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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Genesis 1



Verse 1

THE CREATIVE WEEK (Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:3).

(1) In the beginning.—Not, as in John 1:1, “from eternity,” but in the beginning of this sidereal system, of which our sun, with its attendant planets, forms a part. As there never was a time when God did not exist, and as activity is an essential part of His being (John 5:17), so, probably, there was never a time when worlds did not exist; and in the process of calling them into existence when and how He willed, we may well believe that God acted in accordance with the working of some universal law, of which He is Himself the author. It was natural with St. John, when placing the same words at the commencement of his Gospel, to carry back our minds to a more absolute conceivable “beginning,” when the work of creation had not commenced, and when in the whole universe there was only God.

God.—Heb., Elohim. A word plural in form, but joined with a verb singular, except when it refers to the false gods of the heathen, in which case it takes a verb plural. Its root-meaning is strength, power; and the form Elohim is not to be regarded as a pluralis majestatis, but as embodying the effort of early human thought in feeling after the Deity, and in arriving at the conclusion that the Deity was One. Thus, in the name Elohim it included in one Person all the powers, mights, and influences by which the world was first created and is now governed and maintained. In the Vedas, in the hymns recovered for us by the decipherment of the cuneiform inscriptions, whether Accadian or Semitic, and in all other ancient religious poetry, we find these powers ascribed to different beings; in the Bible alone Elohim is one. Christians may also well see in this a foreshadowing of the plurality of persons in the Divine Trinity; but its primary lesson is that, however diverse may seem the working of the powers of nature, the Worker is one and His work one.

Created.—Creation, in its strict sense of producing something out of nothing, contains an idea so noble and elevated that naturally human language could only gradually rise up to it. It is quite possible, therefore, that the word bârâ, “he created,” may originally have signified to hew stone or fell timber; but as a matter of fact it is a rare word, and employed chiefly or entirely in connection with the activity of God. As, moreover, “the heaven and the earth” can only mean the totality of all existent things, the idea of creating them out of nothing is contained in the very form of the sentence. Even in Genesis 1:21; Genesis 1:27, where the word may signify something less than creation ex nihilo, there is nevertheless a passage from inert matter to animate life, for which science knows no force, or process, or energy capable of its accomplishment.

The heaven and the earth.—The normal phrase in the Bible for the universe (Deuteronomy 32:1; Psalms 148:13; Isaiah 2). To the Hebrew this consisted of our one planet and the atmosphere surrounding it, in which he beheld the sun, moon, and stars. But it is one of the more than human qualities of the language of the Holy Scriptures that, while written by men whose knowledge was in accordance with their times, it does not contradict the increased knowledge of later times. Contemporaneous with the creation of the earth was the calling into existence, not merely perhaps of our solar system, but of that sidereal universe of which we form so small a part; but naturally in the Bible our attention is confined to that which chiefly concerns ourselves.

Verses 1-3


Throughout the first account of creation (Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:3) the Deity is simply called Elohim. This word is strictly a plural of Eloah, which is used as the name of God only in poetry, or in late books like those of Nehemiah and Daniel. It is there an Aramaism, God in Syriac being Aloho, in Ohaldee Ellah, and in Arabic Allahu—all of which are merely dialectic varieties of the Hebrew Eloah, and are used constantly in the singular number. In poetry EJoah is sometimes employed with great emphasis, as, for instance, in Psalms 18:31 : “Who is Eloah except Jehovah?” But while thus the sister dialects used the singular both in poetry and prose, the Hebrews used the plural Elohim as the ordinary name of God, the difference being that to the one God was simply power, strength (the root-meaning of Eloah); to the other He was the union of all powers, the Almighty. The plural thus intensified the idea of the majesty and greatness of God; but besides this, it was the germ of the doctrine of a plurality of persons in the Divine unity.

In the second narrative (Genesis 2:4 to Genesis 3:24), which is an account of the fall of man, with only such introductory matter regarding creation as was necessary for making the history complete, the Deity is styled Jehovah-Elohim. The spelling of the word Jehovah is debatable, as only the consonants ( J, h, v, h) are certain, the vowels being those of the word Adonai (Lord) substituted for it by the Jews when reading it in the synagogue, the first vowel being a mere apology for a sound, and pronounced a or e, according to the nature of the consonant to which it is attached. It is generally represented now by a light breathing, thus—Y’hovah, ‘donai. As regards the spelling, Ewald, Gesenius, and others argue for Yahveh; Fürst for Yehveh, or Yeheveh; and Stier, Meyer, &c, for Yehovah. The former has the analogy of several other proper names in its favour; the second the authority of Exodus 3:14; the last, those numerous names like Yehoshaphat, where the word is written Yeho. At the end of proper names the form it takes is Yahu, whence also Yah. We ought also to notice that the first consonant is really y; but two or three centuries ago j seems to have had the sound which we give to y now, as is still the case in German.

But this is not a matter of mere pronunciation; there is a difference of meaning as well. Yahveh signifies “He who brings into existence;” Yehveh “He who shall be, or shall become;” what Jehovah may signify I do not know. We must further notice that the name is undoubtedly earlier than the time of Moses. At the date of the Exodus the v of the verb had been changed into y. Thus, in Exodus 3:14, the name of God is Ehyeh, “I shall become,” not Ehveh. Had the name, therefore, come into existence in the days of Moses, it would have been Yahyeh, Yehyeh, or Yehoyah, not Yahveh, &c.

The next fact is that the union of these two names—Jehovah-Elohim—is very unusual. In this short narrative it occurs twenty times, in the rest of the Pentateuch only once (Exodus 9:30); in the whole remainder of the Bible about nine times. Once, moreover, in Psalms 1:1, there is the reversed form, Elohim-Jehovah. There must, therefore, be some reason why in this narrative this peculiar junction of the two names is so predominant.

The usual answer is that in this section God appears in covenant with man, whereas in Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:3 He was the Creator, the God of nature and not of grace, having, indeed, a closer relation to man, as being the most perfect of His creatures (Genesis 1:26), but a relation different only in degree and not in kind. This is true, but insufficient; nor does it explain how Jehovah became the covenant name of God, and Elohim His generic title. Whatever be the right answer, we must expect to find it in the narrative itself. The facts are so remarkable, and the connection of the name Jehovah with this section so intimate, that if Holy Scripture is to command the assent of our reason we must expect to find the explanation of such peculiarities in the section wherein they occur.

What, then, do we find? We find this. The first section gives us the history of man’s formation, with the solemn verdict that he was very good. Nature without man was simply good; with man, creation had reached its goal. In this, the succeeding section, man ceases to be very good. He is represented in it as the object of his Maker’s special care, and, above all, as one put under law. Inferior creatures work by instinct, that is, practically by compulsion, and in subjection to rules and forces which control them. Man, as a free agent, attains a higher rank. He is put under law, with the power of obeying or disobeying it. God, who is the infinitely high and self-contained, works also by law, but it comes from within, from the perfectness of His own nature, and not from without, as must be the case with an imperfect being like man, whose duty is to strive after that which is better and more perfect. Add that, even in the first section, man was described as created “in God’s image, after His likeness.” But as law is essential to God’s nature—for without it He would be the author of confusion—so is it to man’s. But as this likeness is a gift conferred upon him, and not inherent, the law must come with the gift, from outside, and not from himself; and it can come only from God. Thus, then, man was necessarily, by the terms of his creation, made subject to law, and without it there could have been no progress upward. But he broke the law, and fell. Was he, then, to remain for ever a fallen being, hiding himself away from his Maker, and with the bonds of duty and love, which erewhile bound him to his Creator, broken irremediably? No. God is love; and the purpose of this narrative is not so much to give us the history of man’s fall as to show that a means of restoration had been appointed. Scarcely has the breach been made I before One steps in to fill it. The breach had been caused by a subtle foe, who had beguiled our first parents in the simplicity of their innocence; but in the very hour of their condemnation they are promised an avenger, who, after a struggle, shall crush the head of their enemy (Genesis 3:15).

Now this name, Y-h-v-h, in its simplest form Yehveh, means “He shall be,” or “shall become.” With the substitution of y for v, according to a change which had taken place generally in the Hebrew language, this is the actual spelling which we find in Exodus 3:14 : namely, Ehyeh ‘sher Èhyeh, “I shall be that I shall be.” Now, in the New Testament we find that the received name for the Messiah was “the coming One” (Matthew 21:9; Matthew 23:39; Mark 11:9; Luke 7:19-20; Luke 13:35; Luke 19:38; John 1:15; John 1:27; John 3:31; John 6:14; John 11:27; John 12:13; Acts 19:4; Hebrews 10:37); and in the Revelation of St. John the name of the Triune God is, “He who is and who was, and the coming One” (Genesis 1:4; Genesis 1:8; Genesis 11:17). But St. Paul tells us of a notable change in the language of the early Christians. Their solemn formula was Maran-atha, “Our Lord is come” (1 Corinthians 16:22). The Deliverer was no longer future, no longer “He who shall become,” nor “He who shall be what He shall be.” It is not now an indefinite hope: no longer the sighing of the creature waiting for the manifestation of Him who shall crush the head of his enemy. The faint ray of light which dawned in Genesis 3:15 has become the risen Sun of Righteousness; the Jehovah of the Old Testament has become the Jesus of the New, of whom the Church joyfully exclaims, “We praise Thee as God: we acknowledge Thee to be Jehovah.”

But whence arose this name Jehovah? Distinctly from the words of Eve, so miserably disappointed in their primary application: “I have gotten a man, even Jehovah,” or Yehveh (Genesis 41). She, poor fallen creature, did not know the meaning of the words she uttered, but she had believed the promise, and for her faith’s sake the spirit of prophecy rested upon her, and she gave him on whom her hopes were fixed the title which was to grow and swell onward till all inspired truth gathered round it and into it; and at length Elohim, the Almighty, set to it His seal by calling Himself “I shall be that I shall be” (Exodus 3:14). Eve’s word is simply the third person of the verb of which Ehyeh is the first, and the correct translation of her speech is, “I have gotten a man, even he that shall be,” or “the future one.” But when God called Himself by this appellation, the word, so indefinite in her mouth, became the personal name of Israel’s covenant God.

Thus, then, in this title of the Deity, formed from the verb of existence in what is known as the future or indefinite tense, we have the symbol of that onward longing look for the return of the golden age, or age of paradise, which elsewhere in the Bible is described as the reign of the Branch that shall grow out of Jesse’s root (Isaiah 11:4-9). The hope was at first dim, distant, indistinct, but it was the foundation of all that was to follow. Prophets and psalmists were to tend and foster that hope, and make it clear and definite. But the germ of all their teaching was contained in that mystic four-lettered word, the tetragrammaton, Y-h-v-h. The name may have been popularly called Yahveh, though of this we have no proof; the Jews certainly understood by it Yehveh—“the coming One.” After all, these vowels are not of so much importance as the fact that the name has the pre-formative yod. The force of this letter prefixed to the root form of a Hebrew verb is to give it a future or indefinite sense; and I can find nothing whatsoever to justify the Assertion that Jehovah—to adopt the ordinary spelling—means “the existent One,” and still less to attach to it a causal force, and explain it as signifying “He who calls into being.”

Finally, the pre-Mosaical form of the name is most instructive, as showing that the expectation of the Messiah was older than the time of the Exodus. The name is really man’s answer to and acceptance of the promise made to him in Genesis 3:15; and why should not Eve, to whom the assurance was given, be the first to profess her faith in it? But in this section, in which the name occurs twenty times in the course of forty-six verses, there is a far deeper truth than Eve supposed. Jehovah (Yehveh) is simply “the coming One,” and Eve probably attached no very definite idea to the words she was led to use. But here He is called Jehovah-Elohim, and the double name teaches us that the coming One, the future deliverer, is God, the very Elohim who at first created man. The unity, therefore, and connection between these two narratives is of the closest kind: and the prefixing in this second section of Jehovah to Elohim, the Creator’s name in the first section, was the laying of the foundation stone for the doctrine that man’s promised Saviour, though the woman’s seed, was an Emmanuel, God as well as man.

Verse 2

(2) And the earth.—The conjunction “and” negatives the well-meant attempt to harmonise geology and Scripture by taking Genesis 1:1 as a mere heading; the two verses go together, and form a general summary of creation, which is afterwards divided into its several stages.

Was is not the copula, but the substantive verb existed, and expresses duration of time. After creation, the earth existed as a shapeless and empty waste.

Without form, and void.—Literally, tohu and bohu, which words are both substantives, and signify wasteness and emptiness. The similarity of their forms, joined with the harshness of their sound, made them pass almost into a proverb for everything that was dreary and desolate (Isaiah 34:11; Jeremiah 4:23). It expresses here the state of primæval matter immediately after creation, when as yet there was no cohesion between the separate particles.

Darkness.—As light is the result either of the condensation of matter or of vibrations caused by chemical action, this exactly agrees with the previous representation of the chaos out of which the earth was to be shaped. It existed at present only as an incoherent waste of emptiness.

The deep.—Tĕhôm. This word, from a root signifying confusion or disturbance, is poetically applied to the ocean, as in Psalms 42:7, from the restless motion of its waves, but is used here to describe the chaos as a surging mass of shapeless matter. In the Babylonian legend, Tiàmat, the Hebrew tĕhôm, is represented as overcome by Merodach, who out of the primæval anarchy brings order and beauty (Sayce, Chaldean Genesis, pp. 59, 109, 113).

