THE BEGINNING OF GRACE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-3-46 10:50 a.m.
And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden … And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?
Someone has said that the saddest sentence God ever uttered is this, “Adam, where art thou?” [Genesis 3:9]. Heretofore the man and the woman had met the Lord with heavenly eagerness. They were a happy, innocent pair, and it was always a glad, glorious hour when Jehovah came to talk with them. They had no fear. But now something grievous and sorrowful has happened. The man is afraid [Genesis 3:10]. Both are ashamed. And the Lord calls with a sob in His voice, “O Adam, where art thou, and what hast thou done?” The answer to that heartbroken question is the whole story of sin, and grace, and atonement.
A wise and experienced homiletics professor, teaching his class of young ministers the art of preaching, called upon each one to read this section of the Book of Genesis. As each student stood up to read the passage, the old professor was watchfully waiting. Some read it as though God were simply asking a question, “Adam, where art thou?” Some read it as though God were angry. Some read it as though he were indifferent. But one young preacher read it in pathos, with a sob in his voice, “And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?”
The old professor looked at the youth searchingly and said, “Young man, you will be a great evangelist. God has given you a compassion for the souls of men. When God came into the garden in the cool of the day [Genesis 3:8] and called to the man He had made, God was broken-hearted as He asked where he was and what he had done.”
“But,” one may inquire, “didn’t the Lord God know about the possibility of the Fall before He made the man? [Genesis 3:1-6]. Did He not foresee this transgression and guilt? Then how could the grief of God be sincere and genuine?” It is a reasonable query, and its answer can be found in the hearts of fathers and mothers who rear children in this world. They send them out to live lives of their own, all the while knowing that in their going forth they must face temptation which may prove stronger than they can resist. If their children fall, is the grief of the parents none the less true and sincere because of their foreknowledge? No, no, indeed! Their hearts are still broken when they learn that one of their own has succumbed to the wiles of Satan.
Said the evil one to our first parents, “Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” [Genesis 3:1]. Sin began with a question mark, the questioning of God’s word. The woman repeated the word of the Lord: “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” [Genesis 3:3]. Then followed the first lie. “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die” [Genesis 3:4].
This is the way of the archfiend. He whispers in our hearts, “Yea, doth God say—? God doth not say the truth.” Satan always places an interrogation point after God’s Word. The father of lies says: “Does God say in His Word, ‘Except ye repent of your sins and trust in the Lord, you will certainly die?’ [John 3:36; Acts 20:21]. Yea, does God say that?” Then Satan answers in our hearts, “Ye shall not die.” “Yea,” says Satan, “does God say in His Book, ‘Thou shalt surely die, thou shalt be lost, lost in hell, forever doomed, shut out from heaven?’ [2 Thessalonians 1:7-9] Does God say that?” Then Satan sweetly whispers: “Nay, God does not tell the truth. There is no second death, there is no hell, there is no final judgment, there is no condemnation. God is trying to scare you; He does not tell you what is true.”
God says, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” [Luke 13:3]. But Satan denies, “Nay, God does not tell you the truth. Repentance is an antiquated idea. You can be saved without repentance.” God says, “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” [Acts 4:12]. But Satan denies: “Nay, God is not so strict or straight-laced. He will save all men, whatever they believe; consequently, belief in Christ Jesus is optional. You can be saved without faith in Christ.” Thus does Satan blind the hearts of men and hurl their souls into hell [2 Corinthians 4:4].
The grace of God began in the heart of God. The Lord looked upon this man He had made, a man rebellious, a man who had rather follow the seductive whisperings of the serpent than to heed the word of life. What should God have done in that terrible day of transgression? Surely, not love the transgressor all the more!
The man refused to say: “God shall be my all in all. His Word shall be my light and my life. I will obey His voice. I will walk in His commandments.” No! The man God made rebelled and said: “I will not obey. I will not walk in the way. God said not to touch this thing, but I will touch it. He said not to eat, but I will eat.” In a rebellious spirit he transgressed God’s commandment.
Now, what should God have done? As I reread the story, the thought comes to my heart, why didn’t God destroy him? Why didn’t God annihilate him? Why didn’t God then and there crush him into the dust of the earth; pour him back into that ground out of which he was made?
