Existence Between Death and Resurrection

 •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Letter to a Millennial-Dawnist
Dear Sir,
It is only now that I can find time to commence a reply to your letter of the 12th instant. The subject matter of your correspondence is of a very serious nature: and bear in mind, that deeper even than the question of doctrine is the personal one for yourself, as to whether or not you are standing arrayed in antagonism to the Lord Jesus Christ. Solemn thing, Sir, if you should be found at the last guilty of counterworking His interests and building in wood, hay and stubble all to be destroyed!
I would recall you to my previous letter, to which yours is a reply. My letter takes you up on just one point—the existence of the soul between death and resurrection—the denial of this is the key-stone of your fanciful system without which the whole arch tumbles in. Upon this I presented you with simple but ample proofs from Scripture.
I gave you Stephen's prayer— “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” —and you reply,
“You seem to think Stephen has been in existence for the last nineteen hundred years.”
I should rather think I do! I have not yet got down to believing that a man such as Stephen was at that moment, “full of the Holy Ghost” as he was stated to have been, could ask the Lord to receive his spirit when he had no spirit to be received!
You then say that devout men “carried Stephen to his burial,” and ask, “When did he rise again?” The answer is: He did not rise again: no one says he did. The contention is that his spirit went to the Lord, there to await the resurrection. And that is what you have to disprove, not his resurrection. You assume that because his body has not been raised his spirit is not in existence; but as the logicians say, the assumption of the thing which has to be proved is valueless.
You are kind enough to suggest that I “should search the Scriptures as to man,” but such Scriptures as I have in memory are quite sufficient to refute your false doctrine, for you say, “Man is a Unity; and only as a unit is he dealt with as a man in Scripture.”
Without disputing the first part of this statement, the latter is disproved by 1 Thess. 5, for the apostle Paul there speaks of “your whole spirit, and soul, and body,” The very Scripture we are dealing with, Acts 7:5959And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. (Acts 7:59), itself confutes you, for Stephen, in articulo mortis, calls upon the Lord to receive his spirit, while Stephen himself, that is the corporeal Stephen, as which alone he could be taken cognizance of by men, was carried to his burial.
But there is further scriptural proof. The Lord Jesus, about to die and leave His body on the cross, commends His spirit into the Father's hands. Again, the apostle Paul, in Phil. 1:2323For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: (Philippians 1:23), refers to dying as being “to depart and to be with Christ.” Again, in 2 Cor. 5:88We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8), he describes it as being “absent from the body” and “present with the Lord.” Again, the Lord tells the dying malefactor that that day he should be with Him in paradise (Luke 23).
Again, Peter speaks of the body as a tabernacle, and also of his putting off his tabernacle (2 Peter 1:1414Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath showed me. (2 Peter 1:14)). So also Paul speaks (2 Tim. 4:66For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. (2 Timothy 4:6)) of the time of his departure being at hand.
I have now shown you and proved by Scripture the separate existence of the spirit after death. It is proved by:
1. The Lord's words respecting His own spirit.
2. Ditto respecting the spirit of the dying thief (Luke 23)
3. By the dying utterance of Stephen.
4. By Paul's description of death in 2 Cor. 5
5. By ditto, in Phil. 1
Well, dear Sir, you are loud in your profession of attachment to Biblical teachings and profuse in denunciations of what is “unbiblical.” If this is anything more than an empty boast, I call upon you to acknowledge your error as to the separate existence of the spirit of man at death. If you really reverence God's word you will do this frankly and honorably; and further, according as you are in a spiritual state, you will, in that proportion, humble yourself before God, for having gone about propagating such evil doctrine as that in question.
You say, “What did Peter's argument in Acts 2 mean?” Why it meant what every person who heard him would understand it to mean, namely, that David had not yet partaken of the resurrection of the body. That it did not relate to David's spirit is proved by another scripture, for David says, when referring to the death of his child, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:2323But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me. (2 Samuel 12:23)). Scripture rebukes your doctrines at every turn! According to you, the child was not in existence for David to go to, and David, on dying, would be no more in existence to go to him!
My letter cited Luke 20:3838For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him. (Luke 20:38) as a proof of the existence of the spirit after death, and your reply is, “You read Luke 20:3838For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him. (Luke 20:38) in one way; I read that Christ taught the resurrection; and Paul teaches the same glorious truth.” Permit me here to make a general remark. Your views, both original and quoted, are extremely narrow-minded and one-sided. But I must not use these terms without justifying them, or as terms of abuse—far be it from me—but in their proper significance. A “narrow” mind is one which sees only a section of a subject. That section which it does see it may apprehend with great clearness. In fact there is nothing more common with that class of minds than speaking with superlative emphasis of that part of truth which they do see, while other persons, who see not only that, but much more, they regard as quite in the dark. Now to justify the application of this to yourself: you get hold of the unity of the being of man, but your mind seems to have one eye shut, so that you are unable to see that man is also tripartite (1 Thess. 5). And another instance is the passage we are now dealing with Luke 20:3838For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him. (Luke 20:38). That passage teaches resurrection, but it also demonstrates the separate existence of the disembodied spirit. The former truth you can see, but the other truth your half-vision excludes. The Lord taught that Abraham and Isaac and Jacob were living (their spirits of course) in the time of Moses, because God calls Himself their God, and that He is not the God of the dead; so that they were not dead at that time in the sense in which you speak of being dead.
You go on to say, “Christ taught the resurrection, and Paul teaches the same glorious truth.” Of course, Christ taught the resurrection, and, of course, “Paul taught the same glorious truth.” Who doubts it? Here again is the blind eye, for Paul not only taught the resurrection but he taught the separate existence of the unclothed spirit, as I have proved.
With this, dear Sir, I conclude. Nothing would be easier than to go through the whole of your letter and to take it to pieces line by line as I have done so far. But you have now been presented with quite sufficient proof from Scripture to deliver you from your erroneous views, if only you are morally in subjection to Scripture. If you are, you will how to the force as well as to the authority of God's word. If, however, you are not subject to God through His word, your doctrines might be proved wrong a thousand times, but you would hold fast to them all the same. The holding of false doctrine is only partially an intellectual matter; it is in large degree moral. A man may inadvertently drop into error, but if he be truly godly he will retrace his steps the moment it is shown that his views are contrary to Scripture.
Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to labor through the whole of your voluminous letter if I thought it would lead to your eyes being opened. But if you are irretrievably wedded to your system of notions it would be a waste of time which might be better employed. In the present case, having confronted you with Scripture, I must leave the matter between your conscience and God—a solemn responsibility.
I remain, dear Sir, yours truly,
E. J. T.