R. S. Candlish
SOVEREIGN GRACE PUBLISHERS
In order to make this book more universally useful, not only for the highly educated or long-experienced person, but for the young person who has but little experience with Elizabethan English, this work has the advantage of the KING JAMES II VERSION in all its lead verses. In this way all will be able to absorb immediately what God has actually said, and thus to quickly perceive the value of the excellent insights of Mr. Candlish, the author.
Since Mr. Candlish may not be known to all readers as a Presbyterian, those who are Baptists, and other immersionists, among employees of the publisher, desire to disclaim those remarks that imply there is a connective succession between circumcision and baptism, and other Paedo-baptist views expressed herein by the author. Needless to say, all of the staff concurs in believing this to be excellent exposition, fitted to make one wise and more useful to God.
The appendix at the end of the second volume of this publication contains a brief statement of some general views regarding the Book of Genesis, which have impressed themselves on my mind in the course of study.
Having carefully revised the entire work, I have agreed to an alteration of the title. I wish it to be understood, however, that I still offer these papers merely as “Contributions towards the exposition of the Book of Genesis;” - not by any means entitled to the character of a full and exhaustive exposition. The change of title is simply meant to indicate that I offer to the public a commentary upon the whole book.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
CREATION VIEWED AS MATTER OF FAITH Page 9
THE CREATION OF THE WORLD
AND MAN VIEWED ON ITS HEAVENLY SIDE Page 18
THE CREATION OF MAN VIEWED AS ON THE SIDE OF EARTH;
AND HIS EARTHLY ORIGIN AND RELATIONS Page 28
DEVOTIONAL AND PROPHETIC VIEW OF THE CREATION,
BEING AN APPENDIX TO THE TWO PRECEDING PAPERS Page 35
THE FIRST TEMPTATION - ITS SUBTLETY AS IMPEACHING
THE GOODNESS, JUSTICE, AND HOLINESS OF GOD Page 44
THE FRUIT OF THE FIRST SIN - THE REMEDIAL SENTENCE Page 51
THE FIRST FORM OF THE NEW DISPENSATION -THE
CONTEST BEGUN BETWEEN GRACE AND NATURE Page 60
THE APOSTATE SEED - THE GODLY SEED –
THE UNIVERSAL CORRUPTION Page 73
THE END OF THE OLD WORLD BY WATER – THE COMMENCEMENT
OF THE NEW WORLD RESERVED UNTO FIRE …Page 84
CHAPTE R 10
THE CONSTITUTION OF THE NEW WORLD, IN ITS THREE DEPARTMENTS
- 1. THE LAW OF NATURE …Page 92
THE CONSTITUTION OF THE NEW WORLD, IN ITS THREE DEPARTMENTS
THE CONSTITUTION OF THE NEW WORLD, IN ITS THREE DEPARTMENTS
- 3. THE ELECTION OF GRACE Page 101
THE EARTH GIVEN TO THE CHILDREN OF MEN,
AND OCCUPIED BY THEM …Page 108
THE CALL OF ABRAM - HIS JUSTIFICATION – THE POWER OF HIS FAITH,
AND ITS INFIRMITY Page 116
THE INHERITANCE OF THE LAND PROMISED TO ABRAM Page 124
VICTORY OVER THE INVADERS OF THE LAND -
INTERVIEW WITH MELCHIZEDEK Page 133
JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH INSIGHT INTO THINGS TO COME Page 146
THE TRIAL OF FAITH - ITS INFIRMITY Page 160
THE REVIVAL OF FAITH - THE REPETITION OF THE CALL Page 166
THE RENEWAL OF THE COVENANT Page 170
THE SEAL OF THE COVENANT –
THE SACRAMENT OF CIRCUMCISION Page 175
ABRAHAM THE FRIEND OF GOD Page 183
THE GODLY SAVED, YET SO AS BY FIRE;
THE WICKED UTTERLY DESTROYED Page 196
THE IMPRESSION OF THE SCENE WHEN ALL IS OVER Page 206
CARNAL POLICY DEFEATED - EVIL OVERRULED FOR GOOD Page 209
THE SEPARATION OF THE SEED BORN AFTER THE FLESH
FROM THE SEED THAT IS BY PROMISE Page 215
ALLEGORY OF ISHMAEL AND ISAAC - THE TWO COVENANTS Page 220
THE TRIAL, TRIUMPH, AND REWARD OF ABRAHAM’S FAITH Page 225
TIDINGS FROM HOME - THEIR CONNECTION WITH SARAH’S
DEATH AND ISAAC’S MARRIAGE Page 236
THE DEATH AND BURIAL OF A PRINCESS Page 239
A MARRIAGE CONTRACTED IN THE LORD Page 247
THE DEATH OF ABRAHAM Page 256
THE LIFE AND CHARACTER OF ABRAHAM Page 259
THE FAMILY OF ISAAC - THE ORACLE RESPECTING JACOB AND ESAU Page 267
PARENTAL FAVORITISM AND FRATERNAL FEUD Page 270
ADVENTURES IN HIS PILGRIMAGE Page 276
THE TRANSMISSION OF THE BIRTHRIGHT-BLESSING Page 279
THE BEGINNING OF JACOB’S PILGRIMAGE - THE VISION Page 288
THE BEGINNING OF JACOB’S PILGRIMAGE - THE VOW Page 293
JACOB’S SOJOURN IN
JACOB'S SOJOURN IN
JACOB’S SOJOURN IN
JACOB’S SOJOURN IN
THE PARTING OF LABAN AND JACOB Page 317
THE TWO ARMIES - THE FEAR OF MAN -
THE FAITH WHICH PREVAILS WITH GOD Page 323
JACOB’S TRAIL ANALOGOUS TO JOB’S Page 330
THE MEETING OF JACOB AND ESAU -
BROTHERLY RECONCILIATION Page 336
PERSONAL DECLENSION –
FAMILY SIN AND SHAME Page 341
PERSONAL AND FAMILY REVIVAL - MINGLED GRACE AND CHASTISEMENT
- AN ERA IN THE PATRIARCHAL DISPENSATION Page 347
A NEW ERA - THE BEGINNING OF A NEW PATRIARCHATE Page 353
SINFUL ANCESTRY OF “THE HOLY SEED” -
GRIEF IN CANAAN - HOPE IN
HUMILIATION AND TEMPTATION YET WITHOUT SIN Page 367
THE SUFFERING SAVIOR - THE SAVED AND LOST Page 374
THE END OF HUMILIATION AND BEGINNING OF EXALTATION Page 381
EXALTATION - HEADSHIP OVER ALL - FOR THE CHURCH Page 386
CONVICTION OF SIN - YOUR SIN SHALL FIND YOU OUT Page 391
THE TRIAL AND TRIUMPH OF FAITH Page 400
THE DISCOVERY - MAN’S EXTREMITY GOD’S
A TRUE BROTHER - A GENEROUS KING - A GLAD FATHER Page 415
FAITH QUITTING CANAAN FOR
TO BE KEPT THERE TILL THE TIME COMES Page 428
JOSEPH’S EGYPTIAN POLICY –
THE DYING SAINT’S CARE FOR THE BODY AS WELL AS THE SOUL Page 438
THE BLESSING ON JOSEPH’S CHILDREN -
JACOB’S DYING FAITH Page 441
JACOB’S DYING PROPHECY -
WAITING FOR THE SALVATION OF THE LORD -
SEEING THE SALVATION OF THE LORD Page 453
CLOSE OF JACOB'S DYING PROPHECY -
THE BLESSING ON JOSEPH Page 462
THE DEATH OF JACOB HIS CHARACTER AND HISTORY Page 465
THE BURIAL OF JACOB THE LAST SCENE IN
JOSEPH AND HIS BRETHREN –
THE FULL ASSURANCE OF RECONCILIATION Page 478
FAITH AND HOPE IN DEATH –
OBSERVATIONS ON THE STRUCTURE OF THE BOOK
OF GENESIS AS A WHOLE Page 490
CREATION VIEWED AS MATTER OF FAITH
By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, that the things which are seen were not made of things which appear. - Hebrews 11: 3.
The view taken in this Lecture I hold to be important, not only in its practical and spiritual bearings, on which I chiefly dwell, but also in relation to some of the scientific questions which have been supposed to be here involved. It lifts, as I think, the divine record out of and above these human entanglements, and presents it, apart from all discoveries of successive ages, in the broad and general aspect which it was designed from the first and all along to wear, as unfolding the Creator’s mind in the orderly subordination of the several parts of His creation to one another, with special reference to His intended dealings with the race of man. On this account I ask attention to what otherwise might appear to some to be an irrelevant metaphysical conceit.
It is proposed, then, to inquire what is implied in our really believing, as a matter of revelation, the fact of the creation. This may seem a very needless inquiry, in reference to a fact so easily understood. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” “The worlds were framed by the word of God.” Can any thing be easier than to comprehend and believe this great truth thus clearly revealed? Who can be at a loss to know what is meant by believing it? It is remarkable, however, that in speaking of that faith whose power he celebrates as the most influential of all our principles of action, the apostle gives, as his first instance of it, our belief of this fact of the creation. “Through faith,” - that particular energetic faith, which so vividly realizes its absent object, unseen and remote, as to invest it with all the force of a present and sensible impression, - through this precise faith, “which is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” “we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God; so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.”
Now, this faith is peculiar in several respects, and its peculiarity is as much to be observed in the belief of the fact of creation, as in the belief of the fact of redemption, - including, as such belief does, a reliance on the promises connect with that fact and ratified and sealed by it, springing out of a reliance on the person promising. It is especially peculiar in respect of its source, or of the evidence on which it rests. The truths which it receives, it receives on the evidence of testimony, as truths revealed, declared, and attested, by the infallible word of the living God.
This is a point of great importance, as it affects both the kind of assent which we give to these truths, and the kind and degree of influence which they exert over us. There is the widest possible difference between our believing certain truths as the result of reasoning or discovery, and our believing them on the direct assertion of a credible witness whom we see and hear, - especially if the witness be the very individual to whom the truths relate, and indeed himself their author. The truths themselves may be [Page 10] identically the same; but how essentially different is the state of the mind in accepting them; and how different the impression made by them on the mind when accepted.
1. The difference may be illustrated by a simple and familiar example. In the deeply interesting and beautiful work of Paley on Natural Theology - for so it may still be characterized, in spite of lapse of time and change of taste - the author, in stating the argument for the being of a God, derived from the proofs of intelligence and design in nature, makes admirable use of an imaginary case respecting a watch. He supposes that, being previously unacquainted with such a work of art, you stumble upon it for the first time, as if by accident, in a desert. You proceed to exercise your powers of judgment and inference in regard to it. You hold it in your hand, and after exhausting your first emotions of wonder and admiration, you begin to examine its structure, to raise questions in your own mind, and to form conjectures. How did it come there, and how were its parts so curiously put together? You at once conclude that it did not grow there, and that it could not be fashioned by chance. You are not satisfied to be told that it has lain there for a long period, - from time immemorial, - forever; that it has always been going on as it is going on now; that there is nothing really surprising in its movements and its mechanism; that it is just its nature to be what it is, and to do what it does. You utterly reject all such explanations as frivolous and absurd. You feel assured that the watch had a maker; and your busy and inquisitive spirit immediately sets itself restlessly to work, to form some conception as to what sort of person the maker of it must have been. You gather much of his character from the obvious character of his handiwork; you search in that handiwork for traces of his mind and his heart; you speculate concerning his plans and purposes; your fancy represents him to your eye; you think you understand all about him; you find the exercise of reasoning and discovery delightful, and you rejoice in the new views which it unfolds.
But now suppose that, while you are thus engaged, with the watch in your hand and your whole soul wrapt in meditative contemplation on the subject of its formation, a living person suddenly appears before you, and at once abruptly announces himself, and says, It was I who made this watch - it was I who put it there. Is not your position instantly and completely changed? At first, perhaps, you are almost vexed and disappointed that the thread of your musing thoughts should be thus broken, and your airy speculations interrupted, and you should be told all at once on the instant, what you would have liked to find out for yourself, - that the riddle should be so summarily solved, and a plain tale substituted for many curious guesses. But you are soon reconciled to the change, and better pleased to have it so. The actual presence of the individual gives a new interest - the interest of a more vivid and intense reality - to the whole subject of your previous thoughts. Nor does this new impression depend merely upon the greater amount of information communicated; for the individual now before you may explicitly tell you no more than, in his absence, the watch itself had virtually told you already. Neither does it arise altogether from the greater certainty and [Page 11] assurance of the revelation which he makes to you; for in truth your own inferences, in so plain an instance of design, may be as infallible as any testimony could be. But there is something in the direct and immediate communication of the real person, speaking to you face to face, and with his living voice, which affects you very differently from a process of reasoning, however clear and unquestionable its results may be.
Your position, in fact, is now precisely reversed. Instead of questioning the watch concerning its maker, you now question the maker concerning his watch. You hear, not what the mechanism has to say of the mechanic, but what the mechanic has to say of the mechanism. You receive, perhaps, the same truths as before. They come to you, - not circuitously and at second hand, but straight from the very being most deeply concerned in them. They come home to you without any of that dim and vague impersonality - that abstract and ideal remoteness - which usually characterizes the conclusions of long argument and reasoning. They are now invested with that sense of reality, and those sensations and sentiments of personal concern, which the known face and voice of a living man inspire.
2. Now, let us apply these remarks to the matter in hand. We are all of us familiar with this idea, that in contemplating the works of creation, we should ascend from nature to nature’s God. Everywhere we discern undoubted proofs of the unbounded wisdom, power, and goodness of the great Author of all things. Everywhere we meet with traces of just and benevolent design, which should suggest to us the thought of the Almighty Creator, and of His righteousness, truth, and love. It is most pleasing and useful to cultivate such a habit as this; much of natural religion depends upon it, and holy Scripture fully recognizes its propriety. “The heavens declare the glory of God: the firmament showeth his handiwork.” “All thy works praise thee, Lord God Almighty.” “Lift up your eyes on high, and behold - Who hath created these things?” “0 Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.”
It is apparent, however, even in these and similar passages, that created things are mentioned, not as arguments, but rather as illustrations; not as suggesting the idea of God, the Creator, but as unfolding and expanding that idea, otherwise obtained.
And this is still more manifest in that passage of the Epistle to the Romans which particularly appeals to the fact of creation as evidence of the Creator’s glory, - evidence sufficient to condemn the ungodly: “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (1: 20, 21). Here it is expressly said, that from the things that are made might be understood the invisible things of God, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that atheists, idolaters, and worshipers of the creature, are without excuse. But why are they without excuse? Not because they failed to discover God, in this way, from His works, but because, when they knew God otherwise, [Page 12] they did not glorify Him, as these very works might have continually taught them to do: - not because they did not in this way acquire, but because they did not like in this way to retain, the knowledge of God.
For the fact of the creation is regarded in the Bible as a fact revealed; and, as such, it is commended to our faith. Thus the scriptural method on this subject is exactly the reverse of what is called the natural. It is not to ascend from nature up to nature’s God, but to descend, if we may so speak, from God to God’s nature, or His works of nature; not to hear the creation speaking of the Creator, but to hear the Creator speaking of the creation. We have not in the Bible an examination and enumeration of the wonders to be observed among the works of nature, and an argument founded upon these that there must be a God, and that He must be of a certain character, and must have had certain views in making what He has made. God Himself appears, and tells us authoritatively who He is, and what He has done, and why He did it.
Thus “through faith we understand
that the worlds were made by the word of God;
so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” We understand and
believe this, not as a deduction of reasoning, but as a
matter of fact,
declared and revealed to us.
For this is
that act of the mind which, in a religious sense, is
called faith. It
involves in its very nature an exercise of
trust or confidence in a living person, - of
acquiescence in his word, - of
reliance on his truth, on himself.
implies the committing of ourselves to him, - the
casting of ourselves on him,
- as faithful in what he tells, and in what he promises. We believe on
his testimony. We
believe what he says, and because he says
it. In thus
simply receiving a fact
declared by another, and that other fully credible and
trustworthy, the mind is
in a very different attitude and posture from that which
it assumes when it
reasons out the fact, as it were, by its own resources. There is far
more of dependence and
submission in the one case than in the other, - a more
cordial and implicit
recognition of a Being higher than we are, - a more
unreserved surrender of
one, in truth, is the act
of a man, the other of a child.
But now, God speaks, and I am dumb. He opens His mouth, and I hold my peace. I bid my busy, speculative soul be quiet. I am still, and know that it is God. I now at once recognize a real and living Person, beyond and above myself. I take my station humbly, submissively at His feet. I learn of Him. And what He tells me now, in the way of direct personal communication from Himself to me, has a weight and vivid reality infinitely surpassing all that any mere deductions from the closest reasoning could ever have. Now in very truth my “faith” does become “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Now at last I am brought into real personal contact with the Invisible One. And He speaks as one having authority. He whom now I personally know and see tells me of the things which He has made; and so tells me of them, that now they start forth before my eyes in a new light. The idea of their being not only His workmanship, but of His explaining them to me as His workmanship, assumes a distinctness - a prominence and power - which cannot fail to exercise a strong influence and exert a sovereign command over me, as a communication directly from Him to me.
Such is that faith respecting the creation which alone can be of a really influential character. Thus only can we truly and personally know God as the Creator.
3. But it may be asked, Are we, then, not to use our reason on this subject at all? That cannot be; for the apostle himself enjoins us, however in respect of meekness we are to be like children, still in understanding to be men. Certainly we do well to search out and collect together all those features in creation which reflect the glory of the Creator. Nay, we may begin in this way to know God. It is true, indeed, that God has never, in point of fact, left Himself to be thus discovered. He has always revealed Himself, as He did at first, not circuitously by His works, but summarily and directly by His word. We may suppose, however, that you are suffered to grope your way through creation to the Creator. In that case you proceed, in the manner already described, to deduce or infer from the manifold plain proofs of design in nature, the idea of an intelligent author, and to draw conclusions from what you see of his works, respecting his character, purposes, and plans. Still, even in this method of discovering God, if your faith is to be of an influential kind at all, you must proceed, when you have made the discovery, exactly to reverse the process by which you made it. Having arrived at the conception of a Creator, you must now go back again to the creation, taking the Creator Himself along with you, as one with whom you have become personally acquainted, and hearing what He has to say concerning His own works. He may say no more than what you had previously discovered; still what He does say, you now receive, not as discovered by you, but as said by Him. You leave the post of discovery and the chair of reasoning, and take the lowly stool of the disciple. And then and not before, even on the principles of natural religion, do you fully understand what is the real import and the momentous bearing of the fact, - that a Being, infinitely wise and powerful, and having evidently a certain character, as holy, just, and good, - that such a Being made you, - and that He is Himself telling you that [Page 14] He made you, - and all the things that are around you; “so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear;” the visible did not come from the visible; it was not self-made. God tells you that.
Much more will this be felt, if we become personally acquainted with God otherwise than through the medium of His works. And so, in fact, we do.
Even apart from revelation, - on natural principles, - the first notion of a God is suggested in another way. It is suggested far more promptly and directly than it can be by a circuitous process of reasoning respecting the proofs of intelligence in creation. It is conscience within, not nature without, which first points to and proves a Deity. It is the Lawgiver, and not the Creator, that man first recognizes, - the Governor, the righteous judge. The moral sense involves the notion of a moral Ruler, independently altogether of the argument from creation. And the true position and purpose of that argument is not to infer from His works of creation an unknown God as creator, but to prove that the God already known as the moral Ruler is the Creator of all things, - or rather to show what, as the moral Ruler, He has to tell us in regard to the things which He has created. The truth is, when we go to the works and creatures of God, we go, not to discover Him, but as having already discovered and known Him. We must, therefore, go in the spirit of implicit and submissive faith, not to question them concerning Him, but to hear and observe what He has to say to us concerning them, or to say to us, in them concerning Himself.
But still further, we go now to the record of creation, not only recognizing God through the evidence of His works and the intimations of the conscience or moral sense, but acquainted with Him through the testimony of His own word. In that word, He reveals Himself, first as the Lawgiver, and then as the Saviour. The first word He spoke to man in paradise was the law, the second was the glorious Gospel; He made Himself known first as the Sovereign, and then as the Redeemer. Now, therefore, it is in the character of the God thus known that He speaks to us concerning the creation of all things; and our faith as to creation now consists. - not in our believing that all things were and must have been made by a God, - but in our believing that they were made by this God; and believing it on the ground of His own infallible assurance, given personally by Himself to us. This God we are to see in all things. We are to hear His voice saying to us, in reference to every intended; and I am now telling you that I did so.
Thus, by faith, we are to recognize, instead of a dim remote abstraction, a real living being; personally present with us, and speaking to us of His works, as well as in them and by them. We are to exercise a personal reliance on Him, as thus present and thus speaking to us - a reliance on His faithfulness, in what He says to us concerning His character and doings in creation. Then assuredly our faith will make more vividly and tangibly intelligible the great fact that He made each thing and all things, and will give to that fact more of a real hold over us, and far more of intense practical power, than, with our ordinary vague views of the subject, we can at all beforehand conceive. Nor will it hamper or hinder the freest possible inquiry, on the side of natural science, if only it confines itself to its [Page 15] legitimate function of ascertaining facts before it theorises. For the facts it ascertains may modify, and have modified, the interpretation put on what God has told us in His word. And He meant it to be so. He did not intend revelation to supersede inquiry, and anticipate its results. Of course, His revelation must be consistent with the results of our inquiry, - as it has always hitherto, in the long run, been found to be. But it was inevitable that our understanding of His revelation should be open to progressive readjustment, as regards the development of scientific knowledge, while the revelation itself, as the Creator’s explanation of His creation for all mankind, remains ever the same.
4. Thus, then, in a spiritual view, and for spiritual purposes, the truth concerning God as the Creator must be received, not as a discovery of our own reason, following a train of thought, but as a direct communication from a real person, even from the living and present God. This is not a merely theoretical and artificial distinction. It is practically most important. Consider the subject of creation simply in the light of an argument of natural philosophy, and all is vague and dim abstraction. It may be close and cogent as a demonstration in mathematics, but it is as cold and unreal; or, if there be emotion at all, it is but the emotion of a fine taste, and a sensibility for the grand or the lovely in nature and thought. But consider the momentous fact in the light of a direct message from the Creator Himself to you, - regard Him as standing near to you, and Himself telling you, personally and face to face, all that He did on that wondrous creation-week, [restoration-week better!] - are you not differently impressed and affected?
(1) More particularly, - see first of all, what weight this single idea, once truly and vividly realized, must add to all the other communications which He makes to us on other subjects. Does He speak to us concerning other matters, intimately touching our present and future weal [welfare]? Does He tell us of our condition in respect of Him, and of His purposes in respect of us? Does He enforce the majesty of His law? Does He press the overtures of His Gospel? Does He threaten, or warn, or exhort, or encourage, or command, or entreat, or tenderly expostulate, or straitly and authoritatively charge? Oh! how in every such case is His appeal enhanced with tenfold intensity in its solemnity, its pathos, and its power, if we regard Him as in the very same breath expressly telling us, - I who now speak to you so earnestly and so affectionately, I created all things, - I created you. To the sinner, whom He is seeking out in his lost estate, whom He is reproving as a holy lawgiver, and condemning as a righteous judge, and yet pitying with all a father’s unquenchable compassion, how awful and yet how moving is the consideration, that He who is speaking to him as a counsellor and a friend, is speaking to him also as the Creator! And while He bids the sinner, in accents the most gracious, turn and live, He says to him still always, - It is thy Maker, and the Maker of all things, who bids thee, at thy peril, turn. And is there any one of you who are His saints and servants disquieted and cast down? Is there not comfort in the thought, that thy Maker is thy husband and thy redeemer? Is there not especial comfort in His telling thee so Himself? Is there any thing in all the earth to make thee afraid? Dost thou not hear Him saying to thee, - I, [Page 16] thy Saviour, thy God made thee, made it, made all things? It is my creature, as thou art, and it cannot hurt thee, if I am with thee.
On this principle we may, to a large extent, explain the importance which believers attach to the glorious fact, that He who saves them has revealed Himself to them, and is revealing Himself, as the Creator. All must have remarked, in reading the devotional parts of the Bible, such as the book of Psalms, how constantly the psalmist comforts and strengthens himself, and animates himself in the face of his enemies, by this consideration, that his help comes from the Lord, who made the heavens and the earth, that his God made the heavens. He made all things; the very things, therefore, that are most hostile and perilous, his God made. This is his security. The God whom he knows as his own, made all things, and is reminding him, whenever any thing alarms or threatens him, that He made it. And if now, my Christian brother, the God who made all things, evil as well as good, - sickness, pain, poverty, distress, - is your Saviour; if He is ever seen by you, and His voice is heard telling you, even of that which presently afflicts you, that He made it as He made you, - how complete is your confidence.
When God appeared to Job, in such a way that job himself exclaimed, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee;” it was mainly, if not exclusively, as the Creator that He revealed Himself. Coming forth to finish the discussion between Job and his friends, the Lord enlarges and expatiates on all His wondrous works, - on the power and the majesty of His creation. On this topic He dwells, speaking to Job personally concerning it, conversing with him face to face as a friend. And the full recognition of God as doing so, is enough both to humble and comfort the patriarch, - to remove every cloud, - to abase him in dust and ashes, - and to exalt him again in all the confidence of prayer.
(2) Again, secondly, - on the other hand, observe what weight this idea, if fully realized, must have, if we ever regard the Lord Himself as personally present, and saying to us, in special reference to each of the things which He has made, - I created it, and I am now reminding you, and testifying to you, that it was I who made it. What sacredness will this thought stamp on every object in nature, - if only by the power of the [Holy] Spirit, and through the belief of the truth, we are made really and personally acquainted with the living God; if we know Him thus as the Lawgiver, the Saviour, the judge.
