Et dixit Dominus Deus and mulierem, &c.
And the Lord God said into the woman, What is this that thou hath done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, [and I did eat.]
A TEXT whereof I have made choice to-day to preach, because it is a part, and the chiefest part, of that lesson whereof the Church hath made choice this day to read.
Before I begin with the text, I will first say somewhat of the intent and reason that the Church had thus to order this lesson this next Sunday after Septuagesima; for there now we are.
I ask then concerning this order, first, Why these days have this appellation, and we are thus suddenly set back for our lessons, both this Sunday and the last, from the pro-phecies of Isaiah, whom we read before at the Advent, to the beginning of Genesis, which we read you now, all the Septuagesima till towards Easter.
It was a question, whereof, when they were at a loss about it here in France, Charlemaine the king here sent his letters into England, more than eight hundred years since, for in those days the service of the Church was wont to be a part of the king's care, and from thence, from the Church of England, he had his resolution given him, by one of venerable [206/207] Bede's scholars, a man well known to the world, a doctor of our own Church, and the greatest both for learning and religion that all the churches of the world their had living amongst them.
I move it the rather that you may know, first, it was no new order this, for it was ancient even then; so ancient, that in this country so long ago, they were to seek both for the beginning and for the reason of it. And then to let you see that the Church hath ordered nothing in this kind but she is able to shew a good cause why. For the Church's inten-tion is to teach us, by the very order and method of her public service through the whole year, what her doctrine is concerning the fundamental and necessary points of our Christian religion through our whole lives; and therefore she begins her yearly office with Christ's advent, Christ's nativity, and Christ's epiphany or manifestation to the world; for that is our chief and fundamental point of all the rest. And during all that time, she reads us the prophet Isaiah, who speaks of Christ as if he had lived in Christ's time; and yet he wrote of him six hundred years before he was born, none so clearly as he; therefore is he read then to the end of Christ's epiphany. But when this is done, because it is no less needful for us to take notice of that universal sin and cor-ruption of the world, which being wrought there at first by the suggestion of the devil, was the cause of Christ's coming and appearing in the world, therefore having set forth the one, begun in the New Testament, she sends its back to the other, winter was the beginning of the Old, there to reflect upon the miserable ruin and fall of man in the first Adam, that we might the better apprehend our own want, and look for our repair again in the second Adam, which was Christ himself.
For this cause are we now turned back to the beginning of [207/208] Genesis, to the original cause and beginning of all sin and mischief upon the earth; for he that is not sent thither to look upon his ruin, and to be rightly affected with it too, in the first Adam, will be nothing the better, the worse rather, for the coming of the second; that is, he that apprehends not his sin, will never take hold of his Saviour, but have as little sense of the one as he has of the other. And yet this sin it is, if we look not to it, that will destroy us all; nothing to which we have such need to be sent; nothing from which we have so much need to be saved; nothing for which Christ came into the world to save us, but to save us from that. As much account therefore as we make of him and his coning into the world, so much reflection are we to make likewise upon that sin, and from that, upon all other sins that brought Him into the world. And this is the reason that now we read you the book of Genesis, where that sin is recorded, and where you may see the first persons of the world, from whom we all descend, banished out of paradise for it, to the servitude and afflictions of this life. And here comes in our Septuagesima; whereof this Sunday is a part.
Septuagesima is a state of servitude and affliction, that the chiefest of Adam's posterity had seventy years together in Babylon. When for their sin they were cast out of their own country, it was a remembrance, that, for us, and of Adam's being cast out of God's paradise. For that ejection of his from thence put both him, and us, into the state and con-dition wherein now we are, the condition of a Septuagesima servitude, that is, of captivity and thraldom under sins and affliction all our life long; for so long is usually the term of a man's life. That, and this, and the two other Sundays that follow it, all putting of us in mind where we are, whiles we are in our several ages, under the dominion of sin and the mastery of Satan, to look after Christ and His coming to put us into a better estate; that when these days are done, we may be brought out of this exile to his Easter, as it stands here in the order of our book, which is his glory and resur-rection: and so have you a reason and an account given you of the Church's order and disposition of her service at this time.
[298/209] A part of which service is the text here that I have chosen; wherein if we can find the mercy and favour of God in the midst of our misery, and take heed of the malice and fraud of the devil in the midst of his mercy, we shall have made so many stops backwards again in our way to paradise, and as many forwards in our coming to Christ.
