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The Image of God in Man
by Dr. Zacharias Ursinus

(Taken from The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, translated from the original Latin by the Rev'd G.W. Willard, A.M., 1852.)


The image of God in man, is a mind rightly knowing the nature, will, and works of God; a will freely obeying God; and a correspondence of all the inclinations, desires, and actions, with the divine will; in a word, it is the spiritual and immortal nature of the soul, and the purity and integrity of the whole man; a perfect blessedness and joy, together with the dignity and majesty of man, in which he excels and rules over all other creatures.

The image of God, therefore, comprehends: 1. The spiritual and immortal substance of the soul, together with the power of knowing and willing. 2. All our natural notions and conceptions of God, and of his will and works. 3. Just and holy actions, inclinations, and volitions, which is the same as perfect righteousness and holiness in the will, heart, and external actions. 4. Felicity, happiness, and glory, with the greatest delight in God, connected, at the same time, with an abundance of all good things, without any misery or corruption. 5. The dominion of man over all creatures, fish, fowls, and other living things. In all these respects, our rational nature resembles, in some degree, the Creator; just as the image resembles the archetype; yet we can never be equal with God. Paul calls the image of God "righteousness and true holiness," (Eph. 4. 24,) because these constitute the principal parts of it; yet he does not exclude wisdom and knowledge, but rather presupposes them; for no one can worship God if he does not know him. neither does the Apostle, in this passage, exclude happiness and glory; for this, according to the order of divine justice, follows righteousness and true holiness. And wherever righteousness and true holiness are found, there is an absence of all evil, whether of guilt or punishment. This righteousness and true holiness, in which, according to the Apostle, the image of God consists, may also be taken for the same thing; or they may be so distinguished, that righteousness may be considered as referring to such outward and inward actions and motions as are in harmony with the law of God, and a mind judging correctly; whilst holiness may be understood as referring to the qualities of these actions, &c.

Obj. Perfect wisdom and righteousness are peculiar to God alone; nor is there any creature in whom they are found; for the wisdom of all creatures, even of the holy angels, may and does increase. How, then, could the image of God in man embrace perfect righteousness and wisdom? Ans. That which is here called perfect wisdom, does not mean such a wisdom as is ignorant of nothing, but such as is perfect according to the being in whom it is found, or which is such as the Creator designed should be in the creature, and which is sufficient for the happiness of the creature; as, for instance, the wisdom and felicity of the angels is perfect, because it is such as God designed and willed; and yet something may be continually added unto it, or else it would be infinite. So man was perfectly righteous, because he was conformable to God in all things which were required of him; and yet he was not equal with God, nor was his righteousness perfect in that degree in which God is righteous; but because there was nothing wanting to that perfection in which God created him; which he desired should be in him; and which was sufficient for the happiness of the creature. There is, therefore, an ambiguity in the word perfection. And it is in the sense just explained, that man is said, in the Scriptures, to be the image of God, or that he was made after his likeness.

When Christ, however, is called the image of God, it is in a far different sense, which is evident: 1. In respect to his divine nature, in which he is the image of the eternal Father, being co-eternal, consubstantial, and equal with the Father in essential properties and works, and as being that person through whom the Father reveals himself; in creating and preserving all things, but especially in the salvation of those whom he has chosen unto everlasting life. And he is called the image, not of himself, nor of the Holy Ghost, but of the Father; because he is eternally begotten, not of himself, nor of the Holy Ghost, but of the Father. 2. in respect to his human nature, in which he is the image of God, created indeed, yet transcending infinitely angels and men, both in the degree and number of gifts, such as wisdom, justice, power, and glory; and, at the same time, resembling, in a peculiar manner, the Father, in doctrine, virtues, and actions, as he himself said to one of his disciples, "He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father." (John 14: 9.)

But angels and men are said to be the image of God, as well in respect to the Son and Holy Ghost, as in respect to the Father, where it is said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." (Gen. 1: 26.) This is not to be understood, however, of any likeness or equality of essence, but merely of certain properties which have a resemblance to the Godhead, not in degree or essence, but in kind and imitation; for there are some things in angels and men which bear a certain analogy and correspondence with what we find in God, who comprehends, in himself, all that is truly good. Those things, on the other hand, concerning the image of God in man, which were formerly discussed, and denied by the Anthropomorphites, and recently by Osiander, may be found in Ursini Vol.1. pages 164, 155.


Such, now, was the image of God in which man was originally created, and which was apparent in him before the fall. But after the fall, man lost this glorious image of God, on account of sin, and became transformed into the hateful image of Satan. There were, however, some remains and sparks of the image of God still left in man, after his fall, and which even yet continue in those who are unregenerated, of which we may mention the following: 1. The incorporeal, rational, and immortal substance of the soul, together with its powers, of which we would merely make mention of the liberty of the will, so that whatever man wills, he wills freely. 2. There are, in the understanding, many notions and conceptions of God, of nature, and of the distinction which exists between things proper and improper, which constitute the principles of the arts and sciences. 3. There are some traces and remains of moral virtues, and some ability of regulating the external deportment of the life. 4. The enjoyment of many temporal blessings. 5. A certain dominion over other creatures. Man did not wholly lose his dominion over the various creatures which were put in subjection to him; for many of them still remain subject to him, so that he has the power of governing and using them for his own benefit. These vestiges and remains of the image of God in man, although they are greatly obscured and marred by sin, are, nevertheless, still preserved in us to a certain extent; and that for these ends: 1. That they may be a testimony of the mercy and goodness of God towards us, unworthy as we are. 2. That God may make use of them in restoring his image in us. 3. That the wicked may be without excuse.

But those things which we have lost of the image of God are by far the greatest and most important benefits; of which we may mention the following: 1. The true, perfect, and saving knowledge of God, and of the divine will. 2. Correct views of the works of God, together with light and knowledge in the understanding; in the place of which we now have ignorance, blindness, and darkness.. 3. The regulation and government of all the inclinations, desires, and actions; and a conformity with the law of God in' the will, heart, and external parts; instead of which there is now a dreadful disorder and depravity of the inclinations and motions of the heart and will, from which all actual sin proceeds. 4. True and perfect dominion over the various creatures of God; for those beasts which at first feared man, now oppose, injure, and lie in wait for him; whilst the ground, which was cursed for his sake, brings forth thorns and briers. 5. The right of using those things which God granted, not to his enemies, but to his children. 6. The happiness of this and of a future life; in the place of which we' now have temporal and eternal death, with every conceivable calamity.

Obj. The heathen were distinguished for many virtues, and performed works of great renown. Therefore it would seem that the image" of God was not destroyed in them. Ans. The excellent virtues and deeds of renown, which are found among heathen nations, belong, indeed, to the vestiges or remains of the image of God, still preserved in the nature of man; but there is so much wanting, to constitute that true and perfect image of God, which was at first apparent in man, that these virtues are only certain shadows of external propriety, without the obedience of the heart to God, whom they neither know nor worship. Therefore, these works do not please God, since they do not proceed from a proper knowledge of him, and are not done with the intention of glorifying him.


The restoration of this image of God in man, is effected by him alone, who first conferred it upon man; for he who gives life, and restores it when lost, is the same being. God the Father, restores this image through the Son; because he has "made him unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption." (1 Cor. 1: 30.) The Son, through the Holy Spirit, "changes us into the same image, from glory unto glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Cor. 8: 18.) And the Holy Ghost carries forward and completes what is begun by the Word, and the use of the Sacraments. "The gospel is the power of God unto salvation." (Rom. 1: 16.) This restoration, however, of the image of God in man, is effected in such a manner, that it is only begun, in this life, in such as believe, and is confirmed and carried forward in them, even to the end of life, as it concerns the soul - but as it concerns the whole man, it will be consummated in the resurrection of the body. We are, therefore, to consider who is the author, and what is the order, and manner in which this restoration is effected?


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