The Unbeginning Beginning
Was ever the mind so staggered and so humiliated as by this first chapter of Genesis! The mind is plunged into infinite depths, and driven up into infinite heights, and forced with irresistible violence across infinite breadths, and then is asked by mechanical critics what it thinks of it all! Why, of course, it cannot think. It is in the whirl of an infinite amazement; it is humbled, abashed, and stupefied utterly. The action never pauses for a moment; how busy are the days, and how active the night in star-lighting; in the waters is a great stir of life; the woods are burning with colour; the earth is alive with things that creep; the air vibrates with the clap of wings. Then we are called upon to say what we think of it all! Why, what do we know about it? We have only seen it upon paper—upon a scroll that twists and crinkles under the burden it has to carry, and that writhes because of the torment of a secret it can never tell. What do we think of it all? First tell me what have we seen of it all. Nothing! Who has seen the sun, been around him on every side, passed through his provinces, scaled his mountains, trembled in his solitudes? Who has acquainted himself with the stars, every one of them, great and small; the planets with their belts and rings, and the treasure hidden in their central caskets—the innumerable stars—unmeasured and immeasurable thoroughfares of glory—steeps of worlds—ocean after ocean of constellations—a way white as milk—figures as of lions and winged creatures—timid stars, timid because so small; burning stars, only kept from destroying us because of distance—stars that could swallow up our sun without adding a beam to their own splendour or a sprinkling of dust to their own magnitude—what do we think of them all? Especially of those we have never seen; the starry kingdoms that glow beyond every horizon that has dawned upon our dreams; every system the centre of some other system; their revolutions an eternity, their space an infinity!
What, indeed, do we know about our own earth? Nothing worth naming! We have chipped the rocks here and there, and drawn diagrams which we have sold to children, and paid carpenters for drawers to keep spars in; we have made maps or the world which we are always readjusting and recolouriug: we have called common things by uncommon names; but who knows anything about the earth? Who has walked over all the ocean beds and acquainted himself with all the mystery of the sea? Who has stood a yard, from the shore of his own little world, and watched the tiny boat voyaging over the sea of space? Who has seen both hemispheres at once? Who has been in both hemispheres on the same day? Who can make the wind blow from the east or west? What is the wind? Ay, poor idiot-philosopher, hot with carrying huge burdens of polysyllables, tell me what is the wind, and thy answer shall be the root of another question. Our wisdom is like a tree growing only questions, a hard fruit, hard to reach, hard to use.
A marvellous harmony, too, there is in the statement of cause no guessing or supposing or humble suggestion; on the contrary, a definite and thrilling asseveration: hear it:—"God created"—"And God said"—"And God saw"—"And God called"—"And God made"—"And God set"—"And God blessed"—GOD! That is the cause: Personality, Mind, Purpose, Government—these are the ideas which the bold writer puts before everything and above everything. The mysteries of the creation are but shadows of the mystery of the Creator. How curious is the variety of mind! Some minds instantly fix upon the heavenly bodies, and get credit for being astronomers; others upon plants and flowers, and get credit for being botanists; others upon beasts and birds, and get credit for being naturalists—all such minds are supposed to be very scientific and very able: but when another type of mind seizes upon the term GOD, the highest term of all, it is sneered at as theological, with a strong tinge of fanaticism. It seems to me that the theologian has undertaken the highest task of all, and that, compared with his work, all other work is child"s play. But God is unknowable. So is nature; so is tomorrow; so is man; so is space. Or, if you will have it, let us say that, in the degree in which nature is knowable, God is knowable; when science advances religion goes along with it; science builds the altar at which religion prays. If nature is great, God must (reasonably and analogously) be greater; if nature displays Wisdom of Solomon, God must be wiser; if nature indicates power, it indicates it in such a degree as to make God all-powerful. Thus the first chapter of Genesis might have been written backwards—"The heaven and the earth had a beginning: the earth was without form and void; order came, and light, and night and day, and a great firmament, and all the host of life, and everything so good, so beautiful, so beneficent, as to be worthy of the name of GOD." The other method of statement is infinitely grander, and indeed infinitely simpler. As Christian reasoners we adopt it, as Christian worshippers. Instead of the infantile statement—"Here is a picture which must have had a painter," we name the Artist and credit him with the picture. If we remove the term GOD from this chapter, we leave behind a mystery of darkness; when we reinsert the term GOD we import the nobler mystery of light. In a very plain sense there Isaiah, so far as the visible creation is concerned, less mystery with a Creator than without one. Here, then, is the Christian standpoint, and here the Christian resting ground—God the mighty and holy Maker of all things. If the things themselves were not here, we might have some difficulty about God, but these things embody him, represent him, make him, in some degree, manifest to our naked eyes. We must not be afraid, or ashamed even, of true Deism. It is irrational, not merely sentimental, to poetise the moon and ignore the sun which she modestly reflects. What is God to us? Does he live? Is he only an aggregation of sublime epithets? Or, do we live and move and have our being in him? Do not let us trouble the mind with vain endeavours to define God; on the contrary, let us guard the mind against what may too narrowly be described as "intelligent conceptions" of God, for thereby we may not lift up our intelligence to God, but drag down God to our intelligence, and so become our own idolaters. To think that it is in our power to think of GOD is to come under the influence of what may, without infinite watchfulness of the heart, become the most insidious temptation that can assail the human mind. The most intelligent conception of God would seem to me to be that God cannot be intellectually conceived. We feel after him. He is recognised by the heart. Whenever he comes within the lines of reason it is by a condescension so complete as almost of necessity to mislead reason, as if the dewdrop should suppose it holds the sun which it only reflects. We bow down before God. We cannot see God and live. God is great, and we know him not. A wonderful thing it was for any mind, supposing it to be but a finite thought, to introduce the word GOD into human speech. If we could think ourselves out of our familiarities back to beginnings, we should find in the introduction of this word something like a miracle in language. Once uttered, once written, it is immediately recognised as the word which the ages have been waiting for, and the mind is apt to imagine that it always knew the word, and that the word is part and parcel of its own quality—a kind of ingratitude not unknown even in strictly human education and intercourse. Yet once suggested (we should say revealed), how strong are the commendations it brings with it! Truly, things do look as if they might have been brought about by a personal and sovereign Mind. They are so wonderfully made, so balanced, so rounded, so interdependent; so huge, yet so safe; so small, yet each cared for and fed as if it were an only child; so long-continued, too, age after age, that time has no more dial space to write figures upon that will tell all the tale of duration. Yes; now that some one has put into the mind the idea of God, we cannot get rid of it. "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge." Reason is not humbled by this confession, but ennobled by it. Reason itself says, It must be so! Reason takes off its sandals and lays down its crook, saying, Surely this is holy ground! Reason is a worshipper. Reason has seen space, and inferred the Infinite; reason has seen duration, and inferred the Eternal; a voice has whispered into the ear of reason the mysterious word GOD, and reason cannot silence the solemn music. "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God," but the world has not accepted the fool"s speech. Crime has endeavoured to upset law, yet is there infinite quietness in the order of creation. The heathen have raged and the people imagined a vain thing, yet has their rage died like a wind, and their pride been broken as a potter"s vessel. Here, then, we stand. We accept the idea—GOD. We did not create it, we have tried to destroy it, yet there it is—a great light, a solemn darkness, a temple of mystery, "a deep where all our thoughts are drowned."
