On Responsibility.

1. — Introductory.

1877 214 etc. There is great force and beauty in the title addressed by faith to God at a time when nothing but faith could have counted upon His interest in, and care for, men who had made but too manifest their stubbornness and self-will. And we do well to remember that He is "the God of the spirits of all flesh" (see Num. xvi. 22), and is never indifferent to that which His power has formed.

He is true to this character, and nowhere is His care for the creatures of His hand more conspicuous than in the wonderful provision which He has made for all the difficulties which man has wrought for himself in seeking to understand his own and God's relation to this scene, and to the evil which is undeniably in it. Man has sought ever to understand these things from his own point of view, and, but too ready to make himself the measure of everything which he strives to understand, has been led into many a devious path of speculation and scepticism and infidelity, even from the first day in which it was possible for mind to work and pursue its own way, regardless of God. But God has, in gracious and perfect wisdom, provided beforehand the solution of all and the key to all difficulties of the sincere, by giving His own mind or that which is the blessed outcome of it. The simple soul bows to His wisdom, receiving submissively what He communicates, and is blessed and helped and delivered, while the proud are left to the darkness and uncertainty of their own thoughts; for nothing is so foolish as pride, and the pride of mind is the most deceitful and deadly, as it is the most blinding, of all forms of folly.

While we might, on the one hand, trace these thoughts and efforts of man's mind — efforts to find light by the examination of his own being, or of the material creation generally, efforts to postulate God from his own conceptions of what should be, efforts to scan the past or pierce the future by such light as he could gather, efforts which have unceasingly troubled the sea of human life, and in the end left man to feel that, in spite of himself, he is surrounded by the unknown, and trembles at every turn on the brink of depths that he cannot fathom; while the history of these workings of the human mind, which have perplexed souls innumerable, is within reach, yet it can but show us man's side of the picture, and that is not the bright side, however unpalatable it may be to have to own it. God's side is far otherwise. He has not been indifferent to all, or to anything, that has disturbed man and indeed man's helpless wanderings in his foolish endeavour to "find out God" are enough in themselves to call out the compassion and the sorrow of the renewed heart, which itself, even when acting in its energy without hindrance, is but a reflex of God; but He abides in the calmness and beauty of His own light, which makes all manifest, and He blesses and guides with it those who truly turn to Him, and own Him, as for themselves, the source of wisdom.

It is from this point of view that I would look for a little at the responsibility of man, as knowing about it but the teaching of God's word by the Spirit, and fully owning that this alone contains true wisdom.

Before taking up our subject, however, we must notice one little word which God has given — and it is like the words of God — to illumine, as if by a single ray, the entire field which we are to traverse, instructing us divinely as to the true character of the scene in which man is found. By comparing Genesis i. 3–5, 14–19 (which is the account, not of the creation of light, but of the establishment of its place and functions in relation to this world, as then ordered) with Revelation xxi. 1, 5, 23; Revelation xxii. 5, we see at a glance that it was quite within God's power to have ordained that there should be uninterrupted day in this world, instead of night and day, and the question arises, why did He allow the presence of darkness while putting a division between it and the light? Simply to show that the scene was to be established in moral responsibility before Him — He did not banish the darkness entirely by His power. Evil was, and He permitted it to have a certain relation to this scene and to His creatures, so as to test man, and thus fairly establish the principle of human responsibility. This principle continues until evil is finally removed; and when applied to Christians, the claim upon them is that they should act like God, and not mingle light and darkness (2 Cor. vii.; Eph. 5); that they should recognize the darkness — the evil — and be apart from it in holiness, that is, in the power of good, which is superior to it and is possessed by them, for thus is God separate. Because He is omniscient and holy, evil must always have a certain relation to Him, but He may totally exclude it from the scene of His power. By-and-by, when His dealings in grace on account of evil have been fully made manifest, He will eternally banish it, but not the knowledge of it, from the scene which is then established in grace, not responsibility, on the everlasting and immutable foundation of the work of Christ; for we know that in the "new heavens and the new earth" righteousness will dwell, and we, while conscious of the existence of evil, will be maintained eternally in holiness.

Thus we learn that what was done in "creation" was entirely with a view to a certain condition of the world, and man upon it, and therefore that anything in its economy had, and has, a relative character. We may say, conversely to Revelation xxi. 23, that then there was "need of the sun and of the moon to shine," and it was with respect to this state of need of such things that God ordained them, He having been pleased, in His sovereign power, to allow such a state to have existence. All that we know as men, and are surrounded by, is thus relative, and the only way in which we can know anything absolutely, or even in its relation to another and a different condition, even if that be not a final one, is by its being revealed to us. We must see and own this, however, as that is the first step towards receiving the truth of God's revelation, and, if we refuse to do so, there is no hope that we ever will understand.

These considerations are of importance, because we constantly find men reasoning from the phenomena, experiences, and analogies furnished by the present system, and their life in it, as if these were final and conclusive. At the very least the leaving room for the possibility of another and a different condition would considerably modify both the conclusions and the processes by which they have been reached.

One other consideration of a general character demands notice before we pass on, and that is, the relation which responsibility bears to death. Many bold statements are current, the object of which is to teach (I cannot say to prove) that the death of men is merely an orderly and necessary step in the course of nature to which their bodies are subject. The fact that in other departments of nature, say, for instance, the vegetable kingdom, or even in the case of the animals, death appears as a necessary link in the chain of phenomena, is, it is argued, enough to show that this order of events was necessarily the arrangement for man also. But this is a grievous non sequitur.

The supposed geological proofs of the existence upon the earth of races of animals which had become extinct before man's appearance there, as showing that death existed among them prior to Genesis iii., do not trouble me. I am ready to admit that these animals may have lived and died, and it may have been intended that even those placed on earth when man was formed should be subject to the laws which obtain with regard to organic forms — such as plants, etc. — as we know them.* But this proves nothing, as no moral question is raised by such death, neither plants nor animals being responsible beings. With man, however, it is far otherwise, as we shall see, and his death is the direct fruit of sin, as his failure in his responsibility. This condition of things, and the creation of the responsibility which is the groundwork of it all, began with Adam, and therefore the theory of previous races of "pre-Adamite man" is a mere idle fancy, unless it is held that they became extinct before Adam was formed, or that Adam was an independent creation. This would of course preserve his moral responsibility intact; but either is a thought very foreign to the theory to which I now refer, and consequently, as man's moral relationship to God cannot be denied (except by those who are wilfully blind and debased), we must not hesitate to sacrifice the vision of men's minds to the truth.

[* Romans viii. 20 has been sometimes looked upon as teaching that the lower creation became subject to death through man's sin; but the language of the verse does not convey that. For it says, "the creation itself was made subject to vanity [not death], not of its will, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same," etc.]

2. — The Principle of Responsibility.

The basis of responsibility is moral relationship to God, and that man has been placed in such relationship (in contrast to the lower creation, which is "lower" indeed relatively to him just because it has not such relationship) will be denied by no one whose judgment we need to consider. Those who do deny it can reach a consistent position only by denying the existence of God, and we do not require to stop for such, because every test which can be applied to them but makes manifest the truth of scripture, that it is "the fool," and the fool only, who "hath said in his heart, there is no God."

