Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Genesis 3:8 - 3:9

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Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Genesis 3:8 - 3:9


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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:

Fellowship

And they heard the voice of the Lord God Walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. And the Lord God called unto the man, and said unto him, Where art thou?—Gen_3:8-9.

If this is veritable history, it is also parable. It is the record of the first fear, the first blush, the first self-concealment. So common are all these experiences to-day, that it is difficult to conceive the time of innocence and assurance when they did not exist. Yet man, made in the image of God, enjoyed unclouded communion with his Creator. There was no withdrawal of light on the part of God, and there were no mists of doubt exhaled from earth to obscure its clear shining. God talked with man. Adam delighted in the voice of God. But in the evil hour of temptation all this was changed. Disobedience unclothed the conscience. Its garment of innocence was lost, and they knew that they were naked. The spiritual condition which their sin had produced was symbolized in the physical. They mistook the sign for the substance. The fig-leaf aprons were their first vain effort. But this was not enough. The approach of God convinced them of its insufficiency, and so they sought shelter among the trees of the garden. But even here God followed them with mingled words of justice and of love. This is the fountain-head of all earth’s woes. This is the little cloud of sins which has overspread the heavens with the darkness of despair, and threatens now the storm of wrath. This is the beginning of that great necessity, which, foreseen, had already in the council of eternity drawn forth the pitying love of God, and had already secured the acceptance and condescension of the Son of God, as the second Adam of the race.

Nearly all the most eminent Biblical scholars are now agreed that the clue to the meaning of this third chapter of Genesis is to be found by regarding it as an allegory or parable rather than as an historical document in the modern sense of the term. Even a scholar so cautious and conservative as Dean Church says in one of his books, “Adam stands for us all—for all living souls who from generation to generation receive and hand on the breath of human life.” The author of what Archbishop Temple has called “the allegory of the garden of Eden” is both a poet and a prophet. As a poet he has created an ideal conception of the typical natural man. As a prophet he spells out for us, in language coloured by Eastern imagery, the drama of a great crisis in the history of mankind. Look at the story of what is called (though not in the Bible) the “fall of Adam,” superficially, and you may regard it as a legend, such as those of Hercules and Prometheus. Look at it deeply and seriously, and you see in it the inspired work of a master mind, gifted with profound spiritual insight, who sees the greatness of man even in ruin, who knows what sin means, and what fruit it bears. It is not the voice of a chronicler of past events that is heard here. It is the voice of a preacher who speaks to the soul in image and parable. It is for the sake of the spiritual truth wrapped up in it that the story is told.1 [Note: J. W. Shepard.]

The text brings before us three great fundamental facts—

I. Man is made for Fellowship with God—“They heard the voice (or sound, i.e. steps) of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.”

II. Sin breaks the Fellowship—“The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.”

III. God seeks to restore it—“And the Lord God called unto the man, and said unto him, Where art thou?”

I

The Fellowship

1. What is Fellowship?

Real religion stands or falls with the belief in a personal God, and in realizing the need of communion with Him. When once we destroy, or tamper with, the conviction that we are living, or should be living, in spiritual contact with a Divine Being who has revealed Himself to us in His Son, worship ceases to have any real meaning. We may not be able to certify or interpret to others this contact with God. But the deepest of truths is that God is not far from any one of us, and it is the Divine Spirit within us that seeks and strives for communication with our Heavenly Father.

Speak to Him thou for He hears, and Spirit with Spirit can meet—

Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet.

God made us to speak to Him, not only in formal prayers on stated occasions, but in the silent language of meditation, and in the effort implied in maintaining our belief in His presence and nearness to us. It is a sure sign of something being wrong with us if we shrink from this great thought, and take refuge in any view of life that tends to hide from us the solemn mystery of standing before the living God.

Lift to the firmament your eye,

Thither God’s path pursue;

His glory, boundless as the sky,

O’erwhelms the wondering view.

The forests in His strength rejoice;

Hark! how on th’ evening breeze,

As once of old, the Lord God’s voice

Is heard among the trees.1 [Note: J. Montgomery.]

