In its primary import, signifies the bringing into being something which did not before exist. The term is therefore most generally applied to the original production of the materials whereof the visible world is composed. It is also used in a secondary or subordinate sense to denote those subsequent operations of the Deity upon the matter so produced, by which the whole system of Nature, and all the primitive genera of things, receive their form, qualities, and laws.
There is no subject concerning which learned men have differed in their conjectures more than in this of creation. “It is certain,” as a good writer observes, “that none of the ancient philosophers had the smallest idea of its being possible to produce a substance out of nothing, or that even the power of the Deity himself could work without any materials to work upon. Hence some of them, among whom was Aristotle, asserted that the world was eternal, both as to its matter and form. Others, though they believed that the gods had given the world its form, yet imagined the materials whereof it is composed to have been eternal. Indeed, the opinions of the ancients, who had not the benefit of revelation, were on this head so confused and contradictory, that nothing of any consequence can be deduced from them. The free-thinkers of our own and of former ages have denied the possibility of creation, as being a contradiction to reason; and of consequence have taken the opportunity from thence to discredit revelation. On the other hand, many defenders of the sacred writings have asserted that creation out of nothing, so far from being a contradiction to reason, is not only probable, but demonstrably certain. Nay, some have gone so far as to say, that from the very inspection of the visible system of Nature, we are able to infer that it was once in a state of non-existence.” We cannot, however, here enter into the multiplicity of the arguments on both sides; it is enough for us to know what God has been pleased to reveal, both concerning himself and the works of his hands. “Men, and other animals that inhabit the earth and the seas; all the immense varieties of herbs and plants of which the vegetable kingdom consists; the globe of the earth, and the expanse of the ocean; these we know to have been produced by his power. Besides the terrestrial world, which we inhabit, we see many other material bodies disposed around it in the wide extent of space. The moon, which is in a particular manner connected with our earth, and even dependent upon it; the sun, and the other planets, with their satellites, which like the earth circulate round the sun, and appear to derive from him light and heat; those bodies which we call fixed stars, and consider as illuminating and cherishing, with heat each its peculiar system of planets; and the comets which at certain periods surprise us with their appearance, and the nature of whose connection with the general system of Nature, or with any particular system of planets, we cannot pretend to have fully discovered; these are so many more of the Deity’s works, from the contemplation of which we cannot but conceive the most awful ideas of his creative power.
“Matter, however, whatever the varieties of form under which it is made to appear, the relative disposition of its parts, or the motions communicated to it, is but an inferior part of the works of creation. We believe ourselves to be animated with a much higher principle than brute matter; in viewing the manners and economy of the lower animals, we can scarce avoid acknowledging even them to consist of something more than various modifications of matter and motion. The other planetary bodies, which seem to be in circumstances nearly analogous to those of our earth, are surely, as well as it, destined for the habitations of rational intelligent beings. the existence of intelligences of an higher order than man, though infinitely below the Deity, appears extremely probable. Of these spiritual beings, called angels, we have express intimation in Scripture (see the article ANGEL.) But the limits of the creation we must not pretend to define. How far the regions of space extend, or how they are filled, we know not. How the planetary worlds, the sun, and the fixed stars are occupied, we do not pretend to have ascertained. We are even ignorant how wide a diversity of forms, what an infinity of living animated beings may inhabit our own globe. So confined is our knowledge of creation, yet so grand, so awful, that part which our narrow understandings can comprehend!”
“Concerning the periods of time at which the Deity executed his several works, it cannot be pretended that mankind have had opportunities of receiving very particular information. Many have been the conjectures, and curious the fancies of learned men, respecting it; but, after all, we must be indebted to the sacred writings for the best information.” Different copies, indeed, give different dates. The Hebrew copy of the Bible, which we Christians, for good reasons, consider as the most authentic, dates the creation of the world 3944 years before the Christian era. The Samaritan Bible, again, fixes the era of the creation 4305 years before the birth of Christ. And the Greek translation, known by the name of the Septuagint version of the Bible, gives 5270 as the number of years which intervened between these two periods. By comparing the various dates in the sacred writings, examining how these have come to disagree, and to be diversified in different copies; endeavouring to reconcile the most authentic profane with sacred chronology, some ingenious men have formed schemes of chronology plausible, indeed, but not supported by sufficient authorities, which they would gladly persuade us to receive in preference to any of those above-mentioned. Usher makes out from the Hebrew Bible 4004 years as the term between the creation and the birth of Christ. Josephus, according to Dr. Wills, and Mr. Whiston, makes it 4658 years; and M. Pezron, with the help of the Septuagint, extends it to 5872 years. Usher’s system is the most generally received. But though these different systems of chronology are so inconsistent, and so slenderly supported, yet the differences among them are so inconsiderable, in comparison with those which arise before us when we contemplate the chronology of the Chinese, the Chaldeans, and the Egyptians, and they agree so well with the general information of authentic history, and with the appearances of nature and of society, that they may be considered as nearly fixing the true period of the creation of the earth.” Uncertain, however, as we may be as to the exact time of the creation, we may profitably apply ourselves to the contemplation of this immense fabric. Indeed, the beautiful and multiform works around us must strike the mind of every beholder with wonder and admiration, unless he be enveloped in ignorance, and chained down to the earth with sensuality. These works every way proclaim the wisdom, the power, and the goodness of the Creator. Creation is a book which the nicest philosopher may study with the deepest attention. Unlike the works of art, the more it is examined, the more it opens to us sources of admiration of its great Author; the more it calls for our inspection, and the more it demands our praise. Here every thing is adjusted in the exactest order; all answering the wisest ends, and acting according to the appointed laws of Deity. Here the Christian is led into the most delightful field of contemplation. To him every pebble becomes a preacher, and every atom a step by which he ascends to his Creator. Placed in this beautiful temple, and looking around on all its various parts, he cannot help joining with the Psalmist in saying, “O Lord, how manifold are thy works; in wisdom hast thou made them all!”
Charles Buck (1771-1815) was an English Independent minister, best known for the publication of his “Theological Dictionary”. According to the “Dictionary of National Biography”, a Particular Baptist minister named John C. Ryland (1723-1792) assisted Buck by writing many of the articles for the aforementioned publication. One may conclude, based not only Buck’s admiration for his friend Ryland, but also on the entries in his Theological Dictionary, that he stood head and shoulders with the High-Calvinists of his day.