How did the First Human Sin Happen?

“God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.”

Eccl. 7:29

“And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.”

Gen. 3:6

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Order of Contents

Intro
John Girardeau on:
.     How the First Human Sin Happened

.     Proof Against the Determinist View of the Fall
Francis Turretin
The Westminster Confession of Faith
The Reformed Confessions
Further Reading
Is God the Author of Evil?
On the Effective Permission of Sin
Quotes on the Cause of the Fall


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Intro

It is often wondered how the first human sin came into the world.  How did sin come from Adam’s holy soul?  Did he have free-will in the matter, or was he necessitated to do what he did?  Could he have done otherwise?  What were his motives, and did sinful desires precede his eating of the forbidden fruit?

John L. Girardeau (1825–1898), an important presbyterian and reformed theologian in the American South (Charleston, SC) during the late-1800’s answers these questions plainly and clearly, with faithfulness to the Scriptures and historic, reformed theology, while resonating with common sense.  Your questions are about to get answered.

Girardeau in these pieces views the subject from the created, human order.  For the divine side of things, of God’s eternal decree for the effective permission of sin (compare WCF 6.1 with 3.1) and his providential, holy and mysterious concurring in the event thereof (WCF 5.1; 3.1), see the larger context of Girardeau’s book and the quotes from the Westminster Confession of Faith, to which Girardeau’s explication is in full agreement.  As no short piece can answer every question that might arise, see the same resources for further reading.

Specifically, in the second piece, Girardeau gives an irresolveable proof against Determinism, the view that man’s will is necessitated, in one form or another, by the created order to do what it does, it not being able to do otherwise.  Determinism, having its rise from the Enlightenment in the early 1700’s and made popular by the theology of Jonathan Edwards, has become the dominant strain of contemporary reformed theology.

Dr. Richard Muller, a leading historian of Reformation theology today, has demonstrated in numerous publications that Determinism is a departure from the Reformed theology of the Reformation, Puritan era and the Westminster Confession, confirming Girardeau’s view presented on this webpage.

For more, see our other webpage, The Reformed Freedom of the Will vs. Determinism.

Please enjoy these solidly satisfying answers to the satisfaction of your soul.


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How the First Human Sin Happened

John L. Girardeau, The Will in its Theological Relations, 1891, pp. 87-89

But inasmuch as we cannot conceive an act of the will to the performance of which no inducement existed, we naturally inquire whether the inspired account of the first sin meets this difficulty.

It does.  There were inducements to the commission of it; but they were not motives which sprung from the moral nature of our first parents.  Their moral spontaneity, so far from furnishing the motives to the perpetration of the sin, would, if it had been consulted, have urged them to its resistance.

They were, as Bishop Butler intimates, blind impulses, in themselves innocent and legitimate because implanted by God Himself in the very make of man.  The bodily appetite for food, and the intellectual desire for knowledge, were, in Eve’s case, precisely the inducements [Gen. 3:6] upon which the great master of temptation put his finger.

In the case of Adam, in contradistinction to that of Eve, it is more than a probable inference–it is one necessitated by the narrative [Gen. 3:12,17]–that the natural impulse of affection for his wife and sympathy with her operated as an inducement to the commission of his first sin.

It must be admitted, that while we may accept Butler’s theory as in all probability correct, that Eve fell through the lack of vigilance mainly, we cannot account for Adam’s sin in the same way.  The Scriptures inform us that he was not deceived as was Eve [1 Tim. 2:14].  His eye was directed to both alternatives.  He saw clearly the issues involved, and deliberately resolved to break with his God, and ruin his race.

But we cannot avoid the conclusion that, as his moral dispositions and tendencies were all in the direction of holiness, the intrinsically legitimate blind impulses of his constitution started the train of inducements, inflamed the desire which enticed the will in the direction of sin.

Here were motives brought to bear upon the will; but it is obvious that, in their first presentation, they were in the control of the will.  It had the power to resist them, or to comply with them.  The instant it freely consented to entertain them directed to the forbidden object, that instant the fall began.

