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Brother Beebe: Why is the soul or spirit of man immortal? Or, in other words, why did it not die when the body dies? Be assured, I remain yours with my best wishes.

Wesley Spitler

Reply: The question proposed by our esteemed brother involves a mystery quite beyond our depth. We have never been able to define the soul of man, nor to tell the whys and wherefores of its interminable existence. Aside from divine revelation, very little can be known of the soul or spirit that distinguishes the human family from the rest of the animal part of the creation of God. But the scriptures supply to us that instruction which human physiology is altogether incompetent to afford - “God breathed in man the breath of life and man became a living soul.” And Paul has testified that the first man Adam was made a living soul. Again we are instructed by the words of inspiration in regard to the spirit of man that goeth upwards, in distinction from the spirit of the beast that goeth downward. However impossible it may be for us to comprehend the soul and spirit of man, we all feel a consciousness that we possess both, but why the soul shall survive the dissolution of the body and continue to be in happiness or misery forever and ever, to our limited mind admits of no satisfactory answer short of the light of divine revelation. God has condescended to inform us of the composition of man as a mere human being, of distinct elements of his composition. The material substance of the man was made of the dust of the earth, but it was not until God breathed in his nostrils the breath of life that man became a living soul. As the union of these elements constitute us living beings, or living souls, so the separation of these component parts is called death; but not, as we understand it, to signify the cessation of existence of vitality only in relation to the body which is composed of the dust of the earth. When the Redeemer died on the cross he committed to the hands of the Father his spirit, and as he said to the dying thief, “This day shalt thou be with me in paradise,” we conclude there could have been no suspension of vitality in the soul or spirit of either Christ or the penitent thief to whom this consoling assurance was so graciously given. The soul identifies the man, for man became a living soul, and in the common language of the scriptures, men are called souls. The assurance to the thief could not relate to the body of the thief, for his body was not laid with that of his Redeemer in the new tomb, nor was it preserved from seeing corruption. It was therefore something apart from his body that was with Christ in paradise. The body being of a material substance, we can trace it to its silent resting place in the bosom of its mother earth; we can watch the process of decomposition until the perfect accomplishment of the decree, “To dust shalt thou return.” We see it so perfectly returned that it can no longer be distinguished from its kindred dust. Were it not for the light of revelation we should there bid it an eternal farewell, without any hope of its resurrection. But the departed soul and spirit we can, by nature’s light, trace no farther than the time of its separation from the body, and were it not for inspired instruction, we might conclude that it dies with the body, ceases its vitality and discontinues to be. But, God be praised, the words of truth assures us that the spirits of the just are made perfect, that they are with the Redeemer in the paradise of God. Paul when speaking of his departure from the body spoke of departing to be with Christ. That there is really a separation of soul and body in death we are certain from many declarations of the scriptures - among others the words of our Lord concerning the rich man. To him it was said, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee!” “Fear not him that can kill the body, but after that have no more power; but fear him who is able to cast both body and soul into hell.” The material bodies of the guilty sons of Sodom were probably consumed with material fire which God in righteous judgment rained from heaven upon them, but these very inhabitants of Sodom are now suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. From all of these considerations with many others presented in the scriptures we conclude that in death there is not only a separation of soul and body, but that the soul immediately on its separation enters a state of paradise, or sinks to a state of interminable woe and misery. The spirits of just men are made perfect in glory, and the spirits or souls of the wicked are cast into hell.

Brother Spitler and our readers, permit us to remark that the scriptural word immortal with its derivatives, as used in our version of the Bible are not used in the scriptures simply to express the idea of interminable existence. The wicked must continue to exist in hell under the wrath of God, where the smoke of their torment shall ascend forever and ever, where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched; but still this state of their existence is denoted by another word of very different and opposite meaning from that of immortality, which in scripture is synonymous with the words eternal life, and Christ only hath immortality, dwelling in the light, and it is only in him that the saints have immortality.

