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Problems of the Spiritual


VIII. Is it right for me to pray for a dear departed one, who did not accept the commonly taught views concerning the Christian Faith? If so, what kind of prayer could I use?

This is a question put by a devout Christian lady, whose grief at the loss of her husband was terribly accentuated by her belief that the condition and destiny of every soul is determined for eternity at death. The great obstacle to her acceptance of the Gospel of Hope and Comfort was that misinterpreted text—"In the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be" (Eccles. xi. 3 v.). She had been taught to think that these words excluded all possibility of enlightenment and salvation beyond the grave.

Let us, in passing, consider this passage. In the first place, it is the utterance of a man who lived "in the twilight of Divine revelation"; who was not morally exemplary; and who, at times, was ultra-pessimistic. It seems to us extraordinary that the statement of such a person should have constituted the main-prop of a theory which shuts the door of hope against at least nine-tenths of the human race. Yet so it is. The glorious words of Christ concerning "lost" ones, and the statements of those after Him who reflected the truth as taught by Him, have been stripped of their far-reaching significance, because of that saying of this man of "the twilight." Theology, in the past, has placed the utterances of Solomon on the same level of inspiration as the utterances of Jesus and His Apostles.

In the next place, we do not believe that Solomon, in making this assertion, had the slightest idea that he was saying anything which after-ages would construe into a Divine declaration that there can be no salvation after death. The context of the passage makes it very questionable whether he was thinking at all about future existence. But even if he had been thinking of that; even if he had imagined that the Love and Purpose of God were so circumscribed as not to be able to operate in regard to humanity beyond the earth-life—what of that? Surely, nothing that Solomon or any of the Old Testament writers may have said is to be accepted as truth, if it be in conflict with the teaching of Jesus.

The New Testament abounds in statements which flatly contradict this utterance of Solomon. "There can be no recovery, no salvation after death," say some; "the words of Solomon exclude that hope." We reply—"Very well! but to what does this commit us?" The vast majority who pass out of this life are certainly not at the time saved souls. Was Christ wrong in prophesying that He would draw all men to Himself? That prophecy will never be fulfilled, if the myriads who are undrawn at death are not drawn afterwards. Again, St. Paul predicted a time when God shall be "all in all." Was he, too, wrong? God can never be more than "all" in some, unless His work of saving is continued after death.

But the greatest disproof, perhaps, of the interpretation put upon Solomon's statement is to be found in that fact recorded in 1 Peter iii. 18-20; and iv. 6. The Apostle distinctly declares that salvation after death is possible. He asserts that a crowd of old-world sinners who had physically perished in the Flood, had been brought by God's disciplining in the Spirit-life to a condition which was no longer "disobedient"; and that to them, when morally and spiritually attuned to receive Divine enlightenment and grace, the discarnate Jesus "went and preached His Gospel," that they might "live according to God in the spirit." We ask, Which statement are we to take—that of St. Peter, or that of Solomon? If Solomon's words exclude all hope of salvation after death, as the old Theology has said, then St. Peter was mistaken. The discarnate Christ did not preach the Good Tidings Good Tidings to the ones who in earth-life had been disobedient, because the restoration of them (according to some) is impossible.

The old Theology has taken this passage of Scripture concerning "Christ's preaching to the spirits in keeping," and has brought every conceivable learned device to bear upon it, in order to obscure its plain and natural meaning, and make it fit in with what Solomon said. It does not see, however, that the denial of the post mortem salvation of mankind, involves the labelling of hundreds of the utterances of the Christ and the New Testament writers as exaggerated, incapable of fulfilment and, therefore, untrue. What we have said may, perhaps, "clear the ground" for the answer to the question with which we are dealing.

Is it right to pray for the Departed who do not leave this life in the Christian Faith?

The attitude of the Christian community with regard to Prayer for the Departed is a curious and an anomalous one. One great section of Christendom—including the Roman Catholic Church and a large and influential Party in the Anglican Church, maintains that it is a Christian duty to pray for those who have gone hence; but considers that such prayer should be restricted to the "Faithful Departed." On the other hand, a great section of believers, comprising what is curiously termed the "Evangelical" School (as if their particular tenets constituted the only true presentment of Gospel truth), views with disapproval, and even horror, all prayers for believers or unbelievers after death. So Christendom is divided on this point. We agree with neither Body. Both, in our opinion, are attaching more weight to the utterance of Solomon, than to the teachings of Christ and His Apostles;