We go forth amid the glories and the beauties of this earth and these heavens, which He has so marvellously framed. We are not left merely to trace the dead and empty footsteps which mark that He once was there. He is there still, telling us even now that His hand framed all that we see; and telling us why He did so. Thus, and thus only, do we walk with God, amid all that is grand and lovely in the scene of creation; not by rising, in our sentimental dream of piety, to the notion of a remote Creator, dimly seen in His works, but by taking the Creator along with us, whenever we enter into these scenes, and seeing His works in Him. It is true, there is a tongue in every breeze of summer, a voice in every song of the bird, a silent eloquence in every green field and quiet grove, which tell of God as the [Page 17] great maker of them all; but after all, they tell of Him as a God afar off, and still they speak of Him as secondary, merely, and supplementary to themselves, - as if He were inferred from them, and not they from Him. But, in our habit of mind, let this order be just reversed. Let us conceive of God as telling us concerning them as His works. While they reveal and interpret Him, let Him reveal and interpret them. And whenever we meet with any thing that pleases our eye, and affects our heart, let us consider God Himself, our God and our Father, as informing us respecting that very thing: I made it, - I made it what it is, - I made it what it is for you.
And if this vivid impression of reality, in our recognition of God as the Creator, would be salutary in our communing with nature’s works, much more would it be so in our use of nature’s manifold gifts and bounties. “Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God” (1 Tim. 4: 4, 5). Still it is to be received and used as the creature of God, and as solemnly declared and attested to be so, by God Himself, in the very moment of our using it. If we realized this consideration; if, on the instant when we were about to use, as we have been wont, any of the creatures of God provided for our accommodation, God Himself were to appear personally present before us, and were to say, Son, - Daughter, - I created this thing which you are about to use, - this cup of wine which you are about to drink, this piece of money that you are about to spend, this brother or sister with whom you are now conversing, - and I testify this to you, at this particular moment, - I, your Lord and your God, - I created them, - such as they are, - for those ends which they are plainly designed to serve; - would we go on to make the very same use of the creature that we intended to make? Or would not our hand be arrested, and our mouth shut, and our spirit made to stand in awe, so that we would not sin?
Let none imagine that this is an ideal and fanciful state of feeling. It is really nothing more than the true exercise of that faith by which “we understand that the worlds were made by the word of God; so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear;” and it is the preparation for the scene which John saw in vision, when, being in the Spirit, he beheld, and lo! a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne, and round about the throne the emblems of redeeming love appeared, with the representatives of the redeemed Church giving glory to Him that sat on the throne, worshiping Him that liveth forever and ever, casting their crowns before the throne, and saying, “Thou art worthy, 0 Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and power; for thou has created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4).
My plan does not require me to enter at any length, if indeed at all, into the vexed questions which have clustered around the Mosaic cosmogony; questions as to the relations of science and revelation which I own myself incompetent to discuss. I have tried in this Lecture to indicate the point of view from which, as it seems to me, the narrative in the first two chapters of Genesis ought to be regarded. It is God’s own account of the origin of the present mundane system, given by inspiration, for all times and for all men. And it is His account, specially adapted by Himself to the [Page 18] end, not of gratifying speculative curiosity, but of promoting godly edification. Therefore, there is purposely excluded from it whatever might identify it with any particular stage of advancement and enlightenment among mankind. It is this very exclusion, indeed, which gives to it a breadth and universality fitting it equally for all systems, as well as for all ages. Then again, as on the one hand it is not the design of God to tell us here all that we might wish to have learned from Him respecting this earth’s long past history, or even respecting the adjustment of its present order, - so, on the other hand, it is His design to present this last topic to us chiefly in its bearing on the great scheme of providence, including probation and redemption, which His revealed word is meant to unfold. He tells the story of our birth only partially. And in telling it, He casts it in the mould that best adapts it to that progressive development of His moral government which His inspired Scriptures are about to trace.
Hence, amid dark obscurity hanging over many things, the salient prominence given to the Word as the Light of the world, its light of life, - to the Spirit moving in the ancient chaos, - to the satisfaction of the Eternal at each step in the creative [restoration] work, - to the succession of six days and the rest of the seventh.
And hence also, as regards man, the twofold account of his origin, - that in the first chapter bringing out his high and heavenly relation to the Supreme, whose image he wears, and that in the second chapter describing rather his more earthly relations, and the functions of his animal nature. For these two accounts, so far from being inconsistent with one another, are in reality the complements of one another. Both of them are essential to a complete divinely - drawn portrait of man as at first he stood forth among the creatures; spiritually allied to God, in one view, yet in another view, the offspring as well as the lord of earth. Both therefore appropriately culminate, - the one in the Sabbatic Institute, the pledge and means of man’s divine life, - and the other in that ordinance of marriage, peculiar to him alone, in which his social earthly life finds all its pure and holy joy.
These particulars will come up again for consideration. I notice them now because I would like my first paper to be studied as having an important bearing on the subjects to which they relate.
* * *
THE CREATION OF THE WORLD AND MAN VIEWED ON ITS HEAVENLY SIDE
Genesis 1: 1; 2: 3
This divine record of creation, remarkable for the most perfect simplicity, has been sadly complicated and embarrassed by the human [Page 19] theories and speculations with which it has unhappily become entangled. To clear the way, therefore, at the outset, to get rid of many perplexities, and leave the narrative unencumbered for pious and practical uses, let its limited design be fairly understood, and let certain explanations be frankly made.
1. In the first place, the object of this inspired cosmogony, or account of the world’s origin, is not scientific but religious. Hence it was to be expected that, while nothing contained in it could ever be found really and in the long run to contradict science, the gradual progress of discovery might give occasion for apparent temporary contradictions. The current interpretation of the Divine record, in such matters, will naturally, and indeed, must necessarily, accommodate itself to the actual state of scientific knowledge and opinion at the time; so that, when science takes a step in advance, revelation may seem to be left behind. The remedy here is to be found in the exercise of caution, forbearance, and suspense, on the part both of the student of Scripture and of the student of science; and, so far as Scripture is concerned, it is often safer and better to dismiss or to qualify old interpretations, than instantly to adopt new ones. Let the student of science push his inquiries still further, without too hastily assuming, in the meantime, that the result to which he has been brought demands a departure from the plain sense of Scripture; and let the student of Scripture give himself to the exposition of the narrative in its moral and spiritual application, without prematurely committing himself, or it, to the particular details or principles of any scientific school.
2. Then again, in the second place, let it be observed that the essential facts in this Divine record are, - the recent date assigned to the existence of man on the earth, the previous preparation of the earth for his habitation, the gradual nature of the work, and the distinction and succession of days during its progress. These are not, and cannot be, impugned by any scientific discoveries. What history of ages previous to that era this globe may have engraved in its rocky bosom, revealed or to be revealed by the explosive force of its central fires, Scripture does not say. What countless generations of living organisms teemed in the chaotic-waters, or brooded over the dark abyss, it is not within the scope of the inspiring [Holy] Spirit to tell. There is room and space for whole volumes of such matter, before the Holy Ghost takes up the record. Nor is it necessary to suppose that all continuity of the animal life which had sprung into being, in or out of the waters, was broken at the time when the earth was finally fashioned [or restored] for man’s abode. It is enough that then, for the first time, the animals of sea, and air, and land, with which man was to be conversant, were created for his use, - the fish, the fowls, the beasts, which were to minister to his enjoyment and to own his dominion.
3. And finally, in the third place, let it be borne in mind that the sacred narrative of the creation is evidently, in its highest character, moral, spiritual, and prophetical. The original relation of man, as a responsible being, to his Maker, is directly taught; his restoration from moral chaos to spiritual beauty is figuratively represented; and as a prophecy, it has an extent of meaning which will be fully unfolded only when “the times of the restitution of all things” (Acts 3: 21) have arrived. Until then, we must [Page 20] be contented with a partial and inadequate view of this, as of other parts of the sacred volume; for “the sure word of prophecy,” though a light “whereunto we do well to take heed,” is still but “as a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawn and the day-star arise in our hearts” (2 Peter 1: 19). The exact literal sense of much that is now obscure or doubtful, as well as the bearing and importance of what may seem insignificant or irrelevant, will then clearly appear. The creation [restoration] of this world anew, after its final baptism of fire, will be the best comment on the history of its creation at first, after the chaos of water. The manner as well as the design of the earth’s formation of old out of the water, will be understood at last, when it emerges once more from the wreck and ruin of the conflagration which yet awaits it, - “a new earth, with new heavens, wherein righteousness is to dwell” (2 Pet. 3: 13).
Our present concern, therefore, is with the moral and spiritual aspect of this sacred narrative. Our business is with man, - with the position originally assigned to him, by creation, in the primeval kingdom of nature, and the place to which he is restored, by redemption, in the remedial kingdom of grace. Of his abode in the renewed kingdom of glory, it is but the shadowy outline which we can in the meantime trace; but, so far as it goes, it is interesting and suggestive.
Thus, then, let us view the scene which the opening section of Genesis presents to us.
There is a plain distinction between the first verse and the subsequent part of this passage. The first verse speaks of creation, strictly so called, and of the creation of all things, - the formation of the substance, or matter, of the heavens and the earth, out of nothing; - “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The rest of the passage speaks of creation in the less exact sense of the term; describing the changes wrought on matter previously existing; and it confines itself, apparently, to one part of the universe - our solar system, and especially to this one planet - our earth, concerning which, chiefly, God sees fit to inform us.
The first verse, then, contains a very general announcement; in respect of time, without date, - in respect of space, without limits. The expression, “in the beginning,” fixes no period; and the expression, “the heavens and the earth,” admits of no restriction. For, though heaven denotes sometimes the atmosphere, or the visible starry expanse above, and, at other times, the dwelling-place of God and of the blessed; yet, when heaven and earth are joined, as in this text, all things are evidently intended (Ps. 131: , 2, etc.) And the announcement here is, that at an era indefinitely remote, the whole matter of the universe was called into being. It is not eternal, - it had a beginning. God has not merely, in the long course of ages, wrought wonderful changes on matter previously existing. Originally, and at the first, He made the matter itself.
At the period referred to in the second verse, the materials for the fair structure of this world which we inhabit are in being. But they are lying waste. Three things are wanted to render the earth such as God can approve ‑ order, life, and light. The earth is [or ‘became’, N.I.V.] “without form” - a shapeless mass. It is [or became] “void,” - empty, or destitute of life. It has “darkness” all [Page 21] around its deep chaotic “waters.” One good sign only appears. There is a movement on the surface, but deep-searching. “The Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters.”
We have here the first indication in the Bible of a plurality of Persons in the unity of the Godhead; and, in the chapter throughout we trace the same great and glorious doctrine of the ever-blessed Trinity, pervading the entire narrative. This truth, indeed, is not so much directly stated in the Scriptures as it is all along assumed; and we might reasonably expect it to be so. God is not, in the written word, introduced for the first time to men. He speaks, and is spoken of, as one previously known, because previously revealed. And, if the doctrine of the Trinity be true, He must have been known, more or less explicitly, as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. An express and formal declaration, then, of this mystery of His being, was not needed, now was it to be expected. The most natural and convincing proof of it, in these circumstances, is to trace it, as from the very first taken for granted and recognized, in all that is said of the divine proceedings. Now, in this passage, we find precisely such intimations of it as might have been anticipated. Not to speak of the form of the word “God,” which, in the original, is a plural noun joined to a singular verb, we have the remarkable phrase (ver. 26), “Let us make;” and, in the very outset, we have mention made of God; - of His WORD, “God said:” - and of His Spirit, “the Spirit of God moved.” So, also, it is said, in the Psalms (33: 6), “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the hosts of them by the breath,” or Spirit, “of his mouth.”
The gradual process by which the earth is brought into a right state may be traced according to the division of days. But there is another principle of division, very simple and beautiful, suggested by the repeated expression, “God saw that it was good.” That expression may be regarded as marking the successive steps or stages of the divine work, at which the Creator pauses, that He may dwell on each finished portion, as at last He dwells on the finished whole, with a holy and benevolent complacency. The phrase occurs seven times (ver. 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). It does not divide the work exactly as the days divide it. On the second day it does not occur at all; and on the third and sixth days it occurs twice. The work is divided among the days, so that each day has something definite to be done, - something complete in itself. 1. Light, - 2. Air (the elastic firmament or sky), - 3. Earth (dry land as separated from the sea), - 4. the Luminaries in heaven as means of light and measures of time, - 5. Fish* and Fowl, - 6. Beasts, and Man himself, - these are the works of the successive days. The relation, however, of the several parts to the whole, is better seen by noting the points at which the divine expression of satisfaction is inserted: “God saw that it was good.”
[* Note. Our Lord’s use of the “two fishes,” in feeding the multitude, may well have been a “sign” = ‘miracle’ - to point His disciples toward the time of God’s promised millennial blessing, after their sojourn in “paradise” - (the place of the souls of the dead) - for a further two days. That is, after two thousand years, they would be brought back here to enjoy their inheritance. This can only be possible after the time of their Resurrection from the dead. See, - Matt. 14: 17, 19; Luke 22: 29, 30; 23: 43; 2 Pet. 3: 8, 9; Phil. 3: 11; Rev. 20: 4-6.]
The main design of the whole work is to supply the wants or defects of the chaotic earth. These were three: - the want of order, of life, and of light. Light is first provided; then order is given that the earth may be fitted for the habitation of living creatures; and finally, living creatures are placed in it.
Now, the series of operations by which this threefold object is accomplished, is exactly marked by the intervals at which it is said, “God saw that it was good.” Thus, 1. On the introduction of LIGHT, which is a simple act, the Creator’s joy is expressed emphatically, but only once (ver 4). 2. The ORDERING of the world, however, is a more complicated and elaborate process. In the first place, there must be the adjustment of the waters; that is, on the one hand the separation of the cloudy vapour constituting the material heavens above, from the waters on the earth’s surface below, by the air, or elastic atmosphere, being interposed; and on the other hand, the separation on the earth’s surface of the dry land from the sea. Secondly, there must be the arrangement of the dry land itself, which is to be clothed with all manner of vegetation, and stored with all sorts of reproductive trees and plants. And thirdly, there must be the establishment of the right relation which the heavens and the heavenly bodies are to have to the earth as the instruments of its light, and the rulers of its seasons. Accordingly, at each of these three stages of this part of the work, - the reducing of the shapeless mass of earth to ORDER – the language of divine approbation is employed (ver. 10, 12, 18). 3. The formation of LIFE also, or of the living beings for whose use the world is made, - admits of a similar sub-division. First, the fishes and the fowls are produced; secondly, the terrestrial beasts; and thirdly, man himself. And still, as the glorious work rises higher and higher, there is at each step the pause of divine congratulation; as, in the end and over all, there is the full contentment of Infinite Wisdom; “rejoicing in the habitable parts of the earth, his delights being with the sons of men” (ver. 21; 25, 31, and Prov. 8: 31). The following scheme will show this division clearly:
God saw that it was good on the production of -
1.The first step in this glorious process, is the breaking in of LIGHT on the gloom in which the earth was shrouded (ver. 3-5). In this step the ETERNAL WORD comes forth from the bosom of Deity. He “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5: 2), - “the Word who was in the beginning with God and was God” (Jn. 1: 1-3), - He is that word which went out from God, when “GOD SAID, Let there be light.” For this is not the utterance of a dead sentence, but the coming forth of the living WORD. In the Word was life, and this life in the Word, - this LIVING WORD, - was the “light.” Immediately, without the intervention of those luminaries in which afterwards light was stored and centered, the LIVING WORD Himself going forth was light, - the natural light of the earth then: as afterwards, again coming forth, He became to men the light of their salvation.
In this light God delighted as good; for the light is none other than that very Eternal Wisdom who says; ‑ “The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old, and I was daily,” - from day to day, as the marvellous work [of His restoration] of these six days went on, - “I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him” (Prov. 8: 22, 30). Such was the mutual ineffable complacency of the Godhead, when the Word went forth in the creation, as the light, and when all things began to be made by Him (Jn. 1: 3, 4). And in this first going forth of the Eternal Word, the distinction of light and darkness, of day and night, for the new earth, began (Ps. 104: 2). This was the first day - the first alternation of evening and morning; - not perhaps the first revolution of this globe on its axis, but its first revolution, after its chaotic darkness, under the beams of that divine light, which, shining on earth’s surface as it passed beneath the glorious brightness, chased, from point to point, the ancient gloom away.
2. To light succeeds ORDER. Form, or shape, or due arrangement, is given to the natural economy of this lower world, and that by three successive processes.
(1) In the first place, the waters are arranged (ver. 6-10). The earth is girt round with a firmament, or gaseous atmosphere; at once pressing down, by its weight, the waters on the surface, and supporting, by its elasticity, the floating clouds and vapours above; and so forming the visible heaven, or the azure sky (Ps. 104: 3). This is the work of the second day. Then, a bed is made for the waters, which before covered the earth, but which now, subsiding into the place prepared for them, lay bare a surface of dry land (Ps. 104: 6-13). This is done on the third day. And thus, by a twofold process, the waters are reduced to order. In the language of Job, “He girdeth up the waters in his thick clouds; and the cloud is not rent under them: he holdeth back the face of his throne, and spreadeth his cloud upon it.” This surely must allude to the separating of the waters above the firmament from the waters under the firmament. And as to these last, the description proceeds, “He hath compassed the waters with bounds, until the day and night come to an end” (Job 26: 8-10). So, also, in another place, the Lord, challenging vain man to answer Him, asks, “Who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth as if it had issued out of the womb; when I made the cloud the garment thereof, and thick darkness a swaddling band for it?” Here we have plainly the firmament dividing the waters. And I “brake up for it,” for the sea that once covered the earth, “my decreed place, and set bars and doors, and said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no farther; and here shall thy proud waves be stayed.” Here we have with equal plainness the gathering together of the waters and the appearing of the dry land (Job 38: 8-11). The same twofold process in disposing of the waters is indicated by the psalmist; - “0 give thanks therefore to him, that by his Wisdom made the heavens, for his mercy endureth forever” (Psa. 136: 5, 6); - and by the Apostle Peter; - “By the word of the Lord, the heavens were of old, and the earth, standing out of the water and in the water” (2 Pet. 3: 5).
(3) In the third place, on the fourth day, the heavenly bodies, in their relation to this earth, are formed or adjusted. The light, hitherto supplied by the immediate presence of the WORD, which had gone forth on the first day - the very Glory of the Lord, which long afterwards shone in the [Page 24] wilderness, in the temple, and on the Mount of Transfiguration, and which may [will] yet again illumine the world - the light, thus originally provided without created instrumentality, by the LIVING WORD Himself, now that the chaotic mists are cleared away from the earth’s surface, is to be henceforward dispensed through the natural agency of second causes. A subordinate fountain and storehouse of light is found for the earth. The light is now concentrated in the sun, as its source, and in the moon and stars, which reflect the sun’s beams; and these luminaries, by their fixed order, are made to rule and regulate all movements here below (Ps. 104: 19-23). They are appointed “for signs,” - not for tokens of divination (Isa. 44: 25; Jer. 10: 2), - but for marks and indications of the changes that go on in the natural world; - and “for seasons,” - for the distinction of day and night, of summer and winter, seed-time and harvest (Jer. 31: 35). Again, therefore, let us “give thanks to him that made great lights, for his mercy endureth forever; the sun to rule by day, for his mercy endureth forever; the moon and stars to rule by night, for his mercy endureth forever” (Ps. 86: 7-9).
Thus, all things are ready for living beings to be formed - those living beings which belong to the social economy of which MAN is head.
3. Accordingly, LIFE - life in abundance - is now produced. For the Eternal Word, or Wisdom (Prov. 8: 22-31), in the whole of this work of creation, in which He was intimately present with the Father, rejoiced especially in the earth as habitable; and above all, “his delights were with the sons of men.” In the first place, in the waters, and from the waters, He causes fishes and fowls to spring: - fishes to move in the bosom of the sea, and fowls to float in the liquid air and fly abroad in the open firmament of heaven. This He does on the fifth day (ver. 20-33). Secondly, on the sixth, He causeth all beasts to be produced from the earth (ver. 24, 25). And, in the third place, on the sixth day also, He creates MAN (ver. 26, 27).
These three orders or classes of living beings are severally pronounced good, But man is specially blessed (ver. 26, 27). There is deliberation in heaven respecting His creation: “Let us make man.” He is created after a high model – “after our likeness.” He is invested with dominion over the creatures: “Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” He is formed for holy matrimony, for dwelling in families: “male and female” - one male and one female - “created he them.”
Thus, in four particulars, is man exalted above the other animals. In the first place, the counsels of the Godhead have respect to man. To his creation, as well as to his redemption, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost consent. Then, secondly, the image of God is reflected in him, - in his capacity of intelligence, his uprightness of condition, and his immaculate purity of character, - in his knowledge, righteousness, and holiness (Eph. 4: 24; Col. 3: 10). A third distinction is, that the other animals are subjected to him, - not to his tyranny as now, but to his mild and holy rule; - as they shall be when sinners are consumed out of the earth, and the wicked are no more (Ps. 54: 35; 8: 6-8; Rom. 8: 20-22). While his fourth and final [Page 25] privilege is, that marriage, and all its attendant blessings of society, are ordained for him. This the prophet Malachi testifies, when, sternly rebuking his countrymen for the prevailing sin of adultery and the light use of divorce, he appeals against the man who shall “deal treacherously with the wife of his youth,” – “his companion and the wife of his covenant,” - to the original design and purpose of God in creation. “Did not he make one?” - a single pair, - “yet had he the residue of the spirit,” - the excellency or abundance of the breath of life. “Wherefore, then, did he make one?” - limiting Himself to the creation of a single pair? - “That he might seek a goodly seed,” - or in other words, that holy matrimony, - based upon the creation of the one male and the one female, and the destination of them to be “one flesh,” - might purify and bless the social state of man (Mal. 2: 14-16).
Such was the primitive constitution of life in this world. Man stood forth, godlike and social, having under him, as in God’s stead, all the creatures; and for his life, and for theirs, that food was appointed which the earth was to bring forth (ver. 29, 30). The two previous stages in the creation are subservient to this last. Light and order are means, in order to life, which is the end. Life - animal, intellectual, moral, spiritual, social, divine - life is the crown and consummation of all. The Creator beholds it, and is satisfied, and rests.
“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made” (Gen. 2: 1-3).
The rest of God is not physical repose after weariness or fatigue, nor is it absolute inactivity. During all the period of His rest, from that first day of rest downwards until now, He worketh still (John 5: 17); and He must continually work for the continual preservation of His creatures (Ps. 104: 28, 29). But He pauses from His work of creation, - from the creation of new kinds and orders of beings; though He still carries on His work of providence. He rests from all His work which He has made. He rests and is “refreshed” (Exod. 31: 17). And His original day of rest is blessed and sanctified.
Into the rest of God, with all its blessedness and sanctity,
man at first might enter; and hence the seventh day, as
the day which was the
beginning of the rest of God, became the “Sabbath made for man” (Exod. 20: 11;
Mark 2: 27).
To the people of God still, in every age, there is a
promise left, that they shall again enter into his
promise is still
the rest of
Such is the
unanswerable reasoning, as it would seem of the inspired
apostle, founded upon
the Lord’s appeal to the Israelites,
when He exhorts
them to hear His voice.
“Harden not your heart,” is the voice of
God, their Maker, “as your fathers
did, who provoked me
in the wilderness, and to whom I sware
in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.” Harden not your hearts, lest you also come short of that [future] rest. But were not they who were thus
addressed already in possession of that rest into which
God sware that their
fathers should not enter?
they were, [with the exception the accountable
generation who perished in the wilderness] if that rest was the rest of
Now this [future] rest has been long prepared. For “the works were finished from the foundation of the world; and he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, and God did rest on the seventh day from all his works” (Heb. 4: 3, 4). Of this original rest it is, and not of any image of it afterwards appointed, that God speaks when He says, “If they shall enter into my rest.” No rest hitherto given on earth, either by Joshua to the Old Testament Church, or by Jesus to the New, is or can be the rest of God, into which His people, if they come not short through unbelief, are to enter. That rest remaineth for them, after they have ceased from their works, as God did from His (Heb. 4: 10). And the type or pledge of it remaineth also; - perpetual and unchangeable, as the promise of the rest itself; - the type and pledge of it, instituted from the beginning, in the hallowed rest of the weekly Sabbath.
Through the help of this Sabbatic Institution, if only we obtain a spiritual and sympathizing insight into its significancy, we may enter into the rest of God by faith, and in the spirit, even now, as we realize the blessed complacency of the Creator, rejoicing in his works.
Pause, therefore, 0 my soul! at every stage of the wondrous process here described, and especially at its close; and behold how good it is! See how all was fitted for thee; and what a being art thou, so fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139: 14); thyself a little world; and for thy sake this great world made! How marvellous are God’s works! How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, 0 God! Let me see, as God saw, everything which He has made. Behold, it is very good. And blessed and joyful is the rest which succeeds.
Man, however, who was [created to wear] the crown, has become the curse of this earth.
The work of God has been destroyed; and He must create anew. And it is, first of all, man himself that He must remodel and reform. The chaos now is not in matter but in mind, - not in the substance of this earth, but in the soul of man. In that world now there is darkness, disorder, death. But “in the WORD is life.”
And, in the first place, “the life is the light of men.” He shines into the darkened understanding, and all is light – “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4: 6). The glory of God, the true and living God, is seen in the Living Incarnate Word, the man Christ Jesus, the light of life, the author of salvation. “I have heard of thee with the hearing of the ear, but now mine eyes seeth thee” (Job 42: 5) - seeth thee in Christ, the Holy One, the just, the Saviour.
Again, secondly, by the same Living Word, the disorder of the soul is remedied. Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, - God in Christ, - becomes the centre of attraction. Away from that centre, all the powers of the soul move and mingle irregularly. Restore the balance, by making God supreme, and all again is adjusted rightly; things above and things below are separated; the inconstant waves of passion retire, and leave the solid ground of principle; and the glory of heaven rules and bless the whole man.
