SOUL OR SPIRIT, WHICH IS THE MAN?
ENQUIRY AS TO MAN'S CONSTITUTION AND FUTURE, WITH REMARKS ON HADES AND
By G. H. LANG.
As treasures heavy and valuable may hang upon a small hook, so consequences weighty and far-reaching may follow the settlement of what may seem a small point.
Because at death the spirit of man returns to God who gave it (Eccl. 12: 7), it is generally thought that man goes then to God in heaven. If the passage meant this it would teach that the ungodly, as well as the godly, go to heaven at death, for it refers to man as man. This alone shows that this is not the sense of the passage. But further, the meaning given assumes that the man, the conscious entity, the person, the ego, is his spirit. But if this is not so, then the opinion stated, has no support in Scripture.
Again, many annihilationists deem that the man, the person, consists of two parts only, the body and the spirit, and that when these are parted at death the person, the conscious ego, ceases to exist until the two parts are reunited in resurrection. But if the conscious personality has ceased to exist, it is extremely difficult to conceive that it is the identical conscious person that comes into existence again. Would it not rather be a new personality that comes into being at resurrection? How can continuity of personality persist during non-existence, and how, then, shall this new man be held morally responsible for the deeds of that former person, and be righteously liable to judgment therefore?
Moreover, this would involve (what indeed we have heard asserted) a disintegration of the person of the Man, Christ Jesus, between His death and resurrection. According to the theory, during that period His humanity was non-existent. So that whilst the Son of God existed, Christ did not until resurrection. This is fatal heresy, and alone forbids the doctrine in question.
The alternative must be for the annihilationist to adopt the first mentioned view, the personality attaches to the spirit, as others of that school do. But if it be that the soul is the person, and that after death the soul has its own separate existence, then the whole assertion fails.
Inasmuch therefore as most serious issues are involved, this inquiry is of great practical importance. Indeed, it may be said that many most interesting and profitable themes can only be understood aright by a right understanding of our question - Soul or Spirit. Which is the Man?
must here be remarked that this theme, like all such profounder topics of the
Word of God, cannot be studied in the English Authorised
Version. It is not possible, on account of the deliberate irregularity in
translation used by the Translators so as to secure pleasing English. We quote
here generally the English Revised
Version, and sometimes the New
Translation of J N Darby (Morrish,
1. THE CREATION OF MAN
The creation of man is described in Gen. 2: 7: "And Jehovah Elohim formed man, dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."
Here are three stages: 1. A material form fashioned out of material particles, dust. This is the body. 2. A somewhat inbreathed by God, named in Eccl. 12: 7, "spirit." That the "breath" of Gen. 2: 7, and the "spirit" of Eccl. 12: 7 are one is confirmed by the combination of the two terms in Gen 7: 22: "All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life." 3. The result, that man became what is here called "soul," a living soul.
1. As to the body, it is to be observed that it was not itself the man. It lay there, fashioned and prepared, but the man was not yet there. The body was an inanimate form, which preceded the existence of the man. This as against the Sadducean materialist and his assertion that the body is the man, and that when it dies his existence ends.
2. The same is true of the breath or spirit, when God inbreathed. It also was in existence prior to the man, for God breathed it into the body. It was not God; it is not divine: it is not said that God breathed of Himself, or breathed His [Holy] Spirit into the body, but a somewhat not to be defined by us as to its substance or nature, but which God terms "spirit." In Zech. 12: 1 it is declared to be a created thing, a thing "formed," as an article made by a potter. It is the same word as "potter" in Zech. 11: 13, and is found first at Gen. 2: 8, God "formed man." This as against the pantheist, and the doctrine akin to pantheism, that there is a measure of divinity in all men by creation. The immanence of God in all creation is truth; the identity of all things, or of any created thing, [as equal with] with God is error, deadly error.
Thus the spirit was not the man, for he only came into existence by reason of the inbreathing of the spirit into the body, which conjunction of two separate, previously existing things, resulted in the creation of a third: "man became a living soul."
3. It remains only that the man is what he is here described to be, "living soul." The man is the soul, not the spirit, even as he is not the body. This as against the annihilationist theory above mentioned.
is fairly certain that every false
philosophy that has beclouded the thoughts of man had been instilled into men's
minds by spirits of darkness* in
[* The apostasy of the Churches of God is
based on spirit intercourse. Christians, whose doctrines
are contrary to the teachings of Scripture, are in the gravest peril: and this
is evidenced today by what they teach concerning Death, the
This threefold composition of man is implied everywhere in the Word of God, and sometimes is distinctly stated. Thus in 1 Thess 5: 23: "And the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame in the parousia of our Lord Jesus Christ." The body is distinguished from the spirit in James 2: 26: "The body apart from (the) spirit is dead"; and the soul from the spirit in Heb 4: 12: "The word of God ... piercing to the dividing of soul and spirit."