Here then we have a reason why the will acted in a specific direction–used its power to choose between opposing possibilities–and we see that it had the power to act or not to act in accordance with it.  There was motive, but the will was, at first, master of the motive, not the motive of it.

The innocent impulses of man’s constitution, when directed to a forbidden object and approved by the will, traversed the dispositions to holiness and dashed down the moral spontaneity.  But, although, in the first instance, the will was not necessitated to action by these impulses, but had the control of them so that it could have resisted them, yet when it did freely consent to tolerate them, it surrendered that control, and was thenceforward mastered by them [John 8:34].


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Proof Against the Determinist View of the Fall

Introduction & Summary

Determinism, holding that the soul is necessitated by the created order to make the choices it makes, and that it cannot do otherwise, holds that one’s choices derive by necessity from the spiritual, but necessitated natural workings of one’s spontaneously active will.

This presents a problem with the First Sin: a sinful choice, by this definition, can only come from a sinful will.  But Adam’s first sin did not come from a sinful will; his will was upright and good.  How can sin come from a holy nature, as the Bible describes, upon the hypothesis of Determinism?  It can’t.

The Determinist is left to wonder how sin first metaphysically entered into Adam’s soul, such that he proceeded, necessarily, without being able to do otherwise, to disobey God.  Sin cannot have come from nowhere, as things do not come from nothing.  The Devil can tempt, but the Devil cannot infuse sin or necessitate one to sin.  Thus, some Determinists have made the ghastly and blasphemous error to attribute an infusion of sin into Adam’s soul to God.

While Jonathan Edwards, thankfully, did not teach that God was the direct, immediate cause and agent of sin, yet Edwards did teach that God so ordered and disposed of Adam’s case that Adam’s sin would be, in the temporal, created order, necessitated though Adam as the mediate, acting instrument.  Thus God is preserved from being the immediate, proximate cause of sin, and yet, upon Edwards’ view, God is a direct, remote cause that necessitates sin.  Jonathan Edwards affirms, in this respect, that God was the Author of Sin (Freedom of the Will, part 4, section 9, p. 254):

“But if by ‘the Author of Sin’, is meant the Permitter, or not a Hinderer of Sin; and at the same time, a Disposer of the State of Events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted or not hindered, will most certainly and infallibly follow: I say, if this be all that is meant, by being the Author of Sin, I don’t deny that God is the Author of Sin…

And I don’t deny,  that God’s being thus the Author of Sin, follows from what I have laid down…”

Despite Edwards’ emphatic assertions otherwise, this still makes God culpable for the sin that He necessarily made to occur.  The Westminster Confession of Faith (3.1), on the other hand, rightly states:

“…neither is God the author of sin…”

The correct solution to this issue, as Girardeau above and Westminster Confession 9.2 states, is that Adam was created, by definition from the revealed fact of the matter, with the God-given power of a free, unnecessitated, holy and good, mutable, soul that could choose good or evil by the nature of the deliberative capacity of its free-will.  While the event of Adam’s First Sin, as all events, was certain to happen according to God’s eternal decree, the decree itself poses no natural necessity upon the event, but rather, sin falls out in the temporal order by personal, non-necessary, free and contingent causes.  Westminster Confession, 5.2:

“Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly: yet, by the same providence, he ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.¹”

¹ Gen. 8:22. Jer. 31:35. Exod. 21:13 with Deut. 19:5. 1 Kings 22:28,34. Isa. 10:6,7

Thus, upon the view of Westminster, the majority of Reformed Orthodoxy during the 1600’s and Girardeau later, sin, by definition, infallibly falls out according to God’s eternal decree through, not a necessary cause, but a free cause.  How is it that truly free causes certainly happen according to God’s eternal decree, but are not necessitated by it?

That is an inscrutable God-mystery beyond the creatures’ understanding.  The solution is found not simply in our ignorance of the infinitely complex causation of a different order, but in that there is, by definition, a qualitative metaphysical difference between the workings of God’s decree and human free will, which cannot be further reduced.   The Confession rightly recognizes this and hence states it to be the case without further need for explanation.  God is not the Author of Sin.

