Immortality a Conditional Gift to be Bestowed at the Resurrection
If human nature be essentially mortal, and if death in relation to it be the destruction of all its manifested powers, what is the true relation of a future life to our perishing race? Many jump to the conclusion that the position taken in the two previous lectures involves a denial of future retribution, and even the rejection of the existence of God. That this is a great mistake will presently be made apparent. The view of man’s mortality certainly leads to a modification of popular views, but not with the effect stated. And the modification it leads to is borne out by the testimony of the Bible with an explicitness that removes all difficulty from the path of a devout mind.
There is a natural aspiration for immortality in the human breast. The lowest forms of human nature, such as idiots, and barbarous races, may be destitute of it, but where human nature has developed to anything like its natural standard, there is a craving after the perfect and unending. We seem mentally constituted for them. Death comes as an unnatural event in our experience. We dislike it; we dread it; we long for immortality; we aspire to live for ever.
It is customary to argue from our desire for immortality that we are actually immortal. This is the principal argument used by Plato, who may be said to be the father of the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. The argument is universally employed by believers in the immortality of the soul to the present day. It is astonishing that its logic should pass unquestioned. It would readily appear absurd in the case of any other instinct or desire. A hungry man, for example, desires food; is this a proof he has had his dinner? The argument turns the other way. If we desire a thing, our desire is evidence that we are yet without the object of desire; for, as Paul says, “What a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for”? If we experience a longing for immortality, it is a proof we are destitute of it.
The existence of such a desire, however, proves a great deal in its place. It proves immortality as a possibility in the economy of the universe. No instinct or desire exists in nature without a corresponding object on which it acts. Are we hungry? There is food to be eaten. Are we curious? There are things to be seen and known. Have we benevolence? There is benefit to be conferred, need to be supplied, and suffering to be alleviated. Have we conscience? There is right and wrong. Have we marvellousness? There is incomprehensibility in heaven above and earth beneath. Have we veneration? There is God to adore. And so on, with every feeling throughout sentient nature. On this principle, the spontaneous craving for immortality and perfection proves the existence of the conditions desired, and the possibility of their attainment; and though we may be ignorant as Hottentots of the “where,” “when,” “how,” etc., relating to them, there remains the strong natural presumption that the condition thus desired cannot be altogether a dream, though at present beyond our reach.
Still, we must use proper discrimination in the application of the argument. It does not prove the necessary attainment of immortality by any. The existence of a desire is no guarantee of its gratification. A man of great alimentive capacity may be in circumstance where food cannot be obtained. He may be shut up in a Hartley colliery, with death as the consequence. His alimentiveness points to food as its proper object, but does not insure possession of it; that is a question of proper circumstance. The logical deduction from this longing for immortality is, that as it is inconceivable that an instinct could exist which it was impossible to gratify, immortality and perfection must be attainable conditions; but that the gratification of a desire being dependent upon proper relative circumstances, it all depends upon the nature of the circumstances governing the possession of immortality as to whether immortality will be attained or not. This cuts between the orthodox believer and the infidel, refuting the immortal soulism of the one, and demolishing the irrational belief of the other.
What is immortality? We can best comprehend a thing by contrast. We know something of mortality, from which the idea of im (not) mortality comes. The word “mortality” comes from the Latin root “mors,” death, and signifies deathfulness. To say of anything that it is mortal, is to affirm that it is limited in its power to continue in life, owing to inherent tendency to dissolution. We say of man that he is mortal; and he is so. We behold him daily perishing. He comes into existence as an organised being, inheriting and exhibiting all the qualities of the stock from which he is derived. We see him go out of existence as regularly as we see him come into it. The death list is the universal corollary of the birth list. No man of woman born is exempt from the law of death; however superior to his fellows he may be, however lofty the genius, however farseeing the intellect, however genial the friendship, however lovely the general character, the hand of death stays not; the end must come; the law of sin and death working in his members takes his life at last, and he sinks to the oblivion from which he emerged. This is the mortality of actual experience, whatever theory people may entertain on the subject.
