Archive Reformed Irenicism Sacred Doctrine Stephen J. Hayhow

Thomas Goodwin on the Incarnation and the Fall

In his sermons on Ephesians chapter 2 [works Vol 2. Sermon no. 3.  p. 33] Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680), member of the Westminster Assembly, embarks upon a slightly speculative theological reflection with regard to the Kingdom of Satan and the Kingdom of Christ.  This angle he attributes to Zanchius and the school-man Suarez.

Goodwin contends that Ephesians 2  delineates a competition of kingdoms: Christ’s and Satan’s, and Satan’s kingdom pre-dated that of Christ’s “for many thousand years”(37). But, more than that, this counter-kingdom is the first rebellion and entry of sin.  How is this so? Goodwin’s speculation runs like this:

Now I shall come to that which is instead of observations, — that is, to explain to you this same kingdom of Satan, for the Apostle’s scope is to hold that up here. And, first, you see that Satan hath a kingdom, and it is the great kingdom that is set up against the kingdom of Jesus Christ The Apostle therefore, as he had described Jesus Christ as a mighty king over all principality and power, in the 20th and 21st verses of the former chapter; so here he holdeth forth the opposite kingdom Satan hath, consisting both of men and angels, made up of those two, the one in the air, the other dwelling in the earth. His great competitor, Christ, acknowledgeth him to have a kingdom stand. Yea, and he had the start of his kingdom in the world before Christ came into it, carried the world before him for many thousand years. It is supposed by some, and indeed rationally and probably, — by Zanchy, whom I account the best of Protestant writers in his judgment, and likewise by Suarez, the best of school-men, — that upon the very setting up, or at least wise upon the notice that the angels had of the setting up of a kingdom for the man Christ Jesus, predestinated to come, (which whether it was without the fall predestinated, as some, or upon supposition of the fall, as others, yet so much might be revealed to them,) and that the human nature was to be assumed up into the Second Person, and he to be the head of all principality and power, and that angels and men should have their grace from him; this, they say, being declared to be the will of God, their very refusing of this kingdom, and to be subject unto Christ as man thus assumed, was their first sin; and that now, in opposition hereunto, they did set up another kingdom against him.

The cause of the fall of Satan and the fallen angels was that when it became known to them that the plan of God was to send His Son in the flesh and thereby to establish a kingdom over men, “they did set up another kingdom against him”(37). Goodwin says that the latter theologians based this upon Jude 6 and that by “leaving their habitation” is the suggestion that they went and set up a competitive kingdom to Christ. Goodwin will not “insist upon it” but he plays with the idea:

Thus, I say, these writers that I have mentioned do think, and they allege that place in the Epistle of Jude, ver. 6, where the sin of the angels being described, it is said, ‘they kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation,’ which, say they, is not there brought in as their punishment; they left that station God had set them in, and they left their dwelling in heaven, to set up a kingdom here below in opposition to Christ, and so to have an independent kingdom of themselves; for which God hath condemned them into eternal torment and to hell, and ‘delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment,’ 2 Peter ii. 4. And to set up this great kingdom is their business, and therefore they now do associate themselves together, not out of love, but as becometh rational creatures that would drive on a project and a design. Our Saviour Christ in that place, Matt. xii., speaks of it as the great end that Satan prosecuteth. Satan, saith he, will not cast out Satan, for that would divide his kingdom, and he is tender of that, that is his great design.

Having proposed this, now Goodwin can enunciate his own argument: first unbelief is rejection of the truth and Jesus is the truth (John 8:25ff);  secondly, Satan also did not stay in the truth, Satan is fundamentally a liar and a murderer “from the beginning” (38); thirdly, therefore, if the sin of the Jews was rejection of Messiah the incarnate Son, so must the sin of Satan be of the same type for them to be properly compared.

Here is how Goodwin expounds this:

I will not much insist upon it, only I will give you the grounds that they go upon, besides this mentioned. That place in John viii. 44, where Christ lays open both the devil’s sin, and the sin of the Jews. The sin of the Jews was, that they would not receive that truth which Christ had delivered to them, as he tells them, ver. 45, ‘Because I tell you the truth, you believe me not,’ and not receiving it, they sought to kill him. Now if you ask what that truth was that Christ had so much inculcated to them, you shall see at ver. 25 what it is. They asked him there who he was. ‘Even the same,’ saith he,’ that I have told you from the beginning,’ the Messiah, the Son of God ; and saith he, in the next verse, ‘ He that sent me is true, and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him’ and, ver. 28, When you have crucified me, some of you shall know it, — for some were converted, or at least they saw it more eminently to their hardening, — ‘You shall know that I am he.’ This he calleth the truth, ver. 32 : You, saith he, speaking to his disciples,’ shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ Now the truth is the Son of God. ‘If the Son make you free, you shall be free indeed,’ ver. 36. This was the great truth that these Jews would not receive. Now he tells them likewise, ver. 44, that Satan, their father the devil, ‘abode not in the truth.’ He was the first, saith he, that opposed and contradicted this great truth, and would not be subject to God who revealed this, nor would he accept, or embrace, or stand, or continue in this, he would quit heaven first; and so from hence came he to be a murderer, a hater of this man Christ Jesus, and of this kingdom, and of mankind; for he that hateth God, or he that hateth Christ, is, in what in him lieth, a murderer of him, and he shewed it in falling upon man. And they back it with this reason why it should be so meant: because otherwise the devil’s sin, which he compares theirs unto, had not been so great as theirs, there had not been a likeness between the sin of the one and the other. His sin had only been telling of a lie, a lie merely in speech, and theirs had been a refusing of that great truth, Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Head, and so the devil’s sin would have been less than theirs; whereas he is made the great father of this great lie, of this great stubbornness to receive Christ, and to contradict this truth; and this, saith he, he hath opposed from the beginning, with all his might, and he setteth your hearts a-work to kill me. But, I say, I will not stand upon this, because I only deliver it as that which is the opinion of some, and hath some probability.

