Immortality–The Gift Of God Through Faith In Jesus The Christ
by W. Laing
THE declaration that "God created man in His own image, " is frequently regarded and urged as an intimation that man was created immortal. The argument stands thus: God is immortal; man was made in the image of God, therefore man is immortal. The syllogism, however, proves too much, for it assumes that, because man was made in the image or likeness of God, man must be like God in every respect; else why select immortality from among the attributes of Deity! God is from everlasting, He is Almighty, Unchangeable, Infallible, etc. Shall we, therefore, reason that, because man was made "in the image of God, he must be like God in these qualities! If not, why select immortality as the point of resemblance! There is nothing in the context pointing out this kind of resemblance, and we would naturally expect that the point or points of resemblance would be of a palpable kind. The connection in which the words stand would lead us to fix on some characteristic distinguishing man from the other creatures, and in which he bears some resemblance to God. The resemblance, whatever it is, can only be so in kind, not in degree.
The most obvious resemblance in kind between man and his Maker is in his mental and moral qualities. These separate him by a wide and impassable gulf from all the other animal tribes. Some creatures approach very near him in structure; but in the formation and development of his brain, and consequent moral and intellectual powers, he stands far apart from and above all the rest, and that these moral and intellectual qualities, in an incomparable degree, belong to God, will not be disputed. But Adam was not only made superior in organization to the other animals; he was also, by divine appointment, their lord; and it is in connection with the intimation of this fact that his being made in the likeness of God is mentioned. Thus we read: "And God said, Let us make man in our own image, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over every living thing that creepeth upon the earth. "
Endowed by his Maker with powers distinguishing him from all other earthly beings, and elevating him far above them, and fitted to control and subdue them, man was divinely constituted the lord of the world. Having the right of dominion over earth, and all upon it, he thus far resembled God—the Ruler of all. That man is not, by creation, an immortal being is clear from the penalty threatened him for disobedience. "The Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of. Eden, to dress it and to keep it; and the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day thou eatest of it thou shalt surely die. "—Gen. 2:15-17. The penalty threatened was death. But an immortal being cannot die. This is so self-evident, that those who maintain that man is, by nature, immortal, in order to make the penalty threatened square with that idea, interpret death to mean endless life in misery!
It meant, say the divines,
—1st. Death temporal; that is, the death of the body till the resurrection, and the separate existence of the soul during that time "in an intermediate state of misery and shivering anticipation of worse. "
—2nd. Death spiritual or deadness of feeling toward God, associated with active hostility to His authority, and intense desires towards all that is evil.
—3rd. Death eternal or eternal life, to the reunited soul and body, in most excruciating torments, to all eternity.
All this was threatened to Adam by the words, "Thou shalt surely die " How strange! Surely had God meant to punish Adam so severely, He would have pronounced the doom in plain, distinct terms, or added the necessary explanation? But we have no record of any explanation being given; and as we cannot imagine that Adam was skilled in metaphysics and systematic divinity, we cannot suppose him to have understood "death " to mean all that. It was death that was threatened to the living soul, Adam. "Thou "—not thy body merely— " thou shalt surely die,"—cease to be a living soul. That which sinned was to die. And so we find it expressed in the sentence passed upon Adam after his sin: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread until thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. "—Gen. 3:19. Is it possible for language to express more unambiguously and emphatically, that, because he had sinned, Adam—the man formed out of the dust of the ground, and into whose nostrils God had breathed the breath of life—was doomed to die—to be resolved into the original elements whence he came! Verily, no. At the very morning of human history, we see verified the divine fiat— " The wages of sin is death. "
In confirmation of the foregoing statement of man's original nature and penal condition, we point to the fact of his banishment from the tree of life, and the reason assigned for that enactment. Man was driven out of Eden " lest he should put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever,"—language quite meaningless if Adam was an immortal being, and could never die, but most expressive in the light of the facts as we have set them forth. Thou shalt die; "dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. " The tree of life in the midst of the garden, which Adam was appointed to dress and to keep, was endowed with such life preserving qualities, that it prevented dissolution, and imparted immortality to those who partook of its wonderful fruit. Had man stood the trial to which he was subjected, this tree of life would have made him immortal; but we know how he fell, and was driven beyond its reach, to toil and moil in suffering, sorrow, and decay, till life's brittle cord snapped asunder, and he returned to dust!
