The Gospel of the Hereafter
by J. Paterson-Smyth
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E-text prepared by Al Haines

Transcriber's Note:




Rector of St. Georges, Montreal, Late Professor of Pastoral Theology, University of Dublin

Author of "How We Got Our Bible," "The Old Documents and the New Bible," etc., etc., etc.

New York —— Chicago —— Toronto Fleming H. Revell Company London And Edinburgh

Copyright, 1910, by Fleming H. Revell Company

New York: 158 Fifth Avenue Chicago: 17 North Wabash Ave. London: 21 Paternoster Square Edinburgh: 75 Princes Street

To My Wife








Publishers' Note

This tenth American (and sixteenth British) edition has been carefully revised and where necessary rewritten by the author. We call special attention to an interesting note on page 108.

This year a Norwegian edition has been published, translated by Judge Hambro of the Supreme Court of Norway assisted by the Bishops of Christiania and Trondheim. Also request has been received for permission to translate the book for readers in Holland. But more interesting is a letter from a Brahmin gentleman in India asking permission to produce at his own cost an edition for his people and dedicated on the front page, "TO MY SON, SEREM ALI, WHO IS NOW IN THE NEAR HEREAFTER."


The Lord is risen, but the people do not know it. There is no death, but the people do not believe it. Human life is the most exciting romantic adventure in the Universe, going on stage after stage till we are older than Methuselah and then on again through the infinite eternities—and yet men pass into the Unseen as stupidly as the caterpillar on the cabbage-leaf, without curiosity or joy or wonder or excitement at the boundless career ahead.

Instead of the thrill of coming adventure we have the dull grey monotony of aged lives drawing near the close, and the horror of this war is doubled and the torture of wife or mother as the beloved one crosses the barrier.

What is the matter with us, Christian people? Do we not know? Or have we lost our beliefs? or has imagination grown dulled by too frequent repetition of God's good news?

* * * * *

It was so different in early days when the world was younger, when Christ's revelation was fresh. Look at St. John, four-score years and ten, like an eager boy looking into the Great Adventure: "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and IT DOTH NOT YET APPEAR WHAT WE SHALL BE."[1]

What we shall be! What we shall be! Is not that the chief delight of being young? Guessing and hoping and wondering what we shall be.

The dreariest thing in life is dulness—monotony. The brightest thing in life is outlook—vision. And God has given us that. Like St. John we too can stand on the rim of the world and look out over the wall.

* * * * *

Life is full of latent possibilities—of outlook, of romance, of exciting futures. God has made it so, if we would only see it. God's world of nature has its continuous progress, its ever new and fascinating stages. God's caterpillars in their next stage are going to be soaring butterflies—God's acorns are to become mighty oaks—God's dry little seeds in the granary to-day will in autumn be alive in the waving harvests. God's world of nature is full of romantic possibilities.

And God's world of men is infinitely more so, and one of life's delights is to know it and look forward to it guessing what we shall be. Outlook. Vision. That is what gives zest to life. That is what we need to make life bright and beautiful.

* * * * *

I see a group of small boys sitting at their play, and their eyes are bright looking into the future. They are going to be soldiers, and sailors, and circus riders, and travelers, and all sorts of things. Because they are boys with the enthusiasms of boyhood, they may be anything. All the possibilities of boyhood belong to them. It doth not yet appear what they shall be, but it is delightful to look forward and speculate about it.

* * * * *

I see them again a dozen years later. They are starting in life, just left college, young soldiers and lawyers and curates and business men—still with their visions and dreams of the future. It doth not yet appear what they shall be, but because they are young men, all that belongs to young manhood lies before them, as they look forward in their day-dreams. What countries they shall live in and what girl they shall marry, and what positions and what work, and what excitements, and what pleasure lie before them. Ah, it is delightful to be young, realizing the possibilities in front—dreaming of what we shall be.

* * * * *

I see a crowd of older people, men and women dull, uninterested. "We are no longer young," they say, "we are middle-aged or elderly. And we have ceased looking forward. We have lost the vision. We have not become as great as we expected, or as good as we expected. We are fairly comfortable. We have not much to complain of. But life is a bit dull. The path is a bit monotonous now. We have traversed most of it. We can see to the end. There are no more romantic possibilities to make life exciting, no more visions of 'what we shall be.'"

* * * * *

Don't believe it! Not a word of it. The visions are there all right. Look out over the wall. This life of yours is only one of the stages in your career, and not the first stage, either. The first came to you, silent, unconscious, "where the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child." There you grew and developed for the next move forward. One day came the crisis of birth and you passed into the second stage, the training stage for life and for God. Then through a new crisis you pass on again to new adventures. For God has revealed that what you call death, the end of this career, is but birth into a new and more wondrous career which again passes you forward into still nobler adventures, and that again, perhaps—who knows? Who shall fix the limit?

* * * * *

Nay, you are not elderly. You are not middle-aged. These are but comparative terms. A house-fly is elderly in twenty-four hours. An oak-tree is young after a hundred years. And you, children of eternity with ages and millenniums before you—you are not even one year old babies in the light of your great future.

Now do you see why the old apostle of Ephesus did not feel aged or elderly—why he looked out like an eager boy into the adventure before him? "Beloved, now are we the sons of God but we don't know yet what we shall be." Aye, we don't know yet. No more than did the small boys laughing in their play and going to be soldiers and sailors and wonderful people. We don't know yet. But it is all before us. And it is all going to be good because it is in the Father's presence.

So I bid you do what I sometimes do myself, look out into the void and guess like the children what you shall be when you are older than Methuselah.

Shake off the dulness and monotony from your life. Don't talk as if old or middle-aged any more. Be children again in the presence of the Father, and with happy child hearts keep guessing what you shall be.

* * * * *

I see a woman with the deep pain in her eyes, one of the many mothers whom I have met in these terrible four years.... They were afraid to tell her when the War Office telegram came.... He had crept out in the night to bring in a wounded chum, and the German sniper got him. At first she could not believe it. It must be some mistake,—some one of similar name. But the days passed on. And the light died in her eyes and she became suddenly old. Her prayers ceased. God had disappointed her. There was nothing left to pray for now. Nothing to be ambitious for any more. Her boy was dead—buried in a shallow grave in France with a little wooden cross at his head. And he was only twenty-two!

* * * * *

The awful waste of it! All her loving thought over his childhood—all her care, her anxiety, her efforts, her prayers that God would make him a good and noble man. All her hope and pride in the high promise of his boyhood. He was dead. All that he might have been and done in the world was lost. Her life was forever desolate. And God had let it happen!

Kindly friends came to comfort and sympathise. But it was of little use. They had not lost their boy. They could not understand. They bade her be proud that he had died in a noble cause—that he had died to save another. They told her that time would bring a blessed easing to her pain. They told her she must bow to God's mysterious will.

Ah! what is the use of it? How can any outsider intermeddle in the pain of a mother whose boy has just been killed?

Not all the talking since Adam Can make death to be other than death.

* * * * *

God help us all if there were no better comfort for a tortured world in this hour of its bitterest need—to "make death to be other than death."

* * * * *

She was a brave woman. She faced the issue clearly. She talked with wise friends. She came back to her prayers. She recalled and relearned the teaching of her Bible and her church which had lain hazily in memory till her need arose. And gradually God's blessed comfort came to her "as to one whom his mother comforteth." Slowly peace came to her heart, and in spite of her pain life became worth living again.... He was a good boy. He loved his God. He loved his mother. He had his faults, but she could trust Christ with them. She had had high ambitions for him. Her ambitions came back.

She learned to think of him in the wondrous new adventure, living a full conscious life, thinking and remembering, growing and becoming fitted for the eternal Heaven that is still in front. She believed that the high promise of his boyhood might be fulfilled after all, and that she might one day see it.

Life is still very desolate without him; but she believes that he lives and knows, that he is growing and going on—that he remembers her and loves her as never before, that he is waiting for her, perhaps watching over her as in his days on earth, even though he cannot write home. And trustfully, gratefully she remembers him in her prayers. She thinks that the Heavenly Father is not likely to forget what a mother says to Him about her son.

* * * * *

This book is a poor, imperfect attempt to put together some of the teachings of our holy religion, to help a troubled world, in this day of its necessity, "to look out over the wall."

[1] John iii. 2.


The Near Hereafter



The title of this chapter is a very short one. It consists of but a single word, and that the shortest word in the whole English language. And though it is the shortest word, yet it is the most wonderful and mysterious word. Though it is a word that every one of us has on his lips every moment of the day, yet no one who reads this book—no one in the whole world—has ever been able to understand what it means.

Just the letter "I."—All day long, from morning till night, we are using it:—I did this. I mean to do that. I ought. I shall. I will. I think. I wish. I love. I hate. I remember. I forget. And so on and on—ever ringing the changes on this little word in all its cases "I" and "my" and "mine" and "me." I want to set you thinking. Who or what is this "I," this "me"?

Perhaps you will say, "Oh, there is nothing mysterious about it—I know very well what I mean by it. 'I' means myself."

But what do I mean by Myself? Of course there is a rough work-day meaning in which it means my whole being as I stand—clothes, body, brains, thoughts, feelings, general appearance, everything. But every thinking man knows that this is not the real "I," that when he says I can, I do, I will, I ought, I remember, the "I" means to him something much deeper and more mysterious than that. Ask yourself, each one, what do you mean by "I"?

