Chauncey Giles.

Progress in spiritual knowledge online

. (page 16 of 26)
Online LibraryChauncey GilesProgress in spiritual knowledge → online text (page 16 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

nature from pure love to man, for the purpose of recon-
ciling man to Himself and bringing him within the reach
of His Divine arms, that He might raise him up and draw
him closer to His infinite heart, does not account for any
such effect. None of these purposes look to any real
union between man and the Lord. They only look to
the payment of a debt or the satisfaction of some legal
claims of the Lord upon man. Supposing such a result
to be reached, it leaves man intellectually and morally
just where it finds him. No new and higher knowledge
of God is communicated to him, no discords in his nature
are silenced, no evils are removed, no sins are remitted ;
only the penalty is paid. No new and higher life is
breathed into his soul, reviving and quickening and puri-
fying and enlarging it. No new bond of union is formed
between man and the Lord, no old one is strengthened.
Man has gone into voluntary bankruptcy, and all claims
against him have been cancelled because a Friend has
paid them. He remains as naked and destitute as ever.
But if the work of atonement consists in the removal
of obstacles to the inflowing of Divine life into men,
which really exist, and a reawakening of his spiritual con-
sciousness ; if new channels are opened between the Lord
and man, through which the river of life can flow into
his parched and withered heart ; if new and clearer
knowledge of the Lord is communicated to him, new
help is given to him to overcome his evils ; if his spiritual
blindness is cured, his ears opened to hear the Word of
the Lord ; if the lame begin to leap as a hart, and the
tongue of the dumb to sing, and man is lifted out of the
dust and darkness of a merely sensual life ; if all the ac-



tivities of his nature are brought into harmony with the
Divine nature, and his whole being is quickened with a
new and higher hfe, and he is drawn into closer union
with the Lord, — if such blessed results are meant by
atonement, then we can see that this bridging of the gulf
between the Source of life and the recipients of life is the
direct, orderly and specific means of accomplishing it.
It involves no distinction of persons in God, and no con-
flicting elements in His character ; it leads us into no
legal absurdities. This is a doctrine which is in harmony
with reason and a sense of justice, and it brings the
Lord, the only Lord, our Father, Redeemer, and Saviour,
so near to us, and presents Him so distinct and glorious
as the embodiment of infinite love and wisdom, that our
hearts must be hard indeed if we cannot love Him, and
are not powerfully impelled to study His commandments
that we may learn the ways which lead to closer union
with Him and diligently walk in them. This is a real
at-one-ment. There is no fiction about this. It is the
restoration of man to conjunction with the Lord. It is
the renewal of the covenant between man and the Lord.
It is the provision of the means by which man can gain
the remission of his sins and the Divine prayer can be
fulfilled, ''That they all may be one; as thou. Father,
art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us :
that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. ' '

I must say one word in conclusion about the practical
value of true knowledge upon this subject. If our salva-
tion depends upon our character, upon our intimate and
vital conjunction with the Lord, who is the source of
life ; if it depends upon being cleansed from sin itself,


and not upon the remission of a penalty ; upon the re-
creation of our spiritual faculties and such a change in
our whole spiritual nature that it is brought back into
harmony with the Divine nature and restored to its origi-
nal excellence ; and if in this work, as in every other, we
are to co-operate, you can see how dangerous it would
be to rely upon the hope that some one else has suffered
for us, paid the debt for us, borne the penalty for us, and
transferred His merits to our account. Any doctrine or
theory which turns away our attention from our inherent
and essential relations to the Lord, and obscures the
truth that there are no obstacles to our salvation but false
and evil principles in us, and that there is no way of sal-
vation but shunning evils as sins against God and living
according to the commandments, is misleading, and will
end in absolute failure. The Lord did not come to suffer
in our stead, to pay a penalty for us, to be good for us.
He came to help us to resist evil, and thereby escape its
penalties. He came to help us to live according to the
laws of life, that we might enjoy the peace and blessed-
ness which results from so living.


