Objections from the Old Testament*
I now proceed to consider the objections which are made to the views I have expressed, grounded upon the supposed plain teaching of many passages of Scripture. It is a point worthy of attention, however, at the outset, that these passages are, with few and slight exceptions, all found in the Old Testament, and especially in three books which lie near together in the middle of it (united really, I doubt not, in many respects) Job, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes.
To show this I mention from Mr. Roberts' book all the texts upon which he relies to maintain his views of death and the intermediate state. From pp. 40-50 of his "Twelve Lectures" (4th ed) I find thus quoted Job xxxiii. 22-28; Psa. xxx. 3; xxii: 29; lxxxix. 48; lxxviii. 50; Ezek. xviii. 4; Jas. iv.14; Psa. cxliv. 3, 4; ciii. 14, 16; Gen. ii. 7; iii. 19; xviii. 27; Rom. vii. 18; Jas. i. 10; Job. xiv. 12; Eccl. iii. 18-20; Gen. xxv. 8; xxxv. 29; xlix. 33; 1. 26; Deut. xxxiv. 5,6; Josh. xxiv. 29; 1 Sam. xxv. 1; 1 Kings ii. 1,2, 10; Acts ii. 29, 34; 1 Kings xi. 43; Heb. xi. 13; John vi. 11, 14; 1 These. iv. 13; Eccl. ix. 10; Job iii. 13-19; x. 18; Psa. lxxxviii. 5, 10, 12; cxv. 17; xxxix. 5, 12, 13; cxlvi. 2; Eccl. ix. 5, 6; Psa. cxlvi. 3, 4; vi. 5; Isa. xxxviii. 18, 19.
He then proceeds to cite the passages commonly urged against his views as fellows: Luke xxiii. 43; xvi. 19-31; Acts vii. 59; 2 Cor. v. 8; Phil. i. 23; Matt. xvii. 3; xxii. 32; xviii. 10; Prov. xii. 28: Matt. x. 28.
Thus, for his own views, out of over fifty passages produced, nine belong to the New Testament and forty-seven to the Old. While out of the passages which he thinks might be adduced as against his views (though scanty in number), nine out of ten are from the New Testament.
But the disproportion is greater even than this, when the real value to the writer of the texts quoted is kept in view. Thus even Mr. Roberts can make but little of Jas. i. 9, 10: "As the flower of the grass he shall pass away;" or of chap. iv. 14: "What is your life? It is even a vapour." The other passages are, that in Paul (i. e., in his flesh) dwelt no good thing; as to David, that he was dead and buried, and not ascended into the heavens; that Abraham and others died in faith, not having received the promises; that Lazarus was sleeping, or in plain language, dead; and finally, that those that sleep in Jesus shall God bring with Him.
Really does it not seem a question between the Old Testament and the New? It is not that; but still there is a tale that these quotations tell, the moral of which will be found in 2 Tim. i. 10; where the apostle tells us, that Christ "has abolished death, and brought life and incorruption (not immortality) to light by the GOSPEL."
That means that these writers are groping for light amid the shadows of a dispensation where was yet upon this subject comparative darkness. They look at death as it existed before Christ had for the believer abolished it. They look at life there where as yet it had not been "brought to light." No wonder if they stumble in the darkness they have chosen.
Roberts represents the "logic" of the application of this passage to this question to be: "Life and incorruptibility are brought to light by the gospel; therefore don't go to the Old Testament for light on death and corruptibility."
It is very strange that he should think he needs light on the latter point, for that "death is death" seems to him an axiom that settles all. Nay, "life" also, and what it is, "a matter of positive experience." It is the "aggregate result of certain organic processes," he tells us. He only goes to Scripture to confirm this, which after all we should have known without.
But the abolition of death is clearly connected with the bringing life to light by the gospel, and it is clear that the Old Testament statements must in some way correspond to this. Mr. Roberts indeed would have it that the gospel simply makes known "the way of life." But Scripture is more accurate than he supposes it to be, and less plastic than it really seems as if he would like to have it. If "life" is brought to light by the gospel, as in any and every sense it is, how could death even be known fully in the Old Testament? Take Paul and Job, as I have before said, and compare their utterances as to death, - is there no difference? is there no light come for Paul into that land of gloom and darkness which Job contemplates? Surely there is. And this is the story Mr. Roberts' citations tell.
