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Problems of the Spiritual


X. Are not such expressions as—"The sea gave up the dead which were in it," "Them which sleep," and "Those that are in the graves"—an indication that the New Testament writers regarded Death as a temporary cessation of conscious being?

No; the use of these and similar phrases to be found in the Bible must no more be taken to denote that the persons who used them accepted the idea which they literally express, than does our common use of phrases, which are scientifically inaccurate, imply that we endorse the inaccuracies contained therein. For instance, the ordinary way of describing the fact that the sun comes into, and disappears from, the view of us on this planet, is by saying it rises and sets. Literally, the statement is untrue. The sun does not rise, nor does it set. It merely appears to persons stationed on a revolving globe to do so. The statement originated with those whose astronomical notions were wrong.

Now, no one supposes that the scientists of to-day who still use the phrases "sun-rise" and "sun-set," profess thereby their belief in the old error which those phrases connote—viz., that this earth is the centre around which the sun and the planets rotate. The use of the phrases is perpetuated, because they have become the popular and convenient method of describing certain solar phenomena.

Take another instance. If we are standing on the deck of a vessel travelling ocean-wards and watching the shore, we speak of "the receding land." That is the popular way of describing an appearance which is presented to us. But the statement is inaccurate; and in making use of it, we do not imply that we think the land is receding from us. We know perfectly well that it is we who are receding from the land. We simply make use of a common idiom, which serves to express an experience, though it misrepresents the actual fact. No one finds fault with us for doing this; and no one imagines that we know no better, because we refer to things in the same terms as they are generally referred to.

Take another notable instance of what I mean. Many who accept the Christian Faith, account it a most laudable practice to pray for persons who have gone out of this life. They do so, because they are convinced that the latter are not dead, but consciously living. That constitutes the raison d’être of their prayers for them. When the world persists in speaking of these departed ones as "the dead," the Christian Church declares that the world does not realize a great truth which she does. And yet she takes hold of this very phrase which the world has so wrongly applied to the departed, and enjoins our "Prayers for the dead." Is that to be taken as denoting that the Church regards Death as involving a cessation of being?

Moreover, we ourselves, who do not dream of confounding the departed ones who have passed into the fuller life of the Spirit-World, with the discarded and lifeless tenements which have been consigned to the grave, constantly find ourselves speaking of those living ones as "the dead." "My father, my mother, or my friend, has been dead a great many years," say we. Is our adoption of the popular idiom to be taken as implying that we do not believe in maintained existence at death?

Now, the same argument holds good in regard to the fact that our Lord and the writers of the New Testament used the commonly accepted terms— "the dead," "those in the graves," etc., when referring to the Departed. They did not thereby endorse the popular definition as being a correct one; nor did they imply that they themselves believed the Departed to be temporarily non-existent. They simply employed an established form of expression as the best means of indicating the class of whom they were speaking. The world called the Departed "the dead"; and they used, as we do, the language of the world, and spoke of those who had gone hence in exactly the way in which all mankind spoke of them.

We cannot see how Christ and the Apostles could have done otherwise. It seems to us that in conveying higher truth to mankind, there was a necessity that they should make use of the terms of ordinary human language. How could they have made it clear as to whom they were referring, when making startling statements concerning the so-called "deceased," if they had described that class in a way in which it never was described?

Before the fuller light had been vouchsafed by Jesus, the world had looked on Physical death, and it had seemed to them to be the destroyer of conscious being. The defunct body appeared to denote the defunct man. Consequently, those who had died were spoken of as "the dead," "the ones in the grave," or—more euphemistically and poetically—"the sleepers in the dust." And such terms became the common way—the only way of speaking of the Departed.

Presently, the Christ with His Gospel of Life and Immortality came, and disclosed the glorious fact that those whom men call "dead" are not dead at all. He taught that physical dying involves no destruction of the man, nor temporary cessation of his being. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—"dead" for ages, as the world accounted them—were all living unto God, said He. He told a dying robber that on the day the body of the latter and His own Body died, they, the men, should be together in Paradise. And Jesus forced home the truth by confronting some of His followers with a living Moses whose body had gone to the grave fifteen hundred years before.

