Mercy in the Curse
Genesis 3:17
And to Adam he said, Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree, of which I commanded you, saying…

We are inclined to believe that it was not wholly in anger and in righteous severity that God made the cursing of the ground the punishment of Adam. We think it will not be difficult to show that the Almighty was consulting for the good of His creatures when He thus made labour their inevitable lot. We need not limit our remarks to the single case of agriculture; for we may safely affirm that there is nothing which is worth man's attainment which he can attain without labour.

I. Now there is, perhaps, an universal consent upon one proposition — that idleness is the fruitful source of every kind of vice; and it follows from this that the placing it in a man's power to be idle — supplying him, that is, with the means of subsistence without extracting from him any labour — is simply to expose him to the greatest possible peril, and almost ensuring his moral degeneracy. We know that there are fine and frequent exceptions to this statement, and that many whose circumstances preclude all necessity of toiling for a livelihood carve out for them. selves paths of honourable industry, and are as assiduous in labour as if compelled to it by their wants. There is evidently a repressing power in abundance, and a stimulating power in penury; the one tending to produce dwarfishness of intellect and mental feebleness, the other to elicit every energy and intellectual greatness. We will not say that the battle for subsistence has not borne hard on genius, and kept down the loftiness of its aspirings; but we are assured that the cases are of immeasurably more frequent occurrence in which the man has been indebted to the straitness of his circumstances for the expansion of his mental powers. I wish no son of mine to be exempt from the sentence, "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread." And the family which we regard as left in the best condition when death removes its head is, not the family for whom there is a fine landed estate or an ample funded property, but the family which has been thoroughly educated in the principles of religion, and trained to habits of piety and industry, and in which there is just as much wealth as may preserve from want those members who cannot labour for themselves, and start the others in professions which open a broad field for unwearied diligence. We would yet further observe, before quitting this portion of our subject, that after all God did not so much remove fruitfulness from the soil as make the development of that fruitfulness dependent on industry. The earth has yielded sufficiency for its ever-multiplying population, as though the power of supply grew with the demand; nor has it only yielded a bare sufficiency, but has been so generous in its productions, that one man by his tillage may raise bread for hundreds. This is amongst the most beautiful and wonderful of the arrangements of Providence. Why can one amongst us be a clergyman, a second a lawyer, a third a merchant, a fourth a tradesman? Only because, notwithstanding the curse, there is still such fertility in the ground, that more corn is produced than suffices for those by whom the ground is cultivated. The whole advance of civilization is dependent on a power in the earth of furnishing more food than those who till it can consume. A people who are always on the border of starvation must be manifestly a people always on the border of barbarism; and just as manifestly a people must be always on the border of starvation if every individual can only wrench from the ground enough for himself. Thus, when we come to examine into and trace the actual facts of the case, the mercy of the dispensation exceeds immeasurably the judgement.

II. We propose, in the second place, to examine WHETHER THERE BE ANY INTIMATION IN SCRIPTURE THAT THE SENTENCE ON ADAM WAS DESIGNED TO BREATHE MERCY AS WELL AS JUDGMENT. We are disposed to agree with those who consider that the revelation of the great scheme of redemption was contemporaneous with human transgression. We believe that, as soon as man fell, notices were graciously given of a deliverance to be effected in the fulness of time. It is hardly to be supposed that Adam would be left in ignorance of what he was so much concerned to know; and the early institution of sacrifices seem sufficient to show that he was taught a religion adapted to his circumstances. But the question now before us is, whether any intimations of redemption were contained in the sentence under review, and whether our common father, as he listened to the words which declared the earth cursed for his sake, might have gathered consolation from the disastrous announcement. There is one reason why we think this probable, though we may not be able to give distinct proof. Our reason is drawn from the prophecy which Lamech uttered on the birth of his son Noah: "This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed." And therefore did he call his son Noah, which signifies rest, to mark that he connected him with deliverance and respite from that curse which sin had brought on the ground. But in what way was Noah thus connected? How could Noah comfort Lamech in reference to the ground which God had cursed? Some suppose the reference to be to instruments of agriculture which Noah would invent after the flood, and which would much diminish human labour; but this could hardly be said to be a comfort to Lamech, who died before the flood: and we may fairly doubt whether a prediction, having reference only to the invention of a few tools, would have been recorded for the instruction of all after-generations. But Noah, as the builder of the ark, and the raiser of the new world, when the old had pertained in the deluge, was eminently a type of Christ Jesus, in whose Church alone is safety, and at whose bidding new heavens and a new earth will succeed to those scathed by the baptism of fire. And as an illustrious type of the Redeemer, though we knew not in what other capacity, Noah might console Lamech and his cotemporaries; for the restoration after the deluge, in which they had no personal interest, might be a figure to them of the restitution of all things, when the curse was to be finally removed, and those who had rode out the deluge receive an everlasting benediction. Thus it would seem highly probable, from the tenour of Lamech's prediction, that he had been made acquainted with the respects in which his son Noah would typify Christ, and that therefore he had been taught to regard the curse on the ground as only temporary, imposed for wise ends, till the manifestation of the Redeemer, under whose sceptre "the desert should rejoice and blossom as the rose." And if so much were revealed to Lamech, it cannot be an over-bold supposition that the same information was imparted to Adam. Thus may our first parent, compelled to till the earth on which rested the curse of its Creator, have known that there were blessings in store, and that, though he and his children must dig the ground in the sweat of their face, there would fall on it sweat "like great drops of blood," having virtue to remove the oppressive malediction. It must have been bitter for him to hear of the thorn and the thistle; but he may have learnt how thorns would be woven into a crown, and placed round the forehead of One who should be as the lost tree of life to a dying creation. The curse upon the ground may have been regarded by him as a perpetual memorial of the fatal transgression and the promised salvation, reminding him of the sterility of his own heart, and what toil it would cost the Redeemer to reclaim that heart, and make it bring forth the fruits of righteousness; telling him while pursuing his daily task what internal husbandry was needful, and whose arm alone could break up the fallow ground. And thus Adam may have been comforted, as Lamech was comforted, by the Noah who was to bring rest to wearied humanity; and it may have been in hope as well as in contrition, in thankfulness as well as in sorrow, that he carried with him this sentence on his banishment from paradise — "Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life."

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

WEB: To Adam he said, "Because you have listened to your wife's voice, and have eaten of the tree, of which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground for your sake. In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.

Man's Origin and Doom
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