Intermediate State

Intermediate State a phrase employed to denote the state or situation of disembodied souls during the interval between death and the resurrection. There have been several theories upon the subject. SEE HADES.

The condition of the soul after death cannot but be a subject of intense concern to every thoughtful mind. Pagan philosophers have groped in the dark for some clew to guide their aspirations after immortality, but have at best attained only surmises and conjectures. Of all the millions that have crossed the dread gulf which separates time from eternity, none have ever returned to bring tidings of what befell them the moment after they launched from the shores of mortality.. Revelation alone has cast a ray across the mighty void, and its light has gradually grown clearer and more penetrating, until in the New Testament we are no longer left in any measure to doubt whether, "if a man die, he shall live again." We rest assured that not only shall the soul survive the shock of dissolution, but the body also shall eventually join it in an endless reunion.

Still the question recurs, what will be the internal state and what the external circumstances of the spirit during the period between death and the resurrection? Respecting this little is definitely said in the Scriptures, and it is therefore left for speculation to fill up the lack of information on this interesting theme, guided by such hints as are casually thrown out by the sacred writers, and such considerations as the ascertained nature and destiny of man afford.

See also the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.

I. The popular sentiment or belief of Christians--expressed rather in the form of hope than as a theory-appears to be that the righteous enter heaven immediately after they pass away from this world. Such passages as the Savior's declaration to the dying thief, "This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise," and the parable of Dives and Lazarus, are thought especially to support this view; and hence believers have fearlessly cast themselves into the arms of death, expecting to awake the next moment in the full realities of everlasting glory.

Now we would not for all the world deprive dying saints of a particle of the consolation which the Gospel is designed to yield, \nor is it:any part of our present purpose to weaken anticipations of the future rest in the bosom of any, however sanguine and impatient. But the known truth that a long- probably immense-interval of time will elapse between the decease of Christians of the present age-and certainly of past centuries and the revival of their bodies at the general judgment, is sufficient to prove that they do not instantly pass from the Church militant to the New Jerusalem above. Let us calmly and logically consider what may be ascertained as to the experience and surroundings of the soul during this intermediate period. SEE IMMORTALITY.

The topic calls for a volume rather than an essay, and, as we must be brief, we make but two other preliminary remarks. The first is that we have not space here to discuss the above and kindred passages of the New Testament; but we direct the reader to professed commentaries for their exposition, and the solution of their bearing upon the point in question, contenting ourselves here with simply observing that they are figurative in their phraseology, and that, whatever they may mean, they cannot be intended to contradict the fact of a real space between death and the resurrection. Our other prefatory remark is, that as this is legitimately debatable ground, no essential item of creed or orthodoxy being involved in it, we ought not to incur any odium theologicum of unsoundness in the faith should our discussion lead to new and surprising conclusions. This last remark is especially pertinent in view of the fact that even orthodox Christians ill all ages have entertained very different views on this subject, as will appear from the following enumeration of opinions.

II. The theory of a state of sleep, insensibility, or unconsciousness. It was taught as early as A.D. 248 by the Arabian Thetopsychites, whom Origen combated. It was thought to be held by pope John XXII, and was disapproved by the University of Paris and pope Benedict XII. It was revived by the Swiss Anabaptists under the name of Psychopannychia, and was opposed by Calvin. And in later times it has been started anew, in a form more or less distinct, by John Heyn, Wetstein, Sulzer, Reinhard, and Whately, and by a new sect in Iowa. The defenders of a state of unconsciousness produce such texts as Ps 17:15; 1Th 4:14. In opposition are cited 2Co 5:8; Php 1:23; Mt 17:3; Lu 16:23; Lu 23:43; Re 6:9.

