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Man and the Spiritual World

III.—The Spiritual World is an Educational One.

There are, at the present time, thousands of earnest thinkers within and without the pale of the Church of England, who are convinced that only as this truth is realised will the Christian Religion be able to maintain its influence over the minds and hearts of men of this present century. It is felt that the theological notions and interpretations of Scripture, expressed in the writings of Western Fathers and Schoolmen, hundreds of years ago, do not, and cannot represent Divine truth for all time, nor can they voice the ideas of men of to-day. The Christian world of our time is showing signs of being impatient at being told that any doctrine, however crude, must be implicitly accepted, simply because a number of Mediæval, or ante-Mediæval, Church authorities pronounced it to be true. We venture to think that several of the old statements of Divine truth require, very urgently, re-statement, so that they may be brought into closer harmony with the written Word of God. And among the re-statements that will surely come, will be that which deals with the character of the Life Beyond. The revolution in idea concerning it has already commenced.

Now, the ordinary conception of life in the Intermediate World is an inadequate, as well as an illogical, one. It is supposed to have been built up only on the statements of Scripture; but it presents the curious anomaly of being a theological structure, in the building of which more than half of the material

supplied by the Bible has been overlooked, or purposely cast aside. Man, as soon as he dies, is regarded as being either in a hopeless, or a stagnant condition. The educational character of the Intermediate Life has been lost sight of, because certain Biblical testimony has not been taken into account.

Examine this statement a little more closely.

First, as to Life Beyond being regarded as a hopeless experience.

Popular theology starts its teaching as to the future of man on the assumption that his everlasting destiny will be unalterably fixed at the moment of dying.

The first editions of 'Hymns Ancient and Modern' had these words in a well-known hymn:—

'As the man dies, so shall he be
All through the days of eternity.'

Those lines have now been expunged (which is very suggestive), but they represent a still common idea. Now, of course, if it be believed that every person's condition at death stereotypes him for all eternity, it is impossible to regard the Spiritual World other than as a hopeless experience for all those who depart this life as non-Christians.

Do we grasp what that means? Unfortunately, numbers of Christians do not think, or they would never be able to complacently accept so terrible a doctrine. They take on trust, not what the Word of God says, but what the particular Church or Chapel party to which they belong says that it says. Each particular party, in turn, makes it a matter of conscience only to think as the Fathers and divines of its school have taught them to do.

As regards, at least, nine hundred and ninety-nine in every thousand of earth's teeming millions, so-called 'Orthodoxy' has blazoned over the portals of the World beyond the grave—'Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!' So then, according to that, that World can be, to the huge majority of our poor fellow-creatures, no more than a wretched ante-chamber of an awful Hell. There, as long as this present world shall last, we are told, must these miserable creatures suffer the inconceivable horror of anticipating an agony of torture that shall be unending.

And because we indignantly refuse to accept such a doctrinal monstrosity as part of the truth of God, and decline to reverence the teachers of such revolting cruelty, such as Augustine and Calvin, we are sometimes called 'heterodox.' Be it so; rather than be a disciple of either of those men, we would sit as a humble learner at the feet of a little child, who once said in answer to her mother's assertion that very few would go to Heaven, and all the rest would go to Hell,—'Mother, if I had been God, I wouldn't have made all those people that go to Hell. I expect the Devil will be very pleased; but won't God be sorry!'

The marvel of marvels is, that men and women, good, loving and pitiful, and Christ-like in all but their teaching, can find it possible to imagine that God will punish finite offences with infinite punishment. Is there not something very like irony in calling Him merciful and just, and in the same breath attributing to Him a line of conduct that shocks every noble instinct? What awful indifference to human anguish, not to become raving mad the instant that blasphemous doctrine is grasped as truth!

What a heartless being is man, if he can eat and drink, and laugh and enjoy himself, and all the time believe that millions and millions of his race, and among them many whom he has known and loved, have already been plunged into the abyss of everlasting hopelessness, misery and despair!

One thought, however, comforts us. It is this. The Christians who profess to believe in a Hell of unending torture, and in an Intermediate Life that is no more than a hopless ante-chamber of it, do not, in reality, so believe. They imagine they do so, but that is all.

Theologically, they assent to the doctrine, but (thank God) their reason and moral perception play no part in the assent. If they did really believe it, one of two things would happen: either they would become insane, or they would lose every particle of concern, except intense horror, for a God who could tolerate such injustice and cruelty. They do neither.

We only accord them common fairness when we acknowledge that they are better than their creed, and infinitely nobler in character than the God that traditionalism—coloured by the cruel notions of the age in which it was invented—has set up for them to worship.

But still the fact remains that hundreds of thousands of our fellow-Christians theoretically regard the World of Spirit as a region without hope for the vast bulk of mankind.

Further, we stated that popular teaching regards the Intermediate Life as a stagnant existence. It views it as a Life uncharacterised by either work, or development; and in this respect it is made to be a Life of no vital nor educational purpose to Man. It is regarded simply as a halting-place for him between earth and Heaven.

'Evangelicalism,' within and without the Church of England, has taught this.

Starting on the assumption we have mentioned, that everyone's everlasting destiny is unchangeably fixed at death, it teaches that, for those who die as Christians, the Intermediate World is no more than a waiting-place for the Resurrection-body and Heaven.

Regarding physical death as a marvellous event, by which a mental, moral and spiritual excellence is there and then attained, man, in the Spiritual World, is thought to have nothing whatever to do but to expect what is in store for him. If we are to accept what we read in the current manuals on this subject, the sum-total of our experience between leaving this earth and finding ourselves in Heaven will consist of taking rest, and enjoying blissful anticipations. We think hereafter Life will embrace a great deal more than that.

The 'Evangelical' School is intensely shocked at the barest suggestion that there is a work of expansion and perfecting after death. To some, the idea savours of downright Popery. Not long ago, a letter from a Low Churchman in Canada to his mother in London was sent to me for perusal. I had shocked the writer by stating, in a book of mine, that the work of the Holy Ghost would not stop short at death; and this gentleman, who had evidently got ' Purgatory' on the brain, and was not clever enough to discriminate between a beautiful Bible truth and a mass of Mediæval rubbish piled upon it, solemnly informed his mother that there was not the slightest doubt of my being a 'secret agent' of the Church of Rome.

The unnatural, and (we venture to say) the unchristian, opposition to Prayers for the Departed, too, is based upon the notion that the Intermediate Life is a stagnant and purposeless condition.

'What on earth is the good of praying for them,' said a friend to me, 'seeing that at death every believer is quite ready for Heaven, and only goes into the Intermediate World to wait for the Resurrection-body?'

The good man was quite upset at my not believing that all Christians directly after death will be perfected saints, and quite shocked at my suggesting that there might be post-mortem improvement, as in the case of the Antediluvians to whom Jesus preached His Gospel. But the final shock was given when I asserted that prayers for the Departed might be helpful to them in their work for a loving Saviour, on behalf of poor 'lost sheep,' who had not as yet been found.

I did not convince him. Plain statements of Scripture that teach improvement and mercy beyond the grave were all thrust aside for 'the traditions of the elders.' Early training in a hard doctrine had blocked the windows of his mind against any inlet of brighter light from the Religion of Jesus. He clung to the conviction (as many others do) that man, as he enters the Spiritual World, must either be quite ready for Heaven or ripe for Hell.

From all such kind of teaching as instanced above, which seems to make Christ's Gospel hardly a Gospel at all, we turn with a sigh of relief to the thought of the Life Beyond as an educational one. And at once a number of difficulties disappear; difficulties that, like dark and ugly shadows, have lurked in the theology of the past, and have scared away good and thoughtful men from Christ and the Church.

There is no need to do more than glance at two of these man-made difficulties.

There is that of imagining that men and woman (to say nothing of infants and children), who pass out of this life mentally, morally and spiritually undeveloped, can possibly be perfect beings, suitable for Heaven, immediately they step into the World Beyond.

That is a doctrine to which those are committed who deny the educational character of the Spiritual Life. Is it a reasonable one? We think it is not. We account it as no more than a supposition, not countenanced by Scripture, and most certainly not suggested by anything we know of God's method of working either in physical nature or grace. Nothing but a direct statement from Christ Himself that it was so would make the idea credible to us; and any such statement there is not.

But—it is sometimes argued—the pardon of sin, through faith in Christ, includes perfecting. That is to say, if a person repents and believes, even just before he dies, as soon as death takes place he becomes perfect in character and spirit. Against that, we ask—why, then, is not perfection reached by a believer, however long he may remain on earth? What magical power has physical dissolution upon mind and spirit to bring about in a moment or two that which fifty years of earthly Christian living cannot effect? The fact is, pardon and faith are no more than the initial stages of a great work, whose end and accomplishment is moral and spiritual perfecting. To confound, as many have done, the beginning with the end—to imagine a man can suddenly attain Christ-likeness, because he has believed and God has pardoned him—is a mistake as great as to tell a sick man he is well because he has put himself into the hands of a physician, or to reckon a boy a philosopher because he has just started to study that subject.

The theology of the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews is of a more reasonable character. He exhorted Christians to leave 'the principles' (the A B C) 'of the doctrine of Christ,' among which he named 'repentance' and 'faith,' and to 'go on unto perfection' (Heb. vi. i v.).

Glance at another difficulty that confronts us, directly we deny the educational character of the Intermediate Life. I mean in regard to those who go out of this world without possessing any knowledge whatever of Christ. Into what a tremendous moral difficulty do we launch ourselves the moment we exclude the possibility of education after death for them.

I have been told by certain Christians who are not very much given to thinking, that it is quite just that non-Christians should be damned for ever, since everyone can, if he wishes, learn about the Saviour. How will such persons dispose of the following case? A city missionary went to visit a poor dying girl in a filthy back slum of London. 'Do you know the Lord Jesus Christ?' he asked. 'No,' answered the girl, with her last words, 'I never heard of Him, and I know He don't live down this court.'

Picture the thousands of millions who, like that girl, have died without having ever heard the name of Him Who loved them and gave Himself for them.

According to the Bible, Christ, 'the Saviour of all men,' is their Saviour, and none unconnected with Him can ever reach the goal of Salvation.

According to a cruel and unreasoning theology there can be no education after death.

But what of that girl and those millions? we ask. Are they all to be lost because they died without a knowledge which their environment made it impossible for them to obtain? Is that consistent with either Divine love, mercy or fairness? And yet to say that the goodness of God will vouchsafe to them hereafter a knowledge of the Saviour, withheld from them here, is to give the lie direct to the theory that denies that education is a characteristic of Life Beyond. It will be an education in the highest sense of the word, if those poor handicapped ones after death are brought to know Christ, and by knowing Him are led on to mental and moral advance.

Our friends, therefore, must choose between two alternatives; viz., either they must grant that postmortem education is possible, or must admit that the Bible's claim for Christ, as being 'the Saviour of all men,' is far too embracive. The denial of the former makes Him for, at least, nine-tenths of the human race no Saviour at all.

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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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