Article of the Month
by Loraine Boettner
1. The Doctrine Stated
“If a man die, shall he live again?” Job 14:14.
For the Christian the answer to that question is found in the words of Jesus:
“I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die,” John 11:25,26.
There is scarcely any other subject of religious thought that holds so keen and such a universal interest for us as that of the future life. It has exercised the mind of man in every age, and invariably there has been an innate longing in the hearts of individuals to perpetuate themselves beyond the grave. It is, therefore, not merely an academic question, but one that presses for an answer at the door of each one of us. Ultimately it will be the supreme question for each of us. It is a question aroused primarily not by fear of the future, but by a natural God-given desire to enter into that larger life and destiny which we instinctively feel is ahead.
The term that we generally use to designate the life of which we are speaking is immortality. Precisely what, then do we understand by that term? In its fullest sense,
Immortality means the eternal, continuous, conscious existence of the soul after the death of the body.
That we shall live again is surely no more wonderful or mysterious than that we are alive now. The real wonder rather would seem to be that after having not been in existence through an eternity that is past we now are in existence. Surely it is far more incredible that from not having been, we are, than that from actual being we shall continue to be. Nor is it any more wonderful that as human beings we shall continue to live in a renewed body than it is that life on this earth is now perpetuated from generation to generation by means of a body. We are familiar with the latter and tend to think of it as natural, routine and commonplace; but that does not make it any the less mysterious.
The doctrine of immortality does not in itself tell us anything about the resurrection body, or whether, indeed, there shall be a resurrection body. Christians believe, of course, not only that the soul continues to exist, but that eventually there is to be a resurrection of the body, so that they shall be restored to the condition normal for human beings.
As we stand looking into that dark corridor which sooner or later all must enter we ask with Job, “If a man die, shall he live again?” At every funeral we instinctively wonder, What has happened to that friend who has died? Where is he now? The natural instincts of our nature tell us that we shall live again, and the great majority of men have always believed in a future life.
History shows that man has an instinctive longing for immortality. The ancient religions and mythologies and all forms of true and false religions in our day are the expressions and developments of this conviction. The belief in immortality has taken many different forms among the races of mankind, and has assumed various degrees of strength and dignity. Sometimes it has been little more than a shadowy hope, a vague feeling or an indefinite yearning, with the basic idea that eventually good will be rewarded and evil punished. But in some form or other it has been held by every tribe and nation.
That the belief in immortality holds a prominent place in the thinking of our day is shown by the vast number of books, magazines, articles, etc., which deal with this subject in one form or another. It seems that instead of out-growing this belief, the race as it develops grows more strongly into it. This is all the more remarkable when we consider that there is much to militate against it. The inevitableness of death, for instance, would of itself seem to lead to a despair of the hereafter. Those who are living sinful lives would gladly escape a hereafter in which they are to be brought to judgment. They would in fact readily accept annihilation. Many who experience an undue proportion of the miseries of this world would avoid another if possible. It must be admitted that if the prospect of a future existence be not illuminated by the light of the Gospel there is little in it to make it appear attractive and much in it to make one apprehensive if not indeed frightened. Added to this is the fact that no one can give positive proof of a future life, and that even Christian believers at times have had doubts. Yet the race continues to believe in immortality.
2. Immortality in the Ancient Religions
The religion of ancient Babylon and Assyria, as found in the old Accadian literature, contains many hymns, some of them penitential like the Psalms. Some of these are as much as a thousand years older than the Psalms. Their religious epics, such as the story of Istar’s descent into Hades, and the epic of Gilgamesh, in which various experiences in the land of shades or in the lower world are related, bear witness to their belief in a future life.
Some of the oldest literature in the world is found in the Egyptian “Book of the Dead.” Belief in immortality is a prominent feature in that literature. The Egyptians believed that the soul could not enjoy immortality unless the body itself were preserved. The huge pyramids and rock- hewn tombs in the land of the Nile and the careful embalming of the dead show to what great lengths they went to preserve the body for the return of the spirit. The corpse (or mummy) was provided with a copy of the Book of the Dead and the papyrus-roll containing the prayer he was to offer and the chart of his journey through the unseen world. The departed was even spoken of as “the living,” and the coffin as “the chest of the living.” The life beyond, particularly the punishments of the wicked, was described in vivid terms.
Only recently in Egypt (June, 1954) there was discovered the burial chamber of the Pharaoh Cheops which was sealed about 5,000 years ago, in which was found the solar boat that he had built for his journey through the heavens at night, together with the magic hieroglyphic incantations and hymns prescribed to pass him safely along on his eternal voyage with the great sun god Ra. In Egypt practically all travel from one part of the country to another was on the Nile, and from prehistoric times the Egyptians thought of boats as the natural and only means of travel, both in life and after death.
