Project Canterbury
Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology

John Cosin, Works, Sermons, Volume One
pp. 220-235

AT PARIS. March 5th, 1651.

Transcribed by Dr. Marianne Dorman
AD 2003

Genesis iii: 13-4.

And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me and I did eat..
And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed, etc.

I return now to our text here out of Genesis, which the Church at this season reads to us, and where the story of Adam's fall, and the beginning of sin and misery in the world, is recorded to all his posterity.

A story, whereof if there were no Scripture nor record at all, yet would the general corruption and irregularity of our whole nature, give us cause enough to suspect that ab initio non fuit sic, from the beginning it was not as it is now, but that some or other, of whom we all came, themselves had first poisoned, and then infected all their whole race after them.

As here in Genesis we read of the forbidden meat, so in St. Paul we find that there was a forbidden cup, calix dæmiorum, that the devil hath a cup. Of that cup it is that, after Adam, the world will still be tasting; and as it went down sweetly with him, but poisoned him, so sin is a poison to all the world besides, and a poison to death. Eritis sicut dii went off pleasantly at first, but it was bitter in the bottom, and it proved his bane. Mors in olla, there was destruction in that meat, and death in that cup; by which is meant the deadly fruit of our deadly sins, the punishment and sentence that here follows them.

[220/221] For the receiving of which sentence, Adam being called first into question by the great Judge of heaven and earth, and he laying the fault upon the woman, she upon the serpent, the doom here passes upon them all. But first she was heard to say, as Adam was before her, all that she can allege or answer for herself.

When I took this text first, I made but two parts of it in the former case, and now I add a third in the latter. Let than be altogether, the inquisition into the fact, the con-fession of the party, and the sentence of the judge. Of the inquisition we began to speak when I made the last sermon. Of that which remains there, and of the confession, we shall speak in this; and of the sentence hereafter. Of which, &c.

Into the inquisition, consisting of the words, And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou least done? we have begun to enquire already; and now we get on to see how great a sin it was that was here committed, because the world usually make so light of it. And yet it concerns them more than all he world besides.

(1.) The greatness of it will appear in regard, first, of the commandment itself, which was given them that rejected it for no other end but to prove them only, whether they would live here in subjection to God, or no; for otherwise it was of a thing indifferent in itself, neither good nor evil, neither pleasing nor displeasing to God at all, but to try their obedi-ence, for obedience sake. And therefore, as by observing it, they should have given a testimony that they were willing to submit themselves to God's pleasure, only because it was his pleasure; so by rejecting it, they acknowledged no absolute power or dominion at all which He had over them That had created and made them. This made it a sin of pride and rebellion, the worst sin and the most like the devil's sin of any other.

(2.) Next, in regard o£ their own person that committed it; that they here, upon whom God had bestowed so much, foamed them after his own image, adorned them with such excellent abilities, made them lords ever all His other creatures, allowed them the choice of all the things in the whole world but one, and given them a free and unconstrained [221/222] will, besides a power not to have sinned at all;--that they, thus plentifully furnished against sin, should yet sin against him, and set so light by his pleasure! for the greater the persons, the greater the sin; and the more graces the more ingratitude. If they sin, they sin more grievously than any other; so that in this respect, their sin exceeded the sins of all their posterity, as much as their state of integrity does our state of corruption. This made it an un-grateful sin.

(3.) And thirdly, in regard of the petty and irrational motives that they had to do it; that God envied them; that it might be he had not said true; that the devil knew more than He; and that because the devil said it, and said he would put them into a better state, and do more for them than He, their Lord and Maker had done. Wherein they did not only set themselves to try a conclusion with God Himself, whether He could see them so sin, or be affected with such a sum, or cared to punish a sin, which, wheresoever such a contempt and tempting of him is, amounts to very near as much as to doubt whether there be a God or no; but they surrendered up themselves likewise, to his enemies, and adhered to the devil after. This made it a treacherous sin.

(4.) And lastly, all this deliberately, in a full conference entertained and had with the devil about it; after a con-fession that God had been with them before and forbidden them; after an acknowledgment that they had all the liberty of the world besides; and yet they did it when they had no provocation, no reason, no need to do it. This made it a wilful sin.

