I. -- WHO WAS THE FIRST LIAR?
The old serpent, the devil, called elsewhere "the father of lies." But he had not always been a liar; he had fallen from a position very eminent, teaching us not to measure our safety by our condition. The higher we are elevated, the more dreadful the fall. Some of the most degraded vagrants were cradled in comfort, and have wandered from homes of splendour. Perhaps the vilest of the vile once were ministers of the Gospel. In a village, the other day, I was told of a man, once a Sunday- school teacher, but now a professional gambler, and, in a coal-pit I know in the North of England, the foulest-mouthed blasphemer was once a Methodist local preacher.
Who would have expected that one of God's angels would ever have turned tempter, and that one who had lived with God would have the bottomless pit dug for him and his companions? "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."
How skilfully this lie was told! It was not to Adam the serpent spoke; he was not cheated (1 Tim. ii.14.) It would have been useless to have spoken to him on the subject; but Eve had not heard the commandment. It would be well if, when we are tempted, we said, "Why do you come to me? Is there no one else who understands this question more than I do?" If Eve had only thought, "Why is not my husband spoken to first?" Perhaps she was glad to accept responsibility she had no right to. Was ambition possible to her? We often see that evil succeeds by using that to pave the way. Lies do not overcome when contentment rules in Eden, but ambition is an incipient hell!
Satan has not ceased to lie. He does not improve with old age! He still seeks whom he may devour. The most popular lie ever told is at present deceiving many of those who little think where their ideas were born. It is said over and over again in many circles that God will not punish sin. What is this but giving the Divine Being the lie? And there are some ministers who have taken upon them to contradict the Bible, and try to persuade their hearers, who too often want but little persuasion, that we may hope when God has said "Despair!" What is this but hatching the old serpent's eggs in the pulpit?
II. -- WHAT WERE THE RESULTS OF THIS LIE?
1. They are very numerous, and we can only find space to say a few words on each. There was guiltiness. Eve believed the devil instead of God, and took the forbidden fruit, making herself a sinner. Her excuse was, "The serpent beguiled me." But she coveted that which God kept back. How many Edens are lost because we desire that which is forbidden! Is not this the spring of the so-called social evil? We may say what we like against seduction, and our words cannot be too strong, but the woman desiring when God had said, "Thou shalt not," is the true reason of many falls.
2. The next step downwards is the tempting of another and a loved one. Sometimes we have found ourselves wishing Eve had died with the fruit in her mouth, instead of living to do the devil's work, and lure her loved husband to the same ruin. Let me say here and with all emphasis, Never fear so much as when the hand of affection offers you that which God forbids.
3. Now comes Death. The parents of the human race were separated from God. Environment is a condition of life. They have learned to do evil, they have to share the lot of those who had not kept their first estate. Heaven was an impossible climate to the apostate angels, and Eden was only possible to those who obey. It is easy to see that the garden was not now Paradise. Adam and his wife hid themselves among the trees from the presence of the Lord! Those trees were not created for that purpose. Alas for sin! it poisons food and taints air. We cannot insist upon this with too much force. It was true then as now. "He that believeth not shall not see life." Adam and Eve were poisoned by the forbidden fruit. Is it not yet true that Innocence, Chastity, Modesty, are dead in some who are thought to live? We wonder afterwards to see them cast out, but it is, after all, the separation of the dead from the living.
4. And now comes Suffering. They must hear the curse pronounced, and then depart into the world which has begun to grow thorns for them. Yes, sufferings after death. What is history but the story of punishment? When men scoff at what is called eternal punishment they forget, or, perhaps, have never given it a thought, that the punishment of the first crime is going on at the present moment. Thorns and briars are but parables. They are real, it is true. Man must wrestle with his mother earth for every bit he eats. She does not feed him willingly; she produces that which he cannot eat. He must lacerate her bosom with his spade ere she will yield him bread, and he must sweat with toil before she will give him his crust!
Yet this is but the shadow of something terribly worse. The non-producer will live, whatever becomes of those who toil. What is war but one of the many things which rob man of his bread? The soldier is a consumer, not a producer. I do not say he is not a necessity. He is all that, but he must be fed. What matters it to him what is the price of meat; he will have his three-quarters of a pound of meat every day. Aye, and he earns it too! Who would grudge the brave fellows in Egypt the stores we send out? None of us. Yet we cannot but feel that the sword and bayonet, like the thorn hedge, take up soil which might grow corn, and the higher it grows the greater the shadow, and therefore the poorer the crops which are nighest to it. It is a necessity, but it is an expense.
What are the so called dangerous classes? They live, they do not starve; they live on honest people. Judges, police, and jailers are fed by those who never trouble them. Crime is like a leech on the body, it will have blood. The wrongdoers are not the thorn hedge which we need for our protection, but the thistle, which has rare powers of reproduction, and uses the wind as its chariot to ride to other lands. Is it any wonder that wickedness is so difficult to eradicate? Those of us who have tried to keep our gardens free have sorrowed many a time when we have thought that the rain, so welcome to our newly-born flowers, will call into vigour the enemy that tries to strangle them. And this is but a figure of the terrible truth that prosperity to a nation always means a growth of crime, and that any event, even a public holiday, which should refresh and recuperate, means the resurrection of violence and an increase of suffering.
5. The first lie dug the first grave, and has never ceased to dig others. We have often imagined the scene when Abel was missed -- when his mother questioned his murderer as to where he had last seen his brother. How they would listen for his step, until suspense could be no longer borne, and the father would go out, only to find the corpse of his beloved child! Can we not hear the mother cry out, as she touches the cold clay -- "Would to God I had died the day I believed the lie!" What a picture for a painter like Rembrandt would that first funeral be! And what are churchyards and cemeteries but the proofs that the devil lied? Have you a grave? Does the clay cover the form once dearer than life to you? Let it plead with you to believe God and his word, rather than to trust to the old serpent.
Let us be thankful that the seed of the woman is the Saviour of Men. Eden is not all shadow, even after the loss of purity. There is a promise yet to be fulfilled. "'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' saith the Lord." The devil is to be cast into the bottomless pit, and even those whom he has deceived may go to a paradise where the trail of the serpent shall be no more seen. "The Son of God was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil," and the time is coming when war, slavery, ignorance, tyranny, hunger, and sin shall be among the dark clouds that roll away, as the sun which shall never set rises above the horizon to make glad the children of men. Then shall the prophecy of the poet become history --
"In Him the tribes of Adam boast