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Introduction to Alethea In Heart Ministries

The Pentatuech - Chapter VI
Commentaries on the Entire Bible

By Rev. Henry Cowles
Professor of Church History and Prophesy at Oberlin College, and Main Editor of
The Oberlin Evangelist (responsible for giving us most of Finney's sermons).





THE first human pair have their first earthly want met by their Maker in a home--a quiet, beautiful spot (precisely where we know not, but near the source of the great Euphrates) in which trees of beauty for the eye and of nutritious fruitage for subsistence supplied some pleasing occupation for the mind and wholesome labor for the hand; where, happy in each other's love and blessed with the freest communion with their Maker, not a thing was lacking to fill their cup of joy. If it might only last--and for this, nothing more was needful save that their moral nature should be cultured, their faith and love and obedience strengthened up to the point of being thoroughly, fully confirmed: then their lot would have been most blessed. As a requisite means for such culture, God subjected their faith and obedience to one gentle test--to one point of moral trial. To have endured this successfully would have made them morally stronger and have drawn them yet nearer in love and trust to their Great Father; but to fall before it--Ah! this is the experience of human life, but too well known in its fruits of sin and woe!

The history of these scenes is before us in this third chapter of Genesis. Our leading inquiries may fitly take the following order:

I. Is this description symbolic or historic; i. e. symbolic of all human sinning; or historic as to this first sin, its antecedents and immediate consequents?

II. The moral trial;

III. The temptation;

IV. The fall;

V. The first promise ;

VI. The curse, being the first installment of the great penalty upon transgression.

I. The preliminary question as to the character of this record demands a brief notice. In my view it is not to be taken as a symbolic representation of the universal fact that the race yield to temptation and fail before it, but as a historical account of the first human sin--including the person of the tempter and his methods; the working of his temptations upon Eve and then upon Adam; and the first group of immediate, results.--Under this construction of the narrative, I find here a real serpent, and a real, not a merely symbolical, Satan--the serpent supplying the external guise, the sense-medium; but Satan, the intelligent mind, the malign purpose. The narrative seems to indicate that Satan chose the serpent for his service because of his well known subtlety. It is of small account to push our conjectures on this point beyond what is written (here and elsewhere); but it is supposable that the serpent was Satan's fittest instrument as being less likely to excite surprise by his uttered words.

That this record speaks of a real serpent and of a personal devil I am constrained to believe, because,

1. This is the obvious sense of the narrative--is the construction which the mass of readers most naturally put upon it, supposing them to be unsophisticated, holding their minds in harmony with the simplicity of the Scripture narrative and so in a mood to take most readily its obvious sense.

2. This construction is implied and thereby endorsed in subsequent scriptures: e. g. Isaiah (65: 25) having said--"The wolf and the lamb shall feed together"--peace and love supplanting violence and cruelty--adds, "And dust shall be the serpent's meat"--with manifest reference to this primal curse on Satan's special agent. See also a similar reference in Solomon's Messianic Psalm (72: 9): "His enemies shall lick the dust." Also Micah 7: 17. These allusions presuppose a real serpent in the scenes of Eden.

That the real personal devil was there, the responsible agent, is surely implied by our Lord (Jno. 8: 44) "Ye are of your father the devil; he was a murderer from the beginning and abode not in the truth because there is no truth in him." So also John (1 Jno. 3: 8): "He that committeth sin is of the devil, for the devil sinneth from the beginning," i. e. ever since that first great sin in tempting our common mother. "For this purpose was the Son of God manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil"--according to that first promise--"I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." Paul incidentally gives his construction of this narrative: "The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly" (Rom. 16: 20); and our Lord also in Luke (10: 18, 19): "I beheld Satan fall as lightning from heaven; and I will give you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy." In 2 Cor. 11: 3, Paul gives us a plain, historic version of this narrative--"But I fear lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ."--But Satan is perhaps most sharply identified in the descriptive points made by John (Rev. 12: 9 and 20: 2) "And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the devil and Satan, who deceiveth the whole world." . . . . . "And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent who is the devil and Satan, and bound him a thousand years." Our Lord, as also Paul and John, saw in this narrative a real Satan and also the veritable serpent, made his instrument.

3. That Satan should use such an instrument is manifestly within and not beyond his power. It has in certain points its analogy in the demoniacal possessions recorded by the Evangelists. As to power he is spoken of as the god and prince of this world, "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience."

