PRO AND CON OF UNIVERSAL ISM
AN INTERMEDIATE STATE CONSIDERED.
To human wisdom, relative to the state immediately subsequent to death, very narrow limits are assigned; and the paucity of information upon this point in the sacred writings, sufficiently proves that they were not given for our enlightenment in regard to it. From many portions of the Old Testament it might be inferred, that a future sentient existence was not at all believed in by the writers. Solomon saith, “ For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion forever in anything that is done under the sun.” (Eccles. ix. 5, 6.) And again lie says, in the tenth verse of the same chapter, that there is no knowledge in Sheol (the separate state) whither we are going. Hezekiah says, “Death cannot celebrate thee; they that go down into Sheolsheol cannot hope for thy truth." (Isa. xxxviii. 18.) In the following language from Job, there is an evident vacillation of mind betwixt hope and doubt relative to a future being.. “ For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground ; yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant. But man dieth, and wasteth away; yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he! As the waters fail from the sea, and the ﬂood decayeth and drieth up; so man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep. If a man die, shall he live again‘! All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thy hands.” (Job xiv. 7-12, 14, 15.) Nothing was ever better conveyed than is the alternation of hope and doubt in the mind of the speaker, relative to the important topic of which he speaks.
From the reluctance, too, with which death was contemplated in Old Testament times, it seems fairly inferrible, that a state of felicity immediately subsequent thereto was not expected. When it was announced to the good Hezekiah that he was to die, he received the announcement with extreme sorrow, and humbled himself before God in prayer for a continuance of his life. In numerous instances, too, we ﬁnd, that length of days is promised as a reward of A virtuous course of conduct. Both Moses and Aaron had their mortal lives abridged, as a punishment for certain speciﬁed acts of disobedience. These facts seem to imply very clearly, that it was not in those days believed, that death occasioned an immediate transit from earth to heaven.
Nor does the New Testament, as I think, afford much clearer ground of faith upon this point. I know that certain texts can be adduced, which, considered by themselves, would favor the notion that men pass at death from earth -to immediate felicity; but then I also know, that the weight of these is countervailed by other texts, and a legitimate deduction from certain scriptural facts. As, then, we can have no possible interest in being deceived on this head, let us brieﬂy, yet candidly, take a view of what may be said on both sides.
Christ's words to the dying thief afford, perhaps, the strongest argument in favor of the notion of immediate postmortem happiness. “ To-day, shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke xxiii. 43.) But it is usual to take quite too much for granted in the popular application of this case, viz., that the thief had a true faith in Christ’s messiahship—that he was convicted, and repented of, his sins—that, when he begged to be remembered of Christ when he came into his kingdom, he had reference to Christ’s coming in the ﬁnal judgement—and that Christ’s answer implied, that he should be with him that day in heaven. Now to my mind there is very great improbability in each of these items; and since they are taken on sheer assumption, I will offset against them the following, which, at least, may be supported by a better show of reason, viz: That the confession of guilt which the thief made, had only respect to the crime for which he suffered, not his sin against God—that his notions of the Messiah being Jewish, he expected him to come and establish a temporal dynasty, and to this he had reference in his petition—that Christ’s answer was designed to call off his attention from such expectations, and direct it to the fact, that he should that day be with himself in the separate state. Such is my judgement of this case, and here are the reasons for it.
Christ’s own apostles had not correct ideas, at that time, of the nature of the kingdom he came to establish; for, only the night previous, they had contended among themselves as to which should be the greatest under his reign; which proves that their notions on this subject were Jewish, and it is irrational to suppose that the thief had more correct notions about it than they who had listened to Christ’s instruction for years! But again. When was Messiah to come in his kingdom? Not surely at the close of time; for then it is that he is to “deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father.” Christ came in his kingdom spiritually (and in no other sense was he to come) when, at the close of the Jewish dispensation, he established his church in the world. It will hence be seen, that the thief could not have had the evangelical faith in Christ which the popular application of the subject supposes. Moreover, the Savior went at death to the separate state, or Hades and not to heaven. See how Peter speaks to this point. "Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulcher is with up unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the ﬂesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne ; he, seeing this before, spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his ﬂesh did see corruption.” (Acts ii. 29-31.)
