The Annihilation of the Soul

 •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 12
I lately had to say to one who had got infected with this doctrine, and like a man bewitched by a seducing spirit and a devil’s doctrine, as this most assuredly is, he was alike regardless of the inconsistency of his own arguments and the direct statements of Scripture, where they opposed what he was advancing. Thankfulness for the soul-deliverance he professed to have received through this newly imbibed idea, and regardless opposition to all that could be said against it, went together in his mind, along with the entire setting aside of the plainest passages of Scripture. Yet I fully believe he thought that he was right and had the truth, as he professed to be only seeking for it, but he really was under the deadly influence of having “given heed to seducing spirits.” Nothing but a distinct proof that the doctrine would do away with the Person and work of Christ would satisfy him that it was wrong. It was this especially that interested me in him, for he thereby showed a regard for the foundation of the truth, and gave me hope that he was right at bottom, and would, through the Lord’s mercy, be brought right altogether; therefore with the more willingness I sought him out.
He affirmed that the unbeliever perishes at his death, soul and body ceasing to be, and remaining in unconsciousness (a strange contradiction; for how could he be unconscious if. he ceased to be I but this arose from a false use in his mind of the word “perish”) until reunited for final judgment, when he is consigned for a limited period to a punishment in which he is finally annihilated as the penalty of his sins. First, I showed him that the Lord’s account of the death of the rich man, in Luke 16, quite disproved this, for it is said that he “died and was buried, and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments,” having left five unconverted brethren on earth, “and seeth Abraham afar off,” to whom he prayed for some one to be sent to “testify unto them lest they also come into this place of torment.” Now, at the final judgment of the wicked (Revelation 20:11, &c.), the earth and the heaven have fled away, and the present state of things has ceased altogether, and there is no more gracious testimony to the unbeliever; so that the torments of this man, who is represented as sensible in all his faculties his real self there—must be before the time he alleged for the future consciousness of the wicked reunited soul and body, for judgment and annihilation.
But this did not meet his mind—or perhaps better, his will—for he said it was but a parable, and could not be literally taken. First, it is remarkable that the Lord does not say it is a parable; He tells it as a fact; but taking it as a parable, what does it teach us parabolically? Surely not that the dead lose all present consciousness till the great judgment day, but the reverse. But he was under a spell, poor fellow; he had already come to another, a foregone conclusion, that it either meant to teach nothing, or the annihilation of the soul; and all its power was nullified by the poison he had already imbibed.
“But besides,” I said, “you lose the Person of Christ by your doctrine; for if by his constitution man is made subject to annihilation, and that this is the punishment of sin—(for the wages of sin is death; had there been no sin there would have been no death: and the Lord said to the young ruler, “This do and thou shalt live;” i.e. death would never overtake him)—then Christ became a man, and on the cross He became sin, and bore fully and exhaustively the punishment of sin, the judgment due to it—and if so, He must have been annihilated, His humanity gone, and gone forever—and we have lost the Saviour and salvation, or if He did not fully bear the penalty of sin, He could not have put it away—it is still between us and God, and judgment is still before us—and our salvation thus is equally lost. He bore the judgment of sin, or He did not bear it. If He did, we have no Christ; if He did not, we have no salvation. And it is useless to say His divinity preserved His humanity from annihilation, if that were the penalty of sin—it would thus become but a cloak for sin, a shield to prevent the proper judgment of sin from having been borne, instead of being, as it is, the blessed and divine source of eternal life and salvation for us in Him, who truly bore our judgment “in his own body on the tree.”
“Well,” he said, “I confess I never thought of it in that light—I must think of it, and I will; and I will be very glad to read your book,”1 or any book that will give me the truth, for it is the truth I want.”
I also found that this doctrine was connected in some minds with refusing to take fermented wine at the Lord’s Supper—but one word in Scripture settles this question. In 1 Corinthians 11:20, 21, it is said, “When ye come together, therefore, into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry and another is drunken,” (μεθύει). Now this word (methuo, or methusko, which is but another form of the same word), is the habitual word in Scripture for drunkenness. It is used in the Septuagint Greek translation in numberless passages in the Old Testament for drunkenness, e.g.,1 Samuel 1:13, Habukkuk 2:15, and in the New Testament it is used in the following, amongst others:—Acts 15, “These are not drunken;” 1 Corinthians 5:11, “a drunkard;” and 1 Corinthians 6:10, “drunkards” (methusos); 1 Thessalonians 5:7, “are drunken in the Fight” (methuousin). So also Matthew 24:49, and other passages proving beyond honest controversy that the wine used at the Lord’s Supper has this property of making drunk, and the apostle finds no fault with the wine they used, but rather with the way in which they used it.
But to my mind this is allied with the spirit of 1 Timothy 4:1-6, and, by denying the virtue of wine rightly used in faith with thanksgiving, is to be classed distinctly amongst the “doctrines of devils,” “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” And it is folly to say He made the grape but not the wine; for first “meats” (βρωματα), 1 Timothy 4:3, means “victuals” of any kind (as in Matthew 14:15); and on that score bread is no more the creature of God than wine. E. C.
1. “The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment,” by J. N. D.