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on a serious and fundamental article; and has given rise to much disquietude and altercation in the christian world. Let us examine, on which side lies the truth, and how we are to regulate our belief.
Two things the writer will endeavour to keep in view.
1st, The import of the threatening given; or, to see what is comprehended in the curse denounced.
2d, To examine into the probability respecting the substantial correctness of the denial which follows.
We, then, first inquire into the import of the threatening expressed in these words "In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." This being the language of God himself, we must allow, that he has a right to comment on it in his own way; and, by subsequent words and acts, to convey to us, his real meaning. This meaning, whatever it may be, has not varied in the revolutions of time, or with the progress of events. "God is of one mind, and who can turn him?" The evidence he gives, in an actual illustration of his designs, is the truest exposition of the language he has adopted. If we follow the analogy of God's works, and trace the operations of his hand, which perfectly coincide with the sentiments he advances, we shall find that he hath uniformly and very intelligibly explained himself. His threatening to our first parents was couched in the following terms: "In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." If this meant no more than temporal death, or the death of the body, then surely every man, who goes down to the grave receives the full and appropriate punishment of his sins, according to the design of the offended party, expressed in his denunciation. In this case there would be no room, and no occasion, for a Saviour; the punishment of sin being inflicted on the offender himself; and so, no transfer to be made either of guilt or suffering. Adam, no doubt, understood the threatening and knew what was included by it; and if temporal death were all, then the curse has never been removed from him or any of his posterity. In due time it comes upon all, even the best of men, and upon all alike. But the reason and innate sense of mankind unite with scripture to carry the idea much further, and to stamp a more solemn importance on the subject.
It is evident, beyond all controversy, that there is some moral disorder on the human mind, and that men are corrupt in their views, exercises and desires. Hence, a consciousness of guilt disturbs the quiet of their breasts, and fills them with agitation and fear. This disordered state of the mind is, in scripture, denominated
death. This, by theologians, is termed a spiritual death; and consists in the alienation of the affections from God, a loss of his moral image, and an insensibility to every thing divine, spiritual and holy. By the apostle it is denominated being " dead in trespasses and sins." This death is the immediate consequence of disobedience, and supposses the demolition of all holy principle within. The reality of this state is confirmed by the representations given of the emancipation from it, effected by the grace and power of God. Persons are said to be “ born again, created anew, and raised from the dead."
Here is exhibited a woeful picture of human depravity, and a lively view of human wretchedness. The moral condition here supposed is applicable to all who are partners in the guilt of Adam; and it may be one thing intended in the prediction or threatening with which our first ancestor was addressed in the prohibitory and menacing words of God. But I shall extend the idea still further, because I suppose there is more comprehended in the curse. An idea has obtained in the world, that there is something to be apprehended by the sinner as the consequence of his sins in another state. Hence men are perpetually agitated with fears when they are in the near views of death. Few get above these fears, or obtain an exemption from them; but generally they bespeak both a consciousness of guilt, and an apprehension of evil. These ideas have obtained, in a greater or less degree, even where revelation has never been known, and they exist, at times, in the breasts of the most hardened and stupid. So that every man carries within him both an evidence of his depravity and of his liability to punishment. Anxious forebodings of approaching evil are no strangers to the human mind, but often disturb the peace and harrow up the consciences of mortals. The representations of scripture on this subject do but accord with the sentiments of human nature, when no partial or interested feelings sway the decision.
But should there be any doubt as to the degree or extent of the evil threatened, the language of God's word is full and explicit on the subject.
