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Moral evil cannot be accounted for by referring it to a brute source. Vitally important truths underlie the narrative and are bodied forth by it. But the way to reach these truths is not to adhere too rigidly to the literal meaning, but to catch the general impression.
I. Variety of interpretation in details is not to be lamented. The very purpose of such representations as are here given is to suit all stages of mental and physical advancement.
II. The most significant elements in man's primitive condition are represented by the two trees of the garden.
( a ) The tree of life, the fruit of which bestowed immortality. Man was therefore naturally mortal, though apparently with a capacity for immortality. The mystical nature of the tree of life is recognized in the New Testament by our Lord, and by John when he describes the New Jerusalem. Both these representations are intended to convey in a striking and pictorial form the promise of life everlasting.
( b ) The trial of man's obedience is imaged in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. From the childlike innocence in which man originally was, he was to pass forward into the condition of moral manhood.
Temptation comes like a serpent.
III. Temptation succeeds at first by exciting our curiosity. This dangerous craving has many elements in it.
( a ) The instinctive drawing towards what is mysterious.
( b ) The sense of incompleteness. Few boys wish to be always boys.
IV. Through craving for a large experience unbelief in God's goodness finds entrance. In the presence of forbidden pleasure we are tempted to feel as if God were grudging us enjoyment. The very arguments of the serpent occur to our mind.
V. If we know our own history we cannot be surprised to read that one taste of evil ruined our first parents. The actual experience of sin is like the one taste of alcohol to a reclaimed drunkard.
VI. The first result of sin is shame. The form in which the knowledge of good and evil comes to us is the knowing we are naked.
VII. When Adam found he was no longer fit for God's eye, God provided a covering which might enable him again to live in His presence without dismay. Man had exhausted his own ingenuity and resources, and exhausted them without finding relief to his shame. If his shame was to be effectually removed, God must do it.
Marcus Dods, The Book of Genesis, p. 15.
The First Temptation of Man
Let us consider the great First Temptation of Man, the story of Genesis III. I shall not attempt to discuss the deep question how far we are to take every detail of that chapter literally. It is no mere 'allegory'. It puts before us an awful fact; I am sure of this. But the first few pages of Scripture, in the nature of their subjects, are so mysterious that we may well hold our peace when the question is asked, Is every word to be taken literally? Do these chapters tell us their story in the same style of detail as that in which we are told, for example, the shipwreck of St. Paul? Is it not at least possible that, as the last pages of the Bible tell us of a glorious and blissful future in terms of symbol and figure, so the first pages of the Bible tell us in the same style of a mysterious past? Gates of pearl and streets of gold are assuredly to be understood as symbols of 'the glory to be revealed'. The same may be true of many a phrase used to depict the 'glory' of man's first estate, and his fall from it. But I say all this by the way. Here is the picture before us. We are called to study the fact of the First Temptation, in the terms given us in the Word of God.
What do we see, then, in the mystery so revealed to us?
I. First, we see that man was, from the beginning, in the wisdom of God, placed under a gentle but real test by his heavenly Friend, and permitted, through it, to be enticed by his enemy. His obedience was tested by a firm while mild prohibition. His will was enticed into revolt by a misrepresentation of the mind of Him who had forbidden him 'the fruit'. A thousand varieties of temptation can be grouped in one class in the light of that fact.
II. Then, the First Temptation is one in which the evil power approached man through what, in itself, was purely good. What can be fairer to thought than the fruit of a tree in the Garden of God? No poison could lurk in that 'fruit' itself. The only evil lay in the fact that, for purposes of Divine love, and perhaps only for a season, even so, its use was forbidden. The thing was good, the pure creation of the all-perfect Maker. But His command, 'Thou shalt not eat,' made the using of it evil.
III. Have we not here again a type of whole worlds of temptation? In countless cases the thing through which the temptation comes from beneath is a thing whose origin is from above, yea, from the Father of Lights, the Giver of every good and perfect gift. It is something beautiful and pure in itself, and the use of which, under other conditions, or at other times, may be as right as it is delightful. But some high reason says to us, just now, in view of that particular tree of God's own garden of pleasures, 'Do not eat'. Just now, just for us now, that charming object, that interesting occupation, that sweet society, that pleasant place is, in the Lord's wise love, to be foregone. We are asked to 'do without it; to be 'as a weaned child' about it. No condemnation is passed upon it. But our use of it would be against His will. And that makes it a test in the hands of our Friend, and an enticement in the hands of our enemy. We are at once tested and enticed by a conflict of pleasure with duty, where the pleasure in itself is pure.
