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Concerning the Providence of God, as it respects Man in a state of Innocency.
Man being made upright, or perfectly holy, this necessarily supposes a rule of right, or that there was a right and wrong in moral character and conduct: and that God did, and could not but require or command that which is morally right, and forbid the contrary; or, in other words, that man was under moral government, which supposes a law requiring perfect obedience of him, or his whole duty, and forbidding all disobedience, on pain of suffering the just desert of it. What has been observed in the foregoing section of angels, respecting the nature of the moral government, and the law under which they were;160160 Page 208, 209, 210. is equally applicable to man: and proves that he was certainly and necessarily under such a law, which required him to love God with all his heart, and his neighbour as himself, and to express this in all proper ways; and to obey every precept which God should give him; with a penalty annexed, threatening every instance of disobedience with a punishment exactly answerable to the crime, which must be endless suffering. So much is certainly essential to moral government, and necessary, in order to man’s being treated as a moral agent, by his Creator.
We have indeed no particular account of this law, or history of man’s being put under this moral government, in the inspired narrative which Moses has given of the primitive state of innocency. And there is this very good reason to be given for it, viz. because it was entirely needless. The most express narrative of this matter would not have made it more plain and certain than it now is: There is now as great and as clear evidence of 218 it, as there is, that man was created with a capacity for moral agency, and is a proper subject of moral government, as has been proved. But if this were not so evident from the nature of the case, it might be demonstrated from what has been since revealed. St. Paul, speaking of the law under which all mankind are, asserts the tenor of it in these words, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all the things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.”161161 Gal. iii. 10. This law must have existed before man sinned, and while he had opportunity, and was in a capacity to continue to do every thing required by it; for if man, when in these circumstances, was not under this law, with this sanction, and bound by it, there could be no reason or propriety in making this requirement on such a penalty, when man had already violated it, and rendered it impossible to come up to, or do what is required: Which the Apostle says is the case with all mankind, since the original apostasy; for they are all under the curse of this law. It necessarily follows, therefore, that man was originally made under this law, when in a state of innocency, which denounced a curse upon him, if he failed of perfect obedience. This curse implies in it all the evil that man is capable of suffering, even endless destruction; and will take place in its fulness, and without any abatement on those to whom Christ, at the day of judgment, will say, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.” We must look forward to this time, to see it completely executed. This then, we may be sure, is the penalty of the law, under which man was placed, when he became a subject of moral government; which is also true of angels, as has been proved in the preceding section. So far therefore, we go on sure ground: No particular express revelation could make it more evident and certain: Therefore we may see good reason why we have no such revelation.
It has been observed, that the sum of duty required in the moral law, is love: To love God with all the heart, and our neighbour as ourselves. This we are sure of from the express declaration of Christ.162162 Matt. xxii. 37, 40. He has reduced the whole moral law to this, and said that, “On 219these two commandments, hang all the law and the prophets.” This includes and enjoins obedience to all special or positive directions and commands, which God may be pleased to give at any time; for love to God implies obedience to all his particular commands, as disregard to any of his injunctions, is contrary to love to him. How many, and what particular and positive commands God gave to man, when he was at first created, and in a state of innocency, we are not told: But some of them are expressed, or may be collected from what is related. A Sabbath was instituted, God blessed and sanctified the seventh day from the beginning of the creation, which Christ says, “was made for man;” and therefore he must have been commanded to keep it holy, or dedicate it to sacred uses in the worship of God, &c. laying aside the business and employment which might be attended on other days. God instituted marriage, and consequently all the duties peculiar to such a relation; and commanded man to multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue and cultivate it. He gave him authority and dominion over all inferior creatures; which is a command to exercise government and dominion over them, and use them for his convenience and profit: But it appears from another direction, that he was forbid to kill and eat them for sustenance; and probably was not allowed to put an end to the life of any animal, on any occasion. The direction or command mentioned, is in the following words, “And God said, behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed: To you it shall be for meat.” Thus they were commanded to live on vegetables, and had no license to eat animal food; but a prohibition of this is implied. He was ordered into the garden of Eden, and commanded to dress, and to keep it. He was allowed to eat of every tree of the garden except one; and he was commanded not to eat of that, upon the severest penalty. “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying. 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 that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.”220
We cannot justly infer, from this prohibition or command only being mentioned, that man was not prohibited the violation of the moral law, in every instance, upon the same penalty; or that there were no other positive commands given to him, guarded with an equally severe threatening, in case of disobedience; or that this prohibition was the only test of his obedience; or that if he had violated any other command, it would not have been attended with equally fatal consequences. The contrary has been proved above; by which it is very evident, it is presumed, to all who will properly consider the matter, that they who have supposed any of those things, have no reasonable foundation for what they have believed and asserted. This positive prohibition, with the threatened penalty, is thus particularly mentioned, for two very good reasons: First, because it was a positive prohibition or command, and therefore it could not have been known that man was forbidden to eat of that particular tree, unless it had been thus particularly narrated. Secondly, because man actually fell from his innocence and happiness, and incurred the threatened penalty, by disregarding this prohibition, and eating of the fruit of this forbidden tree. Had he sinned by transgressing any other positive command, which we know nothing of now; that, in this case, would have been as particularly mentioned, with the same penalty, as this now is, and we should have heard nothing of this, in a history so concise, as that which Moses was inspired to give, in which not a word is mentioned, which was not necessary, in order to understand the important story; leaving many things implied in the history, to be investigated or inferred from what is written, or to be farther opened and explained in some future revelation.
It has been a great question, What this threatening imports? What is meant by the death here threatened to disobedience? Those who have attempted to answer it, have done it very differently. Some have been confident, that it intends only the death of the body, or the separation of soul and body; to which all men are now condemned; to which Adam, and in him all his posterity, was sentenced, after man had transgressed, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” Others suppose 221that a total annihilation of soul and body is intended; so that if the threatening had been executed without any mitigation or remedy, Adam and Eve would have been annihilated, and none of their posterity would have had actual existence. Others have thought, that by dying is meant their becoming totally corrupt or sinful, “dead in trespasses and sins,” which is denominated spiritual death. The most general and common opinion has been, that it includes the death of the body, which is called temporal death, and spiritual death, and also eternal death, or endless misery; or as it is commonly expressed, “Death, temporal, spiritual, and eternal.”
Instead of attempting directly to confute all or any of these different opinions, or to vindicate any one of them, it is thought the most likely and easy way to get satisfactory evidence of the real and true meaning of this threatening, denounced against man, if he transgressed the divine prohibition, is to endeavour to find some clue which will lead us into it, so as to give all desirable evidence and satisfaction, that we have fixed on the truth. Perhaps such an one may be investigated. In this view, the following things must be observed, and carefully examined, and put together.
First, Every transgression of God’s law or command, is a crime of such magnitude, that no punishment is adequate and answerable to it, so as to express the turpitude and ill desert of the sinner, but that which contains infinite evil. Or every violation of the law of God is infinitely criminal, is an infinite moral evil; and therefore deserves a punishment infinitely great and dreadful, and which contains infinite natural evil. This has been brought into view above, and the evidence of it exhibited, so that it is needless to say much upon it here. That all sin against God is infinitely criminal, every one must grant, or be inconsistent with himself, who will allow that it is a greater crime for a child to abuse his kind, excellent father, than to injure the meanest servant in the family; and that the former deserves a much greater punishment than the latter. For by allowing this, he grants that the crime of abusing another, is greater or less, according to the degree of worth and excellency of him who is injured, and to the relation in which he 222 stands to him. And this is granting that to injure and abuse a Being of infinite greatness, authority, dignity, worth and excellence, who, in the highest sense, is our father, friend and benefactor, must be infinitely criminal. But this is true of every sin against God. Therefore every sin against God, which is an injury and abuse offered to him, is a crime of infinite magnitude; consequently the sinner must be punished with infinite evil, if he has his desert.
