Anthropology: The Doctrine of Man


Concerning Man, Particularly the Soul

Having discussed the most eminent creatures of heaven, the angels, we will now proceed to consider the most eminent creature upon earth, man. In the original language, the Hebrew tongue, man is called אדם (Adam), which is derived from a word which means “to be red,” man being of a reddish color when he is healthy and most elegant in appearance. “They were more ruddy in body than rubies” (Lam. 4:7). The word אדמה (Adamah, red earth) is derived from this. In Greek man is called ἂνθρωπος (Anthropos, of an erect posture). After the fall man is also called אנוש (Enos, wretched one).

After the Lord had created everything and had adorned the world in a most elegant manner, He said, “Let us make man” (Gen. 1:26). Such a statement not being made at the creation of other things, we can deduce that the glory of man excels that of all other creatures. God did not address Himself to angels for they cannot be considered as being of equal stature with God. They were not “cocreators,” as the act of creation is unique to God only; man was also not created in the image of angels. This statement, made in the manner of men, is expressive of the deliberations of a triune God concerning the creation of something significant. Thus, upon the sixth day God created the final creature, man. He gave him no other name but “man,” as there was but one such creature which in and of itself was sufficiently distinct from all other creatures. God created all angels simultaneously; there is no procreation among them. He created but one man, however, and has filled the earth with men by way of procreation. “And did not He make one? Yet had he the residue of the Spirit. And wherefore one? That He might seek a godly seed” (Mal. 2:15).

Man consists of two essential elements, body and soul. God formed the body out of the earth. “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground” (Gen. 2:7). It has not been recorded whether man was created in or outside of Paradise, and thus we cannot state anything concerning this. This, however, is recorded, “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” (Gen. 2:15). When someone is appointed to a specific task in a specific location, it is not implied that he previously was external to this locality. It does say, “Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken” (Gen. 3:23). The earth within and outside of Paradise, however, is one and the same. His task was, with sorrow and in the sweat of his face to cultivate the earth from which he was formed and which now had been cursed by God, in order to support his life from it.

After Adam had been created, had been prohibited from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and of evil, and God brought all the animals and fowl to him to be named, Adam observed that they all came in pairs. Adam perceived that he was alone and without a helpmeet. “And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; and the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made He a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Gen. 2:21–23). Adam was thoroughly acquainted with the nature of the animals and thus gave every animal a name consistent with its nature. How Adam knew that Eve had been taken from his rib—whether he inferred this from Eve’s nature, or whether he became aware of having one less rib than before, or whether God made this known to him—is unknown. Thus, the first marriage became a reality. This was not a type of the spiritual marriage between Christ and His congregation, for Adam neither possessed nor knew Christ, nor was an example available to him. The apostle Paul, however, refers to the first marriage for application purposes and in order to explain spiritual marriage (Eph. 5:29).

Together with Adam, the woman was created on the sixth day, for concerning man’s creation on the sixth day it is stated, “Male and female created He them” (Gen. 1:27). “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made” (Gen. 2:2). Subsequent to this day God did not create any new creatures. The narration that follows the seventh day is only a clearer description of what God had created previously; this was but touched upon with a few words.

The Body of Man

God constructed the body of man both wondrously and in an artful manner with an elaborate system of bones, arteries, nerve cells, and various other parts, all of which proportionally and efficiently contribute to whatever is required for the well-being and functioning of the entire body. He then covered it with a smooth skin, so that the external appearance greatly exceeds all other physical creatures in elegance. Thus, man can justly be referred to as a small world.

The Lord has equipped man with five senses: vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. By means of these senses all that pertains to the body is communicated to the soul’s intelligence, enabling the soul to exert external influence on matters related to the body, thus becoming cognizant of these things. Some matters can only be perceived with one of the senses, some by several, and some by all five. If one of the five senses does not function well internally, or if the intermediate space or distance is not proportionate, one could easily judge a matter incorrectly if he were not to research the matter more thoroughly. A square tower when viewed at a distance appears to be round, as our vision is not capable of distinguishing distant features. A straight stick of which the end is in the water appears to be crooked or broken. The color white appears to be yellow or greenish when light shines through colored glass; however, after carefully investigating everything, a correct understanding is attainable.

When by means of the proper functioning of various senses, and being within reasonable proximity to the object, there is unanimous agreement among all, a definite conclusion can be drawn. Thus, from the experiential use of our senses we know that two times two equals four; one object is straight and the other crooked; one long and the other short; one hard and the other soft; one white and the other black; one heavy and the other light; and one hot and the other cold. On this basis men have been able to deduce several principles and fundamental rules, the contradiction of which would be ludicrous. So much about the body.

The Soul of Man

The other constituent element of man is the soul, also referred to as his spirit. In Hebrew it is called נפש (Nephesh), and in Greek πνεῦμα (Pneuma).

Both words are derivatives of “to breathe,” either because it was created by a symbolic act of breathing, is the cause of nasal breathing, or due to its invisibility and mobility.

The soul is a spiritual, incorporeal, invisible, intangible, and immortal personal entity adorned with intellect and will. In union with the body it constitutes a human being and by virtue of its inherent propensity is inclined to be and remain united with the body.

The soul is a personal entity. This is evident, first because it possesses both intellect and will, by which it actively loves, hates, rejoices, and mourns. “My soul is exceeding sorrowful” (Mat. 26:38); “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:46–47). Secondly, since the soul is separated from the body, it continues both in its essence and existence, and will either rejoice in heaven or be grieved in hell.

