Recognition in the Future Life
Whatever difficulties may attach to our conception of the mode of recognition in the future life, (and of them we shall speak presently,) no doubt at all, it seems to us, can be entertained of the fact. Although nowhere, that we recollect, asserted in express terms in Holy Writ, it is taught by necessary implication. It is certain that in the future life there must be a recollection of the facts which have occurred in this life, since there is to be a "day in which God will judge the secrets of men," and "will render to every man according to his deeds." Without a recollection of facts, universal, minute, and vivid—such a process of judgment could not take place; and marvelous as such a practical restoration in memory of life, now, in great part, so rapidly and so completely forgotten, may appear, it is inevitably presupposed as the basis either of any estimate of moral character, or any acts of retribution, whether of punishment or reward.
Several of our Lord's parables are obviously founded on this idea. Now, to our minds, a recollection of facts necessarily brings along with it a recollection of people. As our life cannot in fact be abstracted from the people amidst whom it is spent—from those on whom we act, and those by whom we are acted upon—so neither can it be in memory. And the recollection of people seems to us to involve their recognition, if an opportunity for such recognition is given.
It is conceivable that in the future life no such opportunity might be given; that, in the vast multitudes of the human race, those who have been most intimately acquainted on earth might never meet; but that they should meet and, with a vivid recollection of all their fellowship, not recognize each other, seems to us, we confess, inconceivable.
Besides the parables of our Lord, to which reference has already been made, there is to be found in the Scriptures at least one clear case of anticipated recognition. What but such an expectation breathes in the following language of the apostle Paul? "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, at his coming?" (1 Thessalonians 2:19.) Here it is evident that the apostle looks forward to a recognition in the future life of those who had been converted under his ministry.
Now such an instance cannot stand alone; it must be a part of a system, without which it could not exist, and the existence of which it inevitably implies. If Paul will recognize his converts, assuredly they are not the only people whom he will recognize; and if he will recognize those whom he has known on earth, assuredly he is not the only one of mankind who will do so.
While the fact of recognition in a future life is beyond question, great difficulties, as we have already hinted, attach to our conception of the manner in which it will be effected.
In touching this part of the subject, we begin by observing that future recognition is rendered quite independent of the body, by the distance at which the resurrection of the body is placed from us. If recognition in the future life takes place at all, it is scarcely to be supposed that it will be held in abeyance during the period antecedent to the resurrection, to await the re-appearance of mankind in the body; it is much more reasonable to suppose that it will occur immediately on our entrance on the future life, and, consequently, while we are in the condition of disembodied spirits.
By this consideration the manner of future recognition may seem to be thrown at once, and entirely, into darkness; inasmuch as we do not, and cannot, know anything at present of the manner in which disembodied spirits either perceive, or are perceived. While we are in the body, the corporeal organization is so intimately blended with all our spiritual action, that the action of a spirit without a body is, of necessity, an impenetrable mystery to us. Nothing remains to us but a general persuasion of the existence of some mode of recognition, of great facility, vividness, and beauty.
It may be suggested, however, as possible, and not, perhaps, improbable, that disembodied spirits may be recognizable, and may actually recognize each other, by character. It is the highest excellence of the body itself, that, in some degree, it expresses character. Every member has, to some extent, this aptitude, but above all, the countenance; and it is not only by the form and figure, but also by the expression—and pre-eminently by the expression—that we arrive at personal recognition; so much so, that, if the expression were to be materially altered, we probably would not know our oldest and most intimate friends. The character is the great object of our personal affection, and the visible features only constitute the vehicle for its exhibition. Even without the exercise of the senses at all, merely by actions, or by words reported to us, we often recognize those we love; and exclaim in a moment, "I am sure it was my father, or my husband, or Mr. So-and-so, who said or did that; it is so like him."
Now it must certainly be supposed that the aspect of a spirit without a body will be at least as expressive of character as that of a body in which a spirit dwells—it may be said, unspeakably more so; so that recognition of a spirit by a spirit would be facile and perfect to a degree now unknown. And the diversity existing among men, the peculiarities of which mark them out as individuals, must be quite as easily expressed in aspects of character, as of features.
It is certainly a wonderful thing that a face, consisting of some three or four features, should be so susceptible of so many modifications as to exhibit individually so many millions of human beings—and yet that no two faces should be alike! But the elements of character are far more numerous, and capable of far more significant combinations. Why may not spiritual aspects of the intelligent, the noble, the pure, the affectionate, supply the means of personal recognition, at least as well as the contour of the forehead, the formation of the eye, or the curvature of the lip? At least as well, and why not a great deal better?
The distinctness of character is in some cases strongly marked to us by historical familiarity, without any personal acquaintance. Peter, Paul, and John, are already portraits to us. Let us suppose that we now saw their character in spiritual embodiment, (if we may be allowed to use the expression,) would we not at once recognize them? And, graven as those we love are upon our memories, might we not recognize them by such an exhibition of their character too?
