Q13: 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 (Ecc. 7:29).


I. Introduction: Man created in the state of innocence, but not yet confirmed therein (Gen. 1:26-31; 2:8-3:6).

A. God set before our first parents two alternatives.

1. Path of perfect obedience leading to everlasting life (Ga. 3:12).

2. Path of disobedience leading to death (Gen. 2:17).

a. This is the meaning of the catechism’s phrase, “left to the freedom of their own will.”

b. The Lord did not remove grace from our first parents, nor did He infuse evil into them, but only withheld further grace—that He was not obligated to give—that would have prevented the Fall.

II. Definition of terms: will, liberty, ability.

A. Will defined in a wide sense and a narrow sense.

1. Wide: all desires, affections, and emotions.

2. Narrow: power of self-determination, the faculty by which we decide in our acts.

a. If same sense not used, there will be no understanding in discussion.

b. To say one has power over volitions, and to say one has power over desires, are entirely different things.

(1). Man cannot change his feelings by an act of his will.

c. Free agency is a point at which theology and psychology touch.

B. Liberty (or freedom) defined: man is free if not externally coerced/forced.

C. Ability defined: able to choose any moral option available at any one time.


III. Liberty and ability of will were possessed by our first parents.

A. Liberty: first parents had freedom to follow path of obedience, as there was not any external force prohibiting them.

1. Post-Fall liberty was retained, man created imago Dei, still has reason, will, and conscience—what Jonathan Edwards called “natural ability.” Man is free and hence responsible as the command to  repent and believe teaches.

B. Ability: first parents had a true free will, the inherent power to do good, as God made man upright (Ecc. 7:29; cf. Gen. 1:27; 3:6-7).

1. Post-Fall ability was lost—what Jonathan Edwards called “moral abilities.” Man now has inability (Gen. 6:5-6; Jer. 13:23; Jn. 5:40; 6:44, 65; 8:34-35; 15:4-5; Rom. 3:10-12; 8:7).

a. Inability does not arise from loss of imago Dei (reason, will, conscience) and therefore does not assume man ceases to be a free moral agent. It consists in the lack of power to discern spiritual things and right affections thereunto.

Relevant quote from Jonathon Edwards:
What has been said of natural and moral Necessity, may serve to explain what is intended by natural and moral Inability. We are said to be naturally unable to do a thing, when we cannot do it if we will, because what is most commonly called nature does not allow of it, or because of some impeding defect or obstacle that is extrinsic to the Will; either in the faculty of understanding, constitution of body, or external objects. Moral Inability consists not in any of these things; but either in the want of inclination; or the strength of a contrary inclination; or the want of sufficient motives in view, to induce and excite the act of the Will, or the strength of apparent motives to the contrary. Or both these may be resolved into one; and it may be said in one word, that moral Inability consists in the opposition or want of inclination. For when a person is unable to will or choose such a thing, through a defect of motives, or prevalence of contrary motives, it is the same thing as his being unable through the want of an inclination, or the prevalence of a contrary inclination, in such circumstances, and under the influence of such views.   source 

Relevant quote from Arthur Pink:
Now let it be clearly understood that, when we speak of the sinner’s inability, we do not mean that if men desired to come to Christ they lack the necessary power to carry out their desire. No; the fact is that the sinner’s inability or absence of power is itself due to lack of willingness to come to Christ, and this lack of willingness is the fruit of a depraved heart. It is of first importance that we distinguish between natural inability and moral and spiritual inability. For example, we read, “But Abijah could not see; for his eyes were set by reason of his age” (1 Kings 14:4); and again, “The men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them” (Jonah 1:13). In both of these passages the words “could not” refer to natural inability. But when we read, “And when his brethren saw that their father loved him (Joseph) more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him” (Gen. 37:4), it is clearly moral inability that is in view. They did not lack the natural ability to “speak peaceably unto him”, for they were not dumb. Why then was it that they “could not speak peaceably unto him”? The answer is given in the same verse: it was because “they hated him.” Again; in 2 Peter 2:14 we read of a certain class of wicked men “having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin.” Here again it is moral inability that is in view. Why is it that these men “cannot cease from sin”? The answer is, Because their eyes were full of adultery. So of Romans 8:8.—”They that are in the flesh cannot please God”: here it is spiritual inability. Why is it that the natural man “cannot please God”? Because he is “alienated from the life of God” (Eph. 4:18). No man can choose that from which his heart is averse—”O generation of vipers how can ye, being evil, speak good things?” (Matt. 12:34). “No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him” (John 6:44). Here again it is moral and spiritual inability which is before us. Why is it the sinner cannot come to Christ unless he is “drawn”? The answer is, Because his wicked heart loves sign and hates Christ.   source

