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Man and the Spiritual World

II.—In the Spiritual World, the Experiences of both Believer and Unbeliever are complexioned by, and correspond to, the Character formed in Earth-life.

A certain teaching, supposed by thousands to be 'orthodox,' practically minimises the importance of cultivating character in the earth-life. In some cases, at all events, that teaching shows that the non-formation of character is of no vital consequence to Life Beyond, provided a person has repented and exercised faith before he breathes his last; and that the after-experience is in no way complexioned by the earth-life, however misspent, if that earth-life be finished by one great act of repentance and faith.

Let us look a little more closely, and see what is radically and dangerously wrong about such teaching.

In the first place, the commonly-accepted theology recognises—and quite rightly so—the great difference in condition after death between one who dies as a believer in Christ, and another who goes hence as an unbeliever. Faith connects a person with the Saviour; consequently, the one enters the Spiritual World in a 'state of salvation,' while the other is not in that state. So far we agree. We regard the salvation of the human race as being indissolubly bound up with our Lord Jesus Christ. Nay, more; we regard Christ as far more precious to mankind than most of the theologies represent Him as being. Not only is He the Cause of our everlasting happiness, but the Sole Cause of our immortality. We believe that no human being, unless he in this world, or Beyond, be connected with Christ will ever attain perfection and blessedness, or live for ever. We think his words, 'I am the Life' and 'I am the Vine,' and St Paul's statement that Christ 'only (as an essential of His being) hath immortality' (1 Tim. vi. 16 v.), proclaim a truth that the Church in later ages has overlooked. We take those statements as declaring that immortality is not a quality inborn in our nature, but is a gift conferred through Christ, and that man's spirit, although it survives bodily dissolution, is not capable of living for ever, except by a super-added power drawn from Him who gives eternal life.

Consequently there is, and must be, a vital distinction, in the World of Spirit, between one who has gone there as a Christian, and another who is not in relationship with Christ; as much difference as that which exists between a traveller who has actually started on the only highway that leads to a desired goal, and him, who, as yet, has not even struck the track.

But at this point we are compelled to part company with popular theology. To us it seems to be altogether at variance with reason and moral law and order. Not only does it teach that the everlasting destiny of every soul—including those hundreds of millions of handicapped ones—is unalterably fixed at dying, but it asserts that anyone, debased and vile in his life, will be at no disadvantage Beyond, if he has but exercised faith a moment before the breath leaves his body. That postponed and solitary act of faith (too often the outcome of fear) is alleged, not only to connect him with the saving Christ (which it does, if sincere), but also to instantaneously give him a character which five minutes before had not existed, and to constitute him, morally and spiritually, the equal of those in the Spiritual World, who, for years and years, by the training of God, had been ripening on earth for Paradise.

When we are assured that the moral and spiritual condition of a brutal wife - murderer, who repented half an hour before his execution, is of so exalted a character immediately after death as to put all earthly saints in the shade, we feel inclined to ask whether it be not a huge mistake to let the hangman hurl so excellent a creature out of a world where goodness is so much wanted.

On two grounds we oppose this teaching that allows it to be imagined that a neglect of character can be compensated for merely by delayed acts of repentance and faith.

First, it presents an insufficient idea of salvation. Next, it is a doctrine that is morally dangerous. As to the first. What is salvation? Too commonly it is supposed to be merely the pardon of sin, the avoidance of the punishment that sin entails, and a future admission into Heaven. 'Evangelical' theology practically summarises salvation in this way.

The cultivation of character is assigned a secondary position. It is not viewed as a fundamental of salvation. Of course, it is accounted a right and proper thing; a thing to be practised by Christians; but it is not regarded as a sine quâ non—an indispensable condition—of being saved. Salvation itself, it is taught, essentially consists of what we have just now mentioned, and the formation of character may, in some cases, at all events, be dispensed with.

Numbers of Christian teachers confidently assure a very bad man that, as soon as he repents and believes, he is saved. We, on the contrary, think he has only then taken the first step towards it. Were that man to die an hour after his conversion, some would tell us he would certainly go direct to Heaven, or, at all events, to a World where all he would have to do would be to wait for the blessedness in store for him.

If one suggest that the man's moral and spiritual development is so low that he would scarcely be suitable for Heaven-life, the answer at once is that the dying act of faith adjusts all that. Thus, according to such teachers, if a converted rascal is fortunate enough to die immediately after his conversion, he instantly becomes a perfected saint; inasmuch as we are assured it is dreadfully heterodox and Popish to imagine anything like a perfecting of character after death. On the other hand, if that same man continue to remain on earth, it is admitted that his formation of Christ-like character is a work of considerable time and difficulty.

Now, what is it, we ask, that lies as the basis of this curious and unreasonable idea? An incorrect notion of salvation.

Take the word itself—what does it mean? It comes from the Latin 'salvere,' to be sound, whole; and conveys the idea of a saving into, rather than a mere saving from. The words of the angel to Joseph give the primary and essential idea that underlies 'salvation.' 'Thou shalt call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins'; i.e., not merely from the consequences of sin, but from the sins themselves. According to the Bible, it is a lifting of us from a condition of sinfulness, and lack of moral and spiritual development, into an ultimate state of absolute perfection. No words can better express the true idea of salvation than those of the Saviour Himself,—

'Ye, therefore, shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect' (Matt. v. 48 v., Revised Edition).