2. How may it be enjoyed?

There are two ways especially in which the fellowship between God and man may be enjoyed.

(1) By meditation in the quiet of the evening.—God was heard walking in the garden “in the cool of the day.” It may be that the phrase means no more than the evening breeze. God comes to us all more or less distinctly in the evening—it is a time for leisure, rest, reflection, and worship. After the toil and tumult of the day it is a period of hush and quiet, and amid the stillness we can hear God’s voice borne on the wind.

Morn is the time to act, noon to endure;

But oh! if thou wouldst keep thy spirit pure,

Turn from the beaten path by worldlings trod,

Go forth at eventide, in heart to walk with God.

It is only in the cool of the day that I can hear Thy footsteps, O my God. Thou art ever walking in the garden. Thy presence is abroad everywhere and always; but it is not everywhere or always that I can hear Thee passing by. The burden and heat of the day are too strong for me. The struggles of life excite me, the ambitions of life perturb me, the glitter of life dazzles me; it is all thunder and earthquake and fire. But when I myself am still, I catch Thy still small voice, and then I know that Thou art God. Thy peace can only speak to my peacefulness, Thy rest can only be audible to my calm; the harmony of Thy tread cannot be heard by the discord of my soul. Therefore, betimes I would be alone with Thee, away from the heat and the battle. I would feel the cool breath of Thy Spirit, that I may be refreshed once more for the strife. I would be fanned by the breezes of heaven, that I may resume the dusty road and the dolorous way. Not to avoid them do I come to Thee, but that I may be able more perfectly to bear them. Let me hear Thy voice in the garden in the cool of the day.1 [Note: George Matheson.]

This life hath hours that hold

The soul above itself, as at a show

A child, upon a loving arm and bold

Uplifted safe, upon the crowd below

Smiles down serene,—I speak to them that know

This thing whereof I speak, that none can guess,

That none can paint,—what marks hath Blessedness,

What characters whereby it may be told?

Such hours with things that never can grow old

Are shrined. One eve, ’mid autumns far away,

I walked along beside a river; grey

And pale was earth, the heavens were grey and pale,

As if the dying year and dying day

Sobbed out their lives together, wreaths of mist

Stole down the hills to shroud them while they kissed

Each other sadly; yet behind this veil

Of drearness and decay my soul did build,

To music of its own, a temple filled

With worshippers beloved that hither drew

In silence; then I thirsted not to hear

The voice of any friend, nor wished for dear

Companion’s hand firm clasped in mine; I knew,

Had such been with me, they had been less near,2 [Note: Dora Greenwell.]

(2) In corporate worship.—When one joins a group of worshippers, one enters to take one’s part in the ordered response of the Church universal to the outgoing of the heart of God; one enters a region where heaven dips down to earth, while earth lifts up “blind hands” to heaven; one is at the meeting-place of the two orders, the temporal and the eternal; one is standing with one’s fellows before the rending veil. And there are other gains to be got from corporate worship. There is outlook. There is “the restfulness of its wide horizons.” The daily work of most of us is done within a very narrow sphere of interest and enterprise. In the fellowship of the Church we have a unique opportunity of emerging from these limitations. No man can enter into the fullest liberty if he is alone with nature and the God of nature. An essential element in the vision of far horizons is the presence of a body of aspirant life. It is “with all saints,” not with nature, that we comprehend the love of God. It is where two or three are gathered together to search into His name, that He is in the midst. And another gain to be obtained from corporate worship is quiet of spirit. Who has not known perplexities drop away, who has not seen problems solved, in the contemplation and experience of the fellowship of the Church? Moods that have distressed us have been dispelled by merely seeing them reflected in the experience of fellow-worshippers, whether of our own or of other ages. Controversies which have vexed us have been settled in the light of the broad, plain moralities of the Gospel. Exaggerations of view have been checked by the thought of the manifold variety of catholic Christian experience. Forgotten factors in difficult questions have come to light as we have learned to look at life from the point of view of God’s residence in the collective body of His redeemed. We have repeated the Psalmist’s experience: “When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I.”

Wandering thro’ the city

My heart was sick and sore;

Full of a feverish longing

I entered an old church door.

