Sermon 8. The State of Innocence Seasons - Christmas

"God hath made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions." Eccles. vii. 29.

[Note 1] {99} THE state of our parents as God made them "upright," and "very good," in the day that they were created, presents much to excite our interest and sympathy, though we, their descendants, have passed away into a far different state. Since that time our nature has gone through many fortunes,—through much evil to greater good. That primeval state is no longer ours. It is no longer ours, though it is no longer forfeited. The penalties are removed; the flaming sword no longer bars the entrance of Eden; yet have we not returned to it. For so is it with all that happens to us,—the past never returns, not in what it contained, any more than in itself. Each time has its own peculiar attributes; it is impressed with its own characters. We recognise them in memory. When from time to time this or that passage of our lives rises in our minds, {100} it comes to us with its own savour. We know it as if by taste and scent, and we know that that peculiar and indescribable token, be it good or bad, never can attach to anything else. And what is true of indifferent things, is true also when right and wrong come into question, and in the great destinies of man. If we sin and forfeit what God has given, not God Himself (such seems to be His will), not God Himself, in the fulness of His mercies, ever brings back what we were. He may wash out our sin,—He may give us blessings, greater blessings than we had,—He does not give us the same. When man was driven out of Paradise, it was for good and all,—he never has returned,—he never will return,—he has been born again, but not into possession of the garden of innocence: he has a rest in store, and a happier one,—a more glorious paradise, but still another.

This being so, it would seem as if there was little to interest us now in the first condition of Adam. As lost, it would only raise remorse and distress; as found again, it is something new. And yet, though Almighty God does not bring back the past, His dispensations move forward in an equable uniform way, like circles expanding about one centre;—the greater good to come being, not indeed the same as the past good, but nevertheless resembling it, as a substance resembles its type. In the past we see the future as if in miniature and outline. Indeed how can it be otherwise? seeing that all goods are but types and shadows of God Himself the Giver, and are like each other because they are like Him. Hence the garden of Eden, though long {101} past away, is brought again and again to our notice in the progress of God's dealings with us, not only in order to instruct us by the past, but unavoidably, if I may so speak, from the resemblance which one condition of God's favour bears to another;—of Adam's first state to the Law, and of the law to the Gospel, and of the Gospel to the state of rest after death, and of that to heaven. For instance, the land that flowed with milk and honey, was a sort of visible return of the lost garden; and in a manner reversed the sentence of banishment which God has laid upon our first parents. Again, the reign of Christ too is imaged as a state in which the beasts return to the dominion of man, and are harmless;—when the serpent is no longer venomous, and when "the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose," and "instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle-tree;" when "the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands." [Isa. xxxv. 1; lv. 13, 12.] And so of the intermediate state; for our Lord says to the penitent thief, "Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise." And lastly, to describe heaven too, in the last words which God has vouchsafed to us, ending His revelations as he began them, He sets before us the vision of a happy garden. "He showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the Tree of Life, which had twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month; {102} and the leaves of the Tree were for the healing of the nations." [Rev. xxii. 1, 2.] Thus God takes away the less to give the greater,—not reversing the past, but remedying and heightening it; preserving the pattern of it, and so keeping us from forgetting it.

Therefore we may well look back on the garden of Eden, as we would on our own childhood. That childhood is a type of the perfect Christian state; our Saviour so made it when He said that we must become as little children to enter His kingdom. Yet it too is a thing past and over. We are not, we cannot be children; grown men have faculties, passions, aims, principles, views, duties, which children have not; still, however, we must become as little children; in them we are bound to see Christian perfection, and to labour for it with them in our eye. Indeed there is a very much closer connexion between the state of Adam in Paradise and our state in childhood, than may at first be thought; so that in surveying Eden, we are in a way looking back on our own childhood; and in aiming to be children again, we are aiming to be as Adam on his creation. Let us then now compare together these two parallel states, and in doing so let us have an eye to that third state, higher than either; I mean our regenerate state in Christ, of which these two are both types.

