Part 2. Death and the Intermediate State

Chapter 10.


We have already got a long way towards the settlement of the question as to what death is according to Scripture. I say according to Scripture, for it is remarkable how little the class of writers we are speaking of make it really a question to be settled by Scripture at all. They generally assume that we know all about it, that the word speaks for itself, and that our experience of it should settle the matter. So Mr. Roberts speaks: — "The popular theory will not allow that a dead man is really dead. … It is incorrect in orthodox language to say that the man is dead… In reality, therefore, the word 'death,' as popularly used, has lost its original meaning."

And thus he defines for us what death is. "In order to understand death, we must have a definite conception of life. Of this we do know something, since it is a matter of positive experience. All we have to do is to bring our knowledge to bear, but this is what the majority of people have great difficulty in doing. Their minds are so occupied with established theories, that they are blind to facts under their immediate cognizance. Throwing metaphysics aside, what is life as known experimentally? It is the aggregate result of certain organic processes. Respiration, circulation of the blood, digestion, etc., combine to generate and sustain vitality, and to impart activity to the various faculties of which we are composed. (!) Apart from this busy organism life is unmanifested, whether as regards man or beast."*

{*Twelve Lectures.}

The "experience" itself is more than questionable. Most people would imagine that instead of "organic processes" generating life, life itself was necessary in order to the organic processes. Mr. Roberts has somewhat misread the facts here, and his definition of life consequently fails. Physiologists do not believe it to be quite so simple a matter. "No rigid definition of life appears to be at present possible," says a late writer; but again, — "we are compelled to come to the conclusion that life is truly the cause and not the consequence of organization."* Much less then is it the consequence of "organic processes."

{*Manual of Zoology, by Prof. Nicholson, pp. 4, 5. 2d ed. (Amer.), 1872.}

But our business is not with physiology but with Scripture. Mr. Roberts plainly has no need of it in this matter. Only take for granted that the body is the whole man, and you need no revelation to tell you what death is. As regards the body death is plainly the cessation of all practical existence. And if the body be the whole man, the dust that lies in the tomb, death is for him of course the extinction of being. "Apart from this busy organism life is unmanifested": that is all we need say. Revelation there is no need of: we have only to apply the knowledge we already have.

Mr. Constable's argument as to death is mainly founded upon the views of human nature which we have already examined, and upon those of Hades, which we hope shortly to examine. But he has a chapter upon death itself, of which it only needs to give a brief outline, as explanatory of the final argument with which he closes it.

His propositions are — that "death, which God inflicted upon the human race for Adam's sin, was a great calamity for all who should endure it," that this death has passed upon all men without one exception, and "not part of it, but all of it" upon every one alike (if it did not, God's word would fail, and we have no security for anything); that nothing was said about the duration of the death threatened, that being left open for God to show His grace: "death might continue in some or in all, for a short time, or a longer time, or forever:" that death began for Adam from the very day he disobeyed, and reigns over believers and unbelievers alike till the day of resurrection. His argument closes thus:

"If death reigns until the period of resurrection, and if death during this period is exactly the same thing to the just and to the unjust, it follows beyond any question that both just and unjust are then wholly and altogether dead. For no one contends that during this period the just are in a condition of misery; neither does any one contend that the unjust are in a condition of bliss: but that condition which is neither one of bliss or of misery must be a condition of death or non-existence. This is the one condition that can be common to the redeemed and the lost."*

{* Hades, p. 79.}

Mr. Constable's logic and his memory have surely failed him here. Think of the rashness and flippancy of assertion which would pledge the whole truth of God upon the position that all men must die, and have died, exactly according to the threatening to Adam, in the very face of the fact that neither Enoch nor Elijah died, and that those alive at Christ's coming never will! "We shall not all sleep," says the apostle. So God's truthfulness is gone for Mr. Constable!

I need not answer this, I am sure. That not even atonement could righteously set aside the exaction of the penalty from even one of those subject to it, shows how little there is meaning in atonement for his soul. But his argument fails signally and entirely upon quite another ground than this.

For why should non-existence be "the one condition" upon which death should be the same to just and unjust? Granted they are dead alike. No one denies it. On the supposition that death is the sundering of the link between soul and body (and so it is), why cannot just and unjust alike be in this condition without the question of happiness or misery being raised by it at all?

