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Man’s Nature and Destiny

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    24 DEPARTING AND BEING WITH CHRIST

    When will all men come to agree respecting the state of the dead? When will the question whether the dead are alive, conscious, active, and intelligent, or whether they rest in the grave in unconsciousness and inactivity, cease to be a vexed question? When shall it be decided whether the shout of triumph, which the ransomed are to raise. “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” is the celebration of a real victory, or only an unnecessary and useless transaction, as it must be if the grave holds not the real man, but only the shell, the mortal body, which is generally considered an incumbrance and a clog? Never will this question be decided till men shall be willing to follow the Scriptures, instead of trying to compel the Scriptures to follow them; never, while they put the figurative for the literal, and the literal for the figurative, mistake sound for sense, and rest on the possible construction of an isolated text, instead of, and in opposition to, the general tenor of the teaching of the inspired writers.MND 174.2

    Paul has told us often enough, and, it would seem, explicitly enough, when the Christian goes to be with his Lord. It is at the redemption of the body. Romans 8:23. It is in the day of the Lord Jesus. 1 Corinthians 5:5. It is at the last trump. 1 Corinthians 15:51-55. It is when we are clothed upon with our house from heaven. 2 Corinthians 5:4. It is when Christ, our life, shall appear. Colossians 3:4. It is when the Lord descends from heaven with a shout, and the dead are raised. 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17. It is at the coming of the Lord. 2 Thessalonians 2:1. It is to be at “that day,” an expression by which Paul frequently designates the day of Christ’s appearing. 2 Timothy 4:7, 8.MND 175.1

    Yet Paul, in one instance, without stopping to explain, uses the expression, “to depart and to be with “Christ;” whereupon his words are seized by religious teachers as unanswerable evidence that at death the spirit enters at once into the presence of its Redeemer. The passage is found in Philippians 1:21-24, and reads as follows:-MND 175.2

    “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labor: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better. Nevertheless, to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.”MND 175.3

    Willing to go with our friends as far as we can in their interpretation of any passage, we raise no issue here on the word “depart.” Paul probably means by it the same as in 2 Timothy 4:6, where he says, “the time of my departure is at hand,” referring to his approaching death. The Paul, immediately on dying, was to be with Christ. - Not so fast. The very point intended to be proved, has, in such a conclusion, to be assumed. Paul had in view two conditions: this present state, and the future state. Between these two he was in a strait. The cause of God on earth, the interests of the church, stirring to its very depths his large and sympathetic heart, drew him here; his own desires drew him to the future state of victory and rest. And so evenly balanced were the influences drawing him in both directions, that he hardly knew upon which course he would decide. Nevertheless, he said that it was more needful for the church that he remain here, to give them still the benefit of his counsel and his labors.MND 176.1

    The state or condition to which he looked forward was one which he greatly desired. About four years before he wrote these words to the Philippians, he had written to the Corinthians, telling them what he did desire, and what he did not desire, in reference to the future. Said he, “Not that we would be unclothed.” 2 Corinthians 5:4. By being unclothed, he meant the state of death, from the cessation of mortal life to the resurrection. This he did not desire; but he immediately adds what he did desire, namely, to be “clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life;” and when this is done, all that is mortal of us is made immortal, the dead are raised, and the body is redeemed. Romans 8:23; 1 Corinthians 15:52, 53.MND 176.2

    In writing to the Corinthians, he thus stated that the object of his desire was to be clothed upon, and have mortality swallowed up of life; to the Philippians he stated that the object of his desire was to be with Christ. These expressions, then, mean the same thing. Therefore, in Philippians 1:23, Paul passes over the state of death, the unclothed state, just as he had done to the Corinthians; for he would not tell the Corinthians that he did not desire a certain state, and four years after write to the Philippians that he did desire it. Paul did not thus contradict himself.MND 177.1

    But this intermediate state is the disputed territory in this controversy; the condition of the dead therein is the very point in question; and on this the text before us is entirely silent.MND 177.2

