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THE FORBIDDEN TREE. GEN. III. 1—6.
THERE have ever been scoffers who have derided this history, saying, that the idea of our first parents, and all their descendants, having been damned, or sentenced to everlasting destruction, merely for so very trivial an act as eating an apple, is perfectly incredible. But in reply to these scoffers, let me first ask, whether the fact be as thus stated by them. Were mankind, in reality, damned merely for eating an apple? This I take upon me positively to answer in the negative for let us consider all the circumstances of the case.
In the 16th and 17th verses of the preceding chapter we read, "The Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."
And here it may be remarked, that it signifies little whether the test of obedience were great or small: it is sufficient that God positively commanded our progenitors to refrain from one article out of the great abundance he had freely given them; that he threatened them with death as the penalty for disobedience; and that they, in defiance of such command and threat, did not refrain, but ate of the fruit of the forbidden tree. And as to the triviality of the act which causes the disbelief of the scoffer, surely the trifling nature of the thing forbidden may, in one point of view, be said rather to increase than diminish the guilt of the transgression. The easier the command, the more inexcusable was its vio lation for, to adopt the language of Naaman's servants, "If the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldst thou not have done it?" Suppose, for instance,
it had been required, as a periodical acknowledgment of their entire dependence upon God, that at certain times they should abstain from all food, or should eat bitter herbs, something might then, in the case of disobedience, perhaps, have been pleaded by way of excuse for human frailty; but with the great plenty and variety our parents enjoyed, the refraining from this single fruit could scarcely be considered as any act of mortification at all. So that, even upon the supposition that the punishment inflicted was merely for eating the forbidden fruit, these scoffers may perceive there was still blame enough to justify the pronouncing of the sentence that had been previously threatened, in case of their disobedience.
But let us now inquire, how came they to do this, or what motive incited them to it? Had they accidentally passed this tree, and been tempted by the beauty or fragrance of the fruit, and thus unthinkingly led to commit the trespass, the case would not have been so highly aggravated as will hereafter appear; they would then, probably, as soon as they had satisfied their appetite, or their curiosity, immediately have humbled themselves to the dust, and have shown the utmost contrition. it happened otherwise; "The serpent beguiled them, and they did eat." And who was the serpent? "That old serpent, who is the devil and Satan," Rev. xx. 2; who took upon himself to declare, "Ye shall not surely die." Here was a manifest contradiction: God had said, Ye shall not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge: for " on the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die;" whereas the serpent said, "Ye shall not die." Could there, therefore, be any doubt as to
which of the two they ought to have believed? the almighty God who created them, and had furnished them with every blessing they then enjoyed, with a promise to continue the same as long as they refrained from disobeying his commands; or a reptile, animated by an evil spirit, as they must at least have supposed, if they knew not that it was Satan himself that addressed them. Their thus giving immediate credence to this arch fiend, in preference to the positive command of their great Creator and Benefactor, was the strongest aggravation of the case that could be; as they not only disobeyed God's command, but, as it were, leagued themselves with the fallen angels in their opposition to him; so that, in fact, they were so degraded and punished, not for the mere act of eating an apple, but because, in so doing, they joined with the great adversary of mankind in his rebellion against the Almighty. And having thus withdrawn their allegiance to their Creator, and enlisted themselves under the banners of Satan, they justly became entitled to be sharers with him and his associates in their punishment and degradation.
We may here, however, pause to ask, how it happened that they could possibly credit the simple assertion of the arch fiend, in preference to the command of their beneficent Creator? as no one would surely serve the devil for nothing, and there consequently must have been some motive for so extraordinary a determination. Let us, therefore, attend to the remainder of the serpent's speech: "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." So, then, their curiosity and their ambition were excited; their eyes were to be opened, and they were to be as gods. But how came it, that God should have said nothing of all this?
Could they possibly have supposed, that he would have concealed any thing material for them to have known; or that he would have left it to be revealed by a reptile, or an evil spirit? Had they thought at all, this must have been the result; but, it too frequently happens that when once our passions are strongly excited, all thought and reflection is driven away, and we rush headlong into sin; we usually transgress, not so much from ignorance of our duty, as because our reasoning faculties are overpowered and subdued by our passions.
