The Doctrine of Creation

by Alan Burns

Part One


HISTORY shows that false ontologies make furious theologies. That the theologies of Christendom deserve this adjective is plain from the fierce controversies which have ever raged around the doctrine concerning the Person of Christ. "Divines" have damned each other profusely because of error here. Anathemas have been uttered by party against party, and even life itself has been taken in heated discussion of the subject. We desire to show that much of the theological tempest which the centuries have witnessed has been brewed by theologians, who have created all their own difficulties, and fathered all their own problems. Having slain reason in their doctrine of creation, they burned it in their doctrine of Christ.

Let us remind ourselves of the old statement in regard to the Trinity that in Christian theology one plus one plus one does not equal three but one, thus denying to such a system of thought any kinship with mathematical truth. With the results of our past studies before us we may well be prompted to ask, How can the arithmetic of that creed be true whose alphabet of creation is false? The feat of multiplying one by three without showing any increase is on a par with the legerdemain which multiplies nothing by infinity and produces--creation! The doctrine which makes nothing into something is twin-sister to that which reduces three into one. What we are desirous of leading on to is the suggestion that the false mathematics of creation is the cause of the erroneous mathematics in the matter of the Trinity. The truth as to the world leads us up to the truth as touching the Being of God. The true doctrines of creation and Creator illuminate each other: the false theories enwrap each other in added gloom.

The outstanding figures in the Christological controversy, Arius and Athanasius, however much they differed as to the person of Christ, united in this--the apparently unquestioning acceptance of the dogma of creation out of nothing. Both were trying to ascend to truth on the ladder of error. The road of false assumption does not lead to the citadel of Truth; no wonder then if those who trod that way soon found their feet entangled in the quicksands of fruitless labor. Both Arius and Athanasius employed the same alphabet of unreason in their attempts at spelling out the great doctrinal words of the Christian faith. It was not then that Arius was right and Athanasius wrong; or Athanasius right and Arius wrong; both were wrong. And yet, while they erred, there were certain elements of truth mixed with the doctrines which they promulgated.

Some have said that the Arian controversy was over the letter i, because the Greek word, which described the Arian position differed from the word which described the Athanasian by just that letter. This may be wit, but it isn't truth. If there was only the difference of an i between the word defining the Athanasian belief from that which defined the Arian, in our own language there is but the difference of a t between being immoral and immortal. The difference really was that Arius extended his doctrine of creation out of nothing to include Christ, while Athanasius--who agreed with Arius in affirming that the remainder of the universe was made out of nothing--asserted that Christ was "out of God" or as he expressed it "an eternal generation from the Father."

As the church of Rome discourages investigation so does modern orthodoxy seek to discourage inquiry on subjects such as the one before us. It speaks of holy ground and unshod feet. It talks of arks and those who would intrude upon their sanctity. True it is that holy things should be handled in holiness--but that is very different from not handling them at all. Wisdom demands that we test the rope on whose strength some day our life may depend. And we must therefore test the doctrines which may be, after all, but heathenism with a little Christian veneer, plus the application of a little theological varnish. We must test the rope. Still, as we have said, some would prevent us. "You must not touch the ark," they say. Perhaps that is what the Pope and all his Cardinals said when Luther tested the Roman rope and threw it from him as a piece of burned thread. One thing is certain, if it be "rope" it will stand the test. Another thing equally certain is that there are many things in the "arks" of orthodoxy which were never placed there by God.

In philosophy the idea of the absolute is a unit--there cannot be two or more absolutes existing in the same place, or at the same time. This is one of the cardinal dogmas of logic. With this dogma of reason the dogma of the Athanasian creed clashes at once. If the Father, the Son, and the Spirit be three persons, and each person be an absolute, then obviously our mind is confronted with the proposition that the creed declares a belief in three coexistent Absolutes! To believe in one Absolute in which there are three modes of expression, involving a trinity of relationship is a very different thing, for it forbids conceiving of any one of these three modes as Absolute in itself when by itself. The average mind is numbed when it seeks to unravel the mysteries of the Athanasian belief. Its grandiloquence stuns the faculties of perception. Nevertheless there is some truth in the haystack of words. Sound words do not imply words of sound so much as words of soundness. And we have cause to be suspicious of an abundance of man-made words, which conceal truth as often as they reveal it.

