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ART. II. - ANNIHILATION.
The doctrine of the ultimate annihilation of the wicked has received fresh impulse within a few years from having been embraced by a large section of the “Second Advent” or “ Millerite " sect, and from the publication of several works of considerable theological and exegetical ability in Great Britain and in our own land. The position assumed is, that immortality is not a characteristic of the soul as such, but a gift of God to the righteous alone, which was forfeited in the fall and is restored in Christ; that the promise of “eternal life” to believers is emphatically a promise of endless existence, and that the threatening of “death” to the wicked signifies the destruction of their being. This view is defended as the literal and proper sense of Scripture, from which there is no warrant to depart. When we say that the body dies, we are supposed to mean that it ceases to be; and hence it is argued that when God says, “ The soul that sinneth it shall die," he must mean that such a soul shall no longer exist. With the word death are joined, for similar argumentative use, the words destroy, destruction, perish, perdition, consume, burn, and devour, which are employed in the Bible to denote the punishment of sin, or the effect of the divine wrath. To this exegetical defense the advocates of the annihilation theory add theological considerations. They adopt and urge the objections of Universalists against the “orthodox” doctrine of eternal punishment, but claim that they avoid the pernicious Universalist error of teaching that all will finally reach heaven. They hope to relieve theology from the difficulties of " orthodoxy" while yet providing, according to Scripture and the necessities of moral government, an irreversible doom of exclusion from heaven of all impenitent sinners. And thus they believe that annihilation will relieve God's universe of sin by the simple and easy process of blotting from existence the offenders.
The purpose of the writer in examining this doctrine restricts him to the utterances of the Saviour respecting the future life, and he therefore raises the question whether Jesus taught that annihilation was to be the final punishment of the wicked. Upon this let it be remarked, 1. That the argument from his use of the words “ life" and “death” is not valid to prove annihilation, even should we accept their literal meaning. Death of itself never means annihilation. A separate word and an additional process must be introduced to convey such an idea. I do not mean simply that death never annihilates material substance, though that fact may well be weighed by those who discuss the subject in hand. So far as we can detect, there is no annihilation of substance in God's universe. Not that it is an impossibility, for the power that creates can uncreate; but that it seems to be no part of God's plan to annihilate the smallest particle or essence to which he has given being. No hint (much less an analogy) of such a thing is obtained from the vast realms of nature. Matter changes its form, its locality, its density, its color, its smell; it becomes now visible and then invisible; first a solid, then a fluid, and then a gas; but it never ceases to be. Wood burns in the fire and mostly disappears, but nothing material has been annihilated; part is changed to ashes, and part has taken the form of smoke and gas. A tree falls and decays, and passes through the same process of decomposition, but not of annihilation. The body of man or beast when it dies dissolves into its original elements, but leaves no real vacancy in the world. There is no opening through God's universe of matter by which the minutest atom can fall into the utter void and be lost. Hence nature furnishes no analogy to aid the doctrine against which I contend.
But it may be said, that though death does not annihilate matter in its substance, it destroys the peculiar organization which constitutes individual things what they are in distinction from each other, so that it annihilates the particular plant or animal as such. But if this be admitted, its only bearing is upon organized matter, or objects made out of separate particles by curious and diversified arrangement, and which, therefore, on occasion of disorganization, revert to their original elements. How does that touch the question of the soul? Is that made up of elementary spiritual particles ? Is there such a thing as soul-dust, to which dead souls moulder back, and out of which new souls may spring? Is the thinking spirit composite and organic in structure, resolvable by a divine chemistry
and diverorganiza the querticles der back,
into an original spiritual substance that has yet no consciousness, no intelligence, no will, none of the distinctive properties of the organized, individual soul? It will be long before the annihilationists can demonstrate such analogy between the material and spiritual creation, or persuade the world that the bolder materialistic ideas of some of their number are other than false and degrading.
But is the assertion strictly true even of material bodies? Does death itself disorganize and disintegrate, or does it simply furnish the occasion for the action upon bodies of the permanent forces of nature? The exact fact seems to be, that death is simply the removal from the organization of a mysterious principle called life, leaving the former perfect and entire, but immediately subject to the ordinary laws of chemical action which previously had been held in suspense by the vital force. These laws seize upon the body after it is dead and destroy its organization, resolving it into dust and gases. Death has to do with the process only by removing the counteracting power. The body is dead before any such destruction commences, beyond what disease may have wrought as the counteracting force of life was withdrawing. We can even conceive that the organization might remain entire for days or weeks and yet the body be dead; just as we conceive that God created Adam, so far as bodily organization was concerned, while yet there was no life, till something of a higher nature was added.
