a conditional gift to be bestowed at the resurrection
The Scriptures are the only source
of information concerning our future destiny. Job asks, "If
a man die, shall he live again?" This is the question which
it is the special function of the Bible to answer. From no other
source can we procure an answer. If we speculate upon it as a philosophical
problem, we grope in the dark. There is no process in nature from
which we can reason on the subject. There is no real parallel to
resurrection. A seed deposited in the ground springs again, and
renews its existence by the law of nature. The power to spring again
is part of itself. Not so with man. To use the words of Job (14:7-10):
"There is hope of a tree,
if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender
branch thereof will not cease. Though the root thereof wax old
in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground, yet through
the scent of water it will bud and bring forth boughs like a plant.
But man dieth and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the spirit,
and where is he?"
Where is he? The answer is a simple
one; he is nowhere. The dust has returned to the earth as it was,
and his life-spirit has returned to God who gave it: and though
both dust and life continue to exist as separate elements, the man
who resulted from their organic combination has ceased to be; and
if he ever "live again", it will be the result of a fresh
effort on the part of Almighty power.
That he will live again, is one
of the blessed teachings of the Word of God. "Since by man
came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead"
(1 Corinthians 15:21). It was the peculiar mission of Christ to
bring this truth to light. He proclaimed himself the "Resurrection
and the Life" (John 11:25), adding, "He that believeth
in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live."
He came, not simply to re-infuse spiritual vigour into the deadened
moral natures of men, but to open a way of deliverance from the
physical law of death which is sweeping them into the grave, and
keeping them there. He came, in fact, to raise the bodies of men
which are the men themselves from the pit of corruption, and to
endow them, if accepted, with incorruptibility and immortality.
Paul says: "He will change our vile body, that it may be fashioned
like unto his glorious body" (Philipians 3:21). This is connected
with the resurrection, for Jesus himself says, "This is the
Father’s will, which hath sent me, that of all which he hath
given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at
the last day" (John 6:39). Thus, life and immortality are said
to have been "brought to light by Jesus Christ, through the
Gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10). In fact, this very aim of the sacrificial
work of Christ, as the Saviour of the world from sin, and as the
reconciler of the world to God, from whom all men have gone astray,
was to offer men everlasting life. This will appear from the following
citations from the New Testament:
"I am come that they might
have life, and that they might have
it more abundantly" (John 10:10).
"God sent his only begotten
Son into the world, that we might live
through him" (1 John 4:9).
"Ye will not come to me,
that ye might have life" (John 5:40).
"I am the resurrection and
the life" (John 11:25).
"God so loved the world,
that gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him
should not perish, but have everlasting life"
"Thou (the Father) hast given
him (the Son) power over all flesh that he should give eternal
life to as many as thou hast given him" (John
"My sheep hear my voice...I
give unto them eternal life; and they
shall never perish; neither shall any man pluck them out of my
hand" (John 10:27-28).
"This is the record, that
God hath given to us eternal life, and
this life is in his Son" (1 John
"This is the promise that
he hath promised us, even eternal life"
(1 John 2:25).
"The wages of sin is death,
but the gift of God is eternal life
through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23).
"That being justified by
his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal
life " (Titus 3:7).
"Keep yourselves in the love
of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal
life " (Jude 21).
There is one obvious reflection
on the reading of these passages; if immortality be the natural
attribute of every son of Adam from the very moment he breathes,
there is little meaning in testimonies which, one and all, speak
of immortality as a future contingency, a thing to be sought for,
a reward, a thing to be given, a thing brought to light through
the gospel, etc. There is complete obscurity in such language if
immortality be a natural and present possession. How can a man be
promised that which is already his own? The divine promise is that
God will award eternal life to those who seek for glory, honour,
and immortality. This is the strongest proof that human nature knows
nothing of immortality at present.
