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Man’s Nature and Destiny

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    10 THE SPIRITS OF JUST MEN MADE PERFECT

    “BUT ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born which are written in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.” Hebrews 12:22, 24.MND 73.1

    With a great show of confidence, either pretended or real, the advocates of man’s immortality bring forward this text in proof of their position. That portion of the foregoing quotation upon which they hang their theory is the expression, “the spirits of just men made perfect,” which they take to be both a declaration and a proof thereof, that the spirits of men are released by death, and thereupon are made perfect or glorified in the presence of God in heaven. A little further examination of the language will, we think, show that such an assertion is not made in the text, and that even such an inference cannot justly be drawn from it.MND 73.2

    That Paul is here contrasting the blessings and privileges enjoyed by believers under the gospel dispensation with those possessed by the Jews under the former dispensation, will probably not be questioned on either side. Ye are not come to the mount that might be touched [Mount Sinai], and the sound of a trumpet, etc., that is, to that system of types and ceremonies instituted through Moses at Sinai, of which an outward priesthood were the minister, and Old Jerusalem the representative city; but ye are come to Mount Zion, to the New Jerusalem, to Jesus, and to his better sacrifice. These things to which we are come are the superior blessings of the gospel, over what was enjoyed under the former dispensation. But where or how does the fact come in, as one of these blessings, that man has a spirit which is conscious in death, and is made perfect by the dissolution of the body? It will be seen that if this be a fact, it is brought in, at best, only incidentally. There is no proof of it in the expression, “spirits of just men made perfect,” in itself considered; for they could be made perfect at some future time, without supposing them conscious from death to the resurrection. The only proof that can here be found then, lies in the fact that we are said to have come to these spirits. This is supposed to prove that they must be spirits out of the body, and that they must also be conscious. Then we inquire, How do we come to the spirits of just men made perfect, and what is meant by the expression?MND 74.1

    It is not difficult to determine how we come to all the other objects mentioned by Paul in the three verses quoted; but how we come to the spirits of just men made perfect, according to the popular view of that expression, is not so clear. If we mistake not, the common view will have to be modified, or the explanation never be given.MND 75.1

    Let us see: “Ye are come [or, putting it in the first person, since Paul brings these to view as present blessings all through the gospel dispensation, we are come] unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” That is, we in this dispensation no longer look to Old Jerusalem as the center of our worship, but we look above, to the New Jerusalem, where the sanctuary and Priest of this dispensation are. In this sense we are come to them.MND 75.2

    “And to an innumerable company of angels.” Angels are the assistants of our Lord in his work, who now mediates for his people individually. Daniel 7:10. They are sent forth to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation. Hebrews 1:14. They are therefore more intimately concerned in the believer’s welfare in this dispensation than in the old. We have thus come to their presence and ministration.MND 75.3

    “To the general assembly and church of the first-born which are written in heaven.” That is, we have now come to the time when believers, of whatever nationality, whose names are recorded in the Lamb’s book of life in heaven, constitute a general assembly, or compose one church. We do not now look to Jewish genealogies to find the people of God; but we look to the record in heaven. And God now takes his people into covenant relation with himself as individuals, and not as a nation. Thus we are come in this dispensation to the general assembly, the church of the first-born.MND 75.4

    “And to God, the Judge of all.” Directly, through the mediation of his Son, we draw near to God. Passing over for a time the expression under discussion, “the spirits of just men made perfect,” we read on:-MND 76.1

    “And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.” We now come to Jesus, the real mediator, instead of to the typical priesthood of the former dispensation.MND 76.2

    “And to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better things than that of Abel.” That is, there is now ministered for us the blood of Jesus, the better sacrifice, which takes away from us sin in fact, instead of the blood of beasts, which took it away only in figure.MND 76.3

    It can readily be seen how we come to all these things under this dispensation; how these are all privileges and blessings under the gospel, beyond what was enjoyed in the former dispensation. But now, if the expression, the ‘spirits of just men made perfect,’ means disembodied spirits in the popular sense, how do we come to these as a gospel blessing? This is what we would like to have our friends tell us. In what respect is our relation to our dead friends, the supposed spirits of the departed, changed by the gospel? If there is any sense in which we may be said to have come to these, we would like to know it.MND 76.4