There is, for what we know, a very mysterious real connexion between the garden of Eden and our childhood, on which, however, I am not going to enlarge. I mean, the doctrine of original sin does connect together, in some unknown and awful way, Adam and each of us. {103} If, as we believe, Adam's sin is imputed to each of us, if we enter into the world with it upon us, in all its consequences, just as if it were ours, certainly we cannot be in Adam's state when he was in Eden (rather what he was when leaving it), but still so much may be said, that our childhood is in some sense a continuation of Adam's state when in Eden, a carrying it on through and after his fall, and not a beginning; though in thus speaking we use words beyond our own meaning.

But dismissing this subject, I would have you observe, that as far as we are given to know it, Adam's state in Eden seems to have been like the state of children now—in being simple, inartificial, inexperienced in evil, unreasoning, uncalculating, ignorant of the future, or (as men now speak) unintellectual. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was kept from him. Also, I would observe, that whereas we who do know good and evil, are bid to become as simple children; so again we are promised a paradise in which shall be no Tree of Knowledge. St. John describes to us the future paradise, and tells us of the Tree of Life there, but it has no Tree of Knowledge; instead of which "the glory of God doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof." It would seem then, taking human nature according to what it was on its creation, according to what it is in childhood (which is the type of its perfection), and according to what is implied about its future state, that in all these states the "knowledge of good and evil" is away, whatever be the meaning of that phrase, and that instead of it the Lord is our Light, "and in His light shall we see light." This {104} remarkably corresponds with the words of the text: "God hath made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions." But to return to our first parents.

The state in Eden seems, I say, to be very much what is called the life of innocents, of such as are derided and contemned by men, as they now are,—their degenerate descendants.

1. First Adam and Eve were placed in a garden to cultivate it; how much is implied even in this! "The Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden, to dress it and to keep it." If there was a mode of life free from tumult, anxiety, excitement, and fever of mind, it was the care of a garden. You will say it could not be otherwise, while he was but one man in the whole world;—the accumulation of human beings, the mutual action of mind on mind, this it is which creates all the hurry and variety of life. Adam was a hermit, whether he would or no. True; but does not this very circumstance that God made him such, point out to us what is our true happiness, if we were given it, which we are not? At least we see in type what our perfection is, in these first specimens of our nature, which need not, unless God had so willed, have been created in this solitary state, but might have been myriads at once, as the Angels were created. And let it be noted, that, when the Second Adam came, He returned, nay, more than returned to that life which the First had originally been allotted. He too was alone, and lived alone, the immaculate Son of a Virgin Mother; and He chose the mountain summit or the garden as His home. Save always, that in His case sorrow and pain went with His {105} loneliness; not, like Adam, eating freely of all trees but one, but fasting in the wilderness for forty days—not tempted to eat of that one through wantonness, but urged in utter destitution of food to provide Himself with some necessary bread,—not as a king giving names to fawning brutes, but one among the wild beasts,—not granted a help meet for His support, but praying alone in the dark morning,—not dressing the herbs and flowers, but dropping blood upon the ground in agony,—not falling into a deep sleep in His garden, but buried there after His passion;—yet still like the first Adam, solitary,—like the first Adam, living with His God and Holy Angels. And this is the more remarkable, both because He came to do a great work in a short ministry, and because the same characteristic will be found in His servants also; nay, in His most laboriously employed and most successfully active servants, before and after Him. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were as "plain men dwelling in tents;" Moses lived for forty years a shepherd's life; and when at length he was set over the chosen people, still in one of the most critical moments of his government, he had long retirements in the Mount with God. Samuel was brought up within the Temple; Elijah lived in the deserts; so did the Baptist, his antitype. Even the Apostles had their seasons of solitude. We hear of St. Peter at Joppa; and St. Paul had his labours again and again suspended by imprisonment; as if such occasional respite from exertion were as necessary for the spirit as sleep is necessary for the body. If then the life of Christ and His servants be any guide to us, certainly it would {106} appear as if the simplicity and the repose of life, with which human nature began, is an indication of its perfection. And again, does not our infancy teach us the same lesson? which is especially a season when the soul is left to itself, withdrawn from its fellows as effectually as if it were the only human being on earth, like Adam in his inclosed garden, fenced off from the world, and visited by Angels.

