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Here and Hereafter

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    18 Historical View of the Doctrine of Immortality

    ONE of the most interesting questions connected with this subject is the inquiry as to what place the doctrine of the immortality of the soul has held among the nations and in the literature of the world. It would hardly be expected that this question, which furnishes matter for a volume in itself, would be treated exhaustively in a work of this kind. But the reader is invited to a few historical facts which will give a general view of the subject.HHMLD 320.1

    The doctrine of the immortality of the soul was first introduced by the old serpent in Eden. The assertion, “Ye shall not surely die,” was the pleasing deception which seduced our first parents from their loyalty to God. And having become servants of the deceiver (Romans 6:16), it might have been supposed that his doctrine would have been universally maintained among men; but its very apparent conflict with the word of God, the good sense of mankind, and the testimony of their own perceptions, have led many who seem otherwise fully to have relapsed into heathenism, to hold the doctrine in abeyance; so that while it has held a place in almost every false system of religion, it has been far from being the universal sentiment of mankind, as is sometimes claimed.HHMLD 320.2

    Among the most ancient nations, as they first come into the records of secular history, it appears that the idea of a future life rested not upon the immortality of the soul, but upon the resurrection of the body. As holders of this view, may be named the ancient Egyptians, Persians, Arabs, and Jews. Coming to later times, we may mention the Mohammedans, ancient Peruvians, Chibchas, Africans, Hawaiians, Australians, early Britons, and ancient Mexicans; while in the Greek Catholic, Roman Catholic, and Protestant churches, aggregating about three hundred and eighty-eight millions, or more than one quarter of the human family, the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, which, as we have seen, cannot be reconciled with the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, has been a cardinal belief.HHMLD 321.1

    By many of the ancient philosophers the immortality of the soul was not believed. Among these may be mentioned the Peripatetics, Epicureans, Academics, Stoics, etc. Vergil, Horace, and Seneca all disbelieved it; and Cicero was full of doubts.HHMLD 321.2

    In the records of profane history, the earliest appearance of the doctrine was in Egypt, from whence it was brought by Grecian philosophers into Europe. In this connection may be mentioned the names of Pythagoras, Anaxagoras, Socrates, and Plato. By Grecian philosophers it was introduced into Rome, B.C. 156. Through the Alexandrian school of philosophy, called the Eclectic, or New Platonic, it was introduced into the Christian church when heathen ideas and notions began to be brought in to corrupt the doctrines of the gospel. It met with opposition to quite an extent by those who remained steadfast to the pure teachings of the early church, until Rome came in to brand as heretics those who opposed this dogma, and thus silenced all open opposition.HHMLD 321.3

    To harmonize this Platonic philosophy concerning the soul with the language of the Bible, and so make its existence possible in the Christian system, and baneful method of allegorical interpretation was introduced, by which the testimony of the sacred writers is made to mean almost anything except what it says. This system, if it can be called a system, has worked disaster on other subjects besides the one under discussion, but it appears that it owes its origin to the necessity which arose for the defense of the new philosophy. Origen was really the father of this mystical mischief in the Christian church; and of this man, Mosheim says:—HHMLD 322.1

    “The foundation of all his faults was, that he fully believed nothing to be more true and certain than what the philosophy he received from Ammonius taught him respecting God, the world, souls, demons, etc.; and therefore he in a measure recast and remodeled the doctrines of Christ after the pattern of that philosophy.” 1“Historical Commentaries,” vol. ii, p. 159HHMLD 322.2

    The testimony of what are called the Apostolic Fathers is silent concerning the immortality of the soul. These so-called Fathers are Barnabas, Clement, Hermas, Ignatius, and Polycarp. While the writings ascribed to these persons are of no account in proof of any doctrine that cannot be sustained by the Bible, they are, nevertheless, important as showing what ideas prevailing at the times they were written. Among the early Fathers, Justin Martyr, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, Irenaeus, and Polycrates, denied the conscious state of the dead, and the eternal misery of the wicked. And of different sects, we read of the Lucianists, the Hermogenians, and the Arabians, A.D. 244-249, who held the same views.HHMLD 322.3

    But from about the close of the third century, the work of apostasy had become so far advanced that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul was generally entertained in Christendom, and so remained till the great Reformation of the sixteenth century.HHMLD 322.4