Section 1

IS IT MY BODY? Nay, surely not. I know that my body is only my outward garment woven by "me" out of certain chemical substances. In a scientific museum I can stand before a glass case and see neatly labelled the exact portions of lime and silica and iron and water and other elements which compose my body. I know that this body is continually changing its substance like the rainbow in the sky, like the eddy round a stone in the river. The body I have to-day is no more the body of last year than the fire on my hearth to-night is the fire that was there this morning. I have had a dozen different bodies since I was born, but I am the same still. Every thinking man knows that the "I," the real self, stands behind the body looking out through the windows of the eyes, receiving messages through the portals of the ears. It rules the body, it possesses the body. It says, "I have a body." "This body is a thing belonging to me."

As you watch the changing expression in the face of your friend, as you see his eyes flashing in anger, or softening in affectionate sympathy, do you not feel that all you see is but the outward casing, that the real self of your friend is a something dwelling within?

I hope I am not puzzling you. What I want to do is to introduce you to your own self, to make you really acquainted with that mysterious being in his first stage of existence here and then to follow him out into the great adventure of the Hereafter.

Section 2

Let us go on. What is this I, this self? IS IT MY BRAIN? Physiologists tell us wonderful things of that brain; how its size and shape, and the amount of gray matter modify my character; how it excites itself when I am thinking; how it has different departments for different functions; how it rules and directs everything I do. And men impressed by these wonders have sometimes asserted that there is nothing more to be found. It is the brain which originates all, thought is only certain activities of the brain—memory is only impressions on the substance of the brain—when the brain decays there is no self remaining. What I call "I" is merely a function of my brain.

But immediately the question arises, Which brain? The particles of my brain are always changing. I have had a dozen different brains in my lifetime, with not a particle remaining the same. Which of these brains is it that "I" am only a function of? And how does it happen that I remember what I thought and did and said with the old vanished brains of twenty and thirty years ago? Memory insists that I am still the same "I" in spite of all those changes of brain. If memory be but a series of impressions registered on the brain these could no more survive the dissolution of the brain than impressions on wax could survive the melting of the wax. Surely my memory, my irresistible conviction of personal identity with my past makes it abundantly clear that "I" am a mysterious unchanging spiritual being behind this ever changing brain.

And that is what the best modern science asserts—that the brain is but my instrument. If we compare it to a violin then "I" am the unseen violin player behind it. The musician cannot produce violin music without a violin, but also the violin cannot produce a musical note, much less take part in a complex symphony without the musician behind it. If the strings of the violin be injured, or if they be smeared with grease, the result is discords and crazy sounds. If the brain be physically injured or disordered the result is what we call mental derangement.

To say, then, that the brain is the seat of thought is not at all to say that it is the source of thought. Everything involved in my conscious personality is related to the brain, but it is not originated by the brain. The mysterious spiritual "I" is behind the brain, using the brain—nay further—actually educating and fitting the brain for its work. The brain of a little child with its plastic gray matter is smooth and unformed. It is the "I" behind that is steadily creasing and moulding and training it for its purpose. I don't know of anything more impressive than the study of the human brain in its activities, and how "I" am continually changing and modifying and educating my brain. You feel sometimes as if you could almost lay hands on that mysterious spiritual being that is behind it, like a spider in his web—feeling and interpreting every quiver of it, sending messages out into the world by means of it. But he always eludes you. You have no instrument that can touch him. You only know that he is there, enshrouded in mystery, a supernatural being not only using the brain but educating it for use. The brain itself has no knowledge or thought, and no power of itself to originate knowledge or thought. The brain of a baboon differs very little from the brain of a man. The difference is in the being who is behind it. I read lately the statement of a great scientist: "As far as I can see, if the soul of a man could get behind the brain of an ape he could probably use it almost as well as his own."

I have never known a really thoughtful student of science satisfied with the foolish notion that the brain is what thinks and remembers and wills. He looks upon a human brain, on the dissecting table, a mere mass of cells and nerve centres suffused with blood, and he thinks of the glorious poems and the mighty intellectual efforts and the noble thoughts of God and Righteousness, and perforce he laughs at the thought that that poor bleeding thing originated them. Something within him indignantly replies: "Nay, 'I' am not the brain. I possess it. I use it. It is mine, but it is not me!"

Section 3

We have not yet gone deep enough to discover this "I." It is hardly necessary to ask the next question which some foolish people are speculating about to-day. Am I merely the TRAIN OF THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS AND EMOTIONS? Am "I" but like an Eolian harp, played on by the wind of sensations from without?

Surely not. This mysterious "I" is constantly and persistently claiming to be a real conscious person behind all these—greater than all these—possessing all these. Listen to the voice down deep in your consciousness—COGITO, ERGO SUM. "I" think—therefore "I" exist. I am not the thoughts and feelings and emotions—I am greater than them all. I am the possessor of them all. They are mine. They are not Me. They are only passing phases of my being. They are always changing. Everything around is changing. I remain the same being always. Nothing else in the universe remains the same being—except God. God and I. God and these selves that are in every one of us.

I cannot escape that conviction that "I" am the permanent being behind all the changes. No human vision can see me. No surgeon's knife can detect me. But I am there, behind everything.

The particles of my body, of brain and nerves and heart are constantly being changed—every few years they are completely renewed. I have had a dozen new bodies, a dozen new sets of brains and heart since I was born—I am always wearing them out. I change them when they are worn out and throw them aside like old clothes. My thoughts and feelings are ever changing, like the ripples on the sea.

But I am absolutely certain that "I" am still there—that I am the same—just as God is the same. The same "I" that played as a little child—the same "I" that lived and desired and thought and felt and worked and sinned years and years ago.

Not a particle remains of the brain, or nerves, or tongue, or eyes, or hands, or feet, with which I did a good or evil deed twenty years since—but it is impossible for me to doubt that it was "I" who did it, that I to-day deserve the praise or blame which is due to it.

Every man on earth, when he thinks about it, has this conviction of himself as an "I"—as a person separate from all other persons, as a self separate from all other selves, as remaining always the same being, whatever changes may take place around him. That is what constitutes man—a self conscious of itself. As far as we can discover, the lower animals have no such idea. Children, at first, have not. Did you ever notice how a little child never says "I" till he is about three years old? He always speaks in the third person. It is always "Baby does this," "Baby likes that," until the Divine revelation of his personality gradually grows and he recognizes himself as a person. Then, without any teaching on your part, the child, of his own accord, will begin to say "I."

Section 4

Oh, who or what is this awful, mysterious "I" that dwells somewhere in the centre of my being, and rules and possesses and is responsible for everything? What is this self, in each of you, that is hidden behind your faces as behind a mask—that is looking out through your eyes, and receiving, through your ears, the thoughts that others are trying to express for you? Can the surgeon's knife find any trace of it? Is it possible to destroy it? Is it possible to get away from it? It has survived the putting away of every part of the body a dozen times over. Will it survive the final putting away of the whole body at death? Will it survive everything? Shall "I" be "I," the same identical person through all the ages of eternity?

Section 5

Look in again upon this "I" within you and answer this question. Why does it assert so positively that it is impossible to doubt it; "I ought to do certain things, I ought not to do certain other things"? All over the earth this day—from the St. Lawrence to the Ganges, from the North Pole to the South—there is no man outside of a lunatic asylum without that conviction. No race, not even the lowest, has been found without it. Where did that conviction come from? From the Bible, do you say? From the teachings of Christ? Nay, surely not. Long before the Bible, long before the incarnation of Christ, the old pagan had the thought clear and distinct, though not by any means so clear and distinct as Christianity has made it. Did you ever think of the mystery of this authoritative utterance of the self within you: "I ought"? In the very lowest savages it asserts this. St. Paul calls this sense of "ought"—the law of God written in our hearts (Rom. ii. 15). St. John calls it the light of Christ in us, "the light which lighteth every man coming into the world" (St. John i. 9). Longfellow sings of it in "Hiawatha":

That in even savage bosoms There are longings, yearnings, strivings For the good they comprehend not; That the feeble hands and helpless, Groping blindly in the darkness, Touch God's right hand in the darkness.

Even in the heart of the thief or the murderer it insists: I ought to do this, I ought not to do that, and when he disobeys this mysterious law within him he is compelled to drag himself up for judgment and fierce remorse for wrong that no one else knows of, that no one else can punish him for. What do you think of that mysterious fact about this Conscious Personality within you? Does it not look as if it belongs to God, that every soul is stamped with God's image and superscription, as every coin of King George is stamped in the mint with the image and superscription of the King?

Section 6

And this suggests a further question. Why is there in us this sense of imperfection, of incompleteness—of ideals always away in the front that we can never even approximately reach on earth? Look at this conscience which we have just been thinking about. It is always holding high above us an ideal of perfect goodness and insisting that we must strive after it. But we can never get even near it on earth. The very best man at the close of life sees his ideal still high above him and feels how much better he might be and ought to be and then he dies feeling the incompleteness of this life. Does not this unfinished life thus broken off, with its aim still far in the future, demand something further? The great German philosopher Kant founded on this fact his famous argument for Immortality.

