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Of The Sun, Moon, And Stars, The Work Of The Fourth Day.
See Gen. 1:14; Ps. 104:19.
The stars are bright heavenly bodies, fixed in the firmament of heaven by the word of the Most High. They enlighten the earth, distinguish the night from the day, and adorn the heavens; and they are signs and tokens of nature, of judgment, of mercy, of seasons, days, and years. 1 Cor. 15:41; Gen. 1:14.
2. “Lift up your eyes on high,” saith God, “and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names.” Isa. 41:26. We ought, therefore, according to his command, to contemplate these glorious works of his hands, and learn thence to admire and adore the power and wisdom of him who made them. For “the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handywork.” Ps. 19:1.
3. With regard to the magnitude of the sun and moon, St. Basil thus speaks in his sixth Homily upon the works of the six days: “I conceive that the sun and moon are styled by Moses great lights, not only because they exceed the lesser stars in magnitude; but because they are so exceedingly large that they can fill not only the whole heaven, but even the earth and seas with their light. And as they always appear equally large, both in their rising and setting, it follows that they must be incredibly large; because notwithstanding the whole breadth of the earth, they always appear of equal size.”
4. If a man were to see a globe of fire as large as a vast mountain, or a large city in flames, moving to and fro in the air, he would look upon it with astonishment and terror. Now it is demonstrable that the globe of the sun is many times greater than the earth; whence we may conjecture how great and inconceivable a space in the heavens the sun must take up. Yea, the least of the stars in the firmament of heaven are very vast in compass, and are greater than the earth; and yet in the firmament there are many thousands of these stars, which by reason of their vast distance cannot be discerned by us with the naked eye.
5. Here human reason is at a stand; for no created mind can conceive of the dimensions of heaven. Hence it is that the Holy Scripture, speaking of God's infinite compassion, compares it to the greatness of heaven. “For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” Ps. 103:11, 12. For though “the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” (Ps. 33:5), yet is the compass of it too small to be compared with the infinite goodness of God. Hence the Holy Spirit bids us look up to the height of heaven, furnished with innumerable glorious bodies, all full of the goodness of God, and vastly larger than this lower world.441
6. Moreover, the incomprehensible greatness of the divine power is manifested, not only in the bulk of the heavenly bodies, but also in their constant and regular revolutions; for who can observe without wonder and admiration, such prodigious bodies, not only pendent in the air, but moving up and down in it with constant regularity? And how great and incomprehensible a space must they have to perform their courses in, and at the same time so determined and settled, that they never exceed their appointed limits, nor interfere with each other in their revolutions? David truly pronounces, that God “by wisdom made the heavens.” Ps. 136:5. How excellent, how transcendently excellent must that wisdom be, which can guide and govern the infinite host of heaven with such admirable order, and call them all by their names?
7. It is wonderful also, that these vast shining bodies should have, as it were, a motion in themselves, so that they cannot for one moment, stand still in their courses; for the whole heavenly order would then be disturbed, and the stars themselves, together with their motion, would lose their vital power, even as men die, when the motion of their lungs fails. The least star never stands still, but is perpetually in quick and inconceivable motion.
8. If the motion of one planet only be so stupendous, what shall we say of that innumerable multitude of stars, each of which has its particular course and revolution? And if any man could but for an hour take a view of all their distinct motions, he would be able to unfold to us very surprising things.
9. The consideration of the motions and multitude of these stars may remind us of those bright and invisible stars, the angels of God. This seems to be hinted in the Revelation of St. John, where the Son of God appears with seven stars in his hand (Rev. 1:16), which are the seven spirits or angels sent forth into all the earth. To this the Book of Job alludes, “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7): by which the writer leads us from the natural stars to the holy angels. For if God has created so great a multitude of stars, who can doubt that he has a much greater multitude of celestial spirits, who praise him without ceasing?—“Praise ye him, sun and moon; praise him, all ye stars of light.” Ps. 148:3.
