The Confession of Faith: A commentary on The Westminster Confession of Faith
Of the State of Men after Death, and of the Resurrection of the Dead
SECTION I: The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption: but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them:  the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies. And the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day. Besides these two places, for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledgeth none.
1. Gen. 3:19; Acts 13:36
2. Luke 23:43; Eccl. 12:7
3. Heb. 12:23; II Cor. 5:1, 6, 8; Phil. 1:23; Acts 3:21; Eph. 4:10; Rom. 8:23
4. Luke 16:23-24; Acts 1:25; Jude 1:6-7; I Peter 3:19
This section teaches --
1. That man consists of two distinct elements, a soul and a body; and that death consists in their temporary separation.
2. That while the body is resolved into its constituent chemical elements, the soul of the believer is (1.) Immediately made perfect in holiness; (2.) During all the intermediate state, from death until the resurrection, continues conscious, active, and happy; and (3.) Is in the presence of Christ, who, after his ascension, sat down at the right hand of God.
3. That the souls of the wicked also continue, during this intermediate state, conscious and active, but in a state of penal torment, reserved to the judgment of the great day.
4. These conditions, though not final, are irreversible -- i.e., none of those with Christ will be ever lost, and none of those in torment will be ever saved.
5. The Scriptures afford no ground whatever for the Romish doctrine that there are other places or conditions occupied by deceased men than the two above mentioned.
1. The duality of human nature, as consisting of two separable elements -- a soul and a body -- having distinct and independent attributes and subsistence, is taken for granted and constantly implied in the language of Scripture. Thus God made the body out of the dust of the earth, and breathed into it the breath of life; "and so man became a living soul." Gen. ii. 7. Christ bids us not to "fear them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul." Matt. x. 28. And death is defined in Eccles. xii. 7, as a dissolution of the personal union of these two elements; for " then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it." In like manner Paul (2 Cor. v. 8; Phil. i. 22 -- 24) defines it as a departing, a being with Christ, a ceasing to abide in the flesh, a being absent from the body on the part of the conscious personal soul.
2. We know that when the soul leaves it the body is resolved into its original chemical elements, which are gradually incorporated with the shifting currents of matter on the surface of the Earth. The Scriptures teach us, however, that, in spite of this flux of their material constituents, the real identity of our bodies is preserved; and that, as members of Christ, all that is essential to them will be ultimately preserved and brought to a glorious resurrection.
As to the condition and location of the souls of men during the interval which elapses between the death of each individual and the general and simultaneous resurrection of the bodies of all, what the Scriptures teach us may be summed up under the following heads: --
(1.) The souls of both believers and the reprobate continue after death conscious and active, although they remain until the resurrection separate from their bodies.
(2.) The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness.
(3.) The souls of believers, thus perfected, are immediately introduced into the presence of Christ, and continue to enjoy bright revelations of God and the society of the holy angels.
(4.) The souls of the reprobate are at once introduced into the place provided for the devil and his angels, and continue in unutterable misery.
(5.) This state of both classes admits of no exchange or transfer, but their present condition is the commencement of an inevitable progression in opposite directions. Nevertheless, it is intermediate in the sense (a.) That the persons of men continue incomplete while their souls and bodies are separate. (b.) That neither the redemption of the saved nor the perdition of the lost has yet reached its final stage. (c.) That possibly in the case of the latter, and very probably in the case of the redeemed, the localities in which they are at present are not the same as those in which they are to dwell permanently after the final award.
(6.) As to the location of the place in which the souls of the reprobate suffer, the Scriptures give us no clue. In Jude, verse 6, it is said, "The angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day." In Matt. xxv. 41, the Judge at the last day says to those on the left hand, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." The rich man " lifted up his eyes in hell, being in torments," while his brethren were still alive on earth. Luke xvi. 23. But where these places are situated, and whether the locality of torment now is identical with the locality of torment after the judgment, no man can tell, because God has not revealed it. Of course, the terms "up" or "down," "under" or "above," applied to such a subject, must be simply metaphorical, and cannot indicate absolute direction when addressed promiscuously to the inhabitants of a revolving and rotating sphere.