Another passage furnishes us with a further point about that old economy he needs to know: that by the hanging of the veil before the holy places, "the Holy Ghost this signified, that the way into the holiest was not yet manifested, while the first, tabernacle was yet standing" (Heb. ix. 8). Mr. Roberts wants to know why the annihilationists should have their attention drawn to this. "It is the very thing," he asserts, "that proves their case. Mr. Grant contends that Abraham, Moses, and thousands beside them went into the holiest (that is, the heavenly state) as soon as they died; ‘WHILE THE FIRST TABERNACLE WAS YET STANDING.' The ‘poor annihilationists,' on the contrary, accept the declaration that the way was not yet manifested while the old economy existed, and that, as Jesus said, ‘No man had ascended into heaven.' "But the fact of Abraham and other saints going to heaven after death, does not imply that the way there was made manifest in the Old Testament, i. e., of course to men before they died. Nor do the Lord's words which he quotes (John iii. 13) at all imply even that Enoch and Elias had not "ascended into heaven." Plainly they had, and therefore Mr. R.'s interpretation of them is convicted of untruth. But the Lord is speaking, as the context decisively shows, of available witnesses of "heavenly things."
It was no question of Enoch and Elias, who were not there to tell what they might know, still less of the condition of the departed dead, but of there being no other accessible witness of heavenly things, except Himself, the Son of Man, and yet "subsisting in heaven." "If I have told you of earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man [evidently, none here to give witness] hath ascended up to heaven, save He who came down from heaven, even the Son of Man who is in heaven." To make this clash with Enoch and Elias having gone there is surely a mere straining; of the words, and just as much so to infer from it the condition of the righteous dead.
Doubtless Mr. Roberts would reinforce this untenable position by a quotation which those with him often dwell upon, to the effect that "David is not ascended into the heavens."* That too is freely granted. It is what the Lord says of Himself when risen, and yet He had been in Paradise with the pardoned thief. This will come up again in the next chapter, but I may say here, that the departure of the spirit to God is never reckoned "ascension." We may inquire why shortly, but the fact may suffice for the present.
*Acts ii. 84
The passage in Hebrews does not then "recoil with singular force against" the orthodox "position." It in no wise teaches that the saints of the Old Testament did not go to heaven after death, but that there was no revelation yet of their going there, no promise of it yet to living men. It simply means that the dispensation dealt with earthly and not heavenly promises. Thus if the faith of a Job carried him on to a day on which that Redeemer who he knew lived, should be seen by his eyes, it is to His standing upon the earth in the latter day he looks. If Sheol,* the land of darkness, lay between, certainly for him that was not heaven. Nor can Mr. Roberts find such a thought. He does not indeed look for it, I well know. The "heavenly promises" are for him promises merely of a "heavenly state," as he might say, on earth. This is again the darkness of the former dispensation imported into the full light of the Christian one. I cannot discuss it here, nor, happily, need I for the mass of those who may read this.
*The Old Testament word for hades, the unseen world. See next chapter.
But such then as Job's was the Old Testament hope.* Outside the present scene there was little light, death a deep, dark "shadow," well-nigh impenetrable, resurrection and restoration to a scene of earthly blessedness the tangible, plain thing. Scattered hints there were, indeed, of other things. Enoch had of old gone to God, and not seen death. Elijah in a later day had followed him. A little gleam of light had broken in there. But still that was not the revelation of the heavenly places and a portion there for those who believed. Nor was death abolished, or life and incorruption brought to light.
*Some difficulty will be found perhaps in reconciling Heb. xi. 13-16 with this. I fully admit that this passage shows that individuals had hope beyond the proper Old Testament revelation. How they got this we hope yet to inquire. But that certainly no revelation of it is given in the Old Testament itself, I can only once again very simply affirm. Let my readers search and see.
Still they were not annihilationists, as Pharisaism, which the people followed, shows. Something they did know: and with all their darkness were wiser than those who have now turned from the light which has come, back into it.