10. The revolution of the heavens is, by the all-wise Creator, appointed as the measure of time; in which appear the stupendous providence, economy, and wisdom of God. To this head we are to refer the ages of the world, and their distinct epochs, the ending of monarchies, the seventy years of the Babylonish captivity, Daniel's seventy weeks, the periods of kingdoms, and the times of Antichrist, both in the book of Daniel and the Revelation, with other things of the same nature, which wonderfully confirm and illustrate the providence and wisdom of God. And whereas our Saviour tells us, that “it is not for us to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power” (Acts 1:7); this is to be understood of such a knowledge only as was foreign to the duty of an apostle, not serving either to the edification of the church, or the propagation of the Gospel. The words also may mean that no time or place ought to be prescribed to our blessed Lord for the erecting and establishing of his kingdom; of which he himself is the only proper 442 judge. Our business is only to be witnesses of his kingdom, and to do our best to promote it, leaving the times and seasons to God alone. Moreover, the disciples at that time, had wrong views of the nature and design of his kingdom, and those words may be looked upon as a proper rebuke of their erroneous opinions about a temporal kingdom.
11. And as for the times and seasons of our worldly affairs, even these are under the disposal and direction of God, whensoever we devoutly submit our concerns to him, begging his direction and assistance; as plainly appears in the case of Abraham's servant, who prayed to God, that he would “send him good speed that day.” Gen. 24:12.
12. Our blessed Saviour argues with the Jews from those signs in the heavens, which the common experience of the times had remarked (Matt. 16:2, 3; Luke 12:54-56), thereby leading them to observations of a higher nature, and putting them in mind of those signs which were to usher in and attend the appearance of the Messiah. The words in St. Matthew are these: “When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather; for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to-day, for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?” So that our Saviour's conclusion runs thus: If ye attend to the natural signs, and by the face of the sky can judge rightly of the weather, why do ye not attend to the signs of the present period, and conclude that the times of the Messiah are come?
13. The words in St. Luke run thus: “When ye see a cloud rise out of the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it is. And when ye see the south wind blow, ye say, There will be heat; and it cometh to pass. Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky and of the earth; but how is it that ye do not discern this time?” So that our Lord concludes thus: As by the natural signs of heaven, ye judge rightly of the weather, because ye see the effect follow; so by the signs and miracles which ye see, ye ought to be convinced, that the Messiah is really come. But, hypocrites as ye are, ye retain the one, and neglect the other, though of the highest importance to you.
14. As to the operations of heaven, we must first observe, that they have nothing in their own nature hurtful to mankind, as some pretenders would persuade us; but that our sins and wickedness are the true cause why God arms the creatures unto vengeance, and makes use of them to punish a rebellious world. Thus he punished the sins of the old world by a rain of forty days, which caused the flood. Gen. 7:12. And thus the sin of Sodom drew down fire and brimstone from heaven. Gen. 19:24.
15. In the same manner we are punished even at this day; sometimes by excessive heats; at other times by violent cold, rains, or drought; at other times by thunder, hail, fire, insects, or infected air, which like the fire that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, fall from heaven. But as the Egyptian plagues had no power over the children of Israel (Exod. 8:22), so these punishments never hurt the children of God, if they live in his faith and fear. Thus it is said, “The Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand; the sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.” Ps. 121:5, 6. 443 The same Psalm advises us, to “lift up our eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh our help,” that by the grace and favor of God we may escape these evils.
16. And as God makes use of the heavens and heavenly bodies, as instruments of vengeance against the wicked, so he employs them sometimes as means of protection and blessing to the righteous. Thus we read, “They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera” (Judg. 5:20): not unlike to which, is the story of the Emperor Theodosius, whose enemies were routed by a sudden tempest of wind and rain.
