Hugh’s News & Views (On Dead Men Climbing Ladders)


In an effort to downplay the necessity of taking the steps necessary for being saved from sin and becoming a Christian, it has been asserted that “dead men don’t climb ladders.” But what proves too much proves too little! Using that same “logic,” dead men do not go to the mourner’s bench. Dead men do not “pray through.” Dead men do not kneel down by their radio or television set and “receive Jesus into their heart.” Dead men do not walk to the front at a “Crusade for Christ.” Dead men do not “just believe.” Dead men do not say “the sinner’s prayer.” Yet, all of these are taught as things that a person can do to be saved.

It is rather obvious that a person who is literally and physically dead can do nothing. Physically dead men don’t breathe, eat, think, talk, walk, or work! Neither do they read the Bible! And, it is true that the alien sinner (the sinner who has not been redeemed by the blood of Christ and who has not become a child of God) is said to be “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). But, the fact that a person may be spiritually dead does not mean that he is physically dead and therefore incapable of doing anything to save himself. A person who is spiritually dead but physically alive is capable of hearing, believing, and obeying the gospel which is God’s power to salvation (Romans 1:16).

If a person who is spiritually dead but physically alive cannot hear and respond to the gospel, why did Jesus command that the gospel be preached to every creature, promising that “he who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:15-16)? “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). But according to the “logic” behind the “dead men don’t climb ladders” notion, the person would not be able to hear and believe the gospel even when it was preached to him!

The idea that one can do nothing to save himself or herself from sin is rooted in the doctrine of John Calvin (1509-1564) who taught that a person is born totally depraved and cannot be saved without a direct and miraculous operation of the Holy Spirit on his heart. If God does not “move” on a person’s behalf and provide that so-called miraculous operation of the Holy Spirit, then that person is doomed to the fires of torment no matter how badly he may have wanted to be saved.

On the nights of December 25-30, 1911, F. B. Srygley, a New Testament Christian, met C. H. Cayce, a Primitive Baptist, in a debate in Nashville, Tennessee. (Isn’t it interesting that people were so interested in religious discussions in that day and time that they would attend a debate on Christmas night?!) The first three nights of that debate Mr. Cayce affirmed: “God gives eternal life to an alien sinner without a condition on his part, and the Scriptures so teach” (emphasis mine, hf). The last three nights of the debate brother Srygley affirmed: “Faith, repentance, and water baptism are conditions of salvation to an alien sinner, and the Scriptures so teach.” Thus, the lines were drawn between Calvinism and the teaching of the Bible. After citing Ephesians 5:14, brother Srygley pressed this point: “If the sinner can do nothing, why does the apostle say, ‘Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light?’ I insist that the sinner is dead only in the sense of being separated from God, from truth and righteousness, and that he is not dead in the sense and to the extent that he cannot hear, reason, think, and act” (Is Salvation Conditional or Unconditional? A Discussion Between C.H. Cayce and F. B. Srygley, McQuiddy Printing Company, Nashville, Tennessee, 1912, p. 206).

Let us return to Ephesians 2. Verse 1 says that the Ephesians at one time were “dead in trespasses.” But verse 2 says they “once walked according to the course of this world.” I would think that if these spiritually dead people could “walk” they could also climb ladders! Revelation 3:1 says that the church at Sardis was “dead.” Yet in verse 3 this “dead” church is told to repent. Therefore, spiritually dead people can “repent” (i.e., change their minds).

Consider these questions: 1) Can spiritually dead people hear the gospel, or are they already spiritually alive before they hear the gospel (Romans 10:17)? 2) Can spiritually dead people believe the gospel, or are they already spiritually alive before they believe the gospel (Romans 1:16)? 3) Can spiritually dead people repent of their sins, or are they already spiritually alive before they repent of their sins (Acts 3:19)? 4) Can spiritually dead people confess faith in Christ, or are they already spiritually alive before they confess their faith (Romans 10:9-10)? 5) Can spiritually dead people “arise, and be baptized, and wash away [their] sins,” or are their sins already washed away and are they already spiritually alive before they are baptized (Acts 22:16)? Paul declared that we are buried with Christ in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). Are we already spiritually alive before we are buried with Christ in baptism? Do we bury live people or dead people?

Sadly, some folks are more wed to the religious doctrines and traditions of their forefathers and their denomination than they are to the truth of the gospel. And some among us, ashamed of the simple gospel plan of salvation and “wise in their own conceits” (Romans 12:16c), have been duped by Calvinistic theology and now, parrot-like, repeat, “Dead men don’t climb ladders,” thinking they are declaring some great theological truth!

In a Facebook posting on August 23, 2018, gospel preacher Isaiah Caesar B. Bie of the Philippines, correctly observed: “We should not, as Calvinists do, expand Bible metaphors beyond their intended meaning. Spiritual ‘deadness’ in sin is not akin in every respect to physical deadness, in that while the physically dead is unable to act/respond, the spiritually dead is. Man is responsible precisely because he is response-able.”

Hugh Fulford
October 16, 2018

Speaking Schedule:
October 21-24: Smyrna Church of Christ, Cookeville, TN

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