Natural Man before the Fall: Ability and Grace

Discussion in 'Calvinism & The Doctrines of Grace' started by Saiph, Oct 26, 2005.

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  1. Saiph

    Saiph Puritan Board Junior

  2. Robin

    Robin Puritan Board Junior

    It's best to use Paul's term "sarks" or "flesh." To be in the "flesh" is to not be regenerate, first and foremost. Romans 6 refers to the only two types of people on earth: those "in Adam" or those "in Christ." To be "in the Spirit" is to be in Christ. Yes....even while the Christian struggles horribly (failing?) with habitual sin, Romans 8 describes that even then, we are IN Christ --- because the Gospel is outside of us. The Gospel depends on what Christ DID!

    Now THAT is Good News! :up:


    PS. Always keep the reading of Romans in sequential order (chpt 1 --- 16.) To interrupt the sequence is to thwart a beautiful and awesome symphony of Truth, Paul is unfolding.

    [Edited on 10-26-2005 by Robin]
  3. Saiph

    Saiph Puritan Board Junior

    Yes, but the natural man understandeth not the things of the Spirit.
    I believe it does damage to total depravity to say human nature is good, and by definition should be in reference to Christ.

    When any man does what is "natural", it is sin. In Christ we are a new creation. He was the second Adam. We are heirs of the first, until regeneration. I understand what Calvin was trying to say, but he should have used better terms. Natural does not mean unaltered, or pure, or upright in the biblical sense. It means correspondence with the ordinary course of nature. Nature is fallen. The secular naturalist would prefer the former definition.

    Is death unnatural ?


    Is the resurrection unnatural ?

    [Edited on 10-26-2005 by Saiph]
  4. Robin

    Robin Puritan Board Junior

    Maybe we should move the thread?

    So much can be said, Mark. It sounds like we need to unpack what pre-Fall, post-Fall human nature is like.

    Btw, death is NOT natural. (!)

    (whistling....) O, Dr. to make a much more insightful response to Mark's points, than I ever could? :sing:

  5. Saiph

    Saiph Puritan Board Junior

    I would be willing to accept your view if you define "natural".
    We could then reduce the argument to a matter of vantage point or perspective.

    My definition is: that which follows the ordinary course of nature.


    Eph. 2:3
    Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.

    And by contrast:

    II Pe 1:4
    Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
  6. Robin

    Robin Puritan Board Junior

    Mark, obviously I agree with your important reminder that a clear reference to Christ (hypostatic union/Trinity) remains intact when discussing the condition and essense of humanity.

    However, I'd beg to disagree....the secular naturalist prefers to justify, even validate his sin by claiming "it's only natural."


  7. Saiph

    Saiph Puritan Board Junior

    That is exactly my point. Sin is natural. We are born hating God. (And to the naturalist, that means unaltered or pure, ie. my 1st definition.)

    [Edited on 10-26-2005 by Saiph]
  8. alwaysreforming

    alwaysreforming Puritan Board Sophomore

    But there is a difference in what you're saying above, and the claim that human nature is inherently evil. We know that every human nature, apart from Christ, IS evil, but its not to say that human nature (per se) IS evil, because then to do so would say that Jesus Christ has a "sinful" human nature, since human nature is always evil.

    I think its a valid distinction to not always lump "human nature" and "sin" together, and to call the distinction into view is a great way to bring up the subject of Christ's perfection and His work on our account, especially in this day and age where His LIFE is ignored as being meritorious, and only His DEATH is talked about.

    Also, when we get to Heaven and are glorified, will we not have a human nature? And Adam was created with a human nature, and it wasn't an evil nature that was given to him.
  9. Saiph

    Saiph Puritan Board Junior

    Hebrews 2:16
    For verily he took not on [him the nature of] angels; but he took on [him] the seed of Abraham.

    I think this is why I asked Robin to define "Nature", and I qualified my statements with my definition.

    Nature and natural are two different things
  10. Saiph

    Saiph Puritan Board Junior

    That sagacious Dominican friar of the 13th century solves this for us:

    [Edited on 10-27-2005 by Saiph]
  11. Robin

    Robin Puritan Board Junior

    So is Aquinas saying that Adam before the Fall could not keep the law decree God made ("do not eat..") without God's help?

    Just wondering, am I reading him right?


