The question, “What is man?” is the stumbling-stone in all systems of human philosophy, and is no nearer answered today than in the days of the psalmist, who recorded it upon the pages of inspiration. Notwithstanding the many volumes that have been written by all the different schools of philosophy, man still remains,
“Chaos of thought, and passion all confused,
Still by himself abased or disabused;
Sole judge of earth in endless ruin hurled,
The glory, jest and riddle of the world.”
The origin of man, his nature and destiny, are problems which have engaged the human mind for centuries, and which still remain as unsettled, so far as philosophy is concerned, as in the beginning. Two leading schools of philosophy have been and are still engaged in the discussion, one denying man’s personality and the other affirming it. Many profound thinkers have written extensively upon both sides of the question, each working out his own preconceived notions along his favorite line of thought, and finally arriving at that conclusion which best satisfies his own position upon religious and scientific questions. It is astonishing to what extent prejudice, tradition and legend shape men’s politics, religion and philosophy.
“We are the same that our fathers have been,
We see the same things that our fathers have seen,
We drink the same stream and view the same sun,
And run the same race that our fathers have run.”
The personality of man is the battleground between skepticism and modern Christianity. The philosopher whose religious tastes, temperament and predilections lead him to deny nominal Christianity and embrace materialism, deism or atheism, shapes his philosophy accordingly, and endeavors to prove that man is not a personality, because if this one point be established his victory is gained, so far as philosophy is concerned; while upon the other hand, he who is led either by tradition, persuasion or legend to embrace nominal Christianity, engages to prove that man is a personality, because the nature and capabilities of man form the foundation of all modern religious theories. In order that the prevalent theory of conditional destiny may have some face to it, some foundation for reasonableness or plausibility, certain qualifications must be ascribed to man to constitute him a personality, capable of accepting, applying and carrying into effect the provisions which men assume that God has made for their salvation.
The materialistic school of philosophy, reasoning from the preconceived falsehood that there is no God, has labored to prove that man himself is not a personality; and upon the other hand, the so-called christian philosopher, in love with the idol tradition of conditional salvation, based upon man’s free agency, invents a philosophy which makes man a kind of demi-god, by ascribing to him a mind, spirit or soul that is spiritual in the same sense that God is spiritual – a principle of immortality, a spark of divinity, as they often call it. They assume that in order for man to be a personality he must be endowed with the ability to know God, and to choose between right and wrong, and to exercise all the functions of an essential free moral agent; and that without this dual nature and these qualifications he cannot be a personality.
Now, that man is endowed with reason, and possesses a knowledge of himself and his environment that the brute creation does not possess, every one must admit. It does not require a philosophy to establish this fact. But that to constitute him a personality requires that he possess a spark of divinity, a principle of immortality, a spiritual mind, of the essence as God himself, everyone who has the slightest respect for the New Testament psychology must emphatically deny. The great mistake that philosophers have all fallen into is this, that in order for man to be a rational, ethical personality, distinct from the brute creation and pre-eminent over it, God must impart to him in his natural creation the spiritual, immortal nature of God himself, and that without this God-element there can be no distinction between man and beast. The qualifications of man that distinguish him from the irrational animal creation, and constitute him a personality, are products of creative power; and all products of creative power, or all created existences, are essentially different in essence or substance from the essence or substance of the creator.
“Of God above or man below,
What can we reason but from what we know?
Of man what see we but his station here,
From which to reason or to which refer?”
In man’s creation he was of the earth, earthy. In this creation he is capacitated to live on the substance of the earth, to love, understand and enjoy the things of this world, but separated in all his nature, in all his powers of body and mind, from the spiritual world. The law of continuity furnishes an a priori argument for the position we are attempting to establish of the most convincing kind, of such a kind indeed as seems to be final. If nature be a harmony, man in all his relations, physical, mental and moral, necessarily falls within its circle. It is altogether unlikely that man should have a spiritual nature violently separated in all its conditions of growth, in its essence and substance, from his earthly nature. It is difficult to conceive that the natural man should be guided by one set of principles, and these at a certain point give place to another set of principles altogether new and unrelated. Nature has never taught us to expect such a contradiction. Man cannot in the nature of thought, in the nature of language, be separated into two such incoherent halves.
The Bible account of man’s creation is, “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the earth, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” The unity of man as a living organism, as a natural personality, is most forcibly set forth here. The prevalent philosophical idea of man’s personality is that God breathed into man an immortal soul, something ab extra to the man physical, and that this soul is the embodiment of the man’s reasoning, knowing, intelligence, and is in substance of the same divine essence of God himself; and that without this germ of divinity man could not be a personality. Nothing can be farther from the true nature of man’s personality as revealed in the history of nations, in the history of men, and in the everyday life of each individual. When facts contradict philosophy we must give credence to facts. Besides, the one brief statement of the Bible condemns the idea conclusively: “God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” He did not breathe a living soul into the man, but man became a living soul. Man and soul mean the same thing in this place.
It is true that the Bible was not written for a text book on psychology, yet no more beautiful system of philosophy can anywhere be found than that recorded by inspiration. It is consistent with itself, and is nowhere contradicted by existing facts. That fundamental principle of the christian religion laid down by Christ himself, “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God,” is the embodiment of principles of philosophy which locate man in nature, and fix, define and bound his personality. The explanatory clause, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh,” shows conclusively that man is the product of a fleshly birth; and all his powers, both mental and physical, are derived from the same source, and all belong to the same environment. The term flesh does not mean the literal flesh of the human body, but means man as a whole, as an individual, a personality; and if this personality ever sees the kingdom of God, is ever made a partaker of the divine nature, of immortality, it must be born again.
