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Gospel of the Pentateuch, 1 - GOD IN CHRIST

By Charles Kingsley


      (Septuagesima Sunday.)

      GENESIS i. I. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

      We have begun this Sunday to read the book of Genesis. I trust that you will listen to it as you ought--with peculiar respect and awe, as the oldest part of the Bible, and therefore the oldest of all known works--the earliest human thought which has been handed down to us.

      And what is the first written thought which has been handed down to us by the Providence of Almighty God?

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

      How many other things, how many hundred other things, men might have thought fit to write down for those who should come after; and say-- This is the first knowledge which a man should have; this is the root of all wisdom, all power, all wealth.

      But God inspired Moses and the Prophets to write as they have written. They were not to tell men that the first thing to be learnt was how to be rich; nor how to be strong; nor even how to be happy: but that the first thing to be learnt was that God created the heaven and the earth.

      And why first?

      Because the first question which man asks--the question which shows he is a man and not a brute--always has been, and always will be-- Where am I? How did I get into this world; and how did this world get here likewise? And if man takes up with a wrong answer to that question, then the man himself is certain to go wrong in all manner of ways. For a lie can never do anything but harm, or breed anything but harm; and lies do breed, as fast as the blight on the trees, or the smut on the corn: only being not according to nature, or the laws of God, they do not breed as natural things do, after their kind: but, belonging to chaos, the kingdom of disorder and misrule, they breed fresh lies unlike themselves, of all strange and unexpected shapes; so that when a man takes up with one lie, there is no saying what other lie he may not take up with beside.

      Wherefore the first thing man has to learn is truth concerning the first human question, Where am I? How did I come here; and how did this world come here? To which the Bible answers in its first line- -

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

      How God created, the Bible does not tell us. Whether he created (as doubtless he could have done if he chose) this world suddenly out of nothing, full grown and complete; or whether he created it (as he creates you and me, and all living and growing things now) out of things which had been before it--that the Bible does not tell us.

      Perhaps if it had told us, it would have drawn away our minds to think of natural things, and what we now call science, instead of keeping our minds fixed, as it now does, on spiritual things, and above all on the Spirit of all spirits; Him of whom it is written, 'God is a Spirit'

      For the Bible is simply the revelation, or unveiling of God. It is not a book of natural science. It is not merely a book of holy and virtuous precepts. It is not merely a book wherein we may find a scheme of salvation for our souls. It is the book of the revelation, or unveiling of the Lord God, Jesus Christ; what he was, what he is, and what he will be for ever.

      Of Jesus Christ? How is he revealed in the text, 'In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth?'

      Thus:--If you look at the first chapter of Genesis and the beginning of the second, you will see that God is called therein by a different name from what he is called afterwards. He is called God, Elohim, The High or Mighty One or Ones. After that he is called the Lord God, Jehovah Elohim, which means properly, The High or Mighty I Am, or Jehovah, a word which I will explain to you afterwards. That word is generally translated in our Bible, as it was in the Greek, 'The Lord;' because the later Jews had such a deep reverence for the name Jehovah, that they did not like to write it or speak it: but called God simply Adonai, the Lord.

      So that we have three names for God in the Old Testament.

      First El, or Elohim, the Mighty One: by which, so Moses says, God was known to the Jews before his time, and which sets forth God's power and majesty--the first thing of which men would think in thinking of God.

      Next Jehovah. The I Am, the Eternal, and Self-existent Being, by which name God revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush--a deeper and wider name than the former.

      And lastly, Adonai, the Lord, the living Ruler and Master of the world and men, by which he revealed himself to the later Jews, and at last to all mankind in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.

      Now I need not to trouble your mind or my own with arguments as to how these three different names got into the Bible.