Another passage which seems to favor the idea of immediate happiness after death, is that which describes Christ’s transﬁguration. "And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias; who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.” (Luke ix. 30, 31.) If Moses and Elias were translated to immediate felicity, it may be argued that such may be the case with all righteous persons at their decease. There is a real difficulty in this case, which I by no means feel disposed to overleap, (as others have done,) by assuming, that the whole affair was a mere vision. I would rather suppose that, as the transﬁguration of Christ was but of temporary duration, and evidently miraculous in its nature, so the appearance and felicitous existence of Moses and Elias may also have been out of the ordinary course of things, and for only the time being. Who, for instance, would argue from the following fact, which took place at the Savior’s last groan, that the same kind of a resurrection is constantly going on! “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” (Matt. xxvii. 52, 53.) Here was a rising from the graves but whether the risen remained alive, or returned almost immediately to their quiescent state, we are not informed, but l suppose the latter, as nothing is subsequently said of them.
Again, Paul intimates that to be absent from the body, is to be "present with the Lord ;” it is, (he says,) to “ be with Christ, which is far better” and hence he conceived, that " to die, is gain.” Stephen, also, commended his parting spirit to the Lord Jesus—as Jesus himself did his into the hands of his Father.— These, on the face of them, seem decidedly to favor the notion of felicity immediately subsequent to death. I have no wish to force upon them a different signiﬁcation ; nor to do anything with them which would abstract from their natural weight in this discussion. Let them stand, then, as we ﬁnd them.
The following passage is also supposed to convey an argument favoring the same side of the question. “ Now, that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the Bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.” (Luke xx. 37, 38.) The argument couched in this passage is, that as " God is not the God of the dead,” and yet terms himself “the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and of Jacob,” who at the time had no existence on the earth, it therefore follows that they must have had a sentient existence somewhere; and if they, then the rest of the dead also, “ for all live unto God." The usual reply to this is, (at least I suppose it is, for I have seen but little on the subject,) that since all are destined to be raised in God’s own time, and all duration, with all its events and existences, is present to his mind, persons may be said to live unto him, who either have not yet come on to the stage of actual being, or have passed off of it: for Jehovah “ speaks of things that be not, as though they were.”
I, however, take a different view from the preceding; I believe that man is in possession of an undying essence, usually called his soul, or his spirit, (I am not over particular as to its name,) which came from God, and is destined to return to him. “There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.” (Job xxxii. 8.) God is called the “ Father of spirits.” (Heb. xii. 9.) And Paul speaks of “ the spirits of just men, made perfect.” (lbid. 23.) Angels are said to be “ministering spirits.” (lbid. i. 14.) And Christ says of little children, “ their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. xviii. 10.) From which l can make out nothing intelligible, except it be, that we have a heavenly essence within us which is not conﬁnable within the narrow limits prescribed to mortal nature, but is privileged to hold communion with God and heavenly things. And who is there that has not felt, with a force which no language can convey, that this is the case. When Christ arose, and appeared to his disciples, they supposed the appearance before them to be a spirit; and Christ informed them concerning a spirit, negatively. “A spirit hath not ﬂesh and bones as ye see me have.” (Luke xxiv. 37-39.) . And it is worthy of remark, that, even after the apostles had been more fully instructed in gospel truth, when Peter (after being miraculously delivered out of prison) appeared at the house of Mary, where many were convened in prayer, they could not at ﬁrst credit the damsel's report, that Peter was at the door; but, thinking him to have been put to death, they supposed that it was his angel that the woman had seen. (Acts xii. 15.) In short, I have no fellowship in the doctrine that man is a mere animal— merely distinguished from other animals by a superior organization, and whose entire existence after death depends on a renovation of his physical nature, or, in other words, on a resurrection of his body. Neither, at the same time, do I believe that disembodied spirits enter at once into a condition of positive enjoyment—and the following are among my reasons for not so believing.
The widow of Nain’s son, Jarus’s daughter, and Lazarus, (the brother of Mary and Martha) were raised to life by the Savior previous to his own death and resurrection. These (on the hypothesis I am opposing) had gone to heaven or to hell, (supposing the existence of a post-mortem hell.) If to the latter, there is then a redemption from hell. If to the former, was there mercy in calling them from a state of positive bliss, to one of perpetual liability to suffering? Besides, Christ is called "the ﬁrst fruits of them that slept” " the ﬁrst born from the dead” and “our forerunner" into the holy place. How could he be with propriety so termed, if others had passed through death to the happiness of heaven before him? Moreover, Peter, when preaching to the Jews on the day of Pentecost, positively asserts, "for David is not ascended into the heavens." (Acts ii. 34.) And if David had not, it is presumable that others had not also.
