Wednesday, March 4, 2009
I0304-Proof of the Existence of the Soul 1.15.2
This post is part of our group read of the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.
Just a few highlights from Book I, Chapter 15, Section 2.
Thesis: the soul, "an immortal though created essence, which is his nobler part. Sometimes he is called a spirit."
The soul is immortal.
The soul is created.
The soul is the nobler part of man.
The soul equivalent with spirit when these words are used by themselves alone.
This section did raise a question for me which I have not fully solved. Is man a body, soul and spirit? Or does man consist of only two parts: Body and Soul? Soul and Spirit being synonymous terms. From the reading of section two, I gathered that Calvin is saying almost both, though I think best to understand him meaning that man consists of two parts only body and soul. Spirit and soul are equivalent terms. But when they appear together the spirit is not referring to a 3rd component of man but his intellectual faculty.
"But though the two terms, while they are used together differ in their meaning, still, when spirit is used by itself it is equivalent to soul."
Soul and Spirit are used synonymously in scripture, and yet there is also a distinction between the two. For my part, this description fairly well describes my own position. I'm uneasy being absolutely dogmatic that there is no distinction between soul and spirit on the one hand but on the other one must be very careful when making this distinction.
Hebrews 4:12 For 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.
This comes to the point of this little digression. It has been my experience that some teachers assure us in very strong terms that man consists in three parts and then they go on to define exactly what is body, and especially what is spirit and what is soul. Then based on this precise and full distinction between the three a whole ministry is established. And again without casting too wide a net (for some do hold this distinction without the errors I'm to which I'm referring), I want to add that such a ministry established upon such a premise has answers for us which cannot be found in the Bible. Since the spirit is such and such these teachers make such and such a prescription and likewise with the soul. Since they know exactly where spirit stops and soul begins another set of remedies is prescribed to treat the soul. Again, I am speaking of ministries that base their answers to those three questions on how they view the soul and the Spirit:
1) Who Am I?
2) Why do I do what I do?
3) How can I change?
Their description of soul and spirit applies to questions one and two. And how can I change arises from their view of soul and spirit.
So what to do? I would be careful, when a teaching approaches me, purporting to know exactly how to divide asunder soul and spirit. And then having so divided builds a whole new set of answers to the above three questions. Let's be careful understanding that like Calvin wrote, these terms when used together do have a difference but when by itself is equivalent to the soul.
I appreciate these words from Calvin's commentary on Heb 4:12: click here
The word soul means often the same with spirit; but when they occur together, the first includes all the affections, and the second means what they call the intellectual faculty. So Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, uses the words, when he prays God to keep their spirit, and soul, and body blameless until the coming of Christ, (1Th_5:23,) he meant no other thing, but that they might continue pure and chaste in mind, and will, and outward actions. Also Isaiah means the same when he says,
“My soul desired thee in the night; I sought thee with my spirit.” (Isa_26:9.)
What he doubtless intends to show is, that he was so intent on seeking God, that he applied his whole mind and his whole heart. I know that some give a different explanation; but all the sound minded, as I expect, will assent to this view.
ALSO John Gill on Heb 4:12:
...the apostle's meaning seems to be this, that whereas the soul and spirit are invisible, and the joints and marrow are covered and hid; so sharp and quick sighted, and so penetrating is the divine Word, that it reaches the most secret and hidden things of men: and this sense is confirmed by what follows,
Matthew Henry also:
... it pierces to the dividing asunder of the soul and the spirit, the soul and its habitual prevailing temper; it makes a soul that has been a long time of a proud spirit to be humble, of a perverse spirit to be meek and obedient. Those sinful habits that have become as it were natural to the soul, and rooted deeply in it, and become in a manner one with it, are separated and cut off by this sword. It cuts off ignorance from the understanding, rebellion from the will, and enmity from the mind, which, when carnal, is enmity itself against God.
Perhaps also we should learn from Heb 4:12 that the very impossibility of dividing between soul and spirit is so great and that this is a magnification of the power of the Word of God which alone is able to divide them.
END OF DIGRESSION:
Proof of the existence of the soul separate from the body:
"Conscience, which, distinguishing, between good and evil, responds to the judgement of God, is an undoubted sign of an immortal spirit."
The workings of the human mind:
"But the swiftness with which the human mind glances from heaven to earth, scans the secrets of nature, and, after it has embraced all ages, with intellect and memory digests each in its proper order, and reads the future in the past, clearly demonstrates that there lurks in man a something separated from the body."
"Were not the soul some kind of essence separated from the body, Scripture would not teach that we dwell in houses of clay (Job 4:19), and at death remove from a tabernacle of flesh; that we put off that which is corruptible, in order that, at the last day, we may finally receive according to the deeds done in the body."
2Cor 7:1 Cleaning both flesh and spirit, "showing two parts where taint of sin resides."
1Peter 2:25 Shepherd of souls "how absurd if there were no souls to shepherd."
1Peter 2:11 fleshly lusts warring against the soul, certainly shows the separate existence of the soul.
Acts 23:8 the Sadducees believing in neither angel or spirit. Jesus cites this grievous error.
This little section is a wonderful demonstration of reasoning from and drawing our truth from the scripture alone. I'll close this post with the entire quote, not only so you can read Calvin's proofs for separate existence of the soul which has an essence but also so we can learn by example to found all doctrine upon the Word of God alone:
"Again, when Paul exhorts believers to cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and the spirit (II Cor. 7:1), he shows that there are two parts in which the taint of sin resides. Peter, also, in calling Christ the Shepherd and Bishop of souls (I Peter 2:25), would have spoken absurdly if there were no souls towards which he might discharge such an office. Nor would there be any ground for what he says concerning the eternal salvation of souls (I Peter 1:9), or for his injunction to purify our souls, or for his assertion that fleshly lusts war against the soul (I Peter 2:11p); neither could the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews say, that pastors watch as those who must give an account for our souls (Heb. 13:17p), if souls were devoid of essence. To the same effect Paul calls God to witness upon his soul (II Cor 1:23), which could not be brought to trial before God if incapable of suffering punishment. This is still more clearly expressed by our Saviour, when he bids us fear him who, after he has killed the body, is able also to cast into hell fire (Matt 10:28; Luke 12:5). Again when the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews distinguishes the fathers of our flesh from God, who alone is the Father of our spirits (Heb. 12:9), he could not have asserted the essence of the soul in clearer terms. Moreover, did not the soul, when freed from the fetters of the body, continue to exist, our Saviour would not have represented the soul of Lazarus as enjoying blessedness in Abraham s bosom, while, on the contrary, that of Dives was suffering dreadful torments (Luke 16:22-23). Paul assures us of the same thing when he says, that so long as we are present in the body, we are absent from the Lord (II Cor. 5:6,8). Not to dwell on a matter as to which there is little obscurity, I will only add, that Luke mentions among the errors of the Sadducees that they believed neither angel nor spirit (Acts 23:8)."