"And God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good."—Gen. 1:31
One of our pleasant duties is to lead children to see God in nature, to mix up loving thoughts of Him with all their enjoyments of it. It would be a wretched thing to live in a house which a kind father had built expressly for them, and furnished to their taste, and yet never think of him. And is it not worse to grow up, as so many do, in the midst of God's wonderful and beautiful works, utterly careless of the glorious Creator and gracious Giver of them? "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib:" but we eat and drink from God's hand daily, and are so engrossed with what the Hand contains, that we forget the Hand itself!
Now our text will help us to do better. It shows us "every thing," coming from God, fashioned by God, approved of God; God's eye is on it, His heart is in it, His arms are around it; "And God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good." This was how it appeared to Him as it lay fresh before Him six thousand years ago. He had just "finished" it; it was complete; and as He gazed upon it, as her mother does upon her newborn babe, it seemed, and it was, "very good." It could not be improved; it was perfect. How interesting it is thus to have God's own report upon it; to be assured that He was satisfied and delighted with it But now let us ask:—Why it was "very good"?
What was "very good"?
How it was "very good"?
And then—Is it still "very good"?
I. Why was it "very good"?
Was it not because it was the offspring of Infinite Wisdom, and Power, and Love? These would be certain to produce what was "very good;" for Love would suggest it, Wisdom would contrive it, Power would do it. And there would be no flaw or failure; there could be none. Our rarest inventions, such as the watch or piano, fall short of God's commonest creatures, such as the fly or the robin redbreast; because we are finite—our wisdom, power, and love are limited.
Again: They were "very good," because they were called and guided into existence by Jesus. This is often plainly told us in the Gospels and Epistles. God commissioned His own, His only son, to do it. He was to have the honour of it, for God would put crowns upon His head from the beginning. Therefore, of course, God would rejoice in it, and consider it "very good." Even to earthly parents, what their children do is doubly sweet. Their rough sketches are more prized than artists' pictures, and their attempts at sculpture than Grecian statues.
Then, too, it was "very good," because there was no evil in it. There may have been unsightliness or ugliness, such as we have in toads and slugs; there may have been poison, such as we have in the berry of the laurel; there may have been ferocity, such as we have in the tiger or the eagle—we cannot prove that these are faults—but there was no sin. "Every thing" was innocent, untainted by Satan's touch, fit for God to move about amongst in His holiness.
And it was "very good," because it was like God. It was a reflection, however feeble, of His mind, as a book is of the person who writes it. When in the Great Exhibition there are spread before us the myriads of articles which human ingenuity and skill and industry have devised, could we not judge from them what the designer himself was? Will they not resemble him and "declare" him to be ingenious, and skilful, and industrious? We shall not have him visibly before us; and yet we shall get a glimpse of him from his contributions.
And so "everything that God made" is a manifestation of God Himself, and it must be "very good."
II. We ask, what was "very good"?
This we must answer in a shorter way. It was, "every thing which He had made." And if we say, What was that? We have but to cause to pass before us the splendid panorama which Moses was inspired to describe for our learning. It opens with light dividing the day from the night, so that we might have a time for activity and a time for rest. Then follows the firmament, or heavenly dome, the space between filled with suitable air for us to breathe. Then there was a separation of the sea from the land; the sea for us to sail on, and bathe in, the land for us to tread and cultivate. And immediately the land was carpeted with soft grass, and stocked with shade and fruit trees and vegetables, and ornamented with ferns and flowers. Then the sun was ordered to shine warmly and nourishingly on it, and the moon and the stars to cheer its darkness. These were its fires and candles. Next we have feathered fowl to enliven it with their songs and variegated plumage, and fish to sport in its streams, and cattle to range its pastures, and wild beasts to inhabit its forests, and insects and reptiles to glitter as gems on it from pole to pole. Lastly, we have man himself, "in the image of God"—erect, shapely, comely, intelligent, speaking man—the king of this noble kingdom, to have dominion over it, and populate it, and replenish it, and subdue it, and use it!
This is an outline of what was "very good." You must resolve it into endless details and varieties for yourselves.
III. How are they "very good"?
In themselves. If the ocean or the sky, if a horse or a cow, had never been intended for us, still would they not have been "very good"—worthy of God's admiration.
