Theories about Adam's fall

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ThomasT

Puritan Board Freshman
ThomasT,

What would be an answer you would take as a direct answer to your "Why did Adam sin?"

Suppose I were to answer, "Because Adam wanted to do what he knew he should not do."

Assuming you would then ask, "Well why did Adam want to do what he did?"

My answer would be something along the lines of...

"Adam was aware of God’s commandment at the moment he ate the forbidden fruit, Adam possessed the capacity and power to obey God’s preceptive will, for reasons sufficient to him (his self-determined inclinations at the moment) Adam wanted to eat the fruit, and Adam was not forced to eat the fruit (no violence done to his will). Thus, because Adam acted knowingly, willingly, with freedom of spontaneity, for reasons that were sufficient to him, with no violence done to his will, Adam was a free moral agent in his act of sin. In fact, given that sin begins in the mind’s choosing and not in the act, it can be said that Adam sinned before he took the first bite of the apple."

Perhaps you would then press me further asking, "Well, why did Adam want to eat of the forbidden fruit?"

I might say,
"Eve had eaten, and handed Adam the fruit with one bite taken. Neglecting his duty to his wife as her spiritual protector, being beguiled by the Temper's argument—"hath God said?"—an argument Adam considered valid through an internal defect in his understanding of what God had actually commanded, Adam acted on his inward inclinations.
"So in the final analysis, it seems to me the why comes down to Adam's mutability, he being made able to act contrarily to that which he ought to do. Blame attaches to actions, and actions are characterized by intentions. Adam was able to sin and able not to sin, but he did not yet have a sin nature. Adam's nature was not neutral. There was nothing in Adam's nature that in any way prompted him to sin. Yet Adam was not yet glorified and Adam had the capability of sinning (and did)."

Is any of the above within the realm of what you are looking for as an answer?

When you say, "for reasons sufficient to him [Adam]," you've already acknowledged the mystery I'm arguing for. If a man commits a crime, and we say that his motive consisted of reasons that were "sufficient to him," have we solved the mystery of the crime? No -- we've actually affirmed it. And in the case of Adam the mystery is far deeper, because Adam had no pre-existing set of sinful inclinations to use as a motive. The fact that Adam had the power to sin doesn't mean that he didn't also have the power not to sin. He had the power to do either. This power of his, the power of mutability, explains only the "how" of the fall, not the "why."
 

ThomasT

Puritan Board Freshman
So then your argument is God’s argument?

I gave you the Scriptural criteria for accountability, but that didn't appear to be mystifying enough.

You provided these Scriptural citations in a previous post.

1 Corinthians 2:11, "For what man knoweth the things of a man save the spirit of man which is in him?"

Romans 9:1, "I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost."

Galatians 1:20, "Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not."

All of the citations serve only to suggest that we ourselves know why we do what we do. They don't serve at all as evidence that the actions of others are never mysterious. Even the first citation, the one that seems to have the most relevance to the question of how much we can expect to know about Adam's mental state when he sinned, doesn't work for your argument. This is the same citation (1 Corinthians) in several other translations.

For who knows a person's thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. (NIV)

No one can know a person's thoughts except that person's own spirit, and no one can know God's thoughts except God's own Spirit. (NLT)

For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. (ESV)

For, among human beings, who knows a man's inner thoughts except the man's own spirit within him? In the same way, also, only God's Spirit is acquainted with God's inner thoughts. (WNT)

The passage from Corinthians not only fails to support your argument, it actually runs counter to it. (And the other two citations are barely relevant, if relevant at all, to the mystery question.) Adam had his own reasons that he and only he could tell us about. In other words, Adam's choice presents us with a mystery.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
All of the citations serve only to suggest that we ourselves know why we do what we do. They don't serve at all as evidence that the actions of others are never mysterious.

Now you are twisting what I said. I expressly stated we cannot know the hearts of others. But we are to know our own hearts. That is the office of conscience. For there to be a conscience which acts with validity it must be genuine self-conscious knowledge. But you have denied the validity of consciousness. Which means you cannot genuinely know if you have chosen or done anything. You have wrapped up human choice and action in a cloud of unknowing.
 

ThomasT

Puritan Board Freshman
All of the citations serve only to suggest that we ourselves know why we do what we do. They don't serve at all as evidence that the actions of others are never mysterious.

Now you are twisting what I said. I expressly stated we cannot know the hearts of others. But we are to know our own hearts. That is the office of conscience. For there to be a conscience which acts with validity it must be genuine self-conscious knowledge. But you have denied the validity of consciousness. Which means you cannot genuinely know if you have chosen or done anything. You have wrapped up human choice and action in a cloud of unknowing.

If we can't know the hearts of others ("we cannot know the hearts of others"), how can we proclaim that Adam's choice doesn't involve a mystery? How can we a) not know Adam's heart and b) say that Adam acted in a perfectly explicable way? How is this not a gross contradiction?
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
If we can't know the hearts of others ("we cannot know the hearts of others"), how can we proclaim that Adam's choice doesn't involve a mystery? How can we a) not know Adam's heart and b) say that Adam acted in a perfectly explicable way? How is this not a gross contradiction?

Holy scripture says that Adam disobeyed. To disobey he had to have acted rationally and voluntarily. These are the criteria necessary for accountability. We have no need to know anything else. Apart from holy Scripture we could not know that there was an Adam who disobeyed. Natural reason could not find it out. As we depend upon holy Scripture for the facts we do well to allow it to dictate the nature and limits of its own teaching.
 

rickclayfan

Puritan Board Freshman
"Everyone may err who hath not the rule of righteousness within him: and therefore it is impossible God should err, because his own will is the rule of his actions: He is every way a law unto himself.... Created creatures how perfect soever in their nature, have the will of God for their rule and law: which though it be within them, yet it is not Them, and so they may act beside it. The hand of the Artificer often fails in cutting or fashioning the work he is about, because his hand is not the rule by which he works: his hand works by a rule or line, his hand is not that rule or line, Therefore he sometimes strikes right, and sometimes strikes wrong; but if the hand of a man were the rule by which he works, then it were impossible that ever he should work amiss. Thus it is with God, the very will of God which acts, is the rule by which he acts, hence it is impossible for God to fail; Angels and men act by a rule prescribed, their will is one thing, and the rule is another; the power by which they work is one thing, and the direction by which they work is another; and therefore the most perfect creature may possibly swerve and err in acting; Only he cannot err in anything he doth, whose will is the perfect rule of all he doth."