One would, however, yet have thought, that after Eve, as the "weaker vessel," who first took the fruit, and had (probably uncontrolled by her husband) rashly tasted it, he would still have held back, and, having thus preserved his innocence, might have had some hopes that his fervent prayers, with the contrition of his fallen wife, might have averted the threatened consequences of the act; but he, perhaps, acted upon the system of what the world calls honour and generosity, and might have thus, in thought, addressed her: "Poor foolish woman, thou hast indeed most heinously transgressed; but, whatever may be the consequence of it, thou shalt not suffer alone: for, as I have hitherto shared in thy happiness, I will now also be a sharer in thy punishment, whatever it may be."
And what was the immediate consequence? Their eyes were opened. And what did they see?
They knew that they were naked." They indeed instantly perceived, that they were "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." Rev. iii. 17. But how comes it, they had not before perceived that they were naked, as that, at least, was not literally a consequence of their disobedience? They then perceived it not, because they had hitherto been clothed with the robes of innocence, which they
now perceived were withdrawn, and had left them naked indeed.
Let us next see what excuses they had to make for their transgression. "And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. And he said, who told thee thou wast naked? hast thou eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat."
And was this all they had to say for themselves? "The woman gave me of the tree, and the serpent beguiled me, and we did eat?" Had they no plea whatever to urge in extenuation of their crime? No; they stood self-convicted and ashamed to show their faces, for they hid themselves from God's presence in the garden; and who, therefore, shall attempt to vindicate the cause of those who had nothing to say for themselves? And yet God's gracious mercy, which they did not venture to implore, was now all they had to trust to for exemption from eternal punishment. Nor was it long before his mercy began to show itself; for, no sooner had they transgressed in the heinous manner before mentioned, than, instead of immediately destroying them, as he had given them reason to expect, he took pity on the forlorn condition they were now reduced to, and clothed them himself with skins.
But the infinite mercy of their great Creator was most abundantly shown in his immediately raising them above the party they had so unwittingly joined, by predicting a remedy for the evil, and their future restoration to their former state, in that memorable declaration to the
serpent (ver. 15), "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."
Here it may be observed, that although the descendants of each are to bruise the other, yet there is this difference: the seed of the serpent shall only bruise the heel of that of the woman, or shall only annoy, without destroying them; but the seed of the woman, in the person of Jesus Christ (the Son of David, &c.), shall bruise his (i. e. Satan's) head; or, in due time, put a final end to his power and malignity.
Thus, again, we read (John, iii. 16), " God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, to the end, that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Although, therefore, it is justly said by St. Paul, that "In Adam all die," yet he immediately adds, "In Christ shall all be made alive;" so that, to all such as believe in the atonement for the sins of mankind, made by our blessed Saviour, the sentence pronounced against our first parents and their descendants, in respect to their future state, is totally done
Let all such, then, as feel a hearty desire to avail themselves of the benefit of this atonement, not fail to comply, to the utmost of their power, with his commands; to repent of their sins, to place their dependence solely on the merits of Jesus Christ, to seek for the regenerating influence of the Holy Spirit, to cultivate holiness and pureness of life, and brotherly love, as the natural and necessary fruits of that faith by which alone they can be united to the second Adam, and restored to that divine favour and those blessed enjoyments which the first Adam forfeited for himself and his posterity, by partaking of the forbidden tree.
THE RULE OF DUTY.
As I am not much accustomed to write for the edification or instruction of the readers of Magazines, though I have occasionally contributed an article for that purpose, you will please to overlook the homely garb in which I address you. I am a plain man, used to the plain directions of my Bible, and unaccustomed to inventions by which the evident dictates of the word of truth may be explained away or evaded. I have lived, I trust, many years upon the blessed doctrines and promises which our heavenly Father has given us in the Scriptures; and I can find no peace to my soul, but in proportion as I cleave to and feed upon his truths, plainly and literally understood. If the doctrines are pared away or frittered down to Eastern metaphors; if the promises are made chiefly to belong to the early converts from paganism, or are confined to the Apostles, or to their times, my comforts are gone; because a misapplied promise can only foster delusion and self-deceit. I take pleasure, therefore, in believing, that as Christ and his Apostles delivered their instructions for the benefit of all ranks and classes, and particularly assure us, that they are accessible and intelligible to the poor and unlearned, their doctrines and consolations were intended for our times, and all times, and that I may and ought to possess and enjoy the benefit of them.
