ŇThrough 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.Ó Hebrews 11:3
In this verse is contained the third action or effect of faith, namely this: faith makes a man to understand things beyond the reach of manŐs reason. This third effect is set out in these words by the instance of a notable example, namely of the creation of the world: 1. By the Word of God. 2. Of nothing; both which, that we may better understand, let us consider of the words as they lie in order.
By faith in this place (as I take it) is not meant that saving faith which justifies a man before God, but a general faith whereby a man embraces Christian religion or whereby a man believeth the Word of God in the doctrine of the law and the gospel to be true. My reason for saying this is, because a man that never had justifying and saving faith and is no member of the catholic church nor child of God, may have this gift: to believe that God by His Word made the world of nothing. Therefore, I think that this is an action of a general, and not of a saving faith.
That is, whereas there are many things beyond the reach of reason, and therefore cannot be apprehended or understood, yet by virtue of this faith a man is brought to understand them and to believe them to be true.
Now then, whereas general faith brings understanding of many things which reason cannot reach unto, here such as be students in human learning, and which labour to attain to the deepness and perfection of it, are taught, with their travel in human studies, to have care to join faith and knowledge of religion. For there are many things which our understanding by reason cannot conceive, and many truths that philosophy cannot reach unto, nay, many also which it denies: but faith is able to persuade and demonstrate them all, and it enlightens the mind and rectifies the judgment, when as philosophy has left the mind in darkness and the judgment in error. Now, in whom sound knowledge in philosophy and this faith in religion do concur together, here is a man of a most rectified judgment, and of a deep reach in the greatest matters; but separate faith from human knowledge, and he will stumble at many truths, though he had the wit of all the philosophers in his own head. For example, that God should make the world of nothing; that it should have beginning and ending; that God should be eternal and not the world; that manŐs soul, being created, is immortal; these and many other truths reason cannot see, and therefore philosophy will not admit: but join faith to it, and then the crooked understanding is rectified and made to believe it. It is therefore good counsel to join both these together. Religion hinders not human learning, as some fondly think; but is a furtherance and help, or is rather the perfection of human learning; persuading, proving and convincing that which human learning cannot. And thus we see how faith makes us to understand.
But what doth it make us to understand? The text saith: Ňthat the worlds were framed by the word of GodÓ. Amongst many expositions, we may most safely set down and approve this: God, by His Word, or Commandment, hath ordained, that is made in good order, the ages, that is the world, and all in it; and all this He did by His Word, and (which is more strange than that) made them all of nothing. This is a wonderful thing. Reason conceives it not but disputes against it. Philosophy grants it not but writes against it. But mark the privilege of this faith: it makes a man believe it, and shews him also how it is.
Now for our better perceiving the excellency of this power of faith, here are four points set down:
I. What was created: the worlds.
II. In what manner: ordained.
III. By what means: by GodŐs Word.
IV. Of what matter: of nothing.
Of these in order.
I. The first point is: What was made? The text answereth: the worlds. The word signifieth in the original: ages, and so it is also taken in Heb. 1:2. God made the worlds, or ages, by Christ. By this word then he meaneth these two things: First, times and seasons, which are ordinary creatures of God as well as others; for amongst other creatures (Gen. 1) are recorded also times and seasons to be GodŐs creatures. Secondly, he understandeth the world also, and all in it: and so it is truly translated. For with good reason may the word ages signify the world, because the world and all in it had their beginning in time, have their continuance in time, and shall have their end in time again. Time begun them, time continues them, and time shall end them: and so the world is every way measured by the compass of time, and therefore it pleaseth the Holy Ghost to term the world and all in it ages, or times.
Now, whereas it is said ages, that is times and seasons were ordained of God, we learn that if time be a creature, or an ordinance of God (created for so great purposes as to be the measure of all things) to take heed of abusing so excellent an ordinance; if thou hast spent it well, spend it still better. Time is so good a thing it cannot be spent well enough. But hast thou misspent time (that is, abused it)? Take St. PaulŐs counsel (Eph. 5:16), ŇRedeem the timeÓ, that is, seeing what is past cannot be recalled, then recompense the loss of it by the well bestowing of time to come. Spend every hour well; and that thou mayest do so, be always either doing good to other, or receive good from other; do either, and time is well spent. And take heed thou be not of the number of those that often say they cannot tell how to drive away time; and therefore they devise many toys and conceits and vain pleasures, yea, many wicked and unlawful delights: and all to shift off (as they say) and deceive the time. It is wonderful to see that the wicked, whose time of joy is only in this world, should seek to hasten it, and make it seem shorter; yet so it is, the devil blinding them; but howsoever it is, seem it shorter or longer, that same one sin of misspending their time shall condemn them, if they had no more; for if account must be given for every idle word (Matt. 12:36), a fearful account remains to be made for so many idle hours. Let us then be very careful in the use of this good ordinance of God, and never devise how to pass away time: for there is no man that is a profitable member in the place where he is, that can find one hour so idle that he know not how to employ it, either in receiving or doing some good.
