On The Origin of Sin: By Means of Natural Selection

by Josiah Audette

Origin of Sin

Question 13: Did our first parents continue in the estate wherein they were created?

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

“Nothing is so easy to denounce, nothing is so difficult to understand.” Augustine.


Original Righteousness

Before we can address the doctrine of Original Sin we ought address first the much neglected doctrine of Original Righteousness. Namely, that period in Scripture and history where man was created and living in righteousness, knowledge, and holiness in the image of God. In the prose of Milton,

“Of living creatures new to sight and strange…

The image of their glorious Maker shone,

Truth, wisdom, sanctitude severe and pure.”

Here was the life of our representative heads in the Garden of Eden under the Covenant of Life. The estate wherein they were created was that of original righteousness. God created Adam and Eve, “very good.” C.S. Lewis observes, “God created all things without exception good, and because they are good, ‘No nature (i.e. no positive reality) is bad and the word Bad denotes merely privation of good,’…. What we call bad things are good things perverted.” Lewis goes on to say, “From this doctrine of good and evil it follows that good can exist without evil, but not evil without good.” Adam’s original existence was that of the former, good without evil. While Adam was created perfect, his perfection and the benefits of his perfection were not yet guaranteed. Hence, “God entered into the Covenant of Life with him, upon the condition of personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience.” In Milton’s fictive reflection of Eve speaking to Adam,

Needs must the power that made us, and for us this ample world

Be infinitely good, and of his good

As liberal and free as infinite,

That raised us from the dust and placed us here,

In all this happiness, who at his hand

Have nothing meretied, nor can perform

Aught whereof he hath need, he who requires

From us no other service than to keep

This one, this easy charge, of all the trees

In Paradise that bear delicious fruit

So various, not to taste that only Tree of Knowledge planted by the Tree of Life,

So near grows death to life, whatever death is,

Some dreadful thing no doubt, for well thou now’t

God hath pronounced it death to taste that Tree,

The only sign of our obedience left

Among so many signs of power and rule”

Probationary Prohibition

This Covenant of Life was a limited, representative probationary period. An indefinite opportunity was given to innocent Adam to virtuously secure for himself and all his posterity that state of righteous innocence. “Innocence is life untested, but virtue is innocence tested and triumphant” says one reformer. Within this probationary period Adam’s innocence was not guaranteed. Morecraft writes, “A temporary probationary period of testing was accepted by God in place of an everlasting exposure to the possibility of falling into sin under the perpetual demands of God. God limited the probationary testing period for Adam, and in so doing, accepted temporary obedience during that time frame, as equivalent to what Adam’s perpetual innocence would have accomplished.” However God not only graciously limited the time of probation, but also the persons under the probation. “Without the Covenant of Life” says Morecraft, “Wherein Adam stood for all men, representing all who would descend form him in ordinary generation, each individual would have to stand or fall according to his own individual obedience.” Hence the Covenant of Life was an indefinite, representative, probationary period by prohibition upon reward of life or threat of death. A probationary period constitutes four elements. 1. In a probationary period, the status of the probationary persons are not yet confirmed. So while Adam did not have death in him from the Tree of the Knowledge, neither had he yet attained to eternal life through the Tree of Life. 2. In probation, the persons are tested. The test for the Covenant of Life was very clear, a prohibition against eating of the Tree of the Knowledge. 3. In a probationary period the outcome has the status of the probationary persons confirmed. The outcome of obedience in the Adamic Covenant was eternal life from the Tree of Life and of disobedience, death. The fact that Adam (post-fall, post-probation) was denied the Tree of Life indicates that the Tree of Life was in fact the reserved, future award for obedience to the Covenant of Life. 4. Consequently, in a probationary period the testing is for a limited period of time. Albeit indefinite, Adam’s testing was indeed limited otherwise their would have been no mention of a promised reward or threatened punishment indicating finality to the probation.

Free Agency & Moral Ability

“I made him just and right, 

Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.”

