Sin, Righteousness And Life -- By: William S. Bishop

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 084:335 (Jul 1927)
Article: Sin, Righteousness And Life
Author: William S. Bishop


Sin, Righteousness And Life

The Symbolism Of The Three Trees

Wm. S. Bishop

THREE trees stand out before us in the Divine Revelation, symbolizing the entire moral and spiritual history of man, both of the race and of the individual. These are: the Tree of Knowledge, the Tree of the Cross, and the Tree of Life. Of these, the first and the third are associated with the beginnings of man’s moral and religious experience; the third is linked with the consummation of human destiny, while the Tree of the Cross stands mid-way, bearing relation alike to the history—racial and individual—which had preceded it and to that which follows, leading on to the final consummation.

Human Character As Conditioned By Moral Choice

The significance of these Trees of Revelation, wherein fact and symbol are sacramentally united, lies in the relation which they bear to man as a moral and spiritual being; in other words, a being who is capable of voluntary acts, of self-directed activity. There has been and there still is a widespread tendency to regard sin and evil on the one hand, and righteousness on the other from a quasi-physical point of view; or (otherwise stated) from a determinist and fatalistic standpoint. Sin, for example, is looked upon as the natural and almost, if not quite, inevitable outcome of heredity on the one hand or of environment on the other. Righteousness, again, has been regarded as an endowment of nature rather than an achievement of voluntary effort. Against these presuppositions of a mechanistic philosophy, the Three Trees in their symbolic character bear constant and abiding witness. For man’s relation to each one of these Trees is not simply a fact of nature, but is conditioned upon the action of his will. It is placed within man’s choice whether he shall or shall not eat of the Tree of Knowledge; whether or not he shall assume the burden of the Cross; whether he will or will not share in the immortal fruits of the

Tree of Life. The moral implications of these Trees are world-embracing; they extend through all the ages of human history. For they are human trees, all of them; their whole significance is in relation to man.

In the interpretation of these Trees we have, accordingly, to consider first,—man’s origin, both as an individual and as a race; second, the entrance of sin into the world, and death as the consequence of sin; third, the victory which consists in the overcoming of sin and the achievement of a positive human righteousness, and, together with this, the corresponding and concurrent victory which consists in the overcoming and substitution of death by life.

(1) There is first of all t...

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