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“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed : it shall braise thy head, and thou shalt bmise his heel.” — Genesis, 3:15.
Such is the first prophecy which occurs in Scripture. Adam and Eve had transgressed the simple command of their Maker; they had hearkened to the suggestions of the tempter, and eaten of the forbidden fruit. Summoned into the presence of God, each of the three parties is successively addressed; but the serpent, as having originated evil, receives first his sentence.
We have, of course, no power of ascertaining the eternal change which the curse brought upon the serpent. The terms, however, of the sentence, “upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life” (Gen. 3:14), seem to imply that the serpent had not been created a reptile, but became classed with creeping things, as a consequence of the curse. It is probable that heretofore the serpent had been remarkable for beauty and splendor, and that on this account the tempter chose it as the vehicle of his approaches. Eve, in all likelihood, was attracted towards the creature by its loveliness: and when she found it endowed, like herself with the power of speech, she possibly concluded that it had itself eaten of the firuit, and acquired thereby a gift which she thought confined to herself and her husband.
But we may be sure, that, although, to mark his hatred of sin, God pronounced a curse on the serpent, it was against [11/12] the devil, who had actuated the serpent, that the curse was chiefly directed. It may be said that the serpent itself must have been innocent in the matter, and that the curse should have fallen on none but the tempter. But you are to remember that the serpent suffered not alone: every living thing had share in the consequences of disobedience. And although the effect of man's apostasy on the serpent may have been more signal and marked than on other creatures, we have no right to conclude that there was entailed so much greater suffering on this reptile as to distinguish it in misery from the rest of the animal creation.
But undoubtedly it was the devil, more emphatically than the serpent, that God cursed for the seduction of man. The words, indeed, of our text have a primary application to the serpent. It is most strictly true, that, ever since the fall, there has been enmity between man and the serpent. Every man will instinctively recoil at the sight of a serpent. We have a natural and unconquerable aversion from this tribe of living things, which we feel not in respect to others, even fiercer and more noxious. Men, if they find a serpent, will always strive to destroy it, bruising the head in which the poison lies; whilst the serpent will oAen avenge itself, wounding its assailant, if not mortally, yet so as to make it true that it bruises his heel.
But whilst the words have thus, undoubtedly, a fulfillment in respect of the serpent, we cannot question that their reference is chiefly to the devil. It was the devil, and not the serpent, which had beguiled the woman; and it is only in a very limited sense that it could be said to the serpent, “Because thou hast done this.” We are indeed so unacquainted with transactions in the world of spirits, that we cannot pretend to determine what, or whether any, immediate change passed on the condition of Satan and his associates. If the curse upon the serpent took effect upon the devil, it would seem probable, that, ever since the fall, the power of Satan has been specially limited to this earth and its inhabitants. We may gather from the denunciation, “Upon thy belly ■halt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life," [12/13] that, in place of being allowed, as he might before time have been, to range through the universe, machinating against the peace of many orders of intelligence, he was confined to the arena of humanity, and forced to concentrate his energies on the destruction of a solitary race. It would seem altogether possible, that, after his ejectment from heaven, Satan had liberty to traverse the vast area of creation; and that far-off stars and planets were accessible to his wanderings. It is to the full as possible, that, as soon as man apostatized, God confirmed in their allegiance other orders of beings, and shielded them from the assaults of the evil one, by chaining him to the earth on which he had just won a victory. And if, as the result of his having seduced our first parents, Satan were thus sentenced to confinement to this globe, we may readily understand how words, addressed to the serpent, dooming it to trail itself along the ground, had distinct reference to the tempter by whom that serpent had been actuated.
But, whatever be our opinion concerning this part of the curse, there can be no doubt that our text must be explained of the devil, though, as we have shown you, it has a partial fulfillment in respect of the serpent. We must here consider God as speaking to the tempter, and announcing war between Satan and man. We have called the words a prophecy; and, when considered as addressed to the devil, such is properly their designation. But when we remember that they were spoken in the hearing of Adam and Eve, we must regard them also in the light of a promise. And it is well worth remark, that, before God told the woman of her sorrow and her trouble, and before he told the man of the thorn, and the thistle, and the dust to which he should return, he caused them to hear words which must have inspired them with hope. Vanquished they were: and they might have thought that, with an undisputed supremacy, he who had prevailed to their overthrow would ever after hold them in vassalage. Must it not then have been cheering to them, whilst they stood as criminals before their God, expecting the sentence which disobedience had provoked, to hear that their conqueror should not enjoy unassaulted his conquest [14/15] but that there were yet undeveloped arguments which would insure to humanity final mastery over the oppressor? And though, when God turned and spake to themselves, he gave no word of encouragement, but dwelt only on the toil and the death which they had wrought into their portion, still the prophecy to which they had listened must have sunk into their hearts as a promise; and when, with lingering steps, and the first tears ever wept, they departed firom the glorious precincts of Eden, we may believe that one sustained the other by whispering the words, though “thou shalt bruise his heel, it shall bruise thy head.”