Every relationship (and I use the word in its broadest sense) of necessity carries with it responsibility. There exists, by virtue of the existence of the relationship, the moral obligation to fulfil its duties, whatever the extent of these, and whatever the character of the person who claims them may be. And the validity of .the claim is in no way affected by loss of power in the responsible one to fulfil the duties; for were it otherwise there could not be a righteous basis for the execution of judgment, no matter what might be the extent of failure, or what the gravity of its results, because in reality loss of power is failure. To simplify this I shall make use of an illustration which has already been used by another. We shall suppose that there is a man who owes another a thousand pounds — a common enough case — but unfortunately the debtor is a spend-thrift, and has not a penny wherewith to meet the claim. lie is, in fact, without power to pay; but no one could for a moment say that he is not as much bound to pay as if he possessed the whole amount. The claim subsists, and therefore the responsibility also.

But as obligation flows from relationship, and it is plain that for the obligation to subsist the relationship which constitutes it must exist, so the possession of power at some one period is necessary for the creation of responsibility. The possession of the thousand pounds (to continue the illustration), or its equivalent, at one point, is plainly necessary to constitute the debt; this corresponds to the possession of the power to which I allude; and, moreover, the idea of one being set in a relationship, the duties of which he at the same time is incapable of performing, is manifestly self-destructive.

The fact is, relationship cannot exist where there is incapacity in the alleged responsible person to perform its duties. I do not mean acquired incapacity, but where he is in his nature such as to negative the claim, and therefore the possession of power is involved in the term relationship.

Thus a beast or a stone cannot be responsible for moral conduct, and neither is in the relationship to which responsibility attaches.

A beautiful illustration of these solemn principles is given us in the Lord's wonderful answer to Pilate's boast in John xix. 10, 11; and this answer is all the more complete and wonderful, because it sheds light on the subject after it has been complicated by the difficulties with which sin has surrounded it, and is not existing in its simple elements as in Adam's day.

We may be sure that, had any sinful man — had any one of us — been in His place, men would have had the record of a very different word. We should either have denied the divine origin of the power in which Pilate boasted, in order to press upon him, according to our thoughts, the consequences of its use, or have admitted it, in order to put him aside contemptuously in affected superiority; and thus would have said, either," God never gave you the power to act thus;" or, "Thou couldest have no power at all against me except it were given thee from above, and therefore I have to do with God and have nothing to do with thee." But His word was, "Thou couldest have no power at all against me except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin." In this perfectly wise answer responsibility is owned, though in the same breath with God's sovereignty, and yet each is perfectly in its place. It is as though He had said, God has allowed this — allowed them to have power, but they have used that power to have their own way, and it is manifest that it is their own way, and not God's, and so God marks the various steps in guilt.

There was far more active evil against the Lord in Judas than in Pilate, and so this led him, when God allowed them to act unrestrained, to deliver Him to Pilate. Pilate was, in one sense, only doing his duty in acting as a judge, condemning or releasing; but he was of course bound to act before God, and in subjection to Him in this. He very manifestly did the contrary, and hence his sin, which no doubt the Lord's word made his conscience aware of in some degree. Thus the possession of power as given of God, while it created responsibility, yet raised no question as to guilt; this was decided by the working of the will, which directed the use of the power, and thus the roots of the matter are brought to light.

All this is important enough as entering into the nature of even the most ordinary relations of human life, but its solemnity cannot be overrated as our relations with God rise before us; for it is these which first and most of all concern us, and moreover, all others have their true place only as these are rightly owned.

We have thus before us in this subject that which brings into view the reality of the soul's relation to God, and that which has to do with the setting of each man individually before God in his individuality, with God's claims, and with man's actions and thoughts. It is not calculated deeply to move or touch the heart — grace does this; but that is not less useful, because of its most solemn and searching appeals to conscience. And it has the weightiest of all reasons to urge for its consideration, because it is on the individual ground that the final issues will be manifested at the bema of judgment. "For we must all be manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he bath done, whether it be good or bad," "so then every one of us shall give account of himself to God." (2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. xiv. 12.)

Now nothing is more important, and nothing contributes more moral vigour and reality to the soul, than the hearty acknowledgment of the force of this intense individuality. God seeks to lead men to it, in order that they may realize that each one has to do with Him, and so may have a clear and definite issue before their minds; but we can trace to feebleness in the apprehension of it, or to indifference to its truth, much of the perplexity in which souls are found. Men raise questions as to how God can deal with the heathen, or with people in particular circumstances, and do this really, though perhaps unconsciously, with the thought of finding a decent excuse for shirking what relates to themselves; but they are blind to the fact that, even supposing they found a satisfactory solution to all such inquiries, yet this could not in any way settle for them the far more solemn matter of their own soul's relation to God. What possible shelter, then, can these questions, when unsettled, afford? Such thoughts are, I doubt not, ready tools in the hand of him who is far more subtle than man — the enemy of souls; but his tools are as various as the souls with whom he seeks to have to do, and so he can turn the feebleness in apprehending the importance of individuality before God to account in another way. This he does — for those who would escape from under its keen edge in the former way — by weakening the claim of God's word on the individual conscience by means of the interposition of some authority which is not God's (such as that of the church) between the soul and the word.

But all such miserable subterfuges of the enemy, and all such petty efforts of men, are blown to the winds when the soul faces the stern reality of dealing with God alone. Reader, you and I must meet God, and have to do with Him, individually about our deeds — aye, and about our sins — either here or hereafter. He cannot be put off forever. We may succeed in staving off the consideration of this truth for a time by demanding explanations about everybody's lot and portion but our own, and seek to escape, like the cuttle-fish, in the darkness and obscurity produced by ourselves; but all this has an end; and were the whole body of these questions for ever settled, tomorrow you would be no nearer a satisfactory conclusion for yourself, for there would yet remain the one to arrange between your soul and God. Forget not this.

Rome or "the church" may falsely claim that you cannot receive the word of God, or know it as His, or know what it says, being His word, unless you receive it through her hands, and with her explanations; but all this is proved to be a false claim by the very fact of your individual responsibility to God. For how could God hold men individually responsible to Him, giving His word to be the regulator and measure of that responsibility, unless that word were addressed to each one, and capable of being received and understood by each one? Mark well, I do not say that the word does not contain anything besides that which is addressed to man in his responsibility. It does contain very many things that are on another basis altogether, and these are surely out of the reach of mere human intelligence. But even this admission is far from giving room for ecclesiastical claims even over these things, for we are distinctly told in 1 Corinthians ii. that they are revealed to faith by the Spirit of God, who alone is competent to communicate either the things themselves or the understanding of them.

In considering the history and principle of responsibility, it is of the last importance that we rightly distinguish between the responsibility of man as natural man, the descendant merely of Adam, with what is addressed to that, and the application of the principle to any as occupying a new and special relationship to God, say as His children or His people. For, while it is true that the responsibility of man lies at the root of all the relations of God to man, yet we shall find it also the case that the principle enters both into all the special dealings of God by which He has marked the course of man's history, and into all the relationships which He has ordered and established from time to time, and into which His people have been brought.

The mere rationalist is incapable, from his standpoint, of making or of seeing the force of these distinctions. He has but one standard, or measure, to which all things, mental, moral, or material must be brought, and that is man as known by him naturally. But whatever he does, or fails to do, we must not forget that the present condition of man, in which alone of course all human knowledge about him is gathered, is itself but a consequence of what is of incomparable gravity, namely, the introduction of sin into all his relations, because into his nature. And therefore it follows that any view of man which refuses due weight to this consideration of necessity introduces the element of confusion into any attempt to define his relations with God, and certainly does so into the attempt to understand or give a proper place to the principle of responsibility. We cannot wonder, though we may grieve, as we see the consequences of his position, that the rationalist is thus unable too to see the insufficiency and narrowness of it, or the pettiness of the views it involves, albeit it is what commends itself to his "reason." He is necessarily one-sided, and to be one-sided is as necessarily to be unable to see the clear light of the truth.