This even necromancy witnessed. Heathenish as of course it was, yet its practice testifies to the belief which lay at the foundation of it. And the bringing up of Samuel* is an Old Testament confirmation of that belief too strong for any cavils of questioners to set aside.
*1 Sam. xxviii.
True, indeed, the departed spirit of a saint was not at the mercy of a witch to summon into presence. And the appearance of the prophet threw the woman herself into astonishment; but so God permitted Saul to get his answer of doom. The language of the historian should be plain to any one who believes in the full inspiration of Scripture that the woman saw Samuel, and that Samuel spoke to Saul. Mr. Roberts may raise questions which our inability to answer would not show were valid as arguments against the inspired words. But it as he suggests, the nature of the apparition was that it was "the spectral impression of Samuel in the woman's brain reflected from that of Saul," how did this "spectral impression" speak to Saul? Mr. Roberts would answer evidently "through the woman"; but not so says Scripture. It is his own invention, as the spectral impression is. Moreover his difficulty as to Samuel appearing in his clothes, as that of others, that he is seen as an old man, we may answer by saying that we know too little of spiritual appearances even to apprehend them as difficulties. Nor does it seem one that Saul himself should not have seen the spirit of Samuel, any more than that Elisha's servant did not see the horses and chariots of fire around Dothan (2 Kings vi. 17). How many similar questions might Mr. R. ask about these, and find, or give, as little answer!
Then as to the "bringing up," which Mr. R. considers should be, according to our views, rather "bringing down," this is his mistake, and we shall look at it in the next chapter. While "tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me" means merely in the death state, or in sheol, as a Hebrew might have expressed it.
I only dwell upon this to show that all was not dark, even here, as to immortality. People may talk, as some do, of resurrection but there is none, and the thought of it would only complicate the difficulties of the case.
Without further preface I turn to the passages which they adduce as decisive of the point we are upon, that the dead are non-existent or at least unconscious till the resurrection.
We naturally begin with Genesis, but here the passages produced have been already examined, save xviii. 27; xxv. 8; xxxv. 29; xlix. 33; 1. 26. The reader may refer to these (except the first) for himself, as they are the mere chronicle of the deaths of the patriarchs, "sober and literal," as we quite believe, and as is the fashion of Scripture generally, and with "no heaven-going rhapsody," as Mr. Roberts tells us. There could hardly be, as I have already shown. Deut. xxxiv. 5, 6; Josh. xxiv. 29; 1 Sam. xxv. 1; 1 Kings ii. 1, 2, 10, and xi. 43, all come under the same category. It is sufficient for Mr. R. that he finds a text in which it is said such a person "died," to find a proof text in it for extinction; and if it should add, that he was "buried," then all dispute about the matter should be ended forever. For it seems none but materialists ever speak of people dying or being buried, or if so Mr. Roberts has not heard of it.
Abraham's lowly confession, "‘who am but dust and ashes" (Gen. xvii. 27), which he takes to imply the lowest materialism, may perhaps be left to speak for itself. Of course that spirit of man, which sometimes Mr. Roberts reckons part of him, sometimes the highest part, is here none whatever, or else it too is "dust." He joins with this Paul's "in me, that is in my flesh," equally to imply that Paul was nothing but flesh. On the further expression in the same chapter, "with the mind, I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin," he does not comment.
Outside of Job and its kindred books two passages remain. One is Ezek. xviii. 4: "the soul that sinneth it shall die." Here, as I have before noticed, the soul is put for the personality of man. "The soul that sins shall die." Not a son for a father's sins, or a father for a son's, but every one for his own. This use of the word does not, as Mr. R. imagines, conflict with its proper force when used, as it has been proved Scripture does use it, for the immortal part of man. The other uses are all secondary to and founded on this, of which I have at large spoken.
The other passage is Isa. xxxviii. 18, 19. It introduces us to that class of texts to which belong the quotations from Job, Psalms and Ecclesiastes, and we may therefore look at it with these.
