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The providence of God may be considered as general and as special. His general providence is exercised about all his creatures ; his special providence is exercised, in a particular manner, about his Church and people. “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in behalf of them whose heart is per. fect towards him.” 2 Chron. xvi. 9. God has the interests of his own people ever in view; he knows what is most conducive to their happiness; and he will make all things, whether prosperous or adverse to co-operate in promoting their good. Rom. viii. 28, In all past ages, God has watched over his Church with peculiar and unremitting care; he has sometimes permitted her to be reduced to a very low condition, but he has also wrought surprising deliverances in her behalf. The very means which her enemies intended for her destruction and ruin have, by an overruling Provi. dence, been rendered subservient to her edification and enlargement. Acts viii. 4. The preservation of the Church, in spite of the craft and malice of hell, and of all the pernicious errors and bloody persecutions which have threatened her ruin, is no less wonderful than the spectacle which Moses beheld, a bush burning but not consumed. And let us still confide and rejoice in the promise of Christ, that the gates of hell shall never prevail against his Church.
OF THE FALL OF MAN, OF SIN, AND OF THE PUNISHMENT
Section 1.-Our first parents being seduced by the subtilty and temptation of Satan, sinned in eating thé forbidden fruit.1 ' This their sin God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory.”
1 Gen. iii. 13. Cor. xi. 3.
» Rom. xi. 32.
That man is now in a very corrupt and sinful state, universal experience and observation attest. That he was not originally formed in this degraded state might be inferred from the character of his Maker; and the Scriptures explicitly affirm that he was at first created in the image of God, in a state of perfect rectitude. The question then arises, How was moral evil introduced into the world? To this im. portant question reason can give no satisfactory answer. Pagan philosophers could not fail to observe the degeneracy of human nature; mournful experience taught them that evil had come into the world; but to assign the source of evil, was knowledge too wonderful for them; numerous were their conjectures, and all remote from the truth. Di. vine revelation, however, sets this matter in a clear and certain light; and our Confession, in accordance with the in. spired record, traces the entrance of sin to the seduction and disobedience of our first parents. They “sinned in eating the forbidden fruit.” This supposes that the fruit of a certain tree was prohibited. The moral law was impressed upon the heart of man at his creation, and entire conformity to it was his indispensable duty; but, besides this natural law, God was pleased to give man a positive law, restricting him from the use of the fruit of a particular tree in the garden.
“ The Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it." Gen. ii. 16, 17. Without loosening his obligation to yield obedience to the whole "moral law, God summed up the duty of man in this single positive injunction, and constituted his abstaining from the fruit of a certain tree the test of his obedience. The thing forbidden was in its own nature quite indifferent, neither good nor evil; the probibi. tion was founded solely on the sovereign will of God; it was, therefore, a most proper trial of man's obedience to the divine authority.
The occasion of man's violating this express injunction of his Sovereign, was the temptation of Satan. The inspired historian, in the third chapter of Genesis, makes mention only of the serpent as concerned in seducing our first parents ; but since we find Satan represented, in manisest allusion to the transactions of the fall, as sa murderer from the beginning," and as "the old serpent and dragon” (John viii. 44; Rev. xii. 9, and xx. 2), we are led to the conclusion that Satan was the real tempter, and that he made use of the literal serpent as his instrument in carrying on the temptation. The various methods of fraud and cunning whereby he conducted his plot are stated in the sacred history, and have been illustrated by many eloquent writers.* It was not by force or compulsion, but only “through his subtlety that the serpent beguiled Eve.” Seduced by the tempter, Eve “took of the fruit, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.” Gen, iii. 6. Thus the eating of the forbidden fruit was the first sin actually committed by man in our world. No doubt, our first parents were guilty of sin in their hearts, before they committed it with their hands ; but the eating of the forbidden fruit was the first sin that was finished. “When lust haih conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” James i. 15.