Finally, in the third place, the end of all this is life, - the life of the soul, - its life with Christ in God (Eph. 2: 1; Col. 3: 3). Now the life of the soul is love, - for the soul lives in being loved, and in loving; and God is revealed to the darkened soul, and restored to His supremacy in the disordered soul, in order that the dead soul may be quickened, so as to feel and return His love.
Such is the new creation of the soul, after the image of God, in respect of knowledge or light, righteousness or order, and holiness or life, which is love. And this new creation being finished, a new rest follows; a rest of God; a rest in God; a rest with God; - as now a reconciled Father and all-satisfying portion. Into this rest let my weary spirit enter. It is mine in Christ, in whom, believing, I am created anew.
“Return unto thy rest, 0 my soul, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee” (Ps. 116: 7).
But after all this, and beyond it all, there still “remaineth a rest for the people of God.” For we cherish the sure hope, that when this work of new creation in the souls of the redeemed shall be ended, the face of the earth itself shall be again renewed for their habitation; and the Lord shall again rest, and rejoice in all that He has made, blessing and hallowing a new and better Sabbath in our regenerated world (Ps. 104: 30).
Meanwhile, the primitive institution of the Sabbath, - as the sign of that rest into which spiritually and by faith we enter now, as well as the foretaste of the rest which remaineth for us in the world to come, ‑ is surely a delightful truth; and its observance cannot but be a precious privilege. This world, with all that it contains, was made for man. Man himself was made for God, for entering into God’s rest. And that he might all the better do so, the Sabbath was made for him. “God blessed the [Page 28] Sabbath-day and hallowed it.” The blessing is not recalled, the consecration is not repealed. There remaineth a rest unto the people of God, - and a day of rest. Let us not fall short of the rest hereafter. Let us not despise the [future] day of rest now.
* * *
THE CREATION OF MAN VIEWED AS ON THE SIDE OF EARTH; AND HIS EARTHLY ORIGIN AND RELATIONS
GENESIS 2: 4-25
This is a separate and independent account of the origin of man; quite distinct, and meant to be distinct, from the former. The two, when fairly viewed, are not at all inconsistent with one another: they are rather supplementary to one another. In the first, man comes forth in his high spiritual or heavenly nature, as allied to God and capable of intercourse with God; in the second he appears as “of the earth, earthy” (1 Cor. 15: 47); [See “Life in a Risen Saviour,” where I have expounded this passage.] having an earthly origin and earthly relations. He is godlike, in respect of the divine proposal and decree, - “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” But he is also “a living soul;” an animal like his co-occupiers of the earth; with animal propensities and animal connections. And it is that aspect of his nature and condition which this chapter brings out, to balance the higher ideal suggested by the narrative that precedes it.
This may partly explain a puzzle which was once more troublesome than it is likely to be now. For it is to be observed, that throughout this last account, God is called by a name not used in the preceding section; the name “Lord,” or “Jehovah,” being joined to the name “God.” The reason may be this. The single name “God,” denoting power or might, is more suitable while the process of creation, by God’s mighty power, is described, as it were, on the side of His sovereign creative fiat, “Let it be,” “Let us make.” Now, however, in reviewing the work as complete, and entering into its providential phase, the additional idea involved in the name “Jehovah” - that of self-existence and unchangeable majesty, with special reference to His providence - becomes appropriate. All things are made by Him as the Almighty God. They subsist by Him as being also the everlasting Jehovah, “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” “I am Jehovah, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Mal. 3: 6).
A similar distinction is intimated in the Lord’s first
introduction of Himself to Moses (Exod. 6:
appeared unto Abraham, unto
Isaac, and unto Jacob,
by the name of God Almighty,
by my name Jehovah was I not known to them.” In
His dealings with Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob, God [Page
manifested Himself as the
Almighty Creator. In
what He did, and in
what He promised, He asserted His prerogative of
His dealings, again, with the Israelites
In this chapter, the state of things on the earth at its first creation is briefly described. “These are the generations,” - or, as we would say, the following is the account of the original condition, - “of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens” (ver. 4). Such is the usual beginning of a new section in the narrative, - the title or heading of a new chapter. Whenever the inspired compiler or historian opens a fresh fountain in the stream of his annals, he employs the formula of genealogical succession or derivation: “These are the generations.”
In the present instance, this formula introduces a description of the world, both natural and moral, as it stood completely adjusted, on the day of the finished creation.
1. The economy of the kingdom of inanimate nature, or of the vegetable world, was fitted at once to maintain the sovereignty of God, and to provide for the welfare of man, viewing man as a compound being, having both body and soul. “The LORD God made every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (ver. 5-7).
Three things, it is here implied, are ordinarily necessary to the growth of plants and herbs: - soil, climate, and culture. The vital energy of the earth itself, in which all various seeds are lodged, is the first element (ver. 5). The influence of rain and dew from heaven comes next (ver. 6). And lastly, there must be superadded the labour of the hand of man (ver. 7 compared with ver. 5).
This is the law of nature, or rather of nature’s God. Originally, only the first of these powers could be in action; and, therefore, it is probable that, at the first, God created the plants and herbs, or caused them to spring up, in full maturity, so as to fit the new, or renewed, earth for the immediate use of the animals, and also to prepare its soil for the subsequent operations of heaven’s genial moisture, and man’s faithful husbandry. Afterwards, the mist or vapour from the earth supplied the watery sky. And finally, the forming hand and inspiring Spirit of God brought forth man, - a corporeal and spiritual being, - having bodily powers and mental [Page 30] intelligence, - having life, both animal and rational. He was thus fitted to till the ground; and the employment was fitted for him. The energies of his bodily frame were exercised by labour; while his spirit was exercised by the intelligence and the faith which the particular kind of labour assigned to him required. He was placed in his true position. He was conscious at once of mastery over the earth which he was to till - and of dependence on the heaven from whence he was to expect the influence that alone could bless his toil. He had to work and to wait. It was a wholesome discipline; it was a becoming attitude then. It is so still. Our business now is to realize that very position in the kingdom of grace, which man at first held in the kingdom of nature. It is the position of working and waiting. “Be patient, therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient. Stablish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh” (James 5: 7).
2. The moral world also, - the spiritual kingdom, was rightly adjusted. (1) Man, as a sentient being, was placed in an earthly paradise (ver. 8-15). (2) As a rational and religious being, he was subjected to a divine law (ver. 16, 17). (3) As a social, or companionable being, he was furnished with human fellowship (ver. 18-25).
(1) In the first place, provision was made for his wellbeing,
as a sentient creature.
He was placed in
the garden of Eden; and
Many have laboured to ascertain the site of Eden; and so
various and doubtful have been the opinions formed, that
some have regarded the
countries and rivers here named as no longer existing;
the deluge, as is
supposed, having swept away all the ancient landmarks. But although
several of the marks given by
the sacred historian may have been obliterated and lost,
through convulsions of
nature and the hand of man, his description is so
circumstantial that it must
be intended to point out, even since the flood, the
Meanwhile, in a vague and general way, the most learned and laborious researches seem to fix down the site of Eden to some part of the region [Page 31] which the Euphrates and its kindred streams water, as they fan into the Persian Gulf (Gen. 25: 18; Dan. 10: 4). The Ethiopia, or Cush, spoken of in the thirteenth verse, is not the region in Africa known under that name, but a territory in Asia, embracing the country of the Midianites and part of Arabia (Numb. 12: 1; Exod. 2: 21). Hence it is not impossible, nor by any means unlikely, that in the latter days the place where Eden was, - bordering on the limits of the promised land as the original grant to Abraham extended it eastward (Gen. 15), - may be destined yet to come again into note, as sharing the final fortunes of that land, whatever these may be (Ps. 72: 8). And for this end, perhaps, it has pleased God to give this geography of it beforehand, by which it may be known when the history of this earth is to be wound up.
In this garden, then, man was placed, not for idleness; his animal and sentient constitution does not fit him for being happy in idleness; but for an easy charge and for pleasant labour; to dress and keep a garden, spontaneously fruitful in trees pleasant to the sight, and good for food; - “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” (ver. 15). Thus, in the lowest view of his nature, as an animal being or “living soul,” man was so situated, that his tastes and talents, - his powers and susceptibilities, - were exercised and satisfied to the very utmost measure of perfection in the creature.
(2) In respect also, secondly, of the highest as well as the lowest part of his frame, man found in paradise his right place, - the place of free and accountable subjection to his Maker. He was made to feel his dependence, and to recognize his responsibility. He was under law. “And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die” (ver. 9, 16, 17).
There was a covenant; and there were the sacraments of a covenant, - the signs and seals of it. These were two; the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Every covenant between God and man has two parts - a promise, and a requirement or condition. And hence every covenant may have two sacraments, - the one, chiefly a sign and seal of the thing promised; the other, chiefly a sign and seal of the thing required. In that first transaction, the tree of life was the sacrament, or the sign and seal, of the thing promised and guaranteed by God to man in paradise, - which was life [and fellowship with God]. The other tree was the sacrament, or the sign and seal, of the thing required, - which was perfect obedience, to be tested and proved by abstinence from a single specified act of disobedience.
Thus, also, in regard to the new covenant, - the covenant of grace and salvation made with Christ, and with His people in Him - there are two parts, a promise and a requirement. The promise is the restoration and support of life; and the requirement is union with Christ by faith, or the personal application and appropriation of the righteousness wrought out, [Page 32] and the redemption purchased, by Him. There are, accordingly, two sacraments, alike under the Levitical and under the Christian form of that covenant. The sacrament of the Passover, or of the Lord’s Supper, is mainly the sign and seal of the thing promised, - a new life, and the sustaining of it, by feeding upon the Lamb that was slain to procure it. The sacrament of Circumcision, or of Baptism, on the other hand, is the sign and seal of the thing required, - the cutting off of the corruption, or the washing away of the guilt of the flesh. This is really effected through faith in Him who has taken away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. With Him, in His death and in His rising again, the believer is now identified. And of this identification, Circumcision or Baptism is the symbolic pledge.
According to this analogy, man had in paradise an outward and sensible pledge and token, both of the blessing promised, and of the terms on which it was promised.
The tree of life evidently typified and represented that eternal life which was the portion of man at first, and which has become in Christ Jesus his portion again. It is found, accordingly, both in the [earthly] paradise which was lost, and in the [earthly] paradise which is [to be] regained. For “saith the Spirit to the churches, To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the garden” (Rev. 2: 7). The garden becomes at last a city, for the multitude of the [overcomers] redeemed to dwell in; and “in the midst of the street of it is the tree of life,” and “blessed are they who have right to it” (Rev. 22: 2, 14). By the use of this tree of life in paradise, man was reminded continually of his dependence. He had no life in himself. He received life at every instant anew from Him in whom alone is life. And of this continual reception of life, his continual participation of the tree of life was a standing symbol.
Again, by the other sacramental tree, man is reminded of what is his part in the covenant, or of the terms on which he holds the favour of his God which is his life. The fatal tree is to him, even before his fall, in a certain sense the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It is a standing memorial of the reality of the distinction. It suggests the possibility of evil, - of disobedience, - which otherwise, in the absence of all lust, might not occur. And so it is a test and token of his submission to his Maker’s will. Hence the fitness of this expedient, as a trial of man’s obedience. If he was to be tried at all, it could scarcely, in paradise, be otherwise than by means of a positive precept. And the more insignificant the matter of that precept was, the better was it fitted for being a trial; - the less was the temptation beforehand; and the greater, consequently, the sin. Such a tree, then, might well serve the purpose intended. It might seal and ratify man’s compliance with the will of God, and his enjoyment of the life of God, Or, on the other hand, it might occasion his sin and his death. [See Lectures (the Cunningham Lectures) on the Fatherhood of God; appendix 4.]
Thus man, in paradise, could not live without God. He could not but recognize God as placing him in the garden, giving him work to do, and all the trees of the garden to enjoy. He could not fail to recognize God also, as dispensing life to him continually and requiring from him continually a perfect obedience. Such is the true original position of man in respect of [Page 33] his Maker; a position of grateful and cheerful dependence. In this position he has the fullest scope for delighting in God, admiring His works, enjoying His gifts, and partaking of His life. And yet he can never fail to recognize, in its utmost extent, the sovereignty of God; having the sign of the Divine authority and his own subjection ever in his eye and within his grasp.
It was a high position.
But he who is least in the
(3) Lastly, in the third place, man in paradise was a social, as well as a sentient and religious being: and in respect of this part also of his nature, God provided for him. Among the lower animals, man could claim subjects, to whom, in token of his authority, he gave names (ver. 19, 20). But he could recognize no fellow; “there was not found an help meet for him” (ver. 20). He needed an equal. And one was found for him; - “The Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him” (ver. 18); not a servant, not an inferior, but a companion - another self - whom he must love and cherish as his own body (Eph. 5: 28). Out of his very ribs, accordingly, a spouse was formed for him; and Adam welcomed her as part and parcel of himself; - “This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (ver. 23). Hence arose an intercourse, pure and blessed, without sin and without shame (ver. 24, 25). Blameless and fearless, the two walked together in the sight of Him who made them for one another, and made both of them for Himself.
Such were the first parents of our race, in their state of probation; happy in their outward circumstances - in their relation to God - and in their union with one another. Thus, in the most favourable circumstances, the experiment was tried, of the ability of man, in his best estate, to live, and to retain life, on the terms of a covenant of works. Even in his state of innocency, the law could not save him, in that “it was weak through the flesh,” - through his liability to sin (Rom. 8: 3). And if it would not do for man then, how much less will it do for us now? How true must it be, that a mere legal enactment - the mere peremptory enforcement of a law - instead of insuring compliance, will provoke and stimulate opposition in our nature? Let us thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord, that in Him in whom there is to us now no condemnation, we are placed at once, if we believe, on a better footing, in this respect, than Adam himself ever held. The second Adam, substituting His own righteousness for ours, - and the free grace of God instead of any prescribed or stipulated condition on our part, - enables us in a new spirit and with a new heart, upright and sincere, to serve God, without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life.
It is true that, although thus far delivered, - set free from the sentence of condemnation and blessed with the first fruits of the Spirit, - we are constrained to sympathize with the groans of creation, which has been [Page 34] made subject to vanity, for man’s sake. The painful sweat of the brow and the sad cry of famine among the weary children of labour, - hard, precarious, ill-requited labour, - too frequently present a far different picture from the scene of peace and plenty which the young and fresh world displayed; and even at the best, they who are most at ease have weariness of spirit as their portion here below. Where are the rich plains and golden streams of paradise? Where its simple innocence, and the tree in whose fruit was life ever fresh and new? Would the beasts and the fowls now flock at man’s call around him, to rejoice in his presence and await his pleasure? The few who can now be brought to dwell at home with him, serve but to show how happy this intercourse might have been; and even these few fare but miserable at his hands; while the greater number fly at his approach, or scowl in defiance against him. And how is the social economy deranged and out of joint! The very love of husband and wife itself is dishonoured. Even into holy marriage, and its kindred ties of family and of brotherhood, the taint or suspicion of sin’s poison is insinuated. Every where corruption is felt, or feared; and all have learned to be ashamed.
But it shall not be always thus. A new world is to arise. “The earth shall yield her increase,” and “God’s blessing” shall be added, when “he shall judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth” (Ps. 67: 4, 6). The creatures shall again rejoice under man’s dominion, when He who was “made a little lower than the angels, and then crowned with glory and honour,” receives “praise out of the mouth of babes and sucklings,” - the little children of whom His kingdom is composed, - and “stills the enemy and the avenger” (Ps. 8; Heb. 2). And then also, they who are accounted worthy to receive that world, and the resurrection [out] from the dead, shall neither marry nor be given in marriage, neither shall they any more be liable to death, for they shall be as the angels of God (Luke 20:35, 36).
Then shall be realized what some impious dreamers would affect to aim at now; and plenty, peace, and purity shall reign. Then may those laws and institutions be safely dispensed with or disparaged, which at present restrain the lawless passions that otherwise would make this earth a hell. But woe to all who would prematurely touch these safeguards, whether with the rude hand of violence, or the more refined and subtle influence of a factitious sanctity and a spurious kind of purity, - such as, at the best, is but an unequal warfare with the impure. Woe to those who remove landmarks, or encourage insubordination, or despise holy marriage, whether for the license of unbridled lust, or in vain idolatry of the virgin state.
The present ordinance of God on this earth enjoins labour, with its attendant right of property, - dominion. with its distinction and gradation of orders, - and matrimony, with its train of blessed charities. These are the very bulwarks of the social fabric. And however much all of them are now affected by the character of vanity to which the whole creation is subjected, they are the only alleviations of its groans. They are the remnants of a better order of things; and, through the grace and blessed hope of the Gospel, they become the pledges to the redeemed, of a happier industry, a more peaceful reign, and a purer fellowship, when Christ shall [Page 35] have subdued all things to Himself, and the universal song shall be: “0 LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!” (Ps. 8).
* * *
DEVOTIONAL AND PROPHETIC VIEW OF THE REATION, BEING AN APPENDIX TO THE TWO PRECEDING PAPERS
This psalm is, as I understand it, a Meditation on the work of creation, and on the earth as it came from its Maker’s hands, and as it may once again appear, when He renews its face. It may be used without violence as a devotional accompaniment to the historical record in the beginning of Genesis. It may fill our hearts and mouths with praise, as we dwell on the wondrous details of that first manifestation of the glory of God; while it carries forward our glowing hopes to still more illustrious manifestations of the same glory yet to come.
When and by whom it was composed, is altogether uncertain. Some have
argued, from the entire absence of
any allusion to Jewish rites, or to events in Jewish
history, that it must be a
patriarchal song of praise, indited before
The explanation, probably, is, that God’s discovery of Himself
in the redemption from
In the very first utterance of praise with which this psalm opens, the devout worshiper hails his triumphant King, - “Bless the Lord, 0 my soul. 0 Lord, my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty” (ver. 1). Have we not here the believer welcoming his expected Lord? The loyal subject bursts forth into admiring strains of joy, as he beholds his Sovereign and Saviour, long hidden, but now at last revealed in his glory. Especially, if we connect this psalm with that which precedes it, - as the singular coincidence of the one in its close, and the other in its commencement, “Bless the Lord, 0 my soul,” would lead us to do, - we cannot fail to recognize the real scene of this magnificent ode as laid in the latter days upon the earth.
That psalm - the hundred and third - most pathetically describes the dispensation of grace under which we are now placed. In it the believer gratefully recounts all the Lord’s benefits of which he is already made a partaker - the pardon of sin - the healing of his nature’s disease - his redemption from wrath - his possession of the Lord’s crowning favour and love - his contented satisfaction with the portion allotted to him - and the renewal of his youth day by day (Ps. 103: 33). Further, he expresses his confidence in the Lord’s providential government of the world (ver. 6-14). He appeals to the experience of God’s rule over Israel (ver. 7); and he specially describes the nature of the Divine administration, and the principles which regulate the present dealings of God with the children of men; - these principles being substantially two, - that of longsuffering patience toward all (ver. 8, 9), and that of special and distinguishing grace towards His people (ver. 10). This grace, in its source and manner, is as far above their desert, or even their comprehension, as the heaven is above the earth (ver. 11). In its result or effect it fully and freely justifies the sinner, - making as complete a separation between him and his guilt, as there is between the rising and the setting sun (ver. 12). And moreover, in its continual exercise, it goes forth in movements of tenderest sympathy and concern, as the grace of one who is touched with the feeling of man’s infirmity (ver. 13, 14). Such grace, thus tender and sympathizing, is peculiarly needed; since, even in his best estate, man is altogether vanity (ver. 15, 16). Even the believer, calling upon his soul to bless the Lord for the inestimable present benefits of grace and salvation, groans under his subjection to vanity and death (Rom. 8: 23). But he comforts himself; first, with the general assurance, that the Lord is faithful and true, - that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (ver. 17, 18); and then, more particularly, with the anticipation of the Lord’s future and glorious [millennial]* kingdom (ver. 19).
[* For, if we suffer with Him, we shall also, at that time, be glorified and allowed to reign with Him, (Rom. 8: 17b; Rev. 2: 10.)]
Here is the salvation by hope, of which Paul speaks (Rom. 8: 24). The believer, out of the very depths of his depression, - groaning within himself by reason of vanity, - sees the coming glory. “The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens.” Shall we say that, being already prepared in the heavens, that throne is soon to be revealed as coming down to this earth? It is the throne of God and of the Lamb. For it is of the Lamb that it is said, that His “kingdom ruleth over all” (ver. 19; see also Rev. 17: 14, and 22: 3).
And what means the sudden and abrupt strain of triumph with which the psalm concludes? (ver. 20-22). Why are the angels summoned - the hosts of the Lord - and His ministers that do His pleasure? What is this solemn and sublime occasion, on which all His works, in all places of His dominion, are so loudly, and as it were, impatiently called to bless Him? Whence this hallelujah, this emphatic benediction of thine, 0 soul! but now lost in the complaint that we are all dust? - “Bless the Lord, 0 my soul!” What is the event on account of which thou hast summoned the whole creation of God to join with thee, in so exultingly praising and blessing the Lord?
Shall we say that it is the renewed earth - the new heavens and the new earth - the earth fresh once more from the Creator’s hand; - as on the day when first the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted aloud for joy, “and the Lord saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good?”
Let the hundred and fourth psalm be the reply. Observe how, in its opening doxology, it takes up the dying strain of its predecessor, - seizes the very note which closed the preceding song, - and ere its echo has melted away in silence, strikes, on the same key, a new and kindred anthem of praise! “Bless the Lord, 0 my soul!” - so ends the one psalm. Yes, - “Bless the Lord, 0 my soul!” - so begins the other. It is plainly a continuation, - a renewal, - a resuming of the same theme. It is the believer welcoming his Lord; the rapt and meditative saint, in prophetic imagination, as if already risen, meeting the returning Saviour. And with what wonder and adoring rapture is he filled! “0 Lord, my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty!” He sees the Lord as He is. He beholds the King in His glory. “0 Lord, how great art thou!”
Such being the opening of this psalm, its whole scheme and structure is in accordance with its commencement. It is a manifestation of the glory of God in creation; - first, in that original creation of this earth for which the Eternal Word came forth from the bosom of the Father; - and subsequently again, in that new [restored (Rom. 8: 19-22)] creation with a view to which we look for His coming forth yet once more [to rule and reign “hereafter” (Dan. 2: 45; Isa. 27: 6; 9: 7, R.V.)]. Hence the description turns upon that first work of creating power, as the type and shadow of the other. It represents the earth, hitherto without form, void of being, and shrouded in thick darkness, - changed into the garden of the Lord, by the introduction successively of light and order, as subservient to life.
1. LIGHT breaks in on the thick gloom of the chaotic waters. And here, as in Genesis, it is the glorious Creator Himself Who is the LIGHT. “Thou [Page 38] coverest thyself with light as with a garment” (ver. 2). “God said,” - His WORD went forth; - not a dead utterance, but his WORD; - and in the WORD “was life, and the life was the light of men.” Hence, when “God said, let there be light,” - when His living Word, whose life is light, went forth, - “there was light.”
It is, therefore, at the first, the Light of life that dispels the darkness, consisting, not in rays emanating from material luminaries, which as yet pierced not the dim vapour that enveloped the earth, - but in the presence of the Creator Himself. It is such light as is to shine in that day of which Isaiah speaks, when he describes the earth reeling to and fro like a drunkard, and being removed like a cottage, and the Lord punishing the host of the high ones, - and thereafter adds: - “The moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, because the lord of Hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously” (Isa. 24: 23; see also Isa. 16: 19; and Rev. 21: 23). Thus, when the Word goes forth in creation, there is light; - “Thou coverest thyself with light as with a garment.”
2. By the same direct and immediate agency of the creating Word, ORDER, as well as LIGHT, is introduced. He is Himself the ORDER, as He is the LIGHT, of the world. His very presence implies a right arrangement and adjustment of the elements of nature, hitherto blended and confounded in one watery mass of vapour.
(1) This watery chaos must be reduced to order. There must be a separation between the upper material heaven and this lower earth; and on the earth itself, between the sea and the dry land. “The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s, but the earth hath he given to the children of men” (Ps. 115: 16). Hence, at His presence, the heavens must be set in order, as it were, for Himself, and the earth for the habitation of man.
The Lord appears in royal state, with a retinue of attendant angels and ministering spirits innumerable; and He and His train must have fit accommodation. A palace, a temple, or at least a tabernacle, must be prepared for Him. For this end, the azure sky, with its many-coloured drapery of clouds, is formed above the firmament, hanging upon the expansive air, by which the vapours above are divided from the denser waters below. The “heavens,” - the visible arching canopy dwelt in the bright pillar of cloud, and in the curtained tent in the wilderness (ver. 2). He has His “chambers” there, with their “beams laid in the waters,” - the waters above the firmament, - the cloudy vapours which seem to hide His glory, as in the recess of the holy place, within the vail (ver. 3). Nor does He want the means and instruments of motion when He would arise, He and the ark of His strength. He has “a chariot” in the drifting and swift-driving “clouds;” and the fleet “winds” are His winged coursers, on which He “walketh” and flieth all abroad (ver. 3). His attendants also are provided for and accommodated in His train. “His angels” are in the “spirits,” or breezes as they blow. “His ministering servants” are in the lightning’s winged “fire” (ver. 4).
Thus the Lord, covering Himself with light as with a garment, uses the upper firmament or heaven, with all its constituent parts, as His own. He [Page 39] retains it in His own hands, and all its elements He reserves under His own immediate control: “fire and hail, snow and vapour, stormy wind, fulfilling his word” (Ps. 148: 8). These are not given to man to be controlled or managed by him: the Lord and His angels are ever in the midst of them.
