Series: Scarlet Thread
All of us, of course, are daily and with increasing gratitude grateful to our dear Lord for our Bible Institute. It is growing phenomenally, and what we see now in its great growth is just a harbinger, an earnest, of the greater growth that we will have in these years to come. And what we are trying to do is to get all of our people to share in the deepening of our understanding of the Bible and of our own spiritual life through these courses in our Institute. And for you to be here for this study is one of the greatest encouragements I have ever known in the long, long years of my pastoral work.
The title of the course, as you know, is “The Scarlet Thread Through the Bible” or The Bible, God’s Book of Redemption. And this second lecture is entitled The Story of the Beginning. First, we shall have a few moments of review and introduction.
God interwove into the Scriptures His purpose of our redemption and revealed it to us for our salvation, our assurance, and our hope. You remember last Wednesday night I said all of these higher critics who believe that the Bible is nothing but a patchwork of editors and redactors who took scissors and pasted all of these things together, and you call it the Bible – you remember I said it is unbelievable that such a thing could be proposed by serious men; when, in that what they call “patchwork,” embedded in it, interwoven in it, as a part of its very fabric, woof and warp, you find this redemptive purpose progressively revealed. How did it get there if the Bible is made up as all of these higher critics believe? No intelligence guided it; it was just put together by paste and by scissors. If that’s the way it came into being, how is it that this divine purpose is interwoven, embedded, in the very heart of it? You cannot get it out. And the reason for it is God put it there. It is written by forty different men over a thousand five hundred years, but the moving Spirit of the Lord guided the prophet or the apostle in what he said and what he wrote. And whatever the critic may say about the Scriptures, whatever height or depth of ridicule to which the higher critic may subject the Holy Bible, they cannot deny or take out that purpose of redemption, that scarlet thread. God put it there in the Bible to encourage us, to help us, and to save us.
So when we look upon the Bible like that, it becomes a new and a living Book in our hands, and it achieves its purpose for our lives. Bread is baked, not to be analyzed but to be eaten. A house is built, not for surveying but to live in, to be inhabited. So, the Bible, God wrote it for us, not for critical analyses but for our hope. Now, God made the Scriptures therefore a living organism.
In 2 Corinthians 3:6, the apostle Paul writes, “God hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the Spirit: for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.” And our Lord Himself said in John 6:63, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” When a man stands up in the pulpit and he opens the Word of God and he delivers his message from the Word of God, something will happen. For it is not just syllables, and sentences, and paragraphs, chapters, verses, but it has incarnate in it the living Spirit and presence of the Lord.
All three are called the Word of God: the spoken Word, the incarnate Word, and the written Word. They’re all three called the “Word of God.” God is in Christ, the incarnate Word. God is in the prophet and the apostle as he delivered his message, the spoken Word. And God is in the written Word. All three of them are called the Word of God. The Bible is more than a collection of books and of texts and of chapters and of verses. It is a spiritual organism, a living thing. The whole is pervaded by the Spirit of God, revealing God to us. A living body is more than an assemblage of limbs: I am here, two arms and hands; here, two legs and feet; here, a torso and there a head. But nobody could say what I am is two limbs, two legs, two hands, two feet, a torso and a head. I am a living somebody. And that is exactly with the Bible, the Bible is far more than just a collection of words and of paragraphs. It is a whole entity bearing the message of God to and for us. And when I hold the Bible in my hands, I hold the incarnate Word of God in my hands. It has in it the living Spirit.
As some of you know, this last week, I mean these last two days, I have been in Nashville, Tennessee. I am a member of a committee that is surveying the structure of our Southern Baptist Convention in its agencies and in its executive committee. So while I was there, the president of our oldest seminary stopped me and said, “I want to urge you to come to our seminary any day you’ll choose, any week you will select, and I want you to stand there every day in our chapel service and preach the Word of God just as you do in the church, where you leave off that Sunday and where you begin the following Sunday, and where you leave off that Sunday and you start the next Sunday.” He said, “I would like for my young men to listen to somebody who does that.” He said, “We are sick of amnesty. Don’t mention it. We are weary and tired of the political situation in Washington. Don’t refer to it. We have had ethics until we are ill with it. Don’t take a subject which everybody does, but stand there with the Word of God and just expound it, just for our young ministers to see how it’s done, for they’ve never seen anybody do that, and they haven’t heard anybody do that.”
