Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Genesis 1:26 - 1:27

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Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Genesis 1:26 - 1:27


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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:

In the Image of God

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.—Gen_1:26-27.

God made the light and the sun, and they were very good. He made the seas and the mountains, and they were very good. He made the fishes of the water, and the birds of the air, and the beasts of the field—all that wonderful creation of life, which, dull and unbelieving as we are, daily more and more excites our endless wonder and awe and praise—and He saw that it was all very good. He made the herb of the field, everything that grows, everything that lives on the face of this beautiful and glorious world, and all was very good. But of all this good the end was not yet reached. There was still something better to be made. Great lights in the firmament, and stars beyond the reach of the thought of man in the depth of space, sea and mountain, green tree and gay flower, tribes of living creatures in the deep below and the deep above of the sky, four-footed beasts of the earth in their strength and beauty, and worms that live out of the sight and knowledge of all other creatures—these were all as great and marvellous as we know them to be; these were all said to be “very good” by that Voice which had called them into being. Heaven and earth were filled with the majesty of His glory. But they were counted up, one by one, because they were not enough for Him to make, not enough for Him to satisfy Him by their goodness. He reckoned them all up; He pronounced on their excellence. But yet there was something which they had not reached to. There was something still to be made, which should be yet greater, yet more wonderful, yet more good than they. There was a beauty which, with all their beauty, they could not reach; a perfection which, with all their excellence, they were not meant, or made, to share. They declared the glory of God, but not His likeness. They displayed the handiwork of His wisdom, but they shared not in His spirit, His thoughts, His holiness. So, after their great glory, came a yet greater glory. The living soul, like unto God, had not yet been made. Then said God, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” There was made the great step from the wonder and beauty of the world, to the creation of man, with a soul and spirit more wonderful, more excellent, than all the excellence and wonders of the world, because it was made in the likeness of that great and holy and good God who made the world.

1. The foundations of the Biblical doctrine of man are firmly laid, at the very commencement of his history, in the accounts given of his creation. In this narrative of creation in the opening chapter of Genesis we have the noblest of possible utterances regarding man: “God created man in his own image.” The manner in which that declaration is led up to is hardly less remarkable than the utterance itself.

2. The last stage in the work of creation has been reached, and the Creator is about to produce His masterpiece. But, as if to emphasize the importance of this event, and to prepare us for something new and exceptional, the form of representation changes. Hitherto the simple fiat of omnipotence has sufficed—“God said.” Now the Creator—Elohim—is represented as taking counsel with Himself (for no other is mentioned): “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”; and in the next verse, with the employment of the stronger word “created” (bara), the execution of this purpose is narrated: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

We are told that the language in which that creation is spoken of, i.e. “Let us make man,” implies the doctrine of a plurality of persons in the Deity; in other words, the author, whose avowed object it was to teach the unity of God, so far forgot himself as to teach the contrary. We are told again that we are to found on this account the doctrine of the Trinity. There is no reason, only ignorance, in such a view. The Hebrew when he wanted to speak of anything majestic, spoke in the plural, not in the singular. He spoke of “heavens,” not of heaven. In the same way he spoke of Gods, yet meaning only One. Exactly in the same way the courtesy of modern ages has substituted “you” for “thou”; and here the very form of the writer’s language required that he should put “us” instead of “me” in speaking of the majesty of God. Further, to look for the Trinity here would be utterly to reverse the whole method of God’s revelation. We know from our own lives that God does things gradually, and we conclude that He did the same with His chosen people. He had to teach them first the unity of the Godhead; the nature of that unity was to be taught afterwards. Conceive what would have been the result in an age of polytheism of teaching the Trinity. The doctrine would have inevitably degenerated into tritheism.1 [Note: F. W. Robertson.]

The subject is the creation of man in the image of God. There are two ways of looking at it: (1) in its entirety, as we look at the white light; and (2) in its component parts, as we see the light in a rainbow. Then we have—

I.       The Image of God in itself.

         1.       Image and Likeness are not distinct.

                  2.       The Image is not Dominion.

                  3.       The Image is of the whole Personality.

                  4.       The Image was not wholly lost.

II.      The Parts of the Image.

         1.       Reason.

                  2.       Self-consciousness.

                  3.       Recognition of Right and Wrong.

                  4.       Communion with God.

                  5.       Capacity for Redemption.

Then will follow two practical conclusions, and the text will be set in its place beside two other texts.

I

The Image of God

1. No distinction is to be made between the words “image” and “likeness.” In patristic and mediæval theology much is made of the circumstance that two words are used, the former being taken to mean man’s natural endowments, the latter a superadded gift of righteousness. But the words are synonymous. “Likeness” is added to “image” for emphasis. The repetition imparts a rhythmic movement to the language, which may be a faint echo of an old hymn on the glory of man, like Psalms 8.

2. The view that the Divine image consists in dominion over the creatures cannot be held without an almost inconceivable weakening of the figure, and is inconsistent with the sequel, where the rule over the creatures is, by a separate benediction, conferred on man, already made in the image of God. The truth is that the image marks the distinction between man and the animals, and so qualifies him for dominion: the latter is the consequence, not the essence, of the Divine image.