Or look at our efforts after knowledge. It takes nearly all this life to fit the student for his search after truth, and when he is just ready and the great ocean of truth lies before him, Death comes. Oh, how incomplete and unfinished his life seems! Just the scaffolding put up for his work, just the tools got into good order. Then he dies.

"For half a century," said Victor Hugo, "I have been writing my thoughts in prose and verse, history, philosophy, drama, romance, tradition, satire, ode, song. But I feel that I have not said a thousandth part of what is in me. When I go down to the grave I shall have finished my day's work." And this thought of incompleteness compels in him the hope, "another day will begin next morning."

Was Victor Hugo right? Was the old pagan philosopher right? "You may catch my body," said Socrates, "but no man can catch me, myself, to bury me." Victor Hugo did not believe in the Christian Bible. Socrates had no revelation from God, except the revelation of this self within him. You have the revelation of Christ as well. What do you think of the question? When the dust shall return to the earth as it was, shall the spirit return to God who gave it? When brain and heart and nerves are destroyed, when the sun is old and the stars grow cold, and all that you ever saw is swept away into nothingness, will this mysterious, lonely self remain, to say "I" and "my" and "mine" and "me," through all the ages of Eternity?

Section 7

Now, I put a closer question still. Is not this mysterious "I" behind the brain the being that God is especially concerned with? What He sometimes calls your soul.[1] The ceiling of the Sistine chapel at Rome has a fine painting by Michael Angelo from the text, "Man became a living soul." It represents the Supreme Spirit floating in the ether and touching with His finger the body of Adam. As He touches it an electric spark flashes into the body and Adam becomes a living soul. Is not this the centre of the awful mystery that I call "I," myself—the same of which our Lord asks His tremendous question: "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own self?"

Is not this "self" the real man, the man in the centre of his life, in the deepest recesses of his being, the man as he lives beneath the eye of God and enters into relations with God—the man for whom the Bible announces that exciting adventure in the long ages of the Hereafter?

Is not this "I" looking out from behind your eyes this moment—the real man, of whom the body that you see is only the outward covering, of whom the brain is only the outward telegraphic instrument? Should not we adapt our thoughts to that tremendous fact? Instead of thinking "I have a soul," should we not rather think "I am a soul"? Instead of thinking, that beautiful girl has an ugly soul, that insignificant looking man has a noble soul, should we not rather think, that ugly soul has a beautiful girl body, that splendid soul is in a mean looking body? Would not some such manner of thinking help to bring home the reality, that "I" am the invisible immortal being which clothes itself in a material body during this first stage of its life. Should not we be more likely to become acquainted with our own soul, to become impressed with its existence, to think about its character? Should we not thus learn more easily that wealth and clothes and outward appearance are not so important, that the character, the relation to God is the one supreme thing?

Think out for yourself the answer to that and to all these questions. I am not going to answer any of them. My purpose here is not to answer questions but to set you asking them—not to do your thinking for you, but to set you thinking for yourselves. Is it the spoiling and ruining of that self within you which Christ balances against the whole world?

Section 8

Now, have I helped, even in a little way, to introduce you to yourself—that "self" that is going out into the great adventure of the Hereafter? If I have, I have done a very good thing for you. With so many the soul is but a vague abstraction, belonging to the pulpit and the sick-bed and the life of the hereafter. But amid the busy daily life, the real work and pleasure, the real streets and houses, it is hard to think of it except as something shadowy and unreal. My effort here is to take it out of the region of the vague and unreal and bring it into the region of every-day, practical life.

Try to respond to my thoughts. Try to get acquainted with your own self—your own soul. Try to watch its wondrous life. Try to become impressed with its existence—to think about its character. Think whether, when the Bible says anything about your soul, it means this mysterious being that you call "I." Think whether this "I" is an emanation from God's nature, and therefore is intended to be in harmony with Him. Think whether it must live for ever and ever, and therefore if its character be not of enormous importance—if its character-making be not the one supremely important thing in your life.

Then realize that whether you exalt or degrade it, it is with you for ever. You CAN NEVER, NEVER, NEVER GET AWAY FROM YOURSELF. You will be the very same self after death as before. I read some time since of the sinking of a ship and how the captain dived through the cabin door, and keeping the light above in view, swam up through the hatchway and escaped out of the wreck. There is a deceitful expectation in human nature that when we go down in the sea of death and eternity we shall in some way escape out of ourselves, swim away from our own personalities, and thus leave the ship at the bottom of the sea. If the "I" meant only the body, that would be true. But this "I" is where character exists, where love and desire and will exist. This "I" is the captain himself. The captain cannot swim away from the captain. Myself cannot swim away from "myself." "I" must be "I" to all eternity. I cannot shake off my character, be it good or bad.

Realize next what you mean to the God who created you and lovingly planned for you your magnificent destiny.

Let the soul within you feel its dignity, its priceless importance in the eyes of its Maker. Measure the value of it by what God has done for it.

Why was this world slowly built through thousands of ages? Just as a platform for this "I" to develop character. Why was the Incarnation and Death of the Everlasting Son of God? Why is the gift and energy of the Holy Spirit? Why is the perpetual intercession of Christ in Heaven? Why is the grace and power of the Sacraments in life? Why are the boundless prospects opened beyond the grave?

All for the sake of this mysterious permanent supernatural being that we call "I." Measure I say by what God has done for it, the tremendous value He sets on your immortal soul.

[1] In a simple, popular statement such as this it would but be confusing to go into nice metaphysical distinctions of soul and "spirit."



Section 1

Now, grip with both hands the fact that this life, as you know it, is but one single stage in God's plan for you—the Kindergarten stage, the caterpillar stage of your existence. That in five thousand years that spiritual being looking out from behind the mask of your face to-day will be living still, and feeling still, and thinking still. That what you call death, the end of this career, is but birth into a new and more exciting career, stretching away into the far future, age after age, aeon after aeon, whose prospect should stir the very blood within us.

There is nothing which so touches some of us as a thing with "makings" in it, a thing with untold potentialities in it, a thing which may come in the future to God only knows what. Talk of the caterpillar which is to develop into the butterfly or the acorn which shall one day be a mighty oak. Why, these miracles are but child's play compared with the miracles potentially wrapped up in this poor little self. No wildest fairy tale can suggest the wonder of its possibilities as it passes out into the new adventure of the life beyond.

Section 2

Thirteen hundred years ago there was an eager discussion in the court of King Edward of Northumbria. The old wattled hall was blazing with torches and a crowd of eager listeners hung intent on the teaching of the Christian missionaries who had just arrived. At last a grim bearded old earl rose in his place. "Can this new religion," he asked, "tell us of what happens after death? The life of man is like a swallow flying through this lighted hall. It enters in at one door from the darkness outside, and flitting through the light and warmth passes through the farther door into the dark unknown beyond. Can this new religion solve for us the mystery? What comes to men in the dark, dim unknown?"

Perhaps he was thinking of his dead wife or his brave boy killed in battle. The old earl's question is the question of humanity in all ages gazing out into the darkness after its dead. The full answer can only be had by dying. But a partial answer can be had now.

The Bible reveals to us that there are three stages of human existence:

1st. The earthly stage, where "I," the mysterious "I," live with a body woven around me. The Bible hints that this stage is of untold importance. In fact, all the future stages depend largely on how it is lived. That is what makes this first stage so awfully important. It is the formative time whose influence spreads out into eternity. In this stage Acts make habits. Habits make character. Character makes Destiny.


3rd. And away after this final stage the "Far Hereafter" in the "end of the age," as our Lord says, where come the General Resurrection, the Judgment of Men, the final stages of Heaven and Hell. That stage has not yet arrived in the history of humanity.

In Part I of this book we are only concerned with the Intermediate Life, the life of the near Hereafter which comes after Death and before the Judgment. We are to study what can be known about it.

With educated people it should not be necessary to combat the foolish popular notion that at death men pass into their final destiny—Heaven or Hell—and then perhaps thousands of years afterwards come back to be judged as to that final destiny! To state such a belief should be enough to refute it. Those who hold it "do err not knowing the Scriptures." For the Scriptures have no such teaching.

The Jews in our Lord's time believed in a waiting life of departed souls before the Judgment. Owing to vagueness and contradictions in the Rabbinical teaching it is impossible to state their notions about it with definiteness. But in the main it may be said that when they speak of that life as a whole without distinguishing between the states of the good and the evil they call this whole by the general name of HADES, i. e., "the Unseen" (the Hebrew word was Sheol), but they also distinguished in it the abode or state of the Blest as PARADISE, or the "Garden of Eden," or "ABRAHAM'S BOSOM," or "UNDER THE THRONE," e. g., "Abraham whom God planted in the Garden of Paradise," "our master Moses departed into the Garden of Eden." The holy Judah rests this day in "Abraham's Bosom."

