Classic Defense of Genesis
Excerpted from Benjamin Wills Newton. 1882. Remarks on "Mosaic Cosmogony," being the Fifth of the "Essays and Reviews." 3rd edition (revised). London: E.J. Burnett. pp. 7, 11f., 24f., 39f., 59, 61, 92f., 99f., 103. Newton was an early leader in the Plymouth Brethren movement. His book is a fervent defense of biblical truth against attacks by scholars from Oxford and Cambridge, the two major British universities.
Infidelity has ever been accustomed to attack the New Testament through the Old. The consciences of men, unless altogether hardened, cannot but recognise that there is in the New Testament something superhuman and heavenly and blessed, in the character, and ways, and teaching, of the Saviour of sinners. They know that never man spake as He. Infidels, therefore, for the most part deem it unwise to commence their assault on Truth by directly assailing the New Testament, and the personal teaching of the Lord. The writings of Moses are deemed a more hopeful subject of attack. Men pretend that the truthfulness of the writings of Moses may be impugned without the authority of the Lord Jesus being thereby affected. But do they really believe this? Is it possible for any man of ordinary reflectiveness to take the New Testament in his hand and to say, that it does not, over and over again, affirm the divine authority of Moses? . . .
The Essayist [one of the group that Newton is writing to refute] . . . maintains (and would that Christian writers had ever done the same) that the narrative respecting creation given in the commencement of Genesis professes to be a plain, historic narrative of facts. "It has nothing in it which can properly be called poetical. It bears on its face no trace of mystical or symbolical meaning. Things are called by their right names with a certain scientific exactness widely different from the imaginative cosmogonies of the Greeks." . . .
Nothing can be more true than this, at least so far as concerns the great fact, that the first of Genesis does profess to be, what indeed it is, a plain, literal narrative of creation. Yet let it not be supposed that the motive of the Essayist in admitting this is a desire to accredit Genesis. On the contrary, his object is to make its overthrow, as an authoritative witness of Truth, the more certain and complete. . . .
The first of Genesis is a chapter in which man and his mode of contemplating, or beholding, or naming things, has emphatically no place. It is a chapter peculiarly devoted to God and the almighty operations of His hand—the avowed object of the chapter being to teach us how and in what order God called all existing things, ourselves among the number, out of non-existence into being. If strict historical veracity is not to be expected when God undertakes to describe the facts of His own creative agency, when is it to be expected? . . .
Geology, like astronomy, or any other such science, whilst it employs itself in the ascertainment of facts is innocent, and useful for the purposes of life; but the moment it quits this comparatively lowly path and is tempted, instead of collecting and registering facts, to substitute conjecture and hypothesis for facts, and to endeavour to account for its facts by unproved theories, it abandons the sphere of inductive science, and becomes the slave and dupe of vain, empty, deceiving speculativeness.
. . . if . . . I am asked to believe that the paradisiacal earth which the God of life and love "created," "formed," and "made," and pronounced "very good," was at that moment, down to its very lowest strata, the record of nothing but destruction and death, I repudiate the thought as contrary to every thing that conscience and Scripture teach. . . .
I maintain that all that Scripture has revealed, directly or indirectly, concerning the physical condition of this earth, both in its paradisiacal and its fallen state, is to be tenaciously held. Having once ascertained that Scripture does reveal certain things as true, those things we must hold as infallibly certain, and even if an angel from Heaven were to gainsay them we heed him not. If any supposed facts, the result of human research, are presented to us, we should be willing to examine and try them by the Scripture. If they bear the test—especially if they manifestly tend to corroborate or illustrate Scripture, we welcome them. If they do not bear that test, we shall certainly find, sooner or later, either that we have hastily assumed as a fact that which is not a fact; or that we have been comparing with the Scripture, not a fact, but our deductions from, or reasonings about, a fact.
. . . Truth is not so much endangered by the open antagonism of its foes, as by the smooth treacherousness of its pretended friends. A lion seen in the way is less to be dreaded than a viper hidden in the grass. Professedly to honour the Scripture, and then, by a non-natural interpretation of its words, to make them channels of deadly falsehood, is something more to be dreaded than an open repudiation of its testimonies. When they who reject, or pervert the words spoken at Sinai and in Genesis, shall, in the last great day be asked, whether there really is any ambiguity or obscurity in them, will they not be speechless? The proud voice of science will be silent then.
What honour and laudation have of late been heaped upon the memories of Carlyle and Darwin. See the character of that assemblage which this very week entered Westminster Abbey to do honour to Darwin—one who has laboured more effectively probably than any other, to sap the authority of the Word of the Living God. Well nigh all the great representatives of English society crowded to his grave to scatter on it garlands, and to chant over his body holy words which must cause everyone who truly recognises the reality of the circumstances in the light of the eternal day, to thrill with horror.
. . . we desire . . . to record our most solemn protest against the doctrines recently promulgated in regard to the Mosaic Cosmogony, as doctrines involving heresies as destructive, false, and deadly as any that have ever been introduced into the Church of God.