Scriptural Enquiries As To Some Of The Doctrines Contained In J. P. Ham's Theological Tracts

You will not disapprove my following the advice you give the readers of your Theological Tracts (which the Holy Spirit Himself gives us), by proving what you have presented to them, as well as what is presented by the Protestant Churches. I have proved the latter now many years ago, at least in some measure. But the apostle tells me to prove all things’, and my experience teaches me that it is quite as needful to prove new things as old. Indeed the need of it is more obvious; for old may be approved by the long experience of true saints as sure ground for their souls, and what is new has certainly to be proved at first. The approbation of centuries has no weight at all with me. Nor even is the constant faith of the saints in all ages a measure or a proof of truth; but neither is a light disregard of it a proof of a state of soul which gives competency to judge of truth. Christ brought in new things; but the well-instructed scribe possessed the old, and held them fast. Our whole enquiry must be, as to either new or old—Are they in the word?

Now I judge that some remarks you have made on the subject of resurrection are just. The Church had greatly lost sight of it: it had along with it lost sight of the Lord’s coming, and hence had used language as to the separate state of the soul, which I judge to be quite unscriptural. The statement I thus make will, I trust, tend to assure you that I am not prejudiced against your views, as if governed by ecclesiastical orthodoxy.

I think there has been entire failure where you judge that there has; and I judge it to be a very great and real evil. But you cannot deny the tendency of man’s mind to run into some opposite extreme, when offended by an error. These moral Scyllas have been the wreck of many a mind, which had rightly avoided some Charybdis, that had too much engrossed their attention.

Now I am sure you will allow me calmly to investigate your reasonings, and judge them by the word; and at the same time to quote other passages, when you seek to overthrow the application of a particular one.

I take your examination of 2 Corinthians 5. Now I agree with you that mortality being swallowed up of life is not the soul’s going to heaven—that our house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, is not the separate state. Nor is mortality being swallowed up of life accomplished till our full glorious state—our house not made with hands—is put on. I further admit, that Paul in this passage does not express any desire of death. Nay, he even says that was not the object which occupied his desires, but something else. Thus far (and they are very important points) we agree. I believe, as you do, that he connected this state of glory with the coming of the Lord Jesus. But then the apostle goes farther. His desire is that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now mortality was his present state in the body; not when (according to your idea) body and soul had ceased to exist, but when he was groaning, being burdened, and desired that life, which he possessed, might, in the power in which Christ had overcome death, swallow up all trace of mortality. He does not say how this was to be; but had he been changed and never seen death, this would have taken place, and given the full proof of the power of this life, and the just and only adequate force of the apostle’s expression. He so saw the glory, and what he possessed already, as wrought of God for this self-same thing, that he wished the power of life which he possessed to swallow up mortality. Of course resurrection will produce the same effect in result; but Paul was comparing his present condition and the glory before him, and applies (in desire) the power of life in Christ, of which he was made partaker already, to the present production of this result. The mortality (to ihneton) was what he had while alive.

Having thus spoken of the sense of the passage, allow me to examine some of your comments.

And forgive me if I judge that you have made the apostle say many things which he has not said, and attached meanings to his words which ought to be proved, not asserted.

You make him say, “‘We are confident,’ I say, of so glorious a re-creation in Christ Jesus awaiting us; and are, therefore ‘willing rather to be absent from the body,’ that is, from our ‘natural body,’ our present mortal and corruptible nature which separates us from the Lord, and to be possessed of our ‘spiritual body,’ our new incorruptible nature, in order ‘that we may be present with the Lord,’ which cannot be until the resurrection, when ‘mortality shall be swallowed up of life.’”

Now you cannot deny that the greater part of what you make the apostle say here, he does not say. He says none of the things which concern your doctrine. He does not say “and be possessed of our spiritual body”; he does not say, “our new incorruptible nature, that we may be present with the Lord”; and when you say, “which cannot be until the resurrection,” it only applies to what you say, not to what the apostle says. He does not say that he was confident of so glorious a re-creation; nor does he say he is confident of anything, a sense in which the word employed is never used in the New Testament.13 It means, to be of a confident spirit, of good courage, bold.