It is therefore a self-contradicting heresy to maintain that the soul is a thought, thus denying the existence of the soul.

(1) If the soul is a thought, thinking being an activity, there must necessarily be a personal entity from which this thought proceeds. If it be maintained that the soul is an essential and independent thought, we have a contradiction, as much as if we were to call that which is black white. An activity and a personal entity are toto genere, that is, too distinctly different from each other, for whatever is an activity is not a personal entity, nor is the contrary true.

(2) Since man repeatedly thinks of new things and generates new thoughts, he would then repeatedly have a new soul, which is absurdity itself.

(3) This is also not consistent with the Word of God which never refers to the soul as a thought.
It is also incorrect to state that the soul is a rational essence.

(1) Reasoning is not the essence of the soul, for an activity cannot be the essence of a personal entity, since the former is a consequence of the latter.

(2) The soul is not always engaged in thinking, as is the case during a coma or when it first unites itself to the body prior to the birth of man. What would the unborn fetus be thinking about? And if it were capable of thinking, man would commit actual sin prior to his birth, whereas Paul states, “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil …” (Rom. 9:11). Instead, the soul is a personal entity which is capable and inclined to think.

Each human being has but one soul. There are three types of souls. There is anima vegetativa, which we wish to refer to as the soul of growth, whereby trees and herbs are said to exist. There is anima sensitiva, or the soul of sensitivity, whereby animals exist and are sensitive to their environment. This, according to Scripture, is to be found in the blood of animals. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11); “For the blood is the life” (Deu. 12:23). There is anima rationalis, or the rational soul, which we have just described and referred to as rational since by its agency man reasons and makes decisions. Man grows, moves consciously from one locality to another, and reasons—not by virtue of a different soul for each activity, but due to the singular activity of the reasonable soul within man. Thus, man has neither three, nor two, but one soul. This is first of all confirmed by the Word of God which, in giving a detailed description of the constituent elements of man, states nowhere that man has two or three souls. This concept must therefore be rejected.

Secondly, Scripture makes mention of only one human soul, such reference always being in the singular as is also true of the body. “… And man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7); “Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mat. 16:26); “… which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mat. 10:28); “… glorify God in your body, and in your spirit …” (1 Cor. 6:20). Man is only alive when the soul resides within the body. “Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him” (Acts 20:10).1 When the soul is absent from the body, man is dead. “For as the body without the spirit is dead …” (James 2:26).

Thirdly, every animal exists independently by virtue of his soul and is thus an independent being. If man were also to have a sensitive soul apart from a rational soul, either the sensitive or the rational soul would constitute the personal entity, or, man would consist of two or three personal entities. The sensitive soul is not the constituent element of man’s personhood, for man would then be animal-like. These two souls do not constitute a human being, for then man would not be one but two persons. Since man is but one person, he consequently has but one soul.

Fourthly, if man were to possess two or three souls, this would likewise be true for Christ, “wherefore in all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren” (Heb. 2:17). Christ would thus not only have assumed the human nature, but also the nature of trees and animals, which is most absurd. While dead, Christ in His divine nature would then have been separated from the nature He assumed, while maintaining the singularity of His personhood, since these two souls are fully annihilated in death.

Fifthly, if man had two or three souls, there would be no resurrection of this body from the dead, for the two souls are fully annihilated in death. Whatever has been fully annihilated cannot be restored eodem numero, that is, in its original form. Thus, in addition to the rational soul, a new soul would have to be created, which would then be glorified or damned without prior existence or commission of a deed.

Sixthly, if man were in possession of an animalistic soul, man would be able to live without a rational soul. This is contrary to the Bible which, as we have just demonstrated, teaches that man is dead when the rational soul is absent. If man were able to live in such a condition, one would not know if children possess a rational soul or whether they would subsequently receive one. On what basis would one then be able to baptize them? One would not know whether man, giving evidence of being alive, possesses a rational soul at that time, and thus be a rational creature. The soul could be absent and away from home on a journey to the East Indies, for according to the sentiment of some, the soul is present wherever it thinks itself to be. Behold, this error is replete with absurdities and essentially is a denial of the existence of the soul.

God created this singular soul of man out of nothing and in the process of procreation, each time anew, creates a soul within the body. The fact that God brought forth the soul of Adam out of nothing rather than from some dust is confirmed in Genesis 2:7. When God formed the body of man from the dust of the earth, it was lifeless. God, however, “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” This breathing into the nostrils does not indicate that the creation of the soul occurred externally to the body and subsequently was brought into the body, but rather conveys both the manner and the symbolism of its creation. Likewise, we read in John 20:22, “And when He had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” It expresses the wind-like mobility of the soul, its invisibility, its spirituality, as well as the energy of the soul which enables man to breathe through his nostrils. “The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life” (Job 33:4). Thus, the soul of the first man was created in his body out of nothing.

Question: How are the souls of men brought forth? Does this occur by seminal procreation or by transmission and ignition as one candle transmits light to another candle? Or does God create the soul whenever man by procreation comes into existence?

Answer: First, the soul is a spiritual entity, and thus is not physical in any sense. Therefore the soul cannot be brought forth by means of corporal and seminal procreation, for that which is causal cannot bring forth something which is toto genere, that is, of a nobler generation than the cause itself. If one maintains that the soul does not proceed from the body, but from the soul, I would ask, “Is it from the soul of the father, the mother, or from both?” It neither proceeds from both, for there is no mixture of souls, nor does it proceed from one of the two, for then the question remains, “Does it proceed from the father or the mother?”