2. Fenced off from the world, nay, fenced off even from himself; for so it is, and most strange too, that our infant and childish state is hidden from ourselves. We cannot recollect it. We know not what it was, what our thoughts in it were, and what our probation, more than we know Adam's. This is a remarkable analogy for such persons as question and object to the account of our first parents in Eden. To what does their difficulty amount at the utmost, but to this, that they do not know what their state was? that there is a depth and a secret about the Word of God, which they cannot penetrate? And is it greater than that which hangs over themselves personally, in their own most mysterious infancy? the history of which, doubtless, if it could be put into words, and set before us, would be as strange and foreign to us, would be as little recognised by us as our own, as the second and third chapters of Genesis. And here again occurs a parallel in our state of perfection; "we know not what we shall be." We know not what we are tending to, any more than what we have started from. St. Paul was once caught up to Paradise, and he witnesses to the incomprehensible nature of that life, which was begun and broken off {107} in Eden. "I knew such a man ... how he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." [2 Cor. xii. 3, 4.] And all this is further paralleled by the state of regeneration in the present world, as far as this, that those who advance far in the divine life, both are themselves hidden, and see things hidden from common men. "The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not." "The world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not." "The world knoweth us not because it knew Him not." And on the other hand, "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him." "He that believeth in the Son of God, hath the witness in himself." "To him that overcometh will I give a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it." [John i. 5, 10. 1 John iii. 1. Ps. xxv. 14. 1 John v. 10. Rev. i. 17.]

3. Another resemblance between the state of Adam in paradise, and that of children is this, that children are saved, not by their purpose and habits of obedience, not by faith and works, but by the influence of baptismal grace; and into Adam God "breathed the breath of life, and man became a living soul." Far different is our state since the fall:—at present our moral rectitude, such as it is, is acquired by trial, by discipline: but what does this really mean? by sinning, by suffering, by correcting ourselves, by improving. We advance to the truth by experience of error; we succeed through failures. We know not how {108} to do right except by having done wrong. We call virtue a mean,—that is, as considering it to lie between things that are wrong. We know what is right, not positively, but negatively;—we do not see the truth at once and make towards it, but we fall upon and try error, and find it is not the truth. We grope about by touch, not by sight, and so by a miserable experience exhaust the possible modes of acting till nought is left, but truth, remaining. Such is the process by which we succeed; we walk to heaven backward; we drive our arrows at a mark, and think him most skilful whose shortcomings are the least.

So it is not with children baptized and taken away. So was it not while Adam was still upright, as God created him. Adam might probably have matured in holiness, had he remained in his first state, without experience of evil, whether pain or error; for he had that within him which was to him more than all the habits which trial and discipline painfully form in us. Unless it be presumptuous to say it, grace was to him instead of a habit; grace was his clothing within and without. Grace dispensed with efforts towards holiness, for holiness lived in him. We do not know what we mean by a habit, except as a state or quality of mind under which we act in this or that particular way; it is a permanent power in the mind; and what is grace but this? What then man fallen gains by dint of exercise, working up towards it by religious acts, that Adam already acted from. He had that light within him, which he might make brighter by obedience, but which he had not to create. Not till he fell, did he lose that supernatural endowment, {109} which raised him into a state above himself, and made him in a certain sense more than man, and what the Angels are, or Saints hereafter. This robe of innocence and sanctity he lost when he fell; he knew and confessed that he had lost it; but while he possessed it, he was sinless and perfect, and acceptable to God, though he had gone through nothing painful to obtain it. He tired of it; he tired of being upright from the heart only, and not in the way of reason. He desired to obey, not in the way of children, but of those who choose for themselves. He ate of the forbidden fruit, that he might choose with his eyes open between good and evil, and his eyes were opened, and he "knew that he was naked;" for the strength of God's inward glory went from him, and he was left henceforth to struggle on towards obedience as he best might in his fallen state by experience of sin and misery. And here again let it be observed, as in former points of the parallel, that this gift which sanctified Adam and saves children, does become the ruling principle of Christians generally when they advance to perfection. According as habits of holiness are matured, principle, reason, and self-discipline are unnecessary; a moral instinct takes their place in the breast, or rather, to speak more reverently, the Spirit is sovereign there. There is no calculation, no struggle, no self-regard, no investigation of motives. We act from love. Hence the Apostles say, "Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things;" "Ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them." [1 John ii. 20. 2 Cor. vi. 16.] {110}

