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Here and Hereafter

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    3. — THE SOULS UNDER THE ALTAR

    In Revelation 6:9-11 is another instance where the word “soul” is used in a manner which many take to be proof that there is in man a separate entity, conscious in death, and capable in a disembodied state, of performing all the acts, and exercising all the emotions, which pertain to this life. The verses referred to read:—HHMLD 116.4

    “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.”HHMLD 117.1

    On the hypothesis of the popular view, what conclusions must we draw from this testimony?HHMLD 117.2

    1. It is assumed that these souls were in heaven; then the altar under which John saw them must have been the “altar of incense,” as that is the only altar brought to view in heaven. Revelation 8:3. But the altar spoken of in the text, is evidently the altar of sacrifice upon which they were slain. Therefore to represent them as under the altar of incense, which was never used for sacrifice, is both incongruous and unscriptural.HHMLD 117.3

    2. We must conclude that they were in a state of confinement, shut up under the altar — not a condition we would naturally associate with the perfection of heavenly bliss.HHMLD 117.4

    3. Solomon says of the dead, that their love, their hatred, and their envy is now perished. Ecclesiastes 9:6. But that makes no difference; for here are the souls of the holy martyrs still smarting with resentment against their persecutors, and calling for vengeance upon their devoted heads. Is this altogether consistent? Would not the superlative bliss of heaven swallow up all resentment against those who had done them this good, though they meant them harm, and lead them to bless rather than curse the hand that had hastened them thither?HHMLD 117.5

    But further: the same view which puts these souls into heaven, puts the souls of the wicked, at the termination of this mortal life, into the lake of fire, where they are racked with unutterable and unceasing anguish, in full view of all the heavenly host. In proof that the words of bliss and torment are held to be in full view of each other, we have only to refer to the common interpretation of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, in which Abraham in bliss and the rich man in torment, are supposed not only to behold each other, but to converse together. But is it so? If it is not, then the popular exposition of that parable must be abandoned. But that supposed stronghold will not readily be surrendered. It is proper, therefore, to look at the bearing it has upon the case before us.HHMLD 118.1

    According, then, to the orthodox view, the persecutors of these souls were even then or certainly soon would be, enveloped in the flames of hell, right before their eyes, every fiber of their being quivering with a keenness of torture which no language can express, and of which no mind can adequately conceive.HHMLD 118.2

    Here they were in their agony, in full view of these souls of the martyrs, and their piercing shrieks of infinite and hopeless woe, ringing in their ears — for the rich man and Abraham, as we have seen, could converse together across the gulf. And was not the sight of all this woe enough to satisfy the most insatiate desires for vengeance? Is there a fiend in hell who could manifest the malevolence of planning and praying for greater vengeance than this? Yet these souls are represented, even under these circumstances, as calling upon God to avenge their blood on their persecutors, and saying, “How long?” as if chiding the tardy movements of Providence, in commencing or intensifying their torments. Such is the character which the common view attributes to these holy martyrs, and such the spirit with which it clothes a system of religion, the chief injunction of which is to forgive, and the chief law of which is mercy. Does it find endorsement in any breast in which there remains a drop of even the milk of human kindness?HHMLD 118.3

    These souls pray that their blood may be avenged, — an article which the uncompounded, invisible, and immaterial soul, as generally understood, is not supposed to possess.HHMLD 119.1

    These are some of the difficulties we meet, some of the camels we have to swallow in taking down the popular view.HHMLD 119.2

    But is is urged that these souls must be conscious; for they cry to God. How easily our expositors forget that language has any figurative use, when they wish it to be literal, or that it is ever used literally, when they wish it to be figurative. There is supposed to be such a figure of speech as “personification,” in which, under certain conditions, life, action, and intelligence are attributed to inanimate objects. Thus the blood of Abel is said to have cried to God from the ground. Genesis 4:9, 10. The stone cried out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber answered it. Habakkuk 2:11. The hire of the laborers, kept back by fraud, cried; and the cry entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. James 5:4. So these souls could cry, in the same sense, and yet be no more conscious than Abel’s blood, the stone, the beam, or the laborer’s hire.HHMLD 119.3

