The Christian Doctrine of Creation
Genesis 1:1
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

In considering the subject of creation we see, first of all, that a distinction must be drawn between what I would call primary and secondary creation. Primary creation is creation proper. It is that grand act whereby Almighty God in the beginning called into being the finite world. Secondary creation, on the other hand, belongs to the sphere of Providence, or to the sphere of the history of the finite world. If we look at the history of the finite world, we see that during its course a vast series of beings have been called into existence. All the generations of mankind have come into existence during ages gone by. In like manner all the countless hosts of living creatures, the animals and plants that inhabit the world. Nor is this all. Men of science now tell us, that even the earth itself, the sun, the moon, and the planets, have come into existence during the history of the world. There was a time in the history of the finite world when there was neither sun, nor moon, nor earth, when the matter of which all these bodies are composed was diffused in a previous state. They have, therefore, like ourselves, received their existence during the history of the world. Now, the origination or bringing into existence of all these things I call a creation. Creation is that which is the work of an intelligent being. It is the giving of existence, by an intelligent being, to that which had previously none. And since all these things have received existence, and have received it at the hand of God, their origination is a creation.

I. In regard to SECONDARY CREATION, the great difficulty is this — If you will think over what I have been saying to you about it, you will see that the truth of my view all depends upon this, that the laws of nature alone and unaided are not sufficient to govern the course of nature. The view which I have given requires us to suppose that, in addition to the laws of nature, there is needed the Divine Intelligence to combine and direct them. In a word, we must suppose that the Divine Intelligence never leaves nature, but continually guides and directs its course to those great ends and purposes which God has in view. Now here it is that the difficulty comes in. It is held, by a large class of reasoners, that the laws of nature alone and unaided are perfectly sufficient for the purpose indicated. But is this view true? I think not. In fact there are many ways in which I could show its inadequacy were this the place to discuss the question. I shall not attempt any such discussion, but shall content myself with simply pointing out one fact which makes it impossible; I mean the fact that the course of nature is a history. If the course of nature were governed solely by the laws of nature, it must, as a necessary consequence, flow in grooves or cycles. But, in point of fact, it does neither. If we look at the course of nature, we see that it is a varied and ever-varying stream. From the beginning of the world up to the present moment, no two events, and no two objects, however similar, have been exactly the same in all respects. The course of nature is a free, orderly, progressive sequence, or series of events flowing towards, and attaining high ends and purposes. The course of nature being thus confessedly a history, what principle is it, which alone can account for it? You may ponder over the matter as much as you please, you may turn it and twist it in every possible way, but you will in the end be obliged to confess that the only principle sufficient for the purpose, is Intelligence. No other principle but Intelligence can account for the order of a free, varied, and progressive whole such as the course of nature actually is. Why is it that the conviction of a never-ceasing Providence in the affairs of the world is written in such living characters on the hearts of all men? It is from the perception that the course of nature is a history, and the inference which is instantaneously drawn, that it must be ordered by intelligence. The result then is, that the course of nature cannot be conceived by us as possible apart from the Divine Intelligence. We must suppose that the Divine Intelligence presided over it in the beginning and has ever since continuously guided its course. Now what follows from this? It follows that the first chapter of Genesis is literally true, in the sense in which the ordinary English reader understands it. It is still literally true that God created the sun, the moon, the sea, the dry land, the various species of plants and animals. For God prepared the conditions under which all these things came into existence. He guided the course of nature so that it should aid or abut in their production. They are, therefore, His creations; and owe their existence to His creative fiat. I wish I could stay to point out the many striking consequences which flow from this view — the air of grandeur and living interest it imparts to nature, the Divine light it sheds into every corner and crevice of it. But I must content myself with merely indicating one point, viz., how this view satisfies all our religious aspirations. It brings us very near to God. It brings God all round us and within us. But what comes home especially to the religious mind is the assurance which this view gives us, that we, as individuals, owe our existence not to dead and unintelligent laws, but to the will and purpose of the living God. Our individual existence was prepared and intended by God. We are His creation.