Popular theory says that the mortality of common experience is related to condition, not to being; that it changes a man’s place of existence, but does not touch the fact of his existence. Let us consider this a moment. It is a manifest truth that life in the abstract is indestructible; but are we to say that, therefore, a living being is indestructible? If so, it would prove the immortality of beasts, for they certainly live, as really as man, though their nature is inferior. Life is not a thinking individual power in its abstract condition, unless we take the sum total of all life as it exists in God, “the fountain of life.” Subordinately to Him, the power or capacity of individual manifestation exists in the vast ocean of life-power that subsists in the Great Eternal Fountain: but it is latent there, and can only be developed by what men have been pleased to call “organisation.”
The thing may seem a mystery; but certainly it is not more a mystery than the metaphysical view which attempts to explain a mystery by a greater mystery still. Mystery or no mystery, it is the teaching of experience and the declaration of the word of God. “They have all one breath” (or spirit—the same word) is Solomon’s statement concerning men and animals (Eccles. 3:19). Moses is equally decisive. Speaking of the flood, he says (Gen. 7:23), “And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things.” Again (Gen. 7:21, 22), “And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing … and every man; ALL in whose nostrils was the breath of life … died.” Here man is categorised with animals, as belonging to the same class of existence—being a creature of “living substance” inhaling the universal “breath of life” shared by ALL. “The spirit of God is in my nostrils,” says Job (chap. 27:3). “Cease ye from man whose breath is in his nostrils, ” is the command of inspiration in Isaiah 2:22. God “gathering unto Himself HIS spirit and HIS breath,” is Zophar’s description of death in Job 34:14. Mark, the “spirit” is spoken of as the Almighty’s; and man—the substance creature—as the possessor of spirit; but philosophy has inverted this order of ideas. It has made the spirit into the possessor, and the body the thing possessed; and has opened the door for the concomitant doctrines of disembodied sky-kingdom rewards, hell punishments, etc., etc.
The theory falls to the ground on the reception of the simpledoctrine of the Scriptures that “God formed MAN of the dust” (Gen. 2:7); that “the first man is of the earth, earthy,” and that, “As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy” (I Cor. 15:47, 48); that the life that is in him is God’s and returns to God when the man dies (Eccles. 12:7). The opposite doctrine, which is but the offspring of human speculation, and not the teaching of the Scriptures—for whoever read of “immortal souls” in the Bible?—is a delusion which binds the understanding of all who labour under it, giving rise to many gratuitous difficulties as to God’s moral government of the world, and preventing a proper apprehension of the doctrines of Christianity, which have for their very foundation the truth that man is an evanescent form of conscious life, to whom the day of death is appointed because of sin.
How comes it to pass that man, having strong instinctive desires for immortality and perfection, shall be found in a state so much the reverse, in all respects? There is an explanation. This explanation “nature” refuses to furnish. The condition of man as a natural accident is an impenetrable mystery. Nature establishes the strictest correspondence between instinct and condition in the case of every other species throughout her wide domain, but she refuses this happiness-producing adaptation in the case of her noblest production—man, leaving him to the wretchedness of disappointed noble aspiration. It is impossible to account for this fact on natural principles. Unaided by revelation, human condition and destiny must ever remain an insoluble enigma.
Turning to the Bible, the mystery is explained. We are taken away back to the origin of our species. We are shown Adam and Eve, our first parents, in primeval innocence, the happy occupants of a paradise of heavenly planting. We need not be frightened away from the contemplation of this picture by Darwinism. The evolution of species is not only an undemonstrated, but an undemonstrable scientific guess. Nay, more; it is an untenable and self-stultifying hypothesis. Though many scientific men endorse it, many other scientific men reject it altogether, on scientific grounds. Professor Owen, for example—a name great in science—is in the front rank of the rejectors of Darwinism.
