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THE TEMPTATION OF MAN
‘Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?’
The writer of the narrative intended to imply, by his language, the existence and operation of a personal agent of evil.
I. The tempter is admitted into the garden.—The garden was not a sacred enclosure, which he was forbidden to enter. It was not meant then, any more than now—that human beings should be protected from the assaults of temptation. Not the virtue which stands, because it has never been tried, but the virtue which has passed through trial, and come triumphantly out of it—this is what God demands, and expects at the hands of His creatures. Just as it is with us now, so was it with Eve, temptation met her in the ordinary walk of life, and when she was occupied with the tasks which God had given her to fulfil. She had not wandered into some perilous region. She may have been intellectually a child; but she had a moral instinct that must have given her warning, and must have hinted plainly that even to parley with such an interlocutor was a deviation from the path of duty. Clearly, what she ought to have done was to have turned at once from a being who cast a covert slur upon the character of her God, and to have refused to hold further communication with him.
A point of resemblance between the first temptation and all subsequent ones is to be found in the injecting into the mind of suspicions about God, especially with reference to the prohibitions which He imposes. In our better moments we can see that these prohibitions are intended for our good, that they are really evidences of the Divine love and watchfulness over us, and that the great Father would never really deny His children anything but what He knows it would be injurious to them to possess. But when God puts limits to our self-indulgence, or warns us altogether off from certain regions of enjoyment, is there not sometimes a feeling in our heart akin to that inspired by the tempter into the heart of Eve? and are we not sometimes inclined to suspect that the Creator grudges to see His creatures happy, and that there must be something exceptionally delicious about the fruit of the forbidden tree, inasmuch as it is so carefully guarded and placed beyond our reach?
II. Consider, in the next place, the result of the temptation—I mean the result that appeared at once, and which is indeed the type and forerunner of all the results of successful temptation which we see in the world around us. This was their shrinking from the presence of God. Up to this time, it had been a delight to Adam and Eve to go forth and meet their Heavenly Visitant, when He descended to converse with them. Now, as soon as they are aware of His approach, they hide themselves among the trees of the garden. And are we not reminded by this circumstance of our own natural recoil from personal contact with God?
III. The instrument which the tempter employed to make his temptation successful was falsehood. He persuaded Eve to believe a lie. And Satan uses precisely the same weapon now—falsehood, but falsehood with a certain admixture in it of the element of truth.
—Rev. Gordon Calthrop.
I. Satan’s temptations begin by laying a doubt at the root.—He questions; he unsettles. He does not assert error; he does not contradict truth; but he confounds both. He makes his first entries, not by violent attack, but by secret sapping; he endeavours to confuse and cloud the mind which he is afterwards going to kill.
II. The particular character of these troublesome and wicked questionings of the mind varies according to the state and temperament and character of each individual. (1) In order to combat them, every one should have his mind stored and fortified with some of the evidences of the Christian religion. To these he should recur whenever he feels disquieted; he should be able to give ‘a reason for the hope that is in him,’ and an answer to that miserable shadow that flits across his mind, ‘Yea, hath God said?’ (2) A man must be careful that his course of life is not one giving advantage to the tempter. He must not be dallying under the shadow of the forbidden tree, lest the tempter meet him and he die.
III. The far end of Satan is to diminish from the glory of God.—To mar God’s design he insinuated his wily coil into the garden of Eden: to mar God’s design he met Jesus Christ in the wilderness, on the mountain top, and on the pinnacle of the temple; to mar God’s design he is always leading us to take unworthy views of God’s nature and God’s work.
—Rev. Jas. Vaughan.
The Tempter effected his purpose in Eden: (1) by a question; (2) by a negation; (3) by a promise.
I. By a question.—(1) Have we ever reflected on the tremendous power of a question? Some of the most important social and intellectual revolutions have sprung from a question. And it was through a question that the greatest of all revolutions was effected, by which man, made in the image of God, was seduced from His allegiance—a question that has carried with it consequences of which no man can foresee the end. (2) Mark the subtlety of the question. It aimed at destroying the blessed fellowship between God and man. ‘Men ask in vain,’ says Luther, ‘what was the particular sin to which Eve was tempted.’ The solicitation was to all sins when she was tempted to doubt the word and the goodwill of God.