The Spirit of God.—Heb., a wind of God, i.e., a mighty wind, as rendered by the Targum and most Jewish interpreters. (See Note on Genesis 23:6.) So the wind of Jehovah makes the grass wither (Isaiah 40:7); and so God makes the winds His messengers (Psalms 104:4). The argument that no wind at present existed because the atmosphere had not been created is baseless, for if water existed, so did air. But this unseen material force, wind (John 3:8), has ever suggested to the human mind the thought of the Divine agency, which, equally unseen, is even mightier in its working. When, then, creation is ascribed to the wind (Job 26:13; Psalms 104:30), we justly see, not the mere instrumental force employed, but rather that Divine operative energy which resides especially in the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. But we must be upon our guard against the common error of commentators, who read into the text of these most ancient documents perfect doctrines which were not revealed in their fulness until the Gospel was given. It is a marvellous fact that Genesis does contain the germ of well-nigh every evangelical truth, but it contains it in a suggestive and not a completed form. So here this mighty energising wind suggests to us the thought of the Holy Ghost, and is far more eloquent in its original simplicity than when we read into it a doctrine not made known until revelation was perfected in Christ (John 7:39).

Moved.—Heb., fluttered lovingly. (See Deuteronomy 32:11.) This word also would lead the mind up to the thought of the agency of a Person. In Syriac the verb is a very common one for the incubation of birds; and, in allusion to this place, it is metaphorically employed, both of the waving of the hand of the priest over the cup in consecrating the wine for the Eucharist, and of that of the patriarch over the head of a bishop at his consecration. Two points must here be noticed: the first, that the motion was not self-originated, but was external to the chaos; the second, that it was a gentle and loving energy, which tenderly and gradually, with fostering care, called forth the latent possibilities of a nascent world.

Verse 2-3

Let There Be Light

And the earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the spirit of God moved (R.V. m. was brooding) upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.—Genesis 1:2-3.

This is the second stage in the history of the Creation. After the first verse, it is of the earth, and of the earth only, that the narrative speaks. The earth did now exist, but in the form of chaos. This expression does not mean a state of disorder and confusion, but that state of primitive matter in which no creature had as yet a distinctive existence, and no one element stood out in distinction from others, but all the forces and properties of matter existed, as it were, undivided. The materials were indeed all there, but not as such—they were only latent. However, the creative spirit, the principle of order and life, brooded over this matter, which, like a rich organic cell, comprehended in itself the conditions, and up to a certain point the elementary principles, of all future forms of existence. This Spirit was the efficient cause, not of matter itself, but of its Organization, which was then to begin. He was the executant of each of those Divine commands, which from this time were to succeed each other, stroke after stroke, till this chaos should be transformed into a world of wonders.

We cannot tell how the Spirit of God brooded over that vast watery mass. It is a mystery, but it is also a fact, and it is here revealed as having happened at the very commencement of the Creation, even before God had said, “Let there be light.” The first Divine act in fitting up this planet for the habitation of man was for the Spirit of God to move upon the face of the waters. Till that time, all was formless, empty, out of order, and in confusion. In a word, it was chaos; and to make it into that thing of beauty which the world is at the present moment, even though it is a fallen world, it was needful that the movement of the Spirit of God should take place upon it. How the Spirit works upon matter, we do not know; but we do know that God, who is a Spirit, created matter, and fashioned matter, and sustained matter, and that He will yet deliver matter from the stain of sin which is upon it. We shall see new heavens and a new earth in which materialism itself shall be lifted up from its present state of ruin, and shall glorify God; but without the Spirit of God the materialism of this world must have remained for ever in chaos. Only as the Spirit came did the work of creation begin.1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]

We have first chaos, then order (or cosmos); we have also first darkness, then light. It is the Spirit of God that out of chaos brings cosmos; it is the Word of God that out of darkness brings light. Accordingly, the text is easily divided in this way—

I. Cosmos out of Chaos.

i. Chaos.

ii. The Spirit of God.

iii. Cosmos.

II. Light out of Darkness.

i. Darkness.

ii. God’s Word.

iii. Light.


Cosmos out of Chaos

i. Chaos

“The earth was without form (R.V. waste) and void.” The Hebrew (tôhû wâ-bôhû) is an alliterative description of a chaos, in which nothing can be distinguished or defined. Tôhû is a word which it is difficult to express consistently in English; but it denotes mostly something unsubstantial, or (figuratively) unreal; cf. Isaiah 45:18 (of the earth), “He created it not a tôhû, he fashioned it to be inhabited,” Genesis 1:19, “I said not, Seek ye me as a tôhû (i.e. in vain).” Bôhû, as Arabic shows, is rightly rendered empty or void. Compare the same combination of words to suggest the idea of a return to primeval chaos in Jeremiah 4:23 and Isaiah 34:11 (“the line of tôhû and the plummet of bôhû”).

Who seeketh finds: what shall be his relief

Who hath no power to seek, no heart to pray,

No sense of God, but bears as best he may,

A lonely incommunicable grief?

What shall he do? One only thing he knows,

That his life flits a frail uneasy spark

In the great vast of universal dark,

And that the grave may not be all repose.

Be still, sad soul! lift thou no passionate cry,

But spread the desert of thy being bare

To the full searching of the All-seeing Eye:

Wait—and through dark misgiving, blank despair,

God will come down in pity, and fill the dry

Dead place with light, and life, and vernal air.1 [Note: J. C. Shairp.]

ii. The Spirit of God

1. In the Old Testament the spirit of man is the principle of life, viewed especially as the seat of the stronger and more active energies of life; and the “spirit” of God is analogously the Divine force or agency, to the operation of which are attributed various extraordinary powers and activities of men, as well as supernatural gifts. In the later books of the Old Testament, it appears also as the power which creates and sustains life. It is in the last-named capacity that it is mentioned here. The chaos of Genesis 1:2 was not left in hopeless gloom and death; already, even before God “spake,” the Spirit of God, with its life-giving energy, was “brooding” over the waters, like a bird upon its nest, and (so it seems to be implied) fitting them in some way to generate and maintain life, when the Divine fiat should be pronounced.

This, then, is the first lesson of the Bible; that at the root and origin of all this vast material universe, before whose laws we are crushed as the moth, there abides a living conscious Spirit, who wills and knows and fashions all things. The belief of this changes for us the whole face of nature, and instead of a chill, impersonal world of forces to which no appeal can be made, and in which matter is supreme, gives us the home of a Father.

In speaking of Divine perfection, we mean to say that God is just and true and loving—the Author of order and not of disorder, of good and not of evil. Or rather, that He is justice, that He is truth, that He is love, that He is order; … and that wherever these qualities are present, whether in the human soul or in the order of nature, there is God. We might still see Him everywhere if we had not been mistakenly seeking Him apart from us, instead of in us; away from the laws of nature, instead of in them. And we become united to Him not by mystical absorption, but by partaking, whether consciously or unconsciously of that truth and justice and love which He Himself is.1 [Note: Benjamin Jowett.]

I have learned

To look on nature, not as in the hour

Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes

The still, sad music of humanity,

Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power

To chasten and subdue. And I have felt

A presence that disturbs me with the joy

Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime

Of something far more deeply interfused,

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

And the round ocean and the living air,

And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:

A motion and a spirit, that impels

All thinking things, all objects of all thought,

And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still

A lover of the meadows and the woods,

And mountains.2 [Note: Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey.]

2. The doctrine of the all-pervading action of the Spirit of God, and the living Power underlying all the energies of Nature, occupies a wider space in the pages of Divine revelation than it holds in popular Christian theology, or in the hymns, the teaching, and the daily thoughts of modern Christendom. In these the doctrine of the Spirit of God is, if we judge by Scripture, too much restricted to His work in Redemption and Salvation, to His wonder-working and inspiring energy in the early Church, and to His secret regenerating and sanctifying energy in the renewal of souls for life everlasting. And in this work of redemption He is spoken of by the special appellation of the Holy Ghost, even by the revisers of the Authorized Version; although there seems to be not the slightest reason for the retention of that equivocal old English word, full of unfortunate associations, more than there would be in so translating the same word as it occurs in our Lord’s discourse at the well of Jacob—“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth”—where the insertion of this ancient Saxon word for spirit would create a painful shock by its irreverence. All these redeeming and sanctifying operations of the Spirit of God in the soul of man have been treated with great fulness in our own language, in scores of valuable writings, from the days of John Owen, the Puritan Vice-Chancellor of Oxford, down to the present time, when Bishop Moule has given us his excellent work entitled Veni Creator, a most delightful exposition of Scripture doctrine on the Holy Spirit in His dealings with the souls of men. In few of these works, however, appears any representation of the Scripture doctrine of the Spirit of God, as working in Nature, as the direct agent of the Eternal Will in the creation and everlasting government of the physical and intellectual universe.

It has been the fault of religious teachers, and it is also the fault of much of what prevails in the tone of the religious world—to draw an unwarrantably harsh contrast between the natural and the spiritual. A violent schism has thereby been created between the sacred and the secular, and, consequently, many disasters have ensued. Good people have done infinite mischief by placing the sacred in opposition to the secular. They have thus denied God’s presence and God’s glory in things where His presence should have been gladly acknowledged, and have thereby cast a certain dishonour on matters which should have been recognized as religious in the truest sense. The result has been that others, carefully studying the things thus handed over to godlessness, and discovering therein rich mines of truth, and beauty, and goodness, have too frequently accepted the false position assigned to them, and have preached, in the name of Agnosticism or Atheism, a gospel of natural law, in opposition to the exclusive and narrow gospel of the religionists I have described.1 [Note: Donald Macleod, Christ and Society, 243.]

3. It is an ennobling thought that all this fair world we see, all those healthful and strong laws in ceaseless operation around us, all that long history of change and progress which we have been taught to trace, can be linked on to what we behold at Pentecost. It is the same Spirit who filled St. Peter and St. John with the life and power and love of Christ, who also “dwells in the light of setting suns, in the round ocean, and the living air.” There is no opposition. All are diverse operations of the same Spirit, who baptized St. Paul with his glowing power, and St. John with his heavenly love, and who once moved over the face of the waters, and evoked order out of chaos. The Bible calls nothing secular, all things are sacred, and only sin and wickedness are excluded from the domain which is claimed for God. But if we believe that He has never left Himself without a witness, and that the very rain and sunshine and fruitful seasons are the gifts of Him whose Spirit once moved over the waters and brought order out of confusion, then are we entitled to go further and to say that in the love of parent and child, in the heroic self-sacrifice of patriots, in the thoughts of wisdom and truth uttered by wise men, by Sakyamuni or Confucius, Socrates or Seneca, we must see nothing less than the strivings of that same Divine Spirit who spake by the prophets, and was shed forth in fulness upon the Church at Pentecost.

In the Life of Sir E. Burne-Jones, there is an account by his wife of the effect first made upon her by coming into contact with him and his artist friends, Morris and Rossetti. She says, “I wish it were possible to explain the Impression made upon me as a young girl, whose experience so far had been quite remote from art, by sudden and close intercourse with those to whom it was the breath of life. The only approach I can make to describing it is by saying that I felt in the presence of a new religion. Their love of beauty did not seem to me unbalanced, but as if it included the whole world and raised the point from which they regarded everything. Human beauty especially was in a way sacred to them, I thought; and a young lady who was much with them, and sat for them as a model, said to me, ‘It was being in a new world to be with them. I sat to them and I was there with them. And I was a holy thing to them—I was a holy thing to them.’”

Wherever through the ages rise

The altars of self-sacrifice,

Where love its arms has opened wide,

Or man for man has calmly died,

I see the same white wings outspread,

That hovered o’er the Master’s head!

Up from undated time they come,

The martyr souls of heathendom;

And to His cross and passion bring

Their fellowship of suffering.

So welcome I from every source

The tokens of that primal Force,

Older than heaven itself, yet new

As the young heart it reaches to,

Beneath whose steady impulse rolls

The tidal wave of human souls;

Guide, comforter, and inward word,

The eternal spirit of the Lord!1 [Note: Whittier.]

iii. Cosmos

1. The Spirit of God was brooding upon the face of the waters. The word rendered “brooded” (or “was brooding,” R.V.m.) occurs elsewhere only in Deuteronomy 32:11, where it is used of an eagle (properly, a griffon-vulture) hovering over its young. It is used similarly in Syriac. It is possible that its use here may be a survival, or echo, of the old belief, found among the Phœnicians, as well as elsewhere, of a world-egg, out of which, as it split, the earth, sky, and heavenly bodies emerged; the crude, material representation appearing here transformed into a beautiful and suggestive figure.

2. The hope of the chaotic world, and the hope of the sinning soul, is all in the brooding Spirit of God seeking to bring order out of chaos, to bring life out of death, light out of darkness, and beauty out of barrenness and ruin. It was God’s Spirit brooding over the formless world that put the sun in the heavens, that filled the world with warmth and light, that made the earth green with herbage, that caused forests to grow upon the hillsides, with birds to sing in them, and planted flowers to exhale their perfume in the Valleys. So God’s Spirit broods over the heart of man that has fallen into darkness and chaos through sin.

(1) As the movement of the Holy Spirit upon the waters was the first act in the six days’ work, so the work of the Holy Spirit in the soul is the first work of grace in that soul. It is a very humbling truth, but it is a truth notwithstanding its humiliating form, that the best man that mere morality ever produced is still “waste and void” if the Spirit of God has not come upon him. All the efforts of men which they make by nature, when stirred up by the example of others or by godly precepts, produce nothing but chaos in another shape; some of the mountains may have been levelled, but valleys have been elevated into other mountains; some vices have been discarded, but only to be replaced by other vices that are, perhaps, even worse; or certain transgressions have been forsaken for a while, only to be followed by a return to the selfsame sins, so that it has happened unto them, “According to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Peter 2:22). Unless the Spirit of God has been at work within him, the man is still, in the sight of God, “without form and void” as to everything which God can look upon with pleasure.

