WHERE ARE THE DEAD?
Where are our friends and our neighbors, the holy and the unholy, the civilized and the vile?
The proper answer to this questions stands related to our own destiny, colors and influences our theology, and the entire trend of our lives! The correct answer gives strength, confidence, courage and assists towards the spirit of a sound mind!
"Men and brethren, let me freely speak to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. For David is not ascended into the heavens." (Acts 2:29,34)
"And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man." John 3:13
For a man to declare himself uninterested in this subject would be to proclaim himself idiotic thoughtless. If the ordinary affairs of this present life, food, raiment, finance, politics, etc., which concern us but for a few years, are deemed worthy of thought, study, how much more concern should we have in respect to the eternal future of ourselves and neighbors and mankind in general?
Of course, so important a question has had the most profound study, ever since the reign of Sin and Death began six thousand years ago. By this time the subject should be threadbare. The entire world should be so thoroughly informed respecting this question that there would be nothing new to say and nobody curious to hear. But the large audiences of intelligent, thoughtful people which come to hear, and which listen with breathless interest to what we have to say, imply that after all the study the subject has had, but few are thoroughly satisfied with their conclusions.
Before presenting what we claim is the Scriptural and only satisfactory answer to our query, we think it but proper respect to the intelligence and thought of our day and of past centuries to make general inquiries on the subject and have before our minds the most profound thoughts of the most astute thinkers of our race. We cannot, however, go into this matter elaborately and give lengthy quotations. We must content ourselves with brief, synoptical answers, which will be stated kindly and truthfully, and with a desire not to offend anybody, however much we may disagree with his conclusions. We recognize the right of every man to do his own thinking and to reach his own conclusions, whether these agree with our conceptions or not.
We begin our examination by asking our agnostic friends, who boast of their untrammeled freedom of thought, "What say you, Free-thinkers, in reply to our query, 'Where are the dead?'" Their answer is, "We do not know. We would like to believe in a future life, but we have no proof of it. Lacking the evidences, our conclusion is that man dies as does the brute beast. If our conclusion disappoints your expectations in respect to having joy for the saints, it certainly should be comforting to all as respects the vast majority of our race, who certainly would be much better off perished like the brute beast than to be preserved in torture, as the majority believe."
We thank our agnostic friends for the courteous reply, but feel that the answer is not satisfactory, either to our heads or to our hearts; which cry out that there must, or should be, a future life; that the Creator made man with powers of mind and heart so superior to the brute that his pre-eminence in the Divine plan should be expected. Furthermore, the brevity of the present life, its tears, its sorrows, its experiences, its lessons, will nearly all be valueless, useless, unless there be a future life an opportunity for making use of these lessons. We must look further for some more satisfactory answer to our question.
Since three-fourths of the world are heathen, the weight of numbers implies that they next should be asked for their solution to the question Where are the dead? Heathenism gives two general answers:
(1) Prominent are those which hold to Transmigration. These reply to us, "Our view is that when a man dies, he does not die, but merely changes his form. His future estate will correspond to his present living and give him either a higher or a lower position. We believe that we lived on earth before, perhaps as cats, dogs, mice, elephants, or whatnot, and that if the present life has been wisely used, we may reappear as men of nobler talents, as philosophers, etc.; but if, as usual, life has been misspent, at death we will be remanded to some lower form of being an elephant or a worm, perhaps. It is because of this belief that we are so careful in respect to our treatment of the lower animals and refuse to eat meat of any kind. Were we to tramp ruthlessly on the worm, our punishment might be a form in which we ourselves should be treated ruthlessly after the change which we call death."
(2) The other large class of heathen believe in a spirit world with happy hunting grounds for the good and a hell of different torments for the wicked. We are told that when people seem to die, they really become more alive than ever; and that the very minute they cross the river Styx they go to the realms of either the blessed or the ever doomed, and there are steps or degrees of punishment and reward. We inquire, "Where did you receive these views?" The answer is, "They have been with us for a long, long time. We know not where they came from. Our learned men have handed them down to us as truths, and we have accepted them as such."
But heathenism's answer is not satisfactory to our heads and hearts. We must look further. We must not trust to speculation. We must look for divine revelation; the message from Him with whom we have to do our Creator.
Turning from heathenism we address our question to that informed one-fourth of the world's population known as Christendom. We say, "Christendom, What is your answer to the question?" The reply is, "We are divided in our opinion, more than two-thirds of us holding the Catholic and nearly one-third the general Protestant view." Let us hear the Catholic view (Greek and Roman) first then, because age, as well as numbers, suggests such precedence.