b. Analogy: Man is free to fly, but not able. God is free to do anything He desires, but not able to lie (Tit. 1:2), because He is controlled by His nature. Likewise, man is determined by his nature (Eph. 2:3; Rom. 8:7).

C. State of grace: man has will of liberty partly to good and to evil (Rom. 7:22, 24). [See Appendixes I; J; L]


IV. Historical debate.

A. Augustine (354–430 AD ) and Pelagius.

1. Augustine said fallen man has free will, a faculty by which we make choices. Sinners though spiritually dead are biologically alive. They have preferences, desires, etc., and select accordingly.  As biologically alive they are thinking, feeling, choosing, and responding. So, they have free will in that they have the power to make choices according to what they want. Augustine denied liberty to man, defining it as moral power to change one’s heart from death to life. Man cannot stop sinning because he does not want to unless sovereign grace intervenes: “Man cannot do otherwise than sin.”

a. Augustine‘s three-fold distinction of liberty and ability.

(1). Pre-Fall: liberty and ability.  posse non peccare [possible not to sin]

(2). Post-Fall: liberty to sin and not to good.  non posse non peccare  [not possible not to sin]

(3). Glory: liberty to good and not to evil.  non posse peccare  [not possible to sin]

Relevant quote from Johan Kurtz:
Augustine’s doctrinal system in its most characteristic features is as follows: Man was created free and in the image of God, destined to and capable of attaining immortality, holiness and blessedness, but also with the possibility of sinning and dying. By the exercise of his freedom he must determine his own career. Had he determined himself for God, the being able not to sin and not to die, would have become an impossibility of sinning and dying, the Posse non peccare et mori would have become a Non posse peccare et mori. But tempted by Satan he fell, and thus it became for him impossible that he should not sin and die, non posse non peccare et non mori. All prerogatives of the Divine image were lost; he retained only the capacity for outward civil righteousness, Justitia civilis, and a capacity for redemption. In Adam, moreover, all mankind sinned, for he was all mankind. By generation Adam’s nature as it was after sin, with sin and guilt, death and condemnation, but also the capacity for redemption, passed over to all his posterity. Divine grace, which alone can redeem and save man, attached itself to the remnant of the divine image which expressed itself in the need of redemption and the capacity for redemption. Grace is therefore absolutely necessary, in the beginning, middle and end of the Christian life. It is granted man, not because he believes, but that he may believe; for faith too is the work of God’s grace.  Johann Heinrich Kurtz, Church History, ed. W. Robertson Nicoll, trans. John Macpherson, vol. 1, The Foreign Biblical Library (New York; London; Toronto: Funk & Wagnalls, 1889–1894), 344ff.

2. Pelagius taught the pagan secular view of human freedom, i.e., that people are free in having the power to incline one’s heart toward righteousness and God. Pelagius denied Original Sin and taught that divine grace was not needed to live righteously before God, but that it only made the achievement of righteousness easier. Pelagius asserted that free will is essential to man’s nature, defining liberty to be the ability at any moment to determine oneself for good or evil.

a. Pelagius condemned as heretic in the fifth century.  more

b. Semi-Pelagianism affirms Original Sin, but claims that it only weakened man’s resolve to incline himself to God. Man still retains some little island of moral freedom to choose God, though grace is essential. God comes with grace and man then chooses.  more

B. Luther (1483–1546 AD ) and Erasmus (1466?–1536 AD).  more

1. Luther essentially said that post-Fall man cannot not sin (non posse non peccare), stating that “free will is an empty term, whose reality is lost. And a lost liberty, according to my grammar, is no liberty at all.”

