Practical Christian Theology
Guest Writer Thomas DeWitt Talmage
“The Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh; and from the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made He a woman, and brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:21, 22).
It is the first Saturday afternoon in the world’s existence. Since sunrise Adam has been watching the brilliant pageantry of wings, scales, and clouds, and in his first lessons in zoology [study of animals], ornithology [study of birds], and ichthyology [study of fish] he has noticed that the robins fly in twos, that the fish swim the water in twos, and that the lions walk the fields in twos. And in the warm redolence [suggestion] of that Saturday afternoon he falls into slumber; and as if by allegory, to teach all ages that the greatest of earthly blessings is sound sleep, this paradisaical somnolence ends with the discovery on the part of Adam of a newly-arrived corresponding intelligence—Eve, “the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20), the first, the fairest, and the best.
I make me a garden. I inlay the paths with mountain moss, and I border them with pearls from Ceylon and diamonds from Golconda. Here and there are fountains tossing in the sunlight, and ponds that ripple under the paddling of the swans. I gather lilies from the Amazon, orange groves from the tropics, and tamarinds from Goyaz. There are woodbine and honeysuckle climbing over the wall, and starred spaniels sprawling themselves on the grass. I invite among these trees the larks, the brown thrushes, the robins, and the brightest birds of heaven; and they stir the air with infinite chirp and carol.
And yet, the place is a desert filled with darkness and death as compared with the residence of the woman of the text, the subject of my morning story. Never since have such skies looked down through such leaves into such waters! Never has river wave had such curve, sheen, and bank as adorned the Pison, the Havilah, the Gihon, and the Hiddakel (Genesis 2:10-14), even the pebbles being bdellium and onyx stone! What fruit, with no curculio [pest] to sting the rind! What flowers, with no slug to gnaw the root! What atmosphere, with no frost to chill and with no heat to consume! Bright colors tangled in the grass. Perfume in the air. Music in the sky. Bird’s warble, tree’s hum, and waterfall’s dash. Great scene of gladness, love, and joy.
Right there under a bower of leaf, vine, and shrub occurred the first marriage. Adam took the hand of this immaculate daughter of God and pronounced the ceremony when he said: “Bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23).
A forbidden tree stood in the middle of that exquisite park. Eve sauntering out one day alone looks up at the tree, sees the beautiful fruit, wonders if it is sweet, wonders if it is sour, and standing there, says, “I think I will just put my hand on the fruit. It will do no damage to the tree. I will not take the fruit to eat. I will just take it down to examine it.”
She examined the fruit. She said, “I do not think there can be any harm in my just breaking the rind.”
She put the fruit to her teeth, she tasted, she invited Adam also to taste. The door of the world opened, and the monster Sin entered. Let the heavens gather blackness. Let the winds sigh on the bosom of the hills. Let cavern, desert, earth, and sky join in one long, deep, hell-rending howl: “THE WORLD IS LOST!”
Beasts that before were harmless and full of play put forth claw, sting, tooth, and tusk. Birds whet their beak for prey. Clouds troop in the sky. Sharp thorns shoot up through the soft grass. Blastings appear on the leaves. All the chords of that great harmony are snapped. On the brightest home this world ever saw our first parents turned their back and led forth on a path of sorrow the brokenhearted myriads of a ruined race.
Do you not see, in the first place, the danger of a poorly regulated inquisitiveness? She wanted to know how the fruit tasted. She found out, but 6,000 years have deplored that unhealthy curiosity.
Healthy curiosity has done a great deal for art and letters, for science and philosophy. It has gone down into the depths of the earth with the geologist and seen the first chapter of Genesis written in the book of nature, illustrated with engraving on rock. It has stood with the antiquarian while he blew the trumpet of resurrection over buried Herculaneum and Pompeii, until from their sepulcher came up shaft, terrace, and amphitheater.
Healthy curiosity has enlarged the telescopic vision of the astronomer until worlds hidden in the distant heavens have trooped forth and joined the choir praising the Lord. Planet weighed against planet and wildest comet lassoed with resplendent law.
Healthy curiosity has gone down and found the tracks of the eternal God in the polypi and the starfish under the sea and the majesty of the great Jehovah encamped under the gorgeous curtains of the dahlia. It has studied the spots on the sun, the larvæ in a beech leaf, the light under firefly’s wing, and the terrible eye glance of a condor pitching from Chimborazo [highest peak in the Andes]. It has studied the myriads of animals that make up the phosphorescence [light, cf bioluminescence, foxfire] in a ship’s wake, and the mighty maze of suns, spheres, constellations, and galaxies that blaze on in the march of God.