There is a short way of disposing of antagonistic speculation. If Christ is true, so is the Mosaic presentation of Adam in the garden of Eden; for Christ endorsed the Mosaic writings; and the New Testament, in more places than one, ties Adam and Christ together as the two poles in the divine scheme (I Cor. 15:20–21; Rom. 5:12–20). It is no childish relapse, therefore (though it is so esteemed in many quarters), that goes back for information on a problem of human condition to the episode of Eden. Let us go thither a moment; we behold Adam and Eve pursuing the pleasant occupation of dressers of that magnificent garden of a thousand hues, spreading itself below the warming rays of an Asiatic sun. We contemplate them spending their days in the sweetness of innocence, and drinking in, with virgin faculty, the pure delights of nature. When we think of what follows, we are taught the lesson that man exists not for himself alone—that mere sensuous enjoyment is not the supreme object of existence—that there are higher actions of the mind, more serious responsibilities, more exalted obligations, which exercise alone can wake us up to—that God is the highest, and demands the absolute submission of our wills and affections to Him as the essential condition of our happiness and His pleasure.
Adam is prohibited from touching a certain tree in the midst of the garden, not because the tree was intrinsically bad, or that there was any sin in the act itself apart from interdict, but because such a prohibition was, in the circumstances, the simplest and most convenient mode of educating him in regard to his relations to the Almighty. “Where no law is, there is no transgression,” says Paul. So long as the tree was free from prohibition, Adam was at liberty to use it as freely as the others; but, the prohibition having been enjoined, it became unlawful for him to touch it. How long Adam continued to obey, we are not informed; but we know that in the course of time he infringed the divine enactment.
“When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat” (Gen. 3:6).
The consequence of this act was most calamitous:—
“Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life, thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee, and thou shalt eat the herb of the field, In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground, for out of it wast thou taken, for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Gen. 3:17–19).
Here is an explanation of the present exceptional condition of the human race. Adam, originally created with a view to possible immortality, was doomed to return to his original nothingness, and there then commenced in him that process of physical decay which terminates all in death. Having all sprung from Adam, we have, of course, inherited the death-tending qualities of his nature, because the clean cannot come out of the unclean (Job 14:47). On this principle, death has passed upon all men through Adam; and so we find ourselves mortal.
It is no uncommon thing nowadays to jest upon the subject, and to mockingly enquire why God did not prevent this result. It is useless to attempt an answer to those who are guilty of this folly, because they are not in a frame of mind to appreciate it. Tho very question evinces a flippancy of thought and, in most cases, a shallowness of moral nature which it is hopeless to deal with. To answer is like throwing pearls before swine; they are certain to “turn again and rend.” The deep-thinking and the devout will have no difficulty in perceiving that the occurrence of such a bitter chapter in human history was incidental to the investiture of man with the God-like prerogative of free agency; and, further, that its occurrence was foreseen by the Almighty, and intended by Him to be the basis on which He should establish the triumph of eternal benelovence and eternal wisdom. It requires no very profound discernment to see that the introduction of evil will lead to ultimate results, so perfectly glorious as to show the infinite wisdom and mercy of God in permitting it.
After the occurrence of the transgression, and the passing of the sentence consequent upon it, a precaution was taken for the purpose expressed in these words, taken from the 3rd chap. of Genesis (verses 22 and 23):—
“And now, lest he (Adam) put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat and live for ever: therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden to till the ground from whence he was taken.”
Let those who believe in the natural immortality of man ponder the import of these words. What necessity would there have been for preventing Adam from eating of the tree of life “lest he eat and live for ever,” if he were already and essentially immortal? Adam being mortal, the precaution was a merciful one; for had Adam, in his fallen and unhappy state, become invested in immortality, the earth would have become peopled with undying sinful men, who in the course of ages would have multiplied and overcrowded the globe, and developed a scene of indescribable confusion and misery. But this terrible calamity was averted. Adam was excluded from access to the other tree, which, under a provisional arrangement, had been endowed with life-giving virtue; and so continued mortal: and his descendants, innumerable, sin-stricken, and wretched, are mercifully swept away, generation after generation, like grass before the mower.
It is easy here to realise how unfounded are the popular hopes of salvation based on “being good,” as they phrase it. Adam by one offence, and that, too, an offence inspired by the good motive, as men would say, of doing himself good, viz., that he might become wise, and be as the Elohim—by one offence, came under sentence of death. If one offence was fatal in the case of Adam, how can his descendants, laden with sins, hope to escape by any amount of poor goodness? No, no! men must be forgiven and justified before they can be saved: and how they are to attain to this state may be learnt in the teachings of the Apostles—apart from which there is “no hope” (Eph. 2:12).