Joseph Caryl, Practical Observations on Job, 2:140.
 

ThomasT

Puritan Board Freshman
If we can't know the hearts of others ("we cannot know the hearts of others"), how can we proclaim that Adam's choice doesn't involve a mystery? How can we a) not know Adam's heart and b) say that Adam acted in a perfectly explicable way? How is this not a gross contradiction?

Holy scripture says that Adam disobeyed. To disobey he had to have acted rationally and voluntarily. These are the criteria necessary for accountability. We have no need to know anything else. Apart from holy Scripture we could not know that there was an Adam who disobeyed. Natural reason could not find it out. As we depend upon holy Scripture for the facts we do well to allow it to dictate the nature and limits of its own teaching.


You’ve clearly staked out a comfort zone in this argument – Adam’s accountability. You want to make the point that Adam was accountable.

Yet when I accept your argument that Adam was accountable, and I then go on to ask a different question altogether (why did a being with no sinful inclination choose to sin?), you immediately fall back on accountability. It’s like asking a question about the quantum tunneling that takes place in the core of the sun and then being told, ad nauseam, that the sun rises in the east.

How is it that you fail to understand that accountability doesn’t answer the question we’re asking? Imagine if Adam had chosen not to sin – which he could have done. He’d still be just as accountable for his choice, only in this case his choice would have worked out in his favor. One can’t be accountable for a bad choice unless one is also accountable for a good one.

So if Adam was accountable for whatever his choice would have been, whether his choice was to sin or not to sin, we can’t use accountability as an explanation for his choice. We can say only that he made a choice that meets the requirements for accountability. And that by itself does nothing to answer the question we’re asking.
 

ThomasT

Puritan Board Freshman
"Everyone may err who hath not the rule of righteousness within him: and therefore it is impossible God should err, because his own will is the rule of his actions: He is every way a law unto himself.... Created creatures how perfect soever in their nature, have the will of God for their rule and law: which though it be within them, yet it is not Them, and so they may act beside it. The hand of the Artificer often fails in cutting or fashioning the work he is about, because his hand is not the rule by which he works: his hand works by a rule or line, his hand is not that rule or line, Therefore he sometimes strikes right, and sometimes strikes wrong; but if the hand of a man were the rule by which he works, then it were impossible that ever he should work amiss. Thus it is with God, the very will of God which acts, is the rule by which he acts, hence it is impossible for God to fail; Angels and men act by a rule prescribed, their will is one thing, and the rule is another; the power by which they work is one thing, and the direction by which they work is another; and therefore the most perfect creature may possibly swerve and err in acting; Only he cannot err in anything he doth, whose will is the perfect rule of all he doth."

Joseph Caryl, Practical Observations on Job, 2:140.


The fact that Adam was capable of sinning isn’t at issue; no one’s arguing against it. The disagreement is over the question of why Adam chose to sin. I’m saying the question can’t be answered; MW is saying that it can. And yet after a lengthy discussion he hasn’t told me what the answer is. He chooses instead only to reiterate what we’ve already accepted.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Yet when I accept your argument that Adam was accountable, and I then go on to ask a different question altogether (why did a being with no sinful inclination choose to sin?), you immediately fall back on accountability.

That is plainly incorrect. The earlier posts in the thread demonstrate that when you were moving your necessarian position I referred you to the freedom of will to which Adam was left, which entailed his ability to develop new inclinations. You claim to have since abandoned your necessarian position, which should mean that your necessarian "problem" with the freedom of the will has no bearing on this discussion. If you are now going to return to your necessarian position then your "problem" is of your own making, as I stated earlier. There is no reason why an individual with freedom to initiate a new course of action cannot develop new inclinations.
 

StephenG

Puritan Board Freshman
I think it is not necessarily helpful to speculate about such things. Some questions we simply need to leave unanswered, as the Word of God does not answer them. Perhaps we will know when we get to Glory.
 
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ThomasT

Puritan Board Freshman
There is no reason why an individual with freedom to initiate a new course of action cannot develop new inclinations.


Right -- but there's also no reason why the same individual can't refrain from initiating a new course of action. Adam could have (A) sinned or (B) not sinned. And when I ask you why he chose A over B, your answer is always that he had the power to choose A.

To which I always respond, "but he also had the power to choose B. So why one over the other?"

And now you: "He had the power to choose A, and he chose A."

Me: "When someone has the power to do one thing or another thing, and he does the first thing instead of the second thing, or the second thing instead of the first thing, there's always a reason for it. What was Adam's reason?"

You: "You're a necessitarian simply by virtue of asking the question."

Imagine if you were on trial for murder, and the judge said to you, "Answer my question and I'll let you go. Just answer the question and you're free. I'm in a generous mood today. Here's my question: Why did a nice sensible fellow like you murder poor Jones?"

Now if you said to the judge, "I murdered poor Jones because I had the power to do so," there's little doubt that you'd be stuck in a cage for the rest of your life. No judge on earth would regard your response as an actual answer.
 

ThomasT

Puritan Board Freshman
I think it is not necessarily helpful to speculate about such things. Some questions we simply need to leave unanswered, as the Word of God does not answer them. Perhaps we will know when we get to Glory.

You mean we should accept Adam's choice as a mystery? That's exactly what I'm arguing for on this thread. Adam's choice cannot be explained. Not everything that happens in this world allows for an explanation.
 

earl40

Puritan Board Professor
I wonder if this all comes down to the inability of people in glory to sin, based on God's promise after the fall. We will be such in glory, unlike Adam who was created with the ability to sin. Notice how God did not promise redemption till after the fall. :) Now because Jesus passed the test and achieved the spiritual goodness Adam did not achieve we will be like Jesus according to His perfect humanity, and we shall not have the ability to sin because of how far the east is from the west because of the work of Jesus.

I guess what I am getting at is man will be immutable in glory, like the man Christ Jesus, which is something Adam lacked because he was created mutable with the the ability to sin but still a naturally good human before the fall. I have no doubt God wanted Adam to become spiritually good (which he was not at the time) but because of satan tempting him and Adam choosing to follow satan instead of God the mutation toward sin began and was consummated with the eating of the fruit.
 