Well, I don’t know whether I’ll be able to go or not. It would take a week. But I said to him in reply, I said, “There is one thing that I can assure you about a minister who will do it; his people will be fed. The attendance will grow, and the man himself will enlarge his vision and his love for Christ.” There is nothing, nothing that will do for a church, for its people, its congregation, like expounding the Word of the Lord. The Spirit of God is in it. So when we look at the Bible, it has an underlying theme, an undeviating purpose toward which it is reaching, and that is redemption, the saving of a fallen race.
As some of you would say, some of you have mentioned to me privately, the British navy, wherever on any ship there is a line – we call it a rope – if it belongs to Her Majesty’s government, it will have a scarlet thread through it.
So it is with the Bible. There is a scarlet thread throughout the Word of God. The Scriptures exhibit clearly a designed purpose and plan, known at first only to God, born in the heart of heaven. But when it was partially revealed, and as it came to be revealed, the prophets looked at it in wonder, desiring to know the full import and extent of it. For example, in 1 Peter, chapter 1, verses 10 and 11:
Of which salvation, of which redemption, the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you;
Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.
When the prophet spake, moved by the Spirit of God, he was filled with wonder at what God was doing. He saw it, of course, just partially where he lived. They did not live in our day when we can see it all, but he saw it just partially. And the prophet, seeing it partially, marveled at it and wondered at it and desired to know the full extent and meaning of it. But that Spirit of revelation is throughout the Word of God; the Lord is moving toward some great consummation. So there is revelation of the redeeming purpose in Genesis 1-11; there is progression of that redeeming purpose in Genesis 11 to the last verse in Jude. And there is the consummation of that redeeming purpose in the Revelation, chapters 1-22.
The Old Testament anticipates the redemption in type and in prophecy. The Gospels announce the accomplishment of it in the redemptive death of Christ. The Acts and the Epistles present the application of it to the needs and to the souls of men, and the Revelation describes the consummation of that redemptive purpose throughout the whole universe.
The revelation, therefore, of the unfolding of the divine redemptive purpose is divided into two Testaments: he palaios diatheke, the old law, the Old Testament, the Old Covenant, and then the he kainÃª diatheke, the New Covenant, the New Testament. One is of law and the other is of grace. Each of those Testaments is associated with a mount: one Mount Zion and the other Mount Calvary. Each is represented by a person: one by Moses and the other by Jesus. As John 1:17 says, “The law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” Each has its focus in an idea: one of law and the other of grace. And at the inauguration of one, in Exodus 32:28, “Three thousand were slain,” but at the inauguration of the other, Acts 2:41: “Three thousand were saved.”
Between the two Testaments there was a long interlude of four hundred years called the interbiblical period. But God was still working just as much, as meticulously as He worked before and as He worked after. The divine purpose never ceased. In that interbiblical period Greece rose to glory and to power, and the Greek language became the language of culture throughout the civilized world.
In that period, the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into the Greek language, called the Septuagint translation. In that interbiblical period, the Jews were scattered throughout the world, called the Diaspora, and the synagogue was found everywhere. And in the synagogue, the Law was read and the Prophets were read. And in that interbiblical period, Rome cemented the civilized world with roads and laws and government. God never ceased – though there’s nothing in the Bible about any of that that occurred in the interbiblical period, yet God worked in those four hundred years just as faithfully, as unwearyingly as He worked in the years before.
And you remember the same thing for us now: the Bible is complete. There are no Scriptures being written now, but God is working now just as faithfully, untiringly as He worked in the days of the Old Covenant, as He worked in the interbiblical period, and as He worked in the New Testament revelation. God does not change, nor does His purpose ever fail and fall. And in that divine and sublime purpose, we have a part. We’re a part of it just as much as ancient Israel was, just as much as the church at Jerusalem was – or at Antioch, or at Rome, or at Canterbury, or at Plymouth – so in Dallas and with us today. Slowly, surely, the grand design unfolds. And that gave occasion to the author of the Hebrews to write in Hebrews 1:1: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past to our fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son.”
Now that is the little introduction that I wanted to make to my lecture tonight. I didn’t know it was going to take this long, but it was something I wanted to say. Now, we really begin our study: first, the creation and the fall. Now what we’re doing here, we’re going to follow the redemptive purpose of God through the Holy Scriptures, the scarlet thread through the Bible. We begin with the creation and the fall.
God made the creation perfect. Now that may be a supposition on my part, but it is a supposition that I cannot conceive of its not being true. If God made it, God made it perfect. I cannot conceive of the perfect God doing an imperfect work. So the universe was created perfect, and it became tohu wa bohu, waste and formless [Genesis 1:1-2]; chaotic on account of sin. Satan fell, and with him fell the universe. We are distinctly told in Isaiah, chapter 45, verse 18, that God “made it not” – and the Hebrew is lo bara tohu, God “made it not waste, chaotic, formless, void” We’re told that distinctly. God made it perfect, and it became waste and void and chaotic through sin, just as sin cursed the garden of Eden [Genesis 3], so sin cursed the whole creation of God, but God made the creation perfect, and it fell because of sin.