There can be no doubt that intimations of redemption were given to our guilty parents, and that they were instructed by God to offer sacrifices which should shadow out the method of atonement. And though it does not of course follow that we are in possession of all the notices mercifully afforded, it seems fair to conclude, as well from the time of delivery as from the nature of the announcement, that our text was designed to convey comfort to the desponding; and that it was received as a message breathing deliverance by those who expected an utter condemnation.
We are not, however, much concerned with the degree in which the prophecy was at first understood. It cannot justly be called an obscure prophecy: for it is quite clear on the fact, that, by some means or another, man should gain advantage over Satan. And though, if considered as referring to Christ, there be a mystery about it, which could only be cleared up by after events, yet, as a general prediction of victory, it must have commended itself, we think, to the understanding and the heart of those of our race by whom it was first heard.
But whether or no the prophecy were intelligible to Adam and Eve, unto ourselves it is a wonderfiil passage, spreading itself over the whole of time, and giving outlines of the history of this world from the beginning to the final consummation. We caution you at once against an idea which many have entertained, that the prediction before us refers only, or even chiefly, to the Redeemer. We shall indeed find, [15/16] as we proceed, that Christ, who was specially the seed of the woman, specially bruised the head of the serpent But the prophecy is to be interpreted in a much larger sense. It is nothing less than a delineation of an unwearied conflict of which this earth shall be the theatre, and which shall issue, though not without partial disaster to man, in the complete discomfiture of Satan and his associates. And no man who is familiar with other predictions of Scripture, can fidl to find, in this brief and solitary verse, the announcement of those very struggles and conquests which occupy the gorgeous poetry of Isaiah, and crowd the mystic canvass of Daniel and St. John.
We wish you, therefore, to dismiss, if you have ever entertained, contracted views of the meaning of our text. It must strike you, at the first glance, that though Christ was in a peculiar sense the seed of the woman, the phrase applies to others as well as the Redeemer. We are therefore bound, by all fair laws of interpretation, to consider that the prophecy must be fulfilled in more than one individual; especially as it declares that the woman, as well as her seed, should entertain the enmity, and thus marks out more than a single party as engaging in the conflict.
Now there are one or two preliminary observations which require all your attention, if you hope to enter into the fiiU meaning of the prediction.
We wish you, first of all, to remark particularly the expression, '“I will put enmity." The enmity, you observe, had no natural existence: God declares his intention of putting enmity. As soon as man transgressed, his nature became evil, and therefore he was, at peace, and not at war with the devil. And thus, had there been no interference on the part of the Almighty, Satan and man would have formed alliance against heaven, and, in place of a contest between themselves, have carried on nothing but battle with God. There is not, and cannot be, a native enmity between fallen angels and fallen men. Both are evil, and both became evil through apostasy. But evil, wheresoever it exists, will always league against good; so that fallen angels and fallen men [15/16] were sure to join in a desperate companionship. Hence the declaration, that enmity should be put, must have been to Satan the first notice of redemption. This lofty spirit must have calculated, that, if he could induce men, as he had induced angels to join in rebellion, he should have them for allies in his every enterprise against heaven. There was nothing of enmity between himself and the spirits who had joined in the effort to dethrone the Omnipotent. At least, whatever the feuds and jarrings which might disturb the rebels, they were linked, as with an iron band, in the one great object of opposing good. So that when he heard that there should be enmity between himself and the woman, he must have felt that some apparatus would be brought to bear upon man; and that, though he had succeeded in depraving human nature, and thus assimilating it to his own, it should be renewed by some mysterious process, and wrought up to the lost power of resisting its conqueror.
And accordingly it has come to pass, that there is enmity on the earth between man and Satan; but an enmity supernaturally put, and not naturally entertained. Unless God pour his converting grace into the soul, there will be no attempt to oppose Satan, but we shall continue to the end of our days his willing captives and servants. And therefore it is God who puts the enmity. Introducing a new principle into the heart, he causes conflict where there had heretofore been peace, inclining and enabling man to rise against his tyrant. So that, in these first words of the prophecy, you have the clearest intimation that God designed to visit the depraved nature with a renovating energy. And now, whensoever you see an individual delivered from the love, and endowed with a hatred of sin, resisting those passions which held naturally sway within his breast, and thus grappling with the fallen spirit which claims dominion upon earth, you are surveying the workings of a principle which is wholly from above; and you are to consider that you have before you the fulfillment of the declaration, “I will put enmity between thee arid the woman.”
