THE view taken in this Lecture I hold to be important, not only in its practical and spiritual bearings, on which I chiefly dwell, but also in relation to some of the scientific questions which have been supposed to be here involved. It lifts, as I think, the divine record out of and above these human entanglements, and presents it, apart from all discoveries of successive ages, in the broad and general aspect which it was designed from the first and all along to wear, as unfolding the Creator's mind in the orderly subordination of the several parts of his creation to one another, with special reference to his intended dealings with the race of man. On this account I ask attention to what otherwise might appear to some to be an irrelevant metaphysical conceit.
It is proposed, then, to inquire what is implied in our really believing, as a matter of revelation, the fact of the creation. This may seem a very needless inquiry, in reference to a fact so easily understood. " In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." " The worlds were framed by the word of God." Can any thing be easier than to comprehend and believe this great truth thus clearly revealed? Who can be at a loss to know what is meant by believing it? It is remarkable, however, that in speaking of that faith whose power lie celebrates as the most influential of all our principles of action, the apostle gives, as his first instance of it, our belief of this fact of the creation. "Through faith,"that particular energetic faith, which so vividly realises its absent object, unseen and remote, as to invest it with all the force of a present and sensible impression, - through this precise faith, "which is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," "we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God; so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear".
Now, this faith is peculiar in several respects, and its peculiarity is as much to be observed in the belief of the fact of creation, as in the belief of the fact of redemption,including, as such belief does, a reliance on the promises connected with that fact and ratified and sealed by it, springing out of a reliance on the person promising. It is especially peculiar in respect of its source, or of the evidence on which it rests. The truths which it receives, it receives on the evidence of testimony, as truths revealed, declared, and attested, by the infallible word of the living God.
This is a point of great importance, as it affects both the kind of assent which we give to these truths, and the kind and degree of influence which they exert over us. There is the widest possible difference between our believing certain truths as the result of reasoning or discovery, and our believing them on the direct assertion of a credible witness whom we see and hear,- especially if the witness be the very individual to whom the truths relate, and indeed himself their author. The truths themselves may be identically the same; but how essentially different is the state of the mind in accepting them; and how different the impression made by them on the mind when accepted.
I. The difference may be illustrated by a simple and familiar example. In the deeply interesting and beautiful work of Paley on Natural Theology - for so it may still be characterised, in spite of lapse of time and change of taste - the author, in stating the argument for the being of a God, derived from the proofs of intelligence and design in nature, makes admirable use of an imaginary case respecting a watch. He supposes that, being previously unacquainted with such a work of art, you stumble upon it for the first time, as if by accident, in a desert. You proceed to exercise your powers of judgment and inference in regard to it. You hold it in your hand, and after exhausting your first emotions of wonder and admiration, you begin to examine its structure, to raise questions in your own mind, and to form conjectures. How did it come there, and how were its parts so curiously put together? You at once conclude that it did not grow there, and that it could not be fashioned by chance. You are not satisfied to be told that it has lain there for a long period,- from time immemorial,- for ever; that it has always been going on as it is going on now; thal there is nothing really surprising in its movements and its mechanism; that it is just its nature to be what it is, and to do what it does. You utterly reject all such explanations as frivolous and absurd. You feel assured that the watch had a maker; and your busy and inquisitive spirit immediately sets itself restlessly to work, to form some conception as to what sort of person the maker of it must have been. You gather much of his character from the obvious character of his handiwork; you search in that handiwork for traces of his mind and his heart; you speculate concerning his plans and purposes; your fancy represents him to your eye; you think you understand all about him; you find the exercise of reasoning and discovery delightful, and you rejoice in the new views which it unfolds.
