Imagination leaps the chasms, minimizes the difficulties, passes from the possible to the certain, from the "may have been" to the "must have been" and to "it was so," and, fascinated with the completeness of its scheme, commences to denounce and revile as ignorant and unscientific all that would, calmly appeal to evidence, and confess ignorance, or at least a suspended judgment, in any stage where the evidence is negative or incomplete.
It has been well observed that "men are so constituted that completeness gives a special kind of satisfaction of its own, and a habit of specially regarding the general uniformity of nature begets a desire to assume its absolute and universal uniformity."
There is a great mystery underlying life and the plan in which the animal form, the organs of sight, hearing, and the rest, run through the whole creation: and, given a mystery, there is always ample room for speculation. Taking firm hold of the facts of development and variation, the extreme evolutionist is carried away with the idea of having the same principle throughout: he is impatient of any line or any check; he is therefore prepared to ignore all difficulties, to hope against hope for the discovery of to him necessary—but, alas, non-existent—intermediate forms, till at last he comes to deny, not only his God, but his own soul, as a spiritual and supra-physical entity.
[Footnote 1: Those who want a specimen of the way in which extreme evolutionists will romance (it can be called nothing else) will do well to read Dr. Haeckel's "History of Creation," only they must be on their guard at every step. The author constantly states as facts (or, perhaps, with an impatient "must have been") the existence of purely hypothetical forms, of which there is no kind of evidence. To such ends does the love of completeness lead!]
Such extremes are no part of true science, and have neither helped the progress of knowledge, nor advanced the condition of mankind. But, on the other hand, let us hear no more of a sweeping condemnation of the theory of Evolution as a whole; let us beware of any insistence on, or assumption of, the supposed fact that God created separately—ready-made and complete—all known animal forms, bringing them up from the ground, like the armed men in the Greek legend, from the dragon's teeth.
We have no more right to dogmatize and assume a scheme of creation from a popular and long-accepted interpretation of the Bible, than the evolutionist has to ignore the palpable evidences of Divine guidance and design, and construct a theory or organic being which ignores both.
THE GENESIS NARRATIVE—ITS IMPORTANCE.
We have now completed the first portion of our inquiry: there remains the second, which, to a large class, at any rate, will appear of not less importance. For the Scriptures, which they have been taught to trust, contain a brief but direct and positive statement regarding Creation, as well as numerous other less direct allusions to the subject, all (as far as I know) in unquestioned harmony with the first.
Is the account in the Book of Genesis true? It is necessary to answer this question, because, even if a general belief in an Almighty Author and Designer of all things is shown to be reasonable, still the Scripture ought surely to support the belief; and it would be strange if, when we came to test it on this subject, we found its professed explanations would not stand being confronted with the facts.
No one will, I think, deny that the question is important. Writers of the "anti-theological" school still continue to insist on the falsity of the Mosaic narrative, as if the error was not yet sufficiently slain, and was important enough to be attacked again and again. And theological writers, down to the most modern, continue to explain the text in one way or another;—besides, they admit the importance, under any circumstances. I do not forget that there is a school of thought, which is distinctly Christian in its profession, but does not allow the importance. It would regard the narrative as addressed to Jews only, and therefore as one which does not concern us. If that was all, it would not be needful for me to discuss the position. But it has been held, not only that the narrative does not concern us, but also that it is certainly inaccurate.
This view I cannot adopt: it seems not quite fair to ourselves, and not quite fair to the Jews. Let me explain what I mean. If we have nothing to do with the narrative, let us abstain equally from defending it or pronouncing it wrong—that is for ourselves. As to the Jewish Church, a little more must be said. Let us admit, at any rate for argument's sake, that the separation between the Jewish formal and ceremonial religion and Christianity is as wide as can be wished. Nor would I undervalue the importance of insisting on pure Christianity, as distinct from Judaism. And, further, let us (without any question as to ultimate objects) regard the narrative as primarily addressed to Jews, and let us admit that it may have been unimportant, for the purpose of the first steps in Divine knowledge, that any account should be given of Creation beyond the primary fact that all idolatrous cosmogonies were false, and that the Unseen God of Israel alone made the heavens and the earth "in the beginning." Why should the Jews have received that truth through the medium of a story of which the whole framework was false, and nothing but the moral true? The framework, moreover, is one so plainly professing to be fact, that it was certain to be received as such by a simple people. It seems to me that there is something very suspicious, something repugnant to notions of truth and honest dealing, in the possible communication of underlying Divine truth through the medium of stories, which are not stories on the face of them, but profess and pretend to be statements of fact and authoritatively made.
But, further, it cannot be denied that, whatever allowance may have to be made under the early Jewish dispensation for the ideas and weaknesses of a semi-barbarous people, whatever "winking" there may have been "at times of ignorance," the main object was, by a gradual revelation, by a system of typical ordinances and ceremonies, to lead up to the full spiritual light of the Christian dispensation. Everything written, said, or done, was a step—however small an one—always tending in the one direction, according to the usual law of Evolution. The Christian believer may then look back to the early stages as imperfect foreshadowings and dim illustrations of the whole truth; but he would, I should think, on any ordinary principles, be shocked to find truth developed out of positive error. And should the error have been discovered, as it now is (in the view of these I am contending against), this discovery might have arrested the further development of Divine truth altogether. If Moses, or whoever wrote the Book of Genesis—we will not cavil at that—was allowed to compose his own fancies or beliefs on the subject of Creation, and to state them as Divine fact (no matter that the reader at the time was not able to find out the error), would not grave suspicion attach to whatever else he put forward? Who could tell that, on any other subject, the plainest and most direct statement of fact was not equally a fancy, only embodying or enshrining (under the guise of its errors) some real Divine facts? If Genesis i. is unreliable, we have a case of a writer going out of his way to add to certain truths, which might easily have been stated by themselves, a number of positive declarations, as of Divine authority, regarding facts, which are not facts.
[Footnote 1: I am not aware of any authority, living or dead, who has gone so far as to deny that God's revelation to the Jewish Church was in any way connected with Christianity; that it was not even a stage of progress, or preparatory step towards the kingdom of Christ.]
[Footnote 2: And was sure to be sooner or later, when a science of Biology and Palaeontology became possible.]
The great truths that God is really the Maker and Author of all things, and that man has a spiritual being, and so forth, surely gain nothing from being conveyed to the world in the folds of a fable. And when it is not in a confessed fable, but a fable put forth as fact—"God said," "God created," "it was so"—not only is there no gain, but our sense of fitness and of truth receive a shock. A parable is always discernible as a parable, a vision as a vision. When our Lord, for example, tells us of the ten virgins, we do not suppose Him to be revealing the actual existence of ten such maidens, wise and foolish. We know that He is reading a lesson of watchfulness. But looking at the Genesis narrative, who could suppose it to be a parable? If sober, unmistakable statement of fact is possible, we surely have it here, in intention, at least.
The plan of teaching truth in an envelope of error is per se difficult to conceive. But how much worse is it when we consider—what criterion does mankind possess for disinterring and distinguishing the elements of truth? If in religion we had only to do (as some would perhaps contend) with obvious enforcements of common morality and kindness, there might be a possibility of getting over the difficulty, because man would possess some kind of criterion whereby to distinguish what was fictitious, by the simple process of considering whether any given statement bore on morals or not. Such a test would not indeed go very far, because the human race is by no means agreed on all moral questions; nor does it always find it easy to say what is, and what is not, directly or indirectly connected with morals. But, in fact, the scope of religion cannot be so confined: and then the difficulty returns; for a revelation that tells us anything of the nature of God and His method of government, of the nature of our own being and of a future state, must necessarily go beyond our own ethical knowledge and powers of judging, or it would not be a revelation. Supposing that the revelation regarding such vital subjects is occasionally conveyed through the medium of erroneous statements, where in any given case would be the certainty as to what was Divine truth, and what not so?
This argument applies equally to another school of thinkers, who do not care to tell us what the narrative in itself means: who believe that God did not do what He is said to have done in Genesis, and yet who hold that the narrative is in a sense inspired, and that we may learn from it the great facts that God (and none other) originated all things—that man has a spiritual element in his nature, and that woman is equal in nature, but subordinate in position, to man, and so forth. Not only is enlightened judgment, even, inadequate to pronounce with certainty on how much is true; but the strange feeling still remains, if God designed to teach us these truths only, why was it not possible to enable the writer to state them without the (purely gratuitous) error? The sufferance of such a strange and unnecessary mixture of error seems rather like that "putting to confusion" of the human mind, which we feel sure the Great Teacher would never willingly perpetrate.