This question one will not be able to answer. In what manner would it be transmitted from the soul of the parents? If the personal soul of one of the parents would be transmitted in its entirety, the parent would be without a soul. If the transmission were partial, the soul would be divisible, and having parts it would not be a spirit but a body. If one maintains that the soul is brought forth causaliter, that is, as the effecting cause, by the souls of the parents, the question must be asked, “Out of what?” It is neither produced seminally nor by the complete or partial transmission of the soul. It would then of necessity be brought forth out of nothing, which is not possible for that is a creative act which is the proper work of God alone. The comparison of a burning candle igniting another candle and thus transmitting its flame is not applicable here, as fire is material in nature. Thus, one candle transmits its flame to the other by way of molecular transmission, since it finds matter to feed upon.

Secondly, Scripture states clearly that God creates a new soul each time within the fruit of the womb. “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Eccl. 12:7). Thus, we have two matters under consideration, the body and the soul, and the destiny of both—the one to the earth and the other to God. This agrees with their origin—from the earth and from God. As the body originates from the earth, the soul has its origin in God. “The burden of the Word of the LORD for Israel, saith the LORD, which stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundations of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him” (Zec. 12:1). As God brought forth heaven and earth by His omnipotence and without any secondary cause, He has also formed the soul within the inner recesses of man, that is without intervention of secondary causes in this formative act. Consider also Hebrews 12:9 where God is called the “Father of spirits,” in contrast to “fathers of our flesh” (cf. Isa. 63:16; 1 Pet. 4:19).

Thirdly, the soul, subsequent to the death of man, exists independently, and is therefore also independent from the body at the very beginning. The soul is immortal and cannot be killed. “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul” (Mat. 10:28). If the soul had its origin in man, it could be killed by man as is true for the body, for the effecting cause can destroy its creation, but man is not able to destroy the soul and thus he is not the effecting cause of the soul.

Objection #1: If only the body of man would be generated and not the soul, man would not bring forth another man, since man consists of body and soul.

Answer: This generation does not consist in bringing forth either matter or form. Neither matter nor body are brought forth since man does not create that which previously had been created by God, nor is the form or soul brought forth as has been demonstrated in the first proof. Rather, this generation is an act of those who generate, and through this act substance and form are brought together; in this way the entire composition is brought forth. Thus, the generation of man is the result of human activity which results in the union of soul and body, and the fruit of the womb thus receives and is brought forth with its inherent nature, its humanity. Consequently, a man brings forth a man, although he brings forth neither the substance of the body nor the soul. Observe this for instance in the birth of the Lord Jesus, the God-man, who was born out of Mary.

Objection #2: “All the souls that came with Jacob into Egypt, which came out of his loins …” (Gen. 46:26). Here it is stated expressly that the souls of Jacob’s descendants had their origin in him.

Answer: It is a common, metaphorical manner of speech, in Scripture as well as in daily conversation, to refer to persons as “souls.” The entire matter is named after one of its constituent parts. One also says, “so many heads,” thereby referring to so many people. These persons came forth out of Jacob by generation. The union of their soul and body and their existence issued forth from him, be it immediately as with his own sons, or mediately as with his grandchildren.

Objection #3. God fully completed the work of creation in the first six days (Gen. 2:2). Consequently, God does not create the soul on a daily basis.

Answer: During the first six days God created every species, subsequent to which He no longer creates new species. Rather, He maintains His creation either by special continuation, as with the angels, or by continuing the species, as He does with the human race which maintains its stability by generation. Thus, God daily creates the souls of men which are individua, that is, unique personal entities within the same human species.

Man’s Intellect

This unique spiritual entity, having been created by God out of nothing, is gifted with intellect. This intellect consists of comprehension, judgment, and conscience or joint knowledge.

The very essence of comprehension is perception of a matter without giving verbal expression to it. It relates to that which can be deduced with one’s intellect and thus could be considered as only intellectual. Man, however, when actually understanding a matter, verbalizes it even though he is not conscious of how his intellect judges and responds to it.

Comprehension is like a mirror which reflects matters under consideration. A mirror does not reflect anything unless something is placed before it. Even if something is placed before it, it will not reflect anything in complete darkness; something will only be faintly visible if there is but a small light source, or if the mirror is covered with condensation. This will prevent one from determining whether something is crooked, upside down, or of a different shape or color. All of this depends on the condition of the glass or the manner in which it was ground. This is likewise the case with the intellect of corrupt man. Many matters which it should comprehend, it does not comprehend at all. Others are but faintly and confusedly observed, so that the intellect cannot perceive what is at hand. Many matters are perceived erroneously as to form and appearance.

It is obviously erroneous to state that the intellect of man, being in the state of sin, cannot err. This is directly contrary to Scripture, where we read expressly that man is blind (Rev. 3:17), “having the understanding darkened” (Eph. 4:18), and that spiritual matters are hid from the wise and the prudent (Mat. 11:25). It also states that one can have a zeal, “but not according to knowledge” (Rom. 10:2), that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him” (1 Cor. 2:14), and that there are “men of corrupt minds” (1 Tim. 6:5).

This proves that the ability to comprehend clearly and discerningly cannot be regulative as far as the truth is concerned. The ability to comprehend clearly and in a discerning manner, that is, to have appropriate and fitting thoughts agreeable to the matter at hand, is certainly a reality. Simply because one is able to understand clearly and discerningly, however, does not mean that what is comprehended is truth, even though the truth is inherent in the subject under consideration. Often we cannot know whether the matter has been comprehended clearly and discerningly, since we have frequently been deceived when we were of the opinion to have comprehended clearly and discerningly.

