The Descent of Man
"And 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." Genesis 1: 26, 27
" And the Lord God formed man of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Genesis 2; 7
There are two entirely distinct and opposite doctrines concerning the origin of man. The doctrine of materialism declares that man originated in the material world, and is essentially a material being; that he was evolved from material substances by slow and gradual steps from inorganic to organic forms, from inertia to power, from unconscious growth as exhibited in the plant, to sensation and conscious action as in animals. Instinct was developed into the intellectual and moral qualities of a human being. These steps have beets traced with immense industry and learning. It has been clearly and truthfully shown that every step in this progress has been attended by perfection of organism, and increase in the size and quality of the brain. It is a fact well authenticated by history that the intellectual and moral progress of the human race has been slow, but is now increasing with constantly accelerating rapidity, and the natural causes that have retarded or advanced it are described with much power and with many appearances of truth. The fatal defect in this theory is the assumption of the existence and constant operation of a power above and distinct from matter while, at the same time, it is regarded as a property of it, and of attributing causes to effects. It affirms and denies in the same breath. It points out the conditions of life and the means by which it is manifested, and then attributes life to them. It affirms that life is a product of organization. The materialist begins at the bottom and evolves motion from inaction, power from inertia, organization from matter in mass, the greater from the less, life from death.
The other theory begins at the infinite fountain of life and power and substance, and teaches that all things and all created beings descend, or are evolved from that. It assumes that matter is the product of life, and is then used by it to manifest its own qualities. It teaches that all substance and all power and life exist in the First Cause who is God, and are evolved from Him. There is a descent from firsts to lasts where substance rests, becomes inert and passive; forms a basis for finer substances to rest upon, and a storehouse of materials which the Lord can employ to embody and manifest the perfections of life in permanent and conscious forms. Life gives motion to matter, life organizes, life causes sensation, consciousness, and all intellectual and moral power. Life creates the brain and uses it as its most perfect instrument and means of manifesting its nature and power. The size and quality of the instrument would necessarily determine the measure and quality of life manifested by it. This doctrine is adequate to its effects. If we regard it as a supposition, it is a much better working hypothesis than materialism, because it accounts for all the facts, and is in accordance with all the processes of nature, so far as we have any knowledge of them. It has also the Lord on its side, as He has revealed Himself and His methods of creating and sustaining the universe of matter and intelligent being.
This doctrine is stated with mathematical precision in the philosophical and theological writings of Swedenborg, and applied to every department of spiritual and natural life in a logical chain of causes and effects which has no missing link in it. No scientist has ever been more loyal to his theory, or has examined facts more patiently or acutely, and with more judicial impartiality, than he has. No one has taken in so wide a range of creation. The scientist limits his observation to one section of it, and to the superficial part of that; while Swedenborg takes in the whole circle of life, from its inmost principles to its most external manifestations. He brings religion itself and the mysteries of spiritual life into clear and logical connection and harmony with science. No profounder, more philosophical, rigidly scientific and logical works have been written than his "Divine Love and Wisdom" and "Divine Providence." In these works he has clearly set forth the essential principles and laws of life in the clearest and most forcible manner, and always with perfect loyalty to the Sacred Scriptures and to the Lord. He takes his position in them, and brings Divine authority and the light of Divine truth with him in every step he takes, and examines every natural force and law by them. In the exposition of the laws and principles which I am able to give in these lectures I am wholly indebted to him, and I am constantly oppressed with the consciousness that I can only give hints and imperfect samples of the power, clearness, logical coherence, and firm grasp of principles with which he sets them forth. It is in the light of these principles derived from the Word of the Lord and sanctioned by all His works, that I propose to consider "The Descent of Man," which is the subject before us this evening. You will all agree with me that it is a most important one. The questions, "Whence came I" "What am I?" " Whither am I going?" must interest every thoughtful mind. The possibility of gaining any clear light upon subjects which touch. the deepest springs of our being is worthy of our most serious attention.