The man has a body with which he operates upon the material world; but the body is not the man. He has also a spirit with which he has dealings with the spiritual realm; but the spirit is not the man. The man himself, the conscious ego, is the soul. Personality in man inheres in the soul, which will become yet more apparent as we proceed, but may be seen in such passages as Ex 1. 5: "all the souls ... were seventy souls"; Lev. 4: 2: "if a soul shall sin"; Lev. 5: 2: "if a soul touch"; Lev. 5: 4: "if a soul swear"; 7: 18: "the soul that eateth"; etc, etc. The evident sense is: "If a person" do this or that. See also LXX Ezk 16: 5.
2. THE MEANING OF THE WORD DEATH
Now "the body without spirit is dead" (Jas 2: 26), and the soul, the man, cannot use or inhabit a dead body. The spirit imparts to the body vitality, animation [Lk. 8: 55], and makes it usable by man. Thus so long as the two are united man is a living soul, but when God recalls the spirit which He gave, the body ceases to have life, the soul vacates it, and thenceforth, until resurrection, the man is dead.
But if is carefully and always to be remembered that in Scripture the term "life" does not mean simply existence, but much more and much rather is means a certain mode or quality of existence; and equally so the term "death," therefore, does not mean, non-existence, but an opposite state or mode of existence. Many things exist which do not exhibit the property called "life." All annihilationist reasoning which we have read assumes this false sense of the words "life" and "death" and cannot proceed without it.
Yet in some real sense Adam died the day he disobeyed God, according to the sentence, "in the day that thou eatest of it thou shalt certainly die" (Gen 2: 17), but he did not cease to exist that day. So, by a powerful antithesis, it is said, "she that giveth herself to pleasure is dead while she liveth," which cannot be read, ceases to exist while she exists (1 Tim 5: 6). In much the same way we speak of a living death.
Equally arresting is our Lord's argument against the annihilationists of His day (Lk. 20: 37, 38).
He first admits that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are dead, saying, "But that the dead are raised," and at once adds that "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all live unto Him." So dead in one sense, they are yet alive in another, showing that both terms describe only relative conditions of existence. Similarly the Lord makes the father of the prodigal say: "This my son was dead, and is alive again" (Lk. 15: 24), though in another sense he had been as much alive in the far country as after his return. Further, it is clear that the first death does not cause the annihilation of the sinner or there could be no second death for him.
Thus the word death does not of itself mean ceasing to be, and such as say that the second death means annihilation are bound to show that the Scripture adds to the word this sense which does not belong to it. The second death is the "lake of fire" (Rev 20: 14). The beast and the false prophet are cast thereinto before the thousand years reign of period when Satan is cast there (Rev 20: 10); so that a thousand years in the second death has not destroyed their existence, and the sentence upon all three is that "they shall be tormented day and night for the ages of the ages." It would be impossible to torment that which had ceased to be.
It is consistent with the holiness and the love of God - for it is fact - that angels that abused His favour shall be confined in that place of misery. Tartarus, for already thousands of years (2 Pet 2: 4); that Dives (Lk. 16.), who abused His goodness on earth, shall be tormented in a flame in Hades for a period unknown to us, for it is not yet ended; that the Beast and the false prophet, who blasphemed His holy name, shall be in the lake of fire for more than a thousand years at least. As this is consistent with the love and justice of God why should it not be for 10,000 years, for 100,000, for a billion years, or for ever, and especially in the case of those who rejected His amazing love in Christ, trampled under foot the Son of God, and definitely resisted the Spirit of truth?* We are not competent to form our own opinion as to what God may or may not do consistently with His character and because of it. We can only bow to what He has revealed, assured that He will ever act consistently with what He is, for He is not able to do otherwise. We can best estimate what sentence a judge may pass by considering what sentences he has before passed, as well as what statements he may have made as to future sentences.
The passage before cited tells us that "the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns unto God who gave it" (Eccl. 12: 7). But what becomes of the soul?
An actual case is better than much speculation, an ounce of fact being worth a ton of theory. Of the Man Christ Jesus we are told distinctly what took place at His death.