II. The Tempter makes the way to sin easy by removing all fear of the consequences.—There is the negation, ‘Ye shall not surely die.’ We listen to the lie, and we stake our all, for time and for eternity, upon this blank and cruel negation.
III. The Satanic promise.—(1) It is malevolent: ‘God doth know’; He has a reason for the restriction; He dreads a rival. (2) It is fascinating: ‘Ye shall be as gods.’ The perverted pride of man’s heart is the Tempter’s best ally.
(1) ‘We shall err greatly if we treat Adam’s history in Eden as nothing more than a fabled picture of the experience of man; rather is it the root out of which your experience and mine has grown, and in virtue of which they are other than they would have been had they come fresh from the hand of God. We recognise the law of headship which God has established in humanity, whereby Adam, by his own act, has placed his race in new and sadder relations to Nature and to the Lord, ( a) The origin of evil may still remain a mystery, but this history of Eden stands between it and God. Eden is God’s work, the image of His thought; and man’s spirit joyfully accepts the history, and uses it as a weapon against haunting doubts about the origin of evil. ( b) The sin of Adam is substantially the history of every attempt of self-will to counterwork the will of God. Every sin is a seeking for a good outside the region which, in the light of God, we know to be given us as our own.’
(2) ‘Mysterious as the history of our fall is, its greatest wonder is this: that God out of ruin hath brought forth fresh beauty; out of man’s defeat, His victory; out of death, life glorious and eternal. Thou shall surely live is now the Divine proclamation to man’s world. “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.” ’
(3) ‘Let us learn to be early undeceived about the Tempter’s falsehood, “Ye shall not surely die.” If a man will serve his sin, let him at least reckon upon this, that in one way or other it will be ill with him; his sin will find him out; his path will be hard; there will be to him no peace. The night of concealment may be long, but dawn comes like the Erinnys to reveal and avenge its crimes.’
(4) ‘The temptation had a personal source. There are beings who desire to draw men away from God. The serpent, by its poison and its loathly form, is the natural symbol of such an enemy of man. The insinuating slyness of the suggestions of evil is like the sinuous gliding of the snake, and truly represents the process by which temptation found its way into the hearts of the first pair, and of all their descendants. For it begins with casting a doubt on the reality of the prohibition. “Hath God said?” is the first parallel opened by the besieger. The fascinations of the forbidden fruit are not dangled at first before Eve, but an apparently innocent doubt is filtered into her ear. And is not that the way in which we are still snared? The reality of moral distinctions, the essential wrongness of the sin, are obscured by a mist of sophistication. “There is no harm in it” steals into some young man’s or woman’s mind about things that were forbidden at home, and they are half conquered before they know that they have been attacked. Then comes the next besieger’s trench, much nearer the wall,—namely, denial of the fatal consequences of the sin: “Ye shall not surely die,” and a base hint that the prohibition was meant, not as a parapet to keep him from falling headlong into the abyss, but as a barrier to keep from rising to a great good; “for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened and ye shall be as gods.” These are still the two lies which wile us to sin,—“It will do you no harm,” and “You are cheating yourselves out of good by not doing it.” ’
(5) ‘A burglar, not long ago, rifled an unoccupied dwelling by the seaside. He ransacked the rooms, and heaped his plunder in the parlour. There were evidences that he sat down to rest. On a bracket in the corner stood a marble bust of Guido’s “Ecce Homo”—Christ crowned with thorns. The guilty man had taken it in his hands and examined it. It bore the marks of his fingers, but he replaced it with its face turned to the wall, as if he would not have even the sightless eyes of the marble Saviour look upon his deeds of infamy. So the first act of the first sinner was to hide himself at the sound of God’s voice.’
CONCEALMENT FROM GOD IMPOSSIBLE
‘Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.’
I. That which strikes us first of all is, that Adam represents the average sinner.—A man may do worse than Adam. Many men have done and do worse than hide themselves from God after outraging Him by sin. Adam’s conduct proves that the sense of God’s presence, awfulness, greatness, was still intact in his soul.
