Creation


Ah! Vacation Bible School. With the week upon us, can’t you just hear the high-pitched voices of the children roaming through the church hallways, catching up with friends from school and from last year’s VBS? And then there are the teachers and helpers, smiling and enthusiastic, a bit bedraggled by Wednesday or Thursday, but still smiling (a smile that turns into a relieved grin when the last child departs with parents or grandparents on Friday). Yes, it’s VBS week, and we are excited. Excited about the children and families who will be touched by our ministry this week. Excited about all the volunteers who will be helping out with this mammoth endeavor. Excited for the chaos that clutches the church during these few short summer days. But most of all we are excited about the story of Jesus and the Heavenly Father that will be told, retold and absorbed this week.

Personally, I am excited to be looking to the stars for the evidence of God’s existence, His love, and His provision that will be our focus this year with the help of LifeWay’s “Galactic Starveyers” VBS material. If we are in doubt about the existence of a Creator-God who loves us, we can simply look to the skies and see the evidence of His Majesty. If we can’t get our eyes on the stars, we can gaze at the world around us and see His handiwork proclaiming His perfection. And if we don’t find any of the natural world in our scope of vision, we can make a quick examination of ourselves—we are designed to breathe automatically; our blood flows unaided by a thought (unless we have gone out of our way to damage our heart); even our fingertips shout out to us that the One True God had a design because each one of us can claim the uniqueness of personal fingerprints. So, this week let’s look (if we can) to the stars and discover the God of the universe.

God saw all that He had made, and it was very good indeed.”  —Genesis 1:31a

Believing Early

When I was a child I believed that God created everything because my parents told me. Many of the things I believed early in life were the things that my parents told me because they would never lie to me. If they had told me the sun was blue I would have believed it because they told the truth. This phenomenon found itself illustrated vividly after my mother had retired from the public school classroom. She began baby-sitting for some friends’ young son. He in turn as he developed skills began to refer to her as “Momma Potter.” It was a natural progression for one so young–he had his Momma at home and, while she was at work, he had his “Momma Potter.”

One evening on the drive home the little boy began singing an old children’s song–it soon became apparent that he had changed the words a ‘smidge. Let’s listen in for just a couple of bars: “Jesus loves me, this I know. Momma Potter told me so.” (It’s okay to smile and giggle, he was about three years old at the time.)

What really hits me about this little anecdote is that I was the same in those developmental years. “God made the world. Momma said and so it must be.”

Belief Tested

Not too many years into my school-boy career I began to learn that other people’s parents had not shared with them the truth that I knew: God created the world. As a matter of fact I learned that there was an entirely different theory of existence being bandied about. The world came into being through some cosmic explosion when two opposing atoms collided in the vast waste of outer space and suddenly there was an atmosphere conducive to the development of life through a process called evolution.

I never struggled with this theory except to blindly shout with the religious right that it was just a lie (I was probably somewhere between the 5th and 9th grade when all of this was going on). I had read Genesis 1:1 where I learned that “In the beginning God created . . .” This meshed with what I’d learned early from my parents, so I could go with it.

Then came a science teacher. He was a member of the church where my dad served as pastor, a firm man of the Christian faith, and one who cared deeply about the students under his tutelage. One day the subject came up–perhaps as the lesson turned to theories of world origins in which evolution was offered as an option. Along with other young east Texas creationists I protested the thought, to which this wise teacher said (without espousing one theory over another), “Perhaps these men are not saying that God did NOT create the earth, but maybe trying to explain HOW He did it.”

I’ll not get into the truth or error of his statement, but get to the point: I came to a conclusion that day, “God created the world because the Bible said it. And questions about how that happened are best left up to smarter men than me.”

Belief Solidified

I have (in my old age–just ask my children they will confirm that I am extremely old) finally come to one conclusion that has outstripped all my earlier reliance on parents and teachers. It stems not from the idea that I can think for myself since that would eventually lead to headaches and distemper because I would (as we all do from time to time) be pondering one of the great imponderables. No, the foundation upon which I rest today is one called Faith. I believe what I believe even when believing it seems incongruous. It is not faith in concrete ideology nor in whimsical religiosity, but deep-seated faith that one arrives at only through the tests of time. And what has my faith led me to concerning our world? Simply this:

God made the world because God made the world.

Words by Joseph Addison (1672-1719)

(Also included in Favorite Hymns of Praise,  Tabernacle Publishing Co., Chicago, 1969  – #25, title in this collection includes the full first line of the poem; Inspiring Hymns, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1968 – #3; The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration, Word, Waco, 1986 – #62.)