Thus, as is indicated in multiple places in Scripture, sin only came from man, it entering as a determination and then quality of Adam’s will which he deliberately and freely chose when he had the natural power of alternate choice, being able to do otherwise and having the inclination to do otherwise.  God eternally ordained and allowed this for the higher, all-wise purposes of manifesting his own glory.

If Determinism fails to be able to account for the First Sin, and is an inadequate paradigm for the psychology of the soul and philosophy, the whole edifice falls and Determinism likewise is shown to be an inadequate explanation for philosophy and man’s psychology after the Fall, whether in an unbelieving or believing state.

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John L. Girardeau, The Will in its Theological Relations, 1891

p. 120

…it follows that the invariableness of the great law of Determinism is disproved–namely, that in the moral sphere, volitions are always and necessarily as the moral spontaneity; that the decisions of the will are necessarily or unavoidably determined by the sum of motives in the soul.

The first sinful volition of the first man furnishes that ‘negative instance’, which Lord Bacon says, is, ‘in establishing any true axiom, the most powerful.’  It overthrows the induction proceeding upon a host of affirmatives [by the Determinist].

The determination of the will in the first sin was not necessary, not made unavoidably certain [by natural forces external or internal to Adam].  It negatives [negates] the universal conclusion of the Determinist.  And this is true of the sin which fixed the destiny of the race, apart from the supernatural interposition of grace.

We see clearly, what the Determinist fails to show, that the expression of a sinful spontaneity was not original [in Adam, as Determinism requires]-it is penal [deriving as part of the legal condemnation of Adam’s free sin].

We have thus examined the fundamental positions of [Jonathan] Edwards and his school as to the Will, viewed in relation to the estate of man in innocence and to the Fall…  it cannot, in its radical [root] principle, be adjusted to the Calvinistic system;…

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pp. 85-87

In addition to these considerations, it may be specially urged that upon the theory of Determinism the Covenant of Works, as an instituted element of Adam’s probation, becomes inconceivable.  The formulation of that covenant evidently supposed that Adam was able to stand, and to secure the reward freely offered to him of justification of himself and his posterity.  If to the divine mind it was impossible for him to stand, and his sin was unavoidable in consequence of the direct or indirect causality of God, expressing itself either in the efficient production of the sin, or its efficacious procurement, or its necessary evolution from an imperfect nature, the Covenant of Works cannot by us be conceived of except as mockery.  It stipulated conditions which could not be fulfilled, and tendered rewards which could not be secured…

But in the case of Adam, it is out of the question that a divine influence causally determined him to sin.  He was endued with sufficient grace to have enabled him to fulfill the conditions of the covenant under which he was placed…


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Francis Turretin on the Fall  †1687

From “Seventh Question: How Could a Holy Man Fall, and what was the True Cause of his Fall?”  in Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 1, 9th Topic, The Fall of Adam

V. Although that mutability indicates the possibility of the fall and is the cause sine qua non [without which it could not happen] (or the antecedent of the fall), still it [the righteous, mutable state] cannot be considered its cause proper and of itself….  we must accurately distinguish here between the mutability itself (which is a condition suitable to the creature) and the act of that mutability (by which man inclined to a change).  The former denotes a power which could be inclined to evil, but was not yet inclined; the latter, however, designates the actual inclination to evil itself (condemned by the law of God) and the fountain of all sin.

VI. The proximate and proper cause of sin therefore is to be sought nowhere else than in the free will of man (who suffered himself to be deceived by the Devil and, Satan persuading though not compelling, freely departed from God).  So neither as whole properly did he fall, nor as corrupt; but as imbued with a false idea, he corrupted himself and (the habitual knowledge of God implanted by God being neglected) received the error suggested by Satan.  Nor ought it to seem strange that man (created capable of falling and mutable) changed and fell, no more than that a beginning of motion takes place in one perfectly at rest [who has the power to be at rest or to move].  For where there is a power to change, the transition from power to act is easy.

