Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return to God who gave it.
I. THE DESTINY OF THE BODY.
1. Death is the severance of the two parts of man's complex being; the dissolution, not of the being, but of the union, between body and soul.
2. The text points to the origin of the body. "Then shall the dust return" — not "the body." It is described by what it was and will be: "Dust thou art," etc. (Psalm 103:14; Genesis 18:27). The Church, in the same way, commits the body to the grave, as "dust to dust," in the Burial Office. This is a humbling thought, and it is true, whatever view may be taken of the creation of the body.
3. It "shall return to the earth." "Unto dust shalt thou return," has in it the accents of Divine disappointment. An act of man has intervened, whereby the hindrance to corruption has been removed, and the corruptible body therefore pursues its natural course. "God made not death" (Wisd. 1:13), but man "called it to" him by forfeiting the grace which kept it away. The result is, "in Adam all die."
4. It is bodily death to which the text refers; and the words are true now, as in the Old Covenant — though Christ redeemed both body and soul. "The body is dead because of sin" (Romans 8:10), though "the spirit is life because of righteousness."
II. THE DESTINY OF THE SPIRIT.
1. It pursues a different route, for its origin is different. "God who gave it." The words point to the spirit as being a special creation of God — the infusio animae. God is truly "the Father of Spirits" (Hebrews 12:9), and it can be said of souls that they are His, because He directly creates them (Ezekiel 18:8). They come from Him.
2. The spirit returns to its Source. The words, "Into Thine hands I commit" for, "commend," Prayer-book Version of "My spirit," are used at the departing of the soul, when leaving the body. Thus death is regarded as the withdrawal of that which had been given.
3. Here is the belief in a future life, and in a book, too, which materialists and pessimists have thought favoured their views. The soul in its individuality; the soul as a supra-sensuous substance — the spirit; the soul as the express gift of God; the soul as an immortal principle beyond the reach of that disintegration which death produces in the "houses of clay" (Job 4:19); the soul returning to Him "who only hath immortality" in an absolute sense, as Self-derived; — all this is in Ecclesiastes, before Christ had brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.
1. The remembrance of the end is one which is impressed upon us in Holy Scripture as most important (Deuteronomy 32:29; Psalm 39:4).
2. This is most necessary in the time of temptation, in making some important choice, or when languid in devotion. It acts respectively as a curb, as an adviser, as a stimulant, on those occasions.
3. If death were annihilation, to view life from the standpoint of death would be morbid; but as death is the gate to higher life, such a view is not, one of unmingled sadness, but fills this present life with interest, as its issues are seen to be eternal.
4. To seek more and more to realize how precious is the immortal spirit, God-given; and to learn how to preserve it from sin, knowing its destination.
(H. W. Hutchings, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.