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Nisbet James - Church Pulpit Commentary

Genesis 1

1. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

2. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

3. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

4. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

5. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

6. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

7. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

8. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

9. And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.

10. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

11. And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.

12. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

13. And the evening and the morning were the third day.

14. And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

15. And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.

16. 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.

17. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,

18. And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.

19. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

20. And God said, 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.

21. And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

22. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.

23. And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

24. And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.

25. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

26. And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

27. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

28. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

29. And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.

30. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.

31. And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

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Genesis 1

THE SUBLIME INTRODUCTION ‘In the beginning God.’ Gen 1:1 What an inspiring thought is brought before us in the text—the Triune God, the Foundation and the Centre of all things! I. God the Centre of the Universe.—‘In the beginning God.’ So says the text, and this is our faith in regard to the creation of the world. Geologists and scientists may tell us that the world is much older than any one can conceive; but that does not shake our faith. We go back to the beginning of things, and say that, whenever that time was, God was the Creator of the Universe (see Illustrations below). No scientific teaching can get behind that. What the scientist cannot explain, the humble believer can appreciate by God’s own revelation. And just as God created the world, so He upholds all things by the Word of His power. II. God the Centre of the World’s Affairs.—Men talk of empires as though they could build them up as and when they wished; but the empire in which God is not recognised rests upon an unstable foundation. Men are too apt to say, ‘Is not this Great Babylon that I have built?’ forgetting altogether that the Most High can say, ‘Thy kingdom is departed from thee.’ And this thought begets another. The empire that will endure is that which is built on the eternal principles of righteousness. III. God the Centre of the Individual Life.—Are we conscious of this great truth that the great Triune God is the centre of our life, that in Him we live and move and have our being? Do we realise (a) the controlling, (b) the guiding, (c) the inspiring, (d) the impelling power of God in our own individual life? If not, it is because we have let sin have dominion over us, and thus God has been shut out. Illustration (1) ‘As there never was a time when God did not exist, and as activity is an essential part of His Being (Joh 5:17), so probably there was never a time when worlds did not exist, and in the process of calling them into existence when and how He willed, we may well believe that God acted in accordance with the working of some universal law of which He is Himself the Author. It was natural with St. John, when placing the same words at the commencement of his Gospel, to carry back our minds to a more absolute conceivable “beginning,” when the work of creation had not commenced, and when in the whole universe there was only God.’ (2) ‘The words of Gen 1:1, as read by a young Japanese in 1864, were the means of awakening within him a strong desire to learn more of the God of whom they speak. The Japanese youth referred to, named Neeshima, and belonging to a good family, had got hold of a geography book in Chinese, published by an American missionary, of which the first words were, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” “Who was this God?” the youth asked himself. “He did not live in Japan; but, perhaps, He was in America,” whence the author of the book came, and thither he would go and seek for God. The old law forbidding the Japanese to leave their country was still in force; but at the peril of his life he made his way to China in a trading vessel, and thence to Boston. Here he found himself greatly perplexed, and said to the ship captain with whom he had travelled: “I came all the way to Boston to find God, and there is no one to tell me.” The captain took him to the owner of the vessel, Mr. Hardy, a well-known Christian merchant. This gentleman treated him as a son, and sent him to college. He soon found the God he had been seeking, and became an earnest follower of Christ. In 1875 he returned to Japan as a missionary, and became principal of the Dôshisha, a Christian college at Kioto, in connection with the American Congregationalist Misson. There he was destined to have a mighty influence in awakening the hearts of his countrymen. The college over which he presided, the largest Christian one in Japan, has produced a very deep impression on the religious history of that country in late years. As long as Neeshima lived, he was the centre of that influence. His wisdom, his personal character, and true devotion to his Master, were widely felt, and though since his death in 1890 other workers have been raised up, those who knew him well and were his colleagues feel that they will not look upon his like again. Some time after the death of the first principal there was for a time some apprehension that the influence of the Dôshisha was going to be cast on the side of a Socinian form of teaching that was emasculating the Christian faith. But since the great revival that recently passed over Japan this danger has been happily averted, and the Dôshisha is still as stout a champion of the Gospel as ever.’


