|« Prev||Lecture IX. Preached Jan. 17, 1693.||Next »|
Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by
the word of God, so that things which are seen, were
not made of things which do appear.
IN that order of discourse, (wherein we have made some progress,) of treating of the several more principal heads of that religion which we all profess, we have spoken at large (as the last subject we insisted upon in this course) of the counsels of the divine will, or (which is all one) his purposes and decrees, according to which he is said to work all things, in that, Ephes. i. 11.
And now, the next thing that comes in order to be spoken of, is that great work of creation, which is part, and the first part, the beginning of the execution of his external counsels or purposes of his will. This is the first of his external acts that terminate upon somewhat without himself. His decrees, though they have their term within him, and so come into the account, not of his transient, but of his eminent acts, and yet do differ, too, from all these internal acts of the divine Hypostasis towards one another; for they have their very objects in the Divine Being. But the decrees of God, though they have their term within the Divine Being, that is, they do, while they are but decrees, effect nothing extra Deum, without God, yet they have their object without him; that is, they refer, some way or other, to the creature. Now, in contradistinction to those internal acts of God that have reference to the creature, we consider his external 226acts, whereof this of creation is the first, and is leading and fundamental to all other subsequent and external acts of his, towards, or upon, the creature, as now existing, till some act or other hath preceded, by which it might exist.
This is, therefore, such an act as makes its object, and doth not suppose it; as all following acts of God towards the creature do suppose the object, and not make it; suppose it preexistent, and then are concerned and conversant about it, as already existent; to wit, to sustain it, to regulate it, improve it, perfect it; or any ways alter it as he sees good.
And whereas, this is the first step that God takes in executing the counsels of his will; that is, that being ascribed to him, to do all things according to the counsel of his will, he doth this great work of creation, according to that counsel of his will. This will put an end to the great dispute about the original of all things; whether this world, and all that it contains came, of itself, or by fate, or by chance; or whether it were all entirely owing to some wise and designing intelligent Agent. If, I say, the authority of divine Revelation may decide the matter, and so far obtain in the minds of men, there is an end of that dispute; that is, that since whatsoever is done by that great and almighty Agent, was done according to the counsels of his own will; then this world came not into being of itself, or by any fatality or casualty; but by wise counsel designing the thing, and the time, and whatsoever circumstances might refer there unto.
And, indeed, those that have not a divine Revelation to guide their apprehension in this matter, and have but allowed themselves (as many have) a liberty of thought, have discerned those characters of divine wisdom and design, in the whole frame and contrivance of things in this great creation, as not only to acknowledge, but to adore the wise Creator that hath given being to all. Every thing of order, being the product of wisdom; wisdom and order have most certain relation to one another, as the productive principle, and the object produced. If there be such a thing as order produced, wisdom and counsel must have been the productive principle.
We, formerly, in the beginning of this series of discourse, had occasion to speak of the creation, from Romans i. 20. The invisible things of God, even his eternal power and Godhead, are clearly seen in the things that he hath made. It was upon another account that we discoursed of the creation then; not making that the terminative subject of our discourse; but considered it only as evidential of the Deity; we are now to consider it as effected by that almighty, divine power: we now 227consider it as a matter of faith. “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God.” And it was of absolute necessity that there should be that rational consideration of the creation, first, in order to the evincing of an object of faith, before we came to speak any thing of faith, or what was to be matter of faith; for no one can believe any thing, by the proper assent of faith, till he understands who he is to believe, and why. And it is the formal object of faith that we were to evince to you, in order to our shewing the ground why we were to believe any material object that comes within the compass of divine Revelation.
Therefore, having first evinced to you the existence and being of God; and then, evidenced to you, that that Revelation which we have in the Book of Scripture is from God; and thence having more distinctly considered the nature and perfections of God, as they are held forth in that Revelation, together with the distinct Hypostasis which that Revelation assures us are in the Deity; we now come to consider the creation too, as a matter of faith also.
And it ought not to seem strange to us, that when we have heard the creation spoken of, as tending to evince to us the being of God, we should come now to discourse of it as a matter of faith; for most plain it is, that the same conclusion may be assented to on different grounds, and the one doth strengthen the other, and not detract from it. It is no prejudice at all to our receiving the doctrine of the creation, as a matter of faith, that it is also demonstrable in a rational way, any more than it doth detract from, or lessen the credit of, a human testimony that many do concur and say the same thing; which detracts nothing from the validity of that person’s testimony, but instead of that, adds thereto.
