And God said, "Let there be an expanse between the waters, to separate the waters from the waters."
Genesis 1:1-5. A true and firm foundation of revelation and faith must be laid in a Divine doctrine of "Genesis," the beginnings out of which have come both the world of nature and the world of grace. In this book we are taught what is the order by which all things must be tried. Coming forth from Elohim, from the Infinite Personality; flowing in his appointed course. The genesis of heaven and earth becomes the genesis of the human family. Out of the natural chaos is brought forth the Eden of rest and beauty. Out of the moral waste of a fallen humanity is formed, by the gracious work of a Divine Spirit, through a covenant of infinite wisdom and loves a seed of redeemed and sanctified human beings, a family of God. The genesis of the material creation leads on to the genesis of the invisible creation. The lower is the type and symbol of the higher. The first day is the true beginning of days. See what is placed by the sacred writer between that evening and morning.
I. THE COMING FORTH OF THE EVERLASTING, UNSEARCHABLE SECRET OF THE DIVINE NATURE INTO MANIFESTATION. "God created." The word employed denotes more than the bare summoning of existence out of nothingness. The analogy of human workmanship ("cutting," "carving," "framing") suggests the relation between creation and the God of creation. The heaven and the earth reflect their Maker. Works embody the mind, the spirit, the will, the nature of the workman. Although the name Elohim, in the plural form, cannot be taken as an equivalent of the Trinity, it points to the great fundamental fact of all revelation, the Divine Unity coming forth out of the infinite solitude of eternity, and declaring, in the manifold revelations of the visible and invisible worlds, all that the creature can know of his fathomless mystery.
II. HERE IS A GLIMPSE INTO GOD'S ORDER AND METHOD. "In the beginning," the immeasurable fullness of creative power and goodness. Formless void, darkness on the face of the deeps apparent confusion and emptiness, within a limited sphere, the earth; at a certain epoch, in preparation for an appointed future. Chaos is not the first beginning of things; it is a stage in their history. The evening of the first day preceded the morning in the recorded annals of the earth. That evening was itself a veiling of the light. Science itself leads back the thoughts from all chaotic periods to previous developments of power. Order precedes disorder. Disorder is itself permitted only as a temporary state. It is itself part of the genesis of that which shall be ultimately "very good."
III. THE GREAT VITAL FACT OF THE WORLD'S ORDER IS THE INTIMATE UNION BETWEEN THE SPIRIT OF GOD AND THAT WHICH IS COVERED WITH DARKNESS UNTIL HE MAKES IT LIGHT. The moving of the Spirit upon the face of the waters represents the brooding, cherishing, vitalizing presence of God in his creatures, over them, around them, at once the source and protection of their life. "Breath;" "wind," the word literally means, perhaps as a symbol at once of life, or living energy, and freedom, and with an immediate reference to the creative word, which is henceforth the breath of God in the world. Surely no candid mind can fail to feel the force of such a witness in the opening sentences of revelation to the triune God.
IV. TO US THE BEGINNING OF ALL THINGS IS LIGHT. The word of God "commands the light to shine out of darkness." "God said, Let there be light," or, Let light be. The going forth of God's word upon the universe very well represents the twofold fact,
(1) that it is the outcome of his will and nature; and
(2) that it is his language - the expression of himself.
Hence all through this Mosaic cosmogony God is represented as speaking to creation, that we may understand that he speaks in creation, as he is also said to look at that which comes forth from himself to behold it, to approve it, to name it, to appoint its order and use. Such intimate blending of the personal with the impersonal is the teaching of Scripture as distinguished from all mere human wisdom. God is in creation and yet above it. Man is thus invited to seek the personal presence as that which is higher than nature, which his own personal life requires, that it may not be oppressed with nature's greatness, that it may be light, and not darkness. There is darkness in creation, darkness in the deep waters of the world's history, darkness in the human soul itself, until God speaks and man hears. Light is not, physically, the first thing created; but it is the first fact of the Divine days - that is, the beginning of the new order. For what we have to do with, is not the. infinite, secret of creation, but the "manifestation of the visible world God manifest. The first day m the history of the earth, as man can read it, must be the day when God removes the covering of darkness and says, Let there be light." The veil uplifted is itself a commencement. God said that it was good. His own appointment confirmed the abiding distinction between light and darkness, between day and night; in other words, the unfolding, progressive interchange of work and rest, of revelation and concealment, the true beginning of the world's week of labor, which leads on to the everlasting sabbath. How appropriately this first day of the week of creation stands at the threshold of God's word of grace! The light which he makes to shine in our hearts, which divides our existence into the true order, the good and the evil separated from one another, which commences our life; and the Spirit is the light of, his own word, the light which shines from the face of him who was "the Word,' "in the beginning with God," "without whom nothing was made that was made." - R.
