Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
PREFACE TO VOLUME ONE
Though it is most my concern, that I be able to give a good account to God and my own conscience, yet, perhaps, it will be expected that I give the world also some account of this bold undertaking; which I shall endeavour to do with all plainness, and as one who believes, that if men must be reckoned with in the great day, for every vain and idle word they speak, much more for every vain and idle line they write. And it may be of use, in the first place, to lay down those great and sacred principles which I go upon, and am governed by, in this endeavour to explain and improve these portions of holy writ; which endeavour I humbly offer to the service of those (and to those only I expect it will be acceptable) who agree with me in these six principles:—
I. That religion is the one thing useful; and to know, and love, and fear God our Maker, and in all the instances both of devout affection, and of good conversation, to keep his commandments, (Eccles. 12:13) is, without doubt, the whole of man; it is all in all to him. This the wisest of men, after a close and copious argument in his Ecclesiastes, lays down as the conclusion of his whole matter (the Quod erat demonstrandum of his whole discourse); and therefore I may be allowed to lay it down as a postulatum, and the foundation of this whole matter. It is necessary to mankind in general, that there should be religion in the world, absolutely necessary for the preservation of the honour of the human nature, and no less so for the preservation of the order of human societies. It is necessary to each of us in particular, that we be religious; we cannot otherwise answer the end of our creation, obtain the favour of our Creator, make ourselves easy now, or happy for ever. A man that is endued with the powers of reason, by which he is capable of knowing, serving, glorifying, and enjoying his Maker, and yet lives without God in the world, is certainly the most despicable and the most miserable animal under the sun.
II. That divine revelation is necessary to true religion, to the being and support of it. That faith without which it is impossible to please God, cannot come to any perfection by seeing the works of God, but it must come by hearing the word of God, Rom. 10:17. The rational soul, since it received that fatal shock by the fall, cannot have or maintain that just regard to the great author of its being, that observance of him, and expectation from him, which are both its duty and felicity, without some supernatural discovery made by himself of himself, and of his mind and will. Natural light, no doubt, is of excellent use, as far as it goes; but it is necessary that there be a divine revelation, to rectify its mistakes, and make up its deficiencies, to help us out where the light of nature leaves us quite at a loss, especially in the way and method of man’s recovery from his lapsed state, and his restoration to his Maker’s favour; which he cannot but be conscious to himself of the loss of, finding, by sad experience, his own present state to be sinful and miserable. Our own reason shows us the wound, but nothing short of a divine revelation can discover to us a remedy to be confided in. The case and character of those nations of the earth which had no other guide in their devotions than that of natural light, with some remains of the divine institution of sacrifices received by tradition from their fathers, plainly show how necessary divine revelation is to the subsistence of religion; for those that had not the word of God, soon lost God himself, became vain in their imaginations concerning him, and prodigiously vile and absurd in their worships and divinations. It is true, the Jews, who had the benefit of divine revelation, lapsed sometimes into idolatry, and admitted very gross corruptions; yet, with the help of the law and the prophets, they recovered and reformed: whereas the best and most admired philosophy of the heathen could never do any thing toward the cure of the vulgar idolatry, or so much as offered to remove any of those barbarous and ridiculous rites of their religion, which were the scandal and reproach of the human nature. Let men therefore pretend what they will, deists are, or will be, atheists; and those that, under colour of admiring the oracles of reason, set aside as useless the oracles of God, undermine the foundations of all religion, and do what they can to cut off all communication between man and his Maker, and to set that noble creature on a level with the beasts that perish.
III. That divine revelation is not now to be found nor expected any where but in the scriptures of the Old and New Testament; and there it is. It is true, there were religion and divine revelation before there was any written word; but to argue from thence, that the scriptures are not now necessary, it as absurd as it would be to argue that the world might do well enough without the sun, because in the creation the world had light three days before the sun was made. Divine revelations, when first given, were confirmed by visions, miracles, and prophecy; but they were to be transmitted to distant regions and future ages, with their proofs and evidences, by writing, the surest way of conveyance, and by which the knowledge of other memorable things is preserved and propagated. We have reason to think that even the ten commandments, though spoken with such solemnity at Mount Sinai, would have been, long before this, lost and forgotten, if they had been handed down by tradition only, and never had been put in writing: it is that which is written, that remains. The scripture indeed is not compiled as a methodical system or body of divinity, secundum artem—according to the rules of art, but several ways of writing, (histories, laws, prophecies, songs, epistles, and even proverbs,) at several times, and by several hands, as Infinite Wisdom saw fit. The end is effectually obtained; such things are plainly supposed and taken for granted, and such things are expressly revealed and made known, as, being all put together, sufficiently inform us of all the truths and laws of the holy religion we are to believe, and be governed by. That all scripture is given by inspiration of God, (2 Tim. 3:16) and that holy men spake and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, (2 Pt. 1:21) we are sure; but who dare pretend to describe that inspiration? None knows the way of the Spirit, nor how the thoughts were formed in the heart of him that was inspired, any more than we know the way of the soul into the body, or how the bones are formed in the womb or her that is with child, Eccles. 11:5. But we may be sure that the blessed Spirit did not only habitually prepare and qualify the penmen of scripture for that service, and put it into their hearts to write, but did likewise assist their understandings and memories in recording those things which they themselves had the knowledge of, and effectually secure them from error and mistake; and what they could not know but by revelation, (as for instance, Gen. 1 and Jn. 1) the same blessed Spirit gave them clear and satisfactory information of. And no doubt, as far as was necessary to the end designed, they were directed by he Spirit, even in the language and expression; for there were words which the Holy Ghost taught; (1 Co. 2:13) and God saith to the prophet, Thou shalt speak with my words, Eze. 3:4. However, it is not material to us, who drew up the statute, nor what liberty he took in using his own words: when it is ratified, it is become the legislator’s act, and binds the subject to observe the true intent and meaning of it. The scripture proves its divine authority and original both to the wise and to the unwise. Even to the unwise and least thinking part of mankind, it is abundantly proved by the many incontestable miracles wrought by Moses and the prophets, Christ and his apostles, for the confirmation of its truths and laws: it would be an intolerable reproach to eternal Truth, to suppose this divine seal affixed to a lie. Beside this, to the more wise and thinking, to the more considerate and contemplative it recommends itself by those innate excellences which are self-evident characteristics of its divine original. If we look carefully, we shall soon be aware of God’s image and superscription upon it. A mind rightly disposed by a humble, sincere subjection to its Maker, will easily discover the image of God’s wisdom in the awful depth of its mysteries; the image of his sovereignty in the commanding majesty of its style; the image of his unity in the wonderful harmony and symmetry of all its parts; the image of his holiness in the unspotted purity of its precepts; and the image of his goodness in the manifest tendency of the whole to the welfare and happiness of mankind in both worlds; in short, it is a work that fathers itself. And as atheists, so deists, notwithstanding their vain-glorious pretensions to reason, as if wisdom must die with them, run themselves upon the grossest and most dishonourable absurdities imaginable; for, if the scriptures be not the word of God, then there is no divine revelation now in the world, no discovery at all of God’s mind concerning our duty and happiness: so that, let a man be ever so desirous and solicitous to do his Maker’s will, he must, without remedy, perish in the ignorance of it, since there is no book but this that will undertake to tell him what it is, a consequence which can by no means be reconciled to the idea we have of the divine goodness. And (which is no less an absurdity), if the scriptures be not really a divine revelation, they are certainly as great a cheat as ever was put upon the world: but we have no reason to think them so; for bad men would never write so good a book, nor would Satan have so little subtlety as to help to cast out Satan; and good men would never do so wicked a thing as to counterfeit the broad seal of heaven and affix it to a patent of their own framing, though in itself ever so just. No, there are not the words of him that hath a devil.