We go on to observe that the enmity, being thus a superhuman [16/17] thing, implanted by God and not generated by man, will not subsist universally, but only in particular cases. You will have seen, from our foregoing showings, that a man must be renewed in order to his fighting with Satan; so that God's putting the enmity is God's giving saving grace. The prophecy cannot be interpreted as declaring that the whole human race should be at war with the devil: the undoubted matter-of-fact being that only a portion of the race resumes its loyalty to Jehovah. And we are bound, therefore, before proceeding further with our interpretation, to examine whether this limitation is marked out by the prediction — whether, that is, we might infer, from the terms of the prophecy, that the placed enmity would be partial, not universal.
Now we think that the expression, “hy seed and her seed,” shows at once that the enmity would be felt by only a part of mankind. The enmity is to subsist, not merely between Satan and the woman, but between his seed and her seed. But the seed of Satan can only be interpreted of wicked men. Thus Christ said to the Jews, “Ye are of your father the devil; and the lusts of your father ye will do” (John 8:44). Thus also expounding the parable of the tares and the wheat, he said, “The tares are the children of the wicked one” (Matthew, 13:38). Thus There is, probably, the same reference in the expression, “O generation of vipers.” And, in like manner, you find St John declaring, “He that committeth sin is of the devil” (1 John 3:18). Thus, then, by the seed of Satan we understand wicked men, those who resist God's Spirit, and obstinately adhere to the service of the devil. And if we must interpret the seed of Satan of a portion of mankind, it is evident that the prophecy marks not out the enmity as general, but indicates just that limitation which has been supposed in our preceding remarks.
But then the question occurs, how are we to interpret the woman and her seed? Such expression seems to denote the whole human race. What right have we to limit it to a part of that race? We reply, that it certainly does not denote the [17/18] whole human race: for if you interpret it literally of Eve and her descendants, Adam, at least, is left out. who was neither the woman nor her seed. But without insisting on the objection under this form, fatal as it is to the proposed interpretation, we should not be warranted, though we have no distinct account of the faith and repentance of Adam, in so explaining a passage as to exclude our common forefather from final salvation. You must see, that, if we take literally the woman and her seed, no enmity was put between Adam and Satan; for Adam was neither the woman nor the seed of the woman. And if Adam continued in friendship with Satan, it must be certain that he perished in his sins: a conclusion to which we dare not advance without scriptural testimony the most clear and explicit.
We cannot, then, understand the woman and her seed, as Eve and her natural descendants. We must rather believe, that as the seed of the serpent is to be interpreted spiritually and symbolically, so also is the seed of the woman. And when you remember that Eve was a signal type of the church, there is an end of the difficulties by which we seem met. You know, from the statement of St. Paul to the Romans, that Adam was the figure of Christ (Romans 5:14.). Now it was his standing to Eve in the very same relationship in which Christ stands to the church which specially made Adam the figure of Christ. The side of Adam had been opened, when a deep sleep fell on him, in order that Eve might be formed, an extract from himself And thus, as Hooker saith, “God frameth the church out of the very flesh, the very wounded and bleeding side of the Son of man. His body crucified, and his blood shed for the life of the world, are the true elements of that heavenly being which maketh us such as himself is, of whom we come. For which cause the words of Adam may be fitly the words of Christ concerning his church, ‘Flesh of my flesli, and bone of my bones.’” We cannot go at length into the particulars of the typical resemblance between Eve and the church. It is sufficient to observe, that since Adam, the husband [18/19] of Eve, was the figure of Christ, and since Christ is the husband of the church, it seems naturally to follow that Eve was the figure or type of the church. And when we have established this typical character of Eve, it is easy to understand who' are meant by the woman and her seed. The true church of God in every age — whether you consider it as represented by its head, which is Christ; whether you survey it collectively as a body, or resolve it into its separate members — this true church of God must be regarded as denoted by the woman and her seed. And though you may think — for we wish, as we proceed, to anticipate objections — that, if Eve be the church, it is strange that her seed should be also the church, yet it is the common usage of Scripture to represent the church as the mother, and every new convert as a child. Thus, in addressing the Jewish church, and describing her glory and her greatness in the latter days, Isaiah saith, “Thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side.” And again — contrasting the Jewish and Grentile churches — “More are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord.” So that, although the church can be nothing more than the aggregate of individual believers, the inspired writers commonly describe the church as a parent, and believers as the offspring; and in understanding, therefore, the church and its members by the woman and her seed, we cannot be advocating a forced interpretation.