II. ‘They hid themselves.’—It was not the result of a consultation: it was an instinct. Two motives would concurrently have determined the action of Adam. (1) Fear. God’s greatness was now the measure of the terror of the creature who had dared to disobey Him. (2) Shame. Adam had felt a fear of God in his unfallen life which differed from the cowering fear of his guilty conscience much as a healthy circulation of the blood might differ from the pulse of fever. But shame was an absolutely new thing, unlike any other capacity or experience in himself with which our first father had been previously acquainted. As the greatness of God was the measure of Adam’s fear, so his own lost greatness was the measure of Adam’s shame.
III. ‘Amongst the trees of the garden.’—The trees beneath the shade of which the human soul seeks refuge from its God are: (1) pleasure; (2) occupation; (3) moral rationalism.
IV. We have no difficulty in characterising this act of Adam as foolish and irrational. It was so: (1) because it was to attempt the impossible; and (2) because it was to fly from the one hope and opening for restoration and safety.
(1) ‘The soul has many hiding-places. There are: (1) The hiding-place of self-complacent propriety; (2) the hiding-place of the reasoner; (3) the hiding-place of theological dogmas. But the true hiding-place for the soul is Jesus.’
(2) ‘The disturbed relation with God, which is presented in the highly symbolical form fitting for early ages, is as true and impressive for the twentieth century as for them. Sin broke familiar communion with God, turned Him into a ‘fear and a dread,’ and sent the guilty pair into ambush. Is not that deeply and perpetually true? The sun seen through mists becomes a lurid ball of scowling fire. The impulse is to hide from God, or to get rid of thoughts of Him. And when He is felt to be near, it is as a questioner, bringing sin to mind. The shuffling excuses, which venture even to throw the blame of sin on God (“the woman whom Thou gavest me”), or which try to palliate it as a mistake (‘the serpent beguiled me’), have to come at last, however reluctantly, to confess that ‘I’ did the sin. Each has to say, “I did eat.” So shall we all have to do.’
(3) ‘Hideous feeling! There is no pain so horrible as that of wanting to hide from the eyes of those we love or respect. Who has not compressed immeasurable agony into a few such moments, when trying to avoid detection? I know quite well how Adam and Eve felt,—don’t you? But what must it be to live in such a state perpetually? Think of the men who are trying each day of life to “hide” from the eyes of their wives and their children; of the criminals who are trying to “hide” from the police; of the embezzlers who are trying to “hide” from their employers! A lifetime of happiness can never quite compensate for a day of such shame. But how beautiful to live an open life,—to live so that the sudden discovery that the eyes of the world were on you should not cause you a quiver!’
COWARDICE AND CANT
‘I heard Thy voice … and I was afraid.’
I. ‘I heard Thy voice … and I was afraid.’ The words are Adam’s words, spoken after that first sin, which we are told about in to-day’s first morning lesson. Was Adam a coward when he uttered them?
Yes, he was—a conscience-made coward, like many a one after him. He is a coward after his sin, not before it; in his rebellion against God, and not in His service. And the same thing has been true in the case of thousands of His children. For fear is the unhappy firstborn of sin. It is not religion that makes man a coward, but the want of it. We do wrong, and then ‘conscience doth make cowards of us all.’
But while in Adam’s mouth the words of the text are the words of a coward, in themselves they are not, by any means, necessarily so. They might well be, under different conditions, as, doubtless, they have often been, the words of the bravest, truest spirits breathing. For, over and over again, absolute fearlessness is found to go hand in hand with, even as it is the direct outcome of fear—the only fear which has no trace of shame in it; holy fear, the fear of God—the fear of sin!
‘He feared man so little because he feared God so much,’ was once said of a great Indian statesman. Who could desire a better epitaph—a nobler record of a finished life? It describes a man who stands a head and shoulders above the common run of men—a man in a generation, perhaps. One who has confidence in himself, and inspires confidence in others. One who would regard an invitation to do wrong as an insult, so jealous is he of the honour of God. Who, in answer to the seemingly bold, but really uneasy taunt of the scoffer, ‘What! you’re afraid, are you?’ looks his accuser in the face, and answers, ‘Yes; I am afraid. I am not afraid of you, or of any man living, but I am afraid of God, and afraid to do what He forbids’?