Now, God made the man perfect. He was created perfect. In Genesis 1:26 and 27, and in Genesis 2:7, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness,” and if a man was made in the image and the likeness of God, he was made perfect because God is perfect. Now this perfect man was placed under trial. He was placed under probation. Genesis 2:16-17:
Out of all of the trees in the garden, thou mayest freely eat:
But of the tree in the midst of the garden, of the knowledge of good and evil, thou mayest not eat: for in the day that you eat you will surely die.
So the man was placed under probation, in trial. That is, he was not a mere automaton. He was not a machine. He was not an impersonal thing like a star, or like a planet in its orbit, or like a mountain that is snowcapped, or like an ocean with its waves.
Adam had a personality. That is, he had will and choice and purpose. He was made like God. And he was placed on probation, on trial. Now the reason for a probation or a trial is to test the worth or the worthlessness of a thing. A bridge is tested by weight. Can it hold the traffic? A student will be tested by examination. A soldier may be tested by battle. Metal may be tested by fire. A man’s integrity is tested by a prohibition. Will he obey, or will he choose to disobey? His body was strengthened by work.
In Genesis 2:15, he was to dress the garden and to keep it. His intellect was strengthened by nomenclature. In Genesis 2:19-20, he names all of the animal creation. Did you ever think about that? Think of the thousands and thousands of those zoological terms that you read in college when you study zoology. Oh, just the thought of it is ghastly! Well, think of thinking up all of that, you know, not reading it in a book – you’re just thinking it up yourself. Now, his body was strengthened by work. His mind was strengthened by that naming all of God’s handiwork, and his will was to be strengthened by obedience to God. Now, he failed, and he fell in a tragic and an awesome way.
The woman was deceived, but the man fell deliberately. He chose to sin. First Timothy 2:14 say, “Adam was not deceive, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” The race stood or fell not in the woman, but in the man. I presume God could have given another wife, could have made another woman for Adam. I guess he had another rib, if you want to translate that “rib.” How many ribs does a man have? Thirteen on each side or something like that? Twenty-six in all or something? Six on each side, seven on each side? Anyway, I guess He could have made that many different wives for him, one after another, if they all had been – it was in the man that the race stood or fell, not in the woman. First Corinthians 15:21 says, “By man came death,” and verse 22 says, “In Adam all die.” God addresses the man Adam; Genesis 3:9, “Adam, where art thou?” He didn’t ask that for information, but for confession. And Adam replied, “I was afraid.” See? Always he’s talking. God addresses the man, and the man replies: “I was afraid, because I was naked” [Genesis 3:10].
You know what I think? Now this is a supposition: the man was possibly first clothed like God is clothed in robes of light. In Psalm 104, verse 2, it says that God’s robe is light and glory. And if man was made in the image of God, I would think that he was clothed with light and with glory like Aaron’s garments of beauty and of glory. And the man was clothed with shekinah, with light, with beauty, with glory. And he lost his robe of glory and of beauty when he sinned, and he looked at himself, and he was naked. So the man fell deliberately; he chose to sin.
Then follows the sentencing; in Genesis 3:14 is the sentencing of the serpent. How did the serpent look before he was sentenced? Do you ever think about that? Sometimes these snakes have the most unusual configurations on them, and when I see that, I think it is a part of the beauty he possessed before he was cursed.
I was walking along in the Amazon jungle from a little church convocation late at night, and there was a missionary who was walking in front of me with a flashlight – and they all have flashlights. Well, I said, “Why do you all have flashlights? I don’t have a flashlight, nor do I even think about going around with a flashlight.” They don’t budge an inch without a flashlight.
I said, “What’s the matter?”
They said, “On account of snakes, on account of serpents.”
Well, I was walking right about three inches beside of him, a little back of him, and that flashlight picked up the prettiest snake you ever saw, a big one! I said, “What is that?”
