The Trial of Conscience in the Age Before the Flood

With Adam fallen - even from the first moment of his fall - we enter upon a new period. Sin and death, now come into the world, necessitate new dealings of God with man, if. indeed, judgment do not bring all to a sudden close, And this was not in His mind, who from the first had foreseen and provided for the rebellion of the creature. Judgment does indeed follow, such as God had previously pronounced but that was no final one, but (as we shall easily see) one anticipative of the mercy to he shown, and which could be made to take itself the character of mercy. It is in confounding the provisional death, threatened to and inflicted on Adam and his posterity, as the result of the primal sin, with the second ''and final'' death of the lake of fire, that much error and heresy of the present day finds apparent countenance. Scripture being strained to establish what is a mere foregone conclusion in the minds of its interpreters, and what none can in fact deduce from its straight forward simplicity of statement. In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" is defined so clearly, in the Lord's words to fallen Adam, as to put its meaning, one would think, beyond serious question. "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground for out of it wast thou taken for dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return"

To read into this eternal judgement is to misread it thoroughly. The death announcement, which we know to be everywhere in the world, through the first man's sin, is in reality a thing which, in its very nature necessitates the suspension of eternal judgment until it is taken out of the way. Not till the dead are raised will the white throne be set, and the dead - the wicked dead - be judged ever man according to his works." And thus the resurrection of the unsaved dead is as much a "resurrection of judgment" that is, what it implies and necessitates, (as the resurrection of the saved is similarly a "resurrection of life" The final judgment is thus in no wise the result of Adam's sin: it is that in which emphatically each suffers for his own. The second death and the first are in no wise to be confounded - they are incompatible and contrary things.

Nor can spiritual death, or "death in trespasses and sins", he possibly what God speaks of in His threatening to Adam. This is indeed the spiritual state which is the result of the fall but the moral state of a criminal is a very different thing from the judgment upon the criminal. Man's depravity is what he is condemned for, not what he sentenced to and these things cannot be synonymous. Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" is thus the only possible, as it is the divinely given, interpretation of the announcement, "In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."

Yet it is quite true, and to be pressed, that this death, coming not only upon the first sinners, but upon all their posterity, - and surely by no mere arbitrary decree on God's part,- marks the changed relation to Him of the now fallen creature. Everywhere does Scripture recognise this, and in God's ordinances for his chosen people of old it comes fully out. Death is associated ever with uncleanness and defilement. If a man die in a tent, all that come into the tent, and all that is in the tent, are unclean seven days. Every one touching a dead body, a bone, or a grave, is similarly defiled. Nor must we look at this as merely symbolic teaching. The psalm of the wilderness is plain enough in its doctrine here: "For all our days are passed away in Thy wrath. We spend our years as a tale that is told. The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. Who knoweth the power of Thine anger? even according to Thy fear, so is Thy wrath." (Ps. xc. 9-11.)

Yes, if God had thus to turn to destruction the being over whom, as first created, He had rejoiced with unfeigned delight, surely the state of the creature it was that was thus marked out, not a causeless change in God. Death was the stamp upon the creature fallen away from God, and every sign of its approach a standing admoitition to him as a being thus under sentence - not final indeed, or there would be no use in the admonition, but still a sentence of condemnation, which cut him off from all pretension to righteousness, or natural claim to favour and left him but the subject of mercy, and of mercy alone. True, he may (alas! he does) resist and strive against the sentence graved upon his brow. He may condemn God, that he may himself be righteous. This changes nothing - no, not a hair of his head from white to black. He may complain of himself as the victim of circumstances, impossible to be "clean" as "born of a woman." He may plead that he did not give himself the evil nature that he carries with him, but conscience will not be satisfied with this. It will not excuse actual transgressions by any plea as to a fallen nature. We feel and know, every one of us, that we ought nevertheless to be masters of ourselves and of our nature, and that our responsibility has been in no wise destroyed or lessened by the fall. So in the day of judgment also God will render to every man, not according to his nature but his deeds, and upon this ground is the whole world brought in "guilty before God."

