The Parable of Creation/Chapter1
OUT OF THE DARKNESS INTO THE LIGHT.
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 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. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.—Gen. I: 1-5.
One error is usually the parent of a thousand. False premises inevitably lead to false conclusions. A single flaw in the logic of an argument is subversive of the truth of all succeeding statements. A mistake in one figure, at the beginning of a protracted arithmetical calculation will grow into an error of millions in the outcome.
This law is universal. Error will not, in any of its aspects, produce truth. There is only one royal rule for the pursuit of wisdom, and that is to start from facts or propositions which are true. In that case we at least begin aright with a fair prospect of so continuing; while otherwise we begin wrong with a certainty of diverging further and further into error at each succeeding step.
The subversion of this rule has constituted the grand trouble of Christian doctrine. It is this which has divided churches, created sects, aroused the din of conflicting opinions, and rent Christendom into a hundred warring fragments. It is this which has placed weapons in the hands of infidels wherewith to wound the church, has furnished them with arguments for the overthrow of its truths, and has presented to them fair opportunities for ridicule.
It is this which has disgusted honest seekers after truth, and repelled the many whose minds are so constituted that they cannot decide between conflicting opinions which are equally unfounded, nor accept of dogmas which offend their rationality.
No illustration of this could be more obvious than that which may be made by the estimation which has been placed upon the Bible. That book is held to be the Word of God. It is regarded as a revealment of his will, and an embodiment of his wisdom. So far it is well. But as a fundamental principle of its construction, we are further informed that it is to be literally construed; that it has no higher purpose than appears upon its face; that its histories are mere human histories, its allusions to creation and other kindred themes literal geological science; and the inconsistencies of its letter, mysteries beyond the reach of the human mind, to be acknowleged by faith.
This is the error which has been the parent of all perversions of the Bible. Paul says that "all scripture is God-breathed." He admonishes his brethren that God has made them able ministers, not of its letter but of its spirit. And he warns them that "the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." So it is his delight to extract from sacred history its true spirit. He has little use for its letter, except to draw from narrative or ceremonial command a spiritual explanation which shall lead his hearer's mind, away from the earthly things of which they seem to treat, up to the holier lessons with which he shows them to be full.
In this he does but follow the example of our Lord. Whether in quotations from the old Scripture or in sayings of his own, our Lord ever leads the mind above the letter, above the earthly, to the spiritual lesson with which the literal is filled. Without a parable without a spiritual meaning within the literal saying it is declared that He never spake to them. In this manner the water of Jacob's well became a lesson of that spiritual water the gospel truth of which he who drank would live forever. In this way the story of the destruction and up-building of the temple became, at his lips, a history of his own death and resurrection. Thus the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes became, under his explanation, an illustration of the truth that men were to labor for the meat which endureth unto everlasting life. And when his disciples were inclined grossly to misunderstand the command that they were to eat his flesh and drink his blood, He declared to them, "It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing."
But why multiply examples? The literal sense of the Scripture is valueless except as it contains, enwrapped within, a spiritual lesson. The Word of God has been made of none effect by the process of literalizing it. This fundamental error has sapped its life, has made it seem inconsistent, and has taught by implication that God had no higher motive in giving the Old Testament than to write a history of the Jews, and no grander purpose in the opening of Genesis than to inform us of the manner of earth's creation. Thus has error rendered the Divine Word a mystery to its believers, and a derision to its enemies.
The fundamental truth which restores to the Bible its true character is, that it is throughout a book of spiritual wisdom. It ought not to be otherwise believed than that when God undertakes to give a revelation to man, his design is to communicate to him knowledge concerning those things which man by his natural powers has no means of learning. Thus He would not seek to teach man history, geography or science, because these are things which man may learn by the exercise of his natural faculties of observation, investigation and reason. It is also better that man should learn them for himself, because, by so doing, he developes his rationality, judgment and manhood, which, were all knowledge miraculously given of the Lord, would remain undeveloped.
But there is a certain line of truths those which relate to God, heaven and eternal life, which are beyond discovery by mere natural study or deduction. They cannot be thought out from any principles of earthly science, nor evolved from any inner consciousness formed from a life in the world. They can only be learned by revelation from God. Consequently when the Lord gives a revelation to man, it is and must be concerning those higher and more hidden things of which he can learn in no other way. If the Divine mind inspire a book it will thus be worthy of its infinite authorship, and will teach concerning God and his nature, the future life, and the means of reaching the highest blessings which that life affords. It would be derogatory to the character of the Divine mind, to attribute any other design to the books which are to constitute the Word of God to man.
