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Every writing must be judged by the object the writer has in view. If the object of the writer of these chapters was to convey physical information, then certainly it is imperfectly fulfilled. But if his object was to give an intelligible account of God's relation to the world and to man, then it must be owned that he has been successful in the highest degree. Intimate communion with God, a spirit trained to discern spiritual things, a perfect understanding and zeal for God's purpose, these are qualities quite independent of a knowledge of the discoveries of science.
I. This then is the first lesson of the Bible that at the root and origin of all this vast universe 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. This becomes immensely clearer as we pass into the world of man.
II. The other great truth that this writer teaches is that man was the chief work of God, for whose sake all else was brought into being. It is conceivable that in this scarcely discernible speck in the vastness of the universe should be played out the chiefest act in the history of God. To Him who maintains these systems in their respective relations and orbits it can be no burden to relieve the needs of individuals.
Marcus Dods, The Book of Genesis, p. 1.
God the Creator of All Things
Genesis 1:0 ; Genesis 2:1-3
There is a Persian fable that God created the world a vast plain and sent His angels to sow it with flower seeds. But Satan was watching, bent on destruction. He buried every seed underground; he called on the rain to fall and rot God's handiwork, and so, he thought, creation was destroyed. But as he stood gazing the seeds began to grow; they rose into the sunlight and opened into a thousand forms of beauty. The new world in all its wonder revealed the wisdom and the power of the Creator.
'How do you know whether there be a God?' was asked once of a Bedouin, and he replied: 'How do I know whether a camel or a man passed my tent last night by their footprints in the sand'.
Some words do not terminate in themselves. 'Created' is only the first syllable in an infinitely greater word. What if at the end it should turn out that all the words expressive of power, wisdom, love, care, should be run into one grand vocable?
I. The word 'created' is but the first syllable of all the words that belong to it, and they a million thick, squared and cubed by other millions up to the point of infinity.
God not only created the world, He drowned the world, and in Sodom and Gomorrah He typically burned the world, and in John He so loved the world as to redeem it with blood: all this is implied in the word 'create'. We must break create as a word up into its constituent particles or elements; it is a multitudinous word, a verbal host, a countless throng of ideas, suggestions, encouragements, responsibilities.
II. God created the earth, God destroyed the earth by drowning, God burned the earth with fire, and after all these processes we come to John 3:16 , 'God loved the world'. Love is a bigger word than create. Love will never give up the world. It is given to love to save the whole earth.
III. We might now reverse the process. Instead of saying, God created, destroyed, redeemed, loved, we might say loved, redeemed, destroyed, created. This is one of the great words that reads the same backwards as forwards. There are a few such words in the English language. All the time God is creating the earth. Do not imagine that creation is a separate and final act; it is God's inclusive ministry. Whatever He does is an aspect of creation, formation, culture, development, and ultimate sanctification, and crowning with the bays and garlands of the heavenly paradise. God is creating man. There is an elementary sense, in which man was created countless centuries ago: there is a spiritual sense in which man is being created every day. 'Ye must be born again' is the gospel of every sunrise; every day is birthday. We are born into a higher life, a nobler conception, a fuller manhood.
IV. At what period of this process are we standing? Some of us are standing at the period of chastisement. We are being drowned or we are being burned, we are being sorely smitten or utterly desolated; but God has promised that He will see that a remnant remains out of which He will grow the flower of immortality.
Joseph Parkes, City Temple Pulpit, vol. vii. p. 128.
The Message of the Book of Genesis
From some points of view the book of Genesis is the most interesting in the Bible. It is the book of beginnings, the book of origins, the book of the story of God's dealings with man. It has an interest and an importance to which no other document of antiquity can pretend. When we turn to the study of Genesis as a whole, the first thing we notice is the unity of plan in the book. Though forming part of a greater whole it also is a complete work. It was written to show how Israel, in answer to the call, and in accordance with the purpose of God, gradually emerged from among many other tribes and peoples, into a separate and distinct existence as the people of Jehovah.
I. Genesis emphasizes the Divine sovereignty and supremacy. Its opening words are as emphatic a testimony to this as can be found in the whole Bible. The Bible makes no attempt to prove the existence of God, nor does it strive to prove the supremacy of God. But look on the book before us. In it everything is traced up to God. God is sovereign, God is supreme, God is first. Therefore Genesis evidences itself to be a true revelation from God. But what is true of the book is true also of life. Our lives are meant to be revelations of God. This cannot be until by utter consecration of ourselves to Him we have in our lives made God first.
II. Genesis emphasizes the Divine grace and love. The revelation of the Bible is essentially a revelation of redemption, and the redemption note is sounded from the first. The whole record of Genesis is a record of the grace of God combating man's sin. The whole story is a story of Divine love, the story of One with whom judgment is a strange work. And this love throughout all this book is seen working with a purpose.
