Able to Stand, But Liable to Fall?

    The Proposition that Adam was able to stand but liable to fall, came first to my ears from Methodists and New School Baptists. The expression sounded puerile and illogical to me then, and sounds so yet. To me the phrase is meaningless; but grant it a meaning, and it arrays itself against the whole tenor of Bible Truth, and all facts of human experience, as exemplified in the universal history of the human race.  Such sayings and phrases as this became current through lack of thoughtful investigation. I invite the reader’s attention to the following discussion of this trite expression; and if, after impartially considering this matter, he should still be of the opinion that “Adam was able to stand, but liable to fall,” his position will be more clearly defined in his own mind, and perhaps entitled to more credit from those of contrary belief.

    Let us now proceed to consider some of the a priori arguments. First, God had a purpose in man on the earth. When faith beholds the works of God in creation it sees nothing in vain; the domestic beast of burden, the ravenous beast of prey, the wholesome grape, the deadly upas, the useful iron, the seducing gold, the wholesome food, and the destructive poison, all answer some useful end, some wise purpose, some intelligent design of the mind that created them. Shall we confess this, and then say that man, the climax of the natural creation, was created without a purpose or design, either for time or eternity by the God of all wisdom? Did God create man, and turn him loose in the world to ruin himself and all his posterity, to thwart God’s will and destroy all his pleasure?

    The first purpose of God in placing man upon the earth was that he should multiply and replenish it. God made the earth not in vain; he made it to be inhabited. If Adam was able to stand, he was able to defeat God’s purpose in this; for had he stood, there is no ground to believe that the earth would ever have been inhabited; for, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” John 12:24. 

    These words of Jesus set forth a universal fact in nature, a deep and comprehensive truth. The same truth may be stated in these words: Without death there is no reproduction. In the vegetable world seed must die before they germinate and reproduce their kind. The same principle, although not so plainly exhibited, extends into the animal world. The animal organism embodies both animal and vegetable life mysteriously combined, and the power of reproduction, growth and repair lies in the vegetable life. The multiplication of the human race did not begin until death passed upon the man; so from this it is seen that if Adam was able to stand, he was able to render the creation of the world in vain.

    But grant that the multiplication would have gone on without the fall, what would have been done with the people who would have come into the world by this time? The garden of Eden would have been full to overflowing against this time. There would have been a continually increasing stream of humanity pouring into the world, and none going out. What would be done with them? Upon what would they subsist? Where would they stay? What would be their occupation?

    Again, suppose Adam had stood, then each of his posterity would have been subjected to the same probation. Each one able to stand, but liable to fall.

    Some, doubtless would have succumbed to this liability to fall, and would have fallen, while some would have demonstrated their ability to stand, by standing. The human race would then be divided by death, some dying, and some living here forever. What a state of confusion this would be. Instead of the wisdom of the Creator being exemplified in the harmony of his creation, it would be impeached by this monstrous, unnatural, impossible discord.

    It was doubtless God’s purpose that the earth’s resources should be developed, as exemplified in the various lines of human industry, enterprise and progress. The one essential element of human character upon which all industrial enterprise depends is the love of money. This is declared in the Scriptures to be the root of all evil. This root of all evil, then, is the prime impetus in all human progress, advancement and improvement. Without it new countries never would have been discovered, explored and settled; cities would never have been built; civilization would never have developed; the arts and sciences would have remained unknown; there would be no such thing as social or political society, no commerce, no trade, no improvements, no progress, no luxuries, no conveniences; in fact men would all be savages. The fall of Adam enters into the very foundation of all the essential elements of the qualification of men to inhabit the earth. All the lust of the eye and pride of life are essentially necessary to building up human society, either social, political or religious.

    Again, the world in its present condition is either as God intended it should be, or it is not. If it is not as God intended, then God’s intention has gotten from under his control. 

    There are only three positions to be taken with regard to the first man: God either purposed that he should fall, or purposed that he should not fall, or else had no purpose at all in the matter. 

