Mercy And Judgment by Canon F.W. Farrar
Put into electronic form by Tentmaker Ministries and Publications, Inc. Copyright 200 May not be reproduced without permission.
MERCY AND JUDGMENT
IS THERE NO SUCH THING AS A TERMINABLE PUNISHMENT BEYOND THE GRAVE?
"Proficiscere, anima Christiana, de hoc mundo!"
"Go forth upon thy journey, Christian soul! Go from this world! Go in the name of God!" NEWMAN, Dream of Gerontius.
"Sanabiles fecit nations terrae." — Wisd. i. 14.
I now come to the third point respecting which I wished an answer as to whether it was, or was not, a mere popular accretion to the doctrine of the Catholic Church respecting future retribution, - namely, "that it is a doom passed irreversibly at the moment of death on all who die in a state of sin." The clause has been misunderstood, because I had not thought it necessary to define the phrase. By "a state of sin," I meant a state in which there have been no visible fruits of repentance. My question meant, "Is it a matter of faith that there is no disciplinary or purgatorial condition in the Intermediate State through which sinful and erring souls, who have not visibly repented, may still be reached by the grace of God?"
In the only sense which I attached to these words, Dr. Pusey agrees with me; he does not hold, he declares that the Catholic Church does not hold, and that it has never held, the doctrine which I repudiate if by "state of sin", I only mean such a state as excludes any visible presence of God's grace in the heart.*(1)
*(1) Dr. Pusey would, I suppose, say that an irreversible doom is passed; but that the doom may be to a terminable, and purifying punishment; a view which does not differ very materially from my own.
In point of face the entire scope of his argument points (except in one particular which is outside the subject) to conclusions which are exactly analogous with my own. If (as I have already said in a letter to the Guardian) he holds that most men do not die in a state of such sin as excludes them for ever from the presence of God, and also that some purification of imperfect souls is possible in the world to come, he holds all that I ask. All that I ever desired in this matter was the liberation of men's minds from fearful and fallible inferences as to the future, which I believe to be unwarranted by the voice of God whether in Scripture or in the heart of man.
Dr. Pusey, in his Eirenicon (p. 192), speaks about "a soul which here has had no longings for God, even if the man himself should die in a state of grace": but no popular teaching which I have ever heard would (apart from some visible repentance) have admitted that such a soul would still die "in a state of grace". The Romish doctrine of purgatory has only seemed to many minds a more merciful doctrine than that of the popular teaching because it does admit an ultimate hope for grievously imperfect souls. "As if", says Dr. Pusey, "the English Church held that any whom the Roman Church assigns to purgatory would be cast into hell!" I reply, as regards the English Church , No! but as regards the only logical inference to be drawn from the diatribes of hundreds of her teachers, "yes!" I answer further that over considerable portions of Roman Catholic countries it is believed that the notion of purgatory has all but superseded that of hell.
If I had see that there was any possibility of ambiguity in my words, I would have said that what I believe to be no part of Catholic truth was the notion that the doom to endless torments is passed irreversibly at death on all who have not attained to a visible state of grace, i.e., who are not yet sanctified not yet even approximately victorious over manifold temptations.
The particular phrase which I used was due to the intense impression once made on my mind by a remark of Jeremy Taylor, that "A state of sin cannot be a state of grace."
I think that this explanation will make my meaning clear. I did not wish to deny that it is "a matter of faith" that they who are utterly reprobate, who have utterly extinguished all the grace of God in their hearts (if such there be in this world), would pass from earth to an irreparable loss. I did not even mean — as a multitude of passages in my sermons were surely sufficient to prove — that a man's ultimate destiny is not decided at death so far as the results of his earthly life are concerned. But what I did mean was the doctrine that men do not pass direct from life to hell or to heaven, but to a place in which God's merciful dealings with them are not yet necessarily finished; where His mercy may still reach them in the form, if not of probation (for on that subject I have never dogmatized), yet of preparation. That there is this progressive development of the Divine work of grace in the soul is expressly stated by St. Paul in the passage, "That he who hath begun a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ." St. Paul is there speaking to the members of an entire Church; no doubt he regards them all as being ideally God's saints; but he does so with the full knowledge that multitudes fell grievously, and even terribly, short of that ideal. And here comes in the truth that, as even saints are not perfect, but are still sinners, so even sinners are very rarely — perhaps never — fixed, finished, and incurable in sin, when seized by their mortal sickness. If there is no such thing as a perfectly good man, so it may be doubted whether there be such a thing as a perfectly and irredeemably bad man. By the time that the great Day of Judgment has come there will be, in some form, as the tremendous imagery of Scripture leads us to believe, some division of mankind into good and bad — sheep on the right, and kids ( erifia ) on the left; but ere that day has come, and in Hades, there must have been many a change before it is easy to distinguish between the best of the evil and the lowest of the good.
