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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

A Commentary
on the
Shorter Catechism

Alexander Whyte

Q. 10. How did God create man?
A. God created man male and female, after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.

God created man—As if to mark off and signalize the creation of man from that of all the other creatures, there is a striking change in the manner in which the sixth day's work is recorded. Hitherto the Creator had spoken "by the word of His power," and all things immediately became as he commanded. But when we are introduced to the work of the sixth day, we discover a remarkable modification in the narrative; and instead of a creative command, as on the preceding days, there is heard the language rather of counsel, deliberation, and resolution. The Creator now speaks as if a work was about to be wrought altogether distinct from, and immeasurably superior to, all that had hitherto been made. For God said : "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: . . . So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him: male and female created He them." And with more detail in another place: "The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." All which produces on the reader, and must have been intended to produce, the impression that man by his peculiar creation is separated off on all sides from connection with the rest of the creatures, except as completing them and being their monarch and their end. In the posture of deliberation and mutual counsel in which God reveals Himself when proceeding to create mankind; in His so signally connecting mankind with the Godhead through putting man in possession of the Divine Image; and in the royal, and, so to speak, divine position He gave Adam over all the rest of creation—in all this there was secured for man a clear and indubitable charter of his divine origin and heavenly relationship.

man—"The sense is thinking animal, from Sanskrit man, to think; the animal with mind" (Skeat).

after his own image—An image is any imitation, resemblance, or similitude of another thing. It is anything drawn, painted, sculptured, or otherwise fashioned to represent some person or thing. And such is the capacity of the word "image", that it is applied in a great number of senses, and is put to a great variety of uses, one of the noblest of which we are now to elucidate. There was a twofold act or process in the creation of man; and accordingly two substances enter into his complex constitution. "The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Now in searching in man for the divine image that was impressed upon him in his creation, we at once pass beyond all that in man which was "made of the dust of the ground." For no formation of dust, not even when it is refined and elaborated into flesh and blood, can carry an impression of the image of God. It is not therefore in man's body, erect, noble, fair, beaming with intelligence and girded with strength as it is, that the divine image stands; but in his soul, in his mind and conscience and heart, or as the Catechism has it, in his "knowledge, righteousness, and holiness." At the same time, the doctrine of the divine imsge in man cannot now be fully and thoroughly studied in Adam: we must see it preserved and exhibited in a yet greater than he, if we would understand it even as it originally existed in him. We must go above Adam to Him who made him, to Him who is eternally "the express image of the Father's person." Indeed, most that we know of Adam's state before his fall, we learn afterwards from the provision made in the "second Adam" to restore and reinstate man in his lost knowledge, righteousness, holiness, and dominion.

"So then after all the other things, Moses says that man was made in the image and likeness of God. And he says well, for nothing that is born on the earth is more resembling God than man. And let no one think that he is able to judge of this likeness from the character of the body; for neither is God a being with the form of a man, nor is the human body like the form of God, but the resemblance is spoken of with reference to the most important part of the soul, namely, the mind. . . . But as it is not every image that resembles its archetypal model, since many are unlike, Moses has shown this by adding to the words, ‘after His image' the expression, ‘in His likeness,' to prove that it means an accurate impression, having a clear and evident resemblance in form" (Philo: a contemporary of our Lord).

And in a very remarkable fragment of his lost works the same writer says: "Why, then, does God use the expression, ‘In the image of God made I man,' as if He were speaking of that of some other God, and not of having made him in the likeness of Himself? This expression is used with great beauty and wisdom. For it was impossible that anything mortal should be made in the likeness of the Most High God, the Father of the universe; but it could only be made in the likeness of the Second God, who is the Word of the other; for it was fitting that the rational type in the soul of man should receive the impression of the Word of God."

