The Christian believes with unalterable conviction and inner persuasion that immortality is a fact, an inviolable verity, mysterious and transcendental, yet as real and personal as the highest truth. He believes that in the resurrection, pledged and sealed by his Savior's Easter victory over death, personal identity is not submerged and that the future existence is no semiconscious Nirvana.
These eternal expectancies of God's children voiced in the gems of the Church's treasured hymnody and chiseled into the marble memorials that Christian devotion has erected on God's acre, these triumphant prospects, rest upon the statements of that Word which is to be a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path, even when our reason deserts us in an inextricable labyrinth.
The Scriptures assume this truth and would have God's children accept it as granted. The Bible never denies this hope; it never argues about it; but it does present a long list of testimonies which point straight to the joy of reunion in heaven.
According to the promise of our Savior the personal identities of the ransomed souls are preserved. He tells us that in consequence of the Church's missionary work "many shall come from the East and West and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 8:11). If this passage is to be preserved in its original force and meaning, it must be interpreted as presupposing that the three patriarchs are personal entities and are recognized by those who join with them in the realms of eternity.
With impressive clarity we see the evidence of personal recognition on the Mount of Transfiguration, when the disciples without previous instructions immediately recognize the two departed prophets Moses and Elijah (Matt 17:3). If these commanding figures of the Old Testament could be identified by the disciples who had never before seen them, then in heaven, where our knowledge shall be made perfect, and our vision clarified, there must be similar recognition.
The question of the elder in the Apocalypse: "What are these which are arrayed in white robes? And whence came they?" and the answer: "These are they which came out of great tribulation and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev. 7:13), cannot be correctly interpreted in any other way than by assuming that these saints in glory are recognized as martyrs who had laid down their lives for the glorification of Christ.
It is in the endorsement of this truth that the Apostle writes to the Thessalonians and, asking, "What is our hope, our joy, our crown of rejoicing?" answers: "Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For ye are our glory and crown" (1 Thes. 2:19-20). Here Saint Paul openly declares that he will rejoice in eternity over his converts from Thessalonica, whom he will recognize in the presence of his Savior. The promise holds out little comfort unless it predicates personal identity.
A similar conviction animated the believers of the Old Testament. When one of God's heroes in the Old Covenant days passed into eternity, the record tells us that he was gathered unto his people. A cynical, scoffing generation of Bible critics may seek to interpret this as a reference to the family tomb; but there is no evidence that family crypts were in general use. If the doctrine of the resurrection is so clear and vivid in the Old Testament faith that Palsied Job can break through the cynicism of his counselors and declare: "I know that my Redeemer liveth, . . . and though, after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself and my eyes shall behold, and not another" (Job 19:25-27), how can there be any desire to restrict the implications of this "being gathered unto the fathers" to the sepulchral rest in the family mausoleum? Must we not believe that, when David, tormented over the death of his child, declared, "I shall go to him" (2 Sam. 12-23), he who foresaw the resurrection of Christ, believed that death would reunite him with his infant son?
It is noteworthy that, when the savior describes the heavens of glory, though He must adapt Himself both to the poverty and limitations of human speech as well as to the inadequacy of the human mind in conceiving of these unutterable blessings, He nevertheless speaks of his Father's house with its many mansions, where each of the believers finds the prepared place after the race of life has run its course. This heavenly home is not the abode of indefinable spirits that have submerged or lost their personality; it would be unwarranted to picture these heavenly mansions and celestial communion of the saints without believing in the mutual and individual recognition of the children of God for whom these everlasting dwellings have been prepared by Christ.
With the additional emphasis that the Word of God lays upon the individual in eternity, the names of the elect recorded in the Book of Life, the acknowledgment of each faithful believer by the Savior Himself before His Father in heaven, Dives beholding Abraham and Lazarus in his bosom, there is no doubt in the Christian's mind. He believes that, when the New Testament speaks of "the whole family in heaven" (Eph. 3:15) it includes in this vast picture of the ten thousand times ten thousand the conscious, recognized union of those who were united in the spirit blessed family here on earth.
What more powerful antidote to the crushing sorrows of bereavement that this firm-founded faith in a better life to come and an everlasting companionship that can never be severed by disease or death? What brighter light of illumination by which to dispel the clouds of death's anguish than the radiance of Christ's blood-sealed promise that, when our bodies, sown in corruption, are raised in incorruption, we shall stand glorified at our Savior's side, -- There where the good and blest, Those we love most and best, and where we, too, shall rest, -- Heaven is our home.