“Did God then create man so wicked and perverse?”
Last time we discussed the depravity of man in the light of our Confessions. Yet any discussion on our depravity must necessarily bring us back to the beginning and the cause of that depravity. Therefore the well-known question raised by our Heidelberg Catechism is very much to the point. And the answer is just as pertinent: “By no means; but God created man good, and after his own image, in true righteousness and holiness, that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love him and live with him in eternal happiness to glorify and praise him.” (Lord’s Day 3, question 6).
The Catechism refers to Genesis 1:26, “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.”
In this unique statement used only for the creation of man, God as covenant God expresses his desire to make man as uniquely distinct from all the other creatures. God did not merely take him from the dust of the ground, as was the case with the animals, but God formed him from the dust and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. It was by this two-fold act, not as progressive creation from the animal to man, but as a distinct and new creation that God formed man and made him a living soul. He was distinct from the animals in that he possessed not only a body unique to man, but also a soul. Man can think, reason, plan, devise, invent, and remember. He can love or hate, desire and will. And the two are always intimately related, so that man thinks and plans according to the desires and impulses of his heart. Yet all this was not yet the image of God in man. In a much lower form the animals also possess powers of thinking, remembering, showing affection or hatred. The animal bears a certain reflection of man, as is evident from the skill of a spider in spinning a web, or from the ability of the bird to devise a nest or to migrate from one climate to another. Yes, even after the fall man still retains remnants of this natural ability of mind and will in all that he does.
But this is not the image of God. Because of his unique creation man was image bearer, but the image itself was something quite different. Scripture speaks of the image of God as a spiritual, ethical likeness of God. If we compare Colossians 3:10 with Ephesians 4:24, we find that the image of God consists of three elements, true knowledge of God, righteousness, and holiness. All these three elements are also implied in the answer of the Heidelberg Catechism referred to above.
Adam bore the likeness of God, in the first place, because he possessed true knowledge of God. Even as God knows Himself as the only Good, the fulness of infinite perfections, so He gave to man the ability to know Him as the true and living God, in as far as the earthly creature was capable of knowing God in paradise. Adam knew God intuitively. God spoke to him, walked with him, and communed with him as a friend with a friend. And Adam also beheld the revelation of God in the entire earthly creation. He saw God in every tree and plant and flower, in the lion and in the lamb, in the peacock and in the canary, in the whale and in the minnow, and even in the broad expanse of the heavens, in the sun, and moon, and stars. He heard God in the rushing stream, in the wafting breezes, in the roaring of the lion, and in the singing of the birds. He smelled the sweet aroma of the flowers, touched their tender petals, felt their velvety softness. And in all that he experienced he- cried out from the depths of his soul, “O God, how wonderful Thou art! And his soul yearned after God, Who was always in all his thoughts.
For Adam also bore the likeness of God, in the second place, because he possessed a heart filled with love to God. His knowledge was not a cold intellectual knowledge, but was rooted in love. He realized his dependence upon God even as he ate from the trees of the garden. Especially when he ate from the tree of life he experienced fully the wonder of God’s goodness that sustained him, provided for him, and cared for all his needs. He tasted God’s love and responded in love to his God. From his heart arose the worshipful prayer: Thou art my God, how great Thou art!
And finally, Adam bore the likeness of God in holiness. Even as God is devoted to Himself as the only Good, and as He has created all things for His glory, so also Adam was given the ability to devote himself consciously and willingly to God. While the animal walked with its head to the ground, seeking its existence from the earth, Adam walked erect, with Uplifted head expecting all things from the Almighty. His noble stature, his intelligent face, and his skillful hand indicated his royal dominion over all the creatures. He had dominion over all the creatures even to the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. They were all subject to him, that through them he might glorify his Maker.
For Adam was friend servant of the living God. He realized that he was but an insignificant speck of dust, whose life and being was from God. He counted it a privilege to know and confess God as his God. It was his joy to serve God to the full capacity of his life. The idea of a “covenant of works” never occurred to him, but was so completely foreign to him, that the very idea of working fox wages was repugnant to his soul. Does a child ask for wages for obeying his parents? Does a mother demand recompense for her labors of love in the home? No more did Adam want a reward, since his very life was wrapped up in the glory of his Creator.
While Adam’s relationship to God was that of friend servant, and his relationship to the earthly creation was that of king, his relationship to the human race was that of representative head. He was our first father, and as such he represented the whole human race before the face of God. We were in Adam legally as well as naturally.