I think that a few instances will illustrate my meaning.
1. During the last few years, in my work as a parochial clergyman, I have been called to stand by many death-beds, and to direct and solace — so far as man can do so — the last thoughts of those who are passing away from earthly things, and who have thought but little of any other.
Those scenes have left on my mind the deep conviction that a death-bed very rarely makes any observable difference in the general habit of mind of the dying. What happens most frequently is that physical weakness or mental unconsciousness come on, before either the sufferers or those about them distinctly recognize that the summons has gone forth. They think that they shall "pull through it this time," as I have often been told by those who had hardly a day to live. Often the end comes on very rapidly, before the perilous, or at least before the hopeless, character of the disease has been realized. Often, again, death is so slow in its approach that there always remains a hope in the mind of the sick person that he or she may yet have many days to live. And very frequently I find the strongest possible disinclination to speak of religious subjects, or the habit of fencing off all approach to anything like a heart-searching intercourse, either by silence, or by monosyllabic answers, or by vague generalities, or by a transparent effort to change the subject, - and that too even when the sufferer is perfectly aware that his life has been openly sinful, and that the end is near. It is rarely indeed that the sick do not welcome the prayer offered for them at their bedsides, or that they are disinclined to listen to the passage from the Holy Book; and sometimes, even when they have not been communicants for years, the desire is renewed in them, to receive once more the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. But how have these men and women often been living up to the last day, and week, and month, or year of their active life? Not always, not perhaps very often, as flagrant criminals in the world's sight, but yet how far from even the lowest Christian standard.*(1) I will not take the very common case of drunkards, or of those who have been dishonest, or blasphemers, or unclean; but how often is it the case that the dying person has been utterly careless and indifferent; not praying for himself, or hardly ever praying; not attending, or scarcely ever attending, the House of God; not receiving the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper; not living, and not earnestly trying to live, in the love and fear of God, or in any high fulfillment of the duty to our neighbour; guilty of sins of impurity, of ignorance and even of malice. Yet they have not been wholly bad. They have been perhaps kind fathers; they have been perhaps, on the whole, faithful husbands; they have been trustworthy, perhaps, in the main task committed to them,. Even the worst of them have shown some redeeming quality; some eyes have wept for them tears of sincere regret. But many even of the best of them cannot be said to have fulfilled any one of the deepest obligations of the religious life. Not one, even of their friends, would have dreamt of speaking of them as "religious", or as "godly", or even as "good Christian men". And, so far as I have seen, they die, in nine cases out of ten, exactly as they have lived. In general they show no vital sign of sorrow for sin, no consciousness even of their own guilt in God's sight, no sense of their utter neglect of many sacred duties, no faith in Christ, no dread whatever of appearing before the judgment seat of God — absolutely nothing of that state of mind which we have been taught to regard as the sign of true repentance. And so they pass away.*(2) And if the cedar of Paradise is shaken, what shall happen to the desert reed?*(3)
*(1) "Rari quipped boni." — JUV. Sat. xiii. 26; AUSON. Id. xvi. I, 2.
*(2) Dr. Pusey (Eirenicon, p. 196), in answer to Mr. Wilson's difficulty about "those who die in ignorance, like thousands of the London poor," asks, "Who ever said or suggested that they would necessarily be lost?" And in his What is of Faith he ranks them with the heathen and calls London "in all probability one of the largest heathen cities in the world." It is an easy solution of the difficulty: but I, who have seen many die in the lowest and poorest ranks of London life, know that most of them have, at some time or other of their lives, been under religious instruction; they are anything but heathen in absence of mere knowledge of the main facts of the Christian religion.
