Frederich Ernest Coggin.

Man's great charter : an exposition of the first chapter of Genesis (Volume 1) online

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The following pages are written in the belief
that the latest results of physical research may
be profitably studied in the light of the first
(chapter of Grenesis, and that the literary and
devotional study of the first chapter of Grenesis
may be assisted by the illumination afforded
tlu'ough physical discoveries.

I trust that the increase of knowledge may
be the means of so setting forth the revelation
recorded on the first page of the Bible, as to
admit of its being read, even by toil-worn and
wayfaring men, with all, or more than all, the
benefit that was derived in days gone by.

Five years ago I preached a course of eight
sermons on this subject to a country congrega-
tion, and, while preparing to give this instruction,
some apparently fresh thoughts suggested them-
selves, which seemed to throw considerable liglit


■upon tlie intellectual and practical significance
of tlie Biblical prologue. This is my justifica-
tion for venturing through this little book to
addiTSS a larger audience.

No attempt will be made to discover the
author or date of this document. Critical
inquiries of such a nature may be intensely
interesting and of great intellectual value, but
the worth of the first chapter of Grenesis is not
determined by the result of these difficult

The intrinsic value of the works of Shakespeare,
Milton, Newton, and Darwin w^ould not be
lessened if their title-pages were all missing, so
that they were thus left anonymous. And it is
to a similar intrinsic value of the first chapter
of Genesis that I wish to draw attention.

This story for many years gave the most
satisfactory answer to the common human
questions as to the origin of the world and tlie
reality of man's moral nature. It solved the
problem as nothing else did.

The poor ignorant man who sits upon a heaj)
of stones by the wayside, eating his dinner of


bread and bacon, is receiving a direct satisfaction
for the needs of his body ; there are deep fathom-
less mysteries connected with what he is doing,
and about these he knows nothing, even the
terms chemical analysis and laws of assimilation
are a meaningless jargon to him, he is
altogether indifferent to a most fascinating
branch of knowledge directly connected with
what he is doing, yet he is acting reasonably ;
similarly, this man needs some direct satisfaction
for his heart and mind ; something which, how-
ever presented, he shall be able to receive, and
see for himself. Doubtless, there will be much
learning associated with these things which will
be a dead letter to him, but as it is with the
body, so it is with the heart and mind, there is
need of some direct satisfaction or nourishment.
Moreover, we must not forget that all our intel-
lectual edifices rest in the last resort upon a
foundation of what we call self-evident truths,
the affirmations of sense, reason, and conscience.
Having made every allowance for the pos-
sibility of illusion, we must depend upon liearing
and seeing for om-selves ; having been led step


by stei* through a long train of reasoning, we
must depend for the start for each step, and for
the finish, upon axiomatic truths, or truths which
every one has to see for himself ; and, notwitii-
standing the many diverse and contrary opinions
as to what is right and what is wrong, the
ground of the distinction, the evidence that there
is a rio'ht and a A^Tons: is within each man to
perceive for himself.

I have attempted the humble task of raping
off some of the mist that has settled upon the
mirror, so that a man may look for himself and
see what he is and what he is like, as in the
perfect law of liberty.

We have a document which without question is
more than two thousand years old. If we know
that its teaching was intelligible, acceptable, and
needful so many centuries ago, and find that it re-
mains intelligible, acceptable, and needful to-day ;
if we find that, notwithstanding the growth,
revolution, and even re^ailsion there has been in
the thoughts of mankind, it still answers reason-
ably and clearly certain questions which men seem
made to ask and to which they can get no other


answer so satisfying ; if it is so written that it
continues to reflect the latest-won truths, and
shines like natiu'e itself, Avith further mi-
approaehed but attractive light, and invites men
to realize in a fuller life an ever- widening liberty ;
then surely it lias an intrinsic value and even
authority of its own, and need not wait upon
critical opinions as to when and how it was

I am greatly indebted to the works of the
late Prof. F. D. Mam^ice, the Eev. P. H. Alason,
M.A.. President of St. John's College, Cam-
bridge, and of Dr. Westcott, Bishop of Durham.
These eminenth' distinguished scholars have
been occupied in separate departments of Biblical
stud}', but all alike enforce the cardinal lesson of
reverence for the words of Holy Scriptiu-e. They
would also insist upon the necessity of having an
open mind for the reception of truth from wliat-
ever quarter it may come.

I hope that these great lessons have not been
wholly lost on me, and that what is here written
may help to show how a jealous regard Ijoth for
the sacred text and for the modern inteq^retation


of nature, issues in a simple reoognition of their

On the presentment of two different aspects of
truth one must not be compromised for the other,
but a point of sight should be sought for and
awaited which, in a clearer and wider survey,
embraces both. The search may demand a
sacrifice of whatever enhancement tlie prospect
received from near and ancient boundaries, but
this will be recompensed with a view incomparabh'
grander wlien the higher standpoint is gained.

