There are two modern movements in evangelism today which claim the backing of Reformed Christians and are even supported by many of my closest friends. I find I cannot go along with them and must make my reasons clear for thinking, believing and acting otherwise. These many brethren will remain my friends, but I want them to realize what a dangerous threat to the Gospel their views have become.
Any doctrine which relieves man of his responsibility for his own sins and declares him to be innocent of the mess he is in as a fallen sinner leaves no room for the atoning work of the Cross. If we are not responsible for our own sins, there is no reason or sense in Christ taking on Himself the responsibility of our having committed them by dying in our stead, the Innocent for the innocents. The Biblical doctrine is that the wages of sin is death. If man were innocent of his sin, there would be no cause for Christ to die for him.
The idea that sin destroyed the world before Adam
Modern deniers of man’s responsibility for bringing sin into the world are reviving the old so-called Gap Theory to teach that sin marred the world before ever Adam was born. This teaching thus separates the groaning and travailing of nature marred by sin from the sin of Adam by uncountable ages claiming that Christ’s first perfect creation fell long before Adam. Obviously, if sin entered the world before Adam, the First Man is innocent of that Fall. Christ did not die to put fallen nature right and thus automatically man, as a part of nature, thrown in. The Bible gives Adam the responsibility of pulling the entire creation down with him as he was placed on the earth as nature’s steward and administrator. The pollution of nature is a man-made responsibility for which he is solely answerable. Adam fell and thus his sin marred all. When Christ renews man, this leads even to a renewed Heaven and Earth. He does not have to die twice, once for nature and once for man. Actually, modern Gap-Theory enthusiasts leave out fallen nature from their programme altogether, seeing no need for atonement there. Besides, Romans 1:20 clearly shows that man was part of the original creation of the world and nowhere in the Bible do we read of a pre-world marred by sin which was not Adam’s. The question, of course, is how did sin enter the world if it were not Adam’s? Here the Gap-Theorists, to accommodate themselves to early evolution theories, many not held at all by leading scientists today, have come up with a most far-fetched interpolation of later pagan ideas into Scripture. I shall quote from a recent book written by an evangelical Baptist to take away man’s responsibility in nature on the grounds that sin entered the world perhaps even myriads of ages before Adam. The author claims that we have hitherto misunderstood Genesis 1:2 which tells us that ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’. Not being able to spell out the Word of God as it is written, the author interprets this as meaning the world (he has overlooked the mention of heaven) ‘was perfect, beautiful, beautiful and glorious.’ So, the author would have us believe, we are presented in verse one with a fully made, fully perfect earth. This is, not what the Scriptures say as they make it obvious that the creation of the earth was a process, the stages of which are clearly marked out in the following verses. Genesis 1:1ff. speaks of the first stages in creation through a formlessness mass to God’s pronouncement that it was good, not in verse one but in the last verse of the chapter when all the good things He did were completed. In order to make a world suitable for man, God put a plan into practice. Our author claims this is a wrong interpretation. Genesis 1:1 refers to a finished world. Verses 2:b and continuing refer then to the destruction of this finished world followed by a restoration of what was first created. He tells us that the first manless creation was perfect, but:
‘Then something happened. In verse 2 we read, ‘And the earth was (became) without form and void’. The earth became a ruin. Between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 some terrible thing happened which resulted in the ruin of the earth.’
Claiming Jamieson, Fausset and Brown as his guide, rather than the Scriptures, the author tells us, ‘The perfect earth was ‘convulsed and broken up, was a dark and watery waste for ages perhaps, till out of this chaotic state, the present fabric of the world was made to arise’. This is not a ‘theory or speculation’, our author tells us, but a solid fact. We note that, according to these speculative opinions this broken-up pre-Adamic world was recreated there and then in its present-day post-lapsarian1 form so that the present state of the earth is due to God’s recreation of it and not due in any way to the fall of man. The present world is thus not marred by sin. We also note that though JFB speak of Genesis 2b ff. as indicating a new or second creation, they depict what was and not what became and do not speculate as to why the chaos of the world lasted ‘perhaps ages’. So here, they are less speculative than our author. But such un-scholarly, journalese as provided by popular commentators JFB is speculation enough.