1. The atmosphere is the great fund and storehouse of life to plants and animals; its carbonic acid is the food of the one, and its oxygen the nourishment of the other; without its carbonic acid the whole vegetable kingdom would wither, and without its oxygen the blood of animals, "which is the life thereof," would be only serum and water.
Let there be a firmament.I. THE ATMOSPHERE IS NECESSARY TO THE POSSIBILITY OF HUMAN LIFE.
1. Gathers up the vapours.
2. Throws them down again in rain, snow, or dew, when needed.
3. Modifies and renders more beautiful the light of the sun.
4. Sustains life.
II. IT IS NECESSARY FOR THE PRACTICAL PURPOSES OF LIFE.
1. The atmosphere is necessary for the transmission of sound. If there were no atmosphere, the bell might be tolled, the cannon might be fired, a thousand voices might render the music of the sweetest hymn, but not the faintest sound would be audible. Thus all commercial, educational, and social intercourse would be at an end, as men would not be able to hear each other speak. We seldom think of the worth of the atmosphere around us, never seen, seldom felt, but without which the world would be one vast grave.
2. The atmosphere is necessary for many purposes related to the inferior objects of the world. Without it the plants could not live, our gardens would be divested of useful vegetables, and beautiful flowers. Artificial light would be impossible. The lamp of the mines could not be kindled. The candle of the midnight student could never have been lighted. The bird could not have wended its way to heaven's gate to utter its morning song, as there would have been no air to sustain its flight.
III. LET US MAKE A PRACTICAL IMPROVEMENT OF THE SUBJECT.
1. To be thankful for the air we breathe. How often do we recognize the air by which we are surrounded as amongst the chief of our daily blessings, and as the immediate and continued gift of God? How seldom do we utter praise for it.
2. To make the best use of the life it preserves. To cultivate a pure life. To speak golden words. To make a true use of all the subordinate ministries of nature.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
2. It is a refractor of light. Without it the sun's rays would fall perpendicularly and directly on isolated portions of the world, and with a velocity which would probably render them invisible; but by means of the atmosphere they are diffused in a softened effulgence through the entire globe.
3. It is a reflector of light. Hence its mysterious, beautiful, and poetical blue, contrasting and yet harmonizing with the green mantle of the world.
4. It is the conservator and disperser and modifier of heat. By its hot currents constantly flung from the equatorial regions of the world, even the cold of the frigid zones is deprived of its otherwise unbearable rigour; while the mass of cold air always rushing from about the poles towards the equator quenches half the heat of tropical suns, and condenses the vapour so needful to the luxuriant vegetation.
5. It is the great vibratory of sound, the true sounding board of the world, and without it the million voices and melodies of this earth would all be dumb; it would be a soundless desert, where an earthquake would not make a whisper. By its pressure the elastic fluids of animal bodies are prevented from bursting their slender vessels and causing instantaneous destruction. Its winds propel our ships, its electricity conveys our messages. By the aid of its warm gales and gentle dews the desert can be made to blossom as the rose.
(Brewer.)Again, oxygen is a little heavier and nitrogen a little lighter than common air. Had it been otherwise, had nitrogen been a little heavier, and carbonic acid gas been a little lighter, we must have breathed them again, so that, instead of breathing wholesome air, we should have been constantly inhaling the very gases which the lungs had rejected as offal. The consequences would have been most fatal. Life would have been painful; diseases ten times more prevalent than they now are; and death would have cut us off at the very threshold of our existence.
(Brewer.)Further, if the air had possessed an odour, such as that of phosphuretted hydrogen, it would have interfered not only with the perfume of flowers, but also with our faculty of discriminating wholesome foods by their smell. If it had been coloured like chlorine gas, or a London fog, we should have seen only the thick air, and not the objects around us. Had it been less transparent than it now is, it would have obstructed the rays of the sun, diminished their light and warmth, and abridged our power of distant vision.
