Consciousness After Death (2)
We have seen then the Lord affirming the doctrine of the Pharisees as to conscious existence in happiness or misery in the intermediate state. We shall now pass on to a passage which shows how far the disciples of the Lord had imbibed the Pharisaic, or let us rather say, the Scripture doctrine, with which the Pharisaic was identical. For we read that when, after His resurrection, they were gathered together, "Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, 'Peace be unto you'. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And He said unto them, 'Why are ye troubled, and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have'" (Luke xxiv. 36-39).
Now, here it is plain they recognized the form of the Lord, for in none of the appearances to them do we find anything spectral to make them think otherwise it was a spirit they saw. Mary Magdalene had supposed Him the gardener. The two on the way to Emmaus just before had taken Him for an ordinary man. Moreover, they had just come among the other disciples, and found them "saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared unto Simon." Then, while they were giving their own account, "Jesus Himself stood in the midst." It was this sudden appearance, the door being shut, that staggered them. They did not doubt who it was, nor, had they doubted, would handling Him have given them that knowledge. The Lord does not need to name Himself nor do it. He does not say, "It is I Jesus," but "it is I, myself;" using that common language which I have spoken of; the language of sense, which identifies man with his body: "HANDLE ME and see: for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." Thus, it was not a question of its being Jesus or another, but as to its being Jesus in the body or as a spirit only. This the Lord's answer shows.
The objections of Ham and Storrs are thus clearly set aside, for they make the question one of (to use the language of the former) "the existence of other beings, who are called spirits." But this is not the question, but whether it was He Himself in bodily presence, or as a spirit. The whole circumstances and the Lord's words assure us of this.
Upon the authority of "some ancient MSS. of Luke," Roberts would substitute "phantasma" for pneuma in ver. 37, and then, without any authority, make pneuma mean phantasma in the 39th verse, having thus converted "spirit" into "phantom," he would make the whole a question of "reality or of spectral illusion."
But Mr. R. can find no such meaning for "pneuma" in the New Testament or in the Greek language anywhere, as "phantom" or "spectral illusion," and he must know he cannot. Hence his anxiety to import "phantasma" into ver. 37, a reading unanimously rejected by every editor of the Greek that I am acquainted with, and disproved by the fact of its being unquestionably pneuma in the 39th: for if their thought had been that it was a mere illusion that they saw the Lord would not have answered it by saying, "a spirit," etc.
It was not with them then a question of illusion or reality, but of bodily or spiritual presence. Mr. R. objects that the Lord says, "It is I myself," and that His spirit, according to the common belief, would have been Himself. But all depends upon the point of view. To those who had had Him as the living man among them, the mere visit of His departed spirit would not have been "Himself" for it is no question of metaphysical accuracy, but of heart, to which the Lord responds. They saw Him, did not believe that it could be a living man come among them in that mysterious way, therefore thought they saw a spirit; to which He answers by bidding them prove that He had flesh and bones. Thus it was not what would have been the evidence of the triumph of death over Him, but what their hearts would call Himself.
But here then it is very plain that the disciples of the Lord were as to this point Pharisees, or Platonists, if you will. And it is as plain that, instead of checking their thoughts as superstitious fancies, He appeals instead to the bodilessness of a "spirit," and his own flesh and bones. Nor is there "parable" to justify (as they say elsewhere) the employment of fictitious speech. The favourite arguments fall here like broken arrows from the panoply of truth.