When, however, the balance is evenly held, and due weight is allowed to these varieties of position, the value of which we learn from God in His word, then the principle of responsibility is seen in its coherence and force. It runs as a golden thread throughout the whole course of man's history as a moral being; it binds together into one connected and consistent whole all the varied methods of God's dealing, and the different measures of His revelation; it manifests thus the divine unity of purpose, thought, and design which pervades the entire Bible, giving the clue to the severity of His judgments, and to the results of His grace; in a word, it sets before us God and man in their proper relations the one to the other, and nothing can be more important than this.

To us as Christians its value is great, not only because it presents us with that which checks and corrects the proud independence of man's mind, but also because there is to be found in it a solution of much of the difficulty which occurs to many minds in the presentation of the gospel to all, and a fund of powerful and practical truth for the people of God, serving rightly to direct the keen edge of many a word to the consciences of those who are fain to press, and so to misuse, grace as a means whereby that edge may be turned away from them. But the soul which has been brought consciously into the light, and has been made by grace thoroughly honest with itself, knows the inestimable benefit of that which in any degree makes us increasingly real and true.

3. — The Establishment of Responsibility.

1877 235 It has often appeared to me a strange thing that men will allow in words that God is sovereign and supreme, while the whole bent of their mind and actions evinces that they deny, or at least question, His right to make or create what sort of a man He pleased. They do not think of questioning this right as applied to the rest of creation in its existing form; but they think and act as though He had no right to call a responsible being into existence if He so willed it.

Yet He claims for Himself His undoubted prerogative, in order that men may be silenced. "Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?"

Men would throw the blame of all the evil that is in the world upon God for His not having made things otherwise, and as they would like; but they forget that God chose to make them responsible beings, as having perfect right and power to do so, and that no blame can be shifted to His sovereign act from their shoulders whose responsibility was created by that very act. It is said, God is Almighty as well as Omniscient, and could therefore have made men perfectly safe from the reach of evil, had He chosen to do so; but He has chosen to do otherwise, and so the existing state of the world is His doing, for "who has resisted his will?" But this really begs the whole question, for it assumes either that, as is expressed, the present state* of things is according to His will, or that there was no course open to Him but the two contemplated in such an assumption, namely, that He must either keep men from evil by direct power, or be concerned in their evil Himself; whereas the scriptures show decisively that neither of these is the truth. Apt indeed is the inspired reply to such objectors — "Nay, but O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?"** (Rom. ix. 20.)

[* This must be distinguished from the order of things as created, or their original character, as having a certain relation to evil. For this see ante, pages 214, 215. In this latter, as we have seen, is contained the germ of the question of responsibility.]

[** Particular instances of God's sovereignty are dealt with in Romans ix.]

Now the thus is, as far as men in general are concerned, certainly not a state in which we are kept from evil by the direct action of God's omnipotence, nor is it a state in which, by the exercise of the same power, we are of necessity under evil for which He will judge us. This were indeed to make Him unrighteous, which is precisely the issue at which many have arrived, who have sought to reconcile such an idea of our position as men with their ideas of God; and therefore it is not greatly to be wondered at that, where merely the natural evil of man's heart and will has been at work, men have been glad to find thus, as they imagined, a good excuse for the rejection of the revelation of God — the Bible — which is never welcome to man naturally, and which he readily judges as opposed to "enlightened reason." But the condition in which God chose to ordain man at the commencement of his history was one of direct responsibility, that is, a real moral relationship to God — a condition in which he was possessed of certain powers, and of intelligence, by which they could, and therefore should, be directed in happy subjection to Him; or, to put it concisely, a condition in which the was able to understand God's will, and bound to obey it. The measure of this intelligence was the word of God.*

[* This leaves untouched all question of spiritual intelligence, by which a deeper unfolding of God's mind may be discerned in the same words, and how this intelligence is given.]

Being capable of receiving that word to this extent (that is, being intelligent), man was bound to acknowledge it as the expression of God's will, as supreme, and was not consequently responsible for any further measure of knowledge as an authoritative guide for himself. The word — the witness or testimony of God — was, and is, thus the measure of all direct responsibility, and is inseparably connected with the principle. Moreover, the fact that obedience to it was demanded and looked for, on God's part, from man, shows plainly that man had the power of doing what was contrary to that word, and that he was left free as to the possibility of exercising that power. This indeed, as we have seen, is inherent in the nature of responsibility, and it shows us that a responsible being is one to whom failure is possible — a principle which is abstractly true in all cases, except of course strictly in that of the Lord Jesus Christ, though it may on some occasions be subject to some limitations.

The account of the commencement of the subsistence of these relations between God and man is given to us in Genesis ii. 7–25, and it is important to note that we have the description in that chapter, and not in the first of the same book. The reason is plain. For while in chapter i. we have simply the ordered existence of all things earthly with reference to God (Elohim) as Creator, in chapter ii. we have some of these same existences described in their relation to the Lord God (Jehovah Elohim), and they have consequently (for this is the name by which God designates Himself when in moral relationship with man thereafter in scripture) a moral character not noticeable in the former chapter. And we see herein the most admirable order of the revelation of God.

The distinction I speak of will be seen by comparing Genesis i. 20–30 with Genesis ii. 7–25. In the former portion man is seen as created in conformity with the divine counsels concerning the plan of his creation, and as placed on the earth in his proper position, viewed, however, entirely as a creature, the words which God addresses to him — "Be fruitful and multiply," etc. — being similar to those which He addressed to His other creatures, with (of course) a recognition of that which was peculiar to the special position of man, namely, his dominion over the other creatures. Nothing beyond the fact is noted however, and seeing that it is here the brute creation, as such, over which he is to have dominion simply for the subduing of it, it is evidently a question of his relative physical position towards them, more than of any moral relations existing on either side. (See vers. 22, 28.) Man's physical wants, along with those of the animals, are made prominent in verses 29, 30.

In the latter portion (Gen. ii. 7–25), on the other hand, man is seen in the relationship which his being has with God. It is here not simply, "God created man," etc., but "the Lord God formed man . . . . and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul." The manner of his link with his source of life is thus shown, and it is seen to place him in direct relationship with God. It is as Elihu described in Job xxxiii. 4, "The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life," and as Paul says in Acts xvii. 28, quoting the acknowledgment which even the heathen gave to the fact, "For we are also his offspring." The words addressed to him by the Lord God in this character are consequently concerning his moral obligation to Him (vers. 16, 17): "And the Lord God commanded the man," etc. The moral purport and effect of the formation of the woman is also given (ver. 18–21): "It is not good that the man should be alone, I will make him an help meet for him;" and "therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh." Not only so, we have also in verses 19, 20 the moral side of Adam's authority over the rest of created living things, and this in direct contrast with the physical side shown us in chapter i. "And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air, and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them; and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof,"* etc.

[*We may note that the authority to bestow a name invariably marks in scripture moral supremacy. See Gen. ii. 19, 20. 23; Gen. 5:3; Numbers xiii. 16; Isaiah lxii. 24; Hosea i.; John i. 42, etc.]