1. His dead body was laid in the tomb.
2. His last words on the cross were, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23: 46), the human spirit thus returning unto God who gave it. That the human spirit is not the divine Spirit is seen clearly in the case of our Lord, for His entire holy humanity was a created thing conceived by an operation of the Holy Spirit in Mary (Lk. 1: 35); years later it was anointed with power by the Spirit of God coming upon it; and at last, on the cross, He surrendered His human spirit to the Father, an act impossible in relation to the Spirit of God with Whom He as God was in indissoluble union. The distinction - necessary and unavoidable - between the human and the divine is thus ever maintained. It was the human spirit which vitalized His body that Jesus gave up that He might die.
3. But the Spirit of prophecy in David (Psa. 16: 10) had put into Messiah's mouth these other words: "Thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol," which words were later, on the day of Pentecost, applied by Peter to Christ: "Thou wilt not leave my soul unto Hades" (Acts 2: 27).
The error of Apollinaris (cent 4), that the person of Christ consisted of a human body and soul only, with the divine Spirit (or Logos) taking the place in Him of a human spirit, must be steadfastly resisted. His humanity, as ours, consisted of body, soul, and spirit.
Sheol and Hades are equivalent words in Hebrew and Greek respectively. Of this region there is abundant information in Scripture. It is very far from the fact, as spiritualists assert, that no certain information as to the state after death is available save what they think they receive from spirits through mediums.* But most unfortunately the reader of the Authorized Version is completely stopped from this study by the variety of the terms employed. Sheol and Hades are rendered "grave," "pit," and "hell." The last in its older English meaning was not inaccurate, but it has come now to mean only the final place of the lost, the lake of fire, which never is the sense of Sheol or Hades. However, any diligent reader can pursue the subject in the Revised Version (1881), for these original terms are given in either text or margin wherever they occur. This is one example, and an important one, of the superiority of the RV over the AV.
[* It is of the last importance, in the words of G. H. Pember, that the full meaning of this declaration (1 Cor. 12: 1-3) should be understood by the believers of our days. For again demoniacal manifestations are multiplying among us, and that with a subtlety sufficient to deceive any one who neglects to apply the prescribed tests.
The Spirit saith expressly that in latter times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits 1 Tim. 4: 1). Beloved, PROVE THE SPIRITS (1 John 4: 1): despise not prophecyings; PROVE ALL THINGS (1 Thess. 5: 19).]
4. WHERE IS HADES?
So the soul of our Lord was in Hades between His death and His resurrection on the third day. And Eph 4: 9, 10, shows beyond question (1) that the "soul" was the Lord Himself, the personality, and (2) where Hades is situate. It says: "Having ascended up on high he has led captivity captive, and has given gifts unto men. Now this, having ascended, what is it but that He also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same who has also ascended far above all heavens, that he might fill all things."
The Person that ascended is the same Person that had descended, and from His
own express words to Mary directly after His resurrection it is certain
that He himself did not go to the Father at the hour of death, for
He said to her: "I have (perf.
[*My doctrine, our Lord said, is not mine, but His that sent me. He gave me a commandment what I should say, and what I should speak (John 7: 16; 12: 49). THE WORDS WHICH THOU GAVEST ME I have given unto them (John 17: 8). Every word of Christ was a word of God. Now hear and believe the word of our Lord Jesus Christ: As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale: so shall the Son of Man be IN THE HEART OF THE EARTH (Matt. 12: 40). The collision, says D. M. Panton, is sharp and deadly. If Christ is right, the Critics are wrong; if the Critics are right, Christ is wrong. Every nourished doubt we say it sorrowfully becomes at last a javelin levelled at the breast of Christ. For see the tremendous consequences. (1) Our Lord if the Critics be right must have emptied Himself, not of glory only, but also of knowledge. This is fatal to our faith. The Saviour who cannot be trusted utterly cannot be trusted at all; and if our Lord was in error when He said that Daniel wrote the book of Daniel, how do we know that He was not in error when He said The Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins? If aught of these words uttered by Messiah be untrue, what about God? Christ says the unmeasured fulness of the Spirit rested on Him; if any impulse of utterance was untrue, what about the Holy Spirit? [John 3: 34] We refuse to go any further. We are treading on the confines of blasphemy. God says:- This is My beloved Son: HEAR HIM. (Christ and the Critics.)]
The spirit therefore was not Himself, but a part of His composite humanity that He could dismiss by an act of the will. Man does not possess the power to do this; he must use violence to terminate his life: but Christ had received this power specially from His Father, according to His statement that the Father had given Him authority to lay down His life by His own act (John 10: 17, 18).
The realm to which Christ descended, elsewhere, as we have seen, named Hades,
is in this place in Ephesians stated
plainly to be in "the lower parts of the earth."