The doctrine of future punishments and of the wrath to come, of everlasting destruction and the torments of hell, is repeatedly and plainly brought up to view. Nor is it to be supposed, that subsequent writers have enlarged upon the plan stated by Moses in his history of the fall and punishment of man. Greater light has been communicated, but no new ideas advanced, as to the real substance of the evil threatened. As much was comprehended in the original curse as in all the subsequent denunciations with VOL. II. I
which the word of God abounds. "In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die," is an expression which conveys as full an idea of future and endless suffering as when it is said, "he that believeth not shall be damned;" or, "these shall go away into everlasting punishment;" and again, "who shall be punished with everlasting destruction." All these are expressions of synonymous import, conveying to us, very plainly, the notion of eter nal death. This evil consists in the seclusion of the soul from God, from heaven, from holiness, and from all enjoyment. It supposes the continuance and perpetual augmentation of spiritual death; and is the consummation of all evil which can be endured both in soul and body. Our Saviour has contrasted the future condition of the righteous and the wicked, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, and observed, in regard to the latter," and it came to pass that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom," denoting his exaltation to heaven and happiness. As a counterpart to this, and to show the amazing difference in the future condition of men, it is added, "the rich man also died and was buried; and in hell, (observe the expres sion) in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torment." This tormented condition of the voluptuous worldling is represented as being subsequent to his death, or to his departure out of this world. And there being no intimation, that this torment will cease; but, on the contrary, the most positive assurances, that it will continue without mitigation or relief, we are constrained to disavow the scriptures of truth, or subscribe to the doctrine of interminable sufferings. And if we are candid enough to admit, that the writers in the word of God have accorded in their sentiments on this subject, we must allow, that the original curse doomed men to this state, and certified all this amazing and endless suffering. Into the substance of the evil threatened we gather then, an idea of spiritual, temporal, and eternal death. From the effects of this curse, whatever it might mean, it was evidently the design of the seducing serpent to give our first parents assurance of complete security. He meets the suggestion of the great Jehovah in its most pointed and unequivocal form, and declares it to be false. "Ye shall not surely die," was a flat denial of what God had asserted. We are, therefore, concerned to see what dependence is to be placed on the declaration here made. Our second proposition will therefore now, of course, occupy our attention: which was,
2ndly, To examine the probability respecting the substantial correctness of the serpent's contradiction of the Most High. Is it certain, or is it even probable, that reliance may safely be placed
on the assertion uttered by the arch-deceiver? It is worthy of remark, that if the serpent is correct, men may dismiss all their uneasiness on account of sin, and be no longer perplexed with fearful apprehensions respecting a future state of punishment. But if there be no foundation for the assurance given, and it turns out to be an arrogant and audacious falsehood, then it is hazardous in the extreme to put any confidence in it, or to permit it to have the least influence on the mind or conduct. To assist in determining this matter, let us advert, for a few moments, to the character of him from whom proceeds this bold and confident assertion.
It contributes not a little to the credibility of any testimony to learn, that the person testifying is of good repute, and that on his character there is no stain. If any charge or suspicion of falsehood lies against him, or if he has been convicted of an intentional violation of the truth, his assertion however peremptorily or solemnly made, has but little influence in regulating our opinion. Accordingly, it has ever been deemed a matter of consequence, in courts of law and equity, to inquire into the credibility of witnesses, and learn their general character for truth and veracity. If any thing material can be alleged which affects the credibility of a witness his testimony is rejected as of no avail. This is a common, a rational, and an approved line of procedure among men, in the investigation of secular concerns. Will any deny the propriety of applying the same rule to an inquiry into spiritual concerns?
Let us act thus rationally in the case we have under consideration. The being who speaks is, in the passage before us, denominated" the serpent." This, no one will doubt, refers to the great adversary of God and man, who is elsewhere termed the devil and Satan. To invalidate his testimony it is proper to consider, that he was the enemy of God, and disposed, if possible, to destroy or mar his works: he was also the enemy of all good, and disposed to ruin the happiness of others. Malice against God, and envy against man, would prompt him to form and execute the most diabolical purposes. Having lost heaven and happiness himself, he was solicitous to draw others into the same snare, and to make them as unhappy and wretched as himself.
With such propensities and exercises, view him approaching our first parents, fraught with the wiles of a subtle and malevolent foe. Finding the woman alone, and judging it a favourable season to commence his attack, hear him accost her with all the craft and softness which ingenuity affords: Yea, hath God
said, ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" Then, by suggesting a query which seemed to denote astonishment in the inquirer, he began to stagger her faith in the kindness of her Maker. After assuring the serpent, that this was indeed the fact, that God had laid them under such a prohibition, and annexed the penalty of death to their disobedience, the woman is addressed in the following more bold and decisive terms: "Ye shall not surely die." One would have thought, that the woman must have suspected some design in this direct and unqualified contradiction of God. The words of the threatening were positive. The language in which the serpent retorts is equally plain and decisive. One stands in direct opposition to the other.
Now, is this enemy of God and man, who is rationally suspected of some evil design, entitled to any credit? Does not the strength of his assertion lose its principal force, when we consider the light in which he is to be viewed? His character is exhibited in a very unfavourable light in the word of God. If we put any confidence in the declarations of the Saviour respecting him, we shall see at once, that nothing is more preposterous than to place confidence in his word. Besides the consideration, that he had strong inducements to falsify the truth, we are assured, by the mouth of him who cannot lie, that this very being who is termed by Moses "the serpent," is " a liar from the beginning; that he abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him; that he is a liar and the father of it." Admitting the justness of this statement, we can need no further testimony to prove, that the author of the doctrine which thus charges the lie upon God, is entitled to no manner of confidence, and that, on every principle of fair and equitable decision, his declaration is to be rejected. From this quarter, therefore, we gather nothing to render it even probable, that there was the least foundation for the assertion of the serpent.
But, let us turn our thoughts to the character of the Being opposed, and consider that the negative assurance given is in direct contradiction of the highest possible authority. God had a little before asserted, that death should be the consequence of disobedience. We are bound, in reason, and in duty, to believe this assertion, till we have some equal or superior authority for withholding our belief. Till some one comes, vested with sufficient authority from God himself, or who can lay claim to a higher measure of credibility, we are not at liberty to distrust, for a moment, the correctness of what God has stated to us. The character of God is such as to carry him above the suspicion of any attempt