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Description: Possibility of salvation after death.
Is There Salvation After Death?
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Please turn to Colossians 1:3 in your Bibles. “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus
Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love
which you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have
heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel.” That’s it there: “because of the hope laid up
for you in heaven.” That’s about as much as we can do today. It looks as if “we always thank God
because we have heard of your faith because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.” It looks like
that because of how the English grammar runs. It’s the hope laid up for you in heaven.
I don’t know where I got it from — was it Abraham hoping against hope? Abraham hopes against hope
that he would have a son. I don’t know if I got it from that or the ordinary use of hope — I hope
— well, I hope. I’ m not sure but I’m hoping — hoping for the best. I think that’s where I caught
it from. Hoping for the best. Even when the Bible says in Corinthians [I Corinthians 13:13] “faith,
hope, charity”, I still felt hope is something you hope may happen but you are not really sure of
it. Probably the whole idea of the last hope seemed to cling to it in my own mind. Hope was
something you weren’t absolutely sure of. It was the best thing you could do in circumstances that
augured worst. That was the best you could do. That was hope. It was something that you did but you
weren’t terribly confident. It was the best outcome you could think of in the situation.
You are right if you say you are wrong in that. I’m sure it is wrong to think that is all hope is.
But that was my vague notion of hope. Even in the Bible we were hoping for something. I had no
thought of Calvin’s statement, “Hope is the constancy of faith.” Sometimes we Antinominians think
Calvin can say nothing. This is pretty good. The best I have seen about hope. Hope is the constancy
of faith. I’m touched by it because the guy had deep understanding of God’s heart. I had no idea of
that, none. I didn’t think that was hope. I thought hope was what I expressed earlier — your belief
in the best outcome you could expect from the situation. Indeed it was something that comes along
and delivers you from otherwise what seemed to be a hopeless situation. Of course it was utterly and
It’s stated here so clearly. “I give thanks to God for you because of the hope laid up for you in
heaven” — the hope laid up for you in heaven. Partly what began to open my eyes, quite reasonably
in a way, was: can the Europeans do any good thing? Well, they sent up the probe. After ten years
and five billion miles, it has landed on a comet! I can understand the Americans how they might do
that. But the Europeans who could hardly understand each other that they could do it! It was a great
It landed 3 weeks ago. They had sent this probe ten years ago. It’s been travelling for ten years
and after five billion miles it has landed on the comet they had planned it to land on. The comet
itself is moving.
For me, it brought into reality and the presence what we knew. I know what you all know. It’s a big
universe, isn’t it? How many solar systems there are? How many planets and it is still expanding? I
knew that. There in my little head. But when this thing travelled for ten years and they showed us
a picture five billion miles away, it hit me strongly. This universe is huge. It’s absolutely huge.
For me, it made me realize, wait a minute, God must have some plans for this. He must have something
far beyond another planet we might be able to spend another few years on. This is big!
That’s where I started on the whole thing. I don’t feel I’m going tomorrow so I don’t think “I’m a
little older than I was” makes a difference. I don’t feel I’m going anywhere fast. I think I am
here for another twenty years. But for whatever reason, it makes you think, now what happens next?
My what happens next isn’t tied to other planets but maybe some other locality. It is not the whole
universe. That’s where the idea of hope began to become real to me. God has something far, far, far
beyond what we have envisaged and what we have imagined.
Of course it ties up with where we all go and what happens to us all. How long are we there? It
comes into all kinds of verses. One baffling one, certainly, is Romans 14:11, “For it is written,
‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.'”
It’s one of those verses that along with early verses in the Old Testament states David’s throne
will last forever. This one is a plain one. Every knee shall bow to me; every tongue shall give
praise to God.
Of course, it tied up in my mind with other statements that implied everyone would bow to God and
everyone would worship him; everyone would eventually see that he is true and real. At times I was
touched by the statements that Jesus made which were very real. “In my Father’s house are many
mansions, if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you that where I am
you may be also.” [John 14:2] I was always sceptical of the interpretations that maybe the Muslims
and Hindus would be in some of the mansions. Because I believed strongly in the statement that Jesus
made in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of
God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts,
nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of
I believed that strongly. I thought the idea of universalism [everybody will get into heaven
whatever they are like] cannot be right. Certainly there were words like those talking about a lake
of fire [Revelations 20:15] that implied there is a place that is different from heaven and not
everybody will be in heaven. It did give me concern – wrongly — about my mother. My mother was a
Christian and took communion and so forth. But I thought of others who never professed Christianity;
never professed any faith and yet they were relatives of ours or people that we were close to. It
was difficult to think that when they passed away. We’ve seen them here and that’s it, we won’t see
So those ideas have been in my mind down through the years. I thought it was very important to be
true to Scripture and to hold to every indication of the truth that the adulterers, the fornicators
and murderers will not be in heaven. But it was quite difficult for me to sort out what will happen
to the people who were not truly Christian, or not really Christian. What would happen to people
like my brother who never professed anything at anytime? It always touched it a little with
melancholy. As I would meet other people, I would wonder.
There were statements too from very intellectually balanced and intelligent people like Barth [Karl
Barth, Swiss Reformed Theologian, 1886-1968] who said God does not destroy anything he has created.
He does not destroy what he has created. I could see how precious human life was and how unique it
was. We were made in his image. What would God do? Would he destroy all that? I always desire to
hold on clearly and strongly to separation from universalism. I would hold to the normal
interpretation of that.
It did concern and trouble me. Especially meeting loved ones like you — there are many of us who
have fathers and mothers who haven’t apparently walked the Orthodox, Protestant or Catholic route —
aren’t avowedly Christian in their minds and others’ minds. It would create in me at least a sorrow.
Then you come to these other verses like “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess.” You come
to Jesus and “in my Father’s house are many mansions.” Then, of course, there is 2 Corinthians
3:18, “And we all, with unveiled faith beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his
likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” I
always knew that verse but it gave me some light.
Then there is 1 John 3:2, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall
be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every
one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” It seemed to me that there’s going to be
movement and development after this life is over. There is going to be a change from glory to glory.
There is going to be a seeing him as he really is so that we ourselves are changed by that light.
I thought this vast universe of thousands of us is going to be destroyed because of our attitude to
the gospel here. The whole universe is going to go on forever and they’re going to have no part in
that at all. I had difficulty seeing that God would actually do that especially in this verse which
gave me the greatest pause. I shared it with you some time ago, maybe months or years ago. It’s a
powerful statement. It’s water to those of us who have done something wrong. Lamentations 3:22-23,
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every
morning; great is thy faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope
in him.;” I have dealt with the steadfast love because I felt it expresses God’s continued mercy to
people like ourselves. As an English teacher I had trouble with ‘never’ because that implies more
than just his present patience with me or with others. It is never. Of course the verb you can’t
get rid of is — ceases; never ceases. His mercies never come to an end.
More as I saw the size of the universe, it ‘jumped’ me out of my previous attitude. It kind of
shocked me into beginning to see some of these verses that imply God is far, far greater than us and
has far more patience than we have. He has far greater love than we have and has far more planned
for his universe than the little few years we have here on earth. As I saw this emphasis of moving
from glory to glory and we are becoming more like him than we are now. I saw that we are made in his
image so we could be his children; so that we would be able to love him and he is able to love us. I
put it to you to think through it yourself.
It seemed to me he must have glorious life for us and glorious things to achieve and experience
after this life is over.
I knew we weren’t going to play harps but I did wonder at times what we were going to do. I have to
admit the old probe thing brought it home to me; even if all we see with our telescopes; even if it
isn’t true or real. Even if it is some other realm than spiritual and physical. Maybe it can have
all kinds of forms. Maybe it is nothing compared with the spirit world that is so much vaster but
certainly there is a lot out there that is far, far beyond the little piece we have here. Our Father
must have all kinds of plans for that.
Of course it began to come home to me that hope is not something to compensate us for the bad things
that are happening. It is not some little thing on the margin of life that will help us to get
through the present experience. I began to see that hope is what he says in that verse, “because of
the hope that is laid up for you in heaven.” That there is a whole life planned for you way beyond
If you say to me, where does it tie up with my father or mother, or other relatives or friends who
have died and seemed to have no interest in Jesus? If his steadfast love never ceases, it seems to
me as we move from glory to glory, he doesn’t give up. He keeps working on us. If you say, well, do
you think it’s so? Well, it fits in more with what he has been so far. It fits in more with why he
has made us. He has made us all to be his children and to come to love him willingly ourselves
because we want to. Maybe he has cut off the possibility after seventy years here; maybe he has. But
maybe he hasn’t!
I’m as critical as anybody here of purgatory [Catholic theological meaning of: A place between
Heaven and Hell, where the soul is not bad enough to be sent to an eternity of damnation in Hell,
but not good enough to go to Heaven, so it is sent there temporarily where the person suffers, and
is purified so that it can be sent to Heaven.] and some kind of punishment that will pay you for
what you have done or will be used to make you better. But I can see a Father whose mercy never ends
and whose steadfast love never ceases.
Can I see such a Father continuing to work with us? Well, I can. I can’t pontificate and say that
is so but it seems to me very reasonable to see that our dear Father has one thing in mind and that
is to have children like his Son who love him freely because they want to. It seems to me that no,
there won’t be a Hitler marching destroying and hating through heaven. But can there be one who
millions of years later comes through all kinds of experiences and eventually gives in to the
Savior’s Spirit? I don’t know.
Certainly if you say, “No, there will be no place for anybody who is not a Christian as I am a
Christian” you have to face the fact that there is a wonderful life for us out there. There is a
huge universe. We have had the narrow verse that has been applied primarily to the Jews. We have
taken that as our best hope. We, as Christians, will rule over something. Maybe we will but maybe we
will do much more than that. Maybe we will develop a universe. Maybe we will be years by our Father
to do something with this vast universe that He has created.
When the Bible talks about hope, it’s talking about something far more concrete than hope has been
to me in the past. It seems to me that there is a whole new world as the Bible says — a new
Jerusalem – a whole new earth and a new heaven as it says. There will be a whole new existence for
us; I dare to say for those who we thought may not be there. You have to think through this
The whole objection to this in evangelicalism is universalism. That’s it. The objection is not what
I have described here. It is the idea of universalism. The idea of universalism is all kinds of
people will get into heaven whatever they are like. Heaven will be a mixture and there will be
people there who don’t believe in Jesus and won’t come to believe in Jesus. Where what I am saying
is, will God continue? Will that steadfast love ever cease? Will it ever come to an end? Or will it
keep working even with the ones we know? The other big argument which evangelicalism holds on to,
the other belief, is: we better get out there and save them from the fire!
That’s not why God wants them — to save them from the fire. He wants them because he loves them.
The only legitimate attitude to witnessing or evangelicalism is because of God’s love in your heart
for everyone and your desire for them to enjoy what you enjoy. That has not always been the attitude
of the narrowly based evangelicalism that we often have been involved in. But whatever you do with
that end of it, the other is the great truth that there is a wonderful life that will begin for us
after this life is over with; a whole magnificent universe that we have not seen at all. God has
something for us to do in bringing this universe into harmony with himself.
I’d encourage you to think and pray about those things. Let’s continue to study His dear Word to
see what light he has for us. For me, it brought a much happier, a much lighter feeling about
heaven and of course, especially about the people who up to now I thought might not be there. Now I
think they will be there. Let us pray.
Dear Lord, we thank you for your great wisdom and we thank you for your face which we have seen in
Jesus. We thank you for the unending mercy and understanding that you have shown through Him to us.
We thank you for his loving attitude to the people who were looked down upon. We thank you, Father,
for your apparent endless forbearance with people like ourselves.
We thank you finally, Lord, for your dear Word that points us to a life of beauty and peace and joy
in your company. We thank you, Father, for giving us each one abilities and characters that are
capable of being like you and doing your will.
Now we pray, Lord, for all the dear hearts that we love and are concerned about, especially those
who don’t seem to be Christians today. We pray, our Father, that the love you have put into our
hearts for yourself and for them may manifest itself to them and the sheer magnanimity of your own
heart and character may come over to them through us in such a way that they will be stirred
We pray, Lord, that you will enable us to walk in the bigness and greatness of your vision and your
plan for all of us. Even as the years go by in our lives here on earth, we may see the future as
greater and bigger than anything we have ever thought before. That hope is the constancy of faith
and it is the reality of life beyond this earth which is going to be far, far bigger and better than
what it has been here and you have us on track to be part of that along with those we love. We thank
you for your goodness to us; for this day and for your dear Word and Spirit.
Now the grace of our Lord Jesus, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with each
one of us now and evermore. Amen.