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THE INTERMEDIATE STATE IN ITS RELATION TO
BY REV. JOHN M. TITZEL, D.D.
Man lives and man dies. In death he disappears from the earth. Nevertheless, he has ever believed that death does not end all, and that, consequently, in dying, he does not become the nothing that he was were born to life and living woe.' Though he has always regarded death as in itself an evil, yet he has ever been disposed to hope that through and beyond death in some way good would come to the brave, the pure and the true. These intimations of a “life beyond life,” which have their origin in the deepest instincts of man's being, are in fullest harmony with the teachings of Divine revelation. According to the Sacred Scriptures, there are three distinct states of existence for all men excepting those who may be alive at the coming of the Son of Man in the glory of his Father with the holy angels, when he shall reward every man according to his works. These states are the present state in which the soul is united with a corruptible and mortal body, the state immediately following death, in which the soul exists consciously as a disembodied spirit, and the state which will begin with the resurrection of the dead and continue forever, and in which the soul will be possessed of a spiritual body, incorruptible and immortal. The second of these states is very properly called the intermediate state, as it really is such when considered with reference to the present state, and the final state of human existence.
The present state, as we all are aware, is one of continual change. Here nothing is absolutely fixed. Man's final destiny is still within his own power. His character is not yet fully determined, but only in the process of formation. Life and death are set before him, and he is left to choose between them. Though by nature a sinner, and as such under the condemnation of the law of God, yet through faith in Christ he may become righteous and an heir of everlasting life. Only if he chooses to make himself guilty of eternal sin does he become irrevocably a son of perdition. The final state, on the contrary, will be, according to the Scriptures, a state of eternal fixedness. In it everything will be unchangeably determined from the very beginning. From the judgment of the last day, the ungodly, our blessed Lord himself declares, “shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal.” In these words it is very clearly implied that the moral character of both classes will continue forever the same, as a change of character would necessarily involve a change of condition. In this state there will, no doubt, be progress. This is indeed clearly implied in various passages of Scripture. This progress, however, will always be in the same direction, so that the unjust and filthy will be unjust and filthy still, and the righteous and holy will be righteous and holy still.
But how is it as regards these things in the intermediate state ? Does the fixedness of the final state, or the changeableness of the present state, pertain to it? Will the judgment find men in the same spiritual condition in which death finds them, or will it be possible, in the interval between them, for the unrighteous man to become righteous, and thus prepare himself to share in the future blessedness of God's chosen people? This is a question which of late years has engaged considerable attention, and has, unnecessarily we think, caused no little odium theologicum to manifest itself. In the present paper we propose to consider briefly the various answers that have been given to this question, and to present our own views as regards it.
The question itself, it may be well to state here at the very outset, is not only a very difficult one, but one which it is utterly
impossible to answer with absolute certainty, inasmuch as the data for its complete solution are not within our reach. To some, perhaps, at first thought this may appear to be a questionable assertion; but careful consideration of the matter can scarcely fail to make its correctness apparent to every thoughtful mind. A very little change in man's physical condition, we all know, may very seriously affect his entire thinking and acting in the present life. A blow on the head may cause a genius to become a comparative idiot, and a slightly diseased condition of the brain may change a virtuous man into a libertine. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to suppose that the loss of the entire body may seriously affect the condition of our spirits. But how it actually does affect them it is not in the power of mere reason certainly to say, as we have no experience of what it is to live apart from the body, and any conjecture based on our present experience is consequently just as likely to be wrong as right. For all certain knowledge of the intermediate state, we are, accordingly, wholly dependent on divine revelation. But when we turn to the Scriptures, we find that they even give us very little information concerning it. Most of their teachings relate to our present duties, and to the final rewards of the righteous and of the unrighteous. Only incidentally do they refer to the condition of men between death and the resurrection of the dead. And the few references to the intermediate state which they do contain it is not by any means easy in all cases to bring into complete harmony, as is evident from the differences of opinion which are to be found among those who are equally devout and well-versed in the contents of the Word of God. Modesty in the discussion of this subject will therefore ever be a fitting virtue.
On the point more especially under consideration in this paper, the general judgment of the Church from its very beginning has been that the final destiny of men is determined in this life, and that the intermediate state is a state of blissful expectation on the part of the righteous, and of a certain fearful looking for of judgment on the part of the unrighteous. This view is in full accord with the teaching of St. Paul in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” For Principal Brown has well said: “If it is on the deeds done in the body that the judgment is to be held, it follows that no change effected after men have left the body will be taken into account in fixing their final state." It is also in full accord with the representation of the condition of men after death, given by our Lord in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The impassable gulf which separates the one from the other clearly implies that the final destiny of both is already fully determined. Were repentance and faith still possible on the part of the rich man, then must it also be possible for him to pass out of the sphere of torment over into Abraham's bosom. Moreover, the Scripture teaching concerning death also favors this view. Death, St. Paul tells us, is “the wages of sin,” and in full harmony with this, St. James declares, that “sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” Accordingly death is not in itself a good, but an evil. It does not tend to improve the condition of men, but to make it worse. The state into which it ushers men, as regards fullness of life and activity, is a lower state of existence than that in which we
The Psalmist, praying to the Lord for deliverance from affliction, says: “In death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave (sheol) who shall give thee thanks ?” In Ecclesiastes we are told that “there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave (sheol).” Jesus, with reference to death, said while with men in the flesh, “the night cometh in which no man can work.” And St. Paul writing of the blessed dead speaks of them as being “asleep.” All this seems very clearly to indicate that the intermediate state is not a sphere in which any decisive work as regards salvation can be done, but rather a sphere of fearful or peaceful waiting, and of silent development of the seed sown during the preceding
life. Should any one feel like urging in opposition to this that St. Paul in one of his epistles declares that “to die is gain,” we would reply that his words clearly indicate that it is such only in the case of those to whom it is Christ to live, and over whom, because of their union with Christ, death has no real power; and that even of those, including himself, he says: “ we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.” From these words it is very evident that he did not consider the state between death and the resurrection as one which in itself is at all desirable.
But notwithstanding what has just been said in favor of the view we are considering, it is not free from serious objections both on Scriptural and ethical grounds. If by the righteous are to be understood merely the faithful among the patriarchs and children of Israel and true believers connected with the Church of Christ, then it follows that the great mass of mankind are among the lost. But this seems in conflict with the statement of St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans, that " as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life ;” and that “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” How also can the loss of the great majority of men be reconciled with the power of God and the love of God? Dr. Martensen well says: “If there be a will supposed to exist in creation which continues to all eternity to fight against God, a barrier is supposed which the divine love can never overcome. The same is true of the assertion that in the end every knee shall bow at the name of Jesus,' merely because all shall be obliged to recognize His power. The revelation of power is thus made the fundamental teleologic aim, whereas, according to the doctrine of Christianity, the omnipotence of God finds its limiting principle in His love. But the power of love