*(3) St. Gregory Magn.
2. Or take another case. In these our recent wars, as in all our wars, many young soldiers and officers have been killed. Among these have been some whom I have known well; and of these some have differed in no way from multitudes of their fellows. They have lived the ordinary life of men similarly circumstanced. Gallant they have been, and generous, and faithful to their military duties, and intensely dear to their friends and families; and often they have met their death as brave men should, facing the enemy, or trying to relieve the wounded or the imperiled. And some of them have been but youths, and their country thinks of them with pity and with pride. But had you asked them five minutes before the sword-blow or the musket-shot stretched them on the sod, whether they had lived holy, or even religious, or even serious lives, or even lives free from grave faults and sins, even as men reckons sins, some of them would have been the first to say No. And, in the course of that providence which orders the life and death of man, these frank and gallant youths are —
"Cut off even in the blossom of their sin,
Unhousel'd, disappointed, unanel'd;
No reckoning made, but sent to their account
With all their imperfections on their head."
What is the common teaching respecting such as these? Is it that all who live thus go straight to heaven? Will any one say without shrinking — will not any one blush for very shame to say — that they pass from hence to an endless hell? And yet have we not heard from earliest childhood the teaching, "a filo vita, a vita mors, a morte pendet aeternitas"?
3. Take another case. I have stood, not once or twice only, by the bedside of dying boys. And often, in their case too, unconsciousness and death have come on suddenly and unexpectedly; and without so much as a suspicion that there has been need on their part for any special preparation they have been called into the presence of God. They have differed in no respect from other boys. They have gone away from the life of boys as the lives of boys are at our public schools. And in some cases it would have been wholly untrue to say that they were religious boys, or that their lives had been in any sense holy lives, or that their sins had not been like the sins of their fellows, or that they had lived in the spirit of prayer, or that they had been unselfish, or keenly alive to duty, or wholly obedient; or that their character had been free from very serious stains of one kind or other; or that their influence had been in any sense markedly for good: - still less would they have been specially spoken of as servants of God or followers of Christ. They were living, I say, in many cases, the common life of boys of their age; and in the very middle of that common life — whatever it was — they were, without any preparation, summoned hence. If any ordinary boy, at any ordinary school, suddenly touched by the finger of death, is so living that he may be sure of — to use the common phrase — "going straight to heaven," then these boys who have died would have gone to heaven; not otherwise. But will any one say that, if the daily teaching of all religious teachers be true, ordinary men and ordinary boys, living the ordinary life of men and boys, are fit to go straight to heaven? And yet will any one dare to say — as I suppose in the middle ages men would scarcely have hesitated to say — that these, many of them with all their faults, all their habitual faults, all their serious, unbroken faults, - their faults to all human appearance scarcely realized by themselves in their true heinousness, and to all human appearance in no way repented of — will any one now dare to say that these, so beloved, with so many good qualities, with so many germs in them of undeveloped virtue, will be never changed, or made better, or relieved from torment but will go straight hence under the irrevocable doom to an endless hell?*(1)
*(1) "Aeternitas est interminabilis vitae tota simul et perfecta possessio." — BOETHIUS.
I know not whether teachers in general would have said of any of these that they die "in a state of sin"; but I did not mean by that term in a state wholly evil. And I am very sure that many, whose lives have been externally far more serious than those of any of these, would still consider themselves so sinful, so stained with unsubdued infirmities, so little victorious over grave besetting sins, so conscious that they had never lived and were not then living as God would have us live, so very far off from all conscious and vital union with Christ, that, unless the mere fact of death make a difference, they could look to the future with but little hope. Many — especially of the best of them — would say with the unhappy Cowper —
"No voice divine the storm allayed,
No light propitious shone,
When, snatched from all effectual aid,
We perished, each alone:
But I beneath a rougher sea,
And whelmed in deeper gulfs than he."
Not many years ago there was living a poet who was a man of most tender, affectionate, and beautiful character, but who was — the plain truth must be spoken — a victim of drink. And though' he was never able to conquer the habit, he yet wrote of himself on the fly-leaf of his Bible —
"When I received this volume small
My days were barely seventeen,
When it was hoped I should be all
Which once, alas! I might have been.
