On this subject I shall make only a brief argument, simply calling attention to some of the main points.
That man's spirit survives the death of his body, and lives in a conscious state, has been so generally believed by all people in all ages that we may fairly call it universal. In this, the most barbarous and the most enlightened nations have agreed. Nor has the increasing intelligence of the advancing generations lessened this belief, but rather has confirmed it. The most profound thinkers of the race have held this faith. Though this fact is not decisive, yet it does have much weight.
So this doctrine has been the universal faith of the Christian church in all ages. The exceptions to this have been few and always regarded as heretical. This fact is justly entitled to great weight. It should not be lightly regarded.
The Jews who had for so many ages enjoyed the benefits of God's revelations, also believe that the spirit lived after the death of the body.
The Apocrypha gives the views of the Jews just before the time of Christ. Here are a few verses: The wicked shall "endure eternal torture by fire." 4 Maccab. 9:9. "The divine vengeance is reserving you for eternal fire and torments, which shall cling to you for all time." Chap. 12:12. "Let us not fear him who thinketh he killeth; for great is the trial of soul and danger of eternal torment laid up for those who transgress." Chap 13:14. Of the martyrs it is said: "Through which also they now stand beside the divine throne, and live a blessed life." Chap. 17:18. "The children of Abraham, with their victorious mother, are assembled together to the choir of their fathers, having received pure and immortal souls from God." Chap. 18:23. "The tyrant Antiochus was both punished upon earth and is punished now he is dead." Verse 5.
These plainly show that the Jews believed in the immortality of the soul, the conscious state of the dead, and eternal punishment.
So the Jewish historian, Josephus, who lived when Paul did, plainly states that the body of the Jews believed in the immortality of souls. Of the Pharisees he says: "They also believe that souls have an immortal vigor in them." Antiquities, Book 18, Chapter 1. Again: "They say that souls are incorruptible: but that the souls of good men only are removed into other bodies: but that the souls of bad men are subject to eternal punishment." Wars, Book 2, Chapter 8. Of another Jewish sect, the Essenes, he says: "They teach the immortality of souls." Antiq., Book 18, Chap. 1. Further: "Their doctrine is that bodies are corruptible and that the matter they are made of is not permanent; but that the souls are immortal and continue forever; and that they come out of the most subtile air, and are united to their bodies as to prisons, into which they are drawn by a certain natural enticement. But that when they are set free from the bonds of the flesh, they then, as released from a long bondage, rejoice and mount upwards." Wars, Book 2, Chap. 8. Of the Sadducees he says: "But the doctrine of the Sadducees is that souls die with the bodies." Antiq., Book 18, Chap. 1. Again: "They also take away the belief of the immortal duration of the soul and the punishments and rewards in Hades." Wars, Book 2, Chap. 8.
Josephus says much more in the same line, so that there can be no doubt as to the belief of the Jews at that time, for he was one of them and knew well their doctrines. He says that they believed in the immortality of the soul, the conscious state of the dead, and eternal punishment. The efforts of annihilationists to deny this are uncandid and futile.
The early Christian church held to the same doctrine. The martyrs are represented at death as going immediately to heaven. "They hastened to Christ," says Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. Book 5, Chap. 1. He says that another at death "received the crown of immortality." Same chapter. Again: "With peace they departed to God." Book 5, Chap. 2. Of one who died at the same time with another he says that it was "to attach himself to the former as his companion on the way to heaven." Book of Martyrs, Chap. 11. Of the martyrs who had died he says: "Being transferred to the heavens themselves and to the paradise of celestial pleasures." Book 10, Chap. 1.
Writing of the latter part of the second century, Eusebius says: "But about that time, also, other men sprung up in Arabia as the propagators of false opinions. These asserted that the human soul, as long as the present state of the world existed, perished at death and died with the body, but that it would be raised again with the body at the time of resurrection." Book 6, Chap. 37. It will be seen that these heretics held the same doctrine as the Adventists. They were set down in those early days as "the propagators of false opinions," the same as now.