IV. Then, we see, in the First Temptation, the very method and manner of the enemy's use of good for ends of evil. Through man's thought about 'the fruit' he aims a subtle thrust with a poisoned dagger at man's thought about God. He suggests that God is not love. He whispers that God withholds the fruit for selfish reasons; that He does not want man to be as happy as possible, to be too near Himself, to be too much like Himself. So, by that poisoned wound, the root of all sin is left in man. For sin, in its last analysis, is a discord between man and the blessed God. And we are at discord with His great love, not only when we openly defy His will, but when we suspect it, when we distrust it. That is, 'the little rift within the lute,' which has in it the possible discords of all imaginable actual sinning.
When the primeval human heart first listened to that dreadful suggestion, that God would say one word to His beloved creature, made in His image, which was not a word of love, then man sinned, then man fell. And the nature which so fell has felt the shock of its fall ever since; it has kept the discord ever since; so that only the hand of the slandered God of Love can set it right, taking away from it this fatal mischief of distrust of Him, putting into its hand 'the shield of faith, of trust in Him, wherewith it shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.'
Bishop H. C. G. Moule.
References. III. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxix. No. 2299; ibid. vol. 1. No. 2900.
The first words which Satan is ever recorded to have spoken must be words of interest, if it be only that they may serve as a key to unlock some of his later subtleties. And I observe at once a remarkable similarity between all the beginnings of Satan's words. I hear him coming to the first Adam 'Yea, hath God said?' then I listen to him approaching the second Adam 'If thou be the Son of God'. And there is one feature characterizing both. He begins with 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 sets the mind at cavilling. He leaves a worm to gnaw at the core; and then he goes his way. Just so I observe his dealing when he speaks to God about Job. He opens his mouth with a question 'Does Job fear God for nought?'
So I at once take this general inference that Satan makes his first entries not by violent attack, but by secret sapping; and that he endeavors to confuse and cloud the mind which he is afterwards going to kill in the dark.
I. Take the experience of a believer, and take the facts recorded in Satan's history, and it is evident in the outset that these questionings of the mind are always to be taken as Satan's temptations. The history of paradise will be sufficient to show this. The more you can resist these doubts as temptations, and bring to bear upon them your defensive armour, as you do in any moral temptation, and especially the more you throw them off as not your own, and give them back again, the sooner will be the victory; and the sooner the trial will pass away.
II. With all Satan's views, his far end is to diminish from the glory of God. You are wrong, if you think his far end is to destroy your soul: you are wrong, if you think his far end is to destroy the universe of souls. He takes these but as a means to his highest ambitious end: his final object is to derogate something from the Majesty of God. Against God is his spleen directed; therefore, 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.
III. It is Satan's delight to make limitations draw boundary lines around grace. There is not a beautiful doctrine, but he will try to diminish it, and draw out of it, if he can, a proof of a limited gospel. He is always sayings 'It is not for everybody: it is not for all persons: but it is for "the elect"'. 'It is not in everything; it does not go down into little particulars.' And so he tries to make the very mind of the child of God, which ought to be standing out in perfect liberty, wherewith Christ hath made it free, to be bound in the prison house. He detracts from the largeness of God's love; he will not hold the grandeur of universal love; he will not hold particular election: he hates both because both glorify God. Particular election, showing particular love, universal redemption, the vastness of his compassion: therefore both he would put away. Satan is always disparaging or impugning universal redemption or individual election.
IV. For all these confining, limiting views there is but one remedy it is to look at the character of God, as He is revealed in the covenant of His grace. You will observe that this is exactly what our Saviour did. When He was tempted, He threw Himself and Satan back upon 'what is written'.
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (1874), p. 172.
The Temptation in the Garden of Eden
How did the Tempter effect his purpose?
I. By a question.
( a ) On the serpent-lips of the tempter it meant this: 'May you not settle for yourself what is morally right and what is morally wrong, instead of obeying the eternal law of right? May you not feel yourself at liberty to disobey a command given you by God?'
( b ) Mark the subtlety of the question. God gave His gifts largely, and placed on human freedom but one limitation. But the tempter hides the love, and aggravates the burden of the prohibition.
