Letter on Immortality and Everlasting Punishment

J. N. Darby.

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My dear brother,

As this question, this evil heresy, is the one by which, most commonly just now, Satan seeks to perplex the minds of the simple, I write a line to you in connection with the tract sent to me. A great many human names are introduced, but Scripture is little inquired into. In this doctrine the great point of consequence to me is that the true character and import of sin, of atonement, of repentance, are overlooked, and the responsibility of man. Atonement is either denied or dropped out. Here it is entirely dropped out. Now it is evident, if temporary punishment is the whole desert of sin, Christ had only to suffer accordingly. Repentance is proportionate. And one of the chief teachers in the United States declared in his book, that the deep distress of conscience and terror about sin committed was a base servile fear and wrong. To one who found he had lost the atonement and the sense of responsibility out of his mind, and who asked him what he made of responsibility, he replied, it was impossible to reconcile it with his system, but he saw it in Scripture, and so did not deny it. They insist that souls of men and beasts are the same, and plead Genesis to this end - all in whom was the breath of life perished in the flood - that beasts have a living soul and so has man. If this be so (that we have more intelligence, but a living soul like a beast's), you cannot charge a beast with sin, nor make Christ die to put away a beast's sins. What did Christ do for us - not as giving life, but in the way of atonement? That is the grave question. Again, they confound eternal life and immortality, which is not honest.

Save as to the immortality of God, where it declares death, of course, has no part, mortality and immortality as to men, are applied solely to the body and have nothing to do with eternal life. Eternal life is what we have in the Second Adam: the question is the condition of the first. Thus, "when this mortal shall have put on immortality," "the life of Jesus in our mortal flesh." The places are these - Romans 6:12, "mortal body"; chap. 8:11, "mortal bodies"; 1 Corinthians 15:53, "this mortal"; verse 54, where it is the resurrection, that is, the body (or change); 2 Corinthians 4:11, "our mortal flesh"; v. 4, "mortality swallowed up of life," when he speaks of the tabernacle we are groaning in. Mortality is always of the body; immortality is put in contrast with mortality (not mortality of the soul, but of your present mortal condition). 1 Corinthians 15:53, 54, is the change from a mortal state. Otherwise it is used only of God. In 1 Timothy 6:16, He is undying in nature. Mortal is applied to our present state, but is not applied to the soul at all. That God only has immortality does not affect an undying existence conferred; for angels are not mortal, as all admit, and as Luke 20:36 shews. With these and the state of the fallen angels these teachers never trouble themselves. Men must not suffer; their love goes no farther than themselves. Now the everlasting punishment is prepared for the devil and his angels, and there the judged of Matthew 25 are sent; so Revelation 20:10, 15; chap. 21:8.

68 As to the life we have naturally, beasts were formed by God's word out of the ground, and there the ordinary creation ended, and then beasts were pronounced good; Gen. 1:25. And then God proceeds in solemn consultation to form man as His image, as lord of all that had been created, and in His likeness, and first makes him a frame out of the dust, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man by partaking of what came directly from God became a living soul (not at all as the beasts), God's image on the earth. Hence he is called (Acts 17) His offspring. He has a spirit as well as a mere soul, when the distinction needs to be made, which death does not touch. We are not to fear them which kill the body and after that have no more that they can do - that death does not touch what is beside bodily life. I will speak of "destroy" in good time; but death leaves the soul in existence, not merely the souls of saints. When the resurrection was called into question by the Sadducees, it is not said of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob only, that they are alive, nor is this founded on their being saints, though they were such, but it is added, "for all live unto him." Death does not affect the soul, All live, not for man indeed on the earth but, for God.

The case of Lazarus and Dives clearly teaches the same solemn truth; the sinner was as much alive as the saint. They allege that this is a Jewish figure. I admit it fully as to the form; but it is not a figure of a person's not existing. The second death is the lake of fire - is punishment. They allege that it burns man out in time, and that ceasing to exist is the second death; but Scripture says the punishment is itself the second death. Death never means ceasing to exist.

69 Then as to this word "everlasting." It is incontrovertible that its proper sense is everlasting. It is defined carefully to mean it by Aristotle and Philo (the last a religious Jewish writer of the apostles' age) and others. Scripture speaks of the eternal God, the eternal Spirit, the eternal inheritance, eternal redemption; and what makes it conclusively evident that the word in itself means it is the statement of the apostle in 2 Corinthians 4: "The things which are seen are temporal, and the things which are not seen are eternal," where it is used in express contrast with temporal, without any subject (as they allege) which on other grounds shews what it means. So eternal life and eternal punishment are used in direct contrast - eternal life is in Christ, the gift of God. It is only named twice in the Old Testament, and both refer to the millennium (Dan. 12; Psalm 133); for life and incorruptibility were brought to light by the gospel. In Romans 2:7 it is incorruptibility, not immortality.