Ask Mr. Religion

Flatly Unflappable
I realize this will be long, but I think it bears a review.

Thornwell was Girardeau's mentor, the latter of whom took great issue with Edwards' views on concerning the will of man.

From The Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell, Volume I - Theological, Lecture X - Man (all emphasis is my own):

But it remains to be added, in order to complete the picture of man's primitive estate, that his holiness, though natural, was not indefectible. Adam was liable to fall. That man, as a creature, was necessarily mutable, in the sense that he was capable of indefinite improvement—of passing from one degree of expansion to another—is easily understood; but that a holy being should be capable of a change from the good to the bad—that he should be able to reverse the uprightness of his make, to disorder his whole inward constitution, to derange its proportions and the regulative principles of its actions—is one of the most difficult propositions that we encounter in the sphere of theology.

How could sin enter where all was right? If the understanding rejoiced in truth, the will in rectitude, and the affections in the truly beautiful and good, how could error, impurity and deformity find a lodgment within the soul? What was to suggest the thought of anything so monstrous and unnatural? It is clear that there must have been some defect in the moral state of man at his creation, in consequence of which he was liable to fall—some defect in consequence of which he might be deceived, taking falsehood for truth, and confounding the colours of good and evil.

When we speak of a defect, we do not intend to convey the notion that anything was wanting to qualify man for his destiny; but that whatever the difference is betwixt a state of confirmed holiness and a state of untried holiness, that difference was the secret of the possibility of sin; and the absence of what is implied in confirmation is a defect. It was something which man had to supply by the exercise of his own will in a course of uniform obedience to God. It is certain that no creatures, either angels or men, have been created in immutable integrity. Sin has entered into both worlds, and it is equally clear that there is a great difference betwixt beings in whom holiness has become, as it is with God, a necessity of nature, and beings who are yet capable of being blinded with error and seduced into transgression.

But are we able to say precisely what this difference is? Are we able to point out now the understanding can be deceived and the will perverted in the case of any being that possesses a sound moral and intellectual constitution? This problem, which may be called the psychological possibility of sin, is confessedly one of great difficulty. The solutions which have been attempted are unsatisfactory; either as denying some of the essential facts of the case; or postulating principles which are contradictory to consciousness; or reducing the first sin to an insignificance utterly incompatible with the Divine providence in relation to it.

The common explanation in all the orthodox creeds is, that the true ground of the solution is to be sought in the nature of the will. Man is represented as having fallen because he was left to the freedom of his own will. His transgression was voluntary, and as voluntary had to be deliberate. His sin was done on principle. It was not an accident, but a serious, solemn and deliberate rejection of the Most High as his God and portion. But this, it will be seen, is not a solution of the problem, but the statement in another form of the fact to be explained. The only approach which it makes to a genuine solution is in indicating the sphere in which the solution must be sought—the sphere of the will. There must be something in freedom before it has become necessity of nature out of which the possibility of sin can arise. We must, therefore, turn our attention to this point, and ascertain, if we can, what is the difference between freedom as necessity and freedom as the beginning of a moral career.

Freedom as necessity of nature is the highest perfection of a creature. It is the end and aim of its moral culture. When a being has the principles of rectitude so thoroughly inwrought into the whole texture of the soul, when it is so thoroughly pervaded by their presence and power, as that they constitute the life of all thought and of all determination, holiness stands in the most inseparable relation to it in which it can be conceived to stand to a creature. This is to be pre-eminently like God, who is perfect truth and perfect righteousness. This entire subjection to the law of God, in which it becomes so completely identified with ourselves that we cannot think or act in contradiction to it, is the ideal of freedom which the Scriptures propose to us as our inheritance in Christ. This is eternal life.

Now, at the commencement of a moral career, our upright constitution has not been completely identified with our personality, because it has not, in its tendencies and dispositions, been taken up by our wills and deliberately chosen and adopted. It is the determination of the will which fixes our natural dispositions as principles. When they are reviewed by the understanding and deliberately chosen by the will, they then become ours in a nearer and closer sense; they are reflectively approved, reflectively endorsed, and through that energy by which acts generate a habit they become fixed elements of our life. If such an exercise of reflection and such an act of will must supervene in order to impregnate our personality with holiness and to convert native dispositions into settled principles, it is evident that there must be in the primitive condition of a moral being occasions in which it stands face to face with its own nature and destiny, and on which it must determine whether the bent of that nature shall be followed and its true normal development promoted, or whether it shall choose against nature another course and reverse its proper destiny.

If the will has to decide the case, the issue must be made. Good and evil must stand in actual contrast, and there must be postulated under these circumstances a power—wilful, heady, perverse, yet a real power—to resist truth and duty. God gives man a constitution that points to Himself as the supreme good. He places before him the nature and consequences of evil as the contrast of the good. If man chooses the good, he fixes it in his very person; it becomes so grounded in the will that the will can never swerve from it. If he chooses the evil, he also grounds that in the will; it becomes a part of his very person; he becomes a slave, and can never more, by any power in himself, will the good or attain to it.

This I take to be the sense of the great body of the Reformed theologians, and of all the Reformed Confessions that have expressly embraced the subject. It is what Calvin means by "an indifferent and mutable will," which he attributes to man in his state of infancy. It is what the Westminster Confession means when it affirms that man had originally "freedom and power to will and to do that which is good and well pleasing to God, but yet mutably, so that he might fall from it." Turrettin resolves the first sin into the "mutability and liberty of man." "The proximate and proper cause of sin, therefore," says he, " is to be sought only in the free-will of man, who suffered himself to be deceived by the devil, and at the instigation of Satan freely revolted from God."

This account of the matter is fundamentally different from the Pelagian hypothesis of the natural indifference of the will to the distinctions of right and wrong. On the other hand, it recognizes the law of God as the normal principle of the will; it maintains, farther, that the spontaneous actions of man, all his impulses, desires and primitive volitions, were in conformity with that law. His spontaneity was all right. It was reflectively that the will renounced its law, changed its own tendencies, made out and out a new determination. The reflective man, when the ground or root of action was to be himself, perverted the spontaneous man whose ground of action was in God. The will did not first make a character, but change a character; did not first give man a moral disposition, but perverted the dispositions which God had given.