I found it interesting that this old hymn found little interest in most of the newer (post-1970) hymnals. Perhaps it is the ancient language, or maybe the traditional coupling with Haydn’s Creation music which might seem even more high-brow than the ancient language.

The Hymn

  1. The spacious firmament on high,
    With all the blue ethereal sky,
    And spangled heavens, a shining frame
    Their great Original proclaim.
    Th’unwearied sun, from day to day,
    Does his Creator’s powers display,
    And publishes to every land
    The work of an Almighty Hand.
  2. Soon as the evening shades prevail
    The moon takes up the wondrous tale,
    And nightly to the listening earth
    Repeats the story of her birth;
    While all the stars that round her burn
    And all the planets in their turn,
    Confirm the tidings as they roll,
    And spread the truth from pole to pole.
  3. What though in solemn silence all
    Move round the dark terrestrial ball?
    What though no real voice nor sound
    Amid the radiant orbs be found?
    In reason’s ear they all rejoice,
    And utter forth a glorious voice,
    Forever singing as they shine,
    “The hand that made us is divine.” (Hymn words accessed at Cyber Hymnal)

Scriptural Connection

One hymnal offers Psalm 19 as a connection for this hymn because of the psalm’s reference to Creation praising God. This is a good option, but I would rather make a connection with the Creation story found in Genesis 1. This also gives us another connection with the Haydn music that is so readily attached to the poem.

What does it mean?

In this hymn we find one of the reasons that many modern people have difficulty with the old hymns and sacred songs. We just don’t talk that way anymore. Even so, this language (especially coupled with the classical selection from Haydn’s work) brings beauty to the mind.

Even though we would consider the word “firmament” archaic at best and dead at worst, it brings to mind the great expanse of the heavens. That’s the point. Our mind is drawn to the canvas of the skies upon which God has painted the whole of Creation. We hear the words “star spangled” and our mind rushes to the scattering of thousands of stars across an unbroken night sky. Bowing to those who would choose Psalm 19 for the Scripture connection, my own heart thrills at the thought of these mighty heavens filled with unreachable stars praising God (their “Original”).

Granted I would rarely (if ever) use the contraction for “the unwearied” but for meter’s sake, the poet gives us a beautiful contraction which teaches us that the heavens (and creation with them) never tire of broadcasting (“publishing”) the story of the Great Creator—identified here as the “great Original,” the “Creator,” and the “Almighty Hand.”

The second stanza draws our attention again to Genesis 1 as the moon relates to us the “story of her birth.” The “orbs” mentioned in the third stanza would be all the heavenly bodies (stars, planets and natural satellites alike) all lifting up their voices in the song that proclaims that Almighty God is the maker of them all.

This wonderful hymn is filled with ancient language that speaks volumes. It is sad that it took a study such as this one to open my eyes to it. Though it is in the hymnal that I grew up with it was often skipped in favor of other praise hymns. Consequently it slipped out of usage in my own tradition and now is not to be found in the newer hymn collections. The music that is the poem’s traditional partner is taken from a section of Franz Haydn’s opus called Creation. This fact alone suggests that we might want to resurrect the use of this song in our own proclamation of the greatness of our God.

*Hymn numbers for this series’ titles are from the Baptist Hymnal, 1956 edition, Nashville, Convention Press.

Words by Anonymous (from The Foundling Hospital Collection, 1796) A third stanza was added later written by Edward Osler (1798-1863)

(Also included in Baptist Hymnal 1975 ed. – #11 (includes third verse), 1991 ed. – #36 (includes verse 3), 2008 ed. – #33 (also includes verse 3); The Celebration Hymnal, Word, Waco, 1997 – #82 (includes verse 3); The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration, Word, Waco, 1986 – #9 (also includes verse 3).)

The Hymn

  1. Praise the Lord: ye heavens, adore Him;
    Praise Him, angels, in the height;
    Sun and moon, rejoice before Him;
    Praise Him, all ye stars and light.
    Praise the Lord, for He hath spoken;
    Worlds His mighty voice obeyed.
    Laws which never shall be broken
    For their guidance He hath made.(Our 1956 hymnal reverses order – “hath He made.”)
  2. Praise the Lord, for He is glorious;
    Never shall His promise fail.
    God hath made His saints victorious;
    Sin and death shall not prevail.
    Praise the God of our salvation;
    Hosts on high, His power proclaim.
    Heaven and earth and all creation,
    Laud and magnify His Name.
  3. Worship, honor, glory, blessing,
    Lord, we offer unto Thee;
    Young and old, Thy praise expressing,
    In glad homage bend the knee.
    All the saints in heaven adore Thee;
    We would bow before Thy throne:
    As Thine angels serve before Thee,
    So on earth Thy will be done. (Hymn words accessed at Hymnary.org)

[Note: The 1956 edition of the Baptist Hymnal includes only verses 1 & 2.]

