Popular theology, it is sometimes said, seriously misunderstands and misinterprets Jesus. And so far as the theology of the future life is concerned there need be no hesitation in admitting that, not unfrequently, it has been disfigured by an almost grotesque literalism. The pulpit has often forgotten that over-statement is always a blunder, and that any attempt to imagine the wholly unimaginable is most likely to end in defeating our own intentions and in dissipating, rather than reinforcing, our sense of the tremendous realities of which Christ spoke. Nevertheless, much as theology may have erred in the form of its teaching concerning the future, its great central ideas have always been derived direct from Christ. It has not, we know, always made its appeal to what is highest in man; it has sometimes spoken of “heaven” and “hell” in a fashion that has left heart and conscience wholly untouched; nevertheless, the time has not yet come—until men cease to believe in Christ, the time never will have come—for banishing these words from our vocabulary. Unless Christ were both a deceiver and deceived, they represent realities as abiding as God and the soul, realities towards which it behoves every man of us to discover how he stands. In the teaching of Jesus, no less than in the teaching of popular theology, the future has a bright side and it has a dark side; there is a heaven and there is a hell.
That there is a life beyond this life, that death does not end all, is of course always assumed in the teaching of Jesus. But it is much more than this that we desire to know. What kind of a life is it? What are its conditions? How is it related to the present life? What is the “glory” into which, as we believe, “the souls of believers at their death do immediately pass”? Perhaps our first impression, as we search the New Testament for an answer to our questions, is one of disappointment; there is so much that still remains unrevealed. We do indeed read of dead men raised to life again by the power of God, but of the awful and unimaginable experiences through which they passed not a word is told.
“‘Where wert thou,
brother, those four days?’
There lives no record of reply.
. . . . .
Behold a man raised up by Christ!
The rest remaineth unreveal’d;
He told it not; or something seal’d
The lips of that Evangelist.”
How much even Christ Himself has left untold! At His incarnation, and again at His resurrection, He came forth from that world into which we all must pass; yet how few were His words concerning it, how little able we still are to picture it! Nevertheless, if He has not told us all, He has told us enough. Let us recall some of His words.
He spoke of “everlasting habitations”—“eternal tabernacles”—into which men should be received. Here we are as pilgrims and sojourners, dwelling in a land not our own.