That same thought comes with overwhelming force as I view the world scene today. All flesh seems to exhibit the same spirit of rebellion and transgression. Men following the counsels of Satan bring upon the world a misery and despair that cry in agony unto heaven. Why doesn’t God reach down out of heaven and destroy the warmongers? Why doesn’t God eradicate communism! Why doesn’t God hurl down out of His heaven those thunderbolts that would subvert the agitators who are ruining the hopes and dreams for the peace of the world? Why do wicked men still live in the presence of the Almighty who rules heaven and earth?
Recently in one of a series of memorial services held for our brave young men who were killed across the waters in World War II, the body of one of our finest Christian boys lay on the cemetery green, ready for reburial, as his dear father and mother and little sister sat nearby, sobbing their hearts out. And I thought: “O God, what of this needless sacrifice? O God, why don’t You reach down and take out of this world all the wicked people who cause such tears and anguish and heartache?” I think the same thing here when I read of the first transgression [Genesis 3:1-6]. “Lord God, why didn’t You stretch forth Your hand and destroy that first sinning couple for disobeying Your commandment and refusing to walk in Your way?”
But no! For the first time the heart of God is revealed, and the occasion of that revelation is the sin and transgression of our first parents [Genesis 3:1-6]. The reason God did not destroy them is that He is a God of mercy, of kindness, of love; “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” [2 Peter 3:9]. Heretofore we have known God as the mighty Creator [Genesis 1:1-2:25]. Until we come to the third chapter of Genesis, the Lord God is revealed as one of might, one of great creative power. In the third chapter of the book we see a new Lord and a new God. He is the Lord of mercy, of love, of forgiveness. He is the God of grace [Genesis 3:1-24].
God is more than creative power, infinite authority, and potential judgment. He is all that, but He is more. God has a heart, and that heart goes out in love and kindness for the man He has made. “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground” [Genesis 2:7]. That was power. “And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?” [Genesis 3:9]. That was grace—the seeking God, the shepherd heart, the father who waits and prays for the prodigal! [Luke 15:11-24]. No one can say what God sees in the lost sinner, nor how much He loves him. Eternity alone will reveal it. But we know that, to God, one lost soul is worth every drop of blood on Calvary, every tear and grief of the Savior’s life [Luke 15:7, 10]. Would God have sent His Son to redeem the material world? A universe? A thousand universes? No, we think not. But He did send His Son to die for you and me that we might be redeemed from our sins [2 Corinthians 5:21]. Oh, the depth of the love and grace and mercy of God!
Marvelous grace of our living Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.
[from “Grace Greater than Our Sin”; Julia H. Johnston, 1911]
Now we come to the merciful plan of redemption, the way of salvation announced here in the beginning of God’s Book. It is called the Protevangelium, “the first gospel,” and this is it: “And the Lord God said unto the serpent [Genesis 3:14] … I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her Seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel” [Genesis 3:15]. “And the Seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head.” Ah, how much, how much, when we come to know what finally and fully that meant! It meant Calvary [Luke 23:33]; it meant the blood of the cross [John 19:28-34]. It meant the coming of Jesus into the world [Matthew 1:20-25]. It meant the crown of thorns [Matthew 27:29], and the atoning blood in the hill called the “Place of a Skull” [Mark 15:22-23]. It was through the deception of the woman that sin came into the world [Genesis 3:1-6]. It was through the conception of the woman, the Seed of the woman, the Son of Mary, that redemption was brought to the fallen race [Matthew 1:18-25]. This “Protevangelium” was the first announcement of the glorious message of the gospel of hope [Genesis 3:15].
This same gospel of blood-bought redemption is prefigured in the twenty-first verse of the third chapter of Genesis: “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them” [Genesis 3:21]. When the man found himself naked, and his wife, they sewed fig leaves together that they might hide their shame. “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons” [Genesis 3:7]. This is a profound impulse in the human heart. All of us have tried to hide away, to cover out of sight the sin and guilt of our lives. But we cannot do it; fig leaves will not cover it up. One reason a desperately wicked man is sometimes a leader in some of the noble philanthropies and charities of the community is because he seeks to cover up the hideousness, the gross sensuality of his life. He may succeed too in his attempt to hide from the sight of man his guilt. Fig leaves may suffice to cover up our sins from human eyes, but in the presence of the Almighty who knoweth all things, how empty and shallow are those attempts! It takes something more than man-made aprons, good works, generous deeds, to hide away sin.