With respect to man himself we are told on the one side that he is dust, “formed of the dust of the earth.” The phrase marks our affinity to the lower animals. It is a humbling thing to see how little different the form of man’s skeleton is from that of the lower animals; more humbling still when we compare their inward physiological constitution with our own. Herein man is united to the beasts. But “God breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life”: herein he is united to the Deity. The heathen, recognizing in their own way the spiritual in man, tried to bridge over the chasm between it and the earthly by making God more human. The way of revelation, on the contrary, is to make man more godlike, to tell of the Divine idea yet to be realized in his nature. Nor have we far to go to find some of the traces of this Divine in human nature. (1) We are told that God is just and pure and holy. What is the meaning of these words? Speak to the deaf man of hearing, or the blind of light, he knows not what you mean. And so to talk of God as good and just and pure implies that there is goodness, justice, purity, within the mind of man. (2) We find in man the sense of the infinite: just as truly as God is boundless is the soul of man boundless; there is something boundless, infinite, in the sense of justice, in the sense of truth, in the power of self-sacrifice. (3) In man’s creative power there is a resemblance to God. He has filled the world with his creations. It is his special privilege to subdue the power of nature to himself. He has forced the lightning to be his messenger, has put a girdle round the earth, has climbed up to the clouds and penetrated down to the depths of the sea. He has turned the forces of Nature against herself; commanding the winds to help him in braving the sea. And marvellous as is man’s rule over external, dead nature, more marvellous still is his rule over animated nature. To see the trained falcon strike down the quarry at the feet of his master, and come back, when God’s free heaven is before him; to see the hound use his speed in the service of his master, to take a prey not to be given to himself; to see the camel of the desert carrying man through his own home: all these show the creative power of man and his resemblance to God the Creator. Once more, God is a God of order. The universe in which God reigns is a domain in which order reigns from first to last, in which everything has its place, its appointed position; and the law of man’s life, as we have seen, is also order.1 [Note: F. W. Robertson.]

There is no progress in the world of bees,

However wise and wonderful they are. Lies the bar,

To wider goals, in that tense strife to please

A Sovereign Ruler? Forth from flowers to trees

Their little quest is; not from star to star.

This is not growth; the mighty avatar

Comes not to do his work with such as these.2 [Note: E. W. Wilcox, Poems of Experience, 72.]

3. The image or likeness is not that of the body only, or of the spirit only, but of the whole personality.

(1) It is perfectly certain that the Hebrews did not suppose this likeness to God to consist in any physical likeness. It is the doctrine of the Old Testament as well as of the New that God is a Spirit; and, although He may have manifested Himself to men in human or angelic shape, He has no visible form, and cannot and must not be represented by any. “Thou sawest no form or similitude” (Deu_4:12). The image does not, directly at least, denote external appearance; we must look for the resemblance to God chiefly in man’s spiritual nature and spiritual endowments, in his freedom of will, in his self-consciousness, in his reasoning power, in his sense of that which is above nature, the good, the true, the eternal; in his conscience, which is the voice of God within him; in his capacity for knowing God and holding communion with Him; in a word, in all that allies him to God, al that raises him above sense and time and merely material considerations, all that distinguishes him from, and elevates him above, the brutes. So the writer of the apocryphal Book of Wisdom says: “God created man to be immortal, and made him an image of his own eternity” (Gen_2:23).

(2) On the other hand, that this Divine image expresses itself and is seen in man’s outward form cannot be denied. In looks, in bearing, in the conscious dignity of rule and dominion, there is a reflection of this Divine image. St. Augustine tries to make out a trinity in the human body, as before in the human mind, which shall correspond in its measure to the Divine Trinity. Nevertheless, he says modestly: “Let us endeavour to trace in man’s outward form some kind of footstep of the Trinity, not because it is of itself in the same way (as the inward being) the image of God. For the apostle says expressly that it is the inner man that is renewed after the image of Him that created him; and again, ‘Though the outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.’ Let us then look as far as it is possible in that which perisheth for a kind of likeness to the Trinity; and if not one more express, at least one that may be more easily discerned. The very term ‘outward man’ denotes a certain similitude to the inward man.”

(3) But the truth is that we cannot cut man in two. The inward being and the outward have their correspondences and their affinities, and it is of the compound being man, fashioned of the dust of the earth and yet filled with the breath of God, that it is declared that he was created after the image of God. The ground and source of this his prerogative in creation must be sought in the Incarnation. It is this great mystery that lies at the root of man’s being. He is like God, he is created in the image of God, he is, in St. Paul’s words, the “image and glory of God” (1Co_11:7), because the Son of God took man’s nature in the womb of His virgin mother, thereby uniting for ever the manhood and the Godhead in one adorable Person. This was the Divine purpose before the world was, and hence this creation of man was the natural consummation of all God’s work.