Occasionally, here and there, along in the history of the church, men have arisen advocating the sleep of the soul and the annihilation of the wicked. But the doctrine has not met with favor, has been received by but few, has had a sickly existence, and has soon disappeared.
My long acquaintance with it convinced me that it does not bear the fruits which Adventists claim for it. They say that a belief in this doctrine will save men from infidelity, Spiritualism, Universalism, etc. I found it far otherwise. A larger proportion have gone into infidelity, Spiritualism, and Universalism from Seventh-day Adventists than from any other church with which I am acquainted. The number has been fearfully large and is increasing. Where they have converted one infidel, they have made several. I often noticed that infidels and opposers of the church were greatly pleased with our attack upon the orthodox faith and that they would go away strengthened in their unbelief and hatred of the church. This created doubts in my mind as to the utility of teaching that doctrine. I noticed also that such men as Wesley, Whitefield, Edwards, Spurgeon, Moody and others who have uncompromisingly preached eternal punishment, have been most successful in winning souls and converting skeptics to God.
I also saw that this doctrine in the hands of the Adventists led to strife, contention, discussion, and argument, to the loss of piety and devotion. It naturally catches men of that turn of mind, instead of the humble and devout. Hence, on the whole, I saw no good in it.
The Adventists assert that the doctrine of the conscious state of the dead leads into Spiritualism. But, as stated above, facts refute this, as more in proportion to their numbers go into this error from the Adventists than from the evangelical churches. These churches strongly hold other doctrines which utterly forbid their embracing Spiritualism. Further, the Bible forbids seeking to the dead and states plainly that they know nothing of things on the earth. See Deut. 18:9-12; Job 14:21; Eccl. 9:5, 6; Luke 16:19-31. Hence, after forty years' effort, Spiritualism has made no more impression upon the church than other errors have, nor is there any prospect that it will be in the future.
That which weighs the most with believers in the sleep of the dead and annihilation is the rational argument. Many texts of scripture are decidedly against them and they feel it; but these must be explained away because the orthodox doctrine is not reasonable. So far as we can see, nothing remains alive of the man that dies. Hence Adventists assert that death ends all. But this does not necessarily follow. The most powerful agencies in the universe are invisible. God himself is "invisible." 1 Tim. 1:17. Adventists believe that angels and devils are constantly around us; yet we never see them. Air envelops us on every side; yet we never can see it. Even water converted into steam becomes invisible. Take heat, electricity, and gravitation, the most powerful agents with which we are acquainted, and they are invisible. Who has ever seen gravitation? We see it pull the apple from the tree, the giant oak with a crash to the ground, and hold the vast earth in its place around the sun; but the thing itself we never see. What is light? None can tell.
After the study of ages, the profoundest scientists are unable to tell what life is even in its lowest form, in the simplest plant. We know it exists: we see its effects: and we see when it departs; but what it is, whence it came, and whither it has gone none can tell. Before these unsolved problems the greatest minds stand dumb and reverently acknowledge the unsearchable wisdom of God.
But of all the profound mysteries of creation, the greatest is that of the human soul, the thinking part of man. What is thought! It can not be seen, nor heard, neither weighed nor measured. We can not say, it is so high, or so wide, or so long, or round, or square. How then can we affirm that the mind or the spirit can not exist separate from the flesh and bones simply because we can not see it go away! Such reasoning is only superficial guess-work. As we have seen, it would deny the existence of God, angels, devils and the greatest forces in nature, as heat, electricity, gravitation, the principle of life, etc. God only can tell us about the soul and its nature. Hence this is a question which can only be settled by the Bible. So the great argument for annihilation is that it is unreasonable that God should allow sin and sinners always to exist as a blot on his creation. But the same argument would prove that an Almighty God of purity and love would never have suffered sin to enter his fair creation; or having entered, that he would immediately annihilate it. But stubborn facts refute this reasoning. Sin and sinners are here. They have been here ever since the world began, age after age. God did not blot out sin nor sinners as soon as they appeared, nor has he manifested special haste to bring them to an end. Millions of sinners he suffers to live on, not only to no purpose so far as their own salvation is concerned, nor as a warning to others; but, as far as we can see, their example hardens others in sin and introduces millions more into the world as vile as themselves. Even the fallen angels, who are not on probation, whose lives can bring no good to themselves, but who live only to lead others away from God, these he has permitted to live on for thousands of years.
Who can affirm that what God has thus permitted for thousands of years, ever since creation began, so far as we know, he can not permit for ages to come, and always? We can say that it would not be according to our ideas of wisdom and right. Well, has the past been according to our ideas? Is the present as we would have it? No; then this explodes that argument. Till we have infinite wisdom we had best be careful how we sit in judgment on God's ways. Could we bring together and see in one place all the sinning, all the pain, suffering, woe and anguish, tears and misery in our earth to-day, it would be as horrible as hell itself. Yet God sees it all and permits it to go right on. Did we not know it to be a fact, we would pronounce it to be irreconcilable with the attributes of God. We simply and devoutly accept what we can not explain. Eternal punishment presents no harder problem, and hence may be true, all our finite reasonings to the contrary notwithstanding.
Adventists delight to picture hell with all the horrors of literal fire, roasting, torture, etc., and then represent that this is just what orthodox churches believe. But no one believes or teaches such things. Material things of earth are used to represent spiritual things of the other world. Hence, it is fire in one place, outer darkness in another, worms in another, banishment in another, to be cut in two or asunder in another, etc. We do not claim to know exactly what it will be, only that it will be a fearful state of eternal punishment.
The Bible teaches that there is an intelligent spirit in man, which exists in a conscious state after the death of the body. What is a spirit? Jesus said, "God is a spirit." John 4:24; and, "A spirit hath not flesh and bones." Luke 24:39. Here, then, is one intelligent, conscious, immortal spirit which has neither flesh nor bones. Paul says that he is "the Father of spirits," Heb. 12:9, in contrast with the "fathers of our flesh." If he is the Father of spirits, then, necessarily, these must partake of his nature. Hence Jesus says: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." John 3:6. Notice the marked contrast between flesh and spirit. They are of different natures. Isaiah says: "The Egyptians are men, not God; and their horses flesh and not spirit." As God is superior to man, so spirit is superior to flesh. God is the Father of our spirits but certainly not of our flesh. Hence Paul says: "We are the offspring of God." Acts 17:29. Our spirits, then, are from a different source, and of a higher nature than our bodies. So the Holy Spirit, the third person in the Trinity, is an intelligent, immortal spirit, without flesh or bones. He appeared at the baptism of Jesus, Matt. 3:16, and at Pentecost, Acts 2:2-4; he teaches and guides us, John 14:26; 16:10. Here, then, is another immortal spirit.
The angels are conscious, intelligent persons, yet they are spirits. "Who maketh his angels spirits." Heb. 1:7. So the devils are spirits; yet they are intelligent persons and do not die. See Mark 5:1-13. Here a man with an unclean spirit met Jesus and knew him. He talked with Jesus and said there were many of them in the man. Jesus sent them out of the man into the swine. This shows that they can exist in a body or out of a body and still be alive and intelligent in both cases. This shows that spirits are intelligent persons, not merely air, or breath, or an influence, as Adventists try to prove. So in 1 Kings 22:21, 22, "There came forth a spirit and stood before the Lord and said, I will persuade him," Ahab. The Lord told him to go.
We have seen from Josephus that the Pharisees believed in the immortality of the soul; and that the spirit lived after the death of the body. On this question Paul declared he was a Pharisee. "But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question. And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both." Acts 23:6-8. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection, in angels and in spirits, and so did Paul. Adventists believe the first two and deny the third. Paul enumerates several things in heaven as "Mount Sion," "the heavenly Jerusalem," the "angels," "God the judge "Jesus," and, finally, "the spirits of just men." Heb. 12:22-24. All these texts and many more like them, prove that a spirit is an intelligent being, without flesh or bones, living and acting the same as men in the body.
