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Man’s Nature and Destiny

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    22 ABSENT FROM THE BODY

    ANOTHER passage, supposed to teach the separate, conscious existence of the soul, is found in 2 Corinthians 5:8: “We are confident, I say and willing rather, to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” On the acknowledged principle that it is illogical to endeavor to build any great doctrine upon an isolated passage, without taking into consideration the general tenor of the context, if not also other writings from the same author, let us look at some of the statements which Paul has made in this connection.MND 161.2

    In verse 1 of this chapter, Paul introduces an earthly house and a heavenly house, and says, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hand, eternal in the heavens.” He states our condition while in the earthly house. Verse 2: “In this we groan,” verse 4, “being burdened.” He tells us what we desire in this state. Verse 2: “Earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven [verse 3], if so be that being clothed, we shall not be found naked.” In verse 4 Paul repeats all these facts, in order to state the result of the work which he desired: “For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened; not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon.” Now he states the result of being clothed upon with the house from heaven which he so earnestly desired: “But clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.” Then he states that the condition he had in view is that for which God in the beginning designed the human race: “Now he that has wrought us for the selfsame thing is God.” That is, God designed that we should ultimately reach that condition which he here designates as being clothed upon with our house from heaven, Then he states what assurance we have in this life that we shall eventually attain to this condition: “Who also hath given unto us the earnest [assurance, pledge, token,] of the Spirit.” That is, the Spirit dwelling in our hearts, is the assurance or pledge we have that we shall finally receive the desire of our hearts, and be clothed upon with our house from heaven. In verse 6 he states this to be the ground of his confidence, although while “we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord.” And then, after incidentally stating the secret of the Christian’s course in this life, “we walk by faith, not by sight,” he penned the text quoted at the commencement of this chapter, stating that he was willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.MND 161.3

    We now have before us quite fully the subject upon which Paul is here treating. A thought now as to the meaning of the terms he employs. What does he mean by the earthly house and the heavenly house? by being clothed and unclothed? by mortality being swallowed up of life? and by being absent from the body and present with the Lord?MND 163.1

    What he calls, in verse 1, “our earthly house,” he designates, in verse 6, as being “at home in he body.” The chief characteristic of this house is that it may be dissolved, or is mortal. This earthly house is therefore our mortal body, or, what is essentially the same thing, this present mortal condition. The house from heaven is eternal, or immortal. This, therefore, by parity of reasoning, is the immortal body, or the state of immortality which awaits the redeemed beyond the resurrection.MND 163.2

    Paul, in Romans 8:22, 23, speaks very plainly of these two conditions: “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” None can fail to see the parallel between this passage in Romans, and that portion of 2 Corinthians 5 now under consideration. To the Corinthians, Paul says that in our earthly house we groan, being burdened; to the Romans he expresses the same thought by saying that we groan within ourselves, or in this mortal body; to the Corinthians he writes that while in this state we have the earnest of the Spirit; to the Romans he says that we have the first-fruits of the Spirit, which is the same thing, the pledge, assurance, or earnest; to the Corinthians, that we desire to be clothed upon with our house from heaven; to the Romans, that we wait for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. The ultimate object in view in both cases, as a matter of hope and desire, is redemption, or the eternal state; but in the one case it is called being “clothed upon with our house of heaven,” and in the other it is said to be “the redemption of our body.” These two expressions, therefore, denote one and the same thing.MND 163.3

    Returning to a consideration of the meaning of the terms which Paul uses, we inquire what is meant by being unclothed. And the evident answer is, The dissolution of our earthly house, or the falling of our mortal body in death. The state of death, then, is that condition in which we are unclothed. And the being clothed upon is being released from this state, if dead, or changed if living, when mortality is swallowed up of life, and we are taken into the presence of the Lord. Then Paul states a conclusion, very apparent from his premises, that “while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord,” and adds that he is “willing rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.”MND 164.1

    The only verse in which consciousness in death can even be supposed to be intimated, is the 8th verse, which speaks of our being “absent from the body” and “present with the Lord.” But even here it will be seen that the whole question turns on the time when we enter the presence of the Lord. Is it immediately on the dissolution of our earthly house? On this point the text does not inform us; but the preceding verses are very explicit, as we shall presently see.MND 164.2

    Let us now look at a few considerations which show that it is impossible to harmonize the popular view of consciousness in death with the statements which the apostle here makes. It is claimed that the house which we have eternal in the heavens is the immortal soul with which we immediately enter into heaven when the earthly house is dissolved. Granting that this is so, let us go forward a little, and mark the difficulty in which this view finally becomes involved. The time comes when the mortal body is raised from the dead, and made immortal. The soul, according to the popular view, again takes possession of this body. In these redeemed bodies we are to live in the kingdom of God to all eternity. This is finally our eternal house. But when we take possession of this, what becomes of our house that we occupied between death and the resurrection? If we pass from our mortal bodies at death immediately into a spiritual body prepared for us, which is the house we have in heaven, and in which we live till the resurrection, when our natural bodies are redeemed, and we take possession of them, it necessarily follows that we vacate that second house which we had occupied in heaven. Then what becomes of that house? Are the saints to have tenements to let? Moreover this view introduces something of which Paul has made no mention; for here we have three houses, but Paul’s language allows of only two; and one of these three houses, on the view before us, has to be abandoned, to go to ruin, or to be otherwise disposed of, when we take possession of our redeemed bodies. All this is unscriptural and absurd. Such a view is an impossibility.MND 164.3

