THERE have been many very famous kings’ gardens, such as those hanging gardens in Nineveh, wherein Sardanapalus delighted himself, and that remarkable garden of Cyrus, in which he took such great interest, because, as he said, every tree and every plant in it had been both planted and tended by his own royal hand. Imagination might bid you wander among the beauties of the celebrated villas and gardens of the Roman emperors, or make you linger amid the roses and lilies of the voluptuous gardens of the Persian caliphs, but we have nobler work in hand. I call you to come with me to the orchard of pomegranates, to beds of spices, camphire with spikenard, calamus and cinnamon, myrrh and aloes, with trees of frankincense. I am not about to speak of the gardens of any earthly monarch, for we can find far fairer flowers and rarer fruits in the gardens of the King of kings, the resorts of His Son, the Prince Immanuel.
The first king’s garden was the garden of paradise, which was situated in the midst of Eden.
You will read of it in the Book of Genesis. It was doubtless a fairer place than we have ever seen, and much more marvelous for beauty than we can imagine. It was full of all manner of delights, a fruitful spot wherein the man who was set to keep it would have no need to toil, but would find it a happy and refreshing exercise to train the luxurious plants. No sweat was ever seen upon his happy brow, for he cultivated a virgin soil. An abundance of luscious fruits ministered to his necessities. He could stretch himself upon soft couches of moss, and no inclemencies of weather disturbed his repose. No winter wind scattered the leaves of Eden, no summer heat burned up its flowers. There were sweet alternations of day and night, but the day brought no sorrow, and the night no danger.
The beasts were there; yet not as beasts of prey, but as the obedient servants of that happy man whom God had made to have dominion over all the works of His hands. In the midst of the garden grew that mysterious Tree of Life, of which we know so little literally, but of which, I trust, we know so much in its spiritual meaning, for we have fed upon its fruits, and have been healed by its leaves. Hard by it stood the tree of knowledge of good and evil, placed there as the test of obedience.
Adam’s mind was equally balanced, it had no bias to evil, and God left him to the freedom of his will, giving this as the test of his loyalty, that, if obedient, he would never touch the fruit of that one tree. Why need he? There were tens of thousands of trees, all of which bowed down their branches with abundant fruit for his hunger or his luxury. Why need he desire that solitary tree which God had fenced and hedged about? But, in an evil hour, at the serpent’s base suggestion, we know not how soon after his creation, he put forth his hand and plucked from the forbidden tree!
The mere plucking of the fruit seems little to the thoughtless, but the breaking of the Maker’s law was a great offense to heaven, for it was man throwing down the gauntlet of battle against his Creator, and breaking his allegiance to his Lord and Master; this was great, great in itself and in its mischievous effects, for Adam fell that day, and out of Eden he was driven to till the thankless, thorn-bearing soil, and you and I fell in him, and were banished with him. We were in his loins. He was the “father of us all,” and on us, he has brought the curse of toil, and in us all he has sown the seeds of iniquity.
Let it never be forgotten, in connection with the Garden of Eden, that we are not now a pure and sinless race, and cannot be by nature, however civilised we may become. Men are born no longer with balanced minds, but a heavy weight of original sin in the scale. We are averse to that which is good. The bias of the mind of man, when he is born into the world, is towards that which is evil, and we as naturally go astray as the serpent naturally learns to hiss, or the wolf to tear and to devour.
Beware of thinking too little of the fall. Slight thoughts upon the fall are at the root of false theologies; the mischief that has been wrought in us is not a trifling matter, but a thing to be trembled at. Only the Divine Hand can reclaim us. The house of manhood has been shaken to its foundations; each timber is decayed; the leprosy is in the tottering wall. Man must be made new by the same creating hand that first made him, or he can never be a dwelling place fit for God.
Let those who boast of their natural goodness look to the Garden of Eden and be ashamed of their pride, and then examine their own actions by the glass of God’s most holy law, and be confounded that they should dream of purity. How can he be pure that is born of woman? “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean thing? Not one.” As our mothers were sinful, such are we, and such will our children be; as long as men are brought into the world by natural generation, we shall be “born in sin and shapen in iniquity;” and, if we are to be accepted by God, we must be born again, and made new creatures in Christ Jesus.
Alas! then, alas! for that first king’s garden! The flowers are gone; the birds have ceased to sing! The winter winds howl through it, and the summer sun scorches it! The beasts of prey are there. Perhaps the very site of it, which is now unknown, may be a den of dragons, a habitation for the pelican of the wilderness, and the bittern of desolation! If it be so, fit image of our natural estate, for we were altogether given up to desolation and destruction unless One mighty to save had espoused our cause.
C. H. Spurgeon, Teachings of Nature in the Kingdom of Grace