THE BIBLE AND IMMORTALITY
IMMORTALITY is an attribute of God. It is not an attribute of man. Man is not born with it as an inheritance. He does not have it by nature. He does not have it at all, except as he obtains it from God. He can obtain it from God only on conditions which are plainly set forth in the Book of God.
Man’s relationship to immortality is that of a seeker. The idea of natural immortality is something quite unknown to the Bible. The teaching of the immortality of the soul is wholly unscriptural. No such expression is found within the pages of the Bible. Man is said to be mortal, never immortal. This is true throughout the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. There is not even the slightest hint in the Scripture of the inherent immortality of the human soul.
On the contrary, the teaching of man’s natural immortality is uniformly and constantly denied in the plainest of terms on almost every page from Genesis to Revelation. Indeed, one of the main objects of the Word of God appears to be to make plain how brief, vapory, shadowy, evanescent, and transitory the life of fallen man is; and how enduring, substantial, and eternal is the immortal life which is God’s, and which may be imparted to the souls of His children on the conditions laid down.
Those who have taken the pains to examine the matter declare that the human soul is spoken of in the Bible more than sixteen hundred times. Not in one solitary instance of these sixteen hundred references is the soul spoken of as immortal or deathless in its nature. It is always described as short-lived and perishable. Its only hope of an eternal future existence is the hope held out to it in the offer of salvation through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Rule of Faith
After the most careful and earnest examination of the Word of God no other conclusions can be arrived at than those which have been set forth, and which may be summarized thus:
Man was created with a capacity for an endless life, and a desire for it.
It was assured to him, however, only on condition of perfect obedience and sinlessness.
By a law of his being, and of all beings, sinlessness is absolutely and basically essential to perpetuity of existence.
In its very nature sin is disorganizing and destructive, not merely of well-being, but of being itself, when it is finished.
Nothing can exist eternally which does not conform to the law of its own being and the will of God, its Creator. It must, sooner or later, go to utter ruin, pass out of existence, and give place to that which does conform to the will of God, the loyal and the pure.
When man sinned, as sin he did, he failed in the test or probation applied to him to determine his fitness for immortality, for which he was constituted. He lost all hope and even all possibility of immortality unless some divine and supernatural remedy should be provided.
By sin he became a wholly transitory creature; subject to death and extinction.
Life out of Death
God’s purpose in His creation, however, was not to be foiled by the malice of Satan or the folly of man himself. God’s plans were laid deeper and reached farther than at first appeared. God had taken into consideration the possibility of human sin.
God has power to bring life out of death, salvation out of ruin, and to make what seemed a great and remediless disaster contribute to the display of the riches of His wisdom and grace through Jesus Christ His Son, and even to the higher glory and blessedness of man himself. This He has set Himself to do.
The purpose of God is to lift man out of the ruin into which he precipitated himself by sin; to set before him again the possibility of eternal lie through another Adam and a new birth; to give him another life; to make him a new creation, a spiritual being; and ultimately to place him in His own everlasting kingdom.
This purpose was hinted, though but vaguely, immediately after the fall. It was prefigured in the sacrificial system in the death of the victims on the altar. It was foreshadowed in the Mosaic ritual and gradually unfolded to the faith of the patriarchs and prophets as that “better thing” which God had provided for His people.
It was fully revealed in the coming of the redeeming Messiah Himself, through whom life and immortality are brought to light in the gospel.
The Unspeakable Gift
The object of Jesus’ incarnation and death was to make it possible for dying man to live again, and to live forever. This is the gift of God, “the unspeakable gift,” the gift of everlasting life through Jesus Christ to man, to all men if and as they receive it.
But it is forced on no man. It is conferred on those alone who believe. It cannot be bought. It cannot be earned. It cannot be deserved. It cannot be demanded as a right. It is a gift, a free gift. It must be desired, sought, asked for, and received from the only One who has it to confer—Jesus Christ our Saviour.
These are the conditions, the indispensable conditions, the only conditions, of the bestowment of immortality. To as many as receive Him He gives “power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” John 1:12.
This will constitute them heirs and subjects of His everlasting kingdom. Their sinlessness, happiness, and immortality will be united in endless perfection. All other kingdoms are destined to come to an end. All other life is transitory. The kingdom of this earth, Satan’s kingdom, is a kingdom of darkness and death. However long it may endure, it contains within itself the seeds of death and utter ruin. It must fade away before the light and glory of the everlasting kingdom of our Lord, and He alone “shall reign for ever‘and ever.”
