The Confession of Faith: A commentary on The Westminster Confession of Faith
SECTION 1: IT pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,(1) for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness,(2) in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good.(3)
Scripture Proof Texts
(1) Heb. 1:2; John 1:2,3; Gen. 1:2; Job 26:13; 33:4. (2) Rom. 1:20; Jer. 10:12; Ps. 104:24; 33:5,6. (3) Gen. 1:1-31; Heb. 11:3; Col. 1:16; Acts 17:24.
This section teaches that matter is not self-existing; that God created the visible universe ex nihilo (from nothing) in six days, all of which was very good, to the manifestation of His own glory.
1. There is a very obvious distinction between the substances of things and the forms into which those substances are disposed. In our experience the elementary substances which constitute things are permanent, as oxygen, hydrogen, and the like, while the organic and inorganic forms in which they are combined are constantly changing. That personal spirits and the various forms in which the material elements of the universe are disposed are not self-existent or eternal is self-evident; and the universality, the constancy, and the rapidity of the changes of the latter are rendered more obvious and certain with every advance of science. That the elementary substances of things were created out of nothing was never believed by the ancient heathen philosophers, but is a fundamental principle of Christian Theism. This is proved by the following considerations:
(1) The Scriptures speak of a time when the world was absolutely nonexistent. Christ speaks of the glory "which I had with thee before the world was" (John 17:5,24). "Before thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God" (Ps. 90:2).
(2) The Hebrew word translated "to create," and used by Moses to reveal the fact that God created the world, is the very best afforded by any human language anterior to revelation to express the idea of absolute making. It is introduced at the beginning, of an account of the genesis of the heavens and of the earth. In the beginning-in the absolute beginning-God created all things (heaven and earth). After that there was chaos, and subsequently the Spirit of God, brooding over the deep, brought the ordered world into being. The creation came before chaos, as chaos before the bringing of things into their present form. Therefore the substances of things must have had a beginning as well as their present forms.
(3) The Scriptures always attribute the existence of things purely to the will, "word," "breath" of God, and never, even indirectly, imply the presence of any other element or condition of their being, such as preexisting matter: "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear" (Heb. 11:3; Ps. 33:6; 148:5).
(4) If God be not the creator of substance ex nihilo , as well as the former of worlds and of things, he cannot be absolutely sovereign in his decrees or in his works of creation, providence or grace. On every hand he would be limited and conditioned by the self-existent qualities of preexistent substance, and their endless consequences. But the Scriptures always represent God as the absolute sovereign and proprietor of all things (Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Rev. 4:11; Neh. 9:6).
(5) The same traces of designed and precalculated correspondences may be clearly observed in the elementary and essential properties and laws of matter that are observed in the adjustments of matter in the existing forms of the world. If the traces of design observed in the existing forms of the world prove the existence of an intelligent former, for the same reason the traces of design in the elementary constitution of matter prove the existence of an intelligent creator of those elements out of nothing.
2. Hence theologians have distinguished between the creatio prima or first creation of the elementary substance of things ex nihilo , and the creatio secunda or second creation or combination of the elements and the formation of things, and their mutual adjustments in the system of the universe. This section attributes creation in both of these senses to the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
The Scriptures attribute creation:
(1) To God absolutely, without distinction of person (Gen. 1:1,26).
(2) To the Father (1 Cor. 8:6).
(3) To the Father through the Son (Heb. 1:2).
(4) To the Father through the Spirit (Ps. 104:30).
(5) To the Son (John 1:2,3).
(6) To the Spirit (Gen. 1:2; Job 33:4).
This section, using the precise words of Scripture (Ex. 20:11), declares that God performed the work of creation, in the sense of formation and adjustment of the universe in its present order, "in the space of six days." Since the Confession was written the science of geology has come into existence, and has brought to light many facts before unknown as to the various conditions through which this world, and probably the stellar universe, have passed previously to the establishment of the present order. These facts remain in their general character unquestionable, and indicate a process of divinely regulated development consuming vast periods of time. In order to adjust the conclusions of that science with the inspired record found in the first chapter of Genesis, some suppose that the first verse relates to the creation of the elements of things at the absolute beginning, and then, after a vast interval, during which the changes discovered by science took place, the second and subsequent verses narrate how God in six successive days reconstructed and prepared the world and its inhabitants for the residence of man. Others have supposed that the days spoken of are not natural days, but cycles of vast duration. No adjustment thus far suggested has been found to remove all difficulty. The facts which are certain are:
(1) The record in Genesis has been given by divine revelation, and therefore is infallibly true.
(2) The book of revelation and the book of nature are both from God, and will be found, when both are adequately interpreted, to coincide perfectly.
(3) The facts upon which the science of geology is based are as yet very imperfectly collected and much more imperfectly understood. The time has not come yet in which a profitable comparison and adjustment of the two records can be attempted.