How common a use of the word "spirit" this is, we may see by the inspired statement of the Jewish views in Acts xxiii. 8: "For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both." There again the word "spirit" is taken as ordinarily applying (as our word "ghost," which is equivalent, does now) to the spirits of men apart from the body. Angels are given as another class. And the context confirms this: for Paul being called in question about the resurrection of Jesus, had declared himself a Pharisee, a believer in resurrection; and hereupon the council was divided, "and there arose a great cry; and the scribes that were of the Pharisees' part arose and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man, but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God." Against this passage Mr. Storrs' criticism on Luke xxiv. 39 falls pointless. "Angels are spirits," says he, "but have not a body of flesh and bones." But in these two last quoted passages, and as identified with the Pharisees' belief (the nature of which all admit), angels are named as a separate class of beings from these spirits spoken of, - "if a spirit or an angel." In a Pharisee's mouth even our opponents allow the meaning of such words. And with their belief Paul links himself. For having declared himself a Pharisee, and called in question as to one point of a Pharisee's belief, the resurrection of the dead, it is added as showing the points in which their faith coincided with the Christian's: "for the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection neither angel NOR SPIRIT; but the Pharisees confess both." The language of the inspired writer here shows his own consent with this doctrine: "the Pharisees confess (or acknowledge) both. When I speak of "acknowledging" a thing, I plainly suppose it true, what is acknowledged. And thus in these matters the Pharisaic and the Christian faith are one.*
*Roberts says, "We prefer to let Mr. Grant have the full benefit of this. His inference that Luke endorses their opinion is too unsubstantial to call for serious argumentation." Be it so, but many will judge differently, and of the motive also for declining argument. Paul's "I am a Pharisee," he passes over entirely.
If I take the light this gives me, how plain and simple it makes such passages as the Lord's words to the dying thief, for instance: "To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise." Or Stephen's prayer in the midst of the stones of his enemies: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."* Or "the Spirit shall return to God that gave it." Or yet again, the passage that speaks (Heb. xii. 23) of the "spirits of just men made perfect," as chap. xi. 40 shows, by resurrection, which we all get together. The Lord's saying to the thief will come up in another connection.† Meanwhile I turn to some other passages.
*Would it be believed that in the "Bible vs. Tradition" it is asserted the "grammar of the text charges the saying, Lord Jesus receive my spirit, upon the wicked Jews, and afterwards records what Stephen said and did" (2d ed., p. 98). This is from people who appeal not only to Greek and Hebrew but to Syriac, and what not; and yet they assert what any schoolboy in Greek could contradict. For the words translated "calling upon and saying" are in the singular number, and could not possibly apply to the Jews, or to any but Stephen himself.
Campbell ("Age of Gospel Light," p. 44) concurs with this: "Now it seems it was the same they that ran upon him, and calling upon God... But it may be asked, why the Jews should say, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit? Only by mocking the confidence of Stephen in the Saviour."
In the 6th ed. of Ellis and Read's book just referred to ("Bible vs. Tradition," p 99) they give another version of the passage, equally remarkable for learning: speaking of the word translated "receive," they say, "Dexia means the right, cheir, hand, being understood; metaphysically it means assistance, aid, strength courage, and is equal to endurance." here a common Greek word, dexai, rightly translated receive (a verb), is mistaken for the adjective dexia, "right (hand)."
Whether the wickedness surpasses the folly of this, or the folly the wickedness, I leave others to decide. But these are Annihilationist leaders.
†Roberts' comment upon the answer to the thief is therefore reserved to this. His remarks as to Stephen need but little notice, he thinks that Stephen's prayer means that "if God did not, so to speak, treasure his spirit or life for him, his death would be final as the beasts that perish." Here it is more convenient for him to say "life," than "breath of life," and to add one more new interpretation of "spirit" to those that have gone before. This "spirit," he has, told us elsewhere, is an "abstract" "energy, which is the basis of our life " (p. 54). And God is to treasure up this abstract energy for Stephen!
"Spirits of just men," on the other hand, means neither "life" nor "energy," but, "consciences." (Mr. Roberts takes credit to himself that his meaning of spirit is a key that "fits the lock all round.") So "we are come to.... the consciences of just men made perfect," - notice the connection, "to Mount Zion, and to the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, and to God the judge of all, and to the consciences of just men made perfect!" The whole speaks to us of that future, which is yet so immediate for faith, in which both the church of the first-born finds its completeness, and the "just men" of old obtain their long looked-for "promises." "They without us shall not be made perfect." For us and for them this shall be attained in the resurrection day; and there is no anomaly according to our view (a view Mr. R. so poorly understands) in a human spirit being "perfected" by getting back again the body, for partnership with which it was of old created and ordained.