    Tertullian, A.D. 200-220, is said to be the first Christian who expressly asserted the unending torment of the damned. He launches into the subject in the following gleeful style: “How shall I admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many proud monarchs, so many fancied gods, groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness; so many magistrates who persecuted the name of the Lord, liquefying in fiercer fires than they ever kindled against the Christians; so many sage philosophers, blushing in red-hot flames with their deluded scholars!” Gibbon, after quoting this, suppresses further extract with this cutting remark: “The humanity of the reader will permit me to draw a vail over the rest of this infernal description.” 1“Decline and Fall,” chapter 15. Tertullian was also the first one who applied the title of “Lord’s day” to Sunday.HHMLD 323.1

    When the light of the great Reformation began to lift the darkness which had so long covered Christendom, it brought to view many who did not accept the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. Luther called the doctrine a “monstrous opinion,” and relegated it to “the Roman dunghill of decretals.”HHMLD 323.2

    But, more than this, the Reformation led multitudes to embrace the truth on this point, so that Calvin is obliged to confess that thousands were drawn into that kind of “insanity.” William Tyndale, the great English reformer, and translator of the Bible, was a believer in the sleep of the dead. Calvin and the English Church opposed it. But the General Baptists, who, says Mosheim, flourished in England in the sixteenth century, believed that, between death and the resurrection at the last day, the soul had neither pleasure nor pain, but was in “a state of insensibility.”HHMLD 323.3

    The Socinians, another large sect of early reformers, denied the immortality of the soul. In the last half of the seventeenth century flourished that great Christian philosopher, John Locke. He took a bold stand against the immortality and the immateriality of the soul. John Milton, the world-renowned author of “Paradise Lost,” has left a brief but conclusive treaties on the “State of the Dead,” taking the same ground advocated in this work, that the dead are unconscious till the coming of Christ and the resurrection. This treatise has been republished in America, and hundreds of thousands of copies have been sold. Bishop Jeremy Taylor, of the Episcopal Church, was not a believer in the immortality of the soul. Concerning Adam, he makes the declaration that “immortality was not in his nature.” Archbishop Tillotson, in 1690, preached a famous sermon on the eternity of hell torments, in which he virtually abandoned the whole doctrine, by asserting that, though God had threatened eternal punishment, yet he reserved the right of punishing in his own hands, and might remit the penalty. He also declares, as heretofore quoted, that the “immortality of the soul is rather supposed or taken for granted than expressly revealed in the Bible.”HHMLD 324.1

    And so, did space permit and occasion require, particular mention might be made of Dr. Coward, Layton, Pitt, the learned Dodwell, Dr. Isaac Watts, Bishop Warburton, Bishop Law, and Joseph Priestly, all justly ranked among the ripest scholars and most devoted Christians, who took the Scriptural view on this question of the mortality of man.HHMLD 324.2

    Nor has there been any lack of publications on the subject. Among these may be mentioned an excellent little work, in 1644, signed “R. O.;” the “Reasonableness of Christianity,” by John Locke; a work by F. W. Stosch, in 1692; Dr. William Cowards’s “Second Thoughts Concerning Human Souls,” etc., in 1702; in 1706, another work by the same author; in the same year a work entitled. “A Search after Souls,” by Henry Layton, a rich gentleman and lawyer; two works in 1708 by John Pitts, a presbyter of the Church of England; a work in the same year by henry Dodwell; Warburton’s “Divine Legation of Moses,” London, 1738-41; two volumes of sermons by J. N. Scott, a minister of London, in 1743; Bishop Law’s Appendix to his “Considerations on the Theory of Religion,” etc., in 1755; a work “The Grand Question Debated,” etc, by William Kenrick, Dublin, about the same date; a work by J.Robinson, in 1757; the editors of Gadby’s Bible, in three volumes, in 1759, four volumes of sermons by Samuel Bourn, in 1760; a “Historical View of the Controversy Concerning an Intermediate State,” by Archdeacon Blackburn, A. M., in 1765; and in 1777, Joseph Priestly’s “Disquisitions Relating to Master and Spirit,” in two volumes; not to mention volumes by J. E. Walter, Edward Homes, George Clark, etc. It will be seen by these references that the doctrine has had many and able advocates. That it did not more rapidly gain acceptance, shows the power of superstition, prejudice, and church influence.HHMLD 324.3