4. And it is important to remember that the “image of God,” according to Hebrew thought, was not completely lost, however seriously it may have been impaired, by what is described as the Fall. In Gen_5:1-3, we read, “In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; male and female created he them; … and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. And Adam … begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth”—meaning that, as Adam was created in the image of God, Seth inherited that image. After the flood, God is represented as saying to Noah, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” Murder is a kind of sacrilege; to kill a man is to destroy the life of a creature created in the Divine image; the crime is to be punished with death. James, too, in his epistle, insists that the desperate wickedness of the tongue is shown in its reckless disregard of the Divine image in man, “Therewith bless we the Lord and Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made in the image of God”; in cursing men we therefore show a want of reverence for God Himself, in whose image they were made, and are guilty of a certain measure of profanity. The “image of God,” therefore, according to these ancient Scriptures, does not necessarily include moral and spiritual perfection; it must include the possibility of achieving it; it reveals the Divine purpose that man should achieve it; but man, even after he has sinned, still retains the “image of God” in the sense in which it is attributed to him in the Hebrew Scriptures. It belongs to his nature, not to his character. Man was made in the “image of God” because he is a free, intelligent, self-conscious, and moral Personality.

I have been told that there is in existence, amongst the curiosities of a Continental museum, a brick from the walls of ancient Babylon which bears the imprint of one of Babylon’s mighty kings. Right over the centre of the royal cypher is deeply impressed the footprint of one of the pariah dogs which wandered about that ancient city. It was the invariable custom in ancient Babylon to stamp the bricks used for public works with the cypher of the reigning monarch, and while this particular brick was lying in its soft and plastic state, some wandering dog had, apparently accidentally, trodden upon it. Long ages have passed. The king’s image and superscription is visible, but defaced—well-nigh illegible, almost obliterated. The name of that mighty ruler cannot be deciphered; the footprint of the dog is clear, sharply defined, deeply impressed, as on the day on which it was made. So far as any analogy will hold (which is not very far), it is an instructive type of the origin and the dual construction of the human race. Suffer the imagination to wander back—far, far back—into the unthinkable past, and conceive the All-creating Spirit obeying the paramount necessity of His nature, which is Love, and bringing into existence the race called man. As the outbirth of God—as Divine Spirit differentiated into separate entities—man could not be other than deeply impressed, stamped with the cypher of his Father’s image and likeness; the mark of the King is upon him. Obviously, however, he is not yet ready to be built into that great temple of imperishable beauty, fit to be the habitation of the Eternal, which is the ultimate design of God for man. A responsible being, perfected and purified, tested and found faithful, cannot be made; he must grow; and to grow he must be resisted. He must emerge pure from deep contrasts; contradiction being a law of moral life, contradiction must be provided. And therefore, while still in his plastic State, while still in the unhardened, inchoate condition indicated in the sweet pastoral idyll of the Garden of Eden, there comes by the wandering dog—the allegorical impersonation of the animal nature, the embodiment of the lower appetite, the partial will, the Ahriman of the Zoroastrian, the Satan of post-captivity Judaism—and he, metaphorically, puts his foot upon him. Right over the King’s impress goes the mark of the beast, apparently defacing the cypher of the King; in other words, humanity gave heed to the lower psychical suggestion, in opposition to the higher dictate of the Divine Spirit. The partial will severed itself from the universal will, and, as it is expressed in theological language, though not in scriptural language, man fell.1 [Note: B. Wilberforce.]

Why do I dare love all mankind?

’Tis not because each face, each form

Is comely, for it is not so;

Nor is it that each soul is warm

With any Godlike glow.

Yet there’s no one to whom’s not given

Some little lineament of heaven,

Some partial symbol, at the least, in sign

Of what should be, if it is not, within,

Reminding of the death of sin

And life of the Divine.

There was a time, full well I know,

When I had not yet seen you so;

Time was, when few seemed fair;

But now, as through the streets I go,

There seems no face so shapeless, so

Forlorn, but that there’s something there

That, like the heavens, doth declare

The glory of the great All-Fair;

And so mine own each one I call;

And so I dare to love you all.1 [Note: H. S. Sutton.]

II

The Parts of the Image

i. Reason

1. In speaking of man as being created in the image of God, one must speak first of the intellectual powers with which man has been endowed. Nothing can surprise us more than the marvellous results of human science, the power which mankind have exhibited in scanning the works of God, reducing them to law, detecting the hidden harmony in the apparent confusion of creation, demonstrating the fine adjustment and delicate construction of the material universe: and if the wisdom and power of God occupy the first place in the mind of one who contemplates the heavens and the earth, certainly the second place must be reserved for admiration of the wonderful mind with which man has been endowed, the powers of which enable him thus to study the works of God.