( c ) How did Eve meet the question? Exactly as you and I have met the same question when we have been tempted to indulge in some unlawful gratification. Do we not all listen as Eve listened, doubt as she doubted, have hard thoughts of God as she had, put a barrier where God has put none, and break down defence where He has fixed it, and so place ourselves at the tempter's mercy?
II. He makes the way to sin easy by removing all fear of the consequences. There is the negation, 'ye shall not surely die.'
III. But the seductive power could not stop there. Man cannot live by doubt and by negation. Hence the Satanic doubt and the Satanic negation are followed by the Satanic promise.
( a ) Note the malevolence of these words, 'God doth know'. Is there not a marvellous consistency in the story which puts that suggestion into the serpent's mind?
( b ) See the fascination of the promise: 'Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil'. Addressed to that which was noblest in man the largeness of his capacity, the grandeur of his aims, the infinite within him. It was fascinating then to unsuspecting innocence, it is fascinating still to us in our fallen condition, most fascinating to those to whom God has given large intellect and large hearts if they have not found Him.
IV. Man has fallen through the tempter's art, but man has also triumphed over the tempter. Christ reversed the fall of man; thus did He give our nature its true exaltation and raise it to the right hand of power.
J. J. S. Perowne, The Contemporary Pulpit, vol. v. p. 119.
Beginning of Sin and Redemption
'The Fall,' says Dr. Cunningham Geikie, 'finds an echo in every religion in the world.' In the Thibetan story the first men were perfect like the gods; but they ate of the white sugar-sweet tree, and grew corrupt. In the oldest Hindoo temples two figures of Krishna are still seen, in one of which he is trampling on the crushed head of a serpent. In the museum of the Capitol there is an old sarcophagus which shows a naked man and woman standing beneath a tree from which the man is about to pluck fruit. The demon who tempts him is standing near.
There are no such thorns found in a state of nature, says Dr. Hugh Macmillan, as those produced by ground once tilled by man. In the waste clearings of New Zealand and Canada, and around the ruined shieling on the Highland moor, thorns may be seen which were unknown before.
References. III. 1-15. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Genesis, p. 5. III. 1. Spurgeon, Sermons vol. xlvi. No. 2707. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Lessons, vol. i. p. 185. C. J. Vaughan, Voices of the Prophets, p. 237. Bishop Goodwin, Parish Sermons, vol. v. p. 17. R. S. Candlish, Book of Genesis, vol. i. p. 60. III. 1-4. G. W. Brameld, Practical Sermons, p. 47. III. 3. J. Keble, Sermons for the Christian Year, vol. iii. p. 118.
The Serpent Tempting Man
There is no thought more awful than this: that sin is all around and within us, and we know not what it is. We are beset by it on every side; it dogs our every way, draws our wills under its sway, and ourselves under its dominion. It is a pestilence that walketh in darkness, and nothing stays its advances. It passes through all barriers, and pierces every stronghold. In the beginning, we are told, sin was not in the world, and that by one man's disobedience sin hath entered. Ever since this time it has taken up its abode here; and it has been followed by death, for 'death hath passed upon all men; for all have sinned.' 'This much we do know: that it is a will opposed to the will of God. A will which chooses evil is a will opposed to the will of God.' In fact, the will of man is in a state of rebellion against that of God. Whence, then, came this clashing of wills, this open rebellion, this presence of evil?
I. The first man, fresh from his Maker's hand, placed in Paradise, and appointed lord of the earth, was endowed with every requisite for developing his God-given and God-inspired nature, and fulfilling his destiny. But a tempter came to him from the midst of the animal world, and man yielded to the temptation. But when we consider that Adam was lord of this animal kingdom, and, moreover, that man alone was endued with the gift of speech, it must be evident that this tortuous animal was but the tool of that evil and serpentine Spirit, Satan, 'that old serpent called the Devil'. Under the form of this serpent, the Wicked One therefore tempted man to his destruction. The temptation of the second Adam is the counterpart of that of the first. Christ overcame, that by His victory the dominion which, Satan had obtained over the whole human race, through the Fall of the guilty pair, might be destroyed. The Tempter approached our Lord openly, but he came to man in disguise. It was a real serpent (not a disguise or assumed form), perverted by Satan to be the instrument of his temptation. Satan is still, as he was from the beginning, himself a creature of God; and, as a creature, then, he made use of a creature to carry out his designs. When, then, the temptation came through one of the animal kingdom, it proceeded from a grade inferior to our first parents themselves. There could, therefore, be no palliation for their sin. Man had dominion over the beasts of the field; he must not, therefore, take the law from them. Besides, the presence of a spirit must have been self-evident, for there was both speech and reasoning power in the serpent. When, then, they listened and were persuaded, their fall was without excuse.