[Footnote 1: For on the supposition stated, there is a revelation in the text. Nor could any class of believer deny this. It is entirely unnecessary to define the kind and extent of insphation. But "all Scripture is 'theopneustos'"—I leave the word purposely untranslated (2 Tim. iii. 16); that surely means that the Divine Spirit exercised some kind of continuous control over the writers.]
Nor, again, can the narrative be got over by saying it is a poetic side or aspect of the facts, and not to be taken literally. If any one knows exactly what this means, and can tell us always how to translate the matter into plain language, it is to be wished that he would enlighten the world as to the process. But even if such process exists infallibly and universally, still, one would suppose, the narrative must, to begin with, be unmistakable poetry. And here, again, the narrative bears every mark of an intention to state facts, not poetic aspects of facts. Nor can we take the narrative as belonging to a familiar class in Scripture where a dream is used as a vehicle of communication. In those cases there is really no room for doubt; the visible facts themselves are obviously designed only to typify or represent some other facts.
The events stated in Genesis are not of this class. Those, therefore, who would be content with getting over the narrative without caring for its details, can, I must suspect, have hardly given adequate attention to the form and to the contents of the narrative as it stands. Not only are the statements positive, but, taking any interpretation whatever of them, they are not nearly imaginative enough to suit the purpose.
They have an obvious amount of relation to fact which has never been denied.
If the narrative is purely human even (and that the school we are considering do not aver), how did the writer come to be accurate even to that extent? Take only the order of events. I admit it does not correspond with the geologic record in the way commonly asserted; yet it has a very remarkable relation to that sequence.
Now, in any case, the writer could have had no knowledge of any kind of his own on the subject: how did he hit on this particular arrangement? It is a mere matter of calculation on the well-known rules of permutation and combination to realize in how many different ways the same set of events could have been arranged; the number is very considerable.
And he could derive no assistance from any similar existing narrative. If we conclude from the Assyrian discoveries that a non-biblical but similar narrative existed, still it is certain that the principal one we as yet have is so late in date, that it is more likely to be derived from the Bible than the Bible from it. And though, on referring to the earlier tablets, we find traces of the same narrative, it is so obscured by idolatrous and false details, that the Bible writer must have had to make a virtually new departure to get his own simple narrative. A re-revelation would be required. As to all other cosmogonies, Egyptian, Indian, and Buddhistic, nothing can be more opposed in principle and in detail than they are to the severe and stately simplicity and directness of the Mosaic.
[Footnote 1: Not even, for example, by Professor Haeckel.]
[Footnote 2: How, for example, did the writer come to introduce the adjustment of hours of daylight and seasons in the middle, after so much work had been done? How did he come to place birds along with fish and water monsters, and not separately?]
We cannot, then, account for the narrative on human grounds; nor can we suppose that any inspiring control would have given the author so much truth, and yet allowed so much error.
All this points to only one of two possible conclusions: either the narrative is not inspired at all, and is a mere misleading story, into which the name of God is introduced by the author's piety—and so really teaches us nothing, since it is not revelation; or the narrative is, as a whole, divinely dictated, and must be true throughout, if we can only arrive by due study at its true meaning. That part of it is, or may be, true, even on the most cursory study, is not denied; that it is all true will appear, I think, in the sequel.
But there is a shorter and simpler reason why the rejection of the narrative in Genesis would be a direct blow to Christian faith. The plain truth is that it can hardly be denied, by any candid student of the New Testament, that our Lord and His apostles certainly received the early chapters of Genesis as of Divine authority. This has always been perceived by the whole school of writers opposed to the Faith. They therefore continue to attack these early revelations, and rejoice to overturn them if they can, because they are aware that hardly any chapters in the Bible are more constantly alluded to and made the foundation of practical arguments by our Lord and His apostles.
If these chapters can be shown to be mythical, then the Divine knowledge of our Lord as the Son of God, and the inspiration of His apostles, are called in question. In the New Testament, especially, there are repeated and striking allusions to Adam, the temptation of the woman by the Serpent, and the entrance into the world of sin and death. Our Lord Himself places the whole argument of His teaching on marriage and the permissibility of divorce on Genesis ii. 24 (cf. St. Matt. xix. and St. Mark x.). In St. John viii. 44 our Lord clearly alludes to the Edenic narrative when He speaks of the tempter as a "manslayer ([Greek: anthropoktonos]) from the beginning." Still more remarkable is the argument of St. Paul in Romans v.; altogether based as it is on the historical verity of the account of the Fall; and other allusions are to be found in 1 Cor. xi. 8, in 2 Cor. xi. 3, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, and elsewhere. In short, there are at least sixty-six passages in the New Testament, in which the first eleven chapters of Genesis are directly quoted or made the ground of argument. Of these, six are by our Lord Himself, two being direct quotations; six by St. Peter, thirty-eight by St. Paul, seven by St. John, one by St. James, two by St. Jude, two by the assembled apostles, three by St. Luke, and one by St. Stephen.
[Footnote 1: St. Matt. xix. 4; St. Luke xvii. 27; and perhaps we might add a third—St. Matt. xxiii. 35.]
We cannot, in fact, possibly avoid the conclusion that our Lord and His apostles admitted the Divine origin and historical truth of these chapters.
Therefore, we are bound as Christians to accept them, and that without glossing or frittering away their meaning, when we have arrived, by just processes, at what that meaning really is.
The fact just stated further warns us against accepting an indefinite interpretation which, while it acknowledges the truth of the general conclusion, still virtually, if not in so many words, allows that the details may be wholly inaccurate.
SCRIPTURE METHODS OF REVELATION.
Passing, then, to a consideration of the explanations of the narrative that may be or have been given at various times, I would first call attention to the fact, that it seems in many instances to have been the distinct purpose of Divine inspiration to allow the meaning of some passages to be obscure; perhaps among other reasons, that men might be compelled to study closely, to reason and to compare, and thus to become more minutely acquainted with the record. Especially in a case of this sort, where the world's knowledge of the facts would necessarily be gradual, was it desirable that the narrative should be confined in scope, and capable of being worked out and explained by the light of later discoveries; because, had the narrative really (as has long been supposed) been revealed to tell us what was the actual course of evolution of created forms on earth, it would not only have occupied a disproportionate space in the sacred volume, but would have been unintelligible to the world for many centuries, and would have given rise to much doubting and false argument, to the great detriment of men's spiritual enlightenment. It would have diverted men's minds from the great moral and conclusion of the whole (and here it is that the "moral" or conclusion is so important) to set them arguing on points of natural science.
The Bible was never intended (so far we may agree with all the schools of thought) to be a text-book on biology or geology. We need rather to be impressed with the great facts of God's Sovereignty and Providence, and to know definitely that all the arrangements of our globe and all forms of life are due to Divinely-created types. This is exactly secured by the narrative as it stands; but such a purpose would not be served by a narrative which, while it contained these great facts, had them enwrapped in a tissue of unnecessary and false details. And therefore it is, if I may so far anticipate my conclusion, that the narrative has no direct concern with how, when, and where, the Creation slowly worked itself out under the Divine guidance which is still elaborating the great purpose of the "ages"; it confines our attention to what God, the great Designer, did and said in heaven, as preliminary to all that was to follow on earth. The former was not a proper subject for revelation, because man would in time come to learn it by his studies on earth; but the latter all ages could only learn—the first as well as the latest—from a Divine Revelation.
Again, let me address a few words to those who are tempted, half unconsciously perhaps, to think that any lengthy prelude and "elaborate" explanation of Genesis must condemn the narrative a priori, or be derogatory to the dignity of Revelation. Why the narrative should be brief and concise I have just suggested. That it needs explanation of some sort is inevitable, because it must be put into human language; and directly such language is employed, we come upon such terms as "let there be," "he created," and "days," which do not always call forth the same ideas in all minds.
It will not have escaped the attention of any earnest student, that Scripture has several different methods of describing things so as to reveal them to men. This, a moment's reflection will enable us to expect. However high and wonderful the things to be stated are, in order to be brought within reach of human understanding they must be expressed in terms of human thought and experience; and these are imperfect and essentially inadequate. Hence it is, that many truths have to be brought before us in special or peculiar ways.