Athanasian prolixity may have driven many to the attractive simplicity of the Arian confession. If we were foolish enough to confuse truth with simplicity, and regard the latter as a synonym for the former, then the thinkability of the Arian view alone would be sufficient commendation. As students we find oratory in the Athanasian creed and simplicity in the Arian, but to find truth we must look elsewhere.

We must conserve the values of both these creeds. Indeed we shall find that the truth combines the essential elements of both, fusing the apparently contradictory statements into one harmonious whole. The Arian creed, from the human standpoint, has a warmth within it which it derives from the close relationship-- kinship--which it establishes between Christ and man. It made His humanity as lovable as it made it real. He became "one of us." But if there was a closeness established between Him and man, there was a distance instituted between Him and God. The Arian dogma of creation necessitated this separateness, for if Christ were viewed as a creature, and creation was the transformation of nothing into conscious being, then of course this primary abyss of nothingness was for ever fixed between Christ and God. The Arian creed, as remarked, contained a certain warmth from the close relationship established between Christ and creation, and it contained a certain coldness from its views of His relationship to God. The Athanasian creed erred in the opposite direction, for while its dogma placed the Christ on the plane of absolute equality with Deity, it removed the abyss of separation from between God and Christ and inserted it instead between Christ and creation. The Athanasian theologians agreed with the Arian theologians in this that the mental activities of both were run in the rut of a false and grotesque idea of what creation meant.

The mental attitude of the writer towards the Arian view has been influenced mainly by the thought that if Christ were not in some essential sense one with God the entire drama of the redemption, the wonder of the Incarnation, the mystery of the Passion, and the glory of the Resurrection, were all at their very best but the activities of God ACTING BY PROXY. In this view Christ was but a messenger, a servant, whose sonship was merely a moral one and not grounded in essence of being. The heart that craved and hungered after God Himself could not be satisfied with His shadow. As photographs of our loved ones cannot meet the deepest wishes of our souls, so neither could a mere likeness of the Father meet our demands. A God who made me by proxy loved me by proxy, suffered for me by proxy, and whom I shall never know but by proxy was a thought too barren for a heart and a head that wanted Him! The Athanasian creed in spite of its blemishes preserved in a measure some of this desired element, and this is perhaps why so many Christians prefer it to the greater simplicities of the Arian theology.

It must be remembered, however, that while some elements in the Athanasian belief warmed the hearts, other elements mumbled and deadened the brain. They did not appeal to thought--they forbade all thinking. They marked the point where intelligent faith tapered off into the realm of blind superstition. Is it not a fact that the Christ of modern churchdom--divine and human, God and man, Creator and creature--is not so much ONE Christ as TWO? A history of the questions which this problem of problems has raised for orthodoxy would be almost a complete history of theology itself. Could Christ, if God, really die? Did He have two spirits, one human and the other divine; and if so, how were these two fused together into one personality? Was the fleshly body human, and the spirit divine? These are but samples of the problems that have addled the brains of thinking Christendom. However the subject be handled the thought somehow lingers and persists that churchdom really bows the knee to two Christs--the human, "the man Christ Jesus," made out of nothing if truly a man; and the Divine, "Emmanuel," never created but substance of the substance of Deity.

May we not right here remind ourselves that the dogma of creation lies at the root of all this theological confusion; a confusion which all the petrified eloquence of Athanasius fails to remove. The false doctrine of creation is the cause of the false doctrine of Christ. The false dogma of creation out of nothing presented us with two entirely opposite and, unreconcilable substances--spirit and matter. Their attributes were distinct. There was no essential relationship between the two. The dualism of spirit and matter in the doctrine of creation is continued and perfected in the dualism of divinity and humanity in the doctrine of Christ. We think it is obvious that a true view of creation will lead us up to a true view of Christ; if the doctrine of the one be logical or illogical so also will be the doctrine of the other. If we view matter as being a mode of spirit (and the accounts of creation in Genesis apparently led us to that conclusion) then we may conceive, nay, must conceive the humanity of Christ to be but a mode of His divinity. His humanity and divinity are not two different things, but two different aspects of the same thing. If matter be but spirit viewed from its lower side, then the humanity of Christ is but His divinity from the earthly point of view; and if spirit be but matter looked upon from its super surface, then the divinity of the Saviour is but His humanity looked at from a heavenly standpoint. He was not God and Man in the sense of uniting two distinct essences in one personality. He was not divine and human. Instead, His humanity was divine, and His divinity human. He was humanly divine, and divinely human. He was the revelation not only of God to man, but of man to man. As the Son of God he was the expression of Deity so far as Deity can express Itself finitely. As Son of Man He is the expression of humanity as nearly as it may be expressed to Infinity.

