THE ENDLESS CONFLICT

This entry is part of 21 in the series article 27

"And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and be- 
tween thy seed and her seed. It shall bruise thy head, and thou 
shalt bruise his heel." GENESIS iii. 15. 

THE story of how the world began to sin must 
always have profoundest interest for every man, 
who, while he cannot remember the beginning of 
his own sinning, has always present with him the 
thought of what a dreadful difference sin has made 
in his own life. In the story of Genesis, this verse 
which I have read stands in a most critical and 
touching place. Sin has come. Disobedience is in 
the world. Now, what will it lead to? What sort 
of future now is possible? A hush and pause almost 
seem to fall upon the history, as when some bold, 
strong voice has spoken out a word, and all the 
world seems listening to hear in what form the echo 
will come back from the hillside. Adam and Eve 
have sinned. The man and woman are no longer 
righteousness and purity. Disobedience has come 
in. And as they stand, awestruck and anxious, 
God's word comes to them, and they hear what 
the issue and consequences are to be. It is all in 
these words which God speaks to the serpent who 
represents the evil power of their sin : "I will put en- 
mity between thee and the woman, and between thy 
seed and her seed. It shalt bruise thy head and 
thou shalt bruise his heel." In these words the pro 
gramme of humanity is told. Man is to be in ever- 
lasting conflict with his sin. His sin is going to 
Wound him sorely. But ultimately he is going to 
conquer his sin and kill it. 

And is it not true that, in every sincere and 
earnest life, there comes a time which answers to 
that critical moment in the world's history? It is 
the time in which a man finds out his sin, finds that 
the problem of his life is complicated with the fact 
of moral evil. Innocence is gone, and lies behind 
him forever. He has sinned. He is a sinner. 
What is to come of it? Oh, what a hush and a sus- 
pense falls on a life at that discovery ! The wanton 
act of sin has evidently started long trains of conse- 
quences, so very much longer than the sinner knew. 
He listens for the remote reverberations of his 
wickedness ; and to him there comes really the same 
word of God: "I will put enmity between you and 
your sin. It shall bruise your heel; but you shall 
bruise its head. " This is the prospect that opens 
before the man waiting to know what will become 
of him now that he has sinned, perpetual conflict 
with his sin, cruel wounds and pain and hindrance 
inflicted by his sin on him, and ultimate triumph 
over his sin by the grace of God, if he will have it. 

If I am right, and the words which God spoke in 
Genesis, when the new world lay overshadowed by 
the first sin, do really tell the story of your life and 
mine to-day ; then, for one moment stop and think 
how wonderful it is. Here is the story of what you 
and I are, and of what is to happen to us to-day, 
written away back so many centuries ago that the 
imagination aches as it struggles on in search of that 
far-off time. How persistent human character must 
be! How the lot of the individual is the lot of the 
race in miniature! How persistent sin is! What is 
this wondrous Book which so contains the words of 
God, which prove themselves His words by being 
eternal and all-reaching in their truth, as He is? 

Let us consider this verse in detail, and see how 
truly it tells the tale of human life, and how nobly 
it tells it, and in a way that is full of encouragement. 
I think it ought to bring peace and strength to us, 
partly from what it has specifically to say to us, and 
partly from the very fact that to find our story 
told so far off and so long ago is itself strengthen- 
ing. It makes us know that we are understood of 
God. 

Take first the fact of the everlasting conflict be- 
tween man and sin. "I will put enmity between 
thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her 
seed," God says to Satan. That enmity between 
man and sin has been the great impressive truth of 
human history. Mankind has never been reconciled 
with sin, never come to have such an understanding 
with it that the race everywhere has settled down 
and made up its mind to being wicked, and asked 
nothing better, and been at peace. That is the 
greatest fact by far, the deepest fact, the most 
pervasive fact in all the world. Conscience, the 
restlessness that comes of self-reproach, the discon- 
tent that will not let the world be at peace with 
wong-doing it runs everywhere. No book of the 
remotest times, no country of the most isolated seas, 
no man of strongest character, no crisis of history 
so exceptional, but that in them all you find man 
out of peace because he is in sin, unable to reconcile 
himself with living wrong the enmity between the 
seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. It 
is the great fact of human existence. 

