THE biblical accounts of the Creation may be summed up in the statements in Genesis and in John's Gospel.
Genesis i: i.—"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." Here four points are presented for our examination: (a) the Beginning; (b) the Creator; (c) the Creation; (d) its extent.
John i: 1-3 (R. V.).—"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that hath been made."
Here the same points meet us as in Genesis: (a) the Beginning; (6) the Creator; (c) the Creation; (d) its extent.
(a) "In the Beginning,"—the beginning of creation. The Creation marks the boundary line between time and eternity. Time is the measure of duration, and can be applied only to created things. It has no application to God. Time began when He began to create. It is absurd to ask why He did not create before He did. If we go back countless millions of years, the question remains: Why not before? Eternity has no chronology.
(b) The Creator. In Genesis, it is God (Heb., Elohim). In John, it is the Word (Greek, Logos). In this there is no contradiction, the explanation being that God created the worlds through the Son as the Word. The declarations of the Scriptures on this point are very express (Heb. 1: 2, 10; Col. 1: 16). In the primary order, it is the will of the Father that determines all, and therefore the work of creation is His work, but is wrought through the Son. "There is one God, the Father, . . of whom are all things, and
we unto Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through Him" (1 Cor. 8:6). "All things were made by Him, and without Him"—without His agency, or without reference to Him—"was not anything made that hath been made" (John 1:3). "God hath spoken unto us in His Son, . . . through whom also He made the worlds" (Heb. 1:2).
The question now meets us: Why is the Son here called by the Apostle "The Word"? Does it mark something distinctive in His place and work? What part has He as the Word in Creation?
At this point, it will be well to consider the several relations in which the Son stands to the Father as presented in the Scriptures.
We have in them the Son, the second Person of the Godhead, presented to us under two general aspects: first, as the only begotten Son, existent with the Father before the worlds; secondly, as assuming human nature, the Incarnate Son. As the only begotten Son, He is coeternal and coequal with the Father. As the Incarnate Son, He takes a position of inferiority. As is said in the Athanasian Creed, "He is equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood." As the second Person of the Godhead, He is like the other Persons, invisible; as the Incarnate Son, He is the Father's visible Image, the Revealer of the Godhead.
With the Son's place in the eternal constitution of the Godhead we are not here concerned, only with His place as the Revealer. Examining this in the light of the Scriptures, we find three distinct and successive relations in which He stands to the Father, and into which His work of revelation may be divided. He appears and acts, first as the Word, then as the Incarnate Son, then as the Glorified Lord. Each of these stages of His work has its distinctive character.
It is with the first of these only, His place as the Word, that any doubt can arise. Without entering at length into exegetical questions, some passages of Scripture must be referred to, and the first of these is that in John (1: 18): "The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him." To what period are we to refer this being in the bosom of the Father? To His eternal Sonship? Or, as many affirm, to the relation into which He entered after His ascension? The first seems far the most probable, and in accordance with the context. The only begotten Son, the Son of His love (John 17: 24), comes forth from the invisibility of the Godhead to declare, or make known, the Father. As yet no created worlds exist, no reasonable beings to whom He can be made known. The first step in revelation must, therefore, be the creation of the worlds and their inhabitants. By whom should this be done? Doubtless by the concurrent action of all the Persons, but here we regard it as especially the work of the Father and the Son. In this creative work, are they coequal? As we have seen, the Father is said to create through the Son. In this, the Son appears as the agent or instrument by whom the Father acts. He takes in substance the same place of subordination which He took after the Incarnation by birth of the Virgin. And it is taken voluntarily. There is no conflict of wills, the will of the Son is always in unison with the Father's will. It was in Creation as in His work on earth, "The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father doing" (John 5: 19).
The creation of the worlds is thus a revelation of the invisible Godhead made by the Son. Out of the Invisible comes forth the visible. Now with God exist also the worlds, and the Son as the Creator is the Revealer. He has not yet, indeed, taken a created nature as a medium of manifestation, for there is no created nature to be taken, no reasonable beings to whom He can be manifested. But the relation of the Son to the Father as His Revealer, is already established in the Divine purpose. Henceforth He stands before the Father as the Incarnate Son, though the Incarnation itself, through His birth of the Virgin, is in the distant future.
It is from this point of view that we may understand St. John's statements respecting the Word. He uses this term because he speaks of the Son as the Creator: and as such, the Revealer. A new relation is now seen, and this is expressed by the term "Word."