IV. That the scriptures of the Old and New Testament were purposely designed for our learning. They might have been a divine revelation to those into whose hands they were first put, and yet we, at this distance, have been no way concerned in them; but it is certain that they were intended to be of universal and perpetual use and obligation to all persons, in all places and all ages, that have the knowledge of them, even unto us upon whom the ends of the world have come. See Rom. 15:4. Though we are not under the law as a covenant of innocency (for then, being guilty, we should unavoidable perish under its curse), yet it is not therefore an antiquated statute, but a standing declaration of the will of God concerning good and evil, sin and duty, and its claim to obedience is in as full force and virtue as ever: and unto us is the gospel of the ceremonial law preached, as well as unto those to whom it was first delivered, and much more plainly, Heb. 4:2. The histories of the Old Testament were written for our admonition and direction (1 Co. 10:11), and not barely for the information and entertainment of the curious. The prophets, though long since dead, prophesy again by their writings, before peoples and nations (Rev. 10:11), and Solomon’s exhortation speaketh unto us as unto sons. The subject of the holy scripture is universal and perpetual, and therefore of common concern. It is intended, 1. To revive the universal and perpetual law of nature, the very remains of which (or ruins rather) in natural conscience, give us hints that we must look somewhere else for a fairer copy. 2. To reveal the universal and perpetual law of grace, which God’s common beneficence to the children of men, such as puts them into a better state than that of devils, gives us some ground to expect. The divine authority likewise, which in this book commands our belief and obedience, is universal and perpetual, and knows no limits, either of time or place; it follows, therefore, that every nation and every age to which these sacred writings are transmitted are bound to receive them with the same veneration and pious regard that they commanded at their first entrance. Though God hath, in these last days, spoken to us by his Son, yet we are not therefore to think that what he spoke at sundry times and in divers manners to the fathers (Heb. 1:1) is of no use to us, or that the Old Testament is an almanac out of date; no, we are built upon the foundation of the prophets, as well as of the apostles, Christ himself being the corner-stone (Eph. 2:20), in whom both these sides of this blessed building meet and are united: they were those ancient records of the Jewish church which Christ and his apostles so oft referred to, so oft appealed to, and commanded us to search and to take heed to. The preachers of the gospel, like Jehoshaphat’s judges, wherever they went, had this book of the law with them, and found it a great advantage to them to speak to those that knew the law, Rom. 7:1. That celebrated translation of the Old Testament in the Greek tongue by the Seventy, between 200 and 300 years before the birth of Christ, was to the nations a happy preparative for the entertainment of the gospel, by spreading the knowledge of the law; for as the New Testament expounds and completes the Old, and thereby makes it more serviceable to us now than it was to the Jewish church, so the Old Testament confirms and illustrates the New, and shows us Jesus Christ the same yesterday that he is to-day and will be for ever.
V. That the holy scriptures were not only designed for our learning, but are the settled standing rule of our faith and practice, by which we must be governed now and judged shortly: it is not only a book of general use (so the writings of good and wise men may be), but it is of sovereign and commanding authority, the statute-book of God’s kingdom, which our oath of allegiance to him, as our supreme Lord, binds us to the observance of. Whether we will hear or whether we will forbear, we must be told that this is the oracle we are to consult and to be determined by, the touchstone we are to appeal to and try doctrines by, the rule we are to have an eye to, by which we must in every thing order our affections and conversations, and from which we must always take our measures. This is the testimony, this is the law which is bound up and sealed among the disciples, that word according to which if we do not speak, it is because there is no light in us, Isa. 8:16, 20. The making of the light within our rule, which by nature is darkness, and by grace is but a copy of, and conformable to, the written work, is setting the judge above the law; and the making of the traditions of the church rivals with the scriptures is no better: it is making the clock, which every one concerned puts backward or forward at pleasure, to correct the sun, that faithful measurer of time and days. These are absurdities which, being once granted, thousands follow, as we see by sad experience.
VI. That therefore it is the duty of all Christians diligently to search the scriptures, and it is the office of ministers to guide and assist them therein. How useful soever this book of books is in itself, it will be of no use to us if we do not acquaint ourselves with it, by reading it daily, and meditating upon it, that we may understand the mind of God in it, and may apply what we understand to ourselves for our direction, rebuke, and comfort, as there is occasion. It is the character of the holy and happy man that his delight is in the law of the Lord; and, as an evidence thereof, he converses with it as his constant companion, and advises with it as his most wise and trusty counsellor, for in that law doth he meditate day and night, Ps. 1:2. It concerns us to be ready in the scriptures, and to make ourselves so by constant reading and careful observation, and especially by earnest prayer to God for the promised gift of the Holy Ghost, whose office it is to bring things to our remembrance which Christ hath said to us (Jn. 14:26), that thus we may have some good word or other at hand for our use in our addresses to God and in our converse with men, in our resistance of Satan and in communing with our own hearts, and may be able, with the good householder, to bring out of this treasury things new and old, for the entertainment and edification both of ourselves and others. If any thing will make a man of God perfect in this world, will complete both a Christian and a minister, and thoroughly furnish him for every good work, it must be this. 2 Tim. 3:17. It concerns us also to be mighty in the scriptures, as Apollos was (Acts 18:24), that is, to be thoroughly acquainted with the true intent and meaning of them, that we may understand what we read, and may not misinterpret or misapply it, but by the conduct of the blessed Spirit may be led into all truth (Jn. 16:13), and may hold it fast in faith and love, and put every part of scripture to that use for which it was intended. The letter, either of law or gospel, profits little without the Spirit. The ministers of Christ are herein ministers to the Spirit for the good of the church; their business is to open and apply the scriptures; thence they must fetch their knowledge, thence their doctrines, devotions, directions, and admonitions, and thence their very language and expression. Expounding the scriptures was the most usual way of preaching in the first and purest ages of the church. What have the Levites to do but to teach Jacob the law (Deu. 33:10); not only to read it, but to give the sense, and cause them to understand the reading? Neh. 8:8. How shall they do this except some man guide them? Acts 8:31. As ministers would hardly be believed without Bibles to back them, so Bibles would hardly be understood without ministers to explain them; but if, having both, we perish in ignorance and unbelief, our blood will be upon our own head.
Being fully persuaded therefore of these things, I conclude that whatever help is offered to good Christians in searching the scriptures is real service done to the glory of God, and to the interests of his kingdom among men; and it is this that hath drawn me into this undertaking, which I have gone about in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling (1 Co. 2:3), lest I should be found exercising myself in things to high for me, and so laudable an undertaking should suffer damage by an unskilful management. If any desire to know how so mean and obscure a person as I am, who in learning, judgment, felicity of expression, and all advantages for such a service, am less than the least of all my Master’s servants, came to venture upon so great a work, I can give no other account of it than this: It has long been my practice, what little time I had to spare in my study from the constant preparations for the pulpit, to spend it in drawing up expositions upon some parts of the New Testament, not so much for my own use as purely for my entertainment, because I knew not now to employ my thoughts and time more to my satisfaction. Trahit sua quemque voluptas—Every man that studies hath some beloved study, which is his delight above any other; and this is mine. It is that learning which it was my happiness from a child to be trained up in, by my ever honoured father, whose memory must always be very dear and precious to me: he often reminded me that a good textuary is a good divine; and that I should read other books with this in my eye, that I might be the better able to understand and apply the scripture. While I was thus employing myself came out Mr. Burkitt’s Exposition, of the Gospels first, and afterwards of the Act and the Epistles, which met with very good acceptance among serious people, and no doubt, by the blessing of God, will continue to do great service to the church. Soon after he had finished that work, it pleased God to call him to his rest, upon which I was urged, by some of my friends, and was myself inclined, to attempt the like upon the Old Testament, in the strength of the grace of Christ. This upon the Pentateuch is humbly offered as a specimen; if it find favour, and be found any way useful, it is my present purpose, in dependence upon divine aids, to go on, so long as God shall continue my life and health, and as my other work will permit. Many helps, I know, we have of this kind in our own language, which we have a great deal of reason to value, and to be very thankful to God for: but the scripture is a subject that can never be exhausted. Semper habet aliquid relegentibus—However frequently we read it, we shall always meet with something new. When David had amassed a vast treasure for the building of the temple, yet saith he to Solomon, Thou mayest add thereto, 1 Chr. 22:14. Such a treasure is scripture-knowledge; it is still capable of increase, till we all come to the perfect man. The scripture is a field or vineyard which finds work for variety of hands, and about which may be employed a great diversity of gifts and operations, but all from the same Spirit (1 Co. 12:4, 6) and for the glory of the same Lord. The learned in the languages and in ancient usages have been very serviceable to the church (the blessed occupant of this field), by their curious and elaborate searches into its various products, their anatomies of its plants, and the entertaining lectures they have read upon them. The philology of the critics has been of much more advantage to religion, and lent more light to sacred truth, than the philosophy of the school-divines. The learned also in the arts of war have done great service in defending this garden of the Lord against the violent attacks of the powers of darkness, successfully pleading the cause of the sacred writings against the spiteful cavils of atheists, deists, and the profane scoffers of these latter days. Such as these stand in the posts of honour, and their praise is in all the churches: yet the labours of the vine-dressers and the husbandmen (2 Ki. 25:12), though they are the poor of the land who till this ground, and gather in the fruits of it, are no less necessary in their place, and beneficial to the household of God, that out of these precious fruits every one may have his portion of meat in due season. These are the labours to which, according to my ability, I have here set my hand. And as the plain and practical expositors would not, for a world, say of the learned critics, There is no need of them; so, it is hoped, those eyes and heads will not say to the hands and feet, There is no need of you, 1 Co. 12:21.
