The Soul Sleepers: Christian Mortalism from Wycliffe to Priestley

By Bryan W. Ball

A comprehensive survey of Reformation and post-Reformation thinkers who repudiated the medieval doctrine of the soul’s immortality.

ISBN: 9780227172605


A new and thoroughly researched study of the rise and development of Christian Mortalism, also known as Conditional Immortality or Soul Sleep, in England during the Reformation and Post-Reformation periods.

Dr Bryan Ball traces the origins of the belief in Continental Reformation thought, and then in the writings of Wycliffe and Tyndale, and its growth and development in the writings of many other advocates, including Hobbes, Overton, Milton, Locke, Edmund Law, John Biddle, Peter Peckard, Francis Blackburne, among many others, concluding with the views of Joseph Priestley.

In the context of being a historical study, this book challenges the traditional doctrine of the soul’s innate immortality. Having previously written on English eschatological thought, Dr Ball sets out to demonstrate here that this alternative view of man’s essential nature and ultimate destiny was held across a wide theological spectrum in English thought for at least three centuries.

While dealing with a subject that is at times difficult, the book has been intentionally written in a readable, accessible style, and will appeal to a much wider audience than the purely academic. The book provides important background information for the growing interest in the mortalist point of view in contemporary theological and historical circles.

Additional information

Dimensions 234 × 156 mm
Pages 236

Trade Information JPOD

About the Author

Dr Bryan W. Ball is a retired academic and the author of numerous books. He holds a PhD from the University of London and has contributed to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and the Encyclopaedia of World Faiths.



1. Continental Antecedents
2. English Origins and Developments to 1600
3. The Seventeenth-Century Scene to 1660
4. The Major Seventeenth-Century Advocates
5. Early Eighteenth-Century Debates and Digressions
6. The Ascendancy of Thnetopsychism
7. The World to Come – Realised Immortality

Appendix I. The Mortalist Works of Henry Layton
Appendix II. Mortalist Interpretation of Biblical Texts
Appendix III. The Eighteenth-Century Sussex Baptists

Index of Biblical References
Index of Names and Places
General Index


Endorsements and Reviews

The Soul Sleepers is a fascinating work, beautifully written, superbly documented, and immensely stimulating.
Alastair Hamilton, in Church History and Religious Culture, 91.3-4

Ball is to be commended for bringing this movement more fully to light.
Charles Hambrick-Stowe, in Ecclesiastical History

Ball handles a technical subject with admirable clarity, authoritatively directing his reader through a concentrated and challenging intellectual environment, offering helpful explanations and assessments along the way.
David Parnham, in Church History

This book deserves to be widely read.
Gerhard Pfandl, in College and University Dialogue

This book offers readers what I believe are two valuable benefits: an up close view of the development of a key doctrinal argument, and additional support for the psychopannychist cause, something that remains a point of contention in Christian circles today. This book is worthy of the investment of money and time of any honest seeker after truth.
James A. Cress, in Ministry, 11 June 2013

The book is a clear, well-written, and enjoyable account of the beliefs that emerged from the English Reformation. Bryan W. Ball has rendered his sources with sensitivity to their differences, which taken together makes for a great ensemble.
Pierre Gauthier, in Revue d’Histoire Ecclésiastique, Vol 114, 2019