How, for instance, are we told of the temptation and fall of man? How are we to understand what was meant by the Tree of Life or the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, or by the Serpent speaking and beguiling Eve? We are at a great loss to give a precise explanation, though the practical meaning is not difficult.
The facts may be none the less true, though from their transcendental character it may have been necessary to put them down in mysterious, possibly even in merely allegorical, language. Another instance of this might be given in the account of Satan in the presence of the Lord as described in the Book of Job, or of the lying Spirit described by Micaiah when prophesying before Ahab. It maybe that these narratives describe to us transactions in a world beyond our own, which could only be conveyed to us in figures or in imperfect form. When St. Paul was caught up into the third heaven, he "heard unspeakable things" which it was not possible for him to utter—the medium of expression was wanting. Divine or mysterious things have, then, to be described in peculiar language which is not always easy to understand. Nor, having respect to the varying requirements of the different ages, or the circumstances of the time and of the inspired writer, is it easy to understand why any particular form of communication was selected, though doubtless if we knew more we should see a good reason for it. This gives us one class of Scripture passages—of methods of revelation. On the other hand, there are in Scripture many facts of the highest import, and in themselves of transcendent magnitude, which are yet capable of being stated without any possibility of our interpreting or understanding the narrative in more ways than one. When it is stated that Christ Jesus rose from the dead, we know beyond all reasonable doubt what is meant. The fact may be true or false, but the narrative of the fact needs no explanation; there are no terms which need expansion—which could bear more than one possible meaning, and which could be used accordingly in one sense or another. This instances a second class. Again, we can bring forward yet another class of Scripture revelations, namely, passages which are necessarily understood with reference to certain other matters which are unexpressed but are taken for granted, or in which the words used may bear more than one meaning, or a meaning which is uncertain or obscure. If the unexpressed matter can be supplied without doubt, then all ages will agree in the interpretation; and if the terms can (by reference to context or otherwise) be explained, the same result follows: if not, then in interpreting the narrative, each age will make its own assumption regarding the terms used, on the basis of such knowledge as it possesses. It follows, then, inevitably, that if the state of knowledge varies, the interpretation will be different according to the different standard of knowledge, according to which the necessary assumptions are made. And yet all the while the authority of the passage itself is not touched. As it is unquestionable that such different classes of passage do occur in Scripture, it is merely a question of criticism whether any given passage is of this class or that, and whether its terms do admit of or require explanation. It is no doubt possible to make mistakes and to err by refusing the direct meaning, and giving to the terms an assumed meaning for which there is no real necessity. We have always to be on our guard against giving special meanings to words where they are not required; but granted that caution, there undoubtedly are passages in which either the terms themselves are not plain, or in which they may really have a meaning different from the ordinary one.
[Footnote 1: As, for example, where persons desirous to get over the plain reference to Baptism in St. John iii. 5, try to explain away the term "water" to mean something metaphorically but not actually water.]
To descend from the general to the particular, it is obvious that the account of Creation in Genesis i., ii. is in such a form that we must assume our own ideas of the term "day" therein employed, and also those to be attached to "created" and similar terms.
In early times, no one would take "day" to mean anything else but an earth day of the ordinary kind, and no one would question whether or not the whole existing animals and plants, or their ancestors, appeared on earth in six such days, or whether anything else was meant. Again, by the time St. Augustine was writing, a little more knowledge of nature and a little more habit of reasoning about the origin of things was in the world, and that knowledge led people to suppose that creation meant only the making of things "out of nothing," but that it would take longer than six times twelve hours, so that "days" might mean "periods."
And people imagined for a long time that—taking for an example the work in the middle of the narrative—there was a time when the earth emerged from the tumult of waters, that it then got covered with plants, the waters remaining barren of life; but that when the plants had come up all over the ground, then the waters all at once became full of all sorts of sea-shells, fish, and monsters of the deep, and so on.
They did all this, by naturally assuming that the terms "creation," "day," &c., meant what the existing state of knowledge at the time suggested.
At the present day, one would have supposed that every one must feel that while the term "day" might or might not admit of explanation, certainly creation (i.e., terms implying it) did require very great care in interpreting, and very great consideration as to what they really meant But however that may be, we have here a passage which must have an explanation; and which must have an explanation that depends on the state of knowledge.
The utility of Revelation is not negatived by this necessary result of the employment of human language in describing the facts. It was not necessary before, that all should be understood; it may be now increasingly necessary in the purposes of God that it should be. At any rate the fact is so, that in former days people did not possess the data for knowing fully what creation meant, and certainly they do now possess it to a very much greater extent at least. Always men could learn from the narrative what it always was important for them to learn, namely, God's Sovereignty and Authorship. It is in this way that the value of the general teaching of the narrative comes out, and not by trying to allow a mixture of truth and falsehood in Revelation. All is and always was true; but all the truth was not equally extractable at all times.
Again: the dignity of the old written Revelation is not compromised because God has virtually given a further revelation in His works, i.e., by enabling man to know more about the rock-strata and the succession of life on the earth. That is what it really comes to. It should never be forgotten that the book of Nature is a revelation.
The works of God, if interpreted truly, are evidence of the same nature as the word of God if interpreted truly. God has created man and his reason. It is impossible to suppose that it can be unrighteous reasoning in God's sight, to derive from the facts of nature any legitimate conclusion to which those facts point. It is childish to believe that God created ready-made—if I may so speak—rocks with fossils in them, marks of rain-drops showing which way the wind blew at the time, foot-prints of birds, animals with remains of the prey they had been feeding on, in their stomachs, and so forth. It is perfectly reasonable and right to conclude certainly, that those creatures were once living beings; that the surface of the earth was once a soft sediment which received the impression of the rain-drops as they fell; and that stratified rocks were deposited out of lakes and seas, as we see alluvial strata deposited at the present day. It is impossible, therefore, that (if we are not misled by appearances) any well-ascertained fact can be contrary to the truth of God as explained by Revelation. If we are not sure of the facts of nature, we must wait patiently till further knowledge enlightens us, and must not hastily conclude that the Bible is wrong. The repeated corrections which successive years have compelled us to make in conclusions which were once firmly accepted and proclaimed as "truths of science," should teach us caution in this respect.
Nor, lastly, is it any reproach to the Church, as keeper of the Divine Revelation, that its opinion of certain passages should vary with the growth of knowledge. It would be hardly necessary to make this obvious remark but for the fact that it has been reproached against Christian belief, that science is contrary to the Bible, and that the Church has ever had to confess itself wrong, after having persecuted people for not following its peculiar views. It is, indeed, unfortunate that a blind zeal for God has led, in the past, to persecution; the Church failing to see that such men as Galileo and Bruno never denied God at all, nor did their discoveries really contradict the Word. But persecution is not a sin peculiar to the Church; it is a sin of human nature.
It is also true that Christian views may be wrong, but the fault is in the views, not in the Bible.
Scientific men, of all people, should be the last to complain of change in views, seeing that what was science two hundred years ago is now (much of it) exploded nonsense.
There is no harm whatever in changing our views about the meaning of difficult passages—provided we never let go our hold on the central truth, and put the error to our own account, not saying that the Word itself is wrong.
It may, in this connection, be at once observed that any particular explanation, or that one which I propose presently to suggest, of the first chapters of Genesis, may not commend itself to the reader, and yet the general argument I have adduced will hold good notwithstanding.
All that I care to contend is, that science does not contradict a syllable of the narrative on one possible interpretation, and that changes in view as to interpretation are no arguments against the truth of the passage itself.
METHODS OF INTERPRETING THE NARRATIVE—ASSUMPTIONS OF MEANING TO CERTAIN TERMS.
Returning, then, to the narrative in the Book of Genesis, I think we may take it as clear that the passage stands in such a concise and condensed form, that it is obviously open to be interpreted. Further, that we should not be surprised if the interpretation at the present day, with our vastly increased knowledge of Nature, is different from what it was in earlier times.
I make no apology for repeating this so often, because it is really amazing to see the way in which "anti-theological" writers attack what they suppose to be the interpretation of the narrative, or what some one else supposes to be such, and seem to be satisfied that in so doing they have demolished the credibility of the narrative itself.
If you choose to assume that Creation as spoken of by the sacred writer means some particular thing, or even if the mass of uneducated or unreflecting people assume it and you follow them, I grant at once that the narrative can be readily made out to be wrong.
Permit me, then, to repeat once more, that the narrative is in human language, and uses the human terms "created," "made," and "formed," and that these terms do (as a matter of fact which there is no gainsaying) bear a meaning which is not invariable. Hence, without any glossing or "torturing" of the narrative, we are under the plain obligation to seek to assign to these terms a true meaning with all the light that modern knowledge can afford.
Now (having already considered the school of interpretation which declines to attend to the exact terms) we can confine our attention to two classes of interpreters. One explains the term "days" to mean long periods of time; the other accepts the word in its ordinary and most natural sense, and endeavours to eliminate the long course of developmental work made known to us by palaeontological science, and supposes all that to have been passed over in silence; and argues that a final preparation for the advent of the man Adam was made in a special work of six days.
All the well-known attempts at explanation, such as those of Pye-Smith, Chalmers, H. Miller, Pratt, and the ordinary commentaries, can be placed in one or other of these categories.
Now, as regards both, I recur to the curious fact (already noted) that it seems never to enter into the conception of either school to inquire for a moment what the sacred writer meant by "created"—God "created"—God said "let there be." It is curious, because no one can reasonably say "these terms are obvious, they bear their own meaning on the surface;" a moment's analysis will scatter such an idea to the winds. Yet the terms are passed by. The commentators set themselves right earnestly to compare and to collate, to argue and to analogize, on the meaning of the term "days;" the other term "created" they take for granted without—as far as I am aware—single line of explanation, or so much as a doubt whether they know what it really means!
The interpretation that I would propose to the judgment of the Church is just the very opposite. It seems to me that the word day as used in the narrative needs no explanation; it seems to me that the other does. As regards the term "day," it is surely a rule of sound criticism never to give an "extraordinary" meaning to a word, when the "ordinary" one will give good and intelligible sense to a passage. And looking to the fact that, after all, when the days of Genesis are explained to mean periods of very unequal but possibly enormous duration, that explanation is not only quite useless, but raises greater difficulties than ever, I should think it most likely that the "day" of the narrative should be taken in the ordinary sense. But of this hereafter.
On the other hand, with regard to the terms "creation," "created," "Let there be," and so forth, I find ample room for the most careful consideration and for detailed study before we can say what is meant. Even then there remains a feeling of profound mystery. For at the very beginning of every train of reflection and reasoning on the subject, we are just brought up dead at this wonderful fact, the existence of matter where previously there had been nothing. The phrase "created out of nothing" is of course a purely conventional one, and, strictly speaking, has no meaning; but we adopt it usefully enough to indicate our ultimate fact—the appearance of matter where previously there had been nothing. Nor is the difficulty really surmounted by alleging such a mere phrase as "matter is eternal," for we have just as little mental conception of self-existent, always—and without beginning—existent matter, as we have of "creation out of nothing."
[Footnote 1: The entire silence of commentators regarding the doubtful meaning of "creation" is so surprising, that I have had the greatest difficulty in persuading myself that the explanation I propose is new. Yet certainly I have never come across it anywhere.]
The human mind has always a difficulty when it is brought face to face with something that is beyond the scope not only of its own practical, but, even of its theoretical or potential ability.
The "creation," therefore, of matter by a Divine Power is matter of faith, as I endeavoured to set forth in the earlier pages of this little work; but it is reasonable faith, because it can be supported by sound reasoning from analogy and strong probability.
All our attention, then, I submit, should be directed to understanding what is "creation" in the sacred narrative.
THE GENESIS NARRATIVE CONSIDERED GENERALLY.
I.—THE FIRST PART OF THE NARRATIVE.
Sec. 1. Objections to the Received Interpretations.
Taking the narrative as it stands, we find it to consist of two parts. First, a general statement, of which no division of time is predicated, and which is unaccompanied by any detail. Second, there is an account seriatim of certain operations which are stated to have been severally performed one on each of six days.
As regards the first portion, we have no definite knowledge of scientific truth with which to compare the narrative. It is obviously necessary for some Divine teacher to tell us authoritatively that God originated and caused the material earth, and the systems of suns and stars which men on the earth's surface are able to discern in the "heavens."
We are consequently informed that in the beginning—there is no practical need for defining further—"God created the heavens and the earth." Here the question arises whether the Hebrew "bara," which is a general term, alludes to the first production of material, or to the moulding or fashioning of material already (in terms) assumed to exist. I think that the conclusion must be that the best authority is in favour of the idea of absolute origination of the whole;—the bringing the entire system into existence where previously there was a perfect blank. But even if the secondary meaning of "fashioned" or "forged" be allowed, we have still an intelligible rendering. For in that case the first origination of matter is tacitly assumed by the term itself, and the statement would be, that the matter of the future cosmos so existing, the Divine Artificer fashioned or moulded it into the orderly fabric it has come to be.
The narrative then at once refers to our earth, with which, and with its inhabitants, the whole volume is to be in future directly concerned. "The earth was (or became) without form and void (chaotic), and darkness was on the face of the deep (or abyss)."
We have no positive knowledge of what the first condition of terrestrial matter was, apart from Revelation. The remarkable discoveries that the spectroscope has enabled, and the facts learned from the physical history of comets and meteorites, can do no more than make what is known as the "nebular hypothesis" highly probable. But it is amply sufficient for our purpose to point out, that if it is true that matter originated in a nebulous haze to the particles of which a spiral rotatory motion had been communicated, and if (confining our attention to one planet only) that attenuated matter gradually aggregated in a ring or rings, and then consolidated into a solid or partly solid globe, then the results are briefly, but adequately and sublimely, provided for by the form of the Mosaic statement.
Matter thus aggregating would have developed an enormous amount of heat, and there would have been a seething mass of molten mineral matters, with gases and other materials in the form of vapours, which would have gradually cooled and consolidated. Vast masses of water would in time be formed on one hand, and solid mineral masses on the other; the latter would contract as cooling progressed, causing great upheavals and depressions and contortions of strata. And before the advent of life-forms, it is not difficult to conceive that the first state of our globe was one which is intelligibly and very graphically described as being "without form and void." Nothing more than that, can, from actual physical knowledge, be stated.
It is also stated that this confused elemental state of our earth was accompanied at first by darkness. Material darkness that is—for the potentiality of light and order was there; the SPIRIT OF GOD "moved" (or brooded) upon the face of the abyss. This presents no difficulty of interpretation, and may therefore be passed over for the present.
[Footnote 1: It would be hardly necessary (but for some remarks in the course of the Gladstone-Huxley controversy) to observe that the term "void" does not imply vacuity or emptiness, as of substance, but absence of defined form such as subsequently was evolved.]
Practically, indeed, there has been no grave difficulty raised over this first portion. And if it is argued (on the ground of what I have already in general terms indicated) that the term "created" will, on my own interpretation, get us into difficulties, I reply that here, in its position and with the context, there is no room for doubt, for clearly the word implies both the great primary idea of the Divine design or plan formulated in heaven, and the subsequent result in time and space. This will become more clear when I have further explained the subject.
[Footnote 1: And of course if the true sense be "fashioned" or "moulded," the question does not arise.]
II.—THE SECOND PART OF THE NARRATIVE.
But from this point the narrative commences to be more precise, and to exhibit a very singular and altogether unprecedented division of creative work into "days."
Now I have already indicated my doubt whether we ought to import any unusual meaning to explain this term.
In the first place, the objection that till the movements and relations of the sun to the earth were ordained there would be no measure of a day will not stand a moment's examination. Nor will the further objection sometimes made, that even with the sun, a day is a very uncertain thing: for example, a day and a night in the north polar regions are periods of month-long duration, quite different from what they are in England, or at Mount Sinai. Obviously, a "day" with reference to the planet for which the term is used, means the period occupied by one rotation of the planet on its own axis. The rotation of the earth is antecedent to anything mentioned in the narrative we are considering. In the nature of things, it would have been coeval with the introduction of the prima materies—at least if any nebular hypothesis can be relied on. The "day" would be there whether it were obscured by vapours or not, and whether specially made countable and recognizable by what we call the rising and setting of the sun, or not, and whether we were standing in Nova Zembla or in Australia.