And we are to reckon it a great discovery of the divine favour and indulgence to us, when one and the same thing may be the matter, both of a fiducial assent upon a divine testimony, and of rational demonstration also. God condescends to us, and is so much the more favourable, that he is pleased to make the same thing evident more ways than one, according as the occurrence of several media for the evidencing of any thing, doth beget a stronger and firmer impression of the thing itself, upon our minds. This is referred unto, allusively, to set forth the great assurance wherewith the gospel Revelation was given, 1 John i. 1, 3. “That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the word of life—that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you.”228
It is very true, indeed, that the creation, generally dered, and more abstractly, is very demonstrable by reason; not only to be rendered probable, or a likely thing, but certain and more demonstrable. That is, as I said, when we have in view so many sorts of things that we are sure were not always; and therefore, could not be of themselves; (for whatsoever is of itself must be always, must be from eternity;) then we are sure every such thing must have had some maker or other. And so, nothing can be more demonstrable, than that there hath been, and must be, a creation, even unto reason, and by reason.
But though reason may clearly apprehend and evince, in general, that there hath been a creation, it can never evince the way and manner, the method and order, wherein things have been created. All this must be owing to divine Revelation, and to faith thereupon, if we understand, (as here it is said,) “through faith, the worlds were framed, by the word of God.” By reason, we may know that the world or worlds were some time or other made: but we can only know by faith that they were made in six days, and that such and such was the order of making them, as the divine history doth report the matter to us. And therefore, doth this text inform us, not only of this as an apprehensible thing, that the worlds were made, but it lets us see how we are to apprehend it. We are not only to understand this, but we are to understand it by faith, that the worlds were framed by the word of God.
We have, in the text, two distinct propositions, which are of two divers kinds; the first is dogmatical, or more expressly assertory, and the second is explicatory of the former.
The former, I say, is mere dogmatical. “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God.” It is a thing to be understood by faith, that the worlds were framed by the word of God, And this, I shall make the main subject of my discourse which I intend upon this scripture.
The latter is explicatory of the former, so that things which are seen, were not made of things that do appear, or were made, (which is the truer reading of the text,) of things which do not appear, or were made of not appearing things, not preexisting things, that had stood forth into being before.
First. And for the first of these: you see it contains two parts—what it is we are to understand; and—how we are to understand it.—The thing to be understood, that the worlds were framed by the word of God,—and how we are to under stand it, by faith: or through faith. It is faith that lets in the 229notion the more distinctly into our minds. We have this notion by faith, as the word in the greek signifies, the forming of a notion, begetting it in our minds. We have the notion begot in our minds by faith, that the worlds were so framed by the word of God.
1. We have first, and more principally, to consider the former of these, the thing to be understood. We shall consider the manner afterwards. And for the thing to be understood, that the worlds were framed by the word of God, we have here three heads of discourse more distinctly to be considered and spoken to—the object of this act, the worlds—the Agent whose this act or work is, that is, God, exerting his power by his word, and—the act of creation itself, what kind of act that is. It is here rendered, “framed.” We shall speak to the emphasis of that expression hereafter, in its proper place, when we come to give you an account of the nature of the act, creating, which though that word doth not primarily and directly signify, yet supposeth, as we shall in a proper time come to shew you.
(1.) We are to consider the object of creation, as it is here expressed by this comprehensive term, the worlds, “The worlds were framed by the word of God.” The word, here, so rendered, doth signify sometimes eternity, especially being plurally used. But sometimes also it signifies time, and sometimes an age, and in the plural, ages. But it doth also signify, in the narrower sense, time: not only time, in itself, abstractly and nakedly considered, but the things that lie within time: not the mensura but the mensurata, not only that duration, which is the measure of such and such things, but the things themselves that are measured thereby. And that is the sense wherein it must be taken here. Therefore, it is not the naked thing, time, that is spoken of here, (though the word, sometimes, hath that signification as the object of this creative act,) but all things that come under temporary mensuration, all that are measured by time, which is fitly enough expressed in our translation by this term, “the worlds.”