And now we have made a long advance towards the thorough elucidation of the prophecy. We have shown you, that, inasmuch as the enmity is supernaturally put, it can only exist in a portion of mankind. We then endeavored to ascertain this portion: and we found that the true church of God, in every age, comprehends all those who war with Satan and his seed. So that the representation of the prediction—a representation whose justice we have yet to examine — is simply that of a perpetual conflict, on this earth, between wicked angels and wicked men on the one side, and the church of God, or the company of true believers, on the other; such conflict, though occasioning partial injury to [19/20] the church, aivrays iBSUuig is the discomfiture of -the wicked.
We now set ours^es to demonstrate the accuracy of this representation. We have already said that there are three points of view in which the church may be regarded. We may consider it, as represented by its head, whicii is Christ; secondly, collectively as a body; thirdly, as resolved into its separate members. We shall endeavor to show you brieflyi in each of these cases, the fidelity of the description, " It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel."
Now the enmity was never put in such overpowering measure, as when the man Christ Jesus was its residence. It was in Christ Jesus in one sense naturally, and in another supernaturally. He was born pure, and with a native hatred of sin; but then he had been miraculously generated, in order that his nature might be thus hostile to evil. And never did there move the being on this earth who hated sin with as perfect a hatred, or who was as odious in return to all the emissaries of darkness. It was just the holiness of the Mediator which stirred up against him all the passions of a profligate world, and provoked that fiiry of assault which rushed in from the hosts of reprobate spirits. There was thrown a perpetual reproach on a proud and sensual generation, by the spotlessness of that righteous individual, “who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). And if he had not been so far separated, by the purities of life and conversation, from all others of his nature; or if vice had received a somewhat less tremendous rebuke from the blamelessness of his every action; we may be sure that his might and benevolence would have gathered the nation to his discipleship, and that the multitude would never have been worked up to demand his crucifixion.
The great secret of the opposition to Christ lay in the fact, that he was not such an one as ourselves. We are accustomed to think that the lowliness of his condition, and the want of external majesty and pomp, moved the Jews to reject their Messiah: yet it is by no means clear that tese were, [20/21] in the main, the producing causes of rejection. If Christ came not with the purple and circumstance of human sovereignty, he displayed the possession of a supernatural power, which, even on the most camal calculation, was more valuable, because more effective, than the staunchest apparatus of earthly supremacy. The peasant, who could work the miracles which Christ worked, would be admitted, on all hands, to have mightier engines at his disposal than the prince who is clothed with the ermine and followed by the warriors. And if the Jews looked for a Messiah who would lead them to mastery over enemies, then, we contend, there was every thing in Christ to induce them to give him their allegiance. The power which could vanquish death by a word might cause hosts to fall, as fell the hosts of Sennacherib; and where then was the foe who could have resisted the leader?
We cannot, therefore, think that it was merely the absence of human pageantry which moved the great ones of Judea to throw scorn upon Jesus. It is true, they were expecting an earthly deliverer. But Christ displayed precisely those powers, which, wielded by Moses, had prevailed to deliver their nation from Egypt; and assuredly then, if that strength dwelt in Jesus which had discomfited Pharaoh, and broken the thraldom of centuries, it could not have been the proved incapacity of effecting temporal deliverance which induced pharisees and scribes to reject their Messiah. They would have tolerated the meaimess of his parentage; for that was more than compensated by the majesty of his power. They could have endured the lowliness of his appearance; for they could set against it his evident communion with divinity.
But the righteous fervor with which Christ denounced every abomination in the land; the untainted purity by which he shamed the “whited sepulchres” who deceived the people by the appearance of sanctity; the rich loveliness of a character in which zeal for Grod's glory was unceasingly uppermost; the beautiful lustre which encompassed a being who could hate only one thing, but that one thing sin; [21/22] these were the producing causes of bitter hostility; and they who would have hailed the wonder-worker with the shout and the plaudit, had he allowed some license to the evil passions of our nature, gave him nothing but the sneer and the execrationy when he waged open war with lust and hypocrisy.
And thus it was that enmity, the fiercest and most intemperate, was put between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. The serpent himself came to the assistance of his seed; evil angels conspired with evil men; and the whole energies of apostasy gathered themselves to the effort of destroying the champion of God and of truth. Yea, and for a while success seemed to attend the endeavor. There was a bruising of the heel of the seed of the woman. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11). Charged only with an embassage of mercy; sent by the Father — not to condemn the world, though rebellion had overspread its provinces, and there was done the foulest despite to God, in its every section, and by its every tenant — but that the world through him might have life; he was, nevertheless, scorned as a deceiver, and hunted down as a malefactor. And if it were a bruising of the heel, that he should be “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3) that a nation should despise him, and friends deny and forsake and betray him; that he should be buffeted with temptation, convulsed by agony, lacerated by stripes, pierced by nails, crowned with thorns; then was the heel of the Redeemer bruised by Satan; for to all this injury the fallen angel instigated and nerved his seed. But though the heel was bruised, this was the whole extent of effected damage. There was no real advantage gained over the Mediator: on the contrary, whilst Satan was in the act of bruising Christ's heel, Christ was in the act of bruising Satan's head. The Savior, indeed, exposed himself to every kind of insult and wrong. Whilst enduring “the contradiction of sinners against himself” (Hebrews 12:3), it is not to be denied that a strange result was brought round by the machinations of the evil ones; for suffering, which is the attendant [22/23] on sinfulness, was made to empty all its pangs into the bosom of innocence. And seeing that his holiness should have exempted his humanity from all kinsmanship with sorrow and anguish, we are free to allow that the heel was bruised, when pain found entrance into this humanity, and grief, heavier than had oppressed any being of our race, weighed down his over-wrought spirit.