What is this
immortality? Theologians would lead us to suppose it was a mental
quality, like conscience or benevolence - a thing of spiritual condition
- an essence which is itself without reference to time or
space. As death has come to have an artificial theological significance,
so immortality itself, the promised gift of God through Jesus Christ,
has been frittered away into a metaphysical conception - beyond
the comprehension, as it has been placed beyond the practical interest
of mankind. Bringing commonsense and Scripture teaching to bear
on this point, we find that immortality is the opposite of mortality.
The one being deathfulness in relation to being, as such, the other
is deathlessness in the same relation. Both are terms definitive
of duration rather than of quality, of life, although quality is
implied in both cases. A mortal is a creature of terminable existence;
an immortal, one so constituted that his life is endless. Yet the
terminability of the one, and the endlessness of the other, are
the result of the established conditions of their natures respectively.
Man is mortal, because his organism tends to decay. If that organism
could go on working from year to year, without deterioration or
liability to disorder, he would be immortal, apart from violence,
because life would be constantly sustained and manifested. But it
is not so, as we know to our sorrow; his nature contains within
it the seeds of corruption, and hence it runs down to unavertable
dissolution. The finest constitution will succumb at last to the
gradual exhaustion going on from year to year. To be immortal, we
require to be incorruptible in substance; because that which is
incorruptible cannot decay; and an incorruptible living organism
will live for ever. Hence the immortality of the New Testament is
a promise of resurrection to incorruptible bodily existence:
"It is sown in corruption,
it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised
in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is
sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body" (1 Corinthians
Again (Philippians 3:20-21):
"Jesus Christ...shall change
our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious
To obtain immortality, is to be
transformed from our present weak, frail, corruptible condition
of body, into a perfect, incorruptible, powerful condition, in which
we shall no more be the subjects of weakness, pain, sorrow, and
death, but shall be like the Lord Jesus Christ in his present exalted
state of existence.
This transformation occurs at the
return of Jesus Christ from heaven, as is evident from the following
"Jesus Christ shall judge
the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom"
(2 Timothy 4:1).
"But every man in his own
order (of resurrection): Christ the firstfruits; afterward they
that are Christ’s at his coming"
(1 Corinthians 15:23).
"Your life is hid with Christ
in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then
shall ye also appear with him in glory" (Colossians 3:3-4).
"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 all 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, 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" (1 Corinthians 15:51-54).
From the last testimony, we learn
that the faithful in Christ Jesus who are in the land of the living
at the second advent of their Lord and Saviour will, after they
have been judged, undergo an immediate transformation into the incorruptible
nature of the spiritual body, without going through the process
of death. Hence the statement is "we shall not all sleep".
So that some perhaps now living will be exceptions to the general
rule of mortality, and shall not taste of death.
As to the nature
of the resurrected body, we find in one of the passages quoted from
Paul’s epistles, the words, "It is raised a spiritual
body". Some think this means a gaseous, shadowy, spectral
body, that a man could drive his hand through. On the contrary,
the righteous in the perfected state will be as real and corporeal
as mortal men in the present life. We learn this in the most unmistakable
manner. Look at the following statements:
"He shall change our vile
body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious
body" (Philippians 3:21).
"We know that when Christ
shall appear, we shall be like him;
for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2).
Here is a starting point: Christ
is the pattern after which his people are to be fashioned. If, therefore,
we would learn knowledge in regard to the nature of the righteous
in the future state, we must contemplate the nature of Christ subsequent
to his resurrection. We are enabled to do this, because Christ appeared
to his disciples after his resurrection, and had several interviews
with them. We find him aiming to give evidence to his disciples
of his reality, when they were terrified by his sudden appearance,
thinking him an illusion before their eyes. He said:
"Why are ye troubled? and
why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet,
that it is I myself; handle me and see; for a spirit (phantasma,
apparition) hath not flesh and bones as ye see me
have. And when he had thus spoken, he showed them
his hands and his feet. And while they yet believed not for joy,
and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat? And they
gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb; and he
took it and did eat before them" (Luke 24:38-43).
