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ORIGINAL SIN AND ITS PENALTY
—GEN. 3:1-15.—JULY 14.—
“Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”—Rom. 5:20.
SIN is in the world; the fact is indisputable. All intelligent people recognize the fact, but only such as accept the Scriptures have an intelligent idea respecting its origin. True, the narrative of Eden and its first perfect pair, and their fall from perfection under divine condemnation, is more or less held, in a legendary way, in heathen religions; but none of these attempt to connect up and philosophically state the relationship between the disobedience, the fall and the penalty, the redemption and salvation from it, as do our Scriptures—the Bible. To the Bible student who is meek and lowly of heart the explanation is most satisfactory; only to the worldly wise and those who hold to the traditions of men, and neglect the inspired revelation, is there anything obscure or unsatisfactory in connection with the narrative of the fall, the redemption and the restitution, which constitute the Bible story from Genesis to Revelation.
We are to think of Adam (consisting at the time of two parts, male and female) as perfect, in the sense of being mentally and morally fashioned after the likeness of the Creator—well poised, well balanced—not “prone to sin as the sparks fly upward,” as he subsequently became, and as his children now are. We are not, however, to think of him as perfect in knowledge or in character; knowledge must be acquired, but he was fully equipped with all the mental and moral apparatus for a rapid acquirement of knowledge. As for character, in an intelligent being it is a fixity of the will; and such a fixity can only come with knowledge. In other words, the perfect Adam was ready to acquire perfect knowledge, and had a perfect Creator, able and willing to give him the requisite instruction; and as this right instruction would be received, and this perfect knowledge be attained, character (good or bad) would be established;—either in favor of the principles of righteousness already established by God, or in opposition to the will of God, in unrighteousness.
We are not to think of Adam’s condition and trial as an experiment on God’s part, the result of which would be doubtful; but, on the contrary, we are to remember that the results were fully known to the Almighty before the trial began, and that he saw the end of his work from the beginning, else he would never have undertaken it. Divine foreknowledge is conceded by a large proportion of professing Christians, who, nevertheless, are sadly confused by certain false theories which imply that the Almighty’s foreknowledge was to the effect that the vast majority of the posterity of Adam would spend an eternity in most horrible suffering, and that God prepared the arrangement for their suffering in advance of their creation. This view is untenable amongst those who combine any measure
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of knowledge of God’s character with any measure of reasoning ability. In this lesson we shall see conclusively that our Lord had a much more just, reasonable and loving plan than that,—that he foresaw beneficent results before creating our first parents.
There are two methods of giving and receiving instruction. One through precept and example; the other through experience. Man was not the first of God’s intelligent creatures—previously God had created the angels, we know not of how many different orders or ranks—angels, cherubim, principalities and powers, as the Apostle enumerates. These had all been instructed in the first named manner, by good precepts; they had not even had instruction through example, except on the side of good example: they had no illustration of evil and its pernicious consequences. The divine purpose was to bring into being a new order of creature, humanity, whose instruction, it was fore-arranged, should be along the lines of experience;—which would incidentally add to the instruction of God’s angelic creatures, by way of giving them an example of sin and its consequences, and of the divine attitude toward sin and toward sinners; and incidentally give an illustration of the operation of divine Justice and Wisdom and Love and Power.
ADAM’S ORIGINAL FREE AGENCY
Man was intended from the first to be “a spectacle unto angels” (1 Cor. 4:9) as well as to be himself a miracle of divine mercy and love. It was in harmony with this feature of the divine plan that the perfect but inexperienced pair were subjected to a trial under which the Almighty knew beforehand that they would fail through lack of knowledge. The Almighty did not compel their disobedience; yet neither did he forfend them by minute explanations, warnings, guardings, and assistances against the wiles of Satan; nor was he bound to do so by any principle of justice. His creatures were perfect and were placed in comfortable, well-adapted conditions, with every reason to trust in their Creator and to implicitly obey his commands. But, as we shall see as we progress, while they had this sufficiency of information, their knowledge being limited, they were proportionately weak.