Hence the solemn awe with which a devout spirit may well contemplate the sublime expanse above. He need not be ashamed to tremble when the fierce war of the elemental storm is raging. He sees and feels a present God, and he may think of the day when, in some way even such as this, the Lord shall come with innumerable spirits, to judge, to consume, and yet again to renew the earth.
The heaven above being thus prepared as God’s throne, the earth is ordered as His footstool: its “foundations” are “laid, that it should not be removed forever” (ver. 5). And it is fashioned as a dwelling-place for His creatures (ver. 6-13). The waters under the heaven are gathered into one place, and the dry land appears. “The deep,” which covered “the earth as a garment,” and whose “waters stood above the mountains,” hastens, at God’s “voice of thunder,” to its appointed “place” (ver. 6, 7). Then is seen the graceful alternation of hill and dale, - the lofty mountain and the deep-drawn secluded valley (ver. 8, marginal reading); and the sea occupies its proper bed, its “bounded” channels, leaving the earth free from its “returning” tide (ver. 9).
This also is the Lord’ doing. It is He alone who can limit ocean’ wide flow, and keep its proud waves in check. In vain shall the conqueror of an earthly kingdom, at the bidding of his crowd of flatterers, presume to arrest its swelling flood. It is the arm of God alone that controls it. And to prove that it is so, - to mock the scoffers who reckon on the stability of nature, and say all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation, - to show that by His word alone the earth is kept standing out of the water and in the water, - the world is suddenly, by the Lord’s visitation for sin, overflowed with water until it perishes; as, for the same cause, it is once again to be destroyed by the fire, - unto which, by the same word, it is kept in store and reserved (2 Pet. 3: 7).
But not only is the dry land separated from the waters of the sea, - these waters are now themselves made subservient to its further preparation for the habitation of life. Not now rushing over it in an overflowing flood, but distilling gently in “springs,” and rivulets, and streams, amidst the “valleys and hills” (ver. 10), and descending softly, in refreshing dews and fertilizing showers, from the vapoury “chambers” of the heavens (ver. 13); they fit the earth for the abode of the “beasts of the field, and the wild asses” of the desert, and the winged songsters that make all the air melodious (ver. 11, 12); so that being now ready to be given to man, “the earth is satisfied with the fruit of the Lord’s works” (ver. 13). Thus the first stage in the introduction of order is completed.
(2) The dry land, however, though now separated from the waters which once overflowed it, and refreshed by the streams amid the hills and the rain from heaven, needs yet a further process of arrangement. Vegetation must be imparted to it (Gen. 1: 11, 12). Accordingly, “grass and herb, for food” (ver. 14) - “wine, oil, and bread” (ver. 15) - “trees of the Lord, full of [Page 40] sap,” - “cedars of Lebanon, where the birds may nestle,” – “fir-trees for the stork;” - and even in the “high hills” and the bare and rugged “rocks,” some coarse and scanty produce which may suffice for the adventurous “goat” and the timid “cony;” - all the seeds of vegetable nature, whether in the luxuriance of Carmel’s plain and Lebanon’s forest, or in the desolation of the rugged and dreary wilderness, - all are stored in the bounteous bosom of mother earth, and all for her children’s nourishment. Such is the second part of this process of adjustment.
(3) One other arrangement remains to be made. The light which burst all abroad, wide-spread and unconfined, on the first coming forth of the living and creating WORD, - while, as yet, no rays from any luminary in the upper sphere could penetrate the darkness of the chaotic waters, - is now stored up in the heavenly bodies, and ordinarily the earth is to be indebted to them for this blessing (Gen. 1: 14-18). This method of illumination is turned to account for the distinction of seasons on the earth, - and especially, for perpetuating the grateful vicissitude of day and night, already instituted by God Himself, that the period of toil might sweetly alternate with the welcome season of balmy sleep (ver. 19-23). And here, by a marvellous economy, provision would seem to be made, even for the violence with which, by reason of sin, earth for a time is filled. For while the “roaring” and ravenous “beasts” find night their congenial time for roaming, and shun the cheerful light of the sun; - “man,” on the contrary, “goeth forth unto his work, and to his labour, until the evening.”
Thus the entire ordering of the heavens and the earth is finished; and the devout soul comes to a solemn pause of wonder, admiration, gratitude, and joy, - “0 Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all; the earth is full of thy riches” (ver. 24). The earth thus illuminated and arranged, having received light and order, is full of God’s riches, - richly furnished for the dwelling-place of man and of beast. Nay, the very sea itself, although it might seem to have been cast off by the emerging earth as but a worn-out covering and burdensome encumbrance, which had been serviceable in the dark and cold night of chaos, but of which, as the cheering beams of heavenly light broke in, it was glad to get rid - even “this great and wide sea,” so far from being thrown aside, at least in the meanwhile, - for is there not a time coming when “there shall be no more sea?” (Rev. 21: 1) - is found to teem with manifold wonders of creating wisdom. “The earth is full of thy riches. So is this great and wide sea.” Countless myriads of living creatures, forming part of man’s system or economy, harbour in its depths, and swarm amid its shallows (ver. 25). Its surface is subservient to the use of man, as it wafts on its wide bosom the busy agents of commerce, the eager votaries of science, discovery and adventure, the ministers of philanthropy, the messengers of salvation, heralds to all nations of the tidings of great joy; - thus uniting distant lands in one holy brotherhood, and equalizing God’s benefits over all the earth - “There go the ships” (ver. 26). While in its vast unfathomed caves, far out of the reach of man, whom he might destroy, sports that monster, whatever it may be, which GOD hath formed, and God alone can control - meet type of the great enemy whom God at last is so signally and terrible [Page 41] to punish – “There is that leviathan whom thou hast made to play therein” (ver. 26. See Job 41 and Isaiah 27: 1).
3. The light and the order introduced into the earth are subservient to the life with which it is to be stored. The fishes, accordingly, the fowls, and the beasts of the field, - all the animals with which man is conversant, and over which he has dominion, - with MAN himself, laborious man, the lord of all, have passed in review before that devout soul in this psalm. The whole glorious work of creation is at an end.
The Sabbatic rest of God succeeds (ver. 27, 28). He rests from creating; He rests that He may bless the creatures which He hath made. “These all,” the creatures made by Thee, now “wait upon thee.” They are still dependent upon Thee. The Creator has not withdrawn from the world He hath formed into the mysterious seclusion of absolute repose, leaving it as a machine to go on of itself. “My Father,” says the blessed Jesus, “worketh hitherto,” even during His Sabbath of rest, “and I work.” There is rest, inasmuch as He ceases from creating. There is continual work still, inasmuch as He never ceases to watch over, and preserve, and bless His creatures. His Sabbath, so far from precluding, as the Jews imagined, even the doing of good, may consist in that very labour. The Lord rejoices in the rest of a holy complacency over the works of His hands. But He continually works in caring for their well-being. Such also, - analogous and corresponding to the Sabbath of the Creator, - is the Sabbath of the creature. It consists in fellowship with the rest of holy complacency into which the Creator entered; and in caring, as He does, and working, if need be, for the saving of life, and the doing of good (Mark 3: 4; John 5: 17).
And now, what a scene is here presented to the eye of the worshiper in this psalm! God is present before him in His glory, in the glory in which He came forth to this world, when light began to be - the glory in which He reposed, when He saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good. What a bright and glowing picture, - God dwelling with His creatures, - all of them waiting upon Him, “gathering” His manifold “gifts,” and “filled with the good” that flows from His “open hand!” (ver. 27, 28).
But, alas, a change comes over the landscape. There is a blight in this seemingly serene atmosphere - a curse on this smiling earth. “The creation is made subject to vanity. It groaneth and travaileth together in pain.” There is sin, and death by sin, and a character of weary and bitter vanity is stamped on all things here below (ver. 29. See Rom. 8: 20).
Thus, too often, as one may have felt it, when the eye is filled with the glory of some gorgeous scene of autumnal riches, spread out in the plain beneath our feet; and the ear is charmed with the exuberant melody of a thousand blended voices in the surrounding groves, and in the sky, high overhead; when all the air, on every side, breathes a balmy peace, and no sights anywhere appear save only sights of rural innocence and beauty, of quiet life and love; when the soul is wrapt in a silent ecstasy of unspeakable joy - ah, may not the memory suddenly come over us of some recent and kindred deathbed, or some desolate abode of famine, or some careworn face of woe! How, in a moment, is the spell broken - the [Page 42] charm dissolved - the glory and the loveliness all melted away! Yes, surely the earth is cursed for man’s sake (Gen. 3: 18); the whole creation is made subject to vanity. And “as for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone, and the place thereof shall know it no more” (Ps. 103: 15, 16). Sin has wrought sad havoc and ruin. It has caused the Lord “to hide his face;” and trouble and decay, vanity and vexation of spirit, change and death and the dreary grave, await all the dwellers on the earth. “Even they who have received the first fruits of the Spirit do still groan within themselves” (Rom. 8: 23).
But they “wait for the manifestation of the sons of God” (Rom. 8: 19). They “wait for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body” (Rom. 8: 23). And the subjection of the creature to vanity, is “in hope” (Rom. 8: 18, 19); because “the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.”
At present the sons of God are hidden: they are His hidden ones. High as is their rank and marvellous the love of which they are the objects, sealed as they are with the Holy Spirit, the first-fruits of their inheritance, the world knows them not, even as it knew Him not (1 John 3: 1). “When Christ, our life, shall appear, then you also shall appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3: 4). It is for this manifestation, this public appearance, this open acknowledgment of the sons of God, that the earnest expectation of the creature [creation] waits; and into their glorious liberty the creature itself also shall be delivered.
Is not this that new creation [restoration] of this lower world, which is to fit it for being the home of the Lord’s redeemed? The present groans of creation are the pangs of its coming regeneration. It is to come forth again from the hand of the Great Creator, fashioned gloriously anew; - even as the sons of God, for whose manifestation it waiteth, and into whose liberty it is to be delivered, are to have “their vile bodies fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil. 3: 21). In the words of the Psalm (ver. 30) “He sendeth forth his Spirit,” ‑ the Spirit which moved on the waters of old, - and there is again a new “creation.” He “reneweth the face of the earth.” Once more it is such as He can pronounce to be very good; for it is the new earth “wherein dwelleth righteousness.” “The glory of the Lord shall endure forever; the Lord shall rejoice in his works” (ver. 31).
Such is the certainty of this renewal of the earth. It is bound up with the Lord’s glory enduring forever, and with His rejoicing in His works. As surely as His glory must endure forever, and He must rejoice in His works, so surely must He send forth His Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
Nor is the manner of this renewal concealed from us. The earth is shaken, the hills are set on fire, at the sight and touch of the Lord coming in judgment (ver. 32). There is a repetition of the scene with which the original creation opened; but with an incalculable increase of glory, the glory of redeeming grace and love being superadded to the glory of creating power. “The Son of man cometh in the clouds,” – “Making the clouds His chariot,” – “in His own glory,” the glory that is peculiar to Him, as the [Page 43] only begotten of the Father, God manifest in the flesh, the Lamb slain for His people, the King and Head of His redeemed: in this glory, which is His own, He cometh, as well as “in the glory of his Father, and of the holy angels” (Luke 9: 26). At His appearance, “the earth trembleth, and the mountains smoke.” There is a dissolution of the elements of nature. The great globe itself is convulsed and burnt up with fire. But the issue is glorious and blessed. It is such as to call forth a new and more rapturous song of praise (ver. 33, 34); as the believing soul, rejoicing in the resurrection of the body and the renewal of the face of the earth, finds at last an abode of purity and peace, where before it experienced so much of the weariness and vanity of the flesh, and groaned, being burdened. “I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord.” Then the meek shall inherit the earth (Ps. 37: 9, 11), when “sinners are consumed out of it, and the wicked are in it no more” (ver. 35). Now, while it is subject to vanity and filled with violence, the meek have often no refuge from their groanings but the grave, where “the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.” But it shall not be always thus. This earth is too precious in God’s sight to be wholly given over as reprobate. It is precious as the work of His hands, in which at first He rejoiced. And it is precious also as the scene of His Son’s obedience, sufferings, and death, in which He delighteth still more. There is a place prepared for the devil and his angels, into which the ungodly shall be cast. But “the earth is the Lord’s,” and “the King of glory shall at last enter in” to possess it (Ps. 24).
“The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein” (Ps. 24: 1). He hath “given it” indeed “to the sons of men” (Ps. 115: 16), and grievously have they abused the gift. But it is the Lord’s still. He made it. He “founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods” (Ps. 24: 2). It is His, and He means to claim it as His. It sympathized in darkness with the agony of His cross; and by the earthquake and the opening of the graves, acknowledged His victory. Resuming it therefore out of the hands of those who have destroyed it, redeeming it and purifying it anew, He will himself “establish the mountain of his house in the top of the mountains, and exalt it above the hills” (Isa. 2: 2). “His tabernacle is to be with men” (Rev. 21: 3)
“Who,” then, “shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in his holy place?” (Ps. 24: 3). A pertinent and pointed question. It is the one question, above all others, which, in these circumstances, is worthy of an answer. And what can the answer be? If the earth is the Lord’s, and if His hill and His holy place are to be there, who can enter in or abide but those that are His - that are His fully, honestly, unreservedly? Uprightness, sincerity, truth in the inward parts, is the test or qualification. There must be single-eyed honesty in dealing with men, and in seeking the face of the God of Jacob (Ps. 24: 4-6). He alone can enter in “whose heart is fixed, who desires one thing of the Lord and seeks after it,” with singleness of eye and unity of aim, “even that he may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of his life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in [Page 44] his temple” (Ps. 27: 4). This is he who, being justified freely by the grace of God, receiving a perfect righteousness and rejoicing in a perfect reconciliation - moved by the Spirit to lay aside all guile, and to enter directly and immediately into the favour and the service of God, - walks as one whose heart is right with God, and consequently, as to man, is in its right place. He is an Israelite indeed. He is one of the “meek,” the “merciful,” the “pure in heart,” who are blessed, because they are to “inherit the earth, to obtain mercy, and to see God” (Matt. 5: 5-8).
With such a train, the Lord is to claim the earth as His own. When all is ready, when the face of the earth is renewed, and sinners are consumed out of it, there is a shout heard as of a rushing multitude drawing near - the shout of those who have come with the Lord or met Him in the air (1 Thess. 4: 16, 17). The earth is formally summoned to open “her gates, even her everlasting doors.” There is an illustrious conqueror waiting to be admitted. He enters with his company of risen and changed saints (1 Cor. 15: 51) He is “the King of Glory!” - He who spoils principalities and powers, who subdues all things to Himself, who wrests from death his sting, and from the grave his victory. He takes possession accordingly, as the King of Glory, of His ransomed and recovered earth. And the humble believer, who has shared the bitterness of His cross, rejoices in His crown. Exulting in the regeneration of this earth, and its consecration anew as the Lord’s, he exclaims, in an ecstasy of uncontrollable joy, “Bless thou the Lord, 0 my soul! Praise ye the the Lord” (Ps. 104: 35).
* * *
THE FIRST TEMPTATION - ITS SUBTLETY AS IMPEACHING THE GOODNESS, JUSTICE, AND HOLINESS OF GOD
GENESIS 3: 1-5
But I fear that by some means, as the serpent deceived Eve in his cunning, so your thoughts might be spoiled from the pureness which is due to Christ. - 2 Corinthians 11: 3.
The agent in the temptation is undoubtedly not a mere serpent, but an evil spirit under the form of a serpent. He possesses and abuses the powers of reason and speech. The serpent was probably by nature more subtle than any beast of the field; and on that account this form may have been selected by the tempter. But that there was here present one more subtle still, is plainly to be inferred, from the repeated allusions to this history in other parts of the Bible. Thus Job speaks of the “crooked serpent” being made by God’s hand (chap. 26: 13). Isaiah foretells the punishment of [Page 45] “leviathan, the piercing serpent - even leviathan, that crooked serpent” (chap. 27: 1). And in the Revelation, we read of “the great dragon being cast out, that old serpent, called the devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world;” and again, of “the dragon, that old serpent which is the devil and Satan, being bound a thousand years” (Rev. 12: 9, and 20: 2). All these expressions plainly indicate, that the great spiritual adversary of our race; - the Devil, or the calumniator, traducer, and libeller; Satan or the enemy; takes one of his titles at least from the sad transaction in which, under the form of a serpent, he had so memorable a share.
Various questions are here raised. Had the serpent originally the same reptile and grovelling form which he has now? Or is that form the just result and punishment of his instrumentality in this, work of the Devil? How did he communicate with Eve, so as to suggest thoughts to her mind? Why does Moses give no direct notice of the real nature of this transaction, so as explicitly to reveal the actual character of the tempter?
The same remark applies here which I made in regard to the doctrine of the Trinity. The written word was not the commencement of a revelation concerning God and the spiritual world. It was addressed to men who had already heard of these things. We should expect, therefore, that whatever information the Scriptures give on the great primary facts of religion, - such as the existence of God, and of spirits good and evil, - would be given rather indirectly, in the way of taking them for granted, than directly, in the way of positive announcement. That it is so, may be regarded as strong internal evidence of the divine authority of this book; while as to the doctrines themselves, it is the most satisfactory of all kinds of proof to find them thus all along and all throughout, incidentally and undesignedly assumed; rather than formally, as if for the first time, revealed and taught.
In the present case, the historian relates the scene of the temptation just as it might pass before the senses; leaving us to gather from it, as if we had ourselves been eye-witnesses, of its true nature, meaning, and consequences. That the transaction, however, was real, cannot be doubted by any who consider fairly what Christ says of the author of it, - “he was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth” (John 8: 44); and how Paul speaks of his victims, as “beguiled by the serpent, through his subtlety” (2 Cor. 11: 3).
The art of this temptation is very much the same as that which still prevails over men in whom there is “an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God” (Heb. 3: 12). It is by arguments of unbelief that the wily fiend solicits to sin.
1. Thus, first, he insinuates doubts regarding the equity and goodness of God: - “Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” (ver. 1). Can it be? Has He really subjected you to so unreasonable a restraint? And the insinuation takes effect. Suspicion begins to rankle in the woman’s breast. In her very manner of citing the terms of the covenant, she shows that she is dwelling more on the single restriction, than on all the munificence of the general grant. In the Lord’s first announcement of it, the main stress is laid upon the grant. It is expressed with a studied prodigality of emphasis; “of every tree of the garden thou [Page 46] mayest freely eat.” And the single limitation is but slightly, though solemnly, noted; “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it.” The woman, however, drinking in the miserable poison of suspicion which the serpent has instilled, reverses this mode of speaking. How disparagingly does she notice the fullness and freeness of the gift; - “we may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden!” That is all the acknowledgment she makes; and there is no cordiality in it. It is not “every tree,” nor, “we may freely eat;” but, “we may eat of the fruit of the trees;” - as if the permission were grudgingly given; - and as if it were altogether a matter of course, and even less almost than her right. On the other hand, she dwells upon the prohibition, amplifying it and magnifying it as an intolerable hardship; - “but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it” (2: 16, 17; 3: 2, 3).
Is not this the very spirit of Jonah, to whom it was nothing that Nineveh was given him as the reward of his faithful preaching, if the gourd that refreshed him was removed? Is it not the temper of Haman, who, amid all the riches and splendour of court favour, cried out in bitterness of soul; - “All this availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate?”
2. Then, again, secondly, the tempter suggests doubts about the righteousness and truth of God as lawgiver and judge: “Ye shall not surely die.” For this he finds the woman already more than half prepared. She very faintly and inadequately quotes the threat. She cites God as saying, not “in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die,” but far more vaguely, - “lest ye die” (2: 17; 3: 3). The same feeling of lust after the forbidden thing which made her exaggerate the severity of the prohibition, tempted her to extenuate the danger of transgression. Of this tendency, Satan knows how to avail himself. You are right in your half-formed surmises; you may venture to take the risk; there cannot really be much sin and danger in so harmless an act; “ye shall not surely die” (ver. 4).
3. For, thirdly, he has a plausible reason to justify doubt and unbelief on that point. It cannot be that ye shall be so harshly dealt with, “for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil - (ver. 5).
There is great difficulty in conceiving the exact meaning of this assurance of the tempter, or the precise expectation or desire it was fitted to excite in the minds of our first parents. It may be observed, however, that the temptation throughout is well adapted to the two parts of the constitution of man, the will and the understanding. Satan proposes to the will more freedom, and to the understanding more knowledge, than God saw fit at first to grant. Has God imposed a restraint upon your will, or your freedom of choice? - that is his first suggestion. He cannot surely mean to make the increase of your knowledge fatal; that is his last.
But what increase of knowledge was the eating of the tree to give?
In reply, let us ask, what did our first parents previously know upon this subject of good and evil? In the first place, they knew good, - both the doing of good, and the receiving of good, - both obedience, and as the [Page 47] fruit of it, happiness. Again, secondly, - they knew the possibility of evil, by the prohibition of an act and the intimation of a penalty. But, thirdly, - evil itself they did not know, having no personal experience of either the doing or the suffering of it. This additional knowledge Satan promises; and he argues that it cannot possibly destroy them, since it is analogous and similar to that of the living God Himself.
Nor is it Satan alone who represents the matter in this light,
else it might be set down as one of his lies. The
Lord God (ver.
22) speaks in the
same way; “the man is
become as one of us, to
know good and evil.”
Some, indeed, regard these words as spoken in
severe irony or sarcasm;
others consider them as stating, not what man actually
became, but what he sought
to become. In
their plain meaning,
however, they convey a far more serious and awful
when he would be wise, intruded into the
But how, in respect of this knowledge, should he be as God? The utmost caution is needed here, but a thought may be hazarded. The Deity, in respect of His omnipresence and omniscience, being present everywhere and knowing everything, is intimately and personally cognizant of evil. Wheresoever evil is, there God is. He knows the evil - knows it by real and actual presence in the evil - is acquainted with it, more truly than the very doer of it, or the sufferer of it. And it is the prerogative and perfection of God to be thus ever present where evil is, intimately, personally, intelligently present, - thus to know it, and yet to be holy and to be blessed; to know evil only to hate it. His uncreated infinite nature is not affected. He knows good and evil, and He lives evermore, - for He is the Holy One; of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. Man, a created and imperfect being, would believe that he, too, might safely and with impunity know evil, as the Creator must needs know it, by intimate personal acquaintance with it; that he might know evil without loving it, or at least without loving it too much; without loving it, in the end, more than the Creator Himself, knowing it as He does, must be willing, to allow as excusable, and perhaps inevitable. Here lies the subtlety of this argument, - “Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil,” as God does; for you will contrive to persuade yourselves that He knows good and evil, just as you will do. You will be as God, - by making Him out to be such an one as yourselves. So Satan, himself better informed, persuades man to believe; that his holiness is as inviolable as his Maker’s, or, which is the same thing, that his Maker’s is as flexible as his; that the acquaintance with evil which uncreated perfection alone can stand, created imperfection may with [Page 48] impunity covet.
This, then, was the order of the temptation: first, the goodness of God must be disbelieved; secondly, His justice; and lastly, His holiness. It begins with a rebellion of the will, or the heart, against the moral attributes of God, as the Governor of His creatures. It ends in blindness of the understanding, or the mind, as to His essential perfections as the infinite and eternal Creator. God ceases to be recognized as good, and just, and holy. Man, at the suggestion of Satan, would himself be as good, as just, as holy as God.
1. He sets up his own goodness against that of God. Instead of feeling as the psalmist did, when he said, “Thou art my Lord, my goodness extendeth not to thee” (Ps. 16: 2), or as the Lord Jesus intimates that a creature should feel even if he had fulfilled all righteousness, - accounting himself “an unprofitable servant, who had done only that which was his duty to do.” (Luke 17: 10); instead of this, - instead of thus magnifying the goodness of the Lord, - man begins to presume upon his own. He suspects the Divine love; and so far from being willing to receive his Maker’s bounty as a free and unmerited gift, - he claims it as a right, questions its liberality, and resents any restriction upon it as a wrong.
2. In justice, also, he would cope with the Almighty; he would be more righteous than God. He presumes to sit in judgment on the sentence which the judge of all the earth denounces against transgression, - to arraign its equity, and dispute its truth; and, instead of standing in awe at the remembrance of what the Lord actually has said, in which case he would not have sinned, he reckons on what, as he thinks, ought to be the Lord’s rule in dealing with him, and so practically condemns him that is most just (Job 34: 17).
3. Finally, he will not see why God should be more perfect, more pure, and more holy than himself; why it should be more dangerous for him than for his Maker to touch what is unholy, to know what is evil; why he should not be as God; or, at all events, why God should not be as himself. For if he cannot rise to the holiness of God, he will bring down that holiness to his own level; confident that amid all his acquaintance with the mystery of iniquity, he may contrive to retain at least as much holiness as the Creator, knowing it himself, can fairly require or expect in his frail and imperfect creature.
What infatuation is here! What guilt triple-dyed! What ungrateful pride! What presumption and profanity! - pride, in man’s overweening estimate of his own worth, presumption in his daring defiance of God’s righteous judgments, profanity in measuring himself by Jehovah, or Jehovah by himself, as if the high and holy God were such an one as he!
Such is the art of the first temptation. Such also is the art of Satan’s temptation still.
He begins by insinuating distrust of the Lord’s liberal and bountiful loving kindness, so that the soul frets and chafes under the wholesome restraints of duty, and, insensible to the free grant of all other trees, takes it amiss that one should be withheld. The badge of dependence, however slight in itself, irritates and provokes. The feeling of obligation is irksome. [Page 49] Man does not like to be reminded of the Lord’s right over His own gifts; he longs to have and use them on another footing, as belonging wholly to himself, without restriction, and without control.
