The Spirit of Man

Frederick William Grant

The second application of the word "spirit" is to angelic beings, and that whether "holy" or "unclean."

The application of the word in this way is again denied by Thomasism as to the latter class, but this is scarcely the place to examine what they say on this head. It will suffice for our present purpose that there are spirits whose existence as separate personalities cannot be denied. And if this be so, there is no reason, at least beforehand, why man's spirit also should not be an individuality, a real and living entity, though in him united to a body which is of dust.*

*Roberts asserts that the angels are "visible, glorious, incorruptible, corporeal beings," man's spirit being the opposite of all this. f

But (1) The simple question is as to the existence of individual "spirits" which is acknowledged. Difference of condition cannot alter the argument from this. (2.) The visibility of the human spirit seems much on a par with that of angels. Neither is ordinarily seen (compare 2 Kings vi. 17). Both have been. (3.) How man's spirit is "decaying," Mr. R. must explain. (4.) Corporeality is not proved for angels by examples in which God (as in Gen. xviii. and xxxii.), or angel appeared as men. This is not manifestation of angelic natures, but the assumption of human form by these. There may be mystery in this, no doubt. We soon touch the bounds of our knowledge, that is all.

And this is the third application of the word to which we must now devote particular attention.

A cloud of dust is here endeavoured to be raised by the assertion of the wonderful variety of meanings given to the word. Yet, if we take the language of our common English version as a guide, and refer to the passages in which it relates to man, we find, as the translation of the Old Testament Hebrew word, but five words used: "breath," "spirit," "anger," "courage," "mind." And of the New Testament Greek word corresponding to it nothing but "ghost" or "spirit" (which everybody knows to be intended for the same thing) and once " life," wrongly, in Rev. xiii. 15, where it ought to be rather "breath." This looks more like uniformity in the matter, and a common idea running throughout, than some would wish to have us suppose. Of course I do not mean to deny that there are various secondary applications of the word "spirit" itself. This concerns us the less because there is no doubt of the primary meaning of the English word. But surely the greater the variety of meaning, the more needful to look for the key (which must be somewhere), the possession of which will enable us to find harmony in these various uses of the word instead of discord.

The fact is, that the only key to this hidden harmony is in an application of the word which these writers almost to a man reject, viz., to a real intelligent entity* in the compound nature of man, of all men as such, "the spirit of man, is in him" placed at the head of; as well as in connection with, his other constituent parts by the apostle, where he speaks to the Thessalonians of the sanctification of their "whole spirit and soul and body." Let us take up the proofs of this, examining them carefully as the importance of the subject demands, and submit the separate points to be examined, one by one, to the test which Annihilationists themselves appeal to - the judgment of the inspired word.

*Roberts tries to show this cannot be the key by inserting "intelligent entity" in place of "spirit" in such passages as 1 Kings 8: 5,"There was no more intelligent entity in her," etc. This may do to cause a laugh, but it is in fact mere childish absurdity. There would be no secondary meanings at all, if the primary one could be inserted instead of them.

How the key above mentioned does "fit the lock all round," will be seen afterward, chap. vi. That Mr. Roberts' key does not may be easily seen by the meanings assigned to "spirit" in various connections by himself and his leader, Dr. Thomas. In p. 23 of "Man Mortal," he defines it as "mind"; p. 30, "breath of life"; p. 54, "abstract "energy": p. 66 "life"; p. 67, "conscience"; while Dr. Thomas says that the "spirits in prison" (1 Peter iii) means "bodies."

On the other hand, the body is thus, for Dr. Thomas, body, and soul, and spirit.

Now it is but quoting Scripture to speak of the "spirit of man which is in him" (1 Cor. ii. 11), and of the "spirits of men" (Heb. xii. 23). And observe, before we pass on, one fact here. Scripture says "the spirit of man." It does not say "the spirit" but "the spirits of men." Annihilationists tell us (or many of them) that "spirit" is a universal principle of life, lent to man indeed in common with the beast, but forming no real part of himself, like the air he breathes, and in which Dr. Thomas says it is contained. Now, if this be so, we might as well talk about the breaths of men as of their spirits Yet every one would perceive the incongruity of the former expression. We say "the breath of men," just because it is one common breath they all breathe, but it is NOT one common spirit they all have, and therefore we speak of their "spirits," because each has his own, and it is a separate entity in each one.*

*This is with Mr. Roberts another of those "inevitable fictions" in which he so largely deals. The spirits of men are with him not separate entities, but only "inevitably conceived" of as such. "Just as there is primarily but one life, the self-existing life of the Eternal Father, and yet we talk of the lives of the creatures He has brought into being"! Is it then only "inevitably conceived" that the lives of His creatures are separate from His own? Are they not actually separate existences?