And all this put together; the sin of pride and ambition in themselves, of distrust and murmuring against God, of ingratitude to his bounty, of presumption against his will, and of a wilful rebellion against his express commandment, together with a treacherous adhering to his professed enemy; all this makes it the greatest sin that ever was, the sin that hath so disordered the world with all manner of other sins ever since.

[222/223] All which I have urged the rather, and now more than I did before, to confirm and make good the tenor of the Scrip-ture, and the truth of this point, against them that in this point especially, in many others, but in this above others---suffer their fancies and their tongues to run so loosely against it. I do not imagine that there be any such among us, but we may meet with them now and then abroad, and it is not amiss that we should be always prepared for them.

I have but one thing more to add to this first part, and then I shall proceed to the second.

God is here brought in, as in some other places of the Scripture, in the person of a judge, enquiring after the fact, examining the party, and censuring the crime. So He pro-ceeds here secundum allegata et probata, gives no sentence, gives neither reward nor punishment without a proof or an evidence first had for either.

First then, God proposes to himself persons that are obsequious to His grace, and husband His grace well while they have it, and then He will reward with more grace; if they neglect it, if they use it ill, then He will punish, and take away that grace from them which they had before. But neither this nor that without His evidence either for them or against them.

For this purpose we are to take the saying of the Scripture either way; that as it is His delight to be with the sons of men, so it is his intent to see what they do, and to proceed according to their doings. There are that in these matters refer to His hidden and eternal decrees only, and will have all his proceedings to be that way, in scrinio pectoris; to give judgment before any act be done, good or bad; to award a man punishment before he commits any sin, He did not so here; and if that other were a right and just proceeding, then might the day of judgment be past already, and this inquisition here might have been spared. But I do not see how either justice, or reward, or punishment, can stand with that opinion.

[223/224] Abscondita Deo nostro. The decrees of God are hid with God; if they be secret, we neither know them, nor are we to know them. This we know, and are all tied to take notice of it, that revelata nobis, those things of God which He hath revealed to men, those only are for us to know; and to know thus much besides, that He does not use to reveal one thing, nor to do any thing, and mean another. As He did here at first, so He will be sure to do ever after; to be no acceptor or condemner of persons, as they are persons, but as they are persons well or ill disposed, and qualified by well or ill using the grace that He has given them. Other rule than this have we none to follow, nor did He follow here any other himself, where He proceeds enquiring and examining and clearing the matter of fact before He sits down to give any sentence about it. Never shall any be able to say to Him otherwise than Abraham said to him, Shall not the judge of all the earth do right? According to the evidence of our own actions, so will He do.

God sent down his commissioners, the Angels, to Sodom, to enquire and inform him how things went there. God comes down himself here, to enquire and to know how it stood with Adam and Eve; not that He needed any informa-tion about them, or that He ever was, or ever can be, ignorant of any thing, either concerning them or us; for He knew well enough and had narrowly observed all the progress of their sin, as daily He does any of ours; but that He would prevent, both in them, and in every man of the world after them, that dangerous and unjust imagination, when they find themselves fallen into sin or misery, that God should first purpose to destroy a man, and then make him that He might destroy him, without having any other evidence against him.

For God made man ad imaginem suam, after his own image. If He had made him inevitably to be cast away and lost, He had made him ad imaginem diaboli, after the image of the devil, who was then lost and cast out of heaven. But God goes not out as a fowler, to kill for his pleasure. It is not He that seeks whom He may devour, He seeks whom He may save, and is willing to save them, though He saves no [224/225] man against his will; and when He proceeds to condemn any man, as here He did the first, He proposes not that man to Himself, either as He meant to make him, nor as He did make him, for He made him not sinful, but as by his sins he hath made and marred Himself.

