I would like to comment on the last three WPs. First of all one or two general remarks, which come as a result of readers’ comments received so far.
I believe there is nothing to fear in investigating “the state of the dead.” When “neither death nor life . . can separate us from the love of God”, why be fearful? I am reminded of the story of Smith Wigglesworth, who was staying in an old house, and was wakened by a terrible noise, which seemed to be coming from the next room. On investigating, he said that he saw the Devil there, sitting on a chair. “Oh, it’s only you,” said Smith, shutting the door and returning to his bed. My Great Aunt Esther, who was a very active Salvationist, took my mother, then a young woman, to a séance as an object lesson. She said, “Maudie, I’m going to pray to the Lord Jesus when we are there.” And so she did, and the medium became more and more frustrated, until she said, “I cannot do anything tonight. There’s an antagonistic spirit here.” And of course, there was!
But lest anyone should think I’m advocating attending séances, let me say that it couldn’t be further from my mind. I have been saddened to hear that at least one brother has recently established contact with the dead, in this case his deceased daughter, who has become his “spirit guide.” This is not only wrong, it is very dangerous. The Lord has forbidden any such practices in Deuteronomy 18, and it’s foolhardy to assume that in these N.T. days, such warnings no longer apply.
Now of course there are many Christians who believe in “soul sleep”, especially those who come from a background of Seventh Day Adventism or Dispensationalism. I used to belong to the latter group many years ago, and because Dr Bullinger taught it in the Companion Bible, I took it on board without giving it much thought. To read his quote from Eccl.9:10, “There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest,” was sufficient at the time. However, in more recent years I have had to face the overwhelming evidence that man’s spirit is NOT asleep after death. A slavish acceptance of a verse in isolation can produce a theology out of touch with reality. Solomon was observing from THIS side of the grave. And when Paul referred to those who “are asleep in Jesus”, he was assessing their condition from an earth-bound observer’s eye, not from the state of the dead in Christ.
There are ghosts, and their appearances are frequent enough to cause books to be written about reported cases. When Jesus walked on the water of the Sea of Galilee, the disciples believed that they had seen a ghost. After the resurrection, Jesus invited them to touch Him. He said, “a spirit does not have flesh and bones.” Our Lord would not have made such a comment if spirits did not exist.
Throughout all history there have been reported cases of people dying and coming back to life. Some of these people had tales to tell which were gathered together in books of wisdom from many lands, such as the Tibetan Book of the dead, the Egyptian Book of the dead, Chinese Annals, and many others. It is interesting to note that regardless of ethnic or religious background, there are always common features in these tales. I do not advocate reading such books. The theologies are grotesque, but the case histories are interesting.
I quoted a brief section from Dr George Ritchie’s book, “Return from Tomorrow” in WP76. He is a credible witness, and has a most interesting story to tell of how the Lord met him. More recently we have watched the Video of Ian McCormack’s experience. This New Zealand diver was stung five times by the deadly box jellyfish (sea wasp), the second most venomous creature on earth. The incident took place off Mauritius, far from anywhere. He died as he was receiving emergency treatment in hospital and subsequently had an experience of both heaven and hell. The Lord sent him back to be a witness. His Video, “A Glimpse of Eternity” is compelling viewing.
In Hebrews 11, we are given a wonderful history lesson of men and women of faith, all of whom died not having received the promise. Then in Chapter 12, we read, “Seeing that we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses . . .” Yes, they all died, but they are in the spirit and conscious before the Lord, awaiting their resurrection bodies. Jesus upbraided the Sadducees on one occasion, saying that the Lord is God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” They may have died in the flesh, but they are alive unto God. That is why Jesus said on another occasion, “Whoever believes in me shall never die.”
What happens at the moment of death? Ps 90:10 The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
The Hebrew word for “fly away” (Guph) is used of (a) fowls of the air, (b) seraphim and cherubim, (c) a fiery flying serpent. Moses therefore likens the moment of death to a “flying away”. Clearly this does not refer to the mortal body, which as Solomon declared in Eccl.12, “returns to dust” in accordance with Genesis 1-3. Hence, at death two things happen. The body is laid to rest in the earth, and the spirit “returns to God who gave it.” It “flies away” to its “long home” (Eccl.12:5) [Hebrew Beth Olam = Oikos Aionios in the Greek LXX]
In almost all cases of Near Death Experience, resuscitated people speak of leaving their bodies, and either immediately, or within a brief time, “flying away” down a long dark tunnel into a region of light. This would seem to corroborate the wording of Ps.90 & Ecc.12. Yes, we are told that “God alone is immortal” i.e. undying, but as soon as man dies, that proves the point. What happens afterwards to his spirit does not negate his mortality, or suggest that he was immortal. He’s died. Hence the use of the term “immortality of the soul” should really have been “immortality of the spirit”, which continues to exist, simply because of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus – “as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Man’s spirit is preserved entire for purpose of the resurrection later.
