Last Updated on : Sunday, October 7, 2012
From The Bible
What is this immortality? Modern talk on the subject would lead us to suppose it was a mental quality, like conscience or benevolence-a thing of spiritual condition-an essence which is itself without reference to time or space. As death has come to have an artificial theological significance, so immortality itself, the promised gift of God through Jesus Christ, has been frittered away into a metaphysical conception-beyond the comprehension, as it has been placed beyond the practical interest of mankind. Bringing common sense and Scripture teaching to bear on this point, we find that immortality is the opposite of mortality. The one being deathfulness in relation to being, as such, the other is deathlessness in the same relation. Both are terms definitive of duration rather than of quality, of life, although quality is implied in both cases. A mortal is a creature of terminable existence; an immortal, one so constituted that his life is endless. Yet the terminability of the one, and the endlessness of the other, are the result of the established conditions of their natures respectively. Man is mortal, because his organism tends to decay. If that organism could go on working from year to year, without deterioration or liability to disorder, he would be immortal, apart from violence, because life would be constantly sustained and manifested. But it is not so, as we know to our sorrow; his nature contains within it the seeds of corruption, and hence it runs down to unavertable dissolution. The finest constitution will succumb at last to the gradual exhaustion going on from year to year. To be immortal, we require to be incorruptible in substance; because that which is incorruptible cannot decay; and an incorruptible living organism will live for ever. Hence the immortality of the New Testament is a promise of resurrection to incorruptible bodily existence.
Again (Phil. iii, 20, 21):-
To obtain immortality, is to be transformed from our present weak, frail, corruptible condition of body, into a perfect, incorruptible, powerful condition, in which we shall no more be the subjects of weakness, pain, sorrow, and death, but shall be like the Lord Jesus Christ in his present exalted state of existence.
This transformation occurs at the return of Jesus Christ from heaven, as is evident from the following testimonies:-
From the last testimony, taken along with one from the 4th chapter of I Thess., previously quoted, we learn that the faithful in Christ Jesus who are in the land of the living at the second advent of their Lord and Saviour, will-(after they have been judged)-undergo an immediate transformation into the incorruptible nature of the spiritual body, without going through the process of death. Hence the statement "we shall not all sleep." So that some perhaps now living, like Enoch and Elijah, will be exceptions to the general rule of mortality, and "shall not taste of death."
As to the nature of the resurrected body, we find in one of the passages quoted from Paul's epistles, the words, "It is raised a spiritual body." Some think this means a gaseous, shadowy, spectral body, that a man could drive his hand through. On the contrary, the righteous in the perfected state will be as real and corporeal as mortal men in the present life. We learn this in the most unmistakable manner. Look at the following statements:- "He shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned LIKE UNTO HIS OWN GLORIOUS BODY" (Phil. iii, 21). "We know that when Christ shall appear, we shall be LIKE HIM; for we shall see him as he is" (I John iii, 2). Here is a starting point: Christ is the pattern after which his people are to be fashioned. If, therefore, we would learn knowledge in regard to the nature of the righteous in the future state, we must contemplate the nature of Christ subsequent to his resurrection. We are enabled to do this, because Christ appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, and had several interviews with them. We find him aiming to give evidence to his disciples of his reality, when they were terrified by his sudden appearance, thinking him an illusion before their eyes.
Here is positive proof that Christ was as real and corporeal after his resurrection as he was before. The body that was laid in the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea was the body that afterwards arose and appeared as "the same Jesus"-"I myself"-to the disciples, who handled him, and who ate with him. This is proof that the righteous in the resurrection will be as tangible and bodily as he was then, seeing that they are to be "fashioned like unto his glorious body."
It is suggested that Christ's nature was transformed into intangible essence after his ascension; but there is nothing to support such a suggestion. The supposition is simply gratuitous and undeserving of consideration. It is excluded by the evidence of Christ's reality and identity after his ascension. Even if this were not so, the suggestion would be without standing ground. Since there is no statement to the effect that Christ ceased to be bodily after his ascension, the only rational alternative would be to assume that no such change took place, and that Christ remained, and continues to be the same real though glorified personage who exhibited his hands and feet to his assembled disciples. But the fact of his bodily continuance is borne out in the statement made by the angels to the disciples, just after the ascension:-
What would the disciples understand by "this same Jesus?" Would they not think of the blessed Saviour, who, a few days before, had eaten bread in their sight, and said to them, a "spirit (or phantasm) hath not flesh and bones AS YE SEE ME HAVE?" Undoubtedly; and they would look forward to the time of his reappearance, with the prints of the nails in his hands, and the mark of the wound in his side, which it is evident, from Zech. xiii, 6, will be the subject of anxious and interesting curiosity to Jewish beholders at his coming. Therefore, the proof remains that the righteous in the resurrected state will be substantial as their Lord and Master, instead of the bodiless entities generally imagined.