It is well known that the Greek term "Logos" (Word) has a twofold meaning; it may express the inward thought of the mind, or its utterance in speech. As the inward, unuttered thought of God, the Son may be called the " Word," dwelling from eternity in the bosom of the Father; as the uttered thought, or as the Revealer of the Father's mind, He is the Spoken Word. He now comes forth from the Father's bosom to declare Him. It is said by Cremer (Lex.): "As the Logos, He is the expression and representation of what God has to say to the world; in whom and by whom God's mind and purpose towards the world find their expression." It is probable that the Apostle in the term "Word" embraced both meanings— the eternal relation within the Godhead of the Son to the Father as "the only begotten"; and His relation to Him in time as His "visible Image," or Revealer to His creatures. And the latter revelation is based upon the former. He could not be the visible Image of the Father unless His image as the only begotten Son. But it is the second relationship — the Son as the Spoken Word — which, as we shall see, is chiefly presented by St. John, and is what now concerns us.
We may say, then, that as a thought in one's mind is made known to others only as it is spoken, so the Son becomes God's Spoken Word, or Revealer, through whom He makes Himself known to His creatures. The term "Word," therefore, involves more than the internal and unseen relation of Divine Sonship. As the eternal Son, one of the Persons of the Godhead, He stands in the same invisible relation to created beings as the Father and the Spirit. Like them, He " dwells in light unapproachable, whom no man has seen nor can see." To reveal the Godhead to created beings and become the Father's visible Image, He must assume other relations, both to it and to them. By entering into these new relations, He becomes the Word. He comes out of the bosom of the Father where He dwelt before the worlds were made, that He may reveal Him, and may be His representative; and thus through Him the reasonable creatures, not yet made, may know and have communion with the Father. In the light of these relations of the Son to the Father, let us examine some passages of the Scriptures. In the Epistle to the Hebrews (1: 1, R. V.) we read:
God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions, and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the effulgence of His glory, and the very image of His substance, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had made purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become by so much better than the angels, as He hath inherited a more excellent name than they. (R. V.)
Here the Son is spoken of in three differing relations to the Father. First, in His work when on the earth as the Incarnate Son. God speaks by Him as by the prophets of old, and He also made purification of sin by His death. Secondly, He is spoken of as the Father's instrument by whom He made the worlds, and by Him He is appointed their heir. Again, His work on earth being completed, He is exalted by the Father to the right hand of the Majesty on high.
The question may be asked: Was the Son the Creator in His own right and by His own power, or as the agent of the Father and by the Father's power? Keeping always in mind the equality of the Persons of the Godhead, our answer must depend upon this: Did the Son before the Creation take in its principle the same relation of subordination to the Father as after His birth? If He did, there is no difficulty in admitting that the Father created through the Son, thus recognising the Son's secondary place. If the work He was to do as the Revealer and Redeemer involved an emptying of Himself, or as is said in the Athanasian Creed, "becoming inferior to the Father as touching His manhood," why might He not have taken the same subordinate place before His birth of the Virgin? On earth He said of Himself and His works: "I can of My own self do nothing ... I seek not Mine own will, but the will of Him which hath sent Me "; "The Son can do nothing of Himself but what He seeth the Father do " (John 5: 19, 30). Could He not have said this of Himself prior to His Incarnation? The relation of the Father and Son in the Godhead is immutable, but the Son taking upon Himself the place of the Father's visible Image, and about to assume a created nature, came necessarily within the limitations of creaturehood. He did not thus cease to be God, and equal to the Father, and yet could act as under Him. There was a position of subordination voluntarily taken, but there was perfect identity of will and act. There was a change of relation but none of the Persons.
We now turn to the examination of some other passages of Scripture, and first to the teachings of St. Paul (Col. 1: 14—). We have here, as in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Son presented to us in several relations to the Father. He is the Image of the invisible God. Being as the Eternal Son Himself invisible, this affirms a change whereby He becomes visible. He now takes the place of the Revealer, and is to be brought into relation with the creatures to whom He is to reveal the Godhead. But the worlds are not yet made, no reasonable creatures exist. His first work, therefore, is that of creation, and here we find the ground of His being called the "first-born of every creature" ("of all creation," R. V.). This cannot be applied to His eternal generation as the Son, for this would imply that He was the first of a series of creatures. But the term "first-born" may well be applied to Him as the Creator, for in Him were all things created. He as the Word was the Foundation, the Corner-stone upon whom the Creation should rest and in whom it should consist (Col. 1: 16). "Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Thy hands." (Heb. 1: 10). In Him before the worlds were made they were foreordained, for it is said that "all things have been created through Him and unto Him." In the same sense we may understand the words, "The beginning of the creation of God" (Rev. 3: 14.). Although not Himself created, yet as the Creator in whom all created things had their origin, and the Corner-stone He may well be called the Beginning.