Since our darkened understanding can imagine a small glimmer of light to be as the noonday sun, a person who makes the ability to comprehend clearly and discerningly regulative for truth must remain a doubter all his life. He will not acknowledge the phenomena of the tides, the existence of the soul, and many other matters, as he is not able to understand them. Yes, if one wishes to judge the matters revealed in God’s Word on the basis of one’s ability to comprehend clearly and discerningly and to accept only as truth that which can be comprehended, such a person must be called an atheist. His darkened intellect will never acknowledge the perfection of God, the Holy Trinity, God’s influence in the preservation and governing of all things, the hypostatic union of the two natures of Christ, the Holy Spirit’s operation in regeneration, nor many other matters. If we have knowledge of what God has revealed in His Word, however, then we must believe it to be true and act accordingly. It must be an infallible truth, for else all faith and religion is rendered ineffectual (cf. chapter 2).

Judgment is also a constituent element of the intellect whereby one evaluates a matter to be either true or false, good or evil. This judgment is either a cognitive judgment whereby in a general sense one acknowledges a matter to be such and such without any further response—the matter not being pertinent to us; or it is a judgment of relevancy which does not merely indicate what is true or false, and what is good or evil, but rather what currently must or must not be our course of action under the circumstances, supplementing this with motives to persuade and stimulate the will.

To make judgment a constituent element of the will is contrary to the concept of judgment itself.

(1) Let me express myself in harmony with those who hold to such an opinion. If the ability to comprehend clearly and discerningly is regulative for the establishment of truth, and if such comprehension is a constituent element of the intellect, then judgment is most certainly also a constituent element of the intellect. For the ability to comprehend clearly and discerningly gives some indication of the matter—whether it is true or false, good or evil. Without this comprehension there cannot be a clear and discerning understanding concerning a matter, nor can it be regulative for the truth. To state a matter to be such and such, however, is to make a judgment concerning this matter. Thus, judgment is a constituent element of the intellect.

(2) Judgment very frequently opposes the will by conveying to the conscience, “This is sin; God sees it; God shall punish it,” and thus causes the will to be restless and anxious. Man frequently wishes that such an impression were not so lively; however, in spite of all opposition, judgment frequently continues to make its presence felt, and thus is not a constituent element of the will.

(3) Scripture also establishes judgment as a constituent element of the intellect. “I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say” (1 Cor. 10:15).

(4) If judgment were a constituent element of the will, man would then determine a sin not to be sin. This would be to the liking of the sinner, and his deeds would then be harmonious with his judgment since it would coincide with his will. It is true that a man will not render judgment in a matter unless he wishes to do so. This does not imply, however, that judgment itself is a constituent element of the will. Man similarly does not engage his intellect unless he is desirous to understand. One would thus, by the same token, be able to say that the intellect is a constituent element of the will. The latter is absurd, however, and therefore also the former.

Man’s Conscience

The conscience is also a constituent element of the intellect, for the term itself implies this, knowledge being a constituent element of the intellect. “Conscience” translated into the Dutch language (mede-wetenschap) means “knowledge of concurrence.” The conscience is man’s judgment concerning himself and his deeds, to the extent he is subject to God’s judgment. The conscience consists in three elements: knowledge, witness, and acknowledgement.

First, there is knowledge of the will of God, commanding or forbidding every man with promises and threats. This is not only true in a general but also in a specific sense, and not only in reference to a given matter, but also relative to the circumstances of here and now. Thus, the conscience prescribes what must either be refrained from or be done. The more clearly and powerfully it does this, the better the conscience functions.

Secondly, there is the element of witness. After man’s obligation is held before him, it determines whether or not he has acted according to light and knowledge. The more painstakingly the conscience takes note of man’s deeds and his conformity to the commandment held before him, the more it keeps a precise record thereof, and the more clearly and powerfully it witnesses to man, the better it performs its duty.

Thirdly, there follows an acknowledgement that the righteous God is also cognizant of this and will reward or judge him accordingly. The more clearly the conscience acknowledges the knowledge of God and is sensitive to it, and the more it either reassures itself concerning this or is powerfully affected as a result, the more faithfully the conscience performs its task. These three activities the apostle places side by side. “… the Gentiles, which have not the law … are a law unto themselves: which shew the work of the law written in their hearts” (Rom. 2:14–15). The first activity is expressed by the fact that they have knowledge of God’s will and law. The second activity—the witness to their conformity or lack of conformity to the law—is described by the apostle when he states, “their conscience also bearing witness.” This is followed by the third activity: the acknowledgement that God is cognizant thereof and shall either reward or punish, “… their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another” (Rom. 2:15). These activities of the conscience can also be observed in the following texts. “My conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 9:1); “For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others” (Eccl. 7:22); “For if our heart condemn us … if our heart condemn us not …” (1 John 3:20–21).

The conscience is either good or evil. It is good when it performs its duty well.

(1) This is true when it clearly and immediately reveals and represents the will of God, obligating and stirring us up to do the will of God. “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5).

(2) It is true when it carefully keeps record of our deeds, and clearly and powerfully convicts us in reference to these deeds.

(3) This is also true when it either troubles or reassures us. Both of these aspects are exemplified in the following texts. “And it came to pass afterward, that David’s heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul’s skirt” (1 Sam. 24:5); “For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience” (2 Cor. 1:12). Someone is said to have an evil conscience whenever the commission of abominable deeds fills one with anxiety, fear, and remorse. This is not to say that the conscience is evil, as it is performing its duty well, but it is called evil because it convicts of evil deeds. If the conscience does not perform these three tasks well, it is evil in and of itself, being remiss in its duty either in all three or in one or two of these activities.