The answer which the Lord Himself gives to the first question, Whence came I? is distinct and emphatic. Man has his origin in God, and descends from Him according to the universal laws of generation. This is a startling assertion. Man descended from God! This is His repeated and solemn affirmation. This is His announcement in the beginning of His Word: "And 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:" In these words the Lord has revealed in the most clear, positive, and explicit manner the fact that man has his origin in Him, and is evolved from Him. This declaration is of itself sufficient to settle the question of fact beyond doubt. But it is repeated directly and indirectly, all along down the whole history of the human race, as it is recorded by the Lord Himself in the Sacred Scriptures. He calls men His children. He regards them as His children. He declares that He is their Father, and He treats them as His children. He watches over them, protects them, instructs them; feeds, clothes, guides, retrains, corrects, and in every possible way does all He can for their happiness. The material universe was created for man. It was created and it is sustained to be the basis on which' those spiritual faculties, which constitute the essentially human principles of his nature, could rest; to be the cradle of his infancy and the means by which his human faculties could be developed. The sun and moon and stars were created to give-him light. There is not a grain of sand, a particle of earth, a rock or plant, a fish or worm, a bird or animal, that was not created for man, and is not rendering him directly or indirectly some service. Every term which means the descent of one being from another is employed to express our relations to the Lord. We are taught to address Him as our Father. Men are called His offspring. They are said to be born of God, sons of God, the children of God. These terms, which are often employed to express our relations to our Heavenly Father, are not figures of speech. They are clear and positive statements of fact. The Lord is our Father in a fuller, a more intimate and specific sense than our earthly father. Our being originates in God. The earthly parent has no life in himself, and consequently he cannot communicate any. He is merely an instrument in carrying into effect the Divine purpose. But there is other testimony that man has his descent from God, which appeals to human reason and confirms what is revealed. When God declares that He created man in His own image, He affirms the grand truth that man inherits His nature; that the Divine attributes are finited in man. To see this to be the basis on which those spiritual faculties, which constitute the essentially human principles of his nature, could rest; to be the cradle of his infancy and the means by which his human faculties could be developed. The sun and moon and stars were created to give him light. There is not a grain of sand, a particle of earth, a rock or plant, a fish or worm, a bird or animal, that was not created for man, and is not rendering him directly or indirectly some service.
Every term which means the descent of one being from another is employed to express our relations to the Lord. We are taught to address Him as our Father. Men are called His offspring. They are said to be born of God, sons of God, the children of God. These terms, which are often employed to express our relations to our Heavenly Father, are not figures of speech. They are clear and positive statements of fact. The Lord is our Father in a fuller, a more intimate and specific sense than our earthly father. Our being originates in God. The earthly parent has no life in himself, and consequently he cannot communicate any. He is merely an instrument in carrying into effect the Divine purpose.
But there is other testimony that man has his descent from God, which appeals to human reason and confirms what is revealed. When God declares that ,He created man in His own image, He affirms the grand truth that man inherits His nature; that the Divine attributes are finited in man. To see this important truth clearly, we must have a true conception of the Divine method of creating. There is no difficulty of discovering what that method is, because we can see it in operation all around us. We see in every plant and animal, and in every material object. God creates by forces which flow in and are constantly operating. As I stated in my last lecture, the Divine life contains within itself substance and a plastic power which tends by constant effort to beget everything in its own likeness, and to give to it its own nature. As it is the nature of light to illuminate, of heat to warm and set everything in motion, so it is of the nature of life to communicate life. So far as we have any knowledge creation is not effected by a spoken word, or by an arbitrary and omnipotent fiat. Speech is nothing in itself but sound. Everywhere, in the least as well as in the largest things, we see force acting by means. It does not act mechanically. It operates by influence from within. We see, also, that like always tends to beget like; to give itself, its form and qualities, to others. But as this law of heredity will be the special subject of the next lecture, it is not necessary to dwell upon it now. But whatever may be our theory of creation, if man was created in the image of God he must necessarily partake of His nature. If he does not there is no meaning in the words image, father, son, child.
But we are not left to any abstract theories for evidence that man inherits. his nature from God. We have abundant proof in man himself,, though his nature in many respects has become perverted and lies in ruins. Let us, then, consider some of man's essential qualities and see what marks we can find in them of Divine origin. Man derives his form from God. Man was created in the image of God. If that is a fact, does it not include external form as well as internal qualities? Man's external form is the combined effect of his whole organization. The human form is the highest of created forms; it possesses every excellence it, is possible to conceive, and it is capable of indefinite perfectibility. It is the highest form for the manifestation of life. Regarding it from its own qualities, we are logically borne to the conclusion that man inherits his form from the Lord.
