Part I: The Knowledge of God
Lecture IV: The Glory of God and the Glory of Man
Be whom we confesse and beleve all thingis in hevin and eirth, aswel Visible as Invisible, to have been created, to be reteined in their being, and to be ruled and guyded be his inscrutable Providence, to sik end, as his Eternall Wisdome, Gudnes, and Justice hes appoynted them, to the manifestatioun of his awin glorie.
OF THE CREATIOUN OF MAN
We confesse and acknawledge this our God to have created man, to wit, our first father Adam, to his awin image and similitude, to whome he gave wisdome, lordship, justice, free-wil, and cleir knawledge of himselfe, sa that in the haill nature of man there culd be noted no imperfectioun.
The Reformed church and Reformed theology have never spoken about God and man as if God were everything and man were nothing. That is a caricature of Reformed teaching and we have already rejected such a preposterous view in passing, in our second lecture. By slightly altering a sentence formulated there we can say now “God alone is God but God is not alone.” God alone possesses divine glory, but alongside His glory there exists a glory which belongs to the world and to man. The world and man exist—in the way in which their existence is possible alongside God—but they do exist. They exist in the truth and independence, in the distinctiveness and beauty and with the teleological character, which it is possible for them to possess alongside God. But they do in point of fact exist in this glory which they possess alongside God. They exist in this their peculiar glory under the definite ordinance, by which they do not possess their glory from themselves, but receive it from God, and do not possess it for themselves, but in order that the glory of God might be the greater thereby; but under this ordinance they themselves do possess a peculiar glory, which it is quite certain God does not grudge them, rob them of or even diminish. Only by the overthrowing of this ordinance can they lose their peculiar glory. If they wish to possess it from themselves and for themselves, they will certainly cease to possess it. They have then fallen victim to shame, folly and death. On the other hand, if this ordinance is restored, in and with it the glory of the world and of man is restored also. It holds good therefore that in its overthrow and in its restoration also, the glory of the world and of man is founded on the glory of God, fully determined by it and bound by it.
Let us proceed from the simple fact that in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, God and man meet, and therefore are really together. We shall see later that we have to use an even stronger expression than this, and speak of God being one with man. But at this point the more guarded conception of God and man being together is sufficient. The name of Israel's expected Messiah is, according to Isaiah 7, 14, Immanuel, i.e. God with us. This teaches us as our first point that God is not alone. God's revelation presupposes that there exists distinct from God a world in which He can reveal Himself and someone to whom He can reveal Himself. In His own eternal Being there is no need for any revelation and there can be no revelation there, because there is nothing hidden, since God is eternally manifest to Himself. If there is a revelation of God, then there exists alongside God an “other” which is not God. Revelation as the fact that God and man are really together is itself the evidence of the reality of the divine creation. By this it is revealed—apart from everything which revelation may mean in itself—that the world is not nothing and not mere appearance. In this fact, man above all, as the one to whom God turns in His revelation, is affirmed and taken seriously in his existence, is addressed as God's vis-à-vis and partner and thereby honoured in his independence and acknowledged in the distinctiveness and teleological character of his created being. We cannot believe God's revelation without at the same time being given to see the outlines of the reality of the world and of our own reality, which, though mysterious, ambiguous and puzzling, are yet unmistakable. This reality is not one which is founded or rests on itself, but is created by God. But for that very reason it is a reality saved from nothingness and distinguished from appearance. More than the glory of the creature cannot be ascribed to it in the light of revelation. But this glory cannot be denied it in the light of revelation. God in His majesty as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit requires no other being and possesses all majesty in Himself, yet He does not content Himself with Himself and thus with the glory which He possesses perfectly in Himself. On the contrary, His glory overflows in His creating, sustaining and governing the world and in the world man, and in His giving to this His creation the glory of being the reflection (imago) of His own glory. The love of God consists in this, that though He does not need the world and man He will not be without them. He will not be without this reflection (imago) of His glory, or without the glory which creation is appointed to give back to Him again. And the peculiar glory of the creation is to possess this appointed destiny and to be obedient to it by virtue of God's free love.
Let us return again to the fact of the meeting of God and man in God's revelation in Jesus Christ. This being together of God and man is grace. It is something which man needs. But it is God who has sought man, that they might be thus together and not man who has sought God. This teaches us as our second point that the creation is under a debt of gratitude to God. God's revelation presupposes that the world and man stand in need of their Creator, that they have no power over Him and that He creates, sustains and governs them with divine freedom. They do not possess their glory in themselves but in their being permitted to reflect this divine glory by virtue of the overflowing glory of God. They possess it therefore in showing themselves grateful to God. At this point we must make certain delimitations. Following the example of the Nicæan symbol the Confessio Scotica terms the object of creation “all thingis in hevin and eirth, aswel Visible as Invisible.” This expresses the clear, correct and important fact that the world of spirit is no less created by God than the world of nature and the world of nature no less than the world of spirit. There would be no point in preferring one of these realms to the other, as if spirit (or according to others, nature) had its glory in itself, and therefore did not stand in need of the grace of the Creator. Neither of these realms stands in direct relation to God, however highly idealistic philosophy may prize spirit or the opposing materialistic philosophy may prize nature. And neither of these realms is absolved from the duty of gratitude, however much the idealists may despise nature and the materialists spirit. But this is true also mutatis mutandis of the antithesis between coming into being and passing away. Both of these extol the glory of God—not only the majesty of what we call growth, progress and fulfilment of life, but also the darkness of what we call decay, destruction and death. On the other hand, it would be the sign of a narrow outlook to look for God's glory only on the dark side of creation and not on the bright side also. Both coming into being and passing away stand in equal need of the overflowing grace of the Creator, in order to possess their own particular glory. The same is true also of a third antithesis—the antithesis between the law of necessity which we see governs all created life, and the freedom which we are summoned continually to manifest in the midst of this necessity. The summons of freedom is one whose universal claim we can as little gainsay as we can that of necessity. But the need for grace from the Creator is not greater in the one and less in the other. Freedom has no less glory of its own than necessity and necessity shares in the overflowing glory of the Creator in no lesser sense than freedom. The distinctions which we draw by means of such conceptions within the world created by God can be justified and helpful. But they are, at all events, provisional and relative. The ordinance of which we spoke is valid for all levels of the world—for all the heights as well as for all the depths. It is the ordinance of gratitude—“We believe all thingis in hevin and eirth, . . . to have been created, to be reteined in their being, and to be ruled and guyded be his inscrutable Providence, to sik end, as his Eternall Wisdome, Gudnes, and Justice hes appoynted them, to the manifestatioun of his awin glorie.”