Somewhere in the garden of Eden the Lord God slew the first sacrificial victim, an innocent animal that had nothing to do with the transgression of the guilty pair. Somewhere in the paradise of Eden the ground drank the blood of the first offering for sin, and from that harmless and blameless creature a coat was made to cover up the shame and the nakedness of the man and his wife [Genesis 3:21]. It is a picture of the covering, the atonement, the washing away of our sins in the sacrificial victim on the cross of Calvary [Matthew 27:32-50].
The chapter ends with this final word: “And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as One of Us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever: therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed at the east of the garden of Eden cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life” [Genesis 3:22-24]. What could that mean; the tree of life is taken from the man “lest he put forth his hand, and eat, and live forever” [Genesis 3:22]. It means that had the man in his sin eaten of the tree of life, he would have lived forever in his sin, in his wretchedness and misery. He would have been confirmed in his sin; and confirmation in sin is eternal hell. He would have lived forever in a body of death, a frail body that is forever perishing, subject to all the ills and hurts that flesh is heir to. Death is given to man as a privilege and a release, that he might die to this life of sin and live to God forever [Romans 6:11]. Revelation 9:6 describes the torment and horror of men who seek death and cannot find it. “And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.” Death was a merciful provision on the part of the Lord God, and any man who lives long enough will come to recognize in the summons of the pale horseman a release from bodily affliction that ultimately grows unendurable.
One time a dear friend of mine asked me to lead a revival meeting in his church. I gladly accepted the invitation and was a guest in his home for the duration of the campaign. During those days I learned of a great sorrow that had broken the hearts of the couple. Their only son, a boy of thirteen years, became desperately ill of a dreadful disease. The lad suffered untold agonies as his body was torn with convulsions. Then the day came that the boy died. I asked my friend, “Didn’t it nearly tear your heart out when the day came for the boy to die?”
“No,” replied my pastor friend. “No, it was not that way at all. Our boy was so sick, suffering so intensely, that I went down on my knees by his bed and prayed to God that, if it could be His will, He would not let him suffer any longer. I prayed God to take him to heaven, to let him be released; his suffering was too great. And when our boy died a great burden was lifted from our hearts because of his merciful release.”
It is thus that death comes to man, that the tree of life has been removed from our grasp, “lest we eat, and live forever” [Genesis 3:22], live forever in this frail body of pain and sorrow.
There is a way back to God, back to the tree of life, back to the paradise of God our Savior. “And … [the Lord God] placed at the east of the garden of Eden cherubim” [Genesis 3:24]. In every instance where the cherubim are mentioned, they are connected with, and are symbols of, the divine mercy and grace. They are not ministers of vengeance; they are not messengers of judgment. In the Holy of Holies was the ark of the covenant. On the top of the ark of the covenant was the mercy seat. On each side of the mercy seat were the cherubim, their eyes full upon it, their wings covering it [Exodus 25:17-20]. Between them the shekinah, the fire of the glory and the presence of God [Exodus 25:22]. To that altar came the high priest, with blood of atonement [Leviticus 16:14], and there the mercy and forgiveness of the Holy One met the repentance and confession of man [Leviticus 16:2].
It was so on the east side of the garden of Eden after the man had been driven out [Genesis 3:23]. The man who was rebellious and self-willed in the garden of Eden was invited back, in repentance and faith, to bow, to worship, to come home, to find peace, to seek forgiveness and shelter at the altar of the mercy of God; the cherubim are there, symbols of the divine love and grace [Genesis 3:24]. The shekinah glory is there, the pointed, lambent flame that keeps open the way to the tree of life [Genesis 3:24]. The altar of God is there, the place of prayer and of worship; and God Himself is there, ready to receive the humble penitent in mercy and forgiveness [Proverbs 3:34]. O my friend, will you not come to Him now?
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love, and power.
Let the deepest answer of our hearts be,
I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
Oh, there are ten thousand charms.
[from “Come Ye Sinners”; Joseph Hart, 1759]
It is the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. Here it is in the first part of the first book of the Bible—the Protevangelium, the first announcement [Genesis 3:15]. The grace of God is freely and fully given to all who come to Him with humble and contrite hearts.