Again he says," As reasonable would it be for Mr. Grant to say that because we have separate ‘fleshes,' therefore it is not one common flesh we all have." Does not Mr. R. confound flesh and body somewhat? Have we separate "fleshes"? The argument and the English are alike new. Separate bodies we have, and not one common body. One common flesh we have, and therefore not separate fleshes.

Mr. Constable's identification of it with the "breath of life" is therefore not possible. His view is only in point of fact Thomasism on a somewhat higher plane, as he makes the breath of life and the Spirit of God also identical, quoting the very same passages for it as we have already considered with reference to Mr. Roberts. He adduces also Bishop Horsley's opinion, that no one "who compares Gen. ii. 7 and Eccl. xii. 7, can doubt that the ‘breath of life' which God ‘breathes into the nostrils' of man in the Book of Genesis is the very same thing with the ‘spirit which God gave' in the Book of Ecclesiastes." To which it is enough to answer that we doubt. Neither Horsley nor himself give any proof of this from the passages in question, and the subject will come up hereafter. But in the next place Mr. Constable avails himself of "Hebrew parallelism" to the full extent that Mr. Roberts does. "All the while my breath is in me, and the Spirit of God is in my nostrils,* he thinks conclusive. It may be doubtless for those who know no personal Spirit of God; and it seems as if Mr. Constable had got as low as this. The answer has been already given, and to it we need only now refer. Similarly Job xxxiv. 14 has been considered; but how he can quote "his spirit and his breath" to show that the two are one is hard to understand. The contrary would seem self-evident.

*Job xxvii. 3.

Hebrew parallelism is again made to do duty in interpreting Isaiah xlii. 5, lvii. 16. Mr. Constable would have it that Parallelism consists in merely using synonymous expressions in the "parallel" sentences. This is a false and unworthy conception of it, which would reduce it to mere tautology. It is not so, as every verse in which it is used bears witness. How unworthy a repetition would it be to make Isaiah say, as Mr. C. would: "He that giveth breath to the people upon it, and breath (spirit) to them that walk therein."* Yet these are proofs, he considers, that establish the identity of the breath of life with the Spirit.

*I reserve the quotation of Isaiah lvii. 16, until we come to consider the word found there - neshama.

Now Scripture speaks of the spirit of man being not only, as we have seen, a separate entity in each individual, which the breath of life is not, but (as the breath of life clearly is not) a thing formed within him (Zech. xii. 1): "The burden of the word of the Lord for Israel, saith the Lord, which stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him." Thus, along with the formation of the heavens and the earth, as of equal importance with these (the body being moreover passed over in the matter) there is put by the inspired writer this formation of the spirit of man. And this is the complete upsetting of the materialistic theory. The spirit of man is formed within him. It is a separate entity then in each individual man, not (like the breath of life) a common principle shared by all.*

*Roberts admits indeed here "a common spirit distributed according to the will of the Creator, and formed into the spirits of men." But he has rendered this impossible in his view of things, by telling us that the very existence of separate spirits is only "inevitably conceived," but not a real thing. Does he mean to tell us that God "formed" the "common spirit" he speaks of into the "inevitable conception "of a distinct thing?

This constant use of language which is merely fictitious marks his argument throughout. What is it but the deception of one by whom he is himself, alas, duped, and in whose hands he is the unhappy instrument in deceiving others?

Moreover the possession of a spirit by the beast is not asserted in Scripture, except in one passage by the writer of Ecclesiastes (ch. iii. 19-21): "For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them; as the one dieth so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath (ruach); so that a man hath no pre-eminence over a beast, for all is vanity. All go unto one place: all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?"