Question: Can the conscience be in error?

Answer: We must presuppose the following:

(1) In this discussion we do not consider man in his perfect state before the fall, but in his imperfect state after the fall.

(2) Our discussion neither relates to adherence to nor to any reflection upon such knowledge whereby one is cognizant of his objective and activity, and is thus conscious of these deeds.

(3) Neither are we discussing here whether or not man responds to the witness of his conscience.

(4) Nor do we maintain that the second and third acts of the conscience are the first to err.

We do maintain, however, that the conscience in its first act—which relates to man’s knowledge of the law and will of God—is capable of error. It is capable of presenting something as the will of God which is not the will of God—yes, is even forbidden. This is the first error and when it prevails, it is followed by the second act of conscience, that is, its witnessing act. The error is not precipitated by the conscience bearing witness or man responding to this witness. The error is rather in having witnessed that man has done well, whereas in reality he has done evil, even though according to his knowledge he has done well.

Someone can bear false witness before the court without speaking contrary to his conviction by testifying that a certain person has committed a given deed, being in error as far as that person is concerned. The person he mentions is not guilty, but rather someone else. He expresses his opinion, his conscience testifying that his witness is correct, and thus it is satisfied. He is mistaken, however, and his witness is erroneous even though his conscience bears him witness that in this erroneous matter he has been both correct and good. Thus his conscience is in error, acquitting him even though he should have been condemned. The conscience can similarly bear witness that a person has acted correctly in various matters when in reality he has sinned most grievously. When the conscience errs in its first act as to its knowledge of the will of God, it must err in the other two acts as well.

God’s Word also confirms irrefutably that the conscience can err, as is confirmed in the following and many other passages. “Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols?” (1 Cor. 8:7, 10). Here the apostle does not speak of an opinion, nor of a lust, but of the conscience, making reference to it several times. He states that the conscience is in error, for he calls it a “conscience of the idol.” This leads one to believe that an idol is important and needs to be honored. Is this not a very serious error? The conscience can be “emboldened” in its error in order to persevere in the sin of idolatry with all the more freedom. Add to this that which is stated in John 16:2: “Whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service,” and in Acts 26:9, “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” The word “conscience” is not mentioned here, but the reference is to the activity of the conscience.

Whenever a matter is described, the name need not be mentioned. It was a serious and heinous sin to murder the godly and to be in battle against Jesus. This sin did not proceed from an evil principle, but from error; that is, from an erroneous understanding of God’s will. This erroneous understanding motivated them to be faithful to this perceived illumination, and thus to perform the task before them. Having finished this task, their conscience bore witness that they had acted correctly, giving them peace and delight in this work. In reality, however, they had engaged in an abominable evil, and the conscience should have convicted them that they had done evil; it should have brought forth contrition and terror within them. We can thus observe that the conscience can err.

Someone may object by stating that it is more correct to maintain that one errs in his views. My response is that an erroneous view is equivalent to an erroneous intellect and judgment whereby a certain course of action is suggested to be the will of God, which, however, is not the will of God. When acting accordingly, it then satisfies man that he has acted correctly. All of this is identical to the conscience being in error. One should therefore hold to common language usage, for strange expressions generally conceal strange sentiments. If there is essential agreement in this matter, all of this would at best be a matter of semantics.

The Will of Man

The soul of man is also gifted with a will, which is a faculty by which we can either love or hate. This faculty is called a blind faculty. This does not imply that man ignorantly loves or hates, but rather that it is the intellect, not the will, which judges in a given matter. It is the intellect which presents a matter to the will as being either desirable or contemptible, prescribing the course of action to be taken under the current circumstances. The will embraces this practical judgment blindly and acts accordingly. If one judges erroneously, the will functions erroneously as well. At times the intellect suggests something to the will which is enjoyable and advantageous but not according to truth. The will then embraces it as such, even though it is contrary to God’s law.

The will is free and cannot be compelled. This freedom is not arbitrary in nature; that is, one cannot simultaneously will or not will to do something. The holy angels are free in the exercise of their will, and yet they cannot but do the will of God. Rather, this freedom is one of necessary consequence whereby one is motivated and inclined to either embrace or reject something. Even the will of a child cannot be compelled to function in a certain manner. As long as a child does not want to go to school, he will not go there, no matter what one may try. Although he may not go when considering his situation independently, circumstances, promises, or threats can, however, bring about a change of will, thus causing the child to go because he is now willing.

The Immortality of the Soul

The soul of man is immortal. God could have annihilated it if He had so desired. He has, however, established an eternal ordinance that He shall not do so. The soul can neither be destroyed by any creature nor can it self-destruct by virtue of some internal principle, for the soul is a spirit and thus of eternal existence. There is an indelible impression in man that such is the case. God Himself in His Word expressly and irrefutably states this to be so in regard to the souls of both the godly and the ungodly. This is confirmed in a general sense in the following passages: “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Eccl. 12:7); “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul” (Mat. 10:28); “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Mat. 22:32); “And I give unto them eternal life” (John 10:28); “… having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ …” (Phil. 1:23); “… the souls of them that were slain … cried with a loud voice …” (Rev. 6:9–10). Such is also stated concerning the souls of the ungodly. “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment” (Mat. 25:46); “By which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison” (1 Pet. 3:19); “And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments” (Luke 16:23). We thus conclude that the soul is immortal.