And is it not a blessed fact? Think how different 
it would all have been if this fact had not been true 
from the beginning, if man had been able to settle 
comfortably into sin and be content. Men read it as 
a curse, this first declaration of God in Genesis, after 
the fall. Is it not rather a blessing? Man had met 
Satan. Then God said, "Since you have met him, 
the only thing which I can now do for you, the only 
salvation that I can give you, is that you never shall 
have peace with one another. You may submit to 
serve him, but the instinct of rebellion shall never 
die out in your heart." It was the only salvation 
left. It is the only salvation left now when a man 
has begun to sin, that God should perpetually for- 
bid him to be at peace in sinning. It is what has 
saved earth from becoming hell long ago this 
blessed decree of God that however man and sin 
might live together, there should always be enmity 
between them, they should be natural foes forever. 
No man has ever yet been bold enough, even in any 
mad dream of poetry, to picture the reconciliation 
of the seed of the serpent and the seed of the wo- 
man, man's perfect satisfaction in sin, as the consum- 
mation and perfect close of human history. 

This enmity consists, like every genuine enmity, 
in two parts, on two sides. Each party hates the 
other party. The parties are sin and man. In the 
first place, then, sin hates man. The proof of that 
is the harm that sin does man, a harm that men are 
always coming to discover in deeper and deeper 
symptoms of it, and of which even the men who 
cling most obstinately to its service are aware. It 
would be a strange question what attitude man 
would be able to preserve towards sin, if, conscious 
of its essential nature and hating it because of that, 
it still did really seem to him as if sin were a benefi- 
cent and helpful power, as if it were the giver of true 
happiness and genuine peace. There would be a 
horrible contradiction between what man saw and 
what man knew. It would be strange indeed if the 
sight did not ultimately triumph over the know- 
ledge and man learn to love the sin that loved him 
so. But we are spared all that. As soon as we get 
in the least below the surface of our life, comes the 
conviction even to the wilful sinner that his sin is 
his enemy. Do you think he does not know it, the 
man who, every day while he sins, feels the jewels 
plucked one by one out of his crown, and the stain 
sinking deeper and deeper into the very substance 
of his soul? Do not you yourself know it when you 
do a wrong act, and almost hear the power of evil 
laugh as he drags you back one hard step farther 
from your heaven? 

And if sin hates man, man hates sin. Is that 
true? I do think that the glory of the Bible is that 
it is full of the idea that the essential humanity, man 
as God made him, man "pure in heart," man as the 
child of God, does not love sin, but hates it. With 
all the intensity with which it asserts man's perverse 
clinging to sin, it implies, it declares everywhere, 
that that clinging to sin is diseased ; that the true 
healthy manhood which God first made, and which 
Christ is trying to restore, shrinks from it and 
loathes it. Of that manhood we every now and 
then catch glimpses in the vilest men, something 
which by its look bears witness to us that it is the 
truest part of them, which has still left in it some- 
thing of that antagonism to sin which is the life of 
the holy God they sprang from. 

I have spoken of the essential enmity between the 
human heart and sin. They fight with one another, 
and they will always fight. But there is a more 
special meaning in our verse. The promise has 
always been held to refer, and no doubt does refer, 
to Christ. The "seed of the woman" is not merely 
man in general. It is the Son of man, who in the 
fulness of time came for the redemption of human- 
ity. And when we turn to Him whose life gives 
the Bible its unity, who fulfils in the New Testament 
what is written in the Old, how clearly the truth of 
the words comes out. For the fact of the life of 
Jesus is the enmity between Him and sin. Sin 
hated Him. Open your New Testament and read 
the story of how He suffered. Think what came to 
Him through all those three and thirty years. Think 
of the poverty and misery of His birth, the home- 
lessness, the exile, the insults but I need not tell 
you the story which has become the central story 
of history. It was mainly woe, pain, and privation 
from the beginning to the end. And that would 
be utterly insignificant if it meant nothing beyond 
itself, if His sufferings had been nothing but what 
you and I make out our sufferings to be the casual 
hitting of our lives against some point of difficulty, 
some sharp rock of trouble. They would have had 
no deep meaning then. We could have read them 
with a sigh of pity, and dismissed them with an easy 
tear. But how different it is ! Who does not feel 
it, the stress and vehemence with which trouble 
attacks the life of Christ? It does not merely hap- 
pen to Him; it is flung against Him with a violence 
that is nothing else than personal. 