These three books belong to a portion of the Old Testament very distinct in its character from all the rest. While the historical books are, as a whole, the language of the divine historian, and the books of the prophets are still more directly the words of Jehovah Himself, addressed through the prophet to the people, that section of the Scripture which comprises Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon, is eminently man's voice. Of course I do not mean that they are less fully inspired on that account. Every word, I doubt not, is penned for us by the Holy Ghost Himself, so that we have nothing but what is profitable and needed. Still, if we find, as in Job for instance we do find, even Satan speaking, we do not any the more adopt his sayings as the expression of divine truth. They are carefully registered for us with a divine purpose. But we do not say "it is written" of Job, that if God put forth His hand and touch all that he hath, he will curse Him to His face. That was what Satan said, although it is written. So in like manner, when the Lord says to Job's friends, "Ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, like my servant Job," it is plain we cannot indiscriminately adopt their sayings, as divine truth either. And when we come to Job's own sayings, spite of the commendation so far expressed, we find that he, too, in his words, had "justified himself rather than God" (ch. xxxii. 2). So that neither can we adopt without reservation his words either.
I have noticed elsewhere something equivalent as to the book of Ecclesiastes, where we have the experience of a man who had ransacked the world in vain for happiness, and the things he "said in his heart" while he was pursuing that vain and weary course. We know what was Solomon's career spite of his wisdom, and this seems undoubtedly to be his own conclusion upon it, under the teaching of the Spirit of God, now become the "preacher" of the vanity of the world he so well knew. Would it yet be believed, that this man's "sayings," penned by himself for our instruction in the word of God, have been taken by materialists as the sayings of divine truth, to settle it that men are "beasts," that "a man has NO preeminence above a beast"?
The Psalms indeed are of a different character. They are much more really prophetic in character, nay, in one sense, fully so. Still their prophecy has the peculiarity, in which they resemble the others, of its being the projection of human thoughts and feelings upon the page, which, under the control of the Spirit of God, become the foreshadows of another day and scene. Thus David muses upon his own sufferings until his thoughts find vent in words, which guided of God become full of a deeper meaning than any application to David could exhaust - prophetic utterances of Another, more than royal, Sufferer. But that is very different from direct revelation. It leaves the utterer to speak of things as from his own point of view he sees them, even while giving them this deeper significance.
Mr. Roberts has surely somewhat mistaken what is said on this head, when he asserts that it makes these books "in fact of no greater value than a newspaper report." On the contrary it makes them of the very greatest value.
Is it not this, that all the difficult problems as to the world and himself also, problems which man's heart ponders only thoroughly to lose its way in, should be allowed once for all to find expression in the presence of God, where alone they can find their perfect answer? Man's voice permitted to utter itself thus, - its questions, doubts, objections, reasonings - before One not uninterested, who condescends to take the place of listener, and does not decide a case before he hears it: is not this worthy of God to give us? is this of no more value than a newspaper report? I speak for myself only when I say, that to me it is of the profoundest interest, and of the deepest value.
This applies of course mainly to the books before us, Job, Ecclesiastes, and (in much smaller measure) to the Psalms. Now, as to the facts alleged by Mr. R. against it. The quotation of Job v. 13, with seven other "allusions" to the book, in the New Testament, he gives in proof of Job as a whole being God's voice. Let us look at these latter first. They are as follows:
Job i. 21, referred to in 1 Tim. vi. 7. (?)
i. 21, 22; xiii. 1-7, referred to in Jas. v. 11.
xii 14, referred to in Rev. iii. 7 (?.)
xxxiv. 14, referred to in Rom. ii. 11; Eph,. vi. 9; Col. iii. 25.
xli. 11, referred to in Rom. xi. 35.
Of these references it will be seen that Jas. v. 11 merely speaks of Job's patience and the end of the Lord. 1 Tim. vi. 17 and Rev. iii. 7 are very doubtful as allusions at all; Rom. xi. 35 refers to God's answer to Job, which of course no one questions as His voice; while the three passages in Rom. ii. 11, Eph. vi. 9 and Col. iii. 25 may allude to what Elihu says of God's not accepting persons, but are the expression of so simple a truth, that it scarcely needs to consider them even an allusion.
But Elihu himself moreover is not one of the three friends convicted of falsehood by Jehovah, but one who is used to give Job his answer, after they and he both have left off speaking. It remains then that in all the New Testament there is one more or less doubtful reference to Job's own words, and this one quotation of the words of Eliphaz, in 1 Cor. iii. 19: "He taketh the wise in their own craftiness."
