THE BLESSED DEAD BY REV. W. M. CLOW, B.D.

"And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with Him." MATT. xvii. 3. THERE are few to-day who doubt the continuity of life in some world beyond. In our intense and engrossing daily struggle it often fades out of our mind. But whenever we are called to pause by some one s death, or whenever we ask any of the great questions of being and well-being, or when we think of the soul, we have an inward conviction that death is nothing more than a great change. Even science has now added its voice to those who deny that there is such an event as death. The lower forms of life, we are told, never die. They only put off one body to be clothed upon with another. The intimations of our immortality may seem indistinct and unassuring. Yet as often as we realise the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and enter into all that it implies, we are ready to sing again with Isaac Watts "There is a land of pure delight \Vhere saints immortal reign, Infinite day excludes the night, And pleasures banish pain." a3

204 THE SECRET OF THE LORD But when we pass from this invincible conviction of a life beyond to think of the state of the dead,

a haze falls upon our minds and our hearts are troubled. We are not helped by any of the confident pictures which daring fancy has drawn of the state of those whom God has taken. We are not held either by the heaven or the hell which grim and confident theologies once fastened on men s minds. They have become incredible, even to our children. We revolt against that Romish conception which makes it only a more lofty cathedral, whose air is heavy with incense, whose thrones are occupied by saints, whose worshippers lie in prostrate adoration before God. We protest against a purgatory of which Jesus never spoke, and Paul never dreamed. As decisively we refuse those mischievous and wilful assertions of inventive superstition. We deplore that spiritualism, so often self-deceived, which plays upon the credulity of the ignorant, and exploits the fears of the timid, and the yearning of the bereaved. We read, without conviction, the reports of the Society for Psychical Research, so eager to catch on its lens any rays of light from the world beyond. If we were left to such signs and proofs as these reverent and sensitive, but over-wistful, inquirers give, we should be compelled to become agnostic. Our one resource would be to throw ourselves into the activities of the world we know, and bar the way of our thoughts towards a world unknown.

THE BLESSED DEAD 205 We need not be led aside into bewildering mazes, nor need we allow our hearts to be robbed of their confidence and of their peace. Christ has spoken to us of the dead. He has not told us anything to gratify mere curiosity. He has drawn the veil closely so that no prying eyes shall see what there is no need to see. But He has told us enough to

comfort and to gladden us, and He has lodged in His own resurrection and in His promises some great certainties concerning the blessed dead. I. Mark, to begin with, Christ s clear testimony to a conscious life in the world beyond. Very obvious is Christ s reticence about the details of that life beyond. He spoke with a reserve we shall do well to remember, of its judgments and penalties. He painted no picture of its scenery. But heaven was a room in His Father s great house, and a place prepared for those who had lived, and toiled, and loved, and trusted, in the room and state of earth below. He lived looking up into heaven all His life through. Its gates were ever open to Him, so that He might have passed within them when He would. Its angels hovered over Him. Its voices called to Him out of the cloud. The hope of its blessedness was often on his lips. These truths shine out on every page of the story. But there are three occasions on which He spoke with emphasis. In the words to the dying thief, " To-day shalt thou be with Me

206 THE SECRET OF THE LORD in Paradise," Jesus set His seal to the conception that death is only a gate to a life to come, a life of fellowship and felicity. In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus He makes a larger declaration. He draws a picture of life, and thought, and desire, in the world beyond. We must not extract reality out of its scenery, or doctrine out of its details. But when we discount all that belongs to the mere framework of the parable, there remain solemn certainties on which Jesus laid emphasis and stress. We are told that men in the world beyond have the

pleasures and the pains of memory, that they sorrow, and joy, and hope, and love, and pity, and that they recognise familiar faces and are moved by piteous fears. There is a more illuminating and more assuring evidence in this appearing of Moses and Elias talking with Him. Whether we are willing to believe it to be an actual sight of the two prophets of Israel, or only a vision conjured up before the eyes of excited men, the truths it conveys remain as emphatic. These truths are that there are inhabitants of a world beyond ; that they have a knowledge of what is passing among men ; that their hopes and desires are still bent on the victory of that kingdom of God for which they lived ; and that their hearts are filled with a deep concern for those who suffer, and especially for One who was about to die. That interpretation is no narrow exposition of an isolated and mysterious event. It is the confident interpretation of those men who

