Are the Dead Conscious?
IF the dead are conscious, Spiritism has a logical and
consistent working hypothesis. If the dead are not conscious, Spiritism
has no ground to stand upon; it has no standing in court; it is an
absolutely false hypothesis, and must be abandoned. To whom shall we go
for evidence that will settle the matter? Why not ask God to answer
through His inspired Word? It should be the man of our counsel, if we
are Christians and consistent in our profession.
God has told us plainly and very emphatically that He alone has
immortality. The apostle Peter gives us this information concerning the
"God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to
hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto
judgment." 2 Peter 2: 4.
In Revelation 20 the apostle John is given a view of the binding of
the leader of the fallen hosts:
"I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the
bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the
dragon, that old serpent, which is the devil, and Satan, and bound him
a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him
up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no
more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he
must be loosed a little season. . . And when the thousand years are
expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to
deceive the nations [who have been raised in the second resurrection,
the resurrection of the wicked] which are in the four quarters of the
earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of
whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the
earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved
city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured
them." Rev. 20: 1-9
The word here used for "devoured" is [GREEK CHARACTERS
IN PRINTED TEXT] (katesthio), which means to be actually
consumed, or eaten up, so as
"I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the
stones of fire. . . . I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the
sight of all them that behold thee. All they that know thee among the
people shall be astonished at thee: thou shalt be a terror, and never
shalt thou be any more ."Eze. 28: 16-19.
If Satan, the leader of the fallen angels, is mortal, subject to
death, it is certain that his followers are also mortal. And if the
angels who fell were mortal, liable to die, then the angels who did not
fall were also mortal. It must be so; otherwise God had one class of
angels who were liable to die, and they all sinned; and another class
who were not liable to die, and none of them sinned. But nowhere in the
divine Book are we given warrant for believing that God made such a
distinction between two classes of angels. Furthermore, to put the
matter beyond dispute, we quote again the inspired declaration:
"The blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord
of lords; who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light
which no man can approach unto." 1 Tim. 6: 15, 16.
With the question settled as to the mortality of the angels, let us
inquire concerning man, Is he mortal or immortal? The psalmist answers:
"Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels." Ps. 8: 5.
Then God most assuredly did not make man immortal.
It may be objected that this is only an inference. It is an
inference, but a logical and necessary one. Job declares of the one upon
whom the gates of the grave are closed:
"He shall return no more to his house, neither shall his place
know him any more." Job 7: 10.
The psalmist bears similar testimony:
"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." Ps. 146: 3, 4.
Those who cling to the idea that man is immortal, when confronted
with texts of Scripture which indicate that the dead are really
in the embrace of death, skillfully advance the idea that it is only the
perishable part of man that is spoken of -- his flesh and bones. But
even a cursory reading of the text ought to show to an earnest seeker
after truth that such is not the meaning of the Scripture teaching. The
Spirit is not speaking merely of limb and trunk and muscle and bone in
the words above quoted from the psalmist; He is speaking of the
conscious, thinking, loving, and reasoning part of man. When one's body
ceases to function and "his thoughts perish," there is nothing
left to enjoy existence.
The Spirit does not bear this testimony through the psalmist only. In
Ecclesiastes also the same testimony is given:
"The living know that they shall die: but the dead 'know not
anything. . . . Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is
now perished; neither have they any more a portion forever in anything
that is done under the sun." "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to
do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor
knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest." Eccl.
9: 5, 6, 10.
These texts are in perfect harmony with scriptures already quoted
from the New Testament (1 Tim. 6:16 and 1 Cor. 15: 5 1-54) which prove
the mortality of man. When, therefore, Inspiration declares of
the dead man that he shall return to his house no more, it is speaking
of the whole man, the functioning mechanism of thought as well as the
ponderable framework of his physical organism. The "soul" of
man comprehends his whole being; and the Word declares, "The soul
that sinneth, it shall die." Eze. 18: 4. The same words are used
again in the 20th verse of the same chapter. If it be objected that this
refers to the death which all die from sickness, accident, or old age,
it will be seen that the argument is self-consuming; for the righteous,
as well as sinners, die that death. The prophet Ezekiel is speaking of
the death which is the eternal punishment for sin, the death which the
revelator calls "the second death," which is visited upon the
wicked alone. (See Rev. 2: 11 ; 20: 6 , 9, 14, 15 ; 21:8.)
When God will confer immortality upon angels, He has not told us; but
He has told us when that blessed condition will be bestowed upon man.
Paul was given a vision of the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ:
"Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep [die],
but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,
at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be
raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. . . . So when this
corruptible [or mortal] shall have put on incorruption, and this
mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass
the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory." 1
Cor. 15: 51-54.
In this scripture are associated two series of words: (1)
"corruptible," "mortal," "death," all
referring to man's condition before the resurrection; and (2)
"incorruptible," "immortal," "victory,"
all referring to man after the resurrection. The resurrection has not
yet taken place; man is therefore corruptible, mortal, subject to death,
unconscious after death, awaiting the resurrection call of the Redeemer
and Life-giver. Moreover, we have this divine assurance: "God hath
given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son." 1 John
5:11. Outside of Him there is no life, and therefore no immortality
possible to man.