Healthy curiosity has stood by the inventor until forces that were hidden for ages came to wheels, levers, shafts, and shuttles—forces that fly the air, swim the sea, or cleave the mountain until the earth jars, roars, rings, crackles, and booms, with strange mechanism, and ships with nostrils of hot steam and yokes of fire draw the continents together.
I say nothing against healthful curiosity. May it have other Leyden jars, other electric batteries, other voltaic piles, and other magnifying glasses with which to storm the barred castles of the natural world until it surrender its last secret. We thank God for the geological curiosity of Professor Edward Hitchcock, the mechanical curiosity of Justus von Liebig, the zoölogical curiosity of George Cuvier, and the inventive curiosity of Thomas Edison; but we must admit that unhealthful and irregular inquisitiveness has rushed thousands and tens of thousands into ruin.
Eve merely tasted the fruit. She was curious to find out how it tasted, and that curiosity blasted her, us, and everybody. So there are clergy in this day inspired by unhealthful inquisitiveness, who have tried to look through the keyhole of God’s mysteries, mysteries that were barred and bolted from all human inspection, and they have wrenched their whole moral nature out of joint by trying to pluck fruit from branches beyond their reach, or have come out on limbs of the tree from which they have tumbled into ruin without remedy.
A thousand trees of religious knowledge from which we may eat and get advantage; but from certain trees of mystery how many have plucked their ruin! Election, free will, Trinity, Resurrection—in the discussion of these legitimate subjects hundreds and thousands of people ruin the soul. There are men who have actually been kept out of the kingdom of heaven because they could not understand who Melchisedec (cf Genesis 14:17-24; Hebrews 5:10; 6:20; 7:1-28) was not!
Oh, how many have been destroyed by an unhealthy inquisitiveness! It is seen in all directions. There are those who stand with the eye-stare and mouth-gape of curiosity. They are the first to hear a falsehood, build it another story high and add two wings to it. About other people’s apparel, about other people’s business, about other people’s financial condition, about other people’s affairs, they are overanxious. Every nice piece of gossip stops at their door, and they fatten and luxuriate in the endless round of the great world of tittle-tattle. They invite and sumptuously entertain at their house Colonel Twaddle, Esquire Chitchat, and Governor Smalltalk.
Whoever has an innuendo, whoever has a scandal, whoever has a valuable secret, let him come and sacrifice it to this goddess of splutter. Thousands of Adams and Eves do nothing but eat fruit that does not belong to them. Men well known as mathematicians fail in computing moral algebra: good sense plus good breeding, minus curiosity, equals minding your own affairs!
Then, how many young men through curiosity go through the whole realm of French novels, to see whether they are as bad as moralists have pronounced them! They come near the verge of the precipice just to look off. They want to see how far down it really is, but they lose their balance while they look, and fall into remediless ruin; or, catching themselves, clamber up, bleeding and ghastly, on the rock, gibbering with curses or groaning ineffectual prayer. By all means encourage healthful inquisitiveness, by all means discourage ill-regulated curiosity.
The subject of the morning also impresses me with the fact that fruit sweet to the taste may afterward produce great agony. Forbidden fruit for Eve was so pleasant she invited her husband also to take of it; but her banishment from Paradise, and 6,000 years of sorrow, wretchedness, war, and woe paid for that luxury. Sin may be sweet at the start (cf Proverbs 9:17, 18), but it culminates in great wretchedness.
The cup of sin is sparkling at the top, but there is death at the bottom. Intoxication has great exhilaration for a while. It fillips [stimulates] the blood. It makes a man see five stars where others see one. It makes the poor man rich, and turns white cheeks red as roses. But what about the dreams that come after, when he seems falling from great heights, or is prostrated by other fancied disasters, and the perspiration stands on the forehead, the night dew of everlasting darkness, and he is ground under the horrible hoof of nightmares shrieking with lips that crackle with all-consuming torture?
“Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth, and walk in the ways of your heart and in the sight of your eyes; but know, that for all these things God will bring you into judgement” (Ecclesiastes 11:9)! Sweet at the start, horrible at the last.
Go into that hall of revelry, where ungodly mirth staggers and blasphemes. Listen to the senseless gabble, see the last trace of intelligence dashed out from faces made in God’s own image.