And therefore God does not say, here before, alicui morte moriendum, that somebody must die, and thereupon made somebody to be killed; but said only, morte moriendum, you are yet alive, and may live still, but if your will not obey Me, then monte moriendum is indeed, the wages of that sin will be death. So God did not at first make death, nor made He sickness, nor famine, nor pestilence, nor war, and then make man, that He might throw him into their mouths; but when man had thrown down Himself into the danger and dominion of them, as it was told him before He should, if he sinned, thereupon God let him indeed fall into their mouths, and that was all. And this to free God from being the first author of any man's destruction. For no man can wish himself better than God intended him at first before the fall; no, nor than God intends him now, as great a sinner as he is after the fall, if but yet he will conform himself to his will, before he comes to enquire after him and give sentence upon him.

And so much for the inquisition that God made here after this sin, and the reason why He made it, when He said, 'What is this that thou hast done?'

II. I come now to the confession, and the answer that the woman made for herself; when she said, 'The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.'

In which answer we shall have some questions to resolve. First, concerning the truth of it, whether it were a real thing or no, that here she confesseth; for there are that would have nothing made of it, but a matter merely allegorical, of the serpent's beguiling, and of Eve's eating, and all.

Second, then concerning this serpent, what he was indeed,

And thirdly, what Eve supposed and took him to be.

Afterwards we are to say somewhat of the beginning here, and the person upon whom that beguiling wrought. But I shall not reach these two last to-day.

(1.) And first therefore, for the truth of this story. The text is clear enough, both here and before, that there was a [225/226] tree, a forbidden tree, whereof this woman did really eat; and that there was a serpent, a deceiving serpent, by whom she was really beguiled. Whereof religious and good men make no doubt; others do; the licentious wits of some men being so volatile and slippery, that no Scriptures, no truth, can fix them. And such men have herein delivered to the world an imaginary doctrine of their own, that both tree, and serpent, and paradise, and all, were nothing, and both mere allegories; which came first either from the fancy of the heathen poets, whom they read rather than the Scriptures, or from Julian the apostate and his master, Porphyry, whom in this case they are willing to follow.

Indeed the poets feigned, and they feigned not amiss, that men were transformed into divers shapes of beasts; thereby allegorically to shew the change of some men's conditions, from reason to brutality, and from virtue to vice. And as by the lively image of other creatures those ancients did represent the variable passions and affections of mortal men, so did the writers of the Scripture too, otherwhiles, from whom those heathens had their copy. An oppressor and a cruel man was made a lion; there is as much in the Psalm, My soul is among lions; men given to lust and sensuality were represented by a swine, there is as much in St. Peter, of one that wallows in the mire; a ravening and a greedy man was made a wolf, there is as much mentioned in the gospel, I send you forth as sheep among wolves; foolish and ignorant persons were set forth by an image, the images of stocks and stones; they are so in the Scriptures, They that make them are like unto them, and so are all they that put their trust in them. But time subtle and deceitful person is made a serpent, all by a metaphorical resemblance only, as they would have it here. So they say of the tree of know-ledge, and of paradise itself; from whence the heathen poets fetched their garden of Hesperides and their tree of nectar.

[226/227] But as all those resemblances were no true stories, so this story here was no feigned resemblance. Allegories there are in Scripture and elsewhere, grounded upon real verities, and fetched from the truth of a story itself; yet as that hinders not but that the story may be true, so it does not turn the story itself into an allegory, nor the truth into a fiction; for since the one doth not exclude the other, they may both stand together.

For which purpose I will turn them to another piece of Scripture. St. Paul in his epistle to the Galatians, speaks of Agar and Sarah, and makes an allegory, or, because you may all understand me, a figure and a resemblance of them both; says that they signified the Old and the New Testa-ments; and that all this was spoken by an allegory. Yet to conclude from hence that they were nothing but an allegory, and to think they were not therefore two women, one the maid, and the other the wife of Abraham, were nothing else but folly. So it is in this place, where the words and the sense of the Scripture is manifest that such an earthly paradise there was, such a tree planted in the midst of that paradise, such a serpent persuading the woman to eat of that tree, and all real; called therefore the tree of knowledge of good and evil, not for any innate quality that it had of itself; to beget any such knowledge in them which they had not before, for they knew well enough how evil it was to break God's commandment, but to give them an experimental knowledge only, which they were like to find, if they brake that commandment, by the event and punish-ment that would follow upon it; as in the like case we say ourselves, they shall be made to know it now, of those that would not knew it when they did, and took no warning be-fore. For otherwise, Adam was of perfect knowledge, and could not be ignorant but that the disobeying of God's commandment was the fearfullest evil, amid time observing of it the greatest good, that could ever befal him. But as men in perfect health know that sickness is grievous, and yet they feel it not till by experience they find it so, so was it with Adam and his tree of knowledge; which some men, [227/228] not rightly understanding why it was so called, have thought to be no material tree at all. They might as well have saith it was no well at all, the well of strife, which the herdsmen of Israel and Gerar contended for; for no waters at all, the waters of strife, which the children i of Israel contended for: for the waters had no such innate quality in them, to make any strife, and yet they were material and real waters still for all that; they were more than a metaphor. So was this tree of knowledge.

