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earliest ages of the Church, and as others have thought of late, that those whose joy it has been in life to be fellow-workers with Christ, in leading many to righteousness, may continue to be fellowworkers there, and so share the life of angels in their work of service as in their ministries of praise ? The manifestation of God's righteous judgment and of his changeless love may thus, using men and angels as his instruments, help to renew throughout his universe all who are capable of renewal. These things lie behind the veil, and we see but as in a glass darkly; but that thought of the developed energies and ripened growth of the saints of God is at least truer to the laws of our spiritual life than the belief in a dreamless sleep till the morn of the resurrection, or in long ages passed in self-centred contemplation, or even in the ceaseless utterance of the great Hallelujah of the spirits before the throne.”
It may possibly be urged as an objection to this view, that in his parable of the rich man and Lazarus, our Lord puts these words in the mouth of Abraham : 'Between us and you there is a great Luke xvi. 26. gulf fixed, in order that they who wish to pass from hence to you may not be able to do so, nor that those from thence may pass to us.' But I conceive that this is descriptive of Hades before that Christ Himself visited it to preach to the spirits in prison. Even then, be it observed, our Lord's words imply that there were those on Abraham's side who wished to pass but could not ; for the blessed work of ministering in this way was to be initiated by the Lord of Life Himself after his atonement was
(HLAP. XVI. finished, when, while his body was lying in the
tomb, He passed in his spirit into the unseen world, to preach to the spirits there, so continuing and completing the work He had been doing on earth, of seeking and saving that which was lost.
Strange and startling as possibly much of the foregoing may seem to some, this view, be it known, of Christ's descent into hell was the belief of Christendom for ages, till it became obscured, distorted, and overshadowed by the dark fancies and corrupt practices of the Romish theory of purgatory. Even at the Reformation it retained its hold in a measure on our own Church. This at one time was the authorized formal exposition of the words, He descended into hell.' The paraphrase, which turned the Creed into a hymn, taught men that the end and purpose of that descent was that Christ the Lord might be
“ Of them, who long in darkness were,
The true light of their hearts.”
Nor has it been without witness in our own day, a witness that, thank God, is day by day increasing, as men are learning to recognize the universal Fatherhood of God. Very beautifully is the idea, in part, embodied in the hymn for Easter Eve of Keble, saint and poet, with whose words this chapter may be appropriately concluded. Contemplating at first the Lord Jesus as sleeping “a silent corpse in funeral fetters wound,” he breaks away from that thought as poor and unsatisfying, and cries,
“Sleep'st thou, indeed, or is thy spirit filed,
At large among the dead ?
Wake Abraham to rejoice,
The thronging band of souls ;
agony Might set the shadowy world from sin and sorrow free.”
Note.—This chapter is largely indebted to Professor Plumptre's interesting sermon on The Spirits in Prison.” The portions quoted are indicated by inverted commas.
THE INTERMEDIATE STATE.
He descended into hell. With this subject, both
Then unspoken perhaps, but within how intently mused upon, does the question again and again recur, "Where, what are they now? The body we have buried out of our sight, for it was no longer they ;
but they themselves, where are they now and what CHAP. X!! is their state ?"
Can any answer be given to questions such as these ? Is aught revealed concerning the intermediate state, or is it idle and presumptuous to speculate upon the condition of departed souls ? Not much, indeed, is disclosed in Holy Writ on this subject, yet more may be than some suppose, and quite enough to warrant enquiry into it. It behoves us, indeed, to take heed that we intrude not into God's secrets, or attempt to be wise above that which is written; yet is it no less incumbent on us to be wise up to that which is written; and though it were wrong to dogmatize where the revelation is but partial, yet may we lawfully make the fainter intimations of the Inspired Volume a matter of enquiry and meditation, as well as its broader and distincter statements.
And, first, let it be distinctly apprehended that there is an intermediate state ; a state, i.e., between death and the resurrection, which is neither the glory promised on the one hand, nor the punishment threatened on the other. Certain as this is, it is singular how much it is ignored or virtually denied by even orthodox Christians. What is more common than to hear departed saints spoken of as having gone to heaven or as being in glory? But not until body and spirit have been reunited will they be perfected in bliss. Not until after their resurrection and the coming of Christ will any either enter into glory or receive the due reward of their deeds. When Christ their life is manifested, then shall the saints be manifested with Him in glory.