In such a mood of mind, Satan easily persuades his victim to call in question the reasonableness and the reality of God’s righteous sentence of wrath: “Ye shall not surely die,” - ye who are so high in God’s favour and, on the whole, so exemplary; one offence, or two, will not be reckoned against you. “Ye shall not surely die;” ‑ there may, there must, be some way of escape at last. “Ye shall not surely die:” at the worst, some milder visitation will be held sufficient; it may be necessary, for propriety’s sake and for the vindication of God’s consistency, that some slight token of His displeasure should be inflicted upon you; but it would be strange and harsh severity were His terrible threatening to be executed to the letter, - were you, for such an offence, to be utterly destroyed.
To this sophistry, Satan the rather wins consent, because he has another lie still in reserve. The offence itself cannot be so very heinous in God’s sight as might be inferred from His strong denunciation of it, nor can He be so very holy as not at least to have some indulgence for it. He who knows so much evil, and knows it so intimately, cannot be so utterly intolerant of it, as in no circumstances, and to no extent, ever to look on sin, or suffer iniquity to dwell before Him. He must be somewhat more like His creatures than this would imply, - more nearly such an one as they are, - having more sympathy with them, or, at all events, more allowance to make for them. He knows evil, so as at least to seem to connive at it. And if they know it, so as to go a little further, and consent to it, the difference cannot be so very material as to require that they should be held altogether without excuse.
Such unutterable blasphemy men, half unconsciously, take in from the calumnies which Satan scruples not to vent against the most high God. Thus, with his lies, perverting the whole character of God, - divesting it of all that is attractive in goodness, terrible in righteousness, and venerable and awful in the majesty of holiness; and infusing into men’s hearts, rankling suspicion, reckless defiance, and unshrinking familiarity with evil under the very eye of purity itself, as if that eye were nearly as indifferent to it as their own, - the Devil leads captive those who listen to his wiles, promising them liberty: and persuading them that they may be, not merely subjects and children of God, but “as gods” themselves. And with these arts he continues to deceive them; and as the god of this world, he blinds their unbelieving minds, until the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ, shines into their hearts (2 Cor. 4: 6).
Then, indeed, the truth flashes on the startled conscience. I see God now, not as Satan would represent Him, but as He really is. I see Him in Christ. Behold how He loves sinners, when He gives His only begotten Son to the death for them, and with Him also freely gives them all things. See how He judges and condemns the guilty, laying their guilt on the head of His Son, and exacting of Him the penalty. Mark His infinite abhorrence of sin, - His absolute separation from all evil, - in the hiding of His face from His Holy One when He was made sin for us. Is this the God of whom I [Page 50] have entertained hard thoughts, as if He were austere and arbitrary, - with whose authority, at the same time, I have taken liberties, as if He never could execute His threatenings, - and to Whom, above all, I have dared secretly to ascribe a degree of tolerance and complacency in looking upon evil, such as one like myself might feel? I awake as from a dream. How have I been deluded! I excused myself, by reflecting on Him and on His law, - as if that law might turn out to be less pure, less strict, and less reasonable, than it professes to be. But “the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” And what am I? A miserable sinner, without apology or excuse - I am undone. “Woe is unto me, for I have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.” “0 wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
“But I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord,” in Whom, at last, taught by the [Holy] Spirit, and misled no longer by the Devil, I see and feel the free love, the strict justice, and the perfect holiness of my God, - reconciling me to Himself in righteousness, and causing me, as I enter into the mind of Christ on the cross, to know evil, as Christ then did; and with Him, to die unto sin, that I may live unto God (Rom. 7: 12-25; Is. 6: 5-7).
This is “the simplicity that is in Christ,” of which the apostle speaks (2 Cor. 11: 3), when he expresses his fear, lest the minds even of those espoused to Christ should be corrupted from that simplicity, “as the serpent deceived Eve in his cunning.” It is the simplicity of faith, as opposed to the subtlety of unbelief: the simplicity of a little child, as opposed to the subtlety of a proud understanding and a perverse heart. And unquestionably there is continual need of godly jealousy for there is a strong bias or tendency, in the soul of every man, against simplicity, and in favour of subtlety. The Gospel itself is often felt to be too simple - too direct and straightforward; it must be made more elaborate, more complicated and refined. The plan of reconciliation which God proposes is too plain, and comes too immediately to the point. Men would rather deal more circuitously with God, and have more ado made about their return to Him, and a costlier and more cumbrous apparatus of means and conditions introduced. The simple truth and love of God, they pervert into a system of formal, or painful, self-righteousness. The doctrine of grace is no longer freely and unequivocally proclaimed, without embarrassment and without reserve. Awkward expedients are adopted to engraft on it precisely such notions and practices as might be suitable were God really such, after all, as Satan represents Him to be, - a hard master, - and yet a weak and lenient judge. His grace is no longer free; and the result is, that soon a system of penances and pardons is made to tamper with His righteousness; and His holiness itself is found to admit of indulgence and compromise. But let us abide by the simplicity that is in Christ, - the simplicity which owns a sovereign authority in God’s law, and a sovereign freeness in His [eternal] salvation; while, at the same time, it recognizes the perfection of holiness in His nature, and rejoices, accordingly, in the “renewing of the Holy Ghost,” as perfecting holiness in ours. Let us, thus saved by the free grace and sanctified by the free Spirit of God, stand fast in the holy liberty with which Christ has made us free; not being entangled again with the yoke of [Page 51] bondage, nor suffering our minds to be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ, by such subtlety as that through which the serpent succeeded in beguiling Eve.
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THE FRUIT OF THE FIRST SIN - THE REMEDIAL SENTENCE
GENESIS 3: 6-21
He that practices sin is of the devil, because the devil sins from the beginning. For this the Son of God was revealed, that He might undo the works of the devil. - 1 John 3: 8.
The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, make up, in the estimate of the apostle John (1 John 2: 16), “all that is in the world, - which is not of the Father, but of the world.” These three carnal principles, the tempter successfully called into action, in the case of our mother Eve. The lust of the flesh he excited by the representation that “the tree was good for food,” and that the use of it should not have been withheld. The lust of the eye was beguiled by the “pleasant look” of the tree, - under which no danger or death could be supposed to lurk. The pride of life appeared in the ambition which aspired to an equality in knowledge or wisdom with God, and the self-confidence which presumed on the holiness of the creature being as able to stand the contact and contamination of known evil, as that of the Eternal Creator Himself. “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (ver. 6).
There is a question raised here, regarding the difference between the woman’s temptation and sin, and the man’s. It is an idle question. The only scriptural ground for making any distinction is supposed to be found in the saying of the apostle, “Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression” (1 Tim. 2: 14). But the meaning there seems to be merely that the man was not the first to be deceived and transgress - that the woman took the lead in this guilty act, - not that their guilt ultimately was diverse. The impression naturally made by reading the narrative is, that Eve, in giving the fruit to Adam, repeated substantially the serpent’s arguments, or at least used similar arguments herself, and that not till both had eaten were their eyes simultaneously opened. Certainly, in [Page 52] Scripture, Adam is represented as the party responsible for himself and his posterity (Rom. 5: 12-21; 1 Cor. 15: 22-45). Hence, it has been supposed, not improbably, that it was with her husband’s full knowledge and concurrence that Eve ate the fruit, - that they consulted together before eating, and sinned and fell together. Certainly they suffered together; and together they obtained mercy.
The immediate effects of their act of disobedience were a sense of shame, - “the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (ver. 7); and a dread of judgment, - “Adam and his wife hid themselves,” through fear, as Adam afterwards admits – “I was afraid” (ver. 8, 10).
This was the fulfilment of the threatening - “Thou shalt surely die, - dying, thou shalt die.” There was present death felt, and future death feared. Literally, therefore, on the very day of their eating they died. Their own hearts condemned them, - hence their shame; - God they knew to be greater than their hearts, - hence their fear. Both their shame and their fear had respect undoubtedly to their bodies. They were ashamed of their bodily nakedness - they were afraid of bodily death. But the real cause of shame was not in their bodily members, but in the guilt of their souls; and the real cause of fear was not their liability, as creatures of the dust, to dissolution, but their liability, as immortal and spiritual beings, to a far more awful doom. Their shame, therefore, and their fear, prove that they really died; that having sinned, they in that very day came under the guilt and the curse of sin, - the guilt of sin, causing shame, - the curse of sin, causing fear. Such is their instant knowledge of evil.
But this is not all.
Shame and fear cause them to shrink from God, and
to hate His appearance
- for now, “the carnal mind is enmity against
As shame and fear drive them away from God, so, when they are brought into His presence, the same feelings still prevail, and prompt the last desperate expedient of deceit or guile, marking the extent of their subjection to bondage, - the bondage of corruption. They do not deny, but they palliate, their sin. Ungenerously and ungratefully, as well as impiously, Adam seems to charge, as the cause of his fault, God’s best gift to him: “The woman gave me of the tree.” Nay, in an indirect manner, he would even accuse God Himself: “The woman whom Thou gavest me, she gave me of the tree.” It was Thou who gavest me this woman, who has occasioned my fall. Thus man, when tempted, is ready to say that he is tempted of God (ver. 12; James 1: 13). Eve, again, has her apology also. She would cast the blame on the serpent: “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat” (ver. 13).
But both are without any real or valid excuse. Their sin was wilful, [Page 53] committed against light and love; in the face, too, of a warning from the God of truth, such as might have prepared them for Satan’s lies. The attempt to extenuate their sin only proves how helplessly they are debased by it, as the slaves of a hard master, who, having them now at a disadvantage, through their forfeiture of the free favour of God, presses unrelentingly upon them, and compels them to be as false and unscrupulous as himself.
Shame, therefore, fear, and falsehood, are the bitter fruits of sin. Guilt is felt; death is dreaded; guile is practiced. The consciousness of crime begets terror; for “the wicked flee when no one pursueth.” The sinner, no longer erect, bold, and true, before the open face of his God, - having that in him and about him which will not bear the light or stand in the judgment, - would bury himself out of view in obscure bypaths, and under a thick cloud of forest leaves.
How vain the attempt; but how natural, when sin has darkened the mind! We fancy that God sees us not, when it is only we that see not Him; we seek a shade or screen which may intercept our view of God, and feel as if it really intercepted also God’s view of us; and thus we are as self-confident in our ignorance or forgetfulness of God, as if it were He that was ignorant or forgetful of us. We resort to the trees of some garden, - the affairs or amusements of the world, the forms and ceremonies of religion, or its wordy technicalities, or its fervours and passions, or its busy activities; nay, even the very means of grace themselves, - whatever, in short, may serve to fill a certain space, and bulk to a certain size, as a barrier between God and the heart that shrinks from too direct an approach to Him. And we soothe ourselves with the notion that this hedge behind which we are sheltered serves the same purpose on God’s side as on ours; that He will not come nearer - with any narrower inspection or closer appeal - to us, than we are disposed to come to Him. Then, when God does find us out, - when He calls us forth from our concealment, - when, breaking in upon our refuges of lies, our well-contrived retreats of worldly indifference or spiritual delusion, He summons us at once to meet Him, personally, face to face; when He convinces us of sin; how apt are we to evade His charge and to excuse ourselves. To what miserable shifts and apologies have we recourse, - casting the blame on one another, - on God’s kind bounty, - or on the tempter’s urgency of solicitation; when all the time we are conscious that the committing of the transgression was our own free choice, - that we did evil because we loved the doing of it.
How degrading is the bondage of sin! How entirely does it destroy all honesty and honour, as well as purity and peace! The sinner, once yielding to the tempter, is at his mercy. And having lost his hold of the truth of God, he is but too glad, for his relief from despair, to believe and to plead the lies of the devil.
God, however, has a better way. He has thoughts of love towards the guilty parents of our race. For the sentence which He goes on to pronounce, when He has called them before Him, is not such as they might have expected. It is not retributive, but remedial, and in all its parts it is fitted exactly to meet their case.
1. In the first place, their complaint against the serpent is instantly attended to. He is judged and condemned: - “And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: and 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” (ver. 14, 15).
Though the language here employed is applicable literally to the serpent, as a mere beast of the field, doomed to a grovelling life, and destined, from its venomous rancour, to be ever the object of man’s more powerful resentment, - the sentence must have been intended and understood in another sense also. Thus, licking or eating the dust, is uniformly made a sign of the defeat and degradation or submission of the adversaries of God and of His people. It is said of Christ that “His enemies shall lick the dust,” - and of the nations that they “shall lick the dust like a serpent,” for fear of Him (Ps. 72: 9; Micah 7: 17). Of His church also it is said, that “kings and their queens, once her oppressors, shall lick the dust of her feet” (Is. 49: 23). And of the great enemy himself, with reference to the period of his final overthrow, it is said that “dust shall be the serpent’s meat” (Is. 65: 25). Then, again, Satan is represented as about to be bruised under the feet of Christ’s believing people, and that shortly, by the God of peace (Rom. 16: 20). And the whole description of his desperate struggle in the last dispensation (Rev. 12: 7-17), is evidently a comment on the brief announcement in this passage of Genesis. The shout of triumph is heard in heaven: - “For the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.” But not without a bruising of the church’s heel, is this final bruising of Satan’s head accomplished. For it is added, “Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea; for the devil is come down unto you, having great anger, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.” There is a fierce persecution instigated by Satan, before his time is out. The victory, however, is not doubtful; already his ruin is anticipated in the courts of the sanctuary above.
Thus, the sentence pronounced upon the serpent, as the instrument of the temptation, reaches its real author. Satan, flushed with victory, is to be discomfited by the very race over which he has triumphed. And their success over him, it is particularly intimated, is to be the result, not of artful and insidious guile, but of open warfare. The contest may be long, and he may gain partial conquests; but in the end the issue is sure.
How far the phrase, “the seed of the woman,” as here used, should be limited to the Messiah personally, is not very clear. The prophet Micah probably refers to this first prediction. Foretelling that “out of Bethlehem-Ephratah He is to come forth, Who is to be ruler in Israel, and Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting,” he adds, that deliverance is not to be “until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth;” - intimating that it is of “the seed of the woman” he has been speaking (Micah 5: 2, 3). And the apostle’s argument would seem to [Page 55] apply here: “He saith, not seeds, as if there were many, but one seed, which is Christ” (Gal. 3: 16). Undoubtedly it is Christ who is principally pointed out; though, at the same time, as the seed of the serpent may have a wider signification, denoting all of his party among men (Matt. 3: 7; John 8: 41); so, also, the seed of the woman may be held to mean all who take part with the Lord, and are one with Him in His holy war. At all events, this condemnation of their tempter opened a door of hope to our race; his defeat could scarcely fail to imply their deliverance.
But, it may be asked, what means this indirect mode of conveying such an assurance of mercy? Why does God speak to the serpent, and not to our first parents themselves? May it not be partly to intimate that the main and chief end of God, in the dispensation of grace, is His own glory? “I do not this for your sakes,” else I would address Myself to you; “but for Mine holy name’s sake, which ye have profaned” (Ezek. 36: 22, 23). It is not because they have deserved any thing at His hands, nor is it merely out of compassion to them, that He interferes. But it concerns His honour that the adversary should not triumph; for His own name’s sake He must needs be glorified in the overthrow of the great enemy, who has apparently frustrated the chief end of His creation of the world. And does not this view render the assurance of mercy to our race even more strong and emphatic than if it were immediately given to themselves? It humbles our first parents, and us in them; and yet it encourages them and us. They blamed the serpent, and now the serpent is judged. They even charged God foolishly; as if it were His fault that the devil had beguiled them; and now they see that so far from God being, in any sense, accessory to their temptation, His glory is thereby so assailed that it can be vindicated only in the instant condemnation, and final destruction, of the tempter who has prevailed over them.
All this, however, will be better understood when it is seen, in the end of time, what is the purpose of God in first exposing our nature to trial at Satan’s hand, and then making that very nature the instrument of Satan’s more terrible ruin. Meantime it is plain that it is in part, at least, for the settlement of God’s controversy with Satan, that our race and our world are spared; the fall and recovery of mankind being made subservient to the completion of God’s purpose of wrath against a previous host of rebels, whose malignity was thus to be more fully brought out, that in their utter and eternal misery, God’s righteous severity might be more signally glorified.
2. Having disposed of the serpent, the sentence proceeds, secondly, to deal with his victims more directly, and announces to both the woman and the man a period of prolonged existence on the earth. Their fear is, in so far, postponed. The woman is still to bear children, - the man is still to find food.
This prolonged existence is to be to Adam and his partner, as well as to their posterity, nothing more, in the meantime, than a dispensation of long-suffering. It is to be of the nature of a respite granted to criminals under sentence of death. But such a respite, in the case of sentenced felons, does not imply their exemption, during the interval of postponed retribution, from all tokens of their condemned state. On the contrary, they [Page 56] are all the time under prison discipline. And even though, in many instances, the respite may ultimately end in a free pardon, there are hardships inseparable from their intermediate position, and fitted to prepare them the better for their final deliverance. Hence the sentence, suspending generally the doom of death, has some drawbacks connected with it. (1) The woman is to live, and to be the mother of living children, being called Eve on that very account (ver. 20); - but she is to bring forth children in sorrow (ver. 16). (2) She is to be subject to her husband; for such is the import of the phrase, “Unto him shall be thy desire, and he shall rule over thee” (ver. 16); it denotes the dependence of affection or of helplessness on the one hand, and the assertion of authority and power on the other. (3) The man, also, is to bear the punishment of sin (ver. 18); the earth, indeed, is not to refuse its return of food to his labour; but that labour is to be with sweat of face and anxiety of heart, not light and joyous as it was before. And, (4) both he and his are to lie under the doom of vanity and mortality; “for dust he is, and unto dust he must return” (ver. 19). This universal liability to death, - the constant memento and memorial of guilt, - planting a thorn in every pleasure and making love itself a source of pain, is the standing and too unquestionable evidence of the real nature of the sentence which spared mankind on the earth. It is a sentence suspending judgment, indeed, but still plainly indicating both the bitterness of sin, and the reality of wrath to come.
But let us thank God that the dispensation of free grace, to which the dispensation of long-suffering patience is subordinate and subservient, - for the sake of which, in fact, it is appointed, - makes special provision for alleviating these elements of suffering in man’s present state. In the gospel there are promises of good, corresponding to the several conditions of severity under which the tenure of a prolonged season of mercy is granted; and by these promises, in the case of believers, the inevitable ills of life are soothed.
Thus, in the first place, over against the pain and sorrow of conception to which the woman is doomed, is to be set the promise, that, “although she was first in the transgression, nevertheless continuing in faith, and charity, and holiness, with sobriety, she shall be saved in child bearing” (1 Tim. 2: 15). Again, secondly, to meet her case, as made subject to the man, she is invested with a new right to his full and reciprocal affection; husbands being adjured to love their wives even as Christ loves the church, which He has redeemed with His own blood (Eph. 5: 25-33); the real explanation of this, as I may observe in passing, of the marvellous influence of the gospel of Christ in restoring woman to her true place in society, and investing her, as wife and mother, with her best patent of nobility. Further, thirdly, although the earth is cursed for man’s sake, and in all labour now there must be sweat and sorrow, - there is an assurance to believers, that if they cast their care on the Lord, He will care for them; and if they “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all those things” about which men are wont to be anxious, “shall be freely added unto them” (Matt. 6: 33). And finally, in the fourth place, the doom of mortality to which believers are still subjected, is relieved by the prospect of rest in [Page 57] their departure from this life, and of a glorious resurrection beyond the grave; for “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Ps. 116: 15); and it is their privilege to utter the undaunted challenge, - “0 death, where is thy sting? 0 grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15: 55-57).
3. And now, Satan being put aside, who, as the father of lies, prompted guile, - and death being postponed, so as to give hope instead of fear, - the sentence goes on to provide for the removal of the shame which sin had caused: - “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them” (ver. 21). The animals whose skins were made into clothing could not be slain for food, for animal food was not yet allowed to man. In all likelihood they were slain in sacrifice. If so, it must have been by God’s appointment. The covering of the nakedness of our first parents with the skins of these animals, represented the way in which sin is covered, by the imputed worthiness of the great Sacrifice, - the righteousness of the Lamb slain for its remission.
Thus the sentence is complete, as a remedial provision for the disorder introduced by the fall. Its last and crowning blessing depends upon the other two, and necessarily fits into them, and follows from them. Hence I have the greater confidence in drawing from a very brief, and apparently almost incidental intimation, a large spiritual inference. The fact of the Lord God clothing our first parents with coats of skin is shortly enough stated; but the argument which it suggests for the divine appointment of animal sacrifices is strong and cogent.
The very fact that the Lord God Himself “made,” or ordained, this particular kind of clothing, is significant. It would scarcely have been necessary that He should thus interfere, had it been merely a contrivance for decency or comfort that was needed. In that matter, Adam and his wife might have been left to their own resources. When God concerns Himself with the materials of their dress, something higher and holier must be intended. Does He care for the difference between a covering of fig-leaves and coats of skins? No. But the skins have a spiritual meaning, arising out of the sacrificial use of the beasts to which they belonged. And as the clothing of skins is thus appointed by God, so also must be the sacrificial use of the victims furnishing the skins.
But besides this inference from the verse itself, its connection with the whole following history - in which the practice of animal sacrifices is manifestly taken for granted as having the sanction of God - suggests irresistibly the idea that the divine origin of the rite is here implied. And it is implied in the very manner in which we might expect it to be so, - in a writing addressed to men familiar with the subject. No Israelite living under the dispensation of Moses, when reading the account of God’s clothing our first parents with skins, and afterwards accepting Abel’s offering of a lamb, could have a moment’s hesitation in concluding that, from the beginning, the sacrificial institute formed an essential part of the service which God required of fallen man.
It is interesting to observe the correspondence between the temptation to [Page 58] this first sin, - the result of it, - and the remedial sentence pronounced. This may be exhibited in a tabular form: -
The first element in the temptation was a sense of merit, disposing man to claim the divine bounty, as if it were his right, and to consider himself unfairly treated if any restriction were imposed upon it. Corresponding to this, the first consequence of the sin was a sense of shame - a feeling of nakedness. When he was tempted to sin, he disparaged the goodness of God and exaggerated his own; when he had actually sinned, he shrank from God and was ashamed of himself.
The second element in the temptation was a sense of security, - giving him unwarrantable confidence in braving the Divine justice. And as the analogous counterpart, the second effect of the sin was a sense of danger, - causing him even to flee when none was pursuing.
The third element in the temptation was a sense of liberty; defying control and asserting independence; aspiring to the freedom of the Godhead. The third effect of the sin was the fitting sequel of that - a sense of bondage. Man knew evil, but not so as to retain superiority over it. He became the slave of the evil one. His tempter became his tyrant, exercised dominion over him, and constrained him to meet the accusations of his conscience and his God, by having recourse to the miserable shifts of servile cowardice and guile.
For these three melancholy fruits of sin the sentence provides appropriate remedies; but they are applied in the reverse order. The last is first met. By victory gained over the evil power, his victims are delivered from his degrading thraldom, and are at liberty to appear again un-disguisedly before the Holy One, - to lay aside all guile, and submit themselves unreservedly to God. Thereupon God, dealing with them Himself, apart from all the claims and contrivances of Satan, - taking the whole matter of the sinner’s standing before Him into His own hands, and [Page 59] exercising His high and sovereign prerogative, - grants a respite from death. And in the third place, to complete His purpose of love, He provides for the covering of sin’s nakedness and shame, and for the sinner’s acceptance in His sight; clothing him with a perfect righteousness, the righteousness of a full and finished work of vicarious obedience and expiatory blood.
Thus is the sinner rescued from Satan’s wiles, and made free to meet his God, once more, without fear and without shame. And thus also is man, - redeemed man, - advanced ultimately to a higher point in the scale of intelligent and moral being, than un-fallen man could ever have reached; in as much as victory over evil transcends mere exemption from it. He has known evil, as well as good; and through his very knowledge of the evil, he now knows the good all the more. The seed of the woman prevails, - not by withdrawing from the power of evil, or consenting to any compromise with it, - but by conquering it, through experience of its malignity, and endurance of its worst and last infliction. The seed of the serpent does his utmost; but the seed of the woman passes through the fiery trial unhurt, - save only that his heel is bruised. This is all the mischief that the adversary can do, - even when allowed his fullest scope, - and he does it at the expense of his own head. For now the seed of the woman, - the serpent’s seed being thus thoroughly baffled, - obtains a new grant of life on a new footing before God, and is invested with a new covering, - so that the shame of his nakedness may appear no more.
Behold here, 0 my soul, the travail of His soul, who is pre-eminently the Seed of the woman. He put Himself in thy place, and encountered thine adversary. Satan, the prince of this world, came to Him - to tempt - to try - to accuse and subdue Him. But He had nothing in Him (John 14: 30, 31). He might indeed bruise His heel, but he could not touch a hair of His head. He met more than his match in the Seed of the very woman whom he had beguiled. Jesus, in His utmost trial, when He knew evil as none but He - the HOLY ONE - could know it, in its stinging guilt and heavy curse, still triumphed over its power. And this same Seed of the woman has also won, by His laborious obedience, a new life for Himself and His [redeemed] people. By the one sacrifice of Himself, offered once for all to the Father, He has brought in an everlasting righteousness, and perfected for ever all them that are sanctified.
Thus, to Jesus, the Seed of the woman, thou owest, 0 my guilty and enslaved soul, God’s true liberty instead of Satan’s lying bondage - prolonged life instead of instant death - and instead of the shame of thine own nakedness the white raiment of the worthiness of the Lamb that was slain. Only be thou united to Jesus as thy Saviour, - be one with Him, as the Seed of the woman, - and thou art partaker with Him in His victory - His life - His beauty. Here indeed, in this present world, thy salvation may not be complete. In the protracted struggle with Satan thou mayest receive many a wound. In thy labour there may be toil and sweat. The sense of thine infirmity, for thou art a child of the dust, may cause thee sorrow; and the sense of thy nakedness, for thou art prone to sin, may cause thee shame. Still be thou in Christ; abiding in Him as the Seed of the woman and thy Saviour; and thou shalt have confidence and good hope through [Page 60] grace. Satan may wound thee, but only in thy heel. His own head is bruised; and he has no power over thee, - no power to keep thee under condemnation, - no power to keep thee under bondage, - no power to prevail against thee, either as the accuser or as the oppressor. Then, though thou hast toil and travail, thou hast life too, - life in Him who liveth and was dead, and is alive for evermore. Thou art among the really living, of whom Eve is now become the mother. And finally, though the shame of thy nakedness often troubles thee, thou has always a covering provided for thee. Thou art arrayed in white robes, washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 8: 13, 14).
