The Relation Of Man At Creation To Moral Law—How Far Or In What Respects The Law In Its Principles Was Made Known To Him—The Grand Test Of His Rectitude, And His Failure Under It.
WHEN opening the sacred volume for the purpose of ascertaining its revelations of Divine law, it appears at first sight somewhat strange that so little should be found of this in the earlier parts of Scripture, and that what is emphatically called THE LAW did not come into formal existence till greatly more than half the world’s history between Adam and Christ had run its course. ‘The law came by Moses.’ (Joh_1:17.) The generations of God’s people that preceded this era are represented as living under promise rather than under law, and the covenant of promise—that, namely, made with Abraham—in the order of the Divine dispensations took precedence of the law by four hundred and thirty years. (Gal_3:17.) Yet it is clear from what is elsewhere said, that though not under law in one sense, those earlier generations were under it in another; for they were throughout generations of sinful men, subject to disease and death on account of sin, and sin is but the transgression of law; ‘where no law is, there is no transgression.’ (Rom_5:12-13; Rom_4:15; Rom_6:2-3.) So that when the apostle again speaks of certain portions of mankind not having the law, of their sinning without law, and perishing without law, (Rom_2:12; Rom_2:14.) he can only mean that they were without the formal revelation of law, which had been given through Moses to the covenant -people, while still, by the very constitution of their beings, they stood under the bonds of law, and by their relation to these would be justified or condemned. But this plainly carries us up to the very beginnings of the human family; for as our first parents, though created altogether good, sinned against God, and through sinning lost their proper heritage of life and blessing, their original standing must have been amid the obligations of law. And the question which presses on us at the outset the first in order in the line of investigation that lies before us, and one on the right determination of which not a little depends for the correctness of future conclusions—is, what was the nature of the law associated with man’s original state? and how far, or in what respects, did it possess the character of a revelation? (In discussing this subject, it will be understood that I take for granted the truth of the history in Genesis 1-3, and the fact of man’s creation in a state of manhood, ripeness, and perfection. The impossibility of accounting for the existence and propagation of the human race otherwise, has been often demonstrated. See Dr Moore’s ‘First Man and his Place in Creation,’ and the authorities there referred to.)
I. The answer to such questions must be sought, primarily at least, in something else than what in the primeval records carries the formal aspect of law the commands, namely, given to our first parents respecting their place and conduct toward the earth generally, or the select region they more peculiarly occupied; for it is remarkable that these are in themselves of a merely outward and positive nature—positive, I mean, as contra distinguished from moral; so that, in their bearing on man’s original probation, they could only have been intended to form the occasions and tests of moral obedience, not its proper ground or principle. Underneath those commands, and pre-supposed by them, there must have been certain fundamental elements of moral obligation in the very make and constitution of man—in his moral nature, to which such commands addressed themselves, and which must remain, indeed, for all time the real basis of whatever can be justly exacted of man, or is actually due by him in moral and religious duty. In applying ourselves, therefore, to consider what in this respect is written of man’s original state, we have to do with what, in its more essential features, relates not to the first merely, but to every stage of human history—with what must be recognised by every law that is really Divine, and to which it must stand in fitting adaptation.
The notice mainly to be considered we find in that part of the history of creation, which tells us with marked precision and emphasis of the Divine mould after which his being was fashioned: ‘Let us make man,’ it was said by God, after the inferior creatures had been formed each after their kind, ‘in our image, after our likeness (or similitude).’ And the purpose being accomplished, it is added, ‘So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him’—the rational offspring, therefore, as well as the workmanship of Deity, a representation in finite form and under creaturely limitations of the invisible God. That the likeness had respect to the soul, not to the body of man (except in so far as this is the organ of the soul and its proper instrument of working) cannot be doubted; for the God who is a Spirit could find only in the spiritual part of man’s complex being a subject capable of having imparted to it the characteristics of His own image. Nor could the dominion with which man was invested over the fulness of the world and its living creaturehood, be regarded as more than the mere consequence sequence and sign of the Divine likeness after which man was constituted, not the likeness itself; for this manifestly pointed to the distinction of his nature, not to some prerogative merely, or incidental accompaniment of his position. Holding, then, that the likeness or image of God, in which man was made, is to be understood of his intellectual and moral nature, what light, we have now to ask, does it furnish in respect to the line of inquiry with which we are engaged? What does it import of the requirements of law, or the bonds of moral obligation?
