Part Six

by A.E. Knoch

Whatever may be the relation between matter and spirit, they are very different in the impression made upon us. Unclean spirits seem to desire to enter the human body, as in demoniacs. Celestial messengers may have spiritual bodies. Yet God Himself has no corporate organism outside of Christ. In all of these cases it is evident that a spirit being is able to exist and operate quite apart from a body. It is when they wish to make themselves known to mankind that some material form seems necessary. So God reveals Himself in Christ, the messengers become visible to human eyes, the evil spirits use the organs of a human being in order to communicate with us. The point we wish to press is this: A spirit can exist quite apart from a material form. Why should not this be true of the human spirit as well? We cannot perceive a spirit being apart from material substance, nor our own spirits, but does this prove their non-existence? Existence does not involve consciousness in humanity, however. Is it not wiser to consider all spirits as alike in the essentials, unless evidence proves the contrary? Is not this the reason why the word "spirit" is applied to all?

Some may say that this is reasoning from analogy, from spirit beings to human spirits, and is metaphysics and not Scripture. Quite the contrary. There is no reasoning whatever. There are no premises. God, in His Word, calls sensation in an animal a soul, and so we believe that the soul is the same thing in an animal as in a man, quite contrary to the reasonings of metaphysics. And since God, in His Word, uses the same term for the spirit in man as for another part of His creation, it is faith, and not reasoning, which bows to His revelation. We simply give spirit the same meaning throughout, whatever its manifestation may be. There is no figure. To insist that spirit is spirit is not reasoning but revelation. So it is with every part of man's composition in the lower spheres of the animal kingdom. Body, blood, breath, etc., have one meaning in animals and in man. So it is with spirit.

The fact that the human spirit has no consciousness apart from a body should not enter into this question, for, in sleep, it has none even with a body. And God has been pleased to explain death to us by means of slumber. Consciousness is only one of the possible manifestations of the spirit, and belongs to the soul. In death the spirit returns to God. In resurrection and vivification it comes back to man. In the interval the man is dead, but the elements of which he was composed still exist, both matter and spirit. The matter is not used again, necessarily, for it was continually being renewed even during life. In vivification there is a vast change, this corruptible puts on incorruption and this mortal immortality, but this is concerned with the body rather than with the spirit. There is nothing to show that those who are alive become a different spirit, or that the spirit that returned to God remains with Him, or that it is altered, as is the case with the body.

The Scriptures do speak of a new spirit, but never in the literal sense of displacing the human spirit in resurrection. Ezekiel twice speaks of the new heart and the new spirit which will be given to Israel, and explains it as the spirit of Jehovah (Ezek.18:31; 36:26,27). In describing their spiritual resurrection it is again the spirit of Jehovah (Ezek.37). Although it is not so expressed in the Scriptures, all who receive the spirit of God may be said to have a "new" spirit. But let us keep all such matters out of the present enquiry, for they deal with a totally different phase of spirit manifestations. Neither let us bring in the many figurative expressions, as the spirit of grace, or truth, etc. These are not in point in the present investigation.

Thus mankind, in accord with the high counsels of God concerning it, may be said to combine in itself all the grades of living creatures, from the plants to the spirits, from the most elementary cell to the very highest form, as in the Deity. Man partakes of plant life, of animal life, and of the life of spirits. But the latter is largely future, when all are vivified, and it is exemplified to the fullest extent only in the celestial selection, those who form Christ's body. We may consider its present state in humanity as an intermediate one. We are fitted to some extent to be set over the lower creatures, for we have bodies and souls like theirs. But, at present, we are beneath spirit beings, and cannot take our place over them until we have been equipped with our new habitations which are from the heavens.


It may be helpful to clarify the distinctions between soul and spirit before going further. The great gulf between body and spirit makes them antithetical in many ways, even if we consider matter as a manifestation of energy, as scientists do in these days. Material substance is tangible, and affects our senses. Spirit may not directly affect our bodily sensations. Paul speaks of his being in Corinth in the spirit and in the flesh. When he was there in flesh he could be seen and heard. When with them in spirit they had no organs to perceive him. Only indirectly, as they read his words with their eyes, or heard them read with their ears, or recalled his bodily presence with their memories, would his spiritual presence affect their thoughts and actions.

