THERE are two basic conceptions of man’s origin. One brings him upward from the brute—the ascent of man. The other takes him downward from God—the descent of man. One gives him ascent from the ape; the other, descent from the Creator. I waste time on the first. Why should I seek to disprove what no man has ever proved or can ever prove?

The truth regarding man’s origin is recorded in the oldest book in Scripture, Job. It agrees exactly with the next oldest book, Genesis. Both books are a part of the inspired revelation God has made to men. The words in Job are: “The spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life.” Job 33:4.

Worthy of closest consideration are the words which God gave Moses to write in describing the creation of man. They are: “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.” Genesis 2:7.

We rightly make much of ancestry. It makes a difference what stock a man comes from. We judge more accurately of one’s prospects and possibilities when we know his ancestry. For a man to have a king for his father is an honor. For him to be the son of a distinguished person brings respect and opens possibilities denied to those of more obscure ancestry.

It is a satisfaction, therefore, when glancing over the family records to be able to trace ancestry back to the most August origin in the universe. The Creator of mankind is God.

Five days of creation were occupied with the preparation of a dwelling and a laboratory for man. Then God came to the greatest work of all, the masterpiece of His creation. When the earth was to be fashioned, and the ocean poured into its basin; and the mountains sculptured, and the skies stretched out, and the great orbs made to give light, God simply said, "Let them be," and they were.

The Image of God

But when man was to be created, a solemn pause seemed to ensue; and the Godhead went into solemn council, searched for a model, and found it in Himself, and said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him.” Genesis 1:26, 27.

Examine again the processes He employed in bringing man into existence. The record is that He “formed man of the dust of the ground.” The record continues that He then “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” The result was that the “man became a living soul.”

In this ancient and inspired record the creation of man is described in two distinct stages. In each of these he is spoken of, and with accuracy as well as significance, as man even though his condition in these two stages is widely different.

The first stage is the creation of the organized body and figure in a lifeless and unconscious state. “God formed man of the dust of the ground.” We see a figure, a shape, a body, recumbent on the ground, lifeless and thoughtless. Nevertheless this figure, this body, is “man.” There can be no dispute. God tells us so Himself. It was man, before he could think, or feel, or breathe.

It is most important that this point be clearly seen and understood. Here is what man originally was. Here is all that we can truly and rightly claim as our own. Here is our original. It is not much. It is dust. And yet it is “man.” Man did not become man after the breath of life was breathed into him; he was man before. He was man when he had no life.

Out of Dust, and Dust Alone

The record does not declare that God formed man out of dust and spirit or out of dust and soul. No, out of dust, and dust only. Man now has soul and spirit, but the time was when he had neither, and yet was “man.” And the plain implication is that the time may come when he will be deprived of both soul and spirit, and yet that which remains, bereft of both soul and spirit, is still “man.”

It is important that this receive emphasis and be clearly understood now. All subsequent scriptures dealing with this point of man’s nature insist on this same truth. Thus, after man had sinned, and God came to him to pronounce his doom, it is reiterated in even fuller terms. God told Adam that he would “return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” Genesis 3:19.

This is the teaching that persists throughout all Scripture. When death has taken place, when soul and spirit have left the body, when the body has returned to that original condition which it had before God breathed into it the breath of life, this body, bereft of all life and thought and feeling and consciousness, is still regarded in Scripture as the man.

Men have been falsely taught that in death the body is like a garment laid aside from use, or a house abandoned, a tenement of clay, while the wearer of the garment and the dweller in the house, that is, the soul, the real man, has gone elsewhere.

This is most certainly not the position taken, or the truth taught, in the Bible. Indeed, it is exactly the opposite of the Scripture teaching. There the body, dead and lifeless though it be, is looked on as—the man.

Whenever burial is mentioned throughout the Scriptures, invariably it states that Sarah, or Abraham, or Jacob, or Moses, or others, as the case may be, are buried in the grave. (Genesis 25:10; 49:31; 1 Kings 13:31; Acts 2:29; 1 Corinthians 15:4.)

The Scriptures never use language comparable to that found on memorial gravestones or heard in many funeral sermons. In these it is taught that all that is mortal of the deceased lies in the grave, but he himself has gone elsewhere.

In Scripture the person, the individual, the man, he who was once alive and is now dead, is always spoken of as lying in the grave.

Of the many instances of this recorded in Scripture, two are to be studied. The widow woman of Zarephath lost her son by death. (1 Kings 17:17-19.) Breath, spirit, soul, life, consciousness—all left the body. Only a corpse remained, colorless, rigid, lifeless. Nevertheless, the prophet regarded this lifeless figure as still the widow’s son. He said to her, “Give me thy son. And he took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into a loft, and laid him upon his own bed.” The dead body was regarded by the prophet as the man.

In exactly the same way the Lord spoke of Lazarus, His friend, who died. (John 11:34-44.) He did not think of Lazarus as somewhere else, in heaven or hell or purgatory. He thought of him as in the grave. “Where have ye laid him?” The standers-by pointed to the grave. And over the grave the Lord of life stood and spoke to Lazarus. “He cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth! And he that was dead came forth.”

The Scriptures Our Teacher

If one is willing to take the Scripture itself as his teacher, he will observe throughout that man in his origin was made of earth as were all the lower creatures; that any true understanding of man must include the absolute essentiality of his body; that no later addition of spirit or soul, whatever meaning may be attached to these terms, can possibly supersede or set aside this original and true idea of man; that as soul and spirit were once disassociated from man, that is, before God had given them to man, so they may again be disassociated from man, and man remain; that man may return to his original condition before he had either soul or spirit, and the dead body they have left is still the man, the person, the self.

Whether the consciousness of man will continue after death depends entirely upon what effect death may have upon those things which produce consciousness. If death destroys those things which result in consciousness, then consciousness itself is destroyed by death. If death has no effect upon them, and they continue their activities regardless of death, then consciousness continues in death.

What produces consciousness? Is it the result of the organization of man’s physical structure, which death dissolves; or is it the result of the working of forces outside of himself, upon which death has no effect?

Spirit Returns to God

A passage of the Bible which is used perhaps more than any other to prove that the soul is immortal and that the dead are conscious is that found in Ecclesiastes 12:7. It reads: “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” It is assumed that this spirit which returns to God is conscious and that, therefore, consciousness in death is proved by this verse. But this is assumption and nothing more.

And this verse proves more than that the spirits of the righteous dead go at once to heaven, which doctrine it is commonly used to prove. It proves that the spirits of all go to heaven regardless of their condition, and thus can be made the basis of the teaching of universal salvation. The whole chapter in which it occurs is speaking, not of the righteous, but of all mankind, without any reference at all to their personal relation to God.

The chapter opens with that familiar exhortation to “remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth,” and goes on to give reasons why this should be done by graphically describing the infirmities of old age and the ultimate dissolution of the body at death. All are admonished to remember their Creator in youth before “the evil days come” and “the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them”; before the days come “when the keepers of the house shall tremble” (before the hands and arms are palsied with age) ; “and the strong men shall bow themselves” (when the knees bend with the weight of years) ; “and the grinders cease because they are few” (the teeth decay and fall out) ; “and those that look out of the windows be darkened” (the eyesight fails) ; “and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low” (the vocal cords are impaired) ; “when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish” (the hair becomes white as the almond tree in full bloom) ; “and the grasshopper shall be a burden” (every little thing is magnified into great importance); “and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets.” It is then, at the dissolution produced by death, that it is said, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” This is speaking of all men, not of the good alone. The spirits of all will go to God at death.

How God Created Man

This verse points us very clearly back to the time when man was made. From the language employed in it, it is plain that man at death returns to the same condition that he was in before he was made alive, or before he was created. At death the dust shall return to the earth “as it was.” And then the spirit shall return to God “who gave it.” We are referred back to the time of creation in order that we may know ‘what the condition of man in death is. We may also observe the method used by the Creator to bring man into existence.

First, He formed the man, and the material He used was “the dust of the ground.” Then, He breathed into that lifeless form “the breath of life.” As a result the “man became a living soul.” It is not so complicated a matter as we may have been led to believe, but a very simple procedure.

This story of the creation is received with an incredulous smile in certain quarters, and is held by some who profess to accept the teachings of the Bible to be one of the many familiar fables of the early world and wholly destitute of historical reality. It is not my purpose to review the objections which are urged against it, or to notice the numerous hypotheses which have been offered in its place, or even to enter into any defense of its truth. Suffice it to say that it is a part, and a very important and integral part, of the Sacred Scriptures, which I hold as the Word of God. It is accepted as true in other parts of the Bible, and by Jesus Himself. Arguing on the very question now being discussed, Paul, in Romans and Corinthians, assumes the story of creation to be a true narrative. To do the same is surely safe. When the wise men who reject this narrative present another which has a better claim upon our faith, and upon which they can themselves agree, it will be time enough to revise our faith in the Bible. This book is written for those who, like myself, acknowledge the divine authority of the Bible, with the hope that we may come to see eye to eye upon this one of its great fundamentals.