2. As regards his intellectual powers, consider that man is, like God, a creator. Works of Art, whether useful or ornamental, are, and are often called, creations. How manifold are the new discoveries, the new inventions, which man draws forth, year after year, from his creative genius—the timepiece, the microscope, the steamship, the steam-carriage, the sun-picture, the electric telegraph! All these things originally lay wrapped up in the human brain, and are its offspring. Look at the whole fabric of civilization, which is built up by the several arts. What a creation it is, how curious, how varied, how wonderful in all its districts! Just as God has His universe, in which are mirrored the eternal, archetypal Ideas of the Divine Mind, so this civilization is Man’s universe, the aggregate product of his intelligence and activity. It may possibly suggest itself here that some of the lower animals are producers no less than man. And so they are, in virtue of the instinct with which the Almighty has endowed them. The bird is the artisan of her nest, the bee of his cell, the beaver of his hut. But they are artisans only, working by a rule furnished to them, not architects, designing out of their own mental resources. They are producers only, not creators; they never make a variation, in the way of improvement, on foregone productions; and we argue conclusively that because they do not make it, they can never make it. Instinct dictates to them, as they work, “line upon line, precept upon precept”; but there is no single instance of their rising above this level—of their speculating upon an original design, and contriving the means whereby it may be carried into effect. But the creative faculty of man is still more evident in the ornamental arts, because here, more obviously than in the useful, man works according to no preconceived method or imposed condition, but throws out of his brain that which is new and original. A new melody, a new drama, a new picture, a new poem, are they not all (some more, some less, in proportion to the originality of the conception which is in them) creations? Is not this the very meaning of the word “poem,” in the language from which it is drawn—a thing made, a piece of workmanship? So that, in respect of the rich and varied developments of the human mind in the different forms of Art, we need not hesitate to call man a creator. And this is the first aspect under which God is presented to us in Holy Scripture; “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

A thing should be denominated from its noblest attribute, as man from reason, not from sense or from anything else less noble. So when we say, “Man lives,” it ought to be interpreted, “Man makes use of his reason,” which is the special life of man, and the actualization of his noblest part. Consequently he who abandons the use of his reason, and lives by his senses only, leads the life not of a man, but of an animal; as the most excellent Boëthius puts it, he lives the life of an ass. And this I hold to be quite right, because thought is the peculiar act of reason, and animals do not think, because they are not endued with reason. And when I speak of animals, I do not refer to the lower animals only, but I mean to include also those who in outward appearance are men, but spiritually are no better than sheep, or any other equally contemptible brute.1 [Note: Dante. Conv. ii. 8 (trans. by Paget Toynbee).]

ii. Self-consciousness

Man is not only conscious, but also self-conscious. He can turn his mind back in reflection on himself; can apprehend himself; can speak of himself as “I.” This consciousness of self is an attribute of personality which constitutes a difference, not in degree, but in kind, between the human and the merely animal. No brute has this power. None, however elevated in the scale of power, can properly be spoken of as a person. The sanctity that surrounds personality does not attach to it.

Man’s greatest possibility lies in the knowledge of himself. Most people know more of minerals than of men; more about training horses than children. The day is coming when the education of a child will begin at birth; when mothers, who, because of their opportunities, ought to be better psychologists than any university professor, will become not only trained scientific observers of mental phenomena, but directors of it. Even puppies have been so trained that they could surpass many artists in their discrimination between colours, and by this training the brain has been observed to grow enormously. It looks as if man might not only develop the brain he has, but add to it and build up a new brain—and thus practically create a new human race. I hope this may prove true. Man is a spirit, child of the Infinite Spirit, capable of using the best physical machinery with ease; better machinery than he now has.1 [Note: C. M. Cobern.]

iii. Recognition of Right and Wrong

The great distinction between right and wrong belongs to man alone. An animal may be taught that it is not to do certain things, but it is because these things are contrary to its master’s wish, not because they are wrong. Some persons have endeavoured to make out that the distinction between right and wrong on the part of ourselves is quite arbitrary, that we call that right which we find on the whole to be advantageous, and that wrong which on the whole tends to mischief; but the conscience of mankind is against this scheme of philosophy. That the wickedness of mankind has made fearful confusion between right and wrong, and that men very often by their conduct appear to approve of that which they ought not to approve, is very true; and that men may fall, by a course of vice, into such a condition that their moral sense is fearfully blunted, is also true: but this does not prove the absence of a sense of right and wrong from a healthy mind, any more than the case of ever so many blind men would prove that there is no such thing as sight. No—the general conscience of mankind admits the truth which is assumed in Scripture, namely, that man, however far gone from original righteousness, does nevertheless recognize the excellence of what is good, that he delights in the law of God after the inward man, even though he may find another law in his members bringing him into captivity. This sense of what is right and good, which existed in man in his state of purity, and which has survived the fall and forms the very foundation upon which we can build hopes of his restoration to the favour of God, is a considerable portion of that which is described as God’s image in which man was created.

Darwin opens his chapter on the moral sense with this acknowledgment: “I fully subscribe to the judgment of those writers who maintain that, of all the differences between man and the lower animals, the moral sense or conscience is by far the most important. This sense is summed up in that short but imperious word, ‘ought,’ so full of high significance. It is the most noble of all the attributes of man.”1 [Note: G. E. Weeks.]

What! will I ca’ a man my superior, because he’s cleverer than mysel’? Will I boo down to a bit o’ brains, ony mair than to a stock or a stane? Let a man prove himsel’ better than me—honester, humbler, kinder, wi’ mair sense o’ the duty o’ man, an’ the weakness o’ man—an’ that man I’II acknowledge—that man’s my king, my leader, though he war as stupid as Eppe Dalgleish, that couldna count five on her fingers, and yet keepit her drucken father by her ain hands’ labour for twenty-three yeers.2 [Note: Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke.]

