AN ULTIMATE, AUTHORITATIVE STANDARD NEEDED
A KNOWLEDGE of man’s past condition can be acquired from history. From a study of current events a knowledge of his present condition can be gained. But his future—who will tell us of it? And upon what authority shall we rest our confidence that there is to be a future?
The whole scope of human vision is bounded by death. Death brings to a close all human plans, hopes, and joys. Human reasoning cannot pierce its blackness or bring its secrets to light. Its impenetrable darkness is not lightened by any of the innumerable philosophies of men. It is an enigma, a mystery, a black and forbidding cloud, which will reveal its secrets to no one. We may wander through all the mazes of human knowledge, and explore the very depths of thought of the wisest of men, but we shall find not one ray of certain light which will illuminate that untraveled path before us.
The scientist, studying with methodical exactness the facts which nature presents, announces with calm finality that he finds no evidence at all that man will ever live after death. He brings a vast array of evidence to show that this is the only correct answer, the only possible answer that science can give to the world-old question, "If a man die, shall he live again?"
The infidel, with his blind "leap into the dark," announces a solution which produces but little deeper gloom. To the black cloud that already obscures the future destiny of mankind he adds the still darker cloud of unbelief. Knowledge could dissolve the cloud of ignorance, but the veil of unbelief cannot be pierced.
The philosopher, swayed by his sentiment and natural instincts, announces with certainty that there is no death; that what others call death is but a change of condition, an advance step in an evolutionary development toward perfection of existence. He offers but vague and unsatisfactory proofs for this, however, and those who are inclined to his view are always without the blessedness of absolute certainty.
Maze of Conflicting Theories
Heathenism, with its infinite variety of indefinite answers to all queries concerning the future, reveals its utter helplessness to provide any hope of a certain foundation upon which to build any belief concerning the future.
The spiritualist is here with his claim of proof for the future existence of man by actual communication with the spirits of the dead. The atheist is here with his "Death is an eternal sleep." The world has so many voices proclaiming in poetic, oracular, sublime, or ridiculous tones their infinite variety of conflicting opinions that the earnest seeker after truth finds his thoughts in confusion instead of having them clarified.
Amid the maze of conflicting theories upon this great question there are seven accepted by those who profess some form of the Christian faith. These are not all by any means, but they are the leading ones. It is not too much to say that all who accept the Bible as containing truth can be divided into classes holding to one of these seven theories. There are minor differences, of course, but these are of so little importance, and are held by so numerically few, as to make them insignificant.
A very large number of those who profess the religion of Christ hold that the whole race of men possesses immortal souls regardless as to whether they are good or bad. All men possess immortality inherently, by nature, as a birthright. Their bodies are but prisons and clogs. When death comes, their bodies return to the dust, but their souls will be perpetuated in endless existence; the souls of the good will be in a condition of joy and bliss in some ecstatic spiritland; the souls of the bad will be in a condition of misery and torment in some wretched and penal spiritland.
A second view of the subject differs from the first only in this: it holds that the mercy and goodness of God will in some way apply the eternal blessedness provided by the gospel of Christ to the recovery and ultimate salvation of even the lost souls of the wicked.
A third view holds with the first that all souls are immortal and at death are separated from the body. The righteous enter into the joys of God’s presence, and the wicked are sentenced to the torments of hell. At the day of judgment the immortal souls of both classes are summoned from heaven and hell to be reunited with their bodies, which have been raised and also made immortal. After this the righteous return to eternal blessedness in heaven, and the wicked return to eternal torment in hell.
Differing only in denying the absolute eternity of these torments in hell, a fourth view holds that although the torments will be of great duration, they will, nevertheless, finally accomplish the reformation and consequent restoration of the wicked! who then will also enter into ineffable happiness and divine favor.
A fifth view also teaches the natural immortality of the soul together with the eternity of the blessedness of the saved and the torments of the lost in their resurrected state of bodily immortality. It rejects, however, the view of the existence of souls in heaven or hell in the intermediate state between death and the resurrection. Rather, it locates them in a temporary and imperfect condition of happiness or misery in the obscurity of Hades, or the underworld.
