"Now the serpent was more subtile than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die. For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat."--GENESIS iii. 1-6.
Here is a lesson for us all. You and I, and all men brought into the world with us a nature which fell in Adam; and, as it fell before we were born, it is certain enough to fall, again and again, after we are born, in this life; ay, and unless we take care, to fall lower and lower, every day, acting Adam's sin over again, until we surely die. This is what I mean--What God said to Adam and Eve, He says to every one of us. And what the devil said to Adam and Eve, he will say to every one of us.
First. God says to us, "Of all the trees of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat, lest thou die."
Of all the trees of the garden thou mayest freely eat. God grudges you nothing good for you. He has put you into this good and pleasant world, where you will find pleasures enough, and comforts enough, to satisfy you, if you are wise; but there are things which God has forbidden you, not out of any spite or arbitrariness, but because they are bad for you; because they will hurt you if you indulge in them, and sooner or later, kill both body and soul.
Now, many of those wrong things look pleasant enough, and reasonable enough, as the forbidden fruit did. Pleasant to the eyes and good for food--and to be desired to make you wise. As people grow up and go out into life, they are tempted to do many things which their parents forbid, which the Bible forbids, which the law of the land forbids, and they do not understand at first why they are forbidden any more than Adam and Eve understood why they were not to eat of the forbidden fruit.
Then the devil (who is always trying to slander God to us) whispers to them, as he did to Eve, "How unreasonable! how hard on you. People say that this is wrong, and you must not do it, and yet how pleasant it must be! How much money you might get by it--how much wiser, and cleverer, and more able to help yourself you would become, if you went your own way, and did what you like. Surely God is hard on you, and grudges you pleasure. Never mind--don't be afraid. Surely you can judge best what is good for you. Surely you know your own business best. Use your own common sense and do what you like, and what you think will profit you. Are you to be a slave to old rules which your parents or the clergyman taught you?"
So says the devil to every young man as he goes out in life. And to many, alas!--to many, the devil's words sound reasonable enough; they flatter our fallen nature, they flatter our pride and our self-will, and make us fancy we are going up hill, and becoming very fine and manly, and independent and knowing. "Knowing"! How many a young man have I seen run into sin just that he might be knowing; and say, "Why should I not see life for myself? Why should I not know the world, and try what is good, and how I like that, and what is bad too, and how I like that--and then choose for myself like a man, instead of being kept in like a baby?"
So he says exactly what Adam and Eve said in their hearts--"I will eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil." He says in his heart, too, just what Solomon the wise said, when he, too, determined to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge.
Ay, young people, who love to see the world, and to choose for yourselves, read that Book of Ecclesiastes, the saddest book on earth, and get a golden lesson in every verse of it. See how Solomon determined to see life, from the top to the bottom of it. How he "gave his heart to know, seek, and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit," (Eccles. i. 13).
And then, how he turned round and gave his heart to know mirth, and madness, and folly, and see whether that was good for him, and, "I said of laughter, it is mad: and of mirth, what doeth it?" (Eccles. ii. 2-26). And then he gave himself to wine and revelling, and after that to riches, and pomp, and glory, and music, and the "fine arts," as we call them. "I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits: I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees: I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me: I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts. So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me." And what was the end? "Then I looked on all the works that my hand had done, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and behold all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun." Therefore, he says, that he hated all the labour he had taken under the sun, because he must leave it to the men who came after him, and found out at last, after years of labour and sorrow, trying to make himself happy with this and that, and finding no rest with any of them, that the conclusion of the whole matter was to "Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or evil" (Eccles. xii. 13).
So said Solomon--and God knows, my dear friends, God knows, he said truly. Ay, and I know it to be true; and I entreat you this day, in God's name, to hear the conclusion of the whole matter. All this you will find out by eating of the tree of knowledge, and "seeing life," and going your own way, and falling into sin, and smarting for it, for weary years, in anxiety and perplexity, and shame, and sorrow of heart.
All that you will find out thereby--all that Solomon found out thereby,--is just what you know already, and nothing more--just what you have been taught ever since you could speak. "Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man." Why buy your own experience dear, when you can get it gratis, for nothing already?
Yes; a simple, godly, industrious life, doing the duty which lies nearest you, avoiding sin as you would an adder, because it is sure sooner or later to sting you, if you touch it, is the straight road, and the only road, to happiness, either in this life, or in the life to come. Pleasure and amusement, drinking and jollity, will not make you happy. Money will not make you happy. Cleverness, and cunning, and knowledge of the world will not make you happy. Scholarship and learning will not. But plain, simple righteousness, simply doing right, will.
Do right then and be happy. Obey God's commandments, and you will find that His commandments are Life, and in the pathway thereof there is no death.
Make up your minds to do right, to be right, to keep right by the help of God's Right and Holy Spirit, in the right road. Make up your minds whether you will go through the world in God's way, or your own way--whether you will taste what God has forbidden, and so destroy yourselves, or obey Him and live with Him in bliss. The longer you delay, the more difficult you will find it. Make up your minds now, and ask God to teach you His own heavenly wisdom which is a Tree of Life to all that lay hold on it.