J. N. Darby.
(Notes and Comments Vol. 1.)
That which proves there is a God, proves that we cannot know, nor conceive an idea of Him - i.e., that there must be a cause for what subsists. There is a God, because a thing cannot exist without a cause, but that is not God - it is, after all, only saying that we are finite. I must believe that He is. I am sure that there is a God, because I am sure that what exists, cannot exist without a cause, but what cannot exist without a cause is not God. The impossibility of conceiving existence without a cause (which proves there is a God) is the impossibility of conceiving Him who is that cause, and who exists without one.
Now, unless God be pleased to destroy, as He has created, there is no such thing as annihilation; man is as incapable of one as of the other. So those who are commonly called by the name of annihilationists, or at any rate, many whom I have met, exclaim against the title; they say the soul is resolved into its elements. This is simple materialism. I am not going to reason on the essential individuality of spirit, though the thought of man tends that way, necessarily, from the original instincts of his soul; nor do I say it is false; nor do I say that souls also have a very subtle and refined body, with Platonists.
Our idea of spirit is not material, when we think without reasoning, but when I reason to prove, the character of my present nature necessarily comes in, and as I can only think actively according to my present structure of being, I can have no idea of positive existence, but corporeal existence. But the first thoughts which are not reasoning, and often the justest, do recognise the existence of being, without corporeal existence. If I think of a man's dying, I heed not whence the thought comes, I have the thought of an immaterial principle separated from the body; if I begin to ask "what is it"? I can only form an idea according to my present existence and structure, which is the union of body and thinking and a moral principle. If I say "I will," I am exercised, not thinking of any material body at all; if I begin to ask, "what is this I?" I am brought down to the order of apprehension in which I exist. Now reasoning or formed thought is, and must be, subject to this, or we should not be what we are, but thought is not. If I say, God - "I am" - I have no thought of anybody; if I seek to form an idea in my mind, I am necessarily an anthropomorphist or something like it, for anthropomorphism is my nature, and the necessary form consequently of my thought. But I readily distinguish between "I" and all matter - "I will leave the room" - "I am come," or "the doors are locked and I cannot."
293 I agree with rationalists, that all not God is relative - all else must be at least relative to Himself. But when they reason from this, they are altogether astray, because they can only reason in their present relationship, as far as objective ideas, formed in the mind, go. But that proves nothing as to any other than that I am in, and it is simple folly to pretend to assert there can be no other. I know that I cannot get through a wall, because as to my material nature I am, in that respect, what a wall is; but what has this to say as to a spirit going through a wall? If such began to reason, he might think me a very gross material being, who was stopped by being no better than the wall itself, nor, in this relation, am I.
All is relative but God - exists in relationship which He has formed, and can change, and into which disorder can enter.
The connection between matter and mind is notorious - now, to say "it must be" is merely the irrational folly of saying that my present state is the necessary and universal form of being. You may have examined with Mr. Owen and Professor Huxley, every cerebrum and cerebellum from a Lemur to a Pithecus, and you have not touched the question; you have seen it on the side of matter, and of matter only, and you are incapable, in ideas or reasoning, of going further, because that is the form of your existence now, and even so, only one and the lowest side of it.
The consciousness of existence has nothing to do with material existence. When I say "how do I exist," then I get objective thought, and cannot go out of my own form of existence now, but "I" has said its say before any objective enquiry comes in. One is objective knowledge - ideas; the other, an inseparable part of myself - not an idea at all, yet of more importance than all the ideas I may have; for I do not call God an idea, or it will be a false one, subjecta quasi materia.
Beginning without a cause being impossible, save only in the case of the absolute origin of existence, gives the thought there must be a first cause; all the rest is creature, i.e., has a cause, and shows us we cannot know that first cause. I was arrested by the difference of a thing's existing and beginning to exist; but I thought there was some fallacy here. I do not know what "absolute commencement" means - it has no sense to my mind; and though "beginning to exist" makes it more sensible, yet it is not beginning which is the impossible idea, but existing without a cause. I can understand continuance, because what I see or hear, I may yet see or hear, etc.; but when I think of existence continued or beginning, I must have a will - that is what it is impossible to avoid supposing. Now this is more sensible at the beginning, because existence requires a will for it to be - before a thing existed it could not have a will to exist, therefore there must have been another. It is just as true of subsistence every moment, but not so sensibly true. Hence existence without a will, i.e., a cause of existence, is inconceivable by me; hence I know God must be, because a will must be, and I cannot know Him because He subsists without a cause, as we speak of causes, for such a term has no real application to self-subsistence.
294 I look at a thing without reference to time or beginning; I say "that could not be without a will that it should be" - a man, a tree in one sense never began since the creation, a house did, but I do not think of beginning. A thing exists - there must be a will somewhere that it should, clearly not its own, and thus beginning makes it clear, for it did not exist to have a will, before it existed, and this is the only possible sense of absolute commencement, i.e., beginning when there is nothing to will its being. But this I can only say in a sphere which proves the fallacy of saying it is necessary (when once I have got rid of the thought of "beginning" being what is impossible, whereas it is existence) for it is contingent on the fact of having a beginning, to which an extrinsic will is needed; but it only applies to that dependent on a will extrinsic to itself. A Being may exist without a beginning, and a being may exist with a beginning; but it is really only saying a creature is a creature, i.e., created. Everything has an origin, but does not begin to exist, save at its first creation by a will; a tree does not begin to exist, though it does as a tree, but it existed in the seed in the tree and so on, but, at first, there must have been a will, i.e., absolute commencement, but not without an extrinsic will, and that is what I cannot conceive, but all the rest of its continuous existence depends, just as much, on a will, nor can we here speak of time.