His argument is laborious non-entity. To state it is to expose it. Yet it furnishes Mr. Constable with all the justification he has for the triumph over orthodoxy which fills the next chapter. I do not purpose following him in it, because we have to do with Scripture simply here. I would say, however, that, while every expression of those he quotes from cannot be justified, yet after all they are more in the spirit of Christianity than are his own. For with them "Christ has abolished death," — for him, it would seem, not. For just and unjust alike, alike for Jew or Christian, under law or under gospel, as to what death is itself there is no difference. There is no "willing rather to be absent from the body and present with the Lord"; no "desire to depart and be with Christ which is far better." Of course such texts are owned to be in Scripture, whatever explanation they may be susceptible of but the spirit of them is not in his heart. For him death is still an enemy, a curse, a penalty which no atonement has effaced or lessened. "Death is after all the king of terrors," says Mr. Constable: has he never read of One who came that "through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage"?

We have already seen reason to believe that death is not extinction; that the living soul in man is not extinct, when it ceases to be any longer life to the body. We cannot therefore argue from the effect of death upon the body, as to what it is upon the spirit or the soul. We have seen that the word of God does on the one side use the popular language, the language of sense, and identify man with his body. This is seen in the class of texts of which Annihilationists are so fond. The man is the flesh and blood we see and touch. A dead body is a dead man. We all speak so, unconscious wholly of being exposed to the charge of materialism for doing so. Our daily speech in this way might convict us in the profounder wisdom of another generation, of disbelieving equally with Annihilationists themselves, in the existence of an immortal soul. Yet we really do believe it in spite of that, and even the attacks of Annihilationists have not, as yet at any rate, made us a whit more cautious. We quote even "Dust thou art," and believe it, and yet do not believe that we are all dust. And we find on the other side, and use as freely, a number of texts which Annihilationism cannot teach us how to use, which speak of man being "in the body," "in the flesh," "at home in the body," "absent from the body," "out of" it, and yet believe that the body is the man too, in spite of that.

Let us now fairly put the question apart from any partial answer it may have gotten in this way: Is the Scripture teaching of death extinction? — is it "ceasing to exist," or, as they delight to quote from Job 10:19, to "be as though we had not been"?

You put seed into the ground, and, in the Scripture language, "it is not quickened except it die" (1 Cor. 15:36). Does the living germ become extinct in order to bring forth the harvest? Are the "organic processes" extinguished in it? Where would the harvest be if they were? Yet this is in Scripture twice over spoken of as "death." And, if you reflect a little, the analogy to the death of man is nearer than it seems. There is that of the seed which is cast off as refuse, and decays. The germ within "puts off its tabernacle," but, so far from becoming extinguished in the process, springs up into the plant thereon. Is there no lesson in that? no type? no analogy commending the use of the strong word "death" in this case? Would it ever have occurred to Mr. Roberts or to any of his brethren, that "except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and DIE, it abideth alone, but if it DIE, it bringeth forth much fruit"? Does the grain of wheat become extinct in order to bring forth fruit? They have never (at least, that I can find) attempted to illustrate their doctrine by it, that death is the cessation of existence, the extinction of organic processes.*

{*Mr. Roberts has tried to answer this. He asks, "Where is the living germ, when the harvest is brought forth? Can Mr. Grant find it?" Most certainly; for the stalk of corn is but the development of that very germ.

His account of the matter is curious enough. With him "the vegetating process" is an "invasion" of the vitality of the grain, which destroys it: a parasitic life, in short, from which the sprouting comes! And in this way he finds it a "distinct and striking illustration of death being extinction.

Upon his view of it no doubt it is so. But then it is rather a new theory, that the living germ is killed by the vegetating process!}

The death of man is spoken of, moreover, in language which is not doubtful. I have fully admitted already, and without hesitation, that there are a large class of passages which (identifying man with his body) speak in the ordinary popular phraseology about it. Passages too there are, which will be examined in the sequel, which may present difficulty in harmonizing them with the language of other parts. But, on the other hand, the clear full light of the New Testament affords us, in many simple and intelligible statements, abundant satisfaction as to what death is. Some of these I shall now proceed to examine, together with the arguments of the class of writers to whom I am replying.

1. As we have seen, the apostle Peter styles death the "putting off of his tabernacle" (2 Peter 1:14). The language of Paul is similar, and if comment be needed, may supply it: "if the earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved" (2 Cor. 5:1).

