Ł 1. Different Theories concerning the Origin of the Universe. § 2. Mediate and Immediate Creation.
§ 3. Proof of the Doctrine. § 4. Objections to the Doctrine. § 5. Design of the Creation.
§ 6. The Mosaic Account of the Creation.
THE question concerning the origin of the universe has forced itself on the minds of men in all ages. That the mutable cannot be eternal, would seem to be self-evident. As everything within the sphere of human observation is constantly changing, men have been constrained to believe that the world as it now is had a beginning. But if it began to be, whence did it come? Without the light of a divine revelation, this question is unanswerable. The data for the solution of the problem do not lie within the sphere either of experience or of reason. All human theories on this subject are nothing more than conjectures more or less ingenious.
Apart from the pantheistic doctrine which makes the universe the existence form, or, as Goethe calls it, “das lebendige Kleid” (the living garment) of God, the most prevalent views on this subject are, First, those theories which exclude mind from the causative origin of the world; Secondly, those which admit of mind, but only as connected with matter; and Thirdly, the Scriptural doctrine which assumes the existence of an infinite extramundane mind to whose power and will the existence of all things out of God is to be referred.
It is a self-evident truth that existence cannot spring spontaneously from non-existence. In this sense ex nihilo nihil fit is an universally admitted axiom. Those, therefore, who deny the existence of an extramundane mind, are forced to admit that as the universe now is, it must have always been. But as it is in a state of perpetual change it has not always been as it now is. There was a primordial state out of which the present order of things has arisen. The question is, How?
The purely Physical Theory.
According to the first hypothesis just mentioned, the primordial condition of the universe was that of universally diffused matter in a highly attenuated state. This matter had the properties, or forces, which it now everywhere exhibits; and under the operation of these forces and in accordance with the laws of heat, motion, etc., not only the great cosmical bodies were formed and arranged themselves in their present harmonious relations, but also all the organisms, vegetable and animal, on this globe and elsewhere, were fashioned and sustained. Every man knows enough of physical laws to be able to predict with certainty that on a cold day in the open air the moisture of his breath will be condensed; so, according to Professor Huxley, on this hypothesis, with adequate knowledge of those laws, it would have been easy from the beginning to predict, not only the mechanism of the heavens, but the fauna and flora of our globe in all the states and stages of its existence.
The Nebular hypothesis, as first proposed by La Place, was the application of this theory to the explanation of the origin and order of the heavenly bodies. This hypothesis may be thus stated, “Suppose that the matter composing the entire solar system once existed in the condition of a single nebulous mass, extending beyond the orbit of the most remote planet. Suppose that this nebula has a slow rotation upon an axis, and that by radiation it gradually cools, thereby contracting in its dimensions. As it contracts in its dimensions, its velocity of rotation, according to the principles of Mechanics, must necessarily increase, and the centrifugal force thus generated in the exterior portion of the nebula would at length become equal to the attraction of the central mass. This exterior portion would thus become detached, and revolve independently as an immense zone or ring. As the central mass continued to cool and contract in its dimensions, other zones would in the same manner become detached, while the central mass continually decreases in size and increases in density. The zones thus successively detached would generally break up into separate masses revolving independently about the sun; and if their velocities were slightly unequal, the matter of each zone would ultimately collect in a single planetary, but still gaseous, mass, having a spheroidal form, and also a motion of rotation about an axis. As each of these planetary masses became still farther cooled, it would pass through a succession of changes similar to those of the first solar nebula; rings of matter would be formed surrounding the planetary nucleus, and these rings, if they broke up into separate masses, would ultimately form satellites revolving about their primaries.”1 We thus have an ordered universe without the intervention of mind. Every one knows, however, that there is a form in which the nebular hypothesis is held by many Christian theists.
Theories which assume Intelligence in Nature itself.
The obvious impossibility of blind causes acting intelligently, or, of necessary causes being elective in their operation, has led many who deny the existence of an extramundane Mind to hold, that life and intelligence pertain to matter itself in some at least of its combinations. A plant lives. There is something in the seed which secures its development, each after its kind. There is, therefore, something in the plant, which according to this theory is not external to the plant itself, which does the work of mind. That is, it selects or chooses from the earth and air the elements needed for its support and growth. It moulds these elements into organic forms, intended to answer a purpose, and adapted with wonderful skill to accomplish a given object. With regard to this principle of life, this vital force, it is to be remarked that it is in the plant; that it is never manifested, never acts, except in union with the matter of which the plant is composed; when the plant dies, its vitality is extinguished. It ceases to exist in the same sense in which light ceases when darkness takes its place.
What is true of the vegetable, is no less true of the animal world. Every animal starts in an almost imperceptible germ. But that germ has something in it which determines with certainty the genus, species, and variety of the animal. It fashions all his organs; prepares the eye for tle light yet to be seen; the ear for sounds yet to be heard; the lungs for air yet to be breathed. Nothing more wonderful than this is furnished by the universe in any of its phenomena.
If, therefore, vegetable and animal life work all these wonders, what need have we to assume an extramundane mind to account for any of the phenomena of the universe? All that is necessary is, that nature, natura naturans, the vis in rebus insita, should act just as we see that the vital principle does act in plants and animals. This is Hylozoism; the doctrine that matter is imbued with a principle of life.
Another form of this theory is more dualistic. It admits the existence of mind and matter as distinct substances, but always existing in combination, as soul and body in man in our present stage of being. The advocates of this doctrine, therefore, instead of speaking of nature as the organizing force, speak of the soul of the world; the anima mundi, etc.
It is enough to remark concerning these theories, (1.) That they leave the origin of things unaccounted for. Whence came the matter, which the theory in one form assumes? Whence came its physical properties, to which all organization is referred? And as to the other doctrine, it may be asked, Whence came the living germs of plants and animals? To assume that matter in a state of chaos is eternal; or that there has been an endless succession of living germs; or that there has been an eternal succession of cycles in the history of the universe, chaos unfolding itself into cosmos, during immeasurable ages, are all assumptions which shock the reason, and must of necessity be destitute of proof.
