More On The Christ-Creation Relationship
Previously I have referred to and quoted the Rev. H. Hoeksema’s explanation of Colossians 1:15, ff. as a clear instance of a sound and Scriptural delineation of the relation between Christ and creation by one who holds to the literal interpretation of the creation account in Genesis. You will recall that Dr. Kuitert indicts the so-called traditional theology on this count, and at least by implication claims that this serious fault of not connecting Christ and creation is to be traced to its holding to the traditional view of Genesis 1-3, with which Kuitert wants to do away completely.
Over against Dr. Kuitert’s position, I maintain,—apart from the question whether there has been any weakness on this score among Reformed theologians,—I maintain that any such possible weakness is notinherent in a literal understanding of Genesis. Any weakness which there may be is not to be traced to a Reformed conception of Scripture and to a strictly Reformed conception of creation. And as one instance of a plausible and Scriptural explanation by a Reformed theologian the late Rev. Hoeksema’s thorough-going exposition of Colossians 1 was cited.
Now I want to demonstrate, in addition, that this explanation of Colossians 1 is not an isolated, aphoristic, idea in Hoeksema’s theology. On the contrary, it is a central thought. It occurs again and again in his thinking, and at very crucial points. In fact, it is exactly the view developed from Colossians 1 which is one of the unifying factors in all of Hoeksema’s theology. Anyone who is thoroughly acquainted with his writings will be able readily to guess where this conception of Christ as the firstborn of every creature is likely to occur in his thinking. Permit me to point to various passages from his writings.
As might be expected, in the second volume of “The Triple Knowledge, An Exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism,” in connection with Lord’s Day IX, in the chapter entitled “The Eternal Father Creator,” (pp. 165, ff.) there is extensive comment both on the doctrine of creation and on the relation between Christ and creation. Before I quote with respect to the latter subject, let me quote a few lines which are pertinent with respect to the whole subject of creation which is so much discussed nowadays.
Very properly and beautifully the Heidelberg Catechism, speaking of God’s fatherhood with respect to all things, as the Creator of heaven and earth, mentions God’s eternal counsel. It is true that it introduces this counsel here, strictly speaking, not in connection with creation, but as the power whereby God still upholds and governs all things; but this necessarily implies that the same universe that is thus upheld by God’s counsel was also created according to and by the same eternal decree.
And let it be understood from the very outset that it is of utmost importance to speak of this eternal purpose and counsel of God as logically preceding the act of creation, and to present the whole universe, all that exists in space and time, as the revelation and unfolding of this eternal counsel. For only in this way can we maintain a clear and correct conception of God’s relation to the world as its Creator. Only then can we maintain and somewhat understand, that God, as the Catechism expresses, it, “out of nothing made heaven and earth,” and that creation reveals Him as the One Who “calleth the things that be not as though they were,” or again, “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 understanding this, we will be in no danger to exchange the teaching of Scripture on this point for the philosophy of man with regard to the origin of the world, and, therefore, also with respect to God. Then we will have no inclination whatever to compromise with the theory of evolution, nor admit that it is capable of offering a solution of the problem it claims to solve, for it can never understand that “things which are seen are not made of things which do appear.”
The above is worth contemplating for those who are interested in the theological roots of the current departures in the direction of evolutionism. Somewhere, somehow, you will discover, those theologians who are forsaking the truth of creation have first departed from or forgotten the truth of God’s eternal counsel.
But now to the specific point. In developing the truth of the relation between God’s counsel and creation, Rev. Hoeksema writes as follows, p. 171:
. . . All the individual moments in that counsel are conceived and arranged in their relation to one another according to infinite divine wisdom and logic. And this means that in God’s mind all these individual moments are so conceived that all in their own position serve the one purpose: the highest possible revelation of God in the glory of His majesty and the beauty of His triune covenant life. In this sense, I would never hesitate to maintain that the supralapsarian view of the counsel of God is the only true, and biblical, conception. There is, of course, no time element in God’s decree. It is eternal. We cannot properly speak of before and after when referring to the eternal good pleasure. But there is perfect subordination of means to ends, and of all means to the one end: the glory of God. And this means that in God’s counsel Christ, and that, too, as the incarnated Son of God, as the crucified One that rose again, as the fast begotten of the dead, is in that sense “the firstborn of every creature.” Of Him God conceived “first.” In Him He purposed to reveal all the fulness of His glory. And unto Him, i.e., in order that the glory of His grace might become fully manifest in all its manifold riches, the Church is given as His body by the decree of election. And all the rest, the counsel of reprobation and the counsel of creation, the counsel concerning the fall and the counsel of providence occupy in God’s eternal purpose the place of means unto the end of the realization of the glorious Christ and His glorious body dwelling in the tabernacle of God in the new creation. All things exist for the Church, the Church exists for Christ, and Christ exists for God!
At this point the author points out that this conception of God’s counsel is derived from Scripture. First of all, he points to the fact that Proverbs 8:22,ff. speaks this language beautifully. Concerning this passage, which speaks of “Wisdom” in such a striking manner, he writes as follows:
It is not our purpose now to give a complete exegesis of this most profound and rich portion of Scripture. For our present purpose it may suffice to observe the following: 1. On the one hand, it should be plain that Wisdom in this section is not identical with the Logos (the Word) of
. For the Logos is the infinite Word God speaks, the personal Image of the Father, and is begotten of the Father. But in this passage Wisdom is distinguished from God, the Lord, and is created, or formed, i.e., conceived in God’s mind (Canani, in the LXX: ektise). 2. On the other hand, the language forbids us to think of a mere figure of speech, when throughout Wisdom is presented as having personal subsistence. This Wisdom, then, though not itself the eternal Word, has its personal subsistence in the Logos. In other words, it is the whole implication of God’s eternal counsel with respect to all things, the decree of God as the living and eternal conception of God, conceived by the Triune God “before the world was,” and that, too, of the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit. The eternal Son of God, Who is the perfect and expressed image of the Father, is also the “Mediator of the decree of God,” in the sense that in Him, in Whom the Father beholds the infinite perfections of the Godhead, He now also eternally conceives the reflection and revelation of those perfections in the created world. Wisdom, then, is the “world-idea” as eternally conceived by the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit.
After this the author turns to the passage in Colossians 1, the well-known “firstborn of every creature” passage; and this time he writes as follows:
To be sure, He of whom the apostle here speaks has His personal subsistence in the Son of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. And yet, even as was the case with Wisdom in
it is evident that all that is predicated here of this Firstborn cannot be said of the Son of God in the divine nature. Whatever attempts have been made to explain the expression “the firstborn of every creature” so that it might be applicable to the divine Son of God, it is very clear that this phrase does not apply to the second Person of the Trinity. He is not the “firstborn of every creature,” for He is neither born nor a creature: He is the eternally begotten God! Nor is the Son as such the head of the body, or the first begotten from the dead; nor even can it be said of the Son of God in the divine nature, that He has the preeminence in ah things, or that by the good pleasure of the Father all the fulness dwells in Him. But all these predicates are readily understood if we apply them to Christ, and that, too, as He appears in God’s eternal conception of all things, that is, in the counsel of God. In that counsel Christ, and that as the firstborn from the dead, the glorified Christ, in whom all the fulness should dwell, is the beginning (the archee; the reshith of
and the firstborn of every creature, Who, in the counsel of God is not only logically first, but Who as the firstborn, also opens the womb of creation, and prepares the way for all creatures; and again, Who as such holds the preeminence above them all. The eternal Son of God, the Word that is with God in eternity, and Who is the express image of His substance, is, as it were, the infinite pattern according to which all things are conceived, and in Whom as the Christ exalted all the fulness must dwell. God is first the “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and as such He is also the Creator of heaven and earth. As the Catechism expresses it: “The eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” made of nothing the heaven and the earth and all things that are therein, and still upholds them by His eternal counsel and providence!
Nor is all this mere theory and the kind of sterile supralapsarianism which has often characterized other theologies, concentrating on an abstract theory of the order of God’s decrees. The author had very little interest in that abstract question; but he never tired in his preaching and teaching of referring to the beauty of the above conception. And in the chapter from which I have been quoting he points to the implications of this idea for our view of the significance of creation and, in fact, for our whole world-and-life-view. I would like to quote all that he writes in this connection; but that would be too long a quotation. Let me enumerate some of the points which he makes, first of all. He points to the following: 1) That in this light we can begin to understand how creation reveals God as the absolute Sovereign of all, and as the Father Omnipotent. 2) That this truth of creation teaches us that God’s will and counsel are the only raison d’ etreof the whole universe. The world is exactly as God willed it to be. Creation is an act of absolute freedom and sovereignty. 3) That this means that the world, as it was called forth in the beginning, as it develops in time, and as it will be perfected in the “ages of ages,” is the revelation of perfect divine wisdom, the highest possible revelation of the glory of God, that it is also acomplete revelation of God, and that it is the best possible world. 4) That the world in the “beginning” was adapted to the end with perfect wisdom, i.e., was so created that, through the deep way of sin and death, it could be raised to the highest possible glory by the power of grace in Christ. Here the author explains as follows:
God knows the end from the beginning, and the baiter is adapted to the former. When He created the world, He had that end in view: the highest realization and revelation of His tabernacle with men in Christ Jesus our Lord! When God in the beginning saw that all things were good, the meaning is not simply that they were perfect and flawless, without defect, as they had come forth from His hands, but also that they were perfectly adapted to the end He had in view. And that end is the Kingdom of heaven, the heavenly tabernacle of God with men in Christ. It is because of this that the things as they were made in the beginning are an image of things to come, and that things are done or take place in parables. It is true, of course, that without God’s revelation in Christ as we have it in the Holy Scriptures, we could never see this reflection of things to come in the things that are made, and that Christ only could point out the parables that take place round about us; but the fact remains that the earthy creation reflects the things of the kingdom of heaven, is an image of things heavenly. Adam is an image of Him that was to come, and Christ is the last Adam. The First Paradise is an earthly picture of the Paradise of God in the new creation, and the original tree of life is to be fully realized in its heavenly beauty when all things are made new. The seed that falls in the earth and dies and is quickened again is a parable of the resurrection, both in its spiritual, and its physical sense. The sun that dispels the darkness of the night is an image of the Sun of righteousness, and the moon that floods the night with its mellow light, and assures us that the sun is still there, though we do not see her, is a silent preacher of the promise of God that the Sun will rise again in all its glory in the Day of the Lord. And so all creation, the lion and the lamb, the soaring eagle and the strong ox, the tall cedar and the sturdy oak, the mighty mountain and the barren desert, the flashing lightning and the rolling thunder, storm and zephyr, earthquake and eruption, color and number, as well as man in all the relations of man and wife, brother and sister, father and son, king and subject,—all speak the language of redemption to us, if our ear is only attuned and made receptive by the Word of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. And so, all the works of God are one, even as He is One. They were one in the beginning. For God did not create a mere number of creatures, but a cosmos, rising by His creative power from the darkness of the chaos in a succession of creatures higher and higher, until they reached their pinnacle in man; in whose heart the whole cosmos was united with the heart of God: a kingdom, in which all creatures must serve man, that man might serve his God. But they are also one, in that the beginning is connected with and adapted to the end: the new creation that will forever be united with God in the heart of Immanuel, God with us!
Finally, in this chapter Rev. Hoeksema relates all this to the Christian’s faith and to his only comfort in life and death, as follows:
what does it all mean? . . . The central idea the Catechism here expresses (in Lord’s Day 9, HCH) must be grasped clearly: it is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that, too, not only as the eternal Father of the eternal Son, but also as. the Father of Jesus Christ, that created all things according to His eternal counsel; and who as such is my God and Father for Christ’s sake; hence, by faith I may put the present evil moment in God’s perfect counsel of wisdom and love, and believe that all is well!
God is the eternal Father of the elect. O, it is true, He is the Father of all in the sense that He brought them forth, created them. But in the true, spiritual sense, He is the Father only of His own, whom He gave to Christ in His eternal counsel. For through sin men became the children of their father the devil, and do his will. They neither have the right nor the power to be children of God. We must not follow modernism in its boast of a universal fatherhood of God. But in Christ, and for His sake, we obtain the right to be called children of God, and by His grace we are also conformed according to the image of His Son. And all this is realized according to God’s eternal purpose, that same purpose and good pleasure according to which He created all things and governs all things what then? Knowing that He is my Father for Christ’s sake, I know that in His eternal wisdom He so arranged all things that all things must cooperate unto the final revelation of Christ, and the salvation of all that are in Him! Knowing that He is almighty, I am assured that He will surely accomplish all His good pleasure, so that nothing can betide me but by His will. And knowing that He loves me, and that, too, with an eternal and immutable love, manifested in the death of His Son, I trust that He will surely cause all things to work together unto my salvation. And so, the believer in Christ relies on Him entirely, confident that all things always work together for good to them that love God! The eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator omnipotent, the only Potentate of potentates, the God of our salvation, is my God and Father!
This, I submit, is solid stuff! It is Reformed. It is Scriptural. It is relevant for the present evil moment,—much more relevant than all the universalistic, social gospel tripe which is being passed off as so highly relevant today in Reformed circles. And here is a word for those who are forevermore talking about the kerugma, the message: here, if you please is the kerugma of creation! But remember, if you take creation (and I mean Biblical creation) away, you at once destroy the kerugma too. And no vague philosophy of a Kuiterian teaching model will serve as a substitute for the evangel! I promised to show how this concept recurs in the late Herman Hoeksema’s theology.
I have already quoted at length, however; and I cannot take more space for quotations. Besides, I have amply set forth his conception of the relation between Christ and creation in the quotations already given. For the rest, let me merely point the reader to several more instances where this same concept occurs. First of all, this idea is found repeatedly in this same series; “The Triple Knowledge, An Exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism.”
1. In Vol. 2, pp. 209, ff., in connection with the doctrine of God’s providence.
2. In Vol. 3, pp. 44, ff., in connection with the idea of the office of Christ, Lord’s Day XII.
3. As might be expected, in Vol. 4, pp. 32, ff., there is a detailed explanation again of Col. 1:15, ff., in connection with the idea of Christ’s resurrection. And of the Colossians passage Hoeksema himself writes this time: “Glorious, all-embracing conception! Here is a ‘world-and-life-view,’ a truly divine philosophy, if you please, as you could never expect to arise in the heart of man!”
4. In Vol. 5, pp. 37, ff., in connection with the subject of the election of the church. Also in “Reformed Dogmatics” by the same author this same view repeatedly occurs. I will not mention all the references, but only point to the chief one, the very thorough and beautiful. exposition of the “Pactum Salutis” in the section on Christology, Chapter 1, pages 285, ff. This, in my opinion, is one of the finest chapters in that entire work, and worthy of careful study. Once again, therefore, in conclusion, let no one say that Reformed theology, holding to the strict and literal interpretation of Genesis, is not capable of connecting Christ and creation.