Dark were the aisles and gloomy:

Type of my troubled breast.

Mournful and sad I paced there,

Eager to be at rest.

Sudden the sunshine lighted

The arches with golden stream,

Chasing the darksome shadows

With brightly-glancing beam.

A chord pealed forth from the organ

Tender, and soft, and sweet:

Trembling along the pavement

Like the tread of the angels’ feet.

The light as a voice from Heaven,

Bid all my care to cease;

The chord, as a song of Seraphs,

Whispered of God’s own peace.1 [Note: John A. Jennings.]

II

The Separation

The first sin of Scripture is in some sort the type of all our sins. They grow out of a common root. In the language of morals, they are a revolt against the pressure of rules and obligations felt to be in conflict with passion or personal desires. In the language of the Bible, they spring from a state of rebellion against God and the order established by Him.

The author of the record of Genesis shows us in poetic imagery the inward as well as the outward consequences of any deliberate act of rebellion. All sin, until with repentance comes pardon, alters the relations between the creature and the Creator. An estranging cloud comes between the soul and God. And this means bitter shame, haunting fear—the shame of degradation, the fear of death. That concealing cloud cannot be conjured away by any human arts. So long as reconciliation is barred by impenitence and unbelief, the cloud will be there. This permanent fact of man’s spiritual nature is portrayed in the words, “The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.”

The heavens above are clear

In splendour of the sapphire, cold as steel,

No warm soft cloud floats over them, no tear

Will fall on earth to tell us if they feel;

But ere the pitiless day

Dies into evening grey,

Along the western line

Rises a fiery sign

That doth the glowing sky incarnadine.1 [Note: Dora Greenwell.]

i. How does the loss of God’s fellowship show itself?

1. In a sense of Shame.—The first feeling of the man and his wife was an indistinct sense of shame, a desire to hide themselves from one another and from all the world. “Their eyes, both of them, were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves aprons.” Until then they had been like little children, not knowing shame, because they knew not sin; but from that day forward they and their posterity had to carry both sin and shame about with them wherever they went.

My colleague at the City Temple told me of a young fellow whom a friend of his tried to save, and in the end succeeded, I am glad to say. This poor lad was an adopted son; he seems to have inherited a weak nature, or if he did not inherit one—for I do not think there is so very much in heredity, after all—at any rate, loose habits, unworthy behaviour, evil company, engendered in him a course of action, and created a character in itself evil. He robbed his adoptive parents, and fled from home. When he was found and brought back almost to the doorstep he refused to enter. “Why? Are you afraid to face them?” The answer was, “I cannot look them in the eye.”2 [Note: R. J. Campbell.]

2. In Fear.—In no way does the tragedy of Eden come out with more picturesque realism than in these hiding figures fleeing from the face of the God against whom they have sinned. But yesterday the presence of God was their chief delight. It made the flowers more beautiful; it added to the fragrance of the blossoming trees; it gave more exquisite harmony to the singing of the birds; it was the perfection of their delight and their joy. Fear was not in all their thoughts, and they gazed rapturously into the countenance of their Heavenly Father as a child gazes with unspeakable confidence and trust into the eyes of its mother. But now there is nothing they dread so much as the face of God. And we watch them as they hasten into the thickest part of the garden and vainly try to hide themselves from the eye of their Creator.

A child knows at once what it is to love God; but you must force its understanding into an unnatural course to teach it that God is a Person to be afraid of. That terror of God, which cannot spring out of holiness and innocence, comes of itself, however, without teaching or forcing, with sin.1 [Note: J. H. Blunt.]

One of the first results of sin is to awaken the conscience and make it an accuser and pursuer. All great literature abounds in illustrations of this theme. No man deals with it with more wisdom and fidelity than Shakespeare. We have all had on our lips at one time or other those words of Hamlet in which he declares that “Conscience does make cowards of us all.” And in the tragedy of “King Richard iii.” Shakespeare makes a wicked man say of his conscience, “I’ll not meddle with it: it is a dangerous thing: it makes a man a coward: a man cannot steal, but it accuseth him; he cannot swear, but it checks him” (Act i. scene iv.).