(2.) This then being set right, we come to the serpent here, to see what he was.

First, it was a serpent that could speak, for he held con-ference here with Eve a good while together; and then he gave her divers reasons, such as they were, to allure and persuade her to his purpose. Therefore it was none of the unreasonable and brute serpent itself, as Julian and his disciples, pleading against St. Cyril and his Church at Alex-andria, said it was, if it were any thing, for that serpent had no language to speak withal, neither he nor any other beast
of the field besides; and though some men have been so free and so fond of their fancies, as to think they had all language at first, we read of them in the parva Genesis, a legend, and in Josephus's Antiquities, yet no man ever said that they could speak the language of Eve; and how then could he confer with her? as this serpent did, or from whence could he know what commandment God had laid upon her and her husband? as this serpent also did. Besides, the natural serpent was at first a good creature of God, all was good that He made, and there was no evil in them. But this serpent that spake to Eve was altogether against goodness, and [228/229] seduces her to evil. Last of all, the punishmeny here inflicted upon the serpent, though part of the former part might belong to the unreasonable serpent, yet the latter part; of it could not; the reason whereof I shall show you when I come to that verse hereafter.

It remains therefore that it must be some other serpent besides him; and so it was. It was that old serpent the devil, as the Scriptures every where style him, that look either the body or the shape of the other serpent upon him, and therein came thus to speak and thus to persuade and beguile the woman here as he did.

And that thus it was, the Scriptures are clear; where the Prophets and the Apostles, whenever they have occasion to speak of the first coming in of sin and death into the world, they ascribe it to him. In the Old Testament; For God created man to be immortal, saith Solomon, and made him to be an image of His own eternity; but through the envy of the devil came death into the world. In the New; The devil was the murderer from the very beginning, saith Christ Himself; the murderer of all men, and the father of all lies; of which this was one, that he told to Eve here at the fourth verse, that if she would hearken to him, she should not surely die. I am afraid, saith St. Paul, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted, and yourselves seduced from the truth and the sincerity of Christ's religion. They that so go about seducing, to teach any other doctrine than he taught, he calls them Satan's ministers; and wherever they come to you for that end, ye are to take them for no other.

From hence it is, that as sin is called the poison of serpents, in the Psalms, so they that are poisoned with it and give themselves over to it, are called a generation of serpents in the Gospel; and he that poisons them, a piercing and a crooked serpent, in Isaiah a scorpion or a stinging serpent, in St. Luke. A dragon and the old serpent, in St. John.