Now it is with these moral relations, as ordained between God and man, that we are concerned in this examination. The intelligence and power given to man arc abundantly manifest from the whole of the account, while in verses 16, 17 God's requirement is defined, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil becomes thus not only a test but the witness of God's claim, and conversely of man's responsibility.

It is a point of immense importance in the establishment of this relationship between God and man that the thing which God commanded not to be done, namely, the eating the fruit of the tree, was perfectly innocent in itself. But for the condition attached to it there was no wrong in the act, and the importance consists in this, that it shows that man was not left to the guidance of any internal conscience or inherent moral sense of wrong; in fact, it is plain from the scripture that this is what he did not possess as innocent. If it had been a sinful thing (that is, a thing morally corrupt as to the nature of it — I do not speak here of the effect) which had been forbidden, man in the present day might with some show of justice claim that there is this good in him, that from the beginning it was his own moral sense or inherent consciousness of right and wrong (or "spiritual faculty") which was to have led him in the way of serving God. But it was not; and man was therefore simply put under the obligation to be subject to the word of God as supreme — a motive sufficient to lead him to be so, being no doubt also supplied in the goodness of God, as in all that was the expression of that (namely, God's works, see Gen. i., ii.) man had free possession and enjoyment.

Adam thus did not know right and wrong, not knowing good and evil, till his act of disobedience was done. He knew by the word of God the right thing to do; but in what was said to him there was no question proposed as to whether he knew it to be right or wrong. He had not to decide between it as good and something else, but he was responsible to do it as set by God's will in the relationship to Him, which demanded it as its condition, and as possessed of power to do the opposite, without which, of course, God's command would have been without meaning. The possession of this power was, however, perfectly compatible with a state of innocence, or, in other words, of ignorance of evil as related to good (and of good also, of course, in that distinctive sense); and that this was man's original condition is made perfectly plain by Genesis iii. 22, where the Lord God says, after man has fallen, "Behold, the man is become as one of us to know good and evil; and now," etc. Before he fell, everything that he knew was good in itself, and this, whether it were the works of God by which he was surrounded (for all these were declared to be "very good," Gen. i.), or his own course which the word of God marked out for him (for this was obedience). All was good; but at the same time we can say that he did not know good relatively or abstractly as it is known in a mind which can compare it with evil.

Hence the tree of which he partook in disobedience was called "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." In one sense it would not be correct to say that he was unconscious of good, but he was totally unconscious of evil. I do not forget that there was the condition of death attached to God's requirement, but even this necessitated no knowledge of evil. There being no moral wrong in the act of eating the fruit apart from God's command, man was simply required to obey, not to know as right and wrong in itself. This we need to keep in view as to the act; and as to the condition we must not forget that we look back at it from the apprehension of death which guilt has brought in, and that therefore to us it has a moral character as a penal condition, which it need not have had to him — in fact, we may say it could not have had.

For "the sting of death is sin;" and until therefore he knew sin, he could not know death in its penal character. It is obvious that the knowledge of death as punishment for wrong must necessarily follow the knowledge of wrong, and therefore Adam could not have known death in this way. How much about the fact of death he knew we are not told — he could hardly have seen any instances of it at the time when the command was given to him; but to a being to whom the idea of a cause is an inherent necessity, his own end, to speak popularly, that is, the end of his life on earth, must have been an intelligible idea; and there is abundant evidence that physical death was made the prominent thought to him, and to man thereafter, for a long time.

Therefore the attachment of the condition did not make disobedience any more disobedient, or reveal its intrinsic moral character before it was an accomplished act.

This is borne witness to in what is told us about the immediate effect of the fall upon man. He then acquired what he had not before, "the knowledge of good and evil;" and it is well if we weigh the importance of this word, so that we may understand it. For it does not speak of a knowledge of good and a knowledge of evil, as though these were two distinct subjects of knowledge with which man then became acquainted, or even two separate departments of knowledge, or as though man had previously known what good was in itself, or what evil was in itself, and now had become practically acquainted with that which he already knew theoretically. It speaks of good and evil as so bound up in one apprehension, that, though it were the knowledge of two opposing principles which was acquired, yet it was but one perception, the perception of them as opposed to one another; both principles were of necessity included in one idea with which man became acquainted at that moment. For "the knowledge of good and evil" is the perception of it in itself without a law, or its being imposed. God does know, doubtless, good and evil according to the perfection of His own nature. But it is a condition of His nature to discern it; it was not of Adam's before his fall. He was innocent; he enjoyed God's goodness unsuspectingly, and did nothing else. There was no occasion to discern, nor capacity to do so. In the fall he acquired this capacity. He could now say, This is good, and that evil; but he was under sin. So that in this knowledge of good and evil we have a "capacity to discern right and wrong — a real moral condition of mind, but which is not subject to forms of thought, because it is not a question of thought. It is in the nature of relationship, and may in us be misled by thought."

1877 250 Thus man learned of these things relatively to one another, and it is only thus that he is acquainted with either of them distinctively, so that before sinning he could not be said to have had this capacity.

All complexity which might have arisen if we had had to take into consideration any power of judging of things morally inherent in man from the first, is thus rendered impossible, and the principle involved in the relative positions of God and man at the outset is made perfectly clear as one of will — God's will, of course, being that which should have been owned as supreme, and thus literally accepted as man's will, which would therefore have been expressed only in obedience to God, who had done sufficient to give man perfect confidence in Him, so as also to lead the desires of his heart in that way.

Thus was man made responsible, and thus are we led to see what responsibility pure and simple means. And thus, too, we see that in Adam's sin there was far more than the mere transgression of a command (though, of course, it was this also; see Rom. 5:14; Hosea vi. 7); there was the assertion of an independent will, and that too by a creature (the very principle of sin, as 1 John iii. 4 rightly translated tells us), the possession of which, for God so ordered it, could be had only in conjunction with the knowledge of good and evil acquired by man's practical subjection to evil.

The whole subsequent condition of man is involved in this — he has the knowledge of good and evil, and he knows too the exercise of his own will, but that is, in the nature of it, as manifested from the first, invariably directed towards evil. It is evil which he wishes to do, contrary to the good which God wishes him to do. If he never wished to do anything but good, he would have no will apart from God's will and would thus be sinless.

It follows from this that the only just measure of sin is that infinitely wise and good will against which all sin is rebellion, and we must primarily consider sin in this light, apart from all questions of degree of moral turpitude, or of human standards, if we desire to have, as far as our power to weigh it reaches, true judgment of its nature and extent. We must indeed go farther, and own that, without the knowledge of God and His will, we are unable to measure evil at all. For it is only by having God brought consciously before him that man is able to know the truth (that is, what is absolutely true in character, whatever the measure or amount) as to good or evil, or anything moral (or indeed as to anything material too, for even here it is easy for the mind to pursue a wrong road if it once starts from a false notion of the nature of things). One might reason, for instance, about evil, but could never know what it is in reality by this process. The utmost that could be arrived at would be a comparison of various known evils, and a speculation as to some general principle of evil which was thought to underlie them all. On this ground it is not difficult to see how men could endeavour to persuade themselves that there is no knowledge of evil possible but that which is gained by comparing certain things that are evil to them. But such reasoning blots God out of His own universe, and therefore we need to have God brought face to face with us in a revelation of Him, in order to learn truly what evil is, for then we have a perfect standard of all good.

