Leaves From the
THE TRIAL OF INNOCENCE.
AMONG all creation beside, there was found no help-meet
for Adam. God makes all the creatures pass before him that he may see this for
himself, - a fact which we shall see has its significance for the
after-history. Adam gives names to all, as their superior, and in the full
intelligence of what they are; but for Adam himself there is found no
Yet that "it is not good for man to be alone" is the word of his Creator as to Him. Looking at the circumstances of the fall, he who has learned to suspect God everywhere may suspect Him here. He provides in the woman one whom Scripture itself pronounces inferior naturally in wisdom to the man, but on the other hand supplementing him otherwise. The rib out of which she is made is taken from the breast; and if man be the head of humanity, woman is its heart. Even spite of the fall, this still is clear and unmistakable; and mans heart is correspondingly drawn out and developed by her. The awful perversion of this now shows but the fact the more; and the perversion of the best thing commonly produces the worst. For Adam, where all was yet right, here was not only a spiritual being with whom was possible that interchange of thought and feeling which our whole being craves, but also an object for the heart. Pledge of his Creators love was this fair gift, in whom love sensibly ministered to him and drew out his own, redeeming him from self occupation as from isolation: surely it was not, - "is not good for the man to be alone," and the help provided was a "help meet for him."
If unbelief still objects that by the woman sin came in, and that inferiority of wisdom exposed her to the enemy: she was "beguiled," and ate; Adam too ate, though he was not beguiled. The woman's strength did not, and does not, lie in wisdom, but in heart: and the instincts of the true heart are as divine a safeguard as the highest wisdom. It was here - as it is easy to see by the record itself - the woman failed, not where she was weakest, but where she was strongest. And with her, as still and ever, the failing heart deceived the head. There is an immense assumption, growing more and more every day, of the power of the mind to keep and even to set right the man morally. It is a mistake most easy of exposure; for are the keenest intellects necessarily the most upright and trustworthy of men? or is there any ascertained proportion between the development of mind and heart? The skepticism that scoffs at divine things revealed to babes is but the pride of intellect, not knowledge. It is itself the fruit and evidence of the fall.
Enough of this for the present, then. Along with all other provision for his blessing we must rank this - too little thought of - that Adam was to be taught mastery also, even in a scene where moral evil was not. He was to "replenish the earth and subdue it;" to "dress and keep" even the "garden of delight." The dominion over the lower creatures he was also evidently to maintain, making them to recognize habitually the place of lordship over them which was his. All this implies much in the way of moral education for one in whose perfect manhood the moral and mental faculties acted in harmony yet, with no breach or dislocation.
Surely we can see in all this a kindly and fruitful training of Adam himself, as in a scene where evil threatened, though it had not come. The full and harmonious play of every spiritual and bodily faculty was provided for, that the man himself, to use language antiquated now, might "play the man;" language truer in its application to him than to any of his natural issue since the fall. But to that fall itself we must now go on. Its brief but imperishable record is full of the deepest instruction for us, for every day of our life here;- nay, who shall forbid to say, for our life hereafter also? The lessons of time, we may be assured, will be the possession of eternity; of all that we gather here, no fragment will be lost forever. In this history we shall find, too, I doubt not, what we have been considering as to Adam abundantly confirmed.
First, then, as to the instrument in the temptation, Scripture leaves us in no possible doubt that the one who used in this case the actual serpent was the one whom we too familiarly recognize as the leader in a previous irremediable fall - the fall of the angels. Thus he is called "a liar from the beginning," and "a murderer;" "that old serpent, which is the devil and Satan."
The use of the serpent here is noteworthy in another way from that in which it is generally taken. No doubt in the fact that it was "more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made" lay the secret of his selection of it. But why appear under such a form at all? For myself, I cannot but connect it with the fact that Adam had before named every creature, and found no help-meet for him among them all. If evil, then, would approach, it was not permitted to do so save only under the form of one of these essentially inferior creatures, refused already as having help for man. It was a divine limit to the temptation itself. Man listening to the voice of a creature over whom he was to have dominion, and in whom there was recognized to be no help for him, was in fact man resigning his place of supremacy to the beast itself. In all this, not merely the coming of the enemy, but the mercy of God also, may be surely seen.
Again, as to the form of the temptation itself. It was a question simply - apparently an innocent one - which, entertained in the woman's mind, wrought all the ruin. Here again, surely the mercy of God was limiting the needful trial. Evil was here also not permitted to show itself openly. The tempter is allowed to use neither force nor allurement, nor to put positive evil before the woman at all until she has first encouraged it. "Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?"
Here was affected surprise - a suggestion of strangeness, no doubt, but no positive charge of wrong. Such an insinuation, if it were even that, a heart true to God need scarcely find much difficulty in repelling. This was in paradise, where all the wealth of blessing which the munificent hand of God had spread around her filled every sense with testimony of His love. Was reason demanded? or did intellect need to find the way through any difficult problem here? Assuredly not. A heart filled with divine goodness would be armour of proof in such a conflict as this. The effort of the enemy was just to make a question for the reason what ought to have been one of those clear perceptions not to be reasoned about, because the basis of all true reason. As a question for the mind the woman entertained it, and thus admitted a suspicion of the divine goodness which has been the keynote of man's condition ever since.
She thus, in fact, entered upon that forbidden path of discriminating between good and evil, which has resulted in a conscience of evil within, in the very heart of the fallen creature. Around was naught but goodness - goodness which they were not forbidden hut welcomed to enjoy. Everything here had but to be accepted; no question raised, no suspicion to be entertained. To raise the question was to fall. And this was the meaning of the forbidden tree, as it was the point to which Satan's question led. In the midst of a scene where was naught but goodness, there could be no question entertained where there was no suspicion. By entertaining the question, the woman showed that she had allowed the suspicion. Thus she fell. How differently now we are situated is most plain. In a mingled Scene where indeed divine goodness is not lacking, but where also the fruit of the fall, and Satan's work, is everywhere, suspicion becomes continually a duty, and conscience a divine preservative. The knowledge of good and evil is no longer forbidden, but we have our "senses exercised to discern" these. Innocence is gone; but, thank God, who is supreme to make all things serve His holy purposes, righteousness and holiness are things possible, and, in the new creature, things attained.
If we look at the woman's answer to the serpent, we shall easily find these workings of her soul. "And the woman said unto the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; 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, lest ye die."
Here is the wavering unsteadiness of a soul that has lost its balance, and flounders more in its endeavours to regain it. What tree had God put into "the midst" of the garden? According to the inspired account, it was the tree of life. Prohibition - was that at the very heart of paradise? Did everything there radiate, so to speak, from the threatening of death? Alas! slight as the matter may seem, it tells where the woman's soul is. The first words we hear from her are words very intelligible to us, far gone as we are from innocency. For how easily with us does one prohibited thing blot out of our view a thousand blessings! Alas! we understand her but too well.
And her next words are even plainer. When had God said, "Neither shall ye touch it"? The prohibition has got possession of her mind, and. to justify herself as to her conception of it, she adds words of her own to God's words. A mere "touch," she represents to the devil, might be fatal to them. They might perchance be the innocent victims of misfortune, as it would seem, according to her. Who can doubt how dark a shadow is now veiling God from her soul? All the more that her next words make doubtful the penalty, and as if it were the mere result of natural laws, as men now speak, rather than direct divine infliction,-"lest ye die."
God's love is here suspected; God's truth is tampered with; God's authority is out of sight: so far on the swift road to ruin the woman has descended. The devil can be bolder now. Not "ye shall not surely die" is what he says, but "certainly ye shall not die;" and closes with one of those sayings of his in which a half truth becomes a total lie,-"for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, or perhaps, "as God," knowing good and evil."
And there is no more tarrying as to the woman: her ear and her heart are gained completely. She sees with the devil's eyes, and is in full accord and fellowship with him, and the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, come in at once. "And 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."
Thus was the fall consummated. Conscience at once awoke when the sin of the heart had been perfected in act. "And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves aprons." But we are now in another scene from that with which we started, and a new age now begins, even before Genesis iii. is closed.
We shall therefore look at this in its place separately when we consider, if the Lord will, the dealings of God with man under the next economy.
Go to next chapter - The Trial of Conscience in the Age Before the Flood
Home | Links | Literature