It is true that the completion of the work of sanctification must be expected to throw over all characters some kind of uniformity, inasmuch as all will be made perfectly holy; but it can hardly be supposed that even this will annihilate all constitutional and other differences, and render all men so much alike that one cannot be known from another.
If the disembodied spirit has an aspect recognizable by character, it remains to inquire, (if one may venture so far,) what alteration in this aspect may be effected by the resurrection of the body, and its reunion to the spirit.
Undoubtedly, the body to be raised will be the same body as is now deposited in the earth; but this affirms nothing until we have ascertained wherein the identity of the body consists. It is quite certain that this does not consist in the presence of any of the grosser particles composing it at any particular time, since it is an ascertained fact that such particles are perpetually shifting, and that, at the distance of many years—probably even of a few—not one of those constituting the body at a former period remains in it.
In what sense, then, is the body of the babe the same as that of the old man? Is it only that the change has been gradual, and not violent? Or is it not rather, that some more refined material of a permanent nature constitutes, so to speak, the germ of the corporeal organization, and is capable of developing itself into a body, at once essentially the same as the old, and widely different from it? The occurrence of such a change as this would seem to bring other changes in its train.
The language of the Scriptures, however, makes it clear that the raised body, while essentially the same, will differ greatly from the present body in what may be called its accidents. In his well-known discourse in 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle supposes an objector to say, "How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?" And he answers by the comparison of the seed, in the course of which he says, "You sow not that body that shall be, but bare grain; . . . but God gives it a body just as it has pleased him." It cannot be unfair to infer from this comparison, that the body which is laid in the grave bears a relation to that which shall be raised out of it somewhat similar to that which a grain of wheat bears to the ripe wheat-ear, and that the dissimilarity may be as great in the one case as in the other.
Further on in the same chapter, the apostle describes the change which takes place at the resurrection, by saying, "It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body;" and he takes occasion from this phrase to lay down the general proposition, "There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body." The phrase "a natural body" is scarcely intelligible; the apostle's idea would be more correctly expressed by the phrase, "an animal body." But now, what can "an animal body," and, as contrasted with it, "a spiritual body," be, but a body adapted to the purposes respectively of an animal or a spirit? This, no doubt, the same body may, under different modifications, be under one modification adapted to the use of an animal, and under another adapted to the use of a spirit; but this surely involves very great changes, inasmuch as the modes of action of an animal and of a spirit must be widely different. It would seem as though the adaptation of the human body to the use of the spirit, when human existence shall be no longer animal, could scarcely involve less than an entire abolition of its present form and organization.
It is sometimes asked, Is not the human form a thing too beautiful to be abolished? Can we suppose the resurrection to do more than perfect its beauty? We think that, in this question, the beauty of the human form is too highly estimated. It is doing it no injustice to say that its beauty lies mainly, if not entirely, in its adaptation. In a condition in which none of the purposes of bodily life could be carried out, the supposed beauty of the body itself would entirely vanish. And as much as we extol the beauty of the human form, there is only one part of it—the face—which we care to exhibit; the "less lovely parts" of it we array with "more abundant honor." Are splendid robes to be worn hereafter?
It has by some been supposed that the glorified body of Christ retains the form of the present human body; but we think erroneously. Undoubtedly, the body of Christ after it was raised from the grave differed, as the history shows, from its previous condition. It had undergone a great change; but it seems impossible not to suppose that it underwent a further, and a still greater change, on His ascension into Heaven. Then only, we conceive, did He assume His glorified body, the type of the "spiritual body," which awaits His followers at the resurrection.
For ourselves, we confess that the present form and aspect of the body altogether remove themselves from our conception of the mode of future recognition; and we are quite willing that they should do so. It is enough for us to hope that the raised body will, in some manner, act as a transparency, (if we may be allowed the expression,) to let the higher beauty of the spirit shine through.
To pass to another aspect of the subject before us. It is a question of some interest, whether recognition in the future life will involve the revival of the relations which have been sustained in this present world. Inwrought as these relations are into our very being here, it seems hard to think that they will not revive with the recovery of our mutual knowledge; and it is difficult to conceive how we shall recognize those who have been our parents or our children, and not claim them as such forever. Upon full consideration, however, it would not seem that such a view can be maintained.
As these relations are of earthly origin and adaptation, so it seems reasonable to think that they will be only of earthly duration. Here they answer beneficial and important purposes; but hereafter they will be of no use. Since there will be neither children to be trained nor infirm parents to be cherished, the parental and filial relations would be merely nominal, and practically null.
In the present world, it may be further observed, these and similar relations do not stand naked and alone; they are surrounded by groups of congruous circumstances and associations, such as cannot be transferred to another world. Here every family has, and requires, a home; and pursues a life, if more or less social, also more or less isolated. But assuredly Heaven and Hell are not to consist of family groups like these.