The Scriptures attribute to holy angels great power over material agencies; and with scarcely less fullness to Satan and his legions also. In the case of demoniacal possessions, nothing can be more obvious than the manifestations of Satanic mind, mind speaking through human lips indeed, yet giving utterance to Satanic thought. "We know thee who Thou art." "What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? Art thou come to torment us before the time"? (Mat. 8: 29 and Mk. 5: 7 and Luke 8: 28. See also Acts 19: 15.).

4. Other points in this narrative are recognized in the Scriptures as historic and not merely symbolic. Paul wrote to Timothy (1 Tim. 2 : 13-15): "For Adam was first formed, then Eve, and Adam was not deceived; but the woman being deceived, was in the transgression. Notwithstanding, she shall be saved in childbearing," etc.--all referring very definitely to this narrative as fact and not merely drapery illustrating some universal truth. To the same purport is Paul in Rom. 5: 12, 19: "As by one man sin entered into the world and death by sin." "As by one man's disobedience, many were made sinners," etc. So also 1 Cor. 15: 21, 22.

5. The sin of the first pair stands in its appropriate historic place here (not a merely symbolic place), being immediately connected with the curse upon the serpent (and under him upon the devil); upon the woman also, and the man and the ground; also with the expulsion from Eden and man's changed life, from the ease and the delights of Eden to sweating labor upon a stubborn, soil, in perpetual conflict with noxious growths.--These considerations suffice in my view to prove that this narrative must be taken as simple history, and not as symbolic drapery employed to set forth, not these specific events, but only the general truth of human depravity.

II. The Moral Trial.

Provision was made for this trial by one simple prohibition, forbidding to them the fruit of one tree in the midst of the garden. Of all else they might eat as they pleased. All they could need for subsistence or enjoyment was freely permitted them; but the fruit of this one tree they might not eat on pain of death. This was the test of their obedience. This was to discipline their faith and their love toward their divine Father. There the tree stood before their eyes in the midst of the garden--every sight of it suggesting their Great Father's word--not to be eaten at all on penalty of death. Will they cheerfully and even joyfully deny themselves so much for the love they bear their Father? So long it shall be well with them. Every time they put down the temptation to eat of it they will become stronger in their spirit of obedience and more happy in God. It was a means of continual culture in holiness, ever leading onward and upward into deeper communion with God and more assured and joyous submission to his will, more strength of purpose in obedience, more delight in whatever self-denial obedience might involve. Surely it is not too much to say that they might make this means of moral culture a priceless blessing to their souls. How could paradise meet the greatest of all their wants--the want of their newborn souls--without this one provision for proving and invigorating their loving obedience to their God?

Need we then raise the question--What was God's purpose in this prohibition? The answer is at hand--To accomplish precisely this result; to give the first human pair a test of obedience which should be naturally a means of moral culture and of growth in holiness.--The horrible thought--that God meant and sought to make them sin--how can we say less of it than that it is born of Satan! For it assumes, as Satan did in the garden, that God sought, not their good, but their hurt; is not benevolent but malevolent! Our souls recoil from this assumption. Doth not the Scriptures say truly (Jas. 1: 13), "Neither tempteth he any man"? Never, for the purpose of drawing him into sin!--Is it replied:--God certainly knew they would eat that forbidden fruit; the answer is, Undoubtedly he did; but this proves nothing as to his purpose and aim in placing them under this moral trial. If it be yet said--He might have made the trial so much less that they would have borne it successfully: the proper answer is, Who knows that? Who is wiser or more loving in such an emergency than God?--Consider also that while God knew they would fall, he also knew that he could redeem the race through his Son, gloriously; and so could make the wrath of both wicked men and devils subserve his praise. We may account this to be his reason for subjecting the first pair to a form of trial (every way good and wise in itself and well designed)--although he foresaw they would fall before it. It was still (as he saw the case through to its remotest end) better than any other form of trial; better than no trial at all, supposing such a thing in their case possible.

Thus may we vindicate God's ways in this transaction. It was kind in him to grant for their free use every other fruit in the garden--all they could need. It was right that he should impose some test of their obedience and love. Indeed it was a natural necessity of their moral nature that this question of obeying God, always and every-where, should come to issue. As surely as they were moral beings, capable of knowing duty and of doing it, born into being with susceptibilities to happiness which sometimes must be virtuously denied at the demand of God and of the greater good, so surely they must meet this trial sooner or later, in one form or another, until they become so strong in their holy purpose, so fixed in the spirit of love and obedience to God that temptation to sin is of course spurned away and duty is done for evermore without a question. Moral trial, therefore, if not in this precise form, yet in some analogous form, is the necessary means of developing moral strength and confirmed holiness; is therefore the natural pathway to the blessedness of heaven. Thus, with no wavering of doubt, we may vindicate God's ways toward man in this first great moral trial brought on our race.

