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Sermons on National Subjects, 41 - THE FALL

By Charles Kingsley


      As by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed on all men, for that all have sinned.--ROMANS v. 12.

      We have been reading the history of Adam's fall. With that fall we have all to do; for we all feel the fruits of it in the sinful corruptions which we bring into the world with us. And more, every fall which we have is like Adam's fall: every time we fall into wilful sin, we do what Adam did, and act over again, each of us many times in our lives, that which he first acted in the garden of Paradise. At least, all mankind suffer for something. Look at the sickness, death, bloodshed, oppression, spite, and cruelty, with which the world is so full now, of which it has been full, as we know but too well from history, ever since Adam's time. The world is full of misery, there is no denying that. How did that come? It must have come somehow. There must be some reason for all this sorrow. The Bible tells us a reason for it. If anyone does not like the Bible reason, he is bound to find a better reason. But what if the Bible reason, the story of Adam's fall, be the only rational and sensible explanation which ever has been, or ever will be given, of the way in which death and misery came among men?

      Some people will say: What puzzle is there in it? All animals die, why should not man? All animals fight and devour each other, why should not man do so too? But why need we suppose that man is fallen? Why should he not have been meant by nature to be just what he is? Some scholars who fancy themselves wise, and think that they know better than the Bible, will say that now, and pride themselves on having said a very fine thing; ignorant men, too, often are led into the same mistake, and are willing enough to say: "What if we are brutish, and savage, and ignorant, and spiteful, indulging ourselves, hating and quarrelling with each other? God made us what we are, and we cannot help it." But there is a voice in the heart of every man, and just in proportion as a man is a man, and not a beast and a savage, that voice cries in his heart more loudly: No; God did not make you what you are. You are not meant to be what you are, but something better. You are not meant to fight and devour each other as the animals do; for you are meant to be better than they. You are not meant to die as the animals do; for you feel something in you which cannot die, which hates death. You may try to be a mere savage and a beast, but you cannot be content to be so. And yet you feel ready to fall lower, and get more and more brutish. What can be the reason? There must be something wrong about men, something diseased and corrupt in them, or they would not have this continual discontent with themselves for being no better than they are; this continual hankering and longing after some happiness, some knowledge, some good and noble state which they do not see round them, and never have felt in themselves. Man must have fallen, fallen from some good and right state into which he was put at first, and for which he is hankering and craving now. There must be an original sin in him; that is, a sin belonging to his origin, his race, his breed, as we say, which has been handed down from father to son; an original sin as the church calls it. And I believe firmly that the heart of man, even among savages, bears witness to the truth of that doctrine, and confesses that we are fallen beings, let false philosophers try as they will to persuade us that we are not.

      Then, again, there are another set of people, principally easy, well- to-do, respectable people, who run into another mistake, the same into which the Pelagians did in old time. They think: "Man is not fallen. Every man is born into the world quite good enough, if he chose to remain good. Every man can keep God's laws if he likes, or at all events keep them well enough." As for his having a sinful nature which he got from Adam, they do not believe that really, though often they might not like to say so openly. They think: "Adam fell, and he was punished; and if I fall I shall be punished; but Adam's sin is nothing to me, and has not hurt me. I can be just as good and right as Adam was, if I like." That is a comfortable doctrine enough for easy-going well-to-do folks, who have but few trials, and few temptations, and who love little because little has been forgiven them. But what comfort is there in that for poor sinners, who feel sinful and base passions dragging them down, and making them brutish and miserable, and yet feel that they cannot conquer their sins of themselves, cannot help doing wrong, all the while they know that it is wrong? They feel that they have something more in them than a will and power to do what they choose. They feel that they have a sinful nature which keeps their will and reason in slavery, and makes sin a hard bondage, a miserable prison-house, from which they cannot escape. In short, they feel and know that they are fallen. Small comfort, too, to every thinking man, who looks upon the great nations of savages, which have lived, and live still, upon God's earth, and sees how, so far from being able to do right if they choose, they go on from father to son, generation after generation, doing wrong, more and more, whether they like or not; how they become more and more children of wrath, given up to fierce wars, and cruel revenge, and violent passions, all their thought, and talk, and study, being to kill and to fight; how they become more and more children of darkness, forgetting more and more the laws of right and wrong, becoming stupid and ignorant, until they lose the very knowledge of how to provide themselves with houses, clothes, fire, or even to till the ground, and end in feeding on roots and garbage, like the beasts which perish. And how, too, long before they fall into that state, death works in them. How, the lower they fall, and the more they yield to their original sin and their corrupt nature, they die out. By wars with each other; by murdering their own children, to avoid the trouble of rearing them; by diseases which they know not how to cure, and which they too often bring on themselves by their own brutishness; by bad food, and exposure to the weather, they die out, and perish off the face of the earth, fulfilling the Lord's words to Adam: "Thou shalt surely die." I do not say that their souls go to hell. The Bible tells us nothing of where they go to. God's mercy is boundless. And the Bible tells us that sin is not imputed where there is no law, as there is none among them. So we may have hope for them, and leave them in God's hand. But what can we hope for them who are utterly dead in trespasses and sins? Well for them, if, having fallen to the likeness of the brutes, they perish with the brutes. I fancy if you, as some may, ever go to Australia, and there see the wretched black people, who are dying out there, faster and faster, year by year, after having fallen lower than the brutes, then you will understand what original sin may bring a man to, what it would have brought us to, had not God in His mercy raised us and our forefathers up from that fearful down- hill course, when we were on it fifteen hundred years ago.

      And another thing which shows that these poor savages are not as God intended them to be, but are falling, generation after generation, by the working of original sin, is, that they, almost all of them, show signs of having been better off long ago. Many, like the South Sea Islanders, have curious arts remaining among them in spite of their brutish ignorance, which they could only have learned when they were far more clever and civilised than they are now. And almost all of them have some sad remembrance, handed down from father to son, kept up in songs and foolish tales, of having been richer, and more prosperous, and more numerous, a long while ago. They will confess to you, if you ask them, that they are worse than their fathers--that they are going down, dying out--that the gods are angry with them, as they say. The Lord have mercy upon them! But what is, to my mind, the most awful part of the matter remains yet to be told--and it is this: That man may actually fall by original sin too low to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ, and be recovered again by it. For the negroes of Africa and the West Indies, though they have fallen very low, have not fallen too low for the gospel. They have still understanding left to take it in, and conscience, and sense of right and wrong enough left to embrace it; thousands of them do embrace it, and are received unto righteousness, and lead such lives as would shame many a white Englishman, born and bred under the gospel.

      But the black people in Australia, who are exactly of the same race as the African negroes, cannot take in the gospel. They seem to have become too stupid to understand it; they seem to have lost the sense of sin and of righteousness too completely to care about it. All attempts to bring them to a knowledge of the true God have as yet failed utterly. God's grace is all-powerful; He is no respecter of persons; and He may yet, by some great act of His wisdom, quicken the dead souls of these poor brutes in human shape. But, as far as we can see, there is no hope for them: but, like the Canaanites of old, they must perish off the face of the earth, as brute beasts.

      I have said so much to show you that man is fallen; that there is original sin, an inclination to sin and fall, sink down lower and lower, in man. Now comes the question: What is this fall of man? I said that the Bible tells us rationally enough. And I have also made use several times of words, which may have hinted to some of you already what Adam's fall was. I have spoken of the likeness of the beasts, and of men becoming like beasts by original sin. And this is why I said it.

      If you want to understand what Adam's fall was, you must understand what he fell from, and what he fell to. That is plain.

      Now, the Bible tells us, that he fell from God's grace to nature.

      What is nature? Nature means what is born, and lives, and dies, and is parted and broken up, that the parts of it may go into some new shape, and be born and live, and die again. So the plants, trees, beasts, are a part of nature. They are born, live, die; and then that which was them goes into the earth, or into the stomachs of other animals, and becomes in time part of that animal, or part of the tree or flower, which grows in the soil into which it has fallen. So the flesh of a dead animal may become a grain of wheat, and that grain of wheat again may become part of the body of an animal. You all see this every time you manure a field, or grow a crop. Nature is, then, that which lives to die, and dies to live again in some fresh shape. And, in the first chapter of Genesis, you read of God creating nature--earth, and water, and light, and the heavens, and the plants and animals each after their kind, born to die and change, made of dust, and returning to the dust again. But after that we read very different words; we read that when God created man, He said:

      "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." He was made in God's likeness; therefore he could only be right in as far as he was like God. And he could not be like God if he did not will what God willed, and wish what God wished. He was to live by faith in God; he was justified by faith in God, and by that only.

      Never fancy that Adam had any righteousness of his own, any goodness of which he could say: "This is mine, part of me; I may pride myself on it." God forbid. His righteousness consisted, as ours must, in looking up to God, trusting Him utterly, believing that he was to do God's will, and not his own. His spirit, his soul, as we call it, was given to him for that purpose, and for none other, that it might trust in God and obey God, as a child does his father. He had a free will; but he was to use that will as we must use our wills, by giving up our will to God's will, by clinging with our whole hearts and souls to God.

      Adam fell. He let himself be tempted by a beast, by the serpent. How, we cannot tell: but so we read. He took the counsel of a brute animal, and not of God. He chose between God and the serpent, and he chose wrong. He wanted to be something in himself; to have a knowledge and power of his own, to use it as he chose. He was not content to be in God's likeness; he wanted to be as a god himself. And so he threw away his faith in God, and disobeyed Him. And instead of becoming a god, as he expected, he became an animal; he put on the likeness of the brutes, who cannot look up to God in trust and love, who do not know God, do not obey Him, but follow their own lusts and fancies, as they may happen to take them. Whether the change came on him all at once, the Bible does not say: but it did come on him; for from him it has been handed down to all his children even to this day. Then was fulfilled against him the sentence, In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die. Not that he died that moment; but death began to work in him. He became like the branch of a tree cut off from the stem, which may not wither at the instant it is cut off, but it is yet dead, as we find out by its soon decaying. He had come down from being a son of God, and he had taken his place in nature, among the things which grow only to die; and death began to work in him, and in his children after him. He handed down his nature to his children as the animals do; his children inherited his faults, his weaknesses, his diseases, the seed of death which was in him, just as the animals pass down to their breed, their defects, and diseases, and certainty of dying after their appointed life is past.