The language of Annihilationists upon these expressions shows their perplexity. Mr. Ham says on the latter passage, "Man, the one compound being, is compared to an 'earthly house' or 'tabernacle,' which will be dissolved." Similarly Mr. Constable, "We doubt very much if he speaks here only of the body. We think he speaks of our entire present being, which is not body only, but body animated by soul. Of this entire being death is the dissolution."

This is plainly incorrect. The apostle distinguishes between the tabernacle and the one who dwells in it: "for we which are IN this tabernacle," he says a little further on. The tabernacle was to be dissolved, not the inhabitant; and the man is identified with the latter rather than the former.

2. Another expression for death in the same passage (2 Cor. 5:4) is "being unclothed" "not that we would be unclothed."

Even Dr. Field, materialist as he is, speaks here of "a disembodied state." Mr. Dobney on the contrary maintains that "Scripture recognizes no perfectly disembodied state." I ask, if there be not something to be disembodied, how can you use the expression at all? Can one talk of "disembodied breath" or "disembodied life? "

The putting off of clothing, if that is a figure of disembodiment, as it is, is simple enough, but only when we recognize a part, and that the higher part, of man, to be something that is not the body, but is in it, as the living soul is. Mr. Roberts indeed talks, as is common with him when in a difficulty, of the "inevitable fictions of speech." "The exigencies of mortal speech," he says, "require us to speak of the person as an entity separate from all that composes him, and when figure is added, as in this case, the effect is greatly heightened, and a theory like Mr. Grant's receives apparent countenance."

Would it not have been wisdom to have inquired why the use of the figure should so greatly heighten the effect, as he admits it does, and whether the countenance it gives is not more than merely "apparent"? Surely the use of a figure for a mere abstract personality, and a figure which makes the abstraction decidedly the higher thing, — nay, which goes so far as to speak of the "abstraction" as "putting off" that which is the reality, or being "unclothed" with it, — is somewhat overbold. But what difficulty will not the wit and will of man combined surmount?

Mr. Constable, in his comment on the passage, simply refers this expression to the "hades state." With this we are content, and shall soon inquire what is that state. But plainly here death is not cessation of existence, whatever (which for the present I leave open) becomes of soul or spirit afterwards.

3. In the text in 2 Peter 1:15 before referred to, death is called "decease," literally exodus, "departure": "After my departure."

Now here the man departs; where, is not the question yet. The man departs. He leaves the earthly house of this tabernacle. Say, if you please, and if you can gather it from the Bible, that after dying he becomes extinct or unconscious. That you must prove, if you can, from elsewhere. Death is not it: does not infer or imply it. It is my "departure."

4. And to this agrees the expression used again in 2 Cor. 5:8, "absent from the body."

People contend, I know (and it is their only hope), that this does not refer to death at all. Mr. Dobney thus attempts to paraphrase it by "absent from this body," "this gross corporeal investiture" (investiture of what?). Mr. Ham with absence "from our natural body," "our present mortal and corruptible nature." Ellis and Read speak in the same way of the "body" here denoting a "state of corruption and mortality," "this corruptible body or nature." Roberts says, "What absence from the body was it that Paul desired? Not disembodiment, for he says in verse 4 of the same chapter, Not that we would be unclothed.'" Mr. Constable seems on the other hand to allow that "absence from the body" applies to the death state while he will not allow that "presence with the Lord" similarly applies to it, but to resurrection, the two being brought in this way together because between it and dying there is nothing but a blank. "This" [the resurrection state], he says, "we have no doubt, is the 'presence with the Lord' which Paul here speaks of, and not the intermediate state, as Calvin and others dream. For Paul had just expressed himself that this unclothed condition was not his desire or wish. He could not, with any consistency with his just uttered declaration, say that he should view it with a good satisfaction."

Yet the "willing rather" must, according to Mr. Constable's own view of it, include the intermediate state, if only as the way to the other, "willing rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord." Is not that "desire" for the unclothed state! And that these two things he desires are not successive, but contemporaneous conditions, is manifest also. For, when he says, "whilst we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord," these states, he must admit, go together how then can it be doubted that the two things he desires, being the opposite of these conditions, go together also?

