Does My Soul Live Forever?
March 27th, 1986 @ 12:00 PM
DOES MY SOUL EVER DIE?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-27-86 12:00 p.m.
You always bless our hearts, sweet Martha Branham. I have a wonderful announcement made to me. In all of these years past, when the school has been present, they have been dismissed on Friday, and they have not been here on the last day of our pre-Easter services. But the superintendent, Fred Lively, tells me that our school will be assembled tomorrow, and you will be present; and that means so much to us. You are the dearest young people in this earth. I just cannot imagine the worshipful spirit by which by the hundreds and the hundreds you are present here praising God for His grace and goodness. Remember this is a busy lunch hour, and any time you must leave, you feel free to do so. You will not disturb us, not in the least. If it is in the middle of a sentence, and you have to get up and go, all of us understand.
The services this year have been around the theme, "God Answered Questions"; Monday, Is There a Hell?; Tuesday, Is There a Heaven?; yesterday, Is There a Judgment?; tomorrow, the last day, Can the Blood of Christ Save Us?; and today, Does My Soul Live Forever? When we have our regular services, we always read the Bible together; I just wonder if there are enough Bibles in the pew rack in front of you that we could read the passage together. If there is such a Bible available, share it with your neighbor; and let us read in Luke 16. Matthew, Mark, Luke; the Third Gospel in the sixteenth chapter; Luke 16. Beginning at verse 19 and reading to the end of the chapter, Luke chapter 16, verse 19; and then the verses thereafter. Now if we all have it, let us read it out loud together:
There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
You have just read a conversation between two men who have died and are in the other world with Abraham and with the angels of God. So the subject: does my soul die when I die, or does my soul live forever? This is not a discussion in morbidity, but it is one of maturity and intelligence. If we are creatures of God in His image, we have an interest, abiding, eternal, inevitable in the world that is yet to come. We are the only creation of God that remembers the past, and weighs the present, and contemplates the future. All other animals are incognizant of the tomorrow; just we. And as we look into the distance and beyond the grave, where can we find an answer of what befalls us and awaits us?
We find no ultimate answer in conjecture or speculation or the philosophy of men. I suppose the most learned race that ever lived is found in the days of the Greek philosophers. Some of them were heedless hedonists, like the Epicureans, who said "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die"; and that’s all. Some of those philosophers were Stoics; they looked upon all of the providences of life and its future with stoical indifference. Some of them were spiritualizers like the neo-Platonist, filled with fanciful ideas. But however the philosophical approach to our ultimate being after death, the Greek ended in gloomy despair. I think one of the most pitiful words in Greek philosophy was uttered by Plato when he said, "Oh, oh that there were some final word about that world that lies beyond the dividing sea." Where can we find a revelation of what lies before us, beyond death? We can find it only in the Bible, in the Word of God; but we do certainly and finally find it there.
To me one of the most unusual things found in the Bible is found in the 2 Peter, in the first chapter. Peter there describes his being with the Lord Jesus on the mount, the Mount of Transfiguration, and hearing the voice of God Himself [2 Peter 1:16-18; Mark 9:2-7]. But in the nineteenth verse of that same chapter, he says, "But we have a more sure word of prophecy" [2 Peter 1:19]. Even though he was there looking upon the transfigured Christ, and even though audibly he heard the voice of the Father from heaven, he says our sure word of assurance is found in these Holy Scriptures, on the pages of the Bible.
What does the Bible then reveal to us about the life of our souls beyond the grave? The Bible uses a word in the Old Testament and a word in the New Testament to describe the place to which we go when we die. In the Old Testament, the word is sheol; in the New Testament the word is hades; and both words mean exactly the same. They refer to the world into which we enter beyond death; sheol and hades. The Bible reveals to us that sheol and hades are divided into two parts. One is called paradise; Abraham’s bosom. The other is called "torment"; or 2 Peter uses the word tartarus. When one is in the grace of God and dies, he immediately goes to paradise. When one dies outside of Christ, he immediately goes to torment, or "tartarus." That is an immediate introduction passage into the life beyond the grave. Our Lord said to that dying thief on His right hand, "semeron, semeron, this day, this day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise" [Luke 23:43].
