"I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets."
That the saints do not remain insensible, while their bodies are in the dull, but become angels, * see and serve God and bear his messages, and minister to the heirs of salvation, hath been argued from several considerations, in the preceding discourse; but we chiefly depend on revelation. The text and several other scriptures, we conceive to be our purpose, and sufficient to establish our theory, and that the same is illustrated and confirmed by sacred history, both of the Old and New Testament. One instance of a departed saint, sent as a messenger from heaven to earth, hath been adduced from the Old Testament: We now advert to the New.
* The term angel signifies a messenger. If glorified saints are used to carry God's messages, or sent to do his business, they are made angels, in the proper sense of the word. Such appear to have been the angelic band, who united in praising God, when the Lamb prevailed to open the book of his decrees and reveal them to the apostle -- "And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy -- for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God, kings and priests: And we shall reign on the earth." * Surely these must have been of our race.
* REVELATION v.9, 10.
Here our proof in explicit. We can conceive of no evasion. Two of our race who had long before been removed from earth to heaven, were certainly sent to visit the Savior, just before this sufferings -- Moses and Elias, who attended him on the mount, whither he retired with three of his disciples, and conversed with him in their presence. St. Luke hath described their appearance, and told the subject of their conversation -- "Who appeared, in glory and spake of his decease, which he should accomplish at Jerusalem." *
* Luke ix.29.
Moses had then been dead more than fourteen centuries. Elias had not tasted death, but he had been changed. That change had passed upon him which will pass on the saints who shall be alive at Christ's coming. The change must have been great, or he could not have ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire, or lived above the region of air which surrounds this globe.
These two saints, seem, on this occasion, to have been assimilated to each other -- "They both appeared in glory" -- were company for each other, and sent together to testify for Christ, before chosen witnesses. Our Savior's resurrection was also attended by witnesses who had been for time in the world of spirits -- "And the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many." *
* Matthew xxvii.52, 53.
But it is only departed saints who are employed to bear God's messages. There is no intimation in scripture, that those who die in their sins, are afterwards sent, or suffered to go abroad. There is reason to believe, that as the saints are made perfect at death, so all that bears an affinity to goodness, ceases at that period, in the unrenewed, and that they put on the complete image of him who is termed their father. If this is the case, they would spread mischief and misery, were they permitted access to those who remain in the body, and liable to temptation. However this might be, we are assured that they are confined in the infernal prison, and will continue prisoners till the great day.
This is intimated by our Savior, when he warns the sinner to "agree with his adversary quickly, while in the way with him -- lest he should be cast into prison" -- because should this happen there will be no release "till he shall pay the utmost farthing." This speaks the state of impenitents, to be from the time of their death, that of prisoners, who can neither break their prison, or obtain, so much as a temporary release, till they shall have suffered all their demerits.
The same is intimated in the parable of the rich man Lazarus. The rich sinner is represented as passing, at death, into a place of torment, and confinement, and as despairing of even a momentary enlargement. Other wise he would not have requested that Lazarus might be sent to warn his brethren who were then living on earth, but rather that he might have gone himself. Him they would have known; and he could have given them a feeling description of the miseries which living in pleasure, regardless of the one thing needful, will draw after it. Many advantages might have been expected from this personal appearance to his brethren, but he preferred no such petition.
His prayer that Lazarus might be sent, was probably intended to intimate that departed spirits remember their former state on earth, and the relatives and acquaintance whom they leave upon it; that they retain a concern for them; that they know that good spirits are used of God to transact matters relative to their spiritual concerns, and that those who die in their sins are kept in confinement, and not permitted to go forth; no, not to warn fellow sinners, whom they have left behind them.
This agrees with what is said by St. Peter, respecting the antediluvians. He speaks of those as being "spirits in prison" in the apostolic age, "who were disobedient, when the long suffering of God waited with them, in the days of Noah."
It farther appears that their imprisonment is a state of darkness. "Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness? to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever." This darkness is probably a contrast to the light enjoyed by glorified saints. They are doubtless let into the purposes of heaven -- to them the mystery of divine providence is opened. They see and admire the wisdom and goodness of God, in those dispensations, which while here, filled them with wonder. But it seems that the wicked are not let into these things, but driven away in darkness, and left enveloped in it -- "None of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand."
This may serve to explain a passage in Job, which might seem opposed to our construction of the text -- "His sons come to honor and he knoweth it not; and they are brought low, but he perceiveth it not of them." * If we understand this of the wicked, it will harmonize with the other scriptures which have been adduced. Though some understand the words of Job, as descriptive of a man's state at the approach of death, at which period he is often lost and bewildered, and consequently unaffected with, any thing which may happen to his dearest connexions, for whom, in health, and while possessed of reason, he felt greatly interested. This construction is favored by the words which follow, in which he is represented as still pained in body, as well as mind -- "But his flesh upon him shall have pain, and his soul within him shall mourn." +
* Job xiv.21. + Vid. Henry in locum.
If we do not mistake the scriptures, our pious departed friends may sometimes attend us, and witness the manner in which we act our parts.
Natural relations terminate with life; but we do not believe that the friendships here contracted cease at death; that the remembrance of the kind offices done to a good man here is then obliterated; that those who had been helpers of one another in this life are forever lost to each other when they cease to be together here; or that the endearments of friendship and reciprocal affection are then extinguished to revive not more.
Departed spirits must retain a remembrance of what they did here, and of those who acted with them. They cannot otherwise give account of themselves; or witness the divine justice and impartiality relative to matters which had been common to themselves and others. But these will be made manifest. All in heaven and on earth will see and confess the perfect rectitude of the divine administration.