The learned have of late received very great advantage in their searches into this part of holy writ, and the books that follow (and still hope for more), by the excellent and most valuable labours of that great and good man bishop Patrick, whom, for vast reading, solid judgment, and a most happy application to these best of studies, even in his advanced years and honours, succeeding ages no doubt will rank among the first three of commentators, and bless God for him. Mr. Pool’s English Annotations (which, having had so many impressions, we may suppose, have got into most hands) are of admirable use, especially for the explaining of scripture-phrases, opening the sense, referring to parallel scriptures, and the clearing of difficulties that occur. I have therefore all along been brief upon that which is there most largely discussed, and have industriously declined, as much as I could, what is to be found there; for I would not actum agere—do what is done; nor (if I may be allowed to borrow the apostle’s words) boast of things made ready to our hand, 2 Co. 10:16. These and other annotations which are referred to the particular words and clauses they are designed to explain are most easy to be consulted upon occasion; but the exposition which (like this) is put into a continued discourse, digested under proper heads, is much more easy and ready to be read through for one’s own or others’ instruction. And, I think, the observing of the connection of each chapter (if there be occasion) with that which goes before, and the general scope of it, with the thread of the history or discourse, and the collecting of the several parts of it, to be seen at one view, will contribute very much to the understanding of it, and will give the mind abundant satisfaction in the general intention, though there may be here and there a difficult word or expression which the best critics cannot easily account for. This, therefore, I have here attempted. But we are concerned not only to understand what we read, but to improve it to some good purpose, and, in order thereunto, to be affected with it, and to receive the impressions of it. The word of God is designed to be not only a light to our eyes, the entertaining subject of our contemplation, but a light to our feet and a lamp to our paths (Ps. 119:105), to direct us in the way of our duty, and to prevent our turning aside into any by-way: we must therefore, in searching the scriptures, enquire, not only What is this? but, What is this to us? What use may we make of it? How may we accommodate it to some of the purposes of that divine and heavenly life which, by the grace of God, we are resolved to live? Enquiries of this kind I have here aimed to answer. When the stone is rolled from the well’s mouth by a critical explication of the text, still there are those who would both drink themselves and water their flocks? but they complain that the well is deep, and they have nothing to draw with; how then shall they come by this living water? Some such may, perhaps, find a bucket here, or water drawn to their hands; and pleased enough shall I be with this office of the Gibeonites, to draw water for the congregation of the Lord out of these wells of salvation.
That which I aim at in the exposition is to give what I thought the genuine sense, and to make it as plain as I could to ordinary capacities, not troubling my readers with the different sentiments of expositors, which would have been to transcribe Mr. Pool’s Latin Synopsis, where this is done abundantly to our satisfaction and advantage. As to the practical observations, I have not obliged myself to raise doctrines out of every verse or paragraph, but only have endeavoured to mix with the exposition such hints or remarks as I thought profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, aiming in all to promote practical godliness, and carefully avoiding matters of doubtful disputation and strifes of words. It is only the prevalency of the power of religion in the hearts and lives of Christians that will redress our grievances, and turn our wilderness into a fruitful field. And since our Lord Jesus Christ is the true treasure hidden in the field of the Old Testament, and was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, I have been careful to observe what Moses wrote of him, to which he himself oft appealed. In the writings of the prophets we meet with more of the plain and express promises of the Messiah, and the grace of the gospel; but here, in the books of Moses, we find more of the types, both real and personal figures of him that was to come—shadows, of which the substance is Christ, Rom. 5:14. Those to whom to live is Christ will find in these that which is very instructive and affecting, and which will give great assistance to their faith, and love, and holy joy. This, in a particular manner, we search the scriptures for—to find what they testify of Christ and eternal life, Jn. 5:39. Nor is it any objection against the application of the ceremonial institutions to Christ and his grace that those to whom they were given could not discern this sense or use of them; but it is rather a reason why we should be very thankful that the veil which was upon their minds in the reading of the Old Testament is done away in Christ, 2 Co. 3:13, 14, 18. Though they then could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished, it does not therefore follow but that we who are happily furnished with a key to these mysteries may in them, as in a glass, behold the glory of the Lord Jesus. And yet, perhaps, the pious Jews saw more of the gospel in their ritual than we think they did; they had at least a general expectation of good things to come, by faith in the promises made to the fathers, as we have of the happiness of heaven, though they could not of that world to come, any more than we can of this, form any distinct or certain idea. Our conceptions of the future state, perhaps, are as dark and confused, as short of the truth and as wide from it, as theirs then were of the kingdom of the Messiah: but God requires faith only according to the revelation he gives. They then were accountable for no more light than they had; and we now are accountable for that greater light which we have in the gospel, by the help of which we may find much more of Christ in the Old Testament than they could. If any think our observations sometimes take rise from that which to them seems too minute, let them remember that maxim of the Rabbin, Non est in lege vel una litera à quâ non pendent magni montes—The law contains not a letter but what bears the weight of mountains. We are sure there is not an idle word in the Bible. I would desire the reader not only to read the text entire, before he reads the exposition, but, as the several verses are referred to in the exposition, to cast his eye upon them again, and then he will the better understand what he reads. And, if he have leisure, he will find it of use to him to turn to the scriptures which are sometimes only referred to for brevity’s sake, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
It is the declared purpose of the Eternal Mind, in all the operations both of providence and grace, to magnify the law and to make it honourable (Isa. 42:21), nay to magnify his word above all his name (Ps. 138:2), so that when we pray, Father, glorify thy name, we mean this, among other things, Father, magnify the holy Scriptures; and to that prayer, made in faith, we may be sure of that answer which was given to our blessed Saviour when he prayed it, with particular respect to the fulfilling of the scriptures in his own sufferings, I have both glorified it, and I will glorify it yet again, Jn. 12:28. To this great design I humbly desire to be some way serviceable, in the strength of that grace by which I am what I am, hoping that what may help to make the reading of the scripture more easy, pleasant, and profitable, will be graciously accepted by him that smiled on the widow’s two mites cast into the treasury, as an intention to magnify it and make it honourable; and if I can but gain that point, in any measure, with some, I shall think my endeavours abundantly recompensed, however, by others, I and my performances may be vilified and made contemptible.
I have now nothing more to add than to recommend myself to the prayers of my friends, and them to the grace of the Lord Jesus; and so rest an unworthy dependent upon that grace, and, through that, an expectant of the glory to be revealed.