Scripture always locates it there and nowhere else. So Jacob of old said: "I will go down to Sheol
to my son" (Gen. 37: 35); and so
the great prophet Samuel, when
permitted by God to come from the world
of the dead to announce the doom of Saul (an exceptional permission and
event) said: "Why hast thou disquieted me to bring me up?"
(1 Sam. 28: 15). And so Christ said of
Readers of the great classics will not need to be reminded that it was the common belief of the ancient world that the place of the dead was within the earth. We are not aware that any other opinion was then in men's minds. Their details of that place and its conditions are not to be accepted without Scripture confirmation, even as those of mediaeval writers like Dante are not to be; but the general facts of the location of the world of the dead within the earth, and of its having two divided regions, one of pain and one of bliss, are plainly adopted in Holy Scripture (as in Lk. 16.), and so are confirmed as facts. And it could be shown that some details also are thus confirmed; as that the poets made visitors to and from that realm go and come through some cave or opening in the earth, and the Revelation similarly represents demon hordes as coming from the abyss through a shaft or opening therefrom (Rev. 9: 1-11). We take the idea in each case to represent the conception that the realm of the dead is within the earth.
5. BUT DO NOT SAINTS AT DEATH "GO TO HEAVEN"?
The death of Stephen presents the exact features seen at the death of his Lord. We are told that "he called upon the Lord, saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit ... and ... he fell asleep" (Acts 7: 59, 60). His body did not fall asleep: it was battered to death by brutal ill-usage, and devout men buried it. It does not say that his spirit fell asleep, but that he surrendered it to his Lord. We shall see later that neither does the soul "sleep" in relation to that other realm to which it goes at death; so that the expression "fell asleep" can only mean as to its relation to this earth-life which it leaves at death.
But did not Stephen "go to heaven" when he died? Do not all who die in Christ do so? It has been the almost universal belief of Protestants, but there is no Scripture for it. If Solomon's words, "the spirit returns to God who gave it," mean this, that the saints before the time of Christ must have gone there, and, as before remarked, not saints only, but the ungodly also, for the statement applies to all men.
has been often asserted that when the Lord rose he released from Hades the
godly dead and removed them to
It should be asked, Where were these multitudes of souls during the forty days before Christ himself ascended: Raised at His resurrection, as the theory asserts, what was their location during that period?
But it is known definitely that one of the most renowned of Old Testament men of God did not ascend to heaven with the Lord, for at Pentecost, which was [ten days] after the ascension [of Christ], Peter distinctly stated that "David has not ascended into the heavens" (Darby, Acts 2. 34). Why was David left behind? There is no reason to think he was: the other godly dead also stayed there, as far as Scripture is concerned.
Alford translates: "David himself [i.e., in contrast to Christ] is not ascended":
In his great work on The Creed (Art 5. He descended into Hell) Bishop Pearson shows how little basis the opinion in question has. He says: "The next consideration is whether by virtue of His descent, the souls of those who before believed in Him, the Patriarchs, Prophets, and all the people of God, were delivered from that place and state, in which they were before; and whether Christ descended into Hell to that end, that He might translate them into a place and state, far more glorious and happy. This has been, in the later ages of the Church, the vulgar opinion of most men...
"But even this opinion, as general as it hath been, hath neither the consent of Antiquity, nor such certainty as it pretendeth. Indeed, very few (if any) for above five hundred years after Christ, did so believe that Christ delivered the saints out of Hell, as to leave all the damned there. Many of the Ancients believed not, that they were removed at all, and few acknowledged that they were removed alone."
But it is asked, What became of those who came forth from their graves after Christ had risen and who appeared unto many? (Matt 27: 52, 53). Did they not "go to heaven" with the Lord? Let those say what became of these to whom God may have given private information upon the point; but it cannot be learned from Scripture that they went to heaven. And in return it may be asked, What became of Lazarus and the other persons who were resuscitated, as mentioned in Scripture? Did they go to heaven without dying again? or, are they still on earth? or, did they not in due time go back to the death state, from which they had been temporarily recalled to exhibit the power of God?
That Christ "led captivity
captive" carries no suggestion that He took the godly dead to
The figure itself forbids the idea. It is taken from the ancient practice
that a victorious commander dragged many, and the most noble, of his captives
to his capital city and exhibited them for his glory at his triumphal
entry. The expression could in no wise apply to the possible recovery of
some of his own subjects from captivity by his enemy and their return home with
him in liberty. The sense may be seen plainly in the place in Judges 5: 12, from which the phrase is quoted in
the later passages. As the conqueror Barak
returns from the victory over Sisera Deborah cries:
"Arise, Barak, and lead
away thy captives." It is the Lord's conquest of the
hosts of darkness that is
celebrated in the New Testament passages (Eph.