Their teaching is of course not authoritative for us. Doubtless many of their notions on the subject needed much correction. But our Lord gives His sanction in the main to their belief and uses their very phrases in speaking of the new life, e. g., Dives "in HADES (not Hell, see R. V.), lift up his eyes being in torment"—Lazarus "was carried by the angels into ABRAHAM'S BOSOM." "To-day thou shalt be with Me in PARADISE" is His promise to the dying thief. And it is clear that He did not mean the final Heaven for He says, "No man hath ascended into Heaven only the Son of Man who is in Heaven." Even He Himself did not go to Heaven when He died, for this is His statement after the Resurrection, "I have not yet ascended unto My Father." Where, then, did His Spirit go? The whole Church throughout the world repeats every Sunday, in the creed, "He was dead and buried, and descended into HADES"—the life of the waiting souls. St. Peter tells us in his first Epistle that in those three days Christ's living Spirit went and preached to the spirits in safe keeping who had been disobedient in the old world. For which cause he says, "was the Gospel preached to them that are dead." The same thought was evidently in his mind in his first sermon (Acts ii. 31). "David," he says, "prophesied of the resurrection of Christ that His soul was not left in Hades."

Section 4

And this is the point of view of all the New Testament Scriptures. Heaven and Hell are always spoken of as states after the Judgment and the Judgment is to be in the "end of the world" or the "end of this age."

The great crisis of expectation set before men is not death, but "the Day when the Lord shall appear," e. g., "That ye may be saved in the Day of the Lord," "The Day of the Lord is as a thief in the night," "Looking for and hasting to the coming of the Day of God," "Keep the commandment till the appearing of our Lord," "To be found with praise at the appearing of Jesus," etc., etc. Warning, reproof, exhortation, encouragement are all directed to that great day at the end of the Waiting Life—the Judgment at the second coming of the Son of Man.

Naturally this belief passed into the thought of the early church. "The souls of the godly abide in some better place and the souls of the unrighteous in a worse place expecting the time of judgment.... These who hold that when men die their souls are at once taken to heaven are not to be accounted Christians or even Jews" (Justin Martyr, A. D. 150, Dialogue with Trypho). "The souls of Christ's disciples go to the invisible place determined for them by God and there dwell awaiting the Resurrection" (Irenaeus, Against Heretics, A. D. 180). "All souls are sequestered in Hades till the Day of the Lord" (Tertullian, De Anima, A. D. 200). "Let no man think that souls are judged immediately after death; all are detained in one common place of safe keeping till the time when the Supreme Judge makes His scrutiny" (Lactantius, Div. Institutes). "During the interval between death and resurrection men's souls are kept in hidden receptacles according as they severally deserve rest or punishment" (Augustine).

Does it not all give a fuller meaning for us to the words of our Lord, "In My Father's house are many mansions" (or abiding places).

This whole teaching about the Intermediate Life has been obscured in our day by the fact that most people read the Authorized Version of the Bible where the word Hades has been unfortunately translated "Hell," just the same as the darker word Gehenna. At the time of the translation of the Authorized Version the old English word hell—the hole—the unseen, had not yet stiffened into the awful meaning that it has attained in our day. It was not then a word set apart to designate the abode of the lost. It simply meant the "unseen place," "the covered place." In the south of England still a thatcher who covers in a house is called a "hellier." Even in games it was used. In the old English games of forfeits, on the village green, the "hell" is the hidden place where the girls ran away to escape being kissed. You can see it had no awful meaning necessarily connected with it. Therefore it did not seem repulsive to translate the Greek word "Hades," the Unseen, by the English "Hell." But it has become very misleading in later days, and our own conservative instincts which prevent our altering the word in the creed has helped to perpetuate the error.

The revised version has put all this right, e. g., "His soul was not left in Hades (not hell), nor did His flesh see corruption" (Acts ii. 31). "I have the keys of death and of Hades" (Rev. i. 18). At the end of the world "death and Hades gave up the dead" (Rev. xx. 13). In Hades (not hell) "the rich man lifts up his eyes, being in torment" (St. Luke xvi. 23).

Section 5

The Bible, then, teaches to every careful student that there is the Intermediate Life beyond the grave, a vivid conscious life. That all men go there when they depart this life. No man has ever yet gone to Heaven. No man it would seem has ever yet gone to Hell. No man has ever yet been finally judged. No man has ever yet been finally damned. Thank God for that at any rate. The Bible teaches that all who have ever left this earth are waiting yet—from King Alfred to King Edward; from St. Paul to Bishop Westcott; from the poor struggler of the ancient days in the morning of history to the other poor struggler who died last night.

We are now to study this next stage of our history, beginning at what we call death which is really birth into the next stage of life, just as the death of the caterpillar is the birth of the butterfly. In this next stage are living to-day our dear children and brothers and sisters and wives and husbands within the veil. In a very few years we shall all have gone through—each of us just the same "I."

The Bible does not reveal very much about it as was to be expected. The Bible is intended to guide our conduct and prepare us for a final Heaven. Therefore it busies itself with the responsibilities of this present life and the glories of the final prospect—touching very lightly the intermediate stages, just as we press on a boy the importance of his school days and the high prospects for his manhood, touching very little the stages between.[1] But there is much more to be learned from Scripture about this Intermediate Life than most people think.

[1] There is a further reason as regards St. Paul's epistles, which form one-third of the whole New Testament. The reason is that St. Paul and his people were not greatly interested in the Intermediate Life. They looked for the Lord's coming in glory during their own lifetime. Even if some died before, the intermediate waiting time would be so short that it excited no absorbing interest. They did not dwell on it. It could not concern them as it concerns us.



We are now to enquire about that life into which our departed ones have gone from us. "I" has gone on his mysterious journey into the strange, new land. We are standing in the darkened death chamber, where the dead body lies, with close shut eyes, like an empty house whence the tenant has gone out, closing the windows after him, and the sobbing friends are feeling the inevitable pressure of the questions, "Where is he? What is he doing? What is he seeing? Can we know anything at all about his condition now?"

Many of them say, "No, we cannot know anything; all is vague, shadowy, unreal. It is vain to torment our hearts by thinking." So they lock away his photographs and letters, and they gradually, reluctantly let him drop out of their conversation and their prayers, and, as far as possible, out of their thoughts, trusting sadly in the healing influence of time and forgetfulness to quiet the aching questions in their hearts. Ah! it is a poor comfort!

Some of them even think that there is something presumptuous in intruding into mysteries which they say God has not revealed. "Do not the secret things belong unto the Lord our God?" What a pity they do not complete that text, "But the things that are revealed belong to us;" and then go on to find out whether, after all, God has not revealed a great deal more than they think about that mysterious journey on which the beloved one has gone. A reverent curiosity concerning the life of our departed is surely not displeasing to God. "I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren," says St. Paul, "concerning them that are asleep."

I wish I could comfort those sorrowing questioners, as I have comforted myself, by thus searching for what God has revealed. I do not want to offer mere sentimental guesses. I want to find for them the "things that God has revealed," and if I draw some conclusions which I cannot definitely prove from Scripture, they are only such as seem to me reasonable and probable from a fair consideration of the evidence, and I shall draw a clear distinction between the authoritative teaching of Scripture, which you are bound to accept, and any conclusions which I draw from Scripture, which you are free to reject.

Let me first put your questionings into clear, definite shape, as you look upon the face of your dead. Is it a life of sleep and unconsciousness into which he has gone, or is he as fully alive and conscious as he was an hour ago? Is there further probation in that life? Is there growth and progress? Does he still remember? Does he still love? Does he still know or care anything about the old home and about us who are left behind? Can he help us? Can we help him? Are we to think of him as one gone absolutely into the unknown, or may we think of him as we do of our other absent one who went to India last year, only with the difference that one writes home and the other does not?


As in all our troubles, we had best go first to our Lord. As He is the only one who really knows all the questions of our hearts, so He is the only one who really knows the secrets of the invisible world. He is the only one on earth who has ever gone away into that strange land and then came back to tell us anything about it. In all things He is our great forerunner. He, the Son of Man, has gone before us poor sons of man in all the experiences of life,—childhood, youth, manhood, temptation, struggle, sorrow, disappointment, victory, joy. And He has gone before us, too, into the Unseen Land, as if to lead us and say to us "Be not afraid."

He does not speak much about it. As I have already shown you, this was to be expected. In the first place, in our present imperfect, limited condition, with senses fitted only for this poor earthly life, it would probably be impossible to teach us anything definitely about the higher life of the spirit world. How can you teach a blind, deaf man about this world of beautiful sights and sounds in which you are living? How could God teach us definite details about a life which no experience of ours can help us to imagine? And, besides that, Scripture is intended to guide our conduct in this world, not to gratify our speculations about another world. At any rate, there is a marked reticence and reserve all through the Bible in speaking of the Hereafter, which reticence and reserve we shall do well to imitate.

Section 1

First, watch our Lord draw the curtain a little in His story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The "story" I say, not the "parable." It is no parable. A parable is the statement of an analogy between visible things and invisible. This is a direct statement about the invisible things themselves. Jesus is telling what happens after death. Indeed, many in the early Church thought, and many to-day think, that this is a direct historical account by Christ of the life of a certain selfish rich man in Jerusalem whom He knew and of a certain beggar that lay at his gate. They died and were buried, and those who followed them to the grave could see no further. But the Lord is watching them still as they pass into the land which He knew so well. Whether this was the story of a certain man, or only a general statement about all such men, does not matter. Christ was telling of what happens just after death, when the "I," the self, has laid aside the body and gone out into the Unseen.

I do not mean that this story is intended as a revelation of that life. If it were it would doubtless have been more complete. It is simply a passing reference to it in warning against the danger of a selfish life. But it lifts the curtain a little bit.

