And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand on me, saying to me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:…
I. I propose TO EXPLAIN WHAT I MEAN BY HADES. The term signifies the place Unseen; or, more properly, the Unseen. And by the Unseen I understand a place or state distinct from the grave, which receives only the bodies, while it, in its awful circle, includes the souls of the departed — different from Gehenna, or the Lake of Fire, which engulfs ultimately both the bodies and the souls of the lost — distinct from heaven, where "summer high in bliss" the angelic spirits, and where, like a mount of diamond, arises the throne of God! As to its character, it is invisible to mortal eye, and inaccessible to human footstep. It is probably divided into two compartments; the one containing, as in a prison, the souls of the wicked; the other, as in a place of safe keeping, preserving the spirits of the just. It has been asked, Shall this Hades be properly a place or a state? Some argue that spirits separated from their bodies cannot be confined to, or connected with, any particular place, but may, nay must, be at large through the vast spaces of the universe. But it would rather appear that (as has been said by the intrepid Bishop of St. Asaph) "to exist without relation to place seems to be one of the incommunicable properties of the Divine nature; and it is hardly to be conceived that any created spirit, of however high an order, can be without locality, or without such determination of its existence, at any given time, to some certain place, that it shall be true to say of it, 'Here it is, and not elsewhere;'" and that, therefore, there is somewhere a particular spot where all separated spirits reside. Another question irresistibly occurs, Where is this place situated? Some maintain that it lies in the bowels of the earth, and ground this opinion upon the fact that the language of Scripture frequently represents the dead as gone down-wards — upon the fact that Christ is said to have descended into the lower parts of the earth; upon the fact that all nations, in all ages, have supposed the abode of the dead to be beneath. But without venturing further into this dark and doubtful field, I remark once more, that this state is not an ultimate or everlasting state.
II. I would DISABUSE YOUR MINDS OF SOME MISCONCEPTIONS OF THIS DOCTRINE. You are not, then, in the first place, to confound Hades with Purgatory, or to suppose that it gives, in the slightest degree, countenance to that wretched fiction of the Roman Catholic Church. The two places are essentially distinct. Hades is a place both of woe and of enjoyment, each unmingled in its kind. In Purgatory there is no joy at all, and the misery inflicted is for the purpose of rendering its victims fit for the enjoyments of heaven, and free from the torments of hell. Again, I beg of you not to suppose that this is a new doctrine. It is as old as the Old Testament.
III. I come now TO ARGUE THE POINT FROM SCRIPTURE. I might, indeed, have found plausible probabilities in support of it. It is probable that for souls separated from their bodies there should be a place set apart. God has provided distinct habitations for every other separate variety of created objects. He has provided the land for terrestrial quadrupeds; it is their world. He has provided the sea for fish; it is their peculiar province and native element. He has provided the air for birds. For angels He has expanded heaven; and for devils laid the dark foundations of hell. Why should He not, then, on the same principle, have prepared a separate abode for a class of beings so essentially distinct from every other in the universe, as separate spirits, which are neither angels nor devils, nor properly speaking, men? Separate spirits, however perfect in nature, are obviously in an imperfect or unfinished state. Wanting their material frames, they are comparatively naked; unsheathed in sense, they cannot hold such free intercourse with material things. It seems fit, therefore, that a kind of hiding-place should be provided for them. But is Scripture quite silent on the theme? No; it utters a distinct, if not a deafening sound.
1. Hades, in Scripture, is quite a different place from hell. The real terms in Holy Writ for hell are, Gehenna or Tophet, or the Lake of Fire. Hades is never, we believe, used to denote hell properly so called. It is sometimes used in connections where it must mean some other place — "Death and Hades were cast into the Lake of Fire." How absurd it were to speak of hell being cast into hell! "Thou wilt not leave my soul in Sheol or Hades." Here, assuredly, the term cannot mean hell, else it will follow that Christ's soul went down alive into that fearful pit, and shared there in the torments of the damned — a horrible supposition. It follows, therefore, inevitably, that the place where Christ went down was not the place of final punishment. But that place was Hades. But neither is it heaven by the same showing, since it were absurd to speak of Christ's soul being not left there. Neither can it be the grave, since into the grave His soul never went, and from it could never have risen.
2. The fact that Christ did go to Hades proves that His people must go too; and that He went there is undeniable. Look, again, at the 2nd chapter of the Acts, 31st verse, where Peter, after having quoted David's language in the 16th Psalm, adds, "He seeing this before, spake of the resurrection of Christ, that His soul was not left in hell (or Hades), neither did His flesh see corruption." It follows, demonstrably, that if His soul was not left in Hades, in Hades it must have been. Again, in the 4th chapter of the Ephesians, at the 9th verse, we find the following words: "Now that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?" What were these lower parts of the earth? Surely they included Hades. It is vain to tell us that they denote simply the fact that His body descended into the grave. Did His body alone ascend into the heavens? Is not the He who ascended the very He who descended? If He ascended body and spirit, must He not have descended body and spirit too? And if He descended in spirit, where but to Hades could that spirit have gone? If Christ went to Hades, it follows that His people go too. We argue this from His language to the penitent thief, — "To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise," which means some place of happiness where the twain were to meet that very day. It could not be heaven, since Christ went not there till His ascension.
IV. But I come TO ANSWER SOME OF THE MORE PROMINENT OBJECTIONS TO THIS VIEW.
1. Some will say: Is not Hades, according to this doctrine, a prison; and how can a prison be, in any sense, or to any parties, a place of happiness? I simply answer: Why should it not? Is not a prison a place of safe-keeping? Are not the innocent kept in prison equally with the guilty till the day of trial? Hades to the good may be a prison; but such a prison as is a house in a day of storm — such a prison as is woven by a mother's arms round her dear babe.
2. Is not this a damping view? I have always, says a Christian, expected that when I died I should go to the highest heaven. But what if you were expecting wrong? Will not the society of thy departed friends be a source of deep gladness to thee in that strange world? It is a mere vulgar error to seek to confine happiness within the compass of even the highest heaven. No; it shall overflow into Hades.
3. It will be said: How do these views agree with the expressions of Paul — "I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better; to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord"? And will there not, in Hades, be a revelation of Christ far brighter than the most favoured of His people ever can enjoy upon earth, even though His personal presence be absent? To a disembodied spirit what is personal presence? Can we conceive of it without eyes seeing His comeliness; without ears hearing His voice; without hands handling His sides; without feet standing beside Him, on that firm and lofty ground which borders His great high throne? Is not "seeing Christ as He is" expressly stated to be contemporaneous with His future and final appearance? "We know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, seeing Him as He is." Ought a Christian to have no loftier ambition? Is not a spiritual vision of the moral and spiritual Jesus, of the depth of His wisdom, and the warmth of His love, equally desirable with a sight of His person?
V. BUT HOW DOES THIS CONSORT WITH THE COMMON VIEW WHICH HOLDS THAT WICKED MEN GO IMMEDIATELY AFTER DEATH TO THE EVIL ONE, AND THAT HIS PRESENCE AND AGENCY CONSTITUTE A LARGE PART OF THEIR TORMENT? I am not careful to answer in this matter. I know already that the influences of the Evil Spirit are not confined to hell; they are felt on earth, and they may, for aught I know, be extended to Hades too. Whether the devil in personal subsistence shall be present with his victims there, is a question that cannot be resolved, and which is not worth solution. But what are we to understand by Stephen's vision, taken in connection with his prayer "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." No more, probably, than this, that Christ, through His almighty power and Divine spirit, receives the spirits of His people when they die, saves them from the power of the enemy, acquits them, and bestows them in safe keeping, in the hollow of His hand, till dawns the day of supreme and eternal decision. But has there not been generally thought to be a judgment after death, and does not this imply that every spirit shall, unless chased away by His frown and its own wickedness, find immediate refuge in the "bosom of its Father and its God"? But where shall this judgment take place? Must it be necessarily in the highest heavens? May it not take place in the very room where the man has just gasped his last, or at the gate of Hades? The place of the general judgment is plainly declared, that of the personal and private tribunal is left in awful uncertainty. But again, it may be asked, can it be conceived that the spirits of the just and of the unjust are included in the same place? We ask: Why not? We quote not "Let both grow until the harvest or end of the world," because the reference in that passage is to this world, not to the next. But, we ask: Why, though the place be one, should not the lines of demarcation be numerous, and distinct, and deep? Will not the great laws of moral attraction, which partially operate even here — drawing together similar spirits by a mighty assimilating and converging process — there have their perfect work, and account for the greatness of the gulf which separates the one side of Hades from Abraham's bosom? It remains that we find, in fine, the uses of this doctrine.
1. Is it true? Then it must have its good uses; and then the responsibility of it is shifted back from us upon the everlasting arms of the God of Truth Himself. No seed of truth can produce evil consequences, or fail to produce good.
2. It gives an enlarged view of God's universe. It points out, to those, I mean, who have recently heard of it for the first time, a new province in the Almighty's dominions.
3. This doctrine is cheering to the Christian — cheering both as it confutes the gloomy doctrines of materialism and the sleep of the soul; and as it divides to him the awful ladder of approach to the supreme summit and pinnacle of the heavens. We tremble at the thought of being introduced suddenly, and at once, among the ancients of the heavenly world — into the centre of the circle of eternity — and amid the blaze of those starry splendours, at which "angels tremble as they gaze." This doctrine shows believers an intermediate stage — an arbour on their far pilgrimage — a gentler and a milder light, through which they pass into the "perfect day." Once more, it is full of terrors to the wicked. It holds out to them the prospect of looking forward from Hades to a gulf deeper and darker still, into which they shall yet be plunged. It tells them that their misery shall not be consummated at once, but shall go on by distinct and terrible stages towards its completion.
(G. Gilfillan, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: