Greater Men and Women of the Bible by James Hastings: 002. Adam as Man

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Greater Men and Women of the Bible by James Hastings: 002. Adam as Man

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Adam as Man

The Religious Interest

Of Adam as man, three things are recorded: (1) his Creation; (2) his Primitive Condition; and (3) his Fall.

1. The Creation of Man

The creation of man is related twice, Gen_1:26-27 (P) and Gen_2:7 (J).. The former passage is the result of philosophical and theological reflection of a late date, which had taught the writer that man is the climax of creation because his personality partakes of the Divine (and in Gen_2:3 this prerogative is handed on to his offspring); but the latter is written from the naïve and primitive standpoint of legendary tradition, which dealt only with man's reception of physical life.

1. Two things are made emphatic regarding the creation of man. First, he was formed out of “dust.” This is obviously a pictorial, or symbolical, expression of the fact that there is a material side to his nature, and that on this side of it he is connected with the earth. But by what process he was thus “formed”; through what intermediate forms, if any, the “dust” passed before it became man-these are questions which do not come within the range of the author's thought. It may be that, as science teaches, man, like many other species of living beings, arose by gradual differentiation and development, under varying conditions of environment, from a pre-existing form (or succession of forms) of life: but if, and in so far as, this theory is true, it simply implies an alteration in the manner in which God is conceived as having acted; what was supposed to have been accomplished by Him, as the result of a single act, some 6000 years ago, was really accomplished by Him as the result of a long process, extending through unnumbered years: the essential point, which the old Hebrew narrator has here seized, remains unaffected, that God (mediately, or immediately) “formed man of the dust of the ground.” The second part of the same verse, “and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,” suggests that there is also another and a higher side to man's nature. And so the verse teaches by implication the truth of man's double nature. On the one hand, man has a material body, in virtue of which he is dependent for his support and welfare upon the material world, and has to accommodate himself to the material conditions under which he finds himself; on the other hand, his life is in some special sense a Divine gift; it brings with it intellectual and moral capacities, differing from those possessed by other animals, a sense of the reality and distinctive character of which is strongly impressed upon the narrative.

Man is superior to the highest type of animals only by having the Divine spirit in him, the endowment of conscience. Conscience constitutes his dignity here, and will constitute his reward or punishment hereafter.1 [Note: George Frederic Watts, Life and Writings, iii. 324.]

2. The second emphatic thing is that man was made in the image of God. What, however, is meant by the “image of God,” which man is thus said to bear? It is (1) something which evidently forms the ground and basis of his entire pre-eminence above animals; (2) it is something which is transmitted to his descendants (Gen_5:1; Gen_5:3; Gen_9:6), and belongs therefore to man in general, and not solely to man in a state of primitive innocence; (3) it relates, from the nature of the case, to man's immaterial nature. It can be nothing but the gift of self-conscious reason, which is possessed by man, but by no other animal. In all that is implied by this,-in the various intellectual faculties possessed by him; in his creative and originative power, enabling him to develop and make progress in arts, in sciences, and in civilization generally; in the power of rising superior to the impulses of sense, of subduing and transforming them, of mounting to the apprehension of general principles, and of conceiving intellectual and moral ideals; in the ability to pass beyond ourselves, and enter into relations of love and sympathy with our fellow-men; in the possession of a moral sense, or the faculty of distinguishing right and wrong; in the capacity for knowing God, and holding spiritual communion with Him,-man is distinguished fundamentally from other animals, and is allied to the Divine nature; so that, wide as is the interval separating him from the Creator, he may nevertheless, so far as his mental endowments are concerned, be said to be an “image” or adumbration of Him. From the same truth of human nature, there follows also the possibility of God being revealed in man (Joh_1:1-14).

Man is an exception, whatever else he is. If he is not the image of God, then he is a disease of the dust. If it is not true that a Divine being fell, then we can only say that one of the animals went entirely off its head.2 [Note: G. K. Chesterton, All Things Considered.]

2. Man's Primitive Condition

The story of man's primitive condition is told in Gen_2:8-25 (J). The narrative teaches: that man has work to do in life; that he needs a counterpart, a help who shall be “meet for him”; that man is supreme over the beasts in his intellectual ability, and therefore in the authority which he possesses to assign to them their several names; that man, in his primitive condition, was far from being morally or socially perfect; that he was from a moral standpoint innocent, because he had not yet learnt the meaning of right and wrong; and that this blissful ignorance is also portrayed by the pleasures of a luxuriant garden or park.

As regards the condition of man before the Fall, there is a mistake not unfrequently made, which it is important to correct. It is sometimes supposed that the first man was a being of developed intellectual capacity, perfect in the entire range of his faculties, a being so gifted that the greatest and ablest of those who have lived subsequently have been described as the “rags” or “ruins” of Adam. This view of the high intellectual capacities of our first parents has been familiarized to many by the great poem of Milton, who represents Adam and Eve as holding discourse together in words of singular elevation, refinement, and grace. But there is nothing in the representation of Genesis to justify it; and it is opposed to everything that we know of the methods of God's providence. All that, as Christian theologians, we are called upon to believe is that a time arrived when man's faculties were sufficiently developed for him to become conscious of a moral law, and that, having become conscious of it, he broke it; he may have done this without possessing any of those intellectual perfections with which he has been credited, but the existence of which, at such a stage of history, would be contrary to the whole analogy of providence; progress, gradual advance from lower to higher, from the less perfect to the more perfect, is the law which is stamped upon the entire range of organic nature, as well as upon the history of the civilization and education of the human race. The fact that this law is the general rule is not affected by retrogression in civilization in particular cases. But it is sufficient for Christian theology, if we hold that, whatever the actual occasion may have been, and however immature, in intellect and culture, he may have been at the time, man failed in the trial to which he was exposed, that sin thus entered into the world, and that consequently the subsequent development of the race was not simply what God intended it to be; it has been attended through its whole course by an element of moral disorder, and thus in different ways it has been marred, perverted, impeded, or thrown back. And what has been said remains true, even though it should be the case-though this is not the view which commends itself to modern anthropologists-that mankind are not all descended from a single human pair, but arose independently in different centres of the globe: the real unity of the human race consists not in unity of blood, but in identity of mental constitution, and of moral and spiritual capacities; in this case, therefore, as the facts are sufficient evidence of the presence of sin in all the races of mankind, the natural inference would be that each race independently passed through similar moral experiences, and each similarly underwent a “fall.” The typical truth of the narrative of Gen_3:1-24. would thus, if anything, be enhanced rather than diminished, if this supposition were true.1 [Note: S. R. Driver.]

1. Man's original state was, first of all, one of high privilege and enjoyment. His relative means and advantages corresponded to his elevated personal condition. The lordship of all was committed to him; and the region in which he was to have the seat of his dominion, the garden formed for his immediate occupation, was emphatically a region of life and blessing. Copious and refreshing streams watered it; herbs and trees of every kind, fitted to minister to his support and gratification, grew within its borders; and in the midst of all the tree of life, capable, whether by inherent virtue or by sacramental grace, to sustain life in undecaying freshness and vigour; so that provision was made, not only for the preservation of his being, but also for the dew of his youth ever abiding on him.

2. But, secondly, along with this, his position was one of responsibility and action. He was not to dwell in an idle and luxurious repose. The garden itself was to be kept and dressed, that it might yield to him of the abundance and variety which it was capable of affording; and from this, as a select and blessed centre, he was to operate by degrees upon the world around, and subdue it to himself-make it a sort of extended paradise. It is to be understood that the work thus devolved upon him, if the original constitution of things had stood, would have involved no toilsome or oppressive labour, but merely regular and active employment, such as is needful for the healthful condition of the human frame itself, and the happy play of all its faculties; and it implied, besides, the dignity and honour of being a fellow-worker with God, in carrying the appointed theatre of man's existence to the degree of perfection which potentially indeed, but not yet actually, belonged to it.

“To dress it and to keep it.” That, then, was to be our work. Alas! what work have we set ourselves upon instead! How have we ravaged the garden instead of kept it-feeding our war-horses with its flowers, and splintering its trees into spear-shafts! “And at the east a flaming sword.” Is its flame quenchless? and are those gates that keep the way indeed passable no more? or is it not rather that we no more desire to enter? For what can we conceive of that first Eden which we might not yet win back, if we chose? It was a place full of flowers, we say. Well: the flowers are always striving to grow wherever we suffer them; and the fairer, the closer. There may, indeed, have been a Fall of Flowers, as a Fall of Man; but assuredly creatures such as we are can now fancy nothing lovelier than roses and lilies, which would grow for us side by side, leaf overlapping leaf, till the earth was white and red with them, if we cared to have it so. And Paradise was full of pleasant shades and fruitful avenues. Well: what hinders us from covering as much of the world as we like with pleasant shade, and pure blossom, and goodly fruit? Who forbids its valleys to be covered over with corn till they laugh and sing? Who prevents its dark forests, ghostly and uninhabitable, from being changed into infinite orchards, wreathing the hills with frail-floreted snow, far away to the half-lighted horizon of April, and flushing the face of all the autumnal earth with glow of clustered food? But Paradise was a place of peace, we say, and all the animals were gentle servants to us. Well: the world would yet be a place of peace if we were all peacemakers, and gentle service should we have of its creatures if we gave them gentle mastery. But so long as we make sport of slaying bird and beast, so long as we choose to contend rather with our fellows than with our faults and make battlefield of our meadows instead of pasture-so long, truly, the Flaming Sword will still turn every way, and the gates of Eden remain barred close enough, till we have sheathed the sharper flame of our own passions, and broken down the closer gates of our own hearts.1 [Note: Ruskin, Modern Painters, pt. iv. ch. 1 (Works, vii. 13).]

3. The Fall

The Fall is recorded in Gen_2:16 - Gen_3:1-24. There came a point in human evolution when man became conscious of a command-the earliest germ of a recognition of an “ought”; and this at once caused a stress and strain between his lower animal nature, pictured as a serpent, and his higher aspirations after obedience;1 [Note: The serpent is nowhere in the Old Testament identified with the devil; the idea is not found till Wis_2:23.] by a deliberate following of the lower nature against which he had begun to strive, man first caused sin to exist; with the instant result of a feeling of shame, and the world-wide consequence of pain, trouble, and death and the cessation for ever of the former state of innocent ignorance and bliss.

Whatever I find about Adam and Eve only articulates a truth in God. You test a thing by its illustrations. There appears to be a Fall because there was a transgression, but really it was the road to a blessed result; it was the way to a higher platform of consciousness. I think the Creation was God's sacrifice, and its purpose the full beatitude of creaturely life. You ask whether I do not “see the signs of a Fall everywhere, whether Creation does not look like a wreck.” I see it as the wreck of a burst seed. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone”-that seems to me true of Creation; it brings forth numberless personalities as the result. I see no law of progress or education without that, for it seems impossible to have the fulness of light without tasting darkness. We stand in light by being well educated into it, a gleam of consciousness grows thus into fulness. Some antagonistic condition seems needed for development. Is not our revelation in the beginning of Genesis an expression of truth on this subject in such a form as we can understand? Adam, as an inexperienced babe, in the stage of innocence does not represent to me the Adam of manhood; he was naked, that is, imperfect. He has to die to innocence to attain his holiness, which is perfection; the second Adam is the Holy One. All that comes to pass is for the education of man out of innocence into the consciousness of holiness.2 [Note: R. W. Corbet, Letters from a Mystic of the Present Day, 34.]