3. The theory of Purgatory. That Christ preached to the souls detained in Hades, as the patriarchs or others, was held in the 2nd and 3rd centuries by Justin, Ireneus, Tertullian, and Clem. Alexandrinus. It was supposed to be warranted by 1Pe 3:19; Ac 2:27; Ro 10:7; Eph 4:9; Mt 12:31. The idea of a purgatorial fire is more or less obscurely hinted in the writings of Clem. Alexandrinus, Origen, and Augustine. But the complete scheme owes its paternity to Gregory the Great, who propounded it as an article of faith, along with intercessory masses for the dead; finding a supposed warrant in 2 Macc. 12:46. In opposition to the notion of a Purgatory, it may be said that it is a fiction borrowed from paganism; that it is repugnant to reason and common sense; that it is contradictory to express assertions of Scripture (Heb 12:23; Re 14:13; Re 22:11); that it is subversive of the cardinal doctrines of the Gospel, the atonement and justification by faith in Christ; that it robs the Christian of evangelical peace and consolation; and that it was unknown to the primitive Church. Even Augustine, when he prayed for the increase of his deceased mother's happiness, denied the existence of any middle place. (So also Clem. Rom. Ephesians 2 and Corinthians) The article, "he descended into hell," was not admitted into the Apostles' Creed, nor those of the East, until the 5th century. It appeared first in the Creed of Ariminum, A.D. 358, and in that of Aquileia, A.D. 381 (Rufinus, De Symbol.). See Wilson, Illustrations from Apost. Fathers, p. 108. SEE PURGATORY.

4. The scheme of a middle or intermediate place, or place of rest. This is a different idea from that of an intermediate state, meaning by the latter only an inferior degree of happiness apart from the yet unraised body. It is affirmed that judgment is not pronounced till the last day; but this is denied, a particular judgment passing on each individual, and his place being assigned him, upon his death (Ac 1:25; Lu 16:23; Lu 23:43; 2Co 12:2,4). It is said that no one is perfectly holy when he dies, but only such can enter heaven. In reply, it is contended, as in the Westminster Catechism, that there is a distinction made between being perfectly holy and perfectly blessed, the first taking place at death, the latter only at the resurrection (Heb 12:23). It is alleged that the Scriptures favor the notion (Joh 3:13; Joh 20:17; Ac 2:34; Heb 11:39); to which it is replied that these texts are dubious, and neutralized by others positive and unequivocal (Job 14:12; 2Ki 2:11; Ac 7:59; Re 14:2-5; Re 7:14). We proceed to render this theory more definite by proposing our own view of the subject.

1. In the first place, we lay it down as an axiom that a disembodied or pure spirit is necessarily freed from all the relations of space of which we are terrestrially cognizant. The external senses are locked up, because their physical organs are absent. Such a spirit may, for aught we know-and perhaps this position is the more probable-be open to intercourse with other pure spirits; doubtless it is at least accessible to the divine Spirit, from whose influence nothing material or immaterial can be veiled; but we are unable to conceive of any intercourse or connection between it and the present relations of things. There is absolutely no medium of communication, as far as we are aware. Death severs the link between the soul and the body, and therefore between the soul and all bodies. What new capacities may by that act be developed within the soul, what new relations created with other immaterial beings, or what realization of new conceptions, we of course know not; and, indeed, we have no reason to suppose any such; but if we would not utterly confound mind and matter, or unconsciously clothe the departed spirits with some ethereal form of body, we are bound to conclude, from the total diversity and even contrariety of their properties and attributes, that a dead man is really dead to everything pertaining to time and sense.

This cuts up, root and branch, all those impressions some have even gone so far as to claim them as scientific experience of intercommunication between living persons and the spirits of their deceased friends. The common sense of enlightened Christianity has long since stamped all such stories with the just suspicion of superstitious imagination. Severe reasoning compels us to set them down as hallucination or imposture. Those who have indulged themselves in these fancies have always diverged towards insanity or materialism.

A disembodied spirit, therefore, prior to the restoration of its physical organism, is incapable of any of the material joys which imagination is wont to associate with the fill idea of the heavenly state. We must carefully exclude from its experience during that interval everything that grows out of our mundane notions and present externalities. That these, and more than these, will be restored on the consummation of its bliss in the new heavens and the new earth of its final abode, we are abundantly assured by the symbols and teachings of the New Testament; but the soul must wait for these enjoyments until its bodily counterpart shall have been raised, spiritualized, perfected, and immortalized.