  12. Saiph

    Saiph Puritan Board Junior

    Yes, Robin. But Adam could not breathe or think without God's help in that most generic sense as well. So it does not remove Adam's freedom.
  13. Robin

    Robin Puritan Board Junior

    Wow --- this is quite different than what the confessions state (3 F's.) I mean.....what's the deal if God creates Adam to NOT be able to obey the edict "do not eat"....? Where in Scripture does it teach God created Adam unable to obey Him (before the Fall?)


  14. Saiph

    Saiph Puritan Board Junior

    I did not say God created Adam with the inability of obedience.

    Adam was able to sin.
    Since the fall we are not able, to not sin.
    In Christ we are able to not sin.
    In eternity we will not be able to sin.
  15. Robin

    Robin Puritan Board Junior

    Most importantly, was Adam able to NOT sin (before the Fall?)

  16. alwaysreforming

    alwaysreforming Puritan Board Sophomore

    I bet that's what he meant to type, Robin, and that it was a typo to omit the word "not" in that first line.

    (Sorry to speak for ya, Mark!)
  17. Saiph

    Saiph Puritan Board Junior



    Pre Fall Man: able to sin, able not to sin (posse peccare, posse non peccare);
    Post Fall Man: not able not to sin (non posse non peccare);
    Regenerate Man: able not to sin (posse non peccare);
    Glorified Man: unable to sin (non posse peccare).
  18. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    Robin has put her finger on a very important problem. Thomas' doctrine of the donum super additum (super added grace), i.e., preserving grace before the fall was rooted in a non-Christian anthropology and a non-Christian ontology.

    The background to this move was Augustine's turn to neo-Platonism (Plotinus) as way of explaining evil as a matter of being (good) and non-being (evil).

    From my 2001 essay on Concupiscence in Modern Reformation:

    With Scripture, the Reformed theologians said that we were created "good," "righteous" and "holy." Sin, they said, is "accidental" to our nature as created. There was a radical Lutheran who taught in the 16th c that sin is "essential" to our nature as created, but his view was rejected universally. We all agree that, post-fall, we are inherently, "naturally" and radically sinful.

    The Reformed expressed this affirmation of the goodness of Adam (before the fall) as created (contra Thomas and Augustine) by teaching the covenant of works in which Adam was said to have been, before the fall, able to keep the law and to earn (yes, I said "earn") a state of consummate blessedness. Now, that "earning" was within a covenant freely made by God by, as the WCF says, "voluntary condescension," so it was by God's "ordained power" rather than relative to God's "absolute power."

    This is the background for our view of Jesus' sinlessness (impeccability) and active obedience for us and imputed to us. Our standards and theologians all have it that Jesus "earned" or "obtained" our justification and eventual consummate blessedness.

    As to the free offer, when we speak of a sincere offer we're speaking of the administration of the covenant of grace. God has willed that the covenant of grace should be administered through the "serious" and "indiscriminate" (the language of the Synod of Dort) offer of the gospel. It is more than a demand, as some would have us think.

    Again, this view relies on distinctions that some have either lost or forgotten, namely the distinction between God's knowledge (said to be "archetypal" i.e., original, absolute, omniscient, immense etc) and ours (said to be "ectypal," i.e., imperfect, derived etc).

    God, of course, has decreed from all eternity who will and will not come to faith. We, otoh, are ignorant of the details of this decree. We are shut up to the revealed will of God (which Luther called the theology of the cross). The revealed will of God, as the Reformed have mostly understood it, is that the gospel should be preached to sinners the way God has preached it to us, as it were, through the prophets: "Do I take pleasure in the death of the wicked says the Lord...?" "God is not willing that any should be perish..."

    What sort of "willing" does Scripture have in view in such places? Given the clear teaching of Scripture that there is a decree, then such willing must be on a different order. It was to account for that "revealed" willing that we formulated the doctrine of the free, well-meant, sincere, offer.

  19. Saiph

    Saiph Puritan Board Junior


    So you would say human nature is good ?

    Very good reformed defense.

    Adam traded the daily meal with God in the garden for a meal that would seperate him from God. The fruit was the devil's sacrament. So why talk of human nature as good ? We are born guilty in Adam, until born again in Christ.
    If Limited Atonement is true, any offer to the reprobate is insincere. But, we offer it to all because we do not know who is reprobate.
  20. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    Yes, I agree that Adam traded God's sacrament (see Witsius on the Economy of the Covenants vol 1) for the Devil's (Olevianus called Adam's rebellion a false covenant).

    The Reformed point has been that human nature is good per se i.e., as created. We were not created corrupt (Augustine and Thomas) or fallen. We didn't have moral greeblies running around within that required the quenching powers of prelapsarian grace.