(2) To this work nothing whatever is contributed by the man himself. “The earth was waste and void,” so it could not do anything to help the Spirit. “Darkness was upon the face of the deep.” The Spirit found no light there; it had to be created. The heart of man promises help, but “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” The will has great influence over the man, but the will is itself depraved, so it tries to play the tyrant over all the other powers of the man, and it refuses to become the servant of the eternal Spirit of truth.

(3) Not only was there nothing whatever that could help the Holy Spirit, but there seemed nothing at all congruous to the Spirit. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of order, but there was disorder. He is the Spirit of light, but there was darkness. Does it not seem a strange thing that the Spirit of God should have come there at all? Adored in His excellent glory in the heaven where all is order and all is light, why should He come to brood over that watery deep, and to begin the great work of bringing order out of chaos? Why should the Spirit of God ever have come into our hearts? What was there in us to induce the Spirit of God to begin a work of grace in us? We admire the condescension of Jesus in leaving Heaven to dwell upon earth; but do we equally admire the condescension of the Holy Spirit in coming to dwell in such poor hearts as ours? Jesus dwelt with sinners, but the Holy Ghost dwells in us.

(4) Where the Spirit came, the work was carried on to completion. The work of creation did not end with the first day, but went on till it was finished on the sixth day. God did not say, “I have made the light, and now I will leave the earth as it is”; and when He had begun to divide the waters, and to separate the land from the sea, He did not say, “Now I will have no more to do with the world.” He did not take the newly fashioned earth in His hands, and fling it back into chaos; but He went on with His work until, on the seventh day, when it was completed, He rested from all His work. He will not leave unfinished the work which He has commenced in our souls. Where the Spirit of God has begun to move, He continues to move until the work is done; and He will not fail or turn aside until all is accomplished.1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]

Burning our hearts out with longing

The daylight passed:

Millions and millions together,

The stars at last!

Purple the woods where the dewdrops,

Pearly and grey,

Wash in the cool from our faces

The flame of day.

Glory and shadow grow one in

The hazel wood:

Laughter and peace in the stillness

Together brood.

Hopes all unearthly are thronging

In hearts of earth:

Tongues of the starlight are calling

Our souls to birth.

Down from the heaven its secrets

Drop one by one;

Where time is for ever beginning

And time is done.

There light eternal is over

Chaos and night:

Singing with dawn lips for ever,

“Let there be light!”

There too for ever in twilight

Time slips away,

Closing in darkness and rapture

Its awful day.1 [Note: A. E., The Divine Vision, 20.]


Light out of Darkness

i. Darkness

“Darkness was upon the face of the deep.” The deep (Heb. tehôm) is not here what the deep would denote to us, i.e. the sea, but the primitive undivided waters, the huge watery mass which the writer conceived as enveloping the chaotic earth. Milton (Paradise Lost, vii. 276 ff.) gives an excellent paraphrase—

The Earth was formed, but, in the womb as yet

Of waters, embryon, immature, involved,

Appeared not; over all the face of Earth

Main ocean flowed.

The darkness which was upon the face of the deep is a type of the natural darkness of the fallen intellect that is ignorant of God, and has not the light of faith. “Behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people.” Very often in Holy Scripture darkness is the symbol of sin, and the state of those who are separated from God. Satan is the prince of “the power of darkness,” while in God there “is no darkness at all.”

The intermixture in our life of the material and the spiritual has no more striking illustration than in the influence upon us of darkness. The “power of darkness” is a real power, and that apart from any theological considerations. The revolution of this planet on its axis, which for a certain number of hours out of the twenty-four shuts from us the light of day, has had in every age the profoundest effect on man’s inner states. It has told enormously on his religion. It has created a vocabulary—a very sinister one. It lies at the origin of fear. It binds the reason and sets loose the Imagination. We are not the same at midnight as at midday. The child mind, and the savage mind, which is so closely akin to it, are reawakened in us. “I do not believe in ghosts,” said Fontenelle, “but I am afraid of them.” We can all feel with him there.1 [Note: J. Brierley, Life and the Ideal, 248.]

ii. God’s Word

1. And God said.—This gives the keynote to the narrative, the burden ten times repeated, of this magnificent poem. To say is both to think and to will. In this speaking of God there is both the legislative power of His intelligence, and the executive power of His will; this one word dispels all notion of blind matter, and of brute fatalism; it reveals an enlightened Power, an intelligent and benevolent Thought, underlying all that is.

Says Carlyle: “Man is properly an incarnated word; the word that he speaks is the man himself.” In like manner, and with still more truth, might it be said of God that His Word is Himself; only John’s assertion is not that the Word is God, but that it was God, implying is of course.2 [Note: J. W., Letters of Yesterday, 48.]

2. And at the same time that this word, “And God said,” appears to us as the veritable truth of things, it also reveals to us their true value and legitimate use. Beautiful and beneficent as the work may be, its real worth is not in itself; it is in the thought and in the heart of the Author to whom it owes its existence. Whenever we stop short in the work itself, our enjoyment of it can only be superficial, and we are, through our ingratitude, on the road to an idolatry more or less gross. Our enjoyment is pure and perfect only when it results from the contact of our soul with the Author Himself. To form this bond is the true aim of Nature, as well as the proper destination of the life of man.

We read, “God created”; “God made”; “God saw”; “God divided”; “God called”; “God set”; “God blessed”; “God formed”; “God planted”; “God took”; “God commanded”; but the most frequent word here is “God said.” As elsewhere, “He spake and it was done”; “He commanded the light to shine out of darkness”; “the worlds were framed by the Word of God”; “upholding all things by the word of His power.” God’s “word” is then the one medium or link between Him and creation.… The frequency with which it is repeated shows what stress God lays on it.… Between the “nothing” and the “something”—non-existence and creation—there intervenes only the word—it needed only the word, no more; but after that many other agencies come in—second causes, natural laws and processes—all evolving the great original fiat. When the Son of God was here it was thus He acted. He spake: “Lazarus, come forth”; “Young man, arise”; “Damsel, arise”; “Be opened,” and it was done. The Word was still the medium. It is so now. He speaks to us (1) in Creation, (2) in the Word, (3) in Providence, (4) by His Sabbaths.1 [Note: Horatius Bonar.]

3. This word, “And God said,” further reveals the personality of God. Behind this veil of the visible universe which dazzles me, behind these blind forces of which the play at times terror-strikes me, behind this regularity of seasons and this fixedness of laws, which almost compel me to recognize in all things only the march of a fixed Fate, this word, “And God said,” unveils to me an Arm of might, an Eye which sees, a Heart full of benevolence which is seeking me, a Person who loves me. This ray of light which, as it strikes upon my retina, paints there with perfect accuracy, upon a surface of the size of a centime, a landscape of many miles in extent—He it is who commanded it to shine.

Be kind to our darkness, O Fashioner, dwelling in light,

And feeding the lamps of the sky;

Look down upon this one, and let it be sweet in Thy sight

I pray Thee, to-night.

O watch whom Thou madest to dwell on its soil, Thou Most High!

For this is a world full of sorrow (there may be but one);

Keep watch o’er its dust, else Thy children for aye are undone,

For this is a world where we die.2 [Note: Jean Ingelow.]

iii. Light

1. Let there be light.—The mention of this Divine command is sufficient to make the reader understand that this element, which was an object of worship to so many Oriental nations, is neither an eternal principle nor the product of blind force, but the work of a free and intelligent will. It is this same thought that is expressed in the division of the work of Creation into six days and six nights. The Creation is thus represented under the image of a week of work, during which an active and intelligent workman pursues his task, through a series of phases, graduated with skill and calculated with certainty, in view of an end definitely conceived from the first.

“Let there be light.” This is at once the motto and the condition of all progress that is worthy of the name. From chaos into order, from slumber into wakefulness, from torpor into the glow of life—yes, and “from strength to strength”; it has been a condition of progress that there should be light. God saw the light, that it was good.

2. The Bible is not a handbook of science, and it matters little to us whether its narrative concerning the origin of the world meets the approval of the learned or not. The truths which it enfolds are such as science can neither displace nor disprove, and which, despite the strides which we have made, are yet as important to mankind as on the day when first they were proclaimed. Over the portal that leads to the sanctuary of Israel’s faith is written, in characters that cannot be effaced, the truth which has been the hope and stay of the human race, the source of all its bliss and inspiration, “the fountain light of all our day, the master light of all our seeing”; it is the truth that there is a central light in the universe, a power that in the past has wrought with wisdom and purposive intelligence the order and harmony of this world of matter, and has shed abroad in the human heart the creative spark which shall some day make aglow this mundane sphere with the warmth and radiance of justice, truth, and loving-kindness. “Let there be light: and there was light.”

Let me recall to your remembrance the solemnity and magnificence with which the power of God in the creation of the universe is depicted; and here I cannot possibly overlook that passage of the sacred historian, which has been so frequently commended, in which the importance of the circumstance and the greatness of the idea (the human mind cannot, indeed, well conceive a greater) are no less remarkable than the expressive brevity and simplicity of the language:—“And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” The more words you would accumulate upon this thought, the more you would detract from the sublimity of it; for the understanding quickly comprehends the Divine Power from the effect, and perhaps most completely when it is not attempted to be explained; the perception in that case is the more vivid, inasmuch as it seems to proceed from the proper action and energy of the mind itself. The prophets have also depicted the same conception in poetical language, and with no less force and magnificence of expression. The whole creation is summoned forth to celebrate the praise of the Almighty—

Let them praise the name of Jehovah;

For He commanded, and they were created.

And in another place—

For He spoke, and it was;

He commanded, and it stood fast.1 [Note: R. Lowth, Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, 176.]

3. In creation it was the drawing near of God, and the utterance of His word, that dispersed the darkness. In the Incarnation, the Eternal Word, without whom “was not anything made that was made,” drew nigh to the fallen world darkened by sin. He came as the Light of the world, and His coming dispersed the darkness. On the first Christmas night this effect of the Incarnation was symbolized when to the “shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night … the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them.” The message to the shepherds was a call to them and to the world, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.”

Thirty years ago last December I went to a place where they practised cannibalism, and before I left those people to go to New Guinea, and start a mission there, so completely were idolatry and cannibalism swept away that a gentleman who tried to get an idol to bring as a curiosity to this country could not find one; they had all been burnt, or disposed of to other travellers. I saw these people myself leaving their cannibalism and their idolatry, and building themselves tolerably good houses. We had our institutions among them, and I had the honour of training a number of young men as native pastors and pioneer teachers. What is the use of talking to me of failure? I have myself baptized more than five thousand of these young people—does that look like failure? In thirteen or fourteen years these men were building houses and churches for themselves, and attending schools, and, if you have read the mission reports, you will know that some of them have gone forth as teachers to New Guinea, and across New Caledonia, and some of the islands of the New Hebrides. The people, too, have been contributing handsomely to the support of the London Missionary Society, for the purpose of sending the Gospel, as they say, to the people beyond. They have seen what a blessing it has been, and their grand idea is to hand it on to those who are still in heathen darkness.1 [Note: S. McFarlane.]

Meet is the gift we offer here to Thee,

Father of all, as falls the dewy night;

Thine own most precious gift we bring—the light

Whereby mankind Thy other bounties see.

Thou art the Light indeed; on our dull eyes

And on our inmost souls Thy rays are poured;

To Thee we light our lamps: receive them, Lord,

Filled with the oil of peace and sacrifice.2 [Note: Prudentius, translated by R. Martin Pope.]


Banks (L. A.), The World’s Childhood, 13, 25.

Bellew (J. C. M.), Sermons, iii. 241.

Burrell (D. J.), The Golden Passional, 110.

Cohen (O. J.), in Sermons by American Rabbis, 158.

Evans (R. W.), Parochial Sermons, 237.

Fuller (M.), The Lord’s Day, 1.

Hutton (R. E.), The Crown of Christ, i. 445.

John (Griffith), A Voice from China, 123.

Jowett (B.), Sermons on Faith and Doctrine, 282.

Kemble (C.), Memorials of a Closed Ministry, i. 1.

M‘Cheyne (R. M.), Additional Remains, 88.

Macleod (D.), Christ and Society, 243.

Matheson (G.), Leaves for Quiet Hours, 159.

Matheson (G.), Voices of the Spirit, 1.

Sale (S.), in Sermons by American Rabbis, 114.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, lv. No. 3134.

Stanley (A. P.), Church Sermons, i. 171.

Thomas (J.), Sermons (Myrtle Street Pulpit), ii. 293.

Thorne (H.), Notable Sayings of the Great Teacher, 246.

Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit), xix. (1881) No. 1166.

Christian World Pulpit, xxxviii. 331 (White); lxv. 145 (Davidson)

Church Pulpit Year Book, vi. (1909) 42.

Verse 3


(3) And God said.—Voice and sound there could be none, nor was there any person to whom God addressed this word of power. The phrase, then, is metaphorical, and means that God enacted for the universe a law; and ten times we find the command similarly given. The beauty and sublimity of the language here used has often been noticed: God makes no preparation, He employs no means, needs no secondary agency. He speaks, and it is done. His word alone contains all things necessary for the fulfilment of His will. So in the cognate languages the word Emir, ruler, is literally, speaker. The Supreme One speaks: with the rest, of hear is to obey. God, then, by speaking, gives to nature a universal and enduring law. His commands are not temporary, but eternal; and whatever secondary causes were called into existence when the Elohim, by a word, created light, those same causes produce it now, and will produce it until God recalls His word. We have, then, here nature’s first universal law. What is it?

Let there be light: and there was light.—The sublimity of the original is lost in our language by the cumbrous multiplication of particles. The Hebrew is Yhi ôr wayhi ôr. Light is not itself a substance, but is a condition or state of matter; and this primæval light was probably electric, arising from the condensation and friction of the elements as they began to arrange themselves in order. And this, again, was due to what is commonly called the law of gravitation, or of the attraction of matter. If on the first day electricity and magnetism were generated, and the laws given which create and control them, we have in them the two most powerful and active energies of the present and of all time—or possibly two forms of one and the same busy and restless force. And the law thus given was that of gravitation, of which light was the immediate result.

Verse 4

(4) And God saw.—This contemplation indicates, first, lapse of time; and next, that the judgment pronounced was the verdict of the Divine reason.

That it was good.—As light was a necessary result of motion in the world-mass, so was it indispensable for all that was to follow, inasmuch as neither vegetable nor animal life can exist without it. But the repeated approval by the Deity of each part and portion of this material universe (comp. Psalms 104:31) also condemns all Manichæan theories, and asserts that this world is a noble home for man, and life a blessing, in spite of its solemn responsibilities.

And God divided . . . —The first three creative days are all days of order and distribution, and have been called “the three separations.” But while on the first two days no new thing was created, but only the chaotic matter (described in Genesis 1:2) arranged, on day three there was the introduction of vegetable life. The division on the first day does not imply that darkness has a separate and independent existence, but that there were now periods of light and darkness; and thus by the end of the first day our earth must have advanced far on its way towards its present state. (See Note, Genesis 1:5.) It is, however, even more probable that the ultimate results of each creative word are summed up in the account given of it. No sooner did motion begin, than the separation of the air and water from the denser particles must have begun too. The immediate result was light; removed by a greater interval was the formation of an open space round the contracting earth-ball; still more remote was the formation of continents and oceans; but the separations must have commenced immediately that the “wind of Elohim” began to brood upon and move the chaotic mass. How far these separations had advanced before there were recurrent periods of light and darkness is outside the scope of the Divine narrative, which is not geological, but religious.

Verse 5

(5) God called the light Day . . . Night.—Before this distinction of night and day was possible there must have been outside the earth, not as yet the sun, but a bright phosphorescent mass, such as now enwraps that luminary; and, secondly, the earth must have begun to revolve upon its axis. Consequent upon this would be, not merely alternate periods of light and darkness, but also of heat and cold, from which would result important effects upon the formation of the earth’s crust. Moreover, in thus giving “day” and “night” names, God ordained language, and that vocal sounds should be the symbols of things. This law already looks forward to the existence of man, the one being on earth who calls things by their names.

And the evening and the morning.—Literally, And was an evening and was a morning day one, the definite article not being used till Genesis 1:31, when we have “day the sixth,” which was also the last of the creative days.

The word “evening” means a mixture. It is no longer the opaque darkness of a world without light, but the intermingling of light and darkness (comp. Zechariah 14:6-7). This is followed by a “morning,” that is, a breaking forth of light. Evening is placed first because there was a progress from a less to a greater brightness and order and beauty. The Jewish method of calculating the day from sunset to sunset was not the cause, but the result of this arrangement.

The first day.—A creative day is not a period of twenty-four hours, but an œon, or period of indefinite duration, as the Bible itself teaches us. For in Genesis 2:4 the six days of this narrative are described as and summed up in one day, creation being there regarded, not in its successive stages, but as a whole. So by the common consent of commentators, the seventh day, or day of God’s rest, is that age in which we are now living, and which will continue until the consummation of all things. So in Zechariah 14:7 the whole Gospel dispensation is called “one day;” and constantly in Hebrew, as probably in all languages, day is used in a very indefinite manner, as, for instance, in Deuteronomy 9:1. Those, however, who adopt the very probable suggestion of Kurtz, that the revelation of the manner of creation was made in a succession of representations or pictures displayed before the mental vision of the tranced seer, have no difficulties. He saw the dark gloom of evening pierced by the bright morning light: that was day one. Again, an evening cleft by the light, and he saw an opening space expanding itself around the world: that was day two. Again darkness and light, and on the surface of the earth he saw the waters rushing down into the seas: that was day three. And so on. What else could he call these periods but days? But as St. Augustine pointed out, there was no sun then, and “it is very difficult for us to imagine what sort of days these could be” (De Civ. Dei, xi. 6, 7). It must further be observed that this knowledge of the stages of creation could only have been given by revelation, and that the agreement of the Mosaic record with geology is so striking that there is no real difficulty in believing it to be inspired. The difficulties arise almost entirely from popular fallacies or the mistaken views of commentators. Geology has done noble service for religion in sweeping away the mean views of God’s method of working which used formerly to prevail. We may add that among the Chaldeans a cosmic day was a period of 43,200 years, being the equivalent of the cycle of the procession of the equinoxes (Lenormant, Les Origines de l’Histoire, p. 233).

Verse 6

(6) A firmament.—This is the Latin translation of the Greek word used by the translators of the Septuagint Version. Undoubtedly it means something solid; and such was the idea of the Greeks, and probably also of the Hebrews. As such it appears in the poetry of the Bible, where it is described as a mighty vault of molten glass (Job 37:18), upheld by the mountains as pillars (Job 26:11; 2 Samuel 22:8), and having doors and lattices through which the Deity pours forth abundance (Genesis 7:11; Psalms 78:23). Even in this “Hymn of Creation” we have poetry, but not expressed in vivid metaphors, but in sober and thoughtful language. Here, therefore, the word rendered “firmament” means an expanse. If, as geologists tell us, the earth at this stage was an incandescent mass, this expanse would be the ring of equilibrium, where the heat supplied from below was exactly equal to that given off by radiation into the cold ether above. And gradually this would sink lower and lower, until finally it reached the surface of the earth; and at this point the work of the second day would be complete.

Verse 7

(7) God made the firmament.—This wide open expanse upon earth’s surface, supplied by the chemistry of nature—that is, of God—with that marvellous mixture of gases which form atmospheric air, was a primary necessity for man’s existence and activity. In each step of the narrative it is ever man that is in view; and even the weight of the superincumbent atmosphere is indispensable for the health and comfort of the human body, and for the keeping of all things in their place on earth. (See Note, Genesis 1:8.) And in this secondary sense it may still rightly be called the firmament.

The waters which were under the firmament . . . the waters which were above the firmament.—While this is a popular description of what we daily see—namely, masses of running water congregated upon earth’s surface, and above a cloudland, into which the waters rise and float—it is not contrary to, but in accordance with, science. The atmosphere is the receptacle of the waters evaporated from the earth and ocean, and by means of electrical action it keeps these aqueous particles in a state of repulsion, and forms clouds, which the winds carry in their bosom. So full of thoughtful contrivance and arrangement are the laws by which rain is formed and the earth watered, that they are constantly referred to in the Bible as the chief natural proof of God’s wisdom and goodness. (See Acts 14:17.) Moreover, were there not an open expanse next the earth, it would be wrapped in a perpetual mist, unvisited by sunshine. and the result would be such as is described in Genesis 2:5, that man could not exist on earth to till the ground. The use, however, of popular language and ideas is confessedly the method of Holy Scripture, and we must not force upon the writer knowledge which man was to gain for himself. Even if the writer supposed that the rains were poured down from an upper reservoir, it would be no more an argument against his being inspired than St. Mark’s expression, “The sun did set” (Mark 1:32), disproves the inspiration of the Gospels. For the attainment of all such knowledge God has provided another way.

Verse 8

(8) God called the firmament (the expanse) Heaven.—This is a Saxon word, and means something heaved up. The Hebrew probably means the heights, or upper regions, into which the walls of cities nevertheless ascend (Deuteronomy 1:28). In Genesis 1:1, “the heaven” may include the abysmal regions of space; here it means the atmosphere round our earth, which, at a distance of about forty-five miles from the surface, melts away into the imponderable ether. The work of the second day is not described as being good, though the LXX. add this usual formula. Probably, however, the work of the second and third days is regarded as one. In both there was a separation of waters; but it was only when the open expanse reached the earth’s surface, and reduced its temperature, that water could exist in any other form than that of vapour. But no sooner did it exist in a fluid form than the pressure of the atmosphere would make it seek the lowest level. The cooling, moreover, of the earth’s surface would produce cracks and fissures, into which the waters would descend, and when these processes were well advanced, then at the end of the third day “God saw that it was good.”

Verse 9

(9) Let the waters be gathered together.—The verb, as Gesenius shows, refers rather to the condensation of water, which, as we have seen, was impossible till the surface of the earth was made cool by the radiation of heat into the open expanse around it.

Unto one place.—The ocean bed. We must add the vast depth of the ocean to the height of the mountains before we can rightly estimate the intensity of the forces at work on the third day. Vast, too, as the surface of the ocean may appear compared with the dry land, it is evidently only just sufficient to supply the rain necessary for vegetation. Were it less, either the laws of evaporation must be altered, with painful and injurious effects, or much of the earth’s surface would be barren.

Let the dry land appear.—Simple as this might appear, it yet required special provision on the part of the Creator; for otherwise the various materials of the earth would have arranged themselves in concentric strata, according to their density, and upon them the water would have reposed evenly, and above it the air. But geologists tell us that these strata have been broken up and distorted from below by volcanic agencies, while the surface has been furrowed and worn by the denuding power of water. This was the third day’s work. By the cooling of the crust of the earth the vast mass of waters, which now covers two-thirds of its surface, and which hitherto had existed only as vapour, began to condense, and pour down upon the earth as rain. Meanwhile the earth parted with its internal heat but slowly, and thus, while its crust grew stiff, there was within a mass of molten fluid. As this would be acted upon by the gravity of the sun and moon, in just the same way as the ocean is now, this inner tidal wave would rupture the thin crust above, generally in lines trending from northeast to south-west. Hence mountain ranges and deep sea beds, modified by many changes since, but all having the same final object of providing dry land for man’s abode.

Verse 11

(11) Let the earth bring forth grass.—This is the second creative act. The first was the calling of matter into existence, which, by the operation of mechanical and chemical laws, imposed upon it by the Creator, was arranged and digested into a cosmos, that is, an orderly and harmonious whole. These laws are now and ever in perpetual activity, but no secondary or derived agency can either add one atom to the world-mass or diminish aught from it. The second creative act was the introduction of life, first vegetable, and then animal; and for this nothing less than an Almighty power would suffice. Three stages of it are enumerated. The first is deshe, not “grass,” but a mere greenness, without visible seed or stalk, such as to this day may be seen upon the surface of rocks, and which, when examined by the microscope, is found to consist of a growth of plants of a minute and mean type. But all endogenous plants belong to this class, and are but the development of this primary greenness. Far higher in the scale are the seed-bearing plants which follow, among which the most important are the cerealia; while in the third class, vegetation reaches its highest development in the tree with woody stem, and the seed enclosed in an edible covering. Geologists inform us that cryptogamous plants, which were the higher forms of the first class, prevailed almost exclusively till the end of the carbonaceous period; but even independently of this evidence we could scarcely suppose that fruit-trees came into existence before the sun shone upon the earth; while the cerealia are found only in surface deposits in connection with vestiges of man. Vegetation, therefore, did not reach its perfection until the sixth day, when animals were created which needed these seeds and fruits for their food. But so far from there being anything in the creative record to require us to believe that the development of vegetation was not gradual, it is absolutely described as being so; and with that first streak of green God gave also the law of vegetation, and under His fostering hand all in due time came to pass which that first bestowal of vegetable life contained. It is the constant rule of Holy Scripture to include in a narrative the ultimate as well as the immediate results of an act; and moreover, in the record of these creative days we are told what on each day was new, while the continuance of all that preceded is understood. The dry land called into existence on the third day was not dry enough to be the abode of terrestrial animals till the sixth day, and not till then would it bear such vegetation as requires a dry soil; and the evidence of geology shows that the atmosphere, created on the second day. was not sufficiently free from carbonic acid and other vapours to be fit for animals to breathe, until long ages of rank vegetation had changed these gases into coal. When, then, on the third day, “God said, Let the earth bring forth grass . . . herb yielding seed . . . tree.” He gave the perfect command, but the complete fulfilment of that command would be gradual, as the state of the earth and the necessities of the living creatures brought forth upon it required. For in God’s work there is always a fitness, and nothing with Him is hurried or premature.

Verse 14

(14) Let there be lights (luminaries) in the firmament (or expanse) of the heaven.—In Hebrew the word for light is ôr, and for luminary, ma-ôr, a light-bearer. The light was created on the first day, and its concentration into great centres must at once have commenced; but the great luminaries did not appear in the open sky until the fourth day. With this begins the second triad of the creative days. Up to this time there had been arrangement chiefly; heat and water had had their periods of excessive activity, but with the introduction of vegetation there came also the promise of things higher and nobler than mechanical laws. Now, this fourth day seems to mark two things: first, the surface of the earth has become so cool as to need heat given it from without and secondly, there was now a long pause in creation. No new law in it is promulgated, no new factor introduced; only the atmosphere grows clearer, the earth more dry; vegetation does its part in absorbing gases; and day by day the sun shines with more unclouded brilliancy, followed by the mild radiance of the moon, and finally, by the faint gleamings of the stars. But besides this, as the condensation of luminous matter into the sun was the last act in the shaping of our solar system, it is quite possible that during this long fourth day the sun finally assumed as nearly as possible its present dimensions and form. No doubt it is still changing and slowly drawing nearer to that period when, God’s seventh day of rest being over, the knell of this our creation will sound, and the sun, with its attendant planets, and among them our earth, become what God shall then will. But during this seventh day, in which we are now living, God works only in maintaining laws already given, and no outburst either of creative or of destructive energy can take place.