It is easy to show that man has a spirit like these. Thus: "There is a spirit in man." "The spirit within me constraineth me." Job 32:8, 18. "The Lord formeth the spirit of man within him." Zech. 12:1. It is spoken of as a distinct entity, distinguished from the body. This spirit is not dependent upon the body for life, but rather the body is dependent upon it. "The body without the spirit is dead." James 2:26. Everywhere the spirit is recognized as superior to the body. This spirit in man knows and thinks. "What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of a man which is in him?" I Cor. 2:11. Then the spirit thinks, reasons, knows. Again: "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Matt. 26:41. So it is the spirit that wills. "My spirit made diligent search." Ps. 77:6. Then it is the thinking part of man. The spirit does not die with the body. Not once in all the Bible is it said or intimated that the spirit ever dies, while it is distinctly stated that it does not go down to dust with the body. "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it." Eccl. 12:7. This is plain enough. Again: "Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?" Eccl. 3:21. Man's spirit, then, goes up to God. The body can be destroyed without destroying the spirit. "For the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved." 1 Cor. 5:5. David says: "It is soon cut off and we fly away." Ps. 9:10. Yes, we fly away.
The case of the thief on the cross can never be fairly harmonized with the sleep of the soul at death. "And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, 'Verily I say unto thee, to-day shalt thou be with me in paradise."' Luke 23:42, 43. All sorts of efforts are made to get around the plain meaning of this text. But they are futile. Jesus plainly said, "To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise." If he went to paradise that day, then all Christians go there at death. His body did not go to paradise, for it was buried. Hence his spirit did live and go there. Immediately after this Jesus said, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit," verse 46. His spirit went with the thief to paradise that day. So the dying Stephen said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Acts 7:59. This doctrine of the survival of the spirit is all through the Bible.
The Bible represents the body as the tabernacle or temple in which the man lives. Jesus said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." "He spake of the temple of his body." John 2:19, 21. So Peter said, "As long as I am in this tabernacle." "I must put off this my tabernacle." 2 Pet. 1:13, 14. Paul teaches the same doctrine. "Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day." 2 Cor. 4:16. There is, then, an inward man and an outward man. The inward man is the substantial man, the one that does not perish. Paul proceeds: "For we know that, if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: * * * Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord (for we walk by faith, not by sight) : We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord." 2 Cor. 5:1-8. See how clear is Paul's statement: "Our earthly house," "tabernacle," "in the body," "absent from the body," etc. Adventists never talk that way. At home in the body, absent from the Lord; but absent from the body, present with the Lord. It is only by doing violence to the scriptures that this text can be made to harmonize with the idea of the sleep of the soul.
Again hear Paul. "I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth), such a one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth), how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." 2 Cor. 12:2-4. Then Paul believed a man could be out of his body and go to heaven and hear words there. Adventists scout such ideas.
The following text is so plain on the subject of the conscious state of the dead, that Adventists have been greatly perplexed over it. They have tried various explanations, all contradictory and none satisfactory to themselves. I have been there and know. Paul says: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labor: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you." Phil. 1:21-24. "To die is gain," "a desire to depart and be with Christ," "I live in the flesh," "abide in the flesh" - this was Paul's faith. He was in a strait betwixt two, whether to remain in the flesh and preach Christ and aid his brethren or depart and be with Christ. How utterly contrary to Adventist ideas this is.
See the same doctrine so definitely taught in the case of the rich man and Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31. "And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedest thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou are tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence, to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.' Then he said, 'I pray thee therefore father, that thou wouldst send him to my father's house: for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.' Abraham saith unto him, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.' And he said, 'Nay, father Abraham but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.'