But now suppose that, while you are thus engaged, with the watch in your hand and your whole soul wrapt in meditative contemplation on the subject of its formation, a living person suddenly appears before you, and at once abruptly announces himself, and says, It was I who made this watch - it was I who put it there. Is not your position instantly and completely changed? At first, perhaps, you are almost vexed and disappointed that the thread of your musing thoughts should be thus broken, and your airy speculations interrupted, and you should be told all at once on the instant, what you would have liked to find out for yourself,- that the riddle should be so summarily solved, and plain tale substituted for many curious guesses. But you are soon reconciled to the change, and better pleased to have it so. The actual presence of the individual gives a new interest - the interest of a more vivid and intense reality - to the whole subject of your previous thoughts. Nor does this new impression depend merely upon the greater amount of information communicated; for the individual now before you may explicitly tell you no more than, in his absence, the watch itself had virtually told you already. Neither does it arise altogether from the greater certainty and assurance of the revelation which he makes to you; for in truth your own inferences, in so plain an instance of design, may be as infallible as any testimony could be. But there is something in the direct and immediate communication of the real person, speaking to you face to face, and with his living voice, which affects you very differently from a process of reasoning, however clear and unquestionable its results may be.
Your position, in fact, is now precisely reversed. Instead of questioning the watch concerning its maker, you now question the maker concerning his watch. You hear, not what the mechanism has to say of the mechanic, but what the mechanic has to say of the mechanism. You receive, perhaps, the same truths as before, but with a freshness and a force unknown before. They come to you,- not circuitously and at second hand, but straight from the very being most deeply concerned in them. They come home to you without any of that dim and vague impersonality - that abstract and ideal remoteness - which usually characterises the conclusions of long argument and reasoning. They are now invested with that sense of reality, and those sensations and sentiments of personal concern, which the known face and voice of a living man inspire.
II. Now, let us apply these remarks to the matter in hand. We are all of us familiar with this idea, that in contemplating the works of creation, we should ascend from nature to nature's God. Everywhere we discern undoubted proofs of the unbounded wisdom, power, and goodness of the great Author of all things. Everywhere we meet with traces of just and benevolent design, which should suggest to us the thought of the Almighty Creator, and of his righteousness, truth, and love. It is most pleasing and useful to cultivate such a habit as this -much of natural religion depends upon it, and holy Scripture fully recognises its propriety. "The heavens declare the glory of God: the firmament showeth his handiwork." "All thy works praise thee, Lord God Almighty." "Lift up your eyes on high, and behold - Who hath created these things? " "0 Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches."
It is apparent, however, even in these and similar passages, that created things are mentioned, not as arguments, but rather as illustrations ; not as suggesting the idea of God, the Creator, but as unfolding and expanding that idea, otherwise obtained.
And this is still more manifest in that passage of the Epistle to the Romans which particularly appeals to the fact of creation as evidence of the Creator's glory,- evidence sufficient to condemn the ungodly: "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful: but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened" (i. 20, 21). Here it is expressly said, that from the things that are made might be understood the invisible things of God, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that atheists, idolaters, and worshippers of the creature, are without excuse. But why are they without excuse? Not because they failed to discover God, in this way, from his works, but because, when they knew God otherwise, they did not glorify him, as these very works might have continually taught them to do ;- not because they did not in this way acquire, but because they did not like in this way to retain, the knowledge of God.
For the fact of the creation is regarded in the Bible as a fact revealed; and, as such, it is commended to our faith. Thus the scriptural method on this subject is exactly the reverse of what is called the natural. It is not to ascend from nature up to nature's God, but to descend, if we may so speak, from God to God's nature, or his works of nature; not to hear the creation speaking of the Creator, but to hear the Creator speaking of the creation. We have not in the Bible an examination and enumeration of the wonders to be observed among the works of nature, and an argument founded upon these that there must be a God, and that he must be of a certain character, and must have had certain views in making what he has made. God himself appears, and tells us authoritatively who he is, and what he has done, and why he did it.