‘ALL THE BLESSINGS OF THE LIGHT’ “And God said, Let there be light.’ Gen 1:3 I. We have reason every day that we live to thank God for life and health, for countless blessings. And not least among these may be reckoned the free gift of, and the many ‘blessings of the light.’ For in many ways that we can tell off, at once, upon our fingers, and in very many more ways that we neither dream of nor think of, does light minister to our health, wealth, and comfort. The very birds sing at daybreak their glad welcome to the dawn, and the rising sun. And we all know and feel how cheering is the power of light. In the sunlight rivers flash, and nature rejoices, and our hearts are light, and we take a bright view of things. So, too, light comes to revive and restore us. Darkness is oppressive. In it we are apt to lose heart. We grow anxious, and full of fears. With the first glimmer of light in the distance, hope awakens, and we feel a load lifted off our minds. Again, we have often felt the reassuring power of light. In the darkness, objects that are perfectly harmless take threatening shapes; the imagination distorts them, and our fancy creates dangers. Light shows us that we have been alarmed at shadows; quiets, and reassures us. Once again, the light comes to us, often, as nothing less than a deliverer. It reveals dangers hidden and unsuspected; the deadly reptile; the yawning precipice; the lurking foe. And when, over and above all this, we remember that light is absolutely essential, not to health only, but to life in every form, animal and vegetable alike, we shall heartily echo the words of the wise king in Ecclesiastes—‘Truly the light is sweet; and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun.’ II. All things are double one against another. The types in the natural world all have their antitypes in the moral and spiritual world. So we find it here. The natural light of which we have been speaking; the sun, which is the centre of our system—is a type of another light, of which we are now going to speak. When God sends this light, of which we speak, into a soul that has long been dwelling in, and rejoicing in the darkness which the evil liver loves, a man’s first impulse generally is to shrink from it—to shut it out. As you know very well, one of the chief characteristics of light is that it shows things, not as they might be, not as they are said to be, not as they ought to be, not as they are supposed to be, not as we would like them to be, but as they are! In some way or another God sends a flood of pure light into your home; sometimes it is through sickness; sometimes through sorrow; now by means of an accident; now it is the innocent prattle of a little child. Your life is revealed to you just as it is! There hang the thick cobwebs—long indulged, confirmed evil habits; here lies the thick dust of a dulled conscience—there the dark stains of grievous sins. And the air is full of countless motes—these are what you call ‘little sins’—motes of ill-temper; motes of malice and unkindness; motes of forgetfulness of God, and many others. It is from God, this light; stand in it; gaze at it; look through it, till you see His face who sends it—God, who in the beginning said, as He saw the earth ‘without form, and void,’ who says, as He looks at you, ‘Let there be light.’ —Rev. J. B. C. Murphy.