But, Mr. Editor, I am led by the same Scriptures to look for precepts for the formation and guidance of my thoughts, words, and actions; and as I dare not put the least confidence, as it respects my comfort or salvation, in any promise or doctrine not referrible to that sacred volume, so I dare not regulate my temper and conduct by any
rules or glosses which do not conform to that original standard.
Do not misunderstand me, Sir: I very willingly conform "to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake;" but, very clearly, this maxim, whether law or custom framed it into a law, can relate only to matters not settled in the word of God, or to things which men have established in conformity with that word. I do not think that any law or any custom can make that to be my duty which the word of God condemns, or can excuse me in the adhering to any habits, maxims, or customs which are not sanctioned by scriptural precept or scriptural practice.
The ground of all moral obligation, then, and the rule by which we must be guided, is the law of God recorded in his word. Conformity to that rule is right; and whatever is not in conformity with that rule is evidently wrong. At least, so I have been used to view the matter. I do not find that the divine law makes any reference to, or allowance of my will, pleasure, interest, or convenience; but, plainly, directly, and unreservedly orders me to do my duty, and to judge of that duty by the sacred canon.
These observations, Sir, both you and your readers will, of course, think not only obvious, but trite and commonplace; such as every one consents to, and every one approves: for all admit the Bible, and not human laws or customs, to be the sole rule of moral obligation. So, Mr. Editor, I had been in the habit of thinking. I fancied, at least as to our Protestant country, that the law of the Most High was our great standard of reference, and that all our own plans, views, interests, and wishes are to be tried, and approved or found guilty, as they correspond with or deviate from that great, invariable, and unerring guide.
Judge, then, of my surprise and confusion, Sir, when I tell you that all my old habits of thinking and judging upon this subject, have, within these last few weeks, been assaulted in a way, and from quarters, which I tremble to contemplate. If individuals are bound by God's law, so is the Church, and so is the state and the nation. What then am I to think, or to say, when I behold man's interest and man's convenience made the ground of human duty? and when I hear and read of grave discussions taking place, upon subjects which affect the present and eternal welfare of our fellow-creatures; and those discussions making duty to turn upon interest: and those discussions, moreover, not conducted by the ignorant or the vulgar, the adventurer or the warrior, but by clergymen and esquires, by bishops and senators ?
Sir, this matter is important, and it lies near my heart. If we forsake the word and law of God, may we not fear that God will forsake us? If we make our interest, and not his will, the rule of our duty, may we not apprehend that divine judgments will overtake us in our pursuits, and subvert our sinful and carnal projects? But that I may not be suspected of speaking gratuitously upon this subject, I will state a few instances in evidenceinstances not of private or individual transactions, but some of them such as are, or have been, published to the world.-I attended one of those many meetings which have been lately held to petition against the perpetuity of slavery in our West Indian colonies. How was I surprised to find several (not a few), both gentlemen and clergymen, enter upon the inquiry, not as a matter of duty to be determined by the word of God, but as a duty to be suspended upon the contingence of civil policy and individual advantage! When also, this same subject was discussed in the great
council of the nation-the House of Commons-the inquiry was not, "What is my duty towards my neighbour?" (at least, it was not by the persons to whom I now allude, and amongst whom were found some of His Majesty's Ministers,) but, What is policy and interest? One (if I mistake not) of Mr. Canning's resolutions included something like these words, " due consideration being had to the property of the planters, which has several times been sanctioned by the British Legislature."
Here, Sir, if I am not deceived, the scriptural ground of duty is forsaken, and the interest of man substituted in its place. If it be true that the "property" here alluded to, is the possession of our fellowcreatures as slaves, violently torn from their country, and by force retained in bondage; to speak of them as "property," to which the West Indians have a right, is a direct violation of the Scripture, the only rule of human judgment respecting these matters. If, indeed, it be true, (and who will deny it?) that the planters are in possession of stolen " property," and the British Legislature have sanctioned this possession, the only duty which remains, to both planter and Legislature, now, is to make restitution, and to imitate the conduct of the Roman oppressor, when convinced of his extortion as tax-gatherer, by his conversion to Christianity: “ If I have done any wrong to any man, I restore four-fold."
Remember, Sir, I am not now discussing the duty of immediate emancipation, but the ground upon which some of our first legislators form their obligations and their conduct, relative to the continuance of slavery in our West Indian colonies. If our interest cannot form an item in the estimate of moral obligation, all arguments and pleas, founded upon the consideration of loss and gain, are utterly and absolutely irrelevant and inadmissible.