Spurgeon tells of an Englishman who was so constantly in debt and so frequently arrested by the bailiffs that on one occasion, when going by a fence, the sleeve of his coat catching on a nail, he turned round and said, obeying the instinctive fear of his heart, “I don‘t owe you anything, sir.” He thought the picket was a bailiff.2 [Note: L. A. Banks.]

3. In Excuses.—All our worst sins are marked by a certain recklessness of consequences. “Never mind what may come of it all,” we say to ourselves, “let us brave the worst.” And when the consequences do come—as come they must, sooner or later—we throw the blame on things or persons other than ourselves. Someone’s subtlety beguiled us into thinking that rebellion against the moral order would be a glorious gain. Or else we cry out against society or our inherited temperament as responsible for our misdoings. We complain dolefully of the demoralizing tendencies of modern life. It is no fault of ours, we say, if we, too, drift with the stream, and reach out our hands to secure the delights of the passing hour. So, in our blindness and infatuation, we excuse ourselves. And our eyes are opened when we learn in sorrow and suffering that one sinful act may spread its contaminating fibres through the whole of our life.

The literature of imagination—much of the fiction of our time and some of its poetry—is skilful in painting the wicked thing, until it appears gay and brilliant and free. There are philosophies and theologies which apologize for it, and teach us to view it almost as a necessity for our fuller life, or as a halting-place in the march of the soul to what is higher and holier. Society has a hundred affectations and excuses that hide its foulness, as Greek assassins concealed their death-bringing daggers under the greenery of myrtle leaves. It is a fall upward, we are told, and not a fall downward. On the Amazon a famous naturalist discovered a spider which spread itself out as a flower; but the insects lighting on it found destruction instead of sweetness and honey. Our sin is our sin, evil, poisonous, fatal, although it transmutes itself into an angel of goodness.1 [Note: A. Smellie.]

4. By Hiding.—“The man and his wife hid themselves.” Is not this hiding among the trees of the garden a symbolical representation of what sinners have been doing ever since?—have they not all been endeavouring to escape from God, and to lead a separated and independent life? They have been fleeing from the Divine presence, and hiding themselves amid any trees that would keep that presence far enough away.

Professor Phelps tells of a burglar who rifled an unoccupied dwelling by the seaside. He ransacked the rooms, and heaped his plunder in the parlour. There were evidences that here he sat down to rest. On a bracket in the corner stood a marble bust of Guido’s Ecce Homo—Christ crowned with thorns. The guilty man had taken it in his hands and examined it—it bore the marks of his fingers—but he replaced it with its face turned to the wall, as if he would not have even the sightless eyes of the marble Saviour look upon his deeds of infamy.2 [Note: E. Morgan.]

ii. They hid themselves

The attempt to hide oneself may be made in different ways.

1. One way is by careless living, by such levity as that of the Athenians who scoffed at St. Paul when he spoke to them of the resurrection of the dead. Men who are devoured by a foolish appetite for the last new thing, the last word of science and philosophy, have ceased to care for truth, and have become worshippers of idols. To such, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ must remain for ever an unknown God. They have forfeited the power of seeing the Invisible, and of worshipping in spirit and in truth. There was no Church at Athens. There never can be a Church, in the real sense, composed of men and women who make of a merely intellectual interest in science and literature, in the burning questions of the day, an excuse for shirking the serious aspects of life and the spiritual facts that lie at the foundation of religion. “Let not God speak with us, lest we die.” This reluctance to hear the deeper chords struck, this desire to run away from the deeper thoughts and experiences that pierce the conscience and trouble the mind, is deeply embedded in human nature. The dearest wish of many among us is to be let alone; to be allowed to live our lives out to the end in a sort of enchanted garden, where no voice from the deeps may reach us, and we may catch no glimpse of the Cherubim and the flaming sword.

“How now, Sir John!” quoth I: “what, man! be o’ good cheer.” So a’ cried out, “God, God, God!” three or four times. Now I, to comfort him, bid him a’ should not think of God. I hoped there was no need to trouble himself with any such thoughts yet. So a’ bade me lay more clothes on his feet.1 [Note: Mrs. Quickly in Henry v., Act ii. sc. iii. 1. 17.]