Let them be for signs—i.e., marks, means of knowing. This may be taken as qualifying what follows, and would then mean, Let them be means for distinguishing seasons, days, and years; but more probably it refers to the signs of the zodiac, which anciently played so important a part, not merely in astronomy, but in matters of daily life.

Seasons.—Not spring, summer, and the like, but regularly recurring periods, like the three great festivals of the Jews. In old time men depended, both in agriculture, navigation, and daily life, upon their own observation of the setting and rising of the constellations. This work is now done for us by others, and put into a convenient form in almanacks; but equally now as of old, days, years, and seasons depend upon the motion of the heavenly orbs.

Verse 15

(15) To give light.—This was to be henceforward the permanent arrangement for the bestowal of that which is an essential condition for all life, vegetable and animal. As day and night began on the first day, it is evident that very soon there was a concentrating mass of light and heat outside the earth, and as the expanse grew clear its effects must have become more powerful. There was daylight, then, long before the fourth day; but it was only then that the sun and moon became fully formed and constituted as they are at present, and shone regularly and clearly in the bright sky.

Verse 16

(16) He made the stars also.—The Hebrew is, God made two great lights . . . to rule the night; and also the stars. Though the word “also” carries back “the stars” to the verb “made,” yet its repetition in our version makes it seem as if the meaning was that God now created the stars; whereas the real sense is that the stars were to rule the night equally with the moon. But besides this, there was no place where the stars—by which the planets are chiefly meant—could be so well mentioned as here. Two of them, Venus and Mercury, were formed somewhere between the first and the fourth day; and absolutely it was not till this day that our solar system, consisting of a central sun and the planets, with their attendant satellites, was complete. To introduce the idea of the fixed stars is unreasonable, for it is the planets which, by becoming in their turns morning and evening stars, rule the night; though the fixed stars indicate the seasons of the year. The true meaning, then, is that at the end of the fourth day the distribution of land and water, the state of the atmosphere, the alternation of day and night, of seasons and years, and the astronomical relations of the sun, moon, and planets (with the stars) to the earth were all settled and fixed, much as they are at present. And to this geology bears witness. Existing causes amply suffice to account for all changes that have taken place on our globe since the day when animal life first appeared upon the earth.

Verse 20

(20) Let the waters . . . in the open firmament.—The days of the second creative triad correspond to those of the first. Light was created on the first day, and on the fourth it was gathered into light-bearers; on the second day air and water were called into being, and on the fifth day they were peopled with life; lastly, on the third day the dry land appeared, and on the sixth day it became the home of animals and man.

Bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life.—Literally, let the waters swarm a swarm of living soul. But the word soul properly signifies “breath,” and thus, after the long pause of the fourth day, during which vegetation was advancing under the ripening effects of solar heat, we now hasten onward to another creative act, by which God called into being creatures which live by breathing. And as vegetation began with a green tinge upon the rocks, so doubtless animal life began in the most rudimentary manner, and advanced through animalcules and insects up to fish and reptiles. The main point noticed in the text as to the living things produced on this day is their fecundity. They are all those creatures which multiply in masses. It does not, however, follow that the highest forms of fish and reptiles were reached before the lowest form of land animal was created. All that we are taught is that the Infusoria and Ovipara preceded the Mammalia. As the most perfect trees may not have been produced till the Garden of Eden was planted, so the peacock may not have spread his gaudy plumes till the time was approaching when there would be human eyes capable of admiring his beauty.

And fowl that may fly.—Heb., and let fowl, or winged creatures, fly above the earth. It does not say that they were formed out of the water (comp. Genesis 2:19). Nor is it confined to birds, but includes all creatures that can wing their way in the air.

In the open firmament.—Literally, upon the face of the expanse of heaven—that is, in front of it, upon the lower surface of the atmosphere near to the earth.

Verse 21

(21) God created great whales.—Whales, strictly speaking, are mammals, and belong to the creation of the sixth day. But tannin, the word used here, means any long creature, and is used of serpents in Exodus 7:9-10 (where, however, it may mean a crocodile), and in Deuteronomy 32:33; of the crocodile in Psalms 74:13, Isaiah 51:9, Ezekiel 29:3; and of sea monsters generally in Job 7:12. It thus appropriately marks the great Saurian age. The use, too, of the verb bârâ, “he created,” is no argument against its meaning to produce out of nothing, because it belongs not to these monsters, which may have been “evolved,” but to the whole verse, which describes the introduction of animal life; and this is one of the special creative acts which physical science acknowledges to be outside its domain.

After their kind.—This suggests the belief that the various genera and species of birds, fishes, and insects were from the beginning distinct, and will continue so, even if there be some amount of free play in the improvement and development of existing species.

Verse 22

(22) Be fruitful, and multiply.—This blessing shows that the earth was replenished with animal life from a limited number of progenitors, and probably from a small number of centres, both for the flora and for the fauna.

Verse 23

(23) The fifth day.—Upon the work of the first four days geology is virtually silent, and the theories respecting the physical formation of the world belong to other sciences. But as regards the fifth day, its testimony is ample. In the lowest strata of rocks, such as the Cambrian and Silurian, we find marine animals, mollusca, and trilobites; higher up in the Devonian rocks we find fish; in the Carbonaceous period we find reptiles; and above these, in the Permian, those mighty saurians, described in our version as great whales. Traces of birds, even in these higher strata, if existent at all, are rare, but indubitably occur in the Triassic series. We thus learn that this fifth day covers a vast space of time, and, in accordance with what has been urged before as regards vegetation, it is probable that the introduction of the various genera and species was gradual. God does nothing in haste, and our conceptions of His marvellous working are made more clear and worthy of His greatness by the evidence which geology affords.

Verse 24

(24) Let the earth bring forth.—Neither this, nor the corresponding phrase in Genesis 1:20, necessarily imply spontaneous generation, though such is its literal meaning. It need mean no more than that land animals, produced on the dry ground, were now to follow upon those produced in the waters. However produced, we believe that the sole active power was the creative will of God, but of His modus operandi we know nothing.

On this sixth creative day there are four words of power. By the first, the higher animals are summoned into being; by the second, man; the third provides for the continuance and increase of the beings which God had created; the fourth assigns the vegetable world both to man and animals as food.

The creation of man is thus made a distinct act; for though created on the sixth day, because he is a land animal, yet it is in the latter part of the day, and after a pause of contemplation and counsel. The reason for this, we venture to affirm, is that in man’s creation we have a far greater advance in the work of the Almighty than at any previous stage. For up to this time all has been law, and the highest point reached was instinct; we have now freedom, reason, intellect, speech. The evolutionist may give us many an interesting theory about the upgrowth of man’s physical nature, but the introduction of this moral and mental freedom places as wide a chasm in his way as the first introduction of vegetable, and then of animal life.

The living creature, or rather, the creature that lives by breathing, is divided into three classes. The first is “behêmâh,” cattle: literally, the dumb brute, but especially used of the larger ruminants, which were soon domesticated, and became man’s speechless servants. Next comes the “creeping thing,” or rather, moving thing, from a verb translated moveth in Genesis 1:21. It probably signifies the whole multitude of small animals, and not reptiles particularly. For strictly the word refers rather to their number than to their means of locomotion, and means a swarm. The third class is the “beast of the earth,” the wild animals that roam over a large extent of country, including the carnivora. But as a vegetable diet is expressly assigned in Genesis 1:30 to the “beast of the earth,” while the evidence of the rocks proves that even on the fifth day the saurians fed upon fish and upon one another, the record seems to point out a closer relation between man and the graminivora than with these fierce denizens of the forest. The narrative of the flood proves conclusively that there were no carnivora in the ark; and immediately afterwards beasts that kill men were ordered to be destroyed (Genesis 9:5-6). It is plain that from the first these beasts lay outside the covenant. But as early as the fourth century, Titus, Bishop of Bostra, in his treatise against the Manichees, showed, on other than geological grounds, that the carnivora existed before the fall, and that there was nothing inconsistent with God’s wisdom or love in their feeding upon other animals. In spite of their presence, all was good. The evidence of geology proves that in the age when the carnivora were most abundant, the graminivora were represented by species of enormous size, and that they flourished in multitudes far surpassing anything that exists in the present day.

Verse 26

(26) Let us make man.—Comp. Genesis 11:7. The making of man is so ushered in as to show that at length the work of creation had reached its perfection and ultimate goal. As regards the use of the plural here, Maimonides thinks that God took counsel with the earth, the latter supplying the body and Elohim the soul. But it is denied in Isaiah 40:13 that God ever took counsel with any one but Himself. The Jewish interpreters generally think that the angels are meant. More truly and more reverently we may say that this first chapter of Genesis is the chapter of mysteries, and just as “the wind of God” in Genesis 1:2 was the pregnant germ which grew into the revelation of the Holy Ghost, so in Elohim, the many powers concentrated in one being, lies the germ of the doctrine of a plurality of persons in the Divine Unity. It is not a formal proof of the Trinity, nor do believers in the inspiration of Holy Scripture so use it. What they affirm is, that from the very beginning the Bible is full of such germs, and that no one of them remains barren, but all develop, and become Christian truths. There is in this first book a vast array of figures, types, indications, yearnings, hopes, fears, promises, and express predictions, which advance onwards like an ever-deepening river, and when they all find a logical fulfilment in one way, the conclusion is that that fulfilment is not only true, but was intended.

Man.—Hebrew, Adam. In Assyrian the name for man is also adamu, or admu. In that literature, so marvellously preserved to our days, Sir H. Rawlinson thinks that he has traced the first man up to the black or Accadian race. It is hopeless to attempt any derivation of the name, as it must have existed before any of the verbs and nouns from which commentators attempt to give it a meaning; and the adâmâh, or “tilled ground,” of which we shall soon hear so much, evidently had its name from Adam.

In our image, after our likeness.—The human body is after God’s image only as being the means whereby man attains to dominion: for dominion is God’s attribute, inasmuch as He is sole Lord. Man’s body, therefore, as that of one who rules, is erect, and endowed with speech, that he may give the word of command. The soul is first, in God’s image. This, as suggesting an external likeness, may refer to man’s reason, free-will, self-consciousness, and so on. But it is, secondly, in God’s likeness, which implies something closer and more inward. It refers to man’s moral powers, and especially to his capacity of attaining unto holiness. Now man has lost neither of these two. (Comp. Genesis 9:6; 1 Corinthians 11:7; James 3:9.) Both were weakened and defiled by the fall, but were still retained in a greater or less degree. In the man Christ Jesus both were perfect; and fallen man, when new-created in Christ, attains actually to that perfection which was his only potentially at his first creation, and to which Adam never did attain.

Let them have dominion.—The plural here shows that we have to do not with Adam and Eve, but with the human race generally. This, too, agrees with the whole bearing of the first chapter, which deals in a large general way with genera and species, and not with individuals. This is important as an additional proof that God’s likeness and image belong to the whole species man, and could not therefore have been lost by the fall, as St. Augustine supposed.

Verse 26-27

In the Image of God

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.—Genesis 1:26-27.

God made the light and the sun, and they were very good. He made the seas and the mountains, and they were very good. He made the fishes of the water, and the birds of the air, and the beasts of the field—all that wonderful creation of life, which, dull and unbelieving as we are, daily more and more excites our endless wonder and awe and praise—and He saw that it was all very good. He made the herb of the field, everything that grows, everything that lives on the face of this beautiful and glorious world, and all was very good. But of all this good the end was not yet reached. There was still something better to be made. Great lights in the firmament, and stars beyond the reach of the thought of man in the depth of space, sea and mountain, green tree and gay flower, tribes of living creatures in the deep below and the deep above of the sky, four-footed beasts of the earth in their strength and beauty, and worms that live out of the sight and knowledge of all other creatures—these were all as great and marvellous as we know them to be; these were all said to be “very good” by that Voice which had called them into being. Heaven and earth were filled with the majesty of His glory. But they were counted up, one by one, because they were not enough for Him to make, not enough for Him to satisfy Him by their goodness. He reckoned them all up; He pronounced on their excellence. But yet there was something which they had not reached to. There was something still to be made, which should be yet greater, yet more wonderful, yet more good than they. There was a beauty which, with all their beauty, they could not reach; a perfection which, with all their excellence, they were not meant, or made, to share. They declared the glory of God, but not His likeness. They displayed the handiwork of His wisdom, but they shared not in His spirit, His thoughts, His holiness. So, after their great glory, came a yet greater glory. The living soul, like unto God, had not yet been made. Then said God, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” There was made the great step from the wonder and beauty of the world, to the creation of man, with a soul and spirit more wonderful, more excellent, than all the excellence and wonders of the world, because it was made in the likeness of that great and holy and good God who made the world.

1. The foundations of the Biblical doctrine of man are firmly laid, at the very commencement of his history, in the accounts given of his creation. In this narrative of creation in the opening chapter of Genesis we have the noblest of possible utterances regarding man: “God created man in his own image.” The manner in which that declaration is led up to is hardly less remarkable than the utterance itself.