Chester, October 2, 1706
An Exposition, With Practical Observations, of
The First Book of Moses, Called Genesis
We have now before us the holy Bible, or book, for so bible signifies. We call it the book, by way of eminency; for it is incomparably the best book that ever was written, the book of books, shining like the sun in the firmament of learning, other valuable and useful books, like the moon and stars, borrowing their light from it. We call it the holy book, because it was written by holy men, and indited by the Holy Ghost; it is perfectly pure from all falsehood and corrupt intention; and the manifest tendency of it is to promote holiness among men. The great things of God’s law and gospel are here written to us, that they might be reduced to a greater certainty, might spread further, remain longer, and be transmitted to distant places and ages more pure and entire than possibly they could be by report and tradition: and we shall have a great deal to answer for if these things which belong to our peace, being thus committed to us in black and white, be neglected by us as a strange and foreign thing, Hos. 8:12. The scriptures, or writings of the several inspired penmen, from Moses down to St. John, in which divine light, like that of the morning, shone gradually (the sacred canon being now completed), are all put together in this blessed Bible, which, thanks be to God, we have in our hands, and they make as perfect a day as we are to expect on this side of heaven. Every part was good, but all together very good. This is the light that shines in a dark place (2 Pt. 1:19), and a dark place indeed the world would be without the Bible.
We have before us that part of the Bible which we call the Old Testament, containing the acts and monuments of the church from the creation almost to the coming of Christ in the flesh, which was about four thousand years—the truths then revealed, the laws then enacted, the devotions then paid, the prophecies then given, and the events which concerned that distinguished body, so far as God saw fit to preserve to us the knowledge of them. This is called a testament, or covenant (Diatheµkeµ), because it was a settled declaration of the will of God concerning man in a federal way, and had its force from the designed death of the great testator, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, Rev. 8:8. It is called the Old Testament, with relation to the New, which does not cancel and supersede it, but crown and perfect it, by the bringing in of that better hope which was typified and foretold in it; the Old Testament still remains glorious, though the New far exceeds in glory, 2 Co. 3:9.
We have before us that part of the Old Testament which we call the Pentateuch, or five books of Moses, that servant of the Lord who excelled all the other prophets, and typified the great prophet. In our Saviour’s distribution of the books of the Old Testament into the law, the prophets, and the psalms, or Hagiographa, these are the law; for they contain not only the laws given to Israel, in the last four, but the laws given to Adam, to Noah, and to Abraham, in the first. These five books were, for aught we know, the first that ever were written; for we have not the least mention of any writing in all the book of Genesis, nor till God bade Moses write (Ex. 17:14); and some think Moses himself never learned to write till God set him his copy in the writing of the ten Commandments upon the tables of stone. However, we are sure these books are the most ancient writings now extant, and therefore best able to give us a satisfactory account of the most ancient things.
We have before us the first and longest of those five books, which we call Genesis, written, some think, when Moses was in Midian, for the instruction and comfort of his suffering brethren in Egypt: I rather think he wrote it in the wilderness, after he had been in the mount with God, where, probably, he received full and particular instructions for the writing of it. And, as he framed the tabernacle, so he did the more excellent and durable fabric of this book, exactly according to the pattern shown him in the mount, into which it is better to resolve the certainty of the things herein contained than into any tradition which possibly might be handed down from Adam to Methuselah, from him to Shem, from him to Abraham, and so to the family of Jacob. Genesis is a name borrowed from the Greek. It signifies the original, or generation: fitly is this book so called, for it is a history of originals—the creation of the world, the entrance of sin and death into it, the invention of arts, the rise of nations, and especially the planting of the church, and the state of it in its early days. It is also a history of generations—the generations of Adam, Noah, Abraham, etc., not endless, but useful genealogies. The beginning of the New Testament is called Genesis too (Mt. 1:1), Biblos geneseoµs, the book of the genesis, or generation, of Jesus Christ. Blessed be God for that Book which shows us our remedy, as this opens our wound. Lord, open our eyes, that we may see the wondrous things both of thy law and gospel!
The foundation of all religion being laid in our relation to God as our Creator, it was fit that the book of divine revelations which was intended to be the guide, support, and rule, of religion in the world, should begin, as it does, with a plain and full account of the creation of the world—in answer to that first enquiry of a good conscience, "Where is God my Maker?" (Job 35:10). Concerning this the pagan philosophers wretchedly blundered, and became vain in their imaginations, some asserting the world’s eternity and self-existence, others ascribing it to a fortuitous concourse of atoms: thus "the world by wisdom knew not God," but took a great deal of pains to lose him. The holy scripture therefore, designing by revealed religion to maintain and improve natural religion, to repair the decays of it and supply the defects of it, since the fall, for the reviving of the precepts of the law of nature, lays down, at first, this principle of the unclouded light of nature, That this world was, in the beginning of time, created by a Being of infinite wisdom and power, who was himself before all time and all worlds. The entrance into God’s word gives this light, Ps. 119:130. The first verse of the Bible gives us a surer and better, a more satisfying and useful, knowledge of the origin of the universe, than all the volumes of the philosophers. The lively faith of humble Christians understands this matter better than the elevated fancy of the greatest wits, Heb. 11:3.
We have three things in this chapter:—I. A general idea given us of the work of creation (v. 1, 2). II. A particular account of the several days’ work, registered, as in a journal, distinctly and in order. The creation of the light the first day (v. 3-5); of the firmament the second day (v. 6-8); of the sea, the earth, and its fruits, the third day (v. 9–13); of the lights of heaven the fourth day (v. 14–19); of the fish and fowl the fifth day (v. 20–23); of the beasts (v. 24, 25); of man (v. 26–28); and of food for both the sixth day (v. 29, 30). III. The review and approbation of the whole work (v. 31).
