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Spirit and Soul and Body

by H. A. Ironside (1876-1951)

"I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus" (1 Thess. 5:23).

H A IronsideBecause God has existed from all eternity as one ineffable Being in three glorious Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—all co-equal in majesty, power, and all attributes—we speak of Him as "the Trinity." The word itself is not found in the pages of Holy Scripture, but the fact is again and again declared, and perhaps nowhere more strikingly than in the formula of Christian baptism: "Baptizing them unto the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit." Observe, not the names, as though they were three Beings, but the Name—the three are one.

Because man was created as one person in three parts we speak of him as tripartite. He is spirit and soul and body. The body alone is not man; the soul alone is not man; the spirit alone is not man; but spirit and soul and body together constitute man. It is my purpose on this occasion to inquire what Scripture teaches as to the meaning of these terms.

It is hardly necessary to say much about the body; that is the material part of man, and is his link with the material creation as a whole. The body is the house in which the inward man dwells. In its present condition it is subject to decay and death; but there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust, when the bodies of the saved and the lost will be reused from the dead. In their resurrected material bodies the saints will stand at the judgment seat of Christ to be rewarded according to the deeds done in the body; and the wicked, reused a thousand years later, will stand at the Great White Throne to be judged according to their deeds.

It may be well to turn back to the first page of our Bibles and notice how in the beginning we have a three-fold creation: that is, three times in this wonderful first chapter of Genesis God is said to have "created." In verse one we read, "God created the heaven and the earth." Here you have the origin of matter. We never read of a second creation of anything material. All the matter in the universe is formed out of that which was then created.

In verse 21 we have a second creative act: "God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth;" or as better rendered, "Every being that hath a living soul." Here is the origin of life. Scripture knows nothing of life spontaneously generated from dead matter. It differentiates absolutely between the non-living and the living. By no possible process of evolution could the non-living ever become the living. Therefore, if dependent life is to come into the universe, God must act anew as Creator.

Soul, as we shall see, is that which is common both to the lower animals and to man. It is the natural life with all its capabilities of passions, emotions and instincts. The soul of the animal dies when the body dies; with the soul of man it is otherwise, being linked with his spirit.

I remember some years ago I was in the town of Los Gatos in California, having a series of meetings. A Seventh-day Adventist was lecturing there at the same time, in a large tent. As I passed the tent one day I noticed a very imposing sign on one side. In large letters I read:

"I will give $10,000.00 United States Gold Coin, to any one who will produce a text from the Bible that speaks of an immortal soul."

I went inside to find the lecturer. He was there dusting the seats. I said, "I have come to see you, sir, about the sign outside." "Oh," he replied, agreeably enough,"you have come to collect the $10,000; have you?" "No," I answered, "I am afraid I cannot claim it on your terms." "You admit then," he replied, "that the Bible nowhere speaks of an immortal soul." I acknowledged this without hesitation. Then I asked, "Because the Bible nowhere speaks of an immortal soul, do you therefore believe that the soul of man is mortal?" "Certainly," he answered; "undoubtedly if the Bible never speaks of an immortal soul, the soul must be mortal."

I drew his attention to the fact that just as the Bible does not mention an immortal soul, neither does it ever speak of a mortal soul. I pointed out that, arguing from his standpoint, it was just as reasonable to say that the soul of man is not mortal, since the Bible never mentions a mortal soul. But I went on, "If I can produce a scripture that declares the soul is not killed when the body is killed, will you give me the $10,000? For, I suppose, by an immortal soul you mean a soul that lives when the body dies."

He at once began to hedge, and said, "It might be a question of interpretation," and I saw that my chances of earning the $10,000 were exceedingly slim. However, I produced the passage. You will find it in Matthew 10: 28. There our Lord says, "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul." Manifestly, a soul that cannot be killed when the body is killed must be what we mean when we speak of "an immortal soul." The Adventist was taken aback for the moment, but though silenced, refused to part with the $10,000. The fact is that in Scripture the actual words, "mortal" and "immortal," are only used in reference to the body. The mortal body becomes immortal if the believer lives on earth until the return of the Lord from heaven.

Turning again to Genesis, chap. 1, we have a third act of creation. In verse 27 we read: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created He them." Why the need of this distinctive creative act if man is simply an evolution from the animals beneath him? The fact is that by no possibility could creatures possessing only body and soul have become possessed of a thinking, reasoning spirit, unless it were communicated by God Himself. It is this that lifts man above all else in God's creation. If you turn to Zechariah 12:1, you will read, "The burden of the word of the LORD for Israel, saith the LORD, which stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him." Observe that the formation of the human spirit is there viewed as though it were as great a work as the stretching forth of the heavens and the creation of the earth. Does not this give us some idea of its importance in the mind of God?