Undoubtedly, as the primary element in this idea must be placed the intellect, or rational nature of the soul in man; the power or capacity of mind, which enabled him in discernment to rise above the impressions of sense, and in action to follow the guidance of an intelligent aim or purpose, instead of obeying the blind promptings of appetite or instinct. Without such a faculty, there had been wanting the essential ground of moral obligation; man could not have been the subject either of praise or of blame; for he should have been incapable, as the inferior animals universally are, of so distinguishing between the true and the false, the right and the wrong, and so appreciating the reasons which ought to make the one rather than the other the object of one’s desire and choice, as to render him morally responsible for his conduct. In God, we need scarcely say, this property exists in absolute perfection; He has command over all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge—ever seeing things as they really are, and with unerring precision selecting, out of number less conceivable plans, that which is the best adapted to accomplish His end. And made as man was, in this respect, after the image of God, we cannot conceive of him otherwise than as endowed with an understanding to know everything, either in the world around him or his own relation to it, which might be required to fit him for accomplishing, without failure or imperfection, the destination he had to fill, and secure the good which he was capable of attaining. How far, as subservient to this end, the discerning and reasoning faculty in unfallen man might actually reach, we want the materials for enabling us to ascertain; but in the few notices given of him we see the free exercise of that faculty in ways perfectly natural to him, and indicative of its sufficiency for his place and calling in creation. The Lord brought, it is said, the inferior creatures around him—those, no doubt, belonging to the paradisiacal region—‘to see what he would call them; and whatsoever Adam called every creature, that was the name of it.’ (Gen_2:19.) The name, we are to understand, according to the usual phraseology of Scripture, was expressive of the nature or distinctive properties of the subject; so that to represent Adam as giving names to the different creatures was all one with saying, that he had intelligently scanned their respective natures, and knew how to discriminate, hot merely between them and himself, but also between one creature and another. So, again, when a fitting partner had been formed out of his person and placed before him, he was able, by the same discerning faculty, to perceive her likeness and adaptation to himself, to recognise, also the kindredness of her nature to his own—as ‘bone of his bones, and flesh of his flesh’—and to bestow on her a name that should fitly express this oneness of nature and closeness of relationship (isha, woman; from ish, man). These, of course, are but specimens, yet enough to shew the existence of the faculty, and the manner of its exercise, as qualifying him—not, indeed, to search into all mysteries, or bring him acquainted with the principles of universal truth (of which nothing is hinted)—but to know the relations and properties of things so far as he had personally to do with them, or as was required to guide him with wisdom and discretion amid the affairs of life. To this extent the natural intelligence of Adam bore the image of his Maker’s. (This view of man’s original state in an intellectual respect, while it is utterly opposed to the so-called philosophic theory of the savage mode of life, with all its ignorance and barbarity, having been the original one for mankind, is at the same time free from the extravagance which has appeared in the description given by some divines of the intellectual attainments and scientific insight of Adam—as if all knowledge, even of a natural kind, had been necessary to his perfection, as the image of God! Thomas Aquinas argues,* that if he knew the natures of all animals, he must by parity of reason have had the knowledge of all other things; and that, as the perfect precedes the imperfect, and the first man being perfect must have had the ability to instruct his posterity in all that they should know, so he must have himself known ‘whatever things men in a natural way can know.’ Protestant writers have occasionally, though certainly not as a class, carried the matter as far. And, as if such innate apprehension of all natural knowledge, and proportionate skill in the application of it to the arts and usages of life, were necessarily involved in the Scriptural account of man’s original state, geologists, in the interest of their own theories, have not failed to urge, that, with such ‘inspired knowledge,’** the remains should be found of the finest works of art in the remotest ages, ‘lines of buried railways, or electric telegraphs,’ &c. It is enough to say, that no enlightened theologian would ever ascribe such a reach of knowledge to primeval man, and that what he did possess soon became clouded and disturbed by sin. * Summa, P. 1:Quaest. 94, art. 3. ** Sir G. Lyell, on The Antiquity of Man, p. 378.)
The rational or intellectual part of man’s nature, however, though entitled to be placed first in the characteristics that constitute the image of God (for without this there could be no free, intelligent, or responsible action) does not of itself bring us into the sphere of the morally good, or involve the obligation to act according to the principles of eternal rectitude. For this there must be a will to choose, as well as a reason to understand—a will perfectly free in its movements, having the light of reason to direct it to the good, but under no constraining force to obey the direction; in other words, with the power to choose aright conformably to the truth of things, the power also of choosing amiss, in opposition to the truth. This liberty of choice, necessary from the very nature of things to constitute man a subject of moral government, was distinctly recognised by God in the scope given to Adam to exercise the gifts and use the privileges conferred on him, limited only by what was due to his place and calling in creation. It was more especially recognised in the permission accorded to him to partake freely of the productions of the garden, to partake even of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, though with a stern prohibition and threatening to deter him from such a misuse of his freedom. But the will in its choice is just the index of the nature; it is the expression of the prevailing bent of the soul; and coupled as it was in Adam with a spiritual nature untainted with evil, the reflex of His who is the supremely wise and good, there could not but be associated with it an instinctive desire to exercise it aright,—a profound, innate conviction that what was perceived to be good should carry it, as by the force of an imperative law, over whatever else might solicit his regard; resembling herein the Divine Author of his existence, whose very being ‘is a kind of law to His working, since, the perfection which God is gives perfection to what He does.’ (Hooker, ‘Eccl. Polity,’ B. I. c. 2.) Yet, while thus bearing a near resemblance to God, there still was an essential difference. For in man’s case all was bounded by creaturely limitations; and while God never can, from the infinite perfection of His being, do otherwise than choose with absolute and unerring rectitude, man with his finite nature and his call to work amid circumstances and conditions imposed on him from without, could have no natural security for such unfailing rectitude of will; a diversity might possibly arise between what should have been, and what actually was, willed and done.
