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which overtopped the cross, “ Jesus the King of the Jews?” It was under the influence of his Spirit, in whose hands are the hearts of all men, that Pilate, as a second Balaam, had written that superscription : the sinfulness of the instrument marred not the work; the worthlessness of the earthen vessel had not tainted the heavenly treasure; and now the Lord would honour his own word to the conversion of this criminal; and as, in a former instance, together with the manifestation of a star he spake secretly to the hearts of the wise men of the East, so spake he now to the soul of this sinner, and, in the act of his gazing upon the superscription, opened his heart to the fame of Jesus, which hitherto had sounded only in his ear.
It was in reply to the address with which the penitent now invoked the Saviour that Jesus returned the gracious assurance which is contained in the words of our text, “ Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
Now, whatever be the locality of paradise since the ascension of the Lord Jesus, previous to his ascension it was certainly not identical with the third heavens. It is an observation with which many of my hearers are familiar, that the term “ hell” involves not, originally, the idea of torment. The word is a derivative from the old Saxon 6 « helan," the signification of which is to hide, or conceal:" and the word “hell,” in common with the word “hades," of which it is a translation, signifies only “the unseen place,” that is, the covered receptacle of disembodied spirits, which was supposed to lie beneath the earth. It is found, with little variation of form, and precisely in the same meaning, in all the Teutonic dialects. This hell comprised within its circumference two departments, the “ paradise” of the text, the region, that is, of blessed spirits, and Tartarus,8 the dreary abode of the damned, who await there that sentence which shall soon doom them, both soul and body, to Gehenna, “ the outer darkness,” the second death. It was into the former of these receptacles, the paradise of the blessed, that Jesus vouchsafed a welcome to this penitent. He who gives more than we know how to ask or think, promised an almost instantaneous admittance into that antechamber of rest which is preparatory to the kingdom of glory.
o Knatchbull on Acts ii. 27. Horsley, Sermon xx. Bibl. Crit., vol. iii. p. 384.
7 Campbell on the Gospels, Prel. Dissert. VI. ii. 2.
8 2 Pet. ii. 4. Taptapáoas. See Campbell on the Gospels, Prel. Dissert. VI. ii. 19.
Although for the elucidation of our text. it is not necessary that we should enlarge on this subject, yet may it be not without profit that we bestow a few minutes on its consideration. The condition of the disembodied spirits of the saints is a question in which we cannot but feel interested ; and although it will appear in the sequel that we have received no definite revelation as to the precise nature of paradisiacal bliss, yet a reverent inquiry into the extent of our information, while it removes for a while our thoughts from the entanglements of sense, will involve us in no presumptuous intrusion upon holy ground.
First, then, we observe that there is no warrant in scripture for the supposition that the spirits of the departed have any further knowledge of the affairs of earth. The word of the Lord to king Josiah directs us to an opposite conclusion : 2 Chron. xxxiv. 28, “ Behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place, and the inhabitants thereof." In these words there is contained an express denial that the disembodied spirit of the deceased is conversant any longer
9 The following disquisition upon this subject was not introduced into the original discourse.
with the occurrences that happen upon earth. There is one passage only which may, at first sight, appear to countenance an opposite opinion. At the conclusion of his list of departed saints, in the eleventh chapter of his Epistle to the Hebrews, the apostle proceeds, at the commencement of the twelfth, to this inspiriting exhortation : “Wherefore, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.” Now it is in some quarters supposed that by the term “ witnesses” the apostle would lead us to infer that the disembodied spirits of the saints in glory are spectators of our contest upon earth. But in refutation of this opinion it is sufficient to observe that the word which is here correctly rendered “ witnesses," contains always a reference, in the original, to some testimony to be given, and is never used in the sense which is sometimes attached to our English expression, as significative merely of " spectators.” The same word occurs, in various forins, five times in the previous chapter. In ver. 2, it is rendered by the expression “ obtained a good report;" which is identical with the expression “ obtained witness," in ver. 4. In the latter verse another
form of the same word is rendered by the term “ testifying.” In ver. 5, again, we read," he had this testimony ;” and once more, in ver. 39, “ having obtained a good report.” In each of these instances the word, though employed in another form, is the same which occurs in the verse before us. It appears, therefore, that the meaning which it was the design of the apostle to convey in the term “ witnesses,” relates to the efficacy of faith as exemplified and attested in the instances which he recounts. Origen first introduced into the christian church an improvement on the above opinion; and, by an adaptation of the Gospel to the Platonic philosophy, maintained that it was the occupation of disembodied spirits to minister to the wants and infirmities of men.
Upon the locality assigned to departed spirits since the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, there prevailed a diversity of opinion among the early fathers. Some of their number maintained that the spirit, upon its separation from the body, was admitted into the third heavens, or the heaven of heavens, where God manifests the glory of his presence, as distinguished from the aerial, and the starry heavens. The more general opinion, however, was, that the hades before described is its abode until the day of the last judgment. The