If a man is truly religious, he is, he must be, above all things a fearless man. And yet many a man—many a young man especially—shrinks from being marked down ‘religious,’ because he imagines that religion is not manly enough for him; because some have told him, and he has believed it, that it is all cant and cowardice.
Now let us say a word about cant.
‘I hate cant,’ a man says, and thinks that he has, therefore, given a very good reason for despising religion. Now the sentiment he expresses is a very good one, as far as it goes. Every honest man should, and does hate cant. But what is cant? Let us see.
Literally, cant is whining—practically, it is unreality. Well, there is religious cant—and this is of two kinds.
II. Some people make religion, and a stock of religious phrases, a cloak for their evil lives. This is cant, and of a very bad kind.
Others, again, who are very far from being hypocrites, uncharitably condemn, nay, anathematise, innocent amusements, and many things, which though innocent in themselves, are abused by many. Of course, we can make anything sinful; but to condemn cards and theatres, for instance, as in themselves works of the devil, is to give, not the enemies of religion alone, good reason for identifying religion with cant.
But now, do people ever stop to consider that there is at least as much cant outside of religion as ever was found within it? And the very people who cry out against religious cant make a very liberal use of cant of their own. It reminds one of the old story that tells how the philosopher Diogenes paid a visit to a brother philosopher, Plato, and finding the other amid luxurious carpets, and other comforts, entered his room with the remark, ‘I trample upon the ostentation of Plato.’ ‘Yes,’ answered Plato, ‘with an ostentation of your own.’
Now the man who speaks of sin as ‘seeing life,’ ‘enjoying life,’ ‘being a bit fast,’ and so on, is canting, and in a very mischievous way.
Not only is the religious man a braver man than the godless, but he needs to be. His is the harder life. God, the angels, God’s people, do not at least jeer the wicked man, subject him to petty annoyances, make his life a burden to him, but the religious man must stand out against all these patiently.
—Rev. J. B. C. Murphy.
THE EXCUSE OF THE TEMPTED
‘And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.’
I. The record before us is the History of the First Sin.—It needed no revelation to tell us that sin is, that mankind is sinful. Without, within, around, and inside us, is the fact, the experience, the evidence, the presence of sin. It is sin which makes life troublous and gives death its sting. The revelation of the Fall tells of an entrance, of an inburst of evil into a world all good, into a being created upright—tells, therefore, of a nature capable of purity, of an enemy that may be expelled, and of a holiness possible because natural. From man’s fall we infer a fall earlier yet and more mysterious. Once sin was not; and when it entered man’s world it entered under an influence independent, not inherent.
II. The First Sin is also the Specimen Sin.—It is in this sense, too, the original sin, that all other sins are copies of it. Unbelief first, then disobedience; then corruption, then self-excusing; then the curse and the expulsion—turn the page and you shall find a murder!
III. The Original Sin is also the Infectious Sin.—The New Testament derives this doctrine from the history, that there is a taint or corruption in the race by reason of the Fall; that it is not only a following of Adam by the deliberate independent choice of each one of us which is the true account of our sinning; but this rather—an influence and infection of evil, derived and inherited by us from all that ancestry of the transgressor. Not one man of all the progeny of Adam has drawn his first breath or his latest in an atmosphere pure and salubrious. Before, behind him, around and above, there has been the heritage of weakness, the presence and pressure of an influence in large part evil. Fallen sons of a fallen forefather, God must send down His hand from above if we are to be rescued ever out of these deep, these turbid waters.
(1) ‘It is pitiful to read in the narrative how, when asked regarding their sin, the man sought to put the blame on the woman. “The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” That is often the way—when a man has done wrong he blames somebody else. A drunkard said it was his wife’s fault, for she was not sociable at home and he went out evenings to find somebody to talk with. A young man fell into sin and said it was the fault of his companions who had tempted him. No doubt a share of guilt lies on the tempter of innocence and inexperience. Yet temptation does not excuse sin. We should learn that no sin of others in tempting us will ever excuse our sin. No one can compel us to do wrong.’
