The Fall of Man
We have hitherto seen man as God created him, upright and happy. But here we behold a sad reverse; the introduction of moral evil into our world, the source of all our misery.
There can be no doubt but that the serpent was used as an instrument of Satan, who hence is called “that old serpent, the devil.” The subtlety of this creature might answer his purposes. The account of the serpent speaking to the woman might lead us to a number of curious questions, on which, after all, we might be unable to obtain satisfaction. Whether we are to understand this, or the temptations of our Lord in the wilderness, as spoken in an audible voice, or not, I shall not take upon me to decide. Whatever may be said of either case, it is certain, from the whole tenor of Scripture, that evil spirits have, by the Divine permission, access to human minds; not indeed so as to be able to impel us to sin without our consent; but it may be in some such manner as men influence each other’s minds to evil. Such seems to be the proper idea of a tempter. We are conscious of what we choose; but are scarcely at all acquainted with the things that induce choice. We are exposed to innumerable influences; and have therefore reason to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil!”
With respect to the temptation itself, it begins by calling in question the truth of God.—Is it true that God has prohibited any tree?—Can it be? For what was it created?—Such are the inquiries of wicked men to this day. “For what are the objects of pleasure made,” say they, “but to be enjoyed? Why did God create meats and drinks, and dogs and horses? What are appetites for, but to be indulged?” We might answer, among other things, to try them who dwell on the earth.
It seems also to contain an insinuation that if man must not eat of every tree, he might as well eat of none. And thus discontent continues to overlook the good, and pores upon the one thing wanting. “All this availeth me nothing, so long as Mordecai is at the gate.”
Ver. 2, 3. The answer of Eve seems to be very good at the outset. She very properly repels the insinuation against the goodness of God, as though, because he had withheld one tree, he had withheld, or might as well have withheld, all. “No,” says he, “we may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: there is only one withheld.” She also, with equal propriety and decision, repelled the doubt which the tempter had raised respecting the prohibition of that one. The terms by which she expresses it show how clearly she understood the mind of God, and what an impression his command had made upon her mind: “Of the fruit of this tree, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it; neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die!” We do not read that they were forbidden to touch it; but she understood a prohibition of eating to contain a prohibition of touching. And this exposition of the woman, while upright, affords a good rule to us. If we would shun evil, we must shun the appearance of it, and all the avenues which lead to it. To parley with temptation is to play with fire. In all this Eve sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.
Ver. 4, 5. The wily serpent now proceeds to a second attack. Mark the progress of the temptation. At the outset he only suggested his doubts; but now he deals in positive assertion. In this manner the most important errors creep into the mind. He who sets off with apparently modest doubts will often be seen to end in downright infidelity.
The positivity of the tempter might be designed to oppose that of the woman. She is peremptory; he also is peremptory; opposing assertion to assertion. This artifice of Satan is often seen in his ministers. Nothing is more common than for the most false and pernicious doctrines to be advanced with a boldness that stuns the minds of the simple, and induces a doubt: “Surely I must be in the wrong, and they in the right, or they could not be so confident.”
Yet the tempter, it is observable, does not positively deny that God might have said so and so; for this would have been calling in question the veracity of Eve, or denying what she knew to be true; which must have defeated his end. But he insinuates that, whatever God might have said, which he would not now dispute, it would not in the end prove so. Satan will not be so un-polite as to call in question either the honour or the understanding of Eve, but scruples not to make God a liar; yea, and has the impudence to say that God knew that, instead of proving an evil, it would be a benefit. Alas, how often has man been flattered by the ministers of Satan at God’s expense! Surely we need not be at a loss in judging whence those doctrines proceed which invalidate the Divine threatenings, and teach sinners going on still in their trespasses, “Ye shall not surely die.” Nor those which lead men to consider the Divine prohibitions as aimed to diminish their happiness; or, which is the same thing, to think it rigid or hard that we should be obliged to comply with them. And those doctrines which flatter our pride, or provoke a vain curiosity to pry into things unseen, proceed from the same quarter. By aspiring to be a god, man became too much like a devil; and where human reason takes upon itself to set aside revelation, the effects will continue to be much the same.
Ver. 6. This poison had effect … the woman paused … looked at the fruit … it began to appear desirable … she felt a wish to be wise … in short, she took of the fruit … and did eat! But was she not alarmed when she had eaten? It seems not; and feeling no such consequences follow as she perhaps expected, ventured even to persuade her husband to do as she had done; and with her persuasion he complied. The connexion between sin and misery is certain, but not always immediate: its immediate effects are deception and stupefaction, which commonly induce the party to draw others into the same condition.
It does not appear that Adam was deceived; but the woman only, 1 Tim. 2:14. He seems to have sinned with his eyes open, and perhaps from love to his wife. It was the first time, but not the last, in which Satan has made use of the nearest and tenderest parts of ourselves, to draw our hearts from God. Lawful affection may become a snare. If the nearest relation or friend tempt us to depart from God, we must not hearken. When the woman had sinned against God, it was the duty of her husband to have disowned her for ever, and to have left it to his Creator to provide for his social comfort; but a fond attachment to the creature overcame him. He hearkened to her voice, and plunged headlong into her sin.
Ver. 7. And now, having both sinned, they began to be sensible of its effects. Conscious innocence has forsaken them. Conscious guilt, remorse, and shame possess them. Their eyes are now opened indeed, as the tempter had said they would be; but it is to sights of woe. Their naked bodies, for the first time, excite shame; and are emblems of their souls; which, stripped of their original righteousness, are also stripped of their honour, security, and happiness.
To hide their outward nakedness, they betake themselves to the leaves of the garden. This, as a great writer observes, was “to cover, not to cure.” And to what else is all the labour of sinners directed? Is it not to conceal the bad, and to appear what they are not, that they are continually studying and contriving? And being enabled to impose upon one another, they with little difficulty impose upon themselves, “trusting in themselves that they are righteous, and despising others.” But all is mere show, and when God comes to summon them to his bar will prove of no account.
Excerpt from: Expository Discourses on the Book of Genesis, Discourse 3, “The Fall of Man.”
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Expositions—Miscellaneous. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 3, pp. 10–12). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.