“Aha! aha!” says the roistering [riotous] inebriate. “This is joy for you; fill high your cups, my boys. I drink to my wife’s misery, my children’s rags, and my God’s defiance.”
And he knows not that a fiend stirs the goblet in his hand and that adders uncoil from the dregs and thrust their forked tongues hissing through the froth on the rim. Perdition bought for a sixpence!
The Philistines jeered, laughed, and shouted at Samson (Judges 16:21-31). Oh, they wanted him to make sport for them, and he made sport for them! How bright and jolly was the scene for a little while! After a while the giant puts one hand against this pillar, the other hand against that pillar, bows himself, and 3,000 merrymakers are mashed like grapes in a winepress. Sin rapturous at the start, awful at the last.
That one Edenic transgression did not seem to be much, but it struck a blow that to this day makes the earth stagger like an ox under a butcher’s bludgeon. To find out the consequences of that one sin, you would have to compel the world to throw open all its prison doors and display the crime, throw open all its hospitals and display the disease, throw open all the insane asylums and show the wretchedness, open all the sepulchers and show the dead, and open all the doors of the lost world and show the damned.
That one Edenic transgression stretched chords of misery across the heart of the world and struck them with dolorous [sorrowful] wailing, and it has seated the plagues on the air and the shipwrecks on the tempest, and fastened like a leech famine to the heart of the sick and dying nations. Beautiful at the start, horrible at the last. Oh, how many have experienced it!
And there are those who are “lovers of pleasure” (2 Timothy 3:4). Let me warn you, my brother. Your pleasure boat is far from shore, and your summer day is ending roughly, for the winds and the waves are loud voiced, and the overcoming clouds are all awrithe and agleam with terror. You are past the “Narrows,” and almost outside the “Hook”; and if the Atlantic take you, frail mortal, you will never get to shore again!
Put back! Row swiftly, swifter, swifter! Jesus from the shore casts a rope. Clasp it quickly, now or never!
Oh, are there not some of you who are freighting all your loves, joys, and hopes on a vessel that will never reach the port of heaven? You nearest the breakers, one heave on the rock.
Oh, what an awful crash was that! Another lunge may crush you beneath the spars or grind your bones to powder with the torn timbers. Overboard for your life, overboard! Trust not that loose plank nor attempt the move, but quickly clasp the feet of Jesus walking on the watery pavement, shouting until He hear you, “Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:30).
“Lord, save us; we perish” (8:25)!
Sin beautiful at the start—oh, how sad, how distressful at the last! The ground over which it leads you is hollow. The fruit it offers to your taste is poison. The promise it makes to you is a lie. Over that ungodly banquet the keen sword of God’s judgement hangs, and there are ominous handwritings on the wall (cf Daniel 5:5).
Observe also in this subject how repelling sin is when appended to great attractiveness. Since Eve’s death there has been no such perfection of womanhood. You could not suggest an attractiveness to the body or suggest any refinement to the manner. You could add no gracefulness to the gait, no luster to the eye, no sweetness to the voice.
A perfect God made her a perfect woman to be the companion of a perfect man in a perfect home, and her entire nature vibrated in accord with the beauty and song of Paradise. But she rebelled against God’s government, and with the same hand with which she plucked the fruit she launched on the world the crimes, the wars, the tumults, that have set the universe a-wailing, a terrible offset to all her attractiveness.
We are not surprised when we find men and women naturally vulgar going into transgression. We expect people who live in the ditch to have the manners of the ditch. But how shocking when we find sin appended to superior education and to the refinements of social life! The accomplishments of Mary Queen of Scots make her patronage of Darnley, the profligate, the more appalling. The genius of Catharine II of Russia only sets forth in more powerful contrast her unappeasable ambition. The translations from the Greek and the Latin by Elizabeth, and her wonderful qualifications for a queen, are made the more disgusting by her capriciousness of affection and her hotness of temper. The greatness of Byron’s mind is made the more alarming by Byron’s sensuality.
Let no one who hears me this day think that refinement of manner, exquisiteness of taste, or superiority of education can in any wise apologize for ill-temper, for an oppressive spirit, for unkindness, for any kind of sin. Disobedience Godward and transgression manward can give no excuse. Accomplishment heaven high is no apology for vice hell deep!