The Intimate Union Between Body and Soul

God neither creates the soul outside the body nor does He first cause it to exist independently. As the soul is created within the body, it is united to the body with an incomprehensible but essential union so that together they form a suppositium, that is, a person or a human being. They are not united in their manner of existence, as angels were temporarily united to bodies. Be careful not to deem the soul to be an angel when considering it independently, for such is not the case. Be careful not to view this union as a matter of indifference, it being immaterial whether or not it is united with the body, or as if it would be better or preferable if it existed independently. Also be careful not to view the union between soul and body as a marriage. All such propositions contain within them dangerous consequences and errors. Be careful not to view the body as an instrument or tool of the soul, for one essential element cannot be the instrument of the other. This union is much more intimate than can be comprehended.

Together soul and body constitute a human being. It is natural to the soul to be united with the body, and contrary to her nature to be separated from the body through death. It does exist and experience joy or sorrow; however, it is not in a complete, fulfilled condition. In separation from the body, the soul is referred to as an incomplete personal entity. This does not imply that there is imperfection in the soul itself, but rather that it is a constituent element of the whole man. Neither does it cease to have the nature of a constituent element, and thus it continues to be inclined to be united with its body.

The soul being so intimately united with the body, is and remains in the body as long as man lives. It is not where it imagines itself to be. This is proved by the following:

First, the body, at that moment and thus most of the time, would then be without the soul, and consequently would be dead. Both nature and Scripture teach that man dies when the soul departs, as we have proven before.

Secondly, experience teaches that when the soul is elsewhere mentally, the body is moved and affected by whatever occurs there, or by whatever the soul imagines to see and hear there. This results in change of blood pressure, heart palpitations, tears, laughter, etc. If the soul at that time were to be hundreds of miles away from the body, why would there be such emotions? Can the soul operate in distantia, that is, from a distance? It is thus certain that the soul is not in the place where it imagines itself to be.

Thirdly, if someone wishes to maintain that the soul is there where it thinks itself to be, such a person would refute himself by his displeasure which he would manifest if one were to state that he was without a soul. Distant places and matters are represented by the imagination, and the soul thus thinks upon such matters.

I cannot state where the soul resides in the body. I do not know whether it encompasses the body in its entirety, or whether in its entirety it encompasses every part, or whether it resides in the heart, the brains, or in the pineal gland. As the union of soul and body is a mystery, so likewise is its location in the body. By limiting the soul to a specific location in the body, one must be careful neither to undo the intimate union between soul and body, nor should one, in an attempt to define it more expressly, be misled by not limiting the soul to a locality at all.

The Image of God

Man, consisting of a body prepared in such a skillful and elegant fashion, as well as with such a noble soul, was created in a state of perfection. All that God created was good. The goodness of every creature consisted in the measure of perfection required to function as such a creature. The goodness of man consists in the image of God. This term is sometimes used in reference to the Son, the second Person of the divine essence, who is “the brightness of His [the Father’s] glory, and the express image of His Person” (Heb. 1:3); as well as “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15).

In this case, however, we use this term in reference to the perfection of man, which consists in a faint resemblance to the communicable attributes of God. We use the word “resemblance,” for God’s attributes themselves cannot be communicated or transferred. Only their resemblance can be communicated. Scripture speaks of this when it states, “so God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him” (Gen. 1:27). In vs. 1:26 the word “likeness” is added. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” These two words are synonymous and express as much as an image of great resemblance. The image of God does not consist in the perfection of the body, for God is a Spirit. It does not primarily consist in the exercise of dominion which was bestowed as a consequence of this image, but rather it exists in the soul.

In order to have a correct understanding of the image of God, three matters need to be considered separately: the basis for, the form, and the consequences of this image. The basis, or that which is prerequisite, is the spirituality and rationality of the soul. The form relates to the quality of its inherent powers. The consequence is the exercise of dominion. Let me illustrate. If a painter wishes to make a good picture, he must first have a proper and well-prepared canvas. He cannot paint a picture in water, in air, or in dry sand. He either needs a piece of wood, canvas, or some other solid material, which in turn must have been properly prepared. Having all these, he then must have a suitable model for that which he wishes to express.

The basis—or canvas—for this image is the spirituality, rationality, and immortality of the essence of man’s soul, and more particularly the faculties of the soul such as intellect, will, and affections. The soul had to be of such a nature in order for the image of God to be impressed upon it. This does not constitute the form of the image of God, however, for man possessed these before as well as after the fall. Even the devils possess these at the present time. When God forbids man to murder, man having been created in God’s image (Gen. 9:6), this refers to both what he did possess as well as the background which he still possesses, upon which the image of God at one time was impressed. God did not wish this background to be destroyed. The spirituality and the faculties of the soul belong to the image of God as a background belongs to a painting. The latter can still exist and remain, even though the image upon it has been so erased that any resemblance of the same can no longer be detected; nevertheless it can still be seen that something had been impressed upon it.

The essential form, the true essence of the image of God, consists in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, they being the qualities that regulate the faculties of the soul: intellect, will, and affections.

(1) The intellect was pure and transparent, immediately beholding God in His essence and manner of existence in the Holy Trinity. This immediate beholding of God constitutes the felicity of angels and men. “As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness” (Psa. 17:15); “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12); “for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). Although Adam’s vision was not of the same degree as that vision glorified saints will enjoy in heaven—this having been held before and promised to him upon obedience—his knowledge of God was nevertheless perfect and sufficient to enable him to rejoice in God, greatly excelling that which we are currently able to imagine. Adam’s possession of such illumination is evident from the fact that he was created after the image of God which consists in knowledge. “And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him” (Col. 3:10).