I think that we have all sometimes found our- 
selves a little puzzled to explain the distinctiveness 
and peculiar character which we yet clearly feel to 
be in the sufferings of Jesus Christ. It seemed as 
if we might catalogue the pains of many another 
man, and find them equal to His. Even to the last 
agony of the Crucifixion, there were men who had 
undergone every physical pain He underwent. And 
yet His sufferings impressed us as no others did. 
This Cross was the Cross of the world. 

The secret lies in the vehemence with which the 
sin that persecutes Him seems to hate Him. That 
makes at once the inevitableness and the nobility of 
His suffering. Do you remember how He Himself 
asks the disciples upon the road to Emmaus, "Ought 
not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter 
into His glory?" Those words are wonderful, as 
they come from Him, because they declare such a 
deep, essential, inevitable enmity between His own 
holy manhood and the sin of the world. When they 
come into conflict, His manhood must be bruised. 
It was the noblest proof of His absolute holiness 
that sin so hated Him. He took from its hos- 
tility the proof of His perfectness, and so of His 
glory. 

Can we not understand this? Shape in your own 
mind a miniature picture of it. Image your dearest 
and purest friend, the loftiest soul you know, to be 
cast headlong into the midst of the most vile and 
vicious company. You go the next day and listen, 
like Darius at the mouth of Daniel's den, to hear 
what the result has been. You expect that your 
trusted friend's soul has escaped corruption. Do 
you expect it also to have escaped pain? Would 
you not even be disappointed and shocked if you 
found that he had escaped pain, and were wholly 
easy and untroubled? Do you not feel that, in the 
tokens which you see of how he has suffered written 
on his face, you are reading really the proof-marks 
of his nobleness? If you are not equal to under- 
standing that and begin to express to him your pity 
for his pain, does he not look up at you and, almost 
echoing the words of Jesus, say, " Ought I not to 
have suffered these things, and to enter into my 
glory. How could I have helped suffering them, 
without being wholly inglorious and base? " 

Oh, when you send your boy to college or into 
the world, remember that, and do not ask for him a 
wholly easy life, no obstacles, a cordial, kindly re- 
ception from everybody. Do not expect to see him 
free from anxious doubts and troublesome experi- 
ences of soul, and cruel jarrings of his life against 
the institutions and the men whom he finds in the 
world. It would be very strange if they did not 
come to him, if he is genuinely good and pure. 
"Marvel not," said Jesus Christ, to His disciples, 
if the world hate you ; ye know that it hated me 
before it hated you." He takes the enmity for 
granted as a first fact. He being what He is, no 
other reception is conceivable by Him. If we try 
to conceive of any other, and set our Christ a wel- 
come and honored guest in the midst of men's wick- 
edness, then when we look round at Him whom we 
have set there, He is our Christ no longer. We do 
not know how precious is every pang of that pain 
which the Redeemer suffered, if it can only bear us 
witness, as we look at it, of how sin hated Him, of 
the essential enmity between the seed of the serpent 
and the seed of the woman. 

