Vol. 2 - No. 5
Does Man Have
A Fallen Nature?
by R. L. (Bob) Craig
Alexander Campbell was a great man, as men consider greatness. He was highly educated in many secular subjects. High among these attainments was his ability in languages; English, Greek, Hebrew, Latin and perhaps others. He was a man of great courage and conviction. He became convinced that Protestant Denominationalism had lost all (if it ever had any) identity with the reformation movement. He felt that more good could be accomplished in the New World of his day (America) so he left his home and friends and took up the battle of "restoration." On that front he had, perhaps, more enemies than friends.
Especially in times gone by, some, including myself, have been stigmatized by the epithet, "Campbellite." But there are many things that Campbell taught with which I cannot agree. And, mind you, I am extremely careful in making that statement inasmuch as I do not possess the outward credentials that he had. But Campbell had an obsession and that was (from his father, Thomas) "we will speak where the Bible speaks and we will be silent where the Bible is silent." We need to remember that Campbell was trying to lead the people out of hundreds of years of spiritual darkness and he was almost alone. So, surely, he would make mistakes, just as we do even in our "enlightened" times -- but we have profited so very much by the work that he did -- and -- by the mistakes that he made.
One of his more grievous mistakes, according to my estimation, was his position on the "fallen nature of man." Not only did it cause controversy with some of the brethren of his day, it has evidently been resurrected and is causing some little stir among brethren of our day.
Campbell rejected the Calvinistic doctrine of inherent total depravity. He did not believe that man was born into the world as children of darkness, but he was close. He said, "They (those who die in infancy-RLC) are thus, innocent though they be as respects actual and personal transgression, accounted as sinners by Him who inflicts upon them the peculiar and appropriate wages of sin" (The Christian System, pg. 15).
Then he, like others I have read from in our day, tries to prove that even though Adam was perfect, when he fell his nature fell and this fallen nature was transferred to his progeny, and he misquotes to prove one of his points. He says, "Adam, we are told, after he fell, 'begat a son in his own image;' and that son was just as bad as any other son ever born into the world; for he murdered his own dear brother" (ibid. pg. 14) He was referring to Cain but the scripture quoted was concerning Seth (Genesis 5:3). But that makes little difference except to point out that when dealing with a false idea, he was, like others, not too careful with his use of scripture. This same disease overcame him in his discussions concerning "cooperation among churches" which finally re sulted in the American Christian Missionary Society.
His argument is, like some today, that Adam was made in the image of God. His nature fell and became a sinful nature (some call it Adamic nature), so when "he begat a son in his own likeness, after his image" it was a tarnished likeness, a blemished image, which he inherited from his father and we in like fashion inherit from our fathers. "Let no man open his mouth against the transmission of a moral distemper, until he satisfactorily explains the fact, that the special characteristic vices of parents appear in their children as much as the colour of their skin, their hair, or the contour of their faces." (The Christian System, pg. 15).
Well, I would say to Mr. Campbell, if he were but living, but since he is not, I would say to those who carry his torch, "Let no man take your position of inheriting a fallen or Adamic nature until he satisfactorily explains what Ezekiel was talking about in Ezekiel the eighteenth chapter. They used the proverb, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are on edge." (vs. 2) But the Lord God said, "Ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die." (vss. 3-4). Notice all the ramifications concerning that concept and finally get to verse 19: "Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live. The soul that sinneth it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him."
If you will look closely at the context you will see that the "we" of verse three is in contrast with "you" of verse one. Then we have the "we" and "you" becoming the "us" of verse six. I know that the word "us" has been added but it was added to make better sense. But even if we leave it out, we have the word "together" in the same verse. So, the "you" and "we" are now "together" in Christ. As we continue the reading, we find what it all means. "You" Gentiles and "we" Jews are now reconciled to one another and reconciled to God in one body (the church) by the cross.
Now, I think that makes verse three more understandable. The Gentiles, by their constant practice of sin, were referred to as "children of disobedience." They were rebellious to God's law. Not because they were "born in sin" nor because their "nature had fallen" but because of their conduct.
The same thing that had befallen the Gentiles had also happened to the Jews, so, they in like manner, had taken up the pursuit of sin and, by their constant practice of such, were also the "children of disobedience" like the Gentiles and the phrase "children of wrath" is used to indicate this comparison. This is the same situation Paul refers to in Romans 3:23 when he draws the conclusion "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." Their inner being, which some are calling "their nature," had not undergone change. And the reason for their sin was the same reason the Gentile sinned, the same reason Adam sinned and the same reason we sin today. (James 1:14-16; 1 John 2:15).
I think the Calvinists have the better case but theirs is based on false interpretation of Henry Thayer. "Children of wrath" would be "children of the devil." Question: how is Paul saying we become such? Is he saying that we are born as "children of wrath"? Or is he saying that by our "tendency" or "proneness" to sin we become such? Does "tendency to sin" mean that we are already children of wrath or is Paul saying that when sin becomes our custom or habit or nature by practice, that is when we become children of wrath? I'll take the latter inasmuch as that is what Ezekiel said and that is actually what Paul is saying in the context and that is what he is saying in so many other places that we would hardly have room for all of them.
No, Paul is not even talking about "our natural bent" whether fallen, Adamic, or otherwise. He is talking about our practices that cause us to become children of the Devil.
Remember, sin comes about by due process ---our own desires --- not because of a corrupted nature but because of natural appetites that we do not control -- desire developed -- sin -- death. (James 1:14-15). Our own desires or appetites --lust of the flesh, lust of the eye, and the pride or vainglory of life. This is the process that caused Adam, who was made in the image of God, to sin. That is the process by which man today, who is also made in the image of God, sins. My nature and my "tendencies" are no different from Adam's.
Campbell said, "It (the sin of Adam) was the sin of a perfect man. All other sins are the sins of sinful men." (Millennial Harbinger, vol. 1, pg. 109). That was what he taught back yonder and it was neo-Calvinism then, and he was wrong. Today, others are espousing the same concept. They, too, are just as wrong as Campbell.
I am no Campbellite!