The practical effect of this faith has been most remarkable and confirmatory. A mysterious and gracious process of identification has completed itself in the purest and loftiest affections of the heart; so I should now have to give up a God that has involved himself in my thinking, not only with all time and space, not only with life and destiny, as they project themselves on horizons far away, but with this day"s duty, with all immediate obligation, sacrifice, service, and character. GOD is not now a symbol of an imaginary kind, whose action, in my thinking, I can suspend without loss of light and force; he has become—account for it as you may—the ruling power of my life, the moral centre of my conduct, the thought which penetrates, inspires, and sanctifies me. The ease or difficulty with which a man can surrender GOD depends, if I may so say, upon the use to which he has become accustomed to put the mysterious term. If GOD has been but a nebulous and speechless dream—a veneration without a corresponding morality—the act of surrender will be as indefinite as itself. But in our case, as Christian believers and Christian teachers, GOD is in every part of our life; he has manifested himself to us; he has taken up his abode with us; the Spirit of his Son is in our hearts, crying, Abba, Father; he searches us and tries us; he acts directly and judicially upon every motive; he guides us with his eye; he besets us behind and before, and lays his hand upon us; to him our hearts aspire in instinctive as well as in reasoned prayer; the spontaneous outstretching of our hands is towards his holy temple, if haply we may touch his strength, and feel secure because he is almighty; when we do wrong our eyes are darkened as with a cloud, and when we do well our hearts feel upon them the light of a smile. That is our case now; in such circumstances surrender would be destruction. We have, if I may so put it, gone too far in our use of God to turn away from him and yet retain our identity intact. "We live and move and have our being in God." We have passed the merely argumentative stage. "God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us." "Our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." Whilst God was but an incipient thought—a possible superstition of the mind—we might have crushed the embryo; but we have heard a voice, and opened the door, and God has come in and has supped with us, and we with him. We are now, so to speak, involved in God, complicated with him; "partakers of the Divine nature," "partakers of his holiness." "Of him are we in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us Wisdom of Solomon, and righteousness, and sanctiflcation, and redemption." Though our minds cannot grasp his infinity, our hearts can feel his love; though our imagination cannot search his understanding, our conscience can respond to his righteousness; though we cannot explain, we can pray. Thus, God has laid hold of our highest nature, though apparently our intellect stands in rebuke, abashed before him. There are, therefore, moral considerations in any proposed surrender, as well as considerations of a merely intellectual kind, and whilst the intellectual considerations are on no account to be lowered in value and dignity, the considerations which turn towards conscience and character, which construct society upon a religious and therefore responsible basis, and insist upon making daily conduct itself into a kind of daily worship, can only, in my view, be relaxed at the peril of the very morality they aim to express I rest in what I believe to be the Christian conception of God. It fills and satisfies, it comforts and inspires my best nature. My reason bows before it. My conscience accepts it. My heart is thankful for it; my whole soul grows towards strength and completeness under its hallowing benediction. I feel that it must be right, because it enables me to pity sin, to be kind to the unthankful and the evil, to find in every man a brother, and to bow down with all the nations of the world, saying, "Our Father, which art in heaven."
Yes, now I look at things, they might have been made by God; they are vast enough, splendid enough, and harmonious enough. I do not particularly mind if they did come out of germs, molecules, and plasms which naked eyes cannot see. Very likely. They are the more wonderful for that. I never supposed that God drove up the worlds into their places like infinite loads drawn by infinite horses. "Germs" is quite notion enough for me. The kingdom of heaven itself is like unto a grain of mustard seed, and that kingdom is infinitely larger than all the constellations put together. As I look upon that kingdom the constellations fade into pale sparks as if by conscious contrast. Once creation looked big—quite an enormous and awful bulk—but now that I have seen him by whom, for whom, and through whom, it was made, the stars are but pin points and the great circle but a dim shadow because of the glorious majesty of his Godhead. Matter lessens as thought enlarges, and so along this line we find the comforting truth that death is by reason of increasing life "swallowed up in victory." This would seem to be the evolution through which Biblical thought itself has passed. David considered the heavens, the moon, and the stars, and wondered that God should make account of the son of man. Peter, a man in every way likely to be impressed by bulk and force and radiance, having been with Jesus and learned of him—having seen the white flame on Tabor which Saul afterwards saw at the gate of Damascus—looked upon the infinite pomp, and predicted the noise of its departure and the smoke of its dissolution.
This marvellous development of what may be called contempt for inferior things, how magnificent soever their exterior, is characteristic of the whole process of spiritual growth, and Isaiah, indeed, a test of its progress and healthiness. A remarkable instance is found in the Apostle Paul. A mind so capacious and energetic could have glorified any sphere of human activity, yet gathering together all the privileges of ancestry, all the dignities of office all the temptations of sense, he burned them all on the altar of the Cross, and counted their sacrifice a gain. So much depends upon what may be called the uppermost principle or force in a man"s nature. Where it is commercial, markets are universes and prices are the only recognised poetry; where it is love of physical science, the visible creation is the mind"s ample heaven; where it is patriotism, the country is the only sanctuary worth saving; where it is theological, the universe is but a spark, all space is but a bubble, time has no measurable proportion to unbeginning and unending duration—the one absorbing and inspiring thought is GOD. Hence the infinite raptures of Christian experience, hence triumph over every pain which cruelty can inflict, hence the shout of victory in the very presence of death. So even thus early in our studies of the Bible—even in this architectural and almost experimental Genesis—we come upon some of the ultimate truths of practical Christianity. Are we still impressed by bulk? Is the visible creation still so huge and important a thing? Is the eye still amazed by the pomp of the nocturnal sky and the radiance of summer noondays? Or have we passed the era of childish wonder and arithmetical computation, and entered into the temple of worship and seen the Maker whose presence annihilates all things made? The creation is for children; the sanctuary is for men: matter is for the senses; thought is for the soul. This is the sign of growth. By this we know just where we are on the Divine scale. If we are still only gaping at Size and Light, we are but in a rudimentary state; we should have passed beyond this long ago, and should now be in a region that has no boundaries, in a kingdom without sun or moon, without night, without sea, without temple, where precious stones are thrust into the foundations, and gold is trodden upon as the pavement, and the one glory is "the throne of God and of the Lamb." If we have not passed into this new Jerusalem, we have been idling away our time in laborious frivolity, heaping up the wind and gathering the waters into sieves.