Again, if it be evident and certain that every criminal deserves all that punishment or natural evil, which his criminal deed tends to produce, or would certainly follow, were it not prevented by some other person or counteracting power, which, it is presumed, all will allow; then every transgression of the divine law, deserves infinite evil. Upon this ground a number of the laws given by Moses are founded, and cannot be proved to be just, if this be not admitted as a truth. It was commanded that if a man injured his neighbour, and brought any evil upon him, by depriving him of his life, limbs or senses, he should be punished, by suffering the same, or as great evil. “Thine eye shall have no pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”163163 Deut. xix. 21. And it is to be observed, that not only he who actually did evil to another, and took away his life or any of his limbs, but he who attempted or aimed to do this, and did that which tended to effect it, though it did not actually take place, but was prevented, was himself to be punished with the evil, which he willed and designed to bring on his neighbour.164164 Deut. xix. 16-21. By the same rule, if a man should murder a thousand men, or will and design to do it, he would deserve to die a thousand deaths, or lose a thousand lives, and this punishment might justly be inflicted, were he capable of suffering it, or had so many lives to lose.
Now, according to this, as has just been asserted, every transgression of the divine law deserves infinite evil. For every instance of opposition to God, which every sin is, is an attempt to destroy his being, or to take away 223 his happiness, and make him infinitely miserable; to put an end to his government, and introduce universal confusion and misery, through the whole creation; and the rebel would be glad to effect all this, and would do it, were it in his power. Therefore he deserves to suffer infinite evil; even all the evil which he is capable of suffering.
If any proposition relating to things of a moral nature be capable of the clearest demonstration, this is such an one. And this is a chief corner stone in the science of theology. Whatever is properly built upon it must stand, and every proposition naturally and necessarily following from it, or that can evidently be deduced, must be a truth.
Secondly, It is essential to a perfect moral government, that there be a law pointing out and requiring what is right, and the duty of the subject, and threatening all transgression of it with a punishment exactly answerable to the crime.
This has been considered before, and it is hoped, has been made so evident and certain, that every one who examines it with care and impartiality, will be satisfied, that it is an important truth. However, in addition to what has been said in support of this proposition, the following things may have weight.
1. If there could be a law, and any proper moral government without a penalty threatening punishment to the transgressor, (which, as it has been observed, is impossible) yet it could not be so good and perfect a law and government, as that which threatens punishment to the disobedient, and by which the transgressor is exposed to suffer some evil, at least. This appears so evident, in itself, at first view, and is so demonstrably certain, from the many threatenings of punishment to transgressors in divine revelation, that there is no need of attempting to adduce farther evidence. If threatenings of evil to transgressors were not necessary in the most perfect government, they could not be found in the divine laws and government: Nor could that threatening which we are now considering have been made to man.
2. It is necessary in order to the most perfect government, not only that there should be a penalty, or a law 224threatening evil to the transgressor: but that the threatened evil should be neither more nor less than the crime deserves.
If the evil threatened be greater than the crime deserves, the law would be unjust. If it be less than the demerit of the transgressor, the ends of a threatened penalty will be wholly, or in a measure defeated; and therefore the law and government will be proportionably imperfect and defective. This will appear by considering what are the principal ends to be answered by threatening punishment.
One end is, to deter the subject from transgressing the law, and prevent rebellion. Now, it is easy to see, that a greater and more dreadful punishment is better suited to answer this end, than a less, if it be not greater than the crime deserves. Therefore so far as this end is regarded in threatening a penalty, it will require it to be as great as the sin deserves; and if a law threatens a less punishment, it is so far defective, and not suited in the best manner to answer this end of a threatened penalty: Which cannot be supposed of the divine law and government; because that is in all respects absolutely perfect.
Another end of the threatening is to state and express the evil nature of sin, and show how great the crime is, in the estimation of the legislator. The preceptive part of the law does not determine the ill desert of the transgressor. This is to be seen only in the penalty threatened. This determines how criminal sin is, in the sight of God; and what evil it deserves as a punishment. In this view, it is necessary that the punishment threatened should be as great, and contain as much evil, as sin deserves, and be exactly proportioned to it. By this, the law becomes the standard of truth, while it declares not only what is sin, but how sinful or criminal it is. It is with reference to this, that St. Paul says, “That sin, by the commandment, might become exceeding sinful.” In these words he has particular respect to the penalty of the law or punishment threatened, by which he was slain, and death was wrought in him, even the death threatened to every transgressor; of which he speaks in the words immediately preceding. Sin becomes 225 exceeding sinful, that is, appears to be criminal, beyond expression, by the infinite evil which the law threatens, as the proper desert of it. In this view, to threaten a less punishment would be deviating from the truth, and tend to deceive; or, at least, one important end of the divine law and government could not be answered.
We therefore have the greatest assurance that the law of God threatens a punishment, exactly proportioned to the desert of sin.
Another end to be answered in the divine government, by the penalty of the law, is to express the sacred authority and worthiness of the Most High, and the desert of sin and rebellion against him. The binding authority of a law, and of the lawgiver, is expressed in the threatening only; and in order to there being an expression of infinite authority, the evil threatened must be infinite; for where there is less authority and right to govern, a less evil may be threatened to disobedience, and executed; and this will be no expression of infinite authority. And the dignity, worthiness and importance of the legislator, and the greatness and ill desert of the crime, of transgressing the law, and despising him and his government, appear and are expressed in the punishment threatened to the transgressor. If treason against the king be threatened with no greater punishment, than is an attempt upon the life of a common subject, this represents the former to be no greater a crime than the latter; and instead of properly expressing the importance and dignity of the king, and the worth of his life, it degrades him, and sets him upon a level with all his subjects. The greater the evil is, which the threatening denounces against him who slights and opposes the Supreme Legislator, and his law and government, the more is his worth and excellence expressed; and the more fully is discovered and asserted the sacred importance and perfection of his law. Therefore if the law do not threaten as great a punishment as the crime deserves, it will not assert the greatness of the crime, nor the real worthiness and importance of God, and his law and government, but the contrary; and therefore must be a very imperfect, deficient law. From this, it appears 226 most certain, that the infinitely distinguished and sacred authority, dignity and worthiness of God, and importance and excellence of his government, and infinite greatness of the crime and ill desert of rebellion, cannot be properly, and in the most clear and striking manner expressed and asserted, unless an infinitely great and distinguished evil be threatened to every transgression of the law; an evil which no other legislator ought to threaten, or is able to inflict: And therefore not to threaten such evil, or to threaten one infinitely less, is undesirable and wrong, and cannot be supposed of an infinitely wise and perfect government. If God threatens and punishes, he must threaten and punish like himself; and nothing short of infinite evil must be the threatened punishment.