It must be remarked, that the declaration concerning David was made subsequent to Christ’s resurrection. I notice this, because there are those who think, that although previous to that event the dead were kept in a negative state as to enjoyment, yet, when “Christ our forerunner" had "entered into the holy place,” the whole congregation of the dead were admitted also. In further opposition to this notion, it must be remarked, that dead persons were also recalled to life by the apostles after Christ's ascension, and therefore, (as remarked concerning those raised by the Savior) they were recalled from a world of bliss to a world of tears—an act, methinks, which neither Christ nor his apostles would have consented to perform. I am at a loss, too, on this hypothesis, to account for the following language: “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now : and not only they, but ourselves also, which have the ﬁrst-fruits of the spirit; even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” (Rom. viii. 22, 23.) The sense on the face of this text seems most clearly to be, that the ﬁnal redemption of the entire body of humanity, must ﬁrst take place, before any of the members thereof could enjoy the happiness in reversion for them-—a sentiment (as I have elsewhere observed) fraught with beauty and benevolence. And in the following passage, which refers to the ancient worthies who had suffered persecution and death for the cause of truth, the same idea seems to be conveyed. “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” (Heb. xi. 39, 40.)
It may farther be urged against the doctrine of immediate happiness after death, that if it be true, the necessity of a resurrection is entirely superseded, except (as many think, the society of Friends included) that the resurrection succeeds instantly to the dissolution of the body ; and in that case death (as the Swedenborgians say) is nothing more than a change in the mode of being; if which be true, the sacred writers have employed language on the subject most strangely at variance with the idea they meant to convey. Paul assuredly speaks of a rising again of the same body which is laid in the grave. “So also is the resurrection of the dead : it is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.” (1 Cor. xv. 42-44.) He also speaks of the resurrection of the body under the ﬁgure of grain springing up from seed sown into the ground; in which case it is not wholly the identical seed that springs up, but the germ of it merely, between which and a certain portion of the earth and other elements, there are chemical affinities, from which result those new combinations, which in form and substance resemble the original seed.
To me, then, three things seem to be clearly taught in the scriptures : ﬁrst, that the spirit of man has some sort of an existence separate from the body: second, that it is not one of positive bliss: and third, that there is to be a resurrection, in which all shall be morally subjected to God, "and consequently happy.”
To assume, as many do, that, because now we are mainly (if not altogether, which is doubtful,) dependent on our bodily organs for our mental operations, we therefore must necessarily lose all consciousness when we are separated from the body, is, in my judgement, to assume very far beyond the warrant of reason. " God is a spirit.” ls he also dependent on bodily functions for his consciousness! If not, the assumption is as well against fact as reason, (allowing the divine existence to be a matter of fact.) It is against reason, because, from what is possible to us in our present mode of being, it is unreasonable and presumptuous to infer with conﬁdence, as to what is or is not possible to every conceivable mode of being. It were full as sensible, and as modest, to assume, that because the mathematical problems in Euclid are utterly beyond the comprehension of the child, they will therefore be equally unintelligible to the man. I am sick of that hypercritical skepticism which is ever directing its vulture glance to the spying out of difficulties in everything proposed to its faith, and rejecting with self-complacent decisiveness all that comes not within the narrow compass of its apprehension.
After what I have said of the indeterminate posture in which the subject before us is left by the sacred writers, it must not be expected of me to be wiser than they in regard to it, for I frankly confess it to be a topic on which I can affirm nothing, except conjecturally.
“The vast, the unbounded prospect lies before me,
But shadows, clouds, and darkness, rest upon it,”
until I extend my inquiries to the era of the resurrection; then all is clearness and sunshine; for of it the scriptures most clearly speak as an era of triumph—of complete and glorious triumph— over every foe, and for eternity.
In our bodily state, we are the subjects of two classes of sensations; the one class we term moral, the other animal; the former some from the exercise of our souls, or moral powers—from reﬂection, or the contemplation of abstract things. Our animal sensations come to us directly by the media of the senses, and are strictly conﬁned to material or sensible objects; these it cannot rationally be expected, will continue to be experienced when the spirit is dislodged from its earthly tabernacle. But why may not the spirit continue a subject of moral sensation? Why may it not experience regret at what it may have lost by past non-improvement? and remorse for the guilt it may have contracted by past crimes? I know of no reason in the world why it may not: and therefore, although I ﬁnd no express warrant in the scriptures for affirming positively that punishment does extend beyond the dissolution of the body, yet, as I also ﬁnd no express warrant for positively affirming the contrary, I may at least assert, that the former is neither absolutely impossible nor unreasonable.