II. The second point in this example is the manner. Did God make a perfect or an imperfect world? The text answereth: it was ordained. The word signifieth thus much: God framed the ages, that is all creatures, visible and invisible, in a most excellent, perfect and absolute order. As in camp, every man keeps his rank and order, and no man goeth out of his standing appointed him; so every creature hath his due place and his proper use assigned him of God, so that the workmanship of the world in every creature, and in every respect, was absolute; and thus ordained is as much as perfectly made. And the whole world was as a perfect body of a man, where every member, bone, joint, vein and sinew, is in his proper place, and nothing out of square.
Objection. Was everything created in his order and due place? Whence then come so many disorders in the world? The devil hath his kingdom, authority, laws and subjects; he rules in the wicked. Now can there be any order in SatanŐs kingdom? Again, whence are so many alterations and subversions of kingdoms; so many wars, so much effusion of blood? The gospel is transported from country to country; civil dissensions in cities and private families; betwixt man and man; betwixt man and some creatures; betwixt creature and creatures; yea, hatred often unto the death; yea, often hatred betwixt creatures of the same kind. All these being so; where then is that excellent order wherein they were created?
I answer: the state of all creatures is changed from that wherein they were created, by the fall of our first parents. God made no disorder; He saw everything He had made, and lo it was very good (Gen. 1:31). Therefore it was in a most perfect order, for orderly comeliness is part of the goodness of a thing, but disorder is the effect of sin. It entered with sin, and it is both a companion and a reward of sin. Had we continued in our innocence, all creatures had continued in their excellent order; but when we had broken the perfect order that God had appointed us, immediately all creatures broke that order wherein they were afore, both towards us, and one amongst another. Whilst we obeyed God, all creatures obeyed us; but when we shook off the yoke of obedience unto God and rebelled against Him, then they became disobedient unto us. Whilst we loved God, all creatures loved and reverenced us; but when we fell to hate the Lord, then began they to hate us, and not before. If therefore thou seest any disobedience and hatred in the creatures towards thee, any disorder and vanity amongst themselves, thank thyself for it, thou broughtest it into the world with thy sin.
This being so, we are hence taught, when we see any disorder in any creature, not to blame the Lord nor the creature, but to turn back to ourselves, to take notice of our own sins and corruptions, and to acknowledge that this was not so at the first, but our sin was the cause of it; and therefore be humbled and ashamed of ourselves, that we should confound that excellent order which God made, and all creatures (but for us) would have kept till this day. But the common practice is contrary, as I will prove in particulars.
God made manŐs body pure and holy, and therefore it had no need to be covered; but with sin came shame, and thence came it that God gave us apparel to cover that shame that sin had brought upon us. So oft therefore as a man puts on his apparel, he should be humbled and ashamed by it, and think thus with himself: ŇThis was not so at the first, AdamŐs body was glorious. Whence came this ignominy and shame, which we must cover with apparel? It came from my sin.Ó Therefore as often as man puts it on, so oft should he be quite ashamed of himself which hath brought this shame upon himself; so as now he must needs have a cloak to cover his shame. But do men make this end of their apparel? Nay, rather they make it a banner to display their pride and vanity; and so far are many from being ashamed of it, as that they are contrariwise proud of it. But this is as abominable and cursed and senseless a pride as if the prisoner should be proud of his bolts and fetters, which are signs of his misdemeanour; for what is thy apparel (make the best of it) but a beautiful cloak of thy filthy shame. Then, as bolts and fetters are burdensome and shameful, though they be of gold, so is the cloak of thy shame, thy apparel, though it be silk, silver or gold; for we should not be ashamed only of ordinary apparel, or base, but even the most gorgeous; knowing that once we had a glory of our own, far above all the glory of apparel; and the ignominy that sin hath brought upon us is greater than this glory of apparel can take away.
