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darkness of night, should we be left houseless and shelterless. But
when we think how utterly ignorant we are both of the soul's nature
and of the invisible world, the idea of losing friends, or departing our-
selves into such gloom, is, to those who get themselves to think about
it, very overpowering. Now, here Scripture meets our need, in the
texts already cited. It is enough, surely, to be in Abraham's bosom,
in our Saviour's presence ; it is enough, after the pain and turmoil of
this world, to be at rest.

Moreover, texts such as these do more than satisfy the doubts which
beset the heathen ; they are useful to us at the present day, in the per-
plexity which may easily befal us. A great part of the Christian
world, as is well known, believes that after this life the souls of Chris-
tians ordinarily go into a prison called Purgatory, where they are kept
in fire or other torment, till, their sins being burned away, they are at
length fitted for that glorious kingdom into which nothing defiled can
enter. Now if there were any good reason for this behef, we should
certainly have a very sad and depressing prospect before us ; — watch
and pray, and struggle as we might, yet after all to have to pass from
the sorrows of this life, from its weariness and its pains, into a second
and a worse trial ! Not that we should have any reason to complain :
for our sins deserve an eternal punishment, were God severe. Still
it would be a very afflicting thought, especially as regarded our de-
ceased friends, who (if the doctrine were true) would now, at
this very moment, be in a state of suffering. I do not say that to
many a sinner, it would not be an infinitely less evil to suffer for a



664 THE INTERMEDIATE STATE. [Skrm..

time in Purgatory, than to be cast into hell for ever ; but those whom
we have loved best; and revered most, are not of this number ; and be-
fore going on to examin 3 the grounds of it, every one must admit it
to be a very frightful notion at least, that ihey should be kept from their
rest, and corfined in a prison beneath the earth. Nay, though the
Bible did not positively affirm it, yet if it did not contradict it, and if
the opinion itself was very general in the Church (as it is,) and primi-
tive too (as it is not,) there would be enough in it reasonably to alarm
us ; for who could tell in such a case, but probably it might be true ?
This is what might have been; but in fact, Christ has mercifully in-
terfered, expressly to assure us that our friends are better provided for,
than this doctrine would make it appear. He assures that they "re^i
from their labours, and their works do follow them ;" and we gather:
from the text, that even that loneliness and gloom which, left to them-
selves, they would necessarily feel, though ever so secure from actual
punishment, may in truth, be mercifully compensated. The sorrowful
state is there described, in which they would find themselves when sev-
ered from the body, and waiting for the promised glory at Christ's
coming, and they are represented as sustained under it, soothed, quiet-
ed, consoled. As a parent would hush a child's restlessness, cherish-
ing it in her arms, and lulling it to sleep, or diverting it from the pain
or the fright v/hich agitates it, so the season of delay, before Christ
comes in judgment, tedious in itself, and solitary, is compensated to the ■
spirits of the just by a present gift in earnest of the future joy. " How '
long, O Lord, holy and true." Such is their complaint. "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," till the end.

2. Next, in this description is implied, what I have in fact already
deduced from it, that departed Saints, though at rest, have not yet re-
ceived their actual reward. '' Their works do follow with them," not
yet given in to their Saviour, and Judge. They are in an incomplete
state in every way, and will be so til! the day of judgment, which will
introduce them to the joy of their Lord.

They are incomplete, inasmuch as their bodies are in the dust of the
earth, and they wait for the Resurrection.

They are incomplete, as being neither awake nor asleep ; I mean,
they are in a state of rest, not in the full employment of their powers.
The Angels are serving God actively ; they are ministers between
heaven and earth. And the Saints, too, one day shall judge the world,
— they shall judge the fallen Angels ; but at present, till the end comes,
they are at rest only, which is enough for their peace, enough for our



XXV.] THE INTERMEDIATE STATE. 665-

comfort on thinking of them, — still, incomplete, compared with what
one day shall be.