2. The last stage in the work of creation has been reached, and the Creator is about to produce His masterpiece. But, as if to emphasize the importance of this event, and to prepare us for something new and exceptional, the form of representation changes. Hitherto the simple fiat of omnipotence has sufficed—“God said.” Now the Creator—Elohim—is represented as taking counsel with Himself (for no other is mentioned): “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”; and in the next verse, with the employment of the stronger word “created” (bara), the execution of this purpose is narrated: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

We are told that the language in which that creation is spoken of, i.e. “Let us make man,” implies the doctrine of a plurality of persons in the Deity; in other words, the author, whose avowed object it was to teach the unity of God, so far forgot himself as to teach the contrary. We are told again that we are to found on this account the doctrine of the Trinity. There is no reason, only ignorance, in such a view. The Hebrew when he wanted to speak of anything majestic, spoke in the plural, not in the singular. He spoke of “heavens,” not of heaven. In the same way he spoke of Gods, yet meaning only One. Exactly in the same way the courtesy of modern ages has substituted “you” for “thou”; and here the very form of the writer’s language required that he should put “us” instead of “me” in speaking of the majesty of God. Further, to look for the Trinity here would be utterly to reverse the whole method of God’s revelation. We know from our own lives that God does things gradually, and we conclude that He did the same with His chosen people. He had to teach them first the unity of the Godhead; the nature of that unity was to be taught afterwards. Conceive what would have been the result in an age of polytheism of teaching the Trinity. The doctrine would have inevitably degenerated into tritheism.1 [Note: F. W. Robertson.]

The subject is the creation of man in the image of God. There are two ways of looking at it: (1) in its entirety, as we look at the white light; and (2) in its component parts, as we see the light in a rainbow. Then we have—

I. The Image of God in itself.

1. Image and Likeness are not distinct.

2. The Image is not Dominion.

3. The Image is of the whole Personality.

4. The Image was not wholly lost.

II. The Parts of the Image.

1. Reason.

2. Self-consciousness.

3. Recognition of Right and Wrong.

4. Communion with God.

5. Capacity for Redemption.

Then will follow two practical conclusions, and the text will be set in its place beside two other texts.


The Image of God

1. No distinction is to be made between the words “image” and “likeness.” In patristic and mediæval theology much is made of the circumstance that two words are used, the former being taken to mean man’s natural endowments, the latter a superadded gift of righteousness. But the words are synonymous. “Likeness” is added to “image” for emphasis. The repetition imparts a rhythmic movement to the language, which may be a faint echo of an old hymn on the glory of man, like Psalms 8.

2. The view that the Divine image consists in dominion over the creatures cannot be held without an almost inconceivable weakening of the figure, and is inconsistent with the sequel, where the rule over the creatures is, by a separate benediction, conferred on man, already made in the image of God. The truth is that the image marks the distinction between man and the animals, and so qualifies him for dominion: the latter is the consequence, not the essence, of the Divine image.

With respect to man himself we are told on the one side that he is dust, “formed of the dust of the earth.” The phrase marks our affinity to the lower animals. It is a humbling thing to see how little different the form of man’s skeleton is from that of the lower animals; more humbling still when we compare their inward physiological constitution with our own. Herein man is united to the beasts. But “God breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life”: herein he is united to the Deity. The heathen, recognizing in their own way the spiritual in man, tried to bridge over the chasm between it and the earthly by making God more human. The way of revelation, on the contrary, is to make man more godlike, to tell of the Divine idea yet to be realized in his nature. Nor have we far to go to find some of the traces of this Divine in human nature. (1) We are told that God is just and pure and holy. What is the meaning of these words? Speak to the deaf man of hearing, or the blind of light, he knows not what you mean. And so to talk of God as good and just and pure implies that there is goodness, justice, purity, within the mind of man. (2) We find in man the sense of the infinite: just as truly as God is boundless is the soul of man boundless; there is something boundless, infinite, in the sense of justice, in the sense of truth, in the power of self-sacrifice. (3) In man’s creative power there is a resemblance to God. He has filled the world with his creations. It is his special privilege to subdue the power of nature to himself. He has forced the lightning to be his messenger, has put a girdle round the earth, has climbed up to the clouds and penetrated down to the depths of the sea. He has turned the forces of Nature against herself; commanding the winds to help him in braving the sea. And marvellous as is man’s rule over external, dead nature, more marvellous still is his rule over animated nature. To see the trained falcon strike down the quarry at the feet of his master, and come back, when God’s free heaven is before him; to see the hound use his speed in the service of his master, to take a prey not to be given to himself; to see the camel of the desert carrying man through his own home: all these show the creative power of man and his resemblance to God the Creator. Once more, God is a God of order. The universe in which God reigns is a domain in which order reigns from first to last, in which everything has its place, its appointed position; and the law of man’s life, as we have seen, is also order.1 [Note: F. W. Robertson.]

There is no progress in the world of bees,

However wise and wonderful they are. Lies the bar,

To wider goals, in that tense strife to please

A Sovereign Ruler? Forth from flowers to trees

Their little quest is; not from star to star.

This is not growth; the mighty avatar

Comes not to do his work with such as these.2 [Note: E. W. Wilcox, Poems of Experience, 72.]

3. The image or likeness is not that of the body only, or of the spirit only, but of the whole personality.

(1) It is perfectly certain that the Hebrews did not suppose this likeness to God to consist in any physical likeness. It is the doctrine of the Old Testament as well as of the New that God is a Spirit; and, although He may have manifested Himself to men in human or angelic shape, He has no visible form, and cannot and must not be represented by any. “Thou sawest no form or similitude” (Deuteronomy 4:12). The image does not, directly at least, denote external appearance; we must look for the resemblance to God chiefly in man’s spiritual nature and spiritual endowments, in his freedom of will, in his self-consciousness, in his reasoning power, in his sense of that which is above nature, the good, the true, the eternal; in his conscience, which is the voice of God within him; in his capacity for knowing God and holding communion with Him; in a word, in all that allies him to God, al that raises him above sense and time and merely material considerations, all that distinguishes him from, and elevates him above, the brutes. So the writer of the apocryphal Book of Wisdom says: “God created man to be immortal, and made him an image of his own eternity” (Genesis 2:23).

(2) On the other hand, that this Divine image expresses itself and is seen in man’s outward form cannot be denied. In looks, in bearing, in the conscious dignity of rule and dominion, there is a reflection of this Divine image. St. Augustine tries to make out a trinity in the human body, as before in the human mind, which shall correspond in its measure to the Divine Trinity. Nevertheless, he says modestly: “Let us endeavour to trace in man’s outward form some kind of footstep of the Trinity, not because it is of itself in the same way (as the inward being) the image of God. For the apostle says expressly that it is the inner man that is renewed after the image of Him that created him; and again, ‘Though the outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.’ Let us then look as far as it is possible in that which perisheth for a kind of likeness to the Trinity; and if not one more express, at least one that may be more easily discerned. The very term ‘outward man’ denotes a certain similitude to the inward man.”

(3) But the truth is that we cannot cut man in two. The inward being and the outward have their correspondences and their affinities, and it is of the compound being man, fashioned of the dust of the earth and yet filled with the breath of God, that it is declared that he was created after the image of God. The ground and source of this his prerogative in creation must be sought in the Incarnation. It is this great mystery that lies at the root of man’s being. He is like God, he is created in the image of God, he is, in St. Paul’s words, the “image and glory of God” (1 Corinthians 11:7), because the Son of God took man’s nature in the womb of His virgin mother, thereby uniting for ever the manhood and the Godhead in one adorable Person. This was the Divine purpose before the world was, and hence this creation of man was the natural consummation of all God’s work.

4. And it is important to remember that the “image of God,” according to Hebrew thought, was not completely lost, however seriously it may have been impaired, by what is described as the Fall. In Genesis 5:1-3, we read, “In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; male and female created he them; … and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. And Adam … begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth”—meaning that, as Adam was created in the image of God, Seth inherited that image. After the flood, God is represented as saying to Noah, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” Murder is a kind of sacrilege; to kill a man is to destroy the life of a creature created in the Divine image; the crime is to be punished with death. James, too, in his epistle, insists that the desperate wickedness of the tongue is shown in its reckless disregard of the Divine image in man, “Therewith bless we the Lord and Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made in the image of God”; in cursing men we therefore show a want of reverence for God Himself, in whose image they were made, and are guilty of a certain measure of profanity. The “image of God,” therefore, according to these ancient Scriptures, does not necessarily include moral and spiritual perfection; it must include the possibility of achieving it; it reveals the Divine purpose that man should achieve it; but man, even after he has sinned, still retains the “image of God” in the sense in which it is attributed to him in the Hebrew Scriptures. It belongs to his nature, not to his character. Man was made in the “image of God” because he is a free, intelligent, self-conscious, and moral Personality.

I have been told that there is in existence, amongst the curiosities of a Continental museum, a brick from the walls of ancient Babylon which bears the imprint of one of Babylon’s mighty kings. Right over the centre of the royal cypher is deeply impressed the footprint of one of the pariah dogs which wandered about that ancient city. It was the invariable custom in ancient Babylon to stamp the bricks used for public works with the cypher of the reigning monarch, and while this particular brick was lying in its soft and plastic state, some wandering dog had, apparently accidentally, trodden upon it. Long ages have passed. The king’s image and superscription is visible, but defaced—well-nigh illegible, almost obliterated. The name of that mighty ruler cannot be deciphered; the footprint of the dog is clear, sharply defined, deeply impressed, as on the day on which it was made. So far as any analogy will hold (which is not very far), it is an instructive type of the origin and the dual construction of the human race. Suffer the imagination to wander back—far, far back—into the unthinkable past, and conceive the All-creating Spirit obeying the paramount necessity of His nature, which is Love, and bringing into existence the race called man. As the outbirth of God—as Divine Spirit differentiated into separate entities—man could not be other than deeply impressed, stamped with the cypher of his Father’s image and likeness; the mark of the King is upon him. Obviously, however, he is not yet ready to be built into that great temple of imperishable beauty, fit to be the habitation of the Eternal, which is the ultimate design of God for man. A responsible being, perfected and purified, tested and found faithful, cannot be made; he must grow; and to grow he must be resisted. He must emerge pure from deep contrasts; contradiction being a law of moral life, contradiction must be provided. And therefore, while still in his plastic State, while still in the unhardened, inchoate condition indicated in the sweet pastoral idyll of the Garden of Eden, there comes by the wandering dog—the allegorical impersonation of the animal nature, the embodiment of the lower appetite, the partial will, the Ahriman of the Zoroastrian, the Satan of post-captivity Judaism—and he, metaphorically, puts his foot upon him. Right over the King’s impress goes the mark of the beast, apparently defacing the cypher of the King; in other words, humanity gave heed to the lower psychical suggestion, in opposition to the higher dictate of the Divine Spirit. The partial will severed itself from the universal will, and, as it is expressed in theological language, though not in scriptural language, man fell.1 [Note: B. Wilberforce.]

Why do I dare love all mankind?

’Tis not because each face, each form

Is comely, for it is not so;

Nor is it that each soul is warm

With any Godlike glow.

Yet there’s no one to whom’s not given

Some little lineament of heaven,

Some partial symbol, at the least, in sign

Of what should be, if it is not, within,

Reminding of the death of sin

And life of the Divine.

There was a time, full well I know,

When I had not yet seen you so;

Time was, when few seemed fair;

But now, as through the streets I go,

There seems no face so shapeless, so

Forlorn, but that there’s something there

That, like the heavens, doth declare

The glory of the great All-Fair;

And so mine own each one I call;

And so I dare to love you all.1 [Note: H. S. Sutton.]


The Parts of the Image

i. Reason

1. In speaking of man as being created in the image of God, one must speak first of the intellectual powers with which man has been endowed. Nothing can surprise us more than the marvellous results of human science, the power which mankind have exhibited in scanning the works of God, reducing them to law, detecting the hidden harmony in the apparent confusion of creation, demonstrating the fine adjustment and delicate construction of the material universe: and if the wisdom and power of God occupy the first place in the mind of one who contemplates the heavens and the earth, certainly the second place must be reserved for admiration of the wonderful mind with which man has been endowed, the powers of which enable him thus to study the works of God.

2. As regards his intellectual powers, consider that man is, like God, a creator. Works of Art, whether useful or ornamental, are, and are often called, creations. How manifold are the new discoveries, the new inventions, which man draws forth, year after year, from his creative genius—the timepiece, the microscope, the steamship, the steam-carriage, the sun-picture, the electric telegraph! All these things originally lay wrapped up in the human brain, and are its offspring. Look at the whole fabric of civilization, which is built up by the several arts. What a creation it is, how curious, how varied, how wonderful in all its districts! Just as God has His universe, in which are mirrored the eternal, archetypal Ideas of the Divine Mind, so this civilization is Man’s universe, the aggregate product of his intelligence and activity. It may possibly suggest itself here that some of the lower animals are producers no less than man. And so they are, in virtue of the instinct with which the Almighty has endowed them. The bird is the artisan of her nest, the bee of his cell, the beaver of his hut. But they are artisans only, working by a rule furnished to them, not architects, designing out of their own mental resources. They are producers only, not creators; they never make a variation, in the way of improvement, on foregone productions; and we argue conclusively that because they do not make it, they can never make it. Instinct dictates to them, as they work, “line upon line, precept upon precept”; but there is no single instance of their rising above this level—of their speculating upon an original design, and contriving the means whereby it may be carried into effect. But the creative faculty of man is still more evident in the ornamental arts, because here, more obviously than in the useful, man works according to no preconceived method or imposed condition, but throws out of his brain that which is new and original. A new melody, a new drama, a new picture, a new poem, are they not all (some more, some less, in proportion to the originality of the conception which is in them) creations? Is not this the very meaning of the word “poem,” in the language from which it is drawn—a thing made, a piece of workmanship? So that, in respect of the rich and varied developments of the human mind in the different forms of Art, we need not hesitate to call man a creator. And this is the first aspect under which God is presented to us in Holy Scripture; “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

A thing should be denominated from its noblest attribute, as man from reason, not from sense or from anything else less noble. So when we say, “Man lives,” it ought to be interpreted, “Man makes use of his reason,” which is the special life of man, and the actualization of his noblest part. Consequently he who abandons the use of his reason, and lives by his senses only, leads the life not of a man, but of an animal; as the most excellent Boëthius puts it, he lives the life of an ass. And this I hold to be quite right, because thought is the peculiar act of reason, and animals do not think, because they are not endued with reason. And when I speak of animals, I do not refer to the lower animals only, but I mean to include also those who in outward appearance are men, but spiritually are no better than sheep, or any other equally contemptible brute.1 [Note: Dante. Conv. ii. 8 (trans. by Paget Toynbee).]

ii. Self-consciousness

Man is not only conscious, but also self-conscious. He can turn his mind back in reflection on himself; can apprehend himself; can speak of himself as “I.” This consciousness of self is an attribute of personality which constitutes a difference, not in degree, but in kind, between the human and the merely animal. No brute has this power. None, however elevated in the scale of power, can properly be spoken of as a person. The sanctity that surrounds personality does not attach to it.