Devoid of the very taint of ambition, Dean Church obtained a singular authority, which was accepted without cavil or debate. Such an authority was a witness to the force and beauty of high moral character. It testified to the supremacy which belongs, of right and of necessity, to conscience. His special gifts would, under all conditions, have played a marked part; but they do not account for the impressive sway exercised over such multitudes by his personality.3 [Note: Life and Letters of Dean Church, 233.]

God hath no shape, nor can the artist’s hands

His figure frame in shining gold or wood,

God’s holy image—God-sent—only stands

Within the bosoms of the wise and good.1 [Note: Statius, translated by W. E. A. Axon.]

iv. Communion with God

The sense of right and wrong may be regarded as part of that nature originally imparted to man, by which he was fitted to hold communion with God. God called other creatures into existence by His word, and so made them live; but man He inspired with His own breath, and so gave him a portion of His own Divine life. And corresponding to this difference of beginning was the after history. God blessed the living creatures which He had made, pronounced them very good, and bade them increase and multiply; but with man He held communion. “They heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen_3:8).

To me, the verse has, and can have, no other signification than this—that the soul of man is a mirror of the mind of God. A mirror, dark, distorted, broken—use what blameful names you please of its State—yet in the main, a true mirror, out of which alone, and by which alone, we can know anything of God at all.

“How?” the reader, perhaps, answers indignantly. “I know the nature of God by revelation, not by looking into myself.”

Revelation to what? To a nature incapable of receiving truth? That cannot be; for only to a nature capable of truth, desirous of it, distinguishing it, feeding upon it, revelation is possible. To a being undesirous of it, and hating it, revelation is impossible. There can be none to a brute, or fiend. In so far, therefore, as you love truth, and live therein, in so far revelation can exist for you;—and in so far, your mind is the image of God’s.

But consider, further, not only to what, but by what, is the revelation. By sight? or word? If by sight, then to eyes which see justly. Otherwise, no sight would be revelation. So far, then, as your sight is just, it is the image of God’s sight.

If by words—how do you know their meanings? Here is a short piece of precious word revelation, for instance—“God is love.”

Love! yes. But what is that? The revelation does not tell you that, I think. Look into the mirror and you will see. Out of your own heart, you may know what love is. In no other possible way—by no other help or sign. All the words and sounds ever uttered, all the revelations of cloud, or flame, or crystal, are utterly powerless. They cannot tell you, in the smallest point, what love means. Only the broken mirror can.

Here is more revelation. “God is just!” Just! What is that? The revelation cannot help you to discover. You say it is dealing equitably or equally. But how do you discern the equality? Not by inequality of mind; not by a mind incapable of weighing, judging, or distributing. If the lengths seem unequal in the broken mirror, for you they are unequal; but if they seem equal, then the mirror is true. So far as you recognize equality, and your conscience tells you what is just, so far your mind is the image of God’s; and so far as you do not discern this nature of justice or equality, the words, “God is just,” bring no revelation to you.1 [Note: Ruskin, Modern Painters, vol. v. pt. ix. ch. i. §§ 11–13.]

I have often imagined to myself the large joy which must have filled the mind of Aristarchus of Samos when the true conception of the solar system first dawned upon him, unsupported though it was by any of the mathematical demonstrations which have since convinced all educated men of its truth, and constraining belief solely on the ground of its own simple and beautiful order. I could suppose such a belief very strong, and almost taking such a form as this:—It is so harmonious, so self-consistent, that it ought to be so, therefore it must be so. And surely this is nothing more than might be looked for in regard to spiritual realities. If man is created for fellowship with God there must exist within him, notwithstanding all the ravages of sin, capacities which will recognize the light and life of eternal truth when it is brought close to him. Without such capacities revelation would in fact be impossible.2 [Note: Thomas Erskine of Linlathen.]

A fire-mist and a planet,

A crystal and a cell,

A jelly-fish and a saurian,

And caves where the cave-men dwell.

Then a sense of law and beauty,

And a face turned from the clod,—

Some call it evolution,

And others call it God.

Like tides on a crescent seabeach,

When the moon is new and thin,

Into our hearts high yearnings

Come welling and surging in;

Come from the mystic ocean,

Whose rim no foot has trod.—

Some of us call it longing,

And others call it God.

v. Capacity for Redemption

The possibility of redemption after man had sinned is as great a mark as any of the image of God impressed upon him. When man has fallen he is not left to himself, as one whose fall is a trifling matter in the great economy of God’s creation. It was because His own image had been impressed on man that God undertook to redeem him; it was because that image, though defaced, had not been wholly destroyed, that such redemption was possible. Yes—thanks to God—we are in some sense in His image still; much as we incline to sin, yet we feel in our hearts and consciences that sin is death and that holiness is life. Much as we swerve from the ways of God, yet our consciences still tell us that those ways are ways of pleasantness and paths of peace; foolishly as we have behaved by seeking happiness in breaking God’s commands, yet our hearts testify to our folly and our better judgment condemns us. Here then are the traces of God’s image still, and because these traces remain, therefore there is hope for us in our fallen condition. God will yet return and build up His Tabernacle which has been thrown down; and it may be that the glory of the latter house will through His infinite mercy be even greater than that of the first.