In what sense was this called, "The tree of the knowledge of good and evil"? (Gen. 2: 9, 17 and 3: 5)--It brought the knowledge of evil by fearful experience; the knowledge of good to a certain extent by the freshened sense of contrast with the experience of evil. Sin gives to moral beings such knowledge of good and of evil--knowledge it were better far for them they should never have!

Was the fruit of this tree a natural poison? We do not know. God has not told us. It may have been or it may not. God does not base his prohibition on this ground. There are other grounds, all-sufficient, without this. It might perhaps be urged with some plausibility that the analogy of this earthly life favors the affirmative inasmuch as for the most part, God's prohibitions of food and indeed of animal indulgence in general, are based on this principle--Abstain from poison; do thy self no harm. God is not wont to prohibit aught that is good for food or pleasurable to any sense, except because it is pernicious, poisonous.

What was this threatened penalty? Death, in what sense?

In the same sense in which it actually falls upon all who reject Christ and fail of his salvation. Upon such the curse of the law falls without abatement or modification. Their doom must surely be taken as the exponent and measure of the meaning of this threatened death. Of course it includes the loss of God's favor; the incurring of his frown.--That eternal death did not begin instantly was due to arrest of judgment for a new probation under the scheme of redemption; and to nothing else.

Was natural death a part of this penalty?--Plainly natural death became the doom of the race, equally of the redeemed and of the unredeemed, under the scheme of redemption--a scheme which carried with it more or less of earthly life before the death of the body. But this proves nothing as to the breadth of the original threatening--"Thou shalt surely die." What would have been in respect to natural death if no scheme of redemption had intervened and the original threatening had been executed at once, we have no means of knowing. Mortality as at present resting on the race and terminating in natural death is one of the incidents of the new probation under mercy, and gives us no light on the other question, viz. What if no mercy had come in? In general, it is of small account for us to ask, What would have been if something else had happened otherwise than it did? e. g. What would have taken place if the first pair had endured all temptation? How long would the trial have continued? Would it have terminated by removing the tree, or by taking off the prohibition, or only by such complete victory over temptation that its presence could have been only a joy and a triumph?--What part would have been borne by "the tree of life"? And after their sin, what if they had put forth their hand to take and eat of this life-tree?--Speculations of this sort never make men wiser.

III. The Temptation.

On this point the history is remarkably full and distinct. To those who have given attention to what may be called the law of temptation--the way it works and gains its object--little explanation of the narrative is needed.--We may note that Satan took care not to be recognized as an enemy; that he made his first approaches with subtlest caution and skill, bringing up the case of the prohibited fruit as a question--Is it indeed so that God hath said, Ye shall not eat of every tree? As if he would say--What do you think about this prohibition? Is it quite pleasant to be put under such restraint?--When Eve recited the words of God's prohibition and added something more--viz. "neither shall ye touch it," it is at least supposable that Satan had already sprung in her mind the feeling that the injunction was indeed very stringent, perhaps unreasonably and unkindly so. It is plain that Satan is emboldened and now ventures to strike out squarely against God. Putting his word unqualifiedly against God's word, "ye shall not surely die," he became "the father of lies," "a liar from the beginning," and threw all the weight of his influence into the scale to break down Eve's confidence in God's veracity as well as in his real kindness. Then with Satanic cunning he took advantage of the name given to this forbidden tree to make Eve think that knowledge, great and enviable like that of the gods, would come from eating this fruit. Artfully he charges that God knew this, and sought by the prohibition to debar them from this boon of knowledge so desirable. The gilded bait was swallowed but too soon and too thoughtlessly! Eve had listened; she had more than half believed these lies; she still dallied with the temptation; she looked again at the tree and its fruit; she saw it beautiful and seemingly good for food; and, far beyond this, it appealed to her imagination as giving her that unknown wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods--so she took of it and ate!--Then she brought of it to her husband. Her words to him are not on record. We are left to imagine how her example may have wrought upon him, and sympathy also with her doom if Adam thought of that; how the feeling--I must stand or fall, live or die, with this only human friend I have on earth--may have overcome every scruple. So far as appears he yielded without a word of question, much less of reproof. He yielded--and the awful deed was done!