Why should God inspire a history of the wars of the Jews and the cruelties they practiced? Why a narrative of the abominations of the heathen nations of Canaan? Why should he miraculously give forth an account of creation which, from a scientific point of view, is in no wise equal to that which the rude rocks of earth have themselves revealed? Only because they have higher meanings than error has been in the habit of admitting; only because the parable is always God's chosen method of spiritual utterance; only because they were written neither as history nor as science; not to teach the one nor to enforce the other, but to use outward narrative forms for the expression of interior spiritual truth.
In this view we approach the Mosaic account of the creation. It was not divinely inspired as a scientific treatise but as a spiritual, allegory. It is not fitted together as a consistent geological formula of natural facts, but as a weaving of the order of earth's development into a spiritual parable. Its expressions are not worded in scientific form, and its statements are not rendered with scientific precision; but both are so arranged according to the divine law of correspondences, and after the method of sacred symbolism, as to effect the spiritual purpose designed.
So if it lacks philosophic precision, if it fails in scientific accuracy, if it is somewhat inconsistent with modern geology, it is because it has no relation to science. Its symbols are correct, its correspondence is clear, its spiritual meaning true. It is in this latter fact that its divinity resides. It is in this that it becomes worthy of its Divine origin. For this and not the other is its purpose, end and use.
It has been clearly shown by scholars that the pecular style of Hebrew in which this and the following ten chapters of Genesis are written, places their origin away beyond the time of Moses. Infidel writers lay great stress on this point, and assert that Moses could not have written them. But they forget that he does not claim to be their author. They ignore the fact, plainly indicated in various portions of Scripture that there were sacred books which constituted a Word of God before Moses wrote and before Abraham was born. These books, though now lost, were in existence in the time of the early scripture penmen, as is evidenced by the fact that by them they are, on several occasions, quoted. The style of the first eleven chapters of Genesis, then, simply shows that they were copied from some more ancient sacred books. How ancient they were no man can tell. It does not matter. But that they are written in the style of sacred symbolism in its purest form according to that science of correspondences which the ancients understood so well, and that thus they are a continuous parable of spiritual truth, worthy of their origin as a message from God to man, is patent upon their face.
So to him who can see this truth it becomes a matter of indifference how far the history of the creation coincides with the facts of modern science. There are certain general statements here made, of even scientific accuracy, which the Divine Mind has used as a basis for the spiritual parable it sought to evolve; as, for instance, that the development of the earth proceeded by certain progressive and orderly steps, or that it became successively prepared to bring forth certain forms of life first the lower grades of vegetation, then the higher, then the fish, then the beasts, then man. But having this basis, as there was no design on the part of God to write a scientific treatise, but only to put forth a parable, then the filling in, the forms of expression, the accompanying statements, are in purely symbolic form and style, without the slighest reference to their effect upon the literal meaning of the narrative.
We approach then this first chapter of Genesis as we would approach any other parable uttered by the Lord. We assume that its teaching is spiritual. We do this, because revelation is given only for the sake of making known that which is beyond the natural powers of man to attain. History and science he may gain for himself. He stands in the midst of them and is a part of them. But God, the future world, the science of eternal life, are matters which the natural mind can never learn from the natural world or by natural education, and are therefore subjects for Divine revelation.
Asserting then that its teaching is purely spiritual, what, in the first place, is the general theme of the parable? It is, outwardly, an account of the creation; it must, therefore, be inwardly an account of creation in some spiritual sense.
What then is spiritual creation? Its nature is revealed by the words of David when he said, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." There is a creation of the natural man, and there is a creation of the spiritual man. The one causes us to live naturally, the other causes us to live spiritually. The apostle Paul alluded to the spiritual creation of the inward man when he said, "Put ye on the new man which is created in righteousness and true holiness;" and also in the words, "For we are his (God's) workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works." Such men, he called new creatures, that is, new created beings. In this phrase he said to the Corinthians, "Therefore if any man be in Christ he is a new creature"—a newly created being. He also called such "renewed" in the spirit of their minds. In thus speaking, he did but interpret spiritually and correctly such expressions of the Old Testament Scripture as these of David: "The people which shall be created"—that is those who are regenerated or renewed in spirit—"Shall praise the Lord." "Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created,"—that is, when the Lord's spirit comes to us we are made holy and righteous.