Though not less real than mortal man, the glorified saints will possess a different kind of nature. They are, in the present state, "natural bodies," but then, they will be "spiritual bodies." Here is the destinction. Natural or animal bodies are sustained in life by the blood, as saith the Scriptures in Leviticus xvii, 14, "The life of all flesh is the blood thereof." The blood is the medium of animal vitality, with which it becomes charged by the action of the air on the lungs. The life principle or "spirit" is thus applied only in an indirect manner. The blood is proximately the lifegiving agent; bodies sustained by it are simply blood bodies. Their life is not inherent; it is dependent on a complex function which is easily interfered with. It is applied by a process so delicate as to be easily marred by external influences and accidental circumstances. Therefore, life is uncertain, and constant health and vigour almost impossible. Our constitutions are easily impaired, and we are liable to be afflicted with distressing infirmities and pains which easily become dangerous: hence the lucrative profession which is accredited with the skill to "cure" unfortunate humanity. Ah, they cannot "cure." The disease is too deep for their skill. It is in the constitution; it is in the blood; it is deepgrained and incurable. All that the doctor can do is to patch a humanly unmendable mortality.
The Lord Jesus Christ is the only true physician. He offers us resurrection to spirit body existence. He promises to fashion us like unto his own glorious body. He undertakes that though we may be afflicted with all the pains that flesh is heir to in this present life, yea, disfigured by all the distortions of disease; though we may die loathsome deaths and be laid in the grave a mass of festering corruption, we shall be raised to a pure and incorruptible state, in which our bodies shall be "spiritual bodies;" not because ethereal, which is not their characteristic, but because directly energized by the spirit of God, and filled in every atom with the concentrated inextinguishable life power of God himself. This is the testimony of Christ (John iii, 6): "That which is born of Spirit is SPIRIT." He had said, "that which is born of the flesh is flesh." Mortal men and women are born of the flesh, therefore, they are but flesh-a wind that passeth away and cometh not again; but let a man be "born of the spirit," and he is no longer the frail and perishable offspring of Adam. His corruptible has put on incorruptibility. He is an invincible, all powerful, immortal son of God. "They are the children of God," says Jesus, speaking of the resurrection which is unto life, "BEING the children of the resurrection."
Paul says (Rom. viii, 11), "He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies BY HIS SPIRIT that dwelleth in you." Here is a second birth to be effected by the spirit of God; and on the principle laid down by Christ, all who are the subjects of this operation of the spirit upon their mortal bodies, will be "born of the spirit," and will, therefore, be "spirit" in nature or "spiritual" bodies-bodies sustained in life by the direct operation of the spirit of life, without the intermediate agency of the blood-immortal, bloodless embodiments of the spirit of life in flesh and bones, like the Lord Jesus; not pale and ghastly as a human body would be without blood, but beautiful with the electrical radiance of the Spirit which can show colour otherwise than by blood, as witness the jasper and the ruby, and the rainbow. Living by the thorough permeation of the life spirit in the substance of their natures, they will be glorious and powerful, "pure as the gem, strong as adamant, and incorruptible as gold," glorious in the sense of physical luminosity, as exemplified in the Lord Jesus when he shone with the lustre of the sun on the mount of transfiguration, and, according as it is written:-
Powerful, in the sense of being vigorous and inexhaustible in the power of the faculties, as it is written:-
Incorruptible in the sense of being undecaying and imperishable in nature, and therefore entirely free from any liability to pain or disease. In this perfect condition, the righteous will have a boundless eternity before them-everlasting joy upon their heads, no more dullness of mind; no more fretting and heart failing at the afflictions of mortal life; no more sorrow, no more growing old; no more passing away; but all perfection, harmony unbroken, love unquenchable, joy unspeakable, and full of glory. This will be the happy state of the righteous; this the consummation of that blessed promise, "He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces." (Isa. xxv, 8).
This precious life and immortality, brought to light by Jesus Christ through the gospel, is not to be indiscriminately bestowed. All men will not attain to it; only a few will be counted worthy. The precious gift is freely offered to all; but it is conditional. It is not to be given to the faithless and the impure. Perfection of character must precede perfection of nature. Moral fitness is the indispensable prerequisite, and God is the judge and the prescriber of the peculiar moral fitness necessary in the case. This is proved by the following passages:-
These testimonies give the deathblow to Universalism. They predicate salvation upon conditions which exclude the majority of mankind. They restrict it to a class which has always been small among men, and effectually disprove the mistaken theory of benevolence which proclaims the "universal restoration" of every human being. This may represent Christianity as a very "narrow" affair, but no narrower than its divinely intended scope. "Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way;" this is its characteristic, and not without wisdom. The development of an approved family from the sons of men is its object. The world's vast populations are merely incidental to this plan. They come, and they go; and, as flesh, they profit nothing. They come from nothing, and go whence they came. It is only the theory of universal human immortality that gives rise to the idea of universal human salvation. When human nature is looked upon at its true standard of vanity, the difficulty vanishes.