By this theory we preserve the Scripture testimony concerning man's possession of the image of God, and harmonize the malignity which the sacred writers everywhere ascribe to the first sin of the first man. To unfold the psychological process which led to such a perversion of his nature is perhaps impossible; we are not sufficiently acquainted with the mystery of the will. All that we can say is, that it possessed this power of arbitrary self-determination, in defiance of reason, conscience and nature, as an essential element of its being. We have the traces of the same power in arbitrary resistance to our own reason and conscience in many events of our present fallen condition. We have lost all holiness, but there are often cases in the ordinary sphere of our activity where our determinations seem to be obstinately wilful and capricious. They seem made only to assert our own intense egoism.

But whatever explanation may be given of the possibility of sin, we know that it now exists, and that the seeds of it were not implanted in the nature of man as he came from the hands of God. It is no normal development of his faculties or life. He has introduced it, and therefore we are compelled to say that his primitive condition, though holy and happy, was mutable. He was not established in his integrity. His noble accomplishments were contingent.

Freedom of the Will
This is one of the most difficult questions in the whole compass of Metaphysical Philosophy or Christian Theology. Its inherent difficulties have been aggravated by the ambiguities of language. All the terms which are introduced into the discussion have been so abusively employed that it is hard to fix clearly and precisely the points at issue, or to determine the exact ground which we or others actually maintain. We impose upon ourselves, as well as upon others, by the looseness of our terminology. Liberty, necessity, contingency, possibility, are all used in various senses, are applied in different relations, and without the utmost caution we are likely to embarrass ourselves by a latent confusion of these different significations.

Necessity is used metaphysically to express that the opposite of which involves a contradiction; naturally, to express the connection betwixt an effect and a cause, an antecedent and a consequent; and morally, in the twofold sense of obligation or duty, and the connection betwixt motive and volition. Liberty is used in relation to the absence of hindrance and restraint in the execution of our plans and purposes, and refers exclusively to the power of acting; or, to denote mere spontaneity—the mere activities and energies of our inner being according to their essential constitution; or, to the exclusion of a cause apart from itself in determining the decisions of the will. Contingency is used in the sense of the undesigned or accidental ; and, in the sense that another reality was at the same time producible by the same cause. The possible, again, is the metaphysical nonexistence of contradiction, or the contingent in the sense last explained.

These instances of ambiguity of language are sufficient to illustrate the nature of the difficulties upon this point.

The will is indispensable to moral agency. A being without a will cannot be the subject of rewards and punishments. Where there is no will there is no responsibility. In investigating, therefore, the freedom of the will, the conditions which a just exposition must fulfil are these:

1. Freedom as a confirmed state of holiness—an inward necessity of holiness, in which the perfection of every moral being consists, must be grounded and explained. Any account of the will which leaves the permanent states of heart of holy beings without moral significance; which deprives character and rooted habits of moral value; which attaches importance only to individual acts, and acts considered apart from their expression of inward and controlling principles, is radically defective.

2. Any account of the will which does not ground our sense of guilt, our convictions of ill-desert, and which does not show that these convictions are no lie, but the truth, is also defective. I must show that my sin is mine—that it finds its root and principle in me.

3. Hence, a just account of the will must show that God is not the author of sin. To say that He is its author is to destroy its character— it ceases to be sin altogether.

4. A just account of the will must also solve the problem of the inability, and yet of the responsibility, of the sinner—that he cannot, and yet he ought, and justly dies for not doing what he confessedly cannot do.

The fulfilling of these conditions is indispensable to a broad-sided, adequate exposition of the will. To leave out any of them is to take partial and one-sided views.

1. Tried by this standard, the theory of Arminians and Pelagians is seen to be essentially defective. Two forms of the theory—indifference and equilibrium.
(1.) These theories contradict an established holiness, and deny any moral character to the decisions of the will—they are mere caprice.
(2.) They do not account for character at all—they put morality in single acts.
(3.) They deny the sinner's helplessness and even sinfulness—the sinner is as free as the saint, the devil as the angel.

2. The theory of Edwards breaks down.
(1.) It does not explain guilt; it does not rid God of being the author of sin.
(2.) It does not explain the moral value attached to character.
(3.) This theory explains self-expression, but not self-determination. Now, a just view must show how we first determine and then habitually express ourselves. In these determinations is found the moral significance of these expressions. Otherwise my nature would be no more than the nature of a plant. Will supposes conscience and intelligence—these minister to it; the moral law—this is its standard.

3. There are two states in which man is found—a servant and a son.
The peculiarity of the servant is that his holiness is not confirmed. It exists rather as impulse than habit, and the law speaks rather with authority—sense of duty. Now, the province of the will was to determine—that is, to root and ground these principles as a fixed nature. There was power to do so. When so determined, a holy necessity would have risen as the perfection of our being.

There was also the possibility of determining otherwise—a power of perverting our nature, of determining it in another direction. The power, therefore, of determining itself in one or the other direction is the freedom of a servant preparing to become a son, and the whole of moral culture lies in the transition.

This theory explains all the phenomena, and has the additional advantage of setting in a clear light the grace of regeneration. In the moral sphere, and especially in relation to single acts, this freedom is now seen in man. It is neither necessity nor a contempt of the principle of law.
 

ThomasT

Puritan Board Freshman
To unfold the psychological process which led to such a perversion of his [Adam's] nature is perhaps impossible; we are not sufficiently acquainted with the mystery of the will.

This is quite a fine piece. Thanks for posting it; it was definitely worth the read. Thornwell’s style is wonderfully clear and precise and his arguments are compelling.

Thornwell gives us a lot to discuss, but if you don’t mind I’d like to call our attention to the fragment I’ve re-quoted here as it directly addresses the primary question this thread has been considering.

Notice that Thornwell seems to be saying exactly what I’ve been trying to say myself. Theologians can shed a great deal of light on Adam’s fall, but they can go only so far before they run up against an insurmountable wall. And of course it isn’t the task of theologians to answer every question we might conjure up. Rather their job is to know when we face a mystery and then to acknowledge it as a mystery without pretending that the mystery is a spurious one.
 

Ask Mr. Religion

Flatly Unflappable
To unfold the psychological process which led to such a perversion of his [Adam's] nature is perhaps impossible; we are not sufficiently acquainted with the mystery of the will.

This is quite a fine piece. Thanks for posting it; it was definitely worth the read. Thornwell’s style is wonderfully clear and precise and his arguments are compelling.

Thornwell gives us a lot to discuss, but if you don’t mind I’d like to call our attention to the fragment I’ve re-quoted here as it directly addresses the primary question this thread has been considering.

Notice that Thornwell seems to be saying exactly what I’ve been trying to say myself. Theologians can shed a great deal of light on Adam’s fall, but they can go only so far before they run up against an insurmountable wall. And of course it isn’t the task of theologians to answer every question we might conjure up. Rather their job is to know when we face a mystery and then to acknowledge it as a mystery without pretending that the mystery is a spurious one.
We do have Thornwell's view that speaks to the "why" of the matter:

All that we can say is, that it possessed this power of arbitrary self-determination, in defiance of reason, conscience and nature, as an essential element of its being.

Adam, per Thornwell, possessed the ability of contrary choice.Unless I am misreading, Rev. Winzer, this has been his position throughout the discussion. That seems a sufficient answer beyond which we have no warrant to pursue. Absence of warrant is not necessarily an assignment to mystery. I may have missed it, but I have not found the word "spurious" used in response to you anywhere in this thread.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Mystery exists because the finite cannot contain the infinite. In a proper sense all of life is a mystery because it is a gift of God which He has freely purposed for His own glory. The power to will is a gift of God and in that sense is a mystery, but that is all. The actual exercise of our human capacities cannot be a mystery to us because they are our own limited capacities upon which we are given the power of self-reflection. If any person claims to be a mystery to himself it is only because he has failed to reflect on himself and call himself to account for the exercise of his human capacities, and this is properly called wilful ignorance. If there were a genuine mystery at this point it would make the person more than human, something greater than he actually is; and this in turn can only lead to superstition, which draws away from the true and humble fear of the only true and living God.

Adam was under probation. He could refrain from eating the tree, but this itself entailed a self-determining choice in which God was avouched as his supreme good and implicit submission was given to God as his life-giver and law-giver. The tree itself was a test which would progress Adam's character in one direction or another. He could not remain indifferent to this test and simply refrain from the forbidden fruit. The act of refraining required an act of deliberation and determination. If it were otherwise the divine prohibition would have served no purpose.

As for actual rationale behind Adam's choice, it is given in the words of the tempter, and is confirmed in God's own summation of Adam's state after he had eaten of the fruit. Ye shall be as gods knowing good and evil. The man has become as one of us to know good and evil. The rational motive was self-deification, with the power to choose for himself what was good and evil, and a belief that his own life could be sustained and promoted on this basis.

That is the actual rationale; but this discussion is not concerned with the actual rationale behind his choice, but with how an upright man could make such a sinful choice. And that can only be explained if one accepts that the power of free will included the ability to choose something which was contrary to the state in which he was made. That is, that he had a rational and voluntary power to change. The fall of Adam itself proves this ability. To deny that Adam had this ability is to cast doubt on the fact that an upright man actually fell. "Problems" and "mysteries" only arise when the biblical account is not permitted to speak for itself and stand on its own authority.
 
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ThomasT

Puritan Board Freshman
We do have Thornwell's view that speaks to the "why" of the matter:

All that we can say is, that it possessed this power of arbitrary self-determination, in defiance of reason, conscience and nature, as an essential element of its being.

Adam, per Thornwell, possessed the ability of contrary choice.Unless I am misreading, Rev. Winzer, this has been his position throughout the discussion. That seems a sufficient answer beyond which we have no warrant to pursue. Absence of warrant is not necessarily an assignment to mystery. I may have missed it, but I have not found the word "spurious" used in response to you anywhere in this thread.

Thornwell answers a lot of questions, but he also admits (to his credit) that there’s at least one question he (and we) can’t answer. He singles out this question in order to identify it as a mystery. And this particular mystery happens to be the mystery I’ve been discussing. He states emphatically that a particular component of Adam’s fall – Adam’s use of his mind and will as tools of his own corruption – is “perhaps impossible” to understand.

Do you disagree with Thornwell? Do you believe that we possess an understanding of the “psychological process which led to such a perversion of [Adam's] nature”?
 

ThomasT

Puritan Board Freshman
As for actual rationale behind Adam's choice, it is given in the words of the tempter, and is confirmed in God's own summation of Adam's state after he had eaten of the fruit. Ye shall be as gods knowing good and evil. The man has become as one of us to know good and evil. The rational motive was self-deification, with the power to choose for himself what was good and evil, and a belief that his own life could be sustained and promoted on this basis.

That is the actual rationale; but this discussion is not concerned with the actual rationale behind his choice, but with how an upright man could make such a sinful choice. And that can only be explained if one accepts that the power of free will included the ability to choose something which was contrary to the state in which he was made. That is, that he had a rational and voluntary power to change. The fall of Adam itself proves this ability. To deny that Adam had this ability is to cast doubt on the fact that an upright man actually fell. "Problems" and "mysteries" only arise when the biblical account is not permitted to speak for itself and stand on its own authority.

To identify a rational motive for Adam’s choice doesn't answer our question. Adam could have just as easily chosen not to pursue self-deification. We’re asking why he chose one thing over another.

You’re eager to limit this discussion, apparently, to the question of how Adam made the choice he did. But that isn’t the question I’m asking. As I said earlier in my posts, you’ve been responding to the question I’m asking by turning me into a straw man who asks the questions you’d prefer I ask and then answering only those.

You also seem to think that if we admit that a mystery lies at the heart of Adam’s choice, we’re over-turning the whole system we use to explain the fall. But this is a needless concern. No theological system is supposed to answer every question that occurs to us.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
You’re eager to limit this discussion, apparently, to the question of how Adam made the choice he did. But that isn’t the question I’m asking. As I said earlier in my posts, you’ve been responding to the question I’m asking by turning me into a straw man who asks the questions you’d prefer I ask and then answering only those.

Clearly this discussion is a waste of time.
 

ThomasT

Puritan Board Freshman
You’re eager to limit this discussion, apparently, to the question of how Adam made the choice he did. But that isn’t the question I’m asking. As I said earlier in my posts, you’ve been responding to the question I’m asking by turning me into a straw man who asks the questions you’d prefer I ask and then answering only those.