Thus we see that the terms "creation," and "to create," have, in Scripture phraseology, a spiritual meaning. This renewal of the heart, this cleansing of the spirit, this becoming a new man, was termed by our Lord, the rebirth or what is the same, regeneration. We have been created or born naturally; we are to be created or born spiritually. Until this second or spiritual birth takes place no man has fulfilled his destiny. We have been created natural beings to live on the earth, we are to be created spiritual beings to live there unto the Lord. This was what our Lord meant when He said, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
The term regeneration, as used by our Lord, (it is a Latin word signifying rebirth) expresses the whole idea. This means that from being worldly minded we are to become spiritually minded; that from being lovers of self and the world we are to become lovers of God and the neighbor. Of the particulars of this change we will learn more further on. We here only note the truth that the history of the creation as given in the book of Genesis is, in its true intent and meaning, a parable of regenertion. Natural creation symbolizes spiritual creation.
But creation is progressive. In this also it is made to typify regeneration. In another parable our Lord has told us how the attainment of the kingdom of heaven, that is, the regeneration of the soul, is a progressive work. It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man—the Lord—took and sowed in the earth—in the human mind; which at first is the least of all seeds, in that spirituality at the beginning of our regeneration is very small, but growing, becomes a great tree, in that as regeneration progresses, we become great in spiritual perceptions, power and goodness.
Regeneration then, being progressive, not a thing of sudden attainment, but, like a tree, of slow growth, the six days of creation represent the six general states of life through which each one has to pass before he becomes perfect in the sight of God. The exact distinction between these different stages of spiritual progress we will understand better as we advance in the consideration of the six days of creation. Briefly, we may say here, however, that it is somewhat like the case of one who learns a trade. He must first get a knowledge of the tools he will be required to use; he must then be taught their uses; one by one he must bunglingly practice with them; gradually become more skillful in their exercise; and finally be able with perfect knowledge and skill, to chisel, hammer, saw and plane, and thus to turn out at last, in great variety, beautiful works of mechanical handicraft. The regenerating person must first learn truths of a spiritual nature and their varieties; he must then come into a comprehension of them and of their superior nature and beauty; he must then make his first bungling efforts at a spiritual life; and, gradually growing in an understanding and love of spiritual things, he will at last become an intelligent and affectionate citizen of the kingdom, living in its spirit, and performing its uses in the approval of the Lord. It is by slow degrees of advance only that we come into the perfect knowledge and practice of any thing; and the knowledge and practice of a spiritual life, or regeneration, is no exception to the rule.
But it is said, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." The earth is a Scripture symbol, often predicated of man as a spiritual being, or what is the same, the mind of man; for the mind is the real man. Thus when the Psalmist cries out, "The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice," he certainly refers, not to the planet on which we stand, but to the people who live thereon. Or when Isaiah exclaims, "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the Lord hath spoken," he refers by the heavens not to the skies above, nor by earth to the globe we inhabit, but by the latter to the people of the world, and by the former to that within their minds which is sufficiently heavenly to appreciate what the Lord may utter. In the parable of the mustard seed, when our Lord says that "the kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth is the least of all seeds," He means that the doctrine of spiritual truth, when first sown in the mind, is at first to that mind the least of all things in importance and comprehension. When the Psalmist says, "Truth shall spring out of the earth he does not mean that truth grows like a vegetable in the ground but that it comes forth from the mind of man.
So earth, when used as a Scripture symbol, signifies man or the mind of man, and heaven when so used, its spiritual or heavenly degree or plane. When they are used, as in the first verse of Genesis in juxtaposition, or in antithesis, the earth symbolizes the earthly, natural or lower plane of the mind, and the heaven, its heavenly, spiritual or higher plane. In construing this chapter as a parable, therefore, it must be so done throughout. And as the Lord, in giving his Word, would first set forth in parable the subject of regeneration or the spiritual re-creation of man, in its general progressive aspects, He chose the creation of the earth as a fitting natural emblem whereby to express it. It is on the same principle as, when He desired to teach a lesson concerning the manner in which our Lord's word is implanted in the mind and the different mental soils in which it is received, He expressed it by the correspondence of a sower—the Lord, sowing seed—implanting truth, in the earth—the mind of man. When then it is said, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth," it is a parable, and it means that in and from the beginning of each one's individual career, the Lord seeks to regenerate his internal and his external man, or what is the same, his spiritual and his natural mind; in other words, his heavenly nature and his earthly nature.
In and from the very beginning God created heaven and earth in each one's nature. There is no one who does not begin the career of life with something of heaven created in him of God. You see that something of heaven in the innocence of the infant, in the beauty of his infantile ways, in the loveliness of childhood, and in its trusting, guileless character. What becomes of these afterward is another question.
In every child's mind there is a heredity from its natural parents and a heredity from the Lord. The latter is what gives him the power of spiritual regeneration. But the Divine heredity is that which first asserts itself in the life of the child. Swedenborg says that the highest and holiest of the Lord's angels have in their keeping these initiaments of mind development as they have place at birth, and on into infancy and childhood. Hence the hard, cruel, natural heredity does not rule in the first budding openings of the child's mental life. But the soft, tender, loving implantations of the Lord, invisibly tended and nursed by his gentlest of angels, breathe around the mental beginnings of one who is destined for immortality. These sweet inseminations and breathings, infused into his first conscious life, remain with him always. They may be covered and concealed by the after developments of his harsher nature, but they remain, nevertheless, as the basis upon which an after life of heavenly character may be built, or as the fountain from whence, when sin has asserted itself, and the clouds of heart-evil hang thick and dark upon the outer surface of the nature, fresh inspirations of heavenly desire, and hope and effort, may be drawn. These remains of infantile states which are so redolent with the perfume of heaven, as we will have occasion, further on, to see, constitute the very elements of our after salvation.
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Place the mind upon this as a symbolic description of the creation of your own spiritual nature. God created heaven within you and each of you, at the very beginning of your existence, as well as earth. It is not said that He created the earth and the heaven but "the heaven and the earth," because the heavenly element is developed first, and then the earthly heredity manifests itself. Were the earthly developed first, the heavenly were strangled in its very possibilities, before it had even a chance to gain a foothold.
Next we are told that the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. This expression, "without form and void," literally translated from the Hebrew, would be rendered "voidness and emptiness." How perfectly this describes us in the beginning of our individual careers, before regeneration has set in. As the earth denotes the natural mind, this expression presents it as, previous to the beginning of the new and spiritual birth, void of all real goodness and empty of all genuine conceptions of spiritual truth. And here let us observe also that before one knows a thing, no matter what it is, he is in darkness with regard to it. Before he understands it, the carpenter is in darkness as to his trade, the artist as to the ideas and methods required to produce a perfect picture, the musician as to the laws of harmony and the means of evoking melody. Mental darkness is ignorance with regard to the subjects on which the mind needs enlightenment. The mind is always said to be in the dark with regard to what it does not know. Spiritual darkness is ignorance, or non-comprehension, of the truths of heaven and eternal life. It exists when the mind knows nothing of the principles or the processes of regeneration. Then also the subject takes no clear form before the understanding. That is to say, earth, or the natural mind of man, is without form and void—so far, at least, as holiness or righteousness is concerned—so far as the kingdom of God as an appreciable affection or truth is concerned. A thick darkness, in relation to these things, rests upon the whole face of the mental deeps of the man.
It is true that we are taught many things concerning religion in childhood. We learn catechisms and Bible verses. Parents instil into us many religious facts, and Sabbath school teachers increase their number. We are taught simple prayers and we sing holy songs. Thus we learn the sacredness of religion, and thus we begin to come into an acknowledgment of the fact that goodness and truth are of a superior nature and of a more sacred character than other things.
But before we learned anything about these matters we were in total darkness. How dark is the mind of the infant! What does it know of the Bible and religion, of the good and the true, of the love of God and man! So dark also is the mind of the adult who has not appreciated what it has been taught, who reviles religion, sneers at the Word of God, calls all conversation about higher things hypocritical cant, and lives for self alone. Thus before regeneration, in all spiritual aspects, is the earth of man's mind without form and void, and thus does darkness dwell upon his mental deeps.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. Well; the first thing that opens his discernment to these matters is a certain movement in his mind, a certain dawning affection for the good, a certain willingness to listen to the true, a certain attention excited, which springs not from himself nor is prompted by any solicitations from without. It is an undefined sensation. It takes the form of an awakening desire for something higher than one has—a desire almost imperceptible to himself so quietly has it come. It is the Spirit of God moving upon the face of the waters.
Waters, in the language of correspondences, signify truths. You know the Lord said to the Samaritan woman, "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him, it shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." Water symbolizes there and every where that Divine truth which alone makes men wise unto salvation. So when the Spirit of God moves upon the face of the waters in the mind of any one, it is when those truths taught in childhood, and stored up well within the memory, are awakened, be it to ever so small a degree, by the mercy of the Lord. That inward movement of life within the mind causes you to see in them what you never saw before—their sacredness, their superiority, their truth. When you see this, it is to you as though God uttered the fiat, "Let there be light."
How delightful it is to awaken to a sense of comprehension, wherein you never comprehended before; to see the truth of that which was previously but a dull cloud upon the memory. Such an experience has perhaps had place with all of you.
Right here, some of you have been in much darkness with regard to the true interpretation of Christian doctrine. With a fuller presentation of the spiritual side of Christian truth, your minds have emerged from confusion and voidness into clear seeing. God has said, "Let there be light," and to you, in the simple phraseology of the symbol, "the light was." Or, to bring it more home to the lesson of regeneration, there was, perhaps, a time when you saw nothing concerning God or good; when spirituality was for you a land of darkness, and your mind was void of real good and empty of genuine truth. But when God said, "Let there be light," there was light, and truth, in some degree, however small, then flashed across your mind, and you acknowledged that there was a God though you understood but little of him, and you felt that his religion was sacred though your appreciation of the fact was small.
That flash of light was the first beginning of your regeneration. And when God, from his eternal throne, looked down within the mind so darkened once, and beheld his first illuminating ray break through its gloomy shadows, then he saw the light and pronounced it good. And then He began to divide the light from the darkness. He brought to bear upon you, inwardly, such influences as to cause you to make a distinction in your mind between present views of truth and former errors, or between the good and the evil, a thing not in all respects clear to you before; or between a religious life and a worldly life, a life of love to others and a life all love of self; in short, between the truth with regard to existence and its objects and value, and the falsities which before had prevailed with you, or the ignorance concerning it in which you were steeped.
And God called the light day, and the darkness he called night. Now God calls, in the Divine language of his Word, this new state of yours, this state of light, the day; but the former state of darkness He terms night. The night-time of the soul is its time of ignorance or falsity; its day-time, its condition of enlightenment.
And the evening and the morning were the first day. The very rudimentary beginnings of this change were as the first gray tints of dawn, which, like evening twilights, though lighter than the night, were but shadows after all. Your first perceptions of spiritual things are always indistinct and dull. But by and by they become clearer and clearer like an ascending sun that ushers in the morn. It is first spiritual evening on the soul; it is then spiritual morning. A day, in scripture symbolism, is a state of mind. This evening and this morning, this first breaking of the spiritual light upon the mind's dark earth, in its beginning shadowy, in its progressions brighter, constitutes with every one his first state of regeneration.
How true this is. All mental progress is from darkness into light; all spiritual progress, from evening unto morning. It matters not that the light now is but a dim glimmering in comparison with what it may be. All success proceeds from first steps; all achievements begin at the beginning. This is only the first day. There is light beyond which now would dazzle the eyes. There are conquests beyond of which now the soul does not dream. The work is only begun. There are five days more five more grand steps of ascent into the realm of truly spiritual life, and then there is rest; then the full blessing of the Lord descends upon the soul, and heaven is won.
Thus, the opening chapter of God's Word to man is an epitome of the regeneration of the soul—a brief history of the passing stages of its upward way. What could possibly be more divinely appropriate? It is not a narrative of the creation of a poor little earth whereon is spent a mere point of human existence in its great eternity of life; but it is a history of that inward creation of a new will and understanding, in the spirit of which the soul shall live forever. How unworthy of any true idea of a message of God to man the one; how incomparably beautiful the other! The Lord's Word was not designed to chain our contemplations to earthly things—all that surrounds us here has power for that but to wing the thought in heavenward ways. It carries us not in the currents of temporal things, but it points to those of true eternal interest. Our allotted destiny is the regeneration of the soul. We were born to that end; we are to live in the light of that thought; we are to pass on with all preparations made. And will God set us down to an imperfect lesson in geology when the eternal welfare of the soul is at stake? Let us arise out of such wretched thoughts concerning his words of love, and reach out for loftier aspirations in respect to the wisdom we would ask from Him and for higher conceptions of the dignity of things Divine. So may we study his messages with some apprehension of their grandeur, and gain from his instructions more just ideas of true nobility of soul.