** And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of thefn that
kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.

* ' But I will forewarn you whoin ye shall fear : Fear him,
which after he hath killed hath power to cast hito hell ; yea, I
say unto you. Fear him.'" — Luke xii. 4, 5.

T^HERE is no subject, it would seem, which would
•*■ interest man so much as that great change in his
existence which is called death, and yet there are few
questions concerning which so little is known and so
many errors prevail. The most common opinions con-
cerning it are that it is a mystery, a terror and an agony ;
that it was sent upon man as a punishment for disobedi-
ence, and that it is a standing monument of the Divine
displeasure. Consequently, men almost universally shrink
from it with horror, and to many it is the one dark cloud
and terrible dread of life. Poets and orators and Chris-
tian teachers hold it up as the most awful calamity, and
it is the severest punishment known to human laws.

But much of the mystery and terror that invests it is
due to entire misconceptions of its origin and nature, and
these misconceptions seem to have their origin in con-
founding the two deaths and attributing to one the quali-
ties that belong to the other. Men have attributed to
natural death the pains and sufferings that belong only to
spiritual death. Indeed, most men overlook the second


death entirely, and, if they think of the subject at all,
think only of natural death.

A careful examination of the Sacred Scriptures and
enlightened reason will show us that natural death, by
which we understand the separation of the soul from the
body, was not sent upon man as a punishment for sin,
but is an orderly step in the progress of his life. It was
not this- death that came into the world by sin. If man
had never sinned he would still have cast off his material
body and passed on into the spiritual world.

We need go no further than the first intimations of
death which we have in the Sacred Scriptures to learn
that it was not natural death that came by sin. The
warning given to Adam and Eve was, '* In the day that
thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." (Gen. ii. 17.)
But they did not die a natural death in that day. Either
that was not the death referred to, therefore, or the
warning was a false one. And this we cannot for a mo-
ment suppose. So when Moses said to the Israelites,
' ' See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and
death and evil" (Deut. xxx. 15), he cannot mean natural
life and death, for if they had obeyed every one of his
commandments they would not have lived forever in this
world. The Lord also commanded Jeremiah to say to
the Jews, "Thus saith the Lord: Behold, I set before
you the way of life, and the way of death." (Jer.
xxi. 8.) In the Psalms also it is said, "Thou hast de-
livered my soul from death." (Ps. Ivi. 13 ; cxvi. 8.)
The apostles also often speak of death in this sense. But
what our Lord said to Martha is conclusive upon the
subject, "Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall


never die." (John xi. 26.) By this He could not mean
natural death, for multitudes which no man can number
have lived and believed in Him, and their bodies have
returned to the dust from which they were formed.
When the apostle says that death came by sin, and that
death has passed upon all, for that all have sinned (Rom.
v. 12), he evidently means the death of the soul. There
is no evidence in the Bible that natural death was caused
by sin. It is a mere human inference. It is no doubt
true that much of the sickness and pain that generally
precedes and attends our departure from this world is
more or less remotely caused by sin, because evil desires
and false principles lead to the violation of physical laws,
to intemperance in eating and drinking, to anxieties and
excitements and disorders of life. The average duration
of human life in this world has without doubt also been
much shortened by evil, for we know that the average
duration of life increases as civilization advances and men
become more observant of the laws of life. But there is
no evidence that man would live forever in this world
even if he lived a perfect life. Immortality in this world
is certainly not taught in the Bible, and there are many
rational considerations and inferences from the Sacred
Scriptures that show conclusively that it is not according
to the purposes of the Divine wisdom that man should
live here forever.

