Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return to God who gave it.
The story of a soul, its relations, its prospects, its future, is the one important thing to be considered; yet who dare draw aside the veil and read his coming history? The sacred penmen for Whom the veil of the future was in part drawn aside caught glimpses of the soul's history in the future which they have sketehed in brief and graphic lines. The text discloses to us the single fact of the separation of the soul from the body at death and its continued existence in another sphere.
I. IT RETAINS A CONSCIOUSNESS OF ITS INDIVIDUAL EXISTENCE AND OF ITS PERSONAL IDENTITY. The effects of death upon the body we can distinctly trace from the suspended animation to the final dissolution. But who can show any influence of death upon the soul beyond the simple cessation of any visible action of the mind through its supposed organ the brain p If there were uniformly a decline of mental manifestations corresponding with the decline of the body through disease, if we saw that the mind always failed in perception, in memory, in reflection, and in action, just in proportion as the body failed in strength and in the power of locomotion, then we might infer that death had an influence upon the mind corresponding with its influence upon the body; yet even then we should not be warranted in saying that the mind itself had ceased to be, or that anything had occurred beyond the suppression of mental activity through its ordinary channels. You enter an apartment where a thousand wheels all connected by cogs and bands are in swiftest motion, and the shuttle is flying incessantly through a score of looms. You do not, however, see the propelling force by which all this machinery is driven. Far down under the ground, in a vault of the strongest masonry, the great fire is fed that generates the steam which, conveyed through concealed pipes, imparts motion to the engine, and thence to the thousand wheels of the factory. Of a sudden the machinery stops; the wheels are motionless, the shuttle is arrested in the middle of the loom. Now, you are not warranted in inferring that the great fire in the vault below, which you have never seen, has been suddenly extinguished, or that the supply of water in the boiler has failed, or that the boiler itself has burst, or that from any cause the engine has ceased to move. Only some connecting pipe has burst, or some band or joint concealed from you is broken. The force exists there and needs only a connecting medium to manifest its presence. What more, then, are you authorized to infer when the machinery of life stands still than that the connection between the energizing will and the muscular framework has been severed? Would you be warranted in inferring that intelligence and will were annihilated, even if simultaneously with the decay of the body you always witnessed a corresponding cessation of mental activity? The machinery has stopped, but does that prove that the fire has been put out, that the motive power is destroyed? But we do not always witness a decline of mental activity corresponding with the decay of the body. How often does the mind continue the full exercise of its every faculty up to the very moment of death; how often, indeed, does its activity seem to increase as it approaches that crisis. How evident is it that the fire is burning, that the engine is moving, that the inner force is there even while the outer machinery drags heavily, and grates and pauses, from the snapping of one and another of its bands. You can show me nothing to prove that the mind is injuriously affected by death, you can bring no proof whatever that it is annihilated. And now, with no evidence from nature of the annihilation of the spirit at death, I turn to revelation to learn what then becomes of it. And here I learn first of all that it continues to exist, a conscious spirit, retaining its personal identity. There is no suspension of consciousness; or, if any, it is only as the momentary suspension of consciousness in sleep, from which the mind awakes with new perceptions and with augmented vigour. Abraham, Moses, Elias, Lazarus and Dives are the same persons after death that they were before it, and knew themselves to be the same. This is the first fact that we gain knowledge of in the future history of the soul. And how significant is such a fact as this. What an awful discovery to the man who has lived an atheist, who has flattered himself into the belief that death was an eternal sleep. The delusion then vanishes. When death comes and his connection with this outward world is severed, he wakes up to a consciousness of existence still; the same being and beyond the possibility of annihilation, and where death has no more power. What a discovery is this for such a mind to wake up to, and understand after death!
II. THE SOUL AFTER DEATH AWAKES TO A LIVELY AND A CONSTANT SENSE OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD. What a fearful thought for the men who have tried to convince themselves, and others, that there was no God, or that God was but a blind, indifferent, unobservant force. Think of such a mind waking up into the very presence of the living God. That is the soul's second experience after death — it wakes up to know itself alive, and it wakes up to a personal God.
III. THE SOUL AWAKES TO THE MEMORY OF THE PAST. This is clearly intimated in the following context. The spirit will return to God for a judicial purpose. God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing. And in order to this, the soul itself will recall its secret and its long-forgotten sins. Indeed, there is great probability that at death the faculty of memory will be quickened into new activity and power; and that impressions buried under the dust and rubbish of years will be brought out as fresh as when first made upon the pliant but durable tablet of the heart. Now, the Scriptures teach us, as in the parable of Dives and Lazarus, that the memory is in most lively exercise after death.
IV. THE SOUL WILL AWAKE TO THE CERTAINTY AND THE NEAR PROSPECT OF THE JUDGMENT. The spirit returns to God that it may answer for the deeds it has clone here in the body. Retaining its identity, it retains its accountability; it retains its personal relations to the government of God, and to God Himself as a Ruler and a Judge.
V. THE SOUL AFTER DEATH WILL ENTER UPON THE EXPERIENCE OF AN ETERNAL RETRIBUTION. This is the uniform representation of the Scriptures. The soul enters at once upon a state of happiness or of misery, and it knows that that state is to be eternal. O the unutterable joy or the unspeakable anguish of the mind when it first realizes the fact that it will be for ever blessed or for ever miserable!
(J. P. Thompson.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.