The ‘therefore’ is not connected, as you make it, with this glorious future state, as making him confident, but with what he already possessed while in the body. “Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Therefore we are always confident,” etc. Now you cannot fail to see how immensely important this is to the whole question. It was what Paul had already as God’s workmanship, which made him so courageous at all times. Now if all this was totally to perish—that is, if what God had made him to be was, “He that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing” —how could that inspire him with confidence? The utter total perishing of what God had wrought was a strange ground of boldness.

And remark here that your doctrine involves believers in the same plight as sinners. In vain God has wrought in them by the same power as in Christ when He raised Him from the dead, Ephesians 1:19, 20. In vain that which is born of the Spirit is spirit, John 3:6. In vain Christ Himself is their fife, Colossians 3:4. And, because He lives, they shall live also, John 14:19. No: body, soul, spirit, the fife they have in Christ, all perish together. The earnest of the Spirit goes. The Holy Ghost abandons them. Do you believe that that eternal life which they have in the Son (1 John 5:11) perishes; or that they have it not really?

Again, you say, “The apostle desired to ‘be’ present with the Lord, not as a disembodied soul, for he says, ‘not for that we would be unclothed.’” But the apostle never says that he desired to be absent from the body, but that he was willing rather. That is, not that it was his object of desire, but that he preferred it to being in the body. All this shews that you have not sufficiently taken account of what the apostle says. He did see the glory, and seeing it, would have mortality swallowed up of fife, of that life whose power was already in him; for he was quickened together with Christ and by the same power—Christ was his life. He knew God had wrought him for this glory, and he had received the earnest of the Spirit; so that, if death did come, he was not the less confident —he would be willingly absent from the body and present with the Lord. And you will please to remember that he had actual death just before his eyes. He was writing to them about a persecution which had made him despair “even of life.” Now it was not his desire to die, but to be glorified; but so well did he know that he had life in power of Christ risen, that if he did die, he knew he would only gain by it.

You tell us that “absent from the body” means having received it again in glory. I say it, because the apostle says, “it is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption; it is sown an animal body, it is raised a spiritual body.” But does it not seem strange that “absent from the body” should mean taking it in glory? It does not say so at least.

Again, you say, “Man, the one compound being, is compared to an ‘earthly house’ or ‘tabernacle’ which will be ‘dissolved.’” Why man, the one compound being? Compounded of what?

You tell us that saints are to put on Christ—to put on incorruption, and hence that these expressions cannot allude to the body as distinct from the soul. Now I admit that the corruptible may put on incorruption, or a man put on a character; that is, put on may be used as a figure of a change of state or character. But you have not quite seized the force of the argument here. It lies in the word “tabernacle,” not in putting on or off. Now I humbly conceive that an earthly dwelling-place of a tabernacle does suppose some one dwelling in it; that is the idea conveyed by the figure. And you must remember that the Holy Ghost dwelt in the apostle, and that he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit. This surely is not part of the perishing compound. What comes of the living union of the members with the Head?

But the apostle certainly does not speak of man—the one compound being. He speaks of being in a tabernacle which made him groan; he speaks of the tabernacle being dissolved, not of his being dissolved; he speaks of his having a building of God, eternal in the heavens. That is, his language is entirely the opposite of what you have felt necessary to the support of your argument. He does not speak of a compound being, but of a tabernacle in which he was, and which made him groan, the apostle’s words are not at all what you make him say.

You do well to deal with the passages which you consider the strongholds of those opposed to the doctrine. But you must be aware that there are other passages which treat of the subject, which you would have done well to have considered along with this one, as naturally suggesting themselves.