There was a Moslem priest in hospital in Djakarta in 1986, very near to death with tuberculosis. He was visited by a Chinese Christian, who spoke about the Lord. The man was too sick even to respond to him. The Moslems hate Christians, and also the Chinese, in that part of the world. The Christian man prayed for him, and went his way. The priest died. Two days later, when he was being carried on the bier to the funeral pyre, he suddenly sat up, threw his arms in the air, and praised the name of the Lord Jesus.
In his testimony later, he said that after his death he wandered about in the spirit trying to find Mohammed, but without avail. Then he came face to face with Jesus. In the moment of sudden realisation, he did a U turn, and accepted Jesus as his Saviour. The Lord sent him back to preach to his own people, and that’s what he’s doing today. This story was supplied by Rev. Dr. Clifford Hill, who had been out to Djakarta, and learned of the facts first-hand. Such stories cannot substantiate “soul sleep”.
Ian Currie’s book was crammed full of case histories covering every aspect of “life after death,” from ghosts, to astral travel, to Near Death Experiences, to reincarnation, this latter being largely based on Hypnotic Regression accounts. Currie does not claim to have faith in Christ. Whilst his marshalling of facts is superb, his conclusions are not always credible from a Biblical viewpoint. In particular, I do not believe in reincarnation. I cannot see that a human being can have multiple lives. He is only judged on ONE life. There are other points that should lead researchers to reject reincarnation, but we need not elaborate them here. Hypnotic Regression, where a person is asked to go back way before his own birth, may be explained by George Ritchie’s experience, seeing the sheath opening. Currie said that this splitting of the aureole around the head can occur by dabbling with the ouija board. It is my considered opinion that it is equally possible for it to occur under hypnosis, and therefore other discarnate spirits are speaking to the person under these unusual conditions, not reincarnated spirits. Hypnosis can be dangerous.
Dr Kenneth McAll’s work leaves us in two minds. When we first read his book, “Healing the Family Tree”, we were very moved by it, and adopted his practice of praying for the breaking of generational bondages coupled with Eucharist, which in our case was simply “breaking of bread” together in our home. We don’t consider it necessary to have a “priest” to officiate. We can honestly say that we have witnessed release in a number of cases, and therefore recommend our readers to consider the matter for themselves.
However, there are certain aspects which leave us with a question mark. This is because we haven’t as yet ascertained exactly what they mean when they say that departed spirits are released into the Lord’s hands and taken to heaven. In our own opinion, and in accordance with own practice, we believe that spirits who cause problems for the living must be prayed for to release them from an earth-bound condition, so that they may move on, which is the Lord’s will for all. The earth-bound spirits are the ones who cause hauntings, and appear sometimes as ghosts, possibly to cry out for help, that someone might pray for them.
This leads us to another point. Some evangelicals might raise eyebrows at the thought of “praying for the dead.” They would say it is a left-over from the days of Roman Catholic domination. Certainly the R.Cs used to have prayers for the dead, but I would hasten to say that not everything in the theology of the Roman Church is heresy! Some things need to be brought out for an airing, being part of the teaching of the early church. In 1 Peter 3:19 we read of our Lord going to preach to the spirits in prison, and in 4:6 we read of the gospel being preached to the dead. Most commentators invent all manner of devices to explain away such verses. George MacDonald, that grand old man of God’s heart, writing his novels in the 19th century, spoke about the idiocy of assuming that one may pray for a man on his deathbed, but as soon as he has “passed on” such prayer becomes heresy. When Princess Diana was killed in the motor accident, I saw her in a very clear vision. She was utterly perplexed, not knowing where she was, and was looking around for direction. I assumed I was meant to react to this, and prayed that an angel would be sent to help her.
Yes, when we die we become “unclothed spirits” (to use Paul’s expression), awaiting our resurrection bodies. And we yearn to be “clothed upon with our house from heaven.” All souls are in the hands of the Lord. The Lord Jesus died for all men, and therefore all have the opportunity of seeking Him for Life. It is not just in this mortal life that we have a “chance” of believing. God doesn’t deal in “chances”. On the cross He dealt with the problem of sin once and for all. He gives man many opportunities to find Him. If circumstances deny those opportunities in this life, God will provide them afterwards. He went to preach to the “spirits in prison”, and I believe there is much preaching going on in the heavenlies all the time. God will have His final victory in one way or another. We can rely on that.