Let us return once more to God's revelation in Jesus Christ. It is man who meets God here and it is man whom God is with here. Why does God not meet with Sirius or the rock crystal? Or with the violet by the roadside or with the boa-constrictor? Yes, why not? But this is not what we are asked. The revelation of God in Jesus Christ—in the man Jesus Christ—is what alone distinguishes man, yet definitely distinguishes him within the rest of creation. We will not be guilty of the presumption of asserting that it is man who is specially appointed and qualified to receive the divine revelation. From what source could we know that? But we can and must establish that it is man for whom the divine revelation is appointed. This teaches us a third point, that Man has been called to present to the Creator the gratitude of the creation.
The special position of man will best be defined in this guarded way. We cannot ascribe to ourselves more than what is the significance and purpose of the whole creation. We exist for “the manifestatioun of God's awin glorie.” We possess our glory in serving the glory of God. We cannot know whether there may not be other beings who—perhaps in a far more perfect way than man—present to the Creator the gratitude due to Him from His creation. We are certainly not always wrong, if we believe we hear a song of praise to God in the existence also of Sirius and the rock crystal, of the violet and the boa-constrictor. But however that may be, we can know with regard to ourselves that we are not excused if we are not grateful—for in our existence as men we are certainly called to such gratitude. In the creation story in the Bible (Gen. 1, 26 ff.)—a passage adopted by the Confessio Scotica—we read “God created man ad imaginem et similitudinem ipsius,” i.e. to be the image and likeness of Himself. This is misunderstood already in the Greek translation of the Old Testament—the Septuagint—and it is to be feared that the Confessio Scotica also fell into this misunderstanding,—as if what was described here was a condition or quality of being God's exact likeness, imparted to man at his creation and attaching to his existence thenceforward, so that we would have to ask in what respect this condition of being like God is really to be perceived now in man as man, or in what respect it was to be perceived in Adam. We would then have to ask if for example man's reason or his humanity was the image of God. For answers of this nature men will seek in vain. For the text speaks not of a quality, but of that for which man's “nature” is appointed in his existence, life and action. Man is appointed to be, and it is his glory to be, the image of God, to reflect His glory and therefore to be grateful to Him. It is as man that he is appointed for this. And therefore he is appointed to recognise God's glory and so to act as to give God the glory, since in these consist human existence, life and action. He is appointed to recognise that God is the one and only Lord and to act in a way which takes this into account. He is to recognise God's majestic Person and to act as one responsible to this majestic Person. We cannot know if this recognition and this action, for which man is appointed, is more pleasing to God than the roaring of the sea, or the gentle falling of snow flakes. Once again we are not asked this. But what we can know is that at any rate we are summoned so to know and act, summoned to the knowledge of God and the service of God as certainly as we men quâ men are called to be His image and to show Him gratitude—the same gratitude which the whole creation owes Him. The sea and the snowflakes owe Him this gratitude too, but our gratitude can take only the form of the knowledge of God and the service of God; for we are not snowflakes or drops of water. And in this form our gratitude will be directed towards the Creator and Lord of the whole earth, the Creator of the sea and the boa-constrictor. How could we honour Him, if not as the One who has also created all other creatures for His glory? This is the source of the confidence in which we may move about in the midst of the whole world, as we wander through its heights and depths. We cannot have confidence in any creature, since we can have confidence in God alone, but we can and should have confidence in the case of every creature in its Creator and Lord. But to do this, to be able to live a life of trust in God in this dark world, we must do what we are under an obligation to do—we must show gratitude for the unspeakable grace of our creation and must reflect God's glory, and this is effected by our recognising Him and doing what is right in His sight.
Let us note in conclusion that the whole subject would consist in abstract conjectures and reflections devoid of any significance for life and also destined to break down at once as empty speculations, if they sought to be anything else than an exposition of the fact that God has revealed Himself to man in Jesus Christ. What do we know from any other source about “God,” the “world” and “Man,” and their mutual relations? We know absolutely nothing, and everything becomes confused myth and wild metaphysic as soon as we turn aside from the statement of that fact by which God Himself has confirmed, explained and laid down the relationship of God, the world and man, and God's ordinance. By God's taking thought for man in Jesus Christ, now as in the past, He has provided us with knowledge about the creating, sustaining and governing of the world and man and about His glory and ours. Any book other than the Gospel, which we might open here, in order to find out about God, the world and man, could only lead us astray. It was no mere chance that the Confessio Scotica in its exposition of the Creation of man and his special appointment to be God's image, did not use the word God abstractly but said concretely Our God, Immanuel. To learn to see the Creator and Lord of all in “Our God,” Immanuel, Jesus Christ, is the problem of the Christian doctrine of creation, a problem which is difficult and yet easy, easy and yet difficult.