But, then, there was not an iota of his sufferings which went not towards liquidating the vast debt which man owed to God, and which, therefore, contributed not to our redemption from bondage. There was not a pang by which the Mediator was torn, and not a grief by which his soul was disquieted, which helped not on the achievement of human deliverance, and which, therefore, dealt not out a blow to the despotism of Satan. So that, from the beginning, the bruising of Christ's heel was the bruising of Satan's head. In prevailing, so far as he did prevail, against Christ, Satan was only effecting his own discomfiture and downfall. He touched the heel, he could not touch the head of the Medi. ator. If he could have seduced him into the commission of evil; if he could have profaned, by a solitary thought, the sanctuary of his soul; then it would have been the head which he had bruised; and rising triumphant over man's surety, he would have shouted, " Victory and this creation have become for ever his own. But whilst he could only cause pain, and not pollution; whilst he could dislocate by agony, but not defile by impurity; he reached indeed the heel, but came not near the head; and, making the Savior's life-time one dark series of afflictions, weakened, at every step, his own hold upon humanity.
And when, at last, he so bruised the heel as to nail Christ to the cross, amid the loathings and revilings of the multitude, then it was that his own head was bruised, even to the being crushed. “Through death,“ we are told, “Christ Jesus destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). He fell indeed; and evil angels, and evil men, [23/24] might have thought him for ever defeated. But in grasping this mighty prey, death paralyzed itself; in breaking down the temple, Satan demolished his own throne. It was, as ye all know, by dying, that Christ finished the achievement which, from all eternity, he had covenanted to undertake. By dying, he reinstated fallen man in the position from which he had been hurled. Death came against the Mediator; but, in submitting to it, Christ, if we may use such image, seized on the destroyer, and, waving the skeleton-form as a sceptre over this creation, broke the spell of a thousand generations, dashing away the chains, and opening the graves, of an oppressed and rifled population. And when he had died, and descended into the grave, and returned without seeing comiption, then was it made possible that every child of Adam might be emancipated from the dominion of evil; and, in place of the wo[e] and the shame which transgression had won as the heritage of man, there was the beautiful brightness of a purchased immortality wooing the acceptance of the sons and daughters of our race. The strong man armed had kept his goods in peace; and Satan, having seduced men to be his companions in rebellion, might have felt secure of having them as his companions in torment. But the stronger than he drew nigh, and, measuring weapons with him in the garden and on the cross, received wounds which were but trophies of victory, and dealt wounds which annihilated power. And when, bruised indeed, yet only marked with honorable scars which told out his triumph to the loftiest orders of intelligent being, the Redeemer of mankind soared on high, and sent proclamation through the universe, that death was abolished, and the ruined redeemed, and the gates of heaven thrown open to the rebel and the outcast, was there not an accomplishment, the most literal and the most energetic, of that prediction which declared to Satan concerning the seed of the woman, “it shall bruise thy head and thou shalt bruise his heel?”
Such is the first and great fulfilment of the prophecy. The church, represented by its head who was specially the seed of the woman, overthrew the devil in one decisive and desperate 24/25] struggle, and, though not itself unwounded, received no blow which rebounded not to the crushing its opponent.
We proceed, secondly, to consider the church collectively as a body. We need scarcely observe that, from the first, the righteous amongst men have been objects of the combined assault of their evil fellows and evil angels. The enmity has been put, and strikingly developed. On the one hand, it has been the endeavor of the church to vindicate God's honor, and arrest the workings of wickedness: on the other, it has been the effort of the serpent and his seed to sweep from the earth these upholders of piety. And though the promise has all along been verified, that the gates of bell shall not prevail against the church, it cannot be denied that a great measure of success has attended the strivings of the adversary. If you only call to mind what fierce persecution; has rushed against the righteous; how by one engine or another there has been, oftentimes, almost a thorough extinction of the very name of Christianity; and how, when outwardly there has been peace, tares, sown by the enemy, have sent up a harvest of perilous heresies; you cannot withhold your acknowIedgment that Satan has bruised the heel of the church. But he has done nothing else. If he have hewn down thousands by the sword, and consumed thousands at the stake, thousands have sprung forward to fill up the breach; and if he have succeeded in pouring forth a flood of pestilential doctrine, there have arisen staunch advocates of truth who have stemmed the torrent, and snatched the articles of faith, uninjured, from the deluge. There has never been the time when God has been left without a witness upon earth. And though the church has often been sickly and weak; though the best blood has been drained from her veins, and a languor, like that of moral palsy, has settled on her limbs; still life hath never been wholly extinguished; but, after a while, the sinking energies have been marvellously recruited, and the worn and wasted body has risen up more athletic than before, and displayed to the nations all the vigor of renovated youth.
So that only the heel has been bruised. And since, up to the  advent of the Lord, the church shall be battered and persecution, and infideUty, we look not, under the present dispensation, for discontinuance of this bruising of the heel. Yet, while Satan is bruising the church’s heel, the church, by God's help, is braising Satan's head. The church may be compelled to prophesy in sackcloth. Affliction may be her portion, as it was that of her glorified head. But the church is, throughout, God's witness upon earth. The church is God's instrument for carrying on those purposes which shall terminate in the final setting up of the Mediator's kingdom. And, oh, there is not won over a single soul to Christ, and the Gospel message makes not its way to a single heart, without an attendant effect as of a stamping on the head of the tempter: for a captive is delivered from the oppressor, and to deliver the slave is to defeat the tyrant Thus the seed of the woman is continually bi;i|ising tfie head of the serpent. And whensoever the church, as an engine in God's hands, makes a successful stand for piety and truth; whensoever, sending out her missionaries to the broad waste of heathenism, she demolishes an altar of superstition, and teaches the pagan to cast his idols to the mole and the bat; or whensoever, assaulting mere nominal Christianity, she fastens men to practice as the alone test of profession; then does she strike a blow which is felt at the very centre of the kingdom of darkness, and then is she experiencing a partial fulfilment of the promise, “God shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly” (Rom 16:20).
And when the fierce and on-going conflict shall be brought to a close; when this burdeood creation shall have shaken off the slaves and the objects of concupiscence, and the church of the living God shall reign, with its head, over the tribes aud provinces of an evangelized earth; then in the completeness of the triumph of righteousness shall be the cpnipUitenessof the serpent's discomfiture. And as the angel and due ^archangel contrast the slight injury which Satan could eves- cause to the church, with that overwhelming [26/27] ruiu which the church has, at last, hurled down upon Satan; as they compare the brief struggle and the everlasting glory of the one, with the shadowy success and the never-ending torments of the other; will they not decide, and tell out their decision in language of rapture and admiration, that, if ever prediction were fulfilled to the very letter, it is that which, addressed to the serpent, and describing the church as the seed of the woman, declared, “It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel?”
Such is the second fulfilment of the prophecy of our text. The church, considered collectively as a body, is so assaulted by the serpent and his seed that his heel is bruised: but even now it offers such resistance to evil, and hereafter it shall triumph so signally over every opponent, that the prediction, “it shall bruise thy head,” must be received as destined to a literal accomplishment.
We have yet to notice the third fulfillment. We may resolve the church into its separate members, and, taking each individual believer as the seed of the woman, show you how our text is realisied in his experience.
