That man in his first act of disobedience wilfully and designedly broke with God is often left out of the reckoning of even those who are His people. It was no mere stupid blunder on the part of one outwitted by a more crafty adversary; the act of Adam which brought death into this world was a huge, voluntary, intentional, and purposeful act of severance from the living God. On this point the Word of God is very explicit, “Adam was not deceived” (1 Tim. 2:14). He had an end in view, a purpose to accomplish; equality with God was the bait the devil dangled before his eyes, and a lust of power that overthrew his better judgment, and blasted his allegiance to his Creator, took possession of him.
With the woman it was different: she was horribly deceived. It does not appear that she was yet formed when the command was given to the man. The account of her formation comes after the placing of man in the condition of responsibility (Gen. 2:16-24). But as she was taken out of man, and was thus part of himself, though he was head and pre-eminent, and as they were both one flesh, and so indissolubly linked together that they were both one, and their name called Adam (Gen. 5:2), she came under the same accountability to God as did he, with this difference, as it appears to me, that when she ate of the fruit of the forbidden tree he had the power to annul her act, and it might have gone no further. This, I think, may be gathered from Numbers 30:6-15, but I do not dogmatize about it. All I would add is the fact that their eyes were not opened to see their nakedness until he also transgressed (Gen. 3:7).
Anyhow, sin came in by the man, who was not deceived, but who knew quite well what he was doing. He was gone from his allegiance to God when the wish was formed in his heart to be equal with his Maker, but not until the evil act was consummated did he see himself exposed to the judgment of God. Then he found how dearly the knowledge of good and evil had cost him, and how terribly he had been outmanoeuvred by his inexorable foe.
But repentance found no place in his terror-stricken soul. Having parted with God, he was, as far as he was concerned, done with Him for ever. He thought not that the breach could be, nor did he desire that it should be, repaired. Peace, creature contentment, and thanksgiving had formerly dwelt in his heart, but now unrest, fear, and dissatisfaction found their home there. His knowledge had been greatly increased. He now knew good and evil, but the good had drifted away from him, and the evil made a home for itself in his very flesh and bones.
To him the thought of God had become intolerable, and alas! it is the same with respect to all his guilty race. His posterity will have nothing to do with their Creator; to them He is a hard master, a cruel tyrant, a merciless judge, a compassionless taskmaster. He is gone from their hearts, they would efface Him from their memories, they would also strangle the voice of conscience; they will struggle with poverty, battle with disease, stand to the death against those who would deprive them of their rights, but God—no, they cannot have Him, and their determination is to keep Him at a distance.
It was so at the beginning, it was so in all the dispensations that are past, and it is so today. Men quarrel with one another, and become friendly again; nations go to war with each other, and kill with the sword, showing no mercy, but in a little they are allies, lauding the prowess of one another to the heavens; but with God man refuses to have peace, he will have no truce, no armistice, no suspension of hostilities, no hearkening to terms. He is daily a recipient of mercy, but like a mad dog he will snarl at his benefactor, and bite at the hand that strews his pathway with infinite mercies.
Man is this in every country in this world. In certain climatic conditions he may be found slow, sullen, stupid, indolent; in others active, lively, witty, hilarious; he may be found dour and treacherous, or candid and trustworthy; cantankerous or amiable, religious or irreligious; but with relation to God he is the same the world over, and the greater the spiritual light to which he is exposed, the greater the enmity of his godless heart.
How is it that God allows Himself to be thus continually insulted by His weak and erring creature? How is it that He seems content to be, from a human standpoint, continually worsted in a strife with His rebellious subjects? His terrible threatenings are, like His overtures of mercy, equally despised. His commands have been trampled underfoot, His servants murdered, His very existence denied, and in the silence of His mysterious existence His long-suffering refuses to let loose the thunderbolts of His wrath. Now can we account for this?
The answer is, He is greater in every way than His creature. His movements cannot be accelerated by the impotent operations of His implacable foes. How could the febrile activities of the mere creature disturb the serenity of that sphere of inapproachable light in which the Godhead dwells? A man’s wickedness may hurt, and his righteousness may benefit his neighbour; but how could God be either hurt or benefited by the wickedness or righteousness of a clod of dust? (Job 35:5-8). But He will wake even the wickedness of the creature, whether he be man or devil, serve to the end He has in view in all His dealings with the sons of men. This brings me to say a little regarding His counsels.
There is nothing unreasonable in the revelation which has been given to us of God. That human reason never could have touched the outskirts of that revelation is very manifest, for it has not done so until this present day; and not even so, but when met by that revelation it invariably rejects it, and that not because of the incongruity of its principles, but because of man’s innate aversion to everything that is of God.
What more reasonable to suppose than that the Creator of the universe had a definite end in view in connection with that creation before He began such a tremendous work? And what greater object could He have in view than the filling of that creation with the knowledge of Himself? And in this knowledge of God lies the supreme happiness of the creature (Jer. 9:23-24).
But in connection with this revelation of Divine counsel it is man that comes before us as the great object of God. Eternal Wisdom, by which the universe was formed, declares that her “delights were with the sons of men” (Prov. 8:31); and with the race of man, even in his fallen condition, God seems to have occupied Himself, and that to the wonderment of all who felt themselves under His mighty hand; and what was still more marvellous, He Himself eventually is seen, come of a woman, in flesh and blood, a Man among men. What greater evidence could we have that man occupied the central place in the thoughts and counsels of God?
