Adapted from a sermon preached on 15 September 2001, at the PCC Evening Service

“Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright;
but they have sought out many inventions.”
(Ecclesiastes 7:29)

The week of 11 September was one of the most poignant weeks not only in American history, but in world history. Most of us would have seen it on the television or in the Internet, how two hijacked passenger planes plunged into the twin-towers of the World Trade Centre in New York city, and how a third plunged into the Pentagon and a fourth failed to reach its target and plunged into a field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The death toll? More than 6,300! Investigators now say that there were 4 or 5 hijackers in each plane. How any human being could have conceived and done such a horrific mass murder is beyond our natural comprehension. Our hearts are filled with grief and anger. And silently, we nod our approval to the American president’s vow to call the perpetuators of evil and their supporters to justice. In the spur of the moment’s anger, some of us might have even thought: Why not wipe out completely all those nations that are known to harbour and encourage terrorism? I trust we have had occasion to be convicted of and to repent of our rage.

But in moments of emotional crisis such as this, many of us will tend to forget our theology and rationality. The media speaks about the innocent people who were killed and about the guilty terrorists. And we tend to accept these statements uncritically.

Yes, no one but the most perverse of mankind would consider the terrorists to be heroes who are not guilty of mass-murder. But is it true that all the victims were in fact pure and innocent? I am afraid not. Well, it is not to be doubted that the victims were innocent, in that they did not provoke the hijackers, nor were they in any way more wicked than anyone else. And certainly from what we know, all of them were less wicked than the satanically inspired suicide hijackers. But biblical honesty requires us to deny that the victims were all altogether innocent.

If they were all innocent in the sight of God, then we may truly ask: “If God exists and He is good, then why does He allow thousands of innocent people to suffer so cruelly in the hands of those wicked men?” It is a fact that many today assume that all men are innocent except murderers, rapists, hijackers and the like. But it is this false assumption that has caused many to conclude that God does not exist. For it is asked: “If God is good, why does He allow millions of innocent people to suffer and then send them to damnation?”

But the Bible tells us that no man, except the Lord Jesus Christ, is innocent. Our text for this sermon makes it clear: “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Ecc 7:29).

Three important doctrinal points may be derived from this verse.

God Has Made Man Upright

Man was made originally upright or righteous, and innocent. This is an important doctrine. If man was not made upright or innocent, then God would be the author of sin, and it would not be right for Him to punish sin. But the Bible teaches us that God had, in fact, made man upright. Now, this does not mean that every man-child born into this world is born righteous. Solomon is referring rather to man in his original state.

You see, God did not make all of us individually and directly. He made our first parents Adam and Eve. He made them in His own image in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.

Adam had a finite but perfect knowledge of God, and what God requires of man. It is a knowledge that was perfect in so far as finite creatures are concerned. He knew the character of God, and he knew what pleases God. He naturally knew God’s laws. These laws were imprinted in his heart when God made him in His image.

Adam was also perfectly righteous. All his inclinations were to do good. Like all men today, he made all his decisions based on the inclinations of his heart, i.e., based on what he believed to be right and good. And as his heart was always inclined to God, his choices were always right.

In terms of holiness, Adam’s affections were holy and pure, free of all sin and defilement. He had a true and finitely perfect love for God. His desires were for the glory of God and he delighted in God. Though he was fully human like us, he knew no shame and no grief.

Adam was made upright and innocent. He was a perfect man.

But Adam and his wife, Eve, were mutable. In other words, they were made in such a way that their righteousness and holiness were not unchangeablyperfect. God, in His inscrutable wisdom, had determined it to be so because only in this way could Adam represent his posterity in obedience and submission to God.

And as part of Adam’s role as the representative of all mankind, God entered into a covenant with him, known as the covenant of life or covenant of works, wherein he was required to obey God perfectly. If he did so, he would live on, and we believe, in due time, God would make him immutably perfect like the good angels in heaven. But as a test of his obedience, God planted a tree known as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the midst of the Garden. The fruit of this tree looks good for food. And the birds and animals could no doubt have eaten of this tree. But Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat of it, as a pure and simple test of obedience to God.