1) This is Christ's own teaching. 2) As we have seen, it was what the Pharisees believed with regard to the dead. 3) Jesus accepts and confirms their doctrine. 4) These events occurred between death and the resurrection, while the brethren of the rich man were yet alive on earth. 5) Hence immediately after death and before the resurrection the rich man is in hell and Lazarus is rewarded. 6) They are both conscious. 7) Abraham is alive over there. 8) Both think and talk. Hence the dead certainly know something. Had we no other text, this alone would disprove the sleep of the dead. Again Jesus said God is "the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." Matt. 22:32. Then those patriarchs are alive and not blotted out of existence at death. Once more: "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul." Matt. 10:28. If the body is all there is of the man, if the soul is simply the life of the body, then men can kill the soul. But Jesus says they can not kill the soul. It does not, then, die with the body. How squarely these plain texts contradict the Adventist faith; yet they claim to go by the Bible. So we find Moses on the mount with Jesus, though he had died and was buried fifteen hundred years before. Deut. 32. "Behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him." Matt. 17:3. But why quote more? These are decisive.
Many of the texts quoted to prove the sleep of the soul refer only to the body. Thus Gen. 3:19, "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." This can not refer to the spirit which has neither flesh nor bones, Luke 24:39, but returns to God at death, Eccl. 12:7. Read their proof texts. "David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David." 1 Kings 2:10. Was David's spirit buried? "So man lieth down, and riseth not. * * * Oh, that thou wouldst hide me in the grave." Job 14:12, 13. Did Job's spirit lie down in the grave? Was it hid in the dust? Hardly. "If I wait, the grave is mine house." Job 17:13. Does the spirit go into the grave? "There is no work, no device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave whither thou goest." Eccl. 9:10. "Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth." Dan.. 12:2. "Lazarus sleepeth," "Lazarus is dead." "By this time he stinketh." John 11:11, 14, 39. Could this be said of the spirit? Did the spirit of Lazarus decay? Surely not. Take their favorite text, Acts 2:34. "David is not ascended into the heavens." The context shows plainly that this is said of the body.' "He is both dead and buried and his sepulcher is with us." "He spake of the resurrection of Christ." Verses 29, 31. So in 1 Cor. 15, the several expressions about being asleep are all explained by the subject discussed - the resurrection of the body. 1 Thess. 4:13-16, is explained the same way. Paul is referring to the resurrection. That whole class of texts refers only to the bodies which go into the grave at death. As the spirit does not go there, these texts have no reference to it, and hence prove nothing concerning it. One simple text explains them all: "The graves were opened and many bodies of the saints which slept arose." Matt. 27:52. Yes, graves, bodies, slept - that is the whole of it. Adventists might go to our orthodox hymn books and select expressions about our friends being asleep and in their graves and thus prove that we all believe in the sleep of the soul. But it would be false, as we know it refers only to the body.
So their main text, Eccl. 9:5-10, "The dead know not any thing," is limited by the context to "any thing that is done under the sun," verse 6. Compare this with other texts where the same expression is used. "With Absolom went two hundred men * * * They went in their simplicity, and they knew not anything." 2 Sam. 15:11. Another: "But the lad they knew not anything; only Jonathan and David knew the matter." 1 Sam. 20:39. Of a self-conceited teacher Paul says, "He is proud, knowing nothing." 1 Tim. 6:4. Were all these absolutely without thought or consciousness? No. It simply means that they knew nothing about the things mentioned. So of Eccl. 9:5. The context explains it. "Neither have they any more a portion forever in any thing that is done under the sun." Verse 6.
Psalms 146:3, 4, "Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish." His thoughts, his purposes. The margin of the Revised Version reads "purposes." The Greek word for thoughts is DIALOGISMOI. Greenfield defines it "reasoning, ratiocination, thought, cogitation, purpose." If we rely upon earthly princes, when they die their purposes perish and we are left helpless. So this text is easily explained as are also the few remaining ones which are used to teach the sleep of the dead.