And this serpent it was that here seduced the woman, in this form and shape of an natural serpent; from taking which form and shape upon him here at first, he had his name givern him ever after. It is usually said that he possessed and entered into the body of the serpent; most of the best [229/230] writers that I have met withal, incline to say, and so do I, that he took only his shape or likeness upon him and was but personatus serpens, as in Saul's case he was but person-ating Samuel. Somewhat it is that Peter Lombard, the Master of the Sentences, says to this matter. He proposes two questions, the first why God would permit the devil to tempt our first parents at all; and he resolves that out of St. Austin, that it was ad exercitium obedientiæ, for the exercise and trial of their obedience, whether they would stand a temptation out or no, as they had grace, strength, and ability to have done it if they would; and if they had stood it out, it had been on God's part but like the trial of Abraham, they would have got the more glory by it, as he did by his, quia gloriosius esset tentanli non consensisse, quam tentari non potuisse, it had been a greater glory for there not to have given way to the temptation, not to be overcome with it, than not to have been tempted at all. Therefore, says Luther well, God deals with us as He dealt with our first parents. No sooner did He create them, but He suffered the tempter to come to theme; no sooner doth He baptize us, but He puts us in mind to resist the tempter; for one or other; of these tempters, whom we there promise to resist, will be with us all our life long: with us to make us run into sin, with us to make us run away from our religion, with us to make us murmur and give over hope in time of affliction, every way and every where with us; and all this by the special providence and permission of God, and for the greater trial of our faith and obedience towards him, to prove us [230/231] how steadfastly we will hold to him. Which faith, if it holds out the trial and changes not, grows not the worse for it, is a trial more precious, saith St. Peter, than that of gold, the trial of gold in the fire, where the pure and true metal wasteth not at all. This was an answer to Lombard's first question, why God would suffer Eve to be tempted by the devil.

The second is, why He would suffer the devil to come to her in the likeness of a serpent?

And this he resolves first, in the general, that in some likeness or other he was to come, when he came to tempt and seduce; otherwise if he had come altogether unmasked, in his own likeness, he would have been taken for no tempter at all, and there would have been no trial neither, no con-versing, no conference entertained with him at all. A tempter must shroud himself in another form, and ever come in some likeness that is a little better than his own. There are them that have wished to see the devil; they shall never sec him as he is yet, that must be reserved for another time; but in the several forms of temptation they may see him every day. And though the woman at Endor could help Saul to a sight of him; yet in his own likeness, it was past her skill and her permission to do it, for this is one of the chains that are cast upon those evil spirits, wherewith the devil and his angels are bound up, who are reserved in everlasting chains under darkness, saith St. Jude, unto the judgment of the great day, never to appear in their own proper likeness till then.

In some other therefore it was to be. For which other in particular God permitted him here to appear in the likeness of a serpent, who among all the beasts of time field was said to be the wiliest and the most subtle creature of all time rest, that thereby both this malice and subtilty of the devil's nature might be the better expressed, for that was most agreeable to him, and have also from thence have the better warning by him what his nature and his drift was, the better to take heed of him. For otherwise if he might have had his own will, and been suffered to come in what likeness he would [231/232] have chosen himself, peradventure, says the Master of the Schools, and it is most likely, that the devil would have rather chosen the likeness of a dove than the likeness of a serpent, the sooner to deceive her.

And so from this first point, what he was, we are now come at last to the second,--for that will be all I shall he able to despatch to-day--what Eve here supposed and took him to be.

Thee question is, whether she took him to be the serpent, or one of the evil spirits in the serpent's likeness? If we say she took him to he the natural and brute serpent, we run upon the former rock; it will he unreasonable to imagine it, that she,--who wanted nothing of the perfection of all knowledge and the insight into the nature and condition of all creatures then, when she was in the state of her integrity,--should not better know the nature and condition of a brute serpent, than to think that one of them could speak and dis-course to her, could persuade and argue with her like a reasonable creature. Then that was not it.

Again, if we say she knew him to be the devil, who had got that shape upon him; if she knew him to be one of those wicked spirits whom she knew to be fallen from their Maker, as she did, there will be another question to assoil and answer. Why did she then converse with him? Whey did she listen to him at all?

First the answering of which question, besides her curiosity that here transported her, and the liberty of her will that gave her leave for her trial to converse with any creature or spirit whatsoever, we are likewise to enquire what inducements she had to converse with this spirit rather in this kind of like-ness, the likeness of a serpent, than another.

First, this she knew, that the serpent was the wisest and the subtlest of all the beasts of the field that God has made; this chapter begins with it, and thereby implies the woman's [232/233] opinion of the devil's wisdom; who, unless he had been a very knowing and sagacious spirit, would never have taken the shape of that subtle creature upon him. For otherwise to what end are these words here spoken? This therefore I suppose she knew.