In Phil. i. 21-24 occurs a statement which has naturally had an important plan in the controversy upon this subject. It reads as follows in our version, which is sufficiently correct: - "For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour [an idiomatic expression meaning ‘worth my while'], yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better; nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you."
The passage is simple enough, and would scarcely seem to need any explanation. But for the sake of distinctly reviewing the objections made, I shall divide it into its parts, and look at each part separately.
(1.) In the first place, to the apostle, the object of his life was Christ, and to die was gain. This is the plain meaning. Nevertheless it is denied. "Do you ask," say Ellis and Read, "how then it would be gain to Paul to die? Paul does not say it would be gain to him. Fill up the ellipsis according to grammatical laws: ‘For me to live will be gain to the cause of Christ, for Christ will at all events be magnified in my body, whether by my life or by my death. And for me to die is gain to the cause of Christ, for Christ will be magnified in my body, whether I die or live.' If you insist that it would be gain to Paul to die, we reply, He does not say so, and if it would be gain to him personally, then he would not be in perplexity which to choose."* Mr. Hudson speaks similarly, though more cautiously. So also Dr. Field.
*Bible vs. Tradition, pp. 139, 140.
But the interpretation is not admissible. For the word (for to me) standing at the commencement of the sentence is necessarily related to both clauses of it: "to me to live is Christ, and (to me) to die is gain." Nor does he say, to me to live is gain to the cause of Christ" at all, but to me to live is Christ, Christ is the object of my life. And when he comes to speak of death being gain, he never says, "to the cause of Christ" at all, but "(to me) to die is gain." I need not comment upon the remark that "if it would be gain to him personally, he would not be in perplexity which to choose." Of that people must judge for themselves; and of the knowledge of Christian spirit which it shows. The apostle goes on to say:
(2.) "Yet what I shall choose I wet not, for I am in a strait betwixt two."
Is it not plain that it was in spite of death being gain to him, that he was in a strait betwixt choosing death or life; not because, as Ellis and Read say, "they were equally indifferent to him," - that would be a strange way of being in a strait betwixt two equally indifferent things - but because it was a question of choosing his own interest or that of the saints, as he goes on to tell us. But the authors quoted have another version of it. "But there was a third thing that Paul possessed an earnest desire for; but this third thing was obviously not either of the former two indifferent ones, and therefore must be distinct from dying and going immediately to Christ; for dying or death was one of the things that he did not deem so greatly preferable to life as to decide his choice. But again, this third thing was ‘far better.' Better than what? Better than life, better than death; therefore death could not be the thing desired."
This is remarkable reasoning certainly. The apostle says, "I am in a strait betwixt two": that means, say these writers, "they were equally indifferent to him"! "I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart," says the apostle. "Which is a third thing," says Messrs. Ellis and Read, "as he was indifferent to the former two"! Nevertheless I am persuaded any candid mind will perceive that the apostle is only revealing the cause of his perplexity between the two, when he says, "having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better; nevertheless" - here is the perplexity - "to abide in the flesh is more needful for you." So that although death would be his gain, and he knew it, the strait was between his own gain and other people's gain. And he was not indifferent to either, but desiring this and desiring that, and did not know which to choose.
There was no third thing at all. His having a desire to depart and be with Christ was just his strait on the one side. and his abiding in the flesh being more needful for them, was just his difficulty on the other. And thus "departing and being with Christ" is fixed to mean his dying; just as his "abiding in the flesh "is fixed to mean his living.
