on Genesis 1 :18
on Genesis 1 :18
To rule. - From their lofty eminence they regulate the duration and the business of each period. The whole is inspected and approved as before.
Now let it be remembered that the heavens were created at the absolute beginning of things recorded in the first verse, and that they included all other things except the earth. Hence, according to this document, the sun, moon, and stars were in existence simultaneously with our planet. This gives simplicity and order to the whole narrative. Light comes before us on the first and on the fourth day. Now, as two distinct causes of a common effect would be unphilosophical and unnecessary, we must hold the one cause to have been in existence on these two days. But we have seen that the one cause of the day and of the year is a fixed source of radiating light in the sky, combined with the diurnal and annual motions of the earth. Thus, the recorded preexistence of the celestial orbs is consonant with the presumptions of reason. The making or reconstitution of the atmosphere admits their light so far that the alternations of day and night can be discerned. The making of the lights of heaven, or the display of them in a serene sky by the withdrawal of that opaque canopy of clouds that still enveloped the dome above, is then the work of the fourth day.
All is now plain and intelligible. The heavenly bodies become the lights of the earth, and the distinguishers not only of day and night, but of seasons and years, of times and places. They shed forth their unveiled glories and salutary potencies on the budding, waiting land. How the higher grade of transparency in the aerial region was effected, we cannot tell; and, therefore, we are not prepared to explain why it is accomplished on the fourth day, and not sooner. But from its very position in time, we are led to conclude that the constitution of the expanse, the elevation of a portion of the waters of the deep in the form of vapor, the collection of the sub-aerial water into seas, and the creation of plants out of the reeking soil, must all have had an essential part, both in retarding until the fourth day, and in then bringing about the dispersion of the clouds and the clearing of the atmosphere. Whatever remained of hinderance to the outshining of the sun, moon, and stars on the land in all their native splendor, was on this day removed by the word of divine power.
Now is the approximate cause of day and night made palpable to the observation. Now are the heavenly bodies made to be signs of time and place to the intelligent spectator on the earth, to regulate seasons, days, months, and years, and to be the luminaries of the world. Now, manifestly, the greater light rules the day, as the lesser does the night. The Creator has withdrawn the curtain, and set forth the hitherto undistinguishable brilliants of space for the illumination of the land and the regulation of the changes which diversify its surface. This bright display, even if it could have been effected on the first day with due regard to the forces of nature already in operation, was unnecessary to the unseeing and unmoving world of vegetation, while it was plainly requisite for the seeing, choosing, and moving world of animated nature which was about to be called into existence on the following days.
The terms employed for the objects here brought forward - "lights, the great light, the little light, the stars;" for the mode of their manifestation, "be, make, give;" and for the offices they discharge, "divide, rule, shine, be for signs, seasons, days, years" - exemplify the admirable simplicity of Scripture, and the exact adaptation of its style to the unsophisticated mind of primeval man. We have no longer, indeed, the naming of the various objects, as on the former days; probably because it would no longer be an important source of information for the elucidation of the narrative. But we have more than an equivalent for this in variety of phrase. The several words have been already noticed: it only remains to make some general remarks.
(1) The sacred writer notes only obvious results, such as come before the eye of the observer, and leaves the secondary causes, their modes of operation, and their less obtrusive effects, to scientific inquiry. The progress of observation is from the foreground to the background of nature, from the physical to the metaphysical, and from the objective to the subjective. Among the senses, too, the eye is the most prominent observer in the scenes of the six days. Hence, the "lights," they "shine," they are for "signs" and "days," which are in the first instance objects of vision. They are "given," held or shown forth in the heavens. Even "rule" has probably the primitive meaning to be over. Starting thus with the visible and the tangible, the Scripture in its successive communications advance with us to the inferential, the intuitive, the moral, the spiritual, the divine.
(2) The sacred writer also touches merely the heads of things in these scenes of creation, without condescending to minute particulars or intending to be exhaustive. Hence, many actual incidents and intricacies of these days are left to the well-regulated imagination and sober judgment of the reader. To instance such omissions, the moon is as much of her time above the horizon during the day as during the night. But she is not then the conspicuous object in the scene, or the full-orbed reflector of the solar beams, as she is during the night. Here the better part is used to mark the whole. The tidal influence of the great lights, in which the moon plays the chief part, is also unnoticed. Hence, we are to expect very many phenomena to be altogether omitted, though interesting and important in themselves, because they do not come within the present scope of the narrative.
(3) The point from which the writer views the scene is never to be forgotten, if we would understand these ancient records. He stands on earth. He uses his eyes as the organ of observation. He knows nothing of the visual angle, of visible as distinguishable from tangible magnitude, of relative in comparison with absolute motion on the grand scale: he speaks the simple language of the eye. Hence, his earth is the meet counterpart of the heavens. His sun and moon are great, and all the stars are a very little thing. Light comes to be, to him, when it reaches the eye. The luminaries are held forth in the heavens, when the mist between them and the eye is dissolved.
(4) Yet, though not trained to scientific thought or speech, this author has the eye of reason open as well as that of sense. It is not with him the science of the tangible, but the philosophy of the intuitive, that reduces things to their proper dimensions. He traces not the secondary cause, but ascends at one glance to the great first cause, the manifest act and audible behest of the Eternal Spirit. This imparts a sacred dignity to his style, and a transcendent grandeur to his conceptions. In the presence of the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, all things terrestrial and celestial are reduced to a common level. Man in intelligent relation with God comes forth as the chief figure on the scene of terrestrial creation. The narrative takes its commanding position as the history of the ways of God with man. The commonest primary facts of ordinary observation, when recorded in this book, assume a supreme interest as the monuments of eternal wisdom and the heralds of the finest and broadest generalizations of a consecrated science. The very words are instinct with a germinant philosophy, and prove themselves adequate to the expression of the loftiest speculations of the eloquent mind.
on Genesis 1 :18