Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Four – Our First Parents, Sin, and the Fall (Q.16)

Earlier Studies

Listen to the audio for this lesson here.

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Q.16: Did our first parents continue in the estate wherein they were created?

A. Our first parents being left to the freedom of their own will, fell from the estate wherein they were created, by sinning against God.1

1Genesis 3:6-7, 13; Ecclesiastes 7:29

Last we visited the Catechism, we observed the estate wherein our first parents were created. According to the Catechism for Boys and Girls, Adam and Eve were created “holy and happy.” They had everything they needed and much, much more. As we embark on the fourth section in our study, we will see how they did not long remain in this state of holiness and happiness but, by their disobedience, descended into a new estate: an estate of sin and misery. We will further observe how we, their descendants according to the flesh, fell along with them into an estate of sin and misery.

Free Will

Before considering the fall of man, we must consider one last aspect of his original estate. One of the great misrepresentations of a Reformed anthropology is the suggestion that the Reformed teaching presents man as a robot created with no will of his own. This simply is not the case. Note for instance the first two paragraphs of The Baptist Confession’s chapter on Free Will:

“God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty and power of acting upon choice, that it is neither forced, nor by any necessity of nature determined to do good or evil,” (The Baptist Confession of 1677/1689, 9.1).

…and…

“Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom and power to will and to do that which was good and well-pleasing to God, but yet was unstable, so that he might fall from it,” (Ibid, 9.2).

Adam and his progeny, by nature, were given the liberty and the power to act with respect to choice. This is merely to say that we make choices every day to do either good or evil. In support of this thesis, the Confession need not offer any justification, because it is self-evident. Regardless, biblical justification is offered in the form of biblical citations:

“I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live,” (Deut. 30:19; NKJV).

God does put before us choices in this life, and these choices are not mere façades. Rather, mankind is offered real choices. The question is, though the choices are offered, are we capable in our own power of choosing the God-honoring choice and, if not, by what or by whom are we hindered?

We shall see in our future studies how the Bible answers the question of our inability to choose but, for our current study, we see that Adam and Eve were capable of choosing good. The “teacher” of Ecclesiastes explains, “Truly, this only I have found: that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes,” (Eccl. 7:29; NKJV). The nature of Adam was good and well-pleasing to God, but he was yet unstable so that he might fall.

He was made upright in that he there was no natural inclination against God’s moral law written into his being. In other words, it would not be by the finger of God impressed upon the nature of man that he would of necessity fall. He was made upright, with the ability to choose both good an evil. He was created perfect, but he was created with a will, fallible and mutable as he was in his creatureliness.

“Indeed fallibility belongs to the nature of created spirits. It is involved in their possession of the power of contrary choice, that whenever good and evil are presented, the latter may be chosen, and thus the spiritual creature may fall. Any idea of a probation implies such choice,” (James P. Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology, pg. 216).

Man was created in perfection with the ability to choose good and evil. God is not the author of evil, so He by no means forced his hand in the fall. He did, however, create him with the ability to fall of his own agency, and knew precisely how and when and to what end this fall would occur. This doctrine is perhaps one of the most difficult for the human mind to try to grasp, because it is so tied up in the mystery of God’s secret counsel.

“It is a very mysterious thing that God should so ‘innovate upon His own eternity’ as to summon into existence a race of creatures, and bestow upon them the perilous gift of free-will: a perilous and in the event a fatal gift: because, as experience proved, the possessor of it might rise up against his Maker, might oppose and obstruct His will, and introduce sin and misery and death where life and love and holiness had been intended to dwell,” (Alexander Whyte, An Exposition on the Shorter Catechism, pg. 52).

We began this discussion in the context of the covenantal estate in which man was created. We spoke of the righteousness and the holiness of man in his original state. This was truly a blessed position in which to be placed. It was also, as the above quote demonstrates, a perilous one. Man was created upright, but he was mutable and insecure in all his ways.

Man was like a log teetering on a precipice, a log into which freedom of choice was suddenly introduced. With this volitional nature, the outcome was inevitable. Man would certainly choose the wrong path; it was only a matter of time. As a free agent, the will of Adam would surely, eventually incline against the will of God.

“The covenant of works rested upon the strength of man’s inherent righteousness; which though in innocence was perfect, yet was subject to change. Adam was created holy, but mutable; having a power to stand and a power to fall. He had a stock of original righteousness to begin the world with, but he was not sure he would not break. He was his own pilot, and could steer right in the time of innocence; but he was not so secured but that he might dash against the rock of temptation, and he and his prosperity be shipwrecked; so that the covenant of works must needs leave jealousies and doubtings in Adam’s heart, as he had no security given him that he should not fall from that glorious state,” (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, 3.17, II [3])

 

The Fall

The Fall of mankind presents itself in Scripture in narrative form. As we have seen, God created man upright, reasonable, holy, innocent, and unashamed. He placed man in the garden and provided him with all good things necessary for a comfortable living and, indeed, with far more. He created him upright, which is to say that He wrote the work of the law on his heart (Rom. 2:15). However, this uprightness was subject to change. Unlike God, man by nature is fallible and mutable. Let to his own devices, man would inevitably choose against God.

“[God] had the right to test man at his will, and thus testing, to leave him to himself, without constraint to the contrary, to choose as he might see fit. This he did, and man fell; but his fall was not due to the lack of any natural perfection,” (Boyce, Abstract, pg. 217).

This fall was occasioned not merely by the moral law sown into the heart of man. Man was given also a positive law—a law uttered by the very voice of God: “The Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die,’” (Gen. 2:16-17; NASB). Had Adam continued in perpetuity in his righteousness and his obedience to this positive command, mankind would never have fallen into sin and misery. Man did take and eat, and mankind did fall into an estate of sin and misery, but it was not for lack of perfection. Rather, as we have seen, it was due to the introduction of the agency of free choice. We read about this great fall from man’s original state in Genesis 3.

6When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she too from its fruit and ate; and she gave to her husband with here, and he ate. 7Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings,” (Genesis 3:6-7; NASB).

Our inclination might be to think that we would have chosen otherwise. If I had been created first, I would not have sinned like Adam did. We must be careful not to judge Adam too harshly. We tend to think that it is only the result of sin that causes a man and wife to endure such difficulties when they first marry. It is not only sin, but the competing of two different minds—two different wills. When free agency entered into the equation, a finite, mutable creature, the sin of our first parents was inevitable.

It was inevitable, but it was not excusable. In eating of this forbidden fruit, Adam rebelled against a holy, righteous, and beneficent God. God had given him everything, and yet Adam squandered it on a bit of fruit. We would all have done the same thing, but that does not make it right. Adam had sufficient knowledge of the One against whom he was sinning. He chose to sin anyway, plunging mankind into our current estate of sin and misery.

“Adam was brought into existence with a nature inclined to holiness, and a will able to choose either obedience or disobedience. He freely chose disobedience, and so sin originated, as it only could originate, in the free act of a free agent. It was at the beginning a voluntary act against sufficient knowledge. It was a free, inexcusable act of rebellion against the All-perfect and All-beneficent,” (A.A. Hodge, The System of Theology Contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, pg. 30).

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