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Man’s Nature and Destiny

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    IN turning to the Bible, our only source of information on this question, to learn whether or not man is immortal, the first and most natural step in the inquiry is to ascertain what use the Bible makes of the terms “immortal” and “immortality.” How frequently does it use them? To whom does it apply them? Of whom does it make immortality an attribute? Does it affirm it of man or any part of him?MND 13.1

    Should we, without opening the Bible, endeavor to form an opinion of its teachings from the current phraseology of modern theology we should conclude it to be full of declarations in the most explicit terms that man is in possession of an immortal soul and deathless spirit; for the popular religious literature of to-day, which claims to be a true reflection of the declarations of God’s word, is full of these expressions. Glibly they fall from the lips of the religious teacher. Broadcast they go forth from the religious press. Into orthodox sermons and prayers they enter as essential elements. They are appealed to as the all-prolific source of comfort and consolation in case of those who mourn the loss of friends by death. We are told that they are not dead; for “there is no death; what seems so is transition;” they have only changed to another state of being, only gone before; for the soul is immortal, the spirit never dying; and it cannot for a moment cease its conscious existence.MND 13.2

    This is all right provided the Bible warrants such declarations. But it is far from safe to conclude without examination that the Bible does warrant them; for whoever has read church history knows that it is little more than a record of the unceasing attempts of the great enemy of all truth to corrupt the practices of the professors of Christianity, and to pervert and obscure the simple teachings of God’s word with the absurdities and mysticisms of heathen mythology. It has been only by the utmost vigilance that any Christian institution has been preserved, or any Christian doctrine saved, free from some of the corruptions of the great systems of false religion which have always held by far the greater portion of our race in their chains of darkness and superstition. And if we arraign the creeds of the multitudinous Protestant sects, as containing many unscriptural dogmas, it is only what every one of them does, in reference to all the others.MND 14.1

    To the law, then and to the testimony. What say the Scriptures on the subject of immortality?MND 14.2

    FACT ONE. The terms “immortal” and “immortality” are not found in the Old Testament, either in our English version or in the original Hebrew. There is, however, one expression, in Genesis 3:4, which is, perhaps, equivalent in meaning, and was spoken in reference to the human race; namely, “Thou shalt not surely die.” But unfortunately for believers in natural immortality, this declaration came from one whom no person would like to acknowledge as the author of his creed. It is what the Devil said to Eve, the terrible deception by means of which he accomplished her fall, and so “brought death into the world and all our woe.” But does not the New Testament supply this seemingly unpardonable omission of the Old, by many times affirming that all men have immortality?MND 14.3

    Remembering the many times you have heard and read from Biblical expositors that you were in possession of an immortal soul, how many times do you think the New Testament declares that you have such an immortal soul? One hundred times? - No. Ten? - No. Five? - No. Twice? - No! ONCE? - NO!! Does not the New Testament then apply the term immortal to anything? - Yes; and this brings us to -MND 15.1

    FACT TWO. The term “immortal” is used but once in the New Testament, in the English version, and is then applied to God. The following is the passage: 1 Timothy 1:17; “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”MND 15.2

    The original word, however, aphthartos, from which “immortal is here translated, occurs in six other instances in the New Testament, in every one of which it is rendered “incorruptible.” The word is defined by Greenfield, “Incorruptible, immortal, imperishable, undying, enduring.” The following is a complete list of the texts where it is found:-MND 15.3

    Rom. 1:23 the glory of the uncorruptible God.
    1 Cor. 9:25 a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible
    15:52 the dead shall be raised incorruptible
    1 Tim. 1:17 the King eternal, immortal, invisible,
    1 Pet. 1:4 to an inheritance incorruptible.
    23 not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible.
    3:4 that which is not corruptible.

    According to these references it will be seen that this word is used, first, in Romans 1:23, to describe God: “And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.”MND 16.1

    It is used in 1 Corinthians 9:25 to describe the heavenly crown of the overcomer: “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible.”MND 16.2

    It is used in 1 Corinthians 15:52 to describe the immortal bodies of the redeemed: “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last, trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”MND 16.3

    It is used in 1 Timothy 1:17 to describe God, as already quoted.MND 16.4

    It is used in 1 Peter 1:14 to describe the inheritance reserved in heaven for the overcomer: “To an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.”MND 16.5

    It is used in 1 Peter 1:23 to describe the principle by which regeneration is wrought in us: “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.”MND 16.6

    It is used in 1 Peter 3:4 to describe the heavenly adorning which we are laboring to secure: “But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”MND 16.7