The distinction between soul and spirit is one of the most elusive there is. Let us see if we cannot simplify it by a process of elimination. All that is ours which is not matter or sensation is spirit. The problem is to apprehend that which cannot be perceived. The body is perceptible, the soul is perception itself, the spirit is imperceptible. That is why this term is also used to include the spirit world. Thinking is essentially unconscious, though it may be accompanied with sensations, either as cause or effect. A terrifying noise goes through the spirit and produces a sensation of fear. That thinking is essentially unconscious is evident when we "act before we think." The consciousness of danger sometimes comes after we have sought to evade it.

That the mind or spirit really operates without our knowledge or direction is evident from the many vital functions which operate independently of our will. In many the spirit is ceaselessly working to keep us alive. The lungs, the heart, the digestion, the brain - all these go on when we sleep, when our souls are not functioning, hence are due to vital energy, which is spirit.

Life, and spirit, its source, lie far beneath our consciousness, so we may recognize it only by its operation, where there is no sensation or will, in our own bodies. If the spirit were conscious we would be aware of all the vital organs and their movements. But life, as well as spirit, is not consciousness. That is only an effect, limited to certain combinations. Not only in sleep do the vital processes go on, but while we are awake our consciousness is limited, like our sight and our hearing, to a certain segment of the actual realm of life and motion. We do not see all there is, but only as through a narrow slit. Neither do we hear all sounds. Some are too low, others too high, for our ears. So it is with our spirit. We are aware of only a fragment of it. The rest is hidden from us, or known only from its effects. We can always be sure that where there is life there must be spirit, even though there is nothing which makes any impression on our senses.

In the resurrection we do not sow the body that shall be. God will give us a different body. In contrast to this the spirit comes back when we awake from death. Hence we are roused not merely sentient beings without any connection with the past, but the same individuals as before, capable of profiting from our experiences before death. Otherwise these would have no value in God's great purpose.


The modern trend toward throwing doubt on the resurrection by questioning the "continuity" of "identity," etc., is no course for us to follow. It deals with the subject as if it were an ordinary event in the course of nature, apart from the special intervention of God. In that realm there is no resurrection, no rousing, no vivification. It is found only in the realm of miracles, only where God works a wonder. Once He is given His place, the difficulties disappear. I am of the opinion that both "continuity" and "identity" (whatever they really mean) are fully provided for in the spirit, which alone, of the two constituents of humanity, has not suffered change and disintegration, and which eventually attains the ascendancy, even as the body was the prime constituent at first. Man's impermanence, weakness, corruption, and change are all associated with his flesh. His permanence, power, glory, and unchangeableness are all resident in his spirit.

Such questions as "continuity," "identity,"..."memory" in resurrection, and the time when the spirit is imparted to human beings, are not at all necessary to a knowledge of the truth. They are brought up here only because modern scientific enquiry thinks they are vital to the "problem." They are not definitely discussed in the Scriptures, hence it is not wise to take them seriously, or make them a part of our faith. To faith they are not "problems" at all, for resurrection, rousing, or vivification imply identity, continuity, and memory. The injection of the prenatal life of humanity, when the mother aids in the vital processes, as if it were the life of the mother and not of the child, and as if the child had no life, hence no spirit, before birth, should not and need not perplex. Life is instantaneous. Its gradual development into independent and conscious life is only a transitional process, which does not affect the truth of resurrection.

Human life does not begin at birth, but at conception. It is always distinct from that of the mother. Even before birth a child can die without involving the death of its mother. It may act quite independently as when John the Baptist jumped when Miriam saluted Elizabeth (Luke 1:41). And he was filled with holy spirit, quite independently of his mother, even before his birth (Luke 1:15). Before birth and before weaning, the vital functions are partly performed for humans by their mothers, but this is quite a distinct matter from the importation of spirit and life. A transitory process like this will not aid us in our investigations, so is best left out of consideration.


The combination of flesh with blood seems to indicate our present soulish body, that of flesh and bones the spiritual body. The difference lies in the blood. This in turn involves much else, especially the soul, for, at present, the soul is in the blood. It also involves the whole method of sustaining and vitalizing the body, for both the air and the food are carried to the members of the body by the blood. Not only did our Saviour pour out His blood at His death for our sins, but He also inaugurated a new mode of human life apart from blood at His vivification. When Lazarus and others were raised the blood was still present and resumed its usual functions. Not so when our Lord took back the life He had laid down. The spirit vivified the identical body but not the blood that had been shed. It was not needed. And the body normally seemed to have powers which flesh and blood do not possess.