He said, “That is one of the most poisonous snakes in the world. That is a coral snake.” Well, every coral snake I ever heard of is about like a pencil and is no longer than that, a coral snake. That’s the kind we have up here. This thing was that long and that big around, beautifully colored, gorgeously colored. So you know what that guy did? He had big, heavy boots on – because in the Amazon jungle it rained all the time – big, heavy boots. Evidently, the flashlight blinded the critter. He went over there and took his boot and jammed his head down way deep in the mud, and he said: “Now you look at him real nice. Pick him up, you know, because I got his head down there in the mud. He won’t hurt you.” So I did. I picked him up, looked at him, an unusual creation. I tell you. I’m glad his head is in the mud, but an unusual creation! What did that critter look like before God cursed him? We don’t know. The curse was that he was to crawl on his belly and eat dust all the rest of his life [Genesis 3:14], but he must have been a beautiful creation and a gifted creation because he could talk.
Now, you say, “Was that a miracle, I mean uniquely separate?” No, I would think that in the beginning it might have been easy for the animals to talk. They could just squawk and grunt and holler and howl, and what can they do now? Once in awhile, one of them will learn to talk like a parrot or something like that. Could have been back there that they could talk to one another; wouldn’t that be an interesting world? You know, in the most unusual place I ever heard in my life, I heard one of our greatest ministers tell this story. And the Justice of the Supreme Court, Charles Evans Hughes, was there in the service. I remember that. And I don’t know how many senators and other justices.
There was a fellow, he said, got up there and he said, “I can talk animal talk. I can understand them. I can talk to them, and they can talk to me, and I understand them.”
Then a fellow stood up and said, “Did I understand you aright, mister? You can talk to the animals?”
“Yes, sir,” said the man. “I can talk to the animals, and they can talk to me.”
“Well,” he said, “Can you talk hippopotamus?”
“Yeah,” he said, “I can talk hippopotamus.”
“Well, can you talk rhinoceros?”
“Yeah, I can talk rhinoceros.”
“Can you talk elephant?”
“Yeah, I can talk elephant.”
“Well,” he said, “Can you talk skunk?”
And the man said, “Yeah, I can talk skunk.”
Then he said, “Mister, the next time you talk to one, would you ask him what’s the big idea?”
He must have been a beautiful creature. Some of his beauty is still to be found in the configurations that have attended his life hereafter, and he had a gift. He was subtle and wonderfully interesting to the woman to whom he made appeal [Genesis 3:1]. Well, he was cursed, so he was something else before. He was cursed by being made to crawl on his belly.
The woman was sentenced in [Genesis] 3:16 – in childbirth, her sorrow and her submission to her husband. You may have woman’s lib movement forever, you’ll never change the dominance of the man; you never will!
Now the sentencing of the man was in [Genesis] 3:17-19: “For his sake, the ground was cursed.” Remember, in the beginning I said that because sin came into Satan the whole creation was cursed. Because sin came in the man, Eden was cursed. The ground was cursed, and his body one day will return to it. So the man is a fallen man, and he lives in a fallen creation. It once was perfect, both the creation and the man, but both now are fallen, the creation and the man.
We come now to speak of the beginning of grace and redemption. Heretofore, we know God as all powerful, all sovereign, all authority, but now we begin to know God in an altogether different way. After the fall of the creation and after the fall of Adam, we begin to know God now in terms of grace, and of love, and of sympathy, and of care, and of redemption. We begin to see the heart of God. We are slaves now, sold under sin, under the judgment of death, but we begin now to see God in a different way. He becomes the God not of creation, not of glory, not of sovereign authority, but He begins to be known now to us as the God of grace.
God chose to love us and to save us, and thus, the redemptive purpose, and here it begins in Genesis 3:15. This is one of the great, great, great, great verses of the Bible. This is the protevangelium, the “first gospel” or the gospel before the gospel; “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.” From now on, there are to be two seeds – the serpent’s and the woman’s; the children of unbelief and the children of faith. There will be lines of wrong and lines of right. There will be those that disobey God and those who follow God. There will be two seeds hereafter in the earth. But the Seed speaks preeminently of Christ. In Paul’s discussion of the Seed of Abraham in Galatians 3:16, quote, “God saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy Seed, which is Christ.” Thus, Eve became the mother of all living; look at [Genesis] 3:20, “And Adam called his wife’s name Eve: because she was the mother of all living.”
As Adam became the father of all who would die, Romans 5:12: “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin”; as Adam became the father of all who would die, so Eve, the woman, became the mother of all who would live. Isn’t that a remarkable thing? The race fell or rose in Adam. And in Adam, we all died; in Adam, we all fell. But in the woman, we live; in the woman, we are saved. As Adam became the father of all who would die, so Eve became the mother of all who would live. “Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living” [Genesis 3:20].
Ultimately, of course, I think this is a prophecy of the virgin birth of our Lord [Luke 1:26-35]. Let me tell you something in my experience that comes of that same kind of a thing – that in the woman God is going to work the redemption of the world. I don’t think there is a church in the earth but that is largely supported by the women. It is her consecration, it is her rearing of the children that makes religion viable, living, quickening.