Now if the doctrine on which this parallel is founded be true, which one cannot doubt, how miserable that state, which is so often praised and magnified as the perfection of our nature, whereas it is the very curse that has come upon us,—the knowledge of evil. Yet can anything be more certain than that men do glory in it; glory in their shame, and consider they are advancing in moral excellence, when they are but gaining a knowledge of moral evil?

For instance, I suppose great numbers of men think that it is slavish and despicable to go on in that narrow way in which they are brought up as children, without experience of the world. It is the narrow way, and they call it narrow in contumely. They fret at the restraints of their father's roof, and wish to judge and act for themselves. They think it manly to taste the pleasures of sin; they think it manly to know what sin is before condemning it. They think they are then better judges, when they are not blindly led by others, but have taken upon them, by their own act, the yoke of evil. They think it a fine thing to curse and swear, and to revel, and to ridicule God's sacred truth, and to profess themselves the devil's scholars. They look down upon the innocent, upon women and children, and solitaries, and holy and humble men of heart, who, like the Cherubim, see God and worship, as unfit for the great business of life, and worthless in the real estimate of things. They think it no great harm to leave off a correct life for a time, so that they return to it at length. They consider that it is even more pleasing to God, a more "reasonable service" to subdue {111} evil than to follow good. They consider that to bring "the motions of sin" under, and show their power over it, is a higher thing than not to have them to fight against [Note 2]. They think it more noble to have an enemy to overcome and rebels to control than to be in peace. Alas! they commonly do not acknowledge so much as that there is a rebel power within them; they call sin but a venial evil, and no wonder that, so thinking, they can bear to talk of trying it, and cannot understand that it is better to be ever pure than to have been at one time stained.

This is one kind of knowledge, and most miserable doubtless, which we have gained by the fall, to know sin by experience;—not to gaze at it with awe as the Angels do, or as children when they wonder how there can be wicked men in the world, but to admit it into our hearts. Alas! ever since the fall this has been more or less the state of the natural man, to live in sin; and though here and there, under the secret stirrings of God's grace, he has sought after God and obeyed Him, it has been in a grovelling sort, like worms working their way upwards through the dust of the earth, turning evil against itself, and unlearning it from having known it. And such too seems to be one chief way in which Providence carries on His truth even under the Gospel; not by a direct flood of light upon the Church, but by setting one mischief upon another, bidding one serpent destroy another, the less the greater; thus gradually thinning the brood of sin, and wasting them by their own contrariety. And in this {112} way doubtless we are to regard sects and heresies, as witnesses and confessors of particular truths, as God's means of destroying evil,—mortal themselves, yet greedy of each other.

