In Death and After Death
A sadder picture could scarcely be drawn than that of the dying Rabbi Jochanan ben Saccai, that "light of Israel" immediately before and after the destruction of the Temple, and for two years the president of the Sanhedrim. We read in the Talmud (Ber. 28 b) that, when his disciples came to see him on his death-bed, he burst into tears. To their astonished inquiry why he, "the light of Israel, the right pillar of the Temple, and its mighty hammer," betrayed such signs of fear, he replied: "If I were now to be brought before an earthly king, who lives to-day and dies to-morrow, whose wrath and whose bonds are not everlasting, and whose sentence of death, even, is not that to everlasting death, who can be assuaged by arguments, or perhaps bought off by money--I should tremble and weep; how much more reason have I for it, when about to be led before the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, Who liveth and abideth for ever, Whose chains are chains for evermore, and Whose sentence of death killeth for ever, Whom I cannot assuage with words, nor bribe by money! And not only so, but there are before me two ways, one to paradise and the other to hell, and I know not which of the two ways I shall have to go--whether to paradise or to hell: how, then, shall I not shed tears?" Side by side with this we may place the opposite saying of R. Jehudah, called the Holy, who, when he died, lifted up both his hands to heaven, protesting that none of those ten fingers had broken the law of God! It were difficult to say which of these two is more contrary to the light and liberty of the Gospel--the utter hopelessness of the one, or the apparent presumption of the other.
And yet these sayings also recall to us something in the Gospel. For there also we read of two ways--the one to paradise, the other to destruction, and of fearing not those who can kill the body, but rather Him who, after He hath killed the body, hath power to cast into hell. Nor, on the other hand, was the assurance of St. Stephen, of St. James, or of St. Paul, less confident than that of Jehudah, called the Holy, though it expressed itself in a far different manner and rested on quite other grounds. Never are the voices of the Rabbis more discordant, and their utterances more contradictory or unsatisfying than in view of the great problems of humanity: sin, sickness, death, and the hereafter. Most truly did St. Paul, taught at the feet of Gamaliel in all the traditions and wisdom of the fathers, speak the inmost conviction of every Christian Rabbinist, that it is only our Saviour Jesus Christ Who "hath brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel" (2 Tim 1:10).
When the disciples asked our Lord, in regard to the "man which was blind from his birth": "master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:1,2) we vividly realise that we hear a strictly Jewish question. It was just such as was likely to be raised, and it exactly expressed Jewish belief. That children benefited or suffered according to the spiritual state of their parents was a doctrine current among the Jews. But they also held that an unborn child might contract guilt, since the Yezer ha-ra, or evil disposition which was present from its earliest formation, might even then be called into activity by outward circumstances. And sickness was regarded as alike the punishment for sin and its atonement. But we also meet with statements which remind us of the teaching of Hebrews 12:5, 9. In fact, the apostolic quotation from Proverbs 3 is made for exactly the same purpose in the Talmud (Ber. 5 a), in how different a spirit will appear from the following summary. It appears that two of the Rabbis had disagreed as to what were "the chastisements of love," the one maintaining, on the ground of Psalm 94:12, that they were such as did not prevent a man from study, the other inferring from Psalm 66:20 that they were such as did not hinder prayer. Superior authority decided that both kinds were "chastisements of love," at the same time answering the quotation from Psalm 94 by proposing to read, not "teachest him," but "teachest us out of Thy law." But that the law teaches us that chastisements are of great advantage might be inferred as follows: If, according to Exodus 21:26, 27, a slave obtained freedom through the chastisement of his master--a chastisement which affected only one of his members--how much more must those chastisements effect which purified the whole body of man? Moreover, as another Rabbi reminds us, the "covenant" is mentioned in connection with salt (Lev 2:13), and also in connection with chastisements (Deu 28:58). "As is the covenant," spoken of in connection with salt, which gives taste to the meat, so also is "the covenant" spoken of in connection with chastisements, which purge away all the sins of a man. Indeed, as a third Rabbi says: "Three good gifts hath the Holy One--blessed be He!--given to Israel, and each of them only through sufferings--the law, the land of Israel, and the world to come." The law, according to Psalm 94:12; the land, according to Deuteronomy 8:5, which is immediately followed by verse 7; and the world to come, according to Proverbs 6:23.
