Genesis 1
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Genesis 1:1. Beginning is a word familiarly on our lips; but, for the most part, we mean only rearrangement, or the commencement of one link in the chain of events. But who can conceive the beginning of creation? Who can travel back in thought to the first moment of its existence, and look into the eternity beyond? The Bible carries us back to that beginning, the first moment when the universe existed. How far back was the starting-point of time we know not, nor in what form the universe came into being, whether completed, or in germs to be developed in the course of ages. Only we are taught that before that "beginning" the universe was not, and that "the worlds were framed by the word of God" (Hebrews 11:3) - their substance, and the laws by which they are governed. With this the conclusions of science agree. They point out that the forces of nature tend to extinction, and hence must have had a beginning. To the question what was that beginning, the Bible gives the answer.

1. What was before the "beginning? God was; he created all (Psalm 90:2); and if it surpass our power to conceive an eternal self-existent Being, still less can we realize life, power, law coming into existence without a cause. And' in the beginning was the Word;" and the Holy Ghost, through whom Christ offered himself (Hebrews 9:14). But further, before the beginning the Lamb was slain, (Revelation 13:8) - i.e. the necessity for redemption was foreseen and the plan provided - and we were chosen (Ephesians 1:4), and a kingdom prepared for us (Matthew 25:34). Thus, redemption was no afterthought, no repairing of failure; but God's purpose from eternity, and therefore that which is best.

2. What was the "beginning"? The creation of a field on which God's plans were to be carried out and his perfections manifested. And in the course of his work the creation of beings to whom and in whom he might make himself known, who might glorify him here and enjoy him forever.

3. We mark then - At the beginning God brought forth what had been ordained in eternity - his plan complete to the end - our salvation - redemption as well as creation. "Very good" (Genesis 1:31) went far beyond the things then existing on the earth. And if it be urged, How is "very good" consistent with sin? An enemy has sown tares and marred the Creator's work - the world is a ruin. Oh, faithless! why fearful? If God could give life to dry bones (Ezekiel 37:6), if he could of stones raise up children to Abraham, can he not out of seeming ruin raise up a more glorious temple? But thou sayest, How can this be? Canst thou solve one of the least mysteries of creation? And is it strange thou canst not solve that mystery into which angels desire to look? Enough to know "where sin abounded," &c. (Romans 5:20); to remember, "we see not yet," &c. (Hebrews 2:8); and humbly to wait our Father's time and way.

4. For personal encouragement. Our state fore seen and provided for from the beginning. Thus our right to trust God's promises depends not on anything in us, but is part of his original plan. Our Lord's call to sinners is in closest agreement., with what was ordained "in the beginning." "Whosoever will (Revelation 22:17) but echoes the word which called the universe into being. - M.

Genesis 1:1-5. A true and firm foundation of revelation and faith must be laid in a Divine doctrine of "Genesis," the beginnings out of which have come both the world of nature and the world of grace. In this book we are taught what is the order by which all things must be tried. Coming forth from Elohim, from the Infinite Personality; flowing in his appointed course. The genesis of heaven and earth becomes the genesis of the human family. Out of the natural chaos is brought forth the Eden of rest and beauty. Out of the moral waste of a fallen humanity is formed, by the gracious work of a Divine Spirit, through a covenant of infinite wisdom and loves a seed of redeemed and sanctified human beings, a family of God. The genesis of the material creation leads on to the genesis of the invisible creation. The lower is the type and symbol of the higher. The first day is the true beginning of days. See what is placed by the sacred writer between that evening and morning.

I. THE COMING FORTH OF THE EVERLASTING, UNSEARCHABLE SECRET OF THE DIVINE NATURE INTO MANIFESTATION. "God created." The word employed denotes more than the bare summoning of existence out of nothingness. The analogy of human workmanship ("cutting," "carving," "framing") suggests the relation between creation and the God of creation. The heaven and the earth reflect their Maker. Works embody the mind, the spirit, the will, the nature of the workman. Although the name Elohim, in the plural form, cannot be taken as an equivalent of the Trinity, it points to the great fundamental fact of all revelation, the Divine Unity coming forth out of the infinite solitude of eternity, and declaring, in the manifold revelations of the visible and invisible worlds, all that the creature can know of his fathomless mystery.