      For this, my friends, is the lesson which Adam's fall teaches us, that in God alone is the life of immortal souls, whether of men, or of angels, or of archangels; and in God alone is righteousness; in God alone is every good thing, and all good in men or angels comes from Him, and is only His pattern, His likeness; and that the moment either man or angel sets up his will against God's, he falls into sin, a lie, and death. That He has given us reasonable souls for that one purpose, that with our souls we may look up to Him, with our souls we may cling to Him, with our souls we may trust in Him, with our souls we may understand His will, and see that it is a good, and a right, and a loving will, and delight in it, and obey it, and find all our delight and glory, even as the Lord Jesus, the Son of Man, the New Adam, did, in doing not our own will, but the will of our Father.

      For, as St. Augustine says, man may live in two ways, either according to himself, or according to God; by self-will or by faith. He may determine to do his own will or to do God's will, to be his own master or to let God be his master, to seek his own glory, and try to be something fine and grand in himself: or he may seek God's glory and obey Him, believing that what God commands is the only good for him, what makes God to be honoured in the eyes of his neighbours is the only real honour for him.

      But, says St. Augustine, if he tries to live according to himself, he falls into misery, because he was meant to live according to God. So he puts himself into a lie, into a false and wrong state; and because he has cut himself off from God he falls below what a man should be; and puts on more and more of the likeness of the beast, and is more and more the slave of his own lusts, and passions, and fancies, as the dumb animals are. And, as St. Paul says, the animal man, the carnal man, understands not the things of God. And we need no one to tell us that this is the state of nature which we bring into the world with us. We feel it; from our very childhood, from the earliest time we can recollect, have we not had the longing to do what we liked? to please ourselves, to pride ourselves on ourselves, to set up our own wills against our parents, against what we learnt out of the Bible? Ay, has not this wilful will of ours been so strong, that often we would long after a thing, we would determine to have it, only because we were forbidden to have it; we might not care about the thing when we had it, but we would have our own way just because it was our own way. In short, like Adam, we would be as gods, knowing good and evil, and choosing for ourselves what we should call good and what we shall call evil. And, my dear friends, consider: did not every wrong that we ever did come from this one root of all sin--determining to have our own way? That root-sin of self-will first brought death and misery among mankind; that sin of self-will keeps it up still: that sin of self-will it is which hinders sinners from giving themselves up to God; and that sin must be broken through, or religion is a mockery and a dream.

      Oh my friends, say to yourselves once for all, I was made in God's likeness; and therefore His will, and not my own, I must do. I have no wisdom of my own, no strength of mind of my own, no goodness of my own, no lovingness of my own. God has them all; God, who is wisdom, strength, goodness, love; and I have none. And then, when the fearful thought comes over you: "I have no goodness, and I cannot have any. I cannot do right. There is no use struggling and trying to be better. My passions, my lusts, my fancies are too strong for me. If I am brutish and low, brutish and low I must remain. If I have fallen in Adam, I must lie in the mire till I die--"

      Then, then, my friends, answer yourselves: "No! Not so. Man fell in the first Adam: but man rose again in the second Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ. I belong no more to the old Adam, who fell in Paradise. I belong to the New Adam, who was conceived without sin, and born of a pure virgin, who lived by perfect faith, in perfect obedience, doing His Father's will only, even to the death upon the cross, wherein He took away the sins of the whole world. And now for His sake my original sin, my fallen, brutish nature, is forgiven me. God does not hate me for it. He loves me, because I belong to His Son. My baptism is a witness and a warrant, a sign and a covenant between me and God, that I belong not to old Adam of Paradise, but to the Lord Jesus Christ, who sits at God's right hand. The cross which was signed on my forehead when I was baptised is God's sign to me that I am to sacrifice myself and give up my own will to do God's will, even as the Lord Jesus did when He gave Himself to die, because it was His Father's will. And because I belong to Jesus Christ, because God has called me to be His child, therefore He will help me. He will help me to conquer this low, brutish nature of mine. He will put His Spirit into me, the Spirit of His Son Jesus Christ, that I may trust Him, cry to Him, My Father! that I may love Him; understand His will, and see how good, and noble, and beautiful, and full of peace and comfort it is; delight in obeying Him; glory in sacrificing my own fancies and pleasures for His sake; and find my only honour, my only happiness, in doing His will on earth as saints and angels do it in heaven.

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