I suppose you believe that Christ was as truly a man (though truly God) as we are. What did He mean when He said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit”? And when He said to the poor thief, “To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise”? Surely He did not deceive him. This is the more important because the thief was looking for the time of glory, and hoped to be remembered then, and said, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” But the Lord (who could bring out of His treasures things new and old) would not leave him, as you would leave us, without hope till then; but assured him of that new thing, for He brought life to light by the gospel, as well as incorruption. “To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Was Christ there without a soul? Had He not a human soul? What became of it at His death? And remember, if He lives, I do. The thief’s body was on the cross, Christ’s in the tomb. How was he in paradise with Christ? Again, Stephen—to whom the heaven was opened, and who was full of the Holy Ghost—was he deceived when he said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” just in the words of his Master, with the reflection of whose glory his face shone? But he was full of the Spirit, suffered like his Master, and looked to being with Him. Again, the apostle says, that to die is gain, though to live is Christ (Phil. 1:20-23). Now it is hard to suppose that dying is gain, if it is merely the dissolution of my whole being. But this is not all. The apostle in this passage is discussing life and death. Now having this as his subject (without speaking of future glory) he says, that to depart and be with Christ is far better. Here, dying is gain, and he explains this by saying that departing and being with Christ is far better, but that he should continue with them for their profit. Now permit me to observe, if “departing” alluded to all the saints going up into glory in resurrection, the apostle could not contrast continuing with them with that departing. There would be no sense in what he says, for then we shall all go up together. His departing from them was then by death in contrast with his continuing with them, yet he thought it “far better,” though “to live is Christ.” Again, I read of body, soul, and spirit being sanctified; so that scripture distinguishes these things very clearly. I read, the end of faith is salvation of souls. I read of those “who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul.” Surely this teaches me to distinguish between them; and to distinguish between them in death. Again, when I read of souls under the altar before Christ’s coming to judgment, I admit it is a figure, but it is not a figure to represent that such beings do not exist at all. White robes are given them, and they are told to wait. Now I might force the figure perhaps to mean that, in God’s sight, their martyrdom cried for vengeance; but how white robes could be given to what did not exist, would be hard to tell.

In a word, I find your tract representing the apostle as saying what he does not say at all, and that you forget a crowd of passages which are opposed in the plainest way to what you make him say.

Again, you say, “God has conferred through Christ the gift of immortality.” Now out of what treasure did you get this? You do not state in this tract. You could not, I suppose, state that “bringing life and immortality to light by the gospel” had anything to do with it, because bringing it to light would prove that it existed before. Besides, you know, I am sure, that the real meaning of the word is “incorruption.”

You tell me indeed that” the believer is here taught (2 Cor. 5) that he himself in his one totality, not a part of himself, must be ‘ dissolved.’ “But then in referring to the passage I find the apostle saying quite the contrary and distinguishing himself and his tabernacle. You try to prove he must mean something else; but he says that his tabernacle must be dissolved, not himself in his one totality. And I find the Lord telling me in the most explicit way, that the killing of the body does not reach to the soul. They kill the body, but cannot kill the soul (Matt. 10:28). Am I to believe Him or your doctrine?

I do not deny then the importance of the resurrection, but I bow to the plain testimony of scripture, that the soul lives meanwhile, “for all live unto him.”

But you quote another passage in your reasoning, on which you make another apostle also say what he does not say, and forget a crowd of passages which shew your doctrine to be unfounded. You make Peter say, “Believers are begotten again unto a hope of life.”

Does he say this? You first say a living hope, or a hope of life, and then drop what the apostle says, to put your interpretation as his statement. Had you not better let him speak for himself?

You will find this word “living,” I may say, a favourite word with him. It is not surprising; he was taught it first by the Father. Christ was for him the Son of the living God. Of this resurrection (as Paul teaches us in Rom. 1:4) is the proof. Hence Christ’s resurrection had begotten them again to a “living hope.” Ought not “begotten again” to have suggested to you that life—new life—was actually received, not hoped for? Hence, using this same word, he tells us Christ is a living stone, and that we are become living stones built up on that great foundation. That is, the doctrine of the apostle is solemnly and emphatically the opposite of what you make him say. He says they are living stones, as Christ is a living stone; you tell us they have only a hope of life.