‘DAY AND NIGHT’ ‘God called the light day, and the darkness He called night.’ Gen 1:5 (I.) One of the first lessons which God intends us to learn from the night is a larger respect for wholesome renovation. Perhaps this may not show itself in any great lengthening of our bodily life, but rather in a more healthy spirit, less exposed to that prevailing unrest which fills the air and which troubles so many minds. (II.) The night is the season of wonder. A new and strangely equipped population, another race of beings, another sequence of events, comes into and fills the world of the mind. Men who have left their seal upon the world, and largely helped in the formation of its deepest history,—men whose names stand up through the dim darkness of the past, great leaders and masters, have admitted that they learned much from the night. (III.) The next thought belonging to the night is that then another world comes out and, as it were, begins its day. There is a rank of creatures which moves out into activity as soon as the sun has set. This thought should teach us something of tolerance; senses, dispositions, and characters are very manifold and various among ourselves. Each should try to live up to the light he has, and allow a brother to do the same. (IV.) Such extreme contrasts as are involved in light and darkness may tell us that we have as yet no true measure of what life is, and it must be left to some other conditions of existence for us to realise in anything like fulness the stores, the processes, the ways of the Kingdom of the Lord which are provided for such as keep His law. (V.) Let us learn that, whether men wake or sleep, the universe is in a state of progress, ‘the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together.’ (VI.) Let us learn to use day rightly and righteously, to accept the grace and the forces of the Lord while it is called to-day, and then the night shall have no forbidding, no repulsive significance. Rev. H. Jones. Illustration (1) ‘Light in verse 3 is not the same word as is rendered lights (ver. 14, etc.), to describe light-giving bodies or lamps. There is light in nature quite apart from the sun or stars. The dividing of light from darkness, and their naming as day and night are difficult to explain apart from a possible anticipation (by no means surprising in a Hebrew author) of the subsequent events (ver. 14 to 19), but may refer to facts beyond our present knowledge. It is believed, on good scientific grounds, that the earth had light and heat for vast ages before any differences of climate existed such as are produced by sunlight, and this accords with the general teaching of Genesis.’ (2) ‘The heretofore dark mass began to give light—at first poor in quality, but improving as condensation went on—until our planet attained the temperature of our sun, and then the light was good for all its present uses. This completion of the evolution of good light occurred before the earth was covered with a dark crust, and by its opaque body divided the light on the sun side from the darkness on the other.’ (3) ‘Take the reference to the appointment of sun and moon, “the great light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night.” Again the purpose of the narrative is not scientific but religious. “In the teeth of an all but universal worship of sun, moon, and stars, it declares them the manufacture of God, and the ministers and servants of man.” As Calvin puts it, with characteristic shrewdness and good sense, “Moses, speaking to us by the Holy Spirit, did not treat of the heavenly luminaries as an astronomer, but as it became a theologian, having regard to us rather than to the stars.” ’


SUN AND MOON ‘And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.’ Gen 1:14 There are few words much oftener in our mouths than that short but most important word, ‘Time.’ It is the long measure of our labour, expectation, and pain; it is the scanty measure of our rest and joy. And yet, with all this frequent mention of it, there are, perhaps, few things about which men really think less, few things upon which they have less real settled thought. I. Two remarkable characteristics make up the best account which we can give of time. The one, how completely, except in its issue, it passes from us; the other, how entirely, in that issue, it ever abides with us. We are the sum of all past time. It was the measure of our opportunities, of our growth. Our past sins are still with us as losses in the sum of our lives. Our past acts of self-denial, our struggles with temptation, our prayers, our times of more earnest communion with God,—these are with us still in the blessed work which the Holy Spirit has wrought within us. II. Such thoughts should awaken in us: (1) deep humiliation for the past; (2) thankfulness for the past mercies of God; (3) calm trust and increased earnestness for the future. Bishop S. Wilberforce. Illustration ‘It is noticeable that while this chapter does not profess to be a scientific account of creation, not only is creation represented as a gradual process, but the simpler living forms are introduced first, and the more advanced afterwards, as the fossil remains of plants and animals prove to have been the case. God has seen fit to appoint, in the world of mind as well as of matter, great lights, and lesser lights, and least lights, answering to the daylight, moonlight, and starlight of the heavens.’


THE DIVINE IMAGE IN MAN ‘And God said, Let us make man in our image.’ Gen 1:26 It is not too much to say that redemption itself, with all its graces and all its glories, finds its explanation and its reason in creation. Mystery, indeed, besets us on every side. There is one insoluble mystery—the entrance, the existence of evil. It might have been fatal, whencesoever derived, whithersoever traceable, to the regard of God for the work of His own hands. He might have turned away with disgust and abhorrence from the creature which had broken loose from Him, under whatsoever influence, short—and it must have been short—of absolute compulsion. No injustice and no hardship would have been involved, to our conception, in the rebel being taken at his word, and left to reap as he had sown. Nevertheless, we say this—that if we have knowledge of an opposite manner and feeling on the part of God; if we receive from Him a message of mercy and reconciliation, if we hear such a voice as this from the ‘excellent glory,’ ‘I have laid help upon One that is mighty, I have found a ransom,’ there is in the original relationship of the Creator to the creature a fact upon which the other fact can steady and ground itself. He who thought it worth while to create, foreseeing consequences, can be believed, if He says so, to have thought it worth while to rescue and renew. Nay, there is in this redemption a sort of antecedent fitness, inasmuch as it exculpates the act of creation from the charge of short-sightedness or of mistake, and turns what this book calls the repentance of God Himself that He had made man, into an illustration unique and magnificent of the depths of the riches of His wisdom, revealing, St. Paul says, to higher intelligences new riches of the universe, of His attributes, and making angels desire to look into the secrets of His dealing with a race bought back with blood. In this sense and to this extent creation had redemption in it, redemption in both its parts, atonement by the work of Christ, sanctification by the work of the Spirit. ‘Let us make man in our image’—created anew in Jesus Christ—‘after the image of Him that created him.’ I. First Divine Likeness: Spirituality. ‘God is a spirit,’ and I would make it our first thought now. If it had been ‘God is intelligence,’ or ‘God is reason,’ or ‘God is light,’ in that sense of light in which it stands for knowledge, whether in possession or communication, we should have been carried off the track of profiting, and we should have been called, besides, to enter into many subtle distinctions between the intelligence of the animal nature and the intelligence of the rational. But it is otherwise when we make this the first feature of the divine image in man. He too, like God, is spirit! he has other characteristics which he shares not with God; he is in one part matter; he is in one part of ‘the earth, earthy’; he is in one part material and perishing; but he is spirit, too. There is that in us which is independent of space and time. We all count it a reproach to call one another carnal or to call one another animal. There is a world altogether incorporeal in which human nature, such as God has made it, finds its most real, most congenial and most characteristic being. It is in the converse of mind with mind and spirit with spirit that we are conscious of our keenest interests and our most satisfying enjoyments. Man is spirit. This it is which makes him capable of intercourse and communion with God Himself. This it is which makes prayer possible, and thanksgiving possible, and worship possible, in more than a form and a name. II. Second Divine Likeness: Sympathy. Love is sympathy, and God is love. We may feel that there is a risk of irreverence in so stating the condescension of the Son of God to our condition of liability to and experience of suffering as to make it indispensable to His feeling with us under it. Sympathy is an attribute of Deity. When God made man in His own likeness, He made him thereby capable of sympathy. The heart of God is the well-spring of sympathy; the Incarnate Son needed not to learn sympathy by taking upon Him our flesh. When we look upwards in our hour of pain and anguish for comfort and help, for support and strength, we separate not between the Father and the Son in our appeal. We invoke the sympathy of the Father who has not Himself suffered, as well as a Saviour who hungered and thirsted, wept and bled below. It was not to learn sympathy as a new attainment that God in the fulness of time sent forth His Son; but that which is His very trinity is light, omnipotence, omniscience, and holiness; He came forth to manifest in the sight of the creature, in the sight of the sinful and sorrow-laden, that they might not only know in the abstract that there is compassion in heaven, but witness its exercise in human dealing, and be drawn to it by a realising sense of its accessibility and of its tenderness. The image of God is, in the second place, sympathy—spirituality without sympathy might conceivably be a cold and spiritless grace: it might lift us above earth in the sense of the higher nature and the everlasting home: it would not brighten earth itself in its myriad clouds and shadows of suffering by bringing down into it the love of God and the tender mercies, which are the very sunshine of His smile. III. Third Divine Likeness: Influence. A third feature of the divine likeness is needed to complete the trinity of graces which were the endowment of the unfallen, and shall be the higher heritage of the restored man. The third feature is that which we call influence; the other two are conditions of it. Without spirituality there can be no action at all of mind upon mind; without sympathy there can be no such actions as we speak of, for threatening is not influence, and command is not influence. These things stand without to speak, and never enter into the being which they would deter or compel. Influence is by name and essence that gentle flowing in of one nature and one personality into another which touches the spring of will and makes the volition of one the volition of the other. As the divine attribute of sympathy wrought in the Incarnation, the Passion, and the intercession of the Eternal Son, so the divine attribute of influence works in the mission of the Eternal Spirit to be the ever-present Teacher and Comforter of all who will yield themselves to His sway. It needs, surely, but a small amount of humility to allow to the Divine Creator the same kind, or, at least, the same degree, of access to the spirits and souls of His creatures, which we see to be possessed by those His creatures, one over another. It is, indeed, a worse than heathenish negation of the power and activity of God, the source of all, if we debar Him alone from the exercise of that spiritual influence which we find to be universal, which we find to be all but resistless in the hands of those who possess it but by His leave. ‘God said, Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness.’ Dean Vaughan.


THE DIVINE VERDICT ‘And God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.’ Gen 1:31 No one can prove to us that God made the world; but faith, which is stronger than all arguments, makes us certain of it. I. All which God has made is good, as He is, and, therefore, if anything in the world seems to be bad, one of two things must be true of it: (1) either it is not bad, though it seems so to us, and God will bring good out of it in His own good time; or (2) if the thing is really bad, then God did not make it. It must be a disease, a mistake, a failure of man’s making, or of some person’s making, but not of God’s making. For all that He has made He sees eternally, and, behold, it is very good. II. God created each of us good in His own mind, else He would not have created us at all. Why does God’s thought of us, God’s purpose about us, seem to have failed? We do not know, and we need not know. Whatever sin we inherited from Adam, God looks on us now, not as we are in Adam, but as we are in Christ. God looks not on the old corrupt nature which we inherited from Adam, but on the new and good grace which God has meant for us from all eternity, which Christ has given us now. III. That which is good in us God has made; He will take care of what He has made, for He loves it. All which is bad in us God has not made, and therefore He will destroy it; for He hates all that He has not made, and will not suffer it in His world. Before all worlds, from eternity itself, God said, ‘Let us make man in our likeness,’ and nothing can hinder God’s word but the man himself. If a man loves his fallen nature better than the noble, just, loving grace of God, and gives himself willingly up to the likeness of the beasts that perish, then only can God’s purpose towards him become of none effect. Canon C. Kingsley. Illustration (1) ‘God saw that it was good.’ His ideals are always realised. The Divine Artist never finds that the embodiment of His thought falls short of the thought. ‘What act is all its thought had been? What will but felt the fleshly screen?’ But He has no hindrances nor incompleteness in His creative work, and the very sabbath rest with which the narrative closes symbolises, not His need of repose, but His perfect accomplishment of His purpose. God ceases from His works because ‘the works were finished,’ and he saw that all was very good.’ (2) ‘It seems more like a story of mythology than a recital of truth and fact—this record of the garden eastward in Eden. I have wandered far from its blessedness and innocence. Yet I like to believe in that golden past which lies behind me. It may be a long distance behind. It may be separated from me by many more years than I am able to reckon. But once it was a reality. In the infancy of the world there was a Paradise where nothing but what was fair and gracious grew. And in this Paradise a man and a woman walked with God in the cool of the day. They were fashioned like me, but they were unacquainted with my sins. They were holy and harmless and undefiled. And why am I glad to remember this? Because what has been may be again. I delight in the thought of that old Eden, remote as it is, impossible as it sometimes looks. It tells me of the lofty levels on which humanity has walked, and may walk. It assures me that there is no iron necessity which makes me a sinner simply because I am a man. It opens the door of a golden future as well as of a golden past.’



King James Version

This is the 1769 King James Version of the Holy Bible (also known as the Authorized Version). "Public Domain"