II. We have next to consider PRIMARY CREATION, which is far more difficult. Primary creation, as I have said, is that grand act whereby God called into being the finite world. It differs from secondary creation in these two respects: first, that there were no pre-existent materials out of which the finite world was formed, and secondly, in that the process whereby it was made was not one of natural law, but a process of intelligence. The difficulties which have been raised in modern times against this cardinal doctrine have been very great, and in dealing with them I do not well know how to make myself intelligible to some of you. One of the most perplexing of these difficulties is the view which regards creation as a breach of the law of continuity. The law of continuity obliges us to suppose that each state of the material world was preceded by a previous state. Hence, according to this law, it is impossible that the material world could ever have had a beginning. For the law compels us to add on to each state of things, a previous state, without ever coming to a stop. If we do stop short we break the law. And hence those who take this view would exclude creation, as being nothing else but a stopping short, and consequent breaking of the law. Creation, they say, is the doctrine that there is an absolutely first link in this grand chain, and if we are to adhere to the law of continuity we must exclude it. But this whole view of the matter is radically wrong. In supposing creation to be the first link in the chain of continuity, we necessarily suppose that, like all the other links, it took place in time. There was a time before, and a time after it. But if you will think over the matter, you will see that this could not be; for time only came into existence when the creative process was completed. In fact, space and time, the laws of nature, and the law of continuity, are all relations of the finite world; and they could not possibly have any existence till. the finite world itself existed, that is, till the creative act was completed. Hence, if we would grasp in thought the creative act, we must transcend the law of continuity; we must transcend all the laws of nature; we must transcend and forget even space and time. If we would understand aright the creative act, we must view the finite world solely in relation 'to the Divine Intelligence, of which it is the product. The great question in regard to primary creation is, Is it conceivable by us? There is a sect of people called agnostics, who say that it is utterly inconceivable, that no intelligible meaning can be attached to the word. They have wrongly compared creation to a process of natural law, and finding no analogy in this comparison, they have rashly set it down as unthinkable by us. But I have shown you that creation is not a process of natural law; I have shown you that it transcends natural law; I have shown you that it is purely a process of intelligence. Regarded in this point of view, I will now show you that it is intelligible to us, not, perhaps, perfectly intelligible, but still so much so, as to afford us a very tangible notion. The Bible conception of creation is simply this. The finite world as a whole, and in each one of its details, was formed as an image or idea in the Divine Intelligence, and in and by that act of formation it obtained objective or substantial reality. God had not, like us, to seek for paper whereon to describe His plan, nor for materials wherein to embody it. By His absolute power, the image of the world formed in the Divine Intelligence became the actual, substantial, external world. It obtained, as we say, objective reality. Thus the finite world was not a creation out of nothing, neither was it the fall of the finite out of the infinite, nor a necessary evolution out of the Divine Essence, it was the objectified product of the Divine Intelligence. It may, however, be said that this goes a very little way in making the act of creation conceivable to us, for we have no experience of the immediate and unconditioned externalization of a mere mental idea, and we cannot imagine how it could be possible. I admit that we have not the experience indicated. And yet, I would ask you, which is the most marvellous point in the whole process — the act by which the image of the finite world was constituted in the Divine Intelligence, or the act by which it obtained objective reality? Plainly it is the former. It is far more marvellous that the finite world in its first beginning, and in its whole subsequent development, should be imaged forth in the Divine Intelligence, than that this image should crystallize into concrete objective existence. Thus the very point of creation which is the most difficult is made conceivable to us by being reflected in the processes of our own minds. We can create to the extent of forming the mental image. It is only in the externalization of our idea that we are hemmed in and hampered by conditions. I maintain, therefore, that the Bible doctrine, whether we believe it or not, is conceivable by us. We have, first of all, a clear notion of the human intelligence, which is infinite and absolute in one of its aspects; this gives us a notion, inadequate no doubt, but still a tangible notion of the Divine Intelligence which is infinite and absolute in every aspect. Then we have a clear notion of the origination or creation of mental images or plans of things by the human intelligence; this enables us to understand how the plan or pattern of the finite world originated in the Divine Intelligence. The last point, viz., the externalization of the Divine idea, is the most difficult. But though a hard one to you and me, you see it did not present the same elements of difficulty to those great men who had made the powers and processes of intelligence their peculiar study. But I will say more for the Bible doctrine. It is the only philosophical account of the finite world that does not throw human knowledge into irretrievable confusion. The bearing of the question is simply this. If we view the finite world apart from intelligence, the moment we begin to reason on it, we fall into contradiction and absurdity. The consequence of this is, that we land ourselves first of all in agnosticism, and then in utter scepticism; disbelieving in God, in the moral world, nay, even in the most assured results of physical science. Hence, if we would save human knowledge, the finite world must be viewed in relation to intelligence; and the whole question lies between the Bible and a doctrine such as that of Fichte. Is the finite world the product of our intelligence? or is it the product of the Divine Intelligence? We cannot hesitate between the two. Indeed the logic of facts has already decided for us.

(D. Greig, M. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

WEB: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

The Birth of the World Also the Birth of Time
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