Results tagged “Hell” from Reformation21 Blog

The Missing Message

|
While preparing talks for a forthcoming Reformation Conference, I happened across Heiko Oberman's outstanding 1961 Theology Today lecture, "Preaching and the Word in the Reformation," in which he set down what he believed to have been the three most important aspects of the preaching among the Reformers: (1) the sermon as apocalyptic event; (2) the sermon as corporate act of worship; and (3) the relation of the written and the spoken Word of God. It is the first of these to which I wish to give further consideration. 

After dispelling the myth that preaching had disappeared prior to the Reformation, Oberman suggested that one of the things that was unique about the preaching of the Reformers was that it was an apocalyptic event, in which "the sermon...absorbed the medieval sacrament of penance." What the Roman Catholic Church had taken out of the preaching of the Gospel and put into the hands of the priests, the Reformers took out of the hands of the priests and put it back into the preaching of the Word and Gospel. The Reformers believed that in the true preaching of the Gospel the eternal realties of Heaven and Hell come breaking into time and space, by which the hearers are confronted by God. As sinners are confronted with their sin and the holiness of God, they are brought before the Divine tribunal in order to show them the need they have for redemption and forgiveness.  

Moving on from the confrontation of the word, Oberman insisted that "the function of the sermon is to provide proper doctrinal information especially as regards the first and second advent of Jesus Christ." The preaching of Christ is central to the preaching of the Reformation because, as the Reformers understood, "the sermon does not inspire good inclinations, but moves the doors of Heaven and Hell." Oberman summed up this aspect of Reformation preaching when he acquiesced with the essence of pietistic preaching: "Where the Word is preached and man encounters Christ, he is forced to answer 'Yes' or 'No.'" Since all of these things are so, we must understand that true preaching is, "God's last word, to which no syllable will be added." Oberman brought his thoughts on the apocalyptic nature of preaching to a close by explaining how the true preaching of the word brings assurance to believers. He wrote:

For this reason the Reformation could preach the certitudo salutisthe certainty of salvation, because he who will judge us is the same who fulfilled the law. In the words of Calvin: "When a Christian looks into himself he finds cause to be afraid or even to despair...[But] he will win a sure hope of eternal perseverance when he considers that he belongs to Him who cannot fall or fail." It gives pause to realize that this message which proved to lend the Reformation movement its reconciling and liberating power has virtually disappeared from the Protestant pulpit.

Here, two things stand out to me as being of prime importance. First, only the preaching of the Reformation can hold forth the assurance of salvation. The greatest of all differences between the preaching of Rome and the preaching of the Reformation lies in this: "the Reformation could preach the...certainty of salvation, because he who will judge us is the same who fulfilled the law." If that aspect of preaching is missing from our churches then we will never hold out to despairing sinners the peace for which their souls so desperately long. 

Second, Oberman made the sobering observation that "this message...has virtually disappeared from the Protestant pulpit." While recognizing that he was referring to the mainline Protestant churches of his day (which were, incidentally, at their heyday in the 1960's), we must also recognize that the same can be said of so many churches in our own day. Rome continues to be void of this all-important aspect of preaching. Liberal Protestant churches maintain the strongest possible distaste for it. Most concerning of all, however, is the realization that the better part of self-professed evangelical churches have abandoned the preaching of the Reformation. From the pulpit, churches that claim affinity with the Reformation are proving themselves to be virtually antithetical to the Reformers. In so many churches in our day, the psychological and social are trumpeted instead of Heaven and Hell, the court of public opinion rather than the Divine tribunal and a sophisticated call to self-atonement through humanitarianism rather than forgiveness of sins through the atoning death of Jesus. We should be appalled at the paltry nature of what flies under the name of preaching today. We should long for preaching that brings men and women before the eternal tribunal, that sets out Jesus Christ in His saving fulness and that calls sinners to respond to Him in faith and repentance. It is then, and only then, that we will know the same "reconciling and liberating power" that was heard and felt in the days of the Reformers. 

