Sunday, December 31, 2017

Is there Immortality in Sin and Suffering? Sermon 1 Part 1 of 4

By George Storrs

"May we know what this new doctrine whereof thou speakest is? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know, therefore, what these things mean." - Acts xvii.19, 20.

PAUL, the apostle, in preaching the gospel, came to Athens; he there beheld an altar inscribed "TO THE UNKNOWN GOD." At the idolatry he saw, his spirit was stirred within him; hence he disputed daily with them that met him. He encountered certain philosophers - wise men, no doubt, - at least in their own estimation - and some of them said: What will this babbler say? Others said, he seemeth to be a setter forth of strange Gods. Doubtless they thought he was a heretic of the blackest stamp; yet they seemed disposed to hear him, before they passed final sentence upon him. In this respect they manifested a better disposition than many of the present day, who are so wise in their own estimation, that no one can advance a thought to which they will listen, unless it has first received the approbation of some doctor of divinity.


Not so with the men of Athens; strange as the things were that the Apostle taught, they were desirous to know what the new doctrine was. Not that it was new in itself, but only new to them.

Various errors exist among men in regard to revealed truth. These errors go to show how imperfect we are in knowledge - the mistakes committed in our education - the reluctance of the mind to investigate - and a want of moral courage to step aside from the track marked out by learned men, as they are thought to be, but who, most likely, have conducted their own investigations under the influence of the fear of being denounced as heretics, if they should be led to results unlike to those who are reputed for wisdom. But "if any man will be wise, let him become a fool that he may be wise," is the language of the apostle. We honor God only so far as we have right conceptions of His character, government and purposes, and act in accordance with them. If we believe God will reward, or punish men contrary to His own word, we dishonor Him, however much sincerity we may possess. Truth and the honor of God are inseparable: and we cannot glorify our Heavenly Father by erroneous opinions. Yet, most professed Christians, if pressed on the subject, can give little better reason for what they believe, on many points, than that such has been the instruction they have received from men. It is a solemn duty to study our Bibles, and form our opinions of what they teach for ourselves, as we must answer for ourselves. But in this study the adoption of correct principles of interpretation is of the first importance. Without this, our appeal to the word of God may only serve to confirm us in error. The plainest truths of the Bible have been wrapped


in darkness by pretending that the language of the Scriptures has a mystical or secret meaning that does not appear in the words employed. Such a principle of interpretation is a libel on the Bible. That Book professes to be a revelation; and the Saviour says, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine." The language of the Bible, then, should be explained as the language of any other book, i.e., according to its plain and obvious meaning: unless there is a clear necessity for departing from it. A strict adherence to this principle is necessary, if we would be saved from the wildest errors, and see the children of God united in one. With these remarks I proceed to

The question is not, whether man can be immortal, nor whether the righteous will be immortal. These points are admitted and abundantly proved by the Bible; but the question is - Will the wicked who live and die in their sins, continue eternally, or without end, in a state of conscious existence? Or, once more - Is the punishment God has threatened to sinners an eternal state of suffering and sin? This involves the question of immortality. For if all men can be proved to be immortal, it seems to follow from the Bible, that the finally impenitent will be left in a state of endless suffering and sin.

These are mainly three, viz: First - The desire all men feel for it. Second - That the soul is immaterial, uncompounded, indivisible, hence indestructible, and


therefore immortal. Third - That God wills the immortality of all men. To these, perhaps, another should be added, viz: - "All nations and people have believed the soul immortal." To this last argument, I answer - There is no evidence that all nations and people have believed it. There is evidence to the contrary. In the "Dialogue on the Immortality of the Soul" - found in "PLATO'S DIALOGUES" - Socrates, having spoken of the nature of the soul, says - "Shall a soul of this nature, and created with all these advantages, be dissipated and annihilated as soon as it parts from the body, as most men believe?" Here the fact is brought out, that so far from its being a general belief that the soul is immortal, the exact reverse was true in Socrates' day. Socrates is supposed to have believed the souls of the good were immortal, and would ascend to the Gods at death. With respect to bad men, it is not so clear what his opinion was in regard to the final result with them. It seems, however, that he thought after they left the body, they wandered awhile in impure places, in suffering, "till they again enter a new body, and in all probability plunge themselves into the same manners and passions, as were the occupation of their first life. "For instance," continues Socrates, "those who made their belly their God, and loved nothing but indolence and impurity without any shame, and without any reserve, these enter into the bodies of asses, or such like creatures. And those who loved only injustice, tyranny and rapine, are employed to animate the bodies of wolves, hawks and falcons. Where else should souls of that sort go? The case of the rest is much the same. They go to animate the bodies of beasts of different species, according as they resemble


