Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 13, 1959
NUMBER 14, PAGE 10-11

The Fall Of Man

Herschel E. Patton, Shelbyville, Tennessee

We continue our study of nineteen articles of faith, believed by many people and recorded for the consideration of all. These articles of faith set forth the belief of a great religious body of people. If these beliefs are founded on the scriptures, then all should have this faith. If on the other hand, they will not stand the test of scripture, then they should be rejected as the "commandments and doctrines of man." A careful study of the first two articles has shown them to be founded on the scriptures. The statements made in them concerning the scriptures and God can be easily proven by the scriptures; and, as has been pointed out, since these things are clearly taught in the Bible, we find the whole of Christendom united with reference to these things — no division exists over what is said in these first two articles. Our study today concerns the third article — "The Fall of Man."

Article No. III.

"We believe the scriptures teach that man was created in holiness, under the law of his maker; but by voluntary transgression fell from that holy and happy state; in consequence of which all mankind are now sinners not by constraint but choice; being by nature utterly void of that holiness required by the law of God, positively inclined to evil; and therefore under just condemnation, without defense or excuse."

Man Created Holy

It is first affirmed in this article that man was created in holiness, under the law of his maker. This faith will be confessed by all who believe the Bible to be God's inspired word, for it is a truth clearly taught in the scriptures. Genesis 1:27 declares "God created man in his own image" and in verse 31 we read "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good." The wise man, Solomon, said "God hath made man upright" (Eccl. 7:29) Since God is the maker of man, naturally, man is subject to God's laws for regulating his life here in this world. There is, therefore, no division among believers in Christ, God and the Bible over the fact man was created in holiness and is subject to the laws of his maker. This is a truth clearly revealed in the scriptures — a thing that can be learned from the Bible without resorting to human creeds.

Voluntarily Fell

The next statement in this third article is that man "by voluntary transgression fell from that holy and happy state." This, too, is a well-known Bible truth. Adam and Eve were not forced to transgress God's commandment. God knew they would, but they were not forced to do it. They voluntarily ate of the forbidden fruit. We read in Genesis 3:6 "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." The remainder of the chapter shows the penalty they had to pay for this disobedience on their part. Truly, they fell from their holy and happy state.

Man's Condition

The remainder of article No. III says "in consequence of which all mankind are now sinners not by constraint but choice; being by nature utterly void of that holiness required by the law of God, positively inclined to evil; and therefore under just condemnation, without defense or excuse." Hidden in these words is the doctrine of hereditary total depravity. We are told that as a consequence of Adam's transgression all mankind are now sinners. The choice, referred to in the article, was exercised by Adam — that is, Adam chose to transgress, and as a result of that choice every man born since then was born a sinner, not by his own choice, but by the choice of Adam. In other words, man inherits his sinful condition. These things might not be observed from a casual reading of this third article, but if we read the scriptures listed as support of what is here said, we have no trouble seeing that this is the belief declared. For example, we are referred to Psalm 51:5 which says "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." Again, our attention is called to Romans 5:19 where Paul says "By one man's disobedience many were made sinners." These verses are thought, by those who embrace these articles of faith, to teach that men are born sinners. However, here is something on which there is not agreement in the religious world. It is denied by many that these verses teach men are born sinners — inherit a sinful condition from Adam. If it can be shown that these verses do not teach what is claimed for them, then the doctrine declared in this article is an unscriptural doctrine — a teaching that people would not believe were it not for the fact someone conceived the doctrine, wrote it down and taught it to others.

Let us look at these verses for just a moment. First, we give attention to Psalm 51:5 — the statement of David — "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." Now, did David exist before conception? Of course not! Yet, the verse affirms that the "iniquity" existed when he was shapen, and the sin existed when he was "conceived." As he had no existence before conception, and as sin existed at the time of conception, you cannot fail to see that the sin existed before David had an existence even in conception. There is no intimation in this passage that David was born a sinner, or with a sinful nature.

Another verse from Psalms often relied upon by those who teach this doctrine, though not listed in connection with this third article of faith we are reviewing, is Psalm 58:3. "The wicked are estranged from the womb, they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies." Does this teach people are born sinners? This verse declares that they were not "born astray." They went astray, after birth. This "going astray" was "speaking lies," or lying. As lying is sin, and sin is "Voluntarily departing from the law of God," then when they went astray they were old enough to "voluntarily" depart from the law of God.

The statement in Romans 5:19 that "By one man's disobedience many were made sinners" does not say or teach that men are born sinners. We are not here told HOW the many were made sinners by Adam's transgression. It is pure assumption to argue that the disobedience of Adam is imputed to his offspring, or that the obedience of Christ is imputed to anybody. Neither guilt nor personal righteousness can be transferred from one person to another, but the consequences of either may, to some extent, fall upon others. By his sin Adam brought about conditions that make every person subject to temptation. In this way he made sinners. Thomas Paine, the great infidel, made infidels; but that does not mean that his infidelity was imputed to others, or that they did not become infidels by their own free choice. Christ became obedient unto death (Phil. 2:8), and that act of obedience makes many people righteous. As Adam's disobedience did not make the many sinners without their choice, so neither does the obedience of Christ make the many righteous without their choice.

Hereditary Total Depravity

Since this article is designed to teach that men are born sinners because of what Adam did and this is the doctrine of hereditary total depravity, it would be well for us to notice a definition of what that doctrine is. John Wesley's sermon book, Vol. 2, page 266 says "In Adam all died, all human kind, all the children of men who were in Adam's loins. The natural consequences of this is, that every one descended from him comes into the world spiritually dead, dead to God, wholly dead in sin; entirely void of the image of God, of all the righteousness and holiness wherein Adam was created. Instead of this, every man born into the world now bears the image of the devil, in pride and self-will; the image of the beast, in sensual appetites and desires." The same writer, in his work on Original Sins, page 340, says "We are condemned before we have done good or evil; under the curse ere we know what it is."

Dr. W. A. Jarrell, a Missionary Baptist, in his book "Gospel In Water," says: "That man is totally depraved is evident from his being a child of the devil — fathered by the devil of the same moral nature." (Pages 251, 252)

I have, among many periodicals, in my study a paper edited by one who accepts the manual containing these articles in which he gives a definition of total depravity. He says, "What is really meant by depravity? Webster says: `Corruption,' Wickedness'; 'The state of sinfulness natural to unregenerate man.' Total refers to the whole or all of man being affected by sin and not as to how bad. So total depravity means that, every part of man is affected by sin. The head, the heart, the imagination, the mind and conscience. We do not believe that every person is as bad as he could be nor is he as bad as the devil, but every individual is so corrupted and so distorted by sin that he can not please God." This, my friends, is the condition, we are told by this doctrine, that we inherit because of Adam's sin. In other words, all that is said in these various quotations is true of every baby born into this world. Surely you can see that the verses introduced as proof of this doctrine do not say, or imply, any such thing.

Hereditary Total Depravity At Variance With Other Scriptures

Friends, not only do the verses cited not teach this doctrine, but the doctrine is at variance with various other passages. In Acts 17:29 Paul reasons "For as much as we are the offspring of God . . . we ought not to think God like unto things made with hands" Certainly it is not the body — the flesh — that is the "offspring of God." Shall we insist then that the spirit comes from God depraved? Does God give a depraved spirit? To ask that question iS to answer it. Again, Hebrews 12:9 "Furthermore we have had fathers of the flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the FATHER OF SPIRITS and live?" Here the father of the flesh is contrasted with the Father of the spirit. God is the Father of the spirit. Shall we say God is the father of a totally depraved spirit? Who is ready for such a conclusion? Ecclesiastes 12:7 also tells us that God is the giver of the spirit. Surely no one would contend he is the giver of a totally depraved spirit.

In Matthew 18:3 Jesus said, "Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." If the child is born totally depraved, then we must become like it — totally depraved, or it will not be possible to enter the kingdom.

Paul said in Romans 3:12, "They are all GONE OUT OF THE WAY, they are together BECOME UNFROFITABLE." Notice it is not said that they were born this way. Sin is a principle that exists only as the result of unlawful, unrighteous acts performed by one who has the power to discern between right and wrong. Before one can be a sinner, either in the sight of God or man, he must have the power to reason. Deprive one of the power of reason and he cannot have the slightest conception of right or wrong. He is not held amenable to the law of God or man. Since sin is the VOLUNTARY DEPARTURE from the law, how can infants and idiots, who have no power to reason or will, be sinners? Saying one is a sinner by inheritance — since sin is the transgression of the law (I John 3:4) — would be to declare that one transgresses the law of God before he is born.

Friends, if the doctrine of hereditary total depravity is true, then it would be impossible for man to do anything about his salvation; for, as it is contended by those who believe the theory, the sinner is so depraved, corrupt, and wicked that the Gospel cannot reach him. The only way the sinner could be saved would be for God to work a miracle, saving him separate and apart from the Gospel or anything else; and this is the position taken by the advocates of the theory. This is why they criticize those who teach the importance of obedience to God's commands. Now, if a man is so depraved and wicked that nothing but a miracle on the part of God can save him, then who is responsible for people being lost ? This would make God responsible for every soul in hell.

So, in this third article we have a doctrine that exists through a misapplication or a failure to understand certain scriptures. Yes, the religious world is divided over this doctrine because it is not clearly taught in the scriptures; and that being the case, if the doctrine is taught, it must be written into the creeds of men.