We cannot, it is true, plumb depths that are infinite, and apply God's perfect standard to the judgment of sin, or grasp in our minds the full extent of its enormity as it is seen by Infinite Wisdom, and measured by Infinite Majesty, for we are not Gods, but we can see and own that only thus is sin rightly measured. Its punishment, therefore, must be infinite, for it is according to God's estimate of that which is an offence against Himself; the Infinite One, and so could be no less. It is idle for men to raise objections, as many do, against eternal punishment, on the score that the notion is foreign to their minds, and contrary to their ideas of what is right. These objectors should begin at the beginning, and say if ever they have allowed themselves one true thought of the enormity of that which must be punished. Let them but own that it is beyond their puny minds to comprehend how dreadful is that which their wills have dared to do, and then there would be no difficulty in acknowledging that, while it is not in man to comprehend infinite punishment, yet, when he owns what sin is, he has the sense that nothing else than that can he right.

It is thus that we are in our due place with regard to these things, and only when we are in this attitude that we are prepared to own the grace that has provided, in the blessed Lord Jesus Christ One, the only One who could perfectly, because divinely, estimate sin, and bear before God, in a spirit which could fully enter into it, and know all the suffering it involved, and in a body made subject to the ultimate penalty it entailed, the full weight of His wrath and judgment against sin. He is the One we as sinners need, though in poor human pride we refuse to own the truth, and prefer rather the cheats invented by minds and wills that are depraved by sin, if not invented by the one far more subtle than these, and who "sinned from the beginning." But grace delights to find herein its opportunity, and seeks to lead men to own the truth, and to acknowledge God in His place as supreme. For right and wrong being known, when God is supreme to the mind and heart we have certain light as to the character of His doings, even though we are unable to comprehend the extent of that which He does. We cannot measure Him or His actions, as though our measure of knowledge of right and wrong must be His, but having the knowledge of good and evil, while we have a responsibility directly based upon this, we are able to rise to the thought that God must act consistently with this principle, though in His own infinite measure of apprehension of it.

But to return to the consideration of human responsibility, it is plain that the acquisition of the knowledge of good and evil — in a word, the acquisition of conscience — necessarily forms the basis of man's condition as a responsible being subsequent to that fact. He knows good and evil now, and is therefore responsible on the principle of conscience, or moral discernment, which is in him as possessed of that knowledge, even when he has no direct word or revelation from God about himself or his path. In fact we are taught in Romans i., ii., that the former is in itself a sufficient guide to the consciousness of having to do with God, and of what is morally suited or unsuited to Him, for those who have not any further revelation from Him, but who are honest and sincere in the desire to own Him, as being themselves properly subject to Him. Romans ii. 5–16 makes it plain that, as regards God's judgment of such men(and those whom we call the "heathen" come within the range of this scripture), that principle becomes the measure of responsibility in their case; and although, in view of what the Cross has revealed of man's natural heart and will, we may seriously question whether there are any who actually meet the demands of God's righteous judgment on this ground, yet we may see from Acts x. 2, 30 to end, and specially from verses 34, 35, how He is wont to deal with any who may be found truly devout before Him, even while outside the range of His revelation.

On this subject the speculations of men's minds are numerous in these days, but for the most part all such seem to me to proceed on principles which are exactly the reverse of the truth. There are in the main two distinct directions in which these speculations are found to run. In pursuance of the first of these men seek to lessen the importance of conscience by trying to make out that the knowledge of right and wrong is in us a mere matter of thought, because our judgment of what is right and what is wrong is entirely the result of education or of prejudice. This, when examined, resolves itself plainly into a denial that there is morality, or an abstract moral standard, and as a necessary consequence denies an absolute standard of morals, that is, denies God. It is well to look the full result in the face, and it would be far better for all if men in general did so, and spoke plainly out, so that all might know what is the true issue before them. Concealment is certainly not of "the truth," whether it is voluntary or involuntary, as far as man is concerned. If we are to deny God and morals, then we know what is before us, and must prepare to see the world deluged in violence and corruption, such as have in degree prevailed wherever the "reason" which teaches these doctrines has held sway, and that even of late years.

I do not overstate the result. For granting that conscience may be much influenced by education, and therefore, putting aside for the moment the consideration of what is judged right or wrong, there plainly remains the existence in men of the power or capacity of discernment of these opposite qualities, even though things wrong may be put for right, and vice versa. As then the capacity to discern these essential qualities exists, the question undoubtedly is, Is there a standard of abstract right and wrong, of morals, by which our ideas derived from education or habit are to be tested? It will not do to say because, with the Spartans, what we call stealing was a virtue, or because the Corinthians deified what we know as lust, or because among savage people what we are taught to call murder is commended, that therefore theft and adultery and murder exist only as relative ideas in our minds. This is really, as I have said, to deny the existence of virtue or goodness, either in the abstract, or absolutely in God. Man's moral nature, except when degraded, scouts the absurdity, and demands as a necessity the existence of abstract moral virtue, and, not only so, but insists that there must also be a perfect and absolute measure of that in God Himself. And therefore conscience leads us directly to the fact of having to do with Him.

There are those pursuing the second path of speculation to which I have alluded who own the nature of conscience and moral standards in a general way, but seek to weaken the character of the evil that is in the world. These suppose that in all its history, past and present, God has been, and is, educating the world, or bringing it by a gradual process nearer to Himself, by elevating and improving the minds of men in general, somewhat after the analogy which the education and training of one of themselves, from childhood to manhood, suggests to them. The truth, however, is, that in all that concerns its relations with God, the world has steadily gone on from bad to worse; commencing ages ago by giving up the knowledge of God (that is, its personal acquaintance with Him, and not merely the idea of a God) which it once possessed, and using ever since then, merely as an occasion to pursue its own way with impunity, the patient grace in which He has so long dealt with it. So that the world has arrived at its present condition, namely, that in which there is in existence a large number of its inhabitants in the condition and circumstances of "heathen" through departure from God. (As to this see Job xxi. 14, 13; Rom. i. 20-25, 28.) And men often unconsciously bear testimony to the truth and right of such dealing. Do we not often hear them say that it is righteous that individuals who do wrong should bear the results in their bodies, and transmit them to their descendants, as it is incontestably proved they do? Or that nations who depart from right and light should stiffer the consequences even here? What about those nations who used to have light, such as Spain, Greece, and others (not. to take any "heathen" for examples) — do we not say they merit their present darkness?

I do not deny that God has given a greater measure of light in Christianity than in Judaism; but this is a fact founded upon His own grace, and quite apart from the human thought which we are considering. For He has introduced successive measures of revelation of light in grace, on the failure of men to walk up to the preceding ones; and in fact the new measure becomes a new point of departure, a new commencement, for the people to whom it appeals. Thus Christianity is not built upon Judaism in the sense conveyed by the "education of the world" school: else why are the Jews utterly outside of it? Why has it been spread almost entirely among peoples formerly living in the gross darkness of heathenism, and strangers to all the teaching and privilege of Judaism? These things call for consideration.

With regard to what men call the refinements or elegancies of life, there no doubt appears to be a general progress in the world from a ruder to a more cultivated state; but if we look a little below the surface, we shall find that these accessories have become necessary through man's taste being corrupted, that is, rendered more greedy of self-pleasing. Simplicity, of which we see abundant proofs in the early days of Old Testament history, is not barbarism, but is the evidence of nobility of nature, though to us it may seem rude; for where is it to be found now? It is, moreover, quite compatible with a high state of moral intelligence. Barbarism is moral degradation.