Making, Destroying, and Saving Man
Genesis 1:26; Genesis 6:7; Jeremiah 3:5; Luke 19:10
If you could bring together into one view all the words of God expressive of his purposes concerning Prayer of Manasseh, you would be struck with the changefulness which seems to hold his mind in continual uncertainty. He will destroy, yet the blow never falls; he will listen to man no more, yet he speeds to him in the day of trouble and fear; he will make an utter end, yet he saves Noah from the flood, and plucks Lot as a brand from the fire; his arm is stretched out, yet it is withdrawn in tender pity. So changeful is he who changeth not, and so fickle he in whom there is no shadow of turning! We cannot but be interested in the study of so remarkable a fact, for surely there must be some explanation of changefulness in Omniscience and variation of feeling in the Inhabitant of eternity. You never read of God being disappointed with the sun, or grieved by the irregularity of the stars. He never darkens the morning light with a frown, nor does he ever complain of any other of the work of his hands than Prayer of Manasseh, made in his own image and likeness! he does indeed say that he will destroy "both man and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air," but it is wholly on account of man"s sin; for, as everything was made for Prayer of Manasseh, so when man falls all that was made for him and centred in him goes down in the great collapse. Why should there be blithe bird-music in the house of death? Why should the earth grow flowers when the chief beauty has lost its bloom? So all must die in man. When he falls he shakes down the house that was built for him. So we come again to the solemn but tender mystery of God"s changefulness, and ask in wonder, yet in hope, whether there can be found any point at which are reconciled the Changeable and the Everlasting?
But let us be sure that we are not mistaken in the terms of the case. Is it true that there is any change in God? is not the apparent change in him the reflection of the real change that is in ourselves? I not only undertake to affirm that such is the case, but I go farther, and affirm that the very everlastingness of the Divine nature compels exactly such changes as are recorded in the Bible. If you say that man ought not to have been created as a changeable being, then you say in other words that man ought not to have been created at all. If you find fault with man"s constitution, you find fault with God, and if you find fault with God I have no argument with you. I take man as he Isaiah, and I want to show that Divine love must manifest itself, either in complacency or anger, according to the conduct of mankind.
I must remind you that this principle is already in operation in those institutions which we value most, and that it is a principle on which we rely for the good order, the permanent security, and the progress of society.
This principle is in constant operation in family life. By the gracious necessities of nature the child is tenderly beloved. The whole household is made to give way to the child"s weakness. The parents live their lives over again in the life of the child. For his sake hardship is undergone and difficulty is overcome. The tenderest care is not too dainty, the most persistent patience is not accounted a weariness. But sin comes: ingratitude, rebellion, defiance; family order is trampled on, family peace is violated; and in proportion as the parent is just, honourable, true, and loving, will he be grieved with great grief; he will not be petulant, irritable, or spiteful, but a solemn and bitter grief will weigh down his desolated heart. Then he may mourn the child"s birth, and say, with breaking and most tearful voice, "It had been better that the child had not been born." Then still higher aggravation comes. Something is done which must be visited with anger, or the parent must lose all regard for truth and for the child himself. Now, all punishment for wrong-doing is a point on the line which terminates in death. Consider that well, if you please. It may, indeed, be so accepted as to lead to reformation and better life; but that does not alter the nature of punishment itself. Punishment simply and strictly as punishment is the beginning of death. Have you, then, changed in your parental love because you have punished your child? Certainly not. The change is not in you; it is in the child. If you had forborne to punish, then you would have lost your own moral vitality, and would have become a partaker in the very sin which you affected to deplore. If you are right-minded, you will feel that destruction is better than sinfulness; that sinfulness, as such, demands destruction; and if you knew the full scope of your own act you would know that the very first stripe given for sin is the beginning of death. But I remember the time when you caressed that child and fondled it as if it was your better life, you petted the child, you laid it on the softest down, you sang it your sweetest lullabies, you lived in its smiles; and now I see you, rod in hand, standing over the child in anger! Have you changed? Are you fickle, pitiless, tyrannical? You know you are not. It is love that expostulates; it is love that strikes. If that child were to blame you for your changefulness you would know what reply to make. Your answer would be strong in self-defence, because strong in justice and honour.
We have exactly the same thing in the larger family called Society. When a man is punished by society, it is not a proof that society is fickle in temper; it is rather a proof that society is so far conservative, and even everlasting in its substance, as to demand the punishment of every offender. Society is formed to protect and consolidate all that is good and useful in its own multitudinous elements, yet society will not hesitate to slay a man with the public sword, if marks of human blood are upon his hands. Isaiah, then, society vengeful, malignant, or uneven in temper? On the contrary, it is the underlying Everlasting which necessitates all those outward and temporary changes which are so often mistaken as signs of fickleness and uncertainty. What the Everlasting cannot tolerate is dishonour, tyranny, wrong, or impureness in any degree. Society offers rewards today and deals out punishments tomorrow. At noon, society may crown you as a benefactor; at midnight, society may drag you forth as a felon: the same society—not fickle or coy, but self-protecting and eternal in righteousness.
These side-lights may at least mitigate the gloom of the mystery with which we started. I want to make you feel that God"s changefulness, so called, is not arbitrary, but moral; that is to say, he does not change merely for the sake of changing, but for reasons which arise out of that very Everlastingness which seems to be impaired! Not to be angry with sin is to connive at it; to connive at sin is sinful; to be sinful is to be no longer Divine. When God is angry it is a moral fire that is burning in him; it is love in a glow of justice; it is his protest on behalf of those who may yet be saved from sin.
