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Christian Belief

ST005/6 The Origin of sin in man.


The Origin of Sin in Man.

(1) The Genesis Account of the Fall.

This account occurs in Gen.3:l-24 and is clearly intended to be an historical account. It forms an integral part of the story of creation and the commencement of the history of Man as a race. There are references in other parts of the Bible which show that it is taken as historical t roughout (Matthew 19:4,5; John 8:44; 2 Cor.11:3; 1 Tim.2:13-14; Job 31:33; Romans.5:12,18,19).

At the same time it seems just as clear that the account contains also an element of symbolism. The Garden, the Tree of Life, the Tree of Knowledge and the Serpent, as well as being facts, are full of deep spiritual meaning and significance. Some things are clear, man is placed in the best possible environment, the Tree of Life reveals his utter dependence on God for life, both spiritual and physical, and every other blessing.

The Tree of Knowledge is there for Man's probation, of which we will deal with later. The Serpent has been the subject of much speculation and it is not well to he dogmatic as to what he was. He is commonly thought to be one of God's higher creations used by Satan for his purpose and reduced to his present form and condition after the Fall. Two things are certain, man was tempted by a spiritual being outside of himself and the serpent was the instrument used by that being.

(ii) The Necessity of Man's probation. 

As we face the question of man's probation and fall, two queries arise. The first is, Why should God make it possible for man to sin and the second, How could a holy being sin? Concerning the first, all that can be said is that God, because of His own nature, wanted a being who could give Him free love and service and not a mere automaton or mechanical being.

This being so and if God was to be glorified in this, man had to be put on probation, for in no other way could human obedience be tested and brought to perfection. Man could not be man without the possibility of sin, and if we may say it reverently, God had to run the risk.

More than this we cannot say or fathon. Concerning the second query, we must remember that, although Adam was created holy, he was also endowed with a free will and power to choose. He was a finite being and his will had the power to change because it was not omnipotent.

Dr.Shedd in his Dogmatic Theology explains it in this way, '' A will determined to good with an omnipotent energy is not subject to change; but a will determined to good with a finite and limited force is so subject. By reason of the restricted power of his created will, Man night lose the righteousness with which he was created, though he was under no necessity of losing it. His will had sufficient power to continue in holiness, but not so much additional power as to make a lapse into sin impossibie," (Vol. 2 p.149).

The Protestant position in the matter is stated in the Westminster Confession as follows:- "God created man male and female with righteousness and true holiness, having the law of God written in their hearts; and power to fulfil it: and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject to change." With these thoughts in mind Wiley examines the account of the Temptation and finds six steps in it which help us to answer the query "How can a holy being sin?" These are worth noting.

1. Man by his very constitution is a self-conscious, self determining being, a free moral agent. Strictly speaking there is no such thing as a moral act without the power of choice. The power to obey or disobey is an essential element in a moral being, and therefore God could only have preventyed the Fall by the destruction of man's free agency.

2. While man was created holy, nevertheless there existed in him; certain susceptibilities to sin. His holiness was not a fixed state. His will was not omnipotent and therefore was liable to change; he was not omniscient and therefore he was liable to deceptions.

3. These suscentibilities lay in two directions. In the physical direction he had certain desires and appetites which, though lawful in themselves, might become the occasion of sin. In the spiritual or higher side of his nature, he had the ability to become impatient with the slow process of Divine Providence.
Thus he was susceptible to suggestions which would seem to hasten on the accomplishment of God's purposes. The use of false means in the attempt to attain good ends is a part of the deceptiveness of sin.

4. The occasion of the termptation was the Tree of the knowledge of God and Evil. The fruit was forbidden. Possibly the tree was there to remind man that there was constant necessity to choose between some things which were fit and some unfit to be done.

5. The agent of the Temptation was the Serpent. Satan had nothing to offer of himself and so he must present God's gifts in a false light, and tempt man solely through a deceptive use of they.

