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Man’s Nature and Destiny

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    WE will now examine every text in which the word “spirit” is used in a way which is supposed to indicate its separate, conscious existence, beginning with that oft-quoted declaration made by Solomon:-MND 53.1

    Ecclesiastes 12:7: “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return to God who gave it.” It is natural for men to appeal first and most directly to those sources from which they expect the most efficient help. So the advocates of man’s natural immortality, when put to the task of showing what scriptures they regard as containing proof of their position, almost invariably make their first appeal to the text here quoted.MND 53.2

    In the examination of this text, and all other of a like nature, let it ever be remembered that the question at issue is, Has man in his nature a constituent element, which is an independent entity, and which, when the body dies, keeps right on in uninterrupted consciousness, being capable of exercising in a still higher degree out of the body all the functions of intelligence and activity which it manifested through the body, and destined, whether a subject of God’s favor, or of his threatened and merited wrath, to live so long as God himself exists?MND 53.3

    Does this text assert anything of this kind? Does it state that from which even such an inference can be drawn? We invited the reader to go with us, while we endeavor to consider carefully what the text teaches. Our opponents appeal to it as direct testimony. Let us see how far we can go with them.MND 53.4

    1. Solomon, under a series of beautiful figures, speaks in Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 of the lying down of man in death. Granted.MND 54.1

    2. Dust, or the body, and spirit are spoken of as two distinct things. Granted.MND 54.2

    3. At death, the spirit leaves the body. Granted.MND 54.3

    4. The spirit is disposed of in a different manner from the body. Granted.MND 54.4

    5. The spirit returns to God. Granted.MND 54.5

    6. This spirit is therefore conscious, after the dissolution of the body. Not granted. Where is the proof of this? Here our paths begin to diverge from each other. But how could the spirit return to God, it is asked, if it was not conscious? - Answer: In the manner Job describes. “If he [God] set his heart upon man, if he gather unto himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again to dust.” Job 34:14, 15. This text speaks of God’s gathering to himself the “breath” of man: something which no one supposes to be capable of a separate, conscious existence. Moreover, this spirit and breath, given for awhile to man, God calls his own; and depriving man of it he calls “gathering it to himself,” an expression fully as strong as “the spirit shall return to God who gave it.” This proposition we are therefore compelled to reject as unsustained.MND 54.6

    7. This spirit is therefore to exist forever. This conclusion also we fail to see, either expressed or even in the remotest manner implied. Thus the only two propositions which are vital to the position for which our friends contend are wholly assumed.MND 54.7

    But if the word “spirit” here does not mean what it is popularly supposed to mean, what is its signification? and what is it that returns to God? It will be noticed that that which returns to God is something which God at first “gave” to man. And Solomon introduces it in a familiar manner, as if alluding to something already recorded and well understood. He makes evident reference to the creation of man in the beginning. His body was formed of the dust; and in addition to this, what did God do for man or give unto him? - He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. This is the only spirit that is distinctly spoken of as having been given by God to man. No one claims that this, like the body, was from the dust, or returns to dust; but it does not therefore follow that it is conscious or immortal.MND 55.1

    Landis (p.133) falls into this wrong method of reasoning. He says:-MND 55.2

    “If the soul were mortal, it, too, would be given up to the dust; it would return also to the earth. But God affirms that it does not return to the earth; and therefore it is distinct from the mortal and perishable part of man.”MND 55.3

    The breath of life, to be sure, is distinct from the body, and did not come from the dust of the ground; but to say that it can exist in a conscious state independent of the body, and that it must live forever, is a leap in logic most marvelous to behold.MND 55.4

    If “spirit” here means “the breath of life,” how or in what sense, does it return to God? Landis (p.150) thus falsely treats this point also: “How can the air we breathe,” he asks, “return to God?” Between the breath of life as imparted to man by God, vitalizing the animal frame, and air considered simply as an element, we apprehend there is a broad distinction. Solomon is showing the dissolution of man by tracing back the steps taken in his formation. The breath of life was breathed into Adam in the beginning; by which he became a living soul. That is withdrawn from man, and as a consequence he becomes inanimate. Then the body, deprived of its vitalizing principle, having been formed of the dust, goes back to dust again.MND 55.5

    That the breath of life came from God to man, none will deny. Do they ask how it returns to him? Tell us how it came from him, and we will tell how it returns. In the same sense in which God gave it to man, in that sense it returns to him. That is all there is of it. The explanation is perfectly simple, because one division of the problem is comprehended just as easily as the other. It is an easy thing to turn off with a flippant sneer an explanation which, if allowed to stand, takes the very “breath of life” out of a cherished theory.MND 56.1

