THE PERSISTENT QUESTION OF THE CENTURIES
DURING all the time men have been on earth the questions of the meaning of life, the nature of death, and the possibility of a future and never-ending life have been the questions which have most persistently intrigued their minds. They have been of the deepest concern to every individual of the human family. No man can be indifferent to the question whether at death he ceases to be or continues to live in another state of existence better or worse than the present.
Birth and death bound human existence as far as human knowledge and experience can discern. Birth brings us into the world. Death takes us out. The sum of our knowledge beyond these boundaries is very small.
The period of human life, beginning at birth and ending at death, is one of intense activity, study, research, learning. We know a great deal about life. We have only guessed a great deal about death. And we still wonder how many, if any, of our speculations are accurate.
The realm beyond death is an area about which there has been a vast amount of discussion and speculation. The human mind has desired, with great and intense yearning, to know what that mysterious and forbidding realm holds for human identity and personality. From all human observation and experience it seems to be an end of existence. Those who enter it do not return, and are heard from no more.
When a man dies, what becomes of him? Where does he go, if anywhere? Is he alive somewhere else? Or is life for him ended elsewhere as well as here? These are the questions which have confronted the race of mankind from its beginning. They are the questions which press into the conscious thought of each man’s mind during his entire life. These questions become more insistent and demanding as he advances toward the dreaded end of life.
For life does end for all of us. That is the most positive and certain and inevitable thing in the world. We become increasingly aware of it as our years advance. And we come to be more conscious of our need for an answer the nearer we come to the change from life to death.
A Great Adventure—or Oblivion?
We know something of life-what it is and means and holds. But death-what does it mean, what does it hold? A great adventure, perchance? Or endless silence and oblivion?
On no other question have men set forth and toyed with so many theories or engaged in more speculation. For most of mankind it has remained in the shadows of theory and profound mystery.
The religions of the world have done their share of theorizing and speculating-and have arrived at no certainties. They leave the question in the realm of mystery and fog, and provide no ground upon which a searcher for truth can place his feet with assurance and confidence. None of them really answers this great question of the ages, "Man dieth, and wasteth away: … and where is he?" Job 14:10.
What awaits us in those shadows ahead? One replies, "Heaven." Another, "Hell." Still another, "Purgatory." And yet another, "Oblivion." But who knows? And which answer is right? Or is there another answer altogether?
Of sure and certain knowledge of the realm and nature of the dead, human speculation has discovered nothing. Poets have rhapsodized, philosophers have spun ingenious and fanciful theories, theologians have preached unwarranted and unsupported imaginings, hymn writers have sung their hopes, and invisible spirits at seances have lied, and lied, and lied.
Certain and Dependable Knowledge Needed
But among them all they have produced not one shred of certain and dependable knowledge, not one ray of clear and convincing light on the great subject with which they have dealt. After all their wild speculating, misty theorizing, foggy reasoning, and deliberate falsifying, we are just as far away from truth and certainty as when these explanations began.
Still this subject cannot be at rest. It holds too much that ministers to human misery or bliss, woe or satisfaction, for us to be indifferent to it or abandon our search for light upon it. We project our minds again and again into that realm of darkness and mystery, searching for even one ray of light to dispel its gloom and uncertainty. We want to know. It seems that we never can be satisfied unless we do know.
And so for the centuries that mankind has been on earth, as the generations of men have come and gone, the one great question of the ages has been, "If a man die, shall he live again?" Does death really end human existence? Is there life beyond the grave? Is this period between birth and death all there is of life? Are we born only to die? And is death the end of human identity and personality? Human hopes all bear in one direction with reference to the answers to these questions. Human desires are for life, continuing life, abundant life, never-ending life. If we had the arranging of the matter in our control, we would say with spontaneous unanimity, "Death does not end all. ‘There is another life beyond the grave." That would be our solution for the great question.
But human hopes and desires do not create or alter facts. Hence we cannot be certain that what we would prefer to believe is true. The desire for immortality, strong as it is, is not immortality, and is no proof of immortality. We cannot build our hopes on mere confidence and assurance. We cannot face the darkness and gloom and inevitability of death in calmness and confidence with nothing more than a desire for immortality. What we need is to know, to be sure.
But can we know? Can we be sure? Is there any way of arriving at absolute certainty regarding the possibility of life after death?
An Absolute Authority Indispensable
What we need here is an authority, one that knows—an authority based not on theory or speculation, not on theological claims or dogmatic pronouncements, but on experience.
The whole reach of human knowledge is bounded by death. We know what it is to be alive. Even though life has many mysteries; nevertheless we have experienced it. About death we know only two things: that it is a fact and comes to all, But what it is to die, we do not know, for we have not died. What death holds for us or for any other mortal, we do not know. Life is a present experience. Death is a profound mystery. Our area of knowledge does not project itself into the realm of death, does not extend itself beyond the mere fact of death. Up to the end of life we know. But the end of life is also the end of knowledge. Beyond that, with the beginning of death, all is unrelieved blackness. No one living on earth has passed into that realm, gone through it, explored its mysteries, and re-entered the realm of life to disclose what he there learned.
Who Has the Words of Eternal Life?
To whom, then, shall we go? Who has the words of eternal life? Who will give us absolute assurance? And how shall we be sure that he knows?