* * *
THE FIRST FORM OF THE NEW DISPENSATION - THE
CONTEST BEGUN BETWEEN GRACE AND NATURE
GENESIS 3: 22; 4: 15
By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he received witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts - and by it, though he has died, he still speaks. - Hebrews 11: 4.
Though excluded from the garden of Eden, man is not sent to any great distance from it, and is not separated from all connection with it. He is indeed expelled; and a reason is assigned for his expulsion of a very solemn and mysterious nature - “The Lord God said, Behold the man is become as one of us to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever; therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken” (chap. 3: 22, 23). The transaction is represented according to human usage. There is, as it were, deliberation in the heavenly court before the decree goes forth; and the ground of it is stated, not ironically, as some suppose; for the Lord, on this occasion, is full of pity; but in gravest seriousness. By violating the condition of obedience, of which the one tree was the sacramental symbol, man has lost all title to the privilege of life, which the other tree sacramentally signified and sealed. His act of disobedience - with the knowledge of evil and subjection to evil which it entailed on him - deprived him of the power of tasting the pure delights of the life of which that tree was the pledge and means. Not till sin is expiated, and death swallowed up in victory, is man again admitted [Page 61] to the tree of life, and he is then entitled and enabled to enjoy it upon even a higher footing than he did originally - not as ignorant of evil, but as now really Godlike, knowing it in Christ, and in Christ triumphing over it. But mark the grace of God; and how, in wrath, he remembers mercy. He does not break off man’s connection with the blessed garden altogether. Even paradise lost is made to appear, in the eyes of those who worshiped in faith before its gates, as already virtually paradise regained.
1. For it is most probable that the stated place of worship, under the new order of things, was the immediate neighbourhood of the garden: “So he drove out the man. And he placed the cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way - to keep the way of the tree of life” (chap 3: 24).
These cherubims are very generally regarded as angels, appointed to keep back all who might presumptuously dare to approach the now forbidden gates. There is no more entrance for sinful man by the old path of a direct personal obedience. He must enter now, if at all, by the new and living way of the Saviour’s righteousness. The Law, with its ministers of flaming fire, drives men away. It is the Gospel which sets angels at all the doors to bid men welcome once more (Rev. 21: 12).
It may be doubted, however, if this name “cherub,” or “cherubim,” ever denotes angels. This is the first mention of cherubim in the Bible; and in mentioning them, the sacred writer speaks of them as familiar and well known to those whom he addresses. He gives no description or explanation of them - he simply says, “God placed cherubims” (or more literally, the cherubim) “at the east of the garden.” Such language would surely be understood as denoting the same kind of cherubim with which the Israelites were already acquainted. Now these are described in the book of Exodus (Exod. 25: 18). They were gorgeous golden figures, bending over the mercy-seat, and having the glory of God resting upon them, and the voice of God going forth from between them. The same figures were placed afterwards in the holy place of the temple (1 Kings 6: 23); and it is most likely that Solomon increased their number to four, adding two new ones to the two formerly in use in the tabernacle. (Exod. 26: 1), and on the great veil which divided the holy place and the most holy (Exod. 26: 31). They were also engraved on the walls of the temple (1 Kings 6: 29-35); where, as if to identify them with the cherubim placed near the pleasant trees of the garden, they are described as interspersed with palms and flowers. Thus we find that cherubim formed an essential part of the furniture or apparatus of the holy place, where the Lord was understood to manifest Himself in the character in which He is worshiped by sacrifice. It is one of the attributes of the Lord’s throne, or His seat, or His chariot, that the cherubim are with Him. Whether He is represented as at rest, or as in motion, the glorious symbol of His presence, in flaming fire, is associated with these accompaniments (Numb. 7: 89; Ps. 80: 1 and 99: 1; 18: 10).
But the fullest view of the cherubim is given in the visions of Ezekiel, where we have a description of their outward appearance. They were compound figures, each having the face of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle, with a human body in the upper part, but with wings, and with [Page 62] somewhat of the form of the other animals beneath (Ezek. 1: 4, and 10: 2). The pictures of the cherubim, indeed, are obscure; in the main, however, they agree in representing them as emblematic figures of animals. Man is prominently their head; but he appears with the peculiar prerogatives of other animals allied to his own. And in all the visions of Ezekiel, as well as in the other passages already referred to, we recognize them as forming part of the train or attendance of Jehovah, in His resting, as well as in His movements from place to place.
Finally, these same cherubim, or living creatures - called, rather unhappily, in our version, “the four beasts,” - appear in the Apocalyptic vision of John (Rev. 4: 6, etc.), as taking a conspicuous share in the worship of the heavenly sanctuary.
Thus we trace the cherubim, from their first appearance in the
garden of Eden to their manifestation in the glorious
pattern which John saw of
the Redeemer’s triumphal court and throne.
And if we now reverse this process, and retrace
them from the last to
the first book of the Bible, we may form a probable
opinion respecting their
In the Revelation
(5: 6-14, and 7:
are expressly distinguished from angels, and represented
as, along with the
twenty-four elders, assenting to the strains which the
angels raise. In
answer to the angelic hymn, “Worthy is the
Lamb that was slain,” and in glad accord with the doxology of universal nature, “Blessing and
honour, and glory and power,
be unto Him that
sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb, forever and
- the four beasts, with the
worshiping elders, are heard saying, “Amen.” Again (14:
3), along with the
twenty-four elders, they
are seen presiding over the vast multitude of the
followers of the Lamb, “on the
Thus in the holy place of the tabernacle and of the temple, the mercy-seat sprinkled with atoning blood - the cherubim bending over and looking upon it - the glory of the Lord, the bright Shekinah light resting in the midst - fitly express, in symbol, the redemption, the redeemed, and the Redeemer. It is a symbolical representation of believers, having their steadfast eyes fixed on the propitiation, whereby God is brought once more to dwell among them. It is Jehovah meeting, in infinite complacency, with the church which atoning blood has bought and cleansed. And thus always, when faith beholds God as the God of salvation, He appears in state with the same retinue. Angels, indeed, are in waiting; but it is upon or over the cherubim that He rides forth - it is between the cherubim that He dwells. The church ever contemplates Him as her own, and sees Him rejoicing over [Page 63] her in love.
The cherubim placed at the east of paradise after it was lost,
surely bore the same import.
connection with the flaming sword, they marked the place
in which the Lord
manifested Himself, and towards which He was to be
fiery emblem might represent the terror
of the divine justice - if we are not rather to identify
it with the brightness
of the Shekinah-glory which afterwards shone in the
bush, in the temple, and on
the way to
The worshipers, as they stood, awed, yet hopeful, around the gate of paradise, felt their exclusion from the blessedness within. But they saw a human figure mysteriously fashioned there - they saw a pledge of the restitution. That there was, in the primitive worship, a holy place, where the presence of the Lord was manifested, is plain from the language used in respect to the bringing of offerings – “they brought them unto the Lord” - to some set or appointed spot (chap. 4: 3, 4); and also from what is said of the exile of Cain – “he went out from the presence of the Lord” - from the place where the Lord revealed Himself by symbol and by oracle to those who worshiped at His altar (chap. 4: 16). And it would seem that this primitive holy place was substantially identical with the shrine of the Levitical ritual, and with the heavenly scene which Ezekiel and John saw. It was within the garden, or at its very entrance, and it was distinguished by a visible display of the glory of God, in a bright shining light, or sword of flame - on the one hand driving away in just displeasure a guilty and rebellious race; but on the other hand shining with a benignant smile upon the typical emblems or representations of a world and a people redeemed.
Thus, near the set of original innocence -which now was by expressive symbols presented to his view in a new and still attractive light, as the seat of the glory of redemption -Adam and his seed were to worship and serve God.
A seed accordingly was given to him. Two sons were born, probably at one birth, since it is not said of Eve that she conceived again and bare Abel (which is the usual scriptural form in intimating a second birth), but simply that she bore him after Cain. “And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord. And she again bare his brother Abel” (chap. 4: 1, 2). That a difference was from the very first put between the two by Eve, and it may be presumed by her husband also, is plain from the remarkable language, which she applies to the firstborn, “I have gotten a man from the LORD;” and, indeed, from the very names given to the two brothers respectively. Cain signifies acquisition or gain; Abel, vanity or loss. Whence this difference thus early put by their parents between the two sons, born at the same time, and in precisely the same circumstances? Already, it would seem, it was understood that the race was to be divided into two great sections, of which the one only was to be reckoned as truly and spiritually the seed of the woman, - while the other bore the character, and fell under the doom, of the seed of the serpent. Possibly Eve regarded her first-born as the very [Page 64] individual who was to be the Saviour, and understood at the same time that this Saviour was to be a divine person. So some at least interpret her words, - “I have gotten a man,” or the man, “the LORD,” the very Jehovah - Him who is God as well as man. More probably, however, taking the words as they stand, “I have gotten a man from the LORD,” we are to consider her as simply recognizing his birthright, and so welcoming him as peculiarly the heir of the promise. At all events, it is plain that in her judgment Cain was chosen rather than his brother. But the election of grace is otherwise, as the sequel too clearly proves.*
[* NOTE. In the age to come, the last becomes first, and the first becomes last! (Mark 10: 31, R.V.). “The elder shall serve the younger” (Rom. 9: 12, R.V.)]
Thus, in the very beginning of the dispensation of grace, the sovereignty of God is manifested, according to the principle, - “Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated” (Mal. 1: 2, 3; Rom. 9: 11-13). And thus, too, it is seen that God “Judgeth not as man judgeth,” and that no privileges of the flesh will avail in his sight. Cain is the first-born, - the heir. His parents receive him as a prize; while his brother is in comparison but lightly esteemed. How blind is the wisdom, how false the confidence of man! Cain, whose birth was so welcome, is the lost one. He whose very name was “Vanity,” becomes the first inheritor of the blessedness of the redeemed.
Their different occupations have been supposed to mark a difference of rank and station. “Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground” (ver. 2). Cain, as the first-born, follows his father’s calling, being lord of the soil; Abel, as in some degree subordinate, tends the cattle. The division of labour, as well as the difference of ranks, being thus early introduced, may be regarded as not only suitable to the condition of man, but agreeable to the appointment of God. It is His will that men should differ in their tastes, talents, and pursuits; and that in different spheres they should serve one another. But all such differences are of no account in the [millennial] kingdom of His grace and glory.*
[*NOTE. Since all the redeemed must enter God’s eternal kingdom in “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21: 1); the inference here must be placed upon Christ’s millennial kingdom, which will commence “a thousand years” beforehand.
Hence the importance of being, - “Accounted worthy to attain to that world (or “Age”), and the resurrection (out) from the dead” (Luke 20: 35, R.V.). Compare with Phil. 3: 11.]
2. The brothers, representatives of the two great classes into which, in a religious view, the family of man is divided, manifest their difference in this respect, not in the object, nor in the time, but in the spirit, of their worship. “And as time went on, Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground. And Abel also brought of the first-born of his flock and of the fat of it” (ver.3, 4).
They worship the same God, and under the same revelation of His power and glory. Their seasons of worship also are the same; for it is agreed on all hands that the expression, “in process of time,” or “at the end of days,” denotes some stated season, most probably the weekly Sabbath. Again, their manner of service was to a large extent the same. They presented offerings to God; and these offerings, being of two kinds, corresponded very remarkably to the two kinds of offerings ordained under the Levitical dispensation - those which were properly expiatory, and those which were mainly expressive of duty, gratitude, and devotion.
Hence it would seem that the service of God, even thus early, had in it all the elements which we afterwards find in the Mosaic ritual, - a holy place, where the symbols of the divine glory and of human redemption appeared; stated times or seasons of devotion; in particular, the weekly Sabbath; and an appointed manner of worship, consisting of offerings of [Page 65] different kinds. The religion of fallen man has always been the same.
Especially it has been the same in the way of fallen man’s approach to his offended God; which has always been through blood, and the same blood, - the blood of “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13: 8). With this blood of THE LAMB, the blood of Abel’s sacrifice is expressly associated by the apostle, when he speaks of “the blood of sprinkling speaking better things than that of Abel” (Heb. 12: 24). In that sublime passage, Paul [the ‘Writer of Hebrews’ is better] is reminding believers of their peculiar privileges, as living under the economy of the gospel; and, among the rest, he mentions “the blood of sprinkling,” - which more effectually purges the conscience and gives peace, - than the blood of mere animal sacrifices could do. For “the blood of Abel” there referred to is not the blood of his slain body crying for vengeance; - it would not be to the purpose of the apostle’s argument to compare or contrast Christ’s blood with Abel’s, in that sense of it. It is the blood which Abel shed when he offered his sacrifice that is intended, - the blood of such sacrifices as he presented, and all the faithful continued to present, until Christ died. Such blood could speak of pardon and reconciliation only symbolically and typically. The blood of Christ speaks of the real blessing really purchased and bestowed. [See exposition of the passage in my Lectures on the Fatherhood of God. Appendix 2.]
Still Abel did well to present the blood of his lamb, - not as in itself the ground of his acceptance, - but as the token of his reliance for acceptance on the better sacrifice which his lamb prefigured. He worshiped in faith, - recognizing and realizing his own fallen state, and beholding both the glory of the righteous judge, requiring satisfaction for sin, and the glory of the gracious Father, reconciling the sinner to Himself. Through this faith alone could he acceptably present an offering to God, - whether it was such a burnt-offering as he did present, or such a meat-offering of thankfulness and peace as Cain chose to bring. To present either, in any other spirit, must be sin. To trust in the mere animal sacrifice, - the mere bodily service, - would have been superstition. To reject that sacrifice, in its spiritual and typical meaning, and to appear before God, with whatever gifts, without atoning blood, as Cain did, - was infidelity.
3. The two brothers, then, worshiped God according to the same ritual; but not with the same acceptance. How the Lord signified his complacency in the one, and his rejection of the other, does not appear. It may have been by sending fire from heaven to consume Abel’s offering; as in this way he acknowledged acceptable offerings, on different occasions, in after times (Lev. 9: 24; Judges 6: 21; 1 Kings 18: 38). Why the Lord put such a distinction between them is a more important point, and more easily ascertained. It is unequivocally explained by the Apostle Paul (Heb. 11: 4). Abel’s sacrifice was more excellent than Cain’s, because he offered it by faith. Therefore his person was accepted as righteous, - and his gift as well pleasing to the Lord.
This agrees with the history, in which it is not said that God had respect to Abel’s sacrifice, and then to himself; but, first, he had respect to Abel, and then to his offering. So it must ever be. The acceptance of the [Page 66] person must precede the acceptance of the service; and the acceptance of the [Page 66] person is by faith. The sacrifice of Abel had no more efficacy, in itself, than the offering of Cain, to recommend him to the favour of God. He was not accepted on account of his offering; nor was Cain rejected on account of his. But Abel believed; and through his faith he received a justifying righteousness in the sight of God, even God’s own righteousness in which he believed, - the finished and accepted righteousness of “the Seed of the woman,” who is no other than the Son of God Himself (Rom. 1: 17, and 3: 21). And the sacrifice which he offered as the expression of his faith, and of his appropriation of the righteousness which is by faith, became, on that account, a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour (Gen. 8: 21; Exod. 29: 18). Cain, on the other hand, presented an offering which also, in its own place, and had it been presented in faith, would have been accepted by God. Had he first been reconciled to God, through the justifying righteousness and atoning blood of the promised Seed of the woman, - and had he then, in token of that reconciliation, and in the exercise of faith in that righteousness, offered the appointed typical sacrifice of expiation, - “he would have obtained witness that he was righteous” (Heb. 9: 4), that he was accepted as righteous, and that his heart, submitting to God’s righteousness, was now right with God. And thereafter, in the character of one righteous, - justified, reconciled, and renewed, he might have come with his sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, presenting the first-fruits of his substance, in grateful pledge of his willing dedication of himself, and all that he had, to God. Such offerings of a material substance God Himself ordained under the law, to be typical and emblematic of the new obedience which His people must willingly render, after having made a covenant with Him by sacrifice of another kind (Ps. 1: 5-15). And similar offerings, but of a more spiritual and moral nature, He still requires, under the dispensation of the gospel, when He calls upon believers “to present their bodies a living sacrifice to Him” (Rom. 12: 1), “to offer the sacrifice of praise continually, that is, the fruit of their lips, giving thanks to His name,” and “to do good and to communicate, since with such sacrifices He is well pleased” (Heb. 13: 15, 16).
Such might have been the meaning, and such the acceptance of Cain’s offering, had he first himself “obtained witness that he was righteous,” in terms of the righteousness of God appropriated by faith. Then, “God would have testified of his gifts.” But Cain went about to establish a righteousness of his own. He brought his offering as one entitled, in his own name, to present it, - as one seeking, by means of it, to conciliate or satisfy his God. His was not the guileless simplicity and uprightness of a sinner receiving a free pardon, and, in consequence, rendering a free service, - forgiven much, and therefore loving much. It was the cold and calculating homage of contented self-confidence, paying, more or less conscientiously, its due to God, with heart unbroken by any true sense of sin, and spirit un-subdued by any melting sight of the riches of redeeming love. Hence, “unto Cain and to his offering, the Lord had not respect” (ver. 5).
PART SECOND - UNBELIEF WORKING BY WRATH, MALICE, AND ENVY
CHAPTER 4: 5-15
Not like Cain, who was of the wicked one and killed his brother. And why did he kill him? Because his works were wicked and those of his brother were righteous. - 1 John 3:12.
1. The Lord did not all at once finally reject Cain; on the contrary, He gave him an opportunity of finding acceptance still, as Abel had found it. The very intimation of his rejection was a merciful dealing with Cain, and ought to have been so received by him, and improved for leading him to humiliation, penitence, and faith. Instead of being humbled, however, he is irritated and provoked. “Cain,” it is said, “was very angry, and his face fell” (ver. 5). Still, the Lord visits him, and graciously condescends to plead and expostulate with him. He points out the unreasonableness of such a state of mind: “And the Lord said unto Cain, why art thou wroth, and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door and unto thee shall be His desire, and thou shalt rule over him” (ver. 6, 7).
If we take “sin” here to mean “a sin-offering,” - as not a few eminent scholars have done, - the Lord’s expostulation is very gracious.
Cain has no right to complain, and no reason to despair. He has no right to complain of his not being favourably received, as if a wrong were done to him, - as if he were deprived of his due. He knows, that “if he does well, he will certainly be accepted;” and if he stands on the footing of right, this is all that he is entitled to claim, - that if his obedience be perfect, he shall be rewarded. But there is another alternative. At the worst, be his case ever so bad, he has no reason to despair. If he will but consent to stand on another footing - not of right but of grace - then, though he has failed in “doing well,” or rendering a perfect obedience to his God, he may still, as one guilty, find acceptance. There is a “sin-offering.” And it is not far to seek; it is near; it lies at “his very door.” Nor is it difficult to obtain possession of it. He does not need to buy it, or to work for it; it is already at his disposal, and subject to him; it may be appropriated and used by him as his own; it is his for the taking. It is waiting his pleasure, and as it were courting his acceptance: “its desire is to him.” And he may at once avail himself of it: “he may rule over it” (4: 7; 3: 16). [I hesitate between this interpretation and another one suggested by a learned friend; which also makes the Lord’s remonstrance very gracious.
[“Why art thou angry, and why is thy face fallen?” Wilt thou mend matters by thine angry and sullen gloom? Nay, there is a more excellent way. Retrace thy steps. Do as Abel did. And if like him thou doest well, thou canst have no doubt of thine acceptance. Thy rueful and downcast looks will be changed into the radiant gladness of a spirit in which there is no guile. But, on the other hand, beware. If thou rejectest the only true and effectual remedy, - if thou doest not well, - think not that any [Page 68] passionate complaint or moody discontent of thine will avail for thy relief. Sin - the sin to which by complying with its solicitations thou hast given the mastery over thee, - is not thus to be got rid of. Nay, thou canst not keep it at a distance, or even at arm’s length. It lieth at thy door; ever crouching for thee; ever ready to fawn upon thee for farther concessions, and then to grasp thee in its fangs of remorse and shame and terror. One only manner of dealing with sin can be either safe or successful. Treat it as thy father Adam was empowered to treat his Eve to whom he had so easily yielded. He is not again to be so fond and facile. He is to keep her in her right place. And whatever influence her blandishments may have over him as “her desire is toward him,” he is to assert his manly prerogative of reason and conscience and “rule over her.” Sin is to thee, Cain, what Eve, alas! was to Adam. Nor canst thou shake it off, however angry and gloomy thou mayest be, - any more than Adam, if he had desired it, could have shaken off the temptress with whom for better and for worse he was irrevocably united. She was part of himself - his very flesh. But she need not on that account be suffered to exert a sway over him inconsistent with his manhood or injurious to his godliness. Let him assert the right that belongs to him, and wield even over the wife of his bosom, should he be in danger of becoming again too compliant, the power with which for that very end the Lord Himself has invested him. So, in like manner, let Cain deal with what has now become his domestic foe. Let him stand upon his right as a man, - especially as a man acquainted with the great principle of the economy under which he lives; “the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head, while the serpent again shall bruise his heel.” Let him cast himself manfully - believingly - into the deadly strife here depicted; let him vindicate the power that belongs to him if he will but identify himself with that “seed of the woman;” let him not suffer sin to have dominion over him, but rather enter into the great Redeemer’s victory over sin; and there need be no more dark thoughts and scowling looks, for all may yet be well.
[It will be seen that in both of these interpretations, the latter clause of verse 7 is not applied to Cain’s relationship to Abel, as many expounders have applied it. The allusion which they suppose to be made to Cain having forfeited the birthright, and having an opportunity of recovering it, is not happy. On the other hand, whether we take “sin-offering,” or “sin,” to be the word in the preceding clause, there is great propriety and point in the comparison, either of a sinner’s command over sin, to the husband’s right over the wife. In either case, the objection to the feminine noun “sin offering,” or “sin,” having a masculine pronoun connected with it, is obviated by the personification “lying at the door” (Deut. 9: 21).
[I do not venture to dogmatize; but I own that after leaning a good deal to the second interpretation, my preference for the former has rather returned upon me.]
The enmity of his carnal mind, however, prevailed. Cain would not be subject to the law of God; - nor would he submit himself to the righteousness of God. He thought that he did well to be angry. And as his wrath could not reach the great Being of whom chiefly he complained, he [Page 69] vented it on his brother, who was within his reach. Being of the wicked one, he slew his brother. “And Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him” (ver. 8).
He had been talking with Abel his brother, whether in friendship, or in controversy, or partly and successively in both ways, does not appear from the narrative. His talk may have been a subtle trap to beguile his unwary brother. If, as many think, Abel is to be viewed as the type of Him was accounted “vanity” - a worm and no man - despised and rejected of men - who, at the same time, was meek and lowly of heart - being led as a lamb to the slaughter, and opening not his mouth against his persecutors; we may be justified in applying to the first martyr the very passages in the Psalms which describe both the smooth treachery and the open violence of which Jesus - the faithful witness - was the object (Ps. 55: 21, 57: 4). At any rate Cain talked, smoothly or sharply, with Abel; but not so as seriously to awaken suspicion or alarm in his brother’s mind. They were together in the field. Abel having faith towards God, is ready to place confidence in his brother also. Cain adds to his ungodliness the sin of envy and hatred, and the crime of murder.
2. Returning from the field, Cain scruples not apparently to revisit the sanctuary - the very “presence of the Lord;” for it is afterwards said that upon receiving his sentence, he went out from thence (ver. 16). He seems to think that he may calmly meet both his parents and his God. He even assumes an air of defiance. He feels almost as if he were the wronged and injured party. When the solemn and searching question is put, “Where is Abel thy brother?” – “I know not” is his impatient and unfeeling reply – “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (ver. 9). My brother might have kept himself. Or his God, with whom, as it turns out, he was so great a favourite, might have kept him.
Thus the infidel regards religion, in the persons of its professors, as insulting and injurious to himself. He is not its keeper. It is no concern of his to save its credit or its character; rather he may be justified in putting it out of his way as best he can. So Cain exults in his success, in thus easily getting the better of the feeble and unprotected simplicity of his righteous brother, and almost upbraids the Lord with the little care that He seems to take His own.
But though the righteous is suffered to fall before the wicked, the wicked is not to be allowed to escape. His boasting is vain. Abel, indeed, was the unsuspecting and unresisting victim of his brother; silently and meekly he suffered wrong. But his “blood” had a “voice” (ver. 10); for “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Ps. 116: 15, and 72: 14); and “He seeks for blood” (Ps. 9: 12). Abel is the first of that noble army of martyrs, “whose righteous blood” was to come on the generation that rejected the Lord (Matt. 23: 35); and whose souls, under the altar, still cry with a loud voice against the dwellers on the earth (Rev. 6: 9, 10). Cain, on the other hand, is doomed to be a castaway.
It is true, the first murderer does not immediately receive the doom of murder, which is death by the hand of man. On the contrary, his life is [Page 70] specially preserved. It is to be observed, however, that he is apprehensive of that doom. “It shall come to pass,” he says, “that any one that finds me shall kill me;” any chance passenger, recognizing me as a murderer, will feel himself entitled to be my executioner (ver. 14). So strong, indeed, and so well founded is this apprehension of Cain’s, that it needs to be allayed by a token of security given to himself – “The Lord set a mark on him, lest any finding him should kill him.” Nor is even this enough. His life is still farther guarded by a threatening of aggravated judgment against any who should venture to inflict upon him that sentence of death which, but for this express prohibition, all his fellows might have felt themselves justified in inflicting – “Therefore, whosoever killeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” (ver. 15).
