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Table of Contents


Chapter  1

Part I
Chapter  2
Chapter  3
Chapter  4
Chapter  5
Chapter  6
Chapter  7
Chapter  8
Chapter  9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12

Part II
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Part II: Embodiment — and Redemption

Chapter 14

The Dying of Man

Man lives two lives and dies two deaths.
Spiritually, he commits suicide: physically, he is executed.

     The subject of death is an enormous one, and the literature is huge. Some thirty or forty years ago, I remember a scientific paper which opened by saying that over 600 books had already been published on the matter and at that time there was not even a glimmer of understanding of the cause of death except where there is accident or disease or predation to account for it. It is still, today, widely held that no one dies merely from the weight of years.
     In man the problem is greatly compounded by the fact that whereas animals experience only physical death, man experiences two deaths — one spiritual and the other physical. As we live two kinds of life so we experience two kinds of dying.
     Theologically, these two deaths can both be characterized by the single word separation. Physical death involves the separation of the spirit from the body, and spiritual death involves the separation of the spirit from God. In each case a 'termination' is reached which only God can reverse. There is the termination of physical life for which the only remedy is the redemption of the body (Romans 8.23)

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and there is the termination of spiritual life for which the only remedy is the regeneration of the spirit (John 3:3).
     But this view of physical death is a gross over-simplification. In the first place, it is now recognized that death can be seen either as an event or as a process. From a legal and medical point of view it is an event, and the time of its occurrence can usually be stated. From a physiological point of view it is actually a process (as we have already noted in Chapter 6), which is going on throughout life and begins the moment we are born or even, perhaps, the moment we are conceived. What happens a few days after death is a further process of disintegration that is merely an acceleration of what has been proceeding since day one. The human body is corrupted from the very first, and this acceleration in the grave is only the last act in the play.
     Nevertheless, we know that it need not be so, for there was one truly human body that never saw corruption either in life (1 Peter 1:18,19) or in death (Acts 13:37), though the burial conditions were not unlike those of Lazarus whose body did indeed see corruption (John 11:39).

     Now the immediate cause of man's physical death can be a host of different things: starvation, disease, the accumulation of DNA replication errors, poisoning, suicide, fright, cold, heat, an accident, excessive joy, even laughter — and even hiccups! (114)
     The medical people always like to be able to establish the particular cause of death in each case if possible and the number of occasions upon which the death of an individual seems simply to have been natural and without any discoverable cause other than "old age" is remarkably few if there are any at all. *
     Yet (as we have already noted) man does not seem to die a 'natural' death under any circumstances

114. Tertullian: A Treatise on the Soul, ch. LII, with reference to Publius Crassus who died of laughter [Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1918, p.229]  
* The truth of this observation is documented in The Seed of the Woman.

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because Scripture assures us that death was introduced into human experience as the result of an act of disobedience that involved eating a forbidden food. Unlike ordinary food poisoning, the end result in this instance was a fatal damage acquired during Adam's lifetime and, contrary to the normal rules of inheritance, a damage that was passed on to all of his naturally-born descendants. Thus by sin death entered into the world and as a consequence the human race was "un-naturally" mortalized.
     Death for man is therefore the consequence OR the penalty of disobedience. The decision as to which of these two alternatives is the correct one is still a matter of theological debate. We cannot be sure from Genesis 2:17 whether the Lord is saying to Adam that disobedience would bring death as a punishment or merely as a natural consequence. Perhaps it was both.
     It is important to add that from one point of view, physical death was also a remedy, an act of mercy. As Methodius (died c.311) observed
(115), and much later Francois Turretin (1623—1687) (116), we must be rid of this defective body in order to be freed from the root of sin and hence of one basic cause of our fallen nature. Paul writes that the law was ineffective because of the "weakness of the flesh" (Romans 8:3), and the Lord excused the failure of his friends to watch with Him in a critical hour of his suffering, on the same grounds (Matthew 26:41). We cannot do without the body, but there are times when we wish we could, because it is the source of a great deal of our spiritual failure. Freedom from a disposition towards sin hinges upon freedom from this "body of sin," a freedom which physical death guarantees for the redeemed.

