Monday, July 13, 2009

John Wesley's Belief in an Intermediate State After Death


John Wesley's Death-Mask


1) From umc.org, the official site for the United Methodist Church:

FAQ Belief

What happens immediately after a person dies?

Question: What happens immediately after a person dies? Do they go directly to heaven or hell or do they go to a holding place until Christ returns to earth for the final judgment?
Answer: The basic beliefs of United Methodists can be found in the Book of Discipline in Our Doctrinal Standards and General Rules. However, mention of "hell" and "heaven" as serious afterlife issues cannot be found in this section or any other part of the Book of Discipline.

Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials by Ted A. Campbell says, "The Methodist Articles of Religion, following the teachings of the Reformation, rejected the medieval Catholic idea of purgatory as a place where the souls of those who have died in Christ could be aided or helped by the prayers of the living. John Wesley himself believed in an intermediate state between and the final judgment [sic], where those who rejected Christ would be aware of their coming doom (not yet pronounced), and believers would share in the "bosom of Abraham" or "paradise," even continuing to grow in holiness there. This belief, however, is not formally affirmed in Methodist doctrinal standards, which reject the idea of purgatory but beyond that maintain silence on what lies between death and the last judgment."
[ link ]
2) From The United Methodist Portal website:
United Methodists have no official doctrine on “heaven” or “hell” except for this confessional statement: “We believe in the resurrection of the dead, the righteous to life eternal and the wicked to endless condemnation.” . . .

John Wesley believed in the intermediate state between death and the final judgment “where believers would share in the ‘bosom of Abraham’ or ‘paradise,’ even continuing to grow in holiness there,” writes Ted Campbell, a professor at Perkins School of Theology, in his 1999 book Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials (Abingdon). That view has not been officially affirmed by the church.

("Heavenly minded: It’s time to get our eschatology right, say scholars, authors," Robin Russell, 6 April 2009)
3) From John Henry Overton (1835-1903), John Wesley, Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co. / The Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1891, p. 39:
"1756, November 1, was a day of triumphant joy, as All Saints' Day generally is. How superstitious are they who scruple giving God solemn thanks for the lives and deaths of His saints!

"1767, November 1. Being All Saints' Day (a Festival I dearly love) . . . " . . .

He always made a point of preaching on "The Communion of Saints" on All Saints' Day. He thoroughly realized the doctrine of the Intermediate State, and to his dying day used to speak of his departed Christian friends, not as "having gone to heaven," in the popular phraseology, but as being in Paradise, or in Abraham's bosom.
4) Letter to John Wesley (26 March 1770) from Calvinist Anglican Augustus Toplady (1740-1778):

You affect to be deemed a minister of the national Church. Why then do you decry her doctrines, and, as far as in you lies, sap her discipline? That you decry her doctrines needs no proof: witness, for example, the wide discrepancy between her decisions and yours on the articles of freewill, justification, predestination, perseverance, and sinless perfection; to say nothing concerning your new-fangled doctrine of the intermediate state of departed souls.
5) Letter of John Wesley to Miss B (17 April 1776), from The Works of the Rev. John Wesley, Vol. X: Tracts and Letters on Various Subjects, New York: J. & J. Harper, 1827, p. 322:
But what is the essential part of heaven? Undoubtedly it is To see God: To know God: To love God. We shall then know both his Nature, and his works of creation and providence, and of redemption. Even in paradise, in the intermediate state between death and the resurrection, we shall learn more concerning these in an hour, than we could in an age, during our stay in the body. We cannot tell indeed how we shall then exist, or what kind or organs we shall have: the soul will not be encumbered with flesh and blood; but probably it will have some sort of ethereal vehicle, even before God clothes us "with our nobler house of empyrean light."
6) Albert C. Outler (1908-1989), John Wesley: Folk-Theologian, Theology Today, Vol. 34, No. 2, July 1977:
His lively discussions of "the intermediate state" are integral to his eschatology as a whole.

