The Error of Denying the Immortality and Endless Duration of the Soul

By Sylvester Hassell

The Gospel Messenger-August, 1894

If man has no existence beyond the grave, all faith and all preaching are in vain; and I hope that my readers will bear with me while I carefully examine not only the dim teachings of nature, but the clearer teachings of the Holy Ghost in all the Scriptures in regard to the character and duration of the soul of man–the most vital, fundamental, and comprehensive subject in human religion, next after the existence and attributes of God.

He who denies that the soul or spirit of man (that imperceptible part of man which is endowed with thought and will and conscience) is immaterial and will endure forever–a fact inborn in the nature of every human being, and set forth plainly enough in all the Scriptures–is a superficial reader of Nature and Scripture, and is, in such denial, an enemy of God, and of himself, and of the human race. All human beings believe originally and instinctively in the immortality (or as Mr. J. C. Philpot suggests, the un-mortality), the everlasting duration of the soul; but the frivolous, worldly theories of Sadduceeism, {Ac 23:8} and the false, defective materialistic philosophy of ancient Greece (Epicureanism) and of modern Europe (Evolutionism), as also consistent Fatalism, Pantheism, and Atheism, have poisoned and destroyed this original belief in some minds, and make matter eternal, infinite, and all, blot out virtue, religion, accountability, the spirit of man, and God Himself, and, if received and practiced by all men, would reduce this world to a pandemonium, an arena of demons, as these diabolical principles did in Paris in 1792-1795, when “Death is an Eternal Sleep,” was written upon the cemeteries, and as Nihilism, Anarchism, and Dynamitism, with the self-same principles, are to-day seeking to bury the whole fabric of modern civilization in bloodshed and ruin.

It seems almost incredible that even the smallest part of this false and ruinous heathen philosophy could ever have found the slightest toleration, much less acceptance, among Primitive Baptists; and yet it is an essential part of Eld. Daniel Parker’s Two-Seed Heresy that, though the regenerate have souls, which he makes as eternal as Christ Himself, the unregenerate have no souls at all, but only a seed of an Eternal Devil in them, which animates them, and will at last return to him! (But the Scriptures never make any sort of distinction between the substance of the souls of the regenerate and the unregenerate.) And even one of our esteemed and acceptable ministers, who wrote, in 1846, that, when convicted of sin, he “found no room to doubt the existence of a God or the immortality of the soul,” and that, in his great distress, he “felt that the most loathsome worm was better off than he, since death to it would be annihilation that is, a reduction to nothingness, while to him it was the gate to interminable misery,” wrote in 1890, that “the term soul has different meanings in the Scriptures, sometimes signifying the whole person or individual (as in Ge 2:7), sometimes a peculiar characteristic distinct from the body and spirit (as in 1Th 5:23) and sometimes a sense of comfort and satisfaction (as in Mt 16:26 and Heb 10:39);” and that the destruction of soul and body in hell, spoken of by Christ in Mt 10:28, refers ! to the chastisement of the people of God in this life; and wrote in 1891: “With all his proud assumption of superiority, man ! can establish no claim to more than the same spirit (that is, literally translated, wind or breath) which animates those beasts which perish with the earth. Thus it is evident that when man is regarded in his natural estate, he is indeed altogether vanity. {Ps 39:5; Ec 3:18-21} Man is a mortal worm, ! perishing with the earth out of which he was taken, and by the gift of Jesus Christ the same man has eternal life, and shall never perish.” This language seems to imply that the souls of the unregenerate are annihilated at death, which, however, I do not think that the brother using it believes, though I must confess that his language at times is so mystical and apparently conflictive that I cannot tell what he believes. Even Eld. Daniel Parker did not teach the annihilation of the Satanic seed or spirit of the unregenerate, but only its return to its eternal source–which, however, seems virtually to amount to annihilation, at least so far as their consciousness is concerned; for, as they were unconscious of their existence before their appearance in the world, if they had such existence, so they will be unconscious of the same existence after they leave the world. I am very sorry to have to say that another one of our able ministers applies such Scriptures as Ps 9:17 (“the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God,”) and Mt 25:46 (“these shall go away into everlasting punishment,”) to the fatherly restraint and correction of the children of God in the present life, and is said to maintain that the wicked are annihilated at death (here the extremes of ultra spiritualism and materialism met). If there is another Primitive Baptist in the world (except one who is excluded from the church, and another whose mind is affected) that believes in the conditional immortality of the human soul, which heresy has heretofore been an outgrowth and a still further degredation of the system of conditional salvation, I have never seen, heard, or read of him. If all the Scriptures apply only to the people of God (a most serious error, as I have already shown, held by some Primitive Baptists), there is no scriptural proof of the annihilation of the wicked; and if spirit is material, all human experience disproves its annihilation, for man has never known one particle of matter to be annihilated. Thus error, as always, is shown to be inconsistent with itself, as well as with truth. If spirit is material, of course there is no immaterial Creating Spirit, no God, and matter is eternal, which all who believe the Scriptures know to be a Satanic fabrication. Such Scriptures as Mal 4:1,3, and Mt 3:12, do not prove the annihilation, but the everlasting suffering of the wicked, as is shown by the word “Unquenchable,” and also by the following Scriptures: Ex 15:7; Job 18:16; Am 2:9; De 32:22 compared with 2Pe 3:7-13; Ps 1:4-6; 21:9; 83:11-18; Isa 2:12-17; 40:24; 47:14; Ob 1:21; Zep 1:14-18; Zec 14:1-2; Na 1:5-6; 2Sa 22:43; Joh 5:28-29; Mt 10:28; 25:41,46; Mr 9:43-48; Lu 16:23,26; 2Th 1:7-10; Re 14:11; 19:20; 20:10,15; 21:8,11,15. Fire produces excruciating pain, and in one sense destroys, but it has never been known to annihilate anything.