Section 2

Be quite clear about this—that our Lord is not speaking of the FAR Hereafter—of the final stage of human life at the end of the world, in which after the Final Judgment come Heaven and Hell. He is speaking of the near Hereafter, the life immediately after death. We have seen that there are three stages in our history: 1st. This Earth life, where the "I," the self, has a body woven around it. 2nd. The Intermediate Life before the Judgment, into which I go at death without my body into my second stage of being. 3rd. The final stage at the end of the age in which come the Final Judgment and Heaven and Hell, which stage is still in the future for all humanity.

Clearly our Lord is speaking of the Intermediate Life, of the unseen life existing to-day, running on side by side with the earthly life. For you see the men He speaks of are not long dead. Dives' brothers are still living here. Dives is quite conscious that the ordinary life of men is still going on on earth side by side with that other life. Clearly Jesus is telling of the present stage in the life of the departed—that life in which all our dear departed ones are living at this moment.

Section 3

Next I notice that that life in its inmost experiences seems very like this life, and follows from it quite naturally. He depicts it as a clear, conscious life. They are not dead nor asleep nor unconscious. They are very much alive. He represents them as thinking and speaking and feeling. Lazarus is feeling "comforted." Dives is feeling "tormented," and thinking keenly of his own misery and of his brothers' danger on earth at that moment. So actively alive are they all to him that he wants one of them to go back to earth to tell his brothers about it.

Be quite clear about this. Challenge every statement as I go on. Is this a mere speculation of mine or have we Christ's authority for saying that in the new environment men are living a life as clear and vivid and conscious as on this earth—that death makes no break?

Section 4

Next I learn that each feels himself the same continuous "I" that he was on earth. Lazarus feels himself the same Lazarus, Dives feels himself the same Dives, the brother of those five boys. I shall still keep on saying "I." I am not somebody else over there. That is what Jesus said from the other side of the grave—"Handle Me and see—it is I, Myself."

Section 5

Next I read on His authority that there is no break in memory. Of course there could not be if I am still "I." But our Lord confirms this. Lazarus remembers Dives. Dives remembers Lazarus so well that he wants him to go back to convert his brothers. Aye, he remembers the brothers in the old Jerusalem home, the five boys that grew up beside him. He remembers sorrowfully that they have grown to be selfish men like himself, perhaps through his fault. He is thinking about them and troubling about them. And Abraham assumes this memory as a matter of course. "My son, remember that thou in thy lifetime, etc."

Does not all this confirm our statement in Chapter I, that memory is something more than impressions on the gray matter of the brain; that memory is in the man himself who is behind the brain and, therefore, must go on with him.

Section 6

I read on, "Now he is comforted and thou art tormented." That again is just what I should expect. It is all quite natural. If "I" am still the same "I" in full vivid conscious life, in full memory of the past—if I have passed out of the mists of earth into the full light of the Eternal, where everything is seen at its full value, where money counts for nothing and love counts for everything, it is of course natural that the good man should feel comforted and the bad man should feel tormented.

Only more so. Only more so. That is the difference. The poor humble follower of Christ, even on earth, is in the main happy—at his best moments. But he is not always very happy. He has the inner comfort of the peace of God. But there is much worry and distraction, about his business and his sickness and his troubles of many kinds to spoil his peace. All these earthly troubles are gone now. He sees Christ. He knows of the boundless joy before him by and by. He is comforted.

And I read that Dives "is tormented." Here again all is natural and as we should expect. The godless man is in some degree tormented in this life—at his best moments, when he stops to think, when he lies awake in the lonely night and conscience speaks to him. But there are many distractions to ease his pain—the pleasures and amusements of life, the company of friends, the pursuit of business, the excitements of ambition. So he can manage a good deal to forget God, to acquire a distaste for God, and yet to dull the still small voice that hurts him. But these distractions are gone now. He has gone out into the new life, naked, alone. All the money and business excitement are gone. All the things of sense and appetite are gone. That poor soul of his, dwarfed and degraded, stands in the dread loneliness before God, full of the sense of loss and misery—of shame for the past—of dread of what is to come—of wretched discord between himself and all that is good. In Hades, says Christ, not in Hell (the Revised Version puts that right), in that life just after death, he lifted up his eyes, being in torment. The Judgment has not come yet. He is not in Hell. Hell has not yet come. Those things are in the final stage of being. But already, just after death, Christ says, he is in torment of soul.

Section 7

I do not think we should pass over the expression "carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom." Notice that our Lord makes it simple and intelligible for the Jews by using their own phrase, "Abraham's Bosom," their name for the state of the faithful departed immediately after death. And He says, Lazarus "was carried by the angels." If anybody else but Jesus had said it, we might pass this over as a piece of poetic imagery. But it was Jesus who said it. He says so much about the angels. He says that there are guardian angels of the children. He says that the angels rejoice over one sinner that repenteth. He would not say this about Lazarus carried by the angels unless it meant something real. If so I think we have here our Lord's authority for the ministry of angels at death, an indication that the poor soul does not go out solitary into a great lone land—that there are loving watchers around the death-bed "sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation."

I do not know how much weight we should attach to the suggestion that Dives seems the better for the discipline of the new life. His selfishness on earth bulks largely in the story. Now in all his trouble he is thinking of his five brothers "lest they also come to this place of torment."

Section 9

The next words suggest a very serious and awful question. Is the destiny and the condition of every soul fixed forever at death? What is the meaning of the phrase: "Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed"? That is too large a question to deal with here. I postpone it to a later chapter. I have already reminded you of the tremendous importance of this life in its bearing on our final destiny.


We get another hint of the Unseen Life in the story of the Transfiguration, when Moses and Elijah, two of the greatest souls of the old world days in the wondrous Waiting Life, come out from that life to meet the Lord and to speak with Him "of His decease, which He should accomplish at Jerusalem" (Luke ix. 31). Does it not suggest at once the deep interest which they and their comrades, the great souls within the Veil, were taking in the mighty scheme of Redemption that was being worked out on earth? Does it not suggest that in the spirit land they are watching our doings here? Does it not help us to anticipate the joy in that wondrous life when, straight from the Cross, Christ the triumphant victor "descended into Hades" (Apostles' Creed) to proclaim the glad news to the dead (1 Peter iv. 18); to unfurl His banner and set up His Cross in the great world of the departed?


Our next hint comes when the Lord is dying on the Cross. The penitent thief is hanging beside Him. Death is drawing near. The poor sinner is about to take the leap off into the dark. He does not know what is before him: Darkness—unconsciousness—nothingness—what? He does not know. The only one on earth who does know is on a cross beside him. "LORD, REMEMBER ME WHEN THOU COMEST IN THY KINGDOM." And Jesus said: "TO-DAY THOU SHALT BE WITH ME IN PARADISE." Not in Heaven, but in Paradise—the Jews' word for the resting place of good men after death. Now, when one man says to another at such a tune, "To-day you shall be with me," surely it suggests, "You and I will be living a full, conscious life, and you will remember our acquaintance here upon the earth; we shall know each other as the two who hung together this morning on calvary." Does it not, at least suggest, recognition in the Unseen Land?



Only three hours later the Lord passed through into that Unseen Land. "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit, and having said this He gave up the ghost," and departed on the mysterious journey. If we could know anything about what He saw and did on that mysterious journey surely it would give some hints about our dear ones departed.

Section 1

That journey of the Lord into the world of the dead has been made a great article of the Christian faith. We all repeat it regularly in the Apostles' Creed, "He descended into Hell." I need not translate that clause. Every well taught Sunday-school child knows its meaning. "He descended into Hades," into the world of the departed in the great waiting life before the Judgment. But there is a great deal more than this to be said about it.

Now, let us consider this statement. Clearly it deals with the three days between our Lord's death and resurrection. Where did His spirit go? "To heaven, of course," somebody says. "No," says the Lord Himself after the resurrection, "I have not yet ascended to My Father." Where, then, did His spirit go? "Nobody can tell," you say. Yes, one person could tell, and only one—the Lord Himself. He only could have told of His solitary temptation in the wilderness, and He evidently told it. He only could have told of the solitary scene in Gethsemane, it would seem that He told it. He only could have told of His visit to the world of the dead, and I think that He told it. You remember that after the resurrection He was with them "forty days teaching the things concerning the Kingdom." I think He must have told them then of those three days. Why? Because the knowledge of it was so wide-spread in the early Church, and there was no one else to tell it. Some people seem to think that there are only some obscure verses of St. Peter and a few references of St. Paul in favour of such teaching. Not at all. It was the belief of the whole Church. St. Peter and St. Paul were only two in a crowd of teachers of early days who proclaimed triumphantly the visit of the Lord into the world of the dead. St. Peter seems to be thinking of it in his first sermon when he quotes: "His soul was not left in Hades" (Acts ii. 31). Therefore St. Peter knew that it was into that intermediate life—not into that final Heaven—that our Lord went at death. This statement by itself would not prove much, but when I find the same St. Peter long afterwards telling so circumstantially in his first epistle (iii. 18) that when his Master was put to death in the flesh He was made more alive in the spirit, in which spirit He went and preached to the spirits in prison who had been disobedient at the flood. "For which cause (chap. iv. 6) was the gospel—the glad news—preached to them that are dead," I think it is a fair inference that St. Peter had some definite information. And then I find St. Paul, in Eph. iv. 9, when he is writing of the gifts bestowed on the Church by her ascended Lord. The word "ascended" causes him to pause abruptly. Men must not think that His work in the unseen was limited to that work for us in Heaven after His ascension. "Now that He ascended, what is it but that He descended first into the lower parts of the earth (i. e., the world of the departed) that He might fill all things." Hades and Heaven had alike felt the glory of His presence.

