Q&A: Augustine's Four-fold State of Humanity

Augustine's Four-fold State of Humanity

Would we have been better off if humanity had never fallen into sin?

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Answer

Would we have been better off if man had never fallen into sin? We have to answer in some way, yes, because man would not be subject to the depravity that now marks his very nature. Man would not have lost communion with God. Man would not have been subject to guilt and shame as a result of his sin, and man would not have been subject to physical, as well as the spiritual death, that he inherited as the result of his sin. Man passed from a state of posse non mori, "possible not to die," to a state of non posse non mori, "not possible not to die," as the result of his sin. But when we consider the states of man, I think that we need to look at Augustine and his four states, that he said that man passes through from pre-Fall to glorification. Augustine said that man before the Fall existed in a state of posse non peccare, it was "possible" for man "not to sin". After the Fall, he passes into a state of non posse non peccare, "not possible not to sin". It may be bad grammar but good theology. And at redemption, man passes into a state of posse peccare, posse non peccare, it is "possible to sin, possible not to sin". He is a new creation but, as Paul says, has that old man who does all the things that we do not want to do and doesn't do all the things that we desire to do. But at glorification, man passes into yet another state where it is non posse peccare, "not possible to sin". So in that sense, you can say that man after redemption, after glorification, is even in a better state than he was pre-Fall, because is it not possible for him to sin in his glorified state. I think though, when we come to these "what if" questions, I think we should always look at these and say that God is holy, just and good, and that whatever he brings to pass is good. As Romans 8:28 says, it is "for the good of those who have been called according to his purpose." So we have to say, in the final analysis, that whatever our state is now, it is good because a good and gracious and loving God decreed that it be so.

Answer by Dr. Jim Maples

Jim Maples is pastor at Pleasant Grove Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Pleasant Grove, Alabama and also serves on the faculty at Birmingham Theological Seminary in Birmingham, Alabama.