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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Genesis 2

 

 

Verse 16-17

DISCOURSE: 3

COVENANT MADE WITH ADAM

Genesis 2:16-17. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

WHEN the creation was formed, it was proper that every part of it should shew forth the Creator’s glory, and, as far as its peculiar nature and capacity would admit of, fulfil his will. The sun and moon and stars being inanimate bodies, it was sufficient for them to move with regularity in their respective orbits. The creatures that were endued with life, were to follow their respective instincts, and, according to their abilities, to yield obedience to man, who was God’s vicegerent over them. To man more had been given: of him, therefore, was more required. He was endued with understanding and will: he was capable of knowing what he owed to his Maker, and of exercising discretion in performing it. To him therefore, in addition to the moral law which was written on his heart, and from which he could not deviate without opposing all his innate propensities, a positive precept was given: the will of his Creator was enacted into a law: and that which was indifferent in itself, was made a test of its obedience. All the trees in Paradise were given to him for the nourishment and support of his body. But that he might have an opportunity of acknowledging his dependence on God, and his ready submission to the divine will, one tree was excepted; and the use of it was prohibited under the severest penalties. This prohibition is to be the subject of our present consideration: and, in order that it may be understood in all its bearings and relations, we shall endeavour to explain,

I. Its import—

The name given to the forbidden tree strongly marked the importance of abstaining from it—

[Adam was created in the perfect image of his God. He knew every thing that was good, but nothing that was evil. This was his honour and his felicity. The knowledge of evil would have marred, rather than augmented, his happiness. Such knowledge, if speculative, would be only vain; if practical, be ruinous. We have no reason to think that the fruit of the tree was at all noxious in itself; but, as being forbidden, it could not be eaten without guilt: and therefore the designation given to the tree itself was a standing memorial to Adam on no account to touch it; since by eating of it he would attain the knowledge of evil, which. through the perfection of his nature, he was hitherto unacquainted with.]

The necessity of abstaining from it was yet more awfully inculcated in the penalty annexed to disobedience—

[The death which. in the event of his transgressing the command, was denounced against him, was three-fold; it was temporal, spiritual, eternal. His body, which had not in it naturally the seeds of dissolution, was to be given up a prey to various diseases, and at last to return to the dust from which it sprang. His soul was to lose both the image and enjoyment of God, and to be consigned over to the influence of every thing that was earthly, sensual, and devilish. And, after a certain period, both his body and soul were to be “cast into the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death.”

That such was the penalty, appears from the event: for, upon transgressing the divine command, he became mortal: a change also instantly took placE in his intellectual and moral faculties; as he shewed, by attempting to hide himself from God, with whom he had hitherto maintained the most familiar converse. The eternal duration of his punishment may be inferred from the penalty annexed to sin at this time: for if the wages of sin be eternal death now, there can be no doubt but that it was so then [Note: In Romans 6:23 death, which is the wages of sin, and the life which is the gift of God, are contrasted; both being of the same duration. Compare also Matthew 25:46.].

There was, however, an implied promise, that, if he persevered in his obedience, he should live for ever. In the law which God has since published, and to which the same penalty is annexed for disobedience, we are assured, that whoso doeth the things which are commanded, shall live in them [Note: Compare Deuteronomy 27:26 and Galatians 3:10 with Leviticus 18:5 and Romans 10:5 and Galatians 3:12.]: from whence we may conclude, that there was a similar reward prepared for Adam, if he should continue to obey his God. It is true that the law can not give us life now [Note: Galatians 3:21.] ; but that is not owing to any change in God’s regard for obedience, but to our incapacity to render that obedience which his law requires [Note: Romans 8:3-4.]. If we could keep all the commandments, we should, by keeping them, enter into life [Note: Matthew 19:17.]. And it is manifest that the same reward would have been given to Adam; since we are told, that “the law was ordained to life [Note: Romans 7:10.].”]

The import of the prohibition being made clear, let us consider,

II. Its nature—

It could not be expected that in so brief a history as that before us, every minute particular should be explained: indeed, it was intended that the subsequent revelations of God’s will should clear up things which were left in a state of obscurity. Now from other parts of scripture we find, that this prohibition was, in reality, a covenant; in which. not Adam only, but all his posterity were interested. In this covenant, Adam was the head and representative of all his seed; and they, to the remotest generations, were to stand or fall in him. In proof of this we may observe that,

1. In this prohibition are contained all the constituent parts of a covenant—

[Here are the parties; God on the one side; and Adam, for himself and all his posterity, on the other. Here are the terms expressly declared: there was a condition prescribed, namely, that Adam should obey the divine mandate; on his performance of which condition, he had a promise of life; but on his neglecting to perform it, a threatening of death. Lastly, there was also a seal annexed to the covenant: as the rainbow was a seal of the covenant made with Noah; and circumcision and baptism were the seals of the Abrahamic and Christian covenants; so “the tree of life” was a seal of the covenant made with Adam [Note: Genesis 9:8-17; Romans 4:11.] ; it was a pledge to Adam, that, on his fulfilling the conditions imposed upon him, he should participate the promised reward.]