My subject also impresses me with the regal influence of woman. When I see Eve with this powerful influence over Adam and over the generations that have followed, it suggests to me the great power all women have for good or for evil. I have no sympathy, nor have you, with the hollow flatteries showered on woman from the platform and the stage. They mean nothing, they are accepted as nothing. Woman’s nobility consists in the exercise of a Christian influence; and when I see this powerful influence of Eve on her husband and on the whole human race, I make up my mind that the frail arm of woman can strike a blow that will resound through all eternity down among the dungeons, or up among the thrones.
Of course, I am not speaking of representative women—of Eve, who ruined the race by one fruit-picking (Genesis 3:1-19); of Jael [pronounced JAY-el], who drove a spike through the head of Sisera the warrior (Judges 4:17-22; 5:24-31) [today in Israel Jael is the most popular name for girls]; of Esther, who overcame royalty (Esther 2:17; 4:13-17; 5:2; 9:20-32); of Abigail, who stopped a host by her own beautiful prowess (1 Samuel 25:14-35); of Mary, who nursed the world’s Savior (Luke 1:26-56; 2:1-20); of Grandmother Lois, immortalized in her grandson Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5); of Charlotte Corday, who drove the dagger through the heart of the assassin of her lover; or of Marie Antoinette, who by one look from the balcony of her castle quieted a mob, her own scaffold the throne of forgiveness and womanly courage.
I speak not of these extraordinary persons, but of those who, unambitious for political power, as wives and mothers, sisters and daughters, attend to the thousand sweet offices of home.
When at last we come to calculate the forces that decided the destiny of nations, it will be found that the mightiest and grandest influence came from home, where the wife cheered up despondency, fatigue, and sorrow by her own sympathy; where the mother trained her child for heaven, starting the little feet on the path to the celestial city; where the sister by her gentleness refined the manners of her brother; and where the daughter was diligent in her kindness to the aged, throwing wreaths of blessing on the road that leads Father and Mother down the steep of years.
Need I go into history to find you illustrations? Ah, no, in your own memory there is at least one! When I come to speak of womanly influence, my mind wanders off to one model, the aged mother who, twenty years ago, we put away for the Resurrection. About eighty years ago, just before their wedding day, my father and mother stood up in the old meetinghouse at Somerville, New Jersey, and took the vows of the Christian.
Through a long life of vicissitude my mother lived harmlessly and usefully, and came to her end in peace. No child of want ever came to her door and was turned empty away. No one in sorrow came to her but was comforted. No one asked her the way to be saved but she pointed him to the Cross. When the gift of life came to a neighbor’s dwelling, she was there to rejoice at the incarnation. When the angel of death came to a neighbor’s dwelling, she was there to robe the departed for the burial.
We had often heard her, when leading family prayers in the absence of my father, say, “O Lord, I ask not for my children wealth or honor, but I do ask that they all may be the subjects of Your comforting grace?” Her eleven [surviving] children were brought into the kingdom of God.
She had but one more wish, and that was that she might see her long-absent missionary son, John Van Nest Talmage; and when the ship from China anchored in New York harbor, and the long-absent one passed over the threshold of his paternal home, she said, “Now, Lord, let Your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen Your salvation” (Luke 2:29, 30). The prayer was soon answered.
It was an autumn day, much like this, when we gathered from afar and found only the house from which the soul had fled forever. She looked natural, the hands much as when they were employed in kindness for her children. Whatever else we forget, we never forget the look of our mother’s hands. As we stood there by the casket, we could not help saying, “Doesn’t she look beautiful?”
It was a cloudless day when, with heavy hearts, we carried her out to the last resting-place. The withered leaves crumbled under hoof and wheel as we passed, and the sun shone on the Raritan River until it looked like fire; but more calm, beautiful, and radiant was the setting sun of that aged pilgrim’s life. No more toil, no more tears, no more sickness, no more death. Dear Mother! Beautiful Mother!
Sweet is the slumber beneath the sod,
While the pure spirit rests with God. ~Anonymous Epitaph
I need not go back and show you Zenobia, Semiramis, or Isabella as wonders of womanly excellence or greatness, when I in this moment point to your own picture gallery of memory, show you the one face that you remember so well, arouse your holy reminiscences, and start you in new consecration to God by the pronunciation of that tender, beautiful, glorious word “Mother! Mother!”
“Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent and the serpent didn’t have a leg to stand on.” ~Charles R Gerber
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: Wedding Rings
*Adapted from “The Mother of All,” Thomas DeWitt Talmage [1832-1902], The Wedding Ring: A Series of Discourses for Husbands and Wives and Those Contemplating Matrimony (New York: Louis Klopsch, 1896). Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.