[footnote: Cf., e.g., his sermon "Of Hell," 1.4; "The Trouble and Rest of Good Men," Proem., II.6; "The Rich Man and Lazarus," 1.3; "On Worldly Folly," II.6; "On Faith" (Heb. 11:1), 4.]
7) Karen B. Westerfield Tucker, American Methodist Worship, Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 202:
Decisions made during life were therefore inseparably connected to what came after life. Upon death, according to Wesley, the souls of the deceased would enter an intermediate, penultimate state in which they would remain until reunited with the body at the resurrection of the dead. In that state variously identified as "the ante-chamber of heaven," "Abraham's bosom," and "paradise," . . .
8) Douglas P. Finkbeiner, "Interpreting Luke 16: Abraham, Lazarus, and the Rich Man -- Parable or History?":
John Wesley on the parable–
But is the subsequent account merely a parable, or a real history? It has been believed by many, and roundly asserted, to be a mere parable, because of one or two circumstances therein, which are not easy to be accounted for. In particular, it is hard to conceive, how a person in hell could hold conversation with one in paradise. But, admitting we cannot account for this, will it overbalance an express assertion of our Lord: "There was," says our Lord, "a certain rich man." -- Was there not? Did such a man never exist? "And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus."- -Was there, or was there not? Is it not bold enough, positively to deny what our blessed Lord positively affirms? Therefore, we cannot reasonably doubt, but the whole narration, with all its circumstances, is exactly true. And Theophylact (one of the ancient commentators on the Scriptures) observes upon the text, that, "according to the tradition of the Jews, Lazarus lived at Jerusalem.

17 comments:

Boik said...

So what. If Wesley believed that Abraham's Bosom didn't cease to exist and the souls of the righteous go there until the Resurrection, he still didn't believe that the "intermediate state" was purgatory. Some (if not most) Protestant denominations believe that Abraham's Bosom was existent until the Ascension and, at one time, held the souls of the OT saints. Unless I miss my guess, I believe Catholicism teaches the same and believes it is non-existent today as well.

Dave Armstrong said...

Why are you carping about purgatory? I didn't even mention the word in either of the two papers.

Boik said...

Is there another reason for your posting about a Protestant believer in an "intermediate state"?

Bo

Dave Armstrong said...

It shows that prominent Protestants believe in a state other than heaven or hell after death, and after the death of Christ. That was my primary goal for posting it.

Note also, however, that source #1 stated about Wesley's view: "believers would share in the 'bosom of Abraham' or 'paradise,' even continuing to grow in holiness there."

This notion would be absolutely anathema to Baptist / Reformed types; even to Lutherans, too, I think.

Thirdly, being the provocateur and "theological rabble-rouser" that I am, I think it is good to know these obscure facts that would be very difficult to learn in Methodist environments, just as many Lutherans have never heard lots of things I have discovered about Luther and posted online.

Boik said...

It shows that prominent Protestants believe in a state other than heaven or hell after death, and after the death of Christ. That was my primary goal for posting it.

It sort of "begs the question" don't you think? Because, for those familiar with the concept of Abraham's Bosom, we know that it wasn't purgatorial. And it doesn't seem like this was the case with Wesley either. I know you will say that you're not bringing purgatory into this, but it's not hard to see that this is the reason why you posted it to begin with.

Note also, however, that source #1 stated about Wesley's view: "believers would share in the 'bosom of Abraham' or 'paradise,' even continuing to grow in holiness there."

So, you are trying to provoke a purgatorial thought into this. Did Wesley believe that growing in holiness involved suffering as one would do in purgatory? And since he based it on Luke 16, I'm sure he was aware of the contrast between the "hell of the damned" (for lack of a better term), where the Rich Man was in torment (vss.23,25), and Abraham's Bosom, where Lazarus was comforted (vs.25).

This notion would be absolutely anathema to Baptist / Reformed types; even to Lutherans, too, I think.

I don't know how each would view the concept of Abraham's Bosom, but I would fathom to think that they wouldn't hold this against Brother Wesley :-), especially since, within his context, it doesn't seem that he held to a purgatorial view of Abraham's Bosom, but a nurturing, comforting, edenic realm.