Shall we go to the poet and inquire of him? He has much to say on this subject, and he has said it at great length. But careful study discloses that all he has done has been to put human aspirations and human yearnings into pretty phrases. Of certainty and knowledge he has none. All the poet has more than ordinary men is the ability to put what he does not know into pleasing form. He does not speak from knowledge or experience, but from hope. He has never been dead. Hence, he does not know. He is a phrasemaker, not an infallible teacher.
The philosopher, does he know? He talks much about every subject, this one among the rest. He has many plausible theories on almost all subjects. But he has no certain knowledge. The philosopher who follows him will prove him to have been in error, and undermine his philosophy with a more subtle one, only to have his overthrown in turn. Philosophers do not agree one with another. They do not know. They have never been dead and come back to tell about it. They are only spinners of theories. They can talk at great and tiresome length on what they do not know, and spin ingenious theories by the hour; but of absolute, dependable, certain knowledge on this subject they are as empty as a hollow gourd. Philosophy cannot aid here.
The theologian, then, has he knowledge, can he instruct I us? Why stop to inquire? Any knowledge he may have is equally available to us, and our certainty regarding it will be greater if we go to the source for ourselves and learn at first hand. The human reasoning of the theologian may be at fault, and often is. He may allow his judgment to be influenced too greatly by traditional beliefs, or by his own human desires. At best he is an unreliable quantity. And this subject is too great and too important and too fraught with eternal consequences for us to be content with any mere human reasoning about it.
What we need for certainty and absolute knowledge is the testimony, the trustworthy and reliable testimony, the positively authoritative testimony, of someone in whom implicit confidence can be placed, someone who has never been known to deceive or to lead astray, an authoritative teacher, a revealer of truth, one who has lived on this earth and died, who not only experienced death but entered and passed through its dread realm, exploring and learning its secrets, and who returned to and re-entered the realm of life, and is, therefore, qualified to speak with authority and positive certainty, and who is willing and ready and able and equipped to make known what death is, what it means, what it holds, from the standpoint of actual experience and actual and unimpeachable knowledge.
Is there any such testimony? Is such sure and reliable knowledge available? The answer is, It is.
There Is One Who Knows
We do not need to rely on the sham, deception, and fraud of spiritistic seances or the lying testimony of pretended spirits of the dead; in that way lies confusion worse confounded and unrelieved blackness. We have no need to rest on the unsupported speculations of dogmatic theology; in that way lies continued conjecturing and unending contradiction. There is no necessity even to listen to the guesses and hopes and yearnings of the philosophies of men; in that way lies endless uncertainty and lack of knowledge.
No, there is One who knows, and who knows because He has died; who is now alive, and has spoken; who has disclosed all that any man needs to know about death, and whose revelation has met every test of reliability, authenticity, trustworthiness, and authority.
All men die. Few have ever returned to life. Only One of those few learned anything or has disclosed anything of death. When He speaks of life and death and immortality, He knows.
He made man in the beginning; He also made the world. From that standpoint alone, He is qualified to speak as to man’s destiny and the destiny of the world. Having created man, He knows whether man has immortality or will ever have it. Having brought man into existence, He knows the duration of that existence. Having created human personality, He is acquainted with man’s essential nature and capacities. Having ordained man to enter life by birth and depart from life by death, He understands what death does to man, whether there is any recovery from death, and whether there is any life after death.
Redeemer as Well as Creator
But His qualifications to speak authoritatively on this subject are more extensive than the fact that He is the creator. Sin having fixed a terminal point to man’s life, the Creator took upon Himself the punishment for man’s guilt, voluntarily assumed the death that belonged to man because of his sin, laid down His life in man’s stead, entered the realm of death, explored all its mysteries, and took up His life once more.
He is, therefore, Redeemer as well as Creator. He knows what death is, what death does, what death holds for mankind, whether there is any recovery from it, whether there is lie beyond it. He knows all this from experience, from actual and absolute knowledge. He does not need to speculate, to theorize about it. He knows.
Of Himself and His qualifications to speak authoritatively on this subject, He has said: "I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell [the grave, in the original] and of death." Revelation 1:17, 18.
He Has Spoken
And He not only knows, He has spoken. He has revealed the truth of this subject on which He alone is qualified to speak. He has not left us in darkness or ignorance. He has drawn aside the veil, permitted us to look in upon the realm of death, disclosed its mysteries, robbed it of its terrors, shown the way to escape from its hold, and opened the door to never-ending existence to all who will enter.
All this He has done. He has spoken, not in the dim and treacherous light of some spirit seance, in vague and meaningless terms or in lying words; but He has spoken openly with His countenance "as the sun shineth in his strength," with His eyes "as a flame of fire," with "a great voice, as of a trumpet," and "as the sound of many waters." (Revelation 1:10-16.)
Such a One we can believe. Such testimony as His we can accept. From the beginning until now there is no record that He ever deceived anyone. Always He has told the truth. Indeed, truth has its source and origin in Him. He is the truth itself.
He laid down His life for us. He held back nothing that heaven had to make sure of our salvation. His loving-kindness and tender mercy have been about us always. He has overshadowed us with His protection and care. He has dealt with us not according to our deserving but according to His tender mercy.
He would not deceive us.
And He knows.
And He has spoken.
So we may know and be sure—with an absolute certainty—of the truth on this subject of death and the future life.
Going to His Word, the Holy Bible, we have a revelation of truth, based upon His own absolute knowledge, on this great and important subject. To this Word we now turn with supreme and unfaltering confidence.
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