An excerpt from Evan Hopkins – The Law of Liberty in the Spiritual Life (ch. 3)
“That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” – John iii. 6.
“But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” – John iv. 14.
A REMARKABLE brick from the wall of Babylon bears the inscription of one of its mighty kings. In the centre of the inscription is a footprint of one of the dogs which wandered about the crowded city. It was the custom to imprint the royal mark upon the bricks used for public works. While this particular brick was lying in its plastic state to dry, a vagrant dog had accidentally trodden upon it. The king’s inscription is entirely illegible, while the footprint of the dog is perfectly distinct. The name of the mighty ruler of Babylon is unknown. The footprint of the dog has decidedly the advantage over the inscription of the king (Norton).
May we not see a picture here of man’s present condition? Created originally “in the image and after the likeness of God,” man, as he is now by nature, no longer reflects the moral beauty and perfection of the Divine character. While in one part of his nature – the soul – God’s image is defaced, in another part the spirit – it is altogether obliterated. The footprint of the Evil One is distinctly visible.
And yet we would not say that there are no traces of the original inscription. The Scriptures recognize such outlines, faint though they be, even among the heathen (Rom. ii. 14, 15). And yet while this is true, the word of God speaks of man as wholly corrupt, and needing a change, so complete and thorough, that it is called a “new creation.” He “must be born again.”
Man as originally created, consisted of spirit, soul, and body. We read, “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen. ii. 7).
In order of thought, we have first the construction of the body. Man was made of the dust of the ground, and fashioned by the hand of God, as the potter fashions the clay. Then, into that body thus formed, God breathed “the breath of life.” And yet “the formation of man from the dust, and the breathing of the breath of life, must not be understood in a mechanical sense, as if God first of all constructed a human figure from the dust, and then, by breathing His breath of life into the clod of earth which He had shaped into the form of man, made it into a living being. . . . By an act of Divine omnipotence man arose from the dust; and in the same moment in which the dust, by virtue of creative omnipotence, shaped itself into a human form, it was pervaded by the Divine breath of life, and created a living being, so that we cannot say the body was earlier than the soul” (Delitzsch).
“Man became a living soul.” Though the same term is employed to designate the lower animals (Gen. i. 20, 21), “It does not necessarily imply that the basis of the life-principle in man and the inferior animals is the same. The distinction between the two appears from the difference in the mode of their creations. The beasts arose as the Almighty fiat completed beings every one a living soul. Man received his life from a distinct act of Divine in-breathing – a communication from the whole Personality of the Godhead. In effect, man was thereby constituted a living soul like the lower animals; but in him the life-principle conferred a <i>personality which was wanting in them” (Delitzsch).
Man not only received that part which we term soul, but that part termed spirit. He was not a mere individual creature, like the lower animals: he became a <i>person. That personality was the meeting point of the two natures, the animal and the spiritual. He consisted, therefore, of the three parts – spirit, soul, and body. Body and spirit uniting in the personal soul is the true idea of man as he came forth from the hand of God.
But what is man’s present constitution since the Fall? The Scriptures declare that he is now by nature “dead in trespasses and sin.” That is, so far as his spirit-nature is concerned, towards God he is dead. Not, we would observe, that his spirit-nature has ceased to exist. Not that, since the Fall, he has become body and soul, instead of body, soul, and spirit. For while he is dead towards God, he is not dead towards sin (Jude 19. “Sensual, having not the Spirit.” Even though we may hesitate to accept the interpretation, with De Wette and others, that the reference here is to the Holy Spirit, this passage cannot be pressed as proving that fallen man has ceased to possess a spirit-nature. Alford observes on this text: “These men have not indeed ceased to have spirit (pneuma), as part of their own tripartite nature; but they have ceased to possess it in any worthy sense: it is degraded beneath and under the power of the soul (psuche), the personal life, so as to have no real vitality of its own.” The pneuma is that which essentially distinguishes man from an animal, a breath from (out of) God, the noblest part of our nature; but as, in the case of all natural men, it lies concealed, since the Fall, in carnal and animal life, it may be so effectually sunk and buried under the flesh by continual sins, as if it were no longer extant” (Lange, Commentary on St. Jude. See Appendix, Note C). All capacity to understand the things of the Spirit is gone. The Fall has robbed him of the ability to hold communion with God.