We may go further than this, and declare that none of the now known and verbally defined relations in point of location are predicable of the departed soul; in other words, it is not in any particular assignable place while in that state. The instant it quits the body it possesses no local habitation. Its position cannot be determined as to space, for it has no metes or boundaries, no point of contact with visible objects. It can neither be said to be somewhere nor nowhere, nor yet everywhere. It simply exists-like God, but not infinite. In short, if heaven be a locality (and the existence in some part of the universe of the Redeemer's actual body, as well as those of Enoch and Elijah, besides the concurrent figures of the whole Bible, lead us to conclude that it is such as well as a state), then certainly the disembodied spirit cannot with propriety be spoken of as being there any more than elsewhere. This, we admit, is an abstraction; but we are speaking of a mere abstraction; for what can be more abstract more really inconceivable according to our earthly notions than a soul without a body.

But let it not be imagined that the soul has thus lost any of its essence or inherent powers. It remains in all these absolute and intact, a veritable entity, as truly such as any spiritual being, or as when united to the body, or indeed as the body itself; but it is shut within itself, and circumscribed by the limits of its own nature. All that we are now demanding is that it shall no longer be viewed, and treated, and spoken of under the conditions, and associations, and terms of an absent corporeity. These have no meaning when applied to it, except as belonging to the past.

2. In the second place, it follows that the soul can have no cognizance of the passage of time while thus disembodied. Time consists of the sequence of events, and all means of knowing the transpiration of these are excluded by the very supposition of the present case. Time, moreover, is measured by the alternations of natural objects, and these are also abnegated here. It is evidently impossible for the isolated spirit to be at all aware of the flight of hours, seasons, or ages. To it "a thousand years are as one day" — both alike unappreciable. The only change it could experience would be the succession of its own ideas, and these if comparable for such a purpose with our present associations of thought, which are like chords played upon by every passing breeze of circumstance and touch of physical condition-furnish no fixed standard or definite mark to our own consciousness. How seldom do we think of the lapse of time during our dreams, which afford the nearest parallel to the state we are considering; and how wide of a true estimate are we when we chance to compute the moments or imaginary hours in our somnolency. Some notable instances are on record of the egregious miscalculation of time by dreaming persons, showing that in sleep they have no accurate means of determining it, but that they protract or abbreviate it to suit the humor of the dream. Much more would this be true with the disembodied soul, which has even less opportunity or occasion to review its course of thoughts for such a purpose, or, indeed, to take any note of their rapidity or tediousness of succession. We conclude, therefore, that the intermediate state will pass to all its subjects as an instant, and that none will be aware of the length of the interval.

This is in accordance with a remarkable passage of Scripture-about the only one where the subject is directly and literally touched upon-and this but incidentally, in answer apparently to a query that had been addressed to an apostle on account of certain curious or captious persons; for the Scriptures are very chary of information on such abstruse points. Paul tells us expressly (1Th 4:15,17), "We [or those] which are alive and remain unto the [final] coming of the Lord shall not precede ["prevent"] them which are asleep… We [or those] which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds." He is speaking, it is true, of the resurrection of the body, and it is with reference to this that he says one class of saints shall not anticipate another in that reward; but his language implies that none shall have any advantage in point of time over the rest, and this would not be true if some must pass long centuries of waiting, while others are translated suddenly from earth to heaven. No; it will all be equalized: Noah, who died thousands of years ago, shall not seem to himself to pass any longer period of expectation in the grave, or, rather, in the spirit world, than the last saint that is interred just as Gabriel's trump shall reawaken his undecayed corpse, or than those who then shall be living on the globe. This theory meets and harmonizes all their cases, and vindicates the divine impartiality.

