Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
God’s Providence Over Man’s Fall Into Sin
Truly, this only I have found: that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes. Ecclesiastes 7:29NKJ
Question 21 of the Larger Catechism asks, “Did man continue in that estate wherein God first created him?” It gives the answer, “Our first parents being left to the freedom of their own will, through the temptation of Satan, transgressed the commandment of God in eating the forbidden fruit; and thereby fell from the estate of innocency wherein they were created.” Last week we looked at God’s providence concerning man before he fell. This week we examine the fall itself.
The Catechism confirms what every human being naturally knows: the reality of sin. Man did not continue in the state of innocence in which he was created. Adam and Eve sinned. They transgressed the clear and specific commandment of God to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And when they did that, they changed. They were no longer innocent but became sinful in every aspect of their being. The Catechism gives two reasons for this fall; first, their being left to the freedom of their own will, and second, the temptation of Satan. These two circumstances joined together resulted in the fall of man.
By “being left to the freedom of their own will,” the Catechism is teaching that God sovereignly chose not to confirm Adam and Eve in righteousness by an additional gift of His power as they encountered Satan. Instead, He left them to their own power. Adam and Eve were to confirm themselves by choosing good over evil, God over the devil. God had created them both with sufficient ability to do this. As the Scripture above states, “God made man upright.” Man was righteous and without sin of any kind. Man never had a deceptive thought, an impure motive, or an unrighteous desire. He was perfectly sinless and he was able to remain in this state. He inherently had the power and ability to say no to every temptation. Man had the ability not to sin. However, man also had the “ability” to sin (really, sin is more of a de-bility than an a-bility; for it is not accomplished by faithfulness but by rebellion). And as the Scripture above also relates, man exercised that ability and actually sinned; he sought out for himself sinful schemes (eating of the tree, trying to replace God, covering, hiding, blaming, minimizing, etc.), instead of remaining in the uprightness in which he was created.
Man made this sinful choice, freely. Eve was deceived by the serpent and fell by means of his temptation, but she knew better. Adam, though not deceived (1 Tim. 2:14) was sinfully persuaded by his wife’s voice (Gen. 3:17). Both of them chose freely to do what they wanted to do. And both of them knowingly did what God specifically told them they must not do. They chose to sin, they chose to disobey God, and they chose freely. Thus, the Catechism is emphasizing that God did not make Adam and Eve sin. Adam and Eve were left by God, to the freedom of their own wills. God did not choose for them and then force them to acquiesce! They did exactly what they wanted to do. But though they chose freely and were not compelled by God, yet their sin was part of God’s plan from before the foundation of the world. Their sinful choice was ordained by God, though God was not the author of that choice. In other words, God ordained that Adam and Eve would freely choose, on their own, what was evil. The Westminster Confession says it this way: “The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men, and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God; who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin,” (WCF 5.4).
The Westminster Divines affirm and describe the truth of the fall and even the circumstances that account for the fall, but they do not answer for us how two sinless people, with sinless hearts, were able to first desire and then choose evil, and so neither will I! What we know is that it happened. And we know that the evil was entirely their part for it is blasphemous to even imagine God doing or in any way causing another to do anything that is even the slightest bit evil. God is sovereign over all things. Therefore, God ultimately willed that Adam and Eve fall. God is perfectly good. Therefore He willed that they would fall freely, of their own doing and not His. God is powerful enough to will things this way!