As it is from the Scriptures alone that we derive any rational account of the present mortal and afflicted condition of mankind, so are they the only source of information concerning our future destiny. Job asks, “If a man die, shall he live again”? This is the question which it is the special function of the Bible to answer. From no other source can we procure an answer. If we speculate upon it as a philosophical problem, we grope in the dark. There is no process in nature from which we can reason on the subject. There is no real parallel to resurrection. A seed deposited in the ground springs again, and renews its existence by the law of its nature. The power to spring again is part of itself. Not so with man. To use the words of Job (chap. 14:7–10):—
“There is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground, yet through the scent of water it will bud and bring forth boughs like a plant. But man dieth and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and WHERE IS HE?”
Where is he? The answer is a simple one; he is nowhere. The dust has returned to the earth as it was, and his life-spirit has returned to God who gave it: and though both dust and life continue to exist as separate elements, the man who resulted from their organic combination has ceased to be; and if he ever “live again,” it will be the result of a fresh effort on the part of Almighty power.
That he will live again, is one of the blessed teachings of the Word of God. “Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead” (I Cor. 15:21). It was the peculiar mission of Christ to bring this truth to light. He proclaimed himself the “Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25), adding, “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, YET SHALL HE LIVE.” He came, not simply to re-infuse spiritual vigour into the deadened moral natures of men, but to open a way of deliverance from the physical law of death which is sweeping them into the grave, and keeping them there. He came, in fact, to raise the bodies of men—which are the men themselves—from the pit of corruption, and to endow them, if accepted, with incorruptibility and immortality. Paul says:—“He will change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body” (Philip. 3:21). This is connected with the resurrection, for Jesus himself says, “This is the Father’s will, which hath sent me, that of all which He hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day” (John 6:39). Thus, life and immortality are said to have been “brought to light by Jesus Christ, through the Gospel” (II Tim. 1:10). In fact, this very aim of the sacrificial work of Christ, as the Saviour of the world from sin, and as the reconciler of the world to God, from whom all men have gone astray, was to offer men everlasting life. This will appear from the following citations from the New Testament:—
“I am come that they might have LIFE, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might LIVE through him” (I John 4:9).
“Ye will not come to me, that ye might have LIFE” (John 5:40).
“I am the resurrection and the LIFE” (John 11:25).
“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).
“Thou (the Father) hast given him (the Son) power over all flesh, that he should give ETERNAL LIFE to as many as Thou hast given him” (John 17:2).
“My sheep hear my voice.… I give unto them ETERNAL LIFE; and they shall never perish; neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:27, 28).
“This is the record, that God hath given to us ETERNAL LIFE, and this LIFE is in His Son” (I John 5:11).
“This is the promise that He hath promised us, even ETERNAL LIFE” (I John 2:25).
“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is ETERNAL LIFE through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
“That being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of ETERNAL LIFE” (Titus 3:7).
“Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto ETERNAL LIFE” (Jude 21).
There is one obvious reflection on the reading of these passages; if immortality be the natural attribute of every son of Adam from the very moment he breathes, there is little meaning in testimonies which, one and all, speak of immortality as a future contingency, a thing to be sought for, a reward, a thing to be given, a thing brought to light through the gospel, etc. There is complete obscurity in such language if immortality be a natural and present possession. How can a man be promised that which is already his own? The divine promise is that God will award eternal life to those who seek for glory, honour, and immortality. This is the strongest proof that human nature knows nothing of immortality at present.
