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Man’s Nature and Destiny

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    04 THE BREATH OF LIFE

    Genesis 1:27 states, in general terms, the form in which man was created, as contrasted with other orders of animal life. In Genesis 2:7 the process is described by which this creation was accomplished. Finding no proof in the former passage that man was put in possession of immortality (see preceding chapter), we turn to the latter text to examine the claims based upon that. The verse reads: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life: and man became a living soul.”MND 29.1

    Here the advocates of man’s natural immortality endeavor to make a strong stand, as it is very proper they should do, unless they are prepared at once to abandon their theory; for certainly if in that inspired record which describes the building up of man, the putting together of the different parts or constituent elements of which he is composed, there is no testimony that he was clothed with immortality, and no evidence furnished upon which an argument for such an attribute can be based, their whole system falls into irretrievable collapse. The claim asserted on the strength of this passage is that man is composed of two parts: the body formed of the dust of the ground, and an immortal soul placed therein by God’s breathing into the nostrils of that dust-formed body the breath of life. Two representative men shall be allowed to speak on this point, and state the popular view. Thomas Scott, D.D., on Genesis 2:7, says:-MND 29.2

    “The Lord not only gave man life in common with the other animals which had bodies formed of the same materials; but immediately communicated from himself the rational soul, here denoted by the expression of breathing into his nostrils the breath of life.”MND 30.1

    Adam Clarke, LL. D., on Genesis 2:7, says:-MND 30.2

    “In the most distinct manner, God shows us that man is a compound being, having a body and soul distinctly and separately created, the body out of the dust of the earth, the soul immediately breathed from God himself.”MND 30.3

    Critics speak of this expression in a different manner from theologians; for whereas the latter make it confer immortality, and raise man in this respect to the same plane with his Maker, the former speak of it as suggestive of man’s frail nature, and his precarious tenure of life itself. Thus Dr. Conant says:-MND 30.4

    “In whose nostrils is breath. Only breath, so frail a principle of life, and so easily extinguished.”MND 30.5

    And in a note on Isaiah 2:22, where the prophet says, “Cease ye from man whose breath is in his nostrils; for wherein is he to be accounted of?” he adds:-MND 30.6

    “Not as in the common English version, ‘whose breath is in his nostrils;’ for where else should it be? The objection is not to its place in the body, which is the proper one for it, but to its frail and perishable nature.”MND 30.7

    To the same intent the psalmist speaks (Psalm 146:3, 4): “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.”MND 30.8

    But let us examine the claim that the “breath of life,” which God breathed into man, conferred upon him the attribute of immortality. There was nothing naturally immortal, certainly, in the dust of which Adam was composed. Whatever of immortality he had, therefore, after receiving the breath of life, must have existed in that breath in itself considered. Hence it must follow that the “breath of life” confers immortality upon any creature to which it is given. Will our friends accept this issue? If not, they abandon the argument; for certainly it can confer no more upon man than upon any other recipient. And if they do accept it, we will introduce to them a class of immortal associates not very flattering to their vanity nor to their argument; for Moses applies the very same expression to all the lower orders of the animal creation.MND 31.1

    In Genesis 7:15 we read: “And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath of life.” It must be evident to every one, at a glance, that the whole animal creation, including man, is comprehended in the phrase “all flesh.” But verses 21, 22 contain stronger expressions still: “And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the face of the earth, and every man. All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died.”MND 31.2

    Here the different orders of animals are named, and man is expressly mentioned with them; and all alike are said to have had in their nostrils the breath of life. It matters not that we are not told in the case of the lower animals how this breath was conferred, as in the case of man; for the immortality, if there is any in this matter, must reside, as we have seen, in the manner of its bestowal; and here it is affirmed that all creatures possess it; and of the animals, it is declared, as well as of man, that it resides in their nostrils.MND 31.3

    It is objected that in Genesis 2:7 the “breath of life,” as applied to man, is plural, “breath of lives” (see Clarke), meaning both animal life and that immortality which is the subject of our investigation. But, we reply, it is in the same number in Genesis 7:22, where it is applied to all animals; and if the reader will look at the margin of this latter text, he will see that the expression is stronger still, “the “breath of the spirit of life,” or of lives. The same plural form is also found in the expression, “the tree of life,” in Genesis 2:9.MND 32.1

    The language which Solomon uses respecting both men and beasts strongly expresses their common mortality: “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; so that a man [in this respect] hath no pre-eminence above a beast; for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.” Ecclesiastes 3:19, 20.MND 32.2

    Thus the advocates of natural immortality, by appealing to Moses’ record respecting the breath of life, are crushed beneath the weight of their own arguments; for if “the breath of life” proves immortality for man, it must prove the same for every creature to which it is given. The Bible affirms that all orders of the animal creation that live upon the land, possess it. Hence our opponents are bound to affirm the immortality of birds, beasts, bugs, beetles, and every creeping thing. We are sometimes accused of bringing man down, by our argument, to a level with the beast. What better is this argument of our friends, which brings beasts and reptiles all up to a level with man? We deny the charge that we are doing the one, and shall be pardoned for declining to do the other.MND 32.3

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