And then add the other thought of how He hated 
sin, how he hated it for itself, and the impression is 
complete. I think that anybody who hears Christ 
speak, whether in rebuke or pity, to any poor crea- 
ture who is in the power of sin, gets this idea that 
He hated sin not merely for its consequences, for 
the ruin which it works, as we do. He did that as 
we do not begin to do it, but He hated it also with 
an intuitive and native hatred of the thing itself, 
such as is very rare in any strong degree with us. 
Put these together, Christ's hatred of sin and sin's 
hatred of Christ ; see them in the long and weary 
struggle, of which the Temptation in the wilderness 
was only the picturesque dramatic utterance, see 
this, and then you have seen how, upon the crown 
ing heights of human history, that was accomplished 
which was promised upon its very earliest verge : 
"I will put enmity between thee and the woman, 
and between thy seed and her seed." 

And now, if we have thoroughly set in our minds 
this fact of the world's history the hatred of Christ 
and sin, the question will come: What is the 
meaning of that fact to us? What does it signify to 
us that the Son of man had, from the beginning to 
the end of His life, a constant fight with sin? And 
we answer: It must be first of all a representation 
of our own lives. It must open and expound our 
own lives to us. Is not this a great meaning, almost 
a worthy meaning of the Incarnation, even if there 
were no other? For to understand our condition is 
the first step to the mastery of our condition. To 
understand our life is the first step towards the living 
of our life. So when some poor soul is bewildered 
with the endless obstacles it meets ; or some brave 
man, fighting against wickedness, conceives, perhaps 
out of the very pleasure which he finds himself tak- 
ing in the strife, a misgiving lest this endless fight 
be wrong; to both of them there comes this fact, 
that the Man who was most man lived a life of ob- 
stacle and struggle, just as they are living. Down 
from Jerusalem there streams the light that makes 
their careers intelligible. On the light there comes 
a voice speaking the words: "Marvel not if the 
world hate you ; ye know that it hated me before it 
hated you." 

So Christ's enmity to Satan is representative of 
ours. But if really representative, it must be some- 
thing more than representative. That, I think, is 
always true. He who sets forth distinctly the char- 
acter of a group or of a race of men, thereby changes, 
clarifies, establishes, that character. Whenever the 
nature and destiny of man have found a supreme 
embodiment in some grand specimen of human life, 
he has done more than simply show men what they 
were; he has opened before them new regions, new 
things to be. When David stands out from the host 
of the Hebrews, a stripling strong in the strength of 
God, and, smiting Goliah with the stone out of the 
brook, shows to his countrymen how strong they 
are with such a God to trust in, he really works a 
change in them. Their cowardice is turned into 
bravery, and they arise and shout and pursue the 
Philistines. 

And so let us not undervalue the blessing which 
would come to us if Jesus Christ were simply one 
of us, setting forth with marvelous vividness the 
universal conflict of the world, the perpetual strife 
of man with evil. Surely that strife becomes a 
different thing for each of us, when out of his own 
little skirmish in some corner of the field, he looks 
up and sees the Man of men doing just the same 
work on the hilltop where the battle rages thickest. 
The schoolboy tempted to tell a lie, the man fight 
ing with his lusts, the soldier struggling with 
cowardice, the statesman with corruption, the poor 
creature fretted by the thousand little pin-pricks of 
a hostile world, they all find the dignity of their 
several battles asserted, find that they are not un 
natural but natural, find that they are not in them 
selves wicked but glorious, when they see that the 
Highest, entering into their lot, manifested the 
eternal enmity between the seed of the serpent and 
our common humanity at its fiercest and bitterest. 

But yet this is not the full meaning of the battle 
of Jesus Christ with sin. We know it is not. He 
was like us. He was, He is, eternally our repre- 
sentative. We have a right to all the strength and 
comfort, to all the new aspect which is given to the 
battle of our life by the firm assurance of that. But, 
along with His true likeness to us, He was some- 
thing unspeakably different from what we are. 
When He fought with sin and overcame the world's 
pain by undergoing it, He not merely left all other 
fighters stronger because He was human, and there- 
fore their Brother; He left sin weaker because He 
was divine, and therefore its Master. 