What is this immortality? Modern talk on the subject would lead us to suppose it was a mental quality, like conscience or benevolence—a thing of spiritual condition—an essence which is itself without reference to time or space. As death has come to have an artificial theological significance, so immortality itself, the promised gift of God through Jesus Christ, has been frittered away into a metaphysical conception—beyond the comprehension, as it has been placed beyond the practical interest of mankind. Bringing commonsense and Scripture teaching to bear on this point, we find that im-mortality is the opposite of mortality. The one being deathfulness in relation to being, as such, the other is deathlessness in the same relation. Both are terms definitive of duration rather than of quality, of life, although quality is implied in both cases. A mortal is a creature of terminable existence; an immortal, one so constituted that his life is endless. Yet the terminability of the one, and the endlessness of the other, are the result of the established conditions of their natures respectively. Man is mortal, because his organism tends to decay. If that organism could go on working from year to year, without deterioration or liability to disorder, he would be immortal, apart from violence, because life would be constantly sustained and manifested. But it is not so, as we know to our sorrow; his nature contains within it the seeds of corruption, and hence it runs down to unavertable dissolution. The finest constitution will succumb at last to the gradual exhaustion going on from year to year. To be immortal, we require to be incorruptible in substance; because that which is incorruptible cannot decay; and an incorruptible living organism will live for ever. Hence the immortality of the New Testament is a promise of resurrection to incorruptible bodily existence.
“It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (I Cor. 15:42–44).
Again (Phil. 3:20, 21):—
“Jesus Christ … shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body.”
To obtain immortality, is to be transformed from our present weak, frail, corruptible condition of body, into a perfect, incorruptible, powerful condition, in which we shall no more be the subjects of weakness, pain, sorrow, and death, but shall be like the Lord Jesus Christ in his present exalted state of existence.
This transformation occurs at the return of Jesus Christ fromheaven as is evident from the following testimonies:—
“Jesus Christ shall judge the quick and the dead at HIS APPEARING AND HIS KINGDOM” (II Tim. 4:1).
“But every man in his own order (of ressurection): Christ the first-fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s AT HIS COMING” (I Cor. 15:23).
“Your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, THEN shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:3, 4).
“Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 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” (I Cor. 15:51–54).
From the last testimony, taken along with one from the 4th chapter of I Thess., previously quoted, we learn that the faithful in Christ Jesus who are in the land of the living at the second advent of their Lord and Saviour, will—(after they have been judged)—undergo an immediate transformation into the incorruptible nature of the spiritual body, without going through the process of death. Hence the statement “we shall not all sleep.” So that some perhaps now living, like Enoch and Elijah, will be exceptions to the general rule of mortality, and shall not taste of death.
As to the nature of the resurrected body, we find in one of the passages quoted from Paul’s epistles, the words, “It is raised a spiritual body.” Some think this means a gaseous, shadowy, spectral body, that a man could drive his hand through. On the contrary, the righteous in the perfected state will be as real and corporeal as mortal men in the present life. We learn this in the most unmistakable manner. Look at the following statements:—“He shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned LIKE UNTO HIS OWN GLORIOUS BODY” (Phil. 3:21). “We know that when Christ shall appear, we shall be LIKE HIM; for we shall see him as he is” (I John 3:2). Here is a starting point: Christ is the pattern after which his people are to be fashioned. If, therefore, we would learn knowledge in regard to the nature of the righteous in the future state, we must contemplate the nature of Christ subsequent to his resurrection. We are enabled to do this, because Christ appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, and had several interviews with them. We find him aiming to give evidence to his disciples of his reality, when they were terrified by his sudden appearance, thinking him an illusion before their eyes.
“Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me and see; for a spirit (Pneuma, apparition) hath not FLESH AND BONES, AS YE SEE ME HAVE. And when he had thus spoken, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat? And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb; and he took it and did eat before them” (Luke 24:38–43).
Here is positive proof that Christ was as real and corporeal after his resurrection as he was before. The body that was laid in the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea was the body that afterwards arose and appeared as “the same Jesus”—“I myself”—to the disciples, who handled him, and who ate with him. This is proof that the righteous in the resurrection will be as tangible and bodily as he was then, seeing that they are to be “fashioned like unto his glorious body.”
