The Bible’s Answer
Coming to the divine Word, seeking its answer to the great question, we are at once impressed with its candour and simplicity.
The Scriptural answer to the problem is direct and straightforward, without appeal to passion or prejudice. Having proved the Bible worthy of all confidence, and having found in it the expression of the divine purpose for the blessing of the race — a purpose so grand and comprehensive, so wise and just, and loving, as to command our unqualified admiration and reverence — we may well consider in advance that the Bible answer, whatever it may be, to our question will not only commend itself to reason, but will also be found harmonious with all the divine attributes so grandly manifest in the plan of salvation.
A clear description of the state of the dead is found in Psalm 88:10-12.
“10 Wilt thou show a miracle to the dead? or shall the dead rise and praise thee? Selah. 11 Shall thy loving kindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithfulness in destruction? 12 Shall thy wondrous works be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of oblivion?” (Ps 88:10-12 GenevaBible)
This is Hebrew poetry, and its structure is according to the manner of those times — thought repetition. It will be observed that each line consists of two members, and that as the first members correspond throughout, so do the second members agree; the second member of the first line being defined and explained by the second member in each of the following lines: —
“Wilt thou show wonders—to the dead?
Thy loving kindness — in the grave?
Thy faithfulness — in destruction?
Thy wonders — in the dark?
Thy righteousness — in the land of forget fulness?”
“Dead — Grave — Destruction — Dark — Forgetfulness!”
“In death there is no remembrance of thee; in the grave who shall give thee thanks?” — Psalm 6:5.
“The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence.”— Psalm 115:17.
The Psalms were the Hebrew hymnal, used in the worship of God. How different their testimony from much that is found in modern hymnals! will at once occur to the student. It is a great misfortune that, along with so much that is grand and Scriptural, some Christian hymn writers have produced other work which is based on the uncertain speculations of philosophy rather than on the sure foundation of divine truth.
The following lines, when contrasted with the above selection from the divinely inspired Hebrew hymnal, will illustrate this point: —
“Why should we start, and fear to die?
What tim’rous worms we mortals are!
Death is the gate of endless joy;
And yet we dread to enter there.
— Isaac Watts.
Testimony corroborative of that in the Psalms is not lacking in other parts of the Scripture.
“The grave cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee; they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth.” — Isa. 38:18.
“To him that is joined to all the living there is hope; for a living dog is better than a dead lion.”
This contrast is better appreciated when it is remembered that in those countries the dog was not a household pet as with us, but was a half wild outcast, the scavenger, as today in the streets of Constantinople. The lion, on the other hand, was regarded as the majestic king of the beasts. What difference does death make, to justify this comparison between dead and living persons, intimating that the living, however meanly circumstanced, is in a better condition than the dead, however majestic the latter had been in life? The difference is explained to be —
“For the living know that they shall die; but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and tlieir envy, is now perished, neither have they any more a portion for ever in anything that is done under the sun. Whatsoever thy hand findetli to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” (Eccl. 9 : 4-6, 10.)
The advantage that the living have over the dead is that the living know at least this much, that they shall die; hut the dead know nothing at all.
Death a Sleep
In harmony with the foregoing, death is described as a sleep.
“Man dieth, and wasteth away; yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? . . . Till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.” (Job 14: 10-12.)
“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that wo which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep.” (1 Thes. 4:13-15.)
The martyr Stephen, while being stoned, after seeing the vision of Jesus’ glory, and praying for his persecutors, fell asleep. — Acts 7:60.
These Scriptures show the great impropriety of considering that those who have fallen asleep in death are more awake than they were before their decease. The use of the word sleep in the natural way does not imply wakefulness on the part of the sleeper; neither should it be so thought of when used figuratively for death. In both cases the meaning is the same — quiet, unconscious, dark, forgetful rest.
The above texts also show that the saints and faithful of present and past ages did not at death immediately pass to their everlasting reward. This thought is corroborated by several other portions.
“In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to repare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself; that where I am. there ye may be also.” (John 14:2,3.)
Here our Lord makes the union of his saints with himself depend on his second advent, and in 1 Thes. 4:10 the Apostle says the same, showing that those who sleep in Jesus and who are to be brought with him are not in heaven.
‘”The Lord Himself shall descend . . . and the dead in Christ shall rise.”
David was a man after God’s own heart, for though he sometimes sinned grievously he repented and sought to repair the wrong he had done; yet the Scripture says of him,
“David is not ascended into the heavens.” (Acts 2:34.)
Our Lord said,
“No man hath ascended up to heaven.” — John 3:13.
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