(2.) These theories are atheistic. They deny the existence of a personal Being to whom we stand in the relation of creatures and children. The existence of such a Being is an innate, intuitive truth. It cannot be permanently disbelieved. And, therefore, any theory which denies the existence of God must be not only false but short-lived.
The Scriptural Doctrine.
The Scriptural doctrine on this subject is expressed in the first words of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” The heavens and the earth include all things out of God. Of which things the Scriptures teach that they owe their existence to the will and power of God. The Scriptural doctrine therefore is, (1.) That the universe is not eternal. It began to be. (2.) It was not formed out of any preexistence or substance; but was created ex nihilo. (3.) That creation was not necessary. It was free to God to create or not to create, to create the universe as it is, or any other order and system of things, according to the good pleasure of his will.
The doctrine of an eternal creation has been held in various forms. Origen, although he referred the existence of the universe to the will of God, still held that it was eternal. We speak of the divine decrees as free and yet as from everlasting. So Origen held that this was not the first world God made; that there never was a first, and never will be a last. “Quid ante faciebat Deus,” he asks, “quam mundus inciperet? Otiosam enim et immobilem dicere naturam Dei, impium est simul et absurdum, vel putare, quod bonitas aliquando bene non fecerit, et omnipotentia aliquando non egerit potentatum. Hoc nobis objicere solent dicentibus mundum hunc ex certo tempore coepisse, et secundum scripturae fidem annos quoque aetatis ipsius numerantibus. . . . Nos vero consequenter respondimus observantes regulam pietatis, quoniam non tunc primum cum visibilem istum mundum fecit Deus, coepit operari, sed sicut post corruptionem hujus erit alius mundus, ita et antequam hic esset, fuisse alios credimus.”2
Of course those of the schoolmen who made the thoughts of God creative, or identified purpose with act, or who said with Scotus Erigena, “Non aliud Deo esse et velle et facere,” must regard the universe as coeternal with God. This was done by Scotus in a pantheistic sense, but others who regarded the universe as distinct from God and dependent upon Him, still held that the world is eternal. The influence of the modern Monistic philosophy, even upon theologians who believe in an extramundane personal God, has been such as to lead many of them to assume that the relation between God and the world is such that it must have always existed. The common doctrine of the Church has ever been, in accordance with the simple teaching of the Bible, that the world began to be.
The second point included in the Scriptural doctrine of creation is, that the universe was not formed out of any preexistent matter, nor out of the substance of God. The assumption that any thing existed out of God and independent of his will, has ever been rejected as inconsistent with the perfection and absolute supremacy of God. The other idea, however, namely, that God fashioned the world out of his own substance, has found advocates, more or less numerous, in every age of the Church. Augustine, referring to this opinion, says, “Fecisti coelum et terram; non de te: nam esset aequale unigenito tuo, ac per hoc et tibi, . . . . et aliud praeter te non erat, unde faceres ea; . . . . et ideo de nihilo fecisti coelum et terram.”3
Not only those of the schoolmen and of the modern theologians who are inclined to the Monistic theory, made all things to be modifications of the substance of God, but many Theistic and even Evangelical writers of our day hold the same doctrine.4 Sir William Hamilton also held that it is impossible to conceive the complement of existence being either increased or diminished. When anything new appears we are forced to regard it as something which had previously existed in another form. “We are unable, on the one hand, to conceive nothing becoming something; or, on the other, something becoming nothing. When God is said to create out of nothing, we construe this to thought by supposing that He evolves existence out of Himself; we view the Creator as the cause of the Universe. ‘Ex nihilo nihil, in nihilum nil posse reverti,’ expresses, in its purest form, the whole intellectual phenomenon of causality.”5 To this he elsewhere adds, “In like manner, we conceive annihilation, only by conceiving the Creator to withdraw his creation from actuality into power. . . . The mind is thus compelled to recognize an absolute identity of existence in the effect and in the complement of its causes — between the causatum and the causa,“6and therefore, “an absolute identity of existence” between God and the world. This doctrine the fathers, and the Church generally, strenuously resisted as inconsistent with the nature of God. It supposes that the substance of God admits of partition or division; that the attributes of God can be separated from his substance; and that the divine substance can become degraded and polluted.
The third point included in the Scriptural doctrine of creation is, that it was an act of God’s free will. He was free to create or not to create. This is opposed to the doctrine of necessary creation, which has been set forth in different forms. Some regard the phenomenal universe as a mere evolution of absolute being by a necessary process, as a plant is developed from a seed. Others, regarding God as a Spirit, make life and thought essential and coeternal with Him, and this life and power are of necessity creative. God’s “essence,” says Cousin, “consists precisely in his creative power.”7 Again, he says,8 “He cannot but produce; so that the creation ceases to be unintelligible; and God is no more without a world than a world without God.” As, however, thought is spontaneous, Cousin, when called to account for such utterances, maintained that he did not deny that creation was free.
Some who do not admit that God is under any natural or metaphysical necessity to give existence to the universe, still assert a moral necessity for the creation of sensitive and rational creatures. God, it is said, is love; but it is the nature of love to long to communicate itself, and to hold fellowship with others than itself. Therefore God’s nature impels Him to call into existence creatures in whom and over whom He can rejoice. Others say, that God is benevolence, and therefore is under a moral necessity of creating beings whom He can render happy. Thus Leibnitz says “Dieu n’est point necessite, metaphysiquement parlant, a la creation de ce monde. . . . . Cependant Dieu est oblige, par une necessite morale, a faire les choses en sorte qu’il ne se puisse rien de mieux.”9
According to the Scriptures God is self-sufficient. He needs nothing out of Himself for his own well-being or happiness. He is in every respect independent of his creatures; and the creation of the universe was the act of the free will of that God of whom the Apostle says in Rom. xi. 36, “Of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things.”
The common faith of the Church on this subject is clearly and beautifully expressed by Melancthon:10 “Quod autem res ex nihilo conditae sint, docet haec sententia: ipse dixit et facta sunt; ipse mandavit, et creata sunt, id est dicente seu jubente Deo, res exortae sunt: non igitur ex materia priore exstructae sunt, sed Deo dicente, cum res non essent, esse coeperunt; et cum Joannes in quit: Omnia per ipsum facta esse, refutat Stoicam imaginationem, quae fingit materiam non esse factam.”