    After the fall, the good creation, namely human nature, was radically and profoundly corrupted. Grace, as we mostly use it, is reserved to describe God's favor toward sinners not the sinless and not Adam ante lapsum.

    It does not follow to say that because the atonement is personal or definite (using Roger Nicole's categories) that the WMO is insincere. The question of the WMO is not God decree but our stance. What attitude are we to adopt toward those who are obviously outside the Christ confessing covenant community? We are to take the stance that God has revealed himself as taking.

    Further, God can be said to love his good creation. He loves his creatures. Love is one of the communicable (by analogy not by participation) attributes. As a divine attribute it is essential to God's nature. It is who he is. Peter van Mastricht, for example, was very clear about God's love for all, even the reprobate.

    We cannot peer into the divine decree or into the eternal knowledge of God. We shouldn't try. Given that (Creator/creature) distinction, how should we speak to those outside the covenant community who may or may not be elect (or to those within, for that matter)?

    "Come to me all who weary laden, and I will give you rest"

    "For God so loved the world"

    That's the gospel call.

  21. Saiph

    Saiph Puritan Board Junior

    Thinking through the Aquinas proposition again, I suppose I was equating contingent with some type of moral corruption. Even in our glorified state we will be contingent though.
  22. mybigGod

    mybigGod Puritan Board Freshman

    But yet through the necessity of dependence on God rather than an independent work system wasnt there a revelation hid in God as well as the limits of the good material that made up man a cause to see grace necessary?
  23. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    That is why the Westminster Confession 7:1 says:

    As has been noted, the Divines could have spoken of grace here, but did not. That such a diverse group of folk agreed to this language, omitting grace, says something.

    They turned not to grace to explain God's free act in covenanting with Adam, instead they turned to the divine free will. Hence "voluntary condescension." All of God's revelation is a voluntary condescension, but they chose to highlight that fact in the making of the covenant of works.

    The Creator/creature relations are such that man did not have any claim on God without God having freely willed to enter into a legal relation.

    That done, it was a legal, and not a gracious relation. Adam was to earn his entry into glory. The first Adam having failed to do, the Second Adam did exactly that. Praise God for the strict, meritorious, legal, obedience of the Second Adam in place of his people.

  24. C. Matthew McMahon

    C. Matthew McMahon Christian Preacher

    Amen - :ditto:
  25. Saiph

    Saiph Puritan Board Junior

    Dr. Clark, you said:

    Would you mind explaining this. I have been trying to figure out what you meant by going back and re-reading Thomas, and Augustine on "soul".
    Outline their non Chirstian anthropology and ontology for me.

    Have you read Bahnsen's paper on substantive monism ? Seems to me that the classic hylomorphic view is not wrong after all. Surely you do not accept Descartes non-spacial susbtance idea ?
  26. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    No, I've not read Bahnsen on substantive monism. I have read Thomas and a fair bit of medieval theology.

    Did you look up the "donum super additum"?

    The covenant of works is an alternative to the DSA. There is talk among some Protestants about prelapsarian grace (e.g., in Ursinus and in others) but it is not on the same order nor did it function the same way as the DSA. There is some language in the Belgic about Adam not understanding his prelapsarian state, but I don't think this is a DSA.

    One of the great differences between the medievals and Reformation theology was the rejection by the Reformation of a widely assumed Plotinian-Dionysian scale of being in favor of a Creator/creature distinction.

    No, I'm not advocating Aristotle's ontology or psychology. I am, however, influenced by Brian Davies' astute interpretation of Thomas which I is supported by Roman scholars of Thomas with whom I've talked.

    The problem isn't exactly or only body/soul relations but Thomas' ontological assumptions which the Reformation rejected and that, given the rejection, fed or supported their view of the prelapsarian state.

    Augustine and Thomas' were influenced by Plato (or Plotinus) in their anthropology but particularly in their assumption about divine-human relations. The Reformation finally destroyed the continuum between God and Man. Evangelicals have spent most of the last two hundred years re-building that continuum in the form of a ladder (via mysticism) to the beatific vision. I understand, the theology of the cross is not for everyone, but neither is Christianity.

    The Protestant view of concupiscence over against the medieval (and frequently patristic) is a good case. See my essay some time back in Mod. Ref. on this.


  27. mybigGod

    mybigGod Puritan Board Freshman

    I guess i am having a hard time with the word covenant being used in scripture in the sense it is used by most reformers in a works paridigm.
    I also have questions about whether that focus of obedience -disobedience was the major test in that covenant. Obviously the struggle between good and evil existed before the fall in other persons. Its obvious that satan was allowed by God to tempt man. Now these angelic powers and Gods power exceded mans limits just as they do post fall. I would question whether man in himself had the power in himself to thwart satans tatics without God intervening in it in some way by grace or in not allowing that temptation to effect that fall unless God limited Satan in some way.
  28. Saiph

    Saiph Puritan Board Junior

    What did Adam enjoy before the fall ? The idea that we cannot speak of grace where sin is absent does not seem biblical to me. Grace according to some in this thread seems to always be God's favor despite our sin.

    I believe that is a new meaning for grace? Grace and favor are used interchangeably in the NT. The term "favor" does not change or modify your definition of "grace" in my opinion. The donum super additum seems to come from Augustine.

    The crux of this argument is perhaps this: If man cannot earn merit before God by his own natural ability, then this was just as true before the Fall as it is after it.

    In both cases, Man requires supernatural power to remain in fellowship with God. If you believe that Adam and Eve were in a righteous state and relationship before God without supernatural grace/favor before the Fall, then you are accepting a form of prelapsarian pelagianism.

    Dr. Clark, could you outline for me the Biblical mind-body connection, and the difference between our ontological reality and God's ?

    Now before someone accuses me of doing away with the covenant of works (which incidentally, I accept in principle, but do not see explicitly outlined in scripture) let me outline Augustine's idea of ability again.


    Pre Fall Man: able to sin, able not to sin (posse peccare, posse non peccare);

    Post Fall Man: not able not to sin (non posse non peccare);

    Regenerate Man: able not to sin (posse non peccare);

    Glorified Man: unable to sin (non posse peccare).

    In the pre-fall state, man's ability to keep the law of not eating the fruit was by supernatural grace. Just as it is in regenerate man. Adam, and Eve, were not walking with God when the serpent was giving his lecture. Why not ? Adam was silent during the whole ordeal. Why did he not protect Eve ?

    [Edited on 12-23-2005 by Saiph]
  29. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    The classical Reformed tradition didn't have this problem, but lots of folk have, including the Socinians, the Arminians, the Lutherans (although Luther taught a sort of covenant of works in his lectures on Genesis in the 1540's). Be careful about rejecting the covenant of works since you may find yourself in unhappy company. The answer, "but I'm just following the Bible" won't help since that is exactly what the Socinians said as they rejected the deity of Christ, the Trinity, justification sola gratia etc.

    Think of it this way, was Jesus in a covenant of works or not? Was Jesus born under the law or not? Of course the answer is yes.

    If Jesus as the second Adam was in such a covenant/relation to divine justice, then there can be no theoretical objection to such a relation having existed before.

    The Reformed argued also from the language of Gen 2-3 (as I've done here before on other threads) and from the prima facie evidence of Hosea 6:7 and from the legal aspect of the Israelite national covenant.

    Have you read Witsius? Get the new Horton book on covenant theology from Baker -- I really ought to get a percentage for all the shilling I do for him! ;)

    This objection is most puzzling. What is complicated about "the day you eat thereof you shall surely die"? Seems like a test of obedience to me and it has seemed so to catholic (including the Protestants) Christianity since the Fathers. The idea of the covenant of works is not a novelty.

    Listen, if grace swallows up everything, as pious as that sounds, grace comes to mean nothing as it does in Barth where the decree and grace obliviate law and reprobation. Then, however, Barth proceeds to re-arrange law and gospel (since it's all of grace) and voilà we have moralism, i.e., justification by grace and cooperation with grace. Murray denied or weakened the covenant of works, with no intent to damage Reformed theology and within 25 years Norm Shepherd was adopting Pelagianizing views. I don't know of an instance in the history of Reformed theology where the covenant of works has been denied without unhappy consequences (e.g., Baxter).

    This is prejudicing the question, however. It isn't a matter of man's intrinsic powers per se. It is a matter of the nature of the covenant of works/nature/life.

    Is God able to establish such a covenant? To say no is to invoke a series of theological problems. The focus should not be on what I think is hypothetically possible, however, but on what God actually did. The text does reveal a test - eat and die; don't eat and live.

    Where is grace in the narrative? God made Adam "good." There is no defect. This is why the Reformed confessions speak with one voice about Adam's prelapsarian state. HC 6

    Adam was in a probationary state. He was made to enter into a probationary state.

    Consider HC 9

    How does the HC (and WCF 7) understand Adam's potential and ability prelapsarian state? Is Adam weakened in any way? No. Does Adam have concupiscence? No. Is Adam lacking anything to fulfill the demands of the law? No.

    We have trouble imagining a purely righteous man because our imaginations are warped by sin. We make it normative and we read it back into the prelapsarian state, but Scripture doesn't have this problem. It doesn't read grace or favor back into the prelapsarian state because it understands and implies what the HC says.

    The fault of sin is Adam's, not God's. Adam did not fall from grace. That is the ROMAN view not the Protestant view. Adam broke the law. This fact is the basis for John's definition of sin as "lawlessness" not "gracelessness."

    The notion that the fall was a fall from grace stems, as I've said before, from an unbiblical and pagan view of divine-human relations. We do not exist on one end of a continuum with God. We are and only shall be analogues to God. Full stop.

    To say that grace was necessary before the fall is to say that, in effect, divinity is a pre-requisite for obedience, that humanity as such is incapable of obedience. That scheme almost always (and certainly did in Thomas and certainly does in contemporary evangelicalism) lead to a doctrine of theosis -- divinization as salvation. See M. Karkainen's (Fuller Sem) new book where teaches this explicitly.

    This, of course, destroys not only the Creator/creature relations by turning the creature into the Creator it also makes our problem ontological rather than moral. Scripture never does this. The Protestants didn't do this. Augustine and Thomas did. Augustine and Thomas were wrong! Luther, Calvin and our theologians and symbols were more biblical.

    This approach also destroys the incarnation. We have a God-Man Savior. His humanity is not deified and his deity is not confused with his humanity. We have a Savior with two distinct natures united in one person.

    Why did God the Son have to become, having willed to be our Mediator and representative, a true man? Why not just come without the incarnation? To fulfill the covenant of works broken by Adam. If the "fall" was a "fall from grace" then why all the fuss about the law? About Jesus "righteousness" and "obedience"? Why the brutal 40 day temptation in the wilderness? Why not just "poof" and make it all go away? Why sweat, as it were, great drops of blood? Why "learn obedience" by the things he suffered? Why die outside the camp? Why be circumcised for us on the cross? Because, he was the Second Adam? He had to go back into the garden and do battle with the evil one, as a true man, and he did that his whole life. That is why he said "It is finished!"

    None of that makes any sense on an alternate scheme. The truth is that western theology was schizoid for most of 1000 years and God bless that fat little Saxon monk for finalizing the divorce from Plotinus and Dionysius and the rest of the theologians of glory!

  30. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    He enjoyed righteousness. I think I addressed this in the reply made immediately above.

    Well, there is a considerable amount of biblical support for this definition! Where sin abounded, grace abounded more (Rom 5:20)

    This is also the confessional definition of sin and grace.

    I don't understand. Grace and favor are synonyms. They both properly denote demerited favor to sinners.

    Can they be used in other ways? Perhaps, as in "common grace" but improper or broader usage does tend to create theological confusion.

    As a historian, that's interesting. As regards the theological truth of the prelapsarian state, I don't care. Augustine is a hero but he was wrong about many things, which fact he realized himself, since he wrote (quite wonderfully) a book chronicling his own errors. The Reformed have never regarded Augustine as an infallible oracle.

    You're close to the nub of the issue, but your reasoning seems flawed. I think I detect a hidden premise in the implied syllogism.

    It is Pelagian to equivocate about human nature. Humanity (as Augustine taught us and as Boston repeated) has existed in four states. The prelapsarian state and the post-lapsarian states are distinct. Hence Paul called the natural state post lapsum "œdead." (Eph 2;1-4). Prior to the fall we were "œalive." Our abilities, then, suffered a mortal blow, literally, after the fall.

    Thus whatever we cannot do (anything meritorious) after the fall is no indicator of human ability before the fall. The fundamental problem in the debate with the FV is their refusal to make this distinction. Failure to make this distinction what made Pelagius err. As I recall, Augustine had quite a bit to say to Pelagius about just that.

    In a word: nonsense. See above. Without equivocating re "œnature" we´re fine.

    No. Read the Heidelberg Catechism, the Westminster Confession etc. I don´t think it´s that complicated. We are body and soul. We´re complex entities. We´re creatures. We´re analogues. God is none of those. What else do you want me to say?

    Where is the biblical proof for this?

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