It is commonly believed Adam had a freewill. That is really nothing unusual. It is vogue to believe everyone else has a free will too. With regard to Adam, the general view of Genesis is that God created the first man sinless, and placed him in the garden of Eden. He bestowed upon him something He did not give to any of His other creatures. That gift was free choice. God loved Adam. The Lord "wanted" Adam's love in return, but the Lord did not "want" to force Adam to obey Him. God provided a test for the man. He gave him a commandment "to see" whether or not he would obey Him. Adam, through Satan's temptation, broke the law, and plunged the human family tragically into sin and eternal death. With little variance, this is the modern way Scripture is generally interpreted.
Ask any proponent of the free will system which part of the Genesis account teaches Adam possessed a free will and he will invariably refer to those verses which deal with God's order that man was not to eat of "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." (Gen.2:17) It is taken for granted that where there is a law, there must also be a free will. A law forces those placed under the law to make a choice between at least two alternative courses. They may obey the order or they may disobey it. It is considered incompatible with every rule of logic to suppose that God gave Adam a commandment, but, at the same time, did not give him the absolute free choice to decide what path he would follow.
In reply to this assumption, let us make the following observations:
FIRST, although we admit that obligating a person to a law does set before him at least two possible courses of action, we do not admit that it follows that he is absolutely guaranteed the ability to perform the order he is given. For example, a man may be ordered to pay back his debts. Such an order in no way insures his ability to do so. It may be, he does not have the means to do SO. We can think of many instances in which people are told to do what they cannot do. Free will, therefore, does not necessarily follow from the fact that laws are given. Look at it also from the other side. One of the salient points of the "free will" doctrine is that ONLY man has the freedom of choice. But this obviously cannot be true if we allow the doctrine of the inseparable connection between law and free choice. Animals are given commandments too. For example, an owner may order his dog to come to him, or to sit, or to stop barking. If we grant the free will assumption concerning the law, do we nor also have to allow that pets have free will too? These thoughts may not disprove that Adam had a free will. However, we hope they are cogent enough to suggest that his "free will" cannot be assumed from the mere fact he was placed under a law.
SECOND, it is simply untrue to hold that commandments enhances the freedom of the will. The plain fact is, they have the opposite affect, because, laws by nature, restrict conduct. They either tell you what you CANNOT do or else they tell you what you MUST do. To the degree that you are without laws, to that same degree you have freedom to do as you wish. How anyone can argue that laws enhance free will is difficult to understand.
FINALLY, with regard to what the book of Genesis teaches, it must be observed that those verses which record that Adam was placed under a law do not allow for the possibility he would keep the commandment, but rather those passages clearly FORETELL the fact he would break the commandment. When the Lord told man he was not to eat "of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil", He also declared to him, "for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." (Gen. 2:17) Therefore, God was not warning Adam what would happen to him IF he ate of the tree, but He was foretelling what would happen to him WHEN he ate of the tree. In that God plainly declared that Adam would fall, how could it be argued Adam might not have fallen? A specifically determined course had to follow from the Lord's declaration. If Adam did not sin, God's statement would have been false. For our part, we would rather uphold the veracity of God than the "free moral agency of man."
The argument that man had a free will cannot be supported by the fact that God gave him a law. Neither logic nor Scripture will support it.
The first few chapters of Genesis do tell us that Adam lacked something, which, we believe, leads to the natural conclusion that he did not have free will. What Adam lacked was the capacity to discern between good and evil. Without this ability, it is ludicrous to argue free will. Consider the following:
There were many trees in the garden of Eden; yet the Scripture focuses particular attention upon only two. One was the "tree of life." God kept our first parents from this tree after they fell into sin. The other tree was the "tree of knowledge of good and evil." Of this tree, God declared: "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." (Gen. 2:16-17) This tree was called the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" because man would gain the knowledge of good and evil by partaking of its fruit. Before they ate of it, they did not have the knowledge of good and evil. Consider their condition before they broke the law: "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed." (Gen. 2:25) Consider what would occur to them when they ate of its fruit. The Serpent said to Eve: "For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." (Gen. 3:5) Also Eve observed that the tree was "a tree to be desired to make one wise." (Gen.3:6) Consider the change in their condition after they ate of the tree: "And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons." (Gen.3:7) Finally, God Himself observed: "Behold, the Man is become as one of us, to know good and evil." (Gen. 3:22)
It should be clear from these passages that Adam certainly was not created with the ability to decide between good and evil. How can anyone effectively argue he was made a "free moral agent", when, in fact, he was so clothed with a child-like innocency so that he could not discern between good and evil? This was Adam's condition from the time he was created until he sinned. Therefore, the whole view that Adam was made a "free moral agent" cannot be sustained by the Scriptures.
( * "Free moral agency" is neither a term used in the Scripture nor is it a term defined in a dictionary. Proponents of the "free will" system use the phrase with reference to their belief man has a high enough level of freedom so that he can choose between right and wrong, good and evil, light and darkness, truth and error, heaven and hell, God or Satan.)
Let us make one concluding point. Although this article deals with Adam and free will, something also needs to be briefly said about fallen mankind and free will. Our argument that Adam did not originally possess a free will because he did not have the capacity to distinguish between good and evil can in no way be used to support the view men today have free will, since, through Adam, they gained the knowledge of good and evil. They still do not possess it even though the reason for not having it is different. The human family now does not have free will because every part of Adam's race is sinful (Rom.3:23) and consequently made servants (slaves) to sin. (John 8:34) A slave is certainly not free. Only by the intervention of Christ, the Lord, are unholy men set free from the bondage of sin. The salvation of wretched sinners is not the work of man's free will, but it is the work of Sovereign Grace. We love to sing:
"Triumphant grace, and man's free will
Shall not divide the throne;
For man's a fallen sinner still,
And Christ shall reign alone."
Elder David Mattingly