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But we must further observe, that the separate state is not only thus described and divided, but that it is unalterably divided. In the controversy with the Roman Catholic Church, you will perceive in their opinions a singular mixture of truth and error. They understand the doctrine of a separate state more clearly than many Protestants; but their mistake lies in the supposition that a remedial process passes on the mind in that state, and that opportunities for repentance and reformation are afforded them. They teach that the woes that are felt there are purgatorial in their character, and ameliorate the depravity, and change the minds of those who endure them. Now this notion is alike unphilosophical and unscriptural. Unphilosophical, for it is not in the nature of punishment to soften the heart and excite affection for him who inflicts the penalty. It is unscriptural; for Solomon has said, “ As the tree falls so it shall lie." In our text we learn that the rich man prayed for water, but none was given him. He prayed that a messenger might be dispatched to the house of his brethren, but no messenger was sent. We may safely infer from this, that our Lord wished to intimate that the prayers of the departed would not avail for themselves. And surely if their own prayers will not help them, we cannot imagine that the prayers of others will be available. It is an assumption, unsustained by scriptural authority or sound reason. Between the righteous and the wicked, even in the intermediate state, “ there is a great gulf fixed : so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot: neither can they pass to us that would come from thence.” Their state is unalterably distinguished now, which is only a prelude to that final separation when they shall be respectively placed at the right or the left hand of the Judge of all.
The third general remark which I am to offer is, THESE DEPARTED SPIRITS HAVE COGNIZANCE OF EVENTS CONNECTED WITH THEIR FUTURE DESTINIES. The subject under consideration is "the state and prospects of the departed," and therefore it is necessary that I should illustrate this remark, in reference to the case of the righteous. We assert their consciousness in the unseen world, and if so, how are their minds employed ? Our Lord informs us that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,“ live unto God,” by which I understand they are engaged in acts of communion and worship. Still I believe that departed saints have a knowledge of the affairs of the church on earth, and, as “a great cloud of witnesses," contemplate, with the liveliest interest, the efforts of its suffering members, and also anticipate the final triumph of the Mediatorial kingdom at the consummation of all things.
A passage in the Revelations will illustrate this : “I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth ?" Now this scene exhibits the court of the temple in which stood the great altar of burnt-offering. At the base of that altar the victims that were to be sacrificed were slain. Now the martyrs of God have been thus offered up. The apostles often speak of themselves as sacrifices. Paul declares that he was “ready to be offered up," and that “the time of his departure was at hand." Here the martyrs of God are heard to cry, like the blood from the foot of the altar, “ How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth ?" Are these disembodied spirits of the martyrs vindictive and revengeful? Far from it, but they address the Holy, and the True ; they ask Him who is faithful when he will fulfil his threatenings: They ask Him who is holy when He will maintain the purity of his government, by overthrowing the antichristian powers that oppress his church. Thus the vision teaches, that the spirits of martyrs are conscious of events that are transpiring in connexion with the church on earth, and are longing for the day when God shall come forth and sweep with the besom of destruction every antagonist power from this globe, and when the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ.
It is also said of the saints departed, in the same book, that “they rest from their labours, and their works do follow them.” Think you that they have no anxiety about the success of those labours ? St. Peter, when writing his second epistle in the immediate prospect of his own death, tells his brethren, “ I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance ; knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me. Moreover, I will endeavour that ye may be able, after my decease, to have these things always in remembrance." Why was he thus anxious that these things should be had in remembrance among them after he had ceased to live. Surely he felt that his own happiness would be connected with it; for “ they who turn many to righteousness shall shine as stars for ever and ever. One cannot but imagine, that in the separate state the spirits of the just are looking forward to their recompense in heaven, when, united to their glorified bodies, God shall give them the crown of righteousness which fadeth not away, which he has promised, not only to his apostles, but to all them also who love his appearing.
So I think, secondly, there is a melancholy anticipation in the minds of the wicked. They have “ a fearful looking-for of judgment, and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries." The rich man in the parable dreaded that his brethren should come into that place. Was this the effect of benevolence ? There can be no benevolence in the bosoms of the damned; only the malignant dispositions of our nature can exist in such spirits. It was the dictate, not of benevolence, but of selfishness : “I pray thee, therefore, father, that thou wouldst send him to my father's house ; for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment." As if he had said, “O send to my brethren to warn them of this place. I invited them to my table; I inebriated them with my wine; I corrupted them with my voluptuousness. My station in society was their ruin; and they are posting on hither, following me to perdition. O stop them, lest on coming here they should taunt me with my malignant influence over them, and thus add to my woe.”
