The last stage in the temptation and the fall of the woman naturally and inevitably followed upon the woman’s acceptance of the word of the serpent by which he had plainly and boldly contradicted the Word of God. The lie had been introduced. And it had been accepted and embraced. It is in the light, or rather, in the darkness of that lie, that is, with eyes that had been darkened by the lie, that the woman now looked at the tree and passed her own judgment upon it. She saw nothing anymore of the Word of God. On the contrary, she 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,” Gen. 3:6. In other words, already she was filled with lust, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. We may well suppose that part of what the woman saw was, apart from the Word of God, true. Why should it not be? There is no reason to believe that the tree was not good for food, nor that it was not a pleasant tree to behold, that is, appealing to the natural eye, devoid of the spiritual light of the knowledge of God. The only trouble was, that she set aside the Word of God, and divorced the tree from it. She opposed her own judgment to the commandment and Word of God, and considered the tree in the light of her rebellious heart. And upon that judgment she acted. And she took of the fruit of the tree and ate.
Did she not, from that very moment experience the wrath of God and His curse upon her? It would seem that she must have felt the misery into which her act had plunged her rather keenly and deeply. No man would ever pass through a similar experience as that through which she must have passed at that moment. Ever since all men are born in sin and under the wrath of God by nature. But Eve had known what it meant to walk in the light of God, to live in His fellowship, to behold His glory, to taste His goodness. And now her light had changed into complete darkness, her knowledge of God had been corrupted into spiritual ignorance and love of the lie; she had been alienated from God, saw the beauty of His revelation no more, and knew herself to be an object of God’s holy wrath. Her life was changed into death. However, and just because of this corruption of her nature, she immediately went in search of her husband in order to make him her accomplice in sin and her companion in misery. What method she employed to tempt Adam the Bible does not tell us. Very briefly it states: “and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.” She had learned the lie in the school of the serpent, and, no doubt, she practiced what she had learned upon her husband. But the point is that the truth of what the apostle writes in Rom. 1:32 became immediately manifest in Eve: “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” No longer could she have pleasure in a sinless husband. In fact, by nature she would henceforth hate him, and unless he became her accomplice in sin, she would be ready to persecute and kill him. Such is sin. Hence, it was inevitable that she could have no moment’s rest, even though she now very clearly knew by experience the judgment of God, until she had also persuaded Adam to become her companion in disobedience and in death.
Such was the first sin, the one act through which sin entered into the world, and death through sin. The question is often asked, how it was possible that sin could originate in the heart and mind of a creature that had been created good and after God’s image, in true knowledge of God, righteousness and holiness. In the ultimate sense this question must probably remain unanswered, like all questions that concern the beginning of things and that are not specifically explained in the Word of God. We must remember, of course, that sin is no substance. It has no being in itself. It is the perversion of good powers wherewith God endowed the creature, in this particular case, man. We must also bear in mind that God had created man good, but lapsable. There was no evil in him. But he had not attained to the highest possible state of freedom and goodness, in which he could not sin. Perhaps, we may even say in the light of Scripture, that this state of highest freedom is possible only in Christ, and that too, because He is the Person of the Son of God in human nature. If we bear these various factors in mind, we may approach a solution of the problem, how sin could possibly enter into the heart and mind of a man that was made morally good. God had endowed him with the good and rich gift of imagination. But by this power of his mind he was also able to conceive of the lie, to create for himself another world than that of the Word of God, and to call that world of his imagination reality and truth. And if by an act of his will he embraced that world of his imagination, and acted accordingly, he chose the lie instead of the truth of the Word of God. And that is sin. But even so, while this may explain the first operation of sin in man’s heart and mind, it does not give a final and satisfactory answer to the question, how this operation could originate in a sinless nature. Certain it is that also that first sin, though the responsibility of it is entirely man’s, and though it was wanton and willful disobedience, was according to the inscrutable plan and purposes of the Most High, and took place under the controlling guidance of His providence.