That’s an interesting and beautiful word in itself; paradise. You’ll find it used by Xenophon in his Anabasis; which is the story of the ten thousand Greeks who were caught in the death of Cyrus and without any means of support in their trek back to their homeland. And Xenophon says, as they march in that long journey back to the Hellespont and back to their homeland, that they passed by a beautiful park. And he describes the trees and the meadows and the lawns; and then in the midst of the park, a beautiful city with high walls to keep out any intruding robber. And on the inside, a glorious palace; not where the king lived permanently, not where the throne was, but where he went in a beautiful season of vacation or retirement. And the word that Xenophon uses to describe that beautiful place is this word, "paradise"; it’s a Persian word. And Xenophon is using it about three hundred fifty years before Christ. When we die, if we are saved we go to paradise; if we’re lost we fall into torment.
Now these are places to which we go when we die that are temporary; they are intermediate states. It’s like the word "paradise," that’s not where the King lives, and that’s not where His throne is; it’s a retreat, paradise. Paradise is a place where we wait for the final judgment day of Almighty God. When we die and are saved, we go to paradise, awaiting the great judgment at the bema; at which we receive our rewards [2 Corinthians 5:10]. When we die and are lost, we go into torment [Luke 16:23], awaiting the great, final white throne judgment [Revelation 20:11-15]. We receive the rewards of our deeds in Christ at the bema; we receive the rewards of our deeds when we’re lost at the great white throne. Why do we not receive our rewards when we die? Because a man does not die when he dies; his influence continues on. And the Lord God unravels the influence of a man’s life after he dies; and only at the end of the age, at the end of history, does he receive the reward of his life, what he has done.
I remember in high school and in the church a dear friend; and he and I were so oft times together. We were together in high school, and we were together in Sunday school and in the church. Both of us went in the same year, upon our graduation from high school, to the same university. And to my astonishment, amazement, he turned to be a blatant infidel, an atheist! I went to his room one evening to talk to him. And as I walked into the room, he was seated there reading the infidel, Tom Paine’s Age of Reason. Now Tom Paine lived in the 1700s; and yet my dear friend was reading his infidel book hundreds of years later. The influence of a man, he doesn’t die when he dies.
I think of my own studying at the time. I was in John Milton’s class, taking, studying English literature in this class. John Milton; his Paradise Lost, "A man’s first disobedience, and the fruit of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste brought death into the world, and all our woe, sing heavenly muse." Or the ode, the sonnet on his blindness, the last verse, "They also serve, who only stand and wait." Think of the difference in the influence of those two men. The infidel Tom Paine and the great Christian leader John Milton; their influence goes on, continues unabated even after they are dead. That’s why their reward has to be at the end of history, at the end of time.
In your own life, think of the pimps and the procurers and the pushers who destroy young peoples’ lives, leave them wrecks. And when the pimp and the procurer and the pusher are dead and in torment the tragic influence of their lives continues on. Think also of the beautiful reward of an aged preacher. When we had our School of the Prophets, one of them came visiting us from across the river, an aged man. And as I looked at him seated here and looking at him there, I thought of the marvelous reward God will have for him in the thousands and thousands of lives that he has touched for Jesus. That’s why when you die, you don’t receive your reward; it comes at the end of the age. And we wait there, the saved in paradise, and the unsaved in torment.
I have to close with just this brief word. When we read of these souls that are waiting for that ultimate and final Day, there are several things that are very apparent about them. One of them, they are very conscious, extremely conscious. Father Abraham says, for example, to Dives, "Son, remember" [Luke 16:25]. All of these things that we’ve done in this life come before us, we remember every moment and syllable of them; "Son, remember." Do you notice he’s very conscious of Lazarus over there? Do you notice he’s conscious of his five brethren who are still here in the land of this earth? He’s very conscious. Do you notice Lazarus is also in paradise? The angels meet him and take him into the very glory and home and house of God [Luke 16:22]. So sensitive are we, and in death we are still sensitive; we are alive, and all of the things of memory and family, all are regnant, viable in our very souls.
