ABSOLUTE AND CONDITIONAL LIFE
ONE who has never studied the Bible could come to but one conclusion as to what is taught on the subject of human immortality from the instruction imparted to him by orthodox Christian teachers.
From the constant use of such terms as “immortal souls,” “deathless soul,” “deathless spirit,” “disembodied soul,” “disembodied spirit,” “eternal torment,” “eternal suffering in conscious misery,” “eternal misery,” “unending torment,” “everlasting woe,” “endless woe,” “never-dying soul,” and all such kindred words which he would hear in constant use in the pulpit and find constantly before him in nearly all Christian literature and hymnology, he would be led to believe that the Book upon which these teachings are supposed to be based was filled with similar expressions.
What would be his amazement, then, to find that the word “immortal” is used but once in all the Bible and applied then not to man or the soul of man, but to God!
God is Immortal
The sole occurrence of the term “immortal” in the Bible is in 1 Timothy 1:17, which reads: “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever.” Here the eternal King, “the only wise God,” is said to be immortal. He is the only being who is ever said to be immortal in the Bible. The Scriptures do not use this word again.
The words “soul” and “spirit” occur in the Bible approximately 915 times, and never once is the term “immortal” connected with either of them. The writers of the Bible had 915 opportunities to inform us that the soul is immortal, but they never did so. Surely this is significant.
The teaching of the verse just quoted will be accepted by all. No one will question the immortality of God. All admit this. He is ‘(eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God.” These are the attributes of God. The word “immortal” is used with reference to no other being. Man is never called immortal in the Bible. The soul of man is never called immortal. The spirit of man is never said to be immortal. Indeed, the exact opposite is constantly affirmed throughout the Scriptures.
Instead of the Bible being “full of the teaching of the immortality of the soul,” as the adherents of that doctrine confidently assert, God has thought it of more importance to set forth to men his own immortality. Wherever in the universe life is manifested, of whatever kind, He is the fountain of it. “In him we live, and move, and have our being.” Acts 17:28. Absolute and essential existence, and therefore absolute and essential immortality, is the attribute of God, and of God alone. More than all other attributes, essential being belongs to Jehovah alone.
It is this, indeed, that He claims as His name—“I AM”—the self-existing One, “the first and the last,” “the beginning and the ending,” “which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” He is untreated, self-existent, eternal, immortal. His existence had no beginning. Neither will it have any ending. He is absolute life, absolute being, absolute existence, absolute immortality. And there is no other.
The most exalted angel is a creature. We all are creatures from the highest to the lowest. Our existence had a definite beginning. It will have, or may have, a definite ending at any time when He who gave it sees fit to take it away. We continue to live only because He continues to give us life. The power to take life away is implied in the power to give life. The power to destroy is implied in the power to create. We are dependent creatures. God has never made any independent, self-existing beings. God is immortal. We are not.
It is just on this point of His eternity and self-existence that God contrasts Himself with man, whose life is but “a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. ” “I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; … neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand. For I lift up my hand to heaven, and say, I live for ever.” Deuteronomy 32:39, 40. He is Jehovah, “the Everliving,” “the Eternal God,” “the Everlasting Father,” or “Father of Eternity,” whose years “have no end, ” “who liveth for ever and ever.” “The Lord shall endure for ever.”
Man Is Transitory
Is weak and puny man also able to say, I, too, live forever? The immortality and eternity of God is affirmed in every part of the Bible. The immortality of man is not mentioned or even hinted at. Now, is the immortality of man so much more obvious than that of God that there is no need of mentioning it, but God’s immortality must be constantly affirmed? Or is not this constant assertion of the immortality of God and the absence of all similar assertion of the immortality of man in the Bible rather for the specific purpose of showing a contrast between God and man in respect to immortality? 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 none in himself, and his only hope of living forever is dependent, therefore, or conditional upon union with God through Christ, who has promised eternal life to all who believe on Him.
One of the chief objects of the Bible, indeed, seems to be to reveal to men that their life is brief, vapory, shadowy, transitory. It does this in the very plainest terms. Not only does the Bible not call man immortal, or everliving, or eternal, but it emphatically declares him to be the opposite. He is said to be “mortal” in Job 4:17; Romans 6:12; Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 15:53, 54; and 2 Corinthians 4:11. In James 4:14 his life is said to be “even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” His life is said to be a “wind” in Job 7:7, and Psalm 78:39 says that “they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.” In Psalm 90:5, 6 men are said to be “as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up. … In the evening it is cut down, and withereth.” “He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not.” Job 14:2. “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: … surely the people is grass.” Isaiah 40:6, 7.
