Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
The Work of Creation
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:36NAS
Question 15 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What is the work of creation?” It gives the answer, “The work of creation is that wherein God did in the beginning, by the word of his power, make of nothing the world, and all things therein, for himself, within the space of six days, and all very good.” Previously, we saw that all of God’s works (as revealed in Scripture) can be distinguished under two headings: the work of creation and the work of providence. We examined the freedom of God in decreeing all things concerning these two works. The subject addressed in the Catechism was not the nature of what God did and does, but how He does it. In other words, how does God plan, determine, or decree all the things that He does? We saw from the Bible that God does all things infallibly, unchangeably, and freely, according to His good pleasure alone.
Today’s question focuses more specifically on the work of creation: what is it? First the Catechism teaches that God created “in the beginning,” which means, as it says a little later, “within the space of six days.” The first phrase is from the book of Genesis, the second from John Calvin’s commentary on the book of Genesis. Calvin uses this phrase in the context of rejecting Augustine’s view that God created all things instantaneously. Some Reformed teachers have made the case that since the Catechism does not explicitly identify the length of a day, we could interpret the language figuratively to allow for the billions of years of modern theorists. However, as the PCA paper on Creation admits: “there is no evidence that any member of the Assembly held to a view other than the 24-hour view of the Genesis days and that the only primary evidence that we currently possess from the writings of the Divines or from the Irish Articles indicates that the phrase was an affirmation of the Calendar Day view.” Calvin, the original author of the phrase, while not defining a day, does set forth his view of the age of the universe, when he later states: “obstinate person[s] … will not refrain from guffaws when they are informed that but little more than five thousand years have passed since the creation of the universe” (3.21.4). Clearly, from this statement Calvin affirmed not only six ordinary days of creation, but a literal following of the genealogical time records of the Bible as well.
Second we notice that God created “by the word of his power,” through which he made “all things” “of nothing.” The first phrase is a quote from Heb. 1:3, where Jesus is described as “upholding all things by the word of His power.” The second is a concept often repeated in Scripture: that God made all things by His word alone and nothing else: “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host,” (Ps. 33:6); “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible,” (Heb. 11:3); “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3). Accordingly, all that the Catechism means when it speaks of a creation “of nothing” is that there was no pre-existent “stuff” from which God created. The Triune God was all that was. Then He spoke all things into being. In His word alone God expressed and exerted the power through which He made all things.
Finally we see that God created everything “for himself.” Once again the Catechism notices the absolute sovereignty which God has over all creation. God ordained and created all things, and He did so freely, for His own purposes. Nothing in creation compels God in any way to do anything. As we have noticed earlier, God did not create because He lacked some contentment within Himself. He did not create because He was bored! God is and has always been infinitely content within His own divine triune being. God created freely; nothing forced Him to create. Nevertheless, God did choose to create all things! He purposed to bring man into existence so he could know God and participate in that contentment that God has in Himself. Since God is good, He only creates good things. It is true that God permits and even ordains the existence of evil, but it is crucial that we maintain that God is not the author of evil. All that God made was “very good,” for He made all things for His purposes which are always for His glory and for our good!