On Creatures

Their Nature and Ends

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of four articles on the doctrine of creation. For the first article, see here.

As we discuss the nature of creatures, we begin with a tautological confession: creatures are creatures. To treat them otherwise would be foolish and faithless. 

Creatures are by nature, created (Isa 45:12; John 1:3, 10; Col 1:16). That is, “to be created is . . . to be made”[1] by God.[2] But once again, they are created peculiarly—ex nihilo (from nothing). Creatures are thus constituted by God and are therefore dependent upon him for everything. Without God, creatures would not be. They exist only by his will (Rev 4:11).[3] They are marked in totality by their absolute dependence. Put positively, they are constituted by their relation to God because they are from him, through him, and for him (Rom 11:36; Col 1:16). This is not to say that creatures do not have being proper to them, but to say their real being is only in their constituting relation to God.[4] Creatures have their own being—being that is from God. Whereas God has being in and of himself as ipsum esse subsistens (self-subsistent being itself), creatures have their being as principiata (derivatives) from their principium (source), God.

Since creatures are from him and through him, it is clear that they are also to him, which tells us something about their end: God himself, namely, his glory. All creatures exist for God’s glory—for his fame, name, and honor. And so a perennial question is answered about the purpose of creaturely existence: “The glory of God is the final goal of all God’s works.”[5] As ones completely dependent upon God, creatures are meant not to strive for self-glory, but to glorify their Creator and Sustainer. The nature of creatures attests to this end: creatures do not give themselves existence, nor are they the source of their sustenance; God is. And in glorifying their Creator and Sustainer, who redeems them by the Son, sanctified creatures will find that their goal, their end, their purpose of existence is perfect happiness in God,[6] because glorifying God and happiness in him are one.[7]

[1] Aquinas, ST Ia.45.4.

[2] Aquinas ST Ia.45.5.

[3] Aquinas ST Ia.46.1.

[4] See Webster, “‘Love is also a lover of life,’” in God Without Measure, 1:106. Here, Webster brings up the notion of participation. For further thoughts, see Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:419.

[5] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics 2:433.

[6] Aquinas ST Ia-IIae.2.8.

[7] See the theology of John Piper, especially in Desiring God and Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ (free download in link).