It is suggested that Christ’s nature was transformed into intangible essence after his ascension; but there is nothing to support such a suggestion. The supposition is simply gratuitous and undeserving of consideration. It is excluded by the evidence of Christ’s reality and identity after his ascension. Even if this were not so, the suggestion would be without standing ground. Since there is no statement to the effect that Christ ceased to be bodily after his ascension, the only rational alternative would be to assume that no such change took place, and that Christ remained, and continues to be the same real though glorified personage who exhibited his hands and feet to his assembled disciples. But the fact of his bodily continuance is borne out in the statement made by the angels to the disciples, just after the ascension:—
“Why stand ye gazing up into heaven? THIS SAME Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
What would the disciples understand by “this same Jesus”? Would they not think of the blessed Saviour, who, a few days before, had eaten bread in their sight, and said to them, a “spirit (or phantasm) hath not flesh and bones AS YE SEE ME HAVE”? Undoubtedly; and they would look forward to the time of his re-appearance, with the prints of the nails in his hands, and the mark of the wound in his side, which it is evident, from Zech. 13:6, will be the subject of anxious and interesting curiosity to Jewish beholders at his coming. Therefore, the proof remains that the righteous in the resurrected state will be substantial as their Lord and Master, instead of the bodiless entities generally imagined.
Though not less real than mortal man, the glorified saints will possess a different kind of nature. They are, in the present state, “natural bodies,” but then, they will be “spiritual bodies.” Here is the destinction. Natural or animal bodies are sustained in life by the blood, as saith the Scriptures in Leviticus 17:14, “The life of all flesh is the blood thereof.” The blood is the medium of animal vitality, with which it becomes charged by the action of the air on the lungs. The life principle or “spirit” is thus applied only in an indirect manner. The blood is proximately the life-giving agent; bodies sustained by it are simply blood bodies. Their life is not inherent; it is dependent on a complex function which is easily interfered with. It is applied by a process so delicate as to be easily marred by external influences and accidental circumstances. Therefore, life is uncertain, and constant health and vigour almost impossible. Our constitutions are easily impaired, and we are liable to be afflicted with distressing infirmities and pains which easily become dangerous: hence the lucrative profession which is accredited with the skill to “cure” unfortunate humanity. Ah, they cannot “cure.” The disease is too deep for their skill. It is in the constitution; it is in the blood; it is deep-grained and incurable. All that the doctor can do is to patch a humanly-unmendable mortality.
The Lord Jesus Christ is the only true physician. He offers us resurrection to spirit-body existence. He promises to fashion us like unto his own glorious body. He undertakes that though we may be afflicted with all the pains that flesh is heir to in this present life, yea, disfigured by all the distortions of disease; though we may die loathsome deaths and be laid in the grave a mass of festering corruption, we shall be raised to a pure and incorruptible state, in which our bodies shall be “spiritual bodies”; not because ethereal, which is not their characteristic, but because directly energised by the spirit of God, and filled in every atom with the concentrated inextinguishable life-power of God himself. This is the testimony of Christ (John 3:6): “That which is born of Spirit is SPIRIT.” He had said, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh.” Mortal men and women are born of the flesh; therefore, they are but flesh—a wind that passeth away and cometh not again; but let a man be “born of the spirit,” and he is no longer the frail and perishable offspring of Adam. His corruptible has put on incorruptibility. He is an invincible, all-powerful, immortal son of God. “They are the children of God,” says Jesus, speaking of the resurrection which is unto life, “BEING the children of the resurrection.”
Paul says (Rom. 8:11), “He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies BY HIS SPIRIT that dwelleth in you.” Here is a second birth to be effected by the spirit of God; and on the principle laid down by Christ, all who are the subjects of this operation of the spirit upon their mortal bodies, will be “born of the spirit,” and will, therefore, be “spirit” in nature or “spiritual” bodies—bodies sustained in life by the direct operation of the spirit of life, without the intermediate mediate agency of the blood—immortal, bloodless embodiments of the spirit of life in flesh and bones, like the Lord Jesus; not pale and ghastly as a human body would be without blood, but beautiful with the electrical radiance of the Spirit which can show colour otherwise than by blood, as witness the jasper and the ruby, and the rainbow. Living by the thorough permeation of the life-spirit in the substance of their natures, they will be glorious and powerful, “pure as the gem, strong as adamant, and incorruptible as gold,” glorious in the sense of physical luminosity, as exemplified in the Lord Jesus when he shone with the lustre of the sun on the mount of transfiguration, and, according as it is written:—
“They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever” (Dan. 12:3).
