In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
It is proposed to examine the general teaching of the Scriptures in the light of six laws, according to which, by the common consensus of competent authorities, the Creator worked in the production of this present terrestrial order.
1. The first of these laws is the law of progress. It may be taken as a fact, settled by overwhelming scientific evidence, and no less clearly affirmed in Genesis, that the world was not created all at once, and that there was a certain order in which its various parts appeared. It was, without an exception, an order under a law of progress; first, that which was lower, afterward that which was higher. The illustrations are so familiar that they scarcely need to be mentioned. Is this law of progress still in force; or is the progress ended, and is man, as we know him, the last and highest form of life that earth shall see? The impossibility of further progress cannot therefore be argued on the ground of inconceivability. It can only be established if it be proved beyond controversy that the end of creation has been reached in man. Is there sufficient reason to believe this? Reason itself teaches that if there be a personal God, the Creator of all, then the self-manifestation of God must be the highest end of the earthly creation. When, therefore, the Holy Scripture tells us of the appearance on earth of a God-man, the perfect "image of the invisible God," and of a new order of manhood begotten by a new birth into union with this second man, and renewed after the image of the Creator, to be manifested hereafter in a corresponding embodiment and in a changed environment, through a resurrection from the dead, all this is so far from being contrary to the order established in creation, that it is in full accord therewith, and only furnishes a new illustration of that law of progress according to which God worked from the beginning.
2. A second law which has been discovered to have been characteristic of the creative process, is the law of progress by ages. That this was the law of Divine procedure is clear both from the book of revelation and of nature. There were periods of creative activity. The work had its evenings and its mornings, repeatedly recurring. The line of progress was not a uniform gradient; not an inclined plane, but a stairway, in which the steps were aeons. In each instance a "new idea in the system of progress" was introduced, and that fact constituted, in part at least, the new age. But it may be further remarked, that each new age was marked, not merely by the presence, but by the dominance, of a higher type of life than the one preceding. Now we have seen that, according to Scripture, the law of progress is still in force; after man as he now is, shall appear manifested in the earth a humanity of a higher type than the present animal man, namely, the "spiritual man," as Paul calls him. Does the Scripture also recognize this plan of progress by ages as still the plan of God? The contrast between the present age and that which is to come, is indeed one of the fundamental things in the inspired representation of the divinely established order. And we can now see how, in this mode of representation, the Scriptures speak with scientific precision, and harmonize completely with the best certified conceptions of nineteenth century science. Not only, according to their teaching, is there to be still further progress, progress manifested in the introduction of a new and higher type of manhood, even that which is "from heaven," but the introduction of that new manhood of the resurrection to dominance in the creation is uniformly represented as marking the beginning of a new age. And just herein, according to the Scripture, lies the contrast between the age which now is and that which is to come; that in the age which is now, the dominant type of life is that of the natural, or "animal," man; in that which is to come, the dominant type of life shall be "spiritual" or resurrection manhood, manifested in men described by our Lord as those "who cannot die any more, but are equal unto the angels."
3. Another law of the Divine working in the bygone ages of the earth's history, we may call the law of anticipative or prophetic forms. This law has been formulated by Professor Agassiz in the following words, which have been endorsed by the most recent authorities as correctly representing the facts: "Earlier organic forms often appear to foreshadow and predict others that are to succeed them in time, as the winged and marine reptiles of the Mesozoic age foreshadow the birds and cetaceans (that were to succeed them in the next age). There were reptiles before the Reptilian age; mammals before the Mammalian age. These appear now like a prophecy in that earlier time of an order of things not possible with the earlier combinations then prevailing in the animal kingdom." Such, then, has been the law in all the past ages. Is it still in force, or is its operation ended? What a momentous question! How full of both scientific and religious interest! For even on scientific grounds, as has been shown, we are led to anticipate an age to come which shall be marked by the dominance of a type of life higher than the present. And, as we have seen, the suggestion of science is in this case confirmed by Scripture, which describes the life and characteristics of that "age to come," as science could not. Such descriptions are not very minute, but so far as they go they are very definite and clear. Perhaps the most full and clear single statement is that found in the words of Christ to the Sadducees, to whom He spoke of an age to follow the present, to be inherited by men in resurrection; a type of men who "neither marry nor are given in marriage. Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection." (Luke 20:35, 36). Men incapable of subjection to death, sons of God, perfectly holy — such is the race which shall come to headship in creation in the future age. Herein again, then, the record of Scripture is consistent at once with the system of law as revealed in the past, and with itself, in that, having predicted an age to come, to be inherited by the higher order of resurrection manhood, it sets forth also, as historic fact, the appearance of anticipative forms in the age which now is. Not to speak of the cases of Enoch and Elijah, we have an Illustrious instance of a prophetic type in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In Him was manifested a type of life transcending beyond measure embodied life as we know it here. It appeared in One who claimed to be the Son of God, and who manifested powers, in proof of this claim, such as well befitted it — powers which later, by one of His disciples, were suggestively called "powers of the age to come," and who finally became the firstborn from the dead, being the firstborn son of the resurrection.
4. Another law to be observed in the Divine working in the early history of the earth, is the law of creative interpositions. We must, on scientific grounds, affirm creative intervention at least in the origination of matter, and of life, and of free moral agents. The only alternative is absolute agnosticism on this subject. So much, then, as regards the past. Creative interposition appears as included in the system of law. How is it as regards the future? Are we now done with these manifestations of creative power, or shall they, according to the Scripture, be witnessed again in the future? For we are taught, as we have seen, that the present age, marked by the presence and dominance of the animal man, shall end; and that another age shall then follow, marked by the introduction of a new physical order, "a new heavens and a new earth," — an order of things to be inherited by an order of men called by our Lord "children of God and sons of the resurrection," sexless, sinless, and incapable of dying. Has the man of the present age power to raise himself into this exalted order of life? No one will pretend this. In particular, the natural, or psychical, animal man of the present age cannot by any self-development or self-culture raise himself into the order of the spiritual manhood of the coming age. For regeneration and for resurrection alike he is powerless. Hence Holy Scripture tells us with utmost plainness that what has been in time past, is now and shall be again. It tells us that even in this present age the creative power of God is secretly working, in the "new birth" of those who are chosen to become the sons of God and heirs of the age to come, and therefore styles the regenerated man "a new creature." As yet, however, it is but the faint dawn of the creative morning. When the day breaks, the same Scriptures teach us, shall be seen a new and magnificent display of the creative might of God, introducing "a new heavens and a new earth," and bringing in also the sons of the resurrection with their spiritual bodies to inherit the glory. For as the new order of the new age shall itself be introduced by creative power, so shall the new manhood which is destined to inherit that order. For resurrection is by no possibility the outcome of a natural process; it will be the direct result of an act of the almighty power of God.
5. Reference may be made to another law of the Divine administration in the earlier terrestrial history. It may be called the law of exterminations. The rocks bear testimony to the fact that from time to time during the long creative ages, at the close of one great period after another, there occurred exterminations, more or less extensive, of various orders of life. Professor Dana, for instance, tells us, "At the close of each period of the Palaeozoic ages, there was an extermination of a large number of living species; and, as each epoch terminated...one, in most cases, less general." In particular, he says, again, that at the close of the Cretaceous age there was an extermination "remarkable for its universality and thoroughness"; "the vast majority of the species, and nearly all the characteristic genera disappeared." The same thing occurred again at the close of the Tertiary, and again in the Quaternary. The causes of these various exterminations were different in different instances. Often they were due to the elevation or submergence of extensive areas of the earth's surface; sometimes to the more sudden and rapid action of earthquakes; sometimes, within narrow limits, they were caused by fiery eruptions from the interior of the earth. Sometimes, again, they were due to changes of climate more or less extensive, through the operation of causes which need not be here detailed. As a matter of fact, it appears that the inbringing of a higher order of life and organization commonly involved the extermination of various genera and species unsuited to the new environment. This was demonstrably a part of the plan of God in the development of His creative thoughts. Even lesser divisions of the great creative aeons were sometimes marked in like manner. Up to the present human period, therefore, there has been in force a law of exterminations, operating under the conditions specified. But yet another age, according to Scripture, is to succeed the present. Is there reason to anticipate that when the point shall be reached of transition from the present to the coming age, the law of exterminations will again take effect? Does Scripture give any hint in answer to this question, and is it here again in harmony with scientific discovery as regards the laws of the past? The reader will have anticipated the answer which must be given. For it is the repeated declaration of the New Testament Scriptures that the present age shall end, as earlier ages have sometimes ended, with catastrophic changes; this next time, with a catastrophe, not of water, but of fire, giving a new and very terrible application of the ancient law of exterminations. For we are told that a day is coming when "the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up." The day for which the present heavens and earth are "reserved into fire," shall also be a "day of the perdition of ungodly men." (2 Peter 3:7).
