Verses of Genesis 1
Genesis 1:1 Commentary - The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
The Unbeginning Beginning
Was ever the mind so staggered and so humiliated as by this first chapter of Genesis! The mind is plunged into infinite depths, and driven up into infinite heights, and forced with irresistible violence across infinite breadths, and then is asked by mechanical critics what it thinks of it all! Why, of course, it cannot think. It is in the whirl of an infinite amazement; it is humbled, abashed, and stupefied utterly. The action never pauses for a moment; how busy are the days, and how active the night in star-lighting; in the waters is a great stir of life; the woods are burning with colour; the earth is alive with things that creep; the air vibrates with the clap of wings. Then we are called upon to say what we think of it all! Why, what do we know about it? We have only seen it upon paper upon a scroll that twists and crinkles under the burden it has to carry, and that writhes because of the torment of a secret it can never tell. What do we think of it all? First tell me what have we seen of it all. Nothing! Who has seen the sun, been around him on every side, passed through his provinces, scaled his mountains, trembled in his solitudes? Who has acquainted himself with the stars, every one of them, great and small; the planets with their belts and rings, and the treasure hidden in their central caskets the innumerable stars unmeasured and immeasurable thoroughfares of glory steeps of worlds ocean after ocean of constellations a way white as milk figures as of lions and winged creatures timid stars, timid because so small; burning stars, only kept from destroying us because of distance stars that could swallow up our sun without adding a beam to their own splendour or a sprinkling of dust to their own magnitude what do we think of them all? Especially of those we have never seen; the starry kingdoms that glow beyond every horizon that has dawned upon our dreams; every system the centre of some other system; their revolutions an eternity, their space an infinity!
What, indeed, do we know about our own earth? Nothing worth naming! We have chipped the rocks here and there, and drawn diagrams which we have sold to children, and paid carpenters for drawers to keep spars in; we have made maps or the world which we are always readjusting and recolouriug: we have called common things by uncommon names; but who knows anything about the earth? Who has walked over all the ocean beds and acquainted himself with all the mystery of the sea? Who has stood a yard, from the shore of his own little world, and watched the tiny boat voyaging over the sea of space? Who has seen both hemispheres at once? Who has been in both hemispheres on the same day? Who can make the wind blow from the east or west? What is the wind? Ay, poor idiot-philosopher, hot with carrying huge burdens of polysyllables, tell me what is the wind, and thy answer shall be the root of another question. Our wisdom is like a tree growing only questions, a hard fruit, hard to reach, hard to use.
A marvellous harmony, too, there is in the statement of cause no guessing or supposing or humble suggestion; on the contrary, a definite and thrilling asseveration: hear it: "God created" "And God said" "And God saw" "And God called" "And God made" "And God set" "And God blessed" GOD! That is the cause: Personality, Mind, Purpose, Government these are the ideas which the bold writer puts before everything and above everything. The mysteries of the creation are but shadows of the mystery of the Creator. How curious is the variety of mind! Some minds instantly fix upon the heavenly bodies, and get credit for being astronomers; others upon plants and flowers, and get credit for being botanists; others upon beasts and birds, and get credit for being naturalists all such minds are supposed to be very scientific and very able: but when another type of mind seizes upon the term GOD, the highest term of all, it is sneered at as theological, with a strong tinge of fanaticism. It seems to me that the theologian has undertaken the highest task of all, and that, compared with his work, all other work is child's play. But God is unknowable. So is nature; so is tomorrow; so is man; so is space. Or, if you will have it, let us say that, in the degree in which nature is knowable, God is knowable; when science advances religion goes along with it; science builds the altar at which religion prays. If nature is great, God must (reasonably and analogously) be greater; if nature displays wisdom, God must be wiser; if nature indicates power, it indicates it in such a degree as to make God all-powerful. Thus the first chapter of Genesis might have been written backwards "The heaven and the earth had a beginning: the earth was without form and void; order came, and light, and night and day, and a great firmament, and all the host of life, and everything so good, so beautiful, so beneficent, as to be worthy of the name of GOD." The other method of statement is infinitely grander, and indeed infinitely simpler. As Christian reasoners we adopt it, as Christian worshippers. Instead of the infantile statement "Here is a picture which must have had a painter," we name the Artist and credit him with the picture. If we remove the term GOD from this chapter, we leave behind a mystery of darkness; when we reinsert the term GOD we import the nobler mystery of light. In a very plain sense there is, so far as the visible creation is concerned, less mystery with a Creator than without one. Here, then, is the Christian standpoint, and here the Christian resting ground God the mighty and holy Maker of all things. If the things themselves were not here, we might have some difficulty about God, but these things embody him, represent him, make him, in some degree, manifest to our naked eyes. We must not be afraid, or ashamed even, of true Deism. It is irrational, not merely sentimental, to poetise the moon and ignore the sun which she modestly reflects. What is God to us? Does he live? Is he only an aggregation of sublime epithets? Or, do we live and move and have our being in him? Do not let us trouble the mind with vain endeavours to define God; on the contrary, let us guard the mind against what may too narrowly be described as "intelligent conceptions" of God, for thereby we may not lift up our intelligence to God, but drag down God to our intelligence, and so become our own idolaters. To think that it is in our power to think of GOD is to come under the influence of what may, without infinite watchfulness of the heart, become the most insidious temptation that can assail the human