And yet fallen man is capable of every kind of sin – not only of sin that pertains to the body and soul, but of sin that pertains to the spirit. He is capable of “spiritual wickedness.” He must therefore still possess a spirit-nature.
Satan needs the spirit of a man to produce the highest development of human evil.
When therefore it is said that man is dead spiritually, we understand by this that he is utterly incapable of intercourse with God. In this condition of death he is incapable of attaining the true ideal of human nature.
“What, then, is man in this state? How do the Scriptures designate him? He is described as “natural.” “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. ii. 14). He is soulish. This is the highest condition he is capable of attaining. He is one whose highest nature is the soul. The natural man is the soulish man. He is governed by his soul. He cannot rise higher, but he may sink lower. He may become devilish. His spirit-nature may become satanically possessed.
The natural man is not necessarily one who is the slave of his carnal appetites. He may be a moralist of the highest type. He may be a giant in intellect, as some of the Greek philosophers were, having all that can be derived from the first Adam: one endowed with a rational soul, and who has the use of all his rational faculties, and yet destitute of the capacity of understanding the things of the Spirit of God, or of holding communion with Him.
The reason for this incapacity is clear. The Scripture furnishes the answer: “Because they are spiritually discerned.” From the very nature of the case it must be so. It is not that the natural man <i>will not “know” the things of the Spirit – he <i>cannot know them.
To put the matter clearly, we may say there are three great spheres – of sense, of reason, and of spirit.
There are the things which come within the sphere of sense. The lower animals are endowed with the faculties of seeing and knowing these things in common with man. With us they can touch and taste and see. These powers are possessed by the brute creation as well as by ourselves. We convince ourselves of the substantial reality of the material world by these faculties of sense.
Then there are the things which come within the sphere of reason. Now we rise into a higher domain – into a region which is beyond the reach of the lower animals. Man alone has the power of drawing deductions, forming conclusions, and grasping abstract notions. Man alone has the sense of moral obligation.
And lastly, there are the things which come within the sphere of spirit. And these the Scripture declares are beyond the reach of the “natural man” – the psychical or soulish man. These belong to the spirit-life, and are grasped by faith.
You may put a telescope into the hands of a man who is blind, and bid him look at some distant star, or on some lovely landscape. He tells you he sees nothing. Well, his witness is true. So the Agnostic affirms of all supernatural religion, that he knows it not. His witness also is true. But if the blind man goes further, and asserts that because he sees nothing there is <i>nothing to see, his assertion is untrue, and his witness is worthless, because he speaks beyond the range of his capacity.
Such is the value of the natural man’s opinion when he declares his mind on spiritual things.
But the natural man may become spiritual. The spiritually blind may be restored to sight. The Agnostic who “knows not” may be brought to see and understand and know.
The life of the spirit-nature may be restored. This is brought about by the operation of the Spirit of God. But how? What is the nature of the process?
“Not by the growth of the soul-principle, the development of the natural man. No one passes from the natural sphere into the spiritual by virtue of powers lying dormant in the soul. It is not by the culture of the natural faculties, nor is it by any supposed uncovering of the spirit-nature, as if it only lay buried underneath.
The spirit is quickened by a direct communication of life from above.
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” “You must be born from above.”
So to be alive unto God is to have received this Divine quickening. “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God” (1 Cor. ii. 12).
It is in that spirit-nature the Holy Spirit dwells. Until that nature is quickened, there can be no spiritual nourishment, no spiritual instruction or spiritual training. For what is there to feed? what is there to instruct? what is there to develop?
But Divine life having been imparted, that which follows is the growth and development of the spirit-principle; and this involves the progressive transformation of the character.