§ 2. Mediate and Immediate Creation.
But while it has ever been the doctrine of the Church that God created the universe out of nothing by the word of his power, which creation was instantaneous and immediate, i. e., without the intervention of any second causes; yet it has generally been admitted that this is to be understood only of the original call of matter into existence. Theologians have, therefore, distinguished between a first and second, or immediate and mediate creation. The one was instantaneous, the other gradual; the one precludes the idea of any preexisting substance, and of cooperation, the other admits and implies both. There is evident ground for this distinction in the Mosaic account of the creation. God, we are told, “created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Here it is clearly intimated that the universe, when first created, was in a state of chaos, and that by the life-giving, organizing power of the Spirit of God, it was gradually moulded into the wonderful cosmos which we now behold. The whole of the first chapter of Genesis, after the first verse, is an account of the progress of creation; the production of light; the formation of an atmosphere; the separation of land and water; the vegetable productions of the earth; the animals of the sea and air; then the living creatures of the earth; and, last of all, man. In Gen. i. 27, it is said that God created man male and female; in chapter ii. 7, it is said, that “the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground.” It thus appears that forming out of preexisting material comes within the Scriptural idea of creating. We all recognize God as the author of our being, as our Creator, as well as our Preserver. He is our Creator, not merely because He is the maker of heaven and earth, and because all they contain owe their origin to his will and power, but also because, as the Psalmist teaches us, He fashions our bodies in secret. “Thine eyes,” says the sacred writer, “did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.” (Ps. cxxxix. 16.) And the Bible constantly speaks of God as causing the grass to grow, and as being the real author or maker of all that the earth, air, or water produces. There is, therefore, according to the Scriptures, not only an immediate, instantaneous creation ex nihilo by the simple word of God, but a mediate, progressive creation; the power of God working in union with second causes.
Augustine clearly recognizes this idea. “Sicut in ipso grano invisibiliter erant omnia simul quae per tempora in arborem surgerent; ita ipse mundus cogitandus est, cum Deus simul omnia creavit, habuisse simul omnia quae in illo et cum illo facta sunt quando factus est dies: non solum coelum cum sole et luna et sideribus, quorum species manet motu rotabili, et terram et abyssos, quae velut inconstantes motus patiuntur, atque inferius adjuncta partem alteram mundo conferunt; sed etiam illa quae aqua et terra produxit potentialiter atque causaliter, priusquam per temporum moras ita exorirentur, quomodo nobis jam nota sunt in eis operibus, quae Deus usque nunc operatur.”11
Thus far there is little room for diversity of opinion. But when the question is asked, How long was the universe in passing from its chaotic to its ordered state? such diversity is at once manifested. According to the more obvious interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis, this work was accomplished in six days. This therefore has been the common belief of Christians. It is a belief founded on a given interpretationof the Mosaic record, which interpretation, however, must be controlled not only by the laws of language, but by facts. This is at present an open question. The facts necessary for its decision have not yet been duly authenticated. The believer may calmly await the result.
The theistical advocates of the Nebular Hypothesis assume that the universe was an indefinitely long period in coming to its present state. God, intending to produce just such a universe as we see around us, instead of by a flat calling the sun, moon, and stars, with all their marshalled hosts, into existence, created simply nebulous matter diffused through space; invested it with certain properties or forces; gave it a rotatory motion, and then allowed these physical laws under his guidance to work out the harmonious system of the heavens. As He is as truly the maker of the oak evolved from the acorn, according to the laws of vegetable life, as though He had called it into existence in its maturity by a word; so, it is maintained, He is as truly the creator of heaven and earth, on the nebular hypothesis, as on the assumption of instantaneous creation. This, however, is merely a hypothesis which has never commanded general assent among scientific men. It is, therefore, of no authority as a norm for the interpretation of Scripture.
The same theory of gradual, or mediate creation, has been applied to account for all the phenomena of the vegetable and animal kingdoms. This has been done in different forms. According to all these theories there must be something to begin with. There must be matter and its forces. There must even be life, and living organisms. To account for these we are forced to accept of the Scriptural doctrine of an immediate creation ex nihilo by the power of God.
§ 3. Proof of the Doctrine.
The proof of the doctrine of a creation ex nihilo does not rest on the usage of the words ar’b’ or kti,zein, which are interchanged with hf’c’ and poiei/n. God is said to have created the world, and also to be the maker of the heavens and the earth. Plants and animals are said to be created, although formed out of the dust of the earth. That, however, the Scriptures do teach this great doctrine of natural and revealed religion, is plain, —
1. From the fact that no mention is ever made of any preexisting substance out of which the world was made. The original creation is never represented as a moulding of matter into form ana imbuing it with life. Nor do the Scriptures ever represent the world as an emanation from God, proceeding from Him by a necessity of his nature. Much less does the Bible ever identify God and the world. In thus ignoring all other doctrines, the Scriptures leave us under the necessity of believing that God created the world out of nothing.
2. The descriptions of the work of creation given in the Bible, preclude the idea of emanation or mere formation. God said, “Let there be light, and there was light.” In Ps. xxxiii. 6, it it said, “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.” And in verse 9: “He spake and it was done; he commanded and it stood fast.” It was, therefore, in the words of Melancthon, already quoted, Dicente seu jubente Deo, that the universe was called into existence. “Nam quid est aliud tota creatura,” Luther asks, “quam verbum Dei a Deo prolatum, seu productum foras? . . . . Mundum et omnia creavit facillimo opere, dicendo scilicet, ut non plus negotii Deo sit in creatione, quam nobis in appellatione.”12
3. The same doctrine is involved in the absolute dependence of all things on God, and in his absolute sovereignty over them. “Thou, even thou, art Jehovah alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all.” (Neh. ix. 6.) “By Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him: and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist.” (Col. i. 16, 17.) “Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” (Rev. iv. 11.) The all things spoken of in these passages is made to include everything out of God. There can, therefore, be no preexisting matter, existing independently of his will. Everything out of God is said to owe its existence to his will.