Scriptural Connection

As with many of our praise hymns (to which the early part of this hymnal are dedicated), it is natural to look to the Psalms for inspiration. In this case a worthy Psalm is 148. This Psalm begins with a call for all of the heavens to praise the Lord, and then proceeds to name individual inhabitants of the heavens (sun and moon) and moves on to all of Creation itself in this magnificent call to worship.

What does it mean?

Just as with our focal scripture from Psalm 148, the hymn-writer calls into praise all of Creation, starting with the inhabitants of heaven (sun, moon, stars, even angels) and then moves to the earth and creatures there. The laws that cannot be broken are the laws of nature that have been set forth by the Mighty Maker—God. In fact, if those laws are broken (for instance in the provision of salvation) it is only God who might dare to brake them.

While I am glad to sing along with Mr. Osler’s third stanza, it seems to be more of a coda to what has been proclaimed in the original two verses. This third stanza offers for the worshiper an opportunity to be included in the praise. I am also satisfied that the two original verses stand alone as a call for worship from all of God’s Creation.

*Hymn numbers for this series’ titles are from the Baptist Hymnal, 1956 edition, Nashville, Convention Press.

Words by Cecil F. Alexander (1818-1895)

(Also included in Baptist Hymnal 1991 ed. – #46; variation in The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration, Word, Waco, 1986 – #578.)

The Hymn

  1. All things bright and beautiful, All things great and small,
    All things wise and wonderful, Our Father made them all.
    Each little flower that opens, Each little bird that sings;
    He made their glowing colors, He made their tiny wings.
  2. Cold wind in the winter, Pleasant summer sun,
    Ripe fruits in the garden; He made them every one.
    He gave us eyes to see them, And lips that we might tell
    How good is God our Father Who doeth all things well.

Following is the commonly used version of the hymn in hymnals—as noted some of the verses are omitted in one hymnal or another.

Refrain

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

  1. Each little flower that opens,
    Each little bird that sings,
    He made their glowing colors,
    He made their tiny wings.
  2. The rich man in his castle,
    The poor man at his gate,
    He made them, high or lowly,
    And ordered their estate. [Most hymnals omit this verse]
  3. The purple headed mountains,
    The river running by,
    The sunset and the morning
    That brightens up the sky.
  4. The cold wind in the winter,
    The pleasant summer sun,
    The ripe fruits in the garden,
    He made them every one.
  5. The tall trees in the greenwood,
    The meadows where we play,
    The rushes by the water,
    To gather every day.
  6. He gave us eyes to see them,
    And lips that we might tell
    How great is God Almighty,
    Who has made all things well. (this version accessed at Cyber Hymnal)

Scriptural Connection

Perhaps the best connection to make for this hymn is to turn to Genesis 1 and 2. In these chapters we find the story of not only beginnings, but the story of Creation—how God made all things. He made the big and the small, the spectacular and the mundane. And it all speaks of Him in return.

What does it mean?

This particular hymn is not nearly so difficult to understand. It is a tribute to the Maker of all things. The second verse encourages the worshiper to witness and then bear witness to the Maker because of all things created. Not only has God created all things, but in this “all things” are included our eyes which behold the things made, and our lips through which the testimony to this great Creator God flows.

I would note that the variations listed above would be evidence of the various hymn tunes used when singing this praise song. This would account for the changing of the word “creatures” to a repetition of the word “things”.  Also of note is the use of four lines (the first four in our Baptist hymnal and the “refrain” from the traditional hymn) as a refrain to be sung between each verse rather than the simple two-stanza song as recorded in the 1956 hymnal. A change in the wording “the Lord God” to “Our Father” is a stylistic one, most likely brought about as a hymn-collector would determine that the original was a bit archaic and austere whereas laying hold of the fatherhood of the Maker might seem a bit more accessible to the worshiper.

Finally, a word about the reason for the omission of the second verse in many hymnals (when referring to the traditional words): One would notice that all the other stanzas refer to Nature in creation and it is not pleasant to think that God had anything to do with who is rich and who is poor, who is of higher estate than another. To avoid this, but still offer God His due praise for creation, we leave out this troublesome verse and sing away.

*Hymn numbers for this series’ titles are from the Baptist Hymnal, 1956 edition, Nashville, Convention Press.