(3.) But here a great tumult is raised, and much knowledge of Greek is endeavored to be shown in letting us know that the word does not mean "to depart" at all. So Messrs. Hudson, Roberts, Ellis and Read, would all have it, "having a desire for THE RETURNING and being with Christ," supposing it to refer to Christ's returning. The latter writers go on even to suppose that it was better for the Philippians that Christ should not come, and that so Paul should abide in the flesh. However, it is at least a little unfortunate for their theory, that the substantive "analusis" derived from the verb "analu" is used by Paul in 2 Tim. iv. 6, undoubtedly for his death: "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my DEPARTURE is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course," etc. If it be departure there, and death, why cannot it be so where, as we have seen, the context fixes it down to apply to death? And it is true that it sometimes means "return," but not so often as "depart," so that an Annihilationist alone could tell us why it should be so translated here. The reason being only in the exigencies of a theory, which must bend Scripture to its need, or be convicted of open opposition to it.
Mr. Roberts is now willing, however, to accept the ordinary rendering. He says, "This understanding of Paul's words would not be affected by the acceptance of the common version for to die and be with Christ are instantly consequential incidents to the consciousness of the man who dies." But that is not quite all we have to consider. Is it just the same to the consciousness of the man that lives? Would a fiction of this kind render attractive in the eyes of such a one as Paul, does Mr. Roberts think, what in reality would be "to depart into forgetfulness, and be with Christ when he woke up"? The "gain" of death would be forgetfulness: "better by far" than present fellowship with Christ, and joy in God, and magnifying Christ by service such as his!
Mr. Constable is of one mind with Roberts in this last view of the passage. "To depart," he says, "means doubtless to die, and to be with Christ means doubtless the glorified state at resurrection. They are spoken of here as closely connected, as in fact synchronal, from that doctrine of the sleep of the intermediate state which Paul so often taught. [?] To depart from life and die would be, he knew, to be followed at once by the trumpet calling him to arise and be with his Lord; for time would in the actual interval, however long, between dying and rising, be annihilated for him who slept." How strangely it sounds to hear the different reports of that land of forgetfulness, which these writers give us at different times. Who would think that this was Job's place of darkness and disorder which his soul contemplated with so little desire! Yet Job too knew that his Redeemer lived, and expected to see Him stand in the latter day upon the earth. If the quiet oblivion of sleep alone was between him and that day, why not more of Paul's spirit as to it? The light had somehow shone into that place of gloom for Paul. Nonentity merely would have been the same for each, and not light nor darkness, but nonentity! Mr. Constable has not the solution of this enigma plainly. However, I have answered him before and independently.
But he adds - "that the opinion that during the state of death believers are ‘with Christ' in a state of life, involves a contradiction to one of the fundamental doctrines of Scripture. If they are then with Christ, and see Him as He now is, St. John tells us expressly that such a sight would change them into the likeness of Christ. It would hence follow that they would now possess the fullest glory that they could ever look for and obtain. The popular view that believers during the state of death are with Christ and see Him, involves in fact the denial of the resurrection as taught by Paul, or teaches what he condemned as heresy, that the resurrection is past already."
Now, without raising any debate as to the interpretation of 1 John iii. 2, it is plain Mr. Constable confounds two different things in this, viz., moral and physical likeness. Does he really mean to say that seeing Christ in the intermediate state would bring the body out of the grave and glorify it? So it would seem. We however believe that resurrection waits for the word of Christ to effect, and that there can be no "perfection" for the saint, short of body, soul and spirit being united in blessing. Nay, it may well be, that we must put on this "image of the heavenly" in order even in the full sense to see Christ as He is. All this consists perfectly with the thought of being with Christ in the meanwhile in such a way as to awaken the desire of the living saint in the fullest way. On the other hand nonentity for the saint can call forth no such desire, save on the supposition of an utter wretchedness in the present life such as Paul knew nothing of; it is clear. Mr. Constable shows this fully in what he has written elsewhere. "To one capable of the vast grasping thought of immortality death is indeed a thing of terror . . . death is after all the king of terrors." And he is speaking of Christians here. Yet when he comes to argue about Paul's words, this king of terrors becomes more attractive even than companionship with Christ on earth. Nonentity is a sweet forgetfulness which only hastens the day of glory! Which is the true statement I must leave Mr. Constable to say. Where speaks the man, and where the controversialist - I will not try to decide. But he is certainly self-contradicted - hopelessly so.