Illustrates Milton of God concerning Adam. Scripture is incredibly clear that post-fall, post-probation man is not able not to sin by reason of his sin nature.  In this regard Karl Kraus was correct in stating that “The Devil is wildly optimistic if he thinks he can make human beings worse than they are.”  We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. “Free-Will” for us, the moral ability to select between good and evil, is an empty word. A man cannot prefer against his preference or choose against his choice, and Scripture is clear our only preference is evil and our only choice is sin. This is what we may call “The freedom of slavery.” Not free-will but self-will. As Lorraine Boettner writes, “We deny the existence in man of a power which may act either way, on the logical ground that both virtue and vice cannot come out of the same moral condition of the agent.” Martin Luther wrote, “Free will is an empty term, whose reality is lost. And a lost liberty, according to my grammar, is no liberty at all.” However, if there ever was a man who had free-will, apart from the incarnate God-man, it was Adam. He had no such “freedom of slavery”, no lost liberty, no self-will, no sin nature. To say differently would be to hold God liable as the creator of faultiness, or author of evil. Our representative’s moral ability and free-agency to guarantee his state of righteous innocence was being tested in the probationary period. Unlike us, Adam had both the capacity and ability for either virtue or vice. The power of contrary choice, as the angels before him, and the incarnate Christ after, was his to avail. John Murray notes, “There was no necessity arising from his physical condition, nor from his moral nature, nor from the state of his environment, why he should sin.”


The Origin of Original Sin

Original Sin did not originate in Adam, although it was indeed perpetuated by him.

“He trusted to have equaled the Most High,

If he opposed; and with ambitious aim

Against the throne and monarchy of God

Raised impious war in Heav’n and battle proud

With vain attempt. Him the Almighty Power

Hurled headlong flaming from th’ ethereal sky

With hideous ruin and combustion down

To bottomless perdition, there to dwell

In adamantine chains and penal fire,

Who durst defy th’ Omnipotent to arms.”

The origin of sin as Milton here portrays, was with Satan. As one theologian writes, “Sin did not break out on earth in the first instance, but in heaven, in the immediate presence of God, and at the foot of his throne. The thought, the wish, the will to resist God arose first in the heart of the angels.” Now sin’s originator, the original sinner, Satan, conspired against God’s creation vowed to his legions,

“To waste his whole creation, or possess

All as our own, and drive as we were driven,

The puny habitants, or if not drive,

Seduce them to our party, that their God

May prove their foe, and with repenting hand

Abolish his own works. This would surpass

Common revenge, and interrupt his joy

In our confusion, and our joy upraise

In his disturbance, when his darling sons

Hurled headlong to partake with us, shall curse

Their frail original, and faded bliss

Faded so soon.” Milton.

Thus arose the originator who would supply the external suggestion of original sin to Adam. Laidlaw writes of original sin in Adam, “It arose with an external suggestion, and upon an external occasion, but it was an inward crisis.” Samuel Rutherford clarifies, “Can Satan force us against our will to sin? A. No, he tempts us and knocks at the door without, but our will and lust opens the door. Satan is the midwife that helps forward the birth but our will and lust is the father and mother to all our sins.” So our parents fell from the estate wherein he was created by sinning against God. “What is the Fall?” asks C.S. Lewis, “The Fall is simply and solely Disobedience – doing what you have been told not to do: and it results from Pride – from being too big for your boots, forgetting your place, thinking that you are God.”


Original Knowledge

The fall from original righteousness was through the original sin of original knowledge.

“Will God incense his ire

For such a petty trespasss, and not praise

Rather your dauntless virtue, whom the pain

Of death denounced, whatever thing death be,

Deterred not from achieving what might lead

To happier life, knowledge of good and evil;

Of good, how just? Of evil, if what is evil

By real, why not known, since easier shunned;

God therefore cannot hurt ye, and be just;

Not just, not God; not feared then, nor obeyed:

Your fear itself of death removes the fear.