Of the twelve affirmations that constitute the Apostles' Creed -- perhaps the most regularly recited statement of basic Christian doctrine in the western Church of the last 1500 years -- none has caused greater uncertainty and debate over the centuries than that declaring that Jesus Christ "descended into hell." This affirmation, wedged between assertions that Christ "was crucified, died, and buried" and "rose again" on "the third day," received fundamentally different interpretations by Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians of the Reformation era. The sixteenth-century Roman Catholic Church staked out its understanding of this affirmation in the Catechism of Trent, suggesting it named Christ's visit not to "hell strictly so-called," but to that "limbo" where "the souls of the just before the coming of Christ the Lord were received, and where, without experiencing any sort of pain... they enjoyed peaceful repose." Christ, according to Rome, spent the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday -- "Holy Saturday" as it is sometimes called -- in this limbo, freeing the souls therein to enter into heavenly bliss.

The (arguably) inherent ambiguity of the Creed's claim regarding Christ's descent into hell, coupled with Rome's rather speculative interpretation of the same (itself rooted in late-medieval Christian thought which, without clear biblical warrant, added purgatory and several limbos to heaven and hell in the landscape of the afterlife), has caused (even) some Reformed churches to revise the Creed's affirmation to something less confusing (namely, "he descended into the grave"), or to omit the phrase entirely.

John Calvin strongly warned against such tampering with the Creed, even before there were many noteworthy efforts to do so. "We ought not to omit [Christ's] descent into hell," the Reformer warned, calling that descent "a matter of no small moment in bringing about [our] redemption." Calvin was decidedly keen not to deprive (Reformed) believers of the opportunity to confess their faith in the very words that Christians for centuries before them had used. He was quite sure that, properly understood, there was nothing in the words of the Creed -- every last one of them -- to cause genuine believers alarm. "We have in [the Creed] a summary of our faith," Calvin wrote, "full and complete in all details, and containing nothing in it except what has been derived from the pure Word of God." Calvin was even more keen not to deprive believers of the opportunity, every time they recited the Creed, to reflect upon a very critical aspect of Christ's saving work which, in his judgment, is embodied in the affirmation in question: "If any persons have scruples about admitting this article into the Creed, it will soon be made plain how important it is to the sum of our redemption: if it is left out, much of the benefit of Christ's death will be lost."

Calvin denied that Christ's descent into hell merely named his descent into "a grave," thus simply repeating "in other words what had previously been said [in the Creed] of his burial." He argued, rather, that Christ's descent into hell complements the preceding clause which describes Christ's death, alerting us to the spiritual dimension -- the sustaining of God's wrath on behalf of our sin -- of Christ's suffering upon the cross. God incarnate, after all, did not merely undergo physical torment and physical death upon the cross. Indeed "if Christ had died only a bodily death, it would have been ineffectual [for our salvation]." Upon the cross, rather, Christ endured "the severity of God's vengeance, to appease his wrath and satisfy his just judgment." And this, according to Calvin, is precisely what the Creed's affirmation that Christ "descended into hell" describes. "Christ was put in [the] place of evildoers as surety and pledge -- submitting himself even as the accused -- to bear and suffer all the punishment that they ought to have sustained.... No wonder, then, if [Christ] is said to have descended into hell, for he suffered [there] the death that God in his wrath [has] inflicted upon the wicked!"

Calvin has a ready answer for those who find it strange to find this affirmation of Christ enduring hell on the cross situated subsequent to the affirmation that Christ "suffered, died, and was buried." He argues that the Creed's affirmation constitutes grammatical apposition -- a phenomenon where some noun or clause restates an immediately preceding noun or clause, but adds something to it. An instance of apposition is discovered in the sentence: "This is my daughter, Kaitrin." "Kaitrin" in that sentence (who, by the way, is my daughter, not Calvin's) renames or restates "daughter." Similarly, "he descended into hell" renames or restates what occurred when Christ "suffered" and "died," but fleshes out that preceding clause with rather significant detail. "The point," Calvin concludes, "is that the Creed sets forth what Christ suffered in the sight of men, and then appositely speaks of that invisible and incomprehensible judgment which he underwent in the sight of God in order that we might know not only that Christ's body was given as the price of our redemption, but that he paid a greater and more excellent price [by] suffering in his soul the terrible torments of a condemned and forsaken man."