"And now my years are thirty-five,
And every mother hopes her lamb,
And every happy child alive,
May never be what now I am.
"Of what men are, and why they are
So weakly, woefully beguiled,
Much have I learnt, but better far,
I know my souls is reconciled."
Will any one stand by the grave of one who has thus fallen, even if in this life he has never wholly recovered, and say that he shall never inherit the kingdom of heaven? Without repentance, no: but will any man say that a repentance imperfect here — a repentance not so strong as wholly to conquer the awful physical craving — may not by God's mercy be consummated beyond the grave?
Some, similarly situated, knowing their own weakness, knowing the degradation into which sin has brought them, knowing the plague of their own hearts, have not dared to entertain such a hope respecting themselves. One of the greatest writers and deepest thinkers of the last generation, enslaved similarly by the spell of an artificial crave, said in the depth of his self-abasement, that he could positively welcome with rapture the doctrine that the could of man could cease to be. Yet will not mankind refuse to condemn so good a man to endless agonies? Will they not judge him more leniently than he dared to judge himself? Will they not believe that in this tenderness of judgment they do but reflect the mercy of the Merciful?
And is it then to make light of sin if we decline to believe that such as these, though they have not shown any visible repentance, have passed at the moment of death to an irreversible agony? We preach exactly what Scripture preaches — that sin is death; that the souls that sinneth it shall die; that we shall eat the fruit of our works; that both here and hereafter there is a punishment for the violation of God's laws; that such punishment is inevitable; that it works in the form of natural consequences; that the sinful souls so long as it loves its sin cannot see God. But we preach also the forgiveness of sins by the blood of Christ; and we believe that the seeds of true repentance may here be unripened, may to human eyes be invisible, and that yet they may be brought to perfection by God's love and mercy beyond the grave.
Now, I spoke of deaths like these when I spoke of dying "in a state of sin". I meant the deaths of those who die in the very midst of that ordinary life of men in which, as we see it in all the world around us, good and evil are not locked in deadly contest, but are lying down flat together, side by side. And do not let my question be met by a pretended indignation that such questions should be asked at all. For they have been asked a million times, and if we are to understand the ways of our God towards us, and towards those whom we love, we must not have two answers to them — one, an answer in terrible accordance with what men profess as their formal theology, and the other the natural voice of the best feelings of that human heart by which we live. Nor, again, let such questionings be met by vague facing-both-ways talk about God's "uncovenanted mercies", unless the possibility and the reality of these "uncovenanted mercies" be distinctly recognized as also forming a part of our belief. Let us not go on all our lives professing to teach one thing, and then, at the first touch of pressure, recoiling at once from our own conclusions. On this subject mankind will no longer be silenced by usurped authority, nor mocked by empty verbiage which "steers through the channel of no meaning, between the Scylla and Charybdis of yes and no".
Now Dr. Pusey is absolutely at one with me in refusing to say a word as to the irreversible doom to endless torments of those "who die in a state of sin", in such a sense of the words as I have here explained. In the Contemporary Review*(1), in language as careful as I could make it, I stated the essence of my view as consisting in the doctrine "that, even if, in the short space of human life, the soul have not yet been weaned from sin, there may be a hope of recovery, a possibility of amendment, if not after the Last Judgment, yet at least in some disembodied condition beyond the grave". I can see no perceptible difference between this view and what Dr. Pusey says, that "a change in the soul, which would be short of the change between rejecting God and accepting Him, might be believed by any one who yet believes in the everlasting loss of those who finally rejected Him."*(2)
*(1) xxxii. P. 571
*(2) What is of Faith, p. 27.
Dr. Pusey here states his belief, which is, of course, mine also, for it is that of the Church Catholic, that there is an Intermediate State; and that God's dealings with the soul do not end with this life, but continue during that Intermediate State. He holds that many who die imperfect, unvictorious, undelivered as yet from the chain of even grievous sins, do not at death pass irreversibly to an endless state even of loss, much less of torment — but that they are prepared for admission hereafter into life and blessedness.