Of this Mr. Roberts says: "The speaker is Eliphaz, whose interpretation of God's dealings with Job was condemned. His abstract principles were right, though his application of them in Job's case was wrong." But this is not true. God's own words make the express distinction between Job and his three friends, that, whereas Job had spoken OF HIM the thing that was right, they had not done so. All of them, Job included, had erred in the interpretation of God's dealings, if that were all; and on that account, first Elihu becomes interpreter for Him, and then God Himself speaks. But Job had spoken rightly of God; and his friends had not.
Yet Eliphaz for all that could say many a true thing, truth that doubtless he had learnt of God, and could utter as from Him; and one such saying the Holy Ghost gives us certified through the mouth of Paul. This could not certify the things which the same Eliphaz had spoken which were not right.
Even Mr. Roberts allows "there is not the same direct recognition of Ecclesiastes." He thinks that "a remark of Paul's in 1 Tim. vi. 7 looks like a quotation of Eccl. v. 15." It may refer to it, but it is one of those self-evident, however solemn, truths, that need no inspired authority to assure us of them. The passage has already been made to serve as a reference to Job, and in Bagster's list is again referred, though doubtingly, to Psa. xlix. 17. Roberts adds, "Nevertheless the book stands on its own foundation, as the product of a man to whom God gave wisdom," etc. The inspiration of the book is not at all in question, but its character and purpose. The matter of Solomon's wisdom has been already discussed.
As to the Psalms, they are undoubtedly divine, but that is not the question. While inspired fully, their utterance, as already said, is so far like the rest, that the point of view is that of a man upon earth, the horizon earthly, the thoughts and feelings in accordance with this. Granted, fully granted, that the divine is in the human everywhere, it is none the less man's song or man's sorrow, human utterance out of a human heart, with only exceptional direct sayings of God.
Proverbs again is most evidently human, however-perfect and divine in its authority, as it surely is. Mr. Roberts quotes Heb. xii. 5 against this, halving the passage cited from Prov. iii 11, 12, by leaving out ver. 6. He can thus apply the passage as if the apostle meant by merely quoting, "My son, despise not," to show that God in that exhortation is "speaking unto us as unto children," and therefore that Proverbs was directly God's voice. The very form of the exhortation should have taught him better, for it is not "my son, despise not my chastening," but the "chastening of the Lord"; and the apostle's proof that Scripture in that exhortation speaks to us as unto sons is that "whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth."* The real argument is concealed in the verse which he, for whatever reason, pleases to ignore.
*In Proverbs, "even as a father the son in whom he delighteth." The quotation, in Hebrews is from the Septuagint.
All the weight of what Job says is found in the following expressions: that, had he died from the womb, he would then have been lying still and quiet, he would have slept and been at rest, as an hidden untimely birth, there where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest (ch. iii. 13-17); that he would have been as though he had not been, in a land of darkness and the shadow of death, a land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death without any order, and where the light is as darkness (ch. x. 18-22); and that in death man lieth down and riseth not; till the heavens be no more they shall not awake nor be raised out of their sleep (ch. xiv. 12).
Now, as I have said, I am not concerned to prove the harmony of all Job's utterances with the actual revelations of Scripture as to the intermediate state. He might have been mistaken, and that in no way touch the question before us, or the perfect inspiration of the record in which his words are found. They are given as Job's words, that is all. As the utterance of a saint of those old days, they contain, no doubt, the assurance of the dimness and uncertainty which then prevailed. Contrasted with Paul's language they show us death not yet abolished, "darkness" not yet dispelled by light. Yet the words cannot be fairly pressed into the service of materialism. Take the very strongest expression "I should have been as though I had not been," with relation to the world and its sorrows, of which he was speaking, it was simple truth. So as to oppression: "there the servant is free from his master." He might have died under the lash, but dying, death set him free. "There the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest."
But, you say, although that may be as regards earthly troubles, yet if there were misery of another kind awaiting man after death, could he talk so complacently of the "weary being at rest?"