Some other expressions used of the Son, "the First and the Last," "the Beginning and End," "the Alpha and Omega," may imply absolute being without regard to time or highest preeminence. If the element of time be admitted, some limited work may be understood as that of Redemption. For us the matter is not one of importance.
We may here consider the Lord's words in His intercessory prayer (John 17: 4,5):" I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was." Is it the glory of the Eternal Sonship, His essential glory, for which He prays? But this He had not renounced, nor could the Father give it. It belonged to Him as one of the Persons of the Godhead, eternal, unchangeable. The glory for which he prayed could be only the glory which was His due as the Father's visible Image, the Redeemer, the Administrator of His government, the appointed Lord over all His works. This glory could not be manifested till He had finished the work the Father had given Him to do. Not till His resurrection could He appear in the glory which was His when, anterior to Creation, He stood before the Father as the predestined Heir of all, and His Representative to all creatures. He could not enter into this His glory till made immortal. Then could He sit at the Father's right hand (Luke 24: 26). It was this glory which the Father gave Him that He could give to His disciples (John 17: 22). Of this He could make them partakers, but not of His essential glory.
In their eagerness to maintain the Deity of the Son against the assaults of the Arians and the Socinians, many of the early Fathers and Reformers cited some of the texts we have been considering, as proofs of the Son's eternal preexistence, and were, therefore, compelled to affirm a subordination of the Son to the Father in the constitution of the Godhead itself,—a subordination not consistent with their coequality. But if we consider these terms not as spoken of the Eternal Son so far as regards His Person, but of Him as standing to the Father in the relation of His Revealer,—the Word,—the difficulties are removed. The Father could make the worlds through Him, could appoint Him the Heir of all, could glorify Him, could give Him all authority and power in Heaven and earth, and this without denying or disparaging His eternal Sonship and coequality. The subordination is not so much in the Divine constitution as in the Divine economy, a relation taken by the three Persons with reference to certain ends. How far a subordination was involved in the relation of Father and Son before the worlds were made, we need not here inquire. Theologians have generally held that this was the basis of the relation manifested in the Creation.
(c) The Creation. Having considered the second point proposed for our examination, and seen the Son, as the Word, to have been the Creator under the Father, we proceed to the act of creation itself.
One point here meets us upon which a word may be said. Some philosophers have affirmed that it is impossible for the human mind to conceive of anything as beginning to exist, or once existing, to cease to exist. Creation and annihilation are both alike unthinkable. But with metaphyiscal subtleties of this kind we are not here concerned. The Church, in agreement with the Scriptures and the general belief of men, has always affirmed that the universe had a beginning. It was brought into being by the will of God. It was created.1
1 The common expression, "Created out of nothing," may be objected to as implying that nothing is a substance out of which something can be made. A better expression of the creative act is that something now exists that did not exist before.
But of the manner and process of creation, except so far as the plain biblical statements go, the Church affirms nothing. Here physical science has full scope for its investigations. The great end of creation is, as all admit, the good of the reasonable creatures that God would make. His power and wisdom are seen in the physical universe, and the more clearly seen as this is better known. But the universe in its material constitution is only a means to an end, and has but a minor place in the Divine economy. Aside from furnishing habitations for moral beings, it can have no value in the eyes of its Creator.
(d) Creation's Extent. The last point is the extent of the Creation. Some have affirmed it to be infinite, on the ground that God is infinite, and that a finite creation is unworthy of Him. Others affirm that He "creates by a necessity of His nature" and that He always has been and always will be creating. This makes a universe not distinguishable in thought from an infinite one. Of this infinitude the Bible says nothing, and it is wholly inconsistent with what is revealed to us of the purpose of God in His Son. In Genesis, we are simply told that "God created the heaven and the earth," without defining the heavens as to their extent. The present general belief on physical grounds among astronomers seems to be that the universe is finite; some who make God to be only a Force or Energy, and impersonal, assert its eternity as well as its infinity.