But how does he arrive at this conclusion? I will confess that I read these pages of his book with surprise. He holds with Dr. Newman (and I am most willing to accept the view), that "there are innumerable degrees of grace and sanctity among the saved", and that many who "die and make no sign", may yet "die, one and all, with the presence of God's grace and the earnest of eternal life, however invisible to man, already in their hearts".*(1) But to show why the Church has never sanctioned any dogma as to the doom of the vast majority of mankind, he dwells on the possibility that they may have faith and repentance, though we know it not.
*(1) Id. p. 12.
"How do we or can we know," he asks, "what souls do not die in a state of grace?" Well, I should be deeply thankful to be permitted to believe, in thousands of cases, that a sinner died "in a state of grace," although no sign of it was visible; but then it can only be said that "a state of grace" must to human eyes look perilously like "a state of sin".
Dr. Pusey, for instance, supposes that there may be repentance, and therefore salvation, even in the case of one dying in the commission of a deadly sin. He speaks of one mortally wounded in a duel; of an unbeliever "who had lately been inculcating unbelief, and who rose up from an adulteress' bed to fall back and die in the arms of the adultress".*(1) He speaks of the possible repentance of Ahab, of Absalom, of Solomon. He says that "we know not whether it was an agony of remorse and repentance by which Ananias died, and so was saved, though the temporal judgment of God was irreversible". He speaks of the possible repentance of Nebuchadnezzar, of Antiochus Epiphanes, "picture as he is of the Anti-Christ". He speaks of some woman who was a drunkard, a liar, a murderess, and yet to whom, though she died on the scaffold, "God threw open the portals of mercy for eternity".*(2) He tells of the evangelical clergyman of the very large parish of Wolverhampton, who said that he had never repeated, in the Burial Service, the words "as our hope is that this our brother doth", without having some measure of hope; though this view of death-bed repentance — "of what God might do for the soul in these last moments, even when it would hold communication with none but Him" — was entirely unknown to him. He quotes Pere Ravignan as saying that "In the soul, at the last moment of its passage, on the threshold of eternity, there occur, doubtless, Divine mysteries of justice, but above all, of mercy and love"; and he himself uses the remarkable words, "What God does for the soul when the eye is turned up in death and shrouded, the frame stiffened, every limb motionless, every power of expression gone, is one of the secrets of the Divine compassion".
*(1) Id. p. 12
*(2) Id. p. 15
I confess that I should not myself use this language; that I should not myself lay stress on the possibility of the whole work of grace being thus accomplished in the soul — as in the case of the adulterer and the murderer — in the last agonies of death. God can indeed "in a short time fulfil a long time"*(1), and Christ, in His great mercy, has indeed given us the record of what He said to the dying robber on the cross; but it is the only instance in all those long millenniums which Scripture affords us of the efficacy of a death-bed repentance — one that we might not despair; one only, that we might not presume. "We know not what God may do in one agony of loving penitence for one who accepts His last grace in that almost sacrament of death".*(2) Men have always clung to this hope, and have told such legends as the famous one about —
"Between the saddle and the ground
I mercy sought and mercy found."
Few passages in Dante are better known that in the Purgatorio, in which he makes Buonconte narrate his death: -
"I am Buonconte, once of Montefeltro.
I came, I was sore wounded in the throat,
Flying on foot, and bloodying the plain,
I lost the power of sight here, and my voice
Died with the name of Mary: on that spot
I fell, and all alone my body lay.
God's angel seized on me, and he of hell
Cried out, O thou of Heaven, why dost thou rob me?
Thou claimest to bear off his part eternal,
For one small tear which rescues him from me."*(3)
*(1) Wisd. iv. 13.
*(2) Dr. Pusey, Eirenicon, p. 193.
*(3) Purgatory, v. st. 33-35 (as translated by F. Pollok). The original is: -
"Io fui di Montefeltro, io son Buonconte
Arrivo io forato nella gola,
Fuggendo a piede, e sanguinando il piano,
Quivi perdei la vista, e la parola,
Nel nome del Maria, fini e quivi,
Caddi, e rimasse la mia carne sola.
L'Angel di Dio mi prese, e quell d'Inferno
Gridava: O tu dal ciel perche' mi privi?
Tu te ne porte di costui l'eterno,
Per una lagrimetta che 'l mi toglie."