IV. The Fall and its Immediate Effects.

The first human pair are in sin; they have risen against God their Maker in rebellion. Instantly "their eyes are opened." They realize how strangely different are the sensations that come after sin from those that are before. The false hopes, the fascinations, the bewildering, bewitching charms of temptation's hour give place to the awful sense of folly and of wrong--a sense of passing suddenly into a world of solemn and dread realities pertaining to God, duty, and doom. "They knew that they were naked"; an awful sense of being unfit to be seen; a consciousness of being ugly, loathsome, as if the inner guilt of their souls stood out visibly over their whole bodies--this seems to have been their first sensation, and they set themselves to sewing fig-leaf coverings. As evening drew on they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden. That voice which up to this day had been their sweetest music now fills their very souls with shame and terror.--It is remarkable that Adam's words and his acts also make so much account of his nakedness, apparently of person. Was it that his convictions of sin and guilt were yet superficial, so that his sense of shame for his sin turned his thought first to his personal nakedness? Had he yet to learn that "God looketh on the heart"? If so the Lord's searching question must have met his case--"Who told thee that thou wast naked"? How camest thou by this sense of shame, this dread of the eye of thy divine Father? "Hast thou eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat"?--Adam could not do otherwise than confess his sin, yet with an apology which almost or quite reflected upon God; "The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me, and I did eat." The woman too sought to screen herself somewhat under the apology of a subtle temptation. "The serpent beguiled me and I did eat."

The secondary results of the fall appear in the curse severally pronounced of God upon the serpent, upon the woman, and upon the ground for his sake.--As to the serpent, since he stands before us in this entire transaction as a double character, so the curse upon him comes in a sort of double meaning. The most obvious sense of the passage assigns a measure of this curse to the literal serpent--the animal under the guise of whom Satan beguiled his victim. But the responsibility and guilt being upon the very Satan, this curse falls chiefly on him. He is degraded, doomed to eternal shame; and in his great conflict against God and goodness, to disgrace, defeat and damning ruin. Words of telling significance were these;--"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." The serpent guilefully assumed to be your friend. I tear off his mask and expose him in his true nature; I ordain eternal enmity between serpent and woman, and pre-eminently between the serpent's seed--the children of the devil--and the great, distinguished Personage known as "the seed of the woman." This enmity underlies the mighty conflict of the ages--Christ and Satan each leading on his host to battle and no peace or even truce arresting hostilities till the victory of the King of Kings shall be complete and ineffably glorious. Thus the first relation between serpent and woman--that of assumed but treacherous friendship--develops into everlasting enmity--God, her real friend, becoming in the person of his incarnate Son, born of woman--her champion and the mighty antagonist of Satan and all his offspring. Here and thus mercy breaks in upon this scene of sin and ruin, and God begins the wonderful process of making the wrath of Satan the occasion of his own infinite glory.--The words which put so tersely the result of this great conflict take their shape and borrow their drapery from the guise under which Satan here appears--that of the crawling serpent. He shall wound the heel of his opponent--the natural place for the serpent's bite; but his own head bruised and crushed, shall end the fight. This first promise of God to our fallen race sweeps the eye over the whole vast field of moral conflict between Christ and Satan, and testifies of glorious victory over Satan as the sublime result. It was inexpressibly kind in the Lord to bring in these gleams of light and hope upon the trembling souls of the first sinning pair before he proceeded to speak of the specific forms of suffering that must righteously come upon them and their offspring as the testimony of God's displeasure against sin. Having said this, he proceeds to the curse upon woman--sorrow in the birth of offspring; and the curse upon man--toil and struggle for subsistence on a soil prolific in noxious growths and demanding labor as a condition of fruitfulness.

Yet let the minor points of this scene sink into the shade in the presence of the sublime glory of the great first promise. In the light of this we see that though Satan plotted the ruin of the race, yet God counter plotted the ruin of Satan and the salvation of the masses of mankind. When it might have seemed that all was lost, it proved that this extremity was God's great opportunity, for his strong arm was made bare for help and real victory. This is the birth-hour of most momentous issues. Sin came in upon Eden and upon earth; and many a bitter sorrow, many a cup of suffering and woe, must needs follow in its train; but Redemption comes in also; it enters upon its co-ordinate work to save the soul from sin and from eternal death and to bring in everlasting righteousness. The history of our world in its most vital aspects is foreshadowed here in this first short meeting of their Maker with this sinning pair. The spoken recorded words were few, but their significance was momentous; the sweep of their bearing, the issues of the divine policy here indicated, were destined to fill up the ages of time with stirring and strange conflict, and to send their influence down through the endless ages of man's being and of God's kingdom.

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