Clearly this discussion is a waste of time.

Not at all. If nothing else, our discussion has shown us the limits of your canned theological formulations.
 

Alex the Less

Puritan Board Freshman
Excellent Analysis

Mystery exists because the finite cannot contain the infinite. In a proper sense all of life is a mystery because it is a gift of God which He has freely purposed for His own glory. The power to will is a gift of God and in that sense is a mystery, but that is all. The actual exercise of our human capacities cannot be a mystery to us because they are our own limited capacities upon which we are given the power of self-reflection. If any person claims to be a mystery to himself it is only because he has failed to reflect on himself and call himself to account for the exercise of his human capacities, and this is properly called wilful ignorance. If there were a genuine mystery at this point it would make the person more than human, something greater than he actually is; and this in turn can only lead to superstition, which draws away from the true and humble fear of the only true and living God.

Adam was under probation. He could refrain from eating the tree, but this itself entailed a self-determining choice in which God was avouched as his supreme good and implicit submission was given to God as his life-giver and law-giver. The tree itself was a test which would progress Adam's character in one direction or another. He could not remain indifferent to this test and simply refrain from the forbidden fruit. The act of refraining required an act of deliberation and determination. If it were otherwise the divine prohibition would have served no purpose.

As for actual rationale behind Adam's choice, it is given in the words of the tempter, and is confirmed in God's own summation of Adam's state after he had eaten of the fruit. Ye shall be as gods knowing good and evil. The man has become as one of us to know good and evil. The rational motive was self-deification, with the power to choose for himself what was good and evil, and a belief that his own life could be sustained and promoted on this basis.

That is the actual rationale; but this discussion is not concerned with the actual rationale behind his choice, but with how an upright man could make such a sinful choice. And that can only be explained if one accepts that the power of free will included the ability to choose something which was contrary to the state in which he was made. That is, that he had a rational and voluntary power to change. The fall of Adam itself proves this ability. To deny that Adam had this ability is to cast doubt on the fact that an upright man actually fell. "Problems" and "mysteries" only arise when the biblical account is not permitted to speak for itself and stand on its own authority.

Thank you Rev. Winzer for this post. You have comprehensively answered your interlocutor and have helped me formulate the Fall better in my own thinking. Yes, this discussion is a waste of time, but thank you for this post. I suppose I could have arrived at the same place of having your analysis by starting my own thread, but that is how it goes sometimes (I am not saying it is worth pursuing fruitless discussions, but that I am thankful when profitable thoughts are expressed).
 

Ask Mr. Religion

Flatly Unflappable
We do have Thornwell's view that speaks to the "why" of the matter:

All that we can say is, that it possessed this power of arbitrary self-determination, in defiance of reason, conscience and nature, as an essential element of its being.

Adam, per Thornwell, possessed the ability of contrary choice.Unless I am misreading, Rev. Winzer, this has been his position throughout the discussion. That seems a sufficient answer beyond which we have no warrant to pursue. Absence of warrant is not necessarily an assignment to mystery. I may have missed it, but I have not found the word "spurious" used in response to you anywhere in this thread.

Thornwell answers a lot of questions, but he also admits (to his credit) that there’s at least one question he (and we) can’t answer. He singles out this question in order to identify it as a mystery. And this particular mystery happens to be the mystery I’ve been discussing. He states emphatically that a particular component of Adam’s fall – Adam’s use of his mind and will as tools of his own corruption – is “perhaps impossible” to understand.

Do you disagree with Thornwell? Do you believe that we possess an understanding of the “psychological process which led to such a perversion of [Adam's] nature”?
I agree with Thornwell. The more full quote you have lifted includes the following from your partial quote:

"The solutions which have been attempted are unsatisfactory; either as denying some of the essential facts of the case; or postulating principles which are contradictory to consciousness; or reducing the first sin to an insignificance utterly incompatible with the Divine providence in relation to it."

Thornwell then goes on to treat the matter, disposing of the unsatisfactory attempted solutions, especially in noting Adam's possession of the power of arbitrary self-determination, said power being in defiance of reason, conscience, and nature. Thornwell's draws our attention to the matter:

There must be something in freedom before it has become necessity of nature out of which the possibility of sin can arise. We must, therefore, turn our attention to this point, and ascertain, if we can, what is the difference between freedom as necessity and freedom as the beginning of a moral career.

If the will has to decide the case, the issue must be made. Good and evil must stand in actual contrast, and
there must be postulated under these circumstances a power—wilful, heady, perverse, yet a real power—to resist truth and duty. God gives man a constitution that points to Himself as the supreme good. He places before him the nature and consequences of evil as the contrast of the good. If man chooses the good, he fixes it in his very person; it becomes so grounded in the will that the will can never swerve from it. If he chooses the evil, he also grounds that in the will; it becomes a part of his very person; he becomes a slave, and can never more, by any power in himself, will the good or attain to it.

Thornwell affirms Calvin and the Confessional view"

"It is what Calvin means by "an indifferent and mutable will," which he attributes to man in his state of infancy. It is what the Westminster Confession means when it affirms that man had originally "freedom and power to will and to do that which is good and well pleasing to God, but yet mutably, so that he might fall from it." Turrettin resolves the first sin into the "mutability and liberty of man." "The proximate and proper cause of sin, therefore," says he, " is to be sought only in the free-will of man, who suffered himself to be deceived by the devil, and at the instigation of Satan freely revolted from God." "

Thornwell notes that it was reflectively that Adam's will renounced its law, changed its own tendencies, made out and out a new determination. The reflective man, when the ground or root of action was to be himself, perverted the spontaneous man whose ground of action was in God. The will did not first make a character, but change a character; did not first give man a moral disposition, but perverted the dispositions which God had given.

Thornwell notes that it was Adam that introduced the possibility of sin, and therefore we are compelled to say that Adam's primitive condition, though holy and happy, was mutable. Adam was not established in his integrity. Adam's noble accomplishments were contingent. Accordingly, Adam possessed the possibility of determining otherwise—a power of perverting his, and therefore, our nature, of determining it in another direction.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Thank you Rev. Winzer for this post. You have comprehensively answered your interlocutor and have helped me formulate the Fall better in my own thinking. Yes, this discussion is a waste of time, but thank you for this post. I suppose I could have arrived at the same place of having your analysis by starting my own thread, but that is how it goes sometimes (I am not saying it is worth pursuing fruitless discussions, but that I am thankful when profitable thoughts are expressed).

