And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat:…
A right understanding of this law of paradise is necessary, in order to get a clear knowledge of the most essential and fundamental doctrines of the gospel; and no less necessary in order to detect and refute many great and dangerous errors which have prevailed, and which still prevail, in the Christian world.
I. I am to show that GOD HAS A RIGHT TO GIVE LAW to all His intelligent creatures. It is the part of a superior to give law to an inferior. Every lawgiver must be supreme, in respect to those to whom he gives law. God is by nature supreme in all His natural and moral attributes. His power is superior to the united power of all created beings. His wisdom is superior to their united wisdom. His goodness is superior to their united goodness. He stands supreme among the whole intelligent creation, in point of power, wisdom, and goodness, which are the most amiable and essential qualifications of a lawgiver. This supremacy alone is sufficient to give Him the throne of the universe, and clothe Him with the highest possible authority, to give law to all His intelligent creatures in every part of His vast dominions. But here the important point to be considered is, how God enacts His will into a law or rule of duty to the subjects of His moral government. This He does, by publishing His will to them in a certain manner. By publishing His will, I say, because there is no necessity of His publishing His design, intention or determination. This, as a lawgiver, He has a right to keep a secret in His own breast. But He must publish His will, that is, His pleasure, in order to make His will or pleasure a rule of duty of legal obligation. And He must also make it known in a certain manner, to give it the force and obligation of law; or in other words, He must publish His will in the form of law.
1. In the first place, He must specify the persons or beings to whom He speaks authoritatively.
2. Secondly, He must express His will in the form of a precept, or a prohibition, in order to clothe it with Divine authority.
3. Besides, thirdly, He must threaten to punish those who disobey His precepts or prohibitions, in order to give His will the form and force of law. There can be no precept nor prohibition without a penalty expressed or implied. The penalty is the sanction of a law, and expresses the whole authority of the lawgiver.
II. It is now easy to show that GOD DID GIVE A PROPER LAW TO ADAM respecting the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. These words were addressed to Adam personally; they contained a precise prohibition, which was sanctioned by a precise penalty. Adam was the very person prohibited; the thing prohibited was his eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; and the penalty annexed was death: "In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." This was a proper law in distinction from any covenant, or constitution.
III. I am next to show WHEREIN THIS LAW OF PARADISE WAS LIKE ALL OTHER DIVINE LAWS. Here it is easy to mention several important points of resemblance.
1. It was like all other Divine laws in its nature. Every Divine law which was given to Adam, and which has ever been given to his posterity, has required the heart, or internal holiness.
2. The law respecting the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was like all other Divine laws in its extent. It extended to all who were specified in it, and to no others.
3. The law of paradise was like all other Divine laws in regard to its condemning power. Every Divine law has a condemning power; that is, a power to condemn those who are bound by it, and actually transgress it. And the law given to Adam, respecting the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. had the same condemning power, and did actually condemn those who were guilty of eating the forbidden fruit.
IV. Wherein the law respecting the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was UNLIKE SOME LAWS which God has given to mankind. And here I can think of but one point of difference worthy to be mentioned; and that is, in respect to duration. This law was given to our first parents, to try their love and obedience; and as soon as it had answered this purpose, it ceased of course to have any legal force or obligation.
V. WHAT PUNISHMENT THE LAW THREATENED TO ADAM, IN CASE OF DISOBEDIENCE. The words of the law are plain and explicit. "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die."
(N. Emmons, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: