« PreviousContinue »
Genesis, i. 31.
And God saw every thing that he had made, and behold it was
The order of the Proper Lessons for the Sunday service, throughout the year, may be said to begin from this day. On this day we, as it were, begin the Bible, and the first Lessons continue to be taken from the books of the Law and the Prophets successively, till we come again to the season of Advent; those for Advent and the Sundays after Epiphany being taken, for particular reasons, from the book of Isaiah alone. Now it is impossible that so small a portion of the Old Testament, as can be read at the rate of two chapters a week, can give us any thing like a full notion of its contents : indeed, there are several books from
which none of the Sunday Lessons are ever taken at all. Still the selection takes many of the most important parts, and forms a skeleton, more or less perfect, of the substance of the whole Bible. In particular those great events recorded in the earlier part of Genesis, which concern directly the whole race of mankind, are read in the Proper Lessons with tolerable fulness. I mean the Creation, the Fall, and the Flood. It is true that there is much in the accounts of all these events, the real meaning of which it is not easy to understand ; and on which, therefore, it does not seem wise to dwell. But still the main facts are sufficiently clear, and contain matter which we can perceive most fit to hold the place which it does hold, as the beginning of the volume of God's revelations to man.
Now, for instance, if we take the account of the Creation in its details, as a piece of natural history, we not only involve ourselves in a number of questions full of difficulty, but we lose the proper and peculiar character of the Scripture as a revelation. This will be well shown by a contrast. There is preserved to us in a Greek writer, the lexicographer Suidas, a very remarkable extract from an old Etruscan author, giving an account of the creation of all things. It says that God designed His creation to last for twelve thousand years; that in the first thousand years He made
the heaven and the earth; in the second thousand years
He made the firmament; in the third thousand years He made the sea; in the fourth thousand the sun, moon, and stars; in the fifth thousand all living creatures except man; and in the sixth thousand, He made man: it goes on to say that, as there had been six thousand years before man was created, so mankind was to last for another period of six thousand years; and thus the whole duration of God's works, animate and inanimate together, would make up the term of twelve thousand years.
Now the resemblances of this account to what we have in the first chapter of Genesis are manifest; and it would be a waste of time to point your attention to them. Nor is it of any consequence to speculate as to the causes of this resemblance, or to ask where the old Etruscan writer obtained the notions which he has recorded. What I wish to dwell on is the difference in the two accounts; for it is in this difference that we shall recognise the peculiar character of Scripture. First, let us observe what the Etruscan writer has got, which the Scripture has not; and then what he has not, which the Scripture has. It will be seen that he begins with a declaration respecting the times and the seasons, one of that sort which, is most welcome to the curiosity of man, but which, as far as regards his practice, is rather mischievous
than useful. “God designed all created things to last for a term of twelve thousand years,” so he begins; and he ends with saying that the term of the existence of the human race was to be six thousand years.
We know by the various attempts which some Christians have made to fix the time of the end from the prophecies, how natural it is to be curious about this point. And we know also by Christ's express words that it is a point not to be revealed to any created being : the hour of the death of the whole world is to be kept in the same uncertainty as that of the death of
every one of us. And accordingly the Scripture account of the Creation gives us no information as to the time that the world was to last; it makes no revelation to gratify curiosity; it tells us what God has done, so far as it concerns our practice, and no farther; and in like manner as to what He will do. “ In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” This is a true Scriptural revelation, for the foundation of all our duties, of all right notions of ourselves, and of the world in which we are living, is laid in the knowledge of this fact, that it is God who made us and not we ourselves; that we have nothing which we have not received from Him, and that for His pleasure we are and were created.
Now let us see, on the other hand, what the Etruscan writer has not, which the Scripture has.
The Creation, as he relates it, is a mere curious fact, and nothing more; the pretended correspondence of the numbers, that as there were six thousand years before man was made, so there would be six thousand years after he was made, is just a thing to strike the imagination, and to excite wonder. But we find not a word as to any thing moral,- nothing that has to do with sin or with duty. But what says the Scripture? Immediately after the mention of the creation of all things, it goes on to give the relation in which man stands to his fellow creatures and to God; the relation I mean as a matter of practice: that he has dominion over the earth and over all living creatures in it, given to him by the Lord and Maker of him and of them. “ God blessed man and woman, and said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” We do not find this mentioned in other accounts of the Creation ; yet this it is above all other things which it concerns us morally to know. It is a matter of experience that we are more powerful than all other creatures, by means of our reason ; it is almost a matter of necessity that we avail ourselves of this power: but neither power nor necessity are satisfactory grounds on which exercise dominion; they are not satisfactory to a