This is what we mean. The Romanist and the High-Anglican believe—and rightly so—that as no one departs this life with his mental, moral and spiritual being fully developed, a continued work of Divine grace will be necessary after death, before the goal of salvation—perfection—can be reached. They consider—and rightly so—that physical death will work no miracle of spiritual transformation, nor will it constitute the imperfect saint on earth a being without imperfection in Spirit-life. They admit that the person most advanced in Christ-like character at the time of dying, has still to scale many a height of moral and spiritual excellence, before he can touch the point of resemblance to the "perfect man—unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." They believe, moreover, that the prayers of us on earth will help on these souls Beyond, just as, in this life, the prayers of Christians are uplifting influences on others. And so, in accordance with the Christian and sensible idea embodied in the article of the Apostles' Creed—"the Communion of Saints," they pray for the "Faithful Departed."

We are in entire accord with them up to this point. Let us keep an "All Souls' Day" by all means. It will do us a world of good to set aside a day in the year on which to fix our thoughts on the eternal interests of others, rather than on our own personal advantages in regard to salvation. Only, let us be consistent. Do not let us call it the Day of "All Souls" when we mean only some souls; only those who are "in the state of salvation." And, moreover, do not let us express our faith in the possibilities of advancement Beyond, by adopting a black ceremonialism which is suggestive of Pagan unbelief and hopelessness.

The Romanist and the High-Anglican have nothing to say in respect to praying for the non-Faithful Departed. They look very "sideways" at the mere suggestion of it. Without their perceiving it, the old interpretation affixed to the words of Solomon is influencing them. As far as the "Faithful" are concerned, they believe that progress and development after death are possible; and, consequently, reject the teaching that Death unalterably determines the moral and spiritual condition of souls. As far as the non-Faithful are concerned, they accept that teaching, and offer no prayers for them, on the assumption that it is impossible, or very doubtful, that they can advance to light and salvation. It is here that we part company with the Romanist and High-Anglican on this question.

Turn now, for a moment, to the attitude of the Low-Churchman and Nonconformist towards Prayers for the Departed. They reject in toto the principle of praying for "faithful" or non-faithful ones after death. The meaning which they read into those words of Solomon causes them to suppose that Death is the great Stereotyper of mankind for a future of eternal bliss or eternal woe. "What," say they, "is the good of praying for any, 'faithful' or non-faithful, when once they have passed that boundary-line which renders any change of destiny impossible! Our prayers for the saved are unnecessary; while those for departed unsaved are wholly unavailing. The latter in dying went outside the sphere in which the Love and Mercy of God can any longer operate in regard to them." And then comes the quotation of another text of Scripture, which, when the sense of it has been narrowed so as to make it agree with the words of Solomon, is supposed to clinch the matter—"Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation." It is useless to point out to such persons that "Now is the day of salvation," is not the same as "Only now"; and that, although a person by his disregard of God and goodness in this life may make the work of his salvation a very painful and difficult one hereafter, the work will never be accomplished. Our Lord's inimitable parable of the Prodigal, and St. Peter's record of what the Saviour did after death in regard to antediluvian sinners, negative this notion.

The passage in question does not exclude the hope of recovery Beyond the Veil. It simply declares that the cultivation of the God-life within us is not to be postponed; that "now" is the time, and that no soul in this world is answering to the purpose of his being, apart from God.

But to revert to the theological position of our Low-Church and Nonconformist brethren, is it not a very "big" assumption to assert that the Love and Mercy of God is brought to an ending for countless millions, at the grave? We think so. How many persons go out of this life possessing that knowledge of God and Christ, which we believe to be essential to salvation and future blessedness? Very few; certainly not more than one in every thousand of the earth's population. Does God love them all? Oh! yes. His Christ said He "loved the world," and that, of course, must mean all the persons in the world. "Is it true that God loves them?" asks the logically-minded man who looks at facts. "You Christians of a certain School of thought tell me that there will be no saving work after death; and that this means non-salvation for the bulk of mankind. You tell me your God loves all. How very strange that (according to you) He should love all, and yet place the many under such circumstances in earth-life, as from geographical, national and social considerations He has precluded them from obtaining a saving knowledge of Himself! Is this compatible with the thought of a Divine Love for all the world?"

There appears to us no escape from the answer— "No; it is incompatible—absolutely, hopelessly incompatible with any idea of Divine Love; if so be there is no salvation of this greatest portion of the human race after death."