Nor is it of much use to refer to the general use of "day" for indefinite periods, which is just as common in the English of to-day as it was in the Hebrew of the Old Testament. But the double use of the term in different senses has become general, just because it was found in practice that no confusion ordinarily resulted; and surely such a practice would not have been common, or at any rate would have been specially avoided in the sacred volume, wherever any mistake or confusion was likely or even possible.
No one can mistake what is meant when allusion is made to "the day in which God made the heaven and the earth." No one falls into doubt when the "days" of the prophets are spoken of—any more than they do now when a man says, "Such a thing will not happen in my day."
Whenever in Daniel, or in similar prophetic writings, the term "day" is used in a peculiar sense as indicating a term of years, we have no difficulty in recognizing the fact from the context and circumstances of the narrative; nor am I aware that any controversy has ever arisen regarding the use of the term "day" in any passage of Scripture excepting in this.
This fact alone is suspicious; the more so, because there is absolutely nothing in the context to indicate that anything but an ordinary day is intended. Not only so, but there is in the context something that does very clearly indicate (and I think Dr. Reville is perfectly justified in insisting on this) that an ordinary terrestrial day is meant. One of the primeval institutions of Divine Providence for men, my readers will not need to be reminded, was that of a "Sabbath," which any one reading the text would understand to mean a day, and which the Jews—the earliest formal or legal recognizers of it—did so understand, and that under direct Divine sanction.
If the days of Genesis mean indefinite periods of aeonian duration, how is the seventh day of rest to be understood?
But even if these difficulties are overcome, absolutely nothing is gained by taking the day to be a period.
I presume that the object of gaining long periods of time instead of days in reading the Mosaic record, is to assume that the narrative means to describe the actual production on the earth of all that was created; in other words, to assume a particular meaning for the words "created," "brought forth," &c and then to make out that if a whole age is granted, Science will allow us a sequence of a "plant age" a "fish and saurian age," a "bird age," and a "mammalian age";—that is, in general terms and neglecting minor forms of life. But then to make any sense at all with the verses we are bound to show that each age preceded the next—that one was more than partly, if not quite completely, established before any appearance of the next.
It is to this interpretation that Professor Huxley alludes when he says, in his first article, "There must be some position from which the reconcilers of Science and Genesis will not retreat—some central idea the maintenance of which is vital, and its refutation fatal.... It is that the animal species which compose the water population, the air population, and the land population, respectively, originated during three successive periods of time, and only during those periods of time."
[Footnote 1: "Nineteenth Century," December, 1885, pp. 856-7.]
[Footnote 2: These (unfortunate) terms are Mr. Gladstone's.]
For my own part, I hasten to say that, as one of the despised race of "reconcilers," not only is this idea no central position from which I will not retreat, but one which I should never think of occupying for one moment.
But on the view of the periods, some such position must be taken up. And if so, I must maintain that Professor Huxley has shown—if indeed it was not obvious already—that the idea of a series of periods, and in each of which a certain kind of life began and culminated (if it was not fully completed) before another began, is untrue to nature. This, therefore, cannot have been intended by the author of Genesis.
I will here interrupt my argument for a moment to say that there is a certain degree of coincidence between the succession of life on the earth as far as it is explained by palaeontological research, and the order of creation stated in Genesis; but that is not concerned with any forced interpretation of the term "day." The coincidence is just near enough to give rise to a desire to identify creative periods with the series shown by the fossil-bearing rocks; while it is attended with just enough of difference to furnish matter for controversy, and to expose the interpreters to be cut up.
But to return. Nothing, I submit, is gained by getting day to mean period. Let us put the matter quite squarely. Let us take day to mean period, and let us take all the verses to mean the process of producing on earth the various life-forms.
In order to come at once to the point, let us begin with the time when the dry land and the waters are separate. At that moment, there is nothing said (or implied) about life already having begun in either water or on dry land. God commanded plants to grow; consequently during that whole period nothing but plants, and that of all the kinds and classes mentioned, should appear either in water or on land. That period being done, then came the command for water animals, fish and great monsters, and also birds. We ought, accordingly, to come next upon a whole period in which no trace of anything but plants and these animals can be found; and lastly, we ought to find the period of mammalia, smaller reptiles, amphibia and insects (creeping things).
That is the fair and plain result of what comes of supposing the terms "let there be," &c., to mean production on earth of the thing's themselves, and that the days are long periods.
All overlapping of the periods is inadmissible. All meaning is taken away, if we allow of fish (e.g.) appearing in the middle of our first period; for God did not command another day's work till after the first was completed—"there was evening and there was morning, a first day" (period), &c.
No; to suit the text so interpreted, we must have a full period of plants with no fish; then a period of both but no insects, no creeping things, no animals; and so on. Now it is quite idle to contend any longer, that any such state of things ever existed.
If we pass over the long series of the most ancient strata in which doubtful forms of obscure elementary plant and animal life appear almost together, we shall come to shell-fish, and crustaceans fully established in the water, and scorpions, and some insects even on land, before plants made any great show. For the Carboniferous—the age of acrogen plants, par excellence—does not occur till after swarms of Trilobite Crustaceans had filled the sea and passed away, and after the Devonian fish-age had nearly passed away; and so on throughout.
The groups in nature overlap each other so closely, that though plant-life (in elementary forms) probably had the actual start; virtually the two kingdoms—plant and animal—appeared almost simultaneously. There is nothing like the appearance of a first period in which one alone predominated. And long before the plants are established in all classes, the great reptiles, birds, and some mammals, had appeared. The seed-bearing plants—true grasses and exogens with seed capsules (angiosperms) did not appear till quite Tertiary times. That is the essential difference between the facts and the theory. If we make a diagram, and let the squares represent the main groups, the order (according to the period interpretation) ought to be as in A, whereas it really more resembles B. Thus.
But then it will be asked, if the day means only an ordinary day—not a long period—what is there that actually could have happened, and did happen, in three days (for that is the real point, as we shall see), such as the writer describes as the third, fifth, and sixth days?
I answer that on those days, and on the previous ones, God did exactly what He is recorded to have done. After the creation of light (first day), and the ideal adjustment of the distribution of land and water (second day), He (a) "created," on the third day, plants, from the lowest cryptogam upwards; then (b) paused for a day (the fourth) in the direct work of creating life-forms, to adjust certain matters regarding times and seasons, and regulation of climate, which doubtless would not be essential during the early stages of life evolution, but would become so directly a certain point was reached; then (c) resumed the direct creating work (fifth day), with fishes, great reptiles, and birds (grouped purposely so, as we shall see); and, lastly (d), before the Day of Rest, created the group of mammals (carnivora and herbivora), the "creeping things" of the earth, and man (also grouped together).
[Footnote 1: This term may be here accepted for the moment—not to interrupt the argument. It will be more fully dealt with in a subsequent chapter.]
But some one will ask, You then accept the earlier theory, that the whole life-series that is now revealed to us by the rocks, from the Laurentian to the Recent, is excluded from the narrative; and that some special acts of creation, regarding only modern and surviving life-forms, were made immediately before man appeared? By no-means; for such a theory is not only in itself improbable, but is contrary to all the evidence we possess of life-history on the earth, and is so hopeless that it is really not worth serious examination and refutation.
We have no evidence of any such gap—such sudden change in the history of life. Nor is it possible to find any place in the Mosaic story at which we could reasonably interpolate a long period, such as that indicated by the entire series of rock strata. For a great part of such a period, not only must there have been a regular succession of life just the same in nature (though specifically different) as that now on earth, but a regular distribution of land and water, and a settled action of the sun and the seasons, would be required. No; we must give up all the older methods which try to ignore the study of the word "created," or to assume for it a meaning that it is not intended to bear.
All depends, then, on what is meant by such terms as "created," "let there be," "let the earth bring forth," &c. Perhaps it has occurred to but few of my readers seriously to examine into their own mental conception of an "act of creation." Some will readily answer, "Of course it means only that at the Divine fiat, any given species—say an elephant—appeared perfect, trunk, tusks, and all the peculiar development of skull and skeleton, where previously no such creature had existed." But what possible reason have they for this conclusion? None whatever. It has simply been carelessly assumed from age to age, because people at first knew no better; and when they began to know better, they did not stop to amend their ideas accordingly.
