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ble us to shun all those ill concealed rocks of heresy and schism upon
which so many immortal souls have made everlasting shipwreck of their faith and holiness. The brilliant lamp of their salvation will guide us in peace and safety to our journey's end.
. And when at last we are called upon to exchange the Church militant, for the Church triumphant, it will be seen, in the presence of an assembled throng of angels, ready to bear us on exulting wing to the heavenly mansions; it will be seen, that, compiled in undeviating conformity to the doctrines, which are according to godliness, they have materially contributed to work out for us an exceeding and eternal weight of glory." AMEN.
ISALAH lxii. 1.
For Zion's sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake
I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth.
THERE is yet remaining one doctrine of the Church, to which upon reflection I have concluded, Brethren, to direct your attention. It is not, that its belief is absolutely essential to the Christian character. It is not, but that many precious souls will " hereafter enjoy the blessedness of those, whose sins are forgiven, who shall have existed here below perfectly ignorant of its nature, and therefore deprived of the capacity to yield to the biblical evidence upon which it is founded. But the doctrine is interesting in itself, and requires to be known; the Church is sometimes rudely assailed for admitting it into the articles of her belief; and it certainly contradicts one of the most common and popular errours prevailing in the age and country, in which we live.
From their youth up, the great body of the people are taught to believe, that immediately after death the departed soul either ascends to heaven or descends to hell; and never have I witnessed
more surprise, than when the idea has been opposed, as entirely groundless and untenable. We are at once suspected of consigning the spirits of the dead to a temporary oblivion, or perhaps the purgatory of the catholick is suggested to the mind of the hearer, and he trembles lest the grossness of that fantasy should be attempted to be palmed upon his understanding. But no such thing! We reject both the one and the other. As in every particular to which I have already adverted, here also we build upon the sure foundation of holy oracles, and are only astonished at the extraordinary facility, with which one of their most obvious intimations is usually overlooked.
I will explain myself at large. Twice on each revolving sabbath we are accustomed to express our belief in the affirmation of the creed, commonly called the Apostle's, respecting our Lord Jesus Christ, that "he descended into hell;" while the third article of our religion is conceived in these terms, “As Christ died for us, and was buried; so also is it to be believed, that he went down into hell." Are these expressions then to be interpreted in a figurative or a literal sense? Are they to be considered as describing an event, and designating a place, which exist only in the regions of fancy, or such solemn and serious truths, as are worthy of all acceptation? I answer, that they are to be interpreted literally. I answer, that when we affirm of the blessed Jesus, that “he descended into hell,” we refer to the actual flight and residence of his soul, during the period of its separation from his disanimated body.
Not however, that we give the slightest countenance to the horrible idea of his visiting the place of torment, and there enduring the agonies of the second death. For what concord has Christ with Belial, that he should enter the infernal pit? Or how could we then understand the declaration made to the thief upon the Cross; “Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise ?" Paradise, which is a term indicative of pleasure and not of pain, of reward and not of punishment. No, no, when the Saviour of sinners, at the closing scene of his mortal life, cried out," It is finished; when “he bowed the head and gave up the ghost;" then was fully accomplished the entire aggregate of mental and corporeal agony, he was content to endure, and all was peace, and happiness, and joy.
He indeed a descended into hell;" but we are to remember, that this sentence concludes with a word of Saxon derivation. A word, that instead of implying, as it now does, the reverse of heaven, originally imported no more than the “Inferi” of the Latins, and the “ Hades” of the Greeks; that is, in our English tongue, and as explained in the rubrick before the creed," the place of depa sted spirits.” In this sense, and in this alone, do we there use it; and although its more modern signification may induce some scruples of conscience in the uninformed, the same observation applies to no less than eleven passages of the new testament; wherever indeed the original word is “hades," and not "geenna;" both of which are translated “hell,” in the received version; but while the latter indicates the place of eternal misery, the former merely de notes the intermediate state of the soul after death, and prior to the general judgment. It includes the Elysium and the Tartarus of the poets, and is sufficiently delineated in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus to convince us, that it is divided into two sepa. rate mansions; the one being a common receptacle for the souls of the righteous; the other, for those of the ungodly and the sinner.”
