"What is Man?"
Psalm 8:4-6; Hebrews 2:5-8
That nocturnal meditation and contemplation of the Psalmist, which led him to ask this question and to answer it by placing man at the center of the universe, had bounded all he ages, gone back to the eternal counsels of the Godhead before the world was, and passed on to the consummation of those counsels in the inhabited earth to come, and beyond it. It is a question as to the Divinely conceived destiny of a specific creation called Man. Those thoughts had phases: "For a little while lower than the angels"; crowned "with glory and honor." The question of the Psalmist is taken up and enlarged upon by an inspired Apostle. "Not unto angels did He subject the inhabited earth to come." "Thou didst put all things in subjection under His feet."
But between the Divine conception and its ultimate realization there is all the tragedy of human disruption, and all the glory of Divine grace in redemption. What is before us here is to say something of the nature of that disruption as to man's own being, and therefore to see what conformity to the image of God's Son means as to the overcoming of that disrupted state. It is the question of man's own person, and what kind of person can alone inherit the kingdom of God.
For such a high and glorious destiny not only a spiritual or moral state is required, but a certain type or species of being. As the crawling caterpillar or silkworm has to spin its shroud and yield that form of life in order to awaken in a new order, break through into a new world as a beautiful moth or butterfly, so has man now to pass out of one order and be constituted anew with faculties and capacities for a higher. Man, according to God's mind, and according to a dim and intangible sense in himself, is of a universal character, with universal interests. But something has happened which, on the one hand, makes the realization of God's intentions impossible in man as he now is, and on the other hand, causes man to persist in a vain effort to achieve such realization. This terrible contradiction of things at the center of the universe is the occasion of a new intervention on the part o God in the person of His Son. This intervention has several features. It shows what a man is according to God's mind; it secures the removal of the man that is not so according to God; it brings in the powers and constituents of a new creation; and it reveals and secures what man will be when h reaches the mature form which was ever in God's mind as the end and not the mere creation state of even unfallen man. As we see it, this all hangs upon the setting right of derangement in the nature of man whereby his living and full relationship with God is renewed. This, in the main relates to one part of his being called the "pneuma" or spirit, and it is here that we therefore need to have enlightenment.
An All-Important Distinction
On two occasions in his writings the Apostle Paul used a phrase which is of peculiarly important application to the subject which is before us. It is found in his letters to the Romans (2:18) and the Philippians (1:10), and the marginal rendering is: "DISTINGUISH THE THINGS THAT DIFFER."
We cannot but feel that a very great deal of loss would have been prevented, and gain would have been secured, if that distinguishing had been applied to the matter of soul and spirit.
This is no matter of merely technical interest to Bible students, but one which involves and touches the spiritual life of God's people at almost every point, and governs the whole question of life and death in spiritual things. There are few things more vital to fullness of life and effectiveness of service than this. It embraces so very much of the meaning of the redemptive purpose of God in and by the Cross of Christ. Many of the most perplexing problems which have pressed upon the Lord's people and servants through the years have their solution here. We might just mention one or two of these.
Firstly, there is the essential and basic difference between the New Creation and the Old with which there is bound up that heart-breaking problem of totally or largely unsatisfactory conversions, converts who seem to have given evidence of the big change-over, but who - all too early - reveal symptoms that the really radical, regenerative, work is doubtful. This includes that heart-burning inquiry concerning the large numbers who make a profession under all the peculiarly favorable (?) conditions and provisions of well organized and advertised evangelistic missions, and of whom so great a proportion either drop back soon after the mission is over, or are untraceable, or are only kept by a ceaseless provision of evangelistic hot air and high tension atmosphere. It is said of one city in Great Britain, that every second man you may meet has at some time been 'converted,' although now, of course, the great majority have nothing to do with such things. This, surely, in turn raises other questions as to what may be God's ways and means in the realm of evangelistic activity, and what are men's. Then there is the difficult problem of the very slow spiritual growth of those who really have received Christ. That spiritual maturity is a life-long matter is not doubted, but we are thinking of unduly delayed growth, with all the long-continued features of childhood or even of childishness. This is a matter deeply deplored by the writers of the New Testament letters, and, indeed, represents the main occasion of the mass of the New Testament itself. In the letter to the Thessalonians (the earliest of Paul's letters) the distinction between soul and spirit is just stated without discussion or explanation (1 Thess. 5:23). The letters to the Corinthians can be said to center in the same matter, when we remember that "natural" in chapter 2 verse 14 is really 'soulical' and then that there is so much about the "spiritual" and "the spirituals," i.e. spiritual gifts. In the letter to the Hebrews, again, the whole subject matter is to be viewed in the light of "dividing asunder of soul and spirit" and "the Father of our spirits." In every case it is a question of spiritual progress or arrested progress.
(continued with # 2 - "Whence This Blindness?")