John Calvin in his own characteristic manner speaks of this doctrine as “the error entertained by some unskillful persons who ignorantly imagine that in the interval between death and the judgment the soul sleeps,” an “absurd dogma of babblers,” and a “madness which should be severely repressed.” It concerns itself with the intermediate state, which is, as Calvin puts it, the interval between death and judgment, between our departure from this life and the consummation of all things in the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The presentation of this theory is simple enough. The soul of man, either that of the righteous or that of the wicked, does not enter at once into its eternal destination. The godly do not enter immediately upon death into active conscious life and glory with God, nor do the wicked enter at once into conscious torment. The spirits of both continue in a state of sleep, of unconscious repose, of spiritual insensibility until the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to judge the quick and the dead and to make all things new. According to many there is also an intermediate place, where till the souls of all the dead thus slumber together until awakened in the day of the Lord Jesus.

For this fantastic theory, which, according to Calvin, originated with the Arabs and has since found its adherents throughout the ages, a variety of proofs is presented. 1) Men reason that there can be no conscious, active life apart from the body. The soul in its conscious activity is simply dependent on the brain, and if the latter is destroyed the former cannot function. Think of the change effected in our soul life by sleep. The moment the body falls asleep all consciousness is at a standstill, and although there remains a subconscious activity of the soul, all perception ceases and mind and will cease to function normally and orderly. And in sleep man is still alive and all contact with the world of things is still unbroken. How much the more will the spirit of man cease to function actively and consciously when death enters to sever all contact with the world of things until the day of resurrection. 2) Does not Scripture itself repeatedly speak of death as a sleep? “And the Lord said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers;. . . .” Deut. 31:16. To the Jews in the home of Jairus the Lord says, “Give place: for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth.” Matt. 9:24. Concerning (Lazarus Jesus says to His disciples, “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth, but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.” John 11:11. Jesus is called “the first fruits of them that slept.” I Cor. 15:20, and Paul would not have us to be ignorant “concerning them which are asleep.” I Thess. 4:13. Listen to Job as he complains, “As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up: So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.” Job 14:11, 12. 3) In numerous other passages Scripture, although it does not use the word “sleep,” certainly teaches us that the dead are unconscious. “For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?” Ps. 6:5. “The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence.” Ps. 115:17. “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” Ps. 146:4. 4) Holy Writ repeatedly speaks of death as the descent into Sheol (Hades in the New Testament), and Sheol is the land of silence, of rest, of forgetfulness, where man has no part in all that takes place under the sun. It is the dreary abode of the shades, wherein both the righteous and the ungodly enter at death. It is the realm of unconsciousness and inactivity to which all alike descend and which all the dead have in common, the hazy region of the dead. 5) According to the Word of God the eternal destinies of all men will be determined by a final judgment, a single judgment which will render to all their just rewards, to the godly everlasting life, to the wicked eternal desolation. Before that day there can be no blessedness on the one hand or punishment on the other. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” 2 Cor. 5:10. Hence, the soul cannot enter into its destiny, either Ito rejoice or weep forever, immediately at death. 6) Finally, several individuals have been raised from the dead in the Old Testament and by our Lord Jesus Himself, but none had any account to give of their experiences in the realm of the dead. It seems plain that the interval between death and their return to life was spent in complete insensibility.

Let us now consider these proofs in the order in which they were given. 1) It is true that there can be no consciousness in this life apart from the body and the physical brain; that at present all consciousness and activity are dependent on my nature as it now is. Does this mean that God cannot provide in any other way? That I cannot be conscious here without the brain does not imply that this is also impossible in the life to come. 2) It is true that Scripture refers frequently to death as a sleep. However, this does not refer to the spirit with relation to the things to come. In that case how could Job say, “They shall lie down (sleep) alike in the dust, and the worms shall cover them.” Job 21:26? The worms shall cover their spirits in the intermediate state and place? No, the reference is to man’s present body. In death the child of God lays down his head, closes his eyes and departs all that pertains to this present life in the hope of being resurrected to eternal life in the glorious day of our Savior. Therefore his death is called a “sleep,” and therefore Scripture applies this figure to the death of the Christian only. 3) There are passages in Holy Writ which present the dead as unconscious. However, in each case Scripture intends to stress the point that in the state of death man cannot partake of the activities of this world. The viewpoint in this life, not he life to ‘come. Thus there is in death no remembrance of God and thus his thoughts perish in that very day. 4) Likewise Sheol (Hades) is the place of the dead, the land of silence and forgetfulness from our earthly point of view. It is the realm of the dead in distinction from this present life, where man, the righteous as well as the wicked, is cut off from all that is related to this earth and from all earthly communion and contact. However, from the viewpoint of the eternal state of the dead Sheol is distinguished in two: the state of glory and eternal life, which is “Paradise,” and the state of suffering and eternal punishment, which is “Gehenna.” Therefore the Old Testament Scriptures can speak of the descent of the wicked into Sheol as something exceedingly dreadful. It is the place of destruction. “Sheol is naked before him, and destruction hath no covering.” Job 26:6. There burns the fierce wrath of Jehovah. And therefore there is joy for the righteous, even in the face of death. For them the descent into Sheol means the entrance into everlasting glory. Therefore also the Old Testament, although it has a word for heaven, has no special word for hell. Sheol, for the wicked, is hell. 5) It is true, that the eternal destiny of all men is determined in the way of judgment. Also, there will be a final judgment, in which all men will appear, the justice of God will be revealed, in the presence of every creature and every man’s reward will be announced publicly. That judgment will lead to the consummation of all things. However, God always judges man; wherefore all are ready to receive the reward of their works the moment they depart this life. 6) Finally, it is true that none of those raised from the dead had aught to tell of their experiences, but at best this is merely an argument from silence. In the light of all Scripture teaches this is no argument whatever. Some suggest that these individuals were not permitted to tell about the things they had seen. Others feel that an account of heavenly things would have been impossible in human language. We prefer to believe, that in view of the fact that they were to be raised, God did keep them in a state of unconsciousness until the moment of their return to this life. Whatever be the solution, it is certain that no argument can at any time be based on silence.

It is plain, therefore, that this theory is indeed an “absurd dogma of babblers” which finds no support whatever in the Word of God. Clearly Scripture teaches the very opposite. True, God’s Word speaks comparatively little about the intermediate state. That is particularly true with respect to the wicked. Rather does it direct our attention to the end of all things, to that full salvation which shall be our portion in the consummation of the ages. This does not mean, however, that Scripture leaves us in the dark with respect to the question: What is the present state of those who have passed on? The wicked open their eyes in eternal torment. They are in misery the moment they depart from this life. The rich man opened his eyes in hell, where his state, fixed forever, is one of conscious misery. The righteous on the other hand, are in perfect bliss the moment they depart from this life. Therefore they are “willing rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” 2 Cor. 5:8. Therefore Paul considers it “far better to depart, and to be with Christ.” Phil. 1:23. Therefore Jesus can assure the malefactor on the cross, “Today thou shalt be with Me in ParadiseLuke 23:43. Therefore we rejoice that God has appointed us “to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.” I Thess. 5:9, 10. The moment the Christian breathes his last the blessed light and life of the eternal day, not the shades of night and insensibility, envelop him,—forever.