THE BLESSED DEAD 207 testified what they had seen, and who lived out sane and sober lives in the equally confident hope that they also would pass to live, and to know, and to love in that world beyond. The expectation of all these apostolic men was no faint outline of a dim world whose joys and whose pursuits were mere conjecture. They were filled with a sense of the reality of future glory. They mused in wistful expectation of the day when the glory should be revealed. They kindled their hopes at the dear promises that they should ever be with the Lord. They were persuaded that they would know Him, and know each other. They were assured that in that Father s house they would enter into a peace and a joy, a largeness of redemption and of life, which were impossible here. That great hope they

learned through Christ s clear testimony to a conscious life in the world beyond. II. Mark, in the second place, the distinctive truths of Christ s testimony to the conscious life in the world beyond. The first truth which appears to be clear is that those who pass by the gate of death do not return. We are not unmindful of the three raisings from the dead at the call of Christ when He was upon the earth. But it is only reasonable to regard these as unusual works of His power, as in a line with those other miracles which He worked in the days of His flesh. o others have ever come back, or ever

208 THE SECRET OF THE LORD shall come back, from the world beyond. 1 The dying thief at last sunk into the peace of the dead, and was buried, but did not appear to men. The suggestion, in the parable, that Lazarus might pass from heaven to hell is met with by the word that there is a great gulf fixed. The appeal that he should be sent back to earth, as a witness to the reality and the terribleness of the other world, is as decisively, although more tenderly, refused. Two and two only are represented as coming again to be seen of men, and these are two who had not passed through the gate. It may be true, as Milton sings " Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth unseen, Both when we wake, and when we sleep." But they walk not only unseen but unknown. We shall go to them ; they shall not return to us.

It is never safe to trust to analogies from nature when speaking of spiritual realities. There is a point at which natural law is not delicate enough and high enough for the spiritual world. But there is an exquisite parable from nature which seems to me both to picture the truth and to enshrine the reason why the dead do not appear to those they love, and why they can make no sign to them. In this parable, which is entitled " ot lost, but gone before," 2 the authoress pictures the grub in the 1 ote. The statement in Matt, xxvii. 52, 53, cannot, I think, standing alone, be depended upon as evidence. 2 Cf. Margaret Gatty s Parables from ature (First Series).

THE BLESSED DEAD 209 slime of the pool as it is soon to be transformed into a dragon-fly. It has come to the day when its great change is about to take place. It feels the impulse to seek the upper world of light and air. It has begun to slough off its coarse envelope. It has found the reed up which it shall climb out of the pool. Its friends gather around the ascending grub and beg from it the promise that, when it has explored the world beyond, it will return and tell its story. If the grub does not return, they will know that the upper world is the land of death. The grub ascends, reaches the upper air, and bursts out into the radiant beauty of the spangled dragon fly. It has not forgotten its companions at the bottom of the pool. It finds the reed up which it has climbed, but it has passed through so great a change that, at the first touch of the chill water, all within its warm and breathing body starts and recoils as if from death. The world of light and air is now native to it. There is no passing to that

lower world. That parable, I believe, holds the truth as to the passing from the world unseen to the world we know. Those who die are not lost. They have only gone before. But they have put on the body of their glory, and they cannot, even though they would, pass again to us. One, and One only, returned. But that One was He who conquered death and brought to light life and immortality. The second truth which appears to be clear is 14

2io THE SECRET OF THE LORD that those who pass by the gate of death are conscious of those who are left beJiind. When Dante Gabriel Rossetti painted the picture in which he immortalised his dead wife and declared his undying love for her, he represented her leaning out of a window in heaven over him, as he slept, and awaiting his coming. A greater Dante assured his heart that the Beatrice whom he loved, and of whom he dreamed, was awaiting his coming in the heights to which he would ascend. Even John Bunyan, with his instinctive reserve in regard to the world beyond, declaring that he had only a glimpse within the gates, can write : " Then I saw in my dream that the Shining Men bid them call at the gate ; the which, when they did, some looked from above over the gate, to wit, Enoch, Moses, Elijah, and others." The dying thief would remember Christ s look when He leaned out toward him on the cross. The rich man would remember the beggar that lay by his gate. Moses would remember the way of the wilderness. Elijah would remember both Carmel and Horeb. Consciousness cannot exist without memory. But can we not go further

and reach this persuasion that those who have gone before not only know, but are aware, of the condition of those they love. St. Bernard, in his lamentation for his brother Girard, refuses to believe that his dear dead only remember and do not know. His lamentation has been sympathetically rendered by Bishop Alexander in his poem " Recognition"

THE BLESSED DEAD 211 "Perhaps they say, I pardon thee that wrong ay, love thee more divinely for it all ; Perhaps they strengthen thee when thou art strong, Perhaps they walk with thee when shadows fall. But this is all I have for thee ; the fair Absolute certitude is other where. ay, that were life which truly liveth not Life lower than our life, and not above. Thou, thou art near to God in thy fair lot ; earer to God is full of God s love Fuller of Him who looks on us to bless, Who is impassible, not compassionless. Thou carest, though no care can pass thy gate, And, passioning not, art still compassionate." 1 That is the truth which is sealed upon our minds by this appearing of Moses and Elijah. They did riot only remember, but they knew, and were com passionate for Him who had His decease to accomplish at Jerusalem. At first sight this truth casts a shadow upon us.

