Whatever may be the relation between matter and spirit,
they are very different in the impression made upon us. Unclean spirits
seem to desire to enter the human body, as in demoniacs. Celestial
messengers may have spiritual bodies. Yet God Himself has no corporate
organism outside of Christ. In all of these cases it is evident that a
spirit being is able to exist and operate quite apart from a body. It is
when they wish to make themselves known to mankind that some material form
seems necessary. So God reveals Himself in Christ, the messengers become
visible to human eyes, the evil spirits use the organs of a human being in
order to communicate with us. The point we wish to press is this: A spirit
can exist quite apart from a material form. Why should not this be true
of the human spirit as well? We cannot perceive a spirit being apart from
material substance, nor our own spirits, but does this prove their
non-existence? Existence does not involve consciousness in humanity,
however. Is it not wiser to consider all spirits as alike in the
essentials, unless evidence proves the contrary? Is not this the reason
why the word "spirit" is applied to all?
Some may say that this is reasoning from analogy, from spirit beings to
human spirits, and is metaphysics and not Scripture. Quite the contrary.
There is no reasoning whatever. There are no premises. God, in His Word,
calls sensation in an animal a soul, and so we believe that the soul is
the same thing in an animal as in a man, quite contrary to the reasonings
of metaphysics. And since God, in His Word, uses the same term for the
spirit in man as for another part of His creation, it is faith, and not
reasoning, which bows to His revelation. We simply give spirit the same
meaning throughout, whatever its manifestation may be. There is no figure.
To insist that spirit is spirit is not reasoning but revelation. So it is
with every part of man's composition in the lower spheres of the animal
kingdom. Body, blood, breath, etc., have one meaning in animals and in
man. So it is with spirit.
The fact that the human spirit has no consciousness apart from a body
should not enter into this question, for, in sleep, it has none even
with a body. And God has been pleased to explain death to us by means of
slumber. Consciousness is only one of the possible manifestations of the
spirit, and belongs to the soul. In death the spirit returns to God. In
resurrection and vivification it comes back to man. In the interval the
man is dead, but the elements of which he was composed still exist,
both matter and spirit. The matter is not used again, necessarily, for it
was continually being renewed even during life. In vivification there is a
vast change, this corruptible puts on incorruption and this mortal
immortality, but this is concerned with the body rather than with the
spirit. There is nothing to show that those who are alive become a
different spirit, or that the spirit that returned to God remains with
Him, or that it is altered, as is the case with the body.
The Scriptures do speak of a new spirit, but never in the literal sense
of displacing the human spirit in resurrection. Ezekiel twice speaks of
the new heart and the new spirit which will be given to Israel, and
explains it as the spirit of Jehovah (Ezek.18:31; 36:26,27). In
describing their spiritual resurrection it is again the spirit of Jehovah
(Ezek.37). Although it is not so expressed in the Scriptures, all who
receive the spirit of God may be said to have a "new" spirit. But let us
keep all such matters out of the present enquiry, for they deal with a
totally different phase of spirit manifestations. Neither let us bring in
the many figurative expressions, as the spirit of grace, or truth, etc.
These are not in point in the present investigation.
Thus mankind, in accord with the high counsels of God concerning it, may
be said to combine in itself all the grades of living creatures, from the
plants to the spirits, from the most elementary cell to the very highest
form, as in the Deity. Man partakes of plant life, of animal life, and of
the life of spirits. But the latter is largely future, when all are
vivified, and it is exemplified to the fullest extent only in the
celestial selection, those who form Christ's body. We may consider its
present state in humanity as an intermediate one. We are fitted to some
extent to be set over the lower creatures, for we have bodies and souls
like theirs. But, at present, we are beneath spirit beings, and cannot
take our place over them until we have been equipped with our new
habitations which are from the heavens.
BODY, SOUL, AND SPIRIT
It may be helpful to clarify the distinctions between
soul and spirit before going further. The great gulf between body and
spirit makes them antithetical in many ways, even if we consider matter as
a manifestation of energy, as scientists do in these days. Material
substance is tangible, and affects our senses. Spirit may not directly
affect our bodily sensations. Paul speaks of his being in Corinth in the
spirit and in the flesh. When he was there in flesh he could be seen and
heard. When with them in spirit they had no organs to perceive him. Only
indirectly, as they read his words with their eyes, or heard them read
with their ears, or recalled his bodily presence with their memories,
would his spiritual presence affect their thoughts and actions.