    So incongruous is the popular view, that Albert Barnes makes haste to set himself on the record as follows:—HHMLD 119.4

    *“We are not to suppose that this literally occurred, and that John actually saw the souls of martyrs beneath the altar, for the whole representation is symbolical; nor are we to suppose that the injured and the wronged in heaven actually pray for vengeance on those who wronged them, nor that the redeemed in heaven will continue to pray with reference to things on earth; but it may be fairly inferred from this that there will be as real a remembrance of the wrongs of the persecuted, the injured, and the oppressed, as if such a prayer was offered there; and that the oppressor has as much to dread from the divine vengeance, as if those whom he has injured should cry in heaven to the God who hears prayer, and who takes vengeance.” 1Notes of Revelation 6.HHMLD 119.5

    But it is said that white robes were given them; hence it is further urged that they must be conscious. But this no more follows than it does from the fact that they cried, What were the circumstances? — This scene is located at the opening of the fifth seal, and the souls brought to view are those who had been martyred under preceding papal persecutions. They had gone down to the grace in the most ignominious manner. Their lives had been misrepresented, their reputations tarnished, their names defamed, their motives maligned, and their graves covered with shame and reproach, as containing the dishonored dust of the most vile and despicable characters. Thus the church of Rome, which then molded the sentiments of the principal nations of the earth, spared no pains to make her victims an abhorring unto all flesh.HHMLD 120.1

    But the Reformation commenced its work. It soon began to be seen that the Romish Church was the corrupt and disreputable party, and those against whom it vented its rage were the good, the pure, and the true. The work went on among the most enlightened nations, the reputation of the church going down, and that of the martyrs coming up, until the corruptions of the papal abomination were fully exposed, and the huge system of iniquity stood before the world in all its naked deformity, while the martyrs were vindicated from all the aspersions under which that anti-Christian church had sought to bury them. Then it was seen that they had suffered, not for being vile and criminal, but “for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.” Then their praises were sung, their virtues admired, their fortitude applauded, their names honored and their memory cherished. And thus it is even to this day. Whites robes have thus been given unto every one of them.HHMLD 120.2

    The whole trouble on such passages as this, we conceive to arise from the theological definition of the word “soul.” From that definition, one is led to suppose that this text speaks of an immaterial, invisible, immortal essence, in man, which soars into is coveted freedom on the death of its hindrance and clog, the mortal body. No instance of the occurrence of the word in the original Hebrew or Greek will sustain such a definition. It oftenest means “life;” and is not unfrequently rendered “person.” It applies to the dead as well as to the living, as may be seen by reference to Genesis 2:7, where the word “living” need not have been expressed were life an inseparable attribute of the soul; and to Numbers 19:13, and many other passages where the Hebrew literally reads, “dead soul.”HHMLD 121.1

    The reader is also referred to a previous chapter on Soul and Spirit. From the definitions there given, it is evident that the word “soul” may mean, and the context requires that it here should mean, simply the martyrs, those who had been slain; the expression, “the souls of them,” being used to designate the whole person. They were represented to John as having been slain upon the altar of papal sacrifice on this earth, and lying dead beneath it. So Dr. Clarke, on this passage, says, “The altar is upon earth, not in heaven.” They certainly were not alive when John saw them under the fifth seal; for he again brings to view the same company in almost the same language, and assures us that the first time they live after their martyrdom, is at the resurrection of the just. Revelation 20:4-6. Lying there, victims of papal blood-thirstiness and oppression, the great wrong, of which their sacrifice was the evidence, called upon God for vengeance. They cried, or their blood cried, even as Abel’s blood cried, to God from the ground.HHMLD 121.2

    Thus all becomes clear and plain when we treat the Bible as we would treat any other book; that is, let figures have their place, and perform their office; but let all figurative language be explained by the literal. Before this simply rule, the strongholds of man’s natural immortality go down one after another like cardboard breastworks before a charge of modern artillery.HHMLD 122.1

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