But the creative work of the Word embraced more than the mere material orbs. "In Him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things have been created through Him and unto Him" (Col. 1: 16). Whatever rational beings exist, or may hereafter exist, in the universe, their existence springs from the purpose of God in the Incarnation of His Son; and their relations to Him as Incarnate determine what their powers shall be, and what place in His universal Kingdom they shall hold.
Thus from our examination of the biblical accounts of the creation, we reach the conclusion that before creation began, it was resolved in the Divine counsels that the Son should take to Himself a created nature, and in and through it be the Revealer of the Godhead to the rational beings the Father was about to make, and it is as such that He is called the Word. The actual union of the Divine and created natures could not then take place, for no creature had been made; yet did the Son, anterior to creation, enter upon His office as the Word, and through Him the Father created the world. But His full work as manifesting the Father and acting for Him, could not be till rational and moral beings were made, and He became to them the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Thus we reach the conclusion that the Divine purpose to create the world and reasonable beings, was dependent upon the purpose that the Son should take to Himself a creature nature, and thus manifest the Godhead. The Father abides in the Infinite and Eternal. The Son comes forth into the finite and temporal. The Father, is invisible. The Son appears, His visible Image. Creation is the means to this end, and it is in itself revelation.
Looking backward, we see on the border line that separates eternity and time, while as yet no created world or being exists, the majestic form of the Word, coming forth from the bosom of the Father, and waiting to hear His voice calling Him to enter upon His creative work. The Father, dwelling in the Infinite and Invisible, would manifest Himself in the finite and visible, and He finds in the Son one who can thus manifest Him, one who can unite in His person the Infinite and the Finite, the Uncreated and the Created.
The future assumption by the Son of a created and finite nature, thus coming under the limitations of space and time, and so able to manifest God to all created beings, was a step determined upon in the Divine Counsels preparatory to Creation. Now can the creative work begin, and the heavens be filled with shining orbs, declaring the glory of God. And what a glorious future will open, when these orbs, now empty and silent, shall be inhabited by rational moral beings made in the Image of the glorified Son, and songs of thanksgiving and praise be for ever heard resounding through the celestial realms!
To guard against confusion of terms, it will be well to state how they are here used, as based upon the relations of the Son to the Father, and to men:
(a) He is the only begotten Son, the second Person of the Godhead, dwelling from eternity in the bosom of the Father, invisible;
(b) The Revealer, the Creator, the Word, the Father's Representative;
(c) The Incarnate Son, the Word made flesh, the visible Image;
(d) The risen and glorified Lord, Ruler over all. After the Son took upon Him, under the
Father, the place and office of the Revealer, His work was twofold: (a) to create the worlds, and their inhabitants; (b) after the fall of man, to act as the Redeemer, and the Administrator of God's moral government down to the time of His birth of the Virgin. He became the Incarnate Son by the assumption of human nature. As such, His work is threefold: (a) to bear in mortal flesh the sins of the world, and make atonement; (b) as risen from the dead to become the Head of the Church, immortal and glorified; (c) redemption completed, to rule over all God's works, and to be to all creatures His visible Image for ever.
When the term " Word" is here used, it denotes the Son in His work of revealing God prior to His Incarnation by birth of the Virgin, the first stage being that of Creation, and then that of Redemption, the last continuing to the Incarnation itself. All His work as the Word was pre-incarnate; since the Incarnation, all His work has been done as the Incarnate Son, the God-man.
In Proverbs, Wisdom, which had been spoken of as an attribute of God, is personified, and takes an objective position in relation to Him. It is said by Oehler (Old Test. Theology, Trans.) that "Wisdom is the principle of the world laid down by God, and not a creature like things in the world, its coming forth from God being on the contrary the presupposition of the world's creation." He adds: "Ewald found in this passage an echo of the subsequent idea of the Logos." Perhaps we may better say a glimpse of the Logos as the world Creator, set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. "The Word was with God."
The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth; while as yet He had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the beginning of the dust of the world. When He established the heavens, I was there: when He set a circle upon the face of the deep; when He made firm the skies above; when the fountains of the deep became strong; when He gave to the sea its bound, that the waters should not transgress His commandment; when He marked out the foundations of the earth; then I was by Him, as a master workman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him; rejoicing in His habitable earth; and my delight was with the sons of men (Prov. 8: 22-31). (R. V.)