Here is positive proof that Christ
was as real and corporeal after his resurrection as he was before.
The body that was laid in the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea was the
body that afterwards arose and appeared as "the same Jesus"
- "I myself" - to the disciples, who handled him, and
who ate with him. This is proof that the righteous in the resurrection
will be as tangible and bodily as he was then, seeing that they
are to be "fashioned like unto his glorious body". It
is suggested that Christ’s nature was transformed into intangible
essence after his ascension; but there is nothing to support such
a suggestion. The supposition is simply gratuitous and undeserving
of consideration. It is excluded by the evidence of Christ’s
reality and identity after his ascension. Even if this were not
so, the suggestion would be without standing ground. Since there
is no statement to the effect that Christ ceased to be bodily after
his ascension, the only rational alternative would be to assume
that no such change took place, and that Christ remained, and continues
to be the same real though glorified personage who exhibited his
hands and feet to his assembled disciples. But the fact of his bodily
continuance is borne out in the statement made by the angels to
the disciples, just after the ascension:
"Why stand ye gazing up into
heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken
up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have
seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11).
What would the disciples understand
by "this same Jesus"? Would they not think of the blessed
Saviour, who, a few days before, had eaten bread in their sight,
and said to them, "a spirit (or phantasm) hath not flesh and
bones as ye see me have?" Undoubtedly;
and they would look forward to the time of his re-appearance, with
the prints of the nails in his hands, and the mark of the wound
in his side, which it is evident, from Zechariah 13:6, will be the
subject of anxious and interesting curiosity to Jewish beholders
at his coming. Therefore, the proof remains that the righteous in
the resurrected state will be substantial as their Lord and Master,
instead of the bodiless entities generally imagined.
Though not less real than mortal
man, the glorified saints will possess a different kind of nature.
They are, in the present state, "natural bodies", but
then, they will be "spiritual bodies". Here is the distinction.
Natural or animal bodies are sustained in life by the blood, as
saith the Scriptures in Leviticus 17:14, "The life of all flesh
is the blood thereof". The blood is the medium of animal vitality,
with which it becomes charged by the action of the air on the lungs.
The life principle or "spirit" is thus applied only in
an indirect manner. The blood is proximately the life-giving agent;
bodies sustained by it are simply blood bodies. Their life is not
inherent; it is dependent on a complex function which is easily
interfered with. It is applied by a process so delicate as to be
easily marred by external influences and accidental circumstances.
Therefore, life is uncertain, and constant health and vigour almost
impossible. Our constitutions are easily impaired, and we are liable
to be afflicted with distressing infirmities and pains which easily
become dangerous: hence the lucrative profession which is accredited
with the skill to "cure" unfortunate humanity. And they
cannot "cure". The disease is too deep for their skill.
It is in the constitution, it is in the blood; it is deep-grained
and incurable. All that the doctor can do is to patch a humanly-unmendable
The Lord Jesus Christ is the only
true physician. He offers us resurrection to spirit-body existence.
He promises to fashion us like unto his own glorious body. He undertakes
that though we may be afflicted with all the pains that flesh is
heir to in this present life, yea, disfigured by all the distortions
of disease; though we may die loathsome deaths and be laid in the
grave a mass of festering corruption, we shall be raised to a pure
and incorruptible state, in which our bodies shall be "spiritual
bodies"; not because ethereal, which is not their characteristic,
but because directly energised by the spirit of God, and filled
in every atom with the concentrated inextinguishable life-power
of God himself. This is the testimony of Christ (John 3:6): "That
which is born of the Spirit is Spirit."
He had said, "that which is born of the flesh is flesh".