See how it is God himself that saves man! We trembled when he said he would destroy Prayer of Manasseh, for we knew he had the power; and now that he says he will save man we know that his power of offering terms of salvation is none the less. If man can be saved, God will save him; but it is for the man himself to say whether he will be saved. "If any man open the door, I will come in to him." "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." This is the voice that said, "I will destroy," and the two tones are morally harmonious. Looking at the sin, God must destroy; looking at any possibility of recovery, God must save. "A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench." Christ lives to save. He would no longer be Christ if human salvation were not his uppermost thought. His soul is in travail; he yearns over us with pity more than all human pitifulness; he draws near unto our cities and weeps over them. But he can slay! He can smite with his strong arm! His hand can lay hold on justice, and then solemn is the bitter end! O, my soul, make thy peace with God through Christ. It is his love that burns into wrath. He does not want to slay thee; he pities thee; he loves thee; his soul goes out after thee in great desires of love; but if thou wilt not come to his Cross, his arm will be heavy upon thee!
How true, then, is it that there is an important sense in which God is to us exactly what we are to him! "If any man love me, I will manifest myself to him." That is the great law of manifestation. Have I a clear vision of God? Then am I looking steadily at him with a heart that longs to be pure. Can I not see him? Then some secret sin may be holding a veil before my eyes. I have changed, not God. When I seek him he will be found of me; but if I desire him not he will be a God afar off!
The Making of Man
There is surely no bolder sentence in all human speech. It takes an infinite liberty with God! It is blasphemy If it is not truth. We have been accustomed to look at the statement so much from the human point that we have forgotten how deeply the Divine character itself is implicated. To tell us that all the signboards in Italy were painted by Raphael is simply to dishonour and bitterly humiliate the great artist. We should resent the suggestion that Beethoven or Handel is the author of all the noise that passes under the name of music. Yet we say, God made man! Look at Prayer of Manasseh, and repeat the audacity if you dare! Lying, drunken, selfish man; plotting, scheming, cruel man; foolish, vain, babbling man; prodigal Prayer of Manasseh, wandering in wildernesses in search of the impossible, sneaking in forbidden places with the crouch of a criminal, putting his finger in human blood and musing as to its probable price per gallon—did God make man? Not merely make him in some rough outline way, but make him in the Divine image and likeness as an other-self, a limited and shadowed divinity? Verily, then, a strange image is God"s! Leering, gibing, mocking image; a painted mask; a vizor meant to deceive. See where cunning lurks in its own well-managed wrinkle—see how cold selfishness puts out the genial warmth of eyes that should have beamed with kindness; hear how mean motives have taken the music out of voices that should have expressed most trustful frankness: then look at the body, misshapen, defiled, degraded, rheum in every joint, specks of corruption in the warm currents of the blood, leprosy making the skin loathsome, the whole body tottering under the burden of the invisible but inseparable companionship of death! Is this the image, is this the likeness of God? Or, take man at his best estate, what is he but a temporary success in art—clothier"s art, schoolmaster"s art, fashion"s art? He cannot see into tomorrow; he imperfectly remembers what happened yesterday; he is crammed for the occasion, made great for the little battle, careful about the night air, dainty as to his digestion, sensitive to praise or blame, preaching gospels and living blasphemies, praying with forced words, whilst his truant mind is away in the thick of markets or the complexity of contending interests. Is this the image of God? Is this incarnate deity? Is this Heaven"s lame success in self-reproduction? Oh, how we burn under the sharp questioning! How we retire into our proper nothingness, and beg that no more words may fall upon us like whetted spears! Yet there are the facts. There are the men themselves. Write on the low brow—"the image and likeness of God"; write on the idiot"s leering face—"the image and likeness of God"; write on the sensualist"s porcine face—"the image and likeness of God"; write on the puppet"s powdered and painted countenance—"the image and likeness of God"—do this, and then say how infinite is the mockery, how infinite the lie!
Yet here is the text. Here is the distinct assurance that God created man in his own image and likeness; in the image of God created he him. This is enough to ruin any Bible. This is enough to dethrone God. Within narrow limits any man would be justified in saying, If man is made in the image of God, I will not worship a God who bears such an image. There would be some logic in this curt reasoning, supposing the whole case to be on the surface and to be within measurable points. So God exists to our imagination under the inexpressible disadvantage of being represented by ourselves. When we wonder about him we revert to our own constitution. When we pray to him we feel as if engaged in some mysterious process of self-consultation. When we reason about him the foot of the ladder of our reasoning stands squarely on the base of our own nature. Yet, so to say, how otherwise could we get at God? Without some sort of incarnation we could have no starting point. We should be hopelessly aiming to seize the horizon or to hear messages from worlds where our language is not known. So we are driven back upon ourselves—not ourselves as outwardly seen and publicly interpreted, but our inner selves, the very secret and mystery of our soul"s reality
Ay; we are now nearing the point. We have not been talking about the right "man" at all. The "man" is within the man; the "man" is not any one man; the "man" is Humanity. God is no more the man we know than the man himself is the body we see. Now we come where words are of little use, and where the literal mind will stumble as in the dark. Truly we are now passing the gates of a sanctuary, and the silence is most eloquent. We have never seen man; he has been seen only by his Maker! As to spirit and temper and action, we are bankrupts and criminals. But the sinner is greater than the sin. We cannot see him; but God sees him; yes, and God loves him in all the shame and ruin. This is the mystery of grace. This is the pity out of which came blood, redemption, forgiveness, and all the power and glory of the Gospel. Arguing from the outside, that Isaiah, from appearance and action, and from such motive as admits of outward expression, it is easy to ridicule the notion that God made man in his own image. But arguing from other facts, it is impossible, with any intellectual or moral satisfaction, to account for man on any other theory than that he is the direct creation of God. If I think of sin only, I exclude God from the responsibility of having made man; but when I think of repentance, prayer, love, sacrifice, I say, Surely this is God! this is Eternity! When I see the sinner run into sin, I feel as if he might have been made by the devil; but when he stands still and bethinks himself; when the hot tears fill his eyes; when he sighs towards heaven a sigh of bitterness and true penitence; when, looking round to assure himself of absolute solitude, he falls down to pray without words; then I see a dim outline of the image and likeness in which he was created. In that solemn hour I begin to see man—the man that accounts for the Cross, the man who grieved God, the man who brought down the Christ You have often seen that man in yourselves. Sometimes you have felt such stirrings of soul, such heavenly and heavenward impulses, such pureness of love, such outleaping of holy passion towards God and all godliness, that you have thought yourselves to be worth saving, even at the cost of blood! There was no vanity in such thought, no self-exaggeration; there was a claim of eternal kinship, a cry as of a child who felt that the Father cared for its sin and its sorrow.