This passage has been seized upon by materialists of course, and is constantly put forth as the stronghold of their doctrine. They quote verse 19 triumphantly. "Words cannot be stronger than this," says Mr. Constable. "The preacher tells us not only that man and beast both have spirit, but that the spirit of both is one and the same. He is here evidently comparing them, in what they had of the highest kind, and nothing could be higher than the possession of that spirit which the Psalms and other Scriptures tell us was indeed nothing less than the Spirit of God Himself. Yet in this he tells us that ‘man hath no pre-eminence above a beast.' "*

*Hades, p. 19.

This is bold enough indeed: Mr. Constable has the merit of speaking out his thoughts. In his very highest attribute, it seems then, man has no pre-eminence above a beast. Mind, conscience, responsibility, moral qualities, either he has not, or the beast has, or else these are, after all, inferior things, "not of the highest kind." "Man being in honour and understanding not, is like the beasts that perish," says the Psalmist. Mr. Constable adds that he has no pre-eminence over them anyhow, and as for "beasts that perish," why, one and all perish alike: when the breath leaves them they but lie down in the dust, being alike but dust.

The argument proves too much, and so proves nothing. If Mr. Constable had but weighed the verse before, which he omits, he might have found reason to question his conclusion. The whole passage is what, Solomon tells us, he "said in his heart" at a certain time (ver. 18). It is not divine revelation, but human doubt: the questioning of man's mind when speculating upon the mystery of existence: "who knoweth the spirit of man"? etc. It is the language of a man who had "given his heart to search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven;" who had "said in his heart" (ch. ii. 1), "Go to now, I will prove thee with, mirth," and who had "sought in his heart to give himself to wine," and "to lay hold on folly, that he might see what was that. good for the sons of men, which they should do under heaven all the days of their life" (ver. 8).

This is no Spirit taught man. In no such path does the Spirit of God lead; and the result is that, searching out by human wisdom, the grave into which all go is an impenetrable mystery: men die as the beast dies, they have one breath, one ruach, they go to the dust alike; as to what is beyond, no mere human knowledge can penetrate it: who knoweth the ruach of man that goeth upward, or the ruach of the beast that goeth downward to the earth? That word, ruach, with its various meaning of breath or spirit, suits well the doubtful questioning of the passage. But this is the uncertainty of mere human knowledge. The Spirit of God could not doubt or question. It is by the Spirit, surely, that we are given this history of human searching after wisdom and after good; but the lesson is, that by human searching he could attain neither the one nor the other. Listen to Solomon's own exposition of this as he comes out into the light: "As thou KNOWEST NOT what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child, even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all" (ch. xi. 5). But he has something to say now about his former thoughts: for he says finally and conclusively, that the spirit of man does not "go downward to the earth": "Then shalt the dust return to the earth as it was, but the spirit shall return to God who gave it."

The objection is raised as to this by Mr. Roberts, that it ignores the fact of Solomon's God-given wisdom. But it is just the point of Ecclesiastes to show how the wisdom of the wisest failed here, as in the book of Job the perfection of human goodness. The perfect man has to own his vileness before God, and the wisest men the incompetence of mere human wisdom.

For Solomon's wisdom was self-evidently of that kind which fitted him for the kingly office which he filled, and for which he sought it (2 Chron. i. 9, 10). It is compared with that of other kings, and with the wisdom of the East, and of Egypt, though it surpassed all these. He was the naturalist of his day; his proverbs a storehouse of practical wisdom for the path on earth. But he is not the sweet psalmist of Israel , and his numerous songs are mostly forgotten. The Song of Songs is an allegory, and he was evidently in it the unconscious singer of spiritual things of which he knew but little. Who could compare him with David for spiritual insight? And who but must lament his manifest departure from the path in which his father walked? that departure which, if it be admitted (as it must be) spite of Solomon's wisdom, so simply accounts for the book of Ecclesiastes being not the record of a path in which the Spirit of God LED, however much He might make the one who walked there the preacher of the vanity of a world which he had ransacked in vain for satisfaction.