Mortal men and women are born of the flesh; therefore, they are
but flesh - a wind that passeth away and cometh not again; but let
a man be "born of the spirit", and he is no longer the
frail and perishable offspring of Adam. His corruptible has put
on incorruptibility. He is an invincible, all-powerful, immortal
son of God. "They are the children of God", says Jesus,
speaking of the resurrection which is unto life, "being the
children of the resurrection."
Paul says (Romans 8:11), "He
that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal
bodies by his spirit that dwelleth in
you." Here is a second birth to be effected by the spirit of
God; and on the principle laid down by Christ, all who are the subjects
of this operation of the spirit upon their mortal bodies will be
"born of the spirit" and will, therefore, be "spirit"
in nature or "spiritual" bodies - bodies sustained in
life by the direct operation of the spirit of life, without the
intermediate agency of the blood - immortal, bloodless embodiments
of the spirit of life in flesh and bones, like the Lord Jesus; not
pale and ghastly as a human body would be without blood, but beautiful
with the radiance of the Spirit. Living by the thorough permeation
of the life-spirit in the substance of their natures, they will
be glorious and powerful, "pure as the gem, strong as adamant,
and incorruptible as gold", glorious in the sense of physical
luminosity, as exemplified in the Lord Jesus when he shone with
the lustre of the sun on the mount of transfiguration, and, according
as it is written:
"They that be wise shall
shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many
to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever" (Daniel
Powerful, in the sense of being
vigorous and inexhaustible in the power of the faculties, as it
"The everlasting God, the
Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither
is weary. There is no searching of his understanding. He giveth
power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth
strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young
men shall utterly fall; but they that wait upon the Lord shall
renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles;
they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint"
Incorruptible in the sense of being
undecaying and imperishable in nature, and therefore entirely free
from any liability to pain or disease. In this perfect condition,
the righteous will have a boundless eternity before them - everlasting
joy upon their heads; no more dullness of mind; no more fretting
and heart-failing at the afflictions of mortal life; no more sorrow,
no more growing old; no more passing away; but all perfection, harmony
unbroken, love unquenchable, joy unspeakable, and full of glory.
This will be the happy state of the righteous; this the consummation
of that blessed promise, "He will swallow up death in victory;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces" (Isaiah
25:8). This precious life and immortality, brought to life by Jesus
Christ through the gospel, is not to be indiscriminately bestowed.
All men will not attain to it; only a few will be counted worthy.
The precious gift is freely offered to all; but it is conditional.
It is not to be given to the faithless and the impure. Perfection
of character must precede perfection of nature. Moral fitness is
the indispensable pre-requisite, and God is the judge and the prescriber
of the peculiar moral fitness necessary in the case. This is proved
by the following passages:
"To them who by patient continuance
in well doing seek for glory, honour and immortality, (God will
render) eternal life" (Romans 2:7).
"If thou wilt enter into
life, keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:17).
"He that believeth on the
Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son,
shall not see life" (John 3:36).
"These are written, that
ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and
that believing ye might have life through his name" (John
"Go ye into all the world,
and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and
is baptised shall be saved" (Mark 16:15-16).
"He that heareth my word,
and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and
shall not come into condemnation" (John 5:24)
"He that believeth in me,
though he were dead, yet shall he live" (John 11:25).
"I will give unto him that
is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely" (Revelation
These testimonies give the deathblow
to Universalism. They predicate salvation upon conditions which
exclude the majority of mankind. They restrict it to a class which
has always been small among men, and effectually disprove the mistaken
theory of benevolence which proclaims the "universal restoration"
of every human being. This may represent Christianity as a very
"narrow" affair, but no narrower than its divinely-intended
scope. "Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way"; this
is its characteristic, and not without wisdom. The development of
an approved family from the sons of men is its object. The world’s
vast populations are merely incidental to this plan. They come,
and they go; and, as flesh, they profit nothing. They come from
nothing, and go whence they came. It is only the theory of universal
human immortality that gives rise to the idea of universal human
salvation. When human nature is looked upon at its true standard
of vanity, the difficulty vanishes.