(2) ‘At once upon the dark cloud breaks the light. No sooner had man fallen than God’s thought of redemption appears. “It shall bruise thy head.” This fifteenth verse is called the protevangelium, the first promise of a Saviour. It is very dim and indistinct, a mere glimmering of light on the edge of the darkness. But it was a gospel of hope to our first parents in their sorrow and shame. We understand now its full meaning. It is a star-word as it shines here. A star is but a dim point of light as we see it in the heavens, but we know it is a vast world or centre of a system of worlds. This promise hides in its far-awayness all the glory of the after-revealings of the Messiah. As we read on in the Old Testament we continually find new unfoldings, fuller revealings, until by and by we have the promise fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ.’
THE EARLIEST GOSPEL
‘I will put enmity between thee and the woman,’ etc.
I. The first time Prophecy opened her lips, it was to pronounce these words. To our first parents they were full of hope and consolation. In some mysterious way their loss was to be repaired; a Deliverer was to be provided. This promise was all their Bible. What, in truth, is all the rest of Scripture but the development of this great primeval promise of a Redeemer?
II. Never for an instant was this tremendous announcement absent from the recollection of the enemy of our race. Thoroughly versed in Scripture (as the history of the Temptation proves), he watched with intense anxiety the progress of prophetic announcement to mankind concerning One that was to come.
III. It is not to be supposed for an instant that Satan understood the mystery of our Lord’s Incarnation. Caught in the depths of that unimaginable mystery, he did not know until it was too late that it was Very and Eternal God with whom he had entered into personal encounter. Repulsed in the wilderness, he was made fully aware of the personal advent of his great Enemy. At the death of Christ the kingdom which he had been consolidating for four thousand years was in a single moment shattered to its base.
IV. The history of the Fall plainly intimates that on the side of the flesh man is most successfully assaulted by temptation. Four thousand years of warfare have convinced the enemy of our peace that on this side the citadel is weakest, is most easily surprised, is most probably captured.
(1) ‘Let us make it “war to the knife”! Let us hate evil with a perfect hatred. I will suggest a little creed for the day: “I hate meanness! I hate impurity! I hate falsehood! I hate injustice!” I like a good “hater,” but it is sin he must hate. This is the one pardonable “enmity” of the soul.’
(2) ‘We have here the beginning of Redemption. God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” As sometimes in nature we find the bane and the antidote almost side by side—in Corsica, e.g. the mineral springs of Orezza are said to be a specific for the malarial fever produced in the plains below—so in this chapter with its story of defeat, captivity, and ruin, there is the promise of victory, deliverance, and recovery. The words I have quoted are sometimes called “the Protevangelium,” or “the Gospel before the Gospel.” They could not, of course, mean for those who first heard or read them all that they mean to us who find their complete fulfilment in Christ; yet even from them their deeper meaning could not have been wholly hidden. When men who felt the misery of sin and lifted up their hearts to God for deliverance, read the words addressed to the serpent, “is it reasonable to suppose that such men would take these words in their literal sense, and satisfy themselves with the assurance that serpents, though dangerous, should be kept under, and would find in the words no assurance of that very thing they themselves were all their lifetime striving after, deliverance from the evil thing which lay at the root of all sin?” ’
SINNERS MUST SUFFER
‘Unto the woman He said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception,’ etc.
Genesis 3:16-Job :
By the Fall sin entered in, and by sin a change passed over the whole world. The change affected the moral relations of man. In becoming disobedient to God, he lost all control over himself. While subject to the Divine Will, he wielded absolute power over his own nature. His passions were then pure ones, held in a bond of unity and subjection. But when he rebelled, they rebelled too, and warred one against the other, bringing in turn the will into bondage to them. His will revolted against his Maker, and it became one with the will of the Evil One; it moved in concert with it, and became part of the evil which was in the world. Man represented the antagonistic power which broke the unity of God’s kingdom; his will was diametrically opposed to that of God. Such is Sin. Our present state in this world, then, is a fallen one and evil. Now there are two kinds of evil: one is moral, and the other is penal. Both imply a chastisement. All the laws of God, in the physical, moral, and political world, if broken, exact a penalty. But there is a law written in the hearts of men, and given to the conscience when the penalty is the result of moral transgression. It was the prospect of these two evils—the outward chastisement and the inward retribution—which wrung from Cain the confession: ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear.’