Alex, It is good to know something positive came out of it. Thankyou for the encouragement.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Not at all. If nothing else, our discussion has shown us the limits of your canned theological formulations.

Your refusal to permit anything positive in answer to your OP is what makes this discussion a waste of time. I leave it there.
 

ThomasT

Puritan Board Freshman
We do have Thornwell's view that speaks to the "why" of the matter:

All that we can say is, that it possessed this power of arbitrary self-determination, in defiance of reason, conscience and nature, as an essential element of its being.

Adam, per Thornwell, possessed the ability of contrary choice.Unless I am misreading, Rev. Winzer, this has been his position throughout the discussion. That seems a sufficient answer beyond which we have no warrant to pursue. Absence of warrant is not necessarily an assignment to mystery. I may have missed it, but I have not found the word "spurious" used in response to you anywhere in this thread.

Thornwell answers a lot of questions, but he also admits (to his credit) that there’s at least one question he (and we) can’t answer. He singles out this question in order to identify it as a mystery. And this particular mystery happens to be the mystery I’ve been discussing. He states emphatically that a particular component of Adam’s fall – Adam’s use of his mind and will as tools of his own corruption – is “perhaps impossible” to understand.

Do you disagree with Thornwell? Do you believe that we possess an understanding of the “psychological process which led to such a perversion of [Adam's] nature”?
I agree with Thornwell. The more full quote you have lifted includes the following from your partial quote:

"The solutions which have been attempted are unsatisfactory; either as denying some of the essential facts of the case; or postulating principles which are contradictory to consciousness; or reducing the first sin to an insignificance utterly incompatible with the Divine providence in relation to it."

Thornwell then goes on to treat the matter, disposing of the unsatisfactory attempted solutions, especially in noting Adam's possession of the power of arbitrary self-determination, said power being in defiance of reason, conscience, and nature. Thornwell's draws our attention to the matter:

There must be something in freedom before it has become necessity of nature out of which the possibility of sin can arise. We must, therefore, turn our attention to this point, and ascertain, if we can, what is the difference between freedom as necessity and freedom as the beginning of a moral career.

If the will has to decide the case, the issue must be made. Good and evil must stand in actual contrast, and
there must be postulated under these circumstances a power—wilful, heady, perverse, yet a real power—to resist truth and duty. God gives man a constitution that points to Himself as the supreme good. He places before him the nature and consequences of evil as the contrast of the good. If man chooses the good, he fixes it in his very person; it becomes so grounded in the will that the will can never swerve from it. If he chooses the evil, he also grounds that in the will; it becomes a part of his very person; he becomes a slave, and can never more, by any power in himself, will the good or attain to it.

Thornwell affirms Calvin and the Confessional view"

"It is what Calvin means by "an indifferent and mutable will," which he attributes to man in his state of infancy. It is what the Westminster Confession means when it affirms that man had originally "freedom and power to will and to do that which is good and well pleasing to God, but yet mutably, so that he might fall from it." Turrettin resolves the first sin into the "mutability and liberty of man." "The proximate and proper cause of sin, therefore," says he, " is to be sought only in the free-will of man, who suffered himself to be deceived by the devil, and at the instigation of Satan freely revolted from God." "

Thornwell notes that it was reflectively that Adam's will renounced its law, changed its own tendencies, made out and out a new determination. The reflective man, when the ground or root of action was to be himself, perverted the spontaneous man whose ground of action was in God. The will did not first make a character, but change a character; did not first give man a moral disposition, but perverted the dispositions which God had given.

Thornwell notes that it was Adam that introduced the possibility of sin, and therefore we are compelled to say that Adam's primitive condition, though holy and happy, was mutable. Adam was not established in his integrity. Adam's noble accomplishments were contingent. Accordingly, Adam possessed the possibility of determining otherwise—a power of perverting his, and therefore, our nature, of determining it in another direction.

I have no objection to anything you've quoted in your last post. As I said earlier, I liked Thornwell's essay. (For some reason both you and MW seem to think that I'm arguing against mutability, freedom, and accountability even though I've stated over and over again that I'm not. I think I'm stuck with being a necessitarian no matter what I say. I guess it could be worse.)

Anyway, I have one question for you. Thornwell describes a particular aspect of Adam's fall as being "perhaps impossible" to understand. At no point in the essay does he then go on to say that he's now figured out what he previously considered to be inexplicable. He leaves this thing as a mystery and then proceeds to talk about other things (freedom, accountability, mutability -- the things you won't let me sign on to).

So here's my question: What did Thornwell mean by an element of Adam's fall being "perhaps impossible" to understand? What aspect of the fall was he talking about?
 

Ask Mr. Religion

Flatly Unflappable
So here's my question: What did Thornwell mean by an element of Adam's fall being "perhaps impossible" to understand? What aspect of the fall was he talking about?
I could only speculate. In Lecture XII, The Covenant of Works, (op. cit.) Thornwell offers more insights related to the essence of his earlier discussion:

The First Sin


There are three points to be considered—
I. What was the formal nature of the sin?
II. How it was possible that a holy being could sin.
III. The consequences of this sin.

I. What was the formal nature of the sin?—that is, what was the root of it? Was it pride? Was it unbelief?
1. It was a complicated sin; it included in it the spirit of disobedience to the whole law.
2. It was aggravated—(1) by the person; (2) by his relations to God; (3) by the nature of the act; (4) by its consequences.
3. The germ of it was estrangement from God, which is radically unbelief. It was an apostasy, which in falling away from God set up the creature as the good.

