Appendix - Annihilationism - 2. J. H. Pettingell: "The Theological Trilemma"

Mr. Pettingell’s book appeared about the time my own was published. It professes to be largely independent of kindred influences, "written under such circumstances of isolation as prevented all access to the volumes of his own or of any other library." "He has attempted simply to express his own sentiments, not those of other men." Yet both methods and results differ little from other writers of his school. We have but space for the review of the Scripture arguments, and indeed of those only that are in some measure fresh, at least in the way of putting them.

A false psychology, here as elsewhere, profoundly influences his conclusions: -
"Soul denotes the mind as connected with the vital principle of Adam. It is what man has in common with other animals. It is cosmical in its relations. It looks downward to the earth. It is natural and transitory, like all earthly things. But Spirit denotes the mind or superior and supernatural vital principle of Jesus Christ. It is from above. It tends heavenward, and is indestructible. It is the spirit (Neshamah) of life, the breath of God Himself, so to speak, which He only can communicate to man. The soul he receives by ordinary generation, but the Spirit only by a new birth (Jno. iii. 3). The possession of body and soul constitutes a natural man, but it needs the spirit to constitute him a spiritual man, and an heir of eternal life" (p.26).

This is not new essentially, but the statement of it has some originality. We shall scarcely understand it aright without connecting it with the after-statements of chaps. vii. and viii.
Here he tells us, looking at creation in its gradation from the lowest to the highest, we have, first, chaotic matter; next, "aggregated into masses, having the property of cohesion, which, for the want of a more general and comprehensive term, we call its life, or, the life-power in its lowest manifestation"! Then, possessing chemical properties. Then crystallizing, by "a certain formative life-force within." Then organic life, as in die plant, with "a certain blind instinct."

"After this, comes matter possessing all the foregoing properties or various degrees of the life-power, with a sensitive nature superadded, which is yet a higher kind of life, with the power of thought, volition, and action. This kind of life is called in Hebrew Nephesh, which means, living soul, or creature that lives by breathing" "Last of all comes man, carrying with him all the Properties, functions, and faculties of the orders beneath him, and yet endowed with something more which links him with the invisible world above. This peculiar property in man is called in the Hebrew Neshamah, a word never applied to the brutes: the Greek equivalent is Pneuma; in Latin it is Spiritus, hence our word Spirit; and the world above is called the spiritual world; and this higher kind of life in man is called his spiritual life (pneumatikos life), to distinguish it from his animal (or psuchikos) life."

In the fall, Mr. Pettingell’s doctrine is that the spiritual part was lost, -
"The soul of man, when it becomes entirely an animal soul by the loss of its spiritual nature, becomes perishable like the soul of all other animals. But when it is, or becomes, a spiritual soul, which can only be by union with God, it may live forever. It is here that we see the real difference between the real children of Adam by a natural birth and the children of God by a spiritual birth, and why it is that while the former must perish, the latter are immortal."

Let us examine this, then, with Scripture, so far as we can take Scripture, for our author goes far beyond. Scripture says nothing of the life-power manifested in cohesion, or in chemical combination, or even in the crystal. Nor does it speak of the instinct of the plant This we may well pass over. We must, however, deny that nephesh (or even nephesh chayah) means "a creature that lives by breathing." We must also deny that neshamah represents the spirit of man proper, or that it is represented by the Greek pneuma. Ruach is the true word for spirit in the Hebrew, as pneuma is in the Greek, and that whether it be the Spirit or God, the angel-spirits, or the spirit of man; and this without any possibility of question. Both of these words have the lower sense of breath, and neshamah is the ruach in action, most commonly signifies "breathing" (in Greek not pneuma, but pnoe) although applied in the higher sense in Prov. xx. 27.

Neshamah, moreover (necessarily in the lower sense), is applied to the beast in Gen. vii. 22, while ruach in the sense of spirit is not, save vaguely in Eccles. iii 21, - a passage elsewhere fully examined.

Neither ruach nor pneuma speak necessarily of any product of new birth. That is indeed "spirit" in nature, as if in the Lord’s words to Nicodemus, but not the spirit of man, which is in every man still, and the means of all human intelligence: "What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?" (I Cor. ii. 11.) Hence, if deprived of this by the fall, every unrenewed man would be an idiot. If he had lost it, the moral faculty also would be lost, and man could no more be a sinner than a beast could be one; the gospel and the day of judgment would alike have no possible significance for him.

But there are other incongruities. "The word Neshamah, translated ‘the breath of life,’ " says Mr. Pettingell, "means the Spirit of God, and does not belong to man even, except as it is breathed into him by God Himself." But when so breathed, as into Adam, it becomes "the true normal life of the soul of man" (p. 112) and "the spirit is the breath of God; it is an immortal principle, it cannot die."