17. The productions of heaven God in his due time dispenses out of his treasures, for the benefit and advantage of this lower world; God so disposing and ordering things, that the inferior creatures receive of the superior, and all nature hangs together, as it were, in one chain. And this connection of nature and providence is finely described by the prophet Hosea, “It shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord, I will hear the heavens, and they shall hear the earth; and the earth shall hear the corn, and the wine, and the oil, and they shall hear Jezreel.” Hosea 2:21, 22. In this place the prophet presents us with the entire order of nature, beginning at the first cause, which is God. “I (saith he) will hear the heavens,” namely, when, in the great drought, the heaven shall scorch with excessive heat, and the channel of the heavenly influences shall, as it were, be dried up, so that they cannot convey fruitful seasons to the earth: then I will hear the distress of the heavens, I will cover them with clouds.
18. And whereas the prophet adds, “The heavens shall hear the earth,” that has relation to the secondary causes. For as the earth depends on the heavens, it follows, that when the operations of the heavens are, as it were, hindered, the earth can produce nothing that is good. And when the earth is broken or chapped by excessive heat, it, as it were, opens its mouth and entreats for rain. “And the earth shall hear the corn, and wine, and oil;” that is, forasmuch as the vegetables depend upon the earth for their moisture; therefore, whensoever the earth is dry and cannot supply them with nourishment, the vegetables solicit moisture of it, as a thirsty infant would appeal to its mother.
19. I proceed, next, to the benefits which God bestows upon us by the light of the sun and moon. And these we must consider in the fear of God, and show how we may enjoy and use them, both in a natural and spiritual sense. “Tell me (saith God to Job), where is the way where light dwelleth? and as for darkness, where is the place thereof? Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season, or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons? Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? Canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth? Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds, that abundance of waters may cover thee?” Job 38:19, 31-34. In these words God represents to us his infinite power and wisdom, such as no mortal can search out or account for, much less imitate. For so unable is the wisest man to form light or darkness, that he cannot so much as produce a blade of grass. “Not unto us (then), O Lord, not unto us, but unto 444 thy name give glory” (Ps. 115:1); for thou hast made all these things, and thy hand hath formed them. “He appointed the moon for seasons; the sun knoweth his going down” (Ps. 104:19); alluding to the work of the fourth day, when God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven, to divide the day from the night: and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and for years. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also.” Gen. 1:14-16.
20. How wonderful is the increase and decrease of the moon; sometimes it seems to be shut up in darkness, and again, in its season, to emerge by degrees into a fulness of light. And these varieties God hath appointed for a regular distinction of the times and seasons of the year, and of the affairs and business of mankind. Without this distinction of the months and other divisions of time, there could be no order in the church of God, or in civil governments, or in the economy of private families; but all would be disorder and confusion.
21. And how abundantly is the wisdom of God displayed, even in this certain course of the moon, and distinction of seasons! In all states and conditions, the chief part of prudence is to preserve good order, and to observe the proper opportunities of acting; these are the distinguishing accomplishments of a wise ruler, and of a prudent head of a family. This, indeed, is the principal thing to be regarded in every action; he that acts unseasonably, acts to little or no purpose. God himself hath ordered all things in measure, and number, and weight; and every season has its proper opportunities and blessings attending it. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Eccles. 3:1. And as the choosing of the proper season is truly a happiness, so it is also a blessing from God, of whom, therefore, we ought to ask it by prayer.
22. By the words, “The sun knoweth his going down” (Ps. 104:19); the royal prophet suggests to us the seasons of the year, spring, summer, autumn, winter, and the distinguishing of days, being some longer, and some shorter; all which are of very great use to mankind.
23. And who can consider these amazing acts of divine power and wisdom, without admiration and praise to the Author of nature? This astonishing order of nature appeared so glorious to the ancient heathens, that they worshipped even the sun for their God, as being the greatest and most splendid of all objects, and as enlightening all the world. This was a conclusion for blind, corrupt reason to draw, though every part of the creation, to pure and right reason, fully manifests and discovers the being and excellencies of the Creator. A certain Indian king having heard of Jesus Christ, and the necessity of believing in him, because he died for us, gave this answer: “For my part, I had rather believe in the sun that never dies, than in a mortal God.” This was the effect of human blindness, against the corrupt influences and prejudices of which, God has taken particular care to warn us: “Lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the Lord thy God hath divided unto all 445 nations under the whole heaven.” Deut. 4:19.