III. Genesis emphasizes the Divine holiness. It represents God as approachable to men, and yet as unapproachable by men. This book teaches us what subsequent revelation confirms, that if the sinner is to approach God so as to be accepted by Him, he must approach God in the way of God's appointment. But this is a lesson which, in our day, we need specially to learn. We dwell so much on the Divine love and the riches of the Divine grace that we are apt to forget that the grace is only bestowed upon us in the Beloved. In our joy at the revelation which Christ made to us of the love of God, we are in danger of forgetting that that love of God reaches men so as to save them only through Jesus Christ.
H. C. Macgregor, Messages of the Old Testament, p. 8.
The Holy Trinity (for Trinity Sunday)
Some people tell us that we cannot find any mention of the word 'Trinity' in the Bible. Perhaps not; but we do find, what is more important, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity most clearly set forth.
I. What saith the Scriptures? The Scriptures which have been brought before us in our services today are all concerned with the blessed truth that our God is a Triune God, and that in the unity of the Godhead there are three Persons God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The First Lesson this morning set before us the vision granted to Isaiah of the thrice-holy God, and in the Second Lesson we read of St. John's vision wherein was revealed the threefold omnipotence of God which is, which was, and which is to be, the Almighty. This evening we read as our First Lesson the first chapter of the Bible, which tells us of God creating the world by the Word, after that the Spirit had moved upon the face of the waters; and in the Second Lesson (Ephesians IV.) we notice St. Paul's reference to One Father, One Lord, and One Spirit. These are but samples, as it were, of the teaching of the Scriptures on the great and glorious truth we think of today.
II. What saith the Church? It is not possible for us to understand the great mystery thus brought before us, but the Church in some measure explains what it involves. In the Apostles' Creed we have brought before us the definite work of each Person in the Blessed Trinity. In the Nicene Creed this is still more clearly defined. In the Athanasian Creed we have the relation of these three Persons each to the other, presented to our view.
III. God, the Centre of the Universe. The inspiring thought which comes to us from a consideration of our text is the Triune God as the Centre of all things. This first chapter of Genesis reminds us of God as the Centre of the universe. 'In the beginning God.' That is our faith in regard to the world. Geologists and scientists may tell us that the world is much older than anyone imagines, but that does not affect our faith. What does it matter to us if the world is millions of years old? We go back to the beginning of things and say that whenever that time was, God was the Creator of the universe. No scientific teaching can get behind that. Many scientists admit that there must have been a first cause, but they cannot explain to us on scientific principles what it was. It is here that the Bible supplies what is missing, and it tells us that, 'In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth'. That is the bedrock upon which the Christian takes his stand; thus he can give an answer to all the criticisms and doubts of the scientists. What the scientist cannot explain the humble believer can appreciate in the light of God's own revelation. And just as God created the world, so He upholds all things by the Word of His power. When he looks up into the heavens the believer sees behind and beyond all else 'the Glory of God'; and when he considers this great universe he thinks of it as God's handiwork. This thought gives a new interest to the study of nature; and the beauty of it all is that the Christian believer knows that He Who was the Creator, and is the Centre of the universe, is his loving Heavenly Father.
IV. God, the Centre of the Affairs of this Life. God was not only the Creator of the world; He remains the Centre of its affairs. He it is Who makes and dethrones kings. He it is Who governs all things in earth. This is a truth which is not realized so often as it should be. Men talk of empires as though they could build them up as and when they wished; but depend upon it the empire in which He is not recognized rests upon an unstable foundation. The empire that will endure is that which is built on the eternal principles of righteousness.
V. God, the Centre the Individual Life. But, lastly, what God is in the universe and in the affairs of men, that He is also in the individual life. Are we conscious of this great truth that the great Triune God is the Centre of our life? that in Him we live and move and have our being? Do we realize the controlling, the guiding, the inspiring, the impelling power of God in our own individual life? If not, it is because we have let sin have dominion over us, and thus God has been shut out.
References. I. 1. H. P. Liddon, University Sermons (2nd series), p. 38, 1890; Sermons and Addresses, p. 56. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon Sketches, p. 54. A. Coote, Twelve Sermons, p. 20. T. G. Bonney, Sermons on Questions of the Day, p. 1. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons, vol. i. p. 179. E. White, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxviii. p. 331. B. Jowett, Sermons on Faith and Doctrine, p. 282. J. C. M. Bellew, Sermons, vol. iv. p. 241. H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iv. p. 1. I. 1-5. C. H. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi. No. 660. I. 2. A. P. Stanley, Sermons on Special Occasions, p. 138. Bishop Browne, Old Testament Outlines, p. 2.