     It appears from the experimental evidence that animals have what is commonly called a "spanned" life, that is to say, a more or less predetermined span of life which is characteristic for each species. This is assumed to be necessary in order to prevent over-population by any one species. When

115. Methodius, The Banquet of the Ten Virgins in Fathers of the Third Century, Cleveland Coxe in[Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, vol. VI, 1911, p.3451.   
116. Turretin, Francois, On The Atonement of Christ, translated by J. R. Willson, New York, Reformed Protestant Dutch Church, 1859, p.81.

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over-population threatens in nature, there are various compensating mechanisms to deal with the situation. Some species raise smaller broods; some develop wings (aphids for example) which enable them to leave the area; some commit mass suicide (lemmings, for example); some by their increase in numbers encourage more predators from contiguous areas who multiply in the presence of plentiful game and so reduce the larder until they, too, are reduced and things reach a balance once more (wolves and deer, for example). Some (like elephants) reduce their number not by smaller litters but by lengthening the gestation period very substantially. Thus the world's animal population remains in a remarkable state of balance between food resources and numbers to be fed — except, of course, where man gets into the act.
     But if unfallen man was commanded to multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28), would he have lived on and on, multiplying indefinitely? What mechanism would have prevented his over-populating the world? Would not natural death have to be ordained for him also, as a safety device to prevent over-population by the human species? If it was, then natural death must have been ordained before sin had entered, a supposition that contradicts what Romans 5:12 says. The answer to this question is, No.
     What was provided for an unfallen race as a safety device was not natural death but translation and transformation to a higher order of life that would not leave man disembodied but with a body which, like the Lord's resurrected body, does not occupy space at all. There was to have been no death, but only "graduation." In the divine plan it was man's destiny that he should never taste of death, though provision was made for it, should his freedom abort the plan.
     We are, I think, to view the Mount of Transfiguration experience of the only Man who never need have died, as providing us with a model to show what kind of transformation would have awaited us also if we had never sinned. But

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there is this difference. For our sake, the Lord Jesus Christ came back down again and set his face to go up to Jerusalem and to death — instead of the joy that had been set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). *
     Such a race, so transformed to the kind of physical existence that characterized the Lord's resurrected body ** (of which we shall speak in Chapter 16) would in no way have over-populated the world! Like the angels, it seems we shall occupy position but not space. The problem of overcrowding of the world by immortals would therefore never have developed. For, as soon as each individual was made mature by the things which he experienced in this "time and space" existence, translation would have removed him to a higher form of existence in which time and space is of no significance. But as things are, death is necessary because no such transfiguration is in view for those not made perfect (i.e., mature) either by life as the Lord Jesus was (Hebrews 5:8) or by imputation as his people are (Hebrews 10:14). To be "made perfect" can be applied to the Lord only in the sense that whereas He was born innocent, He achieved absolute virtue by the experience of life. We never thus achieve absolute virtue. This is what it meant for the Lord Jesus to be "made perfect." It implies no imperfection at any time, but rather the purity of childhood which He turned into the positive virtue of perfect manhood.

     Man does indeed die two deaths, but it is chiefly with his physical death that we are here concerned. Because his body was not designed for dying, and because the dissolution of the fundamental union between spirit and body is

* The Greek word anti is translated "for" in this passage in the King James Version, a small word which in the English idiom of that day meant "in exchange for" rather than "because of." According to Dana and Mantey, the normal meaning of anti at this period was "instead of." [H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, Toronto, Macmillan, 1927, sect.107, p.100].
** Shortly after his resurrection, the Lord's body was in some way transformed, since Mark 16:12 tells us that the disciples did not see Him as Mary had seen Him but "in another form" (Greek: en hetero morphe).

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effectively the suspension of the wholeness of man, man's attitude towards death must clearly have a dimension to it that in no way troubles the animal world. For man, death is a terrible thing, a disaster to his very being: and he lives in fear of it for almost the whole of his life.
     For animals, death appears to be a natural thing, whereas for man it is a wholly un-natural thing. When sin entered into human experience, death entered with it as something entirely foreign to him. Indeed, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones observed, it would be quite as proper, if not more proper, to render the word 'entered' as invaded.
(117a) For as he points out, this is what the strong verb in the Greek really signifies.
     In man, body and soul are so profoundly interpenetrating that the thought of separation is, as Thomas Aquinas put it, "utterly abhorrent."
(117b) James Orr states the matter thus: death is "the violent rupture, or separation or tearing asunder, so to speak, of the two parts of his nature which in the Creator's design were never intended to be sundered. . ." (118) The immortality which man was designed to enjoy was to be an immortality in which the body played an essential part. True immortality is not merely immortality of the spirit but embraces the resurrection of the body to make the spirit's immortality meaningful by providing the immortal spirit with a requisite and proper vehicle for expression.
     James Denney spoke with perceptiveness when he wrote: "That which would be merely physical in the lower animals is not merely physical in man."
(119) While the consenting voice of science seems to say that the life principle in man's body is not different from that in any other animal, the Scriptures say that it is. It is different because man's body is a house designed for a spirit that has a totally different destiny, a destiny for which the body is essential. At the time of its dying, an animal's body has served its purpose and is laid to rest permanently, whereas the human body has only just begun to fulfil its purposes. Compared with eternity, a life in time is a mere instant; whereas the