"Very good" in their purposes. God meant them to be for our service. The vine to bear grapes for us, and the wheat, bread; the bee to provide us with honey, the sheep with wool, the cat to catch our mice, the dog to watch our property—how "very good" were these purposes?
And this being so, how very good they are in their arrangements for it. Suppose the camel had been as untractable as the zebra, could we ever have got it to bridge the sandy deserts for us? Or suppose the elephant had been as savage as the leopard, could we ever have got it to toil for us in India? But God arranged for it by implanting docility in its huge frame. Or suppose the hen had been as swift and shy as the swallow, could we ever have got her to drop her eggs and sit on them when we desired. But God arranged for it, by implanting sociability within her.
Thus, however you turn it about, "every thing that God made was very good."
IV. And now we enquire, Is every thing "very good" still?
Here we are ourselves, "made" by God. Here, surrounding us, are ten thousand things which He pronounced "very good" ages since. Are they very good now? May not a thing be "very good," and yet have something very bad mingled with it? A bed of herbs is very good; but it may be choked with weeds. But, alas! if this is true of our fields and gardens, it is not true of us. There is nothing about us which is very good. Body, soul and spirit have been spoilt by the Fall, which brought the thorns and thistles into our fields and gardens. They have not been spoilt by it, though it troubles them; we have, for we were transgressors. When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, we lost God's favour, and His frown is marked on us in our infirmities, corruption and decay. We are not "very good" now, but very bad, very weak, and prone to what is wrong, and ignorant of God.
But now observe that this will not be so always, for God is fetching very "good things" out of this apparent frustration of His plan. It is related that the best thing which ever happened to a tribe of Arabs was the sudden caving in of their common well, because they then resolved that they would cease to be dependent on such a frail resource, and each family should dig a well of their own. A farmer had his plot of Indian corn trampled on by a herd of bullocks. His neighbours pitied him sorely; but he ploughed it in and resowed it, and had a double crop from the rich manuring which the buried stalks supplied to the soil So God will by-and-by reveal to the universe that what the serpent believed to be incurable damage to His "very good" things, was overruled by Him to be indeed "very good" for them.
And then remember that He is restoring what is now very bad to be "very good." Do you doubt this? It is going on hour by hour in those who have embraced the Saviour. In a horticultural, poultry, and agricultural show, you notice how everything is being wrought to a higher pitch of size and elegance. You are astonished as you compare the blossoms and flowers of your infancy with the blossoms there? "Can they be the descendants of these?" you say. But a grander movement than this is silently going on in some children. The Lord is renewing them into "His own image." They have washed their inward robes, and whitened them in the blood of the Lamb. They have received from Him a tender, penitent heart; and now they are increasing before Him, and under His nurture, in whatever is saintly and celestial. Already that in them is "very good;" and soon, when they quit this debased and diseased fleshly frame, they will be absolutely "very good." There will be no spot or wrinkle in them. And then at the resurrection it will be the same with that debased and diseased earthly frame itself; it will leave its mortality in the grave, and rise to God. Oh, how "very good!"
Is this your portion and prospect? If not, attend to it forthwith that it may be; for if it is not, you are "very bad" in God's sight, and you will be worse and worse, till you are ripe for a final outcasting from His blessed presence.
Do be persuaded; do turn to Jesus, and beseech Him to gather you into that happy fold which He will never forsake, till of the humblest lamb in it God Himself shall say, "It is very good."
"And He said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of."—Gen. 22:2
We will suppose that we are walking together on Mount Moriah; of course it is a walk in thought, like as it were in a dream. And, as we do in dreams we must mix things. Times, places, facts, fancies, must be mingled together; the teaching being, we trust, "truth as it is in Jesus." We will suppose that we are visiting Mount Moriah some time after the occurrences of which we are told in this chapter, and the heads of this sermon are certain things which we shall suppose to see in our walk up to the mountain's top.
I. There is a finger-post at the bottom of the hill, labelled with the name Moriah. Ah! then we are right. That is where we want to go.
