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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 as to the fact of our Lord's going down into Hades and to the purpose, or at least one purpose of it, the last chapter was occupied. It will be well, however, that we should yet a little further enquire what the Scriptures teach concerning the intermediate state. On the resurrection of those who have fallen asleep in Jesus the Inspired Word is abundant in its revelations. But what of the state between death and the resurrection? How fares the disembodied spirit in the interval between its putting off the body of corruption and its putting on the body of immortality? Who has not more or less pondered this question, and longed to pierce the veil which hangs between us and the world of spirits? With what deep and almost painful interest the thought presents itself, when any dear to us have passed away from our sight and fellowship, and the place that knew them knows them no more. Then un
spoken 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 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.
Of the locality of this intermediate state little, indeed, can be said. Speaking of our Lord's descent into the world of spirits St. Paul says, 'Now that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?' (eis Tà κατώτερα τῆς γῆς.) It was underneath the earth that the Jews fixed the abode of the departed, and so far St. Paul seems, by using this expression, to countenance the notion; as also when he speaks of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth. But these expressions are too vague to found any definite opinion upon, as to the locality of the intermediate state.
But when we come to the names of this intermediate state, we tread on firmer ground, though even then the very appellations indicate the dim mysteriousness that broods over it. The Hebrew name is Sheol, which is rendered in Greek by the word Hades, which means the Unseen or Invisible. In the English version of the Bible this is translated 'hell,' which is derived from an old Saxon word meaning "to hide." This term, therefore, imports the hidden state. But here it must be remarked that the word hell is used in our Authorized Version of the New Testament in two different senses, and as a translation of two different Greek words, now of one and now of the other. Sometimes it stands for the place of perdition, and is the rendering of Matt, xxiii. 33. the word Gehenna, as in the following passage, ‘Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?' In the majority of instances it is the rendering of Hades, as when St. Peter applies the language of David to our Lord,
Acts ii. 27.
Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt_CHAP. XVII. Thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption'; or Ps. xvi. 10. as when it is said that Christ has 'the keys of death Rev. i. 18. and hell.' In this sense it is used in the Creed. 'He descended into hell,' i.e., into Hades. This, then, is the name by which Holy Scripture designates that invisible region, whither after death the spirits of all men, good and bad alike, are gathered, awaiting the judgment of the great day.
But here must be noted a distinction. Into Hades all souls are gathered, the good and the bad. But there is separation between them. This is clearly intimated in our Lord's parable of Dives and Lazarus. While, then, Hades denotes the whole region of disembodied spirits, we are led to believe that it consists of two great compartments or divisions, occupied respectively by the just and the unjust. To distinguish the former of these, the abode of the happy dead, the Jews called it Abraham's Bosom or Paradise, both of which names our Lord made use of, the first when He described Lazarus as carried by Luke xvi. 22. angels into Abraham's Bosom, and the second when
He said to the thief upon the cross, 'This day shalt Luke xxiii. 43. thou be with me in Paradise.'
Having ascertained thus much concerning the unseen world of departed spirits, we now enquire what Scripture intimates as to their state and condition in it. And, first, we gather that it is one not of insensibility but of consciousness. True, the departed are said to be asleep, but this is descriptive of the body, not of the spirit. Even in our natural sleep the spirit only becomes more intensely active by the partial suspension of bodily functions, rang