SATAN A MURDERER FROM THE BEGINNING OF HIS INTERCOURSE WITH MAN
We have mentioned Satan as the tempter, and this is the testimony of the Scriptures throughout; the same kind of reasoning and logic that would relegate Satan to oblivion as a myth, merely a figurative representative of wrong or sin, and not an individual—this same kind of logic and reasoning, if applied to the Creator himself, would similarly make of him merely a good principle, and deny his personality; and this, indeed, is the course of reasoning adopted by some, “Christian Scientists” and others. But we are writing for those who believe the Scriptural statements, and who are neither seeking to get rid of God nor seeking to deny the personality of Satan, but who are ready and anxious to believe what the Lord has revealed respecting him, his present triumph as “the prince of this world,” and his soon-coming overthrow and binding, and eventual destruction by the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Nothing in the Scriptures indicates that Satan assumed any evil disposition or opposition to the Almighty previous to this incident of our lesson—his seduction of our first parents into disobedience to the Almighty’s commands. This was the time of Satan’s own temptation and fall into sin; previously, holy and in harmony with his Creator, he was one of his honored agents and servants; but now as he beheld the newly created pair in Eden, and saw that in them Almighty had implanted the powers of procreation, which eventually were to fill the world with a human race, Satan beheld certain possibilities before himself, by which he might set up a separate, and to some extent, a rival kingdom. If he could gain control of this first pair and their posterity he would have an empire of his own on the earth, similar to the empire of Jehovah amongst the spirit beings. He would thus grasp a position higher than the other angels, tho not as the equal of Jehovah; he would be like him, an emperor, a ruler, and above the others.—Isa. 14:12-15.
We are not to suppose that Satan comprehended in advance the evil results which have followed his course. He could not know any more than others to what extent his own evil course and the communication of it to humanity would bring in all the degradation and sin and misery and pain and trouble and death which have resulted. He became the murderer of our race (John 8:44), tho, like many another murderer, he had not probably intended to commit murder at first, but only robbery; but the wrong course led on and resulted in murder, death.
The serpent in the Garden evidently differed somewhat from serpents in general today, and apparently this is implied in the curse which came upon it. The testimony is to the effect that originally serpents were very wise, sagacious, evidently not at all repulsive, as at present, to the human family. It was this animal that Satan concluded to use as his decoy in bringing temptation to our first parents. We may or may not think of the serpent as addressing mother Eve in an audible voice; it is possible, we think highly probable, that the serpent spoke by his actions
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—that under the direction of Satan its actions aroused certain thoughts, feelings, intentions, in mother Eve; indeed, this fact is so clearly recognized that it has become an adage, that “Actions speak louder than words;” yet we would not consider it an insurmountable difficulty to believe that it spoke with an audible voice. But no matter how the questions and implications were suggested to Eve, they came through the serpent, and from Satan, who was the real tempter, bent upon captivating Adam and Eve and making of them his servants, as he indeed succeeded in doing; for the Scriptures inform us that the entire race was “sold [into slavery] under Sin,” father Adam and mother Eve receiving but a small and highly unsatisfactory price in the transaction.
To appreciate the situation and the nature of the temptation, we must remember that the Garden of Eden was full of trees of life;*—trees bearing fruit suitable to the perpetuation of human life; so that by continuing in the use of these life-giving fruits all tendency to decay would be counteracted, and the eaters of these, under their favorable surroundings, would have lived forever. While there were many of these trees of life, there was one kind, and one only, whose fruit they were forbidden to eat. This was really not a hardship, as they had an abundance and to spare. They should have reasoned that the Almighty had some wise purpose in objecting to their partaking of the fruit of this one kind of tree. It was no more a tree of life than were the other trees in the garden, but it was forbidden. Our first parents had probably lived in the garden for some time, partaking of the trees of life and enjoying their surroundings, at the time the temptation took place. They had probably wondered frequently why the Almighty had forbidden the use of the fruit of that one particular kind, but could find no answer; and it had been sufficient to them to consider that God, in his wisdom, had a good reason, and that ultimately, no doubt, that fruit would be theirs, as well as others, by divine permission.
*A grove or “woods” or orchard seems to be the thought of the original.—See Gen. 3:24; Rev. 2:7.