To some the eating of a little fruit may appear a very trivial matter, and often have attempts been made to turn this grave subject into ridicule; but, in judging of this act of our first parents, we must remember that they thereby transgressed an express prohibition of the Most High. Their abstaining from the tree of knowledge was the criterion by which their fidelity was to be tried, and their eating of the fruit of that tree was a violation of the whole law; for it was rebellion against the Lawgiver, and a renunciation of his authority. “This grand transgression,” says a judicious author, “though in its matter—to wit, eating a little fruit-it may be looked upon as a most mean and insignificant action ; yet, if we consider it in its formal nature, as disobedience to an express divine command, which precept was particularly chosen out and enjoined as the test of man's pure love, just gratitude, and absolute obedience to God, it was certainly a most heinous sin. For behold what monstrous infidelity, ingratitude, and diabolical pride, were all at once implied in the same.”+ “It was aggravated,” says another “by the Being sinned against, a Benefactor so bountiful, a Master so indulgent; by the persons guilty of it, creatures fresh from God's hand, untainted by sin, and laden with benefits; by the pre
* Berry Street Sermons, Serm. 10; Dwight's Theology, Serm. 27. + Principal Blackwell's Sacred Scheme, p. 199.
cept violated, so plain and simple; by the place where it was committed, a place where every plant, every creature, and every scene, displayed the bounty of the Lord, and proclaimed his goodness; and by its results, which were not to be limited to themselves, but to extend to their descendants, whom, for a momentary gratification, they ruined for
Is it asked, How could upright man be seduced to commit this great transgression? The answer is, Man, though perfectly holy, was mutable. He had power to stand, but was liable to fall. God left him to the freedom of his own will, and that freedom he abused. No doubt God could have prevented his fall if he had pleased, by giving such influences of his Spirit as would have been absolutely effectual to hin. der it; but this he was under no obligation to do. He did not withdraw from man that ability with which he had furnished him for his duty, nor did he insuse any vicious inclinations into his heart; he only withheld that further grace that would have infallibly prevented his fall. If it be inquired, why God permitted the fall of man to take place, “ Probably the best answer ever given to this question in the present world, is that which was given by Christ, concerning one branch of the divine dispensations to mankind; . Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.' It was a dispensation, approved by infinite wisdom, and seen by the omniscient eye to be necessary towards that good which God proposed in creating the universe.”+
SECTION II.-By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin,4 and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.5 : Gen. iii. 6-8. Eccl. xii. 29. Rom. iii. I 6 Tit. i 15. Gen. vi. 5. Jer. xvii. 9. · Gen. ii. 17. Eph. ii. 1.
Rom. iii. 10-18.
This section points out the consequences of the sin of our first parents, in regard to themselves. They “fell from their original righteousness," and became wholly corrupted in all the faculties of their souls, and members of their bodies. The understanding, once a lamp of light, was now overwhelmed in darkness. The will, once faithful for God, and regulated by his will, now became perverse and rebel. lious. The affections, once pure and regular, now became vitiated and disordered. The body, too, was corrupted, and its members became instruments of .unrighteousness unto sin. Our first parents likewise lost the happiness which they had formerly possessed. They were expelled from that pleasant and delightful abode in which God had placed them, the ground was cursed with barrenness for their sake, they were doomed to lead a life of toil and sorrow, and at last to return to the earth from which they were taken. But this was the least part of the misery into which they fell. They lost communion with God, the chief good: they for. feited his favour and incurred his righteous displeasure. They became dead in sin, obnoxious to that death which is the wages of sin, and which had been threatened as the penalty of their disobedience. “ In the day thou eatest thereof," said God, “thou shalt surely die." This threatening included temporal death, consisting in the dissolution of the union between the soul and the body; spiritual death, consisting in the loss of the favour and the image of God; and eternal death, consisting in the everlasting separation of both soul and body from God. The very day in which our first parents sinned, the sentence of death, though not immediately executed in its fullest extent, began to lay hold upon them. They became mortal, and were exposed to the disorders of a vitiated constitution; the principle of spiritual life was extinguished in their souls, and they were bound over to eternal wrath ; and, had not a Mediator been provided, not only would they have returned to the dust, but they would have been “punished with everlasting destruc. tion from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power."
* Belfrage's Exposition of the Shorter Catechism, vol. 1., p. 178. + Dwight's Theology, Serm. 27.
Section III.-They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity, descending from them by ordinary generation."
* Ps. li. 5. Gen. v. 3. Job xiv. 4; 26. Rom. v. 12, 15-19. 1 Cor. xv. 21, 22, 45, 49.
6 Gen i. 27, 28; ii. 16, 17. Acts xvii.