"Spirits only are made in God's image, as if of His race, or as children of His house, since they only can serve Him freely, and knowingly act in imitation of the Divine Nature. One spirit alone is worth more than a whole world, since it not only expresses that world, but knows it also, and is governed in it as God orders. So that it seems, th at whilst every substance expresses the universe, other substances express the world rather than God, but spirits express God rather than the world" (Leibnitz; see Howe's Blessedness of the Righteous, chap. iv.).

in knowledge—In man as he came from the hand of God, there was a rich fountain of knowledge springing up within him. There was in him a deep well of intuitional truth, which secretly filled his understanding, and heart, and conscience. God has all knowledge by intuition, by direct and immediate vision; and He made man in His own image in this respect, that man had immediately and intuitionally a knowledge of God, and duty, and doubtless of many other things that we now have to toil painfully after if we would attain to it. Men learned in the matters of the mind assure us that there is still a deep well of intuitional truth, a fountain of innate ideas that opens spontaneously in every human soul. Our father Adam drank of this well, and in spite of all that has been done to choke it, it still rises within the soul. The Light that shone so fully on Adam at his creation, still lighteth every man that cometh into the world. "Adam's heart was the common ark of mankind, and though the tables be lost, yet our ignorance doth not make the law of none effect. For the law of nature for ever binds; that is, all that was written in Adam's heart, because it was thereby then published in him, and to him for us" (Goodwin).

righteousness—In etymology and in fact, righteousness means rectitude, obedience. Righteousness is a relation, a relation of conformity in all respects to the law under which any one is made subject. And accordingly the text teaches that man was created in the most perfect conformity to the moral law, under which as a creature of God be was for ever to live. Measured immediately on his creation by that divine law, man was pronounced by His Maker and Lawgiver and Judge "very good." It is in this sense that our divines speak of Adam's "natural justification."

and holiness—For the root and original meaning of this noble and inward word, see Answer 4.

Man's original righteousness and holiness corresponded somewhat to his justification and sanctification in his redeemed and evangelical estate. His holiness, if it is possible to say so, was something more personal, more inward, and more spiritual than even his righteousness. His holiness was, and was to be, the hidden root of his outward righteousness; his root and sap and fatness as a tree of righteousness, the planting of the Lord. He would stand in righteousness, in fruitfulness, and in acceptance only as his holiness was preserved unimpaired and untainted. Bengel seems to favour this distinction when he says that righteousness corresponds to the Divine Will; holiness, as it were, to the whole of the Divine Nature. "The parts of the image of God impressed on man's soul were knowledge on his mind, righteousness on his will, and holiness on his affections" (Boston). On what it is that constitutes holiness, see a characteristically clear and powerful discussion in Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections, Part iii. sect. iii.

dominion over the creatures. This last feature or accompaniment of the Divine Image is borrowed in as many words from God's fatherly and "prolifical benediction" pronounced over Adam and Eve: ‘‘And God blessed them, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth" (see Psalm 8.).

"God appointed man lord of the world, and this authority was given to Adam's posterity as well as to himself. And hence we infer what was the end for which all things were created, namely, that none of the conveniences and necessaries of life should be wanting to man. In the very order of the creation the paternal solicitude of God for man is conspicuous, because he furnished the world with all things needful, and even with an immense profusion of wealth, before he formed man. Thus man was rich before he was born. But if God had such care for us before we existed, He will by no means leave us destitute of food and other necessaries of life, now that He has placed us in this world. And if He often keeps His hand closed toward us, to what is this to be imputed but to our sins?" (Calvin).

1. "If a man should be able to assent to this doctrine as he ought, that we are all sprung from God, I suppose that he would never have any ignoble or mean thought about himself. Many incline to their kinship with the animals, which is miserable and mortal, and some few to their kinship with the gods, which is divine and happy. See then that through this kinship with the flesh you do not become savage, and bestial, and untamed" (Epictetus).

2. Every case of conversion is a new act of creation. "We are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus."

3. Every thought, word, and deed of sin strikes at the image of Christ in the soul.


1. Explain the Patristic saying: Adam was an image of the Image; also Milton's phrase, Man, God's latest image ( iv. 567).

2. Explain the reference in the notes: Adam's heart was the common ark of mankind.

3. Adam was set up as our great protoplast and representative: derive protoplast, and cf. 1 Timothy 2:13; Wisdom 8:1

4. Derive and distinguish righteousness and holiness. Explain Dr. Hodge's words: Holiness was not an attribute of Adam's nature, but an accident.

5. Commit to memory Dr. South's famous utterance: We may guess of the stateliness of the building from the magnificence of the ruins. An Aristotle was but the rubbish of an Adam. and Athens but the rudiments of Paradise.

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