The following interesting explanation of the solar boats has been given by El-Malakh, director of archeological work for the Egyptian government:
In India the records of Hinduism and Brahmanism, as set forth in the Rig-Veda, reveal a clear belief in immortality. More than a thousand hymns are found in that collection, some of them going back to a period ten to fifteen centuries before Christ. Buddhism, which was a later development from Hinduism, introduced the idea of transmigration of souls, in which it was held that the person who died was immediately reborn, his new state being determined by the degree of reward or punishment due him. The highest goal was union with Brahma, which might mean extinction but in other cases continued re-births. The one to whom punishment was due might be reborn as a slave, or an animal, or bird, or even as a reptile or insect. This was called transmigration of souls, and was widely held in both India and Persia. A weariness of existence was one of the features of this belief, the only escape from which was conceived to be absolute extinction,— in which belief it stands at the opposite extreme from Christianity. Whereas Christianity offers the blessedness of eternal life in heaven, Buddhism offers what it calls the blessedness of extinction.
In Persia Zoroastrianism set forth a dualism throughout all nature. Ormuzd, the spirit of goodness and light, and Ahriman, the spirit of evil and darkness, were struggling for the mastery. Every man inevitably had to take part in that struggle. If he chose good he was rewarded with eternal life. Much absurdity was mingled with the ideas of immortality, judgment, paradise, hell, and a restored earth, although the system assumes the eventual victory of good over evil.
In the ancient Greek religion there was a belief in many gods and in a future life. The early views of Hades were very gloomy, and the future life in general was conceived of pretty much as an attenuated edition of earthly existence. A silver coin was placed in the mouth of the corpse to pay his fare across the mystic river. Their philosophers felt the natural longing in the human heart for some kind of existence beyond the narrow span of life. They spoke vaguely of an underworld and of a probable immortality, but they had no grounds of assurance.
In Rome the worshippers of Jupiter and Minerva looked forward to the shadowy realm of the dead, the misty region of the grave, about which they knew little, but in which they firmly believed. In China and Japan belief in immortality took the form of ancestor worship.
The American Indians placed within the grave of the departed one his bow and arrows, and sometimes his pony, that he might have these when he reached the happy hunting ground. The Norsemen provided the dead hero with a horse and armor for his triumphant ride, and in Greenland the deceased Eskimo child was provided with a dog to act as its guide.
Some of the orientals taught, and still teach, a form of pantheism, in which the human soul is absorbed into one universal personality. Materialistic philosophy, in both ancient and modern times, which of course can scarcely be called a religion, has held that there is no surviving personality after death. It holds that at death the soul of man is like the flame of a candle that is snuffed out, that man dies as the animals and the plants, and that nothing remains but dust and ashes. There are not many professed materialists in our day, but there are millions of practical materialists, who have no reasoned convictions on the subject and who live as though death ended all. Their attitude toward life is well summed up in the motto, “Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
3. Immortality Necessary to Vindicate the Moral Order
There must be a future life in order that the justice of God may be vindicated. In this life so much good goes unrewarded, and so much evil goes unpunished. If there were no other reasons the demands of the justice of God would be sufficient to prove the case. Otherwise the moral order of the universe would not be right.
So often we see the wicked succeed, get unjust gain, have so many of this world’s good things, and apparently have a far better time of it than their neighbors or associates who try to keep the commandments of God and to whom life is not always kind. Often we see truth dragged in the dust and wrong seated on the throne. We see a Nero in the palace and a Paul in the dungeon. Think of the injustices so often done in our courts to those falsely accused. Think of those who escape just punishment for their crimes. Think of the injustices in business between employers and employees, between sellers and purchasers. In many homes those who are weak are the victims of cruelty and oppression. The righteous so often suffer reverses, lose their health and their possessions, are oppressed and persecuted. So often these things seem to happen to the wrong people. Viewed from the standpoint of this world, these things represent gross injustice. It is unreasonable to think that those who in this life escape just punishment shall escape forever, or that the good services of the righteous shall be forever unrewarded. Rather it is the unalterable law that “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap”; and if he does not reap it in this life he must do so in the life to come.
To deny the future life is to open wide the gate for all kinds of indulgence and crime. If death ends everything life in this world becomes a mockery, and the person who can secure for himself the most pleasure regardless of the means used is the most successful, the most to be envied. As Paul expresses it, “If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable,” I Cor. 15:19.
Our reason rebels against the thought that a system in which sin and injustice and suffering are so prominent can have death as the end of all things. The answer to the sins and injustices and unrewarded services of this life is a future life in which there must be a “judgment to come,” such as that which terrified Felix when Paul preached to him (Acts 24:25), a future life in which righteousness and holiness will be the order of all things. Mere extinction of being would not be a sufficient penalty for the evil, nor a fit reward for the righteous. Bluntly expressed, If there is a just God, there must be a future life. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Gen. 18:25. No just God could allow a system in which so much evil goes unpunished and so much good unrewarded.