As on most other subjects, the Rabbis were accurate and keen observers of the laws of health, and their regulations are often far in advance of modern practice. From many allusions in the Old Testament we infer that the science of medicine, which was carried to comparatively great perfection in Egypt, where every disease had its own physician, was also cultivated in Israel. Thus the sin of Asia, in trusting too much to earthly physicians, is specially reproved (2 Chron 16:12). In New Testament times we read of the woman who had spent all her substance, and suffered so much at the hands of physicians (Mark 5:26); while the use of certain remedies, such as oil and wine, in the treatment of wounds (Luke 10:34), seems to have been popularly known. St. Luke was a "physician" (Col 4:14); and among the regular Temple officials there was a medical man, whose duty it was to attend to the priesthood who, from ministering barefoot, must have been specially liable to certain diseases. The Rabbis ordained that every town must have at least one physician, who was also to be qualified to practise surgery, or else a physician and a surgeon. Some of the Rabbis themselves engaged in medical pursuits: and, in theory at least, every practitioner ought to have had their licence. To employ a heretic or a Hebrew Christian was specially prohibited, though a heathen might, if needful, be called in. But, despite their patronage of the science, caustic sayings also occur. "Physician, heal thyself," is really a Jewish proverb; "Live not in a city whose chief is a medical man"--he will attend to public business and neglect his patients; "The best among doctors deserves Gehenna"--for his bad treatment of some, and for his neglect of others. It were invidious to enter into a discussion of the remedies prescribed in those times, although, to judge from what is advised in such cases, we can scarcely wonder that the poor woman in the gospel was nowise benefited, but rather the worse of them (Mark 5:26). The means recommended were either generally hygienic--and in this respect the Hebrews contrast favourably even with ourselves--or purely medicinal, or else sympathetic, or even magical. The prescriptions consisted of simples or of compounds, vegetables being far more used than minerals. Cold-water compresses, the external and internal use of oil and of wine, baths (medicated and other), and a certain diet, were carefully indicated in special diseases. Goats'-milk and barley-porridge were recommended in all diseases attended by wasting. Jewish surgeons seem even to have known how to operate for cataract.
Ordinarily, life was expected to be protracted, and death regarded as alike the punishment and the expiation of sin. To die within fifty years of age was to be cut off; within fifty-two, to die the death of Samuel the prophet; at sixty years of age, it was regarded as death at the hands of Heaven; at seventy, as that of an old man; and at eighty, as that of strength. Premature death was likened to the falling off of unripe fruit, or the extinction of a candle. To depart without having a son was to die, otherwise it was to fall asleep. The latter was stated to have been the case with David; the former with Joab. If a person had finished his work, his was regarded as the death of the righteous, who is gathered to his fathers. Tradition (Ber. 8 a) inferred, by a peculiar Rabbinical mode of exegesis, from a word in Psalm 62:12, that there were 903 different kinds of dying. The worst of these was angina, which was compared to tearing out a thread from a piece of wool; while the sweetest and gentlest, which was compared to drawing a hair out of milk, was called "death by a kiss." The latter designation originated from Numbers 33:38 and Deuteronomy 34:5, in which Aaron and Moses are respectively said to have died "according to the word"--literally, "by the mouth of Jehovah." Over six persons, it was said, the angel of death had had no power--viz., Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, because they had seen their work quite completed; and over Miriam, Aaron, and Moses, who had died by "the kiss of God." If premature death was the punishment of sin, the righteous died because others were to enter on their work--Joshua on that of Moses, Solomon on that of David, etc. But, when the time for death came, anything might serve for its infliction, or, to put it in Rabbinical language, "O Lord, all these are Thy servants"; for "whither a man was to go, thither his feet would carry him."
