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Here and Hereafter

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    3. — WHO KNOWS THE SPIRIT OF MAN?

    With the words “who knoweth” Solomon here introduces, in Ecclesiastes 3:21, a very important question respecting the spirit of man. He says: “Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?” Deeming this a good foundation, the advocates of natural immortality proceed to build thereon. They take it to be, first, a positive declaration that the spirit of man does go up, and that the spirit of the beast does go downward to the earth. Then the superstructure is easily erected thus: Solomon must have believed that man had a spirit capable of a separate and conscious existence in death; and this spirit, in the hour of dissolution, ascends up on high, and goes into the presence of God. It therefore survives the stroke of death, and is consequently immortal.HHMLD 80.4

    Here they rest their argument; but we would like to have them proceed; for the text speaks of the spirits of the beast, which must also be disposed of. If the spirit of man, because it separates from him and goes up, is conscious, is not the spirit of the beast, because it separates from it and goes down, conscious also? There is nothing in the supposed fact that man’s spirit goes up, which can by any means show it to be conscious, any more than there is in the fact that the spirit of the beast goes down, to show it to be conscious. But if the spirit of the beast survives the stroke of death, then all beasts have just as much immortality as man has. This line of argument, therefore, proves too much, and that which proves too much would better be abandoned.HHMLD 81.1

    But is not the word “spirit,” as applied to the beast, a different word in the original from the one translated “spirit” and applied to man? — No; they are both from the same original word, and that word is (ruahh), the word from which “spirit” is translated in the Old Testament in every instance with two exceptions, as has been already explained. A beast has the same kind of “spirit” that man has.HHMLD 81.2

    Immaterialists feel the weight of the stunning blow which this fact gives to the popular view, and endeavor to parry its force by the following desperate resort. Solomon, they say, is here describing the state of doubt and perplexity through which he had formerly passed; and, to use their own words, 1Landis, p. 146. “in this perplexity he attributes to both man and beast a ruahh. “But they say that Solomon got over this state of doubt and uncertainty, and “never again attributed a ruahh to beasts.” Thus they are obliged to resort to the position that Solomon, with all his wisdom, was a skeptic, and wrote down his skepticism in this passage; and somehow it secured a place upon the sacred pages as a part of inspiration! But before he got through the book, he experienced a change of heart, and then (chapter 12:7) could tell the truth about man’s spirit, that it went directly to God. But, unfortunately, he has left on record no indication of these two conditions of mind, nor of his transition from one to the other. He simply had no occasion to speak of beasts again in such a connection, and hence no occasion to speak of their ruahh. What we regard as the Bible view of man’s nature is not unfrequently denominated “infidelity” by the popular theologians of the present day; but it strikes us as rather a bold position to go back and accuse the sacred writers themselves of laboring under a spirit of infidelity when they penned these sentiments. But if they were not infidels when they wrote, it is not infidelity to believe their writings.HHMLD 81.3

    But if we take Solomon’s words to be a declaration that the spirit of man does go up, his question even then would imply a strong affirmation that we are ignorant of its essential qualities. Who knoweth this spirit? Who can tell its nature? Who can describe its inherent characteristics? Who can tell how long it shall continue to exist? On these vital points, the text, granting all that is claimed for it, is entirely silent.HHMLD 82.1

    But, further, if this text asserts that the spirit of man goes up to God, it will be noticed again that it is spoken promiscuously of all mankind. Then the same queries would arise respecting the spirits of the wicked, for what purpose they go to God, and the same objections would lie against that view, that were stated in the examination of Ecclesiastes 12:7, in previous paragraphs of this work.HHMLD 82.2

    To arrive, however, at the correct meaning of Ecclesiastes 3:21, a brief examination of the context is necessary. In verse 18 Solomon expresses a desire that the sons of men may see that they themselves are “beasts” — not that he intended to be understood that man is in no respect superior to a beast; for no one, inspired or not, above the level of an idiot, would make such an assertion in view of man’s more perfect organization, his reasoning faculties, his moral nature, and above all, his future prospects, if righteous. He simply means, as plainly expressed in the next verse, that in one respect, namely, their vital organization and their dissolution in death, man possesses no superiority over the other orders of animated existence. “For,” he says, “that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth [here is the point of similarity], so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath [ruahh, the same word that is rendered “spirit” in verse 21]; so that a man [in this respect] hath no pre-eminence above a beast.... All go unto one place [is that place heaven? and is this a declaration that all, men and beast alike, go there?]; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.”HHMLD 83.1

    Thus definite and positive is the teaching of Solomon that, in respect to their animal life, here upon earth, and their condition in death, men and beasts are exactly alike. And now can we suppose that, after having thus clearly expressed his views of this matter, he proceeds in the very next sentence to contradict it all, and assert that in death there is a difference between men and beasts? that men do have a pre-eminence? that all do not go to one place? that the spirit of man goes up conscious to God, and the spirit of the beast goes down to perish in the earth? This would be to make the wisest man that ever lived, the most stupid reasoner that ever put pen to paper.HHMLD 83.2

    How, then, is his language in verse 21 to be understood? Answer: Understand it as a question, whether the spirit of man goes up, and the spirit of the beast down, as some asserted in opposition to the views which he taught. John Milton, author of “Paradise Lost,” so translates it: “Who knoweth the spirit of a man [an sursum ascendat], whether it goeth upward?” The Douay Bible renders the passage thus: “Who knoweth if the spirit of the children of Adam ascend upward, and if the spirit of the beasts descend downward?” The Septuagint, the Vulgate, the Chaldee Paraphrase, the Syriac, and the German of Luther give the same reading.HHMLD 84.1

    This puts the matter in quite a different light, and saves Solomon from self-contradiction; but alas for the immaterialist! it completely overturns the fabric of immortality which he builds thereon.HHMLD 84.2

    The notion prevailed in the heathen world that man’s spirit ascended up to be with the gods (and this is the foundation of heathen mythology), but the spirit of the best went down to the earth. It was the old lesson taught by that unreliable character in Eden, “Ye shall not surely die,” but “ye shall be as gods.”Solomon contradicts all this by stating the truth in the case, namely, that death reduces man and beast alike to one common condition. Then he asks, Who knows that the opposite heathen doctrine is true, that the spirit of man goes up, and that of the beast down? He had declared that they all went to one place, in accordance with God’s original sentence, “Thou shalt surely die;” now he calls for evidence, if there be any, to show that the opposite doctrine is true. Thus he smites to the ground this pagan notion by putting it to the proof of its claims, for which no proof exists. Only by perversion are they made to bolster up a doctrine which he intended them to condemn.HHMLD 84.3

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