It is tluis with the truths whicli attract us in
works upon physical science on the one liand, and
in the Bible on the other, which we see in flthuj^
and physical laws, as well as in persons and moral
laws, in the establishment and elucidation of the
material order, as well as in the establishment and
elucidation of the moral order ; we must not close
our eyes to either truth, but try to climb liigher
and see them in their natural harmony.

Truth may have been embodied and embraced
by such a representation as once freely clothed but
now constricts it, which was a swaddling band, but
is becoming a sliroud.


Take, for example, Milton's descnption as
follows : —

" When God said,
Let tlie earth bring forth soul hving in her kind,
Cattle and creeping things, and beast of the earth,
]^ach in their kind. The earth obey'd, and straight
0X3"ning her fertile womb teem'd at a birth,
Innumerous living creatures, perfect forms,
Limb'd and full grown. Out of the ground np rose,
As from his lair the wild beast, where he wonns
In forest wild.

* -jt -vf -Tf * -;f
The grassy clods now calved ; now half appear'd
The tawny lion pawing to get free
His hinder parts, then springs as broke from bonds.
And rampant shakes his brinded mane.''

Siicli a picture may have helped the unscientific
mind to grasj) the stupendous but necessary
truths of a beginning or new departure and of
an efficient cause, truths which need still to be
realized, although Milton's particular expression
of them may now be a hindrance rather than
a help.

Conceptions relating to the whole visible
universe have been subjected to a vast process
of modification, yet the relationship between man


and the world remains unaltered, and its practical
importance undiminished. So, likewise, a trans-
formation ma}' be ^^•rought in our thoughts about
the Bible, by eliminating the ignorance we have
read into it, and by enforcing the lessons we have
ignored, without in the least lessening its signi-
ficance as a written medium of G^od's revelation.

The terms rii

Difficulties of translation ... ... ... ... ... 2;>

.Significance of a living language unfixed ... .. 2.">

Impoverishment of popular vocabulary by with-
drawal of words for technical purposes ... ... 24

Simple language an occasion of stumbling 24

The treatment of this subject would still require an

adapted phraseology ... 2.")

The iKhip'dt/on in (renesis comformable to custom 2.")

The reward of intelligent reading ... ... ... ... 2(>

f the


The subject-matter of tlie first chapter of SJi^jJiJ";;;;,,
Genesis is one that must needs be unparalleled. »itp
It is a pre-requisite in everjtlnng wliicli might be
suggested for comparison with it. Wliat birtli
is to the individual, that our theme is to the
whole of history. AVhat the spring is to the
watercourse, that the first origin is to the after-
course of the world. AVhat the earth is to the
things built upon it, w^hat the air is to lungs
breathing it, Avhat the sense of sight is to the
appearances we perceive, such is the disparit}^
between the subject-matter of the first chapter of
Genesis and any topic in tlie world's wide range.

Here we are furnished with materials and
tools. Materials may mean logs of wood, or a
number of atoms, or localized centres of force, and
tools may mean liatchets, or hands, or properties,
or hues.


Here we are not only supplied with everytbing,
but wc ourselves are supplied. In ourselves, in
our labours, and in our theories, we presuppose
the mystery tliis record reveals. We are
interwoven of the material, in the pattern, and b}'
the agency, which are here introduced to us.
Man manipidates what is alread}' made. Human
works and human workings, from the seemingly
solid material achievement to the finest sensation
and the most subtle mental effort, are altogether
dependent upon that of which we read in tlie
first chapter of Grenesis. Man and his construc-
tions impl}^ God and His creation. AVe too
often fail to realize the importance and significance
of that whicli has alwaj^s to be taken for granted.

" Explanations " of that which exists and lives,
and feels and reasons, mostl}^ leave untouched such
fundamental obscurities, as existence, energy,
sensation, and wisdom. The ground of all is
ignored. The form is admired, the substance is
disregarded ; the picture is reckoned priceless, the
artist is not reckoned at all ; the landscape is
lovely, the eye is forgotten ; tlie organ of sight is
arduously scrutinized, the sense of sight is passed

INI'KODrci ION. 17

by as lacking- significance. Sensation appears to hI;,,^',!,. ;^- '^'

. . '■ Defence of

be reo-arded. as beanue- strono-er evidence to the i'i''i;';"M'iiic
existence of matter than to the existence of sense.
I gras}) the arm of my chair and say, " Of this
thing I am certain, it is a tangible existence,
nothing is more ])0sitively true "; nevertheless, my
feeling and judgment are more certain, more
positively true, and are the ground of my percep-
tion of that tangible existence. We lay hold of
thii((jti, and the very power by which we do so is
sunk in oblivion, simply because it is not a fJi'uuj.
Thus the sceptre is wrung from the senses and
given to their subjects ; yes, given to their
creations. The king is made to place his creature
on the tlu'one. Thought is a suborned Avitness for
the omnipotence oi tilings : the invisible is ignored
and denied, although it is the only guarantee
of the visible, which is worshipped ; the work is
had in all honour, while the workman is effaced or
regarded as the offspring of his own handiwork.
So it is that man with all his labour scarcely gets
below the surface, which he rakes indefatigably
but scarcely ventures to dig beneath.