In all this it is evidently implied that the law, according to which the murderer is to be slain by his fellows, is the original law of God and nature. Cain, when his conscience is in part awakened by the dreadful denunciation of divine wrath, has enough of feeling to convince him that his fellow-men will consider themselves entitled, if not bound, to slay him. And he does not - he dares not - quarrel with the justice of such a proceeding. God, on the other hand, clearly intimates that, but for an express prohibition, the murderer’s fear would infallibly and justly have been realized. It is agreeable to the constitution of man’s moral frame, and is in itself a righteous thing, that “who so sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” This law, accordingly, God Himself ordained after the flood (chap. 9: 6), not as a part of the Levitical code, which was local and temporary, but as a part of the universal patriarchal religion; a standing law - the one only standing law - of capital punishment, for all ages and for all mankind. It was by a special act of grace that that law was in abeyance in the system which was established before the flood. God Himself suspended it, in the exercise of His own sovereign prerogative. But ever since the flood it has been in force; and man has no discretionary right to repeal it.
We read that the latter days before the coming of the Son of man are to resemble the days immediately before the flood (Matt. 24: 37). It will be a singular coincidence if men shall then be found proposing to bring back, by their own authority, that suspension of the law in question, which was formerly the act of God Himself; if the experiment of exempting even murder from the punishment of death shall be tried again, not with God’s sanction, but in man’s perverse wilfulness, setting God’s prerogative at defiance. The trial was made, then, in the long-suffering patience of God; and miserably was His patience abused. The murderer, in a subsequent generation, imitating Cain’s example, gloried in his impunity (ver. 24); and soon the earth was filled with violence (chap. 6: 11). What may not be expected, if the trial shall be made again, in the mere wantonness of man’s intellectual vanity; - especially if it shall be made when lawless infidelity again, as in the age which the flood surprised, rages against the truth, and against the scanty remnant of its witnesses!
3. But Cain, though thus spared, was made fully and terribly aware of the divine displeasure. He had hitherto been a tiller of the ground; and the [Page 71] ground, thou cursed for man’s sake, yielded a return to his toil. This employment of a cultivator of the soil seems originally to have possessed a certain pre-eminence of rank, and it had this manifest advantage that it was a stationary occupation, - a settled line of life. It permitted those engaged in it to remain quietly resident in their hereditary domains, and to exercise their hereditary dominion. Above all, it left them in the neighbourhood of the place where the Lord manifested His presence, - the seat and centre of the old primeval worship. But Cain was henceforth to be debarred from the exercise of his original calling; at least on the spot where he had previously enjoyed his birthright privileges. For not only is the ground cursed to him, - he is “cursed from the earth.” It is forbidden to yield to him even the hard-earned return which it may still afford to others: “When you till the ground, it will not again give its strength to you. And you shall be a vagabond and a fugitive in the earth” (ver. 12). Thus Cain is compelled to wander. He must abandon the simple and godly manner of life which he might have led, and seek his fortunes abroad, - at a distance from his early home, and from the presence of his father’s God. It would seem that he is contented to do so. His anxiety at first, when his sentence was pronounced, arose chiefly from his selfish fear of death at the hands of his justly indignant brethren (ver. 13-15). When that fear is removed, he thinks little of his exclusion from the sanctuary of his God and the society of the faithful. He can still turn to account his natural talents and powers. He goes forth (ver. 16, 17), to live without God in the world, - building cities and begetting children, - himself and his seed prospering and prevailing until the flood comes - to purge the earth of them all.
Here let us pause and trace the progress of unbelief in the soul. God draws near to sinful men, and proposes terms of free and full reconciliation. He so draws near to me, showing me the way of life. He does not require of me that I should purchase His favour by any oblation. He Himself provides the sacrifice; and He simply asks me to come on the footing of His favour being freely bestowed, and to present the offering of faith, as well as the offering of thanksgiving. But I care not for so close and intimate an intercourse with the Holy one, as is implied in this manner of approach to Him. I am willing enough to render to Him a certain measure of respectful homage; - to present as an offering on the altar, such gifts out of my time and talents as I can afford; - but I see no necessity for anything more. I see, indeed, my neighbour making a far more serious business of his approach to God than I do - and laying far more to heart the whole question of his acceptance with God, and the state of his affections toward God. I see him very anxious and earnest, as one fleeing from wrath, and grasping mercy. And this may be very well for him. But for myself, I see no occasion for any such excitement. I duly go through my customary religious exercises; - and is not that enough?
It may happen, however, upon an occasion, that I am not altogether satisfied. My godly brother evidently has the advantage of me. He is better than I can pretend to be - he is happier. He is more at home with his God. There is an air of intense reality about his religion, which puts to shame my somewhat meagre and formal routine of duty. I am displeased [Page 72] and discontented - I am angry, I scarcely know why, or with whom. I have a secret feeling that all is not quite as it should be between my Maker and myself, - that, in short, there is something wrong in my spiritual state.
Ah! why do I not give this feeling its full scope and play? Why do I not come at once to close dealing with my soul, and with my God, and bring the matter promptly to an issue? If I am right - if I really do well - what have I to fear? And if I am wrong, if I am the very chief of sinners, have I not a way of peace with God and victory over sin at my very door?
Alas! my pride rebels, - I recoil from the humiliation of being a simple debtor to grace. I shrink from that complete union to God and thorough separation from sin which I shrewdly suspect would be the result of a full and fair settlement of the controversy between us. I choose rather to stand aloof, and to compromise the matter by a kind of formal understanding.
Still I am not at ease. I cannot but perceive the vast difference between the mere decency of my devout observances, and the evident heartiness of the man who really has peace in believing and joy in the Holy Ghost. I try to relieve myself, by venting my feelings of irritation against him. I may not indeed slay him - but I find a sort of satisfaction in speaking, or in thinking, ill of him. His high principles [and beliefs] offend me; and I am interested in making him out to be no better than his neighbours. I am not the keeper of his reputation, or of his character - I am not responsible for his unblemished name. If he falls, what is that to me? Nay, even though the blame should be laid on me, and I should be the cause or occasion of his stumbling, - if I but escape immediate retribution, I can consent that my envious dislike and unjust treatment of God’s servant should drive me, as it must practically do, further than ever away from God Himself.
Beware, 0 my soul, of the great sin of Cain. If thy heart is not right with God, thou wilt assuredly he tempted to hate and harass the godly. The spirit of ungodliness is essentially the spirit of murder. It would if it were possible, annihilate God, - for He troubles it. The next best expedient is to annihilate all on the earth that reflects His image, and testifies of Him. Hence hard thoughts of the truly righteous - suspicions - cruel surmises - evil speaking of their good and exaggeration of their evil - temptations offered to their principles - a silencing and suppressing of their testimony - violence against their persons. Let me take good heed lest the seeds of such dispositions be in me. Let me carefully examine myself. Do I feel any pleasure when the godly man stumbles? Do I join with ready eagerness in the smile raised at his expense? Do I experience relief when I seem to find him less perfect than he once appeared to be?
If so, let me be awakened in time. Let me be convinced that my real quarrel is not with him, but with his religion and his God. Let me come at once to the question of my own personal standing. I have nothing to do with my brother - I am not his keeper. It may be so. But my own soul is in peril. I have a matter personal to myself to settle. Alone I have to deal with my God. If I am to justify myself, it is not my brother’s fall, but my own righteousness, that must save me. But I am poor and miserable. I have nothing that I can present to God for His acceptance.
Then let me end this controversy at once. Let me take the offered Saviour [Page 73] as my own. He is mine, if I will but have Him to be mine; - mine without money and without price. I may at once, however unworthy and sinful, with all my guilt on my head, whatever that guilt may be, - on terms altogether gratuitous, - just as I am, appropriate His sacrifice and avail myself of all its efficacy. In so doing, I honour God. Refusing so to do, I make Him a liar. Let me no longer resist His Spirit; let me believe His testimony; let me submit to His righteousness, and receive remission, in the only way in which it can be bestowed, through the shedding of blood. Then, instead of seeking to brave out my continuance in sin by means of anger or sullen discontent, I may meekly and resolutely face the struggle against it and enter into the victory over it which my Lord has won.
Thus shall I taste true blessedness and peace. Yes, even though, instead of any longer persecuting the righteous, I should now be myself persecuted as Abel was. Remembering my own past feelings, I may well expect to be so, and I may well take it patiently; - especially in the view of joining the glorious company in which Abel was the first to be enrolled. “Arrayed in white robes, and having come out of great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, - they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple: and He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them; God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Rev. 7: 13-17).
* * *
THE APOSTATE SEED - THE GODLY SEED – THE - UNIVERSAL CORRUPTION
GENESIS 4:16; 6: 8
When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a banner against him. - Isaiah 59: 19.
PART FIRST. ‑ THE APOSTATE AND THE GODLY SEEDS
The stream of the human family is now found to divide itself into two channels, the one beginning with Cain, and the other with Seth, who came into the place of righteous Abel. Around these two heads, or centers, the growing population of the world began more or less formally to range themselves; and in their distinctive characters and mutual relations, we trace the progress of the struggle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent.
1. It is especially in the line of Cain that the arts of social and civilized [Page 74] life are cultivated. The family of Adam originally settled in a kind of circle near the eastern gate of paradise. Cain removed to a greater distance; and having now no longer the visible holy place as a centre round which his household might rally, he set himself to find a centre of another kind. He built a city, not so much for security, as for the gratification of his ambition and the aggrandisement of his house (chap. 4: 16, 17). A stranger and pilgrim on the earth, he sought not a heavenly, but an earthly city - desiring to found a race and perpetuate a name. “He built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch” - a name implying “dedication,” or “high destination,” applied to Cain’s son in impious pride, as afterwards, in a humbler and holier sense, it was fitly given to the patriarch who was translated. It is the same name which is common to both; but while it is a gracious token in the family of the godly, it is a profane usurpation in the household of the murderer.
In the sixth generation from Cain, his descendants are noticed as introducing great improvements and refinements into the system of society. Not only farming and manufactures, but music and poetry flourished among them. In farming, Jabal gave a new form to the occupations of the shepherd and the herdsman; “he was the father of those who live in tents, and of those who have cattle” (ver. 20). In manufactures, Tubal Cain promoted the use of scientific tools, being “the hammerer of every engraving tool of bronze and iron” (ver. 22). Jubal, again, excelled in the science of melody, standing at the head of the profession of “such as handle the harp and organ” (ver. 21). And Lamech himself, in his address’s to his two wives, gives the first specimen on record of primeval poetry, or the art of versification in measured couplets (ver. 23, 24): ‑
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice!
Ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech:
For I have slain a man to my wounding,
And (or even) a young man to my hurt.
If Cain shall be avenged seven fold,
Truly Lamech, seventy and sevenfold.”
Thus, in the apostate race, driven to the use of their utmost natural ingenuity and full of secular ambition, the pomp of cities and the manifold inventions of a flourishing community arose and prospered. They increased in power, wealth, and luxury. In almost all earthly advantages, they attained to a superiority over the more simple and rural family of Seth. And they afford an instance of the high cultivation which a people may often possess who are altogether irreligious and ungodly, as well as of the progress which they may make in the arts and embellishments of life.
But there are dark spots in the picture. The introduction of polygamy marks the dissolution of manners which began to prevail. “Lamech took unto him two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah” (ver. 19). And the impunity of which Lamech boasts (ver. 23, 24), shows the violence of a lawless age. He confesses the shedding of blood, and impiously exults in the solemn threatening by which Cain’s life had been guarded; claiming for himself tenfold greater security. On what ground he rests his preferable claim does not very clearly appear. Perhaps [Page 75] he may have received provocation: “I have slain a man in retaliation for my wound, even a young man for my hurt” - so many render his song. Or even if, as others think, he had a double murder to answer for, he might still regard his crime as venial in comparison with the fratricide of Cain, and the fierce impiety which prompted it. At all events, he presumed on his exemption from the risk of death.
Thus the race of Cain, abusing the forbearance of God, began to deny His providence and to brave His judgment. And such seems to have been the character of the first apostasy - a natural following out of Cain’s sin in refusing the sin-offering and rejecting the humbling doctrine of grace. It was not superstition or idolatry, but presumptuous scepticism. Men said, “God hath forgotten, He hideth His face; He will never see.” Or, “How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the Most High?” (Ps. 10: 11; 73: 11). This is very significantly intimated in the book of Job, where there is a description of the irreligion that prevailed before the flood: “Hast thou marked the old way which wicked men have trodden? which were cut down out of time; whose foundation was overthrown with a flood; which said unto God, depart from us; and, what can the Almighty do for them?” (Job 22: 15-17). The apostate race perverted and abused that suspension of the righteous sentence of God, which prolonged the days of their father Cain, and even filled his house with good. In the bold spirit of atheistic unbelief, they gave a loose rein to their desire of pleasure and power. Hence, unbridled lust and bloody violence prevailed. Polygamy introduced the one, and the presumption of impunity the other. They became high-handed in vice and crime, and set at nought the prophetic warnings of the coming of the Lord in judgment (Jude 14, 15).
In this view, we have another feature of resemblance between the days before the flood, and the last times when the Lord is to appear. In both, we have an apostasy of the same character - the apostasy of scepticism, and an atheistic denial of Divine Providence, and of the day of retribution. For “there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming?” - men as ignorant and regardless of the judgments of God on the earth, as if He had not come forth to execute vengeance in the judgment of the flood, or were not again to manifest His wrath in the judgment of fire (2 Pet. 3: 3-7).
2. The godly seed was perpetuated in the family of Seth, whose name signifies “appointed, placed, or firmly founded;” for on him now was to rest the hope of the promised Messiah. So God ordained, and so Eve devoutly believed. She no longer clung to Cain, though the first-born; nor did she vainly regret the pious Abel, in whose death she must have received a sad warning and a salutary lesson. She recognized the will of God respecting Seth. “She called his name Seth; for God, said she, hath appointed me another seed, instead of Abel, whom Cain slew” (chap. 4: 25).
The posterity of Seth maintained the cause of religion in the midst of increasing degeneracy. It is true they did not always maintain it very successfully - perhaps they did not always maintain it very consistently. Indeed, as if to remind us that this was really not to be expected, the historian at the very outset pointedly adverts to the difference between man [Page 76] as he came originally from his Maker’s hand, and any race that can now spring from him. He was created “in the likeness of God” (chap. 5: 1). A single blessed pair were thus created, that there might be a godly seed (Mal. 2: 15). But, when he had sinned and fallen, “he begat a son in his own likeness” (chap. 5: 3). This is surely an assertion of the Psalmist’s doctrine: “I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51: 5). And it is given as the explanation of the imperfect and inadequate manner in which now, at the very best, a godly seed can resist and stem the tide of ungodliness upon earth.
Still the race of Seth did testify for God, and in them the Spirit of God raised up a standard against the rushing force of prevalent iniquity. He did so especially in three successive eras of the world before the flood.
In the first place, in the days of Enos, the grandson of Adam, a signal revival took place among those who adhered to the true faith. For this is the import of the expression in the end of the fourth chapter, - whether we adopt the marginal reading of our English version, “then began men to call upon the name of the Lord,” or, as is on the whole preferable, adhere to that given in the text, “then began men to call upon the name of the LORD” (chap. 4: 26).
The name “Enos,” signifying poverty and affliction, seems to intimate the low state into which the cause and people of God had about this time fallen; in consequence perhaps, partly, of the evil example or the violence of the now powerful political confederacy of the house of Cain. In these straits, an urgent appeal is made to God, and a spirit of boldness and union is infused into God’s people, to counteract the lawless lust and pride of which the cities of Cain have become the centers. A more marked separation is effected between the followers of Abel’s faith and the infidel apostasy. Men are constrained to assume more distinctively the religious profession, and devote themselves more decidedly to the service of God; avoiding worldly conformity, and giving themselves more earnestly to prayer as their only refuge. It is a critical season; a time of revival.
Again, secondly, several generations later, contemporary with Lamech in the house of Cain, lived Enoch in the family of Seth, the seventh from Adam. He was raised up as a remarkable prophet, and the burden of his prophetic strains is preserved to us by the apostle Jude (ver. 14, 15). “And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these” apostates and unstable professors, saying, -
“Behold the Lord cometh,
With ten thousand of his saints,
To execute judgment upon all,
And to convince all that are ungodly among them,
Of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed.
And of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
This true prophecy of Enoch, like the vain-glorious boasting of his contemporary, Lamech, is in the form and spirit of poetry. May not the latter have been a profane mockery of the other? Enoch announces the coming of the Lord in judgment; - Lamech sets at nought the warning, [Page 77] and presumes insolently on the impunity to be granted to his worst sins, - encouraging himself in polygamy and murder. On the other hand, as set over against Lamech’s insidious poison, Enoch’s solemn warning is a seasonable antidote. In Lamech a new height of daring impiety exhibits itself, and he openly assumes the character of a prophet of infidelity. Enoch again is called to be a witness to the truth; meeting the infidel in his own line, with a divine poem matched against a ribald song.
But more than that. As the doctrines of the resurrection, the final judgment, and the eternal state, were probably those which a scoffing generation most sedulously corrupted or denied, so Enoch was appointed to be a witness, in his person as well as by his ministry, to the truth of these vital articles of faith. His translation in the body, by the immediate and, perhaps, visible, hand of God Himself – “for God took him” (chap. 5: 24) - was a palpable proof of the reality of what he had been commissioned to teach to a gainsaying generation. The LORD, whose advent, as judge of all, he announced, - of whom he spoke as surely coming to lay hold of the ungodly, - that same Lord came to lay hold of him; and attested by an unequivocal sign the awful fact, that in the body all must at last meet and stand before their Sovereign Lawgiver and King.
This was the great truth which the men of that day set aside; and by setting it aside, they emboldened themselves in all iniquity. Believing, or affecting to believe, that the body perished utterly, they deemed it of little or no consequence what they did in the body; since, if the soul survived at all, it would be in a state into which the deeds of the body could not follow it. This that “evil communication” of which the apostle speaks, as “corrupting good manners” in his day (1 Cor. 15: 33). [See this verse explained in “Life in a Risen Saviour.”] To meet it the servants of God have always preached the doctrine of the resurrection. In the body all shall meet the Lord. This truth Enoch’s translation openly attested, not only for the terrible warning of the ungodly, but for the encouragement of believers, who must have found it no easy matter to walk with God, as Enoch did; - not withdrawing himself into solitary seclusion, but continuing among his fellow-men, the father of a family, and a preacher and prophet of righteousness. Therefore, he was publicly acknowledged as faithful. He received a testimony that he pleased God; and the signal privilege was conferred on him of exemption from the corruption of death, and immediate entrance, in the body, into the presence of the Lord.
The same, or at least a similar privilege, was afterwards
bestowed on Moses.
His death on
Such was the import of Enoch’s translation, to which Paul refers (Heb. 11: 6) as an instance of the power of faith. He takes the recorded fact as a proof that Enoch pleased God, and he argues that Enoch could please God only by believing. “By faith, Enoch was translated that he should not see death.” It must have been by faith, as Paul proves in a formal syllogism. “Before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.” But “without faith it is impossible to please God.” Therefore it follows that Enoch was translated as a believer. The articles of his faith are few and simple enough. The existence of God, and the acceptance in his sight of those that seek him, are the truths believed; “he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that lie is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” But, in fact, these are enough, if truly realized by that faith which is “the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen,” to account for the whole history of a sinner’s conversion and a saint’s walk with God. Let me see God as He is. Let me not merely hear of Him with the hearing of the ear, but let mine eye see Him (Job 42: 5), vividly and brightly, as a present God. And let me, abhorring myself and repenting in dust and ashes, be constrained in downright earnest to ask, What must I do to be saved? Let me then know assuredly that God does reward them that “seek Him” - that He rewards them by being found of them in peace - that I have but to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and I shall be saved. I do believe, the Lord helping mine unbelief. Believing, I walk with God; and in me, as in my Surety, God is well pleased. So Enoch walked, accepted through faith, and waiting for the Lord’s coming in judgment. He had present peace with God, and he rejoiced in hope of the glory hereafter to be revealed.
Once more, in the third place, still later in this melancholy period, the Lord raised up Noah; or Noe, as his name is often written. Either way, the name signifies “comfort” or “consolation;” and certainly at the time the righteous family needed consolation. The delay of salvation and the wide prevalence of evil tried their patience, and embittered all their toil. Nevertheless against hope they continued to believe in hope; and remembering the promise about the seed of the woman, they hailed this new heir of it as the harbinger of better days. In their expectations, they probably dwelt upon the time, when the curse being taken away, the face of the earth would be renewed (Ps. 104: 30); for they said of Noah, interpreting his name as prophetic, “This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed” (ver. 28, 29).
Personally, Noah “found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” He was accepted; and still it was by faith. “By faith Noah, being warned of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith” (Heb. 11: 7). The proof of his faith was his [Page 79] “preparation of the ark;” it was that which showed his faith to be real; his faith about the “things not seen as yet,” of which he was “warned by God.” For his faith was influential as well as real; influential because real. It worked, as was fitting, by fear; he was “moved with fear.” He was cautious and provident; and so he prepared the ark for the saving of his house. But his faith worked also by love - it apprehended and embraced the free grace of the gospel. For, by his conduct in preparing the ark, Noah, renouncing the world, took the Lord alone for his portion. He thus constituted himself the sole ancestor of the promised seed, and served himself “heir to the righteousness which is by faith.” He abandoned all confidence in the seed after the flesh which was to be destroyed, and consented to rely on the faithfulness of the Lord, by whom the true seed was promised.
Officially, Noah, like his predecessors, was a preacher of righteousness (2 Pet. 2: 5). Through him, Christ by His Spirit preached to the spirits in prison (1 Pet. 3: 19) - to those who, while the ark was a-preparing, were shut up as in a prison upon the earth. These Noah warned. He found them “disobedient,” and doomed to the terrible punishment of disobedience. They were as criminals in the condemned cell, waiting the morning of their execution. There was no door of flight out of the prison in which the Almighty Judge held them under confinement - no possibility of evading the sentence of righteous retribution that awaited them. But one way of escape was provided. A holy man among them was commanded by God to prepare an ark. The long-suffering of God was waiting. The Spirit of Christ was in Noah - the Spirit by which, afterwards when Christ was put to death in the flesh, He was quickened and raised from the grave. By that same [Holy] Spirit, in the days before the flood, Christ, through the teaching and testimony of His servant Noah, went forth and preached to these miserable spirits* of the ungodly, imprisoned on the earth which the flood was to overwhelm.
[*NOTE. The word “spirits,” in this context, may well have reference to the “Nephilim” or “Giants” - the off-spring from “the sons of God” (fallen angelic creatures) - and “the daughters of men” (Gen. 6: 2-4).
It is the “souls” of the dead, which are being held in the Underworld of Hades; not their “spirits”! Hence the distinction being made by the use of the word “spirits” instead of “souls.” This must give weight to the suggestion made above!]
Thus, in the name and by the Spirit of the Saviour, hereafter to be revealed as dying for men’s sins, and rising again for their justification, Noah prayed these sinners to be reconciled to God. And he pointed to the ark as the sacramental seal and pledge, both of the certainty of coming judgment, and of the way of present deliverance. The ark then served the same purpose as the sacrament of baptism now; for baptism is expressly said to be a figure like the ark; - of the same kind with it (1 Pet. 3: 21). It saves believers in the same way; not by itself, but by the death and [consequent] resurrection [after “three days and three nights”] of Jesus Christ, of which it is the emblem. For the ark figuratively represented Christ as, in His death and rising again, the refuge of those who must otherwise perish. It indicated a salvation, through a penal and judicial death for sin and a blessed and gracious resurrection to eternal life. The invitation to enter into the ark, like the call to submit to the water of baptism, was significant of the sinner’s dying virtually and being buried with Christ; and so putting away, not only the filth of the flesh, but also the guilt of conscious sin and the corruption of the old nature. And again, the assurance of his coming forth safely in the ark out of the water was the token of his being raised in Christ to newness of life. [Page 80] In one word, these sinners of the old world were exhorted, as sinners are still commanded everywhere, to repent and to believe. Entering into the ark, they would have been saved by water. Secure within that refuge, they would have gone down amid the raging billows of the flood, only to emerge again in triumph over all its fury. So believers now, shut up into Christ, die with Him by participation in all His penal sufferings for sin, only to rise with Him to a participation in His righteousness and its reward.
Thus, in three successive eras, the Lord remarkably interposed to arrest the progress of the apostasy. But apart from these occasional interpositions, it is to be kept in mind that the lives and deaths of so many patriarchs were continual testimonies against the sins of the times.
1. It is interesting in this view to consider the longevity of the patriarchs. The length of their days well fitted them for being the depositories of the revealed will of God, preserving and transmitting it from age to age; and since so many of them survived together, not for years only, but for centuries, they must have formed a holy and reverend company of teachers and witnesses in the world.
The same circumstance, it is true, might tell also on the other side, and give a similar and corresponding advantage to the faction of the ungodly. The long lives of the fathers in the line of Cain, might tend to accelerate the progress of lawless impiety. Hoary patriarchs of infidelity, profligacy, and crime, surviving till the ninth or tenth generation, might lend the sanction of their accursed experience to the schemes of their more adventurous sons and grandsons. Still, upon the whole, the longevity of that ancient race must have proved a benefit to the cause of godliness. In regard to the wicked, not only would the curse of God, and their own violence, contribute to carry many of them off before their days full - the most eminent in crime being often the earliest cut down; but even if they were spared, they were as likely to meet for mutual strife among themselves, as for united efforts against the people of the Lord. The godly, again, enjoying the special blessing of Heaven, and having their peaceful days prolonged - honouring also the venerable worthies who could link together years so remote - Adam, sitting with Enoch and Methuselah, and Methuselah in his old age conversing with the men on whom the flood came - might be knit in one common faith and fellowship, and present an unbroken front to the adversary.