And what is the doctrine of other parts of scripture? “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life” (John 3). “He that heareth my word and believeth on him that sent me hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but is passed from death unto life.” We wait for glory, we wait for the redemption of the body. Why thus distinguished? They who have received the first-fruits of the Spirit wait for this; we wait for the redemption of the inheritance, but (how much greater soever the enjoyment may be) we do not wait for our own redemption—we have it through His blood. We do not wait for life, because he that hath the Son hath life. We shall not have glory till Christ comes (there you are right, according to scripture), but we have life; in believing, we have life through His name. When He who is our life shall appear, we shall appear with Him in glory; but we are dead and risen with Him, and therefore seek the things above. The inheritance is reserved in heaven for us—that is, glory is; but not life—it is hid with Him there, but we have it, or it could not be called ours. You forgot, too, in quoting, “kept by the power of God,” to add, “through faith,” which would entirely destroy your application of it; for you say that “believers among the living or the dead are kept by the power of God.” But the apostle says “through faith.” Are those who have ceased to exist, in “one totality “of body and soul, kept through faith? Surely if I take the word, and prove your statements by it, you must feel yourself, they do not a moment stand the test.

You speak of the future life of believers being in resurrection. Be it so; but their present life, what is it? Have they no divine life in Christ? What becomes of that?

Allow me to add, though it be another subject, that no true Christian denies that abundant mercy has saved him; but that abundant mercy has so made him feel his sins, that he knows that they must be put away from before the eyes of Him who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and cannot look at sin. He believes that Christ has put them away—has borne them in His own body on the tree; that by His stripes he is healed; and hence that God is just, and the justifier of him that believes in Jesus. He does not doubt the mercy. He knows it is sovereign goodness; but the way that grace has operated is in the gift of His Son for the putting away of sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Do you believe this? The love shewn in this is not perhaps always sufficiently put forward; but denying the justice of God (that is, His righteous hatred of sin, and the judgment due to it) is not the scriptural way of enhancing the love. Whatever men may do, scripture, while telling us that God is love, tells us that His righteousness is revealed in the gospel—His righteousness for us—blessed be God—still His righteousness. It tells us, that we are made His righteousness in Christ. It tells us, that wrath is revealed from heaven. It speaks of a wrath to come, from which Christ has delivered us; that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God; that if Christ be denied, there is only a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries. This is not what it delights to dwell on; it comes on purpose to speak of love. If it speaks of wrath itself, it is in order that men may escape it. It is love that speaks, where wrath is spoken of. But it does not conceal— does not deny the truth of God’s character in righteousness if love be despised; nor hide from us that by nature we are children of wrath.

I will take up in another paper the question, whether the destruction spoken of is taking away existence. I turn to the general interpretation of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. We have seen the Lord speak in the most positive way of the distinction of soul and body, and declare that man could kill one but not the other. In the next place, the Lord (in Luke 20:38) declares in the most positive manner that all live to God, referring to persons acknowledged to be dead. You tell us that this means that they will live hereafter, but that they do not live at all meanwhile. But then meanwhile God is the God of the dead, or ceases to be the God of Abraham. The force of the Lord’s argument is not that God has been the God of Abraham, nor that He will be, but that He is, and that He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; adding, “for all live to him.” They will be raised, for they live now—is His statement. That they lived in His purpose was nothing to His argument, for that did not hinder His being the God of the dead now, if they do not exist now. God was not going to leave them in this imperfect state; He would raise them; but He declares that they do live, and that all live to Him. Is living in His memory, when they have ceased to exist, His being the God of the living, not of the dead? Is it their living to Him? They lived as much for a Sadducee as that. The question is not here whether He quickeneth the dead, and calleth the things that are not as though they were, but whether He is the God of things that do not exist—that are extinct. Christ says He is not, for that they do live to Him; you tell me they do not—it is only in His memory—but that they will hereafter. Which am I to believe? I do not need, then, the parable of Lazarus to found the doctrine of the soul’s living existence after death, because I have the Lord’s own positive explicit teaching on the subject—man can kill the body, he cannot kill the soul.