Our Christian faith is this: that the struggle of 
Christ with sin was more than one event in the long 
fight of humanity with sin, however splendid that 
event might be. It was the consummation and es- 
sential completion of the struggle. It was the vic- 
tory. It was the King coming down into the battle 
to finish it, to give the blow that should assure 
its end. The struggle still goes on, each soldier 
struggles still ; but each struggles in a strife already 
won, and lays hold of a victory already certain. Do 
we understand that truth, how great, how deep, 
how glorious it is? Let us know the Life of Christ 
more deeply. Let us read it and meditate upon it, 
and let it freely in to show its power upon our lives ; 
and then, when we have laid hold of His Divinity, 
it will seem simply impossible that such as He is 
should have lived and died in strife with sin, and yet 
left sin as He found it. No power of victory that is 
attributed to such a life as His can seem too great 
to be true. 

But what should be made the most of just here 
is, that in Jesus the fact of the essential and eternal 
enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed 
of the woman, between sin and man, was supremely 
manifested. It is not strange or unnatural. It is 
most natural. Oh, if we could all learn and believe 
that ! Try to remember it in your lives. You live 
in struggle, and you think it hard. But if you 
were not in struggle you would be disowning your 
manhood. You are simply meeting the necessity 
of being a man. O struggler, take that necessity, 
and be thankful and struggle on ! And if you are a 
coward, and want to run out of the battle, get cour- 
age from the thought that you cannot run out of it. 
It reaches everywhere that manhood reaches. You 
might as well fight out your share of it upon your 
little plot of ground as upon any other. 

And if you are looking up at another man, and 
admiring him and envying him, and thinking how 
calm and free from struggle his life is, and getting 
discontented and discouraged because yours is so 
different from his ; it will relieve all that if you can 
know that he certainly has his struggle because he 
too is a man ; and that just so far as it is different 
from yours, just so far very likely it is harder than 
yours. Or yet again if you want to save some fallen 
brother, and try to make a bad man good again, it 
certainly will help you to know something of the 
fight in which he fell, to be assured that the poor 
fellow has not gone abroad to find his ruin. It has 
come to him. He is simply a wreck on that same 
sea where all of us are sailing ; and the more we have 
been beaten by the storm ourselves, the more we 
shall understand where his masts have gone to, and 
how his bulwarks came to be beaten in. Every- 
where life is clearer to us by the old truth of 
Genesis. 

But as yet I have spoken of only half that truth. 
I have dwelt only on the fact of the enmity between 
man and sin. I must speak very briefly of the re- 
mainder of our verse, that which declares what the 
issue of the long struggle is to be. "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." The wounded heel of 
man ! The broken head of sin ! Is not the promise 
this : that man, trusting in God, shall come out of 
the strife wounded but victorious, victorious but 
wounded ; and so, that in the expectation of both, 
of the wounds by the way and the victory at the 
end, is the true disposition of man towards life? 

If this be the promise, it is perfectly verified in 
the supreme seed of the woman, in Christ and the 
struggle of His life. He was wounded sorely ; a life 
all torn and bleeding He dragged out to the end; 
but when the end came it was victorious. Look at 
Him on the cross. What words could tell the story 
like these : " He shall bruise thy head and thou shalt 
bruise his heel"? Sin has taken the Saviour and 
fastened Him there. It has driven in the nails and 
crowded down the crown of thorns upon the fore- 
head. It has seemed to have its own way with 
Him, and all the while, with those hands closing in 
agony over the nails, He is crushing its life out. As 
we read the story, what sin is doing to Christ and 
what Christ is doing to sin take their true places 
and proportions. Sin is tormenting Him, but He is 
vanquishing sin. And what took place upon the 
cross has taken place ever since. Sin hinders the 
work, and insults the name of Christ ; but Christ in 
the long run and in the end overcomes sin and insult 
and scorn. It bruises His heel, and He bruises its 
head. 