(2) Additionally, the will was holy and righteous, being satisfied and delighted with God. It was joyful and fervent in love, having no desires outside of God. It readily, joyfully, and perfectly performed the will of God, doing all things in purity, luster, and glory, both in an external and internal sense. This was the image of the holy God, as it is stated, “And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:24).

(3) The affections were fully regulated, never preceding the exercise of the intellect and the will, but being an orderly consequence thereof. All desires were Godward, in order to continually enjoy Him, and toward the performance of His will.

(4) His memory was excellent and active. As he took note of everything, he likewise remembered everything; and in reflecting thereupon by comparing the past with the present he could observe God’s wisdom, goodness, and power, and magnify Him in response to this.

(5) All members of his body were instruments of righteousness by which this holiness could be manifested and translated into action. In one word, all that was to be found in Adam and which proceeded from him, was pure light, holiness, righteousness, and orderliness.

The consequence of the image of God is the exercise of dominion over the entire earth. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let him have dominion over the fish of the sea,” etc. (Gen. 1:26). Man having been created in God’s image, God said to man, “Have dominion” (Gen. 1:28). Adam exercised this dominion by giving a name to every animal (Gen. 2:20). God is awe-inspiring to all His creatures, and whatever conveys a ray of His divinity is awe-inspiring as well, which is evident when a holy angel appears to men. God vested Adam with the power to exercise dominion, while endowing the animal kingdom with the inclination to be in subjection. By virtue of sin man lost this authority. Nevertheless, God said to Noah, “And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, … into your hand are they delivered” (Gen. 9:2). David praised the Lord in reference to this. “Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet” (Psa. 8:6). The unconverted exercise dominion over some animals, and do so by force. God’s children, however, have again received a right to all things, although the use of a part of this authority is not permitted them as yet.

Man possessed the image of God from the first moment of his existence and was not initially created in puris naturalibus, that is, in a purely natural state—without knowledge, righteousness, and holiness—having only body and soul (that is, intellect, will, inclinations, and memory), and lacking either good or evil in them.

(1) Scripture nowhere states this, and therefore this concept is to be rejected.

(2) Man was created after God’s image. A painter who intends to paint the likeness of a man does not first create something void of any resemblance and then add form and resemblance subsequently. Rather, he seeks to express the image of this man in every stroke of the brush. God created man in like manner, creating him after His image, to which he gave expression in the act of creating.

(3) This is also confirmed by the fact that the creation of man was very good (Gen. 1:31). “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright” (Eccl. 7:29). Without this image man would not have been good and upright, for he would have lacked the essence of his perfection and would not have been much better than a beast. Indeed, the absence of the image of God would have been tantamount to sin.

(4) Man was created to magnify God both as He is in Himself and in His works. He could not have attained to this purpose without that image, that is, without knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.

(5) What man attains in recreation, Adam must have been, and has been. Since man is recreated after God’s image, Adam was therefore created in like fashion.

Although man was created with and in this image, it was not bestowed upon him above and beyond his nature—as if this would prevent disharmony from arising between the superior and inferior faculties of the soul such as intellect, will, and affections; or (so absurd is the argument) as if this would prevent the marriage between soul and body from not becoming a contentious marriage. It was, however, a natural element of man’s nature. It did not belong to the essence of the soul, and was not one of the constituent elements of man, nor an essential property. Thus, when man lost the image of God, he did not lose his nature. As health naturally emanates from the well-being of soul and body, likewise the image of God was natural to man and belonged to his well-being. This is consequently referred to as original righteousness and is evident from the following:

(1) In the state of perfection, if Adam had affections which were contradictory to his intellect, he would not have been perfect, but would have been naturally opposed to the tenth commandment which forbids dissatisfaction and covetousness.

(2) From his very beginning man was very good and possessed the image of God. His original righteousness was thus one of his natural components.

(3) Conformity to the law of nature is not supernatural to man, but natural (Rom. 2:14–15). This is much more true of the perfect conformity to the law which was impressed upon the first man.

(4) Had man not sinned, whatever would have been transmitted by procreation, would have been natural to him. Since his original righteousness would have, however, been transmitted to his descendants, it was thus natural to him.

(5) Man, being deprived of the image of God, is now naturally depraved. “… and were by nature the children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). Thus, this propensity emanating from original righteousness was natural to man in his perfect state.

Man’s Residency in Paradise

Man, having been created in so holy and glorious a state, was placed in Paradise which was his residence. The word “paradise” does not occur in the Old Testament, with the exception of the Song of Solomon 4:12 [Dutch Statenbijbel]. It is generally referred to as Eden, which is a derivative of “delightful.” This garden was created by God on the fourth day and was the most delightful area of the delightful earth. Its apparent location is inferred by men to have been east of the Mediterranean Sea. Its actual location and size are uncertain, however. I believe that it has been so totally destroyed, either by the flood or other means, that it is no longer recognizable, even if one were to be standing on the location itself. It was so fully enclosed and impenetrable that no man or beast was able to go in or out, except by a way upon which an angel had been placed to bar entrance for fallen man (Gen. 3:24). The delightful nature of this garden was such that the third heaven is called paradise by comparison (cf. Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 12:4; Rev. 2:7).

In the midst of this Garden of Eden was the tree of life, which we do not consider to have belonged to a certain species, but was a tree singular in nature. “And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree … the tree of life also in the midst of the garden” (Gen. 2:9). Thus, this tree was not to be found at other locations.