And then immediately after the Apostles' days I find the knowledge wide-spread in the Church. I read the writings of the ancient bishops and teachers of the Church, beginning at the death of St. John, the very men to whom we refer for information as to the Baptism and Holy Communion and the authenticity of the four Gospels, and there I find prominently in their preaching the gospel of our Lord's visit to the world of the departed.

Section 2

The earliest is known as Justin Martyr. He was born about the time of St. John's death, and he feels so strongly about the Descent into Hades that he actually charges the Jews with mutilating a prophecy of Jeremiah foretelling it.

Irenaeus, the great Bishop of Lyons in France, a little while later tells how the Lord descended {59} into the world of the dead, preaching to the departed, and all who had hopes in Him, and submitted to His dispensations, received remission of sins.

Then away in Egypt comes St. Clement of Alexandria, born about fifty years after St. John's death. I have been greatly interested in some little touches in his chapter on the descent into the world of the dead. He asserts as the direct teaching of Scripture that our Lord preached the Gospel to the dead, but he thinks that the souls of the Apostles must have taken up the same task when they died, and that it was not merely to Jews and saints, but to heathen as well—as was only fair, he says, since they had no chance of knowing. Don't you like that honest appeal of his "as was only fair"?

St. Clement's great disciple, Origen, comes next. His evidence comes in curiously. A famous infidel named Celsus, knowing of this wide-spread creed of the Church about the preaching in Hades, laughs at the Christians. "I suppose your Master when He failed to persuade the living had to try and persuade the dead?" Origen meets the question {60} straight out: "Whether it please Celsus or no, we of the Church assert that the soul of our Lord, stript of its body, held converse with other souls that He might convert those capable of instruction."

Then away in Western Africa, the Church's belief is represented by another great teacher, Tertullian. In Jerusalem, Cyril the Bishop, teaches the people in his catechetical lectures this faith of the Church with a ring of gladness and triumph. He sees Christ not only amid the souls who had once been disobedient, but also in blessed intercourse with the strugglers after right who had never seen His face on earth. He pictures how the holy prophets ran to our Lord, how Moses, and Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and David, and Samuel, and John the Baptist, ran to Him with the cry, "Oh, Death, where is thy sting? Oh, Grave, where is thy victory, for the Conqueror has redeemed us."

I cannot go on to tell of St. Athanasius and the rest. I have said enough to show you that in the early ages of the Church—the pure loving ages—nearest to the Lord and to the Apostles, the Church rejoiced in the glad belief that Christ went and visited the spirits in the Unseen who had never seen His face on earth.[1]

Section 3

This was one of the gladdest notes in the whole Gospel harmony of the early Church for five hundred years, in the purest and most loving days, the days nearest our Lord and His Apostles. It was a note of triumph. It told of the tender, thoughtful love of Christ for the faithful souls who had never seen Hun. It told of the universality of His Atonement. It told of victory, far beyond this life. It told that Christ, who came to seek and save men's souls on earth, had continued that work in the world of the dead while His body lay in the grave. That He passed into the unseen world as a saviour and conqueror. That His banner was unfurled there and His cross set up there in the world of the departed. That the souls of all the ancient world who had never known Him, and WHO WERE CAPABLE OF TURNING TO HIM (i. e., who in their earthly probation, in spite of all their ignorance and sin, had not irrevocably turned away from God and good), might turn to Him and live. That the spirits of the old-world saints and prophets had welcomed Him with rejoicing. That even men of much lower place had yet found mercy. That even such men as those who had perished in the flood in God's great judgment, BUT HAD NOT HARDENED THEMSELVES AGAINST HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS AND LOVE, were not shut out from hope. In the "many mansions" was a place even for such as they. To the teachers of the early Church, I repeat, it was one of the most triumphant notes in their gospel—the wideness of Christ's Atonement.

Section 4

That is what we mean, then, by the descent into Hades. Does it not give a vivid reality to that world that we think of so vaguely? Think of it. Was there ever before or since such a scene, such a preaching, such a preacher, such a congregation? Could the wildest flights of imagination go further? Yet it is all sober fact. Try to picture it for yourselves for a moment. The Lord hanging on the cross, with His heart full of pain for that humanity that He was redeeming; and yet surely full of triumph, too, and glad anticipation. He was going to show Himself to the poor souls who in the dark old world days had loved God and Right. He had finished the work that was given Him to do. He was leaving His Church with that blessed gospel of salvation to preach through the centuries to all souls on earth. But what of the souls who had gone out of earth from the beginning of the world without knowing Him? The Church replies, through her Bible and through her Creed and through her early teachers, that the Lord was not forgetting them. He was about to go forth in a few moments, "quickened in His spirit," to bring His glad gospel to the waiting souls. That was the first great missionary work of the Church. May we not reverently see His own anticipation of it in His departing words as He started on His mission, "Father, into Thy hands do I commend My spirit" (in the journey on which it is going). May we not read it in that "au revoir," not "good-bye," to the thief beside Him, "To-day you shall be with Me in Paradise"? May we not dwell on the wonder and joy and gratitude and love which must have shaken that world within the veil, as the loving conqueror came in amongst them? And may we not reverently follow Him still in thought when He returned to earth and, as we conjecture, somewhere in the Forty Days after the Resurrection, told His disciples of His marvellous experience? I am not laying down this as a statement of Scripture, but I think it is a fair conjecture, for how else could they have learned it? And if we are right; think how the knowledge of it would swell the glad confidence of St. Paul. "For I am persuaded that neither DEATH, nor LIFE, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, is able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

I think we must see that this teaching of the Apostles and apostolic men of the whole early Church is true. People sometimes ask, "Why, then, is it new in our day?" The answer is easy. At the Reformation time there were terrible abuses connected with the Church's doctrine of the Intermediate life. The practice of purchased Masses, and Pardons, and Indulgences, and all the absurdities connected with the Roman purgatory, so exemplified in Tetzel's cry, "When money clinks at the bottom of my box a soul is released from purgatory." With such provocation one does not wonder—though one may greatly regret—that the indignant reformers, in sweeping away the falsehood, sometimes swept away also the underlying truth. The teaching about the Intermediate Life, and the old practice of the Church in remembering her faithful departed in prayer, were all put in the background as leading to dangerous abuse; and so the people, getting no real teaching about it, got the sad habit of trying to forget about the state of their dear ones departed. In their ignorance, they could only guess blindly what the Creed here means. So for centuries this has been the "lost article of the Creed." But this teaching of the Creed is none the less true, because it has been neglected in later days. And if it be true, it is well worth our attention, for it confirms what we have already learned from the previous teaching of the Lord, that the life of the departed is a clear, vivid, conscious life, since Christ could teach them and they could learn.

And it suggests that the departed souls of the old world who had no chance of knowing Him have not by death lost all capacity for repenting and receiving Christ. Those men that St. Peter thinks of had perished in God's great judgment, but it would seem in their terrible fate they had not hardened themselves irrevocably against God. Those who do that on earth seem to close the door for ever. That is the sin against the Holy Ghost—the only sin which our Lord says hath never forgiveness either in this world or in the world to come. These evidently had still their capacity for repentance. And this gives one stirrings of hope in the perplexities of God's awful judgments. Don't be afraid to think this. There is not one word in Scripture to forbid our thinking it. It merely means that in the terrible fate which they had brought on themselves they had not utterly hardened their hearts—and Christ had not forgotten them in their misery.

Section 6

Estimate fairly the value of this evidence for our Lord's visit to the Unseen Life. Do not overestimate it. It is not all Scripture. But all that is not Scripture is the wide-spread belief of the primitive Church which was afterwards crystallized into an article of the Creed. Surely it is enough to deepen our sense of the reality of that Unseen Life. It strongly confirms what we have learned already—that that life is a vivid, conscious life into which "I" go my "self," with my full memory of the past. And do not misread it. It is not offering any hope to wicked men who, with full knowledge of Christ, wilfully reject Him. It tells of men who had never known Him, and has hope only of those "who were capable of receiving Him." There is nothing here to make light of the responsibility of this life.

But this message comes to us to comfort the hearts and strengthen the faith of thinking men and women who are puzzled and perplexed and estranged from Christ by the terrible perplexities of life and of God's judgments as they understand or misunderstand them. You have often thought of the difficulty of reconciling the righteous justice of God with His Fatherly love. You have often thought, in wondering doubt, "Why did Christ come so late in the world's history? What of all the old-world souls who could not have known Him here on earth? For you know that there is no salvation save by Jesus Christ. You have read in the Old Testament of whole nations, men, women and little children, swept away in one dread destruction. What of them? You have wondered about the vast heathen world passing in thousands every day into the Unseen, with no knowledge of Him. You have sometimes read the Registrar-General's return of deaths in your city, and thought of all the little dead children, brought up in evil homes; of sullen prisoners hardened in the jails; of grown men and women in the city's slums who, through the hardening influence of circumstances, had little real chance of ever being touched by that tenderness of God's love which leads men to love Him in return. You know they have not died in Christ. What of them?" If you had to stand at some death-beds at which some of us have to stand you would feel as we do the insistent pressure of that question for all in the ancient or modern world—the vast countless world of the dead—who had no real chance of knowing Christ or being touched by His love here on earth.

