Page images
PDF
EPUB

Sated at length, ere long I might perceive
Strange alteration in me, to degree
Of reason in my inward powers; and speech
Wanted not long; tho' to this shape retained.”

Paradise Lost, b. ix. 595—601. This explanation harmonises with science, because the subject is removed from the field of science by the introduction of a miracle, to make a serpent another creature than a serpent, by making it an incarnation of the evil spirit. It has been said that the occurrence of the article in the narrative with the word serpent—the serpent, han nachash-denotes that this was not an ordinary one; the article however, in Hebrew, has no such absolute significance, though it denotes emphasis, for the words the serpenthan nachash, are used of other serpents, in Num. xxi. 9 : “And it came to pass that if a serpent,”Heb., " the serpent—had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived."

The chief objection to this explanation arises from its want of harmony with the words of the sacred writers, for a seed or progeny of the serpent are mentioned as well as of the woman (ver. 15), which necessitates the propagation of that remarkable species, and proves the individual not to be unique; besides, the relation of that individual serpent to Eve is said (in prediction) to be similar to that ever to exist between mankind and the offspring of the serpent.

4. The fourth explanation supposes the sacred narrative to refer, in the first instance, to the serpent or some animal all through, and to Satan, the real tempter, in a higher and fuller sense. The animal had before the fall guperior wisdom, the power of speech and of reason, and walked in an erect attitude or had limbs, but was deprived of these in consequence of the curse recorded. This has been the most popular explanation in every age, and is now received by the majority of Bible readers. Josephus says (Ant. I. cap. i. 4) that all animals had originally the gift of speech, and that the serpent was on very friendly terms with Adam and Eve; but as a punishment for tempting man to sin, God “ deprived the serpent of speech, .. inserted poison under its tongue; made it an enemy to man And when He had deprived it of the use of its feet, He made it go rolling on and dragging itself upon the ground.” Delitzch also says, that “The punishment of the serpent, as all antiquity understood the sentence, consists in this, that its mode of motion and its form were changed... The serpent was before made otherwise ; now, with its fiery colour, its forked vibrating tongue, its poison-distilling teeth, its dreadful hiss, its arrow-like motion, like a flash of light, its occasionally fascinating glance, it is, as it were, the embodiment of the diabolical sin, and the divine curse. Its present condition is the consequence of a divine transformation.” Whiston, the well-known translator of Josephus, agrees with all this,

VOL. XX.

and adds, “that the more perfect animals do not want the organs of speech at this day." Ridgley agrees in believing serpents to have walked in an erect position. Matthew Henry, and a host of other commentators, have held the same opinion.

This explanation is the most absurd, though it be the most generally received. It has no foundation in Scripture, and is declared impossible by the simplest facts of natural history. Serpents are ) now what they were many centuries before the formation of man, as we shall shortly see; (6) are neither wise nor crafty, much less the most wise or “subtil ;" (c) are about the least capable of articulation; (d) have no enmity to man; (e) eat no dust; and (f) did not injure the Messiah—the seed of the woman—nor were they destroyed by Him. Finding it impossible to hold any longer to this opinion, another explanation has been proposed, and

5. The fifth explanation supposes the narrative in Genesis to be partly applicable to the animal serpent, and partly applicable to the indwelling demon. Mr. Duns has endeavoured in his “Biblical Natural Science,” to harmonise this theory with the facts of Natural History. The case of the serpent is a parallel to that of Balaam's ass, The craft, the speech, the bad design, and the falsehood attributed to the serpent, refer to the spirit of evil within it: but though the reptile was the unwilling or unconsenting instrument of Satan, a part of the curse is inflicted upon it, "upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all thy days.” No physical change is, however, supposed to have been effected; the serpent always having been, physically, what it is; the change had reference to its relation to man. Its form, which was once a memorial of the skill and power of its maker, was henceforth to be a memorial of its degradation. Before the fall the serpent, like any other animal, was to be admired as the work of God; but now it is to be despised and regarded as an abominable thing. The innocent creature has become thus, by an appointment of e just God, an object of contempt.