Why then was this forbid? Why but to awe,

Why but to keep ye low and ignorant,

His worshipers; he knows that in the day

Ye eat thereof, your eyes that seem so clear,

Yet are but dim, shall perfectly be then

Opened and cleared, and ye shall be as gods,

Knowing both good and evil as they know.”

Know as they know the knowledge of Good and Evil. The prohibition of the probationary period went far beyond sensual intemperance and mammon appetite. Its grimace was graver than gluttony. It would also be a mistake to say that knowledge was prohibited in the Covenant of Life. Our first parents were indeed created in, “knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.” Their knowledge must have been surpassing for Adam to have the originality of thought and the discernment to give names to the creatures and to manage paradise itself. This quality of knowledge, this pure and vast natural knowledge was not an inducement to the fall. So too ought we not abandon learning, scholarly pursuits, and intellectual cultivation in the work of the dominion mandate. It was not the quantity of Adam’s knowledge (as vast as it was) which induced the fall, but rather the quality of knowledge. Namely, moral knowledge. Francis Bacon writes in his essay on “The Advancement of Learning” , “It was not the pure knowledge of Nature and universality, a knowledge by the light whereof man did give names unto other creatures in Paradise as they were brought before him according unto their properties, which gave the occasion to the fall; but it was the proud knowledge of good and evil, with an intent in man to give law unto himself, and to depend no more upon God’s commandments, which was the form of the temptation.” The limitations of righteous knowledge are therefore threefold as Bacon considers, “1. That we do not so place our felicity in knowledge, as we forget our mortality.” This was the original lie in the original sin of original knowledge. “Ye shall not die.” Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes, “As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity. For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? As the fool.” Momento Mori, remember your mortality. Bacon continues, “The second, that we make application of our knowledge, to give ourselves repose and contentment, and not distaste or repining.”  The latter quality of knowledge puffeth-up. It set our first parents at enmity with God and then with themselves. “The third, that we do not presume by the contemplation of Nature to attain to the mysteries of God.” Herein again was the lie of original knowledge. “Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Bacon wonderfully summarizes, “Let no man upon a weak conceit of sobriety or an ill-applied moderation think or maintain that a man can search too far, or be too well studies in the book of God’s word, or in the book of God’s works, divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavour an endless progress or proficiency in both; only let men beware that they apply both to charity, and not to swelling; to use, and not to ostentation;” 


Apologetics for Dogmatics

It makes God the author of sin.

Not so.

“And man there placed, with purpose to assay

If him [Satan] by force he can destroy, or worse,

By some false guile pervert; and shall pervert;

For man will hearken to his glozing lies,

And easily transgress the sole command,

Sole pledge of his obedience: so will fall

He and his faithless progeny: whose fault?

Whose but his own? Ingrate, he had of me

All he could have; I made him just and right, Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.”

Again, the fall arose out of external suggestion, upon external situation, but from an inward crisis. Adam was the author of his own sin. “God left him [Adam] to the freedom of his own will, and that freedom he abused. No doubt God could have prevented his fall if he had pleased, by giving such influences of his Spirit as would have been absolutely effectual to hinder it; but this he was under no obligation to do. He did not withdraw from man that ability with which He had furnished him for his duty, nor did He infuse any vicious inclinations into his heart – He only withheld that further grace that would have infallibly prevented his fall.” Robert Shaw. Consequentially, God allowed the fall. We meant it for evil, but God decreed it for good.

“As my eternal purpose hath decreed:

Man shall not quite be lost, but saved who will,

Yet not of will in him, but grace in me

Freely vouchsafed; once more I will renew

His lapsed powers, though forfeit and enthralled

By sin to foul exorbitant desires;

Upheld by me, yet once more he shall stand

On even ground against his mortal foe,

By me upheld, that he may know how frail

His fall’n condition is, and to me owe

All his deliv’rance, and to none but me.”

So if God decreed the Fall as Milton depicts, how then can there can be moral responsibility without free agency?