4. Life Here Is Incomplete
Another strong evidence for immortality is the fact that this present life even at its best is so incomplete. The greater part of man’s work always seems to remain unfinished. So many of his talents and skills are never developed at all, and the ones he does acquire are hardly developed to a high degree of efficiency until he is taken away. We instinctively feel that there ought to be a future life in which these can be brought to perfection and adequate use made of them. The minister, teacher, statesman, lawyer or scientist spends a lifetime accumulating the knowledge and experience that should enable him to proceed as a master in his field, but soon his life is cut short. Similarly the surgeon, musician and artist reach the heights only after a lifetime of study and practice. If there be no hereafter that valuable knowledge and skill is lost forever. Life here is too short, too circumscribed, to be the end for man’s marvelous divinely given endowments and aspirations. He scarcely more than gets his preparations made for full and intelligent living until his time comes to leave. The truly great scientist feels that he has not mastered the one-hundredth part of the knowledge that is to be known in his field. As he surveys a library of books on his particular field, what a small fraction of that knowledge he feels that he really possesses! Thomas Edison late in life expressed himself as feeling as if he were but a small boy playing along the beach, picking up and examining a pebble here, and another there, while the limitless expanse of coast-line and ocean stretched out before him. The farther one goes in his chosen profession the smaller his knowledge seems in comparison with the vast fields that open up before him. What scientist or scholar worthy of the name has not felt the inadequacy and limitations, of his present endeavor? Without immortality the whole process of knowledge and accomplishment is thwarted.
A good and intelligent man does not immediately destroy the masterpiece that he has made. Suppose that a great artist after finishing a beautiful picture should take his knife and cut it to shreds. Or that a great sculptor after finishing a beautiful statue should take his hammer and break it to pieces. Would not mankind indict him for a lack of intelligence, or for irrationality? Surely a good and wise Creator will not finish His masterpiece, which is man, and then so soon destroy him. To attribute such action to God is to attribute to Him a lower order of intelligence than we find in His creatures. If God is good and wise, as He certainly is, and if life has the meaning that we are compelled to believe that it has, then it is incredible that life should have been summoned out of the void only to be so soon returned to the void from whence it came.
If human life consisted only of the time that lies between birth and death it would be but a truncated and largely futile thing. The broken column, resting on a base but reaching nowhere, is a fitting symbol to express the incompleteness of life in this world.
The present life, even at its best, does not satisfy. There are, of course, many pleasures, but often these are only temporary and deceptive. The truth is that from the richest mansion to the poorest hut each person has his own peculiar combination of worries, fears, sorrows, toils, sicknesses and disappointments. Man, who was created in the image of God and who therefore has limitless possibilities, surely was destined for something better than this. Apart from the satisfaction that a person receives from the knowledge that he has rendered a true service or accomplished something worth while, probably no one at the end of his life course would want to live his life over a second time if it meant going through exactly the same experiences. Who would want to live even yesterday over again?
Man’s soaring ambitions and his longing for a greater freedom are indications that he was created for a higher life. When, for instance, we see a great eagle confined in a cage, his wings trailing the ground as he walks, we know that that lordly creature was never meant to spend his life in that cage. The Creator who gave him those mighty pinions intended that they should serve to carry him away into the boundless spaces of the far distances. The same Creator who designed that eagle’s whole nature for the wide open sky likewise made us for a larger sphere than we are able to find here.
As the organization of the fish implies water as the element in which it shall live and move, and as that of the bird implies air, so the existence of spiritual and moral and intellectual powers within man implies a fit environment in which he shall be free to develop and perfect those powers. Surely God did not bring the human spirit to such a high degree of development as is attained by man, for no other purpose than to allow it to lapse again into nothingness. We are creatures of time, but we are destined for eternity. We long for that greater holiness, that fuller vision, that more perfect hearing, and that more rapid means of communication and transportation. How inscrutable and meaningless must be human life and destiny to the natural man who has no revelation to guide him through the labyrinth of this world!!
Man’s life in this world is but the preliminary stage, the training school as it were, to prepare him for the really serious business of living. Always there are so many glaring deficiencies and failures, and so many other things that we feel should be added to make life full and complete. Looking back over our mistakes and blunders and lost opportunities we feel that this time we have hardly more than learned how to live, and that, humanly speaking, if we could live our lives over again we could accomplish so much more. As for doing that which God has commanded us to do, all of us have been “unprofitable servants,” at best having done only that which it was our duty to do (Luke 17:10). We are like new recruits in the army, or more particularly like new cadets in the air force, — more of a handicap than a help until our training is complete and we find our places in the larger organization.
The grave, then, is not a blind alley, but a thoroughfare, leading to a much richer life beyond. This life is but prologue; the primary sphere of our existence lies in the future. We can attain completeness only in that other realm where there is no more sickness nor death and where progress is always onward and upward.
It should be kept in mind, of course, that in saying these things we are thinking of life as it should be lived, with its high spiritual import. For the wicked, immortality means eternal death, that is, eternal separation from God. Whereas the course of the righteous is always onward and upward to greater blessedness and accomplishment, the course of the wicked is always downward into greater and more awful sin. What a solemn thought it is, that every child born into this world is a spiritual being who will go on living for ever either in heaven or in hell!