We have, when dealing with creation, quoted the sentence "Each atom is a living thought, dropt from the meditation of eternal God." Christ is referred to in Scripture as being "the Word"--not merely a thought but an expression, or utterance of Deity. What is potential elsewhere was actual in Him. He was the embodied fruition of the Divine purpose. The type of all subsequent creation. We may quote another: "He is man to every man, the manhood of every man in the world. There is no human being from highest to lowest who may not see in Him the meaning, the truth, the divine idea and purpose, the true conception and end of himself." Christ is not (as Christendom thinks) what humanity will never, and can never be. Rather is He the Firstborn of many brethren. The living prophecy of human destiny. What is imperfect and broken in humanity is perfect and complete in Him, as through Him it will yet be perfect and complete in all humanity. He is what we will yet become. CHRIST is the goal of creation. The difference between Christ and the Christian, or the creature, is not one of kind but of degree and nearness to God.

Part Two


IN examining the creedal utterances concerning the person of Christ we are struck with the necessity imposed upon theologians of finding other than Scriptural words and phrases to express their doctrinal conceptions. The theological poem called the Athanasian Creed contains a vocabulary all its own. There is nothing like it in the Bible. Its flowing phrases are without parallel in Scripture. We have cause to distrust it for this very reason, for experience has proven to us that ultra-scriptural language may very readily become the vehicle of anti-scriptural thought. Investigation has shown that the phrase "immortal soul," which has been imported into theology from heathendom, was necessary to describe the heathenish doctrine imported therefrom in the first place. "Creation out of nothing," a phrase which mars the majority of theological works, is equally foreign to Scripture. These strange words, and strange phrases, are but the symbols of the strange beliefs which have been added to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. The purity of the Christian faith may best be preserved by adhering to the simplicity of its inspired literature.

When orthodox creeds and orthodox speakers refer to Messiah they do so by speaking of Him as "God the Son." When we turn to the concordance we fail to find one such reference to Him in the Bible. The expression is as absent from the Scriptures as it is present in the creeds. In view of our experience with other phrases we do well to be suspicious of this. He is spoken of consistently in the Word not as "God the Son," but as the "Son of God," and a Scriptural faith may surely restrict itself to the use of Scriptural terms. The reason why the Biblical phrase "Son of God" was rejected is obvious. Christ does not bear it alone, though He does bear it in a higher degree than others. It was applied to Adam. It is used of angels. Its Biblical usage did not preserve the theological abyss between Christ and creation. It merged others into His sonship. Therefore the theologians were compelled to employ an alien and unbiblical expression to denote their alien and unbiblical doctrine of the person of Christ.

But error is prolific. Inverting the Scriptural phrase was not enough for those who would tinker with the truth. They had to add to Scripture as well as change it. The "eternal sonship of Christ" ranks with the "endless ages of eternity" as twin phrases in the language of error. And again we may point out that here is the language of unreason. Dr. Clarke it was who referred to the notion of eternal sonship as being so much eternal nonsense. Sonship implies a beginning, definite time when it began to be, as it also implies a relative subordinacy, both of which implications are negatived by the creeds. We must again insist on being suspicious of words and phrases which are as impossible to think as to discover in the Bible, as foreign to reason as they are to revelation.

So few are the Scriptures which even remotely suggest the traditional viewpoint that those which do are compelled to do yeoman service in the cause. By way of illustration we may refer to the name Immanuel--God with us. This alone has been considered sufficient prop for the churchly dogma. Brushing aside, for the time, the evident fact that some of the strongest expressions may at times be used in an accommodated sense, we would simply compare this title of the Lord Jesus with such Scriptures as that which declares: "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself." The distinction here drawn between God and Christ negatives completely the suggested interpretation of the name Emmanuel. God was not Christ. Christ was not God. God was in Christ. These facts lie on the surface of this Scripture. Emmanuel was the meeting ground of God and man. Christ was the man. God was in Christ. In Christ God was "with us." Shall we dare to interpret the titles of the old Testament as orthodoxy does this one in the new? Emmanuel literally translated would be "With us--God," the "el" at the end being the Hebrew term for God the mighty one. We find this name of El incorporated in the names of many in the old Testament. Elijah is the compounding of two divine titles. El and Jah, and means "Jehovah God." Who will affirm the deity of the prophet because of the name he bore? Elisha means "God my salvation." Elihu means "God the Lord." And so on through a score of other names which prove the deity of their possessors if the name Emmanuel proves the truth of the Athanasian contention.