4. The mention of heresy and error opens upon us a large subject to which I will but allude. What then is intellect itself, as exercised in the world, but a fruit of the fall, not found in paradise or in heaven, more than in little children, and at the utmost but tolerated in the Church, and only not incompatible with the regenerate mind? Children do not go by reason: Adam in his state of innocence had no opportunity for aught but what we should call a calm and simple life. To God Most High we ascribe moral excellences, truth, faithfulness, love, justice, holiness: again we speak of His power, knowledge, and wisdom: but it would be profane even to utter His great Name in connexion with those powers of mind which we call ability, and prize so highly. Christ again displays no eloquence or power of words, no subtle or excursive reasoning, no brilliancy, ingenuity, or fertility of thought, such as the world admires. Nay, the same truth holds as regards our own regenerate state; for though doubtless every power of the intellect has its use in the Church, yet surely, after all, faith is made supreme, and reason then only is considered in place when it is subordinate. "Blessed are they," says our Lord, "that have not seen and yet have believed;" and Paul again, "The Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness; but unto them {113} which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." [John xx. 29. 1 Cor. i. 22-24.] What a contrast to such passages is presented by a mere catalogue of the powers of mind by which men succeed in life, and by which the structure of society is kept together! Take the world as it is, with its intelligence, its bustle, its feverish efforts, its works, its results, the ceaseless ebb and flow of the great tide of mind: view society, I mean, not in its adventitious evil, but in its essential characters, and what is all its intellectual energy but a fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and though not sinful, yet, in fact, the consequence of sin? Consider its professions, trades, pursuits, or, in the words of the text, "inventions;" trace them down to their simplest forms and first causes, and what is their parent, but the loss of original uprightness? What place have its splendours, triumphs, speculations, or theories in that pure and happy region which was our cradle, or in that heaven which is to be our rest? Dexterity, promptness, presence of mind, sagacity, shrewdness, powers of persuasion, talent for business, what are these but developments of intellect which our fallen state has occasioned, and probably far from the highest which our mind is capable of? And are not these and others at best only of use in remedying the effects of the fall, and, so far, indeed, demanding of us deep thankfulness towards the Giver, but not having a legitimate employment except in a world of sickness and infirmity?

Now, in thus speaking, let it be observed, I am not {114} using light words of what is a great gift of God, and one distinguishing mark of man over the brutes, our reason; I have but spoken of the particular exercises and developments, in which it has its life in the world, as we see them; and these, though in themselves excellent, and often admirable, yet would not have been but for sin, and now that they are, subserve the purposes of sin. Reason, I say, is God's gift; but so are the passions; Adam had the gift of reason, and so had he passions; but he did not walk by reason, nor was he led by his passions; he, or at least Eve, was tempted to follow passion and reason, instead of her Maker, and she fell. Since that time passion and reason have abandoned their due place in man's nature, which is one of subordination, and conspired together against the Divine light within him, which is his proper guide. Reason has been as guilty as passion here. God made man upright, and grace was his strength; but he has found out many inventions, and his strength is reason.

To conclude: Let us learn from what has been said, whatever gifts of mind we have, henceforth to keep them under, and to subject them to innocence, simplicity, and truth. Let our characters be formed upon faith, love, contemplativeness, modesty, meekness, humility. I know well that men differ so much here one from another, that it were folly to expect their outward character to appear one and the same. One man carries his gentleness on the surface, or his humbleness, or his simplicity; and his intellectual gifts are hid within him. We look at him, and cannot understand how he should possess those endowments of mind, {115} which we know he has. Another's graces are buried, or nearly so; he overflows with thought, or is powerful in speech, or takes a keen view of the world, and is ever present and ready wherever he is; while he keeps his self-abasement and seriousness to himself. These are accidents; "the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." [1 Sam. xvi. 7.] Let us labour to approve ourselves to Christ. If we be in a crowd, still be we as hermits in the wilderness; if we be rich as if poor, if married as single, if gifted in mind, still as little children. Let the tumult of error teach us the simplicity of truth; the miseries of guilt the peace of innocence; and "the many inventions" of the reason the stability of faith. Let us, with St. Paul, be "all things to all men," while we "live unto God;" "wise as serpents and harmless as doves," "in malice children, in understanding men."

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Notes

1. Christmas.
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2. Vide Froude's Sermons, XIII.
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