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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
J. R. Burrows, D.D.
From the book, What Baptists Believe, 1887
"Hath God said?"—Gen. 3:1
I take my text to-night from the devil's gospel; for the devil brought to man what man received as a gospel long before Christ announced his blessed evangel. Indeed, it was man's infatuated faith in the good news the devil proclaimed that rendered necessary the gospel of Jesus and all its sacrifice and agony for the redemption of man from the effects of his besotted credulity, and from the domination which Satan gained over him through his foolish faith.
And there are many men now who prefer the devil's gospel to Christ's, and lend a willing ear to the same strains which he whispered in the ear of Eve, “What was it that God had said?”…“In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Now look at the cunning insidiousness of the tempter. He dare not intimate that God had no right to make such a prohibition, that it was unjust and arbitrary, and urge her to rebel against such capricious and unreasonable authority.
But he slyly insinuates a doubt, the first germ of unbelief. "Hath God said?" Now are you not mistaken? Have you not misunderstood? "Hath God said?” Are you sure? Could he have intended such a check upon your natural appetite? Could he have hung out this beautiful fruit before your eyes and then forbidden you to taste it? Hath he so fettered your freedom in this magnificent Eden?"
What a subtle insinuation is concealed under these words, implying that God had no right to give such a command and that our befooled mother would do well in disregarding it. You know how sadly successful was this first temptation of the wily liar. Of the father of lies this was to man the first-born of a horrible and numberless progeny. This first subtle falsehood proved so successful that he has repeated it in all generations and perhaps to every individual of our race. Has not the echo of it sounded within your own soul? Look at a few of the many phases which this cunning question takes in the thoughts of men.
“Hath God said? Now hath he really prohibited indulgence of these craving appetites of our nature? Is it, after all, certain that the good Lord requires us to abstain from pursuits and amusements that seem so attractive and desirable? Will he condemn me for these little violations of the very strict laws he has written in his commandments? It is such a small disobedience that surely it cannot be very wrong, just a taste of the sweet fruit that hangs so temptingly within my grasp. And so you yield to the suggestion of the tempter within and open your soul to further influx of evil. You puncture as with a thin needle the dyke that holds back the sea of sin from your soul, and drop after drop trickles in, each enlarging the breach, until the flood rushes in, and your heart, deluged with the defilement of guilt, becomes “like the troubled sea which cannot rest, casting up mire and dirt.” Questioning God's truth is the beginning of pollution and woe.
“Hath God said?” Does he indeed notice such trifling transgressions of such an insignificant being as I? He has a universe to look after, and I must be lost to his observation amid these larger cares. Though he has said, “The eyes of Jehovah are in every place beholding the evil and the good;” “I the Lord search the hearts and try the reins of the children of men,” yet somehow this minute scrutiny may not be literally fact, and I may escape through God's ignorance of my true character. So doubt of God's omniscient observation encourages sin.
“Hath, God said?” Would it not be harsh and cruel for God to impose such severe restraints upon man's inclinations? He is good and loving, desires the happiness of his creatures, and could he so interfere with their happiness as to impose such rigid restrictions upon their cravings? And thus God's very love is made a subterfuge under which unbelief may hide.
“Hath God said?” Has he the right, the authority to utter such prohibitions? Here stand I, and there, bending to my touch, is the tempting apple. He has given us the whole garden and transferred to us dominion over all the earth, and thus of all fruits that grow therein and of all living creatures that move there on, there over and there under, the beasts of the field, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea. And now will he retract his grant by making an exception of a single tree? There was a questioning of his supreme sovereignty. And this questioning has swelled into universal rebellion from every heart uttering its impious defiance: “We will not have this God to reign over us.” Not his law, but our own desires, shall govern us. There was wrapped up in this subtle question the germ of a world's enmity to God. It infused the poison drop into one heart, whence it has been transmitted by heredity to taint the blood of all her posterity.
