THE LIKENESS OF GOD
GENESIS i. 26. And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.
This is a hard saying. It is difficult at times to believe it to be true.
If one looks not at what God has made man, but at what man has made himself, one will never believe it to be true.
When one looks at what man has made himself; at the back streets of some of our great cities; at the thousands of poor Germans and Irish across the ocean bribed to kill and to be killed, they know not why; at the abominable wrongs and cruelties going on in Poland at this moment--the cry whereof is going up to the ears of the God of Hosts, and surely not in vain; when one thinks of all the cries which have gone up in all ages from the victims of man's greed, lust, cruelty, tyranny, and shrillest of all from the tortured victims of his superstition and fanaticism, it is difficult to answer the sneer, 'Believe, if you can, that this foolish, unjust, cruel being called man, is made in the likeness of God. Man was never made in the image of God at all. He is only a cunninger sort of animal, for better for worse--and for worse as often as for better.'
Another says, not quite that. Man was in the likeness of God once, but he lost that by Adam's fall, and now is only an animal with an immortal soul in him, to be lost or saved.
There is more truth in that latter notion than in the former: but if it be quite right; if we did lose the likeness of God at Adam's fall, how comes the Bible never to say so? How comes the Bible never to say one word on what must have been the most important thing which ever happened to mankind before the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ?
And how comes it also that the New Testament says distinctly that man is still made in the likeness of God? For St. Paul speaks of man as 'the likeness and glory of God.' And St. James says of the tongue, 'Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith' (to our shame) 'curse we men, which are made in the likeness of God.'
But the great proof that man is made in the image and likeness of God is the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ; for if human nature had been, as some think, something utterly brutish and devilish, and utterly unlike God, how could God have become man without ceasing to be God? Christ was man of the substance of his mother. That substance had the same human nature as we have. Then if that human nature be evil, what follows? Something which I shall not utter, for it is blasphemy. Christ has taken the manhood into God. Then if manhood be evil, what follows again? Something more which I shall not utter, for it is blasphemy.
But man is made in the image of God; and therefore God, in whose image he is made, could take on himself his own image and likeness, and become perfect man, without ceasing to be perfect God.
Therefore, my friends, it is a comfortable and wholesome doctrine, that man is made in the image of God, and one for which we must thank the Bible. For it is the Bible which has revealed that truth to us, in its very beginning and outset, that we might have, from the first, clear and sound notions concerning man and God. The Bible, I say; for the sacred books of the heathen say, most of them, nothing thereof.
Man has, in all ages, been tempted, when he looks at his own wickedness and folly, not only to despise himself--which he has good reason enough to do--but to despise his own human nature, and to cry to God, 'Why hast thou made me thus?' He has cursed his own human nature. He has said, 'Surely man is most miserable of all the beasts of the field.' He has said, 'I must get rid of my human nature--I must give up wife, family, human life of all kinds, I must go into the deserts and the forests, and there try to forget that I am a man, and become a mere spirit or angel.' So said the Buddhists of Asia, the deepest thinkers concerning man and God of all the heathens, and so have many said since their time. But so does the Bible not say. It starts by telling us that man is made in God's likeness, and that therefore his human nature is originally and in itself not a bad, but a perfectly good thing. All that has to be done to it is to be cured of its diseases; and the Bible declares that it can be cured. Howsoever man may have fallen, he may rise. Howsoever the likeness may be blotted and corrupted, it can be cleansed and renewed. Howsoever it may be perverted and turned right round and away from God and goodness to selfishness and evil, it can be converted, and turned back again to God. Howsoever utterly far gone man may be from original righteousness, still to original righteousness he can return, by the grace of baptism and the renewing of the Holy Spirit. And what in us is the likeness of God? That is a deep question.
Only one answer will I make to it to-day. Whatever in us is, or is not, the likeness of God, at least the sense of right and wrong is; to know right and wrong. So says the Bible itself: 'Behold the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.' Not that he got the likeness of God by his fall--of course not; but that he became aware of his likeness, and that in a very painful and common way--by sinning against it; as St. Paul says in one of his deepest utterances, 'By sin is the knowledge of the law.'
And you may see for yourselves how human nature can have God's likeness in that respect, and yet be utterly fallen and corrupt.
For a man may--and indeed every man does--know good and yet be unable to do it, and know evil, and yet be a slave to it, tied and bound with the chains of his sins till the grace of God release him from them.
To know good and evil, right and wrong--to have a conscience, a moral sense--that is the likeness of God of which I wish to preach to-day. Because it is through THAT knowledge of good and evil, and through it alone, that we can know God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. It is through our moral sense that God speaks to us; through our sense of right and wrong; through that I say, God speaks to us, whether in reproof or encouragement, in wrath or in love; to teach us what he is like, and to teach us what he is not like.
To know God. That is the side on which we must look at this text on Trinity Sunday. If man be made in the image of God, then we may be able to know something at least of God, and of the character of God. If we have the copy, we can guess at least at what the original is like.