(7.) As to the location of the place where the redeemed are now gathered, absolutely nothing is revealed, except that it is wherever the glorified humanity of Christ is. They are with him, and behold his glory. 2 Cor. v. 1 -- 8. See, also, all the scenes opened in the Apocalypse. And Christ, at his ascension, sat down at "the right hand of God," "the right hand of the Majesty on high." Mark xvi. 19; Rom. viii. 34; Heb. i. 3; x. 12, etc. This must be a locality, because, the humanity of Christ being finite, his presence marks a definite place; yet the phrase "right hand of God" evidently marks rather the condition of honor and power to which Christ is raised as mediatorial King. As to the location of the place in which Christ and his glorified spouse will hold their central home throughout eternity, a strong probability is raised that it will be our present Earth; first burned with fire and then gloriously replenished. See Rom. viii. 19 -- 23; 2 Pet. iii. 5 -- 13; Rev. xxi. l.
The proof of the main propositions above stated -- viz., that the intermediate state of souls is one of conscious activity, the redeemed being perfectly holy and happy with Christ, and the reprobate being with the devil and his angels in torment, and that these conditions are for ever irreversible -- can be better presented collectively than distributively. It is as follows: The reappearance of Samuel in a conscious state, in the use of all his faculties, at the call of Saul and the witch of Endor (1 Sam. xxviii. 7 -- 20); the appearance of Moses and Elias at the transfiguration of Christ on the mount (Matt. xvii. 3); Christ's address to the thief on the cross --" Today shalt thou be with me in paradise" (Luke xxiii. 43); the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke xvi. 23, 24) -- Lazarus is conscious and active in Abraham's bosom -- the rich man is in conscious torment in Hell (Hades), while his brethren are still living in the flesh. Of dying Stephen it is declared (Acts vii. 55 -- 59) that, being full of the Holy Ghost, he saw the heavens opened, and Jesus Christ standing at the right hand of God; and so seeing he cried, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," and so died.
In 2 Cor. v. 1 -- 8, Paul declares that to be " at home in the body" is to be "absent from the Lord;" and to be "absent from the body" is to the believer to be " present with the Lord:" and hence he says (in Phil. i. 21 -- 24) that for him "to die is gain," and that he was "in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and be with Christ; which is far better: nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you." In 1 Thess v. 10, Paul declares that the sleep of death is a "living together with Christ." In Eph. iii. 15, the Church is declared to be one whole family, of which at present part is in heaven and part on earth. In Heb. vi. 12 -- 20, it is declared that after Abraham (and other ancient saints) "had patiently endured, he obtained the promises;" which promises, we know, were in their true meaning spiritual and heavenly. In Acts i. 25, Judas is said to have gone "to his own place." In Jude 6, 7, the lost angels are said to be "reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." In Heb. xii. 23, the spirits of the just are represented as "made perfect," and happy with the angels in heaven. In Rev. vi. 9 -- 11, the souls of the martyrs are represented as under the altar in heaven, praying for the punishment of their former persecutors on earth, which of course must be before the resurrection. In Rev. v. 9; vii. 9; xiv. 1, 3, the souls of believers are represented as being now with Christ and the holy angels.
3. Our Standards declare that there is no foundation whatever, in Scripture, for the Romish doctrine as to the intermediate state of deceased men. The Papists hold that Hades or the under world embraces several distinct regions, to which different classes of human souls are destined: (1.) The souls of unbaptized infants go to the "Limbus Infantum," where they remain without suffering, and yet without the vision of God. (2.) Old Testament believers were gathered in the " Limbus Patrurm," where, without suffering, and yet without the vision of God, they remained the "spirits in prison," until Christ, during the three days he continued under the power of death, went and released them. 1 Pet. iii. 19, 20. (3.) All unbaptized adults, and those who have subsequently lost the grace of baptism, and die unreconciled to the Church, go immediately to the permanent Hell. (4.) All Christians who have attained a state of Christian perfection go immediately to Heaven. (5.) The great mass of partially sanctified Christians, dying in communion with the Church, still cumbered with imperfections, go to Purgatory. (Cat. Rom., pt. i., ch. vi.)
Concerning purgatory, the Council of Trent teaches -- (a.) That there is a purifying fire through which imperfect Christians must pass. (b.) That souls in purgatory may be benefited by the prayers and masses offered in their behalf on earth. (Counc. Trent, sess. xxv.)