117a. Lloyd-Jones, Martyn, Romans, (Chapter 5), Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1972, p.194.
117b. Aquinas, Thomas, Summa Theologica, I, q.4; An Aquinas Reader, Mary T. Clark, New York, Image Books, 1972.
118. Orr, James, The Christian View of God and the World, New York, Scribners, 1893, p.198.
119. Denney, James, Studies in Theology, Grand Rapids, Baker reprint ,1976, p.89.

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human body has a timeless eternity ahead of it. Its significance is entirely different.

     Science asserts that man must die because all his antecedents in the animal world die. But this is simply not the case. In the first place, unicellular animals which according to evolution must have been among his antecedents at the very beginning,* were almost certainly not mortal. Thus if evolution is true the line of man actually began as an immortal one, not a mortal one! These organisms can be killed but they are not inherently subject to death at all. It would not be true, then, that death in the animal world necessarily lies at the root of the death of man.
     In the second place, the assertion assumes lineal descent of man from one of the primate species, and for this there is no proof whatever. The only evidence is entirely circumstantial and has a certain weight only if we deny that the divine Designer might have used a similar pattern to produce a body by creation which was going to operate under similar conditions of physical existence. In less public enclaves of scientific discussion the absence of any such "proof" is now and then frankly admitted.
     The evolution of man is an article of faith, not a scientifically proven fact, even though books written for public consumption feel the assertion can and must be made as though it were. In the nature of the case, it is impossible to prove genetically that there is any relationship between a fossil that looks like a man and the man that it looks like. It cannot be proved; it can only be argued as plausible. It has been said that "all fossils are foundlings," and establishing actual relationships with certainty is at present quite impossible unless there is some other kind of evidence such as written documents, or an inscription on a tombstone, for instance. "Blood" relationships cannot be established

* After all, one of the most popular evolutionary slogans is the "amoeba to man" concept.

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from bones that are completely fossilized.
     Animal death is a mere termination of that particular animal. Human death is by no means a mere termination. It is neither termination of the individual's body nor termination of the individual's spirit. It is a disruption, but it is not a termination. It is quite natural in the one: quite un-natural in the other. It is a mistake to speak of any human death as natural. Common law in almost every society demands that the cause of death be established if possible, a fact which virtually denies that human death is ever natural. Indeed, natural death has been termed a "legal fiction."

     The death of man is as much a spiritual event as a physical one because it is the result of a spiritual judgment. By contrast, the death of an animal is not a judgment at all but is according to the divine plan for the well-being of the animal world. In man it is a judgment because the consequences of unlimited physical life for a sinful creature were unthinkable. For animals it is a wise provision because of the necessity of avoiding unrestrained multiplication and over-crowding. If fallen man had had no such limitations placed on the length of his life, the accumulated experiences of wickedness carried on century after century could only have led to an appalling reinforcement of the corruption of his nature. It was indeed by reason of great longevity that the world had become so corrupt that the Flood was brought upon man to put an end to it all. Thereafter, a limitation of 120 years at that time (Genesis 6:3) was imposed upon the normal life span, instead of the previous many centuries. In the same way, and for the same reason, it had been necessary to prevent man's access to the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, lest he should eat of it and recover the physical immortality with which he had been endowed in his unfallen state.
     For this reason, as though the alternative was too awful to put into words, Genesis 3:22 appears in Scripture as one of the few unfinished sentences. It sometimes strikes me

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as interesting that my old Hebrew professor, Dr. T. J. Meek who was responsible for the Revised Standard Version of Genesis, indicated this unfinished-ness by the use of a long dash instead of a period. Yet Dr. Meek himself had no faith whatsoever in the Bible or its message, while many more recent translators who do profess such a faith have not seen the significance of the unfinished structure of this sentence.
     To account for this difference between the death of man and animals, we have to consider the corollary, the difference between the life of man and animals. Adam's death was no more due to his having inherited animal life than animal death is due to their being involved in Adam's sin. We shall never find the real meaning of life without also recognizing the real meaning of death. Man lives under sentence of death because of his sinfulness, and thus really lives out his life under judgment for a capital offense in which his body is also standing trial. Both spirit and body are under sentence of death. He thus experiences dying for a reason quite inapplicable to all other creatures not only by reason of its dual nature but by reason of its cause.