And whereas, it is not said, world, but worlds, that shews, that the continens is more than one: and if the propriety of the greek be considered, it also signifies them to be more than two; for the word is not a dual but a plural, and so it is more than one, and more than two worlds that are signified by this expression. And indeed, the matter is less indefinite; and it being impossible to us to know how many are the several circles of things that are above us, that are all made things, things altogether without our knowledge or comprehension, (as we have had occasion to tell you on another account, of our Lord’s 230being ascended, and gone up far above all heavens,) we are left in a just uncertainty, (which belongs to us, and is proper to our state,) how many those heavens are, or those orbs of things which are replenished with creatures, (parts of the universe,) that altogether make the entire object of this creation, and this great creative act.
And taking that phrase, “the worlds,” to signify whatsoever lies under the measure of time, so we are not barely to consider such orbs, but we are to take in all the contenta, as well as the continens, all the things contained, as well as the things containing. And so, it is the whole universe of created beings that comes under our present consideration: which, therefore, in speaking to us of the object of the creation, or what it is that is created, it is not to be imagined that we should speak of it in the singular, nor of all the particular kinds; but only under some general heads, into which the universe of created things may be distributed.
[1.] The first, and most general and obvious distribution of the created universe, is into the more substantial things, and the modifications thereof; what is in itself a substantial thing, and what doth only some way or other modify such a being. And it is the former of these, that is the proper object; creation more strictly and properly taken. Creation is, in the strictest sense, suppositorium of supposita, of things that do subsist not of themselves, in reference to any efficient cause: for so no created thing doth exist, by itself, in opposition to what doth inhere, so as to be a subject of things that do reside in it. And so, the modification of things are not properly created in the strictest sense of creation; but are educed and brought forth out of those substantial beings that were themselves created, or made out of nothing; and so they, that is, substantial things, are the most proper objects of creation, that have a proper subsistence of their own, though with dependance on the efficient Cause that gave them being. And after this distribution, comes,
[2.] The distribution of such created things, that is, substantial beings, in which all the diversifying modi do reside and have their place, And we are to consider what may be the more general distribution of substantial things, that are themselves created. And we can consider none more general, than this one, to wit, of all those created substances, into these two heads, matter and mind. If the inquiry be, What doth this universe of created beings contain? Or what are the great spheres of being that lie within the compass of the created universe? Why, speaking of substantial things themselves, that 231are the subjects of divers distinct modi or modifications, they can be but these two, all will fall under these two heads, to wit, matter and mind. And this is that distribution of created things which the Scripture gives us a ground express enough for: Col. i. 16. “By him were all things made that are in heaven or that are in earth, visible and invisible.” We may well enough suppose all matter to be, some way or other, visible, though, there be indeed a finer sort of matter than is visible to us. But then, there is the other head of things, in that Col. i. 16. things that are simply invisible, altogether invisible, as it is altogether impossible that any sense, any external sense, can perceive a mind, or a thought, which is the immediate product of that mind. So, that every distribution of created things into visible and invisible, I take it, sufficiently corresponds with this that I now mention, that is, matter and mind.
And otherwise, we have the creation distinguished as to the object of it, or creation, passively taken, into heaven and earth, as we find in that history of the beginning of the creation, Gen. i. 1. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Some, indeed, that go to the cabalistical way, will have by heavens, all intellectual beings that are created, to be comprehended and meant: and by earth, all matter whatsoever. We shall not dispute the propriety of that conjecture, or what probably it hath, or hath not; but take what is more obvious to ourselves in common understanding. And if we take that as a distribution of created things, heaven and earth, as was intimated before, we must comprehend together both the continens and the contenta. And so, by heaven, must be understood and meant, not only all the several superior orbs, but all their inhabitants that do reside and dwell in them, and wherewith they are replenished, and unto which, our very minds and spirits, (though now they are clothed with terrestrial vehicles and dwell in flesh,) do originally appertain and belong, as being nearer of kin. and more allied to the world of spirits than they are allied to this world of flesh and earth, this terrestrial world. For, if we fake the mind and spirit in us, to be the nobler and more excellent part of ourselves, taking our denomination from that which is more noble and excellent, we have greater affinity, according to our primitive and original state, with heaven, than we have with earth, which affinity is not to be judged by the place of residence, but by the nature of the thing. Mind and spirit are more akin to heavenly inhabitants, than they are to any thing that is made merely of earth.
