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Gloomy is the review we have taken of the state and prospects of fallen man; but we must not, my friend, shrink from that review. The pages of universal history confirm its truth; and in our own hearts, we may read a comment on the fact of the fall which is clear and decisive. Inattention to it is a perseverance in the apostacy, for it is a rejection of the only remedy, which cannot be applied till the want of it is felt. The rainbow is only visible in the aspect of the threatening cloud. The fall is the groundwork of redemption: the former must be deplored as a personal evil, before the latter can be enjoyed as a personal benefit. We shall have, while we pursue the subject, to trace redeeming love in the history of human guilt and folly. The Divine visit to Paradise was, as I have already observed, a visit of mercy—its process, a process of mercy -and its issue, a rich discovery of that mercy, which is wholly independent on human worthiness, antecedent, contemporaneous, or subsequent.
I am, my dear friend,
THE SENTENCES PASSED ON THE OFFENDERS.
MY DEAR FRIEND, The conclusion of
last Letter left our first parents under the solemn scrutiny of their Omniscient Judge, and brought to a confession of the crime they had committed; although not yet brought to a sufficient sense of its enormity and guilt. To this end, a discovery of the penalty which was thereby incurred, and of the method of restoration which had been previously provided, the latter illustrating the former, was indispensably necessary. As yet, their attempts to apologise for the transgression they could not deny, and to extenuate its evil, were not silenced. Hitherto their remorse fell short of “godly sorrow;" it was “the sorrow of the world that worketh death.” It was unaccompanied with love to Him, whom they had offended ;-of affliction, because they had offended Him. A revelation of pardoning mercy was essential to the production of this gracious feeling.
The history goes on to state the several sentences passed on the three criminals who stood
before their Judge, to receive his decision on their case.
Neither of them had any reason to hope for any thing but unmixed wrath and condign punishment. In two, out of the three cases, however (blessed be God) “ mercy rejoiced against judgment.” With the sentences on the serpent, and on Adam and his partner in guilt, was intermixed that “ blessed hope ” for man“ which maketh not ashamed.” An elucidation of this will be the subject of my present communication.
The process of judgment begins with the principal criminal,—the agent in the temptation; the malicious spirit who had been the prime mover in the awful catastrophe. The sentence passed on him, while it afforded to himself no hope of mitigation or cessation in the punishment denounced, is so expressed as to contain an intimation of mercy to the deluded human pair. The sentence therefore on the serpent, who is elsewhere emphatically called THE WICKED ONE, may be considered in two branches,—what relates personally to himself,—and what in his punishment is connected with the salvation of man.
In proceeding to illustrate the former part of the sentence, I must remind
friend of a postulate which I have already stated. It is, that the whole of this narrative is enigmatical. But while I call the narrative an enigma, I only mean to say, that, while every fact narrated was historieally true, it had a further meaning than appears on the surface. It has, I hope, been demonstrated, that though the serpent was a real reptile of that species, the tempter was the Devil, acting by means of the organs of that reptile. The trees of life and knowledge were real trees, which grew in the midst of the garden: but they were also sacramental emblems. The effects ascribed to a participation of those trees, were real; but they extended beyond the body to the soul. The death which was incurred by eating the fruit of the latter, as to immediate infliction, was spiritual death. The nakedness of which Adam and the woman became conscious, was that of the soul as well as of the body; and the fig-leaf covering they provided for themselves had a moral as well as a natural intention. The whole history consists of outward and visible signs, betokening other circumstances of a spiritual import.
This consideration, as it has aided us in interpreting the former part of this narrative, will be still more useful as a clew to what follows. The images of the ceremonial law, and the parabolic history of Israel, afford other specimens of this kind of description.*
Such a mode of description, if not essentially necessary, was unquestionably the best that could be chosen ; for God has chosen it. But, in many cases, it seems to have been essentially necessary; as, for instance, in pronouncing the sentence on the serpent: For how could the punishment of a spirit have been described to us, but by images with which we who are embodied are familiar. “ Chains of everlasting darkness," as applied to spiritual subsistences, are as much an enigma as crawling on the belly and eating dust. The worm that never dieth and fire that is never quenched, considered as the means of punishment to the immaterial part of man, admit of no other than a metaphorical meaning.
* See 1 Cor. x. and Gal. iv. 22, &c.
We proceed then to attempt an interpretation of the sentence passed on the malignant spirit, the author of the temptation; for he, and not the unoffending serpent, is the object of the curse. It would be worse than trifling with the Divine character, to introduce the Eternal Judge solemnly denouncing on a poor reptile of the dust a curse, implying what, in a great measure, corresponded with its previous instincts and propensities.
The ground of his condemnation is first stated : “ Because thou hast done this." What his previous transgression was, for which he had been cast out of heaven,* can be only a subject of conjecture. It appears from an expression of St. Paul to have been pride of heart, discovering itself in some way or other; for he speaks of this
* 2 Pet. ii. 4. Jude 6.