In reviewing J Thomas’ writings on Adam before the fall, LG Sargent emphatically concluded Adam was made mortal and reconciled this with Bro Thomas’ teachings (although his fate was uncertain – a position I agree with). This positions was stated in 1941 and restated in 1969. His 1941 article is reproduced below: IT is the teaching of Dr. Thomas in Elpis Israel that Adam before the fall was capable of death, but not subject to death: and in that we believe he faithfully and logically interprets Scripture.
Adam was created “very good”, possessed of free will, and with the opportunity to gain the gift of immortality by using that free will to render obedience. The alternatives set before him were to gain an incorruptible life, or to be made subject to corruption and death. It is a platitude to say that his will would not have been free unless he could use it to disobey instead of to obey; and as God could not suffer an undying sinner, the man who was capable of a fall must also be capable of death. The possession of freewill involved the possibility of death; and therefore man in his innocence was bound to be of a nature from which death was not excluded.
But he was not so made that he would “surely die”; he was not destined to death, a subject under the reign of King Death, living under that despot’s inexorable law. All this he became when—and only when—he incurred the penalty of the law of Eden: “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die”; and when under that law sentence was passed: “Dust thou art, unto dust shalt thou return”. Then death became a certainty, where before it had been a possibility: “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin”. Those words are in the first place a statement of the course of events. Previously there had not been death in the world, not because it could not come, but that as a matter of historical fact it did not. And, again as an historical fact, death now entered upon the scene. But something more is involved than the bare succession of events, because death followed in on the heels of sin: it came as a consequence of sin—a consequence not only inherent in the nature of things, but declared by God’s express decree. Therefore, from the point where the sentence was passed on Adam, death did not merely enter the world’s stage, but “death reigned”; it became lord over the first pair and all their posterity: from its realm there is no escape, and its rule and law is the rule of corruption in human nature.
This is in substance the meaning which a fair-minded reader will gather from Elpis Israel. But it must be admitted that the language in which Dr. Thomas clothes his meaning is not free from difficulty. He writes, for instance: “The animal nature will sooner or later dissolve. It was not constituted so as to continue in life for ever, independent of any further modification”. That is clear and precise. But he continues: “We may admit, therefore, the corruptibility, and consequent mortality, of their nature, without saying that they were mortal”. That sentence, which amounts to saying that they were in the nature of mortality but not mortal, would be easy game for a captious critic
The difficulty arises not from any lack of essential clarity in Dr. Thomas’s thought, but from an ambiguity in the term “mortal”. The word “immortal” is taken to mean “incapable of death”; and “mortal” might be expected to mean its simple opposite, “capable of death”: whereas in fact it is used in the sense of “subject to death, destined to die”—a more restricted meaning which has the support of dictionaries.
It was owing to this ambiguity that Dr. Thomas could write: “But, if they were not mortal in their novitiate, it is also true that they were not immortal. To say that immortals were expelled from the garden of Eden, that they might not live for ever by eating of the tree, is absurd”. It is indeed. He then continues cogently: “The truth is in few words, man was created with a nature endued with certain susceptibilities. He was capable of death; and capable of endless life; but, whether he should merge into mortality; or, by a physical change be clothed with immortality, was predicated on his choosing to do good or evil. Capacity must not be confounded with impletion”.
The bare terms, stripped of the qualifying and amplifying phrases with which Dr. Thomas defines his meaning, have sometimes been thrown into the bald proposition that “Adam before the fall was neither mortal nor immortal”; which (to quote Euclid and Dr. Thomas) is absurd. A thing is either X or not-X: there can be no “neutral” position between. A man cannot be neither mortal nor not-mortal; and he cannot be neither not-mortal nor not-not-mortal. A thing is either black or not black, white or not white; it is either in the class of objects which have in common the quality of blackness, or it is in the class “not-black” which includes every other kind of colour, shade or tone. But it must come in one class or the other: there can be no neutral position between those two classes.
If, then, we take “immortal” to mean “incapable of dying” (as Dr. Thomas does in the passage quoted), we must say that Adam in his novitiate was not incapable of dying, therefore capable of dying, and therefore “mortal” as a simple antithesis to immortal, and using the widest sense of an ambiguous term. There is a class, “incapable of dying”; all not included in it must be included in the class “capable of dying”; but the latter class may be divided into two sections: (A) those in whom death is only a capacity—a latent capacity, as we might say; and (B) those in whom it is an active condition. Both are included in one wide classification, “not-immortal”: but it is the sub-class in whom death is an active principle who are, on a stricter definition of terms, called “mortal”, because they are “subject to death, destined to die”. Adam was always within the class, “capable of death”, but on the sentence of God he passed from the sub-class in whom it is a latent capacity to the sub-class who are actively subject to corruption as a law of their being; and in that class all his posterity have remained—all save One, who has been “made perfect”.
This has not been written with any desire for hair-splitting definitions: but where an ambiguity in terms exists an effort should be made to clear it up for the sake of clearness of thought: and it is well that the ambiguous terms should be substituted by others in which ambiguity is avoided. This is a valuable step towards avoiding “strife about words to no profit”. If we are led by words, they are our masters instead of our servants: they become tyrants, driving us as conscripts headlong into their own wordy wars: and this has been at least an element in some of our past controversies. When we define them so as to remove ambiguities, we make them our servants: we limit their scope and power, and bring them under our dominion instead of ourselves being under theirs. And we remove much of the cause of mere logomachy.
Sargent “Adam in Innocence” The Christadelphian Vol 78, page 12-14 (1941)
Sometimes people argue this position of LG Sargent is irrelevant because of later developments (which is very strange, we don’t believe in ongoing revelation!). Sargent’s position on Adam didn’t change over time. In 1969 Sargent wrote in The Christadelphian Magazine in answer to a correspondent:
“The quality of being “very good” is therefore not peculiar to the man, nor does it bear some special significance for him; as “a beast of the field” it must include the serpent. Clearly, being “very good” in the sense in which it is here used of the animal creation does not exclude “the thinking of the flesh”. May we not say that the capacity for the desires of the flesh, the eyes and the mind is necessary to man’s probation; without it he could not have been put to the test, or have developed character.
The second point is that while the “very good” animal or natural body was “capable of an existence free from evil as long as its probationary period might continue”, it was also capable of yielding to natural desires; and by his quotation from James Dr. Thomas shows that the exciting of desire “by what from without addresses itself to the five senses” is not peculiar to Adam, it is the way we are all tempted.
Left to the workings of his animal nature, no miraculous change. Ie Sargent STILL thought Adam was mortal.
He took criticism for his views on creation – particularly from the South Australian Logos Magazine (The Lampstand Magazine from the same locale appears to have picked up the same approach!). Sargent vigorously defended his views against this criticism – particularly his view that the 6 days weren’t literal.