Thus "through faith we understand that the worlds were made by the word of God; so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear." We understand and believe this, not as a deduction of reasoning, but as a matter of fact, declared and revealed to us. For this is that act of the mind which, in a religious sense, is called faith. It involves in its very nature an exercise of trust or confidence in a living person,- of acquiescence in his word,- of reliance on his truth, on himself. It implies the committing of ourselves to him,- the casting of ourselves on him,- as faithful in what he tells, and in what he promises. We believe on his testimony. We believe what he says, and because he says it. In thus simply receiving a fact declared by another, and that other fully credible and trustworthy, the mind is in a very different attitude and posture from that which it assumes when it reasons out the fact, as it were, by its own resources. There is far more of dependence and submission in the one case than in the other,- a more cordial and implicit recognition of a Being higher than we are,- a more unreserved surrender of ourselves. The one, in truth, is the act of a man, the other of a child. Now, in the kingdom of God - his kingdom of nature as well as his kingdom of grace, - we must be as little children. When I draw infellences for myself concerning the Author of creation, - when I reason out from his works the fact of his existence, and the chief attributes of his character, - I am conscious of a certain feeling of superiority. The Deity becomes almost, in a certain sense, my creature, - the product of my own elaborated process of thought. I am occupied more with my own reasonings than with the transcendent excellences of Him of whom I reason. The whole is very much an exercise of intellect, attended, certainly, with those emotions of beauty and sublimity which the exercise of the intellect on matters of taste calls forth ; - but with scarcely anything more of the real apprehension of an unseen Being, in my conclusions respecting the author of nature, than in my premises respecting nature itself. The God whom I discover is like the dead abstract truth to which a train of demonstration leads. I myself alone have a distinct personality ;- all else is little more than the working of my brain on its own imaginations.
But now, God speaks, and I am dumb. He opens his mouth, and I hold my peace. I bid my busy, speculative soul be quiet. I am still, and know that it is God. I now at once recognise a real and living Person, beyond and above myself. I take my station humbly, submissively at his feet. I learn of him. And what he tells me now, in the way of direct personal communication from himself to me, has a weight and vivid reality infinitely surpassing all that any mere deductions from the closest reasoning could ever have. Now in very truth my "faith" does become "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Now at last I am brought into real personal contact with the Invisible One. And he speaks as one having authority. He whom now I personally know and see tells me of the things which he has made; and so tells me of them, that now they start forth before my eyes in a new light. The idea of their being not only his workmanship, but of his explaining them to me as his workmanship, assumes a distinctness - a prominence and power - which cannot fail to exercise a strong influence and exert a sovereign command over me, as a communication directly from him to me.
Such is that faith respecting the creation which alone can be of a really influential character. Thus only can we truly and personally know God as the Creator.
III. But it may be asked, Are we, then, not to use our reason on this subject at all? That cannot be; for the apostle himself enjoins us, however in respect of meekness we are to be like children, still in understanding to be men. Certainly we do well to search out and collect together all those features in creation which reflect the glory of the Creator. Nay, we may begin in this way to know God. It is true, indeed, that God has never, in point of fact, left himself to be thus discovered. He has always revealed himself as he did at first, not circuitously by his works, but summarily and directly by his word. We may suppose, however, that you are suffered to grope your way through creation to the Creator. In that case you proceed, in the manner already described, to deduce or infer from the manifold plain proofs of design in nature, the idea of an intelligent author, and to draw conclusions from what you see of his works, respecting his character, purposes, and plans. Still, even in this method of discovering God, if your faith is to be of an influential kind at all, you must proceed, when you have made the discovery, exactly to reverse the process by which you made it. Having arrived at the conception of a Creator, you must now go back again to the creation, taking the Creator himself along with you, as one with whom you have become personally acquainted, and hearing what he has to say concerning his own works. He may say no more than what you had previously discovered; still, what he does say, you now receive, not as discovered by you, but as said by Him. You leave the post of discovery and the chair of reasoning, and take the lowly stool of the disciple. And then, and not before, even on the principles of natural religion, do you fully understand what is the real import and the momentous bearing of the fact,- that a Being, infinitely wise and powerful, and having evidently a certain character, as holy, just, and good, - that such a Being made you, - and that he is himself telling you that he made you,- and all the things that are around you; "so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear ;" the visible did not come from the visible; it was not self-made. God tells you that.
Much more will this be felt, if we become personally acquainted with God otherwise than through the medium of his works. And so, in fact, we do.