Thus everything depends as usual on the point of view, and as usual we are in the first instance always tempted to take the narrow and unworthy standing ground. We have to be actually driven to high conceptions and to the true rendering of things. We are so dull of sight, so nearly deaf, so almost soulless, by reason of some great calamity which has unmade and uncrowned us, that we miss the genius and poetry of things. In everything surely there is a touch of God, could we but see the finger-print. There is some connection between the differently coloured juices of things—between the milk of the wheat stalk and the blood which has given Calvary its fame—could we but see it. O those blind eyes of ours! they make one mistake after another; they let God go past without seeing any outline of a presence; they turn day into a spoiled night. Yet sometimes we get glimpses that beasts can never get. Sometimes at a bound we leave the wisest brutes down in the clay to which they belong, and listen at doors concealed by light. The first man in the Bible saw little enough, but how much the last man saw! What a difference between the Adam of Genesis and the John of the Apocalypse! It is easy to believe that John was made in the image and likeness of God. What eyes the man had, and ears, and power of dreaming great dreams, and in how sublime contempt he held all things called great on earth! He saw doors opened in heaven; he was summoned as by a trumpet to see things which must be hereafter; he saw the throned One like a jasper and a sardine stone, and a rainbow about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald: wondrous visions rewarded the gaze of wondrous eyes—lightnings and thunderings and seven lamps of fire burning before the throne—books of mysteries, harps, and golden vials full of odours, a rider with a bow and a crown, who went forth conquering and to conquer, white robes, golden censers, an angel with a face like the sun and his feet as pillars of fire, and a lamb as it had been slain! Look at that seer, if you would know in whose image and likeness man was created and made. Is there no similar apocalypse even in our narrowed experience? Are we not as truly one in the book of Revelation as we are one in the book of Genesis? When the poet dreams, the ploughman dreams. When the poet creates for his soul"s highest utterance a new speech, the dumb man has a claim by right of descent to the new wealth of eloquence. When, therefore, I want to know who I am and what I was meant to be, I will not only read the book of Genesis, but peruse with the enchantment of kindred and sympathy the marvels of the infinite Apocalypse.
We cannot think of God having made man without also thinking of the responsibility which is created by that solemn act. God accepts the responsibility of his own administration. Righteousness at the heart of things, and righteousness which will yet vindicate itself, is a conviction which we cannot surrender. It is indeed a solemn fact that we were no parties to our own creation. We are not responsible for our own existence. Let us carefully and steadily fasten the mind upon this astounding fact. God made us, yet we disobey him; God made us, yet we grieve him; God made us, yet we are not godly. How is that? There is no answer to the question in mere argument. For my part I simply wait. I begin to feel that, without the power of sinning, I could not be a man. As for the rest, I hide myself in Christ. I go where he goes. He has told me more than any other teacher has ever done, and he says he has more to tell me. I acknowledge the mystery; I feel the darkness; I tremble in the tumult; but I look to Christ to bring all things into light, and crown all things with peace. This is what we call the Christian standpoint, and I deliberately and gratefully occupy it. God will answer for himself. He will not be hard upon me, for he knoweth my frame, he remembereth that I am but dust; he will not despise me because he made me in his image and likeness. Strange, too, as it may appear, I enjoy the weird charm of life"s great mystery, as a traveller might enjoy a road full of sudden turnings and possible surprises, preferring such a road to the weary, straight line, miles long, and white with hot dust. I have room enough to pray in. I have room enough to suffer in. By-and-by I shall have large space, and day without night to work in. We have yet to die; that we have never done. We have to cross the river—the cold, black, sullen river. Wait for that, and let us talk on the other side. Keep many a question standing over for heaven"s eternal sunshine.
If we would see God"s conception of Prayer of Manasseh, we must look upon the face of his Son—him of whom he said, "This is my beloved Song of Solomon, in whom I am well pleased." That is man; that is the ideal humanity. It is useless to look in any other direction for God"s purpose and thought. God does not ask us to imitate even our most perfect fellow-creature, except in so far as that fellow-creature imitates and exemplifies Christ. Do not let us mock one another, and tauntingly ask if we are made in the image and likeness of God; but let us steadfastly gaze on Christ, marking the perfectness of his lineaments, the harmony of his attributes, the sublimity of his purpose, and then, pointing to him in his solitude of beauty and holiness, we may exclaim, "Behold the image of God!" We must not judge Christ by what we know of man; we must judge man by what we know of Christ. Very wide indeed and very beneficent is the application of this thought; its right and fearless application would regenerate social judgment and fellowship; its acceptance would destroy all social contempt, and elevate all social thinking. We should find out the greatest man in every social grade, and judge every man and honour every man in that grade on that greatest man"s account. We have unfortunately reversed this process of judgment, and have even begrudged the renown of the one on account of the obscurity of the many Here, by analogy, whose remoteness is apparent rather than real. we touch the mystery of human greatness as represented by the majesty of Christ. The poorest man should say, "Christ was a man!" The slave should say, "Frederick Douglass was a slave!" The blacksmith should say, "Elihu Burritt was a blacksmith!" The tentmaker should say, "Paul was a tentmaker!" Thus, the lowest should dwell under the shadow of the highest, not the highest be reminded of the lowliness of his origin or the obscurity of his class. He carries up his class along with him. He shows that class what its members may be and do. He is their typical Prayer of Manasseh, their crowned and glorified brother. It is the same on an infinite scale with the Man Christ Jesus. Look to him if you would see the image and likeness of God. Look to him if you would estimate the value of man. We have to bear his image; we have to be what he is. Look at him, and say, each of you, That is what I have to be like!
Wonderful in pathos is the appeal which results from all these considerations. That appeal is to be felt rather than expressed in words. Man is God"s child; man bears a signature Divine. Great things are expected of man: reasoning which approaches the quality of a revelation; service which requires Almightiness alone to exceed it; love that courts the agony of sacrifice; purity hard to distinguish from the holiness of God.
Notes for Preachers
Man naturally asks for some account of the world in which he lives. Wag the world always in existence? If not always in existence, how did it begin to be? Did the sun make itself? These are not presumptuous questions. We have a right to ask them—the right which arises from our intelligence, and justifies our progress in knowledge. The steam engine did not make itself; did the sun? Dwelling houses did not make themselves; did the stars? The child"s coat did not make itself; did the child"s soul? If it is legitimate to reason from the known to the unknown, and to establish an à fortiori argument in relation to common phenomena, why not also legitimate in reference to the higher subjects which are within the province of reason? At present we wish to know how the heavens and the earth came into existence, and we find in the text an answer which is simple, sublime, and sufficient, and is therefore likely to be right.