2. Another way of hiding from God is the refusal to listen to the voice of conscience when it condemns us, the ingrained habit of slipping away from reminders of duties neglected and obligations left unfulfilled, so finely delineated by George Eliot in the character of Tito Melema. Wherever sincerity is, the quality of perfect openness and clearness of soul, the word of Christ will reach and penetrate the heart. To hear the voice of God calling us with joy and gladness we must be clear from vice, clear from self-indulgence and self-satisfaction. It is our sins, and nothing else, that separate us from Him; our sins, too, that make us shun those who are to us a sort of embodied conscience. “I was obliged to get away from him as fast as I could,” said a notorious profligate of the saintly Fénelon, “else he would have made me pious.” Here speaks the “natural man,” the Adam whose blood runs in our veins. Which of us does not blush to think how often we have shunned the company of the wise and the good because their moral purity shamed us?

I can think of no more telling instance of the evasion of spiritual influence than one that is to be found in the incomparable pages of the great master of Greek philosophic thought. Twenty-three centuries ago there was no more brilliant figure in Athenian society than Alcibiades, soldier, statesman, and leader of fashion—the most daring, the most versatile, the most unprincipled of men. Well, Plato has put him, as it were, into the confessional. And this is what he represents him as saying of the effect produced on his mind by the character and teaching of Socrates. After bearing his personal witness to the strange and almost magical power over the heart of the words of the great Athenian master, he goes on to say, “No one would imagine that I could ever feel shame before any one, but before him I do stand rebuked. For when I hear him my heart throbs, and tears gush from my eyes. For he compels me to confess that, in intriguing for place and power, I am neglecting my real self, and all is ill within me. I cannot deny that I ought to do what he bids me, but I go away, and other influences prevail over me. Therefore, I shut my ears and run away from him like a slave, and whenever I see him shame takes possession of me. So I am in a strait betwixt two. Often I feel that I should be glad if he were no longer in the land of the living. Yet, if anything should happen to him, I know full well that I should be the more deeply grieved.”1 [Note: J. W. Shepard.]

3. A third way of attempting to hide from God—and it is perhaps the most evasive of all—is by flattering ourselves that we are seeking His face. Even religion may be so perverted as to become a deadening influence when we identify it with opinions, or party views, or zeal for dogma, or external things like ceremonies, or forms of worship, or matters of Church order and discipline. How many among us live and move in these surface questions, while shrinking from the deeper problems of what we are to think of God, and how we are to school ourselves to learn what is His will, and how we are to do it. Yes, it is quite as easy to hide from God among the pillars of the sanctuary as among the trees of the garden. Multiplied services, religious discussion, the manifold business of religious societies, may usurp the place of religious worship, and the care for these things may leave scanty room for the inward communing of the soul with God. Experience seems to show that the use of inferior ways of calling forth religious earnestness tends to make us indisposed to centre our faith on God’s own revelation of Himself in His Son.

iii. They hid themselves amongst the Trees of the Garden

Adam and his wife hid themselves amongst the trees of the garden. What are the trees one hides among?

1. One of the trees behind which we hide ourselves is the tree of Knowledge. “Ye shall be as gods,” said Satan, “knowing.” That “knowledge puffeth up” was known to Satan before it was stated by Paul. Knowledge is the fruit of the tree that stood in the very midst of the garden; but knowledge is accompanied by its shadow in the shape of a consciousness of knowledge; and consciousness of knowledge is on the negative side of know-nothing. One single electric light extinguishes the stars, and the shining of the low-lying moon snuffs out all the constellations of the firmament. The garden of the Lord grows up at length into such prodigality of leaf and flower as to conceal the Lord of the garden.

2. Another tree behind which the face of the Lord becomes hidden from us is that of Wealth. The tree of wealth, like the tree of knowledge, has its best rooting in the soil of paradise. We should no sooner think of speaking a disparaging word of money than we should of knowledge. But as knowledge becomes conscious of itself and so loses consciousness of God, so wealth is absorbed in itself and forgets God. The sun lifts the mist that befogs the sun. It is not easy to become very learned without getting lost in the world of our own erudition. It is not easy to become very rich without becoming lost in the world of our acquisition.

