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After Death: What? for the Christless

by H. A. Ironside (1876-1951)

H A IronsideLast evening I spoke to you on "After Death: What?—for the Christian." Tonight my theme is a much more solemn and serious one: "After Death: What?—for the Christless." When we think of the realities of the life to come, it is as to the impenitent and the wicked that we are most exercised. We are not worried as to what the other world has in store for the men and women who have walked with God here. We feel certain, even apart from revelation, that wherever John, the beloved, will be for eternity, it must be well with him. We are sure that Paul, the devoted follower of his crucified and risen Master, cannot lose out in the coming ages as a result of his faithfulness here; nor are we concerned about repentant David, sinner though he owns himself to have been, or the dying robber, whose last words condemn himself and magnify his Saviour. With all these we are certain it must be well forever.

But we have deep exercise of heart when we think of Cain, who turned away from salvation purchased by atoning blood; of Esau, who sold his birthright for a mess of pottage; of Judas, the traitor, who bartered away his hope of everlasting bliss for thirty pieces of silver. When we think of these men and myriads like them, we ask with bated breath, What does the great eternal future hold in store for them?

In Job, chap. 14:10, we read, "Man dieth and wasteth away; yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?" The old Anglo-Saxon word "ghost," similar to the German "geist," simply means "spirit." At death man gives up the spirit, and the question is, Where is he? The body may be buried or disposed of in some other way, but where is the spiritual entity, the man who at one time occupied that tenement? Notice another question in the 14th verse of the same chapter: "If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come."

There are then two questions; "Man dieth and wasteth away; man giveth up the spirit, and where is he?" Then, "If a man die, shall he live again?" The first question has to do with the state of the man between death and a possible resurrection; the last one inquires whether there will ever be a resurrection. Now in attempting to answer these questions from Scripture, remember we are confining ourselves to the Christless man. Where is he when the body dies, and will that body ever be raised from the tomb?

There is no authoritative answer to these questions apart from divine revelation. The speculations of men cannot give it, be they ever so reasonable and erudite. Those who reject the testimony of Holy Scripture are not further advanced in regard to the great question of life beyond the grave than that little coterie of Greek philosophers, who, in the days of Socrates, centuries before Christ, used to reason about life and death and immortality. Plato is still read and taught in our colleges. People still go back to those old Greeks for arguments regarding immortality; it is interesting, much that is advanced is fairly convincing and even probable, but there is no authoritative assurance; and the soul is left in uncertainty.

The Bible alone gives us positive knowledge. But to what part of our Bible shall we turn for light on these great questions? Not to the Old Testament. Please keep that distinctly in mind. There are those of a materialistic tendency, bearing a Christian name, but misguided people, as Adventists of various schools, Christadelphians, Russellites, and other minor sects, who insist that Scripture teaches the unconsciousness of the dead between death and resurrection, and in some instances the annihilation of the wicked after the day of judgment. Rarely indeed do these people quote from the New Testament in attempting to maintain their theories; they refer us almost invariably to Old Testament scriptures, and the bulk of these are found in three books, Job, the Psalms, and Ecclesiastes—particularly the latter.

Now we do well to remember that the Old Testament was not given to unfold the eternal future, but chiefly to show God's dealings with man, in this life, individually and nationally: and the three books mentioned are, of all others, the experimental books of the Old Testament, giving us human experience in striking detail.

It was our Lord Jesus Christ who brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.* Clearly then we need not expect to find these great truths fully developed in the Old Testament. There we have the twilight; in the later revelation we are in the full blaze of gospel light. I do not mean to say that saints of Old Testament times did not have the hope of immortality. They certainly did.

*Note: It is notable that the words "immortal," "immortality," and "eternal life" are not found in the Old Testament. They were as true then as now, of course, and intuitively believed in by the godly, but it awaited the coming of the Son of God for their open and full declaration. Atonement needed to be made before salvation could be openly preached in Christ's name, and the eternal issues revealed.—[Ed.]

Job is perhaps the oldest book in the Bible, and unquestionably Job himself believed in a resurrection from the dead. He exclaims, "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God." Moses speaks of the patriarchs as dying and going to be with their fathers, and Abraham could count on God to give him back Isaac from the dead if called upon to actually slay him on Mount Moriah. This, surely, he could not have done, had he not had the faith of immortality. David prayed and wept while his darling child was ill, but when he learned of his death he dried his eyes and comforted himself with the reflection, "He shall not come back to me, but I shall go to him," and elsewhere he exclaims, "I shall be satisfied when I awake in Thy likeness."