    And these are all the instances of its use. In no one of them is it applied to man or any part of him, as a natural possession. But does not the last text affirm that man is in possession of a deathless spirit? The words “incorruptible” and “spirit” both occur, it is true, in the same verse; but they do not stand together, another noun and its adjectives coming in between them; they are not in the same case, “incorruptible” being in the dative, and “spirit” in the genitive; they are not of the same gender, “incorruptible” being masculine or feminine, and “spirit” neuter. What is it which is in the sight of God of great price? - The ornament of a meek and quiet spirit. What is the nature of this ornament? - It is not destructible, like the laurel wreath, the rich apparel, the gold and gems, with which the unsanctified man seeks to adorn himself; but it is incorruptible, a disposition molded by the Spirit of God, some of the fruit of that heavenly tree which God values. Does man by nature possess this incorruptible ornament, this meek and quiet spirit? - No; for we are exhorted to procure and adopt this instead of the other. This, and this only, the text affirms. To say that this text proves that man is in possession of a deathless spirit, is no more consistent nor logical than it would be to say that Paul declares that man has an immortal soul, because in his first epistle to Timothy (1:17) he uses the word “immortal,” and in his first epistle to the Thessalonians (5:23) he uses the word “soul.” The argument would be the same in both cases.MND 16.8

    FACT THREE. The word “immortality” occurs but five times in the New Testament, in our English version. The following are the instances:-MND 17.1

    In Romans 2:7 it is set forth as something for which we are to seek by patient continuance in well-doing: “To them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, [God will render] eternal life.”MND 17.2

    In 1 Corinthians 15:53, 54 it is twice used to describe what this mortal must put on before we can inherit the kingdom of God: “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’”MND 18.1

    In 1 Timothy 6:16 it is applied to God, and the sweeping declaration is made that he alone has it: “Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and power everlasting. Amen.”MND 18.2

    In 2 Timothy 1:10 we are told from what source we receive the true light concerning it, which forever cuts off the claim that reason or sciences can demonstrate it, or that the oracles of heathenism can make it known to us: “But now is made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”MND 18.3

    How has Christ brought life and immortality to light? - Answer: By abolishing death. There could have been no life nor immortality without this; for the race was hopelessly doomed to death through sin. Then by what means and for whom has he abolished death? - Answer: He has abolished it by dying for man and rising again, a victor over death; and he has wrought this work only for those who will accept of it through him; for all who reject his proffered aid will meet at last the same fate that would have been the lot of all, had Christ never undertaken the work of redemption in our behalf. Thus through the gospel, - the good news of salvation by his sufferings and death, - he has brought to light the fact, not that all men are by nature in possession of immortality, but that a way is opened whereby we may at last gain possession of this inestimable boon.MND 18.4

    As with the word “immortal,” so with the word “immortality;” it occurs in the Greek, in a few instances, where it is not translated “immortality” in the English version. There are two words from which the English term is rendered. These are athanasia and aphtharsia. The former, athanasia, is defined by Greenfield and Robinson simply “immortality,” and is so translated in every instance. It occurs three times, as follows:-MND 19.1

    1 Corinthians 15:53 must put on immortality
    54 shall have put on immortality
    1 Timothy 6:16 who only hath immortality

    The latter, aphtharsia, is defined, by the same authorities, “incorruptibility, incorruptness; by implication, immortality.” The following is a complete list of the texts where it occurs:-MND 19.2

    Romans 2:7 seek for glory, honor, and immortality
    1 Corinthians 15:42 it is raised in incorruption
    50 neither doth corruption inherit incorruption
    53 must put on incorruption
    54 shall have put on incorruption
    Ephesians 6:24 love our Lord ... in sincerity
    2 Timothy 1:10 brought life and immortality to light
    Titus 2:7 gravity, sincerity

    In addition to remarks already made on Romans 2:7 and 2 Timothy 1:10, where this term is rendered, in our version, “immortality,” we may add that in 1 Corinthians 15:42 it refers to the body after the resurrection from the dead; and in verses 50, 53, 54 of the same chapter, it is that incorruption which cannot be inherited by corruption; that is, by our present mortal condition; and it is that which this corruptible must put on before we can enter into the kingdom of God. In Ephesians 6:24 it is used to describe the love we should bear to Christ, and in Titus 2:7 the quality of the doctrine we should hold; both of which instances it is translated “sincerity.”MND 19.3

    We now have before us all the testimony of the Bible relative to the use of the words “immortal” and “immortality.” So far from being applied to man, the terms are used, as in Romans 1:23, to point out the contrast between God and man. God is incorruptible, or immortal. Man is corruptible, or mortal. But if the real man, the essential being, consists of an undecaying soul, a deathless spirit, he too, is, in this respect, incorruptible, and this contrast could not be drawn. Immortality is placed before us as an object of hope for which we are to seek, - a declaration which would be a fraud and deception if we already have it. The word is used to distinguish between heavenly and eternal objects, and those that are earthly and decaying. In view of these facts no candid mind can dissent from the following-MND 20.1

    CONCLUSION: So far as its use of the terms “immortal” and “immortality” is concerned, the Bible contains no proof that man is in possession of an undying nature.MND 20.2

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