3. Another tree in God’s garden is the tree of Respectability. More evidently, perhaps, than either of the others, it is the outcome of heavenly soil. The Gospel has always displayed a surpassing power in diffusing ideals of excellent behaviour, in grappling with the coarser lusts of men, and taming them into habits of regularity and propriety. At the same time, when a man, by the impact of the truth, or by the pressure of sentiment, or by the fear of consequences, but without having been vitally renewed, has had just enough outward effect produced upon him to start in him an incipient and callow sense of goodness, such a man is of the very toughest material with which the Gospel has to contend. Such a little streak of conscious excellence when exposed to the convicting truth of God’s Word, or power of God’s Spirit, like a glittering rod pushed up into the electricity will convey off in silent serenity the most terrific bolt out of the sky that can be hurled against it. Dread respectability more than original sin.

In the ancient orderly places, with a blank and orderly mind,

We sit in our green walled gardens and our corn and oil increase;

Sunset nor dawn can wake us, for the face of the heavens is kind;

We light our taper at even and call our comfort peace.

Peaceful our clear horizon, calm as our sheltered days

Are the lilied meadows we dwell in, the decent highways we tread.

Duly we make our offerings, but we know not the God we praise,

For He is the God of the living, but we, His children, are dead.

I will arise and get me beyond this country of dreams,

Where all is ancient and ordered and hoar with the frost of years,

To the land where loftier mountains cradle their wilder streams,

And the fruitful earth is blessed with more bountiful smiles and tears,—

There in the home of the lightnings, where the fear of the Lord is set free,

Where the thunderous midnights fade to the turquoise magic of morn,

The days of man are a vapour, blown from a shoreless sea,

A little cloud before sunrise, a cry in the void forlorn—

I am weary of men and cities and the Service of little things,

Where the flamelike glories of life are shrunk to a candle’s ray.

Smite me, my God, with Thy presence, blind my eyes with Thy wings,

In the heart of Thy virgin earth show me Thy secret way!1 [Note: John Buchan.]

III

The Reconciliation

1. The first step towards reconciliation is taken, not by the creature, but by the Creator. It is not man who first seeks God and cries out, “O my Maker, my Father, where art Thou?” but it is the great God and Father who tenderly inquires after His erring child. Christ’s words, “Ye did not choose me, but I chose you,” have an immediate reference to His followers, but they have also a general application to the race. Bede compares Christ’s priority in choosing His disciples to God’s priority in loving us. “We love, because he first loved us.” Our love is a response to the appeal of His infinite, unmerited, and spontaneous love. He first loved us. When He made man, He did not leave him as a manufacturer might an article, without any concern respecting the future. Archbishop Trench says,” The clockmaker makes his clock and leaves it; the shipbuilder builds and launches the ship, which others navigate; but the world is no curious piece of mechanism which its Maker constructs and then dismisses from His hands.” “And the Lord God called unto the man, and said unto him, Where art thou?”

I have not sought Thee, I have not found Thee,

I have not thirsted for Thee:

And now cold billows of death surround me,

Buffeting billows of death astound me,—

Wilt Thou look upon, wilt Thou see

Thy perishing me?

Yea, I have sought thee, yea, I have found thee,

Yea, I have thirsted for thee,

Yea, long ago with love’s bands I bound thee:

Now the Everlasting Arms surround thee,—

Through death’s darkness I look and see

And clasp thee to Me.2 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti.]

2. What does God’s question contain? The question is, Where art thou?

(1) It contains the suggestion that the man is lost. Until we have lost a thing we need not inquire about it; but when God said, “Where art thou?” it was the voice of a shepherd inquiring for his lost sheep; or better still, the cry of a loving parent asking for his child that has run away from him, “Where art thou?”