     It is also important to realize that if Adam had been obedient, he would not have been rewarded with immortality as though it were a crown to be added to his stature. Obedience would merely have ensured the preservation of what he already had. When Adam sinned, he did not shorten his life: he introduced into it a tragic element, death, which till then was completely foreign to it.
     What was thus imposed as a penalty was not a shortening of life so that he died prematurely. What was introduced was death, an entirely new and undesigned phenomenon. Immortality was never promised as a reward since he already enjoyed it, but loss of it was indeed threatened as a punishment. Retention of it was a reward only in a very special sense, but it was the retention not the acquisition of immortality that was the reward of obedience.
     Thus man, unlike the animals, does not simply come to

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an end. His death is by appointment, an appointment with the Judge which is followed by the passing of sentence on his life (Hebrews 9:27). Death is, therefore, tantamount to a summons to the Courthouse, and the summons carries with it the certainty that, apart from saving faith, the judgment can only be "guilty" — even before the trial begins. He thus lives all his life under the shadow of a warrant of death and when the time comes he is executed. This is what makes death so terrible, apart from redemption, and so utterly different for man from the death of every other creature.

     Now we have spoken of two lives and two deaths in man's case, and it is necessary to say a few words about spiritual death. While physically man is "put to death," spiritually man actually "chooses" to die. This exercise of choice in the matter of spiritual death means that effectively man commits spiritual suicide. By which I mean that we sin and die spiritually because we want to. We don't like the penalty, but we do want to sin. Such is the nature of human nature. And as already noted, we sin "as soon as we can."
     We go willingly along this route: we do not have to be persuaded. We are invited to choose spiritual life but we choose spiritual death, unfailingly and universally. This is the natural inclination of the natural man even though at first we are aware that it is not the way to go and our conscience troubles us.
     When we commit sin we are acting freely. Herein lies whatever freedom was left to us after the Fall: freedom to sin. Like a free-falling parachutist, we are not aware of our actual bondage unless we suddenly try to go the other way. We do not sin with any compulsion from without; we sin because of an inner drive, a drive which is suicidal with respect to our spiritual life.

     By contrast, in the matter of physical death, the case is

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entirely different. No man in health wants to die. While our spiritual life is willingly surrendered, our physical life is not at all willingly surrendered. We are executed. We are unwilling victims. Death happens to us, overtakes us. We may hasten it by bad habits but we do not deliberately adopt those bad habits in order to hasten it. We would prefer to enjoy the bad habits without the hastening. . . .
    There is always, of course, in the matter of physical death viewed merely in its physiological aspects, a certain parallelism between the decease of animals and the decease of man, but this is because man was designed to function in the same world. Yet for all this parallelism there is a fundamental difference nevertheless, because man was not designed for death. Though he no longer enjoys the kind of physical life which God intended for him, the potential for it still remains. By the experience of new birth and redemption that potential will be realized once again in due course.
     In this, therefore, there is clearly a difference between animal and human death. Man knows he must die and hates the thought of it. At the last moment, it would seem to us that an animal would "hate" the prospect of it, but they don't know that they must die. They have no knowledge that there is a spanned allotment of days, whereas man thinks otherwise of himself and seeks to postpone death if at all possible. And not infrequently the medical profession imposes prolongation upon him under conditions which would sometimes even be viewed as cruel if it were applied to animals.
     Why do we have such a horror of dying personally and extend this horror to the dying of others even when it would clearly be a merciful thing to allow them the freedom to do so? There was a time when the medical people sought to preserve or improve health . . . not simply to prolong life per se. The goal was to add life to years, not merely years to life.
     Superficially, the dying of an animal and the dying of a