Adam’s sin was an act of wanton disobedience that may never be minimized. Even though it was a mere act of taking and eating of the fruit of a tree, his sin lay in the fact that the fruit was forbidden. He defied God’s command not to eat of the forbidden tree. And in doing so he made himself guilty of breach of covenant. He was unfaithful to his God as an unfaithful wife who deserts her husband to follow after another man. He turned away from God to listen to the deception and treachery of God’s enemy, the devil. He forsook God to enter into an alliance with Satan. And he did this in full consciousness of what he was doing and well aware that the death penalty rested upon that transgression.
The death sentence was also carried out. God turned against Adam and banished him from before His face. Adam became a child of wrath. Eph. 2:3. He experienced the crushing burden of guilt in separation from God and the bitter anguish of being cast away in divine righteous indignation. Besides that, he became sinful, depraved. God gave him over to his sin. Spiritually he was an enemy of God and a friend of Satan. His mind was darkened. His heart was filled with enmity against God and against Eve. He was no longer a friend-servant of God, but a rebel, who sought himself, his own vain glory, attempting to excuse and maintain himself in his sin against the Most High. He was corrupted in his very nature. And there was no restraint of sin as far as his nature was concerned. He died. And there was no escape from death except by regeneration. John 3:3.
As king of the earthly creation Adam witnessed God’s curse upon his entire realm. Instead of the abundance of paradise, the earth brought forth thorns and thistles. Only by the sweat of his brow could Adam wrestle an existence from the earth that he tilled. God wrote in bold letters everywhere that frightening word, vanity.
Nothing alleviated that curse. Death made its solemn march through the earth, branded every creature that it touched, sand even Adam began to experience the breaking down of the earthly house of his tabernacle. Had Adam and Eve died at the foot of the forbidden tree, there would have been no need for a groaning creation that bows ceaselessly under the curse. But this was not God’s intention. Nor was this possible, since Adam was created as king of the earthly creation. When he fell his kingdom fell with him. There was no escape anywhere from the terrible curse of God, except in the promised Seed, the Christ, in whom God makes all things new.
I have broadened out rather extensively on Adam’s creation and) fall only to show the depth of our depravity.
Adam’s guilt is our guilt, even as his rebellion was our rebellion. Had Adam stood alone, God could have called a judgment day in paradise, with the result that there would have been a hell with two people. But Adam was our representative head, and his death sentence could be executed only upon him and his generations. The first sin of Adam had to be developed until sin in all its horrible rebellion against God becomes fully evident and the righteous judgment of God is fully carried out. Besides, God promised salvation to Adam and to his spiritual seed, the elect in the line of generations. To Adam was promised the SEED, the Christ, including all those that eternally belong to Christ in sovereign election. Election and reprobation would become evident in the generations that followed. God created enmity between the spiritual seed, the seed of the woman, and the carnal seed, which was the seed of Satan. While Satan and his spiritual seed, the wicked, were in the process of piercing the heel of the promised Seed, that heel would come down with all its fury upon the head of Satan to crush him and his seed forever.
Therefore it follows that when Adam died we all died in him, both physically and spiritually. Rom. 5:12. Job complains, “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one.” Job 14:4. David confesses, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Ps. 51:5. We must say with Paul, “There is none righteous, no, not one . . . . There is none that seeketh after God . . . . There is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Rom. 3:10-12. “For whatever is not of faith is sin.” Rom. 14:23.
With this: our Confessions heartily concur. Our Catechism asks: “Are we then so corrupt, that we are incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness? And the answer is given, “Indeed we are; except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.” (Lord’s Day 3, Question 8.) This is also the language of article 15 of our Confession of Faith. And with this our Canons are in full agreement. Under the Third and Fourth Head Of Doctrine, article 4, the Canons speak of glimmerings of natural light, whereby man retains some knowledge of God and of creation, knows the difference between good and evil, and is able to maintain some virtue and orderly deportment as far as his daily existence is concerned. But then our fathers most emphatically add: “But so far is this light of nature from being sufficient to bring him to a saving knowledge of God and to true conversion, that he is incapable of using it aright even in things natural and civil.” (I have underscored).
Well may this last statement be underscored, as well as the statement that natural light can never bring a person to a saving knowledge of God nor to true conversion. That means that he is also incapable of accepting any offered salvation, incapable of believing the stock phrase, “God loves you, Christ died for you.” He is even incapable of using those remnants of natural light aright in his daily walk of life, no matter how pretentious his outward display of virtue and orderly deportment may be. And then our Confession adds, “Nay, further, this light, such as it is, man in various ways renders wholly polluted, and holds it in unrighteousness, by doing which he becomes inexcusable before God.”
Man is depraved. God’s wrath abides on him. Nothing but regeneration can change him.
And this must be preached from the pulpit and on the mission field, as we shall see next time.