It is difficult to read the Bible without being impressed by the fact that the nature of man is everywhere contrasted with the nature of God. God is infinite; man is finite. God is immortal; man is mortal. God is eternal; man is transitory. God has immortality in Himself; man has no immortality in himself. His only hope of living forever is dependent, or conditional, upon union with God through Christ.
The Bible, in the very plainest terms, reveals that the life of man is brief and temporary. It never once calls him immortal, or deathless, or everliving. It emphatically declares him to be the opposite.
In James 4:14 the question is .asked, “What is your life?” and immediately comes the inspired answer, “It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”
Man’s life is said to be like grass, which in the morning flourisheth and growth up, but which in the evening is cut down and withereth. (Psalm 90:5, 6.).
Human life is like a shadow, like a shadow that continues not, and a flower that is cut down. (Psalm 102:11; Job 8:9; 14:2.)
It is like “smoke.” (Psalm 102:3.) Like the “flower of the field.” (Psalm 103:15, 16.) Like the grass that withereth and fadeth. (Isaiah 40:6, 7.)
Peter writes, “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away.” 1 Peter 1:24.
Inspiration declares, “Man is like to vanity: his days are as a shadow that passeth away.” Psalm 144:4.
“Thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; … verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity.” Psalm 39:5. See also Psalm 62:9.
Perhaps the most concise and impressive and convincing way we can get before us the content of Bible teaching on this subject of immortality is by the catechetical form. The forty questions and Biblical answers that follow contain a comprehensive survey of the whole Scripture on this supremely important matter.
Forty Questions and Answers
When the Bible teaching regarding life, death, and immortality is understood, many related doctrines at once become clear. When the nature of man is seen in the light in which the Scriptures set it forth, as mortal and not immortal, many human traditions are bound to be discarded. When the plain teaching of the Bible is accepted, great light will be thrown on questions long shrouded in darkness.
It is not the Bible which has given rise to all the contradictory views which prevail about immortality. The Bible is a plain, common-sense, consistent revelation of the truth which God would have men understand. In the very nature of things it cannot teach, and certainly does not support, doctrines which contradict one another.
Look for a moment at the various views held by men about the nature of man and a future life. Look first, however, at the Biblical teaching and hold it in mind as opposing views are considered.
Cessation of Conscious Existence
The Bible teaching is that man is mortal. All future life depends upon Jesus Christ and is bestowed by God through Christ. Natural death, which comes to all men, is not life in another realm or state but a cessation of all conscious existence. It is, however, a temporary cessation of life, for there will be a resurrection. This resurrection at “the last day” will include the whole race of humanity, both righteous and. wicked. All will be raised to be judged. The righteous will then put on immortality; and the wicked, destitute of the life that is in Christ, will die the second death. They will be punished with everlasting destruction, not everlasting torment, and utterly perish in their own corruption.
That is the clear, positive teaching of Holy Scripture. But it is not the view held by many Christians. Many have been raised from childhood to believe that man by nature is immortal. They look upon their bodies as prisons and clogs from which, at death, their immortal souls will be released, the righteous to go at once to heaven, the wicked to be plunged into hell. The first will enjoy the presence of God forever; the second will be compelled to endure the torments of hell forever.
The teaching of the Bible, that all men are mortal, sets the truth forth in clear light. Man, being mortal, not possessing an immortal soul, does not go to heaven, hell, or purgatory when he dies. He goes into the grave. There he neither endures pain nor enjoys bliss. He is completely unconscious, knowing nothing. He is asleep, awaiting the resurrection and the judgment to determine his eternal destiny. He is not in a place of torment. He is not in a place of happiness. He is not in purgatory. All the prayers and masses in the world will not reach him or benefit him. He is dead.
Not one of the approximately forty writers of the Bible ever once speaks of any person as “dying and going to heaven,” or “dying and going to hell,” or “dying and going to purgatory.” They all knew better. Such views have their sources in places other than the Christian Scriptures. Such views, because they are not only un-Biblical but anti-Biblical, should be instantly discarded by all Christians. The Bible and the Bible alone is the basis of genuine Christianity.
All Needful Truth
The Bible is a book in which God has made a revelation of all truth necessary to salvation. This Book contains all needful information regarding man’s origin, history, condition, nature, and destiny. Its plain and positive teaching throughout is that man is mortal, not immortal; perishable, not deathless; that his only hope of a future life is in Jesus Christ and in Him alone.
The sacred writings of the Christian faith promise life to those, and those only, who believe on Jesus Christ. They threaten death and destruction to the disobedient and the rebellious. This is the Bible’s teaching regarding man and man’s destiny, regarding life and death. This is its teaching regarding a future life—life in Christ, death out of Christ.
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