The second sentence of Article 14 of the Belgic Confession begins with the conjunction, but! This places the sentence and subsequent thoughts in contrast to the former one. Thus it is. Having expressed the truth of God having created man in His own image, our fathers add, “But being in honor, he understood it not, neither knew his excellency, but willfully subjected himself to sin, and consequently to death, and the curse, giving ear to the words of the devil. For the commandment of life, which he had received, he transgressed; and by sin separated himself from God, who was his true life, having corrupted his whole nature; whereby he made himself liable to corporal and spiritual death.” The contrast has to do with man’s fall into sin.
THE FALL, A HISTORICAL FACT
There are only two possible explanations for the presence of sin in the world. The one is rooted in godless evolution, the other in divine revelation. In this article, our Reformed fathers express that they agree with the historical account of the fall as recorded in the Bible, as the explanation for sin and death in the world. By doing this they clearly part company from those who would do otherwise.
We have quoted previously from The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris in dealing with the question of man’s animal origin. We now quote briefly once again to demonstrate that these evolutionists equate sin with man’s animal past. Hence we read, in connection with man’s urge to fight,
If we are to understand the nature of our aggressive urges, we must see them against the background of our animal origins. As a species we are so preoccupied with mass-produced and mass-destroying violence at the present time, that we are apt to lose our objectivity when discussing this subject. It is a fact that the most level-headed intellectuals frequently become violently aggressive when discussing the urgent need to suppress aggression. This is .not surprising. We are, to put it mildly, in a. mess, and there is a strong chance that we shall have exterminated ourselves by the end of the century. Our only consolation will have to be that as a species, we have had an exciting term of office. Not a long term, as species go, but an amazingly eventful one. But before we examine our own bizarre perfections of attack and defense, we must examine the basic nature of violence in the spearless, gunless, bombless world of animals.
He then goes on to demonstrate that there are two reasons for animals to fight, to establish their dominance in a social hierarchy, or to establish their territorial rights over a particular piece of ground. These animal instincts are still in us; hence we have aggressive drives to fight. There is no room in this kind of thinking for sin against God and death as punishment for sin. Consequently, man’s hope of the future is to continue his social evolution and become a better social animal. This means he must make adjustments to prevent self destruction and instead build a lasting social order.
We must somehow improve in quality rather than in sheer quantity. If we do this, we can continue to progress technologically in a dramatic and exciting way without denying our evolutionary inheritance. If we do not, then our suppressed biological urges will build up and up until the dam bursts and the whole of our elaborate existence is swept away in the flood, page 241.
Man’s salvation is seeing himself as he is, a fragile animal with a precarious past, working to overcome this and to deal honestly with it. Salvation is not in Christ; it is in man himself. As Reformed believers, we recognize the importance of holding to the doctrine of creation not only, but also to that of the fall of man.
To hold to this doctrine, we must also reject the attempt to make the Genesis account of the fall a teaching model. A myth, or allegory. This attack from within the sphere of Reformed churches is a rejection of the historical record of Genesis 3 and a sell-out to evolutionism.
The Belgic Confession states briefly and in child-like submission to the Word of God, “Man willfully subjected himself to sin, and consequently to death, and the curse, giving ear to the words of the devil.” This was a historic event that was occasioned by the devil coming to Eve in the serpent, tempting her, and followed by the fall of Adam into sin.
Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology, Vol. 2, gives five reasons why we should receive the account of the fall into sin as a historical fact. (1) From internal evidence: when contrasted with the mythological accounts of the creation and origin of man, as found in the records of early heathen nations, the difference is at once apparent. The latter are evidently the product of crude speculation; the Scriptural account is simple, intelligible, and pregnant with the highest truths. (2) It forms an integral part of the book of Genesis, which is confessedly historical. (3) It is not only an integral part of the book, but an essential part of Scriptural history as a whole, which treats of the origin, apostasy, and development of the human race, as connected with the plan of redemption. (4) We find that both in the Old and New Testament the facts here recorded are assumed, and referred to as matters of history. (5) These facts underlie the whole doctrinal system revealed in the Scriptures. Because Satan tempted man and led him into disobedience, Christ came to destroy him and redeem his people from his dominion.
In this Reformed tradition, we agree that God created Adam and Eve. As we said before, man (used generically here, not distinguished from woman) was created good in God’s image. He now listened to an actual serpent which came to him as Satan’s mouth-piece; Eve fell first and gave to her husband and he ate. All this happened in the Garden of Eden, which God had created.