Consider the consequences of the Fall from both these standpoints.
I. The moral consequences and chastisement of the Fall.
( a) Man was driven away from the Presence of God; and from two causes, shame and fear. Ashamed, for they knew that they were naked; afraid, for they feared to meet their Maker. They had lost ‘that ignorance of innocence which knows nothing of nakedness.’ That it was the conscience which was really at work is evidenced by their fear, which impelled them to hide themselves. Man in his innocence knew nothing of either shame or fear. And this, too, is the peculiar trait of childhood. Adam was ashamed, but yet he thought more of the consequences of sin than of the sin itself; more of his nakedness than of having broken the commandment of God. And so it ever is now; men think more of the pain, the shame, the publicity, the humiliation induced by sin, than the transgression itself. But an evil conscience still fears to be alone with God; and, like Adam, the sinner would fain hide himself.
( b) The second moral consequence of the Fall is selfishness. That is the love and consequent indulgence of self; the liking to have one’s own way for the sake of having it. It is the root of all personal sin. It is the getting another centre besides the true one, round which we live and move and have our being. It brings the wills of us all into collision with the rule and will of the Eternal Good One. It is to revolve round ourselves, instead of making God the centre of our thoughts, feelings, opinions, actions, and aspirations. Everywhere there is mutual dependence, mutual support, and co-operation. ‘No man liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself,’ even in the body politic. Where, then, is any place for selfishness in religion? We cannot keep it to ourselves; our light must shine before men, that they may glorify the Great Father in Heaven. Christ has given us something outside ourselves to live for: the poor, the sick, sinners at home, heathen abroad, and all who need our help and prayers. Further, as Adam and Eve showed their selfishness by their cowardice in hiding, and by the severity with which they regarded the sin of the other, while lenient to their own share in the transgression; so it is still; the sinner first throws the blame on others as tempters, and then upon circumstances which God has ordained.
II. The penal consequences or chastisement of the Fall were threefold.
( a) The curse fell upon the ground. By man’s sin came death; death passed from man into the rest of creation, pervading the whole; and the curse fell on the ground ( Genesis 3:17-Job :; Romans 8:22).
( b) The second penal consequence was the impossibility of ease; pain to woman, toil to man, and finally death to both. There was to be no rest for either the weaker or the stronger, for the tempter or the tempted.
( c) The third penal consequence was the being shut out from the trees of knowledge and life. After the germ of death had penetrated into man’s nature, through sin, it was Mercy which prevented his taking of the Tree of Life, and thus living for ever; the fruit which produced immortality could only do him harm. Immortality in a state of sin and misery is not that eternal life which God designed for man. Man’s expulsion from Eden was for his ultimate good; while exposing him to physical death, it preserved him from eternal or spiritual death. And man, too, was shut out from the Tree of Knowledge. We all know this by bitter experience. With what difficulty knowledge of any kind is obtained; what intense application and labour are required. There is no royal road to learning; we must pay the price—sweat of brain—if we would unlock its priceless treasures.
III. Lastly, consider the future hopes of the human race. The first ground of hope is from what we were originally. Man was created in the likeness of God—perfect, upright, pure, and holy. What we have been, that we shall be. The second ground is from the evidence we have in our own feelings, that we were born for something higher; this world cannot satisfy us. ‘We seek a better country, that is, a heavenly.’ The third ground is from the curse pronounced on evil. A true life fought out in the spirit of God’s truth shall conquer at last. ‘The Seed of the woman shall bruise the Serpent’s head.’ The spiritual seed culminated in Christ. But, remember, except we are in Christ, we are in guilt. ‘We are yet in our sin’; for, ‘as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.’
Rev. Morris Fuller.
‘HE REMEMBERETH THAT WE ARE DUST’
‘Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.’