6. WHEN AND WHERE IS
Paul says that he was "caught away into the paradise" (2 Cor. 12: 4), which, in view of the meaning of the word, does not mean the heaven of heavens where God has His own especial dwelling. The word "caught up" is not exact, for the Greek word harpazo does not in itself indicate the direction. Nor is it certain that by "the paradise" he means the "third heaven" to which he had been taken according to the verse preceding, because he had said (ver. 1) that he was about to speak of "visions," not of only one vision, whereas he did not mention more than one, unless the two are separate events.
if the article "the paradise"
points to one such region that is pre-eminently
But the article "the paradise" does not require the sense of a region in the heavens, because Christ used it when he said to the thief. "To-day shalt thou be with me in the paradise" (Luke 23: 43), and it is beyond question, as we have seen that Christ did not go to the heavenly regions that day, but to Hades, in "the lower parts of the earth." Therefore the blissful region of Hades. "Abraham's bosom" (Lk. 16: 22) was paradise: and ought not we, the followers of the Lord, to feel that a region which was suitable to Him in the death state must be fully suitable for us?
As far as the meaning of the word goes there may be many paradises, even as Solomon says, "I made my paradises"; and so it may be that "the paradise of God," where grows the tree of life of which saints that have conquered in the battles of life shall be privileged to eat, is heavenly in location (Rev 2: 7; 22: 14); but in any case that is future, not present, as to our enjoyment of it, and does not touch the place and state of the dead.
The Lord Jesus in His universal presence is not only in heaven; He is also in the midst of two or three living saints gathered to His name on earth. He is in Hades also: "He descended ... He ascended, that He might fill all things" might occupy the universe (ta panta), might pervade it all with His presence, as the odour of the ointment did the house (John 12. 3), where the same verb is used as in Eph 4: 10 (pleeroo). Thus, without vacating His place at the right hand of God, He could present Himself personally and repeatedly to His imprisoned and hard-pressed servant on earth (Acts 23: 11; 2 Tim 4: 16, 17), and can also communicate with the dead, as we shall see shortly.
And the soul, freed from the trammels of his enfeebled, deranged body of our humiliation, can in consequence appreciate that presence more keenly and enjoy it more blessedly, and so Paul could rightly say that to depart and to be with Christ would be very far better than to be chained day and night to a rough pagan soldier, as was at that time his distressing lot (Phil 1: 23). It is however to be noted that the apostle does not here make any general statement that "to die is gain"; strictly his assertion is made of himself only. He had just stated his "earnest expectation and hope" that Christ should continue to be "magnified in his body, whether by life or by death." Not every believer lives with this as his fixed and paramount intention. Not every Christian has so dedicated his body to Christ as to be as willing for death as for life. Then Paul adds: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil 1: 20, 21). Doubtless this is true of each who lives to magnify Christ; but it is not said of believers who may not so live, as those, for example, who are cut off prematurely in their sins, as were Ananias and Sapphira and the evil living Christians in the Corinthian church (Acts 5.; 1 Cor. 11: 30).
7. THE SOULS UNDER THE ALTAR
It is a serious loss to many believers that they regard the book of the Revelation as beyond comprehension, and are afraid to accept its symbols and visions as a revelation. Hence, when appeal is made to it they decline to accept its testimony. But symbols, pictures, figures of speech, being used by the [Holy] Spirit of truth with divine care, teach with accuracy, and indeed with superior vividness, those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Hieroglyphs have plain meaning to those who can read them, and this had been just as much the fact during the period when men could not read them, or in the later period when scholars differed as to their meaning. Patient research brought explanation and reconciliation.
One of the most illuminating portions of Scripture upon our present interesting and necessary themes is in Revelation 6: 9-11. John says: "And when the Lamb opened the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of them that had been slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a great voice, saying, How long, O sovereign ruler, the holy and true, doest thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And there was given to them, to each one, a white robe; and it was said unto them that they should rest yet for a little time, until their fellow-bondmen also and their brethren, who should be killed even as they were, should have fulfilled their course."
At the time here in view the resurrection of the godly has not yet come, for the roll of the martyrs is not complete. These brethren therefore are still without their resurrection bodies. But to John, rapt is spirit into the super-sensuous word (ch. 1: 10: "I became in spirit," that is, in an ecstatic state), those "souls" were visible. Therefore death does not end the existence of the soul. Moreover, they are conscious: they remember what befell them on earth at the hands of the godless; they know what the future will bring of vengeance; they ponder the situation, and they wonder at the seeming delay of their vindication of God; they appeal to their Lord; they are given answer, counsel, and encouragement; they receive the sign of their Master's approval, the white robe, at once His recompense for that they did not defile their garments in the foul world, and His assurance that they shall be His personal and constant associates in His kingdom (Rev 3: 4, 5). This last item - the giving of the white robe - shows further that not all saints await a session of the judgment seat of Christ when at last He shall come from heaven; for His decision and approval are here made known to these in advance of His coming and of their resurrection.