It seems to rob the dead of their felicity. But, when we let this thought shadow us, we forget that God sees and knows all, and He remains perfect in His infinite peace ; and we forget that those who are gone before see our lives in their wholeness and the events of them in their true quality and significance. To human eyes, the agony of the garden and the long hours of dying on the Cross were awful and intolerable in their agony and shame. Moses and Elias saw the part they were to play in redemption, and they would not have taken them out of the experience of Christ. To 1 Cf. Bishop Alexander, The Finding of the Book, p. 203.

212 THE SECRET OF THE LORD human eyes, and, perhaps, at times to Paul himself, his weakness and weariness, his years in prison, his thorn in the flesh, his martyr death, made up a long misery. ow we see them, as the dead always saw them, as Christ saw them, as Paul himself now looks back upon them, as the hours of his service never to be forgotten. Look back on your own life. It has had its days of sadness, its limitations and mortifications, its poverties and tears. Even yet you cannot see the meaning of them all. But you know enough to say that much you once thought to be evil has been the very pool of healing and the still waters of blessing in your life. Mark this truth as it shines clearly in the ex perience of another. You know the enrichment which some one of your acquaintance counted a splendid gain, and for which all men praised him. You saw how it coarsened his mind and ensnared his heart. You marked that it took the bloom from his sense of honour, and filled him with a pitiable pride. The things he counted gain you saw to be impoverishing loss. When some sorrow

cast its shadow on his path, and trouble fell upon him, so that his eyes were filled with tears and he wondered why it was not with him as in days past and began to go softly, you understood the loving kindness of the Lord. So the dead see. They understand the issue of the chemistry of life. They see not the furnace only, but the fine gold. There is one pain which mars their peace.

THE BLESSED DEAD 213 There is one burden they bear. That is the burden that lies upon the heart of God. If the dead, as seems clear, see and know our joy and sorrow, if they can anticipate the cross we have to carry, they also see our sin. That is the sight and knowledge which afflict. The young girl who unexpectedly saw the father whom she revered fall into a strange and degrading sin was dulled in spirit for years, and her face never recovered its open, trustful look. If the dead know, they were aware when you played that dishonest part in business, when you trifled with purity, when you slandered the innocent, when you flashed with a sudden lightning of hate. How that moves those who have gone before, and how it should move us to think of their minds and thoughts I do not know ! I do not believe in prayers for the dead, for we do not know their state sufficiently well to pray for them, and I am assured that the living, whose fate hangs in the balance, and especially the unblessed living, need all the energy of prayer at our command. I do not know, for we have no word of guidance, whether the dead pray for us or not. It may be that the golden vial, " full of odours which are the prayers of the saints," hold the intercessions of the blessed living here and the blessed dead yonder. These are things

into which no man can enter. But of this I feel assured, that those who love us know when we fall, and that some of the tears that have yet to be wiped away are the tears of grief at our sin.

214 THE SECRET OF THE LORD The third truth which appears to be clear is that those who pass by the gate of death await the coming of those they love. That truth is close folded within the heart of every sentence on the lips of Christ and every conviction in the hearts of believers. As surely as the dying thief watched for the coming of Jesus, or as Lazarus entered into the fellowship of Abraham, or as Moses and Elias took part in one communion, or as Paul knew that he would depart and be with Christ, so surely shall we pass to the company of just men made perfect, and to the Lord who is in the midst. That thought is difficult only to our imagination, not to our reason, nor to our faith. Because we cannot throw the picture of an immortal fellowship on the small and wrinkled screen of our imagination, we stumble at the thought. A South Sea Islander, living in one of some twenty huts, cannot conceive of London, with its millions of closely packed lives. It is impossible, he says, with an agnostic smile. Yet London exists, with its vast multitudes, its unity and community, its intense and varied and enthralling life, its dear and tender intimacies, its swift means of intercourse, although the savage cannot realise it. So, while the eye hath not seen nor the ear heard, we find it easily within the scope of a spiritual faith to be assured that those who have gone before await our coming and long for our fellowship. The consolations of that truth seem to be noble and strong. We shall receive the pardon of those

THE BLESSED DEAD 215 we have wronged. We shall understand and re ciprocate the love of those we have slighted. We shall enter into an unbroken fellowship with those who are our kin in the things of God. David shall not be sundered from Jonathan. Zacchajus shall be pardoned by the widow whom he wronged. The penitent thief shall make amends to the traveller he left wounded by the way. We all shall see and know and love Him whom to see and know and love is to enter into His complete likeness, His full knowledge, and His perfect service. Above all, it will make the world beyond our home, for it is where we meet those we love, and are loved in return.

1. 68 FREE BOOKS http://www.scribd.com/doc/21800308/Free-Christian-Books

2. ALL WRITI GS http://www.scribd.com/glennpease/documents?page=1000

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