Luther A Fox.

Evidence of a future life : from reason and revelation online

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'Wilt thou eat before thou be punished throughout
every member of thy body?' But he answered in
his own language and said, ' No. ' And when he was


at the last gasp he said, * Thou like a fury takest us
out of this present life, but the King of the world
shall raise us up, who have died for his laws, unto
everlasting life.' " (2 Mac. vii. 1-42.) The doctrine
of retribution, reward in Paradise for the right-
eous, and punishment in the fire of Gehenna for
the wicked, that was commonly held in the time
of Christ, grew into clearness and distinctness dur-
ing this age.

We have traced the development of the idea of
a future life, as it has left its impressions in the
sacred books, from a belief in a mere existence
among the fathers in Sheol up to a strong hope in
a resurrection of the body and future rewards. A
slow unfolding of the truth in the consciousness of
the people is not what we might have expected,
but it is what we have found. We ought not to
be surprised. No doctrine was revealed at once in
all its fulness. God made His revelations as the
public mind was prepared to receive them. This
doctrine of a future life was subject to the common

We may go back from this review of the history
of the doctrine to study the evidence upon which
the faith rested.

The Jewish belief was not the product of phil-


osophic Speculations. There is no evidence of
any attempt, before the latest centuries, to reason
upon the subject. In the age just before Christ,
the Alexandrine philosophy extended its influence
to Jerusalem, and tried to plant the religious hope
upon purely rational grounds. But when they
had drifted away from their revelations and
spiritual intuitions, they fell into uncertainty, and
the skeptical Sadducees sprang up.

At first their faith was perhaps little more than
the universal instinctive belief, which subsequently
gathered about itself the great truths which neces-
sarily implied for the righteous at least an endless

God revealed himself as the Creator of man. He
had indicated the dignity of man's nature by the
symbolic act of breathing into his nostrils. He
had made man in His own image, and given him
power over every creature. Sin had changed the
relation, but had not wholly defaced the image of
the Maker. Man was still the object of God's care.
Communion with God was still in some degree
maintained. A being of such exalted dignity and
powers could not be destined merely for the brief
day of a single individual's life. The great truths
divinely revealed unfolded in the consciousness of


the Jewish people, and brought out according to
the divine intention the assurance of immortality.
The truth thus developed was as certainly and fully
divine as if it had been immediately revealed. In
this we have an instance and illustration of the
combination of revelation and the evolution of

There were given from time to time special
evidences and pledges which, although not wholly
appreciated in their own times, come to us in
their fullest significance.

Enoch was translated before the flood, and Elijah
in the time of the kings. Samuel in response to
the call of Saul through the Witch of Endor came
from the spirit world, and announced the fate of
the dishonored king. Elisha raised the dead son
of the Shunamite. These cases were distinct
proofs of continued existence after death, and the
translations were at the same time types of the
resurrection of the body.

It is true that we cannot verify the miracles by
direct examination of the facts, but the accounts
come to us in connection with a dispensation con-
firmed by numerous miracles. They are related to
us by inspired men, whose statements are ap-
proved and confirmed by other inspired men whose


claims are open to our closest examination. We
fully believe therefore that the events took place
as narrated, and they become to us of great eviden-
tial value.

The Old Testament dispensation was preparatory
and typical of the Christian. The events and
utterances of faith, as well as the direct predic-
tions, were prophetic. There was meaning in their
words and actions which they did not comprehend.
The New Testament is an inspired commentary
upon the Old. From it we can go back and find
the truth which they either wholly overlooked or
partially understood. David's words, "Thou wilt
not leave my soul in Sheol," becomes a prophecy
of the resurrection of Christ, and thus a pledge of
•our own. His hope that God would guide him by
His counsels and then receive him to glory becomes
to us a divine promise. His premonition of fulness
of joy at the right hand of God becomes to us an

The Old Testament, therefore, comes to us as a
word from God, answering the question which itself
propounds, "If a man die, shall he live again?"