Another end to be answered by the penalty of the divine law, is to manliest and express the Legislator’s infinite hatred and abhorrence of ail moral evil, and how much he is displeased with the sinner. God is certainly infinitely displeased with sin, as it opposes his being and infinite felicity, and all the good of the universe, and tends to produce infinite mischief, to involve the universe in total and eternal confusion and misery. His displeasure with sin and hatred of it, must be as great as his love of holiness, and the infinite good of the universe. This is therefore essential to the divine character and perfection, in which his glory consists; and consequently it is desirable, and of infinite importance that it should be manifested and expressed in the most clear and strongest manner, in his moral government, and in his law, which is the foundation and rule of it. But this cannot be done, by merely requiring obedience, and forbidding sin. In order to the expression being as clear and strong as possible, God must threaten sin with a punishment equal to the greatness of the crime, and manifest a disposition to execute the threatening, and inflict the punishment. To threaten sin with a less punishment than it deserves, is so far from expressing a proper hatred of it, that it is, in a degree, favouring sin and the sinner. And not to threaten any punishment, or to threaten only that which is infinitely less than the crime deserves, is to manifest infinitely less displeasure with the sinner, than God has, and which it becomes 227him to express; and it would be favouring the sinner infinitely too much, and discouraging, and tending to prevent sin, unspeakably less than is proper and necessary in a good and perfect government; therefore would be infinitely dishonourable to God, and his government: And one great and important end of threatening and punishing the transgressor would not be answered.
And now, it must be left to the impartial, who will attentively consider what has been offered under this head, whether the evidence does not amount to a certainty, even to a clear demonstration, that in the most perfect moral government of God, his law must threaten evil to the transgressor, which is answerable to his crime, or as great as he deserves.
Thirdly, The threatening under consideration, “For in the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die,” is the threatening of the divine law, and must be considered as annexed or belonging to every divine command, and expresses the punishment which every transgression deserves: And therefore is a threatening of infinite evil.
This appears from what has been observed, that there was nothing so special in this prohibition, that could be a reason why it should be attended with a peculiar and distinguished threatening. This same death was the threatened evil, as the punishment of the transgression of any command or prohibition, which was given to man; and it is mentioned with regard to this prohibition or command, because the penalty was incurred by transgressing this; and not because this was a penalty peculiar to this prohibition, which was not threatened for any other transgression, and would not have taken place on rebellion against any other command, whether moral or positive.
We have an absolute certainty of this, two ways.
1. From what has been proved under the observation preceding that, now under consideration, viz. That in the best and most perfect government, which the moral government of God certainly is, the penalty threatened in the law to the transgressor of it, must be as great an evil as the crime deserves. This prohibition, or command, was contained in the law given to man; it was the law of God, and therefore disobedience to it, deserved 228 as great a punishment, as disobedience to other commands; and indeed, offending in this one point, was sinning against the whole law, and every command in it: But every sin, every act of disobedience, deserves infinite evil; hence it follows, with the greatest certainty, that this is a threatening of a punishment, which involves infinite evil, the just desert of every sin.
2. That the death here threatened implies and intends endless misery, we may be very certain, in that such an evil is intended by death and dying, in other parts of divine revelation. This is always meant by death, or dying, when these words are used to denote the penalty of the divine law, or the punishment which impenitent sinners will suffer, on whom the threatened penalty will fall, without mitigation. Any one may know this, who attends well to the Bible. How often are these words used in this sense by the prophet Ezekiel, in the 3d, 18th, and 33d chapters of his prophecy? It is there repeatedly said, that the impenitent, wicked man shall die, and surely die, the very words of the threatening under consideration: which death the penitent shall escape. It must therefore mean the sufferings for his sins in a future state. Christ saith, he that eateth his flesh, shall not die. Verily, verily, I say unto you. If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death. Whosoever believeth in me, shall never die.165165 John vi. 50.—viii. 51.—xi. 26. Here, not to die, does not mean there shall not be a separation between soul and body: for none escape this; but, dying is put in opposition to eternal life, and therefore must mean eternal death, or endless punishment. St. Paul says, “the wages of sin is death.” The wages of sin is the proper punishment of sin, or that which sin deserves. By this he fixes the meaning of the original threatening, and shews what is intended by death or dying, when threatened as the penalty of a divine law. And that by death here is meant eternal death, or endless punishment is certain, because he puts it in opposition to eternal life. “The wages of sin is death: But the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”166166 Rom. vi. 23. He speaks of death in the preceding verses, as the end and consequence of sin, 229and puts it in opposition to life. He says, “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: But if ye, through the spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.”167167 Rom. viii. 8. Here he means by dying, perishing forever, in opposition to living forever; or endless misery, opposed to endless happiness. This fixes the meaning of dying, as the fruit, consequence and wages of sin; and is the same threatening with that under consideration, in the same words, ye shall die. If there be need of any farther confirmation of this point, it may be observed, that endless misery or infinite evil, the punishment which sin deserves, is expressly called death, or dying.168168 Rev. xxi. 8. “But the fearful and unbelieving, &:c. shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, Which is the second death.” What can be more certain, than that the first threatening to man, if he sinned, “Thou shalt surely die,” did express the proper penalty or wages due to sin, even endless misery, or infinite evil, since this is expressed often in other parts of scripture in the same language, and more than once in the same words? If the Bible may be allowed to explain itself, the matter is clearly decided.
Must not every one who will attend to what has now been brought into view on this point, be left without a doubt about the meaning of the original threatening, “Thou shalt surely die?” Is it not as demonstrably certain that it is a threatening of all the evil that sin deserves, even endless punishment, which is the second death, as any proposition in theology is, or can be?
This point being established beyond all controversy, that the threatening made to man, if he eat of the fruit of the forbidden tree, denounced the evil which sin deserves; and which was equally applicable to the transgression of any other precept; and therefore was a threatening of infinite evil, or complete and endless destruction; the following inferences necessarily follow; viz.
I. That temporal death, or separation between soul and body, is not the whole or the chief of die evil contained in the threatening. This is not an infinite evil; but a very inconsiderable one, compared with what sin 230 deserves: Therefore something infinitely more dreadful must be implied in the threatening; even that which in scripture is called the second death, which is endless misery.
2. It farther follows, that separation of soul and body is no part of the punishment threatened. The death threatened was quite of a different kind, and not only does not include, but necessarily excludes, separation of soul and body. Had the punishments taken place and been executed without any mitigation; or had there been no reprieve and redemption for man, this separation of soul and body could not have taken place: Because the punishment deserved, and therefore the punishment threatened was, evil to the whole man, or to the man made up of soul and body. This creature, consisting of body and soul, which were essential constituent parts of the man, was threatened, and if he sinned, was to be punished; and not one part only, while the other is taken down and annihilated. Therefore, this could not take place, consistent with the full execution of the threatening. It is not so great an evil for the mind only to suffer, as it is to be miserable, or to suffer evil, in body and soul: The man is capable of suffering unspeakable evil or pain in his body; therefore, this suffering must be included in the threatening. And this proves, that separation of soul and body, could not be the subject of a threatening, that is, could not be threatened: For this would not have been an evil, in that case, but a negative good, which cannot be the subject of a threatening, but rather of a promise; for evil only can be threatened, and not good, negative, or positive. Separation of body and soul would have been a mitigation of punishment, and would have rendered man, not capable of suffering so much, as in body and soul united; therefore could not be threatened as a punishment, it being no part or kind of punishment, but the contrary. And under that constitution, under which the threatening w as made, there was no provision for a reunion if a separation once took place; nor was it indeed possible there should be a reunion, if a separation was threatened as a punishment, and had the threatening been executed. Is it not hence evident to a certainty, that separation of 231soul and body could not have taken place, had man been punished for disobedience, according to the threatening; and therefore this was not included in the threatening, but on the contrary, was necessarily excluded?