II. This will explain to us the sources of man's temptation. We are here upon our trial. This life is for us the time of our probation. We are free agents, and by our own will and choice we determine our eternal portion. Temptations are inevitable; no one is exempt, for we are all on the same level of our common humanity. 'To be forwarned is to be forearmed;' it is therefore real wisdom on our part to find out for ourselves the sources of temptation. In the case of our first parents we notice that the first source is:
(1) The evil suggestion from without. Of all the trees of the garden (including the Tree of Life) man was allowed freely to eat, but it was forbidden him to eat of 'the tree of knowledge of good and evil,' under penalty of death. The command was definite and precise; the consequence of disobedience was made clear to them. Here was a positive law, and this moral code in its simplicity was sufficient for the training of man's moral nature. Without such a test of sincerity it could not have been perfected. Clearly, then, if man fell, it could only be by the violation of the Divine command.
(2) We find innocent tendencies, proclivities, which are also a source of temptation from within. The appetites, inclinations, and desires of our flesh are not in themselves sin; it is the indulgence of them under wrong circumstances which constitutes the sin. They may be the instruments of our sanctification as well as our degradation of holiness as well as sin. As tendencies only they are perfectly innocent, they are of God's appointment, and are the means of carrying out some of His providential designs; and not till stimulated into action by evil suggestions from without do they become sinful. Having, then, got an evil suggestion from without, and possessing the tendencies within, only the third source of temptation is wanting to complete the sin.
(3) The opportunity for the sin itself. In solitude, and away from the side of her natural protector, the Tempter plied his temptation with terrible success. Thus, these three sources of temptation having 'met together and kissed each other,' the fall became inevitable.
III. The sin was committed by Eve alone. But by Adam it was repeated through her, and therefore in society. He fell through her influence. The tempted became the tempter. The strong tempted the weak, and again the weak tempted the strong. It is the weak who do most harm in God's world. The completion of weakness is the weak tempting the strong.
References. III. 4. H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. i. p. 100. F. Bourdillon, Plain Sermons for Family Reading (2nd series), p. 156. III. 4-6. J. Bowstead, Practical Sermons, vol. ii. p. 30.
The Knowledge of Good and Evil
Can we believe this story? Most certainly.
It must have happened, for it happens now. It may well have been the first temptation, for it is the last, the most subtle, and the most widespread in the world. Let us notice.
I. This is a divinely inspired warning against a common temptation. Because they cannot reconcile the facts of science with these chapters many doubt their Divine inspiration. But we need not seek for proofs of the Divine Spirit in this writing. They lie upon the surface. Three things it teaches which must have come from God.
( a ) All things were made by one God, and one only.
( b ) All things were made by God, but one thing God did not make sin.
( c ) Then here we have also that truth, afterwards forgotten so long, and the rediscovery of which is revolutionizing the world to-day the equality of woman with man.
II. What, then, is the temptation against which this passage warns us? This temptation has been the commonest down the ages, and it is the commonest today. The majority of young men and women who are lured from the paths of virtue and Christ are drawn away by the idea that they will 'see life,' and if they come back after as 'sadder' they will be 'wiser men'. Intellectual doubt is affecting some, practical doubt of the moral intuition is ruining more.
III. Let us consider the folly of yielding to this temptation.
( a ) Whatever wisdom can be won through sin, it is at any rate not the highest wisdom.
( b ) Whatever wisdom is won through sin, it does not enable us to compare sin and holiness.
( c ) Whatever wisdom comes through sin, it does not teach us to know life.
( d ) And yet it is a very subtle temptation. If mistake it be, it seems such a little mistake. It is symbolized by the apple. The eating of an apple was so small a thing to work such tremendous ruin.
E. Aldom French, God's Message Through Modern Doubt, p. 90.
References. III. 6. Bishop Bethel, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 165. C. Perren, Outline Sermons, p. 222. A. G. Mortimer. The Church's Lessons, vol. i. p. 196. J. Bush, A Memorial, p. 91.
