Gordon -- Man in the Image of God


George Angier Gordon, Congregational divine, was born in Scotland, 1853. He was educated at Harvard, and has been minister of Old South Church, Boston, Massachusetts, since 1884. His pulpit style is conspicuous for its directness and forcefulness, and he is considered in a high sense the successor of Philip Brooks. He was lecturer in the Lowell Institute Course, 1900; Lyman Beecher Lecturer, Yale, 1901; university preacher to Harvard, 1886-1890; to Yale, 1888-1901; Harvard overseer. He is the author of "The Witness to Immortality" (1897), and many other works.


Born in 1853


[Footnote 1: Printed here by kind permission of Dr. Gordon.]

And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him. -- Genesis i., 27.

It must never be forgotten that all truth lies in the order of life itself. There is a natural environment, and in it have been, real and mighty from the beginning, the laws and forces which science has but recently discovered. Copernicus discovered the true order of the solar system; but the order itself has been there from the morning of time. Newton discovered the force of gravity, but that force has been in the natural situation since creation. Chemists have been able to make out sixty-five or sixty-six irreducible elements; but while chemistry is young, the elements are everlasting. Electricity is the discovery of yesterday, and yet it has been at play in man's environment from the foundation of the world. The continuity of life, from the lowest forms of it up to man, has been a fact from the first; but not until this century has the fact meant anything. Few things impress the imagination more powerfully than the sense of the forces that have surrounded man from his first appearance on the earth, and that have been noted and utilized only in recent times. There stands the immemorial force, and men have had no eyes for it till yesterday. Thoughtful men begin to look upon the environment in a new spirit. They begin to walk within it in amazement and hope. All the forces of the material universe are here, and only a few things about them have been discovered. The natural environment is rich beyond all calculation or dream; it is exhaustless. Here in the field of man's life is the alluring object of science. Here in the natural situation are the everlasting and benign energies that wait to be discovered and prest into human service. There is a human environment, and all the fundamental truth about man has been present in it from the start. Moses gave his nomadic brethren the ten words; but they were written in the human heart ages before they were inscribed upon stone. The great Hebrew prophets gave to the world the vision of one God, His righteous government of the world, and His election of a single race for the service of all the races; but God and His government and His method in the education of man were real and mighty before Amos, and Hosea, and Isaiah, and Jeremiah beheld them. Christ revealed the Father through His own divine Sonhood; but the Fatherhood of God is an eternal truth. Nowhere is the divineness of Christ more obvious than in the ease and adequacy with which He, and He alone, is able to read the meaning of the human situation. Christ as Prophet, as Seer and Discoverer, is most amazing to the most gifted. His eye for fact is divine. He notes the falling sparrow, and at once reaches the universal fatherly foresight and control of God. His consuming vision goes everywhere, turning the hidden truth of life into light and joy in His parables. His teaching is revelation, the unveiling of the aboriginal divine order. He makes nothing; He reveals what God made. And when He increases life it is by showing the path to that increase ordained of God, insight and obedience. The will of God is the final law for heaven and earth; the vision of it and surrender to it are the path of life. Here we touch the depth of the old faith. God the Father creates, and the Son reveals. The order of the Spirit is eternal; the revelation of it is in time and for sense-bound men. Here we see in a mirror and dimly; there they behold face to face. And Christ drew forth into light the divine significance of man's life, as God originally made it; and that divine meaning of existence thus drawn out is the gospel of Christ.

In the text we are carried by a true seer back of all traditions, behind all conventions, beyond all beliefs about life to life itself as it lies in its own freshness and fulness. We are led to look upon human life newly made, still warm with the touch of the creative hand, and yet containing in it that very hour all that the Lord eventually drew out of it. If the first man had understood himself he would have been essentially a Christian. And therefore I propose to evolve from the original human situation, as described in the text, the outline of what I take to be a great faith.

