“In the depths of every heart, there is a tomb and a dungeon, though the lights, the music, and revelry above may cause us to forget their existence.”
Nathaniel Hawthorne “The Haunted Mind” (1842)
Every man carries a vision of paradise in the depths of his heart. In this delightful dream, every woman not adorning his bed is either cooking his dinner or knitting his socks, and every man not acting on his orders is either begging, bleeding, or dead in a ditch. Such are the warm and cheering thoughts that bring a smile to the lips of what our forebears called the Old Adam.
I cite as my authority for this opinion Genghis Khan, a scion of the old Adam who came closer than most to being a chip off the old block. Relaxing after a day of rapine and slaughter, that Mongolian marauder is reputed to have said,
“Man’s greatest good fortune is to chase and defeat his enemy, seize his total possessions, leave his married women weeping and wailing, ride his gelding and use the bodies of his women as a nightshirt and a support.”*
Old Adam has, of course, a shaggy mate. With characteristic guile, she travels always in disguise and under an alias. Some know her as Lilth, others as Medea, others as Circe who turns men into swine. But whatever name she passes under, she has down the ages proved the truth of Kipling’s line,
“the female of the species is more deadly than the male.”
In her the lights and music are more enchanting, and the intoxicating revelry is sweeter by far. But the tomb and dungeon of her heart have very flimsy locks upon their doors.
Down the ages men have asked themselves what should be done with this rough and uncouth pair, and for more than two thousand years the answer was that we must “crucify them.”
As John Wesley put it in his “Hymn on Colossians 3:5”
“Put him to death, the Adam old,
Passions inordinate and blind
Lusts of the flesh to evil sold,
The selfish will, the carnal mind.”
But this was more easily said than done since the Old Adam is a very tough old bird. His shaggy mate also. He is, after all, “the natural man,” and “should you drive nature out with a pitchfork, still he will every time speed back” (Horace).
So men evidently required more than a mere pitchfork. Here, again, is Wesley in his “Hymn on Galatians 5:24.”
“The Adam old (the selfish love)
By faith we nailed him to the tree,
From whence he never shall remove,
But bleed to death, O Lord, with thee.
If you read Wesley’s hymns in their entirety, you will see that he did not advise men to lay down the pitchfork, only to wield it with the gracious arm of supernatural faith. The Old Adam is, of course, delighted to nail anyone you might name to any tree you might point out, but when he is finished, he will not be bleeding to death. He will be gloating and rolling his shoulders, stronger and more bloodthirsty than before. It is only by the gracious arm of supernatural faith that a man can draw blood without developing a taste for it.
Modern man proposes a new answer to the problem of the Old Adam and his shaggy mate. Modern man says that the primitive pair should be civilized, not crucified. Rather than drive them out with a pitchfork, we should invite them in for buttered toast and tea. We may politely ask them to wipe their feet before they come through the door, but it was only our absurd antics with the pitchfork that set them to snarling and snapping their teeth in the first place.
“Invite him in, the Adam old,
Sage teacher and good friend,
Forget the lies that you’ve been told,
To him a kind ear lend.”
“The Adam old (high self-esteem)
By faith we set him free,
From dungeon deep he climbed the stair
And joined the revelry.”
*) Quoted in John Keegan, A History of Warfare (1993).