THE QUESTION OF IMMORTALITY
Evidences of Immortality Man is superior to every other creature in that within him is something which links him with the eternities. That something we have learned to call immortality. ". . . He hath set eternity in their heart . . ." (Eccles. 3:11, A.R.V.).
Some have emphasized the distinction between immortality and endless existence, arguing that man, once created, was launched out onto an endless existence whether for weal or woe, and must live forever somewhere; whereas immortality is a distinct Christian concept to do only with eternal life as found in Christ, "who hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (II Tim. 1:10).
Others again have argued that, since life and immortality are brought to light only through the gospel, the soul without a saving faith in Christ faces annihilation, and will be punished with eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord.
It is not this distinction of words however with which we are now concerned. We shall here use the word immortal in its widest sense, thinking only of man, whether saint or sinner, as surviving death and living on through the eternities. The life qualitative as distinguished from the life quantitative must be discussed elsewhere, our purpose at the moment being to show that man, by the very constitution of his nature, is destined to survive the dissolution of death and to exist somewhere forever.
The doctrine of the immortality of the soul has been argued from numerous viewpoints, chief among which are: instinct, reason, analogy, moral values, and revelation. These we shall take up in their respective order.
1. The Argument From Instinct
When we speak here of instinct we mean the general consciousness of the race, the fact of universal belief; someone has called it cosmic consciousness.
This is also known as the historical argument. Beyond a brief statement, little need be said concerning it. It is based upon the instincts and intuitions of the soul. There are passing ideas which we may well disregard, but there are also deep soul instincts which it is always safe to trust; one of these is the insistent feeling that there must be something beyond the grave. That there have been, and still are, those who deny this in no way affects the general argument, for it is a proved fact that among all peoples in all ages there has been a belief -- often crude, but always seeking to find expression -- that somewhere, somehow, the soul must survive after death.
For this general belief there must be, it has been argued, a sufficient reason, which is either an instinctive faith, an intuitive reason, or an inheritance from original revelation.
Perhaps not one of these alone, but all three, must account for it. If there is no life hereafter it is not easy to see why man should so persistently anticipate it. Tennyson crystallized this argument into four short lines when he wrote:
Thou wilt not leave him in the dust:
Thou madest man, he knows not why,
He thinks he was not made to die:
And Thou hast made him: Thou art just.
2. The Argument From Reason
According to this argument, the reasonableness of the universe is declared to point in the direction of immortality. There are reason and purpose in the minor operations of nature, one stage always preparing the way for another, whether the growth of the flower, the development of the human body, or wherever else we may look.
Man is more than physical; he has intellectual endowments; it is reasonable therefore to expect that somewhere he will find an opportunity for their fullest development. Then man is morally constituted; behind conduct is a sense of obligation and responsibility, conscience making its distinct requirements.
If death ended all, our insistence on the values of personality would be meaningless. Moreover, man's passionate desire for continued existence cannot be without significance, nor that persistent human affection which is declared by an inspired writer to be "strong as death," for "many waters cannot quench it" (Song of Sol. 8:6-7).
Finally we have the value of human character. What marvelous lives have been lived, and often at what a cost! They died just when their scholarship, sanity, and sanctity would have been the most useful. Through years of labor and suffering the beautiful fruit ripened and then fell. Surely it cannot just lie and rot.
3. The Argument From Analogy
It has now become a scientific commonplace that, while the form
of things may be altered, nothing is really destroyed. Though fire
should reduce them to ashes, the very smoke clouds give them
existence in another form. Surely it cannot be that the spirit of
man, which is far superior to all that is around him, will cease to exist when the body dies.
4. The Argument From Moral Values
This, often called the ethical argument, calls attention to the manifestly uneven nature of things in the present life, where often "Truth" is "on the scaffold" and "Wrong" is "on the throne." The great problems for every age have been the twin enigmas of permitted wrong and the suffering of the godly. Job faced them. Every thoughtful mind must face them. If death ends all, then these greatest of all problems have no answer, and life is an enigma too deep to solve.
There is, however, within the deepest nature of man a moral expectation. At the very center of the universe he finds a throne, and the throne is occupied by a just and discriminating God, who is to give to every man according to his works. The suffering saint is to be recompensed, while the daring sinner is to reap a harvest of blank despair. If the balance of right and wrong is really to be adjusted, God must complete the present in the future and render to every man exact justice, for the Judge of all the earth must do right.
Frances Ridley Havergal seemed to get the key to these things when in her poem "The Moonlight Sonata" she wrote: The ills we see-The mysteries of sorrow deep and long, The dark enigmas of permitted wrong-Have all one key; This strange, sad world is but our Father's school; All chance and change, His love shall grandly overrule. How sweet to know The trials which we cannot comprehend Each have their own divinely purposed end! He traineth so For higher learning, ever onward reaching For fuller knowledge yet, and His own deeper teaching. Nor only here The rich results of all our God doth teach His scholars, slow at best, until we reach a nobler sphere; Then, not till then, our training is complete And the true life begins for which He made us meet.
5. The Argument From Revelation
The Scriptures plainly declare and generally assume the endless existence of man.
Our present thought, as already indicated, is not to distinguish between endless existence in Adam and life and immortality brought to light through the gospel; this of course will be dealt with elsewhere. All that we are seeking to do at the moment is to establish the fact of man's survival of the shock of death and his continued existence somewhere. We shall therefore offer a number of scripture passages, quoting indiscriminately so far as the character of the afterlife is concerned, thinking only of the fact itself.
Gen. 5:24; Heb. 11:5; Gen. 25:8; 35:29; 37:35; 49:33; Num. 16:30; 23:10; I Sam. 28:7; II Sam. 12:23; 22:6; Job 14:13; 17:13, 16; 19:25; Ps. 16:10; 49:14-15; 73: 24-26; Eccles. 12:7; Isa. 14:9-11; 25:8; 66:24; Hos. 13:14; Matt. 5:22; 10:28; 11:22; 17:3; 25:41, 46; Mark 6:11; 9:43; Luke 12:16-20; 16:19-31; 20:27-39; 23:43; John 5:21-29; 14:2; Acts 7:59-60; 10:42; 17:30-32; Rom. 2:1- 11; I Cor. 4:5, 15; II Cor. 5:1-11; Phil. 1:20-24; 3:10-11, 20-21; Col. 3:4; I Thess. 4:13-18; II Tim. 1:10; 4:1; Heb. 2:14; 9:27; I Pet. 4:5-6; II Pet. 2:9; I John 3:2; 4:17; Jude 13-15; Rev. 7:9-17; 20; 21.
SUGGESTIONS FOR THE STUDENT
Within the Church today are those who contend for what they call conditional immortality. For further study acquaint yourself with the correct form of this teaching, then prepare an intelligent answer to it.
- Name from memory the five arguments here given for the fact of a future life.
- Give a concise statement of each argument named.
- Add to these any other thought you may have supporting the idea of a future existence.