These, then, are the essential characteristics of the image of God, in which man was made—first, the noble faculty of reason as the lamp of the soul to search into and know the truth of things; then the will ready at the call of reason, with the liberty and the power to choose according to the light thus furnished; and, finally, the pure moral nature prompting and disposing the will so to choose. Blessedness and immortality have by some been also included in the idea. And undoubtedly they are inseparable accompaniments of the Divine nature, but rather as results flowing from the perpetual exercise of its inherent powers and glorious perfections, than qualities possessed apart—hence in man suspended on the rightful employment of the gifts and prerogatives committed to him. Blessed and immortal life was to be his portion if he continued to realize the true idea of his being, and proved himself to be the living image of his Maker; not otherwise. But that the spiritual features we have exhibited as the essential characteristics of this image are those also which Scripture acknowledges to be such, appears from this, that they are precisely the things specified in connection with the restoration to the image of God, in the case of those who partake in the new creation through the grace and Gospel of Christ. It is said of such (Eph_4:24; Col_3:10.) that they are created anew after God, or that they put on the new man (new as contradistinguished from the oldness of nature’s corruptions), which is renewed after the image of Him that created him. And the renewal is more especially described as consisting in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness—knowledge, the product of the illuminated reason made cognizant of the truth of God; righteousness, the rectitude of the mind’s will and purpose in the use of that knowledge; true holiness, the actual result of knowledge so applied in the habitual exercise of virtuous affections and just desires. These attributes, therefore, of moral perfection must have constituted the main features of the Divine image in which Adam was created, since they are what the new creation in Christ purposely aims at restoring. And in nature as well as in grace, they were of a derivative character; as component elements in the human constitution they took their being from God, and received their moral impress from the eternal type and pattern of all that is right and good in Him. Man himself no more made and constituted them after his own liking, or can do so, than he did his capacity of thought or his bodily organization; and the power of will which it was given him to exercise in connection with the promptings of his moral nature, had to do merely with the practical effect of its decisions, not with the nature of the decisions themselves, which necessarily drew their character from the conscience that formed them. If, therefore, this conscience in man, this governing power in his moral constitution, had in one respect the rightful place of authority over the other powers and faculties of his being, in another it stood itself under authority, and in its clearest utterances concerning right and wrong could only affirm that there was a Divine must in the matter—the law of its being rendered it impossible for it to think or judge otherwise.
In reasoning thus as to what man originally was, when coming fresh and pure from the hands of his Creator, we must, of course, proceed in a great degree on the ground of what we still know him to be—sin, while it has sadly vitiated his moral constitution, not having subverted its nature or essentially changed its manner of working. The argument, indeed, is plainly from the less to the greater: if even in its ruin the actings of our moral nature thus lead up to God, and compel us to feel our selves under a rule or an authority established by Him, how much more man in the unsullied greatness and beauty of his creation-state, with everything in his condition fitted to draw his soul heavenwards, standing as it were face to face with God! Even now, ‘the felt presence of a judge within the breast powerfully and immediately suggests the notion of a supreme judge and sovereign, who placed it there. The mind does not stop at a mere abstraction; but, passing at once from the abstract to the concrete, from the law of the heart it makes the rapid inference of a lawgiver.’ (Chalmers, ‘Nat. Theology,’ B. III. c. 2.) Or, as put more fully by a German Christian philosopher, (Harless, ‘Christ. Ethik.,’ sec. 8.) ‘There is something above the merely human and creaturely in what man is sensible of in the operation of conscience, whether he may himself recognise and acknowledge it as such or not. The workings of his conscience do not, indeed, give themselves to be known as properly divine, and in reality are nothing more than the movements of the human soul; but they involve something which I, as soon as I reflect upon it, cannot explain from the nature of spirit, if this is contemplated merely as the ground in nature of my individual personal life, which after a human manner has been born in me. I stand before myself as before a riddle, the key of which can be given, not by human self-consciousness, but by the revelation of God in His word. By this word we are made acquainted with the origination of the human soul, as having sprung from God, and by God settled in its creation-state. This relationship as to origin is an abiding one, because constituted by God, and, however much it may be obscured, incapable of being dissolved. It is one also that precedes the development of men’s self-consciousness; their soul does not place itself in relation to God, but God stands in relation to their soul. It is a bond co-extensive with life and being, by which, through the fact of the creation of their spirit out of God, it is for the whole course of its creaturely existence indissolubly joined to God; and a bond not destroyed by the instrumentality of human propagation, but only transmitted onwards. On this account, what is the spirit of life in man is at the same time called the light (lamp) of God (Pro_20:27).’ (In substance, the same representations are given in all our sounder writers on Christian ethics—for example, Butler, MʻCosh, Mansel. ‘Why (asks the last named writer) has one part of our constitution, merely as such, an imperative authority over the remainder? What right has one part of the human consciousness to represent itself as duty, and another merely as inclination? There is but one answer possible. The moral reason, or will, or conscience of man can have no authority, save as implanted in him by some higher spiritual Being, as a Law emanating from a Lawgiver. Man can be a law unto himself, only on the supposition that he reflects in himself the law of God. If he is absolutely a law unto himself, his duty and his pleasure are distinguishable from each other; for he is subject to no one, and accountable to no one. Duty in his case becomes only a higher kind of pleasure—a balance between the present and the future, between the larger and the smaller gratification. We are thus compelled by the consciousness of moral obligation to assume the existence of a moral Deity, and to regard the absolute standard of right and wrong as constituted by the nature of that Deity’ (‘Bampton Lecture,’ p. 81, Fifth Ed.). For some partial errors in respect to conscience in man before the fall, as compared with conscience subsequent to the fall, see Delitzsch, ‘Bibl. Psych.,’ III. sec. 4.)