Even apart from revelation,- on natural principles,- the first notion of a God is suggested in another way. It is suggested far more promptly and directly than it can be by a circuitous process of reasoning respecting the proofs of intelligence in creation. It is conscience within, not nature without, which first points to and proves a Deity. It is the Lawgiver, and not the Creator, that man first recognises,the Governor, the righteous Judge. The moral sense involves the notion of a moral Ruler, independently altogether of the argument from creation. And the true position and purpose of that argument is, not to infer from his works of creation an unknown God, but to prove that the God already known as the moral Ruler is the Creator of all things,- or rather to show what, as the moral Ruler, he has to tell us in regard to the things which he has created. The truth is, when we go to the works and creatures of God, we go, not to discover him, but as having already discovered and known him. We must, therefore, go in the spirit of implicit and submissive faith, not to question them concerning him, but to hear and observe what he has to say to us concerning them , or to say to us, in them, concerning himself.
But still further, we go now to the record of creation, not only recognising God through the evidence of his works and the intimations of the conscience or moral sense, but acquainted with him through the testimony of his own word. In that word, he reveals himself, first as the Lawgiver, and then as the Saviour. The first word he spoke to man in paradise was the law, the second was the glorious Gospel; he made himself known first as the Sovereign, and then as the Redeemer. Now, therefore, it is in the character of the God thus known that he speaks to us concerning the creation of all things; and our faith as to creation now consists,- not in our believing that all things were and must have been made by a God,- but in our believing that they were made by this God; and believing it on the ground of his own infallible assurance, given personally by himself to us. This God we are to see in all things. We are to hear his voice saying to us, in reference to every object,- I created it ; I made it, such as you see it, and for the purpose for which you must perceive it to be manifestly intended; and I am now telling you that I did so.
Thus, by faith, we are to recognise, instead of a dim remote abstraction, a real living being; personally present with us, and speaking to us of his works, as well as in them and by them. We are to exercise a personal reliance on him, as thus present and thus speaking to us- a reliance on his faithfulness, in what he says to us concerning his character and doings in creation. Then assuredly our faith will make more vividly and tangibly intelligible the great fact that he made each thing and all things, and will give to that fact more of a real hold over us, and far more of intense practical power, than, with our ordinary vague views of the subject, we can at all beforehand conceive. Nor will it hamper or hinder the freest possible inquiry, on the side of natural science, if only it confines itself to its legitimate function of ascertaining facts before it theorises. For the facts it ascertains may modify, and have modified, the interpretation put on what God has told us in his word. And he meant it to be so. He did not intend revelation to supersede inquiry, and anticipate its results. Of course, his revelation must be consistent with the results of our inquiry,- as it has always hitherto, in the long run, been found to be. But it was inevitable that our understanding of his revelation should be open to progressive readjustment, as regards the development of scientific knowledge, while the revelation itself, as the Creator s explanation of his creation for all mankind, remains ever the same.
IV. Thus, then, in a spiritual view, and for spiritual purposes, the truth concerning God as the Creator must be received, not as a discovery of our own reason, following a train of thought, but as a direct communication from a real person, even from the living and present God. This is not a merely theoretical and artificial distinction. It is practically most important. Consider the subject of creation Simply in the light of an argument of natural philosophy, and all is vague and dim abstraction. It may be close and cogent as a demonstration in mathematics, but it is as cold and unreal; or, if there be emotion at all, it is but the emotion of a fine taste, and a sensibility for the grand or the lovely in nature and thought. But consider the momentous fact in the light of a direct message from the Creator himself to you,- regard him as standing near to you, and himself telling you, personally and face to face, all that He did on that wondrous creationweek,- are you not differently impressed and affected?