What we mean by death, then, is not decay, corruption, annihilation, which, however certain, are subsequent events; but a departure of that vital principle which insures the use of the organization and the perfect acting of all its functions. When that ceases we pronounce the body dead, without reference to the effect upon the organization, even though it should continue in existence forever, an eternal corpse. In what sense, then, does the ordinary literal meaning of the word death signify annihilation? I do not see. It never implies destruction of substance, and, in material organizations, does not cause dissolution, though leading to it. There would appear to be a begging of the question by the destructionists at the outset, and the assertion of a false premise as the very first step in the argument! If death is properly only a ceasing to perform those functions which constitute or manifest life, if it be but the departure of the principle which secures the cohesion of the body, leaving it to laws of disorder and ruin, why may not the death of the soul be the ceasing of those spiritual exercises which constitute the true life of a being made in the image of God, and the subjection of it to those sinful causes which breed spiritual disorder and anarchy, and result in spiritual ruin? And this leads me to observe,
2. That the annihilation theory is contradicted by every true conception of the soul's life, as given by reason or described in the discourses of our Saviour. Death is a negative idea, and means the departure or ceasing of life. Hence, to understand death we must understand life; and to know the meaning of the death threatened to the wicked we must know the meaning of the life promised to the righteous, over against which it stands as a terrible warning.
In ascertaining the idea conveyed by the word life, we notice that it varies with the subject, meaning more or less according to the place in the scale of being occupied by that of which it is affirmed. But we notice even before this that it always means something more than bare existence. It is never applied to denote that idea alone. What, for instance, has a more certain and real existence than a rock or mountain ? and yet, though that existence has been maintained for centuries, we never say that the rock or mountain is alive. We can conceive that God should create millions of worlds, systems on systems of vast material orbs of rock and earth and water and gas, and should perpetuate their existence for countless ages, and yet there be absolutely no life in all that universe. We may find it difficult to state with precision what life is, but we know that it is more than existence, and implies a higher conception in the mind and an advanced step in creation, such as geology assures us was made when, after dreary centuries of gaseous, aqueous, igneous, and petrean condition, our earth received from its Maker plant and animal; suffice it to say, that life implies the performance of certain peculiar and characteristic functions, and instrumentally the use of certain organs or faculties; and that in material organizations it is indicated by such facts as development, growth, reproduction, motion, and sensation, while in higher orders of being, from rudimentary up to perfect mind, it manifests itself by desire, knowledge, memory, imagination, reason, love, and will. Thus, while life has a generic meaning common to all that is vital, it differs specifically with each subject. Plants have the lowest form, and then come various gradations of animal life from the radiata, up through the mollusca, the fishes, the reptiles, and the birds, to the mammalia. Finally, in man we have a yet higher order of life, growing out of the exercise of a nobler range of powers, as found in the reason, the sensibility, and the free will.
Hence, if one speaks of life we must know to what living being he refers before we can understand his meaning; and the same is necessarily true of death. Life and death mean something different in animals from what they do in plants, and something far different still in spiritual beings from what they do in mere animals. Life and death stand related to the end for which the being was made. While it fulfills that end in the exercise of its peculiar powers or functions, it lives; when it fails so to do, it dies.
For what now was man made, and in what does the true and real life of a soul consist? Man was created in the divine image for this one end: that he might know, love, obey, enjoy, and be like God forever. All his powers stand related to this single object, and were given for that purpose only. He was made for God, and finds his life only as he is in a state of voluntary union with God, filled with the Holy Spirit, developing a pure character, making God the center of his thoughts, affections, and will. Nothing but this is life when we speak of a soul. Something less is life for lower orders of being; but this only when we speak of one made in God's image.
And therefore death for a soul is not ceasing to be, but is eternal separation from God, from his knowledge and love and enjoyment; the cessation of all true spiritual functions, which are the really vital exercises. It is to fall out of union with God, to lose him from mind and heart, to be unloosed from our center, and to rush away into sin and consequent misery. This is the undoing, the destruction, the death of a soul as such; and the great misfortune or fault of the annihilationists is, that they do not rise to the only true conception of soullife, of which the lower forms of animal existence are only