“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. He also created the angels good, to be his messengers and to serve his elect; some of whom are fallen from that excellency, in which God created them, into everlasting perdition; and others have, by the grace of God, remained steadfast and continued in their primitive state. The devils and evil spirits are so depraved, that they are enemies of God and every good thing, to the utmost of their power, as murderers, watching to ruin the Church and every member thereof, and by their wicked stratagems to destroy all; and are, therefore, by their own wickedness, adjudged to eternal damnation, daily expecting their horrible torments. Therefore we reject and abhor the error of the Sadducees, who deny the existence of spirits and angels: and also that of the Manichees, who assert that the devils have their origin of themselves, and that they are wicked of their own nature, without having been corrupted.”
Article XIII, The Belgic Confession
In straight-forward, simple, yet profound language this article presents what Scripture teaches and what we as Reformed believe concerning the creation of all things. The article really speaks of two matters: the creation of the heavens and the earth and all things in them, and the creation of the angels, of whom some have fallen. We intend to limit ourselves to the doctrine of creation in this article. In the next issue, the Lord willing, we will treat the last part of the article, which speaks of the angels and devils.
During the past thirty years or so this doctrine of creation has been the subject of no little discussion within the Reformed community. This discussion was precipitated by the so-called “period theory.” According to this view, the days of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2are really long periods of time during which the creation evolved from first principles which God created. Really one’s view on this score depends on his view of the Scripture itself. Anyone who takes Scripture seriously will have to admit that the Bible teaches that God created all things in six days by “his Word, that is, by his Son.” The issue between those who teach the period theory and those who teach that God created all things by his Word is not one of the proper interpretation of Scripture. There can be no question as to what the Bible says concerning creation. That this is true is obvious from the fact that now the theologians who do not want a literal creation tell us that Genesis 1 and 2 are not literal history. These and several succeeding chapters in Genesis are only myths or teaching models and hence cannot be interpreted literally. If we wish to know the origin of things, we must not consult the Bible but listen to science. From these views we wish to separate ourselves completely. It is our firm conviction that Article XIII is an adequate and beautiful summary of the truth of Creation as revealed in Scripture. Genesis does record what actually happened. Without shame we take the creation account literally and as it stands. We do this because we believe: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (II Timothy 3:16, 17)
The Confession begins by ascribing the work of creation to the Triune God. Creation is: “. . . of the Father, by the Word—that is, by his Son.” To this we may add, and through the Holy Spirit. This is in harmony with the nature of revelation. God always reveals Himself in the Son and through the Spirit. The Scriptures also are the revelation of God in Jesus Christ; and this revelation comes to the Church through the Spirit. Therefore also creation is of the Father, in the Son, and through the Spirit. This is plain already from the second verse of Genesis 1, where we read: “. . . and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Creation is the work of the Triune God. How beautifully this is emphasized already in the majestic and profound opening words of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1) Indeed, as David sings: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.” (Psalm 24:1, 2) And John in vision sees the twenty-four elders worshipping God in glory with these words: “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” (Rev. 4:11)
That God created all things by “his word, that is, by his Son” is equally plain from the Bible. We read repeatedly in the creation account: “And God said, Let there be . . . and there was.” (Gen. 1) So it is that the Psalmist declares: “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.” (Ps. 33:6) Hebrews 11:3 teaches the same: “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.” Scripture teaches that this Word is God’s Son in many passages. The Gospel according to John opens with these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . all things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made . . . And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1, 3, 14) The Apostle Paul instructs Corinth and us: “But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.” (I Cor. 8:6) Hebrews 1:2 teaches that God has spoken to us in these latter days by His Son: “. . .whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.” Perhaps the most beautiful of all these passages is the one found in Colossians 1. In this passage the inspired Apostle speaks of Christ as the “image of the invisible God the firstborn of every creature:” (vs. 15). Christ is that because: “by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.” (vss. 16-18) What a blessed truth! All things were created by and for Jesus Christ Who is the firstborn of every creature, the firstborn from the dead. In everything He has the preeminence. Among other things what this certainly means is this: what one believes concerning the wonder of creation, one must also believe concerning Christ. To deny the Scriptures’ teaching concerning creation ultimately involves one in a denial of Christ Himself! It simply is not true, as “theistic evolutionists” (a contradiction in terms!) would have us believe, that one’s position on the doctrine of creation has nothing to do with the doctrine of salvation. Touch creation and one touches Christ Himself by whom and for whom all things were made!
Article XIII goes on to declare that creation was “out of nothing.” By this phrase the fathers mean to emphasize that there was nothing outside of God out of which He framed the worlds. Creation is an act of the omnipotent will of God Who: “called the things which be not as though they were.” (Romans 4:17) That creation is by the Word of God “out of nothing” means: “. . .that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” (Hebrews 11:3) Certainly with this phrase, “out of nothing,” the article closes the door to any view or theory of evolution. Evolution must of necessity explain the existence of things as developing from other prior things. No matter how far back one goes, things always come from things. By the words, “out of nothing,” these theories stand condemned. And, let us understand in this connection, this is a matter of faith. Creation is the opening wonder, miracle, of God’s revelation. It is the beginning of the manifestation of God’s glory in Christ as that glory shall be revealed perfectly in the new creation. As such, creation belongs to “the mystery of the gospel” (Eph. 6:19) which can be apprehended only by God’s gift of faith. It remains forever true: “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.” (Heb. 11:3) Either one approaches the Bible’s teaching concerning creation with the prayer: “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief.” Or in pride he rejects the Biblical record. In this latter case one is driven to some form of evolution. And, ultimately he will deny the truth at every point. It is as simple and as serious as that!
Article XIII teaches that creation is according to God’s good pleasure or eternal counsel with the words: “as it seemed good unto him.” God was sovereignly free in the work of creation. Nothing could influence God in the determination of all things. This does not mean that creation is arbitrary. Never! God created all things “as it seemed good unto him,” i.e., with a definite purpose. This is the idea of the repeated words: “And God saw
everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Gen. 1:31) All creation was “very good,” which is to say that the whole of creation was perfectly adapted to the purpose for which God made it. This purpose was the glory of God’s Name in Jesus Christ. Creation was by Christ but also for Christ. (Col. 1) God never intended to reach His ultimate purpose with the first creation. The fall was not an unexpected accident, and the work of Christ is not some kind of repair work of the original creation. The first creation was a picture of the new creation; the first paradise of the heavenly paradise. The first Adam was a “figure of Him that was to come,” the last Adam, Who is Christ, (Romans 5:14, I Cor. 15:20-22) The tree of life was a symbol of the heavenly tree of life. (Rev. 22:14) Ail things, therefore, in the original creation spoke of God’s great purpose to glorify Himself in Christ.
By creation God also gave to every creature: “its being, shape, form, and several offices to serve its creator.” This, too, opposes every form of evolution—God gave to every creature its being, shape, form, and several offices. By “several offices” is meant the place each creature occupies in the creation so that it can serve the purpose of God. Creation is a beautiful harmony in which all creatures reveal the glory of God.
Impressed with the wonder of creation the child of God exclaims in faith: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork: Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.” (Psalm 19:1, 2) “O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens. . .When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man; that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man that thou visitest him?. . .O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:1, 3, 4, 9)