The opening sentence of John's Gospel must also be referred to. If we translate this literally we shall have taken the first step towards the truth it contains. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with THE God, and the Word was God." We note two things here: the Word is at once distinguished from, and yet identified with, God. There is a truth here that could only be revealed through paradox, in terms which seem to contradict each other. It appears that while He--as the Word--was God, He was not THE God. He was with THE God, but He was not THE God. He was God in a subordinate sense. He was the Word of God--an emanation from Deity--of the substance and essence of the Deity, but as distinct from Deity as a word is distinct from its speaker. Abel was man as partaking of the substance of Adam, but he was not THE man-- Adam alone was that. "In the beginning was Abel, and Abel was with THE man, and Abel was man." There is much nonsense--thank God not eternal--in the creeds. There is none in the Scriptures.

That the name of God can be applied in a lowered and non- absolute sense, is plain from the fact that in the old Testament it is applied in the plural to angels. See Psa.82; 1 Cor. 8:5. That it is applied to the Lord Jesus in this subordinate sense is evident from such passages as Heb.1:8,9, where the Father applies this title to the Son: "Thy throne, O God, is for the age of the age." But that this title is not given in the absolute sense is plain from the remainder of the utterance: "Thou has loved righteousness and hated iniquity, wherefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee." While He is God therefore, He is so in a relative or secondary sense. He himself had a God--"wherefore God, even THY God." Is it not the Johannine doctrine stated, or re-stated, in a Pauline way? "The word was with THE God, and the word was God."

The climax of the ages, so graphically portrayed in 1 Cor.15, must ever remain an unsolved mystery to those who accept the full trinitarian view. "And when all things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him." Is this the equality of the Son with the Father which Athanasian orthodoxy teaches? Does subordination and subjection spell equality and identity? Apparently it does in the tangled alphabet of the creeds.

Did Christ on earth claim equality with God? Listen to one of His utterances: "The Son can do nothing of Himself." This is subjection, not equality. Again: "The words that I speak I speak not of myself, but the Father who dwelleth in me He doeth the works." Indeed the manner in which the utterances of the Lord were saturated with such expressions of personal and filial subordination lays the apostolic writers and historians subject to grave charges on the ground of heresy!

But the defenses of orthodoxy are not exhausted. There is another Scripture conscripted to defend the citadel of orthodox philosophy. Philippians 2 is the passage referred to. It is a passage which requires a separate exposition, but its vital points may be quickly discussed. The translators have: "who being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God." The objection to such a statement is that if Christ were God such an expression is superfluous and unnecessary and teaches nothing, for no one thinks of robbery in possessing what is one's own. There is not a superfluous line in the whole of Scripture if Christ were God, in the theological sense, this statement in Philippians is superfluous and unnecessary. But some of the revisions lead us to the truth. Paul did not say that Messiah was "equal with God." Instead of that "He reckoned equality with God not a thing to be grasped after." THE God was self-sufficient. Messiah reckoned self-sufficiency not a thing to be clutched at. Here Messiah stood where Satan fell. Was Paul a heretic? Were he alive today, no church in Christendom would suffer him to utter the words we quoted. But let us glance at the conclusion of this Philippian passage. He who humbled Himself is to be exalted of God. "In the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is"--what? That Jesus is God? How easy it would have been for Paul to write it down! What eloquence would Athanasius compress within the limits of a single brilliant phrase! But the coming confession is not of the deity of Jesus. It is not that Jesus is God, but that Jesus is Lord, a confession which will nevertheless be "to the glory of God--the Father." We do well to note the distinctions of Scripture.

But sufficient has been written to open up the way for the reader's personal study of the subject. The line of distinction between the Father and the Son; between THE God and the Son of God; is preserved in the new Testament. "This is eonian life to know thee, the only true God, AND Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." And Paul expresses the Christian faith in the living words of inspired truth: "To us there is but ONE GOD--the Father--and one Lord--Jesus Christ." Or, as he writes to Timothy: "For there is ONE God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus."

The unconscious idolatry of the creeds flows from the folly of adding to the Word of God. Creation-out-of-nothing is the fountainhead of all the confusion, and until we learn our kindergarten lesson that "all things are out of God" until then we will wander blindly and aimlessly in the bogs and fogs of human wisdom--the wisdom which is foolishness with God.

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