And so, taking the things contained, with all the heavenly orbs, you have great diversifications, in that mentioned place, 232Col. i. 16. And there indeed, the Spirit of God runs out more than it doth in the distribution of things that fall under that other head, that is, the visible things of this earth. For we are told, under the head of invisible things, (and which also in very great part, indeed, are the things which do belong to the heavens,) of thrones and dominions, and principalities and powers; which are very reasonably thought to mean so many several orders of celestial creatures that do inhabit the other world or worlds, for Low many of them there are, we do not know, nor can know; as we formerly told you.
And then, if we speak of the things contained in this lower orb, signified here by earth, they do more generally fall under a common notice, and are more obvious to every one’s apprehension. This world, you know, is replenished with very numerous sorts of creatures that live one way or other, or with one or another sort of lives; either, that do live an intellectual life, or live from an intelligent soul, as we do all live; or else, that live a merely sensitive life, as all the brute creatures do, of that next order below, or else, things that do live a merely vegetative life; as all the several sorts of plants that have some kind of life, though it be of a meaner and lower kind.
And then, there are all your inanimate things that have no proper life at all; that is, have no self-moving or self-acting principle within them, or peculiar to them, from whence they do act or order themselves, or are capable of being moved, as from any internal v is in this kind or that.
Of such extent is this created universe: it takes in all these several sorts of things. And to descend to the enumeration of more particular kinds would be an endless work, and not proper for us. But, in the mean time, we have very great amplitude in the object of our present thought and consideration, when we are to look upon the universe of created beings, that is, of created substances, look upon all those that come under the notion of matter, and that, as such, is inanimate: matter, as matter, has no self-moving principle in it. Look upon all those things that live some kind of life or another; whether they be things of this earth of ours, or whether they be things of the superior or refined orbs and parts of the universe: these come in all the orders of angelical creatures of which we have only that general and more indistinct account which that Colossians i. and some other passages of Scripture give us. What their diversifications are, we know not; but some or other they are, and such as do import superiority and inferiority among themselves. And then, go to that other head, of things destitute of life, and that more properly come under the 233notion of matter beforementioned: and so, descending down wards from the more noble and excellent creatures, to the meaner and lesser ones, what a vast scale of created being is this! descending from the highest to the lowest, or ascending from the lowest to the highest, and all within the compass of the created universe, and all this signified by that one expression in the text “the worlds.”
Indeed, all this being summed up into this one expression, of the universe or the world, taken singularly and in the largest sense of which it doth admit, we have, even within the compass of created beings, that which far exceeds any of our thoughts. And it hath been a question, much agitated, amongst philosophical men, whether the created universe have any created limits at all, yea or no. It hath been agitated by some with a very ill design: and some have made it their business, in moving the controversy, to hide their design. And with a strange mixture of fraud and folly, in discussing that question, Whether the created universe were infinite or no? they have gone about to disguise the matter, and told us, they would not, indeed, say it was infinite, but it was indefinite; to wit, the extent of the created universe: and by the extent of it, the meaning could not be the mere local extent, but the real; not barely what space it took it up, but what of essence and real being it did comprehend and contain; and that, some of them have told us, was not infinite, but indefinite only.
But there hath been a very great mixture (as I say) of fraud and of folly: of fraud, that they have disguised their meaning, and laboured to hide it: and of folly, that in their very attempt of hiding it, they have unawares discovered a very ill meaning. And it could not but be so; for when the terms are distinguished of infinite and indefinite, I would fain know what they mean by the latter. If, by indefinite, they mean that which hath in itself no certain limits, then they plainly say, it is infinite, the created universe is infinite, because it hath no certain, limits. But if they mean by it only, that it hath no known limits to us, that every one readily acknowledged: we can never know the limits of it; and so that is but to say it is finite, if they mean only so. And indeed, it is a very dubitable thing, whether any finite understanding can measure the created universe, or is capable of comprehending the extent of it. Very willing I am to aggrandize that as much a I can, in consistency, still, with owning it to be but a created thing; because still, the more we magnify that, the more we magnify the Creator. But to pretend it to be an indefinite thing in that sense, 234that is, that it hath no certain limits in itself, that is to make it an infinite thing.
And if it here be inquired. What is the inconvenience of that, to make it to be so, or how can we prove it not to be so? Why truly, to the former of the questions, there would be this to say, that to say it were infinite, or could be infinite, were to say that it were not a creation: for most certain it is, whatsoever is infinite is God. Infinity is the proper predicate or attribute of Deity. And so, the inconvenience would be, the taking away all the foundations of religion; for it would be the confounding of God and the creature, the taking away the difference between them. And it would be equally impossible, that there should be any room or place for religion, if you take away the subject of it, as much as if you take away the Object of it. If the creature were infinite, there could be no subject of religion: and there can be no place for religion, if there be no subject of it, any more than if there were no Object of it.
And as to the question, How can it be proved that the created universe is not infinite, and cannot be infinite? It is very clearly to be proved by what hath been said, in very great part: that is, whatsoever is infinite is God. Therefore, to say that the created universe is infinite, is to say, that it is not created. But besides, it may be easily evinced, that not only this universe of created beings is not infinite but that it is impossible that it ever should be, or could be. And as the plain reason of the thing doth lie against that imagination; so, the most pernicious and destructive tendency of that philosophy that would impose upon us the imagination of an infinite universe, is most studiously to be disclaimed and abhorred, as taking away all place and room for religion. For it would confound created being and uncreated, and deify the creature, and so, leave no subject of worship, as the more avowed atheism leaves no Object of it.
I shall not say more to you about the object of this said act. We are further to consider the great Agent, the Creator: and the nature of the act of creation. But let us make some stand and pause here, and consider what improvement is to be made of what hath been thus far discoursed to you. It is of very vast extent, what we are to consider under the notion of the created universe. But when all this is done, it is still but a creation; make it as great a thing as you will, magnify it as much as possible, consistently with its being a creation, and when all this is done, then say within yourselves, “All this is but as a drop, a drop of a bucket, a dust in a balance, a mere 235nothing, yea, lighter than nothing and vanity, compared with that Being which is of itself; that Being which owes itself to none; that Being to which it was impossible not to be; for ail this vast creation doth but depend on will and pleasure; “For thy pleasure they are and were created.” It was determinable, merely upon good pleasure, whether there should be any creation, or no creation: so that one nutus, one nod (as I may speak) of the Divine Mind, either makes this vast thing, the whole created universe, to be something or nothing. “If I please, it shall be something, if I please, it shall be nothing.”
It should lead us into adoration of the great self-subsisting Being, that owes it to none that he is, is beholden to none, but is by the excellency of his own eternal nature, to which it was repugnant not to be, and which comprehends all plenitude and fulness of being in itself, even an infinitude of being.
Consider this then, and when it hath prompted and led you into admiration and adoration, looking up to the great Creator, it should prompt and lead us into the greatest detestation of the insolency of creatures, even such creatures as (if they would use their minds) are capable of apprehending this, and yet take upon them as if they were absolute. They started up out of being but the other day, and at the fiat, and by the pleasure, of the great Creator; and now, they look upon themselves in this world as if it were all theirs, and as if they might do in it what they pleased. He that is the Creator of heaven and earth is also, we know, in Scripture, stiled the Possessor of heaven and earth. And for a company of upstart creatures sprung up into being but the other day, to take upon them, as if they were possessors (as much as is possible for them to grasp) of this creation, and to do in it what they will; what a detestable insolency is this! It is but a dependant, borrowed right that any one hath in whatsoever he calls his own. And yet, men are apt to hug themselves in conceit of propriety, saying, “This is my own land, these are my own goods, this is my own house: and it is so by the best title a man can have.” Now suppose a stranger enter your door and come into your house and take no notice of any thing as yours, but useth all things as he pleaseth, and saith he will do what he lists in this house of yours; or (without saying so) doth what he lists, takes and uses what he will, and as he will, would you not take yourself to be highly injured, and would you not right yourself, if it lay in your power, upon so injurious an intruder as this? Why, at this rate is the great God treated and dealt with, by his apostate, revolted 236creatures, inhabiting this lower world, though it be even the meaner and baser parts of his creation? Creatures sprung up into being here by indulgence of divine favour, take upon them as if they were their own lords and owners, and as if every thing they lay their hands on were their own, without ever taking notice of God; He that gave them breath and being and all things, that they might seek after him, and consider, “Whence come I? and all things that I use and enjoy, whence are they?” No such thing enters into their minds, from day to day, but a life’s time is run out in these bodies, wherein they should love, and serve, and adore, their great Creator, without taking notice of him.
But a more copious use of this yet remains, when we shall have opened other things that yet are to be doctrinally opened unto you.
|« Prev||Lecture IX. Preached Jan. 17, 1693.||Next »|