If they broke this simple command, they would break the whole law of God, because it would indicate their lack of love for God and so lack of submission to Him. God told Adam concerning this tree: “in the day that thou eatest of it, thou shalt surely die” (Gen 2:17). The phrase in the original is very emphatic: “Dying ye shall die.” If Adam were to eat of the fruit, he would die a spiritual death, his heart would become dead in sin—no more would his heart be inclined to righteousness, but his heart would be filled with unrighteousness. And he would also begin the process of dying a physical death as part of the punishment. And finally, he would be eternally separated from God.

Adam Fell into Sin

Well, as it turned out, Adam did fall into sin. It happened that one day, Satan, who was an angel who had earlier fallen into sin, decided to talk to Eve to try to tempt her into sin. Eve, we must remember, was created righteous like Adam, but she was mutable (i.e., changeable), and Satan knew that and sought to take advantage of that fact.

He came to Eve in the form of a serpent, and said unto Eve: “Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” (Gen 3:1). Eve replied: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die” (Gen 3:2–3). Intriguingly, despite Eve’s perfect knowledge, it appears that she might have added to the word of God by saying “neither shall ye touch it,” and diluted the word of God by saying “lest ye die” rather than “ye will surely die.”

But be as that may be, Satan answered: “Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:4–5). This was a lie that spans between a direct contradiction of what God said, and a half-truth. It was a half-truth, that eating the fruit would open Eve’s eyes so that she knew good and evil. Yes, indeed, she would know evil as she had never know it before, but she already knew good and that should have been sufficient. But it was a blatant lie that she would not surely die if she ate of the fruit.

Well, Eve took the lie, hook, line and sinker. She “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat” (Gen 3:6a).

And not only so, but she “gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Gen 3:6b). This was the beginning of sorrow. This was the greatest tragedy that ever happened to man, unsurpassed,—if you think about it,—by any great tragedies of humankind, be it the volcanic destruction of Pompei or World War I, or World War II, and Nagasaki and Hiroshima, or the collapse of the World Trade Centre.

Upon eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve fell immediately into sin. The fruit did not poison their bodies, but the act of eating the fruit in direct disobedience to God poisoned their souls. They became sinners. And knowing their sin, they tried to cover their guilt by sewing fig leaves together to cover themselves, and by hiding from God.

But who can hide from God? Their sin was discovered, and God immediately pronounced judgement upon them. And not only on them, but on their descendants, so that all men descending from Adam by natural generation sinned in him and fell with him.

All Have Sinned

Notice how this fact is brought out in Ecclesiastes 7:29—“Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.” Do you notice that man is in the singular,—referring to Adam,—but who sought out many inventions? It is “they,” i.e., all the natural descendants of Adam. Of course, what Solomon means by seeking out many inventions is not that they make many scientific discoveries or invented many new and useful things. No, he is talking about that which is not upright, namely sin. God made man upright, but man sought what is not upright, i.e., what is unrighteous.

The Apostle Paul makes it very clear that Adam’s sin affected all mankind. He says: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom 5:12).

Adam was God’s appointed representative for man. He is like the head of state of the human race, just as president George Bush is the head of State of America now. But unlike existing nations, the human race was not in existence yet when God dealt with Adam. In God’s wisdom, man would be brought into the world through birth in the generations. And since Adam was our first father, he was naturally the best qualified to be the covenant representative of mankind. And not only so, but he was endowed with original righteousness so that his heart was inclined to do good. We may say that he was the best of ordinary men to be our representative. No one else could have represented mankind better.

But Adam fell into sin and broke the covenant of life. And since he is our representative, all mankind fell with him in that first transgression. All mankind became guilty that day, so that all persons born by natural generation since that day have been guilty in the sight of God. In other words, we are all born sinners in the sight of God.

