The Grace of Christ, or,
Sinners Saved by Unmerited Kindness

William S. Plumer, 1853

"We believe it is through the grace of our
 Lord Jesus that we are saved." Acts 15:11

The Happy State of God's People Immediately after Death

The Westminster Assembly taught that "the communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death, is in that their souls are then made perfect in holiness, and received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies, which even in death continue united to Christ, and rest in their graves as in their beds, until at the last day they be again united to their souls." This statement refers to both the souls and the bodies of believers.

First, the BODIES of believers see corruption. They return to the dust. Dissolution follows the separation of the body from the soul. Death passes upon them as fully as upon the bodies of the wicked. The death of God's people is a reality.

Secondly, death does not suspend, interrupt or impair the union which exists between Christ and believers, either their souls or their bodies. As Christ is the Savior of his people, at home and abroad, by day and by night, awake and asleep, so also in life and in death. The emphatic and beautiful language of Scripture is, that the bodies of the saints "sleep in Jesus." 1 Thess. 4:14.

Thirdly, so that there is nothing alarming or painful in the state of the bodies of the saints. If they sleep, they do well. They enter into peace. They rest in their beds. Isaiah 57:2. Though their sleep may be long, it will not be too long. It is indeed profound, but it is sweet. It shall have an end; for,

Fourthly, they are "waiting for the adoption, namely, the redemption of the body." Romans 8:23. This waiting is not irksome. The rest of the body is perfect, and the waiting here spoken of is a joyful expectation of the soul in glory. It looks for a reunion, and it shall surely take place. But on this point see the next chapter.

As to the SOULS of believers immediately after death, three things are asserted of them.

First, they are made perfect in holiness. So the Scriptures assert that then the spirits of just men are made perfect, that we shall be like Christ, and the church be presented glorious, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing. Heb. 12:23; 1 John 3:2; Eph. 5:27.

The second thing said of the souls of believers at death is, that they are received into the highest heavens. The Jews and others spoke of three heavens: first, the atmospheric heavens, the air; secondly, the starry heavens, where those bright orbs of light roll in silent grandeur; and shine to the glory of God; and thirdly, the blissful abode of angels and redeemed men, called by Paul the third heavens or paradise. 1 Cor 12:2, 4.

The third thing said of the righteous at death is that in heaven they behold the face of God in light and glory. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Matt. 5:8. "As for me, I will behold your face in righteousness." Psalm 17:15. To see God is to enjoy him. The Divinity, not incarnate, is not perceptible by any of our senses or faculties. God is the King eternal, immortal, and invisible. No man has seen God at any time. No man can see him and live. But all the holy creatures above do see the face of God in the person of Jesus Christ. "We shall see him as he is." 1 John 3:2. Now we see him "through a glass darkly, but then face to face." 1 Cor. 13:12. "And they shall see his face, and his name shall be in their foreheads." Rev. 22:4.

The Scriptures clearly reveal that the person of our Lord is in heaven. "It came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven." Luke 24:51. After his ascension the two angels said to his disciples, "You men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as you have seen him go into heaven." Acts 1:11. The heavens then have received "him until the times of restitution of all things." Acts 3:21. Paul says our great "High priest has passed into the heavens," (Heb. 4:14;) that he "is set on the right hand of the majesty in the heavens," (Heb. 8:1;) that Christ is entered "into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God foi us." Heb. 9:24. He "is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God." 1 Pet. 3:22. From Revelation 22:1, we are clearly taught that "the throne of God and of the Lamb" is the same. Indeed John says expressly that "in the midst of the throne, and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain." Rev. 5:6. Christ's glorified person is therefore incontestably proved to be in the highest heavens.

