The Tripartite Nature Of Man -- By: Samuel Whittlesey Howland

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 058:232 (Oct 1901)
Article: The Tripartite Nature Of Man
Author: Samuel Whittlesey Howland


The Tripartite Nature Of Man

Rev. Samuel Whittlesey Howland

The truth in reference to the nature of man is most important, because of its bearing on so many important doctrines. The doctrines of sin,—its nature, its origin, its transmission,—conversion, sanctification, the person of Christ, the atonement, the resurrection, the future life, and many others, are modified by the doctrine as to the nature of man. Unless the latter is both correctly and clearly stated, not only will erroneous views be held on these other points, but the practical activity of the church may be seriously affected, so close is the connection between truth and life.

The earlier Christian fathers, as Irenæus, Justin Martyr, Origen, and others, held a tripartite view as to man’s nature, as the most natural interpretation of Scripture. But when Apollinaris based a dangerous heresy on this doctrine, and the Latin Church, which became dominant, definitely and with authority adopted the doctrine of the bipartite nature of man, the older view was neglected or rejected. In modern times it has been taken up again in a tentative sort of way, or with an attempt to harmonize it with the other theory. But I have nowhere seen an altogether satisfactory treatment of the subject, and therefore venture to attempt a brief statement of it.

It is now pretty generally conceded that man shares his lower nature with the animals, and therefore in our induction of facts we may make use of some facts of the animal

kingdom. The principal distinction between living things and those without life is, that the living are organized. An organized thing is one which is made up of organs, i.e. parts which have functions to perform for the good of the whole. It is difficult to conceive of an organism without an organizer, something which makes the unity of the whole by making the functions or actions of the several parts subservient to the good of the whole. Every plant has its plan, which it carries out, only slightly modified by varying circumstances. That which carries the plan is not the matter of which it is composed, but the organizer, an immaterial something which gives the plant individuality and plan, and unity and reciprocal activity of its parts.

Joseph Cook says: “As the plan of your eagle, your lion, your man, your oak, is steadily adhered to from the first to the last, we may say that plan belongs to something that is not in flux, that came in when the plan threw its first shuttle, and goes out unimpaired even after the shuttle ceases to move. That invisible somewhat, some scholar in Germany calls a spiritual body.” This immaterial organizer, or user of matter, is found in the plant, animal, and man, v...

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