I. The answer is Simple. There is no attempt at learned analysis or elaborate exposition. A child may understand the answer. It is direct, positive, complete. Could it have been more simple? Try any other form of words, and see if a purer simplicity be possible. Observe the value of simplicity when regarded as bearing upon the grandest events. The question is not who made a house, but who made a world, and not who made one world, but who made all worlds; and to this question the answer Isaiah, God made them. There is great risk in returning a simple answer to a profound inquiry, because when simplicity is not the last result of knowledge, it is mere imbecility.
II. The answer is Sublime. God! God created! (1) Sublime because far-reaching in point of time: in the beginning! Science would have attempted a fact; religion has given a truth. If any inquirer can fix a date, he is not forbidden to do so. Dates are for children. (2) Sublime because connecting the material with the spiritual. There Isaiah, then, something more than dust in the universe. Behind all shapes there is a living image. Every atom bears a superscription. It is something surely to have the name of God associated with all things great and small that are around us. Nature thus becomes a materialised thought. The wind is the breath of God. The thunder is a note from the music of his speech. (3) Sublime because evidently revealing, as nothing else could have done, the power and wisdom of the Most High. All these things were created; they were called into existence, and therefore must be less than God, who so called them; and if less, how great must their Creator be! We justly infer the greatness of the artist from the greatness of his pictures. Judge God by the same standard.
III. The answer is Sufficient. It might have been both simple and sublime, and yet not have reached the point of adequacy. Draw a straight line, and you may describe it as simple, yet who would think of calling it sublime? Look at the rising sun pouring floods of light upon the dewy landscape: it is undoubtedly sublime, but is it credible that the landscape was created by the sun? We must have simplicity which reaches the point of sublimity, and sublimity which sufficiently covers every demand of the case. The sufficiency of the answer is manifest: Time is a drop of Eternity; Nature is the handiwork of God; Matter is the creation of Mind; God is over all blessed for evermore! This is enough. In proportion as we exclude God from the operation, we increase difficulty. Atheism never simplifies. Negation works in darkness.
The answer of the text to the problem of creation is simple, sublime, and sufficient, in relation—(1) To the inductions of geology. Assume that the heavens and the earth have existed for ages which arithmetic cannot number, what then? It was in the beginning that God"s work was done! (2) To the theory of evolution. Assume that in some time incalculably past there was but the minutest germ, what then? Who created the germ? If man cannot create an oak, can he create an acorn?
There are some practical inferences suggested by these reflections.
First: If God created all things, then all things are under his government. This assurance should give rest and hope to the religious inquirer. Be right with the Creator, and thou hast nothing to fear from creation.
Second: If God created the heavens and the earth, then the heavens and the earth may be studied religiously. Science need not be atheistic Scientific inquiry will be most successful when most religious. This is reasonable. Know the writer if you would really know his works. Know the Creator if you would profoundly and accurately know creation. The highest study is spiritual. We may know nature, and yet know nothing of God. The tailor knows my figure; does he therefore know my soul?
Third: If God created all things, then it is reasonable that he should take an interest in the things which he created. Analogy suggests this. Scripture confirms it. "He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man." "He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry." "He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth; he toucheth the hills, and they smoke."
What has been said of creation may be said in a still loftier sense of redemption. The answer of God to the sin of the world is simple, sublime, sufficient. "God so loved the world," etc. This shows the unity of the works of God. All created things are made to be the ministers of man. For man the sun shines, the rain falls, the seasons revolve. "If God so clothe the grass of the field," etc.
We may see the meaning of this more clearly by taking other ground. Take the idea of the political state. At the head of affairs set the prime minister; now it is obviously possible that in the cabinet over which he presides there may be men very much better qualified than himself for the various departmental services. He may not be half so good a financier as the chancellor of the exchequer; he may be ill-qualified to administer the affairs of the admiralty, or of the poor law board; he may be ignorant of many of the details of the postal service; he may be utterly incapable of giving a sound opinion upon any legal question,—yet his is the supreme mind in the cabinet! The cabinet would be disorganised were his influence to be withdrawn. In an emphatic sense he is a statesman: he carries in his mind the state as a whole: with an intellectual energy and rapidity known only to the highest genius, he collects the sense of all his counsellors, he settles their advices into their proper proportions, and by the peculiar inspiration which makes him their master, he takes care that the part is never mistaken for the whole. Observe, each man may actually be abler in some point than his chief, yet not one of all the brilliant staff would dispute the supremacy of that chief"s mind It is one thing to be a politician, another to be a statesman.
Apply the illustration to the case in hand. The theologian does not, in his proper character, deal with mere departments. One man is superior to him in chemistry; another may actually laugh at his astronomy or geology; a third may despise him when he talks about animal or botanical physiology,—yet he may know more of the wholeness of creation than any of them, and may give the ablest of them the password which opens the central secret of the universe The aurist studies the ear, and the oculist the eye, others devote themselves to special studies of the human frame, but there is another and completer man to whom we hasten when the mystery of life itself becomes a pain which may end in death. That other and completer man would himself send sufferers of special maladies to men who had made those maladies the subject of exclusive study, yet in his knowledge of the mystery of life he might excel them all.
In some such way would we hint at the proper position of the theologian. He may or may not be a chemist; he may or may not know some particular science; but if he be a Divinely inspired theologian—not a mere sciolist in Divinity, a pedant in letters—he will see farther than any other Prayer of Manasseh, he will hear voices which others do not hear, and will be able to shape the politics of class students into the sublime and inclusive statesmanship of a sacred philosophy.
What, then, so far as we can gather from the words before us, has Biblical theology to say about creation, material and human?
I. That creation is an expression of God"s mind. It is the embodiment of an idea. It is the form of a thought. Theology says that creation has a beginning, and that it began at the bidding of God. Theology says, You see the heavens? They are the work of God"s fingers. You see the moon and the stars? God ordained them: all things are set in their places by the hand of God. He laid the foundations of the earth, and covered it with the deep as with a garment. When he uttereth his voice, there is a multitude of waters in the heavens, and he causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth; he maketh lightnings with rain, and bringeth forth the wind out of his treasures. You see the cedars of Lebanon? God planted them. You see the moon? God set her for seasons. You behold the sun? Though he be the king of day, yet he knoweth his going down. You see the high hills? God hath made in them a refuge for the wild goats. You see the fir-trees? God hath found in them a house for the stork. "O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches." Now this is very unscientific in its form of expression, yet it is the declaration of theology. Theology could not speak otherwise. Theology would dwarf itself if it went into formal statement of Song of Solomon -called scientific truth. But what does theology do? She sends the chemist on her errands, she calls the astronomer to consider the heavens, and sends the geologist to read the story of the rocks. They are not rebels; they are friends and allies and chosen servants. Yet not one of them could by any possibility do the whole work. The geologist and the astronomer talk different languages. The chemist and the botanist but dimly comprehend each other. It is the theologian that must call them to a common council, and proclaim their conclusions in a universal tongue.