(4) The record in Genesis, brief and general as it is, was designed and is admirably adapted to lay the foundation of an intelligent faith in Jehovah as the absolute creator and the immediate former and providential ruler of all things. But it was not designed either to prevent or to take the place of a scientific interpretation of all existing phenomena, and of all traces of the past history of the world which God allows men to discover. Apparent discrepancies in established truths can have their ground only in imperfect knowledge. God requires us both to believe and to learn. He imposes upon us at present the necessity of humility and patience.
3. God himself pronounced all the works of his hands, when completed, very good (Gen. 1:31). This does not mean that finite and material things possessed an absolute perfection, nor even that they possessed the highest excellence consistent with their nature. But it means:
(1) That all things in this world were at that time excellent according to their respective kinds-the human souls morally excellent after the law of moral agents, and the world and all its organized inhabitants excellent according to their several natures and relations.
(2) That each and the whole was perfectly good with reference to the general and special design of God in their creation.
4. With respect to the final end of God in the creation of the universe two distinct opinions have been entertained by theologians:
(1) That God proposed for himself as his ultimate end the promotion of the happiness, or as others say the excellence, of his creatures.
(2) That God proposed for himself the manifestation of his own glory.
This is obviously a question of the highest importance. Since the chief end of every system of means and agencies must govern and give character to the whole system, so our view of the chief end of God in his works must give character to all our views as to his creative, providential, and gracious dispensations. Our Confession very explicitly takes the position that the chief end of God in his eternal purposes, and in their temporal execution in creation and providence, is the manifestation of his own glory (Chapter 3., Sections 3., 5., 7.; Chapter 4., Section 1.; Chapter 5., Section 1.; Chapter 6., Section 1.; Chapter 33., Section 2.; Larger Catechism, questions 12, 18; Shorter Catechism, question 7). That this opinion is true is proved:
(1) The Scriptures explicitly assert that this is the chief end of God in creation (Col. 1:16; Prov. 16:4); and of things as created (Rev. 4:11; Rom. 11:36).
(2) They teach that the same is the chief end of God in his eternal decrees (Eph. 1:5,6,12).
(3) Also of God's providential and gracious governing and disposing of his creatures (Rom. 9:17,22,23; Eph. 3:10).
(4) It is made the duty of all moral agents to adopt the same as their personal ends in all things (1 Cor. 10:31; 1 Pet. 4:11).
(5) The manifestation of his own glory is intrinsically the highest and worthiest end that God could propose to himself.
(6) The highest attainment of this supreme end carries with it the largest possible measure of good to the creature.
(7) God as the absolute creator and sovereign cannot have the final ends or motives of his action exterior to himself. Otherwise all God's actions would be subordinated to the finite and created ends he had adopted as his ultimate objects.
SECTION 2: AFTER God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female,(4) with reasonable and immortal souls,(5) endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image,(6) having the law of God written in their hearts,(7) and power to fulfill it;(8) and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject unto change(9) Besides this law written in their hearts, they received a command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil;(10) which while they kept, they were happy in their communion with God, and had dominion over the creatures.(11)
Scripture Proof Texts
(4) Gen. 1:27. (5) Gen. 2:7; Eccl. 12:7; Luke 23:43; Matt. 10:28. (6) Gen. 1:26; Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:24. (7) Rom. 2:14,15. (8) Eccl. 7:29. (9) Gen. 3:6; Eccl. 7:29. (10) Gen. 2:17; 3:8-11,23. (11) Gen. 1:26,28.
We turn in this section to the immediate creation of man by God.
1. Man was created immediately by God, and last of the creatures. According to God's plan of successive creation, and of progressive advance in complexity and excellence of organization and endowment, man's true place is last in order as the immediate end and crown of this lower creation. The scientific advocates of the hypothesis of organic development have denied that man was created immediately by God, and have held that the higher and more complex living organisms were developed gradually and by successive stages from the lower and more simple as the physical condition of the world became gradually favorable to their existence, and that man at the proper time came last of all from the last link in the order of being immediately below him. That man, on the contrary, was immediately created by God, his body out of earthly materials previously created and his soul out of nothing, is rendered certain by the following evidence:
(1) The hypothesis of development is a mere dream of unsanctified reason, utterly unsupported by facts. Not one single individual specimen of an organized being passing in transition from a lower species to a higher has been found among the myriads of existing species, nor among the fossil remains of past species preserved in the record of the rocks.
(2) The Scriptures expressly affirm the fact of man's immediate creation (Gen. 1:26,27; 2:7).
(3) This truth is rendered obvious, also, by the immense distance which separates man from the nearest of the lower animals; from the incomparable superiority of man in kind as well as degree; and from the revealed and experienced fact that "God is the father of our spirits," and that we are immortal, "joint heirs with Christ" (Heb. 12:9; Rom. 8:17).
2. That God created one human pair, from whom the entire race in all its varieties has descended by generation, is a fundamental truth of the Christian revelation.
One class of scientists, as Sir Charles Lyell, have concluded, from the positions and associations in which human remains have been found, that man has existed upon the Earth thousands of years before Adam, who is regarded as the ancestor only of a particular variety of the race. All this weighs nothing against the positive teaching of the Scriptures, since the facts upon which the conclusion is based are not all certainly substantiated, and have not been thoroughly digested; and in any event can prove nothing as to the relation of Adam to the race, but only that he was created longer ago than we supposed.