6. The immediate an apperance of the deceitfulness of sin. The temptation was presented in a false colouring and the fruit appeared good for food, pleasant to the eye and a thing to be desired to make one wise. Surely it was just what God wanted them to have.

Wisdom was desirable in intelligent beings and its increase would make man more like God. Then Satan came with the injection of doubt, "hath God said? Did God really mean to forbid its use? Would they really die? So in the false glamour of the glittering fruit the truth was obscured. The barriers went down and Eve took and gave her husband to eat also.

(iii) The Fall of Man.

The above traces to some extent the external stages in the temptation but the Scriptures are silent concerning the inner workings of Eve's mind and heart. As Wiley points out, "There are two questions on which Revelation gives us no special light i.e. the mysterious point where temptation finds, because it creates, something to lay hold on and thereby passes over into actual sin and the manner in which the pure desire for knowledge, or the sensibilities of the soul merge into evil concupiscence."

In his larger work Wiley gathers indirect knowledge of these Points from the Scriptural account and sums up the conclusions of the Protestant Theologians concerning the stages in the fall of man as follows:

  1. Sin began in the self separation of the will of man from the will of God. Consequently the first formal sin is to be found in the entertainment of the question ''Yea, hath God said?'
  2. Up to this point the appetencies awakened were purely spontaneous, and the sensibilities innocent and entirely consistent with primitive holiness.
  3. The only subjective susceptibility which Satan could address was the natural and innocent desire for the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge considered as good for food and pleasant to the eyes.
  4. With the injection of doubt, the desire for legitimate knowledge passed into a desire for illegitimate knowledge of being wise like the gods. Such forbidden desire is sin (Romans 7:7). This desire was originated by Adam himself, as something not previously existing in his submissive heart and obedient will.
  5. With the severance of the self from God, the outward act was the look of concupiscence towards the tree, which had in itself the guilt of partaking, and was followed by the partaking as an act. (Christian Theology Vol.2p.62).

(iv) The Extent of God`s Responsibility for Sin.

Another query arises akin to the ones we have already considered; this is the query, ''why did God permit man to sin?" First of all we must understand that the fact that God permitted man to sin can in no way be considered as His consent to the Fall or as a licence to sin.

The only sense in which He can he considered as permitting sin is that He did not of ectually intervene to prevent it, and all we can say concerning this has been mentioned in connection with the necessity of man`s probation. The teaching of Scripture all through is that man alone is entirely responsible for his sin.

There was no excuse for his sin in view of the fact, first, that God's prohibition was plain and unmistakable; second, that some sort of choice between right and wrong would have had to have been placed before man if he were to be a moral being and God, in effect, made it easier for man by singling out one particular prohibition.

Third, that man was in possession of perfect moral health, for he had not yet become subject to inordinate passion, nor was his will weakened by sin and evil habit; fourth, that he had around him ample sources of satisfaction and God had placed him in the finest environment possible where all around him was for his good. He had every reason for choosing right and obeying God.

To close this section on the origin of sin we quote from "In Understanding be Men" (old edition p.93)." The reader should have settled views on certain underlying principles which are abundantly clear in the Scripture.

We can give no final answer to such questions as 'Why did not God's fore-knowledge lead him to anticipate and to prevent sin both in the first man and also at its first entry into the universe (in whatever form this may have been)?

But we can state, on the authority of revelation, that,

  1. God is not the author of sin.
  2. God has no need of sin in order to enhance His glory, and He did not permit it solely in order to demonstrate His moral grandeur.
  3. The subsequent responsibility of mankind in relation to sin is in no way diminished nor excused on the ground that the men now living were not guilty of its inception.
  4. God is not to be regarded as 'party' to the repeated acts of sin e.g. those of sex-which man has all too successfully perpetuated, nor is He to be held as partly responsible for the perpetuation of vice simply because He has not with drawn His sustaining power from the universe. i.e. if man freely chooses to misuse certain of his wonderful endowments and to prostitute his marvellous abilities to base ends, it is scarcely just to blame God."

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