I will not dwell upon the striking incident of Samuel's appearance to the witch of Endor, and his message to Saul, "Tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me;" nor need I quote many passages in the Prophets which evince a knowledge of life after death. But, granting all these, it is certainly evident that it was not the specific purpose of any Old Testament writer to reveal this great truth, and in the experience-books referred to, we need not be surprised if some passages even seem to indicate the contrary. These need to be carefully examined together with the context, that they be not entirely misapplied.

Here let me make a statement, seriously and soberly, which may startle some of you, and which you may even question at first. It is this: All the Bible is inspired, but there are many statements in it that are not true! Just think of it for a few moments—I want it to sink in. People often think that a text from any part of the Bible settles some controverted question, but a text out of its connection may be used to bolster up the worst kind of error; it may in fact be the declaration of an absolute falsehood.

We are told that some years ago a noted Southern attorney was pleading a certain case before a Kentucky jury where his client was on trial for his life. The prosecuting attorney, addressing the jury, said, "Gentlemen, we have it on the very highest authority that, 'All that a man hath will he give for his life.'" This made quite an impression on the jury, for they understood that he was quoting from the Bible—which he was. When he had concluded his address, the other attorney arose and said, "My opponent has told you that on the very highest authority we may know that all that a man hath will he give for his life." Then, opening a Bible, he read from the 2nd chapter of the book of Job how the devil said, "Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life." "Now," he exclaimed dramatically, "Gentlemen of the jury, you know for yourselves who the attorney for the prosecution considers to be the very highest authority—even the devil himself!"

True, that statement is in the Bible; Satan made it, and it is only too true with many. But it is not invariably true that "All that a man hath will he give for his life." Myriads of our Lord's devoted followers have imitated their Master in laying down their lives rather than surrender one jot or tittle of the truth of God.

The above mentioned incident will show you what I mean when I say there are things related in the Bible which are not true. Not only are there statements in the Bible which are said to be from the devil himself, but there are some things spoken by good men, such as the friends of Job, for instance, who were not inspired of the Holy Spirit to speak as they did. There are statements uttered by very bad men recorded in the volume of inspiration, which do not thereby become divine truth. Thoughts and reasonings of the natural man's mind are sometimes given, as in the book of Ecclesiastes. It is very important to bear this in mind when reading the experience-books of the Old Testament.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon tells us that they who have died will never any more have a reward. If we take that at its face value it would directly contradict New Testament revelation, as well as Solomon's own declaration by divine inspiration at the end of the book where he says,

"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil."

Is it an evidence of the non-inspiration of the book of Ecclesiastes? Surely not. What then? Why in this book Solomon tells us he is giving us a record of what he said in his heart as he pondered things under the sun. He saw people die, they were buried, he never saw them come back from the tomb. We read elsewhere, "The dead know not anything." Does this mean they are absolutely unconscious after leaving the body? Not at all. Scripture elsewhere contradicts such a thought; but a lifeless corpse knows nothing of the affairs that occupied that busy brain but yesterday.

Shallow thinkers take such a passage as this, "The dead know not anything," and in the face of all the New Testament teachings to the contrary, deduce from it the doctrine of the "sleep of the soul." But the expression means nothing of the kind. The same words are used in that incident told in the first book of Samuel, of the compact between David and Jonathan. David was hiding in the field; Jonathan had gone in to sound his father and find out whether David's life was really in danger. It had been agreed that Jonathan accompanied by a lad would go out into the field and shoot an arrow; if he said to the lad, "The arrow is beyond you," David would understand Saul was seeking his life; but if he said, "The arrow is behind you," he knew he was safe. The program was carried out, and Jonathan called to the lad, "The arrow is beyond you," and David understood; but we read that "the lad knew not anything." Was the boy in a state of unconsciousness? Not at all, but he knew nothing of the compact made between David and Jonathan. Time forbids calling your attention to a number of similar instances where exactly the same expression is used. You can look them up for yourself at your leisure.

In the last chapter of the book of Malachi there is a passage which many seem to think settles the question as to the fate of the wicked dead. I read verses 1 to 3:

"For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts."

Now observe what the prophet is here telling Israel. Is he speaking of judgment to come on the wicked after death? Not at all. The passage is prophetic of what shall befall the wicked on the earth at the Lord's second coming. In other words, this judgment is pre-millennial, not post-millennial. There is nothing here about the resurrection and people brought before the Great White Throne. The day that "shall burn as an oven" is the day of the Lord, when wicked men, taken red-handed in their sins, will be burned up root and branch; that is, root and fruits. Then the righteous shall tread down the wicked. They shall be ashes under their feet in the day that God shall do this.

