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were ; and had all men lived and continued innocent, increasing in numbers, as might have been expected, this earth would have become too small for them long ere now, and its inhabitants could not have subsisted without some of their numbers being taken away into another world.” *
The College of Douay, in their exposition of the Creed, ask—“Had man ever died, if he had never sinned?” and in answer, say,-“No, he had not ; but had been preserved by the tree of life, and been translated alive into the fellowship of the angels.”+ Which intimates a belief that man must have partaken of this tree before he could have been immortal ; being the most obvious meaning of holy writ. The latter part of the sentence seems also to agree with Sherlock's opinion of a probable translation to another place having from the first been intended for man. Instead, therefore, of contemplating death, and speaking of it as we now do, we might in this other far from improbable case, have considered and looked forward to our change, as to a happy and wished-for signal, preceding our removal (both in body and soul) to some more beautiful star or planet, to rejoin those who had gone before us, and were living there in superior felicity. As it is, our souls remove in the mean time without bodies, and their re-union may yet be postponed to a distant period; but souls, even now, rejoin other previously departed souls at death, in the place of separate spirits.
Whatever may be thought of the real nature of the two trees named by Moses, as being possessed of such extraordinary properties, or of the particular manner in which Adam and Eve disobeyed God, this reasoning holds good, and whether Moses uses a metaphorical language or not with regard to them.
God said to Adam——“Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” I–or, rather, become subject to
death :-left to die ;-shalt not be allowed to eat of the tree of life, which would have rendered the body of man immortal, as well as his soul ; which last was so from the first. The original does not mean that man should die upon the very day on which he disobeyed, as our English translation would lead us to infer, but merely, on that day God would leave his body still liable to decay and dissolution, without an opportunity of becoming immortal by partaking of the fruit of the tree of life.
In the Book of Revelation, the tree of life is represented as growing on either side * of a river of life, in the new earth which the blest are to inherit, after the present one has passed away ; it “bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month ; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” +
“What this tree of knowledge of good and evil was," observes Dean Sherlock, “is as great a mystery to us, as what the tree of life was, for we understand neither of them; which makes some men, who would not be thought to be ignorant of any thing, to fly to allegorical senses : But, although I would be glad to know this, if I could, yet I must be contented to leave it a mystery as I find it. That which we are concerned in is, that this sentence of death and mortality, which was pronounced on Adam, fell on all his posterity.” I
If what are called the trees of knowledge and of life, are not to be literally understood as having been actually trees bearing fruit of the property described, but are to be regarded as mysteries thus metaphorically expressed, then the whole account of them must be an allegory to veil from us the nature of the sin of our first parents. Assuredly, it was possible for divine power to have created a species of fruit so astonishingly endowed, that the eating of it should be able, by its effects in the stomach, to change the nature and construction of the human body, and to render it immortal, as in a far lesser degree, many well known flowers, herbs, fruits, and even pure salubrious air, exert their medicinal virtues on our frames. It must bave also been in the power of the Almighty to form and endow another fruit, which, on being partaken of, its surprising qualities should act upon the mind, and communicate a previously unthought of knowledge; an effect even more astonishing than the other.* The probability, however, is, that these trees were only typical of something else, and are described as vegetable productions only in Eastern metaphor, as many sound divines agree with Sherlock in believing, and that the real details are above our comprehension. Those who are inclined to understand Moses in a strictly literal sense with respect to them, should consider that the sacred writings are full of metaphors, and that from the time of this ancient writer down to the Apostolic age, many religious truths and doctrines were taught by types and parables, which, in particular, was a very common mode with our Saviour. Good and evil fruils, for instance, were used to signify good or evil actions. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” “Bring ye forth fruits meet for repentance.” Many passages might be cited where it is far from clear at a first reading, that they were intended as mere similes, and yet they are considered to be so.