So far as our knowledge extends, the existence of
every living thing organized of matter is limited. It has
laws of birth, growth, and decay. There is no excep-
tion. Every plant in the vegetable kingdom, for ex-
ample, attains its growth and does not pass beyond a


certain limit. It may remain stationary there for years,
for centuries, and yet the moment it stands still it begins
to decline, and eventually it will fall and perish. The
same is true of the animal kingdom. There are no ex-
ceptions to the law. Now, it is worthy of notice that
animals and vegetables have not sinned ; they live ac-
cording to the true order of their creation. Man, as to
his physical nature, is an animal, and the laws of his
generation, development, and life are the same. There
have been, and no doubt are still, multitudes of human
beings who have lived in perfect health. And yet they
grow old and die. Nor do they die of any disease ;
when the body has done its work it shrivels and falls
from the soul as the husk from the corn.

But again, so far as human observation extends, the
development of organized beings and things proceeds by
distinct steps, the prior acting as an instrument for the
creation of the succeeding, and being left behind it in the
ascent. In the vegetable kingdom, when the germ ex-
pands, the outer covering which contained it is thrown
aside ; the blossom fades and perishes when the fruit is
born and begins a distinct existence ; and again, the husk
and chaff and rough covering which have served as a
body and vessel and protection for the fine, fluent sub-
stances of the seed during its formation wither and die
when the seed is ripe. The same order and method pre-
vails in the animal kingdom. This is beautifully exem-
plified in insects. There are three distinct steps in insect
life. A caterpillar is hatched from an ^%%y then it be-
comes a chrysalis enclosed in a hard covering, and ap-
parently almost lifeless, and then a moth or butterfly.


During these metamorphoses, or changes of form, it
never goes back and resumes its former state. The moth
does not become a worm and the worm an Qgg. But it
continually advances until it completes the cycle of its
life, preparation being made in each state for the succeed-
ing one.

Have these analogies and this method of the Divine
wisdom, which is universal so far as we know, no signifi-
cance ? So far as our observation extends, we find crea-
tion and life proceeding according to the same order and
method in man as in all other creatures. Can we suppose
that the order is reversed the moment we reach the limits
of our own observation ?

Man is a spiritual being. He has a spiritual body, for the
apostle Paul declares, ' ' There is a spiritual body. ' ' Man
has a nature of a degree distinctly higher than the animal,
than any other created being. And is it not according
to all the analogies of the Divine method of creating that
man should attain his highest state by successive changes
of state? continually throwing off and leaving behind
those materials and instruments which have been used as
means for its attainment ? If there is any force in reason-
ing from universal methods, I do not see how we can
come to any other conclusion than that natural death is a
step forward in life, if man has a distinctly spiritual nature,
a spiritual body.

But if the laws of analogy did not point with sure indi-
cations to the great truth that natural death is only a step
forward in life, we might infer it from the infinite nature
of the Divine love and wisdom. Suppose it had been
the original intention of the Creator that man should live



immortal upon this earth, there must soon have been a
hmit to the number of human beings He could create ;
for while man lives upon the earth clothed in a material
body he must be fed with products from the earth, and
even in the most perfect order of things the limits of its
power to sustain human life must be reached ; and when
that hmit is reached the whole order and nature of man
must be changed. Society must to a great extent be-
come stationary. No new elements could be constantly
added to it ; no new varieties of character be constantly
adding to its perfection. Conceive for a moment the
earth to be crowded with a population to the full extent
of its capacity to support life, and the same beings to
dwell upon it forever, with no infancy, no childhood, no
old age, nothing to call forth our sympathy, nothing to
awaken fresh and lively hopes, — would not such a state
be more like the dead level of a stagnant pool than the
running stream of an ever- varying life? Would not
some of the elements which seem most important and
even essential to human happiness be wanting ?

But suppose the earth to be filled with happy people.
Could the comparatively few human beings the earth
could sustain satisfy the infinite love of the Lord?
There is something of the infinite even in the material
world. We see it in the variety which everywhere ex-
ists ; no two things or beings are alike. We see it in the
tendency of every plant and animal to reproduction and
multiplication. Can we for a moment suppose that man,
who stands at the head of the Creator's works, should be
the only exception to this law? that while plants and
animals are produced in endless variety in a circle of suc-




cessive generations, man, who was created in the image
and Hkeness of God, should soon reach the Hmit of his
numbers, and beyond that hmit could know no increase
through the coming eternity ? How much grander the
idea, and worthier of infinite love, and more in accord-
ance with all we know of the Divine methods, that an
endless succession of generations should be born upon
the earth and transplanted into the heavens ! Thus
human life upon the earth, instead of being the com-
pleted work of the Lord, is only its beginning. Earth is
the nursery and seminary of heaven, where human souls
capable of receiving the Divine life and reciprocating the
Divine love, capable of loving and being loved, can be
born with endless variety and number.

But again, if man was born to live forever in this
world, what becomes of all the promised blessedness of
heaven ? Are we not taught in the Sacred Scriptures,
both by positive precept and inevitable inference, that
heaven is a better and more perfect world than this?
What becomes of the happiness which eye hath not seen,
nor ear heard, nor heart conceived? Is heaven, the
abode of the angels and the Lord, a mere refuge from
this world? and does its principal excellence consist in
the contrasts it furnishes to this life ? Would there have
been no mansions in heaven for us if there had been no
sin upon earth ? Would there have been no songs of joy
there by human voices if there had been no wail of sor-
row here ? Even upon the supposition that the angels
are a race of beings distinct from men, would heaven be
as perfect, would the angels be as happy in their bright
abodes, without a constant accession of human beings



from the earth to instruct and love ? If you insist that
man was born to be immortal in this world, but that the
happiness of heaven exceeds anything possible to this
life, as the prevalent theology does, you admit that man
has been a gainer by sin ; he has escaped from a world
of material limitations and imperfections and gained en-
trance to one where all the conditions of his existence are
perfect, where he can associate with angelic beings and
enjoy a fulness and perfection of happiness impossible to
this. If you admit that heaven would not be as perfect
without a continual influx of life from this world, you
admit that both angels and men are gainers by natural

Whatever view we take of the subject, then, I see but
one escape from the inevitable conclusion that natural
death has in itself no real terrors ; that it is an orderly
step in man's successive creation, and a part of the great
original purpose of the Divine love and wisdom, accord-
ing to which there is to be an endless succession of human
souls created upon the earth, who, after passing through
various stages here, are to find their final home in the
spiritual world. I say I see but one escape from this
conclusion, and that is in the admission that the spiritual
world is not so real and perfect a world as this. And
that admission involves so many and great absurdities,
such an entire inversion of all the methods of the Divine
order ; is so contrary to the whole tenor of the Word
and subversive of the precious promises and immortal
hopes it holds out to us, that it seems Impossible that
any rational mind could entertain it for a moment. If
the spiritual world is not the vain dream of an idle fancy ;



if the Lord and the angels and the promises of heavenly
blessedness are not fallacious hopes, then that change in
our organization, that disrobing of the spirit by its resur-
rection from the material body, that escape from the im-
prisonment and bonds of the flesh, which men call death,
has no real terror, and, instead of shrinking from it with
horror, we ought to welcome it as our deliverer from
bondage, as an introduction into life.

And without doubt we should regard death in this light
if we had not invested it with terrors which belong to an
entirely different subject, and lost air true idea of the
nature and reality of the world to which it introduces us.
Before man had so far receded from that world by a life
of evil as almost to forget its existence, death had no
terrors. It was the gate of entrance into a new life. He
lay down to sleep with the delightful hope and perfect
confidence that he would wake in a new world. Death
was going home ; it was the conscious entrance into a
higher state of being. It was the happy reunion with
loved ones who had gone before. It was a step which
brought him nearer to the Fountain of all life and the
Author of all human blessedness. How could it be re-
garded with fear? How could the soul shrink from it
with horror ? Suppose the chrysalis, imprisoned in that
hard covering we may call its body, buried in the earth
and limited to a bare existence, could have a perception
of the change that is soon to take place in its state. It
is soon to burst the gates of its present life and emerge
into a new world of light and beauty. Instead of being
buried in the dark earth, it is to soar aloft through the
air, to bask in the light and warmth of the summer sun,