Thirdly, being the provocateur and "theological rabble-rouser" that I am, I think it is good to know these obscure facts that would be very difficult to learn in Methodist environments, just as many Lutherans have never heard lots of things I have discovered about Luther and posted online.

Well, obscure facts are always interesting, but again, keep them within their contexts. There is no reason to lead others to assume something that isn't there, whether that be with that be with Wesley, Luther, or whomever.

Bo

Dave Armstrong said...

And what is your theological affiliation, Bo?

Dave Armstrong said...

>>>So, you are trying to provoke a purgatorial thought into this.

It was the Methodist writer who made the statement about Wesley's views. I'm simply reporting it. I could be an atheist studying comparative religion and do the same thing. Facts is facts.

Not everything has to be hyper-polemical. People make it that way by their reactions, but that is not my problem. It's simply something I have to deal with when I discover interesting facts.

Boik said...

Your first question: I'm Baptist.

You said:

It was the Methodist writer who made the statement about Wesley's views. I'm simply reporting it. I could be an atheist studying comparative religion and do the same thing. Facts is facts.

Not everything has to be hyper-polemical. People make it that way by their reactions, but that is not my problem. It's simply something I have to deal with when I discover interesting facts.


I understand that Dave. Polemics aside, but you wouldn't have posted these if purgatory wasn't factoring in somehow, someway. I am merely pointing out to your readers that it doesn't generate any pause for purgatory. Believing in an intermediate state. I mean, so what! Wesley's eschatology is similar to that of the Greek Orthodox in that Abraham's Bosom is alive and well and the righteous recieve a paradaisical "foretaste", until the Resurrection, when they can enter heaven. Yet, is it purgatorial to Wesley? That remains to be seen.

Bo

Dave Armstrong said...

Purgatory is only remotely implicated (a couple times removed). What this does is establish an antecedent premise that is also necessary in order to believe in purgatory (that there is a third state besides heaven and hell after death). Wesley's view and ours share a common premise that is rejected by Reformed / Baptists, etc.

I get accused all the time of supposedly thinking I am proving something that I made no claim to having proven. So it is good to be able to clarify that under your questioning.

Boik said...

Purgatory is only remotely implicated (a couple times removed). What this does is establish an antecedent premise that is also necessary in order to believe in purgatory (that there is a third state besides heaven and hell after death). Wesley's view and ours share a common premise that is rejected by Reformed / Baptists, etc.

I don't agree. One can believe in a state, where the souls of the righteous dead abided before the ascension of Christ, without getting into forlorned conclusions about "intermediate states" and their relevance to an alleged purgatory. To bring it back home, Wesley didn't believe in a purgatory, but believed that no one enters heaven prior to the resurrection, but abides in Abraham's Bosom until then. If a "Reformed/Baptist" believed in an intermediate state prior to Christ or one that is still extant until the resurrection, it, in no way, means that purgatory has now gathered some validity. It's a bit of a smokescreen to say otherwise.

I get accused all the time of supposedly thinking I am proving something that I made no claim to having proven. So it is good to be able to clarify that under your questioning.

I don't think anyone accused you of this. I just think that one should qualify the intent of the posting, especially in light of the dynamics (a Protestant who believed in an intermediate state). My purpose is to clarify that believing in an intermediate state doesn't impact purgatory in any way, shape, or form.

Bo

Dave Armstrong said...

All you've done now is paraphrase what I stated:

"What this does is establish an antecedent premise . . . (that there is a third state besides heaven and hell after death). Wesley's view and ours share a common premise that is rejected by Reformed / Baptists, etc."

I don't know what is so difficult to understand about this. There are subtleties, but now that I have repeatedly clarified, there shouldn't be any mystery or confusion anymore. Yet you repeated my sentiment back to me, making out that there is some difference.

