Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, Yes, has God said…
1. Let us first consult reason. It says, God is good, and as to die would be painful, and to be attended with all the ills of sickness, confinement, abstinence — as it necessarily includes the privation of accustomed pleasures, the abandonment of gay associates — the absence of every eye to admire, and every tongue to praise — it is not reasonable to suppose that He would inflict it whose name is love. He is just — must the righteous be slain with the wicked? Must the infant and the aged perish together? But what is death? Has anyone ever seen or heard it? Can any tell where it is? Till all these difficulties be removed, reason rebels against the assumption that we must all die.
2. It is true, Scripture asserts "It is appointed unto men once to die," and that "Death has passed upon all men," but is it not also said in Scripture, "Ye shall not surely die"? David plainly says in Psalm 118; Psalm 17th verse, "I shall not die," and Habakkuk, giving extension to the opinion and including his brethren, exclaims," We shall not die" (Habakkuk 1:12). In what other sense are we to receive the declaration of St. Paul, "We shall not all sleep"? (1 Corinthians 15:51) and does not God Himself assure us that He has no pleasure in the death of a sinner, much less therefore in the death of the righteous? Now, my friends, I have quoted for you Scripture for Scripture — You may impugn my manner of doing it — you may say I mould and mutilate it for my purpose — that I sacrifice its spirit to its letter, and make the one contradict the other. To this I answer, whatever contrivance my method exhibits, it is not mine — it is in use by thousands and millions of rational beings for the settlement of every question involving the paramount interests of their immortal souls.
3. Passing from Scripture, let us turn to the last test by which I propose to try the validity of my assumption — general observation. Were there such a formidable enemy as death to be encountered by all, it would be but natural to expect to find it the subject of general conversation and the object of universal alarm, its very name filling all faces with dismay, and occupying all heads with devices either to evade or successfully resist it. Can there therefore be such an enemy as death, not only in existence, but continually in our very neighbourhood, and not a whisper regarding it issue from the lips of its assumed victims in their most crowded assemblies, or an apprehension of its approach blanch for an instant the cheek or interrupt the ceaseless smile of the most sensitive among the daughters of mirth, who nightly record their satisfaction with the joys of time, and their scepticism regarding those of eternity? Both reason and precedent reject the supposition. Now, my friends, let us suppose the position established, that death is only an empty name — a bugbear to terrify the ignorant and superstitious; what do you suppose would be its effect on yourselves? Doubtless, you would consider it expedient to erase every serious impression which your mind had received, under the discipline of an imaginative subject of apprehension — to shake off the trammels of a vulgar superstition, and assert the freedom of a more enlightened judgment. How would you proceed? Considering the world now as your inalienable possession — you would rush freely into the intoxication of business, pleasure, or ambition. Self would be your only idol, earth its capacious temple, and every achievable gratification its justly due and most appropriate offering: to ensure the admiration of your fellows would be your highest ambition, and to evade their censure your most anxious solicitude. The All-wise and All-gracious Being who created you and the world you inhabit, who bestowed upon you all the sources of gratification you possessed, and the ability to enjoy them, would naturally be disregarded. Oh, my friends, what an awful picture have I permitted my imagination to draw! Surely it could never be realized, except on the supposition that there was no death — no judgment — no eternity! What if I undertake to convince you that such a supposition must prevail now? But meanwhile the besom of a long-insulted, but long suffering God, is sweeping our land. Wrath has gone out from the Lord, and hundreds are dying in the plague; but where are the evidences of its recognition — of the hand from whence it issues, or the object for which it is sent? Where is the ear, attentive to the lesson of mortality it conveys? — where the fleeing, under the convictions it awakens, for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us? Where the awaking of the soul from its slumber of ignorance and death? You have heard the fiat of Jehovah — "The wages of sin is death." To this Satan replies, addressing the soul, as he did before the body — "You shall not surely die"; and here again he employs reason, Scripture, and experience, to substantiate his assertion.
I. Reason testifies that the God with whom we have to do, is merciful, loving, and just, but when under the dominion of Satan, it exacts as the price of this admission the privilege of representing Him in an attitude of falsehood — as too tenderly alive to the well-being of His creatures, to expend a thought upon what is due to his own Divine attributes — upon the demands of His justice, holiness, and truth. Its solution of a human difficulty is the degradation of Him who dwelleth in light which no man can approach unto.
II. Let us now advert to the mode by which Scripture is made to countenance a practical denial of God's repeated admonition to the wicked — "thou shalt surely die." This, then, is two fold.
1. By taking refuge behind particular characters or occurrences which bear a fancied analogy to ourselves and our actions, in some case under reprehension, and from their acknowledged exemption from Divine censure, feeling satisfied that we establish our own. The character and conduct of Him who was "holy, harmless, undefiled. and separate from sinners" (Hebrews 7:26), are, strange to say, the most usual refuge of "revellers, banqueters, and such like," from an assumption that He indulged on particular occasions in the society of the worldly and profane — engaging in their festivities and partaking of their cheer.
2. Another and very common mode of arguing the point with Jehovah out of His own Scriptures, is by reminding Him of such examples of his long suffering mercy and forbearance, as they represent to have been admitted by a late repentance to the forgiveness of their accumulated guilt, and thence asserting a claim to similar indulgence to be followed by a similar result.
III. The sect of the Sadducees, as it existed in our Saviour's time, is now fully represented by the generality of professing Christians, in their notions of that spiritual kingdom of which Christ is the head. Still earth and its constitutions, its laws, its maxims, and its incidents, supply to them their only conceivable model of the things which must be hereafter; and, consequently, Satan finds a ready basis for his falsehood, in the apparent discrepancy between the character of God, as revealed in His providences here, and such as it is represented in the Bible. Here His hatred of sin is but faintly delineated, and His vengeance against the sinner by no means strikingly displayed: many who confine their view to the results of conduct here, are ready to exclaim — "The ways of the Lord are not equal," since His chastisements do not seem proportioned to the number or depravity of the offences committed. From this the believers of the tempter often infer, that there is no positive law to "regulate the adjudications of eternal punishment.
(S. A. Walker, B. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?