Genesis 3:4 Commentary - Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
THE SERPENT BEGUILING EVE
Gen 3:4. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die.
IN reference to the fact before us, St. Paul says, “The serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty.” And great is the subtilty which appears throughout the whole of his conduct on this occasion. He took an opportunity of addressing himself to Eve when she was alone, that so she might become an easier victim to his wiles. He insinuated his temptation first in a way of inquiry only; “Hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree in the garden?” By this he intimated, that she had made some mistake respecting the supposed prohibition, since it was scarcely probable that her Maker, who had granted her every thing else in the garden, should impose such an unnecessary restriction upon her. When, in answer to this, Eve informed him, that not only was the restriction really given, but that it was enforced with the most tremendous sanction that could possibly be imagined, he again insinuated that she must be under a mistake, since it could not be that so good a God should inflict so heavy a judgment for so slight an offence: “Ye shall not surely die.”
Now this is the very temptation with which he has ever since, even to this present hour, assaulted unwary men, and by which he is yet daily ruining millions of the human race. We will therefore endeavour to put you on your guard against it, by shewing,
The falsehood of the suggestion—
Two things were here insinuated, namely, That the threatening was not of such a terrific import as she imagined; and that, whatever it might import, it should not be eventually executed. But in both these things “he lied unto her;” for,
God will fulfil his threatenings to whatsoever they may relate—
[See his threatenings to individuals—Ahab, in dependence on his false prophets, and on Satan who inspired them, thought to come off victorious: but, notwithstanding his device to escape the notice of the Syrians, he was slain, according to the prediction of the prophet Micaiah. Hiel the Bethelite would rebuild the city of Jericho: but did he escape the judgment denounced, many hundred years before, against any person who should presume to make the attempt? Did he not lay the foundation in the death of his first-born, and raise up the gates in the death of his youngest son [Note: Jos 6:26 with 1Ki 16:34.] ? See his threatenings against the whole nation of Israel: Were they not carried captive to Babylon, according to His word? and is not the dispersion of the Jews at this day a proof, that no word of God shall ever fall to the ground? See his threatenings against the whole world—Did not the deluge come according to the prediction, and sweep away every living creature (those only excepted that were in the ark) from the face of the earth? Let us be sure that God is true: and that whatever He has spoken shall surely come to pass.]
He will fulfil them in the extent that is here declared—
[Death temporal, spiritual, and eternal were included in the sentence denounced against transgression: and on our first parents it came, the very day that they ate of the forbidden tree. They did not, it is true, cease on that day to live, because God had purposes to serve by their continuance in life: but the seeds of death were that day implanted in their constitution; and in due time they returned to their native dust. That they died at that very moment a spiritual death, is evident from their conduct: for they foolishly hoped to hide themselves among the trees of the garden from the eyes of the omniscient God; and offered vain excuses for their transgression, instead of humbling themselves for it before God. To eternal death also they were subjected; and to it they would have been consigned, had not God, of his infinite mercy, provided a way of deliverance from it, through that seed of the woman, who was in due time to bruise the serpent’s head. If it be doubted whether God will execute so heavy a judgment on the sinners of mankind, I hesitate not to declare, that he most assuredly will; since he has himself declared it in terms that admit of no reasonable doubt [Note: See Mat 25:46 the Greek—and Mar 9:43-48—and Rev 14:10-11.] —and “he is not a man that he will lie, nor the son of man that he will repent.”]
But since so many are deceived by this suggestion, I will endeavour to shew, more distinctly,
The danger of listening to it—
The effect of this sad delusion is visible in all around us. It is entirely owing to this that Satan retains so many in bondage, and leads them captive at his will.
Hence it is that men make so light of sin—
[Whence is it, I would ask, that men are drawn aside by every temptation, and that for a momentary gratification they will offend their God? Is it not from a secret persuasion, that God will not fulfil his threatenings, and that they may sin against him with impunity? If men saw before their eyes the instruments of torture whereby the violators of a law were to be put to a lingering and cruel death, and knew at the same time that there was no possibility of escape to any one who should transgress the law, would they incur the penalty with the same indifference that they now transgress the laws of God? How much less then would they rush into wretchedness, if they saw hell open before them, and heard the groans of those who are now suffering under the wrath of God? No verily: they would not then “make a mock at sin, but would tremble at it, and flee from it as from the face of a serpent. If then you would be preserved from sin, listen not a moment to this accursed suggestion: and if the whole world should unite in saying, “Ye shall not surely die,” reply to them, “Get thee behind me, Satan,” for “thou art a liar from the beginning.”]