From the character, therefore, of every good man, we may guess at something of the character of God. But from the character of Jesus Christ our Lord, who is the very brightness of his Father's glory and the express image of his person, we may see perfectly--at least perfectly enough for all our needs in this life, and in the life to come--what is the character of God, who made heaven and earth.
I beseech you to remember this--I beseech you to believe this, with your whole hearts, and minds, and souls, and especially just now.
For there are many abroad now who will tell you, man can know nothing of God.
Answer them: 'If your God be a God of whom I can know nothing, then he is not my God, the God of the Bible. For he is the God who has said of old, "They shall not teach each man his brother, saying, Know the Lord, for all shall know Me, from the least unto the greatest." He is the God, who, through Jesus Christ our Lord, accused and blamed the Jews because they did NOT know him, which if they COULD NOT know him would have been no fault of theirs. Of doctrines, and notions, and systems, it is written, and most truly, "I know in part, and I prophesy in part," and again, "If a man thinketh that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know." But of God it is written, "This is life eternal, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent."'
But they will say, man is finite and limited, God is infinite and absolute, and how can the finite comprehend the infinite?
Answer: 'Those are fine words: I do not understand them; and I do not care to understand them; I do not deny that God is infinite and absolute, though what that means I do not know. But I find nothing about his being infinite and absolute in the Bible. I find there that he is righteous, just, loving, merciful, and forgiving; and that he is angry too, and that his wrath is a consuming fire, and I know well enough what those words mean, though I do not know what infinite and absolute mean. So that is what I have to think of, for my own sake and the sake of all mankind.'
But, they will say, you must not take these words to the letter; man is so unlike God, and God so unlike man, that God's attributes must be quite different from man's. When you read of God's love, justice, anger, and so forth, you must not think that they are anything like man's love, man's justice, man's anger; but something quite different, not only in degree, but in kind: so that what might be unjust and cruel in man, would not be so in God.
My dear friends, beware of that doctrine; for out of it have sprung half the fanaticism and superstition which has disgraced and tormented the earth. Beware of ever thinking that a wrong thing would be right if God did it, and not you. And mind, that is flatly contrary to the letter of the Bible. In that grand text where Abraham pleads with God, what does he say? Not, 'Of course if Thou choosest to do it, it must be right,' but 'Shall not the Judge of all the earth do RIGHT?' Abraham actually refers the Almighty God to his own law; and asserts an eternal rule of right and wrong common to man and to God, which God will surely never break.
Answer: 'If that doctrine be true, which I will never believe, then the Bible mocks and deceives poor miserable sinful man, instead of teaching him. If God's love does not mean real actual love,--God's anger, actual anger,--God's forgiveness, real forgiveness,--God's justice, real justice,--God's truth, real truth,--God's faithfulness, real faithfulness, what do they mean? Nothing which I can understand, nothing which I can trust in. How can I trust in a God whom I cannot understand or know? How can I trust in a love or a justice which is not what I call love or justice, or anything like them?
'The saints of old said, I KNOW in whom I have believed. And how can I believe in him, if there is nothing in him which I can know; nothing which is like man--nothing, to speak plainly, like Christ, who was perfect man as well as perfect God? If that be so, if man can know nothing really of God, he is indeed most miserable of all the beasts of the field, for I will warrant that he can know nothing really of anything else. And what is left for him, but to remain for this life, and the life to come, in the outer darkness of ignorance and confusion, misrule and misery, wherein is most literally--as one may see in the history of every heathen nation upon earth--wailing and gnashing of teeth.
'If God's goodness be not like man's goodness, there is no rule of morality left, no eternal standard of right and wrong. How can I tell what I ought to do; or what God expects of me; or when I am right and when I am wrong, if you take from me the good, plain, old Bible rule, that man CAN be, and MUST be, like God? The Bible rule is, that everything good in man must be exactly like something good in God, because it is inspired into him by the Spirit of God himself. Our Lord Jesus, who spoke, not to philosophers or Scribes and Pharisees, but to plain human beings, weeping and sorrowing, suffering and sinning, like us,--told them to be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect, by being good to the unthankful and the evil. And if man is to be perfect, as his Father in heaven is perfect, then his Father in heaven is perfect as man ought to be perfect. He told us to be merciful as our Father in heaven is merciful. Then our Father in heaven is merciful with the same sort of mercy as we ought to show. We are bidden to forgive others, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven us: then if our forgiveness is to be like God's, God's forgiveness is like ours. We are to be true, because God is true: just, because God is just. How can we be that, if God's truth is not like what men call truth, God's justice not like what men call justice?
'If I give up that rule of right and wrong, I give up all rules of right and wrong whatsoever.'
No, my friends; if we will seek for God where he may be found, then we shall know God, whom truly to know is everlasting life. But we must not seek for him where he is not, in long words and notions of philosophy spun out of men's brains, and set up as if they were real things, when words and notions they are, and words and notions they will remain. We must look for God where he is to be found, in the character of his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who alone has revealed and unveiled God's character, because he is the brightness of God's glory, and the express image of his person.
