In life and death
While spirit, soul, and body continue in the harmonious relations to each which constitute the man; he is in LIFE, as that word is ordinarily used. When the three breaks up—when the soul and spirit leave the body—the condition is reached which is called DEATH. Neither of the three component parts becomes extinct, but their disruption breaks up the man—the man dies. The body returns to dust; the spirit to God who gave it. The former we know by sight; the latter comes to us as a revelation from God (Eccl. 12:7). Death is separation: never extinction. Even Annihilationists are compelled to admit that something survives, in which the identity of the man is preserved till resurrection and judgment (John 5:28 -29; Rev. 20:12). This “something,” Scripture informs us, is the disembodied spirit, which, liberated from its tenements continues to exist. The question remains—Where?
The unclothed state
At death, the tenant leaves the “earthly house” in which through life he had dwelt (2 Cor. 5:1). The spirit “puts off” the tabernacle, in which it had sojourned through earthly years (2 Pet. 1:13 -14). In the case of the Christian—the man who has been born of God (John 1:12-13), who has become a possessor of eternal life (1 John 5:13), and on whom as a seal the Spirit of God rests until the day of redemption (Eph. 4:30), the redemption of the body (Rom. 8:23)—the emancipated spirit “departs to be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23). When Stephen was being stoned to death, he said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59 ). It is there, absent from the body, and at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8, R.V.) in conscious blessedness—“very far better” (Phil. 1:23 , R.V.) than it ever could be in mortal flesh. Thus, the ransomed spirit of the saint awaits the coming hour of resurrection, when it will be re-united with a spiritual body, fitted to its new conditions, and capable of heavenly and eternal glory. The unbelieving and unsaved sinner passes at death from his present condition of spiritual death (Eph. 2:1), and alienation from God because of sin (Eph. 4:18), to Hades, there to consciously suffer torment while the body is in the grave, and surviving brothers living in sin on earth, where the Bible is known (Luke 16:23-31), reserved under punishment to the day of judgment (2 Pet. 2:9, R.V.), when “death shall deliver up their bodies, and “Hades” their souls, to be re-united, and the man re-constituted for judgment (Rev. 20:13), followed by the final doom, the second death, the damnation of the entire person in Gehenna (Mark 9:43-49; Rev. 20:15; 21:8).
The current use of certain popular theological but unscriptural phrases in this connection, has done much to give the enemies of the truth a foothold, which they are not slow to use in making their onslaughts. “Immortal soul,” “never-dying soul,” “sudden death is sudden glory,” and other similar expressions, are not Scripture, nor does Scripture teaching warrants their use. They are sentiment and excrescence, arising from erroneous views or interpretations read into God's Word. Immortality is a word which only applies to the resurrection body, yet to be put on (1 Cor. 15:54), which no man yet possesses, notwithstanding the phraseology of religious newspaper obituaries and tombstones, where someone is said to have “departed this life, and entered upon a glorious immortality.” The Apostle's injunction—“Hold fast the form of sound words” (2 Tim. 1:13)—is nowhere more needful than in the consideration and discussion of subjects which are matters of controversy, and concerning which we have nothing save the words of Divine revelation to guide and assure us. Man's present tripartite nature, his dissolution, his ultimate destiny, and his endless being, are pre-eminent among such, and we do well to abide by and cleave to the inspired words of Holy Scripture in seeking light for ourselves and giving instruction to others, on a subject of so vast and transcendent importance.
Questions and Answers
1.—Does death, in Ezekiel 18:20 , where the words are, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die,” mean extinction? —No; neither there nor anywhere else, where it is used in Scripture. Annihilationists say that the judgment of sin is the death of the soul. But Scripture never so speaks. Nor does it speak of the death of the body. It is the man who dies, not his body or his soul. The word in Ezekiel 18:20 , is the person—the individual—not the father for the son, but the person who sins, he shall die. The word “soul” is so used in 1 Peter 3:20; 4:19.
2.—What do the words, “shall not see life,” in John 3:36 , mean?—If he never sees life, must he not be exterminated? Existence and life are not synonymous. All have the former—saint and sinner alike; only the former have “life,” as the word is here and elsewhere used. (See John 17:3; Rom. 6:23) Eternal life is the possession of the believer now, and in the future. The unbeliever “hath not life” (1 John 5:12 ) now; and of him it is said that he “shall not see life” hereafter. Yet he exists without it, as we know. That he shall continue to exist while never seeing it, is equally sure, as the closing words of the verse, “The wrath of God abides on him,” solemnly tell. Wrath cannot “abide” upon a nonentity. Endless existence is common to all men and angels; eternal life is the present possession of believers only (John 5:24 ). Immortality, which applies to a condition of life in the future, they look for (Rom. 2:7), and will “put on”, (1 Cor. 15:53 ) at the coming of the Lord.
3.—How was the word spoken to Adam, in Genesis 2:17, “Thou shalt surely die,” fulfilled? — Not by natural death, for he lived 930 years. Nor was it “extinction of his being,” as Annihilationists say, for neither “in the day” Adam ate of the tree did his being become extinct, nor is it now. Nor did the promise of redemption suspend or postpone the sentence. When Adam sinned, the threatened death came upon him that day. His near relationship to God was broken. He was severed from His presence by sin; such is death in its deepest sense (see Eph. 2:1; 4:18 ). Yet he existed, as sinners still exist “without God”; so Rom. 5:12-13, clearly tells us. And if, while now without life in Christ, fallen angels and sinful men exist, so, in the disembodied and the eternal states; they shall exist, as Scripture fully shows (see 2 Pet. 2:4; Rev. 20:10; Luke 16:23 ; Rev. 20:15).
Where is the sting of Death?