VII. Although man fell, still he had the ability to stand if he wished.  Otherwise God would have placed him in an impossible condition…

VIII. Therefore man alone was the cause of his evil.  He willingly sinned and freely and of his own accord without any compulsion or external force transgressed the command of God, though he was furnished with such strength and helps that he might easily have avoided sin, if he had wished.  This spontaneity, neither providence removes (which brings on the infallibility of the event, but does not change the condition of nature)…

XIII. However because neither man nor Satan could have done anything without the providence of God, it remains to be seen how it was most holily occupied still without any causality of sin…  not even the slightest taint of sin can be ascribed to Him, neither because He foreknew (because prescience [pre-knowledge] is not the cause of things, nor do things take place because they are foreknown; rather they are foreknown because they are to be); nor because He decreed (because He indeed decreed to permit, but not to effect); nor because He permitted the temptation (because He neither breathed into Satan the will to tempt, nor impelled him to it).  He only permitted physically by not hindering (as bound by no law to furnish it), not morally by approval and consent.

XVII. Hence it is evident that he [Adam] can well be said to have been able not to sin and yet not to be able not to sin.  The former with respect to the habitual and internal grace of Adam and the powers bestowed upon him by creation (which were such that he had the power to obey the law given to him provided only he had wished to make a good use of them); the latter by reason of the decree and the suspension of actual external grace (or of the divine concurrence without which no action could be performed by him).

It was therefore possible for Adam not to sin in the divided sense and with regard to himself, but it was impossible in the compound sense, when viewed in relation to God’s decree and the permission of sin and the denial of grace.  This the celebrated [William] Twisse well explains:

“…That he had the power to obey the law and that it could not happen that the law should be obeyed, are not contradictory; just as the soldiers were not deficient in the power to break the bones of the Savior, yet the decree of God in opposition being posited, they could not be broken…” (William Twisse… to Jacob Arminius’s Collected Letters with Francis Junius [1649], p.68)

XVIII.  …Let it be sufficient to hold together these two things: that this most dreadful fall did not happen without the providence of God (but to its causality, it contributed nothing); and that man alone, moved by the temptation of Satan, was its true and proper cause.


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The Westminster Confession of Faith

To see in detail how the Westminster Standards are contrary to Determinism, or Philosophical Necessity, see pp. 171-177 of ch. 3 of Girardeau’s The Will in its Theological Relations.

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On Adam, the Fall and Permission of Sin

4.2

After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image, having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it; and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject unto change.

6.1

Our first parents being seduced by the subtilty and temptation of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit.  This their sin God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory.

9.1-2

God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined, to good or evil.

Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom and power to will and to do that which is good and well-pleasing to God; but yet mutably, so that he might fall from it.

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On the Foreordination of Sinful Events through Free Causes

3.1

God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

5.1-2

God, the great Creator of all things, doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.

Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly: yet, by the same providence, he ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.

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The Reformed Confessions

To see that the historic Reformed confessions are at odds with Determinism, or Philosophical Necessity, with respect to God’s original creation of man and the Fall, see pp. 166-171 of ch. 3 of Girardeau’s The Will in its Theological Relations.

Quotes and commentary are provided from the Gallic [French], Scotch and the Second Helvetic [Swiss] Confessions, the Canons of Dort, the Formula Consensus Helvetica and the Westminster Confession.


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Further Reading

Girardeau, John – Chapter 8, ‘Summation of Results from the Whole Preceding Argument’, pp. 401-409  1891  9 pp.  in The Will in its Theological Relations

Cangelosi, Caleb – “How Free was Adam’s Will?  Examining John Lafayette Girardeau’s Critique of Jonathan Edwards’ View of Adam’s Will Before the Fall”  in The Confessional Presbyterian #11 (2015) pp. 112-120

Turretin, Francis – “Seventh Question: How Could a Holy Man Fall, and what was the True Cause of his Fall?”  †1687  6 pp.  in Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 1, 9th Topic, The Fall of Adam, pp. 606-611


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Is God the Author of Evil?  No.

Article

Junius, Francis – pp. 58-63 of ‘Answer of Junius to the Sixth Proposition of Arminius’  †1602  6 pp.  in A Discussion on the Subject of Predestination between James Arminius and Francis Junius in The Works of James Arminius, vol. 3

Junius (1545-1602)

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Quote

Johannes Wollebius  †1629

Compendium of Christian Theology  in Reformed Dogmatics: Seventeenth-Century Reformed Theology through the Writings of Wollebius, Voetius and Turretin, pp. 48-9, 67

Ch.3, The Works of God and the Divine Decrees in General

IV. Both good and evil, therefore, result from the decree and will of God; the former He causes, and the latter He permits.

V. Nevertheless, the decree and will of God are in no sense the cause of evil or sin, although whatever God decrees takes place of necessity.

Since evils are decreed not effectively, but permissively, the decree of God is not the cause of evil.  Nor are the decrees of God the cause of evil on account of the inevitability of their result, since they bring about results not by a coercive necessity but merely by an immutable one.

VI. The inevitability [necessitas] of the decree of God does not destroy the freedom in rational creatures.

The reason is that the necessity is not a necessity of coercion, but one of immutability.  The fall of Adam took place by necessity, with respect to a divine decree; however, Adam sinned freely, neither commanded nor coerced nor influenced by God; indeed, he was most strictly warned not to sin.

VII. The inevitability of the decrees of God does not destroy contingency in secondary causes.

Many events which take place of necessity with respect to the plans of God are contingent with respect to secondary causes.


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On the Effective Permission of Sin

While reformed theology affirms that there is no such thing as a bare permission of God, involving things in this universe happening apart from his will or providence altogether, such as Arminians, Lutherans and others assert, yet most of historic Calvinism has affirmed that all things come to pass according to God’s eternal decree, which is distinguished into effective and permissive aspects, the latter dealing with sin.

Thus, in the decree of sin (including all sins) there are positive and negative aspects to it.  The positive aspect is that such sins have been foreordained and certainly come to pass as decreed; the negative aspect is that there is a permissive nature to the decree and how it is brought to pass in providence in time.  This distinction is necessary to hold to due to the goodness of God and sin being contrary to the revealed will of God.  One cannot harmonize Biblical, theological or natural principles without it, and to deny it is to quickly descend into blinded absurdity.

The permissive aspect of the decree, governance and execution of sin was taught by John Calvin (below) and embodied in the Westminster Confession (below).  It was also characteristic of Reformed Orthodoxy in the Post-Reformation era.  Dr. Richard Muller summarizes the teaching of that era (Dictionary of Greek and Latin Theological Terms):

“permissio efficax

effective permission or willing permission; especially, the providential concursus (q.v.) underlying evil acts of human beings; a concept typical of Reformed theology, which will not allow a bare or ineffectual permission on the part of God and which will acknowledge no realm of activity outside of the will of God.  God therefore is viewed as positively willing to permit the free agency of human beings and as supporting their acts with his providential concursus even when those acts go against his revealed will.”

While it is well known that Infralapsarianism nearly always presupposed a permissive aspect to the decree of sin, it is not as well known that most every historical supralapsarian also affirmed a permissive aspect to the decree of sin.  See pp. 185-191 in ch. 4 of John Girardeau’s The Will in its Theological Relations where he gives block quotes from the supralapsarians: Twisse, Perkins, Gill, Brine and Beza.

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Westminster Confession

6.1

Our first parents being seduced by the subtilty and temptation of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit.  This their sin God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory.

3.1

God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

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John Calvin, Commentary on Gen. 3:1 ff.

We must now enter on that question by which vain and inconstant minds are greatly agitated; namely, Why God permitted Adam to be tempted, seeing that the sad result was by no means hidden from Him?…

All, however, who think piously and reverently concerning the power of God, acknowledge that the evil did not take place except by his permission.  For, in the first place, it must be conceded, that God was not in ignorance of the event which was about to occur; and then, that He could have prevented it, had He seen fit to do so.  But in speaking of permission, I understand that He had appointed whatever He wished to be done.

Here, indeed, a difference arises on the part of many, who suppose Adam to have been so left to his own free will, that God would not have him fall.  They take for granted, what I allow them, that nothing is less probable than that God should he regarded as the cause of sin, which He has avenged with so many and such severe penalties.

When I say, however, that Adam did not fall without the ordination and will of God, I do not so take it as if sin had ever been pleasing to Him, or as if He simply wished that the precept which He had given should be violated.  So far as the fall of Adam was the subversion of equity, and of well-constituted order, so far as it was contumacy against the Divine Law-giver, and the transgression of righteousness, certainly it was against the will of God; yet none of these things render it impossible that, for a certain cause, although to us unknown, He might will the fall of man.

It offends the ears of some, when it is said God willed this fall; but what else, I pray, is the permission of Him, who has the power of preventing, and in whose hand the whole matter is placed, but his will?

…I hold it as a settled axiom, that nothing is more unsuitable to the character of God than for us to say that man was created by Him for the purpose of being placed in a condition of suspense and doubt; wherefore I conclude, that, as it became the Creator, He had before determined with Himself what should be man’s future condition.  Hence the unskillful rashly infer, that man did not sin by free choice.  For he himself perceives, being convicted by the testimony of his own conscience, that he has been too free in sinning.  Whether he sinned by necessity, or by contingency, is another question; respecting which see the Institution [of the Christian Religion], and the treatise on Predestination.

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Quotes on the Cause of the Fall

John Calvin

For Calvin’s insightful description of the psychology and sin of Eve and Adam in the Fall, see his Commentary on Gen. 3:6.

On the Eternal Predestination of God  (Consensus Genevensis, Niemeyer’s Coll.), pp. 267-68

“It is pleaded as an excuse for him [Adam], that his fall was decreed by God, and therefore was unavoidable by him.  But voluntary transgression is sufficient and more than sufficient to ground guilt.  Nor indeed is the secret purpose of God a proper and genuine cause of sin, but the free will of man…

When man discovers that the cause of his sin is within himself, what boots it for him to fetch a circuit and seek for it in heaven?  The blame is obviously his own, inasmuch as he willed to sin…

The reason why God knowingly and willingly permitted man to fall by his own agency may be hidden from us, but it cannot have originated in injustice.  This indeed must be held without controversy, that sin has always been hateful to Him…  Although I say that he ordained it [the Fall], I cannot concede that He was in a proper sense the author of it.”

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Francis Junius  †1602

A Discussion on the Subject of Predestination between James Arminius and Francis Junius in The Works of James Arminius, vol. 3

‘Answer of Junius to the 18th Proposition of Arminius’, p. 193

“In reference to the first argument [of Arminius], I deny:

1. that Adam was, to speak in general terms, passed by and left in a state of nature by God, but, according to the mode of nature, he [Adam] was left to himself only in reference to a particular and natural act, which was in the power of mere nature, and that he was carefully forewarned by God, and that he received information from God, as by compact.

2.  It is denied that sin was committed by him, of necessity, in view of that preterition.  For, if it was necessarily committed, it would have been a habit, or passive quality in the nature of man; but it pertained to capability, his will being free, and born contingently in this or that direction.  It was not then perpetrated necessarily; therefore he committed it contingently, (as the Scripture and the agreement of the church have always declared), according to the free natural power, which is that of the will.

The wise man rightly says in Eccl. 7:27“Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.””

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‘Answer of Junius to the 21st Proposition of Arminius’, p. 221-2

“In the third place, we deny that ‘sin must of necessity have been
committed,’ [as Arminius claimed upon the reformed view] as dependent on the energy of a cause, universally or in some measure, efficient.