None of the quotations following, apply to the subject at all. I have eternal life now; yet I am as mortal as ever. That life is not touched in any way when I die; 2 Cor. 5:6-8. It is in full glory, when I get a glorious body; mortality or immortality it has nothing to do with, nor they with it. It is "life and incorruptibility" which are brought to light by the gospel. There is a resurrection of the unjust as of the just. They subsist meanwhile, or there is no one to raise; their judgment comes after their death. At any rate eternal life does not touch OF take away mortality - has nothing to do with it, nor does it give immortality. It is only the darkness of common doctrine that has given rise to these statements, which have no real foundation at all. "All live unto him." Destroying the body does not touch the soul. "Who only hath immortality" does not apply to created existence. The angels are not mortal as we are, but they have no existence independent of God any more than we have.

Dr. Whately is wrong altogether - * "of those only," he says, "who shall," etc. Now it is not so. Immortality is only used twice, applied only to the body, and when it has ceased to be mortal.

{*"It is certain that the words, 'life,' 'eternal life,' 'immortality,' etc., are always applied to the condition of those, and of those only, who shall at the last day be approved as 'good and faithful servants,' who are to 'enter into the joy of their Lord.'" DR. WHATELY.}

70 Another thing important to remark here is the abuse of the word "die." We may be quite right in seeing, as spiritual persons, that men may be dead while they live; and that we may be dead in sin, as towards God, when alive; and that the judgment of death implies estrangement from God, as the gift of life is bringing us, in principle, in blessedness to Him. But dying in its positive sense is never applied to the soul. Thus Ezekiel 18, constantly quoted for this, and used by good people with good intentions, speaks only of death in this world - present judgment here; not for a father's, but for our own sins.

Quoting such a passage as "He that hath not the Son of God hath not life" proves utter confusion of mind; for if I were a living sinner, I have not life in that sense, yet am alive all the same; and if I never died at all, was not mortal as to the body, I should not have it a bit more. What lost life has the sinner no power to regain? Not the fact of life (namely, conscious existence); he has it as much as ever. It does not touch the question; and I know from Christ's word that death to which I am sentenced does not affect the soul. Why so diligently confound spiritual life and actual existence? And this is the whole secret of the way they puzzle people - poor work! Death as judgment on man may intimate a great deal more, just as life does. But "thou shalt surely die" was bringing in mortality; and hence man was not allowed to touch the tree of life lest he should eat and live for ever - live for ever as a sinner in the world. Here, as a matter of fact, God was not precluding him from getting spiritual life; and if when actually alive, as he was, he had eaten of the other tree, he would not have died at all. Immortality in his then state, before or after the fall, would have been immortality as a living man as he then was. The death threatened we have plainly declared to us - "till thou return unto the ground, for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."Did the spirit God breathed into Adam come out of the dust? It returns to God who gave it; and the body will be raised, and then judgment come, and only then the award of sin by judgment. The corruption of the body is only an intermediate state. common alike to saints and sinners, just as death itself is, save by special intervention of God's power.

71 As to union with the Saviour giving life, it is all a blunder. It has no such effect. None but already quickened ones are united, and that by the Holy Ghost. I need not say that all he speaks of the end of all things at a common resurrection is no part of our belief; but it is one of the acts of Satan to take fresh light and use it, where it has not been, to pour in his darkness.

The statement of everlasting punishment to a simple soul is as plain as possible in Scripture: "These shall go away into everlasting punishment, and the righteous into everlasting life." To a simple soul it would be monstrous to say that "everlasting" was not meant to mean the same thing. They are "tormented for ever and ever." Death gives up all it held, into the lake of fire - that is, for ever and ever; the same word always used in that book for God's existence. "They are punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord." Now everlasting destruction has no sense if non-existence be meant by destruction. Total destruction I understand; but everlasting destruction in such a sense, is nonsense. And in this case, on their own theory, it is no destruction then at all; for 2 Thessalonians 1 is at the beginning of the millennium, when, according to their own system, and my own full conviction, they are not destroyed at all.

This leads me to the word "destroy." It is, like death, used for the ruin of a present state of things, even moral ruin, not for cessation of existence. "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thy help." "I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" - the same word. "He that loseth [destroyeth] his life for my sake, shall save it." "Carest thou not that we perish?" Zacharias "perished between the temple and the altar." Take an English-Greek Concordance, and you will easily see. So destruction; waste of the ointment; the son of perdition; damnable heresies - heresies which ruin people. Moral ruin is meant, as well as destruction of existence, if that is ever meant. The world of the flood perished - the flood came and destroyed them all; Yet they are spirits in prison after that another proof that death destroys no soul; does not mean it. Abaddon and Appolyon are the Hebrew and Greek for destroyer: are they able to make to cease to exist finally? Take "abad" (Englishman's Hebrew Concordance p. 8); I do not think "destroy" is ever used for finally ceasing to exist, but totally ruining as to the state anything has been in. When men are everlastingly destroyed from the presence of the Lord, it confessedly is not so; they then go into punishment; but that is final. And when it is said, "their fire is not quenched," to assert that it means that they do not exist at all is a miserable come-off, not more. It is a figure no one denies, and refers, as is stated, to Isaiah; but the figure is one of the continuous existence of the objects of punishment. "From one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another. shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord; and they shall go forth and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me, for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched, and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh." It is continuing abiding objects of punishment which are now before the eyes of those who come up. It was not a supply of fresh material, etc. All this is false. The opposite is what God is teaching. It is of continued existence; it is the carcases that were indestructible - at any rate undestroyed: an external matter, no doubt, in Isaiah, and used by the Lord as a figure, but a figure of continued shame and misery, and no fresh supply. And what is the meaning of everlastingly supplying hell, where body and soul are, with fresh materials? "Destroyed for ever," Psalm 92:7, applied to this world; so Psalm 104:35, "consumed out of the earth." You may take it as a general rule, that in the Old Testament, judgment, destruction, etc., refer to this world, though a future state is referred to in the Psalms.