It is quite true that in being saved we are pardoned —are rescued from the power of death and destruction, and are one day to be admitted into Heaven; but these things, after all, are the concomitants, the accompaniments, rather than the essence of salvation. If Christ be right, salvation involves our being made as perfect as is our heavenly Father. But what does that imply? Surely, that such a work of developing and maturing the character and spiritual nature of man has to be done before that goal can be reached, that no single act of faith and repentance, and no mere transference from one sphere of existence to another, can possibly accomplish it. In other words, that no person can be said to be saved until he shall have reached the point of moral perfection, and that no person is even being saved until that perfecting has been commenced. The man who repents and turns to Christ has but planted his feet on the first rung of a long ladder whose topmost rung is likeness to God; and every intermediate rung—every advancing step in moral and spiritual excellence—must be trodden by him before the top will be reached.

The following personal experience will illustrate what I wish to convey in regard to the nature of salvation. Not long ago, I was travelling on the Underground Railway in London, when a young Salvation Army captain, with the words, 'Blood and Fire,' conspicuous on his uniform, entered the carriage in which I was sitting, and seated himself directly in front of me. Whether he scented heresy or not, I do not know, but he eyed me intently for a moment or two, and then asked, 'Are you saved?' I was a little taken aback, as there seemed in the question a certain lack of charity, in assuming that I (dressed as a clergyman) was likely to be drifting to an awful doom symbolised by the motto of his party. For my part, I was quite prepared to think that his chances of Heaven, in spite of his theology, were quite as good as my own. So in answer to his 'Are you saved?' I said, 'No.' A curious look passed over his face, and he evidently expected me to say something more. I then continued, 'Don't you think that question of yours is a rather silly one? as silly, I think, as if I were to ask you whether to-day is to-morrow.'

He appeared puzzled and I went on. 'Do you know what Salvation is?' He did not reply. 'It is this,' I said, 'God's magnificent purpose—called in the Bible 'the Eternal Purpose'—of making us as absolutely perfect in character and spirit as Himself. Christ said so. Do you know what the word itself means?'

He responded it meant a rescue from an everlasting torment in fire.

'Oh, no!' I continued, 'you have not half grasped its meaning. Salvation means a condition of wholeness, soundness; in other words it is the accomplishment of God's great Purpose of perfecting us. You just now asked me am I saved? and I answered 'No,' which is true. My character is not yet perfect, my spiritual nature is not yet developed as it must be, and therefore I am not morally and spiritually sound and whole—I am not yet saved. When I shall find myself in Heaven, ridded of every imperfection, with every latent power of good in me developed, and my mind and spirit replete with every grace, and I in all my parts perfect, then, and not until then, shall I be able to say, 'I am saved—I am sound.' Until then, I can go no further than that which is expressed in the Church Catechism, viz,, that I am in a 'state of salvation.' So when you put your inquiry again to anyone, alter it a little and ask, 'Are you being saved?''

The young man left the carriage, regarding me, I am afraid, as a very doubtful Christian; and yet, if the word of God be true, persons with bad, unformed, or faulty characters, will not enter God's Heaven quite as easily and as quickly as many suppose.

Glance now for a moment at the other consideration we mentioned, as compelling us to differ from the teaching we are discussing. We think that teaching to be morally harmful.

This same charge has been brought against statements made in the companion-volume to this work ('Our Life after Death'). There, I tried to show, on the authority of Scripture, that there are possibilities of salvation beyond for poor wretched creatures handicapped in the earth-life. Many have been convinced that it is so (as hundreds of letters sent to me show); but some have not. One very 'orthodox' person waxed so indignant against me for venturing to think that God was loving and fair, that he informed me on a post-card, more candid than polite, that I was doing the Devil's work, and that the sooner I departed this life the better. Another, much less fierce, declared that he was praying for me to be delivered out of the snare of Satan, because I did not believe that Almighty Love would aimlessly torture souls for ever, and that Jesus really did what St Peter stated, viz., preached 'the Gospel' to the spirits of Antediluvians. Both these critics considered that I was encouraging wickedness, and teaching men that it mattered not what kind of a life they led because all would come right hereafter.

My answer to them is this. We who teach that the mercy and love of God has extended, and consequently may still extend, beyond the grave, are the ones of all others who most emphasise the importance of character. We teach, as a fundamental of Christ's religion, that the Life Beyond is complexioned by, and corresponds to, the life on earth, and that no man, be he Christian or unbeliever, can evade the eternal and inviolable law of God, that 'whatsoever a man soweth, that (not something else) shall he also reap' (Gal. vi. 7 v.). We believe that the man who, during an ungodly earth-life, has sown his future harvest-field with tares, and only sown a wheat-seed on his deathbed, will reap as he has sown. The work of Christ's salvation for him will be the uprooting and destruction of those tares in his moral nature, in order that when the ground shall have been cleared there may be room for the good seed and a better sowing. He may be saved; yet 'so as by fire' (1 Cor. iii. 15 v.). It is we who are teaching men to be careful how they live. It is our friends who declare that all the consequences of a misspent life and a neglected character can be averted by a death-bed repentance who are giving men a pretext to be careless.

What more likely to make them slip-shod in life, and neglectful as to character, than the belief that one final act of faith will equip them for Heaven and eternity! What more likely to urge them to 'a godly, righteous and sober life,' to mould their character aright in regard to God, to man and to themselves, than the fixed conviction that faith and repentance are not the substitutes for cultivated character; but are only the initial stages of salvation, and that the Christ who loved us and gave Himself for us, can only save us into moral likeness to Himself by obliterating in us all that is dissimilar to Him.

Depend upon it, we should be nobler in character and action did we but realise that now by our everyday life we are making ourselves what we shall be; that our life to come will answer to our life that is.

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Other Books by Rev. Chambers:

"Thoughts of the Spiritual" (1905 American Edition)
"Problems of the Spiritual" (1907 UK Edition)

Rev. Arthur Chambers Returns From "Death" To Speak Through The Zodiac Circle
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