The record is that God created man in His own image and after His own likeness. There is no thought here that man was equal to his Maker in the attributes of His infinite nature—assuredly not in God’s chiefest attribute, that of independent existence. In the very nature of the case this was impossible. Man was not made omnipotent or omnipresent or omniscient or self-existent. But there was conferred upon him the dignity of exercising a free will, the power of intelligent action, the authority to, exercise dominion in that earthly sphere in which he was placed, and the faculty of knowing, loving, and obeying his Creator. Just as he was dependent on God for his original endowments, so he was also dependent on God for a continuance of his life and all that he possessed.

The Verse Analyzed

An analysis of the passage containing the inspired account of the creation of man (which was quoted previously) will reveal a number of very significant things. “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.”

The materials chosen by God of which to make man were not superior in any way to the materials of which he had previously made other earthly creatures and things. These also were made “of the dust of the ground.”

It appears from this passage also that the first man was fully created and completed, as far as his physical form was concerned, before he began to live. “God formed man of the dust of the ground.”

After he was completely formed, there lacked nothing of making him a living man, or a “living soul,” but “the breath of life.” When this was breathed into him by his Maker, the “man became a living soul.” This “breath of life” is that which man breathed in common with all other animals. This breath is represented as having been given to the beasts as well as to man; and, therefore, the beasts are also said to be “living souls.” (Genesis 1:30, margin; Revelation 16:3; Genesis 7:22.) In Dr. Lange’s Commentary, under 1 Corinthians 15:45, these remarks are made:

“The expression living soul, as used in Genesis, is often taken to indicate an order of being superior to the brute, and is the text of many an argument to prove the immortality of the soul. The incorrectness of this assumption will be readily seen by referring to Genesis 1:20, 21, 24, and elsewhere, in which passages the words translated ‘living soul’ are applied also to the entire lower creation. They are used indifferently of man and beast to express animal life in general; and it is in this light the apostle uses them as the very course of his argument shows. Adam is spoken of as a living soul, not to prove his immortality, but rather his mortality.”

It should also be noticed that there is no record in this verse that God thrust a living soul into this lifeless body, nor is it said that he created a living soul within the body as something apart from it. It is said only that as a result of the breathing into his nostrils the breath of life, the whole man became a living soul. The sense in which this term “soul” is used, that is, as a spiritual essence which can live apart from the body, is not known in the Scriptures.

Witnessing the Creation

Now it is evident that the creation of this first man came about in this way. God speaks, and of the “dust of the ground” a form is made. It is the form of a man. It is perfect in symmetry and complete in all its parts. All its organs are there, but it is lifeless. Its brain is ready to think, but it is not acting. Its heart is ready to beat, but it is not beating. Its blood is ready to flow, but it is not flowing. There is no intelligence, no thought, no knowledge, no wisdom, no memory, no consciousness. This is so because there is no life. In a short time this lifeless body is to become “a living soul.” Now it is a lifeless soul.

No one will contend that there was any consciousness in this body as it lay there without life. No one believes that consciousness was produced from “the dust of the ground.”

Now into the nostrils of the lifeless form the Creator breathes the vital “breath of life.” Immediately the man is a living soul. The brain leaps into inst6nt action. Its heart begins to beat. The blood flows through the veins. It now has intelligence, power of thought, knowledge, consciousness. And it has all this because it now has life.

The Origin of Consciousness

Consciousness has been produced. But how did it come? It did not reside in the body, “the dust of the ground.” Was it present, then, in the “breath of life”? No, for then it would have been present before the breath of life ever came into the body, and that would teach the pre-existence of the soul as well as its immortality. Surely no one will maintain that consciousness exists in the breath which men breathe, for then consciousness would be in the “nostrils” into which God breathed the “breath of life.”

If the consciousness was not in the “dust of the ground,” the body, or in the “breath of life,” where, then, did the consciousness come from? It is at once obvious to all that the consciousness was produced as a result of the union of the “breath of life” with “the dust of the ground,” or body. There was no consciousness either in the body or in the breath before these two were united; but when the “breath of life” was breathed into the body, that union created a consciousness.

Therefore, let it be forever settled that consciousness depends solely and altogether upon the union of the breath with the body. When that union does not exist, whatever may remain, it is certain that consciousness does not remain.