Objections of a most formidable character exist, as it seems to me, to this explanation ; and (a) there is nothing in the narrative to imply any change in the object addressed. What is said is said wholly to one being, and of one, the serpent, or Nachash. If this was a double being, we have nothing to indicate what part of the narrative refers to this or that part of the duality. Our guide is simply our own fancy or taste, or the difficulty of applying some expressions to this or that part of the compound being ; this difficulty will depend upon our notions, culture, or inclination. If this licence be granted in the interpretation of every scriptural narrative, the Bible may be made to teach anything or nothing. () The serpent would appear to Eve to speak, which must have caused her surprise, and yet the sacred narrative represents the Nachash as familiar to Eve. She expresses no surprise at its power of speech or of reasoning, bat enters freely into conversation with it. Besides all this, it seems to me very difficult to believe that God would lend his power-his miraculous power—to an evil spirit, to enable him to lead to sin the mother of mankind. Add to this (c) the injustice of subjecting an innocent creature to contempt on account of the sin of another being, as a punishment for that sin, and the necessity of rejecting this explanation will be evident. Preston.

EvAN LEWIS, B.A., F.R.G.S. (To be continued.)

Seeds of Sermons on the Book of

Proverbs.

(No. LXX.)

position is a withholding power,

keeping back that which society THE GENEROUS AND AVARICIOUS.

claims and wants. What is the “There is that scattereth, and yet in- hoarding of wealth but the keepcreaseth; and there is that withholdeth

ing back of that which the poverty more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty. The liberal soul shall be made and sufferings of humanity refat; and he that watereth shall be quire. The withholding of the watered also himself.”—Prov. xi. 24, 25. avaricious in England, explains This proverb is paradoxical in ex- much of English pauperism and pression, but unquestionably true distress. in principle. The philosophy of the II. THE REACTIVE INFLUENCE OP human mind, and the experience BOTH. Every effort has a reaction. of ages, attest its truth. There is a Action and reaction is the law of distribution that enricheth the soul the universe, material and spiriof the distributor, and there is an tual. First, the scattering “inappropriation that impoverishes. creaseth.The liberal soul “gets The words bring under our notice fat." Not unfrequently does libethe respective operations, the re- rality bring temporal wealth-inactive influence, and the social variably, spiritual wealth of soul. estimate of the generous and ava- Every generous act enricheth our ricious in human nature.

spiritual being. “Give, and it I THE RESPECTIVE OPERATION shall be given unto you, good OF BOTH THOSE PRINCIPLES. First, measure, pressed down, running the one" scattereth.It is like the over, and shaken together.' hand of the sower scattering the (Luke vi. 38.) seeds of kindness in all directions. Secondly, the withholding “tenWhatever is suited to amelio- deth to poverty.Avarice always rate the woes and to bless the lives leads to moral pauperism. The of men, whether it be ideas, man who receives all and gives wealth, influence, or effort, it wil. nothing, sinks lower and lower lingly gives. Secondly, the other into the depths of spiritual desti"withholdeth.” The

avaricious dis- tution. The soul of the miser is 13.)

BOTH.

a miserable grub. Strongly does Paul show the truth of this—“He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully,” &c., &c. (2 Cor. ix. 6–11.) III. THE SOCIAL ESTIMATE OF

“He that withholdeth corn, the people shall curse him ; but blessing shall be upon the head of him that selleth it.” First, the people shall curse the avaricious. Who knows the imprecations that fall every day on the head of the avaricious and miserly man ? “Hear this, () ye that swallow up the needy,” &c. (Amos viii.

6.) Secondly, the people shall bless the generous.

Hear Job's experience, “The blessing of him that was ready to perish, came upon me: and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy.(Job xxix.

First: The one procureth farour. Favour with their own conscience; favour with society; favour with God. Secondly: The other disfarour. “ It shall come unto him." He shall have what he deserves. The disapprobation of his own conscience-the denunciation of society-the frown of God. “Behold, he travaileth with iniquity, and hath conceived mischief, and brought forth falsehood. He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made. His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate.”—Psa. vii. 14-16.

“The truly generous is the truly wise; And he who loves not others lives un

blest."

(No. LXXI.)

GOOD AND EVIL. “He that diligently seeketh good procureth favour: but he that seeketh mischief, it shall come unto him."Prov. xi. 27. THE words lead us to look at good and evil in two aspects.