Granted that there is mystery in the doctrine that all things were created by the word of God. This is not denied. It is felt, indeed, to be a necessity of the case. On the other hand, whatever mystery may be on the side of theology, there is nothing but mystery on the side of atheism.
II. That creation, being an expression of God"s mind, may form the basis For the consideration of God"s personality and character. If we see something of the artist in his work, we may see something of the Creator in creation. The works of God proclaim his eternal and incommunicable sovereignty. "Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counsellor, hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and showed to him the way of understanding?" Thus men are put back: they are ordered off beyond the burning line which lies around the dread sovereignty of God. If a man would trespass that line, he would encounter the thunder of questions which would make him quail: "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?" "Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days, and caused the dayspring to know his place?" "Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? or hast thou walked in the search of the depth?" "Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?" "Where is the way where, light dwelleth?" "Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?" "Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? or canst thou guide Arcturus, with his sons?" And still the questions would come like the shocks of a rising storm, until the proudest speculator might quake with fear, and totter into darkness that he might hide the shame of his pride. As a mere matter of fact, man cannot approach the dignity of having himself created anything. He is an inquirer, a speculator, a calculator, a talker, but not a creator. He can talk about creation. He can reckon the velocity of light, and the speed of a few stars. He can go out for a day to geologise and botanise; but all the while a secret has mocked him, and an inscrutable power has defied the strength of his arm. The theologian says, that secret is God, that power is Omnipotence.
There is more than sovereignty; there is beneficence. "While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease." "He sendeth springs into the valleys, which run among the hills. They give drink to every beast of the field; the wild asses quench their thirst. By them shall the fowls of the heaven have their habitation, which sing among the branches." "He hath not left himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness." "Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing." "Thou openest thine hand; they are filled with good." "He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry." This is a step downwards, yet a step upwards. Over all is the dread sovereignty of God—that sovereignty stoops to us in love to save our life, to spread our table, and to dry our tears; it comes down, yet in the very condescension of its majesty it adds a new ray to its lustre. The theologian says, This is God"s care, this is the love of the Father; this bounty is an expression of the heart of God. It is not a freak of what is called nature; it is not a sunny chance; it is a purpose, a sign of love, a direct gift from God"s own heart.
III. That God"s word is its own security for fulfilment. God said, Let there be, and there was. "He spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast." "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth." This is the word which alone can ultimately prevail. "As the rain cometh down from heaven, and returneth not thither," etc. We see what it is in the natural world; we shall see what it is in the spiritual. "I am the Lord; I will speak, and the word that I will speak shall come to pass." "The word of God liveth and abideth for ever." "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away." "For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven." "God is not a Prayer of Manasseh, that he should lie; neither the son of Prayer of Manasseh, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?" "What his soul desireth, even that he doeth."
This is of infinite importance—(1) As the hope of righteousness; (2) as the inevitable doom of wickedness.
IV. That the word which accounts for the existence of Nature accounts also for the existence of Man. "Know ye not that the Lord, he is God? it is he that made us, and not we ourselves." "O Lord, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou our Potter; and we are the work of thy hand." "Have we not all one Father? hath not one God created us?" "We are the offspring of God." "In him we live, and move, and have our being."
See what a great system of unity is hereby established. He who made the sun made me!
How to begin to write the Bible must have been a question of great difficulty. The beginning which is given here commends itself as peculiarly sublime. Regard it as you please, as literal, historical, parabolical, it is unquestionably marked by adequate energy and magnificence of style. Judging from the method of the writer, I should at once say, the aim of this man is not to tell with scientific precision the natural history of creation; he has some other undeclared purpose in view. He finds that he must say something about the house before he says anything about the tenant, but he feels that that something must be the least possible. Hence we have this rugged but majestic account. In reading this wonderful chapter we must receive several memorable impressions:—
First: This account of creation is deeply religious, and from this fact I infer that the whole book of which it is the opening chapter is intended to be a religious and not a scientific revelation. If a natural philosopher had undertaken to write an account of the earth, he would have begun in a totally different tone, and he would have been justified in so doing. A work on geography that began with the analysis of a psalm or prayer would be justly considered as going out of its proper sphere, and in all probability we should regard its unseasonable piety as a subtraction from its scientific value. The object of Moses is simply and absolutely religious. We do not say that a man is an atheist because he writes upon geology without announcing a religious creed. So we ought not to say that a man is an ignoramus because he writes a religious book without any pretence to scientific learning. This man is resolved on reading all things from the God-side; he will read them downwards, not upwards; he will begin at the fountain, not at the stream; and in claiming to do this he is evidently exercising a legitimate discretion, and he must justify its exercise by the results which he secures. Our life may be read from an outside standpoint, and therefore we are glad to hear the testimony of the anatomist, the physiologist, and the physician; they have a right to speak, and they have a right to be heard: our life may also be read from an internal standpoint, and therefore we are glad to hear the psychologist, the metaphysician, the theologian. Let us listen to them all. We may need all the help they can severally and jointly give us. Now Moses says, I am going to write the history of the world as a theologian; I deliberately and distinctly assume a theological standpoint, and my meaning you may catch from my first tone—"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." How he will conduct the discussion we cannot at this moment tell. He may have made a mistake in supposing that it can be conducted from this point at all. But in common fairness give him time. The disgrace and the shame will be his, not ours, if he fail, so the least we can do is to let him have all the scope he asks for. It does not follow because another writer proposes to give the history of creation without any reference to God that therefore he will inevitably and completely succeed. Even an atheist may be sometimes wrong! I ask fair play for both godly and godless writers; let each write his Bible, and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God!
Instead, therefore, of boggling at this first chapter of Genesis, I read it as its writer meant it to be read, and I reserve the right of critical revision after I have fully mastered what he has really written. From the intensity of his religious tone, I am bound to infer that this man is going to tell me in the simplest and directest manner all he can tell about creation, or all he thinks it needful to tell in order to get a sufficient background for the story which it is his main purpose to relate. He does not lay claim to any consideration which I need hesitate to yield. He does not say, "I am inspired, what I say is said with Divine and final authority, and you must accept it or be lost in outer darkness for ever." He says nothing about inspiration. He does not lay claim to one tittle of authority. In a plain, abrupt, urgent manner he begins his stupendous task. I am charmed with his directness. I feel that if the story had to be told at all, it is begun in the best possible manner. If the writer had beaten around the bush in laborious literary circumlocution, I should have suspected him; he would have been a mere book-maker, a clever artiste in the use of words; but he begins at once, as with a creative fiat, the tone being worthy of the brilliant occasion. I bespeak for him, then, a fair hearing.