A sixth view, held very widely by a large segment of those who profess the Christian faith, is that a limited number of the souls of the saints, those who have been entirely purified in this life, ascend immediately at death to the presence of God, where they become mediators of His grace and benefits to those remaining here. Others who are so sinful as to be wholly beyond the hope of pardon are driven at once to hell. The vast number of the faithful, however, under this view, the average and imperfect saints as well as the less heinous sinners, are, at death, located in purgatory. In the lapse of ages their moral characters, cleansed by purifying fires, become purged from every stain by the sanctifying fire. This process of purification, it is held, may be materially facilitated by the repetition of certain Latin prayers, which those qualified are always willing to offer—when paid for so doing. After the judgment, all saints will enjoy eternal blessedness in a bodily condition, and the incorrigibly wicked will endure eternal torments.
The seventh view denies at the outset the premise of all the others: the natural immortality of the soul. It teaches that all future life depends solely on Christ and is bestowed by God through Him. The natural death which comes to all men is an interruption or temporary cessation of all conscious existence. In the resurrection of the last day the whole human family will arise to judgment, both the righteous and the wicked. The righteous will then put on immortality; and the wicked, destitute of the life which is in Christ, will die the second death, be punished with everlasting destruction, and utterly and eternally perish. Denying that immortality is the natural inheritance of all men from Adam, this view teaches it to be a free gift from God conditioned on faith, and that only those who receive it through Christ will ever possess immortality. Under this view immortal life is not the unalienable destiny of man, but rather a privilege made possible by God’s favor. It is not a birthright, but a gift. This view teaches that the good alone will live forever. It may properly be called the doctrine of the survival of the fittest or conditional immortality.
Practically all Christendom is divided into the seven classes holding these views. These are so distinct that no man can hold any two of them at the same time.
Some Ultimate, Authoritative Standard Needed
Where does the truth of this question lie? Must the seeker for truth depend upon his unaided reason for its solution? Must he trace every theory to its logical end before he can acquire any certain knowledge? Would not such a work be far too vast, for the finite mind ever to accomplish? No man can do it; eternity itself would not suffice for the doing of it. Would it not be the greatest folly to attempt by unaided reason to determine whether these theories are true or false?
It is obvious at the very outset that unless there is an ultimate, authoritative standard to which all appeals can be taken and by which all theories can be tested, it would be useless even to begin the discussion. This question cannot be settled by an appeal to the belief of any man, to the teaching of any denomination, or to the decrees of any church council. It cannot be settled by unaided reason. It must be measured and tested by some certain criterion. It must be settled by an authority that will end all controversy.
If there is no such standard, authority, or criterion, there is but one thing left to do: The seeker for truth, with his finite, fallible understanding, must take the myriads of conflicting theories one by one and debate them pro and con eternally—a very bottomless pit of supposition, speculation, and conjecture, a dreary and utterly hopeless task to the soul which is longing for certainty, light, and truth. It seems to be a fit illustration of one "ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." If there are no "oracles of God," there is no means to ascertain what the truth is or where it lies.
There Is a Divine Revelation
Is there, then, a revelation from God to supply our need? God understands this matter. "He knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him." Eternity discloses its vast extent to His glance. "In him is no darkness at all." He can solve the problem and remove the obscurity. But will He do it? How big this question is with importance! The world-wide anxiety of six thousand years is compressed within it. Will the Divine Oracle, which cannot err, and which will not lie, respond to the eager query of the truth seeker who waits with such yearning at the portal of the eternal temple? All hangs upon the response. The very current of our lives may be changed by it. Into the darkest recesses of the sorrowing heart it may send a flood of brilliant hope, or it may overcast with darkest shadow the remnant of our fleeting years.
We need not fear. "He revealeth the deep and secret things." The God of truth has spoken. "He giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding." By inspiration of the mighty God His servants have been given knowledge and understanding. The veil of the future has been torn aside and its secrets revealed by men who have spoken as "they were moved by the Holy Ghost."
Shall we "turn away from him that speaketh from heaven," and go to the uncertain and dubious oracles of earth for the wisdom for which we are seeking? Not so! Let us subordinate human speculation and all theories to His authoritative teaching in which He has spoken clearly and emphatically concerning this very subject.
To the Bible we turn. We will call no man master or teacher. We will pass by the oracles of heathendom. And turning from the foolish babblings of a philosophy falsely so called, we take our place at the feet of the eternal Teacher to receive from Him the words of everlasting life. All our differences He must decide. All our difficulties He must settle. All our problems He must solve. Determined to abide strictly by the unalterable decisions of His Word, we shall carefully and reverently examine its teachings.
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