2. The consequences flowing from the transgression of it, prove it to have been a covenant—

[Death and condemnation were the immediate consequences of Adam’s sin. Nor were these confined to the immediate transgressor; they were entailed on his remotest posterity: by that one act of his all his children are constituted sinners, and are consigned over to death and condemnation. Both scripture and experience attest this melancholy truth [Note: How often is it repeated, that all these evils proceeded from the offence of one man! See Romans 5:12-19.]. Now how can we account for so many millions of persons being involved in his punishment, if they were not in some way or other involved also in his guilt? Surely “the Judge of all the earth will do right;” and therefore, when we behold punishment inflicted on so many beings, who were once formed after the divine image, we may be sure that in the sight of God they are considered as guilty; and, as infants cannot have contracted guilt in their own persons, they must have derived it from Adam, by whom they were represented, and in whom they died.]

3. It is represented as exactly corresponding with the covenant which God made with Christ on our behalf—

[Nothing can be more laboured than the parallel which St. Paul draws between Adam and Christ in the passage we have just referred to. Not content with tracing all evil to the offence of one, he declares that that one person, even Adam, was “a type or figure of Him who was to come;” and that as death and condemnation came by the offence of ONE, that is, Adam; so righteousness and life come by the obedience of ONE, even Christ [Note: Romans 5:12-19.]. In another place he draws precisely the same parallel, representing Christ as “the second man,” “the last Adam [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:45; 1 Corinthians 15:47.] ;” and affirming, that “as in Adam all died, so in Christ shall all be made alive [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:22.].”

These things collectively, clearly prove, that the prohibition was not a mere personal concern with Adam, but that it was a covenant made with him on behalf of himself and all his posterity.

If it be thought strange that God should make other persons responsible for Adam’s conduct; we answer, that, amongst ourselves, the happiness of children is greatly involved in the conduct of their parents; and that God expressly avows, on another occasion, that he did make a covenant with some on behalf of others who were yet unborn [Note: Deuteronomy 29:14-15.]: and if he did it on one occasion, he might with equal propriety do it on another.]

But lest there should lurk in the mind any dissatisfaction with this mysterious appointment, we proceed to shew,

III. Its reasonableness—

Consider its reasonableness,

1. As a prohibition—

[If the will of the Maker were to be enacted into a law, for the purpose of trying the obedience of man, we cannot conceive a more easy and simple method than the prohibiting the use of one single tree amidst the thousands which were laden with the choicest fruits. If God had prohibited all except one, it would have been highly reasonable that He should be obeyed, seeing that they were all the works of His hands, and He was at liberty to give or withhold, as it seemed to Him good. But when He gave the free enjoyment of all, and denied him only one, certainly nothing could be more reasonable than that His will should be honoured by a cheerful compliance.

Nor was it less reasonable that the prohibition should be enforced with so severe a penalty: for the object of the penalty was, to keep Adam from transgression, and to shut him up under a necessity of continuing holy and happy: and therefore the more awful the sanctions were, the more likely they were to answer the desired end; and the more gracious was God in annexing them to the prohibition.]

2. As a covenant—

[It is but a small thing to say concerning the covenant, that it was just: we go much further; and affirm, that it was in the highest degree favourable and advantageous to all who were interested in it. Consider the state in which Adam was, when subjected to the temptation; and compare with it the state in which we should meet temptation, supposing every one of us to be called forth to the trial as soon as ever we entered into the world: he was perfect; we are imperfect: he was in full possession of all his faculties; we should begin our conflict while all the powers of our souls were in a state of infantine weakness: he was exposed to only one temptation, and that apparently easy to be withstood, on account of his having no evil disposition to close with it; we should be assaulted with ten thousand temptations, with every one of which we have a proneness to comply: he conflicted with his enemy who was yet unskilled in the work of beguiling souls; we should engage him after his skill has been augmented by the experience of six thousand years: he was fortified by the consideration that not his own happiness only, but that also of all his posterity, depended on him; whereas we should have no other motive to steadfastness than a regard to our own personal welfare. Let any one compare these states, and then say, whether Adam or We were more likely to fall: and if it appear that his situation was far more conducive to stability than ours, then must it be considered as a great advantage to us to have had such a person for our covenant-head. If it be said, that eventually we are sufferers by it; we may well be satisfied with it; since if he, with all his advantages, was overcome, there is no hope at all that we, under all our disadvantages, should have maintained our integrity. Nor can we doubt, but that if all the human race had been summoned before God at once to hear the proposal of having Adam for their covenant-head, every one of them would have accepted it, as a signal token of the divine goodness.]

