[B03] The Apostles' Creed: Man The Believing Subject

What do we mean when we say “I”? Who, what, is this human creature which utters, so freely, and most of the time so thoughtlessly, this word of a single letter? Next to the thought of God… these thoughts are most worthy of our serious, prayerful consideration. These are the thoughts which, rightly pursued, bring the largest dividends for the enrichment of the mind, and the strengthening of the spirit.

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3. Man The Believing Subject

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. So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him. — Gen. 1:26, 27.

Once before, in beginning the study of a great subject, we stood face to face with the pronoun of the first person singular, — the I. It was in the study of the Commandments. There it was God who was the speaker. That “I” was the leading thought, not only of the first Commandment, but of all the Commandments. God’s “I” dominates every one of the Commandments. It is “I,” the great “I Am,” the eternal God who says, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” “Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou shalt not steal,” and the like. And no man will ever rightly understand the Law till he has somewhat of an enlightened, satisfactory conception of the great Law-Giver.

Now, in the second chief part of the Catechism, we meet with another similar pronoun. Our Creed starts with an “I.” This time it is not the “I” of the Law-Giver, but of the Christian confessor. It is the “I” of one who is telling out before all the world what it is that he believes concerning the God who has first spoken to him.

What do we mean when we say “I”? Who, what, is this human creature which utters, so freely, and most of the time so thoughtlessly, this word of a single letter, but, withal, so rich in meaning. Have you never paused to ponder these thoughts, oh brother of the kindred dust? Next to the thought of God, my brother, these thoughts are most worthy of our serious, prayerful consideration. These are the thoughts which, rightly pursued, bring the largest dividends for the enrichment of the mind, and the strengthening of the spirit.

In order that we may rightly appreciate what it is that the “I” says when he repeats the Creed, and elsewhere, let us make a study, first of all, of what this “I” itself means. We will take as our theme, Man the believing subject. And we will consider man, the “I,” as he was, as he is, and as he may become.

Man as He Was

The Biblical story of the beginning of things is stupendously sublime. It is said that after the creative work was done, God rested. Not that He was tired. It was a rest of satisfied contemplation of the magnitude and splendor of His handiwork, which, from every angle, reflected back His glory on Himself. But after the careful, thoughtful perusal of the record we actually need rest. It is a real effort, an exhausting effort, to follow the sacred penman. And even then we are painfully conscious of being able to follow the real depth of the thought less than a millionth part of the way. We are plunged into unfathomable depths, led into inaccessible heights, and across immeasurable expanse. Prostrate thyself, oh my soul, in humility before this problem of the infinite.

After all that Divine activity which, in rapid succession, peopled infinite space with teeming worlds, with each world-system the center of ever larger systems; that caused the mighty deep to stir with life; that made field and forest to be the playground of an endless variety of animate creatures; after all this, there was still something lacking. All that had been made declared the glory of God, but there was not a single thing which reflected His image. Everything around God was His handiwork, and bore His autograph; but there was not a thing which shared His spirit, not a thing to which He could really be a Father. Then it was that God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”

Here, then, we have the inspired record of the origin of man. He is God’s handiwork, and God’s child. As to his body he is of the earth, earthy. As to his life, he received it out of the fullness of God’s own life. As to his mind and nature, he is the reflection of God’s own nature.

Man, then, is not a statue by a Phidias or an Angelo; he is not a mere conglomerate of chemical compounds; he is a living, thinking, feeling, willing being who has had a beginning, but can never have an end. Man is not merely this tenement of flesh and blood. There is something in this tenement which is larger, richer than the house in which it dwells; something which animates and dominates it, and gives it its true worth. This is the real man, the real “I” which speaks in the Creed.

Man, even as he was originally, was not a god; but he was a son of God, and he bore the Father’s image. He did not possess what we know as the specifically Divine attributes, he was not almighty, or all-wise; but as a man he was perfect. And the crown of his perfection was this that he was holy as God is holy; with all the strength of his God-fashioned nature he loved righteousness, and hated iniquity.

How we have dreamed of this primal man, who was a stranger to all ills, who was the sublimation of all created beauty and goodness; for whose pleasure the worlds were made, for whose companionship God came down from His central throne without thought of condescension. And, in spite of the fact that between this splendid creature, of whom Revelation gives us such enchanting glimpses, and ourselves as we are today, there is a world-wide difference, we still feel that there is a certain kinship between us. And there is something without calling us, and something within, though it may be no more than a hope, urging us to mount the steep and difficult way to the height where the vision stands. And there are vestiges, faint and deep hidden though they be, of that original man in all humanity. Man himself cannot touch the spark which will start the renewing process, but the potentialities are there. And this accounts for our ever hopeful dreams of better things. It is the immortality which stirs within us.