Death Results in Unconsciousness

Now let us reverse this process. The man approaches the time as described in the last chapter of Ecclesiastes, when this "breath of life" is to be withdrawn, and the elements of his body are to be dissolved into dust. His last breath leaves his body; his heart ceases to beat; his brain ceases to act; his blood ceases to flow; his power of thought is gone; there is no intelligence, no knowledge. What has become of his consciousness? It, too, is gone. All the processes of sensitive, conscious life are at an end. And the organism itself immediately begins to fall into ruin, and the body, to dissolve into the dust from which it came. “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was.”

As the consciousness depends on the breath being united with the body, it follows that when this union is broken up and the breath is separated from the body, the consciousness is destroyed, and there is no consciousness in death.

The “spirit” which returns to God, therefore, is but the breath which God “gave.” The constituent elements of the man are broken up, the dust returning from whence it came, and the breath also returning to Him “who gave it.”

But there is no consciousness in this “spirit,” or “breath of life,” which returns to God. The consciousness was destroyed when the breath separated from the body. This verse, therefore, does not teach consciousness in death.

Scriptural Teaching

This is not merely a personal theory. This is just what the Scriptures say. “Thou sendest forth thy spirit [Hebrew ruach—breath], they are created.” Psalm 104:30. “Thou takest away their breath [the same word, ruach], they die, and return to their dust.” Verse 29.

And again: “His breath [ruach] goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” Psalm 146:4. His consciousness is gone. And again : “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 [ruach]; so that [in this respect] a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast.” Ecclesiastes 3:19.

That breath and spirit are the same will also be seen by reading Job 27:3: “All the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God [margin, the breath which God gave him] is in my nostrils”; and Job 33: 4: “The spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life.” Read also the first fourteen verses of the thirty-seventh chapter of Ezekiel.

Following the formation of man out “of the dust of the ground” the Creator did a second thing. He “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” The result was that “man became a living soul.”

At first man had been a beautifully fashioned and wonderfully organized, but lifeless, figure. By a second act of the Creator this lifeless figure became a living soul. Here is the record, not alone of what he became, but the process of how he became a living soul.

Into the nostrils of the lifeless body God breathed the breath of life. A marvelous effect followed. The lifeless body became a living body, a living man, a living soul. The inanimate became instinct with animation. The frame of man was no longer lifeless. It became full of life. Man was no longer soulless. He was a living soul. Each part of him was instinct with life, soul, animation. The brain, the heart, lungs, limbs, each sense and each minutest or least important part was, in its measure and degree, living. Man became something he was not before. That something was life, the soul, the animation, which the in breathing of the breath of life imparted to him.

To some degree it is plain both what man originally was, and what he subsequently became. He was originally earth, as lifeless as any clod of earth. Into this earth entered the breath of life.

The earth did not cease to be earth. It became, however, what it was not before, full of life. It possessed an attribute it did not before have, namely, a soul. The breath of life was not the soul; it was not the body; it was the producer of the soul as being the quickener of the body. The union of two things, earth and breath, served to create a third thing, soul. The continued existence of the soul depended wholly upon the continued union of breath and body. When that union is broken and the breath separates from the body, as it does at death, the soul ceases to exist.

Man’s Tripartite Nature

In this way human nature became what is not improperly called “tripartite.” Man is still the original man made of earth. Into this earth is breathed the breath of life. As a consequence the man becomes a living soul. He has body, spirit, soul.

Although in this fashion man becomes truly tripartite, it is true that he is not all of this of and by himself. This that he has become is not essentially his. All he can claim as essentially his is his earthly origin from dust. What he has become depends for its continuance upon God. It was imparted by God. It may be withdrawn by God. When it is so withdrawn, man reverts to his original condition, dust.

With the withdrawal of the breath of life from the body the living soul ceases to be. He becomes again the lifeless figure he was at first. He is dust, and only dust. He no longer has spirit; he is no longer a living soul. The divine object of his first creation, life for a definite purpose, is gone. God no longer thinks it worth while to preserve the form and figure, however beautiful, or the organization, however wonderful and perfect. The organization disintegrates; the figure crumbles into its essential dust. The death of man resulting from the withdrawal of the breath of life is followed by the destruction and disorganization of his form and shape.

How clear it is that our dependence is in God alone for life. We have no life of our own; we cannot exist unless God gives us life. Our dependence must be placed in Him, not only for the “life everlasting,” but momentarily, that the breath which we now breathe out may be placed back into our bodies. “In him we live, and move, and have our being.” The whole tendency of the teaching that man has life in himself, the natural immortality of the soul, is to lead men away from the great source of life, and cause them to place their dependence in themselves; the tendency of the teaching of the Bible is to cause men to place their trust in Him “in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.”

Read Chapter Six

Life, Death, and Immortality—Index

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