If any should say, as some indeed have said, that we learn what was intended by the threatening, by the sentence that was pronounced on man, after he had transgressed; which was nothing worse than temporal death: The reply will be. That it is a great mistake to suppose that the body of man, being doomed to return to the dust, and the appointment of a separation between soul and body, is pronouncing a sentence upon him, answerable to the threatening; as there is not the least evidence or appearance of this, but the contrary, in the account which is given of it, all taken together. When man had sinned, God appeared, and called him before him, and brought him to a confession of his sin. And then, instead of inflicting the threatened penalty upon him, he declared his design to reprieve him from the punishment threatened, and to exercise pardoning mercy; and promised a redemption, by which Satan should be defeated in his design, in tempting man to rebel, in the following words, to the serpent, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” God having thus promised relief and redemption by the seed of the woman, proceeds to declare what shall take place in consequence of man’s apostasy; and the introduction of a Saviour, viz. That the ground should be cursed for his sake, and bring forth thorns and thistles; so that in the sweat of his face, and in sorrow, he should obtain and eat his bread, till his body should return to the ground from whence it was taken. That is, this should be an evil, sorrowful world to him, and he should leave this state, and pass into the invisible world by a separation of soul and body, by the latter returning to its original dust.
This new constitution and appointment is introduced in consequence of the apostasy of man, and the promised redemption by Christ, wisely ordered to answer important ends in the new state of probation, into which man was now brought; and at the game time, to be a 232constant admonition to man, that he was a sinner, and had hereby incurred the displeasure of his Maker; and of his desert of endless destruction, and the certainty of its coming upon him, unless he be interested in the benefits of redemption. And it was necessary it should take place, as the best way in which man should pass out of this state of probation into the invisible state, so as to continue that state invisible, where both the redeemed, and those who die in their sins, are lodged and remain, until the general resurrection; when the body and soul shall be reunited, not to be separated again. And as this separation of soul and body, in which the latter becomes a ghastly, loathsome spectacle, and returns to corruption, and is a certain introduction to endless misery, the second death, to all who have no interest in the Redeemer, it is a striking visible emblem of endless destruction, and is connected with it to all who die ungodly; it has therefore obtained the name of death, though it be not death in the original sense of the word; eternal destruction being the only proper and real death of a moral agent, sinning against God: Therefore this is called the second death, after separation of soul and body had obtained the name of death, and with reference to that.
And as the body’s returning to dust, is no part of the death threatened, and is not the real and true death of a rational creature, it is frequently represented in scripture, not to be real death; but persons are represented as escaping death and not dying, who are the subjects of this separation of soul and body, and do die in this sense. Thus in the forementioned chapters of the prophecy of Ezekiel, it is repeatedly said, that the penitent obedient sinner, shall not die. His body must return to dust, as do the bodies of the wicked, yet he should not die. Therefore this is not death. It is not the death threatened to the wicked, nor the death which the righteous escape: Therefore not death in the original and most proper sense of the word.
Solomon says, “Righteousness delivereth from death. In the way of righteousness is life, and in the pathway thereof there is no death.” But the bodies of the righteous return to dust. Therefore this is not 233 death. Our Saviour speaks the same language, and says, “Whosoever believeth in me, shall never die: shall not die, but live forever.” Believing in him does not prevent their bodies returning to dust: Therefore this is not death; it is not the death threatened for sin, and is not the proper wages of it; and is not the death from which Christ came to deliver men; for there would have been no separation of soul and body, had he not undertaken to redeem man. He delivers from the second death, the only real death of a rational creature: which was therefore threatened to disobedience, and will take place in its full meaning after the day of judgment; of which the death of the body is but a shadow.
This leads to observe, as a farther evidence that the separation of soul and body is no part of the curse threatened in the divine law, that when this curse or threatened punishment shall be executed on those who die in their sins, and are not redeemed, soul and body shall be united, and they shall be miserable forever, both in soul and body, in union. The proper and full execution of the threatening does not take place, but is suspended by reason of the redemption, which brings man into a state of probation, until that is finished. During this time the wicked, who by the death of the body go out of this world into the invisible state, are represented in scripture, to be in prison, as criminals, waiting for the pronouncing and execution of the sentence against them, at the day of judgment: and then the threatening will be executed. We must therefore look there, to see what the curse of the law is, and what is meant by death when threatened as the proper punishment of sin; and this will assure us it is the second death, even that infinite evil included in the last sentence, “Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.”
Thus evident and certain it appears to be, that the law and constitution under which man was made, knew not of separation of soul and body, nor did admit of it; and that the death with which he was threatened, if he failed of perfect obedience to every divine command, was endless punishment, in his whole person, soul and body: And that this separation of soul and body was introduced and took place, under a new dispensation of 234grace by a Redeemer, as peculiar to that, and to answer important ends respecting it; and when that is over and completed, this separation shall cease, and all mankind will be united to their bodies again, in which the redeemed shall be happy forever; and the wicked suffer the penalty of the law, in everlasting misery, in soul and body united. In short, the dissolution of the body could not take place, unless man had sinned; nor then, if the threatening had been executed without remedy; and unless a new dispensation of grace had been introduced, and man had been reprieved, and put into a new state of probation, under a Redeemer. Both these must take place, the sin and rebellion of man, and redemption by a Mediator, in order to separation of soul and body being proper, necessary, or possible, consistent with the divine law. They therefore must have been greatly mistaken, who have thought and asserted that this was all that was threatened in the divine law, or as the penalty of eating of the forbidden fruit. And they have made as real a mistake who have supposed that turning the body to dust is included in the threatening, or any part of it, since the contrary is evidently true, viz. that the threatening necessarily excludes it.
3. From what has been said on this subject, it may be inferred with the greatest certainty, that death in the original threatening, does not mean annihilation, or an end to existence, as some have supposed: For this would be an infinitely less evil than sin deserves; which has been proved cannot be the penalty threatened in the divine law, because a good and perfect law must threaten a punishment equal to the crime in transgressing it. Besides, it has been shown that death and dying is never used in this sense, when it denotes the punishment or proper wages of sin. And the second death, which evidently means the death threatened to Adam, is expressly said to consist in positive, sensible punishment or pain, which is perpetual and endless, where they rest not day or night, and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever.
4. It appears from what has been said, as well as from other considerations, that what is called spiritual death, a going into a course of total sinfulness and rebellion, is 235not the death threatened, when God said to man, “Thou shall surely die.”
This is evident, in that it cannot be the evil which sin deserves, or the proper punishment of it. A man may be wholly a rebel and totally sinful, or contrary to the law of God, in all his exercises and conduct: and yet not be totally miserable. Of this we have evidence enough before our eyes. But rebellion deserves complete and endless misery, and must be therefore threatened, as has been proved. Besides, if going into a course of total rebellion were necessarily attended with complete and endless pain and misery; the punishment or the evil threatened, is the attendant, natural evil, pain and misery, and not the sin and rebellion itself.