Of course, as Professor Huxley puts it, millions of pious Jews and Christians supposed creation to mean a "sudden act of the Deity"—i.e., to mean just what the knowledge of the time enabled them to imagine. They could do nothing else. The state of knowledge fifty years ago would not have rendered it possible for an article like Professor Huxley's (that to which allusion has several times been made) to have been written at all. What wonder, then, that the multitude did not understand what creation meant, and that a reasonable interpretation of the word has only become possible in quite recent times? Surely all that is the fault of the reader, not of the text. I do not even care that the writer himself did not fully apprehend the subject. When a human prophet is entrusted with the divulgation of high and wonderful things, it is quite possible that he may have been to greater or less extent in the dark as to all or some of the communication he was writing.
[Footnote 1: Article quoted, p. 857.]
All that can be reasonably required is that the narrative, as it stands, shall be consistent with actual truth, and shall at no time come to be provably at variance with it.
But let us look at the word "creation" more closely. We accept what we are told, that in the beginning God called into existence force and matter, the material or "physical basis," and all other necessaries of life. Suppose, then (even dropping the question of Evolution, in order to satisfy the "pious millions"), that this "matter" was all ready (if I may so speak) to spring into organized form and being to take shape on earth—what shape should it take? Why (e.g.) an elephant? Why not any other animal, or a nondescript—a form which no zoologist could place, recognize, or classify? The form, the ideal structure, the formula, of the genus elephant must somehow have come into existence before the obedient materials and the suitable forces of nature could work themselves together to the desired end.
Mr. Mivart has defined "creation" at page 290 of his "Genesis of Species." There is original creation, derivative or secondary creation (where the present form has descended from an ancestor that was originally "directly" created), and conventional creation (as when a man "creates a fortune," meaning that he produces a complex state or arrangement out of simpler materials). That is perfectly true, so far; but it is only a verbal definition, and still does not go inside, into the idea involved. We must go farther.
In every act of creation, two requisites can clearly be distinguished: (1) the matter of life, and the forces, affinities, and local surroundings necessary; and (2) the type, plan, ideal, or formula, to realize or produce which, the forces and the matter are to act and react. This second is all-essential; without it the first would only produce a limbo of
"Unaccomplisht works of Nature's hand, Abortive, monstrous, or unkindly mixt."
[Footnote 1: "Paradise Lost," iii. 455.]
No creation in any sense whatever could come out of it.
In the same way, when we speak of the Divine Artificer "creating," or saying "Let there be," there are two things implied: (i) the Divine plan or type-form, and its utterance or delivery (so to speak) to the builder-forces and materials; (2) the result or the translation into tangible existence of the Divine plan.
In every passage speaking of creation it possible that both processes may be implied; it may be clear from the text (as in Genesis i. 1) that this is so. But it is equally possible that the first point only, which in some aspects is really the essential matter, is alone spoken of.
And I submit that, given the general fact that God originated everything in heaven and earth (as first of all stated generally in Genesis i. 1-3), the essential part of the detailed or specific creation subsequently spoken of, was the Divine origination of the types, the ideal forms, into which matter endowed with life was to develop; without any necessary reference to how, or in what time, the Divine creation was actually realized or accomplished on earth. It may be that the form so conceived and drawn in Nature's book by the Divine Designer is a final form, up to which development shall lead, and beyond which (at least in a material sense) it shall not go; or it may be that it is a type intended to be transitory; but both the intermediate and final forms must take their origin first in the Divine Mind, and be prescribed from the Heavenly Throne, before the obedient matter and forces and the life-endowment could co-operate to result in the realization of the forms and the population of the globe.
[Footnote 1: The idea which I am endeavouring to make clear is well illustrated by another passage in one of the Mosaic books—the account of the Tabernacle. Moses had no idea of his own of the structure, its furniture, implements, or the forms of these. The narrative expressly states that the Divine power originated the designs, and caused Moses to understand them. In a human work the designer would have drawn the objects with measures and specifications, and given the papers to the workmen. With the Divine work, where the design is in the Divine Thought, and the workmen and builders are forces and elementary matter, the process is a mystery, but in its practical bearing is understood from analogy. The Tabernacle was truly God's creation, because it was all commanded in design and "pattern" by the Almighty before Moses put together the materials that realized the pattern in the camp of Israel.]
The reason why it is the essential part, is, that when once the Divine command issued, the result followed inevitably—that will "go without saying."
In human affairs, also, we speak of the architect having created the palace or cathedral, or the ironclad; meaning thereby not the slow process of cutting and joining stone, or riveting steel plates, but the higher antecedent act of mind in evoking the ideal form and providing for all contingencies in the adaptation and subsequent working of the finished structure. And if we limit this use of the term "creation" somewhat in speaking of human works, it is because the concept of the human mind so often fails of realization; that it is one thing to design, and another to accomplish. The grandest design for a palace may fail to stand because some peculiarity of the stone has been forgotten, or some character of foundation and subsoil has been misunderstood. The noblest form of turret-ship may prove useless because the strength of some material will not correspond to the ideal, or some curve of stability has been miscalculated. Not only this: man may create, as a sculptor, the ideal form for his to-be statue, or the dramatist his character; but the perfect realization, either in marble or in an actual being, may be impossible; the ideal remains "in the air." The ideal, therefore, is not the major part of "creation" in a human work.
But with the Divine work it is otherwise. The Divine thought in Creation and its result are separated by no possibility of failure. Given the matter and the laws of force and of life, directly the Great Designer has uttered His thought to those that are His builders, they must infallibly and without discord, work through the longest terms, it may be, of an evolutionary series, till, every transitional condition passed, the final form emerges perfect.
Our very verbal definition, admitting as it does "derivative" creation, implies this. We all speak of ourselves as "created." How so? We are not produced ready made. Nor do we wholly solve the matter by saying that we are "created" because we are born from parents who (if we go far enough back) originated in a first production from the hand of Nature. We are really "created" because the design—the life-form of us, which matter and force were to work together to produce—was the direct product of the Divine Mind.
My question, therefore, of the Genesis interpreters is: Why will you insist on the text meaning only the second element in Creation—the production on earth, and not the Design or its issue in heaven?
The former we could find out some day for ourselves; we have found out some of it (though only some) already; the latter we could never know unless we were told. Surely it is the "dignus vindice nodus" in this case. To tell us the earth's history within a brief space would be impossible, and would have been for ages unintelligible if it could have been told; to tell us of God's creation is possible—for it has been done; and the record, unless misread, is intelligible for all time.
The narrative, if it is a revelation of Divine Creation in heaven, takes up ground that none can trespass on. None can say "it is not so," unless either he will show that the words will not bear the meaning, or that the context and other Scripture contradict it.
[Footnote 1: "In Thy book were all my members written, while as yet there were none of them" (Psa. cxxxix. 16).
"How did this all first come to be you? God thought about me and I grew."—Macdonald.]
So soon as the matter of earth and heaven (and all that is implied therewith) originated "in the beginning," the narrative introduces to our reverent contemplation the solemn conclave in heaven, when, in a serial order and on separate days, God declared, for the guidance of the ever potentially active forces, and for materials ever (as we know) seeking combination and resolution, the form which the earth surface is (it may be ever so gradually) to take and the life-forms which are to be evolved.
That this creative work was piecemeal, and on separate days, we know from the narrative. Why it was so arranged we do not know. Vast as was the work to be done, almost infinite as was the complexity of the laws required to be formulated, it could have all been done at once, in a moment of time; for time does not exist to the Divine Mind. But seeing that the work was to be on earth, and for the benefit of creatures to whom the divisions of time were all-important, we can dimly, at least, discern a certain fitness and appropriateness in the gradual and divided work.
[Footnote 1: The reader will recognize that there is not the least exaggeration in this. It is plain matter of fact, as I have endeavoured to show in the earlier chapters of this book. Everywhere we see force ready to be evoked by the proper method. Everywhere we see molecular motion, and a perpetual combination and resolution of elements and compounds, whether chemical or mechanical.]
THE INTERPRETATION SUPPORTED BY OTHER SCRIPTURES.
In interpreting the narrative before us, we have an important aid which has hardly received the attention it deserves. I allude to the other passages of Scripture which were written by men undoubtedly familiar with the Book of Genesis.
Now, in more than one of them, I find the idea that the Creation spoken of is the Divine work in heaven, and not the subsequent and long process of its realization on the surface of our globe, fully confirmed.