    In the present century, defenders of the view of life only in Christ, have grown more numerous. In 1805, we find Timothy Kendrick in London, Archbishop Whately in Dublin, and Robert Forsyth in Edinburgh, advocating this view. A “Member of the Church of England,” in 1817; Dr. John Thomas, in 1834; a clergyman in Dublin, Ireland (name unknown), in 1835; Reginald Courtenay, D. D., a rector of the Church of England, in 1843; H. H. Dobney, a Baptist minister, and Edward White, a Congregational minister, both of England, in 1844, — all came out with volumes of greater or less magnitude in defense of the Scriptural view on this question. Since that time, adherents of this doctrine, some of them of no little distinction, as the Right Honorable Sir James Stephen, Professor of History at Cambridge, have sprung up all over the British Isles, and three papers at least, — The Rainbow, Bible Echo and Messenger, — are devoted to its advocacy.HHMLD 325.1

    In our own country this doctrine has spread and is spreading perhaps faster, and taking deeper root, than in any other locality. In 1803 a church, taking the name of “Christian,” sprung up in the United States, the members of which at first held largely, if not wholly, to the view that the wicked were to be annihilated. A minister of this denomination, Elias Smith, started in 1808 the first religious newspaper in the world, in which he advocated the view that immortality was to be bestowed on the good alone through Christ at their resurrection, and that all the wicked would utterly perish and truly die in the second death. Thousands of his followers in the Christian connection held the same opinion; but as it was not a prominent article of faith in that church, there is now a difference of opinion among the members, some holding it, and others not.HHMLD 326.1

    In 1828, A. Bancroft, D. D. (A Unitarian minister), and J. Sellon; in 1829, Walter Balfour; and in 1842, Calvin French, a Congregationalist, issued works in defense of the Bible view. Very many of the denomination called “Disciples,” also hold to the doctrine of the sleep of the dead and the destruction of the wicked.HHMLD 326.2

    The subject was first brought to the attention of Adventists by Mr. George Storrs, a Methodist preacher.HHMLD 326.3

    His mind was called to the subject in 1837, by a pamphlet written by henry Grew, of Philadelphia. In 1842, Mr. Storrs brought out his “Six Sermons,” which had a large circulation, and in 1843 he started the Bible Examiner, in New York, mainly to advocate this doctrine. In 1844 the Adventists, almost as a body, adopted the view of conditional immortality.HHMLD 327.1

    Since that time, or during the last fifty years, the question has been assuming a new phase in this country. The views of the Christian world are becoming marvelously modified. The old orthodox fire is largely omitted. The preaching assumes a different tone. The sufferings of the lost are coming to be regarded as mental and metaphorical rather than literal. Thus the National Baptist of Dec. 6, 1883, in an article on The New Theology, says:—HHMLD 327.2

    “The New Theology believes that the future punishment, having to do with a disembodied spirit, is spiritual in its character; it believes that the mortal nature of man contains in itself elements of a retribution infinitely more dreadful than flame and brimstone, of a retribution from which the soul might well turn to actual fire as a relief. It believes that this retribution is not the result of an express and arbitrary decree of God, but rather that it is the outcome of the moral nature of man, the direct effect of sin, the fruit of sin, as the grain is the fruit of the seed, according to the word of Paul, ‘Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.’ It believes that conscience, recollection, affection, immortality, conferred by God for beneficent end, for the promotion of human happiness, will be, if perverted by man, the means of his retribution.”HHMLD 327.3

    On the other hand, some of acknowledge influence as leaders in religious thought, are openly abandoning the old position. As an example, we present the following from Dr. Lyman Abbott, published in a former number of the Christian Union (now the Outlook), of which he was and is the editor. In a little article entitled “Love and Hell Fire,” he says:—HHMLD 327.4