I admit then freely it is a parable. I do not press the letter of the parable, nor say that, when the rich man’s body was in the grave, he had literally a tongue to his soul so that water could have cooled it. I go farther, I admit that the parable is adapted to Jewish notions. Abraham’s bosom is clearly a figure for the best possible place in another world, according to Jewish ideas. All this seems to me very clear. But then the parable is surely meant to convey something. You say that the sense is, supposing these three men brought into each other’s presence, when the probationary scene was over, such as is here described would be the character and circumstances of their interview. Be it so. But why would it have this character? Was it not what happened after death that produced such sentiments? Was it not the misery, the unhappiness, consequent on death in another world, which was to produce the conviction Christ desired in the living? Did the Lord mean by such a picture to convey the idea that men suffered and enjoyed nothing after death? He does not say the man rose, and had his place in Abraham’s bosom; He says. he died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. Would not this sanction the idea that the just after death (i.e., when he died) subsisted still? “He died and was carried into Abraham’s bosom.” Does that mean—is it consistent with the idea—that when he died he ceased to exist (and so also the rich man), but afterwards he arose and went into Abraham’s bosom? Does it not contradict the idea, that on dying he ceased to exist? And, however useless, does not the torment of the rich man, his body being in the grave, teach that he existed while his body was there? He was buried, and lifted up his eyes in Hades, being in torment—a figure, no doubt, but a figure of something which was to act on the conscience. He was buried, say you, and thereon ceased to exist. Can the Lord’s statements fall in with yours?

If you examine the passage you will find that the Lord in these chapters is setting aside Jewish thoughts and enlarging their thoughts as to grace.

Chapter 15. The elder brother represents the Pharisees, or Jews who murmured against grace—the prodigal, the poor sinner, received back by divine love in a way quite above law.

Chapter 16. The unjust steward shews that man, and especially Israel, had lost their stewardship of God’s goods in the world, though they had them in possession; and that they ought when, in this state, to use them, not for present enjoyment, but with a view to future blessing; and thus, when they failed, when this earthly scene was done with for them, when they left their stewardship, they would be received into everlasting habitations. Then, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the Lord shews that they must not suppose (as the Jews did) that riches were a proof of divine favour; for one had only to lift the veil of another world, and how would all be reversed! And remark, that there is no thought of a destruction of the rich man according to your idea: he was remaining tormented in the flame. It applies neither to the non-existence you suppose on man’s dying, nor to the destruction you suppose to take place at the end. It was a continuing torment. Did the Lord mean or consent to mislead them, or frighten them with an untrue representation? for He clearly meant it to act on their consciences. You talk of the rich man being disowned by Abraham, but Abraham had nothing to do with his being there. It was his portion on dying. Surely the alarm to the living was an unwarranted one, if there was no consciousness and no continuing misery after death. The parable would not convey such an impression to any one, but on the contrary— that there was misery and happiness meted out when men departed from this world.

I will add only a word on your reasonings about the conscious and unconscious state. Forgive me if I say these words are a blind. There can be neither a conscious nor unconscious state of what does not exist. There is, on your theory, no being in existence. If God creates a new one, it is not that which was before, it is a new creation, as much as when a man is born. You compare it with this; you forget that when a man is born, it is a new being. He did not exist before; he is referred to no previous existence. But if God brings a new man into existence out of nothing, how is this new man to answer for what another man did who lived four thousand years before? Surely it must be the same man to be responsible. But it is not, if he has totally ceased to exist. Hence even the fantastic notion of the pre-existence of the soul supposed its existence to continue. Consciousness or not, is not the question. You deny its existence. What does not exist, cannot be even unconscious.