Ere we leave the sad and mournfully suggestive scene, let us notice the mercy of God tempering His judgments. He drove out the man, lest he should eat of the tree of life, and live forever. God's will is against the immortalizing of sin and sinners. He will put an end to both; only the righteous shall live forever. And surely it is in mercy to the sinner himself. Eternal life in sin, could the Holy One permit it, would be an awful fate to the sinner. Jehovah at once stamps sin with His reprobation, and shows pity to the incorrigible transgressor by consigning him to utter hopeless death.
In the record of man's original creation, constitution, and position in the world, we have seen that he was not immortal, but simply endowed with life, and with the means of prolonging it everlastingly, placed within his reach, on certain specified conditions; that he was, in short, a candidate for immortality. In this candidature he failed he lost the prize, and was banished from his state of primeval innocence and bliss under the doom of impending death. Such being the case, his offspring cannot be possessed of immortality by natural constitution. "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return, " was the fate appointed by God for the fallen father of our race —a fate which has descended to his children; for though to some the term of life may be comparatively prolonged, sooner or later the same result comes alike to all. "All are of the dust, all turn to dust again. " "The dust shall return to the earth, as it was, and the spirit (or breath of life) unto God who gave it." —Eccl. 3:20, 12:7. "Man dieth and wasteth away; yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he! As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up; so man lieth down, and riseth not; till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep."—Job 14:10—12. "Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish." —Psalm 146:3-4.
Not only is mankind without immortality by nature; but also, in consequence of personal transgression, under sentence of death; for " The wages of sin is death."—Rom:6:23. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die."—Ezek. 18:4. That the death which is the wages of sin is real death, and not eternal life in misery, we shall afterwards have occasion to demonstrate; but we hasten to a happier side of the picture —
That the Lord was sent into the world, that sinners, by believing in Him, might obtain life everlasting, is so plainly taught both by the Lord and His Apostles, that it is hard to conceive how any attentive reader of the Bible can believe the opposite. Let us consider a few of the testimonies. "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life."—John 3:16. The teaching of this and kindred passages is commonly put aside by the remark, that the term "life " in these passages, simply means "happiness. " That those who obtain everlasting life shall be everlastingly happy, is true; but it is a truth which is not expressed in the term " life, " for we know that " misery " as well as "happiness " is commonly associated with life, and that it is as lawful to speak of a miserable life as of a happy one. According to the common teaching, all men live forever; and it is simply because of this foregone conclusion, that "life " is interpreted to mean "happiness. " Happiness and life are not synonymous terms, and had the Lord meant to express the idea of happiness simply, he would have used the proper term. There is nothing in the context forbidding us to understand the terms "perish " and "everlasting life " in their ordinary acceptation; yea, rather, we should say, the context demands that these terms be understood to have their common and primary meaning (see verses 14-15). "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. " The analogy or comparison employed clearly establishes that the sense we are contending for is the true one. A reference to Num. 21:4-9 will show this: "The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. " —5:6. "And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole: and it came to pass, if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived."—5:9. The Israelites were perishing because of sin; to save them from dying, a serpent of brass, by the command of Jehovah, is elevated on a pole, and the appointment made, that whosoever of the dying Israelites looked at the brazen serpent, should live. And "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." The comparison is so simple and expressive, that he who runs may read it.
And so is that other comparison which Jesus applies to himself in John 6:51, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." The parties to whom our Lord thus addressed Himself had desired from Him some miraculous display of power, as evidence that He was sent by God; and they supported their demand by referring to the circumstance that their fathers had been miraculously fed in the wilderness by the hand of Moses. "Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. " Jesus replied by asserting that God had given them a blessing of far superior value, and that He Himself was that gift. "My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven; I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever."