Death thus, while introduced by one man's sin, "passes upon all men, for that all have sinned." Were there one man, in the full sense, righteous before God, he might successfully plead exemption from the common doom; but "there is none righteous - no, not one;" and death remains universally a sentence gone forth against man as man, the constant witness against self-righteousness on his part, the constant witness of his need of mercy - absolute, sovereign mercy.

The sorrow of all this is thus God's appeal to man; the trouble to which he is born, as sparks fly upward, becomes the discipline of holy but merciful government. It is of this that God speaks to the man and the woman when He first appears to them in the garden; to the woman, of the sorrow of conception, and subjection to the rule of her husband; to the man, of the cursed ground, and of its thorns and thistles, with the toil of labour, till he return to the dust. With them, let us notice, He makes no new terms - no other covenant is proposed to them. As helpless and hopeless otherwise, they are made simply to listen to what God announces He will do - to the message of a deliverance He will raise up to them in the woman's Seed. It is to faith in One to come they are invited, in the midst of the ruin they have brought upon themselves. No new trial is proposed. They are left under the salutary government of God, to realise what and where they are before Him, and to embrace the mercy wrapped up for them in the bud of that first promise.

For promise indeed it is, while it comes in the shape of threatening to the serpent; a promise whose broken echoes the traditions of the nations have prolonged, even to our own day. Scripture, which cannot be broken, has alone given us the very words, in their original simplicity and grandeur - the "let there be light" of a new creative period, exceeding the former as antitype its typic "shadow." The words are for us today, to vindicate their imperishable nature, fresh for our souls as the day when they were uttered: "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her Seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel."

It is the character of the new period we are occupied with, and for this have only to do with certain features of this promise. It is plain enough that Another is here given as the Conqueror of the serpent, the enemy of man, but whose "seed" nevertheless (as the near future would painfully reveal) would be found among men. This Conqueror is also the woman's seed, and not the man's. It is no restoration of Adam's forfeited headship, but a new and mysterious beginning, wherein divine power takes up the frailty and mutability of the creature, which has its fullest expression in the woman, to demonstrate divine grace, while not without cost is the victory over the enemy achieved: in bruising the serpent's head, the Conqueror has His own heel bruised.

Thus does the divine purpose begin to be disclosed, asking no aid from, and making no condition with, the fallen creature. From the first, it is seen that all help is laid upon Another - One in whom, though born of a woman, power from God is found; who suffers, and in suffering overcomes; and manifestly in behalf of those of whom He is the Kinsman. Although, then, the Lord's address to the woman afterwards speaks of nothing but pain and humiliation, and to the man himself of toil and suffering and death, yet we read immediately upon this that "Adam called his wife's name Eve ['Life'], because she was the mother of all living." Life he apprehends, according to the divine announcement, to be in the woman connected by grace with her victorious Seed; weakness and evil in her thus met and triumphed over, while the headship of the first man is set aside. Adam bows, then, to this sentence, while in faith he receives the mercy; and it is upon this that we find God significantly replacing the inadequate apron of fig-leaves, the first human manufacture, with the coats of skins, the fruit of death itself, now made to minister to their need, and by divine gift, not by human acquisition. We may thus very clearly see how God accepts the faith of Adam, and in this clothing, how the shame of our moral nakedness is put away forever, clothed, in divine mercy, with Christ Himself, as the fruit of His death for us. How much of this Adam and his wife might apprehend is another question, and it is one impossible perhaps for us to answer. Instead of unsafe speculation, therefore, it will be better to pass on to that in which, according to Scripture itself, the faith of one of their children is expressed,- for "by faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, and by it he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts." The use of sacrifice thus demands our attention, no single examples merely of which we have in the case of a few early patriarchs, but a thing which we find, in whatever perverted forms, pervading all religious creeds from the beginning. That - unnatural as it is - it could have rooted itself thus deeply in the minds of men, shows its manifest divine institution, as well as the depth and universality of a common conviction to which it appealed.