This leads to observe, that sin and rebellion, or transgression of the divine law, cannot be the proper matter of a threatening, as a punishment of transgression, and the evil to be inflicted for it. For this is the evil or crime, for which punishment is threatened, and not the punishment itself. This is the crime threatened with a punishment, and not the punishment threatened. Moral evil, or sin and rebellion, is always criminal, in every instance and degree of it; and this deserves punishment, and this only can be punished. The punishment therefore cannot be sin itself, or moral evil; for to suppose this is to confound the crime and punishment, as one and the same thing, and to threaten a crime with the commission of a crime. The proper and only punishment of sin or moral evil, is natural evil, or pain and suffering; and this alone can be the proper matter of a threatening.
If sinning and rebellion be a punishment, then the first act of sin of which the man was guilty was a punishment, as really as any after acts; but this could not be a punishment, unless man was punished for his antecedent innocence: And therefore could not be threatened as a punishment. Besides, to threaten any one, that if he transgressed once, he should be left to his pleasure to go on in sin, and do nothing but sin, would be really no threatening, or a very improper one, and no more than to say, if he did sin, he should sin, and go on to do that which should be most agreeable to him, and so long as 236he should choose to do so, and no longer. Punishment is suffering some evil; and which is an evil in his sight on whom it is inflicted, and in which he is passive: Therefore man cannot be properly punished, by that in which he is not a patient, and really suffers nothing: but is altogether active in it, and chooses it as a good, in itself considered; which is true of every degree of sin. Therefore, in this view of it, it cannot be threatened as a punishment; for it really is none, as it has not the nature of a punishment.
God is said in scripture, in several instances, to give men up to gratify their lusts and to strong delusion, and to walk in their own ways,169169 Psalm lxxxi. 12.—Rom. i. 26.—2 Thess. ii. 11. in consequence of their having chosen to rebel against him. But this is not threatened as a punishment, nor said to be such; and for reasons just mentioned, we may be sure they are not to be considered as such, but only as instances of God’s just and wise conduct, to answer important ends in his moral government. By the sins they commit who are thus abandoned to sin, they are prepared for punishment, and go on to it; but they are not the punishment itself; this consists in the destruction, the natural evil which they suffer for the sins which they are suffered, and given up to commit. It is thus expressed by St. Paul; “For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they ail might be damned, who believed not the truth; but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” And when he speaks of the heathen being given up by God to vile affections, and says that in this way, “They received in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet,” he is not be understood to mean, that the exercise of these lusts, or their sinning as they did, was the recompense or punishment for their former sins; but this recompense consisted in the shame and disgrace, pain and misery, which were the proper, meet and constituted attendants and consequence of their vile practices. Nor does he say that this natural evil or unhappiness, which in this life attended, or followed their ways of sin, was the proper and adequate punishment of their crimes. For he goes on to observe, that they knew, or were under advantages to 237know, that the sins of which they were guilty deserved death; by which is meant neither temporal nor spiritual death; but eternal destruction, the second death, the death threatened, as the proper and full punishment of sin, when moral government was first instituted, and man was put under law. His words are, “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.”170170 Romans i. 32. He proceeds in the next chapter to speak of that punishment of the sinner, which he here says is death, according to the revealed, known judgment of God. We are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth, against them which commit such things. “And thinkest thou, O man, who doest these things, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up wrath, against the day of wrath, and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds. To them who by patient continuance in well doing, seek for glory, honour and immortality: Eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man, that doth evil.” In these words he clearly, and in the most decisive manner, declares what that death is of which sinners are worthy, according to the judgment of God, and which will be inflicted on the finally impenitent. It consists in suffering the wrath of God, which shall be poured on the heads of the wicked after the day of judgment: And this indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, is set in opposition to eternal life, which the redeemed shall enjoy: therefore must be without end. This death therefore is not temporal, nor spiritual death, nor annihilation; but endless existence in misery, suffering that evil which is the wages of sin, and is infinitely worse than non-existence.
If all natural evil, that is, unhappiness, pain and suffering, could be separated from sin, and the sinner could have all the enjoyment and happiness he desires and seeks in the way of sin, it would be no sensible punishment, 238 and really no punishment at all to him; but in his view, it would be a real good, perfectly agreeable to his desire and choice, to be allowed to go on in sin; and the contrary would be the object of his greatest aversion, and the greatest evil to him. Therefore there can be no propriety or reason in threatening him, to give him up to walk in his own ways, and do nothing but sin. This indeed could not be a threatening to him, but would be considered by him as a precious promise of good.
It will perhaps be said, that though living in sin be not an evil in the view of the sinner, but a desirable good; yet to innocent man, and in the perfect exercise of holiness, to whom this threatening was pronounced if he transgressed, sin appeared to be the greatest evil; and therefore nothing worse to him could be threatened, than spiritual death, which consists wholly in sin.
Upon this it may be observed, that we cannot reasonably infer from this, that spiritual death or sinning was threatened as the punishment of sin; because, for the reasons that have been given, there is an impropriety in such a threatening, as it is only threatening that if he did sin, he should continue to sin if he chose it, and be left wholly at liberty to do as he pleased. And this is really no threatening, for it is no punishment to do and to have what we choose. But this is all that would be threatened in this case, that if he once chose to sin, he should be suffered to sin hereafter, without being counteracted or interrupted. Besides, the first sin was as great an evil to innocent, holy man, as any after sin, and the most dreadful, as it was connected with all after sin, and introduced it. There is the same reason, therefore, why the first transgression should be considered, and threatened as a punishment, which is given, that any after sin should be so considered, and threatened. It will be said, this could not be, as it was improper and impossible. But it may be said with as much reason, that it was improper and really impossible to threaten any after sin, or any degree of it, as a punishment of the first sin, which appears from what has been said.
When the apostle Paul says, “sin revived, and I died,” he does not mean what is called a spiritual death, 239for this consists in sin, or is sin itself: But Paul distinguishes the death he died from sin, and speaks of it as the effect of sin. Sin by the law slew him; and sin wrought and produced death, i.e. brought him under the curse of the law. He died, that is, found himself dead, being under the threatening and curse of that law which was given to Adam, and denounced death upon the transgressor, even eternal destruction. Is not the death originally threatened, clearly stated by this apostle?
It is granted that in a few passages of scripture, those who are wholly inclined to sin, and so under the dominion of sin, are said to be dead; and the word death is perhaps sometimes used to denote such a state. But when these words are used in this sense, they are evidently used not to express the punishment of sin; and have no reference to the original threatening, or any thing of that kind. To be dead, in this sense, is always mentioned as a crime, and not as a punishment of any crime.
5. On the whole, it appears from what has been said on this question, respecting the death threatened to the disobedience of man, that it means a being separated from all natural good and happiness, unto all natural evil or misery; continuing in endless, miserable existence, suffering the just punishment of sin against God. This is to die in the highest and most proper sense; and is the only death with which a rational moral agent can be threatened or punished, so as fully and properly to express the true desert of sin, and answer the ends of moral government.
This is the original and proper meaning of the word death, and of dying, and no other idea was affixed to it, when the threatening was denounced to man; and he was doubtless made to understand it, when the law was made known to him, if he needed any particular instruction, in order to know the meaning of the threatening. And when the separation of soul and body, which took place after man had sinned, and was restored to a new state of probation, was called death, to distinguish the death here threatened from that, it is called the second death, which is suspended, and will not take place till 240 redemption is finished, and soul and body are restored to their original union, by the general resurrection.
Having inquired and found what was the penalty threatened to the transgressor of the law, under which man was made; it is now to be considered, whether any promise of reward was given to him, if he continued perfectly obedient.
What has been said to prove that the angels had a time of trial of their obedience, and a promise of eternal life, if they continued obedient through the time of trial,171171 Page 211, 212, 213. is equally applicable to man, and as full a proof that the latter was not only secure in happiness and the favour of God, so long as he continued obedient; but had a time of trial appointed him, with a promise that upon his persevering in obedience to the end of that time, he should be confirmed in holiness and the favour of God. But there is a particular and decisive evidence of this, with respect to man, which we have not in the instance of the angels. This is, the tree of life, which was planted in the midst of the garden, and what is said of it. The name of this tree is significant, and points out the design and use of it. It was called the tree of life, because by partaking of the fruit of it, man was to have eternal life confirmed to him, of which this was the appointed pledge or seal. This is made certain by what is said respecting it, after man had transgressed, viz. that man was not suffered to continue in the garden, but was driven out of it, “lest he should put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.” This cannot be understood, without supposing that the fruit of this tree, and man’s partaking of it, was the appointed sign and pledge of eternal life, or the seal of a promise that he should live forever. Man having sinned, and forfeited the promise, it was not proper that he should partake of this constituted pledge of eternal life, or continue in a situation, in which there was a possibility of his eating of this fruit. Agreeable to this, and with allusion to it, Christ says, “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God,” which is a promise 241of eternal life.172172 Rev. ii. 7. This is still farther confirmed by what St. Paul says of the law given to man, in his primitive state, viz. that it was ordained unto life.173173 Rom. vii. 10. And that he that doeth the things required in it, shall live by them.174174 Chap. x. 5.—Gal. iii. 12. This must refer to the original law given to man when innocent, or before he sinned; for no such law could be ordained to life, or propose and promise life on this condition, since sin took place, it being impossible that man, since the first apostasy, should obtain life in this way. This the apostle observes in the passages just quoted. “The commandment, which was ordained unto life, I found to be unto death. For as many as are of the works of the law, are under the curse: For it is written, cursed is every one that continueth not in all the things written in the book of the law to do them.” Therefore the law given to man in his primitive state, which threatened death to the transgressor, and cursed him, promised eternal life to him upon perfect obedience. And as he sinned, and so failed of obtaining this life by obedience, the death and curse threatened to disobedience is come upon him.
We are not expressly told how long man was to continue in obedience, before he might eat of the tree of life, and have eternal life made sure to him: Nor why he might not, and did not, eat of the fruit of the tree directly, and put an end to his probation state, and have eternal life sealed to him. But we may be certain there was some wise appointment and regulation concerning this. And perhaps we are not left to mere conjecture about it. Is it not very probable, if not beyond a doubt, that this tree of life had no fruit on it, when this transaction took place, and the promise was made; or the fruit had not come to maturity, so as to be eaten: And that man was told, that if he continued obedient till ripe fruit was on that tree he should then eat of it, as a token and pledge of eternal life, being made sure to him? This fixed the time of his probation, in the wisest and best manner. Man could not tell the hour nor day in which he might eat of this tree, and be confirmed; but he 242 might see the fruit growing, and ripening every day, which would be a constant and growing motive and encouragement to perseverance. Man sinned before the fruit of this tree was produced and ripe; and therefore was not allowed to live where it might be possible for him to take and eat of it, when there should be ripe fruit on this tree.
Thus it appears that the law, or moral constitution under which man was placed, was of the nature of a cove7iant between his Creator and him; man’s duty, or what God required of him, was stated, and the penalty of failing of his duty was fixed by the law with a promise of eternal life, on condition of his obedience through the time of trial, which was appointed. And man consented to this law and constitution, as good and excellent, and stood engaged to perform the condition, on which he should obtain the promised reward. This he must be supposed to do: for not to do it, when it was revealed to him by God, would be rebellion against his sovereign.
It has been observed, that the moral law, which is essential to moral government, and by which man was bound as soon as he existed a moral agent, is epitomised by Christ, who says it requires nothing but love, to love God with all our heart, and our neighbour as ourselves. It hence appears, as well as from the reason of the case, that this law respects the heart, or wall and affections. It is with the heart, in the exercise of perfect love, that this law is obeyed; and the smallest contrariety to this love, in the exercises of the heart, or the least defect in the degree and strength of it, is a violation of this law, and must bring the curse or penalty on the transgressor. If there be no degree of exercise of love in the heart, there is no obedience to this law: and where this love is exercised constantly in a perfect manner and degree, or without any defect, there is perfect obedience. This docs indeed necessarily imply, that this love is expressed in all proper ways, in external conduct, so far as it is in the power, and under the government of the will; but the obedience consists wholly in the exercises of the heart or will, producing what is external, in proper expressions of love. And where there is no love 243exercised in the heart, there is no real obedience or holiness, whatever be the external appearance, in words or conduct. The resolving the whole law into love by Christ, and St. Paul’s saying that love is the fulfilling of the law, and that without love he was nothing, whatever were his external conduct, sufficiently establish this point, if it were not capable of demonstration from the reason and nature of things.
This law being founded in reason, and as perfect and excellent as is the moral government of an infinitely wise and good Being, must be, in its own nature, unchangeable; so that it cannot be abrogated or set aside, or abated; nor can any moral agent be released from obligation to obey it constantly and perfectly. There may be particular positive precepts given on special occasions, and with reference to particular circumstances; which may not be always binding, but may be temporary, and cease to be in force, when the end of them is answered, and the reason of their being given ceases. The law requiring love to God and to our neighbour will oblige man to obey all such positive temporary commands, while the reason of these injunctions continues; but when the reason of them ceases, they become obsolete, and the obligation to obey them is at an end. Many of the laws given to Israel by Moses are instances and an illustration of this. But the law requiring love is reasonable and binding on all, at all times, and cannot cease or be made void in any degree. The least disregard paid to it, even in thought or heart by a moral agent, for one moment, in any circumstances, must be wrong and criminal. And it would be infinitely wrong, were it possible, as it is not, for the Legislator and Governor of the world, to express or show any disregard to this law, and not to support and maintain it at all times, and in every respect, by all his authority.
Therefore the penalty of it must always be regarded as reasonable, important and sacred, it being an essential part of the law, and necessary in order to guard, support and enforce it, and clothe it with the authority of the supreme Legislator. A disposition not to execute the threatening, or to mitigate the punishment; and consequently the manifestation of such a disposition would be 244 infinitely unreasonable and wrong, as it would be dishonourable to a most reasonable and righteous law, worthy to be maintained and honoured; and which must be regarded and supported, in order to exercise moral government in the best manner. In the most perfect and excellent government, the penalty of the law must be as much regarded and supported as the precept; because to disregard, abate, or set aside the former, is equally shewing disrespect to the latter, and really repealing it. A proper regard cannot be shewn to the penalty, without manifesting a disposition and determination to punish agreeable to the threatening, by inflicting infinite evil for transgression, and actually punishing so as to answer all the ends of the penalty, and fully support the threatening.
Jn what particular way and manner this law was communicated to man, with all the positive precepts which were given to him, we are not informed. It appears that God conversed familiarly with him; but whether he put on a bodily shape, and appeared like a man, or what was the appearance, or the way in which he communicated to Adam the commands and instructions which he revealed, cannot be certainly determined. However, we are certain this was done in the most wise and proper way; and so as that man had clear and decisive evidence that his Maker did converse with him, and understood all that was said or revealed to him, respecting the moral government under which he was placed, the covenant made with him, and the state of probation, into which he was put, and when it should be ended, &c.
Adam, when he first came into existence, though in a state of manhood and maturity, as to his faculties of body and mind, stood in need of instruction, and doubtless had the knowledge of many things communicated to him by immediate inspiration, or otherways from his Maker, as he could have no other instructor. Among these the knowledge of language was one; and how to communicate ideas by words. He was not left to learn this art, and form a language without help, but had the immediate assistance of God.
In this transaction between God the Creator and Governor, and man the creature, in which the law, 245with the promises and threatenings of it, was declared and established in the form of a covenant between God and man, Adam was considered and treated as comprehending all mankind. He being, by divine constitution, the natural head and father of the whole race, they were all included and created in him, as one whole, which could not be separated: And therefore he is treated as the whole in this transaction. The covenant made with him was made with all mankind, and he was constituted the public and confederating head of the whole race of men, and acted in this capacity, as being the whole; and his obedience was considered as the obedience of mankind; and as by this, Adam was to obtain eternal life, had he performed it, this comprehended and insured the eternal life of all his posterity. And, on the contrary, his disobedience was the disobedience of the whole of all mankind; and the threatened penalty did not respect Adam personally, or as a single individual; but his whole posterity, included in him, and represented by him. Therefore the transgression, being the transgression of the whole, brought the threatened punishment on all mankind.
This point will be more particularly considered, explained and proved in a following chapter; but it seems proper to bring it into view in this place, in order to give a clear and full representation of the law and moral government, under which man was originally placed. That Adam was considered and treated in this respect, as being, or comprehending all mankind, is evident, in that almost every thing which is said to him, in the three first chapters of Genesis, has respect to the whole race of mankind, and not to Adam personally; and is spoken to them, or of them. The first time man is mentioned, it evidently means mankind, and not any particular man.175175 Gen. i. 26. “And God said. Let us make man, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” By man here must be meant mankind, which is denoted by the following words, “And let them have dominion over the whole earth,” that is, mankind; the whole human 246 race. All mankind were created, in creating the first man; for they were all included in him, and to be propagated from him, and arise and grow out of him, as the branches of a tree are included in the original stock, root or seed. God in creating the first herbs and trees, with the seed in themselves to propagate their kind, really created all the herbs and trees which shall exist to the end of the world. So he created all mankind, in creating the first man; and in giving dominion to him, he gave dominion to all. They were all made like him, in kind, and their state, condition and circumstances were fixed, as much as that of the race of plants and trees. All mankind were created in the image of God, and to them was given dominion over all the earth. “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it.” This blessing and this command respected mankind, and not the first man personally, in distinction from the rest; for he alone was not to fill the earth, and subdue it, but the human race. God is therefore represented as blessing them all, and speaking to them all, and not to a single person. It hence appears, that the posterity of Adam were so connected with him, and included in him, that they might properly be considered as one; and that he was so far the head, and representing father of the whole, that in creating him all mankind were created, and in blessing him, all were blessed; and what was said to him, and done for him, was said to, and done for the human race; that the law given, and covenant made with him, with the blessing and the curse, the promise and the threatening, was given to all, and made with all, having respect to all mankind, included in their father and head: And what he did as a moral agent, was done for them, as much as himself; so that they, even the whole human race, must share equally with him an his obedience, and the promised, consequent blessing, or in his disobedience, and the curse. But the evidence and certainty of this, is more fully established, by what took place, and has been revealed since the apostasy of man. What God said to Adam after he had sinned, was said to, and of all mankind; and the calamity or evil to which he was doomed 247in this world, as the consequence of his transgression, equally falls upon his posterity. “And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast eaten, &c. Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground: For out of it was thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” As this sentence, “Unto dust shalt thou return,” did not respect Adam only, but all his posterity, we are naturally, if not necessarily led to understand the same language in the threatening, as having respect to all mankind, “In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” But this is reduced to a certainty by St. Paul.176176 Rom. v. 12. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. Through the offence of one, many are dead. By the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation. By one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.” Here Adam is asserted, in the most plain and strongest terms, to be constituted the public covenanting head of mankind, so that sin, condemnation and death, came upon all his posterity, by his disobedience. The threatening, therefore, respected all mankind, and consequently the promises did also. And all depended on Adam’s conduct, to determine whether his posterity should be holy and happy forever, or sinners and miserable.—But this subject will be more particularly considered in the next chapter.
This covenant or constitution, in which Adam was considered and treated, as the father and public head of his future posterity, was more than mere law: and in this respect different from the covenant made with the angels. It is supposed they acted every one for himself, and that they all existed at once, and there was no such peculiar union between them, like that between the first man and his posterity, which rendered such a constitution with respect to the latter, proper and wise; yea, necessary, in order to the exercise of the most perfect and excellent moral government.248
Should any object to this, and say, that as the posterity of Adam had no opportunity to consent to this constitution, it was not consistent with wisdom or righteousness to include them in it, and fix it for them. And as it was not the best and most likely way for them to obtain eternal happiness, by making it depend on the conduct of the first man, it was not consistent with goodness, and really unjust, and injurious to mankind. In answer to this, it must be observed,
1. The creature has no right to object to any law or constitution which God sees fit to make respecting him; but is obliged to acquiesce in what he orders. God has a right to prescribe the particular method in which he will govern his creatures, and this belongs to him; and for a creature not to approve and consent to what God prescribes, is rebellion against his Maker. Therefore there was no need to wait, to see if Adam’s posterity would approve of such a constitution, before it could be with justice and propriety fixed for them. This therefore cannot be the ground of a reasonable objection. Indeed, if it can be proved to be an unjust, or unwise constitution, we may be sure no such constitution was ever made by the Governor of man. This brings to observe,
2. Such a constitution does not appear, and cannot be proved not to be just and good. There was as great a prospect and probability, that the first man would not sin, but persevere in obedience, as that any one of his posterity would; yea, much greater, seeing he was created an adult, in the full exercise of all his rational faculties: whereas they must come into existence infants, and gradually rise to manhood, through the weak state of childhood and youth, in which they would be more exposed to fall by temptation. And the father of mankind had a strong motive to obedience, which none can have who only act for themselves, as the interest of all his posterity was put into his hands, and he acted for them all. Before the consequence was known, had any one, capable of viewing all circumstances, been to judge, he would doubtless have concluded that such a constitution was the most eligible, and the best that could be formed for mankind, and most likely to secure 249 their holiness and happiness. Now the event has proved to be evil, and by this constitution, Adam and his posterity are fallen into a state of ruin, we may view it as bad, and injurious to us; especially since we are become prejudiced against the dictates of wisdom, and enemies to the wise and good government of Jehovah. But this is not the least evidence that it is not wise and good. Mankind, while in a state of rebellion, are disposed to think and say, “The ways of the Lord are not equal.” And they will find fault with any constitution, which infinite wisdom and goodness can form. Witness their disapprobation of the gospel, and opposition to it. It ill becomes those who choose to live in sin, and when they have the offer of pardon, and deliverance from sin, and of eternal life, will not accept of it, but spurn it from them, to find fault and complain that they were originally placed under a constitution, by which they are fallen into that sin and ruin, from which they cannot be persuaded to accept deliverance, but choose to live in sin, as a privilege, and constantly approve of the original transgression, by obstinately persisting in that rebellion, which their first father began, when he sinned.
3. It must be observed, that if it could be proved, as it cannot, that such a constitution was not the most favourable to every individual, it will not follow that it is not, on the whole, the wisest and best constitution that could be formed. If no injustice be done to any one by it, and it be best suited to answer the most wise and important ends, it is certainly the best possible constitution. If it were evident that mankind did not enjoy so great advantages to be holy and happy forever, under such a constitution as they would have under some other, it does not follow that any injustice is done to them; for they had no right to these advantages; and God was not obliged to grant them: If he were, there could be no state of trial, and eternal life must be made sure to them all, which God was able to do. But this would not be wise, it would not have been suited to answer the most important ends, and for the greatest general good. Therefore if this constitution is suited to answer these ends, and is the best that could be for the 250 general good, then it is the wisest and best that could be devised. There is certainly no evidence that it is not so: But abundant evidence of the contrary, which may more fully appear by what is farther to be said on the subject, in attending to the consequences of this constitution, or the ends actually answered by it.
I. From what has been brought into view in this chapter, we are led farther to reflect on the goodness of God, and our obligation to gratitude. The goodness of God appears in his forming angels with such high and noble capacities, and under advantages to be proportionably happy, in the exercise of their powers, under the good and excellent moral government, under which they were placed. God’s goodness appears in the moral constitution formed for angels, which was, as has been observed, more favourable than mere law, as they had the promise of a reward of eternal life, inconsequence of their obedience during a temporary trial. The infinite goodness and munificence of God is expressed in this, and will be forever celebrated by them, who are confirmed in holiness, and have actually received this reward. And herein is to be seen the goodness of God towards them who fell into sin and endless ruin. Their rebellion, and their being treated according to their desert, and falling under the threatened punishment, did not render the goodness of God to them in their original formation, and in placing them under so good a constitution, in any respect or degree the less; but was and continues to be as great and perspicuous, as it would be if they had continued in this goodness, and had obtained eternal life. And were their hearts right, as they ought to be, they would never cease to exercise gratitude, and be thankful for the goodness of God to them, and to acknowledge that the infinite evil which is come upon them, is the just consequence of their abuse of God’s goodness to them.
And the goodness of God to man was great and wonderful, in forming him with a capacity to be a moral agent, and under moral government, and to enjoy endless 251life in the favour of God. And the constitution and form of moral government, which has been considered, was an expression of infinite goodness; and could not have been formed by any being, but one infinitely good. The law requires nothing but what is necessary for the good of man: The highest happiness consisted in obedience to this law. The time of trial was to be short; and man was under every desirable advantage, and had every conceivable motive to persevere in obedience. The reward promised was infinitely great, infinitely more than the longest obedience could merit or deserve. And the sanction or penalty threatened was necessary in order to its being a good law, and was an instance of goodness, as it was a guard to the law, and tended to secure obedience, as it rendered disobedience infinitely dreadful, in the consequence of it; and so was an unspeakably powerful motive to obedience.
The appointment of a public head, and Adam, to act for the whole, as he was, in a sense the whole of mankind, they being all included in him, was a wise and good constitution; even the best, and the most in favour of mankind of any that can be conceived: Unspeakably more favourable to man, than if every one of the human race were to act for himself, and be in a state of trial, as they should successively rise into existence. There was a possibility that Adam would transgress; it was highly probable he would not. And, as has been observed, he had every desirable and possible motive to obedience, and a very powerful one which could not have existed, had he not acted as a public head, for all his posterity.
All this, as has been observed, was in our favour, and goodness to us. This is the happy state in which mankind were placed under moral government; the best, the happiest situation which could be devised by infinite wisdom and goodness. And it may be demanded. What could have been done, that was not done for mankind, in placing them in such circumstances, and under such a good law and constitution, consistent with being placed in a state of probation?
The goodness of God ought to be celebrated by us, and to excite our constant, fervent gratitude and praise. 252For, as has been before observed, this goodness is not the less, nor are our obligations to gratitude and praise in the least diminished by the abuse of it; by which we have lost all the benefit of it, and are become most miserable.
II. The sin and eternal ruin of the angels who fell, is suited to give conviction to all, of the vanity, weakness and insufficiency of the highest and most excellent creatures; and of their absolute and constant dependance on God: And consequently, that there is no creature, in whom we may safely put any trust, however great and dignified.
This event taught the angels who did not sin this lesson more fully, than otherwise they could have learned it. In this they saw their own insufficiency for themselves; that they were liable to ruin themselves every moment, and depended on God entirely for preservation from infinite evil; and that they were wholly indebted to him for this favour, which must be sovereign goodness, to which they had no claim, and which God was under no obligation to grant. This they will see more clearly, and acknowledge with greater sensibility forever, than they could have done, if none of them had sinned, and fallen into endless ruin: And by it God will be more loved, praised and glorified, and they will be unspeakably more holy and happy, throughout their endless existence.
God, in his wisdom, ordered it so, that the highest, and most excellent part of the creation, should become morally corrupt, and infinitely worse than nothing, by sinking into irrecoverable and endless ruin and misery, to shew, that the creature, in its best state, is nothing but vanity, considered in itself, independent of the power, goodness and all-sufficiency of God; which could not be discovered to creatures, to the best advantage, in any other way. Which discovery is of the utmost importance, and absolutely necessary to the highest good of the universe. This will remain an everlasting lesson, by which all holy creatures will be taught humility and gratitude; and God will receive a revenue of praise and glory forever, which could not have existed, had not this event taken place.253
III. By the view we have had of the divine law and moral government, we may learn, what is the rule of our duty now, and consequently, what is sin in us, viz. every deviation of heart from the rule of duty, by omission of what it requires, or doing what it forbids.
The particular covenant made with man in his original state; by which the head and father of the human race was considered as including all mankind, and was constituted to act for the whole, being violated, ceased to exist any longer, except in the consequences of the violation of it. But the law pointing out and requiring duty, and threatening the transgressor, is still the rule of our duty, and binding on us; and in the threatening we are told what every transgression of ours deserves; and learn what is the curse under which we are, as sinners. For this law, as has been shown, is unchangeable in its nature, and must be binding on every moral agent. Transgressing it, though ever so often repeated, does not in the least absolve us from obligation to obey it; and however great is our aversion from what it requires, and however strong and fixed it be, this does not in the least excuse us in our disobedience, and remove or abate our obligation to obedience; bat the stronger and more fixed our hearts are in opposition to what is required, and the more and longer such opposition is indulged, the more criminal we are. There is no other law given to us, which requires less than this original law, or that is not virtually contained in it or enforced by it. To love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, and our neighbour as ourselves, is always our duty; and all opposition to it, and every omission of this duty, in the least degree, is sin. We must therefore look into this perfect law and rule of duty, and no where else, in order to know what is our duty, and what is sin; and by this alone can we obtain the knowledge of, and ascertain our own moral character.254
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