"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."—Gen. 1:1
How familiar to every child are these opening words of the Bible; and yet how pregnant with interest, the interest of instruction, but also with the interest of difficulty to the strongest minds! What is creation in this primary biblical sense of the term? Clearly it is not mere production of any kind. The natural sense of the passage in the translation, as in the original, is that the universe originally owed both its form and substance to the creative fiat of God.
The Christian Bible, like the Christian creed, begins with stating that all that is not God owes its being to the will of God. The Bible solution of the creation is the only one which seriously respects the rights, the existence of a God. Pantheism buries Him in moral filth. The atheistic materialism denies Him outright. The other supposition that the universe and God are both eternal makes two Gods.
The Bible doctrine of creation does not only protect the supremacy, the personality, the sanctity, the reality of God; but it sheds light upon His nature and character.
I. It illustrates the boundless resources of God's self-existent life. He called into being the very material which He subsequently fashioned. He called it into being out of nothing.
II. Observe as an element of creation the gift of life, that gift which is in its essence so entirely beyond our power of analysis.
III. God creates in majestic and perfect freedom. No force was put upon the Creator. He made it; but He might have left it unmade.
No created being could add to the bliss of God, none could lessen it; and yet the Divine love willed to summon a whole creation into being, upon which in its perfectness and beauty and even in its misery and shame that love might lavish its caresses.
Both in creation and in redemption there is a shadow which is a foil to the eternal love. His love burns bright; but it is ever and anon robed in mystery. For the sinner there are gifts superadded to the gifts of creation; the precious blood of redemption washing out all sins even the foulest, the illuminating Spirit, the sacraments of life. Awake! thou that sleepest, and as thou contemplatest that thou existest and must exist for ever, remember that Christ now and in eternity will give thee light if only thou wilt receive it.
H. P. L.
"The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."—Gen. 1:2
It was not peculiar to the Hebrews to believe in spiritual existence. All nations of antiquity of whom we have certain knowledge, had words to express the difference between matter and spirit, and all used more or less the same metaphor to convey the thought, namely breath or blowing. What fitter metaphor could men use! The living, willing mind of man they likened to air; his active energy was the breathing out. Air is invisible, but it is not unsubstantial. So we deem of spiritual existences if we believe in them at all. When God created man, He is said to have breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. When man's breath goeth forth, he dies, he gives up the ghost—the breath—and his life principle is gone. With the Hebrews God was believed to be a spirit, a person, a unity. Yet we may observe, what in the light of after revelation is most observable, that whilst the first verse of their most ancient Scriptures teaches that God is personal and one, the second verse pictures to us God sending forth His Spirit to brood over the chaos and breathe into it light, order, and life.
Here we see the shadowing out of a truth which Christians believe but of which the Jews could only catch a glimpse, that God is over us, God is in the midst of us and God is within us.
He who sent forth His Spirit to breathe order into creation, sent forth His Word to dwell amongst those, who in His likeness had yet become likened to the Evil one. The Word wrestled for them with that enemy and breathed forth fresh spiritual life for those who would enlist into His company.
The victory is sure, for inspired by that Divine Spirit we can expel the Evil one and triumph over him.
At present the battle sounds are loud, but though the waters may prevail upon the earth, still the ark floats over them, and the Spirit of God is moving upon the face of the waters.
E. H. B.
"Let there be light."—Gen. 1:3
This is the very first expression which the Bible contains of the Divine Will. It is, according to the conception of the sacred writer, the first voice which broke the silence of eternity. It is a tribute to the paramount greatness, the inestimable value of light over darkness for all the coming ages of the world then first struggling into existence.
I. This Divine command is the keynote of the whole Bible. False religions say "Let there be darkness!" They have their refuge not in light but in darkness. But true religion has always said, "let there be brightness and warmth and cheerfulness, let there be openness, and knowledge, and enlightment." Doubtless so long as we linger in this "valley of the shadow of death," we must see "as through a glass darkly," but nevertheless the object of Revelation is to diminish the shadow, to illuminate the darkness as far as possible.
II. Christ was the light as well as the life of the world. One main purpose of His work in the midst of men was to make them not children of the mist, but children of the light
III. The last words of the Book of Revelation agree with the first words of Genesis; describing the perfection of the blessed it says, "And there shall be no night there, and they need no candle, neither light of the sun, for the Lord God giveth them light, and the Lamb is the light thereof."
A. P. S,
"So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him."—Gen. 1:27
It will probably be found upon examination, that one thread of unbelief runs through every form of modern scepticism. This is either a direct or a virtual denial of God's personality. If there is any one doctrine which is more certainly scriptural than another, it is that of the Divine Personality.
