CHAPTER 12- THE INTERMEDIATE STATE - "The Way" by Sir Robert Anderson

DEATH is an outrage, and all healthy life reaches out toward what lies beyond it. By the resurrection of Christ the Christian has been "begotten to a living hope." For not only has Christ triumphed over death, but He has given the victory to us. By His own resurrection He has become the firstfruits of all them that sleep. Not that the resurrection itself is the Christian's hope. The hope is that which the resurrection is to bring, but which will be realised apart from death and resurrection by those who shall be living upon earth at the coming of the Lord. But what of the intermediate state? Life on earth, though full of mystery, lies open to us; and "we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." "Yes," some one will plead, "all this we know; but what we want to know is what lies between? We have seen the passing of loved ones. We have heard their last words. We have watched them as their last look of recognition ended in the dull vacant stare of death. But what is ‘death'? They are fallen asleep in Christ, we read, but what does this mean? Is it the Nirvana of the Buddhist in a Christian dress? Have these lost ones practically ceased to exist? Is all the interval between death and resurrection but a blank? What is their condition now?"
If we are prepared to accept what the Bible teaches, and to refuse all besides, we shall find that many popular beliefs upon the subject must be dismissed as sentiment; and, on the other hand, that the real perplexities and griefs which distress so many sorrowing Christians are largely due to ignorance or neglect of Scripture. For to begin with, the dead can have no share in the activities of "the higher service above"; and "harps" and "crowns" and manifested glory must, for them, await the resurrection. But when we are told that their "sleep" can only mean a state of absolute unconsciousness, the question arises whether this may not be the merest theory, a theory, moreover, which may be challenged even on the basis of human philosophy.
But "what saith the Scripture?" In the vision of" the fifth seal," we find "the souls of them that were slain for the Word of God," crying for judgment on those who had shed their blood. This, no doubt, is but a vision. But the visions of the Revelation are given to instruct and not to mislead us, and this vision clearly teaches that the disembodied dead are alive to the events of their sojourn here. Nor need we appeal to the facts of spiritualism - facts which its many frauds do not destroy - to prove that spirit may have intercourse with spirit, apart altogether from the body. Indeed, if we had not agreed to appeal only to the Scriptures, it might be argued that in regard to such intercourse the body may be a hindrance and not a help.
When the Apostle Paul records that he was "caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words," he says expressly, "Whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell." It is absolutely certain therefore that he believed in "the possibility of consciousness and receptivity in a disembodied state."
His words may be connected with his martyrdom at Lystra. Stoning as practised by the Jews was a terrible death. And after the stoning his murderers dragged him out of the city. And though both the Jews and the disciples believed him to be dead, there may have been nothing extraordinary in the fact of his recovery. But what the narrative records is altogether extraordinary. We are told, not that he was carried into the town, and slowly nursed back to life, but that "as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city"; and the very next day he travelled to Derbe. That his recovery was miraculous is clear, and he may well have remained in doubt whether he had not actually passed the gates of death, and been called back to life to fulfil his ministry. But the fact remains that he never knew whether it was as a living man or as a disembodied spirit that he received that amazing revelation of which he speaks.
Let us read this in the light of what he has already said in the fifth chapter. He there enumerates three several conditions of existence - the "burdened" state of life in the body, the "naked" state in which death leaves us, and the "clothed-upon" state which is our proper destiny. The "groan" of the "burdened" state is not a morbid craving for death, but a longing for the realisation of that for which God "hath wrought us," and of which the gift of the Spirit is an earnest. But to be "at home in the body" is to be "absent from the Lord," and to be "absent from the body" is to be "at home with the Lord." And to be at home with the Lord is better than to be "burdened" here. For this, therefore, he expresses a preference.' But as the second verse teaches, it is the "earnest desire" - the longing of the spiritual Christian - " to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven"; that is, with the glorified body that awaits us.
The "beliefs" of such an one as the Apostle Paul no one may lightly dismiss; but here we are not dealing merely with his beliefs, but with his teaching by Divine inspiration. And this much is clear and certain, that at death the redeemed sinner passes into the presence of the Lord, not in some vague Pantheistic sense, but in a sense which implies the conscious enjoyment of His presence.