The fall of man and the sin of the woman in paradise, wherewith they infected all their posterity, is a story delivered to us in Scripture and made good by experience. For if there were no Scripture that bad recorded it, yet the universal irregularity of our whole nature, unsampled by other creatures, and running counter all the time of our life to all the right rules of order and reason, besides the wretched misery of our condition here upon the earth, where we are daily exposed to continual afflictions and sorrow, without any true rest or contentment of our minds at all, -all this might well enough assure us, that ab initio non fuit sic, 'from the beginning it was not so;' at least, not likely it should be so, that he who created us at first, and made us lords of all his other creatures, should make us such dis-orderly creatures then as we appear to be now: but that whoever it was, there bad been some common father and parent to us all, who bad, since that time, either eat or drank some strange and devilish poison or other, wherewith, in-fecting himself first, be undid and poisoned his whole race after him.
That poison, to go now by the Scriptures, was brought him by the devil, and down it went, with the breach and contempt of God's commandment, when he would needs do that which he was forbidden to do, and eat of a fruit which was not permitted him to taste, being otherwise as free and as indifferent to be eaten as any other fruit was that the earth brought forth, but that God would make trial only in this, whether he would be obedient to Him or no; and he would not; would be kept under no restraint or law at all, but would needs be lord himself, and do what he list; this undid him, and all his posterity after him; for such as the nature of the root is, infected or sound, such are the branches that flow from it. And we are branches of his infected stock, every man and mother's child of us all, till we be all ingrafted into [209/210] Christ; all poisoned with sin, and that sin which was the bane of the world, the sin of disobedience to God's express will and commandment; take we heed of that sin, it undid and disordered the world at first, that, and first or last will be the bane and undoing of us all.
They take their freedom much abroad, to talk and dis-course of the fruit of this tree; they bid us tell them what it was; and many a loose tongue there is that say their pleasure of it. But it is neither the fruit nor the tree that we are to look at here. Be it what it was, good we are sure it was, as all the rest were; all that God had made was good, and good to be eaten too; there was no harm in the tree at all; the harm was in the breach of God's commandment, which might have forbidden the use of any other tree, or any other indifferent thing whatsoever, as well as this. And if the commandment had been broken, the offence had been the same still, lay it where they will; so the offence is all.
For which Adam being called to an account, and he laying the fault upon the woman, the woman is here examined, and gives in her answer, of both which we are now to take a view. 'And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me.'
There are three parties here named, and we must take notice of them all; but the general parts of the text are two; God's own inquisition, accusing the woman; and the woman's own confession, excusing her fact.
I begin with the inquisition into the fact; 'And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done?' where we have the person first that makes this inquest, and there the inquisition itself We will look into them both.
I. In the person; as much offended as lie was, yet there are here three remarkable circumstances of his goodness. First, in his forbearance to stay so long as he did, not to come and examine, or call this woman to an account, till now. Et dixit Dominus, 'And the Lord God said.' That 'And' is often set for a conjunction of time, and so it is here; for first, the man himself had been examined, and till he accused and appealed the woman, God, He forbears her; Who, though he needed not any information from another to tell [210/211] him what had been done, for he knew well, and had observed all the progress of her sin from the first to the last, yet as though he had been loath to know it, or to find her guilty of it, He takes no notice of it all the while, but as if He had been unwilling to come against her, and to pronounce any such sentence of justice upon her as her sin required. See low long He stays from it, and how slowly He comes to it; she whom He knew to be the first in the transgression, He sets her by, here to be the last in the inquisition; she who had committed so many transgressions, He calls her not into question for any of them all till now. Count her trans-gressions; for there were more of them than one. (1.) She had entertained a conference here with the devil, listened to him; and yet God spared her. (2.) At the first onset of that conference she sinned a sin of unbelief and distrust in God, made a question whether He had said true or no; and yet He spared her. (3.) In the progress of her sin she grew ambitious and exalted in her mind, to become like God him-self; and yet He spared her. (4.) In the pursuit of this am-bition she assents, and suffers the, devil to charge God with envy, says nothing against it; and yet He spared her. (5.) After this she lets her sensual desires and affections all loose to be doing that which God had forbidden her; and yet He spared her. (6.) At last she does it, comes to the height and consummation of her sin; that is, sins all these sins together, of pride and ambition, of murmuring and envy, of distrust and unbelief, of presumption and confidence, of rebellion and disobedience, all this. And yet for all this, God He forbears her still, comes not against her all this while, till she had allured the man also into all these trans-gressions with her; and then, and not till then, does He come here to judge and punish them both. Well may we say of Him, 'Long suffering and of great goodness,' for He comes not to judge and punish until He be provoked and forced to come, as if it were against his nature and property to do it; never does it, no more now, than He did here at first, till the world puts him to it, and will suffer him to stay no longer.