Moreover, we share the moral nature of our parents, and so as Adam’s nature was corrupted because of the Fall, so all men are born by nature without original righteousness but with moral corruption in their hearts. The inclination of the natural man, since Adam, has been one of evil. And since the heart is inclined to evil, all the thoughts, words and deeds of the natural man are tainted with evil.

So the Word of God declares: “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom 3:10); “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). And “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isa 64:6a). Even our very best deeds are tainted with evil. This is so because there is radical corruption in our hearts. Just as a rat does not become a rat because it lives in the sewer, but it lives in the sewer because it is a rat, so we do not become sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners.

This doctrine is clearly taught not only in the Scriptures, but we know it by our experience. We know it because no ordinary parents would ever teach their children to be bad. Yet, even children, who grow up in the most moral and religious environments, know how to be wicked. They know how to deceive, how to be selfish, how to be proud, how to disobey, how to hate, how to be cruel, etc., etc.

Yes, there are some people who will grow up to be more sinful than others. A child who grows up in a terrorist’s family is likely to grow up terribly wicked, as he is influenced from young and made accustomed to evil. But we must not think that we, or our children, are not wicked when compared to the terrorists and their children. The fact is that we too have a corrupt nature, which is capable of the most heinous acts and, in fact, do daily engage in wickedness, which incurs the holy wrath of God.

The Lord brought this lesson very poignantly across to His disciples on an occasion when a tower in Siloam collapsed and killed 18 persons. Many people in Jerusalem thought that it must be that those 18 persons were more wicked persons and that God was judging them for their sin. The Lord knew that this was the thinking among many people, and He sought to correct that false notion. He said:

Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish (Lk 13:4–5).

What was the Lord telling them? He was telling them that they were all equally sinners, guilty of sin against God; and if they did not repent, they should also expect to face the wrath of God.

Now, this is what we must do whenever we contemplate the scene of disaster. We must never speculate on the spiritual state of those who perish. We should rather realise that we are all sinners. We are alive another day, not because we are less sinful, but because of God’s mercy. Indeed, if God were to deal with us immediately for our sin, He would be altogether righteous to do because we deserve His wrath on account of our sin and rebellion against Him.


We all have a natural moral sense of justice, but, on account of indwelling sin, this sense of justice is not as acute and discriminating as it ought to be. Our sense of justice tells us rightly that the hijackers and their supporters must be punished and that retaliatory strikes are justifiable.

But, in the first place, we tend to forget that God is a just God and He will not allow any sin to be left unpunished. All who were responsible in the acts of terrorism will not escape the wrath of God, even if they escape the punishment of men. For God says: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay” (Rom 12:19). If we remember this fact, we will not have a tit-for-tat mentality, but will support the use of force, only so that terrorism be curbed or eradicated.

In the second place, we tend to forget too that though retaliatory strikes may be necessary, that all such actions are inevitably tainted with sin: and all sin are hateful to God. If we remember this fact, we will be less likely to succumb to the rage mentality that any forms of retaliation are justifiable and righteous.

In the third place, in the face of such great atrocities and contemplation on maintenance of justice under such circumstances, we tend to forget that all sin,—no matter how small we may perceive it be,—is worthy of the infinite wrath of God because all sin are rebellion against an infinitely holy and just God. God will require us to account for all things we have done in this life, including our idle words (Mt 12:36)—things that do not appear to be sinful to the majority of mankind, but are sinful in the sight of God because sin is lawlessness: any transgression or want of conformity of the law of God. All sin, no matter how small, will be brought to the bar of God for judgement.

Solomon makes this point when at the very last statement of the book of Ecclesiastes, he says: “God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Ecc 12:14).

On the Day of Judgement, not only would the acts of terrorism be condemned, but so would atheism, so would using the name of God in vain, so would Sabbath breaking, so would disobedience to parents, so would adultery and homosexuality, so would stealing and lying, so would covetousness, so would idolatry, so would religious compromises, such as seen in the ecumenical ‘prayer’ service in the Washington National Cathedral on 14 September.

