The Fall: Fact or Fiction?
There are many things in the Scriptures that the world is prepared to accept, but the doctrine of the depravity of the human race is not one of them. The notion than man is a fallen being––conceived in sin and born in iniquity (see Ps. 51: 5)––is airily dismissed as superstitious nonsense, a worthless relic of a previous, unenlightened age. Faith is placed, not in God’s Word which so plainly sets forth man’s sinful nature, guilt, and lost condition, but in man’s word which boasts of the “inherent good" of mankind. Of course, even the most magnanimous are forced to admit the existence of depraved individuals here and there, but this is to be blamed not on any innate badness, but on the misfortune of their circumstances and environment. Unacceptable to the world’s standards as their behaviour may be, there is nothing that cannot be remedied with a better education, better circumstances and better prospects. Never is the question raised as to the need of a new heart––rather the emphasis is on nourishing the good that already resides within. Such are not so much to be saved as to be civilised.
This pernicious philosophy has been very successful in invading that which professes the name of Christ––hence the philanthropic and political nature of so much of Christendom. Instead of looking for another man in another world, many are striving for the improvement of man and the world as they are now. Thus the “Gospel” (not really the Gospel at all) is presented, to quote a recent ecumenical pamphlet, as that which “takes away the pain of the world”––a sorrowful perversion of John 1: 29. This is attempting to make man happy without ever dealing with the root of his unhappiness. It is endeavouring to deal with the problems of life without ever admitting the one, great underlying problem of life. It is seeking to remedy the fruits of sin whilst denying that man is inherently sinful. Such will not believe that man is fallen. Of course if they dared to open their neglected Bibles they would find teaching diametrically opposed to their own: “For this [cause], even as by one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death; and thus death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned ... For as indeed by the disobedience of the one man the many have been constituted sinners ... ” (Rom. 5: 12, 19). This is the truth in all its stark clarity.
Again, if man is not fallen, as these false teachers would have us believe, then it follows that he must be as God made him. Now the Bible reveals that God declared everything that He had made as “very good” (Gen 1: 31), including man. God thus made man perfect––He could not, being God, make him otherwise, without reflecting poorly on His own character. So why is it that these “Christians” who contend against the truth of the fall are the very people who are loudest in their demands for such legislation as will enable them to set about improving the race? If there has been no fall, and man continues to be as God made him, then God must continue to find delight in him––yet can any intelligent mind think that a holy God takes pleasure in man as he now is? No! Only turn over a few pages of Scripture following the creation of man and you find that “Jehovah saw that the wickedness of Man was great on the earth, and every imagination of the thoughts of his heart only evil continually. And Jehovah repented that he had made Man on the earth, and it grieved him in his heart” (Gen. 6: 5, 6). Was this man as God made him? No, not at all! What God had formed out of the dust of the earth was surely perfect, but man has fallen from that exalted position. Look at the world of men around you. A pandemonium of discord jars upon the ear. Violence and corruption are seen everywhere. Scenes of horror fill the vision, and groans of despair fall upon the ear. Hatred, falsehood, outrage, murder and suicide stalk brazenly through the land. Disease, famine, hunger, nakedness and death cause the shriek of anguish to cut short man’s revelry––and I am told that man is not fallen! The words of these religionists are not born out by the facts––facts undeniable to any honest heart. Man was either made evil, (with a necessary reflection upon the character of God), or is fallen from what he was. He cannot be as God made him.
Others will have it that though man is far from perfect, he is steadily improving––evolving morally through civilisation. He is struggling upward, and Christianity, it is said, is here to aid this process. From my observation of the progress things are making I should say man is struggling downward, and making very rapid progress in his descent. That men are better educated than they were a couple of centuries ago is not in question. Certainly the poor eat better, and are better clothed, (in the West at least), but that men have better morals, that they love one another better, that they are more law–abiding, that they are less selfish, that they are more faithful in their relations of life, and that they are more to be trusted than they were years ago, I do not believe. Take away the motor–car and the computer, dispense with aeroplane, telephone and fax, and with all the other trappings of present–day civilisation, and have a good look at society. You will find little to boast in above the savage.
That men in these islands are better governed than they were in the Middle Ages goes without saying, but if the crowd were let loose today, who would not tremble for the consequences? The barbarities of the French revolution, if not worse, would be repeated. I fail therefore to see how men are better morally. I may be told that the fact that good laws exist is in itself a proof of a better moral state. I cannot accept it, for men do not make laws for themselves but for their fellows. Those who make them are often found guilty of breaking them. Politicians are infamous for their corruption. The lustre of the world is utterly artificial. Under an apparently well–ordered community smoulders a veritable hell of horrible rebellion. Even in our own children, sweet as we may think them, it is manifestly obvious that evil comes naturally, whilst good behaviour requires discipline. No one has ever had to be taught to be bad since it is what we are by nature: “the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in him” (Is. 1: 5, 6).
Others tell us that nobody believes the Genesis account of the fall––with the clear inference that it is discredited thereby. One often wonders what kind of company these Bible–critics keep. It would not be at all difficult to find thousands of people who never questioned the historicity of the fall––though their views are rarely given space in the newspapers or over the air–waves. What is incontestable is that society is demonstrably incapable of raising the standard of morality, whilst conversion to Christ brings about a thorough and lasting turnaround for the better in people’s character. This fact alone should cause any reflective mind to pause before dismissing the Christian view of evil and its origin in this world.
It is also argued that the offence committed by Adam in the garden of Eden was of too trivial a nature to bring about the awful consequences that Scripture asserts ensued. On the contrary, I fail to see that it could have made any real difference what test it might have pleased God to apply to man. The gravity of man’s offence is not to be judged by the intrinsic value of the forbidden article––that is not the point at all. He might have eaten of that tree as of any other had it not been forbidden. The prohibition on eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil ought to have not been too difficult for Adam to observe––it was hardly a heavy rent to pay for the enjoyment of such a wonderful world. He was the vice–regent of God upon earth, made so by his indulgent creator, and the tree which was forbidden to him was witness that the earth and its fullness were the Lord’s, and that Adam was not sole proprietor. The tree became a test of his loyalty to his Creator. The tribute demanded from him was a mere trifle––but this very fact made his transgression all the more inexcusable.
Nor are you and I any better than our first parents in this regard. What was seen in them is seen in us. John, in his epistle, speaks of an unholy trinity––“the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2: 16). All these saw the origin of the evil of our race, sat at its cradle, and have nourished and fed it to the present day. The woman, we are told, saw that the tree “was good for food” (Gen. 3: 6), and the same “lust of the flesh”––the craving of irregular appetite and lawless desire––has marked everyone of her descendants without exception. Eve also found the tree “a pleasure for the eyes”, and again, the same “lust of the eyes”––the love and desire of what is merely attractive and beautiful––has reaped its sad harvest throughout fallen humanity. Lastly, she saw that it was a tree “to be desired to give intelligence”, and this “pride of life”––the unholy love of pre–eminence, the restless curiosity that would pry into what God has concealed, the ambition to grasp power above our due, and the impious assumption, if not of equality with God, yet of a right over ourselves independent of God––has been one of the most consistent characteristics of every member of the human race.
Now it is a curious fact that in spite of man’s denial that he is in a fallen condition, and in spite of his claim to be something, he is really ashamed to come out in the truth of his condition. Thus we shelter ourselves from the inquisitiveness of our neighbours, and resent every attempt made by them to scrutinise our affairs. It may be nothing but idle curiosity prompts them to get near to us, but we still strongly resent their advances, and hold them at arm’s length. Were we certain they could not find anything discreditable about us, we should not be so upset by their unmannered curiosity. Were everything that could be known about us creditable to us, we would be glad to be manifested before the assembled universe. We shrink from exposure because we are unfit to be seen as we really are. This is very strange, especially as we know that others are no better than ourselves. They shrink from our penetrating gaze as timidly as we do from theirs. Yet the knowledge of this does not help us or make us bolder, for each of us has got his own secrets of which he is rightly ashamed. Like Ham we are ready to sneer at the nakedness of our neighbour (see Gen. 9: 18–27), but we are all very careful when in our senses not to babble into the ear of the world the secrets of our own guilty lives. My neighbour does not know me as I know myself, and I am determined that he shall remain in his ignorance. We keep our respective distances. I do not pry into the thoughts of his heart, and I expect the same consideration of him. This is all fig leaves. We are very pleased to find that people do not walk about in their naked hideousness, and should one of us expose himself in his moral degradation we deem it offensive and unbecoming. Each person is at liberty to think and do whatever he pleases in the privacy of his own sphere so long as it does not harm his neighbour, but he must be careful that it does not get abroad. To prevent becoming ostracised from society he must wear his fig leaves.
We are told by some that the fall is hardly mentioned in the Scriptures. Why should it be? Why would there be a need for constant repetition? Even in the NT it is seldom referred to, but that is hardly surprising when one considers the fact that this is largely addressed to believers––the writers take it for granted that those to whom they write do not question the fact of the fall. We must not, however, abuse this fact to avoid dealing with the depravity of the human race in our preaching. The vast majority of those whom we address in the Gospel either do not accept that man is fallen, or have an inadequate concept of what this means. Either way there is a defect of such gravity that it becomes absolutely vital that we press it upon the attention of the soul. To do otherwise would be to fail in our duty. Sadly, many who purport to believe in the fall of man are often loathe to mention it for fear of dissuading the potential “convert" to Christianity. In this peculiar form of evangelical outreach all reference to sin and judgement is expunged and replaced by vague promises of happiness, peace and well–being. Converts they have––but the question must be asked in all seriousness: Converts to what? How is it possible for men and women to be brought into a relationship with a holy, sin–hating God if their sin is never confronted? On the day of Pentecost did Peter carefully avoid all reference to unpopular concepts like sin and repentance lest he frighten his audience away? Not at all: “And having heard [it] they were pricked in heart, and said to Peter and the other apostles, What shall we do, brethren? And Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptised, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for remission of sins, and ye will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit ... And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, Be saved from this perverse generation” (Acts 2: 37, 38, 40). Shouldn’t Peter have been a bit more delicate in his choice of words? Not if he wished their salvation. A gospel that shies away from dealing with the plain fact that “all have sinned” (Rom. 3: 23) is not really a gospel at all. You may, for example, see an answer to a person’s loneliness by bringing him into a warm and friendly “Christian” environment and such might eventually appear to be fully integrated into the life of the church, and thus feature on the list of new “converts”. Baptism, holy communion, even speaking in tongues, may follow in rapid succession. Unless, however, he has been convicted of sin, repented of sin, and been converted from sin, then he has never bowed to God’s Gospel. True he may have accepted your version of the Gospel, but that is your version and not God’s. Psychologists readily admit that religion makes people feel better, and that is all you have achieved.
These things are very solemn. We live in days when Christianity is taken up easily––and discarded just as easily. There is an immense need for sound Gospel preaching so that men are really and truly converted––shaken to the very core of their souls. The fall of man is not fiction but fact, and unless that great fundamental problem is realised and addressed in each individual soul, the ranks of the deluded religious will continue to be added to.