The soul is not material, for, unlike matter, it is self-active, and it distinguishes itself from the material body, and in its highest activities, is independent of that body. Modern materialism contradicts and disproves and stultifies itself, by first making all spirit material, and then, in its pitiable flounderings to account for incontrovertible facts, making all matter spiritual, alive, conscious, and immortal! The body is the present dwelling place of the soul, and its organ of communication with the material world; and the soul and body are now so intimately connected that a disturbance of the one generally, though not always, produces a disturbance in the other; but connection is not identity; and the soul, being a spiritual atom, not composed of parts, has been made by its Creator incapable of dissolution and extinction. The everlasting duration of the soul of man has been well argued from its resemblance to God, its immateriality, uncompoundedness, intellectuality, sense of dependence, accountability, and sin, apprehension of infinite and eternal things, intuitions, hopes, aspirations, capacity for indefinite progress and for fellowship with God, the incompleteness of God’s moral government in this world, and the plainly revealed fact that what is called its death or destruction is not the loss of its being, but the loss of its original rectitude and happiness.

In all languages nearly all words expressive of mental or internal facts are derived from material or external things; for the latter are more manifest than the former, and are therefore chiefly used by us to convey to others our ideas not only of things which we see, hear, taste, smell, and feel, but also our ideas of things which we think of, but which we cannot perceive by our senses. Thus the world language itself, which means words either spoken, or written, or printed, or simply thought, is derived from the Latin word lingua, meaning tongue, because the tongue is the principal bodily organ of human speech. And so, in all languages, the most of the terms used to name the imperceptible soul or spirit or mind of man are either the names of some internal organs of the body, or words that mean the material air or breath, which is the plainest sign of the existence of a living soul or spirit in an animal or human body. In Hebrew the words nephesh and ruach; in Sanscrit, atma; in Greek, psuche and pneuma; in Latin, anima and animus (from the Greek anemos) and spiritus; in German, seele and gheist; and in English, ghost, soul, and spirit–all originally mean air or wind or breath, not because any Hebrew or Hindoo or Greek or Roman or German or English person believes that air or breath thinks and wills and knows, but simply because a breathing animal or human being is known to be alive, and, if alive, is known to have within him a soul or spirit, or intelligence, which departs from his body at death. As understood by all simple-minded readers as well as by the scholarly translators, the Hebrew words Nephesh and Ruach, and the Greek words Psuche and Pneuma, used by the Holy Ghost in the Scriptures, and rendered Soul and Spirit in the King James and the Revised Versions, mean a substance, which is neither simply breath nor animal life, but which, when it dwells in a human body, manifests itself by animal life, and generally by breath, though there is no perceptible breath in the living foetus, nor, before resuscitation, in a person drowned or hanged or suffocated by noxious gases, nor in a person affected with catalepsy, showing that breath is not always essential even to present human life or to the soul, and showing that breath is not the soul unless birth or resuscitation or recovery from disease is a resurrection. The English words mind and man are from a Sanscrit word meaning to think. Other names of the soul in the English and other languages are derived from the names of some of the operations of the mind.