The Lord, also, is everywhere represented in the Sacred Scriptures as in the human form. Every organ of the human form is attributed to Him. He has eyes, ears, hands, feet. He breathes, therefore He must have lungs; He speaks, consequently He must have vocal organs. Whenever He has distinctly appeared to men it has been in the human form. When He assumed our nature, and by means of it came upon the earth and dwelt visibly among men, He came in the human form. He did not assume it for the occasion. When He was transfigured before His disciples He was in the human form. When John's spiritual sight was opened to see Him after His ascension, He was still in the human form. I know He is generally regarded as a diffused essence, whatever that may be, but personality cannot be predicated of an atmosphere or an essence. If God is not in the human form, all the representations of Him in revelation are a delusion, and any idea or conception of Him is impossible. But there are other evidences-that testify to man's descent from God. Man possesses intellectual faculties by means of which he can know and understand. They are an essential part of his nature. The stone and the plant possess no such faculty, and the animal is endowed with it only in limited and rudimentary forms. Man can gain ideas he can compare one idea with another, and discern the differences and relations that exist between them. He can combine them into new forms and construct systems, and in this way gain rational knowledge. He can view isolated facts in the light of general truths, and see the relations of the whole to the particular and of the particular to the whole. He can learn and constantly extend the horizon of his knowledge. How small that horizon is in the infant! How greatly it is extended in the intelligent mind! This extension, also, is not merely on the surface. It does not consist merely in knowing more facts. It penetrates beneath the surface, discerns many qualities of substances and forces, and their relations to him and to each other. There can be no assignable limit of knowledge in any direction beyond which it is impossible for man to advance.
Is not the faculty of knowing a quality of the Divine nature? God is omniscient. lie possesses all knowledge. He is truth itself. He knows all things in their least and largest forms, in all their qualities, relations, and possibilities. Man knows something, and he has the capacity of constantly knowing mare. There is an infinite distance between the Lord's knowledge and man's knowledge; but the faculty is the same. The faculty in the child is of the same nature that it is in the philosopher, and the same in the philosopher that it is in the Lord. Here, then, we find one respect in which man is created in the image of God, and one proof that he descends from Him. The fact that man's power of knowing is finite, and that he can never attain to the infinite, does not in the least invalidate his claim to have his origin in God and his descent from Him.
Man has the power of loving. It is the inmost and highest faculty of his nature, which gives quality and efficiency to all others. It gives keenness to his intellect and alertness to every mental action. Love is the source of his freedom. It is his power to choose, to will, and to act. Within the limits of his knowledge and power he is as free to think, to will, and to act as the Lord Himself. The limit may be a small one, but that does not destroy its nature. Love is the power which draws human beings together, and the bond which holds them in serviceable relations. Love binds husband and wife, parent and child, friend and friend. Love woos and wins the scientist and the philosopher to study the laws of God in nature; the inventor, to discover forces and devise new means of bringing them into the service of man; the philanthropist, to alleviate human suffering and direct human activities to the attainment of a greater amount of happiness.
Is not this faculty in man of the same nature that it is in the Lord? Does it not operate in the same way, and within the limits of its power produce the same effects? Man cannot create, but he can select, arrange, adapt, and apply what the Lord creates, for the good of his fellow-man. He can see how the love of God is manifested in everything around him; in the provisions which He has made to supply human wants and secure human happiness; and he can reciprocate the love which the Lord is constantly exercising towards him. He can do to others as-the Lord is doing to him. In this way the husband and wife, the parent and child, the laborers in the field, the mechanic in his shop, the merchant in his store, the teacher in the school, and every one who is doing anything for the good of others from love to them, is acting from the same motives that move the heart of infinite love to create and sustain and bless the universe of intelligent beings. Human love is the Divine love in finite measure and power in human affections. It is the likeness of God in human character, however faint in outline and feeble in action it may be. It is the proof of man's descent from God, organized in his spiritual nature, and testifying in every unselfish affection and useful deed.