4. The same doctrine is included in the Scripture doctrine that the universe (ta. pa,nta) is evk qeou/ of God; that He is its source, not in the Gnostic sense, but in the sense consistent with other representations of the Bible, which refer the existence of all things to the command of God. The universe, therefore, is “of Him” as its efficient cause.
5. The Apostle in Heb. xi. 3, begins his illustration of the nature and power of faith by referring to the creation as the great fundamental truth of all religion. If there be no creation, there is no God. If the universe was called into being out of nothing, then there must be an extramundane Being to whom it owes its existence. The creation is a fact which we know only by revelation. What the sacred writer here asserts is, First, that the worlds (aivw/nej, all contained in time and space) were created, set in order, and established, by the simple word or command of God. Compare Ps. lxxiv. (lxxiii.) 16, in the Septuagint, su. kathrti,sw h[lion kai. selh.nhn. Secondly, this being the case, it follows that the universe was not formed out of any preexisting substance. Thirdly, God is not a mere former, but the creator of the ordered universe. The difference among commentators in the interpretation of this passage does not affect its general sense. The words are eivj to. mh. evk fainome.nwn.The first question is whether ei/j to. expresses the design, or simply the consequence. In the former case, the meaning is that God created the worlds by a word in order that; i. e., in order that men might know that the things seen were not made of what already existed. In the latter, it is simply stated as a fact, that as creation was by a word, it was not out of any preexisting substance. The other doubtful point in the passage is the construction of the negative particle mh,. It may be connected with fainome,nwn. This passage is then parallel with 2 Macc. vii. 28, evx ouvk o;ntwn evpoi,hsen auvta. ov qeo,j,in the Latin, “Peto, nate, ut aspicias ad coelum, et terram, et ad omnia, quae in eis sunt; et intelligas, quia ex nihilo fecit illa Deus, et hominum genus.” Delitzsch, in his commentary on this Epistle, shows that neither the position of the negative before the preposition, nor the use of mh, instead of ouv is any valid objection to this interpretation. Others, however, prefer to connect the mh,with gegone,nai, i. e., “the worlds were not made out of the phenomenal.” The sense in either case is substantially the same. But the question arises, What is the implied antithesis to the phenomenal? Some say the real, the ideal, the thoughts of God. Delitzsch says we must supply to mh. evk fainome,nwn, avllv evk nohtw/n,”and these nohta, are the eternal invisible types, out of which, as their ideal ground and source, visible things by the fiat of God have proceeded.” This is Platonism, and foreign to the Scriptural mode of thinking and teaching. Whatever is real is phenomenal; that is, every substance, everything which really exists manifests itself somewhere and somehow. The proper antithesis, therefore, to fainome,nwn is ouvk o;ntwn. “The worlds were not made out of anything which reveals itself as existing even it the sight of God, but out of nothing.”
In Rom. iv. 17, God is described as He “who quickeneth the lead, and calleth those things which be not, as though they were. To call may here be taken in the sense of commanding, controlling by a word. The passage then expresses the highest idea of omnipotence. The actual and the possible are equally subject to his will; the non-existing, the merely possible, is as much obedient to Him as the actually existing. Or to call may as elsewhere mean, as De Wette explains it, to call into existence. “Der das Nichtseiende als Seiendes hervorruft.” Who calls the non-existing into existence;” the wvj o;nta being for wvj evso,mena or for eivj to. ei=nai wvj o;nta. On this text Bengel says, “Cogita frequens illud yhy Gen. i. exprimitur transitus a non esse ad esse, qui sit vocante Deo. Conf. Ez. xxxvi. 29.”13
6. The Scriptural doctrine on this subject is confirmed by all those passages which ascribe a beginning to the world. By the world is not meant the ko,smoj as distinguished from chaos, the form as distinguished from the substance, but both together. According to the Bible there is nothing eternal but God. He, and He alone is The Eternal. This is his distinguishing title, — He who is and was and ever shall be. As the world therefore began to be, and as the world includes everything out of God, there was nothing of which the world could be made. It was therefore created ex nihilo. This is taught in the first chapter of Genesis, “In the beginning (before anything was) God created the heaven and the earth.” In many other parts of Scripture a beginning is ascribed to the world, as in Ps. xc. 2, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.” Ps. cii. 25, “Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth.” In John xvii. 5, our Lord speaks of the glory which lie had with the Father before the world was. The foundation of the world is an epoch. Then time began. What was before the foundation of the world is eternal. The world, therefore, is not eternal, and if not eternal it must have had a beginning, and if all things had a beginning, then there must have been a creation ex nihilo.
7. The doctrine of creation flows from the infinite perfection of God. There can be but one infinite being. If anything exists independent of his will, God is thereby limited. The idea of the absolute dependence of all things on God pervades the Scripture and is involved in our religious consciousness. The God of the Bible is all extramundane God, existing out of, and before the world, absolutely independent of it, its creator, preserver, and governor. So that the doctrine of creation is a necessary consequence of Theism. If we deny that the world owes its existence to the will of God, then Atheism, Hylozoism, or Pantheism would seem to be the logical consequence. Hence, on the one hand, the Scriptures make that doctrine so prominent, presenting it on the first page of the Bible as the foundation of all subsequent revelations concerning the nature of God and his relation to the world, and appointing from the beginning one day in seven to be a perpetual commemoration of the fact that God created the heaven and earth. And, on the other, the advocates of Atheism or Pantheism contend against the doctrine of creation as the primary error of all false philosophy and religion. “Die Annahme einer Schopfung ist der Grund-Irrthum aller falschen Metaphysik und Religionslehre, und insbesondere das Ur-Princip des Juden- und Heidenthums.”14
§ 4. Objections to the Doctrine.