II. HERE IS A GLIMPSE INTO GOD'S ORDER AND METHOD. "In the beginning," the immeasurable fullness of creative power and goodness. Formless void, darkness on the face of the deeps apparent confusion and emptiness, within a limited sphere, the earth; at a certain epoch, in preparation for an appointed future. Chaos is not the first beginning of things; it is a stage in their history. The evening of the first day preceded the morning in the recorded annals of the earth. That evening was itself a veiling of the light. Science itself leads back the thoughts from all chaotic periods to previous developments of power. Order precedes disorder. Disorder is itself permitted only as a temporary state. It is itself part of the genesis of that which shall be ultimately "very good."

III. THE GREAT VITAL FACT OF THE WORLD'S ORDER IS THE INTIMATE UNION BETWEEN THE SPIRIT OF GOD AND THAT WHICH IS COVERED WITH DARKNESS UNTIL HE MAKES IT LIGHT. The moving of the Spirit upon the face of the waters represents the brooding, cherishing, vitalizing presence of God in his creatures, over them, around them, at once the source and protection of their life. "Breath;" "wind," the word literally means, perhaps as a symbol at once of life, or living energy, and freedom, and with an immediate reference to the creative word, which is henceforth the breath of God in the world. Surely no candid mind can fail to feel the force of such a witness in the opening sentences of revelation to the triune God.

IV. TO US THE BEGINNING OF ALL THINGS IS LIGHT. The word of God "commands the light to shine out of darkness." "God said, Let there be light," or, Let light be. The going forth of God's word upon the universe very well represents the twofold fact,

(1) that it is the outcome of his will and nature; and

(2) that it is his language - the expression of himself.

Hence all through this Mosaic cosmogony God is represented as speaking to creation, that we may understand that he speaks in creation, as he is also said to look at that which comes forth from himself to behold it, to approve it, to name it, to appoint its order and use. Such intimate blending of the personal with the impersonal is the teaching of Scripture as distinguished from all mere human wisdom. God is in creation and yet above it. Man is thus invited to seek the personal presence as that which is higher than nature, which his own personal life requires, that it may not be oppressed with nature's greatness, that it may be light, and not darkness. There is darkness in creation, darkness in the deep waters of the world's history, darkness in the human soul itself, until God speaks and man hears. Light is not, physically, the first thing created; but it is the first fact of the Divine days - that is, the beginning of the new order. For what we have to do with, is not the. infinite, secret of creation, but the "manifestation of the visible world God manifest. The first day m the history of the earth, as man can read it, must be the day when God removes the covering of darkness and says, Let there be light." The veil uplifted is itself a commencement. God said that it was good. His own appointment confirmed the abiding distinction between light and darkness, between day and night; in other words, the unfolding, progressive interchange of work and rest, of revelation and concealment, the true beginning of the world's week of labor, which leads on to the everlasting sabbath. How appropriately this first day of the week of creation stands at the threshold of God's word of grace! The light which he makes to shine in our hearts, which divides our existence into the true order, the good and the evil separated from one another, which commences our life; and the Spirit is the light of, his own word, the light which shines from the face of him who was "the Word,' "in the beginning with God," "without whom nothing was made that was made." - R.

Notice -

I. GOD PREPARES HEAVEN AND EARTH FOR MAN. Light needed for the vegetable world. But when the higher life is introduced, then there is an order which implies intelligence and active rational existence. The signs are for those that can observe the signs. The seasons, days, and years for the being who consciously divides his life.

II. THE LUMINARIES ARE SAID TO RULE THE DAY AND NIGHT. The concentration of light is the appointed method of its diffusion, and adaptation to the purposes of man's existence. So in the moral world and in the spiritual world. There must be rule, system, diversities of gifts, diversities of operations. Distinctions of glory - of the sun, moon, stars. As the light, so is the rule. Those possessed of much power to enlighten others ought to be rulers by their Divinely-appointed place and work. But all the light which flows from heavenly bodies has first been communicated to them. We give out to others what we receive.