That it must certainly have been committed, we acknowledge, since it existed certainly in the knowledge of God, as knowledge, not as a cause of sin.  If, then, the word ‘certainly’ is explanatory of the word ‘necessarily’, and the latter word means no more than the former, we assent to its use; but if otherwise, we deny the latter (necessity), and assent to the former (certainty).

The first man was not under the necessity of committing sin, either from an internal, or an external cause.  He did it of his own free-will, not of any necessity.  Again, this conclusion [of Arminius’] is not valid, since it is deduced from incomplete and erroneous antecedents, as we have just shown. 

Therefore, it is true, that sin could have been committed with certainty, by a free and contingent cause, which sinned (as was the case in the will of devils and of men), and could have been avoided with certainty by a free and contingent cause, which did not sin (as in the case of the good and elect angels), and, on the contrary, it is false, that it could have been committed of necessity, if you refer to the necessity of any sufficient cause, that is, an external and internal cause, for the will was the cause or rather the principle–the attribute of which is freedom at that time free from all necessity, now bound by its own necessity, but nevertheless free, and thus producing contingent, not absolutely necessary effects as is the case in nature.

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‘Answer of Junius to the 24th Proposition of Arminius’, p. 248

“…But the decree concerning the existence of sin pertains to the mediate work of nature, and is effected in that mode, in which God decreed, that is, contingently, from a contingent cause, for the will is, in this case, the principle of contingent causes, and that particular motion of Adam towards the fall was the contingent cause of the fall and of sin, which befell our race.

Therefore, it is necessary that a distinction should be made, in this mode, in what is said concerning the ‘certain and necessary existence of sin’ [as asserted by Arminius upon the reformed view].  The existence of sin, if you regard its origin, was certain in the knowledge of God, but not necessary by the power of the decree as a cause, because God, as absolutely as possible and without any exception, by the order of nature in natural things, bestowed on the will of Adam, the free power of committing or avoiding sin.

Thus, by the power of that decree, it was necessary that man should sin or should not sin; by the power of the will, it was contingent that man should sin; finally sin was committed contingently by the motion of the will, because it was decreed contingently.”

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Johannes Wollebius  †1629

Compendium of Christian Theology  in Reformed Dogmatics: Seventeenth-Century Reformed Theology through the Writings of Wollebius, Voetius and Turretin, pp. 48-9, 67

Ch. 9, The Fall of the First Parents, the Beginning of Human Suffering


I. The cause of the transgression of Adam and Eve was neither God nor a decree of God, nor the withholding of any special grace, nor the permission to fall, nor any naturally incited motive, nor the providential government of the fall itself.

It was not God, because He had most strictly forbidden the eating of the fruit of that tree.  It was not his decree, because that carries only an immutable, not a coercive necessity, nor does it lead anyone to sin.  It was not the withholding of some special grace by which man might have remained innocent, for there was no obligation to give even the grace that God did give man; he received, in fact, the ability to act as he willed, although not that of willing as he could.  It was not any naturally incited motive, for a motive in itself is not sin.  It was not the providential government of the fall, for to bring good out of evil is to be the source of good rather than of evil.

IV. Its antecedent cause was the will of man, which by itself was indifferent toward good and evil, but, when convinced by Satan, was turned toward evil.

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William Ames  †1633

The Marrow of Theology, Ch. 11, “Man’s Apostasy or Fall”, p. 114

4. The apostasy of man is his fall from the obedience owed to God…

6. …The first motion or step of this disobedience necessarily came before the act of eating, so that it may truly be said that man was a sinner before he did the eating.  Therefore, the very desire with which Eve approached the forbidden fruit seems to mark a step, so to speak, in her sin.  Gen. 3:6…

9. We must understand the causes and consequences in the committing of the transgression.

10. There was one principal cause and other secondary ones.

11. The principle cause was man himself in his abuse of free will, Eccl. 7:29.  For he had received righteousness and grace by which he might have remained obedient, if he had so chosen.  That righteousness and grace was not taken from him before he sinned, although strengthening and confirming grace by which the act of sinning might have been hindered and the act of obedience effected was not given him–and that by the certain, wise, and just counsel of God.  God therefore was in no way the cause of his fall; neither did he lay upon man the necessity of sinning.  Man of his own accord freely fell from God.”

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William Perkins  1635

See the quote from Perkins’ Works, London, p. 156 on pp. 188-189 in ch. 4 of Girardeau, The Will in its Theological Relations

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William Twisse  1646

A Treatise of Mr. [John] Cotton’s Clearing Certain Doubts Concerning Predestination together with an Examination Thereof, p. 69

“So that upon supposition of God’s will to permit Adam to fall, it was necessary that Adam should fall; necessary, I say, that he should fall: But how?  Not necessarily, but contingently, and freely: and no other necessity is at this day found in man for the performing of any particular sinful act, but such as is joined with liberty; and that in such sort, as that the necessity is only Secundum quid [that which follows]; the liberty is Simpliciter [essential]: so called, I say, in respect of any particular act.”

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Stephen Charnock  1684

Discourses upon the Existence and Attributes of God, in Works, vol. 1, p. 303, as cited in Muller, Divine Will, p. 296

“God did not foreknow the actions of man, as necessary, but as free…  Man has a power to do otherwise than that which God foreknows he will do: Adam was not determined by any inward necessity to Fall, not any man by inward necessity to commit this or that particular sin; but God foresaw that he would fall, and Fall freely… and how that Free-Will of man will comply with this, or refuse that; he changes not the manner of the Creatures operation, whatsoever it be.”

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John Bunyan

Ch. 8, ‘Whether Eternal Reprobation in Itself, or in its Doctrine, be in Very Deed a Hindrance to Any Man in Seeking the Salvation of his Soul?’  †1688  in Reprobation Asserted, in Works, p. 707

“…the fall; the cause of which was neither election nor reprobation, but man’s voluntary listening to the tempter.”

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James H. Thornwell

As quoted by John Girardeau, The Will in its Theological Relations, pp. 13-14, from Thornwell’s Collected Writings, vol. 1, Theological Lectures, on Sin

“The moderate Calvinists–who have seen the prominence which the Scriptures everywhere give to human agency, especially in the matter of sin; who have felt in their own souls that there were thoughts, words and deeds, states and affections of the soul, which were truly theirs, which began in the will as the immediate cause–have been compelled to admit that there is a sphere in which God leaves personal agents to themselves, and in which they are permitted to act as real efficient causes.  So in innocence Adam was left to the freedom of his will.”

“The divine ordination in this sphere of liberty does not impinge upon the creature’s efficiency; he is the author of the deeds.”

“We should give to God the glory of his supremacy; we should not deny to the creature the properties that God has bestowed.  We should not be afraid to say, My act, or My thought, or My feeling, because whatever is positive or real in these functions should be ascribed only to God.  They are ours by a power which God imparted to us, and every abuse of these faculties is an act which must be ascribed in all its relations to the will of the creature, and the creature alone.”

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‘Freedom of the Will’ appended to ‘Lecture 10’ in Theological Lectures, in Collected Writings, vol. 1, pp. 250-251

“2. The theory of Edwards breaks down.

(1) It does not explain guilt; it does not rid God of being the author of sin.

(2) It does not explain the moral value attached to character.

(3) This theory explains self-expression, but not self-determination.  Now, just a view must show how we first determine and then habitually express ourselves.  In these determinations is found the moral significance of these expressions.  Otherwise my nature would be no more than the nature of a plant.  Will supposes conscience and intelligence–these minister to it; the moral law–this is its standard.

3. …There was also the possibility of determining otherwise–a power of perverting our nature, of determining it in another direction.  The power, therefore, of determining itself in one or the other direction…

In the moral sphere, and especially in relation to single acts, this freedom is now seen in man.  It is neither necessity nor a contempt of the principle of law.”

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Related Pages

Original Sin

The Reformed Freedom of the Will vs. Determinism

Sin

Natural vs. Moral Inability

Decrees of God

Total Depravity

Irresistible Grace

Ethics

Hyper-Calvinism