But what can this name Moriah mean? Some learned people say one thing, some another; but you will not be far wrong if you say it means, the seeing of Jehovah; perhaps His seeing us, perhaps our seeing Him; or rather both in one. The Lord provides, foresees for us, and shows Himself so that we see Him. He provides by revealing Himself. There is another finger-post on the top of the hill. It covers the place Jehovah-Jireh—"the Lord will see." But Moriah is the same name turned round and made short. So the Lord, seeing and shining, showing the road by shining on it, is the beginning and the end of the path. Up the hill Moriah is up to the presence of God. It is the path of faith, "Offer on one of the mountains which I shall tell thee of," said God to Abraham; and He told him of it—showed it by showing Himself there. How He showed Himself we shall see. Meanwhile, let us go up this road of faith—it is rough and steep and hard. Ah! Abraham and Isaac found it so. All pilgrims find it so. But fear not; God sees and God shines. The walk of faith is with God and up to God.
Now we are at the top of the hill, we notice traces of burning.
II. There is a pile of ashes. Look down at this heap of ashes, and you may see written in it that "God did tempt Abraham,"i.e. try him. You know that fire scorches, melts and tests things. The Bible therefore often compares trial to fire. It is a very touching figure. For, like fire, trial is keen and sharp; but it does not hurt or destroy everything that is worth keeping. It refines and purifies the silver by consuming the refuse. We read of many fire-trials in the Bible; some of them having literal fire connected with them. When Aaron saw his two sons burned up in their sin before the Lord, his heart was in a furnace of sore anguish. When Job heard tale after tale of dire loss, till at last he was told of the death of all his sons and daughters, it was like as if the lightnings which burned up his flocks had fallen on his own head to scathe him. Christ's cruel cross was a fire-trial such as never was passed through by any other. Nothing in Christ was condemned—for Satan had nothing in him. The last day will be a great fire-trial—burning up the earth and the works that are therein: and as Paul says in another sense, "The fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is."
The fire of hell is not said to be trial-fire. They burned refuse only in Tophet. The unquenchable fire is for chaff. Now let us consider Abraham's fire-trial. "Take now thy son." "Thy son." There is the first burning coal, for children are dear,—you would not vex your parents if you knew how dear they hold you. "Thine only son." There is another coal to the fire. One of two, or of many, had been hard; but an only son!—that is hard indeed. Then, such a son—thy Isaac; there is more fuel to the fire. Isaac is "laughter;" and his very name brings back to mind how, after long, long waiting, father and mother rejoiced over their child. No wonder that it should be added "Whom thou lovest."
There is one faggot more: "Take thy son and offer him." To slay him! Oh, what a flame burns there! Yet there is something more—something that is like pouring oil in the furnace. This son was the child of promise. He was to be the father of a nation from which Christ was to spring. If he is killed, what becomes of the promise?
Do you remember how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego went through a fiery furnace and had not even the smell of fire on them after they came out of it? So it was with Abraham. His faith kept him from being burned. He said to himself, "God will keep His word. If I must kill Isaac, God will bring him to life again." So, not to blind them, but in real hope, he said to the young men, "I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again unto you."
III. The sacrificial knife. There it lies among the ashes, with stains on it like blood-spots. There has been death here. Was Isaac, then, really slain? No, but there was the offering of one in his stead. So we find an inscription on both sides of this knife. On the one side the word Surrender; on the other, Substitution.
Surrender means giving up. Abraham gave up his son at God's word. It was not the first thing God had asked him to give up. He left his country and his kinsfolk at God bidding. But God never asks us to give up anything except for something better than what we yield.
Surrender is a good motto for life. Give up—for the sake of others, for Christ's sake. You will be like your heavenly Father if you do.
"For God gave up His Son to die, So gen'rous was His love.
He did not ask Abraham to do what He was unwilling to do Himself. His own, His only, His beloved Son, He gave for us.
The other inscription on the knife is Substitution. That is, one instead of another. The ram was offered instead of Isaac. It is hard to see the full meaning. The lesson that God taught Abraham was, Lord, Thy will! And what Moriah taught as a command, Calvary taught as an example. Look down through the years and see, on a little hill there are three crosses. One of them, the middle one, has One hanging on it who is the Lamb of God. That is the meaning of Jehovah-Jireh—"the Lord will provide." Abraham did not quite understand what he spoke, only he spoke in trust, and was sure to find the reality better than his hope, when he said "The Lord will provide a lamb for a burnt offering." He saw and understood afterwards, for Jesus says, "Your father Abraham greatly desired to see my day, and he has seen it and rejoiced."