I. "God created man in His own image." It is not that the God whom we worship is like man: but that man is created in the likeness of God. And therefore we do not draw Him down to us; we rather seek to raise ourselves up to Him.
There is between God and man a real resemblance, or rather a real community of nature, which the Bible announces at the very outset.
We may interpret that image of God of which we read in the text, to be that which is distinctive of man in the creation, and that by which he comes nearer to God than any other earthly creature.
Man knows himself; can think, reason, choose, distinguish between good and evil, and love good rather than evil. At this point he touches the nature of God, while he is in these respects more or less sharply divided from the beasts that perish. It is true that even in these things the image of God is partially defaced; but so long as there remains in him any sense of right and wrong, any sting of conscience, his nature has in it something akin to God.
II. The image of God may be defaced in all, but it is wholly destroyed in none. It may be repaired and developed by careful intellectual and moral training; but even this will not suffice for man's perfect state. For there is a "new creation," as there shall be "a new heaven and a new earth;" only the new creation, which shall be consummated in eternity, is begun in time, and "they that are Christ's," have here "put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him which created him."
W. B. J.
"Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him."—Gen. 5:24
It is never safe when you are reading the Scriptures to judge from mere appearances, for sometimes in the least likely places you will meet with the most precious passages. What an odour of refreshing from the better land comes wafted to us in the words, "And he was not, for God took him." It blossoms here like a flower growing in the crevice of a venerable tomb, and just when we are becoming saddened with the dull refrain, "and he died," it lifts our thoughts to a life that is beyond life.
Let us study the record, that we may be helped thereby to earnest holiness on earth and happy immortality in heaven. Let us get at a definite idea of all that is implied in walking with God.
It describes a habitual course of conduct, and not a mere isolated act. A walk is something more than a step. It is a way of life, and a constant progress in that way.
We shall find underlying the history which is summed up in these words, three distinguishing characteristics.
I. There is faith.
He that walketh with God must believe that He is. We cannot walk with an abstraction, and so we conclude that Enoch must have had a very real sense of the existence of the unseen God. He was to him as one continually by his side, and that is the explanation of the grandeur of his life.
II. There is fellowship implied in this experience.
The talk is the great feature of the walk. This is a favour you reserve for those you love. And so when it is said of one that he "walks" with God, we conclude that he and God are familiar friends. The fellowship of the believer with his God is a very real thing. There is a consciousness in his soul of God's friendship with him, a sense of God's nearness to him, and an experience of helpfulness from God. "Thou God seest me," is with him as it was with Hagar, an ejaculation of delight and gratitude and not of dread, for he knows that under such supervision no evil can befall him.
III. There is assimilation. We become like those with whom we constantly associate. He that walks with God, shall be at length God-like. In the measure in which he walks with God, he obeys the precept, "Be ye holy; for I am holy."
This God-likeness which is thus associated with walking with God is a progressive thing. The believer grows in holiness through increasing and prolonged fellowship with God.
Thus it is evident that the man who walks with God has a peculiar aim in life, for he seeks something different from that which is merely seen and temporal; that he has a new rule for life, for he endeavours to follow always the law of the Lord; that he has a special model in life, for he desires likeness to God in Christ Jesus; and that he has a strong support through life, for "he endures as seeing Him who is invisible," and the approval of God is more to him than the opinion of his fellow-men.
Where is this walk with God to be maintained?
In the minds of many it is particularly associated with special religious exercises so called—the study of the Scriptures, or the devotions of the closet, or the observance of the ordinances of the sanctuary. But when a man's communion with God is confined to what are called distinctively religious duties, it is not real communion with God even in them.
This walk is a continual thing, and does not, and cannot, cease when the man rises from his knees or closes his Bible.
Neither is this experience an adjunct to a particular occupation.
The notion that it is easier for a minister to walk with God than it is for other men, is only a fragment of that priestcraft which had so long possession of the minds of men.
Lastly, consider the consummation of this experience. "Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him," or as Hebrews expounds the words, "He was translated that he should not see death."
He passed into heaven as the saints who shall be on the earth at the coming of the Lord will do; without undergoing death, and simply by receiving that change which fitted the body of this life for the immortality of the life that is to come.
The true readiness for death is this walking with God, and if we can but have Enoch's character, it makes no difference how or where we are required to die, for however it comes that will be unspeakable gain, as introducing us into the presence of the Lord.
W. M. T.
"While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease."—Gen. 8:22
This was God's first promise to a pardoned and restored world, and if for this reason only, that it recalls this great promise, harvest-time is a most solemn time of the year.
I. The harvest carries us back to the oldest days of the world. It binds us all together—the old world and the new—it makes us feel that after all we live the same life at bottom and depend on the same bounty of God to sustain us.
