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THE BOOK OF GENESIS
ITS OBJECT, AND ITS RELATION TO THE DIVINE CANON
THE object of the book is to reveal to us the material universe; man’s origin and relation to God the Creator, and the equality of all men before him; the divinely constituted relation of the sexes; the origin of moral and physical evil; the primaeval history of the human race, and the origin of nations; the selection of one as the depository of the sacred records, and of the divine purpose and method for man’s redemption; the history of its ancestral founders, and their relation to its subsequent history, etc.
Of these truths, to the knowledge of which we owe the present advancement in civilization, it is the object of the book to furnish a divinely accredited record. Its value is apparent on the face of the above statement, and is attested by the history of civilization. In these truths, and the divine attestation of them, lies the only basis of popular progress, and of permanent national prosperity; and on all these we should be in the profoundest ignorance, without the revelations contained in this book.
Auberlen, in his defense of the Scriptures as a divine revelation, has the following just thoughts on the historical value of these eleven chapters: “If we had not the first eleven chapters of Genesis, if we had, on the beginnings of the world and of humanity, only the myths of the heathen, or the speculations of philosophers, or the observations of naturalists, we should be in the profoundest darkness concerning the origin and nature of the world and of man. It is with these chapters on the one side, as with the prophecies of Scripture on the other. There we get the true light on the first, here on the last things; there on the foundation principles, here on the ultimate tendencies of history; there on the first cause, here on the object of the world; without which a universal history, or a philosophy of history, is impossible. But prophecy itself also has its roots in these chapters, on which all later revelation plants itself. Happily, these primeval records of our race, far more widely than we are aware, have penetrated our whole mode of thinking, and sway even those who believe they must reject the historical character of these accounts. These chapters maintain the consciousness, in humanity, of its own God-related nature, of its original nobility and its eternal destination.”
From this results its relation to the divine canon. Its teachings are presupposed in all subsequent revelations, and are assumed to be known to the reader. Passing allusions are made to them, in which they are recognized as known; but no formal, full and connected statement of them is elsewhere made, as though it were not already done and familiar to the reader. The ground-truths, on which the whole structure of religious teaching rests, are assumed to have been already taught; such, for example, as the relation of the material world to the Supreme Being, who created it out of nothing, and who therefore controls all the forces of its elements, brought into existence by him, and hence subject to his will; the relation of man to the Being who created him, and who therefore has a sovereign right to control the use of the powers which he created; a right paramount to that of the creature himself, who possesses these powers by the gift of Him who brought them into being; the cause of the moral and physical evils that universally prevail, throughout the world and among all races and generations of men; the inviolable sanctity of human life in every individual, until forfeited by his own violation of it in another; the initiatory steps for perpetuating the knowledge of the true God, and for carrying into effect the divine plan for the redemption of the race.
These are the ground-work of all subsequent teachings, and in all of them are assumed as known.
Moreover, the histories of various personages, treated of here in their minutest details, are often referred to as already known; so that no part of subsequent revelation could be
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understood, without a familiar acquaintance with this book.
UNITY OF PLAN IN THE BOOK
The book first reveals God’s relation to the universe, and to its sentient and intelligent occupants, as the Creator and rightful Proprietor and Sovereign of all.
It then records the early history and universal corruption of man, and the interposition of divine justice in the destruction of the guilty race.
It then proceeds with the general history of the new race of man, till it becomes manifest that the original lesson is without effect, that the tendency to evil is innate and universal, and that there is no power of self-renovation.
It then records the initiatory steps of the divine arrangement for the renovation of man, and for perpetuating the knowledge and worship of the true God.
Thenceforward it is occupied with the personal history of the family, in whom and their descendants the divine purpose was to be carried into effect. In the details of their history, as in the subsequent history of the nation, it is made evident that the wonderful truths of which they were the depository did not originate from themselves, but were divinely communicated. If an intellectual and philosophic people, such as the Greeks for example, with a capacity for acute and metaphysical speculation, had been selected as the depository of these truths, it might with more show for reason be maintained that they originated in the tendencies of the national mind. But how should the pure monotheism of the Hebrew Scriptures, the doctrine of the One Eternal God, have originated with a people ever prone to idolatry? And whence was that light which illuminated Palestine, a mere patch on the earth’s surface, while all other nations, the world around, were enveloped in darkness? And whence were those conceptions of God and his attributes sung by Psalmists and Prophets, and now the ground-work of the highest civilization to which man has ever attained, while Homer and Hesiod were singing of the gods of Olympus and the mythic fables of the Theogony? He who believes that the unphilosophical and unlearned Hebrews outstripped the most intellectual and wisest nations of antiquity, put to shame their learning and philosophy, and have become the instructors of the most enlightened nations of modern times, believes a greater wonder than the divine inspiration of the Hebrew Scriptures.
In this plan of the book there is a manifest unity of design, indicating a special purpose and aim in its composition.
It should be observed of this, as of every other part of the divine volume, that it is not
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a declaration of abstract principles, or of abstract truths, which convince without moving. It takes hold on the life, through its details of life, and influences action by showing the power and tendencies of principles in action. The minuteness of its details of every-day life is therefore in harmony with its spirit and purpose, as it is with all other parts of the divine Word; and on these depend its power, instrumentally, as an element in progressive civilization. —T. J. Conant.
— February 1, 1894 —