Well, but to all that made Job weary, the grave would be rest. And for aught else, Job was a saint of God after all, and had confidence in God. He was not meditating upon the portion of the wicked, but what his own would be; and though in death a "land of darkness" stretched before him into which his eye could little penetrate, he had something of the Psalmist's confidence in One who would be with him there. The sorrows of the wicked are not at all before him, but for himself the end of all present sorrows.
Mr. Roberts may say, "There (in the grave) the weary are at rest," but Job does not say "in the grave"; and he may think it "obvious" that he means "righteous and wicked without distinction." I can only say to myself it is very far from obvious. He was surely thinking of his own sorrows, and as to the "wicked," what he says is, they "cease from troubling." Mr. R. would give righteous and wicked alike rest in nonentity in the grave. But is this "rest"? Who rests? Can a thing that is not, rest? I think not, if words have meaning.
Moreover, ch. x. 21, and xvi. 22 prove positively that it is in the track indicated Job's thoughts are running. If otherwise, then when he says that in dying he "goes whence he shall not return," he simply denies all resurrection. But he is thinking of a return to the scene before him. It is not an abstract statement, but one very simply referring to the scene of mingled joy and sorrow, in the midst of which he then was. And so Scripture often speaks. "Enoch was not." Is that extinction? No, "he was translated, that he should not see death." As to the world "he was not," but as to God he was, for "God took him."* Just as with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who really died. To men they died; to God they lived: "For He is not the God of the dead but of the Living, for all live unto Him" (Luke xx. 38). People may say, that that means" in the purpose of God," but then if they had ceased to be, He could NOT be their God, the relationship between God and His creature must end with the being of the creature. That is simply and evidently the Lord's meaning. If to Him they are dead, they are no longer His creatures, nor He their God. The relationship is broken.
*Gen. v. 24; Heb. xi. 5. "Infants that never saw light," spite of Mr. R.'s protest, are beings that have begun to live, and his argument from Job's reference to these has no foundation. Besides, that is not the point. It is nonentity as to the present scene, not absolute nonentity, he speaks of.
The statement that Enoch "was not" he supposes to be a Hebrew ellipsis: a rather vague but scholarly looking expression to cover a difficulty with. Will Mr. R. define and illustrate it? But Paul has told us that Enoch "was not found," and he thinks that will explain and fill up the ellipsis. We need have no objection to the explanation, as it is substantially our own. From the human point of view, Enoch "was not"; therefore, of course was not found; yet even in the apostle's words you must mentally supply "on earth," as we must conclude that he was found, I suppose, in heaven. That is, we must still keep the objectionable limitation, which Mr. R. refuses, and the apostle's language only confirms us in it the more.
It is strange, therefore, that when we turn to David's words, "while I have any being," and "before I go hence, and be no more," and explain them by the exactly parallel expression, Enoch was not, that Mr. R. should tells us, "The fallacy of this we have already pointed out," when he has actually confirmed the truth of it. For if "Enoch was not" means, he was not found on earth, why should not the psalmist's "be no more" mean similarly "no more found on earth"?
Job's words, then, are no contradiction of what we have seen elsewhere to be the revealed truth as to those departed. To weariness such as his a place of "rest," indeed, was the unseen world; but "rest" is not extinction; and if it were a "land of darkness" also, darkness and nonentity are absolutely contradictory thoughts.
The words of Elihu (ch. xxxiii. 22-28) have been already explained, and to them I need not return. I turn now to Ecclesiastes.
And here all that they urge has been already virtually, and, except one passage, actually answered. That one passage is found, ch. ix. 5, 6: "For the living know that they shall die; but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward, for the memory of them is forgotten; also their love and their hatred and their envy is now perished; neither have they any more a portion forever in anything that is done under the sun."
Further on (ver. 10) in continuation: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave (sheol) whither thou goest."