mind. The most intelligent conception of God would seem to me to be that God cannot be intellectually conceived. We feel after him. He is recognised by the heart. Whenever he comes within the lines of reason it is by a condescension so complete as almost of necessity to mislead reason, as if the dewdrop should suppose it holds the sun which it only reflects. We bow down before God. We cannot see God and live. God is great, and we know him not. A wonderful thing it was for any mind, supposing it to be but a finite thought, to introduce the word GOD into human speech. If we could think ourselves out of our familiarities back to beginnings, we should find in the introduction of this word something like a miracle in language. Once uttered, once written, it is immediately recognised as the word which the ages have been waiting for, and the mind is apt to imagine that it always knew the word, and that the word is part and parcel of its own quality a kind of ingratitude not unknown even in strictly human education and intercourse. Yet once suggested (we should say revealed), how strong are the commendations it brings with it! Truly, things do look as if they might have been brought about by a personal and sovereign Mind. They are so wonderfully made, so balanced, so rounded, so interdependent; so huge, yet so safe; so small, yet each cared for and fed as if it were an only child; so long-continued, too, age after age, that time has no more dial space to write figures upon that will tell all the tale of duration. Yes; now that some one has put into the mind the idea of God, we cannot get rid of it. "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge." Reason is not humbled by this confession, but ennobled by it. Reason itself says, It must be so! Reason takes off its sandals and lays down its crook, saying, Surely this is holy ground! Reason is a worshipper. Reason has seen space, and inferred the Infinite; reason has seen duration, and inferred the Eternal; a voice has whispered into the ear of reason the mysterious word GOD, and reason cannot silence the solemn music. "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God," but the world has not accepted the fool's speech. Crime has endeavoured to upset law, yet is there infinite quietness in the order of creation. The heathen have raged and the people imagined a vain thing, yet has their rage died like a wind, and their pride been broken as a potter's vessel. Here, then, we stand. We accept the idea GOD. We did not create it, we have tried to destroy it, yet there it is a great light, a solemn darkness, a temple of mystery, "a deep where all our thoughts are drowned."
The practical effect of this faith has been most remarkable and confirmatory. A mysterious and gracious process of identification has completed itself in the purest and loftiest affections of the heart; so I should now have to give up a God that has involved himself in my thinking, not only with all time and space, not only with life and destiny, as they project themselves on horizons far away, but with this day's duty, with all immediate obligation, sacrifice, service, and character. GOD is not now a symbol of an imaginary kind, whose action, in my thinking, I can suspend without loss of light and force; he has become account for it as you may the ruling power of my life, the moral centre of my conduct, the thought which penetrates, inspires, and sanctifies me. The ease or difficulty with which a man can surrender GOD depends, if I may so say, upon the use to which he has become accustomed to put the mysterious term. If GOD has been but a nebulous and speechless dream a veneration without a corresponding morality the act of surrender will be as indefinite as itself. But in our case, as Christian believers and Christian teachers, GOD is in every part of our life; he has manifested himself to us; he has taken up his abode with us; the Spirit of his Son is in our hearts, crying, Abba, Father; he searches us and tries us; he acts directly and judicially upon every motive; he guides us with his eye; he besets us behind and before, and lays his hand upon us; to him our hearts aspire in instinctive as well as in reasoned prayer; the spontaneous outstretching of our hands is towards his holy temple, if haply we may touch his strength, and feel secure because he is almighty; when we do wrong our eyes are darkened as with a cloud, and when we do well our hearts feel upon them the light of a smile. That is our case now; in such circumstances surrender would be destruction. We have, if I may so put it, gone too far in our use of God to turn away from him and yet retain our identity intact. "We live and move and have our being in God." We have passed the merely argumentative stage. "God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us." "Our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." Whilst God was but an incipient thought a possible superstition of the mind we might have crushed the embryo; but we have heard a voice, and opened the door, and God has come in and has supped with us, and we with him. We are now, so to speak, involved in God, complicated with him; "partakers of the Divine nature," "partakers of his holiness." "Of him are we in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctiflcation, and redemption." Though our minds cannot grasp his infinity, our hearts can feel his love; though our imagination cannot search his understanding, our conscience can respond to his righteousness; though we cannot explain, we can pray. Thus, God has laid hold of our highest nature, though apparently our intellect stands in rebuke, abashed before him. There are, therefore, moral considerations in any proposed surrender, as well as considerations of a merely intellectual kind, and whilst the intellectual considerations are on no account to be lowered in value and dignity, the considerations which turn towards conscience and character, which construct society upon a religious and therefore responsible basis, and insist upon making daily conduct itself into a kind of daily worship, can only, in my view, be relaxed at the peril of the very morality they aim to express I rest in what I believe to be the Christian conception of God. It fills and satisfies, it comforts and inspires my best nature. My reason bows before it. My conscience accepts it. My heart is thankful for it; my whole soul grows towards strength and completeness under its hallowing benediction. I feel that it must be right, because it enables me to pity sin, to be kind to the unthankful and the evil, to find in every man a brother, and to bow down with all the nations of the world, saying, "Our Father, which art in heaven."