I think it would be no detriment to us universalists to be more modest in taking ground relative to the separate state; or if we must assume positively in regard to it, let it at least be on some express authority, either scriptural or philosophical. It cannot be doubted that some texts look somewhat strongly toward the idea, that our doings in time have some sort of bearing upon our condition beyond it. Do not suspect me, reader, of being about so involve the bible in self-contradiction, by assuming that it teaches salvation by works, or by faith, or anything else, independently of the grace of God. I purpose no such thing: but, as I have said, some texts do look toward the idea, that our doings here will somehow affect our condition hereafter. Christ himself endured the cross and despised the shame, for the joy that was set before him. (Heb. xii. 2.) Paul conceived a crown lo be laid up for him as a consequence of his having fought the good ﬁght and kept the faith. ’ (2 Tim. iv. 7, 8.) And Paul and his brethren labored, that whether present with the Lord out of the body, or absent from him in it, they might be accepted of him. (2 Cor. v. 9.) In the Revelation we are told. those who die in the Lord are blessed-“ for they rest from their labors, and their works do follow them.” (xiv 13.) I affirm not positively that these, and like texts, are unequivocally relevant to the point in hand; but they so lock toward it, that except a different meaning can be found for them, which shall be as obviously in agreement with their phraseology, we should at least be less positive in assuming that there is no punishment for sin of any kind after death.
In the resurrection we are to have spiritual bodies, by which is no doubt to be understood that the physical nature with which our spirits will be clothed in that state, will be reﬁned and sublimated beyond anything within the range of our present conceptions, and will be a medium to us of a very high degree of enjoyment, of a physical or sensible kind. "There are bodies celestial,” says Paul, “and bodies terrestrial;” the former undoubtedly transcending the latter in glory, by as much as the heavens transcend the earth. At this era, it would seem, we are again to become the subjects of the two classes of sensations (moral and sensible) afore-mentioned; and in this probably consists a main difference betwixt the intermediate and the resurrection state; the former being a condition of the spirit to which it is unembodied, and therefore, unfurnished with sensorial media-consequently its enjoyment or suffering must be strictly abstract or moral in its nature.
As to our condition in the risen state, we have reason to believe that it will be one of unspeakable glory; “ we shall bear the image of the heavenly”—“ we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” It may be, as the ingenious Paley suggests, that the bodies we shall then possess shall be furnished with new and additional senses, of which we cannot now conceive the use, but which shall prove the media of new and hitherto unconceived sensations of delight; and to all the enjoyment derivable from this source will be added all that shall arise from a renovation of our moral faculties--resplendent in the light of the divine approval—- clothed with the reﬂected glory, of his perfections-and rejoicing in an entire and forever emancipation from sin and sorrow, and a prospective perpetuity of bliss upon bliss to eternity.
Nevertheless, as “one star differeth from another star in glory, so also is the resurrection of the dead.” It seems anything but reasonable to suppose that there will be no difference at that era betwixt Paul (for example) and the individual who passed from time without having taken the ﬁrst step in moral advancement. I mean not by this, that the former merits a higher order of bliss-- for the bliss of heaven is not to be conferred on such ground--but I mean that it would be an utter departure from the uniform course of things under God’s moral government. We here experience that effort is the price of all attainment, both moral and intellectual that all advancement, as well as retrogression, is progressive and that our souls (like gardens in nature) cannot be got into a condition of yielding the fruits of the spirit in any great degree of excellency or abundance, without sedulous and persevering cultivation. These things we know to be the case at present, and we have no reason for supposing they will be different with us when we enter upon a new stage of existence.
The above, reader, is all that I can propose for your faith on this dim subject; if you wish for more particular and authoritative information about it, why, doubtless, it is to be had very cheaply of certain persons, who dogmatize with most positiveness in matters of which they are least informed. The wise man is content with saying, that when the body shall return to the dust as it was, the spirit shall return to the God who gave it—further concerning it he pretendeth to know nothing: but a modern poet (more enlightened) informs us, that
“To heaven it ﬂies, not there to dwell,
But hear its doom, and sink to hell."
A piece of poetry, this, which I have oft heard sung in the churches, but have never been able to ﬁnd in the writings of Peter or Paul.
It quite sufﬁceth me to be wise concerning these matters within scripture warrant; and especially as I have no particular anxieties about it, from a consideration that “ whether we live, there- fore, or die, we are the Lord’s ;” and being his, his wisdom and goodness will see to our being properly taken care of. I therefore close this essay as I begun it, by remarking, that to human wisdom, relative to the state immediately subsequent to death, very narrow limits are assigned.
THE BETTER WORLD.
There's a region above
Free from sin and temptation,
And a mansion of love
For each child of the creation.
Then dismiss all thy fears,
Weary pilgrim of sorrow--
Though thy sun set in tears,
’Twill rise brighter tomorrow.
There our toils shall be done,
And free grace be our story;
God himself is its sun
And its unsetting glory.
In that world of delight,
Spring shall never be ended;
Nor shall shadows nor night
With its brightness be blended.
There shall friends no more pars
Nor shall farewells be spoken;
There’ll be balm for the heart
That with anguish was broken.
From affliction set free,
And from God ne'er to sever;
We his glory shall see,