Now this is a very plain example of that way of speaking, looking at things from a mere human stand-point, which I have before remarked upon. The writer's point of view is most evident. Nor was he capable, at the time he had these thoughts, of any other. As to the dead actually, he "knew not anything," for he knew not whether the spirit of man went upward or not. This we have seen. He was not, therefore, capable of looking at anything, save from his standpoint in the world. Otherwise clearly he could not have said, "Neither have they any more a reward." That would deny all resurrection and life to come, if taken absolutely. But he was looking at the scene around, out of which men departed, and left no sign behind to indicate that they had been; their memory was forgotten; their love, hatred, envy, which had once made them conspicuous actors in the scene, had vanished; and, in relation to it, they knew nothing, their wisdom and knowledge had departed too. This does not mean, as Roberts suggests, that they "lost their memories," or that they became fools; but they knew nothing of things taking place after their departure,* nor could their wisdom or knowledge appear in it any more. The closing sentence shows clearly to what the former part applies: "Neither have they any more a portion forever in anything that is done under the sun."
*Comp. Job. xiv. 21.
Therefore the moral is, Be busy now; work ceases in the grave; wisdom for this busy scene there is none there; no heart that deviseth; no planning head. All true in its way. But this was man's musings, not divine revelation of the state of the dead at all, nor given as such. Had you asked this man what he knew of that, he would have said, as he did say, Who knows?* "Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward?" He saw the dust laid in the tomb, and that was all he knew. The rest was conjecture, nothing more.
(*"This," says Mr. Roberts, "is one of Mr. Grant's (we will not say deliberate but) staring [? startling] perversions of fact. Solomon did not say, who knows, in reference to the state of the dead, but in reference to the spirit of man in its living operation."
This, it must be confessed, is "startling." Let my readers look at the whole passage, ch. iii. 18-22, and decide.)
But that was only part of the preacher's utterances, the musings of his heart while vainly seeking to "search out by wisdom all things that are done under heaven" (ch. i. 13). But the time came when he had to own his inability to do so. To quote once more his lowly confession (ch. xi. 5): "As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit,* nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child; even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all."
*Here the connection of the "way of the spirit" with the growth of the bones in the womb, confirms the application of the former expression to the human spirit. It is the double mystery of generation that is referred to, still as ever unfathomable to man's science. We know not how the spirit nor even the flesh of man comes into being. And death is necessarily a mystery, as life is.
Simple, but most important confession! on the dark side of which all the passages are found upon which materialists rely; while on the other one pregnant sentence at least is read, which, to do justice to the Old Testament preacher, we should look at a little closer than we have done: -"Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return to God who gave it."
As we have seen, men seek to explain the "spirit" here to be merely the "breath," as they do that which the Lord upon the cross commended to His Father, and Stephen to the Lord Himself. Few simple minds will accept that conclusion. They will scarcely see the sense of the return of the breath to God, whereas, if it be indeed the spirit, such a statement becomes of the greatest possible importance. It is what lifts the veil from the life of "vanity," and interprets its true significance. It is the answer to the doubtful questioning of the former chapter. Having come to the end of human wisdom in the matter, "the way of the spirit" is here revealed. It "returns to God who gave it." And thus there is complete harmony with that "conclusion of the whole matter," which the closing verses invite us to "hear." "Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil."
Now if that be the conclusion of the whole matter, does it look as if the matter from which he drew the conclusion ended merely with the blank and silence of the grave? Rather, does it not conclusively show, that that return of the dust to the earth "as it was," is only what brings the spirit, - not "as it was," but with the character acquired in its earthly tabernacle, - into the presence of the God who gave it!(?)
Nor does this involve, as Mr. Roberts thinks, that the "judgment of every work is going on every day as fast as people die." But we have seen that, while the judgment of every work does not come before resurrection, yet it is when we "fail," that either we are "received into everlasting habitations," or to the prison-house in which already the soul has the premonition of its doom, as the rich man his in hades. Ecclesiastes has no word of resurrection. Death, the stamp of vanity upon everything, is what is dealt with, and that which all men's reasoning can so little avail to penetrate or understand, faith makes known in its true character as the recall of the spirit into His presence, without which it is but a valueless cipher, and with which it becomes almost infinite in value.
I now pass on to consider the testimony of the Psalms.