I shall not again do more than refer to 2 Cor. v. Its "at home in the body" and "absent from the Lord"- its "absent from the body and present with the Lord" - speak manifestly the same language as that we have just been considering. Those who tell us that in the resurrection state we shall not be "at home - in the body," and that we are "absent from the body" when it has been raised in glory or changed into the likeness of Christ's glorious body, may well be left as hopeless of conviction. Mr. Constable's arguments are the same as those we have already reviewed. I pass on to just one more Scripture in this connection, which gives us in full reality the thing of which we have been in search, - not in parable but in the historical fact, - a man absent from the body, - a spirit conscious of unutterable things, - a bright transient gleam from the unseen, - Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration with the Lord.
It is no dream, for eyes, that closed in sleep behold it not, awakened to behold it. (Luke ix. 32): "But Peter and they that were with Him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him." This proves also that it was no mere vision, even waking. The thing was there before they beheld it: "Moses and Elias talking with Jesus." Thus it was a real thing, apart from all spectators.* And how simply described, "two men which were Moses and Elias." One of these a man caught up in glory centuries before, and one still longer "departed," and his body buried, yet still a "man," neither extinct nor asleep, but in activity of thought and of enjoyment. Not raised from the dead either, as some would have it, because Jesus was himself the "first-fruits," and the "first-begotten of the dead." For it is no question here of simple restoration to the earthly life just quitted, as with Lazarus and others, whom the Lord had so restored. It is a man in the blessedness of another sphere, to enjoy which he must have been raised (if raised at all) spiritual and incorruptible. But of this resurrection the Lord Himself was the beginning, as Scripture asserts. Moses could not have been thus the first-born then. Apart from the body therefore he was, yet associate with one who had never passed through death, and though not in the likeness of Christ's glorious body,† yet appearing "in glory", let men make of it what they will; entering moreover into the "bright cloud" (as Peter calls it afterwards, "the excellent glory "), the Shechinah of the Divine Presence.‡
*Roberts, in his comment upon this, falsifies the whole argument, asserting that what is relied on to prove this no mere vision is simply the fact of their being awake when they saw it; and of course evading the real point.
†This is strangely taken by Mr. Roberts to be said of Elias, and here again he argues upon a mere misconception.
The "first-begotten of the dead," applied, to the Lord Jesus, will not allow his interpretation of the first-fruits. It distinctly asserts that He was the first raised in the full meaning of resurrection. Enoch and Elias were not begotten from the dead at all.
‡"They (the disciples) feared, as those "- Moses and Elias" entered into the cloud."
I confess I do not understand how it can be plainer that we are here permitted to gaze upon one departed, and to realize as far as we can how a departed Abraham, Isaac and Jacob still "live unto Him," who, as the Lord tells us, " is not the God of the dead but of the living." We thus see how to Him they live who to men are dead. We learn to distinguish between the language of sense and the language of faith. We learn how really there is a departing and being with Christ which is, compared with life on earth, far better. No argument that Annihilationists can bring against this passage will avail for a moment. Their arguments have in fact been already disposed of; as they either suppose on the one hand that Moses was raised from the dead, which Scripture elsewhere confutes (Col. i. 18, 1 Cor. xv. 23, Rev. i. 5), or that it was only a "vision" or appearance, which the passage itself confutes* I may leave here then the question (though there be other texts) of the consciousness of the separate state, with the full conviction of its complete, manifest and divine answer.
*"Tell the vision to no man " is somewhat urged, but the word is merely something seen, and raises no question of reality.
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