No wonder, in short, that Calvin felt so strongly about retaining this affirmation of the Creed. Stripped of this affirmation, the Creed fails to speak meaningfully of what Christ actually suffered upon the cross, as his eternal Father -- in light of our sins imputed to Christ -- turned his back upon him. Indeed, provided we accept Calvin's interpretation of this Creedal statement, it becomes (arguably) the pivotal affirmation of the entire Creed, the hinge upon which our salvation turns, the basis of the remarkable benefits, subsequently listed in the Creed, that belong to us ("the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting").

Of course, it takes some effort to educate believers about what Christ's descent into hell actually entails. But thus educating believers is a far better option than revising the Creed or simply omitting a statement which admittedly requires explanation (and by explanation, I mean opportunity to instruct others in the meaning of the cross).

An examination of Christ's suffering upon the cross under the rubric of "hell" also stands, incidentally, to help us understand hell itself better. Hell, like every other created reality (or perversion of the same), can only properly be understood in relation to the Creator. Our own thinking about hell should begin, not end, with attention to Christ's endurance of it upon the cross. Such is the proper path towards a theological rather than physical or metaphysical understanding of hell. Such is the proper path, in other words, towards properly understanding the horrible fate, irrevocable estrangement from God, that awaits those who reject the grace of God that is offered to us in Christ Jesus.

In short, we should continue to confess that Christ "descended into hell" not only for the sake of catholicity (though certainly for that), but also in the interest of regularly affirming the profound reality of what Christ endured for us upon the cross. To steal and tweak a phrase from J. Gresham Machen, "I'm so thankful for Christ's descent into hell. No hope without it." Indeed, no description of Christ's person and work is complete without reference to the same -- reference, that is, in some form at least to the reality that Christ has suffered hell itself on behalf of his people.

Christ inhabited hell. But not, as Rome would have us believe, tomorrow in the liturgical calendar (Holy Saturday). He inhabited hell today (Good Friday), when he drank the cup of God's wrath against our sin to the very dregs, and so freed us from ever having to down a single drop of the same. Praise be to God for Christ's descent into hell.

Hell's Horrors vs. Heaven's Happiness (Updated)

|
Updated: response to Professor Helm below.

When we speak of grace, hell, heaven, etc., we must not merely speak in generalities, but as specific as the Scriptures allow us, which includes good and necessary consequences (Matt. 22:32). Someone may reference the horrors of hell or the happiness of heaven in a sermon but to little effect because they fail to explain why hell will be so horrible and heaven will be so happy. Even the popular idea that hell is "separation from God" is so misleading and wrong-headed that I'm amazed people still describe hell this way. It is quite the opposite: a God-hating sinner, who does not have a mediator, lives in the presence of a holy, righteous, and powerful God.

Christ spoke on hell more than anyone else in the Bible. But he did not merely talk about hell; rather, he also described hell (Matt. 10:28). The Scriptures don't just offer us generalities, but specifics. For example, consider the language of Luke 3:17, which ends by describing hell as an unquenchable fire. Elsewhere hell is described as a "fiery furnace" where there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 13:42). Moreover, hell is a lake of fire (Rev. 19:20), an eternal fire (Jude 7), outer darkness (Matt. 22:13), blackness of darkness forever (Jude 13), and a place where "their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched" (Mk. 9:44). 

What I want to do in this post is consider the torments of hell in relation to the joys of heaven from the perspective of "time." In doing this, we might be able to understand a little better the glories of heaven and the terrors of hell. True, hell is a punishment so great and heaven is a reward so wonderful that neither can be properly comprehended by our thoughts in this life. But how do we seek to join with Paul, for example, in persuading men because of the terrors of the Lord (2 Cor. 5:11)? Here is one way.

Time has a beginning and an ending for all creatures in this world. "Time began with the creature" is a truer statement than that which says, "The creature began with time" (Bavinck). Eternity, properly understood, belongs to God alone. The marks of eternity are: 1) there is no beginning; 2) there is no ending; and 3) there is no succession of moment. 

But Christians will receive "eternal" life (Jn. 5:24), and those who do not love the Lord Jesus with an undying love will receive "eternal" death (1 Cor. 16:22). There is another word used by Reformed theologians, going back to the Medieval tradition (e.g., Bonaventure), called "Aeviternity" (aeviternitas). Aeviternity has a beginning but no ending; it belongs to angels and humans. Eternity has no beginning, succession, or ending; it belongs to God alone (Ps. 90:2). This is an important distinction as we try to understand how our "eternity" differs from God's "eternity."

Some (e.g., Bavinck) have also distinguished between extrinsic time and intrinsic time. We measure the motion of the earth, the heavenly bodies, etc., according to extrinsic time. Extrinsic time will cease in eternity.

However, there is also intrinsic time. This refers to our existence by which events have a past, present, and future. All created beings live in the realm of intrinsic time, and we cannot escape the fact of intrinsic time because we are creatures. 

As we think about time in eternity, and the manner in which we comfort the godly and warn the ungodly, preachers should remind their hearers that in hell it will feel as though there is only time - "slow" time. In this world, when we suffer, time seems to stand still. Even waiting in traffic or in a doctor's office, time does not fly by. We become more sensitive to the seconds. This happens when listening to poor sermons, too. 

However, in heaven, because we resemble Christ, and because we shall have joy unspeakable, we shall have a far different response to intrinsic time than the person in hell. Time flies by when you're having fun: imagine how time will seem to evaporate in heaven because of the joy that awaits us. Or consider the difference between speaking to your mother-in-law on the phone compared to when you were first courting your wife. For us a "year" will feel like a "second" whereas for those in hell a "second" will feel like a "year."

Moreover, in connection with this, consider:

1) As we enjoy heaven, our joy can only increase, not decrease. Knowing that our joy will not end only heightens the joy we will experience at that moment. One sadness in experiencing a joyful moment in this world is knowing that the experience is likely to end or change (e.g., this Belgium beer is almost finished). Not so in heaven. There will be no end to our joys, which will therefore cause us more joy in each successive moment. 

2) But for those consigned to hell, their despair will only increase, not decrease. As the creature in hell realizes more and more that he or she is suffering forever, the despair of eternal judgment can only increase. Hope has utterly vanished. In our sufferings here on earth, we always have the promises of God to look to (Rom. 8:18, 28ff.). But those in hell have no promises, and thus no hope, but only increasing despair. 

According to Thomas Goodwin, in hell the wicked will despair, for the "wretched soul in hell...finds that it shall not outlive that misery, not yet can it find one space or moment of time of freedom and intermission, having for ever to do with him who is the living God." The wicked will despair because there is no end to the wrath of the living God. For that reason, there will be perfect fear, because wicked souls in hell will not only be tormented by what they experience in the present moment, but also by what they will experience forever.

The only response of the creature in hell will be to blaspheme God. And because the creature blasphemes God, there can be no end to his/her punishment. God's eternity, coupled with the sinners perpetual blasphemy against God demand an eternal place of torment. 

Therefore, the concept of ever-increasing despair for all eternity, whereby the creature damned to hell can do nothing else but blaspheme a living, eternal God, gives us all the reason in the world to persuade men and women, boys and girls, to put their faith in the one who experienced hellish despair on the cross (2 Cor. 5).

If you really believe in the cross of Christ, then you have to believe there is a hell. If you believe there is a hell, then you are beyond thankful there was a cross for Christ.  

--

I'm always happy to hear from my drinking buddy, Professor Helm. I think perhaps he reads a little too much into what I wrote. I actually (vigorously) stand with him on the society of resurrection bodies in heaven. "Solipsistic consciousness" is about the last thing I'd want to ever affirm about heaven, and still can't quite understand how my post lends itself to such an interpretation. What was my point? Simply this: Tasks in heaven will not feel "painful" - i.e., we will not suffer in our work or feel bored - because we are "cheerful laborers." 

Bavinck speaks of the "abundant and exuberant life of the cheerful laborer, for whom time barely exists and days fly by. From this perspective there is truth in the assertion that in hell there is no eternity but only time, and that the more a creature resembles God and is his image, the more he or she will rise above the imperfections of time and approach eternity." 

I expect to drink better (Belgium?) beer and better wine in heaven (alcoholic, of course), and I shouldn't at all be surprised if I have to actually make the wine myself in a vineyard. Without the curse (Gen. 3) on my labor, I expect both the wine-making and wine-drinking to be pure bliss! I also expect to enjoy the wine with my drinking buddy, and we'll both see how the time flies by. 

But, and let's not forget this: I was quite serious about the solemnity of hell. There is nothing entertaining about eternal perdition. 

Results tagged “Hell” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 33.2

|
ii. The end of God's appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of His mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fullness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord: but the wicked, who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power. (Matt. 25:31-46, Rom. 2:5-6, Rom. 9:22-23, Matt. 25:21, Acts 3:19, 2 Thess. 1:7-10).

There are three points that should be underlined in this section. First, this paragraph rightly and wisely connects the truth of the dual destinies of all of humanity with the glory of God. The biblical teaching of the final judgment has its ultimate and climactic goal in the truth and manifestation of the glory of God.

With respect to the glory of God, the Confession has consistently maintained that this glory is the rationale for all that takes place in history, and into eternity. "From Him, through Him and to Him are all things" (Rom. 11:36). This summary of all of creation is oftentimes not given its proper due in our thinking and living, and it will help us understand the final judgment if we remember its centrality. All things are what they are, ultimately, for the glory of God. This glory has two covenantally-connected aspects to it.

1. The glory of God is just who God is. That is, the character of God is itself His glory. When Moses asked God to show him His glory, the Lord explained to Moses that if his request were granted, he would perish. No one can see God's glory and live (see Ex. 33:18ff.). This glory of God, which is His incomprehensible and refulgent character, of course, fully and completely characterizes the three persons of the Trinity, in that each is fully God. But it is not something that mere humans can have or grasp or experience. He is the LORD and there is no other. He will not give His glory to another (Is. 42:8). To "glorify" God is to give Him His due weight; it is to ascribe to Him the proper praise because of who He is. This is what man, as image of God, was meant to do; we were/are meant to show God's character, in an "image" and derivative way. 

2. The covenantal condescension (WCF 7.1) of this triune God, however, includes the condescension of His glory. So, as God relates Himself to His creation, part of that relationship includes various manifestations of His glory, which is to say, manifestations of His majestic character. When Scripture tells us that "all things" are "from, through and to Him," what it is telling us, in part, is that all things are designed to show us something of God's resplendent and glorious character.

I know from teaching the "Doctrine of God" to seminary students that the centrality of God's glory is one of the most difficult truths for Christians to digest. It seems, more often, to provoke spiritual indigestion, rather than fruitfully to nourish Christian growth. But we will not be rid of our dysfunction and sin in our daily lives and in this world unless we learn joyfully to embrace this glorious truth. Everything in this world and beyond has God's glory, and not us, in view. Anything that happens to us, for us and in us is meant to point to that glory. It is not meant to point, in the first place, to us and our lives. (In light of this, re-read chapter 3 of the Confession and notice how the Confession in its explanation of God's eternal decree and meticulous sovereignty repeats the refrain, in various ways, of the "glory of God." We struggle with election to the extent that we neglect to center it on God's character, and attempt to focus it on man).