6. Yet one other law of the creative working may be discerned as we study the record of the rocks. We may well call it the law of preparation. It were thinkable, since God is almighty, that each age should have been introduced as something absolutely new, having no connection with the ages that had preceded it; that He should have prepared the earth for the new orders of life which were to inhabit it, by a direct act of creative power. But, as a matter of fact, God did not do in this way. On the contrary, He so constituted the successive ages in the earth's history that each was a preparation for that which was to come afterward. Illustrations are as numerous as the ages and periods of geologic time. Each age had its roots, so to speak, in the age or ages that had preceded it. Indeed, the whole Scripture history is a series of illustrations of this law. Just as in the geologic ages, here were subordinate periods, less sharply distinct indeed, into which the greater ages were subdivided, so the Scriptures divide the whole present age of the natural man into what, in theological and biblical language, we call successive "dispensations." In the case of each of these we may see this law of preparation exemplified. Each dispensation was in order to another which was to follow. The Adamic age prepared for the Noachian; the Noachian, for the Mosaic; the Mosaic — and indeed all of these again — for the Christian. So also, according to the same revelation, shall it prove to be as regards the whole great age of the natural man. In a manner still more momentous and comprehensive, this age is set forth as a preparation for the age which is to come, the resurrection age. This may be true even in a physical sense. For in the new age, according to Isaiah, Peter, and John, there is to be a new earth, which shall appear out of the fires which shall yet consume the present world; and for this and the physical changes which shall thus be brought about, we know not what forces may not even now silently be working beneath our very feet. They teach this as regards regeneration and sanctification. These are preparatory in their nature. It is thus that the new man is "made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth." Even death, whether it be of the saint or of the sinner, has its part in the preparatory plan. The application of this is evident. Whence such a harmony in the one case, and in such unexpected directions, for which we search in the authoritative books of other religions in vain? Whence had these men who wrote the Scriptures this their wisdom? Assume what they claim for themselves, a special inspiration from the Former of the universe Himself, and then the harmony with the original system of natural law which pervades the representations of the past, present, and future, is what we should expect. Deny this, and how shall the fact be explained? Further, it is evident that the facts to which our attention has been directed, reverse the argument which one often hears from unbelievers against the probability of the truth of Scripture history and prophecy, derived from the observed uniformity of the system of natural law. Instead of saying that the observed invariability of the system of natural law makes the Scripture teachings with regard to the incarnation, the resurrection, the new heavens and the new earth, and the judgment by which they shall be introduced, to be intrinsically improbable, we must say the opposite! These thoughts also have a bearing on the theodicy. Much in the present age is dark with painful mystery. If there be a God infinite in holiness, goodness, and power, then, it has been asked in all ages, Why such a miserable, imperfect world? Why the earth. quake, the pestilence, and the famine, with the destruction and agony they bring? Why sorrow, and sin, and death? Why the disappointed hopes, the darkened homes, empires wrecked, races degenerating, and disappearing from sight at last in a morass of moral corruptions? These questions burden the holy, while the scoffer answers in his desperation, "There is no God such as you dream!" If this were the last age of earth, it is hard to see how such questions could be answered. But if we recall to mind the ancient law of progress, and progress by ages, and that other law of preparation, we may be able to see — not indeed the answer to our questionings, but so much as shall enable us to hold fast, without wavering, our faith in the God of nature, of history, and of revelation.
(S. Kellogg, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.