1. More particularly, - see first of all, what weight this single idea, once truly and vividly realised, must add to all the other communications which He makes to us on other subjects. Does He speak to us concerning other matters, intimately touching our present and future weal? Does He tell us of our condition in respect of him, and of his purposes in respect of us? Does He enforce the majesty of his law? Does He press the overtures of his Gospel? Does He threaten, or warn, or exhort, or encourage, or command, or entreat, or tenderly expostulate, or straitly and authoritatively charge? Oh! how in every such case is His appeal enhanced with tenfold intensity in its solemnity, its pathos, and its power, if we regard him as in the very same breath expressly telling us,- I who now speak to you so earnestly and so affectionately, I created all things,- I created you. To the sinner, whom he is seeking out in his lost estate, whom he is reproving as a holy lawgiver, and condemning as a righteous judge, and yet pitying with all a father's unquenchable compassion, how awful and yet how moving is the consideration, that he who is speaking to him as a counsellor and a friend, is speaking to him also as the Creator! And while he bids the sinner, in accents the most gracious, turn and live, he says to him still always,- It is thy Maker, and the Maker of all things, who bids thee, at thy peril, turn. And is there any one of you who are his saints and servants disquieted and cast down? Is there not comfort in the thought, that thy Maker is thy husband and thy redeemer? Is there not especial comfort in his telling thee so himself? Is there any thing in all the earth to make thee afraid? Dost thou not hear him saying to thee,- I, thy Saviour, thy God made thee, made it, made all things? It is my creature, as thou art, and it cannot hurt thee, if I am with thee.
On this principle we may, to a large extent, explain the importance which believers attach to the glorious fact, that he who saves them has revealed himself to them, and is revealing himself, as the Creator. All must have remarked, in reading the devotional parts of the Bible, such as the book of Psalms, how constantly the psalmist comforts and strengthens himself, and animates himself in the face of his enemies, by this consideration,- that his help comes from the Lord, who made the heavens and the earth,- that his God made the heavens. He made all things; the very things, therefore, that are most hostile and perilous, his God made. This is his security. The God whom he knows as his own, made all things, and is reminding him, whenever any thing alarms or threatens him, that he made it. And if now, my Christian brother, the God who made all things, evil as well as good,- sickness, pain, poverty, distress,- is your Saviour; if he is ever seen by you, and his voice is heard telling you, even of that which presently afflicts you, that he made it as he made you,- how complete is your confidence.
When God appeared to Job, in such a way that Job himself exclaimed, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee;" it was mainly, if not exclusively, as the Creator that he revealed himself. Coming forth to finish the discussion between Job and his friends, the Lord enlarges and expatiates on all his wondrous works,- on the power and the majesty of his creation. On this topic he dwells, speaking to Job personally concerning it, conversing with him face to face as a friend. And the full recognition of God as doing so, is enough both to humble and comfort the patriarch,- to remove every cloud,- to abase him in dust and ashes,- and to exalt him again in all the confidence of prayer.
2. Again, secondly,- on the other hand, observe what weight this idea, if fully realised, must have, if we ever regard the Lord himself as personally present, and saying to us, in special reference to each of the things which he has inade,- I created it, and I am now reminding you, and testifying to you, that it was I who made it. What sacredness will this thought stamp on every object in nature,- if only by the power of the Spirit, and through the belief of the truth, we are made really and personally acquainted with the living God; if we know him thus as the Lawgiver, the Saviour, the Judge.
We go forth amid the glories and the beauties of this earth and these heavens, which he has so marvellously framed. We are not left merely to trace the dead and empty footsteps which mark that he once was there. He is there still, telling us even now that his hand framed all that we see; and telling us why he did so. Thus, and thus only, do we walk with God, amid all that is grand and lovely in the scenes of creation; not by rising, in our sentimental dream of piety, to the notion of a remote Creator, dimly seen in his works, but by taking the Creator along with us, whenever we enter into these scenes, and seeing his works in him. It is true, there is a tongue in every breeze of summer, a voice in every song of the bird, a silent eloquence in every green field and quiet grove, which tell of God as the great maker of them all; but after all, they tell of him as a God afar off, and still they speak of him as secondary, merely, and supplementary to themselves,- as if he were inferred from them, and not they from him. But, in our habit of mind, let this order be just reversed. Let us conceive of God as telling us concerning them as his works. While they reveal and interpret him, let him reveal and interpret them. And whenever we meet with any thing that pleases our eye, and affects our heart, let us consider God himself, our God and our Father, as informing us respecting that very thing: I made it,- I made it what it is,- I made it what it is for you.