Secondly, this she knew also, that a spirit, if he will be conversed withal, must present himself in some corporal shape or other; for in reason we know as much ourselves, that otherwise there can be no conversing with him; and the most knowing of us all are far short of Eve, of the perfect knowledge that she had then, as in all things else, so in this, which we know still; that as in natural and bodily things, have some proportion each to other, there can be no intercourse of action between them ; which is the law that God has ordained them. So likewise in things invisible, which therefore converse not with things that are visible, but in a visible form. And this is so true, that all the Scripture over we shall not find any such invisible spirit presented, whether good or bad, to men here below, but, they come in some corporal figure or other, even in the very dreams and visions of the night; which is enough to confute their vanity that say they would fain see a spirit; for a spirit, as he is, cannot be seen. This therefore I suppose likewise that that Eve knew well.

Thirdly, and lastly, this she knew, that as these spirits, if at any time they were permitted to come, they were to come in some outward and visible form, so was the form always to be such as might best, less or more, resemble their condition. In which respect we shall not read that God ever suffered a good and bad spirit, a noble and an ignoble one, an Angel and a devil to appear unto men after the same fashion. Therefore good Angels never came in any shape but the shape of a man; and not in his neither, as he is now, fallen into the deformity of age and sin, but as he was in his glorious beauty of integrity and lustre before his fall. So of the Angel that appeared in the Gospel, it is said there that his countenance was like lightning and his raiment as white as snow; all in glory and perfection, all in sublimity and purity. Whereas on the contrary, the bad angels come either in no human shape at all; or if they do, it is as it was at [233/234] Endor, commonly like an old decrepit man with a mantle upon his shoulder. And yet were they not suffered to come in that form of man neither before his fall; the case is otherwise now, and no marvel, since one fallen star may well resemble another. But while man was in his integrity and perfection, the devil might not be then suffered to take his form upon him at all. For being himself fallen, through his pride and ambition, from his own state of glory mid perfection which he had above, he was now permitted to appear in that shape only which might declare his present state of abasement and im-perfection here below, to which end and purpose there was nothing more fit for him titan the shape of a serpent.

Now put all these together and there needs not such a wonder to be made, as otherwhiles, for want of searching into the reasons and grounds of this Scripture, there is; either why the devil should come in the form of a serpent, or why Eve in that form should entertain him. For thought she knew him to be one of the abased spirits, not permitted to appear in may sensible forum, yet by the shape he came and appeared in, the shape of the subtlest creature that was in the field, she concluded with herself that he was a very subtle and sagacious spirit, likely enough to search further into God's meaning and to know more of it by his own experi-ence, than she yet did. And this undid her.

The conclusion of all is, that her high opinion of the ex-cellent wit and sagacity that was in this spirit, and the strong apprehension that she had of his great knowledge and wisdom above her own, and above the word of Cod, and all, made her clean forget both herself and it, and so brought her to her ruin.

A lesson for us all to take timely heed of all those evils which the craft and subtilty of the devil or man worketh against us; not over hastily to be carried away with a sudden apprehension maul a high opinion of men's excellent wits and abilities, whatever they are, without a special eye and regard first had to the known words and commandments of God; [234/235] the neglect whereof, both in matters of religion and in natters of moral life, and all, hath ever been, and now is, the greatest occasion of the greatest errors and wickedness in the world, whiles the devil under this mask and in this cup carries some serpentine poison for us to drink. A theme I have no time to prosecute now, but I will resume it again in the next sermon, for this is done, and think the hour is done. We are to go to the Sacrament.

Where we shall have a spiritual meat to cat, and a cup to drink of the Now Testament that will cure us of the serpent's poison which we contracted here from the Old. I told you besides of calix dæmonniorum. We have all been eating of this forbidden fruit and tasting of that forbidden cup, more or less, every one of us, as well as our mother Eve. And there is no cure for us, but this that Christ brings us, for He drank off our cup of wrath, the fruit of our sins, that we might drink his cup of blessing, the fruit of his passion. Which He of his mercy make effectual to us, That prepared that cup and endured that passion for us, That Jesus Christ the righteous, to Whom with the Father and the Holy Ghost, three Persons and one eternal Deity, be all honour and glory, now and for evermore. Amen.

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