Now, beside this manifestly exceptional passage in Ecclesiastes, there are none that assert or imply the beast's possession of a spirit. The passages quoted from elsewhere by Mr. Constable are plainly inadequate. The "breath of life" in Gen. vi. 17 is not the spirit, as a comparison with vii. 22 may show. Nor is it in Psa. civ. 29. He contends, indeed, that if ruach in verse 29 is translated "breath" it must be equally so in verse 30: "Thou sendest forth Thy breath (ruach) they are created." But here the "sending forth" necessitates the other rendering. Were it breath, however, in both places, how would it. prove Mr. Constables point? God forms the spirit in man: He does not form the breath of life in him.*

*Gen vii. 22 (marg.), quoted by Annihilationists as proving "spirit" to belong to beasts, is a mere mistake. The same phrase is found in 2 Sam. xxii. 16, and is there translated "The blast of the breath," where again it is referred to the nostrils: "the blast of the breath of his nostrils. It is the action of the breath upon the nostrils, so strongly marked in states of excitement and fear, which is strikingly referred to in the passage in Genesis: " All in whose nostrils was the breathing of the breath of life... died."

As for Numb. xvi. 22, it refers, from the context, to man simply as e. g. Matt. xxiv. 22, "Except those days should be shortened no flesh should be saved"; (Gen. vi. 12), "All flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth"; (Psa. lxv. 2), " Thou that hearest prayer, to Thee shall all flesh come," etc.

I return, then, with confidence to my former position that, so far from the spirit of man being a principle of life held in common with the beast, the Spirit of God NEVER asserts the beast's possession of it. There is complete and absolute silence as to such a thing. And the silence of Scripture is authoritative against the materialistic assumption. For their whole theory as to this they are indebted to the endeavour to "search out by wisdom" (apart from the Spirit, which they deny) the works of God.

And I need hardly say, that before these few Scripture facts, Mr. Morris' theory of the spirit in man, that it is the new nature in the believer, or the "motions and emotions of the soul" in men at large - equally breaks down. Zech. xii. 1 will not bend to either supposition. It speaks definitely of the spirit of man, not of the believer, and says God formed it, not surely the motions or emotions of the soul! Beside which, to this "spirit of man, which is in him," the apostle (in 1 Cor. ii. ii) refers all human knowledge: "What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man, which is in him.?" Could we say, the "motions" or "emotions" of the soul know?

According to Mr. Constable the beast must "know the things of a man" (and be wiser than man, who does not know the things of a beast); for he has the same spirit, and NO pre-eminence over a beast as to that!

My object, so far, has been but to establish the doctrine of the distinct existence of the spirit as a separate entity in man. The various uses of the word, and the relationship of the spirit to the soul, will come up more naturally after we have examined in a similar manner the Scripture doctrine of the soul itself.

NOTE - A claim is sometimes set up for n'shamah as being the representative of the spirit of man proper rather than ruach. It is the word used in Gen. ii. 7 for "breath of life," also in Gen. vii. 22 and 2 Sam. xxii. 16, referred to in the last note. It is really, as there implied, the ruach in action, and may be in that way referred to ruach in either sense of "breath" or "spirit." It is never the strict equivalent of ruach; certainly never of a higher character. The Spirit of God is never n'shamah. It is rather the "breathing," "inspiration," "blast," as in Gen. ii. 7; 2 Sam. xxii. 16; Job iv. 9; xxxii. 8; xxxiii. 4; xxxvii. 10; Psa. xviii. 15; Isa. xxx. 33. As to man, it is expressive of his being a breathing creature, as in Deut. xx. 16; Josh. x. 40; xi. 11, 14; 1 Kings xv. 29; Psa. cl. 6; and should be translated similarly, and not, by souls" in a passage referred to by Mr. Constable, Isa. lvii. 16. It should be "breathing" or "breath ‘ in Gen,. vii. 22; 1 Kings xvii. 17; Job xxvi. 4; xxvii. 3; xxxiv. 14; Isa. ii. 22; xlii. 5; Dan. v.23; x. 17. There is but one passage beside these in Scripture, and this seems the only undoubted reference to the action of the higher ruach, or real spirit of man: here our version translates it "spirit," yet that it is expressive of the action, rather than the being of the spirit, we may see in the passage itself, Prov. xx. 27.

« Previous chapterNext chapter »