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God, and its various wants, at different times, and in different situations. The observation, indeed, made by an eminent casuists with respect to human laws, holds much stronger with respect to laws divine: "The obedience of that man is much too delicate, "who insists upon knowing the reasons of all laws "before he will obey them. The legislator must be "supposed to have given his sanction from the rea"son of the thing; but where we cannot discover the reason of it, the sanction is to be the only reason "of our obedience." This observation, I say, is most certainly a just one. But as a wise God acts not without the highest reason, so a gracious God, in his dispensations to his reasonable creatures, has, in many instances, with his commands, communicated the reasons on which they were founded, and has even condescended to argue with his people, on the justice and rectitude of his proceedings.
Services outward and visible have been enjoined. They have always been enjoined. But then they have always been symbolical of dispositions and actions inward and spiritual. When this is the case, from unimportant and insignificant, they become the most important and significant transactions in the world. An uninformed person, living in the times of persecution under the Heathen emperors, must have been, to the last degree, astonished and confounded, when told, that a Christian was in danger of eternal rejection from the presence of God, if he scattered a handful of incense on the fire; and that
he was bound, by his religion, rather to die in torments, than submit to do it. But every objection vanishes in a moment, when we know that such an action, in a Christian so circumstanced, was a token of renouncing his God and Saviour, and acknowledging a false object of worship.
To come a little nearer to the point in question.— Know we not, that the action of eating, in particular, from the beginning, both among believers and unbelievers, has ever been esteemed and constituted an action symbolical of religious affection; and that, in the days of St. Paul, a man denominated himself either one or the other, as he partook of the Lord's table, or the table of an idol? What were these, in the new Paradise, the church Christian, but the tree of life, and the tree of death? Why should it seem incredible, or absurd, that, in man's original trial, the same action should have been, in some manner, significative of the same affection? And if, in that truly golden age of innocence, health, and felicity, the food allotted to man was of the vegetable kind, then the fruit of a tree must, of course, be the subject of the prohibition. In after ages, under the law of Moses and the permission of animal food, the figurative system of rites was artificial and sanguinary; but in the sacred grove of Eden, that first tabernacle or temple, planted for a place of worship as well as of abode, the whole of the religious scenery was composed of the beautiful and luxuriant productions of primeval nature, unstained with blood, when as yet there was no malediction upon the ground.
This consideration satisfies the mind, and removes
every objection made to the nature of the test, and the wisdom of God in appointing it. For if in this, as in other dispensations, the action of eating was intended to be symbolical of some mental disposition or affection, whether we can now ascertain particulars, or not, all the buffoonery of infidelity falls to the ground at once. The trial of Adam, like that of every other man, was, whether he would so far believe in God, as to look for happiness in obedience to the divine command; or would seek that happiness elsewhere, and apply for it to some forbidden object, of which the tree must have been an emblematical representation.
You will ask, what that object was, and what information, as to the knowledge of good and evil, Adam could receive from the prohibition? By answering the last question, a way may, in some measure, perhaps, be opened, for an answer to the first.
A due contemplation of the prohibition might naturally suggest to the mind of our first parent the following important truths; especially if we consider (as we must and ought to consider) that to him, under the tuition of his Maker, all things necessary were explained and made clear, how obscure soever they may appear to us, forming a judgement of them from a very concise narrative, couched in figurative language, at this distance of time.
Looking upon the tree of knowledge, then, and recollecting the precept of which it was the subject, Adam might learn that God was the sovereign Lord of all things; that the dominion vested in man over
the creatures, was by no means a dominion absolute and independent; that without and beside God, there was no true and real good: that to desire any thing without and beside him, was evil: that no temporal worldly good, however fair and tempting its appearance, was to be fixed upon by man, as the source of his felicity that the sole rule for shunning or desiring things sensible, should be the will and word of God; and that good and evil should be judged of by that standard alone: that the obedience which God would accept, must be paid with all the powers and affections of the mind, showing itself careful and prompt in every the least instance: that man was not yet placed in a state of consummate and established bliss; but that such state was by him to be earnestly expected, and incessantly desired; and that he must take the way to it, marked and pointed out by God himself h
These particulars seem to flow from the prohibition in an easy and natural train. And they lead us to answer the other question, namely, what was the object represented by the tree of knowledge? It was that object, on which man is prone to set his affections, instead of placing them on a better; it was that object, which, in every age, has been the great rival of the Almighty in the human heart; it was that object, which, in one way or other, has always been worshipped and served rather than the Creator;"
See Vitringa, Observat. Sacr. vol. ii. lib. iv. cap. 12, from whom many of the sentiments in this Discourse are borrowed.
it was the CREATURE, the WORLD; and the grand trial was, as it ever hath been, and ever will be, till the world shall cease to exist, whether things visible or things invisible should obtain the preference; whether man should walk "by sight, or by faith.' To know this, was the knowledge of good and evil; and this knowledge came by the law of God, which said, "Thou shalt not covet." Man's wisdom consisted in the observation of that law; but an enemy persuaded him to seek wisdom by transgressing it. He did so; and had nothing left, but to repent of his folly: a case that happens, among his descendants, every day, and every hour.
Let us, therefore, consider the tree of knowledge, in this light, with respect to its nature, situation, design, qualities, effects, and the knowledge conferred by it.
The fruit of this tree was to appearance, fair and pleasant; but, when tasted, it became, by the divine appointment, the cause of death. Now, what is it, which, in the eyes of all mankind, seems equally pleasing and alluring, but the end thereof, when coveted in opposition to the divine command, proves to be death? It is the world, with its pleasures and its glories, desired by its votaries, per fas atque nefas, to the denial of God, and to their own destruction. The Scriptures proclaim this aloud, and the experience of all generations confirms their testimony. Indeed, what is there in the universe but the Cre
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