Now our author, well-known to me, is no Hebrew scholar. He fails the simplest test in Hebrew proficiency and grammatical correctness. He introduces a copula here, called by grammarians a ‘resulting attribute’ (BECAME) rather than a ‘current attribute’ (WAS). However, he does not use this copula for the further context where he always uses the simple imperfect or the current attribute ‘was’. Why does he alter the plain meaning of the text in this one instance but nowhere else though the grammar, syntax and context do not demand it? This has nothing to do with a scholarly, grammatical analysis or sensible theological exegesis it is merely an attempt to be ‘clever’ and create an argument for Doubting Thomases for which there are no grounds.
Thinking he has established the pre-Adamic fall of God’s first creation, our author now seeks to explain why it fell. Affirming that he is not speculating, he, nevertheless, goes on to say, ‘No one can say with certainty, because it is not revealed, but perhaps this was the time of Satan’s fall, the time when sin first entered God’s universe.’ He then again turns his speculation into the ‘facts’ which suit him by saying. ‘This fall of Satan had far reaching consequences. The earth, originally created by God fair and beautiful, became ‘without form and void’, a desolated place of ruin’. Thus sin entered into the world, ready to be taken over by all mankind ‘ages perhaps’ later.
The author’s reasoning here is most difficult to follow. He speaks first of the earth being as perfect as Heaven in verse 1, though the Word says nothing of the kind. He then tells us that Satan did not first sin on the earth but in Heaven. Yet, he concludes that Adam’s sin did not mar Heaven but it marred earth. However, he makes no attempt to explain why Satan’s sin left perfect Heaven still perfect but left perfect earth barren and formless. Why did the author’s god allow Satan to destroy his good and perfect earth though this was not the scene of his crime? We are not told. The author merely claims that the heavenly sin which marred the earth was a proto-type of Adam’s sin ‘ages perhaps’ later. But Adam did not sin in Heaven, nor did he sin in a world already once destroyed by another’s sin but he sinned in an earth proclaimed good by God and he himself was created to be able to withstand sin if he so wished. The earth was made for man and it was man’s sin which marred himself and his environment. Indeed, there is no story of an earthly destruction as a punishment for Satan’s fall in all the Scriptures, though there is much in later pagan literature from which our author has borrowed his interpretations. George McDonald uses these fantasy stories in his fairy-tales from whence our Author appears to have found his sources. It is Adam’s sin which causes all creation to groan and travail, awaiting the final redemption. This is not the redemption of Satan whose sin destroyed the earth but the redemption of man who pulled down the earth with his own self-made and self-imputed sin not Satan’s sin. There is no redemption for that! Such a doctrine of ‘original sin’ is nowhere taught in Scripture.
The Idea that God decreed Adam’s sin
The second major modern denial of man’s original responsibility before God for bringing sin into the world is the idea that God created Adam so that he might fall. This is the teaching of many of our Fullerite friends who preach that though God decreed man to fall, he did not decree man’s justification. So they depict a man innocent of his own fall who is condemned by God, yet they withhold God’s justification from condemned sinners. Instead, they give us their ‘duty-faith’ gospel which enables an innocently fallen man to right the wrong done to him. The idea that God decreed Adam to fall was rejected by our 16th century Reformers with the almost sole exception of Calvin who begged to differ from his mentor Bullinger and teach that God was responsible for Adam’s sin and not Adam himself. This was because Calvin so often based his elective ecclesiology on predestination outside of Christ’s atonement. Naturally, the atonement of Christ is a meaningless work if it is not to atone for man’s self-inflicted fall. If God is the author of sin, Christ would have to atone for the sins of His Father and not for sins imposed on a guiltless Adam. Calvin erred here because he was almost alone amongst Reformers in adhering to popish-pagan Aristotelian teaching. Christian teaching for him was there where it could be cut-up and cataloged. He thus separated the bones from the marrow of theology, sinews from skin, and its blood from its muscle. This is why, for the last forty-five years, I have been pointing out that if one wishes to learn true, Christian, Reformed theology, one must read Calvin’s mentors such as Bucer and Bullinger and the English Reformers rather than Calvin who was mainly a collector of other men’s ideas but unable to formulate them with the same grace, humility, tolerance and understanding. The Scriptures neither follow the impractical logic of Aristotle nor that of Ramus either. On the entrance of sin into the world, John Gill, who stands closer to the German-Swiss and English Reformers than Calvin is still not beaten.