For this is the record that God hath given us of eternal life, and this life is in his Son. This is the true God and eternal life. This life is hid with Christ in God, and they unto whom it is given shall never perish, but because Jesus lives, they shall live also.

The order of the final resurrection of the bodies of the saints at the last day presents a strong conformation of the position we have taken. For when Christ shall descend from heaven at the last day to raise the dead and to judge the world, according to the scriptures, he shall be revealed personally, from heaven with ten thousand of his saints; that is, as we understand it, with all the spirits of his saints now made perfect. “For when he who is our Life shall appear,” says Paul, “then shall we appear with him in glory.” The dead in Christ shall rise first, and those saints who shall then be living on the earth shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye, and these raised up bodies, raised with spiritual and immortal life shall meet them in the air and so shall they be ever with the Lord. These are the children of God which are born of incorruptible seed by the word of the Lord that liveth and abideth forever. “He that believeth on me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and he that liveth and believeth on me shall never die. Believest thou this?” So spake Jesus to Martha. On another occasion he said, “He that eateth this bread that came down from heaven shall never die.” There is that then in Christians that cannot die, cannot cease its vitality, but that something is not the vile body, or the mortal body, or the Adamic nature born of the flesh, for all flesh must die, and return to the dust. But that which is born of God is incorruptible and secure from death. The earthly house of our tabernacle must be dissolved and fall; but the children of God have a house which is not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. The outward man decayeth; but the inward man is renewed day by day.

In regard to the bodies of the wicked, it is sufficient that our dear Lord has told us not only that the saints shall rise, that he will raise them up at the last day, but he has also said that the hour shall come in which all that are in their graves shall hear his voice, and they shall come forth, they that have done good to life eternal, and they that have done evil to a resurrection of damnation. And God will judge the world in righteousness at the last day, by that man whom he hath appointed, and that according to Paul’s gospel.

We would not be understood as confounding the new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness, with the natural soul of man; for all men have natural souls, as we have attempted to show, but all men have not the new man described above. All who are born of God in the new birth receive an implantation of spiritual and incorruptible life. But the soul which is quickened by this implantation and the life implanted in the soul are distinct things in their nature and origin, but identified in the person of the regenerated, in whom Christ is formed, the hope of glory. So at least the subject appears to us. If we are right, may the Lord have all the glory; but if we err, may he forgive us, and may our brethren be blessed with patience to bear with our weakness; for if we know the desire of our own heart it is to utter only the truth as it is in Jesus Christ our Lord. Brother Spitler and brethren, in our experience we feel an internal consciousness that we have a soul that must survive this poor frail body, and that it must exist after the earth and seas shall have passed away. This soul, as well as this body, we found, to our sorrow, was defiled with sin. But the holy law of God spake in thunder when it said to us, “The soul that sinneth it shall die.” And until Christ was revealed to and in us we were in bitterness of soul in view of our guilty, helpless and as it seemed to us, our hopeless condition. But -

“When God revealed his gracious name,
He changed our mournful state.”

Then great joy and gladness sprang up in our heart, and our sorrowing and sighing, at least for a time, fled away. We have seen the time that we would gladly have believed that we had no soul to live after the death of the body; but as well might we seek for repose and comfort on a bed of embers, as for a release from the strong conviction that we had a soul all stained with guilt, that must suffer the righteous judgments of God, when time shall be no more, unless God should reveal a way that his justice and truth could be maintained and salvation abound to the chief of sinners. But why it is so that the soul must so exist in wealth or woe forever, we can only solve upon the ground that it was even so because it so seemed good to our Creator to organize us. It is now enough to know that it is so, and to rest assured that God in making man a living soul had an object worthy of himself. And however dark and mysterious the footsteps of our God may seem to our very limited understanding; we desire to be still and know that he is God. May we be preserved from vain speculation on this and on all subjects; may we rejoice in all that has been revealed, and trust him for all that he hath seen fit to withhold from our understanding.

Middletown, N.Y.
June 1, 1854

Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 3
Pages 80 - 84