(2) It contains also the promise of mercy. It shows that God intended to have mercy upon man, or else He would have let him remain lost, and would not have said, “Where art thou?” Men do not inquire for what they do not value. There was a gospel sermon in those three divine words as they penetrated the dense parts of the thicket, and reached the tingling ears of the fugitives—“Where art thou?” Thy God is not willing to lose thee; He is come forth to seek thee, just as by and by He means to come forth in the person of His Son, not only to seek but to save that which now is lost.

3. And what is the effect of God’s question?

(1) It rouses men to a sense of their sinfulness. Sin stultifies the conscience, it drugs the mind, so that after sin man is not capable of understanding his danger as he would have been without it. Sin is a poison which kills conscience painlessly by mortification. Men die by sin, as men die when frozen to death upon the Alps—they die in a sleep. One of the first works of grace in a man is to put aside this sleep, to startle him from his lethargy, to make him open his eyes and discover his danger.

One of the holiest of the Church’s saints, St. Bernard, was in the habit of constantly warning himself by the solemn query, “Bernarde, ad quid venisti?” “Bernard, for what purpose art thou here?”1 [Note: E. Morgan.]

(2) It brings repentance and confession. The question was meant to convince of sin, and so to lead to a confession. Had Adam’s heart been in a right state, he would have made a full confession of his sinfulness. It is easier to make a man start in his sleep than to make him rise and burn the loathsome bed on which he slumbered; and this is what the sinner must do, and what he will do if God be at work with him. He will wake up and find himself lost; conviction will give him the consciousness that he has destroyed himself, and then he will hate the sins he loved before, flee from his false refuges, and seek to find a lasting salvation where alone it can be found—in the blood of Christ.

When Fletcher was a boy he lived in Switzerland, near the mighty mountains. He used to like to go out, when he was only seven years old, by himself, in the beautiful valleys and mountains, and think about God. He used to think that the mountains were like those where Elijah was. He had several brothers and sisters, and one day he was very cross, and quarrelled with them. When he went to bed he was told how very wrong it was. John did not say anything. When in bed, of course he could not sleep, and he did a very wise thing. He jumped out of bed, and he knelt down and asked God to forgive him. And Fletcher said, after he was a man, “Oh, that was a happy night! and that was the first time I ever tasted sweet peace.”1 [Note: James Vaughan.]

(3) But above everything else, and indeed as including everything else, it calls forth a response to God’s love. “Where art thou?” is no doubt the question of the righteous Judge from whose wrathful eye no leafy tree can shadow. Adam must not imagine that his sin is a light matter in the estimation of Him who claims unqualified obedience. But it is at the same time the voice of the compassionate Father, who Himself goes forth in search of the lost one who has strayed from Him, and whose heart is no less penetrated with the misery into which His child has flung himself than with the guilt of his palpable error. It is, above all, the voice of the compassionate Saviour, who has it already in His heart to guide the sinner through the darker depths of judgment to the glorious heights of an eternal salvation. “Where art thou?” It is the first word of God’s advent to the world, His salutation of peace before the utterance of the alarming prophecy, “I will put enmity”—a word which at the same time may be called the free act of eternal compassion, and whence still, after centuries, the echo recalls to us this comforting assurance, “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”

The venerable Dr. Harry Rainy—in his old age, a picturesque and familiar figure in the streets of Glasgow with his Highland plaid, his snow-white hair and his furrowed face—died loved and honoured. In his last years he had a beautiful gentleness of spirit, and, regarding this, his son, Principal Rainy, in one of his delightful hours of reminiscence, told me an incident which, though it has a sacred privacy about it, I shall venture to repeat. Old Professor Rainy had one night a strange dream. He dreamt that he was holding converse with some August Personage, and gradually it became clear that This was none other than the Holy Spirit of God. The Divine Spirit seemed to be speaking of the means which would make His human auditor a holy man. God had used mercy and also discipline and yet it all had been insufficient. “The only thing,” so the Transcendent Speaker seemed to say, “is that you should be brought to realize more clearly how much God loves you.” And from that time—“you may make of it what you will,” said the Principal—his father had a peace and joy he never had before.1 [Note: P. C. Simpson, The Life of Principal Rainy, i. 305.]

Literature

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