Again, man has a moral nature. That is, the principles of right and good are organized in his understanding and will.. The principles of the Divine order which constitute right are embodied in his spiritual faculties. Before his nature was perverted by evil and error, he was law unto himself. There was no more necessity for him to learn the principles of right than there is for a tree to learn how to grow, to put forth leaves, to cover itself with the beauty and glory of blossoms, and distil its blood into delicious fruit. There was no more necessity for man to learn how to get the greatest amount of the most precious good out of the conditions and means of life, than there is for the bee to learn how to build its cell and gather honey from the flowers to fill it. Unperverted love contains this power within itself. Man has lost it, and now he must be instructed by an outward way. But it can be -restored to him, and the Lord has promised to do it, and He is doing it as fast as man will receive instruction from Him and obey it. The promise is contained in the new covenant, which the Lord declares He will make with man when He says, "I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord" for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. "This human perfection is also promised by our Lord when He says, "If ye abide in me and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will and it shall be done unto you."
The Divine life is law and order in itself, and it is -of its nature to give to every thing and being it creates to be law and order unto itself. Right and wrong are not arbitrary distinctions. The laws of the Divine and infinitely perfect life constitute right. 'Man was created according to those laws. They were embodied in him; they were God's likeness and image in him. He inherited them from God, and while he lived according to them he no more needed instruction how to live a good life, obtain complete happiness, and find his way home to the Lord, than the fish needs it to guide its way through the pathless waters to the stream in which it was born. Man is a part of the system of the creation. The lines of its order are woven into him, the currents of its life run through him as blood flows through his arteries and veins. Its material and spiritual substances and laws are organized in him, and the forces of the Divine life brood over him, pervade him, and pulse through him, moving or tending to move every physical and spiritual organ, into concordant action.
The creation of man was not one act which was suspended when performed. It is a constant act. As I stated in my last lecture, life cannot be created and transferred from one person to another as a commodity. It can only be communicated, and the transfer must be constant. God continually breathes into man the breath of life; and if the breath of His spirit should be suspended for a moment, man would die as the body dies when the man himself ceases to breathe into it. This is an additional evidence that man descends from God. Not only the first man, but every man descends from Him. He gets his physical nature through along line of ancestry, modified by all the influences which have made their impress upon it; but that nature itself is vivified, sustained, and modified by the life which the Lord constantly breathes into it. The Lord's power, by which man is created and sustained, is not limited to one line of communication" it reaches man from every direction, through every medium, from within and from without, directly and indirectly. In this way there is a constant conjunction between man and the Source of his life which tends to enlarge and perfect every faculty of his nature.
Examples of this method of creating. are abundant, The earth was created mediately by the sun; it came from substances and .forces existing in the sun. But when thrown from his flaming bosom, it was not cut off from his influence. He still illuminates it with his light, and breathes into it the breath of physical life with his heat, and holds it in friendly conjunction with him in the powerful arms of his attraction So the infinite Father of intelligent being hold all His children in the embrace of His love, breath s into them the breath of life, and draws them into communion and conjunction with Him, as closely is they will voluntarily yield to His power, He is t e vine and we are the branches. Is not the branch born of the vine, and does it not partake of its nature? As the branch cannot bear fruit when severed from the vine, so, "severed from me," our Lord says, "ye can do nothing."
But there is if possible, a more conclusive evidence that man descends from God, and one which appeals to the rational mind with more convincing power than any we have given. It is only by means of similarity of nature that any knowledge of God is possible. This is a point in evidence of our origin and descent that is worthy of special notice. We are taught that God is love. But what knowledge of the Divine character can that expression convey to one who does not possess the capacity of loving? Shout the words to the rocks. Can you give them any idea of the existence or nature of God? Tell it to the trees. Can they hear and understand? Speak of it to animals. Can they get any idea or conception of Oat attribute of the Divine nature? It is impossible in the nature of things. Human beings alone can gain some conception of the nature of love, because they have the witness of its nature in themselves. The stone and the plant possess no such faculty, and consequently they cannot gain "any such knowledge.
