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THE SENTENCE PRONOUNCED ON MAN AT THE FALL,
AND ITS EFFECTS, CONTRARY TO THE PREDESTINARIAN SCHEME.
GENESIS, III. 19.
“ In the sweat of thy face shalt thou cat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast
thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."
On a hasty view of the sentence pronounced by the Supreme Judge on the first offence of man, the mind is almost irresistibly impressed with a sensation of terror and regret, as if the doom was rigid and severe. We see the whole frame of this inferior world stripped of the fertility and beauty with which it had been originally adorned, that it may now share the degradation, and become instrumental to the punishment of its guilty inhabitants. “ Cursed is the ground for thy sake ; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field."* Pain and subjugation were to punish the sensuality and proud ambition of Eve; toil and care to waste away the life of Adam; both were to be instantly banished from the precincts of paradise into the wilderness of a barren world, and denied all access to the tree of life. The temporal death which had been denounced against them, was not, it is true, instantly inflicted. But during the time it was deferred, they were to be perpetually exposed to pain and sorrow, and their life was to be at last terminated by the menaced stroke, which, though delayed, was still reserved for them. “ In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”[
• Genesis iii, 17.
+ Genesis iii. 19.
Could any lot be more sad and afflictive, if their days had been thus few and evil, and the gloom of their death uncheered by any ray of hope ? In such a state, all love and gratitude to God, would have been sunk and lost in overpowering terror and unmitigated wretchedness. Man must have looked up to his Creator rather as an avenger than as a benefactor; and must have spent the residue of his miserable life, as the condemned criminal, who has no hope of a future world, employs the interval between his condemnation and his execution, in the frenzy of riot, or the torpor of despair. Thus, there would have been no room for any motive to virtue, or any principle on which religion could be supported.
Now, it is necessary to remark, that this is exactly the state in which revelation would be made to represent man as abandoned by God, if we adopt the opinion of those who deny the spiritual sense of that signal promise, “ that the seed of the woman should bruise the head of the serpent, and that it should bruise his heel.”* The extreme folly of denying this spiritual sense, is indeed most evident. “Imagine (says a distinguished writert) that you see the Deity descending to judge the offenders, and Adam and Eve before him in the utmost distress, that you hear his solemn judgment inflicting pains and sorrows, misery and death, upon the first of the human race; and that in the midst of all this scene of woe and great calamity, you hear the same supreme Lord of all, foretelling, apparently with great solemnity, a trifling incident that should sometimes happen in the world ; that serpents would bite men in the heels and that men would frequently avenge themselves by striking serpents on the head. In the name of truth and goodness, what has this to do with the loss of mankind, the corruption of the natural and moral world, and the ruin of all the glory and happiness of the creation ?” * Dismissing, therefore, this interpretation as utterly indefensible, we are compelled to adopt that exalted and spiritual meaning which gives, not only to this passage, but to the whole scheme of revelation clearness and consistency. Taken in that sense, it must have been indeed most consoling to the terrified and fallen pair, to hear their offended Judge asserting
• Genesis iii, 15.
+ Sherlock on Prophecy, p. 70.
and exercising his power over the subtle and malignant enemy who had tempted them to sin, and condemning him with far more severity, and to a punishment more dreadful and irremediable, than any pronounced against themselves. His whole nature was to be irrecoverably degraded, and his ultimate destruction was menaced. If they felt any alarm at finding that the malignant hostility towards themselves, which he had manifested with such deplorable success in tempting them to guilt was still to continue, that alarm must have subsided when they heard, that their God encouraged them to resist this hostility by the assurance, that he would range himself on their side in the contest, and would employ “the seed of the woman,”* some great and distinguished person descending peculiarly from the woman, to “ bruise the head" of their great enemy; to destroy the seat not only of his malignity and power, but of his very life and being; while the sufferings which this avenger of the wrongs of man was to undergo in the struggle would be slight and transitory. Thus, this promise, however metaphorically and obscurely expressed, yet supplied a full assurance of the supreme dominion of God over the great adversary of man and author of sin, as well as over every other being. It gave assurance of the final destruction of this evil one, and of the rescue of man from his power, by the merciful protection of a Redeemer; and thus it supplied a sufficient foundation for hope and trust in God, the essential principle of true religion.