Does this prove the annihilation of those who die in their sins? No, it is similar in character to the judgment that fell on Sodom and Gomorrah. The day that Lot and his company left the city the fire of God's wrath burned up the people of the cities of the plains, root and branch. Had Lot himself and Abraham, his uncle, gone down to see conditions a few days after the judgment, the wicked would have been ashes under the soles of their feet; but does that imply annihilation? No. In the book of Jude, written centuries after, we read of "Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them, set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." And our Lord Jesus Christ declares that "it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment" than for those who rejected His word while He spake on earth. So, although burned up root and branch, although as ashes under the feet of the righteous, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah have not lost their identity; they are consciously suffering now, and will rise in the day of judgment.

Time forbids dwelling longer on the Old Testament, and I turn at once to the words of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, rather than to those of His apostles. Not that I place the teaching of the Lord Jesus on a higher plane that that of His inspired apostles, but because many say, "I am not prepared to accept Paul, Peter, or John, but give me what Jesus says." So I shall do this. Men who reject the solemn warnings given elsewhere in the Bible as to the eternal judgment of the wicked, foolishly say that the teaching of Jesus is all they want—the Sermon on the Mount is enough for them.

Well, my friends, do you know that eternal punishment is taught in the Sermon on the Mount? And if you tell me that you will accept the teachings of Jesus Christ, don't forget that He has told us more of the actual state of the Christless dead than any one else. No one ever uttered more serious and solemn things as to the doom awaiting sinners than God's blessed Son, the tenderest, yet most faithful Man that ever walked this earth. It was not Peter who first spoke of "the fire that never shall be quenched;" it was not Paul who spoke of being "salted with fire;" it was not John who said, "It is better to enter into life maimed than having two hands to be cast into hell fire;" it was the Lord Jesus Christ Himself; and whatever further instruction you get in the New Testament in regard to the punishment of the wicked is all based on the teaching of the Son of God.

We have this teaching in its simplest and clearest form in the 16th chapter of Luke's Gospel. I know that some object, "Oh, that is only a parable." Who told you so? It is not called a parable. A parable is an illustration, or story, told to picture some truth. This incident of the rich man and Lazarus is not called a parable. The parables are generally announced by some such expression as this, "He spake a parable unto them," but we have no such expression here. But in the second place, if this is a parable it certainly is meant to illustrate the fearful danger of dying unreconciled to God; and the impression made on the minds of His hearers, and on those of millions of people from that day to this, is that Jesus was here teaching that it is a fearful thing to die in one's sins.

But notice the naturalness with which the story is introduced. Our Lord is addressing the people; and in the course of His instruction He says in the most natural way, "There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day." "There was a certain rich man;" was there, or was there not? Jesus says there was. He does not say, "Let us suppose there might have been such a person," but He definitely declares there was such a man; how he was clothed; how he fed sumptuously. Suppose in the course of my address I should say there was a certain Indian out in Arizona who was recently converted. When I get through you come up to me and say, "I was interested in what you told us about that Indian. How long ago was he converted?" "Oh," I say, "I hope you did not take me seriously, that was just a parable. I was only illustrating; I don't know of any such Indian." You would be justified in saying to me, "That, sir, was dishonest of you; you gave us all the distinct impression that you knew just such a person."

Now this is exactly what Jesus did. He gave every hearer that day to believe that He was relating a story of fact. When He comes to speak of the other man in the story, He says, "There was a certain beggar, named Lazarus." When you are just supposing an incident to illustrate a point you don't usually name the suppositious character. Why did He name this beggar? Because He knew him: "He calleth his own sheep by name." We shall never know the rich man's name until the day of judgment, but we do know the beggar's name, because though poor in purse he was rich in faith, and was one of the sheep of Christ. Our Lord relates the story with remarkable detail, even to the dogs who came and licked the poor man's sores. If this is but a parable, what are these parabolic dogs who licked the parabolic sores of the parabolic beggar as he lay on the parabolic steps of the parabolic rich man's parabolic house, watching him eat his parabolic food? Often had the hearers of Jesus seen just such an incident as he was describing. He goes on to say that the beggar died and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. This, of course, was before the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Abraham was the father of the faithful, and in paradise. As a son of Abraham, this redeemed beggar was welcomed to his bosom. Believers now are said at death to be "absent from the body and present with the Lord." To be in Abraham's bosom was the portion of Old Testament saints.

And what about the rich man? He also died and was buried, and we follow his disembodied spirit into the other world. Jesus said, "In hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment." Now, my friends, there have been times when I would have taken that out of the Bible if I could, and even tonight I can well understand the feelings of Richard Baxter as he prayed, "Oh, for a full heaven and an empty hell!" I have searched this book, and read scores of volumes penned by theologians of all shades of opinion, to try and find one ray of hope for men who died in their sins, but I have never been able to find it.