(Brewer.)The air is the great means of life, not only to man, but to all living things. It is also essential to combustion. Without it no fire would burn, and all our industries which depend on the use of fire would necessarily be at a standstill. By the heat of the sun an immense quantity of water in the form of vapour is daily carried up from the earth, rivers, and seas — amounting, indeed, to many millions of gallons! In the course of a year it is not less than forty thousand cubic miles! But if there were no atmosphere this circulation could not exist. There would be no rain, rivers, or seas, but one vast desert. Neither could the clouds be buoyed up from the surface of the earth, nor could the winds blow to disperse noxious vapours, and produce a system of ventilation among the abodes of men.
(H. Bonar.)I. EXPLANATION OF THE PASSAGE.
1. Ancient conception of the sky. To the ancient Hebrew the sky seemed a vast, outstretched, concave surface or expansion, in which the stars were fastened, and over which the ethereal waters were stored. (See Proverbs 8:27; Hebrews 1:12; Isaiah 34:4; Isaiah 40:22; Job 22:14; Job 37:18; Psalm 148:4.) "Ah, all this," you tell me, "is scientifically false; the sky is not a material arch, or tent, or barrier, with outlets for rain; it is only the matterless limit of vision." Neither, let me again remind you, is there any such thing as "sunrise" or "sunset." To use such words is to utter what science declares is a falsehood. And yet your astronomer, living in the blaze of science, fresh from the discovery of spectrum analysis and satellites of Mars, and knowing too that his words are false, still persists in talking of sunrise and sunset. Will you, then, deny to the untutored Moses, speaking in the child-like language of that ancient infarct civilization, the privilege which you so freely accord to the nineteenth-century astronomer?
2. Panorama of the emerging sky. Everywhere is still a shapeless, desolate chaos. And now a sudden break is seen. A broad, glorious band or expanse glides through the angry, chaotic waste, separating it into two distinct masses — the lower, the heavy fluids; the upper, the ethereal vapours. The band, still bearing upward the vapour, swells and mounts and arches and vaults, till it becomes a concave hemisphere or dome. That separating, majestic dimension we cannot to this day call by a better name than the expanse. And that expanse God called heavens. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.
II. MORAL MEANING OF THE STORY.
1. The heavens suggest the soul's true direction — it is upward. To express moral excellence by terms of altitude is an instinct. How naturally we use such phrases as these: "Exalted worth, high resolve, lofty purpose, elevated views, sublime character, eminent purity!" How naturally, too, we use opposite phrases: "Low instincts, base passions, degraded character, grovelling habits, stooping to do it!" Doubtless here, too, is the secret of the arch, and especially the spire, as the symbol of Christian architecture: the Church is an aspiration. Even the very word "heaven" itself, like the Greek Ouranos, means height, and, according to the etymologists, is an Anglo-Saxon word, heo-fan; meaning what is heaved up, lifted, heav-en — heaven. Well, then, may the vaulting sky stand as a symbol of human aspiration. The true life is a perpetual soaring and doming; or rather, like the mystic temple of Ezekiel's vision, it is an inverted spiral, forever winding upward, and broadening as it winds (Ezekiel 41:7). The soul's true life is a perpetual exhalation; her affections evermore evaporating from her own great deep, and mounting heavenward in clouds of incense.