The present ‘christian’ philosophy of man’s personality sets up the most serious enemy that Christianity has to deal with at the present day. Of the multitudes who profess the Christian religion at the present time, how many have clear in their minds the cardinal distinction made by Christ between born of the flesh and born of the Spirit? By how many nominal christian philosophers is not this fundamental postulate persistently ignored? A thousand modern pulpits are preaching every seventh day a philosophy of personality that not only contradicts this cardinal principle of the teaching of Christ, but renders the necessity of the new birth entirely useless.
The principle of psychology laid down by Paul is, “The carnal mind is enmity against God; it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” The carnal mind here means that mind which constitutes man a person; and this mind is so far from being a spiritual essence, a spark of divinity, that it is enmity against God, not even subject to his law, neither indeed can be. The same apostle, in pursuing the same line of thought, says, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” By natural man here is meant that personality which is born of the flesh, and is flesh, and which has no capacity for the things of the Spirit. He cannot know them. This is not a dogma of theology, but a necessity of science; and science accepts the situation. If philosophers would or could acquaint themselves with the meaning of the scriptural terms flesh and Spirit, they would free themselves from many blunders, and enter a new field of philosophic thought. The terms flesh and Spirit are no less scientific terms; they are strictly physiological in their import, and lie at the bottom of a biology which the scientists have hitherto entirely overlooked. The most complete, definite, real antithesis known to human thought is expressed by these terms. They are used to express two orders of life so completely separated from each other that nothing but the word “death” can express the non-relation of the lower to the higher. Man, with all his powers of soul, body and spirit, lies within the order denominated flesh. His personality belongs here in toto. As the bird in its attempts to quit the earth and soar into the sky is beaten back by the unseen wires that fix its bounds, so the powers of man cannot extend beyond their environment, but in their endeavors to enter the spiritual world, even through the subtle medium of thought, are held back by an unseen but fixed boundary which they cannot pass. The agnostic's assertion that he knows nothing of the spiritual world is true, however much the nominal christian may dispute it. He really does not know. The statement that the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them, is final, as a statement of scientific truth.
Can the philosophy that makes the mind or soul or spirit of man homogeneous with God be true without destroying in toto the statements of Paul and Christ? It may be urged that Paul was not inspired, that Christ was not the Son of God. Should we admit this to be true, yet who among men is entitled to more respect as authority in philosophy, and where is the system of philosophy that is more rigorously demonstrated in men, as exhibited in their everyday life? The personality of man is not denied in the New Testament philosophy, but established. It contradicts other systems, that is all; and it does not contradict them by mere dogmatical assertions, but upon the most tangible scientific basis.
Man as a created intelligence stands above the creatures within his environment; he thinks, reasons, wills, loves, hates, mourns, rejoices, and is conscious of himself as distinct and separate from the things around him; he is conscious of his own individuality. These conditions and objects of consciousness are essential elements of personality, and prove that man is a person, but in every particular finite, in every particular natural as opposed to spiritual, mortal as opposed to immortality. There is nothing in man’s personality that is immortal, in the Bible sense of that term. I do not mean that man shall not live again or that there is no future existence for him. Endless existence is not immortality. The Bible declares that God alone has immortality, and I am unwilling to ascribe to man what God alone is said to possess. Man thinks, but his thoughts are vain, unfruitful, and always fallible. This proves that his mind is vain and fallible, and hence cannot be of the essence of God. He reasons, but his reasoning is uncertain, and often reaches wrong conclusions. He wills, but his willing is mutable, feeble, and upon all hands subject to defeat. He loves, but his love is often misplaced, embraces evil and wicked things; men love darkness. He hates, but he hates the good, even hates God himself. These facts, as exhibited throughout all history, are insurmountable barriers to our accepted philosophy of personality.
Man is a child of earth, thoroughly identified with the earth in all his manifestations; and whether his correspondence with earth can be broken and his personality preserved, is a question which philosophy can never solve. The fact that man is a personality cannot help us here. The heart, ignorant of what lies beyond, wraps itself in the vainest imaginations, the basest traditions, and the most ridiculous legends, and struggles to light his own darkness and penetrate the darkness beyond by the feeble lamp of philosophy. Around the mysterious region of the Hereafter, Superstition has cast her sable mantle.
Philosophers endeavor to prove by the personality of man that there is a personal God. Their argument is that a finite personality must necessarily be the product of an infinite personality, or a personal God; but the comprehension of God as a person, as the true God, as the I Am, as Jehovah, is not the product of a philosophy, but must come through the revelation of faith. This revelation lifts us out of the miry clay of an uncertain philosophy, and places our feet upon a rock. It gives us a mind, a heart, an understanding, that cannot be accounted for upon any principles of human science. It lifts the veil of fear and superstition from the heart, and answers in the affirmative the question, “If a man die shall he live again?” The revelation of faith also solves the problem of the preservation of man’s personality in the dissolution of his correspondence with this earth.
The duration of man’s personality is determined by the author of it. It is not necessarily endless within its own attributes. Not only is the duration of man’s personality fixed by the will of God, but the condition or state of its existence is determined by the same eternal will. God’s personality, from the very nature of it, is essentially self-existent, eternal, immutable, immortal; but man’s personality is not so essentially. A created personality can be limited as to duration, can have any given nature or condition that may be determined by its creator. From our own instinctive fears and longings we may infer that our personality may exist in a future state, but the only ground for assurance of this is the revelation given by God through Jesus Christ; and this revelation is not given to all men, for many of the wisest philosophers endeavor to reason away man’s personality here and his existence hereafter. In the midst of an uncertain philosophy upon the one hand, and unbelief upon the other, it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when Christ shall appear we shall be like him.
H. M. Curry.