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
We have here a further account of the first day’s work, in which observe, 1. That the first of all visible beings which God created was light; not that by it he himself might see to work (for the darkness and light are both alike to him), but that by it we might see his works and his glory in them, and might work our works while it is day. The works of Satan and his servants are works of darkness; but he that doeth truth, and doeth good, cometh to the light, and coveteth it, that his deeds may be made manifest, Jn. 3:21. Light is the great beauty and blessing of the universe. Like the first-born, it does, of all visible beings, most resemble its great Parent in purity and power, brightness and beneficence; it is of great affinity with a spirit, and is next to it; though by it we see other things, and are sure that it is, yet we know not its nature, nor can describe what it is, or by what way the light is parted, Job 38:19, 24. By the sight of it let us be led to, and assisted in, the believing contemplation of him who is light, infinite and eternal light (1 Jn. 1:5), and the Father of lights (Jam. 1:17), and who dwells in inaccessible light, 1 Tim. 6:16. In the new creation, the first thing wrought in the soul is light: the blessed Spirit captives the will and affections by enlightening the understanding, so coming into the heart by the door, like the good shepherd whose own the sheep are, while sin and Satan, like thieves and robbers, climb up some other way. Those that by sin were darkness by grace become light in the world. 2. That the light was made by the word of God’s power. He said, Let there be light; he willed and appointed it, and it was done immediately: there was light, such a copy as exactly answered the original idea in the Eternal Mind. O the power of the word of God! He spoke, and it was done, done really, effectually, and for perpetuity, not in show only, and to serve a present turn, for he commanded, and it stood fast: with him it was dictum, factum—a word, and a world. The world of God (that is, his will and the good pleasure of it) is quick and powerful. Christ is the Word, the essential eternal Word, and by him the light was produced, for in him was light, and he is the true light, the light of the world, Jn. 1:9; 9:5. The divine light which shines in sanctified souls is wrought by the power of God, the power of his word and of the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, opening the understanding, scattering the mists of ignorance and mistake, and giving the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ, as at first, God commanded the light to shine out of darkness, 2 Co. 4:6. Darkness would have been perpetually upon the face of fallen man if the Son of God had not come, and given us an understanding, 1 Jn. 5:20. 3. That the light which God willed, when it was produced, he approved of: God saw the light that it was good. It was exactly as he designed it, and it was fit to answer the end for which he designed it. It was useful and profitable; the world, which now is a palace, would have been a dungeon without it. It was amiable and pleasant. Truly the light is sweet (Eccl. 11:7); it rejoiceth the heart, Prov. 15:30. What God commands he will approve and graciously accept; he will be well pleased with the work of his own hands. That is good indeed which is so in the sight of God, for he sees not as man sees. If the light is good, how good is he that is the fountain of light, from whom we receive it, and to whom we owe all praise for it and all the services we do by it! 4. That God divided the light from the darkness, so put them asunder as that they could never be joined together, or reconciled; for what fellowship has light with darkness? 2 Co. 6:14. And yet he divided time between them, the day for light and the night for darkness, in a constant and regular succession to each other. Though the darkness was now scattered by the light, yet it was not condemned to a perpetual banishment, but takes its turn with the light, and has its place, because it has its use; for, as the light of the morning befriends the business of the day, so the shadows of the evening befriend the repose of the night, and draw the curtains about us, that we may sleep the better. See Job 7:2. God has thus divided time between light and darkness, because he would daily remind us that this is a world of mixtures and changes. In heaven there is perfect and perpetual light, and no darkness at all; in hell, utter darkness, and no gleam of light. In that world between these two there is a great gulf fixed; but, in this world, they are counterchanged, and we pass daily from one to another, that we may learn to expect the like vicissitudes in the providence of God, peace and trouble, joy and sorrow, and may set the one over-against the other, accommodating ourselves to both as we do to the light and darkness, bidding both welcome, and making the best of both. 5. That God divided them from each other by distinguishing names: He called the light day, and the darkness he called night. He gave them names, as the Lord of both; for the day is his, the night also is his, Ps. 74:16. He is the Lord of time, and will be so, till day and night shall come to an end, and the stream of time be swallowed up in the ocean of eternity. Let us acknowledge God in the constant succession of day and night, and consecrate both to his honour, by working for him every day and resting in him every night, and meditating in his law day and night. 6. That this was the first day’s work, and a good day’s work it was. The evening and the morning were the first day. The darkness of the evening was before the light of the morning, that it might serve for a foil to it, to set it off, and make it shine the brighter. This was not only the first day of the world, but the first day of the week. I observe it to the honour of that day, because the new world began on the first day of the week likewise, in the resurrection of Christ, as the light of the world, early in the morning. In him the day-spring from on high has visited the world; and happy are we, for ever happy, if that day-star arise in our hearts.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
We have here an account of the second day’s work, the creation of the firmament, in which observe, 1. The command of God concerning it: Let there be a firmament, an expansion, so the Hebrew word signifies, like a sheet spread, or a curtain drawn out. This includes all that is visible above the earth, between it and the third heavens: the air, its higher, middle, and lower, regions—the celestial globe, and all the spheres and orbs of light above: it reaches as high as the place where the stars are fixed, for that is called here the firmament of heaven (v. 14, 15), and as low as the place where the birds fly, for that also is called the firmament of heaven, v. 20. When God had made the light, he appointed the air to be the receptacle and vehicle of its beams, and to be as a medium of communication between the invisible and the visible world; for, though between heaven and earth there is an inconceivable distance, yet there is not an impassable gulf, as there is between heaven and hell. This firmament is not a wall of partition, but a way of intercourse. See Job 26:7; 37:18; Ps. 104:3; Amos 9:6. 2. The creation of it. Lest it should seem as if God had only commanded it to be done, and some one else had done it, he adds, And God made the firmament. What God requires of us he himself works in us, or it is not done. He that commands faith, holiness, and love, creates them by the power of his grace going along with his word, that he may have all the praise. Lord, give what thou commandest, and then command what thou pleasest. The firmament is said to be the work of God’s fingers, Ps. 8:3. Though the vastness of its extent declares it to be the work of his arm stretched out, yet the admirable fineness of its constitution shows that it is a curious piece of art, the work of his fingers. 3. The use and design of it—to divide the waters from the waters, that is, to distinguish between the waters that are wrapped up in the clouds and those that cover the sea, the waters in the air and those in the earth. See the difference between these two carefully observed, Deu. 11:10, 11, where Canaan is upon this account preferred to Egypt, that Egypt was moistened and made fruitful with the waters that are under the firmament, but Canaan with waters from above, out of the firmament, even the dew of heaven, which tarrieth not for the sons of men, Mic. 5:7. God has, in the firmament of his power, chambers, store-chambers, whence he watereth the earth, Ps. 14:13; 65:9, 10. He has also treasures, or magazines, of snow and hail, which he hath reserved against the day of battle and war, Job 38:22, 23. O what a great God is he who has thus provided for the comfort of all that serve him and the confusion of all that hate him! It is good having him our friend, and bad having him our enemy. 4. The naming of it: He called the firmament heaven. It is the visible heaven, the pavement of the holy city; above the firmament God is said to have his throne (Eze. 1:26), for he has prepared it in the heavens; the heavens therefore are said to rule, Dan. 4:26. Is not God in the height of heaven? Job 22:12. Yes, he is, and we should be led by the contemplation of the heavens that are in our eye to consider our Father who is in heaven. The height of the heavens should remind us of God’s supremacy and the infinite distance there is between us and him; the brightness of the heavens and their purity should remind us of his glory, and majesty, and perfect holiness; the vastness of the heavens, their encompassing of the earth, and the influence they have upon it, should remind us of his immensity and universal providence.
And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
The third day’s work is related in these verses—the forming of the sea and the dry land, and the making of the earth fruitful. Hitherto the power of the Creator had been exerted and employed about the upper part of the visible word; the light of heaven was kindled, and the firmament of heaven fixed: but now he descends to this lower world, the earth, which was designed for the children of men, designed both for their habitation and for their maintenance; and here we have an account of the fitting of it for both, and building of their house and the spreading of their table. Observe,
I. How the earth was prepared to be a habitation for man, by the gathering of the waters together, and the making of the dry land to appear. Thus, instead of the confusion which there was (v. 2) when earth and water were mixed in one great mass, behold, now, there is order, by such a separation as rendered them both useful. God said, Let it be so, and it was so; no sooner said than done. 1. The waters which had covered the earth were ordered to retire, and to gather into one place, namely, those hollows which were fitted and appointed for their reception and rest. The waters, thus cleared, thus collected, and thus lodged, in their proper place, he called seas. Though they are many, in distant regions, and washing several shores, yet, either above ground or under ground, they have communication with each other, and so they are one, and the common receptacle of waters, into which all the rivers flow, Eccl. 1:7. Waters and seas often, in scripture, signify troubles and afflictions, Ps. 42:7; 69:2, 14, 15. God’s own people are not exempted from these in this world; but it is their comfort that they are only waters under the heaven (there are none in heaven), and that they are all in the place that God has appointed them and within the bounds that he has set for them. How the waters were gathered together at first, and how they are still bound and limited by the same Almighty had that first confined them, are elegantly described, Ps. 14:6-9, and are there mentioned as matter of praise. Those that go down to the sea in ships ought to acknowledge daily the wisdom, power, and goodness, of the Creator, in making the great waters serviceable to man for trade and commerce; and those that tarry at home must own themselves indebted to him that keeps the sea with bars and doors in its decreed place, and stays its proud waves, Job 38:10, 11. 2. The dry land was made to appear, and emerge out of the waters, and was called earth, and given to the children of men. The earth, it seems, was in being before; but it was of no use, because it was under water. Thus many of God’s gifts are received in vain, because they are buried; make them to appear, and they become serviceable. We who, to this day, enjoy the benefit of the dry land (though, since this, it was once deluged, and dried again) must own ourselves tenants to, and dependents upon, that God whose hands formed the dry land, Ps. 95:5; Jonah 1:9.
