Irving on the Christian State After Death

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In this place we cannot pass over, though it cannot be treated as a mistake, passages in the preface to Ben Ezra highly injurious to the work and honor of Christ, and in it the just, holy, and influencing comfort of believing saints. It is alike indicative of the same hasty pursuit of a single idea. I shall quote but one concentrating sentence—but the observations will apply to the whole spirit shown from pp. lv. to lxv. of this preface. The haste, the very culpable haste (for the promises and hopes of God's people are not thus to be trifled with), is shown in this. In evincing (the truth of which we do not now inquire into) that the resurrection at Christ's coming is the substantive hope of the church, he attempts this by throwing every cloud upon the hope of the dying Christian. “Death,” his words are, “is a parting, not a meeting; it is a sorrowful parting, not a joyful meeting; it is a parting in feebleness and helplessness to we know not whither,—into a being we know not what.” This sentence is singularly unfortunate in its statements; and, indeed, scripture and the hope of the gospel ought not to be thus made the slave of men's momentary thoughts. “I have a desire,” says the Apostle, “to depart and to be with Christ.” Death to the believer is not a parting but a meeting, if our central and supreme affections are with Christ. I am not questioning here, be it remembered, the hope of Christ's coming, but Mr. Irving's statement respecting death. Death is not a sorrowful parting, but a joyful meeting; for it does not become us to sorrow as those without hope. For why?—they that sleep in Jesus go to Jesus, and God brings them with Him. For indeed “he that liveth and believeth in Jesus shall never die.” If, indeed, he values earthly things more than Christ's presence, then sorrow will accompany his death. But it is the proper distinction of Christianity to have neutralized that power of death which Mr. Irving is preaching: “for the sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law;” but both are dead to the believer in the death of the Lord Jesus Christ the Savior. It is a parting, not in but with feebleness and helplessness, we know whither—that is, to Christ. If He be true, we know whither we go, and the way. As to “a being we know not what,” the scripture affirms it equally of the state of the risen body, and of that only. “It does not yet appear,” saith the apostle, “what we shall be,” speaking expressly of that state. As to the promise, Mr. Irving is writing against his own opinions; for, if he hold that Christ will come again, he believes that He will bring His saints with Him, so that they which are alive and remain have no preference. He is indeed himself witness that scripture is conclusive as to a paradise for the separated spirit; but he says we know not what it is. Is there nothing, then, in being with Christ the Savior, who loved us and gave Himself for us—that hope that brightened the thoughts and quickened the expectations of many a dying and many a matyred saint? Is there nothing in being with Him, to throw holy influence and triumphant character on the relinquishment of this yet evil and Satan-deceived world? Sure I am, there was that in it which made the Apostle Paul prefer death to life; for death was no death to him, but parting from trial to Christ, from perseverance through surrounding evil to that blessed presence, where all doubt, sorrow, and death would have passed away to him forever. He had a desire to depart and be with Christ; he was not comforted only by the building of God made with hands; for he was always confident, desiring rather to be absent from the body and present with the Lord.
We must say that this is a most unholy misstatement of scripture, and destructive of that which is the glory and influential power, as well of the resurrection of the saints, as of their present hopes; and that, if the Lord's presence be not a paramount blessing, prevailing over death now, it never will be at the resurrection or at any other time. It shows the folly of man in his thoughts; for, in attempting to show the importance of his views above another's the sole thing which is of power in those very views and can alone realize them is undermined and destroyed, and this in the face of the fullest and most anxious statements of scripture, and to the dishonor of Christ and the faith of the saints of God. Satan reigns by death; Christ has brought life and immortality to light by the gospel. And to argue from the circumstances of His death is folly; for it was because He so suffered, and (having overcome in full conflict with the very power under which it is here stated we rest) rose again into glory, that we have not that trial, that we are delivered and triumph, and that its power is passed away towards us. The observations from the Apocalypse are a total misapprehension of its force. This might call for much and varied animadversion; but my object is not to condemn or accuse (God forbid that it should be!) but precisely the contrary. But these are the sort of statements which have awakened the impatience of observant Christians, and occasioned a natural, though indeed an unjust prejudice against the persons who hold those views they are urged in maintenance of, and a hasty rejection (still more foolish) of the views themselves. For in this they are making themselves servants to the unguarded precipitancy of others, not judges of it, and masters of the truths which they confound with so many mis-statements. In a word, they are allowing Satan to do just what he meant to do by the partial ignorance of inquiring men.
But it must be confessed, it is a bold word to say, that when Christ said to the thief on the cross, “Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise” —that which made Paul always confident, giving him, upon the common faith of God's people, a desire to depart—that what the Lord comforted and assured the thief with, and the apostle built on, was, “a day of death, from sight of which the soul shrinketh, and a void beyond it, so vacant and unintelligible, as not to be available for any distinct end of faith, hope, edification, or comfort.” “And this notion of blessedness with Christ, upon our leaving this tabernacle, is a vague notion which Satan hath substituted.” Christ substituted it as something nearer to the dying thief, when he proposed that on which the writer so much insists; and it was because it was a distant hope, and there would have been a vague void without this revelation, that we were given the assurance that that was revealed in. great mercy, which is thus now thrown to the dogs. The hope of the individual is being with Christ; the hope of the church is His coming: doubtless the individual is deeply interested in this hope likewise. On the whole, throughout this preface, Christ's present glory is not duly seen, nor its perception by the believer as manifested by Him, as it is not to the world.