This is one good meditation for us to begin withal; and this may be another, that though we find our hearts full of [211/212] evil and sinful thoughts, which she, here in the state of her integrity, might have kept from ever coming there, as in the state of our corruption we never shall, though we be often tempted with them and meet with many allurements to make us sin, yet if we can make any shift to keep ourselves from the act and execution of sin, we have a fair hope here, that God will bear us less with us than He did with her, till she brought all to a final execution, and let her sins get the mastery of her in the end. For He will not deal with us in further rigour than the frailties and infirmities of our human nature, now corrupted and made worse than it was, will bear. There is a soil of sin contracted in us, ever since this first sin was committed, which of itself will otherwhiles rise and vapour from our nature, let the best do his best. I do not say we can keep ourselves now from that, as Eve might have done before her fall; but this we may do, we may keep ourselves from provoking that corruption, by not suffering our minds to wander in it; by keeping our ears from such conference, and our eyes from such occasions, as will set it a working, all which was the undoing of this woman at first. From that, by the help of God, we may keep ourselves well enough. And thus, if sin be not kept from us, because of the many infirmities that are within us, and the many temp-tations that be without us, yet are we kept from sin, by suffering neither of them both to get the dominion and mastery over us. And with that will God be content at our hands, as our estate now is. This is a point of comfort in the midst of our misery, and all this belongs to his long-suffering and forbearance here; the first circumstance in the person of the judge.
2. The second is in the temper of his justice,--which I consider not here in relation to the promise that He made hereafter of setting up the brazen serpent, that was Christ, to heal them and all others, of the sting and poison which
they had got from this tempting serpent,--but, as the text here leads me, and no further. In that, God vouchsafes, first, to enquire of the offence, and to examine the fact, be-fore He gives any sentence, or proceeds to execution upon it. He did so at Babel, went down to see their building first, before He would confound those builders. He did so at [212/213] Sodom, before He burnt up their city. He will do so again when He comes to burn up all the world; all shall be examined and every one shall be heard, what they can say for themselves before they receive their sentence. We say of him, and we say rightly, that from him no secrets are hid, but all hearts open, and all actions known to Him, whatever they be, for He framed the heart, and understandeth the thoughts of them long before; He created the world, and sees all the works that are done in it. This enquiry, therefore, was not, nor never will be, because He knew not what was done, but that those persons that did it might reflect upon themselves and see what evil they had done. If justice pro-ceeds it is long of them that they have nothing left to plead against it; otherwise as He is willing to hear them all they can say, so He is unwilling to condemn them before they be heard and have said here whit they can: which will be the case likewise of all their posterity that comes after then.
3. The third and last circumstance which I note here, is, that God is said here to come in his own person, and make this enquiry; to speak and to talk with them, as one man doth with another; to come down and look them out, when they ran away from Him and hid themselves out of his sight. All which is spoken secundum captum humanum, that men might the more easily apprehend and understand his ways of proceeding with then the better. It is an adage of the Hebrew writers, and they repeat it often, Lex loquitur linguam filiorumn hominum, 'that God speaks the language of men;' that is, that the Scriptures of God descend to the capacity and understanding of men, and therefore they pre-sent God and shew Him to us, not only in the faculties of our mind, but in the position, and motion, and lineaments of our body. In the meanwhile this is certain, that his im-mutable and divine nature is not subject to any one of them all, howsoever here or elsewhere He presenteth himself in them. I add that as it is not proper for His essence, so neither is it fitting for his greatness, thus to express Himself; but that He, not regarding so much what might best become Him, as what might best instruct us, chooseth of [213/214] purpose the stylat and character for us wherewith we are soonest affected.