When Stephen saw the heavens opened, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and cried out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," was his prayer not answered? Who dare say it was not? What humble Christian of a child-like spirit ever doubted it? If Christ did receive it; he but fulfilled his promise, I will "receive you unto myself, that where I am, there you may be also." John 14:3. If he took Stephen to his bosom, he but fulfilled his own intercessory prayer: "Father, I will that they also whom you have given me be with me, that they may behold my glory which you have given me." John 17:20. It was the hope of being with his exalted Savior that put Paul in such doubt: "I am in a strait between two, having a desire to depart at to be with Christ, which is far better: nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you." Phil. 1:23, 24. Paul loved the work of serving the church. Pursued as he pursued it, it was heaven below, though stripes and bonds, and imprisonments awaited him in every city. God was with him, testifying of his mission. Christ was his salvation. The Spirit was his comforter. He was often refreshed by the love of the saints. He greatly rejoiced in the conversion of sinners, and in the growth of Christians. He says to some, "Now we live if you stand fast." Yet to depart and be with Christ was far better than to exercise even an apostolical ministry. O blessed strait! O joyous perplexity! With Christ—earth is like heaven! Without him heaven would be a world without a sun. There is none like him. There is no substitute for him. Blessed be God, we shall be with him. Paul's choice and strait lay between heaven and earth, celestial glory and earthly usefulness, not between earth and some other place unknown to God's people.

In 2 Cor. 5:8, Paul says, "We are willing to be absent from the body and present with the Lord." Here he clearly teaches that the soul in its absence from the body is present with Christ, and does not wait until the resurrection before it enjoys that exalted privilege. He had just before said, "Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life." 2 Corinthians 5:1-4. Such language is wholly unmistakable.

So also to the penitent thief, Jesus Christ said, "This day shall you be with me in paradise." We have already seen how Paul uses the terms, paradise and the third heaven, interchangeably. The effort of some to make it appear that paradise is not the same as heaven, is as illogical as would be an attempt to show that hell and the lake of fire are two different places, whereas we know they are one and the same place. The Westminster Assembly having spoken of heaven and hell, say: "Besides these two places for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledges none." Purgatory is an invention of an avaricious priesthood. A paradise, different and remote from heaven, is a figment of dreamers, who have gotten their views rather from heathen poets than from inspired prophets and apostles.

Dying believers often have no more doubt that they are going straightway into the blissful presence of Christ than they have of his existence. There is no "place of safekeeping" for the souls of the saints—but the bosom of God, the highest heavens—that blissful world, where Christ is.

Some also suppose that the saints, who arose after Christ's resurrection, and appeared to many in Jerusalem, did not return to their graves, but formed a part of his glorious retinue, as he returned to the bright mansions on high. There too are the spirits of just men made perfect. Lazarus was "afar off" from the rich man in hell. The former was in Abraham's bosom. The latter had his abode in what he called "this place of torment." The whole parable shows that these sites were fixed, perpetual, unchangeable.

When we open God's word we are delighted with the abundance of promises of rest and bliss, all made in such a way as to create the hope of heavenly glory as soon as we, if believers, shall leave the world. Christ says to his persecuted disciples, "Rejoice and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven." Matt. 5:12. "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven," etc. Matt. 6:20. "Whoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father who is in heaven." Matt. 10:32. "If you will be perfect, go and sell all that you have, and give to the poor; and you shall have treasure in heaven." Matt. 19:21. Paul speaks to the Colossians of the "hope which is laid up for you in heaven." Coloss. 1:5. To the Hebrews he says, "You took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that you have in heaven a better and an enduring substance." Heb. 10:34. So he says that the suffering people of God "desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one." Heb. 11:16. So Peter says that his brethren had been begotten "to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and which fades not away, reserved in heaven for you." 1 Pet. 1:4.

If these things were not so, how could the inspired preacher have "praised the dead who are already dead, more than the living, who are yet alive?" Ecc. 4:2. No wise man could do that, unless he believed they were in heaven, which alone, according to Paul, is better than usefulness in the church on earth. These views, drawn from God's word, have been very generally entertained by the Church of Christ in all ages.

The happy conclusion at which we arrive, is that of the Westminster Assembly: "The souls of believers are, at their death, made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory;" or as the Church of Ireland expresses it: "After this life is ended, the souls of God's children will be presently received into heaven—there to enjoy unspeakable comforts."