In the original Scriptures, the Hebrew Nephesh and the Greek Psuche are generally translated soul; and the Hebrew Ruach and the Greek Pneuma are generally translated spirit; but these words, as well as numerous others translated mind, heart, understanding, etc., are often used interchangeably, or synonymously to express that immaterial principle which man derived directly from God–each of these terms being at times used to denote a particular aspect or function or attribute of that principle. When Psuche (soul) is apparently distinguished from Pneuma (spirit), as in only two passages of the Scriptures (1Th 5:23 and Heb 4:12) Psuche denotes the natural, animal, carnal, fleshly, outer, lower qualities or operations, and Pneuma, the moral, spiritual, inner, higher qualities or operations, of the one, indivisible mind or immaterial, thinking principle–the distinction resembling that between “the joints and the marrow.” (which are parts of the same body), and between “the thoughts and intents” of the same “heart.” {Heb 4:12}

I have gone carefully over all the 1571 passages of the of the Scriptures in which occur the Hebrew and the Greek words translated soul and spirit in the King James and the Revised Versions; and I find that, besides those passages, where these words are translated man, person, heart, and mind, the King James Version translates these words soul or spirit 1143 times, and the Revised Version 1098 times; and that both of these Versions agree that the Spirit of God is spoken of 310 times in the Scriptures, and the spirit of man, in the very same words as the Spirit of God, 691 times. Here then is the demonstration to every one who believes the Scriptures, that, as God is immaterial, so is there an immaterial principle in man, endowed with thought and will and conscience, called soul in its lower and spirit in its higher aspects (never once is there the slightest intimation that the words denoting this chief substance of man mean “a sense of comfort and satisfaction,” a definition as unscriptural as it is original; the Hebrew Lexicon of Gesenius and the Greek Lexicon of Liddell and Scott give no authority whatever for such a meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words translated “soul” and “spirit” in the Scriptures.) And we learn, from the very first page of the Scriptures, as well as elsewhere, that, at his creation, man was distinguished far above all the lower animals by being made with Divine deliberation, in the image and likeness of God, and that his breath and soul or spirit was breathed or infused into him directly from his Creator, and that he was made, under God, the ruler of this world, {Ge 1:26-29; 2:7; Zec 12:1; Job 27:3; 32:8; 33:4} the last and highest of all the creatures of God on earth, for whom all the other earthly creatures were made before he was made, and ready to be used by him as soon as he was made. We also learn from the Scriptures that the everlasting existence of the soul of man was dimly but certainly declared in the Old Testament (Ec 3:21; 12:7; Ge 5:25; 2Ki 2:11; Da 12:2; Ps 16:10; 17:15; 73:24; Isa 14:9; 26:19; compare Mt 22:32 and Heb 11:13-16), and clearly revealed in the New Testament. {Mt 10:28; 22:32; 25:31-46; Lu 16:19-31; 23:43; Joh 5:28-29; Ac 23:6-8; 1Co 15:2; Php 1:23; 1Th 4:13-18; 2Th 1:5-10; Heb 11:5,10,13-16; 1Pe 1:1-5; Re 7:14-17; 14:11,13; 19:20; 20:11-15; 21:1-8; 22:1-15} Though men can kill the body, they have no more that they can do, they cannot kill the soul, which when the body is parted from it to go back to dust, returns to God who gave it, for immediate, particular, private judgment. {Mt 10:28; Ec 12:7,14; 2Co 5:10; Heb 9:27} The chief quality in the image or resemblance of man to God was the possession of a soul or spirit, an intelligent, voluntary, moral immaterial personality, which was to endure forever. It cannot be proved, either from nature or from Scripture, that the spirit even of the best is annihilated at death (nature does not teach us that anything is annihilated; and only three passages of the Scriptures even seem to refer to the destiny of the spirits of the beasts, Ps 49:12,20, and Ec 3:21; in the Psalm, the phrase rendered “the beasts that perish” means literally “dumb beasts,” or “stupid or irrational beasts,” and is so rendered in all versions except the English, French, and Italian; and even perishing is not annihilation, for many times in the Scriptures men are said to perish; and the words in Ecclesiastes are not a declaration, but a question, suggested by the worldly, sensual, beast-like life of the most of men, who do not seem to know or recognize any difference between the spirit of man which at death goes upward to God who gave it, to be judged by Him, {Ec 3:17; 12:7,14} and the spirit of the beast which at death goes downward to the earth, whether then to become extinct or not, the Scriptures do not tell, and no man knows; the Revised Version, in accordance with many ancient Versions, the Septuagint, Syriac, Vulgate, Targum, and others, translates this verse, “Who knoweth the spirit of man, whether it goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast, whether it goeth downward to the earth?” Solomon knew and has told us that the spirit of man returns after death to God who gave it, {Ec 12:7} but even he did not know and has not told us what finally becomes of the spirit of the beast). Much less can it be proved, either from nature or from Scripture, that the spirit of man, who was made in the image of the Ever-Living God, will ever be annihilated.