Another class, of which the leader is Professor Agassiz, maintain that the differences between the different varieties of the human race are so great and so persistent that it is impossible that they could have been generated from the same parents, and that the progenitors of each variety were created separately, each in their appropriate geographical center. This conclusion of science may be fairly balanced by the extreme opposite one above stated. If, in view of all the facts of the case, it is possible for one class of philosophers to conclude that men, monkeys and dogs, etc., have descended, under the modifying influence of different conditions, from like progenitors, surely it is folly for another class to affirm that it is impossible that all the varieties of men have sprung from the same parents. That the doctrine of this section is true is proved:
(1) The differences between the varieties of the human family are no greater than have been effected by differences of condition and training among individuals of some of the lower orders of animals of known common descent.
(2) The human family form one and not different species. (a) Because the races freely intermix and produce permanently fertile offspring. (b) Because their mental, moral, and spiritual natures are identical.
(3) Archaeological, historical, and philological investigations all indicate a common origin to all nations.
(4) The Scriptures directly assert this fact (Acts 17:26; Gen. 10). And the scriptural doctrines of original sin and of redemption presuppose it as a fundamental and essential condition (1 Cor. 15:21,22; Rom. 5:12-19).
3. God created man in his own image. This proposition includes the following elements:
(1) Man was created like God, as to the physical constitution of his nature-a rational, moral, free, personal spirit. This fact is the essential condition upon which our ability to know God, as well as our capacity to be subjects of moral government, depends. And in this respect the likeness is indestructible.
(2) He was created like God as to the perfection and integrity of his nature. This includes (a) Knowledge (Col. 3:10), or a capacity for the right apprehension of spiritual things. This is restored when the sinner is regenerated, in the grace of spiritual illumination. (b) Righteousness and true holiness (Eph. 4:24), the perfect moral condition of the soul, and eminently of the character of the governing affections and will.
(3) In respect to the dignity and authority delegated to him as the head of this department of creation (Gen. 1:28).
Pelagians have held that a created holiness is an absurdity; that, in order that a permanent disposition or habit of the soul should have a moral character, it must be self-decided, i.e., formed by a previous unbiased choice of the will itself. They therefore hold that God created Adam simply a moral agent, with all the constitutional faculties prerequisite for moral action, and perfectly unbiased by any tendency of his nature either to good or evil, and left him to form his own moral character-to determine his own tendencies by his own volition. But this view is not true, because:
(1) It is absurd. A state of moral indifference in an intelligent adult moral agent is an impossibility. Such indifference is itself sin. It is of the essence of moral good that it brings the will and all the affections of the soul under obligation.
(2) If God did not endow man with a positive moral character, he could never have acquired a good one. The goodness of a volition arises wholly from the positive goodness of the disposition or motive which prompts it. But if Adam was created without a positive holy disposition of soul, his first volition must have either been sinful from defect of inherent goodness, or at best indifferent. But it is evident that neither a sinful nor an indifferent volition can give a holy moral character to whatever dispositions or habits may be consequent upon it.
(3) The Scriptures teach that Adam was created in "righteousness and true holiness" (Eph. 4:24).
(a) God proclaimed all his works "very good" (Gen. 1:31). But the "goodness" of a moral agent essentially involves a holy character.
(b) Eccl. 7:29: "God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions."
(c) In Gen. 1:27 it is declared that man was created in "the image of God." In Eph. 4:24 and Col. 3:10, men in regeneration are declared to be re-created in "the image of God." Regeneration is the restoration of human nature to its pristine condition, not a transmutation of that nature into a new form. The likeness to God which was lost by the fall must therefore be the same as that to which we are restored in the new birth. But the latter is said to consist in "knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness."
(4) Christ is the model Man (1 Cor. 15:45,47), produced by immediate divine power in the womb of the Virgin, not only without sin, but positively predetermined to holiness. In his mother's womb he was called "that holy thing" (Luke 1:35).
4. That God should have furnished Adam with sufficient knowledge for his guidance is necessarily implied in the feet that Adam was a holy moral agent and God a righteous moral governor. Even his corrupt and degenerate descendants are declared to have in the law written upon the heart a light sufficient to leave them "without excuse" (Rom. 1:20; 2:14,15). Adam, moreover, enjoyed special and direct revelation from God, and was particularly directed as to the divine will with respect to his use of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
5. That Adam, although created holy and capable of obedience, was at the same time capable of falling, is evident from the event. This appears to have been the moral condition in which both angels and men were created. It evidently was never intended to be the permanent condition of any creature. It is one, also, of the special elements of which we can have no knowledge, either from experience or observation. God, angels, and saints in glory are free, but with natures certainly and infallibly prompting them to holiness. Devils and fallen men are free, with natures infallibly prompting them to evil. The imperfectly sanctified Christian is the subject of two conflicting inherent tendencies, the law in the members and the law of the Spirit; and his only security is that he is "kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation." This point will come up again under Chapter 6., Section 5.