The decretive will of God which is the cause of the futurition of the Fall is neither its physical cause (infusion of sin in Adam) or its ethical cause (Approval of sin in Adam). Nor because Adam fulfilled the decretive will is he held less guilty as he still violated the preceptive will of God graciously revealed to him. John Piper refers to this most wisely as the two wills of God. Piper writes, “We must certainly distinguish between what God would like to see happen and what he actually does will to happen, and both of these things can be spoken of as God’s will.” The preceptive will of God is “His general intention and longing, not his effective purpose.” The decretive will of God is his inviolable sovereign decree or effective purpose of what will happen. The former is what he would delight in happening. The latter is what he finally decides in happening. The former is what he would want to happen. The latter is what he wills to happen. The two wills of God working together are paradoxical but not contradictory. Furthermore, the Pelagian doctrine that goodness and vice are measured in proportion to the selection  of either being devoid of any influence is fallacious. Calvin deduces, “The goodness of God is so connected with his Godhead that it is not more necessary to be God than to be good; whereas the devil, by his fall, was so estranged from goodness that he can do nothing but evil. 

Should anyone give utterance to the profane jeer that little praise is due to God for a goodness to which he is forced, is it not obvious to every man to reply, “It is owing not to violent impulse, but to his boundless goodness, that he cannot do evil?”

Therefore, if the free will of God in doing good is not impeded, because he necessarily must do good; if the devil, who can do nothing but evil, nevertheless sins voluntarily; can it be said that man sins less voluntarily because he is under a necessity of sinning?”

The voluntary or involuntary nature the natural selection of virtue or vice does not effect the praiseworthiness or blameworthiness of such a choice.


Conclusion

“But to destruction sacred and devote,

He with his whole posterity must die,

Die he or Justice must; unless for him

Some other able, and as willing, pay

The rigid satisfaction, death for death.

Say Heavenly powers, where shall we find such love,

Which of ye will be mortal to redeem

Man’s mortal crime, and just th’ unjust to save,

Dwells in all Heaven charity so dear?”

He asked, but all the Heavn’nly choir stood mute,

And silence was in Heav’n: on no man’s behalf

Patron or intercessor none appeared,

Much less that durst upon his own head draw

The deadly forfeiture, and ransom set.

And now without redemption all mankind

Must have been lost, adjudged to death and Hell

By doom severe, had not the Son of God,

In whom the fullness dwells of love divine,

His dearest meditation thus renewed.

“Father, thy word is past, man shall find grace;

And shall grace not find means, that finds her way…

Behold me then, me for him, life for life

I offer, on me let thine anger fall;

Account me man; I for his sake will leave

Thy bosom, and this glory next to thee

Freely put off, and for him lastly die

Well pleased, on me let Death wreck all his rage;

Under his gloomy power I shall not long

Lie vanquished; thou hast giv’n me to possess

Life in myself forever, by thee I live,

Though now to Death I yield, and am his due

All that of me can die, yet that debt paid,

Thou wilt not leave me in the loathsome grave

His prey, nor suffer my unspotted soul

Forever with corruption there to dwell;

But I shall rise victorious, and subdue

My vanquisher, spoiled of his vaunted spoil;

Death his death’s wound shall then receive, and stoop

Inglorious, of his mortal sting disarmed.

I through the ample air in triumph high

Shall lead Hell captive mauler Hell, and show

The powers of darkness bound. Thou at the sight

Pleased, out of Heaven shalt look down and smile,

While by thee raised I ruin all my foes,

Death last, and with his carcass glut the grave:

Then with the multitude of my redeemed

Shall enter Heaven long absent, and return,

Father to see thy face, wherein no cloud

Of anger shall remain, but peace assured,

And reconcilement; wrath shall be no more

Thenceforth, but in thy presence joy entire.”

His words here ended, but his meek aspect

Silent yet spake, and breathed immortal love

To mortal men, above which only shone

Filial obedience: as a sacrifice

Glad to be offered, he attends the will

Of his great Father. Admiration seized

All Heav’n, what this might mean, and whither tend Wondering.”

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