Mr. Roberts and others therefore with better judgment concede this; but then they have the quite as hopeless task to achieve, of making "absent from the body" also mean resurrection. They all coincide in opposing the apostle's "not that we would be unclothed" to the simple and natural interpretation of his desire to be absent from the body, as if the two were contradictory. But this is by no means the case. He does say that what he groaned for was, not to be unclothed, but clothed upon. He groaned for resurrection, true, and the unclothed state was not in itself what he or any man desired. Still, knowing that to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord, he was after all "willing rather" to be absent. Death had no terror for him, but the reverse. To make "absent from the body" apply just to the time when the body will have its fulness of bliss, is only to make incomprehensible what is very simple.* "In the body" never has the meaning they attribute to it, and that they have to add words to make it suit their thoughts, is a plain proof that their thoughts are foreign to Scripture.

{* Roberts substitutes "animal body" for "body" in the above sentence, and then with great naiveté remarks, that "Mr. Grant himself would not acknowledge the sentence, thus deprived of its piquancy: yet this is the form which embodies the facts." So that the language used by the apostle does not, as he admits, "embody (his) facts."}

And when the apostle, speaking of his vision of the third heavens, says he cannot tell whether at that time he was "in the body or out of the body," we have the exact expression in a way which no wonder they shrink from as they do. Paul could not imagine he had possibly had his glorious body when caught up there, and lost it afterwards. Yet he supposes he might have been conscious of unutterable things when "out of the body." If so, why may not one (as this chapter teaches) be "absent from the body and yet present with the Lord"?

I shall have again to speak of this, when we come to consider the question of consciousness in the disembodied state. It is sufficient for us here that such a state exists, if words have meaning. Death is that disembodiment, the putting off the tabernacle of the body, being unclothed, departing, and being absent from it.

Moreover, we have already seen that Matt. 10:28 asserts that the death of the body is not the death of the soul. Our Lord bids us "fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."

Mr. Hudson allows that this teaches that death is not the extinction of the soul, nor involves it. Mr. Dobney follows on the same side. Mr. Ham wavers, admitting that it is implied "that the soul is distinct from the body," but at the same time suggesting that "soul" here may be merely "life." Ellis and Read interpret it to mean that "wicked men can only destroy the present being of the righteous, and that God could raise them up again." Miles Grant interprets "killing the soul" to mean "taking the life to come." Similarly Roberts makes "soul" to be "a life in relation to those who are Christ's, which cannot be touched by mortal man, however they may treat the body, and the poor mortal life belonging to it."* While others say, that "the dead in Adam are not destroyed," because "in consequence of the provision made in Christ for the resurrection of every human being from the Adamic death, those who can kill the body (take this life), only suspend our being till the resurrection."

{*He now states that psuche here means "the abstract power of life, which is in the hands of God," but there is nothing at all about this in the passage. He further brings in Matt. 16:25, "He that loses his life for my sake" to show that psuche there cannot be immortal soul, in which we agree. I have before considered the passage.}

But the text before us will not bend to any of these criticisms. If soul be life merely, those who kill the body destroy it. Such a phrase moreover as "killing life" does not, and could not, exist at all, as I have before said: because "killing" is in itself "taking life," and you could not speak of taking the life of the life. "Life to come," or the believer's life, psuche does not mean; another word, we, is invariably used for it. And the contrast between suspension of life for the present and utter destruction of it is not what the passage makes, but between a killing which affects the body only, and the destruction which will overtake both body and soul in hell. I am only repeating here what I have said before, and what Mr. Hudson, destructionist as he is, has said before me. Proof is conclusive, that when man dies his soul is not touched by it. If it is conscious is another thing, and presently to be examined. And what destruction of body and soul in hell is, I do not inquire yet. Suffice it just now, that when we put off the body at death, the soul still lives.*

{*Mr. Edw. White, in his "Life in Christ" (p. 96), while agreeing with this, considers it the result of redemption only, and quotes in proof 1 Cor. 15:17-19: "If Christ be not raised… they also which have fallen asleep in Christ have gone to nothing" apolonto; for thus he explains the term in the following verse: 'If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.'"

I deny that apolonto means "gone to nothing." "Are perished" as in the Auth. vers., is the proper rendering, and does not refer to material destruction, any more than "if in this life only" does. To die with a false hope is to perish, but not in the annihilation sense. For the meaning of apollumi, see chaps. 20, 21.}