"Catholic friends, Give us, please, the results of your labors and studies, the conclusions of your ablest thinkers and theologians, in respect to the revelation which you claim to have from God on this subject: Where are the dead? We will hear you thoughtfully, patiently, unbiasedly." Our Catholic friends respond: "Our teachings are very explicit along the lines of your question. We have canvassed the subject from every standpoint in the light of divine revelation. Our conclusion and teaching are that when anyone dies, he goes to one of three places: first, the saintly, of whom we claim there are but a few, go immediately to the presence of God, to heaven. These are referred to by our Lord, saying, "Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:27) Those who faithfully bear the cross are the "little flock," the "elect." Respecting these Jesus says, "Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth to life, and few there be that find it." (Matt. 7:14) These saintly do not include our clergy, not even our bishops, cardinals and popes; for you will find that when any of these die, it is a custom of the church that masses be said for the repose of their souls. We would not say masses for any we believe to be in heaven, because there surely is repose for every soul; neither would we say masses for them if we believed them to be in eternal hell, for masses could not avail them there. We might remark, however, that we do not teach that many go to the eternal hell. It is our teaching that only incorrigible heretics persons who have had a full knowledge of Catholic doctrines and who have willfully and deliberately opposed them these alone meet the awful, hopeless fate.
"The dead in general, according to our teaching, pass immediately to purgatory, which is, as the name indicates, a place of purgation from sin, a place of penances, sorrows, woes, anguish indeed, but not hopeless. The period of confinement here may be centuries or thousands of years, according to the deserts of the individual and the alleviations granted. If you would know more particularly the Catholic teaching on this subject, we refer you to the writings of one of our great Catholics, the noted poet Dante, a loyal Catholic, at one time an abbot, who died in a monastery with the full rites of the church. Dante's poem, "Inferno," graphically describes the tortures of purgatory, as we understand the matter. You can procure at almost any library an illustrated copy of this great Catholic poem. Dore, the artist, was also a prominent Catholic and he portrayed Dante's poem vividly and truthfully. The illustrations show the torments of purgatory vividly how the demons chase some until they leap over precipices into boiling water. They ply others with fiery darts. Others are burned with heads downward; others with feet downward in pits. Some are bitten by serpents. Still others are frozen. We advise that you see Dante's work, "Inferno," because it gives our Catholic view of the proper answer to your question, Where are the dead? The vast majority are in purgatory. The billions of the heathen are there; because ignorance does not save, does not qualify for the heavenly condition. All who enter heaven must previously have been fitted and prepared in a manner impossible to the heathen. Millions of Protestants are there. They could not enter heaven, except through the portals of the Catholic church; neither would God deem them worthy of eternal hell, because their rejection of Catholicism was due to the confession of faith under which they were born and environed. Nearly all Catholics go to purgatory also, because, notwithstanding the good offices of our church, our holy water, confessions, masses, holy candles, and consecrated burying ground, nevertheless, not having attained to saintship of character, they would be excluded from heaven until the distressing experiences of purgatory would prepare their hearts for heaven. We hold, however, that for the reason stated, Catholics will not need to remain as long in purgatory as will the Protestants and the heathen."
We can thank our Catholic friends for so kind a statement of their case. We will not ask them where their purgatory is, nor how they obtain the details of information respecting it, because such questions might offend them, and we have no desire to offend. We merely wish for their ripest, clearest, maturest thought respecting our question. We regret to say that the answer is not all that we might have hoped for in clearness and reasonableness and scripturalness. Our hearts are heavy with the thought that our poor race, by reason of original sin, is already, as the apostle says, a "groaning creation," and the present life of a few years is full of trouble. It is saddening, discouraging to all of us, to think that when present trials and difficulties are past, of being obliged, even for centuries (not to mention eternity), to have such awful experiences as Dante portrays, even though those centuries of anguish would purge us and fit us for the Divine presence of heavenly glory. It may seem strange to some theologians, but it is nevertheless true, that the answer of Catholicism to our question is not much better than the answer of heathendom. Neither our heads nor our hearts are yet satisfied. It cannot be wrong to look further for something more satisfactory.
Many of us in times past have been inclined to boast a little of Protestant "breadth of mind," "intelligence," "education," etc. May we not reasonably expect from Protestants a clear, logical, satisfactory answer to our question? Having found all the other answers unsatisfactory, and having now come to the one-twelfth portion of our race which has had most advantage every way, we might reasonably expect to find in its answer the quintessence of wisdom and proof from every quarter and from every age. But what do we find, dear friends? We find the very reverse! We find that the voice of Protestantism as a whole (barring numerically insignificant denominations) giving the most absurd answer to my question that could be conceived an answer which is put to shame by the Catholics, the heathen and the agnostics. Is not this marvelous? Can this be? It is written, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend" (Prov. 27:6). Bear with me, therefore, while I expose to you the weaknesses of our position as Protestants; not with a view to our vexation and shame, but with the thought that our intelligent investigation of the subject can be turned to our advantage and enable us to know the Truth and to lift the true, Divine standards before the people, to the intent that we and all may come to clearer views of our heavenly Father's character, purposes and future dealings with our race.
