Part 2. Death and the Intermediate State

Chapter 11.

Consciousness After Death . . . 1

The question of consciousness may now be taken up. Of course every proof of it is proof also of existence. But many who allow that the soul exists after death, will not allow that it is conscious. Thus Mr. Hudson regards "the soul as an entity not destroyed by the death of the body, however dependent it may be upon embodiment for the purposes of active existence." So with others, whom I need not here quote. The thing contended for is what is unknown to (while professedly based on) Scripture — "the sleep of the soul."

But you never find in Scripture the soul sleeping. The man sleeps, but always as identified with the body. It is a mode of speech found in later Greek, outside the New Testament. It is never the soul that is in question. So Matt. 27:52, "many bodies of the saints which slept arose." Again John 11:11, "our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go that I may awake him out of sleep," — i.e., by raising the dead. So Stephen fell asleep, and devout men carried him to burial, — i.e., his body. So "David fell asleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption." Again in 1 Cor. 7:39, "if her husband be dead (asleep) she is at liberty to be married to whom she will." There it is no question of soul or spirit. Again, 1 Cor. 11:30, "many sleep"; he is thinking of it as chastening, not the joy of presence with the Lord, which the soul had. Again, 1 Cor. 15:6, "some are fallen asleep," — fallen out of the rank of witnesses. 1 Cor. 15:18, "then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ are perished." Ver. 20: "Christ is risen from the dead and become the first-fruits of them that slept." There again the resurrection of the body is in question.

So always, if death be looked at as chastening, sorrowed over as we do over the breathless corpse, if it be simple history of the outward fact, or if resurrection be in question, it is here that we find the phrase which people have blundered over, perfectly simple, intelligible and beautiful, as we gaze upon the inanimate form, and brush away our tears at the thought, "our brother shall rise again."

Mr. Constable, as usual with him, contends for the identification of man with his body, and absolutely ignores the Scriptures which identify man with his soul or spirit. He can therefore from his point of view say: "If people will say, it is only the body that sleeps, then they must allow that the body by itself, is man. If they say that man has both body and soul, and that these united constitute man, then they must allow that both body and soul sleep." On the same principle we must affirm that when Paul was caught up to the third heavens, inasmuch as it was the man, Paul, who was caught up, and man is body, soul and spirit, therefore that about which he was ignorant was whether he, body, soul and spirit, had been "out of the body" or not. Mr. Constable chooses to ignore, it seems, this whole class of texts. No wonder, then, if he lose his balance and fall into error. It is not only his, it is common to materialists of every class. We have before considered this, however, and need not repeat again what has been said in our very first chapter.

Mr. Constable's argument as to 1 Thess. 4:13 goes beyond the question of the application of the figure. He argues that the apostle here virtually denies the commonly held doctrine of the intermediate state.

"If those he wrote to mourned for separation, if Paul comforted them with the prospect of reunion, if he pointed to the resurrection as the consoling prospect when their longed-for reunion would be accomplished, then by every fair inference he did not believe or teach that there would be any reunion before the resurrection"

If the premises were true the inference might be a fair one. But the grief of the Thessalonians was not the mere personal grief of separation, and the apostle's comfort for them is not the mere prospect of reunion. It is, that "we which are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord shall not prevent (or precede) them which are asleep; for . . . . the dead in Christ shall rise first." The thought of the Thessalonian saints was this, that if Christ were to come, as they believed He soon might, the dead in Christ would be shut out of the joy of welcoming and being with Him then by the fact of their death. The apostle assures them the living would have no precedence over the dead in this respect: the dead in Christ would be raised even before the change of the living, and together they would be caught up to meet the Lord and be with Him. Thus the intermediate state was not at all in question. How could it be for those ALIVE till the coming of the Lord? How could living people be united with dead ones in an intermediate state?

Abundance of inspired testimony there is that death is not, for the soul, a state of unconsciousness. The passages are well known, and need only to be cleared from the objections which have been raised to their apparently very simple meaning.