Now just what is the spirit in man? Perhaps the clearest passage in the Bible is found in 1 Cor. 2:11: "For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God." Here the spirit of man is shown to be the seat of intelligence. It is by the spirit man knows; it is the spirit that reasons. It is the spirit that receives instruction from God. Several other scriptures will help to make this clear. Romans 8:16: "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." Rom. 1:9: "God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son." Job 32:8: "There is a spirit in man; and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding." Notice that understanding is received by the spirit through divine inspiration. Proverbs 18:14: "The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity, but a wounded spirit who can bear?" Prov. 20:27: "The spirit of man is the candle of the LORD, searching all the inward parts of the belly;" that is, illuminating the man's inward being. God illuminates the man by communicating His truth to the spirit. We might quote many other scriptures, but these will suffice as they clearly emphasize the case in point. It is the spirit that thinks; it is the spirit that weighs evidence; the spirit is that part of the man to which God, who is Himself a Spirit, communicates His mind.

At death the spirit leaves the body. This, in fact, is what death is—the separation of body and spirit. "As the body without the spirit is dead" (James 2:16); "so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone" (James 2:17).

We have already seen that when the body of the beast dies, the soul, which is linked with its body, dies too; that is the end of its existence. But when the body of the man dies, his spirit leaves the body, whether the person is saved or unsaved. "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit return to God who gave it" (Eccles. 12:7). Leaving the earthly tenement behind, the spirit goes into the unseen world and has to do with the God who created it. This is alike true of the saved and the lost. Both have to give account to God.

Materialists insist that the spirit is but the breath; they point to the fact that in both the Hebrew and the Greek languages the words for "breath," "wind," and "spirit" are the same, and they insist that therefore in each instance the word may be translated "breath" with impunity. However, it is well for us to remember that even in English the word "spirit" has a number of meanings, according to the connection in which it is used, and these meanings cannot be confounded without doing violence to the language. We speak of a man of spirit, and we mean of decision of purpose and of energy. We speak of a spirit, and we mean a wraith or a ghost. The context determines the meaning of the word. The best way to find out whether the spirit of man is simply the breath of the man is to try translating for ourselves. Substitute the word "breath" in the various passages we have already quoted, and see if it fits. "I pray God that your breath may be preserved blameless" (1 Thess. 5:23)—will that do? We all agree that a blameless breath is desirable, but can any one think the apostle speaks of such a thing here? Again, "What man knoweth the things of a man save the breath of a man that is in him?" Whoever heard of an intelligent breath? Nor is it the "breath" of the man that is the candle of the Lord; neither does the Spirit of God bear witness with our "breath" that we are children of God, and Paul's service in the gospel was far more than service with his "breath." I do not want to amuse nor try to be humorous, but it is necessary sometimes to show how ridiculous such fantastic theories are, to show that they refute themselves.

What then shall we say of the soul in man? That it is not to be confounded with the spirit, our opening text makes plain. The use of the copulative "and" between spirit and soul emphasizes this. In Hebrews 4:12 we read:

"The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."

Here we learn that God's Word distinguishes between soul and spirit. It does not separate them, for the two are never separated, either in life or in death. The spirit is the higher part of the unseen man: that part, as we have already seen, to which the Spirit of God speaks. The soul is the lower part of the unseen man, and is the link between the body and the spirit. It is not merely the natural life, though it is that, but it is a great deal more. It is the seat of man's emotional nature.

Again let me give a number of quotations from Scripture. First, one that speaks of God having a soul. "Now the just shall live by faith; but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him" (Heb. 10:38). And in the next verse we read, "But we are not of them that draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul." God's soul longs for the salvation of our souls; that is, God, who is infinite love, would have our emotional natures in fullest harmony with His own. Hindrances to this are found in our bodily lusts. 1 Pet. 2:11: "Abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul." The soul in harmony with God finds its joys in Him, and in this the spirit fully shares. Luke 1:46, 47: "And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour."

The soul suffers. Luke 2:35: "A sword shall pierce through thy own soul also." Psalm 107:26: "Their soul is melted because of trouble." Joseph's brethren "saw the anguish of his soul," but took no heed. Jesus said, "Now is my soul troubled," and in His agony on the cross, "His soul was made an offering for sin;" yea, there, "He poured out his soul unto death," when "He was numbered with the transgressors." See Isaiah 53:12.

The soul loves. "Saw you him whom my soul loveth?" exclaims the bride in the Canticles. In 1 Sam. 18:1, "The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul."

The soul hates. 2 Sam. 5:8: "The lame and the blind that are hated of David's soul."

The soul mourns. Job 14:22: "His soul within him shall mourn."

The soul desires. Job 23:13: "What his soul desireth, even that he doeth."

The soul longs. Psa. 119:20: "My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times." Ps. 42:1, ,2: "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God." Psa. 63:1: "My soul thirsteth for Thee."