“Hath God said?” Does he mean all that his words imply? “In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Did God say that?” asks the devil. “He could not mean that. Ye shall not surely die!” You cannot suppose that he could be in earnest in uttering such a terrible threat for such a trifling offense. And ever since and everywhere men have caught up the doubt and questioned the sincerity of the divine threatenings. They never were meant to be fulfilled. They are only like the grotesque stuffed watchmen which farmers set up in their cornfields to scare off the birds. There is no power in them to hurt.
And men are preaching this devil's gospel today and announcing to bad men the good news that God's threatenings are nothing but theatre thunder, and they need not fear that it will ever seriously hurt anybody. Take care, my friend there are lightning bolts, hot, quick and death-dealing, flashing amid the peals of God's thunder. Do not indulge the delusion that the Great Jehovah deals in shams and tricks and that he does not earnestly mean what he says: “The wicked shall go away into everlasting punishment. They shall be cast into outer darkness." "Hath he said and will he not do it; hath he spoken and will he not make it good." "When I say the wicked shall die, he shall surely die in his iniquity." Do not risk your soul on a doubt of God's sincerity.
“Hath God said?” Hath God ever said anything at all to man? Has he made any revelation to our race? Even this phase of unbelief was infolded in this germ insinuation to be evolved in these latter days. Men grow bolder in their depravity and deny that the Lord has ever revealed a sentence for man's instruction or guidance. And though the best and truest men that ever blessed the world have hundreds of times affirmed "thus saith the Lord," yet all these men were cheats or crazed and the Lord never spoke by them. The Bible is a myth and all its pretended divine revealings are but "cunningly devised fables." That is the outcome of the devil's gospel. Do you believe it? Are you willing to hazard your soul upon the doubt whether the Bible is the word of God?
“Hath God said?” But deeper even than this has this deadly umbellifer seed, ever multiplying seed of its own kind, and these growing ranker and more deadly in the dank swamp of human depravity; deeper still, I say, has this baneful seed thrust down its roots and spread out its shoots. We hear men whose hearts have furnished soil for the growth of this pestiferous seed blatantly denying that there ever was a God who could have spoken to man. And this is the final development of the devil's first whisper in Eden. Surely there is truth in this phase at least of the doctrine of progressive evolution. It has “evolved” Jehovah out of his universe and left the world without a Creator, and all its magnificent, accurate and orderly mechanism without a Maker. Listen to Carlyle's indignant utterance in his characteristic terse style:
“Ah! it is a sad and terrible thing to see nigh on to a whole generation of men and women professing to be cultivated looking around in a purblind fashion and finding no God in the universe…And this is what we have got. All things from frog spawn. The gospel of dirt is the order of the day. The older I grow (and I now stand on the brink of eternity) the more comes back to me the sentence in the catechism; Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. And the older I grow the fuller and deeper its meaning becomes. No gospel of dirt, teaching that men have descended from frogs through monkeys can ever set that aside."
There is a God who hath spoken to man.
From this temptation and triumph of infernal strategy over our first parents and the fearful results which followed in the Lord's vindication of his character and authority we may learn the truth of the following doctrines.
That God is in earnest when he threatens.
The intimation of the devil in the text is, there is no need to trouble yourself about what God has said. He will never execute such a threat. And this is the slender hope upon which many a poor sinner is expecting to escape the denunciations of the Almighty. Yet our first parents found to their anguish and shame that the warning was a sincere one. They died the day they sinned, not indeed a physical dissolution; that came later. But they died out of God's favor. Their innocency died. Their happiness died. Their hope of eternal blessedness through obedience died. In its strictest sense the threat of the Lord was fulfilled.
And every threatening he has spoken will be accomplished.