The conceptions of the Pharisees upon this point are acknowledged on all hands, and the familiar story of Lazarus and the rich man in the 16th of Luke is confessedly in full accordance with them; yet they would forbid us to believe this to be anything more than accommodation to the superstitions of those whom the Lord addressed. Mr. Roberts indeed very naturally suggests that "it may be asked, Why did Christ parabolically employ a belief that was fictitious, and thus give it His apparent sanction?" To which he answers, that He "was not using it with any reference to itself (!) but for the purpose of introducing a dead man's testimony. . . . This did not involve his sanction of the theory, any more than he approved of slavery by introducing it into his parable of the ungrateful debtor. . . It may be urged that it was unlike Christ to perpetuate delusion, and withhold the truth on such an important question as that involved in the parable used. To this the reply will be found in the following (Matt. 13:10, 11)." That is, that "to them it was not given to know the mysteries of kingdom of heaven," and that therefore He spoke in parables, because "seeing they saw not, and hearing they did not understand."

But Mr. Roberts will permit me to say, that he has entirely failed to justify the thing he pleads for. For the reason last given is a reason for the Lord speaking in parables indeed, but not for His making parables (as he admits) "perpetuate delusion." The introducing slavery into a parable was only introducing what, under certain restrictions, the Mosaic law permitted; and if it had not been so, the bare introduction of a custom that obtained was not sanctioning it, while the introduction of what had no existence, save as superstition, would tend, as he owns, to "perpetuate" it. This is a difference which upsets all his conclusions.

But then, he asks, "Are we to make a parable paramount, and throw away plain testimony? Are we to twist and violate what is clear to make it agree with what we think is meant by what is admittedly obscure?"

Indeed this is the common refuge of writers of this class. Mr. Dobney, it is true, seems to admit all we claim about it. He cannot really, since he contends that "Scripture recognizes no perfectly disembodied state." He probably applies it therefore to the final state. But his words are: "Our Lord shows an ungodly man in a state of wretchedness after death. How long it would last is not intimated. It is true there was no hope for him. He could not buoy himself up with the prospect of restoration to enjoyment. But whether that torment should endure forever, or would ultimately destroy him, the parable does not intimate. It teaches a terrible and hopeless state for the wicked after death, and that is all."

Edwin Burnham also seems to admit the doctrine of conscious existence after death. Speaking of eternal punishment he says, "So far as this question is concerned, man may be conscious or unconscious in death until the final judgment. Therefore the parable of the rich man and Lazarus proves nothing to the point of eternal torment, for that parable refers to some transaction BEFORE the judgment." But then he adds, "The same may be said of all those Scriptures which to some SEEM to teach that the dead are in a conscious state."

For the rest, all seem to agree with Mr. Hastings: "Of course the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is not reckoned as teaching the doctrine; for all laws of criticism forbid that parables be made use of to teach doctrines."

Unfortunately for those, however, who speak thus, they themselves are forced to admit that, parable or not, it is "founded upon" what Mr. Roberts calls "a theoretic fact," i.e., the belief of the Pharisees. That the object of it, moreover, is really to lift the veil from the other world will be plain if we consider the connection with the rest of the chapter. For the Lord had been speaking in the first part of it of man as an unfaithful steward under sentence of dismissal, but with the goods of his Divine Master yet in his hand. He had thereupon exhorted them: "Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations." Thereupon the Pharisees, who were covetous, derided Him, and to them He preaches this (parable, if you please) to show how what was highly esteemed among men was abomination in the sight of God. The point is here: "Thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things," and now "thou art tormented." No crime is charged but this, his failure as to the unrighteous mammon. He could not serve God and mammon. He had served mammon and not God. And, while the beggar he had neglected was borne from his gate into Abraham's bosom, he was tormented. How this addressed itself to covetous Pharisees is easily seen. And the state described is of a man immediately after death, in torment, before the resurrection and the judgment, with brethren still on earth to be preached to.

You may call it parable, if you will. The state of the dead is the very thing it is designed to enforce; and this representation of it is acknowledged to be based on Pharisaic sentiments.