    If he purposed that he should not fall, but remain sinless forever, then the earth is peopled with an entirely different race of beings from what God intended; everything has gone contrary to God’s purpose. If one man could reverse the purpose of God, and change the whole world, both for time and eternity, of what account is God’s purpose? Where is any ground of hope of salvation either for time or eternity through the purpose of the same God? Where are our obligations to call him God, or worship him as such?

    Where is his right to call himself God, and claim our confidence, reverence and praise? To say that God purposed him to stand, but that man fell, is to plunge into the darkest, blankest, most hopeless fatalism. If we say that God had no purpose one way or the other, then what do we mean by talking of God’s purpose? If we say that God purposed the fall, then there is no conflict between God’s purpose and the existing state of affairs. We can then look upon the word purpose as meaning something; and when we talk of God being a God of purpose our speech harmonizes; and when we speak of his purpose of grace we can do so with just reverence and holy confidence.

    Again, God purposed that man should be removed from the earth by death.
    “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” 

    One may say these words were spoken after man sinned. True enough; but did they come into the mind of God after man sinned? This is the utterance of a decree; but is the decree no older than its utterance? If God did not intend in the creation that man should return to dust, why did he create him from dust? Why did he not make him of some other material? But the very fact that He made him of dust shows that the decree, “Unto dust shalt thou return,” was in the mind of the Creator when He made him. “It is appointed unto men once to die.” Heb.9:27. Death, then is an appointment. Who made the appointment? God made it. Has God any appointments now that he did not have from eternity?

    Let us now turn to God’s purpose of grace in Christ. 

    All the provisions of grace for the salvation of the people were made in Christ before the foundation of the world. If Adam had stood, what would have become of the purpose of grace? When we say he was able to stand, we say that he was able to defeat God’s purpose in Christ. It is declared in the Scriptures that Christ was foreordained before the foundation of the world. Foreordained to what? To die. To die for whom? For men who might not need it, for a man who was able to stand? If Christ was foreordained to die, and Adam was the figure of Christ, is it not plain that Adam was included in the same decree of death? 

    When Christ died, he was delivered to death by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God; not by the provisional counsel, as a remedy provided to meet an emergency; not by his permissive counsel, as one permitted to be slain for the sins of others. There is no mention in the Scriptures of a Permissive Counsel, but Determinate Counsel. Then, if Adam was included in God’s counsel at all, he was in his determinate counsel. The creation of Adam was in God’s counsel, for He said, “Let us make man.” God’s dealings with the man after he was made were in his counsel, for He placed him in a certain environment, with certain restrictions upon his liberties.

    One may say that God knew that Adam would fall, and provided the remedy before the calamity came. To admit God’s foreknowledge of the event is to yield the point that he was made to stand, for how was he able to stand if God knew that he would fall? The proposition is incompatible with foreknowledge. 

    It is argued by some that God knew that he would, but he did not fall by God’s decree. By whose decree did he fall? If God foreknew the man would fall, the event was certain, inevitable and could in no wise fail to come to pass. Now, what made the event certain? What rendered it inevitable? What brought it to pass? 

    One says that God’s foreknowledge of an event does not necessitate its coming to pass. If God’s knowledge does not, what does? “Who is he that bringeth to pass when the Lord commands it not? Lam.3:37. Either God’s decree makes the event certain, as foreknown, or it is purely a matter of total necessity.

    If Adam was able to stand, how long was he able to stand, against what was he able to stand, and wherein consisted his ability to stand? Was he able to stand forever? Was he able to stand under all circumstances? If we answer yes to these questions, then his ability to stand consisted in his infinite perfection, for nothing short of infinite perfection could stand forever under all circumstances. If he was infinitely perfect, to enable him thus to stand, wherein lay his ability to fall? Ability to stand and liability to fall cannot exist at the same time in the same creature; for where liability to fall sets in, absolute ability to stand ends. Ability to stand, in this expression, must be absolute or it cannot be considered, for if it is not absolute it must be relative, and relative ability to stand is entirely swallowed up in liability to fall.

    Let us now pass to the posteiori arguments. The fall itself is evidence that the man could not stand. Had he not fallen he would thereby have demonstrated his ability to stand; but he fell, and consequently he demonstrated his inability to stand.

    The transmission of his sin to his posterity is conclusive argument against his ability to stand. The total, inherent, hereditary depravity of the human race is essentially and inseparably connected with this subject. Cavil as we may about predestination in Adam’s case, it shows itself in all his progeny. They are all born sinners, grow up sinners, and die sinners, without exception or remedy. 

    What then has fixed the universal, unalterable, irrevocable reign of sin and death? Is it fixed by God, or does it come by fate? Is it the provision of infinite wisdom, or is it through the lucky intervention of some work of chance? Did God, either in ignorance or knowingly, leave the issue of life and death of unborn millions to the uncertain will of one man? 

    If God did not know the consequence when he created man, then he is ignorant and stupid, and is no God. If he knew the consequence, and yet created the man, and gave him power to ruin his unborn progeny in sin, death and eternal destruction, knowing certainly that he would do it, is he not a strange kind of God? Is not such a course more like that of a madman than like that of an all-wise God? Which is the greater display of wisdom, righteousness, justice and judgment; for God to leave the issues of life and death of an unborn world to the caprices of one man’s will, or to fix all by his own infinite will and wisdom?

    Which would faith choose as a source of consolation, that the well being of a world was left to one man, and he ruined it, or that God held the issues in his own eternal grasp?

    The great stumbling stone in the way of most minds is the trite, meaningless expression that this would make God the author of sin. But is it not taught in the Scriptures that God visits the iniquities of the fathers upon the children?

    Where is there any human code of practice or standard of justice but what would pronounce that unjust, wicked and cruel? Visit the iniquities of the fathers upon the children of the third and fourth generations. Punish the child for the crime of its grandfather, a crime committed before the child was born, or even before its parents were born. If we are going to impeach God by human standards we must impeach him here, and declare him wicked, unjust and cruel; and renounce his name, and abandon his worship. But again, Jesus said that the blood of all prophets, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zacharias, that perished between the temple and the altar, shall be required of this generation. Where is the justice, from a human standpoint, in requiring all the righteous blood that had been shed for four thousand years, of that generation? Such destruction as had not been since the world began was sent upon that generation of men, women and helpless children, and God did it. Then, upon this point of God being unjust if he does so and so, let the words of inspiration stop every mouth, and silence every tongue.

    The law in its nature, design and effect enters into this discussion. Many minds are misled by their wrong notion of the law. The law was not given for men to keep. It entered that the offense might abound. They say that God would not have commanded Adam not to eat if he intended that he should eat. How do they know what God would have done? By what or by whom do they judge? How could man transgress without a commandment? It required the commandment to answer the purpose. 

    It is argued that God’s decreeing the fall of Adam would destroy man’s accountability. Would it be and worse, from their own standards of judging, to hold Adam responsible for what he was purposed to do, than to hold a babe born in the nineteenth century responsible for Adam’s transgression by fixing upon it the sin committed by another six thousand years before it was born? The doctrine of hereditary total depravity will not harmonize with the proposition that Adam was able to stand.

    Lastly, I shall call in the testimony of Christian experience. Can a Christian live without sin? We regard those persons who hold and teach that a man can live without sin as deluded, fanatical heretics. If the Christian, who is born of God, washed in the blood of Christ, justified, sanctified, and led by the Spirit of God, cannot live without sin, how can the natural man live without sin? Adam in his creation was a natural man, of the earth, earthy. He had natural capacities, fleshly qualifications, propensities and desires; then how could this man in nature be expected to do what the most gifted saint cannot do?

    H.M. Curry, 1895

Topics: Modified Covenant Theology
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