Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God…
The word rendered "worlds" means "life," then that through which life extends — "an age," a cycle of ages, and next the stage on which life appears — "the world." Of course the author of this Epistle was not thinking of the worlds which modern astronomy has discovered in the heavenly bodies, but of this world in its successive ages, and possibly of unseen worlds inhabited by spiritual intelligences. To "frame" means to found or create, as a city may be said to be created by its founder. "Things which do appear," is the translation of a word which is naturalised in our own language as "phenomena." We might, then, read the text thus: "Through faith we understand that the worlds were created by the word of God, so that that which is seen — the visible universe — did not originate from existing phenomena." The present order of things — the configuration of rocks and hills, of rivers, seas, and plains — has been brought about by the altered disposition of previous land and water; the vegetation which clothes the earth, and the living creatures which roam upon it or swarm in its waters, are all descended from former generations of vegetable and animal life — the whole of that which is now seen has sprung immediately from similar phenomena; but it has not always been so. The living "world we see around us was originally founded by the Word of God. This is one way of reading the text. Another is, to understand it as denying the eternity of matter, and affirming the creation of the world out of nothing. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," when there was nothing to make them with. "He spake and it was done, He commanded and it stood fast." But whether we understand the phrase, "things which do appear," to stand for natural phenomena or for the material elements, the conclusion is the same, that the visible order of creation came into existence by the simple fiat of the Almighty. Our knowledge of such a fact may be a spiritual intuition or it may rest solely on the testimony of revelation. Either way, it is knowledge of a thing not seen and only perceived by faith. The origin of all we behold around and above us must ever be an undiscoverable secret to the researches of the astronomer, the geologist, and the chemist. For though science may some day learn to read the changeful history of our globe with tolerable accuracy, it can never extract from it the story of its birth. All it can do is to take things to pieces. But simply taking a watch to pieces will tell us nothing of the nature and origin of the metals and gems of which it is made; neither will anatomy discover the nature of life, nor chemical analysis explain the origin of the ultimate forms of matter. They are as inscrutable by such analysis as metals and gems are by the tools of the mechanic. Creation out of nothing is at once inexplicable and incomprehensible. No strictly creative act comes under our observation in any of the phenomena of nature. Philosophy, unaided by the higher teaching of faith, has always taken for granted the eternity of matter. It has uniformly declared that things which are seen were made of things which do appear. The first philosopher with whose speculations we are acquainted maintained that water was the origin of all things. The substitution of gases for water is the necessary result of modern chemistry; it does not make the speculation one whit the wiser, nor, again, the resolution of these gases into primordial atoms. The later speculation which ascribed the origin of all things to fire or heat is just as plausible and just as false. The authors of these theories, ancient or modern, were all on the wrong track. They were seeking in the paths of observation and inductive reasoning the answer to a question which is beyond their range. The only certain answer is that which faith may have guessed, and which revelation endorses. The most illiterate peasant who hears and ponders the declaration of God's Word, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," is as wise in this matter as the most learned scientist the world contains. Observe, how strictly practical revelation is. That which no science could discover, which only minds finely organised and deeply imbued with spiritual feeling could guess, but which still was necessary for men to know, that they might give to God the glory due to His name, it reveals; but what human intelligence and perseverance would be sure in time to discover, it leaves untouched. The Scripture account of creation is a retrospective prophecy, turning its gaze towards an unknown past instead of towards an unknown future. I regard the Mosaic narrative as a sublime poem on God's creative work, as accurate in the letter of it as was consistent with its being intelligible to minds unacquainted with scientific discovery, and truer to the real moral significance of creation than any account which science has yet been able to render. But I am concerned to give this subject a more practical bearing. To doubt the opening words of Scripture, "In the beginning," &c., is not your temptation; but it is your temptation, for it is every man's, to feel and act as though the things that are seen were made of things which do appear. In one sense, indeed, they are, but in another and more important sense, they are not. In one sense, all you see has come from things like them whence you can trace their origin; and, whatever the forms of animate or inanimate objects around you, they all consist of materials which were in existence before them. Properly speaking, no new materials have been called into existence since God first weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance. The original atoms of our globe still exist. They are neither more nor fewer than in the first moment of creation. Ever entering into fresh combinations, they are either held in solution in the air and form the rainbow arch, or having fallen and mingled with the soil they appear in the lowly herb and spreading tree; thence they are assimilated to nourish or protect animal life, and are cast off again to pursue the same round of endless change. But the power which gives them substance and form, the force which imparts to light, heat, and electricity their characteristic energies, the plastic power which possesses plants and animals, so that they appropriate surrounding materials and mould them after their own form and structure — in short, the vital energy which fills all nature, is a thing unseen, by which all we behold is made and sustained in existence. By the Word of God the worlds were made, and by that Word they stand fast. Things seen are not made of things that appear, in anything more than the order of their appearance. They spring from the unseen creative energy of God, operating through those familiar methods which His wisdom has adopted.
(E. W. Shalders, B. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.