Nature could never have dictated it. Cain's way was nature's dictation, not Abel's. How could it be supposed that, admitting man's sinfulness and its desert, the death of an innocent victim could atone for the guilty, or that the blood of bulls and goats could put away sin? Looked at as the product of reason merely, such reasoning were utter folly. Connected with the bruised heel of the Seed of the woman, and perhaps with the skins which clothed the first transgressors, a voluntary Sufferer might be seen, whose suffering and death should indeed have efficacy on man's behalf. And thus we gain the assurance of a real view which faith had, and which was offered to faith, of vicarious atonement, as linking itself with the suffering Conqueror of the first prophecy, even as we are assured of Abel that his "gifts" had in some way a value in them which God could accept on his behalf, pronouncing him righteous on their account. With Cain also it would seem as if we must read God's expostulation, "And if thou doest not well, a sin-offering coucheth at the door;" thus prescribing a way in which faith, on the part of a poor sinner, might approach Him with confidence. The way of sacrifice was thus openly proclaimed as the way of acceptance; repentance and faith as what, on man's part, this implied, if really apprehended; no legal conditions, no covenant of works, were in any wise imposed; God starts with that which He has now, and once for all, returned to: His first thought is His last - His own thought, in fact, all through, though man's necessity might require, as we shall see, apparent departure from it. Man's necessity is indeed his perversity, and nothing else, which, refusing in self-confidence God's simple way of grace, compelled Him to allow them the experiment of their own way. But for sixteen centuries at least, God abides, by what He has said at the beginning. Having made known to man His way of acceptance and approach to Him, He waits to see how man's conscience will respond to the sentence upon him - his heart to the grace which has provided for his need. Alas! His next word has to be a threat of near and approaching judgment. "My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh; but his days shall be a hundred and twenty years."

We see that, after the fall, God purposed no new trial to man whatever. He revealed the coming of that Seed of the woman who should bruise the serpent's head. He instituted sacrifice, and thus not obscurely intimated the way of blessing and acceptance for man. He declared actually his acceptance of believing Abel, and to Cain the, ground of his rejection and the remedy that still remained. But He gave no law; He urged man to no fatal use of his own efforts to work out righteousness. Conscience was to be the teacher of that need which they had as those outside of Eden, whose closed gate was a perpetual witness, as were also the sorrow and death which sin had introduced into the world; while repentance - the truthful acknowledgment of their condition - would be as ever the way out of it, by faith in that which on God's part met it all.

The only test for man was this necessary one, whether conscience would have force to bring him thus to himself and to God. Alas! as to this, we know the result. The figure prominent in the antediluvian world is one in whose person the world, at every period, finds its awful representative. "The way of Cain," as Jude may assure us, has survived the flood, and been followed by the mass through the many generations thence to the present time. It is, of course, the exact opposite of God's way; as its first originator stands before us as the first of that seed of the serpent ever in enmity to the woman's Seed. He is thus the incarnation of satanic opposition to the counsel of God. Abel approaches God by sacrifice, the appointed foreshadowing of Him in whom the conflict between good and evil would find its decisive issue; Cain, rejecting sacrifice, brings as an offering the fruit of his own labour. Here begins, with him, the self-assertion which required so many ages of trial to beat down,-a "ministration of death" and "condemnation." It is man himself who raises the question of his ability to meet God and merit acceptance at His hands; and the question being raised must be fully and with long patience entertained, and conclusively settled.