The distinction between soul and spirit is one of the most elusive there
is. Let us see if we cannot simplify it by a process of elimination. All
that is ours which is not matter or sensation is spirit. The problem is to
apprehend that which cannot be perceived. The body is perceptible, the
soul is perception itself, the spirit is imperceptible. That is why this
term is also used to include the spirit world. Thinking is essentially
unconscious, though it may be accompanied with sensations, either as cause
or effect. A terrifying noise goes through the spirit and produces a
sensation of fear. That thinking is essentially unconscious is evident
when we "act before we think." The consciousness of danger sometimes comes
after we have sought to evade it.
That the mind or spirit really operates without our knowledge or direction
is evident from the many vital functions which operate independently of
our will. In many the spirit is ceaselessly working to keep us alive. The
lungs, the heart, the digestion, the brain - all these go on when we sleep,
when our souls are not functioning, hence are due to vital energy, which
Life, and spirit, its source, lie far beneath our consciousness, so we may
recognize it only by its operation, where there is no sensation or will,
in our own bodies. If the spirit were conscious we would be aware of all
the vital organs and their movements. But life, as well as spirit, is not
consciousness. That is only an effect, limited to certain combinations.
Not only in sleep do the vital processes go on, but while we are awake our
consciousness is limited, like our sight and our hearing, to a certain
segment of the actual realm of life and motion. We do not see all there
is, but only as through a narrow slit. Neither do we hear all sounds. Some
are too low, others too high, for our ears. So it is with our spirit. We
are aware of only a fragment of it. The rest is hidden from us, or known
only from its effects. We can always be sure that where there is life
there must be spirit, even though there is nothing which makes any
impression on our senses.
In the resurrection we do not sow the body that shall be. God will give us
a different body. In contrast to this the spirit comes back when we awake
from death. Hence we are roused not merely sentient beings without any
connection with the past, but the same individuals as before, capable of
profiting from our experiences before death. Otherwise these would have no
value in God's great purpose.
"CONTINUITY" AND "IDENTITY"
The modern trend toward throwing doubt on the
resurrection by questioning the "continuity" of "identity," etc., is no
course for us to follow. It deals with the subject as if it were an
ordinary event in the course of nature, apart from the special
intervention of God. In that realm there is no resurrection, no rousing,
no vivification. It is found only in the realm of miracles, only where God
works a wonder. Once He is given His place, the difficulties disappear. I
am of the opinion that both "continuity" and "identity" (whatever they
really mean) are fully provided for in the spirit, which alone, of the two
constituents of humanity, has not suffered change and disintegration, and
which eventually attains the ascendancy, even as the body was the prime
constituent at first. Man's impermanence, weakness, corruption, and change
are all associated with his flesh. His permanence, power, glory, and
unchangeableness are all resident in his spirit.
Such questions as "continuity," "identity,"..."memory" in resurrection,
and the time when the spirit is imparted to human beings, are not at all
necessary to a knowledge of the truth. They are brought up here only
because modern scientific enquiry thinks they are vital to the "problem."
They are not definitely discussed in the Scriptures, hence it is not wise
to take them seriously, or make them a part of our faith. To faith they
are not "problems" at all, for resurrection, rousing, or vivification
imply identity, continuity, and memory. The injection of the prenatal life
of humanity, when the mother aids in the vital processes, as if it were
the life of the mother and not of the child, and as if the child had no
life, hence no spirit, before birth, should not and need not perplex. Life
is instantaneous. Its gradual development into independent and conscious
life is only a transitional process, which does not affect the truth of
Human life does not begin at birth, but at conception. It is always
distinct from that of the mother. Even before birth a child can die
without involving the death of its mother. It may act quite independently
as when John the Baptist jumped when Miriam saluted Elizabeth (Luke
1:41). And he was filled with holy spirit, quite independently of his
mother, even before his birth (Luke 1:15). Before birth and before
weaning, the vital functions are partly performed for humans by their
mothers, but this is quite a distinct matter from the importation of
spirit and life. A transitory process like this will not aid us in our
investigations, so is best left out of consideration.
FLESH AND BLOOD - FLESH AND BONES
The combination of flesh with blood seems to indicate
our present soulish body, that of flesh and bones the spiritual body. The
difference lies in the blood. This in turn involves much else, especially
the soul, for, at present, the soul is in the blood. It also involves the
whole method of sustaining and vitalizing the body, for both the air and
the food are carried to the members of the body by the blood. Not only did
our Saviour pour out His blood at His death for our sins, but He also
inaugurated a new mode of human life apart from blood at His vivification.
When Lazarus and others were raised the blood was still present and
resumed its usual functions. Not so when our Lord took back the life He
had laid down. The spirit vivified the identical body but not the blood
that had been shed. It was not needed. And the body normally seemed to
have powers which flesh and blood do not possess.