Dr. A. C. Bradley quotes these words in his Oxford Lectures on Poetry, pp. 57, 58. He says, 'I will take a last example. It has probably been mentioned in almost every account of the sublime since Longinus quoted it in his work on Elevation of Style. And it is of special interest here because it illustrates at one and the same time the two kinds of sublimity which we are engaged in distinguishing. "God said, Let there be light, and there was light." The idea of the first and instantaneous appearance of light, and that the whole light of the whole world is sublime; and its primary appeal is to sense. The further idea, that this transcendently glorious apparition is due to mere words, to a breath our symbol of tenuity, evanescence, impotence to influence material bulk heightens enormously the impression of absolutely immeasurable power.'
There is a very remarkable reference to this passage in the writings of St. John of the Cross ( Obras Espirituales, vol. ii. p. S94). The Spanish mystic is seeking to draw a clear contrast between the dark night of the soul, as it is understood by the saints, and the darkness of sin. There may be two reasons, he says, why the eye fails to see. It may be in obscurity ( á escuras ), or it may be blind. 'God is the light and the true object of the soul; and when He fails to illuminate it, the soul is in darkness, although its vision may remain very keen. When it is in sin, or when the appetite is filled with other things, it is blind.' ' Una cosa es estar a escuras, otra estar en tinieblas .' By the first he means the darkness of vision, a darkness caused by excess of light; by the second he means the gross darkness of sin. He uses the expression ' ciego en pecado ' 'blind in sin'. 'But he who lives in obscurity may live there without sin. And this in two ways: as regards his natural being which receives no light from some natural things, and as regards his supernatural being, which receives no light from many supernatural things. Until the Lord said, Fiat lux there was darkness over the face of the deep cavern of the soul's understanding. The deeper that abyss, and the more profound its caves, so much the deeper and more unfathomable is the darkness when God, who is Light, does not illuminate them with His beams.' Of itself, the writer goes on, the soul can travel only from one darkness to another ' guiado por aquella tiniebla, porque no puede Suiar unatiniebla sino a otra teniebla ' ('guided by the darkness itself, because one darkness can lead only to another darkness'). He continues 'As David says: " Dies diei eructat verbum, et nox nodi indicat scientiam ". [Psalms 19:2 , 'Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge'.] And thus the writer adds 'one deep of darkness calleth to another, and one deep of light to another deep of light'.
'Everywhere like calls to like, and thus to that light of grace which God has given the soul already (having opened its inward eyes to the Divine light, and made it well-pleasing to Himself) there calls another deep of grace, I mean the Divine transformation of the soul in God in which the eye of the understanding remains fully enlightened and well-pleasing unto Him.'
Coleridge, in his lectures on Shakespeare, observes that Shakespeare's plays are distinguished from those of other dramatists by the characteristic of 'expectation in preference to surprise. It is like the true reading of the passage: "God said, Let there be light, and there was light "; not, there was light. As the feelings with which we startle at a shooting star, compared with that of watching the sunrise at the pre-established moment, such law is surprise compared with expectation.'
A Light Unto Our Path
'Let there be light.' It 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.
We thank God for His revelation in the Bible. We are all persuaded in our minds that among the means of extending that light the Bible itself has for centuries taken the foremost place. But, with man's proneness to distort or misuse even the grandest of God's gifts, this very privilege has had a peril of its own. People have forgotten, in the using of it, the manner in which the book, under the guiding hand of God, came to take the form in which we know it now, and have neglected the help thus given to us for understanding how to use without abusing it, how to accept it as both human and Divine. It is because men, it is because teachers in the Church of God, have forgotten this that half our perplexities about the Bible have arisen.
I. The Bible and Science. 'Let there be light.' No man, I suppose, will admit, probably no man ever did admit, even to himself, that in these matters it is daylight that he fears. But has it not been true, nevertheless, and true of many of the best and most devout souls, as the Christian centuries have run their course, that albeit unintentionally or unawares they were setting themselves, however importantly, to thwart the Divine purpose, 'Let there be light'? What else can we say of the persistency with which untaught by past experience the guardians and champions of orthodox belief as based on Holy Scripture have, times without number, on the authority of their own interpretation of the Bible, denounced as presumptuous or even blasphemous error the discoveries and aims of scientific men? It was on the strength of Biblical texts that the scheme of Christopher Columbus was condemned by the Spanish Junta in 1490 as vain and indefensible. In 1616 Galileo's teaching that the earth moves round the sun was formally censured by the consulting theologians of the Holy Office 'because expressly contrary to Holy Scripture'. A generation or two afterwards English students were warned by high authority against the investigations of so true and profound a Christian thinker as Sir Isaac Newton as being 'built on fallible phenomena and advanced by many arbitrary presumptions against evident testimonies of Scripture'. And the lives of Roger Bacon, of Copernicus, of Kepler, and of many more, down even to our own day, and to incidents fresh in the recollection of many here, suggest to the thoughtful student of Holy Scripture the imperative need of a reverent and humble-minded caution in our attitude towards every controversy of the kind. We are not, indeed, required to accept at once every unproven hypothesis, or to mistake for absolute science mere assertions about that which is unknowable. Some of the votaries of science have had as little right to speak authoritatively and finally in the name of God. True science and true religion are twin sisters, each studying her own sacred Book of God, and nothing but disaster can arise from the petulant scorn of the one, or from the timidity or the tyrannies of the other. 'Let there be light.' From the Father of light cometh every good and every perfect gift.
