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Man and the Spiritual World


An Important Question.

What is Man?—The Bible's Testimony.

In endeavouring to ascertain the answer of Scripture to the question, 'What will become of us when we die?' common sense suggests that we should start the inquiry by asking what the Bible has disclosed as regards the nature and constitution of man. Is he physical and nothing more, or is he a combination of physical and spiritual? Does his manhood include nothing that can escape the extinguishment of death, or is there in him something that cannot be physically dissolved?

Here is a problem closely connected with our future, and I think it impossible to adequately conceive of what we shall be, until we have distinctly grasped the idea of what we are.

'What is man?' asked David long ago, and from that time all the thinkers of the ages have been trying to answer the Psalmist's question aright. Let us see what the Bible has to say on this preliminary point.

Now, St Paul's definition of man as 'spirit, soul and body' (2 Thess. v. 23 v.), is commonly accepted by Christians as the correct one. And correct it undoubtedly is, if the terms used by the Apostle be made to cover the whole truth concerning our being and constitution in a way that will harmonise with facts recorded in Scripture, and with super-physical experiences that mankind has had before and since the epochs referred to by the Bible.

But, unfortunately, the whole truth as to our being has by no means always been brought out by writers who have dealt with the subject. Sometimes a very great deal of that truth has not even been hinted at, and hundreds of pious authors seem not to have had the faintest idea of a fact concerning man's interior being, which is clearly disclosed by Scripture.

Take an all-important case in point, viz., man's possession of a Spirit-body, which is encased, during the earth-life, within his physical body. The existence of such a body (as we shall show later) is plainly taught by Scripture.

We contend, therefore, that no explanation of St Paul's terms can possibly be satisfactory that does not cover that fact, unless we are prepared to think that the Apostle denied or suppressed a great elementary truth recognised and taught by Christ and St Paul's contemporaries.

Again, we often find that a writer starts with the acceptance of this three-fold description, and ends by practically treating man as if he were only two-fold. After having read the book of such a writer, how often has the only impression left upon one's mind been that man is a material body plus a shapeless and mysterious something, which latter may be named 'Spirit' or 'Soul,' as we please.

But depend upon it that St Paul, in so close connection with the great Truth-Revealer, and also himself having had so unique an experience of the Spiritual World, had more than this in his mind when he penned the words, 'spirit, soul and body.' He never intended that 'spirit' and 'soul' should be interchangeable terms.

Further, let me say that I do not think we shall obtain the Bible's answer to 'What is man?' by any amount of acquaintance with the learned and subtle expositions of the terms to which we are referring. Thousands of volumes have been written on the subject, but few of them have contributed much to anything like a solution of the problem of being. Those of the most scholarly writers bewilder the reader rather than explain the matter to him. I remember once hearing of a devout old woman, to whom a copy of Bunyan's Pilgrim’s Progress, with elaborate notes, had been given. When she was afterwards asked if she had understood the book, her reply was, 'Oh, yes, I understand the book well enough, and one day, by the grace of God, I hope to understand the notes.'

I am inclined to think that many are in the position of that old woman. It is far easier to understand the truth about ourselves from the Bible alone than it is to gather it from the expositions of the commentators.

These expositions, no doubt, have their value, in spite of their tendency to enwrap the subject in obscurity. They confirm us in the belief that something belonging to us survives the incident of dying; but they hardly do more. If they conduct us to a point already reached by thousands who never read theological essays, most of them take us no further,

They contribute very little to any definite idea of what we shall be when the material part of us shall 'return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return unto God Who gave it.'

In a word, the usual dissertations on 'spirit' and 'soul' have too much the character of abstraction ever to be instructive to the great mass of the Christian laity. What we are all seeking is not an abstract, but a concrete idea of ourselves in our complexity of being. Is this concrete idea obtainable? I think it is if we grasp the import of certain super-physical facts recorded 'for our learning' in the Bible, and remember, moreover, that those facts are not peculiar to one age, but have pertained to all ages.

On the other hand, I do not think any concrete idea of ourselves is possible if those facts and their import be ignored.

My task, therefore, is a comparatively simple one. It is to try and show what man is, in the light of the facts of the Scripture, apart from any abstruse definition of the terms 'spirit' and 'soul.' If I use these words (and it is all but impossible not to use them in connection with this subject), it will be for convenience sake.

I believe that the Bible's disclosures concerning our nature may be understood better without, than with, the technicalities of the schools. The gold of Divine truth may lie nearer the surface of the written Word than many may have supposed.

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Other Books by Rev. Chambers:

"Thoughts of the Spiritual" (1905 American Edition)
"Problems of the Spiritual" (1907 UK Edition)

Rev. Arthur Chambers Returns From "Death" To Speak Through The Zodiac Circle
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