So, at least, it should have been. For surely this longevity of the fathers was a boon and privilege to the church. It served, to some extent, the purpose of the written word. It transmitted, not a treacherous and variable tradition passing quickly through many hands, but a sure record of the truth of God. It was fitted to rally with no uncertain sound - not by the artifice of any dead and nominal uniformity, but on a trustworthy principle of living unity - the whole family of God. If the effect was otherwise - if the testimony of the long-lived fathers then, like the teaching of the abiding word now, failed to keep the sons of God at one among themselves and separate from the world, - their sin was on that account all the greater. The instrumentality was sufficient, being the truth authentically preserved, with as little liability to error or corruption as, in the absence of written [Page 81] documents, could well be guaranteed. Nor was the agency wanting which alone can give a spiritual discernment of the truth. The [Holy] Spirit was throughout these ages continually “striving with men.” By the [Holy] Spirit, and through His long-lived servants, Christ was ever preaching to the successive generations of that antediluvian world.
2. But it is not the length of their lives only that is to be taken into account, when we would estimate the effect which the testimony of the godly patriarchs was fitted to have in stemming the torrent of ungodliness. Their deaths also must have been instructive and significant.
There is still something striking even to the most cursory reader, in the perpetual recurrence, throughout this record of protracted life (chap. 5), of the inevitable sentence of death. How often are these brief words repeated, after each long life, “and he died!” How startling is the reiteration of this announcement - how solemn its very uniformity! Little is told of the sayings, or doings, or sufferings of these men whose days were so long upon the earth. They were men of note in their generations - princes, probably, and priests, as well as patriarchs - taking a lead in civil affairs as well as in the things of God; but as to all their acts, in whatever spheres they filled, their memory has perished. That at a certain age he had a son, and thereafter lived a certain time, having many children - this, and no more, is the history of every one of them. And whatever the allotted time of each, and with whatever stirring events filled up, the end of his brief biography is the same yet briefer epitaph - “and he died!”
Adam lived nine hundred and thirty years, and he died. Seth, nine hundred and twelve, and he died. Enos, nine hundred and five, and he died. Cainan, nine hundred and ten, and he died. Mahalaleel, eight hundred and ninety-five, and he died. Jared, living longer than his predecessors, attained the age of nine hundred and sixty-two, and then he died. Methuselah, the oldest of all, was well nigh within reach of a crowning millennium, but after living nine hundred and sixty-nine years, he died. The son of Methuselah, Noah’s father, had almost seen the flood come; but seven hundred and seventy-seven years being meted out to him, he, too, died!
It is the death-watch of that ancient and doomed world - the steady beat, as of a still small sound, striking at intervals upon the ear; marking each footfall of the destroyer, as nearer and nearer, step by step he comes on. At each death of a saint, another hour of the world’s day of grace is gone. As of patriarch after patriarch it is announced that he is dead; there is a new alarm rung; and a new call given forth. They depart one by one from the scene; each leaving his dying testimony to a guilty world. And the single exception in the case of Enoch - who has this public token of his having pleased God - that suddenly “he is not, for God has taken him” - speaks even more eloquently than all the rest!
PART SECOND - THE UNIVERSAL CORRUPTION
The fool has said in his heart, There is no God! They are corrupt. They have done hateful things. There is not one who does good. The LORD looked down from Heaven on the children of men, to see if there were any who understood and sought God. They have all turned aside. They have together become filthy. There is none doing good, no, not one. Psalm 14: 1-3
The seasons of revival from time to time granted to the people of God, as well as the long lives and successive deaths of the patriarchal fathers, might have been expected to have a wholesome influence on that early world. But the depravity of man was to be proved, and the sovereignty of divine judgment and divine grace was to be manifested.
1. The progress of corruption was not arrested. It increased as the tide of population rolled on.
For a time, the people of God, adhering to the house of Seth, kept themselves unspotted from the world; but even that barrier was at last overthrown. The sons of God, or the righteous, sought alliances by marriage with the families of the ungodly. For “it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose” (chap. 6: 1, 2). They followed their own inclination, without regard to the religious character of the wives whom they chose; a grievous sin, which in every age has marred the religion of many a household, and turned many a fair promise of revival into a season of hopeless declension and apostasy.
To this sad error, the godly seed had previously been tempted by other considerations. There were very plausible reasons for their cultivating a good understanding ‑ at least with the less abandoned of the ungodly faction.
The useful arts and graceful embellishments of social life began to flourish, as has been seen, in the house of Cain (4: 19-24). Agriculture, commerce, music, and poetry, were cultivated among his descendants, and brought to a high pitch of perfection. Were the children of Seth to forego the benefit of participating in these improvements and advantages? Were they to deny themselves the profit and pleasure of well-directed industry and well-refined taste? Was it not rather their duty to adopt and prosecute the laudable undertakings set on foot by the enterprise of the world - to rescue them out of the hands of God’s enemies, and so make it manifest that religion does not frown on any of the lawful occupations and polite usages of society, but, on the contrary. ennobles and hallows them all?
Then, again, the lawless violence of which Lamech’s impious boast of impunity (chap. 4: 23, 24) was a token and example, and which soon became so general as to fill the earth, might seem to warrant, and indeed require, on grounds of policy, some kind of dealing between the persecuted people of God, and the more moderate of their opponents. Amid the distractions which must have prevailed in the ranks of the ungodly, it might seem a [Page 83] point of wisdom and duty that the righteous should avail themselves of any openings which occurred for an alliance with their neighbours, as well as of any advances which these neighbours chose to make to them. Might they not thus lawfully defend themselves with the aid of one portion of the world against another? Might they not combine in a common cause with those who were not altogether at one with them in religion? Nay, might they not thus detach their allies from the world, and by their friendly intercourse win them to God?
Such plausible experiments, in the line of worldly conformity, naturally brought in a third kind of compliance. The intercourse of business almost insensibly led to a closer union in private life. The sons of God and the daughters of men were thrown much together. Other motives than a regard for the glory of God and the salvation of the soul were allowed to regulate the choice of companions and associates. The godly were “unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” Marriages were contracted according to the dictates of policy, or the fondness of passion, and not “in the Lord.” It was no longer deemed essential that husband and wife should be “heirs together of the grace of life, that their prayers might not be hindered.” The children of God “took them wives of all which they chose,” looking more to a fair countenance than to a pious heart. The church and the world intermarried and intermingled. And with what result? There ceased to be a separate and peculiar people, testifying for God and reproving sin. And ere long a race of giants [or “Nephilim” R.V.], powerful and lawless men, overspread the whole earth (chap. 6:4).
2. At last, the patience of the Lord is represented as worn out. The end of His long-suffering has arrived, and the day of His wrath is at hand. His Spirit having been so long grieved, is to be withdrawn - as if any further contending with man’s desperate depravity must needs be unavailing - and judgment is to be executed. “The Lord said, My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh” (chap. 6: 3). He is flesh and flesh only. It is needless to prolong the use of means and opportunities, which only serve to harden his heart, to deepen his guilt and aggravate his doom. He must be suffered to show himself to be what he really is; mere flesh; corruption and carnality.
The decree, indeed, is not instantly executed; the Spirit of God is not suddenly withdrawn. A respite is granted. “Yet,” even yet, “his days shall be an hundred and twenty years” (chap. 6: 3). Corrupt as it is, the race is to be spared for a season. But it is only for a season. For the race is incurably corrupt; not Cain’s seed only, but Seth’s also, is become “flesh;” carnal instead of spiritual, living after the flesh and not after the Spirit (Rom. 8). It is all ripe and ready for destruction.
Destruction, however, is the Lord’s “strange work.” He is represented as going about it reluctantly and with regret; repenting of the very creation of a race on which He is under the righteous necessity of inflicting so terrible a doom. “It repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart” (chap. 6: 6).
The expression here employed to describe the Lord’s feeling
towards the impenitent is in accordance with such
language as that of the
prophet – [Page 84] “How shall I give thee up,
Such is now the state of the world, lately so blessed. It is abandoned by the Creator, as unfit for the purposes for which it was created. He who saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good (chap. 1: 31), now repents, as it were, of His having made the very chiefest and crowning part of all - man, who was to be His image and glory on the earth. He changes, therefore, His work into a work of desolation. One man alone believes, to the saving of his house, and becomes heir of the righteousness that is by faith. “Noah finds grace in the eyes of the Lord.” And his thus finding grace in the eyes of the Lord is a gracious encouragement to all the faithful in all generations. “For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not he wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee” (Is. 54: 9, 10).
* * *
THE END OF THE OLD WORLD BY WATER - THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE NEW WORLD RESERVED UNTO FIRE
GEN. 6: 9; 8: 22; 2 Pet. 3: 5-7
The demoralization of the infidel world was now complete; the corruption had now become universal; “God looked upon the earth, and, [Page 85] behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth” (ver. 12). The measure of the world’s iniquity was filled up, and the season of God’s forbearance exhausted. “The end of all flesh is come before me” (ver. 13). It is come in a terrible sense and with a terrible significancy. [See Ezekiel 9: 2-6, and Amos 8: 2]
The Lord’s resolution is irrevocable; “I will destroy them with the earth,” or “from the earth.” Orders accordingly are given to prepare the ark wherein a few, that is, eight souls, are to be saved: “Make thee an ark, of gopher-wood: rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch” (ver. 14).
Of the form and size of the ark (ver. 15-21), it is enough to remark that it had the shape of a chest or coffin - or, in other words, of a vessel blunt in the front and stern, and flat below; and that, as almost all now confess who make the calculation on the common rules of Jewish measurement, it was large enough for the temporary accommodation of the motley crew and cargo that were to occupy it. That due provision was made for their health and comfort, in respect of light, air, and cleanliness, may surely be assumed, even although in this brief account the particular manner in which this was done is not stated. There were rooms and different stories, as well as what is called a window, which perhaps was a sloping roof rising a cubit above the sides, and made of some transparent substance. [The word rendered window, in a subsequent place, when the sending forth of the raven out of the ark is mentioned (chap. 8: 6), is different from that used when it is said, in the orders given for the building of the ark – “a window shalt thou make to it” (chap. 4: 1-6). In that other passage, the word may denote a window on the side, while here, in all likelihood, it is the roof that is spoken of.] There were probably also other openings in the sides. There were the means, at all events, of suitably distributing the inmates of the ark, and preserving order and comfort among them.
When Noah received orders to make the ark, the Lord revealed to him the precise manner and extent of the coming judgment. He had before been generally warned; but now he is more particularly informed; “Behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die” (ver. 17).
It was an appalling announcement; how solemn and how
even I.” The repetition
has in it an awful
emphasis and force – “I,
Then, again, as to its extent, how sweeping is the sentence - “I do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, all wherein is the breath of life; every thing that is in the earth shall die.” This heaping up of words is full of terror. Surely there is, there must be an infinite evil in sin - it is indeed exceeding sinful. One single offence opened by a small and solitary chink the flood-gate. The tide rushed in. And now the whole race of man - and not they only, but countless multitudes of unconscious and unoffending living beings made subject to vanity for man’s sin - and the very earth itself, cursed at first with thorns and thistles, and now again doubly cursed with desolation on man’s account - all are swept along in the impetuous torrent. It might, indeed, seem as if the Lord had forgotten to be gracious - as if in this unbounded and intolerable provocation, His mercy were clean gone forever (Ps. 77: 8, 9).
It is not so, however. God remembers His covenant: “But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons’ wives with thee” (ver. 18). He is faithful and true; and though terrible in His righteous vengeance, He keeps covenant and mercy. And He has always some with whom He may establish His covenant; if not seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal, at least one who finds favour in His sight. His purpose of love according to the election of grace stands sure, and all the unbelief of a world of apostates cannot make it void. The gracious covenant, into which at first, when all seemed lost, He admitted Adam as a partner, He will now again, in this desperate crisis, establish with Noah. And with excellent reason. For it is neither with Adam, nor with Noah, that the covenant is made, else with Adam at the fall, and with Noah at the flood, it must have been forever ended. What righteousness or what power had either Adam or Noah in himself to save him from the general wreck and crash of a ruined world, and sustain him erect and fearless before the Righteous One? But the covenant is with His own beloved Son; and with Adam and Noah only in Him. Hence it stands sure, being eternal and unchangeable. While the earth is moved, and the mountains shake with the swelling of the seas, the faith which God works by His Spirit in His chosen, enables Noah calmly to lay hold of the promise, that the Seed of the woman shall assuredly, in spite of all, bruise the head of the serpent. In Christ the Son - whose day, even amid the waste of waters, he sees, however dimly, afar off - he may appropriate the Father’s covenanted love as his portion; and so doing he may be glad.
Thus God revealed His mind to Noah, when he was to begin the preparation of the ark. And Noah, “warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear,” or being wary, proceeded to prepare the ark accordingly “for the saving of his house” (Heb. 11: 7). He believed God. His faith realized future and unseen things, and according as he believed, so he did. “Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he” (ver. 22).
How long the ark was a-preparing is not said. But whatever was the date of its commencement, it is evident that it was completed seven days before the flood was to come. At that precise time, Noah received the order to [Page 87] take possession of it; - “And the Lord said unto Noah, Come thou, and all thy house into the ark, for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation. Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female. Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female: to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth. For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will 1 destroy from off the face of the earth” (chap. 7: 14).
These directions are more minute than those formerly given; in particular with reference to the animals. He had previously been told to take them in pairs. Now he is instructed to divide them into two classes, the clean and the unclean. Of the unclean he is to take single pairs; of the clean he is to take by sevens, three pairs and a half of each kind.
This is plainly not the first appointment of a difference between clean and unclean beasts; for the distinction is spoken of as familiarly known and recognized. And what was the ground of it? Not certainly any thing in the nature of the beasts themselves, for we now regard them all indiscriminately as on the same footing, and we have undoubted divine warrant for doing so; nor any thing in their fitness for being used as food, for animal food was not yet allowed. The distinction could have respect only to the rite of sacrifice. Hence arises another irresistible argument for the divine origin and authority of that rite, and a proof also of the substantial identity of the Patriarchal and the Mosaic institutions. The same standing ordinance of animal sacrifice, - and the same separation of certain sorts of animals as proper for that use, - prevailed in both. The religion, in fact, in its faith and worship, was exactly the same.
Seven days, then before the tremendous catastrophe, the signal was given to Noah. With all that were to be saved, he was now on board. And “the Lord shut him in” (ver. 16).
In what a position did Noah now find himself! And in what a position did he leave his contemporaries!
Three successive eras may be noted in the years before the flood; three trials of the faith of Noah, - three signs and warnings to the world.
When the Lord first fixed the period of His long-suffering patience, and resolved to spare man on the earth for one hundred and twenty years, and no longer, - he doubtless intimated this purpose in some way; announcing the destruction coming on all flesh, and giving some public pledge of the grace which Noah found in His eyes. This would be a new call to Noah to labour in his vocation of a teacher of righteousness, as well as a loud alarm to the world at large. Noah obeyed the call - the world set at naught the alarm. To Noah it was indeed a trying office that was assigned, - to testify for God in the midst of such a generation, to whose hatred and jealousy the very token of approbation with which God had honoured him, tended the more to expose him. He became a marked man, the object of scorn and contumely, of injury and insult. The people watched for his halting, and waylaid his path with subtle snares. It was a difficult part he had in these circumstances to perform, - a dangerous duty he had to discharge, [Page 88] as he walked humbly with his God and went about warning the ungodly.
But the second era was far more critical than the first. The order reaches Noah to prepare the ark, and to gather food for the support of its destined inmates. The predicted judgment now assumes a more distinct form. Not only is it intimated that the world is to be destroyed, but the kind of destruction is specified. There is to be a flood. To a gainsaying and perverse generation, this makes the threatening appear even more improbable than before. Not considering how precariously their earth is poised, “standing out of the water and in the water” (2 Pet. 3: 5), - being wilfully ignorant of the facts of the creation, which doubtless had been revealed, - they laugh to scorn the notion of an overflowing deluge, as a chimera and a dream. They rely securely on nature’s uniformity; as if the account of the primeval watery chaos and the division of the waters above and under the firmament, were an idle tale; - as if there were no store of rain above and no great deep beneath. Hence Noah, with his endless reiteration and denunciation of terror, seems as one made. And when they see him gravely setting to work on his huge unwieldy vessel, and gathering provisions for the motley crowd with which he means to stow her, - what are they to think? Can the man be serious and in earnest? Is it to be endured that he should so flagrantly outrage common sense, and so rudely offend his fellows, by his hoarse prophecy of evil, and the clank of his incessant hammer echoing his ominous and hollow voice of woe?
But now his task is done. One brief week is yet to elapse, and then -
Shall we say it is the eve before the Sabbath? The day has been spent in getting all into the ark, - his wife, his sons, his daughters-in-law, and the whole crowd of living creatures following. Noah himself enters, and “the Lord shuts him in.” Thus the Sabbath of that old world. Within the ark there is Sabbatic rest, the quiet assurance of faith, chastened by solemn dread and awful expectance. Without, on the earth, there are mingled sentiments of wonder, contempt, and bitter triumph; - sometimes a lurking fear, again a feeling of glad relief. Men have got rid at last of the preacher of righteousness. And if we assume, as is not improbable, that during this very week the aged Methuselah was taken from the evil to come, - it might seem to be the very jubilee of unrestricted and un-reproved lawlessness that had now arrived.
True, it had been said, “Yet seven days and I will bring the flood.” But how can this be? The heaven is serene; the earth is smiling; all nature is gay and joyous, - it being, as some reckon, the first breaking forth of spring. Now is the season of mirth, eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. And Noah, the gloomy censor of the world’s harmless joys, where is he now? Immured in a vast dungeon; buried alive; self-immolated; as good as dead; and at any rate well out of the way!
What a contrast, during that awful week; - that mysterious pause; - while the elements are gathering their strength for the sudden crash!
Look within the ark. There are prisoners there; and to the eye of sense, they are apparently shut up to die. But they are prisoners of hope; - they have fled to a stronghold; - they have that all around them through which no floods of wrath can penetrate; - their refuge is “pitched within and [Page 89] without with pitch” (chap. 6: 14). It is well protected against the worst weather. And what an emblem is the pitch; - the very word meaning propitiation or the covering of sins by sacrifice; - of their complete security from every kind of terror, whether temporal or eternal, - from all risk of perishing either here or hereafter! They have pitch on all sides of their new dwelling; pitch within and without, - pitch, making it effectually a covert from the storm and a hiding-place from the tempest - even such as A MAN is to the sinner, - the man Christ Jesus (Is. 32: 2).
Look again without the ark. There are prisoners there, too, “spirits in prison;” condemned criminals, confined in the lowest vaults of that frail fortress on which the waves of wrath are about to burst. Do you see them, these prisoners, all alive and joyous, and affecting to pity the small company buried within the ark? Do you see them making merry, - or trying, by desperate gambling, to make gain?
Look once more and listen. There is a lightning flash, a rushing mighty noise. The flood comes. - In which of the two prisons would you have your spirit to be?
Thus, by the ark which he prepared, Noah “condemned the world.” The warning which might have saved them, turned to their greater condemnation. But “he delivered his own soul” (Ezek. 33: 9); and he prepared the ark to “the saving also of his house” (Heb. 11: 7).
I pass over the catastrophe itself, without discussing the various questions which have been raised concerning it. The Apostle Peter, referring to the inspired account of the creation, has given the only explanation we have in scripture of the immediate cause and manner of the flood; - “By the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished” (2 Pet. 3: 5, 6). So he connects the two miracles. In creation, [restoration] the earth arose out of the waters; they partly retired into the deep places of the earth, and partly were gathered above in vapoury clouds, so as to leave the dry land. Convulsions from beneath, and incessant rain from above, conspired to bring back the waters, so that again they “stood above the mountains” (Ps. 104: 6).
The forty days of unceasing rain are now past, and the work of destruction is accomplished. The flood having risen to its utmost height becomes nearly stationary (ver. 17). These forty days form part of the hundred and fifty, - twice mentioned as the entire time of the flood’s duration, - from the first day of rain to the day of the ark’s resting on the mountains of Ararat. They were the days of the flood’s increase; during which the ark was lifted up and floated safely on the surface of the rising tide of waters (ver. 18). About the end of the forty days, or perhaps nearer the middle of the hundred and fifty, the ark had reached its highest elevation. In sad and solitary majesty it rode sublime; - the only moving and living thing over the boundless ocean of death.
It is a time for the exercise of faith. Far down, in the unfathomable depths below, lies a dead and buried world. Noah, shut up in his narrow prison, seems to be abandoned to his fate. He cannot help himself. And in this universal visitation of sin - this terrible reckoning with sinners - why [Page 90] should he obtain mercy? What is he, that when all else are taken, he should be left? May he not be righteously suffered to perish after all? Is he not a sinner, like the rest? Does he not feel himself to be “the chief of sinners?”
But the Lord, who “shut him in,” has not forgotten him. With Noah, God has established His covenant; and for His own name’s sake His covenant must stand. Therefore the Lord remembers Noah, and in His own good time brings the ship to land. The earth is again prepared for the habitation of man and beast. Once more it emerges out of the water; - never again to perish by the same means.
As the waters gradually subsided, Noah waited patiently where God had placed him; only sending forth, at intervals, as the earliest visitors to the new world, the wandering raven and the domestic dove (chap. 8: 7-12). The raven was the first to find himself at home; amid the remains, it has been supposed, of earth’s former tenants. Upon the carcasses lying on the mountains or floating on the waves, - after his long abstinence from such food in the ark, - he might now greedily prey. Sad omen for the still cursed ground! But there is room also for the gentle dove; and there is an emblem of peace which she may bear back to the ark, as the pledge of a better destiny awaiting this world after all.
In the successive intervals of seven days, marked by the sending of these winged messengers, we recognize, as we have had occasion to recognize already, the division of time by weeks. In the earliest worship after the fall, there is probable evidence of the continued observance of the weekly Sabbath. The entrance into the ark is measured by a single week from the beginning of the flood. The incidents that make the subsiding of the flood so interesting, are separated from one another by the same number of days. We can scarcely therefore fairly resist the conclusion that the Sabbath, as dividing time by weeks, was then known as a primitive institution; and that the sanctification of the Sabbath formed a part of the divine service observed even in the ark. On the Sabbath, the dove brings to the weary prisoners of hope the olive branch, which is to give them assurance of rest (ver. 11). And accordingly Noah, seeing the face of the ground to be dry, after waiting another week, goes forth with his companions, by God’s commandment, to resume possession of the earth (verses 13-19).
The patriarch’s first business is to erect an altar, and offer sacrifices (ver. 20). Each kind of animal proper for sacrifice successively furnished a victim; for of each kind there was one individual, over and above the three pairs, provided probably for this very end. Thus the new earth was cleansed and consecrated for man’s dwelling-place. “The Lord smelled a sweet savour” (ver. 21). He was propitiated, reconciled, well pleased: - having respect, undoubtedly, not to the hecatombs then slain, - the blood of beasts and birds, - but to the more precious blood which theirs prefigured, the better sacrifice of which the new earth was to be the scene. It is that great sacrifice alone which suspends the doom to which the world is otherwise every instant liable. It is in virtue of that sacrifice that God purposes, in His heart, not again to curse the ground any more for man’s sake. If the Lord were to act according to man’s deserving, there would be no interval, and no end, of His judgments. “The imagination of man’s heart being evil [Page 91] from his youth” (ver. 21), - no threatenings, no terrors, no floods of wrath, can purge away his guilt, or change and amend his nature. But where judgment is impotent, grace may prevail. There is to be blood shed which shall cleanse from all sin, and a word of reconciliation preached, effectually to save the chief of sinners. For the shedding of that precious blood, - for the preaching of that blessed word, - the world is to be spared until the end come. There is to be no more any violent shock of nature, or universal destruction of life. The earth is to stand secure during all the remainder of its appointed days; and the seasons are not to cease.
But though its course is to be no more broken in the middle, it is to have a sudden and terrible termination at the last. The judgment of flood is but the type of the still more awful judgment of fire. The earth, saved from water, is reserved for fire. By both elements, - by the baptism both of water and of fire, - it must be purged, before it can be fitted for the habitation of the Lord and His redeemed. Meanwhile, the Lord is preparing a stronghold, an ark of safety. It is the ark of His everlasting covenant, to which all that will believe may flee. In this ark, or in other words, in Christ, - they are now dead and buried; though still they have a hidden life, - a life hid with Christ in God (Col. 3: 3). To the world, they may seem as fond and foolish as did Noah when he entered into his ark, and “the Lord shut him in.” The men of the world, living at ease because all things continue as they were, may marvel and rage, when they see any of us, who once were of the world, moved by a wary fear of coming wrath, seriously betaking ourselves to the only hiding-place. But let us hear the word of the Lord: “Come my people, enter thou into thy chambers,” the chambers prepared, made ready and set wide open, in the Lord’s ark, which is His Christ, His anointed one, - “enter into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. For behold, the Lord cometh out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth” (Is. 26: 20). And who then may stand? Where shall the ungodly appear? Shut in, imprisoned, with no door of escape, while fire is devouring the earth! But let the Lord hide us now. Let Him shut us up into Christ’s blessed gospel of reconciliation: - let Him shut us up into Christ Himself. Then, although the elements should melt with fervent heat, and this earth and these heavens should be dissolved, we, in Christ, shall be hidden in security, floating in air above the fiery storm (2 Thess. 4: 16, 17). And, finally, as the judgment passes away, an olive branch will be brought to us from the renovated world; - and in the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness, we shall dwell forever with the Lord, and offer the sacrifices of praise continually.*