Man’s greatest possibility lies in the knowledge of himself. Most people know more of minerals than of men; more about training horses than children. The day is coming when the education of a child will begin at birth; when mothers, who, because of their opportunities, ought to be better psychologists than any university professor, will become not only trained scientific observers of mental phenomena, but directors of it. Even puppies have been so trained that they could surpass many artists in their discrimination between colours, and by this training the brain has been observed to grow enormously. It looks as if man might not only develop the brain he has, but add to it and build up a new brain—and thus practically create a new human race. I hope this may prove true. Man is a spirit, child of the Infinite Spirit, capable of using the best physical machinery with ease; better machinery than he now has.1 [Note: C. M. Cobern.]

iii. Recognition of Right and Wrong

The great distinction between right and wrong belongs to man alone. An animal may be taught that it is not to do certain things, but it is because these things are contrary to its master’s wish, not because they are wrong. Some persons have endeavoured to make out that the distinction between right and wrong on the part of ourselves is quite arbitrary, that we call that right which we find on the whole to be advantageous, and that wrong which on the whole tends to mischief; but the conscience of mankind is against this scheme of philosophy. That the wickedness of mankind has made fearful confusion between right and wrong, and that men very often by their conduct appear to approve of that which they ought not to approve, is very true; and that men may fall, by a course of vice, into such a condition that their moral sense is fearfully blunted, is also true: but this does not prove the absence of a sense of right and wrong from a healthy mind, any more than the case of ever so many blind men would prove that there is no such thing as sight. No—the general conscience of mankind admits the truth which is assumed in Scripture, namely, that man, however far gone from original righteousness, does nevertheless recognize the excellence of what is good, that he delights in the law of God after the inward man, even though he may find another law in his members bringing him into captivity. This sense of what is right and good, which existed in man in his state of purity, and which has survived the fall and forms the very foundation upon which we can build hopes of his restoration to the favour of God, is a considerable portion of that which is described as God’s image in which man was created.

Darwin opens his chapter on the moral sense with this acknowledgment: “I fully subscribe to the judgment of those writers who maintain that, of all the differences between man and the lower animals, the moral sense or conscience is by far the most important. This sense is summed up in that short but imperious word, ‘ought,’ so full of high significance. It is the most noble of all the attributes of man.”1 [Note: G. E. Weeks.]

What! will I ca’ a man my superior, because he’s cleverer than mysel’? Will I boo down to a bit o’ brains, ony mair than to a stock or a stane? Let a man prove himsel’ better than me—honester, humbler, kinder, wi’ mair sense o’ the duty o’ man, an’ the weakness o’ man—an’ that man I’II acknowledge—that man’s my king, my leader, though he war as stupid as Eppe Dalgleish, that couldna count five on her fingers, and yet keepit her drucken father by her ain hands’ labour for twenty-three yeers.2 [Note: Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke.]

Devoid of the very taint of ambition, Dean Church obtained a singular authority, which was accepted without cavil or debate. Such an authority was a witness to the force and beauty of high moral character. It testified to the supremacy which belongs, of right and of necessity, to conscience. His special gifts would, under all conditions, have played a marked part; but they do not account for the impressive sway exercised over such multitudes by his personality.3 [Note: Life and Letters of Dean Church, 233.]

God hath no shape, nor can the artist’s hands

His figure frame in shining gold or wood,

God’s holy image—God-sent—only stands

Within the bosoms of the wise and good.1 [Note: Statius, translated by W. E. A. Axon.]

iv. Communion with God

The sense of right and wrong may be regarded as part of that nature originally imparted to man, by which he was fitted to hold communion with God. God called other creatures into existence by His word, and so made them live; but man He inspired with His own breath, and so gave him a portion of His own Divine life. And corresponding to this difference of beginning was the after history. God blessed the living creatures which He had made, pronounced them very good, and bade them increase and multiply; but with man He held communion. “They heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8).

To me, the verse has, and can have, no other signification than this—that the soul of man is a mirror of the mind of God. A mirror, dark, distorted, broken—use what blameful names you please of its State—yet in the main, a true mirror, out of which alone, and by which alone, we can know anything of God at all.

“How?” the reader, perhaps, answers indignantly. “I know the nature of God by revelation, not by looking into myself.”

Revelation to what? To a nature incapable of receiving truth? That cannot be; for only to a nature capable of truth, desirous of it, distinguishing it, feeding upon it, revelation is possible. To a being undesirous of it, and hating it, revelation is impossible. There can be none to a brute, or fiend. In so far, therefore, as you love truth, and live therein, in so far revelation can exist for you;—and in so far, your mind is the image of God’s.

But consider, further, not only to what, but by what, is the revelation. By sight? or word? If by sight, then to eyes which see justly. Otherwise, no sight would be revelation. So far, then, as your sight is just, it is the image of God’s sight.

If by words—how do you know their meanings? Here is a short piece of precious word revelation, for instance—“God is love.”

Love! yes. But what is that? The revelation does not tell you that, I think. Look into the mirror and you will see. Out of your own heart, you may know what love is. In no other possible way—by no other help or sign. All the words and sounds ever uttered, all the revelations of cloud, or flame, or crystal, are utterly powerless. They cannot tell you, in the smallest point, what love means. Only the broken mirror can.

Here is more revelation. “God is just!” Just! What is that? The revelation cannot help you to discover. You say it is dealing equitably or equally. But how do you discern the equality? Not by inequality of mind; not by a mind incapable of weighing, judging, or distributing. If the lengths seem unequal in the broken mirror, for you they are unequal; but if they seem equal, then the mirror is true. So far as you recognize equality, and your conscience tells you what is just, so far your mind is the image of God’s; and so far as you do not discern this nature of justice or equality, the words, “God is just,” bring no revelation to you.1 [Note: Ruskin, Modern Painters, vol. v. pt. ix. ch. i. §§ 11–13.]

I have often imagined to myself the large joy which must have filled the mind of Aristarchus of Samos when the true conception of the solar system first dawned upon him, unsupported though it was by any of the mathematical demonstrations which have since convinced all educated men of its truth, and constraining belief solely on the ground of its own simple and beautiful order. I could suppose such a belief very strong, and almost taking such a form as this:—It is so harmonious, so self-consistent, that it ought to be so, therefore it must be so. And surely this is nothing more than might be looked for in regard to spiritual realities. If man is created for fellowship with God there must exist within him, notwithstanding all the ravages of sin, capacities which will recognize the light and life of eternal truth when it is brought close to him. Without such capacities revelation would in fact be impossible.2 [Note: Thomas Erskine of Linlathen.]

A fire-mist and a planet,

A crystal and a cell,

A jelly-fish and a saurian,

And caves where the cave-men dwell.

Then a sense of law and beauty,

And a face turned from the clod,—

Some call it evolution,

And others call it God.

Like tides on a crescent seabeach,

When the moon is new and thin,

Into our hearts high yearnings

Come welling and surging in;

Come from the mystic ocean,

Whose rim no foot has trod.—

Some of us call it longing,

And others call it God.

v. Capacity for Redemption

The possibility of redemption after man had sinned is as great a mark as any of the image of God impressed upon him. When man has fallen he is not left to himself, as one whose fall is a trifling matter in the great economy of God’s creation. It was because His own image had been impressed on man that God undertook to redeem him; it was because that image, though defaced, had not been wholly destroyed, that such redemption was possible. Yes—thanks to God—we are in some sense in His image still; much as we incline to sin, yet we feel in our hearts and consciences that sin is death and that holiness is life. Much as we swerve from the ways of God, yet our consciences still tell us that those ways are ways of pleasantness and paths of peace; foolishly as we have behaved by seeking happiness in breaking God’s commands, yet our hearts testify to our folly and our better judgment condemns us. Here then are the traces of God’s image still, and because these traces remain, therefore there is hope for us in our fallen condition. God will yet return and build up His Tabernacle which has been thrown down; and it may be that the glory of the latter house will through His infinite mercy be even greater than that of the first.

There is a story in English history of a child of one of our noble houses who, in the last century, was stolen from his house by a sweep. The parents spared no expense or trouble in their search for him, but in vain. A few years later the lad happened to be sent by the master into whose hands he had then passed to sweep the chimneys in the very house from which he had been stolen while too young to remember it. The little fellow had been sweeping the chimney of one of the bedrooms, and fatigued with the exhausting labour to which so many lads, by the cruel custom of those times, were bound, he quite forgot where he was, and flinging himself upon the clean bed dropped off to sleep. The lady of the house happened to enter the room. At first she looked in disgust and anger at the filthy black object that was soiling her counterpane. But all at once something in the expression of the little dirty face, or some familiar pose of the languid limbs, drew her nearer with a sudden inspiration, and in a moment she had clasped once more in her motherly arms her long-lost boy.1 [Note: H. W. Horwill.]

Travellers to the islands of the South Seas reported—that is, such of them as came back—that the natives were fierce and cannibal, bearing the brand of savagery even upon their faces. But Calvert and Paton went there, and proved that this savage countenance was only a palimpsest scrawled by the Devil over a manuscript of the Divine finger. To us the face of a Chinaman is dull and impassive. It awakens no interest; it stirs no affection. Then why have our friends Pollard and Dymond gone out to Yunnan? Because the Spirit of God has opened their eyes, so that behind all that stolid exterior they can see a soul capable of infinite possibilities of godlike nobility, just as the genius of the great sculptor could see an angel in the shapeless block of marble. And even already their inspired insight has been verified: they have seen that sluggish nature move; they have watched that hard, emotionless Chinese face as it has glowed with the joy that illumines him who knows that Christ is his Saviour. It is as when in the restoration of an old English church the workmen begin to take down the bare whitewashed wall, and the lath and plaster, as they are stripped off, reveal the hidden beauty of some ancient fresco or reredos. Let a new race of men be discovered to-day, and the true missionary will not hesitate to start for them to-morrow. Before he has heard anything of their history or their customs, before he has learnt a word of their language, there is one thing that he knows about them—that, however deeply they may be sunk in barbarism, they are not so low that the arm of Christ cannot reach them.1 [Note: H. W. Horwill.]

Count not thyself a starveling soul,

Baulked of the wealth and glow of life,

Destined to grasp, of this rich whole,

Some meagre measure through thy strife.

Ask not of flower or sky or sea

Some gift that in their giving lies;

Their light and wonder are of thee,

Made of thy spirit through thine eyes.

All meaningless the primrose wood,

All messageless the chanting shore,

Hadst thou not in thee gleams of good

And whispers of God’s evermore.1 [Note: P. C. Ainsworth, Poems and Sonnets, 57.]


Two Practical Conclusions

There are two facts of immense practical importance for us which follow from the one momentous fact of creation.

1. We owe to God our being and therefore we owe to God ourselves.—What God makes, He has an absolute right to. There is a corresponding fundamental principle in social ethics among men; and in the case of God’s relation to His creatures the principle is yet more fundamental and absolute, even as the case itself is altogether unique. The obedience of nature to the Creator is unvarying, but it is only the blind obedience of necessity. Of the spiritual creation, on the other hand, the obedience must be free, but it is nevertheless as rightfully and absolutely claimed. Indeed, if it were possible, God’s claims on those whom He has made in His own likeness are of even superior Obligation. For the existence which they have received is existence at its highest worth, and to them is given the capacity to recognize and appreciate the paramount sovereignty of creative power as inspired and transfigured by creative love.

The disinclination to be under an obligation is always more or less natural to us, and it is particularly natural to those who are in rude health and high spirits, who have never yet known anything of real sorrow or of acute disease. It grows with that jealous sentiment of personal independence which belongs to an advanced civilization; and if it is distantly allied to one or two of the better elements of human character, it is more closely connected with others that are base and unworthy. The Eastern emperor executed the courtier who, by saving his life, had done him a service which could never be forgotten, perhaps never repaid; but this is only an extreme illustration of what may be found in the feelings of everyday life. A darker example of the same tendency is seen in the case of men who have wished a father in his grave, not on account of any misunderstanding, not from any coarse desire of succeeding to the family property, but because in the father the son saw a person to whom he owed not education merely, but his birth into the world, and felt that so vast a debt made him morally insolvent as long as his creditor lived. If men are capable of such feelings towards each other, we can understand much that characterizes their thought about and action towards God. By His very Existence He seems to inflict upon them a perpetual humiliation. To feel day by day, hour by hour, that there is at any rate One Being before whom they are as nothing; to whom they owe originally, and moment by moment, all that they are and have; who so holds them in His hand that no human parallel can convey a sense of the completeness of their dependence upon His good pleasure; and against whose decisions they have neither plea nor remedy:—this they cannot bear. Yet if God exists, this, and nothing less, is strictly true.1 [Note: H. P. Liddon.]