Certain signs were also noted as to the time and manner of dying. Sudden death was called "being swallowed up," death after one day's illness, that of rejection; after two days', that of despair; after four days', that of reproof; after five days', a natural death. Similarly, the posture of the dying was carefully marked. To die with a happy smile, or at least with a bright countenance, or looking upward, was a good omen; to look downward, to seem disturbed, to weep, or even to turn to the wall, were evil signs. On recovering from illness, it was enjoined to return special thanks. It was a curious superstition (Ber. 55 b), that, if any one announced his illness on the first day of its occurrence, it might tend to make him worse, and that only on the second day should prayers be offered for him. Lastly, we may mention in this connection, as possibly throwing light on the practice referred to by St. James (James 5:14), that it was the custom to anoint the sick with a mixture of oil, wine, and water, the preparation of which was even allowed on the Sabbath (Jer. Ber. ii. 2).
When our Lord mentioned visitation of the sick among the evidences of that religion which would stand the test of the judgment day (Matt 25:36), He appealed to a principle universally acknowledged among the Jews. The great Jewish doctor Maimonides holds that this duty takes precedence of all other good works, and the Talmud goes even so far as to assert, that whoever visits the sick shall deliver his soul from Gehenna (Ned. 40- a). Accordingly, a Rabbi, discussing the meaning of the expression, "Ye shall walk after the Lord your God" (Deu 13:4), arrives at the conclusion, that it refers to the imitation of what we read in Scripture of His doings. Thus God clothed the naked (Gen 3:21), and so should we; He visited the sick (Gen 18:1); He comforted the mourners, (Gen 25:11); and He buried the dead (Deu 35:6); leaving us in all this an ensample that we should follow in His footsteps (Sota 14 a). It was possibly to encourage to this duty, or else in reference to the good effects of sympathy upon the sick, that we are told, that whoever visits the sick takes away a sixtieth part of his sufferings (Ned. 39 b). Nor was the service of love to stop here; for, as we have seen, the burial of the dead was quite as urgent a duty as the visitation of the sick. As the funeral procession passed, every one was expected, if possible, to join the convoy. The Rabbis applied to the observance of this direction Proverbs 14:32, and 19:17; and to its neglect Proverbs 17:5 (Ber. 18 a). Similarly, all reverence was shown towards the remains of the dead, and burying-places were kept free from every kind of profanation, and even from light conversation.
Burial followed generally as soon as possible after death (Matt 9:23; Acts 5:6,10, 8:2), no doubt partly on sanitary grounds. For special reasons, however (Acts 9:37,39), or in the case of parents, there might be a delay even of days. The preparations for the burial of our Lord, mentioned in the gospels--the ointment against His burial (Matt 26:12), the spices and ointments (Luke 23:56), the mixture of myrrh and aloes--find their literal confirmation in what the Rabbis tell us of the customs of the period (Ber. 53 a). At one time the wasteful expenditure connected with funerals was so great as to involve in serious difficulties the poor, who would not be outdone by their neighbours. The folly extended not only to the funeral rites, the burning of spices at the grave, and the depositing of money and valuables in the tomb, but even to luxury in the wrappings of the dead body. At last a much-needed reform was introduced by Rabbi Gamaliel, who left directions that he was to be buried in simple linen garments. In recognition of this a cup is to this day emptied to his memory at funeral meals. His grandson limited even the number of graveclothes to one dress. The burial-dress is made of the most inexpensive linen, and bears the name of (Tachrichin) "wrappings," or else the "travelling-dress." At present it is always white, but formerly any other colour might be chosen, of which we have some curious instances. Thus one Rabbi would not be buried in white, lest he might seem like one glad, nor yet in black, so as not to appear to sorrow, but in red; while another ordered a white dress, to show that he was not ashamed of his works; and yet a third directed that he should have his shoes and stockings, and a stick, to be ready for the resurrection! As we know from the gospel, the body was wrapped in "linen clothes," and the face bound about with a napkin (John 11:44, 20:5,7).