2. Erasmus asserted man has a free will, defining such as: “[A] power of the human will by which man may apply himself to those things that lead to eternal salvation, or turn away from the same” (De Librio Arbitrio).


V. Post-Fall conclusions.

A. Man is a free agent (and therefore responsible); but his will is not free in the sense of it being independent of his nature.

1. “Free will” is properly defined as the “ability to choose according to desire.” “Free agency” is a better term.  See here the section in chapter 2; part 1 entitled “Freedom Is Predicable only of Persons, not of Faculties”.

a. A “neutral” free will is irrational and unbiblical. Man’s will cannot be indifferent or he would have no inclination to decide.

(1). The will is determined by desires, inclinations, and proclivities.

(a). Gen. 3:7-11: “saw” (v. 10), “then chose” (v. 11).

(b). Josh. 7:20-21: “saw…coveted…took….”

b. Man always chooses whatever his strongest inclination at the time of decision is.

c. Man’s will is enslaved by his fallen nature (Eph. 2:1); as a child of wrath he makes choices according to his nature (v. 3).

2. The mind and the will.

a. The will is the mind choosing.   source

b. Turretin writes: “Nor ought this to seem unusual since the intellect and will are mutually connected by so strict a necessity that they can never be separated from each other. Nor does there seem to be a real and intrinsic distinction here, but only an extrinsic with regard to the objects (as one and the same faculty of the soul both judges by understanding and by willing embraces what it judges to be good; and it is called “intellect” when it is occupied in the knowledge and judgment of things, but “will” when it is carried to the love or hatred of the same).    source

c. The will can be forced by compulsion (e.g., a gun put to one’s head), which takes freedom, though the will still operates reasonably choosing what the mind deems best.

3. The term “free will” as used in Scripture (17x). The references to free will in the OT (e.g., Lev. 22:18) mean “voluntary,” or “willingly” as it pertains to sacrificial offerings not required by the law. The two Hebrew words literally mean to “be liberal,” “abundant,” “spontaneous” and pertain to the motive and spirit of the offerer.

a. In this sense, again, we see that it pertains to doing what we want.

B. Three truths which all men are convinced of from the constitution of their nature.

1. Man is a free agent.

2. As such he is responsible.

3. Man has no ability to change his moral state by an act of his will.


VI. What our first parents fell from.

A. They fell from a holy into a sinful state, obscuring the image of God in them.

1. God made man in His own image, but when Adam had a son he was in his image (Gen. 5:1, 3).

a. They lost: their knowledge, blindness and ignorance enveloped them, as is evident in their hiding from God (Gen. 3:7-8); the righteousness of their will (Ecc. 7:29), as they are found running from God and excusing their sin (Gen. 3:8, 12); the holiness of their affections, as they cover their nakedness (Gen. 3:7).

B. They fell from their happy state into one of misery.

1. Horror of conscience seizes them (Gen. 3:8; cf. 2:17); they are driven from paradise (Gen. 3:23-24); cursed is the woman (Gen. 3:16), the ground (Gen. 3:17), and man (Gen. 3:17, 19; cf. Ecc. 1:13, 18).


VII. Application.

A. Use, of knowledge.

1. See the great weakness of the creature when left to itself, even one with a truly free will. If Adam in a few hours sinned himself out of paradise, how quickly would the regenerate sin themselves into ruin if they were not kept by the power of God.

B. Use, of testing.

1. Don’t become self-confident (1 Cor. 10:12).

2. Are we watching and praying to avoid temptation (Matt. 26:41)?

3. There is no justification by the works of the law (Ga. 2:16), for all fall short of God’s glory.

C. Use, of exhortation: sinners and saints.

1. Sinners. See your absolute need of Christ who has perfectly obeyed the covenant of works in the stead of all those who will believe upon Him. Come to Christ or perfectly obey the law yourself to avert eternal ruin.

2. Saints. Note how Adam could not preserve himself from falling, and likewise certainly could not pull himself out of the ditch again. Adore and praise God for powerfully, lovingly, and efficaciously working in us to incline us from evil to good.

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