow them. The latter part of this text-"their works do follow them"-I may probably enter upon at some future period: for the present I must confine myself to the other words—"They rest from their labours;" words which, though apparently of a negative signification, do nevertheless, when duly considered, prove that the righteous dead enjoy a decided increase of positive blessedness.
They will evidently be delivered from all bodily pain and disease, and from all the various corporal evils attendant on poverty,-viz. hunger, thirst, heat, cold and the like. The peasant, the mechanic, the bondman, will likewise have done with all their toil and fatigue: not indeed that the spirit will be without active employment; for I consider a state of inertness to be incompatible with its happiness.
And in respect to weariness of the flesh-aye and weariness of the spirit--even christian labours of love are not without their drawback: the very phrase "labour of love" implies an imperfection. They may be cheerfully entered upon, and they are not unfrequently attended by real gratification; but yet, alas! through the present infirmity of man, they are a weari
To visit the abodes of wretchedness, filth, and conta
& 1 Cor. vi. 19.