It is singular, however, how the terms used by our Lord are quarrelled with. If literally construed, Mr. Roberts urges,* "it upsets the belief it is quoted to prove, and substitutes the tradition of the Pharisees, which Jesus was parabolically using. If a literal narrative, it clashes with the popular theory of the death state in the following particulars. We read, ver. 21, that the beggar died, and WAS CARRIED not his immaterial soul, but he, his bodily self — by the angels into Abraham's bosom; the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell, where he had been buried (hell, hades and grave being synonymous) he lifted up his eyes," etc. He also tells us that "immaterial souls" could easily have got over the great gulf fixed; and that if the popular view were correct, a spirit might have been sent to the five brethren without one needing to rise from the dead.

{*Twelve Lectures.}

This is, no doubt, said in serious earnest, although it may not seem so. But it is a specimen of the blinding delusion under which these men lie. Think of a man telling us, that it was the tradition of the Pharisees, that men were carried bodily after death into Abraham's bosom; that hades or hell and the grave were synonymous! and that men were tormented in the grave! If this parable teaches literally the traditions of the Pharisees, this is what he says it teaches.

But I pursue this no further than to ask where the parable states that the beggar's "bodily self" was carried into Abraham's bosom? Of course, if there is no other self than a bodily one, all is plain. But that is as little the doctrine of the Bible as it was of the Pharisees. As to hades, and what it is, we may see shortly: But would it not be rather foolish, even in a parable, to put it that "in the grave he lifted up his eyes, being in torment"? To such straits are men reduced who refuse the Scripture doctrine of the soul's consciousness after death. We may well thank God for making it so plain.

Figurative, no doubt, the language is. "Abraham's bosom" is not literal, any more than the gulf over which souls cannot pass. Nor do we contend for souls absent from the body having eyes or tongues or fingers. Mr. Roberts asks in View of this; how, if we "feel at liberty to admit the non-actuality of these things spoken of as apparently real," can we be "so sure about the reality of the other parts that apparently favor (our) theory of the death state?"

I answer: first, because it is addressed to Pharisees, and founded (as Mr. R. himself acknowledges) on their belief, which the Lord thus takes up and adopts without a word of protest, without one hint of its being the gross and heathenish delusion Mr. R. would have it.

Secondly, because figures, as it would seem, must necessarily be used in speaking of a state so far removed from anything of which we have experience. That is, words, phrases, and ideas, borrowed from things around us must be taken and adapted to these unseen things.

Thirdly, if the object were only to represent a final award ill resurrection no reason can be given for not picturing that award directly, as is done elsewhere, instead of representing it under the figure of a fabulous death state. The perfectness of the representation would surely suffer by so unnatural a proceeding.

The figures are not difficult at least to read intelligently, for one who is as to this point of doctrine a Pharisee, as we shall see Paul the apostle was, and as we may confess ourselves without shame to be. And thus are conveyed to us thoughts that it seems in no other way could we have so vividly presented. The meaning is only so clear, that those who oppose it are driven to the wildest expedients to escape from its plain speaking.

Thus Dr. Leask transcends even Mr. Roberts in grotesque effrontery. He says* as to Lazarus' being carried into Abraham's bosom: "Fact it cannot be. Otherwise you have the extraordinary thought of angels carrying a dead man, a loathsome corpse, to the bosom of Abraham" Shall we add the still more extraordinary thought of this "loathsome corpse" being "comforted" in this strange resting place! and of the rich man wanting to send it to his five brethren, etc. But, says Dr. L., "this parable is unequalled for the vividness of its imagery"! And he adds, after the usual fashion: "The word translated 'hell' here is hades, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew sheol and of the English grave," etc. Vivid imagery indeed!

{*The Rich Man and Lazarus.}

Again, "Surely sober and serious thought must convince any one, that the conversation between the rich man and Abraham must be parabolic, for Abraham himself was dead. (!) If Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are consciously alive, our Lord's argument to convince the Sadducees of resurrection loses its point. God is not the God of the dead but of the living: therefore these honored saints shall rise from the dead some day; that is the argument, and it is irresistible."

Dr. Leask has scarcely read the passage attentively enough, or he would have seen that if God said at the bush, "I AM the God of Abraham," and He is not the God of the dead, Abraham must have been in some sense living then; or it would have been "I was Abraham's God, while he lived, and I will be, when he lives again."