5. The Argument from Analogy
It is to be acknowledged, of course, that in formal logic the argument from analogy does not afford positive proof. The fact that two things are similar in one respect is not in itself proof that they are similar in another. Nevertheless, a true analogy does give a high degree of probability, and it is a valid argument within its proper sphere.
There are many analogies in nature which point clearly to a resurrection and new life. In the autumn, for instance, nature seems to die. The flowers fade. The leaves fall from the trees and the grass withers. Most of the bird and insect life departs, and soon the earth is covered with a cold blanket of snow and ice. Life seems to be over; death seems to have conquered, to be the master. But in due time the spring comes, and with it warm air and new life. The barren trees put forth new buds and leaves. The buried seeds, which looked so dry and lifeless, germinate, send up new plants, and put forth gorgeous fragrant flowers. The grass becomes green, and the birds return and are heard on every hand. The caterpillar or larva comes out of its rough and unsightly cocoon and develops into the beautiful butterfly or highly colored moth. Throughout nature the dormant stage gives way to the growing stage. That which appeared to be dead is alive again; all nature seems to rejoice.
And what is the purpose of this annual pageant? For one thing, does not God speak to man through nature, telling him of a better and more enduring life after death? Does not Paul tell us that “the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made?” Rom. 1:20. The psalmist says: “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament showeth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, And night unto night showeth knowledge,” Ps. 19:1, 2. We can indeed learn much from the general revelation that is given through nature to supplement the special revelation that is given through Scripture.
It is an axiom of science that no material object in the universe can be destroyed. That which disappears in one form reappears in another, either in the form of matter or of energy. The log is burned, and disappears as a log. But the scientist can prove that every particle of that log continues to exist although in a different form. When the person dies the body, too, returns to its elements, but is not destroyed. This law operates everywhere throughout nature. If, then, the material of man’s body continues to exist, surely the life, which is of infinitely greater value, must be going on somewhere. Surely God in His wisdom and goodness would not preserve the lower elements of His creation and permit the higher to perish.
6. Immortality an Innate Idea
The natural longing of mankind for continued existence is inexplicable if it is not founded on reality. A belief that is age-long and world-wide is not to be set aside lightly. In this connection we must keep in mind that not all of our knowledge is received through the physical senses. There are some basic truths, — innate or intuitive truths, we call them, — that are given to man by creation, ideas that arise from the constitution of the mind, as contrasted with others that are acquired through experience. These truths may be further developed in life by the knowledge that comes through experience, but they are not in themselves dependent on experience. One such truth is belief in God. Another is the moral sense of right and wrong. Still another is that with which we are presently concerned, belief in a future life or in the immortality of the soul. There never has been a tribe discovered anywhere, even among the most primitive people, that did not have these three basic beliefs.
Along with these three ideas there commonly are associated four more that are necessary in man’s reasoning processes. These are: the idea of time, of space, of number, and of cause and effect. Not one of these needs to be taught, nor is any one of them originally derived from experience. Where they are ignored or denied only confusion can result.
These innate ideas correspond to that which in the animal and bird and insect kingdom is known as “instinct.” No one ever needs to teach nor can teach the beaver how to construct a dam across a stream, nor the birds how to build their nests or to migrate with the seasons, nor the honey bee how to construct the comb in order to store the honey most efficiently. In the human species the presence of innate ideas does not mean that children are born with these beliefs, but rather that as they develop toward years of accountability these basic truths are instinctively recognized and are capable of being developed into more consistent systems.
Why, then, some one may ask, does it happen that some few develop into atheists, or appear to have no clear idea of right or wrong, or disbelieve in the immortality of the soul? The first and primary reason is that man is no longer in the highly favored state in which he was created, in which his nature functioned normally, but is now a victim of sin and of unsound reason. In his fallen state he is at enmity with God. He no longer has a clear and unprejudiced mind with which to judge moral and spiritual values. He does not want to acknowledge a Creator, or a moral Lawgiver, or to face the prospect of existence in a future state in which he receives punishment for his sins. He would gladly be rid of all these beliefs, and he attempts to argue himself into believing that these things do not exist. Not until he is regenerated by the Holy Spirit and given a new principle of spiritual life is he able to judge clearly concerning moral and spiritual values.
That this is the condition of fallen man as set forth in Scripture is beyond question. In the first chapter of Romans Paul points out the depth of moral and spiritual degeneration into which man has fallen, vss. 18-32. In I Cor. 2:14 he shows why it is impossible for fallen man to arrive at spiritual truth by his own efforts: “Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged.” This was also brought out when he said: “But we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumbling block, and unto Gentiles foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God,” I Cor. 1:23,24. And Christ Himself said, “Except one be born anew he cannot see the kingdom of God,” John 3:3.