And could we imagine for one moment that the various positions, relationships, and places of blessing for His favoured creatures would be different when His work would be completed than it was in His counsel before He began His operations? Surely not: what He has designed, and determined to do, that He shall surely do; and what will subsist at the close of all labour will just be what He determined to do at the beginning, as far as blessing is concerned, for His counsels are counsels of love. But a few words as to His ways.
His ways in connection with the fulfilment of His counsels are just as little understood as are those counsels themselves. How few who read the histories of the heavens and the earth, as they are given in the first two chapters of Genesis, or the generations of Adam, as they are given in chapter five, or the details of His subsequent dealings with the human race, understand that this is the way of infinite wisdom by which the wondrous counsels of God are carried into accomplishment, and that no other way could have been taken. We can now see that it was never the intention of God to maintain in innocence the man He formed out of the dust of the ground. Adam was to maintain himself in the position in which he was set, and he was to do that by obedience to his Maker.
From a human standpoint the overthrow of the man made in the image of God appeared to be a triumph of the devil, but it just cleared the way for the announcement of the Man of God’s counsel who would bruise the serpent’s head. The devil was not to be crushed by an arbitrary act of divine power, but by a work that would bring to light the righteousness, power, and wisdom of the Creator.
And it was by the Seed of the woman his power was to be broken. The weak creature that was seduced by his subtle wiles was to be the medium through whom He who would effect deliverance for the fallen creature should enter the arena of conflict. And thus the utter defeat and humiliation of the dread foe was to be accomplished.
Not only this, but it was necessary to bring to light the incorrigible evil of the human transgressor in his fallen condition. We learn but little of his ways outside the Garden, but in the history of those that sprang out of his loins we have a perfect exhibition of the terrible nature of the evil that was bred in him by his first departure from God. And it was part of the ways of God to bring this evil to light, before He judged it in the cross. In that judgment the probation of that order of man was ended; and in the resurrection of Him who bore that judgment a new order of man is brought to light, and we learn that all the activities of God in grace, from the fall of Adam, had this Man in view, the Head and Centre of the new order, which alone could subsist in blessing with God; for all in that new order, from beginning to end, derive from Him, the last Adam, the risen, living, and victorious Head.
The ways and dealings of God with man have proven that no trust could be placed in the old order: no good ever came forth from him, for there was no good in him in his fallen state; and it was as fallen he became head of the race that for four thousand years had been placed on trial. The only good that was found in any individual soul came from the sovereign operation of God in him, and was of the nature and character of new creation: there is no good in the flesh (Rom. 7:19).
Now redemption having been accomplished by the blood of Jesus, and His resurrection from the dead having taken place, righteousness, life, and salvation are found in Him for every human being under heaven, and faith in Him secures those blessings to the believer.
A few words regarding His acts. We are told in Psalm 103:7, “He made known His ways unto Moses, His acts to the children of Israel.” Israel saw His acts, and they were very wonderful, He had hurled plague after plague upon their wicked oppressor, and at last had compelled their release by the destruction of the firstborn. He had divided the sea before them, when Pharaoh with his mighty army was driving hard upon their rear; in the wilderness He had rained bread from heaven to meet their hunger, He had brought water out of the flinty rock to quench their thirst; He had divided the Jordan, so that they went across on dry land; He had made their enemies to fly before their face. And when they saw these things they believed His word and sang His praise. But no lasting effect was produced. They soon forgot His works, and Himself also. In Psalm 106, we have an account of the insignificant effect produced upon them by the acts of the Lord on their behalf. No lasting effect was produced upon them.
And why was this? One reason, I do not doubt, was because they were unable to view such acts in connection with the ways of the Lord. To them they were but isolated acts of divine power on their behalf to meet the untoward circumstances that occasionally rose up against them. They could always sing the praises of the Lord when such acts were revealed for their deliverance from the efforts of the enemy to crush them, but when the occasion was passed their rebellion always broke out afresh. Therefore the Lord speaks of them as “a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known My ways” (Ps. 95:9-11).
The acts of God, had they known it, fell in simply with His ways in the carrying out of His purposes. Moses knew this. He got to know it in the measure in which he appreciated it, for in this way every favour is got from God. He pleaded earnestly that he might know those ways of Jehovah, when Israel had made themselves obnoxious to wrath through the golden calf. He says, “If indeed I have found grace in Thy eyes, make me now to know Thy way” (ways, R.V., Ex. 32:13). Man’s way of life and blessing, which was the law, had utterly failed, and now Moses wants to know God’s ways, how was He to work for His own glory and the fulfilment of His purposes of blessing? This God made known to Moses.
In the way in which God travels toward the effectuation of His counsels He Himself comes to light, and becomes known to his creature, not only in His attributes, but also in His very nature, and “God is Love.”
Surely we may well sing with all our hears “Great and marvellous are Thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of nations” (Rev. 15:3, R.V.). May we know His counsels better, and may we be assured that they are all counsels of love; may we also learn that those ways, that are so just and true, are necessary to the fulfilment of those counsels of love; and may we see the wisdom, power, and love of God coming to light in them; and may we also be able to take account of those acts of His, which are both great and marvellous, not as isolated acts of divine power manifested but to meet the exigences of the moment, but as part of those ways that were so necessary, to the accomplishment of all that He had purposed before the foundation of the world.