Whilst freely using the words matter, gravity,



ooliesioii, laws, and others, wliicli, witli similar
familiarity, refer to the most profound mysteries,
and whilst practically dealing with the world by
living and working, we generally neglect to ask,
who or what it is that honours the drafts we
ceaselessly draw on behalf of our theories as well
as for our existence and for every process
existence entails. Every road, every path,
however narrow, leads to the Grreat Resource of
all, and there is something lacking in the man
who never finishes his journey.

This narrative invites us to look for once from
within instead of from without, to consider that
which is real rather than that which is apparent,
the essential instead of the phenomenal, to think
upon a beginning of that Avhieh we take for
granted, or with regard to which we merely
inquire as to its growth.

This narrative invites us to meditate upon the
present strength and stay of ourselves and of the
whole order in which w^e live, instead of being
contented with the recognition of sequences.

The book of Genesis commences with the story
not only of a great w^ork, but of the great

iNrR()i)r( TioN. 19

foundational and prolimiuary work in and
tlu'ougli ^vllicll all other works, great and small,
are AM'Ouglit.

Tliis work differs from other works not in
degree, but in kind ; it is superior to all others,
not because it compares favourably with them,
but because it will not compare with them at all,
being essential to each in its beginning,
continuance, and completion.

Every thought and every feeling, every vital
product and every vital process, every hour and
every lesson, each law and each pvopevty^ things
and persons, body, mind, and conscience, life
and light, are initiated, conditioned, and sus-
tained by that which is the subject of the first
chapter of Genesis.

Consider carefully that a beginning of the
universe means not some new stupendous scheme
of illumination, but rather the original impuke
and principles upon which the vibration of every
light- wave depends; not the parcelling out of
nuxterial, but the laws which the separation and
shape of worlds outwardly express ; not the pro-
gressive development of forest trees from mould

V. 2


or lichen, but tlie laying down of the very
foundation of such development in the principles
of heredity and variation ; not a Avork prolonged
through hours and ages, but a work of which the
whole machinery of time was only one middle
item ; not the measiu-eless improvement in the
organs of the senses, such as eyes and ears and
fingers, but that which spans what is to us the
bridgeless gulf between organization and sen-
sation ; not man's advance in cultivation and
civilization, but the embodiment of that spirit of
reflection, aspiration, and endeavour by which his
progressive advancement is achieved.

And what words have we to represent these
transcendent processes? How shall we name
facts so unfamiliar to thought, yet so funda-
mental, seeing that our vocabularj^ is moulded by
all that is common-place and superficial ?
Sfedrii^Lfap- Thls pccuHar singularity of the subject renders

tation of Ian- p / 1 i . i • i

fiV wUh'Si's ii6cessary a special use ot the language m which

it is set forth.
?he w!lrk'an.i ^^ ^^ ^^ iudispensablc preliminary to anything

littleness ot ^ . i i i •

the words, approachiug an adequate estimate ot the contents
of the first page of the Bible, that both the great-

iXTUoDrc iiox. 21

uess of the work and t]i(3 littleness of tlie words be
clearly recognized.

Vjy its nature, the thing spoken of must be
without parallel and without precedent, whilst, by
the natural exigences of language, the words must
be common words.

The facts related were prior to all human ex-
perience and expression. Yet, if the tale had to
be told, it was necessary to use familiar words,
such as were constantly associated with a state of
things since established.

Success in understanding this story must be ^fj^^Jj^',^ ""•'"
proportionate to our power of imagining a
universe of things where none of the distinctions
to which we are accustomed were yet wrought

Words of themselves cannot produce new con-
ceptions in minds unprepared for them. The
vocabulary at disijosal for tellino^ the story was of unfamiliar

J i- O J thuujrhts to

very limited capacity, being used for conveying ily languafe'e
only the light burdens imposed by the needs of 11"
man in an early stage of civilization. Therefore
it is more than ever necessary to be kept in mind
that words are only tokens, and that their value

t IS

>st faiuiliar

Words trans
ceiid tlu'ir
tliey can alsi
tlu'ii- o.llu-
.luial nsa'-'.-.


must be determined by tlie subject with which
they deaL

Just as any literary composition upon a common
topic, in common words, would at once fall to
pieces if its various parts were subjected to an
etymological restoration, because its various
symbols both in form and meaning have changed
almost beyond recognition ; so must the story of
such an unfamiliar fact as the first o:enesis of
things utterly fail of its piu-pose if words are
confined to their common-place signification. To
say that a crafty knave means nothing worse than
a clever boy, or tliat an asylum foi- idiots is merely
a place where ordinary private personages can be
free from molestation, is to speak etymological
truth, but moral and practical falsehood. So, to
limit words in an exceptional narrative to their
common import may not lack an excuse, but must
fail to find any justification, and would be
ecpiivalent to maintaining tlie value of a bank-
note to be that of the paper and printer's ink of
which it is composed.