This is why when Jesus comes, Satan tempts him by offering the kingdoms of the world (40); because he is the incumbent king, he now asserts his authority:

However this is certain, whatsoever his sin was, he hath now, being fallen, set up his kingdom in a special manner against Christ. And so Christ hath been the great stumbling stone; the angels fell upon it, and men fall upon it. So that indeed the first quarrel was laid in this, God himself proclaimed it at the very beginning. And a little would make one think, that there was something before, when God denounced the sentence against the serpent. ‘ The seed of the woman shall break the serpent’s head,’ which though spoken to the serpent, comes in by way of curse, as striking at the very spirit of the devil’s sin. He shall break thy head, saith he; thou wouldest have lifted up thyself, he shall crush thee. God, I say, proclaimed the war, and the quarrel hath continued from the beginning of the world to this day, and will do until Satan be put out of this air; for so long he is to have his kingdom, though Christ beateth him out of it every day in the world, and so will continue to do, till he hath won the world from him, and then he will chain him up in the bottomless pit. Therefore saith Christ in Luke xi. 20, ‘ If I with the finger of God cast out devils,’ — the devil hath a kingdom, saith he, he had said that before, — then know that the kingdom of God, that great kingdom prophesied of which the Son of man should have from God, is come amongst you. In John xii. 28, ‘I have glorified my name,’ saith God,’ and I will glorify it;’ what followeth thereupon as the consequence of it? Saith Christ, ‘Now shall the prince of this world be cast out,’ his kingdom shall go down, that is the way by which God will glorify himself. I will glorify myself, saith he — that is, I will throw down that kingdom which the devils possess. When the seventy returned, and rejoiced that the devils were subject to them in Christ’s name, saith he, ‘I saw Satan’ — I saw him before, this was in mine eye — ‘falling from heaven like lightning;’ and that is the great thing in Christ’s eye, to bring down the devil’s kingdom.


  1. The underlying implication in the argument advanced by Goodwin is that the Incarnation, in the plans and purposes of God, precedes the Fall. There is a supralapsarian strain. This is because Goodwin claims that the fall of Satan happens because of the announcement of the Incarnation. Goodwins’s speculation implies that the Incarnation was God’s purpose irrespective of the fall into sin, although he avoids stating it.
  2. Satan’s murdering intent was to prevent the incarnation and thus the establishment of the Kingdom of Christ; this places the kingdom of Christ as the original intent of all history, not just as a remedy for sin and the fall.
  3. If correct, this serves to explain the fall of Satan and the origins of sin and evil.
  4. It implies that the first temptation of the first Adam (and Eve) was part of Satan’s attempt  to prevent the Incarnation and his first assault upon the Kingdom of Christ. In bringing about the fall of the human race, Satan sought to prevent the incarnation.

By Stephen J. Hayhow

Steve Hayhow is married to Kristine and they have seven children, where they reside in London, UK. Steve is an elder at Emmanuel Evangelical Church (

8 replies on “Thomas Goodwin on the Incarnation and the Fall”


Thanks for this post. I like the thrust of Goodwin’s argument. I think the last sentence of your first observation at the bottom needs clarification. Did you mean to say that “Goodwins’s speculation implies that the *incarnation* [not “fall”] was God’s purpose irrespective of the fall into sin”?

Dear Joe, Yes I meant incarnation as the point is the implication that Satan’s original assault was so as to prevent the incarnation, and that this intent preceded the Fall if Adam.
Does that help?


“Slightly” might be a bit of an understatement regarding the degree of speculation involved, but of course Goodwin had plenty of company in his opinion in ancient writers.

Two questions: first, isn’t it a little confused to say, as Goodwin does, that the predestinated union of human and divine nature was “Jesus”, since the actual man Jesus, in His specific historicity, was inseparable from the Fall which He came to undo? In other words, a hypothetical “incarnation anyway” would have to remain nameless, since the time or name of such a one is quite unknowable. Second, are you familiar with Van Ruler’s critique of the idea of “incarnation anyway”?



I’ve read big sections of van Driel’s book on Incarnation Anyway, and I’m attracted to the idea that divine-human incarnational communion was the original intent of creation (apart from the Fall). Your question is a new one (and a good one). Where can I find van Ruler’s critique?


That’s what I thought. I think that your first point needs the word changed. You say that “the fall was God’s purpose irrespective of the fall into sin.” It needs to say “incarnation.”

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