In explaining how the fall came about, the Belgic Confession declares, “But being in honor, he understood it not, neither knew his excellence, but willfully subjected himself to sin and consequently to death and the curse.”
With this expression, our fathers deal with the difficult question, how could Adam, a perfect creature who was made in God’s image, ever be tempted to fall into sin. If man was given the capacity to bear God’s image, and through creation actually reflected God, how could that man even fall into sin? How could perfection produce disobedience?
The answer suggested here is this; that man did not understand his honor nor know his excellence, but willfully sinned against God. We notice:
First, the confession speaks of both honor and excellency. These two ideas are closely related. Honor has reference to the high office which he possessed. It is the esteem one holds for a position of trust in which he has been placed. The office which Adam held was that of prophet, priest, and king all combined in one. He was made the prophet with whom God could speak and have conversation, the priest by whom the whole earth was consecrated unto God, and as king, he was servant-ruler under God. Adam should have recognized this high calling and honored the office by faithfully exercising the duties of that office. Excellencies refer to the various qualifications which Adam possessed, which enabled him to be faithful in that office of honor. He had knowledge, wisdom, love, holiness, righteousness, authority, power, etc. which enabled him to function in the position of honor.
Secondly, the confession states, “he understood it not (honor) neither knew (his excellency). This does not refer to some ignorance of Adam, which was an inherent limitation in his ability to use his excellencies in the service of his honorable office. If this were true, we might be tempted to say Adam fell by ignorance or increated necessity. Because he was created in the image of God, he possessed all things necessary to obey God’s will and serve God in the sphere of creation. He was able to be God’s prophet, priest, and king.
Rather, this lack of understanding and knowledge was directed toward the opposite side, namely sin. Adam could not understand the consequence of disobedience and weigh this over against his honor and excellency. Adam knew his calling, he knew what disobedience would involve, but how could he know what the sentence of death would really be like? He did not have the ability to place these two alternatives beside each other and conclude that his honor and excellencies far surpassed anything the devil might offer to him. For this reason the devil came to him with the temptation, “Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” It was the lie, but it tempted man enough to cause him to disobey God’s command by causing him to desire something which he thought might be greater than God had given to him.
Because of this, there is added the fact that man “willingly subjected himself to sin.” He was not tricked; he was not forced; he was tempted; and through this temptation he sought to attain something God had in mercy kept from him, viz., the knowledge of sin. The devil enticed him with the offer of something better, “ye shall be as gods.” Man in pride sought that, and thereby willingly rejected God and went after Satan. Through this act of disobedience, man learned to know evil. The heartache of sin and evil is written upon every page of history. The man that chooses Satan over against God delights in the evil and hates the good. This is what brings him into bondage. The terrible abyss of death becomes the lot of everyone who says “yes” to the devil and “no” to God.
Now, we can look back and see things that Adam could not understand or know. In the words of John Calvin, Institutes Book II (1), “When reflecting on what God gave us at our creation, and still continues graciously to give, we perceive how great the excellence of our nature would have been had its integrity remained, and, at the same time, remember that we have nothing of our own, but depend entirely on God from whom we hold at pleasure whatever he has seen it meet to bestow; secondly, When viewing our miserable condition since Adam’s fall, all confidence and boasting are overthrown, we blush for shame, and feel truly humble. For as God at first formed us in his own image, that he might elevate our minds to the pursuit of virtue, and the contemplation of eternal life, so to prevent us from heartlessly burying those qualities which distinguish us from the lower animals, it is of importance to know that we were endued with reason and intelligence, in order that we might cultivate a holy and honorable life, and regard a blessed immortality as our destined aim. At the same time, it is impossible to think of our primeval dignity without being immediately reminded of the sad spectacle of our ignominy and corruption, ever since we fell from our original (condition?) in the person of our first parent. In this way we feel dissatisfied with ourselves, and become truly humble, while we are inflamed with new desires to seek after God, in whom each may regain those good qualities of which all are found to be utterly destitute.” This leads us to seek salvation in Jesus Christ.
The true significance of heaven will be that we will know good and evil, only then truly as God, to know the good and love it, to know the evil and hate it. Against the background of sin and its consequence, we will enjoy the true liberty of the soul set free: not able to sin anymore, only able to serve God faithfully forever.
Our God is abundant in mercy.