But man dies, and wastes away: yes, man gives up the ghost, and where is he?
After all, this is a question. Reason and revelation leave it such. The speculations of the ancients, where Catholic sentiments prevailed and the voice of poetry, which is but the plaint of philosophy, leave it a question. It is obscure, spectral, vaporous and ghostly as an apparition, the figure of a restless, undeveloped being, beyond our knowledge, crude, cloudy, vague. "Where is he?" There runs a yearning through our nature, as the autumn breeze steals through the trees. It is the question. Its intensity is proportioned to its obscurity. "Where is he?" Other data are needed. We may ask, as we do in reference to a stranger of stately form or commanding voice, whom we meet on the sidewalk, "Who is he?" The question may be of eager interest and concern, of sympathy or of opposition. Or we may say of man, "What is he?" and institute a metaphysical analysis into the nature of matter and mind; then push the query, What is man, and what am I?" All these problems depend on the disclosure of the ultimate destiny of man. "Where is he at last?" Now we may mistake the shadow for the substance, a ship in the distance for a cloud, a meteor for a star. Walking in the edge of a wood, looking out upon the water, I may see a forest of masts, and for an instant take them for dry trees, until I see those tall, quivering masts move and the vessels floated out upon the bosom of the bay. Human life cannot be distinctly defined until we find out all there is of a man. We want facts. Oftentimes we answer one question by asking another. So let us turn to history and seek a famous or infamous man, a Cyrus or a Caligula, a Washington or a Robespierre. Each may now be but a heap of ashes, but what was the real distinction all the way through the careers of these men? What is love, and what is honour? We cannot answer until we get the data. Notice, then, two things, the unsettled element, and the point of solution where light breaks in.
1. The unsolved question, "Where is he?" You have lost a child. Whither has he gone? You do not say that you have lost a treasure until you have gone to the place where you feel sure it is, and do not find it. You are bereaved because you are bewildered. You were talking to a friend by your side. Unexpectedly he vanished without your knowledge, and you find yourself talking to vacancy. The mother bends over and peers into the vacant cradle, takes up a little shoe, a toy, a treasure, and says, "He was here, he ought to be here, he must be here! Where is he?" "Not here," is all the answer that nature gives her. She is bewildered. The same query touches scepticism. Though there be an intellectual, logical assent to the doctrine of immortality, there is a difficulty in entertaining the idea. We cannot see the spirit or its passage upwards. We enter the chamber of death. We see that still body, white and limp; the garments it wore, the medicines administered, and the objects it once beheld. We look out and see that the sky is just as blue as ever, and the tramp of hunting feet is heard, as usual, in the street. We cry aloud, "Ho! have ye seen a spirit pass?" "Not here," comes back again. Where, where is he? This is the unsettled element.
2. Here is the point where light breaks in upon the bewildered soul. It is found in the revelation of a flesh form and a spirit form revealed in Christ, the risen one. Science tells us of material elements, unseen by natural vision, globules of ether, and crystals of light to be detected by instruments prepared by the optician. The microscope reveals atoms that the unaided eye never could find. So the New Testament reveals what nature and science cannot make manifest. Dissolution is not annihilation. We read, "In Him was life." He came, He descended, and ascended again. When a candle goes out, where goes the light? Christ went out and back, to and fro, as you show a child the way by going into and out of a door. He came forth from God, and His first life was a glorious disclosure; but we must not forget His second life after His death, burial, and resurrection. He gave up the ghost, and He lay in the tomb; then stood up, walked and talked with the disciples, a human being. He showed the fact that because He lives we shall live also. "I will that they whom Thou hast given Me be with Me, where I am. Let not your heart be troubled. I go to prepare a place for you." Now light, refluent and radiant, breaks upon our way. He is not here, but risen, and "this same Jesus" shall return again. I may ask a mother, "Where are your children?" She may say that they are at school, or at play, or somewhere on the premises. They are not lost, though she may not exactly locate them. Or, "Where is your husband? He went out awhile ago," or, "The children went out with him; their father took them from home early." So with our dear departed. Out of sight they are not out of mind; not out of your mind, of course, and,, you are not out of their mind, nor out of their sight, I think. They are "somewhere about the premises," the many-mansioned universe of God, expanding, radiant everywhere. It is one abode.
(Hugh S. Carpenter, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?