    This is the vulnerable point in the popular argument on this text. It is assumed that the being with Christ takes place immediately on the departure. But, while the text asserts nothing of this kind, multitudes of other texts affirm that the point when we gain immortality and the presence of Christ, is a point in the future beyond the resurrection. And unless some necessary connection can be shown between the departing and the being with Christ, and the hosts of texts which make our entrance into Christ’s presence a future event, can be harmonized therewith, any attempt to prove consciousness in death from this text is an utter failure.MND 177.3

    Landis seems to feel the weakness of his side in this respect, and spends the strength of his argument (pp.224-229) in trying to make the inference appear necessary that the being with Christ must be immediate on the departure. He would have us think utterly absurd and nonsensical to suppose a moment to elapse between the two events.MND 177.4

    Let us, then, see if there is anything in Paul’s language which contradicts the idea that a period of utter unconsciousness, of greater or less length, intervenes between death and our entrance into the future life. In the first place, if the unconscious is absolute, as we suppose, the space passed over in the individual’s experience is an utter blank. There is not the least perception, with such a person, of the lapse of a moment of time. When consciousness returns, the line of thought is taken up at the very point where it ceased, without the consciousness of a moment’s interruption. This fact is often proved by actual experience. Persons have been known to become utterly unconscious by a fracture of the skull, and having a portion of it depressed upon the brain, suspending its action. Perhaps when the accident happened, they were in the act of issuing an order, or giving directions to those about them. They have lain unconscious for months, and then been relieved by a surgical operation; and when the brain began to act, and consciousness returned, they have immediately spoken, and completed the sentence they were in the act of uttering when they were struck down, months before. This shows that to these persons there was no consciousness of any time intervening, more than what passes between the words of a sentence which we are speaking. It was all the same to them as if they had at once completed the sentence they commenced to utter, instead of having weeks and months of unconsciousness thrown in between the words of which that sentence was composed. (See Appendix.)MND 178.1

    So with the dead. They are not aware of the lapse of a moment of time between their death and the resurrection. A wink of the eye shuts out for an instant the sight of all objects, but it is so instantaneous that we do not perceive any interruption of the rays of vision. Six thousand years in the grave to a dead man is no more than a wink of the eye to the living. To them, consciousness, our only means of measuring time, is gone; and it will seem to them when they awake that absolutely none has elapsed. When Abel awakes from the dead, it will seem to him, until his attention is attracted by the new scenes of immortality to which he will be raised, that he is but rising up from the murderous blows of Cain, under which he had seemingly just fallen. And to Stephen, who died beholding the exaltation of Christ in heaven, it will be the same as if he had, without a moment’s interruption, entered into his glorious presence. And when Paul himself shall be raised, it will seem to him that the stroke of the executioner was his translation to glory.MND 178.2

    Such being the indisputable evidence of facts upon this point, we ask how a person, understanding this matter, would speak of the future life, if he expected to obtain it in the kingdom of God? Would he speak of passing long ages in the grave before he reached it? - He might, if he designed to state, for any one’s instruction, the actual facts in the case; but if he was speaking simply of his own experience, it would not be proper for him to mention the intervening time, because he would not be conscious of any such time, and it would not seem to him, on awakening to life again, that any such period had elapsed.MND 179.1

    Accordingly, Bishop Law lays down this general principle on this question:-MND 179.2

    “The Scriptures, in speaking of the connection between our present and future being, do not take into the account our intermediate state in death; no more than we, in describing the course of any man’s actions, take into account the time he sleeps. Therefore, the Scriptures (to be consistent with themselves) must affirm in immediate connection between death and the Judgment. Hebrews 9:27; 2 Corinthians 5:6, 8.”MND 179.3

    John Crellius says:-MND 180.1

    “Because the time between death and the resurrection is not to be reckoned, therefore the apostle might speak thus, though the soul has no sense of anything after death.”MND 180.2

    Dr. Priestly says:-MND 180.3

    “The apostle, considering his own situation, would naturally connect the end of this life with the commencement of another and better, as he would have no perception of any interval between them. That the apostle had no view short of the coming of Christ to Judgment, is evident from the phrase he makes use of, namely being with Christ, which can only take place at his second coming. For Christ himself has said that he would come again, and that he would take his disciples to himself, which clearly implies that they were not to be with him before that time.” So in harmony with this reference to our Lord’s teaching is the language used by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17, that we here refer to it again: “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout with the voice of the Archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”MND 180.4

