Jonathan Edwards on Adam and the Tree of Life
There is no small disagreement among theologians over the issue of Adam and the Tree of Life. Some have supposed that Adam was eating from the Tree of Life prior to his disobedience in relation to the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. For instance, John Calvin held the view that God gave the Tree of Life to Adam and Eve “as an earnest of immortality, that they might feel confident of the promise as often as they ate of the fruit” (Institutes 4.14.18). Others have suggested that Adam’s fall happened so soon after his creation that he never ate of the Tree of Life. Most Reformed theologians agree that the two trees in the Garden were sacramental–pointing beyond themselves to a spiritual reality and symbolizing what God had promised upon fulfillment of the conditions that He had revealed. Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 20 explains that the Tree of Life “was a pledge” of the reward offered to Adam in the Covenant of Works (Life). If we understand Adam to have been in a probationary period until he either obeyed or disobeyed God’s test–which test Satan turned into a temptation–then we might rightly view the fruit of the Tree of Life as the reward of his passing the test. This was, in fact, the position held by Jonathan Edwards. In what is one of his most fascinating entries in Notes on Scripture, Edwards suggested that the Tree of Life did not bear fruit until the probationary period was past. This certainly fits within the framework of the combined biblical-theological allusions to Christ–as the second Adam–and the meritorious reward of His people being given the right to the Tree of Life. Edwards wrote:
“397. Genesis 2:9 and Genesis 3:22–24. Concerning the Tree of Life. This tree seems manifestly to have been designed for a seal of Adam’s confirmation in life, in case he had stood, for two reasons: first, because its distinguishing name is the “tree of life”; and second, because by what is said in the latter end of the third chapter, there appears to have been a connection by divine [constitution] between eating of that tree and living forever, or enjoying a confirmed, certain, and everlasting life.
But yet here are those difficulties attending such a supposition. If it was so that this fruit was intended as a seal of Adam’s confirmation in life, and was by divine constitution connected with confirmed life, then it should seem that it was something kept in store, reserved by God to be bestowed as a reward of his obedience and overcoming all temptations, when his time of probation was ended. There seems to be an allusion to this inRevelation 22:14, “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life.” And Revelation 2:7, “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life.” And so that it was not to be come at till the time of his trial was ended, for if he had eat of the tree before his probation was ended, confirmed life would doubtless have been as much connected with it as after he fell, and that would have defeated God’s design, which was that he should [not] have confirmed life till his obedience was tried. And if so, why was not there need of cherubim and a flaming sword before, to keep Adam from the tree before he fell, as well as afterwards? Whereas there seems to be nothing to keep him from this tree; the tree was not forbidden him, for he had leave to eat of every tree, but only the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And as there was no moral hindrance, so there seems to be no natural fence to keep him off. It don’t seem to be out of his reach; for, if so, what occasion was there for placing cherubim and a flaming sword after he fell? The tree don’t seem to be hidden from Adam; for if it was sufficiently secured from him by this means before he fell, so it was afterwards, and so what need of the cherubim and flaming sword? And by the account which Moses gives of the place of this tree, that it was in the midst of the garden, it appears probable that it was in the most conspicuous place in the whole garden (as the tree of life is said to grow in the midst of the street of the heavenly paradise, Revelation 22:2; the street of a city is the most public place in it), that Adam might have it in view, to put him in mind of the glorious reward promised to his obedience, to engage him to the greater care and watchfulness, that he might not fail.
The most probable account that is to be given of this matter is this, that the fruit of the tree of life was not yet produced, but that it was revealed to Adam, that after a while, that tree should produce fruit, that whosoever eat of [it] should live forever, that he might eat if he persisted in his obedience, and did not so expose himself to death before that time, and so cut himself off from ever tasting of it. The tree probably made a most lovely and excellent appearance, and sent forth a sweet fragrancy, and perhaps was gay in the blossom, promising most excellent fruit.
This tree, as it grew in the midst of the garden, so probably it grew by the river that run through the midst of this paradise. See Revelation 22:2, and Ezekiel 47:12.*
Corol. This is a confirmation, that the angels were not confirmed till Christ had ended his humiliation, and till he ascended into glory, for Christ is the tree of life in the heavenly paradise, in the native country of the angels, as this tree we have been speaking of was the tree of life on earth, the native country of men. And the Scripture gives us to understand that athis person, who is the tree of life in this heavenly paradise, is angels’ food. And so we may infer, that the fruit of this tree was the food by which the angels have their eternal life, or confirmed life. But as man, who was made under a like covenant of works with the angels, would not have been confirmed, if he had persevered in his obedience, till this tree had brought forth its fruit, and till the fruit of the tree was ripe, so ’tis not probable that the angels were confirmed till the Christ, the tree of life in the heavenly paradise, had brought forth his fruit. But what is the fruit that grows on this heavenly tree, the second person of the Trinity, but the fruit of the Virgin Mary’s womb, and that fruit of the earth spoken of, Isaiah 4:2, that son born, that child given, etc. (How often are the children that are born in a family in Scripture compared to the fruit that grows on a tree.) When this holy child had gone through all his labors and sufferings, and had fulfilled all righteousness, and was perfected (as ’tis expressed in Luke 13:32, Hebrews 2:10,Hebrews 5:9), then he was seen of angels, and received up into glory, and then the fruit was gathered. Christ, as full ripe fruit, was gathered into the garner of God, into heaven, the country of angels, and so became angels’ food. Then the angels fed upon the full ripe fruit of the tree of life, and received of the Father the reward of everlasting life. Christ did not become the author of eternal salvation till he was made so; neither did he become the author of confirmed eternal life to the angels till he was made perfect. Thus the fruit of this tree of life did not become the food of life to either men or angels till it was ripe.
This tree of life did as it were blossom in the sight of the angels whenJE deleted “Adam.” man was at first created in an innocent, holy, pleasant, and happy state, who was that creature from whence this future fruit of the tree of life was to spring, the blossom out of which the fruit was to come. It was a fair and pleasant blossom, though a weak and feeble (and proved a fading) thing, like a flower. When man fell, then the blossom faded and fell off. Man came forth like a flower, and was cut down; but the blossom fell in order to the succeeding fruit. The fall of man made way for the incarnation of Christ; it gave occasion to the production and ripening of that fruit, and to it blessed consequences. Thus, though Christ, God-man, ben’t the Savior of the angels, as he is of men, yet he is the tree of life to the angels, and bread of life as well as to men.”1
All of this has implications for our preserving the Adam-Christ architectonic structure of the biblical storyline. What Adam failed to do through his disobedience, Christ merited through His obedience (Rom. 5:12-21). On the merits of His perfect life and atoning death, we now have access to the Tree of Life by faith in Christ. In a very real sense, Christ is the Tree of Life, of whose fruit we will eat for all eternity. For all eternity we will sing, “O loving wisdom of our God when all was sin and shame, a second Adam to the fight and to the rescue came.”
*See further No. 469. This cross-reference is a later addition.
1. Jonathan Edwards , Notes on Scripture (WJE Online Vol. 15) , Ed. Stephen J. Stein pp. 392-396