The vision contains also something more, and which is completely unseen by most readers.
When Samuel come from Hades to speak to Saul (1 Sam 28: 12-14) he was seen by the medium. She saw him "coming up out of the earth," a further plain intimation that Sheol is within the earth. She described him, saying it was "an old man" who had appeared, and he was "covered with a robe." The description was so accurate that Saul, who had long known Samuel on earth, recognized him by it and was satisfied that the real Samuel was present, though he had not himself seen the appearance; for it says that "he perceived (Heb, knew)," not that he saw that it was Samuel. Equally does his question to the witch "What seest thou?"* tell that he had not himself seen the form.
[* The wayside of history, writes D. M. Panton, is strewn with the wreckage of supernatural seduction. Again and again disciples have vainly relied upon that which is no test their standing, their holiness, their experience, their invocations of the Blood, etc., - instead of on the only God-given criterion, the applied Word of God. Spirit after spirit has slipped past the imagined tests put by those whom they have subdued with the most monstrous claims. This was the downfall of Prince of the Agapemone, once an ardent and devoted evangelical clergyman. He asserted at last, under the direction of his controlling spirit whom he mistook for the Holy Ghost:- In me you see Christ in the flesh; by me, and in me, God has redeemed all flesh from death. (Tests for the Supernatural.)]
This makes evident (a) that the disembodied soul has form and garments, such as can be seem by one endowed with vision therefor, as were the medium then and John later; and (b) that the psychical form and clothing of that state correspond recognizably to the outer material form and clothing of the former earth life. This has bearing upon the question of recognition after death, and upon other interesting points not now to be examined.
The reality of this psychical form is often assumed or asserted in Scripture. Dives in Hades (Lk. 16.) has a body that can feel anguish from a "flame." There is "water" that could cool his "tongue." Lazarus has a "finger." Both Dives and Abraham have eyes and ears and voices; they see and hear and speak. The reality of bliss in that state must be surrendered if the reality of torment there be denied. That those realities are subtle as compared with their grosser counterparts of this world, does not make them or the experiences less real, but rather the more acute.
Thus also it is as to the souls "under the altar." John sees them, and sees that to each of them is given a "robe" that is both suitable and significant.
It was for a similar, yet even higher, experience that Paul longed; for, while the disembodied state would indeed be far better than his painful lot as a prisoner, yet in itself it is not the best. And so on another occasion, when he was in freedom and rejoicing in his wondrous and privileged service, he spoke differently (2 Cor. 5: 1-10). First he spoke of the present: "We that are in this tent-dwelling [the body] do groan, being burdened": then he mentioned the intermediate state after death: "not for that we would be unclothed" (without adequate covering), for this is not to be desired; it is as unpleasant and unseemly for the soul as for the body*; and then he spoke of the future: "we long to be clothed upon with our habitation which is from heaven; if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked," that is, at the coming of the Lord.
[* Compare the evident longing of the evil spirit to return
into the body he had left. Without a material body he wandered restless,
like a thirsty man seeking water in a desert (Matt
12: 43-45). Demons also begged to enter
the bodies of even swine, when driven from the body of a man. This misery
of disembodied beings is recognized by the heathen, who often, by reason of
dread and unholy contact with the demon world, have more sense of these matters
than the materialized modern westerner. Thus a Chinese driver explained the whirling dust spouts of the
This "if so be" implies the possibility of not having part in the first resurrection, for (1 Cor. 15: 54) that is the hour when "what is mortal shall be swallowed up of life," by the soul being clothed upon with its "building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens," a "house" in contrast to this present body, the frail transitory tent.
This is the meaning of his earlier prayer above noticed, that "the spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, unblemished," and so unblamable (amemptos includes both) when the Lord shall come (1 Thess. 5: 22). No "naked," that is, unembodied, soul can be presented before the presence of God's glory, because for that it must be without blemish (amomos), not to be blamed (Jude 24; Eph 1: 4). Were a man, however perfect his form, and even were he of the royal family, to present himself naked on a court day before the king upon his throne he would be severely blamed. Not only comeliness of person, but clothing, and suitable clothing is indispensable. Indeed, the officers of the court would prevent anything so utterly unseemly. Shall the King of kings receive less respect? He that hath ears to hear let him hear this, and lay to heart that not death, but resurrection or rapture fits for translation to the realms above and the court of the God of glory. It was thus with Christ himself.