      That is a matter of criticism, of scholarship, with which you have nothing to do: and you may thank God that you have not, in such days as these. Your business is, not how the names got there, which is a matter of criticism, but why they have been left there by the providence of God, which is a matter of simple religion; and you may thank God, I say again, that it is so. For scholarship is Martha's part, which must be done, and yet which cumbers a man with much serving: but simple heart religion is the better part which Mary chose; and of which the Lord has said, that it shall not be taken from her, nor from those who, like her, sit humbly at the feet of the Lord, and hear his voice, without troubling their souls with questions of words, and endless genealogies, which eat out the hearts of men.

      Therefore all I shall say about the matter is that the first chapter of Genesis, and the first three verses of the second, may be the writing of a prophet older than Moses, because they call God Elohim, which was his name before Moses' time; and that Moses may have used them, and worked them into a book of Genesis; while he, in the part which he wrote himself, called God at first by the name Jehovah Elohim, The Lord God, in order to show that Jehovah and El were the same God, and not two different ones; and after he had made the Jews understand that, went on to call God simply Jehovah, and to use the two names, as they are used through the rest of the Old Testament, interchangeably: as we say sometimes God, sometimes the Lord, sometimes the Deity, and so forth; meaning of course always the same Being.

      That, I think, is the probable and simple account which tallies most exactly with the Bible.

      As for the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, having been written by Moses, or at least by far the greater part of them, I cannot see the least reason to doubt it.

      The Bible itself does not say so; and therefore it is not a matter of faith, and men may have their own opinions on the matter, without sin or false doctrine. But that Moses wrote part at least of them, our Lord and his Apostles say expressly. The tradition of the Jews (who really ought to know best) has always been that Moses wrote either the whole or the greater part. Moses is by far the most likely man to have written them, of all of whom we read in Scripture. We have not the least proof, and, what is more, never shall or can have, that he did not write them. And therefore, I advise you to believe, as I do, that the universal tradition of both Jews and Christians is right, when it calls these books, the books of Moses. {7}

      But now no more of these matters: we will think of a matter quite infinitely more important, and that is, WHO is this God whom the Bible reveals to us, from the very first verse of Genesis?

      At least, he is one and the same Being. Whether he be called El, Jehovah, or Adonai, he is the same Lord.

      It is the Lord who makes the heaven and the earth, the Lord who puts man in a Paradise, lays on him a commandment, and appears to him in visible shape.

      It is the Lord who speaks to Abraham: though Abraham knew him only as El-Shaddai, the Almighty God. It is the Lord who brings the Israelites out of Egypt, who gives them the law on Sinai. It is the Lord who speaks to Samuel, to David, to all the Prophets, and appears to Isaiah, while his glory fills the Temple. In whatever 'divers manners' and 'many portions,' as St. Paul says in the Epistle to the Hebrews, he speaks to them, he is the same Being.

      And Psalmists and Prophets are most careful to tell us that he is the God, not of the Jews only, but of the Gentiles; of all mankind-- as indeed, he must be, being Jehovah, the I Am, the one Self- existent and Eternal Being; that from his throne he is watching and judging all the nations upon earth, fashioning the hearts of all, appointing them their bounds, and the times of their habitation, if haply they may seek after him and find him, though he be not far from any one of them; for in him they live and move and have their being.

      This is the message of Moses, of the Psalmists and the Prophets, just as much as of St. Paul on Mars' Hill at Athens.

      So begins and so ends the Old Testament, revealing throughout The Lord.

      And how does the New Testament begin?

      By telling us that a Babe was born at Bethlehem, and called Jesus, the Saviour.

      But who is this blessed Babe? He, too, is The Lord.

      'A Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.' And from thence, through the Gospels, the Acts, the Epistles, the Revelation of St. John, he is the Lord. There is no manner of doubt of it. The Apostles and Evangelists take no trouble to prove it. They take it for granted. They call Jesus Christ by the name by which the Jews had for hundreds of years called the El of Abraham, the Jehovah of Moses. The Babe who is born at Bethlehem, who grows up as other human beings grow, into the man Christ Jesus, is none other than the Lord God who created the universe, who made a covenant with Abraham, who brought the Israelites out of Egypt, who inspired the Prophets, who has been from the beginning governing all the earth.

      It is very awful. But you must believe that, or put your Bibles away as a dream--New Testament and Old alike. Not to believe that fully and utterly, is not to believe the Bible at all. For that is what the Bible says, and has been sent into the world to say. It is, from beginning to end, the book of the revelation, or unveiling of Jesus Christ, very God of very God.

      But some may say, 'Why tell us that? Of course we believe it. We should not be Christians if we did not.'

      Be it so. I hope it is so. But I think that it is not so easy to believe it as we fancy.

      We believe it, I think, more firmly than our forefathers did five hundred years ago, on some points; and therefore we have got rid of many dark and blasphemous superstitions about witches and devils, about the evil of the earth and of our own bodies, of marriage, and of the common duties and bonds of humanity, which tormented them, because they could not believe fully that Jesus Christ had created, and still ruled the world and all therein.

      But we are all too apt still to think of Jesus Christ merely as some one who can save our souls when we die, and to forget that he is the Lord, who is and has been always ruling the world and all mankind.

      And from this come two bad consequences. People are apt to speak of the Lord Jesus--or at least to admire preachers who speak of him--as if he belonged to them, and not they to him; and, therefore, to speak of him with an irreverence and a familiarity which they dared not use, if they really believed that this same Jesus, whose name they take in vain, is none other than the Living God himself, their Creator, by whom every blade of grass grows beneath their feet, every planet and star rolls above their heads.

      And next--they fancy that the Old Testament speaks of our Lord Jesus Christ only in a few mysterious prophecies--some of which there is reason to suspect they quite misinterpret. They are slow of heart to believe all that the Scriptures have spoken of him of whom Moses and the Prophets did write, not in a few scattered texts, but in every line of the Old Testament, from the first of Genesis to the last of Malachi.

      And therefore they believe less and less, that Jesus Christ is still the Lord in any real practical sense--not merely the Lord of a few elect or saints, but the Lord of man and of the earth, and of the whole universe. They think of him as a Lord who will come again to judgment--which is true, and awfully true, in the very deepest sense: but they do not think of him--in spite of what he himself and his apostles declared of him--as The Living, Working Lord, to whom all power is given in heaven and earth, and not merely over the souls of a few regenerate; as the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, of whom St. Paul says, 'that the mystery of Christ has been hid from the beginning of the world in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.' * * * 'That, in the dispensation of the fulness of times, he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are in earth.' They fill their minds with fancies about the book of Revelation, most of which, there is reason to fear, are little else but fancies: while they overlook what that book really does say, and what is the best news that the world ever heard, that he is the Prince of the kings of the earth.

      Therefore they have fears for Christ's Bible, fears for Christ's Church, fears for the fate of the world, which they could not have if they would recollect who Christ is, and believe that he is able to take care of his own kingdom and power and glory, better than man can take care of it for him. Surely, surely, faith in the living Lord who rules the world in righteousness is fast dying out among us; and many who call themselves Christians seem to know less of Christ, and of the work which he is carrying on in the world, than did the old Psalmist, who said of him, 'The Lord shall endure for ever; he hath also prepared his seat for judgment. For he shall judge the world in righteousness, and minister true judgment among the people.' He fashioneth 'the hearts of all of them, and understandeth all their works.'

      Who can say that he believes that, who holds that this world is the devil's world, and that sinful man and evil spirits are having it all their own way till the day of judgment?

      Who can say that he believes that, who falls into pitiable terror at every new discovery of science or of scholarship, for fear it should destroy the Bible and the Christian faith, instead of believing that all which makes manifest is light, and that all light comes from the Father of lights, by the providence of Jesus Christ his only- begotten Son, who is the light of men, and the inspiration of his Spirit, who leadeth into all truth?

      And how, lastly, can those say that they believe that, who will lie, and slander, and have recourse to base intrigues, in order to defend that truth, and that Church, of which the Lord himself has said that he has founded it upon a rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it?

      But if you believe indeed the message of the Bible, that Jesus Christ is the Lord who made heaven and earth, then it shall be said of you, as it was of St. Peter, 'Blessed art thou: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father which is in heaven.'

      Yes. Blessed indeed is he who believes that; who believes that the same person who was born in a stable, had not where to lay his head, went about healing the sick and binding up the broken heart, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven--ascended thither that he might fill all things; and is none other than the Lord of the earth and of men, the Creator, the Teacher, the Saviour, the Guide, the King, the Judge, of all the world, and of all worlds past, present, and to come.

      For to him who thus believes shall be fulfilled the promise of his Lord, 'Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.'

      He will find rest unto his soul. Rest from that first and last question, of which I said that all men, down to the lowest savage, ask it, simply because they are men, and not beasts. Where am I? How came I here? How came this world here likewise? For he can answer--

      'I am in the kingdom of the Babe of Bethlehem. He put me here. And he put this world here likewise: and that is enough for me. He created all I see or can see--I care little how, provided that HE created it; for then I am sure that it must be very good. He redeemed me and all mankind, when we were lost, at the price of his most precious blood. He the Lord is King, therefore will I not be moved, though the earth be shaken, and the hills be carried into the midst of the sea. Yea, though the sun were turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, and the stars fell from heaven, and all power and order, all belief and custom of mankind, were turned upside down, yet there would still be One above who rules the world in righteousness, whose eye is on them that fear him and put their trust in his mercy, to deliver their soul from death, and to feed them in the time of dearth. Darkness may cover the land for awhile, and gross darkness the people. But while I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be my light, till the day when he shall say once more, "Let there be light," and light shall be.'

      Yes. To the man who is a good man and true; who has any hearty Christian feeling for his fellow-men, and is not merely a selfish superstitious person, caring for nothing but what he calls the safety of his own soul; to the man, I say, who has anything of the loving spirit of Christ in him, what question can be more important than this, Is the world well made or ill? Is it well governed or ill? Is it on the whole going right or going wrong? And what can be more comforting to such a man, than the answer which the Bible gives him at the outset?--

      This world is well made, in love and care; for Christ the Lord made it, and behold it was very good.

      This world is going right and not wrong, in spite of all appearances to the contrary; for Christ the Lord is King. He sitteth between the cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet. He is too strong and too loving to let the world go any way but the right. Parts of it will often go wrong here, and go wrong there. The sin and ignorance of men will disturb his order, and rebel against his laws; and strange and mad things, terrible and pitiable things will happen, as they have happened ever since the day when the first man disobeyed the commandment of the Lord. But man cannot conquer the Lord; the Lord will conquer man. He will teach men by their neighbours' sins. He will teach them by their own sins. He will chastise them by sore judgments. He will make fearful examples of wilful and conceited sinners; and those who seem to escape him in this life, shall not escape him in the life to come. But he is trying for ever every man's work by fire; and against that fire no lie will stand. He will burn up the stubble and chaff, and leave only the pure wheat for the use of future generations. His purpose will stand. His word will never return to him void, but will prosper always where he sends it. He has made the round world so sure that it cannot be moved either by man or by worse than man. His everlasting laws will take effect in spite of all opposition, and bring the world and man along the path, and to the end, which he purposed for them in the day when God made the heavens and the earth, and in that even greater day, when he said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,' and man arose upright, and knew that he was not as the beasts, and asked who he was, and where? feeling with the hardly opened eyes of his spirit after that Lord from whom he came, and to whom he shall return, as many as have eternal life, in the day when Christ the Lord of life shall have destroyed death, and put all enemies under his feet, and given up the kingdom to God, even the Father, that God may be all in all.

      Footnotes:

      {7} I must say that all attempts to put a later date on these books seems to me to fail simply from want of evidence. I must say, also, that all attempts to distinguish between 'Jehovistic' and 'Elohistic' documents (with the exception, perhaps, of the first chapter of Genesis) seem to me to fail likewise; and that the theory of an Elohistic and a Jehovistic sect has received its reductionem ad absurdum in a certain recent criticism of the Psalms.

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