Those who are excluded from eternal life are divided into two classes-1st, those who hear the word, and reject it; and 2nd, those whom circumstances preclude from hearing it at all-such as the pagans of ancient times, and the natives of barbarous countries. The second class includes a third, viz., those whose misfortunes prevent them from believing, even if they hear the word, such as idiots, and very young children. The fate of the first class (those who hear the word, and reject it) is plainly stated. They are to be reserved for punishment:-
The punishment is inflicted at the resurrection, as Jesus says: "They that have done evil (shall come forth) unto the resurrection of damnation." This "resurrection of damnation," however, is not a resurrection to unending life, or to hell fire in the popular acceptation. It is a resurrection to judicially administered shame and corruption. They shall of the flesh, to which they have sown, reap corruption (Gal. vi, 8), which ends in the triumph of the worm and fire over their being-that is, in death. They rise to the shame and confusion of a divine and frowning rejection, in which "few stripes" or "many stripes" are inflicted, according to desert-differences in the duration and intensity of suffering as justice may demand, after which the wicked are finally engulfed in the "second death," which obliterates their wretched existence from God's creation. Being of no use, they are put out of the way, and disappear for ever, "where the wicked cease from troubling."
This must have been evident from the numerous testimonies quoted in the last lecture. A paganized theology delights in assigning them to endless existence of torment. This idea is based upon certain obscure New Testament expressions which are supposed to countenance it, but which, when properly understood, have no such terrible significance. "Unquenchable fire" is one of those expressions; it seems to imply the eternal conscious existence of the wicked, but reflection will show it involves the opposite. If the fire is not quenched, there is no escape from consumption. This phrase is used in this sense in Jer. xvii, 27, Ezek. xx, 47, and other places. The same is true of "worm dieth not." Herod's worms died not, and the consequence was that HE died (Acts xii, 23). If they had died, he would have recovered. "Everlasting punishment" is affirmed of the wicked; but this does not teach eternal torment. Aionian translated "everlasting," does not necessarily import unending perpetuity. Of aion, age, from which it is derived, Parkhurst observes, "It denotes duration or continuance of time, but with great variety." Aionian, therefore, means age pertaining, without fixing duration, which is determinable by the scope of that of which it is affirmed. In the case before us, it is spoken of the punishment of the wicked. As we know, from other parts of Scripture, that the punishment of the age of retribution terminates in death, we are enabled to see the "aion" of the punishment is only coextensive with the duration of that punishment.
Some imagine that the application of this principle to the phrase "eternal life" destroys the hope of immortality, by making it a thing of possible terminability. If there were nothing beyond the phrase "eternal (aionian) life," we should have an uncertain foundation for the hope of endless life. We should in that case simply be informed that there was an age pertaining life-a life pertaining to the coming age of God's intervention in human affairs, but should not, by the phrase, receive any information as to the nature of that life or the extent of its duration. But the case stands not in this uncertain state. We are explicitly informed by other testimonies, that while aionian punishment ends in death, the life to be conferred in that same aion is inextinguishable. "They which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world . . . neither marry nor are given in marriage; NEITHER CAN THEY DIE ANY MORE, for they are equal unto the angels" (Luke xx, 35-36). "There shall be NO MORE DEATH" (Rev. xxi, 4). "They shall never perish" (John x, 28). "He will swallow up death in victory" (Isaiah xxv, 8). "This mortal must put on IMMORTALITY (I Cor. xv, 53). If immortality had an end, it would not be immortality. Aionian life is unending life. We know this, not from the use of the word aionian, which would tell us nothing on the subject, but from testimonies like those quoted.
The second class of those who do not attain to life, are those who, never having seen the light, have never rejected it, and for that reason cannot be liable to the judgment that awaits those who have. What is to be done with them? It is common to suppose they will be among the saved. Who can entertain such a supposition in view of the fact that they are sinners, and already excluded from life? Besides, if darkness and unenlightenment be a passport into the kingdom of God, why did Jesus send Paul "to turn the Gentiles from darkness to light . . . THAT THEY MAY RECEIVE . . . INHERITANCE among them which are sanctified?" (Acts xxvi, 18). If salvation in barbarism is certain, it would be better to let men remain in ignorance than imperil their eternal destiny by the responsibilities of knowledge. We must remember that the very circumstances that preclude the class in question from being rejecters of the Messiah, also prevent them from accepting him in whom alone is hope and life. They have none of the responsibilities of the rejecters of the gospel, but they have also none of the privileges of its enlightened and obedient believers. What, then, is to become of them? Paul answers the question in Romans ii, 12: "As many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law." Paganism, heathenism, idiotcy, and infantile incapability are amenable to no law. Therefore, resurrection does not take place in their case. Death has passed upon them under the only law they were ever related to, viz., the law of Adam; and they sleep, never to be disturbed. Their position is described in the following passage from Isaiah xxvi, 14:-
A similar declaration is made in Jeremiah li, 57, in regard to the aristocracy of Babylon, who belonged to the identical class of whom we are speaking:-
God is just, and in this His justice is made manifest. He could not punish them with justice, and He could not reward them with justice; therefore He puts them aside.
This completes the sum of what has to be advanced in reference to the conditional nature of immortality, as a gift to be bestowed at the resurrection. The proposition is plain, and the evidence conclusive. May it be the happy lot of all who read these pages to inherit the glorious gift.
Immortality A Conditional Gift To Be Bestowed
At The Resurrection