II. How the earth was furnished for the maintenance and support of man, v. 11, 12. Present provision was now made, by the immediate products of the upstart earth, which, in obedience to God’s command, was no sooner made than it became fruitful, and brought forth grass for the cattle and herb for the service of man. Provision was likewise made for time to come, by the perpetuating of the several kinds of vegetables, which are numerous, various, and all curious, and every one having its seed in itself after its kind, that, during the continuance of man upon the earth, food might be fetched out of the earth for his use and benefit. Lord, what is man, that he is thus visited and regarded—that such care should be taken, and such provision made, for the support and preservation of those guilty and obnoxious lives which have been a thousand times forfeited! Observe here, 1. That not only the earth is the Lord’s, but the fulness thereof, and he is the rightful owner and sovereign disposer, not only of it, but of all its furniture. The earth was emptiness (v. 2), but now, by a word’s speaking, it has become full of God’s riches, and his they are still—his corn and his wine, his wool and his flax, Hos. 2:9. Though the use of them is allowed to us, the property still remains in him, and to his service and honour they must be used. 2. That common providence is a continued creation, and in it our Father worketh hitherto. The earth still remains under the efficacy of this command, to bring forth grass, and herbs, and its annual products; and though, being according to the common course of nature, these are not standing miracles, yet they are standing instances of the unwearied power and unexhausted goodness of the world’s great Maker and Master. 3. That though God, ordinarily, makes use of the agency of second causes, according to their nature, yet he neither needs them nor is tied to them; for, though the precious fruits of the earth are usually brought forth by the influences of the sun and moon (Deu. 33:14), yet here we find the earth bearing a great abundance of fruit, probable ripe fruit, before the sun and moon were made. 4. That it is good to provide things necessary before we have occasion to use them: before the beasts and man were made, here were grass and herbs prepared for them. God thus dealt wisely and graciously with man; let not man then be foolish and unwise for himself. 5. That God must have the glory of all the benefit we receive from the products of the earth, either for food or physic. It is he that hears the heavens when they hear the earth, Hos. 2:21, 22. And if we have, through grace, an interest in him who is the fountain, when the streams are dried up and the fig-tree doth not blossom we may rejoice in him.
And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:
This is the history of the fourth day’s work, the creating of the sun, moon, and stars, which are here accounted for, not as they are in themselves and in their own nature, to satisfy the curious, but as they are in relation to this earth, to which they serve as lights; and this is enough to furnish us with matter for praise and thanksgiving. Holy Job mentions this as an instance of the glorious power of God, that by the Spirit he hath garnished the heavens (Job 26:13); and here we have an account of that garniture which is not only so much the beauty of the upper world, but so much the blessing of this lower; for though heaven is high, yet has it respect to this earth, and therefore should have respect from it. Of the creation of the lights of heaven we have an account,
I. In general, v. 14, 15, where we have 1. The command given concerning them: Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven. God had said, Let there be light (v. 3), and there was light; but this was, as it were, a chaos of light, scattered and confused: now it was collected and modelled, and made into several luminaries, and so rendered both more glorious and more serviceable. God is the God of order, and not of confusion; and, as he is light, so he is the Father and former of lights. Those lights were to be in the firmament of heaven, that vast expanse which encloses the earth, and is conspicuous to all; for no man, when he has lighted a candle, puts it under a bushel, but on a candlestick (Lu. 8:16), and a stately golden candlestick the firmament of heaven is, from which these candles give light to all that are in the house. The firmament itself is spoken of as having a brightness of its own (Dan. 12:3), but this was not sufficient to give light to the earth; and perhaps for this reason it is not expressly said of the second day’s work, in which the firmament was made, that it was good, because, till it was adorned with these lights on the fourth day, it had not become serviceable to man. 2. The use they were intended to be of to this earth. (1.) They must be for the distinction of times, of day and night, summer and winter, which are interchanged by the motion of the sun, whose rising makes day, his setting night, his approach towards our tropic summer, his recess to the other winter: and thus, under the sun, there is a season to every purpose, Eccl. 3:1. (2.) They must be for the direction of actions. They are for signs of the change of weather, that the husbandman may order his affairs with discretion, foreseeing, by the face of the sky, when second causes have begun to work, whether it will be fair or foul, Mt. 16:2, 3. They do also give light upon the earth, that we may walk (Jn. 11:9), and work (Jn. 9:4), according as the duty of every day requires. The lights of heaven do not shine for themselves, nor for the world of spirits above, who need them not; but they shine for us, for our pleasure and advantage. Lord, what is man, that he should be thus regarded! Ps. 8:3, 4. How ungrateful and inexcusable are we, if, when God has set up these lights for us to work by, we sleep, or play, or trifle away the time of business, and neglect the great work we were sent into the world about! The lights of heaven are made to serve us, and they do it faithfully, and shine in their season, without fail: but we are set as lights in this world to serve God; and do we in like manner answer the end of our creation? No, we do not, our light does not shine before God as his lights shine before us, Mt. 5:14. We burn our Master’s candles, but do not mind our Master’s work.
II. In particular, v. 16–18.
1. Observe, The lights of heaven are the sun, moon, and stars; and all these are the work of God’s hands. (1.) The sun is the greatest light of all, more than a million times greater than the earth, and the most glorious and useful of all the lamps of heaven, a noble instance of the Creator’s wisdom, power, and goodness, and an invaluable blessing to the creatures of this lower world. Let us learn from Ps. 19:1-6 how to give unto God the glory due unto his name, as the Maker of the sun. (2.) The moon is a less light, and yet is here reckoned one of the greater lights, because though, in regard to its magnitude and borrowed light, it is inferior to many of the stars, yet, by virtue of its office, as ruler of the night, and in respect of its usefulness to the earth, it is more excellent than they. Those are most valuable that are most serviceable; and those are the greater lights, not that have the best gifts, but that humbly and faithfully do the most good with them. Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister, Mt. 20:26. (3.) He made the stars also, which are here spoken of as they appear to vulgar eyes, without distinguishing between the planets and the fixed stars, or accounting for their number, nature, place, magnitude, motions, or influences; for the scriptures were written, not to gratify our curiosity and make us astronomers, but to lead us to God, and make us saints. Now these lights are said to rule (v. 16, 18); not that they have a supreme dominion, as God has, but they are deputy-governors, rulers under him. Here the less light, the moon, is said to rule the night; but in Ps. 136:9 the stars are mentioned as sharers in that government; The moon and stars to rule by night. No more is meant than that they give light, Jer. 31:35. The best and most honourable way of ruling is by giving light and doing good: those command respect that live a useful life, and so shine as lights.
2. Learn from all this, (1.) The sin and folly of that ancient idolatry, the worshipping of the sun, moon, and stars, which, some think, took rise, or countenance at least, from some broken traditions in the patriarchal age concerning the rule and dominion of the lights of heaven. But the account here given of them plainly shows that they are both God’s creatures and man’s servants; and therefore it is both a great affront to God and a great reproach to ourselves to make deities of them and give them divine honours. See Deu. 4:19. (2.) The duty and wisdom of daily worshipping that God who made all these things, and made them to be that to us which they are. The revolutions of the day and night oblige us to offer the solemn sacrifice of prayer and praise every morning and evening.
