Do the Dead Know?

Ellet J. Waggoner

The Signs of the Times : February 18, 1889

Why is it that men who profess Christianity, and especially men who profess to take the Bible as their only guide, will so persistently ignore its plainest teachings? For instance, read the following from an editorial in the Christian Oracle, on the death of Isaac Erret:—
“In attempting to pronounce a eulogy on such a man as Bro. Errett, words appear to have such poverty that the heart hesitates to use them. If, however, the departed one knows what is said of him (and who shall say he does not?) he will know the sentiment that prompts the expression, and that its very sincerity is its chief virtue.”
“Who shall say that he does not” know? Solomon, to whom God gave wisdom greater than that of all men who ever lived before or since, says:—
“For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.  Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun” (Eccl. 9:5, 6).
Job will speak most emphatically to the contrary. Hear what he says of the dead man:—
“His sons come to honor, and he does not know it; they are brought low, and he does not perceive it” (Job 14:21).
Surely, then, the man cannot perceive what is said in his praise. If men would but heed the plain words of the Bible, they would know, what certain also of their own poets have said, that flattery cannot “soothe the dull, cold, ear of death.”
Hear what the psalmist says on this point:—
“The dead do not praise the LORD, nor any who go down into silence” (Ps. 115:17).
Take now the case of a man eminent for his piety; a humble-minded man. Will it be claimed that, although in death he cannot praise the Lord, he can nevertheless know all that is being said in his own praise? Is it so, that the man whose whole life was {104} one of self-denying love for Christ, becomes oblivious of everything but self, as soon as he is dead? Can he listen to eulogies upon himself, while he is unable to utter a word for his Master? No; it is not so. Again the psalmist, by whom the Lord spoke, says of man:—
“His spirit [breath] departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish” (Ps. 146:4).
The grave is “the land of forgetfulness” (Ps. 88:12). It is the synonym of nothingness. Now the question is, “Do the men who use such language as that quoted from the Oracle really believe the Bible?” We shall not attempt to answer it; but we will say this, that there is no actual difference between such language and the language of Spiritualism. If the dead know all that is taking place on the earth, if their activity and consciousness go on just the same as before, and even in increased degree, then it is simply absurd to say that they cannot communicate their own ideas, and manifest themselves just the same as before their death. The only logical believers in the natural immortality of the soul are Spiritualists. And all who cling to the Oracle’s theory, will, by their position, sooner or later be driven into Spiritualism.
“But,” says some believer in the doctrine of immortality outside of Christ, “the Bible teaches that between the living and the dead there is a great gulf fixed, so that those in the two states cannot communicate with one another; and so I cannot by any possibility become a Spiritualist.” Very true; the Bible does so teach; but is there any more truth in that portion of the Scripture than there is in another? The Bible also teaches that the dead know not anything; yet you squarely and positively deny it. Since you deny the teachings of the Bible in one point, what is there to keep you from denying any other part, or the whole of it, when some specious sophistry, or some manifestation that appeals to your senses, is presented to you? Just nothing at all. And so we say that the man, who, in contradiction of the Bible, declares that the dead are conscious, is on the high road toward declaring, in contradiction of the Bible, that the spirits of the dead may appear to and communicate with the living, and of finally denying the whole Bible.