"I am the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and
Jacob." But he is not the God of the dead, but of
the living.



TN the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Apostles
-*- we have the fact of a future life not only asserted,
but richly explained. The pages of the New Test-
ament are luminous with the truth concerning
human destiny. Nowhere else do we find so much
instruction on our state after death. It is here we
reach our greatest certainty. For this reason,
amoHg others, Christ is said to have "brought life
and immortality to light."

It is through the New, as we have already
observed, the Old Testament obtains its greatest
importance. Christ lifted the veil and showed its
deeper meanings. He pointed out the vein of
prophecy running through it, and by his interpreta-
tion we find a significance in the words and actions
of the ancient Jews of which they themselves did
not dream. We may without violence obtain
from their inspired utterances proofs which wholly
escaped them. The books of the Bible become one
book, the Book above all others in respect to our

duty here and our existence hereafter.


Christ was not in the ordinary sense a philoso-
pher. He did not employ the common philosophic
methods. He did not appeal to the philosophic,
but to the religious reason. He did not aim to call
out the logical faculty, but the spiritual intuition.
His manner was in striking contrast with all the
philosophers, and he taught with strange authority.
We cannot look, therefore, in His teachings for
proofs of immortality, such as the philosophers
offered. He does not speak to the reason independ-
ent of religion, but to the reason swayed by relig-
ion. The Christian finds assurance where the sim-
ple rationalist sees nothing. Christ makes men
feel their immortality through their religious con-
sciousness, while those devoid of it are as insensible
to it as the blind are to the brightest light. But
there are facts connected with Christ's life and
teaching which carry a great deal of force to what
theologians would call the natural understanding.

Christ offered only one argument for a future life,
and that was a vindication of it against the Sad-
ducees. This sect denied the existence of angels
and spirits and the resurrection of the body.
Josephus calls them a philosophical sect. This is
doubtless correct as to their starting point, but in
the time of Christ they were rather politicians and


Opponents of the innovations of the Pharisees.
They had fallen back into an extreme conservatism.
They acknowledged the divine authority of the
sacred books, but holding in special regard the
Mosaic law, they o^ave rise to the common opinion
that they accepted only the Pentateuch. They
were driven into the inconsistency of receiving
divine books and yet believing that God took no
interest in the world. Christ met them on the
common ground of the sacred books. He appeals
to the- authority of the Scriptures which they ad-
mitted. He proves from the relation of man to
God that man is immortal, and from this infers the
resurrection of the body. God calls Himself the
God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, long after
these patriarchs had passed away from earth; but
God is not a God of the dead but of the living, and
therefore these patriarchs live. If the spirits sur-
vive the bodies, there is no special difficulty in
believing that they will at some time reanimate
their bodies.

Christ taught on His own personal authority.
He claimed to be the Christ, the Son of God, God
himself. He claimed, therefore, the authority of
God. He asked a verification of those claims.
He proposed four tests. To the Jews He offered


their own Scriptures. "Go search the Scriptures,
and they testify of me." To the disciples also He
appealed to the prophecies. He proposed, at other
times. His miracles. *'If I do not the works of
my Father, believe me not; but if I do, though
ye believe not me, believe the works." ''The
works that I do in my Father's name, they bear
witness of me." "The works which the Father
has given me to finish, the same works that I do,
bear witness of me that the Father hath sent me."
He appealed also to the power of the truth. "My
words are spirit and life." "If the Son makes
you free, ye shall be free indeed." "Every man
that hath learned of the Father cometh unto me."
" He that is of God heareth God's word." He ap-
pealed, finally, to His own character. "Who of
you convinceth me of sin?" The fulfilled pro-
phecies, the wonderful miracles, the divine power
of His teaching, and His perfect character, united
to confirm His claim and prove Him the Son of
God. What He taught must be accepted upon
Hife own authority. What He reveals about our
future we must believe, because He said so. We
must either accept His claims or regard the whole
history as a myth which gathered itself about the
life of an otherwise insignificant Jew.