to sport in joyous flights in happy bands, to feed upon
the honeyed dews and the distilled sweets of flowers.
Do you think it would look forw^ard to such a change
with dread ? But the change from the chrysalis almost
devoid of life, shut up in the dark, to the gay and beau-
tiful insect is not so great as the change that takes
place in man in his resurrection from the material body.
This change, then, which men call death, this putting off
of the material body, is not, cannot be, an interruption
of the Divine plan, a thwarting of the Divine purposes
of good towards His human children. It must be the
fulfilment of those purposes. All Scripture properly un-
derstood, all right reason, teaches us that it must be so.
To deny it is to plunge into inexplicable absurdities.

But there is a death which we ought to fear, and from
which we shall do well to shrink with horror, and that is
spiritual death, sometimes called the "second death."
This death does not consist in a cessation of existence,
nor in the departure from this world to the spiritual
world, but in the inversion and destruction of the true
order of man's nature.

Man is said to be alive, in the Word, when he receives
life from the Lord according to the original order and
constitution of his nature. The Jews were promised
life if they would obey the laws of the Lord. The
whole Word is full of the same promises. ' ' If thou wilt
enter into life," said our Saviour, ''keep the command-
ments." He came that men might have life. This was
spiritual and not natural life. And the reason why life is
promised on the condition of keeping the command-
ments, and often as a reward for keeping them, is be-




cause the commandments are the laws of Ufe. The
rewards are not arbitrarily given, but follow as a conse-
quence, as the physician may promise health on the con-
dition of our obeying the laws of physical life.

Man was created by infinite wisdom according to a cer-
tain order. By observing this order he would attain his
life, a life ever increasing in fulness and degree. Any
deviation from that order would be attended with some
loss of life. It would prevent man from receiving life
from the Lord in its fulness and perfection. The moment
man violated a law of his spiritual nature he suffered some
loss of spiritual capacity. Man began to die. This was
the warning the Lord gave Adam and Eve, "In the day
that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." And
the warning was not an idle one. They did die in the
day, not the natural day of twenty-four hours, but in the
state and according to the degree that they ate of the
forbidden fruit, which was evil. And this is a universal
law in all orders and degrees of the creation. When the
laws of vegetable life are broken, the plant begins to die.
When the laws of animal life, of man's physical life, are
violated, the animal and the body begin to die. Death
follows as an inevitable consequence. It is not arbitra-
rily inflicted. As the soul is immortal, spiritual death
is not the cessation of existence, but the loss of the
soul's ability to receive life from the Lord in true order.
The substances which compose the soul cannot be dis-
sipated as the material elements which compose plants,
animals, and the material body can. Man as a spiritual
being must continue to exist, but in a state of spiritual



There are two principal characteristics of this death
worthy of our notice.

First, it is a loss of life. Man was created by the Lord
with the power of perpetual and indefinite advancement
in his capacity to know and love and be happy. The
more we learn, the more we are capable of learning. The
more we love, the more we are capable of loving. The
more we enjoy, the more we are capable of enjoying. So
that the feeblest child upon the earth may ultimately pass
beyond the present state of the highest angel. But spir-
itual death arrests this development. It closes up the
higher degrees of man's mind against Divine influences,
and shuts out the light and life of heaven. His whole
nature becomes stunted and dwarfed. He stops in the
grand and endless career of life at the beginning, and
loses all the glory and blessedness of the eternal future.
And no finite mind can estimate that loss. Men are often
inconsolable at the loss of property or office, on account
of hinderance in some earthly career, but that is a mere
nothing compared with his loss who dies at the beginning
of life. How sad it is to see a blind child ! By the death

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

Online LibraryChauncey GilesProgress in spiritual knowledge → online text (page 16 of 26)