In contrast to the blood is the return of the spirit. The word return
has proven to be the key to the death state. So also the expression turn
back may be of the resurrection. Jairus' daughter had died. In recalling
her to life, we read that her spirit turned back (Luke 8:55). It
seems to be more than mere consciousness or life, but a personal essence
of which these are the tokens. It had left her body to return to God, but
was brought back by our Lord. This expression is well worth pondering on a
point where revelation is very reticent. Where evidence is scarce we must
make full use of it, and one intimation in the sacred text is worth more
than volumes from other sources. Figuratively the girl was only drowsing,
and soon awoke. Literally she was dead.
THE SPIRIT IN LIFE
There are many notable contrasts between the spirit and
the flesh in this life, as is evident from the strong moral tinge of their
respective adjectives, fleshly and spiritual. This is greatly
emphasized in redemption, for God, especially in this administration,
appeals almost exclusively to our spirits. The results, also, are mostly
confined to our spirits, even though our bodies (rather than our flesh)
are vitalized with its life in a slight degree. But in vivification spirit
is still more prominent, and flesh and blood is absent, even the body
becoming spiritual, though not spirit. If the place of spirit in life is
so different from that of the flesh, so that it often stands in contrast
to it, we should not expect it to share the fate of the flesh in death.
Nothing is said of its dissolution. There is no hint of corruption. It
does not go to the unseen, like the soul. The fact that it returns to the
Creator Himself is suggestive of its high honor even in the dishonor of
Though spirit is, perhaps, the most difficult subject for us humans to
comprehend, seeing that we are not spirits, yet even more perplexing is
spirit in a state of non-manifestation. We may be able to grasp somewhat
of spirit as it operates in us today, although we are so apt to confuse it
with soul. We may even have a measure of apprehension for the operation of
the spirit in vivification. But the interval between death and
vivification, while the body returns to the soil and the soul to the
unseen, from whence they came, seems to be an extraordinary tax upon our
mentality. Here it is better to distrust our own thoughts altogether and
allow a microscopical examination of the few divine allusions to the
spirit at this crisis to make their impression on our minds.
The spirit of our Lord is especially emphasized at His death. When He had
committed it to His Father (Luke 23:46), He lets it out
(Matt.27:50) and gives it up (John 19:30). Let us consider each of
these expressions carefully to see what we can glean from their meaning
The word commit is literally BESIDE-PLACE paratitheemi in Greek. In this
sense it is used by our Lord when He instructs His disciples to place the
fish and the cakes He had blessed before the throng (Mark 6:41; 8:6,7).
As a faded figure, however, it is used by Paul when he gave a charge to
Timothy (1 Tim.1:18). When speaking to the Ephesian elders at Miletus he
committed them to God and to the word of His grace (Acts 20:32). Peter
exhorts those who are suffering according to the will of God, to commit
their souls to a faithful Creator, in the doing of good (1 Peter 4:19).
Besides this, a slightly different form is used literally of the cakes
and fishes (Mark 8:6), of food (Luke 10:8; 11:6; Acts 16:34; 1
Cor.10:27), and figuratively of a parable (Matt.13:24,31), of
possessions (Luke 12:48), teaching (Acts 17:3), and of the
disciples to the Lord (Acts 14:23).
We would not commend our bodies to His care, for we know that they are
doomed to dissolution. No intelligent saint would commit his soul to God
in death, for he knows that it will return to the unseen. But the
Scriptures speak of the spirit in death as a matter which still persists
(although it does not live), and as a deposit to be left in the personal
care of God or of His Christ. Not knowing that consciousness is connected
with the soul, not with the spirit, it has been usual to use these facts
to prove a conscious intermediate state. The reaction from this has left
the spirit little more than the breath, which is lost and vanishes in the
air. The truth lies in between. The spirit is that part of humanity which
returns to God's special keeping, for in it lies the future of mankind and
of the individual, when he finally fulfills his destiny in the image of
God for which he was created.
It will be seen from this that, in the faded, figurative usage of the
word, matters of special value, which are exposed to danger, are committed
to those who are to protect and preserve them. The elders at Ephesus had
among their number men who would draw disciples after themselves. What
could Paul do about it? The only powers which could guard the rest against
this course are God Himself and the word of His grace. In Peter, the souls
of the saints are in danger. They are liable to persecution. Their Creator
alone can guard their souls, and they can do their part by doing good. So,
like the Lord's spirit in death, the Ephesian saints, and the souls of
Peter's readers, are committed to God, for His safekeeping.