I. If the first man had understood himself, he would have seen in himself the interpreter of nature. From the first command, "Let there be light," to the final, "Let us make man in our image," there are two things to be noted. There is continuity in the creative process, and there is an ascension from the lower to the higher. The first duty of our self-comprehending Adam will be to look backward. He will look across the wide field whose farther limit lies in cloud and whose hither border touches his feet. He will survey the creative process that has led up to and that has come to its climax in him. And as he thinks of himself as the product of nature, must he not conclude that as reason is the result, reason must have preceded the process and governed it? Humanity is the issue; therefore humanity must have planned the issue and secured it. Back of this march of life, behind this developing and ascending order, out in the darkness, before the light was created, there was the Mind that accounts for man. Thus the last becomes the first, the man that ends the creative process sees that a human God must have preceded the process.

This truth is one of the greater insights of the time. The continuity of life, from the lowest forms to the highest, has received during the last fifty years an unparalleled recognition. So, too, with the fact of the steady ascent of life. Not indeed in a literal and yet in a true way, the modern scientific conception is a wonderful parallel to the sublime hymn with which the Bible opens. In the beginning was the fire-mist. In that fire-mist began the process of development. It became worlds, systems innumerable, a stellar universe, and within this whole a solar order, an earth beating forward in preparation for the advent of life. Life when it came flowed into countless forms. From the shapeless mass it pushed on upward into successively higher and finer structures, ever aspiring toward man. Ages preceded the advent of man. There were upon the part of life ages of preparation, ages of climbing. Before life rose the mountain of the Lord; it must be scaled and its summit reached before man could put in an appearance. But the hour for which the whole cosmos had been travailing in pain could not be indefinitely delayed. In the fulness of time, as the tree bursts into bloom, as the tide rolls to the flood, as the light breaks in through the gates of morning, nature came to her supreme expression in man. Man is not here on his own strength. He is not in the bosom of things unaccounted for. He is the child of nature; her last act, her highest product, the best that is in her power to bring forth, the son in whose wondrous being her own motherhood is to undergo total transformation.

That is the modern scientific conception; look for a moment at its greatness. Man as final issue of nature must turn round and look backward. He must look down the long line of life to the far-off first beginning. He must pass beyond the earliest forms in which the vital movement began to the mysterious, formless, eternal power behind all. And it is here that nature is lifted into a new character by her human product. In that eternal power there must be a reason to account for man's reason, conscience to account for his conscience, love to account for his love, spirit to explain his spirit. Nature as mother must become spirit to account for the soul of her son. The flower shows what was in the seed, the oak is the revelation of what was in the heart of the acorn; and man as the last and best outcome of nature is the authoritative expression of the power that is behind nature. Thus the mind that is the final product of nature discovers the mind that is the source of nature. Man seeking the origin of his being finds it on the farther side of nature in One like unto a son of man. He learns later to distinguish between the reality and the image, between God and godlike man. And then a wireless telegraphy is established between them across the vast untraveled distances of nature. The life near to God can not send the tokens of His inmost character upward to man; the brute life near to man can not carry downward to God man's thoughts and hopes. The animal life that stretches in an expanse so wide between the Creator and His best work can not connect the human and the divine. But when the spirit to which nature comes in man has once seen the Spirit in which nature must begin, then the wireless telegraphy comes into play. The heart, that is the last product of life, sends out its mysterious currents, its aspirations, its gladness, its grief, and its hope; and these repeat themselves in the great heart of God. And forth from the Spirit behind nature issue the messages of recognition, of sympathy, of intimated ideals and endless incentive, that register themselves in the soul of man. Nature is a solid, sympathetic, and now and then glorified, and yet dumb, highway between God and man. Her beauty belongs to the Spirit that she does not know, and it speaks to the Spirit that is older than her child. She is a mute, unconscious sacrament between the infinite reason and the finite, a path for the lightning that plays backward and forward between the soul of man and the soul of God. The great primal fact in the human environment is that man is the interpreter of nature. In this character of interpreter of nature he receives his first message from God, and makes his first response.