The Fall (For Sexagesima Sunday)
A voice, soft, melodious, insinuating, is heard by Eve as she stands observing this strange tree, and on turning she finds that it proceeds from a serpent.
I. The Temptation. The voice utters a question which perhaps we may venture to interpret in two different ways, according to the tone and manner in which the question was put. 'I have heard that God has given you all the trees of the gardens but one, to use for your own purposes and at your own discretion. Mistress of this fair domain, to whom we creatures are all of us subject, and to whom we naturally look for instruction, tell me if it is so. To you I come for information. I have no misgivings as to the goodness and the wisdom of the Great Creator; but I should like to have the matter explained to me.' Or it might express this thought: 'You do not really mean to tell me that God has thrown a fence of prohibition round this wonderful tree? If so why should He do so? Why should He deny you and your husband anything? You have been accustomed to regard your Creator as a Being of love and goodness. Is this shutting you off from a part of your domain, this grudging you a fair and noble possession, consistent with the opinion you have hitherto entertained about Him? What do you say, when you consider the matter calmly?' Now, Eve seems to have taken the second interpretation; and here you have the first injection of the poison. The Tempter gets a footing in the mind of his victim by insinuating just a little incipient doubt about the goodness of God. It occurs to Eve that God was not altogether what she had been accustomed to think Him. Now at this point her duty was plain. Clearly she had made a mistake in allowing herself to be drawn into this colloquy at all, ignorant as she was of the ways of the world, and of its dark secrets. Some mischief had been done already, but it was not yet irreparable. And conscience, stirring in the breast of this child-woman, must surely have said, 'Quit this place. It is dangerous ground. Speak no more with this strange questioner. Too probably he is an enemy of your God and you.' But, unfortunately she remains, fascinated, as it would seem, and remains to carry on the conversation, in what she considers to be a generous defence of the God whom this serpent so completely misunderstands her very continuance of the colloquy showing that she is beginning to waver.
How true a picture this is of our human life! There is a fascination for us about what is forbidden.
II. The Fall. The Tempter's work is done. He has aimed at producing distrust of God, and he has produced it. He has carried it on till it has become a settled feeling. The love of God, which was once in the woman's heart, naturally gave way when she came to look upon God as one who grudged her the highest gratification, the noblest position. And now she is quite ready to throw aside her allegiance, to act for herself, to aspire to that pre-eminence which the Tempter has falsely promised her. And she contrives one scarcely knows how to draw her husband into an infatuated participation in her folly and sin. 'She did eat, and gave also to her husband with her, and he did eat.'
III. The Practical Point to which I am anxious to draw your special attention is this that the aim of the Tempter throughout was to induce Adam to assert an independence of God, to claim for himself a position of false self-dependence. It was not the flavour of the fruit nor the beauty of the fruit that attracted the man, although his imagination may probably have thrown a glamour round the appearance of the tree, and he may have seen it through a misleading medium. We have no reason to suppose that in any respect (save that of being prohibited) the tree of knowledge of good and of evil differed from the other trees of the garden. But the flavour and the beauty were only means to an end. The thing which snared Adam was the promise that he should be as God, that he should be his own lord and master, that he should rise to all the blessedness, and dignity, and grandeur of a position in which he should recognize and bow before no will but his own. He was not beguiled so much by sensuality as by an ungovernable desire for self-exaltation.
( a ) Observe the consequences of the first transgression. It makes the transgressor, as sin always does, mean and cowardly. It induces him, as it always does, to justify himself and to lay the blame on others. It makes him, as it always does, sneakingly defiant of God. It disintegrates, as it always does, instead of bringing and binding together; and it separates two beings intended to love and to help one another.
( b ) We who believe in the Bible are sometimes twitted with the utter insignificance of the whole transaction. Well, I suggest three considerations. If a cobra bites me, the puncture is very trifling indeed, scarcely visible. Look at it, and you would say, 'A prick of a pin, nothing more'. But if bitten by a cobra I shall be a dead man in an hour. Again, if I steal only a penny, I am as truly guilty of dishonesty and of a breach of the law as if I stole a hundred thousand pounds. And, again, if sin be a virtual dethronement of the Supreme Governor of the universe, an outraging of the moral order which He has established amongst the myriads of creatures tinder His sway, the whole apparatus of Redemption the Incarnation, the Death, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ would have been needed to right the derangement caused by the sin in the Garden of Eden, even if not a single other sin had been committed during all the successive generations of the human race.
The Divine Allegory of the Fall
Nearly all the most eminent Biblical scholars are now agreed that the clue to the meaning of this third chapter of Genesis is to be found by regarding it as an allegory or parable rather than as a historical document in the modern sense of the term.
I. The truth is one truth, but its several aspects are revealed in due order and sequence. As in a drama, the story moves in from point to point with increasing complication. The man shown to us is made in the image of God he is the crown and summit of created things, in virtue of being a spiritual creature. Therein lies the core of his significance. But his moral nature is all unformed, undeveloped. Having never been tried, he cannot be said to possess a character. The narrative in Genesis helps us to understand through what experiences man outgrew his infantile condition, and how becoming conscious of a moral law, he became at the same time aware of the inward discord which is the result of a breach of law. Here, if anywhere, Adam, the first man, stands for us all. His craving for a false independence, his initial act of rebellion, his acquisition of a guilty knowledge of good and evil, his expulsion from the Garden of Eden, are the door through which he passes into the possibility of self-knowledge, and of moral freedom, won at the cost of effort and suffering.
II. Again, the first sin of Scripture is in some sort the type of all our sins. They grow out of a common root. In the language of morals, they are a revolt against the pressure of rules and obligation felt to be in conflict with personal desires. In the language of the Bible, they spring from a state of rebellion against God and the order established by Him. All our worst sins, too, are marked with a certain recklessness of consequences. In our blindness and infatuation, we excuse ourselves, but the author of the record of Genesis does not stop here. He shows as in poetic imagery the inward as well as the outward consequences of any deliberate act of rebellion. All sin, until with repentance comes pardon, alters the relation between the creature and the Creator. An estranging cloud comes between the soul and God.
III. Real religion stands and falls with the belief in a personal God, and in realizing the need of communion with Him. When once we destroy, or tamper with, the conviction that we are living, or should be living, in spiritual contact with a Divine Being who has revealed Himself to us, in His Son, worship ceases to have any real meaning. Competent observers have remarked that a reluctance to think of themselves as spiritual creatures in contact with God is one of the characteristics of those who have drunk most deeply of the spirit of this restless, inquiring age. Let us consider briefly one or two forms in which this reluctance manifests itself.
( a ) One is levity, born of shallowness, like that of the Athenians who scoffed at St. Paul when he spoke to them of the resurrection of the dead.
( b ) Another way of hiding from God is the refusal to listen to the voice of conscience when it condemns us, the ingrained habit of slipping away from reminders of duties neglected and obligations left unfulfilled, so finely delineated by George Eliot in the character of Tito Melema.
( c ) We can be hiding from God even while we flatter ourselves that we are seeking His face. Even religion may be so perverted so as to become a deadening influence when we identify it with opinions, or party views, or zeal for dogma, or external things like ceremonies, or forms of worship, or matters of Church order and discipline.
J. W. Shepard, Light and Life, p. 141.
Adam and Eve The Knowledge of God
I. We see Adam and Eve in the opening chapter of Genesis surrounded by the creatures that God had made, like those lower creatures in many respects, and yet absolutely different in one the possession of a soul created in the image of God, and as they were created in the image of God, they were endowed with many great gifts for instance knowledge.
( a ) Through experience we have gained much knowledge, and by being taught have made our own what other people gathered by experience, but Adam and Eve had no parents, yet they had a very great knowledge of the world and its powers, and that knowledge was the direct gift of God.
( b ) They not only knew about God, but knew God in the intimate intercourse of communion with Him, and this was the great gift which they lost to a very great extent by their sin.
( c ) But yet this knowledge has been more than restored to us through our Lord Jesus Christ.
II. Both of these sorts of knowledge we may have.
( a ) The first imperfectly; by the labour of investigation.
( b ) We may know too about God, for He has given us a revelation about Himself, and has given us an infallible guide in His Church to interpret that revelation, and His Holy Spirit in our hearts to help us to understand it.