    But again, when do we come into closest contact with a man’s spirit? Is it when that spirit is disembodied, and has gone far away to dwell in the presence of God, and is to have no more to do forever with anything that is done under the sun? Ecclesiastes 9:6. Is it not rather when the spirit of a man through the eyes of that man looks upon us, through his mouth speaks to us, and through his hands handles us? Outside the hell-doomed hosts of Spiritualists, will any one say that we enjoy more intimate relations with a spirit when it is out of the body than we do while it is in the body? A consideration of this point must convince any one that the idea of coming to the spirits of just men made perfect cannot possibly be applied to spirits out of the body.MND 76.5

    It will be noticed further that the text does not speak of spirits made perfect, but of men made perfect. The Greek (kai pneumasi dtkaion teteleiomenon) shows that the participle, “made perfect,” agrees with “the just,” or “just men,” and not with “spirits.” When, then, we inquire, are men made perfect? There is a certain sense in which they are made perfect in this life through the justification of the blood of Christ, and sanctification of his Spirit; and they are made perfect in an absolute sense, as in Hebrews 11:40, when they experience the final glorification, and their corruptible bodies are made like unto Christ’s most glorious body. Philippians 3:21.MND 77.1

    If it is said that the text refers to this latter perfection, then it is placed beyond the resurrection, and affords no proof of a conscious, disembodied spirit. If it refers to the former, then it applies to persons still in this state, and not in death. To one or the other it must refer; and apply it which way we may, it does not bring to view a spirit conscious in death. Therefore it fails entirely to prove the point in favor of which our friends produce it.MND 77.2

    In harmony with the context, we apply it to the present state, to men in this life, to a blessing peculiar to the gospel, to the justification and sanctification which the believer now enjoys through Christ. And in this sense we see how we come to it, as to all the other things mentioned by Paul. We come to the enjoyment of this blessing ourselves, and to communion and fellowship with those who are also in possession of it.MND 77.3

    Finally, to show that this is not a view devised to meet any exigency of our position, we will bring to its support a name which with all will have great weight, and with many will be final authority. Dr. Adam Clarke, on this passage, says:—MND 78.1

    “In several parts of this epistle [to the Hebrews], teleios, the just man, signifies one who has a full knowledge of the Christian system, who is justified and saved by Christ Jesus; and teteleiomenon are the adult Christians, who are opposed to the nepioi, or babes in knowledge and grace. See chap. 5:12-14; 8:11; Galatians 4:1-3. The spirits of just men made perfect, or the righteous perfect, are the full-grown Christians; those who are justified by the blood and sanctified by the Spirit of Christ. Being come to such implies that spiritual union which the disciples of Christ have with each other, and which they possess how far soever separate; for they are all joined in one Spirit (Ephesians 2:18); they are in the unity of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:3, 4); and of one soul (Acts 4:32). This is a unity which was never possessed even by the Jews themselves, in their best state; it is peculiar to real Christianity; as to nominal Christianity, wars and desolations between man and his fellows are quite consistent with its spirit.”MND 78.2

    Although these remarks are a sufficient explanation of the text, we quote also the following paragraph from Dr. C. ’s note at the end of Hebrews 12:—MND 78.3

    “Only the high priest, and he but one day in the year, was permitted to approach God under the Old Testament dispensation; but under the New, every believer in Jesus can come even to the throne, each has liberty to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, and to real Christians alone it can be said, Ye are come to God—the Judge of all—to him ye have constant access, and from him ye are continually receiving grace upon grace. We have already seen that ‘the righteous perfect,’ or ‘just men made perfect,’ is a Jewish phrase, and signified those who had made the farthest advances in moral rectitude. The apostle uses it here to point out those in the church of Christ who had received the highest degrees of grace, possessed most of the mind of Christ, and were doing and suffering most for the glory of God; those who were most deeply acquainted with the things of God and the mysteries of the gospel, such as the apostles, evangelists, the primitive teachers, and those who presided in and over different churches. And these are termed the ‘spirits [dikaion tetleioueno] of the just perfected,’ because they were a spiritual people, forsaking earth, and living in reference to that spiritual rest that was typified by Canaan.”MND 79.1

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