Life After Death
Report of an Address, Edinburgh, April 30th.
Our subject of “Life after Death” is one that ought, and I believe does, command the deepest interest at this time. So many of those whom we have dearly loved have passed away from us of late, and we ourselves are passing onward. And though the Christian is not looking for death, but for the coming of the Lord: for “the sky, not the grave, is our goal”; yet the clock of time is ticking out our days on earth, and every swing of its ceaseless pendulum brings us nearer to eternity, and it is right and proper that we should ask “What lies beyond this life?” Even the infidel cannot refrain from asking the question. One of the greatest of them of last century, standing beside the open grave of a dead friend, said, “Life is a narrow vale between two eternities. We strain our eyes to look beyond the heights; we cry aloud, and the only answer is the echo of our wailing.” The same eloquent man wrote:—
“Is there beyond the silent night a day?
Is death a door that leads to light?
We cannot say.
The tongueless secret locked in fate we do not know.
We hope and wait.”
The infidel asks the great question, but he finds no answer to it in his philosophy; how hopeless is he!
Then to whom shall we turn? The spiritist claims to be able to tell us, and, so persistent is his claim in these days, that we must consider it. But let us be very careful from what standpoint we do consider it. We are pressed by the great apostle of it, Sir A. Conan Doyle, to obey the Bible and “test the spirits.” But the way in which he would have these spirits tested is not the way pointed out to us in the Book which will preserve us from every snare if only we are subject to it. We must be careful here, for there is a very great desire to investigate the phenomena of spiritism. It is a fascinating pursuit, and in its fascination lies its danger. I noticed in the evening paper yesterday that a proposal had been made that a committee should be formed by the churches in Scotland for this purpose, and similar projects are on foot in England. There can be only one end to that. Many years ago the Psychical Research Society was formed by prominent scientists and men of letters for the purpose of putting to scientific tests the phenomena of spiritism, and they have only proved that, though probably the greater percentage is fraud and trickery, yet beyond all that, there is reality in it. The mediums do more or less get into communication with spirits, and many of these investigators have become spiritists—convinced by their tests that communication with the unseen is possible, which we do not deny; they are deceived as to what these spirits are, because they ignore the only test that can bring out their true character.
The question is, Are the spirits with which communication is established, the spirits of departed men and women? They are not. I think I can show that clearly from Scripture. My first Scripture proof is Revelation 1:17-18. It may not seem, at first, to have any connection with this subject, but I think I shall be able to prove to you that it has. The Lord Jesus appears here in His glory and greatness to His servant, the apostle John. John says, in verse 17, “And when I saw Him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid His right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Rev. 1:17-18). “AND HAVE THE KEYS OF HADES AND OF DEATH.” What does that convey to your mind? It ought to convey this, that the Lord—the risen Lord—is Master of the life beyond death. He has the keys, and none can pass from that world to this apart from His permission. He is Master. No medium is master of the spirits of the departed, nor can any come in answer to their call. The Lord has control there, His “Lordship” is not acknowledged by many who live in this life. There is not a single soul amongst all the millions that have passed to the life beyond, whether to the regions of darkness or light, that does not acknowledge His Lordship. He is Master; He has the keys. Let that great fact sink into your minds. There is immense comfort in it to those who are in Christ. It will settle our thoughts, I believe, in regard to this matter at once if only we see its significance. In Old Testament times God closed the door against any attempt to communicate with the dead, naming such attempts amongst the abominations of the idolatrous nations of Canaan. The keys of that door are now in the hands of the Lord Jesus—the risen Man. Has He thrown that door open, permitting now as a sacred duty that which was formerly an abomination? The question carries its own answer.
In Luke 16 the Lord teaches that those who have died are not permitted to visit the living. Lazarus was there in Abraham’s bosom, and the sick man desired that he should be sent to his five brethren to warn them that the lives they were leading could only end in hell, but Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them hear them.” If one rose from the dead they will not believe if they don’t believe Moses and the prophets. There is no part of the Bible that spirits hate more than the writings of Moses. And no wonder, because in those writings their practices are most sternly denounced by Almighty God. It is said that spiritism proves that there is a life beyond this, and so must do good in awakening people to that fact; but the 16th of Luke teaches that none will believe according to God who refuse to hear the Word of God, and the writings of Moses are part of that Word.