It is the Spirit of God, then, that becomes the life of man; yet, as it would appear, it never belongs really to him. Indeed, if it did, the doctrine would be dangerously near to incarnation. Nevertheless, the whole spiritual faculty inheres in what does not properly belong to him: that is, if I understand it aright, is no real constituent part of the man himself.

Whether I am interpreting Mr. Pettingell rightly here, I can hardly say. The absurdity every way is so great that it is only a question of choosing the least. For one cannot suppose him to mean the Spirit of God became or becomes an integral part of man - that he means this. Yet it is clear all the spiritual faculties reside for him in this spirit of man which is the spirit or breath of God within him. And then the necessary consequence follows as I have put it: either there is no responsibility (for you cannot attribute it to the Spirit of God) or it is the animal soul - which the beast has just as much as man - that is responsible. Whichever horn of the dilemma our author please to choose, it is but a choice of what is evidently and equally inconceivable on every side.

His language seems to show a sense of perplexity, which he may not indeed have faced so as to realize it. For with him both soul and spirit seem to attenuate often into life of a higher or lower kind. The soul indeed he allows to be more than life - an entity that lives; but of spirit, he says that "it denotes the divine principle of life, dwelling primarily in God, and by Him communicated to the soul of man as its peculiar divine life." Now, if we take his whole doctrine, it would certainly seem as if this life were but an effect of the Spirit of God inbreathed. It is a life communicated to the soul. The soul is after all the real man: yet the soul is bestial, or (if you will), "animal." How a spiritual life can be communicated to an animal soul is a question difficult enough. But we are not called to answer it. Scripture is plain, and contradicts the whole system which is here presented to us.

When we come to consider the penalty, the same confusion follows us: -
"Against whom or what is this threatening [of death] denounced? We reply, to the sinning man himself most surely. Not to his hand, nor to his feet nor to his body but to the whole man. ‘What man holds of matter does not make up his personality. They are his, not he.’ The words of threatening are, ‘Thou shalt surely die.’ It is not the body alone, nor the soul alone, nor any two of them together - much less the body on the one hand and the spirit on the other, while the soul, in which the personality of man especially resides, is to live on forever. But the whole man, in the totality of his being, is to die."

Then there seems to be a spirit to die. But if it were merely a life communicated, the man would die, being dispossessed of it, but not the life. You can no more truly speak of a life dying than of a life living. The life does not possess life, but the man, or the soul, does. Dying is losing life. If the spirit lose life, it must have had it. It must be a distinct living entity.

But no, says Mr. Pettingell, the spirit is the Spirit of God, "it is the breath of God; it is an immortal principle: it cannot die" (p. 112). Certainly, if it be the Spirit of God, it cannot. But how are we to reconcile these flat contradictories? We must once more leave this to the author.

Really, there is no difficulty as to the threatening, if we will only learn from Scripture what death is. It is the quiet assumption of foundations which allows so many arguments to be built up apparently so impregnably. "Dust thou art, and unto dust shall thou return" is the divine judgment as announced to man when fallen, the divine interpretation of the doom threatened before. But the soul is not dust; nor the spirit. These, then, are not to return to dust. And when, at the end of ages of mortal existence, the dead - the wicked dead - are called up before the "great white throne," "death and hell" (or "hades") deliver up the dead which are "in them." Why "in them," if death in the same way applies to all? No; though the man dies, yet the blow falls directly upon the body only. Death gives up the body; hades, the soul.

We have long since discussed this first sentence, which is not the final one at all. The common mistake of reading into it the final one has favoured the cause our author advocates. He goes on to insist, as all his party do, upon life and death being used in application to soul or spirit in the same material sense as when they apply to the body. "The words ‘life’ and ‘death’ are as applicable to them, not as figures of speech in some shadowy, tropical, unmeaning sense, but as actual verities, as to things altogether material and sensible." Here the basis of the whole doctrine and its materialism become apparent.

New birth, according to this teaching, is the reconstitution of the man by the restoration to him of the spirit which he has lost. Thus we are told clearly that the spirit in man is the spirit of life (Neshamah), the breath of God Himself, so to speak," which "he receives only by new birth" (p. 27). And this is "indestructible and eternal."

But this is just what Adam is said to have had at the beginning: "The word Neshamah, translated ‘the breath of life,’ means the Spirit of God." "The spirit is the breath of God; it is an immortal principle; it cannot die." According to this, it would certainly seem that, as born again, we are brought back again simply to the condition of Adam while yet unfallen, - guarded and guaranteed to us, no doubt, through the work of Him in whom we receive it. Still, in this case it seems strange to ask "by what means were they" - our first parents, if unfallen, - "to rise to the higher celestial life - that ‘life and immortality’ that are brought to light in the gospel?" (p. 122.)

I can find nothing more in Mr. Pettingell’s book that needs examination. His discussion of the special texts for eternal punishment is especially weak and inadequate.