Religious Reality
By A.E.J. Rawlinson

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Chapter X - The Last Things

“It is appointed unto men once to die, and after death the judgment.”

“He shall come again in glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose Kingdom shall have no end.”

“I believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

Jesus Christ spoke in symbolical language of His coming in the clouds of heaven as Son of Man with power and great glory, and declared that the Divine verdict upon the lives and deeds of men should be determined by their relationship to Him and to His ideals. Both in the days of the Apostles, and for the most part among succeeding generations of Christian people down to the present time, it would seem that a more literal signification was attached to His words than they will really bear. The truth of the Divine Judgment upon men’s lives nevertheless stands. “GOD is a great Judge, strong and patient: and GOD is provoked every day.” We must, however, be careful, in thinking of the reality of Divine Judgment, to interpret the justice of GOD in the light of the Christian revelation of His Love. The attitude of GOD towards sinners is never anything but love, though a love that is holy and righteous, and never merely sentimental. GOD as Christ reveals Him can never impose or inflict a merely external penalty upon a sinner, other than the supreme penalty of being simply what he is, viz. a soul who by his own deliberate actions has separated himself from goodness and from GOD. It is important in thinking of the Judgment to remember that the essence of judgment is neither the sentence nor the penalty: it is simply the verdict, whereby moral and spiritual realities are revealed, shams and disguises are stripped off, and evil is separated from good. [Footnote: The associations of an English law-court, in which the verdict is the work of the jury, are here misleading.] If our Lord, speaking in parables, declared, of such as had neglected to do good, that “these shall go away into eternal punishment,” a considerable body of orthodox opinion in the Christian Church has always held that the punishment in question consists essentially in the “penalty of loss"–the loss of goodness and of GOD, the loss of capacity for the life which is life indeed–rather than in any imagined “penalty of sense,” or purposeless prolongation of pain. The imagery which our Lord employed to describe the spiritual condition known as “hell” is taken from the Valley of Hinnom, a ravine just outside the walls of Jerusalem, in which fires were continually maintained for the destruction of refuse, and maggots preyed on offal. The imagery is sufficiently terrible; but it suggests the destruction of waste products in GOD’S creation, rather than the prolonged torture of living beings. It may well be that a soul, which by persistent and deliberate rejection of every appeal of the Divine Love even to the very end–in this life or beyond–has become so wholly self-identified with evil as to be finally incapable of life in GOD, passes, of necessity, out of sentient existence altogether. We do not know. What we do know is, in the first place, that wickedness is of its very nature instinct with the eternal quality of “hell"; and, in the second place, that GOD is Love, and that GOD “desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his wickedness, and live.”

Just as the term “hell” expresses the condition of a soul which by its own act and deed and deliberate choice has become wholly self- identified with evil, so the term “heaven” expresses the spiritual state of the pure in heart, to whom it is given to see GOD. So regarded, heaven is simply the ideal consummation of progressive spiritual advance, the perfect fruition of that “beatific vision" which the saints of GOD desired. It has ever been the conviction of the Christian Church that her members are already, even in this present life, made partakers in the life of heaven, just in proportion as their affections are set upon things above and not upon things in the earth. What is begun here is continued more perfectly hereafter; but it is unreasonable to assume that at the moment of death the ultimate fulness of “heaven” is immediately attained.

The Church, therefore, has believed in an intermediate state, sometimes called “Purgatory,” a condition of progressive purification and spiritual growth, characterized at once by a deepening penitence for the sins and failures of the past, and by a deepening joy in GOD’S more perfect service.

Moreover, since the Christian salvation is a social salvation, those who have departed this life in GOD’S faith and fear shall not without us be made perfect. None can enter fully into the joy of the Lord until the whole of GOD’S great World-purpose is accomplished, and all are gathered in. This brings us to the consideration of the Christian belief in the Second Advent and the final Kingdom of GOD. It has already been remarked that the terms in which this belief is expressed are symbolical and should not be taken literally. Just because we ourselves, under the conditions of life here upon earth, are immersed in the stream of time, the idea of an ending of the World-process, a final passing over of time into eternity, is to us, in the strict and literal sense of the words, unthinkable. Only under the form of imagery and symbol is it in the nature of things possible for the idea of the last great Drama to be expressed, or rather, suggested: it is impossible for our minds to grasp, in any more exact or effectual manner, the Reality which the imagery is meant to symbolize. It may be that the event expressed by the dramatic picture of the Second Advent of the Christ is simply the revelation of the fact of His Eternal Presence at once as Saviour and as Judge; however this may be, the picture stands for the assurance of His final triumph, and the vindication of His Kingdom in its fulness: and as such it is the object of Christian hope–"Hallowed be Thy Name; Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done; in earth, as it is in Heaven.”

If we ask what is the positive nature of the Christian hope and what the final character of the life of heaven, the answer is that we cannot fully say, that we know only in part, “we see obscurely, as in a mirror.” In hymn and ecstasy and vision men have sought to find expression for the substance of things hoped for, and they have failed. “Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, the things that GOD hath prepared for them that love Him.” The Book of the Revelation essays to paint a picture of the heavenly state, and for the most part succeeds in setting before our minds a noble imagery; but in the end its language is most convincing when it tells us what heaven is not. “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. And GOD shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” Negatives and contrasts–the picture of a state of things contrasted with all that in the world as we know it is amiss; we cannot positively envisage heaven. Only we believe that “there remaineth a rest for the people of GOD,” where nevertheless they rest not day or night from His perfect service. “Beloved, now are we sons of GOD, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him: for we shall see Him as He is.”

Here this chapter might end: but with regard to the nature of the Christian conception of the life of the world to come there is something more to be said: for the Church’s creed contains the assertion of a belief in the Resurrection of the Body, or even, in the Latin form of the Apostles’ Creed, and in the translation which appears in the Prayer-book Service for Baptism, in the Resurrection of the Flesh. The plain man may be tempted, brushing aside such a doctrine in its plain and literal acceptation as a manifest impossibility, either to hold aloof from a Church which retains such an affirmation in her creed, or else to conclude hastily that the words are meant only as a picturesque way of expressing a belief in the immortality of the soul. Either attitude would be a mistake. It is true that a literal resuscitation of Christian corpses on some future Day of Resurrection would be neither possible nor desirable. Nevertheless the Christian doctrine of the life to come involves more than a bare assertion of the immortality of the soul.

The body is the embodiment or vehicle of the spirit; the spirit disembodied would be a mere wraith, a phantasm of the living man. The life of the world to come is not unreal or shadowy as compared with the concrete reality of the life of earth: it is a life richer and fuller, more concrete and more glorious than the life of earth. The Church by her doctrine of the Resurrection means to affirm that the full reality of that which made the living man what he was is carried over into the life beyond. The buried corpse is not “the body that shall be.” “There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body." As to the nature of the future embodiment of the spirit in the life beyond the grave we are ignorant. “GOD giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to each seed a body of its own.” But we believe that “the deeds done in the body” here upon earth while we are yet tabernacling in the flesh necessarily affect and determine the character of the spiritual embodiment which shall be ours hereafter. For this reason we hold our bodies sacred, as being temples of the Holy Ghost. “The body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.” Christianity can have nothing to do with the notion that the defilement of the body is without effect in the pollution of the soul.

[NOTE.-For a fuller treatment of the subjects of the Second Advent and the Resurrection of the Body the writer may be allowed to refer to Chapters III. and IV. in his book, Dogma, fact and Experience(Macmillan & Co., 1915).]


Preface  •  Author’s Preface  •  Introduction  •  Part I - The Theory of the Christian Religion: Chapter I - the Man Christ Jesus  •  Chapter II - The Revelation of the Father  •  Chapter III - The Fellowship of the Spirit  •  Chapter IV - The Holy Trinity  •  Chapter V - The Problem of Evil  •  Chapter VI - Sin and Redemption  •  Chapter VII - The Church and Her Mission in the World  •  Chapter VIII - Protestant and Catholic  •  Chapter IX - Sacraments  •  Chapter X - The Last Things  •  Chapter XI - Clergy and Laity  •  Chapter XII - The Bible  •  Part II - The Practice of the Christian Religion: Chapter I - The Christian Aim  •  Chapter II - The Way of the World  •  Chapter III - The Spirit and the Flesh  •  Chapter IV - The Works of the Devil  •  Chapter V - The Kingdom of God  •  Chapter VI - Christianity and Commerce  •  Chapter VII - Christianity and Industry  •  Chapter VIII - Christianity and Politics  •  Chapter IX - Christianity and War  •  Chapter X - Love, Courtship, and Marriage  •  Part III - The Maintenance of the Christian Life: Chapter I - How to Begin  •  Chapter II - Prayer  •  Chapter III - Self-Examination and Repentance  •  Chapter IV - Corporate Worship and Communion  •  Chapter V - The Devotional Use of the Bible  •  Chapter VI - Almsgiving and Fasting

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Religious Reality
By A. E. J. Rawlinson
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