II. The History and Character of the Bible. And as with the scientific knowledge which has been so strangely supposed to be contradictory to Scripture rightly used and rightly understood, so, too must we not say it today? so, too, with every reverent and honest investigation into the history and the character of the sacred volume itself. 'Let there be light.' As regards the Old Testament, we have had access in these latter days, under the overruling Providence of God, to a wholly new range of facts about the dawn of civilization in the ancient nations of the world. Egypt and Assyria now vie with each other in their once undreamed-of contributions to the elucidation of our Sacred Book. And every fresh discovery, every new disinterment of significant tablet or cylinder or inscription from its resting-place of literally thousands of years, seems, to me at least, to do something more towards the strengthening and deepening of our belief in the genuine inspiration of the written Word of God, and in the distinctive glory of its divinely ordered message. We can give a new application to the Gospel sentence, 'If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead'.
III. The Bible's Personal Appeal 'Let there be light.' If it be true, as one sometimes fears it is, that there is less of the deliberate, prayerful, devotional study of the Word of God in our homes and on our knees than there used to be in England in days gone by, it is certainly true, I think, to say that there never was a time when so many people as now were bringing the whole power of trained intelligence and of cultured thoughtfulness to bear upon its every part. And that sustained effort cannot but be fruitful, cannot but react in its turn and react healthfully for us and for our children upon the other mode of Bible study, that mode which shapes itself in prayer. For this surely is unquestionable he who sets himself in faith and hope to evoke from the Bible such secrets as it will disclose about the story of its structure and its growth will find himself, so to speak, forced to his knees by the very divineness of the message of guidance and of revelation which it will impart to his inmost soul.
References. I. 3. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, A Year's Plain Sermons, p. 231. E. A. Askew, Sermons Preached in Greystoke Church, p. 59. J. Aspinall, Parish Sermons (1st series), p. 250. J. Thomas, Myrtle Street Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 293. F. W. Robertson, Notes on Genesis, p. 1. I. 4. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi. No. 1252. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Lessons, vol. i. p. 171.
New Year's Thoughts
A wonderful scene is conjured up in the story of creation, and it is not without significance that God's first work on the first day was the creation of light. All the great mass of material creation had been called into being, but thus far 'the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep,' and then as the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, there came from Him Who dwelleth in the light that no man can approach unto, the irresistible mandate, 'Let there be light,' and there was light, and as the clouds rolled back and the darkness vanished before the great stream of splendid light that came from God Himself, there appeared as the light streamed over nature strange forms of matter ranging themselves into order and beauty out of darkness, and gloom, and confusion, and chaos.
May we not on this, the first day of a New Year, profitably consider some 'First Days' and see what they have to teach us?
I. The First Day of the Year . Our thoughts naturally turn at once to New Year's Day when we keep the Feast of the Circumcision. God's gift to the world on the first day of creation was the wonderful gift of light, but on this day we think of a more wonderful gift still the gift of His own Incarnate Son. When the time was come that one was found who was fitted by her purity and her obedience to become the mother of the Incarnate God, when she had said, 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to Thy word,' and in her humility and her faith, had resigned herself to God; and when in due course the Eternal Son of God was born of her in Bethlehem, then on the eighth day He was brought to His circumcision, and then was obedient to the law for man, thus in His own person setting us that splendid example of the life of perfect obedience which alone is acceptable in the sight of God.
II. The First Day of Creation. God's gift to the world on creation's first day was, as I have already reminded you, the gift of light. And this is His gift to you still. He gives you light, the light of conscience, the light of reason, the light of revelation, the light in the face of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate God.
III. The First Day after the Flood. 'After the rain had descended... on the first day of the month the waters were dried up,' and Noah and his family came forth, having been preserved from the Flood. God's gift to you still is the gift of preservation. You have passed over the troublous waters of life during the past year in the ark of God's love and care. And now, as the New Year opens before you, He gives you a preserved life, new opportunities for doing His will stretch out before you. Remember this, remember it always, that the preserved life should be a dedicated life, a life dedicated to God with sacrifice.