God is omniscient; He possesses all knowledge. He has the faculty of knowing. Could man gain any idea of the nature of this faculty if he did not himself possess it? The supposition that he could, know and have some conception of the nature of knowledge, without the power of knowing, is absurd. The principle can be applied to every attribute of the Divine nature. If God's love is not of the same nature as human love, then we can form no idea of it. If mercy, pity, fidelity, patience, tenderness, which are qualities of human character, are not of the same nature in the Divine character, then the words have no meaning for us. They are utterly misleading. They make us all agnostics whether we confess it or not. The fact that these qualities are infinite in purity, perfection, extent, and power is no hindrance to our knowledge of their nature, though it is often supposed to be. It is not necessary to examine every particle of water in the ocean in order to know the nature of that substance. Water is the same in its least as in its largest bodies. It is not necessary to examine every organic form to learn the nature and laws of organization. When we have learned how one plant or animal is organized, we have learned the general principles of all organization. So when we know the nature of a pure, unselfish love in our own hearts, we know what it is in the Lord's heart. Human love is, indeed, weak, often impure and perverted, but its existence in man's nature is indisputable evidence that his nature is an image of the Divine nature, and was derived from it. Man's capacity to know the qualities of anything is hoed on similarity of nature. We can only know what love, goodness, truth, mercy, hope, fear, or any 9f the qualities of human character are, from the nature which is common to us all, and which we inherit from the Father of all men. If this doctrine is not true, then revelation is a misnomer; it has no meaning. If this doctrine is not true, there is no common bond of union between man and man, there is no medium of intelligence between man and the Lord. Human beings are like pebbles on the sea-shore, having no connection and no relation but proximity in spaces There is no evidence of a Supreme Being.
But man is a being of a large and varied nature. He is the crown of the Lord's works. Everything was made to serve him. All currents of influence flow to him as rivers to the ocean. He inherits from the Lord, therefore, not only in one line, but in all lines. He descends from Him mediately through his parents and ancestry; and directly by the constant 'action of the inflowing Divine life. "The Lord God formed man dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul," is a plain statement of a literal fact. Man's physical nature is organized from material substances. In the material plane of his being he possesses an animal nature in common with the ox and horse, the monkey and the worm. They can see, hear, taste, feel. They have heart and lungs and brain, and powers of locomotion. Their organization is formed in the same way, and is subject to the same laws. But man is something quite distinct from an animal. His physical nature does not constitute his manhood. If it did we might call an ape or a fish or a worm a man, at least in the process of evolution. If we admit that man's material body was evolved from the ground through the various steps of ascent in the animal form until it reached the human, it does not follow that those principles which are distinctly human were derived from them. They could not have been, because they do not exist in the animal.
Man becomes a living soul, and gains all those intellectual, moral, and spiritual qualities from the Lord without the intervention of any human instrumentality. This fact is revealed in the words, "And the Lord God breathed into his nostrils the breath of lives; and man became a living soul." The word life in the original is in the plural number to denote the two factors which constitute the spiritual plane of his being, his will and understanding. The distinctly spiritual degree of his being, which constitutes his human faculties, man does not derive from his natural parents, and it is only in the lower degrees of his nature that he resembles them. When these higher faculties which constitute the Lord's image and likeness in man, are developed by the action of the Holy Spirit, which is the breath of the Lord, he is born again or from above; he is born of the Spirit, and becomes a living soul. Those who are the subjects of this new birth are called the children of God. They are said to " be born not of blood or of flesh, but of the love of God." They are said to bear His image, to be the heirs of His kingdom, and the infinite riches of His power and blessedness.
Such is a brief and imperfect statement of some of the more important reasons for believing that man has his origin in God, and, according to the immutable laws of heredity, derives his nature from Him. The subject is too large for a single lecture. It involves all the fundamental principles of human life, all human relations, the grounds of right and wrong, the immortality of man, and the possibilities of human progress through the eternal future.
If it is justly regarded as a great blessing to be the descendants of a wise, pure, and noble ancestry, what language can describe, or what imagination conceive the worth and honor of being the offspring of God Himself? of being the partakers of His nature? of being able to know Him; to commune with Him; to receive and reciprocate His love; to be illuminated with the glory of His truth; and to become the heirs of His infinite power and blessedness? What is the wealth, the power, and all the ancestral glories of kings and emperors, or the purest strain of blood, compared with this? But such will be the inalienable and priceless inheritance of every human being who is born of God and bears His image.
We had nothing to do in determining the character of our ancestors, and we are not responsible for the nature we inherited from them. We had no choice whether we should be basely or nobly born. But we have an agency in determining our second birth. The Lord puts it into our hands to determine whether we will be born again. He gives us the power to co-operate with Him in the creation ,of the highest faculties of our being, and freedom to receive into our hearts the highest forms of His love, and into our understanding those spiritual and Divine truths which create us into His image and likeness, and bring us into communion and conjunction with Him. We decide to inherit from Him just in the degree we learn His will as He has revealed it to us in His Word and regulate our affections, thoughts, and conduct by the commandments, which are the laws of eternal life.