What an absorbingly interesting, and supremely important problem is this of human personality; that which the psychologist calls “The self,” of which we are always conscious. “This self” knows that even the body, in the strictest sense, is not “I,” but mine. The real secret of man as a self-conscious, volitional being, with all his hopes and fears, is that back of him, above him, surrounding him on every side, besetting him everywhere, there is a parental, sustaining Personality, and that through our own nature, and through all creation around us, this original, uncreated Person, God, is upholding us, speaking to us, seeking to influence us.

The “I” of the first article of the Creed, however, is not all of the “I” of this confession. Indeed, man as we have spoken of him, is only God’s revelation of what he was once, but is no more. To get the full picture of the “I” of the first article we must further study

Man as He Is

Man as he is, the man who tills the fields, builds cities, and carries on commerce — this brings us into a sphere where we are more at home; but, though we can here speak more from experience, there is still much divergence of opinion among us. It depends on whether men speak from the Book or not, whether they follow their own opinions, or God’s revelation.

There are those who consider man as he is a vast improvement on man as he was. They compare man as he is, with his knowledge and achievements, with an imaginary, infinitesimal creature of the slime and the ooze. We, speaking by the Book, study man as a creature who came down from the sublime heights to the slime and the ooze; not in the sense of form and size, but as to nature and conduct.

Man, as he is, is worthy of sympathy, and deserves study. He achieves wonders. With his self-devised instruments he brings down the distant planets to his observatories; he makes himself wings and sails up into the ethereal blue; he contrives appliances and throws out signals which his brother, separated by the breadth of continents, and the width of oceans, gathers up from the circumambient air; he sets his inventive genius to work, and as a result he is able to submerge himself and mingle, in their native element, with the inhabitants of the briny deep; he analyzes and compounds everything about him; he delves into, discovers, and harnesses the secrets of nature. It is, indeed, a wonderful picture given us to contemplate; but to this obverse face of the picture there is a reverse face not so pleasant to behold.

Let us go back to our text, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created He him.” This image of God in which man was created meant not only a large measure of power; but God-likeness, a love of the things God loves, the desire to do the things God wills. Let us see how matters now stand. Think of a man who is the reflection of God’s image, then look out on the passing show. We see selfishness and greed written large all over men and their actions; we see them plotting, scheming, lying; we see the face which should reflect the light of purity wearing the lecherous smile; those who should be standing upright in the light of day, we see crouching like criminals in the dark; men and women, who ought to be living strong, robust lives, and dealing with the verities which build life, we see bartering away their crown of manhood and womanhood for baubles and gaudy tinsel. In view of all this, does it not seem blasphemous to say that God made man? It would, indeed, be blasphemous to say that God made man as he is.

Man is still, in many respects, a wonderful creature. He devises and executes great things. But he is no longer as God made him. There is now much of the demon in him. Just think of the titanic struggle being waged at the present time by the flower of the human race; a struggle in which is being used every engine of destruction which human inventive genius has been able to devise; see how the aged and infirm, women and children, have been driven out by the hundreds of thousands to perish of hardships, cold and starvation. To look on this inferno of hate, caused all around by an equal degree of pride and greed, and say that God made man thus would be sacrilege.

Man himself, even in his worst condition, has a vague, uneasy consciousness that something has gone wrong, that he is not as he should be, not as he once was. There is something within his own breast which accuses him. He deals out death, but is himself afraid of it. He acts a fiend, but tries to excuse his conduct; he is selfish and grasping, but tries to justify such means by calling them the elements which make for progress. But deep down in his own heart there is a feeling that this is a perverted kind of life, and that it cannot continue to go unchallenged, that if it does not meet a just recompense of reward here, it will do so hereafter.

What is the explanation of these contradictory phenomena in human life? To find it we must leave that bright picture of the first chapter of Genesis, and go to the third, where we have the sad story of man’s undoing, his deception and fall. Man lost his first estate. He still remained a man, but he lost the image of God. In other words, God Himself now calls man a sinner; a poor, ruined, perverted shadow of his former self. He is a dreamer of vain dreams, a follower of the ignis fatuus. He justly rests under sentence of condemnation. The poison of death unceasingly flows in his veins.

Richly as man deserves his fate, God does not willingly leave him to it. “As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” And out of the fullness of His wisdom, and the richness of His pitying love, He devised a plan for man’s restoration. God became the author of a new creation in the sphere of humanity. He himself, in the person of His only begotten Son, was made flesh, and dwelt among us. This God-man paid man’s debt of transgression. He revealed again God’s Fatherhood. He showed the world once more what a perfect man is, and how he acts. He established the institution, and ordained the means, through which the power of the life that is in Himself may begin in man the work of restoration. Not the original man in his glory, not the natural man as he is in his sin and shame, but the redeemed, and partially restored man, is the one who speaks the threefold “I” of the Creed. But there is yet more to be said, hence we will consider

Man as He May Become

We are not to rest content with a picture of that which has been made possible for man. The possible has, in all these ages, been becoming the actual. In all these centuries the image of God in man has been in the process of restoration. This world has held men and women, they may be seen today, in whose soul there burns, in whose face there shines, the light of a new life; recollection brings from their eyes bitter tears of sorrow for the sins by which their lives have been marred; they are in love with truth, purity, righteousness; selfishness has been cast out, love has come in; they are giving and living to serve. Oh, yes, there have been men and women, there are men and women today, and many of them, when we come to think of it, whose faces reflect the light of heaven, whose conduct bears witness that its inspiration was gained from heavenly sources. In the presence of such people it is easy to believe the statement that man was made in the image of God.