    “If I believe in the hopeless doom of incorrigible sin, and also in the undimmed glory of a perfected kingdom I must believe in the annihilation of the incorrigibly wicked. Fire, in the Bible, is generally an emblem of destruction, not of torment. The chaff, the tares, the fruitless tree, are not to be tortured, but to be destroyed. The hell-fire spoken of in the New Testament, is the fire of gehenna, kept burning outside the walls Jerusalem, to destroy the offal of the city. Here was the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is unquenched; emblems of destruction, not of torment. I find nothing in the New Testament to warrant the terrible opinion that God sustains the life of his creatures throughout eternity, only that they may continue in sin and misery. That immortality is the gift of God through our Lord Jesus Christ; that man is mortal, and must put on immortality; that only he can put it on who becomes, through Christ, a partaker of the divine nature, and so an inheritor of him, ‘who only hath immortality;’ that eternal life is life eternal, and eternal death is death eternal, and everlasting destruction is destruction without remedy, — this is the most natural, as it is the simplest reading of the New Testament.”HHMLD 328.1

    The most earnest advocate of the view we hold, could not, in so brief a space, set forth the subject in a better light.HHMLD 328.2

    And now names and publications multiply so rapidly that it would be impracticable to try to name them all. Only one branch of Adventists, and they but a fraction of the whole body, still adheres to the old superstition of ceaseless torment in an ever-burning hell. The Seventh-day Adventists have twenty-three periodicals in the field, weekly, semi-monthly, monthly, and quarterly, in the United States, England, Switzerland, Norway, and Australia, the aggregate monthly circulation of which is more than two hundred and twenty-five thousand copies, constantly appealing to the people to accept the Scriptural view of life only through Christ. They also publish a full assortment of tracts, pamphlets, and bound books on this subject, many thousands of which have already been sold in both hemispheres. There are four other weekly papers in this country, besides one or two monthlies, advocating the same views. It is estimated that over a thousand ministers are preaching this doctrine, who have a direct following of some three hundred thousand persons. Besides these there are thousands in the various denominations who have accepted these views.HHMLD 328.3

    With one more extract we close this division of the subject. Mr. Edward White, — a name already mentioned, — in a lecture which he gave to the Artizans of London, May 2, 1880, summarizes the wide range which this subject has already taken, as follows:—HHMLD 329.1

    “But the Bible truth on life only in Christ and on the natural mortality of man, is held to my certain knowledge by the following person, whose names are at least a counter-weight to any opposite authorities: The Rev. Samuel Minton is well known to have sacrificed his living and promotion, to this cause. Prebendary Constable, late of Cork, is also known as one of its ablest advocates. Dr. Weymouth, head master of Mill Hill School, and one of the finest Greek scholars in the country, says that his ‘mind fails to conceive a grosser misinterpretation of language than when the five or six strongest words which the Greek tongue possesses, signifying “destroy,” or “destruction,” are explained to mean — maintaining an everlasting but wretched existence.’ The late Dr. Mortimer, head master of the city school, spoke in the same sense. The late eminent Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge, author of a well-known critical commentary on the Psalms, in answer to the inquiry whether he knew any reason why the corresponding Hebrew words of the Old Testament should not be taken in their literal and obvious sense, replied in these words, ‘None whatever.’ The Archbishop of York, Dr. Thompson, says, in his ‘Bampton Lectures,’ ‘Life to the godless must be the beginning of destruction, since nothing but God, and that which pleases him, can permanently exist. ’HHMLD 329.2

    “This doctrine has advocates in all our chief cities. In London it is held by Dr. Parker, of the City Temple; by the Rev. J. B. Heard, M. A., author of the work on ‘The Tripartite Nature of Man;’ and by not a few ministers of all denominations. In Birmingham it is taught by Dr. R. W. Dale; in the Liverpool, by the Rev. Hugh Stowell Brown. In Cambridge it is maintained by Professor Stokes, F. R. S., Secretary to the Royal Society, who holds the Mathematical Chair of Sir Isaac Newton, and is one of the foremost scientific men in Europe. In Edinburgh it is held by several of the leading clergy of all churches, and by Professor Tait, perhaps the first mathematical reasoner in Scotland. In other parts of England it is held by the Rev. Thomas Davis, M. A., Vicar of Roundhay, the Rev. W. Hobson, M. A., of Douglas, two most able supporters; the Rev. J. Hay Aitken, the earnest missioner; by the Rev. W. Ker (author of a cheap introduction to the study of this question, called, ‘Immortality: Whence? and for Whom?’ intended for plain people); by Professor Stevenson, of Nottingham; Professor Barlow, of Dublin; Professor Barret, of the Royal College of Science in Dublin; by the Rev. W. Griffith, of Eastbourne; by Dr. Morris, of Plymouth; by Mr. Maude, of Holloway, — several of whom have written largely on the question, and all of whom are excellent Biblical scholars.HHMLD 329.3