Powerful, in the sense of being vigorous and inexhaustible in the power of the faculties, as it is written:—
“The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary. There is no searching of His understanding. He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might He increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall; but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint” (Isa. 40:28–31).
Incorruptible in the sense of being undecaying and imperishable in nature, and therefore entirely free from any liability to pain or disease. In this perfect condition, the righteous will have a boundless eternity before them—everlasting joy upon their heads; no more dullness of mind; no more fretting and heart-failing at the afflictions of mortal life; no more sorrow, no more growing old; no more passing away; but all perfection, harmony unbroken, love unquenchable, joy unspeakable, and full of glory. This will be the happy state of the righteous; this the consummation of that blessed promise, “He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces.” (Isa. 25:8).
This precious life and immortality, brought to life by Jesus Christ through the gospel, is not to be indiscriminately bestowed. All men will not attain to it; only a few will be counted worthy. The precious gift is freely offered to all; but it is conditional. It is not to be given to the faithless and the impure. Perfection of character must precede perfection of nature. Moral fitness is the indispensable pre-requisite, and God is the judge and the prescriber of the peculiar moral fitness necessary in the case. This is proved by the following passages:—
“To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory, honour and immortality, eternal life” (Rom. 2:7).
“If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:17).
“Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you” (John 6:53).
“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life” (John 3:36).
“These are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31).
“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved” (Mark 16:15, 16).
“He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation” (John 5:24).
“He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).
“I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely” (Rev. 21:6).
These testimonies give the deathblow to Universalism. They predicate salvation upon conditions which exclude the majority of mankind. They restrict it to a class which has always been small among men, and effectually disprove the mistaken theory of benevolence which proclaims the “universal restoration” of every human being. This may represent Christianity as a very “narrow” affair, but no narrower than its divinely-intended scope. “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way”; this is its characteristic, and not without wisdom. The development of an approved family from the sons of men is its object. The world’s vast populations are merely incidental to this plan. They come, and they go; and, as flesh, they profit nothing. They come from nothing, and go whence they came. It is only the theory of universal human immortality that gives rise to the idea of universal human salvation. When human nature is looked upon at its true standard of vanity, the difficulty vanishes.
Those who are excluded from eternal life are divided into two classes—1st, those who hear the word, and reject it; and 2nd, those whom circumstances preclude from hearing it at all—such as the pagans of ancient times, and the natives of barbarous countries. The second class includes a third, viz., those whose misfortunes prevent them from believing, even if they hear the word, such as idiots, and very young children. The fate of the first class (those who hear the word, and reject it) is plainly stated. They are to be reserved for punishment:—
“He that rejecteth me and receiveth not my words … the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). “He that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16).
The punishment is inflicted at the resurrection, as Jesus says: “They that have done evil (shall come forth) unto the resurrection of damnation.” This “resurrection of damnation,” however, is not a resurrection to unending life, or to hell fire in the popular acceptation. It is a resurrection to judicially administered shame and corruption. They shall of the flesh, to which they have sown, reap corruption (Gal. 6:8), which ends in the triumph of the worm and fire over their being—that is, in death. They rise to the shame and confusion of a divine and frowning rejection, in which “few stripes” or “many stripes” are inflicted, according to desert—differences in the duration and intensity of suffering as justice may demand, after which the wicked are finally engulfed in the “second death,” which obliterates their wretched existence from God’s creation. Being of no use, they are put out of the way, and disappear for ever, “where the wicked cease from troubling.”