And because good moral counsel, delivered in plain and general precepts, use to enter but faintly with us, therefore ad exaggerandam peccati vim et malitiam, as Tertullian speaks, to set forth the heinousness of sin, and contempt against him, He sets forth himself affected with it, as in the like case we would be affected ourselves, able to bring him out of His place, to fetch Him down from heaven, if by any means in the world it were possible to bring him thence. Such is the nature of sin, that it would even force him to that.
But St. Austin's reason is better, and more commended, Exprimit in Se, ut expromat de te. He thus brings forth himself against sin, examining, complaining, condemning, judging, and punishing of it, that we might do as much against it in ourselves. And so I come from the person to the inquisition.
II. And He said, Quid est hoc quod fecisti? 'What is this that thou hast done?' whereof I have said so much already, that I shall have but a little to do here.
There is in it the greatness and aggravation of her sin, this first sin of the world, that hath so disordered the world ever since, and brought in all the rest after it.
And the greatness of it, how little account soever the Pelagian, the Socinian, and the Atheist make of it, will appear to us in these three particulars.
1. First, it was a transgression of a law, and such a law as was given for nothing else, but only to try and to prove the first man and the first woman, (of whom all men and women were afterwards to come,) whether they would live here in subjection to God or no, and acknowledge him to be their Lord and master; or otherwise to renounce Him and his absolute dominion over them.
2. For the moral law which was written and engraven in their hearts, as it is still in ours,--that was not it; it was [214/215] not for the doing of any thing that was of itself simply good, nor for the abstaining from any thing that was of itself simply evil, for in such things as these, in the state of integrity wherein they were created, there had been no trial of their pure and absolute subjection at all, and therefore there was no commandment given them for these things at first, no more than there is now to the Angels; such excellent endowments they had then, without any disorder in their affections, or defect in their intellectuals, that they were naturally carried to observe all moral laws of themselves, that is, such things as a good and righteous person would do, without any commandment to do them, and such things as lie would not do, without any prohibition to forbid them; so this was not it that put them to their trial. That which did so, was a law of another nature, prohibiting a thing in itself neither good nor evil; a thing, that but for the trial of their obedience (whether they would submit themselves to God or no, only because He commanded them, and merely for obedience sake) had been otherwise indifferent, and neither pleasing nor displeasing to God at all. Peradventure this is somewhat that ye have not heard before, but we had it from St. Austin, and he had it from the City of God, where the Scriptures and the Church of God are kept: Prohibita non propter aliud, quam ad commendam puræ ac simplicis obe-dieniæ bonum, 'Being,' says he there, 'forbidden not for any other respect than thereby only to try and commend their pure and simple, obedience;' for by observing of this law, they should have given a testimony that they were willing to subject themselves to God's pleasure, only because it was His pleasure; and therefore by rejecting and breaking this law, they did as much as make an open profession that they would be none of his subjects, but renounce His power and lordship over then. This was their sin, and this the first was that wherein the greatness of their sin appeared the greater, because they had no other commandment given them than this.
2. The second is, in regard of their persons that sinned. That they here, whom God had made the last and most ex-cellent of all his creatures, formed them after his own image, given them an essence both spiritual laid immortal, [215/216] endued them with qualities divine and holy, bestowed on them a free and unconstrained will, made them lords and rulers of all the world besides,--that they here should sin against him, and set so light by his pleasure; the greater the persons, the greater the sin; and the more graces, the more ingratitude. For of those to whom God had given so much, He might justly have required and expected much; whatsoever it had been that He imposed upon them. If they sin, they sin more grievously than any other; so that in this respect the sin of these two persons, adorned with so many divine and admirable abilities not to sin at all, exceeded the sins of all their posterity, as much as their integrity did our corruption: between which there is now as great a differ-ence as betwixt the light of the sun, and the darkness of a cloud. This was a second aggravation.