    Again, Paul affirms in verse 5 that God hath wrought us for this self-same thing, that is, created man for such a state of being as we shall enjoy, when clothed upon with our house from heaven. Is this condition the separate existence of an immortal soul? - No, for if man had never sinned, he would have reached that state without seeing death, and the idea of an immortal soul would never have had an existence. The whole doctrine is the offspring of sin, for it is the result of the fall. It is the second falsehood which the Devil found it necessary to invent to sustain his first one, “ye shall not surely die.” For when all that is outward, tangible, and visible of man does fall in death, his untruth would be very apparent unless he could make them believe that there is an invisible medium through which they still continue to live. Paul, therefore, in the scripture under notice, does not have any reference to an intermediate state.MND 165.1

    He further says that we have through the Spirit an earnest, or pledge, that this condition, which is set forth as the chief object of desire, will finally be reached, and we shall be clothed upon with our house from heaven. But what is the Holy Spirit in our hearts an earnest or pledge of? What does it signify that we have a measure of the Holy Spirit here? Is it a proof or assurance that we have immortal souls that will live when the body is dead? - No; but that we shall be redeemed and made immortal. See Ephesians 1:13, 14: “In whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.” And in Romans 8:11 Paul again says: “But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”MND 166.1

    These are the glorious promises of which the Holy Spirit in our hearts is a pledge and assurance; that these mortal bodies shall be quickened from the dead, even as Christ was raised up, and that we shall share in the inheritance, when the purchased possession shall be redeemed. It looks not to any intermediate state, but to the ultimate reward.MND 166.2

    And finally, Paul forever bars his teaching against the entrance of the conscious state dogma, by saying that when we are clothed upon with our house from heaven, mortality is swallowed up of life. How can mortality be swallowed up of life? - It can be only by having a principle of life come upon it which shall overpower and absorb it. Mortality can be swallowed up only by immortality or eternal life. Is this the passing of the soul from the mortal body at the hour of death? Let us look at it. What is there about man, according to the common view, which is mortal? - The body. And what is immortal? - The soul. At death, the body, that part which is mortal, does not become immortal, but loses all its life, and goes into the grave to crumble back to dust. And the soul which was immortal before, is swallowed up by death. There is not so much life afterward as before; for after death, the soul only lives, while the body, which was alive before, is now dead.MND 167.1

    But Paul, before penning this language in 2 Corinthians 5, had already told the Corinthians when mortality would be accomplished; so he knew, when he penned this portion of his second epistle, that they would understand it perfectly. See the 15th chapter of his first epistle, verses 51-55: “Behold I show you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 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. For this corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this “corruptible shall have put on incorruption,” then “death is swallowed up in victory.”MND 167.2

    In verse 50, he says: “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.” Corruption does not inherit, or possess, incorruption. Mortality does not possess immortality. The mortal body does not inclose an immortal principle, which it has power to hold within its grasp, till that grasp is rendered nerveless by the stroke of death, and the soul flies away in glad release. But this mortal, all that there is about man that is mortal, must put on, must be itself invested with, immortality, and this corruptible, all about us that is perishable, must itself become incorruptible; then it will not be this corruptible flesh and blood, and then it can inherit the kingdom of God, and enter with boldness and vigor on its race of endless life; and outside of this change, and independent of this grand investiture of our mortal nature with immortality, there is no eternal life for any of the human family. And when this is accomplished, then death is swallowed up in victory; then we are clothed upon with our house from heaven; then mortality is swallowed up of life. But this is not at death, but at the last trump, when the Lord appears in glory, and the dead are raised, and the righteous living are changed in the twinkling of an eye. How can the religious world stumble in a path so plain?MND 168.1

    But if the heavenly house is our future immortal body, it may be asked how Paul can say, as he does in 2 Corinthians 5:1, “We have [present tense] a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” We have this in the same sense that we have, at the present time, eternal life. And John tells us how this is: It is by faith, or by promise, not by actual possession. 1 John 5:11: “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life.” God hath given it to us; and on the strength of this promise we have it. But where is it now? “And this life is” - in us? - No, but - “in his Son.” And when he, the son, who is our life, shall appear, we shall be clothed upon with our heavenly house, and appear with him in glory. Colossians 3:4.MND 169.1

    Again, it may be asked how Paul can speak of two houses, as though we moved from one into the other, if it is only a change of condition from mortality to immortality. He illustrates this in the figure he takes to represent conversion. Ephesians 4:22-24: “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” Here the simple change of heart, the change of the disposition, from sin to holiness, is spoken of as putting off one man and putting on another. With even greater propriety may the change from mortality to immortality be spoken of as removing from an earthly, perishable house to an immortal, heavenly one.MND 169.2

    The terms Paul uses to describe the two states, are clearly defined. On the one side they are an “earthly house,” groaning with burdens, “mortality,” “absent from the Lord.” On the other, the terms used are, “clothed upon with our house from heaven,” “mortality swallowed up of life,” “present with the Lord.” He did not desire to be unclothed, which, as already noticed, signifies the condition of death; but he did desire to be present with the Lord; therefore in death he would have us understand that the Christian is not present with the Lord.MND 169.3

    From all this, we can only conclude that when he says he is willing to be absent from the body and present with the Lord, he means to be understood that he is willing to be absent from this burdened, groaning, mortal body, that is, that this mortal condition, of which this body is a representative, should come to an end; and he was willing, or desirous, to be present with the Lord, that is, to have that spiritual, immortal body which is promised, and in which alone we can dwell in the presence of God. And being confident, through the presence of the Spirit of God in his heart, that when his change should be wrought, he would have a glorious part therein, he was more than willing it should come. It was but the breathing again of that prayer which has arisen like a continual sigh from the heart of the church through all her weary pilgrimage, “Thy kingdom come; yea, come, Lord Jesus, come quickly;” not, “Let our immortal souls,” which they did not suppose they possessed, “enter a conscious state in death” - in which they did not believe.MND 170.1

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