Hence it is also that men make so light of salvation—
[Salvation by Christ is offered to a ruined world. But who believes our report? Who receives it with that gratitude which it might well be expected that a perishing sinner should feel towards his reconciled God and Saviour? With the exception of a few, the whole world regard the Gospel as little better than a cunningly devised fable; so faint are the emotions it excites, and so transient the effects which it produces. And what is the reason of this? Is it not that men do not feel their need of such a Saviour, and that they do not believe that God’s threatenings will ever be executed upon them? Yes: to this source must it be traced: for if they verily believed, that the wrath of God, which is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, would fall upon them, and that all their hope of escaping it was by embracing the Gospel, they would flee to Christ with their whole hearts, and cleave unto him with their whole souls, and not rest a moment till they saw themselves within the gates of the city of refuge. Were they duly sensible of their danger, even a hope, a mere peradventure that God might have mercy upon them, would be sufficient to make them weep before him day and night. Not a word of mercy was mixed in Jonah’s message to Nineveh: yet the most distant hope of mercy was sufficient to encourage that whole city to repent in dust and ashes. What then would not all the promises of the Gospel effect, if men really felt the greatness of their guilt and danger?. It is evident, that all the indifference of men about the Gospel must be traced to this one source, their believing of Satan’s lie in preference to the truth of God: and, if ever the Gospel is to have a saving influence on our hearts, we must begin by rejecting this suggestion of the devil, and by believing that all the threatenings of God against sin and sinners shall assuredly be accomplished.]
Observe then, on the whole,
What need there is of fidelity in ministers—
[Satan at this time, no less than formerly, suggests to men, “Ye shall not surely die:” and his emissaries all the world over are re-echoing the, delusive sound. Every friend we have, father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife, the very instant we begin to dread the wrath of God, unite their endeavours to compose our minds, by saying, ‘There is no such penalty against sin as ye suppose, nor have you any reason to fear that it shall be inflicted on you.’ Our own wicked hearts also are but too ready to adopt a sentiment so gratifying to the mind, and to speak peace to us on insufficient grounds. And what would be the consequence if ministers also favoured such delusions, and, through fear of alarming you, neglected to warn you of your danger? Would not Satan triumph to a far greater extent than he already does? Would he not be secure of his prey? Is not this the very effect produced, wherever the Gospel, instead of being preached with apostolic fidelity, is kept upon the back ground, and modified to the taste of a deluded world? Be thankful then if you hear your guilt and danger faithfully set before you: be thankful, as you would be if a man, seeing your house on fire, roused you from your slumbers, and saved you from death. And, if God have vouchsafed to you this mercy, improve it with all diligence, by fleeing from the wrath to come, and laying hold on eternal life.]
What a mercy it is, that, notwithstanding the truth of God in his threatenings, there is a way o salvation opened for us in the Gospel—
[Yes; God can be true, and yet absolve the sinner from his guilt: for, in Christ Jesus, “Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” The penalty of death has been inflicted upon the Lord Jesus Christ, as the surety and substitute of sinners: and, if we believe in him, all that he has done and suffered for us shall be so imputed to us as to be accepted of God in our behalf, so that God shall be “a just God, and yet a Saviour,” yea “just, and yet the justifier” of sinful man. O blessed tidings! amply sufficient to pacify the most afflicted mind, and to warrant in our hearts the most joyful hope! Brethren, only believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and I will adopt with confidence the very words of Satan, and say, “Ye shall not surely die.” I will go further still, and from a doubtful suggestion turn them to a direct affirmation, and say, ‘Surely ye shall not die.’ So says our blessed Lord himself: “My sheep shall never perish:” St. Paul also says, “There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” On this, therefore, you may rely, with the fullest possible assurance: for, if the threatenings of God shall be fulfilled, so shall also His promises be: not one of them shall ever fail, as long as the world shall stand. Fear not then to see the worst of your state: fear not to acknowledge the extent of your guilt and danger, since the provision for you in Christ Jesus is fully commensurate with your necessities, and suited to your wants. Only believe in Him, and you shall not be ashamed or confounded world without end.]
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Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
Charles Simeon (1759 - 1836) was an English evangelical Anglican cleric.
Horae Homileticae reflects the rich source of Biblical understanding of Simeon, a towering figure in the history of evangelical theology.