Whenever Calvin isolated the doctrines of the Bible to analyze and systematize them, he left them with rough edges which made it difficult for him to fit them together again in a comprehensive over-view. This is nowhere clearer than in Calvin’s teaching on predestination in his Institutes, Book III, Chap. XXIII:7 where Calvin apparently teaches that God’s so-called double-predestination is irrespective of man’s fallen nature and that God acts arbitrarily in election. Another example is Calvin’s pamphlet war with Pighius in which Calvin argues for predestination without embedding his arguments in his overall teaching of the covenant and the work of Christ. In this debate, Pighius, though a papist, won most of the arguments as he depended less on Aristotle than Calvin. Though a dozen quotes from other works of Calvin might contradict III:XXVIII:7, the shock many a reader has on reading such extreme words might cause them to reject Calvin’s teaching, as did a number of ministers and refugees in Geneva to their peril. Because of his basic view of God as all-sovereign, seen irrespective of the distinctive Persons and offices within the Trinity, Calvin tended to look on election and predestination as an immediate act of God. Such thinking leads to the complicated and highly theoretical Lapsarian Controversy concerning whether the elect were predestinated to salvation or and the reprobate to damnation before (Supralapsarian) or after (Infralapsarian) the fall. Such a discussion for Bullinger was too speculative, unedifying, highly theoretical and most un-pastoral and practical. Most important, as Bullinger pointed out in his Decades, the Scriptures never dealt with sin and the fall in this context. Sinners are not elected causatively because of their own deeds or non-deeds but by grace. Thus sinners are elected infra-Christum. It is neither unfallen man nor fallen man who is dealt with directly by God in election and predestined salvation. Within the economy of the Godhead, the Father deals directly with the Son in covenant on behalf of those who are in Christ. Predestination occurs thus through and in Christ. To discuss predestination outside of Christ’s salvation and Covenant with His Father is to speak of philosophical abstractions and theories. Elect sinners are predestinated in Christ, there is no predestination for those outside of Christ but the damnation they enter into by their own sin.’
What then does Calvin say in Book III:23:7? He states:
Section 7. Objection, that God did not decree that Adam should perish by his fall, refuted by a variety of reasons.
‘They deny that it is ever said in distinct terms, God decreed that Adam should perish by his revolt. As if the same God, who is declared in Scripture to do whatsoever he pleases, could have made the noblest of his creatures without any special purpose. They say that, in accordance with free-will, he was to be the architect of his own fortune, that God had decreed nothing but to treat him according to his desert. If this frigid fiction is received, where will be the omnipotence of God, by which, according to his secret counsel on which every thing depends, he rules over all? But whether they will allow it or not, predestination is manifest in Adam’s posterity. It was not owing to nature that they all lost salvation by the fault of one parent. Why should they refuse to admit with regard to one man that which against their will they admit with regard to the whole human race? Why should they in caviling lose their labour? Scripture proclaims that all were, in the person of one, made liable to eternal death. As this cannot be ascribed to nature, it is plain that it is owing to the wonderful counsel of God. It is very absurd in these worthy defenders of the justice of God to strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. I again ask how it is that the fall of Adam involves so many nations with their infant children in eternal death without remedy unless that it so seemed meet to God? Here the most loquacious tongues must be dumb. The decree, I admit, is, dreadful; and yet it is impossible to deny that God foreknow what the end of man was to be before he made him, and foreknew, because he had so ordained by his decree. Should any one here inveigh against the prescience of God, he does it rashly and unadvisedly. For why, pray, should it be made a charge against the heavenly Judge, that he was not ignorant of what was to happen? Thus, if there is any just or plausible complaint, it must be directed against predestination. Nor ought it to seem absurd when I say, that God not only foresaw the fall of the first man, and in him the ruin of his posterity; but also at his own pleasure arranged it.’