It is true, that our first parents may not have distinctly seen the full extent of the divine mercy, and that they may not have been fully instructed as to the particulars of that extensive and mysterious scheme of Redemption, which was to be wrought by the seed of the woman, and to terminate in crushing the head of the serpent. But the humbled offenders saw enough, to inspire consolation and hope. They saw, that the sentence of death against themselves was respited, and respited in ́ a spirit of mercy; that instead of being instantly cut off, they were preserved to become the parents of a numerous race, from amongst whom, the great deliverer was to arise. It is even
* Genesis iii. 15.
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probable that the glory of God, the usual symbol of his presence resting between the cherubim, appeared at a settled place, in the east of the garden of Eden, and was manifested to “keep (or preserve) the way of the tree of life,” to prove the continued attention of their Creator to the prayers of his guilty, but penitent creatures.
Notwithstanding, however, all these circumstances of encouragement, our first parents knew that death would at length be inflicted on themselves. But surely they could not believe that this would inevitably be death eternal. For with that belief, what consolation could they derive from the promise of a remote destruction of their grand enemy's power, while they themselves, and all their posterity who might be born and die before that great event, must sink into the gulf of annihilation, or still worse, exist for ever in a state of misery? If they interpreted this promise as implying any degree of mercy to themselves, they must have understood it to imply, that deliverance from the dominion of eternal death was placed within their power; and that on their heart-felt sorrow and humiliation, their sincere abhorrence of the malignant tempter, and of the crime to which he had seduced them, they might humbly but assuredly hope, that their Creator and Preserver would pardon their past offence, and enable them to work out their salvation. Indeed the sacred narrative appears to intimate, that they expected a deliverance from some of the immediate progeny of Eve. This hope may have increased the joy with which Adam hailed his consort, as “the mother of all living," and the exultation with which Eve welcomed her first-born son, exclaiming, “I have gotten a man (or rather the man) from the Lord,"* — the promised seed, the deliverer, whom I expected from God. But the cruel death of the pious Abel, at the moment God had marked the acceptance of his offering, and his murderer being permitted to survive, in order (we may presume,) to receive further trial, if haply he might turn and repent:—this unexpected and tragical catastrophe, must have convinced the mourning parents, that the great distinction between vice and virtue, piety and profaneness, was to be looked for in a future world ; that the present was a
* Gen. iii. 20, and iv. 1.
state of probation, to exercise and thus invigorate virtue, and give to offenders the opportunity to forsake their wickedness and live, or fill up the measure of their guilt, if they continued obstinately impious and impenitent.
Here, however, as in every part of the divine dispensations, the mercy and long-suffering of God were most conspicuous. And surely it is not consistent with such mercy and long-suffering to suppose, that any human being ever was, or ever will be punished with eternal death, merely because they were the progeny of Adam, and therefore partook the guilt of his original sin; or that any human being was to bring into the world a nature so corrupt, that guilt here, and perdition hereafter, must be his inevitable lot.
In truth, the general tenor and the plainest declarations of scripture concur with the dictates of reason, and the best feelings of the human heart, to prevent our deducing from any obscure and insulated texts, the inference that any human being incurs eternal death, as the necessary consequence of Adam's original sin. Had the sentence of death been executed on our first parents at the instant of their transgression, the existence of the whole race of men would have been prevented: the respite of the sentence, combined with the promise of a future deliverer, was surely an act of mercy. It cannot be supposed, that in consequence of this act, any human being will be necessarily, and without his own fault, placed in a situation worse than if he had never been called into existence. Now, if the infant who expires before he has committed any crime, be condemned because of Adam's sin, or if he inherits a nature so irremediably corrupt, that on his arriving to maturity, present guilt and future perdition are to him unavoidable; then conferring on him such an existence, seems irreconcileable with the whole tenor of the divine attributes and government described in Scripture ; as, I trust, has been shown in the preceding discourses.
Thus again, the existence of our first parents was prolonged, undoubtedly with the merciful purpose of giving them time for repentance, in which they might be enabled by the divine aid to work out their salvation. Now surely the progeny of the first offenders cannot have been less the objects of divine mercy than