And the truth is not therefore, that barbarism is man's original state, and that he has gradually to be freed from that, and educated up to God. That notion assumes, if it dare not say, that man, as he came fresh from God's creative hand, was a morally degraded being, requiring to be perfected by his own or others' efforts. Apart from the shocking irreverence of this idea, we are plainly told that "God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good," — and also it is distinctly said that "God made man upright." So that such a condition as that of the heathen today is, if anything, the fitting and, in God's wisdom, the natural result of man's wilful disregard of Him; and if He bears with the world which exhibits such marks of declension from, and enmity to, Him, it is only that He, in His grace, may save some out of that which is wholly bad. The means, however, by which He acts on the few are ever seized and turned to had account by the many, and it is so, as ever, with Christianity, so that access to privileges effects in itself no change on man: though doubtless they, by increasing the weight of his responsibility somewhat, prove to be the surer witnesses against him.

Before looking at the history of responsibility in the world, we may mark one thing more in the position of man as a fallen being (that is, man in the character and condition in which his history becomes known), which in its wonderful grasp of the roots and principles of the moral world Genesis suggests to us.

Man as fallen ever makes himself the centre of his thoughts, instead of putting God in the foremost place in them, and the consequence is that he seeks to make his own acquired knowledge of his own position (however that knowledge may have been acquired, even though by sinful means), that is, his own experiences, though they be those of a fallen nature, and not the communicated knowledge of God's position towards him (in his state, whatever it is), the standard for his conduct. This but leads him in action to depart farther from God, and proves but the more complete witness against him, when the simple word of God, which is the measure of his responsibility, is brought face to face with his conduct. Thus Adam, when summoned before God (in Gen. iii. 9, et seq. 9), says, ""I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid," not because Your command had been transgressed, and Yon had a right to be angry, but "because I was naked, and I hid myself." While the Lord God says, "Who told thee that thou wast naked?" — as if to say, "You never got such a word from Me to act upon" — and He immediately recalls him to that word which he did receive, saying, "Hast thou eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?'' And thus the full measure of man's sin, and of his failure in responsibility, became apparent at once; and so it is always whenever God's voice is heard.

4. — The History of Responsibility.

1877 270 God has been pleased to give us a history of the course of human responsibility, and while it is, of course, full of instruction to us, and of power to humble and convict man in view of what he is and has been, still He has grouped around it such wonders of His own wisdom and grace, as to render it also full of comfort and blessing to us, as we sec Him using it to prepare the way for the full revelation of Himself.

On man's side this history of responsibility is but the account of the course of self-will, which not only can refuse to acknowledge man's sinful condition, and so also to own the provision of God designed to meet man as he is, but also can, in the strength of proud rebellion, charge upon God the cause of its own evil. On God's side it is the history of patient goodness, providing means whereby those who have no claim upon Him yet may find a way in which they may yield what is due to Him. We find more, in truth, as we examine this history, because it becomes apparent that the object which He has in it, in all stages of it, is to bring home to the heart and conscience of man the truth of his condition as a sinner, in order that he may trust altogether in God for salvation. For while man can use the fact of his sinful condition as a stone to hurl at the wisdom of God — as he foolishly thinks he is able to do — he is far from being ready to own that it is condition truly. His effort rather is by using the consequences of it, as he reasons these out, as an objection, to prove that it is not true, and so he requires to have it pressed home on his conscience that he may turn to God.

Man would blame God because he finds that he is a sinner, as though by charging  God with the root of his evil, and laying at His door the cause of all the consequences which have flowed from this condition (as he cannot but see and own these), he would manage to get free from responsibility. But before that question of the root of matters ever rises, God has made it necessary for him to decide whether He has provided any means whereby man as a sinner can meet Him. If we find, as assuredly we do, that God has done this, then most certainly the first question for each man is, how has he treated these means, and God in view of them?

Man is a sinner, it is true; but it is nowhere said that any man is condemned for being a sinner. God "will render to every man according to his deeds," and for these he will be judged. It will, of course, be as a sinner that he meets judgment, but for his deeds. But it is objected, man is a sinner; and this being his nature, it is not his fault if he sins, and therefore it is unjust to condemn him for acts so done. And it is here that the question comes in, "Has a sinner, as such, no responsibility?" or, put in another form, "Has God not provided means of restoration for a man who has sinned?" He has, and therefore every sinner is responsible in view of these.

But, as I have said, it is really to escape from the truth of his condition as a sinner that man raises these objections. For if he acknowledged that truly, while his pride would be thoroughly humbled, he himself would be left in God's hands, and this would be for salvation to his soul, and salvation from the power of his nature.

The blinding power of Satan over the minds of men is in this matter astonishing, and indeed most sorrowful. Under the guise of philosophy he deludes men into thinking that God has willed and pro-ordained everything so that they cannot help themselves. If they have sinned, it was His will that they should sin, and it need not trouble them much, for if He has ordained that they are to be saved, they will be saved. It is an old deceit, but none the less successful with men, though none the less hollow now. In reality it is a covert denial that there is sin. For if that were the truth which the enemy leads men to imagine, then every man could have, nay, ought to have, the consciousness that he had always done God's will. But sin is, as we have seen, the exertion of the creature's will, which is necessarily and invariably in opposition to God's; and therefore it is very manifest that there is no man who brings to the survey of his own life a single particle of honesty, who can attempt to acquit himself of ever having sinned. The mere voice of conscience, even where instructed only by nature, would suffice to denounce such a man as a liar if he did so.

If there be sin, how can all have been according to God's will? And, on the other hand, if all has been according to God's will, where is there room for sin? It is plain that the two thoughts are mutually destructive. The idea that He has willed that man should frustrate His will is too flagrant an absurdity to need comment, and thus it is that man knows only too well when he, listens to its voice that the Bible speaks the truth, when it says plainly to him that he is a sinner. He rarely in these days charges fate with the cause of all things as they are, because this palpably means, as it is not God, some power or principle to which even God must bow. With the revelation of God in the world, the darkness of such a thought (which, however, the wisdom of man had reached before the Lord came into the world) is dispelled, and so man, the poor dupe of one far more subtle than he, now tries to believe that God is responsible for everything as it now exists, heedless of the utter folly of the idea. It is true that He could sweep the whole creation into destruction by one word; and it is also true, most surely and solemnly true, for every unsaved soul, that ere long He will sweep all that is evil in the world into woe that is unutterable but yet is the only fitting resting-place for foul corruption. But the responsibility of the presence of the evil here, for God so ordered it at the beginning (as we have seen in the account of the establishment of responsibility), rests with him who introduced it into the scene of God's power in goodness; and meanwhile He who has power in judgment to remove all by destruction upon all yet waits, in grace bearing with the presence of the evil which He hates, in order that He may provide the means and the opportunity for man, the sinner, to be freed from the consequences of his sins.

This is precisely the picture that is put before us in the history of Cain and Abel in Genesis iv., and the issue which is raised there is as to the way in which sinful man can have to do with God. For men were now no longer innocent, and so were standing before God in a character different from that in which Adam stood before Him, requiring therefore a dealing different to establish and test their responsibility. What met Adam, even when he had sinned, would not meet us who came into the world with a sinful nature, for the conditions are different.