These are but a very few out of many similar scriptures that we might quote did time permit, but they surely establish the fact that the soul is the seat of the emotional nature just as the spirit is the seat of the intellectual nature; and because man in the present body is so largely a creature of emotions, the soul is made to designate the man as a whole. Man is distinctly called a soul over and over again. "Man became a living soul" (Gen. 2:7). And in Luke 12:20 the Lord says to the rich fool, "This night thy soul shall be required of thee." Whereas, in Revelation, chap. 6, John sees in vision the souls under the altar of those who have been slain. It is altogether correct, therefore, to speak of man as having a soul to be saved or a soul to be lost.

Someone has likened man as originally created by God to a three-story house; the lower story or basement is the body; the second story, or workshop, is the soul; the third story, as the observatory and the place of communion and study, is the spirit. In his sinless condition, man's spirit held converse with God and enjoyed communion with the Infinite Spirit. The fall of man, as a moral earthquake, so shook the house that the third story fell down into the basement. The natural man is therefore the soulish man. The word rendered "natural" and "sensual" in the New Testament, is really "soulish." It is an adjective derived from the word for soul.

Man, however, is not bereft of the spirit even though fallen, but he has "the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance which is in him." No act on man's part can ever restore the spirit to its proper place, for all his faculties have been perverted by the fall. His spirit has become insubject to God, and made filthy by sin. We read, you remember, of the "filthiness of the flesh and spirit." His soul has become utterly debased and corrupt; he now loves what God hates, and hates what God loves. His body is weakened by disease and infirmity, the direct result of the entrance of sin into the world. He is gone out of the way, and is become altogether unprofitable. In other words, man is a hopelessly ruined creature, apart from the regenerating grace of God.

But it is the mind of God to save this fallen, debased man; and not only to restore him to his Adamic condition, but to lift him to a higher plane than unfallen man ever knew. In order that this might be so, God, Himself, in the person of the Son, came into this scene as man. He not only took a human body, but was possessed of a true human spirit and human soul. Many do not see this, and think of the divine Logos, the Eternal Word, bearing the same relation to His body as our spirit and soul do to our body—which is a mistake. Christ not only took a body as a tabernacle for Deity, but He took a complete humanity into union with Deity, thus becoming manifested on earth as the Son of God—a Being with two natures, human and divine.

That He had a human soul is clear from the passages already quoted. In another place He says, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death." It is written also that, "He was troubled in his spirit;" "He rejoiced in spirit," and as He was about to lay down His life, He exclaimed, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit." He offered Himself a sacrifice in full—body, soul, and spirit on behalf of our ruined humanity.

The atoning blood that purchases redemption was a man's blood untainted by sin. The body given on the cross was a human body holy and undefiled. The anguish of His soul was the anguish of a human soul, which we can but faintly enter into as He suffered there in the deepest recesses of His being; all His tenderest affections were lacerated as He took our place in judgment upon the cross. The darkness that overwhelmed His spirit we can but faintly apprehend as we listen to His fearful cry, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" His was a complete sacrifice of Himself on our behalf.

When a soul trusts Him as Saviour, a new life is communicated to the man once wrecked and ruined, and this life is felt—shall I say?—in every part. The awakened spirit now receives the word of God, and the man is renewed in the spirit of his mind; the building is being renewed so that once more he is able to look up to God and enter into communion with Him through the spirit—is able to take in and understand the mind of God, and to discern what is according to the Word. His soul also is saved; its affections are purified; its longings and yearnings are now turned from things evil and things mundane to things holy and heavenly.

The body alone remains for the present unchanged, save as the new life enables the man to resist physical appetites that once threatened to ruin this tabernacle, now recognized as the temple of the living God; but eventually, at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, He will change this body of our humiliation and make it like unto the body of His glory. Then we shall be completely saved—spirit, soul, and body. We shall then have put off the natural body and have put on a spiritual body.

Some, however, when reading 1 Cor. 15:44, mentally contrast, I think, a material body with an immaterial one. But this is not the thought of the apostle nor the mind of the Spirit. A natural body is a body suited to the soul; the word rendered "natural" is simply, as already mentioned, an adjective derived from the word for "soul." We might say a soulish body. It is raised a spiritual body—not a body of spirit, but a real body suited to the spirit. Now the spirit often is willing, but the flesh is weak; then body and spirit will be in perfect harmony. This will be our complete salvation, when spirit, soul, and body will be conformed to the image of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Firstborn among many brethren.

"When left this scene of fault and strife
  Then flesh and sense deceive no more.
We then shall see the Prince of life
  And all His ways of grace explore."

We shall be wholly like Him, and His suited companions, in glorified bodies like His own, forever. "Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it." For it is written, "He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." In that day our salvation will be complete, when our entire spirit and soul and body will be blameless before God, as we stand in His presence in all the perfection of Christ's finished work.

From Death and Afterwards: For the Christian; For the Christless; Spirit, Soul, and Body by H. A. Ironside. New York: Loizeaux Brothers, [n.d.].

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