Second: This account of creation evidently admits of much elucidation and expansion. This it has unquestionably received. Moses does not say, "I have told you everything, and if any man shall ever arise to make a note or comment upon my words, he is to be regarded as a liar and a thief." Certainly not He gives rather a rough outline which is to be filled up as life advances. He says in effect, "This is the text; now let the commentators come with their notes." The geologist has come, and he says, "Read this word beginning as if it referred to incalculable time"; and there is no reason why his suggestion should not be adopted. In the next place he says, "Read this word day as if it meant a great number of ages"; very good, we read it exactly Song of Solomon, and it does us no harm. Then other men of science arise to say, "Don"t suppose that the heavens and the earth were made exactly as you see them; they came out of a germ, an atom, a molecule," and I answer, So be it: God did not make a tottering old man exactly as we see him; he did not make the trees and flowers exactly as we see them; and if it is the same with the heavens and the earth, so be it. "They came partly by friction," says the scientist. Very good, I reply; what is friction and who made it? "Rotation had something to do with it." Possibly Song of Solomon, I answer; what is rotation and who started it? "Origin of species," whispers another. Very good, I answer; what is origin and when did it originate? Instead of resenting these suggestions, I am thankful for them. I put them all together, and I find the difference between Moses and his scientific commentators to be that Moses worked synthetically and they worked analytically, that Isaiah, Moses put all things together, and the sum total was God; his opposing commentators take things all to pieces, and the sum total is a circumference without a centre. It is uncertain whether geologists contradict Moses, but it is positively certain beyond all doubt that geologists contradict one another. Still this contradiction may be the very friction out of which the light and warmth of truth will come. So that the commentators be but honest and sober-minded men, I welcome all they have to say and if they be otherwise, they will have to eat their own words, and other pain no man need wish them. This first chapter of Genesis is like an acorn, for out of it have come great forests of literature; it must have some pith in it, and sap, and force, for verily its fertility is nothing less than a miracle.
Third: This account of creation, though leaving so much to be elucidated, is in harmony with fact in a sufficient degree to give us confidence in the things which remain to be illustrated. In almost every verse there is something which we know to be true as a mere matter of fact, and therefore we are prepared to believe that what is hazy may yet be shown to be full of stars as bright and large as the nearer planets which we call facts. Undoubtedly we have day and night, sea and dry land, grass and herbs and fruit-trees, and undoubtedly there is a light that rules the day, and another light that rules the night; the waters, too, are full of moving creatures, and fowls have the liberty of the open firmament. So it was no poet"s creation that Moses looked at, but the plain grand universe just as we see it and touch it It was bold of him to think that it had a "beginning"; that was an original idea, very startling and most graphic. He does not say that God had a beginning! Observe that, if you please! How easy to have suggested that God and the universe are both eternal! Instead of doing this (a comparatively easy thing, escaping endless questioning), he says the heavens and the earth had a beginning, and therefore have a history more or less traceable. If he had said, "God, Prayer of Manasseh, and matter are all eternal, but I will take up the history of man at a given point and follow it down to recent times," he would have made easy work for himself. But he makes difficulty! He opens the way for a thousand objections! This is satisfactory to my mind. It is a boldness that corresponds to the valour of truth as we know it. It may be, then, that we have got hold of the right guide after all! All I ask is that he be not interrupted until he has come to the very last word of his story.
Fourth: There is a special grandeur in the account which is here given of the origin of man. In the twenty-sixth verse, the tone quite changes. Even the imperative mood softens somewhat, as if in an infinitely subtle way (far out of the reach of words) man"s own consent had been sought to his own creation. "Let us make man"—"make," as if little by little, a long process in the course of which man becomes a party to his own making! Nor is this suggestion so wide of the mark as might at first appear. Is man not even now in process of being "made"? Must not all the members of the "US" work upon him in order to complete him and give him the last touch of imperishable beauty? The Father has shaped him; the Son has redeemed him; the Spirit is now regenerating and sanctifying him; manifold ministries are now working upon him, to the end that he may "come to a PERFECT Prayer of Manasseh, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." As it were, arbitrarily and sovereignly, the dust was shaped into human form, an upright thing that had wonderful powers and still more wonderful latent possibilities. But is not all Biblical history an appeal to this upright thing to be a man? Is not the Gospel of Christ the good news that he may have life, yea eternal life, and enter upon a destiny of immeasurable progress and ineffable felicity? What, I ask again, if man is still in process of being made? What if our present selves have to be shed as blossoms to make way for the fruit? In this sense the building of manhood may well take as long as the building of the rocks. It is a fearful thought, most solemn, yet most humbling, that we may be but a stratum on which other strata have to lie until the last line is laid down, and God"s ideal of humanity is realised. Or take it the other and pleasanter way, which all Scripture would seem to sanction, namely, man was made a living soul, that Isaiah, every man was intended to live, and has capacities which will enable him to receive life in its largest and Divinest sense; this Isaiah, indeed, his unique and glorious characteristic, his point of infinite departure from the beasts that perish. But he can destroy himself! He can choose death rather than life. Now it is in this very choice that man is really "made." The appeal Isaiah, Will you be a man? Will you have life? Jesus Christ says, "I am come that ye might have life." Thus, as I said with apparent self-contradiction, man is asked to be a party to his own creation—to consent to be himself! "Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life." "This is life eternal, to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." Glorious to me is this idea (so like all we know of the Divine goodness) of asking man whether he will accept life and be like God, or whether he will choose death and darkness for ever, God does not say to Prayer of Manasseh, "I will make you immortal and indestructible whether you will or not; live for ever you shall." No; he makes him capable of living; he constitutes him with a view to immortality; he urges, beseeches, implores him to work out this grand purpose, assuring him, with infinite pathos, that he has no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but would rather that he should LIVE. A doctrine this which in my view simplifies and glorifies human history as related in the Bible. Life and death are not set before any beast; but life and death are distinctly set before man—he can live, he was meant to live, he is besought to live; the whole scheme of Providence and redemption is arranged to help him to live—why, then, will ye die?
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 1". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://pro.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34