But there is another question, one that must and can be answered in the light of Scripture. The Catechism does not merely speak of the fall of our first parents in paradise, but mentions it as the source and cause of the corruption of the human nature. The question is: “whence proceeds this depravity of human nature?” And the answer is: “From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise; hence, our nature is become so corrupt that we are all conceived and born in sin.” The human nature is corrupt. It is the very opposite from what the law demands that it should be. The law demands love; our nature is such that it hates. And this corruption or depravity of the human nature the Catechism traces to the fall and disobedience of Adam and Eve as its source. And this raises the question, first of all, concerning the relation between that first act of disobedience and the corruption of the nature of our first parents. How can one act of sin corrupt the nature, darken the mind, pervert the will, so that henceforth no good can proceed from it anymore? This is, evidently, the teaching of the Catechism here. The nature was good. Man was created after the image of God. The sinful deed of disobedience and rebellion against God did, in the case of Adam and Eve, not proceed from a corrupt nature. On the contrary, the deed was first. The corruption of the nature followed. The deed may be traced to its inmost root in the deepest recesses of the heart,—the fact remains that the sinful deed was first. How this was possible remains a mystery, as we have already stated. But the next question is: how could that first deed cause the nature to become depraved? Why could not Adam repent of that first and only deed that had ever been committed, and henceforth walk in obedience and righteousness? That the human nature is corrupt, is evident from all Scripture. For “there is none righteous, no not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes,” Rom. 3:9-18. Throughout the Bible speaks the same language. And it is also evident from Scripture that this corruption of the human nature entered into the world through the sin of the one man Adam: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” But once more: how must it be explained, that one sinful deed could corrupt the whole nature?
It is this truth that is denied by the Pelagian. According to him, sin is always and only in the act, never in the human nature. A man is righteous only according as he does righteousness; and he is unrighteous only in the measure that he commits sin. But no sinful deed can affect the nature so that it becomes corrupt. It is true, of course, that the sinful deed weakens the will. When one sinful deed is committed, it becomes more difficult to do the right thing the next time. It is also true that certain sins, when repeatedly committed, become habits, so that it appears as if the human nature is completely enslaved to them, and kept in bondage. But in the deepest sense of the word the will of man always remains free to choose either for the good or for the evil. The human nature remains inherently good. The sinful deed cannot possibly corrupt it. And thus the Pelagian denies, that by the sin of the first Adam he corrupted his nature so that he became morally depraved.
However, we must not lose sight of the fact, that sin incurs guilt, that guilt is liability to death, and that the death sentence was very really executed upon man when he committed that first sin. By his disobedience Adam became guilty before God. He became delinquent in paying to God what he owed. His calling was to love the Lord his God with all his heart and mind and soul and strength, every moment of his existence and with all he had. Such was his constant obligation. As long as he met this obligation he was in the state of righteousness. Never could he do more than was his obligation. And less he might not do. If he failed even for one moment in this perfect love of God he lapsed into the state of guilt, that is, in the state in which he was worthy of punishment. Debt with God must be paid. It cannot be ignored, forgotten, or simply cancelled. Sin must be atoned. But Adam had nothing wherewith to pay that debt. Hence, he fell hopelessly into the state of guilt as far as he was concerned. And the punishment of sin is death.
God had very specifically threatened: “the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” And that death sentence God executed upon him immediately. Adam died on that very day, yea, the very moment he sinned. That, according to the eternal counsel of God, Christ stood behind him, so that as it were he fell on Christ and was saved; and that, therefore, he did not utterly perish, is also true. But we may leave this outside of the scope of consideration for the present. As far as Adam was concerned, apart from Christ, it can only be said that he died, because God inflicted the punishment of death on him. And this punishment of death certainly included physical death: he was separated from the tree of life; and corruption and mortality took hold of his physical frame from that very moment. But it also implied the spiritual death, so that: “revolting from God by the instigation of the devil, and abusing the freedom of his own will, he forfeited these excellent gifts; and on the contrary entailed on himself blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity and perverseness of judgment, became wicked, rebellious and obdurate in heart and will, and impure in his affections,” Canons III, IV, 2. And thus it is explained that the deed of that first sin resulted in the corruption of the human nature in our first parents. This corruption was not a natural result of his disobedience, but the infliction of God’s own sentence of death upon him.