Toward Cain himself, who at once shows how murder can lurk under the specious form of righteousness, this patience is exercised. He abuses it to build a city in defiance of his doom of vagabondage - a city which his sons adorn with arts and appliances, which, like man's first invention, are made to cover from themselves the shame of their nakedness. Adam wove his girdle out of fig-leaves; Cain's sons weave all nature into a web for the awful purpose of self-deception, forcing it into unwilling revolt against God, and idolatrous usurping of its Maker's place. As with their first father, so with these imitators of his apostasy and not his faith, conscience but drives them to hide from the insupportable presence of God, under the cover of His own handiwork. They are pioneers of progress, which, with all its mighty results in the ages since, has never sufficed to lift off the curse from the earth, or take the sting from death, or satisfy the craving heart of man, or deliver from the corruption that is in the world through lust. It has built up luxury, has added burdens to the already burdened, has kindled wars, which come of the "lusts which war in the members." The last of Cain's family is but Tubal-Cain-" Cain's issue." Its Lamech, "the strong man," with his two wives (first of polygamists) and his argument for impunity because of the long-suffering patience of which Cain had been the subject - shows us clearly and conclusively the moral result.

But Cain and his seed do not fill the whole scene here. The forefront they do; and history at the beginning, like all history since, has little to tell of outside their doings. Yet there is a remnant, beginning with one who, by divine appointment, takes the place of the martyred Abel. His son's name, Enos (in a day when names still had meaning), tells us of the acceptance of the humbling reality of man's condition - Enos, "frail man." And "then," we read, "men began to call on the name of Jehovah." God gets his place when man takes his. And so it ever is.

Here, then, a new beginning, as it were, is found; and the divine record, leaving out Cain and his apostate race, gives us now a fresh genealogy, in which we are once more told how "in the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made He him; male and female created He them; and blessed them, and called their name 'Adam,' in the day when they were created. And Adam lived a hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image, and called his name Seth." Of the men of this generation it is but noted that they lived and died, although now first we find - what is wanting as to Cain's race - every year of their unobtrusive lives noted before God. Divine interest is shown in what for man has none, and contributes nothing to the world's history. When, indeed, we come to Enoch, seventh from Adam, God can keep silence no longer, "And Enoch walked with God . . . three hundred years . . . and Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him."

Precious and emphatic commendation of Enoch! Solemn and decisive judgment as to the ruin of all on earth! for the one who walks with God He takes from the earth. How plain an intimation that this pious seed is not as yet to fill the earth! Nay, surely a very clear one that that seed itself begins to fail. This Enoch-walk is as rare as it is precious. Indeed, we know that but two generations later Noah stands the solitary representative of it upon earth. Even in Noah's father, Lamech, though he speaks piously of God, we can detect deterioration. Is he not, even in his name, sadly linked with Cain's race?-another Lamech, a "strong man;" not an Enos, taking his place in self-humiliation before God. It is striking, also, that like his Cainite namesake, he too has his memorable saying. And though at first sight they may seem quite diverse, and in some sense really are, there is yet, spite of all, a striking similarity. For if the Cainite Lamech prophesies impunity to himself for his wrong-doing, from the false argument as to God's long-suffering, the Sethite no less, upon the very eve of judgment, speaks of comfort to a generation soon to be swept away by the flood. "And he called his name 'Noah,' saying, 'This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed.'"

There was truth in this. It was of Noah's day that we read, "And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in His heart, 'I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake.'" Lamech's prophecy was true, then, as to the "comfort" God had in store for man; false only as to the application to a generation the survivors of whom were cut off by the judgment that preceded the blessing.

If we go on to the next chapter, the marks of fatal declension are yet more manifest. However we may interpret the "sons of God" of the first paragraph there, it is abundantly evident that Seth's line, as a whole, are no longer exempt from the universal corruption. God declares His Spirit shall not always strive with man, and fixes the limit of present patience to a hundred and twenty years.
Yet it is just here that the world's mighty ones are found, and giants appear upon the earth-men whose famue survives their awful judgment. God on His part saw "that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth, and that every imagination of the thought of his heart was only evil, and that continually. And it repented Jehovah that He had made man upon the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart."

When at last all flesh had corrupted His way upon the earth, and Noah alone is found walking with God, the flood closed the time of His long-suffering; and the earth, emerging from its baptism, bears upon its surface but eight living persons, as the nucleus of the new world.