If the reader questions now as to when this metamorphosis from mortal
to immortal, from the sleep of death to the glad awakening to eternal
day, takes place, the same prophet-apostle answers the question. He told
us in the above scripture that it would take place "at the last
trump," when "the trumpet shall sound." Let us therefore
place alongside this scripture the following:
"This we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which
are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [go
before] them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from
heaven with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel, and with the
trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we
which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in
the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with
the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words." 1
Thess. 4: 15-18.
These scriptures leave us without excuse for not knowing when the
Prince of the Restoration will confer the blessed gift of immortality
upon those whom He accounts worthy of the bestowal of such a heritage.
Let it be noted in this connection that it is only "the dead in
Christ" who have a part in this resurrection, and only "the
dead in Christ" who then receive the gift of immortality. Of these
the revelator says: "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the
first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power." Rev.
20: 6. It follows, therefore, that those who come up out of their graves
in the second resurrection are not blessed and holy, and that upon them
the second death does have power. It is they who go "up on the
breadth of the earth" and surround "the camp of the
saints" and "the beloved city," and upon whom fire comes
"down from God out of heaven," and consumes them. Rev. 20: 9.
That fire tries "every man's work of what sort it is." 1 Cor.
3:13. Of the one class Jesus says, "They shall walk with Me in
white: for they are worthy." Rev. 3: 4. Of the other the angel
says, "Thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are
worthy." Rev. 16: 6. To the one class the invitation is given:
"Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for
you from the foundation of the world." Matt. 25: 34. To the other
class this terrible command is given: "Depart from Me, ye cursed,
into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels."
Verse 41. The one class has come up in the first resurrection; the
other, in the second.
Some may feel that the words "everlasting fire" in the
above command imply that the wicked will be eternally conscious and
eternally suffering the torments of hell. It does not follow that
because the fire which devours the wicked is spoken of as eternal, those
who perish in it are immortal. The Bible says they are mortal, which
means subject to death. If they were immortal, then they might live
forever in torment, if God saw fit so to ordain it; but as they cannot
be mortal and immortal at the same time, cannot be subject to death and
beyond the possibility of death at the same time, and as the Word
plainly declares that all men are mortal, we are forced to the
conclusion that the wicked receive the punishment God says they will,--
Some who have been taught to believe in the eternal torment of the
wicked, and have been confronted with the plain and unequivocal
statements of the Bible to the effect that the wicked do certainly
perish, have, in their endeavor to escape from what seems a dilemma,
invented the expression, "the death that never dies." It is
not found in the Bible; it is a contradiction of terms; it is not
warranted from any teachings of the Bible. It is as consistent to say
that there is a life that never lives as to say there is a death that
never dies. Both are impossible.
What, then, is the meaning of eternal fire? It is fire which cannot
be extinguished; fire that will continue to burn until it consumes all
that it has been feeding upon. The same word is used in Jude 7, where
the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, because of their wickedness, "are
set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire."
Those cities perished utterly, and the Dead Sea sleeps above their
ashes. They are not burning now; and yet they suffered the vengeance of
eternal fire. They are out of existence, and the fire has gone out, even
though it was eternal fire. Human hands could not quench it; it would
burn on and on till there was nothing left for it to consume. Even so
will it be with the wicked and with the prince of ruin. The prophet
Malachi makes this unmistakable:
"Behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all
the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the
day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it
shall leave them neither root nor branch. . . . And ye shall tread
down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet
in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts." Mal.
When the root of sin (Satan) and the branches (his deluded followers)
are consumed, and all that is left of sin and sinners is ashes under the
soles of the feet of the righteous, their destruction is certainly
complete. The Spirit of Inspiration, speaking through the psalmist,
hears the same testimony: "The wicked shall perish, and the enemies
of the Lord shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke
shall they consume away. Ps. 37: 20. This destruction involves all there
is of man. Said our Saviour, "Fear Him which is able to destroy
both soul and body in hell." Matt. 10: 28. Inspiration has put this
fact in the plainest possible language, and has left us absolutely
without excuse for believing in the immortality of the soul of man. Says
the prophet Obadiah, in speaking of those outside of Christ, "They
shall be as though they had not been." Obadiah 16. And the psalmist
adds, "Yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou
shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be." Ps.
That rids the entire universe of sin; and when this has been
accomplished, it will be impossible to find anything in the whole realm
of creation, save the wounds upon our Saviour's person, to remind the
redeemed or any heavenly intelligences of the sorrowful tragedy of sin.
A clean, righteous, happy universe is the purpose of the sacrifice of
Christ, and it will be accomplished. Then will be true this declaration
of Holy Writ:
"Every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and
under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them,
heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him
that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and
ever." Rev. 5: 13.
It is difficult for us today, with sin and misery and disappointment
all around us, to conceive of a world, and beyond that, a whole
universe, in which there is neither complaint nor ground of complaint,
no faultfinding, no dissatisfaction, no overreaching, no selfishness, no
misery, no sorrow, no sickness, no pain, no death; but on every lip
praise, thanksgiving, adoration, satisfaction, and glad approval, and
every heart filled with rejoicing and happiness inexpressible. But such
is this world to be, and this universe, when God has finished with sin
and ushered His faithful people into their long-promised inheritance.
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