Infer,

1. What folly is it to seek for happiness in sin!

[Depraved as every thing is by means of sin, yet is there all that we can wish for in this transient state, together with a liberty “richly to enjoy it.” We have not a sense for which God has not provided a suitable and legitimate indulgence. Survey the number, brightness, magnitude, and order of the heavenly bodies; or the innumerable multitude of animate and inanimate beings, with all their variegated hues, the exquisite formation of their parts, their individual symmetry, their harmonious configuration, their wonderful adaptation to their respective ends. Can we conceive a richer feast for our eyes? Behold how the earth is strewed with flowers, that cast their perfumes to the wind, and regale us with their odours! Where, amongst all the contrivances of art, will any thing be found to equal the fruits of the earth, in the variety and richness of their flavour? or where will the sons of harmony produce such exquisite notes as the feathered tribes gratuitously afford to the meanest cottager? Take the feelings for which so many myriads of mankind sacrifice their eternal interests; and we will venture to affirm, that even those are called forth with keener sensibility and richer zest in the way of God’s appointment, than they ever can be in a way of licentious and prohibited indulgence. What need have we then of forbidden fruit? If nothing were left us in this world but the favour of God and the testimony of a good conscience, we should have a feast which nothing but heaven can excel: but when, together with these, we have all that can conduce to the comfort of the body; when we have “the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come,” is it not madness to seek for happiness in sin; to relinquish “the fountain of living waters, and to hue out to ourselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water?” Let us but learn to enjoy God in every thing, and every thing in God, and we shall find that this world, polluted as it is, is yet a Paradise: with God’s favour, pulse is better than royal delicacies, and the meanest dungeon is a palace.]

2. With what abhorrence should sin be viewed by us!

[Look through the creation which God pronounced to be very good, and see how all things are out of course: the earth that should nourish us, struck with barrenness; the elements that should administer to our comfort, armed against us for our destruction. See the smallest insects in the creation invading us with irresistible force, and by their united efforts desolating our fairest prospects. Look at man himself, once the image of his Maker; see with what malignant dispositions he is filled. See him passing his time here in labour and sorrow, and generation after generation swept away from the face of the earth. Follow him into the eternal world, and behold him banished from the presence of his God, and cast into a lake of fire and brimstone, there to endure the full penalty of all his crimes. Behold all this, I say, and consider that this is the work of sin. One sin introduced it all; and successive generations have lived only to complete what our first parents began. O that we could view sin in this light! O that we could bear in mind the judgment denounced against it, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die!” We have warnings sufficient to intimidate the stoutest heart: “The wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men [Note: Romans 1:18.]:” “The soul that sinneth, it shall die [Note: Ezekiel 18:20.]:” “Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death [Note: James 1:15.].” Only let sin be stripped of its deceitful attire, and be viewed in all its naked deformity, and we shall shudder even at the thought of it, and flee from it as from the face of a serpent.]

3. How thankful should we be for the tree of life!

[Blessed be God, the tree of life yet grows in the midst of us [Note: Revelation 2:7.]. No cherubim with flaming swords obstruct our way to it; on the contrary, all the angels in heaven are ready to exert all their influence to conduct us to it; and God, even our Father, invites and intreats us to gather its life-giving fruits. This tree of life is no other than the Lord Jesus Christ: “it bears twelve manner of fruits,” suited to all our various necessities; and its very “leaves are for the healing of the nations [Note: Revelation 22:2.].” Let us then flock around this tree: let us with humble boldness stretch forth our hands to gather its fruits. We may see around us many who have already experienced its efficacy to heal the sick, and to revive the dead. Let us view the Saviour as God’s instituted ordinance for this very end: and now that he is accessible unto us, let us approach him; lest haply the accepted time be terminated, and we eat for ever the bitter fruits of our transgression.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Genesis 2:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/genesis-2.html. 1832.

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