All will be judged on that day, and all sin will be punished by the infinitely just God, who is a consuming fire. Is there then no hope? Yes, there indeed is hope. Hope is found in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Second Adam. As Adam was created righteous, so the Second Adam was born sinless. He was born of a virgin by the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit, so that He was neither guilty in Adam nor did He inherit the corrupt nature of Adam. He lived a perfectly sinless life, though He was tempted at all point like as we are. The perfect justice of God searches in vain for any speck of sin or evil in Him that is worthy of condemnation. As suffering and death are God’s punishment for sin, Christ needs not suffer nor die. Yet He lived a life of suffering, and He died a most cruel death.

Did God’s justice somehow fail? Did God, who is infinitely good and perfect in justice, somehow punished a person unjustly? No, no, not at all. Christ was no ordinary person. He is the Son of God. He is the second person of the Godhead. He is, in very essence, God. He is very God of God. He took on human nature in order to suffer and to die. But why did He do so? He did so, in order that He might reconcile a people unto Himself by the shedding of His blood.

You see, God is not only infinitely just and requires all sin to be punished, but He is also infinitely good, loving and merciful. And He has from all eternity made a covenant within the Godhead to redeem a specific number of fallen mankind unto Himself. But God cannot do anything that violates His own character. He cannot simply overlook sin in order to reconcile sinners to Himself, for that would make Him unjust and unrighteous.

No, in order for Him to receive anyone favourably, their sin must first be paid for. But finite man cannot ever pay for their rebellion against an infinitely holy God. All eternity of punishment would not be sufficient to satisfy the infinite wrath of God against the sin that finite man has committed against Him. The only way that sinful finite man might be reconciled to God is that God Himself takes their punishment upon Himself, because God alone is sinless and infinite and so punishment upon Himself is of infinite value and sufficient to satisfy infinite divine justice. And this was exactly what God did in the suffering and death of Christ, for Christ who is very God took on human nature to represent man, and suffered and died on behalf of a people He intended and intends to save.

All others will have to pay for their own sin for all eternity. But Christ paid for the sin of His elect in order to forgive them and to reconcile them to God.

We do not know which of us are elect and which are not, because God has in His wisdom chosen not to reveal His secret will in a visible way. But one thing we know: The Lord Jesus Christ, through His Word, calls every one without distinction to repent of their sins and believe in Him for eternal salvation. And this call is given to you again. Acknowledge that you are a sinner and repent of your sin: your sin of lawlessness and your sin of unbelief. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved; but despise Him, or ignore His call, and you do so often enough—you will be hardening your own heart and preparing yourself for the day of eternal wrath.

I plead with you. Do not read this message to find fault with Christianity or with the writer. The writer is full of faults, and Christianity is sometimes faulty due to wrong interpretations and due to indwelling sin of Christians. But Christ is faultless, and this call to repent is from Christ. Listen rather to this message to find fault in your own heart. These things are not just a matter of opinions. They are truth revealed in the Word of God. I plead with you, dear reader, do not reject what God has revealed. None of the 6,300 or so victims in the terrorist attack expected that Tuesday to be their last day in this world. None of us would expect it if God would call us suddenly. Let us therefore not delay to seek Him and serve Him.

So, dear reader, mourn for those who perish, pray for the families of the victims and for those responsible (Mt 5:44), and pray that justice may prevail, but forget not that God’s justice is far more comprehensive and discriminating than we can imagine with our natural mind. In the Day of Judgement, many, who in this life rightly condemn those dastardly and barbaric terrorists, may find themselves standing on the left hand of the Lord Jesus Christ, together with the terrorists, rather than on the right with His sheep. Unless we repent, we will likewise perish. But if we do repent, and Christ be our Lord, then what a glorious day will await us, for in that day, all sorrows shall ceased, all tears will be dried and all pains removed forever and ever, as we enjoy everlasting and unhindered communion with Christ our Lord.

J.J. Lim