You say that material organization is necessary for every condition of being. Do you believe God then to have a “material organization”? When you speak of ghosts, you forget that the idea of Christians is that the Lord Jesus receives their spirits, as the Father did His, and as they believed the Lord Jesus did Stephen’s. They believe these passages shew the existence of a separate spirit, and a happy existence.

As regards 1 Thessalonians 4, I fully accept the application to the coming of the Lord, and the contrast between the hope He gives, and what is commonly given; so that I have no remark to make on the positive teaching of your tract. But when the apostle says “them that sleep in Jesus,” the word sleep is not calculated to convey the idea of non-existence, but the contrary. They are lost to their brethren, for the time, like a man asleep; but it is only sleep: and to call death “sleep,” would surely not tend to make us think the dead saints are “extinct.”

As regards 1 Corinthians 15, the resurrection was the grand public proof that life was not gone, that death was overcome, that Christ has destroyed the power of him who had the power of death. It was also the only full perfect state of man in glory like Christ to which we are predestinated. But though this were the proof and the perfection of this purpose of God and of Christ’s victory, it does not follow, because all would fail if this were not true, that man does not exist meanwhile; for this reasoning is applied first and principally to Christ. Now it is certain He did not cease to exist when He died. If Christ be not risen, Paul says, our faith is vain. That was His victory, the proof of acceptance. Satan could not destroy a soul, but he had the power of death, and though he had nothing in Christ, yet Christ underwent death for our sakes. Had He been holden of it, victory would have been on the side of the enemy who had the power of death. So with us: if there be no resurrection, then Christ is not raised; if He be not, our faith is vain. But then it is certain that this reasoning does not imply non-existence, unless Christ was “extinct.” If you think this, you ought to say so; we shall know the import of your doctrine better.

In result, on proving your statements by the word, I find the scripture positively states that the soul is distinct from the body; declaring (Matt. 10:28) that man who can kill the body cannot kill the soul; shewing me Christ commending His Spirit to the Father (Luke 13:46); Stephen full of the Holy Ghost (Acts 7:59) doing the same thing in the Spirit; the Lord declaring to the poor thief that he should be that day with Him in paradise (Luke 13:43); Paul in speaking of his death—exclusively in contrast with his being with the saints, which he will be in the resurrection—calling it departing and being with Christ, to which nothing can be more opposed than being “extinct” (Phil. 1:23). I find this confirmed by a crowd of passages, which suppose, or allude to, or are consistent with it.

And I find in one very plain passage, which you seek to shew does not apply to it, you are obliged to make the apostle Paul say what he does not say; and to mean what his words plainly contradict.

I find too that in other passages, as in 1 Peter, the rich man and Lazarus, and Christ’s answer to the Sadducees, you are obliged to force the passage, and make it mean what it does not say, in order to sustain your doctrine. Thus you say “all live to Him” does not mean that they are alive, but live in God’s memory; that a living hope, is a hope of life, though the same word is used more than once just after in a meaning which does not allow of such a force being given to it.

In a word, I find scripture forced by you to maintain your view, and contradicting it in the plainest passages possible— passages which you have omitted to notice. I reject therefore your doctrine as unscriptural, and antiscriptural; and I judge that every one who bows to the word must do so.

I do not at all say that you are a Unitarian, for I apprehend your tracts shew you are not, at least on some points; but, unless I strangely deceive myself, your exposition on the points treated of in these tracts will be found in the doctrines of the notes of what the Unitarians call the Improved Version.

The Lord willing, I shall in another paper examine your views on Christ’s sacrifice (which you set aside, as Unitarians do).

13 It is used by Plato with peri (about) as “confident about” a thing; but used by itself it means the tone of mind, and is always and only so used in the New Testament.