In the case of an ordinary narrative there is an
ascent from the origin of words up to their ever}-


day meaning ; in tlie case of an extraordinary
narrative we must rise from the common usage to
that wliicli the special nature of the subject

The cliildish or even coarse notions that may rndniyin^
be concealed witliin tlie root meanings of some of uIiimi.orlViiV.'
the Hebrew words employed in the first chapter
of Genesis have just as much and just as little to
do with the interpretation of the narrative, as the
quite as childish and quite as coarse notions
concealed within the root meanings of English
words have to do with the newest treatise in our
own language upon science or philosoph}'.

Moreover, this old story has to be translated t\-iS!i'iatioil''^

int(j a language that did not exist for many

centuries after the story was first told.

There are elements of ambiguit\' which ,^f Ji'Sg'
. . , , . . languii^'c un-

necessarily exist 111 any verbal description f^^*^'^'

composed in a living language. The processes of

growth, assimilation, extrusion, and transmutation,

render it impossible to make an adequate and

permanent transposition of an ancient composition

into modern language. The attempt to do so

may be compared with trying to buihl a house of

lur vi>c;il

24 iNiitoDUc riox.

wliieli the beams and rafters should remain limbs
and l)ranches of growing trees. Words are
subject to many vicissitudes of fortune. They
may have a different significance for men of the
same tongue who happen to be separated by a
short space of time or country, and even for the
same man under changing circumstances.
Jne\\Tofi'.!iu- The increase of knowledge which generally
enriches language has in one respect actually
impoverished it. For words originallj^ used to
symbolize popular impressions are adopted into a
^professional nomenclature, and thus accjuire an
artificial clefimteness by adaptation to a real
definiteness lately discovered in the things to
which these words are made to apply. This
process of fluctuation and specializing is in
constant operation, and renders a permanently
satisfactory translation impossible.

Moreover, the praiseworthy efforts to popularize
the results of modern scholarship by the use of
simple language meet with two obstacles in
minds unaccustomed to reckon with the Aveakness
and peculiarities of the natural genius of
phraseology : the one is a dulness of comprehen-

Siiniilo laii-
>ii>ii (if St nil

Till- tirat-
iiiiJiit of tliis


sion which fails to receive anything but the
meanest thoughts from common words,
enveloping, for example, the Antipodes in a
shroud of mystery as people walking upside down,
the other is a tendency to identify a fact with its
expression, and which would make a new kind of
blasphemy out of the assertion that the skies
were peopled by means of the telescope.

Tempered and whetted by the manifold

subject would

experience and accumulated wisdom oi many !;5yj,,'."'','',''.;i'^
centuries, the human mind can still penetrate but
a very little way into the profound, innermost
recesses of things ; much less can it make a
means of access to the centre, that so, turning
round, man might look from cause to effect.
Therefore, also, we lack such a special diction
as should exclusively and adequately express
the parts and relations of this mighty theme.

Thus, in our late age, just as in the earlier one,
when this document first appeared, it would be
necessary to adapt for this special purpose
words which are generally otherwise employed.

In the following few pages the reader's i'
attention will be invited to the interesting fact liii


ialioii ill (m'U-
is (■(Hit'onii-

il.' to .•US-


that tlie particular adaptation of language
adopted in the first chapter of Genesis is plenti-
fully illustrated and exemplified in modern

If the force of sucli considerations as have been
advanced in this brief Introduction be fairly
calculated in the estimate we make of the outline
sketch with which the Bible begins, then its
simplicity, accuracy, and fertility of thought
and feeling will command for it the highest


Days in the foundation of the universe ...
Use of the word day . . .

The historic standpoint

The Biblical v ocabulary

The Fourth Commandment ...

' ' God called the light day "

Days which are made, not spent


Use of the words night, evening, and morning
Superiority of the word day over the word light for

purpose ...
The first part of the work supplies a terminology for

The llexaemeron and its development
Special designations of two days

The epithet one not Jirst

The definite article used with the si.xth day

The Seventh day

The Sabbath

The Week

The harmony between (Jenesis and the Book of R

















The great work to wliicli the Biblical prologue K'Ji^jfaaH.m' of

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Online LibraryFrederich Ernest CogginMan's great charter : an exposition of the first chapter of Genesis (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 10)