Another thing I have learned in the years of my pastoral work: if a woman is not with me in my appeal to the man, I will not try. There is no need. You can get that man, but when he goes home, if his wife is not in sympathy with you, in no time at all you’ve lost him. I don’t know an exception to that ever. Mostly religion centers in the wife and in the woman.
You sometimes wonder, how in the earth did Russia ever become a Christian nation, so-called? Well, it came about in about 1000 AD. There was a Christian woman who had a son named Vladimir, and he was the ruler of Kiev, and he was the first czar of Russia. He conquered all of those provinces, and when he chose a religion for his country, he chose his mother’s faith. She was a Christian, a Greek Orthodox Christian. Go back further: the story of the conversion of Constantine is found mostly, I think, in Helena. She was a British Christian, an English Christian. Her husband was a Roman general who married her while he was occupying the British Isles, England. And she was a Christian, and when Constantine accepted the Christian faith as the Caesar of the Roman Empire, he did so, I think, because his mother was a Christian. I’m just saying, in my experience a verification, in my humble persuasion, of what I read here in the Bible. Death came by Adam, and God chose life to come by Eve. “In the Seed of the woman, Satan’s head will be crushed” [Genesis 3:15].
So, we now come to the first and the basic redemptive type in Genesis 3:21: “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them.” Was that because they were unclothed? No! They were clothed. When they saw they were naked, they made clothes of fig leaves, but the provision was not adequate. Not nature but sacrifice is required if we are to be clothed, to be covered, and that covering is what you call atonement. Atonement is covering. Then there must be the shedding of blood. And then Genesis 3:21 is the first instance in the Bible of the shedding of blood, the innocent suffering for the guilty.
So the expulsion in judgment was also in grace. God covered the man with sacrificial life, the shedding of innocent blood. And then He put him out of the garden in that same grace that would cover over his sin. Now how do you think that? All right, the Lord God said, verses 22 to 24:
The man has become as one of Us, now, lest he put forth his hand to 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]
So the same Lord God who slew an innocent animal to cover over the nakedness of the man – that is a type of our covering, our atonement, how God puts away our sins – the same Lord God, that in His grace covered over the sin of Adam and Eve in atonement, in the shedding of blood, He sent him forth from the garden, lest he eat of the tree of life and become immortal as a sinner. God did that in grace.
You know, when I was young, even when I started preaching in my teens, I knew nothing of these things. Being young, everything was just full of life, all the years were ahead, and death was an infinite tragedy. You know, as the years have multiplied and I have been a pastor through them, I have come to see; would you be shocked if I were to say to you, without number have I bowed my head and my knees by the side of a bed of infinite hurt, and pain, and tragedy, and illness, and begged God to release that imprisoned spirit? “Lord, take this saint home; suffered enough in agony; release him, release him.”
“Do you mean, pastor, you pray for some people to die?” I do. “Lord, release them.” Old, mind gone, a vegetable lying there, doesn’t know wife, doesn’t know daughter, doesn’t know son, doesn’t know pastor, and maybe in great hurt and agony; “Lord, release them.” Can you imagine what it would be to be immortal like that? To live forever and forever, mind gone, eyes gone, arthritic, crippled, afflicted with cancer or leukemia? You see, it is the mercy of God that I could die.
Do you remember in the Revelation? “And men shall seek death, and shall not be able to find it?” [Revelation 9:6]. Why, my sweet people, we ought to look forward to the translation. It may be full of all kinds of agony to those who don’t know Jesus, but to us who know the Lord, death is a benedictory opening of the gates of glory. “Do not be afraid,” Jesus said, “Do not be afraid. I was with you in life, will be with you in death – do not be afraid.” So the Lord took the tree of life and put it up there. The next time you see it, it’s up there by the side of the river, and the leaves are for the healing of the people [Revelation 22:2].
One other thing: “He placed there on the east side of the garden cherubim” [Genesis 3:24]. They are always emblems of God’s grace, and God’s presence, and God’s redemption, and God’s glory; cherubim. He placed cherubim there to bless and to be merciful to the man that He had expelled from the garden. And there, Adam and Eve were taught how to worship the Lord, how to build an altar, what kind of an offering to bring, and God began His long, long story of redemption on the east side of the garden of Eden.
So, we will pick it up next Wednesday night at 7:30 here and continue it through these several weeks beyond.
For more sermons by W.A Criswell, please visit www.wacriswell.com