But is it not somewhat strange — does it accord with all that we have heard from childhood about the futility of hoping for a change at death — to make this possibility the turning-point of an argument to show why the Church has never taught the perdition of the majority? Can we seriously suppose that it is "per una lagrimetta", and one cry uttered at the last gasp that the majority are to be saved?
*(1) Discourse of Purgatory, p. 35. The italics are in the original. See, too, Bishop Jeremy Taylor's sermon on The Inefficacy of a Deathbed Repentance.
"Repentance", says Archbishop Wake*(1), "cannot be true, except there be a true love of God, and an utter detestation of sin, and a hearty contrition that we have ever committed it, and steadfast resolution never to fall any more into it, and then improved in actual sincere endeavour, what in us lies, to abound in good works, and fulfil that duty which God requires of us".
While, then, I should be far from denying the merciful supposition of this possible repentance in any human being, even when there has been no true outward sign of it, the grounds on which I should shrink from ever conjecturing the doom of any individual sinner, would not be this possibility, but rather the more general grounds of hope that there is an intermediate state between death and judgment; that there the sinful and stained souls may be prepared for better things; that the "pain of loss", even of endless loss, may be mitigated into something like submissive contentment; that God's thoughts are not as our thoughts, nor His ways as our ways; that the Lord will not always chide, neither keepeth He His anger for ever; that "He will not contend for ever, neither will He be always wroth, for the spirit would fail before Him, and the souls which He has made".*(1)
*(1) Is. lvii. 16.
Of the destiny of the good and holy souls no Christian has any doubt.
Of the destiny of souls hideously wicked, abominably base, abnormally depraved — of the very few men who have shown themselves to be beast-like in their degradation, or fiend-like in their cruelty — we can say nothing. Respecting such, Hope itself must at least be silent and lay her hand upon her lip. They are those of whom Pagans and Christians alike spoke as "incurable";*(1) only, even here, Olympiodorus the commentator upon Plato, did not shrink from saying, that though incurable in themselves, "they may conceivably become curable by some external impulse."*(2)
*(1) tou s katalambanomenou s en th aniaty kakia. - ORIG. C. Cels. viii. p. 403. oi d an ta escata adikhswsi kai dia toiauta adikhmata aniatoi genwntai, ek toutwn ta paradeigmata gignetai kai outoi men ouket oninantai, ate aniatoi
onte s . PLAT. Gorg. 171.
*(2) w s eterokinhtoi swzontai in Plat. Gorg. l. c.
Our question, however, does not concern either the holy or the absolutely depraved. It concerns the destiny of the base multitude, the overwhelming majority. They are not saint-like, but very imperfect and sinful; yet they are by no means wholly evil; by no means without sweet affections, and generous impulses, and noble qualities. They have not loved evil, or sold themselves to it. It might even be said to the Evil Spirit respecting them —
"Und steh' beschamt, wenn Du bekennen musst:
Ein gutter Mensch in seinem dunkeln Drange
Ist sich des rechten Weges wohl bewusst."
What shall be the fate of these intermediate natures?*(1) They are not undefiled in the way; they have not walked wholly in the Law of the Lord; their repentance has not been perfect; their very tears have needed washing. They are not in such a state that they can enter at once into the purity and peace of Heaven. There are in them elements of untruthfulness, and lukewarmness, and self-seeking and mammon-worship, and impurity which would cast a shadow on the streets of the New Jerusalem; and they have been cut off suddenly in the very midst of their days. What will be "their own place" beyond the grave?
*(1) oi men an doxwsi mesw s bebiwkenai, respecting whom Plato says that they are absolved by torments. kai ekei oikousi te kai kaqairomenoi twn te adikhmatwn didonte s. - EUSEB. Praep. Evang. xi. 38.
a. Some perhaps will say that, since they are not of the number of the Saints of God, since they have not been holy men, they will first suffer, and then be annihilated.
b. Some will say that having been born in sin, and having died in sin, they are destined to endless existence in misery of mind and body — "an existence the duration of which would be only commencing when it had lasted through a number of millenniums, denoted by lines of figures as numerous as the vibrating beams of light which extend from all the suns and stars of the firmament into the infinite darkness, even if these innumerable lines of figures should be multiplied into each other." And surely "this is a proposition which requires for its support something more solid than a few disputed 'texts' out of the English version, and which nothing short of absolute demonstration ought to persuade any man to embrace as from God."*(1) There are thousands of men — men devout and learned — men of holy and humble heart — who have declared after life-long search that for them such demonstration is not to be found.