II. The second fact in the human situation is that religion is the interpreter of man. As man looks backward he beholds beyond nature a face like his own, only diviner; and ever afterward the noblest aspiration of his soul is to win the smile of that face and to escape its frown. Our self-comprehending Adam would confess that he knew himself only when he noted within him the lover of the infinite. And here history leads the way. You look into "The Book of the Dead," and you see what high and serious things religion meant for the early Egyptian. The pyramids are monuments to religion. The art of the ancient races was chiefly homage to the divine. The Athenian Parthenon would never have been but for faith in the goddess that shielded the city. Greek art, the greatest art in the world, is primarily a tribute to faith. Those marvelous statues were likenesses of the gods; those incomparable temples were dwelling-places for the gods. Religion is in the warp and woof of the world's love and sorrow, its art and literature, its patriotism and history. The life of man is the cathedral window, and religion is the colored figure that stands in it. The two are inseparable. You can not abolish the figure without breaking the window; you can not banish religion without destroying humanity. Try to explain Homer's world without Olympus; account for Mohammedanism and make no reference to faith; write the history of the Middle Ages and take no note of the "Divine Comedy"; sum up the meaning of Persian and Indian civilization and pay no heed to religion; show what Hebraism is and leave unnoticed its consciousness of God, and you will create a parallel to the philosopher who should endeavor to trace the significance of human life apart from man's passion for the infinite.

Here then is the key to manhood. He is a being over whom the unseen wields an endless fascination. There is in him a thirst that nothing can quench save the living God. His chief attribute is an attribute of wo, an incapacity for content within the limits of the visible and temporal. His differentiation from the brute is at this point absolute. Between man and the lower orders of life there is a line of likeness; there is also from the beginning a line of unlikeness. In physical structure man is both similar and dissimilar to the animal. As bread-winner and economist he is kindred and he is in contrast to the creatures below him. In the home, in society, and in the state in which both home and society are set and protected, the line of likeness grows less and less distinct, while the line of unlikeness becomes bolder and plainer. It is impossible to deny observation to the dog and impossible to grant to it science. The instinct for beauty belongs to the bird, but art in the full sense of the word, as the self-conscious expression of beautiful ideas, is no part of its life. One can not decline to note method in the existence of the brute, and one is compelled to withold from it philosophy. In these higher activities the line of likeness between man and the animal is of the faintest description; while the line of contrast becomes more and more pronounced and significant. When we come to the summit of man the likeness vanishes utterly. Among the lower life of the world there is no Magnificat, there is no Nunc Dimittis; the beginning and the end do not link themselves to the Eternal. The brute has no religion, no temple, no priest, no Bible, no sacrament of love between itself and the invisible. The tower of this church tells at once, and from afar, that it is a church. Near at hand, much besides the tower tells the same story. There is the cruciform foundation; there is the structure of its walls. There is the outside with distinct note; there is the inside with its joyous beauty. Look at the church closely and you need no tower to proclaim what it is. And yet the tower is its most conspicuous witness: at a distance it is the sole witness. Religion is similarly the eminent token that man belongs to a divine order. The basis of his being in sacrifice should repeat the same tale. Civilization as a struggle after social righteousness should announce the same fact. Man's thoughts and feelings, and their manifold and marvelous expression in art, in institutions, and in systems of opinion, utter the same testimony. And yet the tower of his being, high soaring and far seen, is his feeling for the invisible. You do not know man until you behold him worshiping.