These spirits then are not the spirits of departed human beings. Are there any other kind of spirits? Yes, there are fallen angels, demons, spoken of in the Old Testament as “familiar spirits.” When our Lord Jesus Christ was here, there were many who were possessed and oppressed by them. He came into contact with these, and in His mighty power delivered them from this terrible oppression. The Acts of the Apostles tells us of Simon the sorcerer (chapter 8), of Elymas the sorcerer (chapter 13), men who had communication with spirits. And in chapter 16 Paul and Silas, on the arrival to Europe with the gospel, were followed by a girl who had a spirit of python. She was a spirtualistic medium, and she followed Paul and Silas crying out, “These men are the servants of the Most High God who show unto us the way of salvation.” It is very remarkable that the first manifestation of spiritistic power in opposition to the gospel of God on its arrival in Europe should take on a religious turn, and that is the guise it is putting on today. It would have been of small matter if it had not put on this guise, but it is putting on a religious guise, and claiming to be able to help Christianity. Let us test it. The Scriptures tell us how to test it. We are to test it, not by the phenomena of the rapping tables and planchettes, but by the doctrines that it brings. Sir A. Conan Doyle tells us that these phenomena, which in themselves seem so puerile, are but the ringing of the telephone bell, and that is just the one sentence in all he has written and spoken in which I am in heartiest agreement with him. These things are the ringing of the telephone bell, and when it rings you enquire, Who is there? That is the question. Who is there that wants to communicate with us? The test is, What kind of doctrines do they bring? “Every spirit that confesseth not Jesus Christ come in flesh is not of God,” and they do not confess Jesus Christ COME IN FLESH. They say, He is a spirit, and He said, “A spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have.” Nothing arouses the spiritist more than to insist upon this fact, that Christ is the risen Man in the glory of God. They deny Christ come in the flesh. They deny His deity; they deny His holy, spotless humanity. Sir A. Conan Doyle has the audacity to blaspheme the name of our holy, adorable Lord and Saviour in words like these, “He was a broad-minded man who was always open to new ideas, but he often lost his temper,” and I know not whether the faint praise or the censure is the worst blasphemy. His holy, spotless humanity is denied; His sacrificial death is denied; His resurrection is denied. There is no resurrection in the spiritist doctrine, hence there is no true hope, for there is no victory over death apart from resurrection. The doctrines they bring disclose from whence they come. They are not from God; they are not from above. They come from Satan; these spirits are emissaries of Satan; their influence is satanic. Their doctrines strike at the very foundations of Christianity, their purpose is to overthrow the faith. The two things cannot run together. Make no mistake about that. They are in deadly conflict. The gospel of the grace of God concerning Christ has come from God. This is from Satan. One is light, the other is darkness.
But, says somebody, “They say a great many good things.” Have you never read that Satan transforms himself into an angel of light, so that it is a small matter that his ministers should be transformed into ministers of righteousness? But does that mean that the end and aim is changed? No, it is the method that is changed, with the hope of reaching the end more speedily and surely. Have nothing to do with it. I beseech of you, especially the young ones here, not to be entrapped into investigating the phenomena of spiritism, keep clear of the seances, but take the test that God Himself has laid down for us. See what doctrines they bring and we shall discover this, that we have them plainly described in 1 Timothy 4:1-2, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron.” This is what is spreading itself out over the country. It is nothing new. No! Away back in those distant centuries before the flood, this thing was upon the earth. It was mixed up with all the grossness of idolatry in the land of Canaan by the nations that inhabited that land before God put Israel into it, and all the way down through the history of man, Satan has been working this thing to blind the minds of people. It is not new; a revival, if you will, but it is not new. It is there in China, in India, and it is spreading in this country, simply because the gospel is being given up; the Word of God is being refused, and so darkness is gathering over the minds of people, and in that darkness they think that which is evil to be good, and they think that which is darkness is light, and it is because they have not received the truth in the love of it that they might be saved, and a strong delusion is beginning to lay hold upon them.
Does Scripture speak of the life after death? Most distinctly and plainly. We have no need to go to spiritism to find out whether the dead survive. That has been the faith of God’s saints from the very beginning. It is recorded in Matthew 22. that the Sadducees came to Jesus hoping to trip Him up, and they told that “cock-and-bull” story about a woman who had seven husbands. I have no doubt it was an absolute fiction; but they concocted this story in the hope of trapping the Lord, and they said, “In the day of resurrection whose wife shall she be?” And the Lord Jesus replied, “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures or the power of God,” and then He went on to say, “Have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” When did God say that? Centuries after those patriarchs had been laid in their graves, and He said it to them through Moses, whom the spiritists would laugh out of court. He did not say, “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” That disposes of the false notion that the dead have no consciousness, or cease to exist until the resurrection of the body. God is not the God of the dead but the living. If they for the time being had been extinct, He would have said, “I was their God.” If He looked forward to the resurrection He would have said, “I shall be,” but He said neither; He said, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” God is not the God of the dead but of the living. All live to Him.