Now if there be enmity between the serpent and the church generally, of course there is also between the serpent and each member of that church. We have already given it as the description. of a converted man, that he has been supenaturally excited to a war with the devil. Whilst left in the darkness and alienation of nature, he submits willingly to the dominion of evil: evil is his element, and he neither strives nor wishes for emancipation. But when the grace of God is introduced into his heart, he will discern quickly the danger and hatefulness of sin, and will yield himself, in a higher strength than his own, to the work of resisting the serpent. Thus enmity is put between the believer and the serpent and his seed. Let a man give himself to the concerns of eternity; let him, in good earnest, set about the bnnness of the soul's salvation; and he will, assuredly, draw upon himself fhe dislike thd opposition of a whole circte of worldly acquaintance, so that his over-preciseness and austerity will become subject of ridicule in his village or neighborhood [27/28] We quite mistake the nature both of Christianity and of man, if we suppose that opposition to religion can be limited to an age or a country. Persecution, in its most terrible forms, is only the development of a principle which must unavoidably exist until either Christianity or human nature be altered. There is a necessary repugnance between Christianity and human nature. The two cannot be amalgamated: one must be changed before it will combine with the other. And we fear that this is, in a degree, an overlooked truth, and that men are disposed to assign persecution to local or temporary causes. But we wish you to be clear on the fact, that “the offence of the cross" (Galatians 5:11) has not ceased, and cannot cease. We readily allow that the form, under Which the hatred manifests itself, will be sensibly affected by the civilization and intelligence of the age. In days of an imperfect refinement and a scanty literature, you will find this hatred unsheathing the sword, and lighting the pile: but when human society is at a high point of polish and knowledge, aAd the principles of religious toleration are well understood, there is perhaps, comparatively, small likelihood that savage violence will be the engine employed against godliness. Yet there are a hundred batteries which may and will be opened upon the righteous. The follower of Christ must calculate on many sneers, and much reviling. He must look to meet often with coldness and contempt, harder of endurance than many forms of martyrdom; for the courage which could march to the stake may bck daunted by a laugh. And, firequently, the opposition assumes a more decided shape. The parent will act harshly towards the child; the superior withdraw his countenance from the dependent; and all because of a giving heed to the directions of Scripture. Religion, as though it were rebellion, alienates the affections, and alters the wills, of fathers and guardians. So that we tell an individual that he binds himself to plain matters of fact, if he espouse the opinion that the apostle's words applied only to the first ages of Christianity, “all that will live godly in [28/29] Christ Jesus sball suffer persecution” (Tim 3:12). To “live godly in Christ Jesus” is to have enmity put between yourselves and the seed of the serpent; and you may be assured, that, unless this enmity be merely nominal on your side, it will manifest itself by acts on the other.
Thus the prophecy of our text announces, what has been verified by the history of all ages, that no man can serve God without uniting against himself evil men and evil angels. Evil angels will assault him, alarmed that their prey is escaping from their grasp. Evil men, rebuked by his example, will become agents of the serpent, and strive to wrench him from his righteousness.
But what, after all, is the amount of injury which the serpent and his seed can cause to God's children? Is it not a truth, which can only then be denied when you have cashiered the authority of every page of the Bible, that he who believes upon Christ, and who, therefore, has been adopted through faith into God's family, is certain to be made more than conqueror, and to trample under foot every enemy of salvation? The conflict between a believer and his foes may be long and painful. The Christian may be often forced to exclaim with St. Paul, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Rom 7:84) Engaged with the triple band of the world, the flesh, and the devil, he will experience many partial defeats, and, surprised off his guard, or wearied out with watchings, will yield to temptation, and so fall into sin. But it is certain, certain as that God is omnipotent and faithful, that the once justified man shall be enabled to persevere to the end; to persevere, not in an idle dependence on privileges, but in a struggle which, if for an instant interrupted, is sure to be vehemently renewed. And, therefore, the bruising of the heel is the sum total of the mischief. Thus much, undoubtedly, the serpent can effect. He can harass with temptation, and occasionally prevail. But he cannot undo the radical work of conversion. He cannot eject the principle of grace; and he cannot, [29/30] therefore, bring back the man into the condition of his slave or his subject. Thus he cannot wound the head of the new man. He may diminish his comforts. He may impede his growth in holiness. He may inject doubts and suspicions, and thus keep him disquieted, when, if he would live up to his privileges, he might rejoice and be peaceful. But all this — and we show you here the full sweep of the serpent's power — still leaves the man a believer; and, therefore, all this, though it bruise the heel, touches not the head.
And though the believer, like the unbeliever, must pubmit to the power of death, and tread the dark valley of that curse which still rests on our nature, is there experienced more than a bruising of the heel in the undergoing this dissolution of humanity? It is an injury — for we go not with those who would idolize, or soften down, death — that the soul must be detached from the body, and sent out, a widow, ed thing, on the broad joumeyings of eternity. It is an injury, that this ourious framework of matter, as much redeemed by Christ as the giant-guest which it encases, must be taken down, joint by joint, and rafter by rafter, and, resolved into its original elements, lose every trace of having been human. But what, we again say, is the extent of this injury? The foot of the destroyer shall be set upon the body; and he shall stamp till he have ground it into powder, and dispersed it to the winds. But he cannot annihilate a lonely particle. He can put no arrest on that germinating process which shall yet cause the vallies [sic] and mountains of this globe to stand thick with a harvest of flesh. He cannot hinder my resurrection. And when the soul, over which he hath had no power, rushes into the body which he shall be forced to resign, and the child of God stands forth, a man, yet immortal, compound of flesh and spirit, but each pure, each indestructible; — oh, though Satan may have battered at his peace during a long earthly pilgrimage; though he may have marred his happiness by successful temptation; though he may have detained for centuries his body in corruption; will not the inflicted injury appear to have been so trivial and insignificant, that a bruising of the heel, in place of [30/31] falling short of the matter-of-fact, shall itself seem almost an overwought description?