their former dispositions. The happiest of all these men are those who have made a profession of popular and civil virtues, such as temperance and justice; to which they have brought themselves only by habit and exercise, without any assistance from philosophy and the mind. It is probable, that after their death, their souls are joined to the bodies of politic and meek animals, such as bees, wasps and ants."

Surely, one would think that this is little short of annihilation itself. Socrates, after speaking of those who lived, "following reason for their guide," etc., says - "After such a life, and upon such principles, what should the soul be afraid of? Shall it fear, that upon its departure from the body, the winds will dissipate it, and run away with it, and that annihilation will be its fate?"

On this subject, Archbishop Whately, in his Lectures on "Scripture Revelations Concerning a Future State," speaks thus: -

"Among the heathen philosophers, Plato has been appealed to, as having believed in a future state of reward and punishment, on the ground that the passages in his works in which he inculcates the doctrine, are much more numerous than those in which he expresses his doubt of it. I cannot undertake to say that such is not the case; for this arithmetical mode (as it may be called) of ascertaining a writer's sentiments, by counting the passages on opposite sides, is one which had never occurred to me; nor do I think it is likely to be generally adopted. If, for instance, an author were to write ten volumes in defence of Christianity, and two or three times to express his suspicion that the whole is a tissue of fables, I believe few of his readers would feel any doubt as to his real sentiments. When a writer is at variance with himself, it is usual to judge from the nature of the subject, and the circumstances


of the case, which is likely to be his real persuasion, and which, the one, he may think it decorous, or politically expedient, to profess.

"Now in the present case, if the ancient writers disbelieved a future state of reward and punishment, one can easily understand why they should nevertheless occasionally speak as if they did believe it; since the doctrine, they all agreed, was useful in keeping the multitude in awe. On the other hand, would they, if they did believe in it, ever deny its truth? or rather (which is more commonly the case in their works) would they allude to it as a fable so notoriously and completely disbelieved by all enlightened people as not to be worth denying, much less refuting, any more than tales of fairies are by modern writers?

"Even Aristotle has been appealed to as teaching (in the first book of the Nicomachean Ethics) the doctrine of a future state of enjoyment or suffering; though it is admitted by all, that, within a few pages, he speaks of death as the complete and final extinction of existence, "beyond which there is neither good nor evil to be expected." He does not even assert this as a thing to be proved, or which might be doubted; but alludes to it merely, as unquestioned and unquestionable. The other passage (in which he is supposed to speak of a state of consciousness after death) has been entirely mistaken by those who have so understood it. He expressly speaks of the dead, in that very passage, as "having no perception;" and all along proceeds on that supposition.

"But many things appear good or evil to a person who has no perception of them at the time they exist. For example, many have undergone great toils for the sake of leaving behind them an illustrious name, or of bequeathing a large fortune to their children: almost every one dislikes the idea of having his character branded with infamy after his death; or of his children coming to poverty or disgrace: many are pleased with the thought of a splendid funeral and stately monuments; or their bones reposing beside those of their forefathers, or of their beloved friends; and many


dread the idea of their bodies being disinterred and dissected, or torn by dogs. Now no one, I suppose, would maintain that all who partake of such feelings, expect that they shall be conscious, at the time, of what is befalling their bodies, their reputation, or their families after death; much less, that they expect that their happiness will, at that time, be effected by it. In fact, such feelings as I have been speaking of, seem to have always prevailed, even the more strongly, in those who expected no future state.

"It is of these posthumous occurrences that Aristotle is speaking, in the passage in question. But he expressly says, in that very passage, that "it would be absurd to speak of a man's actually enjoying happiness after he is dead;" evidently proceeding (as he always does) on the supposition that the dead have ceased to exist.

"The ancient heathens did but conjecture, without proof, respecting a future state. And there is this remarkable circumstance to be noticed in addition; that those who taught the doctrine (as the ancient heathen lawgivers themselves did, from a persuasion of its importance for men's conduct,) do not seem themselves to have believed what they taught, but to have thought merely of the expediency of inculcating this belief on the vulgar.