A second and less important reason for the denial of these intuitive truths is that when they are approached from the viewpoint of the physical sciences the tendency oftentimes is to accept as truth only that which can be scientifically demonstrated or that which is based on experience. More will be said about this in the following chapter.
7. Proof Not to Be Obtained from Science or Philosophy
In the study of immortality our primary source of information cannot be either Science or Philosophy. Science can view these things only from the limited viewpoint of the material world, and can accept only that testimony which comes through the physical senses. It is therefore unable to deal with the basic issue, and can give no real assurance either for or against immortality. Among individual scientists many professing the Christian faith have asserted their belief in immortality, while others not holding the Christian faith have often been inclined to doubt or even to deny that the soul continues after death.
No person can “prove” or “demonstrate” immortality by scientific experiment or mathematical formula any more than he can prove or demonstrate the existence of God by such means. Men act thoughtlessly when they demand such proof. The so-called rational proofs may furnish a strong presumption in favor of the existence of God, or of immortality, and they usually will be accepted as proof by the spiritually enlightened. But they do not amount to absolute demonstration and therefore are not strong enough to compel belief on the part of the unregenerate soul.
The reason for this is that the facts of the spiritual world cannot be perceived by the physical senses, but are “spiritually discerned.” When the physical senses attempt to handle the things of the spirit, they step beyond their legitimate boundaries and invade a realm concerning which they can speak with no authority. The intellect, too, is a part of “the natural man,” having acquired a bias against moral and spiritual things as a result of the fall, and is no more capable of interpreting the realities of the spiritual realm than are the physical senses. Evidence for immortality must be, in the very nature of the case, inward and subjective. The worldly, unregenerate man cannot see it; the godly, spiritual man cannot fail to see it. The one who lives a life worthy of immortality will find little difficulty in believing in immortality, and his conviction of it will grow as he grows in grace.
Physical science as such cannot tell us anything about immortality, for it deals only with tangible things, that is, with life and phenomena in the physical world. The only answer that it can give to the question of immortality is a profound silence. Concerning the unseen spiritual world it knows nothing and has no way of finding out. Materialistic science often refuses even to admit that the soul is a life principle independent of the body until positive sensory evidence is given. But that is asking too much. Since the body and the soul belong to different spheres, it is unreasonable to seek sensory evidence in the body as confirmation of the reality of the soul. That position is as unreasonable as for a blind man to deny that there is any such thing as light, for the simple reason that he cannot see it. The difficulty is not with the light but in the fact that he does not have the right organ. True and unprejudiced science declares only that it can give neither proof nor disproof of the spiritual, and that so far as it is concerned the spiritual must be dealt with as an unverified hypothesis.
Nor can philosophy give much if any more aid than science. It too must work within the limitations of the human mind, and, also like science, it has no source of information outside of the world itself. Whereas theology is God’s explanation of the world, its origin, purpose and destiny, given through an inspired book, the Bible, philosophy is man’s explanation, confined within the limitations of the human mind and the material world. No philosopher has ever been able to solve the riddle of the universe, nor has any been able to find a remedy for sin.
In the past the denial of immortality has arisen primarily from a materialistic philosophy. This has been true even though most of those denying immortality have had no formal connection with or understanding of philosophy as such. It is quite evident that if we rule out the existence of God and start with the premise that originally matter alone existed, the dualistic conception of man as a soul united with a body must be given up. For in that case mental activity becomes merely a function of the brain, and ceases when the brain is destroyed. Hence the importance of the question, What is man? Is he a being originally created in the image of God, possessed of body and spirit and destined for an immortal future? Or is he the product of organic evolution, coming into existence in the most elementary form in which life can exist and gradually developing into the self-conscious, reasoning being of his present stage?
The answer that we give to these questions will determine largely the views we hold regarding the immortality of the soul. The standard illustration employed by materialistic philosophy to illustrate the phenomena of thought processes in man is that of the electric generator producing current: — as the generator produces current, so the brain produces thought; when the generator stops the current ceases, and when the body dies the soul ceases to exist. If we accept the premise of materialistic philosophy and rule out God as the First Cause and Creator, we must also accept its conclusion that man is a product of material forces, and that he has reached his present high position through a process of organic evolution.
Precisely what do we mean by organic evolution? Probably the most scientific definition is that given by the geologist Le Conte. Said he: “Evolution is (1) a continuous progressive change, (2) according to certain laws, and (3) by means of resident forces.”