For entrance into the holy places the priest had not only to be one of the redeemed people of God; he had also to be unblemished as to his person (Lev. 21.), and he had further to be clothed in garments of glory and beauty (Ex. 28.). Both were indispensable for access to the presence of God. Moreover, before the perfect form could be clothed in such garments it had to be washed with water (Lev. 8: 6; 16: 4), which is the work our Moses, Christ, wishes to effect in us in this earthly life by His word (Eph. 5: 25-27) and by discipline (Heb. 12: 10), in preparation for that coming day of our being clothed for access to and service in the true sanctuary above.
If it be asked whether the righteousness imputed to the believer upon first faith in Christ does not include all this that is evidently necessary, the answer is a distinct negative. One consideration settles this. That imputed righteousness is the "righteousness of God," and this is of necessity indefectible, un-tarnishable. But, according to the regulations, the priest may possibly be defective in form or defiled in person and clothing: were it not so, what need of the regulations and purifying ceremonies?
For the forgiveness of sins, and for life as a forgiven man in the camp, neither perfection of form, nor washing at the gate of the tabernacle, nor special clothing, were demanded; but for access of God and for priestly service all these were as indispensable as the atoning blood. Imputed righteousness settles completely and for ever the judicial standing of the believer as justified before the law of God; but practical righteousness must be added in order to secure many of the mighty privileges which become possible to the justified. Let him that hath ears hear this also, for loss and shame must be his at last who has been content to remain deformed and imperfect in moral state, or is found to have neglected the washing, and so to be unfit to wear the noble clothing required for access to the throne of glory. Such neglect of present grace not only causes the loss of heart access to God, as the careless believer surely knows, but will assure the forfeiture of much that grace would have granted in the future.
Here lies the weight of the warning which our Lord announces from heaven as to be specially applicable when His coming draws near: "Behold, I come as a thief. [This message is set in the midst of the gathering of the hosts of Antichrist for the battle of Har Magedon, and so indicates the period when the coming will be]. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame" (Rev 16: 15). Therefore "garments" may be lost. If the reference is to the imputed righteousness, then justification [by faith] may be forfeited, and the once [eternally] saved be afterwards [eternally] lost. But let those who rightly reject this, inquire honestly what it does properly mean as to the eternally justified. And let them face what is involved in the loss of one's garments.
In the temple of old the guards were placed at nightfall at their posts. The captain of the temple, at any hour he chose, went round with a posse of men unannounced, and if a guard was caught asleep at his post, he was stripped of his clothes, which were burned, and he was left to go forth in his shame. The shame of his nakedness was the outward counterpart of the deeper shame that he had slept when on duty. Not in that dishonoured state dare he enter the house of God and sing or serve. And it would be long ere the disgrace of that night would fade from memory, his own or others. My soul, keep awake through this short night of duty while thy Lord is away? Thou knowest not in which watch of the night He will come, and it were dreadful to be left unclothed with that house which is from heaven should He come suddenly and find thee sleeping!
To return to seal 5. These, then, are "souls" not "spirits." Man has spirit as part of his composite being, but he is not a spirit, as angels are. In the 397 places where the word "spirit" comes in the New Testament man is never called a spirit, because he himself is not one, but is a soul. Hence, by the way, the "in-prison spirits" of 1 Pet 3: 19 are not human beings, but those fallen angels whom Peter again mentions (2 Pet. 2: 4: comp. Gen. 6: 1-4 and Jude 6). This is put beyond question by the fact that these are in the underworld, in prison, in Tartarus - a region well known to the ancient world, and by this name that Peter uses, as the deepest and most dreadful part of Hades, a prison of fallen angels; whereas the spirit of man does not go to the underworld, but to "God who gave it."
It is therefore the soul which is the person; and - against the annihilationist - the soul has not ceased to exist, or lost its sense of personality, because of being without spirit or body. Yet neither can man in this incomplete condition stand in the all-holly presence of God in heaven. For entrance into the holy of holies the high priest himself must be arrayed in garments specially pure and glorious. It was only in His resurrection body of glory that the Man Christ Jesus entered into the holy place on high, and so only can the under-priests, His followers, do so. To stand there the being must be complete in structure and perfect morally, which is the point of Paul's prayer for fellow-saints: "The God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, blameless in the parousia [the presence, at His coming] of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess 5: 23). This shows that the phrase "the spirits of just men made perfect" points to the resurrection. It has just before been said of them, that "apart from us they could not be made perfect" (Heb. 12. 23; 11. 40). All the other glories to which in this passage we are said to have come are future, to be realized actually at the coming of the Lord. See my "Firstborn Sons," 84 ff.
The use of spirit in this place (Heb. 12: 23) may seem at variance with the statement that man is not called "spirit." It is a rare instance, perhaps in the New Testament the only instance, of Cremer's fourth sense in which the term is used. It "comes to denote an essence without any corporeal garb for its inner reality"; that is, in Heb 12: 23, which he cites, the man, the soul, without its body, is described as spirit, meaning a spiritual substance destitute of a material covering. This does not cancel the regular distinction in Scripture between soul and spirit, but indicates only the immateriality of the soul, the ego, in itself. The student should by all means study Cremer's treatment of pneuma; and psuchθ (Lexicon of N.T.Greek), and note his conclusion that "psuchθ [soul] is the subject or ego of life."
Now these souls that John saw are "under the altar." Not one of the first six seals, of which this is the fifth, pictures events in the presence of God in heaven; all deal with affairs on earth, or as seen from the earth. This altar then, is not in heaven. There is an altar in heaven pictured in the book, but it is specified as being the "golden altar," that is, the one for incense (comp Ex. 30: 3), and as being "before the throne" or "before God" (Rev. 8: 3; 9. 13). In this book "before the throne" always means the upper heavens. But this other altar is one of sacrifice, though not of atoning sacrifice. We Christians have an altar of atoning sacrifice (Heb. 13: 10); it is the cross of Jesus, the Lamb of God. But that is not in view here.
The picture is really quite simple. The brazen altar of sacrifice in the tabernacle was square and hollow, with a grating upon which rested the wood and the victims. When the fire had done its work the remains of the sacrifice fell through the grating to beneath the altar, whence they could be removed on occasion. Now the place, the "altar," where these martyrs of Christ sacrificed person and life in His cause is obviously this earth, and thus this vision simply declares what we have seen from other scriptures, that the place of the dead is under the earth: "He descended into the lower parts of the earth"; whence those still there will be removed at [the time of their] resurrection.
Since these pages were written I have learned that this was the explanation of the earliest known Latin commentator on the Apocalypse, Victorinus of Pettau (died 303). Mr F. F. Bruce summarized this in The Evangelical Quarterly (Oct 1938) as follows: "The altar (Rev. 6: 9) is the earth: the brazen altar of burnt-offering and the golden altar of incense in the Tabernacle correspond to earth and heaven respectively. The souls under the altar, therefore, are in Hades, in that department of it which is 'remote from pains and fires, the rest of the saints'."
This confirms Bishop Pearson cited above as to the view held in the earliest Christian centuries.
A great deal more concerning Hades can be learned from Scripture, but it would require separate treatment. Here we deal with the matter only as connected with the subject in hand.
It is true, as above indicated on Heb. 12: 23, that the words soul and spirit take, by much usage, shades of meaning derived from their primary sense. The student will discover these, and will not be confused thereby if only the primary, dominant sense of each has been first grasped firmly. And keeping that sense before him, we believe he will find it to illuminate many obscure scriptures and subjects to see that the soul is the person - a living soul while on earth - a dead soul while in the underworld - and to be made alive in immortality at the [time of] resurrection, with a body of glory incorruptible, indestructible.
The term "immortal soul" is incorrect and misleading when used of our present state or of the dead. To be immortal is to be incapable of dying. Man is not this as yet. Neither the innocent humanity of Adam, nor ever the sinless humanity of Jesus was immortal, for both were capable of dying, and did in fact die. But the saved of men will become immortal in resurrection, as the man Christ Jesus did. The soul, the man, has now endless existence but not immortality, in the proper sense of the word, until resurrection; and then only the saved will be incapable of dying; the lost will exist for ever, but in a state termed "dead," the "second death."
We rightly describe death as a "dissolution," for the partnership between man's spirit and soul and body is dissolved. Of our Lord in resurrection we read the glorious fact that "He liveth in the power of indissoluble life" and "death no more hath dominion over Him" (Heb 7: 16; Rom 6: 9, 10). This life His people will share for ever and ever. But for them, as for Him, it can be reached only by resurrection or rapture, never by death. It will be no small profit from this discussion if it be seen that the opinion that the believer goes at death to glory diminishes the sense of need of resurrection or rapture, and consequently of the return of Christ when these will take place; and also if it thus cause some hearts to feel that these events are utterly indispensable, the proper, the blessed hope of the believer. As Peter exhorts, let us "set our hope perfectly [that is, undividedly] on the favour that is being brought unto us at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet 1: 13).