2. As the heavens suggest human aspirations, so do the heavens suggest their complement, Divine perfections. It is true, e.g., in respect to God's immensity. Nothing seems so remote from us, or gives such an idea of vastness, as the dome of heaven. Climb we ever so high on mountain top, the stars are still above us. Again: It is true in respect to God's sovereignty. Nothing seems to be so absolutely beyond human control or modification as the sun and stars of heaven. Again: It is true in respect to God's spirituality. Nothing seems so like that rarity of texture which we instinctively ascribe to pure, incorporeal spirit, as that subtile, tenuous ether which, it is believed, pervades the clear, impalpable sky, and, indeed, all immensity. And in this subtile ether, so invisible to sight, so impalpable to touch, so diffused throughout earth and the spaces of the heavenly expanse, we may behold a symbol of that invisible, intangible, ever-omnipresent One who Himself is Spirit; and who, accordingly, can be worshipped only in spirit and truth (John 4:24). Again: it is true in respect to God's purity. Nothing is so exquisite an emblem of absolute spotlessness and eternal chastity, as the unsullied expanse of heaven, untrodden by mortal foot, unswept by aught but angel wings. Again: It is true in respect to God's beatitude. We cannot conceive a more perfect emblem of felicity and moral splendour than light. Everywhere and evermore, among rudest nations as well as among most refined, light is instinctively taken as the first and best possible emblem of whatever is most intense and perfect in blessedness and glory. And whence comes light — the light which arms us with health, and fills us with joy, and tints flower and cloud with beauty, and floods mountain and mead with splendour — but from the sky? Well, then, may the shining heaven be taken as the elect emblem of Him who decketh Himself with light as with a robe (Psalm 104:2), who dwelleth in light which no man can approach unto (1 Timothy 6:16), who Himself is the Father of lights (James 1:17).
(G. D. Boardman.)
1. Let us learn from the air a lesson — and it is a most impressive one — as to the inestimable value of our "common mercies," which we enjoy every moment, without a thought and without an emotion of gratitude to the great Giver of them.
2. Let us learn from the atmosphere a lesson as to how to overcome our difficulties. The dove in the fable was irritated because the wind ruffled its feathers and opposed its flight. It foolishly desired to have a firmament free from air, through the empty spaces of which it vainly thought it could fly with the speed of lightning. Silly bird! It did not know that without the air it could not fly at all, nor even live. And just so it is with the difficulties we encounter. Without them and without conquering them, a high Christian manhood or character is unattainable.
3. Let us learn from the atmosphere a lesson of thankfulness. It is amongst the chief of our daily blessings, and is the immediate and continuous gift of God, to whom our praises are continually due.
4. Let us learn from the atmosphere to make the best use possible of the life it nourishes and preserves. As in itself the air is sweet, wholesome, and life-giving, let us be taught by it to live pure and noble lives which shall yield for others wholesome and helpful and not poisonous and corrupt influences. Our example makes a moral atmosphere for others to breathe, which is wholesome or noxious, according as the example is good or bad.
(G. C. Noyes, D. D.)
(H. W. Morris, D. D.)1. On the mass of the atmosphere. Vast an appendage as this is to our globe, its dimensions and density have been adapted with the utmost exactness to the constitution of all organized existences. Any material change in its mass would require a corresponding change in the structure of both plants and animals, and, indeed, in the whole economy of the world. If its mass were considerably reduced, all the difficulties experienced by travellers on the summits of lofty mountains, and by aeronauts at great elevations above the earth, would ensue; on the other hand, if much increased, opposite and equally disastrous results would follow. If the atmosphere had been twice or three times its present mass, currents of air would move with double or triple their present force. With such a change nothing on sea or land could stand against a storm. But how happily do we find all things balanced as now constituted. And how obvious, that, ere ever God had breathed forth the fluid air, in His all-comprehending Mind, its mass was measured and weighed, and the strength and wants of all living creatures duly estimated before one of them had been called into being. All the works of God have been done according to a determinate counsel and infallible foreknowledge.
2. On the pressure of the atmosphere. Contemplating the enormous weight of the air, resting upon all things and all persons, who but must devoutly admire both the wisdom and the goodness of the Creator, in so adjusting all the properties of the firmament, that under it we can breathe and walk and act with ease, unconscious of weight or oppression, while in fact we are every moment under a load, which, when reduced to figures, surpasses both our comprehension and belief.
3. On the composition of the atmosphere. How very wonderful is this! When we reflect upon the proportions and combinations of its constituent elements, we cannot but look up with adoring reverence to its Divine Author. What wisdom, what power, what benevolence, have been exercised in arranging the chemical constitution and agencies of this world, to adapt them unfailingly to the strength and wants of animals and of plants, even the most delicate and minute! How very slightly the atmosphere of life differs from one that would produce instant and universal death How trifling the change the Almighty had need make in the air we hourly breathe, to lay all the wicked and rebellious sons of men lifeless and silent in the dust!
(H. W. Morris, D. D.)
(H. W. Morris, D. D.)
(H. W. Morris, D. D.)
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