II. The harvest is a solemn time, since it reminds us of what our earthly life depends upon. In the year is grown the year's food only, and the world each year literally depends for its subsistence on something which is newly given it, and which it cannot provide for itself.
III. It suggests a time of trial and of reckoning. Here, as in other things, our God calls us to be fellow-workers with him. If we have not sown, neither shall we reap. If we have sown bad seed, we shall reap accordingly. When the harvest-time has once come, there is no opportunity for mending or altering The harvest was often used by Christ as the image and likeness of the judgment of the world. When the reapers are at work in the fields, can you help thinking of those other awful reapers of whom the Lord and His apostles have told us? It seems almost as if the parable of the world's judgment was being acted before our eyes. Now is our sowing time against that great harvest. Sow not the unblessed seed of selfishness and forgetfulness of God's benefits and of a soul dead to the wants and sufferings of others. Sow not the wind of sin and vanity, for they that thus sow shall reap the whirlwind. God who keeps his promise in the seedtime and the harvest, will keep it in yet greater things. He will keep it in things eternal who keeps it so surely in the things of time.
R. W. C.
"And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere. Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan."—Gen. 13:10-12
It was the will of God concerning Abraham that he should be ultimately isolated from all his kinsmen. Terah died in Haran, before Canaan was reached, and now he separates from his nephew Lot. Up till this time Lot was happy and prosperous, but his troubles begin now.
I. Notice the evils which may follow from one wrong step in life. Under the influence of the love of this world Lot decided his habitation, without taking the interests of his soul and the souls of his household into account. Let us think of Lot every time we have to decide whether we shall go to the right hand or to the left, and let us see to it that no well-watered plains allure us toward Sodom, to our soul's detriment. In every choice we must take the elements of tendency and direction into account. Towards Sodom is ultimately in Sodom.
II. Notice the stealthy insidiousness of sin. There is a wide difference between Abraham's household and Lot's, but that difference was not a thing of sudden growth. We have the key to it in the question addressed by Lot to the angel: Is it not a little one?
III. Notice the necessity of watchfulness against sin throughout one's earthly life. The noon and the afternoon of life are beset with dangers as great as those of its morning, and our only safety lies in constant vigilance.
We cannot say much of Lot's eternal portion. All our hope regarding him is based on Peter's words, when he speaks of him as a "righteous" man. We know that if he did acknowledge his sin and seek God's forgiveness, that blessing would not be withheld.
W. M. T.
"And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And He said, I will not destroy it for ten's sake."—Gen. 18:32
Most remarkable and most encouraging is this instance of prevailing prayer. It may well stimulate us to exercise sublimer faith when we behold a mortal thus wrestling with Omnipotence—wrestling with such holy boldness that justice suspends its inflictions and cannot seal the sinners' doom. Pious men, in all ages of the world's history, are the true strength of the nations in which they live! Oftentimes averting calamity, and restoring strength and blessing.
I. Who are pious men? (1) They are pious who avowedly separate themselves from surrounding wickedness. (2) They are pious who cultivate firm attachment to the doctrines of Christian truth. (3) They are pious who cultivate cordial brotherly love. (4) They are pious who endeavour to spread the Gospel and convert the world.
II. The effects which we may expect to ensue from such piety. This is the doctrine of the text, that Sodom would have been spared if the ten righteous men had been there. God preserves nations for the sake of pious men. Pious men will preserve a land's prosperity, and spiritual prosperity will also be secured. There will be the defeat of erroneous opinions, and truth will prevail. The salvation of souls will be secured also. The conversion of a soul is an infinitely greater triumph than the eradication of a false opinion. Convert a man's soul and his opinions will come right by-and-by.
If you are not personally pious, you will be accomplices in drawing down the thunderbolt which will ruin your country. The saint and believer is a patriot as well as a saint. The worldling may sneer and scorn, but we have a noble revenge, for it is pious men that have kept the conflagrating elements away from this long-doomed world up to the present moment of its history. Oh for the increase of these pious men! Be you of the number of this unostentatious but valiant host.
W. M. P.
"And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed"—Gen 22:18
The history of the whole Church of God in every age lies in the promises made to Abraham. There is not a blessing that any child of God under any subsequent dispensation ever received, which is not the result of the covenant which God made with Abraham. Every Gentile travels to all his mercies through the Jews.
Notice that even Abraham had the purpose of God respecting the Jews unfolded to his mind very gradually. Little by little God gave him revelations, and at last He said: "And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;" adding, "Because thou hast obeyed My voice." From this we gather the general rule—that a course of practical obedience is the nearest road to the understanding of prophecy.