III. This setting out of time reminds us that THE EARTHLY EXISTENCE IS NOT SUPREME, but ruled over until it is itself lifted up into the higher state where day and night and diurnal changes are no more. The life of man is governed here largely by the order of the material universe. But as he grows into the true child of God he rises to a dominion over sun, moon, and stars.

1. Intellectual. By becoming master of many of the secrets of nature.

2. Moral. The consciousness of fellowship with God is a sense of moral superiority to material things. The sanctified will and affections have a sphere of rule wider than the physical universe, outlasting the perishable earth and sky.

3. Spiritual. Man is earthly first, and then heavenly. Human nature is developed under the rule of sun, moon, and stars. In the world where there shall be no more night the consciousness of man will be that of a spirit, not unwitting of the material, but ruling it with angelic freedom and power. - R.


1. Abundance. Swarming waters, swarming air? preparing for the swarming earth. "Be fruitful, and multiply." The absence of all restraint because as yet the absence of sin. God's law is liberty. The law of life is the primary law. If there be in man's world a contradiction between the multiplication of life and the happiness of life, it is a sign of departure from the original order.

2. Growth, improvement, advancement towards perfection. The fish, fowl, beast, man exist in a scheme of things; the type of animal life is carried up higher. The multiplication is not for its own sake, but for the future. Generations pass away, yet there is an abiding blessing. Death is not real, though seeming, destruction. There is a higher nature which is being matured.

3. Service of the lower for the higher. God blesses the animal races for the sake of man, the interpreter of creation, the voice of its praise. He blesses the lower part of human life for the sake of the soul.

II. LIFE UNDER THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD. The immense productiveness of nature would become a curse, not a blessing, unless restrained by its own laws. The swarming seas and air represent at once unbounded activity and universal control by mutual dependence and interaction. So in the moral world. It is not life, existence, alone that betokens the blessing of God, but the disposition of life to fulfill its highest end. We should not desire abundance without the grace which orders its use and controls its enjoyment. - R.

We pass from the sea and air to the earth. We are being led to man. Notice -

I. THE PREPARATION IS COMPLETE. Before the earth receives the human being, it brings forth all the other creatures, and God sees that they are good - good in his sight, good for man.

II. THE PURPOSE OF THE WORK IS BENEVOLENT. Cattle, creeping thing, beast of the earth. So man would see them distinguished - the wild from the domestic, the creeping from the roaming, the clean from the unclean. The division itself suggests the immense variety of the Divine provision for man's wants.

III. The incompleteness of the earth when filled with the lower creatures is A TESTIMONY TO THE GREATNESS OF MAN'S SPIRITUAL NATURE; for in comparison with the animal races he is in many respects inferior - in strength, swiftness, and generally in the powers which we call instinct. Yet his appearance is the climax of the earth's creation. "Man is one world, and hath another to attend him." Vegetable, marine, animal life generally, the whole earth filled with what God "saw to be good," waits for the rational and spiritual creature who shall be able to recognize their order and wield dominion over them. Steps and stages in creation lead up to the climax, the "paragon of animals," the god-like creature, made to be king on the earth. - R.

Take it -

I. As a revelation of God in his relation to man.

II. As a revelation of man to himself.


1. As the Father as well as Creator. As to the rest of creation, it is said, "Let be," and "it was." As to many "Let us make in our image." Closely kin by original nature, man is invited to intercourse with the Divine.

2. The spirituality of God's highest creature is the bond of union and fellowship. The languages "Let us make," suggests the conception of a heavenly council or conference preparatory to the creation of man; and the new description of the being to be created points to the introduction of a new order of life the spiritual life, as above the vegetable and animal.