And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
Each day, hitherto, has produced very noble and excellent beings, which we can never sufficiently admire; but we do not read of the creation of any living creature till the fifth day, of which these verses give us an account. The work of creation not only proceeded gradually from one thing to another, but rose and advanced gradually from that which was less excellent to that which was more so, teaching us to press towards perfection and endeavour that our last works may be our best works. It was on the fifth day that the fish and fowl were created, and both out of the waters. Though there is one kind of flesh of fishes, and another of birds, yet they were made together, and both out of the waters; for the power of the first Cause can produce very different effects from the same second causes. Observe, 1. The making of the fish and fowl, at first, v. 20, 21. God commanded them to be produced. He said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly; not as if the waters had any productive power of their own, but, "Let them be brought into being, the fish in the waters and the fowl out of them." This command he himself executed: God created great whales, etc. Insects, which perhaps are as various and as numerous as any species of animals, and their structure as curious, were part of this day’s work, some of them being allied to the fish and others to the fowl. Mr. Boyle (I remember) says he admires the Creator’s wisdom and power as much in an ant as in an elephant. Notice is here taken of the various sorts of fish and fowl, each after their kind, and of the great numbers of both that were produced, for the waters brought forth abundantly; and particular mention if made of great whales, the largest of fishes, whose bulk and strength, exceeding that of any other animal, are remarkable proofs of the power and greatness of the Creator. The express notice here taken of the whale, above all the rest, seems sufficient to determine what animal is meant by the Leviathan, Job 41:1. The curious formation of the bodies of animals, their different sizes, shapes, and natures, with the admirable powers of the sensitive life with which they are endued, when duly considered, serve, not only to silence and shame the objections of atheists and infidels, but to raise high thoughts and high praises of God in pious and devout souls, Ps. 104:25, etc. 2. The blessing of them, in order to their continuance. Life is a wasting thing. Its strength is not the strength of stones. It is a candle that will burn out, if it be not first blown out; and therefore the wise Creator not only made the individuals, but provided for the propagation of the several kinds; God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful and multiply, v. 22. God will bless his own works, and not forsake them; and what he does shall be for a perpetuity, Eccl. 3:14. The power of God’s providence preserves all things, as at first his creating power produced them. Fruitfulness is the effect of God’s blessing and must be ascribed to it; the multiplying of the fish and fowl, from year to year, is still the fruit of this blessing. Well, let us give to God the glory of the continuance of these creatures to this day for the benefit of man. See Job 12:7, 9. It is a pity that fishing and fowling, recreations innocent in themselves, should ever be abused to divert any from God and their duty, while they are capable of being improved to lead us to the contemplation of the wisdom, power, and goodness, of him that made all these things, and to engage us to stand in awe of him, as the fish and fowl do of us.
And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
We have here the first part of the sixth day’s work. The sea was, the day before, replenished with its fish, and the air with its fowl; and this day were made the beasts of the earth, the cattle, and the creeping things that pertain to the earth. Here, as before, 1. The Lord gave the word; he said, Let the earth bring forth, not as if the earth had any such prolific virtue as to produce these animals, or as if God resigned his creating power to it; but, "Let these creatures now come into being upon the earth, and out of it, in their respective kinds, conformable to the ideas of them in the divine counsels concerning their creation." 2. He also did the work; he made them all after their kind, not only of divers shapes, but of divers natures, manners, food, and fashions—some to be tame about the house, others to be wild in the fields—some living upon grass and herbs, others upon flesh—some harmless, and others ravenous—some bold, and others timorous—some for man’s service, and not his sustenance, as the horse—others for his sustenance, and not his service, as the sheep—others for both, as the ox—and some for neither, as the wild beasts. In all this appears the manifold wisdom of the Creator.
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
We have here the second part of the sixth day’s work, the creation of man, which we are, in a special manner, concerned to take notice of, that we may know ourselves. Observe,
I. That man was made last of all the creatures, that it might not be suspected that he had been, any way, a helper to God in the creation of the world: that question must be for ever humbling and mortifying to him, Where wast thou, or any of thy kind, when I laid the foundations of the earth? Job 38:4. Yet it was both an honour and a favour to him that he was made last: an honour, for the method of the creation was to advance from that which was less perfect to that which was more so; and a favour, for it was not fit he should be lodged in the palace designed for him till it was completely fitted up and furnished for his reception. Man, as soon as he was made, had the whole visible creation before him, both to contemplate and to take the comfort of. Man was made the same day that the beasts were, because his body was made of the same earth with theirs; and, while he is in the body, he inhabits the same earth with them. God forbid that by indulging the body and the desires of it we should make ourselves like the beasts that perish!
II. That man’s creation was a more signal and immediate act of divine wisdom and power than that of the other creatures. The narrative of it is introduced with something of solemnity, and a manifest distinction from the rest. Hitherto, it had been said, "Let there be light," and "Let there be a firmament," and "Let the earth, or waters, bring forth" such a thing; but now the word of command is turned into a word of consultation, "Let us make man, for whose sake the rest of the creatures were made: this is a work we must take into our own hands." In the former he speaks as one having authority, in this as one having affection; for his delights were with the sons of men, Prov. 8:31. It should seem as if this were the work which he longed to be at; as if he had said, "Having at last settled the preliminaries, let us now apply ourselves to the business, Let us make man." Man was to be a creature different from all that had been hitherto made. Flesh and spirit, heaven and earth, must be put together in him, and he must be allied to both worlds. And therefore God himself not only undertakes to make him, but is pleased so to express himself as if he called a council to consider of the making of him: Let us make man. The three persons of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, consult about it and concur in it, because man, when he was made, was to be dedicated and devoted to Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Into that great name we are, with good reason, baptized, for to that great name we owe our being. Let him rule man who said, Let us make man.
III. That man was made in God’s image and after his likeness, two words to express the same thing and making each other the more expressive; image and likeness denote the likest image, the nearest resemblance of any of the visible creatures. Man was not made in the likeness of any creature that went before him, but in the likeness of his Creator; yet still between God and man there is an infinite distance. Christ only is the express image of God’s person, as the Son of his Father, having the same nature. It is only some of God’s honour that is put upon man, who is God’s image only as the shadow in the glass, or the king’s impress upon the coin. God’s image upon man consists in these three things:-1. In his nature and constitution, not those of his body (for God has not a body), but those of his soul. This honour indeed God has put upon the body of man, that the Word was made flesh, the Son of God was clothed with a body like ours and will shortly clothe ours with a glory like that of his. And this we may safely say, That he by whom God made the worlds, not only the great world, but man the little world, formed the human body, at the first, according to the platform he designed for himself in the fulness of time. But it is the soul, the great soul, of man, that does especially bear God’s image. The soul is a spirit, an intelligent immortal spirit, an influencing active spirit, herein resembling God, the Father of Spirits, and the soul of the world. The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord. The soul of man, considered in its three noble faculties, understanding, will, and active power, is perhaps the brightest clearest looking-glass in nature, wherein to see God. 2. In his place and authority: Let us make man in our image, and let him have dominion. As he has the government of the inferior creatures, he is, as it were, God’s representative, or viceroy, upon earth; they are not capable of fearing and serving God, therefore God has appointed them to fear and serve man. Yet his government of himself by the freedom of his will has in it more of God’s image than his government of the creatures. 3. In his purity and rectitude. God’s image upon man consists in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10. He was upright, Eccl. 7:29. He had an habitual conformity of all his natural powers to the whole will of God. His understanding saw divine things clearly and truly, and there were no errors nor mistakes in his knowledge. His will complied readily and universally with the will of God, without reluctancy or resistance. His affections were all regular, and he had no inordinate appetites or passions. His thoughts were easily brought and fixed to the best subjects, and there was no vanity nor ungovernableness in them. All the inferior powers were subject to the dictates and directions of the superior, without any mutiny or rebellion. Thus holy, thus happy, were our first parents, in having the image of God upon them. And this honour, put upon man at first, is a good reason why we should not speak ill one of another (Jam. 3:9), nor do ill one to another (Gen. 9:6), and a good reason why we should not debase ourselves to the service of sin, and why we should devote ourselves to God’s service. But how art thou fallen, O son of the morning! How is this image of God upon man defaced! How small are the remains of it, and how great the ruins of it! The Lord renew it upon our souls by his sanctifying grace!