    “It is held by the celebrated physicians, Dr. Andrew Clark and Dr. Farre, and by a long array of Christian medical men in all parts of the country. It is held by Mr. Thomas Walker, late editor of the Daily News, a man of firm faith and uncommon literary attainments. It was held by the late Mr. John Sheppard, of Frome, and by the late Mr. Henry Dunn, both of whom published works on human destiny. Among American writers may be mentioned the names of the late Dr. Horace Bushnell, author of ‘Nature and the Supernatural,’ who recently died in this faith; Dr. Huntington of Worcester, Mass; the late Professor Hudson, of Cambridge, U.S.A., author of the ‘Concordance to the Greek Testament,’ and ‘Debt and Grace in Relation to a Future Life,’ one of the most accurate and accomplished scholars of our time; the Rev. J. H. Pettingell, of Philadelphia, author of the ‘Trilemma;’ Mr. H. L. Hastings, of New York [now Boston]; Dr. L. W. Bacon, of New Haven; and many others. In Jamaica we have the Rev. J. Denniston, M. A., author of the work called ‘The Perishing Soul.’ In India we have Mr. Skrefsrud, the missionary to the Santhals, and one of the greatest linguists in Asia, speaking nearly twenty languages; and the Rev. W. A. Hobbs, of Calcutta, an experienced missionary, who writes that it is ‘astonishing how this view of divine truth commends itself to the almost instant appreciation of the unprejudiced native Christian mind. I never thrust it to the front, but nevertheless it is silently and rapidly spreading. ’HHMLD 330.1

    “Again: In Paris it is held by M. Decoppet, pastor of the Oratorie; M. Bastide, head of the French Religious Tract Society; M. Pascal, pastor, M. Hollard, and Professor Sabatier of the Protestant College, one of the foremost theological scholars of France. It is also held by three of the pastors in the church at Lyons. In Brussels it is held and taught by M. Charles Byse, who has just published a French translation of ‘Life in Christ,’ a man of wide and accurate scholarship in Oriental languages. In Germany it was held by Rothe, Nitzsch, Olshausen, Hase, Ritschl, and Twesten. It is taught by Professor Gees, of Breslau who was theological tutor of Dr. Godet, of Neuchatel, and by Professor Schultz, of Gottingen. In Geneva it is valiantly defended by the accomplished scholar Dr. Petavel, of Chene Bougeries; by Professor Thomas, of D’Aubigne’s College; by M. Mittendorff, late editor of the Semaine Religieuse; by M. M. Walthur and Chatelain, two of the most active evangelists, and by M. Caesar Malan.HHMLD 330.2

    “In Africa it is held by Rev. Mr. Impey, superintendent of the Caffre Mission of the Wesleyan body, who was two years ago ejected from his high office after forty years’ labor, because he could no longer teach the endless misery of the poor black Zulus and other heathens of Africa. In China it is held by several of the ablest missionaries; in Ceylon, by the Rev. Mr. Clark, M.A., of the Church Tamil Mission; in Sydney it was held by Mr. Ridley, the leading journalist of Australia, and an eminent scholar, whose fame has reached his fatherland; and it is held by many of the Australian pastors.HHMLD 331.1

    “I have cited these names of learned believers of all Protestant churches, — scholars, writers, preachers; professors of divinity, criticism, and physical science; literary men, mathematicians, barristers, journalists, evangelists, missionaries, — some of them men of the first rank, all of them men of high education, who have carefully studied this question under the conditions of prayerful inquiry and adequate learning, — men who have no object to serve except the maintenance of truth, — men who represent all varieties of modern knowledge and training in nearly every department of study, — for a special purpose — to encourage general investigation against the attempts of many persons, both clerical and lay, to suppress inquiry by the assertion that no one of any consequence agrees with us. My own extensive acquaintance enables me to add that not a few other persons of eminent ability agree in this view of divine truth, but are constrained to silence by the menaces of ignorant men.”HHMLD 331.2

    If these statements be true, and there is nor reason to doubt them, it is evident that a great theological revolution is going forward upon this question, and this is becoming more and more apparent every day. May it go forward till the horrid nightmare of eternal misery is lifted from the hearts of Christians everywhere.HHMLD 331.3

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