There is one other argument the doctor gives, which has somewhat more in it: that "neither rewards nor punishments are given till after judgment," which Mr. Constable has enlarged somewhat more upon, and therefore I leave it to look at it with him. These then are Dr. Leask's reasons for turning aside the application of this parable from the death state altogether, and applying it to the setting aside of Israel and the bringing in of the Gentiles by the gospel. This, to convict "covetous" Pharisees of their liability to be excluded from "everlasting habitations"!

General Goodwyn* attempts to show that the Lord in his parabolic teachings did "adopt some of the prevalent [false] conceptions, and proved by the unerring wisdom of His mode of treatment, their fictitious origin and constitution." He adduces the first four parables of the kingdom of heaven in Matt. 13 in proof of this position. But he neither does, nor can, show that the Lord incorporated any prevalent errors with His teaching there or anywhere else. The Lord gives us on the contrary what is simple and recognizable truth as to the form the kingdom should assume in the period of His absence. For the kingdom exists now, and the condition of it of which He speaks exists also. The "popular ideas" Gen. Goodwyn seems to refer to are but misapprehensions of these very parables, and not errors He adopts in anywise. Let him put his finger if he can upon one error the Lord teaches there or elsewhere.

{*Truth and Tradition.}

Now here, if the consciousness of the dead is error, the Lord does teach it, and without the least warning of its being such. The two inconsistencies the General thinks to be in the parable are not there: viz., either the "final condition of punishment" being "before the day of judgment," or dead people being "in the body." Very strangely does he add: "Thus were these traditional and palpably erroneous views woven into the Divine discourse, serving the purpose of exposing the conceit of mere human theology"! Were these things "traditional"? Certainly not, at least, the thought of being in the body after death; or can he produce the tradition? Granting they were "traditional," and also "palpably erroneous," if their error were not palpable in the tradition themselves, how could the Lord's adopting them make them become so? Surely the reasoning is as pitiable as much of what we have elsewhere had upon the same side.

But he still goes on: "This parable of the rich man and Lazarus is a supplement to that at the beginning of the chapter, of the rich man and his steward, both being designed to enforce the piercing truth, that 'that which is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God,' ver. 15, the connecting link between the two. In regard to the first parable, human craft had instituted the idea that a welcome to the 'everlasting habitations' was to be secured by means of the friendship of 'unrighteous mammon,' or worldly riches; palpably in opposition to the principle of ver. 15; but by mentioning the incident of the unjust steward, the Lord showed that, though man might commend his act, it is divinely deemed unrighteous still."

And this is exposition of Scripture! "He placed the rich man in the flame, and the beggar in Abraham's bosom, thereby proving that a position in the kingdom of heaven could not be purchased by unrighteous mammon." Doubtless it could not; but was it not just his not having made himself friends of the unrighteous mammon that placed the rich man in the flame? Who can deny or doubt it? And who can suppose that solemn exhortation, "I say unto you, make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness," with the questions following: "If, therefore, ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches," etc., to be the adoption of error? If General Goodwyn cannot reconcile this with the gospel, he is ignorant of the blessed fact, that the gospel in no wise sets aside the eternal principles of right and wrong, but reaffirms them all. True, riches will not purchase heaven, nor could aught save the Redeemer's blessed work. True, eternal life is God's gift, not man's purchase or his work. Yet shall "they that have done good come forth unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation." That "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works," is the connecting truth that puts all in its place and explains all.

I need not then repeat what I have said already as to the scope of these parables, nor follow the argument further with General Goodwyn. We shall only finally examine Mr. Constable's treatment of this subject in his volume on Hades, already so largely quoted.

He, too, asserts that "in the words of Christ, hades is identified with the grave, and the dead in hades are represented as alive and speaking." This we reserve for future consideration. He begins the argument with a significant statement that, if this parable "could be truly shown to teach their [the non-extinction] views, the only effect would be that of establishing a contradiction between one part of Scripture and another, or of affording reason to think that this parable of Lazarus, despite the authority of manuscripts, formed no part of the original Gospel of St. Luke." (!)