Here I deny not the use of gorgeous apparel to those to whom it belongs, but I say to the rich men (who, by their ability), to men in authority (who, by their place and calling) may wear costly apparel: yea, and to princes, who may lawfully wear silk, silver, gold and the most excellent ornaments of precious stones or whatsoever: to all them I say, God hath granted you the use of these, but withal, be not proud of them; for you once had a glory greater than these, but lost it by sin. And sin brought a shame which these cannot hide. For, though thy apparel hide it from the world, yet can it not from God: only faith can cover it from God, therefore glory in nothing but thy faith. Be ashamed of thy apparel, yea, of thy robes and costly ornaments. And know further, that whereas thy body by sin is become so vile, a meaner cover and baser apparel were fit for it. And therefore know that whereas God hath given thee use of costly apparel and precious ornaments, He gives them not to honour thy body, but the place thou art in; and to adorn that part of His own image which He hath set in thee by thy calling. And know lastly, that if thou hadst kept that order wherein God at thy creation (as the text saith) ordained thee, thy natural glory would more have adorned thee and the place thou bearest than all this accidental and artificial glory can: and therefore glory not so much for the one as be ashamed for the loss of the other; and let thy apparel teach thee this lesson.
Thirdly, many men take much delight in some kind of meat; some in variety of meats; and some so love their belly as they care not how many creatures or kinds of creatures do die for their bellyŐs sake: this is to be considered. For I take it a great fault for men either to be too lavish and careless how many creatures they cause to die, or (though they eat but one kind) to do it without all use or further consideration. For, mark whence comes this: that man cannot now live, or not so well; but his life must be the death of other creatures, his nourishment and preservation the destruction of other creatures. At the beginning before sin was, this was not so: no creature did either serve to clothe or feed Adam, but this came with sin; sin brought this vanity upon creatures, to die for the feeding and clothing of man: and had we stood without sin, no creature should have lost his life to be our meat. I take it therefore the duty of a man to make great use of his meat in this regard. And first, for the meat that he loves best, let him be humbled for his sin: knowing that if he had not sinned, he should have had much more sweetness in other meat, which notwithstanding should not have cost any creature his life. And secondly, for variety be not too lavish, not too riotous: consider every dish is the death of a creature of GodŐs creation: consider again, whence comes this, that creatures must die to feed thee; not from the creation, creatures were not made to that end. Innocence would have preferred all creatures to more excellent ends. Sin it was, and thy sin that destroys so many creatures for the belly of man: it is a vanity come upon creatures for manŐs sin, that they must die for manŐs meat. The death therefore of every creature should be a corrosive to manŐs heart: when he seeth it, it should touch him to the quick, and make him say, This creature dieth not for itself, but for me; not for its own fault but for mine. Miserable sinner that I am, if I had right, I should rather die than it. God made it once for a better end, but my sin hath brought it to this corruption. If this consideration took place, men would not eat their ordinary fare with so little use: nor at extraordinary occasions, be so careless how much they spend, and how many creatures they cause to die.
But you will say, God hath given us liberty in meats: differences of meats are taken away in Christ, and God hath given us use of His creatures, not only for necessity, but more liberal use, even for greater delight and comfort. I answer, I grant all this and more too, to a man that hath faith. I grant feasts and banquets are lawful for some men on some occasions. I take not away any manŐs liberty in meats: God hath granted it, and man ought not to take it away. I only wish that when we eat, we also would make this use of it: and that we would not too riotously abuse that liberty that God hath given us for diversity of meats: faith gives leave and liberty to eat; yet faith denies not a man to make a holy use of his eating, for his own humiliation, but rather commands it.
Fourthly, we see in the world that creatures not only die for manŐs feeding, but one creature feeds on another, and one creature destroyeth another to eat him. The hawk preyeth on divers kinds of birds: the fox feedeth on the same birds: the wolf on the lamb: greater fishes devour the less: dogs will eat divers kinds of creatures if they can come by them. These things are manifest, and some of them be common sports in the world. Now whence comes this fearful disorder in nature, that one creature should devour another? Came it from the creation? Was the world ordained in this state, that one creature should eat up another? The greater feed upon the less? No: but sin brought this confusion, our sin caused this pitiful massacre of all creatures one by another. Let us therefore at these sights be humbled for our sin, which caused so fearful a disorder: when thou seest thy hawk fly so fiercely and so cruelly murder a silly bird: thy hound the hart, the hare or coney; then, as God hath given thee leave in good order, measure and manner thus to deal with the creatures, and therefore thou mayest take delight in it: so withal, make this use of it; whence comes this? It was not so from the beginning. When sin was not in the world, these would all have lodged in one cage and cabin, and one never offered to have eaten another: my sin caused this jar and this disorder betwixt these two creatures. This should humble a man because of his sin, and restrain his life from too much liberty, and his affection from too much delight in these kinds of pastimes.