The Apostle Paul, in his epistle to Timothy, remarks, that “ some men's sins go before hand to judgment: and some follow after;" and for this reason I presume, because the moral good or evil which results from the virtues or sins of men is often not completed for ages. This intermediate state, therefore, in reference both to the righteous and the wicked, appears like the wise arrangement of the Almighty, to give time for the full operation and development of personal influence, whether for good or evil. Has the influence of the labours of Paul terminated? We read his epistles, and are still blessed by his exhibitions of the truth. Are the effects of Luther's labours terminated? He gave an impulse to Europe, which yet shakes the world. Has the influence of the labours of Whitfield yet terminated ? O, no; they will continue to tell on
the public mind of England and America for ages to come. Blessed men i “ their works do follow them.” Age after age brings before the Eternal the fruits of their spirituality, their devotedness, their self-denial, their prayerful
God made them the instruments of untold good to the world; and will certainly reward the grace which he himself bestowed. And so, on the other hand, have the influences of evil principles and conduct terminated with the individuals who first propagated them? Not to speak of former ages, has the influence of the Apostles of modern infidelity terminated? While the French language lives, their infidelity will flow through the literature they have poisoned; and while the English language continues to be spoken, through every part of the earth the infidelity of Hume and Gibbon, of Paine and Byron, will continue to corrupt the different classes of mankind who may converse with their writings. Well, then, there is “a fearful looking-for of judgment :” there is a solemn anticipation of the final account in those disembodied spirits that are now in the separate state. Already they know that is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. There is wrath upon them now; but O, Sirs, there is wrath to come ; wrath yet to come; uttermost wrath yet to come for ever! Truly, this is a fearful looking-for “of fiery indignation, that shall devour the adversaries." Thus, when our Lord was about to cast out the demons, we read, that they cried, “ Jesus, thou son of David, what have we to do with thee? Art thou come to torment us before our time !" These fallen spirits seemed, therefore, to know that there was a time approaching when they shall be tormented beyond their present woes, and they anxiously inquired, whether their sufferings were to commence before the destined period of retribution had arrived.
These illustrations are, I trust, sufficient to show that departed spirits are cognizant of events connected with their future destiny : and, therefore, I will proceed to the last observation, and briefly consider, that THESE DEPARTED SPIRITS WILL BE UNITED TO THEIR BODIES AGAIN AT THE RESURRECTION, TO RECEIVE IN THEIR OWN PERSONS THEIR APPROPRIATE RECOMPENSE. It is not, of course, expected, that I should now enter upon the arguments in support of the doctrine of the resurrection; but I cannot omit it as a momentous part of the prospective destinies of all the dead. The resurrection of the body is an event in perfect agreement with the holiness and equity of Him who has ordained it. I say, first, that it is equitable. The body has had a large share in the good and evil that has been committed by all mankind. The bodies of the wicked have been employed in transgression ; their members have been “instruments of unrighteousness," and those rebel members must suffer : the bodies of the good have been instruments for the glory of God, and those members must be rewarded. Those eyes that have wept over the sorrows of afflicted humanity must sparkle with the joys of immortal blessedness. Those hands that have laboured to mitigate human suffering must rest in the enjoyment of immortal blessedness. It is the design of the Saviour, that, if we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him; and share with him in the glory as we have participated in the toil. If our bodies now are the temples of the Holy Ghost, those bodies are not to be left in the ruin of the tomb; but are to be re-edified and made glorious temples that shall abide for ever.
But, I must observe, that this is not only equitable, but, secondly, it is also consistent. You will find, in the New Testament, that the consummation of happiness or woe is always made dependant on the resurrection. I will refer to a few instances. Our Lord said, “ that he that believeth on me, I will raise him up at the last day.” On another occasion he told his disciples, that when they did good, they should not be recompensed by the objects of their benevolence, but that he would " recompense them in the resurrection of the just." He described the scene of the last judgment, and told his hearers, that when his disciples shall all be gathered around his throne, he will say, “ Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.” What, had they not inherited the kingdom before ? On the common and popular notion, that good people, at death, go immediately to heaven, how can we understand, “Come, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.” On that hypothesis they had been in possession of it already, it may be for many, very many preceding centuries! But, on the other hand, if you believe that in heaven the re-united body and soul are to possess together the future inheritance, then it seems to me, that a harmonious sense is obtained, and a delightful anticipation enjoyed; an anticipation of progressive blessedness, rising from a lower to a higher degree, until our souls and bodies shall be filled with a felicity which our present state will not permit us to enjoy.