IV. The First Day of the Tabernacle. God had brought His people out of Egypt; they had crossed the Red Sea! they murmured at Marah, yet they were led on to Elim and afterwards to Mount Sinai, where they remained a year, during which they were taught His will, and then on the first day of the first month the Tabernacle was set up and 'the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle'. It was the manifested presence of Himself as the reward of the obedient worship according to His will. You have the same gift given to you this New Year's Day.
V. The First Day of Judah's Repentance. We pass on to the time of Hezekiah, who, deeply moved by all the misery and degradation that had come as the result of his father's evil reign, set himself heart and soul to the work of restoration. It was a great call to repentance; first to the whole nation, and then also a call which was extended to the nation of Israel, who, alas! disregarded it. But Judah listened to the call, and we are told that 'on the first day of the first month they began to sanctify themselves'.
VI. The First Day of Ezra's Return from Babylon. But Judah again fell away, and the seventy years' captivity in Babylon followed. Then came the return under Zerubbabel, the House of the Lord was rebuilt and worship was restored. Later there was another large return led by Ezra, whose very purpose was that he might seek the law of the Lord and teach it to the people, and we read that 'on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylon.' You know how he went up and how he worked.
There shall yet be for us another first day, a day that shall never end, in which we shall possess these 'first day' gifts in perfection, if only we strive our very best to use them aright now.
References. I. 5. Phillips Brooks, The Mystery of Iniquity, p. 327. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi. No. 660.
At the Gates of the Dawn
Six times these words are repeated, and the one lesson that rings out is that God counts His periods, not as man does from night to night, but from evening till morning.
I. This is true of creation. At present a veil is cast over all peoples. The creature is subject to illusion, to incompleteness, or, as the Apostle says, to vanity. Probably no earthly realization, however good and beautiful, can set forth all that there is in God; and certainly human sin has infected the house of human life, as cholera and fever infect the tenements in which they have bred. The horror of darkness is the dower of the blind forces to which some of our teachers attribute the system of 'things of which we form a part'. Creation shall participate in the glorious liberty of the sons of God. There shall be evening, there shall be morning, and a Seventh Day.
II. So of the race. The evening was dark when the children of Babel gathered in rebellion against God, and when the knowledge of the original law seemed submerged in savagery and passion. It was destined to become still darker. Darkness was to cover the earth, and gross darkness the people. There have been many dark skies since then, but never so dark as before; and no thoughtful student of history can deny that things are slowly becoming better.
III. So of the individual. Your life is dark. Sin is darkness; sorrow is darkness; and to a greater or less extent these three are part of your daily let. But the night is far spent, the day is at hand. The darkling waves, as they break around your boat, are bearing you onward to the morning meal upon the silver sands, where you will find love has gone before you with its preparation. It shall be evening and morning, and lo! a day without night.
F. B. Meyer, Baptist Times and Freeman, vol. liv. p. 815.
References. I. 14-15. A. P. Stanely, Sermons on Special Occasions, p. 138.
A Divine Revelation (for Trinity Sunday)
The word 'Trinity' is derived from the Latin word Trinus , which signifies 'threefold,' or 'three-in-one'; and thus it exactly expresses the profound mystery of three Persons in the unity of one Godhead. Today the Church most seasonably brings the doctrine of this mystery specially before us.
I. It is distinctly a Divine Revelation. It is absolute that this doctrine of the adorable Trinity be divinely revealed. And so it has been in various parts of Holy Scripture; but we confine our thought briefly to three instances.
( a ) Take the text first. 'And God said, Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.' The word 'God' is, in the original, in the plural number, and yet it is connected with a singular verb. This is not an accidental violation of grammar; for if we go through the whole Bible we shall find the same thing, that is, 'Elohim,' plural, used with a singular verb; but if we read the text thus, 'And the Three-in-One said, Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness,' all difficulty vanishes, and we at once agree with Jewish commentators and Christian divines that even on the first page of the Bible there is affirmed the great and precious truth of a Triune Jehovah.
( b ) But turn from the first page of the Old Testament to some of the first pages of the New, and this doctrine meets the eye again and in stronger form. 'And Jesus,' says St. Matthew, 'when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water; and lo! the heavens were opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him. And lo! a voice from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.' Here are the three Divine Persons. And how beautifully and strictly in keeping with all this is the baptismal formula given by our Lord to His disciples just before He went back to His Father! 'Go ye therefore,' said He to them, 'and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.' Here again the doctrine of the Trinity is enunciated, and each Divine Person is not only linked in one Godhead, but; put upon an equality with the other. And the like sublime things are found in the apostolic benediction. Thus the Bible asserts distinctly from beginning to end that the Father is God; it asserts as distinctly that the Son is God; and it asserts as distinctly that the Holy Ghost is God.
II. It is the Emphatic Belief of the Church. Take, as first proof, what is denominated 'the Apostles' Creed,' because it publishes the Deityship of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost in language that cannot possibly be mistaken. Take next what is named 'the Nicene Creed,' because it is, if anything, more emphatic than 'the Apostles' Creed,' especially in the third paragraph, having been composed by a council of holy fathers to define the perfect Christian faith in opposition to a contrary doctrine respecting the Holy Ghost. And then take what is called 'the Athanasian Creed,' because it is still more elaborate and precise than the two former creeds. In this creed it is affirmed that 'the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one, the Majesty co-eternal. And in this Trinity none is afore or after other; none is greater or less than another. So that in all things the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.'
References. I. 26. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, The Master's Message, p. 183. H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1491, p. 65. Bishop Woodford, Sermons Preached in Various Churches, p. 33. C. Kingsley, Gospel of the Pentateuch, p. 18. I. 26-31. F. W. Robertson, Notes on Genesis, p. 9. I. 26-11. 3. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Genesis, p. 1.
Adam the Child
The characteristic of the Jewish portraits is their derivation from the period of youth, and this chord is struck at the very beginning.
I. The man who painted Adam knew he was painting a child. Is his picture childlike enough to be universal? This artist has no pretence hand; his is the touch of a master. The Garden scene has never become absolute, and the reason is that it is planted in that field of humanity whose products neither grow nor decline.
II. Why is this a representative picture? Because in the dawning consciousness of your own infant you will find exactly the same mixture of dust and divinity. But look again at the development of your child, and you will see how cosmopolitan is this biography of the primeval Adam.
III. The common view is that the artist is describing a case of mere disobedience. That is not the deepest idea of the picture. The primitive narration has attached itself, not to the portrayal of obedience, but to the portrayal of justice. It is not the dependant forgetting the respect to his master; it is the partner ignoring his contract, the associate breaking his bond, the sharer of dual rights attempting to encroach upon the rights of the other. This child, every after child, has his tragedy inside, his dramatic personages inside, his dialogues inside. I do not think the tragedies would be less complete if the outward deed had been omitted; for the final act of injustice in the sight of heaven is ever consummated in the region of the soul.
G. Matheson, The Representative Men of the Bible, p. 23.
The Origin and the Destiny of Man
I. If we would profit by our own reading of the wonderful poem of Creation which is preserved for us in the first chapter of Genesis, we must fix our thoughts on the great spiritual truths which it teaches. Think of one of these truths, perhaps the most important of all in relation to ourselves and our conduct. We may take it in the words of the text: 'God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him.' You may ask, no doubt, how this account of the Creation of man can be reconciled with the teaching of modern science as to his cousinship with the lower animals, teaching which we receive, perhaps, with a little natural reluctance when it is first put before us. But the truth is, that what the Bible is concerned with is not man's pedigree on the side of his humble ancestors, but his heritage and his birthright as made in the image of God. That as regards his bodily form man is akin to the lower animals may be very true. It is a matter with which Scripture does not concern itself. However life came it came from the one Source of Life. But that is not to say that man has no privilege of his own in which the beasts do not share. It is this prerogative of his, which the text puts before us. However man comes to his present stage of growth, there was given to him at some point in his long history a unique gift, the reason and the will which reflect the Supreme Reason, the Divine Will. And this gift is quite independent of those bodily appetites and desires which he shares with the brutes. It is independent, for personality is one thing, nature is another. And as it is not a product of the body, so it does not perish with the body.
II. What does that teach us about our Lord's Person? Is it not this, that though He became man, took upon Him human nature with all its joys and sorrows, His Divine Personality still continues. The forces which could sadden His human life, which brought about His bitter death, could not touch or destroy His Divine Person.
III. And so, in a lower degree, indeed, and with many differences, may we say, that it is with man and his pedigree. He is an animal by nature; bis bodily life and death are as the life and death of the animals over which he rules. But then his personality; what of that? Whence comes it? From his animal nature? Nay; but from God in whose image and likeness he is made. He is made after the Divine likeness in respect of his soul; and it is because we believe that, that we have a right to say that if the present is the life of beasts, it is the future which is the true life of man.
J. H. Bernard, Via Domini, p. 41.
What Is Man?
Genesis 1:27 ; Genesis 2:7
What are the great principles of religion which are revealed to us in these early chapters of Genesis? Speaking, generally, there are three.
I. The Revelation of a Personal God. The first is the revelation of a personal God Who made the world and rules all our life. In the Old Testament the writers never question the existence of God at all. God is there. What the Old Testament writers do give is the character and nature of that God Who is there from the beginning. Any conception of God which other religions may have must be brought to the test of the revelation of God which is made to us here. For instance, if you bring to the test the idea that man is swallowed up in God that the finite is absorbed and lost in the infinite altogether you find that that must be wrong, because it does not allow man that independence which the Bible narrative reveals. Now we have here quite clearly marked the position of God. God is in the beginning, and this world's reality is through the Will of God. And you and I see that behind all the processes of Nature, whatever they may be, however long these processes may have taken, however strange may be the methods by which those processes have made the universe, it is God Who, behind all, is ruling. God is the beginning, God is the means, and God is the end. That is a practical matter, not merely one of intellectual delight. All that comes to us comes from the will, from the mind, from the heart of the living Person of God.
