The Work of Creation as Such
Faith, we have seen, has no objection to beginning with the origin of all things and with their history where Scripture starts, Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Having emphasized this truth over against all deviating theories, we now turn to the positive teachings of Article XII on this subject, in order to elaborate on this doctrine of creation in the light of Scripture. Our Confession speaks both of the act of creation and of the created product, to both of which subjects we must give our attention. Moreover, in connection with these, it also speaks of the purpose of creation. And all this stands in close connection with the idea of God’s counsel in relation to creation, which our Confession also emphasizes. ‘We believe that the Father, by the Word, that is, by his Son, hath created of nothing, the heaven, the earth, and all creatures, as it seemed good unto him, giving unto every creature its being, shape, form, and several offices to serve its Creator. That he doth also still uphold and govern them by his eternal providence, and infinite power, for the service of mankind, to the end that man may serve his God.”
What is it to create? The definition has frequently been given that to create is “to make something out of nothing,” This idea of a creation “out of nothing” also occurs in our Confession: “. . . the Father . . . hath created of nothing . . .” The same idea occurs in our Heidelberg Catechism: “That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who of nothing made heaven and earth, with all that is in them . . .” Question and Answer 26. We may point out, however, that neither in our Catechism nor in the Confession is this intended to be a definition of creation. That this is true as regards our Confession is plain from, the very fact that it uses the term “hath created” in this correction. It would never serve as a definition to say that to create is to create out of nothing, of course. Rather does our Confession intend by the use of this expression to emphasize that the act of creation is altogether a divine work. It is to be ascribed to the act of God’s almighty will. When man makes something, he always makes something out of something. That is, he is strictly limited to the material out of which he proposes to make something. He must have the wherewithal, must have the material, before he can ever make anything at all. Sometimes the expression “create” and the term “creatively” are applied to man’s work. But this is really incorrect. Man can never do anything creatively. In the strict sense of the word, he cannot be “original.” God only creates. The universe is solely the product of His almighty will. Moreover, His will is limited by nothing. God is above all laws: He establishes the laws, and is the sovereign Creator even of all the laws of the universe. As the divine Architect of all things, the Lord our God is absolutely sovereign. He conceives of the whole world, not only as it stood in the beginning, but of the world in all its history, its purpose, its development, its final and glorious revelation in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ; and even as He conceives of it, so He creates it. The end is of Him; the means to reach that end are also of His making. The world is of His divine conception; and He calls into existence the material of that world. All things are exactly as He willed them to be. Creation is an altogether divine work, an act of absolute sovereignty.
Hence, Scripture never speaks of creation as merely “‘making something out of nothing.” As a definition, this is inadequate. In the first place, “nothing,” (and let it be noted, “nothing” is quite inconceivable) is not the source of creation. God’s counsel is the source of all created things. In the second place, it is not true, according to Scripture, that creation is always out of nothing. In the one mighty work of creation there are various acts of God according to which He creates various creatures out of others. Thus, the plants and the animals are called out of the ground. To the waters God says: “Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.” And man also is created ‘bf the dust of the ground.” Gen. 1:11, 24; Gen. 1:20; Gen. 2:7. Only, therefore, as an expression which emphasizes the omnipotence and freedom of the work of creation, an expression which emphasizes that before the beginning of Genesis 1:1 there was no creature, nor anything out of which the Lord, outside of Himself, could form the creation, can this expression “out of nothing” serve. As far as any kind of definition is concerned, Scripture speaks different language. Scripture describes this work of creation in several passages, and always uses essentially the same language. In Genesis 1, of course, there is the repeated, “And God said . . . And it was so.” In Psalm 33:6 we read: “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath (spirit) of his mouth;” And again, in verse 9 of the same Psalm: “For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.” In Romans 4:17 we find that God is the God, “Who calleth those things which be not as though they were.” And in Hebrews 11:3 we read that “the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” And thus there are many passages of Scripture which speak of this same creative act, emphasizing that God, as the sovereign Creator of all things, is the Incomparable One, and emphasizing, too, that even as He created all things after the “counsel of his own will,” so, with a view to His people in Christ Jesus, He yet sovereignly maintains and providentially executes His counsel. Thus, God’s people are asked in Isaiah 40:12-14: “Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance? Who hath directed the spirit of the Lord, or being his counsellor hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding?” And again, in a series of rhetorical questions by which the Lord our God is contrasted with the vanity of graven images,Isaiah 40:18, ff., we read: “To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him? . . . Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? “It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in.” And again, in vss. 25 and 26 of the same chapter: “To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth.” And in verse 28: “Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding.” In Isaiah 42:s the Lord, Who calls His elect servant, describes Himself as follows: “Thus said God the Lord, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh slut of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein . . . ” And in Isaiah 44:24: “Thus saith the Lord, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the Lord that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself.” Again, in Isaiah 45:11, 12 we read: “Thus saith the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me. I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded.” And to this same almighty work of creation appeal is made to confirm the promise that Israel shall be saved and established in the earth, Isaiah 45:17, 18: “But Israel shall be saved in, the Lord with an everlasting salvation: ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end. For thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord; and there is none else.” And in Isaiah 48:12, 13, Jacob-Israel is admonished: “Hearken unto me, O Jacob and Israel, my called; I am he; I am the first, I also am the last. Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together.” Is it any wonder, therefore, that in the book of Revelation we behold the four and twenty elders falling down before Him that sat on the throne and worshipping with the words, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created?” Rev. 4:11.
Creation, therefore, may be defined as that act of the almighty will of God whereby He gave to the things that were eternally in His counsel existence in distinction from Himself.
Our Confession emphasizes this idea of God’s counsel also. For it states that God created all things “as it seemed good unto him.” It is important to understand and maintain this. Creation does not add anything to God’s glory. For He is the Self-sufficient in Himself. He has no need of any creature. And the world of created things does not enrich God. Nor does creation presuppose any change in God. He in the unchangeable One. But this can only be somewhat understood in the light of the truth of God’s eternal counsel, His good pleasure. And then we must remember, in the first place, that God’s counsel iseternal. It is not to be compared to the dead plan of an architect. But it consists of all the living thoughts of God with respect to all that, ever exists, first of all. Secondly, God’s counsel implies that He conceives of and knows of all things not only as they are formed in the beginning, but also as they shall be when all things in heaven and on earth shall be perfectly united in our Lord Jesus Christ. Thirdly, this counsel of God includes not merely the beginning and the end which He has from eternity established, but God knows all things and conceives of all things in their development and in all their relationships and their connection from the beginning to the end. And all of these things stand from eternity to eternity before the divine consciousness. God knows the creation and the history of all things, the course of their development in history along the way of sin and grace, and the final destination arrived at along that course of development; and He knows all this with eternal, sovereign, unchangeable knowledge and perfect wisdom. The reality, the eternal reality, of all things, is with God in His counsel; and from eternity all these things “seem good unto Him.” In His counsel God rejoices in and glorifies Himself from eternity to eternity. In that sense God is the eternal Creator. And in the act of creation God gives to those things which are eternally with Him in His decree existence in distinction from Himself.
In the second place, this counsel of His good pleasure; according to which God created all things, includes not only the whole creation as an organism, but all the different creatures, as to their being, shape, form, and several offices, or various functions and tasks. The whole of creation as a unity is the work of God’s hand; and each individual creature, occupying its own place in the whole, serving its own particular purpose, having its own function, and that too, in relation to the whole, is also formed according to God’s all-wise and all-comprehensive counsel, His eternal good pleasure. From this point of view, we may also note that in all the creative work there is order and design. Man stands, as the last product of God’s work of creation, at the pinnacle of all created things. And all was created in order to serve as his habitation. Moreover, there is correspondence between the creative work of the first three days and the last three days, respectively. Indeed, God gave, according to His good pleasure, to every creature its being, shape, form, and several office.
In the third place, we must remember that there ispurpose in God’s counsel. This also is expressed in our Confession. First of all, it is stated that the purpose of each creature is “to serve its Creator.” In the second place, it is stated that God “doth still uphold and govern them by his eternal providence, and infinite power, for the service of mankind, to the end that man may serve his God.” What is implied in this?
First of all, we may maintain the truth of this in regard to creation as it was finished on the seventh day. Originally, creation stood as one beautiful and harmonious whole. In that creation, with all its rich variation of creatures, there was an ascending scale of creatures, from the lifeless created things, through the world of the living creatures, to man, who was created in the image of God. The purpose of each creature individually and of all creatures together was to “serve the Creator,” that is, to reveal His handiwork and His praises. At the head of all the earthly creation stood Adam, created in the image of God, a rational, moral creature, standing in true knowledge of God, righteousness, and holiness. He was able to read God’s book of creation. And all that he read spelled out the name of the Creator, His God. And thus, man, with head and heart and hand was able as a conscious, moral creature to serve God, even as all creation was in man’s service and, for his use.
In the second place, even in his fallen state, man still has the calling and is under the obligation to serve his God, the Creator, in and with all created things. To this end, even though all things have been vastly changed through the fall and the curse, God does still uphold and govern them by his eternal providence, and infinite power, for the service of mankind. And man, though fallen, is still able to put God’s creation to his use. True, he is totally depraved. He is spiritually unable to do anything else than to sin. He lives in God’s creation, uses God’s creation, and, in a limited sense, still maintains his dominion over God’s creation. But he lives in and exercises dominion over and uses God’s creation as a rebel, in the service of the devil and sin. Nevertheless, his calling has not changed. All creation still points him to his calling and sacred obligation, to serve his God.
In the third place, God maintains His purpose, even in spite of, yea, through, the sin and rebellion of fallen man. God in His eternal counsel had conceived a higher purpose and glory for the works that He created in the beginning, His purpose, namely, in Christ, the Firstborn of every creature, for Whom and by Whom all things were created. Col. 1:15-20. With a view to that higher purpose of the reconciliation and uniting of all things in Christ Jesus; both which are in heaven and which are in earth, all things were created in the beginning. This is undoubtedly the deeper meaning of the expression in Scripture that at the end of His creative work God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good. And history cannot come to an end before the will of God with regard to that final purpose of creation in Christ has been executed. To that end, God not only created, but He does still uphold and govern all things by His eternal providence and infinite power, so that all creation becomes the stage for the drama of sin and grace, the fall and redemption, death and resurrection, until the climax of the uniting of all things in Christ shall be achieved. Then, when, in Christ, the highest revelation of God’s covenant of friendship is reached—then the ultimate purpose of creation shall be reached also, and all creation shall perfectly serve elect mankind in Christ, in order that man (the elect in Christ) may serve his God.
And then the Triune God, Who created all things, shall: be revealed and glorified in the ultimate sense. This must needs be the end. For, as our Confession states, creation is the work of the Father, by the Word, the Son; and we may add, this does not exclude the Holy Spirit. “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the Spirit of his mouth.” Even, therefore, as God Triune is the author of creation, so all must needs be unto the praise and glory of Him Who created all things.