And what is true of Himself, He makes true of 
the world which He is leading on to ever better 
things. I think that the prospect of human progress 
against the powers of ignorance and brutality and 
selfishness which stop its way, reduces itself more 
and more clearly to this : They shall bruise its heel 
and it shall bruise their heads. Not without wounds, 
not without mortifying and distressing disappoint- 
ments shall any good cause advance to its success. 
He is a foolish dreamer who expects an easy and 
bloodless victory for any noble plan. But yet, suc- 
cess waits before every good cause, if it can only 
persevere and struggle on with its wounded heel. 
He is a foolish slave to first appearances who lets 
the immediate wound shut the final victory out of 
his sight. It is in this truth, pervading all of hu- 
man history, that there lies the secret of that strong 
presence of pathos in every enthusiastic hope and 
triumphant thanksgiving of mankind. It grows 
more and more solemn and touching to us, I think. 
The highest hopes and loftiest rejoicings always 
have a touch of sadness to them. The flowers of 
our Decoration Days are always laid on graves. It 
is because deep into the convictions of men's hearts 
has sunk this truth of long experience, that there is 
no victory except by wounds. That truth has made 
all the larger and better actions of the world sober 
with a fine soberness. It has caused soberness in- 
deed to be the necessary accompaniment and warrant 
of true strength. The coward who shrinks from the 
wounds, and the boaster who forgets that there are 
wounds, are both ruled out of the best work of 
the world. 

And when we turn from the world's large experi- 
ence of which it is not well to speculate and talk 
too much and look at our own private lives, the 
same truth appears there, too. Every earnest man 
grows to two strong convictions : one, of the victory 
to which a life may come; the other of the obstacles 
and wounds which it must surely encounter in com- 
ing there. Alas for him who gains only one of these 
convictions! Alas for him who learns only confi- 
dence in the result, and never catches sight of all 
that must come in between the pains and blows 
and disappointments! How many times he will 
sink down and lose his hope! How many times 
some wayside cross will seem to be the end of every- 
thing to him ! 

Alas also for him who only feels the wounds and 
sees no victory ahead ! How often life will seem to 
him not worth the living ! There are multitudes of 
men of this last sort ; men with too much serious- 
ness and perception to say that the world is easy, 
too clear-sighted not to see its obstacles, too pure 
not to be wounded and offended by its wickedness, 
but with no faith large enough to look beyond and 
see the end ; men with the wounded heel that hin- 
ders and disables them, but with no strength to set 
the wounded foot upon the head of the serpent and 
to claim their triumph. Only, friends ! do not ex- 
pect to win the battle of your life without wounds. 
Do not expect to be good with a goodness unscarred 
by temptation, and untorn by the rocks of doubt 
and difficulty on which you have fallen. If you do, 
you will surely come to disappointment which may 
grow into despair. But, on the other side, do not 
let any certainty of wounds deter you from the 
battle ; do not let any assurance that you will fail, 
and fall, and sin again and again and again, shut out 
from you the brighter certainty that if you will cling 
to God He will bring you to His holiness. Be 
watchful to keep your strength as strong as possible; 
but be happy if in the vision of the future you can 
just see yourself crawling up, all wounds and blood, 
to the fountain at the end, and laying yourself, 
ready to die, in that water which is eternal life. 

And do not spread it out too thin, this truth of 
ours, by applying it merely to your whole life. It 
must be that many a one of you has some special 
task upon his mind which needs its application. 
You are asking yourself, "What will happen if I do 
this duty, if I resist this temptation in order to be 
dutiful to-morrow?" Get your answer out of the 
old Book of Genesis. That temptation is your 
Satan. "It will bruise your heel, but you shall 
bruise its head." Do not think the victory will be 
easy. Do not think the precious fruit will drop of 
itself into your open hands. You must wrench it 
off of the tree of difficulty ; but it is certainly yours 
if you will take it. It would be good indeed if this 
verse could to-day give strength to some one of you 
to do a duty to-morrow which he had been almost 
ready not to do. 

And now, come back to Christ. Let Him stand 
clearly before us as we close Christ with His 
wounds and His victory. His wounds and victory 
were both for us. He promised them both together 
to us, because, for us as for Him, they were in- 
separable. He promised them both together when 
He stretched out His hands and said: "If any man 
serve me, let him follow me ; and where I am there 
shall also my servant be."
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