There is a story in English history of a child of one of our noble houses who, in the last century, was stolen from his house by a sweep. The parents spared no expense or trouble in their search for him, but in vain. A few years later the lad happened to be sent by the master into whose hands he had then passed to sweep the chimneys in the very house from which he had been stolen while too young to remember it. The little fellow had been sweeping the chimney of one of the bedrooms, and fatigued with the exhausting labour to which so many lads, by the cruel custom of those times, were bound, he quite forgot where he was, and flinging himself upon the clean bed dropped off to sleep. The lady of the house happened to enter the room. At first she looked in disgust and anger at the filthy black object that was soiling her counterpane. But all at once something in the expression of the little dirty face, or some familiar pose of the languid limbs, drew her nearer with a sudden inspiration, and in a moment she had clasped once more in her motherly arms her long-lost boy.1 [Note: H. W. Horwill.]

Travellers to the islands of the South Seas reported—that is, such of them as came back—that the natives were fierce and cannibal, bearing the brand of savagery even upon their faces. But Calvert and Paton went there, and proved that this savage countenance was only a palimpsest scrawled by the Devil over a manuscript of the Divine finger. To us the face of a Chinaman is dull and impassive. It awakens no interest; it stirs no affection. Then why have our friends Pollard and Dymond gone out to Yunnan? Because the Spirit of God has opened their eyes, so that behind all that stolid exterior they can see a soul capable of infinite possibilities of godlike nobility, just as the genius of the great sculptor could see an angel in the shapeless block of marble. And even already their inspired insight has been verified: they have seen that sluggish nature move; they have watched that hard, emotionless Chinese face as it has glowed with the joy that illumines him who knows that Christ is his Saviour. It is as when in the restoration of an old English church the workmen begin to take down the bare whitewashed wall, and the lath and plaster, as they are stripped off, reveal the hidden beauty of some ancient fresco or reredos. Let a new race of men be discovered to-day, and the true missionary will not hesitate to start for them to-morrow. Before he has heard anything of their history or their customs, before he has learnt a word of their language, there is one thing that he knows about them—that, however deeply they may be sunk in barbarism, they are not so low that the arm of Christ cannot reach them.1 [Note: H. W. Horwill.]

Count not thyself a starveling soul,

Baulked of the wealth and glow of life,

Destined to grasp, of this rich whole,

Some meagre measure through thy strife.

Ask not of flower or sky or sea

Some gift that in their giving lies;

Their light and wonder are of thee,

Made of thy spirit through thine eyes.

All meaningless the primrose wood,

All messageless the chanting shore,

Hadst thou not in thee gleams of good

And whispers of God’s evermore.1 [Note: P. C. Ainsworth, Poems and Sonnets, 57.]

III

Two Practical Conclusions

There are two facts of immense practical importance for us which follow from the one momentous fact of creation.

1. We owe to God our being and therefore we owe to God ourselves.—What God makes, He has an absolute right to. There is a corresponding fundamental principle in social ethics among men; and in the case of God’s relation to His creatures the principle is yet more fundamental and absolute, even as the case itself is altogether unique. The obedience of nature to the Creator is unvarying, but it is only the blind obedience of necessity. Of the spiritual creation, on the other hand, the obedience must be free, but it is nevertheless as rightfully and absolutely claimed. Indeed, if it were possible, God’s claims on those whom He has made in His own likeness are of even superior Obligation. For the existence which they have received is existence at its highest worth, and to them is given the capacity to recognize and appreciate the paramount sovereignty of creative power as inspired and transfigured by creative love.

The disinclination to be under an obligation is always more or less natural to us, and it is particularly natural to those who are in rude health and high spirits, who have never yet known anything of real sorrow or of acute disease. It grows with that jealous sentiment of personal independence which belongs to an advanced civilization; and if it is distantly allied to one or two of the better elements of human character, it is more closely connected with others that are base and unworthy. The Eastern emperor executed the courtier who, by saving his life, had done him a service which could never be forgotten, perhaps never repaid; but this is only an extreme illustration of what may be found in the feelings of everyday life. A darker example of the same tendency is seen in the case of men who have wished a father in his grave, not on account of any misunderstanding, not from any coarse desire of succeeding to the family property, but because in the father the son saw a person to whom he owed not education merely, but his birth into the world, and felt that so vast a debt made him morally insolvent as long as his creditor lived. If men are capable of such feelings towards each other, we can understand much that characterizes their thought about and action towards God. By His very Existence He seems to inflict upon them a perpetual humiliation. To feel day by day, hour by hour, that there is at any rate One Being before whom they are as nothing; to whom they owe originally, and moment by moment, all that they are and have; who so holds them in His hand that no human parallel can convey a sense of the completeness of their dependence upon His good pleasure; and against whose decisions they have neither plea nor remedy:—this they cannot bear. Yet if God exists, this, and nothing less, is strictly true.1 [Note: H. P. Liddon.]