John Gill, who was far closer to first generation Reformed theology than Calvin, emphasized in his long discussion on the fall in his Body of Divinity, that the word to use is not ‘arranged’ but ‘permitted’. If God is the author of sin and arranged that Adam should fall, the atonement of Christ would be made a trumped up farce and the responsibility of man for his own sins totally annulled. Calvin, we note, by-passes the atoning work of Christ here. The idea that man if he had not sinned would have disobeyed God is as far-fetched as the idea that man can of himself exercise duty-faith and get himself out of the tangles into which a god of no grace has thrown him. The trouble here is that those evangelicals who tell us that God decrees man to sin do not take into account that Adam’s initial sin was made under different circumstances to ours. Gill explains all in his On the Sin and Fall of Our First Parents.
Here the solution to this problem is found in Gill’s use of the phrase “the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” in which framework Gill builds up his definition of ‘predetermine’ and shows how this predetermination affected Adam. Here, Gill explains, God does not merely view the matter from the point of view of His own sovereignty but from the interaction of Adam’s will with it. He does not see God as placing Adam under a necessity of sinning yet He is willing to have Adam’s sin used for the good, because He can make good come of any evil however it may happen. Thus there is a difference between how God adapted human agency in the case of Adam to His will and how God deals with his decrees concerning those who come after the fall who have no human agency with which to work. In other words, though Gill speaks of foreknowing and predetermining, he interpreted this in the sense of permitting and using according to God’s providence. So, Gill writes:
“God permitted or suffered Adam to sin and fall, which permission was not a bare permission or sufferance; God was not an idle spectator of this affair; the permission was voluntary, wise, holy, powerful, and efficacious, according to the unchangeable counsel of his will: he willed, and he did not will the sin of Adam, in different respects; he did not will it as an evil, but as what he would overrule for good, a great good; he willed it not as sin, but as a mean of glorifying his grace and mercy, justice and holiness: and that this was not a bare and inefficacious permission, but attended with influence.”
Gill sees this influence in the sense of God giving Adam natural abilities, metaphorically speaking, as a rope which he could use for various exercises and tasks, including hanging himself, the latter action being eventually chosen by Adam. Whatever Adam does with the rope, one can say that God is willing it with him as he is providing the wherewithal but not the motive.
Here we see Gill arguing in Adam’s single and unique case as many modern evangelists argue un-Biblically in the case of all men. They tell them that God has made certain saving provisions which are universally applicable. He has also equipped man with the natural agency to appropriate these provisions for himself. If he rejects them, he rejects salvation. In Adam’s case, this is, of course, true as he had basic natural gifts which kept him in God’s favour. When Adam lost his gifts, no other natural man was able to restore them for himself. In order to be saved, man needed the obedience and righteousness of Christ, the God-Man, to put him right. Thus this dangerous modern branch of pseudo-evangelicalism makes an Adam of every man and sees his rejection of using his natural abilities to accept Christ as the true fall. Just as the Roman Catholics repeat Christ’s work of salvation in their mass, so these pseudo-evangelicals preach a repetition of Adam’s fall, in the case of every sinner caused by not accepting Christ. Thus a total fall never took place. All men are probationers like Adam until they reject Christ. All men did not die in Adam. Accept this who will, they will not find this doctrine in Scripture. May we get back to the old-fashioned, thoroughly Biblical, doctrine of preaching the sinner’s full responsibility before God for his own self-inflicted sin and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to do for man what he cannot do for himself.
- After Adam’s fall. ↩