Yes, now I look at things, they might have been made by God; they are vast enough, splendid enough, and harmonious enough. I do not particularly mind if they did come out of germs, molecules, and plasms which naked eyes cannot see. Very likely. They are the more wonderful for that. I never supposed that God drove up the worlds into their places like infinite loads drawn by infinite horses. "Germs" is quite notion enough for me. The kingdom of heaven itself is like unto a grain of mustard seed, and that kingdom is infinitely larger than all the constellations put together. As I look upon that kingdom the constellations fade into pale sparks as if by conscious contrast. Once creation looked big quite an enormous and awful bulk but now that I have seen him by whom, for whom, and through whom, it was made, the stars are but pin points and the great circle but a dim shadow because of the glorious majesty of his Godhead. Matter lessens as thought enlarges, and so along this line we find the comforting truth that death is by reason of increasing life "swallowed up in victory." This would seem to be the evolution through which Biblical thought itself has passed. David considered the heavens, the moon, and the stars, and wondered that God should make account of the son of man. Peter, a man in every way likely to be impressed by bulk and force and radiance, having been with Jesus and learned of him having seen the white flame on Tabor which Saul afterwards saw at the gate of Damascus looked upon the infinite pomp, and predicted the noise of its departure and the smoke of its dissolution.
This marvellous development of what may be called contempt for inferior things, how magnificent soever their exterior, is characteristic of the whole process of spiritual growth, and is, indeed, a test of its progress and healthiness. A remarkable instance is found in the Apostle Paul. A mind so capacious and energetic could have glorified any sphere of human activity, yet gathering together all the privileges of ancestry, all the dignities of office all the temptations of sense, he burned them all on the altar of the Cross, and counted their sacrifice a gain. So much depends upon what may be called the uppermost principle or force in a man's nature. Where it is commercial, markets are universes and prices are the only recognised poetry; where it is love of physical science, the visible creation is the mind's ample heaven; where it is patriotism, the country is the only sanctuary worth saving; where it is theological, the universe is but a spark, all space is but a bubble, time has no measurable proportion to unbeginning and unending duration the one absorbing and inspiring thought is GOD. Hence the infinite raptures of Christian experience, hence triumph over every pain which cruelty can inflict, hence the shout of victory in the very presence of death. So even thus early in our studies of the Bible even in this architectural and almost experimental Genesis we come upon some of the ultimate truths of practical Christianity. Are we still impressed by bulk? Is the visible creation still so huge and important a thing? Is the eye still amazed by the pomp of the nocturnal sky and the radiance of summer noondays? Or have we passed the era of childish wonder and arithmetical computation, and entered into the temple of worship and seen the Maker whose presence annihilates all things made? The creation is for children; the sanctuary is for men: matter is for the senses; thought is for the soul. This is the sign of growth. By this we know just where we are on the Divine scale. If we are still only gaping at Size and Light, we are but in a rudimentary state; we should have passed beyond this long ago, and should now be in a region that has no boundaries, in a kingdom without sun or moon, without night, without sea, without temple, where precious stones are thrust into the foundations, and gold is trodden upon as the pavement, and the one glory is "the throne of God and of the Lamb." If we have not passed into this new Jerusalem, we have been idling away our time in laborious frivolity, heaping up the wind and gathering the waters into sieves.
Verses of Genesis 1
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The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Joseph Parker (1830 - 1902) was an English Congregational minister.
This 27 volume work is a "commentary of sermons" as Joseph Parker preached through the Bible. Most sermons include a prayer with the sermon.