On these grounds, derived partly from the testimony of Scripture, partly from the reflection on the nature and constitution of the human soul, we are fully warranted to conclude, that in man’s creation-state there were implanted the grounds of moral obligation—the elements of a law inwrought into the very framework of his being, which called him perpetually to aim at conformity to the will and character of God. For what was the law, when it came, but the idea of the Divine image set forth after its different sides, and placed in formal contrast to sin and opposition to God ? (See Sartorius, ‘Heilige Liebe,’ p. 168.) Strictly speaking, however, man at first stood in law, rather than under law—being formed to the spontaneous exercise of that pure and holy love, which is the expression of the Divine image, and hence also to the doing of what the law requires. Not uncommonly his relation to law has had a more objective representation given to it, as if the law itself in some sort of categorical form had been directly communicated to our first parents. Thus Tertullian, reasoning against the Jews, who sought to magnify their nation, by claiming as their exclusive property the revelation of law, says, (Adv. Judæos, c. 2.) that ‘at the beginning of the world God gave a law to Adam and Eve’—he refers specifically to the command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; but he thus expounds concerning it, ‘In this law given to Adam we recognise all the precepts as already established which afterwards budded forth as given by Moses . . . . . For the primordial law was given to Adam and Eve in paradise as the kind of prolific source (quasi matrix) of all the precepts of God.’ In common with him Augustine often identifies the unwritten or natural law given originally to man, and in a measure retained generally, though imperfectly, in men’s hearts, with the law after wards introduced by Moses and written on the tables of stone (On Psalms 118, Sermo 25, § 4, 5; Liber de Spiritu et Lit., § 29, 30; Opus Imp., Lib. vi. § 15). In later times, among the Protestant theologians, from the Loci Theol. of Melancthon downwards, the moral law was generally regarded as in substance one with the Decalogue, or the two great precepts of love to God and love to man, and this again identified with the law of nature, which was in its fulness and perfection impressed upon the hearts of our first parents, and still has a certain place in the hearts of their posterity; hence such statements as these: ‘The moral law was written in Adam’s heart,’ ‘The law was Adam’s lease when God made him tenant of Eden’ (Lightfoot, Works, iv. 7, viii. 379); ‘The law of the ten commandments, being the natural law, was written on Adam’s heart on his creation’ (Boston, ‘Notes to the Marrow,’ Introd.); or, as in the Westminster Confession, ‘God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which He bound him to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; which law, after the fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness, and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai in ten commandments, and written in two tables’ (ch. xix.). We should, however, mistake such language did we suppose it to mean, that there was either any formal promulgation of a moral law to Adam, or that the Decalogue, as embodying this law, was in precise form internally communicated by some special revelation to him. It was a brief and popular style of speech, intimating that by the constitution of his spiritual nature, taken in connection with the circumstances in which he was placed, he was bound, and knew that he was bound, to act according to the spirit and tenor of what was after wards formally set forth in the ten commands. And so Lightfoot, for example, who is one of the most explicit in this mode of representation, brings out his meaning, ‘The law writ in Adam’s heart was not particularly every command of the two tables, written as they were in two tables, line by line; but this law in general, of piety and love towards God, and of justice and love toward our neighbour. And in these lay couched a law to all particulars that concerned either—to branch forth as occasion for the practice of them should arise: as in our natural corruption, brought in by sin, there is couched every sin whatsoever too ready to bud forth, when occasion is offered.’ (Sermon on Exo_20:11, Works, IV. 379.) In like manner, Delitzsch, who among Continental writers adheres to the same mode of expression, speaks of the conscience in man, pre-eminently of course in unfallen man, by what it indicates of moral duty, as ‘the knowing about a Divine law, which every man carries in his heart,’ or ‘an actual consciousness of a Divine law engraven in the heart;’ but explains himself by saying, that ‘the powers of the spirit and of the soul themselves are as the decalogue of the Thora (Law) that was in creation imprinted upon us;’ (‘Biblische Psychologie,’ pp. 138, 140.) that is to say, those powers, when in their proper state, work under a sense of subjection to the will of God, and in conformity with the great lines of truth and duty un folded in the Decalogue. (Were it necessary, other explanations of a like kind might be given, especially from our older writers. Thus, in the ‘Marrow of Modern Divinity,’ where the language is frequently used of the law of the two tables being written on man’s heart, and forming the matter of the covenant of works,* this is again explained by the fact of man having been made in God’s image or likeness, and more fully thus, ‘God had furnished his soul with an understanding mind, whereby he might discern good from evil and right from wrong; and not only so, but also in his will was most perfect uprightness (Ecc_7:29), and his instrumental parts (i.e., his executive faculties and powers) were in an orderly way framed to obedience..’ Much to the same effect Turretine, ‘Inst. Loc. Undecimus, Quæst. II.,’ who represents the moral law as the same with that which in nature was impressed upon the heart, as to its substance, though not formally and expressly given as in the Decalogue, sec. III. 2. xvii.; also Colquhoun, ‘Treatise on the Law and the Gospel,’ p. 7. * p. I. c. I.)
Understood after this manner, the language in question is quite intelligible and proper, though certainly capable of being misapplied (if too literally taken), and in form slightly differing from the Scriptural representation; (Rom_2:14-15.) for in the passage which most nearly resembles it, and on which it evidently leans, the apostle does not say that the law itself, but that the work of the law, was written on men’s hearts, in so far as they shewed a practical acquaintance with the things enjoined in it, and a disposition to do them. Such in the completest sense was Adam, as made in the Divine image, and replenished with light and power from on high. It was his very nature to think and act in accordance with the principles of the Divine character and government, but, at the same time also, his imperative obligation; for to know the good, and not to choose and perform it, could not appear otherwise than sin. Higher, therefore, than if surrounded on every side by the objective demands of law, which as yet were not needed would, indeed, have been out of place—Adam had the spirit of the law impregnating his moral being; he had the mind of the Lawgiver Himself given to bear rule within—hence, not so properly a revelation of law, in the ordinary sense of the term, as an inspiration from the Almighty, giving him understanding in regard to what, as an intelligent and responsible being, it became him to purpose and do in life. But this, however good as an internal constitution—chief, doubtless, among the things pronounced at first very good by the Creator—required, both for its development and its probation, certain ordinances of an outward kind, specific lines of action and observance marked out for it by the hand of God, for the purpose of providing a proper stimulus to the sense of right and wrong in the bosom, and bringing its relative strength or weakness into the light of day. And we now therefore turn, with the knowledge we have gained of the fundamental elements of man’s moral condition, to the formal calling and arrangements amid which he was placed, to note their fitness for evolving the powers of his moral nature and testing their character.
II. The first in order, and in its nature the most general, was the original charge, the word of direction and blessing, under which mankind, in the persons of the newly-created pair, were sent on their course of development—that, namely, which bade them be fruitful, multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion over its living creatures and its powers of production. This word was afterwards brought into closer adaptation to the circumstances of our first parents, in the appointment given them to dress and keep the blessed region, which was assigned them as their more immediate charge and proper domain. Taken by itself, it was a call to merely bodily exercise and industrious employment. But considered as the expression of the mind of God to those who were made in the Divine image, and had received their place of dignity and lord ship upon earth, for the purpose of carrying out the Divine plan, everything assumes a higher character; the natural becomes inseparably linked to the moral. Realizing his proper calling and destiny, man could not look upon the world and the interests belonging to it, as if he occupied an independent position; he must bear himself as the representative and steward of God, to mark the operations of His hand, and fulfil His benevolent design. In such a case, how could he fail to see in the ordinances of nature, God’s appointments? and in the laws of life and production, God’s methods of working? Or if so regarding them, how could he do otherwise than place himself in loving accord with them, and pliant ministration? Not, therefore, presuming to deem aught evil which bore on it the Divine impress of good; but, as a veritable child of nature, content to watch and observe that he might learn, to obey that he might govern; and thus, with ever growing insight into nature’s capacities and command over her resources, striving to multiply around him the materials of well-being and enjoyment, and render the world a continually expanding and brightening mirror, in which to see reflected the manifold fulness and glorious perfections of God.