And if this vivid impression of reality, in our recognition of God as the Creator, would be salutary in our communing with nature's works, much more would it be so in our use of nature's manifold gifts and bounties. "Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer" (1 Tim. iv. 4, 5). Still it is to be received and used as the creature of God, and as solemnly declared and attested to be so, by God himself, in the very moment of our using it. If we fully realised this consideration; on the instant when we were about to use, as we have been wont, any of the creatures of God provided for our accommodation, God himself were to appear personally present before us, and were to say, Son,Daughter,- I created this thing which you are about to use,- this cup of wine which you are about to drink, this piece of money that you are about to spend, this brother or sister with whom you are now conversing,- and I testify this to you, at this particular moment,- I, your Lord and your God,- I created them,- such as they are,- for those ends which they are plainly designed to serve ;- would we go on to make the very same use of the creature that we intended to make? Or would not our hand be arrested, and our mouth shut, and our spirit made to stand in awe, so that we would not sin?
Let none imagine that this is an ideal and fanciful state of feeling. It is really nothing more than the true exercise of that faith by which "we understand that the worlds were made by the word of God; so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear;" and it is the preparation for the scene which John saw in vision, when, being in the Spirit, he beheld, and lo! a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne, and round about the throne the emblems of redeeming love appeared, with the representatives of the redeemed Church giving glory to him that sat on the throne, worshipping him that liveth for ever and ever, casting their crowns before the throne, and saying, "Thou art worthy, 0 Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and power; for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created" (Rev. iv.)
My plan does not require me to enter at any length, if indeed at all, into the vexed questions which have clustered around the Mosaic cosmogony; questions as to the relations of science and revelation which I own myself incompetent to discuss. I have tried in this Lecture to indicate the point of view from which, as it seems to me, the narrative in the first two chapters of Genesis ought to be regarded. It is God s own account of the origin of the present mundane system, given by inspiration, for all times and for all men. And it is his account, specially adapted by himself to the end, not of gratifying speculative curiosity, but of promoting godly edification. Therefore, there is purposely excluded from it whatever might identify it with any particular stage of advancement and enlightenment among mankind. It is this very exclusion, indeed, which gives to it a breadth and universality fitting it equally for all systems, as well as for all ages. Then again, as on the one hand it is not the design of God to tell us here all that we might wish to have learned from him respecting this earth's long past history, or even respecting the adjustment of its present order,- so, on the other hand, it is his design to present this last topic to us chiefly in its bearing on the great scheme of providence, including probation and redemption, which his revealed word is meant to unfold. He tells the story of our birth only partially. And in telling it, he casts it in the mould that best adapts it to that progressive development of his moral government which his inspired Scriptures are about to trace.
Hence, amid dark obscurity hanging over many things, the salient prominence given to the Word as the Light of the world, its light of life,- to the Spirit moving in the ancient chaos,- to the satisfaction of the Eternal at each step in the creative work,- to the succession of six days and the rest of the seventh.
And hence also, as regards man, the twofold account of his origin,- that in the first chapter bringing out his high and heavenly relation to the Supreme, whose image he wears, and that in the second chapter describing rather his more earthly relations, and the functions of his animal nature. For these two accounts, so far from being inconsistent with one another, are in reality the complements of one another. Both of them are essential to a complete divinely-drawn portrait of man as at first he stood forth among the creatures; spiritually allied to God, in one view, yet in another view, the offspring as well as the lord of earth. Both therefore appropriately culminate,- the one in the Sabbatic Institute, the pledge and means of man's divine life,- and the other in that ordinance of marriage, peculiar to him alone, in which his social earthly life finds all its pure and holy joy. These particulars will come up again for consideration. I notice them now because I would like my first paper to be studied as having an important hearing on the subjects to which they relate.
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