The body having been properly prepared, the funeral rites proceeded, as described in the gospels. From the account of the funeral procession at Nain, which the Lord of life arrested (Luke 7:11-15), many interesting details may be learned. First, burying-places were always outside cities (Matt 8:28, 27:7,52,53; John 11:30,31). Neither watercourses nor public roads were allowed to pass through them, nor sheep to graze there. We read of public and private burying-places--the latter chiefly in gardens and caves. It was the practice to visit the graves (John 11:31) partly to mourn and partly to pray. It was unlawful to eat or drink, to read, or even to walk irreverently among them. Cremation was denounced as a purely heathen practice, contrary to the whole spirit of Old Testament teaching. Secondly, we know that, as at Nain, the body was generally carried open on a bier, or else in an open coffin, the bearers frequently changing to give an opportunity to many to take part in a work deemed so meritorious. Graves in fields or in the open were often marked by memorial columns. Children less than a month old were carried to the burying by their mothers; those under twelve months were borne on a bed or stretcher. Lastly, the order in which the procession seems to have wound out of Nain exactly accords with what we know of the customs of the time and place. It was outside the city gate that the Lord with His disciples met the sad array. Had it been in Judaea the hired mourners and musicians would have preceded the bier; in Galilee they followed. First came the women, for, as an ancient Jewish commentary explains--woman, who brought death into our world, ought to lead the way in the funeral procession. Among them our Lord readily recognised the widowed mother, whose only treasure was to be hidden from her for ever. Behind the bier followed, obedient to Jewish law and custom, "much people of the city." The sight of her sorrow touched the compassion of the Son of Man; the presence of death called forth the power of the Son of God. To her only He spoke, what in the form of a question He said to the woman who mourned at His own grave, ignorant that death had been swallowed up in victory, and what He still speaks to us from heaven, "Weep not!" He bade not the procession halt, but, as He touched the bier, they that bore on it the dead body stood still. It was a marvellous sight outside the gate of Nain. The Rabbi and His disciples should reverently have joined the procession; they arrested it. One word of power burst inwards the sluices of Hades, and out flowed once again the tide of life. "He that was dead sat up on his bier, and began to speak"--what words of wonderment we are not told. It must have been like the sudden wakening, which leaves not on the consciousness the faintest trace of the dream. Not of that world but of this would his speech be, though he knew he had been over there, and its dazzling light made earth's sunshine so dim, that ever afterwards life must have seemed to him like the sitting up on his bier, and its faces and voices like those of the crowd which followed him to his burying.
At the grave, on the road to which the procession repeatedly halted, when short addresses were occasionally delivered, there was a funeral oration. If the grave were in a public cemetery, at least a foot and a half must intervene between each sleeper. The caves, or rock-hewn sepulchres, consisted of an ante-chamber in which the bier was deposited, and an inner or rather lower cave in which the bodies were deposited, in a recumbent position, in niches. According to the Talmud these abodes of the dead were usually six feet long, nine feet wide, and ten feet high. Here there were niches for eight bodies: three on each side of the entrance, and two opposite. Larger sepulchres held thirteen bodies. The entrance to the sepulchres was guarded by a large stone or by a door (Matt 27:66; Mark 15:46; John 11:38,39). This structure of the tombs will explain some of the particulars connected with the burial of our Lord, how the women coming early to the grave had been astonished in finding the "very great stone" "rolled away from the door of the sepulchre," and then, when they entered the outer cave, were affrighted to see what seemed "a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment" (Mark 16:4,5). Similarly, it explains the events as they are successively recorded in John 20:1-12, how Mary Magdalene, "when it was yet dark," had come to the sepulchre, in every sense waiting for the light, but even groping had felt that the stone was rolled away, and fled to tell the disciples they had, as she thought, taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre. If she knew of the sealing of that stone and of the Roman guard, she must have felt as if the hatred of man would not deprive their love even of the sacred body of their Lord. And yet, through it all, the hearts of the disciples must have treasured hopes, which they scarce dared confess to themselves. For those other two disciples, witnesses of all His deeds on earth, companions of His shame in Caiaphas' palace, were also waiting for the daybreak--only at home, not like her at the grave. And now "they both ran together." But on that morning, so near the night of betrayal, "the other disciple did outrun Peter." Grey light of early spring had broken the heavy curtain of cloud and mist, and red and golden sunlight lay on the edge of the horizon. The garden was still, and the morning air stirred the trees which in the dark night had seemed to keep watch over the dead, as through the unguarded entrance, by which lay "the very great stone" rolled away, John passed, and "stooping down" into the inner cave "saw the linen clothes lying." "Then cometh Simon Peter," not to wait in the outer cave, but to go into the sepulchre, presently to be followed thither by John. For that empty sepulchre was not a place to look into, but to go into and believe. That morn had witnessed many wonders--wonders which made the Magdalene long for yet greater--for the wonder of wonders, the Lord Himself. Nor was she disappointed. He Who alone could answer her questions fully, and dry her tears, spake first to her who loved so much.
Thus also did our blessed Lord Himself fulfil most truly that on which the law and Jewish tradition laid so great stress: to comfort the mourners in their affliction (comp. James 1:27). Indeed, tradition has it, that there was in the Temple a special gate by which mourners entered, that all who met them might discharge this duty of love. There was a custom, which deserves general imitation, that mourners were not to be tormented by talk, but that all should observe silence till addressed by them. Afterwards, to obviate foolish remarks, a formula was fixed, according to which, in the synagogue the leader of the devotions, and in the house some one, began by asking, "Inquire for the ground of mourning"; upon which one of those present--if possible, a Rabbi--answered, "God is a just Judge," which meant, that He had removed a near relative. Then, in the synagogue, a regular fixed formula of comfort was spoken, while in the house kind expressions of consolation followed.
The Rabbis distinguish between the Onen and the Avel--the sorrowing or suffering one, and the bowed down, fading one, or mourner; the former expression applying only to the day of the funeral, the latter to the period which followed. It was held, that the law of God only prescribed mourning for the first day, which was that of death and burial (Lev 22:4,6), while the other and longer period of mourning that followed was enjoined by the elders. So long as the dead body was actually in the house, it was forbidden to eat meat or drink wine, to put on the phylacteries, or to engage in study. All necessary food had to be prepared outside the house, and as, if possible, not to be eaten in presence of the dead. The first duty was to rend the clothes, which might be done in one or more of the inner garments, but not in the outer dress. The rent is made standing, and in front; it is generally about a hand-breadth in length. In the case of parents it is never closed up again; but in that of others it is mended after the thirtieth day. Immediately after the body is carried out of the house all chairs and couches are reversed, and the mourners sit (except on the Sabbath, and on the Friday only for one hour) on the ground or on a low stool. A three-fold distinction was here made. Deep mourning was to last for seven days, of which the first three were those of "weeping." During these seven days it was, among other things, forbidden to wash, to anoint oneself, to put on shoes, to study, or to engage in any business. After that followed a lighter mourning of thirty days. Children were to mourn for their parents a whole year; and during eleven months (so as not to imply that they required to remain a full year in purgatory) to say the "prayer for the dead." The latter, however, does not contain any intercession for the departed. The anniversary of the day of death was also to be observed. An apostate from the Jewish faith was not to be mourned; on the contrary, white dress was to be worn on the occasion of his decease, and other demonstrations of joy to be made. It is well known under what exceptional circumstances priests and the high-priest were allowed to mourn for the dead (Lev 21:10,11). In the case of the high-priest it was customary to say to him, "May we be thy expiation!" ("Let us suffer what ought to have befallen thee";) to which he replied, "Be ye blessed of Heaven" (Sanh. ii. 1). It is noted that this mode of address to the high-priest was intended to indicate the greatness of their affection; and the learned Otho suggests (Lexic. Rabb, p. 343), that this may have been in the mind of the apostle when he would have wished himself Anathema for the sake of his brethren (Rom 9:3). On the return from the burial, friends, or neighbours prepared a meal for the mourners, consisting of bread, hard-boiled eggs, and lentils--round and coarse fare; round like life, which is rolling on unto death. This was brought in and served up in earthenware. On the other hand, the mourners' friends partook of a funeral meal, at which no more than ten cups were to be emptied--two before the meal, five at it, and three afterwards (Jer. Ber. iii. 1). In modern times the religious duty of attending to the dying, the dead, and mourners, is performed by a special "holy brotherhood," as it is called, which many of the most religious Jews join for the sake of the pious work in which it engages them.
We add the following, which may be of interest. It is expressly allowed (Jer. Ber. iii. 1), on Sabbaths and feast-days to walk beyond the Sabbath limits, and to do all needful offices for the dead. This throws considerable light on the evangelical account of the offices rendered to the body of Jesus on the eve of the Passover. The chief mourning rites, indeed, were intermitted on Sabbaths and feast-days; and one of the most interesting, and perhaps the earliest Hebrew non-Biblical record--the Megillath Taanith, or roll of fasts--mentions a number of other days on which mourning was prohibited, being the anniversaries of joyous occasions. The Mishnah (Moed K. iii. 5-9) contains a number of regulations and limitations of mourning observances on greater and lesser feasts, which we do not quote, as possessing little interest save in Rabbinical casuistry. The loss of slaves was not to be mourned.
But what after death and in the judgment? And what of that which brought in, and which gives such terrible meaning to death and the judgment--sin? It were idle, and could only be painful here to detail the various and discordant sayings of the Rabbis, some of which, at least, may admit of an allegorical interpretation. Only that which may be of use to the New Testament student shall be briefly summarised. Both the Talmud (Pes. 54 a; Ned. 39 b), and the Targum teach that paradise and hell were created before this world. One quotation from the Jerusalem Targum (on Gen 3:24) will not only sufficiently prove this, but show the general current of Jewish teaching. Two thousand years, we read, before the world was made, God created the Law and Gehenna, and the Garden of Eden. He made the Garden of Eden for the righteous, that they might eat of the fruits thereof, and delight themselves in them, because in this world they had kept the commandments of the law. But for the wicked He prepared Gehenna, which is like a sharp two-edged destroying sword. He put within it sparks of fire and burning coals, to punish the wicked in the world to come, because they had not observed the commandments of the law in this world. For the law is the tree of life. Whosoever observeth it shall live and subsist as the tree of life. *
* Other Rabbinical sayings have it, that seven things existed before the world--the law, repentance, paradise, hell, the throne of God, the name of the Messiah, and the Temple. At the same time the reader will observe that the quotation from the Targum given in the text attempts an allegorising, and therefore rationalistic interpretation of the narrative in Genesis 3:24.
Paradise and hell were supposed to be contiguous, only separated--it was said, perhaps allegorically--by an handbreadth. But although we may here find some slight resemblance to the localisation of the history of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:25,26), only those acquainted with the theological thinking of the time can fully judge what infinite difference there is between the story in the Gospel and the pictures drawn in contemporary literature. Witness here the 22nd chapter of the book of Enoch, which, as so many other passages from pseudo-epigraphic and Rabbinical writings, has been mangled and misquoted by modern writers, for purposes hostile to Christianity. The Rabbis seem to have believed in a multitude of heavens--most of them holding that there were seven, as there were also seven departments in paradise, and as many in hell. The pre-existence of the souls of all mankind before their actual appearance upon earth, and even the doctrine of the migration of souls, seem also to have been held--both probably, however, chiefly as speculative views, introduced from foreign, non-Judaean sources.
But all these are preliminary and outside questions, which only indirectly touch the great problems of the human soul concerning sin and salvation. And here we can, in this place, only state that the deeper and stronger our conviction that the language, surroundings, and whole atmosphere of the New Testament were those of Palestine at the time when our Lord trod its soil, the more startling appears the contrast between the doctrinal teaching of Christ and His apostles and that of the Rabbis. In general, it may be said that the New Testament teaching concerning original sin and its consequences finds no analogy in the Rabbinical writings of that period. As to the mode of salvation, their doctrine may be broadly summed up under the designation of work-righteousness.
In view of this there is, strictly speaking, logical inconsistency in the earnestness with which the Rabbis insist on universal and immediate repentance, and the need of confession of sin, and of preparation for another world. For, a paradise which might be entered by all on their own merits, and which yet is to be sought by all through repentance and similar means, or else can only be obtained after passing through a kind of purgatory, constitutes no mean moral charge against the religion of Rabbinism. Yet such inconsistencies may be hailed as bringing the synagogue, in another direction, nearer to biblical truth. Indeed, we come occasionally upon much that also appears, only in quite another setting, in the New Testament. Thus the teaching of our Lord about the immortality of the righteous was, of course, quite consonant with that of the Pharisees. In fact, their contention also was, that the departed saints were in Scripture called "living" (Ber. 18 a). Similarly, it was their doctrine (Ber. 17 a, and in several other passages)--though not quite consistently held--as it was that of our Lord (Matt 22:30), that "in the world to come there is neither eating nor drinking, neither fruitfulness nor increase, neither trade nor business, neither envy, hatred, nor strife; but the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads, and feast themselves on the splendour of the Shechinah, as it is written, 'They saw God, and did eat and drink'" (Exo 24:11). The following is so similar in form and yet so different in spirit to the parable of the invited guests and him without the wedding garment (Matt 22:1-14), that we give it in full. "R. Jochanan, son of Saccai, propounded a parable. A certain king prepared a banquet, to which he invited his servants, without however having fixed the time for it. Those among them who were wise adorned themselves, and sat down at the door of the king's palace, reasoning thus: Can there be anything awanting in the palace of a king? But those of them who were foolish went away to their work, saying: Is there ever a feast without labour? Suddenly the king called his servants to the banquet. The wise appeared adorned, but the foolish squalid. Then the king rejoiced over the wise, but was very wroth with the foolish, and said: Those who have adorned themselves shall sit down, eat, drink, and be merry; but those who have not adorned themselves shall stand by and see it, as it is written in Isaiah 65:13." A somewhat similar parable, but even more Jewish in its dogmatic cast, is the following: "The matter (of the world to come) is like an earthly king who committed to his servants the royal robes. They who were wise folded and laid them up in the wardrobes, but they who were careless put them on, and did in them their work. After some days the king asked back his robes. Those who were wise restored them as they were, that is, still clean; those who were foolish also restored them as they were, that is, soiled. Then the king rejoiced over the wise, but was very wroth with the careless servants, and he said to the wise: Lay up the robes in the treasury, and go home in peace. But to the careless he commanded the robes to be given, that they might wash them, and that they themselves should be cast into prison, as it is written of the bodies of the just in Isaiah 57:2; 1 Samuel 25:29, but of the bodies of the unjust in Isaiah 48:22, 57:21 and in 1 Samuel 25:29." From the same tractate (Shab. 152 a), we may, in conclusion, quote the following: "R. Eliezer said, Repent on the day before thou diest. His disciples asked him: Can a man know the hour of his death? He replied: Therefore let him repent to-day, lest haply he die on the morrow."
Quotations on these, and discussions on kindred subjects might lead us far beyond our present scope. But the second of the parables above quoted will point the direction of the final conclusions at which Rabbinism arrived. It is not, as in the Gospel, pardon and peace, but labour with the "may be" of reward. As for the "after death," paradise, hell, the resurrection, and the judgment, voices are more discordant than ever, opinions more unscriptural, and descriptions more repulsively fabulous. This is not the place farther to trace the doctrinal views of the Rabbis, to attempt to arrange and to follow them up. Work-righteousness and study of the law are the surest key to heaven. There is a kind of purgation, if not of purgatory, after death. Some seem even to have held the annihilation of the wicked. Taking the widest and most generous views of the Rabbis, they may be thus summed up: All Israel have share in the world to come; the pious among the Gentiles also have part in it. Only the perfectly just enter at once into paradise; all the rest pass through a period of purification and perfection, variously lasting, up to one year. But notorious breakers of the law, and especially apostates from the Jewish faith, and heretics, have no hope whatever, either here or hereafter! Such is the last word which the synagogue has to say to mankind.
Not thus are we taught by the Messiah, the King of the Jews. If we learn our loss, we also learn that "The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." Our righteousness is that freely bestowed on us by Him "Who was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities." "With His stripes we are healed." The law which we obey is that which He has put within our hearts, by which we become temples of the Holy Ghost. "The Dayspring from on high hath visited us" through the tender mercy of our God. The Gospel hath brought life and immortality to light, for we know Whom we have believed; and "perfect love casteth out fear." Not even the problems of sickness, sorrow, suffering, and death are unnoticed. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." The tears of earth's night hang as dewdrops on flower and tree, presently to sparkle like diamonds in the morning sun. For, in that night of nights has Christ mingled the sweat of human toil and sorrow with the precious blood of His agony, and made it drop on earth as sweet balsam to heal its wounds, to soothe its sorrows, and to take away its death.
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