1. It has in all ages been urged as an objection to the doctrine of creation that it is inconsistent with an axiom, ex nihilo nihil fit. That aphorism may, however, have two meanings. It may mean that no effect can be without a cause, — that nothing can produce nothing. In that sense it expresses a self-evident truth with which the doctrine of creation is perfectly consistent. That doctrine does not suppose that the world exists without a cause, or comes from nothing. It assigns a perfectly adequate cause for its existence in the will of an Almighty intelligent Being. In the other sense of the phrase it means that a creation ex nihilo is impossible, that God cannot cause matter, or anything else, to begin to be. In this sense it is not a self-evident truth, but an arbitrary assumption, and consequently without force or authority. It is indeed inconceivable; but so also are the ordinary operations of the human will inconceivable. No man can understand how mind acts on matter. As the world actually exists, we must admit either that it began to be, or that it is eternal. But the difficulties connected with this last assumption are, as we saw when arguing for the existence of God, far greater than those which attend the admission of a creation ex nihilo. It was partly the difficulty of conceiving of the non-existing passing into existence, and partly the need for a solution of the question concerning the origin of evil, that led Plato and other Greek philosophers to adopt the theory of the eternity of matter, which they regarded as the source of evil; a theory which passed over to Philo and to the Platonizing fathers. The Scriptural theory, or rather doctrine of the origin of evil, refers it to the free agency of rational creatures, and dispenses with the preexistence of anything independent of God.
2. A more formidable objection, at least one which has had far more power, is that the doctrine of a creation in time is inconsistent with the true idea of God. This objection is presented in two forms. First, it is said, that the doctrine of creation supposes a distinction between will and power, or efficiency and purpose in the divine mind. Scotus Erigena15says, “Non aliud est Deo esse et facere, sed ei esse id ipsum est et facere. Coaeternum igitur est Deo suum facere et coessentiale.” This was the common doctrine of the scholastic theology which defined God to be actus purus, and denied any distinction in Him between essence and attributes, power and act. If this view of the nature of God be correct, then the doctrine that supposes that God’s eternal purpose did not take effect from eternity, must be false. If God creates by thinking, He formed the world when He purposed it. Secondly, it is said that the doctrine of creation is inconsistent with the nature of God, inasmuch as it assumes a change in Him from inaction to activity. What was God doing, it is asked, from eternity before He created the world? If He is Creator and Lord, He must always have been such, and hence there must always have been a universe over which He ruled. These difficulties have led to different theories designed to avoid them. Origen, as before mentioned, taught that there has been an eternal succession of worlds. Others say that creation is eternal, although due to the will of God. He did from the beginning what the Scriptures say He did in the beginning. A foot from eternity standing in the dust, or a seal from eternity impressed upon wax, would be the cause of the impression, although, the impression would be coeternal with the foot or seal. Pantheists make the world essential to God. He exists only in the world. “Das gottgleiche All ist nicht allein das ausgesprochene Wort Gottes (natura naturata) sondern selbst das sprechende (natura naturans): nicht das erschaffene, sondern das selbst schaffende und sich selbst offenbarende auf unendliche Weise.”16 That is, “The universe is not merely the outspoken word of God, but also that which speaks; not the created, but the self-creating and self-revealing in unending forms.”
Answer to the above Objections.
With regard to the objections above mentioned, it may be remarked, —
1. That they are drawn from a region which is entirely beyond our comprehension. They assume that we can understand the Almighty unto perfection and search out all his ways; whereas it is obvious that with regard to a Being who is eternal and not subject to the limitations of time, we are using words without meaning when we speak of successive duration in reference to Him. If with God there is no past or future, it is vain to ask what He was doing before creation. It was stated, when treating of the attributes of God, that there are two methods of determining our conceptions of the divine nature and operations. The one is to start with the idea of the Absolute and Infinite and make that idea the touchstone; affirming or denying what is assumed to be consistent or inconsistent therewith. Those who adopt this method, refuse to submit to the teachings of their moral nature or the revelations of the Word of God, and make Him either an absolutely unknown cause, or deny to Him all the attributes of a person. The other method is to start with the revelation which God has made of Himself in the constitution of our own nature and in his holy Word. This method leads to the conclusion that God can think and act, that in Him essence and attributes are not identical, that power and wisdom, will and working in Him, are not one and the same, and that the distinction between potentia (inherent power) and act applies to Him as well as to us. In other words, that God is infinitely more than pure activity, and consequently that it is not inconsistent with his nature that He should do at one time what He does not do at another.
2. A second remark to be made on these objections is that they prove too much. If valid against a creation in time, they are valid against all exercise of God’s power in time. Then there is no such thing as providential government, or gracious operations of the Spirit, or answering prayer. If whatever God does He does from eternity, then, so far as we are concerned, He does nothing. If we exalt the speculative ideas of the understanding above our moral and religious nature, and above the authority of the Scriptures, we give up all ground both of faith and knowledge, and have nothing before us but absolute skepticism or atheism. These objections, therefore, are simply of our own making. We form an idea of the Absolute Being out of our own heads, and then reject whatever does not agree with it. They have, consequently, no force except for the man who makes them.
3. The scholastic theologians, who themselves were in the trammels of such philosophical speculations, were accustomed to answer these cavils by counter subtleties. Even Augustine says that God did not create the world in time, because before creation time was not. “Si literae sacrae maximeque veraces ita dicunt, in principio fecisse Deum coelum et terram, ut nihil antea fecisse intelligatur, quia hoc potius in principio fecisse diceretur, si quid fecisset ante coetera cuncta quae fecit; procul dubio non est mundus factus in tempore, sed cum tempore.”17 This is true enough. If time be duration measured by motion or succession, it is plain that before succession there can be no time. It is hard, however, to see how this relieves the matter. The fact remains that the world is not eternal, and therefore, in our mode of conception, there were infinite ages during which the world was not. Still the difficulty is purely subjective, arising from the limitations of our nature, which forbid our comprehending God, or our understanding the relation of his activity to the effects produced in time. All we know is that God does work and act, and that the effects of his activity take place successively in time.