24. As to the magnitude of the sun, moon, and stars, it is an error to imagine that they are really no larger than they appear to us. For though the moon and some of the planets are less than the earth, yet the sun may be plainly and infallibly demonstrated to be many times larger; and that it appears so small to us, is owing to the immensity of its distance. Ocular demonstration convinces every man of this, that the more remote any object is, the less it appears. A nice disquisition of these matters the unlearned must leave to astronomers, and be content religiously to admire what they do not understand.
25. And, here, how ought we to magnify and adore the omnipotence and wisdom of God, who appointed the sun to be the light and ornament of the day, and the moon of the night. For light is the highest beauty of all things. If we highly admire a well-built house with a fair prospect, furnished with good statues and pictures, and painted with great variety of colors, how much more ought we to look up with gratitude and astonishment to heaven, adorned with lights so many, and so stupendous.
26. How profound is the wisdom of God, who “telleth the number of the stars, and calleth them all by their names” (Ps. 147:4, 5); to which is immediately subjoined, “Great is our Lord, and of great power; his understanding is infinite.” How ought we then to depend upon this wisdom, and be satisfied with all its determinations concerning us, and not charge him with folly, by pretending to be wiser than He is! “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men.” 1 Cor. 1:25.
27. The certain and regular course of the sun and moon, reminds us of the truth of God, and the certainty of his promises: such are those of sending the Messiah, of the revolutions of certain states and kingdoms, and other deliverances of mankind; all which appeared in their time. Thus saith the Lord by the prophet Jeremiah, “If my covenant be not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth; and if ye can break my covenant, that there should not be day and night in their season; then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant.” Jer. 33:20, 21, 25.
28. At our blessed Saviour's passion, the darkness that overspread the world did, as it were, represent the terrors of his death, and all those barbarous impieties that were acted against him (Matt. 27:45); for the sun and moon were then as mirrors, in which might be read the sins and iniquities of mankind; which, like the sin of Sodom, mounted up to heaven, and drew down vengeance upon the world. Gen. 18:20. So every eclipse of the sun points out to us that internal and spiritual blindness of heart which reigns in every one of us; and that as plainly as if a voice should call to us, saying, “Look upon me, for you yourselves are in the same condition.” And when the heaven is red as blood, and seems to be on fire, it appears to speak to us in words like these: “Look up to me, and think on that day when I shall burn with real flames.” So, in short, we may consider all things as upbraiding us with our iniquities, and warning us to repent. What is the thunder, but the terrible voice of heaven, at which the earth trembles, and by which God speaks to the impenitent world? What is an earthquake, but a lecture of repentance? 446 The same may be said of storms and tempests at sea, and of all disorders in the inanimate creation.
29. The sun, moon, and stars, are witnesses of the divine goodness, and of that eternal light which enlightens, comforts, and refreshes every man that cometh into the world. For as God is in himself invisible and incomprehensible, we should, by the direction of the natural light, aspire to the knowledge of Him that made it; and by the beauty of the created, be drawn to the love of the uncreated light. And as we naturally take pleasure in the outward light, as the most beautiful object in the creation; so ought we, with our whole hearts, to love Him who is light eternal, and to walk and rejoice in his light, by withdrawing ourselves from the darkness of sin. “For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial?” 2 Cor. 6:14, 15.
30. Lastly, the visible sun should put us in mind of Jesus Christ, the spiritual and eternal “Sun of righteousness.” Mal. 4:2. For as that shines equally upon all men; so Christ freely bestows himself, and the light of his grace, upon all that will receive him. Thus he saith, “I am the light of the world; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” John 8:12.
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