72 Again, the passage "seek for glory, honour, and immortality," immortality is incorruptibility. God is immortal in His present existence - cannot die. Man is looked at, when spoken of as such, as body and soul, and now mortal in that condition; and mortality is used only in respect of his existence in the body, and immortality too, only in another state. In Romans 2:7 and 2 Timothy 1:10, it is incorruptibility; but it is always a state in the body, now mortal, then immortal (i.e., the soul separable from the body or inseparable). It does not touch the question, though habit uses it for it. Ignorance or dishonesty can alone quote the word. Angels are acknowledged to be immortal - and what we have to do is to learn from Scripture what becomes of that which was directly communicated from God when He breathed into man's nostrils, and which, most certainly from Scripture, death does not touch.

73 I have already said eternal life has nothing to do with it; I am as mortal when I have it as before. Now Scripture is positive that death does not touch the soul. It subsists after death and apart from the body. There could not in their use of it be a second death, if it meant ceasing to exist. Death does not mean for men ceasing to exist; neither does the second death. That is going into the lake of fire, not getting out of it. And this driving out of the presence of the Lord is for ever; punishment is everlasting. When dead, all live for God; when raised, they are cast into the lake of fire, and that is the second death, and the final state spoken of. They shall then have their part in it. This is "for ever and ever" - the term used for the duration of God's own life, and the duration of His glory; Rev. 4:9; ch. 5:13, 14. It is exclusion from the presence and dwelling-place of God: "Without are dogs," etc. The time when God is all in all, and no more death, sorrow, etc., is the time when the evil are cast into the lake of fire. For death is separation of soul and body, which will never take place again. There will be no more dying, but just punishment on the raised wicked, but no more death; that and hades are over. But that judgment is destruction from the presence of the Lord.

What they specially insist on is that, till we get eternal life, we have, though more intelligent, life like any other animal. Now the falseness of this is evident. So we have seen, we are God's offspring, but I speak of it for another purpose now. I have a conscience; I have a soul that can hate God and did - formed to have to say to Him - that can be rebellious and disobedient, and enter into appeals to my conscience. In a word, I am a moral being. When I am converted, I feel how I have failed as to my previous responsibility; I repent, I feel I am guilty - liable to judgment from God: what has this to do with animal life? If I get eternal life, it makes me look backward on all my previous course as guilt, as subjecting me to divine punishment. When I know myself, I know that the mind of the flesh is enmity against God. God claims moral authority over the unconverted man. For these sins Christ, I find, has died. I was dead in sins. With Him I have died to sin. If I am a mere nephesh chayah,* as they speak (and we are that physically), I cannot repent nor think of atonement for what I did as such. The idea of sin is lowered. All there is, is merely a temporary punishment for certain faults which takes place now and also hereafter. For Scripture, it is enmity against God, and the remaining so is infinite misery, when the veil of sense is taken away and final judgment pronounced. The atonement, responsibility, the true sense of sin, repentance, all go when this fatal falsehood and device of Satan gets into the mind. It is a soul as to its nature capable of hatred and love of God. Would you put the cleverest elephant into this place of responsibility? or could it have a need for its sins to be borne?

{*Living soul (Hebrew).}

74 If you deal with a simple soul, shew it the plain language of Scripture: "These shall go away into everlasting punishment." Conscience will tell what that means, and if they have been dealt with to prove eternal does not mean eternal, shew them what is said in 2 Corinthians 4:18; and simple souls, souls where Satan's wiles have not polluted them, will bow to the plain word of God. I have nothing to do with popular statements (though better, if essentially sound, than these immoral deceits); but the conscious subsistence of the soul after death, and eternal judgment and punishment of the wicked, are as plainly taught in Scripture as possible. Men have spoken of it (though sound in intentions) in a way designing people can lay hold of, specially from the Lord's coming not having been seen. But the word of God is clear. It does not detail the misery as it does the blessing, and this is its perfection; but it declares it, and this is right. "I am" is essential existence. No other word is used for the duration of God's existence which is not used for that of the punishment and torment of the wicked. And while a few persons have been scandalised who seek their own thoughts and take their own feelings, when there is no just sense of what their sins have deserved (for this is the secret of it), how many thousands of thousands have been awakened by the just terror of judgment!

I write thus to you because you will have to say to it. I have not entered into all, nor could in this letter. Save a few misapplied texts, there is no serious investigation of Scripture, as bearing on a responsible soul, the offspring of God - no sense of what sin is; and that is the evil of the matter.