Such, according to this primary charge, was to be man’s function in the world of nature—his function as made in God’s image—and as so made capable of understanding, of appropriating to himself, and acting out the ideas which were embodied in the visible frame and order of things. He was to trace, in the operations proceeding around him, the workings of the Divine mind, and then make them bear the impress of his own. Here, therefore, stands rebuked for all time the essential ungodliness of an indolent and selfish repose, since only to man’s habitual oversight and wakeful industry was the earth to become what its Maker designed it, and paradise itself to yield to him the attractive beauty and plenteousness of a proper home. Here, too, stands yet more palpably rebuked the monkish isolation and asceticism, which would treat the common gifts of nature with disdain, and turn with aversion from the ordinary employments and relations of life: as if the plan of the Divine Architect had in these missed the proper good for man, and a nobler ideal were required to correct its faultiness, or supplement its deficiencies! Here yet again was authority given, the commission, we may say, issued, not merely for the labour of the hand to help forward the processes of nature, and render them productive of ever varying and beneficent results, but for the labour also of the intellect to explore the hidden springs and principles of things, to bring the scattered materials which the experience of every day was presenting to his eye and placing at his disposal under the dominion of order, that they might be made duly subservient to the interests of intellectual life and social progress; for in proportion as such results might be won was man’s destined ascendency over the world secured, and the mutual, far-reaching interconnections between the several provinces of nature brought to light, which so marvellously display the creative foresight and infinite goodness of God.
We may even carry the matter a step farther. For, constituted as man was, the intelligent head and responsible possessor of the earth’s fulness, the calling also was his to develop the powers and capacities belonging to it for ornament and beauty, as well as for usefulness. With elements of this description the Creator has richly impregnated the works of His hand, there being not an object in nature that is incapable of conveying ideas of beauty; (Ruskin’s ‘Modem Painters,’ Vol. II. p. 27.) and this beyond doubt that each after its kind might by man be appreciated, refined, and elevated. ‘Man possessed,’ so we may justly say with a recent writer, (Moore’s ‘First Man and his Place in Creation,’ p. 299.) ‘a sense of beauty as an essential ground of his intelligence and fellowship with Heaven. He was therefore to cultivate the feeling of the beautiful by cultivating the appropriate beauty inherent in everything that lives. Nature ever holds out to the hand of man means by which his reason, when rightly employed, may be enriched with true gold from Heaven’s treasury. And even now, in proportion to the restoration to heavenly enlightenment, we perceive that every kind of beauty and power is but an embodiment of truth, a form of love, revealing the relation of the Divine creative mind to loveliness, symmetry, and justness, as well as expressing tender thought towards the susceptibilities of all His sentient creatures, but especially for the instruction and happy occupation of man himself.’ This too, then, is to be reckoned among the things included in man’s destination to intelligent and fruitful labour—an end to be prosecuted in a measure for its own sake, though in great part realizing itself as the incidental result of what was otherwise required at his hand.
But labour demands, as its proper complement, rest: rest in God alternating with labour for God. And here we come upon another part of man’s original calling; since in this respect also it became him, as made in God’s image, to fall in with the Divine order and make it his own. ‘God rested,’ (Gen_2:2-3.) we are told, after having prosecuted, through six successive days of work, the preparation of the world for a fit habitation and field of employment for man. ‘He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made; and He blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because that in it He had rested from all His work which he created and made’—a procedure in God that would have been inexplicable except as furnishing the ground for a like procedure on the part of man, as, in that case, the hallowing and benediction spoken of must have wanted both a proper subject and a definite aim. True, indeed, as we are often told, there was no formal enactment binding the observance of the day on man; there is merely an announcement of what God did, not a setting forth to man of what man should do; it is not said, that the Sabbath was expressly enjoined upon man. And neither, we reply, should it have been; for, since man was made in the image of God, it was only, so long as this image remained pure, the general landmarks of moral and religious duty, which were required for his guidance, not specific and stringent regulations: he had the light of Heaven within him, and of his own accord should have taken the course, which his own circumstances, viewed in connection with the Divine procedure, indicated as dutiful and becoming. The real question is, did not the things recorded contain the elements of law? Was there not in them such a revelation of the mind of God, as bespoke an obligation to observe the day of weekly rest, for those whose calling was to embrace the order and do the works of God? Undoubtedly there was—if in the sacred record we have, what it purports to give, a plain historical narrative of things which actually occurred. In that case—the only supposition we are warranted to make—the primeval consecration of the seventh day has a moral, as well as religious significance. It set up, at the threshold of the world’s history, a memorial and a witness, that as the Creator, when putting forth His active energies on the visible theatre of the universe, did not allow Himself to become absorbed in it, but withdrew again to the enjoyment of His own infinite fulness and sufficiency; so it behoved His rational creature man to take heed, lest, when doing the work of God, he should lose himself amid outward objects, and fail to carry out the higher ends and purposes of his being with reference to God and eternity. Is it I alone who say this? Hear a very able and acute German moralist: ‘It is, indeed, a high thought (says Wuttke (‘Handbuch der Christlichen Sittenlehre,’ I. p. 469.)) that in Sacred Scripture this creation-rest of God is taken as the original type and ground of the Sabbath solemnity. It is thereby indicated, that precisely the innermost part of what constitutes the likeness of God is that which demands this solemnity—the truly reasonable religious-moral nature of man, and not the natural necessity of rest and enjoyment. What with God are but two sides of the eternal life itself, no temporal falling asunder into active working, and then retreating into one’s self, that with respect to the finite spirit falls partially, at least, into separate portions—namely, into work and Sabbath-rest. God blessed the seventh day:—there rests upon the sacred observance of this day a special and a higher blessing, an imparting of eternal, heavenly benefits, as the blessing associated with work is primarily but the imparting of temporal benefits. The Sabbath has not a merely negative significance; it is not a simple cessation from work; it has a most weighty, real import, being the free action of the reasonable God-like spirit rising above the merely individual and finite, the reaching forth of the soul, which through work has been drawn down to the transitory, toward the unchangeable and Divine.’ Hence (as the same writer also remarks), the ordinance of the Sabbath belongs to the moral sphere considered by itself, not merely to the state of redemption struggling to escape from sin—though such a state obviously furnishes fresh reasons for the line of duty contemplated in the ordinance. But at no period could it be meant to stand altogether alone. Neither before the fall nor after it, could such calm elevation of the soul to God and spiritual rest in Him be shut up to the day specially devoted to it; each day, if rightly spent, must also have its intervals of spiritual repose and blessing.