J. As OBJECTS OF PURSUIT.

First : Some pursue good. “He that diligently seeketh good.” There are those that are industrious in the search and service of goodness. They diligently seek good for themselves and good for society.

Secondly: Some pursue evil. He that seeketh mischief.” There are some as industrious in doing evil, as others in doing good; they are always in mischief.

II. AS SOURCES OF DESTINY.

These pursuits bring different results to the soul.

(No. LXXII.) TRUSTING IN RICHES. “He that trusteth in his riches shall fall."-Prov. xi. 28.

I. HERE IS A COMMON TENDENCY. Nothing is more common than for wealthy men to trust in their wealth; to trust for happiness and honour to worldly possessions. Like the fool in the Gospel they say “ Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years.” (Luke xii. 19-21.) Wealth as an object of trust is, first: Spiritually unsatisfactory. Secondly: Necessarily evanescent. Man's wealth cannot stay long with him.

The connection is very brief.

II. HERE IS A TERRIBLE CATASTROPHE. “SHALL PALL." "Fall!" First: Whence? From all his hopes. Secondly: Whither? To disappointment and despair. Thirdly : When ? Whenever moral conviction seizes the soul, whether before or after death. Fourthly : Why? Because wealth was never a fit foundation for the soul. “Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength ; but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness."-Psa. lii. 7.

ARE

SOME

(No. LXXIII.)

PAMILY LIFE. “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind : and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart." -Prov. xi. 29. The words imply three things :

I. THAT PEACE SHOULD BE THE GRAND AIX OP ALL THE MEMBERS OP THE DOMESTIC CIRCLE. It is here implied that to trouble the house is an evil. And so it is. Each member should studiously endeavour to maintain an unbroken peace in the family sphere. Every look, expression, thought, word, calculated to disturb should be carefully eschewed. Whatever storms rage without, there should be serenity within the household door.

It is implied

II. THAT THERE MEMBERS WHO BREAK THE PEACE OF THEIR DOMESTIC CIRCLE. There are some who "trouble" their own house. The ill-natured, impulsive, false, selfish. These are domestic troubles. He who breeds feuds in families creates wars in man's earthly heaven.

It is implied,

III. THAT THOSE WHO BREAK THE PEACE OF THEIR DOMESTIC CIRCLE ARE FOOLS. “ He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind : and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart." Two things show their folly. First: They get no good by it. " They reap wind." What if they gratify for a moment their vanity, their selfishness, their pride by it? Their gratification is but wind. Secondly: They get degradation by it. “The fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.” The habitual disturber of the family circle soon by his folly sinks into a base servitude. The loving and the peaceful, by the wisdom of their conduct, rule him by a dignified despotism, which fills him with mortification.

(No. LXXIV.) THE LIFE OF THE GOOD. “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise. Behold, the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth: much more the wicked and the sinner."-Prov. xi.

80, 31.

Hence says

These verses suggest three things in relation to the life of the good on earth.

I. THE INVOLUNTARY INFLUENCE OF A GOOD MAN'S LIFE. The fruit of a life is the involuntary and regular expression of what the man is in heart and soul. All actions are not the fruit of life, inasmuch as man in the exercise of his freedom, and indeed even by accident, performs actions that, instead of fully expressing, misrepresent his life. Christ, “ By their fruit,” not by their action,

' ye shall know them.” The regular flow of a man's general activity is the fruit, and this, in the case of a good man, is a “tree of life.” It is so for three reasons. (1) It expresses real life. (2) It communicates real life. (3) It nourishes real life.

II. THE HIGHEST PURPOSE OF A GOOD MAN'S LIFE. “He that winneth souls is wise." This implies (1) That souls are lost. (2) That souls may be saved. (3) That souls may be saved by man. (4) That the man who suoceeds in saving souls is wise.*

III, THE INEVITABLE RETRIBUTION OF A GOOD MAN'S LIFE.

Behold, the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth.” The recompense here is supposed to refer rather to the suffering he experiences, in consequences of his remaining imperfections, than of the blessings he enjoys as a reward for the good that is in him. The sins of good men are punished on this earth. The

• See HomiliST, series iii., vol. v.,

p. 289.

« PreviousContinue »