A. G. Mortimer, Stories from Genesis.
References. III. 8, 9. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol 1. No. 2900. H. P. Liddon, Cambridge Lent Sermons (1864), p. 23. H. Hayman, Sermons in Rugby School Chapel, p. 159. W. Mellor, Village Homilies, p. 212. G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, p. 1. H. Macmillan, The Olive Leaf, p. 241. C. Kingsley, Gospel of the Pentateuch, p. 41. Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 184. J. Keble, Sermons for Septuagesima, p. 139. G. Calthrop, Pulpit Recollections, p. 16. T. Birkett Dover, A Lent Manual, p. 1. W. Hay Aitken, Mission Sermons (2nd series), p. 1. C. J. Vaughan, Penny Pulpit, No. 3263. J. Vaughan, Sermons to Children (1875), p. 177. J. Van Oosterzee, The Year of Salvation, vol. i. p. 5. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii. No. 412. G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines, p. 276. III. 9. W. F. Shaw, Sermon Sketches, p. 32. E. A. Bray, Sermons, vol. i. p. 44. J. Keble, Sermons for Septuagesima to Ash Wednesday, p. 103; Sermons for the Christian Year, vol. ii. p. 129. III. 10. R. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. ii. p. 65. III. 12. C. Kingsley, The Good News of God, p. 347.
'Adam, in the Garden of Eden, said, "The woman gave it to me, and I did eat," but he was held responsible for his actions nevertheless; and this is the great lesson to be taught to persons of feeble will and persons of arbitrary will alike.'
Dr. S. Bryant in Studies in Character, p. 162.
Reference. III. 14, 15. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxvi. No. 2165.
The Gospel of Genesis
Theologians have a special name for this text. They term it the 'Protevangelium,' which being interpreted is the 'First Gospel'. Who uttered this first Evangel? God Himself. To whom was the Protevangelium uttered? To Satan.
I. The Saviour's Injury to Satan. 'Her seed it shall bruise thy head.' The margin of the Revised Version renders it 'shall lie in wait for thy head'. It has also been rendered 'shall break thy head'. An Indian Missionary told me the other day that in the East every one would understand such an allusion. A serpent is being addressed, and the poison-bag of a serpent is on or near the serpent's head. An Eastern, my friend assured me, would at once perceive that by lying in wait for a bruising or breaking the head of the serpent was meant the destroying of the poison-bag, so that though the creature might still live, its death-dealing power was done away. The Protevangelium is fulfilled in the Incarnate Saviour. When He became 'the seed of the woman' He accomplished this prediction in great degree.
( a ) What a death-blow to Satan was and is the character of our Lord. Man is by the Incarnation shown to be capable of moral and spiritual victory. The character of Christ is at once the great proof of His duty, and the great prophecy of man's glory.
( b ) The teachings of Christ verify this Gospel prophecy. No marvel Satan loathes these heavenly oracles, and seeks to suppress them. Seen from every angle they are matchless. Compare them with the canonical sayings of other religions, and they are as sunlight as to shadow. Christ flashed on the mind of man the most splendid theology the universe has known.
( c ) The death of Christ lent to this message its great fulfilment. Our Lord's death was no mere individual death. It was a representative death. It was a generous death. Some one has termed it a 'borrowed' death. Such indeed it was. If the poison-bag is ever to be plucked from the destroying serpent, only a Divine Being can do it, and only a dying God. Jesus conquered the foe after He seemed hopelessly conquered by the foe. Our heavenly Achilles, albeit His wounded heel, plucked in triumph the serpent's poison-bag away.
( d ) 'It shall bruise thy head.' This sure word is realized in the exaltation of Christ. Everything in Christianity depends on our Lord's physical resurrection. If Christ be not risen there is no Christianity.
( e ) We see a delightful illustration of the fulfilment of this earliest Gospel promise in the conversion of sinners. Whenever a soul turns trustfully to Jesus, Satan's head is bruised.
( f ) The sanctification of Christians has this outcome. Beautiful lives deal Satan trenchant blows. Godliness is never merely defensive it is grandly offensive.
( g ) Our Lord's return will give the Protevangelium its most illustrious verification. Satan will be destroyed with the brightness of His coming.
II. Satan's injury to the Saviour.
( a ) The Conquering Christ is to be wounded in the struggle. Assuredly this prediction was fulfilled in the earthly sufferings of Christ. It was and is so in the trials of His People. All His servant's wounds are His wounds. 'Why persecutest thou me?' He inquired of the astonished Saul of Tarsus.
( b ) The sorrows of the universe help to realize this pathetic prophecy. Nature and man are in a groaning and travailing state. There is an undertone of sadness everywhere and in everything. The universe He created and which He mystically indwells pains Him by its pains.