Nor does it seem possible, indeed, to carry out a conception of this kind to the necessary length, without involving ourselves in the grotesque and the ludicrous. Within the compass of two generations—a third is rarely reached; such a conception may be practically realized; but in a multitude the fruit of a hundred generations, a promiscuous multitude, in which the order of generation would not be observed, and in which the fathers of every generation must be the children of that which preceded it, domestic scenes and family groups naturally and entirely disappear.
And to this must be added a consideration of great solemnity; namely, that, on moral grounds, there is no security for the reconstruction of family groups in another world. There is a Heaven and a Hell, but there is no certainty that all the members of any single family will be found in either of them. If of one family many be saved, some may be lost; and if of another family many be lost, some may be saved. In such cases, of course, family reunion is impossible, and yet it is hard to think that such cases will be exceptions to a general rule; and if the affections appropriate to the domestic tie continue to exist, it is impossible to conceive how such deficiencies in the group can be regarded by the blessed, without an agony of pain unspeakable.
By these views we are led to ask whether any probable reason can be assigned for this dying out of earthly relations in the future life; and we think that at least one pertinent observation may be made. In the future life our nature is assuredly destined to a large—in all probability a very large—development. Freed from the fetters which the corporeal organization has imposed, the emancipated spirit will start into an amplitude and vigor of being, of which at present we have little or no conception. But all this development will be ours simply as human beings, and none of it will attach to the phases of our existence which have been local and temporary. In all that is essential to human nature we shall be exalted, and in proportion as the essential is exalted, that which was accidental will be diminished and fall away.
Now the relations which we here sustain are all of them accidental. As we come into being we bear none of them but the filial; and that this is not less accidental than the others is manifest from the fact that the first of our race did not sustain even this. It is not in the nature of things that accidents of this sort should incorporate themselves essentially with our being; local in their origin, and temporary in their object, decay and extinction seem to be their natural destiny.
The future life may be expected to present to us the human being as such—man as man, or man in his maturity. It does not appear, even, that mankind will be exhibited in the simplest relation, as Adam and his children. It might have been so, had the federal relation between Adam and his posterity still subsisted, and their happiness been secured by his obedience; but since it is not so, but all—the first parents of the race as well as the rest—have been placed in a position of individual responsibility, it would seem that the whole race will hereafter stand as rational beings related only to God, the Maker and Ruler of all. As no infancy, no youth, no age, but MAN; so, no husband, no wife, no parent, no child, no sister, no brother, but MAN.
We have met somewhere with an incident which pleased us, and which may illustrate the idea, we have been endeavoring to set before our readers. It is narrated that, at some place on the Continent, in a season of persecution, a Christian father and son were led together to execution, and that their last act was to take each the hand of the other, with the words, "No longer father and son, but brothers in Christ." Yes, that will be the only relative tie existing in Heaven, "brothers in Christ." So much, at least, of earthly language is as yet necessary to help out our poor conceptions of the glory which is to be revealed.
We began by affirming the fact of future recognition, and we now reaffirm it. We shall doubtless recollect all our present relations as facts, but as facts which have been, rather than as facts which are. "We were husbands and wives, parents and children," we may conceive it to be said hereafter, "although we are not now; and those relations had so much to do with our moral character and conduct, that they contribute powerful moral elements to our present happiness or misery."
Much that we have already said has related equally to the human race, whether saved or lost.
We will now turn our eyes for a moment to the redeemed, and inquire how much, or rather what part, of the love which is felt on earth may be expected to revive with the recognition of Heaven.
Our love for each other in this world is clearly of various kinds. There is, for example, the love of the sexes, the love of relationship, the love of personal friendship, the love of social fellowship; there is also what may be called a holy love, a love of one another produced by the image of Christ discerned in us, and exercised in mutual devout affections and Christian activities.
Now, of all these kinds of love, the last is the only one which can be supposed to remain in the future life. It seems to us that all other love must be conceived to become utterly extinct with the present life. Our holy love, however, will not perish. Why should it? As the people to whom it was directed are recognized, so the elements by which it was generated, and on which it was ever feeding, are perpetuated. Still is the image of Christ to be beheld, and in greater beauty. Still are devout affections to be exercised, only entirely in gladness and in praise. Still are services to be performed, admitting, to we know not what extent, of united action. Everything that is holy has in itself an element of perpetuity. It is a thing for immortality—it cannot die.
What a deep interest this thought attaches to the devout affections of the present world! All that is holy in them revives after death, and lives forever in Heaven. Alas! how deeply is it to be regretted that so little of our earthly love is holy, and that so much of it, as precious as it is now, should, by our own folly, be destined to extinction. Most happy are they whose hearts blend most largely in the joys and sorrows of piety, in the toils of Christian duty, in the patience of suffering and of hope!