Some passages adduced by Mr. Roberts I may be content with quoting. That "man is like to vanity; his days as a shadow that passeth away" (Psa. cxliv. 4), and that "as for man, his days are as grass" (Psa. ciii. 15). Statements like these, which depict the brevity of man's life on earth, are not quite new or unknown to believers in the soul's immortality. And that it is a solemn and unnatural thing for God's creatures to be thus "subject to vanity," quite irrespective of what comes after death, is a thing for such as Mr. R. to consider. He thinks that, if man's existence be forever, such words as these lose force. But it is far from being really so. For the point is, the wreck and ruin of the first creation by death coming in at all. This is what gives solemnity to the brevity of his earthly history.
The other passages are mostly of similar character to those that we have already looked at. That is, they speak of man as connected with the world through which he passes. Thus, "while I live, will I praise the Lord; I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being" (Psa. cxlvi. 2); "before I go hence, and be no more" (Psa. xxxix. 13) are expressions no stronger than we have seen to be used of one who was translated that he should not see death. Enoch "was not," yet even annihilationism has not yet taught that he literally ceased to be. To be consistent, they should do so.
Or again, take Psa. cxlvi. 3, 4: "Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help: for his breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth, and in that very day his thoughts perish." Is it not plain here, that, so far as the context leads, his "thoughts" that perish are the plans and purposes in which he who was to be benefited by them had been made to hope, and which the death of his patron might in a moment frustrate and cut off?
Again, there is a somewhat different class of passages, as Psa. vi. 5: "For in death there is no remembrance of Thee; in the grave (sheol) who shall give thanks?" And again, (Psa. cxv. 17), "The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence." Or again, that passage in Isaiah (xxxviii. 18, 19): "For the grave (sheol) cannot praise Thee, death cannot celebrate Thee, they that go down into the pit cannot hope for Thy truth; the living, the living, he shall praise Thee as I do this day: the father to the children shall make known Thy truth."
This may take a little deeper looking into: but only because we are so little accustomed to realize the point of view from which the pious Israelite beheld these things. That "congregation of the righteous" in which sinners should not stand, which the first psalm gives us, was what he looked for. A day, as we say, millennial, - a scene in which righteousness shall reign, and the earth be filled with the knowledge of .the Lord as the waters cover the sea, this is what his faith anticipated; what ours does; but his, much more exclusively, for his knowledge of heavenly timings was very dim.* To swell that great hallelujah chorus, such as the last five psalms give it us, and in a scene such as they prophetically anticipate, that were a godly Israelite's ambition. To celebrate His praises upon earth, to train up children for the service of His sanctuary, to go up to that temple where the glory of Jehovah visibly dwelt, this was with him connected with every thought of Jehovah's praise. You see it in that last quotation from Isaiah: "the father to the children shall make known Thy truth." Death would cut short that declaration, and make those praises cease. Death could not in that sense celebrate. "Who should give Him thanks in the grave?" Nay, the living, the living, alone could do it.
*"According to Mr. Grant's thesis," says Roberts, "the knowledge of the Spirit of God is ‘very dim.' " This is neither truth nor candor. Any one can see that it is not a question of the knowledge of the Spirit of God at all, but of that of those through whom He was pleased to speak. Plainly the full revelation of Christianity had not come. Death had not been abolished, nor life and incorruption brought to light. Such knowledge must have been "dim." Still, if dim, there is nothing untrue in their language; nor do we "treat the Psalms as the private breathings of a pious Israelite," or "refuse David as a prophet," or "deny his testimony."
Beside which, inasmuch as length of days was one of the blessings of the law, to be cut off in the midst of one's days, as Hezekiah was threatened, argued with a Jew divine wrath. And this manifestly adds its gloom to the first and last passages. While the 115th psalm is prophetic of a future day when the earth will be purified by a judgment which will destroy sinners out of it, and these, I have little doubt, are referred to in them.
But the Old Testament contains brighter and more assuring passages than these, and with one of these we may close this chapter: "The righteous perisheth and no man layeth it to heart; and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous are taken away from the evil to come. He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness" (Isa. lvii. 1, 2).
Now as nonentity is "rest," it may be "peace," too, to Mr. Roberts. For we have seen the "king of terrors" sometimes putting on very attractive forms. But those who cannot quite give up Scripture language as unmeaning, nor put bitter for sweet or darkness for light, will be unable to accept such a conclusion. As well might the "second death" itself be everlasting peace.
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