So far, then, all was good and blessed. Man, as thus constituted, thus called to work and rest in harmony and fellowship with God, was in a state of relative perfection—of perfection after its kind, though not such as pertains to the regeneration in Christ. Scripture itself marks the difference, when it speaks of the natural or psychical coming first, then that which is spiritual (ψυχικόν, 1Co_15:46). The first man was of the earth,—earthy in the frame and mould of his being simply a part of this mundane existence, though incomparably its noblest part, and allied, through his spirit, with the Divine; but the second man was the Lord from heaven. The creation of the one was welcomed by the silent homage and regard of the living creaturehood on earth; the advent of the other was celebrated by angelic hosts in anthems of joy from the heavenly places. In Adam there was an intelligence that could discriminate wisely between irrational natures and his own, as also between one kind of inferior natures and another; in Christ there was a spirit that knew what was in man himself, capable of penetrating into his inmost secrets, yea, even of most perfectly knowing and revealing the Father. Finally, high as man’s original calling was to preside over and subdue the earth, to improve and multiply its resources, to render it in all respects subservient to the ends for which it was made; how mightily was this calling surpassed by the mission of Him, who came to grapple with the great controversy between sin and righteousness, to restore the fallen, to sanctify the unclean, and bring in a world of incorruptible glory and blessed life, with which God should be most intimately associated, and over which He should perpetually rejoice!
The superiority, however, of the things pertaining to the person and the work of Christ does not prevent those relating to man’s original state from being fitly viewed as relatively perfect. But then there was no absolute guarantee for this being continued; there was a possibility of all being lost, since it hung on the steadfastness of a merely created head; and hence, as regarded man himself, there was a need for something of a more special and definite kind to test his adherence to the perfect order and rectitude incumbent on him. There might, we can readily conceive, have been defections from the right and good in respect to his general calling and destination—failures distinct enough, perhaps, in themselves, but perceptible only to the eye of Him who can look on the desires and intents of the heart. Here, however, it was indispensable that the materials for judgment should be patent to all. For, in Adam humanity itself was on its trial—the whole race having been potentially created in him, and destined to stand or fall, to be blessed or cursed, with him. The question, therefore, as to its properly decisive issue, must be made to turn on conformity to an ordinance, at once reasonable in its nature and specific in its requirements—an ordinance which the simplest could understand, and respecting which no uncertainty could exist, whether it had been kept or not. Such in the highest degree was the appointment respecting the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, forbidding it to be eaten on the pain of death—an appointment positive in its character, in a certain sense arbitrary, yet, withal, perfectly natural, as relating to a particular tree singled out for the purpose from many others around it, imposing no vexatious burden, requiring only the exercise of a measure of personal restraint in deference to the authority, and acknowledgment of the supreme right, of Him of whom all was held—in short, one of the easiest, most natural, most unexceptionable of probationary enactments. It was not exactly, as put by Tertullian, as if this command respecting the tree of knowledge formed the kind of quintessence or prolific source of all other moral commands; for in itself, and apart from the Divine authority imposing it, there was nothing about it strictly moral: not on this account therefore was it given, but as serving to erect a standard, every way proper and becoming, around which the elements of good and evil might meet, and the ascendency of the one or the other be made manifest. (So, indeed, Tertullian, when he explains himself, virtually regarded it: ‘Denique si dominum deum simm dilexissent’ (viz., Adam and Eve), ‘contra præceptuni ejus non fecissent; si proximum diligerent, id est semetipsos, persuasioni serpentis non credidissent,’ etc. And the general conclusion he draws is, ‘Denique, ante legem Moysi scriptam in tabulis lapideis, legem fuisse contendo non scriptam, quæ naturaliter intelligebatur et a patribus custodiebatur.’ (Adv. Judæos, sec. 2).) And so the Sovereign Disposer of events by the very appointment undertook to order it. If the Divine image should anyhow begin to lose the perfection of its parts, if a spirit of disaffection should enter the bosoms of our first parents, it could not be left to their own choice or to merely adventitious circumstances, in what form or direction this should appear. It must assume an attitude of contrariety to this Divine ordinance, and discover itself in a disposition to eat of that tree of which God had said, They should not eat of it, lest they died. There, precisely, and not elsewhere—thus and not otherwise was it to be seen, if they could maintain their part in this covenant of life; or, if not, then the obvious mastery of the evil over the good in their natures.