This tree did not typify the second Person of the Godhead, that is, the Son, for the following reasons:

(1) There is no evidence substantiating this anywhere.

(2) It is not congruent with the Godhead to be typified by a physical image, and then especially by a tree. God has forbidden to make any physical likeness of Himself, and has not done so Himself.

(3) It would not have been advantageous to man in his perfect state, since he knew God rightly.

(4) The Lord Jesus Christ, the Mediator of the covenant of grace, is called the tree of life (Rev. 2:7; 22:2). He is not called thus because He was typified by this tree, for Adam in the state of perfection neither had need of a Mediator nor had it been revealed to him that a Mediator would come. Although he was capable of believing everything which God would present to him as an object to be believed in, he nevertheless did not believe in Christ, who had not been revealed to him. If the tree had been a type of Christ, Adam, being in the covenant of grace, would have been permitted to eat from this tree, which, on the contrary, he was forbidden to do. Christ, however, is called the tree of life by way of application and by way of comparison due to the efficacy of his mediatorial office, by virtue of which He is the life of His people and grants them eternal life. The tree of life was a type and sacrament of this for Adam.

This tree did not have inherent power to preserve man so that he would not die, for:

(1) Immortality did not originate from this tree.

(2) There is not a single word to substantiate this in Scripture.

(3) How would all the descendants of Adam—if he had remained in the state of perfection and if they would have populated the entire earth—have survived without this tree, there only being one located within Paradise? Would they then have died?

(4) All other trees had been given to him for food, and his body was created in such a perfect condition that it was not subject to any sicknesses and therefore had no need of medication. Thus, the tree was merely a sacrament of eternal life.

In Paradise there was also the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which man was not permitted to touch nor to eat from. “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it” (Gen. 2:17; cf. Gen. 3:3). As there was only one tree of life, so there was also but one tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It is not stated that this refers to the type of tree, but rather to the number. It is simply referred to as “the tree.” The reason for this name can be deduced from the name itself.

(1) It was a probationary tree whereby God wished to try man whether he would persevere in doing good or whether he would fall into evil, as is found in 2 Chronicles 32:31, “… God left him, to try him, that He might know all that was in his heart.”

(2) Man, in eating from this tree, would know how good he had it and in what a sinful and sad condition he had brought himself.

The Lord placed Adam and Eve in this garden to dress it and keep it (Gen. 2:15) so that the animals would not intrude and trample and feed upon the beautiful plants, elegant flowers, and aromatic herbs. He would also dress the garden by pruning the trees in order to make them fruitful, sow seed here, and plant something there. All these activities would neither be burdensome and tiresome, nor would he perform them in the sweat of his face, but would engage therein with pleasure and delight, for a perfect man was neither permitted nor desirous to be physically idle. The Sabbath was the exception, for then he was required to rest and refrain from labor according to the example which his Maker had given him and had commanded him to emulate.

Thus Adam had all things in perfection and to the delight of body and soul. If he had perfectly persevered during his probationary period, he would, without seeing any death whatsoever, have been translated into the third heaven, into eternal glory. We have already confirmed the immortality of the soul in this chapter. Although the body had been constructed from material elements, its condition was such that it was capable of being in essential union with the immortal soul, and capable of existing without ever being subject to sickness or death.
Had he not sinned, man would not have died, but would rather have ascended into heaven with body and soul.

First, this is evident from the promise of eternal felicity, the fulfillment of which was contingent upon rendered obedience. This subject we will discuss subsequent to this chapter. Man, however, upon having been obedient, would never have died, but according to God’s truth would have lived eternally.

Secondly, this is evident from God’s threatenings, “For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17). If man would have died regardless of what occurred, the threatening would not have been a threat. Since death was threatened upon the commission of sin, death entered for no other reason than sin, which is confirmed in Genesis 3:17–19. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin” (Rom. 5:12); “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23); “… and sin when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:15).

Man: Created to Enjoy Felicity Eternally

God thus created Adam—and in him human nature in all its dimensions, as well as all men as created in him—in such a glorious and immortal manner. He skillfully prepared his body for him and promised him eternal life. Where are they now who slander Reformed doctrine by stating that we maintain God to have created one man unto the enjoyment of felicity and another unto damnation? We insist that God created all men in Adam for the enjoyment of felicity, and that man himself is to be blamed for his damnation.

Here is reason to glorify and praise God for creating man with such excellent capabilities in body and soul. For He established man in a state of such holiness and glory, to the honor of His Maker, for the purpose of exalting and praising Him for all His works, as well as for the creation of man and the manner in which God endowed him with faculties. Here we perceive the abominable nature of sin, whereas man, being endowed with such excellent faculties and being united to His Creator with so many bonds of love, has departed from Him, and despised and rejected Him. He did so in order that the Creator would not be master over him, but that he might be his own lord and live according to his own will.

Here is reason to approve of the justice of God if He requites the sinner according to his ways and condemns him. Here the incomprehensible goodness and wisdom of God shines forth in that He reconciles such evil human beings—although not all of them—with Himself again through the Mediator Jesus Christ. He caused this Mediator to come forth from Adam as holy, having the same nature which had sinned, to bear the punishment of the sin of man’s own nature and thus to fulfill all righteousness. Such human beings He again adopts as His children and takes to Himself in eternal bliss. To Him be given eternal praise and honor for this. Amen.

Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, ed. Joel R. Beeke, (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 1992), 1:305–330.

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