I. Men know not that they shall die, even though they confess it with their lips almost daily.—If we consider what death is, we see that men who know its approach will act in all things as in the fear of it. There is no more startling paradox in the wonders of our nature than this, that men in general are thoughtless about death. When our own turn comes and there is no escape, then, for the first time, we really believe in death.
II. Death is a fearful thing, because of the great change that it implies in all our being.—Life is that power by which we act and think and love and intend and hope. And suppose that all our energies have been wasted on things that cannot follow us into the grave, then how can we conceive of any life at all beyond this? When we know that we must die, we feel about for something in us that shall not perish, some thread of continuity to knit our present and future life into one; and if we have never lived for God, never realised the difference between treasures of earth and treasures of heaven, we find nothing that shall assure us of that other life. We start back in horror from a grave so dark and so profound.
III. If these two terrors were all, some at least would not fear to die, would even court death as a repose.—But there is yet another terror. Death means judgment. To die is to meet God. You tremble because you stand before a Judge of infinite power, whose wrath no man can resist; before a Judge of infinite wisdom, who shall call back your acts out of the distant past and lay bare the secret thoughts of your spirit.
IV. Accept the salvation purchased for you with Christ’s passion, then death cannot come suddenly upon you, for the thought of it will have sobered all your days. The day of account will still be terrible, but the belief that you are reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus will sustain you.
DRIVEN INTO EXILE
‘So be drove out the man.’
The results of the Fall! If one were to catalogue them one might spend hours. We are not concerned to-day so much with those results such as sorrow, suffering, and death. These are patent to everyone. What we are to think about is more that banishment from God which brings sorrow to the soul. Think for a moment of man’s position before the Fall. There was then nothing between man and God—in a word, God’s Holy Spirit dwelt in his heart. The Fall reversed that. By the Fall man lost the Holy Ghost. There was no longer that freedom of intercourse between man and God.
I. Results of the Fall.—There are three great results of the Fall:
( a) The first of them is ignorance. Man has lost his knowledge of God. I know there are some people who persist in saying that there is no God; but you will never find a body of men, a tribe, or nation, who say, ‘There is no God,’ who have not some idea of God, who do not believe somehow in the existence of God. Nature tells us of a God, and there is something left in us still to tell us that there is a God. Positivism as against God has utterly failed to retain in its grasp any large number of people. Man has an instinct within him—let alone the evidence of nature—that there is a God. God has written the fact of His existence in nature, but He has not written His character. That is what Adam lost. When man had lost his hold on God things went all wrong, and so we find him beginning to build a tower from the earth, which should have its top in heaven, that man might reach to God. God has written the fact of His existence on our consciences, and He has also written it in the revelations of the Old Testament. There are the Jews; they have their Bible—the Old Testament. They were quite sure they knew the character of God, and yet, when God came, what did they do? They crucified Him.
( b) Then there was what may be called ‘weakness.’ Man had been made by God that God might take care of him. God’s one desire was to wrap His arms around that feeble creature man, and when man cast that protection off he found out his own weakness. Soon we find the heathen poet saying: ‘I know what is right, and yet I do what is wrong.’ While St. Paul even says: ‘Wretched man that I am.… I would … I do not.’ That weakness has fallen upon us as the second result of the Fall.
( c) The third result is ‘turbulence’—the want of control over the faculties of man’s nature. When we are born into the world we are born double. On the one side we crave for God—every man is made for God; on the other side we soon tire of religion—we begin to hate it. Once we can grasp the fact that in us we have both the image of God in which we were made, and what the Church calls ‘original sin,’ both together, side by side, then we see why we are such a mass of contradiction. ‘I know right, but I do wrong.’ Some of us know, of course—most of us know—how difficult it is to keep our lower nature under control. Most of us know that miserable struggle which is constantly going on between the right and the wrong in us. It was not so at first. Before man fell he was entirely in the Will of God. Now man’s will is at variance with that of God, and it was the Fall that brought this turbulence into our nature.
II. ‘Seven Deadly Sins.’—That turbulence expresses itself in seven great ways. They are sometimes known as the seven deadly sins.