"It does not appear, however, that they had much success in impressing their doctrine on the mass of the people: for though a state of future rewards and punishments was commonly talked of among them, it seems to have been regarded as little more than an amusing fable. It does not appear, from the account of their own writers, that men's lives were ever influenced by any such belief. On the contrary, we find them, in speeches publicly delivered and now extant, ridiculing the very notion of any one's seriously believing the doctrine. And when they found death seemingly unavoidable and near at hand, as in the case of a very destructive pestilence, we are told, that those of them who had been the most devout worshippers of their gods, and had applied to them with various superstitious


ceremonies for deliverance from the plague, finding that the disease still raged, and that they had little chance of escaping it, at once cast off all thoughts of religion; and, resolving to enjoy life while it lasted, gave a loose to all their vicious inclinations. This shows, that even those who had the firmest faith in the power of their gods, looked to them for temporal deliverance only, and for their preservation in this life, and had not only no belief, but no suspicion even, that these Beings had any power to reward and punish beyond the grave; - that there was any truth in the popular tales respecting a future state.

"It may be thought, however, by some, that the wisest of the heathen philosophers, though they did not hold the notions of the vulgar as to the particulars of a future state of rewards and punishments, yet had convinced themselves (as in their writings they profess) of the immortality of the soul. And it is true that they had, in a certain sense; but in such a sense as in fact makes the doctrine amount to nothing at all. They imagined that the souls of men, and of all other animals, were not created by God, but were themselves parts of the divine mind, from which they were separated, when united with bodies; and to which they would return and be reunited, on quitting those bodies; so that the soul, according to this notion, was immortal both ways; that is, not only was to have no end, but had no beginning; and was to return after death into the same condition in which it was before our birth; a state without any distinct personal existence, or consciousness. It was the substance of which the soul is composed, that (according to this doctrine) was eternal, rather than the soul itself; which, as a distinct Being, was swallowed up and put an end to. Now it would be ridiculous to speak of any consolation, or any moral restraint, or any other effect whatever, springing from the belief of such a future state as this, which consists in becoming, after death, the same as we were before birth. To all practical purposes, it is the same thing as annihilation.

"Accordingly the Apostle Paul, when speaking to


the Corinthians (1 Cor. xv.) of some persons who denied the "Resurrection of the dead," (teaching, perhaps, some such doctrine as that I have just been speaking of) declares, that in that case his "preaching would have been vain." To deny the "resurrection" is, according to him, to represent Christians as "having hope in this life only," and those "who have fallen asleep in Christ, as having perished." (v. 18, 19.) As for any such future existence as the ancient philosophers described, he does not consider it worth a thought.

"Such was the boasted discovery of the heathen sages! which has misled many inattentive readers of their works; who, finding them often profess the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and not being aware what sort of immortality it was that they meant, have hastily concluded that they had discovered something approaching to the truth; or, at least, that their doctrine was one which might have some practical effect on the feelings and conduct, which it is plain it never could. And such, very nearly, is said to be the belief entertained now by the learned among the East Indian Brahmins, though they teach a different doctrine to the vulgar."

Thus, then, it appears there is no truth in the oft repeated assertion that all nations and people have believed in man's immortality, or an endless conscious survivance of a fancied entity called the soul. It was not true of the ancient heathen philosophers themselves, much less of the mass of the people. So far from all nations and people believing the soul immortal, there were a large class among the Jews who did not believe it, viz.: the Sadducees, who said, "There is no resurrection, neither angel nor spirit."

It may be replied - "The Sadducees were infidels, but the nation at large believed in the immortality of man; for the Pharisees taught it." I reply – These


two sects were both extremes: the first denying any future life, and the other making a future life dependent on what we now call transmigration of souls, rather than a real resurrection: and that idea probably arose from their notion of the soul's immortality. - These two sects are alike condemned by our Lord; and his followers are warned to beware of their doctrine: see Matt.16:6-12. Both sects were corrupt in doctrine and in practice. Enough has now been said to show that all nations and people did not believe in the immortality of man.

To Be Continued…

This Sermon 1 Taken From:
Six Sermons on the Inquiry Is There Immortality in Sin and Suffering?

Blog Edited by John Foll.

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