In the beautiful thirty-eighth chapter of the very ancient Book of Job, we find a distinct allusion to a time when God "laid the foundations" of the earth, prescribed "its measures," made a "decreed place" for the sea, and framed the "ordinances of heaven," and this in presence of the heavenly host assembled—
"When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy."
[Footnote 1: Job xxxviii. 7. The sons of God are clearly the angels (cf. Job i, 6).]
The same idea can be gathered from the text which I have placed on the title-page of this book. "By faith we understand that the aeons (the whole system of nature in its various branches, physical, moral, and social) were ordained ([Greek: kataertisthai]) by the word of God." The process of actual development is here passed over, as not being the main thing; what attracts attention is the Divine Design, the "framing" of the wonderful ideal or ordinance without which the "aeons" could not proceed to unfold themselves. I do not mean, of course, for a moment to imply that, after God had formulated the laws and designed the forms, He left the working out of the results to themselves. I should be sorry if, in bringing into prominence what has generally been overlooked, I seemed to throw the rest in the shade. God's providence and continued supervision are as important in themselves as the original design:—but this is not the central idea embodied in the passage.
There is another Scriptural allusion which suggests the idea of a Heavenly Conclave, and great act of Creation in heaven. It may be considered somewhat remote, and even fanciful—but the fact is recorded both in the Old Testament and the New, and something must be meant by it. And, moreover, other and very meaningless interpretations have been from the earliest times given, so that I can hardly omit the subject if I would. I refer to the permanent presence in heaven, around the Divine Throne, of the singular forms of being called Cherubim, which seem to indicate some mysterious connection between the life-forms of earth and the inhabitants of heaven, and some permanent representation of typical created forms in heaven. In Ezekiel, chapter i., and again in chapter x., this vision is presented to us.
The prophet was to be prepared, by a very vivid exhibition of the power and glory of God as the Author and Ruler of the universe, to appreciate the depth of degradation to which the Jews had fallen in their rejection of such a God as their Lord and King and of the justice of the terrible overthrow which was the consequence of that rejection.
The vision then displayed (as I understand it) GOD surrounded by the typical forms of creation and the irresistible forces of nature. All forms of life, all energies of nature, were thus shown to be His creatures. There, around the throne, were four "cherubim" of remarkable appearance. They were accompanied by the appearances of fiery orbs like beryl stones, revolving in all directions with ceaseless energy. Any account of this vision that I can give is, however, pitiable beside the inexpressibly sublime picture drawn in Ezekiel, to which I must refer the reader for his own study. And imagine what the feelings of the prophet must have been when, fresh from the impression of this grandeur of Creation—this glory and irresistible power of God as the Centre and great Mover of all, he was taken to witness the pitiable sight of the Jews turning away from His worship, and to see their elders burning incense before walls covered with "every form of creeping things and abominable beasts—all the idols of the house of Israel!" How must the vision have prepared him to realize the depth of degradation with which he had to contend, and have fired him with energy to denounce it!
There is, then, I think, considerable probability in the contention that the vision represents God in Creation, surrounded by the types of creation and the forces of nature.
There is, no doubt, the ancient tradition that the four Cherubim meant the four Gospels; and this has now become deeply associated with ecclesiastical symbolism. But I submit that this is only a fancy which can best be left to church embroidery and stained windows; it is unworthy of any serious notice. The beings are described, it will be observed, with great minuteness: all have the same characteristic powers of rapid motion, and all have human hands, a fact that so strikes the prophet that he repeats it three times. These four Cherubim, then, seem to me clearly to indicate the archetypes of Creation, the great design-forms of created life, showing themselves the progressive scale from the Animal to the Man and the Angel. And these four great types exactly answer to the resulting groups of created life. We have the development of Reptilia into Birds as one final type; consequently one face of each cherub has the Bird type—the Eagle head. Two other faces on each give us the Animal type, one representing again the great order Carnivora (the Lion), the other the Herbivorous Ungulates (the Ox or Calf); while the fourth face indicates the last development, Man.
[Footnote 1: Ezek. viii. 10.]
[Footnote 2: See chapters i. 8, x. 8, and x. 21. Remark, in passing, that the human hand has always been the subject of wonder as an evidence of Divine skill in Creation. Sir Charles Bell's Bridgewater treatise, on the human hand as illustrating the proof of Divine wisdom and contrivance in Creation, is just as good an argument for Design now as ever it was. I cannot here resist the temptation to notice one of those small points in which the accuracy of the Bible is so constantly brought to light. The popular notion of angels gives them wings as well as hands—a form quite impossible from the natural history point of view; all animals of the vertebrate orders never have more than two pairs of limbs. And in winged animals the fore-limbs become wings. The popular notion about angels is, however, artistic, not Biblical. Just the contrary in fact. Here is a vision of a mysterious form with wings and hands, but how?—the figures are fourfold; and being winged, each division might have been winged like the eagle, so each cherub would have had eight wings. But as one of the divisions had a human face and human hands, the prophet only saw six wings to each, leaving one division where, nature's Divine type being obeyed, there were hands, and consequently no wings.]
[Footnote 3: Reptiles are unrepresented, perhaps as not being a final type.]
I would say here, as regards the animal creation being represented by a double form, that it is most curious to notice that this double division of animals is found throughout Scripture, and seems to have its counterpart in the actual facts of creation on earth.
Accompanying these created beings in this remarkable vision were "wheels" which appeared to be spheres within spheres, revolving with ceaseless activity and never turning, but always going forward. The wheels were full of eyes. It appears to me probable that these symbolize—and if so the symbol is at once full of meaning and grandeur—the inevitable, ever wakeful energies and forces of nature, the marvellous agency of electricity, chemical affinity, heat, attraction, repulsion, and so forth. We are accustomed to speak of "blind force;" but here observe the wheels are full of eyes, ever vigilant to fulfil the purpose for which they are appointed. And this representation of forces appears necessary to complete a symbolic representation of God in nature: since the world is made up of dead matter, of living forms, and of forces or energies which are in ceaseless motion and action, producing the changes which in fact constitute the working of the whole system.
I cannot help thinking, therefore, that the imagery of this vision lend support to the belief that there was a great Creation enacted in heaven, which was followed by the actual carrying out of the processes on earth, but which has retained its representative forms in the heaven itself. Had this vision stood alone, it might have been passed over, on the ground that it deals with high and transcendental matters, and that it would be hardly safe to let a practical argument rest too much on it. But the fact is that again in the New Testament a very similar vision is mentioned (in the fourth chapter of the Book of Revelation): here again the four living creatures represent the typical forms of life, the bird, the carnivorous and herbivorous animals, and man; and it will be observed that in this case there is hardly room to doubt that we have an exhibition of Creation, for there is express allusion to it in the address of the elders—"Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created."
AND SUPPORTED BY THE CONTEXT.
But a step further is necessary: if the conclusion that I have come to, by accepting "day" in its ordinary and natural sense, and by giving a hitherto overlooked (and so far a new) meaning to "creation," is sound, it must not only be rendered probable by reference to other parts of Scripture written when Genesis was much nearer its original publication than it is now; it is still (before all things) necessary, that the interpretation adopted should be conformable to the context.
And I have heard it objected that there are verses which imply not only a Divine Act in heaven, with the Sons of God in conclave around the throne—sublime and wonderful picture!—but also distinctly indicate a corresponding action on earth, and so require us to include in our rendering of "creation" both the ideas which (page 169 ante) I have admitted may, on occasion be required by the terms. For example: after the creative command in verses 7, 9, 11, 15, and 24, is declared, it is followed by the words of fulfilment—"and it was so;" and in verse 11, when God has said "Let the earth bring forth grass, &c.", in the next verse it is positively recorded that the earth did bring forth grass, &c.
I of course admit all this, but it is in no way opposed to my suggestion.
The commencement of the result probably, if not necessarily, followed immediately on the issue of the finished command, viz., the promulgation of the forms to be obtained and the processes to be followed. The whole result did not become accomplished then and there, in the time mentioned, or exactly in the order mentioned: we know that for a fact. Take, for example, the case of vegetation. Here the author, in terms at once precise and universally intelligible, speaks of "vegetation" (grass of the A.V.), "herb yielding seed," and "trees yielding fruit," thereby exhaustively enumerating the members of the vegetable kingdom.