There is no question that the Christ of the Gos-
pels taught a future life for His own people, but it
has been said that He taught only a conditional
immortality. Did He teach that all men shall live
after death?

The final extinction of the wicked has been in-
ferred from the teaching both of nature and of
Christianity. Sin disorganizes. It destroys na-
tions, breaks up associations, alienates friends, and
induces disease and death. It creates conflicts be-
tween the mental powers, weakens thought, and
cripples the will. These facts are thought to indi-
cate the final destruction of the soul. The Scrip-
tures say that "the wages of sin is death," and
" the soul that sinneth it shall die." Everlasting
life and immortality are the rewards of the right-
eous. Everlasting life is understood by those who
hold to a conditional immortality as continued ex-
istence, and everlasting death as a cessation of be-
ing. Did Christ teach that the wicked are anni-
hilated at death?

The Jews at the beginning of the Christian era
believed that the wicked and pious alike are im-
mortal. The Pharisees held the common doctrine.
Josephus states it thus: "They also believe that
souls have an immortal vigor in them, and that


under the earth there will be rewards and punish-
ments, according as they have lived virtuously or
viciously in this life; and the latter are to be de-
tained in everlasting prison, but that the former
shall have power to rise and live again."* The
Kssenes also taught the immortality of all souls.
Only the Sadducees believed that the soul dies with-
the body. Christ took the side of the Pharisees in-
this controversy. He adopts the language of his.
day. He takes no pains to correct the common-
faith. His language and manner implied its essen-
tial correctness. He also directly taught the con-
tinued conscious existence of all. In the parable of
the rich man and Lazarus, the two represent the
two great classes. The rich man was as fully and
consciously alive as Lazarus, and each received his
proper retribution. Christ spake of the fire that is
never quenched, and the worm that never dies.
He warned repeatedly of the danger of hell-fire.
The wicked are to go away into everlasting pun-
ishment. If the wicked are to be annihilated,
there is no meaning in these expressions. If one
ceases to exist, the worm and the fire have for him
no significance. If there is annihilation, there
cannot be everlasting punishment, for there can

*Antiq., b. 14, c. i, s. 3.


be no punishment without existence — when one
ceases to be, his punishment must necessarily end.

Peter tells of the spirits in prison, held there for
their disobedience in the days of Noah. Whatever
doubt there may be as to the time of the preaching
to them, there is none as to the time of their dis-
obedience and of their confinement in prison in the
other world. They were wicked spirits, and in
the days of the Apostles their punishment had con- •
tinned through three thousand years.

John tells us also of some the smoke of whose
torments ascend forever and ever.

Christ made a distinction between simple exist-
ence and life. He taught that life is a proper
relation to God. "This is eternal life, that they
might know Thee, the only true God." " He that
hath the Son hath everlasting life." ''I am come
that they may have life." " Your life is hid with
Christ in God." "He that heareth my words and
believeth on Him that sent me, shall not come
into condemnation, but is passed from death unto
life." "The hour is coming, and now is, when the
dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and
they that hear shall live." He calls those who are
out of that relation to God dead. To believe is to
"pass from death to life." Those who are dead


through indifference to God shall hear His voice
and live. The same idea runs through the writ-
ings of the Apostles. ^'You hath he quickened
who were dead in trespass and in sins." *' Having
their understanding darkened, being alienated from
the life of God." "Awake thou that sleepest and
arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee
light." *' Twice dead," said Jude, because they
had gone back from life into a state of death. "A
name to live," said John, ''but art dead." This
was not new language. It had come down from
the creation. " In the day thou eatest thereof thou
shalt surely die." Adam did die the very hour of
transgression. He did not cease to exist even on
earth, but he lost his spiritual power. Life in the
Biblical sense is a spiritual principle which gives
existence its highest value, and death is the want
of that principle. The whole force of the argu-
ment for a conditional immortality lies in a mis-
conception of the Scriptural meanings of everlast-
ing life and of death.

Christ brings out the old argument, based on
man's relation to God, in a new light. God is not
only our Creator, but is also our Father. We are
the objects of his special care. We are the children
of God. We are made partakers of the divine


nature. We are renewed in the image of God.
We are taken into fellowship with Him. We are
lifted into union with Christ and receive His life as
the principle of our life. ' * Christ is our life, ' ' and,
therefore, ''death is our gain." We are heirs of
God and joint heirs with Christ. Those whom He
so loves and dignifies, for whom He cares, to whom
He imparts a divine life, cannot perish. We have
in us a germ of immortality that death cannot
touch. In making us feel God's nearness to us,
Christ makes us feel our immortality. It is the
conscious inner life that makes the Christian cer-
tain of life beyond death. While Christ taught
immortality for all, He gives pledges, guarantees
and positive assurances to the righteous.

The New Testament adds to its teaching a num-
ber of examples.

It gives a number of instances of the manifes-
tation of angels — spirits independent of matter.
These show that mind can exist and be cognizant of
the facts of the world and can reveal itself without
a material body. As soon as we are convinced of
this, we find little difficulty in believing in the
future existence of the soul.

It gives an account of the transfiguration, at
which Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with


Christ about His approaching death. Elijah had
been translated. Moses had died and his body been
buried on Mt. Nebo more than a thousand years
before. Here were two persons, one with and the
other without a body, who had been living a num-
ber of centuries in another world.

The account of the transfiguration comes down
to us in three of the Gospels. It is referred to as
a well known fact in one of the Epistles accredited
to Peter. There is no doubt as to its being one of
the earliest traditions of the Church, current long
before the death of the Apostles Peter, James and
John. If Mark wrote his gospel under the direc-
tion of Peter, we have in it Peter's personal testi-
mony. If the story had been false, the Apostles,
while they lived, would have corrected it. Chris-
tians believed it upon the authority of these eye
witnesses. Neander pronounces "the attempts
that have been made to resolve it into a mythical
narrative absurd."* The theory of a subjective
phenomenon supposes the improbable fact that three
should fall at the same time into the same wonder-
ful mental condition, and also robs it of all the
importance in the life of Christ which is clearly
indicated in it. If a vision at all, it must have

* Life of Christ, g 1S5.


been miraculously produced, and so far as regards
the presence of the two saints, had objective reali-
ties. There were three witncbses, and these among
the most competent of the twelve. Their substan-
tial agreement in relating it is shown by the agree-
ment of the written accounts. They could not
have been mistaken, and their whole lives show
that they were not false.

The New Testament gives account of a number
of resurrections from the dead. Besides the evi-
dence which they bring to the whole system, and
thus to the teaching concerning a future life, they
bear special testimony in showing us instances of
the fact. Three of the miracles were wrought by
Christ. They rise in importance. The first was
that of the centurion's daughter, who had just
died. She was regarded as dead, and the people
misunderstanding Christ's words, laughed in de-
rision when He said that she was sleeping. The
miracle was wrought in a private house, in the
presence only of the friends and of three disciples.
The circumstances might have left room for doubt
as to the fact of a miracle. The next was the
resurrection of the son of the widow of Nain.
This was more public. It took place in the streets
and in the presence of the funeral cortege. But


in that hot country, where interment speedily fol-
lowed death, this might have been supposed to
have been only a case of suspended animation.
Still, it would have been strange that life should
return at a simple touch, without any further re-
storatives. In the last case there was no possible
place for doubt. Lazarus had been dead four
days. His death was known. He was raised in
the presence of a large company. It was done at
Bethany, in the immediate vicinity of Jerusalem.
It was immediately published, and was thoroughly
investigated by His enemies. The fact was an-
nounced repeatedly, and written accounts circu-
lated in the community where it occurred. Public
attention in deep interest was attracted. If it had
been possible the miracle would have been denied,
but it was not.