(1) The first of them is pride. Pride is a knowledge of self apart from God. Man lost touch with God, and all he can see is himself. And so his whole horizon is full of himself. That is pride. Pride is the root sin; rather pride is the soil in which every other sin drops. If you take away the soil from the plant it withers and dies. So if you can root out pride there will be no other sin in the world.
(2) The second is covetousness—that evil feeling of displeasure at another’s good. Look at the harm which covetousness has wrought in the world. Half of the hatred, half of the sordid crimes one reads of, are the result of covetousness—that covetousness which drove man away from God.
(3) The third is lust. Pray God that you may be saved from the sin of worldly lust. The body is the temple of God, and yet people allow it to be defiled. Any man defiling the temple of God, him shall God destroy. If there is one sin more than another that is killing people at present it is the sin of sensuality.
(4) The fourth is anger. Think of our Lord Jesus Christ—while nails were driven through His Hands and Feet, and while the crown of thorns was pressed on His brow—what did He say? ‘Father, forgive them.’ And yet we have anger which springs up in a second.
(5) The fifth is gluttony or drunkenness. No one can fail to see the harm that is wrought by this sin in its worst form. You do not have to go far to see it.
(6) The sixth is envy. This sin it was which led to the first murder.
(7) Then, lastly, there is sloth, which shows itself in the general torpor of the spiritual life. Men cease to make an effort, and then they go down fast. Pray God to be delivered from that torpor. Pray God you may be saved from the dulling of your conscience.
III. Salvation from the Results of the Fall.—What is going to save us from the results of the Fall? There is none other way under heaven but the Name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. He, the sinless One—His is the perfect human life. He stands in our midst; He hangs on the Cross, and as He hangs there He teaches us two great revelations. The first is the revelation of the justice of God; the second is the revelation of the hideousness of sin. If we would reckon rightly with ourselves we must look at ourselves in the light of the Cross. You will then pray to be filled more and more with the knowledge of Him, with the knowledge of His life, and with a hatred of sin.
I. Man’s fallen life, viewed externally and internally
( a) Externally. Man was condemned to toil and sorrow, no longer fed by the sacramental fruit of the tree of life, exiled from the garden and debarred from entering the gate, which was closed against him by mysterious shapes and by points of flickering fire. The echoes of sin and sorrow, of care and business and pleasure, that are wakened up for us in the fourth chapter, are the beginning of the moral and physical history of man as he now is.
( b) Internally. Strange and terrible possibilities of sin lurk in this human nature of ours. Who can measure the possible distance between himself now and himself twenty years hence? There seem evermore to be two wills in the mystery of the one will. There seem to be two men in the one man,—the two wills and two men of whom the apostle speaks in our text.
II. The redeemed life. As we have placed Adam at the head of the fallen life, we place Christ at the head of the redeemed life. Christ is here in these opening chapters of Genesis. Dim and indistinct the promise must be admitted to be; just as on some pale winter morning we see a shape dimly in the mirror, and yet recognise it because we have known it before, so in that dim winter morning of prophecy we can see Christ in that first promise, because we have met Him before in the Gospel and the Church.
The redeemed life includes: ( a) forgiveness; ( b) an emancipated will. In Christ Jesus the fallen life may pass into the redeemed life; in Him, exiles as we are, we may win a right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates and pass into the city which is our home.
‘See how one sin may alter everything. It would be difficult to picture a greater contrast than between the beginning and the ending of our Lesson. The gladness of the sunlight has departed, and the heavens are overcast with cloud. Instead of quiet assurance before God, there is the guilty desire to escape Him. Instead of happy possession of the garden, there is banishment into the wide world beyond. All things are changed; it is a different world; it is as if every bird had ceased to sing; and one act of disobedience has done it all. Remember, then, that a single act or deed may change the current of a man’s whole life. One choice, made in a moment, often lightly—and the life will never be the same again. Let a man do one noble deed, and play the hero only for one hour, and the world will be noble to him ever after, and he will have the comradeship of noble souls. But let a man play the coward or the cheat, not twice but once, not openly but secretly, and life will be meaner and the world a poorer place until the threescore years and ten are run. There are great joys that meet us in an instant, but the light of them shall shine on till the grave. And there are choices we are called to make which—made in a moment—will determine everything.’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Genesis 3". Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34