Upon no subject was Eld. Gilbert Beebe, the founder and first editor of the oldest Primitive Baptist periodical published in this country, more clear and uncompromising that the everlasting duration of the soul of man. Of the numerous articles that he wrote upon this most vital and momentous subject, I will quote that which was published in the Signs of the Times of July 15, 1875: “We do not know of any Scripture that says in so many words that the soul, body, or spirit of either the elect or the non-elect are immortal; but the Scriptures very clearly prove, to our mind, that all the human family possess a being or existence, call it by what name we may, which must continue to exist after the death of the body, and in an existence of interminable duration. There most certainly will be a resurrection, both of the just and the unjust, in which all they that are in the grave shall hear the voice of the Son of God and shall come forth, they that have done good to the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil to the resurrection of damnation. There is no distinction spoken of between the souls of the elect and those of the non-elect. The soul is in some cases spoken of in distinction from the body, and as that which after the dissolution by death may be cast into hell.” In the Signs of the Times, November 15, 1874, he said: “We hope that none who bear our name believe or teach the annihilation of the soul.”

The London Baptist Confession of Faith, with which all other Baptist Articles of Faith agree, declares, in Chapters iv. and xxxi., that the souls of all men are immortal. The expression in 1Ti 6:16 “who (that is, God) only hath immortality” (athanasia, deathlessness), plainly means, as shown by other Scriptures, {Joh 5:26,28; 11:25-26; 1Jo 5:11-12; Ex 3:14; Ps 90:2; Isa 57:15; Heb 13:8; Re 1:8} that only God has, in His essence, underived from any other being, a life that cannot die–that He is the only Fountain of life to all His creatures; but, as He has all power in heaven and earth, and as nothing is impossible with Him, {Mt 28:18; Lu 1:37} He, who can and will give immortality (athanasia, the same word in the Greek) to the resurrected, spiritual bodies of His people, {1Co 15:42-44,53-54} swallowing up death, for them, in victory, has also chosen to give an unending existence, as demonstrated by the numerous and unanswerable Scriptures that I have cited, to the spirits of all flesh, of which he is, in the sense of immediate, natural creation, the God and Father. {Nu 16:22; 27:16; Lu 3:38; Heb 12:9}

The doctrine of the annihilation of the soul of man is both thoroughly unscientific and thoroughly unscriptural; and its acceptance is the annihilation of religion for all human beings.

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