‘He drove out the man’ (Gen. 3:24). I think most people would assume that this divine activity towards Adam, when God expelled him from the Garden of Eden after his sin, was a sign of judgement only. Yet a well-known Scottish preacher from the nineteenth century, Charles J. Brown, in a sermon on the verse from Genesis 3 argues that it was also an act of mercy because it forced Adam away from a method of attaining holiness that no longer existed for him.
It was judgement
The divine judgement was twofold. First, the permanent expulsion from the location of great beauty (the Garden) is a reminder that the wrath of God was revealed strongly against those who had forsaken him as the fountain of living waters. Such rejection of God is astonishing, and the nature of the divine response reveals the seriousness of rejecting him.
Second, the expulsion was the final shutting out of man from finding salvation by the covenant of works. The covenant of works was the arrangement made by God with Adam that he would remain upright as long as he obeyed God’s requirements from the heart. While he had been in the Garden he would have eaten of the tree of life which symbolised for him that his hope of endless glory was dependent on him keeping the law. But now Adam had forfeited any right to life in that way, although he may have imagined that he could still have done so by eating from that tree. Therefore, he was driven from the Garden, away from the former path of obtaining eternal life, a path that no longer existed because of divine judgement.
It was mercy
In order to appreciate that the expulsion was an act of mercy we have to remember that it followed the announcement of a coming Deliverer, the Seed of the woman. So expelling Adam away from the possibility of trying to recover what he had lost in the Garden was an act of mercy because it made it possible for him to trust in the coming Saviour. Outside the Garden, there is only one way of salvation revealed for sinners whereas in the Garden Adam would have wondered if there was another way back to God. This means that the expulsion was providential mercy because it removed Adam from attempting an alternative way of returning to God.
No doubt, the Garden was an easier to place to live in than outside of it. After all, it was the Lord who had planted in Eden the garden and then placed Adam there in a very pleasant and beautiful environment. Brown suggests that the Garden would have been for Adam the sinner ‘a show of heaven without the reality of it’. In order to get to the Paradise of the future, he had to be expelled from the Paradise of the past, even if the location he now found himself in was marred by the curse. And God would use the problems and troubles of Adam’s new location as means to make him long for the real Paradise.
According to Brown, many people imagine that by their own spiritual interests and activities they can recover the experience of Eden. Yet he points out that we are no longer in an Eden now, and then adds, ‘How terrible to miss both Paradises.’ Because that is what will happen to those who try and find salvation by their own works. In contrast, those who trust in Jesus expect no Eden here, nor do they want the Eden of the past. They recognise that troubles they face are both the consequences of sin and the means by which God shows mercy to them because through afflictions they learn his statutes. And those troubles lead them to think of the Paradise to come. As they journey towards it, they come up from the wilderness leaning on their Beloved.