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man might seem to be quite similar, but there is a tremendous difference in the very nature, the very essence, of a life lived under the conditions of potential immortality as opposed to life lived under the terms of a planned limitation that the animal cannot possibly be aware of.
     For man, the imposition of death lies heavily upon his inner consciousness as a dark shadow. Animals know nothing of this "shadow of death," so that there is a difference between the death of fallen man and unfallen animals despite the fact that it is for both a termination of something.
     Watching a herd of wild creatures being attacked by a predator, one becomes aware that as soon as one of their number is brought down, the frantic rush to escape seems to be treated at once rather as a form of excitement, almost more of a stimulus than a terror. The rest of the herd stops running and all resume their browsing or their play. That one of their company has suffered a violent death appears to have little or no upsetting effect whatever, and under normal circumstances both prey and predator take no further interest in each other. This is not man's attitude towards death at all. While physiologically the two deaths may be described in the same terms as to their effect viewed externally, they are clearly quite different as experienced internally.

     It might be argued that the machinery of the body, like all other machinery, is bound to be subject to failure in the end. Death would therefore be inevitable for man and animals alike. We know now that this is not the case. It is not true of unicellular creatures like the amoeba. The microscopic size of these creatures has little or no importance since size is irrelevant to life. To the individual amoeba a lifetime is a lifetime, and its highly active awareness of its situation, so ably recorded by H. S. Jennings in 1910, is just as real an awareness for these little creatures as ours is for us. Their cup of awareness is full. The whole gamut of its responses to life's challenges are as serious to it as are

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children's fears and hopes and disappointments to them. We as adults forget how real a child's disappointments are since they seem by comparison with ours so inconsequential. But, I repeat, size has really nothing to do with the situation.
     It is clear, therefore, that God can and has designed creatures which are not subject to natural death, though these creatures experience life in the fullest sense of the term for them. It would be a great mistake to suppose that these microscopic animals are not complex simply because they are so small. All living systems are unbelievably complex, not only in structure but in behaviour as well. Even individual body cells taken apart can re-assemble themselves and carry on! Nothing that lives is "simple."
     There is no reason why the machinery of the human body should not have been perfectly designed to operate indefinitely and without failure. Indeed, we know that it can operate perfectly because the world has witnessed One such perfect organism which was truly human — the body of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our redemption hinges upon the perfect operation of that body, since if it had been imperfect as our fallen bodies now are, it would have been destined to die anyway and the sacrifice of that body could have been no more than a premature, not a vicarious, death.

     Man finds it difficult to think of himself apart from his body. The death of the body is therefore felt as a threat to personal continuance. It is both a rending asunder and a potential termination of identity.
     But God "has set eternity in the heart of man" (Ecclesiastes 3:11) * and throughout history man has borne witness to this deep conviction by caring for the dead in a way animals never do — by deliberately burying them and often trying to ensure their comfort in the world to come. It is almost universally agreed by anthropologists that wherever fossils

* The word rendered "the world" in the King James Version is the Hebrew word for "eternity."

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are found buried with provision for a future life, no matter how simple and fragmentary the evidence is, those fossil remains belong within the human species.
     Of course, where no such evidence exists the remains may still be truly human, for people are sometimes buried by accident. But the presence of pottery vessels or figurines or food of any kind, or even burial in a fetal position, this is generally taken as evidence of conscious concern for a life hereafter. Our primitive contemporaries, who have in the past been viewed as our contemporary ancestors are even more likely to leave such evidence in the grave than we who consider ourselves much more advanced in our ideas. They more easily sacrifice valuables to this end.
    No animal shows any of this kind of concern for its dead. Death is clearly a very different matter for man than it is for animals.
     Evolution may very well provide a rationale for the death of animals, but in relation to the death of man, as we experience it in all its sadness or terror, evolution really has nothing to say. It is a different phenomenon, an un-natural one and therefore not accountable by derivation from death as animals experience it. It belongs in another category, and only revelation can shed any real light on its meaning for man.

     While I greatly admire those who have so ably defended creation against evolution, I cannot help but feel that to do this by deliberately divorcing the issue from Christian Faith is to treat the case as though it were merely a matter of "scientific evidence." It would seem to be humanly wise, but I fear it is really a spiritual surrender to secularism.
     The issue has to be fought on our grounds, not theirs. If it is won on their grounds and the teaching of creation is ever allowed, it will be a victory of the intellect but will have lost its spiritual significance entirely. The theory of creation can never be presented faithfully as an alternative to evolution by divorcing it from its spiritual implications.


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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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