Again, when we see the cruelty of the fox, the wolf, the bear, toward the sheep and other creatures; blame not too much the cruelty of the beasts, for this was not in them at their creation; but thy sin made them thus cruel one against another. Turn then into thyself, and be ashamed of it; and blame not so much the cruelty in them, as thine own sin which caused it in them.
Again, some creatures are imperfect, some in parts of their body, some in some senses; and some are loathsome and ugly to behold; and some are venomous and hurtful to the world. When thou seest it, consider whence is this. They were not thus created, for God ordained, that is made, all creatures in perfect order: but this comes from thy sin. Enter into thyself and acknowledge this, and be humbled for it, and do not so much contemn this creature for his imperfection, nor loathe him for his deformity, nor hate him for his venom; as contemn and loathe and hate thine own sins, which were the cause of all these.
Lastly, some take great delight in fair buildings, and make no use of them but for delight and pleasure. But if they consider well, they have no such cause: it was not so at the creation. Adam in his innocence had a more sumptuous palace ordained for him; namely the paradise of heaven and earth; and yet trees were not cut in pieces, nor the earth had her stones rent out of her bowels for the building of it. Thy sin it was that destroyed this palace; and sin hath caused the necessity of these buildings. How then canst thou glory in thy buildings: wilt thou glory in thy shame? Canst thou be proud of these, when thy sin bereft thee of a better? As therefore thy house is a comfort, strength, security and delight unto thee; so add this one use also: let it in this consideration be a cause to humble thee for thy sin.
The disorder that sin hath brought into the world might be shewed in more particulars, but these may suffice, being those of which we have most common use, and therefore do most commonly abuse.
To conclude this point, I say unto all men: Dost thou see what disorder is now in the world, in thy apparel, meat, recreations, buildings? Seest thou the confusion, vanity, corruption of all creatures: the variance, dissention and hatred of creatures amongst themselves? Canst thou see all this and either not regard it at all, or take delight in it? This is a cursed and abominable delight. If a rich man should consume all his wealth, or throw it all on heaps, and then desperately set his house on fire, hath he any cause of joy to see this? If he sit still at this, you will say he is senseless: but if he laugh at it, he is mad. So God created man rich in all blessings, put him into the palace of the world, garnished this house of the world with exceeding beauty, his meat, his apparel, his recreation, his house were all excellent and glorious; He made all other creatures, amongst which there was nothing but concord, love, agreement, uniformity, comeliness and good order. Now man by sin fell, and by his fall, not only spent all his riches (that is, defaced the glory of his own estate), but also set his house (that is the world) on fire: that is, defaced the beauty of heaven and earth; brought confusion, corruption, vanity, deformity, imperfection and monstrous disorder on all creatures; set all the world together by the cares, and one creature at variance and deadly hate with another, so that one creature doth fight, tear, wound, destroy and eat up another. O cursed and damnable sin of man, that hath so shamefully disordered that heavenly order wherein God created all things at the beginning! And miserable men are we, which can sit still and see this and not be moved. But if we rejoice and delight in it, certainly then a spiritual madness hath bewitched our souls. Let us therefore stir up ourselves and look about us; and seeing all the world on a fire about us, namely, framing in contention, hatred and all disorder, let us for our part seek to quench it: which because we cannot, therefore lament and bewail it: but much more lament and be humbled for our sin, which kindled this fire of disorder in the world.
Hitherto of the manner of the creation.
By the Word of God.
III. The third point is, by what means? The text answereth, the world was ordained in that excellent order by the Word of God. By this word is meant: 1. Not any vocal word, as if the Lord should speak unto the creatures, nor 2. secondly the substantial word of the Father, the Second Person, although I confess that by Him were made all things. Yet, I take it, it is not so meant in this place, but rather as Moses doth (Gen. 1), when he saith that in the creation God said: It is in both places a comparison taken from a prince who bids his servants do this, and they do it perfectly. The Lord in this place is like a prince. He hath His word whereby He commandeth the world to be made. That word, I take it, is His will: for GodŐs willing of anything is an effectual commanding of it to be done; yea, it is the doing of it: for His willing of a thing to be, is more than all the commandments of all men in the world. For if He do but will it, the thing is done, whatever it be; whereas all the world may command, and yet it is no nearer. From hence, I take it, this is manifest to be the surest sense for this place; God willed the being of all creatures, and according as He willed, they presently were; and that His will was His Word here mentioned.