Oh, the generations old Over whom no church bell tolled Christless lifting up blind eyes To the silence of the skies. For the innumerable dead Is my soul disquieted!

Trust them with God, says this teaching of the Creed. Christ will do right by them. Christ does not forget them.

Trust Him, though thy sight be dim, Doubt for them is doubt of Him. * * * * * Still Thy love, O Christ, arisen Yearns to reach those souls in prison, Through all depths of sin and loss Sinks the plummet of Thy Cross. Never yet abyss was found Deeper than that Cross could sound.

In these two chapters we have touched on the chief statements in the New Testament and in the beliefs of the primitive Church as to the near Hereafter. There are others of less importance to be referred to as we go on. It seemed well to lay down some basis to proceed on.

[1] See Plumptre, The Spirits in Prison.



In an earlier chapter I placed you in imagination in the darkened death chamber, looking on the face of your dead and feeling the keen pressure of the inevitable questions: What has happened to him? Where is he? What is he seeing? What is he knowing in that mysterious world into which he has gone?

That death chamber is the best place on earth for solemn thought about the Hereafter. But when you are thinking only of your own dead and your heart is all quivering in pain and longing you are not in the best condition for cool, clear searching after truth. Imagination and sentiment are apt to run away with reason. The tender tortured woman is apt to believe too easily what the heart longs to believe. The stricken man in his deep numb pain is in danger of yielding to hopeless doubt about it all.

So I lifted you away into a clearer atmosphere and sent you searching for definite revelations of God about other people's dead thousands of years ago, where your heart and affections were not involved, and where cool, clear reason had a chance to be heard. We tried to study impartially what Scripture reveals about the World of the Departed and how the primitive Church interpreted that revelation. This gives us a solid basis to proceed on.

Section 1

With that preparation we come back into the darkened room again looking into the face of our dead, trying in perplexity of heart to follow him on the great journey. To avoid confusion we assume here that he died a penitent man in Christ's faith and fear.

Let me try to enter into your thoughts. Let me begin at the beginning—Death.

Naturally we all shrink from death—the seeming shock of sundering soul and body—the launching out against our will into the regions of the Unexplored—the "land of far distances" as Isaiah calls it. We are afraid of that unknown death, for our dear ones—like children afraid of a bogey on the dark stairs. We can't help being afraid of it. But ought we to be so MUCH afraid of it? Has not our Lord taught us that there is no bogey on that dark stairs, that he who has just now closed his eyes in death is opening them already into a larger life?

"There is no death, what seems so is transition."

Now think of this "unknown death." Has not Christ revealed to you that this terrible thing that you so fear for him who is gone really only means that at the close of this poor limited kindergarten stage of his history Death has come—God's beneficent angel to lead him into the next stage of being. Why should you be afraid? Birth gave him much, Death will give much more. FOR DEATH MEANS BIRTH INTO A FULLER LIFE. What a fright he gives us, this good angel of God! We do not trust his Master much.

Do you say that you do not know what is before your friend—that it is a "leap off into the dark"? Have we not learned from Scripture already that it is much less of "dark" than come of us thought? And may it not be much less of a "leap off" than we think—only a closing of the eyes here and an opening of them there? May not the birth into that life be as simple as the birth into this? May not our fright be like that of Don Quixote when blind-folded he hung by his wrist from the stable window and they told him that a tremendous abyss yawned beneath him. He is in terror of the awful fall. Maritornes cuts the thong with gladsome laughter and the gallant gentleman falls—just four inches! May we not believe that God reserves just as blithesome a surprise for us when our time comes to discover the simplicity, the agreeableness, the absence of any serious change in what we call dying. I am not ignoring the pain and sickness of the usual death-bed. But these are not dying? The act of dying comes after these. These are but the birth pangs before the new life begins, the rough, hard bit of road that leads to "the wicket gate out of the city."

Pliny, from much clinical observations, declares his opinion that death itself is pleasure rather than pain. Dr. Solander was delighted at the sensation of dying in the snow. The late Archbishop of Canterbury remarked as he died: "It is really nothing much after all." Dying itself may be pleasure rather than pain.

We have all noticed that expression of composed calm which comes on the faces of the newly dead. Some say it is only due to muscular relaxation. Perhaps so. But perhaps not. One likes to think that it may be something more. Who knows that it may not be a last message of content and acquiescence from those departing souls who at the moment of departure know perhaps a little more than ourselves—a message of good cheer and pleasant promise by no means to be disregarded.[1]

At any rate does not Scripture suggest to us in the story of Lazarus—of Moses and Elias at the Transfiguration—of the dying thief—of the spirits in the Unseen Life whom Christ visited at His death—that Death comes not as an executioner to cut off our departed one from life and love, but rather as God's good angel bringing him more than life has ever brought, and leading him by a path as full of miracles of soft arrangement as was his birth to heights of ever advancing existence.

God reveals to us too that the closing of the eyes in the darkness of Death is but the opening them to the light of a larger life, to the vision of the new mysterious real world which the glare of this world obscured. It is just what happens every day when the glare of the sunlight, revealing to us every little flower and leaf and insect, shuts out from us the great universe of God which stands forth in the midnight sky. Do you know Blanco White's famous sonnet? He is imagining what Adam must have felt as the first night fell on the earth. All the beautiful world that he had known for but a day was vanishing from him into darkness. Was the end of all things come already? But lo, a stupendous unexpected miracle! Lo, as the darkness deepened a new and more wonderful world was revealed in the sky, a world which the sunlight had kept absolutely concealed:

Hesperus, with the host of heaven came And lo! Creation widened on man's view Who could have thought such marvels lay concealed Behind thy beams, O Sun? Or who could find Whilst flower and leaf and insect stood revealed That to such countless orbs thou madest us blind? Why do we then shun Death with anxious strife If Light can thus deceive, wherefore not Life?

Yes, life shuts out greater things than light does. God teaches us that Death is birth, that what the earth life conceals Death will reveal; that as the babe's eyes opened from the darkness of the womb to sunlight on this earth, so will the eyes that close in the darkness of death open on "a light that never was on sea or land."

Section 2

And may not this act of dying be much less lonely than we think? God sent each of us into this first stage of existence with mother and home and loved friends about us. No one comes into this world to loneliness. Should not that stir some hope at least that the Father may take similar care for us in our entry on the second stage at death? I hate sentimentalizing about it. But this is not sentimentalizing. I have already called attention to our Lord's only account of a good man's entrance into the Unseen. "He was carried by the angels," He said, and I have shown you some reason to think that He meant literally what He said—that the angels who are presented in Scripture as so interested in our life here are equally interested in our transition to a larger life—that loving watchers are around a soul as it passes into the Unseen.

I sometimes wonder, too, how much significance should be attached to the fairly frequent phenomenon of dying people seeming in some rapt vision to see or feel as if meeting them the presence of loved ones gone before. Sometimes these phenomena are very striking. I once thought of asking a religious journal to open its columns to testimony from thoughtful, cool-headed clergy and laity of such experiences at death-beds. It might enable us to judge critically if it could be explained away as mere sentimental fancy or if the evidence were strong enough to suggest an underlying reality. It would need to be very keenly criticized. All allowance should be made, especially in the case of women, for the deceitfulness of pious fancies. But there are some cases which, if their number were large enough, would point much deeper, where there could be no case of sentimental fancies. For instance a young student in one of our city hospitals told me a curious experience lately. A little child under two years old had been rescued out of a fire and was dying badly burned. "I took the little chap on a pillow in my arms," he said, "to let him die more easily. Suddenly he stiffened himself and reached out his little hands and his face beamed with the sort of gladness that a child has in reaching to something very pleasant and in a very short time he died." My informant was by no manner of means a sentimental youth, and he was much struck with the incident. I don't know if there is much evidence of this kind. If so it would count for a good deal in forming our judgment. Our Lord speaks of those whom we have made friends on earth receiving us when we die into the everlasting habitations (Luke xvi. 9). Is it too good to believe that He might have meant some pleasant welcoming on the other side—that perhaps that little child in the hospital that night was really reaching out his little hands to some one invisible to the young student? Let us have no weak sentimentalizing, but on the other hand—is anything too good to believe as to what God might do for poor frightened souls at such a dread crisis of being?

[1] I have here freely adapted some thoughts and phrases from Edwin Arnold's Death and Afterwards.



Section 1

But we must not delay at Death. Death is a very small thing in comparison with what comes after it—that wonderful, wonderful, wonderful world into which Death ushers us. Turn away from the face of your dead. Turn away from the house of clay which held him an hour ago. The house is empty, the tenant is gone. He is away already, gasping in the unutterable wonder of the new experience.

O change! stupendous change! There lies the soulless clod. The light eternal breaks, The new immortal wakes, Wakes with his God!