It was at this juncture that the serpent, which had previously been seen to be superior in wisdom and intelligence, was noticed going to and eating, regularly, of the fruitage of the forbidden tree; and with this observation would naturally come the thought, Why is it that the serpent is the wisest of all the lower creatures, if it is not that he gains from this tree some valuable quickening mental influence which gives him his superiority? And with our higher organism, if we should eat of the fruit of that tree would it not make us still more intelligent, still more wise, than we are? Then came the evil suggestion, Can it be that God has a selfish purpose in forbidding us the use of this fruit? Can it be that he wishes to restrain us from proper liberties and powers? If not, why did he ever forbid the use of this tree which might give us the increased wisdom? Might it not be that if we were to partake of its fruit we would not only be as we now are, greater than the beasts, but be as gods,—even as the serpent is wiser than the other animals?
The suggestion that knowledge was to be attained in that direction, and that the Almighty was not acting justly and disinterestedly in his counsel and laws, and that the penalty attached was evidently a falsehood, since the serpent did not die—these considerations, these evil suggestions thus instigated by the Adversary, had their desired effect upon the mind of Eve, and she concluded that, without informing Adam of her decision, she would risk putting the matter to the test. She ate. We cannot know in what respect the fruit of that tree affected the intellect and the passions, but very evidently it did have a powerful influence which engulfed our first parents in sinful passion, and introduced them thus into a possible misuse of a knowledge of which previously they had not been entirely ignorant; the result of which was their realization of their own shame and nakedness. We are to remember that much is here told in few words, yet all, we may be sure, that is necessary for us to know.
THE WAGES OR PENALTY OF SIN
How strange it seems that this simple narrative, which contains not a word respecting eternal torment, should be made the basis of all the fears which have tormented millions of Christian believers respecting a future of unutterable woe entailed upon father Adam, and through him upon his race, because of the disobedience set forth in this lesson. How simple the statement of the Lord respecting what the penalty would be—death; margin, “dying thou shalt die.” How fully this is in agreement with the experiences which have been upon the race for now six thousand years—dying they have died, to the number of something like forty thousand millions. We would not make light of the original sin; we would have it appear in its full force as a deliberate, wilful disobedience of the divine command on the part of those who were not weak through a fall, but who were strong because fresh from the Creator’s hands, in his likeness, mental and moral; and yet we assert with all confidence that no reasonable mind can find anything in this language indicating eternal torment as being the wages of sin. Nor could any reasonable mind admit
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that if eternal torment had been threatened it would have been a just penalty for the crime mentioned—disobedience in the eating of forbidden fruit.
We have heard of the vindictive farmer who maimed a boy with a shot gun for robbing his orchard; and we know how public sentiment properly condemned his course as harsh and unjust; yet that poor, fallen man was merciful and generous as compared with God according to the theory of “Orthodoxy,” that for the theft of one apple Adam and Eve and all their thousands of millions of children were condemned to an eternity of torture.
Comparatively few seem to understand that the “orthodox” teaching is that it was on account of this “original sin” by father Adam and mother Eve that not only they, but all of their posterity were sentenced of God to an eternity of torment at the hands of devils, fully commissioned and empowered to injure and torment them in every conceivable manner throughout an unending future. It is the claim, further, that every member of humanity would surely have gone into that torture, had not Jesus come into the world and died for our sins; and that now only such as believe in Jesus, and lay hold upon him through faith and obedience, can hope to escape this universal catastrophe. Is this reasonable? Do sane people believe it? Do those who claim to believe it act in harmony with such teaching? Are they so unjust to their children or to their servants? Would they consider that such a character on the part of God would be worthy to be copied by any intelligent creature, either as respects its justice, its mercy or its love? The fact, we believe, is that the vast majority of Christian people have never had their senses exercised by reason of use in connection with such matters. They are blindly following blind leaders, who have received and adopted as truth “traditions of the elders,” doctrines and theories promulgated during “the dark ages,” and who do not investigate the Bible for themselves.