But there is another very formidable argument which we must bring to bear against those Christians who deny the exercise of God's saving grace beyond the grave. It is this. If it be denied that those who departed this life unsaved may, in the great Purpose of God, be finally brought to salvation, how is it possible for there to be a fulfilment of those hundreds of glorious prophecies found in Holy Writ, that Goodness is ultimately to triumph over evil; that Christ is to overcome sin and spiritual death, and that God is to be "all in all"? We contend that these prophecies can never be fulfilled, apart from the "Restitution of all things." If there be no salvation after death, it means that only a tiny proportion of the human race will possess "eternal life." In regard to inconceivable myriads, God, at the time of their dying, was not "all" as far as they were concerned; and according to some, this condition of things can never be reversed. The corollary of this is plain to the logical mind—viz., that Christ and Holy Scripture promised far and away more than would ever come to pass.

Whether our friends can upset this conclusion, we leave it to be shown.

In the meanwhile, all that has been written above will indicate how reasonable, how consistent with the spirit of Divine Love and the principles of Christ, are Prayers for the Departed. The "Protestant" theology discountenances the practice. It has done its best to divorce the idea from Christian thought and worship. From the Prayer-Book of the English Church it has cut out all those beautiful prayers for the Departed, which stood in the Communion Office and the Burial Service of the first Prayer-Book of 1549. It has altered (for the purpose of teaching men not to pray for the Departed) the words of the Invitation, as they stood before what is commonly called "the Church Militant Prayer." In the 1549 Prayer-Book, the Invitation was—"Let us pray for the whole state of Christ's Church." The "whole state of Christ's Church" includes those believers who are in this world and the far greater number who have passed hence. To pray for the "whole state" would embrace the latter, and so the Reformers altered the clause to what it is in our present Prayer-Book—"the whole state of Christ's Church militant here in earth." The alteration is not a very ingenious one, because the "Church militant here in earth" is not "the whole state of Christ's Church." It is but a very very small part of it. The main-army of Jesus is on the Other Side.

The theology of the Romanist and the High-Anglican, on the other hand, countenances Prayer for the Departed, though only for the "Faithful" among them. That, too, fails to grip the essential principle of the Gospel of Jesus, which is the seeking and saving of that which is "lost." One would have imagined, in face of the Master's teaching in regard to leaving the folded sheep and going after the wandering one, that His Church, if she can only pray for one section of departed ones, would have chosen the non-faithful, rather than the "Faithful."

Pray for both, we say; for the Christians who have gone hence; that a spiritual stimulus from us may be given to that perfecting work in them, which, begun in the earth-life, will be continued until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. i. 6 v.); yes, and for those countless millions of non-Christians in the Spirit -World, who may receive through us those telepathic influences, those vibrations of the Christ-mind and the Christ-spirit which may be contributory causes to the development of the God-life in them.

Our Questioner asks—What kind of Prayer can I use for one of these? We would suggest a Prayer such as the following:-

"Eternal Father, I come to Thee pleading for Thy blessing upon that dear one of mine whom Thou hast called into other Life. I am sorrowful, and the shadow of bereavement rests darkly upon me; and I know that shadow cannot be lifted except by the light of Thy truth. O help me to realize those great facts taught by Jesus, that all who have passed hence still live unto Thee, and that Thy Divine Love enwraps them all. Grant to my heart the assurance that he whom I love is loved by Thee; that he whom I long to help and bless will be blessed by Thee; and that the life, so linked with mine in past years, will not be a life detached from me in the Hereafter. Father, my love for him cries out for some possibility of expression. I want to bless him by my love. Wilt Thou grant me this power? Thou hast revealed to us how mighty are the influences of mind and spirit. O let the vibrations of my love (sanctified as they are by association with Thee) reach my dear one in his spirit-life. Let them be the humble means whereby he may be better attuned to receive the inflowings of Thine own love, and better able to love Thee. I pray, too, that it may be permitted to him to know that I am praying for him. Let that knowledge help him as his spirit advances; and let it tend to enkindle in him the desire to pray also. May his prayers for me and mine for him maintain that bond of love which united us here on earth.

"And O, dear Lord, I pray for his advancement and happiness. Grant that all imperfect ideas of Thee and of Thy truth may disappear from his mind. Deliver him from all the warping influences of prejudice and doubt and make him receptive to Divine light as Thou mayst vouchsafe it to him. May Thy Holy Spirit so illuminate him as to enable him to 'know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent.' Grant, too, that whatever in him is good and noble may be expanded and perfected, and that whatever is weak and sinful in his character may be eliminated. Give him, I beseech Thee, rest and peace; that passing from moral and spiritual glory to still higher glory, he may at length become 'the spirit of a just man made perfect,' and grasp the crown of everlasting salvation.

"I offer this prayer, Eternal Father, in the Name of Him Who told us Thou art Love.


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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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