3. The third is as great, for the commandment was little, and easy to be observed; easy, both in regard of themselves, who being created in holiness and righteousness, were not then troubled with any such disordered affections as we are now, and in regard of that which was forbidden them. For they had all the liberty of the world allowed them, but this whereof, as they had no need, in the full plenty and abund-ance of all things else, so had they no prohibition neither, but only to approve themselves in this one particular, that notwithstanding their liberty and lordship over all other creatures, there was yet a lord and master over them, Whom they should have no liberty to reject. And yet they did it when they had no provocation, no reason at all to do it; did it for no other but because they would have their own will in doing of it, without enduring the least restraint to be put upon them; which made their sin rise as high as pride and rebellion, the worst sins, and the most like the devil's sin of any other. Well might God say, Quid est hoc quod fecisti? 'What is this that thou hast done?' All considered, there never was the like. Pride and rebellion make men like to devils, and the devil has a foot in it, wherever the steps of it are now, or have been at any time to be found. For here in the next part is he brought in as the master rebel of all himself.
'And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me.' Of [216/217] which there is so much to say, that I must ask leave for another time to say it in, and only tell you now, the heads of what I am to speak of then.
There is in it, besides the woman and that which concerns her, the serpent and his guile, that concerns both him and ourselves.
Concerning the serpent, there will be two things to be enquired; first, what this serpent was indeed; and secondly, what Eve supposed him to be. For there are some men in the world so unreasonable, as to think and to say that this was the unreasonable and the brute serpent, and others there be that make nothing of it but a mere allegory, such another as they do of the tree of life too. So volatile and slippery are the licentious wits and fancies of men, that neither Scripture nor any religious writer besides can fix them. Against these two sorts of men, and the imaginary doctrine that they have delivered to the world, we shall have somewhat to say mid make it appear first, that this deceiver here was the devil, who did but abuse the brute serpent, either by entering into him, or by taking his shape upon him, and then that live tools him for no other. There will be some difficulties to assoil, but I shall endeavour to clear to answer them all, and shew you besides, what his liberty and what his limits have been ever since.
Concerning his guile, here, when we know how the woman, the wisest and the most knowing that ever was, came to be beguiled by him, we shall take occasion to tell you what has [217/218] been the greatest occasion, ever since that time, of the greatest errors and disorders of the world in all times; for there is a piece of the devil's deceit and guile in them all, moral and religious matters and all. All to make us the more careful and wary against him, to know what the deceit-fulness of sin and error is, and to avoid it, to fly from it as we would do from a serpent; for to this end was this Scrip-ture recorded by God, and appointed to-day to be read in his Church, whereof God give us grace to make a right and a religious use, that if we have not been so happy as not to fall, (we call Adam's sin Adam's fall,) yet we may not be so unhappy as not to rise and stand up again; if not before we sin to stop ourselves, and say, Quid est hoc quod facio, what is this that I am about to do? which were always best, yet at least to say after, Quid est hoc, quod feci, what is this that I have done? which will never be amiss. There is much more in it (this, 'what have we done?') than one would think, for ask it over again, when at any time we fall, (for sin, as we said, is the fall of man,) it casts us down as a fall, it bruises as a fall, it fouls as a fall, dixit Dominus, Quid est hoc quod fecisti? 'what is this that thou hast done?' what in respect of itself? so fond, so foul, so ignominious an act;-what in regard of God? so opposite to the law of his justice, so injurious to the awe of His power, so fearful, so glorious in his majesty;--what in regard of the object? for what a trifling vanity! for what a transitory pleasure! what in respect of the consequent, so dangerous, so pernicious to soul and body both, and yet for all this, to be so evil advised as to do it; why did we do it ? how came we to be brought to it? sure when we did it, we did we knew not what. A meditation as fit for any one's sin and falling from God in other kinds, as it was for Eve's here in this.
Therefore the best use and application of all will be to ask ourselves this question; to ask it often; to recount our falls; that is, to call ourselves to an account for them, before God comes to do it; to set them before us, as He does here before Eve; to look upon them and to see whether they have brought us from the state of paradise to the turmoils of the world, from the beauty of life to the dust of death, from the place of liberty to the bar of judgment. If we could be [218/219] sometimes got to do this in kind, we, would keep ourselves the better from falling out of God's protection, so often as we do; but if at any time we find ourselves out, it will be good making all the haste we can to get in again howsoever. And there is no better way to do it than this, that God himself hath here set out for us; that is, to call ourselves to account for sin, before He comes to judgment.
And this being the sum of all, here I end, praying that God would give us grace, first to avoid sin, and then, if we have not avoided it, to follow the advice which this sermon and this lesson of His hath given us. And to the same God, as our bounder duty is, let us always ascribe all honour, and glory, and dominion over all his creatures, now and for ever- more. Amen.