Further, there is an incompleteness also as regards their place of
rest. They are " under the Altar." Not in the full presence of God,
seeing His face, and rejoicing in His works, but in a safe and holy
treasure-house close by, " in a cleft of the rock," as Moses was, covered
by the hand of God, and beholding the skirts of His glory. So again,
when Lazarus died, he was carried to Abraham's bosom ; — which, how-
ever honoured and peaceful an abode, was a place short of heaven.
This is elsewhere expressed by the use of the word " paradise," or the
garden of Eden ; which, again, though pure and peaceful, visited by
Angels and by God himself, was not heaven. No emblem could ex-
press more vividly the refreshment and sweetness of that blessed rest,
than to call it the garden in which the first man was placed ;— to
which must be added St. Paul's account of it, that he heard in it (when
he was caught up thither) " unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for
a man to utter." * Doubtless, it is full of excellent visions and wonder-
ful revelations. God there manifests Himself, not as on earth dimly,
and by material instruments, but by those more intimate approaches
which spirit admits of, and our present faculties cannot comprehend.
And in some unknown way, that place of rest has a communication with
this world, so that disembodied souls know what is going on below.
The Martyrs, in the passage before us, cry out, " How long, O Lord,
Holy and True, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them
that dwell on the earth ?" They saw what was going on in the Church,
and needed comfort from the sight of the triumph of evil. And they
obtained white robes and a message of peace. Still, whatever be their
knowledge, whatever their happiness, they have but lost their tabernacle
of corruption, and are " unclothed," and wait to be " clothed upon,"
having put off" mortality," but not yet being absorbed in " life."f

There is another word used in Scripture to express the abode of just
men made perfect, which gives us the same meaning. Our Lord is
said in the Creed to have " descended into hell" which word has a very
different sense there from that which it commonly bears. Our Savi-
our, as we suppose, did not go to the abyss assigned to the fallen
Angels, but to those mysterious mansions where the souls of all men
await the judgment. That He went to the abode of blessed spirits, is-
evident, from His words addressed to the robber on the cross, when He
also called it paradise ; that He went to some other place besides
paradise, may be conjectured from St. Peter's saying, He " went
and preached to the spirits in prison, who had once been dis-

* 2 Cor. xii. 4. t 2 Cor. v. 4.



666 THE INTERMEDIATE STATE. [Sbru.

obedient."* The circumstance then that these two abodes of disem-
bodied good and bad, are called by one name, Hades, or (as we happen
to express it) hell, seems clearly to show that paradise is not the same
as Heaven, but a resting-place at the foot of it. Let it be further re-
marked, that Samuel, when brought from the dead, in the witch's ca-
vern, said, ' Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up ?" words
which would seem quite inconsistent with his being then already in
Heaven.

Once more, the Intermediate State is incomplete as regards the
happiness of the Saints. Before our Lord came, it may be supposed
even to have admitted at times of a measure of disquiet, and that in the
case of the greatest Saints themselves, though most surely still they
were altogether " in God's hand ;" for Samuel says, " Why hast thou
disquieted me, to bring me up ?" Perchance our Lord reversed this
imperfection at his coming, and took with Him, even in their bodies, to
heaven itself, some principal Saints of the Old Covenant ; according
to St. Matthew's intimation. But even now, as it would appear from
the text, the Blessed, in their disembodied state, admit of an increase of
happiness, and receive it. •' They cried out" in complaint — and
*' white robes were given them ;" they were soothed, and bid wait
awhile.

Nor would it be surprising, if in God's gracious providence, the very
purpose of their remaining thus for a season at a distance from heaven,
were, that they may have time for growing in all holy things, and per-
fecting the inward development of the good seed sown in their hearts.
The Psalmist speaks of the righteous as " trees planted by the rivers of
water, that bring forth their fruit in due season ;" and when might this
silent growth of holiness more suitably and happily take place, ban
when they are waiting for the Day of the Lord, removed from those
trials and temptations which were necessary for its early beginnings 1
Consider how many men are very dark and feeble in their religious
state, when they depart hence, though true servants of God as far as
they go. Alas ! I know that the multitude of men do not think of
religion at all ; — they are thoughtless in their youth, and secular as life
goes on ; — they find their interest lie in adopting a decent profession ;
they deceive themselves, and think themselves religious, and (to all
appearance) die with no deeper religion than such a profession implies.
Alas ! there are many also, who, after careless lives, amend, yet not
truly ; — think they repent, but do not in a Christian way. There are
a number too, who leave repentance for their death-bed, and die with
DO fruits of religion at all, except with so much of subdued and serious

* 1 Pet. iii. 19, 20. t 1 Sam. ixviii. 15.



XXV.] THE INTERMEDIATE STATE. 667

feeling as pain forces upon them. All these, as far as we arc told, die
without hope. But, after all these melancholy cases arc allowed for,
many there are still, who, beginning well, and persevering for years,
yet are even to the end but beginners after all, when death comes
upon them ; — many who have been in circumstances of especial diffi-
culty, who have had fiercer temptations, more perplexing trials than
the rest, and in consequence have been impeded in their course. Nay,
in one sense, all Christians die with their work unfinished. Let them
have chastened themselves all their lives long, and lived in faith and
obedience, yet still there is much in them unsubdued, — much pride,
much ignorance, much unrcpented, unknown sin, much inconsistency,
much irregularity in prayer, much lightness and frivolity of thought.
Who can tell then, but, in God's mercy, the time of waiting between
death and Christ's coming, may be profitable to those who have been
His true servants here, as a time of maturing that fruit of grace, but
partly formed in them in this life, — a school-time of contemplation, as
this world is a discipline of active service ? Such, surely, is the force
of the Apostle's words, that " He that hath begun a good work in us,
will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ," unlil not at, not stopping
it with death, but carrying it on to the Resurrection. And this, which
will be accorded to all Saints, will be profitable to each in proportion
to the degree of holiness in which he dies ; for, as we are expressly
told, that in one sense the spirits of the just are perfected on their death,
it follows that the greater advance each has made here, the higher will
be the line of his subsequent growth between death and the Resur-
rection.

And all this accounts for what else may surprise us, — the especial
stress the Apostles lay on the coming of Christ, as the object to which
our hope must be directed. We are used in this day to look upon
death as the point of victory and triumph for the Saints ; — we leave
the thought of them when life is over, as if then there was nothing
more to be anxious about ; nor in one sense is there. Then they are
secure from trial, from falling ; as they die, so they remain. Still, it
will be found, on the whole, that death is not the object put forward in
Scripture for hope to rest upon, but the coming of Christ, as if the
interval between death and His coming was by no means to be omit-
ted in the process of our preparation for heaven. Now, if the sacred
writers uniformly hold put Christ's coming, but we consider death as
the close of all things, is it not plain that, in spite of our apparent
xigreement with them in formal statements of doctrine, there must be
some hidden and undetected difference between them and ourselves,
.some unfounded notion on our part which we have inherited, some



668 THE INTERMEDIATE STATE. [Skrm.

assumed premiss, some lurking prejudice, some earthly temper, or some
mere human principle 1 For instance, St. Paul speaks of the Corin-
thians as "waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." To the
Philippians he says, " Our citizenship is in heaven, from whence also
we look out for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change
our vile body." In his first epistle to the Thessalonians, he seems to
make this waiting for the Last day almost part of his definition of a
true Christian ; " Ye turned to God from idols, to serve the living and
true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven.^' In his epistle to
Titus, " Looking for that blessed hope and glorious appearing of our
great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ." To the Hebrews, " Unto them
that look for Him, shall Christ appear the second time without sin unto
salvation." Again, '' Ye have need of patience, that, after ye have
done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For ytt a little
while, and He that shall come will come and will not tarry." And to
the Romans, " I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not
worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us,''
i. e. at the Resurrection ; " for the earnest expectation of the creature
waiteth for the 7nanife station of the sons of God. . . . We ourselves
groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption
of our body ;" and presently he adds, evidently speaking of things be-
longing to the unseen world, and (as we may suppose) the Inter-
mediate State inclusively, " I am persuaded that neither death, nor
life, nor Angels, nor principalities, nor pov/ers, nor things present, nor
things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be
able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our
Lord." Again, " He that raised up the Lord Jesus, shall raise up us also
by Jesus, and shall present us with you. Our light affliction, which is
but for a moment, workcth for us a far more exceeding and eternal
weight of glory. . . . For ice know that if our earthly house of this-
tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made
with hands, eternal in the heavens." Now, how parallel is this waiting
for Christ's coming, as inculcated in the foregoing passages to the
actual conduct of the Saints as recorded in the passage of which the
text forms part ! "■How long, Lord, holy and true, dost thou not

judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth

And white robes were given unto every one of them, until their fellow -
servants also, and their brethren, that should be killed as they were,
should be fulfilled :" — and with our Saviour's words in the Gospel,
" Shall not God avenge His own elect, which cry day and night unto-
Him, though He bear long with them ? I tell you that He will avenge
them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh,''' (Christ's



XXV.] THE INTERMEDIATE STATE. 669

■coming then is the " avenging " for which they cry,) " when the Son
of man comcth, shall He find faith on the earth ?"*

This, indeed, is our Saviour's usual doctrine, as well as His Apos-
tles'. I mean, it is His custom to insist on two events chiefly — His
first coming and his second — our regeneration and our resurrection, —
throwing into the back ground the prospect of our death, as if it were
but a line of distinction, (however momentous a one,) not of division, in
the extended course of our purification. For example : " The hour is
coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of
God, and they that hear shall live ;" — the dead in sin: here, then, our
regeneration is set forth. Then He proceeds : " The hour is coming in
the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come
forth ; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life, and
they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." Here is
mentioned His second coming, with its attendant events. Again : " In
My Father's house are many mansions ; if it were not so, I would have
told you. 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 ye may be also. And in the parable of the talents :
^* A certain nobleman went into a far country, to receive for himself a
kingdom and to return ; and he called his ten servants, and delivered
them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come."t Here is
mention of Christ's first and His second coming. It is not uncommon
indeed to say, that " till I come" means " till every man's death,"
when in a certain sense Christ comes to him: but surely this is a mere
human assumption ; the time of judgment, and not before, is the time
when Christ calls His servants and takes account.

Lastly, it is the manner of Scripture to imply that all Saints make up
but one body, Christ being the Head, and no real distinction existing
between dead and living ; as if the Church's territory were a vast field,
only with a veil stretched across it, hiding part from us. This at least,
I think, will be the impression left on the mind after a careful study of
the inspired writers. St. Paul says, " I bow my knees unto the Fa-
ther of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and
earth is named," where '"heaven" would seem to include paradise.
Presently he declares tliat there is but " one body," not two, as there
is but one Spirit. In another Epistle he speaks of Christians in the
flesh being " come to the heavenly Jerusalem, and the spirits of just

* 1 Cor i. 7. Phil. iii. 20, 21. 1 Thess. i. 9, 10. Tit. ii. 13. Heb. ix. 23; i.
36, 37. Rom. viii. 18—39. 2 Cor. iv. 14—17 ; v. 1. Luke iviii. 7, 8.
t John V. 25—29 ; xiv. 2, 3. Luke xix. 12, 13.



670 THE INTERMEDIATE STATE. [Serm.

men made perfect."* Agreeably to this doctrine, the collect for All
Saints' day teaches us that " Almighty God has knit together his elect,"'
(that is, both living and dead,) " in one communion and fellowship in
the mystical body of His Son."

This then, on the whole, we may humbly believe to be the condition
of the Saints before the Resurrection, a state of repose, rest, security ;
but again a state more hke paradise than heaven, — that is, a state
which comes short of the glory which shall be revealed in us after the
Resurrection, a state of waiting, meditation, hope, in which what has
been sown on earth may be matured and completed.