It should hardly need to be said that the theory of evolution. which is so widely held today, is a philosophical, not, a scientific theory. Science deals with facts, with that which we know, as the derivation of the word indicates, — that which can be demonstrated in the laboratory. Philosophy includes the much broader field of theory and hypothesis. There is no scientific proof whatever that life ever has been produced from non-living matter, nor that one species has ever changed into another, nor is there any proof of the extremely primitive condition through which it is alleged that man rose to his present position. “To talk of the evolution of thought from sea-slime to amoeba, and from amoeba to a self-conscious man,” says Louis T. More, “means nothing; it is the easy solution of the thoughtless mind .... Let the biologist in the laboratory produce a living cell which has not been derived from other living matter. Until he creates a living cell from dead matter he is in the same class as was Aristotle who tells us that dust breeds fleas.1
For an analysis displaying unusual insight into the problems before us we quote from the writings of Dr. C. B. McMullen, Professor Emeritus of Centre College, himself a philosopher and the author of a particularly cogent book on this subject, The Logic of Evolution. In a recently prepared but as yet unpublished manuscript he says:
The moral and spiritual decline that inevitably follows in the wake of an evolutionary philosophy is summed up in the well chosen words of William H. Wood: “The case that is made out against evolution and its devotees especially within the Church is a serious one. Evolution dispenses not only with faith but with the God of faith. The hypothesis ‘God’ seems not to be needed. Revelation is denied, the authority of Scripture is impugned, miracles are laughed out of court, man is deposed from the high estate given him by the Bible and rated merely as a noble animal, naturalism is the accepted philosophy, freedom is made a clever deception, and immortality applies only to the stuff of the human body.”3
A case very much to the point is the recently discovered hoax of the Piltdown skull, for the past forty years accepted by evolutionary scientists as a 100,000 year old relic of prehistoric man. Those bones were found in a gravel pit near the southern coast of England, and have been on exhibit in the British natural history museum, in London, as one of the primary proofs of the theory of evolution. But the museum has now published a booklet (January, 1955) by twelve experts which states that the jaw bone and some of the teeth are those of an immature ape, that they have been doctored to resemble human bones, and that even the flint instruments alleged to have been found with the bones also were frauds.
8. Scripture Teaching Regarding Immortality
The only reliable information concerning the state of the soul after death is to be found in the Bible. That which the philosophers cannot fathom, nor the scientists explain, God has revealed in His Word. Much is presented by direct statement; much also is assumed as undeniably true and not needing proof. In general the Bible treats the subject of the immortality of the soul in much the same way that it treats the existence of God, — such belief is assumed as an undeniable postulate. It takes for granted that the characteristics of our nature are permanent, that we shall continue to possess intelligence, affection, conscience and will. Every passage dealing with the future life assumes that we shall be then as we are now, reverential and social beings, loving God and one another. This necessarily includes recognition, communion with Christ and with the angels and the redeemed.
What, then, does the Bible teach concerning the immortality of the soul? We look first at: —
The Old Testament. In Gen. 5:24 we read: “And Enoch walked with God: and he was not, for God took him”; — and in Heb. 11:5 we read, “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death.” One of the most familiar Old Testament expressions is that of being “gathered to their people,” — Abraham, Gen. 15:15; 25:8; Isaac, Gen. 35:29; Jacob, Gen. 49:33; etc.
Job asked the question, “If a man die, shall he live again?” 14:14, and himself emphatically answered that question in the affirmative: “But as for me I know that my Redeemer liveth, And at last he will stand up upon the earth: And after my skin, even this body, is destroyed Then without my flesh shall I see God,” 19:25,26.
David, “the sweet singer of Israel,” believed in immortality, for he said: “Thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol; Neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption,” Ps. 16:10; — and in the New Testament Peter applies these words to the resurrection of Christ: “. . . he foreseeing this spake of the resurrection of Christ,” Acts 2:31. David also said, “In thy presence is fulness of joy; In thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore,” Ps. 16:11; and, “I shall behold thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with beholding thy form,” Ps. 17:15. The 23rd Psalm teaches immortality and describes it as walking through the valley of the shadow of death without fear, and closes with the assurance, “And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” In Ps. 73:1-19 the psalmist (Asaph) points to life beyond the grave to explain why in this life virtue should so often fail to be rewarded while the wicked so often prosper, declaring that he was envious at the arrogant when he saw the prosperity of the wicked, until he went into the sanctuary of God and saw their latter end. Verses 24 and 25 of this same psalm read, “Thou wilt guide me with thy counsel, And afterward receive me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee ? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee.”
David’s hope of seeing his child who had died was expressed in these words: “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me,” II Sam. 12:23. Solomon believed in immortality, for he wrote: “He hath set eternity in their heart,” Eccl. 3:11; and again, “The dust returneth to the earth as it was, and the spirit returneth to God who gave it,” Eccl. 12:7.
Immortality was taught very explicitly in the prophets. In Isaiah we read: “Thy dead shall live; my dead bodies shall arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast forth the dead,” 26:19. Daniel said: “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever,” Dan. 12:2,3. And God speaking through Hosea said: “I will ransom them from the power of Sheol; I will redeem them from death,” 13:14.
The New Testament. While the doctrine of immortality is set forth clearly in the Old Testament, its unveiling is complete in the New Testament. In fact it there seems to be on almost every page. Jesus came to a people who believed in a future life. One group only, the Sadducees, who were the materialistic skeptics of that day, disbelieved it (Matt. 22:23). Christ’s work of redemption was performed for that purpose. His whole outlook on life was based on it. He lived in the very atmosphere of eternity, and life in the other world was as real to Him as was life in this world. So much fuller and more advanced was His teaching over that of the old dispensation that Paul could say that it was “our Saviour Jesus Christ, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,” II Tim. 1:10.
