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Man’s Nature and Destiny

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    09 WHO KNOWETH?

    WITH these words Solomon 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 the spirit of the beast 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.MND 66.2

    Here they rest their argument; but we would like to have them proceed; for the text speaks of the spirit 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. 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 for our friends, and they must abandon it.MND 67.1

    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 already noticed. The beast has the same “spirit” that man has.MND 67.2

    Landis (p.146) feels the weight of the stunning blow which this fact gives to the popular view, and endeavors to parry its force by the following desperate resort: He says that Solomon is here describing the state of doubt and perplexity he attributes “to both man and beast a ruahh.” But he says that Solomon got over this state of doubt and uncertainty, and “never again attributed a ruahh to “beasts.” In other words, 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 page as a part of inspiration! But before he got through the book, he experienced a change of heart, and then (chap 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.MND 67.3

    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.MND 68.1

    But, further, if this text asserts that the spirit of man goes up to God, it will be noticed 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 chapter 7 of this work.MND 68.2

    To arrive, however, at the correct meaning of Ecclesiastes 3:21, a brief examination of the context is necessary. In verse l8 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 [ruahhz, 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 beasts alike, go there?], all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.”MND 68.3

    Thus definite and positive is the teaching of Solomon that, in respect to their 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.MND 69.1

    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 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 descent downward?” The Septuagint, the Vulgate, the Chaldee Paraphrase, the Syriac, and the German of Luther, give the same reading.MND 70.1

    This puts the matter in quite a different light, and saves Solomon from self-contradiction; but, alas for the immaterialist! it completely overturns the structure of immortality built thereon.MND 70.2

    The notion prevailed in the heathen world that man’s spirit ascended up to be with the gods, but the spirit of the beast 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 this by stating the truth in the case, 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.MND 70.3

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