Men try to take the edge off a passage like this by setting aside the old Anglo-Saxon word "hell" and using the Greek word "Hades." We are told that this word has no reference whatever to a place of punishment; Hades is simply "the unseen." Very well, let us use the Greek word: "In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment." Changing the name of the place, you see, does not do away with the torment.

But others say, "You are mistaken when you think of Hades as a condition in which men are found after death. Hades is simply the grave." I do not believe this for one moment. Scripture, I am certain, teaches the very opposite. But suppose, for argument's sake, we substitute the word "grave" for "hell." Let us read it that way: "In the grave he lifted up his eyes, being in torment." Again the change of the word fails to do away with the torment. You may call it the tomb; you may designate it simply the "unseen;" you may make it read the "spirit-world;" you may use any term you like, but the solemn fact remains that wherever that rich man was, and whatever that word means, he was in torment!

Need we follow the story further? Need we dwell upon its horrors? You know them well. You know how this wretched man, lost beyond redemption, becomes a suppliant in the pit of woe. He makes two agonized petitions, but they are denied him. He began to pray on the wrong side of death. He prays first for one drop of water on the tip of the beggar's finger to cool his parched tongue. Living water he had refused while grace was free, now he is where living water never flows through all eternity. His other request is for his five brothers. People say, "If I am lost I shall be with the crowd anyway. I shall have lots of company in hell." But, my friends, look at this—six brothers, but what a family! One is in hell and five are on the way; and the man in hell prays, "If you can do anything to keep my brothers from joining me here, do it; I don't want their company; send Lazarus that he may warn them and tell them not to come to this place of torment." Abraham replies, "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them." That is, they have the Bible—just what you have, and which you are responsible to heed. The man in torment cries, "No, father Abraham, but if one went unto them from the dead they would repent." Abraham answers, "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead." Accept the testimony of this Book, receive the Saviour it reveals, or go into the outer darkness forever! There is no other alternative. It must be Christ or hell, and to reject the one is to choose the other.

But we must not ignore the attempt to make this incident a parable. If it is a parable, what is it supposed to teach? One, whose propaganda has misled thousands in recent years undertakes to explain it. He says the rich man is the Jew, the poor man is the Gentile. For centuries the Jew had all the good things; the favor of God, riches spiritual and material; he fared sumptuously every day; the Gentile lay outside his door, afflicted, destitute, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the Jew's table. Eventually things changed; both Jew and Gentile died to their former condition. Now the Gentile has been brought into Abraham's bosom, the blessings that once belonged to the Jew are his, and the Jew is being tormented in Russia, in Poland, and in many parts of the world, where he is in agony. And the distressed Jew, from his place of torment, pleads for mercy. He says, Send the friends with some little message from the Word of God; relieve my agony, or deliver my brethren. But Abraham replies, "Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, you cannot come to where the Gentile is, and the Gentile cannot come to you." Does this explain the so-called parable? Why, my friends, it does not fit! The gulf is not fixed between Jew and Gentile. Any Jew who will may enter into the fulness of Christian privilege, and any Gentile, who is foolish enough to do so, may apostatize and go over to Jewish ground.

But, you say, according to your understanding of the passage the man there is in torment before the day of judgment. If this be so, what need of a day of judgment?

Let me use a very simple illustration. A man is arrested, charged with a heinous crime. He is placed under restraint in the county jail; there he remains for long, weary months, and, if actually guilty, is tormented with a hidden knowledge of his guilt, however vehemently he may deny it, until at last he is brought to trial, and if the case goes against him he is sent to the penitentiary. Hades is God's jail; Gehenna is God's penitentiary.

In the 20th chapter of Revelation we read of a time when death and Hades will give up the dead which are in them. Death gives up the body, Hades gives up the spirit and soul. This is the resurrection of judgment, and it takes place a thousand years later than the resurrection of life. John writes,

"And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them; and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."

This is the last great assize. Then men will be judged, every man according to his works, and punishment will be meted out in intrinsic righteousness. Who can tell all that is involved in the horror expressed by the symbol, "the lake of fire!" Oh, my friend, I pray you, run not the risk of finding out for yourself, but flee at once to Christ for refuge, and be able to say with Paul Gerhardt,

"There is no condemnation, there is no hell for me,
The torment and the fire mine eyes shall never see."

Actual details of the sinner's final doom are not given, but striking and awful figures are used, such as "wandering stars to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever;" "beaten with stripes," "cast into a furnace of fire," and many others. These all are meant to impress men with the fearfulness of an eternity away from God—an eternity out of Christ! Risk not, I pray you, so dire a doom, but flee now for refuge to Him who waits in grace to save.

From Death and Afterwards: for the Christian; for the Christless; Spirit, Soul, and Body by H. A. Ironside. New York: Loizeaux Brothers, [n.d.].

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