This doctrine is false, because -- (1.) It is nowhere taught in Scripture. (2.) It is opposed to the teaching of Scripture as to the intermediate state, as above shown. (3.) It rests upon Anti-Christian principles as to the efficacy of the atonement of Christ, as to the sin-expiating and soul-purifying efficacy of temporary suffering, as to the sacrifice of the mass, and as to prayers for the dead, etc.
SECTION II: At the last day, such as are found alive shall not die, but be changed: and all the dead shall be raised up, with the selfsame bodies, and none other (although with different qualities), which shall be united again to their souls forever.
5. I Thess. 4:17; I Cor. 15: 51-52
6. John 5:25-29; Acts 24:15; Job 19:26-27; Dan. 12:2; I Cor. 15:42-44
SECTION III: The bodies of the unjust shall, by the power of Christ, be raised to dishonor: the bodies of the just, by his Spirit, unto honor; and be made conformable to his own glorious body.
7. Acts 24:15; John 5:25-29; I Cor. 15:43; Phil. 3:21
These sections teach --
1. That at the last day there will be a simultaneous resurrection of all the dead, both of the just and of the unjust.
2. That those who then remain living on the Earth shall not die, but be changed.
3. That the very same bodies that are buried in the earth shall be raised and reunited to their souls, their identity preserved, although their qualities will be changed.
4. That the bodies of believers shall be made like Christ's glorious body --" a spiritual body."
5. That the bodies of the reprobate shall be raised to dishonor.
1. At the last day there will be a simultaneous resurrection of all the dead, both of the just and the unjust: "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." Dan. xii. 2. "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." John v. 28, 29. The two classes are to be judged simultaneously, immediately after their resurrection, upon the second coining of the Lord. The sheep shall stand on the right side, and the goats upon the left. "And these shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal." Matt. xxv. 31-46; Rom. ii. 6 -- 16; 2 Thess. i. 6 -- 10; Rev. xx. 11 -- 15.
2. Those who are alive and remain unto the conning of the Lord shall not outstrip them which are asleep. " For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." 1 Thess. iv. 15 -- 17. " We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." 1 Cor. xv. 51, 52.
3. The very same bodies that are buried in the earth shall be raised and reunited to their souls -- their identity preserved, although their qualities are changed. This is explicitly declared in Scripture: " Our vile body is to be changed." Phil. iii. 21. " This corruptible is to put on incorruption." 1 Cor. xv. 53, 54. "A11 that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth." John v. 28. "They who are asleep, ...... the dead in Christ shall rise." 1 Thess. iv. 13 -- 17. Our bodies are now members of Christ, and they are to be raised in a manner analogous to his resurrection, which we know to have been of his identical body by the print of the nails and of the spear. It was seen and handled for the space of forty days in order to establish this very fact. Luke xxiv. 39; Acts i. 3; 1 Cor. xv. 4.
There are many changes in the material elements and form of the human body between birth and death, and yet no one can for a moment doubt that the body remains one and the same throughout all. There is no difficulty in believing, upon the authority of God's Word, that, in spite of the lapse of time and of all the changes, whether of matter or of form, it undergoes, the body of the resurrection will be in the same sense and to the same degree one with the body of death as the body of death is one with the body of birth.
4. These changes will doubtless be very great. The body of the believer is to be made " like unto Christ's glorious body." Phil. iii. 21. The body of man now is " an animal body "-- unhappily translated "a natural body" (1 Cor. xv. 44). It is suited to the present wants of man; to his present stage of development, intellectual, moral, social, and spiritual; and to the physical conditions of the world he inhabits. But "flesh and blood" -- bone, muscle, and nerve --" cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption." 1 Cor. xv. 50. But this shall be " changed; "-- not a new body substituted for the old, but the old changed into the new. As the seed gives birth to a new organism, so the corruptible will give birth to the incorruptible; for "there is an animal body, and there is a spiritual body." The spiritual body will be still material and identical with the body which was once animal: but it will be suited to the new wants of "the spirits of just men made perfect;" to their new stage of development, intellectual and spiritual; to their social relations; and to the physical conditions of the " new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." 2 Pet. iii. 12, 13.
5. The bodies of the reprobate shall be raised to dishonor. "All that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth,......they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." John v. 28, 29.