Unbelieving mortal! you are imagining that in some undefined way the denunciations against sin will be modified or averted; that this gospel of the devil will somehow come true. Let me exhort you not to depend upon such a contingency. "The wicked shall be turned into hell." "He that believeth not shall be damned." This is what the Lord hath said. Do not allow yourself to be deceived by the subtle question, "Hath God said;" as though there were some doubt about it, some insincerity, as though it were some manufactured shape of a ghost constructed only to scare. "I am the Lord. I will speak and the word that I speak shall come to pass. The word that I have spoken shall be done, saith the Lord God."
Another doctrine taught is that disobedience in minutest matters is a great evil. Perhaps, as viewed by man's judgment, there has seldom been a smaller sin committed in this world than this transgression of Eve. But it contained within it the elements of rebellion, unbelief and positive disobedience. And these can be shown as really in a small as in a great transgression. If God directly forbids it, breaking a twig is breaking a law of Jehovah. The sin is not so much in the act as it is in the spirit, the motive that prompts the act. The Lord said, "Of the fruit of that tree thou shalt not eat. In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."
Here was a plain law, easily understood, with penalty annexed. Now what, with this in view, was really the character of this act of our first parents? It was as if they said, "We comprehend precisely what the Lord means, but we will not regard it, we will take and eat this fruit." This was renouncing his authority. It was throwing off his government. It was saying God's law shall not govern us. In this thing we will not be controlled by a divine mandate.
We rebel against his rule. We know better than God what is good for ourselves. Here, then, is rebellion against a rightful and beneficent government. Here is selfishness, which is the very essence of sin. Here is unbelief, which doubts the sincerity and wisdom of the Lord. Here is ingratitude, which forgets manifold, unconditioned blessings in the selfish longing of the hour. And all these elements of sin may mingle in a small disobedience as really as in a great one. There is contagion in a small pustule of small-pox matter as virulent as in the whole mass of bedding and clothing in which a small-pox victim has died.
There is death as sure in a drop of prussic acid as in all the waves of mid-ocean beneath which the wrecked sailor is whelmed. Sin is not to be measured by its bulk, but by its nature and properties. It is said that the Borgias had poisons, an invisible smear of which, on the hem of a glove or the rim of a cup, wrought sure death to their foes. Such is sin in its nature and elements. Of such character is every sin you commit against your Creator and Sovereign. It repudiates God's authority. It strikes at his throne. It thrusts itself into Jehovah's rightful place. It abuses his goodness. And it need not be what men call enormous sins to work out ruin and death. A puncture small as a needle's point may be large enough to convey the venom from the adder's fang and send it coursing through all the veins.
Then no sin is little. It is to be measured by its effects. If it estranges the soul from its Maker, if it destroys the communion between man and his God and puts enmity in the place of love and unbelief in the place of faith and willfulness in the place of dependence, it is, in itself, without reference to magnitude or multitude, a dreadful evil. And just this is what your transgressions have done for you, sinner! Your spirit is not in harmony with the spirit of your Father in heaven. You do not love his laws; you do not desire reconciliation with him; you can live and enjoy life without his favor, and would rather not have his favor if it is to be obtained only at the expense of entire submission to his will and obedience to his commandments. You are hardly sorry tonight that you have sinned against such a God. O! what wreck sin has made of human souls, so utter as to destroy man's consciousness of his own ruin.
And now listen to a word of the true gospel of Jesus. While sin is to the Lord “that abominable thing which he hates," yet he has made provision for cleansing the heart polluted with it and healing the heart poisoned by it. He has devised a method by which he can arrest its ruin and forgive its guilt. Need I tell you once more, that it cost his love; the heaviest sacrifice that even a God could make, even the offering up of his only Son for our redemption? The penalty righteously denounced against you Jesus took upon himself that you might be delivered from it.
He poured out his blood that it might cleanse out the pollutions of your soul. Now will you love Jesus for this, for his redeeming and renewing grace, or will you add to the guilt of breaking God's law the guilt of rejecting Christ's love? If you do, all resources for your salvation are exhausted. To-day O! sinner, come as a weeping, penitent child to your Father's feet, through Jesus, and be pardoned, purified and saved.