4. As to the objection that the doctrine of creation supposes a change in God, the theologians answer that it does not suppose any change in his will or purpose, for he purposed from eternity to create. On this point Augustine18 says, “Una eademque sempiterna et immutabili voluntate res quas condidit et ut prius non essent egit, quamdiu non fuerunt, et ut posterius essent, quando esse coeperunt.” In other words, God did not purpose to create from eternity; but from eternity he had the purpose to create. As there is no change of purpose involved in creation, so there is no change from inaction to activity involved in the doctrine. God is essentially active. But it does not follow that his activity is always the same, i. e., that it must always produce the same effects. The eternal purpose takes effect just as was intended from the beginning. These objections, however, are mere cobwebs; but they are cobwebs in the eye; the eye of our feeble understanding. They are best got rid of by closing that eye, and opening what the Scriptures call “the eyes of the heart.” That is, instead of submitting ourselves to the guidance of the speculative understanding, we should consent to be led by the Spirit as He reveals the things of God in his Word, and in our own moral and religious nature.
§ 5. Design of the Creation.
Men have long endeavoured to find a satisfactory answer to the question, Why God created the world? What end was it designed to accomplish? Answers to this question have been sought from the following sources, — (1.) The nature of God himself. (2.) From the nature of his works and the course of history. (3.) From the declarations of the Scriptures. As to the first source, it is to be remarked that the systems which preclude the admission of final causes, as Materialism and Pantheism in all their forms, of course preclude any question as to the design of the creation. The world is the evolution of an unconscious, unintelligent force, which has no design out of itself. To ask what is the design of the world is, in these systems, equivalent to asking what is the design of the being of God; for God is the world and the world is God. Those who admit the existence of an intelligent extramundane God, and who endeavour from his nature to determine the end for which He created the world, have pursued different courses and come to different conclusions. From the absolute self-sufficiency of God it follows that the creation was not designed to meet or satisfy any necessity on his part. He is neither more perfect nor more happy because of the creation. Again it follows from the nature of an infinite Being that the ground (i. e., both the motive and the end) of the creation must be in Himself. As all things are from Him and through Him, so also they are for Him. Some infer from his holiness that the purpose to create arose, so to speak, from the desire to have a field for the development of moral excellence in rational creatures. By far the most common opinion from the beginning has been that the creation is to be referred to the bonitas, goodness, benevolence, or, as the modern Germans at least generally express it, the love of God. As God is love, and the nature of love is to communicate itself, as it must have an object to be enjoyed and rendered blessed, so God created the world that He might rejoice in it and render it blessed. From the time of Leibnitz, who made this idea the foundation of his “Theodicee,” this theory has assumed a more contracted form. He reduced love to mere benevolence, or the desire to promote happiness. Hence the end of the creation was assumed to be the production of happiness. And as God is infinite, not only in benevolence, but also in wisdom and power, this world is necessarily the best possible world for the production of happiness. This theory is very fruitful of consequences. (1.) As all virtue consists in benevolence, happiness must be the highest good. Holiness is good only because it tends to happiness. It has no virtue of its own. (2.) Whatever tends to promote happiness is right. There is no such thing as sin. What we call sin, if a necessary means of the greatest good, becomes virtue. It is evil only so far as it has a contrary tendency. And as under the government of God all sin, past or present, does so cure a greater amount of happiness than would otherwise be possible, there is really no sin in the universe. (3.) This is generalized into the principle that it is right to do evil that good may come. This is the principle on which God acts, according to this theory, and it is the principle on which men are entitled and bound to act; and on which in point of fact they do act. The question which on every occasion their doctrine presents for decision is necessarily, What will be the consequence of a certain act or course of conduct? Will it promote happiness or the reverse? and the answer decides the course to be pursued. The Jesuits have worked out this theory into a science, and are enabled to determine beforehand when murder, perjury, and blasphemy become virtues. As this doctrine revolts the moral sense, its adoption is necessarily degrading. Few principles, therefore, have been so productive of false doctrine and immorality as the principle that all virtue consists in benevolence, that happiness is the highest good, and that whatever promotes happiness is right.
The Scriptural Doctrine as to the Design of Creation.
It is obviously in vain for man to attempt to determine the design of the creation from the nature of God’s works and from the course of his providence. That would require a knowledge of the whole universe and of its history to its consummation. The only satisfactory method of determining the question is by appealing to the Scriptures. There it is explicitly taught that the glory of God, the manifestation of his perfections, is the last end of all his works. This is, (1.) The highest possible end. The knowledge of God is eternal life. It is the source of all holiness and all blessedness to rational creatures. (2.) This in the Bible is declared to be the end of the universe as a whole; of the external world or works of nature; of the plan of redemption; of the whole course of history: of the mode in which God administers his providence and dispenses his grace; and of particular events, such as the choice of the Israelites and all the dealings of God with them as a nation. It is the end which all rational creatures are commanded to keep constantly in view; and it comprehends and secures all other right ends. The common objection, that this doctrine represents God as self-seeking, has already been answered. God, as infinitely wise and good, seeks the highest end; and as all creatures are as the dust of the balance compared to Him, it follows that his glory is an infinitely higher end than anything that concerns them exclusively. For a creature to seek his own glory or happiness in preference to that of God, is folly and sin, because he is utterly insignificant. He prefers a trifle to what is of infinite importance. He sacrifices, or endeavours to sacrifice, an end which involves the highest excellence of all creatures, to his own advantage. He serves the creature more than the Creator. He prefers himself to God. Many theologians endeavour to combine these different views as to the design of the creation. They say that the highest end is the glory of God, and the subordinate end the good of his creatures. Or, they say that the two are the same. God purposes to glorify Himself in the happiness of his creatures; or to promote the happiness of his creatures as a means of manifesting his glory. But this is only to confuse and confound the matter. The end is one thing; the consequences another. The end is the glory of God; the consequences of the attainment of that end are undoubtedly the highest good (not necessarily the greatest amount of happiness), and that highest good may include much sin and much misery so far as individuals are concerned. But the highest good is that God should be known.
§ 6. The Mosaic Account of the Creation.