Permit us as gently as possible to touch this sore spot. The removal of the bandages and the cleansing of the sore may cause us pain, but the investigation should be helpful, nevertheless. We got our name, Protestants, from the fact that our intelligent and well-meaning forefathers, who were Catholics, thought that they discovered inconsistencies and unscripturalness in Catholic doctrines in which they had been reared. They protested against these, and hence came the name Protestants. We cannot defend all that they did to their enemies nor all that their enemies did to them.
One of their points of protest was that our forefathers could find nothing of purgatory anywhere on earth, nor any declaration respecting it in the Bible. With a simplicity that is certainly marvelous to us, they concluded that they would merely pick up their views of purgatory and throw them away forever. This left them heaven and hell, into one of which, they said, every member of the race must go at death and there spend his eternity. Quite evidently these well-meaning forefathers of ours were not as long-headed, far-sighted and logical as we might have expected them to be, when they did not perceive the difficulty into which they were walking. Rather we should say, perhaps, that they did see something of the difficulty, but viewed matters differently from what we do. The theory of Calvin and Knox prevailed at that time amongst Protestants and led each denomination to hope that it was God's "elect" (Titus 1:1) and that it would constitute the "little flock" (Luke 12:32) who would go to heaven, while all the remainder of mankind would be consigned to an eternity of hellish torture.
No longer does either Catholic or Protestant pray,
"God bless me and my wife,
My son John and his wife,
Us four and no more."
Both Catholics and Protestants, looking back to that period which we often term the "dark ages," have reason to give thanks to God for the anointing of the eyes of our understanding, which enables us, we believe, to think more logically than our forefathers. Even those of us reared under the doctrine of predestination have lost the idea that the heathen were passed by because they were predestined to damnation; instead, those who accepted the Westminster confession of faith are today the most zealous in the preaching of the Gospel amongst the heathen by missionary effort. We are glad of this. It is a sign that our hearts are in truer and nobler condition, even though our heads have not yet gotten into proper adjustment with our hearts; and we still look at crooked doctrines and endeavor to imagine them altogether straight.
Theoretically Protestant doctrines stand with the Bible and with Catholics and declare that heaven is a place of perfection; that there can be no change to any who enter there; hence, that all trial, all refinement, all chiseling, all polishing of character must be accomplished in advance of an entrance into the abode of the saints. In a word, we agree that only the saints will ever enter there, the "pure in heart" (Matt. 5:8), the "overcomers" (1 John 4:4), the "little flock" (Luke 12:32), who now walk in the footsteps of Jesus. What about the remainder of mankind? Ah! there is difficulty. Our larger hearts will not consent that all except the saints must spend an eternity of torture, though this is the logic of our creeds. Our hearts protest, saying that three-fourths of humanity today are heathen and that fully that proportion of humanity altogether have never heard of God and the terms of salvation.
Our creeds perplex us; for, as our hearts will not permit us to think of these poor creatures going to an eternity of misery, neither will our heads permit us to say that they are fit for heaven. Indeed it would be at variance not only with the Scripture, but also with reason itself, to suppose heaven with three-fourths of its inhabitants unregenerate in every sense of the word. Our forefathers merely spoiled things for us when they threw away purgatory and kept the remainder of the arrangement. If we must object to purgatory as being unscriptural, must we not equally object to the eternal torment of all the families of the earth as being unscriptural, especially when the Bible declares that "all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen. 28:14) through Christ blessed with a knowledge of the Truth and opportunity to come into heart harmony with God and attain everlasting life through Christ. I believe that it is necessary to press this point of the unreasonableness of the eternal torment doctrine. Nevertheless, I will remind you of what our prominent Protestant theories are on the subject:
(1) The Calvinistic thought is that divine wisdom and power planned for mankind in advance knew of the fall of man in advance, and prepared therefor by the creating of a great place called hell and the manning of it with fire-proof devils for the torment of the race all except the "little flock" (Luke 12:32), the "elect" (Titus 1:1). Love and justice were left out of this calculation.
(2) The other prominent Protestant theory, the Armenian, held today probably by the majority, insists that both love and justice created the world and arranged the torment, and that wisdom and power were not consulted; hence that God has gotten into difficulty, while endeavoring to do justly and lovingly by his creatures; because lacking in power to render the needed aid.
The entire difficulty, dear friends, is that, in our reasoning on the subject, we have merely asked the opinions of men and have not sought the Word of the Lord.
Let us consider the clear, plain, reasonable, just, loving and wise program of our heavenly Father. It has been so long overlooked, so long buried under the rubbish of human tradition of the "dark ages" that today "Truth is stranger than fiction." Well did our Lord through the prophet declare:
"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isa. 55:9