I. How is Abraham's seed in its natural sense the blessing of the whole world?
It was a "blessing" to ail our race when God made Abraham's seed the depository of His truth, committing to them His word.
Nobly and faithfully, in every generation, have the Jews done their work for the world in the guardianship of God's ancient word.
It is a blessing, because in God's dealings with Israel we see warnings for our instruction and our peace. Again, it is a blessing because Gentile Christians are indebted to the Jews for whatever spiritual privileges they enjoy. Again, the present state of the Jews should be regarded as the great standing evidence of the truth of revelation.
II. How is Abraham's seed in its spiritual sense the blessing of the world? God had a particular intention when He made the promise to run in the singular, and not in the plural number, and that He said, "Not in thy seeds, as of many, but in thy seed." The Lord Jesus was the "Seed" in which all nations receive blessing. It is an argument of deep consolation to know that the nature of the great Elder Brother places Him in fellowship with our bodily trials—that He is still a man, "Abraham's Seed." Through Christ we become of the seed of Abraham, and there is not a prophecy of love of which I may not say, "It is mine because I am Abraham's seed."
"I being in the way, the Lord led me."—Gen. 24:27
This chapter is full of beautiful things, but the words of the text are its brightest gem. It is only when we are in a certain way that we have a right to expect that God will lead us; and, even in that way, there is only one kind of leading that we are warranted to look for.
I. The Way.
(1) This servant Eliezer was evidently in the way of duty. He had accepted a commission from his master, and thus far he had faithfully followed the instructions he had received. It was not, therefore, until he had done all that he could, that he awaited the guidance of Jehovah. Now in all this there is much to direct us, for the way to get more light is to follow fully that which we already possess. This applies to intellectual doubt, and when we are perplexed as to the truth of great doctrines; it is well to remember that the path to peace lies through the performance of those duties in regard to which we are already certain. Ask, "Is my conduct abreast of my conscience, or am I living below even that standard which I have accepted?" Let a man hold fast by those things which are yet certain to him, and faithfully and earnestly act up to them, for it is by these that God will ultimately lift him out and set his feet upon the rock of faith. The same thing is true in reference to conduct. When in our daily lives we are brought to a stand and see no outlet, then if we are where we are because we have been faithfully doing what we believed to be right, let us stand still and wait, assured that God will open up our way. It makes all the difference in the world as to matters of conduct, whether we are simply seeking our own gain, our own pleasure, our own honour, or whether we are striving to meet the obligation which God has laid upon us.
In the former case we have no right to expect God's guidance; in the latter, we may be sure that it will not be withheld. Cultivate then the habit of walking in the way of duty, and you will find it a way of light. It is when you want an excuse for evading duty that anxiety begins.
(2) This servant was in the way of faith. He had a firm, childlike, and sincere belief in God. God was to him a real personal Being, as interested in the success of his mission as he was, and able to help him in his present emergency.
Now we do not wonder that such an one was guided. We may, perhaps, find the secret of our harassments and daily worries in the fact that to most of us God is little better than a mere abstraction.
Unbelief is at the root of our worry. If we had the same faith as this Oriental servant we should be very seldom in difficulty, and when we were we should be willing to wait peacefully and trustfully for His guidance.
(3) This servant was in the way of prayer. That follows from what has been remarked of his faith, but there is a plain, direct, earnest purpose in his supplication which is most striking. He even specifies the way in which he wishes his prayer to be answered. This man was a child and therefore he spoke as a child and was answered in a style which he could understand. As compared with the weakest Christian, Eliezer was but as a child is to a full-grown man. This request of his was born of trust in God, and not of suspicion of God; and therefore, being a real application to Him, it was answered by Him.
While we may well hesitate to present our petitions in such a form as this, we may be encouraged from the answer which even this prayer received, to go to God in every perplexity.
This servant went to the very root of his anxiety. He did not ask for blessings a long way ahead, but said, "Give me good speed this day," and having unburdened his heart, he waited God's answer. So it should be with us. When a man is in earnest he will take the shortest way of telling his distress.
II. The leading of God, when we are in the way.
This leading is to be looked for by us, in and through God's ordinary providence.
Through natural law and commonplace incidents God is leading His people today, as really as He led Israel by the pillar of cloud and fire. If you are in the way of duty, of faith, and of prayer, be sure that somehow, through the common incidents of a common day, He will guide your feet into the right path. How near this brings God to us! How sacred, too, in this aspect of them, do the events of our lives become! They are new revelations of God to us, and we too, have, like these old patriarchs, our Hebrons, and Bethels, and Peniels, and Moriahs. Let us go on in this faith, and we shall feel our hearts lightened as we sing, "The steps of a good man are ordered of the Lord."
W. M. T.