A Hope of the Saints

Not the hope of the saints.

The hope of the saints is the resurrection of their body in the day of Christ. To this future good the Holy Scriptures insistently direct the expectation of believers: “for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible” (I Cor. 15:52).

But a hope of the saints.

It is, to be sure, a lesser good than the resurrection of the body, but it is a real good for all that. Admittedly, it is not the ultimate longing of the child of God, but it is a definite longing nevertheless.

This is the hope of conscious life and glory with Christ in heaven at the moment of death. In the words of the Reformed confession, “my soul after this life shall be immediately taken up to Christ its head” (Heid. Cat., Q. 57).

Theology calls this saving work of Him who is the resurrection and the life upon each one of His dying people the “intermediate state,” or “individual eschatology.” Being with Christ in one’s soul is the home-life of the elect saint after death and before resurrection. It is the beginning for each believer personally of the glorious future that is rushing toward the church and the whole creation in the coming of Jesus Christ the Lord.

In the body, we die. In the body, we are laid in the grave. In the body, we sleep until the voice of our Savior and Lord awakens us, raising our body. In the soul, however, we live. In the soul, we are with Christ in heaven.

In the soul, we are wide awake to the love of God in Christ and to the splendors of heaven.

Although not our primary hope, the expectation of blissful life with Christ at death is a distinct, secondary hope. It is as urgent to us as death is a real possibility for us. This new year will bring death to some of us. It will bring many of us to the grave of one whom we love. Some who read the January 1, 1994 issue of this magazine were not to read this issue. It was comfort to them in their dying that they would be with Christ, as it was strength to their loved ones and fellow saints.

The Roman Catholic Church has always recognized the importance of this aspect of the hope afforded by the Protestant gospel of grace. Rome, therefore; curses all those who teach “that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in purgatory, before theentrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened to him” (Canon 30, “On Justification,” in “The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent”).

The explanation of the hope of being with Christ at death is not the natural goodness and inherent immortality of the human soul. It is certainly not the natural goodness and life of the soul in distinction from an intrinsic vileness and corruptibility of the body. The evidence is that the soul of the reprobate unbeliever does by no means live after death. Spiritually depraved and dead during the earthly life of the unbeliever, that soul dies eternally in the torments of hell immediately upon physical death (Luke 16:19-31). It exists everlastingly, but it is not immortal.

Even the soul of the believer does not naturally fly away to heaven at the moment of death, as if released now from the prison of an evil body. For one thing, the soul of the believer strains to maintain its mysteriously close connection with the body right up to the instant of death. God created man a unity of soul and body. The violent wrenching apart of man is the aspect of death from which all shrink. Even the apostle who could write in Philippians 1:23 that he preferred departing in death to abiding in the flesh admitted, “not for that we would be unclothed” (II Cor. 5:4). No one likes death. “Sweet death” is a lie. To the soul of the Christian, the body is not a miserable prison to be escaped, but a dear, familiar house to be clung to. No, souls of saints do not naturally and easily fly away.

Besides, the soul, though it knows the new life of the regenerated heart, is adapted for earthly life.

There is, in addition, the fact that the soul of the Christian is sinful. Of soul as of body is it true that there is in this life only a small beginning of the new obedience. Sinful souls do not naturally fly away to heaven.

The explanation of the Christian’s being with Christ in his or her soul immediately upon dying is resurrection. Christ Jesus raises the one who falls asleep in Him, raises him or her in his or her soul. At the instant of the death of the believer, Christ by His Spirit perfectly cleanses the soul, which, like the body, was defiled with sin, from its pollution. The Heidelberg Catechism describes this as the “abolishing of sin” (Q. 42). Also, the Spirit of Christ renews the soul, which is thoroughly earthy, so that it is now adapted to live the heavenly life. Christ, transforms the soul so that it is made like His glorious soul. He translates the believer, in his soul, into sinless, heavenly life and glory.

The Heidelberg Catechism expresses that the intermediate state is the beginning, the first stage, of the final resurrection of the Christian when, under the rubric of resurrection, it teaches that “my soul . . . shall be immediately taken up to Christ its head” (Q. 57). My soul will not naturally fly away to “worlds unknown.” It will be “taken up.” It will be taken up by Christ. It will be taken up in a work of resurrection. The transporting angels will play a definitely minor role.

I believe the resurrection of the soul, just as I believe the resurrection of the body.

Scripture explicitly describes the salvation of the believer in his soul at death as resurrection. Concerning the living and reigning with Christ in heaven of the souls of the martyrs, it is said that this is the “first resurrection” (Rev. 20:4, 5). The second resurrection will be the raising of their bodies at the time of the final judgment.

This is the legitimate, if secondary, hope of the believer.

It is not a foolish and false notion that has intruded itself into the faith of the Reformed churches from Greek philosophy. This is the charge that is being made. There is presently a campaign within Reformed circles to discredit the hope, the creedal hope, of the intermediate state in this way: Dutch Reformed preacher B. Telder wrote that the belief that God’s children go to heaven when they die is completely mistaken. This belief comes from the dualism of Greek philosophy which viewed man as composed of two parts, an immortal soul and its vile prison, the body. The truth, said Telder, speaking for a movement, is that death is total for the Christian. The entire man or woman is completely in the grave. There is no life with Christ whatever immediately after this life. The resurrection of the body is the sole hope of the believer (see B. Telder, Sterven . . . en Dan? Gaan de Kinderen Gods, wanneer Zij Sterven, naar d e Hemel?, Kampen, Kok, 1960; the English translation would be, Death . . . and Then What? Do the Children of God Go to Heaven When They Die?).

The belief that God’s children go to heaven when they die does not derive from Greek philosophy.

On the contrary, the unbelief in Reformed circles regarding the believer’s hope to be with Christ after death derives from unbiblical Dutch philosophy, the deadly dangerous philosophy of the Reformed thinkers, Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven.

Whoever challenges this description of this philosophy will be invited to discuss with me the doctrines and goings-on at the headquarters of Dooyeweerdian philosophy, the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto. We will begin with Professor H. Hart’s glowing introduction to homosexual Pim Pronk’s recent book,Against Nature? Types of Moral Argumentation regarding Homosexuality (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993).

The hope of going to heaven when we die comes from Christ and His apostles. Christ said to the dying evildoer who trusted in Him in the last moments of his otherwise totally wicked life, “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43)

The apostle of Christ wrote to every one of us who, in present affliction, is looking at the things that are unseen and eternal, that if our earthly house is dissolved we have, at that instant, a house in the heavens. Now at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord. When the moment comes, perhaps in A. D. 1995, that we must be absent from the body (strange and unsatisfactory condition!), we will be present to the Lord. And, if truth be told, we can find in ourselves to prefer this (II Cor. 4:14-5:10).

This message of hope is clear, incontrovertible, compelling. The interpretation that finds it necessary to explain this comforting message away is grotesque, whether Roman Catholic exegesis that wants the souls of the saints in the fires of purgatory or Dutch Reformed exegesis that wants the souls of the saints in the darkness and death of the grace.

Being with Christ immediately after this life is a message of hope that is grounded in the resurrection of the crucified Christ.

Death has been overcome for those who are in Christ.

In the body, we merely sleep.

In the soul, we begin to live immortal life.

Nothing in the year of the Lord 1995 will be able to separate us from the love of Christ.

Not even death.

—DJE