III. The third fact in our human situation is that Christianity is the interpretation of religion. You see the devout old Jew, Simeon, who met Jesus as His mother brought Him for the first time into the temple; and there you behold the old faith interpreted by the new. All that was best in the Hebrew religion is conserved and carried higher in the Christian religion. Everywhere the devoutest Jews were conscious of wants which the national faith did not meet. They waited for the consolation of Israel, and when Christ came he supplied satisfactions which Hebraism could not supply. Christianity commended itself to the disciples of Christ because it seemed to be their own faith at its best. They were carried over into it by the logic of their previous belief and their deep human need. Paul sought righteousness as a Jew; when he became a Christian, righteousness was still his great quest. And Christianity commended itself to him because the national ideal of righteousness was set before him in a sublimer form, and because a new inspiration came to him in his pursuit of it. The old immemorial goal of human endeavor was exalted, and the everlasting incentives were filled with the freshness of a divine life. Thus the religious Jew, when Christ came, was like a convalescent patient. The process of recovery was going on, but in a way that was discouragingly slow. The longing was for the higher altitudes of the spirit, for the pure and bracing atmosphere of some exalted leader, for an environment richer in healing ministry and in restoring power. That longing Christ met. He carried His believing countrymen on to the heights. He surrounded them with the freshness of His own spirit. He put over them a new sky. He took them into a new environment, rich with His truth and grace, tender with infinite sympathy, stored with the forces that work for spiritual vigor, filled with the love of His Father. Ask Peter or James or John or Paul, ask any believing Jew and he will tell you that Christianity is simply the consummation of his faith as a Jew.

The gospel moves along the same line of self-verification with reference to all the great religions. The Persian believes in eternal light, and he hates the contending darkness. Christianity says that God is light, and that in Him is no darkness at all; that Jesus is the Light of the world, and that whosoever followeth Him shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. The Greek was full of humanity, and he could not help making his gods and goddesses simply larger and more beautiful men and women. What is the soul of that amazingly beautiful and seemingly fantastic mythology of the Greeks? Why do they worship Apollo and Aphrodite, Hermes and Athene? Because they can think of nothing higher than ideal humanity. And Christ comes, the ideal man. The beauty of the Lord is upon Him. His thoughts and feelings and purpose and character are the most perfect things in the world. He identifies Himself with man, and He identifies Himself with God. He is the Son of man, and as such He is the Son of God. And thus a human. God, a human universe, a human religion is offered to the Greek, and in place of the wonderful mythology the clear, warm, divine fact. The Mohammedan believes in will; and the gospel puts before him that ultimate irresistible Will as a Will to all good, eternally burdened with love, and nothing but love, for man. The Hindu is smitten with an endless craving after rest, and he thinks the path to peace lies in the diminution and final extinction of being. Christ goes to the Hindu and says: "Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

He sets before the Hindu an infinite social peace; he calls into play the moral will that for ages has been allowed to slumber. The goal is high social harmony; the path to it is the intelligent will in faithful, inspired, victorious obedience. The need of the Hindu is not less but more and better existence. The way out of his despair is through fulness of life. His misery is but the dumb prayer for eternal life, that is, for existence supreme in its character and in its volume.

Thus Christianity is everywhere the interpreter of religion. Everywhere it carries the world's faith to its best. It is the consummation both of the human need and the divine answer. And to-day, in our own world, it goes on the same high errand. The intuitions of righteousness, the sympathies with goodness, the wish for the more abundant life, the ideals and the struggles, the hope and the fear, without which man would not be man, find their interpreter in Christianity. It is the soul carried to the utmost depth of its need and the loftiest height of its desire, and then made conscious that below its profoundest weakness and above its highest dream is the infinite Love that is educating its life. It is the best wisdom of history speaking to the highest interests of man. As mothers brought their children to Jesus that He might reveal the inmost meaning of childhood, open its treasure to the hearts that loved it, and by His consecrating touch assure it of perpetual increase; so are the nations bringing their religions to Him, and the noble among men their uncomprehended longing and hope. He walks among us still as the Revealer, the Conserver, and the Consummator of life.

