« PreviousContinue »
merely the grave, as it is translated in others, but that it means the place and state of the dead, or the abode and state of departed spirits, on their first leaving the body, and prior to their receiving their final judgment.
The same idea, also, it is universally known, was attached (with some varieties) by the ancients in general, whether Jews, Christians or heathens, to the Greek word Hades, the proper meaning of which is, the unseen world. This term often oc curs in the New Testament, where it is always translated hell: but as, according to the observation of the ancient father called St. Augustine, it there appears to be commonly used to signify the abode and state hereafter of the wicked, I do not mention this as a proof of an intermediate world and state. In the New Testament use of the word, it seems usually to signify what we now call hell; but in its common use among the Greek writers in general, it certainly signified the state and abode of departed spirits in general, and, among Jews and Christians, their state prior to the last judgment, in a region distinct both from hell and heaven.
But if the New Testament use of the word Hades does not prove the existence of an intermediate state, that part of Scripture contains many other statements which place it beyond dispute. For instance: We find John speaking* of certain "souls" that he "saw under the altar" importuning the Lord to accomplish the judgment; which is a plain allusion to a state which was neither hell nor heaven, and out of which those who were in it, though good, could not be taken, and elevated into heaven, till the judgment was performed, which, therefore, they were desirous should be effected: thus we here have positive proof of the first and third of our propositions just above stated. And the same book (which treats nearly throughout, either of the Last Judgment itself or of the preparations for it, and not of natural and historical events, a continued series of which the commentators have vainly each in his own way, endeavored to find in it ;— this book) supplies us with proof of our second proposition equally decisive. We read in chap. xii. of war being seen in heaven, and a great dragon being thence cast out into the earth; and in ch. xx., we are informed, that an angel came down from heaven, and laid hold of the dragon, and cast him from the earth into the bottomless pit. Now where could this heaven and earth be, but in the intermediate region of the spiritual world? Can we suppose that the dragon could have intruded into the heaven inhabited by angels, so as to make a war necessary to expel him? Even if we admit the common notion to be true, that the present inhabitants of the infernal *Rev. vi. 9, 10, 14.
regions were once inmates of heaven, and were thence ejected after a battle waged within the blissful seats; yet the wildest fancy that ever revelled in such themes never dreamed of any more such wars and fallings of angels than one; and that one is believed to have occurred before the beginning of the world. not, as this is described, at the time of the Last Judgment, and forming, in fact, a part of it. Here then we have plain evidence of the truth of our first and second propositions: we have a clear notice of an intermediate state and world, and of the re, moval of the wicked from the station they there occupied at the time of the Last Judgment.
Many other testimonies to the same effect might be brought from the Apocalypse; for though that book is written throughout in language evidently symbolic, it represents events which occurred at, and preparatory to, the last judgment; and the scene of most of those events is evidently neither in heaven nor in hell, but in a world between both. But it is not from the Apocalypse alone that these truths may be confirmed; for though it is in this book only that we find a circumstantial account of the judgment attending the Lord's second advent, other books of the New Testament afford, as is shown above, plain notices respecting the judgment performed by the Lord at his first advent and some of the circumstances attending this former judgment, such as prove clearly all our three propositions, are distinctly described. For example: It is an article of the Apostles' Creed, that the Lord Jesus Christ, after his crucifixion, "descended into hell;" where that the term hell, which in Greek is hades, does not mean the place of punishment but the intermediate state, is generally admitted; though how he so descended, with what he did there, is so little understood, that many of the moderns would be glad to get rid of the article altogether.
A brief examination of this seemingly mysterious circumstance will throw considerable light on our present subject.
The passages of the New Testament most relied upon by the ancients for the proof of the doctrine of the Lord's descent into hades are three. "Now that he ascended," says the Apostle,* *"what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?". where the phrase, to descend into the lower parts of the earth, is the same as is sometimes used in the Old Testament to describe the state of the spirit after death. Though this text, I have little doubt, was rightly applied by the ancients, the next is generally thought to be more conclusive. It is the application by Peter of a passage in the Psalms David, he says, "seeing this before, spake of the resSee Ps. Ixiii. 9.
* Eph. iv. 9.
urrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.' But though these passages speak of the Lord's descent to hades, or the intermediate state and world, they did not disclose what he did there: this deficiency, however is supplied by the third, which also, I have no doubt, was rightly applied by the ancients to this subject, though some of the moderns have had recourse to the most far-fetched glosses to explain its evident meaning away. "Christ," says the Apostle Peter, "being put to death in the flesh but quickened by the spirit; by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison:"-" where," says Bishop Pearson,‡"the Spirit seems to be the soul of Christ, and the spirits in prison the souls of them that were in hell. And what spirits, specifically, these were, the Apostle explicitly states; for he adds, "Which sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein a few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water." In these seemingly mysterious words we certainly have an explicit notice of two great judgments, both of that performed by the Lord Jesus Christ, and of that accomplished at the period of the flood; which, we are at the same time informed, was not entirely a final one, but consisted in placing those upon whom it was executed in a separate region of the spiritual world, here called being in prison, to be finally disposed of at the Lord's coming into the world. This final disposal of them was accomplished, we are instructed, by the Lord's going to preach to them; by which we are not to understand such a preaching as that which he orally praticed on earth, but the outpouring of the sphere of his Divine Truth, which, we have already seen, is the medium by which. all his works of judgment are accomplished, and which could not be given in such power as to effect the complete separation between the wicked and the good in the spiritual world, and thus to execute the final judgment on them, till the glorification of the Lord's Human Nature was effected. The descent of the sphere of the Lord's Divine Truth into the lower parts of the spiritual world, in sufficient power to accomplish these mighty works, is then what in reality is meant by his descent into hell, or hades.
It may, tend to elucidate this subject if we remark, that when Peter thus speaks of the Lord's going and preaching to the spirits in prison, he evidently means to apply and interpret those passages in the Prophets, in which, among the redeeming *Acts ii. 31. Eph. iii. 18, 19. In his learned and laborious Exposition of the Creed. Ver. 20.
acts of the Lord at his coming into the world, the deliverance of prisoners is mentioned. There can indeed be no doubt that the Apostle had particularly in view these words of Isaiah,* which are applied to himself by the Lordt: "The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengence of our God." Now though this passage, which explicitly speaks of preaching and proclaiming to them that are in prison, refers, in its spiritual sense, to the spiritual deliverance from the bondage of error which was introduced by the gospel, it is obviously applied by the Apostle, in its literal sense, to the liberation of those in the spiritural world who were reserved in the lower parts of that world till the coming of the Lord. The same prophet speaks elsewhere of the Lord as coming "to bring out the prisoners from prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison-house." So he affirms again, that he shall" say unto the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves." All which, and various similar passages in the Prophets and Psalms, the Apostle evidently had in his eye, when he spoke of the Lord as going to preach to the spirits in prison.
Here we have further proof from the New Testament of all our three propositions, -1. of the existence of an intermediate state and world, and, 2. of the removal of the wicked from the stations they had obtained there, with, 3. the consequent eleva tion into heaven of the good, who had been in the mean time reserved in a place of safety.
II. We will now in the second place advert, as proposed, to the knowledge anciently possessed on the subject of an intermediate world and state; with various particulars respecting it.
First, then, I will here offer evidence to prove, That the doctrine of the New Church respecting an intermediate world and state, which is the first receptacle of man after death, and out of a certain region of which the good were taken and elevated to heaven by the Lord at the time of his first advent, is in agreement with the doctrine of primitive Christianity. I will, Secondly, endeavor to evince, That the deliverance of the good who were thus reserved at the time of the Lord's coming, or in consequence of the Lord's then going and preaching to the spirits in prison, with the final dismissal to hell of the wicked, is what is specifically meant by those texts which speak of the dead as coming out of their graves, and which are erroneously ap
* Ch. Ixi. 1, 2.
† Luke iv. 18.
Ch, xlii. 7.
é xlix. 9.
plied in favor of the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. In the Third place, I will endeavor to show, That the Last Judgment predicted in the Gospels and in the Revelation was to be attended with similar circumstances. And, Lastly,I will conclude with a summary statement of the views of the New Church respecting the judgment that takes place upon man, individually, after death.
1. We are, in the first place, to prove, That the doctrine of the New Church in regard to the existence of an intermediate region and world, which is the first receptacle of man after death, and out of a certain region of which the good were taken and elevated to heaven by the Lord at the time of his first advent, is in agreement with the doctrine of primitive Christianity.
That the early Christians entertained views to this effect, though mixed with some obscurity and error, is abundantly evident from the following passages from the Greek and Latin Fathers; which I translate from the copious store of extracts from their writings adduced by the learned Bishop Pearson in the notes to his "Exposition of the Creed," under the article "He descended into hell."
It will be necessary to recollect, as intimated above, that by the place called hades, which is commonly translated hell, the ancients did not mean the place of eternal punishment, but the common receptacle of departed spirits, not including heaven, or the proper mansions of the blest; nor, strictly speaking, hell, considered as the place of punishment; though sometimes, rather inconsistently with their own views, they used the term with such latitude as to include the latter.
Irenæus says, "As the Lord went into the midst of the shadow of death, where the souls of the dead were, it is manifest that the souls of his disciples also, for whose sakes the Lord wrought these works, will go into an invisible place provided for them by God."* "Clemens Alexandrinus," says Pearson, "was so clearly of that opinion, that he thought the soul of Christ preached salvation to the souls in hell [hades !+]. And Tertullian proves that the Inferi [a Latin name for hades] are a cavity in the earth, where the souls of dead men are, because the soul of Christ went thither :" he says, "that Christ our God did not ascend to the higher parts of heaven until he had first descended to the lower parts of the earth, and communicated himself to the patriarchs and prophets, who were there reserved."-"His body being laid in the grave, his Divinity, with his human soul, descended to hell, and called forth from their places there the souls of the saints." "Chrysostom," says
* 1. v. 26.
De Anima, c. 55.
† Strom. 1. vi. 6.