There are three methods of interpreting this portion of the Bible. (1.) The historical. (2.) The allegorical. (3.) The mythical. The first assumes it to be a veritable history. The second has two forms. Many of the Fathers who allegorized the whole of the Old Testament without denying its historical verity, allegorized in like manner the history of the creation. That is, they sought for a hidden moral or spiritual sense under all historical facts. Others regarded it as purely an allegory without any historical basis, any more than the parables of our Lord. The mythical theory, as the name imports, regards the record of the creation as a mere fable, or fabulous cosmogony, designed to express a theory as to the origin of the universe, of man, and of evil, of no more value than the similar cosmogonies which are found in the early literature of all nations. In favour of the historical character of the record are the following considerations, (1.) It purports to be a veritable history. (2.) It is the appropriate and necessary introduction or an acknowledged history. (3.) It is referred to and quoted in other parts of the Bible as the true account of the creation of the world; especially in the fourth commandment, where, as well as in other parts of Scripture, it is made the foundation of the institution of the Sabbath. (4.) The facts here recorded, including as they do the creation and probation of man, lie at the foundation of the whole revealed plan of redemption. The whole Bible, therefore, rests upon the record here given of the work of creation, and consequently all the evidence which goes to support the divine authority of the Bible, tends to sustain the historical verity of that record.
Objections to the Mosaic Account of the Creation.
The principal objections to the Mosaic account of the creation are either critical, astronomical, or geological. Under the first head it is objected that the account is inconsistent with itself, especially in what is said of the creation of man; and that it is evidently composed of independent documents, in one of which God is called syhiOla, and in the other hw”Ohy>. The former of these objections is answered by showing that the two accounts of the creation are not inconsistent; the one is a concise statement of the fact, the other a fuller account of the manner of its occurrence. As to the second objection, it is enough to say that, admitting the fact on which it is founded, it creates no difficulty in the way of acknowledging the historical character of the record. It is of no importance to us whence Moses derived his information, whether from one or more historical documents, from tradition, or from direct revelation. We receive the account on his authority and on the authority of the Book of which it is a recognized and authentic portion.
The astronomical objections are, (1.) That the whole account evidently assumes that our earth is the centre of the universe, and that the sun, moon, and stars are its satellites. (2.) That light is said to have been created and the alternation between day and night established before the creation of the sun; and (3.) That the visible heavens are represented as a solid expanse. The first of these objections bears with as much force against all the representations of the Bible and the language of common life. Men instinctively form their language according to apparent, and not absolute or scientific truth. They speak of the sun as rising and setting; of its running its course through the heavens, although they know that this is only apparently and not really true. The language of the Bible on this, as well as on all other subjects, is framed in accordance with the common usage of men. The second objection is founded on the assumption that the fourteenth verse speaks of the creation of the sun and other heavenly bodies. This is not its necessary meaning. The sense may be that God then appointed the sun and moon to the service of measuring and regulating times and seasons. But even if the other interpretation be adopted, there need be no conflict between the record and the astroncmical fact that the sun is now the source of light to the world. The narrative makes a distinction between the cosmical light mentioned in the earlier part of the chapter, and the light enanating from the sun, specially designed for our globe. The third objection is met by the remark already made. If we speak of the concave heavens, why might not the Hebrews speak of the solid heavens? The word firmament applied to the visible heavens is as familiar to us as it was to them. Calvin well remarks, “Moses vulgi ruditati se accommodans, non alia Dei opera commemorat in historia creationis, nisi quae oculis nostris occurrunt.”19
Geology and the Bible.
The geological objections to the Mosaic record are apparently the most serious. According to the commonly received chronology, our globe has existed only a few thousand years. According to geologists, it must have existed for countless ages. And again, according to the generally received interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis, the process of creation was completed in six days, whereas geology teaches that it must have been in progress through periods of time which cannot be computed.
Admitting the facts to be as geologists would have us to believe, two methods of reconciling the Mosaic account with those facts have been adopted. First, some understand the first verse to refer to the original creation of the matter of the universe in the indefinite past, and what follows to refer to the last reorganizing change in the state of our earth to fit it for the habitation of man. Second, the word day as used throughout the chapter is understood of geological periods of indefinite duration.
In favour of this latter view it is urged that the word day is used in Scripture in many different senses; sometimes for the time the sun is above the horizon; sometimes for a period of twenty-four hours; sometimes for a year, as in Lev. xxv. 29, Judges xvii. 10, and often elsewhere; sometimes for an indefinite period, as in the phrases, “the day of your calamity,” “the day of salvation,” “the day of the Lord,” “the day of judgment.” And in this account of the creation it is used for the period of light in antithesis to night; for the separate periods in the progress of creation; and then, ch. ii. 4, for the whole period: “In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.”
It is of course admitted that, taking this account by itself, it would be most natural to understand the word in its ordinary sense; but if that sense brings the Mosaic account into conflict with facts, and another sense avoids such conflict, then it is obligatory on us to adopt that other. Now it is urged that if the word “day” be taken in the sense of “an indefinite period of time,” a sense which it undoubtedly has in other parts of Scripture, there is not only no discrepancy between the Mosaic account of the creation and the assumed facts of geology, but there is a most marvellous coincidence between them.
The cosmogony of modern science teaches that the universe, “the heaven and the earth,” was first in a chaotic or gaseous state. The process of its development included the following steps: (1.) “Activity begun, — light an immediate result. (2.) The earth made an independent sphere. (3.) Outlining of the land and water, determining the earth’s general configuration. (4.) The idea of life in the lowest plants, and afterwards, if not contemporaneously, in the lowest or systemless animals, or Protozoans. (5.) The energizing light of the sun shining on the earth — an essential preliminary to the display of the systems of life. (6.) lntroduction of the systems of life. (7.) Introduction of mammals — the highest order of the vertebrates, — the class afterwards to be dignified by including a being of moral and intellectual nature. (8.) Introduction of man.”20
Professor Dana further says, “The order of events in the Scripture cosmogony corresponds essentially with that which has been given. There was first a void and formless earth: this was literally true of the ‘heavens and the earth, if they were in the condition of a gaseous fluid. The succession is as follows: —
“2. The dividing of the waters below from the waters above the earth (the word translated waters may mean fluid).
“3. The dividing of the land and water on the earth.
“4. Vegetation; which Moses, appreciating the philosophical characteristic of the new creation distinguishing it from previous imorganic substances, defines as that ‘which had seed in itself.’