What Christ's character was we can find in the Holy Gospels; and we can find it too, scattered and in parts, in all the good, the holy, the noble, who have aught of Christ's spirit and likeness in them.
Whatsoever is good and beautiful in any human soul, that is the likeness of Christ. Whatsoever thoughts, words, or deeds are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report; whatsoever is true virtue, whatsoever is truly worthy of praise, that is the likeness of Christ; the likeness of him who was full of all purity, all tenderness, all mercy, all self-sacrifice, all benevolence, all helpfulness; full of all just and noble indignation also against oppressors and hypocrites who bound heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, but touched them not themselves with one of their fingers; who kept the key of knowledge, and neither entered in themselves, or let those who were trying enter in either.
The likeness of an all-noble, all-just, all-gracious, all-wise, all- good human being; that is the likeness of Christ, and that, therefore, is the likeness of God who made heaven and earth.
All-good; utterly and perfectly good, in every kind of goodness which we have ever seen, or can ever imagine--that, thank God, is the likeness and character of Almighty God, in whom we live and move, and have our being. To know that he is that--all-good, is to know his character as far as sinful and sorrowful man need know; and is not that to know enough?
The mystery of the ever-blessed Trinity, as set forth so admirably in the Athanasian Creed, is a mystery; and it we cannot KNOW--we can only believe it, and take it on trust: but the CHARACTER of the ever-blessed Trinity--Father, Son, and Holy Ghost--we can know: while by keeping the words of the Athanasian Creed carefully in mind, we may be kept from many grievous and hurtful mistakes which will hinder our knowing it. We can know that they are all good, for such as the Father is such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. That goodness is their one and eternal substance, and majesty, and glory, which we must not divide by fancying with some, that the Father is good in one way and the Son in another. That their goodness is eternal and unchangeable; for they themselves are eternal, and have neither parts nor passions. That their goodness is incomprehensible, that is, cannot be bounded or limited by time or space, or by any notions or doctrines of ours, for they themselves are incomprehensible, and able to do abundantly more than we can ask or think.
This is our God, the God of the Bible, the God of the Church, the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ our Lord. And him we can believe utterly, for we know that he is faithful and true; and we know what THAT means, if there is any truth or faithfulness in us. We know that he is just and righteous; and we know what THAT means, if there is any justice and uprightness in ourselves. Him we can trust utterly; to him we can take all our cares, all our sorrows, all our doubts, all our sins, and pour them out to him, because he is condescending; and we know what THAT means, if there be any condescension and real high-mindedness in ourselves. We can be certain too that he will hear us, just because he is so great, so majestic, so glorious; because his greatness, and majesty, and glory is a moral and spiritual greatness, which shows itself by stooping to the meanest, by listening to the most foolish, helping the weakest, pitying the worst, even while it is bound to punish. Him we can trust, I say, because him we can know, and can say of him, Let the Infinite and the Absolute mean what they may, I know in whom I have believed--God the Good. Whatever else I cannot understand, I can at least 'understand the lovingkindness of the Lord;' however high his dwelling may be, I know that he humbleth himself to behold the things in heaven and earth, to take the simple out of the dust, and the poor out of the mire. Whatever else God may or may not be, I know that gracious is the Lord, and righteous, yea, our God is merciful. The Lord preserveth the simple, for I was in misery, and he helped ME. Whatsoever fine theories or new discoveries I cannot trust, I can trust him, for with him is mercy, and with the Lord is plenteous redemption; and he shall redeem his people from all their sins. However dark and ignorant I may be, I can go to him for teaching, and say, Teach me to do the thing that pleaseth thee, for thou art my God; let thy loving Spirit lead me forth into the land of righteousness.
The land of righteousness. The one true heavenly land, wherein God the righteous dwelleth from eternity to eternity, righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works, and therefore adorable in all his ways, and glorious in all his works, with a glory even greater than the glory of his Almighty power. On that glory of his goodness we can gaze, though afar off in degree, yet near in kind, while the glory of his wisdom and power is far, far beyond my understanding. Of the intellect of God we can know nothing; but we can know what is better, the heart of God. For THAT glory of goodness we can understand, and KNOW, and sympathize with in our heart of hearts, and say, If THIS be the likeness of God, he is indeed worthy to be worshipped, and had in honour. Praise the Lord, O my soul, for the Lord is GOOD. Kings and all people, princes and all judges of the world, young men and maidens, old men and children, praise the name of the Lord, for his name only is excellent, because his name is GOOD. Lift up your eyes, and look upon the face of Christ the God- man, crucified for you; and behold therein the truth of all truths, the doctrine of all doctrines, the gospel of all gospels, that the 'Unknown,' and 'Infinite,' and 'Absolute' God, who made the universe, bids you know him, and know this of him, that he is GOOD, and that his express image and likeness is--Jesus Christ, his Son, our Lord.