Wesley's statements prove nothing directly about purgatory; I agree; never stated otherwise. The two original posts never mentioned the word "purgatory." But it does show that Wesley and Catholics share a key premise (one denied by most Protestants) that is needed in order to believe in purgatory (what is in the parentheses above).

Apart from questions of proof and demonstration, I disagree that Wesley's opinion has nothing whatever to do with purgatory because the one Methodist writer stated that he believed in some sort of increase of holiness after death, which is precisely the aim and goal of purgatory. In that sense, then, there is an affinity beyond mere adoption of the notion of a third state after death. You don't want to see it, but it is there, nonetheless.

Dave Armstrong said...

Wesleyan theologian Jerry Walls makes some of the same connections here that I would make, in an excellent article in First Things (April 2002), entitled "Purgatory for Everyone":

"It is just this sort of consideration that led Wesley to insist that sanctification
must normally be preceded by a significant period of growth and maturation. Without this process, one is not prepared to receive the fullness of grace sanctification
represents. If this basic line of thought is correct, there is good reason to think that something like the traditional notion of purgatory is indeed necessary
for those who have not experienced significant growth and moral progress.

"The classical notion of purgatory also seems necessary to a related issue in the process of sanctification: our free participation in it. Many Christian
theologians have held that our necessary cooperation in our transformation constitutes
the only satisfactory explanation for the bewildering array of good and evil in the world. God takes our freedom seriously and is patient with it; He recognizes
that even those who have made an initial decision to follow His will often make only sporadic or inconsistent progress in carrying out their resolution. In
this view, while it is God who enables and elicits our transformation each step
of the way, our cooperation with His will is necessary to our sanctification.

"Now if God deals with us this way in this life, it is reasonable to think He will continue to do so in the next life until our perfection is achieved. Indeed, the point should be put more strongly than this."

http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/01/purgatory-for-everyone-49

You don't see this, because Baptist presuppositions about justification, sanctification and the afterlife do not allow these categories, but Anglican and Methodist and Wesleyan and pentecostal-holiness systems of theology do, so it is thinkable and conceivable for a guy like this.

Dave Armstrong said...

The Catholic Encyclopedia, "Methodism" states:

"While the existence of purgatory is denied in the Twenty-five Articles (Article XIV), an intermediate state of purification, for persons who never heard of Christ, is admitted today by some Methodists."

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10237b.htm

Dave Armstrong said...

It is clear that Wesley rejected purgatory as Catholics understand it, though he may have misunderstood some aspects of it (as Protestants typically do):

http://books.google.com/books?id=FokYAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA53&lpg=PA53&dq=wesley+sanctification+purgatory&source=bl&ots=OScuwp8A4B&sig=i4sle0T7uUqr33B0OIFq1wWnJjQ&hl=en&ei=oRheSs7rFpWmMPqyva4C&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6

Boik said...

Dave, all you keep doing is disconnecting what I'm saying by asserting that your intent was to show that a Protestant could believe in an "intermediate state." I haven't denied that one could, as Wesley obviously did, thus I don't know why you padded this with Wall's article (which I have) and the others. Again, I have stated my premise very simply, that the only reason you posted your article was to bring relevance to purgatory, of which I'm sure your readers made the connection. Yet, I wanted to qualify your article a bit by stating that Wesley didn't believe in a purgatory and that his view seems precariously close to what the Greek Orthodox teach. I also wanted to point out that, such a belief isn't as detestable as you would make it seem, especially if one views it as a part of Sheol where the souls of the righteous existed until the ascension of Christ. In other words, it has no purgatorial connotations; neither does it give the "intermediate state" argument much relevance. What is it so hard for you to understand?

Bo

Dave Armstrong said...

No problem here.

Jordanes551 said...

the only reason you posted your article was to bring relevance to purgatory

That clearly is not the only reason he posted this. It's not even clear that it's even one of his reasons. As far as I can make out, he was showing that Wesley held certain beliefs or premises in common with Catholicism, and that his beliefs on santification and the intermediate state were closer to the historic Christian teaching than are Reformed beliefs.