III. We are not called here to enter into any formal discussion of the temptation and the fall. Profound mysteries hang around the subject; but the general result, and the overt steps that led to it, are known to all. Hearkening to the voice of the tempter, that they should be as God, knowing good and evil, our first parents did eat of the interdicted tree; and, in doing so, broke through the law of their being, which bound them ever to live and act in loving allegiance to the God who made them, and of whom they held whatever they possessed. Self now took the place of God; they would be their own rule and their own end, and thereby gave way to the spirit of apostacy; first entertaining doubts of God’s goodness, as if the prohibition under which they had been placed laid an undue restraint on their freedom, limited too much their range of action and enjoyment; then disbelieving God’s testimony as to the inevitable result of disobedience; finally, making the gratification of their own self-will and fleshly desire the paramount consideration which was to determine their course. At every step a violation of the principle of love—of love in both its departments; first, indeed, and most conspicuously, in reference to God, who was suspected, slighted, disobeyed; but also in reference to one another, and their prospective offspring, whose interests were sacrificed at the shrine of selfishness. The high probation, therefore, issued in a mournful failure; humanity, in its most favoured conditions, proved unequal to the task of itself holding the place and using the talents committed to it, in loving subjection to the will of Heaven; and the penalty of sin, not the guerdon of righteousness, became its deserved portion. Shall not the penalty take effect? Can the Righteous One do otherwise than shew Himself the enemy and avenger of sin, by resigning to corruption and death the nature which had allied itself to the evil? Where, if He did, would have been the glory of His name? Where the sanction and authority of His righteous government? It was for the purpose, above all, of instituting such a government in the world, and unfolding by means of it the essential attributes of His character, that man had been brought on the stage of being as the proper climax of creation; and if, for this end, it was necessary that righteousness should be rewarded, was it not equally necessary that sin should be punished? So, death entered, where life only should have reigned; it entered as the stern yet sublime proof, that in the Divine government of the world the moral must carry it over the natural; that conformity to the principles of righteousness is the indispensable condition of blessing; and that even if grace should interpose to rectify the evil that had emerged, and place the hopes of mankind on a better footing than that of nature, this grace must reign through righteousness, and overcome death by overcoming the sin which caused it.
To have these great principles written so indelibly and palpably on the foundations of the world’s history was of incalculable moment for its future instruction and well-being; for the solemn lessons and affecting memories of the fall entered as essential elements of men’s views of God, and formed the basis of all true religion for a sinful world. They do so still. And, certainly, if it could be proved by the cultivators of natural science, that man, simply as such—man by the very constitution of his being—is mortal, it would strike at the root of our religious beliefs; for it would imply, that death did not come as a judgment from God, and was the result of physical organization or inherent defectibility, not the wages of sin. This, however, is a point that lies beyond the range of natural science. It may be able to shew, that death is not only now, but ever has been, the law of merely sentient existence, and that individual forms of sentient life, having no proper personality—if perpetuated at all, must be perpetuated in the species. But man is on one side only, and that the lower side, related to sentient forms of being. In what constitute the more essential characteristics of his nature—intelligence, reason, will, Conscience—he stands in close affinity to God; he is God’s image and representative, and not a liability to death, but the possession of endless life, must be regarded as his normal state of being. And to secure this for the animal part of his frame, so long as spiritually he lived to God, was, at least, one part of the design of the tree of life (whatever higher purposes it might also have been intended to serve as the pledge or symbol of life to his soul): it was the specific antidote of death. A most in adequate provision, it may perhaps be alleged, for such a purpose, suited only for a single pair, or for a comparative handful of people, but by no means for a numerous race. Let it be so: He who made the provision knew well for how many, or how long, it might be required; and, in point of fact, from no misarrangement or defect in this respect, the evil it was ordained to guard against found an entrance into the world. By man’s disobedience, by that alone, came sin, and death by sin—such is the teaching of Scripture alike in its earlier and later revelations; and the theology which would eliminate this doctrine from its fundamental beliefs must be built on another foundation than the word of the living God