Do you notice that there’s a great gulf fixed; and they’re conscious of it? [Luke 16:26]. These are they who are in heaven, and these are they who are in torment; and they see that great gulf fixed between. Dear me, what an unbelievable sorrow in itself, just to see the exclusion from the beautiful city, and presence, and angelic glory of God. Death is the entrance into the awesome judgment of torment [Luke 16:23]. That’s what awaits us when we die without Christ. Death then also is the entrance of the Christian into heaven, into paradise, into the presence of God. As Paul says, as long as I am in this house of clay, this body of death, I cannot see God; He is shut out because of this veil of sinful flesh. But when I pierce that veil, when it is drawn apart in death, I find my entrance into the glories of the great God and our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. And death to the Christian is no longer a defeat, it’s no longer a tragedy; death to the Christian is the open door into heaven.
I see coming each service this sweet boy in a wheel chair. That’s this life, but the entrance of the fullness of life for him will be beyond the portals of death; he won’t be crippled anymore, he’ll be strong and well. That’s God’s goodness and grace for us. When my father died, the preacher, the pastor of the church who spoke the sermon at the funeral, the memorial, spoke of Mr. Criswell, my father; and said that in visiting him, my father would say to him, "I have such a wonderful, wonderful time with Jesus, especially in the hours of the night, when it is quiet and we are alone." But what I remember about the death of my father, my father, a humble, quiet, but wonderful Christian man, my father would just sing, just sing, and sing, and sing, and sing; he sang with shaped notes. And every one of those song books, published by Stamps Baxter, still a publishing company here in Dallas, every one of those Stamps Baxter song books, he would buy immediately when they were published. And he would sing every song in them, just sing them to himself, and to me his little boy, there listening to him.
And then as I grew up, he just loved to sing those songs. When I visited him the last time before he died, when I visited him the last time, he sang for me this song:
I will meet you in the morning, by the bright riverside
When all sorrow has drifted away
I’ll be standing at the portals, when the gate opens wide
At the close of life’s long dreary day
I will meet you in the morning, in the sweet by and by
And exchange the old cross for a crown
There’ll be no disappointment, and no one shall die
In that land, when life’s sun goeth down
I will meet you in the morning, at the end of the way
On the streets of that city of gold
Where we all shall be together, and be happy for aye
While the years and the ages shall roll.
["I’ll Meet You in the Morning," Albert E. Brumley]
Do you believe that? That is our hope. That is our paradise. That is our heaven. That is our beautiful promise and assurance in Christ Jesus. God having prepared some better thing for us, and our inheritance is there, not here. And our reward is there, and not here. And our Savior waits for us on the other side of the sea.
Our Lord, beyond words to say, or song to sing, do we praise Thee for the wonderful promise and assurance of the beautiful life yet to come; where our souls never die, where Jesus is King forever, and where we shall praise Him and be together with one another, world without end. In His wonderful and keeping name, amen.
DOES MY SOUL LIVE FOREVER?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Not morbidity, but an interest in the world yet to come
B. Where do we find answers?
1. Speculation, philosophy of men
2. The Holy Scriptures (2 Peter 1:19)
II. The place
A. Sheol, Hades – the world beyond death
2. Torment (2 Peter 2:4)
B. We go there immediately (Luke 23:43)
III. Awaiting the final judgment of rewards
A. The saved awaiting the Bema; the lost awaiting the Great White Throne
B. A man’s influence continues on after he dies
IV. Conscious life and memory
A. This lost man (Luke 16:25, 26, 28)
B. This saved man Lazarus (Luke 16:22)
C. Death to unbeliever the entrance into awesome judgment, torment
D. Death to believer the entrance into heaven, paradise, presence of God