And, all the while, though Satan can only bruise the believer's heel, the believer is bruising Satan’s head. If the believer be one who fights the serpent, and finally conquers, by that final conquest the serpent's head is bruised. If he be naturally the slave of the serpent; if he rebel against the tyrant, throw off his chains, and vanquish him, fighting ineh by inch the ground to freedom and glory; then he bruises the serpent's head. If two beings are antagonists, he who decisively overcomes bruises the head of his opponent. But the believer and the serpent are antagonists. The believer gains completely the mastery over the serpent. And, therefore, the result of the contest is the fulfilment of the prediction that the seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent Oh, if, as we well know, the repentance of a single sinner send a new and exquisite delight down the ranks of the hosts of heaven, and cause the sweeping of a rich and glorious anthem from the countless harps of the sky, can we doubt that the same event spreads consternation through the legions of fallen spirits, and strikes, like a death-blow, on their haughty and malignant leader? Aye, and we believe that never is Satan so taught his subjugated estate, as when a soul, which he had counted as his own, escapes " as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers" (Psalm 124:7). and seeks and finds protection in Jesus. If it be then that Christ sees "of the travail of his soul (Isaiah, 53:11), it it must be then that the serpent tastes all the bitterness of defeat. And when the warfare is over, and the spirit, which he hath longed to destroy, soars away, convoyed by the angels which wait on the heirs of salvation, must it not be then that the conscioustiess of lost mastery seizes, with crushing foraifon the proud foe of our race; and does not that fierce.cry of disappointment which seems to follow the ascending soul, causing her to feel herself only " scarcely saved” (I Peter 4:18), testify that, in thus winning a heritage of glory, the believer hath bruised the head of the serpent? [31/32]
We shall not examine further this third fulfilment of the prophecy of our text. But we think that when you contrast the slight injury which Satan, at the worst, can cause to a believer, with the mighty blow which the deliverance of a believer deals out to Satan; the nothingness, at last, of the harm done to God's people, with that fearful discomfiture which their individual rescue fastens on the devil; you will confess, that, considering the church as resolved into its separate members, just as when you survey it oollectively as a body, or as represented by its head, there is a literal accomplishment of this prediction to the serpent concerning the seed of the woman, “it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”
We have thus, as we trust, shown you that the prophecy of our text extends itself over the whole surface of time, so that, from the fall of Adam, it has been receiving accomplishment, and will continue being fulfilled until “death and hell are cast into the lake Of fire” (Rev 20:14). It was a wonderful announcement, and, if even but imperfectly understood, must have confounded the serpent, and cheered Adam and Eve. Dust shalt both eat, foe of humankind, when this long-oppressed creation is delivered from thy despotism. As though to mark to us that there shall be no suspensjion of the doom of our destroyer, whilst this earth rejoices in the restitution of all things, Isaiah, in describing millennial harmony, still leaves, the serpent under the sentence of our text. “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together; and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock; and dust shall be the serpent’s meat” (Isaiah 65:25). There comes a day of deliverance to every other creature, but none to the serpent. Oh, mysterious dealing of our God! that for fallen angels there hath been no atonement, for fallen men a full, perfect, and su£Bcient. They were far nobler than we, of a loftier intelligence and more splendid endowment; yet (“how unsearchable are his judgments”) we are taken and they are left. , "For verily he taketh not hold of angels, but of the seed of Abraham he taketh hold” (Hebrews 2:16; marginal reading). [32/33]
And shall we, thus singled out and made objects of marvellous mercy, refuse to be delivered, and take our portion with those who are both fallen and unredeemed? Shall we eat the dust, when we may eat of “the bread which cometh down from heaven?” (John 6:50) Covetous man! thy money is the dust; thou art eating the serpent's meat. Sensual man! thy gratifications are of the dust; thou art eating the serpent's meat. Ambitious man! thine honors are of the dust; thou art eating the serpent's meat. O God, put enmity between us and the serpent. Will ye, every one of you, use that short prayer ere ye lie down to rest this night, O God, put enmity between us and the serpent? If ye are not at enmity, his folds are round your limbs. If ye are not at enmity, his sting is at your heart. But if ye will, hencefcur* ward, count him a foe, oppose him in God's strength, and attack him with “the sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17);then, though ye may have your seasons of disaster and depression, the promise flftands sure that ye shall finally overcome; and it shall be proved by each one in this assembly, that, though the serpent may braise the heel of the seed of the woman, yet, at last, the seed of the woman always bruises the head of the serpent
- “Bruising the serpent’s head” as a prophetical type
- “Bruising the serpent’s head” in literature and Art
Henry Melvill. "The First Prophecy." Sermons. New York: Stanford and Swords, 1854. Internet Archive online version of a copy in the Harvard University Library. Web. 26 March 2018.
Last modified 26 March 2018