Since God's glory is a manifestation of His character, the final judgment, in its dual modality, shows us something of the glory of God; it shows us what God is like in His dealings with men. It shows us, as the Confession says, "the glory of His mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient."

This leads to our second point. Every person will acknowledge that the biblical teaching of eternal damnation brings grief. That is as it should be. God Himself takes no delight in the death of the wicked (Ez. 18:23, 33:11). Christ wept over Jerusalem because of their unwillingness to come to Him (Matt. 23:37; Luke 13:34). There is no delight that emanates from the triune God when men refuse to come to Him.

But we should not allow that grief to cloud the reality, and tempt us to pervert or distort it. We may not have all the information we would like to have about why God set the world in motion and providentially directed it the way that He did. We do know, however, that His judgments are inscrutable and His ways past finding out (Rom. 11:33ff.). If we lose the true, biblical focus on eternal damnation, therefore, we may be in danger of losing the God whose glorious justice is manifest in its reality.

There must, then, be a dual affirmation with respect to eternal damnation. We must rightly grieve its existence; its existence is a manifestation of all that opposes God and His character, and it is an ugly and abhorrent place, devoid of the mercy and grace of God. But we should not grieve that existence only because some we know may be there. That is tragic, and we "think God's thoughts after Him" when we take no delight in it. But the ultimate tragedy of it is that its existence is a testimony of those whose lives were set against the holiness of God's character, and who would not honor Him for who He is. The biblical focus of the tragedy, in other words, is the opposition to God that hell displays. With this focus, we should, in turn, learn to hate and despise that same opposition to the extent that its effects still remain in us.

This brings me to a third point, which itself is not explicit in the Confession, but is implicit, and which should at least be broached here, given its influence. Why can we not hold that those who die outside of Christ simply cease to exist? Why not affirm the doctrine of annihilationism? This doctrine is not only reserved for cults, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, but has found its way into some otherwise orthodox contexts as well.

Briefly, annihilationists argue that the orthodox view of everlasting punishment misreads Scripture, in at least two important areas. They argue, first of all, that the word eternal (aionios) is assumed to mean endless, though it really means (something like) "belonging to the age to come." "Eternal" refers, they think, to a quality, and not to longevity. Thus, "eternal punishment" (Matt. 25:46) does not mean eternally enduring punishment, but "the punishment of the age to come." The problem with this is that, while the term ainios is used in the New Testament in the context of the biblical distinction between the present age and the age to come, the "age to come" is by definition endless, endlessness being an essential element in its quality.

Annihilationists also argue that biblical terms such as perishing and destruction in Scripture should be taken for what they mean, i.e., the end of existence altogether. The problem with this is that Scripture uses those terms not as the end of existence, but as the disintegration of a previously constituted state or condition. So, for example, in Matt. 9:17, we see that men do not put new wine into old wineskins, or they will be destroyed. What is destroyed here is not the existence of wineskins, but their ability to function as intended. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 is of special interest in this connection. It speaks of being "punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord." But if destruction means complete and total annihilation: 1. the adjective "everlasting" serves no function whatsoever, and 2. "shut out from the presence of the Lord" loses its force, since the phrase naturally implies ongoing conscious existence. Paul is speaking here of the destruction that consists in being excluded from the presence of God. Instead of implying cessation of existence, therefore, the biblical terminology actually underlines its continuation (1)

It is the glory of God that rightly focuses our view of the final judgment. All that takes place on planet earth, all that takes place in our lives, has its terminus in that judgment, and its meaning in His glory. If you are in Christ as you read this, praise Him for His grace. If you are not, now is the favorable time, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2). 

Tomorrow we will finish with the third and final section of this chapter.