II. How could a holy being sin?
1. We must not lower the account so as to remove difficulties. Many make it the growth of an infant to maturity, having its powers quickened by errors and mistakes.
2. Others make it allegorical, representing the conflict of sense and reason. This is contradicted by the narrative. Intellect is prominent in the cause of sin. Eve desired wisdom.
3. Others make it an apologue intended to illustrate the change from primitive simplicity.
4. Others, as Knapp, make the thing venial, but degrade the meaning to physical phenomena.
5. We must regard it as the natural history of sin—the manner in which it was introduced into our world.
6. It is not enough to say that man was mutable; that explains the possibility, but not the immediate cause of sin.
(1.) It was owing to temptation. Here explain the nature of temptation.
(2.) Desires might be excited, in themselves innocent, accidentally wrong.
(3.) The general principle of virtue—Watch. Here was the first slip. Desires produced inattention to the circumstances under which they might be indulged; here was a renunciation of the supreme authority of God. Want of thought, want of reflection.
(4.) These desires, by dwelling upon the objects, engross the mind and become inflamed. They become the good of the soul. Here was the renunciation of God as the good. They prevail upon the will and the act is consummated.

III. Consequences—immediate and remote.
1. Shame and remorse.
2. Loss of the image of God. This a penal visitation. Not the mere force of habit.​

Perhaps Thornwell had in mind the difficulty of explaining how Adam's desires lacked the proper thought and reflection upon the circumstances under which he might indulge his desires. Or, even better, the difficulty in explaining how Adam's mind became engrossed and inflamed such that the true good was supplanted by something else.
 
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ThomasT

Puritan Board Freshman
So here's my question: What did Thornwell mean by an element of Adam's fall being "perhaps impossible" to understand? What aspect of the fall was he talking about?
I could only speculate. In Lecture XII, The Covenant of Works, (op. cit.) Thornwell offers more insights related to the essence of his earlier discussion:

The First Sin


There are three points to be considered—
I. What was the formal nature of the sin?
II. How it was possible that a holy being could sin.
III. The consequences of this sin.

I. What was the formal nature of the sin?—that is, what was the root of it? Was it pride? Was it unbelief?
1. It was a complicated sin; it included in it the spirit of disobedience to the whole law.
2. It was aggravated—(1) by the person; (2) by his relations to God; (3) by the nature of the act; (4) by its consequences.
3. The germ of it was estrangement from God, which is radically unbelief. It was an apostasy, which in falling away from God set up the creature as the good.

II. How could a holy being sin?
1. We must not lower the account so as to remove difficulties. Many make it the growth of an infant to maturity, having its powers quickened by errors and mistakes.
2. Others make it allegorical, representing the conflict of sense and reason. This is contradicted by the narrative. Intellect is prominent in the cause of sin. Eve desired wisdom.
3. Others make it an apologue intended to illustrate the change from primitive simplicity.
4. Others, as Knapp, make the thing venial, but degrade the meaning to physical phenomena.
5. We must regard it as the natural history of sin—the manner in which it was introduced into our world.
6. It is not enough to say that man was mutable; that explains the possibility, but not the immediate cause of sin.
(1.) It was owing to temptation. Here explain the nature of temptation.
(2.) Desires might be excited, in themselves innocent, accidentally wrong.
(3.) The general principle of virtue—Watch. Here was the first slip. Desires produced inattention to the circumstances under which they might be indulged; here was a renunciation of the supreme authority of God. Want of thought, want of reflection.
(4.) These desires, by dwelling upon the objects, engross the mind and become inflamed. They become the good of the soul. Here was the renunciation of God as the good. They prevail upon the will and the act is consummated.

III. Consequences—immediate and remote.
1. Shame and remorse.
2. Loss of the image of God. This a penal visitation. Not the mere force of habit.​

Perhaps Thornwell had in mind the difficulty of explaining how Adam's desires lacked the proper thought and reflection upon the circumstances under which he might indulge his desires. Or, even better, the difficulty in explaining how Adam's mind became engrossed and inflamed such that the true good was supplanted by something else.

I think that the two hypotheticals you’ve offered are probably, absent any other commentary Thornwell may have made, the closest we can hope to come to identifying what Thornwell meant by the “psychological processes” that led to Adam’s fall.

So can we reach any conclusions here regarding the larger discussion we’ve been having? I think we can. Thornwell is arguing from the distant to the immediate, or rather to the nearly immediate. He says that mutability made Adam’s fall merely possible (a point I’ve emphasized many times on this thread as well) and that mutability doesn’t give us an “immediate cause.”

He then identifies temptation as the thing to which the immediate cause is “owing to,” but he doesn’t identify temptation as the cause itself (otherwise Adam would have no freedom). In attempting to move closer to the immediate cause we’re seeking, he resorts to a kind of reasoned conjecture: desires being excited, the mind now under the influence of excited desires not making a proper distinction between desire for divinity in one set of circumstances and the same desire under another set. Etc.

But as your earlier Thornwell quote suggests, Thornwell doesn’t pretend to know what actually took place in Adam’s mind to make his inflamed and misplaced desire gain the assent of his will. (Thornwell talks about the “mystery of the will.”) And it is here, just when we seem poised to answer the question of immediate cause, that Thornwell declares we’ve gone as far as we can go – we’ve reached a question “perhaps impossible” to answer.

So we can safely conclude, I think, that according to Thornwell, the true beginning of Adam’s corruption, the moment when sin was conceived in Adam’s soul, is covered by an impenetrable veil. And I think we have to grant as well that this immediate cause, this moment of conception, isn’t a peripheral question – it isn’t like asking what Adam had for breakfast the day he sinned. It’s an essential question, meaning that without this immediate cause there would have been no sin. We may not need to know what this immediate cause is, and the doctrines of mutability and freedom may not be threatened by it, but it’s an essential question nonetheless.

And again, it’s a question that Thornwell says we haven’t answered and probably can’t answer. Which makes it by definition a mystery. And that’s the proposition I’ve been arguing for.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
And that’s the proposition I’ve been arguing for.

Although I expect this will be regarded as another straw man, the fact is that Thornwell explicitly rejects your "mystery." In your OP you stated, "The key problem is that Calvinism teaches that any person not acting from external force can only will to do what is in his nature to do." This is the problem as you stated it. Thornwell rejected this teaching. He stated, "It is the determination of the will which fixes our natural dispositions as principles." Again, when he says, "we are not sufficiently acquainted with the mystery of the will," he immediately follows it with the affirmation, "All that we can say is, that it possessed this power of arbitrary self-determination, in defiance of reason, conscience and nature, as an essential element of its being." So your "mystery" is based on a view of human nature which Thornwell rejected.
 
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