I will make one remark before concluding, by way of applying what
has been said to ourselves. There have been times, we know, when
men thought too much of the dead. That is not the fault of this age.
We now go into the opposite extreme. Our fault surely is, to think of
them too little. It is a miserable thing to confess, yet surely so it is,
that when a friend or relative is dead, he is commonly dismissed from
the mind very shortly, as though he was not ; there is no more talk of
him, or reference to him, and the world goes on without him as if he
had never been. Now, of course the deepest feeUngs are those which
are silent ; so I do not mean to say that friends are not thought of, be-
cause they are not talked of. How could it be ? Can any form of so-
ciety or any human doctrine fetter down our hearts, and make us think
and remember as it will 1 Can the tyranny of earth hinder our hold-
ing a blessed and ever-enduring fellowship with those who are dead, by
consulting their wishes, and dwelling upon their image, and trying to
imitate them, and imagining their peaceful state, and sympathizing in
their " loud cry," and hoping to meet them hereafter ? No, truly f
we have a more glorious liberty than man can take from us, with all
the sophistries of selfishness, and subtleties of the schools ! I do not
speak of the tender-hearted, affectionate, and thoughtful. They can-
not forget the departed, whose presence they once enjoyed, and who,
(in Scripture language,) though " absent in the body, are present with
them in spirit," " joying and beholding their order and the steadfast-
ness of their faith in Christ."! But I speak of the many, the rude,
cold, and scornful, the worldly-minded, the gay, and the careless ;
whose ordinary way it is, when a friend is removed, to put aside the
thought of him, and blot it out from their memories.

Let me explain what I mean by an instance, which is not uncommon.
We will say, a parent or relative dies and leaves a man a property : —
he comes into it gladly ; buries the dead splendidly ; and then thinking

»Eph. iii. 14, ]5; iv. 4. Heb. 22, 23. 1 1 Cor. v. 3. Col. ii. 5,



XXV.] THE INTERMEDIATE STATE. 671

he has done all, he wipes out what is past, and enters upon the enjoy-
ment of his benefaction. He is not profuse or profligate, proud or pe-
nurious, but he thinks and acts in all respects as if he, to whom he is
indebted, were annihilated from God's creation. He has no obligations.
He was dependent before, but now he is independent ; he is his own
master ; he ceases to be in the number of " little children." Like the
Corinthians, " now he is full, now he is rich, he reigns as a king with-
out " those to whom he once was forced to submit. He is the head of
(what is called ) an establishment. If he ever speaks of the dead, it is
in a way half kind, half contemptuous, as of those who are helpless and
useless, as he would speak of men still living who were in dotage or in
mental incapacity. You hear, even the most good- hearted and kindly
(such is the force of bad example) speak in this disrespectful way of
old people they knew in their youth, not meaning anything by it, but
still, doubtless, cherishing in themselves thereby a very subtle kind of
hardness, selfishness, superciliousness, self-gratulation. Men little think
what an effect all this has on their general character. It teaches them
to limit their belief to what they see. They give up a most gracious
means divinely provided for their entering into " that which is within
the veil," and seeing beyond the grave ; — and they learn to be con-
tented in uniting themselves with things visible, — in connections and
alliances which come to nought. Moreover, this same error casts them
upon the present instead of the past. They lose their reverence for
antiquity ; — they change the plans and works of their predecessors with-
out scruple ; they enjoy the benefactions of past ages without thank-
fulness, as if, by a sort of right ; they worship in churches for which
" other men laboured" without thinking of them ; they forget they have
but a life-interest in what they possess, that they have received it in
trust, and must transmit as they have received.

On the other hand, while the thought of the dead is thus a restraint
upon us, it is also a great consolation, especially in this age of the world,
when the Universal Church has fallen into errors and is divided branch
against branch. What shall sustain our faith (under God's grace) when
we try to adhere to the Ancient Truth and seem solitary ? What shall
nerve the " watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem," against the scorn and
jealousy of the world, the charge of singularity, of fancifulness, of ex-
travagance, of rashness ? What shall keep us calm and peaceful with-
in, when accused of " troubling Israel," and " prophesying evil ?"
What but the vision of all Saints of all ages, whose steps we follow ?
What but the image of Christ mystical stamped upon our hearts and



Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 74 of 76)