He begins by asserting, what I shall not question at all, that this story is a parable. He contends that on this account "the entire tale may be fictitious." But, while talking as usual freely of Platonism, he ignores the fact so fully allowed by others, and so impossible to be denied, that it adopts (and, the argument is, sanctions) the belief of the Pharisees. This plainly puts it on ground different altogether from those Mr- C. appeals to, wherein "the trees engage in political discourse," etc. Even this sort of representation we never find the Lord using in His parables, that I am aware. But certainly He never adopted the superstitions He condemned, nor made the traditions of men the basis of His own authoritative teaching. This plain distinction Mr. Constable seems never to have thought of, and of course has not noticed it. In reality it takes the ground from underneath his feet. Not only is the argument quite unanswerable, that the Lord could not have employed falsehood as the vehicle of truth (and without even a hint as to its being false), but that also the very moral of the tale is this, "And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness that when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations." This is the rich man's condemnation: his riches were his accusers now, and not his friends. He had received his good things, taken his portion in a world that passeth away. Now he was tormented. And observe how precisely the language accords with this: it is "when ye fail" — that is, of course, die; not when you are raised as Mr. Constable must read it; no, but that "WHEN YE FAIL, they may receive you into everlasting habitations." The precise doctrine is there, given in plain words and not parable at all, and illustrating and confirming the parable.

We might leave Mr. Constable's argument here, but there is one other point, insisted on already both by Leask and Goodwyn, to which we must reply before we close. Mr. Constable supposes —

"that Christ, for the purpose of his parable, antedates it. What will really happen to such men as Dives and Lazarus when they are raised up at the resurrection, He supposes to happen to them in Hades before the resurrection; and He consequently supposes them to be alive in this Hades state, and capable of feeling, speech, etc. . . In His explanation of parable upon parable He has Himself explained that it is not until 'the time of the harvest,' until 'the end of the world' or age, that His people are gathered into His barn and shine as the sun, while the wicked are sent as tares to the burning. Over and over He has told us that Gehenna, and not Hades, is the place of torment. . . . We are therefore not merely justified, but absolutely required by Scripture to hold that our Lord in this parable antedates it in time, a liberty which the nature and character of parabolical discourse fully entitled Him to do."

Now the passage we have just quoted from the chapter before us, and manifestly connected with the parable in question, affirms the opposite of this: "that when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations." This shows that at death we are received, and that there is no antedating. Doubtless it is after the judgment of works, and therefore after resurrection, that the exact recompense is given, the exact measure of punishment is meted out. But in the meanwhile the spirits of the lost are "spirits in prison" (1 Peter 3:19), with no uncertainty as to their being lost, any more than he who, "absent from the body," is "present with the Lord," is uncertain of his own salvation. Even now are we privileged to know the latter if really ours (1 John 5:13). And "the angels who sinned" referred to by the apostle Peter, though "reserved unto judgment" are yet "delivered into chains of darkness," while waiting for it (2 Peter 2:4). Similarly the "host of the high ones" and "the kings of the earth" "shall be gathered together as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison," after a whole millennium "to be visited" and judged. (See Isa. 24:21-23, and compare Rev. 19:19 – 20:3, etc.)

Then it is a false application Mr. Constable makes of the parables of the tares and wheat. For these "tares" are men alive, "in the field," the world, when the Lord comes, and not dead men at all. So exactly with the "wheat." The Lord is speaking of the clearing of the field in the day of harvest, and not at all of resurrection even. Nay more, the very parable itself is decisive against his whole argument. For the tares gathered and cast in the fire are so dealt with when the Lord appears, before the millennium, and therefore a thousand years before the resurrection and judgment of the wicked at the great white throne. Let any one compare Rev. 19, 20, and see if it be not so.

Again the Lord does say that there is torment in Gehenna; but he does not say, that in Hades there is none. The Scripture Mr. Constable refers to is conclusively against him. The plain and simple impression which any one would receive from the first hearing of the parable, becomes only the more indisputably correct, the more we examine it. There is the harmony and Consistency of truth in it, and this the arguments of its opposers only the more bring out.