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SERMON X X XIV.
THE LAW OF PARADISE.
But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat of it; for in
the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. - Gen. ii. 17.
This is a very important passage of scripture, and may be justly considered as a key to both the Old and New Testament. A right understanding of this law of Paradise is necessary, in order to get a clear knowledge of the most essential and fundamental doctrines of the gospel ; and no less necessary in order to detect and refute many great and dangerous errors which have prevailed, and which still prevail, in the christian world. Both orthodox and heterodox divines have been constrained, in forming their different systems of religious sentiments, to set out from precisely the same point; that is, the law given to Adam in a state of innocency; because it was his violation of that law which gave rise to the whole gospel scheme of salvation. The most gross and dangerous errors, which have been embraced and propagated by different denominations of christians, may be easily traced up to some misconception and misconstruction of what God said to Adam concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. After God had formed Adam of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul, he put him into the garden of Eden, in which there was every tree that was pleasant to the sight, and good for food, together with the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 6 And 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; for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” Here God appears the supreme lawgiver, and speaks to Adam with infinite authority. He commands him to eat of every tree of the garden, except of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But he forbids him to eat of that tree upon the pain of death, the proper wages of sin. The subject before us is unquestionably important, and deserves a full and fair discussion. It is proposed, therefore, in the present discourse to show,
İ. That God has a right to give law to all his intelligent creatures.
II. That he did give a proper law to Adam respecting the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
III. Wherein that law was like all other divine laws.
I. I am to show that God has a right to give law to all his intelligent creatures. It is the part of a superior to give law to an inferior. Every lawgiver must be supreme, in respect to those to whom he gives law. In a civil community the lawgivers are supreme, in respect to judges, generals, and all executive officers, as well as to the body of the people. In an army, the first in command is supreme in respect to both officers and soldiers. Now if men derive their right to give law from their borrowed or delegated supremacy, then we may justly conclude that God derives his absolute right to give law to all his intelligent creatures from his original and underived supremacy. God is by nature supreme in all his natural and moral attributes. His
power is superior to the united power of all created beings. His wisdom is superior to their united wisdom. His goodness is superior to their united goodness. He stands supreme among the whole intelligent creation, in point of power, wisdom and goodness, which are the most amiable and essential qualifications of a lawgiver. This supremacy alone is sufficient to give him the throne of the uni. verse, and clothe him with the highest possible authority, to give law to all his intelligent creatures in every part of his vast dominions. His right to give law to his creatures is a right to make his will the rule of duty; which is the highest authority conceivable. It is not possible that the authority of the supreme Lawgiver should rise higher than to control the wills of all other beings according to his own will. But here the important point to be considered is, how God enacts his will into a law or rule of duty to the subjects of his moral government. This he does, by publishing his will to them in a certain manner. By publishing his will, I say, because there is no necessity of his publishing his design, intention or determination. This, as a lawgiver, he has a right to keep a secret in his own breast. But he must publish his will, that is, his pleasure, in order to make his will or pleasure a rule of duty of legal obligation. God loves some things and hates others. The righteous Lord loveth righteousness, but sin is the abominable thing that he hates. God is pleased when his rational creatures act right, but he is displeased when they act wrong. And it is this, his pleasure or displeasure, which he must publish, in order to make his will a law; and not his purpose or design. A great civilian* observes, that it is essential to law to be published. The will of God cannot become a law, until it is published. It is not material indeed by what means it is published, whether by writing, or by his own voice, or by the voice of one whom he authorizes to publish it; but by some means he must make known his own will, before his creatures can be bound by it. And he must also make it known in a certain manner, to give it the force and obligation of law; or in other words, he must publish his will in the form of law.
In the first place, he must specify the persons or beings to whom he speaks authoritatively. If he give law to angels, he must specify angels. If he give law to mankind, he must specify mankind. If he give law to a nation, he must specify the nation. If he give law to Adam, or to Abraham, or to any other particular person, he must designate that particular person. It is the principal design of the Deity in publishing his will, to specify those who are to be bound by it. This is absolutely necessary, in order to give his will the force and obligation of law.
Secondly, he must express his will in the form of a precept, or a prohibition, in order to clothe it with divine authority. He may express his desire or pleasure in the form of a wish. He once said concerning Israel, “ O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!” When God expresses his desire, or pleasure, or will, in such a form, it is no precept, or prohibition, and has no legal force and obligation. But when he says to a person, Thou shalt, or shalt not, do this or that, he expresses his will authoritatively, and gives it the form and obligation of law. This mode of speaking specifies the person whom he would have to act, or not to act; and at the same time points out the very thing that he would have him do, or refrain from doing; which gives his will the form of a precept, or prohibition, and the force of law.
Besides, thirdly, he must threaten to punish those who dis
* Judge BLACKSTONE.