* The meaning in the original here is rather obscure, if it be understood that one tree grew on both sides of a river; (literally, on the one side and the other). The most natural inference from the above text, however, appears to be, that in the eternal world there is or shall be more than one tree of life-perhaps many; as when, for instance, we say that the pine tree grows on both sides of the Mississippi—we mean that many of that species are on each side of the stream. If it shall be said that in fact there may be in heaven no water of life-no river—no trees,—all these being merely used in metaphor, we must admit the possibility of this, but not the impossibility of a literal interpretation. + Rev. xxii. 1, 2.
| Discourse on death.
* We have proof, at the same time, that some things taken into the stomach have a great effect upon the mind. Many men can rouse their mental faculties to a much greater degree of power and ability by strong drink than in their ordinary state, and under this excitement are capable of a far increased eloquence, wit, and invention.
The guise under which the Devil appeared to Eve may be termed by some but mere unprofitable curiosity, but every particular connected with the fatal temptation of our first parents, and original sin, ought to be held highly interesting in the early history of our species, and also because we may be able to refute the unbelieving inferences which learned scoffers attempt to draw from the common interpretations of the text in our inspired record.
It is evident that it could not have been any species of earthly serpent that could speak, or with dumb fascination have tempted Eve, and Moses does not say, even that the spirit of the devil entered into such a reptile for that purpose. The serpent, in this account, seems indisputably only an epithet for the evil one himself, as our Lord called Herod a fox, and the Jews serpents, * a generation of vipers,t of their father the devil, I and God's denunciations against the Tempter are only metaphorical threatenings of future punishment; for serpents must have always gone on their bellies, if they are at all like what they were originally; and eating dust, or licking the dust, is still an Oriental mode of expression for indignities and disgrace falling on any one: “The dust of my resentment shall fall upon your head,”-and—“I will make you eat dust,” are phrases used to this day in Turkey, Arabia, and Persia, to the same purpose. The prophetic intimation to the serpent, further meaning that mankind should some time obtain a much greater victory over the devil, than he should gain over them ; not that they should literally bruise his head, or he their heel. Eve's being represented as first plucking the fruit (which some have gratuitously chosen to call an apple, and then believe it to have been actually so,) and giving it to Adam, may mean but to inform us that the woman being the weaker of the two, was the first assailed, and having sinned, persuaded Adam to disobey likewise. If any one part of the relation is held to be metaphorical, then must the whole be so. If we are to take the whole account literally, then we must suppose the serpent was once a much superior animal to what any of them now are, (as some critics do think,) and did not go on its belly; being in fact metamorphosed into its present shape from a very different one ;—that it could speak,—was a rational creature, had even superior knowledge to man,-knew what God had said to him, and is now not only of another form, but capacity also; the original one having been unlike what we understand by any serpentine formed creature, yet still that this serpent was one of the beasts of the field, although the most subtile of them. We must believe all this in such a case, in opposition to other passages which plainly intimate that the Tempter was not an animal, but the evil Spirit. If it is said that the devil merely animated a serpent, and spoke from it, as the demons did in after-times from the bodies of those men called Demoniacs, then, a literal construction will not agree with the style used. It may be thought that Eve, in the days of her innocence, would not have been afraid of a real serpent speaking to her for the first time, nor if a lion had opened his mouth and spoken ; which could have been brought about by supernatural power, as well as in the instance of Balaam's ass; but she must have been very much surprised if such creatures had done so who had never before showed similar powers, and in order to be able to persuade her to disobey God, she must have considered that they knew more than she herself did, and “the serpent” seemed to claim superior knowledge.
+ Matt. iii. 7.; xii. 34.
* Matt. xxiii. 33.
John viii. 41-44.
Those who have always taken the account of the temptation in a literal sense, overlooking all difficulties arising from doing so, will perhaps exclaim against such interpretations as are here given of it; but they will be inclined, it is presumed, to allow these more credence, on finding that in some material points they coincide with the opinion of so excellent a divine and Biblical critic as Dr. Alexander Gerard,* whose remarks on the allusion to the serpent are highly in
Professor of Divinity in King's College, Old Aberdeen. See a Sermon by him, from the text, Gen. iii. 15.