Surely this lesson of original sin and fall and penalty, taught by over two million Sunday-school teachers throughout the civilized world to over twenty-three millions in Sunday-schools, using the International Lessons, should be productive of great good, should open the eyes of understanding of many, and help them to see wherein they have so greatly erred and misunderstood the sentence, and hence misunderstood also the redemption from it, set forth in this lesson. But we cannot hope for much, seeing, as the Apostle declares, that “the god of this world has blinded the minds” of so many;—some more, some less. They will read over the sentence, and where they read “die,” will think, “live in torment.” They will take the part of Satan as against God, and with him declare, “Ye shall not surely die;”—ye cannot die, ye are immortal by nature, and because so, ye must live forever, either in bliss in heaven, or in eternal torment in hell. Thus Satan has for six thousand years opposed God, opposed the truth, and enslaved many in sin, and blinded others by misrepresentations of the divine character and plan, and his entire effort has been worked out in harmony with his declaration of this lesson, contradicting God, saying, “Ye shall not surely die;”—the wages of sin is not death, but life in torment.
HOW OTHERS VIEW THIS LESSON
A little curious to know what some of the so-called “theologians” would say respecting the matters of this lesson, and its statement of what the penalty of sin is, we looked up some of their opinions, and give two of these. One says: “Death as the wages of sin includes, not only temporal death, or the death of the body, with all the ills attendant upon a state of mortality, but also spiritual death, or the alienation of the soul from God, who is the only source of spiritual life, and lastly, everlasting death, or final exclusion from God and holiness and blessedness.” The Doctor of Divinity, whose words we quote, has overlooked entirely the very essence of the sentence against sin expressed by the Lord in the words, “The soul* that
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sinneth it shall die.” The reason undoubtedly is that he does not believe that souls can die; it is contrary to his theology, and hence he treats the subject from every other standpoint than the divine standpoint. From God’s standpoint the soul is the entire being; it includes the mental and moral powers as well as the physical: and implies a degradation, a corruption, a destruction, of all these in death. And so we find it; man has not only died physically, as a result of his penalty, but the same dying process prevails in his mental qualities and in his moral qualities, so that when death has completed its work all is gone; the soul, being, is dead; and that beyond any power of recovery, so far as man is concerned—a recovery, a resurrection, being only possible from the divine standpoint, by divine arrangement, and the exercise of divine power. In the quotation we are criticising, notice that the claim is made that Adam died a spiritual death; but nothing in the Scriptures informs us that he was a spirit being. On the contrary, the Scriptures tell us that he was of the earth, earthy,—not a spirit being, but an animal being, a human being. He could not, therefore, die to what he did not possess.—1 Cor. 15:45,47,48; John 3:6; Gen. 3:19.
*See tract, What is the Soul? Sample copy free.
Nor was man redeemed to a spiritual state or condition. On the contrary, the Scriptures assure us
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that restitution is to be the result of the ransom to whosoever will accept it on God’s terms: a restitution, not to spiritual conditions, because these were never enjoyed, and never lost; but a restitution to all that was lost in Adam’s disobedience—to the perfection of human life, under blessed conditions, in full harmony with the Almighty and in his image and likeness. As to spiritual life, we find the Scriptures teaching that the natural man has nothing whatever to do with it; that to the new creature, the Church, alone has it been offered as a change of nature: that only the Gospel Church of this present age is begotten to this spiritual nature, and is to experience a change from human to spirit beings in the resurrection. The remainder, even of the obedient, will not be “changed,” but will be restored.—Acts 3:19-23.
The above expression which we are criticising declares, finally, that the ultimate meaning of the death sentence was, “lastly, everlasting death.” We agree with the statement, but not with the meaning which the reverend gentleman expects his readers to attach to his words. He wishes them to think of everlasting death as never being attained, but always being approached. It is a mild way of putting the eternal torment doctrine, and probably nine out of ten of all who have ever read his utterance have so understood him. He was hindered from making his statement more definite by reason of the fact that he had not a single word in the Scriptural account whereon to hang any doctrine of eternal torment; he must hang everything on the word death, which is the declared penalty; he must, therefore, presuppose that his readers have been well indoctrinated according to the false standards, and have learned from theological instructors how to twist language to mean its opposite; how to make death, the Scripturally stated penalty, to mean life everlasting in torment, and this in the face of the declaration that life is the gift of God, and will be granted only to those who receive the Son. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God [the pronounced penalty for sin, the curse, the sentence, death] abideth on him.” “The soul that sinneth it shall die.” “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”—John 3:36; Ezek. 18:20; Rom. 6:23; 1 John 5:12.