Matthew tells us that at the crucifixion "the
graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints
which slept arose and came out of the graves after
His resurrection, and went into the city and ap-
peared unto many." The genuineness of this
passage has been called in question on internal
grounds. It seems to have been inserted into the
midst of the narrative. The fact is not mentioned
by any of the other writers. But it has the best


manuscript authority, and we accept it as part of
the original Gospel, having all the authority of the
Apostolic testimony.

A young woman at Joppa was raised by Peter.
"She was sick and died, whom when they had
w^ashed they laid in an upper chamber.'* "The
widows weeping showed the coats and garments
which she had made." " Peter put them all forth
and kneeled down and prayed, and turning to the
body said, Tabitha, arise, and he gave her his hand
and lifted her up, and when he had called the
saints and widows he presented her alive."

At Troas Paul is said to have raised the young
man, Kutychus, who fell from the window and
" was taken up dead." It is related by Luke, the
physician, who was the traveling companion of

These miracles come to us as fully accredited as
any part of the gospel story, and must be believed
or rejected with it.

The greatest of all the resurrections, and that
which has for us preeminent importance, is the
resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the chief corner-
stone of the Christian faith and hope. It demands,
therefore, a more careful study.

That we may have the argument in the clearest


light, we will recall the principal facts upon which
it rests.

Christ's life and character are historical facts.
John Stuart Mill, a great but unsympathetic
scholar, gives, with some disparaging remarks on
John's gospel, his mature judgment, together with
something of the reason for it. " It is the God in-
carnate, more than the God of the Jews or of nature,
who, being idealized, has taken so great and salu-
tary a hold on the modern mind; and whatever
else is taken away from us by rational criticism,
Christ is still left; a unique figure, not more un-
like all his precursors than all his followers, even
those who had the direct benefit of his personal
teaching. It is of no use to say that Christy as ex-
hibited in the Gospels^ is not historical^ and that we
know not how much of what is admirable has been
superadded by the tradition of his followers. The
tradition of his followers suffices to insert any num-
ber of marvels, and may have inserted all the mira-
cles which he is reputed to have wrought. But
who among the disciples of Jesus or among their
proselytes was capable of inventing the sayings
ascribed to Jesus, or of imagining the life and char-
acter revealed in the Gospels ? Certainly not the
fishermen of Galilee; as certainly not St. Paul,


whose character and idiosyncrasies were of a totally
different sort; still less the early Christian writers,
in whom nothing is more evident than that the
good in them was all derived from this higher
source." ..." But about the life and sayings of
Jesus there is a stamp of personal originality, com-
bined with profundity of insight, which, if we
abandon the idle expectation of finding scientific
precision when something very difierent was aimed
at, must place the Prophet of Nazareth, even in
the estimation of those who have no belief in His
inspiration, in the very first rank of the men of
sublime genius of whom our species can boast."*
The words of depreciation of the Church and of
parts of the history, written in this connection and
elsewhere, make Mill's testimony to the sublime
character of Christ all the more important. If we
deny with Deism the miracles, we have left in
Christ Himself the most inexplicable and greatest
of all miracles. The resurrection is in perfect
harmony with such a life.

Another fact as unquestionable as any in His
life, is that of His crucifixion at the time of the
Passover, when Jerusalem was crowded with visi-
tors not only from Palestine, but various parts of

* Three Essays, p. 254.


the world. This was a part of the very earliest
tradition, and was publicly preached everywhere
from the very beginning of the Christian move-

Another fact is that He was really dead. His
enemies took special pains to assure themselves of
His death. The soldier's test would have destroyed
life if it had not already been gone.

Another fact equally certain is that He was
buried, and the grave was in the -hands of the

The disappearance of the body, another fact in-

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Online LibraryLuther A FoxEvidence of a future life : from reason and revelation → online text (page 10 of 19)