Thus, although the human soul is spoken of hundreds of times in the Bible, it is never once said to be immortal or deathless in its nature, but is always spoken of as short-lived and perishable. The only hope of an eternal existence which man ha3 ever had is that held out to him through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Immortality Not a Birthright but a Gift
In what has been said there is no thought of teaching that man can never secure immortality. What is meant is that immortality is not a birthright, is not his by nature, is not in himself, and that if he does ever receive it, it will be as a gift from Him who has it and who can impart it, yea, who will impart it to those who accept it from Him.
There is no question that God can confer immortality upon any of us by prolonging life. But, if having begun to live, we shall continue to live, it will not be because of any inherent principle of life within ourselves irrespective of our condition and independent of the will of God. It will be solely because God is pleased to continue our existence. If He does not confer immortality upon us, we shall never have it, Indeed, if at any time He should now withdraw his sustaining power or cut us off from His favor, our existence would inevitably come to an end. Continued life is dependent, therefore, on His continued favor. And continued favor He has made to depend upon conditions which He Himself has laid down.
Life Is Conditional
This principle can be seen in nature as well as in revelation. It rested entirely with God, of course, whether He should make man mortal or immortal. He could, without doubt, have given all His creatures assurance of living forever irrespective of conditions or circumstances, whether they should preserve their first estate or fall from it, whether they should rise to heaven or sink to hell, whether they should continue holy and consequently be blessed, or fall into sin and therefore be wretched, whether they should obey Him or disobey Him. No one can affirm, however, that He did give any such assurance. Divine revelation, reason, and nature teach the contrary. Everything in nature comes to certain ruin unless it preserves its normal condition or is restored to it. In the very course of things, purity and blessedness are necessary to a continued existence. Life is conditional. Conditions and circumstances which tend to death must be avoided if life is to continue. Like the disease of leprosy, to which it is compared in the Bible, there is something in the nature of sin which will inevitably, unless eradicated, bring to utter ruin the soul into which it has entered. “Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” James 1:15.
From what has been said, it seems clear that there is but one unconditional, independent existence in the universe. Self-existence is the peculiar attribute of God. The source of all life is in Him. It follows, therefore, that the life of every creature, no matter how high or low, depends solely on God’s power and will or, in other words, is conditional life.
God Immortal; Man Mortal
That God alone is immortal, and that man in his natural, fallen condition is mortal can be seen by considering some of the innumerable passages of the Bible which declare that the life of man is a perishable, transitory thing. In Job such expressions as the following frequently occur: “HOW oft is the candle of the wicked put out!” “They are as stubble before the wind, and as chaff that the storm carrieth away.” “They shall lie down alike in the dust, and the worms shall cover them.” “The wicked is reserved to the day of destruction.” “By the blast of God they perish, and by the breath of his nostrils are they consumed.” “All flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust.”
The Psalms are full of similar expressions: “The wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the Lord shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away. ” “As wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.” “For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish.” “They shall be destroyed for ever.” “ His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” “He shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light. Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.”
We find the same teaching in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. And in the writings of the prophets we find such expressions as: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die”; “The destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the Lord shall be consumed”; “They shall be as nothing; and they that strive with thee shall perish.” Finally we come to the words of Malachi at the very close of the Old Testament: “Behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.” Malachi 4.1.
And in the New Testament we find the same teaching that the life which man has is transitory and perishable: “Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” Luke 13:2, 3. “For 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. “Thy money perish with thee.” Acts 8:20. “For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law.” Romans 2:12. “If Christ be not raised, … then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished” (That is, if Christ had not been raised, the death of all would have been final.) 1 Corinthians 15:17. “By nature the children of wrath.” Ephesians 2:3. “Whose end is destruction” Philippians 3:19. “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction.” 2 Thessalonians 1:9. “But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, shall utterly perish.” 2 Peter 2: 12.
Other passages, many of them, might be quoted; but surely these are sufficient to show that the whole human race is mortal, and that unless men find a new life which they do not possess in themselves, they all will perish. If these texts are not sufficient, then no array of texts would be. Every variety and form of expression is used in these passages to put the truth beyond all possibility of question. The Bible says the wicked are to die, to perish, to pass away, to fade away, to wither, to be destroyed, consumed, utterly consumed root and branch, devoured, cut down, ground to powder, burned up, plucked up by the roots, broken to shivers, dashed in pieces, crushed, cut in sunder, put away like dross, cast away, to vanish away like smoke, like a dream, to perish like the brutes, to be ashes, to be as nothing, to be as though they had not been, to be no more, etc.
If these expressions are not sufficient to prove the uniform teaching of the Bible that God alone is immortal and that man is mortal, then words cannot be put together in the English language which will prove it. If those who read these expressions do not have their minds disabused of the theory of the natural immortality of all men, then it is impossible to disabuse their minds of it; for it is impossible to frame words which will be more clear or more powerful to teach the opposite of that theory than the ones which have been selected by God Himself.
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