Another Doctor of Divinity writes on this subject as follows: “It is not sufficiently borne in mind that man’s exclusion from the tree of life, which could have conferred immortality, was the carrying out of the sentence.” How confused are the ideas of theologians in general upon this subject! Note in this expression the thought that the eating of the tree of life could have given man immortality. Is it supposable that any kind of fruit could produce such a change in man as to make him immortal? It is not supposable; it is unreasonable. But, on the other hand, let us remember that this same Doctor of Divinity would in the same breath claim that man was already immortal; and that he, like all other theologians, bases all of his doctrines respecting the eternity of torment for the damned upon their assumption that man was created immortal, and therefore could not die. How absurd then, everyway, is this statement, that Adam was excluded “from the tree of life, which could have conferred immortality!”
The narrative should be taken as it reads. All the trees were good for food, and desirable to the eye;—all trees of life—not trees of immortality, for no tree could give immortality; God alone had immortality inherently, and he hath given it to the Son, and hath promised it to the Bride, the Lamb’s wife, and to no others. Immortality is the prize set before the Gospel Church of overcomers, and none others. Had Adam remained in the Garden of Eden forever, and partaken of all the trees of life therein, he would not have attained immortality, tho he would have possessed everlasting life thereby. His disobedience resulted in his exclusion from all the trees of the garden,—from all the trees of life: and he was thenceforth compelled to labor with sweat of face in the unprepared soil (outside the specially prepared garden, in which his trial took place), that thus dying by inches the penalty—death—should finally be accomplished to the full.
“THE WOMAN WAS FIRST IN THE TRANSGRESSION”
We cannot share in the general disposition to think of father Adam from the ignoble standpoint of “blaming the transgression upon his wife, and seeking to shirk his own responsibility.” As a perfect man, unskilled in deceptions and the telling of “white lies,” he would probably feel, especially when addressing his Creator and Judge, and in answer to a direct question, that he must tell the exact truth, and he neither felt shame in telling the truth, nor do we feel shame for him in respect to his testimony. The difficulty is that the majority of those who read the account have not appreciated the grandeur of father Adam’s position in respect to his wife and the transgression. To our understanding of the narrative, mother Eve’s disobedience and involvement in transgression was wholly apart from her husband’s knowledge or complicity; and he, when he learned of her course, was so full of sympathy and so full of love for her, as a member of his own body, that his affection quite overcame his proper sense of duty and obligation toward God.
Concluding that his wife’s disobedience had forfeited
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her life, and that the result to him would mean the everlasting loss of her companionship, he deliberately chose to be with his companion in sin rather than to be separated from her, and to enjoy divine favor and blessing everlastingly without her: therefore he ate knowingly, to share her penalty—he suicided. To our view, in reporting the matter to the Almighty, Adam did not state his case in his own favor, did not state how he was overcome by the pressure of his own heart-love for the one whom the Lord had given him to be his companion; but in the simplest form he explained, as the question properly demanded, how he had partaken of the fruit at his wife’s instance. We are not defending Adam; we hold that he sinned wilfully and deliberately, and came justly under the sentence; but we hold also that it was his lack of knowledge that lay at the foundation of his disobedience, even as lack of knowledge and a desire to gain the same lay at the bottom of Eve’s disobedience. Had Adam appreciated the divine character, as the Lord’s consecrated people may now appreciate it, in the light of fuller knowledge and revelation, his course might have been a different one. He might have trusted the matter to the Lord, that he was able to recover mother Eve from the terrible condemnation under which she had fallen through her disobedient act. It was his despair as well as his ignorance that led Adam to the disobedience that brought the death-sentence, otherwise called “the curse” and “the wrath” of God upon our race.
THE WAGES OF SIN SEVERE
If to some it may at first appear that death is not a severe sentence, not a manifestation of divine wrath, not a curse, let them reflect further; let them note how all of the dying processes are only parts of death, and that as insane asylums mark those who become mentally dead before they are physically dead; and as hospitals mark those who become physically decrepit before they are mentally decrepit; and as prisons mark those who become morally dead or decrepit before they are physically dead; so all of the experiences of our race, “groaning and travailing in pain together,” mark “death working in us.” All sicknesses, pains and sorrows are parts of the dying process, in the fifty thousand millions of the human family who have come into the world during six thousand years. The “curse” or sentence of death has resulted in blighted hopes and loves and ambitions, and is rapidly placing the entire race in the great prison house of death—the grave. Surely, the true penalty of sin was a heavy one, tho we must admit it was a just one. Surely, it involved all of the race of Adam in the most natural manner, because all of his children are partakers of his sentence; because sharers in his weaknesses, his imperfection, resulting from his transgression of the divine law.