Adam became a sinner by transgressing a simple command, and therefore God had in this transgression the evidence for convincing him that he had become a sinner by his own will. But with us, his posterity, the case is somewhat different, and men (with but scant regard for God, though with much for themselves) are not slow to urge this in such a way as to show that all they seek is that they may evade responsibility. It is true that our responsibility is not the same as Adam's was, as far as regards the conditions under which it is proved or exercised; but the vital questions are — "Does God know this?" and "Has He provided for it?" We find, in fact, when we come to scripture, that God has settled the matter by giving history there. Adam is not heard of afterwards in its course (except to acknowledge him in his position as head of the family), and this is, no doubt, because his case would not suit that of his descendants. Yet even in him God has shown that what He desires is, that man should take his true place as a sinner before Him. Adam did this, acknowledging by his confession that the place was his — for the transgression, as I have remarked, made it plain when God pointed to it; and although he tried to evade the truth at first, the fact, that when convicted he did not harden himself against God but acknowledged his guilt, explains how God could meet and reach him in mercy at once. Has man improved in this respect since Adam's time? No, verily. And it is as knowing his proud heart and will that God has provided against all his objections in what He has given of history, wherein He has also shown, not only the relation in which He stands to Adam's descendants, but also His gracious way of dealing with them when they have proved that they deserve anything but this.

It will be plain to any one who reads attentively the narrative of Genesis iv., and the inspired comment upon it in Hebrews xi. 4, that God must have appointed the manner in which men were to approach Him after Adam's sin had brought a new important element into the relations in which they stood to Him. For it is said in Hebrews xi. 4 that it was "by faith" that "Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain;" and although we have no record of the very instructions given by God, yet that is a most important fact which is stated in Hebrews xi., and it is sufficient to prove to a christian heart that God must have made His mind on the subject known.

Faith, as we learn from the scriptures, is always exercised in view of testimony. If we take even its lowest form, as exhibited in men's everyday dealings with one another, this is true; and from it, as a fact, the Lord seems to argue in 1 John 5:9-12, that He may show how that, although men freely act on this principle towards one another, yet, when it is God we have to do with, we are not so ready to receive His testimony, though it is infinitely more worthy of credence. "If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater. . . . He that does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the witness which God has witnessed concerning his Son. And this is the witness (or testimony), that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life" So also in regard to our dealings with God it is declared, "He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true;" and in another verse of that chapter in Hebrews, which speaks of Abel's having faith, it is said, "Without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is," which man ought to know from the testimony of His works (see Rom. i. 19, 20), "and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him," which a sinner could never know but by the direct testimony of His gracious word making it known to him.

Thus, then, we are justified in concluding that there must have been some communication of the divine mind as regards the manner in which He was to be approached by men now in their altered condition, in view of which testimony Abel, being a sinful man, could alone exercise faith. If this, which, under the circumstances of man's position it may easily be discerned was an obvious necessity for man, be refused to us by captious objectors (for there are such), the scriptures (Gen. iv. and Heb. xi.) at least declare plainly that there was a way of approach to Jehovah, and of having dealings with Him, which Abel used, and the Lord acknowledged as right, and in this, if nowhere else, is contained what it was necessary to show to sinful man, namely, the divine testimony to the possibility of sinners, as such, having to do with God (without His hinting that their condition was an insuperable barrier to their approaching Him), and to the means whereby that approach was to be made.

Now God has so wisely and wonderfully ordered it, that it is in what passed between Himself and Cain, the man who failed in this approach, that we find the truth and force of it pressed on man, and thus objectors are met. Cain, we learn, offered a sacrifice different from that offered by his brother, and this was refused by Jehovah. It is plain from both the scriptures under consideration that the whole question of these men's acceptance was not, as has long been falsely taught, one of the inherent character of the person offering, but of the offerings themselves. It is not, in other words, that Abel was an inherently good man, and Cain inherently a wicked one, and that therefore the offering of the one was accepted, and that of the other rejected. But Cain's was not an excellent sacrifice in Jehovah's eyes, whatever it might have been in Cain's. And now that he has failed, seeking to approach the Lord in his own way, and with his own works (or, which amounts to the same thing, with the evidences of them), instead of in the way which Jehovah approved, in what manner is he met? Does Jehovah blame him for his having been born a sinner? Indeed He does not; but that being a sinner he had not regarded what as a sinner he was bound to regard and submit to, namely, God's way, provided in His grace, whereby sinners, as such, might have dealings, other than judgment, with Him "who has power to destroy both body and soul in hell," the portion of sinners.

The Lord points to his responsibility before Him in his condition at that time, which, of course, God knew perfectly; and if we read Genesis iv. 7 as some do, He even recalled Cain in grace after his self-will and failure in responsibility to the remedy for him as a sinner. Thus, "if thou doest well, shalt not thou be accepted?" shows that his deeds were in question in God's accepting his person, in other words, that he was addressed on the proper ground of his individual responsibility to God, which was accurately defined; and "if thou doest not well, a sin-offering lieth at the door," points him to the divinely appointed remedy for him in his condition as a sinner, and even if declared to be such by his own acts. But if this latter clause be read as it is given in the ordinary Authorized Version, it simply presses the converse of the truth expressed in the former, and declares Cain answerable for the consequences of his deeds, "if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door."*

[*I would only say further as to this, that if this clause be read as it appears in the Authorized Version, it is difficult to see the connection between the first part of the verse ending with that clause, and the latter part, saying, "and unto thee (or subject unto thee) shall be his (that is, Abel's) desire, and thou shalt rule over him." Whereas, if read in the other form, this latter clause becomes simply the assurance, that even though a sinner, and failing, if he submitted to God's provision of the "sin-offering," he would be maintained in his rightful supremacy as the elder brother. This view is however not without its own difficulties, and it is of course not impossible to read and understand the verse in the other form.]

We have in this the relative positions of God and sinful man clearly defined, and the question of responsibility, as affecting a sinner's condition, fully elucidated. In principle the ground thus laid down in the dealing of Jehovah with these two men has never been altered, and it remains to this day, that the full embodiment of the "more excellent sacrifice" is still the only way of approach to God for a sinful man, while we also still find Him expressing His condemnation of men who have "gone in the way of Cain" (Jude 11), even in the midst of Christendom.

In the renewed earth (Gen. viii.) we find Noah as its responsible head making public avowal of the subsistence of this ground, and relationship between God and His creatures. And sacrifice had its divinely appointed place, even when the law came in with what seemed to be a new condition of having dealings with God.

We might trace this many-sided subject of sacrifice, with its varied shades of meaning, and measures of reference to man's relations with God; and nothing can surpass the interest which it possesses for the student of scripture who sees by faith its spiritual teaching. But although instructive and helpful in itself, it is only the general principle of sacrifice which comes within the range of the history of responsibility.

4. — The History of Responsibility (cont'd).

1877 342 In Noah we reach an important landmark in the history of responsibility, for we are shown, in what the word of God gives of his history, divine principles concerning two most important relationships then mentioned for the first time. These are government, or the relation of what we may call "magisterial authority" to God and men generally; and the relation of what may be called "paternal authority" to the smaller sphere of "the house," in view of God's government on earth.

It is plain from Genesis ix. 1–6, that God now placed man in a new relationship, committing for the first time into his hand the sword of executive government.