Those who are
excluded from eternal life are divided into two classes - first,
those who hear the word and reject it; and second, those whom circumstances
preclude from hearing it all - such as the pagans of ancient
times. The second class includes a third, viz., those whose misfortunes
prevent them from believing, even if they hear the word, such as
very young children. The fate of the first class (those who hear
the word, and reject it) is plainly stated. They are to be presented
"He that rejecteth me and
receiveth not my words...the word that I have spoken, the same
shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:48).
"He that believeth not shall
be damned" (Mark 16:16).
The punishment is inflicted at the
resurrection, as Jesus says: "They that have done evil (shall
come forth) unto the resurrection of damnation." This "resurrection
of damnation", however, this is not a resurrection to unending
life, or to hell fire in the popular acceptation. It is a resurrection
to judicially administered shame and corruption. They shall of the
flesh, to which they have sown, reap corruption (Galatians 6:8)
which ends in the triumph of the worm and fire over their being
- that is, in death. They rise to the shame and confusion of a divine
and frowning rejection, in which "few stripes" or "many
stripes" are inflicted, according to desert - differences in
the duration and intensity of suffering as justice may demand, after
which the wicked are finally engulfed in the "second death",
which obliterates their wretched existence from God’s creation.
Being of no use, they are put out of the way, and disappear for
ever, "where the wicked cease from troubling".
theology delights in assigning them to endless existence of torment.
This idea is based upon certain obscure New Testament expressions
which are supposed to countenance it, but which, when properly
understood, have no such terrible significance. "Unquenchable
fire" is one of those expressions; it is supposed to imply
the eternal conscious existence of the wicked, but reflection will
show it involves the opposite. If the fire is not quenched, there
is no escape from consumption. This phrase is used in this sense
in Jeremiah 17:27, Ezekiel 20:47, and other places. The same is
true of "worm dieth not". Herod’s worms died not,
and the consequence was that he died (Acts
12:23). If they had died, he would have recovered. "Everlasting
punishment" is affirmed of the wicked; but this does not teach
eternal torment. Aionian, translated "everlasting", does
not necessarily import unending perpetuity. Aion, age, from which
it is derived, denotes a period of time. As we know, from other
parts of Scripture, that the punishment of the age of retribution
terminates in death, we are enabled to see the "aion"
of the punishment is only co-extensive with the duration of that
Some imagine that the application
of this principle to the phrase "eternal life" destroys
the hope of immortality, by making it a thing of possible terminability.
If there were nothing beyond the phrase "eternal (aionian)
life", we should have an uncertain foundation for the hope
of endless life. We should in that case simply be informed that
there was an age-pertaining life - a life pertaining to the coming
age of God’s intervention in human affairs, but should not,
by the phrase, receive any information as to the nature of that
life or the extent of its duration. But the case stands not in this
uncertain state. We are explicitly informed by other testimonies,
that while aionian punishment ends in death, the life to be conferred
in that same aion is inextinguishable.
"They which shall be accounted
worthy to obtain that world . . . neither marry nor are given
in marriage; neither can they die any more,
for they are equal unto the angels" (Luke 20:35-36).
"There shall be no
more death" (Revelation 21:4).
"They shall never perish"
"He will swallow up death
in victory" (Isaiah 25:8).
"This mortal must put on
immortality" (1 Corinthians 15:53).
If immortality had an end, it would
not be immortality. Aionian life is unending life. We know this,
not from the use of the word Aionian, which would tell us nothing
on the subject, but from testimonies like those quoted.
is a gift to be bestowed at the resurrection. The proposition is
plain, and the evidence conclusive. May it be the happy lot of all
who read these pages to inherit the glorious gift.
(Extracted from Christendom
Astray by Robert Roberts with slight amendments to reflect the current
state of affairs among the nations. Copies of his excellent guide
to understanding the Bible are available by contacting