This is confirmed again by the Apostle's words to the Philippians: "To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." There is immense significance here in the change of tense, a change which may be medicated by the somewhat un-English rendering " To live is Christ; to have died is gain." To hold that death is gain is the cowardly and evil creed of suicides. Such a thought is foreign, not only to Christian teaching, but to the character of Paul. Can any one imagine that such a man would have deemed it "gain" to escape, even from a Roman prison, by a plunge into "a sea of stagnant idleness"! Far different was his thought as he balanced the benefits of "departing," or of "abiding in the flesh." "To depart"' was "to be with Christ"; and this, he declared, was "far better." Such words would savour of the merest sentiment if "the intermediate state" were not one of conscious enjoyment of the Lord's presence.
Lastly, we have the teaching of the Lord Himself. And His teaching is clear and conclusive. From the parable of the rich man and Lazarus we learn that, immediately after death, the lost are in suffering, and the redeemed are "comforted." But, we are told, the parable is based upon Rabbinical beliefs. Its framework may possibly be thus explained, but this affords no warrant or excuse for rejecting or evading the truth that it was given specially to teach. Nor will it avail to plead that the "flame," and "Abraham's bosom," are figurative expressions. Figures must be either true or false, and the test of truth is whether they represent realities. One who lives for this world passes at death to a state of suffering; and one who has chosen God is "comforted." There is no question here of the award of the Day of Judgment. In the one case as in the other the after death condition is the sequel of the great life-choice. The parable was the Lord's answer to the ridicule which the Pharisees cast upon His solemn words, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon": can we tolerate the thought that He was merely scoring a point against them by appealing to their own superstitions and false beliefs?'
The question at issue resolves itself into this, whether God is really the God of the departed, or whether, for the time, they have practically ceased to be. And here again the Lord's teaching is definite and full. "God is not the God of the dead but of the living," He declared; and in proof of it He cited the words spoken to Moses at the bush, "I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." The force of this is lost if we take it as merely an assertion that God was the Patriarchs' God when they lived on earth, and that He will be again their God at the resurrection. The Lord's use of these words was to teach that, in the sense in which the Sadducees understood death, the Patriarchs were not dead but living. "For," He adds, "He is ‘lot a God of dead men, but of living men ; for all live unto him." But where are they? some one perhaps will querulously demand. To faith the question is already answered by the assurance that they are "with Christ." When the Lord comes, we are told, God will bring them "with Him." For He died for us "that whether we wake or sleep we should live together with Him." "Thou shalt be with Me in paradise" was His promise to the dying thief.
But does the "where" refer to locality in space? "Thou fool" is the answer given to the question "How are the dead raised up, and with what body do they come?" And no better answer can be given here. Heaven is popularly supposed to be somewhere beyond the stars. But the Lord went up to heaven in a cloud. And when the martyr Stephen's eyes were opened, he "looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God." At the Lord's call Lazarus came from the tomb as instantly as if the living man had been imprisoned there. And Jairus' daughter "rose up immediately," just as though He had awakened her from sleep.
If we refuse to believe that the spirits with whom spiritualists traffic are the departed dead, it is not because there is anything essentially impossible in their being close at hand, but because Scripture does not warrant the belief that they are permitted to appear to us, and the facts of spiritualistic seances point to the conclusion that demons personate them. And it is the appeal to Scripture which leads us to reject the Nirvana theory that the dead are sunk in an unconscious sleep. We should long to believe that such is the condition of the impenitent; and as for the redeemed, there is nothing in the thought to distress the most sensitive mind or the most loving heart.
Here then is the answer which Holy Scripture gives to the fears and longings of those who mourn the loss of loved ones gone from earth. They are "with Christ, which is far better"; they are "comforted" by Him who is "the God of all comfort"; and though dead to earth, they are "living unto Him."

"Thou wilt not sever us, 0 Lord our God,
In Thy blest mansions. On earth's dreary sod
Our hearts are torn with partings. One by one
The loved and cherish'd leave us. Every stone
The cold, damp cemetery holds, is faced
With lines that find their parallels deep traced
Within our souls. Thus works Thy chisel, Lord,
In strokes severe. Yet be Thy name adored
For all Thy dealings! In Thy purpose deep
A blessing lies, unscann'd by us who weep
• Amid these shadows. Night will soon be past -
The cloudy night of time that ends at last.
In heaven's bright morning.
Yet a little while,
And we shall greet that blissful morning's smile
With hallelujahs. Then Thy love's deep thought
Shall be unfolded. All Thy blood has bought
Shall come with Thee; and each we loved and knew,
And mourn'd for here, shall rise upon our view
In brighter, lovelier form - akin to Thine -
Thy work, Lord Jesus ! - perfect, pure, divine ! -
Thus re-united, through eternal days
Our joy shall be Thyself - _our theme Thy praise!"