In contrast to the blood is the return of the spirit. The word return has proven to be the key to the death state. So also the expression turn back may be of the resurrection. Jairus' daughter had died. In recalling her to life, we read that her spirit turned back (Luke 8:55). It seems to be more than mere consciousness or life, but a personal essence of which these are the tokens. It had left her body to return to God, but was brought back by our Lord. This expression is well worth pondering on a point where revelation is very reticent. Where evidence is scarce we must make full use of it, and one intimation in the sacred text is worth more than volumes from other sources. Figuratively the girl was only drowsing, and soon awoke. Literally she was dead.


There are many notable contrasts between the spirit and the flesh in this life, as is evident from the strong moral tinge of their respective adjectives, fleshly and spiritual. This is greatly emphasized in redemption, for God, especially in this administration, appeals almost exclusively to our spirits. The results, also, are mostly confined to our spirits, even though our bodies (rather than our flesh) are vitalized with its life in a slight degree. But in vivification spirit is still more prominent, and flesh and blood is absent, even the body becoming spiritual, though not spirit. If the place of spirit in life is so different from that of the flesh, so that it often stands in contrast to it, we should not expect it to share the fate of the flesh in death. Nothing is said of its dissolution. There is no hint of corruption. It does not go to the unseen, like the soul. The fact that it returns to the Creator Himself is suggestive of its high honor even in the dishonor of death.

Though spirit is, perhaps, the most difficult subject for us humans to comprehend, seeing that we are not spirits, yet even more perplexing is spirit in a state of non-manifestation. We may be able to grasp somewhat of spirit as it operates in us today, although we are so apt to confuse it with soul. We may even have a measure of apprehension for the operation of the spirit in vivification. But the interval between death and vivification, while the body returns to the soil and the soul to the unseen, from whence they came, seems to be an extraordinary tax upon our mentality. Here it is better to distrust our own thoughts altogether and allow a microscopical examination of the few divine allusions to the spirit at this crisis to make their impression on our minds.

The spirit of our Lord is especially emphasized at His death. When He had committed it to His Father (Luke 23:46), He lets it out (Matt.27:50) and gives it up (John 19:30). Let us consider each of these expressions carefully to see what we can glean from their meaning and usage.

The word commit is literally BESIDE-PLACE paratitheemi in Greek. In this sense it is used by our Lord when He instructs His disciples to place the fish and the cakes He had blessed before the throng (Mark 6:41; 8:6,7). As a faded figure, however, it is used by Paul when he gave a charge to Timothy (1 Tim.1:18). When speaking to the Ephesian elders at Miletus he committed them to God and to the word of His grace (Acts 20:32). Peter exhorts those who are suffering according to the will of God, to commit their souls to a faithful Creator, in the doing of good (1 Peter 4:19). Besides this, a slightly different form is used literally of the cakes and fishes (Mark 8:6), of food (Luke 10:8; 11:6; Acts 16:34; 1 Cor.10:27), and figuratively of a parable (Matt.13:24,31), of possessions (Luke 12:48), teaching (Acts 17:3), and of the disciples to the Lord (Acts 14:23).

We would not commend our bodies to His care, for we know that they are doomed to dissolution. No intelligent saint would commit his soul to God in death, for he knows that it will return to the unseen. But the Scriptures speak of the spirit in death as a matter which still persists (although it does not live), and as a deposit to be left in the personal care of God or of His Christ. Not knowing that consciousness is connected with the soul, not with the spirit, it has been usual to use these facts to prove a conscious intermediate state. The reaction from this has left the spirit little more than the breath, which is lost and vanishes in the air. The truth lies in between. The spirit is that part of humanity which returns to God's special keeping, for in it lies the future of mankind and of the individual, when he finally fulfills his destiny in the image of God for which he was created.

It will be seen from this that, in the faded, figurative usage of the word, matters of special value, which are exposed to danger, are committed to those who are to protect and preserve them. The elders at Ephesus had among their number men who would draw disciples after themselves. What could Paul do about it? The only powers which could guard the rest against this course are God Himself and the word of His grace. In Peter, the souls of the saints are in danger. They are liable to persecution. Their Creator alone can guard their souls, and they can do their part by doing good. So, like the Lord's spirit in death, the Ephesian saints, and the souls of Peter's readers, are committed to God, for His safekeeping.