“5. The sun, moon, and stars.
“6. The lower animals, those that swarm in the waters, and the creeping and flying species of the land.
“7. Beasts of prey (‘creeping’ here meaning prowling).
“In this succession, we observe not merely an order of events, like that deduced from science; there is a system in the arrangement, and a far-reaching prophecy, to which philosophy could not nave attained, however instructed.
“The account recognizes in creation two great eras of three days each, — an Inorganic and an Organic. Each of these eras open with the appearance of light; the first, light cosmical; the second, light from the sun for the special uses of the earth.
“Each era ends in ‘a day’ of two great works — the two shown to be distinct by being severally pronounced ‘good.’ On the third day, that closing the Inorganic Era, there was first the dividing of the land from the waters, and afterwards the creation of vegetation, or the institution of a kingdom of life — a work widely diverse fromn all that preceded it in the era. So on the sixth day, terminating the Organic Era, there was first the creation of mammals, and then a second far greater work, totally new in its grandest element, the creation of Man.
“The arrangement is, then, as follows: —
“I. The Inorganic Era.
“1st Day. — Light cosmical.
“2d Day. — The earth divided from the fluid around it, or indvidualized.
“3d Day. — 1. Outlining of the land and water.
2. Creation of vegetation.
“II. The Organic Era.
“4th Day. — LIGHT from the sun.
“5th Day. — Creation of the lower order of animals.
“6th Day. — 1. Creation of mammals.
2. Creation of man.”
“The record in the Bible,” adds Professor Dana,21 “is therefore profoundly philosophical in the scheme of creation which it presents. It is both true and divine. It is a declaration of authorship, both of creation and the Bible, on the first page of the sacred volume.”22 To the same effect he elsewhere says: “The first thought that strikes the scientific reader [of the Mosaic account of the creation] is the evidence of divinity, not merely in the first verse of the record, and the successive fiats, but in the whole order of creatlon. There is so much that the most recent readings of science have for the first time explained, that the idea of man as the author becomes utterly incomprehensible. By proving the record true, science pronounces it divine; for who could have correctly narrated the secrets of eternity but God himself?”23
The views given in his “Manual of Geology” are more fully elaborated by Professor Dana in two admirable articles in the “Bibliotheca Sacra” (January and July, 1856). He says, in the former of those articles, “The best views we have met with on the harmony between science and the Bible, are those of Professor Arnold Guyot, a philosopher of enlarged comprehension of nature and a truly Christian spirit; and the following interpretations of the sacred record are, in the main, such as we have gathered from personal intercourse with him.”24
Professor Dana of Yale and Professor Guyot of Princeton, belong to the first rank of scientific naturalists; and the friends of the Bible owe them a debt of gratitude for their able vindication of the sacred record.
As the Bible is of God, it is certain that there can be no conflict between the teachings of the Scriptures and the facts of science. It is not with Facts, but with theories, believers have to contend. Many such theories have, from time to time, been presented, apparently or really inconsistent with the Bible. But these theories have either proved to be false, or to harmonize with the Word of God, properly interpreted. The Church has been forced more than once to alter her interpretation of the Bible to accommodate the discoveries of science. But this has been done without doing any violence to the Scriptures or in any degree impairing their authority. Such change, however, cannot be effected without a struggle. It is impossible that our mode of understanding the Bible should not be determined by our views of the subjects of which it treats. So long as men believed that the earth was the centre of our system, the sun its satellite, and the stars its ornamentation, they of necessity understood the Bible in accordance with that hypothesis. But when it was discovered that the earth was only one of the smaller satellites of the sun, and that the stars were worlds, then faith, although at first staggered, soon grew strong enough to take it all in, and rejoice to find that the Bible, and the Bible alone of all ancient books, was in full accord with these stupendous revelations of science. And so if it should be proved that the creation was a process continued through countless ages, and that the Bible alone of all the books of antiquity recognized that fact, then, as Professor Dana says, the idea of its being of human origin would become “utterly incomprehensible.”
1. Loomis, Treatise on Astronomy, New York, 1865, p. 314.
2. De Principiis, III. 3. Works, edit. Paris, 1733, vol. i. p. 149, c, d.
3. Confessiones, XII. 7. Works, edit. Benedictines, Paris, 1836, vol. i. p. 356, c, d.
4. The writer was dining one day with Tholuck and five or six of his students, when he took up a knife from the table, and asked, “Is this knife of the substance of God?” and they all answered, “Yes.”
5. Lectures on Metaphysics. Boston, edit. 1859, lecture xxxix. p. 533.
6. Discussions on Philosophy and Literature, etc. By Sir William Hamilton. New York, edit. 1853, p. 575.
7. Cousin’s Psychology, New York, edit. 1856, p. 443.
8. Ibid. p. 447.
9. Theodicee, II. 201; Works, Berlin, 1840, p. 566.
10. Loci Communes de Creatione, edit. Erlanger, 1828, p. 48.
11. De Genesi ad Literam, v. 45; Works, edit. Benedictines, Paris, 1836, vol. iii. p. 321, d.
12. Genesis, i. 5; Works, Wittenberg edit. 1555 (Latin), vol. vi. leaf 5, p. 2.
13. Gnomon, edit. Tubingen, 1759, p. 614.
14. Fichte, v. sel. Leben, p. 160.
15. De Divisione Naturae, i. 74.
16. Schelling, by Strauss, Dogmatik, vol. i. p. 658.
17. De Civitate Dei, XI. 6, edit. Benedictines, vol. vii. p. 444, c, d.
18. De Civitate Dei, XII. 17, edit. Benedictines, vol. ii. p. 508, b.
19. Institutio, I. xiv. 3, edit. Berlin, 1834, p. 112.
20. Manual of Geology. By James D. Dana, M. A., LL. D., Silliman Professor of Geology and Natural History in Yale College, p. 743.
21. Page 745.
22. Page 746.
23. Bibliotheca Sacra for January, 1856, p. 110.
24. The views of Professor Guyot are presented at some length by the Rev. J.O. Means, in the numbers of the Bibliotheca Sacra for January and April, 1855.