[Footnote 1: Nothing more is meant by the Hebrew "deshe." The true "grasses" (graminea),—cereals, bamboos, &c., are certainly not intended, for these are all conspicuously flowering plants, "herbs yielding seed," and therefore coming under the second plainly defined group. But the general term "sproutage" or "vegetation" is just adapted to signify the mass of cryptogamic plant-life, the mosses, lichens, algae, and then ferns, &c., which evidently formed the first stage of plant-life on the globe.]
Now, as a matter of fact, there was no one long (or short) period during which the whole of this command was realized, before the next creative act occurred.
At first algae and low forms of vegetable life appeared; and doubtless we have lost myriads upon myriads of such lower forms of plant-life in the early strata, because such forms were ill calculated for fossil-preservation, owing to the absence of woody fibre, silicious casing, or hard fruit or seed vessels. But when we first have a marked accumulation of specialized plant-life in the coal measures (Upper Carboniferous), it is still only of cryptogams—ferns and great club mosses. A beginning of true seed-bearing plants (Gymnosperm exogens) had been made with the conifers of the Devonian strata; but true grasses, and the other orders of phanerogamic plants and arboreous vegetation, do not appear till the tertiary rocks were deposited, very long after the age of fish and great reptiles had culminated, and the inauguration of the bird age and the mammalian age had taken place.
Looking only to the abundant, prominent, and characteristic life-forms of the several strata, it could certainly be said that the period when the water actually brought forth a vast mass of its life-forms—corals, sertularias, crustaceans, and fish of the lower orders—must have preceded (not followed) the time when the earth produced vegetation of all kinds, and further that it must have come after the appearance of scorpions and some land insects.
[Footnote 1: A single wing found little more than a year ago is the sole evidence of insects older than the Devonian; and scorpions (highly-organized crustaceans) have been found in the Upper Silurian in some abundance.]
Moreover, as the regular succession in periods of light and darkness on the earth, and the sequence of seasons was not organized (but only a generally diffused light, and, probably, an uniform and moist state of climate without seasons) till after the commands for the formation of the whole of the large classes of plants, both cryptogams and phanerogams, it is obvious that as many of these would require the fuller development of seasonal influences, the whole process could not have been worked out before the fourth day's creative work was begun.
This instance alone—and it would be easy to add others—shows that the narrative cannot be meant to indicate what actually happened on earth, i.e., to summarize the entire realization of the Divine command.
Such being the plain facts with regard to the kind of accomplishment meant by the terms "it was so," "the earth brought forth," &c., it is quite plain that no violence is done to the text by explaining it as intended to describe what God did in heaven, with the addition, that as each command was formulated, the result on earth surely followed, the thing "was so," and the earth and water respectively no doubt began to "bring forth." More than this cannot be made out on any interpretation that accords with facts. It seems so clear to me that this is so, that I hardly need refer to the use of the terms the "waters brought forth" and the "earth brought forth" and the phrase in chapter ii. 5—the Lord made every plant before it grew.
If, as we have been long allowed to suppose, God spake and the water and earth were at once fully and finally peopled with animals where before nothing but plants had existed, and so on, I should hardly have expected the use of words which imply a gradual process—a gestation and subsequent birth (so to speak) of life-forms.
How the order in which the events are recorded stands in relation to the subsequent history of life-development on earth, and what its significance may be, I will consider later on. First I will conclude the argument for the general interpretation of the narrative.
2. The Second Genesis Narrative.
I have only one more direct argument to offer; but I think it is a very important one. The first division of Genesis ends with the Divine commands creating man and the day of rest which followed. The narrative ending at chapter ii. verse 3 (the division of chapters here, as elsewhere, is purely arbitrary), we have at verse 4 of chapter ii, what has been loudly proclaimed as another account of the same Creation, which, it is added (arbitrarily enough—but any argument will do if only it is against religion!) is contrary to the first.
[Footnote 1: The contradiction is supposed to be in verse 19, as if then the creation of animals was for the first time effected—after the man and his helpmate. But it is quite clear that the text refers to the fact that God had created animals; the command was, "Let the earth bring forth," and the immediate act spoken of was not the formation of animals, but the bringing of them to Adam to see what he would call them.]
Now, even if there is a second account of Creation, it would surely be a circumstance somewhat difficult to explain. Contrary in any possible sense, the narrative (from chapter ii. 4, onward) certainly is not. But why should there be a second narrative at all? On the hitherto received supposition that chapter i. intends to tells us the process of creation—what God caused to be done on earth, not merely what He did in heaven—there is apparently no room for a second narrative. Nor have I seen any completely satisfactory explanation. But if we accept the view that the first chapter explains the Divine Design, and its being published (so to speak) and commanded in heaven, then it would be very natural that that narrative should be followed by a second, which should detail not the whole process of all life existence on earth, but (as the Bible is to be henceforth concerned with Man, his fall and his redemption) with an account of just so much of the process as relates to the actual birth on the earth's surface of the particular man Adam, the most important (and possibly not the only) outcome of the fiat recorded in chapter i. vers. 27, 28.
In this view, not only a second narrative, but just the particular kind of narrative we actually have, is not only natural, but even necessary. Before, we had a general account of how God ordained the scheme of material-form and life-form on the earth; now we have a detailed account of how He actually carried out one portion of it—that one portion we are most concerned to hear about, namely the man Adam, the progenitor of our own race, of whom came JESUS CHRIST, "the son of Adam."
The account is designed to introduce to us the scene of Adam's birthplace—the Garden of Eden. The mention of a garden, and the subsequent important connection of the trees of that garden with the conduct of the man, naturally turn the writer's attention to the general subject of the vegetation on the earth's surface. He prefaces his new account accordingly with a brief summary—which I may paraphrase thus without, I trust, departing from the sense of the original: "Such was the origin of the earth (and all in it) and of the heavenly host, at the time when God made them. He had made every plant before it was in the earth—every herb of the field before it grew" (mark the language as confirming what I have said—God "created" everything before it actually developed and grew into being on the earth). "Rain did not then fall (in the same way as now) on the earth, but the mist that exhaled from the soil re-condensed, and fell and moistened the ground; but there was as yet no MAN to till and cultivate the soil."
[Footnote 1: St. Luke iii. 38.]
[Footnote 2: Which had a real historic existence. Vide Appendix A.]
Then God actually formed or fashioned a man. It is not now that He created the ideal form to be produced in due time, but that He actually formed the individual Adam, and placed him in a garden which He had prepared for the purpose. All the words used now imply actual production. The Divine ideal was ready, and the earth-elements (of which we know man's body to consist) were ready at the Divine word to assume the human shape. And that done, God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" (mark the direct act on the man himself), and the man became a "living soul." There is nothing here of the "earth bringing forth" as in the former narrative. We have the direct act of God, not in the design only, but in the production of the thing itself.
If this is not a complete explanation and justification of the second narrative, I do not know what, in common fairness, is entitled to be so called.
The language may be rigorously examined, and it will fully bear out the position taken up.
I conceive, then, that the cumulation of proof need go no further. The true explanation of Genesis i. also supplies the place for Genesis ii. 4, et seq., and overcomes all the difficulty that has hitherto existed on the subject.
It will now, I trust, be clear that by such an interpretation of Genesis we at once give (1) a full and natural meaning to all the terms; we reconcile it with other Scripture, and we enhance all the sublime attributes which we have been reverentially accustomed to connect with this ancient passage. (2) We obviate the difficulty regarding the second narrative in chapter ii. 4. And (3) we place the whole above any possible conflict with science, and above any need for "reconciliation." Here, too, is a purpose and meaning assigned to the whole narrative, without being driven into the difficult position of supposing the verses to be the literary outcome of an ignorant imagination which gave expression to its crude ideas only—though enshrining among utterly false details a sublime truth, regarding which one can only wonder why it could not have been stated without the encumbrance of the surroundings.
The naturalist and the biologist may continue, unquestioned, to work out more and more of the wondrous story of Life on the globe. They can never disprove, or on any of their own grounds deny, that God is the Author of all things—matter, force, and mind alike; that He designed the form and relations of the earth; that He organized its light, its seasons, and its changes; that He has furnished the types and patterns of all life-forms which matter and force are conformably thereto, developing on the earth. In short, REVELATION tells us that God did all this "in the beginning," how His form-designs were thought out and declared in six days, and how He rested on the seventh day.