So that, when the Church by the adoption of the creed, and by the doctrine of her third article, maintains the actual descent of Christ into hell, she only coincides with all Christian antiquity, and I may add with almost all protestant divines of any repute, in the belief, that his soul was transmitted to Abraham's bosom, or to that paradise of God, where the spirits of the righteous exist in the full assurance of a final reunion with their slumbering dust, and a subsequent ascension into the abodes of perennial felicity. The Church coincides with these and not these alone; since the same doctrine is clearly and satisfactorily deduced from several passages of the sacred volume,
I have already mentioned one, which affords irresistible evidence of its truth. For when our Saviour addressed the penitent thief with the inspiring promise, “ To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise;" he could not possibly allude to heaven in the highest sense, because, upon his resurrection, he declared to Mary Magdalen, “ Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” To what other region then, could he have accompanied his fellow sufferer, immediately after death, and previous to his return to life again? I know of none, unless we admit the doctrine of an intermediate state for the temporary reception of disimbodied spirits.
This doctrine is further corroborated by the testimony of St. Peter, where he affirms of Christ, that he “hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison." Spirits, that were not in heaven, because heaven is never characterized as a prison: Spirits, that were not in an ultimate hell, because the light of the gospel, and the preaching of the cross, can never penetrate the everlasting abodes of darkness and despair. But only acknowledge the existence of the paradise contended for, and we immediately discern the propriety of announcing to the spirits of those just men, who died previous to the crucifixion of Christ, that the great work of their redemption was at length completely accomplished; that he had liquidated the wages of sin, and ensured their eventual enjoyment of the kingdom of glory.
There is also a remarkable passage in the second chapter of the Acts, which abundantly verifies the doctrine in question. In the course of his address to the men of Israel, the Apostle Peter quotes this prophecy from the sixteenth psalm, “ Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption." He quotes it, with the express reservation, that the patriarch David “Spoke of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption." All which was gloriously fulfilled in the stupendous miracle of his rising from the dead; when his soul and body separated from each other, by the crucifixion, were once more united; once more fully recognised by his faithful adherents, and until the period of his ascension into heaven employed as usual, in instructing them in the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. Although he had been put to death in the flesh, he was quick in the Spirit, and went and preached to the spirits in prison; but his soul was not left in hell, it did not remain in paradise with the soul of the penitent thief; and if not left, then it must have been there anteriour to the resurrection. Although his crucified body was taken down from the cross, and entombed in the sepulchre of Joseph of Arimathea, yet was it raised from the dead by the power of God, and therefore his flesh did not see corruption.
So far indeed as it relates to the human body of Christ, all Chriştians concur in the uniform testimony of the evangelists, that as it
rested in hope, so it was raised in glory; as it was consigned to the cearments of the tomb a breathless corpse, so after three days it was made alive again, without experiencing the decomposing influence of the grave. And if they can furnish another explanation of the place, where in the interim his soul resided; a place, in which it was not LEFT, and that is evidently described by the Apostle, as equally UNSUITED to its prolonged abode as was the grave to that of his body, and consequently it could not be heaven; I am content to listen to their argument, and if it does not prove better than I anticipate, to refute it with the utmost ease.
For this purpose, I could now adduce many other passages of similar import to the preceding, profusely scattered throughouť the gospels and epistles, but inasmuch as those already produced sufficiently authenticate the proposition, that “As Christ died for us, and was buried; so also is it to be believed, that he went down into hell;" I shall proceed to some few remarks, that are more immediately connected with the concerns of the living.
And certainly the view I have taken destroys the almost insupportable idea of a temporary annihilation of our existence. It convinces us, that if Christ went and preached to the spirits of the departed, there is an appropriate residence, no matter where, for every soul of man, between the hour of his dissolution, and the day of judgment; that we shall not then become to “ dumb forgetfulness a prey;" but rather experience in our nobler nature still greater powers of intellection than we now enjoy. I acknowledge however, that this is far from being a source of consolation to those, who are living without God in the world, and who have every reason to prefer the slumber of ages to an immediate companionship with the rich man in the intervening state of partial torment. But what righteous man is there, believing in a general resurrection and a general judgment; believing that body and soul must be reunited, - before an entrance can be ministered unto him abundantly into the everlasting presence of his heavenly Father; what righteous man is there, who under these circumstances will not rejoice in the scriptural assurance of a place, adapted to the separate existence of his soul, and replete with enjoyments of no ordinary description?
Remember, that he will there be associated with the pious friends and relatives, whom he tenderly loved in this vale of tears. He will there commence his communion and fellowship with the saints