    As Christ taught that the time when his people were to be with him again was at his second coming, so Paul here teaches. We call attention to the word “so” in the last sentence of the quotation. “So” means “in this way,” in this manner, by this means. “So,” in this manner, by this means, “shall we ever be with the Lord.” When Paul, as he does here, describes, without any limitations, the way and means by which we go to be with the Lord, he precludes every other means. He the same as says that there is no other way by which we can be with the Lord; and if there is any other means of gaining this end, this language is not true. If we go to be with the Lord by means of our immortal spirit when we die, we do not go to be with him by means of the visible coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the change of the living; and Paul’s language is a stupendous falsehood. There is no possible way of avoiding this conclusion, except by claiming that the descent of the Lord from heaven, the mighty shout, the voice of the Archangel, the sounding of the great trump of God, the resurrection of the dead, and the change of the living, all take place when a person dies, a position too absurd to be seriously refuted, and almost too ridiculous to be even stated.MND 180.5

    Shall we, then, take the position that Paul taught the Philippians that a person went by his immortal spirit immediately at death to be with the Lord, when he had plainly told the Thessalonians that this was to be brought about in altogether a different manner, and by altogether different means? No one who would have venerated that holy apostle when alive, or who has any decent regard for his memory now that he is dead, will accuse him of so teaching.MND 181.1

    Why, then, does he say that he has a desire to depart, that is, to die? - Because he well understood that his life of suffering, of toil, and trial here was to terminate by death; and if the church could spare him, he would gladly have it come, not only to release him from his almost unbearable burdens, but because he knew further that all the intervening space between his death and the return of his Lord would seem to him to be instantly annihilated, and the glories of the eternal world, through his resurrection from the dead, would instantly open upon his view.MND 181.2

    It is objected again that Paul was very foolish to express such a desire, if he was not to be with his Lord till the resurrection; for, in that case, he would be with him no sooner if he died than he would if he did not die. Those who make this objection, either cannot have fully considered this subject, or they utterly fail to comprehend it. They have no difficulty in seeing how Paul would be with Christ sooner by dying, provided his spirit, when he died, immediately entered into his presence; but they cannot see how it would be so when the time between his death and the coming of Christ is to him an utter blank, and then, without the consciousness on his part that a single instant has elapsed,he is ushered into the presence of his Redeemer. Remember that Paul’s consciousness was his only means of measuring time; and if he had died just as he wrote these words to the Philippians, it would have been to him an entrance into Christ’s presence just as much sooner as what time elapsed between the penning of that sentence and the day of his death. None can fail to see this point, if they will consider it in the light of the fact we have here tried so fully to set forth, - that the dead have no perceptions of passing time.MND 182.1

    In the light of the foregoing reasoning, let us read and paraphrase this famous passage to the Philippians:-MND 182.2

    “For to me to live is for the furtherance of the cause of Christ, and for me to die is still gain [not to me but] to that cause (because ‘Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or death.’ Verse 20). But if I live in the flesh, this, the furtherance of Christ’s cause, is the fruit of my labor; but what course I should take were it left for me to decide, I know not; for I am in a strait betwixt two: I know that the church still needs my labors, but I have a desire to end my mortal pilgrimage, and be the next instant, so far as my experience goes (for the dead perceive no passing time,) in the presence of my Lord. Consulting my own feelings, this I should esteem far better; but I know that it is more needful for you that I abide still in a condition to labor on for your good in this mortal state.”MND 183.1

    Who can say, bearing in mind the language Paul frequently uses in his other epistles, that this is not a just paraphrase of his language here? The only objection against it is, that, so rendered, it does not support the conscious-state dogma. But it makes a harmony in all that Paul has taught on the subject; and is it not far more desirable to maintain the harmony of the sacred writings, than to try to make them defend a dogma which involves them in a fatal contradiction?MND 183.2

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