1: The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption: but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them: the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies. And the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day. Beside these two places, for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledges none.
Robert Shaw says this:
I. It is here supposed that death is an event common to all men. "It is appointed unto men once to die."—Heb. ix. 27. This is the immutable appointment of Heaven, which cannot be reversed, and which none can frustrate. When meditating upon this subject, the royal Psalmist exclaimed: "What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? Shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave?"—Ps. lxxxix. 48. Job speaks of death as an event which certainly awaited him, and of the grave as the common receptacle of all mankind: "I know that thou wilt bring me to death, and to the house appointed for all living."—Job xxx. 23. Our own observation abundantly confirms the declaration of Scripture. Nor are we at a loss to account for the introduction of death into our world, and its universal prevalence over the human race: "As by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned."—Rom. v. 12.
There is, indeed, a vast difference between the death of the righteous and that of the wicked. To the latter, death is the effect of the law-curse, and the harbinger of everlasting destruction; but to the former, death is not the proper punishment of sin, but the termination of all sin and sorrow, and an entrance into life eternal. To them death is divested of its sting, and rendered powerless to do them any real injury. Not only is it disarmed of its power to hurt them—it is compelled to perform a friendly part to them. It is their release from warfare—their deliverance from woe—their departure to be with Christ. But although death is no real loss, but rather great gain to the righteous; yet, as it consists in the dissolution of the union between the soul and the body, it is an event from which they are not exempted.
God could, no doubt, if he pleased, easily save his saints from natural death. Of this he gave a proof in the case of Enoch and of Elijah. For good reasons, however, he has determined otherwise. 1. That the righteous, as well as others, should be subjected to temporal death, is best adapted to the present plan of the divine government, and seems necessary, if not to the preservation, at least to the comfort of human society. According to the plan of the divine government, rewards and punishments are principally reserved for a future world. But if the righteous were exempted from death, while the wicked fell under its stroke, this would be a manifestation of the final destiny of every man that is removed out of this world. Death, therefore, happens to the righteous in the same outward form, and attended with the same external circumstances, as it happens to the wicked, that there may be no visible distinction between them. 2. Were the righteous to be distinguished from the wicked by being translated to heaven without tasting of death, this would introduce great confusion into society. Without producing any salutary effect upon the wicked, it would render them more regardless of character, and remove one powerful stimulus—the prospect of future fame—which animates them to noble exertions for the benefit of society. It would also greatly affect the character and the happiness of the living. Were the parent singled out as the object of the divine displeasure, by being subjected to death, this would fix a brand of infamy upon his children; or if the child were taken away in a manner so expressive of its future destiny, this would pierce the heart of the parent, especially if serious, with inexpressible anguish. No class, indeed, would be more affected by such a state of things than the righteous themselves. Hence death is the common lot of the godly and of the wicked. 3. This arrangement affords occasion for a richer display of the power and grace of God. As the hour of death is the most trying to men, so the power and grace of God are most gloriously displayed, in supporting his people in that solemn hour; in enabling them, in the exercise of faith and hope, to rise superior to the fear of death, and to triumph over this last enemy as conquerors. And how illustriously will his power be displayed in raising up their bodies at the last day! 4. Another reason, we conceive, why the righteous are subjected to temporal death, is, that they may be conformed to Christ, their glorious head. He tasted of death before he was crowned with glory and honour; and they also must enter into glory through "the valley of the shadow of death."