In our last letter we were discussing the human personality which God gives to everyone at the moment of birth. We noticed a number of things about the human personality, chief of which was that God gives to each man his own distinct and unique personality which makes him different from every other person that ever lived and ever will live.
I think it is very important to say a few more things about this.
For one thing, the personality, though given by God at the moment of conception, is so closely related and connected to his nature (which he receives from his parents) that there is no separation between the two possible. Each personality exactly fits, by a wonder of God, the exact nature to which it is given. It is not possible, e.g., that my person function through the nature of one of my fellow saints. It is not possible that the person of Stalin live and work through the nature of Hitler. There is, by a mighty wonder of God, perfect correspondence and harmony between the person and the nature of each individual.
Further, this is so true that the personality of an individual really affects (if that is the correct word) the whole nature. It is that person or personality which determines the whole physical appearance of an individual and the whole physical makeup. He is the kind of individual he is in both body and soul because of the person which God has given to him. So true is this that the personality even extends to the fingerprints of an individual. Every man’s fingerprints are different from those of every other man—so much so that these fingerprints can serve as a mark of identification, and criminal courts can use them in crime detection. The presence of fingerprints at the scene of a crime is sure proof of the presence of the individual at that place. God so impresses the mark of each individual’s personality upon the whole nature that it is present in the tips of the fingers.
But this difference in the person is a complete difference. This is even the case with identical twins. Even a rather close acquaintance may be unable to tell the difference between identical twins. But this is not a problem to those who know the twins well. A mother never makes a mistake. She can tell the difference between them very easily because they are two different people who act differently, talk differently, have different personalities. They are, though physically very much alike, two different people.
This is, by the way, an important truth for the doctrine of the church. The Scriptures teach that the church is the organism of the body of Christ. That the church is an organism means that it is basically one unit, just as a tree is one plant. But within that one unity is a wide diversity of individual members, which diversity is absolutely essential for the organism. If a tree, e.g., were composed of identical parts, it would not be a tree. If there were no leaves, no branches, no trunk, no bark, only roots, there would be no tree. But when all the parts are integrated so that one perfect unity results, you have an organism. So it is also in the church. The church as the body of Christ is possible only because each individual member is different from every other member. Each member has his own place in which place he contributes to the whole. And through it all is the one perfect unity.
This is a very glorious and significant doctrine, for it gives prestige and honor to every member, no matter how lowly we may, in our foolishness, consider him. But it is rooted in that work of creation whereby God forms each individual according to His own divine and sovereign purpose.
One of our ministers tells a story which illustrates this truth rather well. He had, in his congregation, a set of identical twins. They were so much alike that almost no one in the congregation could tell them apart. These two twins, being boys and somewhat mischievous, had a great deal of fun fooling their teachers and friends. But for some reason they could never fool this pastor. Even when the one would answer in Catechism when the other was asked, the pastor would always catch their prank. They could not understand how he always was able to tell them apart; and, one day, in desperation, they asked him for the secret. But he refused to tell them because, as he put it, “If I tell you, it all will be spoiled.” Then he took a call to another congregation and they asked him if he would tell them the secret now that he was leaving anyway. He told them that he always watched them when they walked into the door of a room or when they engaged in any kind of conversation because the one invariably took the lead. He would enter the door first; he would speak first; the other would always follow. This was, of course, due to a difference in personality which the minister observed and which he used to tell them apart with unfailing accuracy.
While we will have a bit more to say about this a bit later, it is interesting to note that this has a lot do to with pastoral work. Every child of God is different. There are’ degrees of intelligence, degrees of sensitivity, degrees of spirituality. There are differences of character, differences of emotional life, differences of understanding. The wise pastor takes these things into account when dealing with his sheep. And in the same way a parent takes this into account in dealing with his children; and a teacher recognizes these differences in dealing with his pupils.
There is another truth concerning the personality, however, which we must also discuss. It is because people are “persons” that the possibility of fellowship exists between them. Trees, obviously, cannot have fellowship. Neither can animals. For fellowship, personality is essential. Fellowship, after all, depends upon knowing someone. And knowing someone means knowing them as a person. It is the person we know when we know an individual. And the better we know that person the better we know the individual. On this knowledge rests the whole truth of fellowship in life.
God’s covenant is a bond of fellowship and friendship. God takes His people into His own fellowship. But this is possible, you see, only because God is a personal God. The truth of the trinity is that He is three in person and one in essence. As the triune God, He has fellowship with Himself within His own life. But the covenant of grace means that He takes His people into that fellowship. He creates persons who can live in fellowship with Him, enjoy the blessedness of the fellowship which He has in Himself and live as His friends. But at the very heart of this fellowship lies the fact that we know God. We know Him as a personal being. Our God, the God of the Scriptures, is not the cold and impersonal Allah of the Mohammedans. He is not the blind and impersonal Fate of the Stoics. He is a personal God Who speaks to us through Jesus Christ and through Whose speech we know, truly know Him.
But because we have fellowship with God, we also have fellowship with one another. The saints of God, each a person in his own right, have fellowship with each other, knowing each other and enjoying the communion which is established through the Spirit of Christ.
And it must never be forgotten that man is created as this kind of person—i.e., as the kind of person whomust live in fellowship with others. It is unnatural for a man to live alone. He is created that way. It was not good for man to live alone even in the state of perfection in Paradise. The feeling of loneliness is one of the great sorrows which people experience in life. It is often the cause of untold trouble and grief. It is many times the root of terrible problems. But within the communion of the saints, there is always the fellowship of the people of God. And it is this which a man needs for his very life. But we will come back to this a bit later.
Finally, a person is a conscious being. This too is a great wonder. It is hard to convey the significance of this because it is one of those things in life which are so common that we take it for granted without ever giving much thought to it and realizing how truly wonderful this is. Trees do not have consciousness. Neither do roses. Perhaps some of the higher animals have a certain limited consciousness. I do not think a worm has consciousness. Maybe a dog has a bit of it. But man has consciousness; and only one who is a person can possess this. What is consciousness? Well, to put it one way: I not only know, but I know that I know. I am conscious that I know certain things like the rain that is falling now outside my study window. I am conscious and aware of what is going on around me. I am aware of all that is happening to me and around me so that I can give account of it. But I am not only conscious of my surroundings, but also conscious of myself. I have self-consciousness, not in the sense of embarrassment, which a person may feel when he must appear before an audience with a black eye. Of him too we say that he is self-conscious. Not that, but awareness of myself as a person, as one who knows and thinks and has fellowship with others. Only man possesses this great gift.
But it is important for all the life of an individual. It is important for all our thinking and willing life, for we think and will consciously. It is important for enjoying life and feeling sympathy or sorrow. How could we cry if we were not conscious and self-conscious? It is important surely for self-examination to which Scripture calls us. But it is rather striking that a child does not possess very much of this. And, as a child develops, consciousness develops in that child, but also self-consciousness. And consciousness comes before self-consciousness. A child is not usually self-conscious until he is over a year old. That is why when a child begins to speak, he always speaks of himself in the third person: not, “I will go out to play;” but, “Danny will go out to play.” And how surprised some of my own children were when suddenly they discovered that that image of themselves in the mirror was an image of them! Self-consciousness sometimes dawns suddenly and startlingly.
Fraternally in Christ,