THE SERPENT SHALL BITE THE DUST
The Lord’s curse or sentence came upon all who were involved in the transgression: upon the serpent, the active agent of Satan; upon the woman, first in transgression; and upon the man, in whom centered the
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responsibilities. As to the expression, “Dust thou shalt eat,” we incline to consider it as figurative, since we are not aware that the serpent includes dust in its food any more than do the other animals. The expression, “Lick the dust,” has long stood for a demeaned, degraded condition, and as a matter of fact, serpents are despised of all and made to “bite the dust” (die) whenever and wherever found, and just such an enmity as is here described, between humanity and serpents, is notorious.
THE ULTIMATE TRIUMPH OF CHRIST OVER SATAN
Our first parents must have understood the concluding sentence of our lesson as a ray of hope—”It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” It was a very indefinite, vague promise of a future triumph of mankind over the Adversary, over sin, over all the evils connected with sin and its penalty, death; but we do not yet see such a victory. We see the race still blinded by Satan; we see him still “prince of this world,” working in the hearts of the children of disobedience, who, alas! are vastly in the majority. But the faith enkindled by the Lord’s word of promise has since grown and developed and been added to. The promise to Abraham, that his seed should bless all the families of the earth, was a further declaration of the statement made in Eden. Christ is this seed. Begotten of a new life, through the seed of the woman, he has indeed triumphed over sin and death, and declared that he will finally vanquish the Adversary; he has paid the penalty, the very penalty that was originally pronounced, death. “Christ died for our sins.” We were thus “bought with a price, even the precious blood of Christ.”
We have this assurance, then, that God’s plan is continuing to operate, to unfold, and we have good reason to hope for the promised ultimate consummation, in which Satan shall be utterly destroyed. The plan of God during this Gospel age is taking another step forward, in that it is selecting a special, “elect” class, to be members of this seed (Gal. 3:29), to be members of the body of Christ; and in harmony with this is the Apostle Paul’s statement, “The very God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly”—under the Church’s feet, for the feet are the body of
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Christ, and he is the Head of the Church which is his body—hence, under the feet of the Christ.—Rom. 16:20.
Not very long, now, we may hope, will it be until the elect seed of Abraham, the elect seed of the woman, shall be complete, and the work of treading down evil and ultimately destroying it, and eventually destroying Satan himself, with all who intelligently and wilfully are coworkers with him in his rebellion against divine love and justice, will be accomplished. (Matt. 25:41.) Meantime the thousand years, the Millennial age, is set apart for this work of crushing evil, of stamping it out, of bringing in everlasting righteousness. Praise God for such a Gospel, such good tidings of great joy which shall be unto all people, as a result of the redemption accomplished by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and of the great deliverance which by and by, in due time, he shall bring to pass.
Our golden text is the key to all of our hopes. Sin abounded as against not only our first parents, but all of their posterity, unto sentence of death. But God’s grace abounded still more, and toward all, in that he provided, through Christ, not only a recovery of all who will of mankind from the penalty of sin and death, but also that the restored and perfected race shall have all that was lost in Eden, full and complete, and that everlastingly. Additionally God’s grace abounded to the extent of taking out of the world of sinners a little flock to be heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ, whose nature is to be changed, so that they, instead of longer being of the human nature, will become partakers of the divine nature, sharers of the divine glory and honor and office with their Lord Jesus—far above angels, principalities and powers and every name that is named.
O, for such loving kindness and tender mercy which abounded towards us while we were yet sinners, and which much more abounds towards us in Christ, now that we are accepted in the Beloved one,—for this let the Lord’s people give thanks continually, and let the thankfulness of heart extend and manifest itself in words and conduct, in all that we do and say, that all may be to the praise of his glory who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light!
— July 1, 1901 —