295 I suppose existence when I say "begin," and go back to it, and "beginning" merely means, I have come to a point before which it did not exist - hence, could not have caused itself to begin. Hence, in an absolute way, I can say "in the beginning," because I speak of caused existence, and say "In the beginning was the Word - who was God." "In the beginning" - "was" - are two absolutes; I conceive one because I say "beginning" with the thought of a cause, when I say "was." I believe, only "was" remains always true, without a beginning, for in the beginning necessarily was.
Nor can I conceive non-existence absolutely, for I must conceive something. It is an intuitive knowledge of God, when we come to the point of beginning; hence beginning, or causation, is carried to all beings out of God, i.e., I am led up to a Being with no beginning, and a will - the former inconceivable to me - and hence to the absolute dependence for existence of all else, which involves beginning - an absolute beginning. Nor do I see any necessary thought or judgment, save that the creation is a creature - is not God - which may produce itself in different forms perhaps; and this can only be necessary supposing there is a creature. The only necessary thing, I repeat, is God - all else is contingent, i.e., dependent on His will, not denying a finite will in man, who was made in His image, but this is no more necessary than his existence - cannot be.
It is urged that God only has athanasia (immortality) - doubtless. If any being had of itself athanasia, it would be God, or at least independent of God. God alone has it. Whether God has made beings to die or not is another question; thus, nobody pretends that Angels are immortal of themselves, independent of God, nor that they are mortal - the Lord says the contrary. As to man, death came into the world by sin, so that before he was not mortal.
The only other place in which athanasia is used is 1 Corinthians 15:53, 54, where clearly it is the corruptible and mortal body - what is of the earth, earthy, of dust, it is flesh - so when living it shall be changed; the soul is not changed, mortality is swallowed up of life - the tabernacle, in which we groan, is changed - we are unclothed, clothed upon. And note in 1 Corinthians 15 it speaks of Christians who have eternal life; that does not die, nor cease to exist I suppose. Hence the to thneton (the mortal) does not apply to the soul, nor does the soul of the saint, who has eternal life, cease to exist; he is as mortal, in himself, as the sinner, hence eternal life, or perpetual existence in life, does not touch the question of mortality, nor mortality perpetual existence, or does the saint cease to exist - and his eternal life return, like Buddhism, return to the infinite source of divine existence in Him, and then come back to what does not exist at all (if we must use such contradictions) which God has created again, now glorious - there was no soul meanwhile then, though it had been quickened with divine power, or is it not quickened divinely at all even in the believer - has no part in divine life? If it is quickened, what becomes of it after death? If one who has this dies, and it does not cease to exist, death, true death, is not in itself ceasing to exist, or a saint does not die, nor is mortal, for it is of saints Paul is speaking in 1 Corinthians 15:53, 54, athanasia does not belong to a saint who has eternal life, more than to a sinner, i.e., it is evident that "mortal," "corruptible," "death," applies to the state in which we are down here, where death is entered by sin, and to the separation of soul and body; it is "killing the body," and has nothing to do with the soul. A soul which has eternal life has not athanasia more than a sinner, i.e., it has nothing to do with the dying nature of the soul - but in capacity, as a fact, of ceasing to exist in the state in which they do at present exist.
296 This is always true of God, though incapacity is an unsatisfactory word, impossibility de facto - thanatos (death), a cessation of existence in the state He is in, is not possible, that becomes our state de facto; we die no more, but are isaggeloi (equal to the Angels), but what puts on this state of athanasia is what was liable to death - the body - which could be killed; for we live because Christ lives, we have life, go to Christ when we are absent from the body, yet we die as truly as others, and so did even Christ. But no creature could be said himself to have athanasia, though we may put it on by God's will and power as to our state; and this shows the sense of 1 Timothy 6:16, and that it means essential immortality, or that it would cease to be true when one was raised, for athanasia is predicated of our raised state, and Christ as raised man has athanasia - dies no more - death has no more dominion over Him.
297 The fact of the giving of the law is the strongest possible testimony against the annihilationists - its being a ministration of death and condemnation brings out the responsibility of the soul in the strongest way. The Cross indeed is stronger yet, yet it puts its seal on this, for Christ bore its curse. But the law, as the Cross too, deals with man as a responsible child of Adam; the giving of eternal life is an entirely distinct and new thing, but needed, while it leads to higher joys, because of the judgment coming on responsible man. And so Christ's death was needed that we might have life, because the new thing could not morally be given otherwise, without undoing God's claim - could not in righteousness. My incapacity to meet the claim does not destroy the claim, any more than my wasting all, so that I cannot really pay my debts, destroys my creditor's claim.
But the law is addressed directly to this responsibility, and to man in the flesh, for whom it is the exact rule. There cannot be a more direct or plainer proof of the responsibility of man, and of a soul capable of and under guilt, than the law.
No doubt life in Christ is a new thing; grace acts sovereignly, and though it abounds over responsibility, in the giving of life, has nothing to do with it - God could raise up stones children to Abraham, but that does not hinder the previous responsibility on its own ground as a distinct thing.
The Cross, as the way of having life as we have seen, meets one that the other may be according to the righteousness of God, and the curse of sin, fully maintained, leading to heavenly and higher glory.
NOTE. - It is an essential difference, between man's thoughts and God's, that man, who makes himself the centre, would have light as he says - even divine light - to have life. God's way is all the opposite; the life was the light of men - Life, the Person of the Lord Jesus, comes first - and that is right, because it, and it alone, puts God in His place; nor could the law do this - it was given to man as man.