It would be well for us to meditate much on the fact that Christ committed
His spirit to God. He did not commit Himself, or His body, or His
soul (as most of His followers would do today). His body was committed
to the tomb, where men could see it and guard it. His soul entered hades,
the imperceptible, hence all sensation and consciousness vanished in
oblivion. But we cannot help having the impression that the spirit was a
treasure which was guarded by God. The Scriptures leave with us the
impression that the spirit still exists (not lives or is conscious)
a treasure to be kept by God Himself until resurrection or vivification.
GIVE UP AND LET OUT
The other expressions used point in the same direction.
It would be unintelligent to commit the soul to God for there is no
sensation. It is only in a very effective and self-evident figure that it
is said to be in the imperceptible, or the unseen, for these are terms
which denote oblivion. So also nothing is said of giving up the soul or
letting out the soul, but this is predicated of the spirit. Our Lord
Himself had been given up, a short time before, by Pilate (John 19:16).
Always there must be some object to be given up or let out. It denotes the
parting with some possession, the emergence of something which has been
The case of our Lord may have been exceptional, so it is well that we
have the corroboration of Stephen, when he died. As they were pelting him
with stones, he said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts 7:59)! That
the Lord would receive him in resurrection was clear enough to Stephen.
That He did not receive his body is also evident. And so with his soul.
There is evidently a sense in which the spirit is "received" by the Lord
while the soul sleeps and the body decays.
THE TWO WITNESSES
A very notable instance of the return to life is given
us in the account of the two witnesses. We read that "spirit of life out
of God entered into them and they stand on their feet." In the phrase
"spirit of life," the word life is a metonymy, which shows the source of
the life, that is, the spirit which imparts life. It is remarkable also
that it is not the spirit of God, but a spirit out of God,
evidently their own spirits which had returned to God in death, entering
their bodies once more. This fully confirms the fact that, in death, the
human spirit is in God's keeping in such a way that it returns in
In death the three human factors return whence they came. But there is a
great difference between their sources, as also that to which they return.
Two are impersonal. One is personal. The body comes from the soil and goes
back to it. It is soil like any other soil. The same substance may, at
different times, be a part of the tissue of two or more person. The soul
is even more vague. Out of oblivion it comes and into the imperceptible it
returns. As we have seen, the breath seems to sustain the spirit, as food
from the soil does the body. But the spirit is not breath by any means,
and does not return to the air. It comes from God, and returns to Him.
It is not merely a portion of power taken from the great universal
reservoir of energy, and poured back into it again. In man it comes from
the Deity. Here the creature contacts the Creator. It returns to the great
Father of Spirits. Lacking life and consciousness, yet it has existence,
and, in one case, returned to a lifeless body and brought it back to
life. Hence we may commend it to His keeping at the approach of death.
In vivification God will give us a far more glorious body than we now
possess. Nothing like this is said of our spirit. It is not in the same
class with the flesh. The disposition of the spirit is life and peace
(Rom.8:6). The change in vivification (Rom.8:11) is not due to our
spirit, but to the homing of God's spirit in us. Even in our mortal
bodies, we have an earnest of His spirit, and it brings us a foretaste of
future vivification, when we use our members to please God. And it is by
the power of His spirit that our bodies will be transformed and glorified,
not our own. In this way will God be All in us. Hence there is no need to
change our spirits, or give them power or glory. The spirit of God in us
will be the source of continuous and unceasing strength, splendor, and
delight. Our own spirits will be welded with His, no longer dragged in the
dust by the death-dealing flesh, but raised to the highest heights by
association with the life-giving spirit of God.
When the spirit is supreme our humiliation will be past. Our vitality will
be so vast, we will be so vibrant with life, that incorruption,
deathlessness, power, and glory will be as marked as corruption,
mortality, weakness, and shame are now. And all will be brought about by
simply imparting the spirit without measure. There is a close analogy
between life and salvation. Physical life, like Israel's salvation, is a
combination of works and grace. The spirit was given, yet it must be
exercised. But the grace we now have is all of God, without any works of
ours, so is like the fullness of the spirit and the life that is to be. It
is simply God, by His spirit, becoming our All. No longer will we derive
power, life, spirit from Him in driblets, through hindering channels, but
we will bask directly in the beneficent beams of His irradiating spirit.
Mankind, to be human, must have a body. It cannot be changed into a
formless spirit and remain humanity, or fulfill its functions in God's
purpose. But hitherto the body has been a means of its humiliation and
degradation. In the future the spirit will be the cause of its rise and
exaltation. Now the spirit is suppressed and defeated. In the future it
will be untrammeled and victorious. May this glimpse of its future
permanence and power and supremacy help us in our present life to give it
the place supreme!
Keenly conscious of the vastness of this theme, compared with our limited
apprehension, we place these suggestive thoughts before our friends, and
urge them to test all by the inspired Scriptures, where alone we find the
truth in its purity.