This process of restoring the image of God in man may be seen not only in the lives of individuals, but in the life of nations as well. We are not living in the millennium. Sin is still widespread and dominant. But the light has been spreading, the life has been growing. Not to hold this proclaims ignorance of history, and disbelief of God’s own proclamation. In spite of widespread moral blindness, in spite of frequent outbreaks of bestiality and satanic craft and cruelty, the standards of national morality have been slowly, but persistently, revised upward. In spite of the all but universal cataclysm of apparent hate and bloodlust, there is more real brotherhood in the world today than ever before at any one time.

Even the mass of the men in the trenches, being there by the mandate of the few in authority, have but little of real hatred in their hearts for those against whom they are compelled to raise the death-dealing hand. And many a time on the field of carnage, as those opposed have both received the thrust which meant death, they have forgotten all rancor, ministered to each other’s necessities, and entered the presence of the great Judge as brethren. And the day is approaching when there will be such a brotherhood of man that the congress of nations will take away the despotism of the few. In that Christian democracy of humanity war, and all kindred violence, will be relegated to the limbo of outgrown barbarities, on which men will look with the burning cheek of shame. Then, more and more, questions of polity will be solved by processes of a regenerated reason, and a sanctified common sense.

But let us not forget that as human beings are naturally born into the world one by one, so the moral and spiritual renovation of society is brought about by the renewal of the individual. When men and women, as individuals, catch the higher vision, and entertain it as their own ideal; when this ideal is realized in the love of purity and righteousness; when men and women have caught the vision of a development of their own lives which shall go on unfolding till it finally ends in perfection, in God-likeness, then have been opened the sluices for the inflow of that God-given light, and power which shall finally result in the restoration in man of the perfect image of God. This is what we are privileged now to see in the process of becoming.

There is, however, another picture which shows us man, not in the process of becoming perfect, but in absolute perfection. It is the picture of Jesus Christ. Whatever more He was, He was a true man. And He teaches us what we may become. The Jesus of history teaches us what each of us may become in purity and goodness; the ascended Jesus of the throne teaches us what we may become with respect to glory. Oh, look up, ye weary, and ofttimes disconsolate, sons of men. Here is the measure of man’s capacity. Here, in Jesus, is the pattern of what we shall be; for it is plainly said, we shall be like Him. Here is the prophecy of our destiny, and our dominion.

When Jesus was on earth, there were times when the pent-up glory within burst through the hiding veil of flesh, and transfigured Him, so that even the garments He wore became radiant with glory. What, then, must that humanity be as it sits on heaven’s high throne. But it is said to you, my brother, and to me, and even to those afar off: “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me on my throne.” He who came to share our nature, that He might bring it back to itself, which means back to God, invites us to share His glory and His dominion.

Does the splendor of the vision dazzle us? Does it seem too good to be true? Great as is man’s power and resourcefulness, the exalted nature of this vision of man’s possible future would crush him into utter hopelessness with respect to attaining it, if it were not for this that He who gives us the vision is the One who gives us the power for its attainment. Jesus is not only the pattern of the perfect life, He is its power; He is not a specimen put on exhibition only. He is the source of what He inspires. He was made in the likeness of sinful flesh for the express purpose of enabling us to attain to the likeness of His body of glory. The Christ of the cross, appropriated by faith so as to become the living Christ in the heart, is the certification of our participation in the dignity and glory of the Christ of the throne.

All the progress made in the upward way, by individuals and nations, came as a result of the spread of the Gospel of the redeeming Christ. And all the still more wonderful progress still to be made, can come only by the living appropriation of the Gospel of the same redeeming Christ. Oh, brethren of a common nature, of common ills, common hopes, and possibilities, as we love ourselves, as we love our brethren of humanity, let us become missionaries of the Gospel of the Christ who saves, and makes men new.

By God's grace, each week LutheranLibrary.org will present a new message on the basics of the Evangelical Christian Faith. Our guide is the Small Catechism, as expounded by Traditional Pastor Robert Golladay. May this series bless and inspire you.

Luther’s Small Catechism: Series B – The Apostles’ Creed

Publication Information

  • Author: “Golladay, Robert Emory”
  • Title: “The Apostles’ Creed”
  • Originally Published: 1917 by Lutheran Book Concern, Columbus, Ohio.
  • Lutheran Library Edition: 2020
  • Copyright: CC BY 4.0