( c ) But the sin of the world is the most terrible illustration of this prophetic truth. By means of the iniquity of men the serpent bruises the Saviour's heel. Sinners indeed know not what they do.
Dinsdale T. Young, The Enthusiasm of God, p. 79.
The Prophecy of the Bruisings
There is to be conflict between Christ and Satan, between good and evil perpetual conflict. In this conflict victory will come to one side, but bruisings to both.
I. Can we have the victory without the bruisings? As we read in his biography, Bishop Creighton in his early years was visited by a dream of this kind. His theory of life, as he then held it, is not very clearly expressed, but perhaps we shall do him no injustice if we say that he was determined to be cheerful and content in all circumstances, to do his own work, to recognize his limitations, and so far as he could to keep himself free of strife. He knew that he could give to the world some valuable literary work, if he had leisure in which to prepare it. From the sanguinary conflicts of the world and the Church he shrank. For one thing he had a strong sense of the impotence of man. Man does his best and is foiled. His defeat is not due to the strength of his human foes, but to the sudden interposition of a power above. Against that power it is vain to fight.
II. But we may have the bruisings without the victory. It is possible so to be overborne by the pangs and losses and defeats of the Christian soldier as to lose faith in Divine love and providence. There is an awful possibility of giving over prayer, of coming to think that the Lord's ear is heavy that He cannot hear, and His arm shortened that He cannot save.
III. What then does the promise mean? It means that wherever Christ is there is conflict. That is the token and foundation of hope. There is enmity between the Son of man and evil and that enmity never dies. But the Son of man and his legions are bruised in the fighting. Some dream of a triumph won without pain or pang, but it is a vain dream.
IV. But the victory is sure because the leader is Christ. He did not fight merely as an example to His soldiers. His contest is much more than an addition to the records of heroism that keep the world alive. He breathes His spirit into His soldiers and He is the Conqueror. The time and the manner we must leave with Him, but He asks us to throw ourselves into the conflict, and He promises us the interpretation of reverse and delay in the world where burdens are unbound and wounds healed and mortality swallowed up of life.
W. Robertson Nicoll, The Garden of Nuts, p. 219.
References. III. 15. Phillips Brooks, Twenty Sermons, p. 93. J. Monro Gibson, Ages Before Moses, p. 98. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii. No. 1326.
The Story of the Fall
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.
I. The moral consequences and chastisement of the Fall.
(1) 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 bide himself.
(2) 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 cooperation. 'No man liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself,' even in the body politic (2 Corinthians 5:15 ). 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:
(1) 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 3:17-18 ; Romans 8:22 ).
(2) 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 (Genesis 3:16-19 ).
(3) The third penal consequence was the being shut out from the trees of knowledge and life (Genesis 3:22-24 ). 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.
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' (see Philippians 3:13-14 ). 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' (Genesis 3:15 ). The spiritual seed culminated in Christ. But, remember, except we are in Christ, we are in guilt. 'We are yet in our sins'; for, 'as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive'.
Reference. III. 18. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxix. No. 2299.
'It may be proved, with much certainty, that God intends no man to live in this world without working: but it seems to me no less evident that He intends every man to be happy in his work. It is written, "in the sweat of thy brow," but it was never written, "in the breaking of thine heart," thou shalt eat bread.'
Ruskin, On the Old Road, vol. i.
References. III. 19. Bishop Goodwin, Parish Sermons, vol. v. p. 32. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. i. p. 137. III. 20. L. D. Bevan, Christ and the Age, p. 227. III. 21. L. D. Bevan, Christ and the Age, p. 209. J. Keble, Sermons for Septuagesima to Ash Wednesday, p. 108; Sermons for the Christian Year, vol iii. p. 181. III. 22. L. D. Bevan, Christ and the Age, p. 193. J. Martineau, Endeavour after the Christian Life, p. 34 (2nd series). III. 22-24. L. D. Bevan, Christ and the Age, p. 243. III. 23. F. Bourdillon, Plain Sermons for Family Reading, p. 38. III. 23. C. E. Shipley, Miscellaneous Sermons, p. 13. III. 24. J. Wright, The Guarded Gate, p. 9. M. Biggs, Practical Sermons on Old Testament Subjects, p. 20. III. F. W. Robertson, Notes on Genesis, p. 24. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Genesis, p. 10.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Genesis 3". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26