Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8

The Fall of Man and its Consequences

The Fall of Man and its Consequences.

This Earth, our dwelling place, was, according to the conceptions of the ancient Israelites, so firmly fixed, that it could not be moved (Psalms xciii. 1, civ. 5); above it was the firmament or strong-vault to divide the waters from the waters (Genesis i. 6); and in that firmament were set the Sun or greater light to rule the day, the Moon or lesser light to rule the night, and the stars. Earth, sun, moon and stars—such is the order in which they were ranked according to a Hebrew's estimate of their relative importance. It were futile to cavil at these simple and primitive notions. For how could men upon whom the light of Science had not yet dawned conclude otherwise? When David looked out upon the star-spangled sky at nightfall, what other idea could he form than that those brilliant points of light were page 129 made for the advantage and to excite the admiration of the dwellers upon earth? It is sometimes said that the present age has grown too materialistic, and that the progress of Science has divested Nature of all its poetry; others, again, affirming that the Bible, and nothing but the Bible, is required to give men adequate conceptions of God and of the Universe whereby we see him; the truth, however, is, that the revelations of modern Science are as much beyond the conceptions of the biblical writers as the genius of Sir Isaac Newton at the age of sixty was beyond the intelligence of the child Newton at six. For we know that the earth, whirled through space at the inconceivable velocity of 1,500,000 miles a day, is but one, and that by no means the largest of the planets revolving about the central body of our system, which we call the sun. We know, further, that the sun itself is but one of myriads of similar bodies dispersed through the immensity of space—each, probably, the centre, like our own luminary, of a system of revolving planets—which we call stars; the nearest of them being at a distance so vast, that the motion of our globe in its orbit, 185,000,000 miles in diameter, makes no perceptible difference in their relative positions towards each other as viewed by terrestrial observers. And, then, when we reflect that the pointing of a powerful telescope towards the heavens discloses everywhere new groups of stars, each group consisting in all probability of a countless multitude of solar systems, surely David had far less reason than we ourselves have to say, "The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheweth his handiwork!" or, again, "Lord, what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou visitest him!"

Upon this atom of a globe, then, there was placed, according to the common belief, about six thousand years ago, a human pair, from whom are descended all the men and women now in existence. The tradition is that they were created in perfect purity and happiness. But almost the first thing we read of Adam and Eve is, that they met with a clever-talking serpent, which beguiled them of their innocence and of their happiness at the same time, by exposing the weakness of their obedience to a divine command. Curious to think of, this. Is there, then, a man or woman, or even a child, that is not daily called upon to resist temptation, to put aside the suggestions of appetite, to practice in real earnest a virtue which, however contemptible in the eyes of theologians, is certainly stronger and truer than the alleged immaculate righteousness of the first human pair? A virtue which yields to the first attack is no virtue at all. A virtue that cannot be "carried of the spirit into grim solitudes, and there confronting the Tempter do grimmest battle with him; defiantly setting him at naught, till he yield and fly," is assuredly not that which nerved the souls of Paul, Socrates and Christ, page 130 and from which, in a word, humanity derives more than half its dignity and history all its power.

We have spoken of the Tempter of Adam and his partner as a clever-talking serpent; for it is clear that the Jews had for many generations no notion of the personage that figures so prominently in the Christian theology as the great enemy of souls, and whose machinations the modern preacher so readily turns to account in his raids on human nature. The word "devil" does not occur in the Old Testament; nor is there any mention from Genesis to Malachi of a rebellion among the Angels antecedent to the creation of man, made so familiar to us by the genius of Milton. And yet if English lawyers thought it right in drawing up an indictment against an accused person, to allege "the instigation of the devil" as an incentive to crime—as was the case in former times,—the author of the Pentateuch had ample reason for arraigning his satanic majesty had he suspected the existence of such a being. Murder and drunkenness, incest and adultery, crimes and misdemeanours, in fact, of every description, are scattered freely over the pages of the Old Testament; but it is not said or even hinted that the devil tempted Cain, or Lot's daughters, or Jacob, or Joseph's brethren. Nay, if a tempter is mentioned at all, it is Jehovah himself who is conceived of as hardening people in their evil courses. We read, it is true, of spirits whom wizards and witches could summon to their assistance; of spirits also who were commissioned by Jehovah to lead men like Ahab into mischief and precipitate their ruin. King Saul, too, is said to have been troubled by an evil spirit; but there are strong reasons for believing that the demon, in his case, belonged to the order of devils which we English anathematise as "blue," and our French friends as "ennui;" a form of demoniacal possession, by the way, from which none of us, perhaps, are altogether exempt. But of spirits in open rebellion against God, trying to urge men to evil because it is contrary to his will, and exulting in it for that very reason, like the fiends pourtrayed by Milton, there is in the Old Testament no trace whatever. Twice only, in the English version, a personage is introduced to our notice under the name of "Satan," or "the adversary;" but in what capacity? In the book of Job he is exhibited not in the character of a rebellious angel, but rather as a cynical philosopher at the "Court of Jehovah, a sort of Sir Robert Walpole among the spirits, who has learned a thing or two in his time, and seen too deeply into the springs of human action to believe in disinterested piety: a point which he does not scruple to contest with Jehovah himself. His sarcastic inquiry, "Doth Job serve God for nought?" pointedly insinuates that Job's vaunted integrity is merely the feudal service due from a baron to his liege lord, the tenure by which he holds his lands. In the other passage (1 Chron. xxi. 1) "the adversary" is represented as page 131 urging David to number the people, by which proceeding the king is said to have incurred the anger of Jehovah. On referring, however, to the parallel passage (2 Sam. xxiv. 1.), we find that the Lord himself was "the adversary" who impelled David to take the census. Indeed, the arbitrary manner in which the word "Satan" is translated in our English Version, sometimes as a general term, sometimes with a special meaning, is, in itself a striking example of the artifice with which theologians contrive to square their favourite dogmas with the biblical writings. We read, for example, in the story for Balaam, that the "Angel of the Lord stood in the way for an adversary against him;" but in this instance, it is not Satan but the Angel of the Lord that confronts the weak-minded and vacillating prophet.