Some suppose that the knowledge of things done on earth, and regard for mortals would render departed saints unhappy; that therefore they are incredible.
But is not God grieved at the obstinacy of sinners? "When God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth -- it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart." * Was he then unhappy? Departed saints may have similar sensations, whatever may be implied in them. The same objection may be made to the divine knowledge of mankind, as to that of the saints -- We do not take it on us to explain either. The same may also be objected to supposing that the saints will be made acquainted with the decisions of the Judge at the great day -- that they will then see any who were dear to them here, sent away with the workers of iniquity.
* Genesis vi.5.
If the manifest rectitude, and moral necessity of the divine decisions, will then satisfy the righteous, and their greater love to God reconcile them to the execution of his judgments on all the impenitent, why not as soon as they shall have put off the remains of depravity, and become "the spirits of the just made perfect?" THOSE in glory are doubtless acquainted with the moral state of the world -- "There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth." *
* Luke xv.7-10
That the powers of light and darkness take part in the concerns of mankind, and interest themselves in their affairs, and that they conflict with each other on their account, we are taught in revelation. *
Our departed friends who have known and loved us here, may be among the invisible witnesses of our conduct, and among our invisible helpers. They may rejoice, if we act well our parts, or weep if we are numbered among sinners, or careless neglecters of the grace of life.
* Daniel x.13. Jude 9
Perhaps the pious parent who hath died in the Lord, may regard the little orphan which he hath left behind. Experienced in the troubles and difficulties, snares and temptations of this life, he may watch over it, and in ways to us unknown "do it good and not evil all the days of its life." Little ones are not destitute of invisible keepers -- "Their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven." *
* Matthew xviii.10.
Some are early called out of life; make but a transient visit to the scene of sorrow, and just taste the bitter cup of affliction. But though short their stay, they may yet begin to form some dear connexions -- connexions which might perhaps have been ensnaring; for more set bad, than good examples before the little strangers committed to their care. These, taken from the evils to come, may be friends to those who had appear to befriend their helpless state in this strange land -- may watch for their good, and rejoice if they see them minding the things which belong to their peace, and by a wise improvement of more talents than had been committed to themselves, preparing for greater joys and honors in the kingdom of God.
Those who had sustained a still nearer relation -- who had been "one flesh" may bear like regard to those "with whom they had taken sweet counsel and walked to the house of God in company" -- and may be the first to welcome their arrival at the world of joy.
The Romish church have abused the doctrine which we conceive to be contained in the text, by decreeing adoration to departed saints. Others have gone into the opposite extreme, denying that they know ought of terrestrial matters, or have any concern in them. Adoration belongs exclusively to God. It belongs neither to glorified saints, nor to angels of light, though the latter "are all sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation." * "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve."
* Hebrews i.14.
The righteous are not suffered to continue here by reason of death. Their removal is one of our severest trials. Our subject ministers support and comfort under it. When we reflect upon it, we seem to hear them calling to us from behind the scene, with "Weep not for us -- we are not dead. Our bodies sleep, but our spirits wake" -- Death is not the period of our existence. It is only our removal -- our birth day into the world of glory. -- We are joined "to the spirits of the just made perfect" -- enjoy the society and that of the angels of God -- behold the face of our heavenly Father, and of the divine Redeemer. We rejoice to see you "followers of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises" -- are ready to help you in your work, and to shout God's praises, and unite in songs of triumph, should you come off conquerors, and rise from your humble state of sorrows, sufferings and temptations, to be our companions in glory.
These are consoling and animating views. They tend to excite a divine ambition in working out our salvation.
We are yet doomed "to bear the heat and burden day." But we are not alone -- not unobserved. God, angels, and the good, who were lately "our companions in tribulation," witness the part we act. We would not dishonor ourselves in their view, and sink ourselves in their estimation. If they are ready to help our infirmity, we would not render their heavenly aid of no avail, or cut ourselves off from enjoying their society.
Consider some dear departed child of God thus interested in your concerns, and you will find it a spur to duty, and an incentive to labor and not faint in the work assigned you, preparatory to your joining the church of the first born above. Think now that the godly ones who loved you here, and labored to animate you in the service of God -- or those who lately looked to you for counsel and guidance, having made their way to glory, are waiting your arrival and longing to hail your entrance into the kingdom, and by all the strength of your love to them, now freed from the imperfections of their earthly residence, and made glorious and heavenly, you will find yourself drawn on toward that state of blessedness, in which you hope again to rejoice with those whose distresses you witnessed here -- yea whose dying agonies, may have chilled your frame and filled you with anguish unutterable!
To meet them again, and find yourself and them, forever removed from the fear of evil, either natural or moral -- forever secure the divine friendship -- forever happy and glorious in the enjoyment of God, "the former things being all passed away, and all tears forever wiped from your eyes!" There to recount with those blessed spirits, the travels and trials of this life, and look back, perhaps, on many hairbreadth escapes from eternal death! There, to dwell on the wonders of divine love and mercy exercised towards you, and often in things which you once thought to be against you! Who would not willingly suffer many deaths to enjoy these things?
Such considerations are animating in duty, and supporting in times of trial. If realized, we shall adopt the language of the suffering apostle -- "None of these things move me, neither do I count my life dear to myself, that I may finish my course with joy" -- and share such blessed society -- such inconceivable felicity and glory in my Father's house above, in which are many mansions!