Dawn of Creation and of Worship

The Nineteenth Century November 1885
W. E. Gladstone

… [695] I understand the stages of the majestic process described in the Book of Genesis to be in general outline as follows:–

1. The point of departure is the formless mass, created by God, out of which the earth was shaped and constituted a thing of individual existence (verses l, 2).

2. The detachment and collection of light, leaving in darkness as it proceeded the still chaotic mass from which it was detached (verses 3-5). The narrative assigning a space of time to each process appears to show that each was gradual, not instantaneous.

3. The detachment of light from darkness is followed by the detachment of wet from dry, and of solid from liquid, in the firmament, and on the face of the earth. Each of these operations occupies a ‘day;’ and the conditions of vegetable life, as known to us by experience, being now provided, the order of the vegetable kingdom had begun (verses 6-13).

4. Next comes the presentation to us of the heavenly bodies, sun, moon, and stars, in their final forms, when the completion of the process of light-collection and concentration in the sun, and the due clearing of the intervening spaces, had enabled the central orb to illuminate us both with direct and with reflected light (verses 14-19).

5. So far, we have been busy only with the adjustment of material agencies. We now arrive at the dawn of animated being; and a great transition seems to be marked as a kind of recommencement of the work, for the name of creation is again introduced. God created

And they receive his benediction (verses 20-23).

6. Pursuing this regular progression from the lower to the higher, [696] from the simple to the complex, the text now gives us the work of the sixth ‘day,’ which supplies the land population, air and water having already been supplied. But in it there is a sub-division, and the transition from © animal to (d) man, like the transition from inanimate to animate, is again marked as a great occasion, a kind of recommencement. For this purpose the word ‘create’ is a third time employed. ‘God created man in His own image,’ and once more He gave benediction to this the final work of His hands, and endowed our race with its high dominion over what lived and what did not live (verses 24-31).

I do not dwell on the cessation of the Almighty from the creation and (ii. 1) ‘finishing’ work, which is the ‘rest’ and marks the seventh ‘day,’ because it introduces another order of considerations. But glancing back at the narrative which now forms the first chapter, I offer perhaps a prejudiced, and in any case no more than a passing, remark. If we view it as popular narrative, it is singularly vivid, forcible, and effective; if we take it as a poem, it is indeed sublime. No wonder if it became classical and reappeared in the glorious devotions of the Hebrew people, pursuing, in a great degree, the same order of topics as in the Book of Genesis.

But the question is not here of a lofty poem, or a skilfully constructed narrative: it is whether natural science, in the patient exercise of its high calling to examine facts, finds that the works of God cry out against what we have fondly believed to be His Word, and tell another tale; or whether, in this nineteenth century of Christian progress, it substantially echoes back the majestic wound which before it existed as a pursuit, went forth into all lands.

First, looking largely at the latter portion of the narrative, which describes the creation of living organisms, and waiving details, on some of which (as in verse 24) the Septuagint seems to vary from the Hebrew, there is a grand fourfold divisions set forth in an orderly succession of times as follows: on the fifth day

and on the sixth day,

Now this same four-fold order is understood to have been so affirmed in our time by natural science, that it may be taken as a demonstrated conclusion and established fact. Then, I ask, how came Moses, or, not to cavil on the word, how came the author of the first chapter of Genesis, to know this order, to possess knowledge which natural science has only within the present century for the first time dug out of the bowels of the earth?


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University