Oh! the wonder of it to him at first! Years ago I met with a story in a sermon by Canon Liddon. An old Indian officer was telling of his battles—of the Indian Mutiny, of the most striking events in his professional career; and as he vividly described the skirmishes, and battles, and sieges, and hair-breadth escapes, his audience hung breathless in sympathy and excitement. At last he paused; and to their expressions of wonderment he quietly replied, "I expect to see something much more wonderful than that." As he was over seventy, and retired from the service, his listeners looked up into his face with surprise. There was a pause; and then he said, in a solemn undertone, "I mean in the first five minutes after death."

That story caught on to me instantly. That has been for years my closest feeling. I feel it at every death-bed as the soul passes through. I believe it will be my strongest feeling when my own death-hour comes—eager, intense, glad curiosity about the new, strange world opening before me.

Not long ago in the early morning I stood by a poor old man as he was going through into the Unseen. He was, as it were, fumbling with the veil of that silent land—wishing to get through; and we were talking together of the unutterable wonder and mystery that was only an hour or two ahead. I always talk to dying people of the wonders of that world just ahead of them. I left him and returned to see him in a couple of hours; but I was too late, he had just got through—got through into that wonder and mystery that I had been stupidly guessing about, and the poor old worn body was flung dishevelled on the bed, as one might fling an old coat, to be ready for the journey. He was gone. Just got through—and I felt, with almost a gasp, that he had solved the riddle of life; that I would give anything, risk anything, for one little glimpse through; but I could not get it. I could only guess the stupendous thing that had come to him. For all the stupendous changes that have ever happened here are surely but trifles when compared with that first few minutes in the marvellous life beyond, when our friends pass from us within the veil, and our hearts follow them with eager questioning—"What are they doing? What are they seeing? What are they knowing now?"

Section 2

More and more of late years I keep asking those questions at death-beds. I seem to myself constantly as if trying to hold back the curtain and look through. But the look through is all blurred and indistinct.

It must always be so while we are here, with our limited faculties, shut up in this little earth body. I know certain facts about the "I," the "self" in the Unseen Life, but I have no knowledge and no experience that would help me to picture his surroundings. I cannot form any image, any, even the vaguest, conception of what that life appears like. That is why my outlook is so blurred and indistinct.

And this brings me to point out WHAT SORT OF KNOWLEDGE WE CAN HAVE AND WHAT SORT OF KNOWLEDGE WE CANNOT HAVE about that life. It may help you not to expect the impossible.

You desire to know two things about the Unseen World.

1st. You desire to know the real life of the "I" himself—consciousness, thought, memory, love, happiness, penitence and such like.

2nd. You desire to know his outward surrounding, so that you can picture to yourself his life in that world. That is what gives the interesting touch to your knowledge of your friend's life in a foreign land on earth.

Now the first of these is the really important knowledge, and such knowledge you can have and you can understand because it is of the same kind as the knowledge you already have of him on earth.

The second would be an interesting knowledge, but this knowledge you cannot have, because you have no faculties for it and no similar experience to help you to realize it. It is a law of all human knowledge that you cannot know and cannot depict to yourself anything of which you have had no corresponding experience before.

"I," "myself" which goes into the Unseen is the really important matter, not my surroundings. And the essential knowledge, I say, about that self, about his inner real life in the Unseen you can have and you can understand because the inner life there is of the very same kind as the inner life here. If I am told of full consciousness there, of memory there, of love or hatred there, of happiness or pain there, of joy or sorrow there, I can easily understand it. I have had experience of the like here. There is no difficulty.

But the knowledge of the outward environment there—what we shall be like, how that world will appear, how we shall live and move and have our being in a spiritual existence—all that deeply interesting knowledge which imagination could use to picture that life and bring it before us—THAT we cannot have. It is not possible with our limited faculties and limited experience. We could not be taught it. We have no faculties to take it in and no experience to aid us in realizing it. A blind man cannot picture colours to himself, a deaf man cannot imagine music. It is not that we are unwilling to teach him, but that his limited faculties prevent him from taking in the idea.

Realize your position then with regard to the spiritual world. Imagine a population of blind, deaf men inhabiting this earth. One of them suddenly gets his sight and hearing, and lo! in a moment an unutterable glory, a whole world of beautiful colours and forms and music has flowed into his life. But he cannot convey any notion of it to his former companions. He cannot convey to them the slightest idea of the lovely sunset or the music of the birds. We, shut up in these human bodies, are the blind, deaf men in God's glorious universe. Some of our comrades have moved into the new life beyond, where the eyes of the blind are opened and the ears of the deaf are unstopped. But we have no power of even imagining what their wondrous experience is like.

I suppose that is the reason why we have no description of Paradise or Heaven except in earthly imagery of golden streets and gates of pearl. I suppose that is why St. Paul could not utter what he saw when in some tranced condition he was caught up into Paradise and that life was shown to him—"whether in the body or out of the body," he could not tell (2 Cor. xii. 4). I suppose that was why Lazarus could tell nothing of these marvellous four days in which his disembodied spirit mingled with the spirits of the departed.

"'Where wert thou, brother, those four days?' There lives no record of reply, Which, telling what it is to die, Had surely added praise to praise."

I suppose it was all unintelligible to mortal ken when the spirit had come back to the body it had left. If, in a crowd of blind deaf men, one got his sight and hearing for a few minutes, and then relapsed, what could he tell to his comrades or even fully realize to himself?

Thus you see the knowledge that you can have and the knowledge you cannot have of that spirit life. Be content. God has given you a great deal of knowledge of that real life of the self in the hereafter. If He has so made you that the other knowledge that would help you to picture the surroundings is impossible to you it is best that you should know it. Be content. Don't cry for the moon. Follow your departed in thought into that life and realize what you have learned from Scripture about him.


What have you learned?

First that IT IS A VIVID CONSCIOUS life into which he has gone.

There are several passages in Scripture which speak of Death as sleep and which taken alone might suggest a long unconsciousness, a sort of Rip Van Winkle life, sleeping for thousands of years and waking up in a moment at the Judgment Day, feeling as if there had been no interval between. But a little thought will show it is a mere figure of speech taken from the sleeping appearance of the body. "The sleep of Death" is a very natural expression to use as one looks on the calm, peaceful face after life's fitful fever and the long pain and sickness of the death-bed. But no one can study the Bible references to the life beyond without seeing that it cannot be a life of sleep or unconsciousness. "Shall we sleep between Death and the Judgment?" asks Tertullian. "Why souls do not sleep even when men are alive. It is the province of bodies to sleep." This sleep theory has always been condemned whenever the Church has pronounced on it. Even the Reformers declare it at variance with Holy Scripture in spite of the strong feeling in its favour in their day.[1]

The reader who has followed thus far will need no proof as to the teaching of Scripture that the Waiting Life before the Judgment into which our dear ones have gone is no unconscious sleep but a real vivid conscious life. So vivid that our Lord's spirit is said to have been quickened, made more alive, as He passed in. So vivid that the men of the old world could listen to His preaching. So vivid that Moses and Elias—those eager, impetuous leaders—in that wondrous life could not be held by its bonds, but broke through to stand on the mountain with Christ a thousand years after their death. So vivid that Lazarus (whom our Lord describes as in Abraham's bosom) is depicted as living a full, clear, intelligent life; and Dives as thinking anxiously about his five brothers on earth.

That was surely no unconscious life which St. Paul saw when he was caught up into Paradise and heard unspeakable things, nor was it a blank unconsciousness that he looked for in his desire "to depart and be with Christ which is far better" (Phil. i. 23).

Do you want further proof? Look at our Lord and the thief on the cross. The two men had been hanging together dying on the cross, just about to get through the veil to the world beyond. The poor thief did not know what was beyond that veil—darkness, insensibility, stupor, oblivion. The only one on earth who did know hung there beside him. And when the poor dying one turned with the words, "Lord, remember me when Thou comest in Thy kingdom," He promptly replied, "To-day thou shalt be with Me." If any one knew, surely He knew. If it meant anything, it meant, "There shall be no oblivion, no unconscious sleeping. To-night, when our dead bodies lie here upon the cross, you and I shall live and know each other as the two men who hung dying together on Calvary." Ah! the wonder to him as he went in beyond the veil, as though the Lord would lead him, lest he should be afraid.

Beyond all question God has revealed to you plainly enough that your beloved has gone into a full, vivid, conscious life. He is more alive to-day than he ever was on earth.

What follows? This. If I am fully conscious what am I conscious of? Surely, first of all I must be conscious of myself, conscious of the continuity of my personal identity, conscious of the continuity of my personal character. I must feel that I am the same "I," I am still "myself." Death which removes only the outer covering leaves the Ego just where it was. No better. No worse. The Bible lays no emphasis at all on death as making any change in character. Our Lord assumes the characters as remaining the same. The mere act of dying does not alter character. I am the same I. I have entered into a new environment more favourable for the exercise of my faculties, more adaptable to the acquisition of knowledge, more helpful, I trust, to growth in good. But I am the same "I." As I leave off here I begin there. I take into that world just myself as I have made it. If I have made the best of myself what more should I desire to take? Consciousness, Memory, Thought, Love, Character. If I have not made the best of myself, if I have acquired a distaste for God, for holiness, still I take in myself just as I stand. Think how tremendously solemn that makes the life here. It is the place of character making for the life there. I can never, never, never get away from myself. I shall always be myself. You remember what our Lord said from the other side of the grave. "Handle Me and see it is I MYSELF."

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