2. We can co-operate with God in His creating, preserving, and redeeming activity.—Though now “subject to vanity” and (not as to locality, but as to apprehension) far from his heavenly home, the assurance of man’s ultimate perfection rests upon the impregnable foundation that there is within him a Divine potency. With this Divine potency it is his duty and privilege to co-operate. Man is begotten, but he is being made—

Where is one that, born of woman, altogether can escape

From the lower world within him, moods of tiger, or of ape?

Man as yet is being made, and ere the crowning Age of ages,

Shall not æon after æon pass and touch him into shape?

All about him shadow still, but, while the races flower and fade,

Prophet-eyes may catch a glory slowly gaining on the shade,

Till the peoples all are one, and all their voices blend in choric

Hallelujah to the Maker, “It is finished. Man is made.”2 [Note: Tennyson, The Making of Man.]


Three Texts

Take these three texts together—

Genesis 1:27.—“God created man in his own image.”

Romans 3:23.—“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”

Hebrews 2:9.—“But we see Jesus.”

The first text describes man as he was when he first came from the hand of his Creator; the second describes man as he is, as we know him, in the condition to which sin has reduced him; the third text describes man as he will be when his redemption is complete. He has not yet attained to the supremacy, the character and glory, which God preordained for him, but Christ has attained all these. We see Jesus crowned, and all things put under Him, and we shall be crowned also when our full redemption is reached.

1. In His own Image.—The first great truth of the Bible in regard to man is this, that he was made in the image of God. He is the Creator’s noblest earthly work. Out of the dust of the earth God fashioned man’s body, and then breathed into it the breath of life. Science tells us that man’s body is the culmination and recapitulation of all prior forms of life. But some of its highest and most authoritative teachers acknowledge that man as man is a distinct creation. Wallace, for instance, maintains that “man’s bodily structure is identical with the animal world, and is derived from it of which it is the culmination”; but he declares emphatically that “man’s entire nature and all his faculties, intellectual, moral, and spiritual, are not derived from the lower animals, but have an origin wholly distinct; that the working of material laws does not account for the exaltation of humanity. These are from the spiritual universe, and are the result of fresh and extra manifestations of its power.” Let us try to realize this great truth. The body, the meanest part of man, is the culmination of all created forms of life. But between man and the highest animal there is an infinite difference. How great then is man: “A little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honour”! He stands midway between the material and the spiritual, the manifestation of both. Dust and deity. Below, he is related to the earth; above, he is related to the heavens. He claims kinship with seraphs; nay, he is God’s own offspring. In man God objectified Himself, made Himself visible. God intended man to be the incarnation of Himself, for He “made man in His own image.” What a stupendous truth! Herder once exclaimed, “Give me a great truth that I may feed upon it.” Here it is. Man is the incarnation of God.

“I am staring,” said MacIan at last, “at that which shall judge us both.”

“Oh yes,” said Turnbull, in a tired way; “I suppose you mean God.”

“No, I don‘t,” said MacIan, shaking his head; “I mean him.”

And he pointed to the half-tipsy yokel who was ploughing, down the road.

“I mean him. He goes out in the early dawn; he digs or he ploughs a field. Then he comes back and drinks ale, and then he sings a song. All your philosophies and political systems are young compared to him. All your hoary cathedrals—yes, even the Eternal Church on earth is new compared to him. The most mouldering gods in the British Museum are new facts beside him. It is he who in the end shall judge us all I am going to ask him which of us is right.”

“Ask that intoxicated turnip-eater——”

“Yes—which of us is right. Oh, you have long words and I have long words; and I talk of every man being the image of God; and you talk of every man being a citizen and enlightened enough to govern. But, if every man typifies God, there is God. If every man is an enlightened citizen, there is your enlightened citizen. The first man one meets is always man. Let us catch him up.”1 [Note: G. K. Chesterton, The Ball and the Cross.]

2. All have sinned.—Man has fallen by disobedience. It was not merely the eating of the fruit; it was the principle involved in the act that proved fatal. What was that—what but rebellion? The conflict of the human will with the Divine. That involved death. By that act the soul of man passed from spiritual health and felt below the fulness of life, and in that sense died. And Adam’s sin was diffusive. He was the first of the race. His sin entered into human nature, and the poison passed from generation to generation with ever deeper taint, so that every life repeats the sin of Adam. There is in it the refusal of the human will to submit to God’s will. Thus it is absolutely and universally true that all have sinned and come short of that life which is the glory of God. We sometimes boast of our ancestors, but if we went far enough back we should have little to boast of. Think of the filth, the falseness, the lust, the cruelty, the drunkenness, the ferocity of the races out of which we have sprung. Look around you! Is not the text true? In many, reason is prostituted to evil. The free choice of man becomes the fixed choice of evil; myriads are the abject slaves of sin. Conscience has been so often disobeyed that its writs no longer run in the life, or it is so seared that men can commit the foulest crimes without blushing. The spirit has been so neglected that no prayer to God ever rises to the lip and no thought of God enters the mind. Think of the crimes which stain the pages of our newspapers, and the numberless crimes known only to God. Even among the most intellectual there are sins of the darkest hue. We have been rudely reminded within the last few years that our boasted æstheticism and culture may be but thin veils which hide vices we fain hoped were dead two thousand years ago. How bitter and ceaseless has been the conflict between the conscience and the will in all of us! How powerful, almost invincible, is the habit of sin! We never realize our bondage until we seek to break away. When the younger son of the parable stood on his father’s doorstep with his patrimony in his pocket and his face toward the far country, at that moment he was a prodigal. We are all prodigals. Though we may never have reached the swine-troughs we have turned our backs on God.

In one of his books, Salted with Fire, George MacDonald tells of a young woman who had been led astray. A warm-hearted minister found her one night on his doorstep, and guessing her story, brought her into his home. His little daughter upstairs with her mother, asked, “Mamma, who is it papa has in the library?” And the wise mother quietly replied, “It is an angel, dear, who has lost her way, and papa is telling her the way back.”1 [Note: S. D. Gordon, Quiet Talks on Home Ideals, 18.]

3. But we see Jesus.—“Made a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honour, all things put in subjection under him.” We see not yet all things put under Him. But we see Jesus. He was crowned. He put all things under Him; and humanity in Him shall yet attain this glorious supremacy. When Jesus trod the pathways of this world, limited as He was by His incarnation, how like a conqueror He worked! He was master of all the forces of Nature. The sea became to Him an unyielding pavement of adamant. When the storm arose He had but to say, “Peace!” and the huge, green, yeasty billows lay down at His feet like sleeping babes. Disease fled at His touch. The dead came forth at His call. And though He yielded to the yoke of death He did it like a conqueror. “I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it again.” He died of His own free choice. And on the third morning He broke through the barriers of the tomb and came forth the Victor of the dark realm of Hades. He was crowned also in the moral and spiritual world. He lived a life of perfect victory over sin. All the assaults of sin beat unavailingly against the rock of His pure manhood. He mingled with men of the lowest order, but He remained without spot, and went back to God as pure as when He came from God. Christ was the first crowned of a new race. He made a new beginning, and humanity in Him will reach His level at the last. We see not yet all things put under man, but we see Jesus.

Dr. Barnardo used to illustrate the benefits of his redemptive work by taking a group of “specimens” to the platform with him. Look at that boy there on the right. Poor lad, he has not yet all things put under him; no, indeed, he was picked up only an hour ago off the streets. Dirt is not put under him, and ignorance is not put under him, and vice is not put under him. He is the slave of all three. But look at that lad on the extreme left. Sixteen years of age, clean, well dressed, intelligent, and virtuous. He has been three years in the Home. What a contrast! He has put all things under him. Even so it is with humanity. It is being transformed by Christ. Some are at the base of the ladder of progress and redemption, others are ascending, and others have again entered into the glory of God. Like Christ, humanity shall have all things put under it.

Oh, fairest legend of the years,

With folded wings, go silently!

Oh, flower of knighthood, yield your place

To One who comes from Galilee.

To wounded feet that shrink and bleed,

But press and climb the narrow way,

The same old way our own must step,

For ever, yesterday, to-day.

For soul can be what soul hath been,

And feet can tread where feet have trod,

Enough to know that once the clay

Hath worn the features of the God.1 [Note: Daily Song, p. 151.]

One of the most precious memories of my life is that of my own father’s victorious death. After thirty years in the ministry he passed away while yet in the prime of manhood. He died of consumption, and at the last was very feeble; so feeble, indeed, that he could scarcely make his voice audible. The last night came. He whispered to my mother again and again, “It is well with me, it is well with me.” Then he said, “When the last moment comes, if I feel I have the victory I will tell you … but if I cannot speak I will raise my hand.” As the grey morning light stole into the death-chamber my mother saw that the end had come. His lips moved. She stooped to catch the words, but there was no sound; his power of articulation had gone. The next moment he seemed to realize it, and, with a smile on his dying face, he lifted his thin, worn hand for a few seconds, and then it fell on the pillow, and he was not, for God had taken him.1 [Note: J. T. Parr.]

O, may I triumph so,

When all my warfare’s past,

And, dying, find my latest foe

Under my feet at last.


Alford (H.), Quebec Chapel Sermons, iv. 35.

Banks (L. A.), The World’s Childhood, 186.

Baring-Gould (S.), Village Preaching, ii. 9.

Bernard (J. H.), Via Domini, 41.

Brown (J. B.), The Home Life, 1.

Campbell (R. J.), Thursday Mornings at the City Temple, 1.

Church (R. W.), Village Sermons, iii. 64.

Clifford (J.), Typical Christian Leaders, 215.

Cobern (C. M.), The Stars and the Book, 78.

Coyle (R. F.), The Church and the Times, 175.

Dale (R. W.), Christian Doctrine, 170.

Gibbon (J. M.), The Image of God, 1.

Goodwin (H.), Parish Sermons, 5th Ser., 1.

Horwill (H. W.), The Old Gospel in the New Era, 53.

Hughes (D.), The Making of Prayer of Manasseh 1:9.

Kingsley (C.), The Gospel of the Pentateuch, 19.

Lefroy (W.), The Immortality of Memory, 229.

Lewis (E. W.), Some Views of Modern Theology, 169.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Genesis.

Matheson (G.), Leaves for Quiet Hours, 37.

Matheson (G.), Searchings in the Silence, 215.

Murray (A.), With Christ, 137.

Orr (J.), God’s Image in Man, 34.

Robinson (F.), College and Ordination Addresses, 47, 53.

Selby (T. G.), The Lesson of a Dilemma, 264.

Weeks (G. E.), Fettered Lives, 49.

Woodford (J. R.), Sermons in Various Churches, 33.

Christian Age, xxv. 212 (Vaughan).

Christian World Pulpit, xvi. 218 (Williams); xviii. 17 (Brooke); xix. 369 (Vaughan); l. 419 (Bliss); lvi. 4 (Parr).

Churchman’s Pulpit (Trinity Sunday), ix. 272 (Goodwin).

Expositor, 4th Ser., iii. 125 (Perowne).

Expository Times, iii. 410 (Pinches); x. 72.

Preacher’s Magazine for 1891, 145, 193 (Selby).

Treasury (New York), xiii. 196.

Verse 27

(27) Created.—This significant verb is thrice repeated with reference to man. It indicates, first, that man has that in him which was not a development or evolution, but something new. He is, in fact, the most perfect work of the creative energy, and differs from the animals not only in degree, but in kind, though possessing, in common with them, an organised body. And next, it indicates the rejoicing of the Deity at the completion of His purpose.

Verse 29

(29) Every herb bearing seed . . . every tree.—Of the three classes of plants enumerated in Genesis 1:11, the two most perfect kinds are given to man for his food; while in Genesis 1:30 the birds and animals have not merely the cryptogamous plants of the first class, but every green herb granted to them for their sustenance. We are not to suppose that they did not eat seeds and fruits, but that the fundamental supply for the maintenance of animal life was the blade and leaf, and that of human life the perfected seed and ripe fruit. Man is thus from the first pointed out as of a higher organisation than the animal; and the fact that his food is such as requires preparation and cooking has been the basis, not merely of most of the refinements of life, but even of the close union of the family. For what would become of it without the common meal?

But undoubtedly the food originally assigned to man was vegetable; nor was express leave given to eat flesh until after the flood. Nevertheless the dominion given to man, in Genesis 1:28, over fish, bird, and animal, made it lawful for him to use them for his food; and the skins with which Adam and Eve were clothed on their expulsion from Paradise prove that animals had been already killed. After the fall, Abel’s sacrifice of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof, leads irresistibly to the conclusion that the flesh was eaten by the offerer and his family. In ancient times this was the rule. Flesh was not the staple of man’s diet, but the eating of it was a religious ceremony, at which certain portions were offered to God and burnt on His altar, and the rest consumed by man as the Deity’s guests. So we may well believe that until the flood the descendants of Seth partook of flesh rarely, and only at a sacrifice, but that after the flood a more free use of it was permitted.

Verse 31

(31) Behold, it was very good.—This final blessing of God’s completed work on the Friday must be compared with the final words of Christ spoken of the second creation, upon the same day of the week, when He said “It is finished.” Next we must notice that this world was only good until man was placed upon it, but then became very good. This verdict, too, had respect to man as a species, and is not therefore annulled by the fall. In spite, therefore, of the serious responsibilities attendant upon the bestowal of freewill on man, we believe that the world is still for purposes of mercy, and that God not only rejoiced at first, but “shall rejoice in His works” (Psalms 104:31). (Comp. Psalms 85:10; Romans 5:15, &c.)


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Genesis 1:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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