Job’s question, “If a man die, shall he live again?” finds its answer in the words of Christ: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die,” John 11:25,26.
Other representative New Testament statements are: “God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in the Son. He that hath the Son hath the life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not the life,” I John 5:11, 12. “And be not afraid of them that 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,” Matt. 10:28. “The hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment,” John 5:28,29. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life,” John 3:16. “I go to prepare a place for you . . . that where I am, there ye may be also,” John 14:2,3.
The most impressive and conclusive of all proofs of immortality is the resurrection of Christ. This affords the supreme proof of life beyond the grave. “I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades,” Rev. 1:18. He declared the truth and then by His resurrection demonstrated the fact of life beyond the grave. Before the year 1492 many people had speculated about a trans-Atlantic continent. But those speculations in themselves were of little value. Quite different, however, were the proofs that Columbus brought back showing that he had actually visited a new world beyond the seas. Similarly, Christ by His resurrection has given the most convincing proof that life does go on after death. From the beginning of time many thoughtful souls had been saying that there must be another life. Even among the pagans that hope had been expressed in various forms of religion and practice. The best of the philosophers, Socrates and Plato, had died with the hope of immortality on their lips. The Old Testament prophets had declared the fact quite clearly. But when Christ died and then actually came back from the land beyond the grave, the world had the proof that its hopes were based on reality.
Paul’s teaching is, of course, in full harmony with that of Christ. “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward,” Rom. 8:18. “For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal,” II Cor. 4:17,18. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give to me in that day; and not to me only, but also to all them that have loved his appearing,” II Tim. 4:7,8. In II Cor. 5:1 Paul compares the body to a habitation, from which we depart at death: “We know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens.”
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says that Abraham had this faith, for when God commanded him to offer up his only son, Isaac, in whom all of his hopes were centered, he obeyed, “accounting that God is able to raise up, even from the dead; from whence he did also in a figure receive him back,” Heb. 11:19. The Bible is unmistakably clear in teaching that man does have an immortal soul and that he shall live for ever and ever.
9. Wholesome Results that Flow from a Belief in Immortality
What a source of joy and satisfaction the anticipation of the future life is even here in this world! The saint who is well-nigh exhausted under the burden of earthly care and responsibility can and does look away with pleasure to that happy home. What a sense of comfort the hope of immortality brings to the sick, the persecuted, the neglected and the aged! They may actually shout for joy as they foresee the glad hour when they shall enter into rest, when “sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”
The anticipation of the future life should not be such that it interferes with our faithfulness to our present work, nor should it make us discontented to continue our life here. The balance between these two motives that was attained by the Apostle Paul would seem to be the ideal. On one occasion he had been caught up to the third heaven and his soul filled with the most rapturous experience of bliss. That experience remained with him during the remainder of his earthly life, and it gave him an assurance that could not be shaken by any amount of hardship or persecution. He longed for the heavenly life, yet he was conscious of an urgent duty to be performed toward his fellow men, — “But I am in a strait betwixt the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ; for it is very far better; yet to abide in the flesh is more needful for your sake,” Phil. 1:23,24.
Under normal conditions all of us love life and seek to preserve it as long as possible. Whether in plenty or in want, in health or in sickness, in joy or in sorrow, we value life as our most precious possession and cling to it until the very end. It is only proper, therefore, that as long as God gives us life we should accept it joyfully and proceed to the tasks before us, in order that we may accomplish as much as possible while the day of opportunity lasts.
The doctrine of immortality makes us aware that we are but temporary residents in this world. It was never intended that we should settle down here as permanent citizens. Paul says, “Our citizenship is in heaven,” Phil. 3:20. After we are converted we are detained here in the capacity of witnesses to others, and in order that as we witness we may grow in grace and sanctification in preparation for the life beyond. When our assigned task is finished we should be ready to answer the call to the higher realm. Our reward in heaven will be in proportion to the faithfulness of our service here.
Where this doctrine has been taught its tendency has been to develop and uplift mankind. Men who pass under its sway receive visions not only of the greatness of a future life, but the present life is caused to take on a new meaning. In providing as a goal a future life in which virtue, honesty and holiness receive their appropriate rewards it is a strong aid to, if indeed not an essential of, real human progress. We may also point out that the reason there is so much unbridled sin and crime is because those who engage in such things do not believe in a resurrection and a future judgment, or that for the time being at least they succeed in keeping those thoughts out of mind. Some one has well said, “There is nothing more conducive to immorality than a disbelief in immortality.” Let people believe that there is no life beyond the grave, no meeting of a righteous God in judgment, and they throw off the normal restraints. Their tendency then is to give themselves over to the passions of the flesh and the mind, and to trample upon the rights of their fellow men. Fear of punishment is not the highest motive to morality, but it is an effective one, and where it is absent crime soon becomes rampant.