2. We can co-operate with God in His creating, preserving, and redeeming activity.—Though now “subject to vanity” and (not as to locality, but as to apprehension) far from his heavenly home, the assurance of man’s ultimate perfection rests upon the impregnable foundation that there is within him a Divine potency. With this Divine potency it is his duty and privilege to co-operate. Man is begotten, but he is being made—

Where is one that, born of woman, altogether can escape

From the lower world within him, moods of tiger, or of ape?

Man as yet is being made, and ere the crowning Age of ages,

Shall not æon after æon pass and touch him into shape?

All about him shadow still, but, while the races flower and fade,

Prophet-eyes may catch a glory slowly gaining on the shade,

Till the peoples all are one, and all their voices blend in choric

Hallelujah to the Maker, “It is finished. Man is made.”2 [Note: Tennyson, The Making of Man.]

IV

Three Texts

Take these three texts together—

Gen_1:27.—“God created man in his own image.”

Rom_3:23.—“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”

Heb_2:9.—“But we see Jesus.”

The first text describes man as he was when he first came from the hand of his Creator; the second describes man as he is, as we know him, in the condition to which sin has reduced him; the third text describes man as he will be when his redemption is complete. He has not yet attained to the supremacy, the character and glory, which God preordained for him, but Christ has attained all these. We see Jesus crowned, and all things put under Him, and we shall be crowned also when our full redemption is reached.

1. In His own Image.—The first great truth of the Bible in regard to man is this, that he was made in the image of God. He is the Creator’s noblest earthly work. Out of the dust of the earth God fashioned man’s body, and then breathed into it the breath of life. Science tells us that man’s body is the culmination and recapitulation of all prior forms of life. But some of its highest and most authoritative teachers acknowledge that man as man is a distinct creation. Wallace, for instance, maintains that “man’s bodily structure is identical with the animal world, and is derived from it of which it is the culmination”; but he declares emphatically that “man’s entire nature and all his faculties, intellectual, moral, and spiritual, are not derived from the lower animals, but have an origin wholly distinct; that the working of material laws does not account for the exaltation of humanity. These are from the spiritual universe, and are the result of fresh and extra manifestations of its power.” Let us try to realize this great truth. The body, the meanest part of man, is the culmination of all created forms of life. But between man and the highest animal there is an infinite difference. How great then is man: “A little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honour”! He stands midway between the material and the spiritual, the manifestation of both. Dust and deity. Below, he is related to the earth; above, he is related to the heavens. He claims kinship with seraphs; nay, he is God’s own offspring. In man God objectified Himself, made Himself visible. God intended man to be the incarnation of Himself, for He “made man in His own image.” What a stupendous truth! Herder once exclaimed, “Give me a great truth that I may feed upon it.” Here it is. Man is the incarnation of God.

“I am staring,” said MacIan at last, “at that which shall judge us both.”

“Oh yes,” said Turnbull, in a tired way; “I suppose you mean God.”

“No, I don‘t,” said MacIan, shaking his head; “I mean him.”

And he pointed to the half-tipsy yokel who was ploughing, down the road.

“I mean him. He goes out in the early dawn; he digs or he ploughs a field. Then he comes back and drinks ale, and then he sings a song. All your philosophies and political systems are young compared to him. All your hoary cathedrals—yes, even the Eternal Church on earth is new compared to him. The most mouldering gods in the British Museum are new facts beside him. It is he who in the end shall judge us all I am going to ask him which of us is right.”

“Ask that intoxicated turnip-eater——”

“Yes—which of us is right. Oh, you have long words and I have long words; and I talk of every man being the image of God; and you talk of every man being a citizen and enlightened enough to govern. But, if every man typifies God, there is God. If every man is an enlightened citizen, there is your enlightened citizen. The first man one meets is always man. Let us catch him up.”1 [Note: G. K. Chesterton, The Ball and the Cross.]

2. All have sinned.—Man has fallen by disobedience. It was not merely the eating of the fruit; it was the principle involved in the act that proved fatal. What was that—what but rebellion? The conflict of the human will with the Divine. That involved death. By that act the soul of man passed from spiritual health and felt below the fulness of life, and in that sense died. And Adam’s sin was diffusive. He was the first of the race. His sin entered into human nature, and the poison passed from generation to generation with ever deeper taint, so that every life repeats the sin of Adam. There is in it the refusal of the human will to submit to God’s will. Thus it is absolutely and universally true that all have sinned and come short of that life which is the glory of God. We sometimes boast of our ancestors, but if we went far enough back we should have little to boast of. Think of the filth, the falseness, the lust, the cruelty, the drunkenness, the ferocity of the races out of which we have sprung. Look around you! Is not the text true? In many, reason is prostituted to evil. The free choice of man becomes the fixed choice of evil; myriads are the abject slaves of sin. Conscience has been so often disobeyed that its writs no longer run in the life, or it is so seared that men can commit the foulest crimes without blushing. The spirit has been so neglected that no prayer to God ever rises to the lip and no thought of God enters the mind. Think of the crimes which stain the pages of our newspapers, and the numberless crimes known only to God. Even among the most intellectual there are sins of the darkest hue. We have been rudely reminded within the last few years that our boasted æstheticism and culture may be but thin veils which hide vices we fain hoped were dead two thousand years ago. How bitter and ceaseless has been the conflict between the conscience and the will in all of us! How powerful, almost invincible, is the habit of sin! We never realize our bondage until we seek to break away. When the younger son of the parable stood on his father’s doorstep with his patrimony in his pocket and his face toward the far country, at that moment he was a prodigal. We are all prodigals. Though we may never have reached the swine-troughs we have turned our backs on God.