IV. Lastly, Christianity finds it own interpretation in God. We have seen man looking backward and finding the origin of his soul in the Soul that is behind nature. We have seen his religion telling him that he can not live by bread alone, that he can rest only under the shelter of the unseen, that he is infinitely more akin to the invisible than to the visible, that he has a spirit and must therefore hunger for the fellowship of the eternal Spirit. We see Christianity lifting this religious capacity to its highest, and bringing in the divine appeal in its sublimest form. We behold the earth transfigured in this Christian dream, the ladder set that reaches from the dreamer to heaven, and upon it, going up and coming down, the great prayers of the soul and the tender responses of the Most High. To what shall we refer this sublime, transfiguring dream? Is it the delusion of the sleeper, or the whisper of God? Is the ladder set up from the earth, or is it let down from above? Did man shape it out of his abysmal desire, or did God make and establish it out of His love. What can we say of that which is the highest wisdom, the widest sympathy, the divinest love, and the mightiest power in human history? What can we do with that which is the true life of man? Can the trees of the field, as they clap their hands and sing in the freshening breeze, do other than refer it to heaven? And man, as he sees the light of Christ upon the Spirit behind nature, beholds in the gospel that which interprets his highest dreams, feels in Christianity the power to understand and to become his own best self -- can he do other than say that his Christian faith is the gift of God? The star in the brook refers you for the explanation of its being to the star in the sky; and the glory of the gospel living in the depths of man's soul has no other origin than the love of God.

The hope of science lies in exploring the natural environment. All material reality is here, and here science has found all her truth, and every season reminds her that inexpressible wonders still wait her search. In the heavens above, and in the earth beneath, and in the waters under the earth are hidden the treasure for which she is to toil. Earth and sea and sky; the waveless depths and the windless heights, and the wide expanse between, now sunlit and again stormswept, are the field of her enterprise and hope. And in the same way the human environment is the region that the spirit must explore. The meaning of humanity must be found in and through humanity. "Say not in thy heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? that is, to bring Christ down; or who shall descend into the abyss? that is, to bring Christ up from the dead. The word is nigh thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart." The divine reality offers itself to faith in and through the scope and sweep of life. The order of God is in the life of society. The ideal for man, the method by which it is realized, and the power, are set in the spiritual tissues of the race. If you see no God, no soul, no genuine religion, believe rather that you are blind than that your human environment does not contain them. You are the product of nature. It follows that nature must be great enough to account for you and your race and the Christ who is your race at its best. Back of the nature that gave birth to you, that bore your kind, and brought forth Christ, there must be the sufficient Spirit. You are sure that you can not live by bread alone. You have thoughts that wander through eternity. You can not rest until you rest in God. You are a being made for religion, and again here is the gospel that meets your intelligence with its wisdom, your heart with its love, your will with its moral authority. Nothing puts your being in tune, and nothing rings out the best music that is in you, as the gospel does. It is omnipresent in our civilization, working everywhere to crush the beast and to free the man. It is in a mother's love, the soul of its tenderness; it is in a father's heart as ideal and incentive. The history and the experience and the hope of our homes are transfigured in its light, as if the earth should repose in an everlasting evening glow. Patriotism is alive with its fire, and the new and growing passion for humanity is the great token of its quickening spirit. It is the box of ointment, very precious, which has been broken in society and all Christendom is filled with its perfume. Birth and death, love and sorrow, achievement and failure, human life and its immemorial content, the old room and the dear and dreary things in it, take on new dignity and grace. To detect the new spirit in the old dwelling is the best and most rewarding of all intuitions. To live in the human homestead consecrated by the diffusion of Christ's gospel is to undergo an unconscious conformation to exalted ideals. Because of our Christian civilization, behind every morning is the Father, who makes His sun to shine upon the evil and the good, and who sends His rain upon the just and the unjust. Nature has been lifted into a servant of the divine beneficence. And man's wild but imperishable passion for the unseen has been brought to see its last and best self in the love of Christ. Wherever we look, this gospel is the master light of all our seeing; and once more, is it not light from heaven? We know where to look for the belt of Orion, and clear and grand as the stars that constitute it are the great saving truths which are set in the human sky. There is nothing arbitrary in this sublime faith, nothing that does not rise out of the human order, nothing that is a mere import from the world of fancy or wild belief. The faith is the translation of fact into thought and speech. The eyes of Christ pass over and through the order of the universe, and His vision is our faith. Man is the interpreter of nature; religion is the interpreter of man; Christianity is the interpreter of religion; and God the Father is the interpreter of Christianity.

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