IV. That man was made male and female, and blessed with the blessing of fruitfulness and increase. God said, Let us make man, and immediately it follows, So God created man; he performed what he resolved. With us saying and doing are two things; but they are not so with God. He created him male and female, Adam and Eve—Adam first, out of earth, and Eve out of his side, ch. 2. It should seem that of the rest of the creatures God made many couples, but of man did not he make one? (Mal. 2:15), though he had the residue of the Spirit, whence Christ gathers an argument against divorce, Mt. 19:4, 5. Our first father, Adam, was confined to one wife; and, if he had put her away, there was no other for him to marry, which plainly intimated that the bond of marriage was not to be dissolved at pleasure. Angels were not made male and female, for they were not to propagate their kind (Lu. 20:34–36); but man was made so, that the nature might be propagated and the race continued. Fires and candles, the luminaries of this lower world, because they waste, and go out, have a power to light more; but it is not so with the lights of heaven: stars do not kindle stars. God made but one male and one female, that all the nations of men might know themselves to be made of one blood, descendants from one common stock, and might thereby be induced to love one another. God, having made them capable of transmitting the nature they had received, said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. Here he gave them, 1. A large inheritance: Replenish the earth; it is this that is bestowed upon the children of men. They were made to dwell upon the face of all the earth, Acts 17:26. This is the place in which God has set man to be the servant of his providence in the government of the inferior creatures, and, as it were, the intelligence of this orb; to be the receiver of God’s bounty, which other creatures live upon, but do not know it; to be likewise the collector of his praises in this lower world, and to pay them into the exchequer above (Ps. 145:10); and, lastly, to be a probationer for a better state. 2. A numerous lasting family, to enjoy this inheritance, pronouncing a blessing upon them, in virtue of which their posterity should extend to the utmost corners of the earth and continue to the utmost period of time. Fruitfulness and increase depend upon the blessing of God: Obed-edom had eight sons, for God blessed him, 1 Chr. 26:5. It is owing to this blessing, which God commanded at first, that the race of mankind is still in being, and that as one generation passeth away another cometh.
V. That God gave to man, when he had made him, a dominion over the inferior creatures, over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air. Though man provides for neither, he has power over both, much more over every living thing that moveth upon the earth, which are more under his care and within his reach. God designed hereby to put an honour upon man, that he might find himself the more strongly obliged to bring honour to his Maker. This dominion is very much diminished and lost by the fall; yet God’s providence continues so much of it to the children of men as is necessary to the safety and support of their lives, and God’s grace has given to the saints a new and better title to the creature than that which was forfeited by sin; for all is ours if we are Christ’s, 1 Co. 3:22.
And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
We have here the third part of the sixth day’s work, which was not any new creation, but a gracious provision of food for all flesh, Ps. 136:25. He that made man and beast thus took care to preserve both, Ps. 36:6. Here is,
I. Food provided for man, v. 29. Herbs and fruits must be his meat, including corn and all the products of the earth; these were allowed him, but (it should seem) not flesh, till after the flood, ch. 9:3. And before the earth was deluged, much more before it was cursed for man’s sake, its fruits, no doubt, were more pleasing to the taste and more strengthening and nourishing to the body than marrow and fatness, and all the portion of the king’s meat, are now. See here, 1. That which should make us humble. As we were made out of the earth, so we are maintained out of it. Once indeed men did eat angels’ food, bread from heaven; but they died (Jn. 6:49); it was to them but as food out of the earth, Ps. 104:14. There is meat that endures to everlasting life; the Lord evermore give us this. 2. That which should make us thankful. The Lord is for the body; from him we receive all the supports and comforts of this life, and to him we must give thanks. He gives us all things richly to enjoy, not only for necessity, but plenty, plenty, dainties, and varieties, for ornament and delight. How much are we indebted! How careful should we be, as we live upon God’s bounty, to live to his glory! 3. That which should make us temperate and content with our lot. Though Adam had dominion given him over fish and fowl, yet God confined him, in his food, to herbs and fruits; and he never complained of it. Though afterwards he coveted forbidden fruit, for the sake of the wisdom and knowledge he promised himself from it, yet we never read that he coveted forbidden flesh. If God give us food for our lives, let us not, with murmuring Israel, ask food for our lusts, Ps. 78:18; see Dan. 1:15.
II. Food provided for the beasts, v. 30. Doth God take care for oxen? Yes, certainly, he provides food convenient for them, and not for oxen only, which were used in his sacrifices and man’s service, but even the young lions and the young ravens are the care of his providence; they ask and have their meat from God. Let us give to God the glory of his bounty to the inferior creatures, that all are fed, as it were, at his table, every day. He is a great housekeeper, a very rich and bountiful one, that satisfies the desire of every living thing. Let this encourage God’s people to cast their care upon him, and not to be solicitous respecting what they shall eat and what they shall drink. He that provided for Adam without his care, and still provides for all the creatures without their care, will not let those that trust him want any good thing, Mt. 6:26. He that feeds his birds will not starve his babes.
And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
We have here the approbation and conclusion of the whole work of creation. As for God, his work is perfect; and if he begin he will also make an end, in providence and grace, as well as here in creation. Observe,
I. The review God took of his work: He saw every thing that he had made. So he does still; all the works of his hands are under his eye. He that made all sees all; he that made us sees us, Ps. 139:1–16. Omniscience cannot be separated from omnipotence. Known unto God are all his works, Acts 15:18. But this was the Eternal Mind’s solemn reflection upon the copies of its own wisdom and the products of its own power. God has hereby set us an example of reviewing our works. Having given us a power of reflection, he expects we should use that power, see our way (Jer. 2:23), and think of it, Ps. 119:59. When we have finished a day’s work, and are entering upon the rest of the night, we should commune with our own hearts about what we have been doing that day; so likewise when we have finished a week’s work, and are entering upon the sabbath-rest, we should thus prepare to meet our God; and when we are finishing our life’s work, and are entering upon our rest in the grave, that is a time to bring to remembrance, that we may die repenting, and so take leave of it.
II. The complacency God took in his work. When we come to review our works we find, to our shame, that much has been very bad; but, when God reviewed his, all was very good. He did not pronounce it good till he had seen it so, to teach us not to answer a matter before we hear it. The work of creation was a very good work. All that God made was well-made, and there was no flaw nor defect in it. 1. It was good. Good, for it is all agreeable to the mind of the Creator, just as he would have it to be; when the transcript came to be compared with the great original, it was found to be exact, no errata in it, not one misplaced stroke. Good, for it answers the end of its creation, and is fit for the purpose for which it was designed. Good, for it is serviceable to man, whom God had appointed lord of the visible creation. Good, for it is all for God’s glory; there is that in the whole visible creation which is a demonstration of God’s being and perfections, and which tends to beget, in the soul of man, a religious regard to him and veneration of him. 2. It was very good. Of each day’s work (except the second) it was said that it was good, but now, it is very good. For, (1.) Now man was made, who was the chief of the ways of God, who was designed to be the visible image of the Creator’s glory and the mouth of the creation in his praises. (2.) Now all was made; every part was good, but all together very good. The glory and goodness, the beauty and harmony, of God’s works, both of providence and grace, as this of creation, will best appear when they are perfected. When the top-stone is brought forth we shall cry, Grace, grace, unto it, Zec. 4:7. Therefore judge nothing before the time.
III. The time when this work was concluded: The evening and the morning were the sixth day; so that in six days God made the world. We are not to think but that God could have made the world in an instant. He said that, Let there be light, and there was light, could have said, "Let there be a world," and there would have been a world, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, as at the resurrection, 1 Co. 15:52. But he did it in six days, that he might show himself a free-agent, doing his own work both in his own way and in his own time,—that his wisdom, power, and goodness, might appear to us, and be meditated upon by us, the more distinctly,—and that he might set us an example of working six days and resting the seventh; it is therefore made the reason of the fourth commandment. So much would the sabbath conduce to the keeping up of religion in the world that God had an eye to it in the timing of his creation. And now, as God reviewed his work, let us review our meditations upon it, and we shall find them very lame and defective, and our praises low and flat; let us therefore stir up ourselves, and all that is within us, to worship him that made the heaven, earth, and sea, and the fountains of waters, according to the tenour of the everlasting gospel, which is preached to every nation, Rev. 14:6, 7. All his works, in all places of his dominion, do bless him; and, therefore, bless thou the Lord, O my soul!