It would be well for us to meditate much on the fact that Christ committed His spirit to God. He did not commit Himself, or His body, or His soul (as most of His followers would do today). His body was committed to the tomb, where men could see it and guard it. His soul entered hades, the imperceptible, hence all sensation and consciousness vanished in oblivion. But we cannot help having the impression that the spirit was a treasure which was guarded by God. The Scriptures leave with us the impression that the spirit still exists (not lives or is conscious) a treasure to be kept by God Himself until resurrection or vivification.


The other expressions used point in the same direction. It would be unintelligent to commit the soul to God for there is no sensation. It is only in a very effective and self-evident figure that it is said to be in the imperceptible, or the unseen, for these are terms which denote oblivion. So also nothing is said of giving up the soul or letting out the soul, but this is predicated of the spirit. Our Lord Himself had been given up, a short time before, by Pilate (John 19:16). Always there must be some object to be given up or let out. It denotes the parting with some possession, the emergence of something which has been within.

The case of our Lord may have been exceptional, so it is well that we have the corroboration of Stephen, when he died. As they were pelting him with stones, he said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts 7:59)! That the Lord would receive him in resurrection was clear enough to Stephen. That He did not receive his body is also evident. And so with his soul. There is evidently a sense in which the spirit is "received" by the Lord while the soul sleeps and the body decays.


A very notable instance of the return to life is given us in the account of the two witnesses. We read that "spirit of life out of God entered into them and they stand on their feet." In the phrase "spirit of life," the word life is a metonymy, which shows the source of the life, that is, the spirit which imparts life. It is remarkable also that it is not the spirit of God, but a spirit out of God, evidently their own spirits which had returned to God in death, entering their bodies once more. This fully confirms the fact that, in death, the human spirit is in God's keeping in such a way that it returns in resurrection.

In death the three human factors return whence they came. But there is a great difference between their sources, as also that to which they return. Two are impersonal. One is personal. The body comes from the soil and goes back to it. It is soil like any other soil. The same substance may, at different times, be a part of the tissue of two or more person. The soul is even more vague. Out of oblivion it comes and into the imperceptible it returns. As we have seen, the breath seems to sustain the spirit, as food from the soil does the body. But the spirit is not breath by any means, and does not return to the air. It comes from God, and returns to Him. It is not merely a portion of power taken from the great universal reservoir of energy, and poured back into it again. In man it comes from the Deity. Here the creature contacts the Creator. It returns to the great Father of Spirits. Lacking life and consciousness, yet it has existence, and, in one case, returned to a lifeless body and brought it back to life. Hence we may commend it to His keeping at the approach of death.

In vivification God will give us a far more glorious body than we now possess. Nothing like this is said of our spirit. It is not in the same class with the flesh. The disposition of the spirit is life and peace (Rom.8:6). The change in vivification (Rom.8:11) is not due to our spirit, but to the homing of God's spirit in us. Even in our mortal bodies, we have an earnest of His spirit, and it brings us a foretaste of future vivification, when we use our members to please God. And it is by the power of His spirit that our bodies will be transformed and glorified, not our own. In this way will God be All in us. Hence there is no need to change our spirits, or give them power or glory. The spirit of God in us will be the source of continuous and unceasing strength, splendor, and delight. Our own spirits will be welded with His, no longer dragged in the dust by the death-dealing flesh, but raised to the highest heights by association with the life-giving spirit of God.

When the spirit is supreme our humiliation will be past. Our vitality will be so vast, we will be so vibrant with life, that incorruption, deathlessness, power, and glory will be as marked as corruption, mortality, weakness, and shame are now. And all will be brought about by simply imparting the spirit without measure. There is a close analogy between life and salvation. Physical life, like Israel's salvation, is a combination of works and grace. The spirit was given, yet it must be exercised. But the grace we now have is all of God, without any works of ours, so is like the fullness of the spirit and the life that is to be. It is simply God, by His spirit, becoming our All. No longer will we derive power, life, spirit from Him in driblets, through hindering channels, but we will bask directly in the beneficent beams of His irradiating spirit.

Mankind, to be human, must have a body. It cannot be changed into a formless spirit and remain humanity, or fulfill its functions in God's purpose. But hitherto the body has been a means of its humiliation and degradation. In the future the spirit will be the cause of its rise and exaltation. Now the spirit is suppressed and defeated. In the future it will be untrammeled and victorious. May this glimpse of its future permanence and power and supremacy help us in our present life to give it the place supreme!

Keenly conscious of the vastness of this theme, compared with our limited apprehension, we place these suggestive thoughts before our friends, and urge them to test all by the inspired Scriptures, where alone we find the truth in its purity.

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