With that agrees most beautifully Romans 14:7-9, where we read, “For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that He might be Lord both of the dead and living.” A wonderful passage, full of the deepest possible comfort to the heart. I shall never forget how in a time of deepest distress and darkness, that one passage sang its comfort into my soul “Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” I speak now to those who have trusted in Jesus, those who have come to His feet as poor sinners, and cast their souls upon Him, and can say, “He is my Saviour.” “Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” Yes, those loved ones who have passed out of our sight trusting in our one and only Saviour, have gone beyond our ken, but they have not passed out of the Lordship of Christ. Whether we live or die we are His, He is Lord both of the dead and the living. John 10:27-28, will fit in here, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.” Have you been confining that to the living saints? Don’t confine it to them any longer; it includes those fallen asleep in Jesus, they are in His mighty hand even as we are. And none can pluck us from that hand, and none can pluck them from that hand. They shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of His hand. The hand that broke the power of death holds in absolute and everlasting safety all those who have put their trust in Him. Safe, eternally safe, and in His hand! So near to Him they are in His keeping, and we are also. Thank God, they could not be in a better place, could they? They could not be in safer keeping, for none, either in this life or the next, shall take His blood-bought sheep from Him.
Those who have fallen asleep in Jesus, live. Where do they live? You remember that lovely story in Luke 23. There was the Son of God extended on that centre gibbet, and they had searched in the prisons of Jerusalem that day for the two worst criminals that those prisons contained, and bringing them forth crucified them, one on the right and the other on the left, and Jesus in the midst. By so doing they meant to indicate that He was the worst of the three. But the devil, who put that thought into their hearts, outwitted himself, and one of those malefactors hanging by the side of Jesus put his trust in Him then and there. He may have heard the people say, “He saved others,” and he may have added to that, “Why should He not save me?” Whatever happened he owned Jesus as his Lord. He said, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” It did not look as though He was to have a kingdom—thorny crown upon His sacred brow, spikes through hands and feet, despised and rejected of men. But, blessed be His name, He shall have a kingdom.
“Kings shall bow down before Him
And gold and incense bring,
All nations shall adore Him,
His praise all people sing.
Outstretched His wide dominion,
O’er river, sea, and shore
Far as the eagle’s pinion,
And dove’s light wing can soar.”
He shall reign. But He would not keep that dying malefactor until the day of His kingdom to be with Him. His reply was, “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.”
We will not juggle with the punctuation of this saying, as some have done who have their own theories to uphold; we read it in the only way in which it can be reasonably read. That poor, guilty sinner, washed whiter than snow in the precious blood of Jesus, passed into the Paradise of God that day; and there was not an angel of God in all those glorious regions that could say he was not fit to be there! Compare that wonderful triumph of Christ with your wretched spiritism, and tell me, which are you going to choose?
As the stones were battering the life out of the devoted body of Stephen, the Lord’s first martyr, he lifted his eyes to heaven and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” The Lord is yonder in His glory receiving the spirits of His saints, and “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.”
Paul, the apostle, drawing near to the end of his long life of service, wrote to the Philippians telling them he had a desire to depart to be with Christ, which, said he, “is far better.” He knew he was going, not into an unconscious state, but into the presence of Christ to be most deeply and blessedly conscious of that presence, though perhaps unconscious to all beside. It was to be “far better.” Paul was a happy man. It is true there came upon him many sorrows, and he suffered for the name of Christ as nobody has ever suffered since, but he was always rejoicing, and exhorting the saints to rejoice in the Lord. He knew that of which Peter speaks, “joy unspeakable and full of glory,” and yet he says, “It is far better.” You who sorrow for those who sleep in Jesus, let this thought comfort you, that the greatest possible joy that they could know on earth is as nothing to the joy that they have in the presence of their Saviour.
Can you, Christian, conceive anything greater, more blessed, more supremely desirable than to be in the presence of the Saviour; to be in the presence of the One who laid down His life upon the cross to save you, so great is His love. As we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord, but those who are absent from the body are present with the Lord, and that moment is coming of which the apostle speaks: When “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. 4:16-18).