Nor is it sufficient to believe in some attenuated or spurious form of immortality, such as the continued existence of the race as one generation follows another, or the moral judgment for good or evil that posterity passes on the individual. To say that the race is immortal but that the individual is not, is to deny the only kind of immortality that can have any real meaning. True, the trees and flowers cover the earth from generation to generation. But the answer to that is that the same tree lives but once, and the same flower blooms but once. The individual person lives in this world but once, and if that were the end there would be no real immortality for him. Furthermore, the race as such has no consciousness. Consciousness is the property of the individual only.
As for the moral judgment passed on the individual by posterity, surely the righteous deserve more than a good name, and the wicked more than a bad name. Nor is the thought expressed in the lines of George Eliot any better:
“O may I join the choir invisible
It is, of course, nice to live on in the minds and hearts of a grateful posterity. But, as just said, that is not immortality at all in the true sense of the term. If that were all, most of us would not live very long. It is only rarely that the deceased is remembered by any great number. Those who so stand out in the history of any nation are few indeed. It is to be noticed further that immortality of influence applies to the evil as well as to the good.
There is no adequate basis for the assertion made by some that immortality on the part of man implies also immortality on the part of animals, — that the dog, being a living creature, is therefore as immortal as his master. The difference between men and animals is such that the immortality of the former would seem to exclude that of the latter. Man is a self-conscious, moral being. He knows the difference between right and wrong. He has a sense of the existence of God, and of the reality of sin when he offends against God. His being therefore demands a future life in which he shall receive rewards or punishments. But the animal has none of these attributes. It has no real moral nature. Its actions are governed primarily by instinct and habit. It has consciousness, but not self-consciousness. It cannot say to itself, “Here am I.” It therefore is not a thinking being. The basic features of man’s nature are radically different from those of the animal.
This, however, does not necessarily mean that in heaven there will be no animal or bird or plant life. What would the present earth be like without these? No doubt part of the glory of the renewed earth will be a restored and rejuvenated animal and plant life that will reflect the beauty of that realm. Paul’s statement that “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now,” and the immediately following words, “And not only so, but ourselves also . . . groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body,” (Rom. 8:22, 23), would seem to indicate that the lower orders of creation suffer as a result of the fall of man and that they are to share in the glory that is to be revealed. While we cannot speak with certainty in this regard, we apparently are safe in concluding that as in this present world one generation of plants and animals succeeds another, so in the new earth there will be plant and animal life, no doubt much more luxurious and varied and permanent than here, but that the individual ones that we have known will not be there.
The practical lesson that all of this teaches is a very solemn one: the obligation that rests on each person to make his life worthy of immortality. For obviously what is needed to make immortality a desirable thing is not mere continuance of life, but a better quality of life. If another life is to follow this one, then the seventy or eighty years spent on this earth is as but a fleeting moment when compared with eternity. The endlessness of eternity is more than our minds can grasp. Even the life of a Methuselah, who lived 969 years, is insignificantly short. It becomes obvious that there is something vastly more important than making one’s self powerful, or comfortable, or secure on earth. Life should resolve itself into the problem of developing the only thing that one can take with him when he leaves this earth, — character.
The noted British scientist, Professor Huxley, like many another who became absorbed with material things, could see little hope of the future. On his tomb were inscribed the following words:
“And if there be no meeting past the grave,
Darkness — silence — endless sleep; not much consolation there, except for those who would escape a guilty conscience. Contrast with this the comfort found in the words of Christ: “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions ; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also,” John 14:1-3.
The Homegoing of Valiant-for-Truth as a good soldier in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is applicable here. It reads:
At the grave, not Tolstoi’s forlorn “Goodbye for ever,” but the beautiful German Auf wiedersehn—“We shall meet again”—so often placed on the tombstones of loved ones.
And with this Tennyson’s immortal hope:
Sunset and evening star,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Twilight and evening bell,
For though from out our bourne of Time and Place,
Yes, the life that we have lived here shall go on to fruition over there. The work that we have done faithfully and well here shall be continued there. In the words of Kipling’s “L’Envoi”:
When Earth’s last picture is painted, and
And only the Master shall praise us,
Dr. Boettner was born on a farm in northwest Missouri. He was a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary (Th.B., 1928; Th.M., 1929), where he studied Systematic Theology under the late Dr. C. W. Hodge. Previously he had graduated from Tarkio College, Missouri, and had taken a short course in Agriculture at the University of Missouri. In 1933 he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity, and in 1957 the degree of Doctor of Literature. He taught Bible for eight years in Pikeville College, Kentucky. A resident of Washington, D.C., eleven years and of Los Angeles three years. His home was in Rock Port, Missouri.
This article is taken from Immortality, Chapter I, pp. 9-55. His other books include: Roman Catholicism, Studies in Theology, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, and The Millennium.
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