This must have been evident from the numerous testimonies quoted in the last lecture. A paganised theology delights in assigning them to endless existence of torment. This idea is based upon certain obscure New Testament expressions which are supposed to countenance it, but which, when properly understood, have no such terrible significance. “Unquenchable fire” is one of those expressions; it seems to imply the eternal conscious existence of the wicked, but reflection will show it involves the opposite. If the fire is not quenched, there is no escape from consumption. This phrase is used in this sense in Jer. 17:27, Ezek. 20:47, and other places. The same is true of “worm dieth not.” Herod’s worms died not, and the consequence was that HE died (Acts 12:23). If they had died, he would have recovered. “Everlasting punishment” is affirmed of the wicked; but this does not teach eternal torment. Aionian translated “everlasting,” does not necessarily import unending perpetuity. Of aion, age, from which it is derived, Parkhurst observes, “It denotes duration or continuance of time, but with great variety.” Aionian, therefore, means age-pertaining, without fixing duration, which is determinable by the scope of that of which it is affirmed. In the case before us, it is spoken of the punishment of the wicked. As we know, from other parts of Scripture, that the punishment of the age of retribution terminates in death, we are enabled to see the “aion” of the punishment is only co-extensive with the duration of that punishment.
Some imagine that the application of this principle to the phrase “eternal life” destroys the hope of immortality, by making it a thing of possible terminability. If there were nothing beyond the phrase “eternal (aionian) life,” we should have an uncertain foundation for the hope of endless life. We should in that case simply be informed that there was an age-pertaining life—a life pertaining to the coming age of God’s intervention in human affairs, but should not, by the phrase, receive any information as to the nature of that life or the extent of its duration. But the case stands not in this uncertain state. We are explicitly informed by other testimonies, that while aionian punishment ends in death, the life to be conferred in that same aion is inextinguishable. “They which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world … neither marry nor are given in marriage; NEITHER CAN THEY DIE ANY MORE, for they are equal unto the angels” (Luke 20:35–36). “There shall be NO MORE DEATH” (Rev. 21:4). “They shall never perish” (John 10:28). “He will swallow up death in victory” (Isaiah 25:8). “This mortal must put on IMMORTALITY” (I Cor. 15:53). If immortality had an end, it would not be immortality. Aionian life is unending life. We know this, not from the use of the word aionian, which would tell us nothing on the subject, but from testimonies like thos quoted.
The second class of those who do not attain to life, are those who, never having seen the light, have never rejected it, and for that reason cannot be liable to the judgment that awaits those who have. What is to be done with them? It is common to suppose they will be among the saved. Who can entertain such a supposition in view of the fact that they are sinners, and already excluded from life? Besides, if darkness and unenlightenment be a passport into the kingdom of God, why did Jesus send Paul “to turn the Gentiles from darkness to light … THAT THEY MAY RECEIVE … INHERITANCE among them which are sanctified”? (Acts 26:18). If salvation in barbarism is certain, it would be better to let men remain in ignorance than imperil their eternal destiny by the responsibilities of knowledge. We must remember that the very circumstances that preclude the class in question from being rejectors of the Messiah, also prevent them from accepting him in whom alone is hope and life. They have none of the responsibilities of the rejectors of the gospel, but they have also none of the privileges of its enlightened and obedient believers. What, then, is to become of them? Paul answers the question in Romans 2:12:—“As many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law.” Paganism, heathenism, idiotcy, and infantile incapability are amenable to no law. Therefore, resurrection does not take place in their case. Death has passed upon them under the only law they were ever related to, viz., the law of Adam; and they sleep, never to be disturbed. Their position is described in the following passage from Isaiah 26:14:—
“They are dead, they SHALL NOT LIVE; they are deceased, they SHALL NOT RISE; therefore hast thou visited and DESTROYED them, and made all their MEMORY TO PERISH.”
A similar declaration is made in Jeremiah 51:57, in regard to the aristocracy of Babylon, who belonged to the identical class of whom we are speaking:—
“I will make drunk her princes and her wise men, her captains and her rulers, and her mighty men, and they shall sleep A PERPETUAL SLEEp, and not wake, saith the King, whose name is the Lord of Hosts.”
God is just, and in this His justice is made manifest. He could not punish them with justice, and He could not reward them with justice; therefore He puts them aside.
This completes the sum of what has to be advanced in reference to the conditional nature of immortality, as a gift to be bestowed at the resurrection. The proposition is plain, and the evidence conclusive. May it be the happy lot of all who read these pages to inherit the glorious gift.