NOTES:
1. This section on annihilation is a slightly edited version of the "Appendix" in K. Scott Oliphint and Sinclair B. Ferguson, If I Should Die Before I Wake: What's Beyond This Life?, (UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2004).

Dr. Scott Oliphint is Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. His latest book is Covenantal Apologetics (Crossway, 2013).

Chapter 32

|
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 of 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. Beside these two places, for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledgeth none.

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 self-same bodies, and none other (although with different qualities), which shall be united again to their souls for ever.

iii. The bodies of the unjust shall, by the power of Christ, be raised to dishonour: the bodies of the just, by His Spirit, unto honour; and be made conformable to His own glorious body. 

The last two chapters of the Westminster Confession address the doctrine of the last things, or what theologians refer to as eschatology. WCF 32:1 clearly states that our souls are immortal. Our physical bodies "return to dust" and "see corruption," but our souls have an "immortal subsistence." It is very easy in our day to follow the conclusions of secular scientists and philosophers who assume that there is nothing beyond our physical bodies; according to them,  once we die we cease to exist. 

However, this is not what the Bible teaches. Though our physical bodies die, our souls continue to exist. This teaching should give us both comfort and a sober perspective on life in this world. When experiencing the wasting away of the outer man, as the Apostle Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 4:16, we have the hope that our inner man is being renewed and ultimately will not perish. Likewise, when looking at the world around us, we can have the proper Biblical perspective, which is neither overwhelmed by the material or physical limitations in the world, nor overly confident in what the world can provide. 

WCF 32:1 is also very direct in teaching us that after death our destination depends upon whether or not we have received by faith the righteousness of Christ. In other words, for Christians the blessing of holiness and being ushered into the presence of God is what awaits us after death. For the unbeliever, their soul is consigned to hell and the torments that accompany it. A few implications from this teaching:

1. After death there is no opportunity to receive the gift of salvation in Christ. The unbeliever's soul is in hell awaiting the final Day of Judgment.

2. This should instill urgency in us to preach the Gospel. The opportunity for salvation is now, and it is important for us remember that hell is real and that God's righteous judgment is impending.

3. We must continue to pray. Eternal condemnation is clearly what the Bible and the Confession teaches for those who die without Christ.

Before moving on to the next paragraph, it is worth pointing out two brief statements in paragraph one. First, the Confession is explicit that after death our souls do not "sleep." This statement denies a doctrine taught by some of the early Church Fathers that our souls sleep after death awaiting the return of Christ. Second, the Confession states, "besides these two places [going to Heaven and Hell], for souls separated from the body, the Scripture acknowledgeth none." The Roman Catholic Church teaches that after death all souls are held in purgatory. The Westminster Confession does not believe that the Bible teaches a doctrine of purgatory, where individuals continue their "purging" of sin. As was stated earlier, after death there is no further opportunity for salvation.

While after death our souls are separated from our bodies, according to WCF 32:2, on the last day our souls will be reunited "with the selfsame bodies ... forever." The disembodied state of the soul is only temporary; we were created to exist with a body and soul. Likewise those believers who are alive on the last day will have their bodies changed as well. The body that we receive on the last day will have "different qualities". In other words, that body will be suitable for an eternal existence without corruption or decay. Like Jesus Christ's resurrection body, believers will be given a body that is discernable and glorified.

For the unbeliever, the last day will include a reunion with their bodies as well. The unbeliever will be raised or resurrected to "dishonor" as the Confession states. This dishonor again is the punishment that awaits those whose sins have not been atoned for by the blood of God's eternal Son. 

When is the last day? The Bible does not give us a precise date and any speculation is just that - vain speculation. Instead we are to watch and pray. This is the great hope and encouragement for Christians throughout history. There will be a great resurrection at the triumphant and glorious return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

Dr. Jeffrey K. Jue is Stephen Tong associate professor of Reformed Theology and associate professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary.