LIFE ONLY IN CHRIST
MAN'S NATURE AND STATE IN DEATH
A wide-open door for Spiritualism is afforded by the teaching that man has life in himself—immortality by nature; and that death is not really death, but another form of life.
The Scriptures close this door of false hope, teaching us that man is mortal, that death is really death, and that immortality is the gift of God through Christ by the resurrection from the dead.
Clearly and definitely the Bible teaches that God only has immortality, styling Him "the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; who only hath immortality." 1 Tim. 6:15, 16.
This scripture disposes of every idea that man is immortal by nature, and opens the way for a consideration of the Scripture teaching concerning man's nature, his state in death, and the promise of life and immortality in Christ.
Man by Nature Mortal
The word "mortal," as used in that ancient question by Eliphaz, describes man's nature:
"Shall mortal man be more just than God?" Job 4:17.
In the creation, life was conditional upon the creature's relation to Christ the Creator, in whom all things consist:
"All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life." John 1:3,4.
He was, and is, as the psalmist says, "the fountain of life." Cut off from vital connection with Him, there could be no continuance of life. The Lord warned Adam that his life was conditional upon obedience. "In the day that thou eatest thereof," He said of the forbidden tree, "thou shalt surely die." Gen. 2:17. It was a declaration that man was not immortal, but was dependent upon God for life.
When by unbelief and sin man rejected God, the sentence—death eternal—must have been executed had not the plan of salvation intervened. But as the stroke of divine justice was falling upon the sinner, the Son of God interposed Himself and received the blow. "He was bruised for our iniquities." In the divine plan, the great sacrifice for man was as sure then as when, later, it was actually made on Calvary. Christ was "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."
And there Adam, the sinner, now with a fallen human nature, which would be perpetuated in his descendants in all subsequent time, was granted an extension of life, every moment of which, whether for him or for his posterity, was the purchase of Christ by His own death, in order that in this time of probation man might find forgiveness of sin and assurance of life to come. Adam was not created immortal, but was placed on probation, and had he continued faithful, the gift of immortality must have been given him at some later time, after he had passed the test. As the original plan is carried out through Christ, "the second Adam," the gift of immortality is bestowed finally upon all who pass the test of the judgment and are found in Christ, in whom alone is life.
Having fallen, Adam, now possessed of a sinful nature, must die. "The wages of sin is death." Rom. 6:23. It was impossible that sin or sinners should be immortalized in God's universe. So, inasmuch as the tree of life in Eden had been made the channel of continuance of life to man, the Lord said:
"Now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever: therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden." Gen. 3:22, 23.
This negatives the idea that there could ever be an immortal sinner, who should mar God's creation forever. Sin works out nothing but death. "Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." James 1:15. Fallen himself, Adam could bequeath to his posterity only a fallen, mortal nature. So began the sad history summed up in the text:
"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." Rom. 5:12.
Mortality is written upon all creation. Ages ago the wise man wrote, "There is one event unto all: ... they go to the dead." Eccl. 9:3. Human hearts everywhere and in all time have cried out against the remorselessness of the great enemy. "Do people die with you?" was the question met by Livingstone in the untraveled wilds of Africa. "Have you no charm against death?" The Greek as well as the barbarian confessed to the helplessness of man before the great enemy. Centuries before Christ, Sophocles the Athenian wrote:
"Wonders are many! and none is there greater than man, who
Steers his ship over the sea, driven on by the south wind,
Cleaving the threatening swell of the waters around him.
"He captures the gay-hearted birds; he entangles adroitly
Creatures that live on the land and the brood of the ocean,
Spreading his well-woven nets. Man full of devices!
"Speech and swift thought free as wind, the building of cities;
Shelters to ward off the arrows of rain, and to temper
Sharp-biting frost—all these hath he taught himself. Surely
Stratagem hath he for all that comes! Never the future
Finds him resourceless! Deftly he combats grievous diseases,
Oft from their grip doth he free himself. Death alone vainly—
Vainly he seeks to escape; 'gainst death he is helpless."
—Chorus from Antigone.
What unspeakable pathos in the cry of humanity's helplessness before death, the great enemy! But when Adam went out of Eden, it was with the assurance of life from the dead through the promised Seed, if faithful. It is the message of the one gospel for all time—everlasting life in Christ.
"God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16.
As there is none other name under heaven by which men can be saved, so there is no other way of everlasting life or immortality, save in Christ Jesus our Lord.
When Immortality is Bestowed
Christ said, "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live." John 11:25.
He has turned death, that would have been eternal, into a little time of sleep, from which he will awaken the believer. In the resurrection of the last day immortality is bestowed, "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory." 1 Cor. 15:52-54.
"There is a blessed hope,
More precious and more bright
Than all the joyless mockery
The world esteems delight.
"There is a lovely star
That lights the darkest gloom,
And sheds a peaceful radiance o'er
The prospects of the tomb."
Not until the resurrection, "at the last trump," is immortality conferred upon the redeemed. Note that it is not something immortal putting on immortality; but this "mortal" puts on immortality. Mark this: there is no life after death, save by the resurrection. "If there be no resurrection of the dead,... then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished." 1 Cor. 15:13-18.
This resurrection, as stated by the apostle Paul, is not at death, but in the last day, when Christ shall come, and all His children that are in their graves shall hear His voice. Jesus says:
"This is the will of Him that sent Me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day." John 6:40.
That is why the coming of Christ has been the "blessed hope" of all the ages.
Man's State in Death
Between death and the resurrection, the dead sleep. Jesus declares that death is a sleep. Lazarus was dead, but Jesus said, "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth." John 11:11. It is the language of Inspiration throughout. The patriarch Job said:
"Man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up: so man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more [the heavens will be rolled back as a scroll at Christ's coming], they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep." Job 14:10-12.
This hope of the resurrection at the last day was no indistinct hope to the believer in God's promises. The patriarch continued:
"If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: Thou wilt have a desire to the work of Thine hands." Verses 14, 15.
Job tells us of the place of his waiting for the Life-giver's call: "If I wait, the grave is mine house." Job 17:13. It is thence that Christ will call His own when He comes. "The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth." John 5:28, 29.
Death is an unconscious sleep. It must of necessity be so; for death is the opposite of life. Therefore there is no consciousness of the passing of time to those who sleep in the grave. It is as if the eyes closed in death one instant, and the next instant, to the believer's consciousness, he awakens to hear the animating voice of Jesus calling him to glad immortality, and to see the angels catching up his loved ones to meet Jesus in the air.
These scriptures, out of many, will suffice to show that man is not conscious in death:
"His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish." Ps. 146:4.
"The living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything.... Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion forever in anything that is done under the sun." Eccl. 9:5, 6.
Death is a sleep, which will continue until the resurrection. Then the Lord will bring forth from the dust the same person who was laid away in death.
Some have said that this Bible doctrine of the sleep of the dead until the resurrection is a gloomy one. Popular tradition thinks of the blessed dead as going at once to heaven, which, say some, is a beautiful thought. But they forget that the same teaching consigns their unbelieving friends to immediate torment—and that, too, while awaiting the judgment of the last day.
No; the Bible teaching is the cheering doctrine, the "blessed hope." All the faithful of all the ages are going into the kingdom together. This blessed truth appeals to the spirit that loves to wait and share joys and good things with loved ones. Of the faithful of past ages the apostle says:
"These all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect." Heb. 11:39, 40.
They are waiting, that all together the saved may enter in. And the time of waiting is but an instant to those who "sleep in Jesus."
David was a man of God, but the apostle Peter, speaking by the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, declared to the people of the city of David: "He is both dead and buried, and his sepulcher is with us unto this day.... For David is not ascended into the heavens." Acts 2:29-34. They without us have not been made perfect. They are all awaiting that glad day toward which the apostle Paul turned the last look of his mortal vision:
"I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." 2 Tim. 4:7, 8.
What joy in that day to march in through the gates into the eternal city, with Adam, and Abel, and Noah, and Abraham, and Paul, and all the faithful, and the loved ones of our own home circles, and dear comrades in service, every one clothed with immortality, the gift of God in Christ Jesus our Redeemer! Horatius Bonar's hymn sings the joyful hope as the loved are laid away to "sleep in Jesus:"
"Softly within that peaceful resting place
We lay their wearied limbs, and bid the clay
Press lightly on them till the night be past,
And the far east give note of coming day.
"The shout is heard, the Archangel's voice goes forth;
The trumpet sounds, the dead awake and sing;
The living put on glory; one glad band,
They hasten up to meet their coming King."
In a word, the Scripture teaches that God alone has immortality, that man is mortal, that death is a sleep, that life after death comes only by the resurrection of the last day, that the righteous are then given immortality. Further, the Scripture teaches that later there will be a resurrection of the unjust, not unto life, but unto death, the second death, from which there is no release.
Every doctrine of Scripture and of the gospel is in accord with this Bible teaching as to man's nature and his state in death. But the traditional view of the natural immortality of the soul and of life in death, nullifies the Bible doctrines of life only in Christ, and the resurrection, and the judgment, and the giving of rewards at Christ's coming, and the final judgment upon the wicked and its execution.
A Few Questions Briefly Considered
1. The "Living Soul"
Says one, "Did not the Lord put into man an immortal soul?"
No; the Scripture says:
"The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Gen. 2:7.
The soul was not put into the man, but when the life-giving breath was breathed into his nostrils, the man himself became a living soul, a living being. The ordinary version (King James) gives "a living soul" in the margin of Gen. 1:30, showing that the same expression is used of all the animal creation in the Hebrew text. The famous Methodist commentator, Dr. Adam Clarke, says on this phrase, "living soul:"
"A general term to express all creatures endued with animal life, in any of its infinitely varied gradations."
2. Are "Soul" and "Spirit" Deathless?
"Are not the soul and spirit said to be deathless?" questions another.
No. One writer says of the Scriptural use of the words "soul" and "spirit:"
"The Hebrew and Greek words from which they are translated, occur in the Bible, as we have seen, seventeen hundred times. Surely, once at least in that long list we shall be told that the soul is immortal, if this is its high prerogative. Seventeen hundred times we inquire if the soul is once said to be immortal, or the spirit deathless. And the invariable and overwhelming response we meet is, Not once!"—"Here and Hereafter" by U. Smith, p. 65.
On the contrary, the Lord declares, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." Eze. 18:20. It means that the person who sins shall die; for the words "soul," "mind," "heart," and "spirit" are used to express life or the seat of the affections or of the intellect. One may commend his soul to God, or his spirit to God (really his life into the keeping of God), until the great day of the resurrection. The word "soul" is used of all animal life in New Testament usage, as well as in the Old; as, "Every living soul died in the sea." Rev. 16:3.
3. The Thief on the Cross
"Did not Christ promise the thief on the cross that he would be with Him that day in Paradise?"
No; for Paradise is where God's throne is, and the tree of life, and the city of God, the capital of Christ's kingdom; and three days later Christ had not yet ascended to the Father. "Touch Me not," He said to Mary after His resurrection; "for I am not yet ascended to My Father." John 20:17. The dying thief, therefore, was not with Him in Paradise three days before.
Nor did the thief's question suggest such a thought. His faith grasped Christ's resurrection, the resurrection of His children, and the coming kingdom; and that day on the cross, in the moment of the deepest humiliation of the Son of God, the repentant sinner cried, "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom." And the Saviour replied, "Verily I say unto thee today"—this day, when the world scoffs and the darkness presses upon Me, this day I say it—"shalt thou be with Me in Paradise." Luke 23:42, 43.
The punctuation that makes it read, "Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise," is not a part of the sacred text, and puts the Saviour's promise in contradiction with the facts of the whole narrative and the teaching of Scripture.
4. The Rich Man and Lazarus
"Then there is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus," one says, "where Lazarus and Dives are talking, though dead—Lazarus in Abraham's bosom and the rich man in torment."
But that is a parable; and no one can set the figures of a parable against the facts of positive Scripture. In parables, lessons are often taught by figurative language and imaginary scenes which could never be real, though the lesson is emphasized the more forcefully.
In the parable of Judges 9, the trees are represented as holding a council and talking with one another. No one mistakes the lesson of the parable, or supposes that the trees actually talked. So in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the lesson is taught that uprightness in this life, even though under deepest poverty, will be rewarded in the future life; while uncharitable selfishness will surely bring one to ruin and destruction.
In the face of the Bible teaching, no one can turn this parable into actual narrative, representing that the saved in glory are now looking over the battlements of heaven and talking with the lost writhing before their eyes in agony amid the flames of unending torment. This is not the picture that the Scriptures give us of heaven, nor of the state of the dead, nor of the time and circumstances of the final rewards or punishments.