By Carlyle B. Haynes

Chapter 1— Absolute and Conditional Life

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.

Amid the maze of theories upon this great question there are three views accepted by Christians which stand out above all others.

The first of these three views is probably held by a larger class of those who profess the religion of Christ than the other two. It is this: that all men possess immortality regardless of whether they are good or bad, possess it inherently by nature—therefore when death comes, their souls will be perpetuated in endless existence, the souls of the good in a condition of joy and bliss, the souls of the bad in a condition of misery and torment.

The second view is similar to the first in its premise that all men possess immortality, but it differs in this: It teaches that the bad will, at some time more or less distant and in some way not fully understood, be restored to the divine favor and will then share with the good a perpetual existence in a condition of joy and bliss.

The third view is held by those who deny the premise of the first two classes, the natural immortality of the soul. Denying that immortality is the natural inheritance of all men from Adam, they hold that it is a free gift from God, but only to those who accept it through faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore only those who receive Jesus Christ will ever possess immortality. Further, those who do not get it from this source do not have it at all and never will have it. They, therefore, not possessing immortality, will ultimately perish forever. This view teaches that the good alone will live forever, and it may be called the doctrine of conditional immortality.

There Is a Divine Revelation

It is obvious at the very outset of this discussion that unless there is an ultimate, authoritative standard to which all appeals must be taken and by which all theories must 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 our own unaided reason. It must be settled by an authority which will be an end of all controversy.

Is there a revelation from God to supply our need? God understands this matter. He can solve the problem and remove the obscurity. But will He do it? How big this question is with importance! The worldwide 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? Our all hangs upon the response.

The God of truth has spoken. 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 the theories of men to His authoritative teaching, in which He has spoken clearly and emphatically concerning this 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 shall 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.

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, in the Bible, is ever said to be immortal, for 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 never did so. Surely this is a significant fact that must not be overlooked.

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.

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 uncreated, self-existent, eternal, immortal. His existence had no beginning. Neither will it have any ending. He is ab-solute life, absolute being, absolute existence, absolute immortality. And there is no other.


Man Is Transitory

It is just on this point of His self-existence and eternity 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 Ever-living, “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.”

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, while 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 our Saviour, who has promised eternal life to all who believe on Him as their Redeemer.

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 ever-living, or eternal, but it emphatically declares him to be the opposite. He is said to be mortal in Job 4:17, Romans 6:12, 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 morning it flourisheth, and 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.

Immortality Not a Birthright

Whereas 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.

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 person by prolonging his 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 has laid down Himself.

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 nature 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.

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!” Job 21:17. “They are as stubble before the wind, and as chaff that the storm carrieth away.” Verse 18.

“They shall lie down alike in the dust, and the worms shall cover them.” Verse 26. “The wicked is reserved to the day of destruction.” Verse 30. “By the blast of God they perish, and by the breath of his nostrils are they consumed.” Job 4:9. “All flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust.” Job 34:15.

“The Wicked Shall Perish”

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.” Psalm 37:20. “As wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.” Psalm 68:2. “For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish.” Psalm 73:27. “They shall be destroyed for ever.” Psalm 92:7. “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” Psalm 146:4. “Man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.” Psalm 49:12. “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.” Verses 19, 20.

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” (Ezekiel 18:4) ; “the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the Lord shall be consumed” (Isaiah 1:28) ; “they shall be as nothing; and they that strive with thee shall perish” (Isaiah 41:11) . 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 Galilæans were sinners above all the Galilæans, 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, 18. “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.

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.

Read Chapter 2 — Immortality

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