In one of his books, Salted with Fire, George MacDonald tells of a young woman who had been led astray. A warm-hearted minister found her one night on his doorstep, and guessing her story, brought her into his home. His little daughter upstairs with her mother, asked, “Mamma, who is it papa has in the library?” And the wise mother quietly replied, “It is an angel, dear, who has lost her way, and papa is telling her the way back.”1 [Note: S. D. Gordon, Quiet Talks on Home Ideals, 18.]

3. But we see Jesus.—“Made a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honour, all things put in subjection under him.” We see not yet all things put under Him. But we see Jesus. He was crowned. He put all things under Him; and humanity in Him shall yet attain this glorious supremacy. When Jesus trod the pathways of this world, limited as He was by His incarnation, how like a conqueror He worked! He was master of all the forces of Nature. The sea became to Him an unyielding pavement of adamant. When the storm arose He had but to say, “Peace!” and the huge, green, yeasty billows lay down at His feet like sleeping babes. Disease fled at His touch. The dead came forth at His call. And though He yielded to the yoke of death He did it like a conqueror. “I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it again.” He died of His own free choice. And on the third morning He broke through the barriers of the tomb and came forth the Victor of the dark realm of Hades. He was crowned also in the moral and spiritual world. He lived a life of perfect victory over sin. All the assaults of sin beat unavailingly against the rock of His pure manhood. He mingled with men of the lowest order, but He remained without spot, and went back to God as pure as when He came from God. Christ was the first crowned of a new race. He made a new beginning, and humanity in Him will reach His level at the last. We see not yet all things put under man, but we see Jesus.

Dr. Barnardo used to illustrate the benefits of his redemptive work by taking a group of “specimens” to the platform with him. Look at that boy there on the right. Poor lad, he has not yet all things put under him; no, indeed, he was picked up only an hour ago off the streets. Dirt is not put under him, and ignorance is not put under him, and vice is not put under him. He is the slave of all three. But look at that lad on the extreme left. Sixteen years of age, clean, well dressed, intelligent, and virtuous. He has been three years in the Home. What a contrast! He has put all things under him. Even so it is with humanity. It is being transformed by Christ. Some are at the base of the ladder of progress and redemption, others are ascending, and others have again entered into the glory of God. Like Christ, humanity shall have all things put under it.

Oh, fairest legend of the years,

With folded wings, go silently!

Oh, flower of knighthood, yield your place

To One who comes from Galilee.

To wounded feet that shrink and bleed,

But press and climb the narrow way,

The same old way our own must step,

For ever, yesterday, to-day.

For soul can be what soul hath been,

And feet can tread where feet have trod,

Enough to know that once the clay

Hath worn the features of the God.1 [Note: Daily Song, p. 151.]

One of the most precious memories of my life is that of my own father’s victorious death. After thirty years in the ministry he passed away while yet in the prime of manhood. He died of consumption, and at the last was very feeble; so feeble, indeed, that he could scarcely make his voice audible. The last night came. He whispered to my mother again and again, “It is well with me, it is well with me.” Then he said, “When the last moment comes, if I feel I have the victory I will tell you … but if I cannot speak I will raise my hand.” As the grey morning light stole into the death-chamber my mother saw that the end had come. His lips moved. She stooped to catch the words, but there was no sound; his power of articulation had gone. The next moment he seemed to realize it, and, with a smile on his dying face, he lifted his thin, worn hand for a few seconds, and then it fell on the pillow, and he was not, for God had taken him.1 [Note: J. T. Parr.]

O, may I triumph so,

When all my warfare’s past,

And, dying, find my latest foe

Under my feet at last.

Literature

Alford (H.), Quebec Chapel Sermons, iv. 35.

Banks (L. A.), The World’s Childhood, 186.

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Clifford (J.), Typical Christian Leaders, 215.

Cobern (C. M.), The Stars and the Book, 78.

Coyle (R. F.), The Church and the Times, 175.

Dale (R. W.), Christian Doctrine, 170.

Gibbon (J. M.), The Image of God, 1.

Goodwin (H.), Parish Sermons, 5th Ser., 1.

Horwill (H. W.), The Old Gospel in the New Era, 53.

Hughes (D.), The Making of Man_1:9.

Kingsley (C.), The Gospel of the Pentateuch, 19.

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Preacher’s Magazine for 1891, 145, 193 (Selby).

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