3. God entrusts dominion and authority to man in the earth. Man holds from the first the position of a vicegerent for God. There is trust, obedience, responsibility, recognition of Divine supremacy, therefore all the essential elements of religion, in the original constitution and appointment of our nature and position among the creatures.

4. The ultimate destiny of man is included in the account of his beginning. He who made him in his image, "one of us," will call him upward to be among the super-earthly beings surrounding the throne of the Highest. The possession of a Divine image is the pledge of eternal approximation to the Divine presence. The Father calls the children about himself.

II. MAN REVEALED TO HIMSELF. "The image and likeness of God." What does that contain? There is the ideal humanity.

1. There is an affinity in the intellectual nature between the human and the Divine. In every rational being, though feeble in amount of mental capacity, there is a sense of eternal necessary truth. On some lines the creature and the Creator think under the same laws of thought, though the distance be immeasurable.

2. Man's by original creation absolutely free from moral taint. He is therefore a fallen being in so far as he is a morally imperfect being. He was made like God in purity, innocence, goodness.

3. The resemblance must be in spirit as well as in intellect and moral nature. Man was made to be the companion of God and angels, therefore there is in his earthly existence a superearthly, spiritual nature which must be ultimately revealed.

4. Place and vocation are assigned to man on earth, and that in immediate connection with his likeness to God. He is ruler here that he may be prepared for higher rule elsewhere. He is put in his rank among God's creatures that he may see himself on the ascent to God. Man belongs to two worlds. He is like God, and yet he is male and female, like the lower animals, lie is blessed as other creatures with productive power to fill the earth, but he is blessed for the sake of his special vocation, to subdue the earth, not for himself, but for God.

5. Here is the end of all our endeavor and desire - to be perfect men by being like God. Let us be thankful that there is a God-man in whom we are able to find our ideal realized. We grow up into him who is our Head. We see Jesus crowned with glory and honor. When all things are put under him, man will see the original perfection of his creation restored.

6. Man is taught that he need not leave the earthly sphere to be like God. There has been a grand preparation of his habitation. From a mere chaotic mass the earth has by progressive stages reached a state when it can become the scene of a great moral experiment for man's instruction. The god-like is to rule over all other creatures, that he may learn the superiority of the spiritual. Heavenly life, communion, society, and all that is included in the fellowship of man with God, may be developed in the condition of earth. Grievous error in early Church and Eastern philosophy - confusion of the material and evil. Purity does not require an immaterial mode of existence. Perfection of man is perfection of his dominion over earthly conditions, matter in subjection to spirit. Abnormal methods, asceticism, self-crucifixion, mere violence to original constitution of man. The "second Adam" overcame the world not by forsaking it, but by being in it, and yet not of it.

7. God's commandments to man are commandments of Fatherly love. "Behold, I have given you," &c. He not only appoints the service, but he provides the sustenance. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God," &c. Here is the union of creative power and providential goodness. We are blessed in an earthly life just as we take it from the hand of God as a trust to be fulfilled for him. And in that obedience and dependence we shall best be able to reach the ideal humanity. The fallen world has been degrading man, physically, morally, spiritually; he has been less and less what God made him to be. But he who has come to restore the kingdom of God has come to uplift man and fill the earth with blessedness. - R.

The first chapter closes with a review of the whole work of the six days. God saw it. Behold, it was very good!

I. The SATISFACTION was in the completion of the earthly order in man, the highest earthly being. For God s good is not, like man's good a compromise, too often, between the really good and the really evil, but the attainment of the highest - the fulfillment of his Divine idea, the top-stone placed upon the temple with shoutings: Grace, grace unto it."

II. "The evening and the morning were the sixth day." OUT OF THE NIGHT OF 'THE INFINITE PAST CAME FORTH THE DAWN OF THE INTELLECTUAL AND SPIRITUAL WORLD. And when God saw that, then he said, It is very good. So let us let our faces towards that light of heaven on earth, the day of Divine revelation, Divine intercourse with man, the pure and perfect bliss of an everlasting paradise, in which God and man shall find unbroken rest and joy in one another. - R.

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