But if the popular Christian theology has put an unwarrantable strain upon the biblical narrative as it stands, by greatly distorting its account of the moral condition of the first human pair, and by linking with it a conception—the conception of a Devil—of which the Jews for centuries after the time of Moses knew nothing whatever, it has done a still greater injustice to the scriptural account of the fall of man, and the consequences thereof. Milton, indeed, represents all nature as having felt a pang at the moment of the fatal transgression; but the narrative in Genesis gives us no hint of this remarkable disturbance. True, the earth is so far cursed that it is destined to bear thorns and thistles; and man so far degraded that he is doomed to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow; i.e., to work for an honest living. It so happens, however, that the earth abounds in localities, chiefly in tropical climates, where men, despite the primeval curse, can get food and raiment in abundance without turning a sod. Perhaps there is no district so nearly approaching our conceptions of Eden as that of the Fiji group and other islands of the Southern Seas, as, on the other hand, there is no district more unlike the traditional Paradise than that of "Caledonia stern and wild." Must we go, then, to the Fijis to find our highest type of man and to Scotland for our lowest? If not, if on the contrary Scotchmen are amongst the most enterprising and energetic of men, and the Fijians as much the reverse, what is there to prevent us from concluding that the curse said to have been pronounced upon Adam and his descendants was in reality the choicest of blessings in disguise? As for that part of the curse which particularly concerned Eve and her daughters, the pains of child-birth, it is sufficient to remark that the women of savage tribes are next to exempt from them; so that we must either believe that the curse at some time ceased to operate, or that some races of mankind derive their origin from a different pair of progenitors.

But the curse as it stands pourtrayed in the biblical narrative is far too light for orthodox theologians. It is their wont to represent mankind as being reduced by that one act of page 132 disobedience to a state of total depravity, "an infection of nature, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to do evil." If, however, we cast aside the creeds and take a rational view of the history and constitution of human nature, we find no proof of this innate and insurmountable tendency to evil. It is all pure assumption to suit a theory. Without committing ourselves to the details of Phrenology, we strongly incline to the science on the strength of its main principle that none of our mental or moral propensities are essentially or primarily corrupt. The greatest criminal that ever astonished mankind by his enormities is only an example of the preponderance of propensities which, when subordinated to reason and conscience, are not merely allowable, but good and necessary to the full development of human nature. Obstinacy, cruelty, deceit and lust we call vices; modified by reason and conscience, the same qualities become firmness, courage, sagacity and love. Too much self-esteem degenerates into pride; too little self-esteem sinks into weakness and irresolution. And when we consider the ignorance of parents and the neglect of society, it is not to be wondered at that a large proportion of mankind, accustomed to live as mere animals, struggling for existence and for the gratification of their animal appetites, should break through the restraints of law, for which they have no innate regard, and become criminals. Nay, if man by the fall became utterly depraved, it is indeed strange that nations like the ancient Greeks and Romans, or the modern Japanese and Chinese, left so long to themselves, unaided by that Revelation which is regarded by most Christians as the be-all and end-all of religion and morality, should not have lapsed into the lowest depths of iniquity. But orthodoxy spares neither youth nor age; and nowhere does Original Sin show its peculiar hideousness than in the doom which it coolly contemplates as awaiting unbaptised infants. It is hard to prove rationally that the world is a wreck, quite put out of gear by the supposed fall of man, and it is hard to prove that man is naturally incapable of good; but what rational proof can be adduced in favour of the dogma that pure and innocent buds of humanity are by nature "children of wrath?" Truly is this the choicest product of the theological tree. Jesus, indeed, could reflect that a mother forgetteth all her pains for joy that a child is born into the world; but theology would have her tremble with fear and anxiety for that her darling is born under a curse, and unless brought immediately within the pale of grace by the magical rite of baptism has no security against the wrath of God. What else is implied in the Anglican Rubric when it affirms "that children which are baptised dying before they commit actual sin are undoubtedly saved?" What of those which are not baptised?

Here we pause. We have not spoken so strongly as we might against the figments we have been considering. They seem to page 133 us so monstrous as merely to require stating broadly in their naked repulsiveness in order to excite the disgust and horror of unsophisticated minds. We of the present age sometimes look back with astonishment at the doings and beliefs of our ancestors. Although quite willing to allow that there lived in those olden times a host of men and women kind and honest, truth-loving and virtuous, we can but wonder so much the more at their coarse and brutal amusements,—bull-baiting, cock-fighting, bear-baiting, duelling, prizefighting, and similar sports. But we may be sure that years hence posterity will marvel how the kind, honest, truth-loving and virtuous folk of the present era could have believed, or professed to believe, in an everlasting fiery hell, presided over by a rebellious spirit, and stocked with countless millions of his human victims, including some of the wisest and best of mankind, and little infants whom the priest did not sprinkle. Most of all they will wonder that these astounding doctrines should have been foisted upon mankind as the religion of the benevolent Jesus of Nazareth; that they should have been propagated as a divine revelation of good tidings to humanity; and that the supposed origin of these doctrines should have been celebrated by a great annual festival, with ringing of bells, and with public and private congratulations.