Thus have I attempted to discuss this interesting and obscure subject. I hope I have not indulged in unauthorized speculations, or in dogmatical assertions. We do not preach these things as matters of faith ; but value them mainly as they solve many difficulties, and harmonize many passages of the Holy Scriptures, which, in my view, would otherwise appear discrepant, if not contradictory, There be
say, “Where is the promise of his coming, for since the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they were. The first Christians thought the judgment was near, and now almost two thousand years have passed away, and no judgment has come; and, for aught we know, there are to intervene two thousand years more before the judgment shall be set: let us, then, eat, drink, and be merry.” Ah, sirs, recollect that if the judgment-seat be thus distant from you, an immortal state of happiness or woe is very near. This night thy soul may be required of thee; this night, stripped of the body, which too often, like a veil, hides the light of immortal truth from the mind; your guilty spirit may stand naked before the holy presence of God. O, then, do not imagine that you can put off to a long distant day, and to a tribunal which may not be fixed for ages, the decision of your destinies. The pulsations of our hearts this night may cease, and our disembodied spirits may awake either in that state of blessedness or woe, where Lazarus, or Dives, found their appropriate abode. And let me especially impress this thought upon your minds, that nothing will prepare you for the paradise of joy, but friendship with God through Jesus Christ. “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom," exclaimed the dying thief: and the expiring Saviour replied, “This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise." Let me entreat you, therefore, to cry to Him, not now hanging on his cross, but exalted on his throne,“ Lord, remember me !" You need an interest in his atoning blood, his pardoning mercy, and his interceding grace: and if you thus cry to him, be assured that he is able to save to the uttermost, and that he will not cast you out: which God grant, for Christ's sake. Amen.
THE INTERMEDIATE STATE OF THE DEPARTED SPIRITS.
REV. J. LEIFCHILD,
CRAVEN CHAPEL, REGENT STREET, FEBRUARY 12, 1832.
“ Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise."-LUKE, xxiii. 43.
These words were spoken before the sun was darkened in the midst of day, or his beams withdrawn from this lower world: they were pronounced by the Lord Jesus Christ ere the veil of the temple was rent in the midst, and the earth trembled, and the rocks were rent, and the graves were opened, and the bodies of the saints came from their graves. But, yet the great company of people who followed him to his crucifixion, and the Roman soldiers, the pharisees and the scribes, were there. The chief priests and elders were present, and mocking him, said, “ He saved others, himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him."
But your glorified Redeemer is now ascended to his Father's throne; and how deeply indebted to him ought we to feel, that to all this he returned no answer! None of these malignant attempts disturbed his holy purpose ; for when he was “ led as a lamb to the slaughter, as a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth." It is observable, that instead of replying to these revilers, he gives himself to prayer, to all prayer, and says, “ Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." He implores mercy, he supplicates heaven for them, and he prays for his murderers. Stephen, the proto-martyr, had also partaken of the same divine spirit; he asked humbly and fervently of heaven, for the forgiveness of his destroyers : “ Lord, lay not this sin to their charge."
But did all who were spectators and agents in Calvary's scenes, mock and deride the dying Saviour ? O no! there were some who knew the great atonement was now being made, that the great sacrifice was now being offered. Witness the conviction evinced by the earnest supplication of the thief upon the cross, “ Lord, remember me, when thou comest into thy kingdom.” How did he apply those words, “ when thou comest into thy kingdom ?" In the full assurance of faith, feeling convinced of the divinity and glory of the Saviour he addressed. The spirit of grace is here seen in the suppliant's prayer, and in the unbounded liberality of the Saviour. Verily, if prayer is at any time of eminent importance, it must have been so when under these peculiar circumstances. This reply of the Lord Jesus to the prayer of the expiring thief, shews, not only that his sins were pardoned, but evinces the sincerity of his