II. The Revelation of Man's Privileges. Man has been made in the image of God. He stands quite apart from all the rest of the Creation. He has that power of self-consciousness which belongs to no other creature. His will is not like that of the animals, determined simply by the strongest physical passion or desire. In that lies this great fact: man is capable of union with God, he is capable of receiving a Divine revelation. Science itself is willing to acknowledge that there is this unearthly element in the nature of man. But as man has a higher side, so he has a lower side. God made man of the dust of the earth. There is the revelation of the material side of man's nature. What were the actual processes by which that material clay was prepared until it became ready for the breath of God? It was God Himself Who guided those early developments till the clay was ready for the gift of self-consciousness. On the one side man is at one with Nature. At the same time man is raised distinctly above the animals by that breath of God. The long struggle continually leading us to fight for the higher ideal, the nobler life, is a constant witness to the Divine side of man. If we are made in the image of God, then we have the capacity to know God.
III. The Revelation of Man's Fall. Yet we know how man's life, as a matter of fact, falls far short of the ideal of the Divine life. We need that to be explained, and in this early account of the Creation we have the explanation set clearly before us. There are very few references to the actual story of the fall, and yet all the while, especially after the captivity, there was a very strong sense of the gravity of sin. The Jews never looked back to a golden age, always to a golden age to come. When you look at the account of the fall and ask yourself, 'What does it really mean?' you must try to realize quite clearly what is meant about the state of man before the fall. It is perfectly true that man did possess before the fall what he afterwards did not possess a moral purity and innocence. But man did not possess what men have sometimes thought he possessed, such perfection as perfection of intellectual capacity such a capacity, for instance, as man possesses today. Man was just a child. He was perfect in the sense that he perfectly corresponded with the Will of God. Man by his disobedience to the distinct Will of God introduced sin into the world. There came a moment when this disobedience broke down the development of man's life. Thus we see the need of redemption.
References. I. 27. T. G. Bonney, Sermons on Questions of the Day, p. 1. G. Sarson, A. Lent in London, p. 142 C. Kingsley, The Good News of God, p. 212. A. Gray, Faith and Diligence, p. 139. C. Brown, God and Man, p. 86. Bishop Jones, Old Testament Outlines, p. 4. Bishop Goodman, Parish Sermons, vol. v. p. 1. H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iv. p. 35.
God and Man
There are many things which prove to be a puzzle to the brain of man, and if we try and think out first principles we often find ourselves tied up as it were in a knot. There are, however, three things in this world which the mind of man can reduce and think of as being, so to speak, first principles. Nobody can deny their existence. Here they are. We know of them, we see their working, they compose the whole of the created universe matter, that which composes the whole of creation; force, a technical term to represent the energy and power of the universe; and law, those wonderful results which we see following from different causes, and yet so regularly, that man is able to count upon them, to act upon them, and to frame the: whole of his life from their results.
Now these three things fail to account for three things concerning themselves.
I. They Fail to Account for their Own Existence. You and I may study science, we may argue back, we may think out problems, we may arrive at some great conclusion, we may, indeed, understand all the mysteries of how and why, but as you get farther and farther back, you come to these three things, matter, force, and law, and there is no ingenuity of the brain of man that has yet been able to account for their existence. There is no explanation of them. You think yourself back to the far ages; you may adopt, if you like, the principle of development, evolution, of whatever you wish, but you come eventually back to these things, matter, force, law; and no man's mind can, or has hitherto invented any system that will account for their being in existence. But when you open your Bible, when you turn to the first chapter of Genesis, there you find one explanation which has held good from the earliest time, and which has no refutation even today. In the very first chapter, in the very first verse, in the very first words, the one and only explanation is found, 'In the beginning God.' There is no other solution; there is no other explanation.