Moreover, Jesus disclosed another glorious truth, viz., that His mission of salvation was to be directed not only to men in this world, but also to those who had passed hence, and were living men in the Spirit-World.

How could He make it clear to His hearers that He was really referring to the latter? If He spoke of them as "the living," it would be more than likely that His words would be taken to mean the persons who had not died. As yet, the world had grasped naught of the idea of any community of interest between those in this world and those in the Other World, in regard to the saving Purpose of God. If He spoke of them as "the departed," still His words would be open to misconstruction by many. And so the Revealer of Truth did the wisest and best thing He could do—He adapted Himself to popular language, in order that from the starting-point of unenlightened thought, He might raise men's minds to truer ideas. Take those words of the Saviour— "The hour is coming, in the which 'all that are in the graves' shall hear His voice" (John v. 28 V.), and "The hour is coming, and now is, when 'the dead' shall hear the voice of the Son of God" (John v. 25 v.). He was alluding to that magnificent fact to which St. Peter afterwards alluded; which is, that Christ is no less a Saviour to those in the Other World than He is to us in this world. St. Peter having declared that Jesus, after crucifixion preached to ones departed this life ("the spirits in keeping"—1 Peter iii. 19 v.), actually makes use of, as his Master did, the common term applied to them— "the dead." He writes, "For this cause was the Gospel preached also to them that are 'dead,' that they might be judged according to (i.e. by the same standard as) men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit" (1 Pet. iv. 6 v.).

We have a notable instance of the necessity to Christ and the sacred teachers of adapting themselves to the common idioms of their day. Lazarus, the friend of Jesus, had physically died, and our Lord was conscious of it. Christ knew that the death of the bodily organization had not killed the man. The real Lazarus—the spirit-man encased in a spirit-body, while in a condition of temporary sleep, had left his dead earthly tabernacle—Jesus knew that he was still sleeping, and that although he had passed out of the Physical body which was dead, he had not awakened in the Spiritual. It was not the intention of Jesus that he should awake in the Spiritual. The spirit-man, without any experience of the Spiritual World, because he would be sleeping all the while he was absent from the body, would only awake when the power of Christ should reincarnate him in a re-animated body which now was lying dead in a sepulchre. And so the Master said to the disciples—"Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go that I may awake him out of sleep." They did not understand Him. They did not know that Jesus was voicing the great psychic fact that every person in quitting the physical body at death, does so in a condition of sleep, and only awakes when the detachment has been effected.

The disciples thought "He had spoken of taking of rest in sleep." But here is the point—Jesus had to resort to the limitations of ordinary ideas and language, before He could make His meaning clear. "Then said Jesus unto them plainly—Lazarus is dead." But he was not dead; and the Master said he was not dead. Those, then, who argue that the use of the terms we have been considering, commit our Lord and the Apostles to the endorsement of the idea that Death involves the cessation of conscious being, are wholly mistaken. If their use of these terms did commit them to such an endorsement, then where would be the consistency of the Divine Speaker and the sacred writers, in representing the "dead " ones and those "in the graves" as capable of powers which only the living possess? It is only the living man, in this world or the Other, that can hear the living Voice of the Christ of Life.

But all the difficulty connected with the New Testament writers' use of these old-world phrases, would disappear, if the words were expressed as quotations, and it were remembered that these phrases were used, because the ordinary language of mankind had to be spoken, if the teachers were to be understood.

Thus, when Jesus said—"The hour now is, when 'the dead' shall hear the voice of the Son of God"—He did not mean that lifeless, disintegrated physical objects lying in the grave, or in the sea, or anywhere else, would hear Him speak to them. Without mind, without ears, without any semblance to bodily or spiritual organization, and without life—how could they do so!

No; He meant that the glorious call from His Divine Lips to advancement and more abundant life in God should be heard, not only by incarnate men and women in the cities and villages and highways and by-ways of Palestine, but by the living discarnate ones Behind the Veil. "The hour is coming, and now is, when 'the dead' (i.e. the ones whom you in your ignorance call 'dead') shall hear the voice of the Son of God."

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Other Books by Rev. Chambers:

"Man and the Spiritual World" (1903 UK Edition)
"Thoughts of the Spiritual" (1905 American Edition)

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

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