This has never yet been recalled from man, nor have the principles of its exercise been altered by the word of God. On the contrary, in times subsequent to Genesis ix., with the increase of evil in the world, its powers have been widened and increased, and they are fully recognised in the New Testament as having divinely given claims over the obedience and loyalty of Christians. And there is in this no question of there being what are called "christian magistrates." Paul, in Acts xxiii. 5, on the contrary, standing as a Christian before a ruler who was violently opposed to Christ, refers to the word in the Old Testament scripture as binding upon him with reference to any such magistrate. And in Romans xiii. 1–8 Christians have the clearest light shining for them upon both their relation to the "higher powers," as those who "bear the sword," and the relation of these governors to God; while 1 Timothy ii. 1–4 and 1 Peter ii. 11–17 amplify the exhortations to quiet and submissive conduct on our part under them in all that concerns the administration of earthly affairs — the true christian character of pilgrims and strangers here being maintained through all that is done. Men have forgotten all this who have tried to use the truths of Christianity to displace divinely enunciated principles of the government of the world; turning the teaching of scripture which was intended for the guidance of the church, into maxims for the use of the world. This has arisen from confounding together the church and the world, and from thoroughly mistaking the place and the object of Christianity. It was not intended to interfere with the world, as such, at all, but was designed to take out of it a people for the Lord's name. A worldly Christianity has thus neither the truth as to God's government of the world, nor that of the true grace of God in the midst of an evil world.

Thus, too, with the revelation given to and in Noah concerning the mutual relations existing between a household and its head. We have no previous indication of the mind of the Lord on this subject, but He revealed a most weighty principle in Genesis vii. 1, saying to Noah, "Come thou and all thy house into the ark: for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation." This unfolds no less the responsibility of the head, as such, towards God, than the result of his faithfulness towards the household, with their privilege in being, by virtue of their connection with a head who is obedient to God, eligible for introduction into a place or position of external, but very real, blessing. This is a principle of very solemn application in God's ways of government among men, as Exodus xii. 5, 6; Exodus xxxiv. 7, testify, and it is one of those which run unaltered through all God's subsequent dealings with men. It still stands good, though it has — as many other truths have — been almost obliterated by the dogmas of many Christians.

In Abraham the observance of it is indeed made by the Lord the special groundwork upon which peculiar blessing is conveyed to him, in Genesis xviii. 17–19: while the same principle is borne witness to in New Testament scripture, both as regards blessing resulting to the head through his faithfulness to his "house" (1 Tim. iii. 4, 5), and as regards blessing flowing to them on account of his devotedness to the Lord's will (2 Tim. i. 16); as well as regards the extent of God's purpose of blessing in Christianity, namely the invariable including of all who are thus connected with those who believe. (Acts xvi. 31; Acts ii. 30, etc.)

Abram, again, furnishes us with the first illustration of the introduction of a new and special basis for the responsibility of particular persons, as distinguished from the rest of mankind. The principle of this I have briefly alluded to on page 217, and in Genesis xii., etc., we see that Abram was called into, and so placed before God on, the ground and relationship which God's sovereign grace and promise defined for him.

The scriptures show us that although this dealing of God with him was that of grace towards him, yet it constituted him responsible as in a path which it marked out, for God says to him in Genesis xvii. 1, "I am the Almighty God," that is, God in the character revealed to him in grace — all-powerful on his behalf — "walk before me, and be thou perfect." And this is also a principle which abides in the case of all those brought into relationship with God in grace, as we shall see. In fact this is but reiterating in another form the universal principle of responsibility with which we set out (see page 215), namely, that the being placed in any relationship (however placed there, whether by grace, or in God's sovereign government) is that which creates the responsibility to fulfil its duties, whatever these are.

Of course, men object to grace, and are not slow to charge God with unfairness in taking up sinners for blessing in that absolute way. But the root of such objections and such dislike of grace is self-righteousness, and a refusal to own the true condition of man. There is nothing more wholesome than the hearty acknowledgment that all deserve nothing but punishment, that all are thoroughly bad, and corrupt, and lost. And in no other way are we clear of false thoughts about God and His grace. He has made it abundantly plain in Joshua xxiv. 1–3 that such was the condition of all when His grace was first made publicly known in Abram; and in view of blessing which has thus come into the earth among men, while all are evil, nothing but the sovereignty of God's election can account for any being saved and blessed. Apart from this there seem to be but two other principles upon which He could act towards men, namely, that He must either save all, or save none. But the former of these would deny His holiness, all being sinners; and the latter, while being perfectly just and righteous, would, at least in appearance, deny His love. He reconciles both in the cross, and, choosing some for salvation by it, accounts and makes them just.

The condition of man is made even more plain by such dealing, for if He has to come in and choose some for blessing out of those who are wholly bad, it necessarily shows to what state all have come, and those who reach punishment reach no more than their due, which in fact all deserve. The when God chooses has nothing to do with the sovereignty of His doing it, for it would be as sovereign (as one has said) for Him to choose now as before the world.

As far as we know it by its exercise, this election of God has its first public witness or display in Abraham; we hear nothing of it before his day, but then the world was wholly corrupted by idolatry. The principle of election then comes out in God's acting for the first time, and Romans ix., which treats of this great and solemn subject, goes no farther back for the commencement of its line of proof of God's sovereign mercy in His dealings with men. It shows also, through succeeding generations, that God could own no other basis for blessing.

In Exodus xxxiii. God announces this principle as that which He would act upon with Israel, but the apparent difficulty, as He had just proposed to put them on the ground defined by a new measure of responsibility as the basis of blessing, is explained, when we see that this was after Moses had to pitch the tabernacle outside the camp, all the congregation having gone after idolatry while he was up on the mount receiving the law from God.

Pharaoh's case is clear, for he was a wicked man and utterly regardless of God, though in his position of power he, above all others, should have owned Him. God, willing to show His power and wrath for the good of His people (Ex. vi. 6, 7), that they might trust Him as their deliverer, endured with much long-suffering the evil of the king of Egypt, and at last dealt with him in judgment, in hardening, plaguing, and finally destroying him. That was the present application of what God did, but it has further application to us Gentiles in view of the larger mercy which has come out to us. (Rom. ix. 18-24.)

Nothing can surpass the power and grandeur of the words of Romans ix. in the laying low of all human pride, and showing man's abject dependence for blessing on God's sovereign mercy. The illustration of the potter (ver. 21) is used to make plain how all depends upon sovereign power; for it is out of the some lump that furnishes vessels to dishonour that He chooses to produce vessels unto honour.

People, and even enlightened Christians, shrink from applying the word, "fitted to destruction" to God's action; but the fear is groundless, for no "doctrine of reprobation" (as it is called) is conveyed in them, because they do not mean that God made the men bad as to their natures. It means that, just as in the case of some who were bad, He by His mercy prepared them for blessing, so, in the case of others who were bad, He put them in circumstances where all their badness could be displayed, if He had a purpose to display His power and wrath against evil in their overthrow. Thus they were fitted to destruction. It did not make them bad, nor did it interfere in the least with their responsibility on the ground we have already discussed; it made their badness manifest: and, without the mercy that chooses for salvation, all would be fitted to destruction by simply having time to live given them.

The principle underlying all this is manifest. Man being evil, his doings never can be a basis upon which God can justify him, and therefore it must be by God's way that he is made righteous. This, of course, is a matter of faith on man's part, what God shows of His way being contrary to man altogether, and necessarily so on account of man's condition, while on God's part it is sovereign goodness. And the grace that places him thus in a position of blessing and privilege before God supplies him with power to fulfil the duties resulting from it, and thus those who are blessed become in a new way responsible.

(To be continued.)

{For whatever reason there is no continuation of this series. Ed. STEM}