II. Where is the Ingenuity of Man's Mind that can Conceive how these Things come to be in Action? It is all very well to produce and publish axioms which govern theories. It is all very well to test by the most accurate scientific knowledge and prove effects, but you have to go back to the final question: How they all became active, alive, so magnificently full of energy, force, and life as we see them? There is only one explanation; there is only one answer, and you find it still in the first chapter of Genesis, 'And God said... "Let there be" '
III. How is it all the Things in the World that we see are Gradually Working Out and Promoting the Welfare of Mankind? All that the world passes through, one phase after another, one form of life giving place to another form of life. You may go into the wilds of a distant country, or into the hub of the great civilized world, London, what do you find? That law, matter, force, in its natural result is all aiding the betterment of human beings. How do you account for this? We have no special physical force that would enable us to capture the world; we have no great magnificent power which enables us, as it were, to rule the forces of Nature in ourselves, except that we find, as we look round the world, in all the created things of life, they all turn, they all develop, they are all capable of being made for the promotion of the welfare of mankind. This, I think, you will find answered in the same first chapter of Genesis, for in the twenty-ninth verse, God has there said: 'I have given you all the earth'. Here you have matter, force, and law; here you have them failing to account for their own existence and failing to account for their being in action, and the mysterious fact that it all works out in its results for promoting the welfare of human beings. It is one of the most wonderful thoughts that a man can have: God has created, God has said, God has given.
The Manifold Mercies of God
The pessimist view of the Creation, nay, of man himself, of life, of all things, is now in the ascendant. I mean by the pessimist view, the view which tends to depreciate both man and his world. The wise ones of the hour, happily only of the hour, who lead the thoughts of this generation, and are listened to as its prophets, seem to be settling to the cheerful conviction that Creation has on the whole been a blunder, of which all sentient things have to suffer the penalty in the pain and futility which torment the world.
I. I believe that this pessimist view of man and the creation is just the reaction the inevitable reaction against that foolishly and wearisomely optimist view which, during the last generations, the writers on Christian evidences have dinned into the ears of men. The intellectual world is just weary to nauseation of hearing that all things in the universe work together with the smoothness and constancy of a machine, whose steam power the Being whom they are pleased to call the great Artificer supplied. The curse of our theology during the last century has been this, that owing mainly to the vigour of the Deistic and Atheistic assault on the truth of the Gospel, theologians have been tempted to think that they had to make out a case for God, and to hold the citadel of their narrow theology as a Divine fortress, which they were bound to defend at any cost. They have effected a complete understanding of the scheme of the universe; have explained away or hidden all that seemed inconsistent with the benignity of the Creator, and pushed forward and magnified all that fell in with their notions of His goodness, until their Creation the Creation which they undertook to explain and to justify, whose design they were ever ready to expound, and whose plan fitted their expositions as a key fits its wards had come to be a very unreal and unlifelike world.
When we hear from our wise ones in the lore of nature that there is more pain than joy within the range of their sight, we remind ourselves that Scripture told us it was a travail. When they tell us that it seems to be but a blundering and futile scheme, we remind ourselves again that the Scripture tells us that it is a seed time, and what can seem so blundering and futile as casting seed into the furrows to rot under the dull pall of winter, to him who has no eye to forecast the radiance of the coming spring.
II. The grand distinctive feature of the Creation, that which reveals the lovingkindness of the Creator, and is the signature of His goodness, is the law of progress which rules its development; the continued evolution of finer, compacter, purer, nobler forms of things, as the unfolding of the purpose of the Creator proceeds, so that the world of today is altogether a more beautiful, orderly, and joyful world to live in, than the world, as far as we can discern its features, of myriads of years ago. There is struggle, shock, and apparent confusion without question.
The world of today seems built on the ruins of the world of yesterday. The feet of the living tread everywhere the dust of death. But the living now stand higher than the living of old with more erect port, with freer gesture, with braver dress.
Something in the inner soul of nature moves her to this continual refining and elevating of form. We cannot be blind to the manifest hand of the living God. It is the course of development which from the first He prophesied. As we see it complete itself we cannot help connecting it with the unseen Almighty hand. There has been through all the ages that law of progress working mightily, which is announced as the law of the Divine operation in the Scripture. All things there breathe the spirit of progress, of vital propulsive movement, of onward, upward development; progress, the onward, upward movement, is the breath of their life. It is with Creation as with history. God prophesies, not that we may be able to paint in detail the scheme of the future, but that when we see it unfold itself we may know that it is His work (Isaiah 45:18-25 ).
III. There is that in the Creation which the largest and most developed human intellect and spirit, albeit conversant with heavenly things, and familiar with the thoughts of God, contemplates with eager and keen delight, which seems to transcend its power of comprehension and its organ of expression, which bends it low in something like awestruck adoration, while it murmurs, 'O Lord, my God, how wonderful are Thy works, how glorious! In wisdom and in faithfulness hast Thou made them all.'
J. Baldwin Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi. p. 841.
References. I. 31. T. G. Bonney, Sermons on Questions of the Day, p. 17. C. Kingsley, The Good News of God, p. 268. E. T. A. Morriner, Sermons Preached at Lyme Regis, p. 185. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 238. II. G. Moberly, Parochial Sermons, p. 61. II. 1-3. J. Bowstead, Practical Sermons, vol. i. p. 19. J. Parker, Adams, Noah, and Abraham, p. 14.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Genesis 1". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12