1. Here then first mark a special point, that sets out the glory of the Creator: He used no labour, no motion, no pains, no servants, no means as men do. He only spake the word, and they were made: He commanded and they were created (Psa. 148:5). This shews how glorious a God He is, and His power, how omnipotent it is, who at His own will and word produced such a glorious frame of heaven and earth, so many thousand sorts and kinds of creatures in their order and due place. David most seriously considered of this when he made the 104th psalm, as appeareth if we read it. We ought also so deeply to meditate of this His glorious power, manifested in this miraculous creation, as that we (seeing it) may acknowledge with the Psalmist, Psa. 115:3, Our God sitteth in heaven, and doth whatsoever He will.
2. Did the Lord make all things by His word? Learn we then for our instruction thus much: Even when we see what is GodŐs will concerning ourselves in any great cross or affliction whatsoever, let us subject ourselves to it and bear it, because it comes from so mighty a God as whom there is no resisting. For see, He that commanded all the world to be, and it presently was so, and nothing could disobey; then if He command any cross to cease upon thee, wilt thou resist Him? Nay, rather take St PeterŐs holy counsel (1 Pet. 5:5): Humble thyself under this so mighty hand of God, that He may exalt thee in due time. If thou then see His cross coming towards thee, meet it, receive it with both hands, bear it with both shoulders; if He will humble thee, resist not thou: for when again He pleaseth to exalt thee, all the devils in hell are not able to resist Him.
So that the things which we see, are not made of things which did appear.
IV. The fourth and last point is the matter whereof the world was made. The text saith: The things that we see, that is, all the world, were made of things never seen, that is, of a flat nothing, which here is said not to be seen, or not to appear; because how can that appear or be seen which is not? So the meaning is, when there was nothing in the world, then God made the world to be. This is the strangest thing of all in this fourth effect: for it is not so strange that the world should be made in that excellent order, or that God should make it by His Word; as that He should make it of nothing. Reason denies it. Philosophy disputes against it as absurd, and never will yield unto it. But here is the power of faith manifest; for it makes us believe and know it is so.
Hence we learn: 1. If He created the world of nothing, then He can preserve us also by nothing, that is, without means, or contrary to means; He that did the one can do the other, for the same reason is of both. This is a special point of our religion: not to tie GodŐs providence unto means. Men use never to acknowledge it but with means; but that is no work of faith. But we ought not only to see GodŐs providence when we see no means; but even when other means are against us – then to see it is a point of faith: and that is our duty, though it be hard. Give men health, wealth, liberty, peace, let them be guarded about with GodŐs blessings – then they will magnify the providence of God. But take these away, and lay upon them penury, sickness or any cross, then they rage and rail, and distrust, yea, blaspheme and say, ŇNo providence, no God.Ó And thus God is beholding to the means, for else men would flatly deny Him. But this argues the want of faith. For had we that faith in us whereby we believe steadfastly that God made all the world without means, that faith would also persuade us that He can preserve us being made, though means be wanting, or though they be against us. This we may make use of, whether we be in necessity and would be relieved, or in any peril and would be succoured, or in what extremity soever when means do fail us.
2. Secondly, if He made all things of nothing, then He is able also, in respect of His promises made in Christ, To call such things that are not, as though they were (Rom. 4:17). As a man by nature is the child of wrath and of the devil; He is able to make him a servant of God, and child of grace.
This may teach us: 1. Not to despair of any manŐs salvation, though he seem almost past all grace; for God can make anything of nothing, and therefore can put grace into that heart, wherein afore was none.
And, 2. This is a comfort to all them which through weakness of faith cannot persuade themselves of their election. For suppose thou be full of wants and imperfections, and hast a rebellious and froward heart. What then? Remember God made thee once a creature, of nothing; He can now again make thee a new creature, of nothing. He created thee without means; He can save thee, though never so many means do serve to be against thee.
And thus much for these three effects of faith, and consequently of the first part of this chapter, containing a description of faith in general.