Some confirmation of this view may likewise be derived from the simultaneousness of the general judgment. We surely are not to suppose that any will remain cycles of ages in the other world, whether happy or miserable, without having their destiny as yet fixed, and their final doom awarded. To each individual's consciousness, doubtless, will be definitely assigned, at the instant he is ushered into the presence of his Maker, the awards of his irrevocable fate, and this knowledge will form the basis of his joy or despair. The only object after this of a general gathering would be to make known to the universe a sentence that has already been anticipated to the parties chiefly interested. The Scriptural representations of the "last grand assize" are evidently scenic in their character, that is, pictures of what to those concerned shall seem to transpire substantially, but not necessarily literally thus. SEE JUDGMENT, GENERAL. Be that as' it may, on our theory alone a universal assemblage would be more possible and significant: to each human being the hour of death is practically, although not actually, the day of judgment, for the two events are separated only by an inappreciable interval; and as the same is true of all his fellows, and as their several days of doom are also separated by an inappreciable interval, they are all reduced to every man's own apprehension to the same plane of time, and consequently may justly even with reference to individuals be depicted as judged together. The hour of Christ's three predicted comings- in vengeance on the Jews-in the article of death in the final scene thus, although really distinct events, become identical by more than a figure of speech, and he is justified in alluding to them all in the same breath.

3. In the third and last place, however, as above intimated, the intermediate state will not be a period of unconsciousness. This might be hastily inferred from the insulation of the spirit from all sources of external knowledge and impression. But it has still left to it the whole inner world of thought and feeling: memory is busy with the past, and hope is active with anticipations of the future; the direct comforts of the Holy Spirit also are by no means denied during this expectant period, and none can tell how greatly these and all the foregoing emotions may be intensified by the rapt state of the disembodied soul. Examples like those of Paul "caught up into the third heavens," of Tennent in a prolonged fit of catalepsy, and of others in similar extraordinary states of spiritual elevation, might be cited to show how far such an abreption of bodily functions is calculated to enhance the perceptions of celestial verities; but these, it must be borne in mind, were really experiences in the flesh-although Pal seems doubtful whether he was not actually "out of the body," and at least intimates that such mental exaltation would be possible if he were released from earth; they are, therefore, not strictly in point as proof. On the other hand, general observation and experiment show that all temporary collapse or extinction of the bodily functions — as by accident or disease affecting the brain or nervous centers — is attended by suppression in the same degree of the mental faculties; but these, again, are symptoms occurring under the joint relations of soul and body, and therefore no sure indications of what might take place in a disembodied state. Accordingly, we fall back upon the position most agreeable to our native aspirations, and most conformable, as we think, to the teachings of revelation, that the soul, immediately after passing out of the body, enters upon a condition of conscious happiness or misery, according to its previous fitness and habits. In a word, we see no reason why, when set free from connection with the body, the spirit should do otherwise than continue to exercise the emotions and intellections which had already become customary with it. Until its reunion with the body, however-a space, as we have seen, of practically no account to itself, at least in point of duration-it can receive no new experience, and be subject to no external influences, unless they be purely spiritual. SEE HEAVEN.

See Hagenbach, Hist. of Doctrines; Bp. Law, Theory of Religion; Bees, Cyclopaedia, art. Sleep of Soul; Taylor, Physical Theory of another Life; Tucker, Light of Nature, Brougham, Natural Theology; Stuart, Essays; Abp. Whately, On Future State; Les Horizons Celestes; Barrow, Pearson, Bull, On Apostles' Creed; Bp. White, Lectures on the Catechism; Archibald Campbell. View of the Middle State; Watts, World to Come; Watson, Theolog. Institutes; Hall, Purgatory Examined; M'Cullough, On the Intermediate State; Meth. Quart. Review, 1852, p. 240; Baylie, The Intermediate State of the Blessed (Lond. 1864); Shimeall, The Unseen World (N. York, 1868); Freewill Baptist Quarterly, April, 1861; Presb. Quart. Rev. October, 1861; Christian Rev. April, 1862; Boston Rev. Jan. 1864.

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