*(1) Rev. E. White, Life and Death, p. 35.
c. The Roman Church would answer that such souls pass into Purgatory. They would say with the Catechism of the Council of Trent "that there is a purgatory fire, in which the souls of the faithful" [and those of whom I have spoken, if they had lived and died in the rites of the Church, would not, I imagine, be excluded from the number of "the faithful"] "being tormented for a certain time, are expiated, that so a passage may be opened for these into their eternal country, into which no defiled thing can enter". Among Romish Christians it is not a matter of faith where Purgatory is; nor whether its pains are material or immaterial; nor how long souls are there detained; but solely whether "there is a state of the dead, in which they shall be expiated by 'Temporary' punishment, and from which they may be freed or otherwise helped by the prayers of the Church".*(1)
*(1) Alex. Natalis. iv. 41.
The mass of ordinary teachers, judging by their sermons and pamphlets, would, with terrible deliberateness, adopt the second of these views — namely, that such souls pass to an endless hell, and that too without the shadow of any possible mitigation.
But what would be the answer of many English Churchmen who claim to speak with the authority of competent thought and competent knowledge? Would it not be that though they cannot accept the Romish doctrine of purgatory with the admixture of all the conceptions which the word connotes*(1); though that doctrine is altogether too rigidly defined to admit of proof from revelation; though the "probatory fire" of which the earlier Fathers speak is rather the fire through which it was believed that all would pass at the Judgment Day than what the Roman Church usually understands by the fire of Purgatory; yet that in the Intermediate State the condition of the souls of all except the absolutely reprobate admits of progress and improvement. While, therefore, we are not warranted in asserting that any fresh probation will be offered, or that the soul will have new trial-time, we are permitted to hope that God's mercy may reach them there, as it reaches many here, and that "man's destiny ends not with the grave."
*(1) Romanists themselves were perfectly aware of the necessity for excluding these base admixtures. The decree on the subject passed in the twenty-fifth session of the Council of Tent expressly bids the bishops to banish from popular discourses "the more difficult and subtle questions, and those which do not conduce to edification, and from which often there is no increase of piety. Moreover, it says, "they do not permit uncertain matters, or those which have the appearance of falsity, to be published or handled. But those which tend to curiosity and superstition, or savour of base gain, let them prohibit as the scandal and offence of the faithful." It would have been well if the spirit of these wise cautions had exercised a deeper influence on Christian Eschatology.
Such an answer may be called vague, but it is only vague as on this subject the teachings of Scripture are themselves vague. It is therefore vague only from a feeling of humility and reverence. We do not wish to invade the regions which for some good purpose have been left mysterious and undefined. I, for one, have never wished to dogmatize on points respecting which there have been opinions so widely differing among Christian men. Nay, it has been my sole wish to repudiate as unwarrantable that popular dogmatism of which I have given many specimens, and which goes far beyond what is warranted by the true and sober interpretation of Scripture; far beyond what is required by the teaching of the Church.
It would have been better if religious teachers, from Augustine downwards, had imitated the deep reserve and reticence of the sacred writers, who would not speak when God was silent. It would have been better if St. Gregory the Great had never entered into the descriptions and speculations respecting Purgatory which have been subsequently reflected in so many thousands of books and sermons. Even in the little which Scripture does say respecting the state of the dead we are met by those apparently insoluble antinomies which meet us also in other regions of doctrine when they touch on transcendental truth; and these antinomies, joined with the awful silence of the dead, which God as not suffered to be broken during all these long millenniums, should be sufficient to warn us not to speak with coarse description, and rash dogma, and unwarranted detail on a theme respecting which the Church has said very little in her creeds and formularies. In dealing with the state of the dead she has confined herself ot the most general principles, and she has not attempted to come to any rigid decision on opinions in which unanimity is impossible. The necessary truths on which she insists are few; in things doubtful she has left us at liberty; in all things she calls for charity.
*** END OF CHAPTER VI ***