    But there is a grave objection lying against the popular exposition of this text, which must not pass unnoticed. It is involved in the question, What was the state or condition of this spirit before God gave it to man? Was it an independent, conscious, and intelligent being before it was put into man, as it is claimed that it is after man gets through with it, and it returns to God? Solomon evidently designs to state respecting all the elements of which man is composed, as is expressly stated of the body, that they resume the original condition in which they were before they cam together to form the component parts of man. We know it is argued that the expression respecting the body, that it returns to the dust “as it was,” is good ground for an inference that the spirit returns not as it was. Every principle of logic requires the very opposite conclusion. For, having set the mind upon that idea of sameness of condition, and then referring us to the source from whence the spirit came, and stating that it goes back to that source, the language is as good as an affirmation that it goes back to its original condition also; and must be so understood unless an express affirmation is made to the contrary. The question is therefore pertinent, Was this spirit before it came into man, a conscious being, as it is claimed to be after it leaves him? In other words, have we all had a conscious pre-existence? Is the mystery of our Lord’s incarnation repeated in every member of the human race? - Yes! if popular theologians rightly explain this text. And the more daring or reckless spirits among them, seeing the logical sequence of their reasoning, boldly avow this position.MND 56.2

    Mr. Landis (to whom we make occasional reference as an exponent of the popular theory) recoils at the idea of pre-existence, and claims (p.147) that the spirit does not return as it was, but acquires “a moral character, and so is changed from what it was when first created and given to man”! Oh! then, when man’s body is formed, a spirit is created (from what?) and put into it? Where did he learn this? To what new revelation has he had access to become acquainted with so remarkable a fact? Or whence derives he his authority to manufacture statements of this kind? His soul swells with indignation over some whom he styles materialists, and whom he accuses of manufacturing scripture. Thou that sayest a man should not, dost thou? Nothing is said of the “creation of a spirit” in connection with the formation of the body. Take the case of Adam: the body having been formed, God, by an agency, not created for the purpose, but already existing with himself, endowed it with life, and Adam became a living soul.MND 57.1

    Having thus artfully introduced the idea that the spirit was created for the occasion, Mr. L. takes up this reasoning which shows that if the spirit is conscious after leaving the body, it must have been before it entered it; and, applying to it a term doubtless suggested by his own feelings in view of the assumptions to which he was himself obliged to resort, calls it “silly.” Nevertheless here is the rock on which their exposition of this text is inevitably and hopelessly dashed to pieces.MND 58.1

    There is another consideration not without its bearing on this question. The words, “And the spirit shall return to God who gave it,” are spoken promiscuously of all mankind. They apply alike to the righteous and the wicked. If the spirit survives the death of the body, the spirits of the righteous would, as a natural consequence, ascend to God, in whose presence they are promised fullness of joy. But do the spirits of the wicked go to God also? if so, for what purpose do they go to him? The immediate destination usually assigned to them is the lake of fire. Is it said that they first go to God to be judged? Then we ask, Where does the Bible once affirm that a person is judged when he dies? On the contrary, the Scriptures invariably place the Judgment in the future, and assert in the most explicit terms that God has appointed a day for that purpose. Acts 17:13.MND 58.2

    Thus the Bible doctrine of the Judgment is directly contradicted by this popular misconception of the text under notice. According to the Scriptures, no man has yet received his final judgment; yet, according to the view under examination, the spirits of all who have ever died, good and bad, righteous and wicked, have gone to God. For what purpose, we ask again, have the spirits of the wicked gone to him? Are they there still? Does God so deal with rebels against his government - give them heaven from one to six thousand years, more or less, and hell afterward? Away with a view which introduces such inconsistencies into God’s dealings with his creatures.MND 58.3

    How infinitely preferable that view which alone the record warrants; that is, that the spirit which returns to God who gave it, is the “breath of life,” that agency by which God vivifies and sustains these physical frames; because this, so far as the record goes, is just what God did give to man in the beginning; because the definition of the term sustains such an application; because this spirit, without doing violence to either thought or language, can return to God in the same sense in which it came from him; and, above all, because this view harmonizes all the record, and avoids those inconsistencies and contradictions in which we find ourselves inevitably involved the very moment we undertake to make the spirit mean a separate entity, conscious in death and immortal in its nature.MND 59.1

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