Thus the disobedience of our first parents was, indeed, a fall, by which man lapsed from the state of righteousness into that of guilt and condemnation, from light into darkness, from holiness into corruption, from life into death. If we understand this and, at the same time, see the reason and cause of this in the execution of the death sentence upon man, we will also clearly see the absurdity of the theory that there was an operation of restraining grace in Paradise, whereby the process of moral and spiritual corruption was checked, so that man did not become so depraved as he would have been without this restraining influence. This is the view of common grace as presented by Dr. A. Kuyper Sr. According to his conception, death was the natural and inevitable result of Adam’s eating of the forbidden fruit, just as physical death is the natural result of taking poison. Adam killed himself. Of course, even so this law of cause and effect operated according to the ordinance of God, and in so far death was also punishment. But the fact remains that for Adam death in all its implications and, therefore, including moral and spiritual corruption, was inseparably and naturally connected with that one deed of disobedience. The word of God: “the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”, must be understood, not as a threat which God Himself would fulfill, but as a prediction of what would happen, and, therefore, as a fair warning. Writes Dr. Kuyper, De GemeeWe Gratie I, 209 ff.; (I translate):
“Death in connection with man’s eating of the tree of knowledge, can be understood in a twofold way: either as a punishment that was threatened, or as a result that would follow therefrom. If death is fixed as the punishment of high treason, this must be understood as a threat, for one does not die inevitably of high treason. But when I say: ‘Do not take of that Paris Green, for if you do you shall die,’ there is no question of punishment: all that is expressed is that this poison is fatal in its effect, and that one who takes the poison must die. In the last instance, I may, if one should, contrary to my warning, take the poison nevertheless, make an attempt to counteract the deadly effect of the poison by the application of an antidote to make the patient vomit. Then I certainly spoke fully in accordance with truth: ‘when you take the poison, you shall die,’ and I do not at all come into conflict with myself when afterwards I make an attempt to save the reckless one that took the poison. If this is clear, then it must also be admitted that the words: ‘If you eat of the tree of knowledge, you will surely die’, are explained in their full implication, when I understand them as implying nothing else than the declaration, the warning: ‘Know this, that when you permit yourself to be tempted to eat of that tree, you will see that death will be the result’. And if this is the significance, then there is nothing contradictory in the fact that death was not on that same day fully inflicted on Adam, because the same God that had warned them, hastened immediately after their transgression in order to check the results of the evil.” There are many reasons why this entire presentation must be rejected. In the first place, it is not in harmony with Scripture to explain the words: “the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die,” as a warning concerning a natural and inevitable result, the actual realization of which might then be prevented by God. Everywhere Scripture presents death as a punishment inflicted by God Himself, and that too, in His just wrath. Death is the revelation of God’s displeasure against sin, the execution of His just sentence, the deliberate infliction of punishment, not a natural result of the sinful deed. If the corruption of the human nature must be explained as the natural result of one sinful deed, the Pelagian is, no doubt, correct when he maintains that this is spiritually and ethically impossible. But the inevitableness of this corruption becomes quite clear if we consider it as the punishment of death inflicted upon our first parents for their disobedience. In the second place, sin is no paris green or any other kind of poison that kills a man physically and spiritually if he takes it. The sin of Adam and Eve was a willful deed of disobedience, transgression of the commandment of God. The figure which Dr. Kuyper employs here, as is the case with many illustrations in his works, is misleading. In the third place, it must be very evident that there is no golden mean between life and death. A man is either alive or dead; he cannot be in some in-between condition. To apply Dr. Kuyper’s own illustration: if a man takes paris green he dies; but if an antidote is administered, and this means is effective and has the desired result, so that the patient vomits out the poison he took, he does not die, but lives and will recover completely. He certainly is not half dead and half alive. The evil results are not “tempered” or checked, but wholly counteracted and prevented. Now, if God warned Adam and Eve when He said: “the day ye eat thereof, ye shall surely die,” so that the sinful deed was comparable to taking poison; and if thereupon God administered an antidote of grace, and this means was effective, our first parents did not die at all; they certainly lived. The evil of their deed was not checked, but entirely prevented. In no sense of the word could they be half dead and half alive. Hence, they lived. And this means, too, that in paradise the human nature was not corrupted at all. It would have been, if God had not intervened by His common grace. As the matter stands, however, Dr. Kuyper’s explanation of what actually happened in paradise, really directs us to the same view as that of the Pelagians, except that we arrive there in a round-about way. But this is in flat contradiction with the plain testimony of the Bible, which teaches us that the nature of man became corrupt through the fall and disobedience of our first parents in paradise. The view, therefore, must be rejected. Instead we must maintain that in the words: “the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die,” God threatened punishment, the punishment of death which He Himself would inflict upon the guilty transgressor; and that this sentence was actually carried out by the righteous Judge of heaven and earth. Only thus can it be explained, in opposition to the Pelagian view, how the one deed of disobedience could entail upon man the corruption of his whole nature.