Jesus, in representing Himself as "bread", plainly intimates that one grand end of His mission was to give life. The only use of bread is to sustain life; and the only proper mark of analogy between Christ and the bread consists in His being the source of life to all who believe on Him. The property of bread is not to communicate happiness; for how many at this hour have abundance of bread, and continue unhappy!
That it is as the Giver of life that Jesus represents Himself as bread, is still further evident from His language in verse 49-50: "Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. "Where is the antithesis, on the supposition that the Lord meant, your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof and not be unhappy, or not live in misery forever?
The true antithesis is this. The manna which fell in the desert only sustained life for a while; it did not prevent their fathers from dying; but the bread which God had now sent down to them gave everlasting being. God had sent it that a man might eat of it and not die.
The sense in which the Lord used the terms "life" and "death", as consequences of fidelity or infidelity to Himself, is clearly defined in His language recorded in Matt. 16:25-26:
Whosoever will save his life shall lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it. For what is a man profited if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? "We are at no loss to understand what sort of life it is which the unfaithful servant seeks to save. It is the same kind of life which he shall lose. No one hesitates about the kind of life which the faithful martyr loses for Christ's sake. Well, the Lord affirms that he who loses his life for His sake shall find it—surely that life which he lost.
It is of importance to notice that the word rendered "soul" twice in verse 26, is the identical Greek word twice translated "life" in verse 25; and should have been rendered "life" in these four occurrences. "The Greeks," writes the late Dean of Canterbury, "in their wonderfully accurate language, expressed by the same term (psuche) the soul of man which he has to save, and the life of the reptile which man crushes under his foot. And it would have been immensely to our profit if we had done the same. For then we should have understood what very few now do understand —the true nature, the true place, of this our intellectual and emotional being. We should then have read in our Bibles not only: "Whoever will save his life shall lose it, and whosoever shall lose his life for My sake shall find it," but also—for the same word is used: "For what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own life? or what shall a man give in exchange for his life?" For it is the life of man which carries his practical will, with all those motions of intellect and feeling which sets it at work; it is the life which is mysteriously bound up with the body, which is reft from it at death; it is this life, which, if a man spend upon God and upon good, he shall save to life eternal."1
That the Lord Jesus Christ came to give "life" in its primary sense, is also taught in the beautiful language of John 10:10-18: "The thief cometh not but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd giveth His life for the sheep. "I lay down My life for the sheep. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. "Did Jesus lay down His spiritual life, or did He lay down mere happiness! Nay, it was His own " life " He laid down and took up again; and He likens Himself to a shepherd who, to save his sheep, lays down his own life; unlike the hireling, who, to save His life, flies in time of danger, and allows the wolves to devour the flock. If such language does not express the idea, that "life" in its ordinary sense, is the boon which Jesus laid down His own life to confer upon His own flock, then it is impossible to find language to express that idea.
The beauty and force of the comparison would appear all the more lively to a pastoral people in the East, where the attachment betwixt a shepherd and his flock seems much stronger than in our Western clime. "Thy servant," said the son of Jesse to King Saul— "thy servant kept his father's sheep, and there came a lion and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock; and I went after him, and smote him, and slew him. The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, He will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine."—1 Sam. 17:34-37. David's love for this lamb of his little flock was great indeed; but how unspeakably greater is the love of Christ for us sinners, since He not only risked His life, but " laid it down. " He threw Himself into the lion's mouth that His sheep might escape. He "poured out His soul unto death," "that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life." Herein indeed is love! Contemplate it calmly and gratefully, till tears of joy and adoration flow from your eyes. To save you from the destiny of the brute, and make you a partaker of His own eternal life, the blessed God sent His only begotten Son into the world, to live a mortal's life and die a mortal's death. He, with the benignity of God, gave up freely not happiness alone, but life itself, that you, through faith in Him, the risen and immortal Christ, might, at His appearing, enter into life that knows no end, no sinning, and no sorrow!
O Lamb of God! was ever love like Thine!
Indeed, God guarded the tree of life specifically so that sinners would not be immortal, yet as Jesus makes absolutely clear again in the letter to the Ephesians in Revelation 2:7 ";...to the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the paradise of God..."